Copyright © 2002
Josh felt his eye and he winced a little, then shrugged and grinned. Elias and Mathias Hill, the sons of the minister were in a lot worse shape than he was.
He heard a cough behind him. An attention getting cough. He spun around and looked at the man who had coughed. He immediately noted the resemblance to the preacher. The thick dark hair and the piercing blue eyes, but there the similarities ended, he had the same wide mouth, but whereas the minister's mouth was made to frown, this man's mouth was made to smile, and the laugh lines at the corner of the eyes confirmed that impression. He was probably ten years younger than the minister, at about thirty.
"I see that you are one more person from Rowley that my brother couldn't get into the church." the man said with humor.
Josh grinned, and for some reason didn't feel his usual shyness with this stranger, "His sons aren't there either, and they're regretting it right now, and they'll regret it even more when their father gets a hold of them."
"Now why would that be, my cryptic young friend? I hope you don't mind if I call you friend, we've known each other at least ten seconds and I should think that's enough time to form a friendship, don't you? By the way I guess I should really introduce myself before we finalize the friendship. I am Daniel Hill, but most people call me Dan." He held out his hand and Josh took it and his small hand was taken in a gentle but firm grasp, and they shook hands.
Josh grinned, he liked this strange man. "I'm Joshua Vinson, though mostly they call me Josh. I know that their father doesn't like them to be in church when he's preaching, but I caught them bullying David Silverman, just because he's Jewish, and I whipped them good. The minister likes them to bully people he doesn't like, and that seems to be just about everybody, but he hates it when they lose and he whips them for it." He frowned, "I don't know if they're bullies because of him or not, but they're natural bullies anyway, they enjoy hurting people, especially ones like David, who's only ten."
Daniel looked at Josh, who was naturally small boned, and slender and probably only weighed seventy pounds soaking wet, and compared him to his nephews who he had last seen six months ago, eleven and twelve years olds and big for their age, though a lot of it was fat, since they were overweight like their mother had been.
Josh's large brown eyes looked back at him just as frankly, one of them blackened, and the boy said, "I'm not very big, but there's no kid in this town who'll willingly go up against me, except those who don't know no better. I'm fast and I'm stronger than I look and I'm fierce, and I won't quit. You beat me up one day then I'll be back the next, and the next and the next. Eventually I'll win, because I'll never stop coming back."
Dan nodded. Josh was simply stating a fact, he wasn't bragging, and the man could see the determination in those steady brown eyes, a determination that said, beat me once, beat me twice, but how confident are you going to be the tenth time or the twentieth time?
"Have a seat my young friend." and Dan motioned at a rock with room for both of them to sit, and he joined him. "How exactly did my brother lose his flock?"
Josh frowned, deciding whether he should say or not. He didn't like gossiping. However this man already knew his brother, this couldn't have been the first time something like this had happened, so Josh decided to tell him.
"He got Gene's back up. Gene's my adopted father, and he's one of the most respected men in town. Gene liked the old minister, but the ladies Social Circle didn't. They thought he was too soft and they got their way. Your brother is a hellfire and brimstone minister who preaches intolerance."
"Gene stood up in the middle of his first sermon. The preacher just stood there looking at him dumbfounded, Gene said mildly, 'Reverend, I can take the hellfire and brimstone, but I won't accept the intolerance you're preaching. In my view God considers us all his children, whether they speak a different language, or have a different color or have a different religion. My family will be leaving now and we won't be back.' and we all got up and left. Half a dozen families followed us, and the minister's been losing more and more of his flock every Sunday. The only ones who still go are the ladies of the Social Circle and their families, and most of them only go because the women can't admit that they're wrong. There are towns who like that type of preacher. I've seen them and if he finds one, he'll do fine, but this town won't accept his type of preaching."
Dan sighed, "I don't know what happened to Richard. My father was a good preacher who preached the goodness of God, and he preached in one church for more than fifty years with no complaints. Richard went away to seminary school, and when he returned he was different, all the tolerance that our father taught us was gone. He took over my father's flock when he died, and he didn't last two months. As you say there are churches who like what he preaches, and his last one was just that type of church, and he was there for ten years. I don't know why he ever left."
Josh shifted uneasily and Dan looked at him, "But you know, don't you Josh? You don't have to tell me if you don't want to."
Josh studied that kind face for a couple of minutes, and decided to tell him, "I don't like to gossip and if you weren't his brother, I wouldn't tell you. But he doesn't practice what he preaches. From what I've heard his sermons are all against gambling and a lot of other things. But I know he plays poker, almost every night, in the back room of Telman's Saloon. I make a pot of tea every morning for Sam Higgins, the bartender there, and he says that your brother is good. Good enough that it would have taken him years to learn. Somebody found out at his last job and made him quit, that's what I think. They didn't want the publicity so they kept it quiet."
"It's not penny ante poker like the Judge plays neither. Most of the pots end up with at least fifty dollars in them and it can be as much as ten times that, and your brother does his share of winning. That's the only reason he's stayed, the church certainly isn't paying him very much."
"Paul Mannion, who's the bank president and the richest man in town, plays occasionally in the back room. He puts down five hundred dollars on the table and he plays until either it's gone or he wins. He says that people need to be able to trust their bank president, so if he gambles they have to know exactly what he's willing to wager, and they know five hundred dollars every two or three months is chicken feed to Paul. He says your brother occasionally rides his luck a little too hard but most time he plays the percentages, and while he doesn't win a lot of big pots, he wins a lot of little ones, and he figures that he comes out ahead ninety-five percent of the time.
They heard a couple of voices coming toward them and Josh, who had good hearing, could tell it was Mathias and Elias Hill coming back. He grinned. He said to Dan Hill, "Your nephews are coming back. They decided that I took them by surprise so they want to try me again. If you don't mind I'd rather get it over with right now, and they won't start anything if you're here."
"No I don't mind." Dan grinned, "Not if you don't."
He stood up and faded back into the trees while Josh stayed where he was. Dan's attention was focused on Josh and he was startled when a voice said behind him, "You must be the new schoolteacher. I'm Conch." He whirled around and saw a dangerous looking young man leaning against a tree. He was wearing a deputy sheriff's badge. Dan opened his mouth to ask him what his last name was and Conch shook his head.
"There's an unwritten law out here, Mr. Hill, you don't ask questions about a person's background and when someone gives you a name you accept what's given. You don't ask questions." Conch said with a smile.
