Aaron answers, “Grab your gun and come along. Sheriff’s forming a posse. Old man Jones got shot last night.”
Philip's face registers surprise, "Old man Jones! Who'd want to kill him?"
Nobody had an answer for that, so Philip reenters the house to grab his gear.
Bartholomew stands at the window. Behind him the dishes are piled around the makeshift sink. He scowls. "I wish I could have gone!”
Rodger, now out of bed, but still limping from his wounds, and sporting a new scar on his forehead, is
leaning against the table. He pushes off and shuffles over to where is brother stands.
“Pa left you here to take care of the rest of us. You’ll be old enough to go soon. I promise.”
He puts a placating hand on his brother’s shoulder and smiles up at him encouragingly. Bartholomew laughs.
“Yeah. Well, make sure Phineas gets them cows milked, will ya? You know how he likes nothing better than to skip on the milking!”
Rodger just grins and moves very slowly off while chuckling. Julian gets up from the table and brings his plate to Bartholomew, asking as he did so, “Say, Bartie…how come I’m always the last one to finish eating?”
Bartholomew puts the plate in the dishwater and stands there, hands submerged, looking at the ceiling. At last he shakes his head with a shrug.
“Dunno. You dry?”
Julian, ever eager to help, nods, “Sure!”
Benjamin is out in a field of nearly shoulder high corn with a hoe. He stops work briefly to wipe the sweat off his face. Over the past few months, that face had mutured some. There was certainly a firmness around the mouth that hadn't been there before.
Benjamin looks off into the distance, musing, “Hmmm. I wonder who that is?”
He continues to watch the lone rider for a bit. Soon the man disappears over a dip and Benjamin appears to forget the stranger.
Caleb and Lucy are bent over some books while Beatrice sings tunelessly to her doll. Loretta is stitching by the table, pausing to look over her children’s shoulders now and again. Carrie comes in with a bucket, laughing.
“Benjamin sure was thirsty! He drank three dippers full then dumped the rest over his head!”
Loretta puts down her sewing to laugh gaily, then shakes her head smiling tenderly.
“Benjamin sure has grown up these last few months. A year ago, he would have been complaining about working out in the field all by himself.”
Caleb grumbles in a loud 'under the breath' comment, “I’d rather be out there then sitting in here doing
His mother looks at him half sternly, half laughingly, "Well Caleb, arithmetic is a very good thing for a farmer to know. How else would you know how much seed to get for so many acres, how much fencing
material you might need for a stretch of so-many yards, and how much money you might potentially make or spend per acre?”
Caleb taps his pencil on his nose in a pretense of thinking seriously, before answering cheekily, “Get someone else to do my figuring?”
That response was quickly followed up by a laugh as he ducked a playful swat from his mother.
"Why, you little stinker!” was all she could manage to say.
Back in the field, Benjamin’s clothes are still wet. He is taking a breather, letting the wind play with his hair. He has a fine dirt smudge on his cheek and one on his chin. Slaping his hat back on his head, he starts to lean over his work again. Suddenly, he is grabbed from behind. He starts to struggle but stops just as quickly when a gun is placed to his head.
The stranger remarks, “That’s right, sonny. Now, we’re just gonna go up to the house nice and easy like. I reckon your pa’s out with the posse, eh?”
Benjamin gasps, “Let me go!”
The man pushes him rather roughly, “Not so fast, boy…your pa home?”
Stumbling to keep his feet, Benjamin gagged, “No." After another gasp, "What you going to do to me?”
A mirthless laugh answers his question. “Who else lives here?” the man demands.
Figuring he might as well be truthful, Benjamin chokes, “My mother and sisters…and brother.”
“Your ma a good cook?”
Stunned by this change, Benjamin doesn't answer until the question is reiterated. Then he responds sulkily, “I think so.”
His captor grins, “Good. Good. I think I will just have dinner then.”
Carrie is looking out the window. Suddenly, she lets out a gasp, covering her face with one hand and pointing with the other. Loretta follows her daughters finger. Paling she gasps, “Oh…” After a moment to collect herself, she says, “Carrie, get the rifles. Caleb, get your sisters into the bedroom!”
Carrie returns with the two rifles. Loaded and ready, mother and daughter open the door to the fugitive. Somewhat surprised by this greeting, he pulls Benjamin closer to him and digs the barrel into the boy's head. Benjamin winces and tries to move, but is unsuccessful.
