As had become the norm, the Burke and James families stood within close proximity of each other. Andrew and Carrie are standing side by side at the grave. Andrew still has his arm in the sling from his late arrow-wound. He reaches up and fingers the shoulder, murmuring under his breath, “That could’a been me…”
Carrie glances at him somewhat startled as the townfolk begin to disperse.
A poster hangs on the walls of buildings about town:
Estate Sale! The Late James Hatterson’s belongs and lands
will be sold at auction. The proceeds go to Mrs. J. Hatterson.
Auction starts at 10:00 AM sharp July 19th.
People crowd around. Bartholomew elbows his way in along with his Pa and Aaron.
Bartholomew blurts, “Pa! I want to go to that….Mr. Hatterson had this beaut of a shotgun I’d like to get…”
George couldn't help but smile, “That one you’ve raved about ever since he let you shoot pheasant with it last fall? Sure...I think we are all going.”
Meanwhile, Aaron is standing at one side of the poster, smiling somewhat grimly at the bustle of people, when his eyes meet a pair of blue eyes hidden in a bonnet. A moment only they feel the spell…after a small smile, Sophia drops her eyes and moves on. Aaron watches her leave, distracted. George lays his hand on his sons shoulder, “Aaron?”
Aaron drags his eyes back around and give his father a smallish half-smile, “Pa?”
“Sure, Pa…I have to go talk to Asa about something.”
George frowns a bit watching Aaron leave.
Bartholomew, totally unware that his eldest brother ever even looked a girl, demanded, “What’s wrong with him? He looks almost like somebody told him his favorite dog is dead…”
George quickly glances at his fourth son, “Eh? Come on, we better get home so you can get some sleep.”
Astounded, Bartholomew bellows, “What?”
George grins at him, showing where his son's aquired their mischevious streak, “You want to be on your toes for that auction, don’t you?”
Bartholomew laughs as they head for their horses.
Sophia Vale is coming out of the General Store, a basket over her arm, as Aaron is striding down from the Sheriff’s.
He lifts his hat, slows down and matches his step to hers. She tends to something in her basket.
Aaron says softly, “Sophy…”
Quickly, she whispers, “What if he’s watching?”
Aaron, “Well, I can always say I was just sayin’ ‘howdy’!”
She glances up with the tiniest hint of a laugh, “Yes?”
After a moment, Aaron returns, “Tomorrow evenin’…usual place?”
She sighs, “How long can this go on, Aaron? How long?”
He demands, “Yes or no?”
As man is seen approaching, Sophia turns her back on Aaron, but as she does so,
she breaths, “Alright.”
Mr. James Hooper, Sophia's step-father is irate, “I thought I told you to say away from Sophia, Aaron Burke! Sophia, go get in the wagon.”
Both young people answer, “Yes, sir.”
As Sohpia leaves quickly, Mr. Hooper turns on Aaron, “How come it is that every time you think you can get by with it, you sidle up next to her an’ start talkin’?”
Aaron's jaw is set. He gives Mr. Hooper a disgusted look and starts to turn away.
The older man grabs the young one by the elbow, forcing him to face him.
"Don’t you turn your back on me, young man! No fella’s disregards my orders about my daughter!”
Unable to contain himself longer, Aaron retorts, “You forget, Mr. Hooper, that Sophia isn’t your daughter and I knew her long before you waltzed into her life! Now I don’t get why you don’t like me, mister, but let’s get something straight. I had full permission from her mother to talk to, dance with, court and marry Sophia, before you ever came along!”
Mr. Hooper blows, “But as head of the household I cancel such permission!”
Then, withoug warning, he swings at Aaron, hitting him full in the face. Restraint gone, Aaron launches into him and they fight furiously.
Asa Bowen is sitting at his desk, pouring himself a cup of coffee. A man rushes in.
"Sheriff! Aaron Burke’s fightin’ with Hooper!”
Bowen asks calmly, “Senior or Junior?”
The man answers, “Senior!”
“Oh!” Now Bowen seems concerned. He jumps up and grabs his hat and heads for the door.
