Uh Oh! Here Comes Trouble!

by Karen Shannon

It had all seemed so simple. He couldn’t understand what had gone wrong. It was just a simple trip to Eagle Bend to deliver a package from Judge Travis to the sheriff. He had volunteered for the job, glad to get out of town for while, away from everybody. It seemed Four Corners was getting bigger everyday, and this made the tracker uncomfortable. However, about half way to Eagle Bend something had gone wrong. He remembered, while riding, that he had seen something that look out of place off the trail. He had dismounted Peso, walked a short distance into the woods…then nothing. Well, nothing until he came to, with a splitting headache and tied to the center post of an old dilapidated cabin. The first thing he noticed was that his gun was missing. Looking around, he saw his saddle lying in a corner near the door, from the scrapes on the floor he judged that his captor had literally dragged it into the cabin. He frowned when he looked over in the other corner and saw his saddlebags, contents dump haphazardly on the floor and evidently rifled through. He tried pulling on the hand restraints and found the ropes were not very tight. He knew that with very little effort he could free himself. nfortunately, just as he realized this, he also heard a noise coming from outside and suddenly the front door burst open and Vin’s eyes could not believe what he saw. There standing before him were six little girls. Vin judged their ages to be from about 5-10 years old. They all looked like they hadn’t taken a bath in a very long time and their clothes were old and worn. None of them were wearing any shoes and they were all very thin, too thin. Vin figured they hadn’t eaten in while. However, what struck Vin the most was the look in their eyes. They all had the same look, a combination of fear and confusion. None of them spoke, they just looked at him and then at each other. The youngest of the girls had backed up and was hiding behind the bigger girls. Vin sat up a little straighter and tried to speak but the gag in his mouth stopped him. Vin heard the sound of someone dropping wood outside and then he saw another little girl make her way through the group, into the cabin. When she was finally inside she stopped and looked at him. However, the look in her eyes was one of anger. Then her look changed and he could see she was trying to figure out what to do next. Again, he tried to speak but only managed a muffled sound. A girl with curly blonde hair stepped up and was about to remove the gag when the angry girl grabbed her arm. "What are ya doing?" The angry girl asked.

"He’s tryin’ to say somethin’ and he can’t ‘cause of the gag." Replied the blonde.

"I don’t think we should. I mean what if he tries something?" The angry girl questioned.

"What’s he gonna do Kristian? His hands are tied and so are his feet. All’s he can do is talk if we remove the gag." The blonde said sarcastically.

Kristian put her hands on her hips and glared at the blonde, "Look, I said don’t take it out. We’ll only be asking for trouble if ya do."

The blonde came right back, "And I said it don’t matter none!" Vin thought they were going come to blows but another girl, a little taller than the rest with long dark hair stepped up between them. "Knock it off! Fightin’ between us ain’t gonna help us none. We gotta work together, if’n we gonna make it." She took a deep breath, "Look Kristian, it ain’t gonna hurt to take the gag off, we gotta feed’m and give’m water anyways." Kristian just glared at her and said, "Well, this wouldn’t have been a problem if’n ya’ll woulda done what I said in the first place!"

The blonde girl came back at her; "We couldn’t just leave him there! He mighta got ate by some bear or somethin’. YOU"RE the one that knocked him out cold! Not us! You coulda kilt him!" Kristian turned and started to walk off, but said as she left, "Do what ya want! I don’t care! But when he starts trouble I’m gonna say ‘I told ya so’" With that said she stormed out of the cabin.

The blonde turned back to Vin and untied the gag. "Thanks" Vin said. "Yea, just don’t give Kristian a reason to say ‘I told ya so,’ OK?" Smiled the blonde. Vin nodded his head; "I’ll try not to. He looked around at the girls, "Can I ask ya a question?"

The blonde shrugged her shoulders, "I guess."

