Black and White
Contribution # 451941 submitted by aces107
June 14, 2002
How well do the boys really know one of the men they ride with? Its short, could be better. But hey at least I did it.
Note: 1.) OK. Here is June’s challenge and what a
challenge it was. So many historical figures to chose from.
2.) For this story to work I took a little bit of liberty with the character. I could not find any reference of Fredrick Douglass ever visiting the west. But, for this story he does. The part about his son’s capture is totally fictional, made up in my head to fit this story.
3.) This turned into a history paper halfway through for awhile. Sorry but I thought this man’s past needed some explanation.
Black and White
Six of the seven regulators were sitting quietly at their usual table sipping beers and wishing for some relief from the hot afternoon sun. Vin quietly looked over at his friend and leader of this group. With mischievousness in his eyes he calmly spoke, “You know Cowboy, he ain’t going to be real pleasant to deal with when he gets back.”
Without bothering to look up the black clad blond responded, “Its’ what he gets for not doing what he was told to begin with.”
JD had been watching the exchange with hesitancy. To his way of thinking talking about the gambler with Chris wasn’t a very smart thing to do right now. While he could see both sides point of view the safe bet right now would be to let things ride itself out.
The youngest was bought back out of thinking when Chris continued. “If the dumb man had taken his patrol this morning like he was suppose to he wouldn’t be out there now.”
The tracker knew it was pointless to try and defend his wily friend. Chris sometimes still had trouble seeing what was right in front of him, especially when it came to a certain gambler. Mary had printed a column from some man back east about his take on the war and the effects it had on the men serving on both sides. It had stirred up a lot of emotions and recollections for everyone. Chris and Mary had really gotten into a row about it and hadn’t spoken to one another for three days. Another reason the leader was in such a foul mood.
Since then Ezra had not been his same old self. The problem was nobody but him seemed to have noticed. Or cared he added to himself. The gambler wasn’t a man that was easy to get to know and the man’s attitude didn’t make it any easier. Vin knew there was more to him than met the eye, but Ezra seemed content to play the part everyone automatically assigned him. Gambler, aloof, self-preserved, wily, conceited, the list went on and the green eyed man with the brilliant smile did nothing to stop those thoughts.
The quietness enveloped the men once again as each man sat and let their thoughts drift separately. They all heard the swinging of the batwing doors of the saloon. Three pairs of eyes went to the source while the other three studied their friend’s eyes. The eyes would tell them if there was trouble or not.
A tall black man in his fifties stopped inside the doors, not only letting his eyes adjust to sudden change in lighting but also gauging his welcome. The black man following right behind did the same. When they deemed they would be accepted into this establishment both moved forward to the bar.
Josiah was the first to notice Nathan’s change in attitude towards the two men. At first thought the preacher would have chalked it up to seeing another black man in the saloon. While seeing a black person was not rare in these parts they weren’t exactly commonplace either. After another glance at his friend though Josiah knew it had to be more.
“Someone you know, Brother?” Josiah asked softly. Not knowing if it was a good question to ask or not.
The healer shook his head negatively, “No. Not directly.” His voice almost a whisper,
By this time the rest of the men had clued in on the conversation. Chris got that look in his eyes that said things could go one of two ways where his friends were concerned. “Nathan? Who is he?”
“Fredrick Douglass.” Nathan answered with reverence.
“Who?” JD asked questionably.
Buck gave the kid a playful slap on the back of the head. “Fredrick Douglass. Don’t you listen boy?” Though to be truthful the ladies man had no more idea who this new visitor was than the kid but JD didn’t need to know that.
“I heard the name doesn’t mean I know who he is.” JD said with a hint of anger in his voice, trying to give his friend his best ‘Larabee glare’.
“Invite him over Nate.” The black clad leader suggested while motioning with his eyes for Vin to retrieve two more chairs.
The healer rubbed his hands together nervously and stood. He couldn’t remember the last time he was this nervous. Well, actually he could, at that time some cowboys had been dragging him down the main street with the intention of hanging him. Nathan walked slowly up to the man he saw as an idol; taking a deep breath he tapped the man on the shoulder and waited for their eyes to meet.
