Seemingly in good spirits with a spring in his step Heath entered the Barkley mansion and threw his hat to Silas asking whether Eugene had yet arrived. Heath had been living with the Barkleys as a new family member for the last three months. He was the illegitimate son of the deceased patriarch and was twenty four years of age before he learned, at the death of his mother, his father's identity. The Barkley family had been unaware of his existence and given the circumstances these past months had been difficult on everyone. Tension and anxiety was always close to the surface in each family member; more obvious in some than others. It was a tall order they had set and Heath was trying very hard to get this family fitting-in business right. Eugene was sitting amidst the family when Heath approached genuinely sounding pleased to see his younger brother who enthusiastically began to stand.
"Gene you old son of a gun." Heath firmly took hold of Eugene and continued his welcoming home address. "How are you? Boy Howdy you have grown a foot." Heath continued looking his younger brother up and down.
"It seems all the knowledge has gone to my feet." Responded a somewhat despondent Eugene holding forth a pair of very expensive, high class boots for his half brother's attention. "Heath they were Father's. Heath, Mother would like one of us to wear them at the commemoration. Well go ahead try them on." Eugene failed to notice the look of anxiety which appeared on Heath's face.
"What do I do? How do I get out of this one? Why didn't I see this one coming? She sure kept this one from me. Gene wasnít to know. It isnít his fault . He just automatically thought Iíd be pleased to wear them. No hard feelings Gene. You ainít been here for a couple of months you ainít seen how difficult things have been sometimes. Itís not always been my doing but I guess itís been on account of me. Most times everyone sneaks around with moccasins on just in case somethingís said that might be out of line and upset the peach wagon. I donít know if theyíre worrying about me or themselves. Now just when things seem to be coming along fine and settling down some this happens. Well there donít seem anyway of getting out of it so just letís hope the blasted things donít fit. Yep thatís it hopefully they wonít fit. Because there is no way Iím gonna be wearing them.
"Oh no theyíre all looking at me with great expectations. Mrs Barkley looks a little tense. Maybe she doesnít want me wearing them. Thatís probably it. Maybe sheíd prefer I didnít wear them but sheíd be too polite to say anything now. So I donít reckon sheíll be saving me. Thatís why I havenít seen them afore or heard about them. I knew about the commemoration. Well they could hardly keep that secret since itís been the main gossip in town for the past month especially since the damned thing arrived and is standing in the square all shrouded up and all. It helped to take the gossip off me anyway. About the only thing you ever did for me ícepting producing me. I bet that would upset ya ifín ya knew. I had more help out of your statue than I had from you personally. Now stop that boy this is serious stuff. Whatever the outcome ya ainít going to be wearing them. Ya have it?
"Good job I put clean socks on this morning. They wonít be smelling none, not yet anyway. Thatís one thing about living here I donít have any holey socks neither. I just put them in the wash basket and they come back washed and darned. Itís a pretty good laundry system round here. Hey now maybe thatís a way of getting out of it. Making excuses my socks are dirty. No that wonít wash, not round here Mrs. Barkleyís bound to know Iím lying. Come on Heath boy get that boot off the sooner ya do it the sooner ya get it over with. Donít be gutless.
"My bellyís starting to churn some. I can feel it. Whatever you do donít upset anyone. I wonder what the chances are theyíll fit the Barkley bastard? Well there are four of us so weíll soon know. Youíd have sworn theyíd have fitted one of my brothers. No boy you donít have the Barkley luck yet. Right get that boot off. Take a deep breath and say a quick prayer. Here goes. Hold your breath........ Oh no, fits better than my own boots. Slipped right in perfectly canít even pretend it didnít.Ē
"Well what do you know looks like the best foot wins." Jarrod complemented giving Heath a congratulatory brotherly slap on the back.
"Congratulations Heath," accompanied Eugene.
"It could only happen to you boy. Youíre a sure bet. Thatís it one in four. Ifín I hadnít felt so sick Iíd have had a bet on it. Thatís one way Iíd have gotten my hands on some of the Barkley millions. Come on boy. What do you say now? How do you get out of this? Remember what Mama would say. Make up some excuse something that wonít upset anyone. I donít reckon I can think of one thatís good enough at the moment. Now donít panic.
