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Raul's Victory
Fan Fiction

 

 

Magnificent Seven Ranch: 
Lessons
By Victory

Disclaimer: I donít own The Magnificent Seven and Iím not making any profit from this story. You could sue me but any percentage of nothing is still nothing.
Warnings
: If you donít believe in spanking children as a form of discipline (not abuse), then donít read these stories.
Type: Gen
The New AU type: Okay, I know there are a couple of AUís with the boys as brothers, and I love them all. This is something I have been unable to get out of my head. The "what if?" of it was what if the boys were brothers but were actually still kids. I left them in the Old West and put them on a cattle ranch (think Bonanza). The boys all range in age from 31 to 5. I left Chris in charge but Josiah has all of the legal control, being the oldest and all.

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Chapter #1 : The New Law
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New Circuit Court Judge Orrin Travis stepped off the stage in the small frontier town of Four Corners. The town looked the same as the last five towns the Judge had passed through. As the new Judge of the area, he felt the need to visit all of the towns in his jurisdiction. This town held a couple of good reasons to stop for a longer visit though. The first being his daughter-in-law, Mary, who was the newspaper editor of the small local paper, The Clarion. The Judge was looking forward to seeing her. His second reason revolved around The Magnificent Seven Ranch.

When the Judge took this job, the clerk had handed him a rather thick file on The Magnificent Seven Ranch. When he began to go through the information, what he found intrigued him. He found that all of the men and boys were brothers with the same father, Lincoln Larabee, but they all had different mothers. The information didnít give specifics, but all of the Ďmothersí were dead. All with the exception of one Maude Standish. The file didnít say why she wasnít raising her son, especially after Lincolnís death last year. The Judge figured he would talk to Mary and find out what she knew.

***********

School was out!! Young Vin Tanner was grateful. It wasnít that he hated learning, it was that he hated the other kids, the confinement of the classroom and the fact that his reading wasnít as good as other boys his age. At 8 years old, most kids were reading quite well. The teacher just assumed that Vin had no formal training while he was with his motherís people. The truth of the matter was that Vin couldnít keep the letters from moving all over the paper when he read. When he was living with his mama and the Indians, he didnít need to know English. It wasnít until his mama died and he was sent to live with his pa and white people that the problems arose.

"Vin!"

Vin turned to see Jake Peterson approach. Ut-oh.

"Hey half breed. Where you going? Donít you have special dummy lessons to do with Miss Jones?"

"Leave me 'lone Peterson." Vin sneered as he tried to walk away. Ezra noticed the trouble brewing and intervened.

"Gentlemen and I use the term lightly, my brother asked you to leave."

"Whatís the matter half breed? Canít you fight your own battles? Big brother gotta help you?"

Ezra could see that Vin was about to explode so he looked around and noticed Nathan approaching. He nodded to Nate and turned back to the bully and smiled. "I do believe that master JD could beat you. However since our baby brother isnít in school yet, I fear you are going to have to wait for that thrashing. Good day." Ezra took Vinís arm and moved toward Nathan. The bully retreated when he saw he was out numbered.

"You know Ezra. One of these days yer silver tongue isnít gonna get you out of trouble."

"That is why I have brothers. When that happens, I trust you will back me up."

"Hurrumph. More like get my own self beat up and then is yer silver tongue gonna save ya from Chris?"

"Our esteemed older brother seems immune to my charms."

Ezra heard Vin giggle. "Something funny?"

"Just you Ez. Chris is immune to all our charms. He never believes a single thing we tell him when ya get us in trouble." Vin smirked.

"Me? Have you forgotten who lead us into that abandoned mine to explore? And do you recall that same person starting a campfire that nearly suffocated us?"

"Hey how was I suppose to know that a bird had built a nest on the vent hole."

"Youíre the Indian tracker Junior." All three boys turned around.

"Buck! How long you been standing there?" Vin asked.

"Long enough to see Ezra and Nate save you from Chris and his wrath."

"Werenít my fault." Vin pouted.

"Doesnít matter. I would have stopped it had Ezra and Nate not already done it. You know Chris doesnít want you fighting, especially in school."

"Ainít in school. We done got out already." Vin crossed his arms across his chest.

"I know. I came by to pick yaíll up."

"Whereís Chris? He usually picks us up."

Buck squatted in front of Vin and smiled. "Chris is in town and we are going to go meet him. I thought you boys would like to go to the general store and get some candy for after supper. Is that okay with you Junior?"

"Yeah!" Vin took one leap and he was in the wagon.

Buck stood up with a groan. "Boy I wish I had your energy."

"At least yer not as old as Chris." Vin giggled again.

"Keep it up boy. One of these days that old man is gonna have enough of your teasing."

"I ainít teasing Buck. Twenty-five is old."

"Maybe to a small fry like you."

"I ainít small!" Vin yelled.

"Anything you say Junior." Buck drove into town and headed for the general store.

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Chapter #2 : Trouble
********************

Chris Larabee was tired. Running a ranch as large as the M7 Ranch was challenging at best, but what exhausted him was the small five year old whose hand he held tightly. Chris was counting the days to when his youngest brother would go to school with his other brothers. Let Miss Jones deal with his endless energy. They were headed to the general store to meet Buck and the others. The whole time JD was bouncing along the boardwalk.

"JD. Please stop bouncing."

"Iís skippiní Chris. Not bounciní."

"Well whatever you call it, quit." Chris said more sternly then he intended.

JD stopped and looked at his brother. Yup. That vein is throbbing again. "Okay." JD whispered and walked with his head down.

Chris looked at him and immediately felt guilty. "Iím sorry JD. Iím just tired. I want to get to the wagon and go home. Donít you want to get home so you can play?"

"Yeah." JD still didnít look up. Chris stopped and squatted in front of JD.

"JD. Iím sorry I snapped at ya. Will ya forgive me?"

JD smiled and hugged Chris around the neck. "Okay."

Chris picked JD up and held him. "Why donít we go see what kind of trouble those brotherís of ours are getting into?"

"Okay." Chris set JD back onto his feet and took his hand. As they were about to cross the street, Chris saw Mary wave and approach with an elderly gentleman.

"Chris." Mary hugged him.

"Mary. How are you today?"

"Fine. Iím great actually. I want you to meet my father-in-law." Mary turned to the Judge. "Chris this is Orrin Travis. Orrin this is Chris Larabee."

"Well, Mr. Larabee. Itís good to meet you." He looked at JD who was hiding behind Chrisí legs. "And who is this young man?"

"Oh Judge, this is JD Dunne. Chrisí baby brother."

The Judge put his hand out to shake, but JD shied away.

"JD. Donít be rude." Chris said as he drew JD from behind him. "The Judge isnít going to hurt you."

JD stuck his hand out and said, "Hi. My nameís JD."

"Well, JD. You can call me Judge Travis." They shook hands then the Judge stood up to face Chris.

"Judge of what?" Chris asked.

"Iím sorry. Iím the new circuit court Judge for this area."

"What happened to Judge Blackwell?"

"He had some health problems so he retired."

"If youíre the new Judge then we probably should sit down and talk."

"Well, Mr. Larabee that was exactly why I wanted Mary to introduce me. I have heard of the arrangement your father had with Mr. Blackwell."

