Seeing the Light


by BadgerGater





Seeing the Light with Essie Bright

Seeing the Light

By Badger

Missing Scene to the Season 1 episode, Glory Road-- (After the death of Roney Bishop, before the episode’s closing tag back at the ranch)

 

 

Utter silence descended on the room when Essie Bright stepped into the saloon- all conversation stopped at the crowded bar and died out around the gaming tables; men stood shocked and silent.  Ignoring them all, she looked around quickly and spotted the one man she was seeking, marching primly in past the bar and, without asking, sat down across from him at the table in the back corner.

 

Jess Harper looked over at her without smiling, his blue eyes meeting hers for a brief second before shying away. There was a half empty bottle of whiskey on the table in front of him, and he held in his hand a full shot glass.  With a quirk of his lips, he tossed back the drink, swallowing it with a grimace, and setting the empty glass back on the table with a loud thump.

 

From the look of him, and of the bottle, it was obvious to Essie that it hadn’t been his first drink of the night, and he clearly wasn’t intending it to be the last.

 

He touched the fingers of his right hand to his hat. "Miss Essie, you shouldn't be in here."

 

"Neither should you," she told him.

 

He ducked his head, leaning back in his chair and refusing to look her in the eye.

 

"You should be home, Jess."

 

He threw her a sour look. "This ain't the time or the place--"

 

"You're right, this isn’t the place. Let's talk about this outside." She got up and started for the door, never looking back, simply expecting him to follow.

 

For a moment, he thought about ignoring her but he couldn't—Essie was just one of those people no one could ignore. With a weary sigh, Jess put the cork back in the whiskey bottle, dug a coin out of his vest pocket and flipped it into the center of the table. He adjusted his hat on his head, climbed to his feet and, weaving only slightly, followed her out the door. He might have been worried about the henpecked image the whole incident would surely be putting into folks' minds, if he was planning on staying in this town, which he wasn't.

 

Leaving the bright interior of the saloon, he paused at the door, letting his eyes adjust to the dimness of the street before stepping out onto the boardwalk.

 

"This way, Jess," she called out to him.

 

Essie was sitting on the bench in front of the Laramie Hotel, two doors down from the saloon. He walked over and stood before her, taking off his hat like a gentleman. "Miss Essie?"

 

Smiling, she patted the seat next to her. "Sit down, Jess. Please."

 

He sat, holding his hat in his hands. "I thought you'd be on your way out of town by now."

 

"And I thought you'd have gone back to the ranch."

 

He shrugged. "I had my reasons for doin’ otherwise’. What about you?"

 

Essie sighed. "It was too late to reach the next town before nightfall, after the funeral."

 

She didn’t have to remind Jess whose funeral they’d both been to just a few hours before. It had been Roney whom she’d spoken the familiar words over, reciting the comforting phrases of the Twenty-Third Psalm about walking through the valley of death, and then proclaiming ‘ashes to ashes, dust to dust’ before they’d put Roney’s body into the ground.

 

Roney Bishop, the man who'd once saved Jess’s life; the man he'd shot to save hers. Roney had been a strange man, obsessed Jess thought might be the right word to describe him. Maybe just plain crazy, the way he’d overreacted to ordinary things.

 

Still, the man had been alive one minute, and dead by Jess’s own hand the next.

 

He'd been to too many funerals in his twenty-five years, seen too many folks die, the good and the bad and the somewhere in between, Jess thought. "How are you holdin’ up, Miss Essie?"

 

"Oh, I'm fine, Jess. I have the Lord to comfort me," she answered, turning sideways on the bench to look squarely at him, her ever-present smile lighting her face. "The question is, how are you?"

 

He was staring down at his hat like he’d never seen it before. "Me? There's no need for you to be worryin' about me, Miss Essie."

 

"Oh, now that's just not so."

 

"Ma'am?"

 

"I thought we agreed you wouldn't call me that, Jess," she chided him.

