The Barkleys (by Nzie)

Summary:   A series of character sketches for the Barkleys.
Category:  The Big Valley
Genre:  Western
Rated:  PG
Word Count:  3300


Garden Dances

Audra threw back the covers and then looked around silently to assure herself that no one had heard her and decided to investigate. She dressed swiftly, something she had a reputation for being unable to do. Her brothers didn’t know her as well as they thought. Of course, not completely undressing had helped. She began quietly making her way down the stairs.

The evening had been wonderful. The birthday party was just the way o be introduced to young gentlemen. Or older gentlemen. Sixteen. Oh, how grown up that sounds! Susie’s been married six months already and she’d just seventeen. Mother and Father were approached by several young men this evening. I hope they asked permission to call on me. Oh! I hope Father gave them permission! Don’t hit the third step; it’s the noisy one.

She skipped the third step from the bottom as gracefully as possible and, luckily, without sound. She made her way through the kitchen and out the back door. It must be very late. The door creaked and she shuddered, huddling. Recovering, she made her way to the back garden and to the gazebo. She carefully folded her wrap and laid it on the bench. Audra promenaded to a small clearing in full moonlight. The beams gave a soft glow to her hair and made her deep September blue dress shimmer. She was truly beautiful with a beauty surpassing her stunning appearance at the party, a beauty not dependent on outward looks.

She made a curtsy, perfect from long hours of practice. She reached out and her small and was enveloped, her left arm rested perfectly in its place, and her waist was held snuggly. They waltzed. It was much too slow for a dance floor. But for that garden, it was perfect, right in its place with the scent of April flowers lingering in the air. Another waltz. Then a gallop. A polka. Back to the waltz, slow and even. The hours passed y unheeded, dancing with the moon as she had since her seventh birthday, a private annual tradition. Those evenings were her special times, just for her, her and her partner, moonbeams.

The time came to leave, the dark sky fading, the stars bedding down for daytime. Father and Nick would be up in another hour, and she couldn’t risk being caught. She picked up her skirts and made her way back to the house. Silas wasn’t in the kitchen as she prepared to climb the stairs.

“Miss Audra, I’s believin’ ya forgot ya’s wrap.” He handed it to her and disappeared from view. She called out a soft thanks and reached her room. She quickly closed the door behind her and breathed a sigh of relief. Silas wouldn’t tell and she didn’t have to think up an excuse for her wrap being on the gazebo. Another year with no one knowing.

Tom shut the bedroom door quietly. Audra still didn’t know that he had watched her since she turned seven. He smiled, thinking about his little girl. Not so little anymore, he reminded himself. I’ll have to watch out that moonlight is her only partner. He needn’t have worried. Moonbeams were her only partner for every birthday of her life. And every year, someone watched. First her father, then her brothers, then her husband, children, grandchildren, and even great-grandchildren. And she watched them, as well, making sure that moonbeams were their only partner.

*****

A Victoria short showing that oft withheld pensive side. Hope you all enjoy this story as I have enjoyed all of yours.

Whispers

Victoria stepped out into the cold, dark air. It was the day after Christmas and she had risen early to continue in a secret escapade. Dressed in her riding pants and coat, she stepped across the light inches of snow. Only five inches, though it is a bit much for around here. Not for back home, not at all. I’ll bet there’s at least four feet. She saddled Misty quietly and rode off at a brisk trot. Reaching a favorite spot after about a half-hour’s ride, she dismounted and let her mare have her reins.

The day had always been one of remembrance. Since leaving home at seventeen she had always set the day aside. In the beginning, she thought of her hometown and life before marriage. Later, she mourned her parents and lost child. But today, she mourned Tom as she had since his death. So sudden. So awful. So, so, so everything. So nothing. The first December after his death had been filled with questions, too soon after an all too subdued holiday. Why? Why now? Why him? Why? Questions God didn’t answer, or at least not loudly enough.

The cold air made her pants crisp and cold to her skin, but she liked it. The shiver it created was oddly comforting and fun and, and crisp. It was as if nature was giving her ice-hugs. A welcome and goodbye through reminders of her hometown. She surveyed the beautiful spot on the ranch that was for the day hers and hers alone. Hers, blanketed in the snow so much like a little New England town she loved. Hers, not a working ranch but a patch of earth that held a patch of her heart. A place that always brought peace, even through pain that faded but did not end. A place to talk to God and wait for an answer that always came somehow. Perhaps not that day, not that week or month, but soon enough, and at just the right time.

The year after Tom’s death, the day had fallen on a Sunday. She had taken her ride earlier so to get to Mass on time. God’s answer came soon that year, for she had never realized or taken into account that her special day was the feast of St. Stephen. The old priest told the story of the saint traditioned to be the first martyr. Not long after the death of Christ he had stood up for his faith and beliefs and he been stone. On her way back from church, she detoured from her family to stop at the grave to talk to Tom about Stephen. Oh Tom, you are so like him! He wasn’t perfect, but he tried and he was killed for his faith, too. Oh Tom, I miss you. Keep watch over us with St. Stephen. We miss you so much. Now I share this day with you. I never told and you never asked, but now it is our time. Help it stop hurting so much. I can’t stop thinking on the bad but I know there was so much good. Help me see that again.

