Raul's Victory
Fan Fiction

 

 

The Magnificent Seven Ranch: 
Family Ties
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

This is the fifth story in this AU.

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Chapter #1: Great Expectations
**************************************

Josiah sighed. He saw himself as the peacekeeper in the family, maybe a little too soft as Ezra would point out, but there was no way to make peace in his current situation. The argument and constant questions were starting to wear Josiah down, but there was no way he could give in on this occasion. He thought back to just last month when his brothers had surprised him for his birthday with a party and presents. Of all the gifts he received, the engraved wooden chest Ezra made was his favorite. Josiah had started to become suspicious on many occasions over the summer when Ezra would disappear or couldnít tell him where he had been. If it hadnít been for Chrisís intervention, Ezra would have ended up with Josiahís birthday spanking.

However, the gift that Chris and Buck had given him was causing the conflict at the moment. His brothers had chipped in and purchased a new hunting rifle for Josiah. Josiah had decided last year after their father died, to carry on the tradition of taking one son or in this case, brother, on a hunting trip. The trip was designed for three purposes. It allowed a little one-on-one attention, which was needed in a family of seven; it allowed one brother to learn to shoot for food not just as target practice, and it bagged the turkeys for the Thanksgiving and Christmas feasts they would have. This year it was Nathanís turn to go.

That was causing the conflict.

Vin felt like he should be allowed to go also because he was the better shot of all the brothers. Josiah told him he was too young and had set off the current debate. And Josiah was close to caving just to placate Vin.

"Iím a better shot than Nate or anyone Josiah. How come I canít go?" Vin whined.

"Because I said no?" Josiah said wearily.

"Ainít no reason." Vin crossed his arms in a pout.

Josiah was about to respond again when Chris entered the house. Josiah sighed again and thanked God that reinforcements had arrived. Chris immediately noticed the tension and asked, "Whatís up?"

"Will you tell our baby brother he isnít going hunting with me this year."

Chris turned to Vin and said, "Youíre not going hunting with Josiah this year Vin."

"Yer just sayiní that Ďcause Josiah told you too."

"I said no." Chris said with a warning in his tone.

"Why not? I can shoot better than Nate can." Vin whined.

"One." Chris wasnít going to argue.

"But Chris. Why?"

"Two." Chris put his hands on his hips and waited for Vinís next move.

Vin paused. He knew trouble came with number three, but he really wanted to go. Had Chris not returned when he did, he would have talked Josiah into it. But now that Chris was home, no one could move Chris Larabee when he set his mind to something.

Knowing he had lost this battle, Vin got angry and yelled, "I hate ya both." And ran up the stairs. Chris was about to follow him when Josiah stopped him.

"Let him cool off first Chris."

"Has he been pestering you all day about the hunting trip?"

"Off and on, yes. If you hadnít showed up when you did, I would have given in just to shut him up."

"Heís too young to go hunting." Chris sat down on the couch.

"I agree, but if he was still with the tribe they would let him go. Heís old enough to learn."

"Heís not old enough to learn to shoot a rifle. I donít care how they do it in the tribe. Itís bad enough he has that sling-shot and shoots things with it."

"He is a very good shot."

"Yes he is and with some training, when he gets older, heíll bring home game every time he goes out, but for now heís just a kid."

"I agree and thanks again for coming home when you did." Josiah laughed.

"You are a soft touch Josiah. Ezra was right."

"Iím not sure Ezra would agree with you after the summer he had."

"Maybe not."

They were interrupted by a small voice at the top of the stairs. "Chris?"

"Come here Vin." Chris said sternly.

Vin made his way slowly down the stairs and stood in front of Chris. Chris noticed the red-rimmed eyes and red nose. Vin kept his hands behind him guarding his backside from any sneak attacks.

"Iís sorry. I donít really hate you guys."

"Vin. I understand your disappointed because you canít go hunting this year, but your behavior was wrong. One, you shouldnít have been bothering Josiah all day about going. When he said no, he meant it. No arguing or bargaining. No means no. Understand?"

"Yes sir."

"Second, you know the same goes for me. No means no. Itís the same for Buck, Nate, Ezra, Miss Nettie, your teacher, the sheriffÖ" Chris was smiling.

"I get the point." Vin smiled back. "I just wanted to go."

"I know, but you have quite a few years yet before I show you how to handle a rifle. Heck, Ezraís five years older than you and he isnít allowed to use guns either."

"Yeah but Josiah told him he would start teaching him in the summer."

"In the summer, after his 14th birthday. Not before. I wonít teach you until youíre 14 either. You need to accept that."

"Iíll try." Vin wiped at the moisture in his eyes.

"Third, you know better than to yell at us and then run off. You need to learn to control your temper."

"Yes sir. Iís sorry."

"And fourth." Chris waited until Vin looked at him. "Fourth. I still love you." Chris opened his arms and invited Vin into a hug.

Vin didnít hesitate and cried softly on Chris shoulder. "I forgive you Vin, but I donít want anymore arguments about this trip, okay?"

Vin nodded.

"Good. Whatís for dinner anyway? Iím starved."

"Miss Nettie wonít let us near the kitchen so I donít know. I should go round up Ezra and Nate though." Josiah answered.

"Whereís Buck?"

"Upstairs getting ready to go to town out on a date."

"Is he staying for supper?"

"No. He told Miss Nettie yesterday, he wouldnít be here for supper."

"Good. I hate it when he just skips out and leaves us to deal with an angry Miss Nettie."

"That would be ugly." Josiah added.

"And I hate ugly." Buck said suddenly from the stairs.

Chris laughed. He set Vin back on his feet and wiped his eyes. "Go get washed up for supper Vin." Chris turned to Buck as Vin went upstairs. "Will you tell the boys in the barn to get washed up and come to supper?"

"Can do. Donít wait up."

"We never do Buck." Chris headed upstairs to wash up and Josiah followed Buck outside to round up brothers.

************************************
Chapter #2: News From Home
************************************

The morning went smoothly, with Chris riding along with his brothers to school. Chris allowed them all to ride their own mounts, knowing that they would need to go by horseback through the winter. JD was excited about being able to ride his very own pony, now that Vin had Peso. Chris dropped them all off at school and told them to be careful an their way home and to stay together. Chris then headed into town to get the mail and a few more Christmas presents.

With Thanksgiving only a week away, Christmas will be upon them before they knew it. With the heavy snows that come with the winter, trips to town will become increasingly harder. The storehouse was full and extra supplies to occupy bored children were all in place. Presents for Christmas were ordered, and hopefully everything will be prepared before the beginning of December.

Chris was about to leave town when the telegraph officer came running toward him.

"Mr. Larabee."

Chris turned to the slim man who was panting to catch his breath. "Yes Jayke?"

"Telegram for Miz Nettie. Could you take it to her?"

"Sure Jayke. Thanks."

"No thank-you. You saved me a trip out to your place." Jayke walked away and Chris headed home.

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

"Nettie!" Chris hollered as he entered the warm main room.

Nettie came out of the kitchen wiping her hands on her apron. "Whatís all the fuss about young man?"

"Jayke gave me this telegram for you." Chris handed over the telegram and waited for Nettie to open it. As she read the news, her face became pale and if Chris hadnít been standing there, she would have fainted.

