three other men, a Mr. James Haek, a Mr. Robert Dole, and a Mr. Tom Schmitt. Mr. Dole has taken a real liking to little Beatrice. He smiles at her across the coach and she smiles back, not at all shyly. Suddenly, as though he had just had a great idea, he pulls his handkerchief out and busies himself folding and tying it. When he’s done, he holds it up and toward Beatrice, grinning like a mischevious lad.
“What’d you think, little lady?”
The little girl grabs her mother's sleeve, “Oh, look! A dolly! Look, mama! He made a dolly!”
Amused, Loretta replies, “Why so he did!”
She looks over at the youngish man with a smile. He grins back, then leans forward a tad towards Beatrice.
“Would you like to play with her, Miss James?”
Beatrice giggles and holds out her hands eagerly. Robert Dole laughs and leans over placing the doll in her fists. Beatrice starts to coo over the doll and stroke its knot face tenderly.
Philip, not unpleased with the kindness of the stranger asks, “You have children of your own?”
The man laughs, “No. I'm not married…but my sister has eight—seven of them girls…”
He doesn’t finish the sentence, but there is no need to.
Mr. Haek inserts himself into the conversation rather bitterly, “My wife was so disappointed when our son was born that she’s made a sissy out of him. She wanted a daughter. I got neither. A fourteen-year-old boy who’s afraid of his shadow and only likes genteel activity is not a son.”
Philip looks surprised, “Surely there is something you could teach him?”
Mr. Haek retorts, “I’ve tried! Anytime I attempt to get him to do something boyish or manly, Mama comes at a run—‘he might get hurt!’ or ‘he might spoil his suit!’…What kind of life is that for a boy?”
Loretta shakes her head, “Having two sons, one of whom is constantly getting himself into scrapes, I rather understand that feeling. But I also want my sons to be strong men and I know that manliness does not come from coddling.”
Philip agrees, “Children—boys and girls—have to learn responsibility.”
James Haek nods, “And coddling them is a de facto denial of responsibility! But, I can’t fight my wife…she wails anytime I try to talk to her on the subject.”
Loretta's face expresses shock, but wisely she bites her lip and turns her attention to Beatrice.
Mr. Schmitt, up until this point silent—apparently asleep, his glasses sliding down his nose—opens his eyes, adjusts his glasses, and looks directly out the window. He sits up straighter and exclaims with a noticable German accent.
Immediately afterward the man's exclaimation, a shot is fired. Loretta grabs Beatrice and covers her. Philip pulls his pistol out of his coat—as does Mr. Haek. Robert Dole’s is strapped to his side. Schmitt looks wildly around.
“I have no gun!”
The other three men exclaim together, “What!?”
On the seat of the coach, the driver is whipping his horses, encouraging them to go as fast as they can. The bandits, having cut across country, cut him off. Benson, the shotgun rider, is busy firing. The outlaws surround the coach easily keeping up with the heavy stage. One of the riders reaches the lead horse. He executes a well calculated grab and hauls the horses to a stop. With the movement slowed down, the driver gets fatally shot and Benson takes a bullet deep in the shoulder, rendering him useless. The ten bandits, led by none other than Benson Hadley, fire into the coach. Philip gets hit in the arm.
Loretta cries, “Philip!”
He grunts through his gritted teeth, “Just the arm, honey…I’ll be okay!”
Dole takes a round along the side of his neck, Schmitt cowers in fear, and Haek collapses to the floor--dead.
Outside the stage, Benson Hadley is working his horse around, bellowing, “Alright folks! Step out of that coach and keep your hands where I can see them!”
Robert Dole throws his gun on the floor and lurches out the door, falling flat on his face. Schmitt stumbles out next, followed by Philip and Loretta, Beatrice held fast in her arms.
Hadley orders, “Now…jist hand over your wallets and your watches.”
Schmitt quickly yanks out his wallet and a fine watch and hands it over. Philip is somewhat more reluctant and his face shows his displeasure. One of the bandits snatches Loretta’s purse. Beatrice screams in terror. Dole is searched where he lies and Mr. Haek's body relieved of all valuables--along with the driver and Mr. Benson.
