Word Count: 2380
“Hoss…I’m telling you…there’s something wrong with that colt.”
“Naw…it’s just your imagination, Little Joe…” Hoss answered, studying the week old colt closely.
“Suit yourself,” the younger Cartwright said, turning and leaving his middle brother alone with the chestnut mare and her new baby.
Hoss scrunched up his face giving Joe’s back a hard glare before turning again to the stall where the mare and her offspring were kept. “Come here,” he said to the mare as he held out a handful of sweet smelling hay.
The little mare turned, almost causing the little colt to topple over as she held out her soft velvety nose and sniffed the offering in the gentle giant’s hand. While she nibbled at the hay, Hoss watched the colt, concerned about what he was seeing.
The little colt was searching for his mother’s milk, but instead of turning to the mare, the colt turned the wrong way, bumping its head into the side of the stall and then turning in the opposite direction, he did the same thing.
“Over here, little fella,” Hoss said.
The white-socked colt raised his head as if listening.
“Over this way…here’s ya mama…” Hoss said softly, watching the colt respond to the sound of his voice.
When the colt was within reach of its mama, he sniffed at her and then instinct replaced what Mother Nature had not given the little animal. The colt quickly began to nurse.
“Well, I’ll be,” Hoss, muttered low, not expecting that his father had been standing behind him, watching the proceedings.
“Hoss?” Ben said.
Hoss spun around at the sound of his name and then grinned at his father. “Ya ought not sneak up on a man like that, Pa,” he said laughing nervously.
“Sorry son, but you were so deep into whatever you were doing that you didn’t hear me calling out to you…so…what’s happening here? Little Joe said there seemed to be something wrong with your new colt?”
Ben peeked into the stall where the colt was happily nursing its mother. As far as he could tell, he couldn’t see anything wrong.
“Aw…you know Little Joe, Pa…he’s too quick to jump to conclusions…” Hoss had suspected that the colt wasn’t up to par, but he hadn’t mentioned it to any of his family. And then earlier that afternoon, Joe had come upon him and the colt and had recognized right off that the colt was…was…
“Hoss?” Ben said softly, touching Hoss on the arm.
“It ain’t nothin’, Pa…really…the colt…will be fine…”Hoss said, stumbling slightly over his words. He wasn’t fully convinced either way about the colt, but he wasn’t going to tell his pa what he really suspected was wrong the little fella…at least not yet…not until he actually had too, he knew what his father would expect him to do…and he just didn’t have the heart to destroy such a fine specimen of horseflesh all because the poor little thing couldn’t…couldn’t…
“Are you sure about this, son? You know that if any animal on this ranch is suffering in any way…and we’re absolutely sure that nothing can be done to prevent the suffering, it’s best to put the animal down and….”
“NO! I mean…yessir…I understand that, but Pa…look at ‘im…he ain’t sufferin’, not one iota!”
Ben studied the new colt closely and finally nodded in agreement.
“Well, he certainly doesn’t seem to be!” Ben agreed. “Alright then, Hoss, I’ll trust your judgment on this…best get ready for supper…”
Hoss smiled, though for him it was strained; he hadn’t actually lied to his father, but deep within his broad chest, beat his heart that whispered to him that he hadn’t been totally truthful with his father either. “I’ll be in shortly, Pa…”
Ben smiled, wondering about the worried expression that dashed across his middle son’s face, convinced that something was not as it should be. He decided right then to wait…Hoss with his open honesty and willingness to please would come to him, when he was ready, until then, Ben would only wonder at the sadness in the usually clear blue eyes.
It was a couple of days later that Ben found his son rummaging around in the tack room, seemingly searching for something.
The big man jumped from the unexpected noise and twirled around, his hands behind his back. “Oh…hi ya…Pa!” he said with a look that told his father that the gentle giant was definitely hiding something.
Ben grinned; his middle son was like an opened book. He tried to peek behind the big man’s back, but Hoss turned sideways, keeping his secret for a bit longer.
“Ya need me for somethin’, Pa?”
“No…not really. Adam asked that I remind you that tonight’s the night the two of you were riding into town to…”
“Oh yeah…shoot…I plum forgot,” Hoss said, looking worried. “Tell him I’ll be ready to go in a little while…there’s sumthin’ I gotta do first…that is, iffen ya don’t mind, Pa?”
“No…no, I don’t mind. Hoss…do you need help…doing whatever it is you’re intending to do?” Ben asked, wondering what it was that Hoss was holding behind his back.
Hoss, his blue eyes wide, shook his head. “No…no…thank ya Pa…I can take care of it…” and then turned a little white when the sound of tinkling bells dingled softly from behind his back.
“Hoss…is that…bells I’m hearing? Do you have bells behind your back?” Ben moved to see better the thing Hoss held behind him and when he glanced up at his son, he saw Hoss swallow hard and wrinkle his brow.
With lips puckered and a guilty look washing over his rotund face, Hoss moved his hands around to the front and held up a strip of the jingle bells used on the harnesses in wintertime.
Ben almost laughed outright at the strange look Hoss wore as he held the bells up in front of his father.
“What on earth?” Ben asked. “It wasn’t snowing, son that last time I looked,” Ben teased.
“Aw…dadburnit, Pa…I know it ain’t snowin’!”
Laughing, Ben reached out and took the bells from Hoss’ outstretched hand and held them up looking at them. “Then why these?” he asked, wiggling the strap in order to make the bells jingle.
“I need ‘em…that’s why…well…what I mean is…I need…one of ‘em…just one, Pa…one.”
“May I ask why?” Ben said, looking doubtful.
