To Be a Father
The Kate Chronicles
Disclaimer: The characters and situations of the TV program "Big Valley" are the creations of Four Star/Republic Pictures and have been used without permission. No copyright infringement is intended by the author. The ideas expressed in this story are copyrighted to the author.
Jarrod Barkley steadied the horse as his mother as she mounted, then handed her the reins. “I’m glad you had time to ride out with me today,” he said as they turned the horses toward the north ridge.
“I’m glad that you asked me to come,” Victoria replied. “Since you live in town, I see less of you than the others whenever we’re home.”
“I know. I miss coming downstairs at night and finding you in front of the fireplace. You always seemed to know when I needed to talk.”
“A mother’s instinct, I suppose.”
He turned to look at his mother—tiny but ramrod straight and perfectly at ease on the large animal. “I’ve never seen you look lovelier.”
She smiled appreciatively. “Thank you.”
She didn’t react physically to the change in the tone of his voice, but she inferred its meaning. “Since your father’s death—or before?”
“I—I’m not sure.”
“Oh, I think you are.” They rode in silence until they crested the top of the rise. “I loved your father, Jarrod. We had a good marriage—not a perfect one, but then, no marriage is perfect. As for being happy, well, one’s definition of happiness often changes over the years.”
“You’ll have to explain that to me.”
“I think life got in the way of many things in those years. I was barely eighteen when you were born. What did I really understand about being a mother? About being a wife? But I grew to the role. Your father was busy building his empire—I was busy building his family. We only found time for each other in those last few years.” She sighed. “We had so little time.”
“Now life isn’t in the way. Royce and I concentrate on living. Can you understand that?”
“Actually, I think I can. What about KatieBee?”
“What about her?”
“You started over.”
“Not exactly, Jarrod. It’s different with Kate—she’s almost like a grandchild, you see. I don’t have the kind of responsibility for her that I had for you and Nick or Audra and Gene. The nurse Royce hired is excellent. Though I do most things for Kate during the day—simply because I want to—I’m not exhausted from feeding her, and if I want to get out of the house during the day, I don’t have to schedule my excursions around her naptime or feeding time.”
“You’re enjoying her more.”
“In a different way than I enjoyed the four of you—but not more.”
Jarrod seemed to hesitate. “Royce is so involved with her.”
“Yes, he is.” She smiled as she thought of how, as she’d left their room earlier, Royce was rocking six-month-old Kate beside the window.
“I don’t remember Father being that involved with us.”
Victoria reined in her horse. “I don’t suppose he was, Jarrod. He was busy—when you were born, we were just trying to survive. Later, he had so many things to think about—the mines, the orange groves, the cattle. The children and the house were my responsibility.” She leaned over and placed one gloved hand on her son’s arm. “But he loved you—and he was so very proud of all of you.”
Jarrod looked out over the distant hills. “I want—I want to be like Royce with my children.” The admission seemed torn painfully from him.
“I think your father felt he’d missed a great deal—coming in late so many nights after you were all asleep—being away from home for weeks at a time.”
“Sometimes—sometimes, Mother, I try to remember him, and there’s so little to remember!” When he turned his face toward her, his blue eyes were oddly bright.
“I know—I know.”
“I don’t doubt that he loved us. I also know I disappointed him when I chose law over the ranch.”
“It was a temporary disappointment, Jarrod. Trust me when I tell you that.”
He nodded. “Do you—does Royce have expectations for KatieBee?”
“Only that she grow up knowing that she’s loved and treasured.”
“I have no doubt she’ll know that!”
“I had no expectations for any of you, Jarrod. I knew early on that you’d choose something other than the ranch, just as I knew that Nick wanted nothing more than to follow in his father’s footsteps. As for Gene, I always felt that his path, like yours, lay elsewhere. Audra—well, Audra is still an unfinished work—but a work of art. I have no doubt that she’ll follow her heart into a good marriage and motherhood.”
Victoria spurred her horse lightly. “Kate is a joy—and Royce is realizing his last dream—fatherhood. I have no regrets. None at all.”
“Perhaps I have no right to ask this, Mother, but have the two of you—I mean, have you discussed making any provision for her in the event. . .”
He moved uncomfortably in the saddle.
