"Little Britches" Universe
Disclaimer: No infringement is intended in regard to The Magnificent Seven, owned by MGM and Trilogy. No profit is being made from this activity.
Thanks: To J. K. Poffenberger and S Berry, the originators of the Little Britches Universe, who have kindly opened it for all of us to play.
Remarks: This is set in the earlier days of the timeline.
"Why don't we just ask Mr Buck and Mr Chris to help?" JD asked.
"'Cause we don't need to bother 'em. They're workin'."
"But Mr Buck said he likes Hall'ween. He would wanna help."
"We can do it ourselves JD. Miz Nettie gave me some pumpkins and we can do the carvin'." Vin indicated the small pile near the hay bales. "Miz Nettie gave me all sizes."
"Then we can ask Mr Buck to put candles in 'em. He'll help us do that."
JD and Vin had both been getting excited by the upcoming holiday. Vin had only fragments of memories of the holiday with his own mother, but when he'd been with JD and his aunt he remembered the house full of decorations and all the games and treats.
Mr Buck and Mr Chris had been working hard to get the ranch ready for the coming winter. They were going to celebrate the holiday with all their friends at the big Halloween party in town, but Vin wanted their house to be like JD's memories. Between them, he and JD had made a list of all the things that they would need. Unfortunately they'd fallen far short of their target. Vin had been disappointed, but he would make the best of what they could get. Miz Nettie had supplied them with the pumpkins for Jack o'Lanterns and he'd collected old wrapping paper from Mrs Potter. JD's Ma would cut out shapes of moons, ghosts and witches and hang them in the windows to spin and turn in the wind.
"JD, you start on the paper and make the shapes. You draw better'n me."
"But they're gonna be all plain," JD complained of the brown paper.
"I got some charcoal from the stove. We can color 'em black when we're done."
JD got busy. Vin had only been able to get five pieces, so JD drew carefully with his charcoal stick. He wasn't sure how to draw a ghost, but stars and moons were easy. He looked doubtfully at his first star and then decided it didn't matter how many points it had.
Vin started on carving and scooping out the smaller pumpkins with his pocket-knife. Vin soon found the small knife was of no use on the larger pumpkins. He had three big ones he wanted to make into lanterns but nothing to make them with. He stopped work and decided to trace out JD's shapes with the point of his pocket-knife. That task done, he sat back and assessed the rest of their work.
"We're gonna need some more stuff. You look for string, and I'll get something to cut out the big Jack o'Lanterns," Vin ordered.
Both boys headed back to the house. JD searched around the kitchen, but could find nothing. Vin eyed the large kitchen knife. Mr Chris didn't like either of them to use the knife, and he'd told them not to play with it. Seeing that JD had also failed to find his supplies, he suggested they try out in the barn again.
"How about the tack room JD. There's always lots of stuff there."
The two boys entered the small room. The leather items lined the walls and supplies of horseshoes, nails and cleaning tools were stacked neatly in open boxes. The worktable was the treasure trove they sought. It was scattered with the oddments of leather repairs and tools.
"Got some!" JD yelled, pulling a tangle of twine from between some old tins.
Vin eyed the tools. There was a large long-bladed knife lying there. He picked it up and carefully turned it over. The blade was dull from lack of use. He touched his finger carefully to the edge and found it still sharp.
"I don't think you're allowed to play with that Vin."
"Ain't playin' JD. We're gonna be workin'."
"But I still don't think you're allowed."
"Mr Chris ain't ever told me not to use this knife."
JD considered that a moment. Well, no, he couldn't recall being told that. They were told not to play in the tack room, but as Vin said, they were working.
"Come on. I only need it for those last three pumpkins." Vin wanted to get the decorations finished and arranged in the house before Mr Chris and Mr Buck returned from the upper paddock later in the afternoon.
"I wanna help make Jack Lanterns."
"Jack O Lanterns," Vin corrected.
"That's his middle name. Like Mr Ezra is Ezra P Standish," Vin explained knowingly.
JD nodded his understanding. "But I wanna help make 'em."
"No. You're too young to use this knife."
