Heath regarded the child sleeping in his arms. The kid had picked himself out a father and Heath was it! Heath, who was still recovering from his illness shifted in the train seat, causing his brother to worry that the kid was tiring Heath.
"Here, pass the boy over to me," Nick said. "He's asleep now, I'll take him for a while."
Heath shook his head. "Nope," he drawled as he shifted Matty to a more comfortable position in his arms. "I'm okay with him." Matty slept on but stuck out his hand and found Heath's shirt which he clutched onto tightly. Heath placed his own hand on the much smaller one to let him know he was there and the child relaxed again.
"That kid has found a hero in you, Heath." Nick observed, not immune to the urchin's charm.
Heath looked up. "It's a father he wants and ... a mother," he said, thinking of Meg. A smile teased Heath's lips at what he would tell her when they arrived back home. He knew Nick had told her about Matty and that he was bringing him home with Samuel and Leah. But, what would she say to him now that she was expecting again? Had he assumed too much? They'd certainly got themselves a brood over the years. He and Meg were happy about that, but was one more too much? Heath thought back to how Matty had run scared, avoiding a beating, into the carriage and had begged him not to reveal his whereabouts to the factory manager. Ill-treatment was written all over the boy's face and body and he was only five years old. Heath's mind had instantly leapt back forty years and to his own ill-treatment as a young boy in the mines and he had closed the carriage door shut.
But when he was small and working in the mines he'd had a mother to go home to and that was the difference. From what Jarrod had learned and he had been thorough, Matty was an orphan and had been placed in the factory some two months before by the institution that was charged with his welfare. Welfare! That was a joke! It was child labor and nothing more. He thought of his two youngest sons. Nicholas and James who were four and three and tried to imagine their being in Matty's shoes. Just thinking about it made him hold Matty tighter and increase his resolve to bring some happiness into the boy's life. The tough little urchin facade was only surface deep; inside there was just a small child in need of someone to take care of him.
The train arrived back in Stockton at fifteen minutes past two. Meg had chosen to meet Heath and the young child on her own. She had waved off the family's concerns that it had only been a week since had been confined to bed, her pregnancy making itself felt in a way completely different to the others. She dismissed it as her age, but she knew better than to take any chances. She had assured Victoria and Jenny that she was feeling fine and perfectly capable of driving the surrey to the train station to meet Heath. Jenny, though desperate to see Nick, allowed Meg her space.
A sensible woman, Meg had sat out the hot sun in the cool of the waiting room whilst waiting for the train to arrive. A guard had signaled the arrival of the train and kindly held the door open for her as she went out into the bright sunshine to await it coming into the station. She carried with her a myriad of emotions; worry about Heath's illness, happiness about his reconciliation with Samuel, elation at the news of the new baby she was carrying and... and.... she tried to sort out her feelings about the young child Heath was bringing home with him for whom they would provide a home and a family. 'Poor little mite', she thought. 'He was probably as scared as she was, more so, for what must it all seem to a boy of five; to travel from the grime and poverty of his existence to a family waiting for him on the other side of the country. She thanked God, he was travelling with Heath. She had heard of Orphan Trains making similar journeys and could only guess at how scared those children might be of the families they would meet, wondering if they would be treated cruelly or kind, for not everyone adopted an orphan with love in their heart.
In a way, Matty's journey was not dissimilar. He had no idea of the reception he would receive. His current world was shrunk to Heath, Samuel and Leah and two ready made uncles, all of whom had taken the boy to their heart. Would he get lost in the larger family? Would he be replacing one kind of loneliness for another. Her own mother's heart had been occupied several times and would be again with the new baby, did she have room for Matty too. But, it was the same heart as Heath's for she no more could overlook a child in need of love than her husband could and she knew in that moment she would indeed find room.
She had insisted on coming alone to the station because she wanted Matty not to be overwhelmed by the family he would be joining. She had talked to all the children and with the exception of the younger ones who just needed reassuring about their place in their parent's hearts, all of them had agreed readily that Matty should come to live with them. And with Nicholas and James reassured about their father's love, they had already decided that Matty would share their room. In insisting on coming alone, she had also wanted to spend some time with Heath and Matty alone so they could get to know each other. She felt sure Jarrod and Nick would take the twins on ahead and allow them that time to become a family together.