Loretta demands, “Let him go!”
Without turning a hair, the man states matter of factly, “You put them guns down lady and give me some vittles and your boy won’t get hurt.”
Loretta James and her daughter look at each other. Neither one of them has an open shot, as the man is keeping his head quite close to Benjamin’s. The man takes advantage of their hesitation. He shoves Benjamin violently into his mother and grabs Carrie’s gun, wrenching it out of her hands. Before anyone could react, he pinned her around the neck like he had held Benjamin. Caleb, hearing the noise, comes running out of the bedroom, but gets knocked flat by the thief.
After knocking the air out of Caleb, he turns to Benjamin, “Boy, unload them rifles and put ‘em in front of the door.”
Benjmain hesitates momentarily, but quickly obeys after the man yells, “NOW!” while pushing his revolver into Carrie’s head. Loretta is bent over Caleb who is bleeding from the kick he received.
Their captor turns back to Benjamin after looking jeeringly at Mrs. James and her youngest son,"You said, ‘sisters’…where are the others?”
Weeping from the bedroom answers his question.
The man snarls, “Get them in here…and no funny business boy or…” His voice trails off, but he glances meaningfully at Carrie who is wide-eyed and helpless.
Benjamin turns obediently, but with humiliation and anger in his eyes, and brings his little sisters into the room. Lucy starts to scream hysterically when she sees the blood running from Caleb's chin. Benjmain tries to quiet her as he figured her screaming wouldn't help matters any.
Satisfied that he had the whole of the James family in the room, the fugitive demands, “Git me some vittles, lady. I'm hungry.”
Loretta glares at him, then gets up and starts dishing up some stew. As soon as it is on the table, he releases Carrie roughly, picks up the rifles and advances slowly. Laying both rifles on the table, he shifts his six-gun to the other hand and starts eating. He warily watches the James family as they, in turn, warily watch him as he eats.
Phineas creeps around the barn, a mischievous looks on his face. Suddenly, a hand falls on his shoulder. He jumps and looks up in to Rodger’s face.
“Where do you think you’re going?” Rodger inquires with an amused look.
Phineas flashes one of his contagious grins at his brother, “Aww…to see Caleb. We were going to help Benjamin clear some rocks this afternoon.”
Rodger replies almost skeptically, “First I heard of it.”
Phineas retorts, “Well, it’s true! I guess I forgot to mention it at supper last night.”
Rodger still looks kind of skeptical, but he says, “All right, after dinner then, Phinny. We need to clean
out that grain bin before then, remember?”
Later that afternoon, Phineas rides into the James' yard. Looking around, he notices that it is awfully quiet.
“Hmm, must be lazin’ off their dinner…” was his comment.
Grinning, he hops off his horse, and dashes up the steps to knock on the door.
Inside the fugitive is still sitting at the table. He gets up with the rifles and steps to the window. Seeing it is a little boy, he turns to the family, “Let him in. And no trying to warn him.” He points his gun at Beatrice's little curly head.
Furious, but helpless, Benjamin opens the door and Phineas bounds in only to try to streak out again. The man swiftly trips him up. As the boy attempts to regain his feet, he is grabbed by the seat of his pants and hauled in.
The man snorts, “There now…no one is going to get away from me.”
Phineas rolls over and wide-eyed declares, “You’re the man who killed Mr. Jones!”
The murderer laughs cynically, “Smart, ain’t ya?”
Infuriated, Phineas glares at him.
Out in the hills, the posse reins in. They are dusty and thirsty.
Sheriff Asa Bowen remarks uncomfortably, “We seem to have lost him.”
Aaron, equally perplexed, mutters, “I wonder where we went wrong…”
The men sit thinking…many take of their hats, wipe their faces, resituate themselves in their saddles, and drink from their canteens. Suddenly, Sheriff Bowen and Aaron look at each other with an idea growing in their faces.
Aaron was the first to vocalize, “Do you suppose…”
Asa finished his thought, “The rocks! Why didn’t I think of that earlier!”
Quickly, the men catch the idea. The Sheriff turns to them, "Alright—we’ve wasted good time, but we’ll go back to the rocks and split up. If you find the trail, fire once.”
The men respond in their own ways, some nod, other say, "gotcha", still others respond "yes, sir". They turn and quickly retrace their steps.
