"Midas ~ thoughts "


by
HOW


Logline: Heathís possible thoughts when he rides to Midas with a bullet in his side in episode "The Twenty-Five Graves of Midas"


  Thank you sad tomato for checking.


Heath came round lying face down on the chilled earth next to a camp fire that had long slain its last ember. The night air was cold and he felt the chill running through him. His involuntary shiver brought attention to the savage pain in his left side. His hand cautiously went to caress the throbbing area and his fingers immediately became wet, warm and tacky. He didnít need to see them for he knew the feel.

ďBlood!Ē

Gradually awareness was dawning. He could tell heíd been shot. He wanted to rise but couldnít find the strength so he lay and considered his situation.

ďCanít move just yet.... donít feel I have the strength... feel kinda hung over.... what happened Heath?... thatís what Iím trying to think on..... if I could tell where I am?.... I need to sit up so I can figure it..... now just take care..... my shirt is pretty well soaked and the earth underneath is mighty sodden to the touch.... blood has just soaked straight into the ground..... reckon Iíve been bleeding real good.... donít seem to be bleeding too much now so if I just lift myself up on to my knees,... thatís it,..... just take a deep breath,..... twist carefully round,.... there thatís it Iím sitting now.... donít feel too good..... feeling a might dizzy... paining pretty bad.... just sit here a while..... hope the treesíll stop whizzing by me soon..... have to think on whatís happened and what to do....

ďThereís a body over there.... can just make it out in the moonlight.... shot me.... remember now.... sneaked into camp.... didnít hear him ítil he was upon me.... youíre slipping boy itís not like you letting a fella get in camp without ya hearing him.... went on about buying Charger his horse being lame and all.... didnít want to hear no for an answer.... pulled his gun out on me and to block him I threw the hot coffee his way.... it worked.... we brawled.... managed to knock him out.... found the saddle bags for the Dutton Mining Company on his horse... full of notes.... guess he stole them... wasnít thinking straight and left his gun lying where he could reach it.... then I just came and sat by the fire to count the money..... kinda dumb of me.... he musta come round ícause the next thing I knew there were bullets flying..... his and mine.... deserve a bullet.... shouldnít have happened... said you were slipping Heath... itís all this soft living youíve been doing since becoming a Barkley.... Nickíll be giving ya some jaw when he sees ya......

ďAnyway that fella looks worse off than I do.... donít know whether heís gone over the jump but Iím not gonna worry on finding out none now... have to get away from here or Iíll be joining ya fella... in the happy hunting ground if thatís where you are....? Lucky I havenít unsaddled Charger so all I need do is tighten the cinch.... youíd better not blow out horse... ícause I wonít have more than one crack at it..... have to save what strength I have for getting on you and staying on you..... take these bags of money with me but my coffeepot and chow will have to stay...... only have one go at this and itís gotta be right...... are you ready boy.....? yeah, I have the bags....... now to get up...... stop paining side...... here goes.Ē

Heath struggled to his feet and unsteadily lurched over to Charger. Pain and nausea were his companions. He fought off their affects to tighten the cinch. For once Charger obliged possibly sensing the dire straights his master was in. Taking the reins, Heath grabbed tight hold of the saddle horn with his left hand and endeavored to lift his left foot into the stirrup. Once there he grasped tight hold of the cantle and took a rest.

ďRight Heath this is it... now or never...... you have to do it in one or there will be no hope for you...... Ya hear....? Okay, on the count of three.... One, two, three. Heeeeaaavvvee!!!!Ē

With a good deal of pain stabbing through his side and much effort, combined with pure brute strength Heath hauled himself into the saddle and found himself mounted. Clutching at his left side he instinctively crouched forward trying to relieve the ache which pervaded him but to no avail. Sweat, caused by his bodily exertion combined with the still bleeding bullet wound, was pouring from him. His breathing came in short pain filled gasps.

ďThere Iíve done it boy now I have to stay here.... no falling off after all that paining to get up here.... just hold on with the strength and the dear life... have left.... to the horn and Charger can lead the way..... just wrap the reins round the horn too so I donít lose them...... just get my breath back before we start off.... reckon Iíll carry on to Midas seeing as I was heading that way and thatís the nearest town... should take a good part of an hour just walking... canít go any faster or Iíll end up parting company with you horse.... if I do that I figure Iíll be a goner for sure... ícause nobody will find me ítil the morning..... guess itíll be a little late by then.... now no passing out neither or youíll end up planted in Mother Earth too like the miners from Midas. ........ was gonna camp out tonight and meet Nick in the morning to investigate the mining accident.... donít reckon Iíll be up to that somehow... weíll worry íbout that in the morning.... come on boy.... letís make headway.Ē

Despite the stabbing pain in his side Heath forced himself to sit upright and managed to guide Charger to the road and face him in the direction of Midas whereupon the horse started to amble along the moonlit track. Heath made sure his feet were secure in the stirrups and put the rest of his effort into staying mounted by taking a death like grip on to the saddle horn and fighting the urge to close his eyes which would allow oblivion to claim him.

ďTwenty five dead at the Midas mine. That sure is a hell of a lot for a small mine. I canít understand how it happened. Iím glad Nickís gonna check it out. Mind you I canít expect otherwise. The family has a responsibility. I wasnít around when they bought into the mine with Dutton but it seems the surveyorís report said it was sound and the assayerís report said it was a good little earner. Well worth their while buying into.

ďMind you accidents are always happening in mines. Itís not always human error. It donít matter how well you shore up the inside with descent timber if the mountain is gonna move, it moves and there ainít a damn blasted thing you can do about it. However I have my suspicions on this one. Now the family are good bosses but theyíve been a little lax with this mine. They left Dutton too much in charge. I know he owns sixty percent but that is no excuse. I told Nick Iíd come down and check on it afore now but he said it was alright, that I hadnít got the time and Dutton knew what he was doing. Well I sure hope you were right Nick ícause there ainít much worse than a mining town with dead. Theyíll be baying for our guts.

ďI should know. We had a few deaths in Strawberry and they were genuine accidents not human error and the town folks were still mad. They were out for blood. Thatís half the reason Iím here. Not here on the way to Midas but here on earth. I guess I was one of the Strawberry accidents.... donít laugh...... my sideís paining too much..... donít I know it boy. Anyway there was a bad accident at the Strawberry mine before I was born. A downfall in one of the shafts and a few miners were killed. The mine belonged to Father then, before he was rich. Mother said that Strawberry was the start of his wealth. That wasnít all it was the start of neither boy! For sure. Well he dutifully came out to investigate it and fell foul of some of the mining folk. They beat him to a pulp so Hannah told Mother and left him for dead in one of the back alleys. Mama happened to find him and managed to get him home where she nursed him back to health. I reckon he musta been kinda grateful ícause he left her with me as a parting thank you gift. Some gift huh?

ďNow come on Heath donít be sneering none.... this ainít the time......... alright but I ainít feeling too good this second......... feeling kinda cold now and my shirt is pretty wet and itís sticking to me.... have to stay on Charger....... taking a lot of effort........ just have to keep my mind on the job in hand..... keep choking the horn there boy, ya hear..... right.... have to keep on thinking too if Iím gonna keep my peepers open.....

