The Barkley Family
The Barkleys are the richest family in the valley. (53) Wealth can be measured in a number of ways.
Tom Barkley left the family a “heritage of wealth and power and land. (6) The Barkley holdings were garnered honestly and “are pure as driven snow.”(37)
The Barkley name is valuable not because of an expected inheritance, but because it is respected. The Barkley’s keep their word. This is not to say they are perfect. Mistakes are made. However, the correction of any mistake is the responsibility of the entire family. (6, 86) The Barkleys take their obligations, past and present, very seriously. (5, 6)
Victoria Barkley, the matriarch, is the keeper of the family mores. (5) She makes sure that the family chooses between right over wrong, irrespective of their personal feelings. (23)
The family often meets over meals, usually at breakfast. This is where the family comes together and strengthens the ties between their members, creating a strong sense of belonging and mutual respect. Victoria sits at the foot of the table. Jarrod, or “Pappy” as Nick refers to his eldest brother, occupies the head of the table. Audra is seated at her mother’s right hand. Heath to her left. Nick either sits next to Audra or Heath. Discussions of situations requiring the attention of the family are respectful, open, and honest. All have an equal say and an equal vote.
Victoria’s father was a prospector who was killed in a mine collapse. Fortunately, she was taken in by the Baxter family, who had a daughter named Elaine. Victoria and Elaine became best of friends. (29) When Victoria was in her late teens she met a young man whom she described as “gentle, poetic, and wise. Unfortunately, he was also an embezzler.” One day he was caught. (45) A number of other men soon came into her life. There was Judge Lunsbury (who took her to her first dance (80)), David Wyncop (a white knight righting wrongs (47)), Jim Bannard (who became a senator (86)), and Thomas Barkley (who walked into the Baxter’s freight line office (10)). She married Tom Barkley.
They set out to build a new life, crossing the mountains near Indian Springs (17) and coming into the Big Valley with another of Victoria’s best friends, Margaret (nee Putnam) and her husband, Jubal Tanner. (5) Victoria and Tom made their beginning in the Big Valley on land that “was nothing but wasteland.” (100, 110), but from the moment they arrived, Tom knew that eventually he would “own a great deal of it.” (5) They worked to build a life together. Victoria broke trails, hunted, rode shotgun, and helped bring their herd of cattle down from the summer range in snow so deep they had to wait until it froze (24). She got through it all because Tom was with her. (9) Their ultimate success was due to their hard work and the largess and friendship of neighbors and strangers such as Vincente Ruiz (32), Wally and Jenny Miles (8), and Chief Pocona. (35)
They were also building a family. First, Jarrod was born (8), then Nick (17), followed by Eugene and then a girl, Audra. While Victoria was carrying Nick that they suffered business losses. Soon thereafter, Tom went to Strawberry, California and invested what little they had in some mining operations. He sold his interest at a profit that allowed him to continue to invest and build an empire. (3) As his empire and family grow, so also does the Big Valley, which eventually comes to the attention of the railroads. In 1870, in a standoff to protect the rights of local landowners, Tom Barkley dies. (1) Victoria still wears her wedding ring. (75)
While Duke refers to Victoria as a “know-it-all, gabby woman,” (40) she is far more likely to display the comportment of the rightful queen of the realm. Victoria often says no with her smile. (60) She serves as a sly tongued and iron-fisted mediator (14), openly offers advice to strangers (40), and is very matter of fact in her pronouncements. (42) She readily admits that she makes her own rules (20) and that she’s cured an ego or two in her day. (2) While she does not like to be out of control (68), one thing is quite certain, she does not scare easily. (19, 75, 84, 87)
The Roman goddess of victory had nothing over Victoria Barkley. Men don’t hesitate to express their opinion about her. For example:
- “A good looking woman with spirit” (62), and
- ”A totally remarkable and absolutely magnificent woman” (110)
to which Victoria might have replied, “Hang my reputation. I’ve been gossiped about before.” (86)