"I can draw faces while you color these shapes," JD suggested. "Then we each did some of everythin'."
"Okay." Vin agreed readily. JD did draw better than him and then he'd only have to follow the lines on the pumpkins. He started quickly coloring the paper shapes with the lumps of charcoal he'd picked from the stove.
"Done!" JD cried only a few minutes later.
"Well, come help finish these," Vin asked. His hands were covered in black, and streaks appeared on his face at every touch from the smudged fingers. The two boys finished the task quickly and Vin turned back to carving the pumpkins.
Vin pushed the point of the knife through the tough skin and levered around until he had a neat top to remove so the innards could be scooped out. JD happily plunged his smaller hand in and scraped out the wet orange mess. Vin started cutting out the eyes and the jagged mouths.
"We can light 'em tonight."
"Only if we get 'em finished." Just then, Vin let out a startled cry as the knife slipped and caught the side of his other hand in a long shallow slash.
"Damn!" Blood started to appear along the shallow cut and the stinging made itself known.
"Ooh! You cursed!" JD exclaimed. He peered at the blood, fascinated. "Does it hurt bad?"
"Nah. I'll go rinse it under the pump."
JD followed worriedly and pumped the water into the trough for Vin.
"See!" Vin held out his hand for inspection, showing it ware barely bleeding.
"Let's finish them!" JD tugged Vin back to the barn.
Vin worked carefully over the two remaining Jack o'Lanterns. The last seemed even harder as his knife hand grew red and tired. Holding tight he pushed hard to start the last mouth. In a sudden blur of motion, the pumpkin skidded from under his left hand and the knife blade slid across and sliced deeply into his forearm.
"Ahh!" Vin dropped the knife and clamped his hand down over the cut, squeezing his eyes shut at the sudden pain. JD saw Vin had cut himself again and ran to the pump to start fresh water.
Vin lifted his hand carefully and saw that the blood flowed heavily. He bit his lip and headed outside.
"We can wash it and it'll be fine. Jus' like before," JD explained.
Vin nodded, not trusting his voice. This felt much worse than before. He put his arm under the cold running water and gasped at the burning pain. He tried to get a better look. It wasn't really that bad, he decided. It was only about two inches long. He couldn't tell how deep it was as the bleeding wouldn't stop. Vin clamped his hand over the cut harder, his eyes tearing at the pain.
"JD. Go get me a cloth or something I can tie over this as a bandage."
JD ran into the house and brought back one of the kitchen cloths. Vin released his hold carefully and found the bleeding had eased.
JD inspected the wound as Vin tried to wrap it. Vin's charcoal covered hands and the blood had smeared everything into a gruesome color that the water didn't seem to remove.
"That's yucky Vin. You should show Mr Nathan. He'll make it better."
"It's fine JD. We're going to town tomorrow for the party. I'll show Mr Nathan then."
"Ain't ya tellin' Mr Chris or Mr Buck. They're gonna see!"
"I got long sleeves. They'll see the other cut, but it don't matter."
"Why not let 'em fix it?" JD asked, confused. He was always happy to present any cut or scrape for repair, knowing he'd get special attention.
"I jus' want everything good for Halloween."
"Why won't it be good, Vin? Why would they be mad?"
"They just might JD. So don't say anything. It's fine. Look," he said, holding out his arm. "It's stopped bleeding."
Vin didn't want anything to ruin his plans. He wanted to make sure that JD had the Halloween he remembered. He knew he shouldn't have been using the knife and Mr Chris would be angry. Maybe even angry enough to refuse to let him go to the town's big party.
Vin had cost JD a fishing trip last month. He knew he shouldn't be in Fire's stall but the stallion liked him and he was sad that Vin had groomed Peso and not him. But Mr Chris told him he couldn't go fishing that afternoon because he'd disobeyed him. Then JD wouldn't go without Vin. It had bothered Vin more that JD had missed out than his own punishment. This holiday was really important to JD. If his arm hurt too much, he'd tell them about it after the holiday. It was only one more day. Vin rolled his sleeve down and made sure the cuffs hid the fabric wrapping.