ďIíve been a Barkley for a couple of years and knowing you Daddy... now itís been a few years since I became a Barkley so I reckon I should be calling ya Father... So if itís all right with you?....... knowing you Father as I do now I realize there must have been a very good reason for what happened between you and Mama.....well of course there was Heath...... donít start getting fuddled.... Iím trying not to.... need help here.... I guess I mean besides the obvious desire for one another.... but no matter how much I think on it I canít fathom what it must have been. What I think I mean is I canít understand why you ran out on Mama the way you did without checking on her. Having learned from the family about you I reckon you must have had a good reason..... just donít know what it was is all. Now youíve been a good father to Jarrod, Nick, Eugene and Audra so I figure I wonít be out of place if I ask you to do something for me.

I reckon you owe me since Mama saved your life and all and you werenít around when I was growing up to take care of me. I ainít holding that against ya no more and I ainít asked anything of you afore. So....... perhaps youíll watch over me now while I make my way to Midas?....... I hope so... Iím not feeling too hunkey dorey.... not feeling too good at this minute and if I give into this here temptation to closing my eyes I reckon itíll be the last thing I do on this earth. If youíll come with me on the journey then I can jaw to you and I hope itíll help me to stay awake...... have to keep my eyes open.... Iím not asking a lot of you...... just wanting you to be here once for me just listening to me rambling is all.

ďI ainít quite ready to meet my maker yet awhile... although there was a time when I would have welcomed meeting Him.... that being back at Carterson. Ifín ya like Iíll fill you in on my life from after the war ítil I came to be living with your family?... Of course Iím part of your family now.... donít know whether you know that? Iíll go back to after the war ícause I donít feel like going back to Carterson. By the time we reach Midas you should know more about me than the family ícause I ainít much on jawing, least of all about myself.

ďIíll have to touch on Carterson just a little ícause I reckon thatís where it all began and Iím hopiní itíll help you understand where Iím at ...... heck what am I saying I donít understand me most of the time myself? Well perhaps itíll help both of us to understand me?Ē

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ďI had been in Carterson for almost seven months, when my tale begins. That being the time I spent in that hell hole. Like all animals the human being has the strong instinct to live, to stay alive no matter what, and while I was there I became an animal. Treated and behaved no better anyway. Well itís called survival. Towards the end of my incarceration..... good word that, caught it from Jarrod..... any way not a day went by but one of my buddies or another prisoner gave up...... lost the will to live and died. Some deliberately went as far as to kill themselves. I canít say I could hold with that but I could understand them. By the end you know youíre dying no matter how much will you have to live. It doesnít just dawn on you one day ícause itís there gnawing away at you all the time. Eating away at your mind. Telling you that there is no point in going on. That you will never be released; that pain and suffering will continue until you eventually die. So why fight it? Eventually it gets through to you and you realize that death will be your only release..... and like so many of my buddies I gave in to it. The day came when I no longer found a point in living..... reckon I was all played out.

ďI no longer had the physical strength to lift my emaciated body...... reckon I been spending too much time with Jarrod..... thatís what heíd say..... emaciated body up off the ground. There had been no food rations that morning..... not that it mattered... to me... I hadnít felt hunger pangs since.... donít know when..... the rationing during the past weeks were becoming smaller and more infrequent. Now us prisoners didnít know why.... not even sure the guards knew..... didnít really care.... anyhow I had dragged myself to the North West wall of one of the barracks, which I knew would offer some shelter from the noon day sun, due to the slight over hang of the roof. And there with some other surviving, fellow prisoners I flopped down and closed my eyes with the intention never to open them again. The desire to live any more had finally deserted me.... I just wanted to die...... I wanted to wake up...if you know what I mean...? Without a body racked with pain and sickness, without a mind filled with feelings of guilt and humiliation. Death was the only way I could see for that to happen. What had I been fighting to live for? Even if the desire had been there I no longer had the strength to kill myself. Hell I didnít have the strength to raise a hand and swat at the flies that buzzed and crawled around my eyes and sores. They could be laying eggs in them for all I cared.

ďThe weather this day was no different than it had been over the previous few weeks, hot and dry with the sun relentlessly scorching the now parched earth and any living beings that were caught without shade. It was another humdinger of a day.....I was neither asleep nor awake just jammed there between the two..... neither dreaming nor day dreaming....... stopped dreaming weeks earlier when it finally dawned on me that I would never realize them. My mind was waiting vacantly for the permanent void, the ultimate release. How long I lay like this I donít know. Death sure liked to keep a body waiting. Almost as if it wanted to get every ounce of suffering out of me. It wasnít pleasant but it was peaceful, just lying there, waiting....have to give it that..... I couldnít remember when I had last felt peace. If this is what death had to offer then I was impatient for it.

ďThe camp was quiet ícept for the occasional moan or pained scream from one of my fellow inmates. The guards no longer seemed to bother with us. In truth I reckon they were suffering as much as we were.

ďOut of this solitude... hey Jarrod you sure learned me good brother....... a growing awareness came through to me. The atmosphere that once had been tranquil.... a little of Jarrod again.... now buzzed with excitement. I could hear the sound of horses hooves on the hard, cracked ground, the jingle of metal on horsesí harness, the chomping of bits, the odd snort of a horse, the flapping sound of a horse shaking itself and the occasional stamping of hooves. And through this charged atmosphere came the smell of sweating horses. Boy Howdy I had never thought that smell could be so sweet....... was obviously losing it.... thought... dreaming again..... Anyway the smell was enough to take my mind outside the prison wire and drifting back to Strawberry to the livery stables. I didnít open my eyes.... instead I allowed my other senses to relish the smell and sounds. If this was heaven then I welcomed it with open arms.

ďFirst I felt the wet cloth on my face and then it wiping gently round my crusted and cracked lips. Then a deep gentle voice spoke to me. ďBoy, you there?Ē

ďFinally I opened my eyes and looked into a pair glistening with tears above a neckerchief covered nose. The face was blocking the sun and its golden rays radiated out from behind his head giving him an aura. The hat, face and mask were all the same color as the shadowed earth around us. Only the eyes shone out from the vision. I remember thinking, ĎIs this what an angel really looks like? Donít much look like the pictures Iíve seen.í ďHeaven?Ē I managed to ask. Whereupon the angel replied, ďIf you say so son?Ē I closed my eyes and was contented.

ďI felt the strong arms going under my legs and body and gently lifting me. I floated in those arms to be laid in a wagon. Never again in Carterson did I open my eyes. Death had arrived and I was thankful. The wagon started to roll and the last thing I remember thinking was, ĎI never dreamt the journey to heaven would be made in a wagon pulled by horses.í

ďíHeath watch out there boy youíre leaning too far forward again. Youíve gotta keep upright and keep your balance. You know that donít you?í I hear you..... very hard.... difficult..... hurting bad now.... hurts...... must try... sit back... now.... there... better.... now where was I.....? Yeah dead and on my way to heaven.... or so I thought.

