There is disciplining of a teenager in this. If you do not like please do not read.
Chris was riding into Fort Vasquez to deliver some papers for Judge Travis. Buck had been going to travel with him until JD had managed to fall off a horse and hit his head.
Chris had been in the army with Buck during the war but had been very glad when it had ended. He'd fought because he thought it was the right thing to do and to get away from home and his father but he'd soon got fed up with the fighting. Many of his friends hadn't survived or were badly injured. Luckily Buck had made it without even getting a scratch.
He rode in through the front gate and made his way to the large building in the middle of the Fort. He heard someone shout out and he looked over to where three soldiers were trying to drag a young Indian boy. He was shouting what Chris could only imagine were oaths. "For Christ's sake, get him back in his cell," one of the men said.
"Kick the feet out from under him," one of the others said.
"Lift him up."
"Let me have him," a sergeant who had been standing watching said. The young boy turned and spat on him. Chris saw the man raise his hand and slap the boy over the face.
Chris rode over as he raised his hand to hit him again. He drew his gun," Leave him alone."
The sergeant glared at him. "Keep your nose out of this," he said angrily. "Get him locked up," he shouted at the men.
Chris caught a glimpse of the boy's face as he was dragged away. Chris was stunned by the pair of piercing blue eyes that were glaring at him.
"You don't have to beat him," Chris said. He's just a boy."
"What do you care? You one of these do gooders who think we should just let them roam the land free."
"He's a kid. You found his family, it's plain to see that he's white."
"He's as a much an Indian as if he was born to them. Don't be fooled."
Chris rode on. He wasn't happy with the sergeant's attitude. He looked back as the boy was being dragged over to a cell. He'd speak to the Colonel about this. He dismounted and entered the Colonel's office.
"Where did you find the Indian boy?" he asked.
"He was in one of the villages we attacked. We freed four white children from his camp alone. The other 3 were claimed but so far no one's come forward for him.
"What's his name?"
"He calls himself Sky Eyes. We have no other name for him. He's spoken nothing but Kiowa since we found him."
"What will happen to him?"
"He'll probably be put in an orphanage."
"An orphanage? He won't last there." Chris was appalled. "Why not just let him go with his people?"
"He's white, he needs to be with his own kind. And anyway the whole village was destroyed in the attack and most of the people in it. He has none to go back to."
"Damn!" Chris felt sorry for the boy.
"There's nothing we can do unless someone comes forward for him."
Chris handed the documents over. "Tell Orrin I'll see him soon."
"I will," Chris said. He went out and mounted his horse. He rode off towards the gate. He looked towards the cell block, the boy was standing at the bars.
Then just as Chris was about to head out he heard someone say," You little bastard, I'll take the skin off your back for that."
Chris quickly jumped down and strode into the building. The sergeant was standing over the boy his belt in his hand ready to bring it down on the boy's back.
"That's enough," Chris said drawing his gun. "You stand back."
"This is none of your business," the man spat at him.
"I said stand back or I'll put a bullet in you." The boy opened his eyes and Chris saw a look of gratitude."
"I'll have you locked up for this."
"No you will not Sergeant Wilson," the Colonel said. "Corporal take the Sergeant to his barracks, he's to stay there until I send for him."
Chris went into the cell and bent down in front of the boy. "You okay?" The boy looked at him and then nodded. He helped him to his feet. He handed him his tunic. "Do you want to come with me?" he asked. The boy nodded. "I'd like a spoken answer."
Sky Eyes glared at him but Chris' gaze didn't waver. "Yes."
"Good boy," he said ruffling the boy's hair. The boy backed away. "What's your name?"
"I mean your English name."
"Sky Eyes," he answered defiantly.
"Alright, for now."
"You're taking him?" the Colonel asked.
"Yes, if any of his family does contact you, you know where to find me." They walked out of the building.
Chris mounted his horse again. He put his hand down and pulled the boy up behind him. They rode off.
"You can let me go now," Sky Eyes said as they rode along the road leading from the fort.
"So you do speak English? Want to tell me your name now?"
"Okay. My name is Chris Larabee."
They rode on until Chris found a spot to camp. He let the boy down and then dismounted. "You gather wood for the fire and I'll take care of Pony."
"I can look after your horse," the boy offered. Chris gave him one of his looks. "You don't trust me?"
"Nope. But I'm willing to give it a shot. Here. You try anything and I promise you'll be sorry." He threw the rein to the boy.
Chris turned to pick up some wood. He'd barely walked three steps when he heard Pony take off. "I warned you boy," he said. He whistled and Pony came to a halt nearly sending the boy flying out of the saddle.
The boy vaulted from the saddle and took off. Chris ran to Pony and set off after him. He had to admit the boy was good. Chris took his rope off the saddle and it flew over the boy's head pinning his arms to his sides and bringing him to a halt.
Chris tied the rope to his saddle and jumped off. Sky Eyes shouted at him in Kiowa. "I'm sure that isn't complimentary. Just be glad I don't have a bar of soap handy."
The boy stopped and looked at him. "Get up," Chris said pulling him to his feet. "You can walk back to camp." He mounted and pulled the rope making Sky Eyes walk behind.
When they arrived back at the camp Chris tied him to a tree. "Let me go," he said.
"Nope. You'd best stop trying to run. You haven't got anywhere to go. There's no one left at your village."
