"My Littlest Cowboy"

by
Jansusan


Logline: Victoria writes a letter to her friend about her littlest cowboy, Heath

Set up: This story has Heath coming to live with the Barkley's as a child. His mother, Leah has died.

  February 27, 1860

My Dear Minnie,

Forgive my tardiness in responding to your last letter. My life with three active boys and our precious baby girl leaves me with little free time. I thank God for Silas! What would I do without his help and loving concern for this family.

Tom is well, working hard as ever. The ranch continues to grow as he adds new acreage when possible. The land is his first love, but he also enjoys his other business ventures. The mining endeavors and other new possibilities in lumbering keeps his mind occupied. He is well-respected in Stockton, despite knowledge of his transgressions when Heath arrived last year. Some people in the Valley still make us a topic of rumor; however those who know us best have moved on and dropped the topic from daily conversation.

Todayís letter will focus on my Heath, as I have some delightful stories to tell. You know that I love you like a sister and cannot wait for you to meet my newest son and daughter. Through my letters I hope to keep you acquainted with my children. I know that you have held and diapered both Jarrod and Nick, and I cannot wait for you to see how theyíve grown. It has been too long since you have visited. The children would love a visit from "Aunt Minnie."

Jarrod and Nick both are suffering from "Spring Fever." Nick will be twelve in March, and Jarrod just turned sixteen. It takes my breath away at times, seeing my "babies" maturing into fine young men. They are every inch their fatherís sons, and I am so very proud. I must say, I never thought Iíd see the day when Nick would take a fancy to girls, but it has happened. He attended his first boy/girl social on Valentineís Day. It seems that Maryellen Fletcher, who had only caused Nick annoyance, has found a way into his young heart. Tom and I can scarcely hold back our grins when our normally very verbal son becomes speechless in her company. Jarrod has shared with us that he plans on courting no one until he has graduated college, so all the young ladies of Stockton are getting to enjoy his company rather than one special girl. Minnie, Jarrod is so focused; he will make a fine attorney.

You know I just canít resist a little boy in the house! You are aware that when Heath came to us he was in poor health, not to mention the heartbreak he was suffering at the loss of his Mother. Doctor Merar is quite pleased with his transformation over the last year. He will be eight soon, and his fair hair and shining eyes have marked him as Tomís son. He has grown a few inches and his color has such a nice glow. His nightmares have finally stopped. It seems "big brother Nick" had a lot to do with that. Although heíll deny it, itís Nickís presence that calms Heathís fears. Many is the morning when I find Nick asleep in the chair next to Heathís bed.

Heath is quite a student and his marks in school are quite impressive for a child who has gone through so much change. He loves his big brothers and as Heath would say, "Audra is his Ďsponsibility"! Isnít that just adorable! It seems that Nick had told Heath that Jarrodís responsibility was Nick, Nickís was Heath, and now Heath was a big brother, too, so he had to take on Audra. The little fella takes his job very seriously and you should see Audraís face when Heath walks into the room. She just beams, her little arms outstretched, beckoning him.

The other day, it was Saturday, Nick and Jarrod had been invited to the Fletcher ranch for a social. Heath is Nickís shadow and Nick loves it, well until Saturday. Heath delights in the outdoors, like his father and Nick. If it creeps or hops or crawls Iím sure it has been stuffed in Heathís shirt, or hat or pockets. I was in the parlor enjoying a few minutes to myself while Audra was napping. Jarrod and Nick were dressing for their evening engagement, while Heath was outside playing. Suddenly the front door opened and the pounding of little boots sounded in the foyer. I can still picture Heath, his little boots that come clean to his knees, a shirttail that never can stay tucked in his pants and that hat, one just like his fatherís. My littlest cowboy was dripping wet and tracking mud up the stairs calling out, "Nick, Nick lookie what I caught ya!"

Well, Nick came running and met Heath half way down the steps. Heath pulled something out of his shirt and the next thing I heard was Nickís booming voice calling, ďNot now Runt! Look what you did!" And then, "Mother, Mother would you come here and see what Heath did to my new shirt!"

When I met them on the stairs, Heath was holding a big slippery frog. It was obvious that in his attempt to catch the slimy creature he had fallen into the chilly pond. Nick was trying to wipe a muddy water spot off the front of his nice, crisp white shirt while Heath stood silent. I assured Nick that his brother didnít mean to soil his shirt and to go upstairs and change. Nick retreated with an irritated grumble. I turned to look at Heath, his big blue eyes were puddled and his bottom lip quivered. I caught the shiver he tried but failed to hide. I suggested that he go up and get ready for a warm bath, but in his shaky little drawl he told me he needed to take the frog back the pond or heíd die. Heath stumbled down the stairs and out the door.

Dinner was very quiet that evening, which often occurs when Nick is absent. This night, it was only Tom, me, and our two youngest. Baby Audra babbled away as she sat in her highchair creating her own artful masterpiece with her food. One would think it might have been a special evening; Heath would have had both Mother and Father to himself with the exception of Audra. Heath, who is such a good little eater, sat moving his food about his plate. You know Minnie, heís got Tomís same "deep-in-thought" look, itís uncanny. You know the one Iím talking about. The one where I could yell, "Fire! Fire!" And heíd turn and ask what I had just said to him. Itís almost humorous when we see the reflection of ourselves in our children. That night, though, it was not amusing. Heathís little heart was broken and very heavy. Tom, who normally is a stickler for children cleaning their plates allowed Heath to leave the table although his plate was still full. The child had not finished his milk, nor did be become tempted by the lure of his favorite dessert: apple pie.

