Tough Mothers: Samantha

Chapter One - Audra Returns

It seemed the entire Barkley clan was waiting on the San Diego dock to welcome Audra home. Audra rushed down the gangplank and threw herself into her mother's arms. "Oh, I've missed you all!" she said, hugging each of her family in turn. "Jarrod, you're looking well. Oh, I've missed so much, I'm sure - you'll have to tell me everything.” She turned to Samantha, unable to avoid gazing at Samantha's bulging belly. "I have missed a lot. When are you due?"

Nick put his arms protectively around his wife. "Another month," he said. "Neither one of us can believe we're about to be parents."

Samantha smiled up at him. "Speak for yourself, Cowboy. I've been waiting for this all my life."

Audra hugged all the children, taking Georgie by the hand when he refused to be held. She turned to a somewhat stout, slightly balding young man who had followed her down the gangplank. "Mother, I'd like you to meet Professor Emerson, the leader of the expedition." Victoria greeted him courteously and Audra proceeded to introduce him to the rest of the family.

"We've reserved a private dining room at the hotel," Victoria said graciously. "We'd love to have you join us, Professor Emerson."

Emerson bowed. "I'd love to, Mrs. Barkley, but I must see that all our specimens are properly unloaded. Perhaps I may call on you later? How long are you staying in San Diego?"

"A few days at least," Victoria said.

"Later, then," Emerson smiled. "Meet me back at the lab, after you've dined and settled in, Barkley. Excuse me, Miss Barkley."

Audra laughed. "It's been 'Barkley' for months, Emerson."

Emerson bowed and departed.

Nick frowned. "He calls you 'Barkley'?"

Audra shrugged. "It was simpler, out in the jungle, than 'Miss' this and 'Miss' that. All the men went by last names."

Nick frowned further, as though it had just occurred to him that his sister had spent the last several months as the only woman among men, far from civilization. "He didn't. . . ? None of them. . . ?"

Audra laughed again. "Don't worry, Big Brother. It was far too busy and tiring for anything like that to happen. Mostly." She dimpled mischievously.

Nick opened his mouth to bellow, but Jarrod patted him on the shoulder. "She's having you on, Brother Nick. If anyone can take care of herself, it's Audra. Let's get to the hotel and hear all about it."

Dinner was boisterous and talkative, as Audra caught up on all the happenings since she had been gone: Jarrod's recovery, Molly's miscarriage, Heath's engagement. "I don't believe you got engaged while I was gone," Audra said.

"You were gone for months, Sis," Heath said, "were we just supposed to wait around for you to get back?"

"No," Audra pouted, "but I wish I could have been there."

"Well, be happy we waited for you to get back for the wedding."

"I am." She smiled. "You should have brought Alice with you."

"She's still visiting Lena's grandparents," Heath said.

Audra frowned, puzzled. "Don't she and Lena have the same grandparents?"

"Oh, yeah," Heath said, somewhat embarrassed, "you don’t know, do you? Alice is Lena's mother, not her sister."

"Ohhhhhh," Audra said. "So then isn't Rachel Lena's grandmother?"

"Yes," Heath said, "but a few months ago Lena's father showed up." He proceeded to tell Audra about Fred's arrival and untimely death.

When he finished, Audra had tears in her eyes. "Oh, how sad. But at least Lena got to know him before he died."

"I'd have never let him near Alice, if she'd been my girl," Nick said vehemently.

"Well, that's where we're different, Brother," Heath said. "I know what it's like not to know my father. I couldn't do that to Lena."

There was a somber silence at that, before Jarrod began to ask Audra questions about her expedition, to which she answered excitedly.

"So when are you coming home, Sis?" Heath asked.

"When are you getting married?" she countered.

"Haven't decided whether to try to squeeze it in before Samantha's baby, or wait until after."

Samantha patted her belly. "It is awkward timing, but I do not want to give birth at the church," she joked.

"Probably after, then," Heath agreed, "especially since Alice isn't back yet."

"Well, I'll certainly be home for that," Audra said, "but there are hundreds of specimens to catalogue, and then papers to write and publish, and Emerson's talking about a lecture tour after that. So I don't really know when I'll be coming home - for good, that is."

As her brothers contemplated her, they realized that their little sister had grown up. She had another life now, and might never 'come home,' not for good. It was a sobering thought.

"Too bad you're losing your secretary, Jarrod," Audra observed. "I know how long it took you to find a good one."

