"A Mother's Touch"
A touching moment between an ailing Heath and Victoria
Over the years Heath' s bouts of illness were much reduced from what they use to be, but they could occasionally lay him low. Fortunately, they were no longer life-threatening and for this the family were grateful given his original diagnosis.
He never really did improve as a patient though. There was just something about his nature which balked against the restraints that illness put upon his outwardly fit body. For the sake of his family though he learned to curb his frustration at his circumstances, concentrating instead on getting better.
Of course, seasoned carers, such as his mother and Meg, easily recognised the frustration that would build up and learned to ward them off. And of course, Nick was always on hand to offer his own brand of no-nonsense care.
At this stage in his recovery - post fever and still relatively weak, Heath was sleeping a lot and spending a lot of time resting in bed. He had a stack of books supplied for his entertainment, but largely untouched, and a steady of stream of visitors, balanced nicely to keep him entertained but not overtired. Of course, curbing the children to such limits was difficult but somehow Victoria and Meg managed to keep a strict and sometimes diversionary regime to achieve this. They were well versed in the way to get Heath well again.
After one of his naps, Heath woke to find his mother sitting in the chair by the bed. Rubbing his eyes of what seemed eternal sleep, he blinked himself awake and gave her a tired, but 'happy to see her' smile. "How long have you been there." He yawned, his body still not quite ready to give up sleep. His concern for his mother, now in her seventies, came across in his voice.
"Not long. You were a bit fitful about half an hour ago. You seem to calm when I started talking to you." As she said the words, she leaned forward to run her fingers through his still thick hair. His normally sun-tanned skin looked pale from the illness and she longed to see it return to its healthy glow.
"A mother's touch. It always works." Heath replied as he welcomed the gesture. "I've seen how Meg works it with the children when they are upset or ill."
"Well, you're my child, no matter how old you get, Heath Barkley." Victoria answered him, pouring a glass of water from the nearby pitcher.
"I've always felt that." Heath said, with some effort, as he pushed himself up into a sitting position to lay back on pillows propped up by his mother. "You've been my mother for nearly thirty years now, yet it feels as though I have always been here. You made it feel that way when you included me in everything about the family, past and present."
"You're my special child, Heath. Oh, I love you all equally, but you trusted me to become your second mother and I have always considered that the most precious gift given to me."
"You've repaid it in full and more," Heath replied, picking up her hand to kiss the back of it in a beautiful gesture, "I wouldn't be what I am today without your love and guidance and protection."
"From myself. You taught me how to accept what has happened without bitterness. That was incredibly generous of you given how father betrayed you, Mother. You helped me love father - to choose to love him rather than hate him. I reckon he and me will have a few things to say to each other when we finally meet up, but my love for him will not be in question when we do. And because of that I have been able to help my children love him too. They need that Mother. They need to feel that like I do."
"You're an exceptional man, Heath Barkley. I am glad you think I have helped to shape you. That's what parents do; they guide and steer to help inform your choices. They hope you make the right ones. You have never disappointed me with the choices you have made...Your mother played a special part in shaping you, too... It's been so long since she died, do you remember her still?" Victoria's generosity to Leah was genuine and heartfelt.
Heath's gaze remained steady as if he was drifting back in time. "I think. Mother, I remember her more now than I did after she died." He screwed his face up with the memory. "Things seem to get lost for a while after she was died. I couldn't seem to remember her face, or the sound of her voice. The more I tried, the harder it was to remember.
"I think I was angry at her for leaving me. I tried so hard to keep her memory fixed in here," he said indicating his head. I guess it took me a long while to learn she resided here," he said, moving his hand to his heart.
"Now, the older I get, the more clearly I remember the things we did together Really remember I mean. In the way that I can almost touch her; talk to her as she sits in her rocker, or on the porch, shelling peas with me helping her, her wisps of hair breaking free and framing her face.
"It feels so real I almost feel euphoric... then it happens, I realize she is gone and I grieve for her again." There was a long pause before he continued. "But, you know Mother, even though I know it's not permanent I wouldn't miss those moments of closeness, the feeling that she is with me again. They're moments you and I share everyday. How fortunate am I?"
Victoria's eyes teared up with love and appreciation. She had never doubted she had an equal place in her son's heart. Heath had always told her so and shown it in her love for her.
Heath picked up on her thoughts. "What I love about you, Mother," he said, taking her hand again. "Is that you never denied me Mama whilst allowing me to love you the same way. I have two Mothers. One who carried and bore me, raised me and loved me until her last breath, and another who carried on the responsibility of that care and that love. I'm the most fortunate of men, Mother. To have the both of you in my life and to be able to love you both in return."
Victoria hugged her son, letting her tears cascade on to his face. Heath gently wiped them away. "I was hoping that would make you happy, not sad." he joked.
Victoria squeezed his hand and kissed him on the lips. "You have always made me happy, my darling son. Always." She tried to pull herself together. "Now young man, I'll go get you something to eat, you must be starving." She made to leave.
Gently, he pulled her back. "It'll wait a while, Mother. Besides, Nick promised me he'd help me downstairs later. And no arguments, I'm coming down. I can manage downstairs just as good as here. Just let's you and me sit here a spell. I don't often get you to my self these days and I'm kind of partial to having your undivided attention and you mine."