“Mr. Douglass, my name is Nathan Jackson and it would certainly be an honor if you joined me and my friends for a drink.” At that point Nathan was concentrating really hard on staying upright and holding back the fear he’d be rejected.
Fredrick looked over at the table of white men then back at the black man standing before him. Friends. That was how this man described those other men. The look of pride when he spoke that word caught the abolitionist by surprise. He quickly looked around at his traveling companion then back at Nathan. With a nod and a slow smile he responded. “I’d be glad to join you Mister Jackson.”
Nathan started back to the table when he noticed the other man with Douglass wasn’t coming. “You’re friend is also, welcomed.”
Douglass shook his head. “He doesn’t like crowds to much.” He didn’t add the ‘white’ part but Nathan seemed to silently understand.
The healer smiled, “Sounds a lot like our Vin. He doesn’t like crowds either.”
Douglass halted a step. Our Vin. The black man had referred to a white man as “Our”. Douglass knew this must be a unique group of men for such informality to occur.
The tall man sat down in the seat between the large older man with eyes that glowed with years of experience and the black man who had so kindly invited him to come sit down.
Before anyone else could say anything else JD in all his young wonder popped up and asked, “So who are you? Nathan seems to think your someone.”
Amid the many quiet groans Buck reached over and slapped the younger on the back of the head, harder than usual. “JD! Of course the man is someone, we all are.”
JD looked back at back riled and frustrated. He hadn’t meant for it to come out that way. Sometimes his tongue went faster than his brain. “I know he’s someone, Buck. I just meant Nathan thought he was someone important.”
Another round of groans could be heard and a quiet deathly warning from the blond man dressed in black was barely audible.
“You’ll have to excuse our youngest here, Mr. Douglass. There are times when the tongue and the brain don’t match the age.” Josiah said, trying to ease over the younger man’s mistake.
Fredrick Douglass smiled openly and nodded his acceptance of the apology. He didn’t really think he deserved it though. He knew what the young man had been trying to say. Black or white age was the only cure for tempering one’s tongue.
Nathan looking sheepishly for a moment looked from the man sitting on his right to the young man across from him. With the man’s approval he began explaining just whom this man was that sat in their presence.
“Mr. Douglass was born a slave like me.” Nathan began. “When he was about seven or eight he was send to live with his master’s relatives. The woman of the house taught him to read.” Everyone noted the wistfulness in their friend’s voice. All knew Nathan had not had that luxury and had to learn on his own.
The orator took over. “When I was thirteen I purchased my first book. I became convinced of the injustice of slavery and also, the techniques of giving speeches. Which helped me later in life.”
The speaker continued on telling how he had been sent back to his original master who would not put up with his voicing his opinions and had been shipped off to a ‘slave breaker’. The men didn’t need to inquire what this was the name implied it all. After six months the ‘slave breaker’ sent Douglass back to his master unbroken. Later he was sent to a shipyard to learn a new skill; caulking boats. It was there he met a man that would help him escape to Baltimore with fake papers.
JD listened with rapt attention. To have that kind of bravado was something he only could imagine of having. He might have been just a youngster but even he understood how dangerous it would have been if the man had been caught with illegal papers. The man would have been sent back to his plantation and only knows what would have been done to him. JD could only think the worst, knowing he was probably right and really glad Douglass had made it safely.
After arriving in Baltimore another helper helped Fredrick locate his fiancée. They were married and Douglass began speaking out publicly against slavery. He learned to speak more fluently and elegant. This led people to believe he had never been a slave. Black people weren’t supposed to speak proper English; they were supposed to be dumb and ignorant.
As the blond listened to the speaker his appreciation of the man grew. He could only imagine how hard the man’s life had been. Nathan had been a slave but he rarely spoke of those days. To knowingly and willingly leave your family behind and start life over must have been a heart stabbing painful decision. He was unsure if he would have that much courage.