ďI donít know how many days it was before I regained my senses but when I did it didnít take me long to realize that I wasnít in heaven. I lay for a while listening to heavy labored breathing which gasped with each intake and wheezed with each blow out of air. With each wheeze and gasp I was stabbed with pain in my chest. Little by little I realized it was me I was listening to. As I became aware so more of my body became engulfed in pain. This wasnít heaven. I was back in hell. I was not sure whether I was dead or alive but whatever?.... it seemed like hell to me. The smell of carbolic penetrated my senses...... the sweet clinical smell making me feel sick. My sense of smell had long been numbed by the stench of sweaty bodies, urine, sewerage, corpses and maggots eating away at them. Pain, fear and anger clawed into me and invaded my mind. I remember wanting to scream and scream and scream and I can only imagine that I did because suddenly there were hands holding me down and fighting with me as I struggled. Eventually I quieted and calmed to a soothing voice. Then the same kindly voice requested that I open my eyes. Which eventually I did. As my eyes began to focus I noted I was in a large tent opened at either end to allow air to pass through. It was cool and I savored it. I was not the only inmate for there were a number of cots across from and either side of mine and I could hear stifled moans and groaning. I lay on a comfortable mattress on a cot close to the ground and leaning over me was the owner of the voice. A middle aged, portly and bewhiskered Union officer.

ďHe must have read my thoughts because he started to tell me I was in an army hospital, that I had been there for three days, that the war had been over for more than three weeks and that they, I presume he meant the Union army, were going to make me well again. He introduced himself as Major Adams, physician in charge of this hospital. He asked my name and rank because he said he needed to check my name off against the register of known inmates. Heck I started to panic then ícause it took me a while before I could remember who I was. When my voice came it was weak and feeble and I realized my struggles must have been weak and feeble too. I had no strength in me.

ďHe patiently waited and once he had the information he laid a hand on my shoulder and told me I was going to be alright. You know Father that really struck into me like a burr under the pack on a burro. What did he think he was a miracle worker? How did he know I was gonna be alright? What did he know anyway? I wanted to yell at him but I didnít have the power. I was broken in body and spirit. I had no intention of living to glorify the powers of the Union army. I just had no intention of living. ĎThere is no way I can be alright ever again after what Iíve been through and what Iíve become. Donít ya hear me? I just want to die. Please let me die. Oh God please let me die.í The words never left my head. For the first time ever I was overcome with self pity and mule headed as I am, I determined.....thatís the best word......determined in my mind that I was going to die.

ďFor a couple of months I existed in Limbo. Time meant nothing to me. For the most part I was out of it, unconscious or semi conscious and a few times I was aware and in my right mind. My mind was warped and wrapped in nightmares and my body engulfed in pain. I can vaguely remember being bathed, first time since before becoming a prisoner and every hair being shaved offa me I... canít rightly imagine what I musta looked like...real scary I guess...... figure the shaving was on account of the graybacks. My open weeping sores were cleaned and dressed daily. I was turned, moved, sat up and laid down. All my personal needs were seen to. As I had been a prisoner in Carterson so I was now in this hospital. My body was not my own. Food was forced down me little and often. When I was clear headed I would refuse it but I was weak and they had ways of getting the food into me and making me swallow. Often times I would choke on it or vomit it back up again. I had no desire to eat and food didnít tempt me...... never felt hungry....... As much as the doctors, nurses and orderlies fought for my life I fought for my death. I was winning ícause no matter how much will they used to keep me alive without the will of mine to live they could not succeed. I reckon they knew they were losing.

ďLater I was shocked to learn how many ex prisoners had died in the hospital since their release. I would have just been one of many. It seems that once my fellow blue bellies had survived Carterson they like me simply gave up on life.... almost as if we had defied the rebs by staying alive... but now there was no point.... nothing to be gained.... I have difficulty in understanding or explaining it but that is how it was.

ďTowards the end of two months during one of my more lucid moments I opened my eyes and there looking down at me again was the angel. I didnít know this ítil later but he had visited me many times since he had carried me to the wagon but I had always been out of it ítil this day. I had been fooled once before and was not gonna be fooled again. He no longer wore his halo and he was clean this time and dressed in Union officer uniform. I could see that he was a lieutenant but he had the emblem of an army preacher. He was young in his early thirties Iíd say, tall with a strong frame. His eyes were what I remembered... was how I recognized him.... but there were no tears this time. They were kind eyes but strong. I didnít say anything, I just looked at him. Inside I was seething because he had tricked me that day.

ďĎI have a letter,í he offered Ďfrom Strawberry. Would you like me to read it to you?í It would appear that once my name had been verified and been through the wringer of army red tape Mama had been informed of my whereabouts.

ďI nodded my head yes but I wasnít sure I wanted to hear it. Was he gonna fool me again? He opened the letter and began to read. I closed my eyes and allowed myself to float back to a little house in Strawberry....... Mama would sit out on the porch in the cool of the evening sewing or reading when she was not working. In my mind she was still young and beautiful and had an inner strength that she conveyed through her words. This evening she was reading to me and I bathed in every word. I hadnít written home to Mama since Iíd stormed off that day in anger and joined the army. Too damned stubborn I was. She never mentioned that. She never reproached me. It was a letter full of love, apologies and forgiveness. If ever a child was loved and wanted I knew I was.

ďThe reading was over and I was crying, something I had not done since I was a small child and had hurt myself. I was consumed with guilt and I had no control over the emotions I had left. The preacher didnít say or do anything and although I didnít open my eyes I knew he was still there. I donít know how long it was before I could finally utter, ďI want to go home.Ē I said it and I meant it. The preacher then put the letter into my hand and responded ďThen you know what you must do. Donít you Heath?Ē He stood, then and left. He didnít pray with me nor throw God at me. For which I was grateful. But I reckon heíd spent a lot of time praying for my body and soul before this day and his prayers had been answered with the arrival of Mamaís letter and the words found in it. That was the turning point. I needed to live if I wanted to go home and I sure did want to go home badly.

ďĎHeath youíre crying boy.í Yeah... well... I know itís this damn bullet..... killing me.... but it ainít going to.... like I made it home... gonna make it to Midas.... paining real bad now..... guess thatís why my eyes are watering.... just watering is all.... ĎNow hold on Heath ícause you have a ways to go yet.í ...... had a ways to go in the hospital too.

ďNow I ainít gonna sass you out with my recovery.... just need to touch on it is all.... After the preacher left Major Adams arrived and sat down beside me. He didnít sound as cocky as he had the first time, he just offered his help and said that maybe together we could work at getting me well enough to be able to go home. He said it wouldnít be easy and said he couldnít promise me anything but hope. I could take that from him. I knew I was pretty sick..... of course at that point I hadnít realized how many ex prisoners had died since being in the hospital. Later when I knew I kinda felt sorry for him. That first time heíd spoken to me he had been so sure of healing me and I guess the other inmates too but his doctoring skills had since taken a battering.

ďWell I had to give Major Adams his due ícause he had kept me alive long enough for me to have the chance to fight my way back to the land of the living. I thanked him and said I was sorry for my being cantankerous. I reckon he thought that was funny ícause he laughed. Iím not even sure if he knew or was aware of what Iíd been trying to do. He then asked me what was the first thing I wanted to be able to do for myself. I think he thought if he gave me something to aim for just in a small way then we could work at it. I didnít take too much thinking. I replied. ďI wanna be able to take care of myself to do for myself if you know what I mean?Ē I didnít need to say more he knew and smiled and said weíd work on it. From then on every time I achieved a target another was set.