Her family adores her and she is immensely proud of her family. (35) They are her life. (69) She seems to have a sixth sense where they are concerned and always finds out what is really going on. (76, 93) Heaven help whomever in the family tries to hide something from her, (67) which is strange in that she has hidden the truth from them. (67, 104) She does try to be fair as far as her family is concerned and generally tries to find out what has happened before passing judgement. (17) Victoria often serves as their mentor (10) and sounding board (21)… and reads them like a book. (45, 88, 93)
Having experienced a lot of life and learned a lot from that life, she is the moral compass of the family (90) and on moral issues, Victoria does not usually make a request twice. (11) She has a “painful” sense of right and wrong (23, 68), and innate decency (81). Victoria can be counted on to take the moral high ground (13, 88). She also demonstrates charity in thought and action. (95, 99, 106)
The entire family are members of the Stockton Community Church and attend church on Sundays (43, 78, 79). Victoria is also an active supporter of the efforts of the local Catholic churches (9) and missions, especially in regards to their support of the various tribes in the area (19, 35, 110). She is a member of the Auxiliary in Stockton (70), the Prison Reform Association (75), and the Prison Reform Board (104). Helping individuals is also high on her to-do list. (40, 62, 70, 107)
On a personal level, Victoria knits (40), does petit point (45), appreciates nice gifts (51), plays chess (6, 10), “shoots pretty good” (62), wears a very distinctive perfume (10), wears a hairnet to bed (8), takes an afternoon nap (1), walks like a man without any sway to her hips (75), can set a dynamite charge (40), cooks well (107), and is a pack rat. (112)
Perhaps the most revealing description of Victoria was given by Simon Carter, “That mother of yours… Ain’t there nothing she can’t do? She’s somethin’. She’s really somethin’.” (62)
Jarrod Thomas Barkley, Esq.
Born thanks to the kindness of a neighbor who dropped in and found Victoria in labor while her husband was in town (8), Jarrod (meaning: rose (flower)) is the first born son of Victoria and Thomas Barkley. When his father dies, Jarrod takes his place at the head of the table, opposite his mother. (1) He also refers to the Barkley house as “his” house. (21) Jarrod is 4-5 years older than Nick (17), who sometimes refers to him as “Pappy.” (2)
Jarrod smokes cigars (1), prefers scotch (1), plays poker (87), chess (6), checkers (38,74), and pool (36). He speaks English and Spanish. (1, 22) He likes to fish (26), swim (104) and is a better dancer than his brother, Nick (17).
Jarrod is the more conscientious of the Barkley brothers. When he was ten, he would often retreat to a lake on the ranch that he called Isla en el Cielo (Island in the Sky) where he would write, admittedly, some of the worst poetry anyone ever read. (77) His teen years must have brought out a somewhat different side of his personality as it is known that he and Nick were “wild kids that cut up once in a while.” (8)
Jarrod was an officer in the 9th Cavalry of the Union Army, whose motto was “Preservation, Compassion, Brotherhood.” and who were sworn to “come to the aid of a soldier any time, any place, at any price.” (75) He commanded a platoon of “Buffalo Soldiers” in the Black Cavalry,” at which time he was probably a second or first lieutenant. (75) He also spent some time in Washington, where he met a spy for the Confederate States named Julia Saxon. Many years after the war, she visits Stockton and Jarrod. Jarrod is torn by her appearance. A rock is thrown through his office window, reminiscent of the biblical remonstration (John 8:7 KJV), “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” (88)
Audra says Jarrod is rather mysterious about his women friends. (15) Nick describes Jarrod as someone who will talk to a woman about her mind, until he is alone with her in the drawing room, “There he’s very lethal.” (83) Jarrod meets Beth, his wife, on a train from Washington to Denver. It is a whirlwind courtship and they arrive at the ranch, three days after marrying in Denver. Unfortunately their happiness is short-lived and Jarrod learns things about himself he never thought possible. (77)
