Nick looked around the camp with growing frustration and anxiety. His frustration had been building for a week. That was the amount of time they had been in the camp and still they were no further along in persuading their newly discovered brother to travel with them to Stockton.
Nick knew their revelation had been a shock to the boy. It had to be. It had been for him when Jarrod first broke the news that they had another brother. But learning of his existence stirred something deep inside Nick. From that point on his family became incomplete and he vowed to make it whole again by bringing his unknown brother home.
"These things take time and careful handling, Nick," counseled a wary Jarrod. "Until a week ago, Heath didn't know that he had a family other than his mother. Imagine what must be going through his mind now."
"Up until a month ago, we didn't know we had a brother!" Nick answered, his voice thick with emotion and the frustration he was feeling "But now we do, Jarrod. And the family can never go back to what it was like before and the life we knew then. We know about him now. He's our brother, Jarrod. Our brother! Part of father and therefore you and me. He belongs with us. I feel it so strong. He has to agree! He has to allow us to get to know him."
Jarrod, looked at his brother sympathetically. Nick wanted this new brother with all his heart and so did Jarrod, but their brother was full grown man with a family of his own. Would he want to know them? At twenty-three he had, in some ways, lived more years than his older brothers combined. The shocking detail in the report Jarrod had commissioned for the family had confirmed that and much more. Each family member had read the details, eager to know more about this missing brother; each had shed tears at what they read. A child born out of wedlock, brought up and cared for by a God-fearing and kind mother who had worked herself into an early grave to provide for her son. By the age of ten, he had three jobs and had received little schooling, enough only to be able to read and write a little to get by. Perhaps even those skills were lost to him after five years with the tribe. A child who at fourteen ran away to join the army so he could send his mother extra pay, only to end up physically and mentally broken by the abuse he suffered in a prisoner of war camp in the last months of the war. Then just past his sixteenth birthday his mother had died, leaving him completely alone. Without her there to anchor him, he had drifted from one job to another and then from one town to another, until five years ago he had been found brutally beaten and left for dead in the desert by a local and peaceful Indian tribe who subsequently took him in. He had remained with them ever since, learning and observing their ways and for the first time in his life, learning to be accepted and not condemned for what he was. Then at nineteen he had fallen in love and taken a young Indian girl by the name of Elu ("full of grace") as his bride. He himself had been given the Indian name of Takoda which meant "friend to all" and suited his character well.
He and Elu had one child, a little girl of three called Shysie, meaning silent little one, for the little girl had been born deaf and remained mute because of it. She was loved and cherished by her parents and protected by the tribe.
Into this world, his two brothers now came, upsetting the peace he had finally achieved. Both wondered if they would be able to lure him away from the idyll he had found. He looked content, happy and not missing anything. Feeling none of these three, Nick and Jarrod retired to their brother's tepee to get some sleep, both knowing that for another night, sleep would elude them and the fear of leaving without him would reign supreme once again.
Heath was deeply troubled as he lay by the edge of the lakeside. Inside the tepee were two brothers he never knew existed. In Stockton was a sister and a "mother" waiting and ready to accept him into their lives. What kind of people were these? To be prepared to accept a stranger into their fold? Not only a stranger, but a man who represented the embodiment of Tom Barkley's adulterous affair.
A man who he learned from his brothers was thirty-five when he seduced a girl of eighteen with whom he had a short-lived affair, eventually leaving her alone, confused and swelling with child. A blond child who from the photographs he had been shown that evening by his brothers, grew up to look exactly like him, making any dispute over his paternity null and void. To find the proof of what they had spoken, he simply had to look down at the reflection staring back at him from the water. No matter how many times he splashed the water to rid himself of the image, his father's face kept staring back at him, claiming him for a son.
And now they wanted him to go with them. To abandon all that he knew and had come to love here. To travel with his wife and daughter from a place where he felt accepted to a town were acceptance would be hard, if not impossible. He was divided in two by what he felt. Jarrod and Nick were good men. He was finding that out, day by day. At first he had ignored their presence and what they had told him, but they wore him down, especially the one called Nick.
Elu had stood back, allowing him to come to terms with what he had been told and giving him the freedom to make a decision about what he wanted them to do, promising him that whatever his decision, she and their child would always be with him.
He knew how much a sacrifice leaving her tribe and family would be. Here there was no prejudice, no hateful words. Out there it would be open season on them all - a bastard and an Indian, with a half-breed for a child. The world was cruel and Elu had, up to now, been spared that. All that was sweet and innocent here, would become poisoned out there. Out there in his world, the world that he had left behind.
He returned to the tepee, checking first on his daughter who was asleep. Her bed, lay but a few feet away from where her parents slept. He brushed her hair gently, hoping he would make the right decision to keep her world safe. His own gentle and tender heart swelled with love for the child, whose voice and laughter he yearned to hear. "Speak to me, my silent one," he secretly prayed. "Tell me what your father should do." Soothed by his hand, the child slept on, unaware.
Nick turned restlessly to see his brother coming into the tent and witnessed the tender moment between father and child. Then seeing Heath undress and slip naked under the buffalo skins to be with his wife, he turned away, allowing them to share the intimacy of being husband and wife.
As he turned, his eyes rested on Elu's sister and mother, who also shared the tepee. Morning Cloud was asleep, but Elu's sister, Aponi, looked on as the couple made love, their profiles fleetingly lit by the golden flames of the fire. She had envy and longing in her face. Only when she saw Nick looking at her observing them, did she turn away.
Nick stretched as he came out of the tepee the next morning surprised to see the camp bustling with activity and the tepees being pulled down. Seeing Heath, he anxiously asked him what was happening.
