Notes: This is Vin Tanners story, or how I see him growing up and finally joining up with the rest of the seven. I try and stick with canon as much as possible. I also have Vin fighting for the North during the Civil War. I did contemplate this for a long time and came up with the conclusion that Vin Tanner would fight for what he thought was right, and not be bound from he was from.
Special Thanks: To my betas Julie, Antoinette, and Katherine youre all just awesome!
Please send comments to: email@example.com
Hope Tanner watched as her husband rode on ahead of the wagon and oxen. Moving the reins into one hand she gently placed the other onto her growing belly. They had left Kentucky were heading to Amarillo, Texas, to make a new life for their family. It had been Mathews idea to purchase the small piece of land, and build a homestead there, and Hope knew she was on the right path. It was as though the wind was calling her name. The possibilities of their new home brought a smile to her face, a new life, with a new farm, and a new child.
Having been raised by her father, a trapper by trade, Hope was a five foot two inch rock. As a young girl, she was picking out knives to skin coons, wolves, and deer with, while other girls her age were picking out ribbons to put in their hair. Shed learned to shoot before shed learn to read, and if it werent for the fact that her belly was swollen with a child shed be wearing a side arm. Her father had made sure his daughter was going to be able to survive no matter what.
Her clothing was simple, but practical. With her long brown hair set neatly at the base of her skull she pulled her wide brimmed summer hat down further to shield her eyes from the sun. Sitting in the wagon seat hadnt done her ankles any good as she tried to keep them moving to prevent the swelling from getting too bad. When she and Mathew had started out on their trek west she hadnt told him she was in the family way. Nothing was going to keep her from her and her husbands dreams.
Dirt swirled around the feet of the oxen as they pulled the heavy wagon toward Texas. The sun beat down on them with an unforgiving heat, but the passionate blue sky and flat lands all but made up for it. Hope rubbed her belly again and started humming an old song her father used to sing at night by the fire. The wagon creaked and swayed as it slowly moved across the barren land. Home was just around the corner.
Hope smiled when she saw her husband gallop up. His face was dusty and the band of his hat showed just how hot he really was as sweat soaked through. His blue eyes glistened with pride and his heart swelled at the sight before him.
It aint much further, Mathews voice came out smooth and soft. You doin all right?
Hope nodded her head. Shed never admit that her back was sore or that she was unbearably hot. She wanted to get home. Ill be fine, she reassured. Whats it look like? she asked in anticipation.
Its real fine. Mathew slowed his horse to a walk next to the wagon. The cabinll need work, but Mr. Cooper said that in the letter he sent. I reckon Ill go into town in the next day or two and pick up a few supplies. He smiled and looked at his wife. Youre gonna love it, Hope.
I already do, she replied. I already do.
Like so much of the land they had crossed on their way, the Tanner homestead wasnt much different. A cabin, which had been built many years ago, was the only standing structure. The windows had been broken years before and only the tattered remains of what used to be curtains hung lifelessly in the windowpanes. The front door was ajar and off its hinges and the roof needed to be repaired. Weeds had grown of their own accord through the floorboards and around the porch. Hope didnt care this was home.
Mathew hadnt stopped talking about the plans he was making for this future cattle ranch. He talked as though he was going to get all the repairs done in a few days, as opposed to a few years. Hope just laughed. She loved the ideas her husband had and the passion in his heart when he spoke of things he felt strongly about.
The oxen came to a stop and Mathew helped his wife down onto the dusty ground. She didnt waste any time as she headed inside and immediately started ordering her husband to bring in the cleaning supplies, rags, the broom, and a pail of water. She wanted to make sure the house was clean before they moved in.
It was only a one-room home, but there was potential to build more. They were going to have to, with a child on the way and many more to come. This wasnt her first child. No. Her first had died in infancy a few months after his birth. This was the reason for the move, and the new dreams. Samuel had been a precious child with the brightest blue eyes, but life wasnt meant for him, God had other plans.
Home eighty acres, a small stream, and a large tree not far from the house yes, this was home. Hope looked again at the front entrance. Mathew had repaired the door, and was now putting the oxen away as well as his horse. The minimal amount of furniture fit inside of the cabin perfectly. A bed rested, made and covered in quilts and two pillows, near the far wall. An old rocker, the one her father had sat in so many times before, had been placed next to the Dutch oven. On the mantel sat a Bible, lamp, and Mathews rifle. A simply made table rested in the center of the room with two chairs at each end. A vase full of wild flowers had been placed in the middle. They had been Mathews welcoming home gift to Hope. Though he reassured her that the flowers wouldnt be able to compare with her beauty.
Mathew placed a loving arm around the waist of his wife his bride, and they looked at their home together. Hope rested her head on his shoulder, and with one hand on her belly and the other around his waist, she smiled. After two years of marriage, and six months of traveling to this very spot they were home.
Hope leaned against the doorframe and watched as the sun slowly made its descent. The light from within the cabin cascaded around her giving her an angelic appearance. Her long brown hair hung gently around her shoulders. Though graceful on her outer shell, inside, she was in chaos. Mathew had left with their neighbor David, to go out hunting. He had said he would be back before dark. It was now, just before midnight.
The oxen munched on their feed in the simple corral and their backs glowed under the light of the moon. The stream of running water behind the house was the only sound filling the air. On occasion an owl would screech and the distant howl of a wolf, but that was all.
Hopes mind wondered at the possibilities. Where was Mathew? Was he okay? Was David with him? Was he alone? Questions without answers, thats all they were. Her child was coming, and soon. Now wasnt the time to She couldnt even bear the thought. Mathew would come back. She was sure of it. She had to be.
When a single horse appeared in the distance Hopes heart pounded wildly in her chest. She stepped out onto the porch and waited in anticipation. When the familiar chestnut got closer, fear seeped into every poor of her body. The slumped shoulders of the rider gave Hope the impression that things were bad.
David pulled his horse to a stop and slowly dismounted. His throat constricted and he couldnt get his mouth to cooperate enough to form around the words he needed to speak. David wasnt a big man, and in many ways he reminded Hope of her husband. Though Mathews hair had been lighter, his eyes bluer, and his features softer, David had the same quality about him.
Please dont, Hope said, her voice barely above a whisper. She knew.
Im so sorry, David muttered past uncooperative lips. We were ridin along the ravine an his horse spooked, he grasped his hat tighter, not wanting to continue, but knowing he had to, I couldnt get down to im, he choked, but I stayed till I knew hed past.
Hope, trying to be strong, covered her mouth with her hand and nodded in understanding. The thought of her husband out there, unreachable, in so many ways, tore her to the bone. Thank you for not lettin him die alone. A tear shed down her cheek and she let it fall to her blouse.
You gonna be all right? David asked, continuing to roll the rim of his hat between his hands.
Hope just nodded, she didnt know what else to do.
Ill bring Abigail by in the mornin, shes not gonna want you here alone with a child comin matter of fact, why dont ya come home with me? Abby would prefer it. A light of encouragement flickered in Davids eyes.
No. Hope shook her head. Go home David, she ordered. She wanted needed, to be alone. Lovingly, she stroked her belly while refusing to look him in the eye.
David nodded his head in understanding. Abby and Ill come by in the mornin to see you. Then Ill get some men from town to retrieve Mathew. When he stepped forward to offer a hug, Hope backed away. She was facing the world on her own, and she intended to meet that challenge head on. David stepped back, he didnt want to push her. Ill be here in the mornin, he said again.
Hope nodded her head absently, and watched as David mounted his horse and headed off. Her whole being was engulfed in grief. Her child was due any day, and after only two months of living in this new territory, all of her dreams were crashing to the ground.
Stepping back into the cabin, Hope grabbed her belly as a contraction came. Not now, she cried, slipping to the floor. Not now.
Giving birth was not something Hope had intended to do on her own, even on the best of days. She knew what to expect, and she knew a little of what to do. After all, this wouldnt be her first child. Indian women did this all the time; it was common knowledge that theyd leave their workstations to have their children and return hours later to complete it. Hope could do that to, she was going to have to.
The contractions came hard and fast and she used the end of the bed as support. She screamed unashamedly as the pains racked her small body. This baby was coming with a vengeance and would stop at nothing to arrive.
At the crack of dawn, Vincent Mathew Tanner was born. Hope smiled down at her son and cried uncontrollably. Her hair was slick from sweat, and her face pale from the long night of exertion. However, she had a child to show for her effort. She tied off the umbilical cord and waited patiently for the last contraction to come. She had done it. Giving birth to this boy on her own, Vin would never learn how his father had perished, instead, hed learn how strong he was, and how strong he had made her. She didnt want her son living in the shadow of his father, it was more important for him to find himself in this life and decide who he wanted to be on his own.