Dan nodded with a thoughtful look. He was new to the west but he was a fast learner. He said, "I thank you for the advise Conch, but call me Dan." and Conch nodded, and Dan grinned, "Well if I can't ask about the past, what about the present. What are you doing here?"
"I heard your nephews talking, and I wanted to see them go up against Josh again. I can't say that they're being real smart, Dan. Watch and learn." and the two men looked as the two bigger boys appeared in the clearing.
"You don't intend to interfere?" Dan asked.
Conch shook his head, "If you mean do I think Josh needs help? No I don't, but even if I did I wouldn't interfere. Josh wouldn't appreciate it. He fights his own battles, when it's against other kids."
The two boys were crowding Josh and he let one of them get behind him, and Dan thought he was being careless, and when Elias grabbed him in a full nelson he was sure of it. Mathias rushed forward and suddenly Josh used the boy holding him as support and lifting his legs he drove his bare feet into the rushing boy's stomach.
Mathias breath whooshed out of him and he went to his knees and Josh brought his legs down hard and going to his knees he flipped Elias over his head, and the boy landed on top of his bigger brother. Josh pushed himself to his feet and looked with interest at the tangle of the two boys. They were down and didn't intend to get back up.
Dan said dryly, "I see what you mean. They thought they were in command but Josh actually let them maneuver him into the position he wanted."
Conch nodded, "Josh has an outstanding strategic sense in a fight. I saw him fight four boys travelling through on a wagon train once. Granted they were all about his size or a little bigger. But the way he worked them, they were actually getting in each other's way. So he neutralized their superior numbers and beat them easily."
Josh came up to them, and said cheerfully, "Hi, Conch."
Conch nodded, and pushing his hat back he grinned, "Do you think they'll be back?"
Josh thought about it seriously. "They like to hurt people and they're bullies, but they're not cowards, and they're dumb. So yes, I think at least once more."
Dan snapped his fingers, and exclaimed, "You're not Con Lloyd are you." and when Conch looked at him starting to scowl, he grinned, "I'm not being nosy this time and I took your advise to heart, but I have a letter for a Con Lloyd from Paul Riggs."
Conch nodded, his face relaxing. "That's me."
Dan reached into his coat pocket, and pulled out a letter. "Paul went hunting for three weeks and forgot about the letter and he gave it to me right after he came back. I was just supposed to leave it with the postmaster but he wasn't there yesterday, and I didn't like the way his assistant was acting. Sick or something."
Josh said, "Mel came out here for his health two years ago, and he's getting better, but sometimes he has bad spells."
Conch opened the letter and began reading it. Dan looked down at Josh. "Should we leave him alone?" and Josh shook his head.
"If it's something that's private, he won't tell us. But he would have left if he wanted to read it in private." Josh explained.
Conch finished reading walked into the clearing and sat down on the rock Dan and Josh had been sitting on. He handed the letter to Josh, "Here, you read it."
Josh took it and he sighed with relief when he saw the elegant and very readable copperplate handwriting.
I couldn't bring myself to write to you six months ago when Dwight was killed in a carriage accident, I still feel sorrow when I think about it. That's why I haven't written to you since, but I appreciated the letters you sent me.
I can remember him as a little boy before you were born and instant jealously permeated his soul, and he was a loveable child. I know that there will be little grief in your heart for Dwight and why should there be, he was forever hurting you both physically and mentally with the aid of your father.
But the death of Dwight destroyed what was left of your father. He has been drinking heavily in private for several years, though only his family and colleagues were aware of it. It came close to costing him his operating privileges at all of the major hospitals in Boston, on several occasions.
After Dwight died, he no longer tried to hide his drinking, and in the last six months I don't think he's ever been sober. Now everybody knows about his drinking and he HAS lost operating privileges at the major hospitals though a couple of the smaller ones still allow him to operate.
Many people might think I should stick by him, try to help him to get over his drinking, but this has been the final straw that completely destroyed what has long been a loveless marriage. I applied for a divorce, and it has been granted.
Janice, Dwight's wife, has been supportive, but again he treated her almost as badly as he did you, and if she hadn't been a widow with two children to feed, I don't think she would have stayed with him once she found out what he was really like.
We have decided that we will change our lives completely and will be heading west to join you there. I am sending you a two thousand dollar bank draft. Please buy or rent suitable accommodations for two women and two children and I hope you will join us as well.
We shall arrive on the sixteenth or seventeenth of August.
Your loving mother,
Josh grinned at Conch and said, "You're in trouble. Now let's see if we can get you out of it. Gene owns the old Pringle place next door to us, and we went through it last week to see what it needs to fix it up. It's not really in that bad a shape, Gene said. It has four bedrooms, a kitchen and a living room with a fireplace. It needs a new roof and some of the boards in the floor need to be replaced, but all of the walls are in good shape, though they need a coat of paint inside and out. All the windows are still intact, though how they've survived kids with slingshots I don't know. The well water is good and after priming the kitchen pump after a few minutes of pumping out rust, it cleared up, so it's got good water. We tried the fireplace and it was drawing well, so there's no blocks by birds or anything."
"Letís see who do we need. Mase for nails and paint and pots and pans and dishes, and with Benny and Mr. Mallory out of town for a week, Swede Jenson, his foreman, is in charge of the lumber yard. I went by there yesterday and they were working on shingles, so they should have what you need to roof the house. It's a good thing you got money, Mallory doesn't like giving credit and Swede wouldn't dare."
"Mark Silverman's father has a shipment of furniture he wanted to send to his buyer, but the guy told him to hold onto it for a while. I've been in the barn where he stores the stuff and I saw three beds and a couple of cots, three bureaus, a kitchen table and chairs, and some living room furniture, just wooden chairs, nothing very comfortable. Roberts is always complaining that Paul has way too much furniture, so I'll see if I can't get Paul to lend you a couple of armchairs."
"You'll need bedding and the ladies Social Circle can provide that, and curtains. Let's see what else. A cook stove, and Maude just replaced her old one, but it's still in good shape, it was simply too small. She still has the old one in her kitchen but she was saying last night that she really has to get rid of it because it's in the way." He grinned, "You'll have to dig a pit and build a new outhouse, the old one was filled in."
"Now people. It's Sunday, and most people only do what they have to. This is an emergency and I don't think there's anyone in town who wouldn't be willing to work on a Sunday in that case, so we can get plenty of men and older boys."
