Summary: A missing scene from the episode. Heath ruminates about what led to his present condition.
Category: The Big Valley
Word Count: 1848
Heath stretched out on the uncomfortable, plush velvet settee in his brother’s study, unsure as to why he had chosen this particular high-backed settee to settle on. With the family all out for the morning on their various enterprises, he thought it was the perfect opportunity to take advantage of the quiet and solitude to venture from his room. He smiled as he thought of Silas and the subtle help the family houseman had offered him as he dressed that morning. His injuries were healing well but he still found difficulty with some tasks, mainly pulling on socks and boots. His pants, though, had proven to be something of a challenge this morning. He settled back against the cushions making no effort to hide the wince of pain as he stretched long-suffering muscles that had seen more than their fair share of abuse over the last three months. With nobody to see him, he didn’t feel the need to mask his pain. He hated seeing the worry and guilt on their faces each time he felt the slightest twinge. The doctor had said he was healing nicely; it was just going to take a bit longer than usual to recover considering the amount of damage he had done to himself recently. Heath closed his eyes in memory.
First there was his ill-fated horse buying trip that found him held captive by five deranged townspeople in the deserted mining town of Ocatillo Wells. His hand automatically rose to his neck and tugged at the collar of his shirt as he remembered the hanging and other forms of abuse he had suffered at their hands. After delivering the three remaining inhabitants of Ocatillo Wells to the sheriff in Dorado, he had spent a week in the town with his brother Jarrod, as he recovered from the beatings he had taken in the deserted town. Heath snorted softly. It had taken him another two weeks after his return from Dorado to convince his mother and brother Nick that he was fit enough to resume his normal duties, and even longer to convince them that he could ride to town on his own. Not that he wasn’t grateful for the concern shown by his family, he was thankful to be home among them. There had been moments, very long moments when he had thought that he would never see his family again and he could understand their fears. He had dealt with enough of his own fears to deny them that.
Having finally settled his weary body, Heath was loathe to move again, but after seeing the glasses and decanters of liquor sitting on the silver tray on the corner of his brother’s desk, glinting in the morning sun, he felt the urge of a drink. He sighed when his call to Silas went unanswered. Probably not a bad thing, he thought, as it really was too early in the day to be imbibing liquor; still, a nice cool glass of lemonade wouldn’t go astray. Settling back against the cushions and with his booted feet hanging over the end of the settee so as not to mark the velvet covering, Heath considered the next link in the chain of events that found him once more confined to the house. Well, actually truth be told, the next really had nothing to do with him, save for the hours of long riding he and Jarrod had had to put in while trying to locate their wayward mother.
Heath allowed a smile to lift one corner of his mouth as a small snigger erupted. He had come home alone from a cattle buying trip with Nick only to find that their mother was missing from her planned trip to the Indian Reservation with medical supplies for an outbreak of measles. While Nick pursued the very attractive T. A. Holcombe, (Theresa Ann to be specific) across the western states of the Union, he found himself and Jarrod pursuing their elusive mother around the Californian countryside after she failed to arrive at her destination. Worry had soon turned to fear when they had located her abandoned wagon by the trail. That fear turned to relief and then bemused confusion when their mother suddenly appeared in a wagon with one Edward Hewitt, an English tenderfoot whom she had invited back to the house to cook them dinner. He snorted; the meal was mighty fine indeed but none of the family was any closer to learning the truth of what happened out on the trail now than they were at the time. Victoria Barkley could be just as stubborn and tight-lipped as any of her sons. At least, he surmised with a sigh of gratefulness, that adventure hadn’t resulted in any further injuries to his being except perhaps for some over-tired muscles.
A loud knocking at the front door broke into his reverie. Not immediately hearing Silas answer the knock, Heath pushed himself to his feet, groaning loudly as his healing ribs protested the sudden movement. Now that hurt, he cursed, as he headed for the front door. And the memory of the next event in the chain hurt even more, he thought as he began to head for the door. He should have known better, his family should have known better, but then none of them could say no to a, he snorted ‘lady’ in distress. Well, Nick had tried but was unsuccessful, he had to acknowledge. Only problem was their ‘knight in shining armour’ approach had very nearly gotten him killed.
