Jubal Sanchez

by Angie

This story is in response to the challenge to write a story about the return of Josiah’s father. I had a really hard time reconciling myself to the fact that Josiah said his father was dead. Then I remembered, it was around 1900 and people didn’t carry a plastic coated card in their wallet with their name and picture on it. Problem solved.

Comments welcome!

Thanks to Ladyjazz86 for reading the story and offering suggestions and support.

Size: Approx. 155K

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It was an early spring day in Four Corners. The sky was a continuous ribbon of azure with only just wispy, light clouds here and there. Not the kind of day one expects to get bad news, but that’s just how it turned out.

The telegraph operator folded the paper in half and dashed across the street. He would try the church first. Josiah was in the process of repairing one of the windows in the side of the church. He had removed it earlier that week and had carefully installed the new glass. Now he was preparing the sill for reinstalling the repaired window.

Josiah looked up as the man stood hesitantly just inside the doors. “M-Mr. Sanchez, I have a telegram for you from Vista City.”

He crossed to the door and took the paper. “Thank you. Is everything all right?”

“Just fine, thank you. I have to get back.”

Josiah watched as the nervous man hurried down the stairs and across the street before he unfolded the paper. His eyes scanned the words before he crushed the paper and ran for the saloon. He rushed to the table where Ezra was just finishing his breakfast.

“Will you tell Chris that I have to leave? I will be back as soon as possible.”

“Where are you going, if I may inquire?”

“Vista City.”

Before Ezra could respond or ask another question, Josiah hurried out of the saloon and headed for the livery at a dead run. A few minutes later, he saw the preacher leading Prophet down the street toward the church.

Chris was just coming out of the jail when he saw Josiah racing out of town. He turned toward the saloon as he heard someone coming up behind him.

“Mr. Sanchez asked me to inform you that he requires a few days leave of our company.”

“Did he say where he was going?”

“Vista City.”

“Did he say why?”

“No, he seemed quite eager to be on his way.”

Josiah pushed Prophet as hard as he could. He had to get to the mission! The telegram said that it was urgent that he get there as soon as possible. There was a problem concerning Hannah. He was not reasonable where his sister was concerned. He would push himself and his horse harder than normal to get to her side.

Chris questioned everyone he bumped into to see if anyone had an idea what set Josiah off. It wasn’t until late afternoon when he ran into the telegraph operator who asked if Mr. Sanchez was all right.

“Did you see Josiah this morning?”

“Yeah, I brought him a telegram. It said there was a problem with Hannah. To come right away, that it was urgent.”

Chris nodded before heading back to the saloon. The other regulators were gathered around a table, eating supper when he rushed in. “Anybody know who Hannah is?”

Vin looked up suddenly, “Why do you ask?”

“Because Josiah went to Vista City because of a problem with Hannah that was urgent.”

Vin looked down at the tabletop while he considered whether or not to betray his friend’s confidence. Josiah had not told the others about his sister. It was something he guarded carefully. If there was a problem concerning Hannah, Josiah might need the support of his friends. “Hannah is Josiah’s sister. She lives at the mission in Vista City.”

“How is it that you know about her and none of the rest of us do?”

“Josiah didn’t want anybody to know about her. I only found out when that Pinkerton agent tried to pin those murders on him. I went to Vista City to find out what Josiah did there. I stumbled onto his secret. He asked me to keep it to myself until he was ready to tell the rest of you.”

“So, if there’s a problem with his sister, do you think he would welcome our interference? If he didn’t want to confide in us about her, then maybe we should just let him handle things on his own.”

“Chris, his sister is not a young woman. If it was urgent, it may be that he will need his ‘family’ at his side.”

“You’re probably right. How about you, me and Ezra heading out at first light? Nathan, the town needs you and I don’t know how long we’ll be gone. Buck and JD, you can keep an eye on the jail.”

It was nearly dark by the time Josiah reached the mission. He left Prophet at the livery and paid the young man there extra to cool down and brush the winded animal. With shaky knees, he ran to the mission. The little Mexican nun that came to the gate stared, wide-eyed at Josiah as she let him in.

