Ezra Standish hated being ill.
To be strictly accurate, he wasnt ill now--merely injured, or perhaps wounded would be a better word, since blood had been drawn. Hed had a slight fever for the first two or three days after Sheriff Addisons bullet broke his left leg below the knee, but that was past now. Now he had only to contend with the heavy splints and ties that encumbered the knitting limb. Because he wasnt tall enough to prop his ankle on the footrail, and it kept sliding off the pillows Mrs. Larabee had put under it owing to the weight of the splints, Nathan Jackson had rigged up a system of cords and pulleys and weights that kept it elevated; he claimed the purpose of this "traction," as he called it, was to prevent the leg from swelling up, but it also served to tie the boy to the bed. And Ezra hated it. The bed itself was comfortable enough, and with the bedroom door and the dormer window open there was a good draught of fresh air pulling through, but that wasnt the issue. The issue was that he was a convalescent in a strange household, a household utterly without even the vaguest of blood connections to him--at least in the few instances when he had been incapacitated before now, hed been in the care of people who had some obligation of honor to see that he was properly cared for. Sickness was bad enough: Ezra disliked it even worse than normal children did, not so much because of the inactivity as because he hated being vulnerable, hated having to depend on others, hated the weakness and the inconvenience and the humiliation. Hated worst of all that he might be missing something. To have to deal with all that, plus an entirely new "family" (which had no real reason to care what became of him, other than that Mother had left them a hundred dollars for his expenses) to get used to, was more than he felt should be expected of him.
If he could have gotten out of bed without help, hed have left, just as quickly as possible. But even if he werent webbed up in Mr. Jacksons traction, he was very well aware that there was no way the broken leg (to say nothing of the ribs) would bear the rocking and jolting of a stagecoach--and a stagecoach he must take for a ways, either north to Pueblo or south to El Paso and then northeast across Texas, before he could catch a train East. And so here he must stay, until the bone had mended and he could at least hobble about on a crutch, as Dr. Burnell in Broken Bow had said he would have to for a couple of weeks even after the splints were off for good.
Fortunately he had grown accustomed early on to the necessity of finding quiet, solitary amusements--a natural outgrowth of being something of an unwelcome pariah even in his relatives homes. And at least this was a literate household, and he had plenty to read. There were books--some of them already familiar to him, some not--in the living-room reading corner downstairs, more up the hall in the room Adam shared with Mr. Tanner. Adam had subscriptions to St. Nicholas and Youths Companion, Mr. Larabee took Harpers Monthly and the weekly edition of the New York Tribune, and there was even Mrs. Larabees Godeys if Ezra got completely desperate. She had also provided some string to practise cats-cradle with--Mother had encouraged him to grow expert at that game, which was a sovereign means of keeping ones fingers nimble. One or another of the adults spent some time with him every day, and since he wasnt contagious even Adam could come in; with them he could play checkers, tiddlywinks, jackstraws, Letters, Authors, Parcheesi, lotto, dominoes, and assorted "tame" card games--cribbage, euchre, rummy, fish, casino, pitch, Old Maid, whist. (He hadnt dared to suggest poker; hed learned that adults generally disapproved of its play in a family setting, though they were always interested enough if he appeared in a saloon and offered to engage them in a game. This struck him as hypocrisy, but Ezra already knew that the human species was prone to hypocrisy.) The recovery of his trunk had returned his flute and violin to his possession, as well as his extra decks of cards, which enabled him to practise his shuffles and deals and play solitaire. His healing body demanded a good deal of sleep, including a nap for an hour or two every afternoon. He could cope, he supposed. And the food, he had to admit, was superior. What troubled him was his own vulnerability. He didnt know these people well, and bedfast as he was, how could he avoid them if they proved to be of the strapping variety of humanity? He was willing to grant that so far they hadnt shown any hint of it, but Ezras life over his twelve short years had made him cynical and warily suspicious. Everyone hed ever encountered seemed to have some agenda or ulterior motive of their own, Mother included. How could he be sure the CL-Cross family werent just softening him up, waiting for the chance to catch him, unawares, in something they disapproved of, something that would give them an excuse? It had happened to him before, not often, perhaps, but enough that he didnt want to risk a repetition of the experience. He wasnt even certain of what the household rules were at the Larabee ranch. He had always made it his business to learn them as early as he could, but that required a certain degree of mobility, if only so he could seek out the people who knew them best, the servants and the other children; even if he didnt question them directly, observation could tell him much.
So here he was, five days since theyd brought him back from Broken Bow and reinstalled him in the bedroom at the top of the stairs, three since Mother had left, feeling as if his whole life was in a state of suspension along with his leg. Mrs. Larabee had brought his breakfast up on a tray--at least he could eat a normal diet rather than the kind of invalid food theyd been feeding Buck while he was ill--and when she returned for the dishes she had given him, at his earlier request, the familys single-volume combined edition of Isaac DIsraelis Curiosities of Literature, though not without expressing misgivings. "Are you sure you want to read this, Ezra?" she had asked. "It doesnt seem to be the kind of book a twelve-year-old would really be interested in. Wouldnt you rather have something by Scott or Dickens?"