 

"Yes, ma’--Miss Essie."

 

"Now, you didn't answer my question,” her smile dimmed as she looked him square in the eye, concern for him radiating from her. “And don't you dare tell me you're fine, because you're still here in town, sitting alone in that saloon."

 

"I like saloons."

 

"Better than home?"

 

"Sometimes," he answered evasively.

 

Her voice turned sad. "I'm sorry you had to kill your friend because of me."

 

Jess quickly looked up at her, disagreeing. "There's nothin' for you to be sorry about, Miss Essie. What happened to Roney wasn't your fault."

 

"I was the one who brought him here."

 

"He was lookin' for me-- he'd have come to Laramie sooner or later anyway."

 

She sighed. "I suppose. But still," Essie reached out and put a hand on his arm, "I am truly sorry that you had to kill him."

 

"Better me than you, Ma’a-- Miss Essie. He wasn't the first man I've killed, and I doubt he will be the last."

 

"I know. But he was your friend."

 

Jess looked down the street, watching a pair of riders leave the saloon, untie their horses from the hitch rail out front, mount up, and head out of town. "I’m not sure I’d have ever called him exactly a friend, but he saved my life once. That’s somethin’ a man can’t forget. It’s a debt that needs to be repaid."

 

"He told me about that, about finding you on the Kansas prairie with a broken leg," Essie revealed. "That's a hard thing, to kill someone you owed a debt."

 

"It's a hard thing to kill anyone," Jess admitted. “Killin’ never sets easy on a man’s mind.”

 

She patted his arm again. "It shouldn’t, even when a man has no other choice.”

 

“Someday I’ll pay the price.”

 

A look of distress crossed her usually sunny face. “God will understand, Jess."

 

He risked a brief glance over at her. "Doesn't He forbid killin’?"

 

"Thou shalt not kill, He has commanded us, yes..."

 

"Then I reckon I'm in a heap of trouble with your God, because I've killed a lot of men."

 

She didn't waver. "Why?"

 

"Why?" Jess repeated, puzzled.

 

"Why did you kill them?"

 

Jess shrugged, rolling the brim of his hat in his hands. "Depended."

 

"On what?"

 

"The circumstances."

 

"Have you ever killed for money?" she probed.

 

"No," he answered quickly.

 

"Personal gain?"

 

"No."

 

"Spite or jealousy or pride?"

 

"No. I never killed anyone who wasn't tryin' to kill me, or aimin’ to kill someone else, not even during the war, nor since."

 

She smiled, not that brilliant smile that lit up a whole room, but a sad smile, wistful and full of hurt. "Like you killed Roney to save me."

 

"Yes’m."

 

"The Bible tells us, Jess, that ‘to every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven. There’s a time to be born, and a time to die’, and yes, it even tells us that there’s a time to kill, but there’s also a time to heal. God does understand what you’ve done, Jess. He won't condemn you for the things you’ve had to do."

 

"Oh I doubt He's understandin' enough to forgive me."

 

"He's forgiving, Jess. If you let Him."

 

"I'm long past forgivin', Miss Essie."

 

She looked distressed. "Oh, Jess, that's just not true, not true at all. No one is beyond His forgiveness."

 

He was shaking his head. "I appreciate the sentiment, Miss Essie, but--"

 

"Jess Harper, you listen to me,” she interrupted sharply. “I once ran a saloon, a house of sin and iniquity, a place where men drank and gambled and fought, and yes, sometimes even killed one another. But God forgave me; He showed me the light and He set me on this new path, this journey to help others see His ways, just like He set you on a new path, at the Sherman Ranch."

 

Jess’s voice was filled with bitterness. "That path has ended."

 

"Not if you don’t want it to."

 

He shook his head. "I can't go back there."

 

"Why not?"

