Summary: Ben has a bad dream about Adam but the truth isn’t far from that. Adam has been gone for years but getting home is proving much more difficult than he thought it would be.
Word Count: 8702
Sitting by the fireplace waiting for Hoss and Joe to get home from town, Ben fell asleep. He was exhausted. For seven years, Adam had been gone, and for the last four years, they had gotten only sporadic letters from him and then received almost nothing for the past two years. But then six months ago, a letter had arrived telling them that he was done with his traveling and was coming home for good. Ben had been ecstatic and Hoss couldn’t stop smiling for days. Joe’s reaction had been somewhat mixed but he too wanted his brother to come home even if he was still somewhat confused and upset that he had left in the first place.
However that initial joy was gone replaced by incessant worry that was growing more and more difficult to rationalize away. Adam was almost a month overdue. Bad weather and other issues could have explained a week or even two, but this delay seemed more ominous by the day. Ben found sleep elusive each night. When Hoss and Joe had said they were going to town for the social, he couldn’t go. Not only was he not in the mood to try to put on a party face, he knew there would have been inevitable questions for which he had no answers. He and his younger sons had broadcast the news of Adam’s impending return and now had to field questions as to why he wasn’t there. It was difficult enough to carry that burden without having to be reminded of it and be pushed into discussions of it by every well-meaning friend and neighbor curious about the delay.
Sitting in his most comfortable chair, Ben had thought it would be like most nights when he tried to read and found himself staring into the fireplace instead until the clock chimed midnight or later and he dragged himself up to his bed to toss and turn until the light of dawn made him get up to face another long day. Instead, exhaustion had finally exacted its toll and he fell into a deep sleep. He was startled by a knock on the door. Rising stiffly, he moved to the credenza and took his pistol in hand before going to the door pulling it open to find a man standing there in the shadows. He couldn’t see him clearly but the man-made no threatening moves.
“Can I help you?”
“Pa, It’s me. I’m home.”
Shocked for a moment, Ben was speechless at first but then nearly shouted. “Adam! You didn’t need to knock. This is your home. Come in. Come in.”
As the man dressed all in black stepped through the door, Ben embraced him. “We were so worried about you. You were weeks and weeks overdue. I was so scared that something had happened to your ship. But now you’re here.”
“Of course I’m here, Pa. I promised to come home, and I always keep my promises.” The voice was the same rich baritone, but the speech was oddly without inflection. It seemed wooden and as unemotional as a stranger visiting for the first time.
With his arm still around the Adam’s shoulders, Ben noted that he was chilled simply by holding him. “You’re so cold though. Why don’t you come over by the fire and warm up?”
Adam stopped and stood looking at the fire but not moving any closer to it. “No, I’m tired, so very tired. It was so hard a journey to get here. Maybe I could go up to my bed? I need to sleep, maybe I need to sleep for a very long time.”
Still relieved and smiling at his son arriving home even if he seemed not to be himself, Ben knew that there must be a terrible story behind the changes in his son, but that could wait. Adam obviously needed his rest. “Of course, Adam. You can go up to your room. Hop Sing hasn’t aired it out, but the bed is made up, and all your things are still in there. Son, I’m so glad you’re home.” Adam nodded ever so slightly and turned to plod up the stairs. Ben watched him go unable to take his eyes from his firstborn. He did note how each step seemed to be a major effort. At the top of the stairs, Adam turned back briefly and gave a small wave goodbye. Ben waved to him too. He remembered how when Adam was a small child, he would wave goodnight like that. He realized he hadn’t seen him do anything like that for over three decades. He sat in his chair again but with a lighter heart. He was relaxed now and leaned back more content than he had been for a long time. Closing his eyes, he slipped into a restful sleep once more only to be awakened when Hoss and Joe arrived home with the latest newspaper.
Neither of them seemed to want to say something and yet both of them seemed like they had something to say. “Out with it. What is it that you’re trying to keep from me and know you should tell me?”
Hoss moved close to him and put a hand on his shoulder. “Pa, it says the ship Adam was on is missing.”
“What do you mean ‘missing’?”
Joe picked up the story there because Hoss couldn’t bring himself to say the rest. “It says the ship is presumed lost in a typhoon. It left the Sandwich Islands almost two months ago. It should have been in port earlier than we thought not later. The story says that it’s presumed that all on board have been lost.”
Shocked, Ben took some time to find his voice. When he did, his words sounded as if he was being strangled. He could hardly bear to say them. “But why is this coming out now? Why wasn’t this in the newspaper before? Why didn’t anyone tell us this news before now?”
