AU - Runaways (10 years on)
Disclaimer: Not mine, never were, never will be
Note: Betaed by the Phyllis.
Feedback: Yes please.
"Buck!" JD yelled running into the jailhouse and up the narrow stairs.
There was no response to his calling; the door to Buck's room was firmly shut. Outside on the street the rumbling of heavy wheels and jingling of harness indicated that the wagon train was almost out of town, on their way to California.
JD knocked on the closed door more softly. "Son, can I come in?"
"No," came the muffled but firm response.
"Okay, but I'll be in the office if you need me, okay?" There was no response.
Shaking his head sadly, JD turned away and headed back down to the living accommodation attached to the jailhouse. It had been ten years since two small orphan boys had arrived in Four Corners and been adopted by the town's two lawmen. Originally the two boys had shared a bed in the tiny box room next to JDs. But after only a couple of years it became very clear that the family was going to need more space. A small two-story cabin was constructed next to the jail; there was a connecting door to the main living accommodation as well as a street door. Vin occupied the street level room and Chris the loft above. Buck had moved into Vin's old room over the jail.
JD glanced up the stairs one more time before he returned back to his paperwork. The town had quietened down considerably since those early days, yet JD found he seemed to have more and more to do, and most of it required him to sit at his desk. Vin hadn't ever become a fluent reader and had never had any desire to be more than a deputy. These days he made good money training and breaking horses, only working as a deputy at weekends and holidays, when the town was 'lively'. Chris had taken over as the full time deputy sheriff. The eighteen-year-old could be a bit impulsive and had a hell of a temper, but he also possessed a natural authority few men twice his age could muster and was frighteningly fast on the draw.
Buck was a handful. At fourteen he was a good three inches taller than his father and still growing, while JD looked younger than he was, Buck looked older and most people who didn't know them took them for brothers. There were only two weeks of school left and it was Buck's last year. JD would have liked him to stay on, but intelligent as the boy was, he was never one for book learning, he just had too much energy. That energy, combined with intelligence, a desire to make people happy and a very low boredom threshold, meant Buck was forever getting into trouble. JD had been worrying for months about what Buck was going to do once he finished school. He was good with horses and Vin had promised he would take him on as an apprentice. Ezra, much against JD's wishes, had offered him a job in his saloon and hotel, waiting tables and working the reception desk. Buck had always been very close to his uncle Ezra, he always felt comfortable in the saloon and in the company of women who worked there. Of course a young boy who spent a lot of his free time in the saloon drew a lot of unflattering gossip and some of the 'respectable' folk in town were less than happy for their children to associate with him. Fortunately for Buck and unfortunately for them, he was by far and away the most popular boy in school.
A wagon train had arrived in town to rest and re-supply a week ago, and that was when the trouble started.
It was late on Friday afternoon, when Buck put his head around the door of the jail. "Pa come see!"
Outside a line of more than thirty wagons rumbled down the main street. The lead wagon pulled up in front of the jail, as JD came out. A robust looking man with a full beard looked down at father and son.
"The name's Joseph Miller, were on our way to California, need some place to rest up, before we move on. Who do we talk to?"
"I'm the sheriff, JD Dunne, this is my son, Buck."
"Hello," Buck greeted cheerfully.
Miller looked from one to the other, frowned, but then seemed to dismiss his concerns.
"Can you help?"
"There's some open range, just outside town, there's a stream, it isn't that reliable but it's got water in it at the moment. Buck 'll show you the way." He turned to his son. "Right?"
"Sure," Buck agreed readily. "Just let me get my horse."
The stretch of land he led them to lay south of the town, as JD had said the stream that fed it was unreliable, making the grazing up unsuitable for regular use. It made an ideal place for temporary visitors to stay, the army had camped there a few times and even the odd cattle drive. With his usual enthusiasm and boundless energy, Buck helped the wagon train get settled.
Helping people was no chore to Buck, helping people made them happy and Buck wanted people to be happy. He was walking back through the new camp when he spotted a woman struggling to lift a barrel down from her wagon.
"Here ma'am let me get that for you." He stepped up behind her and took the barrel's weight.
"Oh, thank you dear." The woman stepped out of the way.
"Where do you want it?"
"Just down here." She pointed to the ground by the wagon wheel. "So what's your name?"
"And you live here, in town?" she asked him as he set the barrel down, and then stretched his back.
"Yes ma'am, my Pa's the sheriff."
The lady smiled warmly at the tall, young man. "You must be very proud of him."
"Oh yes ma'am, Pa's the best. Can I do anything else for you?"
"Well, do you think you could help me unhitch the team?"
"No, I can do it, while you have a rest, won't take long."
Martha Shaw smiled again, she was very tired and was more than happy to sit down in the shade while the Buck got to work. She must have nodded off briefly, because the next thing she heard was her husbands voice.
"Who's that?" he demanded.
She squinted up at him. "Pardon dear?"
"Who is that?" He pointed toward Buck who had just finished watering the last pair of horses, and was hitching them to a line he'd strung between two trees.