Vin studied the girls for a moment then smiled, "Who are you girls? Where’d ya come from? Where are your folks?" The blonde eyed him for a minute before answering, "That’s three questions but ok. We’re all orphans. We lived at the county home but the headmaster there, well, he’s really mean, so we left." Vin looked around at the all the girls, noticing a young black girl and said. So he pressed on, "I know ya’ll ain’t sisters." The blonde smiled shaking her head, "Naw, we’re just friends, but we feel like sisters. ‘Cause we stick together no matter what. We fight like cats and dogs between us but if’n ya try to come between us, we stick like glue." Vin smiled at that, "Well, it’s good to have friends you can count on. Do ya’ll have names or do I just say ‘hey you?’" The blonde laughed, "Naw, we got names. My name’s Cricket."

Vin looked puzzled, "Cricket?"

"Yea, well really my name is Patricia, but ‘cause I’m so little everyone calls me Cricket."

"I see." Vin smiled. "How old are ya?"

"I’m 9."

He turned his attention to the dark haired girl, "And what’s your name?" "I’m Debbie and I’m 10." She smiled back.

Vin looked at each girl as they said their names. "I’m Robbie and I’m 8," said the only redhead in the group. "My name’s Laura and I’m 8 too." Said the little girl with blonde hair down to her waist.

"I’m Maria, I’m 9." Piped in the black girl of the group.

Vin grinned, "And how about you lil lady? What’s your name?" He asked the littlest one. From behind Maria, Vin heard a little voice; "I’m McKenzie." "How old are ya, McKenzie?" Vin asked. She held up five fingers. "Five! Wow, you’re a big girl, aren’t ya?" She peeked around Maria, smiling as some of her long dark uncombed, dirty hair hung down across her face, and she nodded her head yes. Vin looked back at Cricket, "Who’s the other girl?"

Cricket looked at the door as if she could see the other girl, "Oh that’s Kristian. She’s 10, just like Debbie."

"What’s she so mad about?" Vin asked.

"She’s not really mad. She’s scared is all." Answered Cricket. Vin looked puzzled, "Scared? Of what?" "Of you!" Laura offered.

"Me? Why’s she scared of me?" He asked.

The girls looked at each other before Debbie answered, "Look, to tell ya the turth, we’re all kinda scared. When Kristian knocked you over the head with there tree branch we got real scared. We thought maybe you was an injun by the way you’re dressed. And we’s scared of injuns. Then when we figured out you was white and we found that package you had addressed to the sheriff in Eagle Bend, we figured you to be some kinda lawman. And, we’re afraid somebody will catch us and take us back to the county home. We don’t want to go back there, it’s really bad." Vin nodded his head yes, "I can understand that. I lived in an orphanage for 3 years, along time ago and I remember it how bad it was then. So, I know how ya feel. So maybe I can help ya." "How?" Maria asked suspiciously. He shrugged his shoulders, "Not sure right now. But, I know if’n ya untie me I can at least go outside and fetch us all somethin’ to eat. That’ll be a start."

McKenzie peeked out with a dirty face from behind Maria, "FOOD! You can find us some food? All’s we can find is berries. I like berries but, ya get kinda tired of’m after a while." Vin smiled at her, "Yea, berries are good but after a while they kinda loose their taste. How does rabbit sound to ya?"

"Ya want us to eat a bunny!?" A horrified McKenzie asked with eyes as big as saucers. Vin chuckled, "Naw, I wouldn’t ask ya to eat no cute fuzzy bunnies. I just catch them mean old ugly rabbits out there."

McKenzie relaxed, "Oh good. I don’t think I could eat a bunny." All the others girls nodded their heads in agreement.

The girls looked at each other and then ran to a corner of the cabin behind Vin. He could hear them whispering but couldn’t make out what they were saying. Finally, he heard footsteps come up behind him and then he felt little hands start to untie the ropes.

"WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU"RE DOING?!" Kristian yelled from the front door.

"We’re hungry, Kristian, and he can catch us something to eat" replied Debbie.

"We’ve been doing just fine on our own up ‘til now. Why we gotta start depending on HIM to feed us all of a sudden?" Asked Kristian. "We’ve been doing fine? How? We’ve only been able to find berries and we’re sick of berries! We want some REAL food Kristian" Chimed in Robbie. Kristian thought for a minute, "Ok, you want REAL food. I’ll fetch us some REAL food. Just don’t untie him." She said while pointing her finger at Vin.