“The shipping company has been checking all the ports up and down the coast thinking maybe the ship was damaged and blown off course taking refuge in some other harbor like other ships were, but they can’t find it.”
“Yeah, seems they wanted to save the money from sending out all the telegrams for missing passengers and cargo. They’re worried about losing money. They didn’t care none about how we was worrying.”
“But that can’t be. It can’t be!”
Almost numb but also confused, Ben rushed up the stairs to Adam’s room where he found the door closed as it had been for years. He opened the door and the musty smell of the room assaulted his nose, and there seemed to be another smell that reminded him of many years before when he had been aboard ship.
“Adam, are you here? Adam?”
There was no answer so Ben fumbled in his pocket for a match to light the lamp. When he did, he found the covers on the bed turned back as if someone had lain there briefly, but the bed was empty. Stepping forward slowly, he reached down to touch it and found the bed was damp or so it seemed to him. He was in shock then. He couldn’t talk. He stumbled down the stairs and poured himself a large brandy. Somehow he got back to his chair where he sat down heavily. Draining the glass of brandy in two gulps, he leaned back closing his eyes and willing none of it to be true. He couldn’t talk and waved off his sons who wanted to help him. Sitting silently in the chair, he stared straight ahead as Hoss and Joe went up to their beds.
In the morning, Hoss and Joe found Ben in his chair. Apparently he had fallen asleep at some point and spent the night there. The fire was out and the room was chilly. Ben awoke and stood with the stiffness of the years making every movement difficult. He turned slowly and stared up at the top of the stairs wondering what he would find when he went up there. With trepidation, he climbed those stairs and walked down the hall pausing in front of Adam’s bedroom door once more. He opened it to find the same musty smell he expected. The bed was made up and hadn’t been disturbed. There were no boot prints in the light film of dust on the floor. Ben moved to pull the door closed but paused because he thought his nose detected scents that were so familiar. There lingered the smell of the salty air and the smell of a ship that’s been at sea for months. He shook his head and wondered at his vivid imagination.
Joining his sons downstairs for breakfast, he smiled benignly at his sons who asked him if he felt all right.
“Pa, when we came in last night, we couldn’t wake you. You mumbled a lot but wouldn’t wake up. Hop Sing told us the best thing to do was to let you finish your sleep and your dreams right where you were. That was all right, wasn’t it?”
“Yes, Hoss, that was all right. That news that you and Joe brought me a few days ago has been preying on my mind. I had been hoping that Adam would come home even though I knew that being so long overdue had to mean bad news. Being hit with the finality of it though was still a blow. I guess I may have had too much brandy last night. I know I had some vivid dreams. I have been thinking though that we ought to go to San Francisco. If your brother truly is lost, that would be the place to say goodbye. We could have a service there on the coast. Perhaps his spirit could rest easier if we said our goodbyes to him that way.”
Hoss and Joe were silent until Joe spoke in a broken voice. “Pa, do we just give up hope then? Do we accept that he’s gone?”
“Joe, I know how hard it is. You don’t know how hard it is for a father to say it. A son should never go before his father. It isn’t the natural order of things. But I know there is no land between the Sandwich Islands and the coast. The ship has been missing for over a month, and there’s nothing. I’ve been at sea. I know what that means. Yes, son, I think we have to accept it.”
“Pa, if that’s what you want to do, that’s what we’ll do. We got all the main work done getting ready for winter, and Candy can handle whatever is left. I’ll get the work organized in the morning if you and Joe want to go to town and make arrangements for us to travel. Joe, that all right with you?”
As Joe nodded, Ben wrapped an arm around his youngest son. “Thank you, boys. Thank you. I need to do this, and I think you’re going to find it’s good for all of us. This trip is going to be good for this family. I believe that with all my heart.”
Many miles away, in a ship bound for San Francisco, a dark-haired man lay on a bunk below decks in an incredibly small cabin. He had only one thought these days for the only freedom he had left was his mind. “Please, Pa, find me. I need your help. I want to go home. I want to keep my promise to you.” Who would ever have thought that the dream of a rescue at sea would turn into such a nightmare?
The trip hadn’t started as a nightmare, but a skilled captain and crew would likely have known better. Apparently the signs of a storm were there, and they were warned. Adam didn’t learn that until he was clinging to a large piece of the bowsprit and bumped up against a large hatch cover on which one of the ship’s sailors was desperately trying to hang on despite a severely injured arm. With a small length of rope that was dangling from the bowsprit, Adam was able to attach it to the hatch cover and stabilize both before he climbed aboard beside the sailor named Bass who was grateful for the help and the company. Adam pulled off his belt and put a tourniquet on the man’s arm to stop the bleeding before doing anything more. As the waters calmed, Adam managed to snag a piece of canvas from the water and used that to rig a pressure bandage for the man’s arm. With the belt and the canvas, the bleeding was stopped because the wound was closed.
