J.D. paced the floor nervously. The silence was deafening as the mantle clock slowly counted off the minutes. Sighing audibly, J.D. stopped and looked at the photographs lining the mantle. He glanced briefly around the room as he resumed pacing, taking note of the cool emptiness, despite the furnishings.
Come on Vin...hurry up... I don't like this place...
Stopping again in front of the mantle, he peered closely at one of the photographs. Reaching out, he picked it up.
J.D. jumped and nearly dropped the photograph. He hadn't heard Mrs. Spencer enter the room.
"I..I'm sorry, ma'am," J.D. stammered as he put the frame down and backed away from the mantle. "I wasn't meaning to snoop, just getting a closer look."
"Oh, you needn't worry...she's my little angel..." Mrs. Spencer smiled as she sat down and smoothed her skirts.
"Boy, that doll she's holdin' is almost as big as her," J.D. said while still looking at the photograph.
"Yes, my husband gave that to her. He had it made to her likeness."
Sitting down, J.D. accepted the tea cup that was held up to him. He smiled while gently blowing to cool the tea. Come on, Vin...
"Her name's Amanda," Mrs. Spencer repeated.
J.D. gave a small smile and nervously drummed his fingers on his knees. He cleared his throat as he once again looked longingly at the door leading to the kitchen.
"I'd bring her down and introduce her, but what with the two of you being ill...I'm sure you understand..."
J.D. nodded in agreement. Remembering the sweets in his pocket, he smiled. Pulling them out, he smiled as he stood up and passed the small bag to Mrs. Spencer.
"Mrs. Potter sent these for your...for Amanda...she sent some dresses too, they're out in the wagon."
Sitting down again, J.D.'s eye caught the large portrait over the mantle. His mouth was still hanging open as a barefooted Vin entered the room, pulling his suspenders up over his shoulders.
Whistling softly, he looked at Vin and then back again at the portrait.
"Is that your son?"
Standing up, Mrs. Spencer crossed the room and placed her hand lightly on the corner of the frame. She smiled as she looked up at the portrait of herself, her husband, and her son.
"Yes, that's Robbie...oh, my..." She placed her hand over her mouth. Staring at Vin, she looked at him as if for the first time. "Oh, please forgive me...I didn't mean to stare, it's just..." She stopped with a sigh and looked up at the portrait again before resuming. "You...you resemble my son so much...I hadn't noticed."
An awkward silence settled on the room as J.D. stood wide-eyed, his eyes darting from Vin to Mrs. Spencer.
Vin nodded as he looked at J.D. pleadingly. Come on kid, say something so she'll quit starin' at me... Feeling a tickle in his throat, Vin tried unsuccessfully to hold back the cough he felt coming. He covered his mouth with one hand as he placed the other over the burning sensation in his left side. After a few long moments, the cough subsided. Swaying slightly, he closed his eyes, wheezing as he tried to catch his breath. Lowering his head, he put his hands up and quickly wiped away the tears that had formed in the corners of his eyes.
"Oh, my, where are my manners? Let me get you a cup for you to have some tea..."
Smiling at Vin, she touched his shoulder briefly as she swept from the room.
"Aw hell J.D.," Vin hoarsely drawled as he sat down. "I don't wanna have no tea party."
Leaning down, Vin scowled as he started to put on his socks and boots. "Quit starin' at me..."
J.D. grinned as he looked away quickly.
"Hey Vin, did ya notice there's a lot of years between Robbie and Amanda?"
Vin chuckled softly as he shook his head.
"Gettin' a mite friendly there, ain't ya? 'sides, what Mr. and Mrs. Spencer do in their own bedroom every fifteen years or so ain't none of our business..."
J.D. cleared his throat nervously as he nudged Vin slightly in the ribs to alert him that Mrs. Spencer had returned. With a pang of guilt, J.D. winced as the action caused Vin to start coughing again. Mrs. Spencer stood in front of Vin, waiting for the cough to subside. When he recovered, she held a cup of tea out to him.
"No thank you, ma'am, don't like tea," Vin gasped.
Refusing to allow him to decline the offer, she stood firmly in front of him, frowning.
With a sigh, Vin accepted the cup and took a small sip.
"Nonsense...my son drinks it when he's ill also...drink it all down...it will make you feel better."
Too tired to argue, and just wanting to get back to town, Vin tipped his head back and drained the cup. Gagging slightly, he scowled at Mrs. Spencer as he wiped his mouth.
"Ugh...tastes like hor..."
