When her son was of an age to understand Leah Thomson told him, ďWalk tall, hold your head up high never be ashamed of who or what you are. Never do anything to make yourself ashamed. Never do anything to make those whom you love ashamed. Never do anything to make those who love you ashamedĒ From that time he always strove to live up to these ideals.
ďIf it werenít for the hate I have in me I wouldnít be here now.Ē
In the darkness Heath lay on his back on a bunk-bed in the shelter of one of the Barkley bunkhouses. A dim light shining in through a window illuminated his fine features. He was a handsome young man not long past the stage of youth. Barely twenty four years old. His age belied his life. He looked up, with pale blue eyes the windows to a world of sorrow and suffering, at the cobwebs fluttering down from the ceiling. Occasionally he would blow them and watch as they eventually danced and floated slowly in his breath. It was an occupation that worked to keep his anger at bay. For anger was now the driving force. Anger had brought him here. And anger would lead him to his destiny.
His mind kept wandering back over and over the events of this day, here in the valley of San Joachin, the big valley.
Skillfully he guided his sure footed Modoc pony between the stones and boulders along the shore of the white water. His pony meandered with his leg pressure to the footbridge and started to ascend. His attention was drawn to the gushing river below. On reaching the highest point his pony stopped and Heath looked up to see standing before him a horse and rider.
ďQuite tall, slim build, dark hair, gun strapped low, obviously handy with it. Drab dark clothing could be going to a funeral. Donít intend it to be mine. Youíre staying. What now? I ainít backing up. Youíll have to. Oh you want to talk horses. Suits me. Yep sheís a Modoc and a runner. Just one problem fella she donít back up. That might get you moving? Well here it comes the stand off. Nope, youíre not gonna back up. You say yoursí is a Modoc too. As if? Well I have all the time in the world. I can stay here as long as you want. Iíll let you know. Iíll remove my hat and comment on the heat of the day. You seem the type used to getting your own way. Well not today Buster. Youíve met your match here. Iím just as mule headed as you. You probably have a meeting somewhere about so you might not want to waste too much time hanging around here.
ďWhatís this youíre talking about now? I hope youíre not getting round to threatening me. Oh I. Wants to know about my Mexican blow pipe. Oh well Iíll ask you about your six shooter. Show some interest. English eh? Itís a quality piece right enough. I wonder how many notches youíve struck in the handle? Donít suppose youíve blown the head off a grizzly though. Mind you your type is bound to have done something equally outrageous. Here it comes. Can core an apple at half a mile. Yep and pigs may fly. I bet thatís when itís falling. Itíd be too easy if it were sitting on the tree. And on a horse in a hurricane. Yep I sussed you out alright. I wonder what size hat you take? Mighty big spurs them big fancy jangling types the ones that disturb your peace you know the kind just like their owners. Always the center of attention. The kind that force you to turn round and look to see whoís ringing the bells. Bet youíre loud in all ways. Looks like youíre getting impatient. Better be ready for you. Iím not the one going swimming. Here goes ready for a dive fella?Ē
Before either cowboys could get to their weapons the bridge collapsed and they were both in the water swimming with their horses to the opposite bank and scrambling out.
ďBoy howdy I didnít expect that! Didnít expect to get dunked in a stream. Well I might as well give you a good wave never know when weíll meet again. Let you know, no hard feelings. I'll give you one of my crooked smiles. Just let you know you didnít get the better of me. Farewell fella. ítil we meet again. Sure was fun sparring with ya. Perhaps we can do it again some day?Ē
Giving a crooked grin and slight wave with his hat as he placed it on his wet head Heath loped off away from the river not really knowing where he was or where he was going, just riding with destiny. He was a free agent, with no ties, blowing with the wind. To his ears came the shrill sound of a whistle. Looking down the valley he saw itsí source. A train winding its way towards the town. As quick as a flash he dug his heels into his mount and started to speed down the grassy slopes to contest the great cumbersome beast.