In 1847 Frederick told how he had began a newspaper strictly aimed at and for black people. Though not many people thought it would go over he kept the weekly paper going until 1863. He fought for the right for blacks to vote. He helped with the Underground Railroad and became friends with John Brown. Though he refused to go along with Brown’s plot to attack the arsenal and armory at Harpers’ Ferry he was still linked with the man’s name. For this reason he left the country for six months until things cooled off. After his return he encouraged Lincoln it was in the best interest to save the Union and make the war about ending slavery. He started the first two all-black regiments. His two sons, Fredrick and Lewis were the first to join. He was currently living in Washington, D.C. and working to abolish slavery all together.
The healer sat there thinking he had done so little with his life compared to this man. He was doing nothing but protecting the people in some little backwater town. Taking down the occasional outlaw and in between those times he birthed babies and set bones. He had done nothing as great as ending slavery or fighting for other black people’s rights. He felt small and unimportant in the midst of this man greatness,
A silence wrapped itself around the small group, after taking a long draw on his now warm beer Fredrick Douglass’ curiosity got the better of him. “What is it that you gentlemen do in this town?"
Ever the energetic and by far the most enthused jumped right in and began the story of how the seven had become the regulators of the town and how Ezra had fired the cannon and blew the flag to bits. Ending with how he, personally, became the sheriff.
While JD wound up his story neither Chris nor Vin missed the slight eye moment at the mention of Ezra’s name. Glancing at one another Chris gave an inward sigh. The war may have been over for more than ten years but hard feelings still remained. If Ezra and this man had met before there could be trouble all over again. With the silent communication that they were well known for, the two regulators agreed to be aware of any potential problems. Hopefully, Chris thought, this man will be gone before Ezra gets back from patrol.
“So,” the visitor began turning to stare at the healer. “You’re a doctor?” Awe and surprise evident in his tone.
Nathan dipped his head slightly and blushed. “Nah. I just help folks best I can.”
To Nathan’s pleasure and the other man’s great surprise Chris leaned forward and gave Nathan a slap on the back. “Might as well call him Doc. He’s the best healer I’ve ever known.”
Josiah nodded his head in concurrence, “Yep, lots of people around here owe their lives to Nathan. Mighty proud to count him as a friend.”
There others all nodded in agreement adding their two cents on Nathan’s worth to the town. Nathan continued to blush and kept his head tucked down realizing a man’s worth is not measured by the greatness of an act but the way it is performed it.
Douglass was beginning to think this group of men was more than just unique. They all appeared color blind and seemed to accept one another with a gentle ease. The man inwardly wished this kind of acceptance for all men of different races.
It was at this point that the doors once again swung open, this time with a bit more force. Eyes went up immediately and lowered just as quickly. Douglass observed this action with amusement. He wondered silently what had the longhaired young man so entertained. The blue eyes clearly showed laughter with a tinge of worry. The young black haired sheriff seemed to be silently saying a prayer, only his lips moving. The tension radiating of the two men on either side of him increased ten-fold and the black clad man looked ready to kill, though patient. Yet, no one moved nor seemed to feel threatened. Interesting, thought the visitor.
Douglass looked up at the sound of a very southern accent. “Mr. Larabee I’ve done my duty that was ordered by you and now with or without your sublime permission I am going to go partake of a refreshment.”
Ezra had noticed the extra man but took no special notice of him. Presumably a friend of Jackson’s.
JD jumped up to make the introductions. “Ezra. Who’ll never guess who this is? His name is Fredrick Douglass and he came all the way from Washington, D.C.” Without stopping for breath he rushed on, “C’mon and join us. You gotta hear his story.”
The gambler looked at the man being presented to him, never showing anything on his face. Gradually the gambler stuck out his hand and waited for the other to take it. “A pleasure I’m sure but I don’t feel as though I would be the best company right now. If you’ll excuse me gentleman.” With that Ezra departed to the bar, grabbed the beer Inez had waiting and went outside
Josiah shook his head. Dang man. The man he thought of as a son could really make him want to slap some sense into the younger one’s head at times. Here they were learning a great deal from another man’s point of view. A man, despite his color, that had done incredible things with his life. Made changes in other people’s lives that would not necessarily have been changed if not for this man and Ezra snubs him much like he first snubbed Nathan. Josiah quickly amended that last thought. No, not quite like Nathan. At least this time the gambler had shown better manners. And considering how his day must of gone maybe it was a good thing he had excused himself. Mr. Douglass sure didn’t need to see Chris and Ezra get into it.