 

"Miss Essie, I gave it my best shot,” he answered her, earnestly. “I tried bein' a cowhand. I walked away from my old life to work for Slim, but it ain't workin’. Instead, my old life followed me here. I put all of them at risk, I put you at risk.” He crushed the brim of his hat with his hands. “My path was cut a long time ago. Once a gunhand, always a gunhand."

 

"But a gun can be used on the side of good, Jess, to protect the innocent."

 

He laughed hollowly. "Isn't there something in your book about turnin' the other cheek? That’s something I can’t never seem to do."

 

"So you *were* brought up with the good book," she concluded, delighted.

 

Jess’s voice softened. "My Ma used to read it on occasion. She tried to bring us up right."

 

Essie patted his arm. "And she succeeded. It shows in you, Jess. You're a good man."

 

"I'm no Bible-toter."

 

"No. But you live a life by God’s principles."

 

Jess smiled sadly. "You have a mighty big imagination, Miss Essie."

 

"And you have a mighty big heart." She looked him in the eye. "Now tell me what it is you're so afraid of about going home."

 

"Afraid of? I'm not afraid--"

 

"Lying is a sin, Jess," she admonished.

 

He looked away from her, out into the darkness of the street and found himself telling her what he’d come to realize in these last few days. "Roney isn't the only -- friend-- from my past who could show up at the ranch lookin' for me."

 

"Bad men?"

 

"Some of 'em, yeah. Most of them, likely. I haven’t exactly lived a peaceable life."

 

"And you're afraid of these bad men."

 

"Not for me, I can take care of myself. But I am worried for Andy and Jonesy and Slim. They've got enough troubles of their own without tacklin’ mine, too."

 

"Shouldn't you let them decide that?" She leaned forward, taking one of his rough hands in her own soft ones. "Now, Jess Harper, you've got a job to finish. Go back to that ranch and your friends and your new life. Keep trying."

 

He shook his head in denial. "I'm done, Miss Essie. I've already failed at the ranchin' business. It's too late to change."

 

"It's never too late, Jess, not as long as we're alive. We keep on trying. Just because we fail the first time we try something doesn't mean we'll fail again." She paused and smiled brightly at him. "Have you ever been thrown from a horse, Jess?"

 

“Well, sure.”

 

“And what did you do after?”

 

"Picked myself up and got back on."

 

"So, you've just been thrown by life. And now it's time to get back on that horse."

 

He looked over at her, shaking his head, a small resigned smile playing across his lips. "You just never stop, do ya, Miss Essie?"

 

Essie’s smile was brilliant. "It's not me, Jess, it’s God working through me. He's shown me the light and He'll show you the light, too."

 

"Now that I doubt."

 

"Don't doubt, Jess. The Lord's already blessed you, hasn't He? He led you here to Laramie, to a home and a job and friends who truly do care about you."

 

"I reckon," he admitted.

 

She laughed joyously. "See, Jess, it’s all there for you, waiting for you to get back on that horse that’s thrown you. So, are you going home now?"

 

"You won't let me do otherwise, will you?"

 

"No, no, I won’t," she smiled at him.

 

He stood then, jamming his hat on his head, his eyes meeting hers at last, a rueful grin crossing his lips. “Then I reckon I don’t have any other choice, do I?”

 

Jess turned away, but she reached out a hand and placed it on his arm. "And Jess, I'll pray for you.”

 

He paused, turning back and looking down at her and surprised himself by answering. "I think I'd like that, Miss Essie."

 

Essie Bright smiled as she watched Jess Harper walk away down the street. He was a good man with a good heart and a real chance to have a good home and a good life. It was all right there in front of him, if only he’d give himself the chance to find it. 

 

She would pray for him, because she had glimpsed his heart and she knew he was a man who would find little peace in this life. But he could find what he didn’t yet know he was searching for. Words from the book of Matthew came to her then, and she murmured them aloud, “Ask, and it shall be given; seek; and ye shall find; knock and it shall be opened. For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.“

 

If only Jess would knock on that door that stood ready to open before him. A man needed a family, and his was waiting.

 

------- THE END



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