Bartholomew is cinching down a saddle. He turns and speaks to the slight fellow standing behind him, “The ride will do you good Rodger, you need to get them muscles all back to normal.”
Rodger grins at his brothers comment, “Yeah, I know I’ve been kind of lazy lately. More’n my arms and leg though, it’s the ribs that slow me down the most.”
As the older boy helps his brother onto the horse, Rodger gasps a little and winces.
Concerned, Bartholomew inquires, “Okay?”
Rodger nods, “Yep…but I think I’ll just go real slow.”
Bartholomew laughs, “Right, so long as you get that little rascal home before dark.”
Watching his brother ride off, Bartholomew's normally unemotional face is tender and he blinks swiftly, before turning toward the house.
Rodger rides into the yard and heads for the barn. His face gets rather serious and he sits very alertly in his saddle. He doesn’t dismount, but rides around a bit.
Inside the house, the fugitive holds his gun at the ready, watching Rodger and those in the house. He orders, “Don’t none of you make any noise—ya hear?”
Phineas clamps his mouth shut. Carrie holds Lucy tightly in order to make her feel more secure and not start screaming, rightly guesing that it would be determental for Rodger if she did.
Meanwhile, Rodger has satisfied himself that something isn't right. Perhaps louder than necessary, he remarks, “Well, I guess no one is at home…”
He rides out again. As soon as he is around the bend, he digs his spurs into his horse and ignoring the pain it causes him gallops all the way home.
Bartholomew, standing at the stove looking rather obviously uncomfortable, hears the hooves. Julian is peeling potatoes at the table. Bartholomew puts down the lid back on the pot on the stove and goes to the door. As he does so, Rodger reins in, panting and discomfited.
Bounding down the steps, Bartholomew demands, “Where’s Phin? What’s the matter?”
Rodger gasps, “Somethin’ ain’t right, Bart…I know it ain’t. It looks like the James’ ain’t home, but the barn’s open and there’s wash hanging out. It didn't set right with me, so I figured I’d come on back and talk to you.”
Bartholomew pauses, then reacts, “Right. I’ll go back with you." He dashes into the house and while snatching his and Rodger's rifles from the rack, he orders, "Julian, I’m going with Rodger…don’t you let no-body in this house. Ya hear?”
Surpirsed, Julian responds, “Yes, Bartholomew.”
The two boys ride along the hills to the James place rather than going by the road. They dismount at the edge of a pasture and tie their horses up. Single file, and bent double, somewhat painfully for the younger boy, they creep through the corn.
Suddenly, Rodger whispers loudly, “Look here!”
Bartholomew looks over to where Rodger is pointing—Benjamin’s hoe is laying there unattended...along with his hat. The boys look at each other. Their faces are serious.
Continuing on, the boys creep up by the barn and slip inside. Bartholomew turns toward his brother,
“Rodger, stand by the door. I’m going to crawl up into the loft and see if I can get a glimpse into the house.”
Rodger nods and watches Bartholomew climb into the loft.
Bartholomew peers out the window in the hay mow. From this angle he can see into the house. The first thing he notices is Mrs. James holding Beatrice closely with a worried look on her face. Suddenly, for a brief second, a man's hand holding a revolver flashes by the window. Bartholomew inhales sharply, his face tense. He crawls over to the edge of the loft and looks down, “Rodger! Get up here.”
Slowly and stiffly, Rodger climbs up and obeys Bartholomews sharp, “Look.”
Bartholomew plots out loud, “From here you can cover the front door without being noticed—unless someone is really looking. I’m going to see if I can find the posse. They ought to be headed back soon. Especially as the man they’re huntin’ is right here!”
Rodger whispered back, “How’d you know it’s him?”
Bartholomew shrugged, “It's just a guess. But who else would it be?”
Since both boys had single shot rifles, Bartholomew left his with his brother, "Just in case."
Back to the rear of the James' property, Bartholomew unties his horse. Mounting, he streaks across the hills to the road. From the road he takes his horse up ridges, where he stops and peers around. Finally, after what seemed like hours to the boy, he spots the posse, moving slowly in his direction. Relieved, he gallops down on them whooping, “Hi-yi!”
The posse hear him and point their horses toward him. A couple men go for their guns, but are halted by George's shout, “Wait! That’s my boy!”
Squinting some, Andrew agrees, “Sure enough.”
