Category: The Big Valley
Word Count: 1700
“I think we’d better stop here for the night. The horses need rest and so do I,” Heath stated as he and his brother Nick came to a clearing.
The brothers were a day’s ride from Stockton, on their way home from yet another successful horse buying venture. Nick agreed readily as he halted his mount and climbed down, tired from being in the saddle all day. Careful not to jostle the two mares in his charge, who were still only rough broke, Nick moved slowly and steadily so as not to spook the already skiddish animals. Heath too, was trail weary and moved cautiously, speaking softly to the two horses that he was accountable for, hoping they wouldn’t scare and try to bolt. “Easy now. Take it easy. I’m not gonna hurt ‘cha. Shhhh. Shhhh. Hang on now. I’m gonna getcha a drink here in just a bit.” Both mares were restless, hungry and thirsty which did not make for happy dispositions. Snorting and jerking their heads seeking freedom, it took all of Heath’s strength and concentration to keep the leads from jerking out of his hands. Looking over to his brother, he quickly saw that Nick was not having much of a better time with his two ladies. Both cowboys knew if they didn’t get their new ponies to the stream that ran alongside their campsite soon that they’d have mutiny on their hands. Using one hand, Heath tossed Charger’s reins around a nearby tree and looped it securely. Nick had done the same with Coco who was so tame, that he would have stayed put without being secured. With a hand free now, Heath was able to switch one of the leads into his other hand which helped balance him as he started down the rocky path with his mares to the gurgling stream. Nick juggled a little more with his horses and let out a howl when one of them decided to tromp on his foot. Heath heard Nick’s yowl of pain and stopped, shooting his head back in the direction of where his brother was contending with the ornery critters. “Nick? Ya awright?” Heath called out.
“Fine. Just dandy.” Nick responded evenly, gritting his teeth and sucking in his breath as he tried to shake the pain out of his trodden on foot.
Finally both cowboys and all four mares were settled down by the stream. While the horses drank their fill, Nick and Heath filled their canteens. Heath looked around appreciatively at the scenery around them, and breathed in its beauty. “Nice place to camp,” he commented to his brother who had by now taken off his boots and was sticking his toes in the frigid water.
Heath wasn’t sure if Nick was agreeing with him about the beauty of the spot they had chosen to stop at or was merely reveling in the water’s coolness on his bruised foot.
“Tell ya what Nick. After we get these gals settled in, iffen you take care of Coco and Charger, I’ll get busy and get us some grub a goin’. How about that?” Nick while still holding on to his ponies, stood with his eyes closed and at first didn’t answer his soft-spoken brother. “Nick? Did ya hear me? I’ll….”
“Yeah! I heard ya. Oooooh, this water feels good on my feet. Fine! I’ll let you make supper boy, and I’ll take care of Charger and Coco. Just one request, huh? I want none of those beans of yours, ya hear me? NO BEANS!” Nick bellowed and shook his head emphatically. Seemed like every time he hit the trail with his youngest brother, that boy whipped up his famous beans and would sit there and relish them as if they were the only things you could have on the trail. When Heath didn’t answer quick enough to his liking, Nick hollered back at him. “Well?”
“Okay! Okay! No beans. You would make it hard on me, brother. Now you do realize that I’m gonna have to go out and hunt us up some grub. That might just take a little longer, y’know. Your belly might start wishing it had some of those beans.”
“NO WAY! I’ll wait. ANYTHING is better than those awful beans of yours. I’ll gladly wait for some good chow.”
“Okay Nick.” Heath’s mares seemed calmer now that they had been watered. Heath led them with little resistance back to where they would set up camp. Making sure that their leads were securely tied, and they had something to graze on, the blond cowboy walked over and took his rifle out of it pouch that was on his saddle. Nick was busy securing his ponies as Heath prepared to go out a distance from camp to look for their supper.
“Oh and Nick?” Heath looked over at his brother with a grin.
“You will have a fire goin’ for what I bring back won’tcha?”
A scowl came over Nick’s face as he addressed his brother. “Now Heath, what do you think I’m gonna do while you’re gone? Go a courtin’? Of course I’ll have a fire goin’ for that pheasant you’re gonna bring back. A nice big fire.”