The whistle blew and Meg's anxiety grew. She watched the train slow and then halt, steam gushing and filling the platform, obscuring her view. When it cleared, she saw Heath standing with his two brothers and the twins and his hand holding that of a small boy. How small the child looked and underfed, he looked no older than Nicholas who was a year younger. He looked so scared and she could see he was moved to lean into Heath as she approached.
She remembered arriving at this station some twenty years before to meet Heath's twin sons from his first marriage. Oh how she had been scared that they would not want her for their mother. She imagined Matty thinking the same. As she approached she knelt down to this tiny boy who was already filling her heart and was about to speak when Matty removed his face from behind Heath's leg and said. "Are you my new Mama?" It was said without expectation and yet with something else. Hope. A young boy's hope that the journey hadn't been in vain.
Meg smiled broadly and with genuine heart said. "Yes Matty, I am."
Matty lay tucked up in bed by his new parents. He felt snug and warm after a bath and was dressed in a clean and warm nightshirt, which had previously belonged to Nicholas. His new brothers lay in beds not far away and were already asleep. Their names were Nicholas and James. They were nice, friendly. He had other new brothers too, lots, and sisters too, but he couldn't remember all their names. He had met so many today and they had all been very nice to him. His young mind didn't quite know what to make it of it all. It was confusing and exciting all at the same time.
He felt lonely for his new Mama and Papa and slipped out of bed to go search for them. He loved his new Papa, felt safe with him. His wanted to feel that way again. Padding over to the door he reached up on tip toes to turn the door knob and open the door. It creaked a bit and he checked to make sure he hadn't woken his new brothers. He then peeked out into the long corridor. With soft footfalls he treaded the carpet which was soft and strange under his feet and looked at the many doors that lined the long corridor. Which one was Mama and Papa's?
He searched slowly first, approaching some doors and then stepping away, not sure. He was so confused. He started running up and down the corridor wondering which one he should choose and growing more panicked with every step. He'd only just found a Mama and Papa and now he couldn't find them again. Had they decided that they didn't want him anymore? Why couldn't he find them? He stood in the middle of the corridor and started whimpering, lost in the big house, unable to find the people who were going to look after him.
Victoria who had retired for the night early heard his whimpering and quickly donning a robe came out into the corridor where she found this newest of grandsons. "What is this now?" she asked softly, not wishing to frighten him. Matty rubbed his eyes of the tears he was still crying and peeked out between his fingers between further sobs. "I lost my new Mama and Papa. I can't find them again."
Victoria bent low and clasped his warm and red face in her aged, but still elegant hands. They felt cool to his hot skin. "Oh sweetheart. You haven't lost them. This is a big house, isn't it?"
Matty nodded, his sobs beginning to ebb in front of the kind lady. "It's got lots of doors."
Victoria looked around at the familiar and much loved mansion and imagined how big and overwhelming it must appear to Matty whose life had been changing rapidly in the last few days. Today, had been an enormous day; the final leg of a long train journey, arriving at a big house, meeting so many members of a new family. Meg had been right to spend time alone with Heath and the boy. Her instincts had been right about going to the station alone and it was with two parents Matty had entered the mansion, not one. Of course, it was only the first day. There would be moments ahead that none of the family would be prepared for, but she knew from her experience with Heath, that it was worth the investment. She had fought for Heath's place and security in the family and made him fight too and she had never regretted the decision. Nor had his siblings. Yes, he had been worth the investment. He was her son and Matty was now her grandson. He would be worth the investment too. In determined fashion she put out her hand and reached out for his. "Young man. Let's go find your parents."
Matty looked up with some suspicion. "You know where the are?"
"Matty, young man. If you ever feel lost in this big house and you cannot find your parents. Come to me. That is my room, over there. See it is not far from yours. I'll see you safely home. Just like I helped your father safely home too."
Matty didn't understand the significance of her last words. He wiped his face and reached up with a wet hand to take his grandmother's. Victoria smiled at the moist touch and squeezed his hand reassuringly. "Matty. I'm your Grandmother Victoria. You and I are going to be great friends."
Matty was taken downstairs to his Mama and Papa and was soon in his new mother's arms being soothed and kissed, his tears gently being wiped away. Heath got up from his own chair and bent low next to his wife's and ruffled his new son's hair, dropping his hand to his son's back and rubbing it in slow circles to help settle him.
