Postscript: The First Week

by Sevenstars


Ezra looked up from the game of solitaire laid out on the black-lacquered papier-maché tea tray Sarah had lent him for the purpose, blinking as he realized the bedroom was beginning to grow dim. It must, he reflected, be after seven; the almanac he’d been given last week set today’s sunset at five minutes past. "You should light a lamp," said Chris Larabee from the doorway. "Ruin your eyes doin’ that."

"The advice is not unwarranted," Ezra admitted. "Unfortunately no one has thought to provide me with any matches."

"I can take care of that," the man said. He set the tray he was carrying on the top of the bureau and came around the bed to the nightstand, where he soon had the small glass-bowled lamp going. "Don’t remember ever seein’ that kind of game before," he added, peering past the boy’s arm at the layout, which featured two vertical rows of four cards each, separated by space enough for two more. Apparently the center spaces were supposed to be occupied by foundations building up in suit from the aces.

"It is called President’s Cabinet," Ezra told him. "Two decks. Difficult, but its chief recommendation under my current circumstances is that it requires only a small space to play."

"Ten of diamonds," Chris pointed out, and Ezra looked, then moved it. "How many kinds of solitaire do you know?"

"A hundred and four," said Ezra blandly. "And twenty-nine kinds of poker, although I prefer to stick with orthodox draw and stud."

Larabee whistled softly. "Didn’t know there were that many kinds of poker." He nodded toward the dresser. "Want some supper?"

Ezra blinked. "I had not realized it had grown so late. Thank you. Would you be kind enough to shift my game to some secure location until I can finish my meal?"

Chris lifted the tray off his lap and set it on the floor beside the bed, where gusts of breeze were unlikely to disturb the cards. He replaced it with his own tray, which was loaded with one of Sarah’s typical hearty suppers: sliced ham, cold chicken, potato hash, fresh brown-crusted bread, honey, grape jelly, quince and red-currant jams, a tall glass of milk, gingerbread with butter frosting, and a baked apple. "How’s the leg?" he asked.

"As might be expected," said Ezra. "But I am growin’ accustomed to the discomfort."

"Nate took the stitches out the last time he was here, didn’t he?"

The boy shuddered briefly. "Yes. It is not an experience I would care to repeat."

"Know what you mean," Chris agreed. "Had it done myself a few times. Guess the only way to avoid it is to manage not to get shot. You need anything for the ache?"

"I would rather the ache than the reaction I seem to have to the laudanum," Ezra replied frankly. "It is not so bad, now that the wound is closed. Mr. Tanner was kind enough to provide a scratchin’ stick such as he says the Apaches use; once I was able to insert it under the dressings, it proved ideally suited to copin’ with the itch, and even that is fadin’ now."

"Think you might be able to tolerate a trip to town tomorrow?"

Ezra looked up sharply from the slice of bread he was spreading with honey and jam. "Whatever for? Even if I went, I will not be ambulatory for more than six weeks yet." He nodded toward the commercial calendar someone had hung up on the wall opposite the bed, the August page still pristine except for the crossed-off first day. Chris knew that the seventeeth of September had been circled in red ink to show the day Ezra was supposed to be able to start using a crutch.

"Rest of us are goin’," said Chris. "Judge Travis got in today. We’re gonna take Buck and finalize the adoption. Figured it was only fair to have the whole family there."

"I...see," said Ezra slowly. "Yes, it would hardly be right to force Mrs. Larabee or Mr. Tanner to remain behind with me when they could be in attendance for the induction of your new son."

Chris picked up the Hitchcock chair and brought it alongside the bed, setting it down reversed and straddling it, his arms resting on the back. "It wasn’t just them I was thinkin’ about."

