The Lost Boys II:
A New Beginning

by Angie

Second story in The Lost Boys series. It's kind of necessary to have read the first or this won't make a lot of sense.

"Captain Leonard, if I may have a word. My wife and I have a plan to keep the boys together and we'd like to discuss it with them if you don't mind," the stranger had said. The boys turned their collective gaze upon the couple and a glimmer of hope sparked in their eyes.

+ + + + + + +

Sister Constance looked at the couple and then back at the boys. She would have been hard pressed to say that she relished the difficulty she was going to have getting all seven of them from the dock to the orphanage, even though it was only a few blocks. The oldest were clearly strong enough to injure anyone who tried to force them to do something they didn't want to do. "Why don't we adjourn to the church to discuss it," she suggested.

"We aren't going anywhere with you, Sister. If this man has a plan, I'd like to hear it," Josiah said, still standing protectively between the crew and his friends.

Orin appraised the young man. He was tall and muscular, with long limbs and a determined look in his pale blue eyes. He was desperately trying to contain his fear. Only the tightly clenched fists gave him away. "What's your name, son?"

"Josiah Sanchez, sir."

"Josiah, my wife and I would like to propose an idea to you. I have recently been bequeathed a rather large ranch from my late father. My wife and I would be willing to take all of you, together, if you would be willing to help out with the work. The younger children can go school and help out after they finish their schoolwork. It might not be the best solution but it would allow you to remain together until you decide what you want to do with your lives."

"Where is this ranch?" Nathan asked, clearly suspicious of the generous offer.

"Four Corners is a few hours from Denver, Colorado."

"Why are you offering to take all of us?" Chris asked, his deep distrust of adults shining from his hazel eyes.

"Because you want to stay together. I think you know that it will be impossible to find a home to take all of you here in Atlanta," Evie said gently.

"So we'd be ranch hands?" Josiah asked.

"Yes, you will be expected to put in a full day's work everyday. In exchange, you will be fed and clothed and have a place to call home, together," Orin said, stressing the last word. Travis noticed that one of the boys seemed to be backing away, drawing in on himself. "What about you, son, what's your name?"

Seeing the man's eyes fixed on him, the boy shuddered, "Vin Tanner, sir."

"Well, Vin, what do you think of the offer?" He noticed that the older boys immediately took on defensive stances around the thin, frail looking child.

"If Nathan and I work, the others go to school and they don't have to do any of the hard stuff?" Josiah asked.

A mother's instinct sent warning signals into her heart and Evie fixed her eyes on the boy, "Are you hurting, Vin?"

"No, no, Ma'am. I'm fine. I can work," Vin defended.

Captain Leonard let their secret out, "Vin was injured on the island. My doctor thought that he might need an operation to correct a defect."

Horror filled the boy's faces as they closed ranks around Vin. With tears welling in his eyes, the boy offered the only solution he could, "You don't have to take me, sir. I can stay here with the Sister-"

"NO!" Ezra shouted. "We have to stay together! I can do extra! We all can! We can take care of Vin, he won't be any burden to you!"

Easing the boy's fear, Orin smiled, "Sounds to me like you've decided to accept my offer. What's your name, son?"

The dark haired, green-eyed boy suddenly looked scared. "Ezra, sir," he replied politely.

"Just Ezra?" Evie probed.

"He was traveling with his mother and she may have been among the group that survived the wreck," the Captain explained.

Understanding dawned and with it, confusion. Orin wondered why the boy was not eager about discovering if his mother was still alive. He would, of course, have to ascertain if the woman survived, but he would take the boy with him.

A tug on her skirt had Evie looking down at the smallest of the boys. "What is it, dear?"

"Are you gonna be my new momma?" JD asked hopefully.

Tears pricked at her eyes as she turned to look at her husband. Orin knew from that look that his wife was already hopelessly in love with the boy and he smiled. "Why don't we see how it goes? If you want to stay with us, then we'll look into adoption," he offered, not just to the smallest boy but to them all.

