Interlude: Kaleidoscope of Time

by Beth Green

Part of the Magnificent Little Britches series

Chris sat comfortably on a chair outside on the boardwalk, enjoying the fresh morning breeze. His son Vin leaned against a nearby post, idly toying with his spyglass.

Vin was not comfortable talking about his past. Chris knew and respected the feeling, being possessed of the same sentiment. Therefore, he seldom put the boy in a position where he had to reflect upon anything in his life prior to the present.

Buck and JD had no such qualms. More than once, Chris had witnessed the persistent JD question Vin as to how he'd come to be the owner of such a fine spyglass. Vin had always declined to answer. The adults had never asked.

Chris watched as Vin caressed the metal of the spyglass. The older man imagined the feel of the smooth metal, warmed by the sun and the motion of the boy's fingers as they tenderly moved over the surface. The motion seemed to have taken Vin's thoughts miles, perhaps years away.

Chris quietly spoke. "Anything you care to share?"

Vin looked up, startled. He held out the object of his contemplation toward Chris in offering. "You mean this?"

Rather than admit that he'd been referring to Vin's thoughts and not an actual physical object, Chris simply smiled and accepted the gift from his son. He held it up to his eye and proceeded to conduct a slow surveillance of the town. Satisfied that all was as it should be, Chris returned the spyglass to its owner. "Thank you."

Vin nodded. "You're welcome." He continued to stare at the spyglass for a long while, before he finally spoke again. "This here's a fine spyglass."

Chris agreed. "That it is."

"I reckon a man 'd be proud to own such a thing."

Chris gave a nod of agreement, giving the unusually talkative boy encouragement to continue. "Yes, he would."

Vin nodded to himself. "That's what I figured. 's why I done what I did." The boy looked up at his father, his eyes peering out through windswept bangs as he shared a little bit of his past. "Long time ago, when I was real little, I had this fancy toy, a ka-lie-dee-somethin'."

Chris filled in, "Kaleidoscope?"

Not quite sure that it was the proper word, Vin continued to explain, "It was a round tube, kind of like this here spyglass," Vin waved the object in question to illustrate his point. "When you turned it and looked inside, it made all kinds of fancy pictures."

"Yep, that definitely sounds like a kaleidoscope." Chris let the boy know that he was interested in hearing the story. His next statement was more of a question. "I'm thinking you don't have it any more?"

Vin nodded, barely catching back a sigh of regret. He stiffened his spine, physically pushing away the young boy that he still was while trying to take on the guise of manhood.

"I met a boy once. He had this spyglass." Vin looked at his father, his eyes wide as he exclaimed upon the matter of the unknown boy's ignorance. "Pa, he didn't know what he had!" Chris almost laughed when Vin derisively commented, "He was just a kid." Fortunately for his son's dignity, Chris managed to stifle any hint of amusement as Vin continued, "Anyway, I showed him my ka-lie-dee-scope, and offered to trade." He held up the spyglass. "He did."

Chris felt an ache of regret as he watched the conflicting emotions race across his son's face: pride that he'd managed to conduct a profitable business deal, and regret that he'd had to give up an obviously treasured toy to do it. It was not fair that Vin had spent so much of his brief childhood acting like a man instead of a child. If Chris could give the boy's childhood back to him, he would.

When Vin continued to stare expectantly at him, Chris realized that he had not yet responded to his son's revelation. He let all the love that he felt show in the gaze that he turned on his son as he smiled. "That was a very good trade."

Vin smiled in return, giving up the last of any regrets with his father's words of confirmation, stating, "I know."

Chris added, "I guess if I need to do any horse trading, I know who to get to help me. Congratulations on a job well done." He offered his hand to Vin. The young boy cheerfully accepted, and the two shook hands, man to man. As far as Vin was concerned, that was the end of the matter.

Chris was not content to leave the incident in the past. He found himself frequently haunted by the image that he'd built up in his mind of a small Vin reluctantly parting with a childhood treasure.