“All right, you’ll live.”
“For how long? We made it out of that storm, but we’re many hundreds of miles from land and other ships stayed in port with that storm coming.”
“You knew the storm was coming?”
“The captain was told, but he didn’t believe them. The weather looked so good, he thought he knew better. I was praying we’d go fast enough to beat it, but you know how that worked out.”
“So now what?”
Drifting for days, Bass lost consciousness first and died on the fourth day. Adam wasn’t in much better shape. He pushed the man’s body off the hatch cover with a quick prayer for the impromptu burial at sea and gave a quick apology for the little that he could do. “Sorry, my friend, but I’m afraid I may follow you soon.” Looking up at the sky, which had sunburned him terribly and dehydrated him to the point of near death, Adam made one more apology. “Sorry, Pa. I promised to come home. I really tried, but I don’t think I’ll be able to make it.” He had laid his head down on the wet wood then and closed his swollen eyelids not expecting to open them again ever. The effects of dehydration and exhaustion had taken over, and he had lost consciousness. The seas were calm though, and he stayed on the hatch cover rocking on the waves for another day.
With a start, Adam had jerked awake two days later to find himself in a bunk on a ship with a blanket across his naked body and a bucket beside him for his needs. There was water there to drink, and he realized he must have been drinking because he had a powerful urge to use that bucket. Once he did that, he wrapped the blanket around himself and attempted to open the door. He had expected it to be unlocked but found it secured firmly. He knocked on the door and waited to see who would come to see him. It took about fifteen minutes but after some rustling at the door, it swung inward and a man stood there looking at him.
“Yeah, we figured you’d make it. Welcome aboard. How do you like your new home?”
“It’s fine for now. Thank you for rescuing me. Can you tell me how long it will be before we get to a port? My family will be very worried.”
Shaking his head, the man had looked at him. “You didn’t hear me very well, didja? This is your home now. Sailors are hard to come by with the goldfields takin’ ’em all the time. Cap’n says you be the newest crewman.”
“No! You can’t do that!”
Before Adam could do any more, the door was pulled closed. He was naked, locked in a small cabin on an unknown ship, and obviously outnumbered. He had gone from a hopeless situation into a desperate one. It was only a slight improvement. After a couple of days to recuperate from his ordeal, he was given clothes to wear and brought out to work. His first tasks were mostly cleaning and scrubbing below deck. His workload was increased rapidly as they found how strong he was and how efficient. The work exhausted him and the food he got was insufficient. He objected and found that wasn’t the way to do things either. Without much commotion, at a signal from the officer in charge, he was grabbed by two men and marched up to the ladder and forced to climb to the top deck. Once there, he was lashed to the main mast and forced to stand there for the rest of the day. It wasn’t the punishment. He didn’t know it, but he was supposed to be dreading the punishment because that was coming next. Before dinner, all the crew assembled and watched as he got ten lashes for his insubordination as a lesson in how to behave on board ship. Then all were released to go to dinner as he leaned against the mast in agony trying to will the stinging to go away. He had no dinner and found he couldn’t sleep that night either and yet he had to work as usual the next day with the pain of the lashes still stinging. One of the other sailors in not much different a situation than his whispered to him as they worked close together at one point.
“Don’t work so hard. Make it look like you’re too sick to do much more than you’re doing. The more you do, the more they give you to do. Work hard enough to show you’re working but not so hard as to get more work.”
Not allowed to converse while working, Adam couldn’t ask the man anything more, but knew too that the man had risked a lot by telling him that much. Two days later, reasonably recovered from those lashes, he got his dinner and had a nicer biscuit than usual. When he moved to sit, he surreptitiously dropped it next to that man who had given him the advice, and he quickly snatched it up and smiled at Adam thanking him for it. The favor had been repaid and a friendship was created. If it would do either of them any good was yet to be determined, but it was a small ray of sunshine in the dismal world in which they were trapped. He spent the rest of the voyage appearing to be hampered by the scarring on his back and the pain that had been caused. Keeping his eyes down when ordered to do work, his keepers decided they had broken his spirit sufficiently and spent no more time watching him than they did any of the others.