"I hope there wonít be any problems with keeping it the same. I was concerned when Pa died last year." Chris felt JD stir when there fatherís death was mentioned. "However, I would prefer to talk in private. The younger boys are still having a tough time with País passing."

The Judge noticed JDís discomfort also. "In private then. How about sometime tomorrow."

"Tomorrow would be fine if you can come out to the ranch. I donít have anyone to watch the boys over the weekend."

"Thatís fine. Iím sure Mary can bring me out."

"Good. Then I will see you tomorrow, for lunch, then weíll talk."

"Perfect." He shook Chrisí hand and JDís again.

"Until tomorrow."

"Tomorrow." Chris smiled and walked across the street with JD.

**************

Ezra and Vin were sitting in the wagon waiting for Buck and Nathan to finish up. As Nathan walked out of the store, Jake Peterson appeared and pushed him down. Vin was immediately out of the wagon helping Nathan sit up.

"You okay Nate?"

"Yeah. Stupid fool just pushed me." Nathan stood up and found himself grabbed in a headlock.

"Peterson. Let him go and I wonít have to kill ya."

"Big talk half breed. You canít hurt me. Not while I have your brother."

Ezra decided to join Vin to help Nathan. He had his derringer in his sleeve if it was needed. His mother had given it to him at his fatherís funeral. Told him that he was a man now and that he should learn to protect himself. However, Chris didnít agree. He had caught him practicing and the gun was taken away and locked up. Chris claimed he was too young at twelve to use a gun. That derringer was still locked up in Chrisís desk. Ezraís mother had given him another on her last visit, for his birthday. Chris didnít know about this one yet and Ezra was fairly certain he could talk himself out of any trouble he found himself in with Chris, if he did find out.

"Makes you wonder what kind of man has so many sons. If it ainít bad enough he mated with a darky, he even mixed with injuns. Such a waste. Whatís wrong with yer Pa? He donít like white woman?"

Vin had had enough. While Jake was distracted, Vin lunged at him. Nathan was forgotten as Vin swung at Jake. He was so enraged, that he never heard Buck and Chris tell him to stop. He came back to his senses when he was pulled off Jake by Chris, who shook him to get his attention.

"I said Stop it!" Chris yelled.

Vin looked at Chris and then down at Jake who was holding a cloth to his bloody nose. Then he looked into the angry face of Chris Larabee.

"Aw hell." Vin hung his head.

"That all you have to say? How many times do I have to tell you to control your temper?"

"Obviously not enough." Ezra said under his breath.

Chris turned toward Ezra and glared. "And you." Chris took Vin by the arm and walked the two steps to Ezra. He put his free hand out, palm up. "Give me that peashooter." Ezra sighed and handed Chris the derringer. "We will discuss this at home." Chris put the derringer in his pocket and said, "I want everyone, except Buck in the wagon. I want you all to sit there quietly and wait until Buck is finished in the store."

Buck spoke. "What about you pard?"

"Vin and I are going to have a little talk in the jail. Weíll be back in a few minutes and you all better be sitting right where you are when I get back. Is that understood?"

"Yes sir." Was heard from three frightened boys.

"Good." Chris stalked off dragging Vin with him.

When they saw them enter the jailhouse, Buck whistled. "That boy sure does know how to push Chris over the edge."

"What's Chris gonna do Buck?"

"JD my boy. All I can say is you better leave a space for Vin to stand and hold onto a seat. Heís not gonna want to sit." Buck walked into the store to finish getting the supplies.

************

Chris entered the jailhouse and smiled at John Franklin. John saw him dragging Vin and knew what was wanted.

"Iíll give you two some privacy."

"Thanks John. Weíll only be a minute."

After the sheriff left, Chris released Vinís arm. "Would you like to explain to me why I came down the street and found you beating Jake Peterson to a pulp?" Vin didnít answer right away. "What did he say this time? He insult you being part Indian? Or was it something else?" Chris was still angry. He had been trying to teach Vin how to control his temper and to stay out of unnecessary fights. "Well, Iím waiting."

"He had Nate."

"Okay so you were defending Nate. Why go completely nuts and beat him like you did?"

"Heís talking trash about Pa and my mama and Nateís ma."

"He insulted Pa and your mothers? Correct?" Chris said more calmly.

"Yes."

"Vin. Those arenít good enough reasons to do what you did. You used your Indian training against a defenseless boy."

"He werenít that defenseless after school and I didnít fight him then."

"He was bothering you at school too?"

"Yeah. Ez and Nate helped keep me from beatiní him then."

"Vin you need to learn to control that hot head of yours. If you donít youíre gonna end up in trouble with the law in the future." Chris stood and began to pace. "Vin I would hate to have you get in trouble later because I wasnít able to help curb that temper." Chris returned to stand in front of Vin. "Do you understand me?"

"Yeah." Vin wiped at a stray tear and sniffed. "You gonna spank me?"

"Yes, Vin I am. I told you what to expect if you kept getting into fights."

"Iím sorry though. Please." Vin was softly crying now as he pleaded with Chris.

Chris was tempted to give into his sad little brother, but he also knew that it was going to take something drastic to get Vin to think before he reacted. "Iím sorry too Vin, but I promised." Chris took Vin by the arm and led him to a chair. Chris sat down and drew Vin across his knees. Chris brought his hand down firmly on Vinís backside five times. He stood Vin up and hugged him close. "I love you Vin and I just want you to learn some self control. I want you to remember this spanking the next time you consider fighting. Okay?"

Vin nodded his head against Chrisí shoulder. Chris heard him whisper, "Iím sorry." Chris rubbed his back until the sobs quieted.

"I know. And I forgive you." Chris looked at Vin and took a clean hanky and wiped away the tears. "Letís go make sure those brotherís of yours are still with us."

"Theyís not gonna leave that wagon with you as mad as you was." Vin smiled.

"Donít reckon they would at that. Letís go and have supper."

Chris took Vinís hand and they both walked back to the wagon.

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Chapter #3 : The M7 Ranch
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Josiah rode into the yard slowly. He was tired and dirty from pulling stubborn cattle out of mud holes. He slowly dismounted and arched his back to get out the kinks. He was about to take care of his horse when he heard the wagon approached. His smile brightened when he saw the rest of his family. Buck was driving with Chris next to him. Josiah noticed how Vin was standing, not sitting, while the rest of the boys were sitting in the back. Wonder what kind of trouble there was today. Vin was the first to jump from the wagon even before it was completely stopped. He ran to Josiah, who swept him up and spun him around before he rested him back onto his feet. Vin started to tell him about his day when Chris stopped him.

"Young man. You shouldnít jump from the wagon when itís still moving. You could have been hurt."

Vin hung his head. "Iím sorry. I just wanted to tell Josiah about school and stuff."

Chris sighed. "I know. Just be careful, please."

"Okay."

"Vin go get washed up for supper and you best hope Miss Nettie doesnít see you before hand, or your bound to add a few more swats to your backside."

"Okay." Vin ran ahead of Buck and JD, who were putting away the supplies.

Josiah looked at Chris. "Long day?"

"Josiah. I would rather spend my day doing what you were doing, then corralling those kids."

"Ha. Iíve spent all day dragging dumb cattle out of mud. Iím as tired as I am dirty."