"I greatly enjoy both authors, maam," hed replied, "but at this moment I believe I prefer somethin that will require my utmost concentration, so that I will be distracted from the lamentable and inconvenient state in which I find myself. In any case, I had an uncle who spoke very highly of Mr. DIsraelis work, and I am curious to learn about it at first hand." This was very true. His Uncle Malcolm Ferris had taught natural science at the Brantley Military Academy in Newton Grove, North Carolina, and taught it very well, but the mans great passion had been literary esoterica.
Sarah looked dubious but seemed to be of the opinion that Ezra was old enough to know his own mind. "All right, but if you change your mind, or need anything, remember to ring the bell." There was a loud-voiced copper call bell on the bedstand, along with a Mexican clay water olla and a Rockingham mug in case he got thirsty.
DIsraeli had indeed proven interesting. In his preface he had declared that his purpose was "to stimulate the literary curiosity of those, who, with a taste for its tranquil pursuits, are impeded in their acquirement," and while the book had been written more than eighty years ago, it was still a treasure trove of interesting and recondite facts on various literary and historical topics, though presented in no logical sequence. Ezra browsed at random through it, flipping back to the table of contents at intervals to make his next choice. The author wrote of everything from Ciceros puns to Queen Elizabeths lovers, from metempsychosis to waxwork figures. He wrote of the sources of the extraordinary legends of the saints, the true story of the printer Faust, the Venetian origin of newspapers, and the possibility that the prototypes of the steam engine and telegraph had appeared during the reign of Charles II. Ezra had always loved to amass a broad range of unrelated information--Mother had taught him that knowledge was power, and that you never knew when some seemingly trivial item would prove useful.
Now, however, he was being made uncomfortably aware of one of the more embarrassing inconveniences connected with his bedbound state. He looked longingly at the bell, but hesitated to ring it. This wasnt a situation in which a lady could be expected to be of assistance. On the other hand, he couldnt get out of Mr. Jacksons encumbering tackle without help, and he certainly didnt want to lie here until the inevitable happened. He squirmed miserably and then looked up hopefully as a shadow blocked the doorway and Vin Tanner, Mr. Larabees partner, appeared on the threshold, silent in his moccasins. "How ya doin, Ez?"
The boy actually sighed in relief. "Mr. Tanner, you have arrived in the very nick of time. I find myself in dire need of the chamber pot."
Tanner glanced at the bell and grinned briefly. "Sure thing. Lemme shut the door so we got some privacy, then Ill give you a hand."
Fifteen minutes later a much relieved (in both senses of the word) Ezra was resettled in the bed, his traction adjusted slightly and his pillows fluffed and restacked behind his back. Tanner gathered up the small bundle he had put on the Hitchcock chair to free his hands, and settled himself cross-legged on the floor, his back against the built-in shelving under the window. "Figured youd be needin some help about now," he tossed out casually. "Figured you might could be wantin some company, too. You mind?"
"No, of course not. What do you have there?" asked Ezra curiously.
Vin showed him. A pair of moccasins, like the ones he was wearing, but with rawhide soles worn noticeably thin in two or three spots, and one definite hole near the left big toe. A sheet of rawhide--deerskin, perhaps? A sharp knife, a small awl, a brown-paper pattern, and a lot of peculiar fibers, not as thin and lightwight as thread, but thicker and almost as translucent as milk-glass. "Moccasins is a heap more comfortable to wear than boots is," he said, " least I think so, but even rawhide soles wears out a lot fastern cobblers work. Got to put on new. S why I always keep two pair. Uppersll last nigh onto forever, but them soles has to be replaced now and again."
Ezra peered at the worn footgear with interest, never having seen real moccasins close up before. They were made of some soft-tanned hide, with hip-high tops which, when Vin wore them, were turned down and fastened with a strap just under the knee. The hard, double-thick soles, clearly intended to protect the wearers feet against stones and thorns, extended beyond the toes, which were turned up at right angles, like a Turkish slipper, to terminate in an inch-and-a-quarter-wide disc. The soles folded up a bit over the edges of the uppers, and were pierced all around, at regular intervals, by small, neat holes, through which a glossy translucent thread, which looked very much like the mysterious fibers, was woven in and out in a kind of chain-stitch. "Theres holes just like these here all round the bottom edges of the uppers," Vin explained, as he began using the tip of the knife to cut the threads. "Turn the moccasin inside out, tie a knot in one end of your thread, push it through the first hole from thinside, then through the matchin hole in the sole edge, goin in from thoutside. Bring it up crossways to the next hole in thupper, through and through like before, and repeat. Aint hard. Course taint rightly thread, not like the kind Sarah uses--its sinew. Toughern cotton thread, lasts longer."
"Isnt sewin womens work?" Ezra wondered.