"Perhaps not," Victoria said with a knowing smile.

"You know something I don't, Mother?" Jarrod enquired.

Victoria shrugged. "No big secret. Rachel told me she might apply for the job once Alice vacates it. Alice taught her how to type, and she said that after twenty-four years of childrearing, she's ready to do something else."

Jarrod looked thoughtful. "Well, I'd certainly be willing to give her a trial. If it doesn't work out, I'm sure we could find her something else suitable."

A bellboy entered the dining room. "I have a telegram for Mr. Barkley?" he said.

"Take your pick," Heath said, with a sly wink at Nick.

The bellboy looked down at the envelope. "It's for Mr. Nick Barkley?"

"That's me." Nick reached out and took the telegram, tearing it open and perusing it swiftly. A grim look crossed his face.

Samantha leaned on his arm. "What is it?"

"Miranda's foaling."

"Samantha's mare?" Audra asked. "Something's wrong, isn't it?"

Nick nodded, frowning. "It's taking too long - McColl says it's been two hours before he sent the telegram." Nick looked at his watch. "And that was half an hour ago." He stood. "I've got to get back to the ranch."

"It's at least ten hours by train back to Stockton," Jarrod said. "Whatever's happening will be over by the time you get there."

"The delivery, yes, one way or another," Nick said, "but if there are other complications. . . ." He looked at Audra. "You don't mind, do you, Sis?"

Audra shook her head. "I'd do the same thing."

Nick knew that Audra was not just being polite - her love of horses knew as little bounds as his. And this horse was special, had been even before he had given it to Samantha, given it to her for their first Christmas together.

Samantha stood. "I'll go pack."

"You don't have to go, too, Sam," Nick said.

"Of course I do," Samantha replied. "We've hardly unpacked - it won't take long."

Samantha was folding Nick's shirts and putting them in the trunk when he came behind her and wrapped his arms around her. "You really don't have to come, Sam. I'm not sure you should be rushing about in your condition."

She put her hands over his. "It's the train that'll be rushing about. I want to come. I'd rather be home, anyway. I hate hotel rooms."

"Do you? I thought you'd spent plenty of time in hotels before you met me."

"That's why," Samantha said. "I gave up that life - I don't like being reminded." The baby gave a hard kick and she moved Nick's hands down to feel it.

"Hey, he's pretty strong," Nick said proudly.

"She," Samantha corrected.

Nick grinned. "You sure about that?" he teased.

"No," Samantha admitted, smiling. "But neither are you."

Nick gave her a squeeze. "If we're going to make that train, we'd better get a move on."

Nick woke up and looked out the window of the Barkley's private railcar. He rather liked sleeping on trains, except he always awakened whenever the train stopped moving. He checked his watch against the train schedule. Looked like they were in Goshen, little more than a whistle stop. He lay back and waited for the train to start moving again so he could go back to sleep, but minutes passed by and nothing happened, although there seemed to be some commotion on the platform. He looked over at Samantha still slumbering peacefully, and sat up and quietly dressed. He slipped out on the platform amidst chaos and searched for a conductor.

"What's going on?" he demanded.

"Oh, Mr. Barkley," the conductor said, "I was just about to come find you. There's been a flash flood further up the track - the water's over the trestle. We'll be stopping here until it clears."

"And how long will that be?" Nick demanded.

"Probably several hours," the conductor said. "We're moving the passengers into the station and setting up cots."

Nick frowned. "I need to get home as soon as possible," he said impatiently.

"The railroad can't control the weather," the conductor said.

Nick looked up - he could see stars. "You sure?" he asked. "It's a perfectly clear night."

"There's a storm in the hills. The water comes down - you know how it is."

Nick nodded grimly. "Yes, I know. Any chance we could stay on the train? My wife's in a delicate condition - it'd be better for her than a crowded railway station."

"I don't see why not," the conductor said. "We'll be moving off to a siding as soon as we get all the passengers off, but that shouldn't be any problem. You have everything you need?"

Nick nodded and went back to the railcar. Samantha was sitting up on the side of the bed. "What's happening?" she asked.

Nick told her. "So we won't be home until late tomorrow, at the earliest."

Samantha shook her head. "I'm worried, too, but it can't be helped. Come back to bed, Nick. No sense losing sleep over it." The car shuddered as the train began to back onto the siding. Nick undressed and lay back down next to his wife. He had difficulty drifting back to sleep, but he finally managed it.

