Star of the Sea (by Claire)

Summary:  Adam and Joe are on their first sea voyage when disaster strikes.
Category:  Bonanza
Genre:  Western
Rated:  PG
Word Count:  17,184


 

Despite the high winds and roiling seas, Adam felt that he could not stand to be cooped up inside the salon of the steamship Brother Jonathan for one moment longer. The air felt hot, close and confined, and this set his stomach churning once again. Giving his companion an apologetic smile, Adam staggered his way towards the aft deck, where he gratefully breathed in deep, cleansing mouthfuls of salt-tinged air. At least the weather was a little clearer now, although when he looked eastwards, towards where the shore should be, Adam could only see dense fog. Despite the fact this was high summer, the California coast was obscured from sight by the inclement weather that was churning the waves ever higher, so that ship bobbed up and down in a highly disconcerting manner.

“Why did I ever suggest we made this trip by sea?” Adam moaned, as yet another surge of nausea hit him, forcing his tormented body to lurch over the railing, heaving the meager contents of his stomach into the sea below. He had not been able to keep a morsel of food down for more than hour since the ship set to sea two days ago and he wondered if he would ever stop being sick, even once he reached dry land. The voyage from San Francisco to Portland was Adam’s first time at sea and he vowed fervently that it would be his last.

In typical, ebullient fashion, Joe was irritatingly impervious to the motion of the sea, eating heartily with an appetite freshened by sea breezes and enjoying his time on board ship immensely. Gripping onto the rail so hard that the knuckles of his hands showed white and tense under the pallid skin, Adam prayed that the sea would subside, just a little.

“Sir?” A voice at his elbow made Adam turn around in surprise, which only set his head and stomach violently protesting once again. He looked blearily at the cabin steward standing before him, still gripping onto the railings for dear life, as the ship bounced up and down over the waves, landing with a stomach-turning bang at each downswing.

“Perhaps a cup of beef tea would help to settle your stomach?” William asked solicitously. “I’m afraid the conditions are pretty bad and the Captain has announced that he’s turning back to Crescent City. There’s no sense in battling on against this weather. But some beef tea might just do the trick for your malady?” He looked enquiringly at the wretched man before him.

“Nothing, thank you,” Adam gasped, staggering slightly. A wave whipped over the stern and soaked both men as the ship suddenly turned hard to port. “How long until we get back to port?”

William considered this carefully. “About an hour, perhaps two. It’s difficult to say, given the conditions.” He looked at Adam, who had turned a delicate shade of chartreuse and was shivering violently. “It’s really not safe to be out here in this weather, sir. Let me escort you back to your cabin.” William had seen many people stricken with seasickness before, but none so badly as this poor fellow.

Just as he reached out an arm to help Adam, there was a harsh, rasping sound, which sent violent, shuddering tremors running throughout the length of the ship. Only Adam’s frantic grip on the railing prevented both men from being flung overboard, and William’s fingers clung onto the fabric of his companion’s jacket in desperation. The boat came to a juddering halt, its timbers creaking loudly in protest as the Brother Jonathan came crashing broad side onto the battering wave. Adam and William exchanged startled glances as they tried to compose themselves.

“We’ve foundered!” William gasped in horror. “Dear God, we’re caught on the Dragon’s Teeth rocks above Point St George.”

With the metal keel caught firmly on the treacherous underwater rocks, the vessel set up a raucous groaning, the eerie noise rising above even the roar of the wind and waves as the ship scraped and strained in futile attempts to break free from its confines. Adam found himself mentally calculating the likely stresses and strains on the fabric of the Brother Jonathan, trying to persuade himself that the vessel could survive this brutal onslaught.

Then there was another frightful lurch, and the ship slewed over to starboard, crashing Adam’s head painfully against a capstan and sending him skidding across the deck, where he lay in a crumpled heap against the far railings. William peered cautiously over the side of the steamer and gulped as a large piece of the keel floated past, sheered away by the savage impact. Just as he struggled to make sense of this catastrophe, a new disaster grabbed his attention. With a shivering, splintering sound, the foremast started to shudder and then crashed straight down, its long length disappearing through the deck until only the yardarm remained. William knew this was the death-knell: there was no hope now, for the Brother Jonathan was surely doomed to break up on the Dragon’s Teeth.

“Abandon ship!” Strong cries went up all around the boat, accompanied by bells rung in frantic desperation. Crewmembers rushed to the six lifeboats and started to lower them into the water.

William hauled himself to his feet and ran across the lurching deck to where Adam lay, moaning slightly. Grunting with the effort, he managed to hoist the semi-coherent man over his shoulder and staggered unsteadily towards the nearest boat.

“Joe?” Adam mumbled groggily. He managed to raise his head slightly and realized that the lifeboat was pulling away from the Brother Jonathan. “Where’s my brother Joe? I can’t leave without him!”

“You’ve got no choice.” William flung the words back tersely over his shoulder, as he pulled strongly at his oar, trying to keep in unison with the other men, each expending every ounce of his strength in order to propel the flimsy craft over the churning seas. The waves were in turmoil, rocking the boat violently and soaking all its passengers.

“We’ve got to go back – I can’t leave Joe!” Adam pleaded desperately. Another wave broke over the side of the boat as he struggled to crane his head and search for a glimpse of his brother.

“Don’t be so bloody stupid, man! That would be suicide.” Adam recognized this speaker as the Third Officer and felt a sense of utter helplessness and despair seep into every fiber and sinew of his being. There was no hope. Already the Brother Jonathan was starting to lurch slowly below the waves.

It was like being embroiled in a feverish nightmare, from which there was no escape. Weakened by his incessant seasickness and racked with pain from his head injury, Adam slumped miserably in the bottom of the boat as the men rowed valiantly towards the distant shore. His ears rang with cries of a child, who sobbed, time after time, in heaving gasps “You can’t leave Joe! Not Joe!” The little boy burst into inconsolable sobs that echoed painfully in Adam’s soul. He forced his eyes open and saw the child being comforted by his mother, who cradled him tenderly to her breast. Adam longed for someone to afford him that same solace.

*****

Joe surveyed the contents of his carpetbag thoughtfully, wanting to be sure that he had not forgotten a single thing. The forthcoming journey to Portland, Oregon would be his first business trip with his elder brother and Joe was determined not to let Adam down. He rifled carefully through the contents: his good, dark suit; fine linen shirts, a fancy dark green brocade vest and silk cravats, plus underclothes, dress shoes and his toilet kit. Everything appeared to be in order. Satisfied, Joe added some casual shirts and pants and sat back, having a sigh of relief.

“Socks!” The omission hit him like a thunderbolt and Joe scampered across to his dresser in search of the elusive items. “How could I forget to pack my socks?”

“Looking for these?” Ben stood in doorway, smiling at the expression of guilty surprise that crept across his son’s handsome face.

Lord, the boy grows more like his mother everyday! But no, he’s not a boy anymore, Ben realized, as he observed the taut muscles beneath Joe’s tan shirt that showed his youngest son was indeed a man. It was sometimes difficult and painful to accept that this last, cherished child was grown up and he was still reluctant to let the young out of his parental care for too long. It had taken prolonged pleading from both Adam and Joe before he would agree to the forthcoming trip. Still, he had to learn to let go at some point and trust that he had prepared Joe to deal successfully with the wider world on his own terms.

“Thanks, Pa!” Joe took the socks sheepishly and crammed them into a corner of his luggage. “I guess it wouldn’t do for me to arrive in Portland with bare feet, would it?”

“It would certainly be different,” Ben agreed dryly. Then his face broke into a smile as he took hold of Joe’s arm and drew him close. “You’re not worried about these meetings, are you?”

Joe studied his feet carefully, a telltale sign which eloquently betrayed his nervousness. “I don’t want to let you or Adam down,” he said softly. “I know how long you’ve been in negotiations with the Oregon Timber Company and I don’t want to be the one who ruins it all.”

“Why ever would you think such a thing?” Ben chided. “I have every faith that you will do your best, Joseph. Every faith.” He patted Joe on the shoulder, trying to install some confidence in his son.

Fresh color flooded Joe’s face. “I know you believe in me, Pa. But…”

Ah! Now we’re getting to the heart of the matter! “And so does Adam,” Ben stated, in tones which left absolutely no room for argument. “He wouldn’t have asked you to accompany him otherwise, would he?”

Realizing when he was backed into a corner, Joe nodded agreement. A small part of his being wanted to protest that Adam was taking his younger brother on this trip solely because his father had decreed it was time Joe learned about the timber side of the Ponderosa operations, but he knew better than to voice his thoughts. There was no sense in creating discord at this late stage. Still, Joe felt uneasy flutterings of dismay at the impending journey in the company of his upright and utterly capable elder brother. Would he ever achieve the lofty heights Adam achieved so effortlessly? The eldest Cartwright son cast a long and impressive shadow and sometimes Joe felt trapped in the shade.

“We’ll pick up our tickets on the day before we set sail.” Adam’s clear tones floated up the stairs as Joe walked slowly along the hallway. “The steamship Brother Jonathan is one of the finest ships sailing on the west coast, with a power that’s unequalled.”

Ben leant forward. “Wasn’t she renamed the Commodore a few years ago?” he asked, trying to place the ship in his mind.

“For a short time, in 1861,” Adam agreed. “Then the owner changed her name back.”

Normally not a superstitious man, there was enough of the sailor in Ben Cartwright’s body for this announcement to send a shiver of fear through him. A ship’s name was sacrosanct and inviolate: changing it, however briefly, was tantamount to directly inviting trouble. He struggled to suppress his unease.

“I’ve secured us a stateroom on the upper deck,” Adam continued blithely, totally unaware of his father’s concerns. At the sound of footsteps behind him, he turned and smiled at Joe. “Well, little brother – are you looking forward to your first sea voyage?”

“I guess so,” Joe said tentatively. “I just hope we don’t get seasick, that’s all.”

“With our seagoing heritage? I hardly think that’s likely,” Adam reassured him. He would later think back to this moment and groan at the memory.

Hop Sing emerged from the kitchen and pressed a small packet into Joe’s hand.

“Powdered ginger root – add to hot water and no sickness,” he murmured, his eyes searching Joe’s face carefully. “Very old Chinese remedy.”

Joe smiled his thanks and bounded back upstairs to tuck the packet securely away in his carpetbag – he was not going to leave anything to chance! Down below, he could hear Hop Sing imperiously summoning the family to the dinner table and resolved to make his last night at home a happy and enjoyable one.

