Rating: K WC 2500
Summary: Three short WHIB scenes for Vengeance written for the November fanfic challenge.
Disclaimer: I don’t own Bonanza or the Cartwrights. No copyright infringement is intended against Marion Parsonnet’s script. Original plot is property of the author.
Reviews from the Old Library are on the last page.
Reflections on a Gentle Soul
Adam sat at the small table and tried to work on the columns of numbers. They were all running together; much more of this and he knew he’d soon show the Ponderosa operating in the red. He pinched the bridge of his nose and tightly squeezed his eyes shut, partially in attempt to relieve his tension but also in hopes that when he opened his eyes his younger brother would be walking down the stairs.
A cold chill traveled along Adam’s spine, resulting in a brief shiver when it reached his shoulders. What was it Marie always called that? A frisson—she said it was caused when Death walked through a room looking for someone ready to leave this world.
He knew it was Mary’s accusation that tore into his brother’s soul. Hoss had said it was the way she spat “killed” at him as she cradled Willie’s lifeless body. Willie had never been prone to violence or outbursts, so his actions that day had been astonishing to everyone.
Adam knew he would’ve done the same thing as Hoss if he’d been in town that day with the result that Willie might have died at his own hand. Guilt wouldn’t change the fact that a drunk carelessly shooting bullets skyward had to be stopped before an innocent bystander paid for that kind of stupidity.
Witnesses said that Hoss wrested the gun from Willie’s hands and simply pushed the smaller man when he tried to take it back. Hoss knew his size was often an asset as that alone frequently intimidated people into backing down. When physical force was required, he’d pull his punches so his opponent was left dazed or unconscious rather than injured. His hands, calloused by years of ranch chores, could gently cradle a baby or twist an iron horseshoe into a new shape.
Adam remembered Hoss’ devastation as a boy when a delicate, bright blue robin’s egg fractured within the cocoon of his hands, leaving yellow yolk oozing between his fingers. Adding to his distress was Little Joe’s shrill screams that his larger brother had killed the creature within the shell. Marie gently cleaned the large boy’s hands and assured him that he hadn’t meant to break the egg, it was simply an accident. Adam remembered that his brother bawled for hours that day, convinced he’d killed the baby bird with his clumsiness. Hop Sing tried to help the boy regain his confidence by helping collect eggs from the chicken coop, but Hoss insisted that if he so much as touched one, it would shatter. Finally, the cook found a way to help his charge’s heart heal by asking for his help when a goldfinch flew into a window pane and was stunned unconscious. The two sat on the back porch, the boy gently cradling the small bird in his hand, stroking its bright feathers with a large finger, telling it everything was going to be okay, while Hop Sing softly recited what he said was a prayer in his native language. After several minutes, the bird began to awaken and take notice of its surroundings. Hoss’ face beamed in delight after his charge took flight back into the wild. The hands that broke a fragile egg had provided a safe haven for one of God’s little creatures.
While his mind was replaying memories, Adam saw himself as a frightened boy in a shack, holding tight to his baby brother while their mother fired a rifle alongside the men from the wagon train. After their guide, Rockwell, was shot, she decided she had to join in the defense of the station house. She’d placed Hoss in his arms for safe-keeping and then smiled grimly and confidently squeezed his shoulder. He could still see the steely determination in her normally cheerful eyes.
The noise within the small building had been close to deafening. Gunpowder created a thick haze and left an acrid smell wafting in the air. Adam remembered hearing the whooping and hollering of the Indians over the sound of bullets being chambered and fired. Even though he’d been a small boy, he protected his baby brother as best he could, leaning forward so any bullet or arrow would take his own life first.
One moment their mother was firing Rockwell’s rifle and the next she was screaming in pain, grabbing at her back. When she fell to the floor, he’d seen a deeply buried arrow and lots of blood. He could still remember frantically screaming over the noise of the guns for Pa to do something.
Adam, frightened that they’d all be killed and scalped, watched as the nicest lady he’d ever known died in their father’s arms. As Pa cried over her lifeless body, the boy vowed that he’d always keep his younger brother safe. And he had—until now.
Perhaps if he and Joe had left earlier, they would’ve been with Hoss when Red Twilight decided to avenge his brother. They shouldn’t have obeyed their father’s request for as long as they did. They saw how Hoss had been tormented by Willie’s death—they should have followed him at a distance, just in case.
Joe wanted to seek out Red Twilight and extract a pound of vengeance. Didn’t his younger brother understand that that’s why their brother was lying near death in his bed? Vengeance wouldn’t miraculously bring Hoss back to them. He hoped Joe would blow off some of that steam doing chores and let the law take care of Twilight.
Heavy footsteps on the stairs brought Adam back into the present. He opened his eyes, hoping that he’d awakened from a bad dream and it was Hoss he was hearing. Instead, it was Pa, face lined with worry, returning to the first floor. Adam hoped his father didn’t see what might appear to be disappointment on his face; he just wanted this nightmare to end and the gentlest man he knew to return from the precipice. His brother’s conscience was struggling with life or death—he hoped with all of his heart that life would be the choice that won.
Ben sat at Hoss’ bedside and tenderly brushed his son’s wispy, straw-like hair back from his forehead. Dr. Martin said that it was up to Hoss to choose life or death; the young man’s body was strong but Willie Twilight’s death was a hard burden for his soul to bear. Ben whispered his son’s name in hopes of receiving a response but no sound or movement answered him.
Adam would have probably acted the same as his larger, younger brother that day. Joe . . . well, Joe would have either convinced Twilight to holster his gun and reenter the saloon for another round or shot him in hopes of wounding him and ending the danger.