"Oh, his name's Buck, his father is the sheriff, and he offered to help." She could see her husband was suspicious. The Reverend Shaw was suspicious of almost everyone.
Shaw took a deep breath, on some level he knew he shouldn't have left his wife to do all the work, but he had a higher responsibility, the needs of his flock had to come first, Martha understood that. Buck came ambling over, his smile still firmly in place.
"All done ma'am, anything else I can do for you?"
Martha smiled, then started to get up, unfortunately one of her legs had gone to sleep and she hissed as she tried to move it. Instantly both Buck and her husband bent to give her a hand up. The Reverend glared at Buck as the boy took his wife's hand, but Buck was too intent on helping a lady to notice.
"Are you okay ma'am?" he asked earnestly.
"My wife is fine, and if she were not I would take care of her," Shaw explained firmly, cutting off any response from Buck.
Casting on last look at Martha, Buck squared his broad shoulders and looked Shaw in the eye, it helped his self-confidence that he was a few inches taller than the preacher.
"Yes sir, of course. I'll say goodbye then, if you need any help I live at the jail. Bye ma'am." He doffed his hat to Martha. "Lovely to meet you."
Once Buck had gone, Lucas Shaw turned to his wife. "Are you alright dear?"
"I'm fine. Now what as that all about, why were you so cold to the boy, he was only being neighbourly."
"This is a an ungodly town my dear, I saw no less than three saloons but only one church as we passed through."
Martha looked at her husband pointedly, as if to say, **yes, and what has that to do with the boy?**.
"Young men his age are not to be trusted and besides, he's the sheriffs son, do you know what kind of men work as sheriff this far west?"
"No, and neither do you, you only know what you read in those terrible dime novels." The preacher opened his mouth to protest. "Don't pretend that you don't, I know full well that you do."
Buck wandered back through the new camp, trying to remember where he left his horse. It didn't take him long to find the big grey, tethered under a tree, dozing contentedly while a girl in a pale blue dress gently stroked his neck.
"Looks like he likes you," Buck commented as he strolled up.
"What? Oh yes he does seem to," the girl agreed.
As she turned to face him Buck didn't think he'd seen anything so beautiful. She had long blonde hair that was only loosely held in a ponytail by a blue ribbon. The blue dress and blue ribbon was reflected in her bright blue eyes. It seemed to Buck that her smile lit up her whole face.
"Is he your horse?" she asked, but Buck didn't reply, he just stood there, grinning like a loon while his guts filled with butterflies. "Hello? I was asking if he's yours?" she tried again.
"Um, yes, yes he's all mine." Buck took a step closer to the girl.
"He's a big one, what is he, 16 hands?"
"16.2, biggest horse in the livery, well except for Cardinal and he's only heavier not taller. What's your name?" Buck hadn't even taken a breath between answer and question.
"Serafina Shaw. How old is he, he looks young?"
"Three and a half. That's a lovely name, what does it mean?"
"Angel, but most of the time people call me Fin. That's quite young, is he head strong?"
"He's very gentle. My name's Buck, it means young stag."
Fin turned to face him. "Nice to meet you Buck, what's his name?"
"Beau, it means handsome." **Or beautiful, just like you.**
Buck almost jumped at the sound of his name, then turned to face Chris, who'd just ridden up on Pony.
"Where the he heck have you been? JD's madder than a wet hen, supper's been ready for an hour. Dad's eaten his already, said he was too hungry to wait."
"Sorry I didn't realise it was so late." Buck noticed that Chris was no longer looking at him but at Fin. "Oh, um Fin this is my brother Chris. Chris this is Fin."
Chris pulled his hat off his head and clutched it to his chest. "Right pleased to meet you ma'am." He quickly wiped his hand on his shirt then extended it to her.
**Right pleased? God Chris, don't you ever listen to Uncle Ezra.** Buck lamented silently. Ezra, with some help from Josiah, tried to instil in his nephews some degree of eloquence. Unfortunately, while Buck could see the point in learning to speak well, to impress girls, Chris still spoke exactly like Vin and took the attitude that girls should take him as he was, with no airs and graces.
Fin was staring at the star on Chris' chest. "Are you the sheriff?" she asked, clearly impressed.
"Oh no, only the deputy, Buck's Pa is the sheriff."
"Deputy sheriff is a pretty important job though, have you ever had to shoot anyone?"
Buck rolled his eyes in despair, while Chris ducked his head and looked at Fin through his bangs. "Oh no ma'am, nothing like that, I've only been a deputy for a few months."
"Come on Chris, we best be getting back." Buck unhitched Beau, walked him around so he was standing between Fin and Chris, and swung himself up into the saddle with effortless ease. He smiled down at Fin. "Bye Miss, I hope to see you again while you're here."
She smiled back up at him. "I'd like to see some of the county around here, is there someone who would lend me a horse?"
"I can show you around tomorrow afternoon, don't worry about a horse I'll find one for you."
"That would be lovely." She looked around Beau toward Chris. "Would you like to come too?"
"Chris has to work tomorrow," Buck answered for his brother. "Right?"