When he reached the office of the Mother Superior, he tried to calm himself. After getting his breathing under control, he knocked on the door and waited for an invitation to enter.

When the door opened, Josiah saw that there was someone else in the office with her. “Josiah! I didn’t expect you here so soon! Come in, please, there is someone here to see you, too.”

He stepped into the office and closed the door behind him. The man sitting with his back to the door turned slowly and Josiah felt his heart skip a beat. “What are you doing here? I thought you were dead! How did you find her?”

“It would seem that the stories of my death have been exaggerated.”

The man stood slowly and offered his hand. Josiah glared at the hand as if it were diseased. The hand was slowly withdrawn. He was in his seventies. His hair was steel gray and his skin was darkly tanned. His face was deeply lined with age and clean-shaven but his eyes were exactly the same as Josiah’s.

“Well, you can just crawl back into whatever hole you’ve been living in for the past few years and leave Hannah and me alone! We don’t want you here and we don’t need you!”

“Josiah? Is that any way to speak to your father? Have you forgotten all we taught you growing up? Honor thy father and thy mother?”

“You lost the right to be called father when you beat my sister until she lost her sanity. Now, you have until daylight to get out of here or I will remove you!”

The soft-spoken nun gasped before she called out, “Josiah! All are welcome here. Perhaps you should seek solitude in the chapel for a while until you have better control of your emotions.”

Josiah blinked at the nun. “This man is the reason that Hannah is the way she is! I don’t want him to see her. It will only upset her.” He glared once more at his father before he stormed out of the office and went in search of his sister.

He found Hannah in her room, asleep. As he stood in the doorway, he felt the rage tightening in his chest. ‘That man will never hurt you again, Hannah, so help me God’ he whispered. She looked so peaceful when she slept. He left her room and went to the room that he used when he visited the mission.

Chris and the others set out just after daylight. Ezra looked like he could have used a few more hours of sleep but to give the gambler his due, he didn’t complain. Vin was quiet as they headed out. He felt badly about betraying Josiah’s confidence.

At breakfast that morning, Josiah glared when he saw Jubal sitting across the table from Hannah. He clenched his fists and started across the dining room. Before he had taken a handful of steps, the Mother Superior blocked his path.

“I will not allow you to cause a confrontation with him, Josiah. As you can see, your sister does not object to his presence here. He does not speak to her, he only sits and watches her. One of the other sisters is always nearby if Hannah should require assistance.”

Josiah looked at his sister and then at the woman standing before him. He would not violate the solitude of the dining room no matter how badly he wanted to snatch that man from the bench and pound him into a wall. He nodded curtly and turned and left the room.

Later that morning, he found Hannah in the garden, painting. Jubal sat off to one side, watching her work. In his hands lay a very, very old, and very worn Bible. Josiah drew several deep breaths to try to calm his racing heart before he walked over and sat down on a bench across from his father.

“She’s been like this ever since I found her a few years ago. The sisters here take good care of her and I send whatever funds I can to help cover the cost of her care.”

“You have been a good brother. If only you had not been so rebellious as a teenager.”

“You left me no other choice.”

“Train up a child in the way that he should go and he will not depart from it. I was trying to put your feet on the path of righteousness.”

“By beating me? Where in the Bible does God give permission to beat a helpless child?”

Jubal raised his eyes and looked at his son. He shook his head sadly and leafed thru his Bible. His lips moved as he silently prayed. Josiah watched for a minute before he got up and moved closer to Hannah. She was painting a scene he didn’t recognize. He knelt down near the wall and called her name softly.


She looked at him for a moment and smiled. She then returned to her painting. Josiah sat on the ground and leaned against the wall. He had spent many, many hours sitting against that wall talking to his sister in the past few years.

When the bells sounded for morning vespers, Jubal got up and left the garden.

Chris and the others arrived in mid afternoon. Ezra took the horses to the livery while Vin and Chris approached the mission gates. One of the sisters looked at them quizzically as they stood at the gate.

“May I help you?”