If they had any idea what he dreamed of doing to them, they would have been far more worried. At night, Adam worked on using small pieces of metal that he had managed to hide away and use to drill three holes in the walls of his cabin. Once he had made the three small peepholes, he could see into the cabin on either side and into the space immediately outside of his small cabin. The man he had befriended or more accurately who had befriended him was on his right. By listening to the other men talk and to the orders given, he had heard them refer to that man as Scratch. They didn’t use proper names for any of them. No one had ever asked him his name nor did they use it. He knew they referred to him as Flotsam. Another much more surly man was on his left. He was called Bear. He couldn’t see much in the space outside his door but began to work on a way of being able to see more there too. He began to listen too and learned to identify the footfalls of the various members of the crew. He didn’t know all their names, but he knew their faces and their personalities as well as their approximate ranks. Within the few weeks that they were at sea before arriving in the first port after he had been rescued, he had memorized the layout of the ship and knew the crew and their schedule.
It was hot where they were and based on the length of time for their travels and that the storm had probably blown his ship to the south, he guessed that they were in a Mexican port or a Nicaraguan one. He wasn’t allowed out of his cabin while they were in port nor was his friend allowed out. They got basic rations once a day. The surly one was allowed out. Adam wondered at the difference, which became the next puzzle for him to solve if he was ever to escape. He didn’t have a plan yet, but he was starting to get some ideas.
With great relief, Adam felt the ship lurch on the morning tide after their stay in the port. The night before, the crew had returned earlier than other nights and had been quieter leading Adam to guess that they were leaving or that a storm was on the way. He was pleased that they were leaving and finally escaping the heat. He had discarded his clothing on the first day in the tropical heat but that had done little to help after being held for so long in that cramped space. It was with relief that he was called out a few hours later to do some work even if the man who pushed the door open laughed to see him sitting there au naturel. He pulled on his pants and shirt and moved to follow his orders grateful to escape the heat and stench of his own quarters, which could do with some airing out. With the sun shining brightly to his side, he smiled knowing they were headed back north again. Then he hid the smile almost as quickly as he had it for he didn’t want his keepers to know that he had any kind of independent thought processes going on. He hoped they were going to San Francisco. He knew the area well enough that he hoped to use some of that knowledge to find a way to escape.
As Adam worked each day and found renewed reasons to pray each night, Ben and his younger sons were starting off on a journey to San Francisco where they planned to say goodbye to Adam with a seaside ceremony. They weren’t sure yet what they were going to do, but they had brought a few of the possessions he had left when he had started his journeys expecting to come home to reclaim them. Ben said he wasn’t sure what they would do with them, but he thought they needed some tangible thing there with them when they said their goodbyes. It would be too hard to look out at the sea and say a final and forever goodbye with nothing there to touch or hold except each other. So each of them had chosen one treasured possession and packed it carefully in their luggage. Ben had watched Joe look longingly at the guitar propped at the fireplace as it had been for so many years and had sighed softly in relief when Joe had chosen something else. None of them knew what the others had chosen. They planned to reveal their choices when they said their goodbyes. It was going to be an unconventional ceremony except that Ben did have the family Bible with them, but Adam had lived an unconventional life compared to theirs. He deserved a fitting goodbye to the life he had chosen to follow. They had wished that it had a different ending.
It was a somber group who boarded the train to begin the journey. Their closest friends were there knowing what they planned to do. In itself, that was a small ceremony too as each of them was saying goodbye in their own way too. Quietly, after bidding farewell to their friends, Ben and his sons settled into their seats shortly before the train was scheduled to leave. Uncharacteristically, Joe had no jokes to tell and Hoss had no observations of the people or the activities. All were lost in thoughts and memories.
The beauty of San Francisco Bay nearly brought tears to Adam’s eyes, and for a brief moment, he considered jumping overboard as they neared the harbor where he knew he would be confined below decks. However, the currents, the sharks, the cold, and probably other threats he didn’t even know were too much. Even a strong swimmer with practice couldn’t survive a swim to shore from a ship out in the channel. He wished that wasn’t true, but he knew it was.
“Still thinking of escaping, are ya?” The sailor in charge of the work detail had noticed Adam looking out at the land. Adam quickly looked down but not before noticing that none of the other men had looked out at the land at all. He had made a mistake. “You’ll be spending your time in shackles in your cabin. Ye best be heading down there now less you wants more of them stripes on your back.”
