Disclaimer: Not mine, never were, never will be.
Note: Response to the February challenge, I concentrated more on boredom and what 19th century men would do to relive boredom. Many thanks to Helen for the proof reading.
The rain lashed down on Four Corners, it had turned the main street in to a shallow river of mud. In places the mud was a foot deep. When the rain came the temperature dropped, and with that and the rain Four Corners was all but deserted. Those who lived it town were staying inside, there were few, if any, visitors and for the town's regulators there was nothing to do. Nathan had only one patient, Josiah had no jobs to do inside the church, there were no customers in the saloon foolish enough to play cards with Ezra, there were no prisoners in the jail, no one to track in the rain, and no one to glare at. There were a fair number of saloon girls with few if any customers, and normally that would mean Buck would be very happy and all but invisible. However, since he was Nathan's lone patient he wasn't 'entertaining' any ladies. There were ladies coming and going from his room, but only to bring him more lemonade, and stoke the fire. Buck had influenza, a small parting gift from an escaped prisoner he had to return to prison, so far there was no indication of any serious complications like pneumonia, just one very miserable gunman confined to bed. If Nathan had had any doubts that it was flu and not just a cold, they were dismissed when Buck didn't protest when ordered to stay in bed, didn't eat the apple pie Mabel made just for him, and didn't complain once about drinking the honey laced willow bark tea Nathan gave him.
Mary had persuaded Vin that with the town so quiet it was a perfect time to work on his reading. The trouble was, Billy's old readers were too childish to hold his attention. He wanted to learn to read, he really did, but it was hard to stay motivated. Mary kept telling him a whole new world would open up once he could read, but he was having his doubts. But Tanners weren't quitters and he was determined to master it. That wet morning however, he was butting his head up against a brick wall, after an hour and a half of solid work nothing was going in.
"L a t er."
"Vin we've done this, remember? The 'e' at the end make the vowel say its name."
"It's not at the end," he pointed it out indignantly.
"Well it still counts."
"How the hell are you s'pposed to learn if the rules keep changing?" He shoved the book away, and then realised were he was and with whom. "Oh I'm sorry ma'am, I didn't mean to "
"Vin don't worry about it, I understand how frustrating this all is. Let's call it a day, you need a break. Come back tomorrow."
"Maybe I just can't learn, I'm too old or too dumb."
"Vin you're not dumb."
"I know that! I'm just book learning dumb, I don't need this, I've been doin' jist fine without it. I don't need no books t' teach me about how t' live my life." He turned away from her, ashamed by his own failure as he saw it, angry at a world that valued so highly a skill he just didn't seem to be able to master.
"Vin you're right, you dont need a book to teach you how to live, but do you believe you have nothing to learn, that you know everything?"
His head snapped around, blue eyes ablaze. "No, no 'course I don't."
"There is so much you can get from reading, books can take you all over the world, can teach you things, they can show you things, being able to read means you can read wanted posters, bills of sale, telegrams, newspapers." His eyes drifted over the press in the room and her desk, piled high with notebooks, clippings and pamphlets. "It's not easy, but it is worth it."
He heard her words, the truth pushed at him, but he was too angry with himself to let it in at that moment. He turned away and headed for the door. Finally he looked back. "Thanks for all yer time Mary."
"Will I see you tomorrow?"
He shrugged. "Maybe."
+ + + + + + +
Vin left the newspaper offices and set out to find himself some company. First he headed up the steps to ask Nathan how Buck was doing. Jackson was sitting by the stove, a book in one hand and a coffee in the other.
"Morning," he announced as he let himself in.
"Morning, want some coffee?"
"Sure." Vin poured himself a mug and enquired after Wilmington, before he sat down on the other chair while Nathan continued to read. After a long period of silence Vin decided to ask what he was reading.
"It's called Great Expectations, I've only just started it."
"It any good?"
"So far, it's all about this boy Pip, he's an orphan, he lives in England, on some marshes - want to hear a bit?"
"Sure why not." He had nothing better to do after all.
Nathan began to read, after only a short time he was seeing the desolate, fog bound marshes, he was right there with Pip as he encountered Magwich. He all but held his breath as the brave boy stole food from his aunt and took it and the tools out to the convict. Finally Nathan stopped, needing to stretch his legs and brew some more willow bark tea to Buck.
+ + + + + + +
Vin headed out as well, thought he planned to ask Nathan later what happened to the boy in the book. Chris was sitting in the jail, reading.
"Anything going on?" he asked.
Chris shook his head but didn't look up. Getting no verbal response from Larabee, Vin poured himself his second coffee of the morning, only to find an empty mug held out to him.