J.D. coughed nervously and grabbed Vin's arm and interrupted him before he could continue.
"Ma'am? Since Vin's feelin' poorly, do you think your son could help me unload the wagon? Maybe Vin could just sit on the porch and rest a spell?"
"J.D..." Vin glared at the younger man. "Don't need no fussin," he added softly.
Mrs. Spencer bent down and started to pick up the used cups without answering. J.D. waited patiently as she started to leave the room. Stopping, she turned around. Tipping her head to the side, she looked again at the portrait and smiled.
"No, I'm sorry, he can't...he's not here."
Turning abruptly, she left the room as J.D. and Vin stood, staring.
J.D. kept a close watch on Vin as they unloaded the wagon. Vin leaned against the wagon wearily and closed his eyes. Taking a deep breath, he opened his eyes and pushed away from the wagon. Blinking rapidly, he shook his head as he felt his world begin to spin. Reaching out, he grabbed the wagon again to steady himself.
J.D. jumped down from the wagon and quickly went to Vin's side. Placing a hand to Vin's back and the other to his elbow, he slowly eased him to the ground.
"Vin, you dizzy?"
Vin closed his eyes and swallowed deeply as he slowly nodded.
"J.D.....I think I'm gonna..."
Vin stood quickly and stumbled away from J.D. Falling to his knees, he clutched his stomach as he retched. He groaned as painful spasms wracked his stomach until he had lost what little water and the vile tea he had consumed.
J.D. knelt beside his miserable friend and hesitantly put a hand on the back of Vin's head.
Geez, Vin, you're really sick...I gotta get ya back to Nathan...
Vin hung his head and sighed tiredly.
"'m okay, J.D."
J.D. nodded while glancing at the few remaining things in the wagon. Mrs. Spencer walked up to the two young men, and placed her hands on her hips.
"Well, I guess the cold powder didn't agree with you."
Vin looked up, a mixture of disbelief and fury evident in his eyes.
J.D. stood up quickly, and with clenched fists, faced Mrs. Spencer.
"What? You? Did you...did you put something in that tea?"
Mrs. Spencer smiled while nodding.
"Well, it was plain to see he is ill. No one was doing anything to help him..."
J.D. was shocked and furious.
"You...you...you can't just go givin' him medicine without asking!"
J.D. looked down at Vin, who was struggling to catch his breath. Mrs. Spencer clasped her hands together and started twisting her handkerchief.
"You made him sicker!"
"I...I'm sorry...I was only trying to help," she answered with a catch in her voice.
J.D. looked down when he felt Vin's hand on his leg.
"J.D....it's okay," he quietly pleaded.
Extending his hand, J.D. pulled Vin to his feet. Swaying slightly, Vin waved J.D. away as he slowly started to walk towards his horse.
"Mrs. Spencer," J.D. cleared his throat as he worriedly watched Vin, "I'm sorry for yelling, didn't mean to upset you. I know you were only trying to help. But I think it's best if we head back to town."
Eyes brimming, Mrs. Spencer smiled sadly and nodded in agreement.
"No you don't, Vin."
J.D. sprinted over and snatched the horse's reins away from Vin.
"Get in the wagon."
Vin stood defiantly and glared at J.D.
"I mean it...now."
Vin sighed in defeat, and with slumped shoulders, slowly climbed up on to the wagon. J.D. quickly unloaded the remaining items and thanked Mrs. Spencer for her hospitality. Climbing up, he sat beside Vin. Suddenly, Vin sat up straighter and began looking around.
"You cold, Vin?"
"Uh...yeah...but telegram...almost forgot..."
J.D. jumped down and retrieved Vin's coat from his horse. After putting his coat on, Vin reached into his pocket. Pulling out a telegram, he handed it down to Mrs. Spencer. As she read the telegram, she frowned.
"Troubling news, ma'am?" J.D. questioned.
"Oh, no...not at all," she smiled as she folded it. "It's my husband. He's finally joining us."
"Well, that's good to hear, sure you and your little girl have missed him."
J.D. smiled as he climbed back up on the wagon. He coughed several times and sighed. The morning had tired him out. Picking up the reins, he glanced at Vin, huddled in his coat.
As Mrs. Spencer stood smiling, she stopped and cocked her head as if she heard something.
"It's Amanda," she smiled again.
J.D. and Vin exchanged glances. Vin's brow furrowed as he shrugged his shoulders.
"Mothers got good hearing," J.D. whispered as he leaned toward Vin.
