Hoss in Charge (by BettyHT)

Summary:  A tale of a brother hurt because of a dastardly plot.  The brothers in the story are left intentionally vague so that Hoss is the focus throughout. Written in honor of Dan Blocker’s birthday 2013.
Category:  Bonanza
Genre:  Western
Rated:  PG
Word Count:  5944


 

“Dang fool! Why’d you hafta run out there like that? You shoulda figured it out. You shoulda known they was after you. Now you just better hang on, ’cause Pa ain’t never gonna forgive me if I don’t get you home safely.”

Snapping the reins then to get the team moving, Hoss looked down at his brother leaning against his side. His eyes were closed, and he looked like he was peacefully asleep except for that wad of Hoss’ shirt tucked against his stomach and already half soaked with blood. They had been bushwhacked only a few miles from the Ponderosa. Those men had picked a great spot, but Hoss had been suspicious. He had one of those feelings that something just wasn’t right and had pulled the team to a halt to look ahead. The first shots had missed, but there had been no room and no time to turn the team around. They both had jumped from the wagon loaded with sacks of grain and barbed wire to hide behind its considerable bulk. But their assailants had started to move and would have caught them in a deadly crossfire if they didn’t do something.

“Oh, yeah, you had to say I was too big a target, and you were faster too. So you asked if I was ready, and when I said I was, you took off. Well, I wasn’t ready. Dang fool rifle jammed up after that one shot. I’m really sorry. I know you needed that covering fire, but they left as soon as you were down. So they were after you, not me. If I’d run out there, you woulda covered me, and we wouldn’t be in this fix now.”

As his brother started to slip to the side, Hoss reached out and grabbed him by his jacket. “Oh no, you don’t. You just lean into me like this.” Finding that his brother was about as compliant as one of Hop Sing’s wet noodles, Hoss wrapped an arm around his shoulder and pulled him against his own shoulder. “There now, you just lean on me. You know you can.”

Hearing his brother moan, Hoss pulled the team to a stop. “You awake now? Just tell me what you want.” Leaning close to his brother’s mouth to better hear what he was mumbling, Hoss sat back with a pained expression. “Now you gotta know I can’t give you any water. Not with that belly wound. Them damned things is bad enough without any more going in you. We gotta see first how bad it is. Now I can give just a cap full to rinse around your mouth. I’m so sorry but that’s all I can do for you. I’d let you lie down in back but them feed sacks ain’t gonna be comfortable for you, and if I pull it all out, you’ll be laying on bare wood, and there ain’t no springs on this wagon either. Thank the Lord, you and Pa put springs on this seat. It’s a sight more comfortable than it would be if you had to bounce hard with every bump in the road. This is a lot smoother, so you lean into me again, and we’ll get you home.”

Carefully settling his brother against his side with an arm around his shoulders once more, Hoss picked up the reins, moving slowly so as not to jostle his brother any more than necessary. A light snap of the reins and the team headed toward home again. When Hoss saw some of the hands in the distance, he signaled to them and several rode to him. “I want two of you to go into town and get the doc. My brother needs help as fast as possible so don’t spare the horses. Tell the sheriff too, and tell him we need a posse.”

Every slight gasp or low moan made Hoss’ heart break a little more. His brother was in such terrible pain and he could do nothing about it. He wanted to go faster, but with that bullet still in his brother’s gut, all that bouncing could do even more damage. So despite the bleeding that was a problem in itself, he had to go slowly enough not to make it worse. It was excruciating. When Hoss finally saw the smoke from the chimney of the ranch house, he involuntarily sped the team up until a sharp twitch and groan from his brother let him know that had made things worse. He slowed the team to its more deliberate pace and his brother calmed again.

“Pa, hey Pa, come out here!” Hoss boomed out the command as soon as he neared the house.

Hoss saw the door open but it wasn’t his Pa who came to help him. “Pa got called to the timber camps. Oh my God, what happened?”

“We got bushwhacked just after the crossroads where those boulders are piled so high on either side of the road. I told Pa we oughta dynamite those damn things. It’s too damn easy for some damn jaspers to lie in wait for you there. Now that you got the team tied off, help me with him. He’s got a bullet in his belly and he’s hurting real bad, so be careful.”