"I know," the boy's head went down before Chris could see the tear.
"You'll be safe with me. My friends and I protect Four Corners for Judge Travis. I have a small ranch where I breed horses. You can help."
"You need someone to look out for you."
"I could kill you in the night and take off."
"You could but I don't think you will. Not when you're tied to a tree anyway."
Chris had taken care of Pony and got a fire going. He made some food. He went over to the boy. He untied him and pulled him to his feet. "I want your word that you will not escape."
"And if I won't give it."
"You can stay tied to the tree."
"How do you know I won't sneak away?"
"I don't. But I'm offering you a home and a job. I can't keep you tied up for ever."
"You're a fool."
"Maybe. But I can promise you that if you run off I'll find you and when I do I'll deal with you." Chris sat down on a fallen log. "Now let's deal with you running off." He pulled Sky Eyes down and over his knee. He held him tight round the waist and started swatting him hard.
The boy bucked up trying to get away but Chris only tightened his grip. "You try that again and you'll get more with your trousers off." He kept swatting until he'd delivered 12 hard smacks to his backside.
Chris let go and the boy jumped to his feet. His hands wiped away tears that had dripped down his cheeks. "Look at me," Chris said forcefully
Sky Eyes glared at him. "I hate you."
"I'm sure you do. I didn't particularly like my father after he'd spanked me either."
"You're not my father. He's dead. And my mother. The soldiers killed them." His voice got higher and higher.
"I'm sorry boy. I can't change that."
"I hate white people."
"We're not all like that. Your real parents were white."
"They're dead too."
"Did the Kiowa…."
"NO! My people don't raid farms and ranches. We hunt. The soldiers attacked for no reason. The Comanche killed my Papa. They sold me to the Kiowa for some horses. Running Wolf took me as his son."
"I'm glad you had someone to look after you. Now it's my job."
"I can look after myself," Vin protested.
"How old are you?"
"About 15. I'm not really sure. I was about 4 when the Comanche took me."
"Will you tell me your real name?"
"Sky..," then he changed his mind. "Vin. My Mama called me Vin after her father."
"And you have no relatives?"
"No. No one that I know."
"Neither have I. My mother died when I was small and my Dad and brother were killed during the war."
"You have no one either."
"I have friends, the ones that live in Four Corners. There's Buck and his brother JD, he must be about your age. Then there's Josiah, he used to be a preacher. There's Nathan, he's our sort of doctor and then there's Ezra."
"You don't sound as if you approve of him."
"He's a gambler."
"They sound interesting."
"They are. Now eat up." He watched as Vin ate the food quickly. "Do I have your word not to try and escape?"
"We'll stay here tonight and head home tomorrow." He looked over at Vin. "You'll need to cut your hair."
"Vin you can't wear it like that in town. You'll be a target for anyone that hates Indians."
"I don't care."
Vin knew Chris was right. After the way the sergeant had behaved at the fort he knew there would be others just as prejudiced as he had been. "Okay. Do it now."
Chris took out his knife and cut off the braids. "There's a stream over there where you can wash."
"Okay, I suppose I could do with a wash and so could my clothes. I don't have anything else to wear," he said.
Chris threw him a shirt from his saddlebags. "Take this."
Vin felt much better after his wash. He hung his clothes over some branches near the fire. Chris' shirt was too big but it kept him warm. Vin's hair was much more blond now and quite curly.
"Sit near the fire, I don't want you catching cold." He handed him a cup of coffee. "You can sleep on my bedroll tonight. I'll be fine."
Vin wrapped himself in the blanket and was soon asleep. Chris looked over at the sleeping boy. Buck would never believe this, hell he couldn't believe what he'd done. But for some reason he felt a connection with this boy. He reminded him of someone. He lay down on the other side of the fire and slept.
Chris was woken by screams. He jumped up grabbing his gun as he stood. Vin was thrashing about on the blanket caught in a terrible nightmare. Chris went over and tried to waken him. He shot upright, looking very confused. "It's alright," Chris said. "It was just a dream."
"I'm okay," Vin said shakily.
"Can you get back to sleep?" Vin wrapped himself in the blanket and turned away from Chris' gaze. "Want to tell me about it?"
"Okay." Chris sat at the fire and watched until he fell asleep again.
The next morning Vin was embarrassed about waking Chris up. "Don't worry kid," Chris said. "I've had a few bad dreams myself. Just ask Buck when you meet him."
Vin dressed in his now dry clothes and handed Chris his shirt. "We'll buy you some clothes when we get to Four Corners."
They rode off towards Four Corners. "You speak English well. How did you manage to remember it after all the time you were with the Kiowa?"
"My mother was white."
"I know you told me."
"No. My Kiowa mother. She had been taken from a ranch many years before. She made me speak to her every day in English."
"She was right," Chris said. "She sounds like a very sensible woman."
Vin was quiet for the rest of the journey. "We'll go into town and I'll introduce you to the others." He felt Vin's grip tighten as the town came into sight. "You okay?"
"Chris," a voice called. A huge bear of a man called from the roof of a building. He let himself down to the ground and came over.
"I see you have a companion, "he said.
"Josiah, meet Vin."
"Josiah is one of the peacekeepers I told you about but he is also a preacher. Anything happen when I was away?"
"Nope, just a few drunk cowboys. Judge Travis left this morning."