"Let's take everything into the house JD." Vin was careful of his sore arm and made extra trips to carry all the pumpkins inside.
Vin put a large Jack o'Lantern on the table and another by the rocking chair. Hopefully Mr Chris or Mr Buck would set candles inside and let them be lit tonight. Miz Nettie had given Vin six smaller pumpkins that he and JD arranged around the fireplace. JD pulled a chair over and tried to hang his cut-outs in the window.
"There's nothin' to tie 'em to Vin," JD complained.
Vin studied the problem. "Leave 'em leaning on the sill. We'll ask to hang 'em tonight."
JD climbed down and inspected the decorations with Vin. Vin studied JD carefully, happy that his younger cousin seemed pleased with their results. It was less than Vin wanted, but much more than he'd been able to provide this time last year. If they could light the lanterns tonight it would be perfect.
They were just in time. The sound of horses arriving in the yard could be heard. Buck and Chris soon appeared in the door, brushing the day's dust and dirt from their clothes.
"This looks just great boys!" Buck exclaimed at the decorations in the house.
"We need you to help us hang the sky. Do we have candles? Can we light the lan'erns?" JD asked.
"What sky? Yes we have candles and you can light them after dark," Buck replied as fast as JD asked.
JD pointed to the windows. "I drew and Vin cut 'em out," JD explained. "But we couldn't find nothin' to hang em to."
"Well I can fix that real quick. I'll put a few tacks in before dinner and we can tie them up," Buck offered.
"You've both been working very hard." Chris looked a little concerned at the larger pumpkins. He looked toward the kitchen. Vin knew where that would lead and quickly jumped in.
"I didn't use the big knife," he supplied, eager to avoid any questions.
"Did you cut yourself?" Chris asked anyway. He knew how difficult pumpkin carving could be.
"Only a little." Vin showed Mr Chris the first shallow cut.
"What'd you both do to your hands," Chris asked as he noticed the black gathered around their nails and still in the creases of their palms.
"Colorin' in." JD pointed to his cut-outs.
"Got some charcoal from the stove," Vin explained.
Buck just shrugged at their ingenuity, unconcerned at the mess. Dirt and the boys just seemed to go together.
"I'll get you some lye soap and you two can wash up for dinner," Chris said.
"Then can we "
"Yes JD, then we'll get the candles and Buck can scare the pants off you with stories."
"Yeah!" JD yelled, running for the door.
"Hold up," Chris called, and tossed a small piece of soap to Vin. He saw the boy's awkward one-handed catch and reminded himself to check that cut thoroughly before bedtime.
"They did a really good job Chris. I'm sorry we been out of the house so much. I would have liked to help them."
Chris realised what had happened and deeply regretted it. Here they were with the boy's first Halloween and they hadn't taken the time to decorate. He had done those things with Adam, but he had to admit it was Sarah who had drawn his attention to it. She had celebrated all the holidays with such joy, preparing well in advance.
Buck saw the regretful look on his friend's face. He had to admit that he felt the same way.
"Come on Pard. The boys started for us, but lets end the night the right way."
"Well don't go scaring them too much. I don't want any cold little feet in my bed after waking from a screaming nightmare."
"Don't tell me about your women troubles Larabee," Buck laughed, heading outside for some tacks and a hammer.
Vin was relieved to find dinner was a stew and easily handled with one hand. His arm was throbbing and he didn't think he could have managed to use a knife and fork. He had tried to look at the cut when he and JD had washed up, but the cloth was stuck to it and he didn't want to make it bleed again.
"Done! Can we light 'em?" JD called shoveling the last spoonful into his mouth.
"No. You two can help Buck clear the table. I'm going to bed down the horses, then I want you two in your nightshirts before we start on any stories," Chris explained firmly.
Buck found the kitchen chores had never been done so fast.
"JD! JD! One thing at a time." Buck grabbed the last cup from JD's hands as he started to unbutton his shirt. "Give me that," he laughed as the little fingers managed to work the center shirt buttons loose while still holding the last of the dishes. JD's small stomach, happily filled with dinner, was pocking out the gap in his shirt. Buck prodded it with a finger. "Go do the rest of your undressing in your room."