Ezra kept his face turned down to his plate, forking meat and hash neatly into his mouth as he tried to decide how best to respond. His natural instinct for self-protection urged him to do everything he could to avoid antagonizing the man, but he was finding it very difficult to understand the situation he was in, Mr. Tanner’s assurances to the contrary. And for someone who had spent his life being shuffled from one home to another, uncertainty was a bugbear of Gargantuan proportions. He had learned to expect it, to live with it, but he still hated it. Every day he wanted to know who was going to be sitting with him, what games they planned to play, how long he would be left to his own devices, what he could have to read, what was going on out in the yard, whether anyone was going out on the range and when they might be expected to return, what would be served for each meal. He tried to maintain a façade of bored disinterest and uninvolvement, knowing that whatever these people said to him, they really didn’t understand--that he would stay because he had to, live where he was told to, and adjust as best he could until Mother came back, or sent for him. Yet at the same time, the longer he remained here, the more he saw of the CL-Cross family, the more he longed to be a part of it, or something equally as good. After ten days in their home he was even beginning to think that he might have been wrong, that they didn’t want anything from him, weren’t working any angle--that, as with Buck, it might be a case of what he saw being what he got. He’d been so often betrayed and disappointed that he didn’t want to believe it, yet he couldn’t deny what his highly trained perceptions suggested to him.

"I am not Buck," he said quietly. "You know yourself that you will not--cannot--have complete legal custody of me, that one day, when my injuries have healed, I will have to leave. In any case, I do not wish to be a burden. You did not ask to have my invalid self inflicted upon you. It is bad enough that I must be here at all--which is no reflection on the quality of the care I have received, but merely an acknowledgment that I know my presence is an imposition. I am quite accustomed to bein’ left to my own devices. As long as Mr. Tanner takes the time to assist me in satisfyin’ nature’s demands before you depart, there is no real reason for you to trouble yourselves over me."

Chris breathed in with a rippling sound like that of a disturbed horse. "I don’t like you usin’ words like that, Ezra," he said, equally as evenly. " ‘Imposition’ and ‘trouble’ aren’t things we think of in connection with you. What’s it gonna take to convince you of that?"

Ezra swallowed a mouthful of food past the thick lump that had suddenly appeared in his throat. "Nothin’ it is in your power to provide, sir."

Larabee sighed. "I’m not a man who finds it easy to admit I’ve been wrong," he said slowly. "But I guess I probably didn’t make you feel very welcome, after I found out you were connected somehow with Whittington’s stolen mare. I see now that you were just doin’ what you had to, to survive and protect Buck. Or at least you thought that was what you were doin’, which is sometimes the same thing; I’ve done enough gun work to know that. So I’d like to apologize for givin’ you a bad impression. If you’re grown up enough to make the choices you did, I owe you the same courtesy I’d expect for myself. That bein’ the case, let’s talk like two men. I think you made a big mistake kitin’ off on your own to Broken Bow. I think you should’ve told Vin and me the truth and let us help you. I don’t know how the hell you thought you were gonna find Buck’s mother’s things. And I don’t want you to ever run out on us again. But Vin seems to think you ain’t been taught much about trust, so maybe I shouldn’t really be too surprised. And it’s done now, and what you did was intended to help someone else, so even if you weren’t laid up, it wouldn’t be right for me to punish you for it."

Ezra eyed him cautiously. Was this what it sounded like? "I had no intention of askin’ for anyone’s commendation," he said.

"I know. You meant to recover the stuff if you could, send it back to us, and then take off for I don’t know where. You figured you’d never see us again. That makes it all the more noteworthy, ’cause you were doin’ it just to satisfy your own notion of right and wrong."

There it was again, that whole vexing question of morality. "Don’t delude yourself, Mr. Larabee. I know what I am, and I do not pretend to be anythin’ else. You do not want anythin’ of my sort dwellin’ in your home, corruptin’ your children. I realize that for the present I am without other recourse, but I assure you I do not propose to encumber you with my presence a minute beyond the necessary."