"Whatís wrong Nettie?" Chris helped her to a chair and got he a small sniffer of brandy. After she took a couple sips, she looked at Chris. Chris saw the unshed tears and knelt in front of Nettie. "Whatís wrong Nettie?"

She couldnít speak, so she handed the telegram to Chris and then buried her face in her hands and sobbed.

Chris read the telegram:

To: Ms. Nettie Wells, Magnificent Seven Ranch
From: Bower, Bower, and Finch, Law Firm

We regret to inform you that your son and daughter-in-law were killed in a stagecoach accident outside of San Francisco last week. They left the care of their three-year old daughter, Casey Marie Wells, to you. Please contact this office immediately to make arrangements for Miss Casey Wells. Thank you.

James J. Bower, Attorney at Law

Chris refolded the telegram and sighed. "Iím so sorry Nettie."

"I guess I have to go fetch Casey. I need to find someone to replace me here too." Nettie said while she wiped her eyes.

"Replace you? Nettie you canít mean youíre leaving us for good." Chris was shocked.

"I certainly canít stay here and take care of Casey. Sheís just a baby."

"Nettie. I understand that this is a shock and you think that leaving is the answer but itís not. We have plenty of room for you to bring Casey to come live here with us."

"I donít know Chris. Raising a little girl is different from raising boys. And sheís only three."

"So. You help me with JD, Vin, Ezra, and Nate. You need us Nettie and we need you. Let us help you with this please? I know we can make the adjustment."

"Okay. Iíll try. I need to send a telegram to this lawyer first."

"Iím go hook up the buggy while you get your coat. Then Iíll take you to town."

"Thanks Chris." Nettie hugged Chris and composed herself. Chris headed out to the barn and Nettie went to get her wrap.

***********

The ride into town was quiet. Both Nettie and Chris were deep in thought. Nettie was running through all the things she would have to do to fetch Casey and to prepare the house for her arrival, while Chris was numb. He knew it was the right thing to have Casey move in with them, because sheís family. Nettie was more of a grandmother/mother to him and his brothers, than some of their own blood relatives.

It would be an adjustment to have a little girl in the house, but how different could it be, Chris thought. The hardest part would be for Casey. She would be dealing with the sudden loss of both of her parents and then having to move to a house full of people she didnít know. Three-year old Casey was going to need all of the love and understanding that seven new Ďbrothersí could give her.

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

Arrangements were made for the lawyer to bring Casey to Nettie so that she wouldnít have to take the long journey. The lawyer told Nettie to expect them within the next two weeks. In those two weeks, The Magnificent Seven Ranch would prepare for Caseyís arrival.

When Chris sat everyone down and told them what was going on, everyone agreed to have Casey move in and become part of the family. JD was the only one who had a hard time with the news. Chris wasnít sure if JD was upset because the loss of Caseyís parents reminded him of his own ma and pa being gone, or if he just didnít like the idea of a younger child in the family. Chris made a mental note to have a brotherly talk with JD before he went to sleep that night.

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

Chris pulled the covers up to JDís chin and smiled at his baby brother. "JD?"

"Huh?"

"How do you really feel about Casey coming to live here? I know the news upset you. Could you tell me why?"

"I just Ďmembered mama and papa and how these gone too. Iím sad fer Casey. She lost her mama the same age I lost mine. I know how she must be feeliní."

"Are you okay with her coming here?"

"Yeah!" JD wiped his eyes. "It will be nice to not be the baby no more. I can play with her and maybe help her feel better Ďcause I know how it feels to lose yer mama and papa."

"Iím very proud of you Sprout. Papa and yer mama would be too. I love you very much."

"I love you too Chris." Chris kissed JD goodnight and turned down the lamp, then he left the room.

***********

"How is he?" Buck asked as Chris closed the door to JDís room.

"Heís being very grown up about this whole thing. He told me that he likes the idea of not being the baby anymore and that he can help Casey because he lost his mama and papa too." Chris choked out as he wiped angrily at his own eyes.

"He is a brave boy." Josiah added.

"You all are. I know I never discussed this change with you guys, but I knew it was the right thing to do."

"You did exactly what we would have. Pa wouldnít have it any other way. Why donít we get some rest? The next two weeks are going to be hectic with Thanksgiving and Caseyís arrival."

"Thanks guys. It will take some adjustments, but I think we can do it."

"Of course we can. Weíre The Magnificent Seven!" Buck roared as he headed to his room.

Chris and Josiah laughed as they headed to make a final check to secure the house.

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Chapter #3: Hide Ďní Seek
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Vin was hiding. The last week hadnít been so bad with Thanksgiving, but now that it was over, everyone was getting ready for the arrival of Casey. Chris and Josiah have had him running, cleaning, moving, and toting things for five days and he was now trying to avoid being given any more tasks. Chris had sent him upstairs to find pillow covers for Caseyís bed. He couldnít find any and decided to make his escape. He had snuck down the back stairs and ran to the barn. He barely made it past Buck as he climbed the ladder to the hayloft. He breathed deeply to calm his rapid heart and sighed as he began to relax for the first time in almost a week.

*********

"What time do you have to meet the stage on Friday?" Chris asked Nettie as he moved in the dresser for Casey. They had converted the downstairs guest bedroom into a comfortable room for a three-year old. They baby proofed the doors and windows and had dragged out JDís old bed that still had rails along the sides to keep Casey from rolling out of bed. A low level dresser was set up as a makeshift changing table, since the lawyers had told Nettie that Casey had been using diapers at night, but wasnít showing anymore interest in using the potty during the day. Nettie knew, in time, Casey would be okay, but for now the tragic loss of her parents was going to affect her behavior. Everyone was hoping they were ready.

Chris could still remember JDís reluctance to stay potty trained after his motherís death. He eventually out grew it with time, patience, and love.

"Two Oíclock." Nettie sighed and sat in the rocking chair they had moved in.

Chris noticed and smiled at her. "Donít worry Nettie. Casey will fit right in."

"Iím just not sure I can handle the loss of my son and help Casey deal with hers. What if she hates it here? What if she hates me? She doesnít remember me at all. She was only a baby when I last saw her."

Chris knelt in front of Nettie in the chair and patted her knee. "Donít worry about what ifís Nettie. You always told us to cross the bridge when we came to it, not worry about it for miles in advanced. Casey will love her grandma, because I already know of seven boys who do."

"Thanks Chris." Nettie wiped the moisture from her eyes and stood up. "Well, letís get this room finished. Whereís Vin with those pillow covers?"

"Good question. Iíll find out." Chris left the room in search of his wayward brother. He went upstairs and called for Vin. Getting no answer he checked all the rooms. He found Ezra helping JD clean his room and Nathan cleaning the washroom, but no sign of Vin. He found the pillow covers and brought them down to Nettie. Still calling for Vin, Chris headed for the den where Josiah was working on the ranch accounts.

"Josiah. Have you seen Vin?"

Josiah looked up and stretched. "Nope. Last time I saw him he was headed upstairs grumbling about slavery or some such."

"Slavery huh? That boyís gonna find out what happened to slaves who run away from their work. If you see him, tell him to come find me."

"Can do. Why donít you check with Buck? He was finishing up with barn and yard chores."

"Okay. Caseyís room is pretty much set."

"Great. Itís going to feel weird having a little girl in the house."

"Yeah. Itís exciting and terrifying all at the same time."