"How ya gonna do that, Kristian? You don’t know how to shot his gun or make any traps that’ll catch us anything to eat. ‘Sides, even if ya did manage to catch somethin’ we don’t know how to cook it." Asked Laura. Kristian just smiled and said, "look just give me ‘till tomorrow morning. If’n I ain’t back then ya can untie him, OK?" All the girls looked at each other and slowly nodded their heads yes. Nevertheless, Cricket looked at Kristian with questioning eyes, "‘Till ya get back. Where ya going?" Kristian shook her head, ‘Never mind that. Just promise ya won’t untie him. That you’ll give me a chance to do it my way."

Cricket took a deep breath, "Ok, Kristian. Ya got ‘till morning ta get us some real food. If’n ya ain’t back by breakfast then we untie him. Deal?"

"Deal." Said Kristian as she turned to leave. Debbie followed her out the door and down to the creek where they had tied Peso. Kristian untied him and led him over to a large bolder. She turned to Debbie and handed her the reins. "Here, hold him steady while I get on him."

Alarmed, "Kristian, you don’t know how to ride that good. Sure, ya rode the plow horses back on your pa’s farm, but this don’t look like no plow horse." Kristian shrugged it off, "Aw, a horse is a horse. I can ride any of’um."

"I don’t know Kristian." Debbie said with a shake of her head.

Kristian smiled, "Debbie, you’re just an ole worry wort. I’ll be fine." Kristian settled on the back of Peso and Debbie handed her the reins. Kristian pulled on the reins to turn Peso’s head and headed up the hill towards the main road. She waved at Debbie who waved back. Once she reached the main road, she looked both ways before deciding on which direction to go. She knew that in one direction laid the county home, so she opted for the other. Taking a deep breath, she gave Peso a small kick and headed him in the direction she wanted to go.


She kept Peso at a slow walk. No sense taking any chances she thought. After all, she really wasn’t sure about this horse. As Debbie had pointed out, he sure wasn’t a plow horse. She’d been riding for a couple of hours when she came over a rise and saw a town in the distance. She smiled and gave the horse a little extra kick, but the horse smelled food. He picked up the pace very quickly and soon Kristian was doing everything she could to control the animal. She was more bouncing in the saddle than anything else. Although, she was unable to slow his pace much, she was able to steer him behind the town, down an alley. He didn’t stop, though, until he reached the doors of the livery. Kristian dismounted on some nearby hay and led the horse back up the alley to where she had seen some food as they had past. Tying the horse to a post, Kristian looked around and found some bread cooling in a window. Making sure no one saw her, she climbed up on a crate and took the bread. She found some pillowcases hanging on a line to dry and after she took one down, she put the bread inside. Then she was off to find more food.

There were no prisoners in the jail, so JD decided to walk down the street to the saloon to get a beer. As he wandered down the boardwalk, something in the alley caught his eye. JD entered down the alley and found Peso with two pillowcases tired together, thrown up over his withers. He scratched his head and looked down the back alley for Vin. However. not seeing him, he turned back towards the main street. Once he reached it, he walked across the street to the saloon. As he entered, he paused to let his eyes adjust to the darkness of the room. As he looked around, he found his fellow peacekeepers sitting at their usual table, playing a hand of poker. There was Ezra in his favorite red coat, vest with gold trim and white ruffled shirt, along with his black felt hat, dealing the cards. To his left, sat Josiah, the preacher, studying his cards with his slouch hat hanging off his head by the cord. Next to him, sat Nathan, their healer. JD knew full well not call him a doctor, ‘cause like Nathan always says, ‘ain’t no darkie doctors but maybe someday.’ JD’s eyes moved to the leader of their group. Chris, dressed all in black, sitting in his usual corner with his back against the wall, playing poker, all the while observing everything going on in the room. As JD continued his scan of the saloon, he finally found his best friend, Buck. He was flirting with that new saloon girl, Marcy. As he walked up to the table, he sat down in a chair that Ezra had pushed out for him with his foot. Taking his hat off and laying it on the table he turned to Inez, "Beer please." Inez smiled at him and nodded her head as she went behind the bar to get the drink. JD watched her, and had to admit to himself that he found the Mexican woman attractive, what with her long dark flowing hair, tanned skin, soft brown eyes that twinkled when she smiled and those lips. He thought that if he closed his eyes he could actually feel those rich, full lips on his.

