The Cousins

 

By Layne

 

Email Layne at landrea342@aol.com

 

 

 

Rating PG (some tense scenes possible)

 

Chapter 1

 

    Harlan Edwards and his two children, son Ethan and daughter Loreli, were on their way for a visit to the High chaparral. Harlan, Big John and Buck were third cousins on their father’s side.  He felt it was time for a change of scenery for his family.

 

  After his wife died Harlan felt like a lost soul. He had been widowed going four years now and just couldn’t seem to put his life back together. He felt that he had lost the connection with his children. His son now fifteen was getting out of control in the city. He was hanging around a bad bunch of boys. They were constantly in and out of jail for petty thievery. When Ethan ended up in jail that was the last straw. Harlan packed up his children and the few belongings they had and started out to a new life in the Arizona Territory.

 

  Ethan stayed moody most of the trip. He only spoke when he had too, and getting him to help with anything was like pulling a cow from a mud hole.

 

   Loreli, or Rory as they called her, wasn’t moody like her brother just quiet. After her mother died Rory just pulled herself in and stopped going to any social functions or hanging out with friends. She always made excuses that she had to help out at home.

 

  Harlan hoped things would change for him and his children before he lost them all together.

 

  He decided to stop in Tucson to see about getting a guide to take them out to the Cannon Ranch. He knew that the Indians were at a peaceful time for now except for a few stray bands. They pulled up in the front of the general store and stopped. Harlan helped Rory down from the wagon. Ethan just sat there and sulked. Harlan just left him sit there, he didn’t want another confrontation with his son right now.

 

  Rory and her father went inside, as soon as Rory saw everything she started off by herself. “Rory, don’t get into anything. You mind yourself.”

 

  “Okay Daddy, I just want to look around.” Rory just couldn’t believe here eyes. As her father asked for directions and the possibility of a guide, she spotted a section of books.

 

  She marveled at them all. Oh how she wished she had so many. Rory spotted one of her favorites, Alice in Wonderland. She carefully pulled it from the shelf and found a corner to curl up in. She had gotten so engrossed in her reading she didn’t hear her father calling her.

 

  Harlan searched through the entire store (or so he thought) and couldn’t find his daughter anywhere. He went out to the wagon to see if she had gone out there.

 

  “Ethan did you see your sister come out of the store?”

 

  “Nope, ain’t seen her.”

 

  “Get down off that wagon and help me look boy.” Harlan scratched his head in frustration.

 

  Ethan just looked at his father and made no attempt to move. Harlan was losing his patience fast. “I said get down here boy and help me find your sister, NOW!”

 

  Ethan looked at his father and thought better about arguing from the expression on his father’s face. He slowly rolled down off the seat of the wagon. “Where do you want me to start?”

 

  Harlan took off his hat and ran his fingers through his hair. “I’ll start down the street and you go up the street. Meet back here in fifteen minutes.” Ethan nodded at his father.

 

  Ethan just stood there for a minute, now would be his chance to run and get away from all this nonsense and make his way back home. He had almost talked himself into going when his father shouted, “Go on boy, move it!” Ethan just rolled his eyes and started his search.

 

  Harlan went into every building on one side of the street, then the other. He couldn’t find her anywhere. As he was passing the saloon he thought he heard a familiar voice. He walked through the swinging doors and low and behold was Buck Cannon!

 

“Buck, Buck Cannon is that you?” Harlan went up to the man in black.

 

  Buck turned and looked at the man searching his face for some thing familiar. “Harlan, Harlan Edwards is that you?”

 

  “Yep, it’s me Buck” Harlan couldn’t believe his luck.

 

  Buck grabbed his hand and pumped it up and down almost shaking Harlan off his feet. “Harlan come and have a drink with me and the boys! Barkeep another beer here for my cousin!” Buck patted Harlan on the back.

 

  “Buck…” Harlan started but Buck cut him off.

 

  “Hey fellas, come meet OLE Harlan.” Buck put his arm around Harlan’s shoulders, “This here is my nephew Blue, this here young fella is Mano, this is Sam our foreman and his little brother Joe.” Harlan shook hands with each of them.

 

  “What brings you out here Harlan?” Buck took a drink of his beer.

 

  “Well Buck I’d like to tell you the whole story, but right now I seem to have lost my daughter. I left her at the general store and now she’s gone. I sent my boy down the other side of town. I need to get back to the wagon and see if he found her or not.”

 

  “Well why didn’t you say so. Let’s go boys, we need to find a lost girl!” Buck corralled the boys.

 

  “Uh… Uncle Buck.” Blue hesitated.

 

  “Yea Blue boy.” Buck stopped.

 

  “You know it might help if we knew what she looked like.” Blue smiled. Buck just looked at him.

 

  “Yea I guess that would help wouldn’t it Blue boy.” Buck grinned.

 

  “She’s about this high,” Harlan held his hand to his chest. “Almost thirteen and she has light brown hair, long and curly. She was wearing a blue flower dress, and her name is Rory. Last time I saw her she was in the store.”

 

  “Well come on fellas we got us a description now.” Buck started out

 

  They met up with Ethan by the wagon and quick introductions were made. He hadn’t found her either. The men split up in two’s and started off again.

 

  Blue and Sam teamed up and went to search the store again. They looked all over the store again and again, Mr. Perkins let them into the back room in case she had somehow gotten back there. Nothing. Blue and Sam were about to give up when Sam spotted a bundle in the corner. “Hey Blue, over there.”

 

  “What?” Blue saw the bundle and walked up to it. Sure enough it was a girl. She had fallen asleep. Blue gently shook her, “Hey Rory wake up.”

 

  Rory blinked her eyes open and saw big blue eyes looking at her. She looked around trying to focus on where she was. “I guess I fell asleep. I’m sorry. Who are you? Where’s my father and brother.” Rory was getting a little nervous.

 

  “It’s okay relax.  I’m Blue Cannon, your father sent us out in a search party for you.” Blue smiled at her.

 

 “Hey Blue, I’ll let the others know.” Sam strolled off.

 

   Blue escorted Rory out by the wagon. Rory’s father came running up to her as soon as he saw her. “Rory! Are you all right honey? Where were you? You had us scared to death!” He grabbed her and hugged her tight.

 

  “I’m sorry Daddy, I started reading a book and I fell asleep.” Rory felt so silly with everyone fussing over her.

 

  “Well as long as you’re safe that’s all that matters.” Harlan hugged her again. “I can’t thank you all enough for your help.”

 

  “Hey that’s what friends and family are for! Now let’s get them supplies boys and take these folks home.” Buck ordered.

 

 

 Chapter 2

 

Harlan was amazed at the size of the High Chaparral. He had never imagined that it would stretch as far as the eye could see. He felt a sense of peace as they rode to the ranch.

 

  Buck rambled on about their coming out and taming the land. He also let Harlan know that Anna Lee had been killed shortly after their arrival so that he wouldn’t be surprised by the appearance of Victoria. Buck had them pretty filled in about things when they rolled up to the gate.

 

  “Riders coming!” Reno shouted from the rooftop. Rory was curious about all the men placed at different locations on the ranch. It was as if the house were a guarded palace.

 

  John and Victoria came out of the house to greet their guests. At first John didn’t recognize Harlan either, it had been years since their last encounter.

 

  “Harlan Edwards! Welcome to the High Chaparral.” John extended his hand to Harlan as he descended from the wagon.

 

  “John it’s good to see you again after all this time.”  Harlan took John’s hand. “Lucky for us we meet up with Buck in town or who knows when we would have made it here.”

 

  “Harlan this is my wife Victoria.” John suddenly remembered his manners.

 

  “It’s nice to meet you Mr. Edwards.” She extended her hand to him.

 

  He took it her hand gently, “Please call me Harlan.”

 

  “Very well then I’m Victoria.” She turned and looked at the two young people in the wagon.

 

  “Oh these two are my children, Ethan and Loreli.” Ethan just nodded and Rory smiled a greeting.

 

  “Won’t you please come in for something cool to drink?” Victoria as always playing the perfect hostess. She loved company, entertaining was one of the things she enjoyed the most.

 

  “Boys get their luggage and bring it inside would you please.” John told Blue and Mano.

 

  As Blue started for the luggage, Ethan jumped down and grabbed his own bag. “I got it.” Blue and Mano just shrugged at each other.

 

  Buck went around and helped Rory down, “Looks like they almost forgot their most valuable cargo.”

 

  “Thanks Mr. Cannon.” Rory smiled shyly back at Buck.

 

  “Just call me Buck little lady, it can get mighty confusing with three Mr. Cannon’s around.” Buck set her down carefully.

 

   They went inside the house and Victoria and Vaquero brought out some coffee and lemonade and a plate of cookies.

 

  Harlan gratefully accepted the coffee, his energy level was getting low. The stress of making the trip had just about done him in. “This is real good coffee Victoria, thank you.”

 

  “Well thank you. Loreli and Ethan help yourselves.” Victoria motioned to the tray.

 

  Ethan just stood there and Rory helped herself to a cookie. Harlan just shook his head at his son. “Mind if I go outside” Ethan asked his father.

 

  “No, that’s fine son.” Ethan didn’t say anymore, he just headed out the door.

 

  Blue and Mano brought the luggage in and took it upstairs. Rory watched as they took her stuff up. “Excuse me, Mrs. Cannon would I be able to go with them and see where they put my stuff?”

 

  “Oh of course Lorlei. Come on with me I’ll show you where you will sleep.” Victoria held her hand out to Rory. She hesitated at the gesture, then took Victoria’s hand and followed her.

 

  “John are you sure that we won’t be putting you out?” Harlan set down his coffee cup.

 

  “Nonsense. We have plenty of room. Buck and Mano sleep in the bunkhouse most of the time anyway. Blue has an extra bed in his room that Ethan can have. Loreli can have Mano’s room and you can have Buck’s. See, there’s room for everyone.”

 

  “Thanks John. I hoped coming out here would be good for the kids. They could use a change.”

 

  “Why something happen?” Buck, being his ever suspicious self.

 

  “It’s just that when their Ma died, I seemed to lose control of things. I mean Rory, that’s what we call her, kind of pulled into herself and Ethan started getting into a bad crowd and ended up in jail on a misdemeanor charge of theft. I thought the only thing I could do was maybe give them a change of scenery get with good people that I knew and keep them out of the city. I was running out of ideas. I don’t want to get any farther away from them than I already am.”

 

  “Why did you wait until things got out of control?” Buck grabbed another cookie.

 

  “Buck, in all honesty, I didn’t realize that things were out of control until Ethan was in jail. I guess I was too wrapped up in my own grief to see theirs.”

 

  “Maybe being here can help Harlan. Give the kids chance to breathe good country air and see what ranch life is all about. Maybe take their minds off things.” John assured Harlan.

 

  Ethan had wandered toward the corral. He was fascinated by all the cowboys hanging around watching a horse being broken. He had heard of such things but to be able to see it live and in person was incredible. He remembered the rider as being Sam from town. Ethan ventured closer. The man on the horse was being bounced around so hard that Ethan was sure that the ride would shake all of his teeth out. But the tall man on the horse held on with all his might. All the hands were shouting for Sam to keep on him, ride the rough off that old crowbait! All of a sudden the horse nosed into the ground and Sam flipped out of the saddle. Sam went down with a hard thud.

 

  Ethan wasn’t sure what to do. He didn’t know if the man on the ground was hurt badly or not. His heart was pumping so fast it was almost as if he was the one on the horse and not Sam. Just like a real cowboy that Ethan had imagined, Sam got up and was starting a string of swear words when he looked up and saw Ethan.  Sam started towards the boy.

 

  “Ever broke a horse before son?” Sam pounded the dust out of his hat.

 

  “Nope” Ethan looked off in the distance.

 

  “Ever rode a horse before?” Sam put his hand on his hip.

 

  “Nope”

 

  “Why don’t you come on and give it a try? We’ll find a horse a little tamer.”

 

  “Nope” Ethan walked off.

 

  Joe walked up to Sam, “That’s one tough cracker, you gonna teach him to ride?” 

 

  “Nope” And Sam went back to his horse.

 

Chapter 3

 

  Victoria was so pleased to have a little girl in the house again. She tried to strike up a conversation with the child but was met with very short answers. Victoria knew that it was due to the death of the child’s mother. Victoria herself had been drawn inside herself when her mother had died.

 

  “Mrs. Cannon, if you wouldn’t mind, please call me Rory. Everyone else does. Sometimes I forget to answer to Loreli.”

 

  “That’s fine. Rory it is. Is this room going to be all right for you?” Victoria reached to push aside a stray hair on Rory’s forehead.

 

  She pulled back slightly, “Yes ma’am, it will be fine.” Rory started pulling things from her bag. The first thing she put out was a picture of her mother. She gently put it on the nightstand by her bed.

 

  “Is this your mother Rory?” Victoria looked at the silver frame.

 

  “Yea ma’am. She was beautiful wasn’t she?” Rory touched the frame.

 

  “Yea she was. You look a lot like her. Just as beautiful.” Victoria watched the girl’s face light up.

 

    “Do you really think so? My daddy always said I was the spitting image of her.”

 

  “He sure was right. Would you like me to leave you alone while you unpack some of your things?” Victoria sensed Rory’s need to be alone.

 

  “If you wouldn’t mind ma’am.” She nodded at Victoria.

 

  “No of course not. I’ll check on you in a bit.” Victoria touched Rory’s cheek, and left the girl to herself.

 

  As soon as Victoria left Rory started unpacking. She wanted to get settled as fast as she could in case her father needed anything. She hesitated a moment and walked to the window and observed the scene with her brother. Ethan had never ridden a horse before. Maybe he would like it. It would definitely be something different for him. But no, he walked away. He never seemed to be interested in anything anymore except getting into trouble. She shook her head and finished her un-packing.

 

  As soon as Victoria left the room Rory unpacked her few items. She sat for the longest time looking at her mother’s picture. The loneliness she felt was un-bearable at times. Somehow just being around Victoria took some of that pain away.

 

    Soon Rory could hear the dinner bell being rung. She watched out her window as Buck, Blue and Mano came to the house. Rory watched for her brother to follow but she couldn’t see him. He probably went off to sulk again. She also noticed the man on the roof again and the many placed men all over the ranch. She made a mental note to ask about that.

 

  By the time Rory had reached the dining room table her brother was there. Dinner was like a feast. There was a beef roast, many vegetables, fresh and cooked, bread and tortillas, and fruit. Rory’s eyes lit up at the feast. Where to begin.

 

  The food was passed around one entrée at a time. Rory took a little bit of everything. Ethan barely touched anything. He just continued to sulk.

 

  “Ethan I noticed you out by the corral today. Are you interested in maybe busting bronks?’ Buck asked him.

 

  “Not me. Just wanted to watch.” Ethan picked at his beef.

 

  “Son I’m sure if you wanted to learn to ride there are plenty of men willing to help you.” Harlan said hopefully.

 

  “What do I need to ride a horse for?”

 

  “Well you never know, maybe you’ll want to come to town with us sometime.” Blue added.

 

  “I doubt that. There ain’t nothin in that one horse town worth goin back for.”

 

  “Ethan!” Harlan scolded.

 

    Ethan looked at his father. “Excuse me please. I don’t seem to have much of an appetite.” And with that he walked out.