Vin grinned briefly. "Naw. Any Comanche warriors got to know how to put new soles on his moccasins, or mend his clothes iffen they get tore--sposin hes off winter-huntin or somethin, miles from camp, whats he sposed to do, freeze? And theres many a brave does the decorations on his own things, even the beadwork, though most just instruct their wives in how they want it to look. Course these here is Pache moccasins, not Comanch. Took to wearin em after we settled here cause they was easier to get. These I got on, and thother pair, Niome made em for me. Shes Kojays wife--Adam said he done told you bout Kojay." He pulled out the thread, peeled off the worn sole, and put both aside, then turned to repeating his action with the other moccasin.
"Yes. A friend of yours, he said, a headman in the tribe."
"Thats right. His son Chanu and me, sometimes we go huntin together. Kojays a leader the same way Geronimo is--hes a medicine man and a chief both at once, only he seen what Josiah calls the handwritin on the wall and figured best to make peace and keep it sos his folksd survive. Signed a treaty six years back and aint broke it yet, though times his young men dont make it easy." He paused a moment, then added, "Times its better not to fight, no matter how rough it looks to you to back down. Know that myself. Learnt it when I met Chris. Turned out bettern I hoped. Didnt get just him, got a whole family too, Sarah and the kids, and then JD and Nathan and Josiah just recent. Course I knowed Nathan afore, but workin with him to keep the peace is different." Ezra could feel his sidewise glance, not pressing him, not challenging, only watching to see whether he would correctly interpret what had just been said.
The boy sighed. "I do not see how I have very much choice in the matter." He pounded his clenched fist briefly against his splints in frustration, then immediately flushed in anger at himself. "I apologize," he said, "for that ungentlemanly display. I know better than to give way to impatience. Mother has often said its opposite is perhaps the most vital element in success. But what use am I, shackled to this bed, encumbered with these ponderous dressings?"
"Who says you gotta be of use?" asked Vin. "Aint nobody spects you to be."
"I expect me to be. Why would you want me here if I am not? At least whenever Mother has left me in someones care before now, they were related to us, and while they may not have had any say in it, they were willing to accept me for the sake of the blood obligation. But you are not related to me, any of you. If I cannot earn my keep, why would you wish to be bothered with me? No one has ever sought out my company unless I could do them some good. Not even Mother," he added bitterly.
Vin heard the anger and confusion under the surface cynicism, but he heard too something that was very familiar to him, from his own experience: uncertainty and fear, neither one acknowledged, perhaps even to the boy himself. It was a coupling of emotion that he remembered keenly. "Gotta be ceptions to all the rules," he mused. "I can see how a man would get to feelin one way, if all hed ever met up with was one kind of folks, but it dont mean everybody operates by them same. Might be thered be folks thatd leave you stay round just cause they thought it was right."
"No one does anythin because it is right," said Ezra flatly.
"No?" Vin lifted an eyebrow. "Then how come you to take Buck on like you done? Iffen youre sayin you been fetched up to believe only blood kin cares enough to take on a youngun, what call you got to bust him outen that orphange with you?"
"It was a matter of self-preservation. I feared he would betray me to the Director if I did not acquiesce."
"But you let him stick with you after," Vin observed. "Didnt leave him in China Springs, didnt even try to get shuck of him after he got sick."
"Of course," said Ezra rather indignantly. "That was an obligation of honor. Regardless of my motivation for doin so, I had freely chosen to permit him to accompany me. As the elder of us two, I was bound to see that he was cared for."
"Hmm," said Vin. "So what youre sayin is, you done it on account of it was somethin you been taught to believe was the right thing to do."
Ezra stared at him. "I said no such thing."
"Sure ya did," Vin retorted blithely. "Just said it roundabout. You take Injuns, now. You go to live with a Injun tribe, you pretty quick find out that right and wrong--what Siah calls morality--aint got nothin to do with religion; it comes out of custom. Religions about doin rituals certain ways, and followin the rules of your medicine to keep it powerful. When it comes to how they act twixt theirselves, folks dont do things on account of they believe its what the spirits want em to; they do em on account of its what that tribes always done, as far back as anybody can count. But its still what they been taught is right, and if a Injun gets tempted to do somethin that dont fit that teachin, hes got a conscience same as anybody else, that tells him he shouldnt. White folks, they follow the Commandments or the law--or sometimes they dont. Its still doin what they been taught to think is right. You follow what honor tells you. Still the same thing. Just different words, is all."
Ezra might have protested, but the evocation of "different words" set him thinking about what the thesaurus--his favorite word-book after the dictionary--had to say about "morality." Ethical values, ethics, right or wrong; goodness, rightness, virtue, rectitude, honor... He wanted to admit that Tanner had been right, regardless of the elemental way he expressed himself. But that would be admitting that he had himself been wrong. To admit you were wrong was to open yourself to the possibility that others in future--not merely the person you were dealing with at the moment--might be right. That would lead to remorse, and remorse would make it impossible to con people. Mr. Tanner didnt seem to have been insulted by his assertion, didnt seem to expect an apology, as a man might expect you to beg pardon if you had struck or slandered him. Perhaps if neither of them said the words, they could just go along as if the whole exchange hadnt happened.
