"Three short stories from the Heath-Meg series"


"The Census", "A Peach to Be Picked", "Times A Changing"

"The Census"

Silas opened the door to the Barkley mansion, "Can I help you, Ma'am?" he asked, taking in the rather official looking woman standing at the door.

"Thank you. I would like to see the head of the household, if I may?"

"That would be Mr. Heath Barkley you'll be wanting." Silas responded politely. "If'n you'll be kind enough to wait in the Parlor, I will see if I can find him. May I tell him your name and business?"

"My name is Miss. Adelaide Wordsworth and I am here in an official capacity to conduct a census. I promise I won't take up much of his time."

Silas gulped as he escorted her to the parlor. "You'd best be sitting down then, Miss. Wordsworth. I'z a reckon no one has yet told you about this household yet. I'll bring you some tea. You'll be here a while I reckon."

"Oh! No tea, thank you. I promise this won't take long. Just a few questions and I will be on my way. Adelaide Wordsworth shouted after the houseman as he walked away, wondering what he could mean by his reference to "this household.". Shrugging her shoulders, she sat down and took out her papers.

"Miss Wordsworth?" Heath enquired, as he came into the Parlor followed by Max, the dog.

"Yes." Adelaide Wordsworth replied

"Won't you sit down?" Heath indicated, "Silas tells me you are here to conduct a census."

Miss. Wordsworth who was only recently new to her post, warmed to the subject of her visit. "Yes indeed." She began enthusiastically. "It's been ten years since the last census was conducted and the government are seeking to update their records. Stockton has grown considerably in the past few years as I am sure you know and we expect to see that reflected in the new records."

Heath smiled politely, understanding the need for demographic studies and their importance. "Wordsworth?" He asked. "Are you related to the English poet?"

"Why, yes we are," Adelaide Wordsworth exclaimed so pleased to find someone show an interest in the connection of which they were so proud. "Cousins, though several times removed by now. Still we are very proud of our connection to that side of the family. Do you know his works?"

"Some, though perhaps not as many as I should do," Heath replied, "My father and oldest brother built a fine library here. I like to spend my time exploring the books. We have some of your kinsman's works."

"Did you like them?"

"Very much."

Adelaide Wordsworth was all set to talk more, sensing in Heath Barkley a most interesting man, but she was rudely reminded of the purpose of her visit when the papers she was holding fell to the floor. Before she could move to pick them up, Heath Barkley had gallantly retrieved them and placed them on the table. A little flustered, Adelaide began restoring them to their original order. Seeing her embarrassment, Heath helped the situation along by bringing them back to the subject of the census. "How can I help you then with the census, Miss. Wordsworth?" Adelaide Wordsworth shot him a look of deep gratitude. She had wanted to appear professional and she knew he was helping her to do so, not attempting to put her gender down. "Well, I just need to ask you some questions about the number of people living in the house, their gender, ages, occupations and place of birth. It will help us form a current picture of life in Stockton today."

"Fine by me. Ask your questions," he said, gifting her with a smile, "And I'll try and answer them."

Straightening her straw boater which had become slightly dislodged when she bent down, she took out a pair of spectacles from her bag and perched them on the end of her nose. "Can I ask you your full name?" she began, picking up her pen to begin writing.

"Heath Barkley."

"Just Heath Barkley? No other names?" Adelaide asked, wanting to ensure she entered the correct information.


"Is Heath short for Heathcliffe?"

Heath resisted the urge to laugh at the fancy suggestion, not quite seeing himself as a Heathcliffe, "No, just plain Heath."




"Strawberry, California, 1852."



"Oh yes, of course." Adelaide replied, feeling silly given that Mr. Barkley's occupation was obvious since she had driven onto the ranch. "Married?" she asked, trying to recover.


"Full name of spouse, including her maiden name, please." Adelaide asked, reading directly from the document.

"Margaret Victoria Stanhope Barkley."




"New York."

Adelaide shuffled her papers before continuing. "Thank you for your patience Mr. Barkley. This won't take much longer, I promise. Now to children, do you and your wife have any?"

Heath allowed himself a small smile, "We have a few."

Adelaide lifted her head, looked above her spectacles and smiled politely. "Do they all live here?" she continued, earnestly trying to complete the official document of which she was in charge.


"The eldest if you please."









Heath continued to supply information on all his children from Thomas down to Clara, providing eight names in all whereupon he paused to take a moment before continuing.

"Well that's just fine Mr. Barkley." Adelaide commented, carefully noting the details down with her fine script and thinking he had finished, "Just a few more questions now about other residents in the house and then I will be on my way."