Disappointed in himself for his lapse in judgment, Adam wasn’t going to make it worse by refusing that order. He headed down to his cabin as ordered. A man followed him down, and as he had been told, he was shackled this time. Apparently in an American port, they were taking no chances at all. He guessed they wouldn’t only lose a sailor if one escaped. Potentially, they could be arrested and lose their freedom and everything they owned. Locked in his cramped quarters, there was nothing he could do about that. He assumed he would be on limited rations again, but at least it wouldn’t be unbearably hot, and as long as they were there, he wouldn’t have to work. It was a mighty small comfort though for it meant that all the seeds of plans that he had been developing were useless and would have to be held for the future. He did assume they would be back here again, but it would likely be weeks or perhaps months before that happened. He sat on his bunk and thought because it was the only thing he was allowed to do. He felt the boat dock and be secured, and heard all the noises of cargo being unloaded and the ship being emptied and cleaned. Over the next few days, he heard scraping and realized they were cleaning the outside of the hull which meant they would be in port much longer than they had been in the last port. He didn’t mind too much except for the enforced inactivity and the resultant boredom. It was on the third day that he received a shock. His meals were brought to him by Bear who never spoke until that day.
“I want to get off this ship. I figure you might be the one to help me. I help you. You help me. Deal?”
Wondering if it somehow could be a trap, Adam didn’t know what to say at first. He nodded. “I don’t know what I can do.”
“Don’t trust Scratch. He informs on the rest of us to get favors.”
That shocked Adam who wondered if he should believe him.
“He’s been the one telling you how to behave to get along with the bosses, hasn’t he? He does that with all the new ones. It’s what the bosses want him to do. You watch. If they shanghai a new sailor, they’ll move Scratch so he’s next to the new one. You won’t have him next to you no more. He’ll buddy up with the new guy. By now, they figure they got you toeing the line well enough. You came down here meek enough to get the shackles on.”
At that point, Bear was called back up top. He had taken too long. At the following meals, they worked out more.
Thinking it all over before their next conversation, Adam had a question. “What can I do to help locked up in here?”
“If they bring in a new guy, and they open up your cabin to move you, create a huge ruckus. I’ll be ready. They’ll all rush down here to take care of you and I’ll go overboard. I can get under the docks and work my way to where I can get ashore and free.”
“How does that help me? I’ll likely pay a heavy price for what you’re asking.”
“You tell me who to contact and how. I’ll get help for you if you give me enough information.”
At the next meeting, Adam told him that his family was wealthy, and gave him a quick way to contact them. At the final meeting, Bear asked how he would be able to convince the family that he wasn’t some con man out to make some money.
“They’ll think you’re dead. We found you floating in the ocean.”
Knowing that Bear was correct, Adam told him what to say so that his family would believe him. Bear looked unconvinced but Adam told him that it would work. The die was cast. Adam knew that there was a chance that he was being used or set up. This whole plan could cost him his life, but he didn’t think he was likely to live long in the conditions in which he was being forced to live. On this ship, everything went so much against his nature that he was likely to get himself into a situation eventually that would or could be fatal. He had cast his lot with Bear, and although not a gambling man by nature, he would do it when he thought he had to do it and the hand he was dealt was the best he could get. It was that night that the shanghaied sailor was brought aboard, and the plan had to quickly be implemented.
While all that commotion occurred aboard the ship, a much more somber mood prevailed at the hotel where Ben and his younger sons sat at dinner but found their appetites had deserted them. They had spent the day at the shore saying goodbye to Adam which for all of them had been perhaps the most difficult thing they had ever done in their lives. Watching ships sail in and out, and seeing ships tied up at the docks only fed some bitterness that Adam’s ship couldn’t be one of them. Ben had read from the family Bible and had added the year to the entry after the year of Adam’s birth. That had been the start of the difficult day. Then he had taken out Paradise Lost and read from the book that had been Elizabeth’s favorite and which had been a prized possession of his son resting on his desk since their house had been built and Ben had allowed him to have it.
Hoss had pulled out Sport’s bridle and talked about how Adam how loved that horse and the Ponderosa putting his sweat and blood into the building of it and how it would stand forever as a testimony to him.
Joe pulled out Adam’s harmonica and talked of Adam’s love of music and all things beautiful. He could only say those few words before he broke down and could say no more. Ben and Hoss held him as they too needed the comfort of the others.
They spent some quiet time after that, and eventually Hoss and Joe shared some stories with their father of escapades he didn’t know of things Adam had done. They tried to think of the funniest of those or the most entertaining trying to get the day to end with some joy, but no matter how much they tried, sorrow touched all their hearts in every story they told and every memory they shared. Finally they returned to the city and decided to have dinner, but the food had no taste.
“Is there anything else we gotta do in the city, Pa, before we head for home. I got a hankering to see the Ponderosa again and settle in at home.”
“We should see a lawyer about settling Adam’s accounts here before we leave.”
“That won’t take long, will it? I’m with Hoss. I’d like to go home soon too.”
“We can head for home in one more day. We should call on a few of Adam’s close friends in town and let them know what happened. We probably should put a notice in the paper too. There are many people who knew him and will want to know.”
