“Guts? I have guts alright, they’re all twisted up and tied in knots at this very moment. I can feel them. Don’t tell me about guts.”
He had just finished cleaning rifles in the smithy when the buggy carrying Mr. and Mrs. Toddman pulled up at the front door to the Barkley mansion. Heath quickly cleaned up and made his way across with one of the men to return the guns to the gun cabinet. The logging camp foreman had come to discuss the building of a flume to increase the profit margin for the Barkley lumber enterprises. Heath was expected to be there. Happily he came through the front door and as he sent George the hired hand to take the guns to the gun cabinet he was called over by Jarrod to meet their guest. Heath came into the living room and pleasantly looked at Matt Toddman.
“Matt Ttttt.....Bentell, that’s Matt Bentell, BENTELL, kill him, kill him, .... didn’t hit him hard enough, have to kill him, tear him apart, let me at him, don’t push me away, I’m going to kill him, let go of me, let me at him, I have to kill him, take your hands off me, let me at him, you must know who he is, Nick, Jarrod, that’s Matt Bentell. Please, please let me go I promised to kill him if I ever saw him again. I would kill him. I will kill him......you’re not helping me, you don’t know who he is. I’ll tell you. You’ll let me go then. You’ll understand. You’ll help me.”
“That’s Matt Bentell, Wirz of Andersonville and Bentell of Carterson Prison they were two of a kind. What he did to us prisoners I swore if I ever found him again I would kill him.” In anguish Heath managed to spill his knowledge.
“There I’ve said it you know who he is now. You’ll let me go. You’ll help me........ Get off. Let go. I told you who he is. What are you doing? He’s going to get away. What are you doing with me? It’s him you have to get. Where are you taking me? Don’t let him get away! Please help me!”
Heath’s struggles counted for nothing as he was physically dragged, pushed and forced to the study by his brothers and followed closely by his stepmother who closed the door to cut off his escape. Heath tried to compose himself.
“I was a prisoner, you know I was a prisoner. I told you. I haven’t kept it secret. For seven stinking months in that hell hole of a prison camp a boy not yet sixteen years old. A boy among men. I told you all I thought you needed to know. Did I have to tell you all the sordid details? Do I have to tell you everything? I didn’t think I would have to. I thought you would realize. I thought you would understand. Didn’t you take notice Jarrod? Why didn’t you hear me? That man in there he was the commander he was in charge he was responsible.”
“Seven months in Carterson you know that. Seven months and you know the hell Bentell made.” Heath yelled at Jarrod.
“Heath the war has been over for years.” Victoria could not understand why Heath was dwelling on the war.
“Well not long enough to forget.” Heath spat back.
“Well maybe you don’t want to forget.” Jarrod responded with disdain.
“Forget? Jarrod forget? Do you honestly think I do not want to forget? When you’ve seen what I have seen. When you have experienced what I have experienced you pray to God every minute of everyday that He will erase your memory so that you can forget. Erase the stench from my nostrils of the living and of the dead. Erase the sound from my ears of the cries of the tortured and the dying. Erase the feel from my body of the agony and pain that I endured. Erase the sight from my eyes of the sorrow and the suffering. Erase the taste of the garbage from my mouth that I was fed as food. God Jarrod if only I could forget. Am I hearing this or am I dreaming it? No. This is definitely happening and I am in the study with what I believed was my caring family. And the Devil is on the other side of that door.”
“Jarrod well maybe you can tell me how to forget maggoty food and putrid water and floggings for complaining about it or how to forget friends who die from exposure and other friends who died when medical help was refused?” There were too many horrors in his head for him to disclose the full extent to his family. He did not want to shock them. It had never crossed his mind that they would be anything but sympathetic towards him.