The rancher looked at him so steadily that Ezra found it difficult to meet his gaze. "Kind of young to be sellin’ yourself so low, ain’t you?"

Ezra shrugged. "My kinfolk--the vast majority of them--have taught me well what my place is. Why should I believe I am, or will be, any more welcome here than I have been in their homes? They at least were obligated by blood and honor to accept me, however grudgingly. You are not."

Again Larabee sighed. "I’m beginning to see what Vin meant when he said he thought you and him were alike," he mused. "There was a connection between the two of us from the first day we met--I don’t know if he’s told you that; but even with that foundation to build on, it took me over a year to convince him that he didn’t have to think of himself as a savage or an outcast. But there’s something you’re forgettin’, Ezra. I raise horses. Workin’ with horses takes patience. They’re not like cattle, half brainless and easy to work as long as they’re in a bunch." He snorted. "Never had much use for the damn critters, except on a platter. That’s why Vin’s the only man I let call me cowboy. But the point is, you runnin’ yourself down and expectin’ the worst isn’t too different from a young colt when he shies and fights and kicks--and the two of you do it for exactly the same reason, because you’re in a strange situation and don’t know what’s gonna happen. You’re scared, and it’s my job to show you there’s nothin’ to be scared of. If you’d fallen in with a cattleman, he might not have seen the connection, but I do. Ask any horse wrangler and he’ll tell you--every animal in his remuda has a name and a personality, and he knows ’em all. People are the same way. So dealin’ with people--all the different kinds of ’em--may come just a little easier to a horse breeder, which could be one reason Judge Travis tapped me to wear the badge in these parts. You’re not gonna shake me loose, any more than the colt can shake the saddle off."

Ezra looked up again, studying the man’s angular face, remembering a maxim he had heard somewhere, that a man’s eyes show what he was born with, and his mouth shows what he’s done with it. He had been trained from childhood in how to detect lies, and he felt instinctively that Larabee was telling the truth--at least insofar as he saw it; but he was so blinkered by his own raising that he found it difficult to believe truth even when it was presented to him, so convinced that everyone around him had some sort of agenda--generally one that involved the possibility of exploitation of him--that he could hardly accept the existence of someone who didn’t. Was this what "good" people--really good--were like? How could he be sure? He remembered again his wistful thoughts of having a place, a family, Mr. Tanner as a friend, brothers who would treat him as such and not as merely a temporary and unwelcome appurtenance. He was so used to disappointment where trusting others was concerned that even the bare possibility that his hopes might be fulfilled was enough to send him reeling.

"You have asked for frankness," he said. "Very well, let us be frank. I owe you, and Mr. Tanner, and the others my life. I am well aware of that--and not so lost to my obligations as a gentleman that I do not acknowledge it to myself. Had Mr. Dunne not dropped off the roof onto Sheriff Addison’s shoulders, he would almost certainly have succeeded in takin’ me with him when he fled, and eventually he would have killed me. He was quite plain in tellin’ me that was all I could expect. It troubles me that I have no foreseeable means of repayin’ the debt in kind, handicapped as I am. My only option is to acquiesce to any demands you may make of me...and I do not enjoy makin’ blind bets."

"We don’t ask you for anything, Ezra," Larabee replied gently. "We don’t see it as a debt, and we didn’t take you on for the sake of some future use we thought you might be to us." Ezra remembered what Vin had had to say on the same subject. "Now, I’ll admit I never lived down South, except during the War, and that doesn’t go very far toward givin’ a man an understanding of the people he’s dealin’ with. I’ve spent most of my life west of the Missouri, and out here we figure that if you’re any good, you don’t keep reminding a man that you’ve saved his bacon. Maybe it’s different where you come from. Josiah says different people follow different drummers. All right. I’ve got a notion you’ve had to go through a lot of changes in your time. Think of us as just another example of the same thing. We march to a different drummer than you’re used to. Accept that and get used to our rhythm. I think you may find you like it. As for your family--well, I won’t tell you exactly what I think of them for teachin’ you to have such low expectations of yourself and other people, except to say that it’s their loss. I happen to think there’s more to you than you’re willing to admit. And remember, I wasn’t always a horse rancher. I used to be in a line where I had to learn to read people accurately. It’s not a skill you lose."