Sheriff Bowen starts to speak, “What..."
Aaron spurs out to meet his brother. Opening his mouth, he gets interrupted, “Come on! Hurry! The guy is holed up at the James’! He’s got them all hostage—and Phineas, too!”
Philip demands, “WHAT?”
Then, not waiting to hear more, he kicks his horse into a run. The rest of the men follow suit. At last, Bartholomew is riding with a posse. He grins.
Rodger is still on alert. Suddenly, the door starts to open and Rodger eases forward, his face tense, his rifle steady. The fugitive pokes his head out briefly. Rodger sights in, then relaxes, muttering to himself, “No good. It isn’t a safe shot.”
Carrie was directly in the line of fire.
A little while later, inside the house, the man demands, “Got a horse?”
Benjamin admits sullenly, “An old nag used for plowing. She won’t do you much good though. She don’t move faster than a plodding walk—ever.”
The man orders, “Go git it. I’ll cover you…don’t you dare try anything.”
To back up his threat, he snatches Beatrice from Loretta, who screams and gets smacked across the face. Benjamin starts to lunge forward, his teeth bared, but is halted by his mother's voice, “STOP! Benjamin, go get the horse.”
Benjamin stops short, glares at the thief, then spins on his heel and walks out. He stops on the steps—he hears something.
When the door opened, Rodger had tensed up again, but almost immediately lowered his rifle.
Benjamin walks across the barnyard slowly. Inside the barn he starts loosing the horse in her stall. He nearly jumped out of his skin when from above he heard, “Psst!”
He stares up, tense and ready to jump. When he sees who it is, he relaxes, “Rodger! What are you doing?”
Rodger didn't offer much of an explaination, just, “Bartholomew went for the posse.”
Thoughtfully, Benjamin muses, “Hmm, how’d we keep him here until they get here? But then again, I’m afraid he’d kill us all before they got him…”
Rodger offers, “My horse is out by the back field. One of us could follow him and leave a trail.”
Benjamin interjects, “At the risk of getting shot! Well, go get your horse; but be careful, because I have no idea what direction he’s going to go…if he is going to leave.”
Rodger suddenly sist up and crawls to the window, “Do you hear that?”
Benjamin cocks his head, “Horses!”
Staring out the window, Rodger affirmed what was pounding through both their minds, “The posse!”
Benjamin grabs the old horse's head and gives her a pull. Slowly, she starts moving. Rodger begins to decend from the hay loft.
Back outside, the fugitive stands on the front porch. As Benjamin comes up, he demands, “What took you so long?”
Trying to hide his expectation, Benjamin sullenly responds, “Like I said, she’s lazy.”
The man leaps on the horse and starts riding off, still holding Beatrice.
Benjamin demands, “HEY! Where are you taking my sister?!”
The response he got infuriated him, “She insures you won’t shoot me. I’ll dump her off in a couple miles.”
Benjamin dove for the man's gun as he retorted angrily, “Over my dead body!”
The revolver fires into the ground.
Rodger, on his way out through the back door of the barn, turns and hurries back as fast as his sore chest allowed him.
Meanwhile, Benjamin is grappling with the man, who has dropped Beatrice to fight with off the boy. Loretta runs out and grabs her daughter. Carrie is loading the rifles. The horse, unused to such activity, forgot that she never moved at anything that a slow plod, and suddenly broke into a run. Benjamin hangs onto the man’s arm and gets drug around as the horse heads back for the barn.
The posse thunders into the yard as Benjamin finally drops off, unable to hang on any longer. The man turns and aims his revolver at Benjamin, but multiple guns roar out at once. As he drops off the horse, dead, several people lower their firearms. Among them are Carrie, Rodger, Philip, and the Sheriff.
Benjamin, sore from being drug around in circles and being stepped on by the old nag, begins to crawl away. Moments later he is engulfed in his papa’s strong arms.
The Burkes sit around a late supper. Rodger leans back in his chair and stretches slightly. His face wrinkles up into a pained wince. Exhaling loudly, he exploded good-naturedly, “Jimminy, I’m sure sore!”
Phineas grins mischeviously, “Yup…me too!”
He gingerly rubs his bruised forehead with a comically wry expression. Relief and contentment was making everyone slighly giddy and so Phineas' expression, both verbal and facial, caused an explosive round of laughter that closes out the scene around the Bruke's supper table.