"Come on Vin. You're gonna be last!"
"It's clean enough Vin," Buck encouraged. "Go get changed into your nightshirt."
Buck turned as Larabee reappeared at the door.
"Whoa Chris! No need to bring props." Chris had returned from the barn holding a large knife.
Larabee ignored his friend, instead calling for Vin.
Vin was still yanking his nightshirt over his head when he heard the call. He stepped out of his room still trying to pull it straight, but stopped dead at the sight of Mr Chris and the knife.
One look at Vin's guilty face was enough to confirm Chris's suspicion, even if the blood on the blade hadn't been evidence enough.
"Help!" JD's call turned all heads back in the direction of the boy's room. Buck stepped in quickly, seeing that Chris wanted to speak to Vin.
"I'll get JD straightened out." He added an encouraging smile to Vin, but he doubted the boy had even noticed.
"Vin. I'm going to ask you what I asked you this afternoon. Did you cut yourself?"
"Yes sir." Vin dropped his voice and his eyes.
"Vin, look at me." Chris waited until the blue eyes were finally raised. "Where?"
"In the barn," Vin tried.
Chris narrowed his eyes at that. He knew that Vin wouldn't tell him an outright lie but he would try to turn the question in his favor. Vin held out his left arm silently. Chris could see the red line across the side of the small hand, but he knew there had to be more.
"Come over here by the table." Vin slid onto one of the chairs and rested his arm on the table.
"You know you shouldn't have used this knife."
"I didn't use the kitchen one," Vin tried, knowing it was a lost cause.
"You know what I meant Vin. You wouldn't have tried to hide this if you didn't know that you'd done something wrong."
Buck re-emerged with JD who saw the large knife on the table.
"Is Vin in trouble?" he whispered, loud enough for the room to hear.
Buck took in the situation. "No, he's not. He was doing a good thing, but he just didn't go about it the right way," he explained. Buck wanted to make it clear to Chris that he didn't want Halloween ruined. "Let's get those candles, so we'll be all ready for Chris and Vin."
Chris ignored the interruption. "Okay Vin. Let me see it."
Vin rolled the sleeve of his nightshirt up and exposed the cloth wrapped around his forearm, now stiff with dried blood.
"Vin!" Chris exclaimed softly at the sight. He turned up the wick of the lamp on the table to see the wound clearly. He started to undo the knot in the cloth, but Vin pulled his arm away.
"It's all stuck. I tried to clean it with the soap, but it's all stuck together."
"Let me get some things together." Chris went to the kitchen, but returned quickly with a bowl of warm water and a bottle of whiskey. Vin eyed the bottle warily. He knew what that would be for.
Chris soaked the old bandage until he could finally lift it from the cut. They had gathered an audience as Chris had worked gently to loosen the cloth.
"Oooh. See it's still all yucky," JD exclaimed, eager to see everything.
"Well I agree it's all yucky, but I don't think we're helping here." Buck grabbed up JD and tossed him over his shoulder. "Lets get our story campfire ready."
Chris ignored the interruption and took a careful look at the wound. He pressed gently at the inflamed edges, concerned at the dark charcoal marks. He proceeded to clean it as well as he could and soaked a pad in the alcohol and sponged it over the wound. It looked like it would need some stitches as the edges weren't holding together and pink-tinged fluid oozed at the gentle pressure being applied.
Vin had been silent during his ministrations. Chris looked up to check on him, only to find Vin had clamped his lower lip between his teeth to keep from crying out. He reached out slowly and ran his thumb over the trapped lower lip, tugging it gently free.
"You don't want to make that bleed too. You're allowed to cry Vin, I know this is hurting." Chris continued to apply the alcohol, sorry to be the one inflicting the pain. He soaked a fresh pad and pressed it to the cut then wrapped the forearm firmly. "We'll go see Nathan tomorrow and he'll make sure it's all cleaned properly."
"I was gonna show Mr Nathan tomorrow. I was," Vin pleaded.