"I hope not too tired because I need you to have a little talk with Ezra." Chris handed the derringer to Josiah.

"This isnít the gun you locked up I hope." Chris could see the storm clouds forming.

"I donít know Josiah. Either way, I told him he was too young to carry a gun and he just ignores me. Iím at the end of my rope with him. He does nothing but sass me and argue with everything I say. I know he obeys you. Iím handing him to you and donít be soft on him. He thinks he rules this roost because you let him get away with too much. Even before Pa died, you always let him talk his way out of trouble, even with Pa."

"Itís hard Chris."

"I know Josiah. Itís much easier to give in then to correct any of them." They both watched JD run around Buck and Ezra as they unloaded the wagon. "I spanked Vin today. I almost caved when he pleaded with me and started to cry. It nearly broke my heart, but it would hurt me more if his temper got him into trouble later in life."

"Another fight?"

Chris nodded. "Another fight."

"Okay. Iíll deal with Ezra."

"Thanks Josiah." Chris started toward the door, and then turned back to him. "By the way. Thereís a new Judge in the area. Blackwell retired. Heís coming by for lunch tomorrow. If you have any work to do, see if you can get the hands to do it for you. I really need you here after lunch while JD takes his nap."

"That boy wonít take a nap on a Saturday."

"Well he is tomorrow. The judge may want to talk about Pa and JD is still having a hard time understanding about death and why his Pa isnít coming back."

"Understood. Iíll be here."

"Thanks Josiah. Letís get washed up before Nettie has our heads.

"Iíll be right behind you after I take care of my horse."

"Okay."

"Chris?"

"Yeah?"

"Send Ezra to his room. Iíll be along to have that talk."

"Will do Josiah."

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Chapter #4 : Day of Reckoning
******************************

Ezra knew he was in trouble. Chris had sent him to his room, but told him that Josiah would be dealing with his disobedience. Ezra wished Chris would deal with him. He knew he was in for a spanking, but he didnít want to think about it from Josiah. Although, sometimes Josiah was a softer touch, he wasnít sure what Chris had told him. Ezra jumped at the knock on his door.

"Come in." Ezra was surprised to see Vin.

"How ya doing Ez?"

"Iím fine now, but I wish it was Chris I was going to have this discussion with."

"I donít know about that Ez." Vin rubbed his sore backside. "Chris ainít easy ta take either."

"True."

"Besides, Ez. Yer always talkiní Ďbout how Josiahís a soft touch and all ya have to do is turn on them tears and he feels bad."

"This is also true. Maybe I can still talk my way out of this."

Just then the door opened. "I wouldnít bet on that one young man."

Ezra gulped as Josiah entered with a scowl on his face. Vin made a quick escape.

"I was simply trying to make Vin feel better."

"By making me sound like a softy?"

"Put that way it isnít flattering is it?"

"Forget it Ezra." Josiah reached into his pocket and retrieved the derringer. "I want to know where you got this. We checked the desk thinking you may have taken it back, but that gun is still there."

"I wouldnít have broken into Chrisí desk. Iím not suicidal."

"Watch your tone. You obviously have some kind of death wish. Your 13, Ezra, not old enough to have a gun much less shoot it, but you already know that now donít you? Where did you get this gun?"

"Mother gave it to me." Ezra looked at the floor.

"Maude? She gave this to you, can I assume, after your birthday."

"Yes. She was shocked that Chris took my other one and when I told her I wouldnít steal it back, she bought this one."

"Chris said he took it from you this afternoon after school. Did you have it at school?"

"Yes."

"Of all the stupidÖyou could have hurt someone, including yourself."

"But I didnít." Ezra defended.

"I wonít argue this point with you Ezra. You knew we didnít want you using a gun, yet you chose to disobey both Chris and myself. Then I find out today that you think Iím the soft touch in the family and that if you start crying Iíll cave in. Well, let me tell you something young man. Things are gonna change. I want you to give me that arm holster that fits this gun. You will not get another from your mother. Chris will be having a talk with her about this when she visits again. You are grounded for two weeks and I will find you some extra chores to keep you busy. Starting now, I expect you to show Chris some respect. If he tells me you have been sassing or back talking him, I will spank you. Is that clear?"

"Yes sir." Ezra thought he was getting off pretty easily until he looked up and saw Josiah removing his belt.

"Josiah, please. Iím sorry. Iíll behave better." He started to cry.

"Iím sorry too Ezra, but you have forced my hand. Come here."

Josiah made it quick but it wasnít painless. When he finished putting his belt back on, he gathered Ezra into a hug. Ezra cried and Josiah comforted him. When his sobs ceased, Josiah spoke.

"I truly hope we donít need to do this again anytime soon. Respect Chris. I know you have better manners than that. Okay?"

"Okay."

"I love you Ezra." He hugged Ezra again and heard Ezra reply, "I love you too."

"Letís go get something to eat. Iím starved. Okay."

"Okay." Ezra wiped the remaining tears away and managed a small smile. Ezra left his room and before he followed, Josiah grabbed a pillow for Ezraís chair. I really am a softy.

**************

Supper was  lively as usual. Chris let the younger boys have their candy and then they washed up and were tucked into bed. Buck settled and read to JD, while Chris did the same for Vin. Normally, Ezra simply went to sleep, but Josiah decided to tuck Ezra in tonight.

An hour later, Nathan joined them, while Josiah, Chris, and Buck unwound with coffee.

"God, itís been a long day."

"Amen brother Chris."

"Well, gentlemen, I have a date in town so Iím going to wash up. See ya in the morning." Buck headed upstairs to dress and left.

"One of these days heís gonna want to rest on a Friday night."

"I wouldnít take that bet Chris."

"How did your talk with Ezra go?"

"I am a softy."

Chris laughed. "I told you."

"That boy has had my number for the entire three years heís been here. Even Pa went easier on him."

"A lot of that was because Pa wasnít sure what was bad behavior and what was Maudeís training. He didnít want to punish Ezra for behaving like his ma taught him."

"Well, he needs to adjust. I told him things were going to be different from here on out. If heís disrespectful to you Chris I want to know about it. We are going to take care of that quick."

"Sounds like a plan. Can you stick to it?"

"With your help, Maybe." Josiah chuckled. "Iím tired so Iím gonna check the boys and head to bed. Good night Chris."

"Night Josiah. Donít forget tomorrow weíre meeting with Judge Travis."

"Travis? Any relation to the lovely Mary that you are sweet on?"

Chris blushed. "Her father-in-law actually, Mr. Nosey."

Laughter was his response as Josiah went upstairs.

Chris sat and enjoyed the quiet. It never lasted too long in this house.

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Chapter #5 : Morning Repast
****************************

Chris was having the same dream. They were stuck in the house and he couldnít reach them. The flames were too hot to even make an attempt. No one was going in, and no one was coming out. He was about to scream when he was knocked down onto the ground and had the wind knocked out of him. He was dazed for a fraction of a second until he realized he was awake. There was a small amount of pressure on his chest and for a minute he thought maybe he was having a heart attack. He opened his eyes and had to smile at what he saw.

"Hey Chris. Ya ever gonna wake up huh?"

"JD. What are you doing up so early on a Saturday?í

"I had a bad dream. I went to find Buck but heís not in his bed." Chris thought, I could just guess where Buck is. "I looked everywheres and heís not in da house. You think he went where mama and papa went?" Iím gonna have to have a talk with Buck I see.