Hoss’ use of epithets made the dire situation all the more clear. Hoss would never talk like that unless he was scared. The two brothers got their wounded sibling in the house and into the downstairs bedroom. Hoss didn’t want to carry him up the stairs, for he groaned in pain with every movement. With Hop Sing’s help, they got the wounded man undressed and cleaned up as much as possible. The blood flow had diminished somewhat with pressure applied to the ragged wound. If the doctor did not arrive soon, Hoss was afraid they might have to do something to stop the bleeding. He sat at his brother’s side with his bloodstained hands holding a thick compress to his brother’s middle. “When’s Pa due back?”

“There was some trouble with the cutting schedule or something. He’s not supposed to be back for a couple of days.”

“You better send somebody for him. This ain’t looking too good.”

It was a very long two hours until Hoss heard Doctor Martin’s carriage come into the yard. Soon, Paul was in the bedroom and quickly laying out the contents of this bag as Hop Sing brought in a bowl of hot soapy water and more bandages. “Just keep that pressure on it, Hoss, until I’m ready. Hop Sing already gave me the basics. I know I’ll have to get that bullet out and then see what kind of damage it’s done. I have to tell you it looks scary with that dark blood. His liver may have been hit.”

If Hoss could describe the sensation at the doctor’s words, it would have been that his heart stopped, because that was exactly what it felt like. He knew that a belly wound could be fatal because of infection, but a shot in the liver as far as he knew was always fatal. “Doc, is there anything you can do for him?”

“”I’ll let you know as soon as I know.” With that Paul had Hoss leave the room and Hop Sing closed the door.

Sitting out in the great room with his other brother for only a minute, Hoss heard horses and knew Roy must be there with some men. He walked out to greet them and gave a quick succinct version of what had happened. “I’m going with you, Roy. Those men tried to kill my brother, and I’m gonna track ’em down for you.”

“Hoss, I know you’re the best tracker hereabouts, and even better than your brother, but you can only come with us to find these men and bring ’em in. You can’t go out there to kill them.” Roy had seen the look on Hoss’ face and was afraid of what he planned to do. Hoss still had on the shirt without the sleeves and blood on his arms and the rest of his shirt.

“I’ll go with you, Roy, and I’ll follow the law, but you gotta know if they was to shoot at us, I’m shooting back, and if I send one or two on to their just rewards, I ain’t gonna feel bad about it.”

“Fair enough. I know I can trust your word.”

“Hoss, maybe I should go and you stay. He’ll feel better hearing your voice than mine. Pa ain’t gonna be back until tomorrow, even if he gets word today.”

“Nah, he loves you a lot more than you think sometimes. You stay with him when the doc’s done. I’m a better tracker than you, and I know exactly where they were. I’ll be back as soon as I can. You make sure he’s still here when I get back.”

“Hoss, you know if there’s anything I can do, I’ll do it. But there isn’t much more that I can do except pray.”

“Then pray. It might just be what makes the difference.”

After grabbing a clean shirt, bed roll, and provisions, Hoss went to join Roy and the posse, who had moved away to let the brothers talk privately.

*****

“Looks like three men, Roy. I see three sets of tracks. Now there might have been another over behind those rocks, but there’re no tracks there. I know there were shots coming from there at us but it might have been one of these men who moved over there. There are shell casings there, so they lit out of here without collecting their brass.”

“So they probably didn’t mean to rob you. Men who do this for a living pick up their brass.”

“Roy, we were carrying a load of barbed wire and grain. This was never a robbery. They meant to shoot my brother. As soon as he was down, they left. He wasn’t moving, and they must have thought he was dead.”

“Any idea who it might have been?”

“I saw him in what looked to be an argument with Jonas Blake in town, but he didn’t say nothing about it afterwards. He didn’t say much of anything on the ride. Let’s follow these tracks now.”

With Hoss leading and giving instructions, the posse headed to the crossroads and then west. Soon two of the riders split off, and it was then that Hoss confirmed that it was three riders. One continued west. His horse had one shoe with a deep gouge in it and that was how Hoss was following them so easily even on a fairly busy road.

“Well, Hoss, I’m gonna take half the men and follow these two tracks. Will you take charge of the other half and follow the third man?”

“I’ll do that, Roy.”

“And Hoss, remember what we talked about. No killing.”

“Yeah, I know. Now let’s get moving while there’s still enough light to track.”

Several miles down the road, the one rider left the road too. It was going to be even easier to track him then, but no one with Hoss thought that tracking was likely to be necessary. He was riding cross-country on a direct path to Jonas Blake’s ranch. As the posse neared the ranch, shots rang out causing them to scramble for cover. Hoss sent two men to the left to circle around if they could. He and the other man took positions behind trees and sent some covering fire into the ranch. When they heard a baby crying, they stopped shooting.