“Maggoty food, that was a delicacy. The maggots were a source of protein, they provided nourishment. I suppose if there were no maggots we’d have died sooner. Have you ever eaten maggots? I suppose not. You have never had cause to have you? You wouldn’t know what it was like to be so hungry that you would eat anything. That you would fight over a cockroach. But don’t worry the hunger doesn’t last long. You eventually stop feeling hungry. You stop wanting to eat. You just stop eating. Do you know that when I was in the army hospital I had to be taught how to eat again. My body, our bodies had to be trained to accept food again. I was, we were fed like babies with special food, little and often. At first it just went through you or you threw it up but blessedly I can’t remember too much of that part because that was during the first couple of months of freedom, in the army hospital when my life hovered in that existence between life and death. A time when one’s body and mind is not one’s own. I don’t suppose you’ve ever been there either Jarrod have you? Any of you? You probably think I’ m making this up. It’s a figment of my imagination.
“We were fortunate. Yeah! There were two sources of water in the camp. A fresh water stream ran into the corner of the camp. But this was contaminated with sewerage from the latrines. So by the time it reached us this water was poisonous and not fit for drinking or anything else for that matter. When you couldn’t go on living any more you would crawl over there and drink it or drown in it. Same result. Bodies would be left in the stream to rot and decompose, huh, I guess it added seasoning,...... until someone would think on moving them. I never took to drinking it nor as you can tell did I drown in it. The other source of water was brought in a large water barrel at the most once a day. I don’t know where it came from. It was generally warm and putrid. You had to drink it because there was only one alternative, the ‘fresh water stream’....... Many times it made you ill but it didn’t kill you. Ya became kind of used to it. Ya felt as though the whole of your inside was running out. Ya felt so rotten most of the time anyway it didn’t matter. We had to line up there to get our daily rations unless you were fortunate to have your own cup. Not many had because a cup was something to die for or to kill for. Only the strong had cups....... There was no water to wash in. For seven months I did not wash. Can you imagine that? A body full of sores, aggravated with lice. Ya dared not wash in the stream because like as not any body sores that ya had would get infected and you’d end up with some kind of poisoned blood or gangrene and that was a sure way to meet your maker though it wasn’t a pretty way of making your final journey. And talk about stench, of course ya smelt it when ya was a new inmate but we all smelt so rotten eventually ya no longer noticed.
“‘Complaining about the maggoty food; most of us did that. It was a way of passing the time of day, it helped relieve the misery and despair. Of course it didn’t do us much good. Our reward was a good flogging. Now that was a sight to behold. Bentell loved them. I’d swear he had thrills out of them because they really turned him on. I don’t reckon he missed any. All the prisoners had to be lined up in correct file. Boy howdy there was a fancy drum roll and the crime and then the punishment was read out and then the flogging began. Not many men recovered from a second flogging. Some never recovered the first. You probably think we were stupid but hell life couldn’t get any worse. We had to do something to annoy the guards and Bentell to break the monotony. We no longer had anything to live for so there was nothing to lose. He tried to break us but he couldn’t.
“Do you wonder how my friends died from exposure? You probably won’t care but I’ll tell you. The camp was over crowded. Well there were not enough barracks, such as they were for all the prisoners, so many of us spent a portion of time out in the open, day and night all year round. In fact most of us spent our time outside. The only clothes we had were those we were captured in. They were mainly threadbare useless rags by then. Not many men had a descent pair of boots. Only a few had a coat and as you can imagine our clothes were no way Sunday best. Some of us had blankets and we shared. We managed to scrape out holes in the ground or steal someone else’s hole or occupy a hole of the newly deceased. By the end of the war there were more than enough holes to go around. Well these holes would afford us some shelter. A few lucky prisoners had canvass to cover their holes. There were a few who had tents but all in all it was pretty desperate. Out all year round in all kinds of weather. Yeah, ya could say a number of my friends died from exposure. You’d wake up in the morning and find your comrade next to you had departed for the great grave-yard in the sky while you was sleeping. If you ever managed to go to sleep you never knew whether you would wake up again.
“There was no medical treatment. We were sick most of the time. If’n ya became real sick then ya either recovered or died. We never had medical attention nor saw any medicine. I think there was some but only the guards had that.
“Yes for seven months I was as a wretched animal waiting for release in what ever manner. Living through degradation and humiliation. Fighting amongst fellow prisoners for food, clothes, holes or canvass. How can you ever escape the shame of that? Can any of you tell me? How can I tell you all this ? How can I let you know what it was truly like? It would only upset you. Or perhaps you would think it too awful to be true. Just trust me and believe what I have told you. That is all I ask of you.”