Philip snarls, “You won’t get away with this!”
Hadley laughs, “Jist watch it, Mister…I don’t cotton to such talk.”
Loretta pleads, “Philip! Please!”
Hadley sneers, “That’s right, Mister…listen to the lady.”
Philip glares up angrily at the man, but places his hand comfortingly over Loretta’s. She is clinging to his
The bandits cut loose the horses and take them with them as the ride away. Before they left however, they set fire to the stage. Philip and Tom Schmitt help the wounded Benson down and pull down the driver’s body.
Loretta asks, “Philip, what are we going to do now?”
Philip looks around at the small group. “Well…three of us need a doctor, so I suggest we start walking toward town. Benson, can you walk?”
Benson nods, “I think so…but how are we going to manage him?”
He points toward Robert Dole, laying flat on his face, the blood pooling out around him where he is bleeding profusely from the deep flesh wound on his neck.
Kneeling down beside him, Loretta checks his pulse.
“He’s still alive. Mr. Dole…Mr. Dole, can you hear me?”
Slowly, he rolls over and whispers, “Mrs. James?”
Loretta looks up at her husband, “Philip!”
He leans down, “Dole, you reckon you can walk if we help you?”
Gamely, the gray faced young man breathed, “I can try.”
After knotting a hankerkeif aound Doles neck, Philip and Schmitt help him to his feet. Loretta stands behind him, in case he sagged backwards. Beatrice clings to the little hankie-doll, calm now, but still frightened.
Robert spots her and a smile creases his face, “Ah, I see you’ve taken very good care of your baby, little lady. A fine little mother you are.”
Beatrice smiles back and reaches for his hand. Touched by the little girl's trust, he takes it.
They set off slowly, Dole being helped along by timid Mr. Schmitt, Philip two steps ahead of everyone else. Loretta keeps a close eye on him. Mr. Benson holds his shotgun in the crook of his good arm. All their firearms had been emptied and inexplicably left behind by the robbers, except for Robert Dole's expensive looking rig. That Benson Hadley had removed from him and placed upon his own person.
Aaron is seated at the desk flipping through wanted posters and tapping his forehead with a pencil. Bowen steps through the door with a bucket in his hand.
“How’s it goin’, Aaron?” The older lawman enjoyed his younger counterparts good-natured willingness to handle the mails.
Aaron looks up, “Just finished, Asa. What you serving in there tonight?”
“I reckon it’s not as fine as Sophy’s.” Aaron was always bragging on his young wife's cooking.
Bowen laughs as he heads for the cells, “You’re just biased son…Mrs. Dryer makes the best beef stew in the territory.”
Aaron glances at the clock, then away, but almost immediately he looks again with a start. As Bowen returns, he climbs to his feet.
“Asa...the stage is an hour and half over due.”
Surprised, Bowen also looks at the clock, “So it is…I wonder if something happened.”
Aaron reaches for his hat, “I’ll ride out aways and take a look.”
As he steps out the door, he clamps the hat down firmly.
Half-way into the saddle, Aaron pauses and calls out, “Asa!”
Stepping out the door, Bowen asks, “Yes, son?”
“Drop in on Sophia and tell her where I’ve gone will you?”
“Sure, son. Now get goin’.” Bowen waves the young man off.
The marooned party from the stagecoach moves slowly onward. Robert Dole is staggering worse than before, lack of blood and weariness dragging him down. Benson and Philip have also drooped, the pain of their wounds setting in.
Loretta carryings Beatrice, who is dozing, and stumbling under the little girl's weight. Likewise, Tom Schmitt looks about ready to drop under Dole’s increasing weight.
Finally, Mr. Dole gasps, “I can’t go no farther…Got to rest.”
Wordlessly, the party agrees and soon everyone is seated on the ground in some fashion or another, except for Benson. His shotgun riding instincts forbidding complete carelessness. He stands watching and guarding the small group. Suddenly, he tenses in the dimming light.
