No Greater Loyalty (Nancy)

Summary:
Category:  The Big Valley
Genre:  Western
Rated:  PG
Word Count:  2250


Heath awoke to a pounding headache.  It felt as if someone took a sledgehammer to his head.  He placed his left hand on the back of his head and felt something wet and sticky.  He winced at the pain his touch caused.  When he pulled his hand away he saw it was covered in blood.  Heath then tried to use his right arm to help him sit up, but the movement caused pain to explode in his arm.  He realized that his right arm was broken.  He lay on the ground fighting the waves of nausea that threatened to make him lose his lunch.  His head spinning and he was afraid he was going to pass out.

Finally the feeling of nausea passed and Heath once again tried to sit up.  He tried to roll over to his left side, so that he could use his left arm to help himself up.   This movement caused him pain in his ribcage, but he ignored the pain and managed to get into a sitting position.  Sweat pour from his body as he fought pain and nausea.  Once in a sitting position he looked at his legs.  His left leg was bent in an odd angle.  When he tried to move the leg, the movement brought pain.  He realized that his leg was also broken.

His body was shaking with pain and his head felt as if it would explode.  He felt the nausea return and he threw up.  Then he laid back down to keep himself from passing out.  He closed his eyes trying to stop the pounding in his head.  He knew he was in trouble.  With a broken arm, a broken leg, possible cracked ribs, and this splitting headache, Heath realized that there was no way that he was going to be getting himself out of this mess.  He also realized that it would be at least three days before anyone at the ranch would grow concerned and start looking for him.  Even when they started to look for him it could take them days to find him.  “Oh God!  Help me.”  He cried as he slipped back into darkness.

******

“We’re about fifteen short.”  Nick said as he finished tally up the count of the cows they just rounded up and brought down from the North pasture.

“I’ll go back up there and see if I can find the strays and while I am up there I will ride the fence line.”  Heath offered.

“I could send a couple of the men with you to help you.”  Nick said

“That won’t be necessary.  I can handle fifteen cattle by myself.  If there is any fence repair needed I should be able to manage that too, unless it is really bad then we may have to send a crew up to fix it latter.”  Heath said.

“You wouldn’t be trying to get out of attending Audra’s party this Friday night would you.”  Nick teased.

” I will go get my gear and some supplies and head back up now.  I should be able to make it to the line shack before it is too dark.  That way I can get started first thing in the morning.  That will give me four days to look for the cows and check the fence line.  As long as I head back before nine Friday morning, I should be able to make it back in plenty of time to get cleaned up for Audra’s party.”  Heath said.

“Good because if you didn’t show up for the party Audra would somehow blame me for it.  She would say it was my idea that you go back up to the North pasture.”   Nick complained.

“Don’t worry I will be there.  I will see you Friday.”  Heath said as he went to gather his stuff and prepare to leave.  “I will see you Friday.”  Heath had been living at the ranch now for four months.  He loved his new family, but he was looking forward to the four days of solitude.

“Okay Heath I’ll see you Friday.”  Nick said as he watched his brother leave.  “Get those cows moving!”  He ordered his men.

*****

The following night after Heath had went to the North Pasture the rest of the Barkleys sat down to the evening meal.  Audra looked at the empty seat where Heath usually sat.

“I miss Heath.”  Audra said.  “Nick why did you have to send him to the North Pasture.  You could have sent one of the hands instead.

“It wasn’t my idea that he go.  Yesterday when we discovered that we were short fifteen cows he volunteered to go.  I think he was trying to get out of your party, but don’t worry Sis I set him straight.  I told him he better be back in plenty of time to get ready for your party.”  Nick defended himself.

“So he promised to be back for the party?”  Audra asked.

“I believe I just said that.”  Nick replied.

After they had finished supper, Jarrod went to the study to catch up on some work he brought home.  Audra roped Nick into a game of cards.  Victoria sat by the fireplace reading one of her favorite books.

It was starting to get late and Victoria decided that she would go to bed.  She was just about to say good night to her children when there was a loud knocking on the door.  Nick got up from where he sat playing cards with Audra and went to see who was at the door.   Audra and Victoria followed Nick to the door.  Jarrod had also come out of the study to see who was at the door.  Nick opened the door to find Jack one of the hands at the door.

“What’s wrong.”  Nick asked his employee

“Heath’s horse just came back without a rider.  We tried to catch her but she won’t let us near her.”  The hand explained why he was bothering his employer at this time of night.

Nick pushed past the hand and headed to the corral.  Victoria, Jarrod and Audra were right behind him.  Nick had just reached the bottom step when he spotted Heath’s little Modoc pony standing quietly about three feet from the steps.  Nick walked up to the horse and tried to grab her reins.  The mare reared up and struck out at Nick with her front leg.  Nick jumped back to avoid being hit by the flying hooves.

The mare galloped toward the gate.  At the gate she turned and galloped back toward the group of people on the steps.  She came to a dead stop within a foot of Nick.  When Nick tried to grab her reins again the horse pulled away and bolted for the gate.  Once again the horse turned at the gate and headed back to the house.