“Tell me more about this ship,” Hoss demanded, spooning copious quantities of horseradish sauce onto his roast beef.

Adam favored him with a thin-lipped smile. “I don’t suppose you’re interested in hearing about the 72 inch cylinder engine, with its vertical ‘walking beam’?” he enquired.

Hoss shook his head firmly.

“Or the fact that each of the paddle wheels is 33 feet high?” Adam continued blandly.

He received a hard stare. “Adam, I trust you to have picked a ship that’s safe and seaworthy. What I’m interested in how you’re gonna feed my little brother until you get to Portland. Look at him!” Hoss jabbed his fork at Joe, who was helping himself to mashed potatoes. “He’s got them itty bitty bird bones and he needs fed regular!”

Surveyed the pile of food Joe was tucking into with evident relish, Adam shook his head in sorrow. How could the kid put away so much food and not put on a single ounce? Life was very unfair sometimes. Taking only a moderate helping of potato from the serving dish, Adam turned back to Hoss.

“Don’t you worry – the SS Brother Jonathan has a fine salon, serving gourmet meals for discerning passengers. I guarantee you that we will both eat like kings!”

For the first time since the trip was announced, Hoss found himself wishing that he was going along too. Normally, he was content to stay close to home, in surroundings that were familiar and comfortable, but the possibilities of travel were now becoming apparent. With a loud sigh, he poured a generous portion of gravy over his meal and applied himself stoically to it.

Stifling a chuckle, Ben looked contentedly at his three sons: solid, reliable Hoss, quiet by nature, but with an inner strength the whole family treasured; sensible, thoughtful Adam, with his deep sense of duty, the epitome of responsibility and Joseph, the finest rider this side of the Sierras, whose fun-loving quicksilver nature kept everyone on their toes. How different his sons were, yet how perfectly they complemented one another, merging into a seamless whole that made the Ponderosa such a successful operation.

“Just don’t whistle when you’re on board that ship!” he thought and nearly laughed out loud at the memory of violent scolding from his own youth, when an older sailor accused him of trying to conjure up a storm. He hoped his boys would benefit from this glimpse of life at sea and gain a little understanding of the power and beauty of the sea, which had so entranced their father.

*****

Standing on the Broadway Wharf early in the morning, Joe surveyed the Brother Jonathan with evident awe. The pride of the California Steamship Navigation Company’s fleet, she bobbed gently at anchor, proudly displaying her colors of dark blue and black, with the two-storey deckhouse and paddle wheels picked out in a smart buff. A swarm of men ran up and down the gangplanks with cargo and supplies needed for the voyage.

“I take it you approve of my choice of transport?” Adam enquired, trying hard to keep the laughter out of his voice as Joe nodded in open-mouthed agreement. He’d always dreamt of making a sea voyage, but had never envisaged traveling on such a smart ship.

Further conversation was halted when a strange cry broke through the normal noise and bustle and the San Francisco longshoremen hurried out of the way as a long-legged animal, dark beige in color, careened along the busy wharf.

“What on earth…?” Adam muttered, wondering what fool had let the agitated camel break free. The creature was obviously scared out of its wits by the strange surroundings and totally disorientated. “Someone could get seriously hurt,” he continued and then realized that his brother was no longer safely by his side, but charging towards the distressed animal, his hands reaching out towards its trailing lead rope.

Ignoring his brother’s bellows of fury, Joe concentrated on sprinting towards the camel, which was in imminent danger of catching its feet in the trailing rope. Those long slender legs would surely shatter if it was brought down on the solid wharf. Summoning all his energies for one final sprint, Joe put on an extra burst of speed, stretched out his fingers and barely managed to catch hold of the rough cord.

Watching in increasing horror, Adam was convinced he was about to witness his brother being trampled to death or, at the very least plunge over the side of the wharf into the chilly waters of San Francisco Bay. But to his amazement, Joe managed to bring the camel to a halt and then started to lead it slowly back along the wharf, patting the animal’s neck softly and talking in a quiet undertone.

“You little fool!” Adam hissed, as soon as Joe was within earshot. “Don’t you realize you could have been killed or seriously hurt?”

Joe stared firmly at him. “I couldn’t just stand by. I had to do something,” he protested. He looked more closely at Adam and realized his brother’s normally dark skin was suffused with an unnatural pallor. “I didn’t mean to worry you,” he added hastily, distressed to see Adam so upset. Over his shoulder, the camel gave Adam a very old-fashioned look, and then ducked its head down to nudge Joe gently. Automatically, Joe reached around to pet and reassure the creature. Adam could have sworn that the camel gave him a look of triumph, while simultaneously batting its long eyelashes at Joe.

“I’ve never seen a camel before,” Joe continued. “Except in books. And the pair in the Noah’s Ark I played with as a little kid.” He looked at the animal in evident admiration. “Isn’t he grand, Adam? And wouldn’t Hoss love to see him?”

Forcing a smile on his face, Adam reached out a shaking hand and patted Joe lightly on the shoulder, as if to reassure himself that his brother really was safe and well. For a moment, the brothers stood quietly, their heads tilted together in silent communication, while the camel looked around at its unusual surroundings with evident bemusement. Then, spying its stable mate, it let out a deafening cry and would have trotted off again, had Joe not retained a tight hold of its halter.

“My dear boy! How can I ever thank you?” The speaker was a small, rotund man, mopping his scarlet face with a large pocket-handkerchief. “The pride of Mr. Barnum’s circus, nearly lost, but for your brave actions!” The two camels nuzzled against one another, clearly delighted to be reunited, as the man took the rope from Joe’s outstretched hand.

“Some might say foolhardy,” Adam said in an audible undertone.

Joe ignored his brother and smiled winningly at the man, before launching into a myriad of questions about the unusual animals. Soon, they were in eager conversation and Joe wandered off happily to help install the camels in their temporary quarters on board the ship, listening avidly to his new friend’s many tales.

“First he scares me half out of my wits, then he waltzes off and leaves me with the luggage!” With a long-suffering sigh, Adam picked up both bags and traipsed after his headstrong brother.

The stateroom was expansively comfortable, with plump feather mattresses and down comforters nestling amidst gleaming brass bed-frames, while soft carpets lay underfoot. Adam looked around with obvious pleasure, smiling when he saw the neat desk reading lamp. That would be an ideal place to do final preparations for the forthcoming meeting. That was, in the few moments when he wasn’t trying to keep track of his elusive brother! Heaving the carpetbags onto the beds, Adam thought about unpacking, but then decided to explore the ship before it set sail, hoping for a look at the engine rooms. And if he could track down the errant Joe, that would be all to the good! Whistling gently under his breath, Adam sauntered off to investigate the Brother Jonathan more fully.

As was to be expected, the engine-crew was fully occupied with preparations for departure, but they spared a few moments to answer a few of their visitor’s interested questions, before advising him to return once the ship was at sea. Casting a regretful glance at all the fascinating machinery, Adam reluctantly agreed this would be best and set off to explore the hold.

Walking past a strong room, protected by metal bars, Adam peered curiously inside and saw neat stacks of stout wooden crates, each emblazoned with the insignia of either the US Army or Wells Fargo. Two men, each armed with guns and stout cudgels, gave him an appraising look and despite his interest, Adam was not tempted to stop for a closer look. Clearly there was a large amount of money behind those bars. Moving quickly on, Adam passed mining machinery, cases of tobacco and cigars and barrels of butter before a cheerful voice called out “Over here – on the left-hand side!”

“It’s port, not left when you’re on board a ship,” Adam chided, staying well clear of the camel, which peeled its lip back and sneered at him in a fit of bad temper, displaying a large amount of yellow teeth. Craning its long neck forward, the camel hissed loudly, and Adam gagged as the rancor of its breath hit him.

“Yeah, I remember,” Joe admitted. While neither brother had ever been to sea before, Adam seemed to absorb the nautical terms effortlessly and was using them with consummate ease. Joe sighed quietly and gave the camel a last stroke before leaving the straw-filled pen. Where the animals were safely tethered.

“Shall we take a walk on deck and get our bearings?” Adam suggested. “It’s almost ten o’clock and we should be leaving soon.” He smiled at the young man by his side, placed a firm hand on Joe’s shoulder and walked purposefully towards the companionway.

A stiff breeze was blowing when they reached the deck, and banks of fog were rolling in from San Francisco Bay. Adam shivered slightly and pulled his coat more tightly around him, feeling the damp chill creep into his bones. Joe seemed impervious to the cold and watched eagerly as the mooring lines were neatly unfurled. A couple of sharp blasts from the steam hooter and the massive paddle wheels of the Brother Jonathon churned into motion. Surreptitiously, Adam took a firm hold of Joe’s collar, having no desire to see his impetuous brother topple over into the cold waters below.

“Isn’t this great!” Joe cried, the wind whipping his hair into wild confusion as the ship chugged steadily down the Bay, buffeted by urgent waves.

Adam nodded carefully, wondering why his stomach was behaving in such a peculiar manner. He had made several trips from Sacramento by paddle steamer before and never felt so abominably queasy. Apparently, there was a very real difference between traveling by river and sailing on the open seas. Still, he was sure he could endure the discomfort for the three-day voyage.

“It’s a bit choppy, isn’t it?” Somehow, Adam managed to force the words out, while keeping his teeth firmly clenched. His stomach seemed to be lurching about uncontrollably and he watched with a sense of growing apprehension as San Francisco receded into the distance.

A fellow passenger laughed heartily at this statement. “Choppy? Why, this is nothing! Just you wait until we get properly out to sea – then you’ll discover what real sailing is about!”

Adam just about managed to repress a groan at this remark, but it was a close-run thing.

Surveying his brother closely, Joe noticed that his normally fresh complexion had a distinctly yellowish cast to it and that Adam appeared to be swallowing convulsively. “Why don’t you go to the stateroom and lie down for a bit?” he suggested helpfully. “And you could try some of Hop Sing’s ginger tea too?”

The mere thought of anything hitting his traumatized stomach was the final straw for Adam. Pushing Joe out of the way, he bent over the railing and was violently sick. Joe stood by in embarrassed silence, not quite sure of what to do next. Eventually, when it appeared Adam was finally finished, Joe put an arm around his waist and steered his unresisting brother to their cabin.