"Why not show me today Vin?" Chris asked, frustrated.
It was clear that Vin knew he would be in trouble for his actions and had tried to hide it. Chris hated having to discipline Vin. He didn't want to punish the boy physically. He had tried to deny Vin outings or special favors, but even then he felt like an ogre for withholding such small treats. Vin didn't really misbehave. He was polite and quiet, never throwing tantrums and making demands. No, Vin just seemed to decide that some rules should be ignored if he thought the cause was worthy. In Vin's eyes, anything involving JD was worth the risk of punishment.
Vin had refused to let the tears fall waiting silently for his punishment. He hoped he could convince JD to go to the Halloween party alone. He was certain we wouldn't be allowed.
"Vin, why not show me? This cut needs a lot of cleaning and it should have been done earlier."
Vin only returned a lopsided shrug in response.
"You knew you were disobeying me."
A small nod.
"This is why I make rules. It was a dangerous thing to do and you could have hurt yourself even worse."
Another small nod.
"What am I going to do with you?" Chris sighed. The last few weeks of hard long days seemed to hit him at once.
He felt the small jerk from the hand that still lay under his, and looked up to see Vin frozen before him. It took a moment before Chris realized that it was in response to what he'd said.
"No, no, Vin. I didn't mean it like that," he stressed, angry with himself for his careless words.
"Are you angry with me?" Vin dared to ask in a whisper.
"No. I'm not angry Vin. I'm just disappointed," Chris explained.
"In me," Vin added, swallowing hard against the lump in his throat. Failure was a heavy load and he bowed his head under the weight.
"No! Not in you, Vin." Both turned at Buck's sudden interruption. Buck would freely admit to listening in and was not happy with the direction of the evening. "Chris is just disappointed that you're hurt and you won't have as much fun at the Halloween party tomorrow."
"I can still go tomorrow?" Vin asked, surprised. He looked to Mr Chris for confirmation.
Chris hesitated, but didn't want to dispute Buck's promise. "Yes, you can still go tomorrow. But you will be going to see Nathan first."
Vin looked from Mr Chris to Mr Buck with some uncertainty. He was happy to be going to the Halloween party, but something else was happening here.
"You go pick out a good spot with JD," Buck suggested, lifting Vin to his feet and sending him from the table with a gentle pat.
Vin finally noticed that the lamps in the house had been lowered, and Buck had lit a small fire in the fireplace even though it wasn't really cold enough. JD had dragged the pillows and blankets from their beds and built a comfortable pile on the floor.
Buck waited until Vin was out of earshot. "He's seven, Chris. He doesn't sound like it, he doesn't act like it, but he is. Don't go dumping your own guilt on to him."
"What are you talking about?" Larabee demanded in quiet harsh tones.
"You're not disappointed in him and don't ever suggest it again!" Buck hissed, keeping his voice low. "Your disappointed in yourself, in us."
"Buck, I'm just trying to make sure Vin understands "
"He understands plenty. He understands it's his job again to provide for JD. He understands that he has to take care of himself again. If Adam was seven, would you have even considered leaving him alone here today?" Buck wasn't angry with Chris. They were both as guilty as each other.
"That's a damn stupid question. Adam will never be seven."
"And Vin probably never was." Buck watched as his friend drew back. "I'm as guilty as you. We've got at least two more weeks of these hours to get all the work done. We'll ask Nettie, or Josiah, or even Ezra for help."
"He'll think we don't trust him."
"Then we'll explain it. It's not about trust it's about responsibility. We're the ones responsible for looking after them and we're just letting it fall to Vin."
Chris turned to the boys, only to find Vin was watching them with some uncertainty. He had done just what Buck had asked him not to. The evening was on the edge of ruins.
Buck slapped his friend on the back and Chris nodded his understanding. "Let's start taking back the reins."
"Okay you two, we're ready to start." Buck settled down on the floor and pulled a Jack o'Lantern in front of him. "Move it Larabee, you're holding everything up."
"If we're settling in for the night, then I'm going to get us some hot drinks first." Chris had decided to make a small peace offering.