“Now what, Hoss?”

“I don’t rightly know off-hand. Let’s wait and see what happens next.”

The four men were able to get positions all around, but Hoss told them not to fire unless fired upon. He expected that, at some point, Roy might come in with the rest of the posse if they heard the shooting. Every now and then there was a shot from the ranch. They did not return fire, for it seemed that the shots were more warning than anything else. As it got dark, Hoss ordered the men to see to their horses one at a time. The men retrieved their canteens and provisions as well as their blankets, for it would likely be a cool night. Roy did not come that night, and there were no lights at the ranch.

By morning, all four men were stiff and cold as well as irritated that they had to spend the night doing nothing. Hoss went to each of them before dawn with his plan, though. As soon as there was a hint of light on the horizon, he signaled to the men to advance with stealth to the ranch barn. He was guessing that Jonas would have either fallen asleep or would be very drowsy by this point. He was correct in his thinking. As he neared the barn, he could see a rifle pointing out of the door. He moved cautiously in that direction, but Jonas must have been alerted by something, for he jumped up and pointed the rifle at Hoss who had his own rifle pointed at Jonas’ chest.

“Well, if it ain’t that other damn Cartwright. We shoulda killed you too. Looks like we got ourselves a little standoff here. One of us ain’t gonna be alive soon.”

“Not a standoff if you look behind you.”

With a quick glance, Jonas saw the other three men with rifles. “Don’t matter to me. They’re gonna hang me for sure for killing your brother.”

“He ain’t dead yet. Now you put down that rifle and nobody else needs to die today.”

“Won’t matter. I’m going to prison or to hang.” With that, he started to swing the rifle around toward Hoss, and all four men in the posse fired. Jonas was dead before he hit the ground.

“Don’t worry, Hoss. We’ll tell the sheriff you did everything you could to get him to drop it. Not your fault he wanted to die today.”

“I just wish I knew why he did it. We’ve been nearly neighbors for years. Except for those years he was in the War, he was at parties at the Ponderosa and acted like a friend. I ain’t got no idea why he wanted to kill my brother. Well, I suppose it’s up to me to go to the house to talk to his wife.” Hoss dreaded that talk for he knew she had given birth just a few weeks before. He walked slowly to the house and climbed the steps to the porch as the door opened.

“Is he dead?”

“Yes, ma’am, I’m so sorry.”

“I’m not. He was a miserable man since he came back from the War. I’m better off without him.”

Noticing then that Melissa had bruises on her face, Hoss had to ask. “Ma’am, did he hit you?”

“Well, you don’t think I did this to myself, do you? Yes, he hit me, and yelled at me, and tossed me around here whenever he got the chance, but that’s all over now. Me and my baby are safe now. I oughta be thanking you. I thought your brother would kill him, but it’s just as well you did.”

“Why did you think my brother would kill him?”

“Well, he went out to kill your brother after he wouldn’t pay him the money he wanted.”

“Ma’am, I’m confused. Why would he think my brother ought to give him some money?”

“Well, ’cause I told him that your brother was the father of my baby. Jonas couldn’t do what men do ever since the War ’cause of how he got injured, so he knew it wasn’t his baby. When I told him it was your brother, he figured to get some money from him. I knew your brother wouldn’t pay though.”

Shocked into near silence at her statements, Hoss had to ask again. “How did you know my brother wouldn’t pay?”

“’Cause he ain’t the father, of course. You oughta know your own brother better than that. But he is darn good with a gun, so I figured if Jonas went after him, he’s kill Jonas for me.”

“Who the hell do you think you are? My brother is lying in a bed gut shot because of you. I oughta take my pistol and shoot you.”

At that point, Roy entered the house. He hadn’t heard the conversation, but he had heard Hoss bellow from outside and knew he had to intervene. “Hoss, you need to go outside now. I’ll talk to Mrs. Blake.”

Unwilling to leave at first, Hoss finally exited when Roy put a hand on his shoulder and mentioned that his brother could use his support and wouldn’t get it if Hoss was in jail. Then Roy turned to Melissa and talked with her. Finally, after about an hour, he walked outside.

“Jonas has been beating her pretty regular. He couldn’t father a baby and wanted to know who the father of that baby was. She said your brother ’cause she figured in a gunfight, Jonas would be killed. She didn’t reckon him bushwhacking him. Now, Hoss, I know you’re upset, and if I could arrest her for lying, I would. But she didn’t break no law. He did, and he already paid for it.”

“Who is the father?”