Josiah just nodded as Chris headed outside.

***********

"VIN!" Chris stood on the porch surveying the yard. "VIN!" He headed for the barn. As he entered the barn he noticed Buck was mucking out, what looked like the last of the stalls.

"Hey Buck. Have you seen Vin?"

Buck looked up and leaned on the pitchfork he was using. "Nope, but the way we have been runniní the boys, heís probably hiding."

"He had better not be hiding. I sent him upstairs to find pillow covers and he never came back."

"Did you check with the others?"

"Yes. And the only one who saw him was Josiah."

***********

Vin had heard his name called and knew that if he ignored the call he would be in deep trouble. However, he was so sick and tired of doing things other then regular chores that he stayed in his hiding place. It wasnít until he heard the three scariest words, that he realized his mistake.

"KEVIN JOSEPH TANNER!"

Vin ventured a look over the edge of the loft to see Chrisí face red with anger. Out of the corner of his eye, Chris saw the motion and instinctively drew his gun and aimed at the loft.

"Whoís there?" Chris paused and Vin tried to get enough air to pass over his vocal cords to answer. "Answer me or Iíll shoot."

Vin finally squeaked out, "Donít shoot."

Chris holstered his gun when he realized it was Vin in the loft, hiding. "Kevin Tanner get down here right now."

Vin slowly came back to the edge and looked down. He tried to smile at Chris but it didnít work. "Hey Chris."

"Donít Ďhey Chrisí me. Get down here. NOW!"

"Iím not doing nothiní"

"Exactly. I sent you upstairs for pillow covers. Since when do we keep them in the hayloft of the barn?"

Vin had made it almost to the bottom of the ladder when he was lifted up and set back down with a shake.

"Answer me Vin. What are you doing hiding in the loft when I told you to get pillow covers?"

"I couldnít find none."

"Did you try looking in the closet? Thatís where I found them."

"I looked honest."

"If you couldnít find them you should have come told me. But instead you decided to avoid some work and came out here and hid. Am I correct?"

Vin just shrugged.

"I want an answer. NOW!"

"YES! Iís sick and tired of doiní house work."

"Vin. We already had this discussion today. I told you, everyone was going to help get the room and house ready for Caseyís arrival on Friday and I warned you what would happen if you didnít."

"But Chris." Vin whined. "Iís been helping all weekend. Ainít had time fer nothiní but house cleaniní and school work."

"Well youíll have some time to think about your complaints as you wait for me in your room. Now go."

"ButÖ" Chris landed a solid swat to Vinís backside that silenced the backtalk.

"NOW!"

Vin ran from the barn and ran up to his room. Twenty minutes later Chris entered Vinís room.

"Vin. I want to know why you disobeyed me?"

"I didnít Chris! I checked fer those covers and couldnít find them."

"I told you to get the covers and you should have come and told me when you couldnít find them. You also knew that we still have stuff to do, and you went into hiding hoping no one would notice. Correct?"

"Yes sir."

"And correct me if Iím wrong, but I told you this morning that I expected you to help or I would spank you. Correct?"

"Yes, butÖ" Chris held up his hand to warn Vin to stop before he dug himself into a deeper hole. "Yes sir. Iís sorry. Please donít spank me." Vin started to cry.

"I want you to learn something from this Vin. You canít run and hide from responsibility. Now come here."

Vin slowly moved to Chris, who quickly administered the correction and then hugged Vin and told him he was forgiven and still loved.

"Why donít you go help Buck finish up with the yard chores?"

"Okay."

Vin headed outside and Chris went to finish up in Caseyís room.

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Chapter #4: New Arrival
*****************************

The stage trip from San Francisco to Colorado was long. Long for Mr. Finch because he was in charge of the energetic three-year old he was taking to her grandma. Casey thought it was a long trip because everything was different and new and she really didnít understand what was happening. The man she was with told her, her mama and papa were in heaven and she was going to see her grandma. She knew Gram Nettie. She had come to visit last Christmas. Maybe Gram can explain where mama and papa were.

Casey had just dozed off when the stage slowed down and came to a halt. Casey woke and Mr. Finch helped her off the stage. As Casey looked around she spotted her Gram with a tall mean looking man dressed in black. Gram Nettie smiled at Casey and started to walk to her. Casey, being tired and overwhelmed with everything that had happened, pulled away from Mr. Finch and ran to her gram. Nettie caught Casey in a hug and lifted her into her arms. She hugged Casey close as Casey cried.

"Sh hush child. Everything will be okay now. Youíre home with me."

Casey heard home and looked up. "Are mama and papa here too Gram?"

"No sweetie. Your mama and papa are in heaven. They asked me to take care of you now."

"Live wif you?"

"Yes sweetie." Nettie hugged her granddaughter again and turned to see Chris smiling at her. "Sweetie. This is Chris Larabee. He owns the house that we live in. He lives there with his six brothers."

Casey looked up and saw a smile on Chrisí face. She was instantly taken with Chris. She put her arms out for him to take her and he looked panicked for a minute. Nettie laughed and handed her over to Chris.

"Hi Casey." Chris said as Casey hugged him tight.

"Tank you fer lettiní us live wif ya."

"Anytime sweetheart. Youíll have your own room and lots of others to play with. JD is around your age and is looking forward to meeting you. Everyone is."

"Willy?"

"Really. Theyíre all at school right now, but theyíll be home soon. Why donít we head out to the ranch? Do you want to walk or have Gram carry you?"

"You carry pleesh." Casey said as she put her thumb in her mouth and put her head on his shoulder.

"Looks like you have another fan Chris. She seems to have attached herself to you."

"I noticed." Chris took Caseyís bag in his free arm and carried Casey to the wagon. After settling her down next to Nettie they headed home. Casey fell asleep before they had even left the town limits.

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

Arriving home, Chris carried Casey to the couch and made her comfortable and warm as she slept. They didnít want her to wake up alone in a strange new place. Nettie hurried to start dinner while Casey napped. Chris sat in his favorite chair and watched Casey sleep.

At 3-years old, she looked sweet and innocent while she was asleep. Chris found himself thinking that raising a little girl was going to be harder than raising boys. She already had him around her little finger and she had only been in Four Corners for two hours. She had short blonde curls that framed her face and Chris had found they were soft when he was carrying her earlier. She took to him so quickly Chris was worried about his brotherís reaction.

Buck and Josiah would find it amusing and Nate and Ezra probably will laugh, but Vin and JD would have a problem. Where Vin was independent, he was attached to Chris since their pa had died. JD was in the same boat, but he could also get the emotional stuff from Buck. Chris prayed there wouldnít be any conflicts.

Chris was broken out of his thoughts when he heard a group of horses enter the yard. Glancing at the clock, he then heard the voices of his brothers. Moving to the door, Chris went outside to keep the rowdy group from disturbing Casey. He came out in time to see JD having trouble getting out of the saddle.

"Iís stuck." JD cried.

Chris immediately came to his aid. "Whatís the problem Sprout?"

"Chris! I Ďtuck in the saddle."

"Let me see whatís the problem." When Chris checked the saddle he saw the problem. On the saddle was a fine layer of glue, holding JDís britches to the saddle. Chris turned to his brothers. "Do any of you know how glue got on JDís saddle?"

They all looked shocked at the news. Had it not been for the surprised looks, Chris would have thought it was one of them that were guilty, but he could tell that no one in the family had done it.