 

  Harlan just shook his head. “Please excuse my son. I’m trying.”

 

  John smiled a reassurring smile, “Don’t worry Harlan. He’ll come around. He just needs a little space.”

 

  “I sure hope so John. I don’t know what else to do with him.”

 

  “Why don’t we take him out tomorrow and try and teach him how to ride. We’ll make a day of it.” Buck slapped more potatoes on his plate.

 

  “I don’t know if he’ll let you Buck.” Harlan wasn’t sure about this.

 

  “Do not worry Mr. Edwards we will persuade him. We have our ways.” Mano said with that gleam in his eye.

 

    That night when it was time for Rory to go to bed Victoria took it upon herself to take one last look at Rory to make sure she didn’t need anything.  Victoria found her fast asleep on her bed. “Poor little nina.” Victoria thought to herself. She stood there watching Rory sleep for a moment and then quietly went over and covered her up. Rory stirred a bit but didn’t wake up. Victoria quietly stepped out of the room.


 Ethan and Blue had started turning in themselves, Blue tried to talk to Ethan but was met with that thick wall again.

 


 “You know you might be an all right kid if you got that chip off your shoulder.” Blue sat on his bed to take off his boots.

 


 “Look Blue boy, I didn’t ask to come here, I was told. I was perfectly happy back home. And as soon as I can figure it out, I’m going back there.” Ethan plopped on his bed and put his arms across his eyes.

 


 “Yea, just how you figure to do that? You don’t know how to get back to town on your own, you can’t ride a horse, let alone not having any money to get anywhere on your own.” Blue smirked at him.

 


 “I told you I don’t have it all figured out yet! Now shut up and leave me be!” Ethan rolled to his side.

 


 “Yea. Real tough guy all right.” Blue started to pull off his other boot. He didn’t see Ethan jump at him at first, Blue tried to avoid the flying kid but with his boot half off he lost his balance when he stood up. Ethan landed on him and they fell to the floor.

 


 Ethan tried with all his might to pound Blue, but Blue was stronger and was able to block most of the blows. “Kid knock it off! I don’t want to hit you.”



 “Stop calling me kid! What’s the matter, afraid to fight me? Come on!” Ethan yelled. He threw the water pitcher at Blue and just missed clocking Blue in the head.

 


 
Victoria heard the noise and took off to Blue’s room and was met by Buck and Mano. Buck flung the door open to Blue’s room and ducked just in time to have a vase whip by his head. Mano ran and grabbed Ethan around the arms to hold him down. Buck held onto Blue. Mano was having a time holding Ethan back.

 


 “What in the blazes is going on in here!” Buck slapped Blue’s arm.

 


 “I don’t know, one minute we were talking and the next he jumped me.” Blue spat out trying to take a breath.

 


 Ethan was still struggling in Mano’s arms. “Let me go!”

 


 “Not on your life. You need to calm down” Mano gripped him tighter.

 

 

 Victoria stepped into the room and the tension eased a bit. “Ethan if my brother let’s you go will you promise to stop fighting?”

 


 Ethan looked around and decided he had better end it right now. There were too many of them for him to fight or try and get away from. “Fine, I’ll stop. Now let me go!” He struggled against Mano’s tight grip. Mano finally released the boy, still staying close in case he went for Blue again.

 


 “Now that you two boys are done playing, you can clean up this mess.” Buck gave Blue and Ethan a chastising look. “Come on Mano we got better things to do.” Mano carefully walked around the broken glass shaking his head.

 


 
Victoria walked back in to the room and handed Ethan the broom. “Be careful that you don’t cut yourself.” Ethan lowered his eyes as he took the broom.

 


 Blue touched
Victoria’s arm, “I really am sorry Victoria.”

 


 “I know Blue. Just help Ethan clean up please.” She patted his hand.

 


 “Yes ma’am.”

 


 Blue and Ethan cleaned up without another word spoken between them. For now they had a truce. How long it would last was anybody’s guess.

 


 Morning came without any more incidents from the previous night. Blue and Ethan just avoided each other through breakfast. Harlan sensed something was amiss between the two but figured that it would just work itself out.

 


 “John, do I get my tour this morning?” Harlan tried to break the tension.

 


 “Yes indeed. We’ll take off after breakfast and I’ll show you some of the high points of the ranch.” John burst with pride at any chance to show
off his ranch.

 


 “Ethan I trust that you have something constructive to do today.” Harlan observed his son.

 


 “Oh yea, he’s gonna learn to ride a horse today, ain’t ya Ethan?” Buck said through a mouth full of biscuit.

 


 “Yea that’s right.” Ethan answered much to everyone’s surprise.

 


 Harlan cleared his throat. “Well that’s fine son. Just listen to Buck and I’m sure it’ll go fine. How about you Rory?”

 


 “Can I learn to ride too Daddy?”

 


 “I don’t know about that darling. It might be a better idea if you stayed close to the house with Mrs.Cannon.” Harlan noticed the disappointment
in his daughter’s face.

 


 
Victoria tried to rescue Harlan quickly, “Rory I would really love it if you could help me today. I have many flowers that I need to plant, and then I have some wonderful books that I could show you.”

 


 At the mention of books Rory’s face lit up. “You have some books that I could read?”

 


 “Of course! Many, many books.”
Victoria smiled at the little girl.

 


 Harlan gave
Victoria a very grateful you saved my life look.

 


 Ethan decided that if he was ever going to be able to leave this god-forsaken place he had better learn to ride a horse. He just hoped he didn’t kill himself first.

 


 Sam picked out a sable colored little filly for Ethan. She was gentle enough so maybe the boy wouldn’t get hurt too bad. “All right boy let’s give it a try.”



 Ethan just stood there staring at the horse. He didn’t know where to start. But he sure didn’t want them to think that. So he just put on his ‘I
don’t care attitude’ and walked around the horse.

 


 “You mount from the left side.” Sam urged him on.

 

 

 “Come on boy, just grab a hold of the horn and put your foot in the stirrup and hoist your self up.” Buck coached him.

 


 Ethan made a feeble attempt to mount the animal. She moved away as Ethan tried to put his foot in the stirrup. He stumbled and hopped as he tried to follow the horse.

 


 As hard as the boys tried they couldn’t stop the laughter. The sight of the poor boy hopping around on one foot with his other foot in the air
trying to catch the stirrup was more than they could stand.

 


 Ethan was so embarrassed he could have dug a hole right where he was. “Just forget it. It ain’t worth it. I don’t need to learn to ride no stupid
horse!” He started to walk away.

 


 “Oh come on Ethan. We was just having some fun.” Buck couldn’t stand the fact that the kid couldn’t take a joke.

 


 Sam grabbed for the boy and he jerked away. “Come on Ethan. We’ll take off just you and me then I can teach you to ride in peace.” Ethan stopped. “This bunch can find something better to do with their time. What do ya say?”

 


 “Fine. Let’s do it.” Ethan was now more determined than ever to get out of this place.

 


 The boys took off and left Sam and Ethan alone. Sam held the horse for Ethan while he mounted. He bounced a few times but this time he made it into the saddle. Now all he had to do was to stay on. Sam led him around for a bit so Ethan could get used to the saddle. He bounced around a bit before he finally felt comfortable.

 


 “You need to go with the bounce and not fight so much, it’ll cause less wear and tear on your backside.” Sam watched for a bit more then he decided to give Ethan the reins. “Now take it slow remember how I showed you to pull up slack and let it go.”

 


 Ethan was pretty pleased with himself, this didn’t seem so hard. Now he was getting cocky. He snapped the reins a bit too hard and the filly was
off!

 


 Ethan held on for dear life. He tried everything he could think of to stop the horse but she just ran faster.

 


 “Pull up Ethan, pull up!” Sam shouted after him. He ran and got his horse, at the same time Blue saw the horse take off and he jumped on Soapy too.

 


 They went after Ethan at full speed. As Ethan neared the front gate he pulled a hard on the reins, and the horse pulled up and bucked until she lost her rider. Ethan went down with a thud!

 

 

Chapter 4

 

 

  Sam reached Ethan first. He was unconscious, but breathing.

 

 “Ethan, boy can you hear me?” Sam shook Ethan’s shoulders.

 

  Blue dismounted and came running up to them.

 

 “Is he ok Sam? Should I go get Pa?”

 

  At the sound of Blue’s voice Ethan’s eyelids started to flutter.

 

 “He’s coming around now, I think he’ll be all right.”

 

 Sam lifted the boy to his feet. “You all right?”

 

  Ethan shook his head, “Yea, I think so.” He was still pretty dazed.

 

  Blue went and got his canteen and held it up to Ethan.

 

 “Here take a drink.”

 

  Ethan was too shaken to disagree. He gladly took a drink.

 

 Sam felt around on Ethan’s head for any bumps or lumps. He found a doozie forming on the back of his head. Ethan winced when Sam touched the spot.

 

  “We better get you up to the house and let Mrs. Cannon take a look at that lump.” Sam took out his handkerchief and poured water on it. Then he placed it on the lump forming.

 

  “I’m fine! I don’t need no female fussin over me.”

 

  Ethan’s charming personality was back.

 

  “I don’t care whether you need it or not, you’re going to the house and letting Mrs. Cannon look at it.” Sam spoke in a very authoritative tone.

 

  Begrudgingly Ethan followed Sam and Blue to the house.

 

  Blue entered yelling for Victoria.

 

  “Blue what is it?  What’s wrong?” She walked faster when she saw the wet cloth on Ethan’s head.

 

  “He whipped the rein’s a bit too hard and his horse took off and bucked him off! He landed on his backside and then he hit his head for the finale!” Blue started to laugh. Sam rolled his eyes at Blue.

 

  “Blue, I do not think that is funny. Ethan could have been badly hurt!” Victoria replied sharply. She reached out to look at Ethan’s head.

 

  He just pushed her hand away and ran up the stairs.

 

  Blue was rather ashamed of himself, he knew he shouldn’t have made fun of Ethan. “I’m sorry Victoria, I was just trying to lighten the mood. I didn’t mean to upset the kid again. He’s so touchy.”

 

  “Oh Blue, he is trying to fit in, but when you laugh at him he doesn’t understand that you all do that to each other, that it’s just a game with all of you.” She turned and went up the stairs to check on Ethan.

 

  Just as she suspected he wouldn’t let her in. She just sighed and went to find Rory.

 

  “Come on Blue we got a ranch to run.” Sam pushed Blue out the door.

 

  Rory heard the exchange between Blue and Mrs.Cannon and really wished that Ethan could get along with Blue and the rest of them. If Ethan would just give a little.

 

  Victoria came back to get Rory so they could go through some of the books she had.

 

  Rory couldn’t believe all the books that Victoria had in the big trunk. “You must have been collecting these for ever Mrs. Cannon.”

 

  “Well, I have been saving them for quite some time.”

 

 Victoria started picking some novels that she thought would be appropriate for Rory’s age. “When I was a young girl I spent a lot of time reading in my mother’s garden.”

 

  “I wish I would have had more books to read. Daddy never really was into reading much. Mamma was always so sick there wasn’t much money for many extras.”

 

 Rory’s happy face was starting to fall at the sad memory of her mother.

 

  “How long was she sick Rory?” Victoria thought that if she could talk about her mother it might help some of those emotions surface and then she could deal with her life better.

 

  “Mamma was sick for as long as I could remember. She had something with her heart. Then after I was born, she got worse. Maybe if she wouldn’t have had me, she would still be here.” Rory turned her head so that Victoria couldn’t see the tears brimming in her eyes.

 

 Victoria went to the child and put her arms around her half expecting Rory to push her away, but instead she let Victoria hold her.

 

  “Rory, you must not think that way. No mother would ever regret her choice to have a child. I know that your Mother would not want you blaming yourself for her dying. Your mother loved you, then and now. She will always be with you Rory, in here.” Victoria put her hand over Rory’s heart. “We cannot always know what plan God has in store for us. When he takes the ones we love it is not out of cruelty it is because he needs them for another purpose to help guide us in our lives. They watch us and help guide us every day. You must believe that.”

 

  Tears fell down Rory’s cheeks, “Do you really believe that Mrs. Cannon, I mean really?”

 

  “Yes. I really do.” Victoria gave Rory her handkerchief.

 

  She wiped her eyes and started to feel a little better about things.

 

  “What was your mother’s name Rory?”

 

  “It was Loreli too, I was named after her.” She smiled. “But I couldn’t say Loreli when I was little so somehow it came out as Rory. So it just stuck.”

 

  “I think that is wonderful to be named after your mother. Maybe it is a good thing that you ended up with Rory, things could have been very confusing at times with both of you answering to Loreli.” They both laughed at that one.  “Now let’s get you some books to read.”

 

Victoria turned her attention back to the trunk. Rory sorted through so many books. Wagon trains out west, ships on the open seas, jungle adventures, where to start!

 

  When Rory got to the bottom of the trunk she found a red velvet box. “What’s this Mrs. Cannon?” She handed the box to Victoria.

 

  She gasped at the sight of the box. “Oh my, I thought I had lost those forever!”

 

 Victoria opened the box and showed Rory.

 

  In the box were the most exquisite pair of earrings Rory had ever seen. They were oblong rubies surrounded by diamonds with a small dangling pearl.

 

  “They are so beautiful! Why were they here?” Rory wondered.

 

  “When I was packing to move here so many people were helping, they must have been stuck in here by accident.” Victoria held them up to her ears. “They are very special to me, they were my mother’s.” She held them up to Rory’s ears and turned her to look in the mirror.

 

  “They are beautiful aren’t they? A little to mature for a young girl though. But give you time and watch out.”

 

  Rory watched as Victoria carefully put them back into the velvet box and put them in her dressing table drawer.

 

  No one noticed that Ethan had been at the door listening to the exchange. Those earrings had to be worth a bundle.

 

  He crept quietly back to his room. His plan to leave was becoming more and more of a reality.

 

    Rory finally made some decisions about the books. She took one of the sea stories and a wagon train story for now. Victoria told her she could trade the books anytime she wanted, just let her know.

 

  Rory decided that she wanted to go outside and read for awhile. She selected a spot out behind the kitchen. It seemed to be quieter there.

  She just couldn’t seem to get comfortable, it was too warm for her, so she took off walking and reading trying to find a better place.

 

   John and Harlan came back around suppertime from their tour of the ranch. Harlan was very impressed with the beauty of the High Chaparral. He didn’t think you could find anything but desert, but there was greenery everywhere. And as John pointed out if there wasn’t a drought there was water a plenty to go around.

 

  John and Harlan were getting a drink when Blue, Buck and Mano came strolling in.

 

  “Hey John boy how’d it go today?” Buck helped himself to a drink.

 

  “Pretty good Buck. How were things here?”

 

 Even though John didn’t speak it they all knew he was referring to Ethan.

 

  “Well, Pa things were okay for awhile. We got Ethan on a horse today.” Blue hemmed and hawed.

 

  “Ethan got on a horse?” Harlan couldn’t believe they were talking about his son.

 

  “Yea, he was doing pretty good for awhile, then the horse took off and threw Ethan.”  Blue ran his fingers through his hair.

 

  “Threw him! Is he all right? Where is he?” Harlan started to panic.

 

  “He’s fine, he’s fine, he got a lump on his head. It ain’t nothin that ain’t happened to any one of us before.” Buck said.