The storm hit a couple of hours later, rousing both Nick and Samantha from their slumbers. The car shook with the fury of the wind, and large hail pounded on the roof. Samantha clutched Nick, shuddering. "Oh, Lord, I hate storms," she said.

Nick stroked her hair. "It's all right, Sam. It'll blow over soon." Nonetheless, he looked worried. Perhaps they should have stayed in the station after all. He peered out the window, but it was pitch black outside, and the station was a good fifty yards away. Not far under normal circumstances, but now, an almost infinite distance. He pulled the blanket up over her. "Just relax. We'll be fine."

Samantha grasped her belly. "Ow," she said.

"Sam, you're not going into labor," Nick said alarmed. "Not now. It's too early."

"Just a contraction," Samantha said. "I've been having them off and on. Nothing to worry about." She smiled, then grimaced and clutched her belly again. "But then again, I might be wrong."

Chapter Two: A New Life

Nick sprang up and began to put on his coat. "Where are you going?" Samantha said. "You can't go out in that!"

"To the station. I've got to get you a doctor, Sam, or a midwife. Or at least someone who's done this before."

Samantha sat up and threw her legs over the side of the bed. "I've done this before."

Nick stared down at her, aghast. "What are you saying, Sam?"

"I know you don't like me to talk about my past, but. . . ."

Nick interrupted her. "You mean to tell me you have a child you never told me about!" he bellowed.

"No, Nick," Samantha said, perturbed. "The baby was stillborn. Please, just listen. Not everything in my past was black - you need to hear this."

Nick crossed his arms. "I'm listening," he said tersely.

Samantha clutched her belly as another spasm rocked her. Nick's anger flew out of him in a breath as he fell to his knees next to her. "Are you all right?"

Samantha panted, then took a deep breath and straightened. "Yes, I'm all right. Are you ready to listen, really?"

Nick sat on the bed next to her. "Yes," he said.

"I was seventeen," Samantha began. "His name was Jamie, and he was in the Army. We were going to be married as soon as he got out, as soon as he had a little money set aside. Then he was killed - his rifle exploded during target practice - a freak accident. I didn't even know I was with child yet, and because we weren't married, the Army gave me nothing, not even the money he had set aside for us. When the baby came, it was me and Beth, all alone. It was a stormy night, like this one - just as windy, with hail, too. Beth went to go get the midwife, but by the time they were able to get back, the baby had already come, a little boy." Samantha choked back tears. "I always wondered if I'd done something wrong, if that's why he died. The midwife said not, but I never knew for sure." She clutched at his shirt. "You can't go out there, Nick. What if something happens to you? I'll be here all alone again, and I couldn't take it."

"It's not far," Nick said, wrapping his arms around her. "I'll be careful."

"Listen to that wind, Nick. Don't tell me there aren't trees down, branches blowing around. It's too dangerous. Please don't go out there." She looked up at him pleadingly.

"If that baby's coming, someone's going to have to deliver it."

"You'll have to do it," Samantha said.

"I don't know nothing about birthing no babies," Nick protested.

"How many foals or calves have you delivered?" Samantha countered.

Nick looked down at her. "It's not the same, Sam. A mare or a cow, well, nature tells them what to do. I only get involved if something goes wrong. And it's quicker - it doesn't take hours like it does with people. Women.”

"My first one was quick," Samantha said, "Not more than three or four hours. They say the second one comes quicker." She bent double, clasping her belly. This contraction was longer, and she was panting and pale before it was done. "See? You can’t leave me - I could have it before you get back."

Nick gazed at her concerned. Whose instincts should he follow - his or hers? Maybe both, in a way. "All right," he finally consented, "but don't bend over next time." He took her by the elbow. "Get up and walk around - it should help." He helped her amble around the car for a few minutes, pushing down the panic he felt. Stay calm - it won't help her or the baby if she gets riled. Calm and steady, that's the way.

He let her walk by herself for a little, while he went to the storage bin under the seat, and took out all the extra blankets the car held. He spread them over the bed, then fetched all the linens - sheets and towels - that were aboard. He put extra wood on the stove and water on to boil. He got his razor from his shaving kit and a couple of Samantha's hair ribbons, and put them in the kettle to boil as well.

Samantha's water broke on the next contraction, soaking her nightgown, and whatever hope Nick had that he would not have to go through with this faded away entirely. "What do I do now?" she asked.

"What do you feel like doing?" Nick answered.

Samantha thought for a moment. "Using the water closet."