It took pulling several strings to get enough seats for all of them on the train going to Denver. It would be a very long ride, almost two weeks for them to get there. They had spent the night at the convent that ran the orphanage. The sisters found clothing for all of the boys and got them all bathed. There was some disagreement at bedtime when Sister Mary Elizabeth tried to get them into separate rooms. JD cried and Ezra argued, fiercely but politely. Vin clung to Chris and Buck, terrified of being away from them. Evie smoothed things over by telling them that they could all sleep in the same room and the boys immediately set about converting one of the rooms into a dorm for all of them. Mattresses were placed side by side on the floor after the bed frames were disassembled and moved out of the way. In no time, all seven of them were deeply asleep.

Evie opened the door a crack and looked in on the boys. She had to smile at the sight. Like a litter of puppies, they were piled up, more or less, in the middle of the mattresses. As she was watching, Vin murmured softly, shifting his body as though in pain. Chris reached out and began to rub Vin's back, without completely waking either of them. She could easily see that they were well used to caring for the frail looking boy with the long hair and pale eyes. Closing the door, she returned to the room across the hall where Orin was already in bed.

"Are they okay?" he asked when he felt his wife slip into bed beside him.

"Sleeping like babies," she told him with a smile.

"You know it isn't going to be easy for them," he said as he rolled over and propped his head up on one arm.

"But they need each other, Orin."

"The Standish boy may have family," he cautioned her.

"Then I'll just have to pray that she doesn't read the paper, won't I?"

The boys were visibly shaken at the train station. Of the seven, only Josiah, Ezra and Nathan had ever seen a steam engine. They clung to each other until Orin told them that it was time to board the train. A pair of carpetbags held their new clothing. Josiah carried the bags as Chris helped Nathan up the steps. Buck had a death grip on JD's arm as Ezra helped Vin. The adults followed the boys into the train car, showing them which seats were theirs. The boys crowded into the four seats that faced each other, almost daring the adults to tell them they couldn't. When the train started to move, there were several loud sounds as each car was forced to move. When the sound came at the near end of their car, Vin flinched and JD burst into tears.

"It's all right, boys. It's just the connector that ties us to the next car," Evie explained. As soon as the train was moving smoothly, both boys seemed to settle down. A couple of hours into the trip, Vin began to squirm. The hard, wooden seats were irritating his back. Chris tried rubbing it for him but it didn't help. Buck came up with a temporary solution when he pulled the carpetbags from under the seats and urged Vin to lie down on them.

By the third day, Vin was unable to keep from sobbing in pain. The constant motion of the train and the uncomfortable seats had wreaked havoc on his tender body. He lay on the floor, curled into a little ball of misery. Evie offered to hold him and he shook his head, telling her that he was 'fine.' The next morning, Orin got all of them off of the train and took Vin to a doctor. To his surprise, it wasn't Josiah who insisted on going with them, but Nathan.

In the doctor's office, Vin shrank back in fear as the older man questioned him. Nathan provided most of the answers. When it came time to take off his clothes to be examined, Vin began to cry. Orin tried to explain that the doctor would help him but the boy didn't believe it for an instant. It was Nathan who coaxed him into the exam room and removed his clothing, covering the painfully shy and frightened boy with a sheet. He insisted on staying while Vin was examined. The doctor wasn't prejudiced, but he was put off by the way the Negro boy stood so protectively over the skinny white boy.

After the exam, the doctor spoke to Orin privately. "From what I am able to tell, the boy may have improperly healed breaks in his pelvis. I can give you an analgesic for the pain but there isn't much I can do for him here. Warm, moist heat compresses might help," the doctor explained as he handed Orin a small box filled with white packets. "Dissolve one of these into water or tea and give it to him for the pain. It will probably make him sleep."

