“Are we there yet Papa?” A sleepy Thomas asked his father as he woke sitting in his father’s lap. The five year old looked up from where his head had been resting against his father’s chest and stared sleepily out of the window.
“Nearly,” his father reassured him. “Won’t be long now.”
Thomas’ twin brother, Sean, who was sitting next to his father and nearest the window turned when he heard his brother’s voice. Sean was a good brother and had sat with his brother’s legs across his own lap without complaint, even when Thomas had shuffled in his sleep and his feet with him. Though twins, Thomas was by character the younger of the two, the shy one who Sean looked out for.
The twins were identical but different if that made any sense. Certainly none of the family had any difficulty telling them apart. Sean was Sean and Thomas was Thomas, their characters and mannerisms distinctly their own. Sean was outgoing, a leader, full of chatter; Thomas was a quieter character, a follower of his brother and shy like his father. Both were as cute as the button tips on the end of their noses.
Facially, both took after their father whilst their sister Cate took more after their late mother, Heath’s beloved wife Cate. Both boys had just turned five, having recently celebrated their birthday with a party at the mansion with their Grandmother, their Uncle Nick, Silas and some of their little friends.
They had entered the world on their father’s twenty-second birthday, bringing delight to their parents who looked forward three years later to being joined by a brother or sister for their twins. A sister did indeed arrive, but at a cost. A cost this small family still felt two years later, for as Heath‘s wife brought little Cate into the world, she lost her own young life in the process.
Now the little family Cate had left behind was travelling to the house of Heath’s brother which he kept in San Francisco. Jarrod had invited them for a number of reasons, first and foremost because he enjoyed his brother’s company and though he was a frequent visitor to the ranch, time away for both of them allowed for a closeness of a different kind. One afforded by being away from the responsibility of family and the ranch, a chance to breathe different air and a time to think and talk without complication.
And talk was the second reason why Jarrod wanted his brother to visit. Jarrod had seen Heath’s low spirits on his last visit to the ranch. As a widower himself he understood the extent of Heath’s grief, but there was more. Heath, who was susceptible to illness far more easily than his brothers had just received the news from Doctor Merar that he needed to rest, do less of what he loved most - ranching - and learn to rest his body and measure and pace his work. Otherwise he would become increasingly ill, even fatally so. To a young man of twenty seven it was devastating news. His childhood years working in the mines had left him a legacy of ill health and he found it difficult to come to terms with the changes required of him.
To distract Heath from what he must do less of, Victoria had suggested they visit her sister in New York. She hoped, despite the long journey, it would give Heath a different perspective, a time to rest away from the worries and responsibilities of the ranch which he shared with Nick. Both Jarrod and Nick had encouraged it, though Heath had been unsure. Those doubts still remained. Heath would be away from the boys and baby Cate. Jarrod wanted him to go and part of this visit to San Francisco was to finally persuade him. For as well as missing the children, Heath was also nervous about meeting Victoria’s side of the family. He was accepted here, would he be there?
As the train finally reached the station and came to a halt, passengers quickly spilled out onto the platform with their luggage. Jarrod’s face broke out into a broad smile when he saw his brother alight, deposit his bags and turn to help his young sons down.
“Uncle Jarrod!” The boys chorused as they saw him make his way to them. The little boys travelled the rest of the distance running into his arms. Jarrod swept them both up, one in each arm and kissed them both on the cheek as they threw their arms around his neck. Heath and he may both be widowers but Heath had these wonderful children and that was something that Jarrod did not.
"Heath!" Jarrod finally expressed to his brother, his welcome evident. Heath relieved his brother of his children and the two brothers embraced warmly.
"Come! I have the carriage waiting." Jarrod continued, sweeping up his brother's bags, not surprised at how lightly his brother travelled. Some things never changed. His heart was full at seeing his family again.
Immediately, they arrived at Jarrod’s house, Jarrod switched adeptly from the role of eldest brother to that of Pappy and waved his brother off to the main guest room to get some rest, promising to wake him up in time for dinner. Heath was typically stubborn about the subject.
“I’ve got to see to the boys.”
“No you don’t. The boys will be just fine with me. Won‘t you boys?”
Sean, excited about being at his uncle’s house and itching to explore, nodded whilst Thomas clung to his father’s hand and was less certain.
“I’m not tired, really.” Heath defended again.
“And I’m a Dutchman.”
Heath arched his eyebrow and gave a wry but tired smile. “Really? Mother never told me we had Dutch ancestry.”
“Buckets of it, little brother. Now come on. You’ll feel better for a rest and if you do as Pappy says, I’ll make sure only good reports get back to Mother.” Jarrod made sure he added a wry tone to his voice to counter the over protectiveness of his words.
“You win,” Heath conceded sensing imminent defeat. He told the boys to be good and Sean ran back to his father from where they were exploring. Thomas asked if he could take a nap with his father. Jarrod quickly diverted the little fellow from the idea with a promise of cookies and milk from the kitchen. He wanted Heath to get an uninterrupted sleep.
“Okay,” Thomas agreed slowly still clinging on to his father’s hand, not quite ready to give up possession of it yet.
With a timely entrance, Henderson, Jarrod’s butler came into the room and Jarrod asked him to take the boys to the kitchen where he would join them in a few minutes.
“Shall I arrange someone to take the bags up, sir?”
“No, I don’t think so, Henderson. I think my brother and I can manage them just fine, thank you. Come on Heath. I’ll get you settled.”
Not even allowed to carry his own bags Heath resignedly climbed the stairs, observing, “You treat me like an invalid I’m going to end up behaving like one.”