 

  “Well he might have a bit of a problem with the other end of the fall too.” Mano grinned. “He might need a pillow to sit on for awhile.”

 

  They all got a chuckle. “Yea but I wouldn’t let Ethan hear you laugh. He’s a might touchy about falling off.” Blue reminded them as well as himself.

 

  “I thought I heard voices.” Victoria went up to John and gave him a kiss. “I trust you had a good day.”

 

  “The best, Victoria. The High Chaparral is everything John said it was.” Harlan gave a little bow.

 

  “Supper is ready Mrs. Cannon.” Vaquero came out of the kitchen.

 

  “Thank you Vaquero. Gentlemen shall we?” Victoria turned and walked to the dining room.

 

  Ethan hearing that supper was ready decided to come down, he had missed lunch and was fighting with his stomach to quit growling. He passed Mrs. Cannon’s room and thought about the earrings again. All he had to do was figure out where they were.

 

    When they sat down to eat was when they all noticed that Rory was missing.

 

  “Don’t panic Harlan she couldn’t have gone too far. We have men posted everywhere.” John tried to reassure him.

 

  “Harlan I last saw her out back by the kitchen reading a book. I’ll go and get her.” Victoria started to get up.

 

  “I’ll get her for you Victoria.” Blue jumped up.

 

  “Thank you Blue. As I said she was out back.” She nodded at her stepson.

 

  Blue took off. He looked all around the back of the house, he called and he called for her but she wasn’t anywhere. He yelled up to Joe on the roof. “Hey Joe, you seen Rory?”

 

  “Last time I saw her she was around back!” He yelled back.

 

  “Look harder will ya, she disappeared on us.”

 

  “Sure thing Blue. I’ll give a hollar if I see her.” Joe started searching the horizon closer.

 

  Blue went back in the house wiping the nape of his neck. “Well she isn’t out back and Joe is looking for her from the roof. I’m gonna go back and check again.”

 

  “I’ll come with you Blue.” Mano wiped his mouth with his napkin.

 

  “Maybe we all better check.” John interjected.

 

 A little girl alone in the desert wasn’t a pleasant thought.

 

  Ethan hung back a bit from everyone. He watched them all exit out the front door, and then he bolted up to Victoria’s room. He tried to be extremely quiet as he searched the room for that velvet case with his escape money in it. His heart pounded so hard he feared they could hear it outside. But he swallowed and then took a deep and calmed himself down. As he opened drawers and searched through them he could hear the faint sounds of men calling out for Rory. He knew his time was running out. With one last drawer left he quickly opened it. There was the velvet case!

 

  Ethan took out the earrings and put then inside his shirt. He put the velvet case back where he found it. He then went to the door and opened it a crack. No one was around. He checked and rechecked before he went to his room.

 

  Now he needed to find a place for safekeeping. For now he decided that in a sock under his mattress would be the safest place, he would find a better place later. He needed to join the rest of them before it was noticed he was gone.

 

  “Loreli Marie Edwards! Where are you girl!” Harlan tried one more time. “John where could she be?” Harlan searched the grounds intensely with his eyes.

 

  “Now hold on. We’ll get some men on horseback and have them start searching outside the perimeter. I can’t imagine that she would have gone out there alone.” John was trying to convince himself as well as Harlan.

 

  Buck and Pedro went to the south while Mano and Blue took off to the north a bit, then split up. The rest searched the grounds again.

 

  Mano rode a short distance then caught some movement out of the corner of his eye. He stopped his horse and looked closer.

 

  “Well I’ll be.” Mano laughed. There was Rory sitting under some bushes munching on an apple and reading. She was so engrossed in her book that she didn’t hear Mano approach her.

 

  “Buenos dias Rory.” Mano tipped his hat at her.

 

  Rory saw the shadow in front of her and she slowly looked up when she heard the man speak.

 

  “Oh hi Mano.” She responded totally oblivious to anything going on around her.

 

  “Did you not hear voices calling for you?” He got down from his horse.

 

  “Voices? No, I didn’t hear anything, why? Is something wrong?” Rory did not like where this was going.

 

  “The whole ranch has been searching for you for almost an hour now.” He waited until his statement had time to sink in.

 

  “Looking for me? Why? Mrs.Cannon said I could come outside and read.”

 

  “Ah yes she did, but her understanding was that you would be out back by the kitchen, no?” Mano tilted his head and looked at her.

 

  “Oh.”

 

  “Oh is right. Let’s get you back to the house now.”

 

 Mano climbed back on his horse.

 

  Rory just looked at him. “How mad is my Daddy?”

 

  “Right now he is just very worried as are the rest of us. So let’s get you back. Come on.” Mano reached down to grab her arm and pulled her up behind him. “How did you end up way out here, you could not hear anyone calling you?”

 

  “I don’t know. I just start reading and I forget everything that’s going on around me. Daddy says I lose myself in my stories.” Rory held on tighter to Mano. He patted her hands.

 

  “At least you are in one piece. That will be a comfort to your father.”

 

  “I sure hope so. Maybe if I stayed out longer it would be better. Then my father would go passed mad and go straight to worry.”

 

  Mano chuckled to himself. Many a time he pulled the same thing in his youth. It never worked very well for him and he doubted it would work for her either.

 

  Mano fired three shots into the air to let them know that he found her alive and well.

 

   When they arrived through the gates at the ranch, Harlan ran up to them and pulled his daughter down off the horse and embraced her.

 

  “Oh Rory are you all right?”

 

  Buck put his arm around Blue and mumbled under his breath, “Didn’t we do this one already?”  Blue chuckled.

 

  “All right, thanks for all your help boys, back to work now.” John barked.

 

  Everyone scrambled off trying to get away from the inevitable storm brewing.

 

  Rory could see that Big John was extremely annoyed with her.

 

  “Mr. Cannon, I’m so sorry.” She started.

 

  Victoria quickly stepped in to defuse the situation, “Why don’t we go inside and discuss this?”

 

  “Yes I think that would be a very good idea.” John turned and walked off.

 

  Rory’s father pushed her gently towards the house.

 

 She kept stealing glances between her father and Big John. All this fuss just because she went off to read.

 

  Harlan wasn’t exactly sure where to start. He was so glad that his daughter was safe, but at the same time he could have throttled her.

 

  “Loreli I just don’t know what to say to you anymore.” He paced around her.

 

  “I’m sorry Daddy, I didn’t realize that I had gone so far. I just started reading and wanted to find a better place to sit.” She started to wring her hands.

 

  John couldn’t keep quiet any longer. “If you were my daughter you wouldn’t be able to sit at this point!”

 

  Rory took a step backward. “Do you have any idea what kind of dangers are out there beyond the boundaries of this ranch house! Why do you think all the guards are posted! Any one at any time could be taken by the Apaches! No one leaves the perimeter without telling someone first!” John thundered.

 

  “I…I said I was sorry. I didn’t know.” Rory’s voice started to crack.

 

  Harlan was surprised by John’s outburst. He had never talked to his daughter that way.

 

“John, I don’t think she meant any harm.” Victoria tried to smooth things out.

 

  “Harm or not she needs to remember the rules for her own safety.” Harlan finally found his voice. He went to his daughter and cupped her chin with his hand. “Rory, this isn’t like being back in the city honey, you can’t just walk off down the street. The fences are out there for a reason. You don’t go beyond them. Those men are posted all over the ranch watching for Apaches and any other undesirables that might come around. Understand?”

 

  “I understand Daddy. I’m so sorry that I caused everyone to worry. I just didn’t think. I promise I won’t go beyond the fence again.” Rory looked to Big John for forgiveness. “Mr. Cannon please, I’ll do any thing you say to make it up to you.”

 

  Just one look into those big eyes and John melted, he couldn’t stay mad at her.  He cleared his throat. “Well, the most important thing I guess, is that you came back safe and sound. Just make sure it doesn’t happen again. The next time I won’t be so understanding.”

 

  “ Yes sir, thank you Mr. Cannon. I promise I won’t wander off again. I’ll stay put in my room when I read.” Rory slowly let out the breath she was holding.

 

  “If anyone is hungry we can try to salvage what’s left of my supper.” Victoria motioned to the dining room.

 

  Ethan had a hard time concentrating on any form of conversation through out supper. All he could think about was the earrings that would be his ticket out of this place. He needed to get to town in order to sell them, but first that would require that he learn to ride a horse. After today’s fiasco he didn’t know if his backside could take anymore. He landed pretty hard when that horse threw him and he wasn’t sure if he wanted to try again.

 

  “Oh John, I meant to tell you. Today while Rory and I were going through that book trunk of mine, we found my mother’s earrings!” Victoria beamed.

 

  “Pa-pa will be glad of that my sister. Those are a valuable item.” Mano sipped his wine.

 

  At the mention the earrings Ethan started to choke on a piece of bread.

 

  Buck went to the rescue and started pounding him on the back.

 

  “Come on boy spit it out!” With one final pat the piece of bread became dislodged and Ethan was able to breathe again.

 

  He coughed and took a drink of water. “Sorry about that. Went down the wrong pipe.”

 

  “That’s all right boy. Happened to all of us one time or another.” Buck grinned.

 

  “Blue do you think that maybe you could finish showing me how to ride that horse tomorrow?” Ethan knew his time was running short.

 

  Blue looked from his father and back to Ethan. “Um, sure I guess so. How about we start first thing tomorrow?”

 

  “Great. Thanks.” Ethan set about to finish his supper.

 

  Harlan just looked at his son. He just shrugged shoulders hoping that maybe the boy was starting to come around.

 

    That evening Rory went outside to watch the stars. She loved the way they sparkled at night. After what Mrs. Cannon said about her mother, it made her think that maybe one of the stars was really her mother watching her.

 

“Beautiful night isn’t it?” Mano came up behind her.

 

  “Yes, it sure is.” Rory just stared up.

 

  “You would not by chance be thinking of taking a walk alone would you?”

 

  Rory laughed. “No not me. I wouldn’t dare wander off again. I thought Mr. Cannon was going to explode today!”

 

  “Ay, yi, yi, it has been known to happen a time or two.”

 

  “A time or two! Ha try most of my life!” Blue walked over to the two of them munching on a biscuit.

 

  “He looked like a big old thunder cloud. I never saw my father like that.” Rory crossed her arms.

 

  “Si, my father has a temper like that also. More thunder than lightning though.” Mano was remembering many, many times being in a confrontation with his father.

 

“I remember a few times that lightning struck though. I didn’t sit for a week a couple of times.” Blue finished his biscuit.

 

  “My Daddy never hit me before, but I think I came pretty close today. I definitely don’t want to push my luck.” Rory rolled her eyes.

 

  Off in the distance they could hear Reno strumming on his guitar and singing a tune. Together the three of them went toward the music.

 

  “Hey Blue?” Rory touched his arm. “Do you think that you could teach me to ride too?”

 

  “Didn’t your Pa tell you no?”

 

  “Not that I heard. He never said I couldn’t. He just said he didn’t know.” Rory looked at Blue hopeful.

 

  “Maybe you should ask him first.” Mano suggested

 

  “Yea, but wouldn’t it be a great surprise if I could learn, and then he wouldn’t have to worry about me getting hurt or anything?” Rory was starting to get very excited.

 

  “I guess so. Why I don’t get Sam to help us in the morning, then that way we can teach you and Ethan at the same time. Might be easier that way. What do you think Mano?”

 

  “It’s up to you compadre. I don’t know if Rory’s father would approve though.” Mano was doubtful.

 

  “It’s not like I’m trying to be deceitful or anything like that. I would really like to surprise my father. Maybe it would make him happy again.” Rory thought she would try the sympathy route.

 

  Mano and Blue nodded maybe she was right.

 

“Okay. Tomorrow morning with Ethan.”

 

  “Thanks Blue.” She was so very happy for the first time in a long time.

 

  They walked over to listen to Reno croon.

 

  Ethan excused himself after supper and went to his room. He needed to check and make sure the earrings were still safe where he left them. Much to his relief they were. He laid on his bed plotting and planning about his great escape until he drifted off to sleep.

 

  Harlan, sat sipping his coffee in the living room while Buck and John talked cattle for a bit.  They finished and Buck got up to go. “Buck if you wouldn’t mind would you tell Rory that she needs to come in and get ready for bed?” Harlan asked.

 

  “Sure thing. I’ll see to it.” Buck grabbed his hat and took off.

 

  “It seems to me Harlan that your children are starting to come around.” John reached for his coffee.

 

  “It sure does John. I think coming out here was the best thing I could have done for them. Rory seems to have taken a shine to Victoria. I guess maybe she needed a woman in her life right now.”

 

  “Yes it would seem so. Sometimes it’s hard for a father to know what to do in some situations. A woman’s touch can be comforting.”

 

  “I just hope Ethan comes around as easily as Rory did. I hope he can find some one to confide in, because it sure isn’t me. Hard as I try I can’t get through to him.”

 

  “You just have to give it time Harlan, just give it time.”

 

  Buck walked to the bunkhouse and heard Reno singing and just figured that was where he would find Rory.

 

  “Hey little darlin’, your daddy wants you back up to the house.”

 

  “Oh, okay Buck. Thanks.” Rory looked at Blue, “Now don’t forget Blue. Tomorrow morning.”

 

  “Right, I won’t forget.” She waved good-night to them.

 

  “Forget what Blue boy?” Buck didn’t like the sound of things.

 

  “Nothin’ Uncle Buck.” Blue didn’t offer anymore.

 

 Buck shook his head and went off to find his whiskey bottle.

 

Chapter 5

 

  The next morning Harlan, John and Buck left early.

 

 As soon as Rory and Ethan finished eating breakfast they both headed for the corral.

 

  “What do think you’re gonna do out here?” Ethan gave his sister a dirty look.

 

  “Blue is going to teach me how to ride too.” She put her hands on her hips and scoured the corral trying to figure out which horse would be hers.

 

  “I don’t think so!” Ethan turned on her.

 

  “And just why not?” She challenged.

 

  “Because Pa would have a fit. That’s why!”

 

  “He didn’t tell me I couldn’t. So what’s the problem? And what do you care anyway?” Rory glared at him.

 

  “I don’t. Do what you want.” He walked away from her.

 

  Rory just threw her hands up in disgust. She turned back to the corral and saw Blue and Sam coming toward her. She smiled and waved to them.

 

  “Sam why don’t you take Ethan again and I’ll take Rory.”

 

 Sam wasn’t sure if he was really up to the kid’s temperament this morning.

 

  “Oh sure, thanks Blue.” Sam smirked at Blue.

 

  “Are you ready Blue?” Rory clapped her hands anticipating the morning ahead.

 

  Blue couldn’t help smiling at the girl’s enthusiasm. “Ready if you are. Come on.”

 

  Rory followed Blue like a puppy at his heels to the corral.

 

 He wanted to make sure the horse he picked for her was extremely gentle. He knew that he had better take every precaution to see that she didn’t get hurt.

 

  Sam had Ethan back on the same horse he fell off of the previous day.

 

  Ethan remembered to mount from the left, and give a little hop into the stirrup, at the same time holding on to the saddle horn. He reached for the reins but Sam held on to them.

 

  “I can do it myself.” Ethan glared at Sam.

 

  “Not yet. After yesterday’s trick, you need to get the feel of it again.”

 

 Sam pulled on the reins and the horse started walking.