Chris just frowned. "Come on, we gotta go."
"Papa!" Serafina called as she ran back through the camp to her parents wagon.
"And where have you been, your poor mother had to unload the wagon all by herself and cook the meal!" the Reverend Shaw rounded on his errant daughter.
She pulled up short and dropped her head. "I'm sorry sir, I was exploring, I forgot the time."
"Indeed, let me guess, you went to see the horses?" As much as he wanted his only child to be a good and pious christen, a diligent student and dutiful daughter, these qualities, which she did posses, flew out of the nearest window, when it came to horses.
"Yes sir, well one horse."
"Only one?" And as much as he wanted to the stern father, when it came to his angel, Lucas Shaw could be as soft as butter.
"Oh yes Papa, he's a grey, 16.2 hands high! And only three and a half, but he was so gentle. Buck said he would "
"Buck? The tall boy with a lot of dark hair?"
"Yes sir, have you met him?" She risked looking into her father's eyes.
"Indeed. Run along and help your mother."
Buck and Chris galloped back in silence, tying up in front of the jail. Inside Buck had to listen to a lecture on punctuality and responsibility. That night he dreamt of a beautiful golden haired angel.
In the morning Buck was careful to be up promptly and made sure all his chores were done early and thoroughly. At lunchtime he crossed to the Standish Tavern, where he had a part time job helping to wash the dishes from the Saturday rush. By three o'clock he was his own man with two dimes in his pocket. He'd already arranged to borrow a horse for Fin. JD had taken Milagro out for the day, Peso was out of the question, he wasn't a horse you introduced to what Ezra called 'polite company'. Chris was so possessive about Pony there was no way he'd lend him. That left Cardinal, Josiah's horse, Chaucer and Ben, Nathan's reliable bay. Nathan was his first choice, Ben was totally bomb proof, and he didn't know how good a rider Fin was. Unfortunately Nathan as expecting to be summoned to the Cooper farm, apparently Mrs Cooper's ninth baby was expected at anytime.
"I'd love to lend you my horse, but he picked up a stone bruise," Josiah explained.
That left Chaucer. "Uncle Ezra?" he'd begun as Ezra was checking the spirits.
"Can I ask a favour?"
"Of course, you know you can ask me anything."
"Can I borrow Chaucer this afternoon?"
Ezra put down the bottle of gut rot he was watering down. "Is Beau lame? Has Nathan seen him?"
"No, he's fine, I met this girl yesterday, from the wagon train, she wants to go riding and Milagro's out with Pa, I can't take Peso, and Chris never lets anyone ride Pony, and Uncle Nathan needs Ben in case Miz Cooper has her baby and Cardinal is lame, so can I?"
Ezra tried not to laugh at Buck's break neck explanation, and idly wondered how anyone could say so much without taking a breath.
"Well clearly Chaucer is your only option, but he's not a horse that takes well to people riding him unsympathetically."
"Oh don't worry if she can't ride too well, I'll let her ride Beau and I'll ride Chaucer."
Ezra looked into his favourite nephews eyes. Buck liked women, he was comfortable in their company and they liked him. But that was women, not girls his own age. Buck had never had the aversion to girls most small boys had, not the way Chris had for many years. But until six months ago he was just interested in them as friends, but not now. He'd always been tall for his age, now he had gained six inches in as many months, his voice had dropped and his shoulders opened up. Even the saloon girls had commented that Buck was no longer cute, he was handsome. Buck looked back at Ezra with such pleading, he'd always been able to get what he wanted from Ezra with those pleading blue eyes.
"Very well, so long as your father knows were you're going."
As soon as he'd finished work, Buck sprinted to the livery and asked Yosemite, using the same pleading blue eyes he'd used on Ezra, if he'd get Beau and Chaucer ready for him. Yosemite of course agreed. Buck then sprinted to jail to collect some clean clothes, before running across the street to the bathhouse where he invested five of his twenty cents in a bath. His saloon girl friends always told him women liked men who were clean and smelled nice. "Not that hair oil stuff, just pain soap, what's what we like, and clean fingernails." he'd been told repeatedly. So he took a bath, lathered himself in lashings of soap and scrubbed his fingers obsessively. He managed to get to the wagon train camp by ten past four.
Several helpful people directed him to the Shaw wagon and it quickly became clear that this was a wagon he knew. He dismounted and approached quietly. With no notion of the arguments that had proceeded his arrival.
Fin had helped her mother clean up after supper then, while the family settled down to read, she decided it was time to ask the question.
"Mamma, Papa, can I go riding tomorrow?" she asked softly, while keeping her eyes on her copy of Little Women.
"Darling you know we dont have a saddle for the horse and I don't want you riding bareback," Lucas reminded her. "Besides we are here to rest the horses, not ride them."
"I know, but someone is going to lend me a horse."
"Lend?" Both parents looked up. "Who?"
"Um, that boy Buck, from town?"
Her father put down his bible and looked at her over his half moon spectacles.
**Oh lord, now I'm in trouble,** Fin thought.
"It isn't appropriate for you to be riding alone with young men you don't know," Lucas explained simply.