Ezra found an unaccustomed hopefulness welling up in his chest, along with a sense of belonging--or at least the potential to belong--beyond any experience or description. "And what of the future?" he asked.

"We can’t make you stay if you don’t want to, once you’re on your feet," said Chris. "We know that. You ran away from the orphanage, you’d probably find it just as easy to run away from here. You’re twelve, in this country that’s almost grown, old enough to make some decisions for yourself. We just feel that..." he hesitated, "that maybe you deserve a chance to see that all families aren’t like the ones you’ve lived with up to now. To have a fresh start. Every man deserves at least one chance at a fresh start, if he wants it. I told Buck that too. I showed Vin it was true, years ago. Nathan, Josiah, even JD have all figured it out for themselves. As for myself...well, I guess it was meetin’ Sarah that gave me mine. Why should it be any different for you? Why shouldn’t you have at least as much of an opportunity as the rest of us?"

Ezra swallowed. "I would like to believe it is possible," he admitted, and only he knew what it cost him to say the words, to reveal how truly vulnerable he felt.

"Then give us the chance to prove it is," Chris suggested. "And the first step you can make in that direction is to come into town with us tomorrow."

The boy looked at his splinted leg. "I presume you intend to use the buckboard," he observed. "I suppose you have already considered the logistics of the thing. But if it is all the same to you, I would prefer not to meet with the Judge en negligée."

Chris chuckled. "I think we can get around that. Might have to slit the leg of one of the trousers out of your trunk, but we’ll get you dressed."

Friday, August 2

Next morning, after chores and breakfast, Chris went upstairs to help Ezra get ready for the trip into town, while Vin laid a cornshuck mattress in the bed of the buckboard, rigged a canvas fly from the back of the seat to shade the boy’s head and face, filled the vehicle’s small water-butt and got the team hitched up and Peso and Chris’s Blackhawk saddled. Sarah had laid out clothes for Buck and Adam the evening before, deliberately choosing their second-best so Buck wouldn’t feel out of place amidst a family all duded up for Sunday. Each boy had a pair of tan corduroy pants, rider’s half-boots, a good shirt with a decent collar--white with pale green stripes for Adam, pale blue for Buck--a salt-and-pepper vest and a string tie--one red, one black. Adam had his dust-colored Stetson, the brim left flat in imitation of his father’s Californio hat, with its good silver-ornamented band, and Buck had the new one he’d chosen for himself in town last week, a broad-brimmed mouse-gray one with four dents in the crown bringing it to a sharp peak, a long jaw strap doubling through a bit of bone Vin had carved for the purpose.

Ezra at first wanted to wear his best suit, an all-wool navy tricot with knee pants and a double-breasted jacket, but when he was reminded that the pants would have to be slit to get them over his splints, he agreed to accept a pair of Adam’s that were slightly too small for either one of them, light, finely-striped ones, full-length in the common Western style, with one of his own Eton jackets and a good shirt of striped chambray, a ruffle finishing off the cuffs, spreading collar, and front closure. He fussed with his hair and the knot in his bright plaid silk tie until Chris began to roll his eyes, and finished off the outfit with a dark plaid yachting cap. Then the two men carried him downstairs in the stretcher Vin had made, and got him settled comfortably on the shuck tick, with a couple of pillows covered in calico stuffed behind his back so he could sit up. The horses had been curried and brushed to within an inch of their lives, their hooves painted with neat’s-foot oil to make them gleam; Sarah had selected a French organdie summerweight frock with a lavender and white design on a black ground and a lush broad-brimmed leghorn hat trimmed with cream lace, ribbons, and yellow roses, and even Vin had recognized the ceremony of the occasion by donning his best pearl-gray doeskin suit and a fire-red linen shield-style shirt. Chris wore his customary Californio hat and spurs, with an embroidered cotton Mexican shirt and a bobtail jacket of smooth caramel-colored wool, plaid pants and his best boots and bone-handled Peacemaker. Adam proudly took over the reins, leaving his mother free to hold Katie in her lap, and Buck sat beside him, bright-eyed and eager, while Vin and Chris rode as flankers on either side of the vehicle.