ďCome on Gal ya gotta work harder than that. Weíre gonna beat that iron horse. We ainít lost one yet and I donít reckon to start today. You give me the ride of your life today and I'll fix for ya to have an extra scoop of oats for your dinner thatís if I get a job on my daddyís ranch. If not I'll make sure ya get a treat somewhere. Come on thatís it youíre gaining. Just look at that fancy cattle truck. All fancy drapes and all. I bet thereís some fancy dude in there who has more money than he knows what to do with. Perhaps heíll put some of his dollars on us. Come on Gal letís win him some extra cash. We might makes us some new friends with this. It sure gets my blood up. Itís a while since we last cheated death . Git on there youíre nearly by the next carriage.
ď Look at the folks eyeing ya. There is some excitement in there. I wonder if they have money on ya? If they havenít I bet theyíll wish they had. Come on just a little more you nearly have your toe in the engine. Now I can hear the driver giving his old iron horse jip. We have him Gal right where it hurts. Just give it another quick spurt. Thatís it weíre nearly there. Clever Gal ya have your nose in front. Three more strides. Thatís it swing out. Then here we go across the tracks and donít you muff this. Phew there you go we beat it by a whisker. Youíre slipping ya usually do it by two. Gawd my hearts racing as much as yours is. You sure called that close. Right Gal where we going now?Ē
Once the train was left behind he eased the gallop to a lope and removed his hat to wipe the sweat from his brow. He rode away from the tracks and looked back to watch his competitor lurch in towards the town of Stockton not knowing his destiny was in it riding home. Back up the sloping grass he rode letting fate guide him. He had a vague idea where he was heading but did not appear to be in any hurry. Perhaps he was not sure if it was where he truly wanted to go. Once at the top of the slope he turned and rode along the ridge for about half a mile then turned due East and sped across the open plateau towards a copse of mature deciduous trees that seemed to be calling him.
He eased back to a walk as his horse entered into the shaded coppice where he wandered aimlessly until he saw a grave, well cared for, large white cultured daisies and roses covering it and surrounded by a white picket fence. A large headstone stood guard. Being curious Heath dismounted and with a little trip approached the plot.
ďWhat have we here? An unlikely place to have a grave........ I should have known. Boy Howdy the old studís last resting place. Too high and mighty to be buried with common folks, I see. Well itís a shame I didnít get to meet ya while ya was living but I didnít get to know about ya ítil a month back. Of cause that wasnít my fault. Iíll kneel but I ainít gonna grovel to ya. I prefer to be looking down on ya.
ďIím at an advantage here. You see I knows who you are but I bet you have no idea who I am. No reason ya should. Donít suppose ya ever gave me or my mama a thought. Well Iíll introduce myself. Iím the wild flower, the one that grew after ya scattered your seed the wrong side of the garden wall. Iím a Barkley like yourself but my nameís spelt with a small Ďbí. The Ďbí having a different connotation from what youíre used to. I ainít quite good enough for folks such as yourself. I donít suppose ya ever remember my mama. Iíll just remind you. You have time. You ainít going anywhere. About twenty five years ago in a small mining town called Strawberry. Thatís funny too. Never gave it much thought before but strawberry is a fruit that has itsí seeds on the outside, a little like you and the garden wall.
ďWell as I was saying ya came a calling on a beautiful, young, widow woman and then when ya had your way with her ya left. I doubt ya ever thought about coming back to check on her. Well Daddy you left your calling card. Iím it. Is that a surprise to ya or what? I donít much care what ya think of me. I stopped caring a long time back. When I realized who and what I am. Shall I tell ya what I think of you? I hate you, I hate what ya were and I hate what ya did. I always hated ya even before I knew who you were. Howís that please ya?
ď Ya have four sons as far as I can count. I bet your wife would have a shock about this piece of knowledge. I reckon she knew you were an empire builder but I bet she didnít know how ya went about it. Now Iím just gonna go along there and see if I canít get myself a job. I know itís not the right time for job hunting but I had to quit my last job on account of my mama dying in that stinking rat hole of a mining camp called Strawberry. I had to return to Strawberry to take care of things. She ainít in a posh grave like you are. Couldnít afford anything grand. Just planted in a potterís field. Didnít have thousands of folks calling either. Of course I blame you for her death. I donít suppose you ever thought what it was like to be a young, unwed mother in a place like Strawberry. Well I wonít ruin your peace right now by telling ya. Only get myself more upset if I do.