"Tribe's moving on," Heath said matter of factly, taking up the weight of a pole and laying it down on the ground along with the other ones. There was just a few tepees to be dismantled including his own. The dismantling of the tepees was considered women's work, but having been raised with three women, Heath could not stand idly by and not help.
"Moving?" Nick spluttered as he helped Heath with one of the poles and looked around for Jarrod to help talk Heath out of leaving. "And your going with them?"
Heath nodded as he placed the pole on the ground.
Nick's heart sank. "But you can't! What about us?"
"Got to see to my family, " Heath offered in response.
"We're your family too, Heath. You can't run away from that...From us!"
"Not runnin' Nick." Heath observed, not quite telling the truth. If he was honest with himself he would have realized that deep inside he had been running for a long time. Running from, or towards something, he wasn't sure.
"Aren't you? Nick said skeptically, sensing the man's doubt and unable to hide his huge disappointment. He had counted on being able to persuade his new brother to go with them. In his mind he had not considered the boy would say no.
"You, Jarrod and I, Nick." Heath tried to explain, gently. "We've just met. We have no past. Nothing shared. I was raised by my Mama. You by yours ... and your father. I belong to the tribe now, Nick. They took me in and I owe them. It's what my family knows and it's my life now."
"We have no past, " Nick concurred, "but what about now and the future. Now that you know about us, can you just walk away? Can you?!" Nick was almost pleading. "Heath, I reckon there ain't no man more wedded to the past than I am, but I've come to understand that life doesn't stand still. It changes and takes different paths and we change and move along with it. A month ago, I never knew anything about you. Today I do. You can't ask me to forget that you are my brother, or that we are yours. We're good people, Heath. You've got to give us a chance."
Heath, who had been busily working, sat on his haunches as he tied the poles together, contemplating Nick's words. Emotionally, he felt split in two; his allegiance to the tribe pulling him one way, to roads already traveled, and his new family directing to him roads he didn't yet know.
He had begun to like Jarrod and Nick more and more, and was starting to feel the beginnings of a connection with them both. He didn't want to see them go, but he couldn't go with them.
Seeing Nick, slap his hat across his thigh in frustration, he inwardly smiled for a moment, recognizing already that his brother had certain traits. Not getting his own way was one of them. Heath kept his feeling locked inside and people out, Nick laid them out bare and invited you in. It sure was tempting. Nick had invested all his hopes in Heath agreeing to go with them, but seemed blind, or unwilling to consider the reasons why Heath had to stay. Did the Barkleys not understand? Did they really want to invite the trouble he and his family would bring to their door?
In his mind, he found himself contemplating what his father was like and the sister he had not yet met. And what of Mrs. Barkley? Did she really want her husband's whelp and his Indian family in her home? He found himself admitting that he didn't want his new brother to go. Not yet. Not when they were just beginning to get to know each other. "You can come with us," he suggested, his voice barely audible, aware of the rejection he might get.
Nick turned around. "What did you say?"
Heath repeated what he had said and waited.
"Travel with you? You mean Jarrod and me come with you?"
Heath nodded. "If you like?"
Heath's daughter came into view with her grandmother, Morning Cloud and the conversation ended. Heath, scooped her up and kissed her before walking away, feeling sure his offer had been rejected.
Aponi, who was helping the women to collect water found herself stopped and isolated suddenly by Cloud Feather. She tried to move away in all directions and each time he moved his pony in front of her to stop her. She looked at him defiantly and cursed him, insulting the size of his manhood and his forced bravery. He grew angry. "You will be my wife. He shall not have you," he shouted, riding his pony away with theatrical display.
Aponi sank to the ground. She wanted only one man. She had offered herself to him and been shamed when he had rejected her, giving her back her clothes and turning her away. "Heath," she silently screamed.
"You're going with him! For how long? What about the family? The ranch?"
Nick nodded as he packed his saddle bags determinedly. "I've just found me a brother, Jarrod, I'm not coming this far and letting him go. I don't know how long I will be gone. Duke can take care of things at the ranch for a while. I gotta do this, Jarrod. Try and understand."
Jarrod did understand only too well, but for Nick to put his life on hold, to travel to God knows where and for an unspecified time had ramifications for the family and the ranch. And then what? Would Heath finally agree to come back with Nick?
"Come with me Jarrod." Nick pleaded. "He's your brother too. I know it can't be forever, but we've only known him a week. We both need more time with him. We can't expect him to leave everything for us if we are not prepared to do the same for him. I know there are no guarantees, but I want to get know him more. I need this Jarrod. I need him."
Jarrod paced the ground inside the tepee. He wanted to get to know Heath better too, but he had commitments, family. And yet, Heath was his family too, wasn't he? The idea of them being separated sat uneasily on his shoulders. They all needed time. They had expected too much for Heath to leave all that he knew behind. Nick was right. They expected him to uproot his life and his family for them, they should at least be able to do the same.
"I'll send a wire at the next town back to Mother. I cleared my diary for a month before I came out here. Then I must get back with or without Heath." Jarrod eventually responded. Nick beamed and slapped his brother on the back, glad for the company and the knowledge that he would have his brother nearby.
It was with surprise and inward delight that Heath saw his two brothers line up their horses next to his as the tribe started out on its trek to the next hunting grounds. He gave no outward expression of his delight, not trusting what he might say, or his own feelings at that moment, but to know his brothers would follow him meant a great deal. He felt the silent connection between them grow stronger and it felt good.
It was some hours since the tribe had made camp. Elu found her pensive husband down by the river bank. "You like them, don't you?"