Victoria smiled remembering her prayer that day. This year all she had was thanks and memories. So many wonderful memories. Such a wonderful time with Tom. she mounted up, blowing a kiss into the wind where she knew Tom was and smiled as she caught his in the cold air that blew back. There was not so much pain there now, just a glimpse of Heaven through old memories.
the end

Dedicated to the families of the seven that died in my town December 26th, 2000 and to the families of the victims of the terrorist attacks. Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and God bless.

*****

Well, I’m trying to do Nick now. Nick wasn’t just a loudmouthed brawler, and, in the tradition of may wonderful fanfic writers, I’m trying to show a deeper side to him that definitely exists. I hope you enjoy my endeavor.
~Nzie

The Doing

Nick rode Coco hard. He knew the stallion could handle it and had decided that his beloved horse loved the challenge as much as he did. They were going amazingly fast and the wind whipping past felt wonderful on the hot, sticky day. Not much work in the area he was riding that year, so he knew he was alone. Heath was on a horse-buying trip and wouldn’t be there to ask for him and it was unlikely that he’d be needed at the house. He was free to take up a challenge.

Everyone thinks I want to beat everyone. Why? There’s not much fun in that. Well, I guess that I usually do beat people could have something to do with it. Gosh, some of those time have been doozies. Nick smiled to himself. I’ve always gotta be doin’ somethin’. I think the family understands, but no one else. Amazin’ how much clearer I think when I’m ridin’ a horse. Bet even Jarrod’d be amazed at it. Hah! Probably’d faint in shock. Nick smirked again.

Nick eased Coco to a halt but remained seated. He took out his pocket watch and checked to see if he’d lessened his time at all. He’d lost two seconds! He let out a whoop and reared Coco up on his hind legs. Taking a deep breath, he dismounted and walked to Coco’s front.

“Ah, I knew we could do it, Coco, old boy! Yessir, we did it! What’d I tell ya? Made it here quicker than last time. Whoopee! As Heath’d say, boy howdy, we did it! And, by golly we did! For that, you get a treat. Enjoy it now, fella. It’s well deserved.” Nick fished a few sugar cubes out for his horse and rubbed his friend’s head as the latter nibbled on the sweet present.

Nick let Coco have free rein and sat down under the shade of a tree. Boy, was it hot out, even for summer! He lay back and tipped his hat down, dozing off for about ten minutes. Even sleep took second place when duty called the tired cowboy. He woke up with only a few minutes before he’d have to leave for the house to make it home in time for dinner. He looked down where his hand lay in the dirt near the roots and scratched into it with his fingernails. He took in his fist what he had scratched and held it before his face. He loved that ground. The land. The land was his anchor. Something he worked for to improve, to use it. He loved doing his work. Driving cattle along a dusty trail. There was just that feeling that came, a love that happened when you poured your sweat and blood and heart into it. Something inherited from his father. Something that made the process sweeter than the rewards, the work more valuable than the results. Something the Nick understood but could never explain. It was the same thing that drove him to competition. The same thing that drove him to perform to his greatest, making conquering others secondary to conquering himself.

His time was up. He grabbed Coco’s reins and mounted up effortlessly. Nick took his pocket watch out and looked at the time.

“Alright, Coco. Let’s make it home in time to check what’s for dessert!” He dug in his spurs and they took off rapidly.

*****

I’ve been delaying my character sketch for Jarrod because I wasn’t sure how to do it. I think I’ve a got a pretty good idea now of what I’m doing, so here it is. Thanks for reading.
~N~

Legacy

Jarrod sat by the fireside with a glass of sherry in his hand. Tomorrow the jury would come out with its verdict and he would know if he had succeeded. It was another land dispute, though thankfully not against the railroad. He knew he had done his best but it was up to twelve men. He sat and reminisced about his first case.

Fresh out of Harvard law, Jarrod had returned to his home state despite job offers in Boston. He had found a job with the firm of a family friend and was currently working in San Francisco when he heard about the case.

An Irish dockworker had been accused of murdering one of his peers. No one wanted to defend him. He had motive and there was plenty of circumstantial evidence against him, not to mention that he was an immigrant and an Irish one at that. The city was reluctantly trying to appoint someone but it wasn’t trying hard and would probably find an unknown, unskilled lawyer with nothing to risk. True, as a young lawyer from a rich ranching family, Jarrod wasn’t running much of a risk if he took it, but he wanted to gain experience. He met with the accused, Liam O’Brien, who convinced him that he was innocent. After some finagling, he took on the case.

Although he knew immigrants were generally looked down upon, he hadn’t expected the level of prejudice he found. His only allies were his boss and the other dockworkers, as O’Brien was well-liked. Jarrod worried over telling Mr. Thurston about taking on the case.

“Jarrod, I’m surprised you took this on without consulting me. Would you care to inform me as to your reasons?”