ďI reckon the Barkley stubborn streak musta kicked in because I wasnít gonna to give up no way. I thought dying was gonna be easy but it was damned hard when it came down to it but it was no way as hard as trying to live. I was still very ill. My lungs were very congested and my tortured body permanently ached from top to toe. I could not take a breath without accompanying pain and every movement I made caused distress somewhere in my body. I seemed permanently to be feverish. Major Adamsí staff were there with me all of the way. They were always fighting one fever or another. Fighting with me. Fighting for me. Nursing me, bathing me, changing dressings, plying me with bitter medicine and potions, teaching me to eat and more importantly to want to eat, helping me to walk and to get fit. For every three strides I took forward in my recovery I took two back sometimes four. Thinking back I guess I owe Major Adams in a big way and my angel Lieutenant Peterson as he was called. He would come regularly and talk with me, read Mamaís letters to me and write letters until I was up to writing my own home.

ďIt was four months before I saw my reflection..... hell it was a shock. I knew I must have looked bad when I was brought to the hospital because I knew what my buddies looked like. But it hadnít prepared me for what I saw. The mirror was in Major Adamsí room. This day he had requested I visit him. I figure he wanted to see if I could make it to his room.... a way of checking on the progress of my recovery. Well I had my mule head on and it was slow and sure took a long time but I made it. I entered the room and stopped, frozen to the core.

ďKnowing what you must look like and seeing are two different things believe me. I was taller than I remembered I reckon I musta grown some since joining the army. After all I was a youth just turned sixteen since Iíd been in the hospital. I still wasnít fully grown. I donít suppose Carterson helped me none. Now being taller probably made me look thinner. I couldnít see my body ícause I was wearing a hospital night shirt.... you can imagine it canít you?... never worn a night shirt since leaving the hospital, too many bad memories.... I could guess what was under it.... I had seen enough. My hair was growing back some, otherwise the image would have been worse. I was glad I couldnít see my body. I reckon Major Adams thought it would help with my recovery. Hell, all it did was give me nightmares and even today when the nightmares come I always see that boy standing there looking back at me from the mirror.

ďThe major hadnít thought of it from my angle. He thought Iíd be pleased to see how I was coming along. Well considering I hadnít seen myself since entering Carterson it almost scared what life I had clear out of me. He realized what he had done and apologized for his lack of thought and assured me that I had improved two fold. At the time it didnít mean much. He never again played that trick on me. The next time I saw the reflection was the day I was going home. I still wasnít right but I no longer looked like death.

ďYou ever look death straight in the face Father and have it look straight back at you?Ē

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ďWell the day finally arrived when I was deemed well enough to go home. I was one of their success stories. I was both scared and excited my drawers were in a twist. I can tell ya. It was more than two years since Iíd left home. My body was pretty much healed and had fleshed out some but my mind wasnít right. That was something the hospital could never sort out. As long as you looked all right that seems to be all they were interested in. They could erase most of the physical scars from my body but not the invisible scars from my mind. They were something I was gonna have to learn to live with and to manage if I was ever gonna have control over my life. They would be a part of me for always. At this time I didnít know how much I was to be affected by them. It would seem the better my body became the worse my mind was.

ďThe army had notified Mama and she was expecting me home. I said my farewells to the remaining ex prisoner patients and my thanks to the staff and particularly Major Adams and Lieutenant Peterson. This is when my angel took hold of me by the shoulders and looking at me said ďYouíre going home but you have a long way to go Heath. Home may not be where you think it is. You must have patience.Ē I reckon he knew my mind wasnít all right but at the time I didnít understand his meaning.

ďAn orderly was assigned the task of escorting me and boy was I glad of him. I was out in the world again after more than a year. Free. That in itself was fearful. Iíll not go into too much detail about the journey but it oughta be enough to tell ya thatís when I started to realize how much my mind was screwed up. I couldnít get too close to folks or into enclosed places, even a stagecoach would send me into a flat spin Iíd come out in a cold sweat and start to shake. I was jumpy and edgy and very easily startled. The least thing could set me off. It is enough to say that had I been on my own I would never have made it home. I honestly donít rightly know where Iíd be now.

ďMama was at home to greet me. Sheíd been sitting on the porch waiting for me and as soon as she saw me she stood and started to move towards me. I felt weak and my legs started to give way and the guilt took a hold of me. The prodigal son was returning, had indeed returned. Mama still looked beautiful but not as you would remember her. Her eyes were glistening with unshed tears and her face was now etched with sorrow and worry. Her once rich, dark, chestnut hair tied back in a pleat was turning gray. I knew I had done this to her.

ďFor the first time I was looking down on her. She looked up and took my face in her hands then drawing me towards her she kissed me and said, ďWelcome home my precious son.Ē My appearance must have horrified her but she didnít let it show. She was strong, always was. I took her into my arms and cried out my guilt ridden and grief stricken apologies. She gently pulled away and looking up at me placed her forefinger on my lips telling me to stop and say no more for she did not want to hear any of it. She was glad just to have me home and I was glad to be home.....I had missed you Mama... I miss you now.

ďĎHold up, youíre slipping again boy. Keep your feet in the stirrups. Hold your head up and keep your eyes open.í Father, thatís what Mama used to say to me, Ďhold your head up high and look the world straight oní.... remember that... but I got ya... right....... feel sick now....... ĎNot now. Just keep hanging on. You have the strength boy. Come on this ainít nothing to what youíve been through before. Donít be giving up.í No...wonít... keep holding on....

ďYeah, well. Hank the orderly stayed at the hotel over night then started his return to the army hospital the following day. When I said my farewells to him I didnít realize that that would be the last contact I would have with the army as a serving soldier other than getting my pension on health grounds. It was a couple of months before the official letter arrived from the War Office informing me that I was no longer on the payroll. Due to my age I was being given an administrative discharge in other words the army was washing its hands of me and the pension was finished forthwith. I was fit to be tied. I felt used, chewed up and spat out. Just like tobacco. Theyíd had their worth out of me but now I was one of their embarrassing statistics. They had found a way of writing me off and pretending Iíd never existed. This hurt almost as Iím hurting now but more like a slug to the gut.... but out of the hurt returned the anger that had been mine since way before the war when I first learned and understood what I was, a child born out of wedlock, and all that went with it.

ďBack then I had grown angry. I became angry with myself, my life, Mama, Strawberry, the folks in Strawberry, Hannah, Aunt Rachel, Uncle Matt and Aunt Martha although I never did have much regard for those two and most of all I was angry with you my father. I could understand now why folks were the way they were towards me. I became a mess, bitter and twisted up. I would like to make my age an excuse but I canít. I was hurting and I wanted everyone else to hurt as well. I was surly, insolent, rude, disrespectful, belligerent and hostile but most of all angry. To say I was ornery would be mild. More like a caged wild animal. There are many more words I can think of that were me, none of them good but I reckon thatís enough to be going on with. I reckon you should get the picture.