"Anything happening, JD?" Asked Chris, jerking JD back to reality.

JD shook his head, "Not sure. Have any of ya’ll seen Vin?" Chris shook his head no as he studied his cards, "Nope. He’s still out on Patrol. He’s late though. If he ain’t back in couple of hours, we’ll go look for him."

"Well, that’s what I thought, too. But, I found Peso in the alley." JD said as he smiled at Inez when she set his beer in front of him.

Everyone turned their eyes to JD, "Where?" asked Nathan in concern.

"Across the street, behind the general store." Replied JD, taking a sip of his beer. Everyone looked at Chris, as he chewed on his cheroot. He took a deep breath, folded his cards and threw them on the table, "Let’s go check it out." As they followed JD, they crossed the street to the alley; they could see Peso at the other end. From around the corner in the back alley, they heard a small voice and stopped. "OK fella, this is all the food I can find." They saw a little girl come up to Peso, stand up on a crate and throw two more pillowcases over his withers. As she was trying to mount him, she felt two hands grip her waist and pull her away from the horse. Kicking and yelling she cried out, "HEY! What do you think you’re doing?! Leave me alone!" She kicked her ‘attacker’ in the stomach and she heard him gasp for air as he dropped her to the ground. She scurried to her feet and ran under the barrel of the horse. She turned and saw several men chasing her down the alley. She ran to the outhouse and climbed up on top. When she reached the very top she turned and looked at them. She counted six of them. "Don’t come any closer!"

They all stopped and looked up at her, she could see the questions in their eyes. All but one. A man dressed all in black. He looked angry and she could see her dirty footprint on his shirt. He put his hands on his hips as he looked up, "Or what?" He asked with a glare that Kristian tried hard to ignore. As she tried to catch her breath from the hard run, Kristian looked at him in defiance, "Or I’ll jump!" she said with a nod of her head.

The men looked like they were going to laugh. "And what do you think will happen when you jump?" asked the only black man of the group. She looked at him as if he was crazy, "Ain’t ya never heard of someone breaking their necks when they jump off a high building?"

"Yea, I have. Seen it a time or too, also. But, from that height the only thing you’re gonna break is maybe a leg or an arm." He replied with annoyance, "And then I’ll have to fix you up."

"And then you’ll have two problems." Said the man in black.

"Two?’ questioned Kristian with raised eyebrows.

He nodded his head yes, "Yea, two. Cause after Mr. Jackson sets your broken bones, then I’m gonna bust your backside."

She looked at him through squinted eyes, "What for?"

"What for?" he repeated. "Oh let’s see. How about you stole a horse, then you ride into town and steal food, you kicked me, you threatened to hurt yourself if we don’t leave you alone, and oh yes, let’s not forget that in order for you to have stolen that horse, you must have somehow hurt the man who owns him." "He ain’t hurt!" She blurted out a little more quickly than she wanted to. As she realized what she had just said she bit her bottom lip and tried to figure out how to get out of this. The man in black came up next to the outhouse, "Get down here, now!" he commanded in a rather loud voice. She took a deep breath and decided to do what was told. The tall man with the mustache helped her down once he could reach her; as he set on the ground, the man in black took her by the hand, "Let’s go have a talk." With just a little resistance on her part, they walked back down the alley. Kristian saw the youngest of the men take the reins of the horse as they walked. They entered the jailhouse and the man in black sat down in the chair behind the big desk. He held onto her and made her stand in front of him. Kristian looked around the room as the other men filed in and took up different positions in the room. As she looked around she saw two empty cells in the back of building, the keys hanging on a post near the old desk that seen better times, there was a pot-bellied stove in the center of the room, with a coffee pot sitting on it. As her eyes came back the man in the chair, she stiffened and stared at him. As scared as she was, she tried to look tough. With his hands on both of elbows he started over in a calmer voice, " My name is Chris Larabee, what’s your name?" She looked around the room for help but saw none coming. He shook her to get her attention, "Your name. What is it?"

In a quiet voice, barely above a whisper, "Kristian."

The man had to strain to hear her but he did. "Kristian." He repeated louder for the other men to hear. She nodded her head yes. "That’s a right pretty name. How old are you."