Nick chuckled, taken off guard. "Then you do that, dearest."

Samantha gazed up at him. "You've never called me that before."

Nick cocked his head. "Haven't I? Well, it just felt right."

"Don't you be getting all sentimental on me, Cowboy," Samantha chided, heading for the water closet. Nick chuckled to himself. Maybe this wasn't going to be so bad, after all.

So it went for the next couple of hours - walking, visiting the water closet, contractions. Nick found that massaging Samantha's back during a contraction seemed to ease the pain. In between, he encouraged her to sip water and take small bites of food.

"Oh, oh, oh," Samantha said. "Something's moving."

"Easy, Sam," Nick said. "Just be easy. Standing, sitting or lying down - it's up to you."

Samantha sat on the bed, straddling the corner. Nick pushed up her nightgown, peering. "I can see the head," he said excitedly. "Now relax - just let it come."

Samantha moaned as a strong contraction hit her. "I feel like I should push," she said.

"If that feels right," Nick said. "But easy, not too hard."

Samantha grunted and Nick watched as the baby moved further down. He held a clean towel in position, and in just a few minutes he had the baby's head in his hands. He cradled it gently, and on the next contraction, the baby slipped out completely. "You were right, darlin'," he said. "It's a girl."

Samantha lay back, panting. "Let me see her," she demanded.

"In a minute," Nick said, gently wiping the baby's nose and mouth to clear them. The baby grimaced, then let out a lusty wail. Nick grinned delightedly. "There's my strong girl," he said. "About six pounds, thereabouts, Sam." He placed the baby on Samantha's belly while they waited for the afterbirth. Samantha stroked her baby's bald head, unable to stop the tears from springing to her eyes. "See, I told you you could do it, Cowboy," she said.

Nick grinned and patted her hand as it lay atop their daughter. "So you did, Sam, so you did." When it was ready, he tied off the cord with the boiled hair ribbons and sliced it with the razor. "You should try to nurse her," he said.

"So soon?" Samantha asked, surprised.

"Well, we do that with horses." Nick shrugged.

Samantha tugged down her nightgown and put the baby to her breast. It latched on immediately and began sucking. Samantha looked down on her in wonder.

Nick started to clean things up, but Samantha put out her hand. "That can wait, Nick. Come sit with us."

Nick sat on the bed and stroked his daughter's head as she nursed. When she finished, falling into a contented slumber in Samantha's arms, Nick recommenced the cleanup. Samantha did not have a spare nightgown, so he put her in one of his shirts, which he thought looked quite fetching on her. He emptied the clothes out of the trunk and lined it with spare sheets. He tried to take the baby out of Samantha's arms, but she protested. "You need to sleep, Sam," he said. "I'll take care of her, don't worry."

Samantha looked at him stubbornly, then nodded. She let him take the baby, and rolled onto her side and fell into a profound sleep. Nick cooled down what was left of the hot water, and gave the baby a sponge bath, examining every finger, toe and earlobe. He had never realized what a wonderful thing an ear was, or a foot, or a hand. He had thought to put her in the makeshift cradle, but found himself reluctant to let go of her either. He looked out the window - dawn should be breaking, but it was dark as night outside, although the wind had died down. The heavens still poured rain.

By the time Samantha awakened, the rain had diminished to a drizzle. "I'll go for the doctor now," Nick said.

Samantha grabbed his arm. "We're fine, Nick. It's not necessary."

"Would if hurt to have her looked over? It's safe now - I'll be right back, I promise."

Samantha frowned, but nodded at last. "All right, Cowboy. You better."

Nick put his jacket on and strode out into the rain. The station was a crowded mess - finding a place for Samantha to give birth would have been a nightmare. He didn't know whether to regret his decision to stay on the train or not, but at least nothing awful had happened. He shuddered. It so easily could have. "Is there a doctor?" he shouted over the din.

There were two doctors - an old, experienced one and a young, eager one. "Your wife gave birth when?" the elder asked, incredulously.

"Just before dawn," Nick said. "A girl. Everyone's fine, we think, I'd just like to have them both checked over."

"You should have summoned me as soon as she went into labor," the elder one tsked.

"In the middle of a storm?" Nick said.

"Nevertheless," he said. "I can't take the responsibility."

"I can," the younger one said, frowning, and grabbing his bag. He stuck out a hand. "Dr. Grigsby."