"If you gentlemen will excuse me... I must see to her... if you'd like, I can bring her to the window...It's been a pleasure meeting you."
Turning quickly, and without waiting for a response, she went inside.
+ + + + + + +
"Oh darling, you're awake. Come here, my love...let Momma pick you up."
Walking to the window, she peered through the lace curtain at the two young men below. Smiling, she sighed as she concentrated on the older of the two.
"Look, Mandy...see the handsome one," she whispered. "He looks like Robbie, doesn't he? He's got blue eyes that twinkle like your brother's. And his hair curls a little like Robbie's does when it gets too long."
Sighing, she looked down longingly.
"Makes me miss your big brother even more...Here, come now, let's wave goodbye."
J.D. and Vin both looked up when they heard Mrs. Spencer call goodbye. Smiling broadly, J.D. waved enthusiastically.
"Aw, Vin, ain't that cute? Amanda's waving to us."
Vin chuckled and shook his head. "All I see is Mrs. Spencer waving Amanda's hand."
"Well, it's still cute..."
Vin brushed his hair back and pulled his hat up on his head. Touching the brim, he nodded up at the window as he smiled briefly.
+ + + + + + +
"Oh, Mandy, he smiled at us!"
+ + + + + + +
"Boy Vin, Amanda's a pretty little girl, ain't she?"
Vin looked up at the window again and back at J.D., frowning.
"You can tell that through a curtain?"
"Well, what I could see of her, I'd say she is..."
With a light snap of the reins, J.D. slowly started the wagon back to town.
Chris sat and slowly turned his beer mug in the water ring on the table. Smiling, he looked up at Buck.
"Don't smirk at me like that," Buck leaned on the table and glared at Chris.
"You know how ornery Vin's been. J.D. won't be able to help himself. He's gonna piss Vin off and Vin'll kill him. Where are they?"
Buck walked to the saloon doors and looked out.
"Chris..." he yelled behind him as he pushed through the doors and out on to the boardwalk.
Frowning, Chris stood and walked to the doors. When he saw what had caught Buck's attention, he too ran out the doors. Coming down the street, at a quick pace, was the wagon that J.D. had driven out of town. Seated on the bench, J.D. was trying to hold on to an apparently unconscious Vin while he maneuvered the team.
"J.D., what happened?" Buck yelled as he jumped in the wagon behind Vin before it fully stopped.
"NATHAN!" Chris looked up and yelled in the direction of Nathan's clinic.
Climbing up, Chris pulled Vin off J.D.'s shoulder and held him.
"He's burning up," he muttered.
The sudden movement caused Vin to cough, but he did not regain consciousness.
"I'm right here Chris, let me up there to him."
Nathan climbed up in front of Vin. He frowned as he put a hand to Vin's forehead. Picking up Vin's limp wrist, he felt for a pulse.
"J.D. what happened?" he calmly asked.
"I...I don't know...he was real tired on the way out...said he had a cold. Mrs. Spencer made him take a bath and have some tea. He got dizzy and he threw up. On the way back he fell against me and... and I couldn't wake him up," J.D. nervously rambled. "I'm sorry Chris," he sadly added.
Buck and Chris looked at each other and silently mouthed, "tea?" and "bath?"
Nathan pried Vin's eyes open and frowned. Leaning back, he sighed as he ran a hand over his hair.
"He been drugged?" Nathan arched his eyebrows as he looked at J.D.
"I..she...well...she put some cold powder in his tea...but he didn't know that 'til after," J.D. stammered.
"Alright, let's get him up to the clinic."
As Chris and Buck carried Vin up the clinic stairs, J.D. saw to the wagon and horses. Placing Vin gently on the bed, they pulled off his pants and shirt, leaving him in only his long underwear. Pulling up the covers, Chris looked down at the unfamiliar clothes in his hand and frowned.
Nathan sat on the bed beside Vin.
"He's got a fever," he softly muttered.
"Nathan, he gonna be alright?"
"He should be Chris, but he's sick. He was sick before he had any of that damn patent medicine."
As Ezra, Josiah, and then J.D. pushed into the already crowded room, Nathan groaned and rolled his eyes.
"Okay, all of you," he turned and stared pointedly at Chris, "and I do mean all of you...out. Give me room to do what I can, then ya'll can come visit if ya need to."
With a backward glance at the still form on the bed, Chris shook his head as he shut the door behind him.
As they descended the stairs, Buck threw his arm over Chris' shoulder.
"Hey, come on pard, he's gonna be okay...J.D. here was sick and now look at him."