“One of the hands. Seems they got together when Jonas was off to the war. She didn’t expect him to make it back. The other two are already back in town in my jail. They admitted what they did, said Jonas told them just to fire to keep you pinned down ’cause he wanted to take the kill shot, as he called it. Now you need to get home to your brother, and know that I been praying mighty fierce that he’s gonna be all right.”

Almost reluctantly, Hoss mounted up. As he rode back to the ranch, he wondered how he would be able to tell his family that his brother was shot because a wife was unfaithful and thought to use his brother as a means to rid herself of her husband. Well, it had worked out for her in the long run, but Hoss also dreaded what he might learn when he arrived at his home.

*****

As Hoss walked in the house, he saw Paul Martin talking with his father. He walked over to get the news and from the expressions on their faces, he knew it was bad.

“He’s lost too much blood with the wound and then the surgery. I repaired everything, but now it’s up to God. He’s on the edge right now. Any setback will be too much, and you know that a fever and infection are likely.”

“Don’t say it, Paul. Don’t you dare say it. He’s gonna make it. He has to make it.”

Nodding with profound sadness in his eyes, Paul walked to the kitchen to get the promised coffee and breakfast. He hadn’t slept at all and was exhausted. It was so draining to have to work on one of your friends, and then to tell such news to his family was even worse. Paul wished there was some way that a person could get more blood when they lost so much. He knew of the experimentation with blood transfusions and even transfusing goat’s milk, but he didn’t know how to do any of those. Cases like this made him feel incompetent, although when he was being more logical, he knew it was fate, not his skills, that had led to such dire conditions for his patient.

After cleaning up thoroughly, Hoss went in to sit by his brother. His father was already there, and Hoss could see how this kind of thing aged his father. He looked beaten down as he sat there. Hoss didn’t have the heart to tell him the whole story. He had only said the man who shot his brother was dead, and the two who helped him were in jail. He was glad his father had asked no questions. Now they sat and watched his brother’s chest rise and fall ever so slowly and so little.

“Hoss, I’m afraid the end is near. He’s been fighting so hard, but now he’s slowing down. I can see it.”

“No, he ain’t. You ain’t now, are you. You can’t leave us like this. You gotta fight. You’re the most stubborn man I ever did know. Once you got your boot heels dug in, you never did give up. You can’t give up now.” Hoss grabbed his brother’s hand and began massaging the back of it. He talked on and on but saying the same thing as he urged his brother to fight and not give up. He put his hand on his brother’s chest then, and Ben could see the pressure he was exerting.

“Hoss, Hoss, don’t push so hard. You could cause him pain.”

“Pa, he’s gotta know I’m here. He’s gotta feel me. Now I ain’t letting go of him until he opens those eyes and looks at me. He’s gotta fight, Pa. Don’t you see? He’s gotta fight, and he ain’t got all the strength he needs so I gotta help him. Pa, I gotta help him.”

Paul had walked to the door and watched as he sipped his coffee. He heard the exchange and watched Hoss in action. What he had not expected was the reaction from his patient. “Hoss, Ben, look at him. He’s turned just a little toward Hoss. He knows he’s there.”

As both Ben and Hoss looked, they saw the movement they had prayed for. They called his name and got no reaction, but as Hoss massaged his chest and squeezed his hand, there were almost imperceptible movements in his face. His lips opened just a bit and it appeared his eyelids flickered a little. Paul stepped in then and took Ben’s spot, leaning over to check heart rate.

“It’s back up a little. It’s still too slow, but it is stronger. I didn’t think it was in the realm of the possible for that to happen. Hoss, whatever you’re doing, don’t stop.”

Talking for most of the day, Hoss was hoarse and needed so much to use the necessary and get something to eat. But his own discomfort was secondary in his mind to the purpose that drove him. He wouldn’t leave his brother’s side until he opened those eyes. Ben sensed his needs, though, and brought him a sandwich cut into small pieces and then brought the chamber pot to him. Hoss was able to keep talking and keep his hand on his brother’s chest through it all.

As night fell and the lamps were lit, Ben could see that Hoss was ready to drop from exhaustion. “Hoss, lean back in that chair and close your eyes. I’ll help. I can talk. I heard what you said, and I’ll keep saying it too while you get some rest. If there’s any problem, I’ll wake you, I promise.”

Reluctantly, Hoss did as his father asked. He didn’t want to do it but knew he was nearing complete exhaustion. Paul came in on occasion to check vital signs. There had been no more improvement since earlier, but there was no weakening of his heart rate or breathing either. He was fighting, as Hoss had encouraged him to do all day. Paul, Ben, and Hoss spent a long night doing the same.