Jarrod’s ability to assess the people and their relationships (17, 31,34) and the fact that the family needed someone trustworthy (15) and brilliant (76, 90, 107) may be why when it came time for Jarrod to chose a career, his mother prevailed upon him to become a lawyer. While at university, he engage in sophomoric pranks with his roommate with whom he became fast friends, “Unum ad finem” (“One to end”). (18)
As his legal career took off, Jarrod became the Joaquin County Assistant District Attorney (20, 64) and Stockton City Attorney. (25) Eventually he opened his own offices in Stockton and San Francisco. (1, 2, 76, 103)
Jarrod believes in the oath he took to defend justice and the Constitution. (10, 20, 51, 67,80, 103) While defending the clients he believes to be innocent on a “no holds barred” basis, his grounding in justice leads him to only defend a guilty man by pleading for mercy. (10) He acknowledges that the role of lawyer is a complicated one where clients come to look upon their advocate as “father, minister, and lover all rolled into one.” (15, 67, 105) He admits that he is not a saint, especially when members of his family are involved, but he still pursues justice, even at their possible expense. (80)
Now a lawyer should be distinguished (30), and Jarrod, described as “style and elegance” (38) certainly fits the bill. Additionally, Jarrod possesses the Barkley “stubborn streak” (23, 24, 90) which drives him to never compromise (80) and to follow a case to it’s logical conclusion of justice. Carl Wheeler says Jarrod would even try to reason with a fence post. (63) Jarrod can (36, 41, 43,91), but does not normally, take a gun when on business and instead relies on the law, quoting it quietly and with authority to achieve his desired end. (41)
Jarrod is charged with dealing with the legalities of the ranch and rarely does any physical labor. So much so that Jarrod is described as having “lily white hands,” (64) or as Nick suggests, “It might do you good to eat a little dust once in a while.”
To which Jarrod replies, “I’m a lawyer, remember? I only eat crow.” (2)
Nicholas Jonathan Barkley
Nicholas Jonathan Barkley is the second son of Victoria and Thomas Barkley. However, he does not suffer from middle child syndrome. As Audra puts it, “My brother, Nick. He takes nothin’ from anyone.” (1) There is also an immediacy to Nick’s solution to a problem. Carl Wheeler says Nick would rather “bust a fence post in two” than discuss a problem. In other words, Nick likes to settle arguments with his fists (14, 17, 58, 88) and loves to find an excuse for a fight. (22) His temper hits a boil (1) in a heartbeat and his reactions are hair-trigger. (37, 60, 88) He says that “there are some things that people should never forget.” (88) and demonstrates that he can hold a grudge. The Barkley stubborn streak is a mile wide (63, 95, 98) and he readily admits that it is not easy for him to admit to a mistake. (15) Nick is loud and boisterous. So much so, that Victoria asks Nick if he would mind holding his voice “down to a shout. Someday you’re going to shatter all the windows, to say nothing of my eardrums.” (76) Other descriptive terms used in relation to Nick are rigid (4) and hard-headed. (58, 112) He is always hungry for food (64, 103) and for life.
Nick is a very complex character. He is explosive, tender, flip, and caring, He is impulsive (17, 101), and despite what he may claim (24), he is not careful. (38) He, like Victoria, does not like to be out of his sphere of control. (43, 85 or 90) Nick is honest (20, 96), “his own man” (63) and replete with pride. (100) However, while pride may indeed go before a fall, it can also be the driving force for the successful conclusion of a task or project. Sabrina may have made the most honest description of Nick when she says he “is impulsive, the violence of a summer storm followed by a rainbow.” (38)
Nick is decidedly human. He holds others to his personal code of honor. (4) He recognizes that sometimes he acts foolishly. (63, 96) He embodies the attitudes of many of the general populace, especially their prejudices (Nick’s prejudices further extend to “potbellies” (herefords (66)), “walking vermin (sheep (63)) and “That.” (97)), but offers hope by exemplifying the fact that self-recrimination (4,5, 11, 44, 50, 63, 66, 85, 88, 92, 97), can be a positive attribute when someone realizes an error in attitude and corrects it. This is appropriate, as the meaning of the name “Nicholas” is “People’s Victory.”