"Buck, Vin looks a hell of a lot sicker than J.D. did."
"I know, Chris, but I believe he's gonna be fine too..."
+ + + + + + +
Hearing the door close softly, Nathan placed another cool cloth on Vin's forehead without turning around.
"Didn't figure you'd stay away for long."
Taking his hat off, Chris stepped closer to the bed. Looking down at Vin, he frowned. A piece of red flannel was wrapped around his neck, and a poultice was on his chest as well as the wet rag Nathan had just placed on his forehead.
"Damn, Nathan, what you got all over him?"
"I got his neck wrapped up for a sore throat, and a poultice on his chest to ease some of that rattling. Pried his mouth open and swabbed his throat with some iodine too. He sure as hell didn't like that none."
"He was awake?"
"Yeah, for a bit," Nathan sighed tiredly, "Gave him some paregoric for his cough while I could, before he fell back to sleep."
Chris leaned down and lightly touched Vin's head.
"Chris, don't worry none, he's only sleeping now... the paregoric will make him tired."
Standing, Nathan stretched as he rubbed his back. Walking across the room, he rubbed the back of his neck.
Chris sat gently on the bed beside Vin. Damn it Vin, why didn't you say you felt sick this morning?
"Nathan, go on...get some rest and a bite to eat...I'll stay with him."
+ + + + + + +
As he dipped the cloth in the bowl of water, Chris felt the bed shift slightly. Looking at Vin, he grinned. Vin's eyes were open. Looking up at Chris with fever glazed eyes, he smiled tiredly.
"Hey, cowboy, ya look like shit," Chris said gently as he brushed Vin's hair back.
Vin licked his lips and winced as he swallowed.
"Feel like it," he softly slurred as his eyes drifted shut again.
Nathan poked his head around the door and smiled. The dim lamplight cast long shadows across the two sleeping men. The only sound to break the silence was soft snoring. Walking carefully, so as not to disturb the men, he placed the tray he was carrying on the table. He then crossed the room to the bed. As he looked down, he was surprised to see two blue eyes staring up at him. Reaching down, he felt Vin's forehead and smiled.
"You feel a bit cooler," he whispered.
" 's it rainin'? " Vin asked, his voice raw and barely audible.
Sitting on the edge of the bed, Nathan nudged Vin over as he began removing the now cold wrap from Vin's neck and the poultice from his chest.
"Yeah, just started. Gimme your hand, I'll change that dressing while you're awake. Figured you'd still be asleep."
Nathan let out a low snort and grinned as he gently reapplied the dressing to the wound on Vin's left hand.
"Better'n talkin' in your sleep, Tanner...like some people...," Chris opened his eyes and sat up straight, yawning as he stretched.
Vin sighed and started to chuckle, which he immediately regretted. As a painful bout of coughing racked his body, he struggled to sit up.
"No you don't, stay put." Chris pushed Vin's shoulders back down.
"No, please..." Vin gasped as he tried to push Chris's hands away and continued his attempts to sit up.
"Chris, let him up." Nathan slipped his hand behind Vin's back and quickly eased him up. "It'll help him catch his breath."
When the coughing subsided, Vin drew his knees up and rested his head on his arms. His breathing was rapid and his nostrils flared as he tried to catch his breath.
"You boys hungry?"
Vin sniffled and raised his head slowly, but did not respond.
"Chris, there's some chicken stew in a bowl there for you, the other bowl has broth for Vin. Alright Vin? Why don't you go on over to the table there and have some?"
Chris scowled as he watched Vin slowly stand and tiredly shuffle across the room. Sitting with a long sigh, he stared at the bowl of pale liquid.
"Y'okay Vin?" Chris cocked his head to look the younger man in the eye.
"Well try. You need to have something."
Nathan stood behind Vin holding a bottle. Taking a deep breath, he poured a dose on to the spoon and braced himself for battle.
"Okay, open up, this here's some medicine for that cough."
With no argument, Vin looked up at Nathan dejectedly and opened his mouth. Without a word of protest, he swallowed and winced slightly. Chris frowned again as he put his own spoon down.
Did I just see Vin willingly take medicine with no arguing?
"Try to eat a little Vin," he suggested softly.
Casting a bleary-eyed look at Chris, Vin nodded slightly and slowly picked up the spoon. Chris noted the slight tremor in Vin's hand as he clutched the spoon, but did not intervene. When he'd had his fill, Vin placed the spoon down. Putting his elbow on the table, he rested his head on his hand and let out a tired sigh.