ďYa neednít start sweating none about any of your kin learning about me neither. Iím only looking for a job is all. Probably wonít stay more than a month on account of having trouble staying too long in one place. Something I was left with after the war. I just have a hankling on seeing what might have been and visiting with my kin. I believe I have three brothers and a sister. I wouldnít have known about them if it hadnít been for my mama putting this here clipping in the bible. I wonít let on who I am and all ícause I donít want to sully their lives like ya did my mamaís. I only intend using the name. I reckon itís mine anyway. I already have my heritage ya took good care of that for me already.Ē
As he knelt there feeling his gut twisting and the anger rising in him his thoughts were shattered by a sharp whip to his back. It cut into his shoulders and with shock and temper he spun around to grab and drag a beautiful girl from her mount. Wrestling with her he eventually straddled her on the floor and was able to disarm her. He slowly shook his head as if to ask ĎWhat was that for?í
ďWell I reckon I know who you are. Youíre the old studís legitimate offspring. A real one. Well I do declare. My little sister. Youíre not a bad looker. Itís not a good idea for ya to be going around attacking folks for no good reason. I donít know what I did to deserve the whipping. Ya sure are a she cat. A right spoiled little vixen. I bet you was the apple of your daddyís eye. I can just see ya wheedling your way around him. I bet there wasnít anything you couldnít get out of him. I guess a good tanning would have done ya more good.
ďWhat are ya saying now about growing up without a pa? Oh I know what thatís like sure enough. ícepting I never knew my daddy like you did. Iím not sure which is harder losing your daddy or never having him in the first place. Mind you I bet you never missed out on anything because of his death. Yes I know a lot of folks came to pay their respects when he died. I guess he must have had some good in him. I donít know what? Perhaps Iíll learn sometime. There canít be too many like me about or he would have been none too popular. You donít seem too unfriendly toward me now little sis. I wonder what youíd do if ya knew who I am. I bet youíd likely scratch my eyes out. At least youíd try. Well I'll be on my way now. I want to try and find your ranch before it gets dark. Ask for Nick you say. Thatíll be one of my brothers. Iíd best give a smile seeing as Iíll probably be seeing ya again. Sure was great meeting with ya.Ē
With a last warm smile Heath leapt with ease on to his pony and swinging it round set off in the direction his sister had directed. Another half hour of easy riding and Heath found himself outside the gates of the Barkley mansion. He stopped to savor the opulence of the pillared house.
ďHe sure knew how to live. Ya could fit mamaís little house in one tiny corner of that. Well Iíll make my way to the front probably the only chance Iíll have of seeing it up close. I bet itís full of carpets, posh furniture, hanging chandeliers like the one Libby smashed with her singing. Probably eat off silver plates. I donít suppose I'll ever get in there. Theyíd be frightened of the likes of me soiling something. Well come on Gal letís go make our grand entrance.Ē
He felt confident. Why, he didnít know. He rode under the arched gateway and made his way towards the large French window beyond the front door where he had seen a small woman. As he approached three young men of various sizes and ages, his destiny amongst them, came out to meet him.
ďJust my luck. Who ainít it but Mr. Jingly Spurs himself from the bridge? I may as well turn away now. I didnít reckon on meeting you this soon. Small world ainít it. You ainít hiring. Figured as much. Donít know why you bothered asking where I worked before. You were full as soon as ya saw me.
ďI know which one Nick is now, Mr. Jingly Spurs . I wonder what names the other two go by? The older one looks like a city gent, heís a lawyer I think I heard tell. Sure is a neat dresser. I see Nickís managed to get changed. Still wearing them jangling spurs. I bet he wears them to bed. Whatís the city slicker saying now? Reckons I did him a favor today. I never met him before. Right he had a bet on us racing the train. That werenít too difficult them things ride like cabbage stacks coming off a turn. Well Gal it looks like youíre getting your extra scoop of oats today after all.
