Summary: Adam Cartwright is caught in a cave-in and gets some unexpected company.
Rated: K+ (4,380 words)
Story Notes: My very first Bonanza fan fic. © March 2005 – Updated: 9/15/2008 Feedback is appreciated ***
In the Middle of the Dark
“Do ya think he’s alive?”
“He looks like a goner.”
“He’s still breathin’.”
“Not fer long.”
“We’ve gotta help.”
“No one helped us.”
“Should still help.”
“He’s wakin’ up.”
Adam Cartwright’s eyes moved beneath closed lids. He could’ve sworn he heard voices before him, around him, beside him. Well, he’d just have to wake up to find out. His eyes fluttered open. Darkness met his gaze and the sounds of settling dirt found his ears. He was sure there’d been voices.
“Is anyone there?!” he called his voice barely rising from his body, coughing from the dust in his throat.
“Dan! Can you hear me?!”
No one answered.
Disrupted by the slight vibration, bits of dirt and dust rained down from above reminding him of the precarious position he now found himself – deep within the old Destiny mine, vacant since 1848, flat on his back and buried under debris with no way out Forcing himself to think on it the last thing he remembered was standing with Dan Meaney, the owner of the Destiny, showing him where to put the new timbers to ensure safety for the miners when the floor fell out beneath them. He’d managed to push Dan away but failed to do the same for himself. Coughing again, he pulled his right arm only to meet resistance and opted for his left arm to wipe his face clean of the choking dust.
“Can anyone hear me?!” he tried again, a bit louder, shielding his face from more rubble and closing his eyes. I’m in deep trouble.
“Lay still, son,” a new voice sounded from his right. Startled, he pulled his arm away and scanned the darkness.
“Who’s there?” he called.
“Is someone there?”
“It’s all right, son,” came from his left.
“We’re here to help.”
“Dan?” he asked squinting into the dark, his eyes focusing on a light amid the rocks.
Reaching out proved unsuccessful but he quickly retracted his hand when he heard boots scuffing against rock and watched the light move and shower the area in a dim glow. What it revealed made him blink then wipe at his face again as seven faces seated in a semi-circle met filled his vision, all gazing intently at him. Adam rubbed his eyes.
“Who . . .” he stammered. “How . . . ?”
The man closest to him smiled. “I’m Jimmy Dobson,” came his introduction leaning close so Adam could see his whiskered face. “Nice ta meet ya.”
When Adam didn’t respond, he turned to the others. “Ah, this here’s Thatch Gibson, J.R. Swirell, Paddy O’Grady, Luther Kingston, Dennis County and Pete Willow.”
A chorus of ‘hi’s’ followed each introduction confusing Adam even further.
“He’s struck dumb,” Dennis said.
“Nah, he’s just flabbergasted,” Paddy supplied.
“Ssh now,” Jimmy said. “Let the boy come ta terms.”
“He ain’t gonna come ta terms, Jimmy,” J.R. said, spitting out some chaw and leaning towards Adam.
“Yer dead, boy. Once ya get that through yer thick skull ya’ll feel better.”
Adam started. I’m definitely concussed.
“Keep yer trap shut,” Jimmy growled, glaring at J.R. who harrumphed and sat back. Jimmy turned back to Adam with a pleasant smile on his face. “Never you mind him, son. He’s gotta bad attitude.”
“Well, you should too bein’ trapped down here all these years in the dark,” J.R. responded.
“As long as I’ve known ya, ya’ve always had a bad attitude,” Paddy quipped drawing a scowl from J.R.
Jimmy returned his attention to Adam and patted him on the shoulder. “Ya ain’t dead, son, and I aim ta keep ya that way. What’s yer name? Don’t feel like callin’ out ‘hey you’ forever.”
Manners kicked in and he automatically answered. “Adam . . . Adam Cartwright.”
“A fine name. Fine name,” Jimmy said with a smile. “Ya wouldn’t be related ta an Isaiah Cartwright out o’ Abilene now would ya?”
