The charismatic rancher Phil Burbank inspires fear and awe in those around him. When his brother brings home a new wife and her son, Phil torments them until he finds himself exposed to the possibility of love.
* * *
When my father passed I wanted nothing more than my mother’s happiness. For what kind of man would I be if I did not help my mother. If I did not save her.
You’ve not eaten?
Have you figured it out yet, Fatso?
How many years since we took over the ranch from the Old Gent and Old Lady?
Oh, hell. Think about it.
Have you ever tried the house bathroom?
No, I have not. Early off tomorrow, brother, think I’ll drive.
There’s a dead cow. Keep our cattle away.
Anthrax. Don’t touch.
Well… Guess this is it.
What’s “it”, Phil?
All right, Fatso, I’ll tell you what “it” is. Twenty five years since our first run together. Nineteen hundred and nothing.
That’s a long time.
But not too damn long.
Do you know what we should do?
Go camping again in the mountains and shoot ourselves some fresh elk liver. Cook it right there on the coals. Like Bronco Henry taught us.
You got a sore gut?
You act like it pains you to hear those two words together.
Which way do we lead them? We’re going right.
Hang on to it.
There’ll be 12 for tonight.
Do you know what they prefer to eat?
They like the fried chicken dinner.
I’m going to need your room.
What are you doing?
Is that an album?
Do you like the mansion?
Too much to clean.
You wouldn’t have to clean it. There’ll be cleaners.
Oh, she’s beautiful. I like her flowers.
Oh, that’s clever, Peter. They are so lovely.
For the tables?
I need three chickens. Can you do them?
You gonna have to move your stuff to the shed. I’ll make a bed for you on the floor.
BELOVED HUSBAND AND FATHER TO ROSE AND PETER
DR JOHN GORDON, 1880-1921
Hey, which way?
Is he there?
Well, we can’t wait forever. Cattle are in the yards so drink up.
You gonna say something?
Nope. Not without my brother.
Where were you? Look, I can’t make the boys hold back forever.
That’s fine. I checked the power, and it’s held up, not coming till the morning. Oh no, thanks.
Phil, they’re ready for us next door at the Red Mill.
Dinner time, boys. Let’s get a move on.
Twenty five years ago, where were you, Georgie boy, hm?
What to you?
I’ll tell you. Chubby know-nothing, too dumb to get through college. People helped you, Fatso. One person in particular. Taught you and me ranching so we damn well succeeded.
So… So to us, brothers, Romulus and Remus, and the wolf who raised us.
To Bronco Henry.
To Bronco Henry.
To Bronco Henry.
Boss is leaving.
Rose, Rose, would you play piano for us, please?
Come on, Rose. Play! Play!
Is everything all right?
Yes, ma’am, fine.
Well. Well… Ain’t them pretty? Oh, yeah… Well… I wonder what little lady made these?
Actually, I did, sir. My mother was a florist, so I made them to look like the ones in our garden.
Oh, well, do pardon me. They’re just as real as possible. Ah, now, gentlemen, look, see, that’s what you do with the cloth.
That’s really just for wine drips.
Oh, you got that, boys? Only for the drip.
Now get us some food.
Did Bronco ever eat here?
No, he did not.
So where did you eat?
Oh, back then we had herring at the saloon, and whole lot of alcohol. I remember this one time Bronco made this wager that he could jump any horse, over the tables and chairs at the saloon piled up in the street… Well… we chose him a nag, all right. Didn’t bother him. He took off his saddle. Walked the horse up to the tables and chairs talking to him all the while, stroking his big ugly head while the horse sniffing… And then he swung on and rode him back and…
He jumped it?
But to get a nag to jump, ain’t heard of.
Put it down to amore.
What do you say, George?
Amore? I don’t know what you’re talking about.
Do you mind quietening? We’re reading.
Shut that down or I will!
Are you all right, Peter? Where are you going?
Go on over, I’ll settle up.
Settle in the morning.
I won’t be long.
Shall I settle up now, Mrs. Gordon or…
Please, you can… send the bill, I’ll post a cheque.
I said I love you.