Jarrod stopped momentarily on the stairs and turned to his brother. “I would never do that Heath. That said, if you won’t look after your own health then don’t be surprised if your family steps in.”
“I’m not that bad.”
“And you won't be." Jarrod wisely added a caveat. "Providing you take care of yourself."
They reached the well furnished guestroom. Sumptuous in fabric and furnishings the room was indicative of Jarrod’s fine taste and expense. It was in such contrast to the room Heath occupied at home. That room had started out nicely furnished but not overly so. Its simplicity and views over the ranch had been the things that had appealed to the 17-year boy who had chosen it.
He had changed it very little save for visual signs of its male occupancy. That was until he met and married Cate. Then it became their room and the decor and furnishings subtlety began to change. Since her death the room he slept in had become a hybrid of what they once shared and the solitary life he led now. It missed a woman’s touch. It missed Cate.
Heath watched his urbane brother unpack his things, a task Heath was more than capable of doing but one which Jarrod enjoyed doing for him. The brothers talked briefly of how things were at home whilst Jarrod put Heath’s clothes in the closet and Heath took off his boots and prepared for bed.
Jarrod felt good to have his brother visiting. He watched as Heath lay down on the bed and placed his hands behind his head. Seeing the heaviness of his brother’s eyes Jarrod knew it would not be long before Heath was asleep. He grabbed a coverlet from a nearby chair and placed it over his brother.
“Thanks,” Heath said gratefully. Now he was laying down he felt his tiredness acutely.
“You sleep. I’ll go see to the children.”
“You’ll have your hands full.” Heath commented, his speech indicative that sleep was fast claiming him.
“Maybe? But they’re a great tonic for this old lawyer so I am going to enjoy their visit and not complain.”
“I’ll give you a week.”
Jarrod laughed. “Go to sleep. I have two younger brothers. How more difficult can they be?”
Heath raised his head off the pillow. “You want me to tell you?”
Jarrod didn’t give him a chance. He closed the door behind him and waited outside to hear that his brother was asleep before going down to look after his nephews. The park seemed a good way to get the boys to run their energy off.
“Jarrod Barkley? Jarrod Barkley, is that you?”
Jarrod spread-eagled ungainly on the grass verge, a ball firmly grasped between his hands, recognised instantly the owner of the judiciously applied baritone voice. Inwardly groaning, because he knew how he must look, he affected an awkward smile as he raised his eyes to meet those of the imperious Judge William. T. Longfellow.
“Judge Longfellow, Mrs. Longfellow. How… How… nice to see you.” Jarrod replied as he let go of the ball and made his ascent in as ungainly fashion as he had made the descent.
“What is the meaning of this?” The judge continued, straightening out his handlebar moustache and pointed beard when no adjustment was necessary. His wife hung on to his arm but barely seemed to reach it because of her tiny height. Both were surprised to see the eminently nice, young and usually highly presentable young counsellor in a such a dishevelled state.
“My apologies, Judge.” Jarrod said, quickly recovering. He let out a winning smile as he wiped his hands on an expensively laundered handkerchief. “You see, I was chasing my nephews and I am afraid that their five year old legs run a lot faster than these office-bound ones of mine. My brother did warn me that I may not be up to it.”
“Yes, my youngest brother, Heath, is visiting with his two boys from our ranch in Stockton. I offered to take them to the park so they could run off some of their boundless energy. So far the only thing they are running off is me!” Jarrod added a twinkle in his eye to indicate that he was secretly enjoying it despite the injury to his suit and his dignity.
“Ah, I see. Nephews... Five year olds... Children, you say. Yes, I see. Highly commendable of you Barkley, I’m sure,” replied the judge, sounding as if the world of children was alien to him though he was a loving if rather reserved grandfather of eight. “Your brother cannot bring them here, himself?”
“I’m afraid my brother has not been well, Judge. He is resting now back at the house.”
Mrs. Longfellow was the first to sympathise. "Oh, what a terrible shame. I trust he is not seriously ill."
"We aim to make sure he does not become so, my dear Mrs. Longfellow." Jarrod replied diplomatically, choosing not to reveal the full extent of the family's worry when they first heard Heath’s diagnosis. "The doctor advises rest. But I am afraid my brother is use to being active and is shall we say proving a stubborn patient."
"Goodness me! That will never do." Mrs. Longfellow pronounced. "We must make your brother see the sense of his doctor's words. Why, tell him I will send around some of my best beef tea. In fact, I will deliver it myself and have words with that brother of yours." She looked with kindness on the boys playing. "They are delightful boys. We must make their father well again."
Jarrod gifted her with a warm smile. He had visited the Longfellow’s socially many times and though the judge could be severe in manner, knew them both to be genuine and warm-hearted. “I’ll call them over and introduce them.”
Hearing their names, Sean was the first to arrive followed by Thomas who was a little worried by a puppy that had decided to chase him and was nipping at his pants in excitement at having found a new friend.
“Sean, Thomas. I want you to meet Judge Longfellow and his wife, Mrs. Longfellow. Say hello boys.”
Both boys gave a little gentlemanly bow and said hello. Their gesture melted Mrs. Longfellow immediately and secretly the Judge too, though he disguised it with further attention to his whiskers.
“It’s very nice to meet you, boys.” the Judge’s wife beamed, earning her winning slightly lop-sided smiles in return. ‘How delightful,’ she thought as their mouths quirked identically. “I hear you are visiting San Francisco with your father.”
Both boys nodded, though Thomas’ concentration was distracted by the continuing presence of the puppy. He moved closer to his uncle. Jarrod seeing the immediate threat, swept Thomas up out of ’danger.’ The puppy looked up at his lost friend with a sad face.