When they reached the hotel where they would stay the night, Nathan took Vin into the room they would be using. By the time Orin finished explaining what the doctor had said to Evie, Nathan had Vin on one of the beds with a damp towel across his lower back. When Evie arrived to check on Vin, she overheard him telling the others to keep an eye on Vin, that he was going to see if he could find something that would help. She didn't ask as Nathan left the room. Crossing to the bed, she gently rubbed Vin's boney back and carded her fingers through his long, slightly curly locks. Chris and Buck took turns changing the towels and she could see that it did seem to be helping.

Nathan knocked on the door of the small shack and waited patiently for it to open. When the rotund black woman opened the door, she smiled warmly at him. An hour later, he left the shack with a canning jar filled with a balm that he hoped would help Vin. She had also pressed several packets of herbs into his hand, explaining that they would also help with the pain the younger boy was experiencing. He had thanked the woman profusely, not having any money to pay her. He had offered her the gold chain he wore around his neck but she refused to take it.

After spending the night in the hotel, they boarded the train again the next morning. This one had an empty storage car directly behind the passenger cars. It had only a few bales of hay piled up in one corner. Josiah had walked from the passenger car to the caboose and back because he was bored and noticed the open space. An idea formed in his head and he hurried to speak to Nathan and the others.

Orin noticed that the boys were huddled together over something and he got up to see what was going on. They fell silent when he approached, looking up at him guiltily.

"What's the matter, boys?" he asked.

"We wondered-" Josiah began.

"Can we go and play in the next car?" JD asked excitedly.

"Play in the next car?" Orin asked.

"It was a storage car," Josiah explained. "The conductor said we could play in there if it was all right with you."

"Just let me verify that with the conductor and then it shouldn't be a problem."

Within the hour, the boys were ensconced in the empty train car and peals of laughter echoed from the enclosed space. They quickly adjusted to running and walking on the moving train. Nathan and Josiah broke apart several of the hay bales and spread a blanket over it, making a soft nest for them to rest in when they grew tired of playing. The conductor brought them an old ball that had been left behind by a passenger and they amused themselves with it for a couple of hours. They ate their lunch while sitting on the spread out hay, leaning against the walls. Evie tried to get Vin to take one of the packets of medicine for pain and he refused, telling her that he felt a lot better.

Nathan opened the trunk that sat in the corner of the car. Inside, he found several lengths of coarse netting that was used to hold boxes and crates in place in case they shifted. After a few minutes, he had two of them slung diagonally across the corners, much like the hammocks they were used to sleeping in. Vin's eyes lit up at the familiar sight and he was soon settled in one of the gently swaying nets. Curling into a comfortable ball, he was immediately asleep. The conductor peered in at the boys, shaking his head and smiling at their ingenuity in fashioning the hammocks. He didn't say anything because they hadn't blocked the path across the car.

That night, the boys begged to be allowed to sleep in the empty car. They argued that they were far more comfortable on the pallet of hay than they would be in the other car. Vin had slept for a while in the hammock and was moving and looking better than he had since they started the trip. When the friendly conductor told Travis that he didn't mind the boys using the space, he told them they could sleep there. The next few days were much happier for the boys, as they were able to run and play. After they pulled in to St. Louis, new crates took half of the space in the cargo car. The boys adjusted to the smaller space without complaint. In Kansas City, a few days later, they were forced to give up even more of the room, leaving them with little more than the area in the corner where the hay was spread. Nathan was able to fashion a hammock out of one of the damaged nets and slung it over the pallet. Vin was so much better that he didn't want the boy to have to go back to sleeping on the hard floor. With less room to move around in, the boys returned to the things they had done when they had stayed in the cave. Josiah and Nathan read to the boys from a book that Evie gave them and they practiced spelling.

