Heath Barkley stole away from his family and guests and quietly ascended the stairs to the nursery on the first floor. Carefully, he opened the door and stepped side, just as careful to shut it quietly so as not to disturb the occupants. Hearing a creak under his feet, he took off his boots and padded in stocking feet towards the four sets of cribs lined up against the wall, two swathed in blue and two in pink. He looked inside each of them and smiled a half-smile, then frowned slightly, disappointed that one of the babies wasn't awake so that he could pick them up and hold them close to his chest.
The first of the blue cribs held his grandson Ned Barkley, the second son and child of Sean and his wife, Libby. Ned was born three months ago and was fast developing lungs to rival his Great Uncle Nick. He was, however, a perfect angel when he slept. Next came Anna Margaret, She was also three months old and had been born to Heath's daughter, Cate, who had married the previous summer after a long courtship in which, predictably, she had dillied and dallied and changed her mind several times before finally gliding down the aisle on her father's arm to marry her young doctor.
In the third crib, lay another boy, Andrew Sean Barkley, the oldest of the four babies, sleeping away the afternoon. He was six months old and the sturdy, stocky boy of Heath's second son, Thomas, and his wife Abby. She'd had a difficult confinement and they had very nearly lost Andrew before he was born. Since his birth though he had thrived and now lay chubby in his cot, sucking on his fist in his sleep.
Finally, in the last cot lay little Meggy who at two months old was the youngest and yet the most senior in some respects, for little Meggy was Heath and Meg's daughter and therefore aunt to all the others. Born to her mother when Meg was approaching fifty, Meggy was not only a surprise addition to their family, but probably represented the last of Heath's and Meg's large brood which now stood at sixteen. Now grandchildren had started to appear and before long many others would join them.
The door opened and in toddled Heath Barkley III, followed by a very graying but distinguished pair, Nick and Jarrod Barkley.
"Little fellow wanted to know where his Grandpa had gone," Nick offered by way of explanation as Sean's eldest son, Heath, toddled over to his grandfather and made a large noise so he could be picked up.
"Well good to see you too, young fella," Heath said in reply to his young grandson as he sat him on his knee. Turning to his brothers, he said "Pull up a seat," and together the three brothers sat and admired the new Barkley additions whilst reminiscing about old times. Sometimes their stories took on a bit of embellishment, or were remembered differently by one brother, or another, but by and large they were good times that were remembered, and one of the constants that pleased them all, was the genuine friendship they all felt for each other.
Jarrod was now fifty-nine. He remained still, a strikingly handsome man, retaining the playful sapphire blue eyes of his youth, which succeeded in keeping his face youthful despite the heavily peppered gray hair. A judge of several years standing, he had married in his early forties and was now the father of three fine sons, the eldest of whom was fifteen and the youngest eleven. He and his family lived in San Francisco but visited the ranch often, usually staying with Nick and his wife because of the lack of available space in the mansion.
Nick, 55, had married Jenny Farmer, the school teacher, as she was known, though she hadn't taught school now for nigh on sixteen years. He himself had four daughters and a young son, who was just seven years old and called Little Heath after his brother. He lived not far from the mansion and continued to run the ranch with Heath and his eldest sons.
Interestingly, but not unexpectedly for this close set of brothers, each of them had named one of their children after the other, if not as a first name then as part of two the children had been given. One of Heath's sons was called Nicholas and another was called Joshua Jarrod. Nick had Little Heath, whose full name was Heath Jarrod Thomas and Jarrod had William Heath and Steven Nicholas. Now with Heath Barkley III, a new generation had begun.
Andrew Barkley who had been sucking his fist with even more vigor stirred in his crib and began to cry. Heath putting down Heath III was quick to attend "There now little fella, guess you're hungry, huh? Well little one, your mother will be here soon. You come to your Grandpa for a spell. Let's see if we can calm these tears."
For a few moments Andrew was mollified listening to his grandfather's reassuring tones. Then Anna started to wake up, her cries waking her cousin, Ned. Looking at his brothers, Heath pleaded for assistance. With experience born of fatherhood, Jarrod and Nick each took up a child and shortly all three brothers were pacing the room with a charge in their arms. Little Heath III, not wanting to be left out, clasped onto his grandfather's spare hand and paced the room with them.
Happily sleeping in her crib was their aunt, already learning to ignore the sounds of her young nephews and nieces and their demands. Rescue was at hand as Meg, Libby and Abby, hearing their babies crying, made their way up the stairs. It was with some disappointment that the three brothers were made to hand over their charges, but even they had to accept, the provision of breast milk was not within their gift.