“That is what she did when we tried to catch her.”  Jack told the Barkleys

“I think she wants us to follow her.”  Audra said

“Don’t be ridiculous Audra.”  Nick snorted.

“Audra maybe right Nick.  Heath and that horse are very close.  Maybe she is trying get us to help Heath.”  Jarrod said

“Fine let’s saddle up and follow that horse.”  Nick said.  He didn’t believe for one minute that a horse was trying to get them to follow it, but he did feel that they should start looking for Heath.

Nick, Jarrod and Jack saddled up their horses.  Duke, another hand hitched up the buckboard.  Then they headed out to the North Pasture.  The little Modoc galloped a few feet ahead of them.  They rode though the night and arrived at the North Pasture just as the sun was beginning to rise.

“I’ll start looking at the Line shack.”  Nick stated as he turned Cocoa toward the Line shack.  As soon as Nick turned his horse, the Modoc charged Cocoa and herded him the other way.

“It looks like she wants us to go that way.”  Jarrod said as turned his horse to follow the little horse.

Heath’s horse led them along the rim of a very steep riverbank.  When they had reached a section of the riverbank that had gave way and slid down the bank the little mare stopped.  Nick and Jarrod dismounted and walked up to where the mare stood.  They looked over the edge of the bank and saw a piece of Heath’s blue shirt blowing in the wind from a willow branch.  Both tried to see if they could spot Heath, but could not.

“The horse is gone.”  Jack exclaimed in a shaken voice.

Nick stood up and looked at the cowhand.  “Forget the horse.  It looks like Heath has fallen down the bank.  We’ll have to go down and try to find him”

“But the horse it just van.”  The hand tried to explain, but Nick cut him off.

“I said forget the horse.  You can worry about catching her latter after we find Heath.  Now get some rope from the buckboard and tie it to those trees.  Jarrod and I will use them to help us climb down the bank.”

Jack and Duke did as Nick requested.  Using the ropes Nick and Jarrod descended the steep bank both search for Heath as they went.  Nick had just reached the bottom when something caught his eye.  He turned to see what it was.  What he saw caused shivers to run up and down his spine.

“Nick, did you find him.”  Jarrod asked as he reached the side of his brother.  Nick did not answer, but kept staring at something.  Jarrod looked in the direction Nick was staring.  The blood drained from Jarrod’s face and the hair on the back of his neck stood on end.  Both brothers stood frozen from shock of what they saw.

“Have you found him.”  Jack yelled down to them.  This brought the brothers out of their state of shock.

“Not yet.”  Nick yelled back as he let go of he rope and walked upstream of the river.  Jarrod went downstream.  Finally Nick spotted Heath lying on his left side.

“Jarrod!  Nick yelled.  “I found him.”

“Heath! We are here.”  Nick knelt down beside his younger brother and tried to get a response from him, but Heath was unconscious.  Nick checked the blond man over for injuries

“How is he?”  Jarrod asked as he approached his two brothers.

“Not good Jarrod.  He banged his head really hard, his leg is broken as well as his arm, and I think he has some cracked or broken ribs.”  Nick answered.  “We will have to immobilize the leg before we move him.”

Together the two brothers worked on immobilizing Heath’s leg and arm.  Then with the help of the ropes they carried Heath to the top.  As soon as they reached the top Nick ordered Jack to ride to Stockton and have the doctor meet them back at the ranch.  Then with the help of Duke they loaded Heath into the buckboard, and made him as comfortable as possible.  As soon as they had Heath settled in the buckboard they headed home.

*****

When they finally reached home the doctor was already there.  They carried Heath to his room and the doctor tended to all the blond Barkley’s injuries.

“Has he awoken since you found him.”  The doctor asked.  He was concerned that Heath was still unconscious

“He came around a few times on the ride down, but then he would just pass out again.”  Jarrod offered.

“That’s good.  Just keep an eye on him.  When he wakes up make sure he knows who he is.  I have to go check on another patient now but I will drop back in the morning to check on Heath.” The doctor said and then left.

Audra was sitting with Heath when he awoke.  As soon as he opened his eyes she ran to tell everyone that he was awake.  As soon as Audra told them that Heath was awake, they all went to Heath’s room.

“Well little brother that is one way to get out of one of Audra’s parties.”  Nick teased as he entered the room.  “What happened?”

“I was riding along the river bank looking for strays when the ground shook and gave way from under my horse.  We went tumbling down the bank.  Did you find Gal?  Is she okay?”  Heath asked his voice full of concern.

Both Nick and Jarrod exchanged strange looks.

“Yeah!  We found her.”  Nick answered.  “But I am afraid she did not survive the fall.  She broke her neck.”

“That’s impossible Nick!”  Audra exclaimed.  “She was here last night.”  She came to get help.”

“We know.”  Jarrod said  “We can’t explain it, but she was killed when she fell.

“It was a miracle.  That is the only explanation for it” Victoria said as tears streamed down her face.  “If that horse had not come to the ranch last night we would not have known that anything was wrong until Heath did not show up on Friday, by then it could have been too late.”

Everyone in the room fell into a shocked silence as they all thought of the loyal little Modoc, who even in death served her master.

***The End***

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