Summary: “To the world you may be one person; but to one person you may be the world.” ~Dr. Seuss~
Rated: Family Friendly / Word count: 1131
Little Donny Berlough had always been a quiet boy. So timid and unassuming was he, that if it wasn’t for the fact that each day sixteen bowls were set on the long wooden table, sixteen pieces of chalk were laid out on the rough pine desks, and sixteen candle stubs were made ready for evening chore time, the proprietor might think he only had fifteen boys to look after.
During most afternoons, when the other boys, healthy and strong, would be out tumbling in the fields, climbing trees, or causing some sort of mischief, frail Donny would climb the rickety ladder up to a remote corner of the barn loft. There he would sit for hours, carefully examining his few treasures and reliving his fondest memories. Puffing from the exertion of his climb, the first thing he reached for was the smooth stone he’d kept for the last two years. Lying back on the stale straw, he would gently roll the stone around in his hand until his breathing evened out.
“Here you go, Donny.” The voice would come back to his mind as full and rich as the last time he’d heard it, and he’d let his mind go back to the day when Hoss Cartwright had taught him to skip stones across the water. “Why don’t you try it?” Little Joe had encouraged, and Donny would smile as he remembered the man’s laughter. He’d slipped that stone into his pocket, the first and only gift he’d ever been given, not counting the pair of dark wool socks the nearby nuns contributed once a year to the orphans at Christmas time.
Still struggling to breathe, now from the sweltering heat rather than the climb, Donny set the stone back on the window sill and reached next for his bits of chalk. If the proprietor ever found out that he’d secreted away the broken chips, he’d be in for a thrashing, or a day of isolation in the cold room. Thoughts of such cruel punishments made Donny glad that no one ever seemed to notice him. Looking nervously over his shoulder, the young boy listened carefully until fully satisfied that he was alone in the dilapidated building. Still cautiously, as if the old barn owl might give him away, Donny reached beneath the straw and pulled out his greatest possession. He nearly rubbed his hands raw against his trousers before he dared touch the stark white piece of paper. A whole piece, and like he’d done every day for the past month he stared at it, imagining all the different types of pictures he could draw.
One of his earliest memories, before he’d even been able to talk, was of sitting in the tall green grass near a pond. There had been a young man with slick backed hair and a mustache and a beautiful woman with dark curls and a pink flowered dress. The man had spoken softly to him and chucked his chin, and the woman had smiled and gently stroked his cheek. Donny liked to imagine they were his parents. They could have been, though no one had ever told him how he’d ended up in the orphanage. It seemed he’d always been there.
Once, on a day when Donny had been feeling strong, he’d followed some of the older boys a long way through the woods. The boys had passed a small waterfall that mingled into a slow flowing river. Donny had found a large boulder near the water and had been sitting for hours when the Cartwrights came upon him. They were on their way to Sacramento, and were going to camp for the night near the river. For some reason, Donny hadn’t told them the truth about who he was or where he was from, only that he’d been given permission to spend the day in the woods. It was the best day Donny had ever spent, and the desire to never leave these kind men had driven him to stay much longer than he should have. The stars were shining brightly by the time he’d started back, but having never traveled that way before, he lost his way. The proprietor had found him shivering in the shelter of some large rocks the next morning. Donny shivered now as he remembered the wrath that had followed.
Picking up a tiny blue piece of chalk, he nearly started to draw the waterfall when another memory stayed his hand.
“Look at all those stars, Donny.” The deep yet comforting voice of Ben Cartwright floated through his consciousness, joined next by his oldest son Adam. “You know, sailors use the stars to guide them.” Donny had always liked that thought. Maybe, just maybe, someday the stars might guide him somewhere far from this place. Suddenly, Donny new what he should draw, and during the next hour he used up every bit of color he’d managed to hoard. It was the sound of the dinner bell that startled him back to the present, and taking one last longing look at his picture, he carefully slid it beneath the straw.
One week later, on a dreary Sunday morning, the county doctor rode into the yard of the orphanage, and it was less than a half hour later that he left shaking his head. From his bed, Donny listened to the sounds of the carriage leaving the yard. The doctor had talked quietly to the proprietor, but Donny had heard enough to know he would be leaving this place soon. He was weak from coughing and his head ached, but slowly, he lowered his legs over the side of the bed. He couldn’t die without seeing his treasures one last time.
On Monday morning, they found Donny’s body curled up in the old loft. Clutched tightly in his fist was a smooth stone, and lying beside him was a crudely drawn picture of four men. A soft smile on the boy’s lips testified of a peaceful passing. The proprietor, in an uncharacteristic display of kindness, had the boy’s treasures buried with him, and that night thousands of bright stars lit the sky.
On Tuesday, fifteen bowls were set on the long wooden table, fifteen pieces of chalk were laid out on the rough pine desks, and fifteen candle stubs were made ready for evening chore time.
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