Heath nodded. His look didn't change, except to allow a small smile to escape his lips on being joined by his wife. Elu sat down next to him.
"Where's Shysie?" Heath asked.
"She is playing with her uncle. He is so loud and she is so silent, they seem an odd pair." Elu's said in broken English, her command of her husband's tongue slowly improving.
"They have given him an Indian name," Heath commented as he threw a stick into the river and watched it float away.
"Oh, what," she inquired, letting him lie back and rest his head in her lap. They listened to the sounds of children playing in the distance and to their own hearts.
"Lalawethika ~ "he makes noise."" Both laughed, knowing that even on such short acquaintance this was indeed true about Nick Barkley.
"He wants you. Both of them do," she observed. "They will fight for you to go with them."
"I make up my own mind," Heath responded, not all too convincingly. He closed his eyes, allowing himself to be soothed by the feel of Elu's gentle fingers running through his hair.
Elu was doubtful. Deep inside she wanted her husband to get to know his family. Apart from her and Shysie, he had no one, and as much love as they could give him, she knew he needed more. He had found happiness and peace with the tribe and with her, but she knew equally he did not belong to their world entirely. She would go with him anywhere, travel any distance, suffer any humiliation to see him happy, but it frightened her to think of leaving her tribe and all that she had known. The each had their own demons to resolve.
Heath unable to resist Elu's touch any longer rolled over and in one movement pushed Elu down on to the ground so that he was on top. For a while he let their troubles take second place as he made love to her and lost himself in her embrace.
Victoria Barkley read the telegram to her daughter and youngest son.
"They've found him," Audra said elatedly. Eugene's response was just as genuine, but more reserved for he saw a look of unmistakable resolve enter his mother's face.
"Mother?" he inquired, knowing something was coming.
She turned to look at both her children and smiled. "Eugene. Tell Silas I will be leaving in the morning."
"Look Jarrod!" Nick said, suddenly tugging his brother's arm to get his attention.
"What Nick?!" Jarrod was irritable and hot in his western clothes and was wiping the sweat from his brow, face and chest, for the umpteenth time that day. Now he knew the reason why he worked in a cool, shaded office and not out in the sun.
"Over there! With Heath. See?"
Jarrod's blue eyes followed to where Nick was pointing with his hand and both watched as Heath seemed to be engaged in an increasingly heated argument with Cloud Feather, who, arms flapping, encircled their brother in a threatening way. They didn't understand the language the two men were talking, but they could see Cloud Feather was trying to goad their brother into an unwanted fight.
Nick was about to step in, but Jarrod pulled him back sharply. "Don't Nick. We don't know what this is about. Remember, we are strangers here. We don't know their ways. I don't reckon, Heath would thank you for stepping in."
"But he's our brother! You can't expect me to stand by!" Nick said incredulously, his loyalty to his young brother already in place after only a few days.
"Nick, stay out of it!" Jarrod repeated, sternly. "You can ask Heath later about it. That's if he decides he wants to tell you."
Nick fumed at a distance watching Cloud Feather goad his brother. In his short acquaintance of Cloud Feather, he had found him to be the only of the tribe who was actively hostile to them being there. It looked as if he felt about Heath in the same way. Was it because of their connection, or had it always been that way? He watched the two men continue and then end their argument like two butting stags, Heath showing the most restraint by walking away - not defeated, but with sense enough to know that he and the fight was being manipulated by the other man.
Jarrod smiled as he saw Heath walk away. It was not something Nick would have done, but there was depth to this new brother of theirs'. He found himself admiring the young man more and more.
Cloud Feather stormed off. Jarrod watched him closely. Cloud Feather was a fool, but a dangerous one and would need watching. Jarrod knew Nick was thinking the very same thought.
The confrontation ended, Jarrod changed the subject. "I'm going to for a swim in the river, Nick. See if I can cool off any. From the looks of you, you could do with doing the same thing. Coming?"
Nick declined. The heat wasn't affecting him in the same way. "No, you go on. I'm just going to take a look around."
"Oh Nick," Jarrod observed wryly, a smile at what he was seeing creasing his face.
"Yeah, what?" Nick said absently, his focus on where his younger brother was going.
"You have an admirer looking at you,"
"I do?" Nick said suddenly turning, his interest piqued and his hazel eyes set a light, Aponi very much in his thoughts.
"Oh no! Not her!" he exclaimed, seeing White Dove following him. She had been following him for the last two days and Nick for all his attempts could not shake her. She was just the right side of plump, had a sweet face with deep jet black eyes and carried her baby in a papoose.
"What's the matter, brother Nick? You look quite pale."
"Heath told me about her. She's got thighs that could crush a man to death and did. She's buried two husband's already. Believe me Jarrod, I don't intend on being the third!"
"Yeah, but think of the way they went, brother Nick. What a way to go!" Jarrod laughed and walked away down to the river for his swim.
Nick laughed the loudest though when the fickle White Dove followed his brother down to the river, with Jarrod unawares. He was still laughing when he turned to locate Heath and found him entering the Chief's tepee. Then suddenly, the laughter stopped and a worried look crossed his face. Why was his brother seeking an audience with the chief?
The chief welcomed Heath by his Indian name and invited him to sit down, sending his two wives away so that they could talk alone. For a few minutes they talked of general things and then the chief broached the subject of Heath's brothers.
"You want to go with them, my son?"
Heath vigorously shook his head, but his eyes gave away a different answer.
"What are you frightened of?"
"You want to go with them. I sense it. You are wanted here, but your family is out there. The day will come when you will have to decide. That day is coming soon."