ďNow carrying on the way I was, was only showing the Strawberry folk that I was turning out exactly as theyíd expected. I was a child born out of the act of sin and no good could come of that and I was therefore evil. I was a bastard and was living up to the name. If they wanted to treat me like dirt then I behaved like dirt. Of course the only ones I was hurting were those close to me the ones who really cared for and loved me. Each day went from bad to worse until one day I had a flaming row with Mama all because of you. It ended up with me running away to join the army and in so doing I know I hurt the one person I truly loved and cherished. The one person I would never want to hurt.

ďJoining the army was not a bad move. It instilled me with discipline and gave me other things to think about. I no longer had time to think of myself. Most of the anger was soon knocked out of me in a different way.... well not really knocked out of me but channeled in a different direction. I learnt pretty quick how to control it and when the fighting started I vent my anger on the Rebs. Well that same army that had once been good for me had now turned its back on me. And as I remained at home the anger grew and combined with the guilt. I was full of anger, unsure of where I was going or what I wanted I was so full of uncertainties. I was an angry young man.

ďI knew I was becoming difficult to live with again and the last thing in the world I wanted to do this time was to hurt Mama. I had been there before and couldnít do it again. I had to get away from Strawberry, escape. I guess if truth were known I was gonna be running away from myself.

ďThe Strawberry mine was starting to play out and the town was feeling the pinch. Miners were being laid off and folks were leaving town. Although during my recuperation at home Iíd found some work in the livery stable I knew it was not gonna last much longer and there was that something missing in my life. I was empty and hollow inside. I guess Iíd felt like that since the very first time Iíd become angry and this feeling had been inflamed by my prison and hospital experiences. Other than the livery there was no more work in town and I couldnít expect Mama to look after me for much longer. And besides I needed more than the livery could offer if I was going to ever manage the anger and find the missing part in me.

ďI know this must be hard for you to understand but itís kinda hard for me to explain yet if I can manage to get to the end of my tale then hopefully itíll become clear to ya?

ďNever again was I gonna feel sorry for myself. This was my life, the only one I was gonna have and from that time on I made up my mind that I was gonna make the most I could out of it. Others werenít going to do it for me that was for sure. You and Mama gave me this life and as Mama said life is precious and I knew that out there somewhere was a place for me and it was up to me to find it. I wasnít gonna find it in Strawberry. I knew that.

ďIíd made my peace with Mama and so this time with her blessing I left Strawberry. Weíd discussed it and decided it was the best course of action. I still had some money left from my service in the army and I used some of it to buy an old cutting horse complete with tack from one of the outlying ranches and a little like the fairy tale that Mama used to tell me about Dick Whittington when I was little I set out to seek my fortune only in my case it wasnít a fortune I was seeking. I wasnít really sure what I was after except that when I found it I would know. I guess thatís what my preacher angel meant when he said Iíd have a long way to go before I found home. I started on my journey..... a journey that would take me many miles across many states and doing many jobs before I would find what I was looking for and find myself.

ďThere is no order to any of my jobs ícause my memory is getting a little fuddled...canít think what came before what.... please stay with me Father and Iíll try telling ya what they were..... I reckon I can do that..... I need ya to stay with me...have to keep my eyes open and keep sitting up.... itís getting harder.... much harder now.Ē

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ďDamn side....... keeps stabbing...... red hot poker.... guess I know how a dogie feels..... being branded..... think next time.... branding.... reckon bleeding some.... feel kinda weak now..... Ďjust hang on there boy, keep back in the saddle, thatís better, hold tight, and think, keep telling boy, thatís it.í spinning now ...... ĎKeep your balance. Take a deep breath.í Feels little better now..... still throbbing.... get my mind back on to what I was telling you.... must stay with you..... keep mind off this pain..... keep thinking...... stay mounted..... right..... here goes.....

ďI know I started off working on a ranch quite aways from Strawberry but still in California. I was a real green horn. I figure thatís where I first learnt the ranching business. I could ride.... that kinda came natural but everything else I had to learn. Ya see I was born and bred in a mining town and if you was to ask me about laying a charge I could tell ya all ya wanted to know but you ask me about a steer, well other than it was something to do with cattle well I had no idea. My schooling hadnít reached that far and my stint in the army hadnít prepared me. I had to learn fast and work hard which was good for me. Lots of hard physical work helped to keep my mind occupied. Needed that.

ďI learned how to handle the lariat, rope and down a calf, brand and castrate. I kinda enjoyed that ícause it was exciting and challenging though I wasnít too keen on the castrating part....that sorta goes through ya... then there was the rounding up of the young horses and the breaking of them. I always enjoyed working with them. I can remember riding my first bronc.

ďThe men had picked out a three year old they reckoned was real ornery. I may have been a greenhorn but I wasnít green and I had them and the gelding sussed out. Iíd ridden bucking animals before but nothing like this. I had no intention of coming off and I stuck as though my pants were nailed to the saddle. That animal came out and boiled over, broke in two, came apart and folded up with every trick it could muster but boy howdy I was a fixture. By the time the gelding quit, fit to drop the men were cheering not laughing. I needed that....gave me a great feeling beating that animal and earning the respect of the men. That might not seem like anything to you but it meant a hell of a lot to me. That is something Iíve always had to fight for. Respect and to prove myself.

ďNow after that the men being chuffed and all had to try me out on a bull. They didnít trick me on this one they were just thinking ahead to the Spring Rodeo. They didnít realize I wouldnít be around then. I took them up on the bull. Ya might just want to call me foolhardy but it was more than that. As I said I always had to prove myself. Well that bull tore out with me on top... sure could feel the power between my legs. You canít quite get the same grip as ya can on a horse ya have to rely more on your hand grip and your balance. I sat it out as long as I could before being pitched into the air and smashing to earth. The next I remember besides the stars were the men gathered around me whooping and a cheering my ride. They reckoned they were on to a winner. Now I was as scared as anyone might have been riding either beast and even though either animal could have been the death of me it wasnít that, that I was scared of. Never did have any fear of death again since Carterson.

ďWell Father you mighta been kinda proud of me had you known me then. I was a born rancher.... took to it like a dogie calf takes to its mama. During those years I worked on many ranches, always enjoyed it and did a good job. No Iím sure youíd have been proud of me. But my time always came to an end. It wasnít that I was given my time or sacked like, it was ícause I quit. I never could stick at a job or be in one place for any length of time. I kinda started to feel trapped and became restless. Couldnít take too much of being told what to do neither. There was something eating away at me and I had to move on and see if I could find that something. I reckon I was a real saddle tramp. There was something out there calling for me something that was gonna fill this great emptiness I had inside of me. One day I knew I would find it. So I never did get to ride in the rodeo.

ď....only ever rode in a rodeo once and that was a few years back. I desperately needed some money and entered for the rodeo but ended up worse off ícause it cost twenty dollars and six weeks work. I sure wasnít a happy fella then..... hobbled round but I was like a bear with a bad tooth kinda reminded me of Nick when he had the toothache. I thought it would be easy money. Boy was I wrong. Teach me to be cocky. Never did a rodeo since. The bull came charging out of the pen, he was mad not sure if it was thinking what it was doing.... too keen on getting me off..... and it missed its footing and came crashing down to earth, laying on my leg... I guess I was lucky.... it wasnít a bad break... could have lost my leg.