"10." Was her reply. "And where is the man who owns the horse you rode in on?"

She looked at him and with determination, "I ain’t telling ya."

The man looked at the other men and then back to her, "You ain’t gonna tell us? Why not?"

"Cause I don’t want to. If’n ya let me go with the food, I’ll let him but, if ya don’t then you’ll never see him again." She said with a little more confidence than she had.

One of the other men spoke up. Kristian had noticed that he dressed differently than the rest. He was dressed in a bright red coat and shirt with ruffles on it. "Young lady, and I use that term loosely, are you inferring that the owner of the horse in question is somehow being detained by you? And he cannot escape your confinement without your assistance." She thought to herself, ‘he sure does dress nice, but I can’t understand a word he’s saying.’

She looked at him and then back to the man in the chair. "What’d he say?"

Chris smiled, "He asked you if you were holding the owner of the horse as a prisoner? Are you holding him against his will?" He got no answer from her. She just stared at him. She just looked at him with a blank look in her eyes. "Can he leave if he wants to, right now, without help from you?"

"Nope." She said with a smug look on her face.

"And you aren’t going to tell where he is?" She shook her head no. "I’m gonna give you one more chance young lady to tell us. Now where is he?" Again she shook her head no and glared at Chris. He looked at the other men and then back at her, "Ok let’s try it this way." With that said, he picked her up, threw her across his knees, and smacked her backside several times.

She threw her hands back behind her and tried to protect herself, "OUCH! STOP IT." She began cry, "NO! STOP! I’LL TELL YA!"

Chris stood her back up in front of him. She rubbed her backside, while the tears rolled down her face, turning the dirt into mud. She looked around the room at the men, who just stayed where they were, not moving to help her. Chris took hold of her chin and forced her to look at him. "Where is he?" He asked in a softer voice.

While still rubbing her backside with one hand, she used her other hand to wipe the tears from her face smearing the ‘mud’ and then wiped her nose on the back of same hand. She then wiped the hand on her dress as she sniffed, "He’s at an ole cabin I found. Near a creek." The man in the red coat grimaced at this action, stepped forward, and handed a handkerchief to Chris, who took it and a canteen from the desk. Wetting the handkerchief, he then took her hands and wiped them off.

"How far away" The gray haired man of the group asked, while Chris was cleaning her up, She shrugged her shoulders, "I don’t know. It took me a couple of hours to get here, but I was going slow." As Chris rewet the cloth and wiped her face off, she nodded her head yes. Chris took her hand and stood up, "Let’s go find him." With that, they all left the jailhouse.


As they rode down the road towards the cabin, Kristian was riding Peso beside Chris. As they picked up speed, Kristian was having a more difficult time staying on the horse, so the men slowed up and allowed Kristian to set the pace. When they had walked for a few minutes, Chris reached over and picked her up, setting down in front of him. "We’re gonna be all day at this rate and it’s starting to get dark. JD, take Peso’s reins and let’s get this party moving. Again, they picked up the pace, with Kristian telling them where they were going.

+ + + + + + +

Back at the cabin, Cricket came in with Vin’s slouch hat full of berries. She sat down beside him and ate one. Then she picked one up and held it for him to open his mouth. When he did she put the berry inside and smiled. "Ain’t much I know. But right now, it’s the best I can do." He smiled back at her, "Thanks." Cricket looked deep in thought as she ate more berries and fed more to Vin. The silence was almost deafening. Finally, she looked up at him and signed, "She ain’t all that bad." was all she said. Vin leaned his head back against the post, "Who ain’t all that bad?"

She smiled a little, "Kristian. She ain’t all that bad. She’s doing her best and we all know it. She’s just scared that’s all."

"Scared of being sent back to the county home?"

Cricket nodded her head yes, "For some reason, Mr. Fisher, we call him ‘ole fish-face’" she giggled and Vin chuckled. "Anyways, Mr. Fisher don’t seem to like any of us, but he really don’t like Kristian. Can’t figure out why. She ain’t mean, or nothing. She’s the one who makes sure us younger ones stays outta trouble by helping us with our chores and she’s the one that’ll give up her food to one of the other kids if’n there ain’t enough to go around. Mr. Fisher’s just plain mean to her. He beats her whenever he can find a reason, even if that reason is helping one of us. We ain’t allowed to help each other with the chores. Mr. Fisher says that’s so he can tell who’s goofing off. But, whenever he catches Kristian helping one of us he’ll beat her and then add to her chores, cause he says she ain’t got enough to do to keep her outta trouble. "

Vin took a deep breath before answering, "She sounds like a real good friend."