Hope pulled her child to her breast and started feeding him. He was so perfect, in every sense of the word. She gently brushed away his stray brown hairs as he suckled her breast. Mathew would be so proud of this child, the child hed never see. Tears of happiness and loss streamed down her cheeks as the suns warm rays permeated through the windows.
Chapter 1 Vin watched his mother in amazement as she showed him how to use the rifle. He was so eager to learn, and prove he was growing into a strong man. Hope looked at her boy and smiled. Kneeling beside him she carefully positioned the rifle against his shoulder.
Hold it close to your shoulder, she instructed, allowing Vin to use the large bolder in front of him to help steady the heavy weapon.
I can do it, he reassured her, squinting his eyes and staring hard at the tin can that his mother had carefully positioned earlier.
Hope sat behind her son wanting so much to help, but at the same time realizing he was already craving his independence. When he pulled the trigger he yelped in pain and flew backwards into his mothers ready embrace.
Vin rubbed his shoulder and tried hard not to cry, but his quivering chin gave his deception away.
Yall right? Hope asked, not wanting to over shadow his accomplishment. Vin continued to rub his shoulder and nod his head. That was real good for your first time. She grabbed the rifle and started to reload the weapon. You want to try it again?
No, Vin thought, but he could see his mothers eyes pleading for him to say yes. Slowly, he nodded his head. Hed never disappoint his ma.
Hope repositioned the rifle again next to her sons shoulder. She was proud of Vin he was so much like his father. They shared the same eyes, and though it was still too early to tell if he was going to have the same build as his father, Hope knew that he would.
Vin took a deep breath and with new found determination he positioned the rifle just like his mother had showed him. He held the weapon close with a firm but not forceful grip. Im ready, he said softly, letting his mother know to back away.
Hope leaned back in understanding and waited.
The shot filled the air and Vin tried to keep his feet under him, but once again he fell back into his mothers warm embrace. His shoulder ached but he refused to cry. Hope wrapped her arms around her son and chuckled.
One of these days Vin, youre gonna be able to shoot the center out of a coin, she reassured him, unwilling to release her hold.
I aint so sure, Vin said in defeat.
You hit that can. Hope smiled when her son abruptly stood up and started looking for the target.
Vin turned and looked at her with the proudest of eyes. I did it, he whispered, then again but louder, I did it! He rushed behind the boulder and picked up the can and fingered the hole proudly. With his trophy grasped tightly in his hand he ran to his mother and wrapped his arms around her neck.
Now, I expect you to do everythin I told you about handlin that weapon, Hope instructed, her eyes only intensifying. You understand?
Vin pulled away and looked in earnest at his mother and then nodded. Yes maam.
Hope kissed him on the cheek then slowly got to her feet. Yes, so much like his father.
Hope sat on the edge of the bed and wiped her sons brown hair away from his face. She smiled, thinking about her father and his curly hair. It was the one thing Vin had inherited from his grandfather. The boy was sound asleep and curled up in a ball under the blankets. He was growing up way too fast, but if he didnt he wouldnt last long in this country. Slowly, she stood up and wiped her hand across her forehead. There was a lot to get done. Vin was growing out of his pants, his socks needed to be darned, and his hair was getting a bit too long.
She had to be strong for her son, and at times that meant being hard. Vin had learned early that it was the tilt of her head, or her stance that told him he was in trouble. Hope never struck her child out of anger, but she did discipline him. Vin, in turn, learned how to respect her wishes.
Vin would run and play in the yard chasing the chickens, climbing the trees, and many times exploring the caverns not far from the house, Hope would watch from the yard while hanging the laundry or churning the butter. She always got a kick out of watching her boy. Shed noticed early on that he had an eye for marksmanship. Whether it be from throwing a stone at the crows, or using his homemade slingshot to shoot at rabbits, the boy had a skill. She only wanted her son to build his talents and recognize his gifts.
Hope leaned back in her rocking chair and started to stitch her sons new britches. He was growing so fast, she sighed. She didnt know what to get him for his birthday, and it was quickly coming. She wiped her brow free of the beads of sweat that had gathered there. She knew shed been working too hard lately and the pains in her head were getting worse. Thankfully, she hadnt had a bloody nose for the past couple days, but she knew she was getting ill, and if she didnt slow down it would get worse.
Focusing her attention back to her darning, Hope remembered the things she had to get done. David was bringing Abigail by in the morning; this brought a smile to her face. Abby was such a good friend and she cherished Vin as though he was one of her own children. After Mathews death, David had tried to do all he could for Hope and her son, but it never seemed enough. Guilt had eaten away at his very soul and Abby could only watch as her husband suffered alone through his pain. Things had changed so much over the years, and never in her wildest dreams did Hope believe shed be raising a child on her own in this wilderness. Her father had taught her to survive and she was.
Vin awoke to find his mother asleep in her rocker. He pulled the top cover off the bed and gently laid it over her sleeping form then he quietly got dressed and headed outside. The sun was just making its appearance over the horizon and the sight brought a smile to the boys face. The chickens came rushing when they noticed him. They wanted to be fed and they followed him until the ground was coved with orange and yellow specks of grain. Vin rushed to the shed to collect the eggs, not wanting any angry hens coming after him.
When Vin reentered the house he found his mother awake but still in her chair. She smiled and motioned for him to join her. Without hesitation Vin sat the eggs on the counter and slipped onto his mothers lap.
Hope wrapped her arms around her son and sighed. Her head was hurting and she felt hot. She knew she was sick, but thought it wasnt anything to be worried about.
I fetched the eggs, Vin said, with a smile. I fed the hens first sos they wouldnt peck me.
Hope chuckled. Youve got your daddys way about you, she said happily.
Did the hens peck im too?
Covering her mouth Hope laughed and nodded. Yes, they pecked him too.
Vin rested his head against his mothers shoulder while she rubbed his back tenderly. Im sorry ya miss im so.
He left me with you. Hope took her sons face in her hands and wiped his unruly hair away from his eyes. Id never be sorry bout that.
Vin smiled and nodded his head. He jumped up when he heard the sound of a wagon outside. Hope smiled again in amusement, she didnt know where he got the energy. The front door was quickly swung open and Vin rushed outside to greet their visitors. Hope started to get up but her head swam for a moment and she ran her hand across her head. She knew she had a fever, and her weak body only confirmed it. She noticed the red spots under the sleeve of her shirt hadnt gone away, but instead theyd gotten worse. Summer was right around the corner and she had so much to do. She couldnt get sick now.
Vin rushed up towards the big bay mare and he reached up on his tiptoes to pat her soft velvety nose. The large horse nipped in response causing the young boy to chuckle. David stepped down off the buckboard and then helped his wife down. While Abby went on inside David picked Vin up and threw him over his shoulders. The boy squealed in delight.
Wanta ride? David asked, knowing what the answer would be.
Vin nodded his head in excitement, his voice cut short by the question. He watched David intently as he unhooked the mare from the wagon and then gently lifted the boy onto the animals back. Vin grabbed a handful of mane wearing a smile that could light up the sky. David chuckled while leading the horse around the yard. There was something about these large beasts that gave even the smallest child a sense of independence. David knew that better than anyone, with three growing boys of his own.
Abby walked into the cabin without much thought. Shed known Hope since her arrival some five years before. With few friends, and even fewer women friends, there was a special connection between the two, and they cherished their friendship.
Good heavens, Abby sighed, placing her hand on Hopes forehead.
Hope chuckled, knowing what Abigail was going to say. Its nothin, she tried to reassure. Ill be fine.
Girlies, youve got yourself a fever, and workin yourself to the bone aint gonna do that boy of yours any good. Abby helped Hope to her feet and then towards the bed where she intended to keep her.
Ive got too much to do, Hope complained, as a blanket was thrown over her shoulders.
I can do some mendin, and David can take care of the stock
Youve got your own place to see too
Samuel and Jacob have been workin the farm with their father and I spect they can do some on their own and Luke, well, Lukes in school. Besides, Abby grinned, itll do them some good to learn some responsibility.
Hope smiled and closed her eyes while listening to her friend move quietly around the cabin cooking and cleaning. The pain in her head was increasing and she was finding it almost unbearable to move. She didnt need to worry about Vin, David and Abby would see to him and for that she was thankful. She felt a cool cloth being placed on her forehead and knew instinctively that everything was going to be all right. It had to be.
Abby tried to keep Vin quite while Hope slept, but the boy was worried about his mother. Shed fallen asleep so long ago and it was almost nightfall. David had gone home to see to his boys and chores and then retrieve the town doctor. He left his wife to care for Vin and Hope.
Vin crawled up next to his mother when he noticed her move. A worried frown hadnt left his face since discovering shed fallen ill. Momma, he whispered quietly, not wanting to alarm Abigail of what he was doing.