As morning came, three men who needed a shave and sleep in their beds were sitting together wondering if there was more they could do when Hoss turned suddenly. “Did you hear that?”

“What?” was the simultaneous question from Ben and Paul.

“It sounded like he tried to say something.” Hoss leaned down close to his brother. “I’m right here. I ain’t left you for a minute, although I did get some sleep in that chair. Now if you got something to say, I’m right here.”

Eyelids flickered and then slowly opened. Paul watched in shock because he had to admit he never thought to see those eyes again except clouded in death. To see them open was a miracle of some magnitude in his book. Hoss was leaning very close to his brother, murmuring words of encouragement to him. Ben leaned in on the other side.

“Pa’s here too. Here, let me turn your head so you can see him.”

With tears running down his face, Ben leaned in close to his son. “You hang in there now. You fought hard so you keep fighting hard, and we’ll be here to help you as much as you need.”

The only answer was a blink of the eyes, but it was enough. They knew he understood. Paul had gone to get the other brother who had taken care of everything else as his father and Hoss were busy. During the night, he had periodically come to the room to sit or to bring food and drink as needed. Now he could come in and enjoy the hope that permeated that room. Paul went to get Hop Sing to prepare liquid for his patient. Filling a nursing bottle with the mixture, Paul returned to his patient and handed the bottle to Hoss.

“Tip it to his lips and let just a spoonful drizzle into his mouth. If he can swallow, he will. If he does and wants more, he’ll open his lips again.”

Slowly, Hoss was able to get him to drink a cup of liquid, which was mostly tea and sugar. It was clear that it was exhausting his brother to drink, but Hoss kept telling him he had to, and his brother listened to him. Ben sat by and watched in amazement. Hoss had refined his skills as a healer with so many critters over the years, Ben had just come to know it was part of who he was, but to see how he could use his strength to pull a man away from the brink of death was profoundly moving and inspiring. Every hour of that day, Hoss got his brother to drink a cup of liquid. By that evening, Hoss stood at the dresser in the room and shaved. Seeing his brother’s eyes watching him, Hoss offered to clean him up a bit.

“Well, I suppose since you didn’t say no, that meant you want me to.” Chuckling a little, Hoss thought he detected a hint of a smile on his brother’s face. “Oh I know you can’t talk to me. I was just joshing you about that. Now you just relax there. You’ll feel even better all cleaned up. I can do this, and if I can’t, I’ll call Pa in here. He’s done it for us a bunch of times. Paul left, but there’s still four of us if need be. Let me call for Hop Sing and he’ll bring what we need.”

After bringing warm water, soap, and towels, Hop Sing stayed to help. Being careful not to jostle the patient at all took quite a bit of time, but they managed to clean him up and then pulled a clean sheet and blanket over him. Smiling, Hoss sat again at his brother’s side with a cup of liquid in the nursing bottle.

“Hop Sing says this thick broth is just what you need now. I ain’t sure exactly what’s in it, but I can tell you it smells really good. Now you just try some of this.”

After each feeding, Hoss would watch his brother’s eyes slowly close as he settled into sleep. He did worry a little each time, though, as he prayed his brother would open those eyes again. Each of his prayers was answered. For almost a week, that was the routine. Finally on Saturday, Ben insisted that Hoss take a bath, sit at the table to eat a meal, and then go to sleep in his bed until he was completely rested.

“You have given everything you have to save your brother. Paul says he’s not in danger any more, as long as we keep doing what we’re doing. So he would want you to take care of yourself now. Hop Sing has a bath ready. Now go.”

Echoing from the bed was another ‘go’, and although the voice was weak and hoarse, it startled both Ben and Hoss. Looking to the bed, Hoss saw his brother smile for the first time since before he was shot. He said again that Hoss should go. Ben moved to his side and grasped his hand. He looked at his father with another smile, closed his eyes, and relaxed into healing sleep.

Hoss left the room then to take the bath that Hop Sing had promised. Soon he was snoring peacefully in his bed, confident that his family was whole again, and he could turn responsibility back over to his father and brothers. Being in charge was exhausting.

*****

“Melissa Blake is dead. Hoss, I gotta ask you. Where were you last night?”

“Roy, you can’t seriously think that Hoss would have done such a thing.”

“Ben, I’m sorry but lots of folks are talking. The men in the posse heard what Hoss said about her at her place. If anyone wanted to kill her, well, Hoss had motive. In fact, your whole family had motive. So I just need to know where all of you were last night.”

