Disclaimer: The boys are the property of MGM, Mirisch, and Trilogy Entertainment. I do not own them or make money from them.
Characters: Old West. Vin Tanner and Beatrice 'Honey' Tanner.
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She watched him collect the honeycombs with careful concentration. She had to smile as his pink tongue poked out of the side of his mouth. Every mother thought their child was the most beautiful of God's creations but she knew without a doubt hers was. Reaching out she stroked his long blond hair, it was too soft and shiny to cut short. He looked up at her, blinking his deep blue eyes in the sunlight and smiling happily as the bees buzzed all around them.
"Look Mama! All what I's got!"
"Yer such a good boy, Vin. A real help ta yer Ma. Come along my little man, let's see if Flossie the hen has laid ya a brown egg fer breakfast."
Vin was delighted to find Flossie had produced the hoped for brown egg. How did Mama know the egg would be a brown one? Yesterday Mama had known Gertie would lay him two smooth white eggs for his breakfast, surely no other boy was lucky enough to have such a clever Mama? One that made every day an adventure?
"Wash yer hands honey bee, afore ya come inside fer yer breakfast."
Vin washed his hands and wiped them on his bright red woolen shirt before hitching up his cut down dungarees that he wasn't growing into as fast as he would have liked. He ran into the neat cabin and showed Honey Tanner his 'clean hands' only a little less grubby than before. Honey smiled, he was a proper boy attracting dirt to him like a magnet attracted iron filings.
Vin wriggled his bare toes waiting for his brown egg. Mama was singing while she cooked and she made Vin laugh by singing the song's chorus in a deep voice. Suddenly Honey coughed and struggled to clear her throat. She must be getting one of those pesky summer colds she thought. Dang it, she didn't want anything to spoil Vin's fifth birthday.
She was looking forward to giving him his first store bought birthday present. She had already wrapped the shiny harmonica in a scrap of brown paper and blue ribbon, hiding it in the old wooden blanket box at the end of their bed. It would give her as much joy to see his delighted face as he would feel at receiving it.
He was always such an undemanding child. Never asking for things he instinctively knew she couldn't afford on their rare trips into town. If Mr. Blake was busy with other customers in the mercantile sometimes kindhearted Mrs. Blake risked Mr. Blake's stern disapproval and slipped Vin a hard candy. Honey's heart always swelled with pride when Vin minded his manners saying softly 'Thank ya very much, ma'am' while touching his hat.
He never seemed to mind that his clothes were all hand-me-downs. Except he had cried when she had cut down her only coat into a short jacket and painstakingly made him a little coat from the thick leftover material because he was sure she would be cold come winter. He had been as happy as a prince with the red woolen mittens she had knitted him before tying them together and threading them through his coat-sleeves so he wouldn't lose them.
Pushing her long wavy hair behind her ears Honey coughed again as she watched him tuck into his breakfast. She felt a little feverish as she prepared the honeycombs they had collected. She had so much to do before she washed and aired her best periwinkle blue dress ready for Vin's birthday. It was an important birthday in her little man's life and soon she would have to tell him things he was old enough to know even if he wouldn't fully understand.
Vin Tanner had collected his first bounty for killing a man and he knew his Mama would have disapproved. It had been surprisingly easy, the actual killing. No harder than killing a buffalo. A moving target, a single well placed shot. The only real physical work had involved tying the dead man over his own saddle. It was a reasonable sum of money for a few days tracking and he already knew what he was going to use it for. He turned his horse back towards Texas.
The town looked so much smaller than he remembered it. In fact Blake's General Mercantile seemed unbelievably tiny as he crossed the street from the livery to the undertakers. He hadn't expected to be asked to choose what kind of stone he wanted. He thought tombstones were all made from the same kind of stone. He listened carefully to what the stonemason had to say about each stone then he chose the very best.
"How do you want me to spell Honey?" asked the stonemason determining it would be unwise to make a mistake on the stone the handsome young man with the look of a manhunter in his eyes was ordering.