Victoria left the family picture they formed, smiling as she returned upstairs. "Oh Matty! You will never be lost in this family. Heath and Meg are the perfect parents for you. They're not perfect in that sense. None of us who become parents are. We learn as we go along. But they have the instincts for parenting and huge hearts which will make you feel, in time, forever loved and safe. Welcome to the family, Matty Barkley. This is the first day of the rest of your life. And it's going to be a great life. You'll see!"
The next morning, Heath woke up with a little hand tugging his ear between a small finger and thumb. He opened his eyes slowly and smiled when he found Matty sleeping between him and Meg. Matty was still asleep and was nestled in between them. His right arm had reached up for contact and found his father's ear. He pulled Matty to him and the kid nestled in closer, his head resting in the crook of Heath's arm. Meg who had woken with the movement in the bed, gazed across at the picture of contentment and smiled at her husband. "He slept right through."
Heath nodded. "So it seems. A clingy little fellow, ain't he?" He smiled.
"He's bound to be for a while. It will take him some time to settle in with us all. Last night's episode proved that."
Heath grew serious for a moment. "Meg? I did right, didn't I?"
She reached out across Matty to her husband and grabbed his hand. "You did right, Heath. I know he's found his way to your heart already."
Meg nestled in behind Matty. "And mine too, Heath. I think he did the moment he asked me if I was going to be his new Mama. My heart was ready to accept him and he just stepped right in."
"Time to get the young fella up, I reckon," said Heath, his arm numbing under the weight of the sleeping child.
"Why don't you take him on a ride with you and let him see a bit of the ranch. Take Nicholas and James with you so they can all get use to each other and don't feel left out of their father's affection."
Heath turned. "Is that how they feel?"
"They were a little worried until I explained things to them, but they are alright now. They just need some time with you. They've missed you, you know."
Heath held her hand and rolled it in his. The small group lay there like that for a few minutes before deciding to wake the young fella up to his first full day on the Barkley ranch.
Over the weeks, Matty thrived under the care of his new family and his sickly pallor left him as the sun and fresh air regularly kissed his now rosy cheeks. His small frame also began to fill out with some good food and exercise and he had even begun to grow a bit. Meg showed Matty the wall where she kept a note of all the children's sizes and he watched with pride as he was measured too and found his name and height placed next to those of all the other children. There had been some ups and downs, tears and tantrums, borne of fear and frustration, but there had also been lots of consistency, love and care.
After the first few nights of falling asleep in his parent's bed, Heath would put Matty back in his own bed and shortly after he began to go to sleep in his own bed and stay their through the night.
The Barkley children had at first been shocked with some of the coarse slang Matty had come out with, which had become part of his everyday speech in the factory in which he had been forced to work. Meg dealt with it with supreme tact. She did not scold Matty or embarrass him in front of the other children. The child did not know he was saying anything offensive. She simply caressed his cheek with a mother's reassurance and found him an alternative word to use. In time the slang became forgotten and Matty's chatter became as innocent as those of his brothers and sisters.
Matty had been in awe of the size of the ranch on his rides out with his father and wanted so much to be a cowboy. Heath explained to him that school would come first. Matty was happy about going to school, but he still wanted to be a cowboy and every now and then Heath and Meg would catch him trying on Heath's hat in the foyer. Of course, the hat was far too big, but Matty loved to wear it and pretend he was a real cowboy on the ranch. The children were given an old saddle on which they played riding and busting horses. School couldn't come quick enough for him so he could grow up and become a rancher like his father and brothers. But he still didn't have a hat!
Imagine his surprise one morning then, when he woke up to find a large parcel at the end of his bed. Nicholas and James found brown paper parcels at the end of their bed too. "What is it?" They all cried in unison. Over the weeks, these new brothers had become very close.
"Well, why don't you open them up and find out," Meg said, coming in through the open door holding a set of laundered clothes in her arms. She placed them on the top of a set of drawers, ready to be put away and turned to her three sons who looked like it was their birthday and Christmas all rolled into one.
The children eagerly opened the loosely wrapped parcels and out spilled a full set of new clothes, including stetsons for each of them. "I got me a hat just like Papa!" Matty shouted grining from ear to ear and standing up and dancing on his bed. "I have too," shouted Nicholas, followed very soon by James who nearly fell out of bed with the excitement when he tried to stand on his bed and dance too.
Meg was quick to right him and stand him on the floor. "Well, I think it is time for my little cowboys to get washed and dressed. I think your Papa is waiting to take you to town in your new clothes."