ďAnyhow through the years I worked on many ranches here in California, in Nevada, Texas, New Mexico even across the border in Mexico where I learned to speak the lingo real well at least the parts that mattered that is. Donít think Iíll get into that just now. Anyhow one way or the other all good experience. If you know what I mean.

ď Now I canít think on what came next but I spent some time as a fisherman San Francisco way..... remember laughing at Nick about it. It came up once when we were fishing for trout in the stream back home. I wasnít having much luck and he was getting into my craw and gave me some jaw on how he thought I was supposed to be a good fisherman. I guess ya know how he can be. That just creased me. I just couldnít help myself. Iím still not sure whether Nick ever understood what I was laughing at. Hell I never told him I was any good at fishing I just said Iíd done some off the Golden Gate for salmon and crabs. A picture came to me of Nick having a stand up fight for his life with a giant trout. Fishing in our stream was never life threatening.....the most youíd get was soaked if you happened to lose your footing when tussling with a large trout.

ďYet there, every time we went out in those fishing boats into the great open river it was life threatening...... manyís the time when a squall would come up, you had to fight with all your might and skill to get the boat back to the mainland. A number of times one of the fishermen would be washed overboard and youíd never find him again..... just became bait. Whole fishing boats have been lost. You can hardly compare that with Nick and I fishing. There was a current in that river traveling twice as fast as a train at full speed and if you fell overboard you was a goner for sure.

ďEach time we went out in those boats we were facing death and yet again it was odd ícause I was frightened right enough fighting those monstrous waves but never frightened of death..... I didnít stay a fisherman for long not ícause of the danger but even in the vast open space at sea life was kinda closing in on me and I had that feeling again of becoming trapped, unsettled and knew I was being called on. My future was calling and the wanderlust was on me and I moved on still searching for what?.... wasnít sure.

ďI scouted for a wagon train in Apache territory in Texas. Iíd learned my scouting skills from Charlie Whitehorse during the war and put them to good use here. Our train never had any trouble from them but they were out there. You could hear them at night calling to one another, a hollering and a whooping and your spine would start crawling ya couldnít help it. Just the sound was enough to scare the life out of you. I reckon ya know what I mean. During the day youíd see them at a distance trailing ya and when I was out on my own theyíd be there but I never had any trouble from them. Escorting me they were. The wagon train afore ours never made it through. We came across what was left. Any bodies had all been picked clean by the coyotes and buzzards. Itís scenes like that that remind you of your own mortality. Well we buried the remains and took items of identification to notify the army when we reached the next fort.

ďNo doubt after their butchering the braves would have taken any children or women that they wanted. The army would go looking into it but it would be unlikely that any of the hostages would be returned home in a hurry. Ya have to treat the Indians with respect, ya honor whatís theirs and I reckon theyíll leave ya be. I guess someone or other on that wagon train had forgotten that rule and the whole train paid for it. When we were through Apache territory I left the wagon train and went drifting again setting off on my searches.

ďI did get attacked by Indians once after working the mother lode country some. I wasnít too keen on mining. I didnít mind panning or working in the open but I always had a fear of the dark, of being trapped underground. I reckon that goes back to working the mines as a boy. I wasnít frightened of death but it was the thoughts of being caught in the pitch blackness deep inside the earth, with no way out waiting for death that frightened me. Working down in them mines was something else that always haunts my dreams. Now Iíll go into a mine but Iím always real glad to get out again. Never wanna be working down there again.

ďI worked the lode with Gil Anders and a kid, Willy Martin.... not long turned sixteen... Anders had heard about a silver strike over Nevada way and was ready to move on and I knew my stint at mining was coming to an end on account of my restlessness so I accompanied him and the kid... we took the short cut through the desert to reach Nevada.

ďWe were crossing the desert when the Yumas attacked. We hadnít done anything to upset them I think they were just after our horses. They could have killed us if theyíd wanted. I guess the horses were easy pickings, there only being the three of us. That was when Anders left us to die. During the night he took off with the water and the only horse the Indians left us with. I tried to get the kid through the desert but he was young and weaker than me and couldnít hold out. He died in my arms as I tried to shelter him from the sun.... he made me promise Iíd kill Anders if I ever had the chance. I reckon I had good reason but when he arrived at the ranch unexpected like the family wanted me to see things differently.

ďI was mighty stubborn about it and took myself off to town. Kinda in a huff I was. As things turned out Mother persuaded me to listen to him which I eventually did. I was glad afterwards. It seems Anders was plain dirt scared when he took off and had regretted it ever since. Well I know what fear is. Everyone has a right to be afraid. And I accepted his apology which meant breaking my promise to the kid but I reckon the kid would have understood. I think it was more my anger than the kid wanting to get even with Anders.

ďI also spent some time fighting in New Mexico, Lincoln County way. I hired on to the side which I thought was right. A real mix up that was. A lot of double dealing going on there.... eventually you never knew who you were fighting with or against. Thatís where I was peppered with carpet tacks and horse shoe nails by Handy Random. He sure was handy with that shotgun of his...Períaps thatís how he came by his name? Never thought on it before. He was the one that killed the fella that murdered you. He became a kinda friend of the family after that until I put them wise to his tricks when he turned up at the ranch and I recognized him.... He used to cause trouble if there werenít any so he could get his due.... anyway while I crawled off to make up my mind whether to live or die he high tailed it with my saddle. I never did get even with him.... Audra kinda did that for me.... when he was trying to cause trouble back home.... She shot him when Iíd let my guard down and he was gonna land me one over the back of the head.... Getting back to Lincoln County.... with all them nails and tacks in my back... managed to get back to headquarters and was taken care of. I had to fight for my life then. I lay at deathís door for a number of days. Death was beckoning but I wasnít about to give in. By the time I recovered from my injuries the warring had gone clean out of me and I was off searching again.

ď.........worked shotgun for a stagecoach once.... I didnít cotton too much to that. I could shoot alright.... learnt how in the army... wasnít bad at it either...... but sitting up there on the stagecoach just watching and waiting wasnít any good for me... gave me too much time for thinking.... there wasnít enough action.... and if the action did come then youíd more than likely find yourself off dead. I didnít. I reckon I was just darn lucky is all. Now I didnít mind facing death as I told ya, but I couldnít abide sitting around doing nothing ítil it arrived. I needed to be up and doing not sitting there having my bones all shaken up and all.

ďI managed to get a chance at driving and that sure was better. Somehow it didnít matter that I was being shaken about ícause my mind was well and truly taken up with handling the horses. Six in hand it gives a great feeling having all that power in front of you.

ďNo Father I didnít care much for riding shotgun that sure was boring and in a short while Iíd pretty well worn myself into a loop. But the driving that was exhilarating it was something I could handle. With the driving and all I ended up working the stage for near on six months.

ďNow I remember this part ícause driving the stage was how I met up with Frank Sawyer. Iíd been riding shotgun the day we drove into Spanish Camp and I was pretty much near to busting. It wasnít my normal route. Iíd been covering for another fella that day . Well I went over to the saloon for a drink and to rest my joints when a ruckus started up. Some trouble at one of the poker tables. It was a real chair smashing job with about eight fellas really intent on wrecking the joint. The type Nick enjoys. You understand. I managed to stay out of it but kept my eyes peeled. Thatís when I saw one pull a gun and was going for a back shooting job. Now I canít take to that so the next thing he was doing was holding a bleeding hand after Iíd disarmed him with a shot from my Mexican blowpipe.