Heath didn't make it downstairs, even though Nick came up as promised to help him down. Instead, he fell back to sleep after a short while. Only then did his mother leave him to join the rest of the family; this large family which Heath had gifted her and which she enjoyed every day.
"Victoria Serves Nick Notice"
A private moment of another kind between Nick and Victoria
“When are you going to get yourself a wife, Nick Barkley?” Victoria Barkley demanded of her middle son. She was angrily tending to the cuts and bruises her son had gained in a saloon fight that night.
That Nick seemed to wear them with some misguided sense of pride did not impress his mother at all. It only increased her ire. She was tired and in no humour to be tending two sons who should know better. Oh, she knew they were grown men, and had probably suffered far worse out on the range, but under her roof they were hers' and the liniment came quick to hand.
“You should have seen the other side,“ Nick declared when she had discovered him in the kitchen trying to tend to his cuts, and his brother attempting to do the same with his own.
The noise and clatter they had made in their joint, clumsy efforts to get to the faucet first, had drawn Silas out of his ground floor bedroom, and Victoria from upstairs to establish what all the noise was about.
“And what difference would a wife make now?” Nick complained loudly as the use of liniment touched base with his skin and made him jump from his chair.
Anticipating his reaction Victoria simply pressed down on his left shoulder to restrain him, her small stature seeming to dwarf his taller one. “It would save me this!” She declared impatiently, her hands holding the liniment in one hand and a dressing in the other.
Next to Nick sat Heath, who was in equally sorry repair. He nursed a sore head, the parting gift from an opponent, who having laid Heath out flat by unfair advantage, was himself laid out flat by a right-punch from Nick - the older brother inevitably having taken exception to the way the younger one had been treated. He recalled what had happened.
“Did I get him?” were Heath’s first words as he came round, clearly still stunned from the blow, a galaxy of stars circling his line of vision and ready to make a second trip.
Nick hauled him to his feet and held him steady whilst he found his legs. Quite who was holding Nick up was another matter. Gravity and balance worked hard to keep him upright.
“You didn’t. But, I did.” Nick’s triumphed loudly as a grin spread wide and a trail of blood from a recent blow trickled down his chin. His gloved right hand swiftly swept it away. Then doubling over, his hands on his knees, he tried to catch his breath. “You okay?” He asked, the victory of the evening not yet above his concern for his brother.
“Never felt better.” Heath declared trying to smile, though outwardly he looked anything but. Still dazed he regarded the room of sprawled opponents, each man nursing sore jaws, or some other non-serious injury.
His blue eyes took in the damage done to the saloon. “Boy Howdy, Nick! We sure had ourselves a fight, didn’t we?” A long whistle emitted from his bruised lips before his face took on a victory smile.
Nick, let out an equally battered, but deeply satisfied smile.
“That we did, Heath.” He replied. They were joined by Carl Weaver, who promptly slapped both Barkley brothers on the back in congratulatory style.
Nick, pulled himself to his full height and turned to the barkeep, who was already totting up the damage.
“Harry! Send the bills to the ranch. We’ll settle the damages.”
Harry nodded phlegmatically, knowing he would get his money. Fights were an occupational hazard for any barkeep in Stockton.
The Barkleys and their crew, including their friend, Carl Weaver, hadn’t started the fight, but they hadn’t backed away from it either when words had failed to work. All they had been looking for, was a quiet drink in town, a game of poker, and then a companionable, untroubled ride home. The drifters had showed up spoiling for a fight. It didn’t matter with whom.
Carl and some of the crew somehow managed to put the two Barkleys on their horses and send them home. Once there, they went their separate ways and the two brothers stumbled into the house via the back door. They went to the kitchen figuring they needed some attention before retiring to bed. It was there, their mother found them waging undeclared war on the kitchen that Silas took great care to maintain.
“Heath’s married. And look at him?” Nick finally said, answering his mother's question much put out that his brother was managing to avoid their mother’s ire.
Heath was smart and sensibly remained quiet on the subject. Besides he had another woman's wrath to worry about. Meg's!
Meg was away for a few days visiting a friend who was expecting her baby any day. In a brain working overtime Heath calculated his bruises would have chance to fade to a more acceptable colour by the time of her return. At least his nose hadn’t been broken this time. He winced as Silas applied the liniment to his face.
“Now, Mr. Heath." Silas complained. "It’s either me applying the liniment, or your mother. I’ll leave you to decide which.”
No matter how bad it felt, Heath realized his mother would apply the hated ointment with greater fervour than Silas, such was her belief in its healing properties. “You,” He replied meekly, having made his decision.
Victoria raised her eyes to Silas and together they shared a unspoken joke at Nick and Heath’s expense.
Sometime later, the cuts finally attended to and the liniment and dressings put away. Victoria and Silas watched the two by now highly liniment-fragrant brothers make their limping way to the staircase. It was a comical sight watching them both climb the stairs, each giving a helping hand to the other that only served to make matters worse.
“Thank you, Silas,“ Victoria expressed gratefully, getting ready to follow hers sons upstairs. The houseman and old friend nodded in acknowledgement before retiring once again for the night.
Victoria reached the top of the stairs and heard the door to her sons’ bedrooms close fast, first one, then the other.
Reflecting, she sighed, “Yes., Nick Barkley. A wife is definitely what you need, and please God make it soon!”