Category: The Big Valley
Word Count 4500
His bare hands clutched the moist dark soil, not willing to let it escape through his rough, young hands. His father’s words echoed in his mind, “My blood will one day mix with this land, and one day yours will mix with it as well. This is our legacy son, yours and mine.”
The spade protruded out of the mount of dirt. He watched as his older brother stepped his foot on the flat metal blade and pushed down, taking up a large helping of black Barkley dirt. He thrust the contents into the deep six by four foot hole. Bits of rock and gravel made plopping sounds on the shiny oak veneer coffin.
Six years earlier:
The two sat at Tom Barkley’s favorite table in the Cattlemen’s Club. The grey suited gentleman pulled thoughtfully at his soft beard and watched his sixteen-year-old son. A lopsided smile rested on his proud lips. The teen’s dark unruly hair kept falling in his eyes as he concentrated on the man-sized steak placed before him. The hazel eyes shot up when he felt his father’s gaze.
“Something wrong Father? I don’t have any stains on my shirt do I?” His peach fuzz face showed a worried look as he swept an imaginary stain from his crisp white shirt with the tips of his fingers. Nick Barkley would rather die than embarrass his father in front of his big, important friends. He felt so privileged to be invited to his father’s favorite club. Nick knew his father only took his most important business associates to the Cattlemen’s. It was a place where men went to wheel and deal and the young teen’s chest puffed up when his father informed him about dinner at the famous restaurant to celebrate his sixteenth birthday.
“No more children’s parties for you son; you’re becoming a man now and it’s time you saw the world the way a man sees it.”
Tom smiled at his son, “No son, you’re fine; I’m just watching you enjoy your steak. It’s good, isn’t it?”
“Oh yes Sir, the best I ever tasted…ah, umm, don’t tell Mother I said that.”
“Your mother needn’t know everything son, don’t worry about it. A man keeps things to himself sometimes and this night is going to be one of those times.” Tom took a sip of his wine glass.
“Sir?” He asked confused, but when his father only smiled he thought better of pursuing the question. “Yes Sir.” He said in agreement to his father’s comment, then continued the enjoyment of his steak.
“How about something to wash that down with Nick?”
“Yes sir, the water’s fine, but maybe I could have some milk with it I suppose.” He thirstily gulped down the last drop of water from the crystal goblet..
“Umm yes, but I was thinking of something stronger. This is a good vintage, why don’t you try that?”
Tom poured half a glass of red wine into his son’s empty water glass. Nick’s eyes shone as he watched his father. He knew his mother would have been appalled at the mere suggestion, but like his father said, ‘a man sometimes keeps things to himself.’ And the young man was most definitely going to keep this to himself. He wondered how he was going to stop his mother from smelling the liquor on his breath when she kissed him good night. Well, he would cross that bridge when he came to it. Nick took a tight-lipped sip of the drink. It was a dry vintage and went down smoothly; a small smile curled his lips.
“Good huh?” His father asked.
“That’s the first batch ever from our own vineyards. It took many years to cultivate those grapes. It will be something you will learn about in time. You will learn that good things take time. Everything needs a chance to cultivate, to reach maturity.”
“Yes Sir.” The young man wasn’t exactly sure what his father was trying to say but after a few more sips of wine the teen was ready for almost anything.
Tom poured himself another glass and poured a bit more for the teen. “Tell me son, what occupies your mind these days?” Tom set the bottle down on the table and curled his thumbs in his vest pockets.
“What do you think about?”
“Yes, think about.” The older man sat back in his chair, fixing his cool blue eyes on his middle son.
“Ahh, well Sir, I think about the ranch, the horses, especially Coco. He’s finally training really well. Has an instinct for cows. I tell ya, he’s gonna be a real good cutting horse. Coco has a lot of cow sense.”
“That’s good Nick, glad to hear it. You’ve worked hard with him. I’ve been watching you. But, what other things do you have on your mind?”
“Other things, Sir?” Nick had finished his steak and tried his best to hide a belch in his napkin. “Excuse me Sir.” Tom simply nodded and waited for an answer to his question. “Well, I think about being done with school soon. I’m glad of that.”
“Of course. This is your last year. Do you have a desire to go to college like your brother?”
“And do what?” His hazel eyes widened at what he thought was an odd question.
“I don’t know; what do you want to do with your life Nick?”