"You go see Gene and Paul, and I'll go get Mase and Swede." Josh said, and he began walking energetically away from them. Conch grinning and Dan looking after the young boy with a dazed look on his face.
Conch said, "You might want to follow him. The big confrontation is coming up. Josh against your brother. Both Swede and Mason Acklesí wives are members of the Social Circle, and since it's only nine o'clock your brother is just getting wound up and that's where they'll be."
Josh paused and turned and, called, "Are you going to buy or rent the Pringle place?"
Conch raised his voice a little, "Buy Josh. My mother's family was wealthy as well, and she has a nice trust fund of her own."
Josh waved, and Dan hurried after him. When he was walking beside the boy, Josh looked up at him. "You know this will decide whether your brother stays or not."
"Yes, I know Josh. What do you think will happen?" Dan asked.
"I know what will happen. Swede will be too afraid of losing his job to refuse the type of money that Conch will be spending. Peggy Ackles was the only one of the Social Circle who didn't vote to replace the old minister, she's only kept her family going to church out of loyalty to her friends. I've talked to her and she giggles when she's talking about Mase at the service. You see Mase sleeps through them, and when he starts to snore she has to elbow him in the ribs to wake him up."
"By the way Josh, I'm the new schoolteacher, Tanny said I should tell you but she wouldn't say why." Dan said.
Josh stopped and looked at him, and yelling, "YAHOO!!" he turned a couple of cartwheels. Coming up on his second one he grinned at a surprised looking Dan. "That tells me that Tanny's expecting a baby. Her ma had trouble having children, only two out of six were born alive. Doc Adams, said that when she got pregnant she should quit teaching school, just in case. He says he wants her to exercise, but that standing up in a classroom all day would be bad for her. She's the type of teacher who's always on her feet, when she's giving lessons or going around to help students."
Dan nodded his approval, "That's the way you should teach, and it's the way I teach."
The were almost at the church when they saw a boy on a horse. Josh put two fingers in his mouth and whistled shrilly and when the boy looked at him he waved at him to come to them.
As the boy was doing so Josh said, "That's Joseph." he grinned. "It's kinda complicated. Marnie and Gene are his aunt and uncle and they adopted me, so I'm his cousin."
Joseph rode up to them, and said, "What's up Josh?" and staring at the man.
"Two things. One, this is the new schoolteacher, so Tanny's going to have a baby, and two, Conch's mother and sister-in-law and their kids are going to be arriving by stage tomorrow or the next day. He's gone to see Gene to buy the Pringle place and Paul Mannion to give him a bank draft. It's not too bad, but it needs some fixing up. You go gather the men and the boys old enough to help, tell the younger kids to come too, they can carry water and stuff."
Joseph's eyes lit up with glee when he heard about Tanny's baby and he nodded as Josh gave him instructions. Waving he headed for the residential area of town, and then he'd go out to the closest ranches.
Josh marched confidently up to the church door and pushed it open. Dan followed him inside and waited at the back, interested to see what would happen. He wasn't worried about his brother, obviously he could make a living as a gambler. He grinned, his father might turn in his grave, but then again maybe not. He had always said that a person should do what he was good at, and gambling wasn't against the law.
There were only seven couples and their children in the church, and several of them looked over their shoulders. Dan saw one woman after she took a look, elbow a very large man in the ribs and he figured that must be Mason Ackles and his wife.
He saw Richard glare down at the small boy, and Josh nodded his head, obviously not intimidated. The man said, "This is a church service, boy, what do you want?"
"An emergency has come up, Reverend, and we need help." Josh said politely.
"I don't care what's come up, come back after the service. Nothing comes before God." hissed the minister.
Mason Ackles' deep voice rumbled, "Maybe nothing comes before God, Reverend, but sometimes things are more important than church services. Go ahead, Josh."
Josh turned around and faced them. "Conch's Ma and his sister-in-law and two kids, are coming in by stage tomorrow or the day after. Conch has gone to see Gene about buying the Pringle place, but while it's not in bad shape, it still needs work. I sent Joseph out to gather men and boys to work on it. They'll bring their own tools. Mase, we'll need nails, paint, pots and pans and dishes, probably a couple of buckets and maybe a metal tub and tinned goods to stock the kitchen, also some lanterns. Swede, we'll need lumber and shingles because the roof will have to be replaced, and a new outhouse built. Ladies, I'm going to see Mr. Silverman about bedroom, kitchen and living room furniture. We'll need bedding for three beds and two cots and curtains for four bedrooms, the kitchen and the living room. Maude replaced her stove because she needed something bigger but she still has the old one and it's still in good shape. Swede, they'll need firewood for the stove and fireplace as well." Josh grinned, "though I don't imagine they'll need the fireplace for a while. Oh and Swede could you arrange for one of your wagons to stop at Maude's to pick up the cook stove?"
"Conch's mother sent a two thousand dollar bank draft, and she's got a trust fund so money's no problem. Anybody need any more information?" and everybody shook their heads but they were buzzing with conversation. "Okay let's go. I've sent Joseph to tell everybody and he'll start with the townsfolk and then head out to the nearest ranches."
Dan saw that his brother was speechless and he thought it was just as well. From the interest and excitement he saw on the faces of the people following Josh they would have ignored him anyway, and while he felt a little sorry for his brother, he knew he would survive and he turned and followed Josh.
Josh marveled at the activity going on around the Pringle place. It was like a stirred up hornet's nest. Clay said from in back of him, "What do you think of your handiwork?"
Josh exclaimed, "It's amazing! I didn't know so many people would show up!"
Clay put his hand on the boy's shoulder, "They're here mainly for you Josh. They like you and respect you, and they want to help you. They like the way Conch has been acting over the last four weeks, but it's simply too soon for them to know how he'll turn out. Personally I have no doubts that he'll turn out fine, but they feel the need to wait for a while."
Josh went red, both with embarrassment and a singing feeling of joy. Things had changed so much in just a year. Unable to speak, he just nodded. They just watched for a few minutes while Josh recovered his composure. Finally he said, "I've got to go. Maude closed the diner, since everybody's here. Paul said he'd pay to feed everybody, and she's got two big kettles going. One of beans and one of stew. That's for lunch. It won't feed everybody, but Marnie and Tanny, and Peggy Ackles are also cooking up some stew and bread and biscuits. Some of the other women are making cakes and pies for dessert after supper."
