Summary: In the midst of a drought, Ben witnesses a miracle, from a most unsuspecting source
Rated: G (2,360 word)
A Handful of Faith
“This drought is going to be the end of us,” Ben Cartwright muttered as he shook his head gently from side to side. “The wells are drying up, the herds are getting nervous, needing water…some of the farmers are going to lose their crops; some of their cows have stopped giving milk, why even the pasture grass is beginning to dry up, not to mention the creeks. I fear flash fires more than anything, Hop Sing…especially with very little water to dose them with.
“It not rain in many days, more than a month, Mr. Cart’lite,” Hop Sing, the Cartwright family’s Chinese cook responded. “Not good, Hop Sing agree.”
The two stood on the porch of the massive family home and glazed up into the sky. It was clear as the blue lake water just miles from the dwelling, and the sun beat down on them like a hot skillet over an opened blaze.
Ben dabbed at his brow with his neckerchief. “Whew…to dang hot for man or beast,” he breathed softly.
As he and Hop Sing stood together, twelve-year old Hoss suddenly appeared from the barn with a bucket in his hand. Ben watched as his middle son dipped the pail into the watering trough, filling it to the top.
“Hoss!” Ben called aloud as he rushed forward in the direction of the surprised boy.
He suddenly regretted his impulsive move, for Hoss, startled, turned quickly and spilled the precious liquid onto the ground. The dry, packed earth reacted to the wetness as a sponge as it sucked the water from the top of the ground, deep into its bowels.
“Now look what you’ve done!” Ben said in a tone that bordered on anger.
The young boy glanced up at his father; his crystal blue eyes brimming with unshed tears.
“I’m sorry, Pa…but ya scared me…”
Ben’s anger resolved instantly, seeing the remorse in the tear filled eyes. He smiled down at the boy, placing a reassuring hand on the lad’s shoulder.
“I’m sorry, son, I didn’t mean to frightened you. I guess this oppressive heat it getting to me. Where were you going with that bucket of water? Don’t you remember what I told you last week about not wasting it?” Ben asked in a much gentler tone.
“Yessir, I remember…I’m sorry I wasted it…I didn’t mean to spill it, honest.”
Hoss’ lower lip puckered slightly. He was unsure if he wanted his father to know exactly what he was doing or where he was going with the bucket of water. His father might not approve, and if that happened, Hoss would just die of a broken heart.
Ben continued to smile. He leaned down, looking deeply into the troubled eyes and could easily see that Hoss was trying to avoid answering his question. No real harm had been done, so he decided to let the matter drop.
“I know you didn’t mean to, Hoss…but please…whatever you were going to do with the water…don’t. We can’t spare a drop; look at the sky…there isn’t a sign of rain anywhere up there. It could be days, weeks maybe before it does rain, so we need to be extremely conserving in how we use the water we do have…do you understand?”
Hoss, his head hung low, nodded. “Yessir.”
“Good boy,” Ben said.
He placed his fingertips under the quivering chin and tilted Hoss’ head upward, smiling.
“Why don’t you pick up your bucket and take it back to the barn? It will be suppertime soon and we don’t want to keep Hop Sing waiting.”
“Alrighty, Pa,” the boy agreed. He returned his father’s smile, pleased that his father had not pushed for an answer to his question.
Quickly, before his pa could change his mind, Hoss grabbed the bucket and ran back to the barn. Ben stood watching and smiling and then turned toward the house. Hop Sing had disappeared from the porch and from the racket inside, Ben could easily tell that the kind little servant, a trusted family friend, had his hands full with Ben’s youngest, most notorious six-year old little boy. Ben laughed softly, picturing in his mind, the goings on taking place inside the house.
“Better save Hop Sing, before Little Joe gets blamed for ruining supper…again!” he snickered as he pushed opened the front door.
“Do you think it will ever rain again, Pa?”
Ben laughed softly as he pushed back his chair from the desk and moved to look out the window. Adam stood on the opposite side of the desk, impatiently waiting for an answer to his question. His father seemed pre-occupied with what he was watching and paid no attention to his question. Adam signed deeply.
“Pa, did you hear me?”
“Oh,” Ben muttered, turning to face his oldest son, Adam. “I’m sorry, son, I was just watching Hoss, I wonder what’s he up to now?”
Adam joined his father at the window and together they watched Hoss who stood at the watering trough, cupping his hands and dipping them into the water. Once he had his hands full, the boy glanced around, as if he were expecting someone to be watching him, and then he’d disappear around the corner of the barn, moving with care so as not to spill the contents he held in the palm of his hands.
“Who knows,” Adam said, disinterested as he turned from the window. “You didn’t answer my question,” he stated.
“I didn’t hear what you asked, Adam.”
“I said, you reckon it will ever rain again?” the young man stated in a more stern tone that revealed his displeasure at being ignored.
Ben eyed his son, not sure if he liked the tone of voice Adam was using, it seemed a bit too condescending to for his liking, but he attributed it to the heat, for today was another scorcher.
“Now…Adam…what do you think? Of course it’s going to rain again…someday,” Ben answered as he turned back to the window.
Outside, Hoss had returned to the watering trough and was scooping up another handful of water. There couldn’t be more than a tablespoon or two in the core of each palm, Ben pondered. The boy repeated the same procedure; he scooped, scanned and then ran. Ben’s curiosity was mounting.
“Someday,” Adam muttered. “When is someday?”
Adam turned and left his father staring out the window. He had more important things to tend to other than to watch Hoss playing in the water trough.
‘Child’s play,’ Adam whispered, giving himself over to the other things more pressing. ‘I have better things to do, like find Little Joe and take him fishing! Maybe we’ll even go for a swim, up at the lake!’