“In the event of our deaths,” Victoria finished easily. “Of course. Royce drew up a new will the week we returned to New Orleans after Christmas.”
“It’s none of my business.”
“It’s very much your business. You’re her guardian, of course, as you were for Audra and Gene. But I also know that the actual responsibility for her would be shared by all of you.”
“I think we’d all fight for her—especially Nick.” He chuckled softly.
“You don’t mind, I hope?”
“Of course not, Mother. I’d gladly assume the responsibility.”
“Royce and I are in good health. There’s no reason to believe that we won’t live to raise her.”
“Certainly you will!” Jarrod spoke too heartily.
They rode on silently, finally dismounting in a grove of trees beside the river. While the horses drank, Victoria settled herself in the shade, knowing that Jarrod had much more to say—and suspecting why.
He tossed his hat away and lay back in the grass beside her. “You and Royce had only been married a few months when you adopted the baby. Has she—has she changed things between you?”
“Not at all except, perhaps, to bring us closer in a new way. Royce wanted her, but he didn’t want things to change between us. When we discussed taking her, he was very emphatic about that.”
“Because he felt—and rightly so—that the two of us should come first with each other. We’d made that commitment, you see. He was hesitant, even when I assured him that things wouldn’t change, about going ahead.”
“Seeing him with her now, that’s difficult to believe.”
“Nevertheless, it’s true. He telegraphed the Vandemeers before we left here, and by the time we arrived home, they’d found Lucia, our nurse. She’s fitted into our household beautifully.”
“Royce brings Kate into our bedroom every morning and puts her between us while we’re having coffee.” Victoria smiled. “It’s a very special time for the three of us. Then Lucia takes over again while we have breakfast, and I see Royce off for the day. He comes home early now—around four—and I make sure that Kate and I are dressed especially for him. We have time together until her bedtime around six. He likes to give her last bottle before we tuck her in. The rest of the evening is ours.”
“I see.” Jarrod turned his head to look at his mother. “Do you—do you ever wonder if he feels that she’s. . .”
“The baby girl he and Catherine lost? No. One child can’t replace another. Besides, his relationship to that baby would have been quite different, considering that he was a officer posted on the frontier. He wouldn’t have had the time—or the means—to indulge his passion for fatherhood, although I have no doubt he’d have been an unusual father for that particular time. Kate isn’t his lost baby—she’s his princess, his chance at immortality as it were.”
“A chance to pass on a part of himself, the way your father and I gave all of you part of ourselves. Nick grows more like him everyday—and I see him in you, too. Audra, I think, is like me, and Gene—you’ve given Gene part of yourself.”
“Heath is himself. He looks like Tom Barkley, but we didn’t raise him—Leah Thompson did.”
I’ve never understood how you could accept him the way you
did—how he came to be as much yours as the rest of us.”
Victoria studied her gloved hands for a moment. “On the one hand, I knew he was your father’s son—but the longer he stayed with us, the more he seemed like mine, too. I can’t really explain it. Motherhood is often all encompassing. He wasn’t born of my body—nor was Kate—but they are my children.” She regarded her oldest son thoughtfully. “I think it wasn’t an accident that you invited me to ride with you this morning.”
“No. No, it wasn’t.”
“I plan to spend some time with Sarah soon. You married so quickly that there wasn’t time to get to know her.”
“I didn’t want to wait. Neither did she.”
“I believe she’s made you very happy. Hearts do heal, after all.”
“I never thought mine would.” He looked up. “Hearts do heal,” he murmured. “You offered me a great deal of comfort after I lost Beth, but you never told me that.”
“I didn’t know it then. Mine was still broken because of losing your father.”
“But then you met Royce.”
“Then I met Royce.”
“And I met Sarah.”
“It’s only been four months, and—and she told me last week that she’s expecting.”
“Oh, Jarrod, how lovely! When?”
“That’s perfect—I’ll be here to welcome my first grandchild!”
“I love her very much, Mother, and I want children, but—well, it’s so soon. We’ve hardly had time to become accustomed to being married.”
“Babies don’t wait to be invited—at least not yet.”
“I know that, and I’m pleased—believe me, I’m pleased. But I don’t want things to change between us anymore than Royce wanted things to change between the two of you.”
“Then you’ll have to keep them the same, just as we did.”