“We were all here. I suppose that doesn’t help that, as the suspects you say we are, we are vouching for each other. But every one of us has wanted to be here every day.” Gesturing toward the downstairs guest room, Ben did keep his voice as low as he could. “He’s had a slight fever and is fighting some infection. We knew it was likely, but it still scared us. He seems to be coming out of it, but we’ve had someone by his side every minute of every day.”

“Roy, how did she die?”

“Hoss, somebody snapped her neck. I think that might be why people started thinking it might be you. It would take a powerful hand to snap a person’s neck like that.”

“Roy, my brother is going to live. I had no reason to want her dead. Besides, she’s got that innocent baby to take care of.”

“I hate to have to tell you this but, well, there’s gonna be an inquest tomorrow. Hoss, you’re expected to be there. Ben, maybe you should be too. That would still leave one to sit by his side.”

“We’ll be there, Roy.”

As innocent men, Hoss and Ben were able to put the inquest out of their minds for a while. Things were gradually getting back to normal on the ranch. Soon, they hoped, they could put this whole terrible episode behind them.

In the morning after breakfast, Hoss and Ben said their goodbyes. From the bed, a frown let them know that he knew something was not quite right. They still had not told him the circumstances of the attack on him. They wanted him to be stronger first. For now, they said they were going into town to take care of some legal matters. They could tell how much better he was because their story didn’t fool him for a moment. The frown stayed in place, proving that his mind was as clear as it had always been. He was still very weak and the yellow tones of jaundice were still evident, although not as bad as they had been the week before. Ben knew he had to say something or he would waste energy he couldn’t spare worrying about them.

“It’s a hearing related to your shooting. We’ll explain everything when we get home. We have to be there at ten, though, so we don’t have enough time now. You get some rest.”

With that, Ben and Hoss had to leave.

When they arrived at the courthouse for the inquest, Roy met them outside. He had some good news to tell them, and he hoped it would be enough. Duel Brace, the father of Melissa’s baby and her lover, walked by them and scowled. He was almost as big as Hoss, and a whole lot meaner. He was prone to bar fights when he had too much to drink. Hoss and Ben waited and then followed Roy into the courthouse. Roy was confident that his first witness would be the only one they needed.

Doctor Paul Martin was the first to testify. He explained that someone had grabbed Melissa Blake by the neck with one hand and crushed her neck and snapped her vertebrae.

“Now Doctor Martin, did you examine the bruises on her neck as I asked you to do?”

“Yes, I did. I found, after a thorough examination, that there were five distinct bruises corresponding to the five fingers of a large hand. Whoever killed her used his left hand. One of the bruises was unusual, too, for the index finger was held at a very odd angle or part of it is missing.”

A collective gasp went through the room. Duel Brace was left-handed, and just the year before had sliced off part of his own finger in a saloon brawl. He had attacked another man with a broken bottle but missed, and when his hand with the bottle in it hit the bar, the glass neatly severed the end of his index finger. Duel got up to leave then, but Clem was there with his pistol drawn and had him sit back down. The judge looked at the inquest jury and asked if they needed more evidence or more time. They consulted briefly and said no. Their conclusion was that Melissa Blake had been murdered, and that charges should be filed against Duel Brace. Clem and Roy took Duel into custody and hauled him off to the jail. Everyone now knew Hoss Cartwright was blameless, and they asked after his brother and wished the family well.

As Hoss and Ben rode home, Ben said that perhaps then justice had been served.

Hoss disagreed. “Jonas got manipulated because of being in the War and getting wounded serving his country. His wife tricked him into trying to kill my brother. My brother is just starting to get some strength back and will likely suffer more over the next few months until he’s fully healed up. That little baby now has no parents, two people are dead, one’s gonna be hanged, and two more are going to prison, likely leaving their families with no means of support. Where is there justice in that?”

Continuing on to their home in silence, both men stopped at the boulders that had hidden the bushwhackers that day. “You’re right, Hoss. We ought to dynamite these boulders to clear the road and stop anyone else from using them as a hiding place to hurt others. Can you take care of it?”

“I will surely do that, Pa. But if you don’t mind, I’ll wait until my brother is ready to take a carriage ride, and then I’ll do it while he can watch. I think he’ll like that.”

“I think you have another brother who wouldn’t mind being here when you do.”

“I think you’re right, Pa. I’ll take care of it and let both my brothers watch.”

***End***

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