“We’re looking for our friend, last name of Sanchez? Big guy, going gray, big blue eyes?”

“Jubal or Josiah?”

Chris and Vin looked at each other. “Jubal Sanchez? Who is Jubal Sanchez?”

“His daughter Hannah has been in our care for the past few years.”

Ezra arrived in time to hear the last statement from the nun. “It would appear, gentlemen, that Josiah’s father has decided to make an appearance in their lives. It may be fortuitous that we arrived as quickly as we did because I do not anticipate tender emotions to be the expected response.”

Chris looked at Vin. “What did he say?”

“That we better get in there before Josiah and Jubal get at each other’s throat.” Vin said.

“May we enter, dear sister, that we might ascertain whether or not our friend requires our assistance or support?” Ezra purred in his best Southern gentleman’s voice.

The nun opened the gate. “You will find them in the garden to your left.”

As the men moved to find the garden, the nun closed and locked the gate again. They rounded the corner of the building and came to a stop. Josiah sat on the ground leaning against the wall. An older woman, humming happily, painted a canvas that rested against the wall. In the opposite corner, an older man sat, holding a book on his lap as he watched the other two.

“That’s Hannah. I tried to talk to her the last time I was here. She’s not right in the head. Josiah thinks it’s because of something their father did to her after he left home. That’s why he’s kept her a secret.” Vin whispered.

Another nun came around the building and asked, “May I help you find someone?”

Josiah looked up suddenly. He pushed off of the wall and came to his feet. “What are you doing here?”

“We thought we’d come and see if you need any help. The telegraph operator said whatever sent you racing out of town was urgent.” Chris explained quietly.

Hannah looked up and her eyes locked on Vin. She began to whimper and back into the corner. “Um, Josiah, I thing she remembers me being here before.”

Josiah turned and rushed to her side. “Hannah, it’s all right. No one will hurt you.”

She trembled all over as she stared at Vin. Jubal Sanchez came to his feet and approached her. Hannah turned her tear filled eyes on him and began to tug at Josiah’s clothes. The nun hurried to Hannah’s side and put her arms around the frightened woman. She coaxed Hannah into the building and out of sight.

“Why is my daughter afraid of your friends, son?”

Josiah glared at him. “Don’t call me that! Hannah has always had bad reactions to strangers, that’s why they keep her cloistered here.”

“It looked as if she knows that man. I don’t want him around her anymore.”

“You don’t make the rules around here, Jubal. I decide whom she sees and whom she doesn’t. You lost the right to have a say about her when you drove her crazy.” The rage was fairly dripping from Josiah’s voice as he stood toe to toe with the older man.

“We’ll see. Josiah, I have come to take charge of Hannah. I am going to return with her to San Francisco. They have a fine facility there that will help her to come out of her shell of silence.”

Josiah took hold of the man by the front of his clothes and snarled into his face. “You will not take her any place with you. I will see you dead first!”

Chris and Vin moved quickly to take hold of Josiah and made him release the man. He released his father and shoved him so that he staggered back into Ezra who had moved around behind him. Jubal’s blue eyes flashed angrily at his son and then at each of the men at his side. He turned to Ezra and nodded his thanks before picking up the Bible that had fallen from his hands. He kissed the book reverently.

“Whoso curseth his father or his mother, his lamp shall be put in obscure darkness.” Jubal intoned as he walked away from them.

Josiah shrugged off the hands that still held his arms. “I can’t let him take her. She won’t survive if he gets hold of her again. You should go back, I will be here for a while.”

Ezra spoke softly, “Mr. Sanchez, perhaps you should have legal representation. If your father does try to gain control of your sister, you may need someone to help you gain custody of her.”

Josiah looked at Ezra for a minute, “You may be right. Thank you, Ezra. Perhaps you would be willing to stay and give me the benefit of your expertise. Chris, you and Vin should return to Four Corners.”

The four men left the mission and went to the cantina in town to have a drink and talk. Chris tried to get Josiah to talk about his father. Vin kept changing the subject until finding himself on the receiving end of the infamous Larabee glare.