"No Chris." Was the answer he got.

"Well, JD. It looks like someone at school was playing a trick on you. Iíll get some water and get you unstuck. Boys go take care of your horses and start your chores. Be quiet when you go inside too, because Casey is napping on the couch."

"Sheís here?" JD tried to bounce.

"JD, settle down before you rip your pants." Chris applied the water and worked his pants free. "Yes Casey is here. Sheís very frightened about being in a new place, so make sure you make her feel welcome and at home. This is her home now too. Okay?"

"Okay." Chris freed JDís backside and gave it a playful swat as he lifted him to the ground.

"Go in and change your pants JD. Then come out and take care of yer pony."

"Yes sir." JD headed for the house and entered quietly. Chris had to chuckle at the look of concentration JD was using to be quiet. JD entered and peeked at Casey. He only saw her curly head poking out of the blankets. So mesmerized by the little girl on the couch, JD didnít notice Casey wake up. She saw JD and then looked around. She tried to remember where she was but she couldnít stop the tears. JD noticed and moved closer.

"Itís okay. Donít cry. Iím JD. This is our home. Yours too."

Casey remembered Nana and Chris mention a JD so she wiped her eyes and tried to smile. "Whereís my Nana?"

JD looked at her funny. Who was Nana?

"Who?"

"Gram Nettie. My Nana."

"Oh. Miz Nettie. Probly makiní dinner." JD turned his head a hollered at the top of his lungs, "MIZ NETTIE!!!"

Nettie came around the corner from the kitchen so fast she almost lost her footing. The holler also brought Chris into the house. Casey scrambled from the couch and ran to her Nana. Nettie picked her up and calmed her down.

"JOHN DUNNE!" Chris yelled.

"What?" JD didnít understand what the fuss was about. Casey wanted Nettie and he fixed it.

"What have I told you about yelling in the house? And I told you to go change your pants."

"I was gonna, but Casey woked up and wanted her Nana, so I gotted her. Chris you just yelled in da house."

"Young man, if you donít go change and get to your chores Iím gonnaÖ"

"Christopher Larabee!" Nettie stopped Chris mid sentence. "Donít be yelliní at the younginí fer yelling when you still break that rule daily."

"Yes maíam." Chris turned to JD. "Come on Sprout, why donít I help you get changed and then start those chores."

"Okay."

*********

Dinner was loud with conversation as everyone welcomed Casey to the family. After dinner the family moved to the living room. After Chris sat down, Vin climbed into his lap. He had sensed Casey's attachment to HIS brother and wanted the little girl to know who he belonged to. Casey noticed and tried to get on his lap also. Nettie smiled at the antics, until Casey fell off because Vin pushed her off.

"Vin. That wasnít very nice. There is plenty of room for the both of you." Chris said.

"No there isnít."

"Vin." Chris warned. "Let Casey sit up here too."

"Fine." Vin climbed down and ran upstairs. He couldnít believe Chris was letting Casey sit on his lap too.

Chris called out to Vin to come back, but he didnít obey. Sighing, Chris handed Casey back to Nettie and headed upstairs. When he approached Vinís door, he could hear Vin sobbing. He knocked and then went in.

He sat down on the edge of the bed and rubbed Vinís back. "Do you want to tell me what that little tantrum was about?"

"No."

"Vin. Come on." Chris lifted Vin and carried him to the rocker. Vin snuggled in Chrisí arms and cried harder.

"Come on Vin." Chris realized that Vin wasnít calming. "Okay. Shhh. Iíve got you." As Vin calmed Chris added, "I still love you, even if Casey was sharing my lap."

"My lap." Vin mumbled.

"Hate to tell you little brother, but itís my lap. Itís okay to share it with Casey. Sheís in a strange new place and needs the extra comfort and she seems to want it from me."

"Why?" Vin asked as he wiped his eyes.

"Do you remember how you felt right after papa died?" Vin nodded. "Well, Casey just lost both her mama and papa at the same time. Sheís in a new town, a new home and surrounded by strangers."

"She gots Miz Nettie."

"Yes she does, but Nettie is the only one she knows and even then she only knew her for a couple of weeks last Christmas. Casey is only three. She needs all of us to be nice and welcome her to our family. If that means sharing toys or laps, we need to. Okay?"

"Iíll try." Vin started to cry again and Chris held him tight and rocked. The tears flowed and Chris rocked, as everyone else got ready for bed. Almost asleep, Chris helped Vin to change and use the chamber pot and tucked him into bed.

"I love you cowboy. Sleep tight."

"Love you too." Vin snuggled down and was fast asleep. Chris left the room and headed downstairs.

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

A little overwhelmed by so many people, Casey was ready for bed early. Nettie got her settled and then said goodnight. Chris made his rounds to say goodnight and apologized to Nettie.

"Donít worry Chris. Vin will adjust and I explained it to Casey. She said sheíd share you."

"Good thing, because Iím not sure Vin will be able to."

"Heíll be okay. Tomorrowís Saturday, so why donít you take the boys fishing? Casey can get acquainted with the house without the noise."

"This house? No noise? Huh." Chris laughed and headed for bed. Tomorrow was another day.

***********************************
Chapter #5: Conflicts Abound
***********************************

Everyone including Casey received the suggestion of a fishing trip favorably. It seems her papa used to take her fishing and she wanted to go. Finally conceding, Chris decided it would be a good opportunity for the boys to get to know Casey. The morning started out okay, but as the day progressed, it all went downhill.

After lunch was eaten and put away in the wagon, Casey wondered down to the beach where Vin and JD were fishing. Ezra was napping in the sun and Nate was reading a book. Chris watched Casey as she toddled down to the waters edge.

"Casey. Stay away from the water lessen ya want to fall in." Vin said without looking up.

"Swim." Casey said.

"Canít swim. Itís too cold." JD added.

"Yeah. Donít you know that this will probably be the last fishing 'til spring? Itís gonna snow in a few days."

"Swim." Casey said again louder this time.

"No." JD said.

"Yes." Casey yelled.

"Stupid girls. Ainít got a lick a sense." Vin mumbled.

"I fish."

"Ainít got a pole." Vin added.

"She can use mine. Here Casey." JD handed his pole to Casey who tossed it into the water.

"Hey! Donít do that." JD pushed her as he waded into the water to get his pole.

Casey started to cry as she hit the ground. Her crying brought Chris down to the shore. He picked Casey up and asked, "What happened?"

"She threw my pole in the water." JD said.

"So you knocked her down?"

"Vin. Vin." Casey said.

Vinís head snapped up. "I did not! I werenít even near her."

Chris looked at Casey and then Vin. It did appear that Vin hadnít moved from the same spot in the last hour, where JD and Casey had. "Casey. Who pushed you?"

"Vin."

"I didnít Chris honest."

"JD. Who pushed Casey?"

"I did. I didnít really mean to though. I let her use my pole and she threw it in the water. I knocked her down when I went by her to get it."

"Thank you JD for telling me the truth. Gather up your things and go get in the wagon."

"Yes sir."

Chris turned to Vin who was looking at his pole. "Vin?"

"What!" Vin was angry that Casey lied and seemed to be trying to get him in trouble.

