Summary: Young Joe arrives in Boston to visit Adam but finds instead a confused housekeeper and a large sum of money. Excitedly Joe leaves for an adventure in Paris where he believes Adam awaits him, but his ship sinks off the coast of France… Thus begins a frantic search for Joe in which a world famous writer will be host to all the Cartwrights.
Rated: K+ (34,080 words)
October 14th, 1858
Joe sneezed again, felt for the tiny corner of his handkerchief in his front pocket and yanked out the wad of material just in time for a second sneeze. He held the cloth with both hands on either side of his nose and blew noisily while observing the old man sitting across from him in the carriage. The man’s bald head, save for nine grey hairs—Joe had counted them—was bobbing softly, swaying with the movements of the stagecoach. The next big bump in the road would make him jerk up suddenly and pretend he had never been asleep, much to Joe’s amusement. It was a silly game, but Joe was bored. Since he had left the Ponderosa weeks before, his trip had been about as exciting as watching Adam trim his toenails. Tipping his hat over his eyes, he laced his fingers on his chest and smiled. Something was bound to happen soon; after all he was almost sixteen and had never been so far away from the watchful eye of Ben Cartwright….
Basile d’Aulnay strolled down Sumner Street on Boston’s lovely Beacon Hill at a brisk pace with the confident smile born of youth and privilege. Elegantly dressed with a thick lock of blond hair that he kept stylishly long under a rather tall hat, the young man clutched a large yellow envelope fastened with a leather string.
Adam Cartwright is not going to believe I got the money to pay him back so soon, he chuckled to himself, thinking about the look on his friend’s face when he handed him the envelope. Twenty three hundred dollars was a lot of money, even for him, and he shook his head once more at the foolishness of losing that much money in what was probably a crooked poker game to begin with. The seedy bunch he and Adam had run into on one of their nights out on the town would have probably thrown him into the murky waters of Boston harbor had not Adam rounded up the cash within the hour!
The two old college friends had been so happy to see each other again when Adam had come to Boston to help out his ailing grandfather. They had spent many an evening reminiscing, talking about family, women and their future plans.
Stopping in front of the elegant brick house at number 14, Basile hopped up the few steps to the door, lifted the gold handle and rapped loudly. Mrs. Peebles, Adam’s housekeeper, opened and gave Basile a sloppy grin.
“M’sieur Basile! Where’ve you been keeping yourself? Haven’t seen you in ages!”
“Bonjour, Madame Peebles” said Basile politely, knowing the French would please the kindly woman. “Is Mr. Cartwright in?”
“Ah, no sir. I’m sorry to disappoint you,” she added, seeing his face fall. “He’s off visiting Captain Stoddard, who is staying with friends in Plymouth. Didn’t say precisely when he would be back, but I expect no more than a week or two. Want to come in for coffee or tea?”
“Merci, Madame Peebles, but I am in quite a rush. I’m sailing for Paris in just a few days and won’t be able to stop by again.” Basile hesitated a second but then remembered Adam had vouched for this woman numerous times. “Could you please give him this envelope? It’s extremely important that he get it as soon as he returns.”
Mrs. Peebles took the envelope, questioned its thickness with her work-worn hands but asked no questions. “Of course, M’sieur Basile. I’m real sorry to see you go.”
“Mon cher papa requests that I return home for a while, and I admit I’ll be happy to see my family, and my country, again.”
“Tis a good thing to value one’s family, young man.” She smiled approvingly. “Is there a message to go with the envelope?”
“Ah oui.”Basile had been so sure he would see Adam, and now he was running late. He did have one of the elegant calling cards his father had made for him in Paris that he pushed inside the envelope. Pausing a moment, Basile smiled devilishly.
“Please tell Mr. Cartwright: Surprise buddy! You know what this is for, and I think it’s all you need to follow me to Paris! See you there!”
Basile grinned, thinking again of Adam’s face when he heard the message. He had tried to get Adam to agree to come to Paris with him so many times it was now a joke between them.
“Can you remember that, Madame Peebles?” said Basile, checking his pocket watch and descending the steps at the same time. “I’ve got to rush off.”
“Mr. Cartwright is going to Paris?”
“You never know! He may very well!” he said jokingly.
“Well, don’t you worry! I’ll write it down right now. Good bye! Bon voyage!”
“Au revoir!” shouted Basile, already halfway down the street.
Mrs. Peebles chuckled good-naturedly and closed the door. Immediately she went to Mr. Cartwright’s large mahogany desk, placed the envelope there, and took a piece of paper and a pen and scrawled out as best she could Basile d’Aulnay’s exact words.
If Joe had felt bewildered the first time Pa had taken him to San Francisco, he felt like a puppy in the middle of a cattle stampede in New York.