Heavy-hearted, Ben sat down on the hard chair and fought to hold back tears. His gentlest son had been shot in the back in revenge for a complete accident. If Hoss had meant to kill that day, he would have drawn his own pistol and shot the younger Twilight from a distance rather than trying to wrest the man’s gun from him.
He recalled when Joe arrived from Mud Creek with the terrible news. The sound of rushing hoofbeats rounding the barn briefly brought Marie to mind but Joe’s bellows of Hoss being backshot and a wagon being needed quickly dispelled the memory. One of the hands was dispatched to Virginia City for Dr. Martin while a team was hitched.
During their desperate journey to Mud Creek, memories of Inger during that fateful day at Ash Hollow had flitted through Ben’s mind. Everyone in the wagon train had rushed into the line shack and both men and women had prepared all of the weapons in case the Indians attacked. Inger had been occupied with comforting their sons and reassuring them that everything was going to be okay. When the gunfire began, he’d made sure that she and the boys were safely settled in a corner before joining the rest of the men in firing at the Indians in hopes of discouraging them from killing them all for Rockwell’s stupidity. During a brief lull as the Indians faded from view, he’d looked over to see Inger cradling their crying baby in her arms; she gave him a smile of confident reassurance just as the gunfire began again.
He’d had no idea his wife had left the boys to help the men defend the shack; why couldn’t she have just ignored her belief in doing her fair share of the work? It wasn’t until he’d heard Adam’s frantic scream that he turned and saw Rockwell breaking the arrow that was firmly lodged in his love’s back. As she died in his arms, the only sound was Hoss’ crying.
Before Rockwell left the shack to accept his fate at the Indians’ hands, Ben remembered the glare Adam had shot at the guide while he pulled Inger’s shawl away to reveal Hoss’ face. If the boy had chosen vengeance at that moment, he would have had to grab one of the guns from their fellow travelers’ hands to do it. His son was a crack shot at the tender age of six and could have slain Rockwell where he stood, but that wouldn’t have brought Inger back from the dead. Ben was thankful his son had chosen protecting his younger brother over revenge.
Hoss was a gentle soul, just like his mother. He cherished all life and believed that all of God’s creatures had a chance at redemption. Even as a child, he’d tried to persuade the ranch hands to let a mountain lion live as it had only killed to feed its hunger. His pleas had fallen on deaf ears and the boy asked that they bury the cat and mark its grave with a headstone; the men had complied with his request and a solemn funeral was held for the animal.
When the Paiute butchered Ponderosa cattle during winters in which game was scarce, it was Hoss who requested that they drive a few head to Winnemucca’s camp as a gift. He believed it wasn’t fair that the Indian families were starving when the Cartwrights had plenty to share.
Ben wiped the tears from his eyes and tightly clasped his hands together in prayer. If God could forgive Hoss for accidentally killing Willie Twilight, why couldn’t he forgive himself? Ben prayed that God would listen to his entreaty to give his son a ray of light to follow back to the safe harbor of his family.
Cochise raced for Virginia City, feeling his rider’s tense urgency. Joe held the reins tight yet loosely enough for his mount to have his head. They’d previously run with a mile-eating gallop from Mud Creek when Adam sent them back to the Ponderosa for help. Joe could still hear the echo of the gunshot that had his brother lying near death.
How could his father sit next to Red Twilight and not lift a finger to avenge this wrong? Hoss had merely been trying to prevent anyone getting killed by a stray bullet; now his biggest brother was dying while Red Twilight lived without care. Pa said there wasn’t any proof that Twilight was connected to this. All the proof they needed was that Red Twilight showed up in town three days after Willie’s death and Hoss was backshot on the fourth—it couldn’t be a coincidence.
Joe’s anger was fueled by the close bond he shared with his older brother; if that bond was cut, life would never be the same. His mother left, followed by Pa and then Adam, but Hoss was the one constant. Adam taught him how to shoot a rifle but it was Hoss who took him along on hunting trips. It was Pa who put him to bed but it was Hoss who comforted him when nightmares tormented him. When Adam was away at college, it was Hoss who kept the memories of his oldest brother alive so his brother wasn’t just another face in a picture frame.
Both Pa and Adam occasionally talked about the Indian attack that killed Hoss’ mother. Joe and Hoss didn’t know all of the details, but they knew she’d been shot in the back because of someone like Willie Twilight who’d endangered everyone in the wagon train with his stupidity. The pretty lady in the picture by his brother’s beside hadn’t deserved to die and neither did his brother.
Before leaving for town, Joe had sat by his brother’s bedside and pledged an oath to kill Red Twilight. If neither Pa nor Adam would lift a hand, he would. The law couldn’t guarantee that Twilight would get what he deserved for backshooting an innocent man. Pa and Adam put too much stock in the law; sometimes a man had to defend and protect his own outside of the law’s safe boundaries. Besides, the Bible justified it with that verse about an eye for an eye; Twilight had plucked one from the Cartwrights so now he had to be blinded. It didn’t matter to Joe that Pa said if people lived by that verse alone the entire world would soon be sightless; even logical Adam would have to admit that God couldn’t be wide of the mark when it came to a man seeking to avenge a wrong against his own blood.
Joe passed Mary on the road. She was as guilty of pulling the trigger as Red Twilight. It was her accusation that weighed down Hoss’ soul.
When Joe reached town, he was going to find Red Twilight, corner him like the rat he was, and then tell him he was going to die for trying to kill an innocent man. Hoss might be dead before Joe could get home but Joe wasn’t going to see his brother put in the ground while Red Twilight still lived. Joe had promised Hoss and that was a promise he intended to keep.
Other Stories by this Author
- Terror Stalks the Night (by Patina)
- A Mouthful of Regret (by Patina)
- A Woman Cloaked in Scandal (by Patina)