Still, there remained the question, not merely of why he had let Buck come with him in the first place, but of why hed risked himself by trying to go back to Broken Bow and recover the younger boys mothers money and jewelry. Because Addison had had no right to it? Why was it wrong for him to confiscate valuables--especially when their previous owners logical direct heir scarcely knew of their existence, and had no comprehension of his rights under the law--and not wrong for Mother to do the things she did? Of course, Mother didnt victimize orphans--or widows, or the poor. There was little to be gained by working a con against someone who couldnt afford it. Nor did she take things by force. To Mother, might didnt make right, which seemed to have been Addison's guiding principle; rather,
the question had to do with sharpness of wit and the fact of the mark thinking he was going to get something for nothing, or nearly so. The best marks, she had always taught her son, were those who were basically crooked themselves--or at least suffering from terminal cases of greed. "We are professionals," she had said. "In a very basic sense, we are teachers. It is our mission in life to demonstrate to others the folly of hypocrisy, ignorance, and greed. If we profit by the process, what of it? Are not teachers paid for their efforts--and often out of tax receipts, at that?"
Ezra shook his head to rid himself of these confusing misgivings. There had to be something erroneous in his logic, but he didnt feel up to trying to decide what it was: his leg ached and he was getting thirsty as the sun began to come around to the window. He reached for the olla and said something unprintable in French as he realized that in the process of getting resettled in the bed he had managed to end up just out of arms length of it. Before he could hitch himself closer, Vin flowed easily to his feet, picked it up and tilted it over the mug. "Better not," he said. "Waters heavy, and this jug aint no lightweight. Nate dont want you strainin them ribs. Might be I can rig you up a sling for the jug, like the Mexicans put em in, only fixed sos you can tilter."
"That would be...very kind of you," Ezra admitted, accepting the vessel as it was put in his hands and sipping slowly.
Vin's unnerving blue eyes gazed down at him thoughtfully. "Havin trouble gettin your mind around it, aint you?"
Ezras tongue darted out to touch his upper lip. "If I were, I would never admit it. To display ones vulnerabilities is to open oneself to hurt. Mother has always said that if people know where your weaknesses lie, they will exploit them--and my experience thus far has suggested that she is right. I am at a disadvantage as it is, on account of my youth. I prefer not to give anyone further ammunition to be used against me."
Vin sighed and settled back into his place below the window, laid the sheet of rawhide on the floor--doubled so he could make two exact copies--and the paper pattern on top of it, and began carefully cutting out two pieces of the proper shape and size for his resoling project. "You recollect that talk we had in the hayloft, the day after you got here?"
"I recall what was in essence a monologue on your part, yes," Ezra agreed.
" Member I told you about the Comanches fetchin me up and thArmy takin me away from em when I s around thage you are now?" the Texan proceeded. "How I kep on tryin to get back to em after? I recollect how rough that time was for me. Id forgot a lot about how whites live, and I made a mess of mistakes and got licked for em--I reckon it s on account of lots of Texians think Injuns aint much bettern devils, and they figured to try to beat the Injun-ness outta me. All it taught me was to fear and hate em moren any proper Comanche boy would. Iffen I hadnt of met up with Chris when I done..." he paused and shook his head-- "well, sposin Id ever made it back to the People like I wanted to, I can see how thereda likely been two ways I coulda gone. Either Ida growed up a little more and had me a warrior vision and turnt into a reglar wild Injun, raidin the settlements outve hate for what theyd done to me and likely gettin myself shot afore now, or Ida come to be somethin like Quanah and Geronimo mixed up together, a white renegade leadin bronco Comanches that wouldnt surrender. Wouldnta been much sprised iffen itd been the second--Eagle-That-Sees-Afar, my Comanche pa, he always said as how my eyes was big medicine, sky-eyes, he called em. Likely woulda been moren one woulda thought I had strong war power just on account of em. That and bein able tunderstand white talk." He continued sliding his knife around the perimeter of the pattern as he spoke, not looking at Ezra, and once hed cut out the first sole, flipping the pattern over to begin the second. "Its a mighty strange thing how a man can make one decision, or meet one person, and it changes all his life. Thats what Chris done for me. Id come to where I knowed, sures the sun comes up in theast or thunder follers after lightnin, that there werent nobody left I could count on ceptin me. I s scared near to pukin of every white I crossed paths with, and too proud to show it. Werent nothin made to sense to me cept that I had to get back to my peoples lodges. And then I met Chris, and suddenly wasnt none of it true no more." He looked up then, eyes lambent. "And I aint thonliest one it ever happened to. You ask Chris about what he felt after he met Sarah. Iffen it worked that way for us, how come it couldnt for you?"
"Im not...certain I follow you," said Ezra slowly.
"Knowin Buck, meetin him down yonder, makin up your mind to take him with you when you run," Vin explained, "that was one change. Keepin him with you after was another. Meetin me and lettin me fetch you here was the third. Now your mas went off and left you with us. Beins you aint in no shape to see after yourself, Judge made you a ward of the court. We aint got no orphanages up this way, though I hear tell theres one in Eagle Bend. Means after you get outten them splints, Judgell have to find you a place to stay permanent."