Hope gently grasped her sons hand and squeezed. Though the sun was down the little light from the fire and glowing lanterns caused her head to hurt. Her face pinched in agony as abdominal cramps caused her to roll into a ball. Vin didnt leave her side. He couldnt remember her ever getting sick before, and this scared him.
Momma, Vin said louder. His eyes got wide when he saw a steady stream of blood ooze out of his mothers nose. Miz Abby! he called louder, not understanding what was happening.
Abigail stepped up to the bed and immediately reached for a wet cloth. Oh, Hope, she sighed, helping her friend sit up on the bed. Vin stood back unsure of what to do. Vin, child, Abby looked at the boy, knowing he was worried, and continued, go out to the creek and fetch me a pail of cold water can you do that? She waited until he nodded his head and watched at he quickly rushed from the cabin.
Abby sighed, looking at her friend. Putrid fever, she hung her head in hopelessness. Quickly, she helped Hope get out of her filthy clothing and changed her into a nightshirt. The cramping would get worse through the night, and the bleeding wouldnt stop.
Vin rushed back in with the pail full of water. His pant legs were soaking wet and even his shoes leaked water. Abby took the pail and started soaking some cloths. She noticed Vin standing next to the bed looking worriedly at his mother. The poor child, Abigail shook her head facing life on his own already.
Vin reached out and took his mothers hand and pulled himself up onto the edge of the bed. He didnt want to disturb her, and he didnt want to be a bother, but he needed so desperately for her to tell him everything was going to be all right.
Hope looked at her son and rubbed her thumb over the back of his hand. Remember youre a Tanner. She let a single tear stream down to the tip of her nose.
Oh yeah, momma. Vin sat up straighter. Vincent Mathew Tanner, he said proudly.
Hope shut her eyes but she smiled at her sons determination. She knew Abby was standing nearby and she knew that her good friend knew what was ailing her.
Whats wrong with er, Miz Abby? Vin turned pleading eyes to the older woman.
Abigail knelt down in front of the boy and gripped his knees while he sat on the bed. Your mommas real sick Vin, and you have to be real strong for her. She watched him nod his head. When David gets back with the doctor I want you to go to my house for a while. Her eyes were wide with encouragement.
I cant leave er, Miz Abby. Vins despair nearly broke her heart. Not willing to argue the point she simply nodded her head and busied herself and him. Hope was going to die it was just a matter of time.
David rode up in the wagon with the doctor sitting astride his mule. The old man had refused to ride in the wagon wanting to insure he had a way home on his mule that walked slower than a lame pony. It was Abby who rushed out of the cabin and pulled the doctor from his mount. David could tell that things were bad, and he sighed at the thought. He should have gone to get the doctor first thing, but instead he went home to check on his boys and made sure everything was fine. A tear fell down Davids cheek, hed failed Mathew again.
Doctor Burns entered the cabin already knowing the prognosis wouldnt be good. Hed seen cases like these all his life and none of them ended in a good way. He ushered Abigail and Vin outside and he immediately went to work.
Putrid fever wasnt an illness that killed quickly, and the doctor figured that Hope had been ill for some time perhaps even days. Headaches, intestinal cramping, and nosebleeds were all common signs of the fever. If caught in the early stages there was sometimes hope for survival, but Hope was too ill way too ill.
Doctor Burns stepped out of the cabin and looked at the three forms. He shook his head so only Abby and David could see. Hope was dying.
Abby knelt down next to Vin. You need to come home with me, she said softly, she knew he was scared and she didnt want to scare him more.
Momma needs me, he said, while shaking his head.
No, Vin she didnt know how to continue. How could she say what she needed to without hurting him? Your momma is goin to a much better place.
Vin looked at Abby with his eyes wide with fear. Without me? he asked, his tone barely audible.
Shes goin to be with your daddy. Abby clenched her jaw hoping Vin would understand.
I wanna go too, Vin cried, tears streaming down his cheeks and quivering chin.
You cant, Vin, not yet. Abby tried to keep the tears from falling but she was failing miserably. She turned her eyes to her husband who understood what she was asking.
Vin tried to move past her but David reached down and picked him up.
It would be best if you kept the boy with you until something more suitable comes along, the doctor said coldly. You should burn your clothing, and the boys as well.
I have to stay with Momma, Vin cried, trying to wrestle his way out of Davids arms.
Abby, David ordered, get in the wagon. Vin he looked hard at the boy, you go home with Abby. Doctor Burns and Ill take care of your momma.
Vin struggled more and the tears came in full force. His breathing came quick and harsh as David walked him and Abby to the wagon.
MOMMA! Vin screamed. MOMMA! he cried again, as David lifted him up into the wagon seat. I have to stay with momma! Abby wrapped her arms around Vins waist as he struggled to get free. He continued to scream for his mother as the horses headed toward home.
Abigail turned her focus from her husbands sad eyes, and with one arm firmly around Vins quivering shoulders, she headed for home. It wasnt long before Vins screams for his mother turned into heartbreaking sobs. He buried his face in Abbys shoulder and let the tears fall. It wasnt in his nature to blame anyone but himself, and deep inside he knew hed done something to make his ma want him to leave, and it tore him up inside. He didnt understand that she was sick and dying, she didnt have a choice in leaving, but Vins mind didnt see things that way. He blamed himself.
Abby wiped the tears from her face as she rubbed Vins back. The poor child hadnt stopped crying since theyd left. She didnt know what to say. What do you tell a five-year-old whod just lost his mother? How do you tell them in terms that theyd understand? Vin was supposed to be out catching chickens and frogs, and scaring his mother with snakes and lizards. Now, now he was facing a life on his own. Hed never known his father, and he hadnt known his mother nearly long enough.
I didnt mean to do nothin bad, Vin said sadly. His voice shook uncontrollably, but he held onto Abby afraid that hed lose the only thing in his life he could hold onto.
Oh Vin, Abby sighed. She pulled the horses to a stop and maneuvered the child into her lap. You didnt do anything wrong, she encouraged. It was your mommas time, she didnt leave you because of anything you could have possibly done. She wiped the tears from Vins cheeks with her thumb. Your momma just got real sick.
Ive been sick and aint never had to leave.
Did your ma ever tell you about heaven? Abby asked, hoping this would make things easier.
She said thats where pas gone too.
Thats where your mommas gone as well.
Vin nodded, not quite understanding what was happening, but knowing his mother was gone. He remained in Abbys lap until one of her sons picked him up and carried him toward the house. Abby followed with despair in her heart.
Carefully, Abby helped Vin get his clothing off then she helped him into the hot bath. She ordered Jacob to burn all of the clothing shed piled up. Wrapped in her housecoat she helped Vin wash his hair and then offered to cut it for him after noticing that his bangs were falling into his eyes. He simply shook his head, and that was the end of it. Using one of Davids shirts, Abby helped the young man into the oversized sleepwear.
Vin sat at the table pushing his food around his plate. He didnt want to be here, but he knew Abby was trying to help. The other boys had gone to bed and the room was eerily silent. Vin wiped his eyes again when waves of pain passed through his chest. His heart felt as though it weighed a ton and for some reason he couldnt stop crying. He didnt mean to jump when Abby stood up and picked him up from his seat. Wrapping his legs around her middle and his arms around her neck he wept.
Abby cried as well. She walked around the room doing the only thing she could to ease this boys pain, but it wasnt enough. The pain he was suffering from was going to last a long time. Carefully, she slid into the chair next to the Dutch oven and hummed an old hymn. She continually rubbed Vins back and stroked his hair. It was the least she could do.
It was dawn before David arrived home and he immediately bathed and burned his clothing. Nobody in his family was going to die of putrid fever. It had torn him apart watching Hope perish from the illness. Her mind was seeing things that werent real. Though she hadnt suffered for an extended period of time it was long enough.
He found Abigail with her arms wrapped around Vin, and the sight broke his heart. It was obvious she hadnt gotten any sleep, but she was unwilling to disturb the now sleeping boy in her arms. David gently touched the back of Vins head then leaned over and kissed his wife.
She didnt know what was happenin in the end. He looked hard at his wife. It was good that we got Vin out of there when we did. He grabbed Abbys hand, and wiped away a stray tear from her cheek. Doctor Burns had me burn the cabin, and we buried Hope next to Mathew.
He didnt even get to say goodbye, she whispered, letting more tears stream down her cheeks.
David brought his wifes hand to his lips and kissed her fingers. Hell get through it.
Abigail nodded then turned her attention back to Vin. Wheres he gonna go?
David leaned back on his haunches and sighed. They barely had enough to feed their own family, and the drought was making things that much worse. His boys were old enough now to work hard on the land, but Vin, Vin was another mouth to feed and he wouldnt be old enough for a while to work on his own. With the boys and himself out on the farm and Luke in school, and Abby busy with the household chores, where would that leave Vin?
On his own.
Well work somethin out, David said with conviction.