Placing a steaming cup of coffee in front of Chris, Nathan sat at the table with his own. "Vin, why don't you go on back over and lay down?"
As the two men watched, Vin quietly return to the bed, Chris shot Nathan a questioning glance, which Nathan returned with a shrug. Both men were surprised that there had been no argument from Vin. Standing up, Nathan leaned down and whispered to Chris.
"I better get him while he's still in an agreeable mood."
He walked over to Vin and sat on the edge of the bed.
"Okay, Vin, it's plain to see that throat's botherin' ya...open up so's I can swab it."
Turning his head slightly, Vin opened his mouth, the only response he gave was to gag slightly. Standing behind Nathan, Chris rested his hand on his shoulder and stared down at Vin.
"Nathan? Why don't ya go on over to the saloon? Try and win some of your money back from Ezra. Me and Vin can just sit here and read my book.
"Sure, sounds like a good idea," Nathan agreed as he retrieved his hat and left again.
+ + + + + + +
Yawning, Vin turned on his side. He shifted and moved his legs when Chris sat on the chair and put his feet up on the bed. Putting his coffee on the table,Chris picked up his book and grinned.
Hah! This won't take long, that cough medicine is making him sleepy already!
"Starting a new one...you know Charles Dickens, Vin?"
Vin closed his eyes and licked his parched lips.
"Uhhm...he's that little English feller, ain't he?"
He opened his eyes in time to see Chris still staring at him. Chris hoped that Vin didn't notice the shock he was sure was evident on his face. He was surprised to find that Vin knew of the author. Although it was never discussed, Chris suspected that the tracker was unable to read. He silently wondered when he'd stop being astonished by the young Texan, and the depths of his knowledge and skill.
"Well, it's David Copperfield, you feel up to listenin' ?"
Although Vin was slowly losing the battle to stay awake, he nodded slightly.
"Okay then, here goes," Chris cleared his throat as he began reading aloud.
" 'Chapter One, I Am Born, Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show. To begin my life with...' Vin? Vin?"
Chris grinned as he shook his head. Well, that was quicker than I thought... took no time at all....you hear any of it Vin?...Who's your hero? Do you have any idea how important you are to the rest of us? Pulling the covers up over Vin's shoulders, Chris smiled down at his sleeping friend. Settling in his chair, he opened the book again and continued to read.
Chris stirred slightly as a loud clap of thunder disturbed the silence in the room. Nathan hadn't moved. In the stark illumination that was cast by the lightening, Chris saw Vin sitting bolt upright, panting as he looked around the room.
Vin turned only his head and looked at Chris, his eyes wide, his breathing rapid and shallow.
"It's just a little thunder an' lightenin'," Chris offered.
"Yeah." Vin nodded his head quickly while looking up at the ceiling.
Chris resisted the urge to walk over to the bed. He bit his tongue as he started to remind the younger man he had nothing to be afraid of, instead he just silently watched Vin. As the storm started to move on, and the thunder subsided, Chris saw Vin visibly relax and lie back down.
I can't believe he's spooked by thunder and lightening!
+ + + + + + +
The sun shining brightly in her eyes prompted Lillian Spencer to open her eyes. Smiling, she stretched her arms over her head and yawned. Standing, she reached for her robe. With only a brief glance in the mirror, she left the room.
"Time to rise and shine darling!"
She happily crossed the hall and opened Amanda's door. Noting the empty bed, she frowned slightly and smiled. Walking into the room, she put her hands on her hips.
"Now, where could Amanda be? Oh my! I hope she isn't lost!" she said loudly as her eyes darted about the room. Peeking under the bed, and opening the closet, she happily continued her search.
After a few minutes, she realized the child was not in the room.
Now, she knows I don't like her leaving her room when she hides.
Slightly annoyed, Lillian left the room and slowly started down the hall, calling out for Amanda as she went. Reaching the stairs, her pace quickened as she went down, calling the child's name louder.
"Amanda Louise Spencer! Answer me!" she yelled shrilly at the bottom of the stairs. "Amanda! Amanda!"
Running from room to room, Lillian began to panic. Grabbing a shawl, she opened the door and went out to the front porch. Stumbling down the steps, she clutched the shawl to her chest. The morning air was cool and she shivered slightly as she ran across the yard to the barn. The birds that had been noisily chirping a few moments previously had grown silent. Lillian staggered from the barn alone and fell to her knees.
"AMANDA! Where are you?" she sobbed as she screamed, realizing that she was alone.
The silence was pierced by the call of the young girl's name repeated over and over.
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