“I thought he would bite me,” Thomas whispered to his uncle, glad to have distance between him and the puppy.
“Well now, he’ll bite me.” His uncle joked.
“Okay.” Thomas accepted. It was not quite the response Jarrod expected. But clearly, it was his 'duty' to put himself between Thomas and 'danger'. He smiled, knowing the puppy just wanted to play.
Across the street and from his bedroom window, Heath took in the scene. He had seen Jarrod take the tumble. “Ouch!” he mouthed just as Henderson came into the room.
“Sir?“ Henderson questioned.
Heath explained. “I just saw my brother take a fall.”
“Ah, I see. Sir. Perhaps I should run a hot bath in preparation.”
“Better still, I will take it for him.”
Henderson smiled seeing the mischievous look n the younger brother’s eye. The brothers did not look like each other at all, but there were common traits nonetheless, things that marked them out as brothers, including that twinkle which could appear suddenly from a serious face. It was clear from the care Jarrod gave his brother the two were very close. Henderson did not know what was wrong with Heath Barkley, nor did he consider it his place to ask, but he knew his employer was concerned enough to make sure that everything was done for his brother to make sure that he rest and did not have any worries. In so far as that was what his employer wanted, Henderson would make sure that was so.
His employment with Jarrod Barkley had been just six months. The only member of the family he had met to date had been Victoria Barkley. He knew there were brothers and a sister; their photographs were on prominent display including those of his nephews and niece. It was the first time Henderson had worked in a household where there would be children. His preference was to work for professional, unmarried men - children were going to be... he considered the appropriate word for how he was feeling and found it ...'a challenge!'
When Jarrod returned home with the twins, it was with one sitting on his shoulders and another by his side, ready to skip into the house.
“Hello, Mr. Henderson. We’ve been to the park!” Sean exclaimed.
“Indeed we have, Henderson.” Jarrod Barkley confirmed. “As you can see I am somewhat the worse for wear. Somehow I think I would have been safer on the sidewalk.”
“Shall I?” Henderson asked, offering to relieve his employer of the boy on his shoulders.
Jarrod looked up. “Thank you, Henderson.” Jarrod said gratefully “Thomas, time to get down.”
Thomas allowed himself to be transferred to Mr. Henderson and from thence to the floor.
“Thank you, Mr. Henderson.” the little boy said, looking up from where he stood and repeating the smile he had gifted to the Longfellow’s. Henderson observed that the smile was going to gain the boy and his brother entry to many a friendship for it was hard to resist.
“Thank you for taking us to the park, Uncle Jarrod.” Sean exclaimed. “Can we go upstairs now and see Papa?”
Jarrod was about to suggest different when his brother stepped out of the library carrying a book that he had been reading. “No need to, you can see me right now.”
“Papa!” the boys exclaimed with delight on their faces. They were very young but aware that their father could not always spend time with them as much as they would like. Sometimes they saw Doctor Merar come out to the ranch and Granny Victoria told them it was because the family and Doctor Merar were making their Papa better.
"Honest?" the boys had uttered.
"Honest." Their grandmother had replied.
Sometimes when their young fears would not go away the two little brothers would climb into bed together, one spooned behind the other, staying close. And sometimes when that didn’t work they would climb in their father’s bed and take comfort from the fact that his protective arms were around them and all were together. Heath and the family did their best to allay the twins’ insecurities but the motherless children would continue to worry.
Heath, Jarrod thought, had clearly benefited from his rest and looked much brighter. He watched as his brother knelt down and listened to his excited children tell him all about their time at the park. Jarrod was pleased they had enjoyed the outing. He rarely visited the park though it was only opposite the house. His nephews gave him the excuse he needed and he had enjoyed the late afternoon visit.
Above their chatter, Heath raised his head to Jarrod who stood with the evidence of the afternoon on his clothes, “You okay, Jarrod?”
“Never better,” Jarrod answered sincerely.
“So, I saw.” Heath replied.
“You saw?” Jarrod quizzed, gesturing his own fall.
“I saw,” Heath replied again, but with a twinkle in his eye which Jarrod soon returned. The conversation didn’t need to go any further, unspoken words said the rest.
“Look!” Thomas declared, bending over and showing his father the seat of his pants. “A puppy bit my pants. “
Heath looked down and saw little evidence. Still he knew that was not the reply to give his son. “Well, let’s see if a ride on my shoulders to the bath room will help.“
Thomas forgot about his pants and ran around to his father’s back which he expertly climbed up on to. His father then with the extra load stood up giving no indication of his tiredness from before.
Jarrod winced with concern for his brother but Heath was fine. His concern unseen, he considered he was fussing and let the small family head upstairs. Only when he looked down at his own appearance did he consider that he too might be in need of a bath before dinner.
“Henderson!” He shouted.
“Yes sir. You will find the bath filled in your bathroom.”
“Splendid, Henderson. What would I do with out you?”
Henderson gave no reply and Jarrod smiled for Henderson was turning out to be the perfect butler.
The next day two little faces peered forlornly out of the San Francisco home of their uncle and looked longingly at the park which beckoned to them from across the street. Unable to go outside because of the rain which had been falling all morning, they watched the passers by dodge the rain and puddles and hail passing cabs to take them on their way.
The rain pattered against the window panes and the two boys shared a game of watching the droplets travel their meandering course down the glass, choosing the one that would make the quickest descent.
“Look! Mine beat yours!” Sean announced gleefully as he watched his droplet reach the bottom of the window pane. Thomas’ doe-blue eyes watched in vain as his own droplet faded in the race. “What shall we do now?”