Evie Travis was amazed as she watched the interaction between the boys. They were totally independent, able to care for each other with a minimum of interference from the adults. The older boys were very serious about educating the younger boys; even JD was included in the spelling tests. Josiah read to them from the newspapers that the conductor gave him, his bass voice rising and falling to keep the attention of the younger boys. They also practiced with numbers, multiplication and division for the older ones, addition and subtraction for the younger ones. One afternoon, she found all seven of the boys huddled around a piece of paper spread out in the middle of their sleeping pallet. When she got closer, she saw that it was a map, showing the various railroad lines. Apparently, the conductor had given them a cursory geography lesson and they were eagerly discussing the route the train would take in getting to the other side of the country.

They finally arrived in Denver. Orin secured rooms for them at a boarding house until he could arrange for a wagon large enough to transport all of them to the ranch. The boys stared, wide eyed at everything. They had to hold JD and Vin back when they saw the horses for the first time. Orin secured promises from each of them that they would not approach the equines without him there to make sure they were not injured. The boys begged and pleaded to be allowed to explore the town for a while before supper. Evie agreed to go along to supervise while her husband took care of business.

It was unlike anything the boys had ever seen. JD, not having much memory of his life before the island, was amazed at everything. His little, high pitched voice caused smiles as he commented with awe on the things he encountered. Ezra's behavior also changed upon getting off of the train. Several times, he adjusted his clothing, seemingly uncomfortable with the way it looked. Buck and Chris were simply amazed as they stared hungrily toward the mountains in the distance. Both boys had come from the highlands and they were clearly uncomfortable in the relatively flat town. Nathan was also nervous and uncomfortable. He saw very few dark skinned people along the streets. In more than one face, he saw open hatred and it made him keep his dark eyes down so as not to give offense. Vin and Josiah were quiet, simply content to look around. Vin's eyes scoured the sky for the birds he had seen from the train windows. Josiah was mainly concerned with keeping the boys together and not upsetting or offending Mrs. Travis.

"Evie!" A deep voice called out, causing the woman to stop suddenly. A man was jogging across the street and he wrapped his arm around her, giving her a hug. "Evie, you're back! Is my father around? I have so much to tell him. Who's this?" he asked, noticing the troupe of boys standing quite close.

"Steven, this is Josiah, and Nathan, and Chris, and Buck, and Ezra, and Vin, and the littlest one is JD. Boys, this is my stepson, Steven. He is Orin's son from his first marriage," she patiently explained. The boys nodded a greeting to the man, watching him warily. "Your father said he had some business to attend to here in town. We have rooms at the boarding house."

"Rooms? For the two of you?"

"No, for us and the boys. Steven, perhaps you should allow your father to explain it to you," she hedged, trying to get out of having to tell her stepson that his father might be adopting some or all of the boys standing behind her.

"Will you be able to join me at the restaurant for supper?" Steven asked.

"Of course, around six?"

"Six is good. Will it be just you and father?"

"Yes, I will arrange for the boys to have supper earlier so they can get cleaned up before going to bed. I'll see you later, Steven," Evie said, turning to continue the way they had been walking.

Josiah was quickest to pick up on the ramifications of Orin adopting some or all of them. He said that he had just inherited a large parcel of property from his father and Steven was the next in line to inherit when Orin died. If he adopted more children, there would be less for his son to inherit when it came time. Exchanging a glance with Nathan, he saw that the other boy had worked it out too. Both of them had already begun making plans to get jobs so they could earn enough to support the seven of them if they had to in the future.

The boarding house had a fine kitchen and the boys dined in grand style on fried chicken and baskets of cornbread muffins. JD was a sight, with a drumstick in each hand, he had grease smeared almost to his little ears. The other boys were more controlled in their dining. Ezra had spread his napkin in his lap and kept one hand on it at all times. The waitress cooed over him and his excellent manners. After supper, the boys gathered in their room for baths. The small, claw foot tub was well used, with each boy taking a quick bath except Vin, who Nathan encouraged to soak in water as hot as he could stand it. Unbeknownst to the Travis's, Nathan had been treating the boy with the herbal balm he got from the Negro healer when they got off of the train that day.

