Philip asks Sheriff Bowen who is seeing folks off, “If you don’t mind, Asa, could you swing by our place a few times while we’re gone? I don’t think that Carrie and Benjamin will have any problems, particularly with the Burkes next door, but it wouldn’t hurt…”
Bowen smiles, “Certainly. It would do me good to take a ride out that way now and again anyway. I usually let Aaron handle things out that way, but with him leaving, I might as well get myself re-associated with that part of the country.”
Surpirsed, Loretta asks, “Aaron is leaving?”
Amused, Bowen grins, “Temporarily…In fact, I believe that he’ll be traveling with you.”
From above the Stagecoach driver hollers, “All right folks, load up!”
Philip helps his wife and daughter in and climbs in himself. Directly afterwards, Aaron appears at the door of the manse with a bag in his hand, he glances around quickly and then pokes his head back in. A moment later, Sohpia steps out and takes his arm. Together they quickly walk to the coach. The James' faces clearly indicate their surprise at this turn of events. Aaron tosses his bag up and the shotgun rider ties it on. Aaron helps Sophia in and climbs in after her. Moments later, the coach rumbles off.
A minute later, Mrs. Hooper is seen coming out the back way of the manse and Mr. Burke comes out the front door with Reverand Davis.
Davis says earnestly, “I pray that Mrs. Hooper doesn’t get in too much trouble…”
George nods, “Me too. I would stay around, but I have to go to Blackburn. I have some unexpected business to attend to.”
The two men shake hands
“Take care, George.”
George starts to turn away, then turns back, “Oh, and if Bartholomew gets into any fights…talk to him for me will you? Remind him that a real man knows how to control his temper.”
The pastor laughs, “I doubt he’d like to hear that from me, but I will!”
The James children surround Andrew, who leans against the porch railing. They hang on his every word.
“No one was invited because the less people who knew about it, the less chance there was of Mr. Hooper finding out.”
Carrie inquired sympathetically, “And you didn’t go?”
Andrew shook his head, “No. None of us did…it would have caused too much clamor for the Burkes to show up in town—on Wednesday—in their Sunday best. As it was, Aaron went in last night and Pa rode in early this morning.”
Benjamin picks up his hat and starts down the steps, “Hey, Andrew, can I borrow Phineas for the day? I’d like it if ‘the twins’ helped me today in the field.”
Andrew laughed, “I’ll supply my half—as much as he insists he won’t be a farmer—and you supply yours…do them boys good to work a little harder than they do sometimes. Of course, I reckon when I was 10 years old, I goofed off my share of the time too.”
Carrie shook her head, “I can’t see you being lazy, Andrew.”
He screwed around and looked at her with laughing eyes, “Ah…but you didn’t know me at that age. I was something like Phinny…only not quite as loud.”
Benjamin grinned, “I have never been like Caleb—he isn’t scared of anything! I’ve always been rather timid.”
Andrew throws an affectionate arm over Benjamin’s shoulder and tells him seriously, “Timid is alright so long as you learn to overcome it.”
Benjamin grins, appreciating the older boy's encouragement. As they walk off together, Caleb trails them and attempts to swagger. Lucy giggles.
“Caleb looks so funny when he does that.”
Carrie agrees, “He sure does." After a pause, she adds, "I hope Mama and Papa have a delightful time
visiting Miss Suzy.”
Lucy leans against her sister, “Didn’t Mama go to school with Miss Suzy?”
“Yes…she says they were best of friends. What do you say we start on dinner?”
Lucy looks eager, “May I do something all by myself?”
Smiling, Carrie says, “We’ll see…”
Bartholomew and Rodger are out branding calves with Red, the foreman, Hank and Ike, a local boy hired on for the week. The hot, sweaty work swings along at a fairly good pace. Ike is roping the calves' heads and Hank the heels. Red is doing the actual branding after Bartholomew throws the animals. Rodger assists in holding the bawling critters down as Red applies the hot iron.
Standing up from a calf’s head and wiping sweat out of his eyes, Rodger cocks his head, “Bart, when did Andrew say he was coming out?”
“As soon as he made sure that Carrie wouldn’t be overwhelmed with two extra boys to tend to,” Bartholomew grins.
Red remarks, “Shaw! Why that Phineas would certainly have overwhelmed my ma! The dear lady wasn’t much of a hand holding wild fellers’ in.”
Hank coils his rope up neatly, “From what I’ve seen of the young lady, she won’t be buffaloed by that boy…after all, her kid brother’s is just like him.”
Rodger laughs, “No wonder Ben has gone to callin’ them ‘the twins’.”
Bartholomew's voice is dry, but the wink he tosses at the rest belies it, “Fits.”
In an undertone, Rodger asks, “Hey, Bartholomew, do you reckon that Andy likes Carrie?”
Busily stirring the fire, Bartholomew answers carelessly, “Of course he likes her, we all do, don’t we?”
Rodger mummered, “That’s not exactly what I meant…”
"Then what did you…oh!” He stands up straight and half-glares at his younger brother.
"Why you little stinker! What put that idea into your head?”
“Well…he gets this funny look when he’s around her.”
“What kind of funny look?” Bartholomew wants to know.
“You know….almost silly.”
Bartholomew glares and scratches his head, muttering, “When it rains it pours…first Aaron and now
Suddenly, Rodger's mischievous twinkle appears, “Next Bartholomew!”
Bartholomew takes a playful swing at brother, who darts away with a laugh. Red and Hank look at each other and shake their heads (Ike has gone off to run another calf up).