"What if I don't want to. What if I want both."
"Your brothers will not be able to stay forever. They will have to return to their own lives. We will move further away. We are destined to go in opposite directions, our paths only meeting for this moment in time."
Heath looked up. "And what am I destined to do? Do I belong here or with them?"
"Your heart will tell you the answer that you seek. Listen to it and accept what it says. Your destiny is written, you just don't know it yet. Now tell me. Why were you arguing with Cloud Feather today."
"He thinks I want Aponi."
"And you don't?"
Heath shook his head.
"Cloud Feather wants her, but I will give her to you, if you want her. She could bear you more children. Many sons. She is younger and prettier than her sister. She will give you a healthy child, one that is not broken."
Even knowing the chief was set in his old ways and beliefs, Heath grew angry at the remark made against his child.. "I have a child, and a wife. They are all that I want. All that I need."
"But Elu has not given you any more children. You have no sons. Aponi does not hide her desire for you. Elu will understand."
Heath stood up. Every now and then his beliefs clashed with those of the tribe. "I love my wife and child. My ways are Christian and that is to only have one wife in the sight of the Lord. Elu is my wife. She is all that I want."
"But you don't have to love Aponi. Just sleep with her and get her with child. What will you do in life if you have no sons."
Heath bent down and came eye level with the chief, who had only shown him kindness and acceptance. "I'm sorry. But it is not my way. Give her to Cloud Feather if that is what she wants. I will not take her for a second wife."
The chief nodded. "Your ways are very strange," he remarked, not comprehending why a healthy young man would not take a young squaw like Aponi for his wife.
Heath smiled, knowing the old man could not understand. Though seventy his bed was warmed by a wife of not more than twenty. Heath looked forward to growing old with Elu, sharing their lives only with each other. Thanking the chief for his audience, he left and went to find his family, not knowing that he was witnessed by Aponi, who having listened from outside, had heard every word.
Victoria Barkley was a woman of equal, if not more determination than her sons. The hurt of finding out that her husband had an adulterous affair during their thirty year marriage had at first wounded her so deep that she had been unable to function, or care about what subsequently happened to her. The betrayal and the doubt about everything she had once thought true between them cut so deep, the family worried if she would ever recover. But heal she did, slowly pulled back by her family and the memories of a husband, who though not perfect, was still the only man that she had loved.
Coming to terms with what had felt like a second bereavement, Victoria turned her attention to the young man who was the product of her husband's affair. Try as she might to feel otherwise she could only feel sympathy for him and his mother. Leah Thomson was a young innocent, her husband twice her age, when the affair begun. That her husband abandoned her to bring up her child alone was a debt that had to be repaid. Her husband couldn't do that now, but she could. She vowed to bring Heath into her family and all that it could offer.
The report the family had commissioned on the young boy, endeared him to her heart. She had read it several times with tears in her eyes, each time feeling closer to him, her resolve to include him in her family gaining strength.
Having arrived at Indian Springs, she quickly arranged overnight accommodation and commissioned a scout to help her find the tribe in which her sons were traveling. She had been overjoyed that Nick and Jarrod had found him so quickly, and was determined that the boy should know she was genuine in her intent.
In her determination, she was sensitive to how he would feel and that he may wish to having nothing to do with his father's family. His bitterness and hatred would be well understood given the abandonment of his mother. All this she considered, but still her resolve was set. She would show him that what seemed insurmountable, could be overcome.
"I'll see you in the morning, ma'am," the scout said.
"Thank you Mr. Bryson. I'll be ready."
Nick and Jarrod found themselves kept busy during their time with the tribe. They accompanied Heath when he went hunting and fishing, and became proficient in setting up and dismantling tepees, helping the women in their work to the amusement of the braves.
Increasingly, they found Heath becoming more relaxed in their company, and enjoyed playful moments with him whilst out swimming or riding. In rare moments he would open up around a camp fire, and reveal a little bit more of himself. They learned he was strong and independent, but vulnerable too, and both felt a protectiveness towards him which would stay with them for the rest of their lives.
Heath too was increasingly curious and asked questions about their mother and sister, and the ranch which they owned. They answered his questions as best as they could, aware that the subject of their father was avoided and never discussed. How would they answer his questions, when they couldn't understand themselves? Their father had stood tall in their eyes and now he stood a little less. All they knew was that Heath was their brother and the bonds forming between them were growing stronger with each day.
Nick's interest in Aponi ceased when he learned she was to marry Cloud Feather. It had never been serious. There was something unattainable about her and Nick had known that from the start. He did not yet know that her desire was for Heath.
Attending the marriage ceremony had been an uncomfortable affair, Cloud Feather making his dislike obvious for all three Barkley brothers, paticularly Heath.
On their wedding night, Aponi, held her detested husband under her spell as he at last took possession of her body. She only had to pick the moment and time and he would do her bidding, and that time would come soon. As her husband finally took her, his face was replaced with that of Heath's and she surrendered willingly to his body's possession of hers.
"This is it, ma'am. They're a peaceful tribe, but follow me closely as we enter the camp." Byrson advised.
Victoria sat back in her saddle and watched with interest the faces of the tribe as they passed by, searching for the face of a blond haired man who she hoped one day would become her son.
Heath looked at Victoria Barkley with a mixture of awe and suspicion. He could not believe this fine lady had traveled all the way from her home to his tribe in order simply to meet him. Deep inside he felt unworthy of her visit and grew shy in her presence. They had been left alone to talk but an awkward silence formed between them and subsequently remained.