Orin looked in on the boys before leaving for the restaurant. He was thrilled to see his son but apprehensive about telling him what he and Evie had planned for the boys. Steven's mother had died when the boy was just a baby and he hadn't married Evie until his son was almost a teenager. Orin's sister, Alma, had raised Steven. He had gone to college back east and was now working for the newspaper office in Denver. Orin hoped that his son would not be upset by his plan to take on the boys.

When they entered the restaurant, Orin immediately spotted his son sitting at a table near the wall. At his side was a beautiful blonde woman who looked nervously at him when he reached the table.

"Orin and Evie Travis, this is Mary Weber, my fiancé. Honey, this is my dad and his wife," Steven said. There were several awkward seconds before Evie broke the silence by stepping past her stepson and giving the young woman a hug.

"Welcome to the family, Mary! It will be nice to have another woman to talk to sometimes."

Midway through the meal, Steven asked about the boys he had seen earlier in the day. Orin wiped his mouth on his napkin and addressed the situation in a very practical, straightforward manner. "Evie and I met the boys on the ship back from Ireland. They were shipwrecked on an island together for three years. The boys want to remain together and that would have been impossible in Atlanta so we offered to bring them out here to stay with us."

"They're going to help you with the ranch?"

"Yes, the older boys will help with the ranch, the younger ones still need schooling."

"And this is until you can find them a home out here?" Steven asked.

"No, Evie and I are considering adopting them."

Steven nearly choked on his wine. He fixed his father with a disbelieving stare. "Have you taken leave of your senses? Adopting seven boys that you know nothing about? One of them is black. What are people going to think?"

"Son, you should know by now that I have little concern for what narrow minded gossip mongers have to say about me. I haven't said that we are adopting all seven of them, right now I am mainly considering the younger three boys but one of them may have family alive somewhere. The older boys have agreed to working the ranch. Now, I would hope that you will behave yourself like the gentleman that Alma raised you to be, if not, then I'm afraid that we are going to have a problem."

Recognizing the cautioning tone in his father's voice, and yielding to Mary's hand on his arm, Steven nodded. "I'm just concerned for you taking them in, knowing nothing about them. Were they all orphaned in the shipwreck?"

"No, the younger children were on their way to America to get new families. Ezra was traveling with his mother and we don't know if she survived or not. The older boys may or may not have family alive but they're old enough to be on their own so I'm not too worried about their family coming back to claim them."

"Three years on a deserted island, how awful! How did they survive it?" Mary asked.

Orin spent the next hour telling his future daughter in law all that he remembered from talking to the boys. Mary asked if she might interview them at some point and write a story about them, she felt that people might be interested. Orin agreed that it would be all right but asked her to wait a few weeks for the boys to get settled. After having pie and coffee for dessert, they left the restaurant and returned to the boarding house. Evie stopped to look in on the boys before retiring to her room.

The boys were thrilled with the Conestoga wagon that Orin brought around to take them to the ranch. The back of the wagon was partially filled with boxes and crates filled with food and supplies for them to use at the ranch. Orin rode his horse alongside of the wagon team while Evie drove the wagon. Evie's horse was tethered to the back of the wagon, for a while. JD begged and pleaded to be allowed to ride with Orin and he agreed. Seeing the longing looks Vin was giving them, Orin knew he would have to take turns with them. The problem was eased slightly when Josiah announced that he knew how to drive a team and Evie offered to ride with Vin. It took them the better part of a day to make the trip from Denver to the ranch.