Abby looked at the small bag that held nothing more than a few pieces of clothing. It was the only thing in the world that Vin owned. There wasnt a locket from his mother, an old Bible, or even an old photograph. Everything had been burned after Hopes death. Now, David was taking Vin up north, to an orphanage. The drought had gotten worse, and the livestock was dying. Samuel, Abbys oldest son, had gone off to Austin to join up with the Rangers. The farm was dying and everyone was suffering.
Sending Vin to St. Peters orphanage wasnt their first choice. No, their first choice had been to raise him as one of their own, but things didnt work out like that. As it was they barely had enough money to make it to California. At least there they might have a chance. David promised Abby that once they were settled and had enough money, theyd send for Vin. Her heart broke at the thought of leaving him. Hope never would have allowed her son to go to an orphanage, and she never would have allowed one of Abbys children to go either.
Vin sat on the bed next to his bag and looked up at Abby with the most trusting of eyes. Hed believe whatever she told him, and it crushed her knowing that. He believed he was going away for a little while and would quickly return.
Abby grabbed Vins hand and then the bag on the bed. David was waiting outside. Slowly, Vin followed, unsure of what lay ahead. He didnt want to leave, but he knew he had to for a little while. He was old enough now to be on his own and with a strong jaw and determined walk he would be strong.
David picked Vin up and threw him onto the saddle. The boy did love to ride. David kissed his wife and jumped up into the saddle behind the boy. Abby grabbed Vins knee and squeezed. She needed to be strong for him.
Take care, Vin, and Ill see you real soon, she said with a forced smile.
Bye Miz Abby. He waved when the horse started off toward the distant mountains.
Abby covered her mouth as the tears fell. God, this hurt.
The orphanage wasnt anything more than an old church. A few children played in the yard, mostly girls. Their clothing wasnt fancy but they looked clean and well taken care of. David only hoped they were. An older man stepped out of the church wearing clothing that had been mended several different times. A wide brimmed hat hung low on his head, shadowing his eyes. He carried a broom and walked with a stiff hip, though he was unarmed he had a presence about him that demanded respect.
Mr. Donovan? David asked, sliding off his horse. He didnt notice Vin gripping onto the saddle horn with all his might.
Thatd be me, Frederick Donovan replied, stopping in front of the horse and rider.
I wrote you about young Vin Tanner, youre expectin im? It was more of a question than a statement. David didnt want to leave the boy, and he was looking for any excuse to take him home.
Ah, yes. The man nodded. You must be Mister Hendricks.
David nodded and shook the mans rough and callused hand.
You and your familys movin to California, and you need a place for the boy?
Reluctantly, David nodded his head. Itll only be for a short time, until we get settled and have enough money to send for im.
Yeah. The old man said in disbelief. Hed heard those very words time and time again. Oh, the parents usually believed theyd be back, but it never worked out that way. The children were usually dropped off, abandoned, and left for someone else to care for them. It didnt matter why; the results were always the same.
Vin looked wide-eyed around the yard and church. He didnt want to stay. His mind was screaming for him to run, but how could he? He couldnt even let go of the saddle horn. He tried not to let his fear show, but his body wouldnt cooperate. His knuckles turned white, and his shoulders shook. He barely noticed when David pulled him from the saddle and handed him his bag. There wasnt anything in it that was special to him. He could leave without it. The old man standing in front of him was talking, but Vin couldnt understand a word he was saying. Everything was fuzzy, like the illustrations in the picture books his ma used to read.
David kneeled in front of Vin and grasped his shoulders firmly. You be good, and as soon as I can Ill send for you.
Vin nodded weakly. Do I have to stay? he asked quietly.
For a little while. David smiled. Only for a little while. He leaned over and kissed Vin on the forehead and then quickly mounted up on his horse and sped away. He didnt want to leave, but he had to. His family needed him, and he truly intended to get Vin back.
Vin looked up at the old man and cried inside. He was scary, even scarier than ol man Peters, who used to ride up on Friday mornings checking on his mother. With a tilt of the head, Mr. Donovan motioned for Vin to enter the church. He hated this place already.
There were two rooms in the back of the old church. One was for the girls and the other for the boys. Mr. Donovan slept behind a blanket he used as a partition at the far end of the boys room. It allowed him some privacy. There were eight beds, only three were being used at the moment, and beside each bed was a stool. Just enough space to hold something of value a book, picture, or some kind of treasure. Vin didnt have one. He placed his bag on the bed he was ordered to sleep in and looked fearfully up into Mr. Donovans eyes. He looked so mean.
That hairs got to be cut, and youll need a bath. His voice was deep and authoritative. Nobodys goin to want a child with no manners.
Miz Abby cuts my hair. Vin reached up and held his head.
Miz Abby aint gonna cut your hair no more. The old man sighed. Listen boy, youll have a better chance of findin a new home ifn you look presentable.
Mister Davids comin back to get me he said so.
Lies boy, and its best if you learn that now, he snapped heading towards the door. Ill see to your bath, he called behind his shoulder, wont have no flea ridden boys in here causin all kinds of trouble he continued to mutter under his breath as he left the room.
Vin stood silent alone in the room. David said hed be back. Vins heart sank, what if he didnt come back? What if David died like his ma did? What of Miz Abby? Vin sat on the edge of the bed and looked down at his feet. Miz Abby was the only person he allowed to cut his hair. She cut it the same way his ma had. He didnt have much to hang onto, but he did have that.
The water was hotter than he liked it to be, and Vin sat in the barrel that was used as a bathtub. He tried not to move too much as the water seemed to burn his tender skin. Mr. Donovan wasnt a kind man and he roughly scrubbed the boy down, and then, as the breaking point neared, he cut Vins hair by forcing him to sit on the table. If he didnt cooperate, hed get paddled again.
Vins chin quivered as he watched his hair fall to the floor. His skin still felt hot and his stomach rumbled. He wanted to go home. When the haircut was over, Vin rushed to his bed and hid under the covers. The other boys giggled and teased him.
Get to sleep! The order came loudly from the doorway. Youve all got chores in the mornin. The lights went out and the room once again fell silent.
Vins heart pounded in his chest as he hid himself from the world. He could hear the others whispering but he didnt care what they were saying. He was only concerned about his family. Mister David, Miz Abby, Jacob, Luke, and Samuel, he hoped they were all okay. He missed them all so much, but he was really missing his ma. It had only been a few months since she had passed but to Vin it seemed like yesterday.
Shed been showing him how to shoot a rifle, and showing him how to ask a lady for a dance. He missed the hot cocoa shed made before bedtime when it got cold out, or the way shed wake him in the morning singing. He even missed the way shed scold him when he did something wrong.
Abby was different than Hope, she was more frail and not quite as hard. Oh, shed lived in the west longer, but shed had her boys around to keep her safe. Hope didnt have anyone, but she never let that stop her from doing things her way.
Vin curled his toes and succumbed to the call of sleep. He figured hed work everything out in the morning. After all, David had promised hed come back, and Vin liked the idea of living in California. The ocean was nearby; at least thats what Abby had said. Hed like to see the ocean, and even some fish. They wouldnt be like the ones in the creek or the river. No, these would be different.
Vin hated the orphanage with a passion. The other children, many whod been adopted out several times, were mean and beat him up every chance they had. Even the girls, and nobody came to Vins aid when he needed help. There was only one other person there who was younger than him, and she didnt speak. She stayed by herself, and played with the dolls shed made out of straw and clothing that shed grown out of. Her hair was always pulled back into a ponytail, and for some reason she found it necessary to put flowers in her hair.
When a potential couple came looking for a child, everyone was forced into their best clothes and made to look the part of a perfect child. For one reason or another the couples usually left without one. Theyre too young, too old, not cute enough, or they didnt have the right color of eyes. It didnt matter the reason, they all felt unworthy. Though, they tried not to act like it.
A wagon pulled up with a gruff looking man and an older woman riding in the seat. Mr. Donovan met with the couple and then quickly ordered the children to stand at attention on the front steps of the church. Vin, with the rest of the kids, looked in anticipation at the potential parents. While the others yearned for a home, Vin was content to stay at the church and wait for David.
Children! Mr. Donovan announced, This is Mr. and Mrs. Kline. He introduced the couple and stood back while they inspected the children.
You, the old man said, pointing to Vin.
Vin jumped when he noticed the old wrinkled finger point directly at him. He didnt want to go. Even Mr. Donovan would be better than this.
How old are you boy? Mr. Kline asked roughly.
Vin stood wide-eyed, trying to keep himself from running. Five, he quietly responded, not knowing his sixth birthday had already passed.
The old man grabbed Vins arm and squeezed, trying to decide if the boy was strong enough to work. His wife lovingly stroked the boys head and smiled, trying to ease his discomfort.
You ever skinned a coon or a rabbit? Mr. Kline asked, placing his hands on his hips expecting an answer.