"Damn fancy things. Theyíre worth an arm and a leg. I bet they cost about the same as the earnings Iíd have made in a year. I guess Iím exaggerating a little but it could have provided enough vittles to feed my mama and me for a long, long time. I know. Thatís it. They know I ainít up to wearing fancy duds and all. Come on maíam please help me out here. Theyíre all getting excited and Iím feeling sick, and I ainít going to wear them and I donít want to be upsetting any of yaís.Ē
"Heath it seems to me we have forgotten one small detail whether or not you would like to wear them?" Victoria perceptively asked Heath.
"Thank you , thank you maíam. Thatís what I needed, no I canít wear them, what do I say?Ē
"Well sure I would, of course I would. Why shouldn't I?" Heath blurted out feeling sick to his stomach. "It's just that I'd kinda like the chance to think it through."
"Oh this isnít coming out right. This isnít what I meant to say.Ē
"I don't much go for fancy boots maybe some other time." Heath tried to repair the damage he had created and made matters worse.
" Oh well. There Iíve said it now. They know. If I say any more I reckon theyíll be ready to run me off the ranch. I feel like a lighted match dropped into a box of dynamite sticks. Look at Nick dropping his hands off his hips, heís none too pleased. Look at their faces. Iíll just make a run for my room. I donít want this going on any further. Enoughís happened already.Ē
Heath removed the offending boot and refitted his own to his right foot and pleadingly apologetic looked at them all before standing. He speedily exited himself from the sitting room and taking the stairs two at a time he escaped to his room where he sat and made as if to read a book at his desk. Upset and troubled he stood and walked over to his bed and lay down to rest and think on the current development a while. Suddenly the door burst open and was immediately slammed shut. Eugene had entered.
"Get up off that bed." Eugene angrily attacked Heath.
"I don't owe you any explanation." Heath tried to defend himself and calm Eugene's anger.
"Get up off that bed." Demanded Eugene.
"Gene now if you'll just simmer down I don't want to fight you." Heath responded but Eugene had already punched Heath squarely on the jaw.
"No Gene stop it I donít want to fight you, you just donít understand how things are. Get off Gene I donít want to hurt you. This is not how I want things to be between us. Thank goodness Nickís here I hope he can understand.Ē
"Alright now take it easy." Nick pulled Eugene off Heath and spun him around. "If I was in his shoes I might feel the same way." Nick said indicating to Heath.
"Heís taking care of Gene now whatís that heís saying about if he was in my shoes he might feel the same as me. Well I never thought Iíd hear Nick admitting to that.Ē
"Now git, come on." Nick finished and pushed Eugene towards the open door.
"Well Iíll be. Heís tossing him out.Ē
"Thanks Nick." Heath offered his appreciation too quickly.
"I said I 'might' feel the same way." Nick snorted derisively at Heath.
"Oh right, I misunderstood he just said he might feel the same as me. Not the same at all. So where does that leave me? They donít understand do they? Canít really expect them to not when their daddy was just so all high and mighty to them. Itís hard to believe we have the same daddy.Ē
"Heath if you're coming with us you'd better get dressed." Nick finished disdainfully then left the room. Heath remained sitting on the bed with a wounded expression.
"Well I guess I canít rightly blame them I made a real mess of it downstairs, but I really ainít out to hurt any of them. I guess what I said wasnít quite the truth down there, well I didnít tell any lies I just shaded the truth a little. No harm in that. Itís just very hard to tell them why I canít wear the boots. I thought they might have swallowed that one.
"Well as Nick said ifín I am going to this unveiling ceremony and commemoration Iíd best get washed and changed. Hey now boy howdy Mrs. Barkley has gotten my tweed suit out hanging for me on the stand. To think that three months back I never dreamt Iíd have a suit let alone a tweed one. She sure is something. If it wasnít for her I wouldnít be here now. It canít be easy for her having me living under the same roof as her. I could swear sometimes when I catch her looking at me she has a sad far away expression on her face. I must be a constant reminder to her of the Old Studís infidelity. Yet sheís the reason Iím here. I had no intention of telling them about me but I became so damn cross with Nick out there in the barn and lost it. I just blurted it out. She must have heard me sounding off in the study to my brothers that night ícause when I came back for the paper clipping later she was there standing by the door.