“Boys…” Red's tone is mostly affectionate.
Reverand Davis and Sheriff Bowen stand on the sidewalk talking. Suddenly, Mr. Hooper swoops down on them, demanding, “Where is Sophia?”
“Why should we know?” Davis' tone is almost edgy.
“Don’t play innocent with me, Reverend!" Hooper snaps, "You know. I know you do…my wife can’t lie to save her skin and when I mentioned Sophia, that blasted Burke, and you, her face gave it away.”
"Well, since you seem to have ‘it’ all worked out, why do you even bother to ask?” The parson knew he was taking a risk even talking to the irate man.
James Hooper clenches his fists and looks as if he is going to swing. Bowen grabs his shoulder.
“Hooper, lets go and sit down and discuss this in a civilized fashion.”
Grudingly, Hooper allows himself to be led into the sheriff's office.
Once inside he demands, “Alright, spit it out! Where’s my girl?”
Calmly Bowen returns, “At present, Mr. Hooper, Mr. and Mrs. Aaron Burke are whirling across the desert.”
Hooper chokes, “Mr. and Mrs….”
“That’s right, I married them this morning.” Davis is unflinching.
“You had no right…” the man's face contorts and becomes red with rage.
The pastor faces him squarely and says firmly, “Mr. Hooper, I did have the right. I was told by both the groom and the bride, as well as you wife, that Mr. John Vale would have been quite pleased for his daughter to marry Aaron Burke. As you are probably aware, Mrs. Hooper herself encouraged the match. The young folks were already engaged when you forbade him from seeing her.”
Hooper has leaped to his feet and paces angrily while Davis speaks. Bowen watches him carefully.
At the last sentence, Hooper swings around to face Davis, astonishment on his visage.
“Engaged? Why didn’t they say so? It wouldn’t have made me like that Burke fella any better, but I might have understood his insistence and even disrespect better. Fool kids! Blast it…what’s done’s done. Where’d they go?”
Bowen speaks, “I couldn’t say, but Aaron promised me a telegram when they got to where they were going.”
Hooper snorts, “Running from me, I suppose?”
The pastor nods, “Actually, yes. Aaron very distinctly said he didn’t want any trouble…”
Hooper yelps, “So they decided to skip town until I cooled off!”
“Basically. I understand you have an iron fist.” Davis watches those iron fists as he speaks.
Bowen broke in, “And the only reason you didn’t land in jail the last time you pounded Aaron was because he refused to press charges.”
Hooper looks startled, “Really? If I was him, I’d a pressed them as hard as I could.”
“I know.” The sheriff's voice was dry and hard.
After a few moments of furious pacing, the man stops square in front of Bowen. “Alright, Sheriff…when that fool boy telegraphs you, you can tell him I will leave him and Sophia alone.” Defeat admitted, James Hooper is still no less imposing.
Bowen nods, “Very well. But if you go back on any of that, I’m slapping you in jail.”
Carrie has just finished the dishes and she steps outside to dump the water. Benjamin is reading an adventure story to Caleb and Lucy. Caleb absent-mindly whittles, whatever he was making turning into shards at his feet. Lucy cradles her doll, leaned forward, eyes wide.
Carrie steps back inside and pauses with the door half-shut, “Do you hear that?”
Benjamin lowers his book and listens. After a moment he says, “Hooves.”
“Yes. I wonder who it is?” Carrie peers into the growing dusk.
Benjamin gets up and heads for the door.
Suddenly a voice is heard, "Great news, ya’ll!”
Andrew leaps off his horse and bounds up the steps.
“Aaron and Sophia are on their way home! Hooper was pretty docile about the whole thing according to Sheriff Bowen. Oh he was mad alright, but once he got it through his head that they were married, he gave in!”
Carrie claps her hands together, “Oh, that’s wonderful! I was afraid from what you’d said that Mr. Hooper was going to be so angry that they wouldn’t be able to come back!”
Andrew grabs Carrie’s hands and dances her around the room. He stops, laughing and somewhat embarressed.
“Sorry about that…I’m just thrilled that my brother is coming home! Aaron is my best friend, you know.”
“I do…” Carrie dimples up at her friends expression.
Benjamin butts into the conversation, “So, are they going to live at your house, or is Aaron going to build a little place for them off someplace else?”
“Actually, Benjamin, I think they will live in town. Aaron bought the little shack out on the edge of town. He’s still a partner in the Ranch so he’ll be out here a lot, but then again he is also Deputy Sheriff and it doesn’t hurt to have your deputy in town.”
“True. I reckon that will be best for them.” Benjamin's practical side had a way of calming people down.
The stage rolls into town. The Burkes and James’, along with Mrs. Hooper, gather as the door is flung open and Aaron leaps out, turns around and proudly hands his pretty little wife out. In moments, they are mobbed with hugs, kisses and laughter. Suddenly, it gets very quiet and tense. Mr. Hooper advances. Aaron puts an arm around Sophia both protectively and possessively. Slowly and very deliberately James Hooper extends his hand. After looking him up and down momentarily, Aaron takes the proffered hand. The grip is strong, almost threatening.
“Boy, you better take good care of that girl. ‘Else I’ll tan your hide for you.”
Just as solomnly Aaron answers, “I will take very good care of her, sir. You can count on that.”
The older man turns toward his step-daughter, “Sophia…”
Suddenly, the girl reaches out and kisses him roundly on the cheek.
Taken by surprise, Hooper smiles, pleased, “Well…”
As the man's voice fades out, Aaron laughs and the party begins anew.