"But.. I haven't finished telling you about the rest of the children yet," Heath replied.

Adelaide blanched. "You haven't? That is...I mean to say... You have more?"

"Fifteen to be exact." Heath replied smiling, amused at her reaction. "Don't worry we've past the half-way mark now. Next comes Matty..."

Adelaide continued to pale. "Mr. Barkley?"

Heath looked at her concerned. "Yes, Miss. Wordworth?"

"Do you think I could I have that tea now?"


Some thirty minutes later, Adelaide Wordsworth completed all the necessary documentation, recording details of the other residents too.

Just at that moment two little boys ran into the room, looking for Max who had lain peaceful by his master's feet all through the interview. Adelaide was immediately struck by the likeness of the children to Mr. Barkley. They both sported wide open smiles, cute button noses, blue eyes and shocks of unruly blond hair. The boys grew a little shy on seeing the woman and their feet slowed instantly causing them to stop in their tracks. They looked at their father for reassurance and then shyly at the woman who looked like she might be a teacher. "Come here boys and introduce yourselves," their father instructed. Both boys walked over to their father and stood by his chair.

"No! Please don't tell me," Adelaide interrupted. "Let me see if I can make a guess," she said, looking at the list of entries on her official documents.

Barkley, NICHOLAS, Aged: 7, Born, STOCKTON, 1893

Turning to the children, Adelaide smiled. "I bet you're Nicholas and if I am not mistaken you're seven years old," she said addressing the eldest and taller of the two boys."

Nicholas let his mouth drop open, wondering how she knew. "And you, young man," she said turning to the little one. "You are James, I think. And you are six years old. Am I right?" Little James nodded, unsure what to say. He backed up into his father, who picked him up and sat him on his knee.

"How do you know who we are?" Nicholas eventually asked.

Adelaide Wordsworth smiled. "Come here, young man and I will show you? Do you know how to read?"

Nicholas nodded.

"Good," she said, as he approached the the table and raised himself up on tiptoes to see what she had been writing.

"What is it?" he asked.

"It's what we call a Census? And here are your names, can you see?"

Nicholas nodded.

"Well all this information records that you live here and that you are part of this family."

"But I know where I live!" announced Nicholas, not understanding.

"Well, yes, you do!" Adelaide said smiling, "But this way we can help get a picture of what the country looks like and how many people live in which towns, how many children go to school and what people do for a living..."

"But why do you need to know those things?" Nicholas asked.

"Well, it shows how things are changing. Just imagine Nicholas! When your grandmother came to this part of the country from New York over fifty years ago, Stockton barely had any people living here. How many people do you think live here now?"

Nicholas shrugged his shoulders, looking adorably cute, Adelaide thought. "How far can you count, Nicholas? She asked. "I can count up to a 100!" Nicholas exclaimed, really pleased with himself.

"Well at the last census which was taken before you were born, there was over 24,000 people living here. By taking this census we will learn how many more people live here now."

"Like me!" Nicholas giggled. "I'm new! And so are Matty and James and Little George and Anna too! Then there's my cousin, Little Heath. Oooh! And Mama and Papa are always having babies so you might have to come back and count us all again. It's okay, though," he added, looking at her papers and seeing all the many names and how much room they took up. "Babies come kind of small, so they won't take up too much room on your page!"

"A Peach to Be Picked"


The Barkley interests were diverse and had grown more diverse over the years with Nick and Heath's management, cattle, vinyards, peach orchards amongst them. Today, they had seasonal fruit pickers working in the orchards, picking the peaches ready to send to market. And among the pickers was going to be a contingent of the Barkley family including Heath and his family.

Heath sat on the bed buttoning his shirt and watching his wife put on a pair of his pants. She had also picked out one of his shirts, a white one, which though oversized, looked better on her than on him he thought. As she pulled up her pants, far too big of course, Heath gave her a playful slap and pulled her back on to the bed, rolling on top of her and pinning her down with a kiss and then a deeper one which with its intensity had her wrapping one leg around his long one and her hand slipping down to his still firm butt. They enjoyed a few minutes of intimacy before she patted his butt twice and reminded him that the family would be waiting to go down to the orchards.

Heath nodded, kissed her quickly and let her get up to finish dressing then did the same. He watched with amusement as she grabbed one of his belts and put another knotch into it and then bend down to roll up the hem of each pant leg so they fit. He speculated on yet another item of his clothing that had become 'theirs' and not 'his' anymore. Then still with a smile on his face, he watched her pick up Meggy who was gurgling happily in her crib and go downstairs to the rest of the children gathering on the verandah. Heath finished dressing. He was looking forward to the day ahead.

