Lucy slips out of bed and peers out the window next to her sister. She shakes her head, "Caleb forgot to comb his hair again!"
Carrie laughs gaily and swings her younger sister around, "He does that just to bother you!"
Startled, Lucy gasps, "He does?"
Carrie giggles, "I'm just teasing, Lu..."
Her eye falls on the calender hanging on their wall. The date is circled by a childish hand, and underneath it says: Carrie--18.
"Good-morning, Carrie!" Loretta greets her eldest cheerfully.
"Good-morning, Mama!" Carrie is also cheerful, but seems half expectant. Her mother notices this and smothers a smile as she turns back toward the briskly popping bacon.
Benjamin emerges from the boy's bedroom, running his fingers through his brown thatch. Lucy frowns a little noticing that here is yet another brother who hasn't combed his hair. Benjamin winks at her and her frown disappears. It is replaced by as ornery a grin as the little lass can muster.
Caleb slides through the door, nearly spilling milk all over the floor, followed by his father, also carrying buckets of milk.
"Hap---Chhooo!" Caleb started to sing something out only to sneeze loudly at a sharp look from his brother.
Carrie looks around the room, seeming rather perplexed by her family's attitude.
Carrie is out hanging the wash. The chickens scratch around in the barnyard happily ignoring the young lady who addresses them, hands on hip, hair falling into her eyes.
"What is wrong with them all? Have they forgotten that is it my birthday? They are acting so...strange."
"Buuuck....uukk." The chicken eyes a closepin on the ground suspiciously.
Suddenly Carrie laughs, "You're right! What am I fretting about? Like as not they're hoping I forgot my own birthday so they can surprise me with a nice fried chicken supper! You are the one who ought to be worried, ol' thing!"
"Uurrrk!" It appears the chicken thought this was an alarming turn of event, for she takes a quick peck at the clothespin, than dashes off cackling urgently.
Caleb sits next to Phineas on the corral fence, intently watching something.
Phineas leans over, "And you're sure she hasn't the slighest idea?"
Caleb grins, "Yup...it's Ben and me's job to keep her out of the barn. Papa's gettin' it all spruced up for the dancin'."
"Ahem," someone clears his throat behind the boys, who spin around. Bartholomew asks as mischeviously as Phineas might, "So's what ya doin' sittin' on our corral fence?"
Caleb pulls at his hair, in such a way that would have caused Lucy some distress, "Shucks...me and Phinny's just makin' sure Andy's done his job right."
"Bah!" Bartholomew snorts, "As if he could mess that job up!"
Andrew sits astride a dainty black pony in front of his brother's house. Sophia leans on the fence next to her husband.
"Well?" Andrew demands, "You think she's like it?"
Aaron solomnly pushes off the fence and walks around the horse, looking up and down. Finally, he says seriously, but with a wicked twinkle in his eye, "Sure makes a purdy picture..."
Andrew glares at his brother, while Sophia laughs at her man. She quickly tacks on gaily, "I think she'll like it just fine, Andrew!"
Relieved a bit, Andrew gives his sister-in-law a slight bow, "Thank-you." Then he reverts to glaring at his brother who is still standing there, hands in pockets, with an infuritatingly smug grin plastered across his face.
Loretta deftly guides her daughter into her bedroom and pulls down the shades, "Carrie, I want to make those slight alterations to the dress I brought back from St. Louis."
Carrie's eyes sparkle, "The pretty blue dress?"
Loretta twinkles back, "Why, of course!"
Lucy and Benjamin get the younger children dressed in their Sunday best...Lucy insists on combing both of her brothers hair. Caleb makes some funny faces as Lucy tugs the tangles out, but other than that behaves himself. Dressed and combed, the children head outdoors.
Philip ties his tie with precision and goes to the door of his daughter's room; he taps on it, "Is she ready, L'etta?"
From within, his wife's voice sounds, "Yes, Philip...come on in!"
As he enters, she exclaims, "Doesn't she look lovely?"