“Ah, I don’t . . .” he faltered with a shake of his head. This was insane. He was sitting in the dark lying under a pile of rubble and having a conversation about his genealogy with someone who may or may not actually be talking to him.
“Probably not. He weren’t a stalwart fella like yerself,” Jimmy added realizing that in his current state this young man wasn’t able to give him any information whether he wanted too or not. “Well, let me tell ya a story, Adam Cartwright,” he began, placing the lantern next to his legs. “We all come ta this lovely place in ’46 ta find our fortune and we done purty good. What with minin’ and whorin’, this was the place ta be back then.”
Adam noticed the others nodding in agreement.
“Then in ’47 we survived the first cave-in. All o’ us ‘ceptin’ Pete over there.”
Adam glanced at the young man, no more than twenty, who gave him a shy smile and little wave and hit just made his head hurt more.
“And after they reopened the mine us fools came back,” Jimmy continued.
“Not fools. Dumbasses’ more like it,” J.R. added the other men nodding their agreement to that.
“Worked right steady,” Jimmy went on. “Ol’ Destiny’s full o’ gold but it’s hard ta get too, so the deeper we went and, in ’48, we ended up here right where yer layin’.”
“And that’s all she wrote,” Thatch chimed in.
Adam saw them nod their heads again more questions popping into his muddled brain but not making it out his mouth.
“It was the largest cave-in anyone’d seen up ta that point,” Luther said. “Sixteen men died here.”
“Got out nine bodies,” Dennis said.
“But left us seven behind,” J.R. said with a growl.
“They couldn’t get down here, J.R.,” Paddy said.
“And did they try?”
“Destiny was acomin’ down about their ears. What’d ya want them ta do?” Paddy asked.
“Take us home!” J.R. pushed himself up disgusted with the conversation.
“Not leave us here ta rot!” With that he walked out, right through the wall.
Adam blinked a couple of times. “He just . . . just walked through . . .”
“He doesn’t get it,” Dennis said, shaking his head.
“His head’s banged up. O’ course he don’t get it,” Thatch added.
“Yes, son,” Jimmy started. “J.R. walked through them walls. We all can. Ya see we’ve left this earthly plane but we’ve yet ta meet our maker. We been waitin’ these many years fer someone ta find us. We’re sorry yer here but we thank the Lord for hearin’ our prayers and sendin’ ya ta help us.”
“What year is this anyway?” Luther asked of Adam.
“Year. What year is this?”
“1872,” Adam answered as someone whistled.
“Seems just like yesterday.”
“Do they still have saloons with purdy girls?”
Adam turned to look at Dennis and nodded.
“What do ya care?” J.R. said coming back to the men. “It’s not like ya can partake of the company.”
“It’s just nice ta know they’s still around is all,” Thatch said.
“You’re dead,” Adam blurted out, the obvious finally sinking in.
“You’re all dead.”
“Now he’s gettin’ it,” Dennis said.
“Then that means I’m . . . I’m dead, too.”
“Give that boy a silver dollar,” J.R. said.
“No, son,” Jimmy quickly added.
“Yer not dead . . . not yet anyway. We aim ta help ya so’s ya won’t end up like us.”
“Dead’s dead,” J.R. said spitting out more chaw.
“No more talk about bein’ dead, J.R.,” Jimmy ordered. “No more.”
J.R. closed his mouth on a retort and sat back down.
“I’m hearin’ pickin’ up aways. Pete?”
“I’m goin’,” the quiet man said, Adam watching him walk through the wall, feeling a chill work its way up his spine. Jimmy patted him on the arm.
“He’ll be back. Gonna take a look-see is all. He can roam further than we can.”
“Why are ya treatin’ him like he’s gonna get outta this?” J.R. asked, pulling on Jimmy’s arm. “He’s bleedin’ like a stuck pig and he’s havin’ a hard time breathin’ in case ya hadn’t noticed so’s the air’s gettin’ thick. He ain’t got no chance.”