After having supper and a few drinks at the cantina, Josiah returned to the mission while the other three took rooms at the boarding house. Chris had agreed to return to Four Corners with Vin in the morning.

Josiah looked in on Hannah before he went to bed. He was surprised to find the Mother Superior sitting in the chair beside of Hannah’s bed.

“Your father has said that he intends to move Hannah to a hospital in San Francisco. He feels that they will be able to heal her mind there. He says they are leaving at the end of the week.”

Josiah clenched his hands into fists as he stood over Hannah’s bed. “I will not let him take her from here. She feels safe here and she is improving here. Sister, you cannot let him take her from you. She needs you! Hannah needs you!”

The woman came to her feet and embraced Josiah as he began to cry softly.

After breakfast the next morning, Ezra returned to the mission after Chris and Vin left for home. Josiah informed him that his father intended to try to remove Hannah at the end of the week.

“Mr. Sanchez, perhaps you should wire the judge, he will, undoubtedly, be the one who hears the case. I have already sent a wire to an attorney friend of my mother who will be able to explain your legal rights. I expect he will arrive by stage in a day or two.”

Josiah dragged his hand thru his hair. “Ezra, you know I can’t afford to be paying for a lawyer, every cent I have goes to taking care of Hannah.”

“Never fear, my good man, the fees will be taken care of. You won’t have to dip into your meager reserves to defend you dear sister.”

Sanchez felt a surge of warmth in his chest for the gambling conman. He clapped Ezra on the shoulder as he raised his face toward the sun.

Chris and Vin rode side by side across the desert. They talked about the possible trouble that could arise out of the confrontation between the Sanchez father and son.

“Did you see the look in Josiah’s eyes? I thought for a minute that he was really gonna hit his own father. I never saw the preacher so angry.”

“I know. I’m starting to worry about him. What do you know about Josiah and his sister? How come none of the rest of us knew about her?”

Before Vin could answer, riders crested the hill to the west of them and rode down on them fast and hard. The two men exchanged a knowing glance and kicked their horses to evade the perceived danger.

The Lancaster gang crested the hill and headed for the pair coming from Vista City. Isaiah Lancaster had been on the run for the past two years. He had started his crime spree by robbing a stage near Colorado City and killing everyone on board. He also robbed several banks and held up two stages carrying gold to the army forts in the New Mexico territory. He was in the company of a pair of brothers from Mexico who were notorious for their brutality. The other two members of his gang were ex-slaves who were also the muscle behind the group.

Diego leapt for the man in the hide coat and knocked him from the saddle. They came up in a crouch facing each other. Vin’s gun had been knocked from its holster and he was left to defend himself with only his knife. The Mexican grinned evilly as he pulled the deadly blade from his belt and took a swipe at the other man. Vin danced away from the arcing blade and lashed out with his own.

Realizing that Vin was down, Chris circled around and tried to get back to the tracker’s side. Seeing the three men holding guns pointed at his friend as he fought the fourth man, Chris surrendered. Easing his gun from the holster, he dropped it onto the hard-packed earth and put his hands in the air.

Isaiah smiled. He had not expected the man to give in so easily. He gestured for him to step down from the saddle. Pointing toward the group surrounding Vin, he waived the end of the gun and Chris started walking.

The knife lashed out and the Mexican hissed as it opened a shallow groove on his forearm. As the blood dripped from the wound, he flashed the knife into the other hand and advanced on the long-haired man again. Paulo lashed out with his whip, catching Vin’s feet and jerking them from under him. The Texan let go a cry of rage as the other man pounced on him. After a moment, the man had pinned Vin’s arms at his sides and had him by the hair with the knife placed against his throat.

“Don’t hurt him! Please? I don’t know what you want but it isn’t necessary to hurt anyone,” Chris called as he edged closer to his friend.

“Don’t kill him … yet,” Isaiah called as he rode up behind Chris. Diego withdrew the knife and slid it into the sheath on his belt before slamming his fist into Vin’s jaw sending the man into oblivion.

“What can you tell me about your father, Mr. Sanchez?”

