Dire Straits (by BettyHT)

Summary:  One son is in terrible trouble, but Ben doesn’t know which one.

Category:  Bonanza
Genre:  Western
Rating:  PG
Word Count:  2440


I sought the Lord, and he heard me, and he delivered me from all my fears. As Ben sat at the table and stared at the plate of food there hastily abandoned, he wondered if he could ever summon enough faith to be delivered of all his fears. They had received a partial message from Roy that a son was in dire straits. Joe had rushed to his horse to ride to where Hoss was to find out if he needed his help. Candy had done the same for Jamie. Both had told Ben to wait because they could ride faster without him. He knew that to be true so all he could do was sit, wait, and pray. He hoped it wouldn’t be too long.

Terrible storms had blown across the mountains from California washing out roads and bridges. It was why the message from Roy was so incomplete. It had been passed by word-of-mouth and by the time it got to Ben and Joe, it was woefully incomplete. It also meant that the stage that Hoss was riding and the freight wagons Jamie was with coming from the north could both be in trouble. There was no way to know which son needed help.

*****

Two sleepless nights and two worry plagued days with Hop Sing nagging him to eat left Ben tired, on edge, and unable to concentrate on anything. When he heard horses in the yard, he rushed outside overjoyed to see Candy arrive with Jamie. The young man slid from his horse and rushed to his father’s arms.

“Pa, it was rough going, but we were never in any danger. Candy thought I should come ahead to prove it to you though.”

Looking up at the foreman, Ben smiled, but his expression held a tinge of concern. Candy saw it even as Ben expressed his thankfulness at Candy’s thoughtfulness in having Jamie come back ahead of the freight wagons.

“Joe isn’t back yet?”

“No.”

That made them think that Hoss was in trouble, and all they could do was imagine what the trouble could be. That road down from the mountains was hazardous enough even in good weather. The three of them got to worry together then for another full day until the scene was re-enacted.

*****

Joe and Hoss rode in looking like they had been through hell, but both were unscathed physically. Ben was overjoyed, but couldn’t imagine why his sons looked so forlorn.

“Come on now. The message must have been mistaken. You’re all here now, safe and sound.”

“Pa, that ain’t exactly true. We ain’t all here safe and sound.”

“Of course you are, all of you.” Then Ben stopped speaking for a moment. “No!”

Joe put a hand on his father’s shoulder knowing how hard it was going to be for him to hear the news he had to tell him. “We came through town, Pa. Roy was able to give us the whole story now. The wire came through almost a week ago. Adam’s ship was lost in the storms off California. They couldn’t find any survivors.”

“While you was prayin’ for us, Pa, it was Adam needin’ our prayers.”

“I pray for all of you every day. I only prayed harder thinking there was a need.”

It was a somber group that night thankful that Hoss and Jamie were safe and mourning the loss of the one they had not thought was in danger.

*****

Many miles away in Tillamook, fishermen helped a dark-haired man found on the beach. Weak, sunburned, and dehydrated, he could barely talk and lost consciousness after telling them only a little about what had happened to him. One man brought him into his home with help from the others.

“Martha, we found a man washed up on the beach. He tells a fantastic story. Says he was shipwrecked, floating in the ocean with only a piece of flotsam to hang onto when a dolphin come and pushed him toward the shore. He survived the sharks, the cold, and the sea itself.”

Bustling about getting towels and a blanket for the man, Martha was sure she knew what had happened. “Somebody musta been praying mighty fierce for this one. Well, let’s get him dried off, wrapped in this blanket, and into a warm bed. He must have a family somewhere worried sick about him. We’ll get him all fixed up and on his way. He got a name?”

“Said his name was Adam afore he passed out.”

They talked as they removed Adam’s wet clothing, dried him, and wrapped the blanket around him. He roused a bit then and they were able to give him some water to drink. He never said anything before closing his eyes again. They put him in the bed and pulled a quilt over him. All the while, they kept talking. Martha especially addressed Adam directly.

“Well, Adam, we’ll take care of you and get you on your way in no time, God willing. Seems He took right good care of you so far. I figure He’s not gonna let you down now.”

“Martha, I figure tomorrow we’ll tell the sheriff about him, and he can try to figure out who he is and let his family know he’s alive. They’re probably thinking he’s gone. By now, they musta heard his ship went down.”

“Lord Almighty, I feel for his family and the pain they must be feeling now, but they’re gonna be feeling a lot better when the sheriff sends them that telegram with the news. Now all we hafta do is get him stronger so he can tell us the rest of his name.”

On and off during the night, Adam heard Martha’s voice. He heard her husband Carl too at times, but there was one voice that he kept hearing too. It was the same voice he had heard out on the ocean. I sought the Lord, and he heard me, and he delivered me from all my fears. It had kept him going. the Lord heard him; He save him He called out to his father but somehow he knew he wasn’t there. In the morning, he felt the sun on his face and opened his eyes to see a man and a woman looking down on him.

“Looks like you’re gonna make it, mister. Martha here said that you was gonna make it through the night even with all that thrashing around you was doing.”

The man helped him sit up enough so he could swallow safely and gave him water to drink.

“I told Carl you had to get all that out of your system. You must have been numb with the cold and not able to move for so long, your arms and legs had to move some once they got warm. I heard you call out for your Pa. He ain’t here, but if you could tell us your full name, we shur would like to tell the sheriff so he could send a telegram to your family.”

“Cartwright, Adam Cartwright. My name is Adam Cartwright.”

“Where you from, Adam Cartwright?”

“I used to live in Virginia City.”