“We gonna do any kind a service at home, Pa?”
“At this point, I don’t think so, but we’ll see. I don’t want to think about that right now, but I think I would like a brandy. How about you two? Join me in the salon?”
The next morning as planned, Ben and his sons began making the rounds stopping at the lawyer’s office first and then stopping to see several of Adam’s closest friends. It was at their fourth stop that they got a shock. Julian had been a classmate of Adam in college and worked in banking and investments. He and Adam had made a number of joint investments over the years, but Ben didn’t realize that he and Adam had done some international investing until that day. However that wasn’t the biggest shock. That was only a surprise. The shock was that Julian said that a bedraggled sailor had shown up at his door asking how to contact Adam’s family. He seemed to know a lot knowing Julian’s address and about some investments he and Adam had made. He seemed authentic which made his outlandish story all the more puzzling.
“He told me that Adam is being held against his will as a crew member aboard the Star of Leo. The ship is currently being scraped and refinished at the docks. He told me that they found him adrift on the ocean. Ben, could any of this be true?”
Ben had staggered against Hoss with the news and was finding it difficult to speak with the ensuing assault of emotions. Joe asked a question first.
“How could we possibly know the man is telling the truth?”
“He said that Adam gave him something to tell you that would convince you that it was him, but that he is only to tell you. He described Adam accurately as far as I know. He knew of scars and such, but I’ve never seen those so you would be a better judge as to whether that information is correct.”
“Where is this man?”
“I gave him money and sent him to the steamer office to buy a ticket to travel to Virginia City. I didn’t know what else to do.”
“When was this?” Ben was beginning to take charge.
“A few hours ago. I sent a telegram to you in Virginia City. I had no idea that you were here. I thought about contacting the authorities, but the information seemed rather outlandish.”
“It may not be. Julian, will you come with us to find this man?” Within minutes, the four of them were on their way to the steamer office to hopefully find the sailor who had said he had information on Adam. Once they were there, Julian didn’t see him anywhere.
“Ben, if his story is true, he escaped from that ship. He wouldn’t want to be seen and taken back. He’ll be keeping out of sight. Now do any of you have any idea where he would go in this area to do that?”
First Hoss and then Ben looked to Joe who nodded. “I may not know, but I do know people here who would know.” Joe led them to a small pub. Inside he bought drinks and gave a sizeable tip. Soon a barmaid was there flirting and Joe asked if she knew Matty. She did, and soon Matty was there greeting Joe. Joe got down to business telling her as much as she needed to know and then asking what he needed to find out. Soon they were on their way to several establishments and hit paydirt at the third one when Julian spotted the sailor at a table in the corner doing his best not to be seen. Julian walked over and the sailor looked up and got a scared look.
“Wait, don’t run. I found Adam’s family. I didn’t realize they were in the city. They want to know if you really knew him. This is his father Ben, and his brother Hoss, and his brother Joe. Now, what did he say that his family would know only he had said so they would know it was him?” Julian waited for the answer and his mouth literally fell open at the response. He couldn’t believe the man had said it and was ready to call the authorities to arrest him as a con man when he realized that the three Cartwrights were laughing.
“Dadburnit, that Adam ain’t changed a bit. He would say something like that. Imagine that. Him remembering that day.”
However they quickly got down to business talking with Bear finding out his actual name, Isaac, and learning as much as they could about Adam’s circumstances. Then Ben and Julian headed to the federal marshal’s office with Isaac knowing that the local police were often paid off by ship’s captains to look the other way. Hoss and Joe headed to the docks to keep an eye on the ship from a distance. It was amazing what had been set in motion by that one word Adam had told Bear to tell them. “Moo.”
Lying on the floor of his cabin, Adam didn’t hear what was being said about him. If he did, he would have been worried. As it was, he was in pain. He had taken a beating for putting up a fuss for being moved from his cabin so that the new sailor could have it. Then when they realized that his act had probably been staged so that Bear could escape, he was given a systematic beating. The end result was that he was barely conscious but was aware that Bear had gotten away. He lay there and prayed that Bear could have some success quickly because he had realized too that they might have found him to be more trouble than he was worth. One more sailor with his throat slit found floating in the harbor wouldn’t be much of a surprise to anyone. By the time his body was found, it was unlikely anyone would recognize him. While he had those dark thoughts, the captain and his officers were having that very discussion and coming to the same conclusions. They decided that well after dark, they would take him off the ship and carry him some distance down the dock to dump his body at high tide so that it would be carried out. Weighted and wrapped in a blanket, the body likely wouldn’t be found for a number of days, and their ship would be gone by then. Satisfied with their plan, they left him lay in his blood and waste for the rest of the day.