"He's not a young man, he's a boy, his father is the sheriff and his brother is the deputy. Please Papa, I haven't been riding for weeks," she pleaded.
"He really did seem to be a nice boy," Martha put in.
"We won't go far, I promise," Fin pleaded. "Please."
The Reverend Shaw looked at his beloved daughter, riding and horses were her only real passion, he felt terrible denying her.
"Please Papa," she pleaded again.
"I'll think about it. I'll talk to him tomorrow."
"Oh thank you Papa!" Fin put her book down and wrapped her arms around her father.
"I said I'd think about it," he reminded her, but she knew he always gave in when he said that.
Buck coughed politely outside the wagon. The Reverend Shaw appeared from the far side of the wagon.
Youre rather late young man, my daughter was beginning to think you werent going to come. As he spoke he raked his eyes up and down the youth before him critically. What he saw was a boy, who while tall, was younger than he had first thought, clean and presentable, with a rather nervous expression on his face.
Im sorry Sir, I had to do chores and work before I could come out.
Lucas noted that he was also a dutiful and industrious boy. Which of these horses are you proposing that my Serafina rides? he asked, eyeing the horses behind Buck.
Well it depends sir, I dont know how well Fi Serafina can ride. The grey is mine, hes very gentle, the other one belongs to my Uncle Ezra, hes a good horse but he needs a someone whos not going to pull him about if you know what I mean, Sir?
Lucas walked forward and looked at Chaucer, who in turn looked at him. Serafina is a competent horse woman. What is his name.
The Reverend raised an eyebrow. A worthy name, your uncle must be a very well read man.
Yes Sir. Buck had to fight his natural tendency to enthusiastically give more information than was needed or requested, but he just knew that letting slip anything about saloons and gambling wasnt going to help his cause.
How old are you?
The preacher looked at the boy again, and decided he was telling the truth.
I dont suppose you have a watch by any chance, do you?
Buck beamed and began to fumble in the top pocket of his shirt. As it happens I do! He pulled the watch out with a flourish. As he opened it he made sure the cover, with the initials JF engraved on it wasn't visible, there was no point having to explain that the watch came to you after the original owner was hung for murder, not if you didnt have to.
Lucas Shaw peered at the watch, but without his spectacles he couldn't make out if it was even going, let alone telling the correct time. Where do you intend to go on this ride?
Buck was beginning to feel more hopeful. I thought wed just do a big loop around the town, theres a pretty water hole to the north.
How long will you be?
Shouldnt take more than two hours.
See that it doesnt, two hours, and no more. My daughter is thirteen, I'm going to trust you to look after her young man.
I will, I swear it Sir. Does that mean, we can...?
You may take my daughter riding.
There was a sudden blur of movement from the back of the wagon, as Fin flew out and flung her arms around her father. Oh thank you Papa! Thank you! she exclaimed.
The ride went well. Fin lavished attention, praise and carrots on Chaucer, who of course lapped it up, considering it only his due. As they rode out she began talking about horses, and since horse were one of Bucks passions he was happy to talk about his horse, the horses of his friends and family and to tell the tale of how he was there to see Beau conceived, and at his birth.
I helped Vin break him in as well, hes gentle broke, Vin has this special Comanche way he does it. Its like magic, he explained.
"Whos Vin? Is he an Indian, Id love to meet a real live Indian.
Buck laughed. Vin is Chris Pa, and hes not an Indian, but he did live with them, for a bit when he was younger.
Fin frowned. I thought Chris was your brother?
So Vin is your Pa?
No, gosh it is a bit complicated I guess. See me and Chris adopted, all our folk died and JD, thats my Pa, and Vin, they took us in, we grew up together like we were brothers, but were not really.
A look somewhat akin to pity crossed Fins delicate features. Oh my gosh thats so sad, youre an orphan?
No, I told you Ive got a father and a brother and a He searched for a term to describe Vin who was less than a father and yet more than an uncle to him.
A what? Fin prompted.
A Vin and three uncles.
But they arent real family, I think its so romantic. The look of pity had turned into some sort of dreamy adoration.
**Hells teeth, whod have thought being an orphan made girls like you more?**
Chris and me were in an orphanage, but we ran away, he added, hopping to increase his value as tragic, romantic, hero.
Oh my goodness, together? Buck nodded. How old were you?
I was four, Chris was eight. **Damn, bad move, now Chris is gonna be the hero.**
Fin had then pestered him for information about his tragic childhood and daring escape. The trouble was he didnt remember much. He had a nagging feeling his irrational and in his eyes shameful fear of pigs had something to do with it, but he couldnt remember what. He knew better than to tell anyone that his beloved, sainted Ma had been a working girl. Predictably Fin seemed to think Chris was very heroic, while her imagination conjured up a very cute, if somewhat pathetic, little Buck.
Buck decided it was time to steer the conversation away from him and on to her. So how come you're going to California? he asked.
Well we might stop in Nevada, but Papa wants his own ministry and there werent any at home, so he decided we had to come out here, and of course he wants to do missionary work?