Cricket looked Vin straight in the eyes, "She’s the best friend I got. I sure hope she gets back her soon. I’m scared she’s gonna get caught."

"Where was she going?" asked Vin. However, before Cricket could answer him, the door to the cabin open and the rest of the girls came running in, with Kristian right behind them. Kristian stood in the doorway staring at Vin and he could tell she had been crying.

"What’s wrong Kristian?" Vin asked with deep concern. Without warning, from behind Kristian, Chris appeared. He looked around before making eye contact with Vin who just gave him one of his lopsided grins. "So, how’d my tracker go and get himself caught by a bunch of little girls?"

Vin stifled a chuckle as he nodded his head yes, "Yea, these are some real hard cases here Chris. They’re mighty dangerous."

The man with the mustache walked over to Vin and knelt down behind him to untie the ropes, "Ah Vin…" Vin tried real hard not to laugh, "Yea, I know Buck. They did a real good job at tying these ropes. I tried to get loose but they did too good a job." Buck grinned, "Yea, I can see that," as he released Vin from the ropes. Vin stood up, dusting himself off as he the walked over to the corner and knelt down beside his saddlebags and began to replace his possessions. He saw McKenzie walk over towards Chris and tug on his duster. Chris looked down at her and smiled as she asked him in all honestly, "You gonna let him catch us a rabbit before ya take him?" Chris looked over at Vin with a raised brow and could see his shoulders shaking as he tried to stifle his laughter. After he regain some form of composer, Vin turned around at looked at Chris, "They’re hungry, Chris." was all he said. Nodding his head that he understood, Chris picked McKenzie up in his arms, "Don’t worry, lil one, we ain’t goin’ no where until all of ya’ll have full bellies. OK?" "Promise?" She asked with wide eyes.

"Yea, I promise." He answered giving her a hug before setting her back down. Vin stood up with his saddlebags slung over his shoulder. "Come on Cricket, let’s go find some real food."

Cricket looked nervous, "But, Mr. Vin, I don’t know how to catch nothing."

Vin placed his hand on her shoulder and looked down at her, "That’s ok, Cricket. I’ll teach ya how and then you and your friends won’t have to live off berries no more." Cricket smiled and nodded her head yes, "Great! Let’s get going." They left the cabin, leaving his friends with the task of dealing with the other girls. Chris took a deep breath and looked around, "Well, it won’t take Mr. Vin long to find something to eat, so everybody down to the creek and wash up." The girls giggled as they ran out the door, all except Kristian who stood there, staring at the floor. Chris looked at her and then to his men, "Guys, why don’t you go get a fire started and make sure the girls wash up good before we eat." The men nodded their understanding and left the cabin. Chris walked over to Kristian and knelt down behind her. As he put his hand on her arm, he turned her around so she would be facing him. But, she continued to stare at the floor. Using his index finger he lifted her head to look at him but her eyes remained downcast. "What’s wrong Kristian?" She shrugged her shoulders. "Ya know a little water ain’t gonna hurt ya none. Just get the first couple of layers of dirt off is all." He smiled. Still, she refused to even look at him. "Are you still upset about the spanking? Cause if ya are, I better tell ya that I ain’t mad anymore. I’ve kinda figured out that you were just trying to help your friends." Chris said as he ducked his head to look into her eyes. She tried to turn her head away but, Chris held her chin firm. "Look at me, Princess." Her eyes widened and she looked confused, "Why’d ya call me ‘Princess’?" Chris studied her for a moment before he answered, "Well, Princess is a nickname grownups give to pretty little girls, sometimes. Why?" As she searched her brain for an answer, she took a breath, "Ole fish face said I was ugly. Said I was the ugliest thing he’d every seen. That I was so ugly that nobody would want me to be part of their family," she finally said as the tears rolled down her cheeks.