"I have relatives," Ezra asserted. "In Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri, Virginia, the Carolinas...there is scarcely a former Confederate state to which my familial connections do not extend."
"Dont doubt it," said Vin. "But why do all that travellin iffen you dont got to? Youre here and youll be stayin here a spell. Time you get on your feet itll be roundup season, fall. Youll be used to us and our ways by then. Why not make up your mind now that youll stay on? Sarah wants you to. Sos Chris. We was talkin about it last night after youd gone to sleep."
Ezra said nothing for a minute or two. The idea that the Larabees might have agreed to assume his care just because they considered it the right thing to do he thought he could accept; Vins example, by forcing him to admit to himself that honor and morality were closely related if not simply two words for the same thing, allowed him to see that even people who didnt make a point of being "decent Christians" might feel the urging of honor, something much more familiar in Southern thought than religion and its obligations were. But that they would actually want him to become a part of their household was more difficult to acknowledge--or to understand. Even if they didnt think he could be of some value, monetary or otherwise, why would people hed met only two weeks ago seek to have him as part of their family, when his blood kin were generally relieved to see the back of him? It made no sense. They had to be working some kind of angle; nothing else would explain it.
"Were figurin task Judge Travis to let us adopt Buck," Vin went on. " 'Course itll be Chris and Sarah thatll do it legal-like, but hell still be part of Adams famly, and Katies and mine. Means hell be stayin here. Chris figures hell put that money Addison had into what they call a trust account, set it up so itll come to Buck when hes growed; itll be enough to start him out in business or buy land or just about anythin he wants."
Ezra wondered just how true that would turn out to be. At least Buck had his mothers money; he had value. It was hard to believe that the Larabees wouldnt be tempted to use it if something catastrophic happened. But if they were willing to petition for his legal adoption, that would put them under certain obligations, and Judge Travis would make it his business to see to it that those obligations were fulfilled. He decided not to mention the money; after all, Mr. Larabee was Vins partner, and Vin might feel that such doubts were an insult. "It would be good for Buck to have a home," he admitted. "From what he has revealed to me, he enjoyed a very happy, if an unconventional, one in Kansas City."
Tanner nodded. "Be like a second start for him. Hell even have a pa, which I got a notion he didnt afore." Again the bright eyes sharpened on the boy. "Aint no reason you couldnt have the same."
"Im not an orphan," Ezra pointed out. "I have a mother, even though she is not currently on the scene."
"We know that. Chris already talked it all out with the Judge. But you said your ownself you got no notion when shell be comin back for you. Somebodys gotta have custody of you till she does. Like I said afore, mights well be us."
Ezra thought again of Mrs. Larabees many kindnesses to him, of how she and her husband had cared for him exactly as they did their own son, of the warm, homey, comfortable atmosphere that pervaded the Larabees house, the generosity with which even Adam had welcomed him. He remembered the attractive thought of living on a horse ranch, becoming insofar as possible a part of this contented, self-sufficient, quietly successful family, playing with Adam and Buck, learning the horse business, trekking to town once a week like an honest country boy, having a pony and pets as Adam did, a place he knew he was welcome in and wouldnt have to leave. His nomadic life and its many uncertainties had guaranteed that he would long secretly for order and routine, for a real home and family such as he saw his cousins had. And here the Larabees were ready to offer him exactly that, or so they would have him believe, even if they could only do so on a conditional, temporary basis. "I see no reason you should feel obligated to seek my consent in this," he said. "As you have pointed out, I am a minor--and for the present a cripple. You can do as you will with me and I would have little recourse against you."
Tanner sighed. "There, now," he said, "youre just makin me surer than ever that you and me is a lot alike. This aint about askin your leave, exacly. Its about tryin to make you see why it makes sense you should stay. Why we figure you could be happy here, like I been."
"Happy?" Ezra repeated in a hollow voice. "I have seldom been happy in my life; indeed only once that I can point to with certainty, durin my recent sojourn in Virginia. And even then, the sensation was so unfamiliar that I cannot be absolutely sure I am correct in applyin that definition to it. So I can hardly miss it."
"Well, maybe we can help you find out what its like," Vin suggested. "Aint it worth the try?"
Ezra was silent for a long moment. "I suppose so..." he breathed out at last.
But still the doubts lingered, and he thought Vin, with his disconcerting perceptiveness, knew it. The Texan didnt press him further, though. "Well, then," he said. "Promised Chris Id be the one to tell you what the plan was, and I done it. Now, I reckon you got a whole passel of questions about this place; I know I done when I went to live with the Comanch, and again when I went back to the whites, though I werent about to let them know it." He nodded to the sole-pieces now cut from the rawhide and lain out on the floor. "This here jobll take me pretty much the day; mights well do it here as anyplace."