The green-eyed gambler made his way out of the saloon in shock. Seeing that man sitting there with his fellow peacekeepers was a surprise to say the least. For the last week, ever since Mary’s paper had come out he had trouble sleeping. After three nights of no sleep the gambler had drank more than usual the night before and had fallen into a exhaustive sleep therefore missing patrol this morning which completely irritated the black clad leader and led to him getting relegated to the afternoon’s shift.
The gambler tried hard no to think of the past. Everyone’s life in that half of the nation had been altered by the war, his included. Ezra ran a hand over his face not paying any attention to the sweat that rolled down the side of face. The memories of meeting that man sitting inside before came flooding back as he settled down in the rocker.
Silence descended on the small group with a heavy weight. JD thought he was going to explode from the sudden pressure and thought of something to say. “You’ll have to excuse Ez. He isn’t rightly happy because Chris made him take the afternoon patrol which he hates more than the morning shift because he hates the heat. Which is funny because him being from the south and all you’d think he’d be use to it. Anyway when he first met Nathan he didn’t like the idea of riding with him.” Stopping for a second as he remembered the disparaging remarks Ez had made about Nathan and his color. “But, now him and Nathan get along just fine. When we got caught off guard last month by those bank robbers it was Ez who jumped in front of that shooter to save Nathan’s life”
He knew he was rambling but the need to fill the silence had completely overwhelmed the young sheriff. “You should have heard Nathan yelling at Ezra for getting injured. Nathan gets just like an older brother when that happens. Ought to know I hear it from six of them on a regular basis.” Finally stopping he looked around the table at his friends, his family, beaming with pride.
“Yes, Mr. Standish is man of his own.” Douglass quietly said.
Chris finally spoke up. Vin and he had seen the look of recognition in both this man’s and their gambler’s eyes. “You know Ez?”
Douglass knew from the inflection of tone that it wasn’t really a question being asked but a statement. Not knowing how much to reveal he thought seriously about making up a lie but one look at these men’s faces and he knew that wouldn’t work. Slowly he shook his head.
“Yes, I know Mr. Standish.” The orator spoke hesitantly. “Met him during the war.” Douglass couldn’t be sure but he thought he heard an unsavory explicative come out of the healer’s mouth. He was, however, certain, that he heard several intakes of breath. Tread lightly here was his thinking.
The orator began carefully, “I was visiting my son’s regiment during the war. He and three other soldiers left on patrol. Several hours had passed and they didn’t come back.” Stopping the black man took a deep breath remembering the fear he had felt that day and the subsequent days to come. “The commander sent out teams of men to try and find out what had happened, each one came back empty handed, with no news.”
Douglass smiled as he remembered the third day, “It was a little after noon when we got a warning that there was someone entering the camp.” The smile grew larger. “There he was, young, blond, with stark green eyes wearing a confederate uniform riding the most beautiful proud horse. You couldn’t help but watch in awe. With him were my son and the other three soldiers.”
Douglass stopped and looked around the table at his captured audience. “That man stops his horse right in front of me, like he instinctively knew I was the person he was looking for. He looks right at me and says, “Sir, I do believe you have misplace a truly priceless possession and I’m here to return it.” Then he gives a small salute and rides right back out, like it was nothing to ride into a Union camp wearing a Confederate uniform.”
Taking a breath Douglass shook his head, “At first I thought it was trick or something but one glance at my son and I knew it wasn’t. I asked my son what had transpired. He told me they had been captured by a small southern army group and tied to the tree. There the southern soldiers held a mock trial and found them guilty. He knew they would be hung. My son and his compatriots waited several hours for the soldiers to come kill them. There came a time when he finally realized all the men were gone and then this lone Confederate came striding up to them, untied them and ordered them to mount up on the abandoned horses. Lewis said it was the beatness thing he ever saw. They rode out of that camp like it was a ride through the park on a Sunday afternoon.”