Chris got down off Pony. Vin jumped down beside him. "You stay with Josiah, I'll put Pony away."
"Can I take him?" Vin saw the questioning look. "I won't run off, I gave you my word."
"Alright." Chris pointed to a building down the road. "Take him to the barn there, tell Yosemite I'll be down later."
"Right." Vin leapt up on the saddle and took off." He stopped and looked back at Chris.
"Think there's a good story there. I've got coffee on the stove if you've time."
"I should have."
Vin went into the livery. "Well boy I recognise the horse."
"Chris says he'll be down later." Vin looked around. "Can I help you?"
"If you want." He handed Vin a pitchfork and he pointed to a couple of empty stalls. "Clean those out and I'll give you a few pennies."
Vin worked hard. As he was reaching the back of the barn he heard snorting. He looked out. A black horse with a white blaze was angrily pacing around a small corral. Vine went over. He held his hand out. He spoke to him gently in Kiowa. He climbed up onto the rail. The horse came over and sniffed his hand. Vin scratched behind the horse's ears.
"Never seen anything like it," Yosemite said from behind him. "The boy's a natural. That horse would take off most folks fingers if'n they did that to him."
"Get down Vin," Chris said softly trying not to spook the horse.
Vin turned to look at him. "He's just what I want Chris, can I have him?"
"You want him?" Yosemite said.
"Yes, please Chris, you did say I could have a horse."
"He's vicious," Chris said.
"No he's not. He's just angry. I'll work here and buy him myself." Vin looked over at Chris. "I don't need you looking after me. I'll work here and pay my way."
Chris glared at Vin. "I'll think about the horse. But I am not going to argue with you about this again. You are my responsibility."
"Don't have to be. No one'll know."
"Enough," Chris said forcefully. This time Vin glared at him. "And you can wipe that look off your face. If you want this horse then I'll get him for you but I do not want you working with him unless I'm there."
"I've worked with horses all my life," Vin protested.
"I mean it, you disobey me and you know the consequences."
Vin glared at him again. "God Stud, you never told me you had a kid," Buck said laughing.
Chris turned round to face Buck. "I am not his kid," Vin said.
"Coulda fooled me, that glare looks very familiar."
Chris grabbed Buck by the arm giving him a look to tell him to stop. "How's JD?"
"He's fine. Hit his head so he didn't do any damage."
"Very funny big brother," a boy said. "Hi Chris."
"Hi JD. This is Vin," Chris said to him. "I found him at Fort Vasquez. He's about your age, will you show him around?"
"Sure. Come on Vin."
The boys walked out. "Okay Stud, what's the story?"
"He was at the fort, Buck."
"I thought he might be but why is he with you?"
"Who else would want a kid whose been brought up by the Indians? They were beating him."
Buck knew Chris well, he knew he hated cruelty of any kind and especially against a boy."
"You know I'll help any way I can," Buck said.
"I know, he's a bit wild but he's a good kid. He reminds me of someone but I can't think who."
"We're going to need to add to that shack of yours. It's barely big enough for you."
"I know. I've been meaning to add to it. I'll order some lumber and take it out this weekend."
"Make it big enough to take me and JD as well. I like fishing and hunting out there but I would prefer not to have to sleep on the floor."
Chris laughed. "Getting old Buck?"
"I'll have you know I'm in my prime." Buck was pleased to see Chris laugh. "Boy's gonna need some clothes."
"I'll take him to the Store today."
"Best go find them," Buck said. Since Buck's younger brother had come to stay with him he felt that he was an expert on teenagers. Chris did appreciate his offer of help though.
JD and Vin were walking around town. "It's big," Vin said.
"I was brought up in New York, this is very small compared to it. In New York they have wide streets, parks and lots of shops."
"I don't think I'd like it, it sounds noisy."
"You miss it?"
"Sometimes. I lived there with my Mamma. She worked in a house there. I didn't even know about Buck. When she died she left me a letter and told me to find him. I headed west."
"He good to you?"
"Yes, Buck's the best. He can be a bit over protective but he means well. What about your family?"
"Dead," Vin said in a flat voice.
"All of them?"
"Yes." He saw the pity in JD's eyes. "I don't need anyone. As soon as I can get enough money I'm heading out of here and heading into the mountains. I'm going to catch some horses."
"I'd love to do that," JD said.
"You can ride?"
"Course I can. I learned in New York. I worked in the stables of the house Mamma worked in."
"There's your brother," Vin pointed down the street.
"Come on, let's see if I can persuade him to buy us some chocolate."
"You've never had chocolate?" JD asked amazed.
"I don't think so," Vin said.
"Come on you're going to love this."
"We'll get you some clothes," Chris said.
"I don't need more," Vin protested.
They entered the store, "Mrs Potter, "Buck called loudly.
"I'm here Buck," she said coming through to the shop. "Mr Larabee," she said seeing Chris.
"This is Vin," Chris said. "He's going to be staying with me for awhile so he's going to need some clothes."
"Come over here, young man." She handed him some trousers. "Go try them on behind that curtain."
Vin came out wearing them. They fitted him alright so Chris asked for 3 more pairs in that size and another pair he can wear to church.
"Church?" he said. "I don't go to church."
"You will from now on. Josiah preaches there." Vin scowled at him. Yet another thing he was expected to do because Chris was telling him to.