“He changed after my mother died. We moved around a lot. Taking the word of God to the heathens and the un-churched meant we never stayed in one place very long. I was able to protect Hannah for a while. I tried to keep her safe and let her be a kid. Jubal got to the point where he even forbade her to smile or laugh. She was just a little girl! As she got older, it got worse. One time she tried to stay in one of the towns where we stopped. She had found a family that would take her in. That was the beginning. He accused her of things and it seemed like she did them just to be what he called her.”

“So why would he show up here after all these years and try to take her? What can he possibly hope to gain? It sounds as if she is better off where she is,” Ezra offered.

“Redemption. He’s seeking to make things right before he dies. I can’t let him take her, Ezra! She’s all the family I have left!”

“Now there you would be mistaken, Mr. Sanchez. Mr. Tanner went out of his way to clear you of the murder of Miss Dunlap. Mr. Jackson has been steadfastly by your side thru thick and thin. And then there is the habit you have made of referring to me by that appalling appellation …”

“What are you trying to say, son?” Josiah asked with a teasing smile.

“Merely that our little band of misfits has become a family of a sort and that when one of us is in danger, all of us will come to their rescue. Nonetheless, we will not let your dear sister go without putting up a fight.”

Chris and Vin were tied together, back to back and settled near a large stone. Their saddle bags were ransacked for anything of value that they might have after Isaiah sent Joby to retrieve the horse and gun from where he had forced the man from the saddle. Paulo tended to his brother’s injury and then walked over and kicked Vin viciously in the thigh.

“What are we going to do with them, Mr. Lancaster?” Joby asked in a whining tone of voice left over from his slavery years.

“I haven’t decided that yet. Maybe we’ll take them with us for a few days and drop them off some place else. For right now we will just keep them tied up.”

After the horses had rested, Lancaster ordered the men tied onto their horses and they set off. Vin worked the ropes on his wrists until he heard one of the others move up alongside of him. Diego cast a threatening gaze at the young man that finally caused a shudder to ripple thru him. A harsh, guttural laugh burst forth before he moved ahead to speak to his boss.

Paulo studied the blond man from slightly behind him and to his side. The hard, hazel eyes scanned the horizon and the group of riders, taking in everything. When he moved up beside the prisoner, the man glared at him in a cold, appraising manner. Paulo sensed the challenge in those eyes and decided to break the man. He began to look for the hole in the prisoner’s armor, the weakness that he could use.

The two men entered the dining room and took seats across from Hannah. The woman glanced up at them and then dismissed them from her mind. Jubal entered the room and received a bowl of the thick vegetable soup from one of the sisters. As he looked around the room, his eyes fell on his children and the smaller stranger seated with them. He knew better than to approach them so he took a seat near the hearth.

After lunch, one of the sisters came to Josiah and asked if he would mind cutting up some kindling for them. He nodded after looking to Ezra to make sure he would stay with Hannah. The physical activity might be just the thing to prevent him from doing anything to frighten the gentle sisters.

The first piece of wood split easily under the force of the ax. A young boy quickly righted one half of the log to be reduced into smaller pieces. It quickly evolved into a game, the boy quickly up-righting the pieces for Josiah to split. As soon as the boy lifted his hands from the last piece, the ax would quickly split the quarter sections into eighths. When they had a considerable pile of kindling, he called a halt and let the ax drop from his hands. The diminutive waif looked up at the big man and let go a sigh of awe at the display of strength.

The elder Sanchez entered the garden and watched his daughter. Hannah was painting the wall as the brightly dressed young man sat reading to her from the Bible. He recognized the verses and moved closer.

“The Songs of Solomon, how appropriate. I don’t believe we were properly introduced. My name is Jubal Sanchez. Let us not have any difficulty between us.”

“Mr. Sanchez, I do not desire any difficulty between us but I will not stand idly by and watch you take Miss Sanchez from this place.” Ezra didn’t offer the man his name as a show of how little he thought of him.

“I don’t know what my son has told you but I assure you that I only want the best for my children. Josiah was a troubled young man. He struggled with the path that the Lord called him to follow. Certainly you can appreciate the difficulty between a father and son?”