 

   It was a little painful after the fall, but Ethan was determined to ride. He had too! Once he conquered riding a horse, the rest was easy. One trip to town, money for the earrings, and back home he would be. He couldn’t stop thinking about home. He started smiling to himself and pretty soon Sam noticed.

 

  “What are you grinning about? Think you’re good enough to handle the reins by yourself again?”

 

  Ethan realized he had better start paying attention to what was going on around him at the present time, or he was likely to tell on himself.

 

  “Yea, I think I can handle it.”

 

  “Fine. Let me get my horse and we can ride out a bit farther.”

 

 Ethan nodded at Sam.

 

 Blue had decided on the smallest horse he could find Rory. She was so petite it was hard to find one. They didn’t have any ponies at the present time.

 

 “Okay Rory, here we go. Ready to climb on?”

 

 She clapped her hands together with excitement.

 

 “Okay, you need to mount from the left, put your foot in the stirrup, and grab the horn at the same time then do a little bounce to get up in the saddle.”

 

  “I what? How am I supposed to do all that at the same time?” Rory was starting to think that this wasn’t such a good idea.

 

  Blue gave a chuckle. “It isn’t as hard as it sounds, really.”

 

  Rory let out a breath and pushed her bangs off her forehead. “Right. Okay let’s try it.” Blue held the horse still for her so she could maneuver her foot into the stirrup. Rory grabbed the sides of the saddle and tried to pull herself up. She couldn’t quite reach the horn. She bounced a bit like Blue told her, but she just couldn’t coordinate the moves.

 

  “I’m never going to be able to ride by myself if I can’t even get on by myself.” Rory’s balloon of surprise was starting to deflate already.

 

  “No, now don’t give up so soon. Come on, I‘ll boost you up, then you can get used to riding first, then we can work on getting you on and off by yourself. What do ya say?” Blue motioned to the horse again.

 

  “Okay. I’ll give it a try.” Rory set a determined look on her face as she turned back to the horse.  She put her foot back in the stirrup and tried to pull herself up again. This time Blue boosted her up gently by the backside and she was able to reach the saddle horn.

 

  When she reached the saddle she just beamed at Blue. “I did it! I’m actually on a horse by myself!”

 

  “You sure are. Now just relax hold on to the saddle horn and I’ll lead you around. When you think you want to try yourself let me know, okay?” Blue was very proud of her. He hoped her father would be as thrilled. That still bothered him in the back of his mind.

 

  “Blue what is her name?”

 

  “Who’s name?”

 

  “My horse. She had to have a name doesn’t she?” Rory patted her horse’s neck.

 

  “Well, your horse should have a name, but she is a he.” Blue looked at Rory and raised his eyebrows.

 

  Rory blushed a little. “So I guess Daisy wouldn’t work huh?”

 

  “No I don’t think so. But go ahead a pick something.” Blue laughed.

 

  “Wow, really? I can name him.” Rory had to contemplate that one. He had to have something special, nothing ordinary like King, or Prince, or Duke. “I’ve got it Sienna!” She snapped her fingers.

 

  “Sienna? How did you come up with that?”

 

  “Well it’s like a brown, only different. He’s brownish, and it was the color of a ship in one of the books Mrs. Cannon let me borrow. I like the sound of it. Will it be okay?”

 

  “Sure, Sienna it is.” Blue patted the Sienna on the neck.

 

  Blue walked Rory and Sienna around for a few more minutes. Rory seemed to be able to flow with the horse, and not bounce much. She looked like she had been riding horses forever.

 

  Meanwhile Sam and Ethan weren’t having the same luck. Ethan still couldn’t seem to become one with the horse. Sam had to keep rescuing Ethan every time he gave the horse just a little too much of a snap of the reins.

 

  “Ethan, take it easy! You can’t use that much force. The horse thinks he supposed to run when you do that! How many times do I have to tell you that!” Sam was running short of patience.

 

  Ethan had just about had enough of all this. He was starting to get a headache, let alone his backside was screaming for mercy.  “Okay, okay, can we maybe give it a rest for awhile? Try again later.”

 

  “I think that would be a good idea.” Sam was relieved the boy wanted to quit. He took the reins of Ethan’s horse and led him back to the ranch.

 

  Tomorrow, he would learn to ride this stupid horse if it was the last thing he would ever do.

 

  Blue and Rory were having a fine time. She felt that she was ready for Blue to give her the reins. “I think I can do it my self now Blue if it’s you think it’s okay?”

 

  “Let’s give it a try. But take it slow, I’ll get Soapy and ride beside you.” He walked her back to where Soapy was tied up.

 

  Blue saw Sam and Ethan coming back looking very disgusted. He couldn’t tell if Sam or Ethan looked worse. It was definitely a tie.

 

  Ethan took one look at Rory and her pleased expression and became angry. It wasn’t fair. He was supposed to be the one riding, he was supposed to be the better one! He shot her an angry look.

 

  Blue picked up on Ethan’s anger. He watched Rory to see if she noticed her brother. By the look of disappointment on her face, he knew she did.

 

  Blue touched her leg, “Hey, don’t let him bring him you down Rory, you’re doing great.”

 

She watched her brother jump down off the horse and head for the house. “Ever since Mama died Ethan and daddy just don’t get along. Nothing he does is right. Then he just keeps getting more and more angry.”

 

   “It’ll just take time.” Blue tried to understand. There were many times over the years where he didn’t feel he could ever do anything right as far as his Pa was concerned either.

 

    “I noticed that you aren’t the shy little girl that came here a little while ago.” Blue squinted up at her.

 

  Rory sighed. “I just feel better being here. Every one is so nice, without trying to feel sorry for me. All I ever got back home was ‘oh you poor little thing, or how awful for you.’ I just got tired of all the pity. You all seem like you really want us to be here. Especially Mrs. Cannon.”

 

  “Yea, she’s pretty great. It was hard for me at first when she came here after my Ma died, but she never pushed me to like her, it just happened.” Blue was taken back to the day Victoria came to be on the High Chaparral.

 

  “She has been so nice to me. It felt good to be able to talk about my Mamma to her. My Daddy doesn’t want to. It makes him too sad.”

 

 “Yea the same with my Pa. He never was very easy to talk to anyway. Maybe that’s just the way it is with your Pa and brother.” Blue kicked at the dirt. “Well let’s take you out solo for a while.” He handed her the reins.

 

  Rory was so excited. Never in her life did she ever think that she would able to ride a horse on her own. There wasn’t much need for it in the city.

 

  “Now just remember not too tight or too lose. If you feel like you can’t handle Sienna just holler and I’ll take him.” Blue hopped on Soapy.

 

  Ethan just watched as Rory and Blue took off together. It made him so furious. He should be able to ride by now. He didn’t know what was wrong. He knew as soon as his Pa saw her on that horse, he would go through the roof! Finally the little princess would get hers! For once he wouldn’t be the cause of his father’s wrath.

 

 Ethan didn’t even bother to take care of his horse he just took off back towards the house.

 

  “Hold on a minute boy! You don’t leave your horse when you’re done riding. He has to watered, fed and brushed down!”  Sam wasn’t about to let the boy get off that easy. Sam figured the boy needed to spend some time with his horse and get to know him, then it wouldn’t’ be so hard for Ethan to ride him. Sam half figured that the boy was scared to death of the horse. Not that Ethan would ever admit to it.

 

  Ethan tried to ignore Sam and kept on walking.

 

  “You better get back here boy, don’t you make me come and get you!” Sam ordered.

 

  Ethan stopped and turned around to challenge Sam. As soon as he saw Sam’s face, it reminded him of Big John. That was definitely not a force to be reckoned with. Ethan surrendered, and walked back to the horse.

 

  Sam gave the boy a brush and told him where the feed was. “Now take care of him right or I’ll make you come back and do it again. Clear?”

 

  “Clear.” Ethan chewed on his cheek. He started brushing down the horse.

 

  Sam took his hat off and wiped his head with his gloved hand as he walked out of the barn.

 

  “Hey Sam how’s the kid doin’?” Joe caught up to his brother.

 

  “Aw, I don’t know Joe. I don’t know if he’ll ever get the hang of it. He’s got such a chip on his shoulder. If he could let it go and relax, he might be able to get it.”

 

  “Yea, he sure is wound up tight.”

 

  “Yea.” Sam slapped Joe on the back. The brothers went off to work.

 

  Blue and Rory had started heading back to the corral. When they reached the entrance to the ranch, they saw that John, Buck and her father had returned. The three of them were heading into the house when Buck noticed Blue and Rory.

 

  “Well I’ll be, look over there.” Buck was very impressed as he watched Rory riding by herself.

 

  Rory saw them and started waving. She got so excited she lost her balance. She caught herself before she slipped off the saddle, and started laughing.

 

  “What in the blazes!” Harlan started towards her. “What in the world does she think she’s doing!”

 

  “Harlan take it easy, she’s just learning to ride a horse.” John put his hand on Harlan’s shoulder.

 

  “She’ll get hurt! I want her down off there right now.” He took off walking at a very accelerated pace.

 

    Buck and John just exchanged looks as they followed Harlan.

 

  At first Rory mistook her father’s fast walking as excitement for her learning to ride. The closer he got she could see he was angry.

 

  “Uh-oh Blue here come Daddy. And I don’t think he likes his surprise very much.” Rory started to fidget in the saddle.

 

  “Yea, I can see. Come on let’s get you down.” Blue jumped off Soapy.

 

  “Maybe I’ll just stay up here. It’ll make for a faster get away.” She watched as her father came closer and closer.

 

  “Loreli! Get down off that animal right now!” Harlan yelled at her.

 

  Blue lifted her off Sienna.

 

  “Get into the house right now young lady!”

 

  Ethan hearing his father yelling came out of the barn to see what was going on. He stood there watching the show down between his father and his sister.

 

  “But why Daddy? What’s wrong? Didn’t you see me? I was riding all by myself. I held the reins and everything! Blue taught me.” She really wished her father would have been proud instead of angry.

 

  Blue spoke up, “Mr. Edwards she did real good. She’s a natural. Didn’t take long for her to ride by herself.”

 

  “I don’t appreciate you going behind my back, doing something that is harmful to my daughter!” Harlan turned on Blue.

 

  “Now wait a minute Mr. Edwards! I didn’t do anything that would of harmed her! I taught her to ride a horse that’s all!” Blue defended himself.

 

  “He’s right Harlan. You need to ride a horse to able to be out here. It’s part of survival.” John spoke evenly trying to calm Harlan down.

 

   “Maybe you need to know out here, but she doesn’t. I don’t like things done behind my back, especially when it concerns my daughter!” Harlan was turning beet red. “I told you to get to the house young lady, now move!”

 

  Ethan heard everything that was happening. He thought he would be so glad to have his sister in trouble instead of him. But when he heard his Pa yelling at Rory, it just didn’t make him feel the way he thought it would. His heart went out to his little sister. His Pa didn’t have any need to berate her in front of other people.

 

  “Pa leave her be.” Ethan stepped in.

 

   Harlan just stared at his son in disbelief.

 

  “She did good. Blue’s a good teacher. And she didn’t get hurt. Just leave her be.” His stare back at his father never wavered.

 

  Harlan was stunned into silence. He turned and walked off. He needed to clear his head.

 

  Rory watched as her father walked off. She turned to her big brother with tears brimming in her eyes, “Thank you Ethan,” He just walked away without a word.

 

  “Maybe it would be better if you went up to the house Rory.” John put his arm around Rory and gave her a squeeze. 

 

  “Yes sir.” She sniffed. “Blue thank you for teaching me to ride.”

 

  “Sure anytime.” He felt so bad for her. “I’ll take care of Sienna for you.”

 

   “Thanks.” The tears started coming and she couldn’t stop them, so she took off running.

 

  Buck and John watched as Harlan walked off.

 

 “I just don’t get it Big John. What harm was there is her learnin’ to ride a horse?”

 

  “Well Buck, Harlan doesn’t’ realize that out here it is a necessity. He just saw that his daughter was in possible danger. He’d do whatever he could to keep her safe.” John shook the dust from his gloves.

 

  “What danger? Blue boy is one of the best riders we got. He wouldn’t have let her get hurt.” Buck couldn’t believe Harlan would have even thought that.

 

  “Buck she is his daughter, and he has a right to decide what he does or doesn’t want for his daughter. Whether we like it or not we have to respect that.”

 

 Buck just grumbled and went off.

 

  Rory ran up the stairs crying hysterically now.

 

 Victoria saw her and rushed up behind her. “Rory, what’s wrong?” Victoria hurried over to her.

 

  Rory just kept crying. She couldn’t seem to stop.

 

 Victoria just pulled Rory into her arms and let her sob. All the pent up emotions that Rory had seemed to come out all at once. Victoria just held her and softly spoke words of comfort.

 

  After a while Rory had exhausted all of her tears, she pulled back from Victoria.

 

  “I…’m sorry.” She hiccuped a sob.

 

  “No, no nina, do not be sorry. What happened? Are you hurt?” Victoria touched the little girl’s cheek.

 

  Rory shook her head no. “Blue was teaching me how to ride a horse so I could surprise my Daddy, but when my Daddy saw me up on the horse he started screaming at me and Blue. It was so awful.”  Rory put her head against Victoria again. “I just wanted to surprise him, I thought it would make him happy for once. Ethan is learning why isn’t it all right for me?” She sniffed.

 

  “Did your father tell you it was all right for you to learn to ride?” Victoria suspected that Rory had not.

 

  “I didn’t ask him, if I would have it wouldn’t have been a surprise!” Rory wiped her eyes with the back of her hand.

 

  “No I suppose not. But I don’t think he was too fond of the idea the other day when you asked him.” Victoria reminded her.

 

  Rory looked away from Victoria. “ But he never said no.”

 

  “Rory, you knew what he meant didn’t you?” Victoria tilted her head.

 

  Rory just sighed, “Yes ma’am, I guess so. But I really wanted to surprise him, I really did. Why was he so mad? Blue was right there the whole time.”

 

  “He was probably afraid that you would get hurt, maybe like your brother did or worse.”

 

  “I never thought about getting hurt.” Rory hung her head. “I guess I better go talk to my father.”

 

  “I think that maybe you had better let him calm down for awhile first. Then things won’t be said out anger. Once spoken, the words cannot be taken back.”

 

  “You’re right. I sure don’t want any more problems.” Rory shrugged her shoulders.

 

  “Why don’t you come with me and help me start some of the wash? I know it’s not as exciting as riding a horse...” Victoria teased and gave Rory another hug.

 

  Victoria sent Rory from room to room to see if anything was in the dirty clothes baskets. She looked around all the rooms and checked under the beds. When she checked in Blue’s and Ethan’s room she found a few stray socks and kerchiefs. She started out of the room and noticed a sock under Ethan’s mattress.

 

  “What a slob. You think being in someone’s else’s house he’d be neater.” She mumbled to herself. Rory threw the sock in with the rest of the pile and took them down to be washed.

 

   Ethan finished with his horse and Sam gave his approval. Ethan was rather proud of himself. Sam praised him instead of yelling at him for a change. That was a good feeling for Ethan. He went back to his room to change his clothes. He didn’t like to smell like a wet horse. While he was in his room he went over to the bed so he could check out his treasure again. He lifted the mattress, and the sock was gone!

