As the group breaks up, Benson grabs Bowen by the elbow, “ Sheriff, I understand you found nothing?”
Bown shakes his head, “I’m sorry, Benson. They headed straight for the rock plateau. Hoof-marks radiate to and from it in all directions. It is impossible to say which were the newest ones.”
Bartholomew Burke overhears the remark and turns toward him. He opens his mouth, but is interrupted by Henry Ross, the telegraph operator, who comes hurrying out of his office.
“Sheriff! We just got a wire from that Mrs. Haek…she says she is coming to pick up the body. Ought to be here on the two o’clock stage.”
Bartholomew cocks his head to one side and rubs his chin. Suddenly, the corners of his mouth twitch and he glances at the sky with a peculiar look. Apparently having made up his mind about something, he moves off quickly. His actions go unnoticed, even by this father, who generally picked up his son's movements before anyone else.
The stage rolls in. Bowen grabs the door and opens it. The stage contains four passengers, two men, a woman, and a boy.
Respectfully Bowen removes his hat, inquiring, “Mrs. Haek?”
The lady addressed is arrayed in an ostentatious black gown, with a costly and fashionable bonnet perched on her head. She inclines her head gravely—almost regally.
“I am Mrs. Haek. Are you the Sheriff?”
"Yes'm." Bowen holds out a hand, “May I?”
She assents by placing her hand in his.
Bowen continues, “I’m terribly sorry about all this ma’am…”
She seems to ignore him and turns toward the boy as he starts to tumble out after her, grabbing him by the elbow.
“Roland, do be careful!”
Bartholomew, astride his horse and accompanied by Benjamin James, snorts.
“Ya’d think a boy that big could get out of a stage-coach by hisself!”
Benjamin cocks his head slighly and raises an eyebrow, “You reckon he’ll want to come along?”
Bartholomew retorts, “Wouldn’t you if your pa’d just been killed?”
“Of course!” Benjamin exclaims.
The two boys, their horses laden with more than the usual amout of gear, watch in something between fasination and disgust as Mrs. Haek flutters over her son.
Bartholomew mutters, “His ma may be more trouble’n he is.”
The boy addressed as Roland assures his fussy parent, “I’m fine, Mother. Really, I am.”
Bowen cannot help but looks amused as the boy in knickers and a tight-fitted jacket dusts himself off with a handkerchief. He wears a cap in place of a hat.
Straighting his face, Bowen announces, “The hotel is this way, ma’am. Let me get your bags.”
“Thank-you, sir.” Her dignity is almost laughable.
"Come along, Roland."
She speaks steadily as they go down the street, “Sheriff…”
“Sheriff Bowen, how soon can I take my husband’s body home?”
The sheriff responds, “As soon as you like; though I would recommend waiting til the morning.”
He added the last with a smile.
Roland stands in front of the hotel. His face shows interest, disgust, and even a little longing. He starts and looks up when Bartholomew and Benjamin ride up, leading a third horse.
“Howdy.” Bartholomew's face is completely blank of any mischeviousness--as of yet.
“Good-afternoon.” Roland looks both interested and suspicious.
“I’m Bartholomew Burke and this here is my friend Benjamin James.”
“’Lo.” Benjamin grins.
The boy nods curteously, “Hello. My name is Roland Haek. My mother and I have come to take my father’s body home. He was killed in an attack on a stagecoach.”
Benjamin nods, “We know. My papa was on the same stage; he got shot in the arm.”
“And that’s why we are here." Bartholomew leans over in a confidential manner, "We’re headin’ out to Rocky Plateau to see if we can pick up the bandits trail and we were wonderin’ if you’d like to join us?”
Roland looks horrified at the idea.
“Won’t it be dangerous?” he demands.
Bartholmoew laughs, “Maybe a little, but danger is part of life.”
Benjmain adds, “Particularly if you associate with Bart.”
Roland stammers, “I don’t think I should…Mother would be worried to death…if anything should happen…”
Bartholomew snorts, “If anything happens, we’re armed and both me and Ben are good shots. You shoot?”
“I do not like guns.” Rolands tone is cold.
“What??” Bartholomew cannot believe his ears.
“They pain my head…” Roland offers as an explanation.
Barthlomew opens his mouth, to say what we will never know for sure, but Benjamin grabs his arm and interjects.
“So, you comin’ or not? We have to get a move on one way or the other if we want to get there before dark.”
Roland seems to be fighting within himself, as though the inner boy in him was trying to surface and the coddled, spoiled child in him was trying to tamp down any sense of adventure.
Bartholomew spits in disgust, “Come on, Benjamin. If he’s such a ninny that he can’t put himself in even the slightest amount of danger in an effort to bring his pa’s murderer’s to justice, I don’t want to be seen with him!”
Bartholomew kicks his horse and starts to ride off. Benjamin looks down at Roland, something more like pity on his face.
The boy's face was red, “Ninny! How dare he call me a ninny!!”
Calmly, Benjamin observes, “Well, is it true? He never called me a ninny to my face, but I know he thought me one when we first met…”
He too turns and starts to ride off. Suddenly, Roland slams his cap on his head and starts after them.
“Wait a minute! I’m coming with you!”