For several long minutes, Ben remained at the window watching his middle son. After a while, when Hoss had disappeared for the umpteenth time, Ben slipped out the front door and hid himself behind the pillar on the side porch so that he could get a better idea as to what the boy was doing. Twice more the inquisitive father watched the strange goings on. When Hoss slipped silently behind the barn once more, Ben took advantaged of the boy’s absence and moved in for a closer peek, being sure to stay out of sight.
Hoss returned, scooped up a handful of water, scanned to be sure he wasn’t being watched and scurried away. Ben crept softly from his hiding place and quietly followed his son as Hoss darted in and out around the trees and bushes. The thick undergrowth snagged at his shirt and pants, but Hoss seemed undaunted by nature’s reluctance to stall him from succeeding in his endeavor.
When the boy, so obviously on a secret mission, stepped into the small clearing, Ben knelt down behind a thick growth of bushes. His eyes opened wide; a smidgeon of fright suddenly filled his heart as he felt the urge to cry aloud to warn his son to move away.
Lying on the ground in a makeshift bed of pine needles was a young fawn, speckled with small white dots. Standing over the fawn was its mother. The doe watched the boy move close to her baby. From just a few feet away, a buck, with antlers wide, the soft velvet covering was gone and the horns had been primed to a glossy white by many hours of rubbing against the trunks of trees, snorted softly but stood as still and silent as the man watching the miracle unfold before him.
Ben’s heart seemed to have leapt into his throat. When he glanced at his hands, he saw that they trembled. His desire was to stand and shout, to frighten away the dangerous buck and the anxious doe, but watching his son and hearing Hoss whispering soft words of comfort to the obviously thirsty and perhaps dying fawn, he refrained. Any sudden movement might have devastating affects on both the boy and the animals.
As Hoss held his hands out to the fawn, and Ben watched the tiny creature lap the droplets with its tiny tongue, a feeling of pride swelled his chest. He forced down the knot that tightened his throat and though he was unaware that he did so, Ben Cartwright smiled.
When Hoss rose and moved cautiously from the clearing, Ben’s misty eyes watched as the boy ran toward the trough once again. Ben moved from his hiding place and followed his son back to the yard. He watched Hoss cup his hands and scooped up a hand full of water. His lecture of the day before became vivid in his mind as he recalled reprimanding the boy for spilling the bucket of water and of the waste of the precious liquid. Ben understood now why Hoss had not spoken of his mission or asked his father to help him.
As Hoss stood and turned, he came face to face with his father. The anxious expression on the young rotund face vanished and was replaced with a look of guilt.
The boy’s blue eyes instantly filled with tears, his chin began to quiver. His only words were spoken so softly that his father was unsure that he had even heard the boy speak.
“I ain’t wastin’ the water, honest, Pa.”
Ben, his throat thick with emotion, could only smile as he placed his hand down on his son’s shoulder. He nodded his head and swallowed.
“Hold on just a second, son,” he said and quickly disappeared into the barn.
Moments later he returned, carrying a shallow pan with him that he dipped into the trough and filled with water. Slowly, as not to spill a drop of the prized liquid, he held the pan out to his son.
Hoss’ eyes widened as he took the pan from his father’s hands. He had expected his father to be angry with him, but in stead he saw love and compassion and understanding in the dark eyes that looked down at him. Puzzled, Hoss smiled slightly.
Together, father and son walked slowly toward the back of the barn to the little clearing. As they neared the spot where the deer had bedded down, Ben stopped. Hoss paused and glanced up at his father.
“Go on son, this is your undertaking…water the fawn and leave the pan for the others. Just be careful.”
Hoss’ face lit up and when he grinned, the happiness and pride shone in his eyes.
“I will, Pa…I promise.”
Ben watched again, amazed at the sight that unfolded before him. Carefully Hoss placed the pan on the ground in front of the fawn. The fawn slowly raised its head and began to lap at the cool water, hungry to satisfy its thirst. The doe waited patiently for her offspring to drink and then shyly moved forward to drink her fill. As Hoss backed away, the buck inched forward, caution glowering in his dark almond eyes.
Standing side by side with his father, the pair watched the buck lower his massive head. The deer drank thirstily. Ben touched his hand to his son’s shoulder. Hoss raised his head to acknowledge the touch. His father nodded his head toward the house, indicating that they should leave.
Both took a last look at the small family of deer. The fawn had gotten up and seemed to be watching Hoss has he moved slowly away. Ben felt rather than saw the tender smile that spread across his son’s face.
The miracle he had witnessed brought tears to his eyes. Then quite unexpectedly, he felt the tiny, cool drops falling from heaven and brush against his face. It was as if God was weeping tears of joy for the gentleness and tenderness that the young boy had exhibited to His creatures.
Hoss must have felt the droplets as well. He glanced up, grinning broadly.
“Look, Pa…it’s starting to rain! I just knew it would…I knew it would!”
“It’s a miracle, but not the first today…”
“What do ya mean?” Hoss probed.
“I saw something extraordinary today, Hoss…I saw my son meet God’s creatures in a way that I’ve never seen a man do before. You have a gift, son…a kind heart and gentle spirit…trusting in all things, both big and small. You shared that gift and much more today…you shared our water with those that hungered for it, you showed yourself to be a friend, one whom the animals of the wild can even trust. You are an amazing person…I’ve so very proud of you, Hoss.”
Ben glowed with pride. They stood together in front of the trough, now rippling with raindrops from heaven. As he looked into the water, Ben saw not just his own reflection, but that of an abiding angel in the face of his own offspring; and as he gazed deeper into the water, Ben caught a glimpse of another face…was it the face of God smiling back at them?
Ben reckoned so…he’d like to believe that it was…slowly Ben scooped up a handful of the refreshing water…a handful of faith.