Orin smiled at his wife. Vin was sound asleep in the saddle in front of her, his head bobbing gently with every step of the horse. JD had finally wound down and was very nearly asleep in his arms. Josiah and Nathan had both taken a turn at driving the wagon. Chris, Buck and Ezra had taken turns sitting in the bench with which ever of the older boys was driving. When the house came into sight, all of the boys studied it from a different perspective. Josiah and Nathan studied the two-story frame house, looking beyond it to the small bunkhouse that sat off at a distance. Chris and Buck were looking at the rolling green hills. JD awoke and began talking about the cows he saw and asking if they could have a dog and would he have his own room and Orin just laughed as the child rattled off questions faster than he could answer them. Vin was relieved to see the open spaces. The two weeks of being enclosed in smaller and smaller spaces had troubled him. When combined with the fear and uncertainty about his back, it was almost too much for him. Ezra stared at the farmhouse with dread. He remembered only too well the last time his mother had left him with relatives who inhabited a house like the one he was seeing.

They unloaded the supplies from the wagon and carried them into the house. The two oldest went with Orin to unhitch the horses while the younger boys stayed in the house to help put things away. In the barn, Josiah and Nathan quickly and efficiently stripped off the harness and hung it on the pegs inside of the tack room. They each took one of the horses into the stalls Orin indicated and began to brush them down. Orin watched, to make sure that they knew what they were doing, before going to get flakes of hay and grain for the horses. Inside the house, Evie directed the boys as they poured the new cornmeal into a barrel and put the other staples in the large walk-in pantry. JD still chattered constantly, about everything and anything that popped into his head, relieving the other boys of having to talk to the woman. When Orin and the other boys returned from the barn, they took a tour of the house.

The boys were pleased with the living arrangements. The second floor had two moderately sized bedrooms in the front and a large dormitory-style room in back. There was plenty of room for the boys to have bunk beds without the room being crowded. For now, it held two double beds with faded quilts lying neatly across the feather mattresses.

"This will be the younger boys room, Josiah, you and Nathan can share the other bedroom," Evie explained. Suddenly, five pairs of eyes turned frightened and the boys closed ranks.

"If it's all the same to you, Ma'am, we can throw down in here with the others," Josiah offered.

Understanding that the boys needed the familiarity and comfort of being together, Evie smiled and nodded. "That's fine. When you're ready for more room, you can use that one. Why don't you put away your things while I go and start supper?"

It didn't take long to put away their meager belongings and the boys went back downstairs. They stood, waiting for direction from the adults. Orin noticed and began laying out a list of chores for them. He showed them where the wood was and where the woodbox was to put it in so that Evie didn't have to go out and carry it. He showed them where he poured the ashes from the fireplaces and stove. While they were walking around the outside of the house, he pointed out the garden. Immediately, Vin and Buck brightened, gardening was something that Nathan had taught them on the island and it meant that they got different things to eat. Orin showed them the henhouse and explained that they would be responsible for cleaning it and gathering the eggs everyday.

"I love eggs!" JD enthusiastically added.

Orin smiled at the youngest before going on. He led them to the barn and showed them where the hay was stacked and the grain kept. Chris, Buck and JD made a beeline for the horses in the stalls and Orin cautioned them again about not approaching the large draft animals unless he was there to be sure they didn't do anything to get hurt. They cast longing looks at the horses from a safe distance.

"In a few months, I will be bringing the horses down from the pasture to begin breaking them. I'll need a lot of help from all of you when that happens. I also have cattle. Have any of you ever milked a cow?" Seeing Josiah and Nathan nod, he continued, "I will have a couple of milk cows brought down as soon as the calves are old enough to be weaned and you will have to milk them everyday. Evie can show you how to make butter and skin cream. There's an awful lot of work involved in running a ranch of this size."

Evie rang the dinner bell and they hurried back to the house. She immediately sent them back out to the pump to wash up. When they returned, the boys stared at the table, frozen with uncertainty.

"Go ahead boys, take a seat," Orin urged.