"Marnie has Joseph helping her and Tanny corralled Sammy Watson to do fetching an' carrying while his sister's help his ma, so I said I'd help Maude. Most of the boys don't know how to cook, which is silly. Marnie was right to teach Joseph and me. We can actually help and so can the girls by helping with the cookin', but most of the boy's our age can only carry water." He grinned, "or beer. But Mason is watching them so nobody's gonna be allowed to drink too much. See ya later Clay." and he began trotting towards the diner.
Clay looked at the men working once more and just shook his head. He didn't there was anybody in town aside from Josh, who could garner this much help so quickly, not even highly respected men like Gene Vinson and Paul Mannion. He was thirty years old and unless he got killed young he fully expected to see Josh as a US Senator or the Governor of New Mexico.
Conch looked at the completed renovated house with a dazed look. He asked Clay Addison, "How did they do it? It's only eight o'clock yet it's done. Once the paint's dry and with the heat it'll be dry by morning, it'll be ready to move in. I know a lot of county folk get together for things like this but it doesn't usually happen in the towns."
"Friends and neighbors, Conch." and when Conch started to protest, he said, "I know you've only been a lawman for four weeks, but they've come to respect you in that time." He grinned, "But they didn't really do it for you, they did it for Josh. They probably would have done it for you, but they respect and like Josh. He probably knows more about this town than any other person, because people instinctively trust him, and they talk to him, telling him secrets they wouldn't tell anyone else. They respect his honor and courage which he's proved several times, and they feel he's a person worth helping, because they know that he'd do the same for them."
"I was thinking earlier that before I die I expect him to be Senator or Governor of New Mexico. Gene thinks that by the time he's sixteen he'll know everything that he can teach him. He thinks Josh might end up as Sam's law clerk, and eventually a lawyer."
Conch thought soberly about that idea for a few minutes, then nodded his head, "I can see him there as well, Clay." He grinned, "What a refreshing concept, a politician who doesn't know how to lie."
At three-thirty Conch was waiting nervously for the east bound stage, dressed in new clothes, which he had gotten from Mason Ackles yesterday. New trousers, and a white shirt and string tie and a jacket. It had been seven years since he had seen his mother, and his sister-in-law was an old friend. If the stagecoach was on time it should get here any time now. Clay and Josh were there to give him support. What Clay had on was pretty well a duplicate of what Conch was wearing, but he'd had it somewhat longer.
Josh was also in his best though he wasn't dressed up like Clay or Conch, he was simply wearing his new school clothes a little early and the new shoes he had gotten on Friday. They pinched a little, but he would have had to break them in sometime and today was as good a time to start as any.
Clay said quietly, "There it comes. Pretty well on time."
Conch grinned, his nervousness easing a bit. "If my mother's on board they wouldn't dare be late. She's an easygoing person, but she's always thought if someone posted a schedule they better stick to it or she'll give you a piece of her mind."
The stagecoach drew up to the Wells Fargo office and Charlie Gibbons the driver nodded at the two lawmen. He said, "Your ma's on board Conch."
Conch felt relieved as he opened the coach door, and helped his mother down, she was an elegant lady in her mid-fifties. Turning he helped Janice Lloyd and the two children down. Clay's breath caught in his throat when he saw Janice. She was not a pretty woman, just pleasant looking, but like her mother-in-law her face was made for good humor. She looked at him and their eyes met and interest sparked in hers as well. The children surprisingly were dressed in sensible western clothing, though it was obviously new.
Conch turned back to his mother and drawing him into his arms he gave her a gentle hug. She drew back while he greeted Janice in the same manner.
"This is Clay Addison, Ma, Janice, he's the sheriff and my boss and my friend." said Conch. Clay shook hands and Lydia Lloyd noticed that Janice and Clay's hands lingered in each others. She said sardonically, "Either you've got two heads, Clay or someone's hiding behind you." smiling.
Clay grinned, and reaching behind him, he hauled Josh in front of him. "This is Joshua Vinson, mostly called Josh, and he's somewhat shy with strangers. Don't be surprised if you don't get a word out of him for today." Josh went red with embarrassment and dug the toe of his new shoe into the dirt.
Lydia giggled, "He's the one who helped you control that mob with the canon, isn't he Con? I can just see their faces when they saw it." She offered her hand and Josh took it and then cocked his head sideways after he released it and looked up at her gravely.
He said slowly, "It's funny, but you're the second person in the last two days, that I haven't felt shy with. You remind me so much of Conch."
Janice offered her hand as well, "Can we make it three, Josh?" and surprisingly to him he realized they could as he took her hand.
He nodded, "Yes we can." he said simply.
Lydia put her hands on the children's heads. "This is Mark, he's seven and Penelope, but if you call her that you'd better watch your shins, she prefers Penny, and she's eight. Their last name is Wycliff, because Dwight refused to adopt them, but despite that, they are my grandchildren." They looked up at her and smiled.
Conch said, "Charlie, Early knows where the baggage is to go. Come on Ma, everybody."
Offering his arm to his mother she took it. He said wryly, "You didn't give us much time, Ma. You didn't tell Dan that it was important and he went hunting and forgot about it until he got back. He's a friend of our new schoolteacher and he gave it to him to deliver and it arrived yesterday."
Clay offered his arm to Janice and she took it, and for the first time in years she felt comfortable holding a man's arm. They followed Conch and his mother, Josh leading the way, the younger children buzzing around them.
Lydia said with curiosity and a little worry, "What type of accommodations were you able to acquire, Con?"
He grinned, "Wait until you see it, Ma." he said.
They were soon in the residential area. He stopped outside of a house surrounded by a white picket fence. She looked at it and said, "Why, it looks simply delightful Con. Why were you worried?"
"You should have seen it yesterday morning Ma. It needed a new roof, new flooring in places, new paint inside and out, furniture for four bedrooms, and the living room and the kitchen. A stove, pots and pans, dishes, bedding, and curtains, tinned goods. Josh got people together, and in eleven hours it changed to what you see."
Lydia said, "Thank you Josh. Con told me what type of life you had before you came to Rowley and by simply being what you are how youíve won the respect and the admiration of the whole town." She bent down and kissed him on the top of the head. "Iím glad youíre our friend."