Victoria smiled at him and took in his features. He was dressed in a light buckskin shirt and leggings and wore moccasins on his feet. In all respects he looked like a member of the tribe to which he had belonged for five years, were it not for the paler skin and the shock of roughly cut blond hair which graced the top of his head. He was tall, underweight for his height and had the most expressive, and for the moment, saddest blue eyes she had ever seen. Part of her continued silence was because she found in Heath, Tom looking back at her from across the years and she felt herself transported back to the time that they first met.
He was holding his daughter, trying to stop her wriggling and running away. Shysie was a beautiful child, with deep brown dancing eyes and the most wondrously silk, jet black hair. As so often with children she became the conduit between the adults.
"She's lovely Heath, may I?" Victoria asked holding out her arms so that Heath might allow Shysie to come to her.
Heath looked down at his daughter and then nodded, placing her down on the floor and encouraging her to go forward to the lady. The child was naturally curious and toddled over, raising her arms to be lifted up.
"And what is your name?" Victoria asked, brushing back the child's hair from her face with her fingers as she sat her on her lap. When Shysie remained silent, Victoria smiled and encouraged the little girl not to be shy, forgetting that she may not understand English. The little girl remained silent and distracted herself by playing with the buttons on the woman's riding jacket.
"She can't talk," Heath explained, "or hear," he added with huge sadness in his voice.
"Oh I'm sorry," Victoria stuttered, feeling clumsy and sad at the same time, not quite believing that such a sweet innocent child could be afflicted in such a way. She hugged the girl closer just that little bit more. For a moment she almost went into charity mode, wanting to offer Heath doctors and access to money that might help. But now wasn't the time for good works, she had a relationship to build that should have been done twenty years ago, and she had yet to convince him that she was genuine in wanting him to be part of her family.
Shysie wriggled off Victoria's lap and found her way back to her father where she crawled up on to his knee and then snuggled close into his chest. It was obvious they were very close. Soon she was asleep, protected and safe in her father's arms.
"Mrs. Barkley. Why have you come here?" Heath asked eventually.
She listened to his voice. He spoke with a soft, low drawl that complimented his gentle nature. She noticed he looked so lost and confused. She began with an explanation.
"My husband, Heath, was a man who we all put up on a pedestal and that was unfair. No man could possibly live up to those standards. He had his faults, as we all have. He tried his best, but sometimes he failed, and failed badly. In some cases there were consequences.
"Your father became attracted to your mother and they began a short-lived affair, out of which you were born twenty-three years ago. I have had to come terms with their affair, I can see you are still trying to understand. Maybe you will, maybe you won't. Maybe you will never be able to forgive your father for what he did to your mother, or for never being part of your life, as he was with his other sons. You missed out on a lot by not knowing him and he by not knowing you.
"Did he know about you? I honestly don't know. I hope he didn't and that it wasn't a conscious decision for him not to know you. The crime he committed was in not going back to check. I have searched my heart to find only hate for him, but I cannot do so. For in so many ways he was a good man, Heath. A father and a husband to be proud of, despite his spectacular fall. He could never be a father to you, but I want desperately for you to be part of my family. Since learning about you, it has been the one thought that has held our family together as we relive the loss of a man we all thought we knew."
"Did he love my mother?"
"That I cannot answer. Part of me hopes he did not, but I have to accept that there is a chance that he did. The affair was totally out of character. I think it is possible he had deep feelings for your mother to embark on such an affair."
"Knowing that, how can you want me to part of your lives. I will be a constant reminder of him, of what he did. I've seen the photograph. I know I look exactly like him. How can you stand to look at me?" His eyes went downward once again in shame. Quickly she moved forward to raise his head back up so that his eyes could look into hers.
"I stand it because I had a deep love for my husband and your father, Heath. One affair does not wipe out the thirty years that we shared. Oh, it did for a time, but I could no more forget, or regret those years than I could the children we raised together or the life that we built. In some respects, after all the grieving, we just have to accept what has happened and move on with our own lives, treasuring the good memories and forgiving the bad ones and their pain."
"But ain't I bad one? How can you accept me? How can you tolerate to have me near you? I learned to be a second class citizen all my life, Mrs. Barkley. I am use to it. I'm use to having no family, being thought of as dirt. I got me Elu and Shysie now. This is my home."
"You become a second class citizen only if you allow people to treat you that way. You have a father, Heath, the same as anyone and you stand tall with or without his name."
"Forgive me ma'am but that just ain't true. Oh, I got me pride, a sackful of pride, but I still ended up face down in the dirt, beaten to a pulp and called all the names under the sun. I can't subject my family to that. What do you think Stockton would say to you bringing back your husband's bastard and his squaw wife? And Shysie? You think many doors will open to our kind, Barkley name or not?"
Victoria steeled herself, "You'll never know unless you try Heath Barkley!" His head jerked up at the sound of his full name for the first time. "And remember. This time you won't be alone. You will have your family to love and support you. We Barkleys are a stubborn lot and our inner strength comes from our sense of family. You will find that out for yourself if you decide to give us a chance."
Her voice softened, "Heath, you have in Jarrod and Nick, two brothers who have searched the land for you, and having found you have come to love and respect you. You have a sister back home and a younger brother who want to do the same. Why won't you accept that they want you to be part of their lives and they part of yours?"
"And you, Mrs. Barkley? What have you searched for?"
"I, Heath Barkley, have come in search of a son and his family. A son who didn't know he was missing, or lost. We've lost twenty-three years of your life, don't let us lose the next twenty-three. You would miss out on your family and I a son."
Elu could see that Heath was even more troubled than he was before. Victoria Barkley had left him to consider her words and returned to town, accompanied by Jarrod who was needing to return to Stockton and his practice soon.