“Well, sir, I looked into it as a way to gain practical experience. Also, when I talked to him, well, I’m sure he’s been falsely accused. And I don’t like the way people assume he’s guilty.” Jarrod spoke more boldly than he felt, and quaked internally over his mentor’s upcoming reaction.

“Are you going to try to win this case or are you going to do what any sensible lawyer would and throw him on the mercy of the court?” That got Jarrod’s dander up but he remained calm.

“I never intend to lose a case, and throwing an innocent man on the mercy of the court is losing.” He was amazed and half thought he would be dismissed.

“Alright. You may go.” Done? Just like that? Jarrod was shocked.

“Sir? Do you have anything you’d like to tell me?” The old lawyer laughed at Jarrod’s frightened expression, almost like that of a child facing punishment.

“No. You took the case. It is your responsibility to see it through to the end. You have told me that you intend to win this case. If this man is truly innocent, I would like to see it won. Therefore, I shall hold you to your word. It will take some work, so go and win it.” Thurston returned to his papers and Jarrod left after a moment of collecting himself.

Jarrod prepared his case and found enough evidence to clear the man but had never tried a case before. He was struggling in court when he received a note. It read: “I hold you to your word. Find the truth and make it known. Once it is know it is unconquerable, even by dishonorable men.” Jarrod looked up but didn’t see the sender. he cleared his throat and mind and improved as he continued questioning. A few days later, he had proven the guilt of another and gained recognition for succeeding in a seemingly impossible case. It was late afternoon when the verdict was announced and Jarrod immediately went to the office to thank his friend and teacher. There was a note waiting for him.

“Good work, Jarrod. The words I wrote you were taught me by my grandfather. They have always guided me. So let them guide you. You didn’t win this case because of my advice but because you were doing right and seeking justice. If I have but one legacy, I pray to God that these words are it, for they have solved many a problem both in and out of the courtroom. This legacy must manifest itself through practice. Please see to that.
Wm. Thurston”

Jarrod had decided to call on Mr. Thurston the next day. When he arrived at the house, he discovered that his friend had died in his study. The sheet of paper before him on the desk read: “Pleading my last case before the ultimate judge. Think I’ll win.”

Jarrod smiled remembering his old friend. The law was his passion, and while criminal law remained his favorite, he always stood with justice in any case where it was attacked. Yes, Mr. Thurston, I’ve lived by that rule. And I’ll make sure that your legacy never dies. My children, siblings, nephews and nieces, grandchild, all will know. I know you won your case. Will you ask the Judge up there to help with this one? After all, your legacy is mine, now, too.
the end.

*****

Okay, here’s my Heath sketch. I hope this goes well and pleases my fellow Heathens. Thanks for reading.
~N~

Rising

Heath got up early as was his custom. He dressed in the stillness of the morning before dawn. He didn’t bother with any light; there was no need and no sense in wasting oil. He pulled on his boots and left the room silently. No one else was up. Nick would wake soon after sunrise, but Heath had gotten up before then since boyhood and hadn’t abandoned yet a habit that wasn’t detrimental.

Heath liked the darkness of the morning. It blanketed the land and cloaked him with its dampness. The air outside was cooler and he could watch the day rouse from its nightly hibernation. The barn roof would be the perfect project for this morning. It needed to be done soon though it wasn’t immediately necessary and would take up just the right amount of time while being far enough from the house that his hammer wouldn’t serve as an unwelcome wake-up call.

The mornings had always been his favorite times. His mother had enjoyed them as well, but they were private revelations, and Heath enjoyed the isolation before a long day of working in groups. Hardly a word could be found to cross his lips in the morning. His work served as his vehicle of communication, steady, complete, never a wasted motion, never an errant action. He served as a part of the area surrounding him, as natural and regular as a stream or a horse.

The roof was progressing well. He was three quarters done when he wiped his forehead on his sleeve and looked to the east. For the next half hour he halted his work to watch the reds and oranges and golds fill the sky as the yellow orb glided above the horizon. He returned to his work, softly humming a low tune and continuing his steady rhythm. Hold the shingle, place the nail. Bam, bam, bam, bam. Hold the shingle, place the nail. Bam, bam, bam, bam. Again and again.

Nick saw his brother nearly completed with the roof and smiled. It was quarter to seven and he’d figured Heath would work on the barn. It gave a perfect view over the valley and he knew about Heath’s love for sunrise from a cattle-buying trip. Never content to just sit except at sunrise. Even on days off, up early and carving something, reading a book, sketching designs for projects around the ranch and such.

“You just ‘bout finished there, Heath?”

“Yep. Gimme a second and I’ll be in for breakfast,” he replied, never halting his motions. Hold the shingle, place the nail. Bam, bam, bam, bam. Hold the shingle, place the nail. Bam, bam, bam, bam.

God, I love to see him like that, thought Nick. I love watching him rise as much as he loves watching the sun rise, ‘cause he’s rising every day. He’s found his place and nothing can stop him. Never again. He’s like the sun, except he’ll never set.

 ***The End***

Thanks for reading.

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