Summary: A What Happened Instead/What Happened in Between for the episode A Question of Strength.
Rated: K+ Word Count: 1,466 (Includes one instance of mild language and mentions of violence)
A Question of Mercy
Hoss Cartwright dropped the rag he had been using back into the basin of lukewarm water and sighed. Wearily, he glanced down at the prone figure laying on one of the lumpy way station bunks; every minute or so, the man’s body would twitch, and then a low moan would follow as the slight movement pulled at his wound. It seemed that no matter what Hoss did to prevent it, the stranger’s fever kept on rising, and, he knew that it would continue to rise until the bullet was removed.
Iff’n he don’t die first, he thought.
“Dadburnit.” Hoss muttered under his breath. It wasn’t as if he had to take care of the fella; in fact, he had every reason in the world to turn a blind eye and allow him to succumb to his injury, but he just couldn’t do that. He’d never liked seeing anyone in pain: not man, nor beast…not even a no good thief like the one he was now tending.
If it wasn’t for the wounded outlaw, Hoss and the two nuns he had been traveling with on the stage, would have been well on their way to Denver right about now. Instead, after the bandit and his partner had caused the stagecoach to crash—in which the driver had been killed—they had proceeded to take everything that they could find of value from the passengers. The pair had then left their three victims high and dry in the middle of nowhere.
The big man grimaced. His feet hadn’t appreciated the fifteen mile walk that he, Sister Mary Kathleen, and Mother Veronica had been forced to make in order to reach the next stage stop. Riding boots weren’t exactly the best footwear for hiking across the country, and boy howdy did he have the blisters to prove it!
Once they had reached the deserted way station, instead of finding help, they discovered one of the self-same men who had held them up lying unconscious on a cot in the back room of the building. Yep, God surely did have a rare sense of humor.
Hoss ran a hand over his face; he winced as he felt the rasp of his five-o’clock shadow against his palm. Unless someone had left a spare razor lying about, he was going to be sporting a healthy growth of beard before the hostler returned from Owl’s Point.
Wonderful, he thought, ruefully.
A sudden wave of fatigue settled across Hoss’ shoulders like a hundred pound sack of horse-feed. He was dog tired, and that spare bunk under the window was looking mighty tempting. However, he had only just sent Sister Mary Kathleen to bed with the promise that he’d care for the thief so she could get some much needed rest.
With a muffled grunt, he forced himself to his feet. If he couldn’t sleep, he might as well see about getting a cup of coffee and maybe some fresh water to help keep the outlaw’s fever down. He grabbed up the porcelain washbowl, and slipped out of the bedroom and into the larger chamber beyond that passed as both the kitchen and the dining room.
To his surprise, Hoss realized that he was not the only one still awake. Mother Veronica was sitting in a medium-sized green chair, staring into the fireplace. Sensing she was not alone, she looked up as he entered the room.
“How fares the bandit?” she asked.
“He’s worse, ma’am.” he replied.
“I’m sorry to hear that.” she said.
“I am too.”
The nun fell silent as he tossed out the warm water and then used the indoor pump to refill the basin. He set the bowl aside and reached for the coffee pot. Mother Veronica must have brewed a fresh pot, for the urn was nearly full. Grabbing two tin cups, he filled them both with the dark liquid, and then made his way over toward the hearth.
“Thank you.” the prioress murmured when he handed her one of the mugs.
He nodded and took a sip from his own cup, savoring the warmth that permeated his body from the drink. The weariness that had plagued him moments before seemed to slough off of him like snakeskin, and he was suddenly more awake than he had been in a long time. Hoss knew one thing for sure: that nun surely could make a damn good cup of coffee!
For a short spell, the odd pair drank in silence—enjoying the beverage and watching as the flames undulated upon the hearth, but it wasn’t long until the thoughts that had been nagging at Hoss’ mind got the better of him.
He took another swig before screwing up his courage. “Mother Veronica,” he said, shifting his weight from one foot to the other, “are you sure there ain’t nothin’ more you can do for him?”
An irritated look flitted across her face at his question. “Yes, Mr. Cartwright, I am quite sure.” she said; her annoyance rang out loud and clear. “The best thing would be to wait for a doctor to examine him.”
Hoss set his cup down on the rough-hewed log that passed as a mantelpiece, and stuffed his large hands into his pockets. “Ma’am, the hostler ain’t gonna be back with the horses for another couple of days. The nearest doc in these parts is in the next town over—a two day ride from here. All in all, that man’d be goin’ about four days without treatment; and if that fever of his keeps risin’ at the rate it has been…well, I just don’t think he’s gonna make it.”
She glanced at him. “Then that will be God’s will.” she stated. “Because of him and his friend, the hospital that was to be built in Denver will never be anything more than a dream. And many innocent people—people who could have been saved with the proper medical treatment—will die as a result.”
Hoss rocked up onto his toes and then back down onto his heels. He was not, as a general rule, an argumentative man, but he couldn’t help but whisper, “What about mercy?”
“I beg your pardon?” Mother Veronica said, a frown marring her features.
In for a penny, in for a pound, he thought, and knew, now that he had started, he had to finish. “Ma’am, I’d never presume to preach to you, but it seems to me that somewhere in the Good Book it says, ‘recompense to no man evil for evil.’*”
She arched an eyebrow as a bitter smile tugged at the corners of her mouth. “It also says, ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’*, Mr. Cartwright.”
“Yes’m, I know. But iff’n we lived by that law, I reckon the whole world would be blind and toothless*.” his voice was soft as he added, “And the good Lord also said, ‘Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father is also merciful.’*” He took a deep breath. “Ma’am, I know that that hospital means an awful, awful lot to you, but if that bullet isn’t taken out now, that man in there is gonna die. Iff’n that happens, there’ll be no possibility of retrievin’ your ten thousand dollars. Are you really gonna let your anger and bitterness keep you from savin’ a man’s life—even if he is your enemy?”
A long silence followed, which was broken by a low, muffled groan from the back room where the injured bandit lay. Mother Veronica’s shoulders slumped as the pitiful sound took the wind from her sails. “Mr. Cartwright,” she murmured, “you are enough to try the patience of a saint.” She set her coffee cup down on a nearby table, and took a second to straighten her veil before looking Hoss in the eye. “But, there is truth in what you say. I still firmly believe that it would be better for a trained doctor to see to the wound, but if you truly think that he will not live long enough to be seen by one, I will do what I can for him.”
Standing, she fetched her medical bag that had been placed against the far wall of the chamber. That done, she glanced up at him, a faint twinkle in her eyes. “Now, if you have finished with your sermon, would it be possible for you to aid me in this task?”
Hoss smiled a true, genuine smile for the first time in hours. “Why, of course, ma’am. I’d be proud to.”
Written and expanded from my entry for February 2017’s Pennings from Prompts challenge on Bonanza Boomers.
*A loose quotation of Exodus 21:24
*A loose quotation of Martin Luther King, Jr.: “If we do an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, we will be a blind and toothless nation.”
All Bible quotes come from the King James Version.
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters and settings are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. No money is being made from this work. No copyright infringement is intended.
Other Stories by this Author
- Last Minute Miracle (by Annie K Cowgirl)
- Epilogue: The Quality of Mercy (by Annie K Cowgirl)
- Of Love and Loss (by Annie K Cowgirl)
- A Father’s Gift (by Annie K Cowgirl)
- A Howl in the Night (by Annie K Cowgirl)