I love you.
I love you too.
IN CASE OF FIRE
Where have you been?
What she said about her boy tonight, Phil… made her cry.
She had an ear to the door?
She was crying, Phil.
What the hell? I said her boy needed to snap out of it and get humane. Pointed it out, that’s all. She should damn well know.
He’s got it.
He was better before.
He’s getting there.
Is that how Bronco Henry learnt it?
Never saw him out on the lounge, that’s the fact.
What is it you see out there, Phil? Are animals out there?
Has anyone else seen what you’ve seen, Phil?
Nah, not him.
Come on Phil, what is it? There is something there, right?
Not if you can’t see it, there ain’t.
Gotta be an animal.
RESTAURANT BED & DINING MONTANA.
Hello, Mr. Burbank.
Hello, Mrs. Gordon.
How can I help you?
I really just came to see you.
I’m quite busy.
“This most wholesome sauce is excellent with meats, fish and cheese.”
They have wine with them. I wish the wouldn’t do that.
I don’t like drinking.
I’d say they have more in them than wine, sounds like booze.
They’re early. Should have never put the pianolo in there.
Here’s the water.
I see the Herndon Doctor and the undertaker, Mr. Wells.
Goodness, I wish Peter was here. He should be serving the salad and… I need to fry the chicken. Sometime if you get food on the table… Um, Mr. Burbank, I’m gonna run and get Peter.
Good afternoon. Looks like I’m the new waiter.
I didn’t know any snow down below.
None to speak of.
Well, I guess I’ll roll me a smoke since I’m woke up. How far did you get?
Beach, that’s where I aimed for.
Beach? What were you doing down there, Georgie boy? Little tomcatting?
I was speaking to Mrs Gordon.
Oh, yes. She cried on your shoulder.
So she did.
Give her half a chance and she’ll be after some dollar for Ms. Nancy’s college fee.
Remember how the Old Lady brought those girls out to the ranch as soon as we could get hard-ons? Oh, my God. Remember the tomato soup queen? Wasn’t it her that wrote to you, “I always will remember the western moon.” Well, I guess you could’ve taken her out without first putting a sack over her head. Unlike some others.
Well, night, Phil.
If it’s a piece of ass you’re after, Fatso I’m damn sure you can get it without a license.
What do you do with these?
Do you cut them up or something?
He’s gone again.
…got himself tangled with a suicide widow. And her half cooked son.
Little desk to your big desk.
Got your old timer.
Did you write to the Old Lady?
Yeah, I dropped them both a line.
Did you say something about Rose?
Yeah, Rose. Well, you know as well as I do what the Old Lady would feel if she heard you were getting mixed up with her. She’d like the other hemorrhage.
The Old Lady would feel as one Mrs. Burbank would feel for another Mrs. Burbank.
We were married Sunday. She got rid of her property in beach.
Stay steady, you little bitch. You little bitch. You flat-faced bitch! Whore.
My school boarders eat dinner at 6:00 p.m. sharp. No dish washing duty if he has homework. Oh, no shoes inside.
Maybe you’d like to come to the ranch sometimes. Won’t that be nice?
May I keep some of these rose petals?
Take the rest of them later.
I’ve been thinking we should have some sort of dinner party to introduce you to my parents. And perhaps we could invite the governor and his wife too, I saw them in Herndon today. And, uh, I kind of already mentioned it to them. Um, maybe you’d be kind enough to play something on our old piano.
But George, I’m not very good. I only played for the moving pictures.
You are plenty fine enough for us. The Old Lady can’t play a note. So…
If that’s what you want.
This looks like a good spot. Pull over here, please.
Good spot for what?
You are marvelous, Rose.
Stand beside me, George.
Follow me. Left foot forward.
One, two, three, into the side.
One, two, three and back.
One, two, three, to the side again. One, two…
Sorry, I really can’t. I really can’t dance.
Here, let’s look forward. Don’t think.
One, two, three, to the side. One, two, three and back. One, two, three. Told you, I’d teach you.
One, two, three, side, to hmm.
What is it, George?
Oh, I just wanted to say how nice it is not to be alone.