 

  Ethan frantically started tearing the bed apart. He searched in every crack and crevice. He threw the sheets and blankets on the floor and shook each and every one. He sat on the bed and put his head in his hands. Now what would he do, he had to find those earrings. They were his only ticket out. Ethan knew he couldn’t just come right out and ask if anyone had seen the sock he’d been hiding under his mattress. Somehow he had to check the wash without anyone seeing him. He headed downstairs.

 

  Victoria and Rory had been doing wash for sometime now and the dry clothes were starting to pile up. “Rory finish hanging those shirts, and that should be all for today. I’ll start taking the clean wash upstairs and put it away.”

 

  “All right Mrs. Cannon. Do you want me to go and start some supper when I’m done here?

 

  “That would be a good idea. I hadn’t realized that it had gotten so late.” Victoria grabbed a pile of clothes and headed for the house.

 

  Victoria started putting the clothes away, and walked past her dressing table and just couldn’t resist looking at her mother’s earrings again. She opened the drawer and took out the velvet case and opened it. She gasped when she saw the box empty.

 

She ran down the stairs and out of the house yelling for John.

 

  Mano came running when he heard Victoria yell. “What’s wrong my sister.”

 

  “Oh Manolito ma-ma’s earrings are gone!” She cried.

 

  “Gone! What do you mean gone?”

 

  “Gone, as in not here!” She shoved the velvet case at her brother.

 

  Mano opened the case, and sure enough the earrings were gone.

 

  “¡Dios mio! Did you put them somewhere else?”

 

  “If I had put them somewhere else I wouldn’t be yelling that they are gone now would I!” She shouted at Mano.

 

  “Calmante Victoria, calma. We will find them” Mano tried to keep his sister from hysterics.

 

  John heard Victoria’s yell and came as fast as he could with Blue and Buck on his heels.

 

  “What’s wrong? What happened?” John quickly looked Victoria over to make sure she wasn’t hurt.

 

  “I’m fine John, but my mother’s earrings are gone!” Victoria was on the verge of tears.

 

  “Gone? When was the last time you saw them?” John was trying to calm his wife.

 

  “I guess it was a couple of days ago. The box was there but the earrings weren’t. Oh John where could they be?” Victoria stomped her foot.

 

  Ethan could hear voices coming from out front so he crept to the side of the house to get a better listen. They were talking about the earrings!

  If he got caught, there would be hell to pay for sure. But he didn’t have them in his possession right now, so all he had to do was act innocence. That’s exactly what he would do until he had the chance to try again.

 

  Victoria did anyone else know where you kept them? I mean people come and go in and out of the house all the time, maybe some one saw something.” Blue suggested. 

      

  “Oh I can’t imagine anyone of the hands taking them. No one knew where they were. The only one was…” She hesitated.

 

  “Who Victoria?” John coaxed her.

 

  “Well the only one that knew was…Rory. Oh but I know that she would never have taken them!” Victoria recovered quickly.

 

  “No of course not.” John assured her. You’ve just misplaced them. That’s all.”

 

  “Yes, yes of course. I’ll look again.” Victoria walked with John back to the house. She knew it sounded like she was accusing Rory, but that was never her intent.

 

  Harlan had walked off most of his anger. The picture that kept running through his mind was one of his daughter falling off that infernal horse and breaking her neck. He just couldn’t shake the image. He searched the grounds for Rory. He found her out back doing the wash. She was trying to hang a shirt, but it looked like the shirt was hanging her. He had to smile.

 

  “Rory.” She turned and when she saw her father she dropped the shirt.

 

  “Rory I would like to talk to you.” Harlan went closer to her.

 

  She stood there like a statue waiting for her father to speak. She wasn’t sure how to judge his mood.

 

  “I think I over reacted today. Seeing you on that horse just scared the wits out of me.” Harlan picked at his fingernail. “I was so afraid that you would fall off and break your neck. That was the picture that kept playing in my mind.” He walked up to her. “I couldn’t bear the thought of losing you.”

 

  “Daddy I wouldn’t do anything like that. Blue made sure that I was safe. My horse was small, Blue kept the reins until I was able to do it my self and he watched me the whole time. He never left me alone.”

 

  “I know, but the other thing I didn’t like, was that I wasn’t informed. You never asked me for permission.”

 

  “I couldn’t ask permission from you, because I wanted to surprise you.” Rory pleaded her case.

 

  “But you knew that I didn’t want you on a horse didn’t you?” He searched her face for the truth.

 

  “Yes Daddy. I’m sorry, I should have asked you first.” Rory played with the hem of her pinafore.

 

  “Fine then. Next time ask me, I really don’t like surprises. Especially ones that take years off me.” He smiled at his daughter and nudged her under her chin. “By the way, you did look good up there.”

 

   Rory breathed a sigh of relief.

 

   Ethan had gone back by the wash, when he saw Rory and his father leave. There was no one around so he started going through the piles of dirty socks. He searched and searched. He shook every one he picked up. No earrings. He let out a growl and took off again. Had he bothered to look in the wash bucket, he would have seen them there in the bottom sparkling. 

 

 

 

  Chapter #6

 

  Rory went into the house to try and get supper ready. Victoria already had the vegetables set out to wash and cut, so Rory tackled the carrots first. Victoria came into the kitchen and smiled when she saw Rory. The girl was trying so hard to be daughter, sister and mother. Victoria just couldn’t imagine that she would ever steal anything. But she had to ask.

 

  “Rory, may I talk to you for a minute?”

 

  “Sure Mrs. Cannon.” Rory continued to cut the carrots.

 

  “Rory, my mother’s earrings are missing. Would you happen to know where they went?” Victoria tried very hard to keep the accusing tone from her voice.

 

  “They’re gone!”

 

  Victoria nodded yes.

 

  “Mrs. Cannon I haven’t seen them since you showed them to me the other day. Honest.” Rory ‘s eyes were as big as saucers.

 

   “I don’t know either.” Victoria was trying hard not show her despair. 

 

  “I’ll look everywhere I can think of for you Mrs. Cannon. They have to be here somewhere.” Rory didn’t wait for a response from Victoria, she dropped the carrots and went off to search.

 

  She went past Ethan’s room and looked in when she noticed the blanket on the floor. The blankets and sheets were all over the room. Ethan’s bed had been stripped and the mattress was hanging half off.  Panic seized Rory. NO! Ethan couldn’t have taken the earrings!  She shot down the stairs and out the door. She had to find Ethan and get the earrings back to Mrs. Cannon before anyone knew he took them.

 

  She walked out to the barn and checked in there, he wasn’t. She went over by the bunkhouse hoping that Ethan would be with the other men.

 

  “Hey Rory, ¿Que pasa?” Pedro tipped his hat at her.

 

  “Hi Pedro. I was looking for my brother, have you seen him around?”

 

  “No he hasn’t been around here. Any of you fellas’ seen him?” Pedro addressed the men.

 

  “I seen him heading off to the tack room a while ago.” Ira pointed in the general direction.

 

  “Thanks. If he comes back around would you tell him I’m looking for him?” She smiled and quickly departed.

 

  Rory found Sam fixing some harnesses but he was alone. “Hi Sam.”

 

  “Hey doll, how you doin’?” Sam sat braiding a strip of leather.

 

  “Okay, I guess. Did my brother come by here?” Rory chewed on her lip.

 

  “No not that I know of. Why something wrong?” Sam stopped braiding for a minute. He started having visions of Ethan up to no good.

 

  “I…um  just wanted to thank him again for today. For standing up for me and all.” Rory didn’t like lying to anyone but she didn’t dare say much more for fear of giving away her real reasons for finding her brother.

 

  “Yea, I heard most of that with your Pa and all. He seemed pretty sore at you.”

 

  “He wasn’t so much mad as he was scared. He was afraid I was going to get hurt. And the fact that I didn’t ask him first didn’t help much. He doesn’t like surprises. But we’re okay now.” She watched as Sam braided the straps.

 

  “You looked real good out there today.” Sam grinned at her.

 

  She couldn’t help but grin back. “Thanks Sam. Blue’s a good teacher.” Rory started to wring her hands.

 

  “You sure nothin’s wrong? You seem kinda nervous.” Sam observed her.

 

  “Me? On no, I just need to find my brother that’s all. I can’t figure out where he could be.”  She started looking around. “Well I’ll see you later Sam. Bye.”

 

 Sam waved as she took off.

 

  Before she knew it, the dinner bell was ringing. Shoot she was supposed to have helped with supper! What else could go wrong today! Rory threw her hands in the air and went to the house. Ethan would have to wait for now.

 

  “I’m sorry Mrs. Cannon,” Rory said as she breezed into the kitchen. “I was looking for my brother and forgot about supper.” She grabbed for the plates.

 

  “That’s all right Rory. I’m running behind anyway after today.” Victoria’s response was so sad.

 

  Rory took the dishes and headed for the dining room. She really didn’t want to talk about the earrings right now. She needed to confront her brother first. As she went to open the door to the dining room Vaquero was coming back to the kitchen. The two of them collided and Rory threw the dishes in the air as she tried to stop herself from falling. Dishes went everywhere!

 

  Vaquero helped the girl up. “Are you all right little one?”

 

  “I…I think so.” She brushed her dress off.  “Are you all right?”

 

  “Si, si, I am fine.” Vaquero shook his head at the broken dishes.

 

  Victoria came running in as she heard the shattering glass.

 

  “My dishes!” She bent down and picked up a few broken pieces.

 

  “Senora Cannon I am very sorry. I did not see Rory coming through the door.” Vaquero spoke before Rory did. She just looked at him. “Of course I will pay for the damages.” He said with a polite nod.

 

  “No, no Vaquero. It was an accident. It will be fine. Let’s just get this cleaned up before anyone gets hurt.” Victoria sighed and went for the broom.

 

  “I’m sorry I didn’t say anything Vaquero. I just froze. I didn’t mean for you to take the blame. I’ll tell Mrs. Cannon when she comes back that it was my fault. I shouldn’t have bolted through the door like that.” Rory started picking up broken pieces and placing them on the table.

 

   He placed his hand gently on her arm. “There is no need. No one did anything on purpose. It was an accident.” He continued picking up broken glass. “We must get this mess cleaned up so we can have supper.”

 

  Rory just nodded her head in gratitude at Vaquero.

 

  The men came in shortly after the collision. The mess was almost undetectable.

 

  “What happened in here?” John walked over to the table and saw the broken pieces.

 

  “Nothing much Senor Cannon. A few dishes were broken that is all.” Vaquero gave a sideways glance to Rory.

 

  She looked up at John holding what used to resemble pieces of a plate. “Yes, sir. Just an accident.”

 

  Vaquero took the remainder of the broken pieces from Rory and went to the kitchen.

 

  “Any one get hurt?” John raised an eyebrow at her.

  “Um…no sir, no one got hurt. I’d better see if Mrs. Cannon needs any more help in the kitchen.” She quickly escaped John’s questioning eyes.

 

  Supper was finally put on the table and started, without Ethan.

 

  “Now where is that boy!” Harlan had just about had enough his son’s rudeness.

 

  “I saw him out by the bunkhouse a while ago and he said he wanted to eat with the boys. I told him it was all right.” Buck said as he reached for the butter.

 

  “I guess it’s all right. I just wish he would have cleared it with me first.” Harlan sighed. Would he ever be able to connect with his son again.

 

  “Mebbe it’s just what the boy needs, some time with the boys, then he can loosen up a bit, and not have to look over his shoulder all the time, worryin’ about doin’ somethin’ wrong all the time.” Buck slapped more potatoes on his plate.

 

  John cleared his throat as Buck spoke. “What’s wrong Big John. Ain’t I got a right to my opinion? No disrespect meant towards you Harlan at the raising of your boy or nothin’ like that. It’s just that sometimes a fella needs to be with other fellas’, ya know what I mean.”

 

  “Yes I guess I do Buck. Maybe it is what he needs for a change. I guess I do hover too much at times.” Harlan picked at his food.

 

  “I think we all tend to do things like that when it comes to our children.” John picked up his fork.

 

  “Rory is there something wrong?” Mano noticed her moving around quite a bit in her seat.

 

  “Wrong? With me?  No, why?” She concentrated on putting her napkin on her lap.

 

  “You seem to have a problem with your chair.” He grinned teasing her.

 

  “My chair? There’s nothing wrong with my chair.” Rory looked down at her chair.

 

  “He means that you can’t sit still.” Blue knew that grin of Mano’s.

 

  “Oh. Sorry.” She blushed. Then she made every conscience effort to sit still.

 

  The conversation at the table ranged from the price of cattle, to the government issues, and when it would rain next. Rory was so lost in her own thoughts that she didn’t hear any of it. She was trying to figure out a way to get away from the table and go and talk to her brother.

She was so lost in her own thoughts that she didn’t pay attention when she went to pick up her glass of milk. She bumped the glass and the milk went flying across the table.

 

  “Oh no!” Rory exclaimed as she jumped up.

 

  “Rory, please pay attention!” Her father took his napkin and started sopping up the mess.

 

  “I’m sorry. I’ll clean it up.” Rory added her napkin to the mess.

 

  “Don’t worry about it. I’ll take care of it.” Victoria went to get a towel.

 

  Rory was so flustered by the incident that she felt she a quick escape before any more catastrophes occurred. “Daddy, may I be excused? I don’t want to do any more damage. Please?” Rory begged.

 

  “I think that would be a very good idea young lady.” Harlan dismissed her. 

 

  Rory kept searching the grounds for her brother as she made her way to the bunkhouse. If Ethan wasn’t there she would have to tell someone what she suspected.

 

  Rory came to the door of the bunkhouse and started to go in, then decided that she had better knock in case they weren’t dressed. It was after all a place for men only.

 

  “Yea.” Came a voice from inside.

 

  “It’s me Rory. Is my brother in there?” She yelled to the door.

 

  “Come on in Rory. We’re all decent.” Reno yelled.

  Rory hesitantly opened the door. When she stepped inside she could see that the hands were engaged in a game of poker. Ethan was standing by the men watching as they played. Sam was trying to teach him without giving away his hand.

 

  “Hey Rory wanna play a game with us?” Pedro teased.

 

  “No, I don’t think so Pedro, I sure would hate to take your money.” Rory teased back. She was met with a round of laughter.

 

  “Ethan can I talk to you outside for a minute.”

 

  “What for?” Ethan didn’t budge.

 

  Sam elbowed him the stomach. “When a lady asks you to go and talk, you go and talk.”

 

  Ethan rubbed his stomach. “Fine. Let’s go.” He grabbed her by the arm and pushed her out. “What do you want? I’m busy.”

 

  “Ethan what did you do with Mrs. Cannon’s earrings?” She accused.

 

  His mouth flew open. “What earrings? I don’t know what you’re talking about.” He put his hands in his pockets.

 

  “Don’t lie to me Ethan! I know you took them. I saw your room! Why?” Rory wanted to knock the smug look off his face.

 

  “I don’t know nothin’ about no earrings. Now leave me alone.” He turned to leave.

 

  Rory grabbed his arm and held tight. “Why would you have to steal from her? Why these people? What could you possibly want with those earrings?”

 

  He pulled away from her grasp. “For money!”

 

  “Money for what? What do you need?” Rory could not fathom why he needed money.

 

  “To get out of here and get back to the city that’s why!” He spat at her.