“Sure, Pa…ya can ask…but…well sir…I’d just as soon not say…right yet. I…mean…well…I was aimin’ on tryin’ sumthin’ first…”
Hoss’ expression was so intense that Ben found himself at a near loss for words. He handed the bells back to his son. “Alright…I’m curious to say the least, but I’ll wait until you’re ready to share your…secret with me,” he answered and then laughed lightly at the relief he saw shoot across the young man’s face.
“Sure…I’ll go tell Adam you’ll be ready to go in a bit…”
Ben turned to go but paused at the door of the tack room and looked over his shoulder. Hoss had his back to his father and was busy removing one of the bells from the leather harness. Curiosity was beginning to gnaw at his belly, but he refrained from asking more questions. Surely Hoss was on a mission!
It wasn’t until two days later that Ben was to find out about Hoss, his secret mission and the lone jingle bell. He was riding out to the main pasture to check on the spring foals when he happened to find Hoss leaning against the fence watching his mare and her new colt.
“Oh, hi, Pa!” Hoss beamed, turning to welcome his father.
Ben slid down from his saddle and leaned across the fence in the same manner as Hoss was doing. For a long moment, neither man spoke but stood in companionable silence watching the small herd of horses.
And then the distinctive sound of a jingling bell could be heard carried across the pasture on the tails of the gentle wind. Ben straightened up, listening, watching and trying to find from whence the sound came.
“Hoss…do you hear that?” he asked, turning to his son.
Hoss’ grin was spread across his face. His blue eyes sparkled with pleasure and when he spoke, his father sensed a certain air about his son. He gave Hoss one of his looks, asking without putting to voice his question.
“Ya see, Pa,” Hoss began to explain. “That new colt of mine…the one Little Joe’s been jawing about somethin’ being wrong with it…”
“Looky over yonder,” Hoss said, pointing across the field.
Ben turned to study the horses, spotting the mare and her colt. “I see them…”
“Well, ya see, Pa…Little Joe was right about that colt…he’s…he’s…blind…”
“BLIND!” Ben practically shouted, silenced into disbelief.
Ben watched the mare and her colt closely. It seemed impossible; the colt was following along with its mother as if he could see clearly. Hoss must have been mistaken.
“Son…are you sure? That colt is following along perfectly…”
“I’m sure, Pa,” Hoss said as the smile began to fade. “I know I should have told ya…”
“Yes…you should have, son. A blind horse isn’t much use on a working ranch. He’d have to be put down…”
Hoss turned to face his father. Worry etched into his brow as he tried to explain his reasons for not having told his father.
“Pa…ya ‘member that jingle bell you found me gettin’ from the tack room the other day?”
“Well sir, what I went and done with that bell was to attach it to that mama’s halter. That way, whenever she moved around, it jingled…and the little colt knew right where his mama was. Look…see…there she goes now…she’s headin’ for the barn…she how she goes just so far and stops to look back to see if her baby is followin’?”
The smile had returned once more to the big man’s face.
“I wasn’t sure it would work…but it does…see…there he goes…right after her. Every time he hears the jingle bell, he goes toward the sound and there’s his mama!”
Ben watched more closely. Sure enough, it was as his son had stated, everywhere the mare went, her baby followed. Ben smiled as he placed his arm about Hoss’ massive shoulders. “Son, how on earth did you know to do that?”
Hoss looked into his father’s eyes; the smile faded and a serious look of concentration replaced it. “You taught me, Pa.”
“Me?” Ben asked, confused. “I don’t understand, son.”
“Well, Pa, its like this…when I was a kid…and everyone else used to tease me about my size and how mad it made me and how I’d wish I’d been more like them…you told me that God never made mistakes…that in everything and everybody he created a plan. I wasn’t perfect to them other kids, but to God, I was special…’cause I’m just me and just because I was a big ol’ ugly…Hoss…God didn’t throw me away. It’s the same with that colt…God doesn’t throw us away just because we are not perfect or because we have problems or challenges. He watches over us and even brings others into our lives to help us when are in need.”
Hoss took a deep breath and continued.
“Sometimes we are the blind horse being guided by the little ringing bell of those who God places in our lives. Other times, we are the guide horse…helping others…that mama will watch over her son just like you watched over me when I was a little kid, and like God watched over His son…your bell…led me down the right paths, Pa…in a manner of speakin’,”
Ben sighed deeply as pride in his son began to swell his chest. He was forced to clear his throat before he spoke.
“Son…” Ben’s words faltered as he found it difficult to speak what was in his heart.
“Pa…you don’t gotta say anything…ya done said it…back then…back when ya was trying to teach me about how God loves us no matter what our faults might be…when ya taught me that God loves all His creatures…even little blind ponies. I ain’t sure what’s gonna happen to that fella, Pa…once he ain’t got his mama to lead him about…but ya once said to me… ‘Don’t bargain for trouble…we’ll cross that bridge when we get there’…so until then…can we just listen to the jinglin’ of the little bell? That little pony might not see his mama…but he knows she’s always there…”
Hoss watched his father’s expression with anticipation. Ben had to swallow again to clear the thickness from his throat. When he spoke, his tone was low and filled with humble admiration for the young man standing before him, a young man in whom he held a wealth of respect.
“Yes son…we’ll leave the bell in place because it’s a symbol akin to God’s presence in our lives…we might not be able to see Him…but we know He’s always there, if we listen with our hearts. I’m proud of you, Hoss…you’ve listened well and your actions speak for themselves…you’ve left me in awe and with a feeling of having accomplished a task that God set before me.”
Hoss grinned at his father, though it was a might hard to see his face clearly with the tears that clouded his vision. If his father was referring to his task of raising three rambunctious boys to manhood…then yes, as far as he was concerned, Ben Cartwright was a success…with God’s help of course and the sound of a jingling bell to guide his way.