Josh accepted the kiss nonchalantly, surprising himself by not blushing. He said, "It's nice to have friends like Clay and Conch. I can talk to them about anything when I can't do that even with my family."
He opened the gate and bowed them in, "An afternoon snack is on the table in the kitchen." Conch picked him up and slung him over his shoulder and Josh giggled.
Conch said, "Josh has been cooking since this morning. There's a chicken and bread for sandwiches today and tomorrow, and for supper there's a stew." Clay opened the door and held it open for the rest and they went into the house Josh carefully ducking his head under the lintel, before Conch set him down. Clay entered and closed the door behind him.
It was just a nice simple little house, and I felt delighted. It was just what I had wanted. I was tired of an enormous mansion. The only thing I had ever liked about it was that you could always find somewhere to be alone. Soon after I married Clifford Lloyd I knew I had made a mistake, but it was too late. You simply didn't get divorced in those days. I couldn't have taken the scandal. Not when I was twenty. Now I no longer cared what people thought. I took off my hat and my jacket and I felt at home.
This is the type of house you needed when you liked the people you lived with. As I sat and ate the delicious sandwiches that were made from the chicken Josh had cooked and the bread that he had baked, I realized that I was going to have to learn to cook, or relearn it. I hoped it was like riding a horse, once learned never forgotten. Janice was a great cook, but I couldn't leave all the burden to her.
Besides, from the interest she and Clay Addison were showing in each other, she might not be here long anyway. Josh had drifted to the outside of the group and like me was simply watching. He looked at me watching Janice and Clay, and he just winked and grinned.
He drifted my way. He said and the look on his small face was puzzled, "Paul Mannion would like to see you. He said it was important but not urgent." He explained, "He's the richest man in town and the president of the bank. His house is packed with furniture and he leant you the settee and the two armchairs." I was finished with the snack that Josh had provided with his efforts and looking around at the others I saw they weren't quite finished.
I said to Josh, "Why don't you take me to see your Paul Mannion. I'd like to thank him and I'd like to thank everyone else as well, though I don't know how to thank everybody since I don't know who helped."
He admitted, "I don't know all who helped either. Some were here all day, some showed up for an hour or two, some could only spare a few minutes, but almost everybody in town and just outside helped at least a little." His face brightened, "I know what you can do. Jeremy Franks just started up a newspaper a month ago. He said he's got a pretty good circulation for a weekly paper that's just started up, but he said a newspaper doesn't really make much money on the papers they sell, but on the advertisement people buy to put in the paper. You could put a big ad in the paper. That way you can thank everyone who helped and as you get to know people you'll get to know what they did to help and you can thank them individually."
"Why, that's a simply splendid idea Josh. Why don't you take me to see your newspaper editor first and then we'll see Paul Mannion." I put on my hat and stuck the hat pin in to keep it on. I told everybody what Josh and I were going to do and then headed for the business district.
Jeremy Franks was probably in his mid-thirties but already he only had a fringe of red hair around his mostly bald head. He looked at me with lively blue eyes and when Josh introduced us wiped his hand to make sure that he had no ink on his fingers and then he shook my hand firmly, while Josh went outside to wait. "I'm glad to meet you Mrs. Lloyd. You made the front page." and he handed me a sheet of paper. He said, "Be careful it's still wet."
He hadn't put the fact that we were from Boston in the headlines. It simply said FAMILY OF NEW DEPUTY SHERIFF ARRIVES. It was a good story, well-written and there was a great deal of background which he must have gotten from Con, but the emphasis of the whole story was that we had come to Rowley to stay and I appreciated that.
"How can I help you Mrs. Lloyd?" he asked.
I said firmly, "Please call me Lydia."
He nodded, "All right, how can I help you Lydia?"
"I wanted to thank everybody who helped get that delightful house ready for our arrival, and Josh suggested that I put an ad in the paper to start with and then thank people individually as I got to know them. I hope it's not too late for this week, since this shows me you've already started."
He grinned, "I have to start early, it's a one man business still. Once I know it's solid then I'll try to hire a typesetter and an apprentice, and I can concentrate on gathering the news. But there's plenty of time, the paper doesn't come out until tomorrow afternoon. What size add do you want and what do you want to say?"
I said, "I think a quarter page add would be best, and I'd like it to say, 'From Lydia Lloyd and her son Conch Lloyd and her daughter-in-law Janice Lloyd and her two grandchildren Mark and Penny Wycliff. We wish to thank the entire community for helping to get our delightful new home ready for us on such short notice. As Janice and I get to know the members of the community on a personal basis we will give our heartfelt thanks in person. And a very special thanks to Josh Vinson who organized the whole thing.'"
He finished writing it down and gave it to me to check and went over to the press and got a sheet of paper. He brought it back and showed it to me. "This is a proof for the back of the front page. I've been doing a series on the people who are important to Rowley, and they aren't necessarily important people."
I began to read it.
'IMPORTANT PEOPLE TO OUR COMMUNITY
What is my criteria for a person to be profiled in this column. Being liked, respected and having the ability to motivate or organize large scale activities.
The three men I have profiled in this column so far are obvious, Paul Mannion, Clay Addison, and Gene Vinson.
Can a child fulfill the criteria of this column? One child in our community certainly can, and he's an unusual child. Despite the fact that in many respects he is quite an ordinary young boy, in others Josh Vinson is quite exceptional.'
I read it through from start to finish. Some of the things Con had told me and I knew about. But it was interesting to get the full story. The fact that he'd been kicked out by his aunt and uncle and had survived entirely on his own for three months. The promise he had made which had changed his life.
I looked up at Jeremy and there were tears at the corner of my eyes. I said, "Con told me some things about him, but not in a lot of detail and I didn't realize he had gone through anything like this. Does he know about this column?"
"Yes, though he doesn't know how extensive it's going to be. He said that if another kid sees it or hears about it, and ends up in similar troubles, this will tell him that it's possible to live and then thrive simply by never giving up." said Jeremy.
The man who opened the door of the Mannion house was a comfortable looking man in his mid-forties, and his eyes lit up when he saw Josh and I. He stuck out his hand, "Ah, you must be Lydia Lloyd, I'm Roberts Jennings, Paul's been talking about you since he heard you were coming in on today's stage."