Missionary, with the Indians?
She looked at him seriously. Well I guess them as well, but mostly with the Catholics, he says theyre all papists in southern California and he wants to bring them into the light.
**Okay, dont tell her youre a sort of Catholic.** Josiah might have been de-frocked, but he still believed in God and he still preached, whether what he preached was proper Catholic doctrine Buck had no way to know, but considering the number of references to Indian beliefs, not to mention Hindu and Muslim, in the sermons, he doubted it. JD had been raised up a good Catholic and he attended church every Sunday, as did Buck, along with Nathan, Rain and their two boys, Nat and Obie. Ezra had never attended church services except for special occasions like weddings, funerals and Christmas. Vin had attended, with Chris, fairly regularly for some years, but eventually had stopped. His brief flirtation with Christianity over, he returned the faith of the only people who, before he came to Four Corners, he had ever called family the Comanche. Chris had attended for a year or so after that, then in a typical teen-age rebellion, had started to refuse. The two of them, like Ezra, now kept their attendance to social necessities.
Oh, was all Buck could say in response to this, then a thought struck him. Are you coming to church tomorrow?
No, Pappas going to hold services at the camp.
Well not good that youre not coming to town, but its just that the church is so small. **And falling down again!**
They had stopped to water the horses and cool their brows at the water hole, and were now headed back. At the crossroads just out of town Buck pulled up.
If we go that way, we can ride through town, then you can see it, but well have to gallop all the way back to your Pa or well be late. He pointed to his right. Not only would it give Fin a look at the town, but it avoid going past the Doggit farm, the Doggits kept pigs and Buck tried to avoid that road when ever he could.
That would be great, I bet we beat you this time. Fast as Chaucer was, he wasnt as fast as Beau, and Buck had won their two races so far easily, in fact he had already decided to let her win this time.
As they rode through the town people greeted Buck and asked who his new friend was. He happily returned the greetings, explained she was a friend from the wagon train. He pointed out the church and the jail and the general store. As luck would have it Ezra was coming out of the store as they passed. Chaucer spotted him instantly and began to head toward his master.
Oh dear, you best let him go to Ezra, Buck advised.
Is that your uncle? Fin asked.
One of them. Hello Uncle Ezra!
Ezra looked up. Why hello old friend, he greeted Chaucer first, the horse was already nuzzling his pocket looking for a treat. Here. he produced a peppermint for the horse. This must be your young lady friend? He touched his hat in greeting to Fin.
This Serafina Shaw. Fin this is my uncle, Ezra P Standish.
Very pleased to meet you Mr Standish.
Have you seen Pa around? Buck asked.
Your father and Chris had to go out to the James place, so kind of dispute, I am currently the law in town. He pulled his jacket back to reveal his star.
Youre a deputy as well? Fin asked in evident admiration.
When the need arises.
They were running out of time, so didnt bother to dismount in town, but set out for the campsite, once they were clear of the town they gave the horses their heads the let them run like the wind. Buck kept pace with Chaucer, then as the wagons came into view, he reined back just a fraction to let Fin win by a head. Still panting they walked the horses back to the Shaw wagon. Buck surreptitiously checked his watch and was happy to see they had five minutes in hand. Up ahead both Fin's parents were waiting for her return.
Before they were close enough for her parents to hear Fin turned to Buck. "I had a lot of fun, he's a great horse, do you think Mr Standish will let me borrow him again?" With that she patted Chaucer.
"I reckon so, I can't come tomorrow, I have to watch my Uncle Nathan's children in the afternoon. Maybe I'll see you on Monday?"
"I hope so."
By now they were almost at the wagon.
"Fin?" Buck's voice was no more than a whisper.
"I think you're very pretty."
Fin looked at him, then blushed a little, but didn't respond as by now they were had reached the wagon. She swung down and handed the reins to up to Buck. "Thank you very much, I had a lovely time," she said polity.
School had never seem to drag on so long as it did that Monday. Buck tried to concentrate, he didn't want to be kept back late for day dreaming, but it took all his not inconsiderable will power. After school he had chores to do, including bring wood into the house from the wood stove. He was just going back for his last bundle when Chris stormed around the back of the jail.
"Buck!" he began in that 'do as I say and do it now' voice he had.
Chris didn't bother to say anything else he just marched right up to his younger brother and swung at him. There had been a time when Chris would never have hit Buck, but the last six months had made the size difference between them negligible. It wasn't a full force punch, just enough to send Buck sprawling in the dust.
"What the hell was that for?" he protested, rubbing his jaw, and finding blood on his hand.
"You told that girl, the blonde one from the wagon train, about us being orphans and running away!" he accused.
"She was here, in town? Where? Is she still here?"
"Forget the stupid girl she's gone back to her wagon!"
"She's not stupid!"
Chris wasn't interested in Buck's protests. "You got no right, you got no right to go telling everyone you meet about my private life!"
Buck scrambled to his feet. "Well it's my life too!"
"I don't care, she's been following me around like some lost puppy for God's sake! How am I gonna convince Molly Potter to say yes when I invite her to the spring barn dance, with some love sick child on my tail?"