"Nick Barkley," Nick said, and took a grim satisfaction at the startlement on the elder doctor's face. Nick led Dr. Grigsby to the railcar, where he gave the baby a good looking-over.

"She's a trifle small," the doctor said, "but otherwise seems in good health. Has she nursed yet?"

"Yes, right away," Samantha said. "And strongly, too. And again just before you came."

Dr. Grigsby smiled. "That's fine. How far along did you say you were?"

"Eight months," Samantha said.

"Maybe a trifle further? She seems too healthy to be an entire month early."

"Not as far as I know," Samantha said. "Could Dr. Merar have miscalculated?"

Dr. Grigsby shrugged. "It's not an exact science, much as we would like it to be. Whatever the case, you seem to have a strong, healthy baby. Now you, Mrs. Barkley."

"I'm fine," Samantha said. "I'm amazed at just how fine I am."

"Let him, Sam," Nick said. "For me - so I don't worry?"

Samantha glared at him, but submitted. He walked the baby up and down during the examination, not looking and wondering why he bothered not to. After what they'd been through, Samantha's modesty seemed rather pointless - but then again, maybe it was in dire need of restoration.

"Mr. Barkley," Dr. Grigsby said, "have you ever considered becoming a medical man?"

"Me?" Nick said, startled. "No, I'm a rancher."

"Perhaps you should consider it. You've done a remarkable job here - both mother and baby are perfectly well."

"If it's all the same to you, Doctor, I don't ever want to do that again," Nick said fervently.

Dr. Grigsby laughed. "All right, but if you ever change your mind. Would you like me to make out a birth certificate?"

"Yes, please," Samantha said, repossessing the baby. "Her name's Elizabeth."

"Elizabeth Barkley," the doctor said. "Any middle name?"

"Jamie," Nick said.

Samantha started, looking up in surprise. "You're not serious, Cowboy."

Dr. Grigsby looked from one to the other questioningly. Nick nodded and Grigsby finished the certificate and handed it to him. Tipping his hat, he exited the railcar. Nick sat on the edge of the bed and caressed little Elizabeth.

"Why did you do that, Nick?" Samantha asked.

Nick shrugged. "What you said about your past not being all black. Maybe I've not been fair to you, pretending like you don't have one. Maybe who you were has more to do with who you are than I was willing to admit."

Samantha stared at him. "You surprise me, Nick."

Nick grinned. "That's a good thing, I hope."

Samantha grinned back. "A very good thing. Just don't go getting all soppy on me. I like my big strong cowboy."

"Can't I be soppy, just a little? Just today? I promise not to make a habit of it."

Samantha laughed. "All right, just today." She looked down at Elizabeth. "I admit I'm feeling a little soppy myself."

Nick leaned down and kissed her, long and thoroughly, all the while being careful not to disturb the baby.

The water finally went down and the train made its way to Stockton, arriving almost a full day late. Nick pulled the buggy up in front of the house, helping Samantha down. "Silas!" he called, striding through the front door.

"Why, Mr. Nick," Silas said, bustling into the foyer. "Why you home so soon?" He stopped when he saw Samantha and what she held in her arms. "Mrs. Nick, you ain't done had that baby already?"

"Had it on the train on the way up," Nick said proudly.

"My, my," Silas said. "You sure are going to have a story to tell."

"Would you like to take her for a few minutes, Silas?" Samantha asked. "We need to go out to the barn."

Silas's face lit up. "A little girl? Why, I sure would, Mrs. Nick. What's her name?"

"Lizzie," Nick said, taking the baby and handing it to Silas.

"Beth," Samantha corrected.

"Now, Sam," Nick said, "doesn't she look like a Lizzie?"

Samantha scowled for a moment, then laughed. "Maybe you're right, Cowboy. All right, Lizzie it is, at least until she's bigger."

"Welcome, Miss Lizzie," Silas said, rocking her in his arms and cooing at her, although she was asleep and did not respond.

Nick and Samantha made their way to the barn, where they met McColl. "We expected you yesterday, Nick," McColl said.

"The train got held up," Nick said.

McColl looked down at Samantha's belly, then swiftly up again. "That wasn't the only holdup, I see. Congratulations."

"Thank you. How's Miranda?" Samantha asked.

"We lost the foal," McColl said, shaking his head. "But the mare's fine, we managed to avoid any real damage. She should be able to breed again, if that's what you want."

"Yes," Samantha said, "I think we do." She took Nick's hand and the two of them went to see her mare, sad for the loss, but more than content otherwise.