His task was not made any easier by the fact that the deck was starting to lurch underneath their feet, making Adam stagger as wildly as if he had indulged in a bottle of whiskey. Once safely inside the cabin, Joe managed to deposit his brother on the nearest bed, where he removed his boots and coat, before draping a blanket over the shivering form. Prudently, he placed the washstand bowl on the floor beside the bed.

“I’ll let you have a nap,” Joe said quietly, eyeing Adam with a fair degree of concern. Adam normally enjoyed such enviable good-health that it seemed very peculiar to see him brought to such a state. Receiving a grunt of acknowledgement, Joe checked his appearance, then delved into his carpetbag to retrieve his hairbrushes, and set about coaxing his curls into some appearance of normality. It took some before Joe was finally satisfied with the results and he slipped silently out of the room, leaving his brother to battle against the incessant turmoil in his head and stomach.

Ambling about the ship, Joe soon discovered a pleasant salon, where several passengers had gathered before luncheon was served. Scanning the room, he smiled charmingly at a couple of very attractive young ladies, nodded at a couple of proud mammas, complete with rumbustious children, before strolling over to join a group of men chatting animatedly around a table bearing several decanters that called out temptingly to the young man.

“Wonder if the sun is over the yard-arm, as Pa used to say!” Joe thought mischievously, as he introduced himself to the men.

“Cartwright – would that be the Cartwrights of the Ponderosa? Up near Washoe?”

“That’s me!” Joe replied cheerfully, but with a nonchalant disregard for grammar.

“Don’t ever say that word to me again!” A tall man, with dark hair, streaked liberally with grey and an impressive set of whiskers groaned dramatically.

A look of apprehension swept across Joe’s face. “I don’t quite understand, sir…” His voice trailed off.

Taking pity on his discomfort, the man hastened to explain. “Washoe, son. It brings up bad memories for me. I was on the steamer Washoe when a boiler exploded last year, just out of Sacramento. The upper stories of the boat were completely blown away and I was darn lucky to escape and not be scalded to death.”

“Mr. Pollock!” A sharp voice interrupted his story. “I don’t think this is a suitable topic of conversation. Kindly remember there are children and young ladies present.”

Much chagrined, George Pollock made a gesture of contrite acknowledgement to the speaker, a lady of middle-years. Her face spoke of many disappointments in life and, in consequence she habitually wore a sour expression. He lowered his voice and continued with the story.

Out of the corner of his eye, Joe saw two young boys, both around seven years old, creep forward to try to hear a little more of the exciting tale. Turning round, he fixed them with a mock-glare, which froze the would-be eavesdroppers in their tracks immediately. Faced with the woebegone, guilty expressions, Joe felt immediate sympathy for them. It was very easy to remember all the hushed conversations he had been excluded from as a child. Unable to keep the stern look on his face for long, Joe flashed them a brilliant smile and then crossed his eyes and waggled his ears.

That was all it took. The boys grabbed hold of his hands and drew him over to a maroon plush sofa, where they plied him with excited questions until a steward appeared to announce that luncheon was served. Joe excused himself and darted back to the stateroom to see if Adam felt up to eating.

The response to his well-meaning query was greeted with a vehement “No!” Adam half-rose out of bed then flopped back onto the pillows with a barely suppressed groan.

“Not even some soup and toast?” Joe pressed. “You really should try to eat something, you know. How about some eggs, or a junket pudding?”

“Just leave me alone,” Adam beseeched. The very suggestion of food seemed to make him feel worse. He managed to crank open one eye and saw Joe shuffling nervously from one foot to the other, looking concerned. “I’ll be fine, Joe. Don’t worry about me. I’m just having a slight problem getting used to being at sea.”

Reassured, Joe flashed his brother a bright smile and hurried off to get his own lunch. It was true what people said: sea air really did give you an appetite!

Left alone, Adam tried in vain to find a position that afforded him some degree of comfort, but no matter which way he turned, the incessant pounding in his head would not go away, while his stomach lurched and heaved in counterpoint. The noise of the paddlewheels and the sloshing sounds of the waves were only making things worse, he decided. Eventually admitting defeat, Adam clapped one hand to his mouth and lurched over the side of the bed. Grabbing the bowl, he emptied his stomach once again, before subsiding into a sore and exhausted heap. It looked as this was going to be a very long journey indeed.

The rest of the afternoon passed pleasantly enough for Joe, who was soon strolling around the deck in animated conversation with two young ladies who were traveling to Portland City to visit relatives. Miss Mary Berry had glossy black hair and dimples, while Miss Anna Craig had smooth brown ringlets and a bewitching smile. Together, they were an entrancing pair. Occasionally, Joe thought of Adam and then felt a pang of conscience, but judging from their last encounter, his brother just wanted to be left to suffer in solitude.

As the sun began to set, a chill wind picked up and Joe hurried back to the stateroom to prepare for dinner, hoping that Adam would feel up to joining him. The moment he opened the door, that hope faded away as he was greeted by an over-poweringly fetid smell.

“Still feeling bad?” Joe asked, somewhat superfluously he felt, before crossing quickly over to open the portholes and taking a deep breath of fresh air.

Adam nodded weakly. The chill breeze blowing through the cabin refreshed him slightly and after a few deep breaths he managed to pull himself up into a sitting position.

“Mr. Pollock said the best cure for sea-sickness was a full stomach. You really should try to eat something.”

“Probably,” Adam concurred, although he had never felt less like eating in his entire life. He watched Joe pick up the bowl, cover it with a towel and disappear go outside, returning with a glass of brandy, which he held out to his brother.

“Try this – I thought it might help to settle your stomach.”

At this particular point in time, Adam was willing to try anything that could possibly alleviate his suffering and managed to swallow the contents of the glass in two mouthfuls. Besides which, Joe had such a mournful look of concern on his face, that it was almost impossible to refuse his well-meaning entreaties. The brandy felt warm and soothing as it slipped down his throat and his stomach accepted it without protest. For the first time since the Brother Jonathan left port, Adam began to feel relatively normal.

There was a knock at the door and a steward delivered two copper canisters of steaming water. Stripping off his shirt, Joe started to wash. “There’s plenty of hot water, if you want a shave,” he offered, lathering up soap and scrubbing his face vigorously.

Running a hand across his chin, Adam felt the rasp of bristles, but ruefully decided that the prospect of shaving, in his weakened condition, while the ship rocked up and down was highly dangerous at best and probably exceedingly foolhardy. No sense in tempting fate and ending up cutting himself with the razor. Reclining against the pillows, he watched as Joe continued washing, noticing the layers of muscles that hard work had added to his brother’s lean frame. For what seemed the hundredth time, Adam wondered how Joe could eat so much and remain so slender.

Pulling on a fresh shirt, Joe finished getting ready and then pulled out clean garments for his brother to change into.

“You’ve got a bit more color in your face now. Has the brandy helped?” he asked, helping Adam to remove his badly crumpled shirt and pants.

“I think it just might have done the trick,” Adam allowed cautiously. “That was good thinking, Joe and I appreciate it.”

Joe flushed. “You’d have done the same thing for me,” he mumbled, suddenly embarrassed and bent down to put Adam’s shoes on for him, thankful for the opportunity to hide his blushes. Adam dealt out praise sparingly, making it all the more valuable to Joe.

Standing up slowly, Adam was perturbed to discover that his legs felt alarmingly wobbly, but at least his stomach only put up a feeble protest.

*****

The dining salon was already half-full when the brothers arrived, and Adam looked around at the assembled company with interest before sitting down at the long table. It dominated the room, resplendent with starched white linen tablecloth, while shining silver cutlery and sparkling crystal glasses marched down both sides, lined up with exacting precision. Spreading a voluminous napkin across his lap, Adam scanned the menu, before erring on the side of caution and opting for a bowl of clear soup, followed by poached fish.

“Are you sure that’s all you want?” Joe asked in a concerned voice.

“I’m positive,” Adam assured him. “After all, I’m not the skinny one of the family, am I? No-one’s ever suggested that I needed feeding up, have they?” He cocked an eyebrow quizzically at Joe, who started to pout and then quickly transformed his expression into a charming smile as Mary and Anna entered the salon.

“Plenty of young ladies seem to like me just the way I am!” With a gentlemanly flourish, Joe escorted the young ladies to their seats, standing solicitously by as they arranged their skirts. The crisp white shirt emphasized the golden tan of Joe’s skin, while the flickering candlelight added coppery highlights to his chestnut curls. Adam watched in amusement as several ladies turned to appraise his younger brother’s good looks with the same appreciation connoisseurs devote to fine wine. Not entirely unaware of the attention he was attracting, Joe gave his brother a broad wink and sauntered back to his seat, exhibiting only the merest hint of a swagger.

Struggling to hide his amusement, Adam turned to his neighbor and introduced himself.

“Ah! You must be young Joseph’s brother! He said you were engaged in studying some documents in your stateroom. I’m delighted to make your acquaintance, sir.”

Struck by Joe’s tact and diplomacy and deeply thankful that his seasickness was not common knowledge among the passengers, Adam nodded politely. “We’re traveling to Portland on business,” he explained, taking a sip of water.

The man extended his hand. “Likewise. Conrad Adam’s the name and I’m a representative of the Eureka Mining Company. I’m delivering some new tunneling equipment and demonstrating how it works.”

Immediately fascinated, Adam explained about his desires to expand the fledgling mining operations on the Ponderosa and began a lively conversation with Conrad. He became so engrossed that he started eating his soup automatically, scarcely noticing what he was doing.

“Quite the best thing that could happen,” whispered a steward to Joe. “Nothing worse than setting sail on an empty stomach. The secret is to eat well and to keep eating!” The two men exchanged conspiratorial glances, before Joe re-applied himself with evident pleasure to the rack of lamb set before him. For the first time since the Brother Jonathan had set sail, he felt completely able to relax and enjoy himself.

“I wonder if this is how Adam feels?” he mused. “Always worrying about someone else and never quite able to let go and simply enjoy himself?” Joe often found his brother’s protective tendencies highly aggravating, but this trip had shown him that, when necessary, he was just as solicitous and concerned as Adam ever was. “Guess Pa taught us well – the Cartwrights stick together!”

*****

The hope that Adam had conquered his seasickness was short-lived and died just after eleven o’clock that evening, when the familiar churning feelings in his head and stomach returned to torment him. The atmosphere in the cabin seemed hot and airless, pulling him back down into the hideous morass.

“Not again!” he moaned, and just managed to grab the basin in time.