Her husband remained tense for the rest of the day, and was still troubled when he retired for the night. When she put a hand to his back to comfort him, he didn't respond and whilst they slept close together they were very much alone.
The next morning, Heath gathered his family and made an unexpected trip to Indian Springs. The town was not as big as Stockton and was used to Indians occasionally coming in to town Still, there were unwelcome signs which said "No Indians," and the hotel in which Victoria was staying was one of them. Heath momentarily left his wife and daughter on the sidewalk and walked inside. His appearance raised a few alarms as he walked through the hotel foyer wearing buckskins, but his blond hair and western face gained him admittance.
"Could you tell Mrs. Barkley that Heath Barkley is here to see her please," he asked the desk clerk, politely, aware that people were staring at him.
The desk clerk looked beyond the man and saw the Indian woman and child waiting outside for him. "We don't admit no Indians," he said, disdainfully.
"I know, I saw the sign." Heath replied contemptuously. "Tell my mother I am here, will you?"
"Your Mother?" the desk clerk spluttered, remembering the fine lady who had registered just two days before, finding it hard to believe that this man was indeed her son.
Heath enjoyed seeing the look of disbelief on the man's face.
"Right away, Mr...err.. Barkley," the desk clerk continued to splutter as he made his way away from the desk. "I'll just go up and let her know that you are here."
"Thank you," said Heath, returning to Elu and Shysie. They quietly waited outside, ignoring the stares and censure of people passing by.
Hearing that Heath was in the lobby, Victoria and Jarrrod made their way swiftly downstairs, overjoyed that Heath had come to see them, certain it had to be a good sign. Reaching the lobby they looked around for Heath. "I thought you said my son, Heath Barkley, was here," she asked the desk clerk who had returned to his post.
"He's outside on the sidewalk. The hotel has a "No Indian" policy," he explained.
"My son isn't an Indian," she replied.
"No, but they are!" he said pointing disdainfully to Elu and Shysie.
"You're telling me I cannot see my son and his family inside the hotel?!"
The desk clerk looked embarrassed, "They're Indians, ma'am" he offered by way of explanation.
"They're my family!" stated Victoria imperiously. "If they are not welcome here, then neither am I?"
The desk clerk cast his eyes downward, not offering any objection.
"I see," Victoria said. "Will you please, have my things sent to the hotel down the road. I will take my family there."
"They won't be any different to us, ma'am. Indians are Indians, don't matter which part of town. They're not welcome here."
"You see ma'am, that's what it will be like. Don't matter which town, which state, it will always be like this," Heath said resignedly as Victoria came out on to the sidewalk, her face flushed with anger. "We'll be going home now. I want you to know that we thank you for your offer, but it wouldn't be fair to accept given what you have just seen."
Victoria was furious. Furious with the hotel, the town and above all herself. The only person she was not angry with, was Heath. Shrewdly, he had taught her a lesson and she knew it. In a few moments he had shown her what might have taken her months to learn because of her refusal to see that prejudice not only affects the individual, but those that are associated with the victim too. Humbled, she had watched him walk away, taking his family home. His old life had rejected Heath and it was clear that he was rejecting it in return.
She sat down in her room, a handkerchief blotted with tears pressed in her hands, a knot of anxiety churning away in her stomach. It wasn't as if she had not known about the mistreatment of Indians; there had been incidents even in Stockton. With some satisfaction she had always been proud that the Barkleys had not been part of that mistreatment and had, in fact, interceded on their behalf, protecting their rights and helping them and their families; fighting for, as they saw it, the underdog. It was very much the Barkley way; a family aware of their privileges and setting out to help people less fortunate than themselves.
"Charity," Victoria sneered, her good works of the past suddenly turning sour on closer examination of her motives. "Oh yes, they had helped, but at a distance, never having to live with the prejudice themselves, and if you didn't live with it, how could you possibly hope to understand it, or what the victim really suffered? They had never had to walk in the shoes of the people they had helped.
They were a family with social standing and power, Victoria herself rising from pioneer wife status to cattle baron's wife, her place in Stockton society and the respect accorded her, earned through money, integrity and true grit. What about her social standing now? Did it count more than the son who had just left?
"Mother?" Jarrod said entering the room. He had knocked twice but received no answer. "Are you alright?" he asked, concerned.
"What?" Victoria flustered, startled by the interruption. Then seeing Jarrod, she gave him a weak smile and beckoned him to sit down. "I've been thinking of Heath and what happened today."
Jarrod sighed, "So have I, Mother. So have I."
"We have to be realistic Jarrod. Heath and his family becoming part of our family will have repercussions for us all."
"Yes, I know."
"Not just on us, but on our immediate circle of friends, as well as our standing in Stockton. We may find that having Heath in our family means that we have fewer friends than we thought."
"I suspect it will. That's if we can count them as true friends in the first place. We may be surprised who sticks with us and who does not. I think I know who might fall at the first fence."
"It does not matter to me. I want Heath and his family to become part of our family. Nick and Eugene will feel the same. Audra too, although she may not think far ahead enough to think of her marriage prospects. Though no man who is not able to accept Heath would be worthy of her, it is still a great deal for a young girl to accept. But knowing Audra, I think she will. Her heart it too good for her to turn her back on Heath now that she knows he is her brother. But you, Jarrod. You have aspirations. Aspirations which may be ruined, because you choose to accept your brother and his family. How do you feel about that?"