The Sheriff rushes down the street the man at his heels. Sophia is sitting in the wagon with her hands over her face.
When they reach the fight, Aaron is underneath. Just as Bowen reaches them Hooper's fist crashes into Aaron's face. Asa starts pulling Mr. Hooper off the bloodied young man, demanding, “What is the meaning of this?”
Mr. Hooper pants, “He won’t leave my daughter alone!”
Bowen looks surprised. He directs his gaze toward his deputy inquiringly, “Aaron?”
Aaron lays on his back blinking and panting, blood running from his nose and mouth. He groans and rolls over. Slowly he staggers to his feet and gasps, “Later…”
He stumbles off and almost falls into a horse trough. He splashes his face and spits blood. Slowly he straightens and painfully moves out of sight. In the wagon, Sophia had watched, half-risen. As Aaron left, she relaxes into the seat, fighting tears and moaning in pity, “My poor Aaron…”
The auction is about to begin. People are coming in, finding seats or standing spots as the case may be. An air of excitement, but studded with somberness, fills the room.
After a few items have been auctioned off, the majority of the Burkes arrive in company with the James men. Bartholomew looks eager and plows through the crowd to where Aaron, his face swollen and bruised, is standing.
Eagerly, Bartholomew demands, “Have they brought the shotgun up yet?”
Somewhat amused, Aaron retorts, “Nope.”
As the word leaves his mouth the shotgun is brought up.
Mr. Horn, land agent and auctioneer, drones, “And here we have a fine specimen of a shotgun…”
Bartholomew stews, “Oh I wish he’d hurry up and start the bidding!!”
Burke men of various ages chortle and elbow each other
The bidding starts. Several men bid on the shotgun. Bartholomew jumps up on a chair so he can be seen better and waves his hat. On the other side of the crowd is Jimmy Hooper, Jr. He too is bidding furiously. Bartholomew's frenzied bidding wins him the purchase.
Mr. Horn rolls on, “Do I hear $60? No…going once….going twice…sold! To Bartholomew Burke!”
Bartholomew shoves his way forward, a delighted grin on his face to fork out $55* and claim his shotgun.
Jimmy butts in front of him, a snarl on his face, “You!”
Bartholomew stiffens up at the open hostility and watches the other move off with a look of total bewilderment. Then he continues forward. As his hands close around the shotgun, the carefree smile returns. He caresses the gun, lovingly running his forefinger along the engraving.
The Burkes are leaving the hotel, which doubles as a resturant. Andrew stretches and rubs his stomach, saying, “Mmm, that was a good supper..”
Aaron grins slightly, “See ya later fella’s.”
“Where ya goin’?” Bartholomew inquires, though not really caring, as is evident by his hands and eyes playing along the lines of his new shotgun.
Aaron replies, “I have something I have to take care of.”
As he walks off, his brothers watch him go and Andrew laughs, “Probably some deputy business…”
Bartholomew nods, “Yeah…say, did he ever tell you why Mr. Hooper beat him up yesterday?”
Andrew shakes his head, a tiny quizzical look passing across his face, “Nope. But I wonder….”
Bartholomew prompts, “What?”
With a grin, Andrew grunts, “Nothin’…”
Bartholomew gives the sky a look that plainly says, "Nothing? Yeah, right..." then runs his hands over his shotgun, smiling as he does so.
“Sure is a nice gun, isn’t it?”
Andrew laughs, “Sure! Now why don’t we start on home. Pa looks like he’s about ready to leave.”
George is talking to Bowen with Rodger standing next to him. The other boys mount and Andrew trots over to his father.
Bartholoew carefully lays the shotgun in the crook of his arm and sets off out of town at a lope. Without warning, Jimmy Hooper dashes out into the street right under the nose of Bartholomew's horse. The animal rears, up throwing his unexpecting rider. Before he can regain his feet, Jimmy is on top of him, pounding away. Bartholomew lets out a roar and pitches into him, throwing everything he has into the attack.
Hearing the unmistakable sound of his son's angered voice, George turns from his conversation and bolts down the street. When he reaches the boys, he grabs them and pulls them apart. A squirming boy held in either hand, he demands, “What is the meaning of this?”