“Oh that’s easy! I want to be a rancher like you! Nothing better than working on a ranch. I love it all Father every bit of it! Even the hard, dirty work. There’s nothing more I’d rather do than that, nothing!” Nick had said it with so much enthusiasm that his voice got noticeably louder and several of the patrons turned to look their way.
Tom patted the boy’s forearm to calm him down. “That’s fine son, fine; but what other things do you think about?”
“Other things, Sir?”
“Yes Nick, other things.” He said with a hint of exasperation.
“I’m afraid I don’t follow you sir.”
“Nicholas. Boys, I mean, young men your age think of other things in life besides work and horses.”
“Ya mean like fishin’?”
“Nicholas!” Tom shifted uneasily in his chair.
“Ohh, that! Women!” Nick’s eyes gleamed as his mouth gave way to a wide smile. “Oh heck yeah, I think of them all the time. Tall ones, short ones, fat ones, skinny ones. …Well, not too skinny I wanna have something to grab hold of ya know!”
“Grab hold of?” The graying eyebrows shot up.
“Ahh, umm I mean, no, not exactly… I mean, it wouldn’t be right to, well ya know. A fellar’s liable ta get his face slapped if ya know what I mean….umm, well…I guess you know what I mean.”
“Yes, I know what you mean.” Tom said then cleared his throat. “Is there any young lady you particularly like Nick?”
“Well sir, there’s Sally Ann Matton, and Lila Caldfield, then there’s Nancy Delaney, oh and Juliet Caster.”
“That’s all?” His father countered with raised eyebrows.
“Well yeah, the rest of the girls in school are too young.” He said with a hint of regret.
“Sounds to me that you like them all, son.”
“I suspect I do; I sure do like ’em.” Nick gave another wide smile and then changed his expression just as quickly. “But they can be real troublesome though.”
“How so?” Tom was becoming amused by the banter.
“Now ya take Sally, she likes me but she likes pretty much every boy in school, and I suspect she’s kissed each one too, at least once. Then there’s Lila she’s a shy little thing, but she’s got yellow hair and blue eyes that can make a man go weak in the knees. I sure do like women with yellow hair and blue eyes.” Nick sighed, but recovered quickly. “Now Nancy, she’s different.”
“She’s got flaming red hair and emerald green eyes. Whew, just thinking about those eyes…” He shut his own at the memory. “I touched her hair once in school; it’s so soft and shiny, like silk it was.”
“And how is she troublesome to you?”
“Nancy hates me.”
“Oh, well does she have any reason to hate you?”
“I sit behind her in class. She thinks I’m always touching her hair, so she hates me.”
“Are you touching her hair in school?”
“Yeah. Don’t know how she can tell though, I’m always real careful like. Boy, she has a temper like an unbroken mount!”
“I see, and what about the last girl you mentioned, what was her name?”
“Juliet, she only likes me ’cause of Jarrod. She’s always asking me about Jarrod. It’s the only reason she lets me around her. She did promise to kiss me once if I introduced her to Jarrod.”
“Well, I got the kiss first of course. I’m no fool ya know, ‘sides Jarrod wasn’t coming home for a while, so I got me a mess of kisses from her!” He grinned widely. “You should see her; she’s got this dark, almost black hair and big dark eyes. Juliet’s quite a looker but like I said, she’s got eyes for Jarrod.”
“Has Jarrod met her?”
“Oh yeah, he was polite and all, ya know Jarrod, but he thinks of her as a kid. She’s only sixteen.”
“A sixteen-year-old girl can certainly make a young man, ah, shall we say, not think straight.”
“Son, there are some girls, women if you will, who help with, well, they provide a very valuable service.”
Tom Barkley leaned back in his seat and pulled out his watch fob. He checked the time then glanced over to the doorway of the club. A woman wearing a hooded cape stole up the side steps unobserved by the restaurant patrons. The Cattlemen’s Club also served as an Inn for businessmen who stayed overnight in Stockton.
“These women help men. You of course know that a man has certain needs, and sometimes these needs can overwhelm a man to a point where he might make a mistake.”
Son, women are wondrous creatures, truly wondrous.” Nick smiled at his father.
“Oh yes sir, I agree with ya!”
“But you have to be careful with them. A man has to learn self-control. Like you said, you had that young girl kiss you. Tell me Nick, how did you feel when she kissed you?”
“I felt great, except, well, I ah, I wanted more. It wasn’t enough. You know what I’m talking about?”
“Yes, I know what you’re talking about, but you know you can’t demand more of a young girl like that. It would be a very bad mistake, you know that don’t you?”