Mr. James looks at him, “What is it?”
Benson responds firmly, “A horseman is coming this way.”
Philip’s hand creeps toward his gun, only to remember it was empty. Dole blinks and instinctively reaches
for his pistol, but encounters Bea's little hand. He takes it very gently and smiles at her. Schmitt doesn’t move at all.
The rider approaches at a fairly speedy lope. Suddenly, Loretta gets up and takes a step forward.
Philip peers closer, “So it is!”
He snatches off his hat and waves it, “Aaron! Hi-now!!”
Hearing the voice, Aaron kicks his horse. He rides up on them and leaps from his animal, taking in the situation with a quick eye.
“What happened?” He demands.
Benson replies, “Bandits. They killed Jimmy and one of the passengers, took everything of any value--except for some of the guns, and stole the horses.”
“How many?” was Aaron's next demand.
Schmitt moans, “About ten I think.”
“Sounds right.” Philip agrees.
Aaron stares in the direction the stage's passangers had come, “Well, I don’t think we can go after them tonight…but Sheriff Bowen will collect a posse first thing in the morning. First thing to do right now is to get you into town. I’ll ride back in and send someone with a wagon out.”
He turns to mount, the stops, “I could carry one person with me…”
Loretta and Philip look at one another.
“Take Beatrice in with you. She’s mighty hungry.” The father's trust was evident in his face.
Aaron smiles, “Bea, you want to come with me? Sophia’ll feed you supper.”
Beatrice looks at her parents and Dole who laughs softly despite his lightheadedness.
“Supper sounds mighty fine, little lady,” he whispers.
Loretta urges, “Beatrice, we want you to go with Aaron.”
Nodding, Beatrice complies, “Okay…”
She holds her hands out to Aaron who swings her on the horse. He jumps up behind her and wheels his horse around, “I’ll try to get a wagon out here as soon as possible!”
The stranded passengers watch as his horse thunders away. Then turn to getting themselves comfortable while waiting for the promised wagon.
The passengers huddle together in the dark. Philip's good arm is around his wife. Loretta is curled up next to him with her head on his shoulder. Benson continues to be alert, but now is seated. Robert Dole has been overcome with sleep for sometime and twitches slightly. Mr. Schmitt shivers and stares up at the stars.
Eventually, a rumble is heard. Slowly, they begin to stir and collect themselves.
As the wagon gets closer, the shape of a squarish man is seen on the driverseat, illuminated by the moonlight.
James Hooper bellows, “Howdy folks!"
Jumping out the the wagon he peers around him, then jerks his head commandingly, "Let’s get you feller's into the doctor.”
Within minutes, Mr. Hooper and Mr. Schmitt lift Dole and place him in the wagon. The James’ and
Benson climb in. Hooper scrambles into the driver’s seat and they rumble off.
Benjamin is at the back of the house chopping firewood. Gloomily, Caleb comes lugging up from the barn with a bucket of milk. Lucy is gathering eggs--rather timidly since the hens sometimes peck at her. Suddenly, Benjamin throws the axe to the ground and starts waving his hat in the air.
“They’re home! They’re home!”
He takes off at a dead run toward the drive. A wagon is rumbling up, driven by the children's mother. Papa is beside her, his arm in a sling. Beatrice sits in the back, snuggly tucked up next to young Robert Dole, who is propped up against the wall.
Carrie rushes out of the house and the other two children gather around her. Their excitment showing in their own particular ways--Carrie twisting her apron in her hands, Lucy near the verge of tears, hands clasped in front her her, and Caleb..well, he is dancing in circles, spilling milk all over the place!
When Benjmanin reaches the wagon, out of breath, he jumps on, delighted to see his parents.
Upon reaching the house, there are ecstatic greetings all around. Dole is helped out of the wagon and after a few moments of awkwardness, promptly makes friends with all the children. The wanderer's are nearly drug into the house by theThey all go in the house, rejoicing and celebrating.