"JD. He didnít go to heaven. He went into town last night after you went to sleep. It probably got late and he decided to stay in town. Iím sure he will be home for breakfast."

"If Buck is comminí back, how come papa ainít?"

"JD. Papa is in heaven. Heís there with our maís. They canít come back from heaven, but Buck can come back from town. We did it just yesterday."

"Is Sarah and the baby with papa and our mamaís?"

Chris paled slightly. He didnít like to think about his family that was lost a year before he lost his father. "Yes JD. Theyíre all in heaven." Chris wanted to change the subject. "Why donít you get off of my chest and go start getting dressed. Iíll get up and meet you in there to help you finish. Okay?"

JD smiled. "Okay." JD scrambled off of Chris and ran to his room. He heard Nettie tell him to stop running and his soft reply of Ďyes maíamí as he went to his room. Chris rolled over and sighed. He silently prayed for strength to continue without his wife, son, and father.

Chris got dressed and went to help JD. Normally, Buck helped JD get up and ready for school, but on the weekends it fell to Chris or Josiah because Buck seldom ever came home until the next morning from one of his dates. Chris could here Nathan and Josiah downstairs as he headed to get JD. He walked into JDís room and frowned.

"JD. Didnít I tell you to clean this pig sty?"

"Ainít no pigs in here Chris." JD looked puzzled.

"Are you sure about that? They could be hidden anywhere in this mess." Chris smiled as JD started looking for hidden pigs. I must remember that 5 year olds donít grasp sarcasm. "Never mind JD. After breakfast I want you to pick up this mess."

"But Buck was gonna give me another ridiní lesson."

"You can do that afterwards. This room gets picked up first or no riding lesson. Understood?"

"Yeah." JD sadly replied.

"Come on. Letís go eat breakfast." Chris picked up JDís boots and headed downstairs. Once downstairs, Chris helped JD with his boots and headed to the table.

"Morning boys. Are Vin and Ezra up yet?"

"I didnít check. After yesterday it wouldnít surprise me none if they try to stay in bed." Josiah laughed.

"Ezra, maybe, but I canít see Vin staying in all day. It would drive him stir crazy."

"True." Nettie came in with breakfast.

"Where are double troubles?" Nettie laughed.

Nettie Wells was a small but sturdy elderly woman who had lost her husband about five years back. Lincoln Larabee offered her a place as his cook and housekeeper when she needed to feel useful. Now she pretty much ran the house. All of the boys, even Chris and Josiah cowered when she lectured them. She didnít like little boys tracking dirt through the house and she expected proper table manners at all time. She had become the glue that held this family together when Lincoln died last year.

Chris had been so full of grief and anger from the tragic death of his wife and son, that when his father passed, it almost killed him. Nettie had pulled everyone together to support Chris and to do what needed to be done to keep the family together. Nettie had to smile when she thought about what had brought Chris out of his drunken state. JD had wondered off looking for his papa and had become lost.

Chris searched like a man possessed. He knew that his pa wouldnít want him to crawl into a bottle and forget his family. Chris found 4 year old JD crying for his papa and brothers about 10 miles from the house. Chris embraced his lost brother and swore right then that he wouldnít lose sight of what was important again and he vowed to take care of his brothers.

"I think theyíre still upstairs." Josiah answered.

Just then Buck walked in. "You guys sent those two boys out awful early didnít ya?"

"Ezra and Vin are outside?" Chris looked shocked.

"Yep. I donít know what they were doing, but I passed them on the way in to wash up. Theyíre right behind me." Buck sat down and ruffled JDís hair. "Hey little brother. I see you got dressed by yourself."

"Howíd you know Buck?"

"Just a lucky guess." JD had on a tan pair of pants with a light purple t-shirt on.

"I had a bad dream Buck and you wasnít here. Why didnít you come home last night?"

Buck almost choked on his coffee. He looked up to see smiles on everyoneís faces but JDís. "It was too late last night to ride in the dark. Remember what I told you about how dangerous it is to ride at night?"

"Yeah. You said the pony could get his foot hurt. Right?"

"Exactly." JD seemed satisfied and finished eating.

"Nice save stud." Chris said as Ezra and Vin entered and sat down. Chris looked at them both and knew something was up. Any amount of trouble could happen when these two put their Ďtalentsí together. "Morning boys. How come your up so early?"

Vin just shrugged his shoulders. Ezra didnít respond at all. "Vin?"

"Nothiní Chris. We was just talking."

"About what? Ezra?"

He was tired and hadnít slept well, and it made him irritable. "None of your business." It was out of his mouth before he thought. Ezra looked up when he heard Josiahís chair being pushed back. He was removed from his chair when Josiah took his arm and directed him into the spare bedroom. The door closed behind them and everyone at the table was silent. The silence was only broken by several smacking sounds coming from the spare bedroom, then silence again. The door opened to revel Ezra wiping at his eyes and rubbing his backside.

He walked over to Chris and quietly said, "I apologize for being rude."

Chris smiled and said, "Forgiven. How about we eat and get on with the day."

Ezra simply nodded and looked at Josiah. When he nodded, Ezra returned to his chair and began his breakfast.

They talked about what they were planning for the day. Nathan asked and received permission to go fishing with friends. JD was reminded to clean his room then Buck would give him a riding lesson. Josiah agreed to get JDís pony ready for when he finished cleaning his room. Ezra had a list of chores to keep him busy and Vin had the woodpile to work on. When everyone was headed for their tasks, Chris stopped Buck.

"Buck. We need to talk about you being out all night."

"What? Chris, Iím an adult. You really canít be telliníÖ"

"Thatís not what Iím saying. Youíre right. You are 19 and you can stay out all night if you want, but Iím asking you to think about what staying out all night does to JD."

"JD?" Buck was puzzled.

"Yes Buck. When he couldnít find you this morning he thought you had gone to heaven with pa and his ma. It scared him more than that bad dream."

Buck sat down with a defeated sigh. "I thought he was doing better. Itís  been almost a year Chris. I just donít know what to say to him to make him understand."

"Buck. I think he does understand about pa and his ma, but you have always had a special connection with him from the day he was born. You are the big brother he looks to when heís scare or happy."

"What do you need me to do?"

"Iím not asking you to give up your ladies. Hell, that would be like Josiah giving up God." Both brothers laughed. "Just try to come home either that night or before JD wakes up. He doesnít even need to know youíre gone, but he needs the reassurance that you will be here if needed."

"Iíll try pard."

"Thatís all I can ask. Judge Travis will be here for lunch, Iíd like you to help get JD to take a nap and then sit in on the discussion."

"Count on me Chris. Iím gonna go hurry that youngun' along."

"Thanks Buck."

"Anytime pard."

*********************************
Chapter #6 : Hi Ho Hi Ho Ö
*********************************

Ezra hated mucking out the horse stalls. His mother had taught him that gentlemen donít debase themselves with menial labor, however his father believed good hard work made the man. Ezra tended to believe his father. The labor part wasnít very fun, but it did make him feel good. How his mother would be disappointed.

His thoughts were interrupted when JD barreled into him. "JD watch where youíre going. Go play somewhere else." Ezra yelled as he brushed his self off.