"Watch the attitude young man." Chris set Casey down and said, "Casey, go with JD and have Nate put you in the wagon." Casey toddled off and Chris looked at Vin. He was close to tears and Chris was at a loss as to why Vin was acting the way he was.

"Time to head home Vin. Come on."

"How come we gots ta go just cause the baby fell down?"

"Thatís not the reason. Itís getting late and we still have chores to do, so come on." Chris turned to head up to the wagon and caught the mumble from Vin.

"Stupid baby."

"Kevin Tanner. If you donít want to ride home standing up, I suggest you change that attitude right now."

"Ainít gots an attitude." Vin pouted.

"No? Whatís the problem then?"

"Casey sat there and lied to you that I was the one that pushed her. If Iíd done that, you would have tanned me good, but no, you just send her to the wagon. Ainít fair." Vin picked up his pole and walked past Chris. He almost made it too, but Chris was faster.

"Vin. Itís not my job to correct Casey like that. Iíll leave that up to Miz Nettie. She may have just got your names mixed up. Sheís still adjusting. Do you understand?"

"I think so."

"Good, because if you ever raise your voice to me like that again, I will spank you. Understood?"

"Yes sir. Iím sorry, but she makes me mad. JD was jest shariní with her and she tossed his pole in the water."

"I know Vin and thatís why I want to get home so that JD can get into some dry pants. Itís getting colder and the snows will be here soon enough. Letís go."

"Okay." Vin gathered his stuff again and put it in the wagon. JD was huddled under a blanket to keep warm and Casey sat next to Chris in the wagon. Chris offered to let Vin sit up front too, but he refused to sit near Casey. Chris just sighed.

**********

Chores were completed and supper served. When Nettie asked Casey about the afternoon, Casey changed her story and said JD pushed her. After Chris explained, Casey and Nettie had a private conversation in Caseyís room. When Chris looked around the living room, he noticed Vin was missing.

"Whereís Vin?"

"Outside with Peso." Buck said.

"Itís bedtime. I suppose I should go get him."

"Iíll get everyone else started." Buck added. Buck knew that Vin and Chris needed to talk.

***********

Chris entered the barn quietly when he heard Vinís voice.

"Know what she did next Peso? She lied. Told Chris I was the one that pushed her. If Iíd done that Chris would have blistered my backside right there. She probly wanted that to happen. Gettiní even fer me ignoriní her all day." Vin moved to brush the other side of Peso. "Stupid girls. Sheís done nothiní but cause trouble ever since she got here. First she steals Chrisí lap. Thatís my special place and she managed to take it that first day." Vin sniffed and wiped at his eyes. "Donít mean nothiní I guess to Chris. He said itís okay to share, but it ainít. Same thing happened at the village when I was a kid. Stupid girls. Sheís just a baby theyíll say. Huh. Thatís how it starts, Peso. They say itís okay to share and then little by little they forget all about you. Eceptin when ya do something wrong, then theyíre there punishiní ya. Ainít fair Peso." Vin stopped brushing Peso and leaned on the strong horse and cried. Weeks of pent up frustration and misunderstandings poured from his heart. The whole scene broke Chrisí heart.

Then and there he promised he wouldnít let Vin down. "Vin?"

Vin spun around and wiped at his eyes. "Yeah?"

"You want to talk about it?"

"No."

Vin tried to get by Chris but he reached out and brought Vin into a hug and held him tight. "Please."

"Ainít nothing ta talk about."

"Vin. I heard what you said to Peso and youíre wrong. I love you Vin and that wonít change because of Casey. I knew Casey wasnít telling me the truth today, thatís why I asked JD. And Nettie is dealing with Caseyís lie right now, so please donít think she got away with something."

"What if JD had agreed with Casey?"

"Then little brother, Sprout would be in the same position Casey is in right now."

"You really believed me?" Vin looked surprised.

"Yes Vin. I knew it wasnít possible for you to push Casey and then be in the same fishing spot you hadnít moved from all day."

"Iím sorry. I justÖ"

"I know. Itís hard to adjust to new people within a family, but Vin, thereís plenty of love to go around."

Vin started to cry again and Chris picked him up. "Whatís wrong Vin?"

"I donít want to share your lap." Vin hiccupped.

"Okay. Until you feel comfortable with sharing me, Iíll keep it our special time in the evening. Okay?"

"Really? Yer not mad cause I donít want to share?"

"I agree that you need time to adjust. I hope you will be able to share in the future, but if you need this to feel safe, then Iíll agree. Okay?"

"Thanks Chris." Vin snuggled into Chris arms as they headed back to the house. Chris took Vin directly upstairs and helped him get ready for bed and then rocked him to sleep. Once asleep, Chris tucked him into bed and went downstairs. He informed everyone what was agreed upon and all accepted it.

*****************************
Chapter #6: Let It Snow
*****************************

The snows came in feet two weeks before Christmas. A guide rope was strung from the house to the barn so that they wouldnít get lost in the yard. Because of the deep snow, the boys were unable to ride to school. Chris and Josiah prepared to continue their education after the holidays, but until then, once chores were finished, the boys were released to enjoy the snow.

"Hey Vin?" Ezra asked as he wiped snow from his pants.

"What Ez?" Vin was building a fort for the upcoming snowball fight the boys always started with Chris.

"Whereís JD? I thought he wanted to help?"

"Heís inside playiní with the baby." Vin replied with a sneer.

"You know, you could be nicer to Casey. Sheís just a baby."

"Just a baby who wonít stay out of my room and my things. Sheís the one who got jam all over my last writiní page. Chris made me do it over. Sheís the one who threw three of my wooden soldiers into the fireplace. She follows me everywhere and I donít know why Ďcause sheís always trying ta git me in trouble."

Ezra stood looking at Vin. Vin was usually quiet and didnít say much, except when he was riled. It seemed that Casey Wells could rile Vin with little effort. "You canít let her get to you Vin. Youíre older than she is and can do things that she canít. Itís the same with all of us. Nate can shoot a gun but we canít, well at least not around Chris and Josiah." Ezra smiled with mischief.

"Hurrumph! The last time you tried to sneak out and shoot you were caught. I donít want any of that action." Vin turned back to the snow wall he was building. "Hey Ez?"

"What?" Ezra started packing snow into a bucket.

"You think Chris would let us go sledding after lunch?"

"Maybe. It would be a good time too because Casey will be napping and we wonít have to hear her scream when she canít go."

"I want to go out to the north hill, not out back."

"I doubt Chris will let us. He says itís too dangerous." Ezra dumped the packed snow along the snow wall and filled in the gaps.

"We just wonít tell him which hill we will be at. Heíll just assume we meant out back."

"Weíll see. I donít feel like being grounded for Christmas." Ezra and Vin continued to build the fort until Chris rang the lunch bell. They entered through the washroom and changed out of their wet clothes and into dry ones.

Lunch consisted of hot beef stew and fresh bread. The conversation was minimal since everyone was too busy eating to talk. Miz Nettie broke the silence when she announced Caseyís nap.

Before Casey was cleaned up and removed from the table, Vin asked, "Chris? Can Ezra and me go sledding after lunch?" Vin frowned when Casey yelled that she wanted to go too, but smiled at Miz Nettieís response.

"No Casey. Itís time for a nap. You have been grouchy all morning and you need a nap."

Casey started to cry as Nettie carried her to her room and rocked her to sleep.