Heath massaged his ribs as he pulled open the study door. The bruises and cuts on his face were a distant memory but the ribs and overall fatigue were another matter. He sighed. Sarah. Nothing good ever came from knowing her but he still found he couldn’t deny her any request, even one as painful as her most recent one had been. Agreeing to help Sarah Mendez orchestrate the escape of her revolutionary husband Raoul Mendez from Mexico had been foolhardy in the extreme and had proved pointless, with the man’s death at the hands of those he was trying to escape. Strangely though, the scheme would have worked if Mendez own men hadn’t proved to be so greedy. Heath had found himself fighting all sides in a struggle to stay alive. The fight with Mendez had re-damaged ribs only just healed from his ordeal in Ocatillo Wells and then his subsequent ten day flight from San Miguel through the harsh Mexican terrain to the safety of the Californian border had further sapped his strength. In fact he had very little recollection of his escape from Mexico. He had been exhausted, both in body and mind. He had literally fallen unaware into the waiting arms of his brothers as he crossed the Rio Grande onto United States soil. Hence, his latest enforced four weeks of rest. He wondered just how long it would take this time to get her out of his mind.
Heath listened as Silas told their unexpected visitor that his brother Jarrod would not be home for several hours. He frowned when the man asked after his mother and then insisted on waiting for his brother’s arrival.
“I’ll look after our guest, Silas,” Heath spoke as he moved stiffly into the foyer. “Mother and Audra will be waiting on you for those baskets of food for the picnic.”
Both men turned towards him and Heath got his first good look at their visitor. He looked to be a cowhand, maybe a year or two older than himself. Heath figured he probably had his brothers mixed up and was looking for Nick, not Jarrod, for work around the ranch. Still his wait would be just as long, as Nick had accompanied Jarrod to town. This was someone new with whom he could pass the time, having already lost his bid for solitude, it seemed.
“You sure, Mister Heath?” Silas queried, deferring to polite protocol and referring to his young blond friend as Mister, a title he rarely used unless company was present.
Heath smiled. “I promise not to go anywhere, Silas. Now you don’t want ta keep the children or Mother and sis waiting, do you? They’ve been looking forward to the picnic for weeks. We’ll be fine.”
“No, Mister Heath, I surely don’t. Now you mind you stay in the house while I’m gone or Miz Barkley will have my head you know.”
The two men watched silently as the black houseman disappeared through the door leading to the kitchen. They heard the outer door swing shut and then the sound of a wagon creaking into motion. Heath indicated the door through which he had just come. “You might as well come in but you got the wrong brother. Nick and I do the hiring on the ranch, not Jarrod. Nick’s not here but I’m happy to hear what you got to say.”
The man nodded as he walked past the blond. “Seems to me you’re laid up.” He spoke quietly as he passed Heath.
“Busted a couple of ribs several weeks ago,” Heath replied as he turned to close the door to the study. “Take a seat. Can I get you a drink?” Heath turned back into the study and the gaping bore of the cowhand’s gun that was trained unerringly on his chest. Heath cursed his lack of caution and the fact that he hadn’t bothered strapping on his own gun that morning. The last thing he thought he’d be doing today was finding himself having to defend himself in his own home.
“A drink would be just fine and then you can just sit yourself down on that seat and rest up until the lawyer arrives home.”
Heath moved slowly, aware of the gun following his movements. He poured two drinks, placed one on the desk and then slowly lowered himself to the far end of the settee, never taking his eyes off the man before him. Heath took a sip of his drink, “What do you want with my brother Jarrod?”
The cowhand took a sip of his own drink, smacking his lips appreciatively as the smooth liquor slipped down his throat. He eyed his blond captive speculatively before taking a seat on the settee himself, allowing the gun to rest in his lap but still within easy reach of his hand. “The name’s Stokely, Rich Stokely.”
“Where is everybody?” The loud demand announced the arrival of the two men Heath and his captor were waiting for.
“In here,” Heath called in reply.
The study door opened and Jarrod entered, followed closely by Nick. Both men came to an abrupt halt when they saw the man sitting on the settee beside their brother and with a gun trained on them.
“Jarrod, Nick, meet Rich Stokely…”