They were understandably nervous as they took their seats. Only JD was too young to have any solid memories of the orphanage and the meals they served. Evie and Orin offered them each bowl of food and allowed them to dip out as much as they wanted. Both of the adults noticed that the boys were very careful not to take too much of anything, with the exception of JD. The youngest boy enthusiastically dug into the green beans and potatoes, while passing on the gravy. He unabashedly pressed the warm bread to his nose and inhaled its rich aroma before stuffing half of it into his mouth. Orin ate slowly, occasionally adding a few more beans to his plate and passing the bowl around again, hoping to encourage the boys to eat as much as they wanted. When Evie brought out the warm apple crumb pie, Ezra's eyes widened and he visibly trembled in eager anticipation. It was a new thing for the other young boys and they only picked at it when it was placed on their plates but Ezra dug right in, his very proper manners suddenly left by the wayside. As soon as the meal was finished, Chris got up and began to collect the dishes. Nathan and Josiah went to set up the dishwater. Before long, all of the dishes were cleaned, dried and put away. Evie directed them as to where things went but never had to put her hands in the soapy water, as there were already three pairs of hands working there. JD stood on a stool between the washbasin and the rinse basin, carefully transferring the dishes as they were handed to him. Ezra was drying and putting the dishes on the counter for one of the taller boys to put away. Orin slipped an arm around his wife and smiled. He was relieved at the way the boys eagerly pitched in to do the dishes without having to be told.

In the hours of daylight left after supper, the boys played outside. They had been allowed to keep the ball that the conductor gave them and they tossed it around for a while. There was a lot of chasing and tickling and a long game of hide and seek. Finally, Orin called to the boys that it was time for bed. Josiah picked JD up and tossed him over his shoulder while Ezra and Chris helped Vin. All of the rough play had made his back hurt again.

It was the middle of the night when Evie heard them. The boys were doing something in their room, trying to be quiet about it. As she stood outside of their room, she could hear the soft whimpers of a child in pain. Taking a deep breath, she knocked lightly on the door and opened it. The room went silent as she groped for the wooden matchstick to light the lantern. As soon as she lowered the mantle, she turned to see six pairs of frightened eyes and one filled with tears.

"Boys, is there something I can help you with?" she asked softly. She could see that Josiah was holding Vin and rubbing his lower back even as he tried to hide the motion.

"We got it, Ma'am. His back's bothering him some. We played too hard this evening," Nathan explained. "I'm sorry we woke you."

Crossing the room to kneel on the edge of the mattresses on the floor, she caught each of their eyes for a moment. "If we're going to be a family, you've got to let me help too. Do you need some hot water for a compress?" She watched the boys exchange glances before Nathan nodded.

"Yes, Ma'am, that'd be helpful," he said.

"Why don't you bring him downstairs and the rest of you can try to go back to sleep?"

Nathan looked long and hard at each of the boys before picking Vin up. Josiah turned a pointed look on each of the others and they began to lie down, pulling the covers up over their shoulders. Once they reached the main floor, Nathan took over. He settled Vin on one of the straight backed chairs and moved to fill the teapot with water. He stirred the coals in the stove and put a few larger pieces of tinder on them, adjusting the damper to allow the breeze to blow through and bring flames. When the water began to bubble, he poured some of it into a cup and put something in it. Evie watched but didn't question. When Nathan gave the cup to Vin, he explained.

"It's an herbal tea, for the pain."

Seeing the way Vin blanched, she asked, "Would a drop of molasses make it taste better?"

After Vin finished the tea, Nathan took a towel and poured some of the hot water on it, checking it against the inside of his wrist to be sure it wouldn't blister. He had Vin lean forward and rest his arms on the table as he pulled up the nightshirt and laid the towel across his lower back. Vin tensed for a moment and then sighed as the heat penetrated. Evie got up and poured a glass of the tea they'd had with supper for each of them. She put the glass down and Nathan smiled in gratitude. After changing the towel a few times, they saw that Vin was deeply asleep. Nathan gathered the boy up and carried him back to bed.