Joe woke up with a start, his hair disheveled and standing on end. “Feeling rough again?”

Crouching on the floor on his hands and knees, Adam was too busy concentrating on his misery to answer. Joe hopped out of bed and put a solicitous hand on his back, grimacing as he felt the shudders that coursed through his brother’s body. When the spasm finally stopped, he helped Adam back into bed and washed his face with a cool cloth, before handing him a glass of water.

“Rinse that round your mouth and then spit it out,” Joe instructed and marveled to see how meekly Adam obeyed him. More than anything else, this showed just how wretched he must be feeling.

“Open the windows!” Adam gasped. “I can hardly breathe in here.”

Only to happy to obey, Joe unfastened the portholes and pushed them as far open as possible, sticking his head out to savor the salt-tinged air. Straight ahead, a full moon cast down a bright path onto the waves and Joe gazed entranced at the contrast between darkness and light for a full minute before turning back to the unpleasant task at hand. It certainly looked as if this was going to be a very long voyage indeed.

“I could find a steward and get him to make up some of Hop Sing’s ginger tea?” he ventured tentatively. “Or maybe another brandy might help?”

Adam knew Joe was trying to be helpful, but the very thought of putting anything, even liquid into his stomach was too horrific to contemplate. “No!” he said vehemently, being incapable of uttering more than a single word. His eyes were tightly shut and his jaw clenched hard, so Adam did not see the miserable look that flashed across Joe’s face in response to his remark.

Moving as quietly as possible, Joe pulled on a pair of pants and then his boots, before starting to clean up. Obviously, the first priority was to dispose of the basin and its noxious contents. But what if Adam should be sick again?

“I’m just going outside for a minute. I won’t be long. Will you be alright?”

Adam flung an arm across his eyes. “Fine,” he muttered.

With an almost-silent sigh and an eloquent shrug of his shoulders, Joe left in search of William, the steward assigned to their stateroom.

“Has your brother been sick again?” the older man asked, removing the basin from Joe’s grasp.

“Yes. I don’t think I’m cut out to be a very good nurse. Everything I do just seems to annoy him,” Joe explained, in mournful tones.

“I’m sure your brother doesn’t mean it. He’s probably just feeling ill and helpless. And I would imagine he’s pretty embarrassed that he can’t control the sickness,” William suggested.

Joe’s face brightened at this. That sounded plausible, for Adam certainly liked to plan things out carefully and was no doubt mortified at his unfortunate predicament. “I guess that could be it. Adam’s never really ill and he’s always looked after me, so it must be strange for him to be the one in need of care. Heck, it sure is a change for me to be the responsible one!” Joe looked up at the older man from underneath long lashes. “Adam’s quite a bit older than me, you know,” he confided.

William laughed. “I can see that! In fact, I bet he has his work cut out, keeping an eye on you – what with all the young ladies chasing after you!” He poured out two glasses of whiskey and handed one to Joe, who took it with an impish grin.

“He tries his best – but I’m younger and faster!” He raised his glass in salute to his older brother. “Mind you, there are one or two ladies with an eye on Adam too. He’s still reckoned to be quite a catch, back in Virginia City!”

During the course of the night, Joe made several more trips to empty basins and to get fresh pitchers of water and became well acquainted with the stewards on night-duty.

“Hope his brother appreciates all that kid is doing for him,” one remarked, as Joe trudged wearily back to the stateroom, with a pile of fresh towels. At last, Adam settled into a restless sleep and Joe felt it was safe to leave him. Paradoxically, he felt too tired to sleep, so he grabbed a blanket from his bed, wrapped it around his shoulders and walked up to the top deck.

Sunrise at sea is an experience quite unlike anything else. To see a new day appear on the horizon of a vast ocean is to be aware of how the world might just have begun, back at the very beginning of time. Even the light has a unique quality, with the familiar rosy hues of dawn transmuted into warm gold and bronze. Time ceases to have any meaning, the past and present telescope together and the future is closer than either of them. The enormity of the ocean dominates everything and the sense of a fresh new beginning overwhelms the senses.

For a few moments, Joe leaned against the railings and let the peace and serenity soak into his being, washing away the tiredness. Below him, the wash of the boat foamed briefly, leaving a temporary trail of spume that soon dissipated into the enormity of the ocean. Anything seemed possible at that moment. Joe felt he could reach out and grab a myriad of opportunities, for the whole world was suddenly open and beckoning to him. And despite the miles that separated them, Joe felt a strong pull towards his father.

“I wonder how Pa could ever bear to give all this freedom and beauty up?” Turning his face towards the rising sun, Joe let its warmth bathe over his face and then burst into laughter, overwhelmed by the sheer, unabated joy of simply being alive to experience the moment.

*****

Later that day, the weather started to turn. Overhead, the skies were heavy and leaden and the waves grew in height and fury as the Brother Jonathan fought her way northwards.

“I think there’s going to be a storm,” Joe said, trying to keep his voice light and conversational. He was deeply worried about Adam, who was still unable to tolerate anything other than few sips of water. Repeated bouts of vomiting had wrenched all his stomach muscles, adding to his misery. His statement brought no reaction from the man lying and suffering in the bed.

“I might just pop out onto deck,” Joe continued. Normally, Adam would have told him not to be so stupid; to stay in the stateroom where it was warm and dry and not to risk being tossed overboard, but Adam did not say a word. Joe wasn’t even sure if he was even listening.

A gust of wind blew a freezing blast of rain into his face, causing Joe to gasp for breath and then grab onto the railing as the ship was buffeted by the waves. It might not be the most prudent of situations, but there was no doubt that it was exhilarating. The elemental power of the ocean was unleashing overwhelmed his senses and Joe marveled at the fury of the waves.

“You’re a born sailor, lad!” a voice called down, and Joe looked up to see the Third Officer, bundled up in an oilskin and peering down at him from the fo’csle. He shouted back his thanks, but the wind carried his voice away. The man gave him an amused smile and then disappeared back into the wheelhouse, as Joe made his way towards the warmth of the salon, where his two young friends soon inveigled him into another story-telling session. The boys listened with rapt fascination as Joe told them about his pinto, Cochise, who loved to drink coffee.

“Really?” Samuel asked skeptically. “I’ve never heard of a horse who drank coffee.”

“Cochise is a very unusual horse,” Joe informed the child. “He wasn’t too happy when I stopped taking sugar in my coffee, but he’s used to it now.” Samuel seemed satisfied with this, so Joe launched into a story about the Paiute Indians and then showed them how to use the light cast from a lantern to make shadow pictures on the wall.

Dinner that evening was a very different affair. Many of the passengers remained in their cabins, unwilling or unable to brave the trip across heaving decks. The tablecloths had been dampened to stop the china and glasses from skidding about and small batons were attached to the sides of the table as an added precaution. Once again, Joe found that being at sea had sharpened his appetite and ate heartily.

“Is your brother not joining us?” Conrad asked, obviously hoping to continue his discussions with Adam.

Joe shook his head. “He preferred to stay in our stateroom,” he explained, praying the man would not press him any further. It did not take much imagination to envisage how perturbed Adam would be if Joe disclosed any more than the most basic of facts. He poured himself a glass of burgundy, being careful not to fill the glass more than half full and sipped it with relish.

“Have you traveled much, sir?” he asked the older man politely, hopeful of turning him onto a safer topic of conversation. In Joe’s experience, most people could not resist the temptation to talk about themselves and Conrad was no exception. For the rest of the meal, Joe was free to sample numerous dishes, as only an occasional nod, or an interested noise was all that was required for Conrad to launch into another story. He seemed to have a never-ending store of these and none of them required any contribution from his dinner companion. Long years of appearing politely interested as a child while his father and brothers discussed business deals had borne fruit and Joe was able to project an interested demeanor, while his mind was elsewhere and his eyes twinkled tantalizingly at Mary and Anna.

After the ladies retired, decanters of port and brandy were brought out and circulated in opposite directions around the solely male company, and fine cigars were offered around the company. Leaning back in his chair, Joe experimented with blowing smoke rings up towards the chandelier, which was now swaying in a brisk adagio beat. He was tempted to join in one of the poker games that soon started but the thought of Adam, lying alone in a darkened cabin kept crowding into his thoughts, so he made his excuses and hurried back to check on his brother.

Leaning solicitously over the prostrate figure, Joe felt Adam’s forehead with an experienced touch that owed much to his father’s ministrations. “How are you feeling?” he asked, in carefully hushed tones.

“You stink of cigar smoke,” Adam protested weakly.

“I only had one, just to be polite,” Joe insisted. “Can I get you anything? A glass of brandy, maybe?”

A strangled noise was the only response to his query. Joe quickly grabbed the basin and supported his brother as he retched painfully. After Adam was finished and resting back on his pillows with a decidedly green cast to his face, Joe tried to inject a cheerful note into the proceedings. “There, that’s better now, isn’t it?” It seemed like the sort of thing their father would say, but Joe was painfully aware that his concern fell upon unreceptive ears, as Adam gave him an exasperated look, rolled over onto one side and shut his eyes with a weary sigh.

Joe spent much of the night being tossed from one side of his bed to the other, as the ship traversed one set of waves, only to plummet down the other side. To make matters worse, sometimes a wave caught her amidships, making the Brother Jonathan lurch sideways in a most disconcerting fashion. The howling winds and steady thunder of the storm were accompanied at regular intervals by equally distressing sounds from Adam’s bed, causing Joe to pick his way across the room and provide what assistance he could. Too often, this involved making the perilous journey outside to the stewards’ quarters, getting thoroughly soaked in the process.

Eventually, fed up with being cold and wet, Joe stripped off his sodden nightshirt and climbed into bed. The sheets felt chilly against his naked flesh, but at least they were dry. Slipping into a fitful sleep, Joe dreamt he was caught in a landslide and awoke with a start when the water ewer crashed onto the floor and shattered into smithereens.

“Sorry,” he mumbled automatically, and slipped out of bed to begin clearing up.

“What on earth are you apologizing for?” Adam asked, in tones that almost sounded normal. “And why are you crawling around the floor, as naked as the day you were born?”

“You’re feeling better!” Relief colored every syllable of Joe’s voice, even as he hastily pulled on a pair of drawers and then his pants.