Like so many others, Nick has a special place that he found when he was six and where he became “Sir Lancelot.” He still goes there when, as he says, “the sky gets a little too old, a little low, the mountains get too crowded, the ground comes up to meet me.” (83)
He has a special place and responsibility within the family. Victoria lays out Nick’s role when she tells him, “This ranch is yours, Nick – yours to rule. So are the men, by your choice and your decisions.” (2) Nick takes this responsibility very seriously. (20,60) He always thinks of how the decisions the family makes will impact on the ranch. (111) Nick does the hiring on the ranch (1, 47), and lays out the work ethic expected, “We like all our people to work long, hard, and fast. And get along with the person next to them.” (92) Despite the fact that the ranch is situated in California, there are Mexican ranch hands, and the family has mine holdings in Mexico, Nick does not speak Spanish very well. ( 33)
Nick prefers whiskey, talks to the dice in Seven-Eleven (66), and plays billiards (36, 38), checkers (27,66), chess, cribbage (88) and poker. He smokes (6) and his cigars are made for him by a San Francisco tobacconist at a cost of fifty cents apiece. The cigar rings read, “Made for Nick Barkley.” (66) He likes to hunt and fish (17) and is a good shot, having won the target shoot at the Sacramento Fair six years in a row. (30)
Nick’s large bedroom features a sitting area off the door with built-in books shelves lined with books, revealing that he is an avid reader. Another surprise is the prominent placement of a child’s saddle, with a note, “NICK AGE 6 PRIVATE KEEP OFF,” indicative of his sentimental side. (12) He is also extremely fond of horses (54, 88, 98), especially Cocoa. (98)
Perhaps Nick understands Audra so well because he is also a romantic at heart. He asks Silas to plan a picnic in a rose garden. (83) He does not “fall in love” as much as he is “smitten.” (17, 83) From his first love, a Paiute girl (66) at the age of eleven, through a litany of alliances (11, 12, 17,66, 78, 83, 96), he acts like a rooster, crowing loudly and without hesitation showing his spurs to any perceived competition.
Nick and Jarrod were wild kids in their youth (8, 85). They were, and are, very close. (12) Nick trusts Jarrod (88) and expects Jarrod to solve problems when Nick is frustrated by them. (22, 76) There is little doubt that Nick values his family. (54, 64, 74, 95, 111)
Nick was in the Union Army with the 104th at Benton’s Crossing for six days during the War of the Rebellion (2). He was also at the Battle of Shiloh (54), in the Wilderness Campaign (27), and while he was a lieutenant, served as General Alderson’s aide (54). Nick very astutely points out that the title of rebel depends on which side wins and that in America, they are called patriots (referencing the American Revolutionary War). (60)
Tom Barkley came to Strawberry, California in the United States of America twenty four years prior (1) and met a waitress in a bar named Leah Thomson. They had a brief affaire de coeur. Leah Thomson did not inform Tom Barkley of the birth of his third son, Heath. A name perhaps chosen for its meaning: “A person who lives near untended land (a heath) where flowering shrubs (heather, gorse and coarse grasses) grow.” Heath was born “in a rotten rathole of a mining camp named Strawberry up the Stanislaus,” (1) and later lived “in a white house with a bay window on the left and in the living room was a motto embroidered ‘God Bless Out Home’.” (31)
Three women raised Heath, his mother and her two friends, Hannah James and Rachel Caulfield. Hannah refers to Leah as “a good woman, a real lady” who “had many a trial in her short lie, but Heath was her joy.” (31) Heath remembers his mother as “beautiful, warm, soft and in a way, very strong, like Victoria.” (3) His mother laughed a lot and made Heath think “his father was the greatest man who ever lived.” (3)
Leah’s brother (or perhaps half-brother as Leah’s maiden name is Thomson) is Matt Simmons. He and his wife, Martha own the hotel in Strawberry. Heath is not very close to them. (3)
Heath began working as a child in Strawberry, taking buckets of beer to the miners (which may be why he often asks if Nick is buying the beer) and washing the miners’ clothes. (5) This is not to say that life was all work and no play, as he found the time to learn bird calls from a Modoc and became the champion bird caller of Calaverous County when he was 10 years old. (23)
As a young man, he wandered the country and continued to expand his resume, which came to include bronc buster (23), cowhand(), cow prod (1), deputy (57), farm worker (79), hasher (1), hay waddy (1), Jehu (7), jingler (1), line boss (1), lumberjack (59), miner (7, 59), shill (53), posseman (79), rodeo competitor (111) and commercial fisherman. (7) He worked on a wagon train (7) and participated in a range war (22). Along the way he learned about installing mine pumps(32), using nitroglycerin (70), being a blacksmith (52) and how to speak Spanish fluently (16). He’s a pretty good hand with horses and ends up fetching a lot of breeding stock for the ranch. However, he will never be a cook on the ranch as Jarrod refers to Heath’s stew as “Bullfrog Stew,” to which Audra adds that it is “scorched to perfection over an open campfire.” (12)
Heath fought in the Battle of Chicamauga (80) in Georgia. He also fought in New Mexico, where he was captured and imprisoned at Carterson Prison (13).