What about plantin?
Mister Donovan, the old man looked up, well take this one.
No, Vin yelped. Mister Davids comin to get me.
Boy, I done told you that he aint. Now go get your things! Mr. Donovan yelped, motioning for one of the older boys to go with Vin.
Most of the children slumped in disappointment but they were soon consumed with other things to do. Mr. Donovan and the Klines made arrangements for taking their new child home with them. Nobody, however, paid any attention to Vin. He didnt want to go. As a result of that fear he shook uncontrollably. How was David going to find him if he left? There wasnt even a place that he could hide. Where could he run to?
Mrs. Kline, or Bea, took Vins hand and held it tightly. She knew the boy was scared. He was shaking so hard she thought he might break. Her husband was a tough man who had lived a hard life. Though he wasnt easy to get to know he did expect things to be done the right way, and the first time. The couple had lost their own son some fifteen years ago, and had been trying to live their life on their own, but Bea wanted a child. She wanted to hear the laughter of a small voice, and she wanted to answer simple questions, and most of all she wanted someone to spend her time with.
Evan wasnt a man that liked to be bored and sitting around a fire for an evening wasnt something he was willing to do. He worked hard and expected everyone around him to work just as hard. He woke up at the crack of dawn expecting his breakfast and he worked until nightfall, sometimes later. He was tired of listening to his wife wanting another person around the house. She had her knitting group, but it wasnt enough, and she made that clear to her husband. So this was Evans solution. Finding a child for his wife to dote on, and in turn finding someone to help him with his chores. In reality it was perfect because they both got what they needed.
Evan picked the boy up and sat him in the back of the wagon and then helped his wife into the front seat. It was a long ride back home and he didnt want to waste any time. He ignored the tears the small child was shedding and he crawled onto the seat next to his wife. He politely waved to Mr. Donovan and slapped the reins on the horses rumps.
Vin sat in despair watching as the church slowly disappeared from sight. His world was falling apart in so many ways. He believed David was still coming for him he had to. He didnt even know where his mother was buried, just that she was next to his father. Vin sank further down into the corner of the wagon and wiped his eyes angrily. It wasnt supposed to happen this way.
The farm was small but full of livestock. A couple of horses nickered from the corral as the wagon drew closer. Bea smiled when she noticed the boys interest spike at the sound. This would be the perfect place for him to learn to ride. Two dogs came rushing from beneath the front porch to greet the family chasing the chickens and ducks out of the way.
Evan pulled the team to a stop and slipped off the seat and then helped his wife down. Without hesitation Bea moved to the back of the wagon and motioned for Vin to join her. He looked up unsure of what to do, but her sweet smile told him that everything would be okay. He grabbed his bag and slowly slipped out of the buckboard.
Bea took Vins bag and patted him on the shoulder. Go see the horses, and then come inside. She smiled. Ill fix you something for dinner and well get your bed ready.
Vin nodded and then rushed for the corral. The big paint was eager for affection while the little chestnut stood back. Vin reached up and patted the soft white nose, which brought a smile to his face. The animal blew hard causing the boys hair to tickle his nose, and Vin laughed softly. When he reached out and picked a handful of grass the chestnut mare stepped forward, eager for a bite. Vin smiled when he touched her nose and she didnt shy away.
There was something soothing about these beasts of burden that made Vin feel less troubled. Perhaps it had to do with their size. Of course their beauty captured his imagination, and the very idea that there was so much power behind those shoulders, and their feet were so small. Vin chuckled when the big paint nudged his shoulder wanting more attention.
You best get inside, youngin. Evan yelled from the barn, while putting away the team of horses.
Vin nodded and then gave his two new friends a quick pat on their heads and then he trotted off toward the house. He didnt want to get into trouble, so hed do everything he could not to.
Bea smiled warmly when Vin reluctantly entered the big house. Come in, you aint got no reason to be afraid. She pulled weakly on his arm and showed him his room.
Mister David said he was comin back fer me. He looked up into understanding eyes.
Bea nodded: How bout you stay with me and Evan whilest you wait for Mister David? She stroked his chin and waited for a response.
Hows he gonna know Im here?
Oh child, Bea sighed, wanting to answer these questions but couldnt. Ill pen a letter to Mister Donovan sos he can give it to Mister David when he comes lookin for you. She smiled when the boy nodded his head in approval. Now your room aint much but thats up to you to fix.
Vin nodded and looked around the meagerly furnished room. A heavy quilt was on the bed with a large pillow. Slippers rested by the nightstand. A shelf was hung above the headboard, nothing was on it at the moment but that was Beas plan. That shelf was for Vin, and he needed to decide what went on it. A small dresser leaned against the far wall with a lantern resting atop. Vin couldnt believe it. Hed never had a room of his own, even when he was with his ma. Of course he didnt mind sharing, but this was something new.
You like it? Bea asked, slightly concerned.
Vin nodded in stunned silence. I aint never had no room of my own fore. He released Beas hand and walked over to the bed. My ma and me just shared the big bed we had and at Mister Davids I just slept in Samuels ol bed.
This is your room now. Bea smiled again and helped Vin unpack his bag. Evan hes a bit hard to get to know, but once you get past that mean ol mug of his, her smile increased, hes a puppy underneath.
Vin nodded, still unsure of his surroundings. Are you gonna leave to?
Bea sat on the bed and watched as this boy continued to ask her these tough questions. No, child, I aint gonna leave, she responded truthfully. She watched as Vin nodded his head.
Vin shrugged his shoulders, unsure of that statement. It seemed everyone he knew was leaving and he didnt understand why.
Ill get some supper goin, you get unpacked and well talk later. Bea reached out and planted a kiss on the top of Vins head. She didnt notice him tense or his sigh in relief when she closed the door.
Vin sat astride Rose, the chestnut mare hed gotten to know so well, and watched as Evan finished the fence. Though it had been a year since hed left the orphanage, he still hadnt heard anything from David or Abigail. He tried not to lose hope but the more time that passed the more he did. Evan and Bea had told him repeatedly that moving a family to such a place as California took a lot of time and hard work.
Evan had showed Vin how to ride a horse on his own, and Rose was the perfect mount for him. Though shy at first, she grew affectionate to the young man and they quickly became friends. He also showed Vin how to trap and hunt raccoons, coyotes, and deer; anything that could put a meal on the table and supply furs to the traders.
Indian raids werent all that uncommon and one of the first things Vin learned how to do was hide, if they couldnt find him they couldnt hurt him. Evan had even given him a mean looking knife to use for not just protection, but for a means of survival as well. This was a rough country and nobody knew that better than the Klines.
Rose tossed her head trying to loosen the reins just enough to grab the bite of grass that was just within reach. Vin let her. He held the carcass of the badger he and Evan had shot earlier and he looked intently at the colorings. The animal didnt look mean, with a small black nose and dark eyes, but Vin knew they could be. The dog, Taffy, had gotten in a fight with one not too long ago and was still trying to recover. Vin could understand how the long claws could scratch. Beas cat, Princess, had scratched him enough. Now, that was a mean animal.
You ready? Evan called, waking Vin from his momentary reverie.
Vin nodded, and waited until Evan was mounted on his paint. They rode back to the house in silence, listening only to the sounds of birds, hooves hitting rocks, and bits clanking against teeth. The summer had arrived with force and thankfully brought with it rain. While the crops flourished so did the animals and that meant more money for not just the farmers but the trappers and hunters as well.
Evan helped Vin dismount then slapped him gently on his fanny. Go help your ma with supper, he ordered, not realizing what hed said.
Vin had been racing for the house as soon as his feet had hit solid earth. He wanted to show Bea the badger theyd shot, but he stopped suddenly when he heard Evan refer to Bea as his mother. He looked back at Evan, who was unsaddling the horses, and sighed. Vin watched as his friend ran a weary hand over his face then quickly shook his head. Vin didnt understand what was going on, but he did know that Bea wasnt his ma.
I meant, go help Bea with supper, Evan quickly recovered, taking a deep breath while he tried to finish his work.
Vin nodded, then rushed for the house.
Bea jumped when the front door flew open. Immediately, she grabbed her chest and started to giggle, for someone so small Vin did know how to make an entrance. He held proudly in his hands the black and gray body of a badger that had obviously lost the battle with Evans rifle.
Mister Evan helped me shoot it! Vin smiled proudly.
Goodness, Bea sighed, looking at the animal. Well be eatin that beast for a week. She took the dead carcass and placed it outside near the door so Evan could clean and prep it when he got a chance. You need a bath. She smiled, noticing Vin slump his shoulders. Get some clean clothes and you can bathe in the creek out back.
Vin nodded, that wasnt so bad. He rushed passed Bea and into his room then rushed back out with his arm full of clean clothes. The boy had way too much energy. Bea sighed, watching him go.