 

  Rory was so shocked that she couldn’t find her voice for a minute.

 

  “Back to the city. Why do you want to go back there? There was nothing but trouble there for you.”

 

  “I liked being there okay? I had lots of friends there.”

 

   “Oh yea real nice friends. They got you put in jail!” Rory shouted at him. She looked around to make sure no one had heard her yell.

 “Ethan how could you want to go back there! I just don’t understand you.” She said through gritted teeth.

 

   Ethan started walking. It was so hard to put into words what he felt. His emotions were all jumbled. He just didn’t feel like talking to his little sister about his feelings. She could never understand how alone he felt all the time. Never being able to do anything right in his father’s eyes. At least back in the city his friends never questioned him, never criticized him or never expected him to be perfect.

 

  Rory walked up behind him. “Please Ethan. Talk to me.”

 

  “Leave me alone Rory! I don’t have the stupid earrings! I don’t know where they are!” He whirled at her in anger.

 

  She started trembling at his outburst. Rory had never seen him so angry. “Fine then, don’t tell me. It’s not me that’s going to be hurt. It’s Mrs. Cannon. Those were her Mother’s earrings, she treasured them. How would you feel if they had been Mamma’s and someone took them? You think about that Ethan Edwards.” Rory left him standing there.

 

  Ethan just watched as she walked away. He was glad that she didn’t see the tears starting to fall down his cheeks. The guilt he was feeling was so overwhelming. The only things he had ever stolen before were apples, some fish hooks, cigars, and the last time when he had been caught was a penknife. But this time he was hurting someone he knew. Victoria. He had no right to take those earrings. And now he didn’t know where they were to give them back even if he wanted to!

 

  He wiped his nose with his sleeve and went over to the makeshift sun roof above the bunkhouse. He reached up to the little dip in the front and successfully pulled out Buck’s whiskey bottle. Ethan had noticed Buck getting it down a time or two.

 

  Ethan went behind the bunkhouse and pulled the cork from the bottle and took a big swig. As the amber colored liquid slid down his throat it made him gag and cough. He spit out the rest of his mouthful, and caught his breath. Once he got under control he took another drink, only a smaller amount. That one went down a little smoother. The next one was even better.

 

    Rory wanted to go to her room and just be by herself, but there was no way to get to her room without passing the living room. She knew her father and the others would be there and she just wasn’t up to talking to any of them. She walked over to where Anna Lee was buried. Somehow it made her feel closer to her own mother. Rory just rested her head against the cross that marked Anna Lee’s resting place and cried.

 

    Mano, Blue and Buck had decided to see if there was a poker game going on.

 

   Buck rubbed his hands together, “Watch out boys cause Uncle Buck feels lucky tonight!” He slapped Mano on the back.

 

  “Hey Uncle Buck, you hear that?” Blue stopped walking.

 

  “Hear what Blue boy? I don’t hear nothin’.”

 

  “No wait, listen” Blue silenced him again.

 

  Off in the distance they could hear the faint sound of someone sniffing and crying.

 

  “I think it is coming from over by your mother’s grave Blue” Mano pointed.

 

  “Yea I think you’re right.” Blue headed for that direction.

 

  Buck and Mano started to follow him when Reno came running up to them.

 

  “Buck you better come with me to the bunkhouse. We got a problem.” Reno rolled his eyes and gave a heavy sigh.

 

  “Problem what problem?”

  “It’s the kid. Ethan. He found your whiskey.” Reno motioned to the bunkhouse with his head.

 

  “Oh Lordy! Mano go by Blue and see what’s what. I can only handle one thing at a time!” Buck took off with Reno.

 

  Mano and Blue came upon a small figure huddled at the grave. They instantly knew it was Rory.

 

  Blue went up and kneeled by her. “Rory you shouldn’t be out here by yourself. Come on.” He reached for her hand.

 

  She saw him and reached up and wrapped her arms around his neck and sobbed.

 

  Blue was surprised, but returned the hug and patted her on the back. “Hey it’s okay, it can’t be that bad can it?”

 

“Blue.” Mano motioned to him with his thumb that they needed to get Rory back inside the compound.

 

  “Yea. Come on Rory.” He held her hand. They went back into the compound.

 

 Rory wiped at her nose, Mano always the perfect gentleman handed her his handkerchief.

 

  “Thank you Mano.” She wiped her eyes and her nose. “I’m sorry Blue, I shouldn’t have gone to your mother’s grave without asking first. I had no right to be there.”

 

  “Oh no that’s all right if you visit, but you went past the compound again. You can’t do that Rory. It isn’t safe especially at night.” Blue tried not to sound as if he were giving her a lecture.

 

  “Si. It is a good thing that we came upon you and not Big John.” Mano reminded her.

 

  Rory just shook her head and wiped at her nose. She sucked in a ragged breath trying to calm down.

 

  “Now what got you so upset? Not spilling the milk I hope. Victoria cleaned it up in no time.” Blue patted her head.

 

  “No. It wasn’t the milk.” She sniffed. “I got into a fight with Ethan.”

 

  Mano and Blue patiently waited for her to continue.

 

  “It was really stupid. I shouldn’t have gotten so upset. I’m sorry I made you worry. Really, I’m fine.” Rory was all set to tell them about

Victoria’s earrings when she got cold feet and just couldn’t.

 

  “You sure. You have two good sets of ears right here to listen.” Mano tried to coax her to talk.

 

 Rory let out a big sigh. “Ethan just makes me so mad sometimes. I can’t figure him out. One minute he’s almost human and then the next he’s like a old bear.” Rory picked at her dress.

 

  “That is how he has been the whole time he has been here.” Mano pointed out.

 

  The three of them turned and heard a commotion going on down by the bunkhouse. Rory recognized Ethan’s voice singing extremely off key.

  She took off after the noise.

 

  Mano and Blue realized that the sound was that of a drunken man.

 

  Sam and Buck were trying their best to get Ethan to be quiet. He was wailing like a pig stuck in a fence. The condition he was in Buck didn’t want his father or Big John to see him.

 

  When Rory, Blue and Mano arrived, Ethan’s head was promptly being dunked into the watering trough.

 

  Ethan was fighting them all the way. He was flaying his arms trying to stop the drowning. At one point he connected with Sam’s jaw.

 

  They let him up for air. “Let me go, get off me.” Ethan sputtered.

 

  “Now you hold on there a minute boy. You ain’t goin’ no where’s” Buck grabbed him by the scruff of the neck and held on.

 

  “Ethan! What did you do!” Rory couldn’t believe her eyes. All she had to do was get close to the air circling him and she could smell the whiskey.

  “Whew we, he really tied on didn’t he Uncle Buck?” Blue and Mano started laughing. “Looks like he found your stash Uncle Buck!”

 

  “Very funny Blue boy, very funny.” Buck flung water at him.

 

  “Yea very funny Blue boy.” Ethan slurred then started laughing. “Blue boy! How’d ya ever get that name, Blue boy.” Ethan was full out giggling now.

 

  “Sam I think it’s time for another bath.”

 

 Sam held on to Ethan’s arms while Buck dunked him another three or four times.

 

  Rory was so mad at her brother right now all she could see was how disappointed her father would be. She charged at him full speed.

 

  “How could you do this you idiot! You’re so stupid.” She started pummeling him on his chest and shoulders.

 

  Mano grabbed the hysterical girl and held on tight. “Calma, nina, calma.” She wriggled in his arms trying to get loose.

 

  “Why Ethan, why?” She crumbled into Mano’s arms crying.

 

  “I don’t know, I don’t know.”  Ethan was swaying trying to stay on his feet. Sam had to steady him. “I’m sorry Rory, so, so, so sorry. I didn’t mean to do it. I had ‘em now I don’t. I don’t.” Ethan babbled. “I lost ‘em…lost” He staggered a bit then he turned green.

 

  The whiskey had finally hit bottom. Ethan started heaving. Sam held on to him while he emptied the contents of his stomach.

 

  “Blue, get Rory back to the house. This ain’t gonna be too pretty.”

 

  “Right Uncle Buck.” Blue gently took her from Mano.

 

  Mano just stood there watching the whole scene unfold. He decided to join the poker game inside.

 

  “Don’t say nothin’ to nobody just now. Let’s try to get him presentable first. Tell his Pa that he wants to sleep in the bunkhouse tonight, that’ll buy us some more time.” Buck sure didn’t want to be there when all this blew up.

 

“Right.” Blue steered Rory to the house.

 

  She looked over her shoulder at her brother. “Is he going to be all right Blue?”

 

  “Oh yea, sure, he’ll live. He sure is gonna have a big headache tomorrow though.” Blue remembered many times after a night in Tucson waking the next morning with a hammer pounding in his head. “What was he babbling about?” Blue asked her.

 

    She shrugged her shoulders, hoping to satisfy Blue. It was going be bad enough tomorrow for Ethan she didn’t want to add any more to it.

 

  After several minutes had passed and the dry heaves subsided, Ethan sat on the ground hanging his head crying and babbling about losing something, and being so sorry.

 

  Sam and Buck didn’t have a clue what he was talking about. They just scrapped him up off the ground, stripped him down and threw him in the horse trough. This time he didn’t have the strength to fight. He just lay there in the cool water with his head rolling back against the trough.

 

  “Boy is he gonna be sorry tomorrow Buck.”

 

  “Ain’t that the truth Sam old buddy. Been there ourselves a time or two.” Buck slapped Sam on the back and laughed.

 

  “Guess I’d better find him some clean clothes to put on for the night.” Sam went to the bunkhouse.

 

  Buck watched Ethan lying in the water. Poor boy, trying to be a man already. Well if one thing was for sure Buck knew that whiskey definitely was not the way. And Ethan would sure know that for himself tomorrow.

 

  Buck reached under Ethan’s arms and started hoisting him out. Ethan was like a bowel of jelly. He did not offer any help at all for Buck.

 

  Sam came around the corner and helped take hold of Ethan. Between the two of them they were able to get the clean dry clothes on him.

 

  Ethan came too long enough to see who was spinning the room. “Sam, that you? Hi Sam. Teach me to ride that stupid horse tomorrow k?” He slobbered.

 

  “Sure kid. Tomorrow.” Sam smiled as Ethan grinned up at him.

 

  Ethan passed out right after that. Sam just picked him up and carried him to the bunkhouse.

 

  The boys all laughed and whooped it up when they saw Ethan’s condition.

 

  “All right you fellas, that’s enough. He ain’t gonna be in such good shape tomorrow, jist leave ‘im be.” Buck waved them off.

 

  Sam plopped Ethan down on the first vacant bunk.  Ethan just keep babbling something about he didn’t mean it, he was so sorry, he never meant to hurt her.

 

  Sam and Buck didn’t have any idea what he was talking about. Buck patted Ethan’s head and left him alone.

 

  Blue and Rory entered the ranch house trying to avoid making conversation with anyone.

 

  No such luck.

 

  Harlan cornered Rory as soon as she came in.

 

  “Did you find your brother?”

 

  Rory looked at Blue for a split second and he raised his eyebrows at her.

 

  “Yes Daddy. He was out at the bunkhouse with Sam and the boys. He wanted me to tell you that he was going to spend the night out there, just to see what it was like.” She swallowed hoping she sounded convincing.

 

  “John I don’t know if that is really a proper place for a young boy to be.” Victoria knew about the drinking and card playing that went on until the sun came up.

 

  “Well I don’t think it would do him any harm. It’ll give him a taste of what manhood is.” John wasn’t concerned at all.

 

  “I don’t think it is a good idea. What will they teach him out there? To play cards, and drink until he can’t walk straight.” She was getting her dander up.

 

  Rory looked up at Blue with pleading eyes for him to say something.

 

  “No Victoria, it ain’t like that. He’s okay. Sam and Mano are out there. They’ll keep an eye on him.”

 

  Victoria he’s not a little boy. He’s almost a man. Right Harlan?”

 

  “I think you might be right John. Maybe this is what he needs. Some time with men instead of the trouble making boys he’s used to being around.” Harlan admitted. “Yes it fine with me.”

 

  Victoria was none to happy about the situation. She glared at John and stormed off to the kitchen.

 

  Blue and Rory exchanged looks of relief. They both went upstairs to get ready for bed. They both had enough excitement for one day.

 

   Rory had finished getting her night gown on and started turning down the blanket and sheet on her bed and thought about Ethan. How could things have gotten so bad with him? Why did he want to go back to the city so badly that he would steal, there was nothing left back there for him.  She had felt better herself just by being able to talk to Mrs. Cannon about her mother. She really listened to her and helped her to understand her mother’s dying. Rory felt more at peace. Why couldn’t Ethan just talk to someone? He took the earrings, she knew that now. With all his drunken babbling it all became clear to her. But he said he lost them. Now they were really gone. What should she do now? Rory continued to mull it over a bit more. Then she decided that Blue was her best bet. She needed to tell someone, why not him. Rory gathered up all her courage and sought him out.

 

  She walked up to his door. She had her fist all set to knock, but she just couldn’t go through with it. She turned and went back to her room, where she fell into a fitful slumber.

 

Chapter #7

 

  Ethan slowly rolled over in his bed. He was met with a searing pain shooting through his eyes. He groaned and rolled back over. He tried to remember what had happened to him last night. What did he do to make his head hurt so much? Whiskey! Just the thought of it made his stomach roll over.

 

  Buck saw Ethan stirring in his bunk and just watched him. Boy oh boy did he know what the boy was going through. He laughed to himself. What a headache he was gonna have.

 

  “Hey Sam.” Buck nudged Sam. “Our boy over there is tryin’ to come back to the land of the livin’.”

 

  “Yea. Think he’s gonna make it Buck” Sam laughed and slapped Buck’s arm.

 

  “Only one to know fo’ sure Sam old buddy.” Buck went over to Ethan’s bunk and shook it. “Time to rise and shine boy!” He shouted.

 

  Ethan jumped when Buck yelled and hit his head on the bunk above him. “What the…?” Ethan saw stars. He started rubbing his already throbbing head.

 

  Ethan just rolled his eyes when he saw Sam and Buck and fell back on the bed, willing the pain to go away.

 

  “Naw, sleepy time is over, it’s time to get moving!” Buck smacked Ethan on the backside. Ethan just groaned and rolled back over on his stomach.

 

  Sam and Buck just grinned at each other. Buck grabbed Ethan and pulled him to his feet.

 

  Buck pulled the boy outside to the watering trough. As soon as Ethan saw where he was heading he tried to fight. Buck just held on tighter.

 

  After a couple of dunks he let Ethan up. “Now boy we got work to do this morning. You up to it? Or do you still need some more convincing?”

 

  Ethan put his hands up as if to push Buck back, “No, no more please!” Ethan tried to catch his breath. He staggered a bit trying to regain his balance. Oh God his head hurt! He squeezed his head in hopes to stop the pounding.

 

  Buck slapped him on the back, “Come on boy time for breakfast.”

 

  “No, no food. I can’t” Ethan groaned.

 

  “Breakfast. It’ll make you feel better. Trust me. That was my whiskey you stole ya know. Been there a few times myself.” Buck really did feel sorry for the kid. He remembered his first time being drunk and it wasn’t pleasant. But no one felt sorry for him at the time, and pity wasn’t what the boy needed now.

 

  Ethan knew he couldn’t win with Buck, so he followed him. Just the smell of food made him want to retch. He tried turning around to leave but Sam and Buck just held on to him.