"She's not a child, she's a beautiful young lady, and I can tell anyone I like about MY life!"
Chris stepped in closer and shoved Buck back a pace. "Well let me remind you that we were in it together and since you were just a little baby at the time, it's more my life than yours and I don't want it spread all over some camp of complete strangers!" Chris shoved again.
"Yeah? Well I ain't little no more!" With that Buck shoved back.
By the time Vin rode up and came around to find out what all the ruckus was about, the two brothers were going at it hammer and tong!
"What the hell?" he exclaimed before stepping in and, with some difficulty, pulled them apart.
"Just quit it!" he bellowed.
Buck, younger, more bidable and not naturally aggressive, stopped struggling. Chris was pumped up and had barely registered who it was who had hold of his collar, tried again to take a swing at his brother.
"Chris boy you stop that right now!" Vin yanked his son back a good foot.
Finally Chris seemed to understand what was going on and relaxed a fraction.
"All right then, now what is going on?" Vin asked.
Both boys began to speak at once, a cacophony of accusation.
"Quit it, both of yeah!" Vin yelled. Buck was still backhanding blood away from his mouth. "Buck git inside and wash yer mouth, I'll come take a look at it in a little while. Chris?"
"Tell me what just happened."
"But that's not fair!" Buck protested. "He started it!"
"I'm gonna hear your side of it, don't you worry, now go."
Vin came inside, and eventually found Buck in his room, holding a rag to his lip and peering into the mirror.
"Le' me see," Vin offered.
But Buck stepped away, sitting on the edge of the bed, dabbing at his mouth. "It's just my lip, reckon I caught it on my tooth."
"So," Vin leaned his lean frame against the door, "tell me your side."
Buck shrugged. "Chris got pissed with me, he kept shoving me, guess I got shoved one too many times."
"That's what Chris said. Now you gonna tell me why Chris was so pissed?"
"I told Fin about us being orphans and the orphanage and running away. I didn't know she was gonna follow him around all day. I got a right to tell someone about my life."
Vin felt for both boys. In so many ways they were very close, that they loved each other was self evident, but there was no getting away from the fact that Chris was intensely private and reserved, while Buck was gregarious and outgoing, sharing of himself freely.
"Yes you do," he began softly. "but perhaps you should have made it clear that this was between you and the girl - what was her name?"
"Right. You should have made it clear this was not information to share and she should not bother Chris."
"I guess," Buck admitted.
"Now about the fight."
Buck's head shot up. "He started it, he was shoving me, and "
"I told you I know that," Vin cut in. "But we've been through this haven't we, what do you do if someone gets to ragging on you, pushing an' shoving?"
Buck mumbled some incoherent response.
"What was that?"
"I walk away," came the reluctant response.
"Right. Now I'm gonna deal with Chris, don't you worry. As for you, when you aren't in school or working, you'll be right here in this house, and no riding Beau, for the next two days."
Buck opened his mouth to protest.
"I hear any argument from you and it'll be four days, do I make myself clear?"
Buck's shoulders slumped. "Yes Sir."
"Good, Cardinal is still lame so Josiah can borrow Beau and keep him exercised."
"Are you going to exercise Pony?"
"No, Chris has a job to do and he need his horse to do it."
"WHAT!" Now Buck was on his feet. "That's not fair, he started it!"
"Sit down!" Vin ordered. Once Buck had complied he continued. "Chris is a deputy, don't do for him to be seen bein' punished by his daddy, 'sides he needs a horse t' do his job, the bad element might take advantage if he looks weak."
"Chris is the bad element," Buck muttered.
"Don't worry, Chris 'll be punished, privately." Vin sat down next to Buck. "Yerre a big boy," he began, using the term Buck has used so often when he first arrived as a lanky four year old. "I reckon by the time yer finished growin' you'll be the tallest of all of us, taller than Chris, and strong, yer gonna need to learn to some self control." He looked over at the hung head beside him. "Go an' wash up, then you can help make the supper, Nettie paid me in ham for fixin' her roof."
A small smile appeared on Buck's face. "The smoked one, with honey and mustard on the skin?"
After Vin had left, Buck went to the small window, set in the gable end of the building, if he opened the window and leaned out a little, he could see the smoke from the wagon trains camp fire's. Today was Monday, and he wouldn't be able to take Fin riding again until Thursday. Suddenly the whole unfairness of it all weighed down on his very broad fourteen-year-old shoulders.
That evening Buck had to sit through another lecture, this time from JD. Chris, he noticed, was mostly silent, after being sent to do the dishes - something he only did when it was his turn, and even then, not without much silent protest - he walked into the jail and hadn't returned they by the time Buck was heading up to bed. Night duty in the jail, sleeping in the cells. Buck had to admit, Vin could be creative, he wondered how many nights Chris was going to be spending, sleeping on a narrow, hard, smelly bed in a draughty cell, with only a scratchy blanket to keep him warm.
