Upon closer inspection of the building, one notices a sign declaring in large lettering: LAND OFFICE. Under the large print is smaller lettering that spells: "Durry, Colorado".
Inside the Land Office, Mr. Horn, the land agent, smiles broadly and slides a sheet of paper across his wooden desk covered in scratches, ink blots, and papers.
“Well then, that’s settled! Mr. James, just sign here.”
Philip James smiles in obvious agreement and signs the document.
Mr Horn continues to ramble on amiably, “That’s a fine piece of property for sure. I never did quite understand why Tom did give it up and go back east. I reckon his wife missed home. She was a delicate kind of lady. Came from a rich old New England family, she said.”
This last piece of information seemed to be directed mostly at Loretta James, sitting in a chair next to her
Having finished, Philip rises while pushing the paper back across the disorderly desk, "There you go, sir! Signed in full.” Smiling at his wife, he offers her his arm. “Shall we go?”
Loretta rises with a smile and takes Philip’s arm. As they head for the door, they bid farewell to Mr. Horn, who almost seems to have forgotten them already, as he buries his nose in a map. Glancing up from it quickly, he waves an ink-stained finger, “See ya around folks! Good-day.”
As Mr. and Mrs. James exit the land office, the faces of their five children appear from inside and around the wagon.
The eldest of the children, seventeen-year-old Carrie, asks excitedly, "Well? Did we get it?”
Philip laughs as he helps his wife into the wagon seat, “ Oh, yes. We got it.”
Caleb, a rambunctious little boy of ten, grabs his younger sister Lucy by the hands and dances her around,
“Yippee! I can’t wait to get there!”
The remainder of the family smiles and laughs at the boy's exuberance in their own peculiar fashions. As he swings onto his old nag, Philip gives the word they were all waiting for.
“Well then, let’s go!”
As the James family moves laboriously along the road, Benjamin handling the team with a skill that he had just recently mastered, they are completely unware of a couple of riders watching them from a ridge. Indeed they are much to happy to spend much time looking at ridge tops. The chatter of the girls displays an excitment to start housekeeping with their mother; Caleb is far more interested in exploring and getting into scrapes. Benjamin, a quiet 14-year-old, says little, but chuckles over his brother's proposed wild exploits.
With the help of his two sons, Philip is removing the boards nailed over the windows and doors. Meanwhile, Loretta is sweeping the wrap-around porch and Carrie is weeding a tiny rundown flowerbed. Lucy has her usual job of watching Beatrice as the two play under a tree. Lucy looks up as two riders come down the road.
Easily frightened, she runs to her mother.
“Mama! Mama! Someone is coming up the drive!”
Everyone looks up or over depending on their position. Caleb peers over the top of a board he carries. The
effect is rather comical as he has dirt streaked over his forehead in such a fashion to make his blue eyes stand out more than usual.
Philip and Loretta go down the steps together and wait until the riders pull up in front of them. One is a big, burly man and the other a boy of ten.
Philip steps forward, saying in a friendly fashion, “Can I do something for you?”
The big man laughs heartily, “No, sir! My son and I just dropped in to welcome you to Durry. I reckon you’re the fella Mr. Horn said was interested in buying this old place. Name's Burke, by the way, George Burke.”
Philip smiles widely and extends his hand, “Glad to meet you Mr. Burke! I’m Philip James and this is my
George his hat, “Mrs. James…”
Loretta nods, “How do you do?”
“My daughter Carrie…”
Carrie smiles and gets a nod and an amiable smile in return.
Philip continues, “My boys Benjamin and Caleb…and of course, Lucy and Beatrice.”
George Burke remarks, with another of his frequent good-natured laughs, “Well, fine little family you got,
Mr. James! I have six sons…this here’s number five—Phineas.”
At the mention of his name, Phineas sits up straighter on his horse and declares “Howdy!” in a tone more matched to yelling across canyons than greeting new neighbors in their own front yard.
As the grown-ups continue to talk, Caleb and Phineas measure each other up before grinning at each other like old pals. Phineas leans over his saddle horn and shoots a question at Caleb.
“It was Caleb, right?”
Caleb smirks, “Yup.”
“How old are you? I’m ten.”
Excited, they observe each other a little longer with dancing eyes. Then Phineas thinks of something else, "Hey, Caleb, do you ride much?”
Caleb shakes his head, “No. Only Papa rides a lot. I fall off every time I get on.”
Phineas raises an eyebrow before laughing, “You’ll have to get over that if we’re going to go on adventures together!”
At the mention of adventures, Caleb's face lights up, “What kind of adventures? I can’t wait to go exploring around here.”
Phineas nods, “When you do, let me know—we only live a couple miles thataway—I know a couple spots you’d probably find interestin’.”