As night fell, Ben and Julian arrived with federal marshals and a number of men Ben had hired to help them. He was well aware of how many men it might take to overwhelm the crew of the ship and wanted the odds completely in their favor. The marshals didn’t mind at all that they would be backed up so well. It wasn’t often that they got to do their job with so much help. As many of the crew left for the night, Ben and his group moved closer getting in position to storm the ship at the marshal’s signal. When they did, it was a melee for only a minute as the men on deck were dispatched quickly. Ben and Isaac led the others below decks but found that Adam was not in the cabin where he had been. Scratch told them where he was. Shocked at his condition, Ben cradled his son and called his name.
“Pa, you’re not a dream, are you?”
“No, son, I’m really here. We’ve come to take you home.”
“Pa, I need help. I don’t think I can stand up on my own.”
“Hoss is here. He’ll carry you if he has to. We’ll get you out of here.”
There wasn’t room to carry him, but Hoss did get him upright and with Adam’s arm around Hoss’ shoulder, they managed to get up on deck. Hoss helped Adam sit on a hatch cover as Ben checked him over for any major injuries. The marshals asked Adam to identify any in the assembled crew who had been part of his kidnapping. He identified the captain and officers and all the men who had led work details and then pointed at Scratch.
“And he was their inside man. He was the informer telling them whatever they needed to know to keep us in line.”
Scratch’s smile disappeared at that, but Isaac got a big grin for the first time in over a year. Finally he was seeing some justice done. He only wished they could all get the lashes that he and Adam had gotten. He guessed those men were going to prison though and hoped they would get some there. He stepped up and shook Adam’s hand intending to say goodbye, but Ben intervened.
“Where will you go?”
“I don’t know. I came out here to try my hand at the gold fields, but I never got a chance. I was shanghaied my first night in port. I been on one ship or another for years and never saw a dime for my work. I got nothing and no one.”
“You have a place with us if you want it.”
“I don’t know nothing about ranching.”
“I bet you knew nothing about being a sailor until you did it either. It doesn’t matter. You’re smart. You obviously know how to work. We’ll find things for you to do, and you’ll learn. How about it? thirty dollars a month to start and food and lodging.”
Adam broke in then. “Forty. He can be whatever you want, but I want him working for me if you won’t pay him that much.”
“All right, forty and you can work on the Ponderosa or you can work for Adam in whatever business plans he has in mind.”
“Thank you. I’d like that.”
“All right. Come with us to the hotel. We’ll get you outfitted when we get some things for Adam. It looks like both of you need clothes.”
At the hotel, there was some objection when Adam came in bloody and filthy leaning on Hoss, and Isaac came in behind them dressed as a common sailor. Ben told the clerk all would be remedied as soon as they could get a bath and some clothing ordered. A generous tip and orders for baths, food, and clothing seemed to do the trick. They got a separate room for Isaac next to where Hoss and Joe had a suite. Adam went into Ben’s suite. As his bath was prepared, Hoss helped Adam undress from the filthy clothing that weren’t much more than rags. Hoss had a difficult time controlling his temper when he saw the bruises from the beating, but when he saw the dark purple stripes from the lashing Adam had endured, he was livid. He said nothing, but Adam felt how rigid he was when he assisted him into the tub.
“Hoss, it’s over now. I’ll be fine.”
“But what them cockroaches done to ya makes my blood boil. I wish I’d seen this back at the ship. It was too dark though. I didn’t realize how bad you was hurt or the scars you had on your back. Did Pa see any of this?”
“No, but he’s served on a ship. He probably wouldn’t be shocked.”
“He probably wouldn’t be shocked by what?” Ben had walked into the room with a plate with a sandwich and a cup of coffee because the food he had ordered had arrived. Hoss didn’t know what to say, but Adam simply leaned forward so that his father could see his back. Ben’s stomach turned to see his son’s back, but he knew what had to be done. Doing his best to control his voice when he spoke, he set the plate and cup on a small table by the tub. “You need to rest and soak in the warm water. Why don’t you eat the sandwich and have some coffee. I daresay you probably haven’t had anything that good in some time. Once your back has softened up some, I’ll massage those scars. It will loosen them and help them soften up. Hoss, why don’t you look for something we can put over the tub for Adam to lean on when I do that?”
And Ben knew it was for more than the food and for more than the offer of the massage. Getting Hoss doing something was going to help him. Once he was doing something to help his brother, he was going to feel better. The more that Ben could give Hoss to do to help Adam, the better off Hoss would be. Adam smiled.