Buck lay down on his bed and stared at the moving shadows cast by the tree outside that played across the ceiling. He tried to imagine them as Fin, mostly he imagined the shifting patterns as her hair blowing in the wind. He wished he could see that hair for real, he decided that she had the most amazingly beautiful hair in the world. At least Chris, who's was responsible for his misery, wasn't going to be having any fun - day or night - for some time.
Tuesday was the slowest, most miserable day Buck could remember. It seemed to him to last forever. When he made it home from school, JD had lined up a list of chores from him as long as his arm. The night seemed to be even longer than the day. After school let out on Wednesday some of the boys asked him to come fishing with them, but he had to say no.
Lucas Shaw wasn't happy, he beloved daughter, his angel, was miserable and that made him unhappy. Martha and Fin had been in town on Monday to stock up on supplies, apparently they hadn't seen Buck, presumably he was in school, but she had returned very happy, and excited that Buck was going to take her riding later in the afternoon. The trouble was he didn't come. Nor did he come on Tuesday, and he was forced to listen to his child crying, when she realised it was dusk and he really wasn't going to come.
On the pretext of playing a courtesy call on the town's preacher, the Reverend Shaw rode into town, he may have forbidden his daughter to ride team horses bareback, but was happy to do it himself. Pulling up in front of the jail, he tied up and walked in.
"Hello?" JD looked up from his desk.
"I'm looking for the sheriff?" Shaw looked at JD incredulously.
Even after ten years, JD was still getting people looking at him as if he was a child. He stood up and extended his hand. "Well you found him. JD Dunne, how can I help you Reverend?"
After they shook, Shaw explained why he was there.
"I am sorry, I didn't know. Buck and his brother had an argument on Monday afternoon, it turned into a fight. His uncle," It seemed the easiest way to explain Vin's relationship to Buck. "punished them, he's not been permitted to go riding for the last two days."
"Well I approve of the discipline, it would have been a courtesy to have sent a message to my daughter."
**Yes it would, too late now.** "I am sorry, I didn't know there was any arrangement to meet, or I would have sent a message. Buck enjoyed meeting your daughter very much."
"He's a good boy."
"Serafina would like to go riding again," Lucas admitted.
"How about I send him over tomorrow, when his punishment is over?"
"I think that would be a good idea."
With that problem explained and sorted out, Shaw set out to find explore a little. It was mid afternoon and school was just letting out. Buck was easy to spot, he was a good head taller than any of the other boys. From a distance he observed the tall teen speaking with some other boys, shake his head then walk on. As he got closer to the town, Shaw watched with what amounted to horror as two women, who's style of dress made it quite clear where they worked and what they did, met Buck in the street. There was a brief conversation, one of the women put her hand on his cheek tenderly and then the three of them walked back to the saloon and disappeared inside via the back door. To say that the very respectable Reverend Lucas Shaw was shocked would have been the understatement of the century.
He turned away and strode over to the jail, intent on confronting JD about his son's behaviour. Unfortunately all he found was note pinned to the door.
SHERIFF AND DEPUTY CALLED AWAY. SEE EZRA STANDISH AT THE STANDISH TAVERN IF YOU NEED HELP.
JD DUNNE - SHERIFF
Since the Standish Tavern was where Buck was now and Ezra the name of the uncle he'd borrowed the horse from, he didnt see any point in pursuing the matter in town. It would be no bad thing if the boy did arrive tomorrow, he'd be able to give him a peace of his mind.
Fin couldn't believe what her father was saying. First he explained why Buck hadn't turned up on Monday. That was okay, she understood being punished by parents was something Buck couldn't help. Then he announced that she as never to see him again.
"But why?" she protested.
"That isn't your concern, your mother and I have discussed this and it's for the best."
"That's not fair, you could at least tell me why!"
Martha stepped up beside her husband. "Serafina Shaw you will not speak back to your father that way, this is for the best."
"Ma?" Fin pleaded.
"That is the end of it," her mother stated firmly. "I have spoken to the Carter's, you will be going to visit with them tomorrow afternoon, until then you will stay close to the wagon."
"That is enough!" her father commanded.
The Carter's wagon was as far from the Shaw's was it was possible to get. Fin took her book and politely asked Mrs Carter if she could sit under the tree, just a little way from their wagon. Mrs Carter agreed. The tree was on a slight rise, from under it, she could see not only the road to town but her own wagon. It was easy to spot Buck coming in, riding Beau and leading Chaucer. As she watched he approached her parents and made to dismount, her father held up his hand and Buck resettled in his saddle. Buck's posture went from happy, to angry, to dejected. Then he pulled Beau around and headed back through the wagons. That was when she made her decision. Abandoning Little Women, she sprinted over the top of the hill and down the far side. She'd reach the road well out of sight of the camp, she just hoped she could get there before Buck.
She made it, panting and gasping for breath, but she made it!
"Hello," she greeted breathlessly.
"Hello, you okay?" Buck asked worriedly.
"Fine, so we going riding or not?" She was already walking toward Chaucer.
"Your father said I'm not allowed to see you again."
"I know, but he wouldn't tell me why."
Buck shrugged. "He saw me go into the saloon yesterday."