Jimmy yells into his opponents face, “You no-good, spoiled rich brat! You got my gun!”
Bartholomew spits, “Your gun?? It’s mine! I bought it!”
Jimmy taunts, “YA! You Burkes get everything you want! Just ‘cause yer rich!”
George gives both boys a shake calculated to rattle their innermost being, “SILENCE!!”
Immediately, they both quiet down and become almost meek.
George orders, “Bartholomew, get out of here…take your shotgun and scoot!”
“Yes, Pa.” Bartholomew wastes no time in obeying.
After his son is hurdling out of town, George turns to the other boy, his voice grim, “Now, James Hooper, Bartholomew bought that weapon fair and square. You have no claim on it nor were you justified in starting a fight.”
Jimmy, trying to justify himself, retorts sulkily, “He only got it because you give him all the money he wants!”
George leans down and forces the boy to look him in the face saying, “No…he only got it because he earns all the money he gets. My boys are paid for the work they do. Not a dime more nor less. Now, git home to your pa and don’t let me hear anymore of this foolishness.”
He releases Jimmy roughly and watches him while he picks up his hat and sulks away.
As he returns to his horse and mounts, Andrew looked across to him, “Pa, I think our Hooper troubles just got worse.”
George scowls, “I know. Now both James Hooper Sr. and Jr. have a bone to pick with us. However, we will continue to be cordial to them—as much as we can—but not give in an inch! Watch your backs boys…”
Bartholomew is polishing up the shotgun, anger written across his face. George steps into the room. After a moment, he reaches out, “Son?”
Bartholomew says nothing but he does glance up.
George takes that as a positive and continues, “Son, I want to talk to you about today." He pauses as the boy's angry movements cease momentarily, then continues, "Look, I know you’re looking forward to paying Jimmy back for humiliating and insulting you.”
Bartholomew blurts, “Am I ever! He didn’t have no right to say what he did!”
George shook his head, “No, he didn’t. But that’s not the point. I do not want you ‘getting even’.”
Bartholomew explodes, “Pa!”
The response is firm. “No. I know there was injustice committed today, but I don’t want a Burke-Hooper feud.”
Sulkily, Bartholomew mutters, “I think we already got one.”
“But not of our making! If attacked, we will fight. If insulted, we will take it. If lied about, we will attempt to disprove the lies. But we will not start anything. If you, or any of your brothers start a brawl with a Hooper, I will belt you. Defense is the rule of our game here—we don’t want trouble.”
Bartholomew jumps to his feet to face his father, “What kind of manhood is that? Sitting back while we get beat up and slandered? Really, Pa, isn’t that a cowards way out!?”
Expecting something of the sort, George had thought soberly on the subject before addressing his son. “No. It takes more courage and strength to stand by and hold one’s temper than it does to pitch head-long into a free-for-all. Son, I know how you blood boils…you are my son. My hot Burke blood runs in your veins. Stand fast, Bartholomew. Do not give in to taunts—you don’t have to prove yourself. Anyone and everyone who knows you, knows that you are strong and afraid of nothing. It will be a testimony to your maturing into a good man if, rather than leap on the first fool who insults you, you let it roll off you with a laugh.”
Bartholomew, seeing the wisdom of his father words, grabs a handful of his hair and gives it a vicious tug.
He practically groans, “Oh, all right, Pa. I’ll try.”
George smiles, “Good.”
After a minute, Bartholomew looks back up and says in an unsually quite manner, “Pa?”
Somewhat surprised by this sudden change, George Burke turned to face his son full on, “Yes, Bart?”
Bartholomew seems embarressed, but suddenly he reaches down the Bible from the mantel, “I do want to be a good man. It’s just so hard to surrender my pride.”
George puts his arm around his son’s shoulders and pulls the boy’s head to him gently, understanding the unspoken implications of his son's unexpected humble honesty.
“I know…” The father's voice is tender, "I know..."
*Note: I know prices were much different back in the 1890's, so I really don't know what a reasonable price would be for a high-quality engraved double-barrel shotgun. I couldn't find anything useful with a quick sweep of the internet.