A short while later all three boys appeared downstairs dressed in their new clothes and more importantly their stetsons, cowboys at last!
Heath had to smile as he saw his three sons waiting for him in the foyer, ready to go to town. They all stood in a row in their new shirts, jeans and boots and a Stetson on each head. In fact all he could see at first was the Stetsons, his boy's faces lost underneath the wide brims. He let out a half-smile as his brother came whistling into the foyer and saw the trio standing there. Nick's gloved hands automatically found his hips as he bent low to the trio. "I didn't know we were hiring some new hands, Heath? We got three new ones it seems. A might little, perhaps. What do you think? Are they worth taking on?"
Heath watched on with amusement.
"It's us, Uncle Nick!" said Nicholas, peering out from under his wide brimmed hat and revealing a youthful version of his father's face.
"Us? Whose 'Us'?" Nick bellowed, stringing his nephews along and pretending not to know them.
"Us!" Piped Nicholas, "Nicholas, Matty and James."
"Really!" he heard his new nephew utter.
"Matty? Matty, is that you?"
"Yes, Uncle Nick. Look!" he said, taking off his new hat, followed very quickly by Nicholas and James who were anxious to prove who they were.
"So you are not looking to be hired, then?" said Nick, disappointed.
Matty shook his head. "Papa says we are too little," Nicholas answered, "We have to go to school first."
"Oh he does, does he?" Nick gave his answer, pacing the room. The boys listened to his spurs jangling; it was like they had bells on them. "Well your father's right. Education is a good thing."
Matty tugged his uncle's pant leg and beckoned his uncle to bend down so he could whisper something into his ear. Nick not only felt a tug on his leg but on his heart too and did what any self-respecting uncle would do; he bent down as low as he could get. "Uncle Nick. When I finish school will you hire me as a cowboy?" Matty's whisper was loud enough for Heath to hear and his heart gladdened at how happily Matty was settling into his new life and family and forgetting the life of the past. Nick stood up and regarded his nephew who was so earnest in his question and desire. "Without a doubt, Matty. When you grow up There will be a place just waiting for you." Matty beamed, his little mind, not yet understanding that as Heath's son and a Barkley he would one day own the ranch with his brothers.
Nick felt his other pant leg pulled. 'What was it with kids!' Thought Nick. It was Nicholas this time. "What about me, Uncle Nick?" he said with an expectant face.
"You want to be hired too?"
Nicholas nodded. Nick stroked his chin and looked at his nephew hard. "Okay, stand over there with your brother."
"Which one? I got two."
Nick shot Heath a look. "Is this kid yours or mine? I swear he looks like you but he sounds like me!"
"Meg assures me he's mine," Heath replied dryly, enjoying the exchange going on between his sons and Nick.
"Now where were we?" Nick asked, trying to get back on topic.
"You were telling me to stand next to my brother, Uncle Nick." Nicholas reminded him.
"Oh yeah. Well if you want to be hired when you are older, stand next to Matty."
Nicholas did as he was instructed. He smiled at his Papa and as he did so, his hat fell over his face. Heath placed it back on his head.
Nick looked around. "James, do you want to be a cowboy when you grow up?"
"Right, well line up with your brothers because from now on you are all apprentice cowboys, okay?"
All three children nodded eagerly. Heath smiled, wondering where this was going. Nick had about five minutes to wrap this up because he wanted to get the boys to town for a special reason. He took off his own hat and sat on the bottom stair where he was joined by Meg who was passing with a vase of flowers. After she had placed it down on a side table, she shot Heath a look and with it a question that asked what was going on. "Don't ask," Heath replied, pulling her on his lap and wrapping his arms around her and the growing baby. Victoria also came into the foyer, wondering what was going on. Nick realized he was gathering an audience.
"Okay then," he sighed out heavily. "As of this day, you are apprentice cowboys. Matty, you're the foreman, okay. That means you are in charge."
Matty nodded, not really understanding his role. His eyes searched out his father's and Heath smiled back reassuringly at him. That was all he needed.
"Now kids," Nick continued, warming to his improvised subject. He had a habit of pacing the room as he thought and he was trying to think fast now. "Now..... " he said punching his gloved hand. "Now..." he repeated, punching it again. "Everyone knows a cowboy lives by a code."
"A cowboy code, Nick?" Heath queried with an amused smile. Nick glared him down and continued: "Yes. A cowboy code. Meg?"
