A Matter of Guilt (by Annie K Cowgirl)

Summary: A WHIB (what happened in  between) for the episode “A Matter of Circumstance”. Ben and Hoss worry and wait for word of Joe’s condition.

Rated: K+

Word Count: 975

(This missing scene would come in between the final two scenes of the episode.)


Some men have a knack for business; others for numbers. But not Little Joe. He has a talent of a different sort entirely: finding trouble wherever he goes! It’s gotten him into some mighty difficult situations over the years, but nothing we couldn’t handle as a family. Generally speaking, there’s always been someone there to get him outta the fixes he’s found himself in. Sometimes it’s been pa or Adam, but a lotta times that job’s fallen to me. It’s a task I’ve always taken seriously. I was good at it too, but this time…this time I failed, and it almost cost my brother his life.


It still could.


“You couldn’t have known,” pa said.


I shook my head. “I should have,” I replied, and I believed it. Ever since he took his first breath, Joe and I have been thicker than thieves, and when he got himself into a difficulty, I always knew it. Don’t ask me the why or the how of it, it’s just a gift. Whenever my little brother’s life is in danger, I get a funny feeling. That “feeling” has helped me get him outta more scrapes than a body could shake a stick at. It’s a sort of tugging sensation near my heart that I’ve learned to listen to over the years. This time though, I’d blamed that feeling on the rain. We’d had us a real old timey gully washer, complete with a pretty impressive show of lightning and thunder so loud that my ears were still ringing an hour after it blew over. The change in the weather had me aching all day, so I missed out on what my heart was really trying to tell me.


I should’ve known, I should’ve seen the signs. They were there, just buried underneath everything else. But I didn’t. And now my kid brother was busted up something terrible. He’d been hurt and alone in the house for days, and I wasn’t there to help him.


Restless, I stood and began to pace in front of the hearth. The grandfather clock struck twelve, a sound I had found comforting when I was a boy; it was anything but soothing now. The doc had been up there with Joe for well over three hours.


What’s taking so long?


I scrubbed a hand over my burning eyes, willing guilty tears back. “This is all my fault,” I whispered.


“Eric,” the use of my birth name caught my attention. I stopped pacing and looked into the serious brown eyes of my father. He sat in his red, leather chair, fingers steepled in front of him. “This isn’t your fault.”


I opened my mouth to reply, but he made a silencing motion so I held my peace. “Joe’s a grown man. He was born and raised on this ranch, and he knows the dangers. It was an accident.”


“But, Pa—”


“No, Hoss. You can’t predict the future. You didn’t know that this was going to happen. But if you want to blame someone, blame me. I knew that Jeb* was high strung and terrified of storms. I should have made sure he was secure in the barn before we left; I should have remembered that nervous animals are unpredictable and can be dangerous. I should have done a lot of things differently, but, son, there’s no point in you or I dwelling on what could have been or what we should have done. It happened, and we can’t change the past; we can only learn from it and move forward.


“It was an accident. It could have happened to anybody at any time. I won’t let you blame yourself for something beyond your control, and you know that Joe won’t let you do that either. So you’d best get that idea out of your head for once and for all, is that understood?”


“Yes sir,” I nearly choked on the words. “But, pa, his arm….”


He pressed his lips together so hard that they turned white.


Joe’s arm. I shuddered to even think about it. When we found him laying in the middle of the kitchen floor, unconscious, the limb was swollen up so bad I could hardly stand to look at it. If he lost it, it just might kill him. He was so full of life, always moving and doing. Taking his arm off would be like plucking the wings from a butterfly – cruel and unusual punishment.


Then again, I’d seen that medical book lying on the table and noticed the meat cleaver left on the counter. Joe was out of his head with fever when we found him, but he did mumble something about ‘amputation’. Had he been about to take off the limb his own self? I tried to shy away from the idea, but it stuck in my mind. If I had been in his position, could I have done it, even if it meant the difference between life or death? I wasn’t so sure. I was strong, but it took a whole different kind of strength to make such a choice and to follow through on it.


“We’ll wait and see what the doctor says about it. There’s no use borrowing trouble,” pa said, pulling me from my musings.


I hate waiting. Joe would say I’ve got the patience of a saint, but that only applies to everyday tasks like fishing and putting up with sassy, little brothers. Of course, anyone who could sit still for longer than five minutes had more patience than him. When it comes to life and death situations though, I’m antsier than a sinner in church. With a sigh, I settled down on the settee, eyes trained on the staircase – willing the doctor to appear.


“He’ll be all right, son,” Pa said.


I could only hope and pray that he was right.


~ Finis


Author Notes: I wrote this one-shot for a writing challenge on Bonanza Boomers called Bonanza Ballads. I was given the song title “Blame It on the Rain” by Mili Vanilli, and had to write a story using only the title for inspiration. This is what I came up with.

*The name of the horse that trampled Joe isn’t mentioned, so I gave him one: Jeb.

Tags: Angst, Ben Cartwright, Joe Cartwright

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Author: Annie K Cowgirl

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10 thoughts on “A Matter of Guilt (by Annie K Cowgirl)

  1. A lovely scene and it would have made a wonder follow on the the episode. You could feel Hoss’s tension and worry over his little brother. He was not only a big man, he also had a big heart.

  2. I saw this on bonanza. When Joe was taken care of this horse it. Got frighten by thunder believe it or not it was. His own Horse Cochise. Joe was just rubbing him down. Mj

  3. This was a nice scene with a Hoss and Pa moment. Hoss a very large heart, I could almost feel the pain in his heart. Loved this addition to the episode. I saw the episode and it was very intense. Thanks

  4. I enjoyed this little scene. Being as close as Hoss and Joe were, I can only imagine that Hoss would be so worried about what might happen.

  5. A very nice scene. I particularly liked the line: “Taking his arm off would be like plucking the wings off a butterfly.” What an apt and beautiful word picture.

  6. I’ve only read a couple of stories that have addressed those awful moments between finding Joe and the ending scene with the doctor summarizing what happened and why. It’s interesting that an early draft of the episode had dialogue at the end and it wound up on the cutting room floor (or was scrapped in a later draft). It would have been nice to have added your scene.

  7. This is a wonderful addition to the episode. After finding Joe like he was the waiting Ben and Hoss had to do had to have been excruciating. You captured Hoss and Ben very well in this scene. I found myself at the end staring at the staircase along with Hoss. Well done.

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