In the dining room, Chris was frowning at Vin, who seemed awful pleased that Casey was upset. "Did you do that on purpose?"

"Do what?" Vin said innocently.

"Ask about sledding knowing Casey would get upset?"

"No sir." It was just an added bonus. "I jest asked about sledding. Lunch is over and we wanted to go sledding."

Chris looked at Vin and saw he was telling the truth, but he had also enjoyed Caseyís disappointment. "Fine. But stay out back and listen for the bell when itís time to come in."

"Ez could just bring his timepiece and you wouldnít need to worry about the bell. Just let us know what time you want us back."

Chris thought about it and said, "No. I donít want Ezraís timepiece lost in the snow. Iíll ring the bell or send Buck out to get you."

"Send Buck. Then we can get him with snowballs." Vin giggled.

"Iíll think about it." Chris finished his meal and excused the boys.

Ezra and Vin went sledding out back for a half an hour and then they made their way to the north hill. They probably wouldnít hear the bell but they both figured they would only stay for an hour and then head back to the hill behind the house.

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

Three hours later, Chris was fuming when the boys didnít return at the bell. Finally, he decided to send Buck to find his wayward brothers.

"Buck?"

"Yeah Chris?" Buck looked up from the paper he was reading in front of the fireplace. JD was napping on the couch and Casey was helping Miz Nettie in the kitchen.

"Would you go out back to the sledding hill and let Vin and Ezra know itís time to come home and start their chores?"

"Sure. They out back?"

"Suppose to be. If they arenítÖ"

"Iíll find them or come back and get you. Okay?"

"Fine." Chris walked back toward the den to finish his paperwork.

"Keep an ear out for JD, Chris. Heís still asleep on the couch." Buck bundled up and headed out to find his brothers.

*********

After arriving at the hill behind the house and not finding his little brothers, Buck followed the sled tracks toward the north hill. Buck groaned when he realized where his brothers had wondered off. Chris would not be happy. As he approached the north hill he could hear the laughter. The hill came into sight at the same time Ezra and Vin descended the larger north hill. Buckís heart went to his throat when he saw the sled tip and roll down the hill, with Ezra and Vin in the middle of the crash.

Buck ran toward the sled and bodies and only stopped when he heard the giggles coming from his brothers.

"That was fun Ez. Letís do it again."

"I can do without the tumble and roll at the end though."

"We all could." Buck said with his hands on his hips.

Both Ezra and Vin turned to the new voice and tried to smile innocently.

"Hey Bucklin. Did you come to sled with us?"

"No. Chris has been ringing the porch bell for half an hour. He finally got frustrated and sent me after you two fools. Do you have permission to be here?"

"WellÖ" Vin started.

"Chris never asked where we were going. He just assumed we were behind the house."

"You boys know as well as I do, that you are NOT allowed on this hill without Chris, Josiah, or me with you."

"We was fine Bucklin." Vin said as he brushed off his pants.

"Yes. Quite alright."

"Until Chris finds out. Letís go." Buck turned and headed back to the house. Ezra and Vin looked at each other and then scrambled for their sleds.

"Hey Buck? You ainít gonna say nothiní to Chris are ya? Weíre fine and no harm was done." Vin pleaded.

"Besides, Chris didnít say we couldnít come to the north hill."

"Not today he didnít, but you know youíre not allowed out here by yourselves."

"We had each other and no harm was done. Please Buck." Ezra said.

"And what am I suppose to tell him when he asks where I found you? I wonít lie to him boys."

"Just tell him we were sledding and we simply did not hear the bell. That isnít a lie. We were sledding and we didnít hear the bell."

"Not a complete lie Ez, but you know that not giving all of the information is just as bad. A lie by omission pa would say."

"Pa would have let us sled on the north hill. Chris is just over protective since pa died." Ezra added.

"Maybe, but he only has your best interests at heart."

"Canít you please cover for us? Please?"

"Please?" Vin added.

"Weíll see. But if Chris asked too many questions, I wonít lie to him and you two need to promise me you will stay off of the north hill by yourselves. Deal?"

"Deal." Ezra and Vin said together.

*******

Buck sent the boys to start their chores and then he headed into the house. He wasnít sure if he should cover for the boys or not. Chris came out of the den as Buck entered the house.

"Well?"

"They were just sledding and didnít hear the bell. They started their chores and then they will be in." Buck took off his hat and coat and headed toward the fireplace to warm up.

"They didnít hear the bell? Why not?" Chris could tell Buck was holding something back.

"Who knows? Why donít you ask them?" Buck turned back toward the fireplace.

"Fine. I will." Chris started out of the room but turned back toward Buck. "Would you wake JD please? Dinner will be ready in a couple of hours and Iíd like him to sleep later."

"Sure."

Chris headed toward the barn to finish up chores and to check up on Vin and Ezra.

*******************************
Chapter #7: The Jig Is Up
*******************************

Chris entered the barn to find Vin and Ezra finishing up with the horses. "Boys. Did you enjoy sledding?" Chris asked casually.

"Yep. We did!" Vin exclaimed.

"Most enjoyable, thank you." Ezra didnít even pause.

"How come you didnít hear the bell? I rang it for a good thirty minutes."

"We must ta been too busy haviní fun. Weíre sorry."

"Yes, quite sorry. We should have been paying better attention but we were to engrossed in our activities to hear your summons."

"Jeesh Ez, ya like to swallad a dictionary."

Chris smiled at Ezra and Vin. These two were the two brothers who were complete opposites and yet they were thicker than thieves. Chris momentarily was distracted by the banter and forgot what he was going to ask next. Deciding that it didnít matter as long as the boys were home. Besides, their mischief was always found out eventually.

"Finish up here boys and go get washed up. I want you both to have a bath."

Vin immediately bristled. "Why? Weís just wet not dirty."

"You both have been sweating while sledding and now smell like hay too. No arguments Vin."

"ButÖ" Vin looked at Ezra and noticed the sparkle of assurance in his eyes. Ezra was up to something. Vin would trust him. "Okay, but I ainít got to like it."

Chris was shocked that Vin had given in so quickly. "Iíll except that as long as you take the bath." He made a mental note to check on the boys while they were in the bathhouse. "Iíll call you boys when dinner is ready."

"Okay." Both boys said.

Chris returned to the house.

***********

An hour later found both Vin and Ezra sitting in separate tubs of clean hot water. Ezra was ready for a hot soaking while Vin scowled.

"This isnít much of a plan Ez. I hate baths."

"You told me once that you didnít mind the bath it was washing your hair that you didnít like."

"Yeah. So?"

"Well, simply get your hair wet and then wash the sweat off. No one will be the wiser."

"No one but me." Buck said as he entered the bathhouse.

"Hey Bucklin." Vin said with a smile.

"Donít hey me. Chris told you to take a bath and that includes washing your hair. And since you feel intent on deceiving older brother, I will help you wash that mop for you."

"Hey. My hair ainít no mop."

"No? Itís longer that Caseyís." Buck knelt down next to Vinís tub and took the soap from him. He lathered his hands and started to soap Vinís hair before Vin knew what was happening.

"Caseyís just a baby. She ainít been alive long enough to grow this much hair."

"True." Buck made quick work of the tangled mess and then had Vin rinse. "There. That was pretty painless."

"Yeah, maybe, but I still donít like it washed."