I was somewhat mystified, I didn't know anyone with the name of Paul Mannion. As if to answer my question, a deep man's voice said, "That's because you remember little Paul Manning, Lydie." and my mind went back to a ten year old boy heading off cheerfully to America with his older brother and his father and mother, in the little cart that held the last of their possessions.
I hugged my third cousin, and then stood back and looked at him. He looked like his father, and of course my father who were second cousins. Despite the fact that he was my age he was still slim and active looking. Over one hundred years before, his great-grandfather ran into the first of the bad luck that had plagued his branch of the family for generations. By the time I knew them they were down to living in the gamekeeper's cottage on our estate. Obviously the bad fortune had ended with him.
He knew what I was thinking, and said, "With my father actually. When we landed the Immigration Officer wrote down Mannion instead of Manning and my father was too proud to point out his mistake. But it seemed to be fortuitous. After that we never looked back. It seemed like the name change broke the run of bad luck that we had been going through. He's still alive and runs an exclusive haberdashery shop in New York City. Mother died only five years ago."
"Burton and I went out to California in eighteen forty-nine and unlike many who went looking for their fortune we actually found ours. We liked it out here and we came back to New Mexico and found Rowley just starting, and we knew we were home." he told me.
I asked, "What happened to Burton?"
He grinned, "When the Civil War broke we flipped a coin to decide who would fight for our country and he won. I think he cheated, but there was no way to prove it." He sobered, "Unfortunately he was killed during the war, but I know he wouldn't have regretted it. As so many of our ancestors died to help keep Britain safe, he died to keep the Union safe."
I nodded. I knew many women who regretted the fact that they sent their men off to die for their country, but the women of my family had never looked at it that way. The men went yes, and they died, but they were representing the whole family, and while we felt sorrow for their deaths, we also felt pride.
Josh spoke up then, "Mrs. Lydia, do you plan on staying for a while? Do you want me to tell the others to have supper without you?"
I said, "Yes, Josh. That is if I might invite myself to supper, Paul?"
He half bowed, "Roberts was saying that there was enough steak for four people let alone enough for just him and I. Right Roberts?"
Roberts grinned, "There sure is Paul. I'll just add a couple more potatoes." and he headed off, obviously for the kitchen.
Josh said wisely, "It's probably just as well. I wasn't expecting Clay to stay for supper, but after seeing the way he and your daughter-in-law were looking at each other, I don't think you could pry him away tonight with a crowbar." and he giggled, and I grinned back, thinking that he was undoubtedly right.
It was almost seven PM when Sheriff Clay Addison, finished the last of his paper work and called it a day. He nodded good night at Conch, who just raised his hand in acknowledgement. They were comfortable in their silence, and they didn't talk a lot.
He was almost at his boarding house when he nearly ran into Josh Vinson. Josh's big brown eyes were sparkling with excitement, and he was a bundle of energy right now, unable to keep still. Standing in front of Clay shifting from one bare foot to the other.
He burst out, "Clay, can you give me a hand? I bought a present for Joseph's birthday tomorrow, and I need help to get it home. Sam was gonna help me, but he had to go over to Morrison and he won't be back until late tonight."
Clay smiled at the little boy, "Sure, I plan to see Janice later, but not until after the children are in bed. Where is it?"
Josh didn't answer just grabbed Clay's hand and began pulling him along. After a couple of minutes, sure that Clay was coming with him, he let go and began almost dancing along in front of him, so full of excitement was he.
As they reached Jensen's Leather Goods, Josh had calmed down a little. He pushed open the door, the little bell announcing their arrival. Red Jenson, peeked through the blanket covering the doorway into the back. He grinned, "Found someone to carry it did you, come on back.
They went behind the counter and through the doorway. Josh darted across the workroom and began stroking a saddle possessively. Clay walked across the room more slowly. It wasn't fancy, just a plain workaday utilitarian saddle. It had a small engraved brass plate on the cantle. It said,
To Joseph Vinson
On his 11th Birthday
This wasn't a cheap saddle, despite the fact that it was so plain, the workmanship was outstanding, and it wasn't a child's saddle. It was meant to last a lifetime and given proper care it would outlast it's user. It wasn't normally a gift a western child gave to another one, not useless you belonged to the wealthy class.
Clay was stunned. It must have taken Josh months to save up enough money to buy this saddle. He knew about Josh's sidelines. Selling tea to Sam for a dime a pot, every morning, and making a dozen donuts for Maude's diner every Saturday night.
Then he thought of something, "How did you know that Joseph would need it? You said a couple of weeks ago that you hadn't known Joseph was bringing a horse home until Gene and Sam put in the new room and added the second shed with a stall, and then put in the corral."
Josh said dreamily, "I knew Joseph would get one sooner or later. After all he owns a ranch. I began saving in January. When I found out that he'd be bringing one home with him, I asked Judge Howard for enough to make up the difference from my trust fund. I had enough saved, so it wasn't much."
He peeked at Red Jenson, who was working not seeming to be paying any attention to their conversation, though he knew he was, but it felt private and that was enough for Josh. "I can tell Gene and Marnie how much I care for them. I only have to give them a look, I don't have to say nothing. But Joseph is only a kid like me, a look doesn't always work, and he's had troubles in his life. He never knew his father, but his grandfather was there to take his place. and it hit him hard when George was killed, and his own mother was involved. Iíve had some hard times myself, and although I'm only two months older than Joseph at times he looks on me as much older than that, and I want to tell him how much I really like him in a way that I can't put into words. This is a special thing, but it's only a thing. I want to give it to him tonight, because Gene and Marnie are going to give him a couple of much more important gifts tomorrow."
Clay said, "You seem to be doing a pretty good job of talking about it to me."
Josh said, "As I told Conch's mother I can talk with you, and Conch as well, like I can't talk with my own family. I get shy like I get with strangers, and my insides seem to be all twisted up and I can't get the words out. Joseph was brought up more normal like, even though he had some troubles. But he doesn't like to be hugged anymore. Or at least he pretends he doesn't. Marnie says that's usual for boys of our age. I love being hugged, and she says that's normal too. I never got them when growing up and now when I get hugged I feel good all over, and I'm not embarrassed to be hugged or kissed."
Josh rubbed the saddle one more time, "It's too heavy for me to manage, but Joseph's taller than I am, and he weighs almost eighty-five pounds, and he's a lot stronger than I am, so even though it's an adult saddle he'll be able to manage it. He's already got a good bridle, but I got a saddle blanket as well. Red's been keeping it for me."