“Yes sir.” Nick cleared his throat and stared down at his now empty plate, desperately trying to hide flushed cheeks. He reached over and thoughtfully finished the small amount of wine that was in the bottom of his glass. He finally knew what his father was talking about. He and his friends had often whispered about such things, but not one of them knew what to do, except when “that feeling” came it was a misery until it was relieved. The last time Nick had been bothered by “that feeling” he was thinking about Juliet’s generous kisses. “That feeling” so overwhelmed him that he dunked himself in the horse trough near the barn. The ranch hands stared at his odd behavior, some of them laughed because they thought he had fallen in.
“Boy, your Mama’s gonna whip ya good for getting all wet like that!” Duke McCall warned him as he sat there in the cold water, shivering but finally relieved.
“Nick? Nick? NICK?!” His father’s voice brought him out of his reverie.
“You listening to me son?”
“Yes sir, I’m listening. You were talking about women being mistakes.”
“Not mistakes, son; I mean making mistakes with women, the wrong kind of women.”
“Wrong kind of women?” Nick was lost again and furrowed his brow.
Tom Barkley shook his head in frustration, “Damnit, this is not what I had in mind!” He poured a generous helping of wine into his son’s glass, filling it to the rim. “Drink up!” He commanded.
“Drink up?” Nick questioned his father with wide eyes.
“You heard me! Do it!”
Without a word Nick hurriedly gulped down the entire contents of the water glass. The effect of the wine was almost immediate, and he felt woozy.
Tom Barkley stood up abruptly and Nick did in kind, but grabbed onto the table with two hands to steady himself.
“You alright, son?”
“Oh yes sir! Right as rain, sir!” Nick’s hazel eyes gave off a glassy shine, and an unguarded belch, was accompanied by an uncontrollable boyish giggle.
“Follow me then!”
“Yes sir, I’m following you sir!” Nick marched in step behind his father who was about eight inches taller than his middle son. Once they were in the foyer of the restaurant, he dutifully followed his father up the stairs. Tom stopped at a door marked with the number “3”; Nick plowed into his father’s back when he stopped walking.
“Watch yourself, Boy!”
“You drunk, Boy?” Nick shook his head vigorously, letting black tendrils of hair fall in front of his face.
“Well, it doesn’t hurt to be a little drunk; it will slow ya down some. You don’t want to embarrass yourself the first time.”
Before Tom could answer the door to number 3 opened.
“Come on in, been waiting for ya.” said a female voice.
Tom pushed Nick into the room. “I’ll be waiting for you downstairs son.”
“Huh? What’s going on?” Nick was shoved into the room by his father’s forceful hand. The woman took Nick’s arm and led him into the room while closing the door behind him at the same time.
“So what’s your name honey?” The buxom blonde said. She was wearing a purple off the shoulder dance hall dress, trimmed with black lace around the bodice and hem. A stiff bright pink petticoat showed under the dress, which stopped at the knee. Black silk stockings and high-heeled button shoes finished the ensemble.
“The name’s Nick, ma’am.” His eyes seem to bulge from their sockets as he stared at her. The woman pinched his cheek.
“Well, you’re a little heart breaker you are! Do you know what I am?”
“Ahh, well. I ah… No ma’am, I don’t.”
“Honey, I’m your birthday present!”
“Huh? Sorry ma’am, I don’t understand.” During the exchange the woman moved closer as he backed away.
“Why don’t you quit callin’ me Ma’am? My name’s Belle, honey. Belle Blakesen.”
“How do you do Miss Blakesen.”
“Honey, just call me Belle, and I’ll call you Nick. Why don’t you sit down Nick?”
“After you, ma’am.”
“My goodness you’re such a gentleman!” She sat down on the bed and she motioned him to sit beside her. Nick very reluctantly sat beside her on the bed as far away as possible but she shimmied closer to him. She placed her arm around his shoulder and stroked wisps of hair from his forehead. “You know, it isn’t often I get a nice young handsome man like yerself in my bed.” She purred.
Nick shot up from his sitting position. “What?! You mean you’re a …. a….”
“There’s no polite word to say it, if that’s what you’re looking for kid. I ain’t no Sunday school teacher.”
“Well, ah, ain’t ya kinda young to be….ya know.. for whatcha doin’?”
“I’m twenty-one and I’ve been a “hostess” you might say since I was fifteen. So don’t you worry none; I know what I’m doing and I’ll treat ya right.”