Downstairs, Thomas, Junior and Josh had already completed two hours work and were just about ready following breakfast to go out again. Matty and Nicholas and James were sliding down the bannister ignoring warnings by Junior that mother would have their hides if she caught them. Little Anna stood sweetly in borrowed overalls, her hair, not blonde like her siblings, but like Leah's and Samuel's, a rich chestnut brown, in a ponytail and a rag doll in her hand.

As their mother came down the stairs carrying Meggy who would also be joining the family day out in her perambulator, Matty and Nicholas wore guilty looks as their mother caught James slide down the bannister and shoot off at the end. "Ooops!" James cried out as he was discovered. His mother's look was enough to let him know he was in the wrong. A moment later Heath came down the stairs too and caught the guilty look. One look at his wife and he knew not to ask.

"You kids ready?" he asked. The children all answered yes and the family bundled out on to the verandah where the perambulator was loaded onto the wagon, followed by the younger children. Heath exchanged a few words with his older sons and mentioned some work that their Uncle Nick had said needed doing in the south pasture. Junior nodded. "I'll take a ride out there," he confirmed. As Thomas, Junior and Josh rode off, Heath helped Meg up on to the buckboard. He then handed her Meggy and climbed up himself. With the children's lively chatter in the back the family set off to the orchards.


The orchards had provided a good crop this year and both Heath and Nick expected the crop to get a good price at market. To the children it meant a morning of seeing who could pick the most and how many they could eat along the way. Heath had promised them wages and a bonus to the one who picked the most. Nicholas, Matty and James were each determined to win. Scrambling out of the wagon as they reached the orchard, the boys went and said hello to some of the pickers who they knew and then ran over to the large number of baskets that had already been picked and were being loaded onto wagons.

Heath took Meggy again and then helped Meg down. As she waited for the perambulator to be brought down she wandered over to the pickers with Meggy, wishing them good morning and letting them admire Meggy. Many of the pickers came back year after year, the Barkleys offering fair wages, employment and good living accomodation whilst they were there. They liked to see Mr. Barkley and his large family.

Wearing a sun hat, Meg asked about their families, remembering many of the names of their children and asking after their wives. As Heath came to join her, placing a hand at the small of her back, he remarked how pleased he was with the work done so far and that he had arranged for lunch to be brought out from the ranch at midday. Together, they accepted congratulations on the latest addition to their family and shared news about their family, including the families of Nick and Jarrod. Meg returned Meggy to the fancy perambulator which looked a little out of place in the orchard but in the shade allowed Meggy to sleep.

Then they gathered their troops and the family began helping with the picking of the fruit. The older boys set about their task with gusto and began filling their baskets quickly. Little George and Anna, needed a little bit of help, their first attempts as they were lifted up to pick the fruit off the tree, resulting in bruised fruit as their fingers dug into the flesh.

A gentler way was shown to them and the children began again. But then Heath began to notice that although his children were reaching up to pick the fruit, none of it was being handed down to be placed in the basket. Instead, Little George and Anna were enjoying eating the fruit, the juice running down their hands and faces and onto Heath head. No one was really worried. Today was a fun day for the children and by default their parents too. Heath and Meg enjoyed seeing them have fun whilst overseeing the more serious work being undertaken by the pickers and doing their fair share too.

About mid-morning, Meg broke away to feed Meggy whilst the boys found an industrious way of reaching up to the higher branches ignoring the conventional method of a ladder which seemed to serve most pickers well. Not the Barkley boys. That was too boring. Nicholas fetched his horse, Star, who had been hitched to the back of the wagon and the boys used his extra height to help them reach the higher branches.

It was a lovely day and as the boys struggled to carry their heavy peach laden baskets to the wagons, they waited for them to be weighed and for their efforts to be recorded on a blackboard by the manager with a piece of chalk. At this stage Matty was in the lead with his industrious work.

At lunchtime the food was brought and the work stopped. Mexican music was played by some of the pickers to which the children danced and played. Little George and Anna had eaten too many peaches and were not hungry for their lunch, their faces and overalls evidence of their morning's work. Heath dozed in his wife's lap whilst Meggy slept in the perambulator nearby, a sun shade protecting her from the sun.

It was, in fact, a perfect day. Everyone worked hard, ate till they were full and then worked hard again. At the end of the day, the count was done to see which of the children had earned the bonus on top of their wages. At an early stage, it was obvious that George and Anna ate most of their wages, but the race was on between Matty, Nicholas and James.