Monday, July 29
It was almost the last day of July, and haying could begin in mid-August if the grass was deep and ripe. So Chris had decided this was a good time to go over his mowing machine and make sure none of the parts were worn out; if they were he would at least have time enough to buy and install the new ones. This also meant tightening bolts and burs, putting new prongs in the rakes, oiling any spots that seemed to need it, mending the hay-racks and harness, clearing the loft of old straw (which would be used to bed the vegetable garden and pack the root crops in the cool cellar) and airing it out for the new crop. The team was due to have new shoes, and Chris, as a farm boy, knew how to do this, saving blacksmiths costs. Any smith, even an at-home one, could use a helper to stoke the forge, pump the bellows, turn the grindstone, and hand him his rasps, files, nails, and other small objects. It was an office eagerly sought by young sons, who saw it as prestigious "mans work." And it was an ideal opportunity for man-to-man talks.
"Adam," Chris began, judiciously levelling the sorrels off fore hoof with the rasp, "you know that Vin was brought up by the Comanches, dont you?"
The boy looked at him as if he couldnt believe anyone would forget so vital an item of information about his best friend. " Course I do."
"But he isnt a Comanche," Chris proceeded.
"Naw," said Adam. "Vins a Texian!" He pronounced it with an i, as any proper native of the state did.
"Thats right. But the Comanche warror who raised him treated him just like his own, thought of him that way too. Theres a word for what he did: adoption."
" Doption? Oh. Like what the Doones done to Lorna?"
"Like that. Brought her up as one of theirs, though they did it partly because they wanted to get control of her inheritance. That tells you white folks do it too. There are laws that say if a boy or girl doesnt have any family, somebody can ask a judge to make em part of their family."
"Okay," said Adam, "but whats it got to do with us?"
"Well," Chris explained, "Buck used to have a mother, but she died down in Broken Bow. We dont know who or where his father is, but we think maybe he dont have one. That means hes got no family, so Judge Travis has made him whats called a ward of the court. It means the Territory has to bring him up, or find a place for him to live. Your ma and me were thinkin wed like to ask the Judge to make this that place, and adopt Buck into our family, like the Comanches adopted Vin into theirs, or the Doones adopted Lorna."
Adam considered this for a moment. "Would that mean hed be ours? Like Katie is?"
"Exactly like she is. The Judge would sign a paper that said so, and that made his last name Larabee, just like yours. Wed be responsible for seein that he was fed, and had clothes to wear and a warm dry bed, and learned to read and write if he dont know already, and all the other things families do for their kids. Hed be Katies big brother, and your little brother--course hes taller than you are actually, but hes still a couple of years younger, so that would count. You were sayin, just before he and Ezra got here, that you wished you could have a little brother. Well, if we do this, you will have, one near enough your size to play with, but young enough and new enough to this country that you can teach him things, just like you wanted." He held up his hand to forestall an outburst as he saw the delight wash across the boys face. "Now, there are things youll have to remember. Buck wont know our rules, or where things are, or anything much about livin in the open, except whatever Ezra was able to teach him. Well all have to be a little patient with him. And youll have to share your ma and me with him, cause hell be our son just like you are, and well have to give him time and love, same as we do you. Have to share some of your clothes too, till we can get him to town and buy him some new of his own at Mrs. Potters, and your books and toys, and the dogs and cats, and maybe Ranger for a while." Ranger was the name of Adams pony, a buckskin Medicine Hat pinto. "But this is your home first--it has been for all your life--and your ma and me thought it was just plain courtesy to ask you whether you thought you could deal with such a big change in things, and if you couldnt, what we could do to make it easier for you. Its not the same as your ma havin another baby. Youd have some time to get used to that, and itd be so much younger than you are that it wouldnt make a lot of difference in your life." He waited to see what the boy would make of this.
Surprisingly, Adams first question was: "But where will Vin sleep?"
Chris lifted an eyebrow. "Where did you think hed sleep?"
"Well, I dont know. But the Langston boys--Andrew and Lloyd--theyre brothers and they sleep in the same bedroom. Same bed, even. I dont think my beds big enough for two."
"No," Chris agreed thoughtfully, "I dont guess it is. But we do have a couple of other bedrooms, with beds in em. We were sort of figuring Buck could stay where he is, and then after Ezras healed up and can stand bein jostled--" Might as well tell him the whole thing and get it over with, he thought-- "theyd move in together."
"Why?" asked Adam.
" Cause we were thinkin Ezra might be stayin here too, at least till his ma comes back. Now she might only stay away long enough for him to get healed up. But just in case she takes longer at it, he still needs a place to be, and this might as well be it; hell be used to us by then, and us to him, makes sense he should stay. Judge Travis said he could grant your ma and me whats called temporary custody of him."