It was only a little after nine when they pulled into Four Corners and drew up in front of the Clarion office, where Judge Travis always stayed when he was in town; the Judge had agreed that since this was a civil matter, it would be better for Buck to do it privately, in chambers. Buck for his part had never met Travis before, but even the stern craggy features and the cool gray eyes behind the spectacles didn’t dampen his innate honesty, his eagerness to please and be liked, and his deep desire to make everyone happy. He shook hands politely and sat down on Mary Travis’s green plush medallion-back sofa between Adam and Sarah, while Travis arranged his papers on the marble-topped center table. "This custody hearing is now in session," he began. "In the matter of the Third Federal Circuit Court of the Territory of New Mexico, regarding the minor child known as Buck Wilmington--" He stopped and peered over his spectacles at Buck. "Is ‘Buck’ your proper name?"

"No, sir, Your Honor," said Buck. "It’s Bucklin. But Ma always called me Buck."

"Bucklin, then," said Travis, and wrote it down. "Do you have a middle name?"

The boy’s brows drew together in puzzlement and he looked up at the man to his left. "Mister Chris?"

"What the Judge means is, do you have any other name besides ‘Bucklin’ and ‘Wilmington’? Anything that comes between ’em?"

Buck chewed on the question for a minute. "I don’t think so. Am I s’posed to?"

Chris smiled at him reassuringly. "Maybe your ma just couldn’t think of one she liked. Your Honor, Sarah and I have been talkin’ about it, and--if it’s all right with Buck--we’d like to mark his becomin’ part of our family by givin’ him the middle name of Joshua, after my father." He looked to the boy again. "How does that sound to you, Buck? It would make you ‘Bucklin Joshua.’ "

"I’d like to be named after your pa, Mister Chris--’long’s I can still be Buck too," the boy said.

"Oh, we plan to call you Buck for everyday," Chris assured him. "I’ll take that as a yes. Your Honor?"

"I see no reason you shouldn’t bestow a middle name of your choice," Travis agreed. "Very well, Bucklin Joshua he is. Now, the court’s primary concern is to place him in a home fitted to provide for his material comfort, spiritual growth, and emotional security. As regards the question of blood relatives, we know only of his mother, Rosalie Wilmington, deceased. To the best of the court’s knowledge, she left no will, and while we have heard of a friend, believed to be a former employer, known only as ‘Miz Abigail,’ we have no firsthand testimony or instructions from the late Mrs. Wilmington regarding either her situation, her reputation, or her fitness or willingness to assume his care. As to Sheriff Chris Larabee, he is an appointed officer of this court and a respected and successful ranch owner, with a sterling name in these parts, and he and his wife have already shown themselves to be able parents. They have willingly assumed the care of the minor child Bucklin Joshua during his recent bout with measles, even though they had no moral or legal obligation to do so, and state in papers filed before this court that they and their children have grown genuinely fond of him." He fixed his steel-colored gaze on Buck. "The subject of this hearing is, of course, a minor, and has an incompetent standing at law. But here in the Territories we approach civil matters with somewhat more creativity than is customary in the older regions of the country, since we are still in the process of enacting legal codes to live by. Buck, will you come here, please?"

Buck looked from Chris to Sarah, received their nods and walked over to stand beside the Judge’s chair. "Yes, sir?"

"Have the Larabees told you that they want to adopt you?"