Leah died in 1872 between 41 and 42 years of age. (31) Leah’s favorite hymn was “Old Hundredth.” (31) She was buried in a potter’s field. (1) She was reading a newspaper article “TOM BARKLEY SHOT TO DEATH Whole Valley Mourns” when she died, which indicated to Heath that his father was Tom Barkley. Six years after the death of Tom Barkley, Health came to the Big Valley to claim his heritage. He arrives a very angry young man ready to fight for what he believes is his by birthright, proclaiming his heritage in terms not often heard in a Victorian parlor, at least not one owned by Victoria Barkley. (1) The news is, of course, very unsettling to Victoria as “if Tom loved Leah, then what she (Victoria) believed during the marriage was a falsehood.” (3)
It is through the interaction with Heath that the family demonstrates it strength and unity. Victoria lays down the law when she says, “This family stands together. If we are not tied by blood we are tied by sacrifice, work and love. Now you fought your way in here and by heaven, you’re going to have to fight your way out. I will not have that old history raked up again. It’s done, over with, finished. And you can leave, Heath, you can leave. But it won’t change a thing, because no matter where you go, no matter what you do, no matter what you call yourself, you’ll still be a Barkley.”(31)
Victoria also settles the question of his birth and her acceptance of him by telling Heath that if he were her son “I would say to you, ‘Be proud’ because any son of my husband has a right to be proud. Live as he would live, fight as he would fight and no one – no one can deny you his birthright. That’s what I would say to you, if you were my son.” (1)
While the Barkley family accepts Heath as a legitimate member, others in the Big Valley do not, which provides the fuel for a number of events.
Heath is a quiet, thoughtful man of private beliefs whose experience has shaped his life. He takes note of things out of place, words that tell different stories, and is good at putting the “puzzle” together. Faye Kelly refers to him as “Honest John” and a “unicorn.” (55) Morrison says Heath does not seem to be afflicted with any of the seven deadly sins. (56) Sabrina says he is “as still water in a pond.” (38) Sara describes him as “wild, headstrong, lost, but gentle and very brave.” (59) Ward refers to him as stubborn. (23 ) It is also a well known fact that Heath grips a grudge.