"You can take that look off your face. Pick out some shirts, underwear and socks." Mrs Potter handed him some things and he tried them on.
"Boots," Buck said picking them up from the counter.
"I don't wear boots."
"You can't go around in bare feet."
"I have for years," Vin argued.
"You're wearing boots." It was when he turned to face Vin and saw the blue eyes glaring at him that he realised who Vin reminded him of, his brother Luke.
Mrs Potter put the clothes into a neat bundle and wrapped them in brown paper. She saw Vin look at the sweets in the jar. "It's toffee, take a piece."
Vin pulled a piece out and licked it, "Tastes good."
"Take another piece for later," she said.
"It'll rot his teeth if he eats too much."
She picked up a bar of chocolate and put it in as well. "All boys like chocolate."
Chris handed over the money and turned to Buck. "I'm going to take Vin to the bath house."
"I've had a bath," Vin said.
"You need another one before you put on your new clothes."
"You're real bossy cowboy. I can take care of myself."
"So you keep saying."
"I can," he shouted. "You just forget about me and let me leave." He turned to walk away.
"OK had enough," Chris said throwing Vin over his shoulder. "It's been a long day."
"PUT ME DOWN!" Vin shouted.
"You're having a bath whether you want one or not." Vin started to shout again but this time in Kiowa. Chris delivered a hard slap to his backside. "Stop it!" Vin started to shout again.
"If I were you I'd take a bar of soap in for his mouth," Josiah said. Vin stopped. "I speak Kiowa."
Chris put him back on his feet. "You make any more fuss and I'm going to turn you over my knee, pull your trousers down and smack your butt right here in front of everyone," Chris said in his ear. Vin went red. He'd had enough. "Bath house is that way," he said pushing Vin towards a building as he swung round to speak to Josiah.
Vin started to walk, there was a horse outside the building next to the bath house. Now was his chance. He took off, vaulted into the saddle, grabbed the reins and made off.
Next thing he knew he was sitting in the road, the horse standing beside him. Ezra ran up. He ran his hand over the horse's leg. "He better not be hurt boy."
Chris and Josiah ran up. "Is he alright Ezra?" Josiah asked.
"Yes. No thanks to you," he said to Vin. "Where did this uncouth urchin come from?" he asked.
"He's my responsibility Ezra," Chris said. "I'll deal with him." Chris pulled him to his feet.
"Please don't," Vin begged. He could see all the people watching.
Chris looked round. He couldn't do it in front of all these people no matter what he'd said to the boy. He wanted to punish him not humiliate him.
"Bath house," Chris said through clenched teeth. Josiah followed.
"Walt fill up a tub with hot water," Chris said.
"Course, Mr Larabee. Take about 10 minutes to heat up the water."
"That's fine." He pushed Vin into a small room where Walt kept the towels and soap. "Now let's deal with your behaviour." He sat on a chair pulling Vin over his knee. He pulled down his trousers. Chris picked up a wooden brush that was sitting on the shelf and brought it down over his backside. Vin let out a yell.
"NO!" he shouted.
"I intend to make sure that you don't try to run off again." Vin struggled to free himself but it was no good. Chris brought the brush down again and again. His backside was getting sorer and sorer. He was determined not to cry out again but he could not stop the tears that flowed down his cheeks. Two more smacks and Chris righted him to his feet.
Chris pulled out a piece of material and handed it to him. "Wipe your face and blow your nose."
There was a knock at the door, "Bath's ready Chris," Josiah said.
Chris grabbed a towel and a bar of soap. He pushed Vin through to the bath house. Only Josiah was there. "Get in, boy," Chris said.
"I'll see you at the boarding house," Josiah said.
Vin hissed as the water hit his throbbing backside. "I hate you," he said. "I want to go home."
Chris pulled the boy into his arms and finally Vin cried. Chris rubbed his back until he stopped. "I know son, it isn't easy to lose everyone you've loved."
"How would you know?" Vin said.
"I lost my wife and child a few years back. I know." Chris let him go. "Let's get you washed."
Vin was soon clean and in his new clothes. He hardly looked like the boy Chris had found at the Fort.
"You look good," Chris said. He saw Vin put a leather pouch around his neck. "What's that?" he asked.
"It's mine," Vin said defensively.
"Okay," Chris said. "I don't doubt you, I just wondered what it was."
"It's my medicine bag to keep me safe. My father made it for me. I won't let you take it."
"I wasn't going to. Let's go eat."
He took Vin to the boarding house where they stayed when in town. "Mrs Bridger, can you put a small bed in my room for Vin to sleep on when we're in town?"
"Of course Mr Larabee but if he doesn't mind, JD said he could share his room. There's two beds in it."
"Thanks. I'll share with JD." Easier to escape from Vin thought to himself.
"It's next door to mine," Chris said as if reading his thoughts.
"Vin, I've set a place here for you." She pointed to a seat with a large cushion on it. Vin went red. "Josiah explained about you hurting your back so I thought this would be more comfortable.
"Thanks ma'am," Vin said looking gratefully at Josiah.
Mrs Bridger set a plate of food in front of Vin. "This is good," Vin said around a mouthful of food.
"Take your time," Chris said. "There's plenty more. And eat the vegetables."
"I don't like them," Vin said.
"No vegetables, no chocolate cake for afters." Vin glared at him. "And glaring at me won't help." Vin pouted instead.
