"I'm particular with whom I share liquor, I'm afraid," said Magnus with an insulting smile. He wrinkled his nose in distaste. "My sense of smell, you see, has always been very acute." He turned and regarded Logan steadily for a moment, his eyes veiled and hooded. "I suspect that Mr. Logan and I are alike there." Wordless, Logan returned Magnus' gaze for several moments. After tense reflection, the smaller man nodded almost imperceptibly and Magnus turned back to Sebastian Shaw.
"Our ... business ... isn't finished yet, Magnus!" spat Shaw from between his tightly clenched teeth.
You'd never have suspected from Magnus' relaxed smile that he had taken in the whole saloon. Unless I was very much mistaken, he knew where each of Shaw's men lounged, where every man in the room stood. how close their hands lay from the grip of their weapons.
He didn't miss a thing. But his eyes never left Shaw.
"Oh, I think it is," remarked Magnus, voice dry as the desert wind outside. Frowning, Shaw snapped his fingers and Donald Pierce rushed to fill his empty glass.
"Still a slave owner, I see," said Magnus.
"Why, slavery is illegal, boy," Shaw replied with a vast grin. That was when Magnus decided to kill him, I think. Before that he might have saved himself. But with that single small word, Sebastian Shaw sealed his fate. Magnus reached out, and before anyone could prevent him, grabbed Shaw by the shirt, effectively using him as a shield. Around the room men tensed and swore. At my side Slim began to reach for his shotgun but I captured his hand with mine and frantically hissed, "No!"
"It's a hard habit to break, isn't it?" said Magnus and slapped Shaw hard across the face. "I know. I have had ... experience ... in such matters." Shaw twisted and writhed in that strong grip, unable to free himself. Magnus shook him casually.
"How does it feel, Shaw?" he inquired, his soft words belying the fury in his eyes. "Do you like it? Is it pleasant to have no options; no control of your life? To be bought and sold ... a thing for the use of others ...? Is it pleasant?" Shaw's continued struggles denied it.
"Nor was it pleasant for me," Magnus informed him. "Being someone's property never is. Ask the good people of End of the Line, if you doubt me." And Magnus struck him again, a sharp blow that left Shaw bleeding.
"Are you telling me that I once owned you?" Shaw gasped, wiping blood from his eyes. Magnus backhanded the larger man and he went flying across the room, now. Before the blink of an eye could pass, three shots rang out and as many of Shaw's men fell limp to the floor and lay still. The others, those that were left, froze, staring at Magnus as his gun returned itself to it's welcoming holster, as if it had never left those familiar surroundings.
I've never seen anything else quite like it, really. One instant the gun was simply in his hand, speaking eloquently in a loud language of hurtling metal bullets. The next, three men lay dead or dying. Approaching the downed rancher, Magnus kicked Shaw savagely in the ribs. Moaning, Shaw clutched at himself. Magnus smiled.
"Oh no," he said softly, "no one ever owned me." He twisted one hand in Sebastian Shaw's long dark hair and tightened his grasp. The rancher cried out sharply. "Someone once owned a frightened little boy named Silver. But they never owned me ... Silver, as you may see, is quite dead." Shaw crawled to his knees. Magnus held him there, immobile.
"Look at me," commanded Magnus. Shaw opened his eyes wide.
"Do you like what you see, Sebastian Shaw?" said Magnus gently and shook Shaw again. "I hope so. I hope you remember it and dream about it; I hope it invades your nightmares when you sleep at night. Because you created me." Magnus fastened a hand around the ranchers throat and squeezed.
"I didn't sell you!" Shaw croaked, struggling under those strong hands. Magnus shook him one last time.
"No," he said, "but somebody very much like you did." For a moment he studied Sebastian Shaw's battered, frightened face. Then he seemed to relax completely. The contempt on his pale face began to flow away like water until what was left looked very much like compassion.
"After this, you're not worth killing, Shaw," he said. "But then ... you never were. How strange. Perhaps even tragic ..." Those smoky blue gray eyes grew dreamy and unfocused for an instant. Magnus' lips curled in a bitter, searing smile that left his pale, aristocratic features frail and empty when it was gone, at last. He expelled a harsh breath and rubbed his hand briefly across his eyes, blinking down at the struggling Sebastian Shaw as if seeing him for the very first time.