It was a close run thing, but Matty just pipped his brothers and earned the twenty dollar bonus. With a wonderful act of kindness, typical of the boy, he gave the money to Francisco Rodriguez, whose little boy was ill. The gratitude of the man spilled out in grateful tears. When the money was joined by the hard-earned wages of all the boys, there wasn't a dry face to be seen.

As the family made their way home, Little Anna clutched on to a peach. With all the peaches they were taking home, Meg and Heath wondered why. "I picked it for Granny," she said, with disarming sweetness, determined to get it home safely for her Grandmother Victoria.

"Times A Changing"


Heath Barkley walked on to the veranda to check on his heavily pregnant wife and found her dozing in the rocking chair that had at one time belonged to his mama. With her about to give birth any time, he had been working close by to the house for the past week, ready to send for the doctor when she began to show signs of the baby coming. This baby would be their twelfth child together and their sixteenth overall. Even Heath was a bit overwhelmed at the numbers sometimes. The baby, in fact, was a bit of a surprise, even for experienced parents such as Heath and Meg, for it had been six, nearly seven years since the twins had been born and Heath and Meg had thought their large family complete.

Sean, Thomas and Cate were each married with families beginning of their own.

Samuel, their studious son, was away at Harvard studying law. Leah had been married six months before and was now living with her cowboy husband on a piece of land Heath had given them as a wedding present. Victoria was also newly married and away on her honeymoon.

Heath jr and Josh, now young men, were heavily involved in the ranch whilst Rosie and Clara were back East, staying with Meg's sister and her family for a while. Heath wondered how long it would be before he was walking those two down the aisle? After them, he would just have his little girl, six year old Anna, at home.

Bringing up the rear of the family were his younger boys, Matty, 11, Nicholas 10, James 9 and George, Anna's twin, 6. These four musketeers sure made their lively presence known in the house when they were at home, but the house was unbelievably quiet when they were at school.

For Heath, who had lived with the front and back door banging open and shut with the comings and goings of his large family, it was a strange experience to listen to the silence, as if the house was resting and just waiting for their return.

Undoubtedly, Heath and Meg enjoyed having more time together and Meg, before her confinement, kept herself busy with committee and charity work during the day, whilst Heath worked. Sometimes they would just choose to spend the day together, or Meg would ride out to where Heath was working. Once she even attempted to help him mend a fence but when the hammer hit his thumb and not the nail, both had to rethink their partnership. Now, just as life was changing for them both and bit by bit the nest was emptying, life had surprised them again. A new baby was on its way.

Heath had come from the back of the house, fetching a pitcher of lemonade and some glasses from the kitchen along the way to share with his wife. As befit the work he had been doing, he wore his shirt loosely and unbuttoned revealing a torso that in tone defied aging, but a chest of hair which was beginning to turn from dark brown to gray.

Carefully, he put the tray down on a nearby table and studied his wife as she slept. Her intricate knitting lay across her lap, the two needles intertwined mid-stitch. She was knitting something for the new baby, for though they had trunks of baby clothes, Meg always wished to knit something new and special for each one of them, something just of their own.

With long, workman fingers, Heath fingered the delicate shawl, marveling at the patterns woven into its fabric. He picked up the knitting carefully, mindful not to drop any of her stitches or the one she was about to do and placed it in the basket next to her feet. As he did so, the rocking chair gently rocked with Meg getting more comfortable as she slept.

He watched Meg brush a stray strand of hair away from her face and lent a hand when it fell back again with a light breeze. At forty-nine, time had barely touched her, for her pretty face and figure were that of a much younger woman. She was his Meg and the comfort he attained from such knowledge made him think how lucky he was.

As the breeze returned and brought a coolness, he grabbed a quilt from a nearby chair and gently tucked it around Meg, dropping a single kiss to her rosy lips, careful not to break her sleep, but wanting to witness the smile that might grace her face on receiving it. He didn't have to wait long. There it was, and on seeing it, Heath smiled his own trademark smile. He was fifty-one, son, brother, husband, father, grandfather and lover to this wonderful woman who was once again going to bear him a child.

He went and sat on the nearby top step, his back resting against the rail, his long slim legs outstretched in front of him. There was something familiar about those legs, his penchant for tan pants not having left him all these years. He had simple tastes and Meg had never tried to change him. Her handsome cowboy in a blue shirt, tan vest and pants and a crooked smile was the man she had fallen in love with and still set her heart a light nearly twenty-five years later. Taking a sip of lemonade, Heath put the glass down and took pleasure just watching his wife sleep. Before long he was dozing himself and together they both slept.

A few days later, their daughter, Meggy, was born.


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