“She’s been traveling with me to San Francisco, you know, but after the baby comes, perhaps she won’t want to.”
“There will be times she may feel she has to stay at home, but it will be important for you to make her aware of how much you value her presence—and to be sensitive to the feelings that determine her decisions.”
“I’m not sure that I can.”
“You’re a sensitive man, Jarrod. Of course, you can.”
He sighed. “I think I needed to hear that said.”
“A baby will bring a new dimension into your marriage—but the intimacy of body and spirit needn’t change.”
“No—no, I don’t suppose so.” He got to his feet and extended his hand to his mother. “Thank you, lovely lady. As always, you’ve said exactly the right thing at exactly the right time.” As she rose, he embraced her. “I’m very lucky to have you.”
* * * * * * * *
Royce, with Kate in his arms, was at the corral fence as
Jarrod and Victoria rode in. “Did you have a nice ride, my love?” he asked,
kissing her cheek as she dismounted.
“Very nice.” She removed her gloves and stroked Kate’s cheek with one finger. “She’s feeling better.”
“She seems to be. She took a short nap, and then we came out for some air. She’s been trying to catch the sunbeams dancing off the metal bit hanging on the fence over there.” He gathered the tiny fingers and kissed them. “But they elude her, poor baby!”
Victoria laughed. “As many things in life will elude her, I’m afraid.”
Jarrod, who had turned the horses over to Ciego, joined them then, and his blue eyes lit up as the baby reached her arms toward him. “I do believe you have a new frock, Miss KatieBee,” he said, taking her in his arms.
“Yes,” Victoria said with some resignation, “her wardrobe is growing faster than she is, thanks to her Papa who can’t pass a store without buying something for his princess.”
Jarrod smoothed the folds of the white dress sprigged with tiny blue flowers and noticed that the bonnet was an exact match. “Well, I suppose a princess should dress benefiting her royal station. How would her highness like to go and see the new foal in the barn?”
As Jarrod walked away with his small sister, Victoria tucked her arm through her husband’s. “He’ll make a good father.”
“Is this an announcement?”
“Then I’m going to find myself married to a grandmother soon?”
“I’m afraid so.”
Royce cupped her face in his hands. “You look like a girl this morning, darling Victoria. Your cheeks are pink, and your eyes are full of wonder.” He bent toward her lips and found them waiting.
“Jarrod said this morning that he wanted to be like you with his children.”
“Like me?” Royce was taken aback.
“A part of their lives from the beginning—not just an observer.”
“Isn’t that the way it’s meant to be?”
“Perhaps, but it’s not always the reality.”
Royce caught her meaning. “He’s paid me a large compliment then.”
“A deserved one.”
“I’m hardly an authority on fatherhood. Sometimes I feel almost like a small boy playing at being a father.”
Victoria leaned against him contentedly. “You’re a good man, Royce—a good husband, a good father. I love you with all my heart.”
Jarrod came back then with the baby. “Brother and sister will part company now,” he said, holding her out toward her parents.
“Is she wet?” Victoria asked, trying not to laugh at the look of distaste on Jarrod’s finely chiseled face.
“Perhaps you’d like to practice. . .” Royce began.
“Thank you, no. I’m sure you’re the expert.”
Royce took his daughter. “Papa’s princess was just changed awhile ago.”
“Apparently Papa’s princess hasn’t learned that there should be a decent waiting period between changes,” Jarrod said. He kissed his mother’s cheek. “Mother, thank you for your charming company this morning. I have to get back to town.”
“Tell Sarah I’ll be in to see her soon.”
“I’ll do that.” He took his own horse, which Ciego brought on cue, mounted, and then nodded at the other man. “Royce.”
“Jarrod.” Royce frowned. “You’re right. She’s quite wet.”
Jarrod waved over his head as he rounded the corner of the house toward the gate. Fatherhood, he mused, would be a new challenge. He could deal successfully with judges and juries and the irate families of defendants and plaintiffs, but a baby was a different matter. Mother had said he could do it—and she was usually right. Still. . .
Counselor Barkley counted off the months before Christmas and smiled with satisfaction. There was time yet, time to learn the things he would need to know, but not—he wrinkled his nose at the thought—not what Royce was doing right now. Not that. Never that. Never, never, never. . .
He frowned then. What was it that Mother always said?
Never say never.