Discovery (by Star)

Category:  The Big Valley
Genre:  Western
Rated:  PG
Word Count:  1600

The crisp new pages of Bandy’s Merchantile catalogue rustled as Audra leafed through the extensive display of pictures and prices.  Goodness!  What a selection!  There were spring petticoats, winter petticoats, camisole tops – the list went on.  Browsing further, she found herself in the section labeled “Men’s Shorts – The Latest in Intimate Wear for Him.”

“Oh, Boy!”  mused Audra to herself, “this could prove to be a most interesting addition to Bandy’s product line.”

Fully enjoying each and every picture featuring garments worn by the magnificent, masculine models, Audra leisurely took her time thumbing through the slick printed pages.  Suddenly, she stopped short.

“Mother!” she hollered at the top of her lungs, “Mother!”

“What is it, dear!?”  Victoria replied running to her daughters side, a sterling silver fork and polish rag still in hand.

“Mother, look!  That’s Heath!”

“Don’t be silly, dear”, Victoria sighed with exasperation, “Heath is out with Nick and Jarrod!”

“No!  Right here in this catalogue!  This is Heath and he’s wearing…..”, her voice trailed off as she gave the photograph closer examination.

“Now that’s ridiculous, Audra.  What would your brother be doing in Bandy’s catalogue?” Victoria queried, peering over her daughter’s shoulder.  “And in the underware section of all things?”

“Look, Mother!  Right here!”  Audra exclaimed, tapping the tell tale photo with her index finger.

“Oh my,” Victoria gasped, touching her face with long slender fingers.  “It is Heath!  What is this going to do to the Barkley name?  I wonder how he could bring himself to disgrace us so?”

Talk around town concerning the newest addition to the Barkley family and Tom’s interest in Strawberry had not exactly been rosey, but when folks caught wind of the contents of the merchantile’s latest catalogue…..well, Victoria shuttered even thinking about it.

“Mother!  Audra!  We’re home!” Nick’s voice boomed through the front door.

“Your brothers are home!  Quick, Audra, close the catalogue!” Victoria instructed.

“But, Mother,” Audra questioned, “Aren’t you going to confront Heath with this?”

“In due time, dear, after I’ve had a chance to discuss the matter with Jarrod privately,” Victoria horsely whispered, “Until then, you are to say nothing.”

Obediantly, Audra closed the catalogue, “Okay, Mother, but I don’t think Heath should get off lightly for this,” she added, somewhat miffed.

“There you are!”, Nick exclaimed, entering the parlor with Heath and Jarrod on his tail.  “What’s for lunch?  We’re as hungry as three Carterson inmates!  Ain’t that right, Heath?”

“That’s right, big brother,” Heath answered with a lopsided grin.

“I haven’t had time to even think about lunch, Nicholas,” Victoria remarked dryly.  “I’ve been polishing silver, among other more important things.”

“What could be more important than two hungry cowboys and a fancy, California lawyer, just in off the range,” wondered Heath, dirt and grime covering his sweat covered brow.  “Hey, Sis,” he added, “isn’t that the new catalogue?”

“Ah, yes…I guess it is,” Audra answered.  “Why do you ask?”

“Oh, no reason,” Heath retorted, non-chalantly, “Mind if I take a look?”

“I was just getting ready to look for some a….,” Audra stammered, glancing sideways at her mother.  “Shoes!   That’s it, shoes!  Mother and I were going to order some shoes!.”

“Shoes?”, questioned Heath, reaching for the catalogue.  “By the way these pages are worn, I’d say you never got past the unmentionables.”

“The unmentionables?” Audra exclaimed, brightly blushing, “Why, I ….”

“Don’t worry about it, Sis,” Heath reassured her.  “While you were there browsing, you didn’t happen to see my picture, did you?”

“Picture?” Nick exploded, “Would somebody mind explaining to me what the devil is going on around here?”

“Yes,” Jarrod added, “I think we are all very curious.  Heath?”

“Well, it’s really nothing, Jarrod,” Heath volunteered, “Just one of those odd jobs I did before coming here.”

“Nothing?” Victoria blurted out.  “Young man, do you realize what you have done to the Barkley name?”

“What in blazes is going on!” Nick thundered.

“Alright, Nick!”, Victoria fumed, “I wasn’t going to make a public issue of this just yet, but since we all seem to be on the topic….Heath!  Show him the picture!”

“Sure thing, Mother, but why such a long face?” Heath answered, handing the book over to his rattled brother.  “I thought it turned out pretty darn good.”