Adam pondered on this. The whole business of who Ezra and Buck were and where they had come from had been a very confusing one to him. First Ezra (whom they had then known as Everett) had told them one story, the night he first arrived, and then (Ma said) he had told Pa and Vin another one, and then that stagecoach driver, Mr. Danner, had come and had said his real name was Ezra Standish and hed been taken off Mr. Danners coach down in Broken Bow by Sheriff Addison, but by then hed run away because someone had stolen some money that belonged to Buck and Ezra wanted to get it back. So Pa and Vin had gone off after him and run into JD and Josiah on the road, and in the end there had been a gunfight and Sheriff Addison had been killed and theyd brought Ezra back in the buckboard with his leg all splinted up. Adam had broken an arm last year, when Ranger threw him; he remembered it had hurt, and the splint had been a real bother, but at least hed been able to move around. And Ma said his broken bone had been the kind Nathan called a greenstick, but Ezras leg had been so badly broken that the end of bone had come right out through the skin. Adam thought it must hurt a whole lot more than his had. And he bet Ezra wasnt very happy about having to be in bed the next couple of months, either. But Ezra hadnt said so, and he never gave any sign that he was hurting. Pa had said that they now knew Ezra and Buck had spent some time in a very bad place, an orphanage where theyd been worked like field hands and not gotten enough to eat and been caned all the time, and once Ezras arm had been pulled right out of the socket (which Adam bet also hurt a lot). Then Ezras ma had come out from town, a real pretty lady with nice clothes and a sweet Southern voice, but when the next stage to Santa Fe went, shed been on it, leaving Ezra in their extra bedroom. Adam was absolutely sure his ma and pa would never have left him or Katie behind like that, and he couldnt understand why Ezras ma would leave him. But he knew it wasnt polite to ask personal questions, so he hadnt.
"Well, I guess that would work all right," he said after a while, " cause they already know each other. But dont temporary mean just for a little while?"
"Mostly, yeah, thats what it means," his father agreed.
"But Ezras ma went off and left him, like somebody leavin a baby on a doorstep in a book. So why do we think shes gonna come back? The people in books dont."
"We think that because Ezra says she always does, or else she sends for him to come and meet her. Thats what he was on the way to do when he was taken off Mr. Danners coach."
"Oh," said Adam. And then, fiercely: "But it aint right shed leave him. Mas and pas shouldnt leave their kids ever, unless they die." He knew, of course, about parents dying. Some of the kids he knew had no ma, and some (like the Potters and Billy Travis) had no pa, and both his parents mas had died long before Ma and Pa had ever met, and Vins ma had died when he wasnt much older than Katie was.
"Well, son, Id have to agree with you there," Chris told him. "But whats right aint always what people do, is it? You know its not, because if it was the Judge wouldnt have needed to ask me to be sheriff."
"Guess so," the boy agreed. "But aint there no laws that say its wrong? So you can arrest her for doin it?"
Chris smothered his smile. Adam was his pas son sure enough, unable to stomach injustice no matter what its shape; it didnt seem to matter to him that he was standing up for someone three years older than he was and, from what Chris had observed of him, very much practised in looking after himself. "Only if I knew where she was," he said, "and even then only if she was in Judge Traviss circuit. But shes not and I dont. And anyway Im not sure there are any laws like that, though probably there should be; if there were, the law would try harder to find those people who leave babies on doorsteps. Maybe if--when--she comes back the Judge will have something to say about it. Right now, we have to make the best we can of the situation."
"So what are we gonna do?" asked Adam gravely.
"For now, were just gonna let Ezra heal. Afterward, if his ma dont come, hell stay here. Now, this aint gonna be like Buck, because first of all we dont know how long well get to have him, and second, remember, hes twelve. Short for his age, but still, his bein here is gonna mean you wont be the oldest any more. Do you think you can live with that, son?"
Adam blinked in surprise--a mannerism hed picked up from Vin--and Chris realized this was the first time it had actually occurred to the boy that Ezra was older than himself. Well, the three of them were pretty much of a size, Chris reflected, and wondered why he suddenly thought of the Three Musketeers--with perhaps a long-haired DArtagnan in buckskin hovering somewhere close by. "But hes never lived on a horse ranch before, has he?" Adam asked thoughtfully. "And he dont talk like he comes from these parts. So he would be like Buck, a little bit, havin to learn all kinds of things that I already know. Id still feel like the oldest even if I wasnt really."
Chriss brows lifted. "I hadnt thought of that," he admitted, "but I guess youre right, son. So youre saying you wont mind gettin two brothers for the price of one?"
Adam grinned. "Itll give Katie a couple other fellers to tag along after besides me," he pointed out. "Shes gettin to be a little bit of a pest now that shes walkin so good. Be nice to have somebody who can get her out of my hair for a while."
This time his father couldnt restrain a snort of amusement. "But if the three of you end up spendin a lot of time together, thatll just give her a bigger target to aim at."
The boys face fell. "Didnt think of that." Then he brightened. "Still, shell have to figure out which of us to go to, and she can only pick one at a time, so thatll give two of us a little relief. I guess itll be okay, if Ezras willing."
"What do you mean, if hes willing?" Chris asked.
Adam shrugged. "Dunno exacly. He just seems kinda...not standoffish, just like he aint sure about us. Like hes scared, a little."
Larabee considered this, knowing how perceptive children could be. Vin had said much the same thing, had hinted that he saw his own younger self in Ezra. Chris remembered the young Vin well--independent, proud, bewildered and afraid. Is that why he lied to us? he found himself wondering. Did he think wed send him back, or not believe him, or somethin? "Adam," he said slowly, "you know I told you that Ezra told some lies about himself, right?"