“Now, what will you do for Joe?”
“Oh, I already put him in charge of taking care of Isaac, getting some clothing for you and for Isaac, getting the lawyers to work on your legal papers because this morning we decided to have you declared deceased so we have to reverse that, and all sorts of things like that. He’ll be very busy and feel important to the family, and that’s what he needs.”
“And Hoss needs to be here helping.”
They understood each other and the younger two very well. Soon Hoss was back with a broomstick wrapped in a towel. He laid it across the bathtub so Adam could lean on it while Ben massaged his back. When he finished that, Hoss smiled and told him that Adam was asleep. They decided to go ahead and wash Adam’s hair while he was in that position. Once that was done, they gently shook him and helped him from the tub wrapping him in a large robe. Hoss helped him to the bed, and Ben pulled the covers over him. Adam was asleep almost immediately.
“Pa, now don’t sit up the rest of the night.”
“No, I plan to lay down right next to him and sleep too. If he needs me, I’ll hear him.”
Relieved to hear that, Hoss went to his room and fell into his bed to sleep soundly and peacefully too. Late that morning, he awoke and went back to his father’s room to find that Adam was still asleep, but Ben was awake and looking more relaxed and refreshed than he had. It seemed that those extra years that he had added on with the worry and the sorrow had fallen away. After telling Hoss that he felt better than he had in years, he told him that Adam had not awakened at all, but that clothing had been delivered, and that Joe seemed to have matters well under control.
“Hoss, you have another job now. Go out and corral Joe and get him to get some rest. He’s taken this job as a mission and hasn’t gotten any sleep yet. Isaac is in his room and has gotten some clothing. You can check with him to see if he needs anything else, but most of all, find Joe and get him to rest. I don’t want to leave Adam alone or I’d do it.”
By dinner, Adam was awake and hungry although stiff and sore. Hoss had corralled Joe and he and Isaac had dinner while Joe crashed to sleep for twelve hours. Ben had his dinner in the suite with Adam who began to tell stories of his trips staying away from what had happened to put him in his predicament. He wasn’t ready to talk about that yet, but he was ready to talk about his adventures and all the things he had seen and learned. He began to fill in with greater detail the stories his father knew from the letters and filled in too some of the blanks and why there had been such gaps in the past few years as he had lived in Australia spending quite a bit of time in the interior and the western regions where any method of sending mail was primitive and mostly unreliable which explained why his letters had never gotten to his family. Ben was relieved to know that he had tried to communicate with them.
After a few days, Adam had only one request. He wanted to go home even though he knew the trip would be difficult. At least it would be by steamer and by train. That would mean less discomfort, but the effects of the beating were still lingering even if they were less. He had given statements to the authorities who with the rest of the men who had been kidnapped and with Isaac, had enough evidence to convict the men involved in his abduction. Those men had tried to say they rescued Adam, but Adam had stood and removed his shirt turning around for the authorities to get a good look at the new scars on his back, the scars and abrasions from the shackles, and at the bruising from the beating he took. That argument had failed miserably as a defense.
Leaving Julian with instructions to help Isaac with his transportation when the trial was over making sure that the hotel knew that Isaac’s room and meals were on the Cartwright account, Ben and his sons headed for home. They took their time spending a night to rest in Sacramento and another in Reno even though they were close to home by then. Adam was noticeably tired so Ben decided one night of rest was necessary. The next day, they arrived in Virginia City. Candy and a hand had the carriage and buckboard there for them. Candy was introduced to Adam and the two men sized each other up and made a quick evaluation. Adam put out his hand to Candy who took it.
“I’m glad you were there for my brothers. I have heard some wonderful stories.”
“Heard some stories about you too. Now that you’re here, you can tell your side.”
Both laughed then as Joe looked a little worried and Hoss chuckled. A couple of hours later, they arrived at the Ponderosa ranch house. Adam slid from the carriage and spent a moment staring at the house and the mountains beyond it. Hop Sing came from the house extending his hand to greet Number One Son but Adam pulled him into an embrace causing both of them to tear up. Then Adam released him and said he needed to get inside as it was a bit chilly and he wasn’t used to it.
“You jest never was used to it, older brother. You wore that yellow coat of yours when the rest of us thought it was nice out.” Hoss laughed as he grabbed luggage and followed Adam and Ben into the house. Just inside the door, Adam paused and took his father’s arm.
“I’m home, Pa. I promised you I would come home and I did.”
“I dreamed you would come home, Adam. I’m glad this turned out better than the dream I had.”
“Oh? You’ll have to tell me about that dream sometime.”
“No, this is much better. That was a nightmare.”