“I don’t know,” Sean replied, rocking on his feet as he held on to the window sill, stuck for something to do.
The words travelled to their Uncle Jarrod who looked up from his desk and looked at them both. The children had wandered through the house from room to room looking for something to do. Jarrod regarded his papers. Important papers. Papers he should really be studying, but seeing the two boys who had been good in not disturbing him, or their father all morning, he felt his duty beckon. Just as he put down his papers and returned the ink pen to the ink well, Thomas announced that a carriage had stopped outside the house.
“Someone’s coming, Uncle Jarrod,” the little boy exclaimed, his head still craning to see who it was. “Shall I go open the door?”
“I think it best if we let Henderson answer it,” their uncle answered, getting up from his chair and putting on his jacket in order to make himself look presentable for their unexpected guest.
“It’s a lady,” Thomas announced, seeing the lady helped down from her carriage and make her way to the door.
Jarrod joined his nephews at the window and recognized instantly the visitor. ’Oh Lord, ’ he thought, “It’s Mrs. Longfellow. Heath will kill me because I forgot to mention she would call.”
“Mrs. Longfellow, sir,” Henderson announced, showing Mrs. Longfellow to his employer’s study. Jarrod greeted her warmly and showed her to a comfortable chair.
“Forgive me for visiting unannounced Jarrod, but I wanted to enquire how your brother was.”
Jarrod smiled, for the judge’s wife reminded him of his mother. “He’s more rested, thank you Mrs. Longfellow.”
“Oh I am so glad to hear it.”
She noticed the boys standing near the window. “And you boys, are you being good for your father?”
Both boys nodded and their uncle confirmed it.
She beckoned the boys closer. “I think two little boys are missing him very much. Am I right?”
Again the boys nodded. Their blue eyes conveying just how much.
“Well it’s up to us to make him better, isn’t it?”
“How?” Thomas asked, wanting to know.
“Well for a start, I have this beef tea which is excellent for building up someone’s strength when they are not feeling well.” She beckoned her maid to come forth with the flask she had prepared.
“Where is your brother, Jarrod?” She continued, standing up and straightening her skirts.
“He’s upstairs, resting.” Jarrod found himself answering.
“Show me,” the little lady announced, determined on making sure the patient in question not only received the beef tea but was seen to drink it in front of her, so that she was satisfied that it could do its work.
Jarrod tried to argue as politely as he could that his brother may not be in a fit state to receive visitors, but Mrs. Longfellow, pointed out that she was a mother of five sons herself and that she felt a duty of care to look after that boy in his mother’s absence.
Spearheaded by Mrs. Longfellow, the small party made its way upstairs, the maid following, then Jarrod, the two boys bringing up the rear guard. At the top of the stairs, Jarrod begged that he be allowed to prepare his brother first.
“Nonesense, I am not going to eat the boy.” Mrs. Longfellow responded dismissing his concerns.
Sean and Thomas looked at each other, never having heard their father called a boy before, except by their Uncle Nick. Only Uncle Nick was allowed to call their father boy.
Inside the room, Heath came awake instantly at the entrance the old woman made into his room. Instinctively, he pulled the covers up over him to avoid being seen naked to the waist. Who? What was she? And what was she doing in his room?
He had no time to say anything as the lady instructed the woman behind her to produce a flask which she opened, inhaling the contents and then poured into a cup. The contents were steaming and Heath realised he was expected to drink it.
His two boys flanked the left side of his bed whilst the old woman and what seemed a maid, flanked his right. Jarrod stood somewhat stupefied at the end of the bed. Clearly, he was out of his league in this situation and so was Heath.
“Now don’t you worry young man. My family has used this recipe for generations. It is our own recipe and will make you well. Your brother, Jarrod, has explained that you have been feeling poorly and I feel honour bound to do for you as I know your own dear mother would do for my sons. Now, take small sips. Here let me help you.”
Heath found his head supported by the tiny lady who small frame belied a hidden strength. His head cradled in her hand he allowed himself to sip unquestioningly from the steaming contents, his progress carefully checked by her sharp eyes.
“Thank you, ma’am.” he finally answered as the last dregs were drained. He had to admit it tasted wonderful.
“Good.” Mrs. Longfellow announced. “My maid will instruct your cook how to make it and you shall take a drink everyday.”
Heath looked at Jarrod, who gave a lame, unspoken response, both men recognising that any objection would be pointless.
“Get well, young man. You have two wonderful boys here. If they’re not an incentive to get well, I don’t know what is.”
Heath turned to his boys and ruffled their heads with his hand.
“Now, I shall call on you in a few days and see how you are progressing.”
And with that the petite lady left the room with her maid closing the door behind them.
Heath turned to Jarrod. “Who, who was that?”
“That my dear brother Heath, is Mrs. Longfellow. Judge Longfellow’s wife. And her mission is to get you well, so don’t fight it.”
“I wouldn’t dare. She’s tiny and formidable, and frankly scares the hell out of me!”
Both men laughed.
Heath improved over the next few days. As promised Mrs. Longfellow called on him again, this time Heath made sure he was dressed and ready to receive her downstairs. She was a kind old lady and developed a soft spot for the blond haired Barkley and his small family. An invitation to both brothers was extended and she also took the two little boys on trips around the city which they thoroughly enjoyed.
It was during one of these trips when the boys were out of the house that Jarrod took the opportunity to talk to Heath. Both brothers were easy in each other’s company, Jarrod providing Heath with an older brother, father figure and equal all in one, all of those roles appreciated by the younger of the two.
Jarrod came across his brother reading a letter in the sitting room.