Go on up and get out of the cold.
Hello, Phil. You remember Rose?
Oh, hello there.
Something wrong with the furnace?
I’ll go down and shake it up.
I’ve been hanging around for you all day there’s a deed the Old Gent wants sent to him.
I figure that can go till morning. You all right?
I’m perfectly fine, George.
Well, brother Phil, we had such a nice trip.
I’m not your brother. You’re a cheap schemer.
♪ We had such a nice trip ♪
Come on it. This is the bathroom. Just make yourself at home.
Is that yours?
Yeah, it’s mine.
IN LOVING MEMORY BRONCO HENRY FRIEND 1854-1904
So you just make yourself comfortable. Now, I’m going to bring you a surprise.
What is it?
Well, then it won’t be a surprise.
The cellar gets flooded so, the rats all drown, they float to the surface. I have to get the young lads in, to scoop ’em all up.
Please keep talking. Don’t mind me. I like to keep busy.
We got it.
Turn to the right.
Turn it around that way.
Oh, thank you.
You should have this.
What is it?
Right through the front door.
George? Is that… Is that a grand?
You got it?
Yeah, I got it.
Whoa, hold up.
The Mason & Hamlin, baby grand.
I don’t know, it’s too good for me, I’m just very average. I only know tunes.
That’s what I want, the tunes. The governor too. We don’t want concert. We just want to hear you play, Rose.
I should like to…
…look on the governor. If he drives up and gets out of his vehicle.
One step at a time. Ready?
You make rope with these?
These stripes? Yeah.
You boys find something needs doing.
I just came over to speak about something.
Come on, partner. Open to talker. What is it?
His nibs will be here for dinner, and the Old Gent and the Old Lady.
Well sir, ain’t we going in the society.
She’s on the panano again, setting your teeth on edge?
No. No. I like to hear Rose play.
Well, tell me what is it? What’s in the noodle?
Well, Phil, I, uh, I just…
Go on and spit it out.
Well, it’s about his nibs, the governor.
And, uh, well, it’s not so much about his nibs, but his nib’s wife actually, uh, I was thinking his nibs probably wouldn’t mind so much, but his missus, might…
What for dear Christ sake?
Well, it’s sort of a hard thing to say. Uh, she might mind if you come to the table without a wash up. Yeah.
Hello, Mother, Father.
Car’s around the side.
Is there anyone with you?
So the napkin is pinned. So…
Light the fire.
At least we’ll try and warm this place.
Use your hand. Use your hand.
They are here.
You keep normal. I can bring them in.
Oh how sweet, they have their own umbrella.
It’s an island of civilization here. I was, uh, telling Georgie about your brother Phi beta Kappa at Yale. Wasn’t it?
Yes. And classics. That’s right.
So, uh, he swears that the cattle in Greek or in Latin.
Rose plays the piano very well.
Do you? That’s a nice surprise.
I’ll just go have a look. See out the back for Phil.
Oh, good. I want to meet this brother.
Ah, here are two people we can’t fool.
Oh, no, you cannot. We know everything, we’re walking encyclopedias.
At least I am. I have nothing to do but read.
She have been reading the “Curse of Tutankhamun” in the digest.
So, uh, you believe in the curse?
Oh no, no. I’m not drinking, George’s concoction.
Yes I do. But did you know the Tutankhamun was just a boy, only 18?
Phil, are you here?
I was looking for you.
Well, you found me.
Everyone’s here. And we’re just about to eat. They were asking after you.
Yes, we were counting on your conversation. I shouldn’t have said what I said to you about…
You two can keep your apologies to yourself. I’m not coming.
And what will I say? The Old Lady wants to see you too. She’s come a long way.
You tell them the truth that I stink. And I like it.
Nothing could have happened to Phil, could it?
No, he’ll be fine. Something just must’ve come up.
So, Rose, are you going to play for us?
Yes. George told me you play very well.
I’m terribly out of practice.
Now, you’ve been playing a lot. You know you have.
I don’t know what to play.
Play the one I like.
Why, the… The one about the gypsy?