Vin took the mug. "Wouldn't hurt ya to ask Larabee," he groused, but Chris didn't respond. "Must be a good book." Still no response.
He slammed the mug down so the hot liquid splashed up and hit the back of Chris' hand.
"Hey!" The black clad gunman yelled, pulling his hand and the book away.
"Good morning to you too."
"Hello Vin. How are you? Had a good day so far?" Vin prompted sarcastically.
"What's up with you?"
Vin just scowled, so Chris returned his attention to his book.
"So what's so all fired interestin' that yer can't even pass the time of day?"
Larabee sighed and put his book down. "It's a very old story called The Odyssey, written thousands of years ago in Greece, satisfied?"
"Odyssey; Ez told me once that's a journey. So who's going where?"
"Odysseus is going on a journey "
"Odysseus is going on an Odyssey?" Vin sniggered. "Sounds pretty dumb."
"Oh really, sit down Tanner and listen, see how dumb you think it is."
Larabee flicked back through the book and finally settled on the story of the Sirens. How Jason had made his minstrel play to his crew to drown out the Sirens song, but Odysseus had no minstrel, so he filled his men's ears with wax and had them lash him to the mast so he could hear the song but wouldn't be lured by it. Vin was enthralled.
"Still think it's dumb?" Chris asked.
"I guess not - it's still a dumb name." He stood, stretching and rolling his shoulders. "I'm gonna brush m' horse."
"Don't get bit."
"Funny Larabee, very funny."
+ + + + + + +
Peso could be a truly evil horse when he wanted to be, but he was also loved attention, he loved undivided attention, being the centre of attention. So being groomed suited him just fine and he behaved himself, usually. Vin had only just started to brush when he heard a noise above him. Instantly his mare's leg was in his hand. Spinning around so his back was to the hay loft ladder he raised the gun.
"Okay you, come on out real slow," he ordered.
"It's only me," came JD's voice from above. There was the sound of movement and then the young sheriff's eager face appeared at the edge of the loft, looking down at the ever alert Tanner. "Don't shoot."
Vin let go the breath he was holding and put his gun back in its holster.
"What ya doin' up there anyways?" he asked.
Damn, it is that all these guys can think t' do all day! "One of them dime novels?"
JD huffed indignantly. "No, its a real famous book called Ivanhoe, by this guy Sir Walter Scott, Ezra lent it me."
"Is now, it took a while to get going, there was this bit were he's walking through the forest, very boring. Then he met this Jewish guy."
"Jewish, what's that?"
"You don't know what Jews are?" JD sounded genuinely surprised.
Vin bristled, he knew there were lots of things he didn't know but they never seemed to be important. Jew was a word he had heard, he seemed to think he remembered the brothers at the mission mentioning the word. But before he could respond to JD, the young man had launched into an explanation, at least some of which made sense.
"So these Jews, lots of folk don't like them, jist 'cause they believe something different?"
"Yeah, it's stupid, but it's true. There were lots of Jews in New York, my friend Saul for one, and he was the same as you an' me, he was a nice guy. Anyway he - Ivanhoe - he's met this Jew and now there's gonna be a tournament."
"Not sure, wanna find out? I could read it while you brush Peso?"
Vin shrugged. "If you like."
Vin brushed while JD read, the book took the two young men away from nineteenth century America and transported them back to England, to an almost mythical time which bore little resemblance to the real middle ages - not that they knew that. A time of knights and chivalry, Saxons and Normans, kings and princes, outlaws and soldiers. There was the great tournament, where the hero, a warrior from a conquered people, but an outsider even to them, a loner, triumphed.
The tournament was about halfway through when Vin had to admit he just couldn't brush Peso any more.
JD looked up. "Guess I need to give Maverick a brush." He was about to close the book.
"I'll do it," Vin offered. "If'n ya wanna read some more."
JD grinned and settled back to read some more. Eventually, just as Ivanhoe was victorious only to be disowned by his own father and rescued by outcast Rebecca and her father, JD's voice gave out.
+ + + + + + +
The two of them headed for the saloon. JD thought a glass of milk would soothe his throat, and Vin just needed a drink. On the way they saw Nathan coming toward them.
"You tell him about my voice and I'll shoot you," JD squeaked.
Vin didn't say anything, he just smiled as the tall healer intercepted them.
"Glad I met you," Nathan started. "I was gonna ask you," He was looking at JD. "if you could take this to Buck for me, I need to collect some herbs I've got drying in Tiny's hay loft, before they drop their seeds in all this damp." He held out a small pail.