“Marginally,” Adam agreed cautiously. “Still a bit queasy, but I think I’ve got beyond wishing to die. That’s not to say that I’ll ever set foot on another sea-going vessel willingly but, all in all, I am feeling better.” This was the longest sentence he’d uttered in days and that in itself was testament to Joe that things were definitely looking more positive.

The storm abated sufficiently for Adam to get dressed, while Joe scurried off to procure some breakfast for them both. Adam restricted himself to hot coffee and sipped it gratefully, content to watch Joe smother two rolls with butter and strawberry jam and consume them with considerable relish.

“Any idea where we are?” he enquired, when the last crumb was finished.

“We’ve just passed somewhere called Crescent City. One of the crew pointed out the lighthouse to me. He seemed to think the captain might have to turn back.”

A look of concern crossed Adam’s face. Had they come this far, only to have to return without ever making it to Portland? “Turn back?”

“Just to Crescent City,” Joe elaborated. “We’ll wait there until the storm abates before going on up to Portland. He said it was probably too dangerous to try to cross St George’s Reef in this weather.” He flashed Adam a reassuring smile. “Don’t worry, brother – everything will be fine. But we might just be a few days late getting to Portland!”

Pulling on his jacket, Joe gathered the breakfast dishes together. “I’ll take these back to the stewards mess. You’ll be here when I get back?”

“I’m not going anywhere,” Adam said in mock-serious tones, but he tempered the words with a smile. “And thanks, Joe.” He knew from the look in Joe’s eyes that further words were not required.

*****

For a few moments, Adam relaxed in comfort, clasping his hands across his stomach and stretching his legs out in front of him. The stateroom seemed curiously empty and right now, Adam craved company: he’d been cooped up in one room for far too long! There were sure to be people in the salon and interesting conversation would surely help to keep his mind occupied and alert.

Holding onto the brass railings for support, Adam picked his way towards the salon, as the Brother Jonathan lurched about in a seemingly uncontrolled fashion. As he had thought, there were several people gathered there, making polite, if rather strained conversation and casting apprehensive gazes out of the portholes. He was introduced to the Governor of Washington State, who was discoursing about the need for greater finance and made a valiant effort to follow the conversation. Then the familiar feeling returned. It was as if the pit of his stomach was bobbing as violently as the ship itself, yet in a totally rhythm.

Despite the high winds and roiling seas, Adam felt that he could not stand to be cooped up inside the salon of the steamship Brother Jonathan for one moment longer. The air felt hot, close and confined, and this set his stomach churning once again. Giving his companion an apologetic smile, Adam staggered his way towards the aft deck, where he gratefully breathed in deep, cleansing mouthfuls of salt-tinged air. At least the weather was a little clearer now, although when he looked eastwards, towards where the shore should be, Adam could only see dense fog. Despite the fact this was high summer, the California coast was obscured from sight by the inclement weather that was churning the waves ever higher, so that ship bobbed up and down in a highly disconcerting manner.

“Why did I ever suggest we made this trip by sea?” Adam moaned, as yet another surge of nausea hit him, forcing his tormented body to lurch over the railing, heaving the meager contents of his stomach into the sea below. He had not been able to keep a morsel of food down for more than hour since the ship set to sea two days ago and he wondered if he would ever stop being sick, even once he reached dry land. The voyage from San Francisco to Portland was Adam’s first time at sea and he vowed fervently that it would be his last.

In typical, ebullient fashion, Joe was irritatingly impervious to the motion of the sea, eating heartily with an appetite freshened by sea breezes and enjoying his time on board ship immensely. Gripping onto the rail so hard that the knuckles of his hands showed white and tense under the pallid skin, Adam prayed that the sea would subside, just a little.

“Sir?” A voice at his elbow made Adam turn around in surprise, which only set his head and stomach violently protesting once again. He looked blearily at the cabin steward standing before him, still gripping onto the railings for dear life, as the ship bounced up and down over the waves, landing with a stomach-turning bang at each downswing.

“Perhaps a cup of beef tea would help to settle your stomach?” William asked solicitously. “I’m afraid the conditions are pretty bad and the Captain has announced that he’s turning back to Crescent City. There’s no sense in battling on against this weather. But some beef tea might just do the trick for your malady?” He looked enquiringly at the wretched man before him.

“Nothing, thank you,” Adam gasped, staggering slightly. A wave whipped over the stern and soaked both men as the ship suddenly turned hard to port. “How long until we get back to port?”

William considered this carefully. “About an hour, perhaps two. It’s difficult to say, given the conditions.” He looked at Adam, who had turned a delicate shade of chartreuse and was shivering violently. “It’s really not safe to be out here in this weather, sir. Let me escort you back to your cabin.” William had seen many people stricken with seasickness before, but none so badly as this poor fellow.

Just as he reached out an arm to help Adam, there was a harsh, rasping sound, which sent violent, shuddering tremors running throughout the length of the ship. Only Adam’s frantic grip on the railing prevented both men from being flung overboard, and William’s fingers clung onto the fabric of his companion’s jacket in desperation. The boat came to a juddering halt, its timbers creaking loudly in protest as the Brother Jonathan came crashing broad side onto the battering wave. Adam and William exchanged startled glances as they tried to compose themselves.

“We’ve foundered!” William gasped in horror. “Dear God, we’re caught on the Dragon’s Teeth rocks above Point St George.”

With the metal keel caught firmly on the treacherous underwater rocks, the vessel set up a raucous groaning, the eerie noise rising above even the roar of the wind and waves as the ship scraped and strained in futile attempts to break free from its confines. Adam found himself mentally calculating the likely stresses and strains on the fabric of the Brother Jonathan, trying to persuade himself that the vessel could survive this brutal onslaught.

Then there was another frightful lurch, and the ship slewed over to starboard, crashing Adam’s head painfully against a capstan and sending him skidding across the deck, where he lay in a crumpled heap against the far railings. William peered cautiously over the side of the steamer and gulped as a large piece of the keel floated past, sheered away by the savage impact. Just as he struggled to make sense of this catastrophe, a new disaster grabbed his attention. With a shivering, splintering sound, the foremast started to shudder and then crashed straight down, its long length disappearing through the deck until only the yardarm remained. William knew this was the death-knell: there was no hope now, for the Brother Jonathan was surely doomed to break up on the Dragon’s Teeth.

“Abandon ship!” Strong cries went up all around the boat, accompanied by bells rung in frantic desperation. Crewmembers rushed to the six lifeboats and started to lower them into the water.

William hauled himself to his feet and ran across the lurching deck to where Adam lay, moaning slightly. Grunting with the effort, he managed to hoist the semi-coherent man over his shoulder and staggered unsteadily towards the nearest boat.

“Joe?” Adam mumbled groggily. He managed to raise his head slightly and realized that the lifeboat was pulling away from the Brother Jonathan. “Where’s my brother Joe? I can’t leave without him!”

“You’ve got no choice.” William flung the words back tersely over his shoulder, as he pulled strongly at his oar, trying to keep in unison with the other men, each expending every ounce of his strength in order to propel the flimsy craft over the churning seas. The waves were in turmoil, rocking the boat violently and soaking all its passengers.

“We’ve got to go back – I can’t leave Joe!” Adam pleaded desperately. Another wave broke over the side of the boat as he struggled to crane his head and search for a glimpse of his brother.

“Don’t be so bloody stupid, man! That would be suicide.” Adam recognized this speaker as the Third Officer and felt a sense of utter helplessness and despair seep into every fiber and sinew of his being. There was no hope. Already the Brother Jonathan was starting to lurch slowly below the waves.

It was like being embroiled in a feverish nightmare, from which there was no escape. Weakened by his incessant seasickness and racked with pain from his head injury, Adam slumped miserably in the bottom of the boat as the men rowed valiantly towards the distant shore. His ears rang with cries of a child, who sobbed, time after time, in heaving gasps “You can’t leave Joe! Not Joe!” The little boy burst into inconsolable sobs that echoed painfully in Adam’s soul. He forced his eyes open and saw the child being comforted by his mother, who cradled him tenderly to her breast. Adam longed for someone to afford him that same solace.

*****

Steamer Brother Jonathan struck rock off St. George Point 8 or 10 miles NW from Crescent City, about half past one o’clock P.M. today, and went down about 45 minutes afterwards, and all on board are supposed to be lost, except 18 adults and three children, who came ashore with me in the ship’s lifeboat at this place about 5 o’clock P.M. All the boats at this place have gone to the rescue. No hope of saving anyone. Two boats swamped alongside of the ship, there were three boats left on the steamer. Passengers cared for by citizens here. The following is a list of those saved: James Patterson, 3rd Officer. David Farrel, Steerage Steward. Henry Miller, baker, Patrick Linn, fireman. William Lowery, fireman. William Shield, Steward. Steven Moran, waiter. Mr. Adam Cartwright, Mrs. Mary Ann Tweedle, Mrs. Mina Bernhardt and child, Mrs. Martha E. Wilder, Mrs. Martha Scott and child and 4 seamen. 8 o’clock, boats returned, and nothing seen of wreck.

We have given up all hopes.

Signed: James Patterson, Third Officer.

Ben Cartwright stared at the telegram in disbelief. He forced himself to re-read the words for a second time, followed by a third. They still refused to make any sense. No hope? How could he believe that Joseph was gone, was dead, just by reading the words of a telegram forwarded on from San Francisco. It did not seem possible. Nothing made any sense. He doubted if anything would ever make any sense, ever again. How could Joe be dead when he was so young, so full of life?

“Pa?” Hoss knew that something was wrong and Ben realized with a start that he was not alone in his grief. He still had two sons, and they needed him. He folded the telegram up neatly and put it into his vest pocket, before clapping Hoss on the shoulder.

“Let’s get going son. Your brother Adam needs us.” There would be time to explain on the journey to Crescent City, supposing he could ever find the words. How did you tell a man his brother was dead?

“And Joe?” Hoss stood still, refusing to move, despite his father’s prodding. “What about Joe, Pa? What’s happened to Joe?” His voice was raised, so that several people stopped and gave them curious looks. Hoss ignored them. “What’s happened to Joe, Pa?”

Ben’s face took on a look of infinite compassion as he gathered his son into his arms and held him close. His face was pressed hard against the suede of Hoss’ vest and his words were slightly muffled, but that did not begin to cushion the blow. “We’ve lost him, Hoss. Dear God, we’ve lost Joe.”