"Spell it?" Vin Tanner had no idea how to spell it, he couldn't even spell Tanner. "As in honey bee," he offered hopefully. He was thankful that Tanner was such a well known name in this part of Texas.
"Anything else? A date? A biblical quotation perhaps?"
Vin Tanner didn't know any dates or quotations. He chewed his bottom lip thoughtfully. She deserved something from him, "Put, 'You taught me to search for a hero's heart.' on it."
The stonemason wrote it down on a crumpled scrap of paper and handed it to Vin, "Is that correct?"
"Surely is," said Vin and quickly handed the paper back.
The next day the mason helped him heave the stone onto the back of the hired wagon and Tanner drove out to the cabin he had once called home. He was shocked at how small it was. He was sure this at least he would have remembered every detail of correctly. He pushed open the rough hewn door. It had proved heavy enough to keep most of the wild animals out but not all. It smelt like a long neglected barnyard.
Thick with cobwebs and inches of filth it was empty of the few sticks of furniture she had owned. He wondered who had taken them. Discolored rags hung at the window, he recognized her neat stitching and recalled the bright blue and white squares they had once boasted. He moved over to the fireplace and pried up the rough floorboard. Reaching down his long fingers sought the bottle he hoped would still be there. The seal was still intact and its contents visible through the dirty glass. Replacing the floorboard he dropped the bottle into his pocket.
Glancing over to the lighter patch on the wooden planks where the deal dresser had always stood. Remembering the small cupboard that locked with a key she had hidden him inside. Reliving the sound of his Pa's heavy tread, the sound of his clenched fist against her flesh and bone. The bellowing, the screaming, the harsh demands. The noises of things being done to a woman that a child should never hear.
Safe in his prison he had stayed silent just as she had begged him to do. Telling him it would be over all the sooner if he stayed quiet. So he had melted into the darkness of another world so his pa would forget he was there, forget that the child existed.
Vin walked over to the spot where the bed had stood. He heard her gasping for breath, digging her fingers into his arm as her own throat closed up on her. Her eyes bright with the fever, mouth working to desperately try and tell him something important, fighting to the end. Finally, the last silent scream as she died right in front of him.
He was glad to step back out into the sunlight. He looked at the small patch of land. He had no idea where she was buried or if they had even bothered to dig a grave. He walked around and studied the ground but could detect no sign of a burial. At least that meant he was free to choose a place. He heard a familiar noise and he walked towards it.
He looked up, in the branches of the tree the returning bees were swarming. He listened carefully. This was the very place - there was no other to be considered and the bees had known it. He threw his hide coat into the wagon, seized the spade and rolling up his sleeves he set to work as the bees watched.
Soon the stone was set securely in place and the borrowed tools back in the wagon. There was no well on the Tanner property and the rain barrels had rotted away long ago. He smiled at that as he walked down to the riverbank to wash. Pa had tried to dig a well many times but all he found was salt water and black bubbling poison. Still smiling, he lay down on his belly and dangled an arm into the water as she had shown him. The water was deep and still by the bank. Within seconds something had lightly touched his fingers. Delicately he tickled the fish before tossing it up onto the bank for later.
Pulling the earth-stained shirt off over his head, he sat down and tugged off his boots before standing again to drop his fringed buckskin pants. Wading buck naked into the water he thought maybe Mama would want him to buy some underwear with his next bounty. It was only the second occasion he had ever entered this stretch of river and he well remembered the first time...
Vin's mama was never too strict with him but she did expect him to obey her when she expressly told him not to do something. Only yesterday she had reminded him, once again, that he must not ever play by the river by himself or there would be big trouble. Vin tried to be good and mind his ma but he was only four years old and the river had a siren call for him. Besides, the Bean boys had rigged up a rope swing that swung from the branch of a tree right out across the water!
He was bored with stalking the chickens his mama kept, he was bored with playing at building army forts in the mud with an old wooden spoon, Vin was just plain bored! Mama was wearing a long white apron, her lovely face covered in flour, as Wednesday was baking day in the Tanner household as surely as Monday was washing day and Friday the day they had fish for supper. She would be busy all day long. Far too busy to watch Vin with those eagle eyes of hers.