 

    Victoria still wasn’t pleased that Ethan was allowed to stay in the bunkhouse last night. She still glared a John as he sat down to eat.

 

  “Now Victoria I’m sure that Ethan is fine. He has to grow up sometime.”

 

  “Sometime yes, but not now. He’s still a boy John. Very easily impressed with the so called men of this ranch.”

 

 “Now Victoria, I am very pleased that you are so concerned with my son, but please don’t let it upset you so. I trust Buck and Mano and the other men. I know they wouldn’t let any harm come to him.” Harlan assured Victoria as he sat down.

 

  “Well, as you have stated he is your son, and I will leave you to raise him as you see fit.” She gave a brief nod. John and Harlan gave each other a slight smile.

 

  Rory came running down the stairs. She wanted to get out to her brother and see how he was after his little adventure last night.

 

  “Rory. Where are you going in such a hurry?”

 

  “Oh, morning Daddy, Mr. and Mrs. Cannon. I um… just wanted to see how Ethan was today.” She kept edging toward the door.

 

 “Nonsense. Come and have some breakfast first. You brother is just fine.” Harlan wiped his mouth with his napkin.

 

  Rory looked at Blue with an S.O.S. in her eyes. She couldn’t eat anything at all not until she confronted her brother.

 

  “I can take her to the bunkhouse with me Mr. Edwards. She can get some grub there if she’s hungry.” Blue got up and went over to Rory.

 

  “Oh please can I Daddy? I’d love to see what they eat at the bunkhouse for breakfast. Then I can eat and talk with Ethan and see how his night was.” Rory quickly spoke before her father could further protest.

 

  “Well, I guess so honey. But you stay out the way and mind what Blue tells you all right?”

 

  “I will Daddy. Thanks.” Rory grabbed Blue by the wrist and practically pulled him out the door.

 

  “Why do I get the feeling that something more is going on here?” Things didn’t seem right to Harlan.

 

  “Yes I tend to agree with. Something’s up. Maybe we should take a walk to the bunkhouse ourselves and see how things are?” John sipped his coffee.

 

  “I agree with you John. Let’s take a walk.” Harlan finished his coffee and rose.

 

  Victoria started to clang dishes as she cleared the table muttering in Spanish about how she knew it was wrong to put a boy with grown men.

 

  Rory and Blue made it to the bunkhouse in record time. She ran up to her brother. She could see that he was feeling terrible and her heart melted a little toward him.

 

  “Go away Rory.” Ethan tried to get away from her.

 

  “No I won’t go away Ethan! We have to talk.” She reached for him.

 

  The ranch hands started getting uncomfortable at the scene unfolding and decided to give them some privacy. Buck, Mano and Blue remained.

 

  “There’s nothing to talk about Rory, now leave it be!” He shouted at her.

 

  She wasn’t so easily put off. The more he fought her the madder she became. “There’s plenty to talk about Ethan. Where are they! I know you took them. Where did you put them!” She shouted at him.

 

  Buck put his arm around her shoulder, “Hey Rory calm down.”

 

  “I can’t calm down Buck. He…he” She started to tell him when she was cut off by her father.

 

  “He what Loreli?” He looked at her and then noticed the green cast on his son’s face.

 

  Rory wasn’t ready to face her father and the others with the information she had. She looked at her brother with burning eyes, and then back at her father. She took a deep breath and calmed herself down before she spoke.

 

  “Nothing Daddy. It’s nothing.”

 

  “It can’t be nothing if you’re that upset. What did Ethan take?”

 

  Ethan gave her a pleading look. She couldn’t tell on him, not now not in his condition.

 

  “He just took some things out of my room without asking first. I don’t want him in there without asking first.”

 

  Ethan stared at the ground and then chanced a glance at his sister.

 

  “Ethan you know better than to rummage around in her things. A girls things are very private. What could possibly have been in there that you would have wanted?” Asked his father.

 

  “Nothing Pa. I was just looking that’s all.” Ethan kicked at the dirt.

 

  “I thought he took some books out of my room that Mrs. Cannon gave me, but maybe I left them somewhere else. I just figured he took them.” Rory just glared at her brother.

 

  “All right you two, I think there is more going on here than either one of you are saying, but I let it go for now.” Harlan looked between his children, “I want you two to behave while we are here as guests. No more of this petty fighting you hear me? Stay out of each other’s rooms and each other’s way. I want no more of this.”

 

  “Yes Daddy. I’m sorry.” She hoped her father would let things drop. Ethan just nodded his head. Harlan walked off rubbing his forehead.

 

  "Thanks for not telling on me sis." Ethan managed to get out.

 

"Thanks my Aunt Fanny. You better find those earrings today or else I am going to tell Daddy and Mrs. Cannon. "With that she gave him a shove.

 

"I have looked everywhere for those stupid earrings I can't find them!" Ethan almost shouted at her.

 

"Wait a minute you took Victoria's earrings?" Buck stepped closer to Ethan.

 

Ethan took a step back as Buck approached him. "I...no...well..." Ethan stammered.

 

"Boy be in a heap o' trouble right now so don't add lying to it." Buck got right up in his face.

 

Ethan couldn't look Buck in the face. "Yea I took em' but..." Buck cut him off by grabbing him by the arm and dragging him to the house.

 

"No wait!" Ethan struggled to free himself of Buck's vice like grip.

 

"Wait nothin' boy," Buck pulled him harder. Ethan knew his fate had been sealed so he quit struggling.

 

Buck started yelling for Victoria and Big John the minute he entered the house.

 

"Buck what is the matter?" Victoria came out from the kitchen.

 

Buck shoved Ethan closer to her. "Tell her boy right now."

 

Ethan looked at Buck and then back at Victoria. "Ma'am, I...I took your earrings. I'm sorry." He looked down at the floor. He couldn't stand the hurt look on her face.

 

"Oh Ethan you? Why?" She couldn't believe it.

 

"That's what I want to know boy!" Harlan shouted as he came in the room. He grabbed Ethan and shook him. "Now!"

 

Ethan shouted, "I wanted out of here that's why!!! I never wanted to come to this hell hole! I hate it here I want out!"

 

Harlan just reacted, he backhanded his son. Ethan stumbled from the force of the blow. When he regained his footing he bolted past his father and ran out of the room

 

"Mrs. Cannon I tried to get him to give them back to you but..." Rory started.

 

"You knew about this!" Harlan turned on her.

 

Rory moved closer to Mano trying to get out of the line of fire. "Only since yesterday. I was trying to get him to tell you on his own. I thought he was going to but then he ended up losing them."

 

"He lost them? Oh no, no. They can not be replaced. They were my mother's." Victoria blinked back tears. John went to his wife and put his arm around her and held her tightly.

 

Harlan paced around the living room running his hands through his hair. "I can’t believe this. My own son stealing from family." He turned to face John and Victoria. "I am so sorry about all this. The stealing and the deceit from my own children." Harlan gave Rory a look of disappointment.

 

"Daddy I'm so sorry. I really am. I have looked all over for the earrings. Ethan said he did too. He was so upset when he lost them." Rory was so sorry that she didn't just tell them when she first found out about the earrings.

 

"That explains him getting drunk and all that babbling he was doin about losing them and such." Buck finally connected the dots.

 

"Drunk! My son was drunk. Oh my God what else is there I don't know about!" Harlan threw his hands up.

 

"Now Harlan, settle down. Right now we need to deal with the matter of the missing earrings." Big John reminded him.

 

"Well, it seems that matter will have to wait until later. Our little thief has just ridden off." Mano pointed out.

 

Chapter 8

 

Sam, Joe and Reno were already saddling up to go after Ethan. Mano, Blue and Buck were close behind.

 

"He's my son I'm going after him too." Harlan started out the door.

 

"Harlan please let the boys handle it. You aren't familiar enough with the land to go out there searching." Big John told him.

 

"Then I'll learn quickly. Get me a horse." Harlan dared John to argue with him.

 

"Fine, I'll go too. Victoria you keep an eye on Rory we'll be back soon." He kissed his wife.

 

Victoria put her arm around Rory, "We will be fine." Rory leaned into Victoria's shoulder.

 

John and Harlan met up with the rest of the boys. From the tracks all around it was clear that Ethan had no clue where he was going. "Let's split up and first one to find him fire's three shots." Big John gave orders to the men.

 

"John I truly am sorry about my son and his behavior since we arrived. I thought by bringing him out here he would...I don't know maybe let go of some of the hate and grief that he'd been carrying around."

 

"Harlan it's okay, don't worry. I know things have been rough for the boy. Well, maybe it's not my place to say but you seem to have just let him run off on his own. I mean you don't seem to correct him or guide him in any way, you just let him be. Maybe he needs some direction from you, some discipline." Big John knew first hand how hard things were for him and his own son at times. Grief and anger were fine but learning how to deal with them sometimes took a firm hand and heart to corral the emotions.

 

"Yea, but I've been afraid that if I try and stop him or correct him I would lose him. That he would run farther and farther from me." Harlan wiped his face with his neckerchief.

 

"Seems to me maybe your way isn't working so well up to now." Big John shrugged his shoulders.

 

Harlan gave Big John a half grin. The man was right. He needed to stop his son and now before it became too late.

 

 

Chapter 9

 

It wasn't long before three shots could be heard. Ethan had been found.

 

Buck and Blue found him lying on the ground obviously having fallen from his horse. Buck leaned down and checked to make sure Ethan was still breathing.

 

"How is he Uncle Buck?" Blue grabbed the canteen and poured some water on his neck kerchief then handed it to his uncle.

 

"He be fine Blue Boy, just knocked the wind outa hisself." Buck swiped the cold cloth over Ethan's face.

 

A groan came from Ethan when the cold water hit him. He slowly blinked as his eyes adjusted to the bright sun light. "What happened?" He tried to sit up but groaned again.

 

"You got yourself quite a lump there boy. "Buck put the cold cloth on the lump. Ethan winced as Buck touched it. "You'll be fine. Come on let's get you back to the house afore we get attacked by the A-pach."

 

Buck took the boy under the arm and helped him up.

 

"Mebee it'd better if the A-pach did get you first.”Buck pointed off to the cloud of dust riding toward them.

 

Harlan rode up fast. He pulled his horse to a stop and jumped down. running to his son he started checking him over for injuries.

 

Ethan impatiently pushed his father's hands away. "I'm fine Pa."

 

"Yea he's okay. Just got a lump on his head. Good thing he has a hard head." Buck patted Ethan on the back. Ethan grabbed his hat and started to mount his horse.

 

Harlan grabbed him by the arm, "Hold on there boy! What the hell were you thinking? Running off like that not knowing where to go!" Ethan just stood there staring at his father. "I asked you a question son I expect an answer."

 

"The hell you care!" Ethan spat at him.

 

Big John cleared his throat as Harlan started after his son... "We need to take this back to the ranch. We seem to have company." He indicated the Apache warriors watching them from the hill.

 

Ethan saw the Indians on the hill and felt a wave of panic at the sight. He never realized how intimidating they really were. He wasted no time getting on his horse and riding back to the ranch with the men. He didn't know what his fate would hold but he did know he didn't want to get scalped today.

 

 

Chapter 10

 

Blue Buck and the boys headed back to the ranch ahead of John, Harlan and Ethan. They didn't want to be around for the fireworks.

 

It was a silent ride for the three of them. When they arrived back at the ranch Big John took the horses and left Harlan and Ethan alone.

 

Ethan bristled at his father's attempt to put his arm around his son. Harlan let out a breath trying to control his temper.

 

Ethan was not going to make this easy. "Son I need to talk to you, I want to help you, but you have to let me in."

 

"I got nothin' to say to you. As soon as I can figure out a way I am out of here, I'm gone!" Ethan spat at his father and tried to walk off.

 

Harlan grabbed his son by the arm and whirled him around, "You are not walking away from me this time boy! We have some unfinished business to settle first!" Harlan stared at his son never wavering.

 

Ethan couldn't stand the harshness of his father's gaze and looked down at the ground and some of his fire was squelched.

"We have the issue of you stealing from Victoria first. You know better. You stole from friends and family! That is one of the worst offenses. Do you remember our last conversation in the city when you robbed Mr. Stanton's store? Do you!" Harlan shouted at Ethan.

 

Ethan looked at his father wide eyed. "You wouldn't dare."

 

"I would." Harlan didn't even give Ethan a chance to run. He grabbed his son by the arm and held on tight. He dragged his son kicking and screaming to the woodshed. Once inside Harlan bolted the door and proceeded to talk off his belt. Ethan froze. Harlan finally decided that he needed to take control back where his son was concerned. No more letting things slide by.

 

Harlan took off his belt and promptly pushed his son over the bench and gave his son one of the worst tannings his son ever had.

Ethan grit his teeth and bit his lip with every blow. No way was he going to let his father see his beg. Well after several blows Ethan couldn't take it any longer. He started to whimper and then let out full blown yowls. He was begging for his Pa to stop.

 

Harlan made sure he had covered every inch of his son's backside and his thighs making sure Ethan would remember for quite some time.

 

Buck and Blue were brushing down their horses and feeding them when they saw Harlan strong arm Ethan into the woodshed.

 

"Boy I would not want to be in his shoes for nothing." Blue remarked.

 

"Yea me neither Blue Boy. But he had it comin' for a long time now." Buck brushed his horse some more.

 

"Yea I know Pa wouldn't have put up with it for as long as Mr. Edwards if was me doing it." Blue shook his head remembering times he had been of the receiving end of a tanning.

 

"Well I don't hear no more hollering so's it must be over. We best be outta sight when they come out of the shed." Bick put his arm around his nephew and let him to the bunkhouse.

 

 

Chapter 11

 

Harlan spent several minutes rubbing his son's back in soothing circles letting his on cry out all of his guilt and anger and sorrow.

 

"Ethan, son, I wish I knew what I could do to make things better for you. I love you, I couldn't let you go on destroying yourself and us. I wish you would let me in. Tell me what can I do to help?"

 

Ethan had slowed his crying down to hiccuping sobs. He was trying very hard to get under control. He heard his father say that he loved him, that to him was unbelievable. He thought his father stopped loving him.

 

Ethan straightened up and looked deep into his father's eyes for confirmation of the love. It was there. "Pa I'm so sorry for everything. I...don't know why, after Ma died I just don't know what happened I... you..."

 

"I know son I wasn't there for you and your sister. I was trying to deal with my own grief. I didn't leave any room for you and your sister.  I just let you run wild and didn't have the strength to stop you.  Your sister turned into the perfect little girl. I let that happen and didn't see she was suffering too. I am so sorry for that son. So sorry."

 

His Pa saying he was sorry and that he loved him? Ethan couldn't believe it! His Pa never said sorry. That caused another rush of tears he couldn't stop.

 

This time Harlan took his son in his arms and hugged him tight in an embrace of love and protection. "Son do you think maybe we could start over and do this right?"

 

Ethan pushed back form the embrace and wiped his eyes with his sleeve, "I'd sure like to give it a try Pa."

 

"Good. Now how about we get to the house and you can wash up a bit and then we can talk to the Cannon's and try and make things right." Ethan nodded his head and followed his Pa to the house.

 

 

 

Chapter 12

 

Victoria had been setting out some coffee and snacks for everyone. She needed something to do until the men got back safely with Ethan. Rory shadowed her trying to keep her mind occupied. She didn't know how angry her father was at her too. She didn't want to think about it.