"Yeah we are all well aware of that little brother. I brought some clean long johns and nightshirts for you both."

"Why?" Vin asked.

"You certainly canít run around the house nekkid."

"But we havenít even had dinner yet."

"Dinner will be ready by the time you two finish soaking and get dressed. It makes no sense to put on more clothes when it will be bedtime shortly after dinner."

"But we can stay up canít we?" Asked Ezra.

"I wanted to say good-night to Peso. I cainít go back out iffen Iím in my nightshirt."

"Sorry Vin, but you two are in for the night." Buck rose and took the dirty clothes and left the nightclothes. "You boys have fifteen more minutes then you have to get out. Okay?"

"Sure." Vin said.

**********

Vin came out of the bathhouse dressed for bed. He smiled at Chris as he entered the living room and crawled into Chris lap.

"Well Cowboy. You smell better."

Vin scowled at Chris and then snuggled closer. Chris laughed and held him close. "Iím glad you boys had a good afternoon. I was afraid the back hill wouldnít be as thrilling as other hills around here."

"We made it Ďciting. Me and Ez took turns on the sleds and found out you could go faster with two on the sled. It was fun."

They were both quiet for a few minutes until JD came running into the room and hid behind Chrisí chair. "You didnít see me." He said as he ducked down.

It was quiet for a second until Buck entered the room, looking around for a small, black haired little boy. "Where is he?" Buck asked.

"Who?" Chris said innocently.

"Who? JD of course. I saw him run in here."

"JD who?" Chris smiled.

"JD WHO?" Buck stopped and noticed Vin was giggling and Chris was trying not to smile.

"What did he do?"

"WellÖhe wasÖwellÖhe sawÖaw hell never mind." Buck stormed off.

"Coast is clear Sprout."

"Tanks Chris." JD stood next to Chris and Vin. He knew that Chris saved his lap for Vin, but he wished he could share sometimes. Vin noticed to look and smiled at JD and them scooted over and patted Chrisí lap to invite JD up. JD didnít hesitate. Once both boys were comfortable, Chris asked, "What happened Sprout? Why was Buck so embarrassed?"

JD giggled. "Iís walkiní by his room and he was standiní in front of his mirror and puffiní his hairy chest out and makiní kissy noises Ďtending to be talkiní to some silly girl. Yuck!"

Chris laughed at that. "Why was he chasing you though?"

"Iís walked by and swingeded my butt and said, Ďcoochy coochy coo Bucky pooí in a girl voice. He snarled and I ran."

Chris was laughing so hard he had tears running down his face. Josiah came in to see what the laughter was about but couldnít get anything out of the three laughing fools cuddled together.

"It ainít funny!" Buck said as he entered. He knew from the laughter that JD had told Chris all about what happened. "Iíll teach you some respect Little Bit." Buck went to grab JD and Chris encircled him as to protect him.

"Iíll protect you Sprout, from that scary old brother."

"Why youÖ"

"I think you should concede defeat." Ezra added as he entered the room.

"Talk plain boy." Buck said.

"Give up." Josiah translated.

"It still ainít funny."

Everyone was laughing, even Buck, when Nathan entered the house. They brought him up to speed on the antics and were calming down at the same time Casey wandered into the room. Buck saw her go over to Chris and ask to be added to his lap. Chris looked to Buck for help, and Buck picked Casey up and swung her around the room as she giggled. "Hey princess. You can fly."

"Bucklin Wilmington! You put that baby down." Miz Nettie said.

"Aw Nettie. She likes it." Buck put Casey on his hip and danced around a little slower.

"Supperís ready if any of you CHILDREN are interested."

"Yes Maíam." Seven boys and one little girl answered.

**********

After dinner, everyone retired to the living room. JD and Casey played in front of the fireplace with Buck. Nathan and Ezra were reading, and Josiah was updating Chris on the status of the cattle after this last snow, while Vin snuggled on Chris lap.

"I was coming back from the north pasture and noticed sled tracks on the north hill. When did you guys go out?" Josiah said.

"WHAT?" Chris immediately moved Vin off his shoulder to look at him. Then he turned to Ezra, who hadnít looked up from his book. "Ezra? Where were you guys sledding today?"

Ezra looked up from his book and knew they were caught. "Behind the house."

"Donít lie to me boy."

"Iím not lying. We were on the back hill."

"Vin? That true?"

"Mostly." Vin knew that Ezra was leaving out information and could hear his pa talking about omissions.

"Mostly? Did you stay in the back?"

"No sir."

"Where were you when Buck found you?"

"On the north hill." Vin whispered.

"The NORTH HILL! By yourselves?"

"Yes sir."

Chris turned to Buck and glared, "Why didnít you say anything earlier?"

Buck just shrugged. He knew he shouldnít have covered for them, but they werenít hurt. What harm was done.

"Weíll talk about that later Buck but first I want  Ezra and Vin to go to their rooms and wait for me. You disobeyed me by going to the north hill."

"You didnít say we couldnít go there today." Ezra tried.

"You know better Ezra, now go."

Nathan decided to check on his horse and Josiah took JD and Casey into Caseyís room to play.

"Iím sorry pard. I didnít see any harm done so I didnít offer any information."

"Buck, if pa were alive heíd take his belt to ya even if you are 19."

"I know, but I wasnít thinking."

"No you werenít. You are one of the examples in this house Buck. The others look to you for guidance. You never should cover up for them when they disobey one of us."

"I know and Iím sorry." Buck hung his head.

Chris saw how dejected Buck looked and some of his anger disappeared. "Well, since youíre too big to spank Iíll let you decide what we should do. The boys have to see that you canít cover up disobedience."

Buck thought for a minute. "Well, I can confine myself to the ranch."

"How long?"

"Couple weeks?"

"Two weeks it is." Chris rose to go upstairs. "And Buck?"

"Yeah Chris?"

"Next time, Iíll let Josiah give you that tanning."

"He got himself an army I donít know about?" Buck added with a smile, knowing Chris would never consider it.

"Iíll look into it. You need to let the boys know so they can see how their actions affect others, okay?"

"Okay, and thanks Chris. I really am sorry."

"Forgiven. Just learn from this. Youíre not helping by letting them get away with it."

"Gotcha."

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

Chris gave the same lecture to Ezra and Vin. He spanked them both for lying and grounded them for two weeks along side of Buck. Both boys apologized to Buck for getting him in trouble and then promised to never go to the north hill again without someone older along. Chris tucked them both into bed and kissed them goodnight.

Tomorrow was another day and Christmas was only a week away. Chris found himself smiling at the thought that he now had three Ďvolunteersí to help out with all of the Christmas decorating.

************************************
Chapter #8: Day of Reckoning
************************************

Vin was at the end of his rope. It was bad enough to be confined to the house through Christmas, but to be stuck in the house with Casey was more than he could bear. On more than one occasion, Vin had been punished for something Casey did. No one seemed to be listening to his side of the story and it was making him angry. The only up side of the whole two weeks was that Chris still kept his lap special for Vin only.

Vin had been sent to his room early because he yelled at Casey, again. There had to be some way to stop Casey from getting him in trouble. As he entered his room, he noticed all of his toys were pulled out of the box again. Casey strikes again. He quickly changed into his nightshirt and stood by the window and watched the snowfall. At least tomorrow he would be free from restriction and Buck had promised to take him and Ezra out to the North hill to use their new sleds. With a heavy sigh, he started to pick up his toys for the third time today.