JDís bottom lip quivered. "I..Iím sorry Ez. IÖjust neededÖ" he ran from the barn crying.

Josiah entered the barn to find out what was wrong. "Why is JD crying?"

"I donít know. Iím the one who he knocked down."

"So you yelled at him?" Josiah had his fists on his hips.

"Yes, I did. I didnít mean to though. Iíll go apologize." Ezra headed out into the yard and found JD crying on Buckís shoulder. "Hey JD?"

JD looked at Ezra and scrubbed at his eyes. "What!"

"Iím sorry. I shouldnít have yelled at you."

"No you shouldnít have." JD responded.

"JD, youíre supposed to except Ezraís apology, not try to make him feel bad."

"Okay Buck." JD turned to Ezra and saw how sad he looked. He crawled off Buckís lap and hugged Ezra.

"Thank you JD. I needed that." Ezra smiled and so did JD.

"Iím gonna ride my pony Ez. You wanna watch?"

"I would love to JD, but I have a lot of chores to get done before lunch. Thanks anyway. Maybe in a couple of weeks we can go for a ride together."

"Really? That would be great." JD hugged Ezra again and ran off to find Josiah.

"Sure made his day Ez." Buck put his hand on Ezraís shoulder.

"How does he do it Buck?"

"Do what?"

"Change from being sad to happy so quickly."

"I guess itís just a gift." Buck noticed how sad Ezra looked. "You okay pard?"

"Iím okay." Ezra blushed when he realized he was rubbing his sore backside. "Well, at least I will be."

Buck smiled as Ezra headed back to the barn. Josiah and JD came out with JD in the saddle.

"Josiah? You gonna make that boy muck out stalls for the next two weeks?"

"Nah. I wasnít gonna have him do it at all until he gave Chris attitude this morning. Heís fallen back on Ďmy mother made meí too many times."

Buck laughed. "Ha. It always worked with pa."

"Yeah I know and the few times he probably was gonna do something about his attitude, I talked him out of it."

"Well Josiah. All of us have a soft spot for one or more of our brothers that lets them get away with a little more."

"Me and Ezra and Nate?"

"Yep. Then thereís Chris and Vin and Me and JD." They were interrupted by a small giggle. Both turned and saw JD leaning over his ponyís neck while the pony munched on some of Nettieís flowers.

"JD!!" Buck and Josiah pulled the ponyís head away from the flowers. "JD. Nettieís gonna have our hides. You canít let your pony eat the flowers."

"But Buck. I tried to stop him but he wouldnít move. Maybe I need spurs jest like Chris."

"You do not need spurs for this pony. If I ever see you using spurs on this pony I will paddle your britches. Do you understand me?"

"Yes sir Buck. Was jest and idear."

"Well, it was a bad idea JD. Chris uses spurs because that black devil he rides needs it, this pony is gentle and donít need them. Spurs would hurt him."

"Okay buck."

"Have you come up with a good name yet?"

"I like Spot." JD proclaimed.

"Spot? Why Spot?"

"Cause heís got spots silly."

"Pardon me. Letís finish this ride." Buck lead JD down a quiet path that went around the ranch house for about a mile.

Josiah watched them go and headed for the house. He stopped when he heard a horse approach. He waited for the visitor to dismount and then they shook hands.

"Josiah."

"Reverend. What brings you out here this lovely day?"

"Well, I need a favor. My sister had an accident yesterday and I need to go pick her up in Eagle Bend and bring her back. I would like to leave early tomorrow so I can get back by dark."

"If you do that, you need someone to preach for you."

"Exactly. I know itís short notice and if you canít do it, then I will just stay in Eagle Bend over night and come back Monday."

"I can do it for you. No problem. Iím sure I can come up with something profound."

"Great. I owe you one Josiah. Thanks."

"No problem Reverend. It will be my pleasure."

"Good. Then I will see you sometime next week. Thanks again Josiah."

The Reverend mounted and rode off. Josiah turned into the house. Okay Lord. What do I do now?

***************

Vin liked the sound of the axe swinging and connecting with the wood. It was hard work for an 8 year old but he had done harder work while living in the Indian village with his ma. Vin paused to rest and thought about his ma.

They visited his pa many times before his ma actually got sick. Sometimes he found it hard to think he went from no brothers to having six. He had been here for two years when his pa died. Some days it was hard to ponder on, but his brothers helped when he was reminded of his pa.

"And what pray tell are you thinking so hard about?"

Vin was startled. "Hey Ez. Oh nothing. Just thinking about my ma."

"You can have mine." Ezra half joked. "She just gets me into trouble."

"No thanks Ez. I seem to attract trouble without help. I still donít know what happened yesterday."

"You lost your control dear brother."

"I know that Ezra. Jeesh. I was talking about how Peterson seems to know exactly what to say to make me mad."

"I think part of it is you have to except some of the teasing."

"No I donít!" Vin replied indignant.

"Yes you do. Peterson insulted your mother. Was what he said the truth?"

"No!"

"No? Did pa love your mother?"

"Yes. Whatís thatÖ"

"Was she an Indian?"

"Yes."

"Then it could be said that pa loved, how did he put it, injuns?"

Vin thought for a minute. "So when he said pa loved Ďdarkyísí he was sayiní true cause pa loved Nateís mama. Right?"

"Exactly."

"But why did it hurt when he said them things if they were the truth?"

"Well, Peterson wanted them to hurt. That was his whole point. But you have to listen to what he says and if what he says has some kind of truth, then agree with him. If there is no truth in what he says, ignore it. You know better than anyone what your mother was like. Lies donít matter."

"Yer saying donít let him git under my skin."

"Brother Vin I do believe you have got it. It wonít be easy, but Iíll help when I can."

"With or without yer peashooter Ez?"

"Without. That gun has caused me more pain than I want to discuss. I actually canít wait to see my motherís face when Chris has that little talk with her."

"Sheíll probably try convinciní ya to live with her."

"Doesnít matter. I like it here. I like having a stable family life, away from my motherís cons."

"Thatís good Ez, cause I got a few more caves to explore."

"Dear Lord. Could you let my bruised backside heal before you get it into any more trouble."

"I kin wait a couple weeks til ya gitÖ paroled?"

"Yes that would be a good word here. Speaking of child labor, I must complete the Ďmuckingí before lunch."

"Good thing Nettie left already. She wouldnít let you in the house stinkiní like you do."

"Ha ha little brother." Ezra leaned in and sniffed Vin. "You donít smell much better."

"Guess not." Vin welded his axe and Ezra finished pushing the wheel barrel to the manure pile.

Chris smiled from his spot at the window, where he watched Vin and Ezra talk then head back to work.

*********************************
Chapter #7 : Here Come Da Judge
*********************************

Ezra was in the bathhouse getting the stink off when Josiah entered.

"Thatís long enough Ezra. I donít want you turning into a prune. Get dried and dressed then you can help me set out lunch."

"Okay Josiah." Ezra got dressed and entered the kitchen when he heard a buggy. That must be this Judge Chris was talking about. Ezra was peeking out the window when he heard Josiah enter.

"Ezra. Will you get the milk out of the pantry, please. Put some in a pitcher and put it on the table."

"Sure Josiah. Hey Josiah? Is that the Judge that Chris was talking about?"