"When I saw her I started filling my hat with apples. Silly thing to do really I just wanted to annoy. I guess I thought they owed me something, anything. Gal had a tasty treat that night. Any how she stood there and told me that her husband was not a perfect man. No thatís not what she said. She said he was an imperfect man. Sheís telling me. As if she need to. Iím standing there a sample of his imperfections. Then she told me about all the good that heíd done and finished it off by inviting me to fight for my birthright. She said that if I was her son that is exactly what she would expect me to do. "If you were my son, if so, if you were a son of my husband be proud because you have a right to feel proud, fight as he would fight because no one, no one can deny you his birthright. Thatís what I would say if you were my son.Ē Thatís how she finished it. Well that was the invite and I took it. Fighting along side my brothers at Sampleís farm and then being invited home by Jarrod to discuss it. I reckon that must have been her idea too. She probably told Jarrod to fetch me back here ifín I was at the shindig.
"I never expected to be offered this. I thought Iíd get a much inflated pay off like Jarrod had offered earlier. I was dirt scared. Me living here. Somewhat out of my class. I still find it hard to believe. Iíd have sooner stayed in the barn. But she wouldnít hear of it. Nick and Jarrod werenít too pleased. Gene and Audra werenít too sure but as far as she was concerned I was staying. That part of the discussion was over. The pow wow into the small hours was not to do with whether I was staying or not it was more about how we would manage things. Well of course things never quite work out the way you expect them to. Not a day hasnít gone by but what Nick and I havenít had words or come to blows about something. Sure had some cut lips and bruising. But I reckon weíre getting to know each other. It seems itís alright for him to hit me but woe be it to anyone else doing it. Makes me feel good, gives me a real warm feeling inside. Jarrod talks to me and seems to try and help me in settling in, teaches me things and shows me how things should be done like which knife to use for what and not to go stuffing my napkin under my chin. Itís not done in polite society. Well I wasnít to know. Audra is great she just seems to understand and we really get on well together. Eugene well I havenít seen too much of him with him being away at college and all but we did seem to hit it off, in the best possible way that is. And Mrs. Barkley she always seems there for me. Well we are finally getting it together as a family at least that is until today. Until your damn boots showed up.
"Now what to do about those blasted boots? I know theyíre only boots but itís the principle of the things. Iím living in your house and living with your family surely thatís the same as wearing your boots? 'No Heath my boy it is not the same. Living here, being with them this is your right you should have had this from him all along. Now the boots they are different. When we go to town we will be honoring him as a great citizen who has done much good for the people of the valley.í I reckon I can go along with that. 'But if you wear his boots then youíd be honoring him as your father.í That I canít do. You never were a father to me. You might have sired me but thatís as much of a daddy you ever were. I ainít got no pride in you for a daddy.
"Since moving into the valley Iíve heard nothing but good spoken about you. Folks sure paint a pretty different picture to the one Iíe known. It belies my opinion of you. I havenít yet heard anything thatís going to change my mind on you though. Itís going to take some more than folks saying how righteous you were when theyíre looking at me as if they have the smell of a dead rat under their nostrils. Hell I never had a choice about who my daddy was. After cheating on your wife you deserted mama leaving her with-child. I canít see how that makes you such a great man. But perhaps in your world it doesnít matter. It seems to me itís the childís fault for being born after all itís the child who pays the price. The child who pays for the sins of the father. I think Iíve paid more than my fair share and paid for mama too. You left her to work her knuckles to the bone to earn enough money to feed and clothe me and keep a roof over our heads. Mama was beautiful, warm, gentle and soft she didn't deserve what you did to her. She was in a way very strong a little like your wife. She needed to be. I donít know why but I think she always thought you would be coming back. She would never have a bad word spoken against you, much like the people of this valley and your wife. I guess Iím missing something here. I canít see anything great about a man who gets a woman pregnant and then walks out on her. I donít rightly know whether I can go to this commemoration. Iím getting my drawers in a twist. Now come on Heath try and get this sorted out. Calm down and think this out. Letís think back a while.
"My mama told me to always be upstanding, to be honest and above all be truthful unto myself. She said ifín I did as she said I would grow up just like my daddy. She tried to bring me up in your likeness. Well I didnít want to be like my daddy. I didnít cotton to it none.