"Yes Nick," Meg replied obediently, just as amused.
"Maybe you would be good enough to write this down for the kids."
"Write what down Nick?" she asked innocently. Victoria answered for him.."I think he means the Cowboy Code, Meg." She said with an amused smile. "You must have heard of the code?"
"No, Mother. I don't think I have, but by all means for the sake of the children I will get a pen and paper and write it down." Meg couldn't resist teasing.
When she returned, Nick began with the first rule. He was still thinking on his feet and if Meg didn't write down the rules he wouldn't have a clue what he had said. "Now kids. Iff'n you are wanting to be a real cowboy when you grow up you must say "Boy Howdy!" to each of these rules."
"1. A cowboy must always respect his Mama and Papa at all times and do what they say." Nick indicated they needed to make a response. "Boy Howdy!" They all chorused, though Little James lagged a little behind and only managed 'Howdy'.
"2. cowboy must always be kind to animals and see to them before he sees to his own needs, especially his horse." "Boy Howdy" the boys all agreed. "Howdy." James added.
Nick scratched his head for a new rule.
"3. A cowboy must always be kind and polite and help people." "Boy Howdy!" Nicholas and Matty agreed. "Howdy!" piped in late again.
Nick was struggling now. He decided to wipe the smile of his brother's face. "What's the fourth rule Heath?"
Heath nearly fell to the next stair. "The fourth rule, Nick?" he squirmed.
"Yes what's the fourth rule?" Meg joined the teasing. She was still busy writing them all down. Heath looked at his boys who were all waiting for his answer.
"4. A cowboy should always look out for his brothers." He settled on finally. "Boy Howdy!" Nicholas and Matty agreed. James was about to pipe up "Howdy!" when Nick stopped him. "I know James. 'Howdy!'
"And the fifth rule is......" Nick was struggling now, not having thought of a fifth rule. He fingered the brim of his hat and it give him inspiration. "The fifth rule is always wear your hat!"
"Hmm," Meg piped up, wanting her young cowboys to be young gentlemen as well.
"Oh yeah. That is unless ladies are present in which case remove it quickly. Got that kids?" The children nodded and seeing there were two ladies present, their mother and grandmother, removed their hats in accordance with the fifth rule.
Shortly afterwards and to much amusement two 'old' cowboys and their apprentices made their way to the buckboard to set off for town.
Victoria linked arms with Meg who put the cowboy rules in her pocket. "Remind me Meg, between Nick and Nicholas, who do you think after this morning's performance, is the child?"
Both ladies laughed for it was ready on both their tongues to shout Nick, only the poor child was still in hearing distance!
The Barkley brothers, senior and younger arrived in Stockton around ten and stopped off at the General Store. The store was one of many in town and the shop window was full. Suddenly remembering their code all three boys took off their hats as two ladies swept by in their fine dresses. Nick drew Heath's attention to what his boys were doing and both brother's smiled. They removed theirs' too when the ladies stopped and passed a few comments with the boys and then their father and uncle. Suitably charmed by Barkleys the ladies went on their way and the Barkley family went inside.
The store was busy and whilst Nick went in search of some things that he wanted for his own place, Heath allowed the boys to browse. James and Nicholas ran with enthusiasm towards a display of toys whilst Matty stayed back, reticent and shy. Heath bent down to his level and asked him what was wrong. Just the placement of his hand on Matty's back had the child leaning into him. Heath smiled. He thought he understood. Matty was like himself, a child who had survived on very little. Somethings had to be taught. "It's alright son. Go pick something out with your brothers."
Matty still held back.
Heath tried again, knowing the boy just needed a bit of encouragement. "Go on son. You can pick something out for yourself."
"Just for me!" Matty said, lifting his head so he was nose to nose with Heath.
"Just for you." Heath confirmed with a smile that gave further approval.
"Oh thank you Papa!" Matty ran off to join his brothers, leaving Heath still kneeling where he was and enjoying watching them choose. They each took a long time picking out something. James kept stroking the mane of a rocking horse and then kissing the horses nose, whilst Matty kept staring at something and then stealing looks back at his father.
"What have you found Matty?" Heath asked as he came across to see.
"I don't know Papa. I never seen anything like it before."
Heath regarded the piece of brightly colored fabric stretched out on a frame and a tail attached to it. "It's called a kite, Matty. You hold on to this end, see and then you run with it and the wind whips it up high in the sky. Is this what you want?"