“I’m not saying I would be out to forget but I would not be out to murder Toddman.” Jarrod calmly stated.
“Why can’t you accept it Jarrod the man is Matt Bentell ex commander of Carterson where I was a prisoner of war?”
“His name is Bentell.” Heath angrily corrected Jarrod.
“Bentell then,” Jarrod continued somewhat peeved that he had been corrected. “What will killing him do besides getting you hanged?”
“Don’t stand there and defend him to me .”Heath was becoming very frustrated and stressed.
“I’m not defending him I’m protecting you.” Jarrod was becoming annoyed with his young brother.
“Well I don’t need you to. I’ve looked after myself for as long as I can remember, and if this is your way of protecting me then I can do without it.”
“Jarrod there were seven hundred and forty fighting in New Mexico. Half ended up in Carterson. Less than one hundred walked out when the war was over. There is not a jury in the state that would hang me.” Heath scoffed and wanted Jarrod to understand the enormity of the atrocities that Bentell had committed.
“Walked free, well that really wasn’t the right word to use. I can’t remember walking free. I can’t rightly remember walking anywhere the day we were freed. I can barely remember being freed. I think I was carried like a babe in arms and placed in a wagon the same as they used for carting the dead. I was almost dead. As were my friends all malnourished and emaciated. Only a few walked out of there. I’m not sure whether any of us were truly alive. I don’t know how many came out with their souls in tact. I know I didn’t. It’s only since I came here that I came alive. I found my soul. Here with you. I couldn’t tell you this because it didn’t or doesn’t make sense to me. I just don’t know how to explain it. Please don’t take it from me, now. You must have read the papers you must know something about the prison camps. You’ve heard of the walking dead. Why are you worrying about Bentell? He walked out of there he was not one of the walking dead.”
“That’s the point whether you would hang for murder.” Victoria brought the subject back to hanging.
“I’m not following this Mother. So that’s it. That’s what you’re concerned about. Me being hanged? You don’t want me hanged? Or are you just worried by what people will think. What you are saying makes me doubt you care for me. The Barkley bastard sullies the good name of the Barkleys again. Are you really worried about me? I don’t mean to be mocking but I’m not sure which side you’re on. You seem more concerned about me killing Bentell than why I want to kill him. I could swear you’re more concerned with Bentell’s welfare than mine. If’n it’s me you’re worried for then you have a strange way of showing it. You’ve no need to worry about me hanging. I was hanged a long time ago. Eight years ago to be exact. Butchered and then hanged out to dry.”
“Well that’s Jarrod’s concern.” Hanging was the least of Heath’s worries.
“Well it’s not mine. I pray that it isn’t in any of my sons to commit cold deliberate murder.” Victoria tried to make Heath see why he could not kill Bentell and Jarrod tried to give her support. “That’s what it would be cold calculated murder. Heath you can put any word to it that you want but that’s what it would be.”
“Well it wouldn’t have been calculated or deliberate if’n you’d let me kill him in there. It would have been instinctive. He deserves killing anyway, anyhow. I wouldn’t call it murder. I would call it justified for all those that died in the prison for all those that survived who might as well be dead. You’ve all seen them in the towns and in the cities the remnants of men left after the likes of Bentell have finished with them. You think I’m alright because I look okay well I can assure you that I’m not. I never have been since the war. Would you think differently if I wore my scars on the outside? I’m not sure. I’m just not sure anymore. I’m not sure how much you care about me?”
“For a start how about the word justice. Wirz paid for what he did at Andersonville. He was hanged.” Heath was not going to let go.
“Yes he was hanged by the Government after a trial Bentell was brought up under the same charges and cleared.” Heath could hear Jarrod defending Bentell.