"Do you know how difficult it is for a little boy to grow up trying to be someone he didnít know, didnít want to be and more over didnít like? Letís rephrase that. To be someone he hated. I only had my Uncle Matt to take a lead from and copy off and he was a shiftless, useless drunk most of the time and would think nothing of giving me or mama a back hander just for the hell of it. I sure didnít want to grow up like him. So I listened to what mama told me and Aunt Rachel and Hannah, ya might have known them and I formed a picture in my mind not of you but of what I would like for a daddy. I suppose he was my make believe daddy. My ideal daddy. He was strong and brave yet gentle, honest and truthful, caring and considerate, and fun to be with. Many of the things I realize you were to Jarrod, Nick, Audra, Eugene and Mrs. Barkley. So unbeknownst to myself I modeled myself on you as ya were here at home not as you were when and after ya treated mama the way you did. Funny, ainít it? The way things work out.
"I donít know what went wrong. Youíre the only one who knows that. I know that Iíve been a huge shock on everyone. I still pay for your mistake if thatís what ya want to call it? I donít suppose weíll ever know what happened or why you behaved as ya did. I guess it will remain a mystery.
"I just know Iíll never behave like you in that respect. I know too well what it is like to be on the receiving end. I know you were only human and any human being can make a mistake but I blame you for not doing something to right that mistake. Unlike you I will try to be in all things honorable. That is what mama would want. Mama loved you, I donít reckon she ever stopped loving you and it seems to me you had two women who loved you. Youíve broken one womanís heart and driven her to an early grave and Iím not sure how your wifeís heart is at the moment. I do know sheís hurting right now. I wonder whether you loved either of them? You certainly did not behave honorably towards either of them.
"I donít rightly know how Iíll hold up at this commemoration. Now come on Heath try and get this sorted out. No I have to think of it from the point of view of your family and the folks of the valley. They believe you were a great man and you must have done something worthy for them to think of planting a statue in the town square. Itís the way you were to them not to me that counts. Thatís why the boots are different. Thatís what the boots mean. They are between you and me as father and son. And so for the family and the people of this valley Iím going and I will try to be strong and not let the family down. But, I reckon for deserting my mama and what ya did and all I canít find it in me to forgive ya. However I will try and sit on what I feel this day.
"Boy howdy youíre looking a mighty fine gent there Heath Barkley goes with the name, kind of fine too. Takes a little getting used to donít it?. Just letís get this tie sorted out. Thanks little sis. ya did a good job of teaching me but I donít know whether Iíll get it right on my own. Hold short end in left hand, pass long end over and under a couple of times then bring it under and thread it through and pull and secure. Now that wasnít bad. I couldnít wear one of these for any length of time. A little like getting acquainted with the hang man at a neck tie party. Now letís get my boots on. Iím glad Silas thought on to cleaning them for me. Well there you are ready to go.Ē
Heath then walked out into the hallway and saw standing in a position he couldn't help but notice his father's boots, black and shining good enough for a president to wear. Studying them he realized that Victoria Barkley must have placed them there.
"She must want me to wear them. Sheís not forcing me to but just letting it be known that that is what she would like. Very well Maíam just to please you I will take them with me, you donít need to know I have them and if you ask me, mind you, only if you ask me to wear my daddyís boots, I will do so. Only for you and never, ever for him. Better get my saddle bags. Iíll just try to make the best of a bad day and try not to let anyone down.Ē
Heath picked up the boots feeling the softness of the quality leather and carried them into his room where he put them into his saddle bags. He then started to make his way downstairs throwing the saddle bags over his shoulder and adjusting his jacket he continued towards Mrs. Barkley who was standing and waiting for him by the front door.
"Heath if you'd rather not go we'd all understand." His stepmother offered him a way out.
Heath stopped walking and looked straight at her as he voiced the decision he had made. "Maybe it's hard to forgive Tom Barkley for what he did but whatever he was to me, to my mother I know he was a great man to the people of this valley so as part of this family now I'd kinda like to go along and honor him for that. If it's alright with you?" Heath believed he was doing right by everyone and only hoped he could survive throughout the day.
So it was that Heath Barkley journeyed to Stockton with his new family for the commemoration by the citizens of the valley to honor his father the great Thomas Barkley unaware that Victoria Barkley would shortly journey to Strawberry, her stepson's birthplace to ultimately heal a festering wound which had been laid bare by a pair of 'boots with his [my] father's name'.
And the rest is history.