Clay easily picked up the saddle with his left hand, and waited while Josh got the saddle blanket from Red and shook his hands firmly, "Thanks, Red. As an apprentice gunsmith I've learned to appreciate real craftsmanship, and your saddles have it written all over them."
Red smiled. Not a talkative man, he simply ruffled the boy's hair in appreciation of the sincere complement.
They were heading for the Vinson residence when and Clay asked, "I'm just curious. You don't have to answer if you don't want to. I would have thought that a saddle like this would be a dream come true to a horse mad boy like Joseph. Yet you say it's not really that important."
Josh thought about it for a minute and then began to talk, "As I said the saddle's only a thing. Kid's our age ride bareback all of the time and Joseph won't really need it for years. Gene and Marnie's gifts will change his life in his mind. Gene went to Santa Fe to see Joseph's Ma. There was nothing ever said, Joseph simply moved in with Gene and Marnie after his grandfather was killed. Sam told them that they should get formal guardianship papers from her so that she couldn't come back and just take him. Also Gene got her to give him and Marnie permission to adopt Joseph, so they'd really be his parents not simply his aunt and uncle."
"Maybe the difference doesn't seem important and maybe it isn't to a lot of people, but it felt different to me. I know that I felt like a completely different person the day that the adoption was finalized and I could read in black and white that I was now Joshua Vinson, not Joshua Horner. It's like putting a gun together, it's never complete until the last piece of the mechanism is in place. Until then it's almost a gun but not quite. That's when it becomes a gun, once it can be fired safely."
"Joseph cares for us, but there's a little bit of difference in the way he cares about us. He really likes Marnie and Gene as an aunt and uncle and me as a cousin. He's like me in that he needs that little bit of paper that says Marnie and Gene are his parents and I'm his brother, otherwise there'll always be that gap between us. That paper for him like for me is the last piece of the gun."
Clay asked the young boy, "Do you always think that deeply, Josh?"
Josh looked up at Clay and grinned, "No, only about what it's like to have a family, or not. I always dreamed of having a real family, even when I was with my aunt and uncle. I was usually hungry when I went to bed when I lived with them, and always hungry when I was on my own. Dreaming was a way to take my mind off my hunger, and I thought of every possible family there was, though not about adoption because I didn't know that it existed until Conch's trial."
"One of the things I dreamed about was having a decent aunt and uncle, and decent cousins, after a while the dream changed so that the aunt and uncle were parents instead and the cousins were brothers. Watching Joseph over the last year, I simply got the idea that he doesn't quite feel like he completely belongs. While I'm not as comfortable talking to Sam as I am to you and Conch, still I can talk to him easier than Marnie and Gene, and after we got the final adoption papers, I talked to Sam about it, and it was after that talk, that Gene went to Santa Fe."
Thinking about the times he had visited Marnie and Gene, he realized that Josh was right, Joseph was there but he was always slightly separated, not physically but mentally.
Rascal was in the corral when they got to the Vinson's. He was a horse, not a pony. A small horse but still a horse, and many men never had ones any bigger. Josh opened the door of the shed very quietly. It was still new and the hinges still had their original oil on them, so they didn't make much noise. Clay put the saddle on the burro, and Josh set the saddle blanket beside it. (A cowboy or a western rider always put a saddle on what was called a burro whenever possible to preserve the shape.)
Josh suddenly burst into the living room and grabbed Joseph by the arm and started to pull. Joseph is taller and much stronger, but Josh at times seems like an irresistible force, so energetic is he, and Joseph was almost helpless to resist.
Josh pulled Joseph through the kitchen and the back door with Marnie and me following him. We wanted to know what had gotten him so excited. We nodded to Clay when we got outside, and I realized that Josh must have gotten his help.
When we got into Rascal's shed, Joseph was stroking a saddle and Josh was backing away from him to leave him alone with it. He backed right into Marnie and she put her arms around him and he looked up at her over his shoulder and smiled a contented smile. I shook my head. I knew that Josh wouldn't have gone into his trust fund, not for the amount a saddle of that quality cost, so he must have been saving for months.
I saw Joseph's shoulders start to shake and I realized that he was crying with happiness. Josh turned around and pushed us out and closed the door behind us and I realized that he was right. Josh didn't mind crying in front of us, but Joseph did, that's why we had got the papers we'd give to him tomorrow. Marnie and I had never realized it until Josh pointed it out to us, and we began to watch Joseph, but Joseph didn't quite feel like he belonged. Oh we were family all right, but we weren't his parents.
Josh went over to the corral pulling a handful of grass and climbed onto the top rail, and Rascal came to him as readily as he would to Joseph. It was a wonder to me that a boy who had such an easy way with animals, horses included, wasn't as horse mad as Joseph. But Josh was content to give him a handful of grass now and then and rub his forehead.
Clay said quietly, "Josh waylaid me on the way to my boarding house, since he needed help to get it here. He said Sam was going to do it but he had to go over to Morrison, and he wanted to give it to Joseph tonight since he said you had a couple of more important things to give him tomorrow." He looked over at Josh. "You know Joseph may reject it."
Marnie smiled and said, "We know. But Josh doesn't think he will, and for a boy he's very good at predicting how people will react."
Joseph said to his horse as he was grooming him, "That was an incredible gift, Rascal. Josh must have spent everything he made over the last few months, on it. Red Jenson is the best saddle maker in the territory." He wondered why Josh was still so excited. Usually after he did something like that he just showed contentment. But he'd been so excited that he'd been fumble-fingered when they were doing their chores this morning. He found himself rushing and he knew that he was starting to get excited too. He knew there would be a cake waiting when he got inside, not their usual breakfast fare, and Josh had made some doughnuts last night as well.
He said to Rascal, "I'm sorry, boy, but I can't wait no longer. Once we try out that new saddle and blanket, then I'll give you a grooming you'll never forget." Putting the grooming equipment away, he led Rascal out to the corral and after putting the bars of the gate back in place, he took off the halter and patted him on the neck and climbed though the poles of the corral.
He got into the kitchen and the others were all sitting around the table waiting. In front of each plate were three sugar coated doughnut's and in the middle a chocolate cake. They were all smiling but Josh also had that shy look on his face and Joseph knew that he wouldn't be able to say a word, but that was all right, he had said everything that needed to be said, by giving him that saddle last night.