"Yep. I want you on your best behavior. Just because the Judge is here doesnít mean I wonít remove you if youíre rude. Understood?"

"Yes sir. Iíll behave."

"Good. Letís get this finished then we can meet Judge Travis."

"Travis?" Josiah laughed.

"Whatís so funny?"

"That was my exact reaction. To answer your unspoken question, he is Mary Travisí father-in-law."

"That should help."

"I would imagine it might."

*****************************

Lunch went quickly. Judge Travis met all the boys with the exception of Nathan who was off fishing. The Judge was able to observe how Chris handled JD's tantrum when his nap was announced. Buck agreed to read to him, which put him right to sleep.

Ezra behaved like the perfect gentleman and even excused himself to finish some chores. Vin was sent back to the woodpile.

"Isnít chopping wood a little hard for a boy so young."

The Judge, Chris and Josiah were sitting in the living room having coffee. "It probably would be for any normal boy, but Vin was raised by one of the local tribes until he was five. Thatís when he came to live with us."

"So Vin? Is that his real name?"

Chris smiled. "No. His real name is Kevin. He hates it and pa told me once that he Ďrequestedí that everyone call him Vin. Iím the only one who calls him Kevin and thatís only to get his attention when Iím upset."

"Do you get upset with him often?"

"I wouldnít say often. Not any more than a normal family would. The first few years he was here were hard on all of us. He grew up in a different culture. He had to adjust to the white peopleís way of things. He has maintained some Indian ways and has adjusted well."

"Thatís good to hear. He is a very likable young man."

"He seems happy. You can talk to him yourself if youíre worried heís not happy here."

"Thatís not what I meant. I can see heís happy. I can see that they are all happy. Of course I havenít met Nathan yet."

"Nathanís off fishing with his friends." Josiah offered.

"Now Nathan isÖhow old?" The Judge shifted some papers.

"Fifteen. Pa met his ma about the same time he met Maude."

"Thatís Ezraís mother. Now sheís still alive. How come she isnít raising Ezra?"

"Pa got custody after he found out Maude was using Ezra in a con. He was only 7 at the time. Maude was quick to give Ezra away, because she said he was too much of a burden. She still visits although the last couple of times she was here she bought Ezra a gun. I have them both locked in my desk."

"Certainly she must know heís too young." The Judge said.

"You would think so." Josiah answered. "I tried to explain to him that thirteen year old boys donít carry guns."

"He understands now Josiah. I heard him tell Vin earlier that he is through letting his mother get him in trouble." Chris laughed.

"Glad to hear it." Josiah sighed.

"Now Nathanís mother was a slave. From what pa told me, she was sold away right before she died. It wasnít until a year ago when pa started telling me some things. He said that her master had raped Nathanís ma and she had actually killed herself. The other slaves told him she had been sold. I guess it was easier to take."

"How did Nathan end up here?"

"Pa had heard about Mrs. Jackson and decided to bring both Nathan and Ezra home at the same time. He ended up having to pay for Nathan and strangely enough, he had to pay for Ezra too. Maude insisted on a settlement. Pa was happy to pay them both off."

Buck coming down the stairs interrupted them. "I thought that boy would never go to sleep." He jointed the men and grabbed a cup of coffee.

"The files say that JD has been here since shortly after he was born."

"Yep. I young man stole my heart that day. I thought I knew it all and JD just smiled and I realized I didnít know anything." Buck mused.

"Of course we tried to tell him he didnít know everything, but he wouldnít listen to his more experienced older brothers." Josiah joked.

"JDís ma was the last woman pa loved. She refused to marry him because she knew she was dying. She passed away a few weeks after JD was born. Heís five now. Heís still having a hard time with pa dying." Chris said.

"What about you Mr. Wilmington?"

"What about me?" Buck was confused.

"Well, yourÖwhat age now?" The Judge asked.

"Iím nineteen. I will inherit my share of the M7 ranch on my 21st birthday. My ma was a saint and she loved pa, she just didnít want him to be disgraced."

"Thatís not true Buck." Chris said. "Yes pa loved your ma, but he was never ashamed of her or their love. And he was certainly never ashamed of you."

"I noticed that Lincoln left all custody of minor children to you Josiah." The Judge changed the subject. "While he left all operational control to Chris. Why did he do that?"

"Chris at the time was acting foreman anyway. I never wanted the responsibility of overseeing everything. Iím good with the boys and I preach occasionally at the local church. I have never desired to run this ranch. I support Chris anyway I can, and the best way I do that is by keeping herd over the boys." Josiah smiled at Chris who nodded his thanks.

"Thereís more though isnít there?" The Judge looked at all three brothers and noticed some hesitation.

"Truth of the matter is Judge. Pa gave Chris the power because Chris had a family. He is the only son of Lincoln Larabee who bares his name. Pa wanted Chris to be able to support his wife and son. Unfortunately he lost his family a year before pa died. By then pa was too sick to change his wishes."

"Thatís not completely true Buck." Chris said again. "Pa chose to leave it because he knew if I was in charge of his dream, I wouldnít drown myself in a bottle for very long. He was right too. I couldnít just forget about this ranch and my brothers. It scared me to death when JD wandered off after país death. Sobered me real quick and I vowed then and there to never take my brothers or this ranch for granted."

"So Josiah is the oldest atÖ?"

Buck laughed at Josiahís expression. "He doesnít like people to know heís over 30. 31 to be exact."

The Judge smiled. "So Josiah watches the kids, Chris runs the ranch, BuckÖ"

"Chases the ladies." Chris added.

"Nathan is still in school at 15."

"Wants to study to be a doctor." Josiah added.

"Ezra is learning how to unlearn his motherís training, Vin is adjusting to white manís ways, and JD is a happy kid of 5. Did I get everything?"

"Thatís everyone except Miss Nettie. Sheís our housekeeper and cook. She stands in as mother where needed also." Buck added.

"Well gentleman I am happy to say, I have no problem with the arrangements your father made. It was well thought out. I will also say that if you have any difficulties that I can help with, donít hesitate to let me know."

"Iíll keep that in mind Judge since Ezraís mother is going to get a lecture on gun control the next time we see her. She always threatens to fight for custody when we ask her to stop corrupting him. The only thing that has protected us up until now was pa and the fact that Ezra doesnít want to leave."

"Well, as long as Iím around I will help fight if that ever happens. Well gentlemen it is getting late and I have dinner waiting for me. I hope to see you all again the next time I visit."

"Youíll always be welcome here Judge. Just drop on in. It will give Miss Nettie someone else to fuss over for a change."

"Iíll remember that. Good day gentlemen."

"Bye Judge." Chris, Josiah, and Buck said.

**************************
Chapter #8 Ė Fishing Fiasco
**************************

Nathan had a bad feeling about this. He had arrived at the lake and met his friends for a day of fishing, when a group of older boys showed up. At first Nathan thought they would move on when they got bored of taunting, but things were getting out of hand.

"Come on Nate. Theyíll think yer a coward iffiní you donít do it." Bobby said.

Nathan, his three friends, and the older boys lead by Myron Peterson (Jakeís big brother) were standing behind farmer Thompsonís old abandoned barn. The older boys were smoking and had convinced all of the younger boys to try it; all but Nathan.

