Bartholomew stands leaned against the post on the porch, sagging a little. His face is somewhat pinched and if it was at all possible, one might say he was a touch pale.
George bounds up the steps and places his hand on his sons’ head, “You gonna be okay, Bartholomew?”
Bartholomew's mouth twists into a little smile, almost embarressed by the open affection of his father, “Yeah, Pa. I-I don’t like to admit it, but I’m glad I’m not going…I still feel wobbly.”
His father returns the smile with a large one of his own, "I’m glad that you feel that way…it makes it easier for all of us.”
Bartholomew grins sheepishly, “I guess I am kind of bear when I’m grumpy.”
Faithful Rodger come out of the house as the sky starts to lighten more quickly, “The boys are still asleep. I didn’t think I’d wake them.”
George nods, “That’s fine, Rodger.”
He puts an arm around each of them and looks from one to the other, saying, “Now, you boys take good care of each other okay? Bartholomew, don’t boss too much and Rodger...don’t let Bartholomew work too hard.”
The three of them laugh.
George ruffles their hair up, “Love you. I’ll see you when I get back.”
Standing on the porch, shoulder to shoulder, Bartholomew and Rodger call out, “Bye, Pa! Have a good trip! See ya, Aaron! Bye, Andrew!”
The three men so addressed waved in response. Moments later, George turns to his second son, “Andrew, run down and pick up that steer from the James’.”
Andrew dashes off with a cheerfully shouted, “Yes, sir!”
Watching him go, Aaron remarks rather skeptically, “That steer’s kind of small.”
His father assents, “I know, but it’ll bring in a little money." Suddenly he laughs, "Look at that boy go…he’s in an awful big hurry.”
Aaron snorts, “He seems like he’s been movin’ awful quick anytime he heads for the James place any more.”
George throws his eldest a quick glance, “You know the reason?”
Aaron grins and raises his eyebrows, “How about a pretty girl?”
Carrie is standing by the steps, looking up at Andrew, who is comfortably astride his horse. Morning noises are issuing from the kitchen, accompanied by the equally happy smell of eggs frying.
Carrie is asking, “Are trail-drives dangerous?”
Andrew grins, “Not usually—unless the steers spook and stampede. As you already know, stampedes are dangerous whenever and wherever they occur.”
Carrie leans on the hitching post, “You seem excited…is it a lot of fun?”
Andrew laughs gaily, “It’s all day in the saddle for over three weeks, a day or two in town, then about another week in the saddle. The whole time you have the hot sun bearing down on you—at night you sleep in the dirt. Sound like fun to you?”
“Not really.” Carrie's voice betrays that she doesn't think it sounds like much fun at all.
Andrew goes on, “But I do enjoy it some…I’m a rancher after all.”
As the conversation lags, the sound of a disgruntled steer is heard.
Carrie starts, “Oh! I just remembered…here.”
She hands him up a package. Andrew pokes his nose down into it; when he lifts his head again, his eyes are twinkling delightly, "Ahhh…the famous spice cake! I may be selfish and not share this.”
Carrie laughs at him, “No, you won’t! I know you, you’ll share it even if it means you don’t get any.”
Andrew shakes his head.
“Then you don’t know my affinity for spice cake,” he teases.
The steer comes up bawling, followed by Philip. Deftly, Andrew takes over, maneuvering his horse to push the animal forward. Driving the small steer before him, he waves his rope, “See ya’ll when we get back!”
Father and daughter watch him ride away. Philip remarks, “I like that boy…he’s a good ‘un.”
Carrie responds almost absently, “He is awful nice…”
Philip takes a quick peep into his daughters face. She is smiling at the strong back disappearing down the road. He looks slightly bemused, “Want to share?”
Carrie looks at him in surprise and bewilderment, “What?”
Philip just laughs and turns her toward the house, “Breakfast smells good, doesn’t it?”
Back behind the Burke outfit, a couple of renegade Indians sight the trail. They follow it until they catch up with the herd.
Andrew is trailing along at the back of the herd driving in a belligerent steer. His face is streaked with grime and he does not look like he is enjoying himself at all. He glances up and sees the Indians.
The young man's shout arouses George from his reverie, “What is it, son?”
In response, Andrew sweeps his hand in towards the Indians.
George immediately alerts his men, “We have Indian’s following us.”
Minutes later, the Indians gallop in on the herd and start shooting, some with rifles and others with bow and arrow. In the course of the skirmish, a couple of the Indians are killed. Likewise, one of the cowboys topples off his horse, dead. Another one gets shot in the arm. Andrew drops his revolver and grabs at his shoulder. An arrow protrudes from it. Before he can completely recover his poise, he takes a nose dive of his
horse, bleeding from a grazed head.
Soon the Indians, a small band, are run off. George quickly dismounts by his son. Relieved, he nearly shouts, “He’s alive! Just a clean shoulder wound and a grazed head. He’ll be alright once he comes around.”
Between George and Aaron, Andrew has the arrow removed from his shoulder and his head bandaged.
Waking up, his mind rather fuzzy, Andrew demands, “What happened?”
George sooths him, “Take it easy son. You got an arrow to the shoulder.”
“Then how come my head is pounding like a stampeding herd?” the youngster groans not necessarily in the sweetest of tones.
Aaron points out, “You got winged on the scalp, little brother.”
"Little brother" starts to get to his feet, but puts a hand to his head, “Shoowee….” He whistles as he sinks back down, blinking viciously.
Faithful Red rides up just then to report, “Mr. Burke, them no-good injuns made off with around half a dozen head.”
George stands up and looks off in the direction the Indian's had gone. He shakes his head, “It isn’t worth the trouble or the blood to go after them.”
Red looks rather relieved, “I’m glad you said that Mr. Burke, though I am afraid this will make them renegades bolder in the future.”
His boss nods, "Yes…but next time, we won’t be caught napping!”
Aaron stares into the distance. Then he reaches absent-mindedly into his breast pocket and pulls out what had been a locket. Now it is bent out of shape from where a bullet hit it. Suddenly he feels his father’s eyes on him. Quickly, he shoves it back into his pocket. George looks surprised, “What are you hiding from us, boy?”
Aaron, looking slightly defensive, almost chokes, “Nothin’."
Then in a lower tone to his father, "I’ll explain later, Pa.”
George raises an eyebrow, but doesn’t push the issue. Changing the subject, he remarks, “Well, let’s get back on the trail. Andrew, you’re going to ride in the chuck wagon.”
As Aaron helps Andrew onto the wagon, the younger brother looks down at the elder brother, “Nothin’, huh? I’ve never seen you look so secretive before.”
Aaron retorts, “Drop it, Andy. You got your secrets and I got mine.”
Andrew is almost defensive, “I don’t keep secrets from you!”
His brother grins, “You do when you don’t even realize it yourself.”
Astounded, Andrew demands, “What are you talking about?”
The response is rather crypic “Blue-eyes.”
Andrew’s jaw drops, “You mean…”
Quickly, Aaron hushes his brother, “Uh-uh…no more. Keep that trap of your shut.”
He leaps into his saddle and gallops away, leaving his brother staring after him, "Well, I’ll be. I wonder who…”