"God Stud, you been giving him lessons on glaring."
"Very funny Buck." Buck hadn't been joking, at that moment Vin had looked very like Chris.
Vin's eyes lit up when he saw the cake coming through. "That looks a mighty fine cake ma'am," Vin said.
"Don't thank me for it son, you need to thank Mrs Wells. She makes cakes and tarts for me." Vin made up his mind to meet this woman as soon as he could. He had never tasted anything like this in his life before.
"If those vegetables don't disappear down your throat you won't be eating any of it." Vin wished he could just make them disappear but he bravely speared the green beans and put them in his mouth.
"I eat mine first," JD said, "Then I eat the good stuff."
"Good idea," Vin said. He finished the vegetables. The cake tasted delicious, he had a second helping and would have had a third if Chris hadn't stopped him.
"You'll be sick," he said.
Vin glared at him. "When are we going to the ranch?"
"Tomorrow," Chris said.
"Can I go visit Peso?" Vin said getting up and throwing his napkin down on the table.
"Yes you can but…" Chris made sure Vin was looking directly at him, "you are not to go into the corral."
"How can I train him if you don't let me in the corral?" Vin asked annoyed.
Chris had to bite his lip before replying. "We'll take him with us to the ranch tomorrow." He saw a look of rebellion on Vin's face and added," For someone sitting on a cushion you're being very argumentative." Vin blushed but got the message.
"Okay," he said. "But can I go see him?"
"Go. Take JD with you."
They ran off towards the livery.
"He'll be good company for JD," Buck said.
"He'll probably get him into a lot of trouble," Chris warned.
"I'm sure JD can look after himself," Buck said confidently. He'd had no trouble from JD up to now.
The two boys sat on the top rail of the corral, Peso came over to Vin when he called him. He snorted at JD who laughed. "He may like you but I don't think he's too fond of me or anyone else."
Vin rubbed the horse's ears and swung his leg over the fence. "Chris said not to go in the corral," JD warned.
"He's not my father," Vin said.
"Your funeral," JD said.
Vin slid from the fence onto Peso's back. He rode him around the corral a few times and then got back onto the fence. "He didn't even bother about you riding him," JD said in awe of Vin's skill. "I've seen him throw men off and try to stomp them when they were on the ground."
"I'm good with horses."
JD put his hand into his pocket and pulled out some coins, "I've got enough for some toffee."
They jumped off and ran up the street. JD came to a halt outside the store. "Miss Nettie," he said to an old woman who was coming out of the shop.
"JD," she said. "Casey's inside if you want to see her."
"Thanks." He went inside.
Nettie bent down to pick up her packages. "Need some help ma'am?" Vin asked.
"Thank you, young man." Vin picked some up. "In that wagon there," she said pointing. "Haven't seen you in town before."
"Vin," he said holding out his hand. She shook it.
"Have your family just moved here?"
She saw a sad look cross his face," No ma'am. All my family are dead."
"Son, I'm sorry. Who are you staying with?"
"With me Miss Nettie," Chris said walking up to stand beside her.
"Christopher. And where did you meet this well-mannered young man?" Vin blushed.
"I met Vin at the fort. He's going to help me with the horses at my ranch."
"Are you good with horses?"
"Yes ma'am. I love working with them."
"Can I ask how old you are?"
"You don't know?"
"I think I might be 15 but I'm not sure."
"Vin lived with the Kiowa after being taken from his home in a Comanche raid."
"I see. You don't have any other family?"
"My parents were killed. I'm alright, I can look after myself."
Chris handed him a penny, "Go get yourself some candy for helping Miz Nettie."
"Don't need to be paid to help a lady," he answered crossly.
"Then take it as a treat from me," Chris said.
"If'n you're gonna talk about me I think I should stay here."
"Vin!" Chris said in a warning voice. He could see the anger on the boy's face and so could Nettie.
"Very well Vin, you're right," Nettie said breaking the tension. "If you are 15 then the law says you must attend school."
"What? NO. I aint going to school." He glared at them both. "Bet you knew that you fu…" A hand smacked his backside before he could finish the word but it wasn't Chris who had hit him.
"I will not tolerate that language. I'm sure your mother wouldn't have either," Nettie said simply. "I have a bar of soap in that bag, I can always get it and use it on your mouth."
Vin could see that she meant it. "No ma'am. Sorry."
"Now about school." Vin lowered his eyes. There was no way he was going to school to be laughed at. "The new term doesn't start until September so you've got plenty of time to get used to the idea."
"Why're you so interested?" he asked sullenly.
"I teach school." Vin sighed. He just couldn't get a break. It did give him time to organise his escape. "I assume you're never been to school."
"No, don't need school in a Kiowa camp."
"And what if you decide you want to read a newspaper?"
"Why would I?"
"To find out what is going on in the world."
"Not interested in the world. I aim to go back and join my people when I can."
"If you could read, write and count you could help your people."
"My people aren't interested in books."
"Have you ever had a book read to you? It takes you to another world."
"I got enough problems in this world," Vin said. "My Mama used to read to me when I was small," he said wistfully.
"You seem a clever boy, wouldn't you like to read a book?" She saw a look on his face for just a second then the shutters came down again.
"NO," he said loudly, "And I aint goin no matter what he says," Vin said pointing to Chris.
Vin started to walk away, "Vin, take the penny and get some candy." Chris flipped a coin to him. Chris turned to Nettie. "I'll work on him."