"I've spent my life hating something .. someone ... who never existed ... "
The revelation seemed to startle him.
Magnus walked away then, and left Sebastian Shaw gasping and choking in a spreading pool of his own bile. I'd never seen him more relaxed; more at peace. And his eyes were smiling when he looked at me. He was free. At last.
All these many years later that is how I have always remembered Magnus - standing tall, no longer a slave in any way; walking victoriously away from all that fear and hatred.
Oh God forgive me, I thought it was over. It wasn't until I heard Logan's shouted warning of "The balcony!" that I realized I was wrong.
I swear I didn't hear anything. Logan has a loud voice and he meant for it to be heard. What I saw was Magnus. Spinning around to meet the threat, he tried to crouch, making himself a smaller target. I halfway expected him to leap and take shelter behind a nearby, overturned table. And he almost made it.
Instead of finding cover, he aimed carefully at the shadowy figure on the balcony above. He must have looked Donald Pierce directly in the eye, I decided later. And then he hesitated. For a split second his steady hand wavered and his gun lowered, ever so slightly.
Then he stiffened, swayed, and crumpled to the sawdust floor.
It was only then that I heard anything. The sharp crack of splintering wood, a high pitched scream of pain, as Donald Pierce tumbled from the overhead balcony and struck the sawdust covered floor with a dull thump. Sean Cassidy's shrill whistle of surprise, as he stared at Logan's quick hands, where yet another knife poised in readiness cut through the yawning void in sharp contrast.
"What in the name o' God did ye hit him with, laddie?" the ex-silver miner insisted.
"Somethin' sharp," was Logan's laconic reply.
All I could see was Magnus, lying still in a growing stain of crimson blood. Frantic now, I pushed aside the gathering crowd around him without thought or consideration. My first glimpse of him told me all I needed to know. His pale face was calm and rested; as if a difficult opponent had been faced and overcome. As if a great weight had been lifted from weary shoulders. I could feel the tears spill down my cheeks, hot and fierce. But I made no sound as I sank to my knees and gathered his head in my lap.
"Jeannie, darlin'," Logan began, tight voiced.
I think I saw Slim lay a hand on Logan's shoulder, but I can't be sure. My attention was elsewhere. I do know that Logan said nothing else, for which I was grateful. But Slim spoke.
"Let her be," he said, "let her be."
I ran my fingers through that glorious silver hair, lay my head on Magnus' breast and wept.
He didn't stop me from doing either.
When my falling tears touched his face, he stirred and opened his eyes, briefly.
" ... it droppeth as the gentle rain from Heaven ... " he murmured. And then his eyes fell gently closed again.
In the end, Magnus helped everyone in End Of The Line. He set us all free. Most of all himself.
They shipped Shaw's body back east to his family. He's buried in New York state somewhere, I think. Officially, Sebastian Shaw died in "a hunting accident". You'll never find anyone in End Of The Line who will deny it. Not that any of us grieved, mind you. Well, some few may have grieved for their jobs before they packed up and left town suddenly, but I don't think anybody grieved for Shaw. Unless it was Emma.
Logan bought his ranch back. Chewed nails and spit them out about having to pay for something that was already his, but the law was the law. When the town tried to make him Sheriff, he reared back and spit in their eyes. "Go to Hell," he told the town fathers, cheerfully. They beat a hasty retreat and I admit, I laughed louder than most. He took Julee out of Emma's. He didn't marry her, it's true. But she's safe and happy and so is Logan. Today, the Stars And Bars Ranch raises and trains some of the finest horses in the West.
I saw Charles off at the Great Western stage office myself.
He's headed for a little mid-western town in Ohio. An unassuming town with the unlikely name of Plainsville, where a still beautiful woman named Gabrielle and a small boy named David are waiting anxiously for him.
"But what if I'm not any good at this parenting business?" he mourned. "What if the boy doesn't like me?" He was nervous as a cat.
"Hold still!" I admonished and straightened his tie. Charles is sometimes careless about his appearance. He needs a wife badly. Obediently, he ceased fidgeting and I kissed him on the cheek.