"Geez, you're an old woman. Hurry it up!" Buck urged.
Chris soon returned with four cups only to find the room empty. The door slammed open and two sets of spindly legs poking from nightshirts and ending in work boots stomped through.
Buck just shrugged as he appeared behind them. "Better now than halfway through," he explained of their outhouse trip.
"We shoulda decorated the outhouse Vin. It's all dark and we coulda made it all scary."
"Just go 'n use it after Mr Buck, JD. It's plenty scary then," Vin complained to JD.
"Hey, there was no chilli tonight!" Buck defended. "No go pick out your spots by the fire so Mother over there than can put down his cups."
Buck ignored the glare that was aimed in his direction, knowing there was no heat in it.
Chris thought Vin looked a little flushed. He placed the cup down by Vin's hand and touched the back of his hand to the boy's forehead. He didn't seem overly warm.
Vin looked up at the touch. Chris was confused at Vin's apparent surprise.
"What?" he asked.
"Ma's do that."
"Touch your face, all soft like that," Vin explained.
Chris remembered that Vin hadn't felt a father's caring touch. "Well I do too." Chris nodded to the cup he'd left by Vin's hand. "Try that."
Vin took a sip from the milky drink. Surprised, he took a bigger mouthful and savored it.
"Mmmm, cocoa." Vin's mouth curled into a long, slow, ecstatic smile.
"Cocoa?" Buck asked, disgusted.
"I've been saving it. Take a drink." Chris instructed.
Buck took a small sip, prepared to screw his face up in disgust. He took a larger sip and felt the tell-tale after burn and the deep warming in his stomach. "Mmmm, cocoa," he agreed with Vin. A good shot of whisky seemed to do wonders. Buck looked from Chris to the boys.
"You didn't ?"
"Of course not Buck! Get your story started, we're getting old just waiting."
"Floor Larabee!" Buck ordered as Chris headed for the rocker.
"Buck," Chris growled.
"Ain't no rockin' chairs for the old folks around our campfire. Butt on the floor Larabee."
Vin and JD exchanged grins at Buck's demand. Vin moved over, giving Chris room to sit between him and JD. Buck laughed as he watched Chris silently groan as he folded himself up on the floor.
"Seems someone's already gotten old." Buck teased, but he received only a narrow-eyed glare in return. "That's a face that would set any Halloween mood. Didn't need these pumpkins boys, not with the Larabee glare here," he pointed.
Both boys could only giggle as the glare seemed to deepen, the flickering candle light just heightening the effect. Buck decided to settle down to business. He leaned over the flickering ghoulish lantern and dropped his voice down low and began.
"It was a dark and stormy night "
Chris and Buck left the boys asleep on the floor, buried in their blankets and pillows. They were both exhausted themselves, but had lingered over a bottle of whiskey in the low firelight. They had finally headed to bed themselves, but Chris's rest was short-lived. A low moan and movement drew Chris from his room and over to the bundle of blankets. He could see Vin was awake, his arm cradled close.
Chris settled down on to the floor and pulled Vin up to rest against his chest. Vin didn't resist, the slow blinks from the barely open eyes a sign that he wasn't quite awake.
"Nightmare? Did Buck's stories wake you?"
Chris felt the negative shake from Vin's head rather than hearing the reply.
"Weren't that scary," came the whisper.
No. Vin had met monsters in the flesh and knew they looked like ordinary men, not the scary ghouls and ghosts of Buck's spirit world. Chris lay the back of his palm to Vin's forehead again. He was a little warmer but not fevered. Chris held Vin close as he picked up the wounded arm and checked it carefully, taking the slight weight as Vin drifted back to sleep. Chris tucked his own arm under Vin's, supporting it at a higher angle to try to ease the swelling and hold it protected.
"Problem?" Buck asked quietly, from the door opposite.
"No. I think he just rolled onto his arm. I'll just sit with him for a while."
"Sure," Buck smiled. Larabee didn't have little cold feet in his bed. Instead, he'd joined the little cold feet on the hard floor. Buck headed back to his room knowing there'd be three sleeping bodies still on the floor in the morning.
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