“That’s you alright!”, Jarrod aknowledged, craining his neck across Nick’s shoulder.

“You’re blamed right that’s him!  Heath, what in thunder were you thinkin’?  Do you know the gossip a picture like this could cause?  Why, I already have all the fights I can handle just defendin’ your Barkley heritage!  This is liable to really stir things up!”

“Yes, Heath, how could you do such a thing?” Victoria interjected.  “I won’t be a bit surprised if I get another house call from Reverend Stacey himself!”

“And what about my friends?” Audra added.  “Elsie Gordon’s mother will probably want her to be chaperoned every time she comes over to visit!”

“Now, hold on everybody,” Jarrod defended, “I don’t think this is as bad as it seems, and I’m sure Heath has a reasonable explanation for the picture.”

“Yes, Heath,” Victoria demanded, “I think an explanation would be in good order.”

“Well,” drawled Heath, “it all started with four ladies.”

“Ladies!” exclaimed Victoria in utter disgust, “you mean to tell me you paraded like that in front of ladies?”

“Believe me, Mother,” Nick sarcastically commented, arms folded across his chest.  “I’m sure they weren’t ladies.”

“Please!” ordered Jarrod.  “Heath is trying to give us an explanation.  Now, may I suggest that we all be quiet and let him continue!”

“Thanks, Jarrod,” continued Heath, “but when I say ladies I don’t mean the flesh and blood kind.  I mean the kind pictured on a deck of cards.”

“Ahh,” supported Jarrod, “you were playing a hand of cards.”

“Yeah, and I thought I was winnin’, too.  I had four ladies and the stakes were high.  The guy I was playin’ with, he was a photographer, and he upped the anti a hundred big ones.  I thought he was bluffin’ and called him, but there ain’t nothin’ that beats a hand of Aces.”

“And just where did you get that kind of money to be able to afford such a bet?” questioned the oldest Barkley sibling.

“I didn’t,” replied Heath sheepishly, “and that’s when he whipped out the contract and asked me to sign.  Said he’d forget the whole thing if I’d just model for the catalogue he was puttin’ together for Bandy’s.  I didn’t know what I was in for until I showed up for work the next mornin’.  But ya know, I don’t think the pictures turned out half bad.”

“You don’t think they turned out half bad?” thundered Nick, “Now, that’s the smartest thing you’ve said yet!  They’re all the way bad!”

“I think I would have to agree with Heath,” Audra stated, having finally decided which side she was going to support in the matter.  “And I think you’re just jealous because all the eligible women in town will be crooning over Heath and his picture instead of paying attention to you!”

“Now wait just one minute here!” bellowed Nick, pointing a finger at his younger brother.  “You mean to tell me that you think I’m jealous of him?”

“That’s what I think,” answered Audra wryly.  “It’s a known fact that all the young women of Stockton are simply fascinated with Heath.  It’s just their fathers that don’t like the idea of him as a future son-in-law.”

“That’s true, Nick,” agreed Jarrod.  “I couldn’t help but notice his fan club following at the dance the other night.  Women were flocked all around him.  And you, my dear brother, you got the left overs.”

“So what do you expect me to do,” Nick roared, “parade around in my shorts as well – trying to play Pied Piper with the ladies?  I don’t figure that move would get me anywhere but the Stockton jail.”

“I’m merely suggesting a motive for your anger,” Jarrod responded calmly.  “Not that you follow in Heath’s footsteps.”

“I think we’re getting off topic here,” Victoria abruptly interrupted.  “The real issue is what are our friends and neighbors going to be saying when they discover the picture?”

“I’ll tell you what they’d say,” came the voice of Silas as he entered the room carrying a brand new calendar.  “They’d say ‘good for you, Mr. Heath.  You made ‘Hunk of the Month’ for February!”

“Lemme see that!” Nick exclaimed, reaching for the blown-up picture of Heath that Silas was now holding up for all to see.

“Well, brother Nick,” Jarrod concluded, pointing to the calender photo of his youngest brother, “I’d say this counteracts any negative comments that may arise from the picture in the catalogue.”

“Yes,” agreed Victoria, “I think we can once again say that the Barkley name has risen above any barbs that people may throw our way.”

“Now, Mr. Hunk of the Month,” she added, lacing her fingers in the crook of Heath’s elbow, “Would you please do the honor of escorting a lovely lady, such as myself, to the dining room?  I believe Silas has some lunch ready!”

***The End***

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