JD just stood still, like a startled rabbit in the lamplight.
Vin decided not to betray JD after all, since it was mostly his fault the kid had lost his voice. So he reached out for the pail.
"I'll take it, give me a chance to say hello to ol' Bucklin."
Nathan frowned. "Well alright, but if you get it, it's your own fault."
+ + + + + + +
Vin tapped on Buck's door at the boarding house, there was no reply. He knocked again, finally there was a hoarse, faint response, so he let himself in. Buck was curled up in bed, his eyes were red rimmed and puffy. Vin had suspected Buck wasn't as sick as he made out, that his illness was just a ploy to draw unwitting women into his bedroom. This, he could see, was not true.
"Hell's teeth Buck, you look like shit," he blurted out.
"Well fuck you too Tanner," Buck growled, then he sniffed and wiped his nose on a huge handkerchief.
"I got this for you, Nathan sent it." He placed it on the bedside table.
Buck sat up, and as soon as the pail was set down, he was opening it and pouring the steaming contents in to a tin mug. Vin observed the man before him, pale, with black lines under his eyes, in need of a shave. His keen eyes picked out a slight tremble in the hand that now cupped the mug of steaming liquid.
"Thought you hated that stuff?" Vin pointed out, remembering previous irritated references to 'horse piss'.
"It's not so bad with honey, and it works, for a while anyway."
Vin looked at those deep blue eyes again, that red puffiness made it look like Wilmington had been crying. Nah, Buck don't cry, least not when he's hurt, must be the infuen what ever Nate calls it. But the more he looked the more it seemed to him he could see tear trails down the big man's cheeks.
Buck took another gulp of the now lukewarm tea and looked up at Tanner. "You just gonna stand and stare at me?"
"Maybe. You okay?"
"Do I look okay? I'm dying here, you don't know what it's like. So if you don't wanna catch it, you better back off."
Now that surprised Vin, usually when Buck was hurt and confined to the clinic, he liked having visitors, now it seemed he wanted to get Vin out of the room as fast as possible. Well I know when I'm not wanted.
Once Vin was out of the room, Buck put the tea down, pulled his book from under the pillow and hunkered down under the blankets and the wonderfully soft eiderdown Mrs Potter had lent him. Jane Eyre was keeping vigil at poor Helen's bedside and Buck was beginning to think poor, sweet, forgiving Helen was going to die. He backhanded the tears away as he read on.
+ + + + + + +
With no real thought as to why he did it, Vin walked over to the church. Josiah was reading. Of course he's reading, everyone's reading.
Sanchez looked up. "Can I help you?"
"Come on in son."
+ + + + + + +
It was gone one when Vin pushed open the saloon doors looking for lunch, Josiah had gone to find Nathan and bring him over to join them to eat. Once he got involved with mixing his potions, Jackson lost all track of time. The rain still lashed down as Vin entered. Casting his eyes around the dim interior, he spotted Ezra, who was also reading, there was a game of solitaire laid out on the table before him, but it had been abandoned and Standish was engrossed in his book.
What the hell, Vin thought, might as well ask everyone. He strolled over to the bar, collected two coffee's from Inez and then crossed to Ezra's table. Setting the cup down in front of Standish, he asked the inevitable question.
"So Ezra, what ya reading?"
Standish looked up, took in his new table companion and the fresh coffee. Having picked up the steaming mug, he inhaled the aroma before sipping tentatively, not wishing to scald his tongue.
"Thank you Mr Tanner, most appreciated." With that his attention returned to the book.
"So," Vin wasn't going to drop the question. " what ya reading?"
Ezra raised an eyebrow, then looked at the scruffy tracker, before he lowered the book. "It's called Tom Sawyer, by a man named Mark Twain - which is a nom de plume."
"False name, a concept you might have employed with some effect."
Vin just looked confused.
"Since Vin Tanner is wanted for murder, you might have considered changing your name, it would make your life somewhat less stressful," Ezra elaborated.
"I didn't do nothin' an' m' name's all I got left of m' family." It was an old argument and Ezra knew what the reaction was going to be.
"Quite so, well it was just a thought."
"So you think this Twain guy is wanted fer somethin?"
"Who knows, but 'mark twain' is a call I have often heard on riverboats."
"What's it mean?"
"I have no idea. I ride boats. I have no idea how they work."
"So what's the book about?"