Before he could finish, the bedroom door opened.

"I thought I told you to clean this room earlier today?" Chris said with his fists on his hips.

"I did." Vin kept picking up toys and kept his back to Chris so the tears wouldnít show.

"Then how do explain this mess?"

"Casey must a done it."

"Vin. You canít blame everything on Casey."

"Whatever." Vin picked up the last of the toys and moved around Chris and crawled into bed. Chris was shocked by Vinís behavior. For the last week he had been yelling and arguing with everyone.

Vin pulled the covers up and turned his back to Chris. He just wanted Chris to go away so he could cry. Chris realized for the first time in two weeks, that there was something terribly wrong with Vin. Deciding to use another method, Chris sat on the edge of Vinís bed and slowly rubbed his back.

"Tell me whatís wrong Vin?" Chris felt the heat and shudders under his hand. "Please?"

"Wonít believe me anyhow." Vin whispered.

"I promise to listen Vin."

"WHY?" Vin spun around and hollered at Chris. Why should he care now? "You ainít believed nothiní Iíve said in weeks." Vin threw himself onto his pillow and screamed and sobbed out his frustration.

"Vin? Please tell me why youíre so upset?" Chris saw Vin shake his head Ďnoí.

"Iíll tell you."

Chris spun around and saw Ezra standing in the doorway. "You know why Vinís so upset?"

"Yes sir."

Chris gathered Vin into his arms and held him close in the rocking chair. "Tell me." Ezra sat down on Vinís bed and looked at his baby brother sobbing on Chrisí shoulder.

"On at least three occasions, I witnessed Miss Casey creating mischief that caused Vin to be punished. JD told me that Casey tried to get him to come in here on two occasions to scatter Vinís toys. Both times he had just finished cleaning up when you had told him to. He was again punished for disobeying you."

"Why didnít you tell me this at the time?"

"You were not listening. Several times I tried to stop you from yelling or spanking Vin and you brushed me off or Josiah told me to mind my own business. Any time he told Miz Nettie she would just say that Casey was a baby and Vin needed to take responsibility for his own actions."

"How long has this been going on?"

"Since the fishing trip."

"Back in November?" At Ezraís nod, Chris hugged Vin tighter and said, "Iím so sorry little brother. I wasnít paying attention, but I am now and I promise Iíll fix this if you give me the chance."

"IÖIÖ" Vin tried to talk but his voice just hitched. Chris rubbed his back and tried to calm him down.

"Shh, I have you now. Iím so sorry." Chris continued to comfort Vin until the crying and breathing was normal again. "Next time Vin, I want you to make me listen, okay?"

"Yes sir."

"Good. Do you want to come back downstairs or lay down?"

"Can we just stay here and rock?"

"Sure we can." Ezra smiled and stood to leave the room. "Thanks Ezra. Next time you have my permission to make it your business."

"Count on it. Night." Ezra headed back to his room while Chris rocked Vin until he fell asleep. He tucked his little brother into bed and headed downstairs to talk to Miz Nettie.

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

Chris found Nettie cleaning up the last of the dinner dishes while Buck and JD kept Casey occupied.

"Nettie?"

"You come in to help me with the dishes?"

"No, but if you like I can dry while you wash?"

"Deal. What did you need Chris?" Chris grabbed a towel and started drying the dishes.

"I need to talk to you about Casey."

"Does this have anything to do with Vin being sent to bed?"

"Sort of. He was really upset and then I found out that Casey has been sabotaging him."

"Sheís just aÖ"

"I know, a baby. But Nettie think about it. Vin use to get into trouble before Casey came here, but since then heís been in trouble everyday. I talked to Ezra and he said that Casey has been going into Vinís room and messing it up after he cleaned it."

"Oh dear. There were a couple of times I thought Vin must have been mistaken when it came to Casey, but I see I may have been wrong."

"So have I Nettie. Iíve spanked him several times for what I thought was disobedience and now I find out it wasnít."

"What would you like me to do?"

"First off, I think Casey needs to be reminded how things work in a family. I would also like your permission to deal with Casey immediately, instead of me waiting and telling you first. I think if she sees she wonít be treated any different then the boys, then she will leave Vin alone and possibly learn to like each other."

"You have my permission. If she needs a swat on her bottom you go right ahead. Iíll back you up completely."

"Thanks Nettie. I would like to talk to Casey together before she goes to bed too."

"Sounds good. Weíre done here and it wonít hurt her to go to bed early." Nettie dried her hands and headed into the family room. Chris followed her.

Nettie found Casey playing with JD in front of the fireplace. When Casey thought no one was looking, she tossed a wooden soldier into the fire, and giggled.

"CASEY MARIE WELLS!"

Everyone in the room turned and saw Nettie with her hands on her hips.

"Yes Nana?" Casey acted innocent.

"Come here young lady. We need to have a talk about other peoples things."

Casey stood and walked over to Nettie who took her arm and added two firm swats to her bottom. Casey immediately covered her backside and cried.

"That was for throwing toys into the fire." Nettie took Casey into her room with Chris following.

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

Nettie dressed the crying child in her nightgown. She set Casey on her lap as Chris took the rocker.

"Casey. I have something to ask you and I want the truth. Did you mess up Vinís room today?"

"No." Nettie gave her a swat to her leg. "The truth Casey."

"No." Another swat.

"Yes maíam."

"Good. Have you messed up his room before today? The truth Casey."

"No." Nettie gave her leg another swat.

"Yes maíam." Casey rubbed her leg. Sheís learning, Nettie thought.

"Good. Did you throw any of Vinís toys in the fire?"

Casey paused. She knew a lie would get her a swat.

"The truth Casey."

"Yes maíam." Casey started to cry harder.

"Casey, Iím very upset with what Chris tells me you have been doing. You have caused Vin trouble and it will stop now. No more toys in the fire. Stay out of Vinís room and leave Vin alone unless you plan to be nice to him. Do you understand?"

"Yes maíam."

"Good, because if you keep causing trouble you will be spanked. I have given Chris, Josiah, and Buck permission to spank you if you are being naughty. Understand?"

"Yes maíam."

"Good. We all love you Casey and I know itís been hard to be part of such a big family, but you have to do your part too."

"All of your new brothers care for you a great deal Casey." Chris added. "Even Vin."

"Vin donít like me."

"Right now? No, he doesnít because you have been getting him into trouble. And Iíll tell you little sister, he can find his own trouble without your help."

"I sorry." Casey buried her face in Nettieís neck and cried herself to sleep. Chris and Nettie tucked her in and turned down the light.

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

"What was that all about?" Buck asked Josiah.

"I donít know, but I may have something to do with the small family feud weíve had between Vin and Casey."

"Not any longer." Chris added.

"Whatís up Chris?"

"Well, Josiah, it seems Vin has been telling us the truth about Casey getting him in trouble. Nettie and I have straightened Casey out and I hope Vin forgives me."

"Sure he will. The next couple of times he deserves a spanking let it go and tell him the price was paid already."

"I think thatís a good idea. It will take some time and adjustment, but I think the feud is over. Nettie also gave me, Josiah and Buck permission to spank her if needed, so boys, we now have a full fledged little sister." Chris smiled. Casey was no longer an orphan; she now had strong family ties.

The End


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