“I’m hopin’ he does have a chance, J.R.,” Jimmy said laying a hand on Adam’s chest, feeling his distressed breathing.
“If we help him he might help us.” J.R. sat back as the lantern began to flicker, all of them looking at it then up toward the ceiling where Adam had fallen through now packed with dirt and rocks. This had to work.
“How could . . . I help?” Adam asked between breaths pulling their attention back to him.
“Son, we’s still here ‘cause we didn’t have no decent burial. If’n ya was ta get out, ya might see ta our needs. I can hear pickaxes and shovels up a ways. Someone’s already here. We jest need ta steer ‘em in the right direction. That’s what Pete’s doin’. And once we do that, it’s up ta ya ta live so’s ya can retrieve us.”
“Where . . .” Adam stopped the thought as a cough tore at him, more dirt rolling his way. This was either utterly ridiculous and a side effect of not enough air or it was real. What a thought for his logical brain to wrap around. Well, at least he had company. “Where are you . . . in the cave?” he asked seeing Luther get up and point through a break in the wall.
“We’s all in there, together. Cain’t miss us with a strong lantern.”
As if on cue the lantern flickered again. Adam noticed but didn’t say anything. The burning in his lungs was evidence enough of how much time he had left.
“I’ll do . . . my best.”
Jimmy clapped him on the shoulder and smiled at him. “Mighty grateful.”
Adam grinned back before another coughing spasm shook him, rearranging the debris on top of him to press down even harder. Pain worked its way through him making him gasp.
“Hang on, son. Take shallow breaths,” Dennis said.
“Someone’s a comin’,” Thatch said.
“What’d ya see, Pete?” Paddy asked as the young man re-emerged through the wall.
“A silver haired man with a boomin’ voice and a big man shovelin’ away. A smaller man with short black hair was pullin’ rocks lickety split. Seemed bent on collapsin’ afore stoppin’. They made quite a dent in the pile. I pointed them in the right direction.”
“Will they be here in time?” Dennis asked.
“Cain’t rightly say,” Pete said looking at Adam. “He don’t look too good.”
“They’ll be here, Dennis,” Jimmy said, noticing Adam’s eyes struggling to stay open.
“Now, boy, don’t go passin’ out on us. We got messages fer ya ta deliver ta any kinfolk still about these parts.”
“. . . messages . . ?” Adam answered, their words swirling about his head. The dust was clogging his lungs and the lack of air showered his vision with stars. Did he say a silver haired man was here?
“We got ‘em all writ out,” Paddy said pulling a dirty piece of paper from his pocket and handing it to Jimmy. All of them followed suit, even J.R. whose attention was pulled up at a sound from above.
“If’n ya cain’t get ta our bodies at least ya’ll have these notes. Can ya do that fer us, Adam?” Jimmy asked.
“. . . do . . . what . . . I can,” he answered, Jimmy shoving the papers into his shirt pocket.
“Thank ya, young man,” Jimmy said with a smile, watching as Adam’s eyes slid shut.
Luther leaned in close. “Is he dead?”
“Don’t think so,” J.R. said.
“His chest is still movin’.” Despite what he’d said, he hoped this would work. It’d been so long and he just wanted to see something besides this stinking cave. Maybe he could check on Pearl. Voices filtered down from above and they all looked up as bits of dirt drifted around them, the light from the lantern slowly dimming until it finally left them all in the dark. “I hope they get ‘im out.”
“He seems like a nice enough fella.”
“Adam!” Hoss’s voice filled the chamber from above. “Adam, can ya hear me?!”
“Do you see him?” another voice echoed behind him.
“It’s too dark, Dan. I need the lantern.”
A light was lowered through the hole in the ceiling and Hoss Cartwright’s face appeared behind it. There were too many shadows to be certain where his brother lay.
“I cain’t see nothin’,” Hoss answered then disappeared back through the door.