“Jarrod do you know why Bentell was let off or how he was cleared? Bentell was released and let off because the Government or the powers that be, needed to bring a divided country together and the bringing of criminals like Bentell to justice was not working towards that goal. I’m right Jarrod you know I’m right. Don’t hide behind so called justice. When Bentell came to trial the fight had gone out of it. No one was interested. They wanted peace at any cost. At the cost of us the prisoners. There were very few ex prisoners who were capable of being witnesses. Many could not be found and many were dead or they had died since their release or their minds were not up to it. How very convenient...... Hell, I was dying in a military hospital when he was brought up for trial. I knew nothing about it ’til it was well and truly over. He was found innocent. No wonder. I reckon it was convenient for the Government, is all. That’s your so called justice. It was short and sweet. Wirz was hanged, justice was served. It was over and done with, so let’s forget it, but I’m not sure it was for the right reasons. Because someone had to pay. A scapegoat was found. Someone had to be seen as paying. It’s alright for the Government but not for the likes of me. I can see it now very clearly. It doesn’t mean Bentell was innocent. It just means for convenience’s sake he was let off. Well the same should have happened to Bentell as happened to Wirz. Whether it was for the right reasons or not Wirz was hanged and deservedly so and Bentell should have hanged too. You’d probably defend him. I can just see it. Defending Bentell a victim of the war........... No stop it Heath. Don’t blame Jarrod. It’s not his fault. Calm yourself Heath before you say something you’ll be sorry for. Keep your thoughts to yourself boy.”
“You still just don’t understand do you. No one can understand who hasn’t lived through a place like Carterson.” Heath desperately stated hoping yet doubting that that was all that was stopping his family from supporting him.
“I can accept it that you might not understand. It’s very difficult for someone to even imagine what it was like but if you cared you could try just for me. I have told you what I could bear to tell you. I didn’t tell you all the graphic details because I find them too hard to handle myself. I didn’t want to upset you with them either. I just told you enough so as you could understand some of it and maybe imagine the rest in your minds. It doesn’t take too much thinking does it? Can’t you see the picture? Why don’t you believe what I am telling you about Bentell? He was the main part of it. He was it. He was Carterson.”
“We can understand. But when does the hate end? When your father was killed I hated as passionately as you do right now. Oh believe me I did and for vivid and long lasting a reason as you. Well I stopped hating. I don’t know whether I will actually forgive but I stopped hating because of what it is doing to me because I had too much around me to love to go on hating. Look around you Heath. Matt Bentell is upstairs in the guest room. Is it really in you to go up there and kill him?” Heath listened to his stepmother’s words and realized the truth behind them.
Feeling defeated he had no more to say and quietly affirmed. “There’s breeding stock in San Annez I’ll ride down this afternoon and take a look at them.” He then purposefully walked from the study leaving his family to decide his future.
As he rode out to the auction sale his thoughts dwelled on Victoria’s last words to him.
“She said she understood. If she understood why can’t she see it as I lived it? Why can’t she see Bentell for what he is? Or maybe she does see him as he is and she truly understands. Perhaps they are going to ask him to leave? Yes that’s it they’re going to ask him to leave. That’s what they’re going to do get rid of him. I didn’t stay long enough for them to tell me. I can live with that. Mother was right I can’t go up to that guest room and kill him. I know I can’t go and kill him now in cold blood. It’s not in me. The moment and the shock are in the past. I’ll have time now to calm down. I’ll stay at the sale ’til well after dinner and then they should have had plenty of time to set him packing. Yes everything will be alright I know it will. They won’t let me down. They won’t disappoint me after all they’re family. They’ll do what is right for me. Love, that’s what Mother was talking about that’s what she meant. Because she loves me she’ll take care of Bentell. I never had love like this before. Jarrod might even see if he can look into bringing so called justice to Bentell, do it all legal like. After all they are my family and that’s what a family does..... Ain’t it? Nick didn’t have much to say. He’s probably saying it now. I should have stayed I’d love to hear Nick sounding off at Bentell. They won’t let me down......Will they!?”
Heath tried to convince himself that all would be well.