Gene handed him an envelope, addressed 'To Joseph on his 11th birthday'. He opened them and after looking at them he saw that they were Guardianship Papers. It hurt for a minute that his mother would give him up permanently, but she had never really cared much for him anyway, and the little hurt was replaced by a feeling of warmth.
Gene handed him a second envelope and said, "Josh felt that this paper is more important than the other one. That one was to make sure your mother couldn't come back and take you, this is different."
Joseph opened the envelope, curiosity eating at him. He read the heading. New Mexico Territory Adoption Papers. He looked up at them and his vision was starting to blur with tears. He heard Marnie say, "This will make us your parents as well as your aunt and uncle. When you do something bad we can whip you."
Joseph laughed, "You already do that." he said.
"We know," said Gene. "But afterwards when you cried, you always ran away to be alone. We know you never did that when George was alive. You let him comfort you. And for other things as well. Josh when he cries, is comfortable in our presence and our arms around him make him feel safe, and loved. You've never let us do that with you, because you never quite felt like you're completely a member of the family. Since your mother gave permission, the only thing left to be done is for Judge Howard to sign it and it becomes final, and Vinson, becomes not the name of our nephew and Josh's cousin, but our son and Josh's brother. Do you want that?"
Joseph said, "Oh, yes. I want that so much it hurts. After Josh got those adoption papers I was so jealous for a while, but it's impossible to stay jealous of him, but I still wanted it so much." He pushed his chair back and went around the table and flung himself into Gene's arms and began to cry, and this time he didn't want to be alone, and those strong arms around him and Marnie stroking his back made him feel safe, and loved.
Josh came up to Conch who was watching a couple of boys fighting. One was Benny Mallory, and the other one, who was much larger, looked familiar.
He said to Conch, "Benny told you to stay out of it again?"
Conch sighed, "Yeah, ever since you stopped him from being a bully, he's started picking on kids his size or bigger, and he doesn't seem to care if he gets hurt. He just likes to fight. When he gets a little older he could get to be a problem, but for now Clay and I just let him go."
Josh eyes narrowed as he recognized who Benny was fighting. He suddenly yelled, surprising Conch who had never heard Josh give any kind of advice in a fight. "Stop wrestling with him, Benny. He's too big. Get to your feet and punch him. He hates to be hurt."
Benny heard Josh's voice as well, and while he didn't have much time to think of it he realized that the younger boy was right. He pushed the older boy away and rolling he got far enough away so he had time to get to his feet. He heard Josh yell again, "In the stomach." and he bored in and hit the bigger boy twice in the stomach with his left hand and then much harder with his right. The other boy wasn't that badly hurt, but he went to his knees and he just quit.
Benny looked at the boy and realizing he wasn't going to get up, Benny spat on the ground and then walked over to Josh and Conch. He said, "I gather you know him."
"Yeah," said Josh, "That's my cousin Brent. I saw a covered wagon outside the General Store, that's probably my aunt and uncle. You better go warn Mase, Conch. I've never seen it, but I heard them talk about it. My uncle makes a distraction while my aunt steals thing."
Conch said to the woman, "I don't think you really want to look at that, do you, ma'am?" She looked up starting to protest but when she saw the Deputy Sheriff's badge on his vest, she stiffened and closed her mouth. He chivvied her toward the counter. Mason Ackles looked at him, "Anything wrong Conch? This is the first time you've ever bothered a customer."
"These are very special customers, Mase. This is Josh's aunt and uncle." Conch said, nothing in his calm voice telling them how much he loathed them.
Mase stiffened and his face went cold. He said to Joshua's uncle, and though the words were polite, they had very evident contempt in them. "I'm sorry, sir. But I miscalculated the price. That will be $2.10 rather than $1.05."
"Why, that's highway robbery." said Holland Horner. "Where do you get the right charging such prices?"
Mason without a word pointed up to a sign over the shelves behind the counter, where the most valuable things were kept. Holland stared at it, "I don't read so good."
Conch read the sign for him, 'If I don't like you I reserve the right either not to serve you or to charge you what I want. Mason Ackles, Proprietor.'
"That's illegal." said Holland Horner.
Mason chuckled, "Part of it may be, but I do have the right not to serve you. Now I weigh three hundred pounds, and I do all my own lifting and carrying, so none of it's fat." He put his face close to Holland's and asked, "Do you want to argue about it?"
Holland went white, and Eveline Horner said, "Why do you dislike us so much, you don't even know us?"
Mase said, "But I know of you, and what I've heard I don't like. You kicked your nephew Josh out when he wasn't even ten years old. He came close to dying but he survived and he's been living in this town for a year, and despite the fact that he's only eleven, he's one of the most respected and liked citizens in this town. The only reason I'm serving you is that from the talks I've had with Josh I know he wouldn't want me to lose money by kicking you out."
"If I were you I'd get my shopping done and get out of this town as soon as you can, before it becomes general knowledge who you are. While Clay and Conch wouldn't let us lynch you, they might not object to a little tar and feathering." and he looked at them nastily, and Holland dug out his purse and counted out the money. He had no choice, what he'd picked out they needed, especially the salt. Mason packed it into a paper bag and the two Horners left hurriedly, and got on the wagon and finding Brent already in the wagon sulking, they headed out of town, not even noticing Josh standing outside the Sheriff's Office with Clay.
"Do you hate them, Josh?" Clay asked the boy.
"No. I don't. They don't feel like relatives no more and I kinda feel sorry for them. They got five sons, yet only Brent is still with them, and he won't stay around much longer either. Once he's gone they're gonna be alone. Maybe they'll be happy for a while, but then they're gonna begin to wonder as the years go by if they got grandkids somewhere, and they'll feel even more alone, and they'll be in a trap of aloneness that they made for themselves."
He dismissed them from his mind, and said contentedly, "Joseph said yes. Then he dragged us and Sam and Tanny down to Judge Howard's to get the paper signed. And like I was telling you last night, that signature was like the final piece of the gun. He just glowed with happiness, and he cried again, like he did at breakfast and he didn't even care that people were around."
"Once I started going to school and could see that maybe Gene and Marnie might someday end up as my parents, I always saw Joseph as my brother, but he didn't, not quite, not until this morning." Josh took a deep breath and yelled, "YIPPEE!!!" at the top of his lungs, and then his natural shyness took over and he went a bright red and darted into the Sheriff's Office to hide.
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