By Enola Jones

"I'm home!" Ezra called as he entered the house. "And I've brought a friend!"

"You have?" Vin asked as he cautiously felt his way from the kitchen to the main room. Behind him, Ezra could see two women working on their meals. "Who is it?"

A second boy's voice spoke up. "Me, Mister Tanner, sir. Matthew Potter."

Vin smiled. "Your mother's helping us out today, Matthew. Were you supposed to meet her here?"

"He certainly was." Gloria Potter came from the kitchen, wiping her hands on her apron. "Where's Elizabeth, Matthew?"

Matthew jerked a thumb over his shoulder. "Lizzie's gone home with Mabel Brushwaite." Both auburn-haired boys' noses wrinkled at the name.

Gloria heaved a tired sigh. "Vin, would you excuse me? I need to go rescue my daughter and have another talk with George Brushwaite about not allowing Elizabeth to play with his Mabel. Not after last week."

"Last week?" Vin frowned. "What happened last week?"

Matthew piped up, "Mabel tried to get Lizzie to help her lynch a rabbit!" When he saw Vin and Nettie Welles the other woman in the kitchen go pale and slightly green, he added, "Did I say something wrong?"

Vin blinked useless eyes rather incredulously. "Matthew... what did you just say?"

It was Ezra's voice that replied. "Mabel tried to get Lizzie to parta-- uh, to help her hang a rabbit. That child may have hair like spun gold, but her heart is as black as the devil's."

After asking and receiving permission to stay for supper while his mother tracked down his disobedient sister, Matthew settled in at the table. "Mmm it all looks and smells so good!"

"Wait until you taste it!" Ezra chuckled. He began to load his plate. "Lizzie has me worried, Matt. Uncle Josiah says that bad company corrupts."

After a moment's silence, Matthew softly replied, "Billy Travis would say the same about me an' you, you know."

"Aah," Ezra growled, suddenly sounding like the ten-year-old he was instead of the miniature dictionary. "Billy Travis can blow it out his ear."

Vin sat down heavily. "Ezra is the Travis boy givin' you trouble?"

Matthew nodded grimly. Suddenly catching on that Ezra's adopted father was blind, Matthew cleared his throat. "Yeah, he is. He says Ezra's not no good cause of his her....his heri...."

"My heritage," Ezra supplied. "Conning to my mother is like bagpipes to Scotland." At Matthew's "Huh?" Ezra waved a hand after him. "I'll explain later, Matt."

"Well, I don't care," Vin said firmly. "Scotland or shoes, cons or clover, you're my son now and I love you."

"I know," Ezra smiled at him. "I'm your most precious of keepsakes, You tell me that over and over."

Vin nodded, proud that it was finally sinking in. And while he was upset to find Ezra was being bullied, he was incredibly thrilled that his son seemed to have found a true friend.

And who knew? Maybe he'd find four more true friends just like his father.


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