They all heard a shovel striking dirt, the hole increasing in size.
“I think we’re gonna make it.”
“Don’t count yer chickens.”
“J.R., yer so damned depressin’.”
“It’s what I do.”
“He’s broken through.”
“He sure can move fer a big fella.”
Hoss ducked his head back through the hole waving the lantern about the chamber again, this time noting the distance from his position to the floor, seeing a large rock pile just within reach. Maneuvering his feet through the hole, he eased himself down to the pile and slid slowly to the floor, debris falling in various parts of the chamber. He waited. It wouldn’t do to find his brother and then get trapped with him. When nothing further happened, he raised the lantern above his head and began searching the area.
“Adam?” he called, trying to keep his voice modulated as dust and rockfalls echoed in the chamber.
“He’s over here!” Thatch yelled.
“Do you see him, Hoss?” came a new voice from above.
“Not yet, Pa.”
“Over here!” Thatch repeated.
Hoss turned, a niggling feeling running down his spine and squinted into the dark holding the lantern up higher. He could have sworn he heard something.
“Adam, wake up!” Jimmy said pushing on his shoulder.
“Here! He’s here!” Hoss took a step forward.
“Hoss?” came from above.
“There’s somethin’,” he answered.
Raising the lantern high above his head the light suddenly fell on the dirty face of his brother half buried in rubble. “Jesus,” he whispered. “I found ‘im, Pa!”
“Is he alive?” came Ben Cartwright’s question as Hoss hurried toward his brother. He held the light close not knowing if he was breathing. “Hoss?”
“He’s alive,” Hoss answered feeling his brother’s breath on his hand.
“I’m coming down.”
“No, Pa. There ain’t room. I can get ‘im out. Get some rope and a board ready when I call.”
“Time to wake sleepy head.” Jimmy’s voice drifted into Adam’s head as new air filled the chamber allowing him to fill his lungs with more than dust. “Yer brother’s here.”
Opening his eyes, he saw Jimmy’s face slowly replaced with Hoss’s and that big grin.
“I don’t know why I let ya out by yerself,” Hoss gave him pulling at debris that covered him as his hand slipped in a small pool of blood along Adam’s right arm. He moved the lantern closer to find a piece of wood had impaled him to the ground. He winced at the sight then returned to pulling off the heavier pieces from his brother’s prone body. “Yer the big brother, supposed ta be settin’ a good example fer Joe and me and what do ya do? Get yerself in a heap o’ trouble. Dadburned big head . . . always thinkin’ ya know everythin’.”
Adam smiled then found his voice. “. . . can . . . always count . . . on you, Hoss, for . . . for setting me straight.”
“Well, someone’s gotta do it. All that book learnin’ o’ yourn obviously never told ya ta stay outta old mines. Don’t catch me in places like this do ya?”
“Only to pull my . . . my sorry ass outta them.”
Hoss cringed at the memory of doing this once before(1), as he continued to work.
“Did Dan . . . make it?” Adam asked sobering at the thought that his friend might be dead.
“Yessir. Helped us get ta ya. Man worked like a demon was ridin’ his tail. Had ta set him down a time or two afore he fell over. He felt guilty, ya know, especially after what happened here in ’48. He didn’t wanna lose no more ta his family’s mine.”
Adam suddenly lifted his left hand and grabbed Hoss’s shirt, stopping his progress.
“What is it? Am I hurtin’ ya?”
“Take the lantern and . . . and go through that . . . break behind you.”
Adam pulled Hoss toward him.
“Hoss!” called Ben from above. “What’s going on?”
“I’m workin’ ta free him, Pa. Be a bit longer.”
“Go, Hoss, and tell me . . . tell me what you see. Please.”
He held Adam’s gaze for a moment not understanding why his brother needed him to do this but knowing it was important and that’s all that mattered. He patted his hand. “All right. Wait here.”
Adam let his brother go and grinned. “No going . . . anywhere.”