“From Nick,” Heath explained, raising the letter and offering it to Jarrod to read.
Jarrod quickly read the short letter. “Reading between the lines I would say that ignoring all the ranch talk Nick is wanting you home.”
Heath gave an always welcome smile. “Goes about it the hard way, doesn’t he?”
Jarrod joined him in understanding their brother’s character. Nick would never come out and say he loved his brothers or missed them directly. It would always be couched in tough talk and bluster, but Nick loved them without a doubt and the brothers knew that without having to hear the words.
“Are you ready to go home, Heath?” Jarrod asked, hoping the answer would be no.
Heath was quick with his answer. “I miss the family, I miss the ranch, but I am enjoying being here with you. No, I am not ready yet.”
Jarrod patted his brother’s leg. “Good. Because now you are feeling better I have places I want you to see.”
“Looking forward to it. Thanks for looking after the boys whilst I was laid up.”
“Loved every minute of it. Being in San Francisco I miss so much of their growing up.”
“They sure do change. Cate would have loved to see them grow. She would have been so proud of them.”
Jarrod’s hand returned to Heath’s knee. “I know, Heath. I know.”
For a moment Heath was lost in thought and Jarrod did not rush him to return.
After a while he raised the subject that he knew was causing Heath some concern - the subject of Heath visiting their mother’s family back east.
Heath bit his lip, the worry belying his relaxed appearance of lying on the sofa with his boots kicked off and his hands behind his head. Suddenly, the hands came forward and Heath sat up, crossing his legs as he sat deep in thought once again, only this time his thoughts were not of Cate.
“I don’t know ’em, Jarrod.” He finally breathed out.
Jarrod came and joined him on the sofa and patted Heath’s back. “We talked about this Heath. You have nothing to worry about meeting them.”
“They’re mother’s family. Yours, Nick and Audra’s even, but not mine.” In his stress his drawl became more pronounced as he placed emphasis on certain words. “I’m from father’s family and not even from the right side of the blanket.”
“Heath! Mother couldn’t love you more if you were her own natural son. You know that.”
“I know that.” Heath was quick to respond. “It’s not Mother. Well maybe it is in a way. Oh, I don’t know. Things are different out here. Society is different. Oh, I am not saying everyone is accepting of my birth, but most people are, or at least sideline it because they respect Mother. Back East, I think I can only bring her shame. It’s her family and I’m...Well I’m father’s proof that he betrayed her. Imagine them having to face that reality every day.”
Jarrod allowed his brother to speak though he knew his brother was wrong in what he was thinking. His job was to persuade him of the fact though he understood the source of anxiety that made Heath think the way he did. “So are you going to dismiss them without ever giving them a chance to prove you wrong? That's not you, Heath. You're a fair man. Always ready to give someone a chance, even their prejudices, real or unreal.”
Heath was surprised by his brother’s words. From his cross-legged position he unravelled his legs and then drew them up, wrapping his arms around them. “No.” he said, giving the question thought. And then said, “Possibly.” The words were said so quietly, Jarrod realised that it was his own perceived shortfalls Heath wasn’t going to give a chance.
“Well, brother, you will be missing out on meeting Uncle George, Aunt Elizabeth, Cousin Harry and of course, Cousin Meg.”
Jarrod’s mention of hername caught Heath’s interest. “Yes, I mentioned her to you. Do you not remember?”
“Well, she will be all grown up now. When I saw her last she was an enchanting young girl. Very pretty, even then, and full of life. I hear she is still not married.”
“I’m not looking for a wife, Jarrod.“ Heath said hastily. A bit too quickly his brother thought. It had been two years since Cate’s death and a grief-stricken Heath had avoided meeting anybody else for fear of more hurt.
“Don’t worry, brother. I hear she is very choosy.” Jarrod laughed, easing the tension his comment had caused.
“I’ll miss the boys,” Heath offered as another reason why he should not go.
“I know. But you know, the time will go fast, Heath. Mother wants you to go because she believes you will only really come to terms with the issues about your health and the adjustments you have to make by being away from the ranch, by being forced in her words ‘to rest.’
“I can rest at the ranch.”
“Even Nick does not believe that.”
Heath went to say something but nothing would come out.
Sean and Thomas lay on their father’s huge bed in their nightshirts, chins cradled forlornly in the palms of their hands as they watched their Papa getting dressed for dinner. He and their uncle Jarrod were going to dine with Judge Longfellow and his wife that evening.
“How long are you going to be?” Thomas whined, making it evident he did not want his father to go.
“I’ll be back tonight. Your uncle and I are just going for dinner. We won‘t be very late. ‘
“Why weren’t we invited?” Thomas continued from over the edge of the bed as Heath bent down on all fours and ducked his head under the bed looking for the stubbornly hidden tie. Answering his son, he accidentally hit his head on the underside springs of the bed.
‘Ow!” he exclaimed as his search proved fruitless and he came up to answer his son again. “Because you’re too young. Really Thomas! We have discussed this twice already today.” He pulled a funny face in an effort to cheer them both up. The response was less than positive. “Either of you boys seen my tie?” He continued undaunted. “Your uncle Jarrod will be in here in a minute to tie it and …..?” Both boys shook their heads. If their father was in the least bit suspicious neither boy was aware of it. They were confident of their plan. Papa wasn’t going anywhere that evening. In fact, the next thing their father would not be able to find was his newly polished shoes. They had been left outside the door by Henderson that afternoon and the boys had hidden them almost as soon as Mr. Henderson had left to go downstairs again. On lookout, Sean indicated to Thomas to remove the shoes and put them in the toy chest in their room.