“Having grown up without the benefit of male guidance, I’m afraid I don’t.”

“It was difficult for them, moving around as much as we did. I could have left them with friends but I wanted to keep them with me. Certainly you can understand that?”

“Mr. Sanchez, you have no need to convince me of anything. I know that Josiah has been caring for his sister for quite a while. If you were truly sincere in your concern for her or for them, you should have been here long before now.”

The bells announced afternoon vespers and Jubal sadly walked away from the pair in the garden.

When Lancaster called a halt for the day, the prisoners were yanked off of the horses. Vin staggered on the injured leg, falling against Tomas. The black man shoved the Texan, causing him to fall. Chris struggled to get around the horses to help his friend. Paulo watched as the blonde dropped beside his friend and checked him for injuries. A slight nod showed that he had found the hole in the prisoner’s armor.

“Mr. Lancaster, I think it would be better if we kept the prisoners apart. We don’t want them planning anything. That young one is dangerous, I’ve seen his kind before. If he thinks he can get away with it, he’ll attack one of us.”

“Very well, Paulo, separate them. Take Joby and the blonde and get some firewood.”

“I’m okay, Chris. My leg just stiffened up. It’s bruised pretty deep where he kicked me.”

“Just keep your head down and don’t try anything until you’re all right. We’re outnumbered and those guys are twice our size. I’ll see if I can get us some water. You just take it easy.”

As Chris sat back on his heels, Paulo grabbed him by the arm.

“Let’s go! You got work to do!”

The Larabee glare hit the man squarely in between the eyes and the man didn’t even flinch. Instead, he shifted his gaze to Vin and smiled. Chris didn’t miss the threat.

“You just leave him alone. You did enough already.”

Paulo lashed out again, striking Vin on the upper arm and knocking him over. Chris swung with his bound hands and missed. A fist landed squarely in his stomach before his legs were cut out from under him by the whip wrapping around his ankles. Suddenly, both of the black men were standing over them. Chris let himself lay back on the ground to show that he would not continue to resist.

“Tomas, take the long-haired one and tie him to the tree over there. I want them to understand what will happen when they cause trouble.”

Chris immediately tried to sit up, protesting. “Don’t, it wasn’t his fault. I started the fight! If you want to punish someone, punish me!”

“Ah, but that would not teach you anything. If you are disobedient, I will punish him, if he disobeys, I will punish you. That should keep both of you in line, don’t you think?”

Joby pulled Chris to his feet and dragged him to the tree. Tomas had Vin on the ground and was fighting him out of his coat. Joby went to his aid and they had Vin secured to the tree in no time. The Texan was naked to the waist and his arms were wrapped around the trunk of the tree. Paulo had kept Chris in a submissive posture by reminding him that the longer he resisted, the worse it would be for his young friend.

When Joby and Tomas finished, they stepped back to await the show. Paulo pulled the whip from his belt and let it play out between his hands. He studied the blonde man, prolonging the agonizing wait. The rapid rise and fall of Chris’s shoulders showed that he was getting upset. Taking the steps that put him in range of the bound man, Paulo let the whip sing thru the air and struck the ground at the bound man’s feet. The involuntary flinch was just what he hoped for.

“For the first offense, I will only give him one lash,” Paulo announced. He drew the whip back and let it sail again. He aimed for the small of the bound man’s back. It would sting and burn with the sweat of the next days’ ride. He hit what he aimed for and was rewarded with a gasp of pain. Turning his head, he watched the blonde man struggle against the hands that restrained him. He rolled the whip around his hand until he came to the end. He walked over and rubbed the muddy blood from the lash onto Chris’s cheek.

Buck smiled at Millie as she stroked his shoulder. He was getting ready to head out on his patrol and he reluctantly let the woman walk away. A long, frustrated sigh drifted out.

“Oh Buck, she’ll be here when you get back. Don’t even give me that look! I’m not taking your patrol tonight! I’ve been on patrol all afternoon and I’m wore out. Besides, I have plans for this evening with Casey,” JD announced loudly.