ďOf course everyone went quiet then and I was left keeping the place in order at gun point. Thatís when Frank came in and he was kinda impressed with the way I handled the show and offered me a job. So thatís how I came to spend some time as a deputy sheriff in Spanish Camp. I kinda took to that. I reckon I spent more time with Frank than I did anywhere else. I seemed more settled at that time. If I think on, it might have been ícause I knew that I was on the side of the law. I always had this deep ingrained law abiding thing inside of me. Mama kinda instilled me with that. Of course mama had taught me proper in all ways. She taught me to be respectful but not only to my elders and betters, to know right from wrong and to be grateful and appreciative for what I had. To always be honest, truthful and trustworthy. No matter what I did in my life her lessons stayed with me. She also said I should listen and be considerate and whenever possible be compassionate.

ďNow although Iíd gone off the tracks some and made plenty of mistakes I never did forget what Mama had taught me. Her teaching was there but I kinda boarded it up. So anytime I messed up some Iíd be riddled with guilt. Working for the law helped to take care of my guilt and chasing after outlaws and the like took care of my anger. We did one really big scoop together Frank and I.....Frank always gave me credit for it...... but it wasnít really..... itíd be one of big brotherís circumstances...as heíd say ĎCircumstances brother Heath, circumstancesí .... still laugh about it now...... that was catching the Simpson gang.

ďThe Simpsonís had been marauding round about Spanish Camp theyíd done a few banks in neighboring towns and weíd been keeping our eyes out.... but no way could we figure where they were holed up... now this particular day I was riding back from Sonora when I came across what looked like had been a ruckus..... on the road.... there were wagon tracks and plenty hoof prints round about..... decided to follow the tracks....... eventually I came upon the wagon driver and his sidekick..... been trussed up like a couple of turkeys for Thanksgiving.... after cutting them free.... they told me that they were bringing a consignment of whiskey and beer to Spanish Camp when they were attacked...... the gang had trussed them up and dumped them on route to wherever..... all I had to do was follow the tracks..... by the time I caught up with them they were tight and well and truly wallpapered...... all I had to do was tie íem up good and proper so as they couldnít escape.... always kept hemp with me after my ranching days ícause you never knew when youíd need it...... I took the wagon, their weapons, their boots and their horses and returned to Spanish Camp collecting the driver and his sidekick on the way.... Frank and I returned later to collect the gang.... theyíd sobered up some by then so we tied them together in a line.... Frank took one end and me the other and we walked them back to Spanish Camp.... wasnít ítil we got them locked up that we found out who they were.... reckon that was the easiest arresting we ever did....

ďFrank was real good to me treated me more like a son than a deputy. I liked that ícause never having had you around when I was growing up it made me feel wanted. I felt like I had a father.... someone I could look up to..... some one I could jaw with and confide in...... Not that I was much on jawing but just knowing I could if I needed to was enough. It didnít matter to him what I was. He enjoyed having me around..... out of all the folks Iíd worked with over the years he was the only one I ever got close to... yeah I was close to others but only in a physical way.... always managed to keep myself to myself.... when you give of yourself youíre likely to get hurt....... lesson I learned early on..... didnít need no more hurt in my life.... had enough....... but I let Frank in...... he seemed to understand... I learned a lot from Frank..... more than just the law and the tricks of being a good lawman...

"Now his son was back in Boston and maybe Frank was substituting me for his son. I wasnít too sure and it didnít seem quite right on Frank so I decided it was time I moved on. He could see it and there was no hard feelings. Weíve always been good friends and Iíll drop by and see him when I get the chance. Of course heís at Jubilee now. Not too far away. Just saw him a while back and met his son, Chad.... good lad he was but wasnít gonna make no lawman.... I reckon Frank finally came to realize that..... thatís the way things go in this life...... Ē

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ďWell I reckon Iíve been through the mill..... not sure if I missed any out Father....with all them jobs... by the end of it all, you could call me a chief cook and bottle washer...... there wasnít anything that I couldnít do.

ďBut ya know I could have gone on drifting for ever if it hadnít been for the railroad. To think of all the traveling I did and all them jobs Iíve done and all them years searching I never did work for the railroad and yet in the end it was the railroad which brought me home and filled the emptiness inside of me.

ďIt was the news paper cutting which reported your funeral after the railroad had murdered you that Mama put in the bible. When she was dying she told me to look in the bible and the cutting fell out. I knew what it was and what it meant and I came into the valley to find your family, my family, our family. Thatís it our family yours and mine. Kinda good that. On the way I couldnít resist the temptation of racing a train and Jarrod was on the train and he put a bet on me and won himself a heap of dollars.

ďAnyhow later when I rode up to the house and asked for a job it was Jarrod who told Nick to hire me ícause Iíd beaten the railroad thereby doing my eldest brother a favor. And later when Nick attacked me in the barn it was ícause he thought I was a hired gun working for the railroad. It didnít finish there ícause Nick dragged me into the house and I had a confrontation with all three brothers telling them a few home truths but it ended with me leaving.

ďI returned later that night to collect the paper cutting and the money Jarrod had offered as a pay off that I had defiantly stuffed in a whiskey glass. Gave me a kick that. Well Iíd left, Iíd seen the town, Iíd seen the remains of the ranch house the railroad had burned, Iíd heard the fighting talk and decided it wasnít for me. I was through with warring. I decided to return to the house and collect the money, after all, hell who was I fooling? I needed it..... probably mine anyway after all Iíd beaten the train and Jarrod won his bet..... Now I saw the inside of the house again and thought of my brothers and sister and decided that it wasnít for me, it wasnít to be, they wouldnít want me.... like a flea on a dog Iíd be to them or a tick on a steer. There was no way I could see how it could be and then as I was leaving there was Mother in the entrance hall. She spoke and I listened. All night I thought on her words and, well, she had kinda talked me into fighting with my brothers against the railroad at Sampleís Farm. And thatís what I did. Hard faced like, I pushed right in there next to Nick. Even gave him a defiant look kinda threatening him to say something, to say I wasnít wanted.

ďYou know after that gunfight I was sitting, needing a smoke real desperate like. For the first time in ages I was shaken. I couldnít roll the smoke ícause my hands were shaking so much. I felt fear again but it wasnít the fighting that had gotten to me nor the fear of death it was that fear of the unknown. I knew what Mother had been offering me the night before and I had to grasp it. Then at Sampleís farm I knew I had been drawn there and inside of me I had this feeling that my search was almost over. I had almost found what Iíd been searching for in all them years. I was frightened alright. At last I knew what I was after. I was frightened I might have lost it before even tasting it. But thatís when Jarrod came over and offered me a cigar and taking it I looked up at his face and into his eyes and I knew that everything was gonna be alright. My search was finally over.

ďKinda weird really. The way things work out. In some ways you could say the railroad was working for me. On account of the railroad is how I came to be a part of your family. On account of the railroad is how I found peace, found myself and who I was meant to be.

ďWell the family accepted me.... they took me in on face value and thatís where I belong and that huge void, emptiness that was inside of me has been filled and Iím happy now and peaceful.