Picking up the lantern Hoss made his way to the wall to find the break and, crouching, moved through it.
“He’s goin’ in,” Dennis related to Adam.
“I told ya this would work,” J.R. added ignoring the looks his comment drew.
Hoss wondered what it was he was supposed to see as he turned around in the small space, Luther watching his every move.
“Down here, Hoss,” he said hoping to connect somehow with this man.
Hoss turned back, that niggling feeling appearing again, the light from the lantern reflecting on something. Kneeling, he cleared away the dirt and found a ring – a ring still held by a bony finger.
“Lordy,” he whispered.
“That was my Pa’s ring,” J.R. announced.
“Now ya’ll git ta see him up close,” Jimmy said, clapping J.R. on the shoulder.
“What did you . . . did you see?” Adam asked as his brother returned to his side.
“Bodies,” he replied with a swallow.
“I counted seven.”
Adam closed his eyes and sighed. A promise made and a promise fulfilled.
“How’d ya know they was there?” he asked returning to pulling rubble off of Adam.
“They . . . told me,” he answered which wasn’t what Hoss was expecting.
Well Adam was bleeding from the head and arm and no doubt several other places so Hoss supposed he had a concussion which might lead a fella to say something like that.
Grinning at the look on Hoss’s face, Adam guessed what was running through his mind and was all set to tell him the story when his brother pulled a beam from his chest and struck the piece of wood in his right arm. A burst of white light filled his vision and a startled cry of pain left him as he felt himself starting to tumble down that long tunnel, the one that led to a peaceful pain free place. But he had to stop. There was something else he had to do before he left.
“Take it easy, Adam. Hang on.”
“Hoss,” he said grabbing at his brother’s arm.
“Make sure . . . you take them . . . home, too. Don’t . . . don’t leave them behind. Promise me that?”
“I’ll get ‘em as soon as yer up top. Ya jest rest now. Hoss is here ta take care a ya.”
“. . . don’t leave . . . behind.”
“I won’t. Close yer eyes and I’ll try ta be as quick as I can. Ya jest cry out if’n ya need too.”
“Thanks, Adam,” Jimmy said smiling at him as he hovered behind Hoss.
“Ya done good.”
“Yeah, boy, thanks,” J.R. said as the others followed, each filing past to take a look at the man who’d finally saved them.
“. . . thanks . . . for the . . . company,” Adam said barely getting the words out as another blast of pain found him and his eyes slid shut, Hoss working as fast as he could.
Old Destiny wouldn’t claim another victim. Not while he was around.
* * * * *
“Well, it’s so good to see you sitting up and taking nourishment,” Dan said trying not to look too closely at Adam who smiled through the bruises and bandages at his friend.
“Dan, nice to see you,” he hoarsely replied to the young man who plopped into the chair next to his bed.
“Thought I’d give you a couple days rest before I came by.” He leaned forward in his chair and glanced at the door. “Hop Sing wouldn’t let me near you any earlier,” he whispered.
Adam laughed and quickly grabbed his ribs, wincing at the pain. “Don’t make me laugh.”
“Sorry,” Dan said with a smile. “I came by to tell you that the men were removed from Destiny. Got their names off the papers you had, corroborated them with the names in the register and gave them a decent burial in the old Destiny graveyard. It took 24 years but they finally came home.”
“Papers?” Adam asked his whole adventure in the mine still a bit fuzzy.
“They were tucked in your pocket.”
Pulling his wallet from his jacket, Dan produced seven pieces of paper and laid them on the bed. “I don’t know how you got them but there they were.”
Adam picked up the nearest one and smiled – J. R. Swirell. It stated ‘take what I have and give it to Pearl at the Diamond Bar Saloon.’ “Each one is a will of sorts, each has a name. I’ve contacted any kin I could find.”
“Could you find Pearl?” Adam asked.
Dan shook his head.
“No, but I did find a Matthew Swirell up in Genoa.”