While generally exhibiting a calm, thoughtful exterior, there can be an angry man bubbling just beneath the surface that quickly appears when Heath senses an injustice to himself or others. In that way, he carries the Barkley brand even more than by being the only son to fit into his father’s boots. (3)
He is also somewhat superstitious and wears a lucky coin. (74) Heath also carries a small parchment colored pouch with a rattlesnake’s rattler hanging off it (61) and believes in dowsing. (31) Other pastimes include smoking (1), chess (10), cribbage (88), checkers (4, 38), pool (36), playing a “pretty fair hand” of poker (56, 80, 83, 93), and exclaiming “Boy Howdy” when in full agreement. While he refers to himself as a poor dancer, he has been seen imitating a Flamenco dance with a rose in his teeth. (30)
The women Heath is interested in generally run away. The women who are interested in Heath are generally too forward for his taste. Heath believes that when he loves a woman it has to happen on his time, in his own way, and that he needs to do the courting. (93 )
Heath has a rough and tumble relationship with his siblings until he settles in. Nick and Heath square off against each other at the beginning (1) and then form a firm bond with Heath becoming an assistant manager on the ranch and acting as a counterweight to Nick’s tendency to jump to conclusions and to then jump in (with both feet) where angels fear to tread. Jarrod understands Heath’s need to be recognized as a part of the family. He gives Heath a gun with the Barkley’s iconic eagle on the grip. (39) Heath calls Audra, “Sis” and is very protective of someone who has very little life experience. Heath would do anything for Victoria.
Heath carries a picture of the Barkley family in his wallet because he has found a family and learned how to belong. (74)
Eugene “Gene” Barkley, is the youngest of Victoria and Thomas Barkley’s three sons. He is indeed, “well born,” and physically bears “the mark” of his father, as do Audra and Heath. While generally exhibiting an even-tempered personality (1), he can show a bit of a temper, like Nick (3).
He is studying at the university at Berkeley, California in the United States of America (1, 2, 13, 17, 21) and is yet undecided as to his major (1). However, he does enjoy college life and like his brothers, enjoys dancing and drinking whiskey (17).
Audra is the youngest child and only daughter of Victoria and Tom Barkley. She is introduced as a spoiled (1) 17-year old who is used to having her own way. (1) She vents by hitting men with her quirt. (1, 14) She is young, unworldly, naive, impulsive (4), and prone to hysterics. (9, 94) Even Nick, who is credited with understanding Audra, refers to her as being as “flighty as a bird.” (30) She often shows that she does not respect other people’s positions and reacts to situations rather than thinking through the consequences of her actions. (1) She does know that she does not like to be manipulated. (61, 63)
Her attitude does not improve very much by her 18th birthday. (8) However, somewhere during her 18th year, she begins to understand that there are other people in the world whose lives matter, which leads her to exhibit the courage that is a large part of the Barkley makeup, a courage that places them between those who seek to take advantage and their victims. (22) More light appears at the end of the tunnel when 19 candles appear on her birthday cake. (43) This is not to say that she becomes a conformist. (45) but rather that she begins to develop compassion (51, 92, 95) which eventually enables her to live up to her name, which means nobility and strength. The development of compassion is ofttimes influenced by an ability to understand and process life’s experience, of which Audra has very little. (4) Having the ability to put oneself into another person’s shoes proves to be a component that Audra needs to develop, so life obliges by presenting her with a variety of situations. (88)
Family is all important. She is dedicated to her family and believes in family unity. So much so, that Audra orders Heath to be friends with those who are friends of the family, no matter what his personal opinion. (22) As much as her brothers seek to protect her, Audra tries her best to protect them. (88) As she matures, she comes to understand her mother’s importance as a role model and begins to develop the qualities exhibited by Victoria. For example, in her discussion with Tom Lightfoot about his decision to fight rather than negotiate and litigate, she, as her mother would do, calls upon stories from a past she and Tom shared, when they had played together as children without regard to racial division. (103) When both she and Victoria are placed in danger by the Morton gang, Audra relates her appreciation and devotion to her mother by changing the bible lesson from that of the prodigal son to the story of Ruth. (43) It is interesting to note that Handy Random chose Audra, not one of Tom Barkley’s sons, as the representative of the family that should receive the gun he used to kill the man that killed Tom Barkley (22).
