A Summons Faint Yet Absolute

by Tipper

Disclaimer: don't own `em.

Notes:  Second response to the March Challenge from Beth:

"Nope, it's not to write a poem, but to base a story around one. Pick a long one, short one, old one, or a new one…heck, use one of your own, which would be great. Don't include the poem in your story…this isn't about that. Do, however, post the poem (please include the author's name, book title, and the publisher) at the end, just so the readers can read your inspiration."

Description:  "Missing Scene" from the Pilot.  These events take place after Ezra exits the saloon after having just hustled the locals and being offered the chance to help protect the village by Chris.  It's a possible take of what was going on in Ezra's head….



He turned and started walking quickly—not running mind you, but close to it—away from the boisterous and rough saloon, his left hand stuffing his ill gotten gains into his jacket pocket.  The still rational part of his mind—the part not clouded by adrenaline, ego and the need for self-preservation—somehow stayed stuck on the words the black clad gunslinger had said to him, mulling over the strange encounter….


Had he really just been asked to help "protect" a village?


Why ask him?  And why then?


Admittedly (and here, a smug smirk creased the already lit features of the gambler) his escape from the saloon had been unusually impressive. How many men did he just avoid being spitted, hung and roasted by? (the grin grew wider–damn he was good!) Of course, usually he didn't have to resort to such dangerous hustles to gain wealth, knowing the risks rampant in such an escapade, but he was unfortunately in dire need of some very quick cash….


That thought made the grin fall completely, and he remembered his purpose.  He tucked the derringer back up his sleeve and walked a little more quickly to the farther end of town, towards the boarding house, repeatedly checking over his shoulder, his eyes alert

for danger. 


Sliding into a convenient alley, he checked once more to make sure no one was following him, then pulled out the cash in his pocket.


His tongue licked his dry lips, tasting the dry whiskey and road dust.  His fingers shook slightly as what had just happened hit his system, and he grimaced at the weakness, trying to push the events to the back of his mind…to forget.  Just another gamble, just another town, you'll be gone in a few hours, so what does it matter….


Slowly, carefully, with the joy of someone holding their most precious possession in his hands, he unfolded the bills and started counting.  As he did so, he carefully ordered the papers in order of value, straightening their edges, smoothing out the wrinkles, placing them all face up….


The soothing, almost habitual practice had the immediate effect of soothing his nerves, and he was soon lost, his mind drifting to other things.


No, not other "things"–one thing.  That gunslinger's voice.  He could still hear it in his head.  How odd that it should have left such an impression.  He could not even hear the voice of the old man that had nearly cut his eye out with that hunting knife.  Hell, he barely remembered what that man had even looked like, except that he had white hair…or was it gray?  And, again, the question arose in his mind: why had the man in black asked him to join them?  What in the world could have given that gunslinger the idea that someone like Ezra would ever, could ever, be interested in protecting some nameless village?  Please.  The gambler almost laughed out loud at the absurd notion.  Ezra never protected anyone except himself….


And, of course, his mother.  Blasted woman.


Fifty seven dollars.


He had finished counting. He'd not noticed until that number announced itself in his head.  Obviously, his subconscious was still working, even if his conscious mind had wandered off.


Okay…fifty seven dollars.


Not bad.  Not good, but not bad.  Enough to secure back Chaucer from the blacksmith where he was being re-shoed, and…yes…enough to pay off the moneylender.  Just.  With what he already had in his boot, he would have the seventy-five he owed.


His cheeks flushed at the thought of his having to borrow funds.  Rarely had he ever had to resort to such a dismal state.  Most of the time he tried to be on the other side of such transactions, though truthfully he had an aversion to giving up money at any time, even with the promise of reimbursement.


Gritting his teeth, he once more wished the bank had been willing to accept his collateral yesterday afternoon.  The man who owned it had demanded not just the opal ring and the watch, but Chaucer as well, and for a measly fifty dollars.  That was too much for the gambler.  He would not use the horse as security, ever.  So, he had been forced to approach the hotel owner.  A man of means, it appeared, and more than willing to help out someone such as Ezra…at an exorbitant interest rate (50% per day).  Still, desperate times….


He'd promptly wired her the money last night, and she'd been released from jail, just in time to prevent her being moved to the woman's prison back east this morning.  The fine was paid and she was free to move on and find a new mark.  Of course, she would pay him back, she had written.  Once the business venture she had just heard about in Saint Louis took off.  He just needed to keep her informed of his whereabouts….


Ezra snorted.  He wondered if said business venture existed.  And she would never pay him back.  After all…"she'd raised him from just an itty bitty little boy, sacrificing so much to make him into the man he was, surely, in light of that, he could forgive such a small debt…."  He could hear her already.  It was such utter codswallop.  The things he did for his mother.


He counted out the money he needed, tucked the rest away, and looked up the alley to the main street.  His lips pressed themselves into a thin line as he contemplated what he would do once the money was paid back and he was back on his horse…free….


He leaned back against the wall, then slid down to the ground. 


The most overwhelming sense of pointlessness overcame him.  He realized with disturbing clarity that he had nowhere to go.