Saying the words aloud, actually acknowledging that his son was dead was the most difficult thing Ben had ever done. It wrenched his soul asunder, twisting it, tearing it apart and crumbling it into dust. He could not continue and a great sob tore its way out of his throat as Hoss returned his embrace. Father and son held onto one another in a fierce grip, each trying valiantly to support the other and to make sense of the news. Pulling apart after a few moments, they turned and walked slowly back down the street, the afternoon sun casting long shadows behind them that wavered darkly in the dirt of the street.

It was peaceful inside the church: cool, dark and quiet. The only sound was the clicking of their boot-heels on the flagstones as Ben and Hoss walked up the aisle and knelt down, side by side, at the altar rails, clasped their hands and bowed their heads in silent prayer.

“We’d better get to Adam as soon as possible,” Hoss said after a long while. “He’ll be needing us.”

“Yes, he will,” Ben, replied. “And we need him. I think we all need to be together.”

He choked back the thought that his family would never be complete again, that one member would always be missing, forever young, forever mourned and never forgotten. A vital part of his life had been ripped away, leaving a wound that was raw and weeping and would never heal. “A father should not outlive his sons,” Ben thought and tried to be grateful that two of his boys were still with him. It was a small, cold comfort.

*****

The window shades were pulled down in the corner bedroom where Adam lay, a large bandage wrapped around his head. The doctor had closed the wound to his scalp with seven stitches and pronounced him a very lucky man, but Adam did not feel lucky. Each time he closed his eyes, he relived the scene of the ship sinking slowly beneath the waves and submerging the only two other lifeboats to be launched. He could hear the cries of the passengers tossed into the ocean and even in his sleep, Adam found himself once again scanning the water, desperate for a glimpse of Joe, yearning to stretch out a hand and pull him to safety. Yet those smothering dreams were colored by the chill realization that it was too late, that he could not replay the tragedy and create a happy ending.

On the nightstand lay a telegram from home, a long message that was full of love and understanding. Pa and Hoss would be arriving soon and then they could all start their long journey in sorrow together. Adam thought of all the books he had read, all the poetry and philosophy and could find nothing to assuage his grief, nothing to comfort his soul. He needed his family; he needed them more than he had ever needed anything in his entire life.

*****

 The insistent clamor of the warning bells galvanized Joe into action and he sprinted to the boat deck. In an instant, there seemed to be people everywhere. Crewmembers, men, women and children thronged the decks of the Brother Jonathan, as the storm raged wildly around them. People were frantically scrambling into the lifeboats before they were even launched, so that the davit hoists screamed in protest. One moment, Joe was desperately helping to unwind the hoist, trying in vain to control the descent of the heavily laden boat into the water, the next his feet were skidding across the deck and he banged heavily into the railings, crushing his arm. Looking down, he saw that the lifeboat had shot downwards, causing its inhabitants to scream with terror, but at least they were off the ship.

There was no doubt that the Brother Jonathan was sinking, and sinking fast. In the distance, Joe could see one other lifeboat making its way towards shore and he strained his eyes until he saw a familiar garment. Adam and his beloved custard-colored coat! Joe thought, relieved his brother had made it safely off the ship. His arm throbbed painfully and he cradled it protectively.

The ship suddenly gave another violent lurch as her cargo shifted and as Joe watched in horror as a geyser of water spurted up through the deck timbers.

“We’ve got to get off this accursed ship now!” bellowed a familiar voice and Joe turned around to see George Pollock pulling at this arm. “They’ve overloaded her with cargo and she’s sinking fast.”

Joe nodded and bent down to pull off his boots, before accepting the cork lifebelt George held out to him. “Jump for it, son. It’s your only chance!” Propelled by a firm hand that would accept no demurral, Joe climbed over the railings and leapt out blindly.

Growing up on the shores of the deep and chilly Lake Tahoe, Joe had thought he was used to swimming in cold water, but nothing could ever have prepared him for this. This water was so far beyond cold, it was closer to liquid ice. The freezing chill that seemed to soak into him immediately, making any sort of movement almost impossible. Plunging into the water, Joe seemed to travel downwards for an interminable time, before frantically kicking out and struggling through the darkness up towards the surface.

The coldness literally pulled the breath out of his lungs and Joe spluttered violently, gasping for air at the same time as his body fought against the shock. At least there was one small benefit – his broken arm was still useless, but at least it didn’t hurt any more. One-handed, he wrapped the trailing lanyard from the lifebelt around his shoulders and started kicking out towards shore. Somewhere, in the back of his mind, Joe realized that the only way to keep alive was to keep moving. He conjured up a picture of his family, standing on the beach, beckoning him to join them and this spurred him onwards.

Keeping his eyes firmly fixed on the light shining out through the fog, Joe concentrated on one thing – propelling himself through the water. His breath was coming in short pants now, from a combination of cold water and exhaustion. Every third or fourth wave surged up and broke directly into his face, filling his mouth, ears and nose with stinging saltiness. Joe refused to give up and ploughed on with grim determination. His mind was occupied with staying alive and his body took over the sheer mechanics of swimming. The currents were strong and the riptide pulled him westwards, away from the lighthouse. Setting his jaw, Joe kept swimming towards shore, refusing to believe he would not make it. There was no point in looking back; he had to keep going forward, no matter how fruitless the endeavor appeared.

“Pa always said I got a double helping of stubbornness – from him and from Mama!” The thought sprang unbidden into his mind and Joe gave an involuntary grin, before choking painfully as he swallowed yet another mouthful of water. The memory of his mother seemed very close and Joe found his mind beginning to wander as the cold water took its inevitable toll on him. He started to mentally recite a prayer from his childhood in time to his strokes.

“Splendor of Heaven, Blessed Mother of the Son of God,

Immaculate Virgin, assist me in this necessity.

Oh Star of the Sea, help me and show me herein you are my mother.”

Numbly, Joe fought on, continuing to pray, uncertain if he was praying to the Blessed Virgin or to his own mother, just longing for someone to turn around and comfort him, to take him away from this battle. He was growing very weary now, weary and numb with the cold. Vaguely, Joe realized that he was reaching the limits of his endurance and felt an overwhelming urge to stop swimming, to give up the fight and just sink below the waves, letting them close over his head and affording him peace.

“Pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.” The familiar litany had never been quite to so appropriate and death had never been closer. For a moment, Joe was tempted to close his eyes and let go, but them his spirit returned and he started to fight again.

The tide was on the turn and for a while this worked in Joe’s favor, for the waves pounding relentlessly towards shore also thrust his body forward. However, it also brought additional hazards, as timbers from the Brother Jonathan broke free and surged inwards with the tide. A large spar rose on the crest of a wave and crashed down onto Joe’s unprotected head and shoulders. Pain blossomed like a crimson flower and Joe collapsed across the lifebelt, bobbing helplessly as the seas surged furiously around him.

The image of his family, once so firmly fixed in his head started to waver and then dissipate, as Joe felt the energy dissipate from his body. It was more than he could bear, this feeling of being utterly alone, helpless and at the mercy of the elements.

“I’m sorry, Pa, but I did try. I tried so hard.”

There was nothing else he could do; he was too tired to go on any further. Consciousness ebbed away, to be replaced by an empty, grey void and Joe surrendered himself to the sea.

The waves continued to pound his battered body, steadily increasing in height and power as the flow tide thundered into shore, the breakers crashing and foaming in impotent fury on the sandy beaches and venting their fury on the cliffsides. Eventually, they began to deposit flotsam and jetsam on the shoreline, including a limp and unresponsive figure, still lashed firmly to a lifebelt.

*****

Snugly enclosed within the folds of a borrowed dressing gown, Adam sat by the window and stared out at the sea, still searching vainly for any signs of life amid the sullen grey waves, tipped with white foam. The previous days had heaped misery upon misery, as it became clear that only a pitifully few bodies would ever be recovered. Most of the passengers and crew of the Brother Jonathan had simply disappeared into the ocean, leaving their relatives with only a memory to grieve over.

“Adam?” A familiar voice, one he had longed to hear, yet there was an unaccustomed hoarseness to Ben’s words and all his vigor and purpose seemed to have been drained away. Beside him, Hoss stood silently, his eyes swollen and bloodshot, set in a white face that was noticeably thinner.

Time seemed to stand still, frustrating their attempts to find some understanding or to forge a new unity. Adam held out his hands in supplication, trying to breach the gulf. And then, in a flurry of movement, he was enfolded in love and understanding. There was no need for further words, for what in truth could be said? A vital part of their lives was over and the very fabric of their existence was ripped into shreds.

Ben knew, from bitter experience, that the void would eventually grow smaller, that the chasm would be breached, but he dreaded the long, hard journey that lay ahead.

“There’s still no news?” Adam asked that afternoon, when Ben and Hoss returned from the Sheriff’s office.

Hoss screwed up his face. “A body was washed ashore at Eureka and been identified as a Miss Berry.”

Adam nodded somberly, thinking of the pretty, vivacious Mary. “I met her on ship. Joe seemed rather smitten with her.”

A flicker of a smile crossed Ben’s face. “That sounds like your brother!” He treasured this small insight into his son’s last days, days spent far from home. While he pitied the girl’s parents, who would have to identify her body, but at least they would be afforded the comfort of a funeral service, a formal farewell and a grave to visit and grieve over. Ben only had his memories of Joe and it seemed inappropriate to color the vibrancy with which his son had lived with a melancholic overtone. That would be a betrayal of Joe and his legacy. Yet it was inconceivable that there should be no lasting memorial to his beloved child and this troubled Ben greatly.

*****

The washing line was exactly twelve paces from the back door of her cottage. Stella counted each step she took, repeating the words “twelve steps” until all the laundry was pinned up in a neat row, billowing in the sea breeze. Four paces further took her to the fence-line, and once a week she forced herself to make this extra journey and stand for a count of one hundred, before retracing her steps until she was back in the safety and sanctity of her home. Only when the door was shut firmly behind her could she begin to relax, knowing she was safe.

Pegging the last pillowslip, Stella gazed outwards, soaking in the beauty of the green-gold marran grass that fringed the sandy path that curved up from the beach. Something caught her eye – a patch of much darker green and russet brown among the vegetation. As she watched, it moved slightly and a faint moan blew back to her on the wind. Fighting fear with compassion, Stella forced herself beyond the fence line, venturing out with all her bounds of safety as she saw the figure of young man, lying prone on the ground.

The back of his head was sticky with blood and his clothing was damp and stained with salt. Crouching down, Stella tentatively stretched out a hand, only to elicit a groan when she touched the man’s back.