ďLike Hannah would say I had spent Ďforty days and forty nights wandering in the wildernessí Ďcepting in my case it was more like eight or more years or perhaps itís been a life time wandering in the wilderness and now thanks to the railroad I have found my way out. I had been a lost soul searching. I had just held on to this belief that tomorrow would come. That was the driving force. I made a good few mistakes on the way but I kept looking for answers and I guess I found them. I didnít know who I was ítil I found home. And all Mamaís teaching came back to me and I took down the boards one by one.

ďI learned how to live..... how to feel..... how to love again..... After all those years of not wanting to get too close to folks, of not letting my guard down, of having a fear of trusting.... I learned to trust again and to give of myself. I have a mother and three brothers and a sister so I guess you can see how that void was filled. Never knew I had them afore. The loneliness I had grown up with and forced on myself after Carterson is gone. All the anger I once had is now under control. No need of it now.

ďOf course I still get angry at times but it ainít the same kind of anger. And I still take myself off when life gets too overbearing or Iím feeling trapped but that ainít the same either. I always want to return ícause I know where I belong, Iím loved and the familyíll be missing me. Heck I miss them too. I know Iím wanted. Being away for a spell makes me appreciate my family and what I have with them and what I have found. I can never take them for granted. They are a gift, I guess, from you and I am sorely grateful. Thank you.

ďIt wasnít all that easy fitting in...... but I ainít got time for telling ya about that right now..... hope thereíll be another time when I can talk with you and I can tell ya about them settling in days... right now I can see Midas..... there are a few lamps still lit so perhaps there will be someone there to help me.... thanks for being here for me I really needed you..... Iíd kinda like it if ya would stick around and see me into town though..... ícause Iím not sure I can make it on my own....

ďIím hurting real bad now Father.... my hands are paining with choking this here horn..... canít let go....not yet..... can feel sweat running down offa me... getting in my eyes..... feeling kinda hot now yet Iím cold..... so very cold.... have to keep up straight to stay in the saddle.... need to get to Midas if this bullet is to come out.... have to get bullet out..... whole of my left side is kinda numb.... ícept for the paining from that slug.... donít leave me will ya... the town keeps on disappearing... I reckon I did see it didnít I?.... need ya to stay and watch over me.... Iím tired and.... want to sleep.... ya wonít let me sleep will you?....not yet.... youíll keep listening to me wonít you?..... please stay with me.... need ya....

ďI donít reckon Iím particularly brave, more likely fool hardy. I react to a situation and respond with what seems right at the time. Like in the saloon at Spanish camp and like racing that train in the valley.... just defying death. No I ainít particularly brave Father, no more than anyone one else. I ainít afraid of death and I donít give into my fears is all.

ďMy last time in Carterson I saw death and knew what it had to offer. There was peace on the other side. I couldnít remember when Iíd last known peace. But Iíve found peace now. Peace in life not in death. Unlike that time back in Carterson I donít want for death again. I havenít given up on life since and I have found my way home...... have found the place for me and filled the void inside here.Ē

Heath tentatively removed a hand from the horn and placed it over his heart region.

ďNot one of those life threatening jobs or foolhardy antics ever claimed me. I guess for a reason. Perhaps you were there all the time watching out for me? Like to think so. Makes me feel warm inside.

ďI know what fear is Iíve had it many times. Fear and I are not strangers. There are so many different kinds of fear. Iíve had most. Iíve lived with fear. As a child, right through the war, everyday at Carterson, when I ride a bronc or rode a bull, when scouting for apaches, when shooting it out with outlaws as a deputy, when sitting up there on that boring stage, when deep down in them dank, dark mines, when Handy Random peppered me, when going through the desert I reckon I was as scared as Anders ever was, when fighting the waves and elements off the Golden Gate I knew what fear was. I reckon it was fear that kept me fighting and kept me living. I never would give into my fear. It was the fear that twisted up with my anger that gave me the guts to fight to live to go on living and searching. Theyíre not like anyone elseís guts, theyíre not like yours or Nickís or Jarrodís theyíre my guts. Theyíre guts specially made for me by me to get through the life that you gave me, to survive to find my way home. To where I wanted to be. To where I needed to be. I know that now. Thatís what kept me going. And theyíre the guts that Iím using now to keep me on this horse ícause Iím frightened like hell right now. Boy Howdy am I frightened.

ďReal frightened....... frightened like never before ícepting like I was at Sampleís farm .... kinda same fear.... a fear of losing what I have.... Iím frightened now Father not ícause I might die.... ícause death never frightened me..... itís fear in case I mightnít live.... please donít let me die now..... not when Iíve found what Iíd been searching for in all those years since after the war..... wandering through the wilderness..... please help me to live.... not sure I can do it on my own any more........ have a whole lot of living I still wanna be doing.......

With the sweet scent of hay flaunting into itsí nostrils, Charger, carrying his wounded master was drawn towards the livery stable where it halted facing the large carriage doors. Heath was aware that he had reached his destination and knew that it had been the notion of his father listening to his rambling thoughts that had enabled him to remain conscious, stay in the saddle and reach Midas. But the still bleeding bullet wound in his side had taken its toll and his mind was wandering and confusion was setting in. He no longer knew whether his father had actually been there sharing the journey with him.

ďHave to meet Nick in the mine back in Strawberry....... donít know what Nick is doing in Strawberry..... has to meet me in Midas..... lotta dead miners..... theyíre in Midas... came here with Father.... found him dying in an alley.... came with me to Midas.... listened to me...... not really here........ in my mind.... twenty fives graves....... Fatherís grave.... railroad left him in the alley.... thought he was here.... donít know where he is.... Nick you should be here.... Iím here Nick... not in Strawberry... railroad brought me home..... donít know whether Father came with me Nick.... buried on the ranch.... I think heís dead Nick.... never knew Father.... listen to me Nick.... not sure anymore..... Nick where are you?.... Help me Nick..... need help.... in a bad way.... canít go any further... want to live Nick.... not gonna die..... Father knows.... told him.... Nick please... where are you?...... brother...... my brother.... need ya.....

Riding had aggravated the raw flesh of the bullet hole so that blood had continued to seep and Heath finally succumbed to the hemorrhaging and agony that had been his since this ride had begun. With his last conscious thoughts he eased his grip from around the saddle horn, his feet slipped out of the stirrups as his arms fell limp either side of Chargerís neck and his body slumped forward and lay along his horseís crest. He was like this when Jess the stable lad came out into the street and saw him. As Heath slowly slid from the saddle and fell hitting the ground heavily, Jess watched panicking before running into the saloon.

Heath lay senseless on his left side in the dust of the main street of Midas unaware of a flurry of warm air gently swirling protectively around him being carried off swiftly with a sudden gust of wind as Anna Kendall the hotel proprietress came out from the saloon with Jess.


And the rest is history.


With references to:-

Palms of Glory
Winner Lose All
Hazard
The Invaders
The Guilt of Matt Bentell
Showdown in Limbo
The Death Merchant
Night in a Small Town
Escape From San Miguel
25 Graves of Midas
Price of Victory
Days of Grace
Turn of a Card
Fall of a Hero
Journey into Violence

THE END


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