 

Big John entered the house sighing wearily. Victoria ran up to him and kissed him hello. "Did you find him John? Is he all right?"

 

"Yes we did Victoria. He had a fall from his horse and bumped his head but he's none the worse for wear. That is until Harlan gets through with him."

 

"What do you mean Mr. Cannon?" Rory came from the kitchen.

 

"I mean he took Ethan to the woodshed for a much needed attitude adjustment." John watched her face as the realization dawned.

 

"Oh. I guess I had better go to my room and wait for Daddy." Rory was filled with dread.

 

"That won't be necessary Loreli." Came her father's voice from the doorway. Ethan was behind him.

 

She turned and looked at her brother, seeing the tear-stains and his red eyes she knew her father didn't go lightly on her brother.

 

Harlan nudged Ethan a bit, he looked at his father and nodded in understanding.

 

Ethan stepped closer to Victoria, "Ma'am I really am truly sorry about taking you ear rings. If I could take it back I would. Honestly. I don't know how I can ever repay you for them, I know they were your mother's and they were irreplaceable. I will accept any punishment you want to give to me, anything you say, just name it I deserve it. Only if you can please try and forgive me." That was the longest speech Ethan had ever given.

 

Victoria could see the boy was truly sincere and was sorry. She couldn't help it she opened her arms wide letting Ethan walk into to her forgiving embrace. He gladly went. He needed to be forgiven.

 

"I know you are sorry Ethan and thank you for that. I know you and your father have worked out many of your troubles, for that I am glad. I hope you can learn from all of this. We are family and we are here for you. I think that you have been punished enough for all of this, but if you ever run away again I will personally take a broom to your backside! You understand me?" She lifted his chin so he could look her in the eye.

 

"Yes ma'am I understand. Thank you." He gave her a half smile.

 

Harlan turned to his daughter, "As for you young lady." Rory nervously stood there awaiting her fate. "I know you were trying to help your brother by being silent about all of this. But this was bigger than you were able to handle. When a secret affects everyone and is harmful you don't keep it a secret you get help. I thought I had taught you the difference between getting help and being a tattletale. You understand the difference?" Harlan went over to his daughter and stood in front of her.

 

"Yes Daddy." Harlan pulled her into a hug.

 

"Well now that is all settled let's have some coffee and eat something." Victoria directed everyone to the dining table.

 

Chapter 13

 

Ethan tread on thin ice for the next few days. He still found it hard to face Victoria. He really wished he could find those ear rings for her.

He remembered the last time he saw them they were in the sock under his mattress. When he went back to get them the sock was gone.

He ran and checked the wash and he still couldn't find them. Where else could they be?

 

"Hey Ethan you keep thinkin so hard your head'll explode." Buck slapped him on the back and laughed.

 

"Hey Buck. I just keep racking my brain trying to figure out where those ear rings are. I just don't know." Ethan scratched his head.

 

"Well ain't nothin we can do about it now Ethan. At least you made amends with Victoria. That's the important thing."

 

"I guess so. I just wish I could make it right." Ethan looked toward the house.

 

"Tell you what why don't you come with me and Mano and Blue and round up some cattle. It'll get your mind off things." Blue suggested.

 

"Yea maybe it will. Okay let's go." Ethan followed him.

 

Ethan mounted his horse and sat down with a thump, he quickly lifted himself up.

 

"Need a pillow?" Blue chuckled.

 

Ethan grimaced at him. "No give me a minute will ya?"

 

Blue and Mano couldn't help but laugh each of them being in the same situation themselves at one time or another.

 

They rode the range searching for strays all morning. Blue stayed with Ethan and showed him how to round u the strays. Ethan was getting rather good at it by noon time.

 

"Hey Ethan let's pull up and have some grub." Blue called to him.

 

"Right Blue." He was hungry.

 

Blue grabbed some jerky and biscuits out of his saddle bag. He handed some of each to Ethan.

 

"Thanks Blue." Ethan started eating the jerky.

 

"You're doing pretty good out there." Blue complimented Ethan.

 

"Thanks Blue. I never thought I would like the ranching life but it's kinda oh I don't know relaxing. I mean it's hard work and all but you really have to think about what you're doing at the time so you don't have time to think of much else." Ethan blushed.

 

"I know what you mean. There were some times not too long ago that I couldn't wait to ride the range just to escape and think. You know be by myself. It's still that way. I couldn't imagine being any where else." Blue looked over the horizon.

 

Both boys stayed quiet for a bit each lost in their own thoughts. Blue broke the ice by getting up and putting the rest of the food back in the saddle bags. "We had better get going and finish before Pa has our hides."

 

"Yea I ain't got much of that left." Ethan rubbed his backside and laughed.

 

"Hey Blue can I ask you something?' Ethan played with his hat.

 

"Sure what?" Blue looked at him.

 

"Well when your Ma died, how long did it take you to get over it?"

 

Blue hesitated for a second or two. "I never really got over it, I mean I think about her every day, but it does get easier. It doesn't hurt so much anymore. It'll be that way for you too Ethan you'll see. Just don't rush it. I had Uncle Buck to turn to and it was a big help, so don't push the ones away that want to help. You don't have to go through things alone." Blue shrugged his shoulders and smiled at Ethan. "Come on we still got stock to round up." He slapped Ethan on the back.

 

"Yea I just love riding in that saddle." Ethan laughed as he rubbed his backside. Blue laughed with him.

 

Neither boy noticed the figures observing them from the hill top.

 

Chapter #14

 

Blue and Ethan rode on totally unaware of the men following them.

 

"There goes one now Blue I'll get him." Ethan slapped his reins and took off.

 

"Take it easy Ethan you'll spook him too much." Blue took off after them.

 

Just as Ethan got close to the steer two men came out of the bushed area and drew on him. A third man came up behind Blue gun drawn.

 

"Don't move neither one of ya." The taller of the three men held a gun on Ethan.

 

Ethan just sat there not sure what to do next. He looked to Blue for direction. Blue dropped his gun and raised his hands in the air. Ethan didn't have a gun but he did raise his hands.

 

"Down of them horses boys, now!" The yellow toothed man ordered.

 

Both boys climbed down slowly not making any sudden moves. They didn't want to be shot.

 

Ethan was trying to be brave but secretly he was shaking inside. He felt like he was going to throw up. Blue remained calm as he was herded over to stand by Ethan.

 

"Well, well what do we have here?" The yellow toothed man walked around the boys as the other two men held guns on them.

 

"What do you want mister?" Blue spoke. The yellow toothed man backhanded Blue. The slap busted open Blue's lip and he tasted blood.

Ethan gasped as the man struck Blue.

 

"I do the talking here. Got it?" He spat at the boys. They both nodded yes.

 

"Now let's see, gimmie that gun belt," He pointed to Blue's belt. "Where's your gun boy?" He turned to Ethan.

 

"I don't have one." The man stalked around Ethan.

 

"Nope don't look like you do. What else ya got?"

 

"I don't have anything." Ethan watched the man as he stalked him.

 

"Empty your pockets, you too." He turned back to Blue.

 

Both boys emptied their pockets and between them they only had three dollars and some odd cents and a pocket knife.

 

He looked at the boys and eyed them up and down. "That's it? That's all you got!" He shouted the last bit.

 

"Sorry mister, that's all." Blue was starting to get nervous at this point. It was bad enough getting robbed but with nothing to take it could be worse.

 

"Well then I guess we'll be taking them horses too." Yellow tooth got up and rounded up the horses.

 

"That's my horse you can't take him!" Ethan yelled before he even thought about it. The tallest gunman hit the boy in the back of the head with the butt of the gun. Ethan fell almost knocked unconscious.

 

"He's mine now boy." Yellow tooth spit on Ethan. He turned and laughed as he gathered Blue's gun and the horses. They mounted their horses and started to take off.

 

Out of nowhere came a shout, "Get down Blue, Ethan!" Without hesitation both boys dropped to the ground.

 

Gunfire was all around their heads. Blue looked up and saw it was his Uncle Buck and Mano.

 

Soon it was quiet, Mano and Buck ran to the boys. Buck helped Blue up and Mano help Ethan.

 

"You boys all right?" Buck started checking out Blue's face. His jaw and lip were swelling.

 

Mano felt the lump on Ethan's head. "Ouch that's gonna give you a headache. Good thing you have a hard head."

 

"How did you know they were there Uncle Buck?"

 

"Well you two was taking so long to get back we come looking fer ya good thing we did too." Buck grabbed his canteen and gave Blue and Ethan some water.

 

"How did you let them get the draw on you Blue boy? Ain't I taught you better than that? They's tracks all over from them." Buck put his hands on his hips and looked at Blue.

 

"I know Uncle Buck, I guess I just wasn't thinking. I mean me and Ethan were just talking and stuff and I just didn't think." Blue hung his head.

Ethan wisely kept his mouth shut for once. He didn't even know what he was supposed to look out for. He just thought they were looking for cattle.

 

Buck affectionately cuffed Blue on the back of the head. "Come on fore they come looking for us too."

 

"Ethan can you ride?" Mano walked Ethan to his horse.

 

"Yea I'm okay Mano thanks." Ethan smiled at him.

 

Buck sent some men back to bury the dead men so the buzzards wouldn't get to them. He got the boys home as fast as he could. He wanted Victoria to take a look at Blue's jaw and lip and Ethan's head.

 

Big John and Harlan saw the weary riders and went up to meet them.

 

"What in the Sam Hill happened to you two?" John helped Blue down and Harlan helped Ethan.

 

"We were looking for strays and three men jumped us Pa." Blue stole a glance at his Pa.

 

"Jumped you? What happened, how did they get off guard?" Big John's voice got deep. Never a good sign.

 

"You can talk about all of this later John, can't you see the boys are hurt?" Victoria took over and ushered the boys into the house and made them sit down so she could tend to their wounds.

 

Once inside John resumed his questioning. "Okay you're tended too, now the story."

 

"I'm sorry Pa, Ethan and me got to talking and I missed the signs of anyone following us. It was my fault. I should have been paying attention." Blue wanted to make sure that Ethan didn't get any blame.

 

"Not paying attention can get you killed boy! How many times do I have to tell you that!" Big John thundered.

 

Ethan shrank back a bit. This was the first time he had witnessed Big John temper. Harlan went up to his son and pat his shoulder trying to send a silent message letting him know that Big John's bark was worse than his bite.

 

Blue just sat there taking the lecture. He knew his Pa would run out of steam soon enough, and it was always wise to just let him rant.

A few minutes later the rant ended. "Next time you won't be so lucky boy, keep your ears open and your eyes sharp!"

 

"Yes sir." Blue respectfully answered his Pa.

 

"Now come with me and let's get something to eat, you all must be starving."

 

Rory heard the men come in and she started coffee and made some sandwiches. She came out of the kitchen and placed the platter on the table.

"I heard you come in so I made a snack." She smiled at her father.

 

"It looks wonderful honey thank you." Harlan dove into one of the sandwiches.

 

"Mrs. Cannon I thought I would start on some laundry if it's okay with you?" Rory hoped she agreed since she already gathered it up.

 

"Oh that would be so nice Rory thank you. But why don't you have a sandwich first?"

 

"I already had one in the kitchen. I...heard all the yelling and didn't want to interrupt." She blushed slightly feeling bad that she had heard Blue getting yelled at.

 

"Oh all right." Victoria smiled at her. Rory nodded her head and headed out back to start the laundry.

 

"So Ethan maybe we should find you something close to the ranch to keep you out of harms way from now on?" Big John sipped his coffee.

 

Ethan got wide eyed, "Oh no Mr. Cannon don't do that! I mean I'm fine."

 

"Ethan I don't think you are aware enough of the dangers that are out there." Harlan couldn't stand the thought of his son getting hurt out there.

 

"But Pa I'll be careful the next time. Blue will make sure of that won't you Blue?" Ethan eagerly looked to Blue.

 

"Sure I will. I mean we both goofed today but it won't happen again Mr. Edwards. I'll teach Ethan some things to listen and look for, just like my Uncle Buck and Pa taught me." Blue was excited at the prospect of teaching Ethan.

 

"So you are liking it here better Ethan, not wanting to go back to the city yet?" Mano grinned at Ethan.

 

Ethan blushed a bit knowing that he had been an idiot before and that Mano was teasing him. "Na nothing much in the city compared to here." They all got a laugh and finished eating.

 

Rory was filling the was tub with hot water and getting ready to add some soap when she saw something out of the corner of her eye. She dug into the bottom of the tub and grabbed onto something. She brought her hand up with the object and there they were the earrings!!! She was so excited that she knocked over the hot water buckets and tumbled the laundry over on the ground as she ran into the house. She flew through the kitchen and into the dining room. "I found them!"

 

"Loreli Edwards! What in the world! You don't come running into a room..." Harlan was cut off by Rory.

 

"But Daddy I found them!" She struggled to get her breath.

 

"Found what?" Harlan was trying to follow his daughter.

 

"The earrings! I found them." She held them up.

 

Victoria rose quickly and ran to Rory. She took the earrings from her and held them to her breast. "Oh John my earrings! My mother's earrings. They have been found!"  She hugged Rory. "Where on earth did you find them?"

 

"They were in the bottom of the wash tub. They must have gotten stuck there the last time we washed." Rory looked at her brother. He gave a sigh of relief.

 

Big John went to Victoria and put his arm around her. "See we knew they would be found. Now why don't you take them up and put them back in the case so you'll know where they are."

 

"Oh yes John. Right now I will." She hugged him. As she walked around the table she stopped at Ethan and bent down and gave him a hug to let him know all was forgiven. He hugged her back, it felt nice to be forgiven.

 

The rest of the visit went great. Ethan learned more about ranching every day and Rory and Victoria spent hours together sewing and talking and reading. All too soon their visit came to an end.

 

"Well Harlan it was so nice of you to come and visit. If I can ever get some time off we would love to come and visit you in the city. I know Victoria would like that." He put his arm around her tiny waist.

 

"Yes I would. Rory and I could shop all day."  The men just chuckled at that thought.

 

Harlan gave Victoria goodbye hug and kiss. "Thanks so much again for everything."

 

Rory ran to Victoria and hugged her tight. "I'm going to miss you so much. But I'll write to you all the time would that be okay?" She wiped a tear away.

 

"Oh yes please write to me. I want to know everything." Victoria released Rory and gave Ethan a hug goodbye also. He didn't shy away he hugged her back.

 

"Thanks for putting up with me Mrs. Cannon. I know I caused you some grief."

 

"Yes you did young man and if you ever do something like that again I'll be the one after you with my broom."  She mockingly pointed a finger at him.

 

"Yes ma'am." He laughed.

 

"Okay we better get going if you're going to make that stage connection." Mano pointed out.

 

"Yes we had better get going. Thanks again for everything again. I think we are going to do fine, just fine now." Harlan helped Rory up into the buckboard. Ethan hopped in back. Buck slapped the reigns against the horses and they were off.

 

"Do you think they will really be all right John?"

 

"Yes my dear I know they will." He guided his wife back into the quietness of the house.

 

 

 

THE END

 

 

 

USE BACK ARROW ON BROWSER TO RETURN TO HIGH CHAPARRAL FIC

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   

 

  

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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