“Boy howdy that was something awful when I realized I was looking straight into the face of Matt Bentell. Everything came right back to me. I could feel my guts turning to jelly. I might as well have been back in that prison camp. I could smell, hear and see the camp. Him standing there in our living room. I would never have thought it possible. Yep I reckon I’m feeling better now. I know everything will be just fine. I never had a family to take care of it before. Not to take care of me either. I can trust them. I know I can. Yeah I suppose they were right to stop me. I was just mad at the time. I couldn’t go and kill him now. I hope I can get some descent sleep tonight. I bet those damn nightmares have woken up again.
“ Now what was all that talk about hate? Well Mother hate is my middle name. I grew up on it. You know that. I don’t reckon I’d be here now if it weren’t for hate. It gave me something to live for. I ain’t going to get rid of it just like that. I don’t reckon killing Bentell would have gotten rid of the hate I have for him neither. It’d probably just make me feel better. I can manage my hate, keep it buried deep down in side of me. Your love, your caring and my family have taken care of that for me. I can see that now. If you’re honest with yourself Mother you’ll realize that you still have that hate alive deep inside of you. Just because someone is dead it don’t mean you stop feeling for them. Same as love. You don’t stop loving someone because they’re dead.
You didn’t stop loving Father and I didn’t stop loving Mama. And neither did you stop hating my daddy’s murderer nor will I stop hating Bentell for who he is, who he was and for what he did. My hate for him will not devour me. There is only one thing in this life that can do that!!”
Heath spent the afternoon pretending to himself that everything was going to be alright. He chose good looking animals, which were well put together, checked teeth, lifted hooves, felt legs and tendons, looked for splints, curbs, thoroughpins and spavins and checked for wind problems, then had them trotted up and chased round a corral but he didn’t make any purchases. They were quality breeding stock but for one reason or another he was never satisfied with a horse. All the while Bentell and his family were niggling at his thoughts. Waiting until late afternoon before he rode home he timed it to arrive well after dinner was over. He rode into the yard and saw it. The Bentell’s buggy was parked minus a horse inside the carriage bay. It screamed out at him. His stomach lurched.
“Charger come on boy I’ll put you away and then I’ll see if’n I can’t sneak into the house. I can’t face Bentell not again. I can’t face my family neither. I felt sure they’d have let him go. I can’t believe this is happening. Here you are. Here are your oats and I’ll get you some hay. Looks like Ciego has seen to your water. I won’t rub you down tonight I want to get safely away into my room. My guts are at it again. I don’t want to get caught. I don’t rightly know what’s going on but I reckon it can’t be good.”
Heath only managed to get into the kitchen when he was confronted with his stepmother and was told in a tone which would broach no argument to make his way to the study. Heath’s sense of manners and respect would not allow him to disregard his stepmother and meekly he followed her to the study.
“Did I hear that right? They are telling me I am going with Bentell to the logging camp. Surely not? This is not happening. This is not happening. This is not happening.”
“You have to go.”
“The Devil I do.” Heath was scared but he wouldn’t show it and he summoned all his failing strength to dispute their orders.
“Just how quickly do you think that word at his being here will get around?” Jarrod questioned accusingly.
“Well I hope it will be mighty quick.” Heath was fighting to keep control but was losing it rapidly.
“And you?” Jarrod asked.
“Yes and someone will try to balance the scales.” Heath kept fighting back.
“This isn’t happening. Please God tell me this isn’t happening. They’re my family. They wouldn’t do this to me. They’re supposed to love me. It doesn’t work like this.”
“Yes exactly and if they do it will be because of you.” Jarrod fired back the accusation.
“Now I’ve heard it all. I can’t even wish him dead without being held responsible.”
“So you want me to go with him and hold his hand.” Sarcasm was evident in Heath’s voice. “Why doesn’t Nick go with him?”
“That seems the obvious solution, if you’re so damn keen on him living happily ever after? You sure don’t seem very keen on me living happily ever after and I never did anything wrong except suffer at the hands of Bentell. Nick will support me. He’ll go for me. I know he will. He won’t betray me.”
“Because you were at Carterson and you might be the one to recognize a man if he tried to kill him.” Nick fired at Heath with no qualms.