"Will you show me?" said Matty a little uncertainly, but clearly wanting the toy.
"You bet. Come on. Let's go get find what your brothers have picked out." Matty watched his father pick up the kite he had fallen in love with and hand it over to an assistant. They went to see what Nicholas and James had found. James was equally in love with his rocking horse and when Heath placed him on the seat, the picture was perfect, cowboy hat and all. Nicholas meanwhile had found a ball he had already taken ownership of.
A short while later, all five Barkleys emerged from the store and the after kite, the rocking horse and the ball had been put in the buckboard the family walked down the sidewalk towards the ice cream parlor for another treat.
Inside was another first experience for Matty. He'd never seen an ice cream before and as he was lifted by his father to see all the different flavors his eyes were like saucers and his feet dancing in mid-air at the wonderful choices.
Both Nicholas and James already had established tastes and eagerly began selecting their favorite - chocolate.
Again, Matty looked at his father for some guidance. Heath suggested strawberry knowing his son liked things sweet and before long the boys were sitting with their ice creams and enjoying every bit, even the bits that somehow escaped their mouths and dribbled down their chins. Matty's face was pure joy. He had never tasted anything so delicious before and his hands and mouth soon got sticky as the cold, fruity substance slipped down his throat. Matty decided there and then that the ice cream parlor was his favorite place on earth and that ice cream was his favorite food!
Returning to the wagon, Heath picked up the reins after everyone was settled and they drove out to the countryside where the children eagerly got down to play with the ball Nicholas had got and Matty's kite.
Little James ran himself dizzy being chased by a relaxed Nick who looked forward to doing the same thing with his six month old son one day. James squealed with delight when Nick caught him and then tossed him over his shoulder. It was a delightful relationship and brought fun to them both.
Matty and Nicholas looked on excitedly as their father brought out the kite and carefully laid it on the grass, making sure the string to which it was attached was unrolled carefully so Matty could run with it and give it flight. When it was finally ready, he showed Matty what to do and Matty ran as fast as he could so the kite would pick up off the ground.
Unfortunately, his little legs stumbled and he fell to the ground, tears and frustration immediately followed. With practiced ease, Heath picked him up, dusted him off and dried his tears and then set his son off again. Again, he fell but the tears stayed away this time. This time Heath's extra height and longer legs managed to get the kite up in the air and up it went, dancing with the wind, soaring into the blue/white sky. Heath held on to the spool of string which held the kite firm and wrapped Matty's hands round it, telling him to hold on tight. Matty, whose face was filled with wonder, nodded, his eyes fixed on the kite and its continuing merry dance. Heath still held on until he was sure Matty could hold it and then let go, letting Matty assume full command. The kite held all their attention as it swooped and soared. When it pulled at Matty, Matty held kept a firm grip, just like his father had shown him and made sure it didn't fly off.
"Can I have a go?" Nicholas asked eagerly.
Heath was sure Matty would share his toy in time, but just for now this was his moment and Heath didn't want to cut short his enjoyment. He suggested to Nicholas he fetch his ball and together the two played.
A picnic packed by Meg provided lunch and afterwards the boys refused to let their father sleep, tickling him and climbing on top of him every time he closed his eyes. Pretending to be asleep Heath would surprise them by reaching out and grabbing one and very quickly a new game had been found.
Eventually, the day drew to a close and Heath knew it was time to get the boys home. It had been a wonderful day. Later when the boys were bathed and dressed for bed, each child told their father how much they had enjoyed the day and asked if he could the take tomorrow off too. Heath smiled and kissed them. "Maybe not tomorrow, but soon." He replied, tucking them in.
As he tucked Matty in last, the little boy reached up and Heath hugged him, before turning on his side to go to sleep. "I love you Papa," Matty said, sleepily. Nothing more, nothing less. Just four little words, but the gift to Heath was that they were spoken just like those of his other sons. Matty was indeed one of the family now.
Matty felt his arm being shaken and woke up to hear James sobbing by his bed. "What's wrong, James? he asked through sleepy eyes.
"I had a bad dream," James said, rubbing his eyes and looking rather lost in his night shirt and bare feet.
"Want me to get Papa?" Matty asked, sitting up.
"Can I get into bed with you?" James asked, not wanting to spend the rest of the night alone in his own bed.