"You'll do fine," I smiled. "Just listen to your heart; not your head. Now, off with you!"
Charles does not know what awaits him in Plainsville, Ohio. Happiness, I hope. But whatever fate lies slumbering in those dusty mid-western streets, it is there for him if he wishes it. Magnus' last gift to him.
Magnus ... is gone. No one knows where. Charles couldn't stop him. But he did try.
He stood on his crippled legs for hours, covered in blood, sweating and cursing at his dying patient, even as he strove to save him with his surgeon's scalpel.
"Damn you!" he raged, "You can't die. I won't let you take the easy way out! There are people who love you and depend on you! Come on, you great coward." Ora wiped the sweat from his brow, her dark skin gleaming in the lamplight.
"Please don't leave me again ..." Charles whispered.
When it was over Charles collapsed like a puppet with it's strings cut into a chair, so exhausted and in such pain that Ora had to hold the water glass for him while he drank.
"It all depends on him, now," he gasped, leaning his head back and closing his eyes. "I've done all I can. If he has the will to live, he will; if not ..." He didn't need to finish the sentence; he let it trail off like a fading dream. Gently, Ora covered him with a warm blanket and he fell into a fitful sleep.
"He needs to rest," the beautiful African woman said. "They both need to rest." She glanced over at Magnus and smiled. "The silver one is strong. He will live. Do not fear, I shall watch over him for you."
Magnus didn't wake for more than three days. But during all that time he was never alone. No one planned it. It just happened. From the beginning Slim was there. I fell asleep that first night curled in his strong arms, holding Magnus' hand in mine. When I woke there was Logan sitting in a corner smoking quietly staring at Magnus like the pieces of a puzzle that didn't quite fit.
"Go on home, Jeannie," he ordered. "He's safe with me. Go on darlin' - git!"
When I returned later there was lanky young Sam Guthrie, long legs stretched out before him like one of the foals from Logan's ranch.
"My Mama's ear bobs," he alibied himself, blushing furiously. "He gave them back. Ah reckon Ah can spare him a short spell to see he ain't lonesome."
Even Emma brought us all food and drink from her kitchens.
"Fools," she sneered, "all of you! Fools for a pretty face!" But the rich Coq Coq Vin and the succulent Veal Marsala kept right on coming, nonetheless.
"You got somethin' against a big chunk o' cow, woman?" Logan groused.
"Barbarian lout!" shouted Emma. But she smiled. They both did.
On the third day Magnus, like Lazarus, woke. When he saw me he smiled.
"She walks in beauty, like the night," he murmured fighting his drugged slumber the way he might fight an enemy.
"Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
"Oh now, that's cheating," I accused, holding him tightly, happy tears threatening. "Byron is definitely against the rules." He squeezed my hand weakly.
"Pardonne moi," he begged, closing his eyes and slipping back into sleep. "Ah Dieu! Pardonne moi!"
But less than a weak later he was gone; disappeared into the night. Slipping elusively from the grasp of our lives like a ghost much more placidly than he entered them. Charles was distraught.
"Where could he have gone?" he cried. "He's not well! He needs help," the ex-New Englander insisted. I nodded.
"That's why he left."
My hand shook as I handed him the letter with which Magnus had entrusted me. His eyes widened as he read the words that told him Gabrielle yet lived.
"Da- David?" he said the name reverently, almost like a prayer. "I have a son named David?"
Magnus left me something, too. I found it the day after he disappeared, carefully wrapped in fine linen, lurking in the hidden recesses of my cedar wood armoire. My paid in full contract with Emma, duly signed and notarized. I was a free woman.
And two one way rail tickets to San Francisco.
"My Dear Jean," said the note in that bold, stylish hand that I recognized at once.
"There is a small school in San Francisco on Clarion Street in great need of a teacher. The students are immigrant Chinese for the most part, eager to learn and find their place here in this land. Have you any idea where they might find someone to help them?
Be happy. Forgive me."
It wasn't signed, of course. There was no need.
"Where are you planning to spend the rest of your life, Mr. Summers?" I asked Slim.
"With you," he said smiling and took my hand in his. I held on tightly.
So far, neither of us has ever let go.