“Does Miss Nettie know about your plans, kid?” Buck teased. He got the desired response, JD’s cheeks and ears reddened slightly.

“It’s nothing like that, Buck! Is that all you think about?”

“What else is there?” The ladies man asked as he threw a broad grin at his young friend.

Nathan came into the saloon and dropped into a chair. He had been out all afternoon at the Perry place trying to help deliver a calf.

“Well, was it a bull or a heifer?” Buck asked.

“Heifer. Dang thing was all tangled up on the inside. We almost didn’t get her out. I have been promised several jars of Mrs. Perry’s prize winning preserves in payment.”

JD set a beer in front of the tired healer. He wasn’t surprised when Nathan agreed to go help with the birth. The Perry’s were dirt poor and just barely making it on their spread. They lost their bull and several calves the previous season to rustlers. The lawmen had been able to recover the bull but the calves were long gone.

“We got a telegram from Chris. He and Vin are headed back here and Ezra and Josiah are staying on in Vista City. They should be here by tomorrow. Ezra asked if I would gather a few of his things and put them on the stage when it comes thru tomorrow. I already packed a bag for him. If I’m on patrol when the stage comes thru here tomorrow, will one of you see that it gets on board?”

“Of course, I’ll take care of it JD. Do you have any idea what’s happening in Vista City?”

“No, that wasn’t on the telegram.”

Joby shoved Chris toward the woods. Paulo followed, pulling the whip thru his hands menacingly. The Negro and the prisoner picked up the fallen limbs and carried them back to the fire. Every time they returned to the camp, Chris looked for Vin. The first time he saw him, they hadn’t taken him down from the tree. Chris pleaded with Paulo to get him down and the man only laughed. The next time they returned to the camp, Vin was nowhere to be found.

By the time Paulo allowed Chris to stop gathering firewood, he was stumbling from exhaustion. The Mexican had insisted on bringing great amounts of heavy limbs back to the camp. He collapsed on the ground and was handed a canteen of water. Before taking a drink, he looked around the camp.

“Where’s Vin?”

“Don’t worry, he’s fine. You wanted him released from the tree so we released him from the tree. Drink your water and be quiet.” Paulo barely glanced at the blonde man as he dipped food from the pan beside the fire.

The ground rushed up and hit him again and he struggled to regain his feet. Vin had been walking behind the horse for over an hour. Tomas had pummeled him with his fists and feet before cutting the rope that bound him to the tree. He and Diego had tied a rope to Peso’s saddle horn and his wrists. A second rope was attached to the bridle and the horse was driven in a large circle. Every time Vin fell, the horse stopped. Tomas was becoming angry that the animal would not drag his master no matter how many times he was lashed. The horse tried to bite the Negro when he came close.

Josiah waited until Hannah was in bed for the night before he went for a walk. The heat of the day was gone and the desert air cooled rapidly. He felt the rage building in his mind until he thought he would explode. Dropping to the ground, he slammed his fist into the ground.

“Why? Why? Why are you doing this? Why couldn’t he just stay dead? Have I not prayed hard enough for Hannah? She’s innocent! Please don’t let him take her away!”

As the rage poured out of his body, he let his head down on his arms and wept. His father had been a larger than life monster. He could still remember the last time he had been beaten by him. Hannah had been found in the company of an undesirable young man. Jubal had flown into a rage, berating the young man and calling down the wrath of God against him. The townspeople had defended the man and forced Jubal and the children out of town.

When they stopped for the night, his father had turned on Hannah. His sister had retreated into silence as her father called her a harlot and a prostitute. Josiah had made the mistake of getting in the way when Jubal came to begin his punishment of the girl. His own father had lashed his hands to a tree limb and beaten him with his belt until the teenager felt blood running down his legs. He had passed out once, only to be awakened by Hannah’s screams as she saw what their father had done.

With a startled jerk, Josiah came awake. Sand clung to his face where the moisture of his tears had given it purchase. His back and arms ached from the hours he had spent cutting kindling the day before. The sun was just peeking over the horizon when he pushed his body up and headed back to the convent.