Chris was all too aware of the injustices that had been visited upon Vin before he had come under the protective care of one Chris Larabee. Most of them, the lawman could do nothing about. The loss of the kaleidoscope was one wrong that it was within his power to put right. He fully intended to do so. The fact that it had been a voluntary sacrifice on Vin's part made Chris all the more determined to reward the boy's maturity. He'd read clearly upon the small face how difficult it had been for Vin to give up the kaleidoscope.

Therefore, several weeks later, Chris returned from a visit to Eagle Bend with a big smile upon his face. When Buck saw his friend ride into town, he commented, "Looks like somebody got lucky!"

Buck was startled when Chris responded with a wink and a grin. "Looks like you may be right!"

It took Buck a minute to recover his usual aplomb. Once he did so, he peppered his friend with questions that Chris proceeded to ignore. "Who was she? How was she? Is it anybody I know?"

Once he'd tended to his horse, Chris finally replied, "I never said it was a she." He held up a cloth-wrapped package that he'd removed from his saddlebag.

Buck asked, "Is that . . .?"

Chris nodded.

Buck's enthusiasm was evident as he asked, "Did you get me one for JD, too?"

In response, Chris handed over another cloth-wrapped bundle. Buck eagerly accepted the offering. Gift in hand, he began to hurry out of the livery.

Chris put out a hand to halt his friend's forward progress. He gestured with the bundle in his other hand as he spoke. "Give me a chance to give this to Vin, first."

Buck verbalized his understanding. "Oh, yeah. JD's not much of a one for keeping secrets. You take as much time as you need."

Buck headed toward the door, then stopped and turned to face his friend. "You know, Vin loves you even without you doing this for him. I thank you for sharing his story with me. I'm sorry that I couldn't find one of them things for him myself. I'm just glad that you did. And thanks for understanding that JD would never give poor Vin a moment's peace if he didn't have a kaleidoscope of his own."

Buck helpfully supplied one last bit of information. "The boys are hanging around outside the jail. I'll go fetch JD, and give you and Vin a minute to yourselves."

Chris watched from a few paces behind as Buck picked up JD and carried him off upon his shoulders. He was glad it was not his own ears that were subject to JD's gleeful squeal as he and his Papa headed toward the saloon.

Chris was pleased at the delighted grin that suffused Vin's face when he spotted Chris. The older man's heart beat a little faster the way it always did when Vin greeted him with a cry of, "Pa!"

Forgetting any attempts at the pretense of dignified adulthood, Vin threw himself at Chris, who obligingly picked up his son and squeezed him. He confessed, "I missed you!"

Vin hugged his arms around his father's neck and declared, "I missed you, too!"

Chris smiled at the bright face that gazed into his own. He shared a tantalizing bit of information: "I brought you a present."

At Vin's anticipatory look, Chris set his son back down upon the ground, then squatted down in order to keep his eyes on a level with the boy's own. He handed over the cloth-wrapped bundle. "I think you're gonna like it."

Whereas JD would have immediately ripped off the covering, Vin simply held the bundle and stared at it, as if not quite believing that someone would care enough to give him a gift.

Chris prompted, "Go on, open it."

Vin slowly and carefully revealed the cylindrical object hidden within the soft folds of cloth. He held the kaleidoscope delicately, reverently examining the object from all sides. His hands trembled slightly as he held the object up to his face. He uttered an awestruck "Ooh," as he began to peer through the tube at the colorful patterns revealed with each turn of the cylinder.

Five, ten, then fifteen minutes went by as he continued to stare. Finally, he let the hand holding the kaleidoscope rest down by his side. He stared at his father, speechless.

Although Chris already knew the answer to his question, he asked, "So, do you like it?"

Vin's lips trembled as he tried to find the words to respond. "It's. . . it's. . ." Chris noticed the blue eyes widen with tears right before his son wrapped his father in a fierce hug.

Although his own eyes remained dry, Chris felt his throat tighten as Vin whispered, "Th-thank you!"

He choked back, "You're welcome!" and closed his eyes as he absorbed the warmth and love of his son with all his heart and soul.

Next: Chinatown