"Yes, sir. Miz Sarah told me all about it on the back porch."

"And did Miz Sarah also explain what it would mean for you to be adopted?"

"Yes, sir. She said I’d be their son just like Adam is, and Katie would be my sister, and Adam would be my brother, and Mister Chris would be my pa, and Mister Vin would be my uncle kinda. She said I’d live with them on the ranch till I grow up, and they’d look after me and teach me to work with the horses--I’d like to work with the horses," he added.

"Would you now? And do you like Miz Sarah and Mister Chris and their family?"

"Yes, sir, lots."

"Are they good to you?"

"Sure are."

"Do you have a bed to sleep in? Do you have food to eat?"

"Yes, sir!"

"Is the food good?"

"Yes, sir, better than Bella’s even. Bella was our cook in Kansas City." Too late Buck remembered he had promised not to talk about where he’d come from, and looked uneasily back at Chris. But Chris didn’t seem troubled at his slip. He recalled what Chris had said in the barn: "You must never, never let anyone know that your ma was a prostitute or that you lived in a bordello, unless Sarah or Vin or I tell you it’s okay. We’ll only tell you that when we’re sure the person you’re tallkin’ to isn’t a hypocrite." They hadn’t told him, but maybe they knew that the Judge wasn’t a hypocrite and figured he’d know it too. In a way he did; he felt that although the Judge looked hard and fierce, like an eagle, he was a good man.

"Are you ever hungry?"

"Only just right before we get called to the table," said Buck, and Vin snorted a strangled laugh.

"Does anyone ever hurt you at the ranch?"

Buck’s eyes widened and he shook his head hard. "They wouldn’t do that, Your Honor."

"So they don’t? And they never say unkind things to you?"

"Never, never, never!" said Buck.

"Is living there better than living at the orphanage in Rincon County?"

"Yes, sir, ever so much."

"And would you like to be able to go on living there? Would you like it if you knew that no one could ever take you away from them?"

For the first time Buck hesitated. He lowered his eyes and slid an uneasy glance toward the Larabees and Vin, and then to the antique chaise longue where Ezra lay, with his splinted leg stretched out on the long ottoman in front of him. He muttered something Travis couldn’t quite catch. "What was that?" the Judge prompted.

"Like it better if Ezra could stay there too," the boy repeated softly. "Miz Sarah said they was gonna ask you to make it so he could."

"Is it important to you for Ezra to be there?" Travis asked.

Buck nodded. " ’Cos if he hadn’t let me go with him when he run away from th’orph’nage, I wouldn’t of ever met any of ’em there."

Travis considered this. "If I asked you what the best thing was that you could remember about the orphanage, could you give me an answer?"

"Leavin’ it," said Buck firmly. "And Ezra. He’s my friend, and he ain’t got a home. Can’t he live with us too, please Your Honor?"

Travis didn’t quite smile, but his harsh mouth softened just a bit. "We’re going to see to that just as soon as we’ve settled what’s going to become of you."

Buck thought this over. "Cross your heart?"

Judge Travis had been a father, and he had a grandson he loved past all reason, so he knew something of the significance of this question. "Cross my heart," he agreed, and made the familiar gesture. "Now, can you answer my question? Would you like to be adopted and live with the Larabees and Mr. Tanner?"

"Yes, Your Honor," said Buck unhesitatingly.

"Thank you, Buck, for being so helpful," Travis said solemnly. "You can go back and sit on the sofa now."