“You said before you were my birthday present; f.f..f.from who?” He stammered.
“Boy, you’re kinda slow, ain’t ya? Hope you’re slow in other ways.” She said with a wink, then stood up and walked over to him. “Listen kid, I’m a birthday present, special, from your pa. Now you should consider yerself lucky, not many Daddy’s would pay for their son’s first time, but yer Pa, now he’s a free thinker and he saw a need and well, here I am, all yours!”
“Mine?” Nick gulped down the lump in his young throat.
“That’s right, yours.”
Nick gave the young blonde woman a wide smile. “I’LL BE DAMNED! The guys are never gonna believe this! Holy sh… I mean… WOW… HOT DAMN!”
“Come on Nick, time we got started, time’s a wastin’ ! Unhook me, sweetheart.” She turned and pointed to the back of her dress.”
“That’s right honey; unhook me, my dress; come on, don’t be shy.”
“Ahh, yes ma’am, I mean, no ma’am.” Nick gingerly moved closer to the woman and began to unhook the back of her dress. He struggled with the first few hooks and looked very intently as he worked, but as he continued he began to do the rest with a practiced ease. Once free of the hooks, Belle turned to face her client.
“You did that very well Nick. You’re a fast learner. This should be easy.” She smiled as she let her dress slowly fall to the floor, revealing a black lace corset. “Now you.”
“Sweetie, we’re not going to get anywhere if ya keep callin’ me Ma’am. Like I told ya, the name’s Belle.” She slowly pulled off his blue jacket and threw it on a nearby chair, then she pulled at the black string tie. Nick finally responded by unbuttoning his shirt. “That’s a boy.”
He suddenly stared at her with sultry eyes, “The name’s Nick, not boy.”
“Well now Nick, let me be the judge of that.” She pushed his hands away and unbuttoned the rest of his shirt. They were the same height and she kissed him. He wrapped his arms around her and responded to her kiss. Her tongue found its way into his mouth. Nick pulled back, stared at her and then smiled.
“I’m gonna like this.” His tongue began its own exploring.
Several hours later young Nick was awakened by a brush of hair on his face.
“Uh… whatsama… huh?”
“Nicky, oh Nicky, wake up, it’s late. Your papa’s waitin’ for ya.” Belle’s hair had become unpinned and was lying tousled over her shoulders. She shook a tendril of her own hair under Nick’s nose to wake him.
“What’s going on?”
“Hi, sweetheart. You fell asleep sweetie.”
Nick sat up in bed, his arm had the feel of pins and needles from being around the girl’s naked shoulder. Belle gave him a kiss on his lips then released herself from his embrace. She sat up, swinging her bare feet onto the floor and pulled at a black lace robe lying at the foot of the bed. She stood with her back to him and tied the robe, then turned towards him again.
“I had a great time honey. You’re a fast learner, and a slow lover. Women like that in a man.”
“They do?” Nick pulled the sheet up to cover his bare chest. He averted his eyes because the sight of her nakedness could still be seen through the sheer silk of her robe, and his manhood was once again being awakened. He cleared his throat.
“Can I…well…can I see you again?”
“I’d be disappointed if you didn’t. You were good.”
“The best I’ve had in a long time. Sure you haven’t done this before?” She teased with a wink.
“Ahh, you’re just saying that!” Nick grinned sheepishly.
“Look, if I say you were good, you were good. Now I’m not saying you don’t have a thing or two to learn. You know I don’t like every man I bed, but I sure do like you Nick and I’m gonna prove it to you right now.”
“Your next lesson is on me.” She winked at him, then threw his pants over to him. He caught them in his hands.
“You mean free?”
“Free. But don’t let that get around; I mean, I’ve got a reputation in this town! People thought I gave it out for free then I’d be out in the streets. Besides, it’s only a one time deal. Next one is free but after that you pay Barkley. I don’t give a damn how good you get!”
“Ten an hour.”
“I make that in a week!” Nick complained.
“You don’t do what I do for money. I’m not cheap ya know! Now you better get your pants on ’cause your pa’s waitin’ on ya.”
“OH HELL! What time is it?!” Nick scrambled to get him pants on
“Almost ten thirty.”
Nick moved faster pulling on his clothes. When he had himself dressed again, he hurriedly opened the bedroom door, but then he closed it and turned toward Belle. He walked over to her, embraced her in his arms and gave her a long lingering kiss. “Belle, I wanna thank you for the best damn birthday present I ever had!”