ďThe youngín donít say too much now do he? Probably canít get a word in edgeways for Mr. Jingly Spurs. They sure seem to have a cozy life here. Seems the lawyer gets the last say. Nick donít seem too happy. TheyĎre all dark haired not like me and the girl. I wonder what theyíd think if they knew who or what I am? I donít rightly know any of them well enough but I can imagine Mr. Jingly Spurs blowing off a whole heap of hot steam. The lawyer I reckon he might give it some thought and then dismiss it. The youngín I reckon he Ďd take his lead from either of the other two. Donít seem to have much going for him at the moment. Well come on Gal letís go find them oats I promised ya.Ē
He had found his way to the yard where he spoke with McNally and was hired. He had eaten with the men and spent the evening meeting and getting acquainted with them as they wandered in after work. During the evening he sat and listened and watched as the men either played various games of cards, smoked, drank and talked. Other than the odd smoke he did not partake but listened to various topics of conversation paying particular attention to any mention about the family. From the talk the impression he gleaned was favorable. It was a good place to work and the men were well treated and were happy in their duties. At each new appointment the men usually gave a clear indication by their attitude as to the type of ranch he had hired on to. He had a good feeling here. All those in his bunkhouse turned in about nine oíclock because they worked a long day and rose early. So Heath found himself lying on the bunk, listening to the odd creaking bed, grunts and snores. All his possessions in the world were here with him carried in his saddle bags. For a short while this would be home.
ďIts alright Mama. No one is gonna know. I just had a feeling I had to come here just to see what it is like. I wanted to meet my kin. I guess Iíve done that now. I donít reckon I know them but I have some ideas about them. After all they are part of me. It was sure strange talking to them; them not knowing who I am and all. I got to thinking what life might have been like had I grown up here with them but that time has been and gone and there ainít no point in thinking on times that might have been. Why didnít ya tell me afore now who my daddy was? Maybe if ya had things might have been different? Maybe heíd have helped us. Maybe Iíd have had the chance to be part of this.
ďNow what am I dreaming about? I donít know that ya didnít tell him about me. I donít know why Iím going on about ya telling him about me. If heíd been interested heíd have checked on you and made sure there was no baby. I donít know that he didnít know about me. He probably did and thatís why he ran off and stayed away. I know he had a family and all but if heíd have had any decency in him heíd have done something for you and me. It wasnít as if he couldnít have afforded it. Why didnít he care mama just a tiny bit? That would have been something. Just a little bit that meant I belonged. That I was wanted. Thatís all I needed. To know that I had a daddy out there that thought about me that cared about me that maybe even might have loved me. He wouldnít have needed to have been rich. He just needed to be there for me. But he wasnít. He just didnít care.
ďIíll give him credit for something though. The hate I have in me has kept me going and kept me alive this far. I have done all Iím gonna do. I shall stay working here as long as I am able. I have no intention of upsetting the folks. They donít deserve it. They sure donít deserve me. I would like to belong but it is too late for that. When I leave I can take his name they canít stop me using that and I donít need for anything more. We managed on our own without him and I can manage on my own now. It just makes me mad and angry with him. The life he lived and the way he treated us. I guess we both paid a price because of him Mama. The anger I have for him has kept me going and will continue to keep me going. But that anger is between him and me. The anger I have inside is because of you and what he did to you. It hurts me because without him I would not exist and without me your life would not have been ruined. I ruined your life because of him. I love you mama I know you loved me. Iím sorry I didnít mean to upset ya none. I didnít think Iíd start to feel like this by coming here. I remembered what you told me. Iíll never let you down.
ďI ainít been perfect, Iíve been no angel, Iíve been wild and reckless. I did mainly what I wanted to do and I messed up some and Iíve been mostly a mess since after the war but I never forgot what ya told me. I ainít ashamed of what Iíve done nor who Iíve become. You have no reason to be ashamed neither.
ďĎWalk tall, hold your head up high, never be ashamed of who or what you are. Never do anything to make yourself ashamed. Never do anything to make those whom you love ashamed. Never do anything to make those who love you ashamed. I have tried always to live by those words. It hasnít been easy but I reckon I did it. I shall continue to try and live by them. Mama. I wonít ever let you down. I promise.Ē
ďGet dressed.Ē Heathís destiny had arrived.
And the rest is history.