Jarrod stood up and paced the room, the thumb of each hand, pressed firmly into the pockets of his vest. He stopped and faced her. "Mother, I value Heath above my career. I want Heath and his family to be with us. As to me, there will always be someone in need of a good lawyer and I am a good lawyer. I will do alright."
"But your political aspirations.....Jarrod, you have worked so hard?"
"Would count for little" he interrupted, "if I was to turn my back on my brother. I've only known him a short time Mother, but I like and respect the man. Each of us has the beginnings of a close brotherly bond forming between us. It means more to me than the offer of any political office could. So tell me, mother of mine, what do you want to do?"
"I want to fight for him Jarrod and I will not rest until he understands what he means to this family to which he belongs."
Jarrod bent low and gave his mother a kiss on her cheek. "Bravo! Mother. I never doubted it for a second. Heath will find we are a hard family to walk away from. I shall take you back tomorrow. You can tell him then."
Aponi found Heath bathing at an isolated spot on the river. His clothes remained on the embankment and he was standing under the showering cascade of a crystal clear waterfall, clearly unaware that he was being watched. Seeing Cloud Feather nearby Aponi waited for her moment, satisfied that revenge would be hers that day.
Nick came across Elu and his niece. Scooping his niece up in his arms he grew thoughtful, a tinge of sadness entering his thoughts. He had enjoyed himself here, adapting to the ways of the tribe, finding his brother and making new friends along the way. Having been here a few weeks, he understood the attraction it held for Heath. Equally, he knew that with Jarrod's departure and imminent return to Stockton, he too would have to be thinking along those lines. He could not stay away from his responsibilities and the ranch forever.
He wanted to find his brother, anxious to learn where he had gone to the previous day. He had missed him and after the visit by his mother, he worried how the boy had reacted to what she had to say. Elu directed him to the river, letting him know the spot Heath had found and in which he preferred to bathe. Nick thanked her and went on his way.
Aponi's heart beat faster and seeing Heath leave the waterfall and swim towards the embankment, she hid behind a shrub and waited for him to get dressed. When he was finished she emerged and confronted him, their words becoming heated, just as she had planned. When he went to walk away, she ripped the top of her tunic, which she had purposely weakened earlier, so it fell away exposing her left breast and part of her right.
Attacking him, she struggled with him wildly, felling them both to the ground, his body landing on top of hers. She screamed wildly, her cries alerting Cloud Feather and some braves nearby. Nick, too, heard the screams and began running towards the river. There they found the scene Aponi wanted them to find, Heath looking as though he was attempting to rape her.
Seeing them gather, as she knew they would, she fought wildly, grabbing Heath's hair and digging sharp nails deep into his skin. In the next minute, she felt Heath being dragged from her body and a blanket quickly wrapped around her to cover her nakedness. She cried false tears and cursed the man who had attempted to rape her, saying he had followed her down to the river and attacked her from behind, covering her mouth to silence her.
Heath, unable to comprehend what was going on, heard no more as Cloud Feather ran towards him and attacked him, felling him in one blow. "Heath!" Nick screamed, seeing his brother fall to the ground, unable to believe what he had witnessed with his own eyes.
Cloud Feather scooped his violated bride in his arms and carried her away to be attended by the women of the tribe. Nick having reached Heath, lifted his brother's limp form from the ground and held him, willing him to wake and to explain. Seconds later, two braves separated the two brothers and dragged Heath roughly away. Nick stood empty handed, prevented from following him and shoved forcibly away.
"Eagle Soars, you can't believe for a minute that my brother did this thing he is accused of." Nick protested, having finally succeeded in getting an audience with the old man.
"It is not your concern. It will be settled in accordance with our customs."
"Not my concern! Not my concern! That man is my brother and he would not rape a woman, I know that."
"How do you know that? You have known him only a short time. What do you really know of your brother?"
"Yeah, well you have known him longer. You tell me Chief. Is my brother capable of this?"
Eagle Soars was unresponsive. It did not matter what he thought. There were ancient ways to settle things.
"Your brother told me he was not interested in her. I believed him and gave her to Cloud Feather. He has violated that union and he must now fight."
"Fight? What do ya mean, fight?"
"Cloud Feather has challenged him. They will fight when the sun reaches its highest point."
"You expect them to fight in that heat. It'll climb to over a 100 degrees out there. They'll be baked alive!"
"It is decided. Your brother had accepted the challenge. They will fight today."
As the sun approached the highest point of the day, Cloud Feather stood with two braves on one side, whilst Heath stood alongside Nick.
"You okay, Heath?"
Heath nodded nervously. He was a man who did not seek a fight, but would not run away from one either if there was no other way. He stood accused of something he had not done and the only way to prove his innocence was to fight Cloud Feather, man to man. He looked at Aponi who stood far back, protected by a group of women and a distance away from her sister, Elu, his wife.
The two sisters were now dead to each other, Elu siding with her husband who she believed to be innocent of his crime. Aponi had revealed her true colors, having tormented Elu for weeks, not sparing her the lurid details of her desire for Heath, nor the pain of telling her sister that she, not Elu, would bear his sons as his second wife. Elu had borne it all in silence, not knowing if Heath was planning to take Aponi as his second wife. Now Aponi had taken her jealously to a point where either Cloud Feather or Heath would die today. Yes, her sister was dead to her, and if Heath was to die, Elu would die to.
They were to fight with knives, one-handed and they each had their left hand strapped, incapacitating there use. The tribe gathered to watch, many of them sympathetic to the blond who had come to them five years before. They knew him to be a good man and Cloud Feather a fool, but their ways demanded they fight a duel to their death.