“Help me. Please help me.” His voice was faint and weak.

For the first time, Stella regretted living so far from town and the solitude she had once sought now seemed to mock her.

“You have to help me!” she pleaded, giving his shoulder a gentle shake. “My house is nearby, but I can’t do this by myself!”

The man grunted, trying to make sense of the words, while wishing this person would stop pestering him. He was so tired and just wanted to sleep.

She pulled at his jacket, but the man did not move. “Don’t just lie there!” Stella cried, beginning to grow frustrated at the lack of response and increased her efforts.

Struggling back to wakefulness, he saw the frantic expression on her face. “I’ll try,” he mumbled. “Need a hand though.” Holding onto her arm, he pulled himself slowly upright and stumbled forwards.

It was like wading through molasses, for none of his limbs wanted to work properly and each step sent a searing pain into his chest. Stella grabbed his uninjured arm, slung it around her slender shoulders, set her teeth and literally dragged him the short distance to the house, where she deposited him on a chair just inside the door.

“Rest there for a moment,” Stella commanded, fighting to get her breath back. She noticed how the young man’s chest was heaving with the effort of the brief walk and a wheezing rasp accompanied each breath as he struggled to pull enough air into his lungs. Busying herself with preparations. Stella kept a close watch on her unexpected guest, noticing how he gradually sagged further down in the chair, his head drooping forward onto his chest. After allowing him a brief rest, she wrapped her arm around his waist and guided him into the bedroom.

“First things first,” she announced, although her guest was unresponsive once again, which made stripping off his ruined clothing a tricky task. When that was finally accomplished, Stella filled a bowl with warm water and gently began to bathe the man’s body and assess his injuries. He was a mass of bruises, from shoulder to hip, with an obviously broken forearm.

“I wish you could tell me your name,” she whispered, running a cloth across his brow and thinking how very young and handsome he was.

Without warning, the man opened his eyes and looked straight at her. They were a clear, startling green, as green as blades of grass bathed in morning dew. “My name is Joe. Joe Cartwright.” He tried to smile at her, but it was too much of an effort, and he lapsed back into sleep.

Stella managed to place his arm in a makeshift sling, thankful that the bones did not appear to be displaced and then dressed the wound at the back of his head, before drawing the bedclothes warmly around him.

“You rest now, Joe. Everything will be just fine.” She patted his uninjured hand, wishing she felt as hopeful as her words sounded. There was no doubt that Joe Cartwright was a very sick young man.

As the day progressed, Stella noticed that Joe’s breathing was becoming more ragged and painful. Coughing fits left him exhausted and struggling for air and when she eased him up into a sitting position the heat from his skin radiated against her hands.

Stella sat on the edge of the bed and ran a cool cloth across his chest. “I’ll make you a mustard plaster, to help your breathing.”

Joe looked at her, his eyes bright with fever. “I need to send a message to my Pa. I’ll be fine here, if you could just go and send a message for me. My family will be so worried…” His voice trailed off, but his pleading gaze never wavered from Stella’s face.

“I’m sorry, Joe, but I can’t do that.” Stella turned her head and stared out of the window in misery.

“Please, you have to help me,” Joe beseeched, stifling a cough and then wincing at the pain in his chest and back.

“I am helping you! I’m doing everything I can to help you!” Stella said fiercely.

“Just send a message for me. I can pay you.”

Unable to bear the plaintive tone in his voice, Stella flung around and stared at him. “I can’t go to town! Why can’t you understand that? I can’t go more than a few steps outside my house because I’m too frightened to go any further. The world crowds in on me, it crushes me and I can’t breath. I simply can’t do it and you have no right to ask me to! Now do you understand?”

Joe nodded weakly, taken aback by the vehemence of her words. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you.” He stared bleakly up at the ceiling and wondered what his family must be thinking. And Adam! Had he got safely to shore? He lay and fretted for a while, before dozing fitfully again.

From the kitchen, Stella heard a low muttering and went back through to the bedroom. The curtains were drawn against the chill night air and the single lamp showed Joe pushing the bedclothes aside and starting to get up.

Pa and Hoss will be so worried!” he muttered feverishly. “I’ve got to get a message to them. Need to find out if Adam’s alright.”

A firm hand pushed him back down onto the bed. “You’re not going anywhere,” Stella announced. “For one thing, you’re too ill, and for another, you haven’t got any clothes to wear!” She brushed her tears aside with an angry hand. “So I suppose I’ll have to get into town somehow, won’t I?”

“You’ll go?” Joe grabbed her hand and pulled her back down beside him. “Send a message for me?” Another fit of coughing doubled him up and Stella held a handkerchief to his mouth. When she settled Joe back upon the pillows, she flinched as she saw the bloody mucus that discolored the cloth.

“Tomorrow morning, I’ll go to town, send a wire and get the doctor,” she soothed.

Joe looked disgusted. “I don’t need a doctor,” he protested and doubtless would have continued further, if Stella had not forced a dose of quinine down his throat and then informed him she was off to prepare a mustard poultice.

As the night progressed, Stella tried every home remedy she could think of, plying Joe with teas made from goldenseal and willow bark, alternating hot and cold compresses on his body. Nothing seemed to work, and Joe was barely lucid by the time dawn broke.

“Lie still and rest,” Stella implored, tying her bonnet strings with fingers that were unaccountably clumsy. “I won’t be long, I promise.”

“Send to Ben Cartwright, Ponderosa Ranch, Nevada,” Joe instructed groggily, forcing his mind to concentrate. “Don’t forget. Please.”

“I won’t forget. Get some rest Joe. I’ll be back as soon as possible.” She bent over the bed and let her lips brush gently against his before squaring her shoulders and marching purposefully out of her house.

*****

Each day, the Cartwrights made a pilgrimage into town, visiting the Sheriff and the telegraph office, hoping in vain for news that never came. They were a familiar sight in town, mingling with other grief-stricken relatives, still searching the streets in the hope that a beloved face might suddenly appear. Reality was beginning to assert itself and they knew that they could not postpone their return to the Ponderosa for much longer. Yet something compelled them to stay in Crescent City.

“I don’t like to leave things like this,” Hoss said, leaning heavily on the railing outside the telegraph office. “Things seem unfinished and that ain’t right. We need to do something – for us as well as for Joe.” It was the first time he had mentioned his brother’s name since the sinking of the Brother Jonathan and his statement caused Adam and Ben to exchange looks.

“Did you have anything in mind?” Ben asked, keen to encourage Hoss to talk about things. He knew how destructive it was to keep feelings bottled inside you. They could fester away and consume a man with bitterness. Grief had to be faced straight on, no matter how much pain this caused. Only by acknowledging your grief could you begin to live with your loss.

A slow smile curved across Hoss’ lips and his took on a faraway look. “Joe was always the restless one, always searching for something, never sitting still. I can’t think of him any other way. I close my eyes and he’s right here in my heart, grinning from ear to ear, bursting with mischief.”

How strange it was to talk about Joe in the past tense. At least ten times a day, Hoss would think of a joke or see something unusual and think “I must tell Joe about that”. They had been so close, sharing one another’s hopes and dreams from childhood, comforting and supporting each other for as long as he could remember.

“Quicksilver,” Adam muttered. Talking about Joe was like pressing a bruise, but he persevered, hoping that one day it would stop hurting quite so much. “Joe was always mercurial and obstinate and strong-willed and…” He took a deep breath, forcing himself to continue, knowing that the first time was always the worst, that afterwards you knew how much pain you had to endure and could steel yourself against it. “And he was my brother. I held him the day he was born and he drove me to distraction, but that was Joe and I loved him.”

It was done. He would not have to say the words again, but Adam felt a sense of relief and a small degree of comfort.

“My Joseph. My boy.” Ben smiled proudly through his tears. “He’s still with us, forever young and carefree. He will always be with us, as long as we remember and love him.”

He would have continued, but an agitated woman hurried past and pulled anxiously at the office door.

“Pardon me, ma’am, but they’re shut for lunch,” Hoss said respectfully.

“They can’t be! I’ve got to send an urgent telegram to Nevada!” Stella blurted out. She staggered, suddenly overwhelmed with giddiness and would have fallen if Hoss had not taken hold of her elbow and ushered her into a seat.

“Thank you.” Stella looked up into a pair of guileless blue eyes and, for the first time in hours, felt safe. “I have to send a telegram for Joe – he’s so worried.”

Instantly, the expression on Hoss’ face changed. He bent over and held her wrist in a vice-like grasp. “Joe? You’re sending a telegraph to Nevada for Joe?”

“You’re frightening the lady, Hoss,” Adam cautioned. “And don’t jump to conclusions.” He favored Stella with a smile. “You wouldn’t have an address for that telegraph?” His heart was thumping wildly in his chest, but he forced his voice to remain calm and steady. “It’s just that we’re looking for our brother and he’s called Joseph Cartwright.”

Stella looked across at the older man, who stood staring starkly at her, a wondering realization dawning in his face and reached out her hand. “He’s safe,” she said and Ben’s world suddenly fell back into place, becoming new, restored and whole.

*****

Finding herself propelled up the street, being literally dragged along between Hoss and Adam, Stella felt a strange sense of freedom and joy. She had not only conquered her fears, but had given a family the most precious gift of all. They ran up the street towards the doctor’s, anxious not to waste a second, while Ben went at a slightly more sedate pace to hire a buggy from the livery stables.

His heart sang with elation. As he passed the church, he bowed his head briefly, and then looked up towards the sky. My son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found, he thought incredulously, scarcely daring to believe it. Ben waited impatiently until Adam appeared with the doctor and then bowled off at a smart pace, leaving a trail of dust in his wake.

“Remarkable woman, Miss Stella,” Doctor Maris remarked conversationally. “You owe her a great debt, Mr. Cartwright.”

Ben nodded in agreement. “I certainly do. If she hadn’t found Joe and then taken him in and helped him, why I hate to think what might have happened.”

The doctor turned slightly in his seat. “You owe her more than you realize. I’ve worked here for three years and this is the first time I’ve seen Miss Stella set foot across her doorstep. She’s been a virtual prisoner for years now, too scared to come out of her house. I couldn’t believe it when I saw in her my office! It’s been over two years since she last came to town, and even then she nearly passed-out with sheer terror.” He shook his head in wonder.

“She’s a very brave lady,” Ben agreed, shocked by the revelation. “I owe her a great deal.”