"I can give him extra tuition. I'll get some books from the school and bring them out to your cabin. If you get a slate he can start practising his letters."
"I'll get it in the store."
"Tell Casey I'm ready to go," she said to Chris.
Vin was standing at the counter looking at all the different kinds of candy. JD was standing beside him. Chris went to Mrs Potter, "I need to buy a slate and a pencil." She moved to one of the shelves.
"Don't waste your money cos I aint goin."
Chris paid for the slate and pencil and turned to Vin. "And I'm not arguing with a child who should know better. Have you got your candy?" Vin went red, he hated being treated like a child.
"Let's go JD, Vin," he said. They paid for their candy and followed Chris out. He went to the Sheriff's office. Buck was sitting looking at some wanted posters.
"Can we go to the ranch tomorrow?" JD asked.
"We're going tomorrow. We're to collect the lumber in the morning."
"You ordered it?" Chris asked.
"Yep. Got enough to add on two more rooms."
"Good, could you and JD get some supplies from the store?"
"Sure," Buck said. JD and Buck left.
"What have I done wrong now?" Vin asked.
"We need to talk about school."
"I aint goin," Vin shouted.
"Vin it's the law."
"I don't care," Vin shouted. "I aint gonna be here long enough to go to school," he blurted out in anger.
Chris glared at him. "Let me make one thing quite clear little boy," he emphasised the little boy part. "You run away and I'll come after you. And don't doubt I'll find you." Chris saw the look of disbelief on Vin's face. "I have friends who can track just as well as you can. And when I catch you, you're going to be one sorry boy. Get my meaning?"
Vin glared at him. The way Chris said it he had no doubt he would try and find him but let him try. He was an excellent tracker, Chris would never find him. "I get your meaning," he said.
"Good, now about your schooling. Nettie will give you some extra lessons so that you get a start before term starts. She's a good teacher. And I can help you as well." Vin snorted.
Vin hated this. He was in white man's clothes, wearing boots that pinched his feet with a man who he was sure enjoyed torturing him. He had to get away. He took to his heels banging the door behind him.
Chris shouted," VIN!" but he ran and didn't stop until he arrived at a pond just outside of town. He threw himself down on the ground.
He heard a cough and lifted his head. "Our glorious leader annoying you?" Ezra asked.
"You're Ezra? The gambler?"
"Guilty as charged."
"Larabees a pain in the ass."
"On that I would have to concur. Mr Larabee seems to think when he shouts we should all jump."
"You're right about that. He aint my Pa. He keeps telling me what to do. Says I gotta go to school."
"And you don't want to?"
"No. I don't need books or writing."
"You don't like books?" Ezra said incredulously.
"Yes. When you read it takes you to another world. I love reading."
"It's okay if'n you can read. Imagine having to go to school at my age and admitting you can't read. They'll laugh at me."
"I doubt Miz Wells would allow that. I could read to you if you want."
"I don't want anyone to know," Vin said.
"It'll be our secret. I often go to the roof of the mercantile for some peace. You could join me."
"What books do you like?" Vin asked.
"Well when I was your age, I loved a book called Treasure Island. It was about pirates and a young boy called Jim. Then there's The Three Musketeers. I'll bring them both and you can pick."
"Thanks Ezra." Vin didn't know why he liked the idea of Ezra helping him, may be it was because he didn't make him do it. "Do you come here often?"
"It's quiet. I come here to think and sometimes to read."
"What are you reading?"
"It's called The Time Machine."
"What's it about?"
"I was just about to start it." Ezra opened the book and started to read. Vin sat up and listened to Ezra's voice. He made it all come to life.
"Vin?" a voice called spoiling the quiet moment. Vin immediately bristled. Ezra closed the book and put it into his pocket.
"Mr Larabee," Ezra called. "Over here."
Chris came striding over. He looked at Vin. Ezra spoke before Chris could say anything, "We were talking, sorry. We forgot the time."
"If you want to come here I don't mind Vin but you need to tell me that you're coming here."
"Maybe's I don't want you to know," Vin answered.
"I am responsible for you. If you can't cooperate with me then you can stay in town where I can see you."
"You don't need to be responsible for me."
"But I am. Chris couldn't explain the connection he felt for this boy but it was there and it was strong. "I don't want to argue with you all the time but if you can't see that the rules are for your own safety then you'll need to stay in my sight." He turned to Ezra," Josiah's looking for you."
"Then I'd best hurry along. Do you want to walk with me?" he said to Vin.
"Sure." They walked off together. Chris almost laughed. He'd never imagined that these two would be friends. He walked back to town.
"Ez, how old are you?"
"Eighteen," he said. "For some reason Josiah feels responsible for my wellbeing. I've been looking after myself for the past few years."
"Yes. My mother taught me."
"Yes, she is by far one of the best gamblers this side of the Mississippi."
"Could you teach me?"
"No," Ezra said before Chris could say anything. "Josiah made me promise not to teach anyone younger than me. He was quite insistent about it. We can play cards though as long as it's not poker."
"I'd like that."
Chris watched as they both walked back to town. He'd never thought the tow of them would be friends, they were so different. Chris went over to speak to Buck.
Ezra quickly showed Vin how he got up onto the roof. "They never think of looking here," he said.
"EZRA!" a voice bellowed.