“Hmm,” Heath scratched his head in growing frustration. Evening attire always defeated Heath at the best of times. He had only brought one tie. Perhaps Jarrod could lend him one of his many. He sat down in a nearby chair to pull on his socks, first one foot then the other. His shirt gaped open and the top button of his pants needed fastening still, then there was his hair to brush and the two boys to put to bed. And oh yes, a bedtime story. Time was running on.
As if on cue, Sean piped up with a further delaying tactic. “Will you still be able to read us our bedtime story, Papa?”
Hopping over to dresser as he finished pulling on his left sock Heath was quick to answer.
“Of course. Just choose a story.” His guard was down. Ordinarily he would have realized they would pick the longest story to read. Delaying bedtime was becoming a regular ploy of the twins. The boys ran out of the room. Heath, too preoccupied, missed the tie trailing from Thomas’ pocket. As the boys ran out, Jarrod came in, resplendent in his own evening attire. By contrast Heath looked only half-dressed.
“Need some help?” Jarrod enquired with an amused smile on his face.
“Plenty!” Heath answered as he buttoned his shirt then undid his pants some to tuck the tail of the crisp white shirt in.
“Where do I start?” Jarrod began, realizing the boys were behind their father’s delay.
“I need a tie. Mine has gone missing,” Heath replied, fastening the top button his pants and grabbing two brushes off the dresser with which he began brushing his hair at speed.
“No problem. I’ll just go get one. In the meantime you might want to find your shoes.”
“In San Francisco they tend to come in useful as footwear.”
Heath smiled, joining in the banter. “In Stockton too, least ways as I remember.”
As Jarrod opened the door two night-shirted nephews flew in to the room
“Good evening to you, too, boys.” Jarrod remarked with dry humour.
“Good evening Uncle Jarrod. Papa is going to read us a story. Do you want to hear it too?”
“Do I want to hear it, Heath?” Jarrod asked, amusement playing across his face and eyes twinkling.
Heath was now looking for his shoes. Obstacles were stacking up against him. The penny was beginning to drop. “Boys? Do you know anything about my shoes?”
The boys buried their heads deep in their story book.
Seeing his stockinged-feet brother, minus tie and shoes, confront his boys, Jarrod waited to see the outcome before retrieving a tie from his own well-stocked supply.
“Boys? I asked you a question,” Heath insisted.
The minutes of the clock ticked by as he waited for a response. The lawyer at the door waited to see if the two five-year old defendants would crack under the pressure of the cross-examination.
“We only wanted you to stay with us, Papa,” Sean defended as both boys were put to bed.
“That’s as maybe, Sean, but you did wrong to hide them.” Admonished Heath. “Now look here. Judge Longfellow and Mrs. Longfellow have been kind enough to invite your uncle and I to dinner. How would it appear if we did not turn up?”
Both boys pondered the question for a moment. They liked Mrs. Longfellow. She had been kind to them. Put that way it didn’t seem fair to Mrs. Longfellow to stop Papa from going. Still they preferred to have him with them. Then again, he would be coming home. Mrs. Longfellow couldn’t have him all the time. Just long enough to have something to eat. Sleepily, they answered that perhaps it would appear rude.
“No two ways about it, boys.” Their father responded. “To not turn up to somewhere you have been invited is rude. So we have to learn to give and take in this world. To share what we have.”
“You mean we have to share you?” Thomas said, really not impressed.
“In some ways. Just like I have to share you.”
Quizzical looks appeared on both of the boys. “You don’t have to share us Papa.” Thomas declared, finishing his sentence on a large yawn.
“Oh no? Well if I didn’t share you, you wouldn’t have Granny Victoria in your lives, or Uncle Jarrod, Uncle Nick and Aunt Audra. I reckon you would kind of miss them if that was the case.”
Both boys set about pondering their father’s statement. They had never thought about that. Granny Victoria and their uncles had been around for ever. They would miss them if they were not there.
“Who do we have to share you with Papa?” Sean’s logical mind continued.
“The same people. Granny Victoria is my mother, your uncles my brothers and Aunt Audra my sister. You know when I share you with the family, it doesn’t mean I love you any the less, or not want to have you with me all the time,. It just means that other people love you too and want to spend time with you. And because I love you I am willing to share.”
“If Mrs. Longfellow wants to share you does that mean she loves you, too?”
The observation in search of answer had Heath flummoxed for a moment.
“Well not love, but she and her husband offer friendship and a nice evening to which your uncle and I are invited. Just like when you go to Timmy’s on his birthday. You like being friends with Timmy, don’t you?” Both boys nodded. “Now come on snuggle down and let me tell you a short story for tonight, then I promise you can choose a long one for tomorrow.”
Thomas suddenly sat up again and hugged his father. “I don’t mind sharing you Papa, just as long as I got the biggest part of you.”
“Me too,” Sean said, following suit and giving his father a hug.
With his two sons pressed against him, hugging him tightly, Heath choked out, “You will always have the biggest part of me, sons. I’m your father and always will be, and I love you more than you will ever know.”
The evening at the Longfellows was somewhat grander and more heavily attended than either Jarrod or Heath had envisaged. Jarrod, who was use to these kind of gatherings, saw his brother pale with discomfort at the number of people present. He could sense the need for his brother to make an escape. As two handsome and single young men, Jarrod and Heath attracted their own amount of attention as they were introduced by Mrs. Longfellow to her female guests. Jarrod knew some of those attending the evening - they were part of his social circle - lawyers, businessmen and such. Mindful of Heath’s discomfort he made every effort to put his brother at ease. Heath’s only demon in company was himself. He never thought he never had enough conversation to hold people’s interest, but what he failed to understand is that when he talked, people listened.