“Judas! Nick you didn’t say that you didn’t mean that. You won’t betray me. I don’t understand the game you’re all playing with me. I can’t go with Bentell. Please, please believe what I have told you about him. He is evil. Pure evil and I am fodder for him and you my family are going to feed me to him. I’m losing control. I can feel it. I don’t mean anything to you. I’ll have to get out of here. Take your hands off me. Take your hands off me. Let go. Please let go. Stop shaking me. I feel ill. I’m going to be sick.”
Victoria had clasped Heath tightly by his arms and shaking him threatened, challenged and ordered him. “You go with him.... You go with him. You eat with him. You work with him. You live with him and you pray to God to rid yourself of the hate that is inside you because if you don’t then eventually that hate will destroy you. Heath do you want to hate so. Do you want the memory of Carterson to gnaw at you for ever. What we are asking you to do isn’t supposed to be easy.”
“You’re not asking me to go with him, you’re telling me to go; you’re ordering me to go with him. Have you heard yourself? This is the first time you mentioned anything about asking me. We haven’t had any discussion on this. I’m not being given a choice. I’ve been living here with you for almost a year and it’s funny ya hadn’t noticed Carterson gnawing away at me during any of that time. Why is it such a problem now?............Now you know I’ve been with Bentell; for seven whole months in his luxury hotel. I have eaten with him; shared his fine fare. I have worked with him; digging palatial burial plots. I have lived with him for seven glorious months and that’s why I hate him. I don’t need to go with him now. I know him only too well. I know what he is. I know what he can do. I know what he can be. Why don’t you believe me? Get your hands off me. Let me go.”
“Show us what you inherited from your father. Show us some of Tom Barkley’s guts.” Victoria was shouting at Heath.
Heath felt sick. His insides were churning round and round, back and forth, upside and down, in and out. The sweat was soaking through his clothes. His heart was in his throat. He couldn’t say anything. He was held there and could only listen not believing what he was hearing. As soon as he was released he fled. With dignity he managed to storm out of the study and like a child whose world has just been crushed ran up the stairs to the security of his domain. Rushing through the door having eventually managed to open it he found himself in his room. He turned and grasping the key with shaking, sweating hands he locked the door. Something he had never done since he had come to live here. He had always been safe but not today, never again. Helplessness was upon him and he no longer had control. His head was throbbing and even his own room closed in on him. Urgently looking round he searched for the safest place for somewhere he wouldn’t be found. He stumbled his way over to the farthest side of the dresser and cowered down huddled with his back crushed into the corner made between the wall and piece of furniture. Again he was as a small child waiting for the beating that was sure to come. His knees were raised up so he wrapped his arms around his calves squeezing hard. His hands clasped his arms and his nails dug into his flesh. There was not a part of him that wasn’t shaking. He was losing control.
This was the day Heath Barkley’s life as he had grown to know it came to an end. “Why? Why? Why?” He was petrified. He was pathetic. He was pitiable. He was panicking. Desperation was squeezing the breath from him. He wanted to scream out for help, for someone to listen but there was no one there for him. They were all working together and working against him.
“Why have you turned against me? Don’t you know what he is? Don’t you know what we went through? Don’t you know what I was like when I was released? How could you accept him over me? Don’t you care? Doesn’t anyone care? Did you ever care?”
There were so many questions that needed to be answered but there was nobody willing to answer them. Cowering as he was in the limited security of his room Heath thought over and over the events of the day and the words that had been spoken that had brought him to this. He was living through one of his own worst nightmares remembering the words and repeating them in his mind he tried to make sense of them. He thought his way through them here, alone in the sanctity of his own refuge.
“Don’t throw my daddy at me? Don’t give me that. None of this would be happening now but for my daddy. Matt Bentell would still be Matt Toddman. Don’t tell me about Tom Barkley’s guts. He didn’t have the guts to live up to his responsibilities. This is exactly what I inherited from my daddy. But for him I wouldn’t be here in this situation. What did he do but produce me? You think everything was alright because he didn’t know about me. It didn’t take guts to write a letter to a young woman he left pregnant in a filthy mining town telling her he was already married to a woman he loved dearly. So dearly that he cheated on her. You think it’s alright to tell my mother that she was the only other one he could have loved in a letter. He couldn’t tell her face to face. Yeah that takes guts alright. Had he had the guts then maybe he’d have learned about me. Then and just then maybe I’d have had a daddy. One who cared enough to stop me going off to war. I trust oh how I trust I didn’t inherit those kind of guts from my daddy.”