Heath smiled a crooked smile aimed at his brother. “Don’t know if it will be pheasant I’ll be bringin’ back Nick but I promise ya, it will be edible.”
Nick snorted. “Ha! We’ll see about that.”
Heath scoured around the area for about a half an hour, hoping to happen upon a rabbit in the brush or even a squirrel. After an hour, he had come up empty handed. Turning course, he set out for parts closer to the water. It was among tall reeds and grasses where he spotted supper. No need for a rifle, he reached out and snatched up his slimy prey. Taking his hunting knife, he carefully filleted his catch and stuck it in his coat pocket. On the way back to camp, he picked some edible herbs and some lambs ears growing along the path. He smiled a smug smile when he thought of what Nick would say when he found out what supper was going to be. Maybe it would be best if I didn’t tell him what he’s eating, reasoned Heath as walking into their camp whistling a tune he knew from long ago.
A nice fire was going as he reached camp.
Seeing the hunter seemingly empty handed, a pot of beans bubbling away came into Nick’s thoughts.
“Whaddya catch? Where is it? Don’t tell me you didn’t catch something and we’re stuck with your god-forsaken beans?”
“Ah, but I DID catch something for our supper. Right in here.” Heath pointed to his coat pocket.”
“Well, what is it, boy? You don’t have enough pocket there to be hiding a pheasant.”
“Well Nick, I didn’t promise you a pheasant. I only said I’d find us SOMETHING for supper. Now why don’t you see to the new mares? Make sure they’re tied secure and I’ll rustle us up this grub here.”
Nick grumbled that he’d look after the horses. After he’d gotten up to see to the animals, Heath went to preparing his creation. Soon a pleasing aroma permeated the whole campsite and supper bubbled to perfection over the open campfire. Heath retrieved the tin plates and utensils from his saddlebag and got the coffee on to boil.
Nick took in a long sniff of the delicious smell coming from their camp as he came back from tending to the horses. “Whatcha got there boy? Sure do smell good.”
“Well, it’s ready. Here, let me fix you a plate. You can pour the coffee.”
“Alright then. Thank ya.”
“My pleasure, brother.” Handing a steaming plate of stew over to Nick, Heath went to preparing his own plate. Camping and cooking in the great outdoors. There’s nothing like it, Heath thought to himself as he scraped his plate clean. Nick too was getting every last bite. Leaning back against a rock with his cup of coffee, he smacked his lips in appreciation.
“Ya know Heath, I gotta admit. I was wrong about you. I thought you were a pretty lousy cook when it came to trail grub. Well, you proved me wrong tonight with this fine meal. It was good. Great even. You done yourself proud, boy. Just got one question for ya, though.”
“Just what kind of stew was that anyway?”
“Ya sure ya want me to tell ya?”
“Well sure I do.” Nick was thinking it must have been squirrel or rabbit….a small bunny or maybe even a tiny possum.
Heath hesitated for a moment wanting to hone in on his brother’s expression when he told him what he’d just eaten.
“Well? Ya gonna tell me or not?”
“Sure Nick. What you’ve just had the privilege of supping on is none other then a Heath Barkley specialty. Bull Frog Stew.”
Nick’s eyes opened wide and his tongue involuntarily came out of his mouth. “You mean I just ate a FROG?”
Heath tried to hide his laughter but was having a hard time keeping it from pouring out of his mouth. “Yep! Didn’t you like it?”
Yes but….but……I ATE A FROG?”
“’Fraid so brother. What did it taste like to you?”
Nick calmed himself before he answered. Why am I getting upset here? It really was delicious. Who cared if it was a….a…..FROG?
“Well, to tell ya the truth, it tasted like chicken.”
“Then chicken it is, Nick. You just tell yourself that you had wild game on the trail if it makes ya feel better. I’ve been fixing bull frog stew for years. Gotta admit though, tonight’s was the best I’ve ever tasted, if I do say so myself.”
“Well, I gotta admit Heath, it sure beats those awful beans of yours. You’re all right boy. You’re alright.”