Aaron and Bowen are looking at wanted posters and discussing the attack on the stagecoach.
Aaron asks, “You reckon there’d be a way to get somebody undercover into Hadley’s gang?”
Bowen looks up surprised, “Hadley’s gang? I don’t know…but don’t you recommend yourself for that job, young man—you’re a Burke and you look like one. You’d be shot; no questions asked.”
Aaron shook his head, “I knew none of us Burkes could do it…but somebody else maybe. Particularly someone who hasn’t been around here very long.”
Bowen thoughtfully strokes his chin.
Suddenly, Mrs. Haek bursts unannouced into the room. She is hysterical.
“Where is he? Where is my darling?”
Asa leaps to his feet and grabs the wailing woman by the arms, “Where is who, Mrs. Haek? I don’t understand.”
Mrs. Haek sobs, “My boy…Roland! Oh! He’s been kidnapped! Murdered! Roland! Roland!”
Bowne looks at Aaron who is just as amazed as he is.
"Please, Mrs. Haek…calm yourself. Tell me everything you know…”
Mrs. Haek collapses into the chair Aaron pulls forward. Collecting herself, she wipes her eyes with her hankie.
She moans, “Roland is such a good child…he wouldn’t go anywhere without telling me first…”
The three boys are setting up camp at the center of the plateau. Bartholomew is humming as he starts a small fire. Benjamin give the horses some water. Roland stands to one side, looking like he wished he hadn’t come afterall.
Bartholomew suggests, “Roland, why don’t you start spreading out the bed-rolls?”
Shocked, Roland asks, “Me? Spread bed-rolls?”
Bartholomew glances up, disgust in his face, “Rather do the cookin’?”
Loftily, Roland retorts, “At home, we have a servant to make the beds and do the cooking.”
Bartholomew stands up and stares across the fire at the other boy. His voice gets hard.
“Well, you’re not at home. You are out here on a barren rock. You will pitch in and do your share of the work. Besides, laying bed-rolls is something a three-year-old girl could do.”
Stung by the closing remark, Roland snatches up a bed-roll from the pile and starts stretching it out. Bartholomew smirks somewhat laughingly as he turns back to his fire.
Benjamin tethers the horses. He comes over and squats down next to the fire.
“Mama was a little worried about us camping out overnight with the Hadley’s recent activity, but Papa said he didn’t think they’d bother a couple of boys.”
Bartholomew chuckles, “I think Pa suspected what I was up to, but he didn’t ask. If he had I guess I would have told him the truth.”
Benjamin grins back, “No reason to do otherwise…besides, he’d find out eventually, I suppose.”
Roland almost wimpers, “I should have asked Mother if I could come…or at least left her a note. She’ll be worried to death.”
Bartholomew snorts, “From what I saw, she’d a put her foot down and you’d cowed in front of her.”
Roland retorts angrily, “I have been taught to respect women…and my mother in particular!”
Bartholomew nods, “Sure...but respect and giving in to every whim are two entirely different things.”
Desperate to counter what he felt were attacks, Roland remarks, “But I am really still a child…certainly she knows what is best for my welfare!”
Benjamin makes one of his thoughtful faces, “I don’t know…back in Indiana I knew a fellow who’s mother didn’t let him think for himself. When she died when he was 18, he almost starved to death because he had no knowledge of how to work and no inclination to be a man because she’d breed it out of him. He learned the hard way and it wasn’t pretty.”
Roland pushes, “Don’t tell me that you would argue the fact that at least I should have left a note?”
Benjamin shook his head, “In principle no. However, I think if you’d taken the time to write a note…”
“You’da chickened out!” Bartholomew finished his friend's sentence a bit more passionately than Benjamin might have done himself.
Roland springs to his feet, “How dare you call me a chicken!”
Bartholomew laughs heartily and turns to Benjamin who gives him a less amused smile in return.
"Looks like a little game-cock, don’t he?”
Suddenly, he lurches to his feet and grabs Roland by the front of his fancy jacket.
“Now, pipe down. Admit it, you’re scared…you’re soft and you’re weak. Why? Because you have a controlling mother. I can deal with weakness if it’s backed by a desire to be strong. You are capable of being strong, but you’re lazy and you’re spoiled and you like it that way. Fine…as soon as we’re done here you can go back to being lazy and spoiled, but while you are in my camp you will at least pretend to care about becoming a man. Got it?”
“Un-hand me!” The younger boy's voice is shrill.
“Got it?” Bartholomew shakes the other boy.
Suddenly, Roland swings and open handly slaps Bartholomew soundly across the face. Benjamin ducks his head, anticipating his friends retaliation. He looks up in wonder when he hears laughter.
Bartholomew has released Roland, who is more than confused, and is bent double with laughter.
“Oohh…Benjamin," he gasps after a moment, "I think he’s got a little fire under that tight jacket! Maybe all he needs is a little more pushing…”
“Maybe…" Benjamin concedes, "but not tonight. Let’s turn in now.”
“Right. Into bed with you, Rolan’.”
The three boys crawl into the bed-rolls, one very meekly, and the other two as if they were stretching out of a feather bed. The fire flickers lower…