It's a cold, cruel world, but a few people sometimes brighten it. Here are four such -- Good Samaritans who helped out at exactly the right moment, and in exactly the right way.

The Exxon Dealer: "My name is Roy Stokes, and I am an unemployed carpenter," begins the letter. In an effort to drop the "un" from that sentence, Roy was driving from his home in Arlington one February day to a job interview in Rockville.

But he hit a pothole, which quickly flattened one of his front tires. Unfamiliar with the area, Roy limped down Nebraska Avenue, turned a corner, and arrived with a sigh at an Exxon station at 4224 Wisconsin Ave. NW.

After such a hard ride on the rim, Roy writes that his tire looked like "a punk-rocker's jacket." His pockets weren't in such good shape, either. He had all of 20 cents, and all of $20 in his checkbook.

But Dennis Lewis, the owner of the station, calmly said, "Let's have a look at the spare." It, too, was flat. But Dennis plugged it, sealed the plug and helped Roy mount it on his car.

Which meant it was Reckoning Time. But Dennis made that moment short and sweet. His bill: No dollars and no cents.

"If I had a flat tire, a flat spare, no job and no money , I would hope that somebody would help me out," said Dennis. How's that for Samaritanship?

The Amoco Dealer: It had been a fruitless search for Ethel W. Loeb of Frederick, Md. She had been hunting up some friends who live at River House in Arlington. But they weren't listed on the register in the lobby. So Ethel stopped at Fred's Amoco, 1625 Wilson Boulevard, to see if she could find them in the phone book.

Her fingers having walked, and her friends having been found, Ethel hopped back in the car and started to leave. But in the process, she backed right into the front window of Fred's and shattered one of the panes.

Fred Cox "could not have been nicer," Ethel writes. He calmly took her name, address and phone number, and said he'd take care of it.

What Fred really could have taken care of was Ethel's savings. A glass cutter wanted $300 to replace the pane. Fred could have agreed, and could have hung Ethel with the bill. But he thought $300 was so outrageous that he replaced the pane himself -- for $38. Ethel paid that sum without a blink.

"Gee! I can't believe she called you! Usually people just call to complain," said Fred.

"I just treat people like I want to be treated," he added. "I have a couple in college, so when somebody comes in, I think to myself that one of my own could be in a similar situation." the golden rule lives!

The Giant Driver: No one wants to have a blowout on the Beltway. And if you're going to have one, no one wants to be a woman alone, on a cold February night, in a Volkswagen with an anemic heater and no lug wrench.

But all of that is what happened to Patricia Combs of Cheverly. However, Joseph Francis Auth Jr., a truck driver for Giant Food based in Jessup, Md., came to the rescue in style.

First, he stopped to see what the trouble was -- which was more than dozens of other motorists bothered to do. Second, he radioed his home-base dispatcher and asked him to call for help. Third, he invited Patricia to wait in the truck cab with him until help arrived, since he had a heater worthy of the name. And fourth, he stayed for more than an hour, until 2 a.m., when the police finally showed up.

"Mr. Levey, I can't begin to tell you what a lifesaver this man was," Patricia writes. I think "saint" might be a better word, Patricia.

The Forgotten Purse: It was the Friday evening before Easter, and Gwenda Ayers of Arlington was in a holiday mood. So on her way home, she stopped at Peter's Flowerland, a shop near the Farragut North Metro escalators, and bought three Easter lilies -- one for herself and one for each of her sisters. Counterman David Bondareff wrapped them up, and Gwenda was off.

It wasn't until the phone rang that night that she realized how absent-minded she'd been. An Arlington County police officer was calling to inquire if Gwenda would like her purse back. Seems she had left it on a ledge beside Peter's Flowerland -- with $500 in cash inside.

However, all the money was still there, thanks to David Bondareff and to three security guards at the nearby Connecticut Connection: Gene Webb, Russell Stephens and Patrick Ricks. The four men turned the purse over to D.C. police, who turned it over to Arlington police, who tracked Gwenda down, even though she had moved recently.

"Is $500 a lot of money to you?" I asked Gwenda.

"A lot of money ? That's the rent!" she replied. Not only did none of it disappear that evening, but it was back in her hands a mere three hours after Gwenda had left it behind. I'd call that pretty snappy service.

Here's to four "Good Sams." May you spawn many imitators. County police officer was calling to inquire if Gwenda would like her purse back. Seems she had left it on a ledge beside Peter's Flowerland -- with $500 in cash inside.

However, all the money was still there, thanks to David Bondareff and to three security guards at the nearby Connecticut Connection: Gene Webb, Russell Stephens and Patrick Ricks. The four men turned the purse over to D.C. police, who turned it over to Arlington police, who tracked Gwenda down, even though she had moved recently.

"Is $500 a lot of money to you?" I asked Gwenda.

"A lot of money ? That's the rent!" she replied. Not only did none of it disappear that evening, but it was back in her hands a mere three hours after Gwenda had left it behind. I'd call that pretty snappy service.

Here's to four "Good Sams." May you spawn many imitators.