Dinner came and went, the food rich and wonderful, the conversation flowing and entertaining. The brothers were separated by many guests and each was seated next to an eligible young lady. Mrs. Longfellow clearly had matchmaking interests centre of her plans.
Jarrod enjoyed the sport. Heath did not. “It isn’t that I’m scared of women, Jarrod. I’m just not looking to find anyone.” He said after dinner. The music was about to start for the dancing and Mrs. Longfellow had invited Heath to dance with Prunella Wright, the daughter of Congressman Theodore Wright.
Jarrod, his attention caught by the bewitching violet-eyed beauty he had set next to at dinner, offered some perspective on the evening. “All you have to do is dance with her, Heath. No one is asking you to marry her.”
Suddenly aware of his own pomposity, Heath laughed. “Guess I am being a bit too precious. You’re right. It’s just a dance. I can do that.”
Jarrod appreciated his sacrifice and found his way to Miss. Lenora Franklyn, the owner of the bewitching violet eyes. Heath headed towards Prunella Wright and gallantly asked her to dance.
By the time the evening was drawing to a close, Heath had danced with five or six partners. No sooner had he danced with one than Mrs. Longfellow was introducing him to someone else. Jarrod, on the other hand mostly kept to his favourite partner. Heath wondered if from the look of the two of them together he would see much of his eldest brother over the coming week. He felt sure Jarrod would want to pursue the prospect of romance between him and Lenora Franklyn long after the dance.
Heath decided to retreat to the garden for a smoke and a breath of fresh air. The night air was perfumed with the scent of lilac and coloured lanterns added a further magical touch. It was there Mrs. Longfellow found him. She was yet again eager to introduce him to some new dance partner. He wondered if the young ladies were as embarrassed as he was at the less than subtle matchmaking of their host. Suddenly, he felt all danced out, all talked out and all introduced out. He wanted his own company for a while. He was determined to make a stand.
“Now, Mrs. Longfellow.” He began in the southern influenced drawl gifted to him from his southern-born mother. It worked wonderfully as a charm offensive and softened immediately what he had to say. ‘I reckon you’ve been looking after me far too well this evening. You’ve introduced me to Prunella and Sadie and let me see, Louisa and Sally and then there was Virginia, but the truth is Mrs. Longfellow, I’m not looking for any particular lady right now. I reckon you’re going to find me a disappointment.”
Mrs. Longfellow’s eyes were full of concern. “But it’s not good to be alone, young man. I worry for you so.”
“No need to, Mrs. L. I’ll find someone one day but in my own time.” He gave her a smile that ensured she wouldn’t be offended by what he said.
“Oh dear,” she sighed, returning the smile. “So my plans have come to nought. My husband does scold me each time for interfering, but I like to see young people happy.”
Heath’s eyes twinkled as he gave her a kiss on her cheek. “You know, Mrs.L. I don’t think you’ve tried nearly half enough with my brother, Jarrod.”
She smacked his hand lightly with her lace fan. “Heath Barkley. You’re incorrigible.”
A lop-sided smile was his only reply. Even through her rebuke he could see he had planted the seed of an idea.
When he returned to the room shortly afterwards he was pleased to see that Jarrod was dancing with a young lady other than Leonora Franklyn. Jarrod was his usual suave self but clearly not happy. ‘Time to ask Miss. Franklin for a dance,’ Heath thought, just to increase his brother's ire.
Breakfast the following morning was a rather subdued affair. Jarrod’s head was fragile and he'd had very little sleep. Heath by contrast had drunk far less, slept well and was feeling buoyant.
His boys had woken him early and the three had gone for a walk before returning to eat. Smelling the bacon, eggs and accompanying smells father and sons made an exaggerated appreciation of the breakfast they were about to enjoy, whereas Jarrod merely asked Henderson for coffee and very black.
Heath mouthed to his sons to hush. He explained that Uncle Jarrod had Uncle Nick’s illness which was the grown ups way of explaining Nick’s hangovers to little children. Both boys looked concerned, their concentration on their own breakfast punctuated by looks towards their uncle.
Jarrod did not appreciate Heath’s reference to Uncle Nick’s illness any more than he had appreciated finding himself without Miss. Franklyn to waltz around the floor last night. And he certainly did not enjoy the fact that she had somehow found her way into Heath’s arms. “You seem to enjoy dancing with Miss. Franklyn last night?” he finally enquired, lifting his cup of freshly poured coffee to his lips to mask the jealous turn to his mouth.
Heath’s drawl became pronounced, “Sure is a pretty young thing. Did you notice how the end of her nose tilts up ever so slightly, and when she smiles her lips seem like ripe strawberries. And how her face just lights up when her eyes twinkle just so.”
Jarrod was not impressed.
“Nose, huh? Strawberry lips. Twinkling eyes, you say. Why Heath you’re turning into a poet. Just you remember who saw her first.”
“Yes, Jarrod.” Heath replied, throwing a wink to his two boys. “Eat your eggs boys. They're nice and runny just as you like them."
Jarrod's stomach turned at the visual.
"And remember we’re taking your uncle out after breakfast.” Heath continued.
“You are?” Jarrod exclaimed, shattering his own ears with the loudness of his voice
“Shsssssh” The children mouthed in unison.
With their father resting in the sitting room and their uncle busy with a client who had come to the house to engage Jarrod’s legal services, Sean and Thomas found their way to the kitchen where they were going to be minded by Mr. Henderson and the cook, Mrs. O’Gara.