Tom suggested they have a game of checkers, but Heath asked if he could go to bed. Tom told Heath to go ahead, assuring him we would be up soon to tuck him in. We gave him about twenty minutes and I went up first, hoping that he might talk about his bruised feelings.

When I arrived he was already in bed, still wearing his face painted in tones of deep hurt. I could tell that he had been holding the picture of his mother that sits on the dresser. I keep it set back so that it doesnít get bumped onto the floor. It was close to the edge, where Heath could reach and the chair from the corner was close by. Funny how children are not aware of the trail of clues they leave. He had tried to hide the tears, but a mother can always tell. I suggested that we do his prayers, a time that routinely he brings up first...but not this time. In a voice that choked back tears, he told me he didnít feel like prayiní tonight. I was taken back by his bold statement. The surprise must have showed on my face. With the saddest eyes Iíve ever seen he said to me.

"God doesnít listen to me anyway, he must be too busy."

Minnie, my heart was about to burst. I lifted him off his pillows and hugged him tight. I rubbed his back and kissed his head as I rocked him. This night, like so many others I wanted so badly to take all the hurt away. Minnie, this child has such reason to be mean-spirited, to trust no one, to love so conditionally...but he is sweet, kind, loving and so trusting. I collected myself and asked Heath why he thought God didnít listen to him. He shared with me that he keeps thanking God for folks he loves, like me and Father and Audra and Jarrod. Then his voice started to get breathy as the tears started...

"and Mama and Nick. I lost Mama and Nick donít like me no more. What ifín He takes you and Father away?"

Minnie, he could hardly finish his thought before the tears came so hard and so fast that he had trouble breathing. The poor little thing was scared to death. I tried to soothe him. Tom came in and we both held him and tried to assure him that Nick loved him and that his Mother was sick, which was the reason she died. I believe that he has worked so hard to adjust over this first year with us that fears he held deep inside stayed there. Finally, he cried himself to sleep.

Heath felt warm to me, I knew part of it was just the crying and the turmoil inside his little body. But we had experienced a few nasty colds with Heath this year and Doctor Merar has warned us to watch him. The doctor told us that, if Heath seems to be catching any illness at all that we needed to make sure to call for him. I was concerned his dip in the cold pond might have left him with a chill. Tom urged me to not worry and to see what the morning brought. I sat with him for awhile, just praying that God would grant his little heart the peace it needed, the peace he deserved.

The next morning, Sunday, was busy as everyone in the house was getting ready for breakfast and church. I stopped in Heathís room and found him awake and getting dressed. I attempted to question him and feel his face, but he hurried past me heading downstairs.

Following church services, the Ladies Mission Guild was having a meeting. Tom entertained Audra while the boys headed outdoors. Men! You know, Minnie, all of us wives and mothers were busy with our meeting, and the men were left to watch the children. The meeting was brief, yet when I joined the family, I found Heath bundled in a blanket in the carriage. For the second day in a row, it seems he had landed in a shivery creek, clothes and all.

I know I had asked the boys to please stay away from the brook, as they were in their good clothes. But water is just like a magnet to children and the whole flock of them had gone to toss stones into the creek that runs along the church property. From what I was able to gather, Nick had taken a strolled with Maryellen and Jarrod with Ruby Sinclaire, both couples still reminiscing about the prior evening together. I take it that Heath was feeling left out and tagged along quietly, just far enough behind not to be noticed. Heath had climbed upon a rock to get a better view of Nick and Maryellen. The rock must have been damp and Heath took a good tumble down into the creek. Not only was he soaked to the bone, but he had taken a pretty good bump to the head. Tom was sure stitches would be needed. Tom sent Jarrod off to fetch the doctor and we headed home.

Several hours later, Heath was fast asleep with a big bruise and four stitches to close the cut. Tom teased me that one more blanket and weíd never be able to find Heath in the bed. Tom had a father-son talk with both Nick and Jarrod about their little brother and the evening we had spent with him. Both boys felt just terrible, especially Nick.

That evening Tom carried Heath downstairs to the sofa. The medicine that the doctor had left caused him to be so sleepy eyed, but he wanted to be with the family. Our family is getting to the size that makes it hard for all of us to crowd into a childís bedroom. About six thirty Heath agreed that he was hungry so I made him a sandwich and a glass of warm milk. Of course the other boys, Tom included, join Heath for a sandwich. I could tell that Heath and Nick had talked earlier because the light was back in Heathís eyes. Nick had snuggled onto the sofa allowing Heathís head to rest on his lap. As we sat snacking and chatting about the days events, Heath made this comment,

"Nick, I sure am glad your mouth is workiní all right. With all that kissiní you was doiní with Maryellen, itís a wonder you can eat. Whatís she taste like anyhow?"

Heath didnít understand the laughter that filled the room and Nick was the brightest shade of red. Nick cuffed Heathís head playfully and mumbled "Hush Runt!" And then Heath had the most wonderful broad smile. I got a tingle inside, the same one I get whenever I see them enjoying each other. Tom looked at Nick, suggesting they have another talk before bed. It seems our audacious son will be aggressive in all areas of life. We are going to have our hands full!

Jarrod scooped Heath up in his arms and headed for the stairs. I could hear Heath as Jarrod put him down and they started up the stairs together,

"Whatís so funny, Jarrod?"

Jarrod replied, "Thatís a conversation for another day, little man. How about a story?"

With that Heath forgot his question and was satisfied just being in the good company of his oldest brother.

I would guess that this is just the beginning of many stories to come by way of my littlest cowboy!

Loving Regards,
Victoria


THE END



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