“You’re welcome Nick. Happy birthday. Hope to see ya again.”
“Oh you will, and that’s a fact.” He gave her a dimpled smile and left.
There was a firm rap on his bedroom door. “Nick, may I come in?”
Nick buttoned the last button of his pajama top as he stood by his dresser. “Yes sir.”
Tom Barkley walked in with a brown package tied with string under his arm. “Tired son?”
“It’s been a long day hasn’t it?” Tom cleared his throat. “Your mother is already sleeping.”
“I was afraid she would wait up for us.” Nick nervously began to rake his hand through his unruly black hair.
“Well, she did, but she stayed in our bedroom.”
“She asked where we’ve been?” Nick finally gave up on his hair and placed his hands on his hips.
“She knows we went out to dinner at the Cattlemen’s, nothing else, but she does think I took you to a saloon.” Tom gave his son a slanted grin with a small chuckle.
“A saloon?! Why would she think such a thing?!”
“I can teach you a lot of things Nick but figuring out how a woman thinks is not one of them.”
Nick gave him a slight grin and nodded his understanding; then the sixteen year old stared down at the floor and gave a deep sigh.
“What is it Nick?”
“Do you think that Mother can… well, you think she can tell…what happened tonight, you know?”
“No Nick don’t worry; she can’t tell.” Tom’s blue eyes twinkled warmly at his son’s sudden embarrassment. “Son, I’ve got something else for your birthday.”
“Really, Father, you’ve given me enough, I mean I sure never expected that!” Nick’s cheeks colored at the memory of his first encounter with a real woman.
“Like I told you before, Nick, that was between you and me; no one else needs to know about it.”
“Not even Jarrod?”
“Not even Jarrod, but I suspect he already knows.”
“You mean when Jarrod was sixteen you took him to…”
“Now never you mind about that; I just want you to understand that there are women that are for such things, so you don’t go after some innocent girl. You don’t want to get in that kind of trouble son. I mean, you wouldn’t want to get some girl in a family way and be forced by her angry daddy to marry her. There’s no joy in marrying a woman you don’t love.”
“No sir, I wouldn’t think of it.”
“See that you don’t. A woman’s to be respected at all times, even a saloon girl. After all, she performs a valuable service and should also be respected for it.”
“Yes sir, respect all women.”
“Good. Now here, open this.” He handed the brown package to his middle son. Nick excitedly pulled and tugged at the string and paper until the gift was revealed. He held up his prize.
“Wow, it’s beautiful! I never felt such fine leather!” His hand ran over the soft black leather vest.
“I’m glad you like it son. Do you see those silver conches? I got those from an old friend of mine in Mexico, Vincente Ruiz; he protected your mother and I from Santa Ana and his bandits when we were working in Durango. The war between Mexico and America had broken out and we were caught in the middle of the mess. He gave me those silver conches as a gift to remember him by when he got us safely over the border. I wore them on that old brown vest I used to have, remember that one?”
“Yes sir, the one you used to wear when you went on round ups.”
“Yes that’s right. That was a long time ago. Anyway, I had those silver conches removed and put them on a new vest for you.” Nick anxiously tried on the vest.
“But it’s too big.” He said disappointed.
“I know that son, but I also know you’ll grow into it. I had it made for a man. A man who will one day run this ranch when I’m gone.”
“Don’t say that! That’s not going to happen for a very long time.”
“Well I certainly hope not, but that vest is still for you for the day you take over the ranch. Look in the pocket son.”
Nick’s long, thin fingers found a small shiny black stone and held it in his hand. He searched his father’s face for an answer.
“That’s your legacy, son; it’s what I ‘m giving you. That small stone represents the land you’re standing on. My blood will one day mix with this land, and one day yours will mix with it as well.” Tom placed his hands on Nick’s shoulders and squeezed the top of the black leather vest. “This is our legacy son, yours and mine.”
A whispered voice was heard. “Nick? The shovel, it’s your turn. Take it.” It was Jarrod’s voice, offering his brother the shovel for the next spade full of dirt. Nick opened his hands and stared at the black dirt they held; slowly he brought the dirt to his chest and smeared it on his deep blue mourning suit until the moist black soil covered it. The mourners, which consisted of most of Stockton’s residents, watched the twenty-two-year-old man as he turned away from his father’s burial plot and silently walked toward his legacy.