His face wreathed in a smile, the boy returned to his soon-to-be family, skipping a little at the joy of becoming theirs officially and forever. "The court having satisfied itself that the applicants for the adoptive custody of Bucklin Wilmington are qualified to assume that duty," Travis intoned, "and that the subject himself is content in their midst and desires his current state to continue, by the powers vested in me I do hereby proclaim Christopher Columbus Larabee, Sheriff of Four Corners and co-owner of CL-Cross Ranch, and his wife Sarah Connelly Larabee the adoptive father and mother of the subject, to support and educate him at their expense until he shall attain his majority. In witness whereof, I do further proclaim that he shall henceforth be legally known as Bucklin Joshua Larabee--"

Buck went white. "No!" he shouted, jumping up. "No, I can’t be Buck Larabee, I gotta be Buck Wilmington, I ain’t gonna forget Ma, no, never, not ever, no, no, no!" Before either of the startled Larabees could catch him, he had bolted over to the chaise and gotten around on the far side of it, putting Ezra between himself and the adults. "Ez, they didn’t tell me I’d have to forget Ma! Let’s run away again and you can take care of me just like you done before."

Chris and Sarah looked at each other, and Chris shifted his weight to take a step, but Vin caught his eye and moved his head in something too miniscule to be called a shake. ’Member what I done told you, cowboy? Boy learns to trust by bein’ trusted. Buck’s knowed him some longer’n he has us. Let him try. I reckon he’ll do what’s right--he has afore.

You better be right.

I am.

Ezra saw the silent message pass between the two men, though he couldn’t interpret it. He eyed Judge Travis measuringly, mindful of his mother’s teachings about all levels of law enforcement, and put a hand out to lightly grasp Buck’s arm. "No one is sayin’ you must forget your mother, Buck," he said.

"Yes they are! They’re sayin’ I won’t be a Wilmington no more! Ma said I had to be proud of myself and always remember I’m just as good as anybody else and God loves me just as much."

"And she was correct," said Ezra evenly. "And so you are, regardless of your name. Buck, we can’t run away again, not both of us. You know that. Look at my leg, Buck, you know I can’t ride." It surprised the CL-Cross family to hear him speaking in such short, basic words; it made him seem much younger than he really was.

"Then I’ll take care of you," Buck offered recklessly. "It’s my turn anyhow."

Oh, Buck...your loyalty warms and humbles me. "No," Ezra replied softly. "No, I can’t go, and--and I wouldn’t want to if I could." His eyes met Larabee’s a moment, and he hoped the man could understand the promise they made. "Buck, do you remember the stories I told you from the plays of Shakespeare?"

"The Lambs?" Buck was still watching the adults warily, his body taut and poised to run if anyone made a move toward him, but at least he was listening.

"Yes. Do you remember the story of Romeo and Juliet? Why was it that they couldn’t let anyone know of their love for each other, Buck?"

The younger boy frowned, clearly wondering what this could have to do with his situation. " ’Cause their families was a-feudin’."

"Yes, and what was it that Juliet said on her balcony, when she didn’t know Romeo was listenin’ in the garden? Do you remember that? She said, ‘Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo? What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.’ " Ezra turned to face his friend. "You didn’t mind that Mr. Larabee wanted to give you a middle name after his own father, did you?"


"Then why mind that the Judge wants to make your surname Larabee, like the rest of your family? They will be your family, you know that. Families share either blood or a name; that is what makes them family. If you don’t have Larabee blood, you should at least carry the name. I have been called by many names, Buck, but it never altered who I was--who I am. To change your name will make no difference in who you are."

Buck hesitated, looking confused, then shook his head stubbornly. "Ma said I had to be proud of who I am. If the Judge says I ain’t a Wilmington no more, ain’t that sayin’ it’s a bad thing for me to be?"

"It has nothin’ to do with that," Ezra told him. "Buck..." his hand tightened a bit-- "Buck, don’t throw away this chance, it may be the only one you ever get. Second chances are not lightly given. Don’t you still like the Larabees and Mister Vin? Don’t you still think their ranch is a pleasant place to live?"

"Ye-e-es," said Buck slowly. "But Ma said I would always be her boy."

"You will be her boy no less for bein’ a Larabee as well," Ezra persisted. "A name is like a coat, one can change it at will, put it on or take it off. The body, the person, beneath that coat remains the same." He looked to Vin, his chin lifted a bit, sending the Texan a silent plea: Help me out here, Mr. Tanner.