Culinary pursuits were not high on Audra’s agenda in her early teens. While she did know how to clean a fish (17), Nick is known to have said “I just might be hungry enough to eat Audra’s cooking, if you can get that hungry.” (22) After she reaches nineteen years of age, she may have learned the proverb “The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach” as she cooks very palatable food for a picnic (53), packs two days of food for Nick and Heath to take on the trail (62) and makes the best chicken gumbo this side of the Mississippi. (69)
Audra enjoys a variety of interests. She has “loved horses” all of her life. (75) Victoria boasts that Audra is quite a horsewoman (65) and has been showing stallions since she was eight years old. (75) Her competitive nature also surfaces when she tells her mother that Heath gives her “a better game” at cards (4, 8) and it is revealed that she enters pickles in the California State Fair every year, even though she has never won. (30) Other interests include knitting (22, 35) and needlework. (10) Musically inclined, she plays the piano (15) and has tried her hand at the guitar. (54) Poetry is another passion and she recites stanzas from the “Garden of Proserpine” by Algemon Charles Swinburne and recognizes lines from Reginald Herber.(86)
Many teenage girls are concerned about their clothing. Audra follows suit as the ultimate clothes horse. She wants to know about the latest fashions (29), what other women of station are wearing (7), and is hugely concerned about how her dresses look on her. (3, 30) Perhaps this overriding interest in her clothing is because, as Nick puts it, she “looks good enough” to get her share of looks from the boys. (3)
And “the boys” are definitely another one of Audra’s interests. She is an incurable romantic (4) (with many of her courtships ending tragically) and has been for years. When a child, she played in the ranch smithy, pretending she was a princess whom the wicked king had locked in a deep, dark dungeon. (20)
Her mother finds her shameless. (1) Audra is easily impressed by Continental manners (69), fancies herself a temptress (8), and devises schemes in her desire for conquest over men. (28) Unfortunately, while Audra is alluring and very mature in many other ways, her mother opines, “….with men of the world…she’s young and totally inexperienced… and out of her depth in an intrigue.” (28)
Audra does not appear to have a life’s path in mind. She does not go to college, as did Jarrod and Eugene, but decides instead to further her education through travel. She goes east to Philadelphia (77) and New York (83, 86) and then off to Europe (Rome (80) and London (110) are specifically mentioned). Despite the hint of numerous romantic interludes (80) she returns home alone, only to catch the bride’s bouquet at Harriet’s wedding. (99)
As she matures, Audra develops a sense of social responsibility. She teaches bible classes (43) and is a substitute teacher at the Stockton school. (67) She immerses herself in building an orphanage (10) and devotes a lot of her time and effort to improving the lives of the orphans. (53, 60, 70) Endowed with a shrewd marketing sense (28), she organizes and runs the Benevolent Orphans Association’s Charity Antique Auction. Jarrod chides Audra for her aggressive pursuit of donations from the wealthy attendees by saying, “Shouldn’t you be wearing a mask and carrying a gun?” (95)
Audra replies, “Too obvious” (95).
That the Barkley mansion presents as a well-appointed and immaculately maintained gracious and stately domicile, is due in large part to Silas, the house manager. Silas is very proud of his position within the household. Before the War of the Rebellion, he had always worked in “the big house” and states that he was always treated special because he belonged to the house. (100) When a young man chastises Silas by referring to his position in the Barkley household as that of a “trained hound” Silas retorts, “There ain’t no trained hounds around here, fella. Unless that’s what you call someone who works for a living.” (75)
In that same vein, Silas, having lived as a slave and as a freeman, understands the challenges of the post-war former slaves. He takes great pride in the fact that Joshua Watson is a famous rodeo rider and that his name appears in the Almanac. Silas notes that he and Joshua are the same because they are both black men, but “different as day is to night” as all of Silas’ life has been indoors, in “the big house,” while Joshua spent his days in the fields and never knew anything but “hard work and the whip.” Silas recognizes that while he has found acceptance and a home, Joshua is still searching for a place where he can “stand up as a man,” (100) and in doing so, be judged according to who he is, rather than his race.
The Barkleys are very fond of Silas and proud of his culinary talents. Victoria Barkley extols his chicken creole. (28) Nick relies on Silas to create the perfect romantic picnic and atmosphere for Nick’s current affaire de coeur. (83) Jarrod proclaims that Silas makes the “best scrambled eggs west of the Mississippi.”(7) Appropriately, many important discussions and decisions occur over the breakfast Silas has prepared for the family.