"Better go, that's Josiah." Ezra swung over the end of the building and landed on the balcony below. He was soon on the ground and heading towards Josiah. Vin almost laughed when he saw Josiah swat Ezra.
He sat down on the roof thinking things over. He pulled the medicine bag from around his neck. He took all the things that were in it out. All the important things he owned were in the bag. He pulled out a locket and opened it. Inside was a photograph of his mother and his father. On the other side was a picture of his mother holding him when he was about two. This was all he had to remind him of their faces. Sometimes he would dream about them, he wasn't sure if they were real memories or just things he'd hoped they would do together. He pulled out a small feather and a piece of material. This was all he had left of his Indian family. The soldiers had taken the knife his father had given him. He missed having the knife to protect himself.
"Vin," a voice shouted from the street below. He quickly put all the things back into the pouch and climbed down. He made sure to climb down the opposite side of the building to where Chris was standing.
"Time for dinner," Chris said. "Where were you?"
"Just walking. I wasn't doing anything I shouldn't."
"It's okay, let's just go eat."
Vin was hungry and ate everything on his plate without Chris having to say anything.
After they'd all finished eating Chris said," Off to bed. We're leaving early tomorrow. I want to visit Nettie's on the way to the cabin."
The two boys were soon fast asleep.
They left town early the next morning. Buck had the lumber loaded on the wagon when Vin and Chris got there. "Go get your horse," Chris said," but no riding."
Vin tied Peso to the back of the wagon and sat beside JD. Chris rode up on Pony. They headed for Nettie's farm.
"We can do some repairs for her," Buck said. "The boys can help."
Nettie was in her garden when they arrived. JD looked around. "She's in the barn milking Rosie."
JD jumped off and ran to the barn. He turned round and shouted," Come on Vin."
Vin followed him. Casey was sitting on a stool a pail of milk in front of her. She turned to look at them. "You've come to go fishing?"
"Nah, Chris and Buck want us to help do some chores for your aunt."
"I'm sure they won't need you," she said.
"Casey!" Nettie shouted. "I need the milk inside now. Then you can do the mending."
"But Aunt Nettie I was going fishing."
Chris and Buck checked the fences and barn. "Vin, will you come in."
When he walked in Nettie had some books laid out on the table. "I already told you and Chris I aint interested in learning to read."
"Why?" The question stopped him in his tracks. "Why do you not want to learn?"
"I just don't."
"Not a very good answer. I know you're a bright boy. At least let me show you how easy it is."
Vin sat down. Nettie picked up a book and opened it. She showed him some letters and told him the sounds, then she made him sound them. "d … o…g, that's dog," he said.
"Yes it is. Shall I show you some more?" Vin nodded. By the time Chris came in he was engrossed. He was saying the letters as Nettie pointed to them.
"I'm impressed," Chris said as he came in.
"He's very quick," Nettie said. "I've got some books here for you to take. You can help him." She saw the look on Vin's face when she said Chris could help him. "It will only take a short time each day and then you can do it yourself. Once you're more confident with reading we'll try some writing."
"Didn't know you could teach school Chris? Next time Nettie wants time off you can substitute," Buck said laughing.
"Very funny. We're finished the repairs Nettie, we'll be heading off."
She went into her larder and brought out two plates. "This is a peach one and this is a chocolate one. I think Vin deserves a slice when he gets home."
"Thanks Miz Nettie," he said.
When they went out Vin asked," Can I ride Peso?"
"Vin!" Chris said in a warning voice not wanting to argue again over this.
"Please," he almost pleaded.
"When we get home," Chris said.
"No buts Vin ."
Vin took off and launched himself onto Peso's back. Peso didn't move. "See?"
Chris looked like a thundercloud as he approached Vin. "Get down right now."
"But I showed you?"
"Down now," he said grabbing Vin's arm. He turned to Nettie, "Can I use your woodshed?"
"NO!" Vin shouted trying to shake off Chris's hand.
"Excuse us," he said as he dragged Vin to the small building at the side of the house. He shut the door behind him. He pushed Vin over the pile of wood. Vin heard a whoosh and then his backside felt as if it was on fire. Chris brought the belt down three more times. "When I say no I mean it. Understand?" Vin didn't answer so Chris brought the belt sown another three times.
"I understand," he said through clenched teeth. Chris let him get up.
"Get on the wagon," Chris said opening the door. Vin took off. He saw the look of sympathy as he climbed onto the wagon hissing as he sat down.
"You'll need these," Nettie said handing him the books.
Vin was quiet the whole way to Chris's ranch. He saw the small house as they arrived.
"Let's unload the lumber into the small lean to. JD take the food inside. Vin take Peso and put him in the corral."
Soon everything was ready. Chris and Buck paced out and marked where they would add on the extra rooms. They dug holes and put in the large posts.
"We're putting on two more rooms, hope you boys won't mind sharing when you are both here."
"No," I won't," JD said.
That night after eating the two boys slept in the bed and Buck and Chris slept on the floor.
Vin woke early and got up. He went down to the corral and small barn and cleaned out the stalls. He fed the horses and gave them fresh water. When he went back to the house Chris was sitting on the small porch at the front. "Checking up on me?" Vin asked.
"No. Just enjoying my coffee. There's some on the stove if you want it."
Vin went in and poured a cup of black coffee. "You should get a cow."