"…Help protecting an Indian village…you interested?"


He pressed his hands against his ears in a vain attempt to quiet that voice in his head. 


No!  He was not interested. He was not insane! 


So why wouldn't that damn gunslinger's voice in his head go away?


Dreamily, he looked in the opposite direction of the street, towards the other end of the alleyway.


During the time he'd been there, the sky had changed color.  It was darker.  Clouds had taken on a pink hue.  The end of the alley opened up onto pasture land, and, he could see all the way to the horizon in the distance.  Purple, pink and orange haziness colored the mantle, draping the land in a golden hue.  No one could look at such beauty and not feel very lucky to have witnessed such an amazing event.  All thoughts died in his head, and only the vision before his eyes mattered.  And in that moment, his mind was opened….


But presently, thoughts impinged again.  The money in his hand crinkled, the sounds of people walking past the alley on the main street seemed to get louder, and the sky shifted to a darker hue.


He lowered his eyes, back to the money in his hand.  He needed to give this to the hotel owner.  Then he would get Chaucer from the blacksmith.  Then…then….


He sighed, shaking his head, and stood up.


Shaking the dust from his jacket, he walked slowly back to the main street and leaned on the edge of the building, watching the people come and go.


His breath caught as he saw the gunslinger and his three companions exit the saloon.  Trying not to seem too interested, he stood his ground as they walked past him, watching as they spoke softly with each other and headed in the direction of what looked like the boarding house.  For a moment he thought the gunslinger had seen him, purposefully caught his eyes and tipped his hat in greeting, but then all four men were gone, disappearing into the crowds, headed to wherever they needed to go.  The motion from the gunslinger had been so quick…Ezra wondered if he had imagined it.


Slowly, he retreated back into the darkness of the alleyway, to lean against the wall in the comforting shadows.


His hands were shaking.  Why were his hands shaking?


His eyes closed and he leaned his head back against the building; all he could see were the eyes of that man as he tipped his hat to him, and what they promised, what the sky had opened his mind to see….


It was a thrill, a summons faint yet absolute which ran across the West….


What can you do when it calls to you like that?  When it all but screams in your head that this is why you are here.  This is what it is all for.  You've looked into the liquid eyes of life and that is where you want, where you absolutely need, to be….


You might as well try and stop the sun from setting.


Oh Lord, he thought to himself, I'm going with them tomorrow.  I'm going to go with them.


Lord help me, I am insane.




The end.


Okay, this one was inspired by an amazing poem by Edward Dowden.  I had to read it several times to really get it straight in my head, but I think I got it right.  It was the part about the man standing on the "aery balcony" and meeting the eyes of another man in the crowd that got me, and those words "A thrill, a summons faint yet absolute/Which ran across the West; the sky was touch’d/and failed not to respond."  At first, I was going to use it for Vin and Chris, but that seemed so obvious that I ended up turning to my favorite instead.


By the Window

By Edward Dowden (1843–1913)


STILL deep into the West I gazed; the light

Clear, spiritual, tranquil as a bird

Wide-winged that soars on the smooth gale and sleeps,

Was it from sun far-set or moon unrisen?

Whether from moon, or sun, or angel's face

It held my heart from motion, stayed my blood,

Betrayed each rising thought to quiet death

Along the blind charm'd way to nothingness,

Lull'd the last nerve that ached. It was a sky

Made for a man to waste his will upon,

To be received as wiser than all toil,

And much more fair. And what was strife of men?

And what was time?


Then came a certain thing.

Are intimations for the elected soul

Dubious, obscure, of unauthentic power

Since ghostly to the intellectual eye,

Shapeless to thinking? Nay, but are not we

Servile to words and an usurping brain,

Infidels of our own high mysteries,

Until the senses thicken and lose the world,

Until the imprisoned soul forgets to see,

And spreads blind fingers forth to reach the day,

Which once drank light, and fed on angels' food?


It happened swiftly, came and straight was gone.


One standing on some aery balcony

And looking down upon a swarming crowd

Sees one man beckon to him with finger-tip

While eyes meet eyes; he turns and looks again—

The man is lost, and the crowd sways and swarms.

Shall such an one say, `Thus 'tis proved a dream,

And no hand beckoned, no eyes met my own?'

Neither can I say this. There was a hint,

A thrill, a summons faint yet absolute,

Which ran across the West; the sky was touch'd,

And failed not to respond. Does a hand pass

Lightly across your hair? you feel it pass

Not half so heavy as a cobweb's weight,

Although you never stir; so felt the sky

Not unaware of the Presence, so my soul

Scarce less aware. And if I cannot say

The meaning and monition, words are weak

Which will not paint the small wing of a moth,

Nor bear a subtle odour to the brain,

And much less serve the soul in her large needs.

I cannot tell the meaning, but a change

Was wrought in me; it was not the one man

Who came to the luminous window to gaze forth,

And who moved back into the darkened room

With awe upon his heart and tender hope;

From some deep well of life tears rose; the throng

Of dusty cares, hopes, pleasures, prides fell off,

And from a sacred solitude I gazed

Deep, deep into the liquid eyes of Life.