“I already told you about the hate. Well the hate and anger they’ve been with me for ever. When everything else deserted me and let me down, hate and anger were there. They stood by me. They saw me through. If hate was going to destroy me it would have done it a long time ago. No the only thing that is going to destroy me is what you are doing to me now.
“After I was carried from Carterson I spent months in the military hospital, still suffering humiliation and degradation, recovering, learning how to live how to be a human being again. Well eventually I did it. I healed physically but not mentally. Never in my mind. I wasn’t as I had been before the war. There was no way I could have been. You can’t live through that and hope to be normal again. I had a short fuse. It didn’t take much to upset me. I was angry, about everything that happened in my life. I lived off that anger. Anger and hate. I was unsettled I couldn’t stay in one place for any length of time. I could work. So that’s what I did. I went from place to place from odd job to odd job and I worked hard, putting my heart and the soul I had left into it. It helped. It kept my mind off the pain and the emptiness. But anger and hate were the only emotions I could convey. That was ’til I came here. Carried here by anger and hate.
“You allowed me to belong, to become a part of you, a part of this. You brought me back to life. You showed me what it was to love again. To have feelings other than hate and anger. You taught me to be happy and to be sad. You gave me security and helped me conquer my worst fears. You gave me peace and contentment. For the first time in eight years I started to live again. I became alive. I thought you loved me. I opened myself up to you. Living here with you I became whole. I trusted you. All of you. I learned to trust again and this is what you do. I allowed myself to become vulnerable and you have taken advantage of that. In one day you have removed it all from me. Pulled the rug out from beneath my feet. Cut away my life line. No Mother my hate will not devour me. Only you can do that. Only you have done that. My family! Again I am as nothing. I cannot live through those eight years again. Not now. Not after this. Not ever again. The love you showed me stands for nothing. You have accepted Matt Bentell into your home and intend to keep him over my protests, my fears and my pleas. You order me to go along and protect him. Not once did you ask me to go. Not once. I once told you that I would do anything for you. Anything you wanted me to do. Anything. All you had to do was ask. Just say it. You have obviously forgotten. If you had asked I would have done it. Not for me. I would have fought my worst fears for you Mother. Conquered the demons in hell for you. If you had only asked.
“ If you want Bentell you can have him over me? I’ll give him to you whole, undamaged and on a platter but it will be in exchange for me. I’ve been here before and I ain’t staying. I cannot live like this any more.
“The worst part of today is not that Bentell is here but that I know that you my family do not love me. Look at the months I have spent here with you and you turn round and treat me like this.
“Tonight I will not sleep. There will be no nightmares. You will not witness any weakness. Tomorrow I will go with Matt Bentell. If necessary I will pay the ultimate price. If you want him instead of me you can have him. If need be I shall give my life to save his. For I no longer have a life. Matt Bentell will have done what so many could not. He will have removed the Barkley bastard. You want to see if I have Tom Barkley’s guts then you can see them for yourselves. I will try to spill them at the logging camp. What ever happens you can be sure I will not be returning to the Barkley mansion.”
During the night as control came back to him his fear turned to hurt and the hurt turned to anger and the anger gave him the strength he needed to fight his exhaustion and see him through his resolve in the weeks to come. Once again anger was his companion and anger was the driving force and his hate sat side by side with his hurt.
And so it was, the following morning that Heath Barkley rode out with Matt Bentell the ex commander of Carterson the notorious Confederate prison camp and his wife to the Barkley logging camp. It was a beautiful morning which belied the atmosphere. It was a cold farewell. There was no farewell kiss for a stepmother. There were no farewell handshakes for brothers. There was only a small farewell kiss of affection for a little sister who had remained ignorant of the previous day’s events.
And the rest is history.