Philip's eyes wander up and down his daughter's form, a quiet, tender smile on his face, "Yes...yes she does."
He pulls out a hankerchief and steps behind Carrie, "I have a surprise for you, Carrie; but you must put this on."
Carrie laughs, realizing that her birthday had not been forgotten and willingly lets her father put the hankie around her eyes. Her father leads her out of the house, down the steps and towards the barn. Upon reaching the door, he releases the hankerchief and pulls it away.
A chorus of "Happy Birthday, Carrie!!" echoes from the crowd of friends and family gathered around.
Carrie is speechless with delight. She turns and throws her arms around her papa's neck and gives him a resounding kiss on the cheek. As if that were the cue to begin the merrymaking, the fiddler scrapes his bow across his strings and people burst into happy chatter and laughter.
Carrie whirls up to her parents, standing happily by the refreshment table, having just finished a dance with one of the local young men. She looks around, as though looking for a particular someone, then turns to her mother and father, "Papa...where's Andrew? I haven't seen him all evening...but the rest of the Burkes are here."
Philip and Loretta look at one another, then around.
"Well..." Philip begins, "I don't know...he should be here. Have you asked Mr. Burke?"
Carrie pinks a little. "No...I didn't want to...you know," she put a slight inflection on the latter two words.
Philip nods, remembering the last time Carrie and Andrew had attended the same party, "I understand. I'll go ask him."
George shakes his head, "I haven't seen him since he went into town to see Aaron earlier this afternoon. Let's go ask him."
Aaron looks surprised, "No. I last saw him heading off toward home on that little pony. He was feeling kinda sore at me I think...I sorta kidded him, you know."
The fathers look at one another with concern.
George says, "Well, I reckon I ought to go look for him."
Philip nods, "I'd go with you, but I can't leave Carrie's party."
George retorts as the two men walk towards the wide flung doors, "Nor should you."
As they reach the doorway and step into the gathering gloom, a measured tread is heard down the driveway. They pause, to see who it is, and suddenly, George's face relaxes. As his son rides up, George steps forward, laying a hand on the bridle.
"There you are, you young scalawag! Where've you been keeping yourself?"
Suddenly, he becomes momentarily rigid, then leaps forward and hauls the boy down.
"Andrew, what in tarnation..." his worry causes him to speak sharpely.
Andrew's shirt is practically ripped from his back and large claw marks wrap around from his left shoulder down across his back, all the way to his waist. As his father lowers him from the saddle, his revolver drops from his right hand.
Philip turns and hurries back into the barn, "Doc! Come on, man...you're needed!"
Andrew is laid out on his stomach on the couch in the James' parlor. He grins up at his father.
"The important thing is that Carrie's pony didn't get hurt," he is saying. He winces as the doctor cleans his cat-stratches.
"You young fool..." George shakes his head, but smiles despite himself.
Outside the door, a voice is heard. "Please, let me see him!"
Seemingly without waiting for either permission or refusual from Aaron, who was standing without the parlor door, Carrie pushes the door open and hurries over to where Andrew is sprawled with his teeth clenched, but eyes alert. He smiles as she drops to her knees next to his head.
"Andrew! You poor thing!"
He laughs, "Well, did you like it?"
Seeing that he is determined not to let her baby him, as much as she might want to, she sighs, then smiles cheerfully.
"Oh, yes, Andrew! I've never seen such a beautiful animal! She's just a sweet thing too!"
Andrew's grin widens, "Then those cat-claws were well worth it..."
Aaron sits drinking coffee with his wife.
"Mark my words," he remarks, "they might not know it yet, but those two are made for one another."
Sophia warms up her husband's coffee with an amused smile before shaking her head slightly.
"Aaron, I have to agree with you...but don't push him any. No one should put ideas into their heads about each other. You of all people ought to know that!"
Aaron laughs and pulls his wife down onto his lap, "I should?" he demands. He interrupts her happy little laugh with a resounding kiss.