As the sun reached the highest point of the day, the fight commenced, both men circling the other, knives raised in their right hands. Cloud Feather made the first strike, catching Heath with a long slice across his ribs. The next strike came from Heath catching Cloud Feather on the upper arm, cutting deep, blood pouring from the wound.
Cloud Feather shrieked what sounded like a war cry and made another strike, but was caught off balance, falling to the ground. Heath was quick to follow, pinning him down, his knife fending off Cloud Feather's as they fought in the swirling dust, the sun beating down, their back running sweat, dirt and blood.
Somehow they freed themselves of each other and after rolling away they raised themselves quickly off the ground, encircling each other again, knives meeting, flesh being slashed, cuts going deep. The blood ran down their bodies, down their torsos and their legs to pool on the ground and mix with their feet. Nick looked away, unable to stand the sound of flesh being torn and the cuts to his brother's body.
The fight continued, both braves growing weary, grunts becoming louder and each trying to draw painful breath, waiting for the other man to weaken and make a mistake. It came unexpected, both men exhausted, drained of blood and baked by the sun. Cloud Feather's knife struck Heath in the side and drove deep. Heath cried out and sank to the ground. Cloud Feather let out a triumphant scream and made to deliver the final blow, a look of complete surprise registering on his face when Heath recovered enough to strike it first, twisting the knife to seal Cloud Feather's fate.
Aponi screamed seeing her husband fall dead to the ground. Heath dropped his knife and fell back on to his haunches, his face creased with pain, his body resembling a raw piece of meat. Nick ran forward and caught him before he slipped unconscious to the ground, tears falling down his face at the sight of his brother, alive but only just. "Hang on Heath. Hang on brother. God Almighty, please don't let him leave us now!"
Heath's recovery was long, his lacerated body slow to heal, the deep wound to his side causing fever and internal infection. Days came and went, long nights followed, Heath remaining totally unaware, drifting between two worlds, the lure of sleep inviting, promising him no more pain. He cried out for Elu, she did not come. Where was she? Why would she not come?
"We have to tell him!"
"No! He isn't strong enough."
"She's sleeping. She cried herself to sleep."
"I must go to her."
"No, you need rest, let me."
"We all need rest."
Heath stared out of the window. It was morning. He heard the unfamiliarity of street sounds below. His eyes closed and he slept.
He opened his eyes again. It was night. A silver-haired lady slept in a nearby chair. She was holding his hand. His eyes closed and he slept.
He was not to know that the start and the end of the day were a week apart.
They changed his bandages. He wanted to scream, please leave me alone. Let me die. They sponged him, turned him and re bandaged him again. It was torture and he could nothing to stop their manipulation of his torn body. All he could do was lie there and wait for them to stop and his body to heal.
He woke to the sound of his name, but he was not with them. His spirit had shrunk as had his body, which for lack of food and will to live was wasting away, just as he had wanted it to. There was no point in living. His life had unraveled like a loose thread and was spiraling away. His love was gone, killed at the hand of her sister, immediately after his slip into unconsciousness in his brother's arms.
Seeing Cloud Feather fall, Aponi had taken up the knife to finish Heath off, her path of revenge finally brought to a bloody end as the knife sunk deep in to Elu's heart, who having seen the threat to her husband had thrown herself in front of Heath to protect him.
Elu had been killed instantly and Aponi banished from the tribe, destined to wander and die alone, victim to the wolves.
It was three weeks before Heath could be told. Since then, he had withdrawn from life, willing his own death so he could join his sweet Elu again.
"Heath, please eat." Victoria encouraged, lifting his head and bringing a spoon to his lips," He shook his head. "You have to stay alive for Shysie. How will she cope without you. She has already lost Elu!" The words had been said many times before, but this was the first time Heath answered.
"You," he croaked, sound not reaching his voice, indicating that he wanted her to look after his daughter.
Victoria shook her head with the realization of what Heath was doing, "No! By God, Heath Barkley, you will not relinquish that responsibility to me! Shysie, needs you, not me! She has the right to expect you will be a father to her and will do everything to stay with her. She is so alone, Heath, so withdrawn. She does not understand what has happened, or why she can't see you. You do not have the right to take her one remaining parent away from her. Now eat, grow strong and lift up your own burden and raise that child as it was meant to be."
A year passed. The Barkleys had returned to Stockton when Heath was finally well enough to look after Shysie himself. Try as they might they could not persuade him to go with them. He was still thin, grieving and stubbornly insisting that he could not go with them. They had to learn to accept, but it was hard. A hole in their hearts would always remain.
Victoria trimmed the roses of her beloved garden, enjoying the view that reached out far away up into the hills. Her thoughts drifted to her missing son and granddaughter. Upstairs, she had prepared rooms for them, taking solace in furnishing them in their different ways, making everything nice for them. Each day she would wander through them, listening to phantom exchanges of banter between Heath and his brothers and the happiness of a little girl, protected, safe and very much loved.
She worried over all her children, but her greater concern was always for the son who had never allowed himself to be her son. He was such a noble spirit, but she didn't want nobility, she wanted her son, here and living at the ranch and close by.
She heard the main door open and Silas ask who he could say was calling. She couldn't quite make out the name. Casually she brushed the dirt from her hands and removed her sun bonnet and apron, making herself look presentable to receive her guest. Closing the door she stepped into the foyer, her eyes momentarily fixed on the carpet before raising her eyes to welcome her visitor.
There stood Heath and Shysie, silhouetted against the sun lit door, both wearing shy smiles, Shysie almost completely hidden behind Heath's left leg.
"Mother," he spoke softly, as Silas looked on, recognizing now who the young man was. "If the offer is still open, Shysie and I would like to come home."
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