Mrs. O’Gara, rosy cheeks, white hair pinned up under her cook’s hat, sleeves rolled up and a voluminous white apron covering her plump figure, regarded the twins with a kindly smile. “Now why the long faces, you two,” she inquired in her Irish brogue which still spoke of the emerald isle she had left forty years before.
The boys were silent. Mrs. O’Gara suspected they both needed cheering up. They were easy boys to look after and she had grown very fond of them during their stay. In fact, the two little Barkleys had quickly found their way to the hearts of Jarrod’s two retainers.
Use to working for their bachelor employer who was more often out than in, they had loved having the two boys and their widower father stay. Not only had they enlivened the house with their youthful antics and ways, their arrival had also meant that Mr. Jarrod had been at home more during the past weeks.
The dining room, so underused unless Mr. Jarrod was entertaining, had been used regularly and Mrs. O'Gara had watched with satisfaction the two little boys and their father eat the food she prepared with relish. She had tried out recipes only dreamed of until now - her usual cooking being more adult fare - and was now about to try out one more. This time with two young assistants. Her enthusiasm swept up the two little boys from their gloom and before long she had fashioned aprons for them both, rolled up their sleeves all the way back to their elbows and made them wash their hands. Then with the help of Henderson she had set them at the table to help her bake gingerbread men with faces on them.
“But whose faces will we paint on them?” Thomas had asked, his mind confused.
Mrs. O’Gara knew how much the boys missed their family. “Well now little laddie. It seems to me that Uncle Nick of yours would be a good one to start with.”
The boys giggled. “Uncle Nick wears spurs in the house. Can we draw those too?” Thomas asked, warming to the task.
“I don’t see why not.” Mrs. O’Gara answered and then added, “Spurs in the house, huh? Well not in this house, he won’t.” She muttered with disapproval for a man she had never met. “But,” she continued, “we have the gingerbread men to make before we can paint your Uncle Nick on them and for that we need a mixing bowl and ingredients. Either of you boys know what we make gingerbread men with?”
Both boys shook their heads. The mystery was about to be revealed.
In his office, Jarrod was completing his meeting with his client and excused himself for a moment to go check on the children. He looked in on the kitchen and saw Mrs. O’Gara and Henderson very much in control of their young charges. Sean and Thomas were covered in flour but clearly enjoying themselves. He left unobserved, his lips curving into an ironic smile knowing that whatever the boys were baking he and Heath would be the recipients.
Before returning to his client he checked in on his brother who was sleeping on the sofa. With a brother’s concern he grabbed a nearby blanket and covered Heath with it, checking on the time before he left the room and deciding to wake his brother in an hour. By then, he reasoned Henderson and Mrs. O’Gara would be in need of rescue.
“There!” Sean announced having painted two gingerbread men with the frosting they had made. “That’s Granny,” he indicated, the identification entirely necessary as gingerbread man one and two looked very similar, “And that’s Aunt Audra.” He added, his fingers covered from where the piping bag had leaked and his face showing evidence of the path they had travelled.
“Well aren’t they just grand!” Mrs. O’Gara congratulated. She regarded the two gingerbread men which had now become women. Eyes slightly uneven, noses questionably placed and smiles that seemed to spread from gingerbread man to gingerbread man, but Sean had enjoyed himself making them and that was all that had mattered. He and his brother had been a pleasure to teach.
“Uncle Nick needs a hat and his spurs still,” Thomas said of his own. “And Papa needs a hat too.” He looked to Mrs. O’Gara for help and the good-natured, unflappable cook assisted, using her steady hand to guide Thomas’ into drawing the accessories that did indeed make the gingerbread man turn into Uncle Nick.
Meanwhile the real Uncle Nick was nearing the end of his train journey from Stockton to San Francisco. He had given his orders to his foreman, Duke and set off, determined to see his little brother before the long trip his mother and Heath would take back east.
“Yes mother?” Nick had answered as he kissed his mother and sister goodbye before leaving the ranch.
“Haven’t you forgotten something?”
“Nope. Don’t think so. Oh yes, don’t worry I’ll tell Heath you will be there in a week. Good that Jarrod has got the boy to finally go. Best thing really. Though, I don’t know what I’m going to do without him around the place. He’s got the kind of face you get use to. You know what I mean?”
Victoria laughed at her son’s typically roundabout way of expressing his feelings. No one doubted his love for his family but Nick’s love was spoken in action rather than words. She could guess Nick’s reaction to seeing Heath after so many weeks. He would wrap him up in a bear hug and, lift him off his feet and then ruffle the younger brother’s hair as he put him down again. It was his big brother’s right. And he was Heath’s big brother, no doubt about it.
“Nick!” she finally sighed when her son’s memory continued to elude him. “Aren’t you forgetting little Cate?” Nick’s face drained of all expression. He had completely forgotten.
“Where is she?”
“She is with Audra.” Victoria instructed. “Now look after her Nick. And please. Please make sure both of you stay out of trouble.”
“Trouble! What trouble can there be. We get on the train at Stockton, get off at ‘Frisco and take a cab to Jarrod‘s.”
“Believe me, Nick. That is plenty of time for you and Cate to cause trouble. All I am asking is that you deliver Cate in one piece to her father. Remember, neither Jarrod and Heath know you are coming.” Victoria stood up on tiptoes to kiss her son’s cheek and patted his shoulders to reaffirm her request.
Audra brought Cate in and the two year old, dressed for travelling, was placed into Nick’s arms. Immediately, she began to cry. Victoria and Audra looked at each other, not for the first time wondering if this was such a good idea. The idea had been for Audra to take little Cate to see her father and then bring her and the twins home again, but Nick had been like a bear with a sore head without his brother’s company and so plans had been changed.