Vin slipped away, running barefoot towards the river. He would have a look at the swing that's all, he promised. He wouldn't actually be playing by the river just looking at the swing. That would not be disobeying his mama, he decided with a child's logic. The Bean boys had found a good length of thick rope and it was secured with a fancy knot to a tree branch. There was a big bulky knot tied at the bottom of the rope too, that Vin could stand on while he took just an itty bitty swing out over the water.
This was the most fun he had ever remembered having. Swinging right out over the deepest part of the river. The part that ran so still and so deep it appeared black. The Bean boys had found a good piece of rope all right and they tied good knots. However, their choice of tree branch left much to be desired. They had successfully selected the only rotten branch on the entire tree. There came a loud crack and the swing lurched sickeningly from side to side as the branch gave way.
Vin's scream was high pitched and full of fear as he plunged into the ice cold water. The sudden shock sucked the breath out of him and he disappeared under the water, his short arms flailing. His limbs felt heavy and the red woolen shirt he wore was weighing him down as sponge-like it soaked up the water. He struggled to the surface only to be dragged back down again. The green water closed over his head for the third time. He had no more strength left in his small body. His last thought was how angry Mama would be at him fer goin' an' gittin' drownded.
He was seized by the little crossed straps of his cut down dungarees and hoisted high in the air. He spluttered and fought for breath as he was thrown down on the muddy riverbank. Roughly, murky river water was pumped from his scrawny chest. He rolled over and squinted up at his saviour. Standing over him was a figure dressed in a long black coat reaching down to shining silver spurs and wearing an ugly black hat.
Soft arms swept him up off the ground. A tigress defending her cub his mama held him to her and shrieked at the stranger. Vin was so proud of his mama as she bravely faced the stranger down.
"Leave my boy alone!"
"Take better care of him. Keep him away from the river," hissed the stranger, "or I'll take him..."
Vin had remained frightened of the river until facing his fear he had taught himself to swim. Kicking across to the other riverbank with his strong legs Vin dispelled the last vestiges of the dread he'd felt by submerging himself deep into the black depths before swimming back across to the pile of discarded clothing. Throwing himself down onto the grass he lazily scratched the old, almost invisible, scar that crossed his belly. Outstretched, hands behind his head, he let the sun dry his wet, lean, tanned body. Squinting up at a sky as cerulean as his own eyes he was a young man without a care in the world. Scared of nothing or no one any longer. Certain his skill with a long gun ensured he could make a good living bounty hunting for as long as he himself cared to do so.
Raking his fingers through his long, still damp hair he grabbed the boots and clothes up off the ground then strolled back to the wagon. Tugging on the buckskin pants and boots before reaching inside the wagon for the waiting parcel. He cut the string carefully with his long hunting knife and replacing his knife, wound the string up then put it in his pant pocket. The bounty hunter carefully folded back the stiff brown paper. It was folded up and shaking it he slowly drew on the new, soft, red woolen shirt he had purchased for this important ceremony.
He sat crossed legged by the tombstone. He put his hands together and uttered a barely remembered prayer. It didn't seem enough. So he recalled an Indian song and sounded the right note on on his treasured harmonica before singing it to her. Resting his hand on the earth he told her how he had traveled far. Seen the sea, followed the buffalo with white men, before living with Comanche and Kiowa.
He explained to her all that The People had taught him about being a human being. The things he had learned about life that were never written down in any book. He told her his Indian name and how in spite of it all he had never once forgotten he was a Tanner.
Flowers. He knew now he should have brought her flowers. Many times he had brought her a sweaty fistful of wilting wild flowers and she had delightedly accepted them as if they were exotic hothouse blooms. So he would stay in town another night and return tomorrow with flowers. He hung the dream catcher above her and stayed until it was only just light enough to travel back to town.
He was leaving for another town, yet another bounty and the flowers tied with a periwinkle blue ribbon lay on the grave. He traced the letters of her name carved into the stone for all time. He swore he would return and make her proud of him, one Texas day.