Chris bowed his head to regain his composure before he spoke next, "Princess, I don’t know who ‘ole fish face’ is but, I can tell you that he’s wrong." She looked at him, bewildered, "He is?"

As Chris wiped her tears away with his thumb, "Yep, he sure is. Cause I think you about the prettiest little girl I’ve seen in a long time." He then stood up and took her by the hand.

She beamed, "I am?" "Yea, you are." Chris said as they walked out the door, headed down to the creek.

+ + + + + + +

Later that evening, as they sat around the campfire, the watched in amazement at the amount of food the girls were eating. Ezra had to remind Laura more than once that a lady did not gorge her food. Of course, Laura had no idea what ‘gorge’ meant so she continued eating much to Ezra chagrin. JD was not faring much better, trying to watch over McKenzie. First, she still wasn’t convinced that Mr. Vin was trying to make her eat a bunny, and then she after she had eaten some she turned around to say something to JD and managed to wipe her greasy hands on his pants. Between greasy hands and faces, and trying to get the girls to eat enough but not enough so that they’d get sick later, all the men had their hands full. The girls chattered and giggled until all the food was gone and then the men took them down to creek and helped them wash up. As Chris was helping Kristian, he noticed that she had again become very quiet. He allowed the rest to start back to cabin to gather everyone’s belongs, while he and Kristian stayed down by the creek. She didn’t say anything, just stood on the bank tossing pebbles in the water. Chris sat down on a nearby rock and watched her for a few moments and he thought how her eyes looked much older than her actually years. Eyes that had seen too much too soon and were afraid to face the future. Chris looked around and for the first time noticed how beautiful this place could be. No, not beautiful but serene. Someone could fix up the cabin, have a real nice view of creek with it’s soft trickling sound, and there was a place beside the cabin where there used to be a garden and could be one again. He wondered why someone would build here and then leave. However, as his mind wondered about the scene before him, he suddenly realized that Kristian was talking to him. "Are ya gonna send us back now?" she asked in a whisper. As he leaned forward to hear her, he touched her arm, gesturing for her to come stand beside him, "Send you back where, Princess?"

She looked him in the eyes, and in a voice that quivered she said, "You know we runned away from the county home. Are ya gonna make us go back now?"

Chris rubbed his face and dragged his hands back through his blonde hair, "Kristian, I don’t know what’s gonna happen next. Tonight we’re gonna take ya into Four Corners and let ya get some rest. Tomorrow we’ll talk about the home. Maybe my men and I can find all of you little girls some nice families that’ll take you in. Then you won’t have to go back." Kristian shook her head, "Nope, ain’t gonna happen." Chris smiled, "Why not? Tomorrow morning, first thing you girls are gonna get a bath," Kristian looked like Chris had just made her eat the worst tasting thing she could think of and Chris had to laugh, "It’s only water, Kristian, not a poison broth we gonna put ya in. You’ll live I promise. And after the bath, I bet you girls will find brand new dresses just waiting to be put on."

Kristian’s smile lit up her whole face, eyes full of anticipation, "Ya mean a brand new store bought dress? Like the ones I seen in the mercantile? No hand me down dress that some rich girl done got tired of and thrown it away? No tears or patches or nothin’?"

Chris smiled as he placed his hand behind her head, pulling her closer to him and nodded, "Not patches or nothing. In fact, if I recall, I think I remember seeing this pretty little light blue dress and matching bonnet in Ms. Potter’s window, this week. Maybe it’ll fit one little blonde haired, blue eyed, food snatching, horse thief I know."

Kristian giggled then became real serious, ‘I’s sorry about stealing all that food. But I didn’t steal Mr. Vin’s horse. I only borrowed it." Chris looked at her with suspicious eyes, "Borrowed?" She nodded her head yes. He sucked his tongue between his teeth making a hissing sound, then bit at the inside corner of his mouth, "Well, ok. I guess you only ‘borrowed’ him THIS TIME. But, next time you decide to ‘borrow’ a horse you let me know first, ok?"

Kristian smiled and nodded her head, "Ok." He reached out and took her hand, "Let’s go catch up with the rest and get back to town." He turned to walk back up the hill with Kristian at his side.


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