"Dont that bother you at all?" He knew the boy had to be aware of how highly Westerners valued truth, partly because of the high preponderance of Southerners (to whom a mans word had to be better than his bond, because it couldnt be insured) in the population, partly because, in a thinly settled country, people had to know they could count on one another. The four "shooting insults," in ascending order of gravity, were "liar," "cheat," "horse thief," and the ultimate, "son of a bitch." The typical cowboy was honest and truthful except when trying to protect a friend (nobody thought the less of a man for doing that, even if it meant throwing the posse he was with off the trail--it was expected), shrewdly alive to frankness, if tending to reserve and soft-spokenness around strangers until they had established their bona fides, and his word was his bond. Yet at the same time rangeland custom held it very impolite to infer to a mans face that whatever information he chose to volunteer wasnt accurate, even if you knew his past was full of black spots. And to ask questions of a stranger who arrived at your house--even who hed come to see--was generally considered unethical at best; you had to have something to call him, so you were allowed to inquire for his "handle," but everything else he must be allowed to offer on his own, or not, as he preferred. Every Westerner was an intense individualist, and, demanding exclusive management of his personal affairs, felt that all others desired and were entitled to the same. He had, or at least displayed, no curiosity about their private matters, and was perfectly willing that they should do as they liked, provided they neither interfered with him or his nor violated any of the fundamental tenets of the Western code of ethics. It suddenly occurred to Chris that he might have done Ezra a grave discourtesy. The boy was twelve, or at least he claimed to be, and in a place and time where the majority of children ended their schooling with the sixth grade, if not before, that was considered "near grown;" ranch boys went to work at an early age, and kids of twelve and fourteen were no novelty out on the range, with many youngsters of eighteen or nineteen heading roundup crews or bossing trail drives. Should he have given in to his instincts as a lawman and pressed Ezra so hard? It wasnt as if hed known, at first, that there was really anything suspicious connected to his appearance at CL-Cross; he hadnt found out about the stolen horse until two days later. If Ezra had ridden in here on a horse of his own, with a saddle and gear and all, and asked for a job, or even a meal, Chris would have received him as he would any man of voting age. Why did Vins having discovered him holed up in a manzanita thicket, trying to care for a sick younger boy, bar him from receiving the same courtesies?
Adam looked at his father with a puzzled expression. "Folks dont lie for fun, Pa. They lie cause they think they can get somethin out of it, sometimes, but mostly they do it cause theyre scared. You told me about that bad place Ezra and Buck were in. Dont you reckon they shoulda been expected tove not trusted too easy, after what was done to em there?"
Chris had always tried to be honest with his son, to treat him with respect and to accept and admit the fact when Adam was right. How was a boy to learn honesty and respect for others if he didnt receive it? "They should," he agreed. "Ezra probably was scared, just like you said--the same way Vin was when I first met him." But Vin didnt lie to me, he thought. He never tried to hide what he was.
And a sneaking little voice somewhere inside him responded: --He didnt have to. He knew there was a connection between the two of you from the very first. He sensed--no, he knew--that youd treat him square. Ezra didnt have that advantage. Hell, Larabee, if his mothers made a habit of leaving him behind the way she just did, how would he have learned about trusting grown people? Kids learn that from the folks they grow up with, which mostly means their kin. Ezras probably smart enough, has seen enough, to know that what happened to him doesnt happen to most boys his age. Of course hes gonna be cautious and try to cover his own ass until hes had a chance to figure out what he should expect from a stranger. Just like a cowboy would, even if hes never been one in his life.
Thinking about it in those terms gave him a fresh perspective on the boy. I owe him an apology, I guess.
--If hes willing to accept it, said Conscience. If you havent already poisoned any chance youve got with him.
Vin said he was okay with stayin here.
--He doesnt have a lot of choice in it right now, splinted up like he is. Not the way Vin did. Like Adam said, his first instinct is probably to protect himself. He knows hes pretty much at your mercy, and will be for a while. If he lied, or at least bent the truth, about whatever he thinks, aint that natural? Cause theyre scared, Adam told you. After what hes been through, hasnt he got a right to be?
"Pa?" Adam ventured, and Chris came back to earth with a thud.
"Sorry, son. You just got me thinkin about some things that hadnt occurred to me before, and I owe you thanks for that. All right, then. Youre sayin youll still feel like the big brother even to Ezra, thats fine; I think hes smart enough to know how much he doesnt know, and like Josiah says, The admission of ignorance is the beginning of wisdom. And stuck in bed the way he is, youll both have some time to get used to the arrangement before he can really take much part in life around here."
"I thought so too," said Adam, "but I didnt want to say it." He grinned impishly, and Chris caught the unspoken implication; it was so much like one of Vins that he could hardly have missed it.
"You watch yourself, young man," he growled playfully. "Remember whos grown up around here and who isnt. Now, lets finish up here and go take a look at the mower."
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