Douglass sat back and took a drink of his warm beer. “Lewis said it took all the rest of the day, that night and the next day to reach us.” Pausing a moment he continued. “That boy said that horse never missed a step, not even in the pitch blackness of the night. Said it was like the horse was dancing to a rhythm instead of walking and only the mount and rider felt it. Lewis told me Mr. Standish didn’t say much and certainly never explained how he got them out of that mess or why? Said it didn’t matter why.”
Looking at JD he lowered his voice, “I expect Mr. Standish has his own rules. Not riding with a man because of his color is far different than killing him for that same reason.”
JD could only nod. Douglass glanced sideways toward the healer watching him as he processed this new information about his southern friend. Fredrick decided to give the last little details and really give the man something to think about. “My son wasn’t the only to go missing only to be returned safely by a Confederate soldier. There were others. Most never got a name but they remember the green eyes. As far as Mr. Standish goes, just because the war is over doesn’t mean the memories are.”
Buck could only nod in agreement. The war had been hell for everyone, didn’t matter which side you were on. He still had nightmares occasionally and Mary’s recent publication only seemed to intensify them. He reckoned that was the real reason Chris had laid into the lady reporter. She had bought old memories that had been semi-laid to rest roaring back to life. He wondered if Mary ever realized that was what Chris had tried so hard to tell her without using those actual words. The ladies man decided he might just have a talk with a certain reporter later on and smooth things over.
As he finished saying this last part Mr. Douglass’ assistant came up and tapped him on the shoulder. “The stagecoach is ready to go when you are.”
Nodding his head the older man stood up and drank the last drop of his beer. “Gentleman it’s been a pleasure to visit with you.”
Chris, standing, stuck out his hand, “Same here.” Getting a new perspective on the man he rode with and didn’t really know.
The six men walked out of the saloon with the two travelers. Sitting in the rocker outside the door was Ezra. The two men, one white and one black nodded solemnly to each other. Color may have been a factor in the war but the effects were the same for every man. The moment in life when you came face to face with yourself in someone else’s eyes and had to decide whether to kill that person or save them. Some did only one and some did both. The gambler watched the two men enter the stagecoach.
Turning to go back inside the tall blond leader paused by the gambler’s side. “Best get some rest Ez, seen some new fellas in town and I’m pretty sure they’d be interested in a game or two come nightfall.” With that said the blond walked back into the coolness of the dark saloon.
Josiah, Buck and JD went their own ways, not knowing what to say to this man they had always considered racially biased, words would come later. The healer stayed rooted to where he was, going over everything he had learned today. He had met a man he always felt he knew but had never met and got to know a man he’d already met but didn’t know. Looking down at the worn out boards he let his eyes drift over to enigma that he gladly called a friend and wondered if Ezra would ever stop surprising him. What do you say to a man you had pegged one way only to find out you were completely wrong.
Nathan headed off the porch and paused, “Mighty hot today Ez, best drink a lot of fluids. Hate to see you get so dehydrated you wind up at my place instead of the table.” Nathan continued off the porch and onto the clinic.
“I’ll take your advise under consideration Mr. Jackson, thank you.” The southern words floated back to the healer making Nathan smiled. The rest of the world may see black and white but this group only saw friendship and though it may not be the most conventional friendship it was theirs and it worked.
Quiet descended once again as Ezra waited for the tracker to say his peace. When no words were forth coming the brown haired gambler lifted his head and looked at his friend.
Vin smiled that lopsided grin of his and tugged the front of his hat down a bit before slowly drawing out, “Always knew you’s a good man. Now I reckon they do, too.” Turning to go he burst out in a short laugh as Ezra’s words caught up to him.
“Aw Lawd, I should have just let Chris kill me like he threatened to this morning.”