Meanwhile, the men have also been talking. George is emphatic,“I mean it. If ya’ll need anything whatsoever—extra help getting things going—after all it is a bit late to be puttin’ a crop in—just let us know. My boys are strapping young fella’s who know how to work…they’d be more than willing to pitch in and help you out.”
Somewhat at a loss for words, due to this new-found friends willingness to help out his neighbors, Philip says, “That's very kind of you. I might just take you up on that…there is a lot of work to be done around here…repairs to the house and barn, crops need putting in, and…I’d like to build a fence around the fields.”
At that George laughed, “Don’t blame you there…with open range you never know when a cow’s going to come traipsing across your land. Tell you what, I’ll send at least one of my boys down day after tomorrow
and you put them to work.”
After a moments thought, Philip concedes, “Alright, Mr. Burke…”
His neighbor grins, “Call me George.”
Philip returns the smile, “Alright. George. I appreciate it. Perhaps my boys can learn something from your
George laughs, “And vice-versa. Mine are kind of wild-like seeing as I’ve raised ‘em alone for seven years now…" He turns towards Loretta, "Men can kind of get over-loaded and forget their manners when there ain’t no womenfolk to keep ‘em straight.”
Loretta smiles, “If your sons are as kind and generous as you are, Mr. Burke, manners aren’t a big deal.”
George Burke returned the compliment with a half-modest smile, “That’s right nice of you, ma’am! Right
Loretta and the girls are washing up the noon dishes when horses hooves are heard. Philip gets up from the table and looks out the window. Seeing three riders coming prancing up the drive, he reaches for his hat. As he goes to the door, he remarks, “I reckon those are the Burke boys.”
Philip steps out onto the porch as the three brothers rein up.
Phineas hollers cheerfully, “Howdy, Mr. James! These here are my brothers.”
He slides down off his horse, and seeing Caleb poke his nose around the corner of the house, bellows grandly, “Howdy, Caleb!”
Moments later, the two boys are off snooping around the barn getting into who knows what kind of mischief.
The other two young men dismount. The taller of the two holds out his hand, “Mr. James? My name is Aaron. I’m the eldest of the ‘Burke Boys’, as we’re commonly called. This here’s Andrew. He’s next in line.”
Andrew likewise extends his hand, “How’d you do, sir?”
Philip shakes each young man firmly by the hand, “Pleased to make your acquaintance fellows.”
Without waiting for any more formalities, Aaron pitches right into what he had to say, “Pa sent us over to see if we could assist you in any way. We’re strong and willing.”
Philip laughs, “Yes…I can see that. Probably what is most urgent is getting the fields plowed up and the seed sowed. I was going in today to pick up the seed. Fences are also pretty imperative, but I think it would be best to get the crop in first.”
The Burke brothers looked at each other, apparently thinking the same thing. As was normal, Aaron spoke up, “Why not both at the same time, sir? I ain’t no sod-buster, but I do know how to handle a plow. Andrew here is quite a hand at buildin’ fences.”
Andrew grins, "More'n that sir, I like building fences."
Benjamin comes around the corner of the house and careens into his father. As he apologizes to his father,
his color hightens in embaressment, “Sorry, Papa! I didn’t see you!”
Philip put his arm around the boy's shoulder with a good-natured laugh, “I can tell... Benjamin, these are Mr. Burkes two oldest sons, Aaron and Andrew. Boys, this is my eldest son, Benjamin.”
The Burke's said, "Howdy" at the same time that Benjamin said, "Hello."
Still with his arm around his son's shoulders, Philip turned back to Aaron, “You were saying?”
Nodding, Aaron continues, “I’ll go ahead and start plowing if you like and Andrew can start building fence as soon as ya’ll get some supplies.”
Andrew interjects, “For that matter, I could go along with you into town and help pick things up.”
Philip strokes his chin: “Hmmm…I’ve never built fence before, so I wouldn’t know how much of what to get. Take a look around and see if you can figure up what we’d need. Benjamin, how would you like to accompany Andrew while I show Aaron where he can get started?"
He starts to turn, then pauses suddenly as if struck by a thought, "You know fella’s, I can’t pay you much.”
The brother's laugh. Aaron assures him, “We're not workin' for pay. We’re neighbors and neighbors helps neighbors.”
Suddenly, Andrew grins mischievously (it is evident in this instant that this quiet boy and the loud Phineas actually are brothers), “Aaron’s mighty fond of ladies cooking…he might horn in on supper.”
While Aaron reels from this sudden onslought, Philip bursts out laughing and Andrew makes good his getaway.
Aaron is plowing steadily in the heat of the day. Suddenly Lucy shows up with a canteen of water. She is quite timid as she hands it to him. Aaron smiles down at the little girl and says as he removes the cap, “Thanks much, little lady! I sure need this!”
