Disclaimer: Big Valley and the Big Valley characters belongs to someone else. This story is for fun and entertainment purposes only.

Barkley's Bastard Chapter 14

Dust and more dust, that had been Heath's world for the past two hours. He was relieved when his replacement showed up and he was free to move from the back of the herd. As trail boss, he didn't have to take a turn riding drag, but he felt it was only fair and other men respected a boss willing to eat dust with the rest of them.

As he moved up through the flank, he nodded at the men he passed and reflected on how much things had changed between himself and the men. When Nick had first announced he was trial boss and then rode off in the wagon, many of the men had been resentful. Barret was a particularly outspoken burr in his side. But after the mess with General Wallent had been taken care of, the men had a new attitude. They followed his orders without question. Even Barret seemed eager to make amends.

For a few minutes, he dared allowed himself to wonder what it would be like to run the ranch with Nick and work with these men day in and day out. It was a mighty fine picture forming in his mind. But that image was nothing more than a will o' of the wisp, leading him astray. Nick Barkley might have turn around in his attitude towards Heath, but he would never accept him as brother and that's the only way he'd work on the ranch.

Suddenly his dreaming mood turned to anger. Here he was going against his own word, working for the Barkley's and not as one of 'em. He wasn't even sure how it happened. One thing he was warning Nick about an attack and the next thing he knew he was in charge of the drive. Oh, he tried telling himself he wasn't really working for the Barkley's. No, he was doing the neighborly thing and helping out the ranchers who would lose everything if this drive didn't make it on time.

But in his heart, he knew he was doing for Nick and that just irritated him, because it left him with the fear that it would happen again. He knew Nick was expecting him to return to Stockton and probably even go to work on the ranch as a hand. But he couldn't allow that to happen. He had to hold true to his own code and working for the Barkley's didn't fit. If only the Barkley's would accept him… but 'if only' was a fool's game best left alone.


Stomping around the parlor as best he could with a cane and a bum leg, Nick fought his worry. He told himself there was nothing to be concerned about. His mother probably left early to check on some friend before church. Except she had never left that early before church before and if she did have some errand to run, she always told someone so the family wouldn't worry. With the railroad problems so recent, Nick just couldn't believe his mother would sneak out of the house unless something was wrong.

He made another circuit of the room, from the fireplace, past the settee, on to the French doors and back to the fireplace. Where could she be? And why were Jarrod and Audra late from church? For all he knew, they could have met up with Mother in church and everything is fine, but they left him to worry by being late! Or maybe not. His mother could be missing while he strolled around in the parlor. How the hell was he supposed to know what was going on, all cooped up in the house? Especially since no one deemed it necessary to get home and tell him.

Heaving a huge sigh, he made another round of the room, ignoring the growing pain in his overworked injured leg, muttering and cussing all the way. Damning them all for making him worry. Imagining turning Victoria Barkley, herself, over his good knee and spanking some consideration into her. Even his own angry mind refused to form that image. Uh eh. That would be like spitting the devil in the eye. There are just things one did not do.

Oh well, it was a nice thought anyway. Big deal if he wasn't man enough to even visualize it, much less do it. He gave a involuntary shudder. It's all their fault anyway. If Mother hadn't left the house without word to anyone and if Jarrod, Audra and Eugene wasn't out God knows where dawdling the afternoon away while he worried himself sick, he wouldn't be imaging tanning anyone's hide, now would he?

The angrier he got, the faster he moved, although 'walking' would be a bit of an exaggeration of the pitiful gait he managed as he limped around. Some part of his mind knew he was overdoing it and that he would pay for every step he moved in his angry pacing, but he was beyond caring about that right now. He'd just make damn sure his family felt guilty for putting him through this worry.

He decided to pour himself a drink as he past by. It was a bit early, but what the hell. His was worried half out of his mind and it was all because of his inconsiderate family. Picking up his glass, he continued his circuit, ignoring the protesting throb of his leg.

Suddenly he stopped all movement, even his breath stilled when his eyes found the letter to Heath laying on a table. And. It. Clicked. Closing his eyes, he remembered his mother standing before his father's portrait, questioning their marriage, their entire life together. Her doubts were like a living thing. Of course, he thought, of course she'd go there, to Strawberry. And it made him even angrier.

How could she doubt Tom Barkley's love? How could she believe for a second that he'd ever lay with another woman? And just who was this Rachel Caulfield and what did she have to do with Heath?

In his anger and frustration, Nick set down his glass and picked up the letter and ripped it open.

Dearest Heath

Hannah and I were dismayed to read of your reception by the Barkley family. I pity them, for they know not what or whom they are throwing away. Any family should feel both blessed and proud to call you brother. You are a good man, Heath Thomson Barkley!

It is a shame your hand was forced by your brother, Nick. We were hoping you would have a chance to get to know your family better, and them the chance to know you, before you made your decision if you would even tell them who you were. As they say, what is done and can't be undone.

I do caution you to think of how they must have felt when you told them. This is their father, whom they believe was an honorable man and a loving faithful husband. Why would they take the word of a complete stranger? Mores the shame you all didn't get the chance to get to know one another better before the beans were spilled. I must say, your brother's theory is an interesting one, however untrue it may be.

Heath, my boy, I have done as you asked and gone through your mother's trunk. There was a letter from Tom Barkley after he returned to his family. I believe the letter would be all the proof anyone would need that there was indeed an affair between your mother and Thomas Barkley. I was afraid to mail to mail it, unless you instruct me to do so, as it's the only actual proof you have. But if you decide to use it, it's here waiting for you.

Son, as that is exactly how both Hannah and I feel about you, I think you should know, Tom didn't know about you. I was never sure before, but having read the letter, I now believe Leah never told him and he just didn't know. You must let go of your anger, son. Your father didn't deliberately abandon you and leave your mother to raise a child alone.

Please, keep us informed of your whereabouts and know that no matter where you land, both Hannah and myself will always love you as though you were our own son.

With deepest love

Rachel Caulfield

P.S. Hannah sends her love. She worries so much over you, she loves you so.

Also, be wary of your Uncle Matt. He and that snooty wife of his have been snooping around, asking too many questions, but don't you worry, we've told him nothing. Heath, you must be careful of him. If he found out you are Tom Barkley's son, there's no telling what kind of scheming that dreadful wife of his would come up with. Son, You watch your back.

"NNNOOOOOO!" Nick crumbled the letter in one clenched fist. "I don't believe it." Whirling in one movement, he grabbed his whiskey glass and threw it at Tom Barkley's portrait. "DAMN YOU! DAMN YOU TO HELL!