I can’t seem to remember that one.
I’m so sorry. I can’t seem to play. I– I played in the cinema pit for hours and hours. I’m so sorry.
Well, she got you halter trained right, George? That’s the main thing.
I’m so sorry.
No, it was a lovely, lovely evening. Thank you.
Oh, you’re Phil. So you weren’t eaten by a cougar?
Well, I am sorry to have missed your conversation. I’ve heard that you’re brilliant.
You’re gonna want to keep your distance and just stop the horse. Anyhow, you don’t want conversation you’ve been listening to the panano and dancing, I guess.
You didn’t play? Sure did practice a terrible lot. She wouldn’t think there’s much difference between a cinema pit and a dinner party.
Where have you been, Phil? I could hardly eat. Been worrying about you.
I didn’t get washed up so I didn’t come.
You didn’t wash?
Oh, he’s a ranch man. Isn’t that right? That’s on his dirt.
Thank you again.
I wonder if he didn’t think about leaving your medical books here for the summer.
I thought about it, but you understand they are dad’s.
Turn around. Are you eating?
I made a new friend. He calls me doctor and I call him professor because that’s what we wanna be.
Well, why don’t you invite your friend to the ranch?
I don’t want him to meet a certain person.
Keep that leg touched down.
You got him?
Grab his head.
I got it, I got it.
How come you don’t wear gloves?
I’m not cause they’re not needed.
Castrate 1500 heads then make your turn on the last. About that, so, I think we’re finished.
Yeah. That’s him. You’re gonna see him creeping all over the place now. Big eyes, goggling. Little Lord Fauntleroy.
Rose? Did he like his room?
Uh-huh. I think so.
Watch your fires. Summer’s coming.
Which also means any Indians camping need to be moved off the property. No exceptions. We got animals they want to eat, got it?
We don’t sell hides. We don’t sell anything here.
Keep your eyes and ears open. Maybe find yourselves no head up by their masters.
I have a head-ache.
Have a seat.
I’m not eating tonight.
It’s George’s week in town. So it’s just Phil.
Uh-hmm. I made a trap.
Oh no, it’s not a snake, is it? Oh… It’s a bunny.
No. It’s scared. Get it, Peter.
Bring him to me.
Don’t worry about him.
They dug up that graveyard to make way for the new highway. Among those buried there was a friend of mine, a clumsy tractor driver broke open the coffin and they found her hair had continued to grow after her death. The whole coffin, just stuffed with her lovely golden hair except for a few feet from the end where it was gray.
Can I take it up?
Some say she was a beauty.
Golden braids on top of her hair.
Oh, yes, go and see. It’s very sweet.
No, please get out of my way.
Where’s your rabbit?
I got it a carrot.
Doesn’t want one.
Shut the door.
Even if you’re happy being in your room all day it’s good for me.
Mom, I have a lot to do.
I thought you liked rabbits.
Yes. I do. But if I wanna be a surgeon I have to practice.
Well, you’re not to kill them in the house, Peter. No, I’m putting my foot down.
What a man would be if he always did what his mother told him.
Point to Mrs. Burbank.
I know Lola. You don’t have to, you don’t have to narrate it. I’ll just remember.
Yeah, that was definitely out.
Lola, can you please take over? I have a migraine.
I was aiming for you.
Are you all right, mother?
No, I feel like my eyes are going to pop out of my head.
It’s Phil. Isn’t it? He’s cold.
He’s just a man, Peter. Only another man. You go ahead.
You want more, do you?
Yeah, come on.
Yeah, you want him?
You got him!
PHYSICAL CULTURE 5
Get out of there, you little bitch! You hear me? Get the hell out of here!
You wanna tell him about so-called jeans?
Hey. Hey, Pete. Peter.
You want me, Mr. Burbank?
I don’t see any Mr. Burbank here. I’m Phil.
Yes, Mr. Burbank. I guess it’s hard for youngin like you to call an old fella like me just plain Phil at first. Now, come here and take a look at this. You’ve done any braiding or plating yourself, Pete?
No, I never have, sir.
Peter. We kinda got off on the wrong foot.