Evan entered in just as Vin sped by him heading to the creek. The older man just shook his head. The boy had been up since dawn and was still going.
Ill feed the meat of that badger to the dogs, Evan said, shaking his head. Hes so full of bullets well die of lead poisonin before ol age. He slipped his boots off and ran his hand through his graying hair. Without looking up at his wife he continued, I referred to ya as Vins ma today. His voice was quiet and full of sorrow. Thought Id let you know before he asked ya bout it.
Bea looked hard at her husband. He never talked about their sons death. She figured it was because it hurt too much. And it did. She nodded her head in understanding, she wouldnt push her husband, she knew it had been hard for him to admit what he did. For some reason they hadnt been blessed with having a child grow up in their home until now. She didnt know why, and she tried not to question God about their sons death. But at times like this that old pain resurfaced.
I love im too, Evan. Bea smiled, and then continued with supper.
Evan gently kissed his wife on the cheek then headed back out to clean and skin the badger. It was the tough times that made them realize what they had in each other. Vin had done nothing more than act like a seven year old boy and put his trust in them. There was no harm in that. When they went to that orphanage they werent sure what they were looking for, but they knew when they saw him. Evan tried to act tough and strong, wanting more of a farm hand than a son, but he got the latter. When Evan saw Vin rush past him and into the house he just chuckled. One minute that boy was sitting so still a cat wouldnt see him and the next he was running around like a wild colt.
Bea jumped again when the door burst open and Vin appeared at her side with a smile so wide it lit up the room and his eyes so bright she thought hed swallowed the sun.
Whatcha got there? she asked, noticing he held something in his hands.
I found it by the crick, Vin responded happily.
Oh, heavens, Bea gasped, child thats a skunk. She started him toward the door.
But its just a baby, Bea, it wont stink none. Vin held the animal next to his chest.
Youre supposed to bring me snakes and frogs an such, not skunks. She chuckled, daring herself to take a closer look.
Vin held the tiny critter out so she could see it better. I named it Tiny, cuz hes so small.
Thats a real fine name. Bea couldnt believe there was a skunk in her home. Granted it was just a baby, but shed smelled the results of one of those babies on her dogs.
Can I keep im?
Bea looked into those desperate blue eyes and she couldnt say no. Hed never asked for anything before, so how could she deny him this? Why dont you go and ask Evan? Bea smiled; she knew her husband wouldnt be able to tell him no either.
David Hendricks climbed out of the stagecoach and took a deep breath. That sweet Texas smell filled his senses, and for a moment he was home. The sound of his bag hitting the boardwalk after being thrown from the stage brought him out of his moment of reflection. He was here to see his son, and to find Vin. Hed wanted to come sooner but Abby had gotten ill and he had refused to leave her side until she was better. So, after months of hard work he was finally able to leave his wife, at her request, and find Vin.
PA! Samuel yelled, rushing through the crowd of people.
Samuel, David cried, embracing him warmly. Whats all the excitement about? He asked, shocked by the amount of people bustling in the streets.
Indians, came the simple reply. Hows ma?
David smiled and slapped his sons shoulder. It was good to see him again. They talked all through dinner, Samuel about his job as a Ranger, and David about the new farm and the family. They talked well into the night, and David realized his son had grown into a well-respected man. His mother would be proud.
When Samuel offered to ride to the orphanage with David to help find Vin it was the perfect ending to a perfect day. Davids family would be complete; it was just a matter of time.
Evan raced from the barn his rifle in hand. BEA! he yelled. BEA!..VIN!
Vin raced out from behind the house where hed been stacking wood and immediately he saw what Evan was so concerned about. A band of Indians was racing toward the house. Clouds of dust seemed to envelop the running horses. Evan grabbed Vin under his arms and ran for the house.
Bea was already loading the pistols when Evan entered the house with Vin. It didnt matter why the Indians were on a rampage. The only thing that mattered was protecting the homestead. Evan just wanted to farm his land and be left alone. He didnt care that the Indians were being forced off their lands. It wasnt he that was pushing them.
Bea, you and Vin get hid, Evan ordered, looking out the window.
I can shoot, Vin offered, trying to wiggle his way out of Beas arms.
Do what I say, Evan snapped. He turned worried eyes to his wife. Get!
Bea nodded her head and grabbed Vins arm. Together they opened the hidden door to the cellar, and disappeared. Vin hid in the far corner where it was the darkest. He hated it down here but it was the safest place to be and he knew it. He could hear the screams of horses, shots being fired, and glass shattering.
Vins heart started racing Tiny his pet skunk was up there someplace. Suddenly, Bea threw a blanket over his shoulders and tucked him further back into the corner.
You stay here Vin, and dont you come out till I tell you. Bea grabbed his chin and looked at him hard, her brown eyes hidden in the shadows. Promise me.
I can help
Promise me, she ordered again.
Bea grabbed Vins shoulders and gave them a strong squeeze. I love you child, she said, then kissed him on the top of his head.
Vin listened as Beas feet patted up the stairs and then the door to the cellar closed. All was dark. He could hear everything happening outside and he wanted very much to be up there helping, but hed promised Bea hed stay. The verbal acknowledgement of Bea telling him she loved him surprised the boy. Not because he hadnt felt her affection towards him, but because he wasnt sure if he felt the same about her. She wasnt his mother, and nobody would be able to take her place. However, Vin did admire Bea and Evan. They had taken him in and given him a place to call home. He wanted to love them, but he had to protect himself and part of that was keeping his heart well guarded.
Minutes seemed like hours, or was it the other way around. Vin didnt know. He hadnt heard anything in quite some time and it bothered him because Bea was supposed to come and get him. The faint light that had been coming through the floorboards was gone and a chill had set into his bones. The blanket Bea had covered him with did little to keep out the cold. Funny, how it could be so chilly during the summer months. The walls of the cellar seemed to close in on Vin and the darkness only added to his fear.
Slowly, Vin crept out of his hiding place and started for the stairs. Using his hands to guide him, he finally managed to find the steps. His only thought was finding Bea and Evan. He hoped he wouldnt get into trouble for venturing out, but he couldnt stay in the cellar any more.
Vin pushed on the cellar door that exited into the kitchen with all his might. Finally, the chair that had been positioned on the access panel fell and he emerged. The sun was making its decent over the horizon. Vin looked around, surprised at the devastation. The windows were shattered, and the furniture had been ransacked. Clothing was spread sporadically around the rooms, dishes had been broken, and most of the food was gone. Vin took a step toward the door, unsure of what to do. Should he call out? Should he simply wait?
Fear crept up Vins spine like an unwelcome guest. He heart raced and his palms grew sweaty as he headed for the door. He didnt know a lot about Indians, just that he was supposed to leave them alone. He didnt understand the politics involved; after all, he was only seven. Vins throat constricted when he saw the devastation outside. Both dogs had been killed, and they rested next to the corral looking as though they were sleeping. The horses and cattle were gone, and only a few live chickens remained.
Vin rushed forward when he saw a hint of Evans blue shirt just inside the barn doors. Panic-stricken, he didnt know what to do. Hed found Evan. Rushing to his side; Vin fell to his knees and touched the mans shoulder. He understood the red stains on the once bright blue shirt, and he understood why Evans eyes stared blankly at the sky. But he didnt understand why this had happened.
Mister Evan, Vin whispered. He touched Evans shoulder, searching for a response hoping for something. Hesitantly, Vin touched the grizzled cheek and found it unnaturally cool. He looked around the empty barn and slowly stood up. What was he going to do? He had to find Bea, shed know.
When Tiny snuck out of his hiding place, Vin cried in relief. He picked the frightened animal up and started searching for Bea. He found her, not far from Evan. Her favorite green dress was covered in blood and dirt. She still had the rifle grasped in her hands. A thin layer of dust had covered her warm features as she lay on her back facing the departing sun.
Vin knew in his heart that she was gone. He didnt understand why, he just knew she was. Her body was still here, but not working. Unlike the animals hed helped Evan hunt these deaths cut him deep. Vin sat down beside her and laid his hand on her face. Tiny nestled down in his boys lap, wanting nothing more than to be comforted. A soft wind picked up and Vin rubbed his eyes. He was scared, terrified really, and unsure of what to do next, so he simply stayed with Bea.
Jake McAllen, or Soup, as he was more commonly known, led his old pack mule down the barren road. His mining equipment hung vicariously from the packsaddle clanging with every step Penny took. Hed been on the road for quite some time searching for a new place to call home. He scratched his beard and cupped his hand over the brim of his hat enabling him to see further into the distance. The early morning sun was up and already causing the back of his neck and shoulders to sweat.
He saw the farm up ahead and decided to ask if he could water Penny and rest in the shade before moving on. He hoped the landowners wouldnt mind. Though hed replenished his stock at the last town, water was always a need.