Stella’s house lay at the end of a lane, well away from the town and Ben wondered at the lonely existence she must have endured. He leapt out of the buggy and dashed towards the house.

“Joseph? Joseph?”

There was no answer and Ben stood helplessly in the kitchen, wondering what to do next.

“Through here,” the doctor announced, marching into the bedroom. “Open those curtains, man – I need some light in here!”

The room seemed to echo to the tearing noises coming from Joe’s throat. As daylight flooded in, Ben had to stifle an exclamation of horror. His son was struggling for every breath, his chest heaving with the effort of dragging sufficient air into his lungs. Fever raged through Joe’s body, which was searing hot to the touch and his hair was damp and unkempt with sweat.

“I’m here, Joe. Pa’s here. You’re going to be fine.” Despite his brave words, Ben gave the doctor an imploring look as he began his examination. Joe looked so young and vulnerable, so thin and frail that it scarcely seemed possible his body could withstand this onslaught.

“Get some water boiling – we need to help his breathing,” Mark Maris said in a low voice. “We’ve got a fight on our hands here.”

“Joe knows how to fight.” Adam stood in the doorway, his arms folded across his chest and an implacable expression on his face. “You just tell us what you need, Doctor.”

“He’s a stubborn little cuss,” Hoss added fondly, stroking Joe’s hair with a gentle hand. “Never got the hang of turning down a challenge.”

“Never does things in moderation either,” Adam said in a gruff voice. He took hold of Joe’s hand and winced. “That’s one heck of a fever he’s got going there.”

“Then we’d better get to work,” Mark informed him, taking off his jacket and rolling up his sleeves. His patient’s heart and pulse were far too fast for comfort and the first priority was to try to reduce that fever and alleviate his breathing difficulties. Stella directed Hoss to the well, where he hauled up buckets of icy cold-water and steeped cloths in them, while Ben eased Joe up into a sitting position, in a desperate attempt to help his breathing. Mark added menthol crystals to a bowl of boiling water and hoped that the cleansing steam would open up Joe’s bronchial passages.

“He really is very ill, you know,“ he said in an undertone to Ben, not wishing to give any false hope to the man.

“I know.” With a tender gesture, Ben stroked back Joe’s hair, and briefly hugged his son to is chest, trying vainly to impart a little of his own strength into his son. “Don’t give up on him, though. Let him fight.”

Mark regarded the older man gravely. “I’ll do everything I can,” he assured him. “But it’s up to Joe.”

“I know.” Ben relaxed against the headboard of the bed, still propping Joe up over the aromatic bowl. He smiled up at the doctor. “Don’t let appearances deceive you. In many ways, Joe is the strongest man I know. As the youngest of three boys, he has constantly fought to assert his place in family life and he’s earned himself a reputation as the best bronco-buster this side of the Sierras.”

Mark looked at the ridges of muscle that delineated Joe’s abdomen and patted Ben on the shoulder. “You’ve got a fine boy there, Mr. Cartwright.”

Still, the elevated heart rate and frenetic pulse continued to worry him, even as Joe’s breathing gradually relaxed and he stopped coughing up bloodstained mucus. There was a limit to the endurance of the body and Mark feared that Joe was reaching that point. There were only two remedies left at his disposal: the drastic treatment of cupping, or the less invasive but equally traumatic method of applying tincture of camphor in a fomentation. Weighing up the risks, Mark decided to try the camphor first of all.

Joe drew in his deep draught of air as the camphor plaster was applied directly over his heart. For an agonizing period, he did not seem to breathe at all, and then he exhaled with force and drew another gulp of air back down into his lungs. His face briefly suffused with color as the treatment started to work and Mark began to feel slightly more positive. But the improvement was short-lived.

Ben looked down at Joe, lying prone in his arms and wondered how much more he could ask of him. Were these brief hours enough? How much longer could he ask his son to wage this battle? How could a father ever gather up the strength and courage to give his son permission to die?

The fear stood out starkly on his face. “I don’t want him to suffer any more.” It was just past midnight, the very dead of the night and the chill winds that blew in through the cracks in the windowpanes sent a shiver up his spine. “Perhaps we should let him go.” He looked up to Adam and Hoss for confirmation and was startled to see the expressions of their faces.

“Give him a chance,” Adam pleaded, remembering the frail baby of over twenty years ago, who had grown into such a vibrant young man. He had lost Joe once and could not begin to contemplate losing him again. There were some things in life that were worth fighting for and Adam was resolved to see this engagement through to the conclusion.

“Joe’s surprised us just about every day he’s been on this earth,” Hoss added. He sat down beside Ben and gently pulled Joe’s unresisting body into his arms. “Don’t give up on him Pa, please?”

Mark looked at the family and decided to try one last remedy. Cupping had fallen out favor amongst the medical profession, but it was the last weapon left at this disposal. There was something about Joe that struck him as desperately gallant, and Mark resolved to do everything in his power to help the young man win his fight.

Stella produced a metal cup, and watched as Mark poured a measure of pure alcohol into it.

“Hold onto him,” he warned, and Adam positioned himself across Joe’s legs, while Hoss and Ben stationed themselves on either side of his limp body, leaning him forward, so that his back was exposed.

“First do no harm.” The words of Hippocrates rang clearly in Mark’s head as he struck a Lucifer and applied the flame to the liquid, which bust into fire. Quickly inverting the beaker, he clamped it to the upper lobe of Joe’s left lung and tried to block out the agonized roar of pain.

Joe surged upwards with a strength and ferocity that took everyone by surprise. Mark struggled to hold the burning hot cup in place as the young man fought valiantly against the burning torture. With a gasp of pure agony, Joe let himself lapse into unconsciousness.

Mark removed the cup and gazed soulfully at the large blister that was forming. “Once again,” he stated bleakly, and poured another measure of alcohol into the cup. This time he applied it to the right lung. The results were disconcertingly familiar. Adam had never known a man to scream in agony, even while he was unconscious, but Joe’s suffering seared its way into his very being. Once the blisters were lanced, Mark dressed them and lay Joe gently back down onto the mattress.

“He’s a brave boy. You should be very proud of him.” He had done everything in his power, used every ounce of his knowledge and skill, and yet was it enough? Mark walked into the refreshing night air and let the sea breeze wash over him, just wishing it could absolve the feelings of remorse.

Stella sat by the stove in the kitchen, rocking slowly back and forth, marveling at the events of the previous days. Joe had given her back her life, she was free at last, but at what cost? Was it worth it? Her tears dripped down unbidden, hot and salty, merging with the sea air, splattering off the flagstones at her feet.

“You boys get some rest,” Ben commanded, in tones that left no room for maneuver. “I’ll wake you if I need you.”

Two wan faces nodded at him, tacitly acknowledging the deeper meaning. Hollow footsteps rung out across the stone floor, hesitating for an instant as they craved one last glimpse.

“Sweet dreams, Joe.”

The door closed and Ben was left alone with his son. Deeply unconscious, lost in another world where pain could not touch him, the lines of pain were erased from Joe’s face. Ben pulled a chair close to the bedside and settled down to a lonely vigil.

“Papa?” A pure treble voice, sweet and clear, with all the innocence of untouched youth. “Where’s Mama gone?”

“She’s in heaven now, with God and Jesus. They’re looking after her.”

A puzzled look spread across his son’s face. “Doesn’t she miss me?”

“She misses you very much, Joe. As much as you miss her.”

The little boy considered this carefully. “Will I see her again, Papa?” Joe climbed into his father’s lap, snuggled in closely and slipped his thumb into his mouth.

“One day, Joe, one day. You’ll see Mama in heaven.” Ben savored the closeness, the unquestioning love given so whole-heartedly.

Joe reached up and kissed his father. “Don’t worry, Papa. I won’t ever leave you. I promise.”

How do you ever learn to say goodbye? How can you learn to walk down a road that takes you away from all you hold dear and never once look back?

Ben struggled against the irony of having recovered his son, only to let him go again. He had done all that he could, even down to sparing his two older sons the agony of seeing their brother die. His bitterness was fresh and green, blooming unbidden, watered by his tears and fed by his unrepentant sorrow. There was no worse situation, he was pitched past grief and could only sit by his son’s bedside, watching and waiting and praying.

*****

“Pa? Are you asleep?”

“I’m here Joe. I’m right here.” How could he sleep when his son needed him?

Joe turned his face towards the east window, where the faint early light of a summer dawn cast a warm glow upon his face. “I knew you’d come. I knew you wouldn’t leave me.”

Ben placed a tentative hand upon Joe’s chest: the fever was gone; he was no longer struggling for breath and his heart felt slow and sure. “You rest, Joe. I’ll be here when you wake up.”

Joy had come with the morning. A new day brought with itself new hope and a continued reason to keep living.

*****

High on the cliffs west of Crescent City, a sight was soon designated for a new lighthouse, a beacon to guide the unwary away from the treacherous rocks of St George’s Reef. Ben Cartwright made a handsome donation to the fund, but all the family felt they had to make another more personal contribution. Adam came up with the perfect solution: a cairn, overlooking the Dragon’s Teeth rocks, where the Brother Jonathan lay in pieces on the bottom of the ocean. The families of the survivors were each invited to place a stone, in eternal memory of their loved ones, imbuing the base rocks with love, repentance and hope. It gave them a memorial, a place to grieve, somewhere to say goodbye.

Long afterwards, when most people had forgotten the tragedy, Stella would still walk out each week to the cairn and remember the events of that eventful July. Deep within the heart of the cairn, Joe had placed a piece of paper, echoing the prayer he had said while drifting helplessly at sea. On her visits, Stella would repeat the words: “Oh Star of the Sea, help me… succor me in this my necessity.”

Life was very different now, so much sweeter, but the memories had a poignant undertone too. As the winds whipped her hair, and pressed her skirts close around her legs, Stella let her thought run back to those turbulent days, knowing that a part of her soul lay buried within the rocks of the cairn. Smiling at the memories, she linked her arm into her husband’s and let Mark guide her back home. Above all, only three things were really important in life: faith, hope and charity. Stella had experienced all three and treasured each one.

*****End*****

 Note: The steamship Brother Jonathan sank on 30 August 1865. Only seventeen souls were saved, while over 200 people died. It remains the United States of America’s worst peace-time maritime disaster and is commemorated by a memorial park in Crescent City.

In 1993, the wreck was located and over $500,000 in bullion, gold and silver coins recovered.

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