Did we, sir?
Forget the “sir” stuff. That can happen to people. People who get to be good friends. Well, you know what?
What. “What”, Phil?
Yeah. You see? You get it. Call me Phil. I’m going to finish this rope and give it to you and teach you how to use it. Sort of a lonesome place out here, Pete. Unless you get in the swing of things.
Thank you, Phil. How long do you expect it would take to finish that rope?
I could get it finished before you go back to school.
Well, won’t be very long then, Phil.
Get on it. You’d sit on it, Pete. Get yourself used to it. You got any boots?
Then you should wear them. Don’t let your mom make a sissy out of you.
That’s impressive, Phil.
Well, just by sitting there you’re soaking up all the riding know-how you’ll ever need and then something. That saddle belonged to Bronco Henry. Greatest rider I ever knew. There’s a cliff, way out back at the ranch with initials in 1805 carved into it. What must’ve been some fella from Lewis and Clark expedition. They were real men in those days. Let’s say, just you and me go out for a couple of days, find those trails and follow them to the end. Won’t be surprised if there were gold or precious minerals in them. They’re rocks.
Do many of the calves die from wolves?
There’s always a few who’d get tore up, or hamstrung, or die of Anthrax. We call it Black leg. You know, you talk like a big troll record, you know that?
No, I didn’t know.
Yeah. But you do.
Did Bronco Henry teach you to ride, Phil?
Yup. He taught me to use my eyes, ways that other people can’t. Take that hill over there. Most people look at it then, just see a hill. Where Bronco looked at it, what do you suppose he saw?
A barking dog.
What the hell? You just saw that now?
No. When I first came here, see, it looks like a dog with its jaw wide open.
You just saw that.
Peter, Peter, can you come in and talk for a little?
You’ve gotten to be quite friendly with Phil. Haven’t you? Is he nice to you? He’s making a rope for me.
Making a rope? Peter, I wish you wouldn’t make that song with your comb.
I wasn’t aware.
When I was little, I, I felt a chill in my spine when I heard the chalk squeak on a blackboard. Oh, Mrs. Merchant, that’s who it was. She, she drew chalk stars by our names on the blackboard. I wonder why it was stars she gave us. Why not diamonds, why not hearts? Why not spades? What? I wonder why it was… always stars.
Because stars are supposed to be unreachable.
Yes. They weren’t unreachable because she gave them to us. And Peter?
We had this Valentine box and it was covered with white Grey paper and we would place big red hearts on it lopsided.
And you had a great many Valentines.
A great many.
Because you’re beautiful.
Is there a sound that makes you shiver?
I don’t remember.
We’re not unreachable. Hope we’re not unreachable.
Mother, you don’t have to do this. I’ll see, you don’t have to do it.
This his first week?
Third. Open up the gate. Let him out.
Are you sure? He’s not ready.
Go on. Let him out.
Giddy up, Elmer.
There he goes.
Camp by the ranch.
Going to give him a hand.
Don’t. Let him figure it out. Or not.
You fall off. You get back on.
Get it over.
Where are you two off to?
Rose, what’s the matter?
Can’t Peter go with you today?
He could but him and Phil was kind of paired up.
I don’t want that. I don’t want him to be with Phil at all.
Rose, he’s helping him. He taught him how to ride.
Hey, P for Pal? Hey, P for Pal? You’re gonna help?
You know, he started riding as late as you.
Bronco Henry. Hadn’t done any of it until he was about your age now.
Oh, Mr. Cottontail.
Hey, Peter. You see how long it takes before Mr. Cottontail makes a run for the open. Now, as kids, we used to take bets, on how many poles we remove before any animals run out and made a run for it.
Oh, he’s still in there. Got you, you little bugger.
I get he has to be gutsy.
Damn, son of a bitch.
Come on now. Come on.
I think it broke his leg. Well, for the amount of his misery…
It’s all right.
That’s deep. You okay, Phil?
Oh, what the hell? Must be a splinter.
You got a tan. That’s a cowboy tan you got. Bronco Henry told me that a man was made by patience in the odds against him.