“Montana?”

“No, Nevada.”

“All right, I’ll tell the sheriff and he can wire your family.”

“Thank you.”

With that, Adam closed his eyes surrendering to his exhaustion once more. When he awakened, it was dark again. Martha noticed and was by his side almost at once.

“You slept the day away. Carl has news already.”

Despite wanting to hear that news, Adam had a far more pressing need which Carl understood.

“Martha, why don’t you go to the kitchen and get some broth and things. Take your time too. I’ll help Adam while you’re gone.”

“Help him? Oh.” Martha left and returned about fifteen minutes later with a tray. She had biscuits, and small amounts of soup, coffee, potatoes, and applesauce. “We grow the apples ourselves. The potatoes too. I don’t know what you would be most hungry for, but I guessed most anything would do. You don’t want to eat too much though as you haven’t eaten anything for a while now, have you.”

Although ravenous, Adam knew the wisdom of what she was saying. He had swallowed some salt water and retched over the past week, but he had not had anything to eat. Over the past twenty-four hours, he had been drinking water but had not had any food yet. He ate small amounts of each thing on the tray and as his stomach rebelled a bit, he stopped.

“Thank you, but my stomach is telling me to stop.”

“That’s good then. You lean back and relax. Hopefully that will all stay down.”

Carl had quietly gone out and gotten a basin in case it didn’t. Now that Adam’s basic needs were met, Carl was ready to share his news. “The sheriff sent his wire. He got one back that questioned if this was a hoax. I had to describe you. The next wire said they was coming to get you. Ain’t that something? Here you are, a grown man, and your father is coming to get you.”

*****

Smiling, Adam imagined what the scene must have been like on the Ponderosa. It wasn’t far from the reality. Ben and his brothers had finished breakfast and were making plans for the day when there was a knock on the door. Hoss answered it.

“Pa, there’s a telegram here for us. You ain’t gonna believe it. Says they found Adam up in Tillamook, Oregon.”

“What? What kind of cruel hoax is this?”

“I dunno. It says it’s from the sheriff there.”

Snatching the wire from Hoss’ hands, Ben read it. “I’m going to town. I want to know more than what it says here.”

“Pa, we’re going with you.”

“Yeah, Pa, we cain’t work here not knowing ifn that’s the truth or not.”

“Well, let’s get going then. Go saddle up the horses. I’ll let Hop Sing know where we’re going and let the men know we’ll be gone.”

*****

In town, at the telegraph office, Ben spent some money and sent a long telegram asking for identifying marks as well as a general description. The dark hair and height matched, but the scar on the lip as well as the bullet crease scar on the side of his head, the scars on his shoulder, his belly, and his leg were conclusive. As Joe said, that was way too much to be a coincidence.

“Pa, that must be why they didn’t find any survivors or anything of the ship. It musta been blown way off course to be that far north of San Francisco. They was looking in the wrong place.”

Turning back to the operator, Ben said he wanted to send another wire.

“Who you sending this one to, Pa?”

“I’m not waiting here. I’m telling them we’re going up there to get him and bring him home.”

Noting how exhausted his father looked, Hoss had a suggestion. “Pa, why don’t me and you stay in town and make arrangements for travel. Joe could head on home and pack up what we need and let everyone know where we’re going.”

In any other circumstance, Joe might have objected and tried to switch places, but at this point, he could see the wisdom of Hoss’ plan and the less they argued about it and the more united a front they presented, the better the odds of convincing their father to do it that way. It worked too. The next morning when they boarded the train for the first leg of the journey, Ben looked quite a bit better having slept well for the first time in a week.

*****

In Oregon, Adam was recuperating well. Carl gave him some clothing to wear. Adam had nothing with which to pay him, but Carl told him that didn’t matter. They would do that for anyone needing assistance. When Ben arrived, for a moment, he could only stare at his eldest son. Then he enveloped him in a hug and couldn’t help himself as tears were shed. Hoss and Joe were there too to hug their brother brought back to them from what they had thought was a watery grave. Adam introduced them to Martha and Carl and told them all that the couple had done for him, and he mentioned that the sheriff had used some of his budget to send expensive telegrams. Carl and Martha smiled and said that didn’t matter. They were amazed when the older dusty cowboy pulled a wallet from inside his vest and offered them a substantial sum to recompense them for their expenses. Adam only smiled. Both Carl and Martha said it wasn’t necessary and was too much, but Adam took Martha’s hand and closed it around the money.

“We know you didn’t do it for the money. I assure you that we have plenty of that. What we don’t always have are good friends and good people when we need them. You were all of that. Now let us share what we can to make your life a little better after you saved mine.”

With that, the couple accepted the money. On the way out of town, they stopped and left the sheriff a little something too. Then the four of them began the journey home together riding slowly and talking quite a lot that first day. Adam talked about what it was like to be adrift in the ocean.

“I hate to admit this, but I almost gave up. I couldn’t see land. I floated around for days. I was getting so tired that I wanted to let go and just sink. It would have been over so quickly. I had no strength left. I had nothing to eat or drink for so long.”

“What made you hang on then, older brother? It musta been something powerful strong.”

“It was. I heard my father’s voice. I don’t know how but I kept hearing it.”

Hoss and Joe nodded thinking that could happen. They had felt similar things when they were in dire straits. It was when Adam said the words he had heard, that Ben froze in the saddle and was too shocked to say anything.

“Yes, over and over, I heard Pa say some words that were so soothing and yet bracing at the same time. I sought the Lord, and he heard me, and he delivered me from all my fears.”

***The End***

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