"He’s right, Buck," said Vin softly. "When I went to live with the Comanche, they give me a Injun name, called me He-Tans-Skins. Didn’t make me no less’n I’d ever been, didn’t change my blood or who I was."

For the first time Buck looked doubtful. He turned pleading eyes to Chris and Sarah. "I want to be your son," he said, his voice unsteady and so low they could barely hear him. "But I want to be Ma’s too." The unspoken words echoed in the room: Don’t make me choose between you...please don’t make me.

Chris cleared his throat. "Judge?"

"Yes, Chris."

"I know it might not be the regular way of doin’ things, but I think I see a way we can all have what we want."

Travis clasped his hands on the table. "Continue."

"How about we make his legal name Bucklin Joshua Larabee-Wilmington? The names his ma gave him will be at the two ends, and the ones we give him in the middle. No advantage to either. Then when he grows up he can choose which one he’d rather go by."

A spark of hope showed in Buck’s eyes. Did Mister Chris truly understand how important this was to him? Travis looked to Sarah; he didn’t need to say anything before she nodded and reached up to take her husband’s hand.

"Well, as you say," Travis observed, "it is irregular, but then, as Mr. Tanner and Mr. Standish have attempted to point out, a name is only the least part of who a person is. Very well, it will be so entered in the records of this court."

Buck looked down at Ezra, who smiled briefly and nodded, then released his arm and whispered, "Go." And the boy walked quietly across the room and sat down on the sofa where he’d been before.

Ezra let out a smothered sigh of relief and let his body go limp against the loose pillow of the chaise, his eyes drifting shut. I envy you, know there have been two places where you felt you could belong, two separate families that you were a part of. I have never even been gifted with one. Suddenly a shadow fell across him and he looked up quickly to see that Vin had come over from the sofa. The Texan’s crooked smile was, as always, strangely reassuring, and the hand that touched his shoulder a moment seemed to radiate praise and pride. "You done good, ner-tá-me," Tanner said.

"Pardon me?"

"Comanche for ‘brother,’ " Vin explained.

Travis was finishing the adoption decree, his steel pen scratching quickly across the paper. Chris came over to sign it, followed by Sarah after she’d put Katie in Adam’s lap. Mary Travis signed as witness, and then the Judge added his own signature and seal. "And now," said Travis, removing a second paper off the stack at his side, "as to the matter of the temporary custody and care of Ezra Patrick Standish..."



The older boy raised his heavy eyelids and looked over to Buck, who was standing beside the buckboard watching as Vin, leaning over the back of the seat, and Chris, reaching across the tailgate, settled the stretcher on top of the tick in the wagon bed. He had stayed in Mrs. Travis’s apartment behind the print shop while the Larabees went over to Potters’ to choose Buck’s new Sunday clothes, then to the cobbler’s to pick up his boots. It had been much easier on him than waiting in the buckboard would have been, but the journey to town and the unexpected confrontation in the Judge’s informal courtroom had taken more out of him than he had realized, and he was on the verge of falling asleep. "Yes, Buck."

"You was wrong about one thing," said Buck.

"Indeed? What would that be?"

"Families. They don’t gotta be the same blood or have the same name."

"Do they not? And who told you that?"

"Ma and Miz Abigail. They said family is about carin’. They said folks can find a family, or make one, ’most anywhere."

Ezra smothered a yawn, which might have seemed impolite. Perhaps that explains many things, he thought. "Well, then, you have a sovereign opportunity to do so, don’t you?"

"So do you," Buck pointed out.

"Buck," said Chris quietly, "come on, son, Ezra’s worn out. Let him rest. Here, I’ll give you a boost onto the seat." He raised the tailboard and latched it shut as Vin scrambled down and helped Sarah aboard.



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