My father said obstacles. And you had to try and remove them.
Another way to put it. Well, you’ve certainly got obstacles. That’s a fact, Pete, nearby. Obstacles. Take your Ma. Today or any day, how she’s on the sauce.
On the sauce?
Drinking, Pete. Boozing it up. Because you know she’s been half shot all summer.
Yeah, I know. She never used to drink.
Oh, didn’t she now?
No. She never did.
But your Pa, Pete.
Yeah, your father. I guess he hit the bottle pretty hard. The booze.
Until right at the very end, then he hung himself. I found him, cut him down. … He used to worry I wasn’t kind enough. Then I was too strong.
You, too strong? Huh! He got that wrong. Poor kid.
Things will work out for you yet.
Where’s Mrs. Lewis?
She’s with the Indians.
Go now, go.
Water. I was standing right in front of the damn things asking, do we have any hides? Do we have any hides? Are they leaving?
Yes, they’ve got their horse going.
I told them the hides are gonna be burned.
Why? Why are the hides going to be burned?
Phil doesn’t want anyone else to have them. Wait till there’s a big pile and set fire to the lot. He’d blow up if they even touched them.
What? What’s she doing?
Please, please. Wait. Please. Wait. Please, please stop. Come back. Take the hides. It would be my honor. If you would take them. Please. My husband owns the ranch. Come back and take them.
They are so soft. So precious, these gloves. So beautiful.
You all right, ma’am?
Is she breathing?
She just collapsed, sir.
I’m sorry, sir.
Thank you, Lola.
I’ll be damned.
Is there something wrong, Phil?
Wrong? I’m feeling sick. Every goddamn hide is gone. Oh, she really put her foot into it this time.
You think she did it? She sold them?
Maybe even gave them away.
Why, why would she do that, Phil? She knew that we needed the hides.
Because she was drunk! Pie-eyed, she was smashed. You think you know from the books your Pa left you that your Ma’s got… what would you call it? Alcoholic personality comes under the light in her head.
You’re not gonna say anything to her.
Say anything? Oh, I’ll say nothing. But sure as one good hell brother George is going to.
Rose is not well, Phil. She’s ill.
Not well? It is high time that that bozo in you got next to a few what do you ever call them, facts? She stashes alcohol all around the place, she’s even drinking in the stinking alley. Look at your face in the mirror. Is it that she could like or our money? Wake the hell up!
That’s enough, Phil. Well, what is the harm? The hides were only going to be burned.
I needed them. I needed them.
Well, I apologize.
They were mine! I needed them.
Phil, I’ve… I’ve got a raw hide to finish the rope.
You got it? What were you doing with the raw hide?
I cut some up. I wanted to be like you. Please take what I’ve got.
It’s damn kind of you, Pete. … I’ll tell you something. Everything’s going to be plain sailing for you from now on here. You know, I’m going to work. Finish up that rope thing, right? You watch me do it.
IN LOVING MEMORY, BRONCO HENRY, FRIEND, 1854-1904
How old were you when you met Bronco Henry?
About the age you are now.
Was he your best friend?
Yeah. He was. But more than that. Once he saved my life. We were way off up in the hills, shooting out and the weather turned mean. Bronco kept me alive by lying body against body in a bed roll. Fell off to sleep that way.
Phil left already?
No, he’s not here.
You say he was setting out early?
Have you seen your brother?
He’s not had breakfast?
He’s not been down at all.
I’ll run you onto Herndon. See the doctor.
Phil. What happened to your hand? … Let’s get your boots off.
No, I’m good.
I’ll get the car.
Let’s go, Phil.
Where’s the boy?
Phil? I’ll get it to him.
I’ll take this one.
Rose, would like you to join us for Christmas. If you’d care to.
Yeah. Thank you, George.
I’m afraid I’m mystified. We’ll know in a day or two when results come back. Those last convulsions.
Terrible. Truly frightful. You know, what I’m thinking?
But he never handled diseased animals. He was particular on that.
THE ORDER FOR THE BURIAL OF THE DEAD.
“Deliver my soul from the sword; my darling from the power of the dog.”