Riches (by Sandi)

Category:  The Big Valley
Genre:  Western
Rated:  PG
Word Count:  1000

Rachel Caulfield moved the faded curtain aside that covered the small window, which looked out on the tiny lot at the back of the little cabin she shared with her friend Leah Thomson and Leah’s six-year-old son, Heath.  She smiled as she watched the tow-headed youngster stoop over a cluster of yellow dandelions that grew numerous in a small patch of grass by their well.  Little Heath furrowed his brow in serious concentration as he chose carefully the prettiest dandelions to be presented later to his mama when she arrived home after working yet another ten-hour day at the Strawberry Hotel.

Rachel herself didn’t work outside of the home, being of advanced age and hindered by her nagging arthritis.  No, she stayed at home mostly and kept an eye on Heath, unless she was down at the Meeting House attending to her spiritual needs which was about three times a week.  Yes, Rachel was a good woman.  A spiritual woman, who tried hard to inculcate real spiritual values into her young charge during the daytime hours she watched him while his mama slaved away for a harsh employer. It didn’t matter that it was her brother and sister-in-law who made her toil so hard for so little.  They, too, were good Christian people, or so they claimed.  Problem is, they let their “righteous over much” attitude dictate how they treated their own kin, who had sinned.  Yes, sinned.  Leah was without a husband and yet she had produced a child. Both her brother, Matt and his wife, Martha, had lorded it over Leah and thrown her sin back in her face every chance they got ever since the day they had learned she was with child.  Their brand of Christianity was hot and fiery, like being scrubbed with lye soap.  Out of the goodness of their black hearts, they had given Leah work inside their hotel but the work was back breaking and tedious.  Under the hawk-like eye of Martha, Leah scrubbed and polished and cleaned in areas where the dust would filter right back into its place behind her.  Martha was never satisfied and was given to belittling her sister-in-law, calling her lazy and sloppy.  Still, what was a soiled woman to do in a dying mining town?  Leah had no choice but to stay under the heavy hand and harsh lips of Martha for the pittance she received to keep both herself and her son alive.

Rachel continued to watch the boy as he raised his head and looked towards the west and the setting sun. His eyes seemed to take on a faraway look.  His serious gaze stole part of her smile away as Rachel thought to herself how this child was so very serious about far too many things.  Only six years old and his childhood had been stolen from him by responsibilities and duties that aided in their little family’s survival.  Sure is was only four hours a day working down at the livery but those four hours put bread on the table.  And yet it was those hours that were stealing something too.  Was it innocence?  Laughter?  Time?  Time taken away to just be a child?  And then there was school.  Being a student should bring home new wonders revealed in books and people and places.  More often than not, it brought home cuts and bruises and blackened eyes.  It seemed that even children of tender years could develop a mind-set that was strict and unyielding, calling for united action in purifying the scourge from within their midst.

Rachel shook her head sadly as she turned from the tiny paned window.  When was the last time that she really saw this little one laugh?  Really laugh.  Rachel sighed as she pulled three potatoes from a bin beside the wood box.  Potatoes again.  Rachel couldn’t help it when her thoughts again drifted to the young child outside.  Oh how she worried about the boy.  He was so thin.  How could he possibly grow strong when meat on the table was often a mere dream?  Shush Rachel.  You hush your mouth now, she scolded herself.  The Lord has provided for this family up until now and will continue to provide if that is Thy will.

The waning sun had left only random streaks of orange when Leah approached the crumbled walk of their cabin.  She had walked slowly home, her back aching from working most of the day scrubbing the cracked marble floor of the once opulent hotel.  As she came closer to her home however, she felt new energy possess her, knowing that her boy, her sweet boy Heath, her golden child, would be there waiting for her.

“Mama!  Mama, I missed you.”  Leah smiled down at him.  His words of endearment, a healing balm to her heart.

“Mama!  I have a present for you.  See?  Aren’t they beautiful mama?  They’re yellow. Your favorite color.”

“Oh, they’re beautiful son.”  Leah carefully took the bouquet of drooping grass nuisance from Heath’s small hands.  Putting her nose to the yellow weeds, she inhaled deeply and smiled.  “Thank you Heath.  You are my thoughtful boy.”

“I love you mama.”

“I love you too, my child.  My sweet boy Heath.”

To some folks like the Simmons or like the parents of the children whom Heath was to be educated with, this gesture would have been something unimportant and soon forgotten. To Leah Thomson, however, she treasured those little flowers long after they had withered to nothing.  It wasn’t the gift that was presented that was important.  No, rather it was the purpose behind the gift.  Genuine, unbridled, unhindered love.  A love a son has for his mother.  This little family may never have rich material means, but they were richer than most in the important thing.


***The End***

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