Matty nodded and moved over so James could climb in. "Sure you don't want me to tell Papa?" Matty checked. James shook his head as he settled down into the bed and put his blond head on the pillow. His tears slowed until he was left with small hiccups and his flushed face settled to a more normal color. "I'm not scared in your bed." he said through intermittent hiccups. "Okay," Matty replied. They settled down to sleep, their faces turned to each other and chubby still babylike hands held for extra comfort. A short while later, James woke again and woke his brother. This time James wanted his Mama.
In their nightshirts they padded barefoot the short distance to their mother and father's room with James holding the tail of his brother's nightshirt with one hand and rubbing his wet face with another. As they reached the door, Matty stretched up on tip toes to turn the knob and inside they went. Their mother and father were asleep. Matty took his brother's hand and padded over to his Mama and tried to wake her by shaking her arm. James hiccupped between sobs.
Meg woke and saw her two little boys peering over the side of the bed. "Matty? James? What is it?" she said worried.
Matty spoke up for James. "James is having a bad dream. He got into my bed but the bad dream didn't go away, Mama. I tried to make him feel safe."
Meg woke up Heath who was fast asleep and with some difficulty, because of her advancing pregnancy, sat up and helped the boys scramble up into the bed. Her arms instantly comforted James. He felt warm and she checked for fever. Finding none, she set about trying to ease his fears.
Heath came alert and soon the two boys were sleeping in their parent's bed, James snuggled into his mother, his little thumb tucked in his mouth and Matty pulled close into Heath's body and a protective arm wrapped around him, both parents waiting until their sons were fast asleep before letting sleep reclaim them too.
Jarrod helped himself to a cup of coffee whilst Heath and Meg perused the papers. "Everything's legal, Heath. As soon as they are signed, Matty is legally adopted."
Heath felt satisfied and squeezed Meg's hand. She was growing large now and both suspected that the baby would turn out to be twins again.
Doctor Merar had advised increased bed rest and physically Meg was in no shape to argue. She had sailed through a number of her pregnancies which had been regular over the years, the last being James who had arrived into the world with very little fuss, a delight to his parents with his innocent charm and easy manner, but this time her age was working against her and she felt tired.
She eased back onto the mound of pillows and contemplated the little boy they were adopting today who four months before had come unexpectedly into their lives. Heath and Meg loved him dearly and were going to give him a special party today to celebrate his adoption and birthday all rolled into one. Try as they could, they had not been able to find out his true birth date and so had decided that his adoption day would be a fitting day to choose. They had also suggested that in honor of his adoption he may wish to choose a special name to be added to the name Matty. It took a little explaining before he understood he could have a new name and when he had thought long and hard enough, he decided he wanted to be just like his daddy. Meg took that as a signal that Matty would like his father's name and so it was with pride and love she instructed Jarrod to make it official along with the adoption.
So it was Master. Mathew Heath Barkley, fondly and forever known as Matty who stood ready to be adopted today. Jarrod had arranged adoptions before but few as informal or as loving as this particular ceremony. Matty knelt on the bed next to his mother, watching his father and mother sign a piece of paper, the words of which were beyond his comprehension. All his young mind knew was what his mommy and daddy had told him. That signing this special paper meant he would be their son forever. No one could take him away from them. Not ever!
The adoption papers signed, Matty was cuddled and kissed first by Meg and then Heath, and then by his uncle who with the formalities over and documents put away, resumed his role of uncle, before choosing an appropriate moment to leave the new adoptee with his parents for some special time alone.
Matty Heath was ready for his birthday party to begin and the first and most precious gift had been getting his new parents!
Some months later...
Matty held his father's hand with two hands and stared a little uncertainly at the two cribs containing his new brother and sister. He didn't know which one to look at first. They both looked the same. His little brothers, Nicholas and James were sitting on their parent's bed getting much wanted attention from their mother. Their sisters and older brothers who were well inducted into the world of new babies had already been to see the twins and were now downstairs with the rest of the family, but to the little ones this was all new.
Meg and Heath were a little concerned about how Matty especially would react to the new twins. His adoption was only a few months old and almost seamlessly it had seemed he had fitted into the family, not getting lost in its numbers as Meg had once feared, but winning a whole set of brothers and sisters who looked out for him and protected him.
But, Matty was young for his age and finding a family had seemed to make him younger still. It was like the child who had been forced to grow up too fast and work in the factory had been reborn within his Barkley family. Nightmares about his time in New York were few and far between now. The more he had been absorbed into the family and to life on the ranch with all its goings on, the more his painful memories had been replaced with only good ones. It was Heath's and Meg's fervent hope, this would be the only life Matty would remember, the past forever consigned to the past.