Fin stood back and looked up at Buck. "You go into saloons?"
"Well sure, I work in the kitchen, it's a hotel as well you know, my uncle owns it and besides nothing happened, I was feeling down and Lynda and Beth just wanted to cheer me up, they gave me lemonade and cookies, that all!" Buck's voice had risen as he spoke, getting more and more defensive."
"I only asked." Fin held out her hand for Chaucer's rein.
"Wont you get into trouble?"
Fin mounted up. "Oh don't worry about me. Pa will give me some passages from the bible to learn by heart. We're leaving on Saturday, believe me, spending all day in a wagon there isn't much else to do. Besides he has favourite passages for disobedience and dutiful children, I've heard them so often I probably know them by heart by now anyway. What about your father? Will he punish you?"
Buck shrugged. "Not sure, but he never beats me, the worst he can do it stop me riding and make me do extra chores."
"So, shall we go?"
They had a fine time, since they were on the already disobeying Fin's father they didn't see any reason to be back in two hours. Buck took her up to the top of the nearest bluff where from which there was a wonderful view. They were sitting side by side on a flat top rock at the top.
"Fin?" Buck began.
"I think you're the prettiest girl I ever saw."
She blushed and looked at him sideways. "I think you're very handsome too."
Before Buck got up, he leaned over and kissed her gently on the cheek. She smiled, stroked the spot tenderly as a blush rose in her cheeks.
Finally she looked away. "The sun's getting low, we better get back."
The sun was almost down as they reached the track and headed toward the camp. What greeted them, around the first bend, was the Reverend Shaw and about a dozen other men from the camp, most had guns.
"Oh God," Fin breathed as they pulled up. "I'm sorry, I didn't think he'd go this far."
"It's okay, I knew the risks."
By now the men had all but reached them. Thinks might have got very ugly, if JD, Vin and Chris hadn't come along the same track on their way back from the James ranch, where the earlier dispute had escalated.
"What's going on?" JD demanded, seeing men with gun's confronting his son.
"You're degenerate son, kidnapped my daughter!" Shaw accused.
"I didn "
JD cut Buck off, he knew full well it wasn't true. "No he didn't, Buck tell me what happened."
Buck swallowed hard. "Mr, I mean, Reverend Shaw, said he saw me with Lynda and Beth, they gave me some lemonade and cookies yesterday, that's all," he added hastily. JD had somehow always known letting Buck associate and play with the saloon girls would backfire on them one day. "And he said I wasn't fit to court his daughter and I wasn't ever to see her again. So I was coming home, but Fin met me and I invited her to come riding anyway."
"You see!" Shaw spluttered. "The boy is a reprobate, and I'm gonna beat some of the fear of God into him! Fin says he's an orphan, probably bad seed and being raised in a jail! I mean a jail, what can you expect?"
"You take that back or I'm gonna make you!" Chris had had enough, his hand was already on the hilt of his gun.
"Chris," Vin warned.
"If Buck took your daughter riding against your wishes, I will punish him, no one beats my son," JD stated firmly.
"It wasn't Buck's fault," Fin admitted softly.
"Pardon?" Vin had heard her, even if the other's hadn't.
"It was my idea, I made Buck take me out."
"Serafina?" Shaw sounded amazed.
"Reckon this is a family matter, you other men best head home," Vin announced.
The men seemed to be more than happy to turn away.
"Child, you get off that horse and get over here," Shaw commanded.
"Will he hurt you?" Buck whispered.
"No, he's never done that, I'll be alright." She looked up. "It was worth it."
On the ride home Buck asked what his punishment was to be. JD was loathed to be too hard on him, he looked so miserable, never seeing the girl again seemed punishment enough.
"My saddle needs cleaning," he said eventually, knowing full well it didn't so it wasn't going to take Buck long to buff it up.
Come Saturday morning the wagon train rumbled through town, back on the road west. Buck stood defiantly beside JD on the sidewalk outside the jail as they passed. He avoided the scowls sent his way by the Reverend and his wife. But as the wagon past, the back flap was flipped up and Fin smiled at him. She lifted her bible, telling him her prediction about the punishment had been correct, then, just before she was out of sight, she blew him a kiss.
Vin watched the last wagon leave town, then crossed to the jail.
"How's Buck doin'?" he asked JD.
JD sat back, tilting his chair as he stretched his back. "Upstairs, shut in his room, won't come out."
"Damn, I remember my first love, thought the world had come to an end."
JD frowned at his friend. "So, go on tell me more," he prompted.
"Her name was Red Sky, she was seventeen an' the prettiest thing you ever saw."
"How old were you?"
"Fifteen, she led me on fer three months."
"She was just using me to make this warrior called Running Rabbit jealous. What about you?"
"Mary-Ann Kelly, she was the upstairs maid, I was sixteen, she was - well an adult I guess - she didn't even know I was alive. At least Chris seems to have missed out."
"Let's wait until he tries to ask Molly to the dance. He's got it bad for her, as far as I can see."
"Doesn't get any easier does it?"
"Reckon it's worth it?"