"I donít care if they call me a coward. I donít like that stuff. Chris smokes them awful cheroots and they stink." Nathan stood firm. If his dumb friends wanted to smoke so be it, but he wasnít.

"Whatís wrong little boy, yer big brother donít want you to smoke." Myron taunted.

"Shut up Myron." Nathan decided it was time to leave. "If you guys donít want to fish anymore, Iím going home." Nathan started to walk away when he heard Myron yell.

"Tommy, you dumb idiot we gotta put that fire out." Nathan saw the younger boys try to put out the flames that were rapidly consuming the backside of the barn. The older boys were running away laughing. Nathan ran back to his friends to get them away from the flames. The barn was too involved with flames for four teens to stop.

"Get back. The whole thing is gonna come down." All four boys moved away and saw old man Thompson running toward them. They panicked and scattered. When Nathan saw Mr. Thompson, he looked around and found he was alone. He thought about running but he could hear Chris saying Ďyou have to face trouble, donít run from ití, so he stayed put. //Chris was gonna be furious.//

****************

Chris and Josiah returned toward the house after saying their good byes to the Judge, when they heard a group of horses approach the yard. Chris looked up and saw the sheriff and his deputy leading a very dirty and sad looking Nathan behind them. Chris frowned. //Has the whole world gone mad?//

The sheriff approached and dismounted. Chris shook his hand.

"What happened John?"

"Well Chris. Young Nathan was caught near an act of vandalism. Mr. Thompsonís barn was burned down."

Chris glared at Nathan who still hadnít looked up. He walked over to Nathanís horse and firmly put his hand on his knee.

"That the truth?"

"Yeah." Nathan dared to look at Chris and immediately put his head back down. Chris turned to John.

"Whatís the story John?"

"Well, Nathan claims that he and his friends got talked into going behind the barn for a smoke." Chris glared at Nathan again.

"You were smoking?" He squeezed Nathanís knee.

"No sir. I wasnít and I didnít burn the barn down either." Nathan was looking at Chris now and Chris recognized the truth. He smiled at Nathan and patted his leg.

"I believe ya. Why donít you get down and go get washed up."

"Really? Thanks Chris." Nathan moved quickly into the bathhouse.

"John, come on in. You can tell me what happened and what we need to do."

"Sounds good." He turned to his deputy. "Come on Virgil."

"Chris Iím gonna take care of Nateís horse."

"Thanks Josiah. Gentleman?" The sheriff and Virgil followed Chris into the house.

Twenty minutes later, they were leaving. Josiah had finished with the horse and sent Ezra out back to help Vin with the woodpile. Nathan joined Chris in front of the large fireplace in the living room.

"How did you ever get tangled in this mess Nate?" Chris asked.

"It happened so fast. I was actually leaving to come home when the barn caught. Then Peterson and his buddies ran off and then the fire got too big to fight. I really am sorry."

"Peterson. That name keeps coming into conversations around here lately. Maybe itís time I had a talk with Mr. Peterson."

"I doubt it will do anything except make it worse Chris. Jake will just take it out on Vin and Myron doesnít like me none." Nathan sat with a sigh. "All I can say is itís a good thing Mr. Thompson believed me, because I canít afford a barn on my allowance."

Chris and Josiah laughed.

"You makiní a pitch for a raise young man?" Chris smirked.

"No. But if youíre feeliní generous, there are some more medical books in the general store, I been wantiní."

"Nate. Youíre the only one who would want books instead of candy." Josiah said.

"Now Nate, if I give ya a raise now, youíll have to wait an extra year for me to raise enough money for that medical school tuition." Chris teased.

Nathan looked like Chris just slapped him. Chris couldnít keep a straight face and Nathan joined the laughter after he realized they were teasing him.

"Laugh it up brothers. Someday youíll come to me for your healiní and I might just charge yaíll twice." Nathan got up and walked upstairs.

"Heíd do it too." Josiah said.

"I believe it."

Josiah and Chris both laughed. One day Nathan would be a very good doctor, and Chris vowed that money would not be a problem. The Magnificent Seven Ranch will prosper well and send Nathan to fulfill his dream of being a doctor.

*************************************
Chapter #9 Ė The Return of Black Bart
*************************************

JD was too old for naps! He still couldnít believe that he had actually fallen asleep. He didnít know how long for but he wasnít staying in his bed when the day was wasting away. He was hoping to practice his riding again.

JD threw the blankets aside and opened his door. He could hear voices downstairs. He recognized Chris and Josiah and Nate, but he didnít know who the others were until Chris said good-bye to the sheriff. JD went back to his room and changed. He put on a black pair of pants and a black shirt. The buttons were a little hard, but he managed to only missed a couple. He dug out an old pair of Chrisí boots that Chris had Ďmisplacedí. They were too small for Chris now, but he had wanted to remove the spurs first. JD had found them and wore them once in a while. He loved to dress like Chris. It made his feel scary.

JD pulled the way too big boots on and found an old black hat that he had Ďborrowedí. To complete the ensemble he dug out an old empty holster that use to be Bucks when he first got a gun. It went around JD twice and he tied it with a piece of leather he found in the barn. He looked at himself in the mirror and smiled. He practiced his Ďfast drawí and then headed out down the back stairs. He just missed Nathan as Nate came upstairs.

JD walked to the barn and found it empty. He could hear Buck out back helping Vin and Ezra. He figured that Chris, Josiah and Nate were still in the house. He thought he would surprise everyone and show them how grown up he was by saddling his horse.

It took him longer without Buckís help. He couldnít understand why the saddle was heavier now when it wasnít very heavy when he did it in front of Buck. Of course he didnít know that Buck carried most of the weight. The saddle was on and JD led Spot out into the yard. Forgetting that his boots had spurs on them, he mounted his pony. When he gripped the pony with his feet and legs the spurs went into his gentle steed, causing the pony to scream and rear itís head.

The scream brought six men and boys out of hiding, and they watched in horror as JDís pony reared, JDís saddle slipped, and JD tumbled to the ground with a sickening thud and snap. JD had the wind knocked out of him and after he recovered his breath, he grabbed his left arm and screamed.

Chris and Buck were by his side immediately. Josiah moved the scared pony, while Vin and Ezra watched.

"Easy JD. Donít move." Chris soothed. Chris looked at Buck and nodded. They knew JDís arm was broken. Nathan suddenly appeared.

"I sent Hank to fetch the Doc. How is he?"

Buck was quickly checking for any other injuries. When they were both satisfied that JD wasnít hurt beyond his arm, Buck gathered him into his arms to comfort him.

JD was softly crying when Chris noticed Vin and Ezra giggling. He was in no mood for those two and their sick sense of humor. He glared at them and put his hands on his hips. "You boys want to tell me what in Godís name you find so funny?"

Vin tried to breath. He pointed to JD and finally said. "Look what heís weariní. He looks just like Black Bart."

Ezra joined in. "No Vin. He looks like Chris. Tiny Chris." Both boys were laughing so hard they didnít see Chris approach until they felt his grip on their arms. "Make yourselves useful, and bring some firewood up to JDís room. Then you both can tend to his pony. I donít want to see either of you until you get some sense." Chris propelled them toward the back. Vin and Ezra did as asked.

"You know pard. If they canít come back until they get some sense, it could be years before we see them again." Buck chuckled.