“Yep. Pearl turned out to be his mother. He appreciated getting the ring back. Pearl had spoken of it often. Apparently, it was J.R.’s pride and joy. Contained the first piece of gold his father found and is worth more than $5,000.00. Matthew’s smiling from ear-to-ear.”
“Grumbly J.R. has a son.”
“Durn proud of him, too,” echoed about the room.
Adam glanced around drawing a concerned look from Dan. “You ok?”
Turning back to Dan, he smiled. “Ah, yeah.”
Dan eyed him then reached back into his pocket. “Oh, there was another piece,” he continued. “It was a poem. I used it for the plaque to commemorate the deaths of all the men who died at the Destiny. Want to hear it?”
“Sure,” Adam said, collecting all of the papers, looking at each name, remembering their faces.
“’I find myself with nothin’ ta guide me as the rocks fall through the dirt above And I pray the Lord ta let me see one last time those whom I love. So’s I write this down with no light ta spare in hopes that others will find my mark to remember me with lovin’ care as I sit in the middle of the dark.’”
“In the middle of the dark,” Adam repeated thinking back to the men who’d kept him company. “So very true.”
“Thank ya, boy,” floated by his ear and he turned and looked past Dan toward the window. Jimmy stood there with a smile on his face.
He smiled back.
“Adam?” Dan began following his gaze to the window and seeing nothing. “Adam?” he repeated finally drawing his attention. “Should I call Hop Sing?”
“What? Ah, no I’m fine. Just a bit tired,” he said with a grin.
“Ah, that’s my signal to go home,” Dan said, replacing his wallet in his jacket.
“No . . .” “It’s all right,” he said holding up his hand.
“I’m surprised Hop Sing isn’t up here already.” He stood then his voice taking on a serious tone. “I wanted to thank you for saving my life. If you hadn’t pushed me out of the way . . .”
Adam smiled. “Just remember. Don’t let anyone in there until . . .”
“. . . until I’ve shored it up,” he finished with a smile of his own. “I know, I know. Timber’s coming tomorrow. I don’t expect to see you out there for a least a week.”
“More like two,” Hop Sing said upon entering the room. “You go now, Mista Dan. Leave Mista Adam to mend.”
“Yes, sir,” he said heading for the door.
“May I keep these for awhile?” Adam asked after him.
“As long as you like. Thanks again.”
He waved and left the room, Hop Sing putting his tray down on the bed stand and easily pushing Adam back down onto his pillows to begin unwrapping the bandage about his head.
“Stay still. You don’t want ugly scar do you?”
“No sir,” he answered wincing as Hop Sing cleaned it.
“What you have on mind?”
Adam grinned. He always knew. “Do you believe in ghosts, Hop Sing?”
His brows moved up his forehead at the question but he kept up his ministrations. “I believe in many things, on this side or other side of veil,” he answered satisfied that the wound was healing nicely and returned his attention to his patient and the thoughtful look on his face. He tended to his other injuries wondering when Number One son would fess up. “You had company? In cave?”
Adam smiled having given up many years ago wondering how Hop Sing could read their minds. It may have been a talent but he appreciated it as the gift it was. “Seven of them as a matter of fact.”
Hop Sing nodded. “I thank them yesterday for bringing Mista Adam home,” he said matter-of-factly, placing a steaming mug of tea on the bed stand. “Drink. All this time. Can’t get better by not drinking Hop Sing’s tea.” He patted Adam on the shoulder, picked up his tray and left him to contemplate his experience in the dark.
Adam sighed and closed his eyes. Always believing in what he could see had always worked for him but the older he got the more he wondered if taking things on faith might be okay, too. Whatever it was that had helped him through his ordeal, whether real or imagined, was greatly appreciated. It was decided. As soon as he was ambulatory he was going to go visit the Destiny and the boys that kept him company. He had his own thanking to do. The End
1 The Philip Diedeshiemer Story Disclaimer:
All publicly recognizable characters and settings are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. No money is being made from this work. No copyright infringement is intended.
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