As he got closer to the farm he knew something was amiss. Crows had gathered at the top of the barn roof, and there werent any animals in the corrals. He saw the two dogs lying dead next to the corral gate, and the arrows and bullet holes that penetrated their bodies. Soup shook his head. The Indians had been raiding farms and ranches all over the territory. Though only on rare occasions was someone killed, but the fear was still very real.
Hello! Soup called, hoping to find someone.
It was the sound of a child crying that caused the older man to walk out past the barn. There, he found a child sitting in the dirt next to a body. It was obvious the boy had been trying to dig a grave. A large mound of dirt had been dug and piled not far from the pair.
Hey, Soup said, in a low gentle tone. He didnt want to startle the boy.
Vin turned red eyes up and looked at the haggard stranger.
That your ma?
Vin shook his head and turned his attention back to Bea.
Soup took another step forward. He took a closer look at the boys hands and sighed. Bloody, blistered, and bruised hands held desperately onto the tiny delicate fingers of the woman. Not knowing what else to do, Soup picked up the shovel and started digging.
By the time Bea and Evan were finally laid to rest the afternoon sun beat down with a vengeance. Soup did his best at making some simple crosses, just enough to soothe the boys pain.
Whats your name son? Soup asked, hoping the boy would say something. He hadnt uttered a word to him since hed arrived.
Vin, came the soft reply.
Well, Vin, how about you lettin me clean up your hands and gettin somethin in your stomach?
Vin just nodded, to stunned to do anything more. Soup, not familiar with children of any kind, picked the boy up and started walking towards the house. Vin fell asleep before he could feel cold water on his wounded hands, or his dirty face. Soup laid him on a bed in one of the rooms then set about cooking a small meal. Hed stay here the night and then head back out in the morning taking the boy with him.
St. Peters Orphanage hadnt changed in the year since David had last seen it. A few children still played in the yard, while the older children repaired the picket fence around the small cemetery behind the church. The older man, Mr. Donovan, worked diligently on the front steps repairing a leather harness.
Samuel dismounted and took his and his fathers horses reins. He stood back not wanting to interfere with what his father had to do. He watched and waited from a distance.
Mr. Donovan, David called, walking up to the man hed left Vin with not one year before.
Fredrick looked up from his task and quickly smiled. Perhaps someone was looking to adopt a child. What can I do for you? he asked politely.
Im here about Vin Tanner, the boy I left in your care bout a year back. David rolled the brim of his hat in his hands nervously. Id like to take im home.
Donovan scratched his head and sighed. I aint got no one here by that name. You say you dropped him here a year back?
Yes sir, my names David Hendricks
Oh yes, as I remember young Vin was adopted out not long after your partin. Donovan explained. This was an orphanage, not a home for the homeless.
Do you know where hes at? An all too familiar pain resurfaced.
Listen, Mr. Hendricks, I see a lot of kids go through here and I cant be expected to remember every one, now
Dont you have records or documents? David pleaded.
Fredrick sighed, paperwork. Ill see if I have anythin. He stood up abruptly and headed inside the old church, leaving David to wait in apprehension.
It was only moments, before Mr. Donovan reappeared with a letter in hand. Though he didnt appear happy, he was relieved to find some link to Vin.
It was Evan and Beatrice Kline that adopted your boy, Donovan said, handing the letter over.
I cant thank you enough, David said happily.
Mr. Donovan nodded and watched as the two men remounted their steeds and rode away. Shaking his head he turned back to the harness.
Vin woke to the smell of bacon and eggs frying. Unsure of where he was at the moment he took a long deep breath and looked quietly around the room. His room. The door to the kitchen was open and he could see the same man from yesterday walking back and forth cooking a meal. Slowly, Vin threw the covers off his legs and stood up. Handkerchiefs were used as dressings over his tiny hands and for that he was grateful. He noticed his fingers were still red and swollen as he peaked under the bandages.
His chest still hurt, but for some unknown reason his tears were dry. In stocking feet he entered the kitchen and looked at the man who was trying to cook breakfast. Though the face was familiar he still didnt know who this stranger was, or why he was here.
Good mornin young fella, came the rough deep voice. Why dont you set yourself down and well eat some food. He motioned for the chair.
Vin looked curiously around the room. Everything was still damaged and misplaced, but the stranger had replaced the table and chairs. He watched the man intently as he dumped the eggs and a few pieces of bacon onto a tin plate.
My names Jake but you can call me Soup.
Soup aint a name, its a food, Vin replied, sitting at the table.
Yes sir, it is, but thats how I earned my name. See, durin the war I was a line cook for the soldiers an they all started callin me Soup cuz of the way I cooked it. He seated himself at the table and started eating his meal. Those folks that we buried yesterday was they your family?
They took me in from the orphanage.
Soup nodded, and took another bite of eggs. Well, I cant leave you here by your lonesome. I may be an old coot but I know that.
Can you take me to Mister David? Vins eyes widened.
I dont know who this David is, but once we get to town well see what we can do. He watched as the boy nodded his head in acceptance, still, no smile appeared. You best clean your plate, we got a long day ahead.
Yes sir, Vin replied, picking up his fork.
One of the hardest things Vin had to do was leave Tiny at the creek where hed found him. For some reason the little skunk refused to be associated with a mule and after a brief argument between Vin and Soup, Tiny was left behind. The old man assured Vin that the tiny polecat would survive the wild; after all, thats where he came from.
Vin packed what he could in the same small bag hed arrived at the farm with. Only this time he had things in it that meant more to him. The knife Evan had given him was tucked into his belt. He packed the small collection of wooden carvings that he and Evan had done together, and he packed the small gold broach that Bea had given him after she found him looking in awe at it. It had meant a lot to him that these people had taken him in like they had and given him a warm home, his own room, and a place to belong.
He looked back at the house as he, Penny, and Soup headed out toward the distant mountains. His life seemed to be forever changing, and for the first time he faced it without tears. There was no use crying anymore, it hurt too much. Soup was nice enough, but like the rest of them hed leave.
Vin was learning early that life wasnt a constant. Things always changed, and he was realizing he didnt have any control over it.
David spotted the farm in the distance and took off at a gallop. His son followed close behind. It was the gathering of crows and vultures that had their attention alerted. David flew off his saddle before his horse came to a complete stop. The two dogs had started to bloat and flies had taken up residence around their wounds, eyes and noses.
HELLO! David called franticly looking around the homestead. ANYONE!
Samuel slipped off his mount and looked around at the devastation. He knew by the look of things that they wouldnt find anyone alive. At least he hoped they wouldnt. He quickly joined up with his father looking for something. They werent even sure if they had the right place.
It only took a few minutes to discover the graves. Two, lying side by side, there were no names, just roughly made crosses.
Where is he? David asked under his breath.
Looks like Apache, Samuel responded to a question that was never asked. He fingered the broken arrow knowingly and then looked back to his father. Hes not here.
What am I goin to tell Abby? David ran his hand over his face. I never should have left im.
The way I see it, Samuel paused, collecting his thoughts, you can tell ma one of two things
Which is what? David snapped. He was taken by Indians.
If he was taken by those Indians you dont want im back. Samuels eyes got cold and hard, his stance moved from support to a knowing defense.
David looked at his son in surprise. Yes, so much had changed. He didnt want to think about Vin being raised by savages, or worse. What do I tell er? He asked softly.
Tell er he died or tell er you couldnt find im.
David looked painfully at the horizon. How could he lie to his wife? He knew it would crush her if he told her the truth, and he couldnt bear to watch that. Reluctantly, he nodded his head. What have I done? He asked himself. What have I done?
The town of Cedar Falls bustled with activity. It rested just north of the New Mexico Territory. No longer were Vin and Soup in Texas. Wagons and surreys moved up and down the streets, while the swirl of horses and patrons caused the dust to circulate.
Vin celebrated his eighth birthday, not knowing it had passed. Bea and Evan had celebrated his, sixth or seventh, not knowing for sure which, during the fall, but that was all Vin could remember about it. He didnt remember the day, or the significance it was just another day.
After reaching the first town they came across Soup decided hed try Cedar Falls. That was seven months ago. There wasnt anything in Apple Grove that could care for a child, except a whorehouse, and even though they had offered to take the boy, Soup refused. He knew how hard it was growing up in one of those places and Vin wasnt a hard kid to get along with. In the matter of fact he was pretty helpful, a damn fine shot, and quiet. They were all things a child should be. Soup didnt know hardly anything about kids, other than the fact hed been one once. Granted it had been a long time ago but he figured he could do a decent job of caring for the boy until something better came along. Keep Vin fed, warm, and make sure he got a good night sleep. So he did. Until, that is, he came down with a fever and a terrible cough. Soup had worried himself to death over that little incident, but Vin, in his usual manner, came out of it with no problems.