A smile spread across Ezra's face. "It is about a boy, he's been sent to stay with his aunt near the river, Tom gets up to all kinds of mischief. Let me read you a section." Before Vin could respond, Standish was flipping back through the book to the beginning. Then he began to read, using a variety of voices to bring the story of the white washing of the fence to life, Ezra transported Vin to the banks of the Mississippi, and into the life of one Tom Sawyer.
+ + + + + + +
Ezra had just closed the book when JD crossed to join them, just as Josiah and Nathan came in, and by the time they had placed their lunch orders Chris had arrived.
"So what's everyone been doing today?" JD asked.
"Reading," Vin supplied. The other five all looked at him. "Well ya have been, every last one of you." He ginned at Josiah. "And right educational it's been too."
"Do enlighten us Mr Tanner," Ezra prompted.
"Tell is what you learned, Chris translated.
"Oh, okay. Now see Nate was reading this book about a boy who finds an escaped convict and helps him. The boy don't have a very happy life, he's an orphan and even thought Joe treats him right, hes got it tough. But he treats the convict decent, brings him food and such. Reckon it don't matter who you are, you deserve to be treated like a person not an animal." He looked up to find the others nodding their agreement. He looked over at Chris. "Then I heard about this guy Odysseus and his journey past the Sirens."
"Pray tell, what did you learn from them?" Ezra asked.
"That ya can't trust women, they're out to deceive you and tempt you off the straight an' narrow," he explained with a sly grin.
"Don't reckon Buck would agree with you," Chris commented.
"Bucklin? Hah, I took him some of Nate's tea, he's a big baby when he's sick, practically threw me outer the room so he could suffer alone."
Suddenly a croaky voice growled at him. "I ain't a baby. What wouldn't I agree with?"
The six of them turned as one to view the risen dead. He looked better than he had, especially since he'd shaved, or at least persuaded some bored and willing saloon girl to give him a shave. He wasn't wearing a gun and he looked distinctly pale and wasn't moving with his usual easy grace, but he was at least on his feet.
"What are you doing up?" Nathan asked, even as he was raising and pulling a chair over for his patient. "Sit down before you fall down man!"
Buck sank gratefully into the chair. "I was hungry."
Inwardly Nathan and indeed the others sighed silent sighs of relief, a Buck who didn't want to eat was a very sick Buck, so the return of his appetite signalled a definite improvement.
"What are you eating?" Buck asked.
"Stew," JD supplied.
Buck frowned, he liked stew, especially Inez's slightly spicy stew, but he wasn't sure he was ready to eat it yet.
"Don't even think about it," Nathan warned. "Inez," he called.
"Si senor Nathan, don't worry, I have chicken soup already." She smiled and winked at the healer.
"Thank you ma'am."
Buck decided much as he liked Inez's stew, chicken soup sounded much more appealing, so he turned his attention back to the others. "So what is it that I wouldn't agree with?" he asked again.
JD explained what was going on.
"Well now Vin, you shouldn't judge all women by them there Sirens," Buck pointed out sagely.
Vin wasn't convinced, his recent experiences with women just confirmed his view, but he decided to drop the matter and move on to tell them all about Ivanhoe. "See his own father wouldn't have nothing to do with him, even after he whipped these Norman guys asses, but the Jews, who everyone hated, they took him in. When you're in trouble you find out who your real friends are."
"Amen to that," Josiah commented.
Nathan's eyes met his and then moved over to Chris, he was all too well aware how true that was. He gave them a silent nod of thanks once more for their intervention on his behalf on that fateful day.
"What did you learn from Mr Twain?" Ezra asked.
Vin gave him an evil smile. "That southerners are sneaky, an' slippery as eels when it comes to menial labour."
While Ezra blustered the others broke into gales of laughter, Josiah snatched up the book before Ezra could grab it. "Oh I have to read this book!" he announced.
"So what," JD began once he had stopped laughing. " did you learn from Josiah's book?"
"Well, he introduced me to a fella called Shakespeare, he lived a long time ago and was one smart guy. I even read me some Shakespeare, memorised it too," he announced with pride.
It had taken some time for him to feel confident enough in the others, to admit to them that he couldn't read. In truth all of them had worked it out, but none had said anything. Now they all knew they were very supportive, encouraging him in his efforts to learn to read.
"Indeed, do share what you learned," Ezra encouraged.
Vin took a deep breath and glanced at Josiah, who nodded. "Well okay." He put his beer down and sat up a little straighter. 'We few, we happy few, we band of brothers, for he today that sheds his blood with me, shall be my brother'."
The others didn't say anything but almost as one they raised their respective beers, coffees, water and milk.
"To brotherhood," Josiah offered the toast.
"Brotherhood," they all responded.