Summary: Angels come in all sizes.
Word Count: 1250
Hoss leaned over the counter and spoke softly to the proprietor of the mercantile. “Who’s that lady over there?”
Mr. Brown dropped his voice and replied, “That’s Mrs. Weems. She has a passel of children and a pretty bare cupboard when it comes to cash, but I must say she pays for what she buys; ain’t ever asked for a penny of credit.
“All those youn’uns in the wagon outside hers?” Hoss had seen the wagonload of children waiting patiently outside as he entered the store. They appeared to range in age from about fourteen to three. Their clothes were clean but repeatedly patched, and some wrists stuck out past shirt cuffs. Still, most of the faces contained smiles, and their young voices had called out pleasant, “Good mornings.”
“Yeah, all eight of them. Will that be all today?” Mr. Brown had begun to calculate the bill for Hoss Cartwright’s purchases.
“Yes, um, I mean no, no, it ain’t. I need you to make up a big sack of candy. You put in a couple of handfuls of every kind ya got in them jars.”
“I know you’ve got a powerful sweet tooth, Hoss, but that sounds more like the Ponderosa’s gonna start handing out sweets with the pay.”
“It don’t go on the Ponderosa bill. I’ll be paying for that before I leave. Uh, and when that Miz Weems makes her purchases, you slip in an extra ounce or two of each thing she buys, ya hear. This should cover it, shouldn’t it?” Hoss had taken out his wallet, and he laid several bills on the table.
“More than cover it, but…”
“Just don’t you go saying nothing to the lady.”
“Mums the word, but…”
Thanks! Now if ya would get me those sweets.” Hoss waited while Mr. Brown gathered the candy. He took it from the storekeeper and walked quickly over to Mrs. Weems. Tipping his hat, he smiled and said, “We haven’t been introduced proper, ma’am, but if you’ll excuse me being forward, are those your children out in the wagon?”
“Why, yes,” replied Mrs. Weems slightly taken aback by the sudden appearance of the large man. Then concern flashed onto her face. “They haven’t caused any problem, have they?”
“No, ma’am, why that’s just it. There they were just being good as gold and smiling so as to bring sunshine into the day. It purely sweetened my day just saying hello to them, so I was thinking to myself that I’d like to sweeten theirs. Of course, I told myself, ‘Now, Hoss’ — that’s my name, ma’am, Hoss Cartwright — so I said, ‘Now, Hoss, you got to get their ma’s permission first.’ It being only proper, so that’s what I’m doing now.”
“Permission for what?”
“Why to give them kids some candy. You wouldn’t mind that, now would ya?” Hoss’ voice was almost cooing, and his smile was a fair imitation of the one his little brother used to wheedle every lady he met. “Ya could make ‘em wait ‘til after supper to eat it if ya must, but ya wouldn’t tell me I can’t give ‘em none, would ya? That would plum ruin my day!”
“No, I…, no, I don’t see as how I could say no.” Mrs. Weems felt slightly flustered, and then she realized she had been neatly maneuvered into accepting charity for her children with no need to feel humiliated by that fact.
“Why, thank you, ma’am. Do they have to wait?” The last question was delivered with a little-boy look that pled for a denial.
“No,” she laughed softly, “No, they don’t. And thank you, Mr. Cartwright.”
“My pleasure, ma’am, truly my pleasure!”
Alice Weems looked into the young man’s eyes and accepted the fact that he spoke the simple truth. “Give it to Ed, my eldest, and he’ll see it’s doled out proper.”
“That I will, ma’am. Now you have a good day.” Hoss tipped his hat respectfully and left the store with a whistle on his lips.
When Alice Weems left the store, she heard the excited voices of her children.
“Mama, mama, look, look.”
“Mama, have you ever seen…”
“Mama, that man, look how much…”
“Mama , Ed says we have to save some.”
“There’s enough here for days, Mama, tell them.”
Alice shushed her children. “Let me see,” she instructed her eldest son, who placed a sack heavy with candy into her hands. She gasped. Each of her children was already chewing candy and holding at least one more piece.
“I let everyone pick three pieces, Mama,” Ed intoned officiously. “If we each have three pieces a day, why, think how long it will last.”
“He gave you this whole lot?” Alice’s voice was still incredulous. “Some candy, some candy… Alice Weems, you’ve been had!”
“Yes, Mama. He said it was ‘cause we’d been good. How’d he know we’d been good?” Emmy Weems asked around a lemon drop.
“Maybe he’s Santa, Mama. Do you think he’s Santa?” Sammy piped up sucking on his licorice.
“Santa comes at Christmas, silly. It ain’t no where near Christmas.” This was Maddie’s contribution.
“It’s good as Christmas, Maddie. Ain’t it, Robby?” The only answer Timmy received was a vigorous nod; Robby’s mouth was totally filled by a green sourball.
“No, he wasn’t Santa, Sammy. His Name is Mr. Cartwright. Mr. Brown says he and his father and brothers live on a big ranch called the Ponderosa.”
“I heard about the Ponderosa, Mama,” Ed spoke swelling up with the importance of having information to offer, “They’re real important folks, and they say all the girls are looking to catch one of them.”
“Ed!” Alice’s voice was sharp, and she gave her oldest a pointed look. “Well, if Hoss Cartwright is the one to judge by, the Cartwrights are fine and generous folk. He certainly is.” Several of the older children nodded their agreement. Alice Weems’s gaze traveled over her children. “Now, you weren’t so busy putting candy in your mouths that you forgot to thank him.”
“We thanked him, Mama. We all thanked him, even Jay,” Kitty said pointing to the three-year-old.
Alice nodded her approval. “Now, I want you to remember how a fine person acts. Take Mr. Cartwright as an example. Someday I expect you to repay him by doing the same for someone else.”
“You mean when I gots money, I should buy somebody else candy?” Timmy’s face looked both puzzled and slightly disappointed.
“Not exactly. Someday, when you have something that can bring joy to another, you should share,” Alice instructed. “Do you all understand?”
Eight heads nodded. Alice handed the candy back to Ed. “You’re right, son; three pieces each a day should be about right. That way the pleasure will last.”
Ed took the candy and straightened to his tallest.
Alice climbed onto the wagon and began the trip home. When they arrived, all the children quickly scrambled toward the house or barn except eleven-year-old Cindy. She sat still and quiet. Then she looked at her mother. “I thought maybe he was an angel, Mama. Like the preacher talked about, angels coming unaware. But if he lives on a ranch, I guess, he ain’t an angel.” Cindy’s eyes held disappointment.
Alice reached out and brushed her daughter’s cheek. “There’s more than one kind of angel, honey. I imagine some of them could live on a ranch.” Then she smiled at her most serious child. “Where do you think he hides his wings?”