"Not here often enough."
"Suppose so." He looked at Chris," Can I ride Peso now?"
"Alright. But I want him wearing a saddle."
Vin would have promised anything, he ran to the corral and soon had Peso saddled. Vin mounted and trotted on. Chris could see he was a very good rider.
"Let's go for a ride," he said getting Pony ready.
They set off. Vin was desperate to let Peso have his head but did not want Chris to stop him riding. They set off at a good pace. Vin stopped. "Can I use your rifle?"
"For dinner," Vin said pointing to shapes in the distance. Chris handed it over. Two shots rang out and Vin rode away. He came back carrying two rabbits.
"Good shot," Chris said patting him on the back. Vin grinned. Vin's stomach grumbled. "Best get back and have something to eat."
Buck had breakfast ready when they arrived. Chris set the two rabbits on the floor beside the door. "Vin's an excellent shot."
"Great," Buck said.
They ate quickly and soon got back to building the extension.
"JD sure likes to sleep," Vin said.
"Yep," Buck said. "Takes a bomb to waken him up."
"You sit and read your book until he gets up," Chris said.
"Can I have a piece of pie?"
"Only one piece." Vin groaned.
Soon JD stumbled through. "Hi."
"Afternoon," Buck called.
"Very funny," JD replied.
The two boys watched Buck and Chris for a short time. They soon got bored. "Think Chris and Buck look hot?" Vin asked JD.
"Sure do," JD replied grinning.
They picked up a bucket and filled it with water. They called Chris and Buck, who turned round. They were hit by the cold water. Both men gasped in shock. The boys laughed at the shock on their faces.
"Buck, you get yours and I'll get mine."
They took off after them. The boys were quick but eventually they were cornered in the barn.
"It was a joke, Chris," JD said still laughing.
"Yep," Chris said moving forward and grabbing Vin just as Buck caught JD. They threw them over their shoulders and headed for the small stream that ran down the side of the house.
"No!" both boys shouted as they landed with a splash.
"That was not funny," JD said.
"Was to us, after all it was only a joke."
The two of them changed into dry clothes. "Can we go for a ride?" Vin asked.
"Okay, but not too far. JD you know the rules?"
The boys rode off.
About an hour later Nettie rode up in her wagon.
"Forget something Nettie?" Chris asked.
"Where's Vin?" she asked.
"Riding with JD," Buck said.
Nettie took a small leather bag out of her pocket. "I think this belongs to him." It was the small leather bag he usually wore around his neck. "I found it when I went to get wood."
"Thanks Nettie, it means a lot to Vin," Chris said taking the bag from her.
Two horses came skidding to a halt. Vin vaulted off Peso, "You took my bag," he shouted.
"I found it Vin, it must have fallen off when you were in the wood shed with Chris." He blushed remembering what had happened. He made to grab it from Chris but Chris held on to it. The bag flew open and all Vin's treasures fell out. Vin fell to his knees to pick them up. The locket had burst open as it hit the ground.
Chris grabbed it before Vin could, "Where did you get this?" he asked angrily
"It's mine," Vin said.
"Where did you get it? Did one of the Kiowa give it to you?"
"No, it's mine. My Mama wore it."
"My real one, please give it back, it's the only picture I have of her."
"Why have you got a picture of my father in it?"
"Your father?" Vin looked at the picture.
"Yes, John Larabee, that's my father."
"He's my father," Vin said.
"He can't be. He didn't have a son your age."
Vin looked confused. "He is. That's my Mama with him."
"He married again? I didn't know. I left when the war started and never went back. We had a huge argument about him seeing a girl in town. One of my friends told me about her and I accused him of betraying my Mama. He told me to grow up and we fought."
"He never married her. I was born in 1863. We mostly stayed on the ranch, Mama didn't like the town. Only time we went in the man in the shop wouldn't serve her. I don't remember ever going back."
"You must have known who I was?" Chris said.
"Papa never spoke about you, only picture he had was of Luke. Papa said I was very like him."
"You are. I wish he'd told me," Chris said sadly. "I got a letter from a friend in town, told me my father had been killed in an Indian raid, he never mentioned you or your mother."
"Mama died of a fever not long before the attack. Papa was heartbroken." Tears dripped down his face.
Chris pulled him to him," No wonder I felt a bond with you." Chris hugged him and then pushed him from him to look at his face. "Why didn't you tell me your name was Larabee?"
"It's Tanner. Mama's name was Tanner. She was proud of her name."
"I'll make some coffee," Buck said, "Care to join me Miz Nettie?"
"I would." JD followed them.
"I'm sorry Vin. Maybe if I'd gone back, told him I was sorry."
"It don't matter. If you'd been home, they'd have killed you too." He pulled the boy back into his arms.
"Why did Papa keep pictures of Luke and not you?" he asked.
"Luke didn't disappoint him like I did. I became a gunfighter after I left the army. I knew he'd hear about it and I knew what he thought of men who lived by the gun. I went West and never looked back."
"I met Luke once when he came home. I was real little. It wasn't long before he was killed."
"Shot in the back by a robber," Chris said quietly. "And they thought he'd be safe in the bank."
"Is that why you became a lawman in Four Corners?"
"May be. It might just be because I was fed up running away. Come on let's go inside we've got a lot of catching up to do."
Chis ruffled his hair as they walked to the house. Home, they both thought.