"Funny. How is he doing?" JD was still crying but not as hard.

"Heís quieting down, but the pain is pretty bad."

Chris sat opposite from Buck and rubbed JDís back. "Hey Sprout? You want to tell me what happened?"

JD turned to look at Chris. "IÖwasÖgonnaÖsurprise you byÖsaddliní SpotÖby myself. I donít know why he done it."

Chris looked at JDís outfit. Under normal circumstances he would have thought it was cute, but then he noticed his old boots with the spurs. "JD? Spot reared because of the spurs on those boots."

"Spurs! Young man I told you never to use spurs on that pony."

"I forgot theyís there, honest." JD started to cry again and mumbled something into Buckís chest.

"No JD. Iím not gonna paddle ya. Iím sure you have learned your lesson about spurs."

JD nodded his head. Chris smiled at Buck and said, "Do I really look like that?" He pointed to JDís outfit.

"Only when yer tryiní to scare people."

Chris was about to respond when the doctor rode into the yard. They carried JD up to his room and got him washed up and into bed. JD protested having to go to bed but Chris was accepting no complaints. The doc set and splinted his arm and gave him something to ease the pain and let him sleep. The doc said the splint would have to be on for a few days and when the swelling went down they would put a cast on for about 6 weeks.

With JD sleeping, Chris and Buck walked the doc out. Supper was served and one by one everyone took a bath for church the next morning. Vin and Ezra apologized for laughing earlier and Chris agreed that it was funny and he apologized for getting angry. Everyone headed up to bed for an early night. Chris checked on JD and made sure his room was warm and then went to bed.

****************************************
Chapter #10 - Early To Bed, Early To Rise
****************************************

It felt like only minutes ago that he closed his eyes, but something woke him up. Seeing it was still dark, Chris started to roll over to go back to sleep when he heard crying coming from JDís room. He sat up and checked his timepiece. //1:00 AM. Itís too early for this.//

Chris entered JDís room to find him sitting up, holding his broken arm, and rocking while he cried.

"Hey, Sprout. Your arm bothering you?" JD nodded as Chris sat down on the bed. It was then that he noticed JDís bedding was wet. //Probably had trouble moving around with the splint.// Chris smiled at JDís obvious embarrassment. "Why donít we get you dry and warm so we can get some more sleep. Okay?"

JD nodded. Chris retrieved a clean nightshirt and a blanket. He wrapped JD in the blanket, being careful of his arm, and carried him downstairs to the warm kitchen. Once there, Chris set JD on the counter and poured some warm water from the kettle that was always on the stove. Using some soap and the water, Chris cleaned JD up and put the clean nightshirt on him. JDís crying had almost stopped as Chris poured some warm water over the pain powder the doctor left. He gathered JD into the blanket and carried him to the living room. He set JD down in a soft chair and stirred the fire. He retrieved the cup for JD and settled his baby brother on his lap as JD drank the medicine.

"Yuck!"

Chris laughed. "I know it tastes awful, but it will make the pain go away and let you sleep. You feeling warm enough now?"

"Yeah. Ií sorry I peed the bed."

"Donít worry about it Sprout. We all have accidents." They both sat quietly until all the medicine was gone and JD started to drift off to sleep. "Letís go to bed, Sprout." Chris carried him upstairs to the master bedroom. Chris settled JD into the other side of his bed and crawled in next to him.

JD looked around the room. "This is your room Chris."

"Your bed is wet JD. You sleep right there and if you need me again before morning you can just wake me up. Okay?"

"íKay. Night." JD snuggled down into the mattress and blankets. Chris helped him put his splinted arm on top of a pillow, out of the way.

"Good night JD. Love ya." Chris kissed JD on the forehead and pulled the covers up, instantly falling back to sleep.

***********************************
Chapter #11 Ė While The Catís Away
***********************************

Chris slowly woke up when he heard Josiahís baritone whisper. He looked toward the light coming from the window and realized it was late morning. He quickly turned and saw JD still sleeping. He got up and checked the time. //NOON!// Chris got dressed and headed downstairs. What he saw made him smile.

Josiah had Vin, Ezra, Nathan, and Buck all sitting on the couch, and was lecturing them about proper behavior in church. "Just because Chris wasnít there didnít mean you block heads could act like fools. I should have come down and knocked some heads together and next time I will."

Chris was intrigued. He came down the stairs and said, "What happened Josiah?"

"Happened? What didnít happen! I think my first mistake was letting Buck be in charge. Should have let Nate be in charge, heís got more sense."

"Hey! I was the oldest." Buck complained.

"Oldest yes. Most responsible no." Josiah sighed as he sat down.

"Have a good sleep Chris?" Buck tried to change the subject.

"Yes. I did." He turned back to Josiah and sat down. "What else happened?"

"With Buck in charge, Buck let Ezra and Vin sit next to each other. They giggled and horsed around the whole time. Nathan ended up between them, but not before their actions upset plenty of others. When the service was over, Buck got distracted with Miss Molly and Vin and Ezra got in a small scuffle with that Peterson boy."

Chris turned sharply to Vin and Ezra. "Another fight? In church?"

"No. It werenít no fight." Vin protested. "Jake started in with his mean remarks and I was followiní Ezís advice. I agreed with a lot of what Jake said. It made him mad and when Ez and me walked away he knocked me down. I pushed him off and walked away again. But 'fore he could tackle me again, Ez found Nate and Buck and the scuffle was between Buck and Mr. Peterson."

Buck broke in. "I told him that we were tired of Myron and Jake starting fights with the boys and if it didnít stop, then you were gonna pay him a visit."

Chris groaned.

"Then Mr. Peterson turned a wonderful shade of white and stammered about how he would set his youngsters straight and that there would be no more problems." Ezra added.

"About that time Josiah showed up and ordered us all into the buggy. I thought he was gonna kill us then and there."

Chris smiled. Josiah was a gentle man unless riled and then he got very Ďold testamentí on you. "So I interrupted your lecture huh."

"Yes. My lecture. Of all the hair brained, hard headed,Ö"

"Okay Josiah. I get the point. Boys go get out of your Sunday clothes and into work clothes. Donít wake JD either or I may have to reconsider my decision to let today slide and thrash you all. Now git."

Everyone but Josiah rose and walked upstairs to get changed. Josiah started up and Chris stopped him. "Josiah. Why donít you, JD and me go fishing this afternoon? Weíll leave the boys to Miss Nettie when she gets back."

"Sounds like the perfect punishment for those boys." Josiah turned to go up the stairs and noticed JD rubbing his eyes as he stood at the top of the stairs. "How you feeliní JD?"

"íKay ĎSiah." He turned sad eyes to Chris. "Chris? My arm hurts and I gotta pee."

Chris smiled and went to JD. He picked him up and carried him to his room where he could use the pot and get dressed. Once done, they headed for the kitchen and some medicine. Chris settled JD with his cup by the fire and made breakfast. When it was finished, the living room was alive with the chatter and giggles of his whole family. He smiled and thought about how lucky he was. It still hurt to think about his lost family, but his brothers made his life worth living. The weekend was almost over and with the return of Miss Nettie, things would get back to normal.

"ALRIGHT! WHAT HAPPENED TO MY FLOWER BED?"

Well, maybe not.

The End


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