Lucy smiles shyly and stares at him as he downs the water. He hands her back the canteen with a friendly grin, which she returns. He wipes his face and puts his hat back on and chuckles slightly as he watches her meandering off. He goes back to work.
As Lucy wanders off, she detours to play near some rocks. Delighted by the spot, the little girl exclaims, “This would make a lovely little play house!”
Carrying out the idea, she starts readjusting rocks. As she starts pushing a rather large stone she stops suddenly, eyes wide. Petrified in fear, she starts to scream hysterically. Hearing her screams, Aaron stops the horse, and starts running toward her.
As he gets closer he hears the rattles. Fear grips him for the little girl, causing him to redoubles his efforts. Reaching Lucy he snatches her up out of the way of the infuritated snake's lunge. Instead, the snake buries it’s fangs into Aaron's leg. Dropping Lucy in what is a half-way toss to one side he whips out his revolver and shoots the snake.
Without waiting to even holster his gun, Aaron tells the girl, “Go to the house now and tell your mother. NOW.”
Lucy, having been jarred out of her hysterics by her fall, streaks toward the house screaming, “MAMA! MAMA!” at the top of her lungs.
Aaron sits down and tries to get at the bite. Not being able to reach it, he pulls off his belt and puts a
tourniquet on his leg.
Soon, Loretta comes hurrying out with Carrie and Caleb behind her.
Kneeling beside the young man, Loretta says, “Phineas went for the doctor. Are you alright?”
Full of curiosity, Caleb starts toward the nest, but Aaron barks, “Keep away from there! Rattlesnakes can still attack you after they’re dead!”
Moaning just a little, Aaron remarks, “That was big one too…I’m getting’ kinda woozy.” He lays back against a rock panting, trying to hang on to his consciousness.
Aaron is breathing heavily, perspiration beading on his forehead. Loretta's face is strained as she bends over him. Carrie had returned to the house to care for Lucy, who was still terrified, and keep Beatrice out of trouble. Caleb stood on top of the rocks straining his eyes looking down the road. Suddenly he let out a
whoop, “Here they come!!”
Aaron stirs weakly, opening his eyes and looking down at the swelling limb. Loretta gently puts her hand on his shoulder. "Hang on, son..."
Moments later, the doctor arrives with Phineas. Immediately, he pulls out a bottle and needle and jabs Aaron with it. Aaron’s eyes slit open, then shut again. As he is busied about his medical bag, Dr. Harris explains, "This is an antivenom. It was just discovered and is still being tested...Aaron is the first person around here that I've used it on." He pauses and looks down at the patient. “Ma’am, if we could put him in your buckboard…”
Loretta shook her head, “My husband has our only wagon in town.”
Phineas had never got off his horse, but had immediately galloped away. Caleb remarks matter of factly,
"Phineas has gone for theirs.”
Loretta looks up at her son curiously for a minute then turns back to Aaron and the doctor.
Sure enough, in about thirty minutes, Phineas is seen returning with the Burke's wagon. Dr. Harris and Loretta help Aaron in the wagon while Caleb crawls up onto the seat next to Phineas. Dr. Harris mounts his horse and follows them as they slowly drive off.
Loretta watches at they leave, then bows her head.
George pulls up in front of his house and throws himself off his horse. He takes the steps two at a time and bursts through the door.
Seeing the doctor, he demands, “Dr. Harris! How is he?”
Dr. Harris replies, “I can’t say for sure, George. That was a big ol’ snake and it got him right in the artery. All that venom went straight to his system. I just hope I got that antivenom in him soon enough!" He pauses, then plows on, "I’ll be honest, George…it doesn’t look so good. I don't even know if the antivenom really works! But, he’s a strong, sturdy lad. I’ll be back first thing in the morning. If you need me sooner, you know where to find me.”
He picks up his hat and walks out. George stands still momentarily then heads for the boy’s room.
Aaron is breathing heavily on his bunk, propped up some. It is rather hard to tell if he is awake or not. George sits down beside him and tenderly runs his hand over his son's forehead before bowing his head in prayer, putting his head down on his clasped hand.
Silently and seriously, Phineas and Julian watch from the doorway. The normally joival expression on Phineas' face has been replaced by a serious, watchful look. The brothers look at each other and Julian's lip trembles just a bit as Phineas puts a protecting arm around his shoulders.
The James family is gathered together with the Burkes around the fireplace. Aaron sits in his father’s arm chair, grinning tiredly at everyone. The danger is past and Dr. Harris could be happy. The antivenom had done its job admirably.
Bartholomew Burke, the third of George's sons, suddenly rises from his seat on the hearth, as he raised his mug as if in a toast: “I always said it would take more than an ol’ rattlesnake to kill my brother!”
A general laugh rings out and everyone cheers. The scene fades as the happy group splits up to go its different ways...