So it was with extra special care, Meg and Heath introduced Nicholas, James and Matty to the twins.
"Papa? Why are there two babies?" Matty asked in all innocence.
"Well, they're twins, Matty," replied Heath softly and bending down to his son's level so they both peered over the cribs. "That means that they both grew in your mommy's tummy instead of just one of them. They kinda kept each other company in there."
Matty turned around so his nose brushed with his father's button-ended one and asked in all seriousness. "But how did they both get inside Mommy's tummy. Did Mama swallow them?"
Heath had been asked this question before by some of his other more inquisitive children, but none of them had suggested that babies had got inside Meg's tummy by her swallowing them. Still, while he thought for an answer he considered that for a little boy who associated his tummy with food, it was indeed a logical suggestion. "No," he replied eventually. "She didn't swallow them. The babies grew in there from the love your mother and I have and show for each other."
"What do you mean?" Matty asked, not really understanding, but almost as soon as he had said it, he was distracted by the cry of one of the babies beginning to wake up. He turned to see which one it was.
Somewhat relieved by the interruption, Heath kissed the back of his son's head and said wistfully, not wanting this son to grow up too quick, "When you're older Matty, I'll explain it better to you. You'll be ready to understand then." He'd already had this conversation with some of his older sons and the conversation never got any easier. He would, perhaps, be surprised to realize how well his sons appreciated his handling of the situation. Each son grew up to be respectful of women and to make good marriages in time with Little Heath's and Little Matty's and James' all of their own.
The baby waking had Matty's full attention now and he clutched on to the edge of the crib before giving his father a worried look.
"It's alright, Matty," Heath assured him. He stood and carefully picked his daughter up, cradling her in his arms. Matty's eyes followed him as he took the baby to Meg and she undid her gown to begin feeding.
"What's Mama doing?" Matty asked, not leaving his Mama's side or his eyes from the baby.
"Mama's feeding your sister," Heath told him as he sat down on the bed.
"But why can't she eat at the dinner table with us?" Nicholas asked.
Heath smiled. He shot Meg a look and she lifted her eyes from their daughter, amused at all the questions and how her husband was handling them.
"Well, she's too tiny at the moment. She needs to get milk from your Mama and grow a bit, then she will be able to begin eating on her own, like you do.'
"Like the calves and the foals do," Matty remembered. "Their mama's feed them too when they are born," said Matty understanding now.
"That's right," Heath replied, pulling Matty on to his lap. "Now your Mama and I have a question to ask all three of you?" His son's listened intently wondering what it might be. "Your Mama and I were thinking of calling your sister here, Anna Elizabeth and were about to think of a name for your brother, when we thought it would be nice if his big brothers chose his name for him instead. You know he's going to need his big brothers to show him how things are done around here and what to do when he gets a bit older. What do you think boys? Are you going to be big brothers to him and Anna and look out for them and protect them, just like your older brothers do for you?'
It was a big question and the boys gave it serious thought. "Yes," they said, nodding their heads vigorously. Somewhere in their young minds they realized that being a big brother was something very important.
Heath smiled when James slid off the bed and went over to his brother's crib. "Hello," he said. "I'm your big brother. You have got to do what I say."
Heath winced, realizing James' big brother role was going to be learned on the job.
"Papa?" Matty reminded him. "We got to pick him a name."
It took them a while but the boys finally settled on the name George, it being a name that impressed them. Heath and Meg agreed it was a good name and in honor of their sons added the names Mathew, Nicholas and James. It was a lot of names for a little fellow, but Heath reckoned George's big brothers would help him carry the load until he was big enough to carry them alone.
Later when the boys had gone downstairs and Heath had returned to Meg's side to spend sometime with her and the twins, he reflected on the scared little boy he had met in New York. There was no trace of that boy now in the young boy who was now Matty Barkley and his own beloved son. The babies returned to their cribs, Meg fell asleep wrapped in Heath's arms. He watched her sleep for a while and then joined her. Outside their children played, younger ones and older ones, a happy group and the loudest laughter was Matty's.
The Cowboy Code was inspired by Gene Autrey's Cowboy Code and I sure hope no one minds me borrowing the idea and adapting it slightly. I thought it was a fun idea