He didn't feel like talking.
It surprised him how badly it hurt, not being believed or trusted. Given his profession, it shouldn't have bothered him as much as it had.
But these were his friends....
He closed his eyes and leaned his forehead against the glass of the stage window, letting out a deep sigh. Friends. When had he let those six ruffians get under his skin and become friends?
Good Lord, Maude would be so ashamed of him....
"Here," a gruff voice drawled, and a hand suddenly appeared in his field of vision, filled with a flask. "Looks like you could use some fortifyin'."
He just let out another sigh and turned his face away some more.
"No, huh? Well, that's just fine." There was a pause, then the unmistakable sound of a man gulping liquid and letting out a satisfied sigh. "You might not need fortifyin', but I sure did! Sure is difficult on a body."
The silence that greeted that stretched on, until curiosity overcame misery. Turning toward the interloper, he asked, "What is?'
"Ahhh," came a chuckle as a grin erupted behind the massive silver moustache. "He does have a voice!"
"What is so difficult on a body?" he persisted.
"This!" came the disgusted snort as a hand slapped a white-clad knee. "This constant con-founded travelin'! There's times I wish I'd never set pen to paper, if I'd'a knowed it'd come to this... this...." he spluttered.
"Perniciousness?" he couldn't resist, smiling a ghost of his normal dimpled grin.
"Exactly!" his companion hooted, jabbing a finger at him. "Exactly, perniciousness! Harmful to mind and body, it is! Feel like a gypsy, always on the go...."
"So why don't you retire from it?" he asked tiredly.
"Retire?" the older man growled. "Hell, no! I like it too much!"
Despite his misery, he found himself laughing.
"There you go!" his companion laughed, reaching over and patting his knee. "There ain't anything in the world so bad a little laughter can't come outta it. And if there is, it deserves to be shot and burned!"
He smiled at that, shaking his head in amusement.
"What's your name, boy?"
"Ezra, sir. Ezra Standish. You?"
He blinked. "You don't recognise me?"
"Afraid not, sir -- I'm assuming you are an author, but your face is eluding my addled brain at the moment."
"How about that?" he chuckled, leaning back in the stage's bench. "How. About. That? Well, son, y'can call me Sam."
Ezra stuck out his hand. "Nice to make your acquaintance, Sam."
He shook it vigorously. "Now that we're no longer strangers, how 'bout you tell me what's got your face so long we could use it t'measure the miles?"
Ezra sighed deeply, as the events of weeks earlier reared up into his mind once more. Though he didn't know exactly why, he found himself telling this silver-haired man everything that had happened, from the finding of the money to his eventually taking it, and how that money had saved his life. "...so I've been trying to figure out what to do next -- who I am. I... I don't know anymore."
During his monologue, Sam had produced a cigar from a tin in his pocket and had lit it. He removed it from his mouth and studied it as if he could read the secrets of the universe in it. He gathered his thoughts for a moment, then said slowly, "Well, now, Ezra... seems t'me you been lyin' to yourself."
"Lying t.... how can you say--"
"Your job requires from you a certain bit of... obfuscation. That's the truth. You've got friends who care for you a great deal. That's the truth." He raised his eyes to study Ezra. "You think all you are t'them is a con and a gambler. And that, son...." he drew a drag on the cigar, "is the lie."
For one of the few times in his life, Ezra found himself struck dumb.
Sam smiled and gestured with the cigar to make his point. "Seems t'me that you don't think very high of yourself. Someone, somewhere, drummed it into your head that you're only good for what you can do. That you're not good for anything else." He took another drag. "Well, you know what, Ezra Standish?"
"Wh...what's that, sir?"
Sam leaned forward, one fist on his knee while the other hand jabbed the finger of the hand that held the cigar right into Ezra's shoulder. "That is the biggest crock of horseshit I've ever smelled! Got a question for you. Think you can answer it without thinking? Just say whatever comes into your head?"
Ezra nodded mutely.
"Good." He studied the cigar for another moment, then his eyes bored into Ezra's. "Quick, Ezra! What d'you wanna do with the rest of your life?"
Without hesitation, Ezra blurted, "Be beside my friends, no matter what we do." Then he jerked as if he'd been shot and clamped a hand over his mouth, his green eyes huge and blinking rapidly.
Sam's hearty chuckles filled the stage. "Well, then, you got your answer. And you got a job to do."
"Yes, sir... be what I am."
"No!" Sam shook his head. "Lord above, youth today! No, you gold-toothed idiot, you do everything you can to make that want come real!" He leaned back in his seat again. "Follow your heart, not your head! I did." He took a drag. "And look where it got me."
"In a cramped stage, dispensing words of wisdom to a gold-toothed idiot?" Ezra guessed.
Sam burst out laughing. "There's hope for you yet, son!" The stage began to slow, and he looked out the window. "Hmm. Don't recognise the town..."
"It's Four Corners," Ezra said as he prepared to stand up. "It's my home."
"Well, I wish you luck." Sam smiled. "I won't be departin', we'll be on the road to San Francisco soon enough."
"It was a pleasure, Sam." Ezra shook his hand again and got off the stage.
Sam watched him walk toward the boardwalk, ignoring the driver as he swung down the single carpetbag. Sam watched a man in black and a man in buckskins walk toward him and speak to him. Then four other men began to converge on the scene, and Sam smiled.
He pulled out a book and scribbled something in the front cover. He opened the stage window. "Ezra!"
Ezra turned, and he tossed the book to him. He caught it easily and looked up at Sam, confused.
"Go raft ridin', sometime! It'll help get your head together!" were Sam's last words to Ezra as the stage rolled away. He waved and was soon gone.
Ezra looked at the book and frowned.
"Whatcha got there, Ez?" Vin asked, looking over his shoulder.
"Not my usual reading fare," Ezra mumbled. "...'Huckleberry Finn', by Mark Twain." He opened the book, and his eyes went wide at the inscription in the front cover.
Wrote this a few months back. You remind me of Huck at the widow's home -- all done up proper on the outside, but scared and rough on the inside. Let your friends polish you into the diamond you will become.
Best wishes, good luck.
Samuel Clemens Alias Mark Twain
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