Vins stomach growled when the sweet smell of food hit his senses. He looked at the restaurant and bit his lip. He hadnt eaten since breakfast and he didnt want to ask Soup for anything, it wasnt in his nature to ask for anything. They were running low on supplies and until they restocked he could wait.
Soup helped the boy off the back of Penny and told him to wait while he went searching for a place to stay. Vin held onto Pennys lead and sat next to the water trough. He looked wildly about the town. People from all walks of life filled the street. Women in fancy dresses, cowboys with their guns hanging off their hips, and children playing in the side alleys.
It was only a moment before Soup returned with a smile on his face. He took Pennys lead and started for the livery with Vin following close behind.
Well put Penny here away and see to gettin somethin to eat, Soup said with a smile.
Things were looking up. The past winter had been hard on everyone and the spring months brought with it rain, and a green landscape. The Indian trouble had died down, for the time being, and most people were getting on with their lives.
In all realities, Soup couldnt keep Vin with him much longer. The boy had the right to an education, a family, and the right to grow up in a home, not on the trail. Soup would be forever, walking the land, staking a claim in one place to the next, and going where the wind took him. He couldnt ask this boy to do the same.
When Soup went to speak with the pastor of the local church he learned of a couple looking for a child. They had lost their own son some two years before due to fever and hadnt been able to have anymore. They were new in the area and had purchased a farm on the outskirts of town. Vin would fit in nicely.
John and Helen Turner, at the request of Pastor Bailey, agreed to meet with Soup and Vin. They were young and ready to take on the world. John seemed nice, but there was something in his voice that caused the hair on the back of Vins neck to stand up. He was a tall man that wore his clothing with pride. He stood tall and his dark hair was cut short, almost next to his scalp. Helen was a small woman and like her husband valued her appearance. Her hair was perfectly done, and her dress was immaculately clean, even the hem.
Vin took a step closer to Soup as John turned his eyes to him and smiled. He knew that Soup had to leave him, and he even understood why. But it was still hard. He liked Soup, granted he was a little bit strange, always talking to Penny like she were a real person. He sang songs that didnt have a real meaning, almost like he was making them up as they treaded forward, and he always laughed with his whole being.
and hes a real hard worker, Soup said, grabbing Vins shoulder proudly.
I could use some help on the land, John said, looking the boy over. I just feel that this is too soon, we just lost Peter.
Helen grabbed her husbands hand. How old are you son?
Vin shook his head and shrugged his shoulders. He really didnt know, besides, what did it matter?
Seven or eight by the looks of him, John responded. The boy was a bit thin, he needed a hair cut, and a bath, and he needed to learn some manners.
Vin looked from Soup to the couple contemplating taking him. Is this what his life was going to be like? Moving from one place to the next.
Well take the child, John said softly. His wife smiled and nodded her head.
Vins shoulders slumped. He felt Soup give him a quick squeeze. The boy an Ill retrieve his things. He nodded to the couple then directed Vin towards the door.
Soup didnt want to see the boy leave, but he didnt have a choice. Vin was a good kid who needed a chance in life, and Soup couldnt offer it to him. He knew by the boys behavior that he didnt want to leave either, but he knew he had to.
You got everything? Soup asked, squatting down in front of Vin resting his elbows on his knees. Vin nodded. This is for the best. Again, Vin nodded. Soup stuck his hand out and shook Vins hand like he would an equal and the boy responded with a smile.
Vin waved goodbye from the back of the wagon. He was trying to be strong. He should have known from the start that his life wasnt what he wanted it to be. If it were, hed still be home with his ma, drinking some hot chocolate and enjoying a story by the fire. But things hadnt worked out like that. He looked forward up the road when the wagon moved out of sight of the town and Vin could no longer see Soup waving. Things were changing once again and he knew he had to make the best of it he had to.
John and Helen Turner werent hard people, just difficult. The house they lived in was a reflection of who they were, perfect and cold on the inside, warm and inviting on the out. John had more of a temper than Helen, and when he got mad he took it out on the person closest to him, sometimes that was Vin and other times it was his wife. When Helen got mad or angry it was her words that stung, not the slap of her hand. Vin, never having had an education, was constantly reminded that the people he had cared about most in his life were nothing more than gratified savages.
Vin remained quite, talking only when instructed to. He worked hard and never complained, it wasnt in his nature. He not only anticipated a beating, he accepted it as part of his routine. A black eye here and there, it was expected. He learned quickly to cherish his time alone, and silence was the best response too anything.
Helen watched as Vin finished his plate of food. John was still working on his steak. The tension in the house was still high. Grain prices were down and because of it, John had taken his frustration out on his family. Hed wanted to build a new barn for the livestock with that extra money, and now he couldnt.
Did you get the wood stacked? Johns voice cut through the air like a hot knife.
Yes sir, Vin answered, laying his fork on his plate. He was finished.
What about cleaning out the barn? John looked up and met Vins eyes.
I wanted him to help me in the garden, Helen answered, setting her napkin on the table.
That barn needed to get done, he snapped. Mr. Palmer is bring his cattle over tomorrow to have them serviced and I cant have him seeing a dirty barn! His angry voice continued to slice through the air. How is this farm going to make it?
Ill do it tonight, Vin interjected, not wanting Johns anger to escalate.
A callused hand hit the table with a blunt force, and the whole room went quiet. Helen sat back in her seat waiting. Vin unconsciously jumped, already hurting from the pain that would come.
Well both do it, John snapped, wiping his face with his napkin and then throwing it on the table. Now!
Vin scooted out of his seat and rushed for the barn. He knew what was coming and he didnt want to make it any worse. Helen remained seated until her husband left the house with the lantern. She regretted not being able to help, but she couldnt.
Vin grabbed the pitchfork and threw it into the wheel barrel then headed inside the dark barn. A few of the horses nickered when they heard the doors open and the barn owl quickly disappeared out of the open hayloft. Using only the distant light of the moon, Vin started cleaning the first empty stall. He saw the lantern light and knew it was John. Preparing for the inevitable, Vin took a deep breath and tensed his back.
John entered the barn and hung his lantern from the support beam. He was angry, disappointed, and in essence, out of control. He knew the importance of doing what you were told; he lived by it, only now he was the one doing the telling. He expected others to do it as well, without question. A farm couldnt run without proper care and attention, he knew that, his son had known that, why didnt Vin?
John grabbed the other pitchfork and started working. The barn needed to be cleaned tonight, no exceptions. Every time the wheel barrel was filled Vin was ordered to take it out. The boy was working so hard he disregarded his hands and the blisters that were already forming. John didnt bother to check on him, after all this should have been done earlier in the day and if it had been they both could be enjoying their beds.
Vin set his pitchfork down and got ready to take the last trip with the wheel barrel out of the barn. John followed closely behind him. Vin didnt see the rock until it was too late. He and the wheel barrel fell to the ground in a tangled mess. John stopped and clenched his fists. He was done with this. In one fluid motion he grabbed Vin by the arm and pulled him up then struck him across face with a forceful punch. The boy landed hard on the ground and quickly started moving away from another attack. He wasnt big enough to fight, and truthfully, he was afraid of John. Vin could feel blood running down his chin and he covered his face with his arms as his attacker went for another strike. This time the blow landed hard on his shoulder and quickly he was pulled back up onto his feet before being thrown into the stall panels.
Ive had it with you boy! John snapped, picking up the pitchfork hed just discarded. He watched Vin cower into the fence. You aint worth nothing to nobody No wonder everyone up and leaves you. John turned the wheel barrel up onto his wheelbase and then started shoveling the dirty straw back into it.
When I say to get something done I want it done no matter what. He looked back to Vin who had yet to move. You understand me?
Yes sir, came the soft-spoken reply.
John shook his head in disgust and headed for the house, leaving Vin lying next to the stall. There wasnt anything the boy could do except watch the retreating form. Slowly, he wiped his chin free of the blood and stood up on shaky legs. He refused to cry, it never did him any good. His shoulder hurt where John had hit him, and his elbows where scratched up from hitting the stall panels. Vin ran a hand over his face and sighed, he didnt want to stay here.
Vin picked up the handles to the wheel barrel and took it out to dump it. It was late and the moon was the only light guiding his way. There was only one lantern glowing in the house and Vin figured it was Helen and John getting ready for bed. When the barrel was emptied, Vin headed for the house. He tried to be quiet not wanting to disturb anyone. Morning would come soon enough; he didnt need to be punished for waking everyone.
He could see a bruise on his shoulder as he took his shirt off. It was already swelling and turning a deep purple. His elbows were abraded, red, scratched, and his lip had been split. He made the determination at that moment that as soon as he was able, hed leave. This time however, he would be the one naming the when, the where, and the how. Nobody would force him out, and nobody would ever make that decision for him again. Hed survive the beatings, the belittling, and even the false accusations about his family. His only desire now, was to leave.