When Pa had agreed that Joe could travel to Boston to visit Adam for the winter as a birthday present, Joe could hardly believe his luck. Then, when his father began writing to all his friends and business associates, determined to find a travelling companion for every step of his son’s journey, Joe felt like he just got dumped hard from a wild bronc. He’d protested and vowed and sworn on his heart that he could take care of himself but Pa said it was either accept his terms or forgo the trip. That was when Hoss had quietly told him he was downright loco if he let a little thing like that bother him. Ya gotta give Pa some of that peace of mind he’s always talkin’ about Joe, else he ain’t gonna let ya go anywhere. So, Joe had reluctantly given in. It coulda been worse, he supposed, but wondered how.
After having been met at the station in Pittsburgh by yet another boring friend of Pa’s and accompanied to Philadelphia, he realized with enthusiasm he was now really on his own. His father had wanted him to avoid New York entirely since he couldn’t find anyone there to meet Joe but the overland route was much longer and Joe had somehow managed to convince him he would be fine.
He found his way down to the docks, dodging street vendors, carriages and wagons of every size and shape, people rushing to and fro, even a horse-drawn trolley that ran through the center of the city on rails, amazed at all the activity. Streets were thick with the sounds of men and children shouting, carriage bells, whistles and hooves clomping on stone. Smells of strange exotic food mixed with refuse and sewage drifted in the streets despite the cold. Joe pulled up the collar of his winter coat as a gust of freezing ocean air hit him. He must be close to his destination.
Just then, out of the corner of his eye he saw a group of eight or nine shady looking young men a couple of years older than himself. They were staring at him, nudging each other with their elbows, and Joe knew darn well they weren’t about to invite him in for a cup of tea.
“Oh boy, now I’m in for it,” he mumbled as the group slowly fell in step behind him, laughing and jostling amongst themselves until one of them piped up:
“Hey boys, looks like cowherd here has gone and lost his horsey.”
“An’ his cows,” another one snickered.
Joe kept walking.
“Don’t think he be needin’ those nice boots since he don’t got no prancin’ pony ta kick. Hope they ain’t been dipped in cow shit.”
“Won’t make no difference to you, seein’ as you take your bath in cow shit!” A skinny dark-haired boy goaded the tall one who seemed like the leader.
“Now you shut your stinkin’ Irish mouth or you’ll be bathin’ in yer own shit,” the leader growled, grabbing the skinny one by his shirt.
Joe stepped up his pace, he knew he couldn’t be far from the ticket office and the odds in this fight were pretty much against him. Had there only been two or three of them, Joe might have given it a whirl but not only was he cruelly outnumbered, but also, these boys were not the kind you’d want to fight unless you had to.
Then someone knocked his hat off from behind. Joe stopped dead in his tracks.
“Well, will ya look at those girly curls he’s hiding neath that cattle humper’s hat. You could make some money with them curls down here pretty fella. Maybe that’s what you came for, eh?”
The second Joe felt the hand on his shoulder, he dropped his bag and spun around with a left hook that caught the other kid totally off guard. With not a glance toward the damage he hoped he had done, he grabbed his hat and bag and tore down the street. Smaller than a lot of boys his age, Joe knew he was nevertheless a heck of a lot faster on his feet.
Stunned to see the toughest among them on the ground, the other boys hesitated before going after him.
“What ya waitin’ for? Get that dirty bastard!” the leader yelled and threw his arm in Joe’s direction.
Joe pounded on the door to the first ticket office he came to and pushed it open the moment he felt it give.
”What the…?” mumbled the ticket vendor, none too happy at the disruption.
“Please,” Joe huffed, slamming the door behind him. “Some boys are tryin’ to rob me. I swear I didn’t do nuthin’.”
Just then the first boy showed up and started shoving at the door. The vendor gestured for Joe to step aside. He swung open the door and the boy practically fell inside. When the boy on the floor realized who was standing above him looking galled, he scrambled back outside, bumping into his friends who had skidded in behind him.
“It’s Fitzman! Go, let’s get outta here! We’ll settle this later. I’m not messin’ with Fitzman.”
“I better not see your skinny thievin’ butts around here again or I’m gonna settle things with you, and good!” Fitzman shouted after them with a raised fist.
“Thanks,” said Joe.
“Don’t thank me, ya little runt. Now what do you want, anyway?” he said gruffly.”It better be a ticket or you’ll be outta here so fast, your hat’ll still be floatin’ in the air while yer shoes are halfway down the street.”
Adam had still not returned when Mrs. Clover came to fill in for Mrs. Peebles, whose daughter was getting married in Saugus.
That same day, Joe Cartwright arrived in Boston, four days ahead of schedule. He had waited for that dang steamboat for hours in New York and had been a little too edgy to go wandering around the city looking for something to eat after his run-in with the gang. Sides, he had been pretty lucky so far. Wallet and baggage intact, health, aside from a lingering cold, just fine. Joe was ferociously determined to show up in Boston in one piece so Adam could write and tell Pa all his worrying had been for nothing. So, exhausted and hungry, but elated to finally be in Boston and about to see his brother again after five long months, Joe went looking for a coach to hire.
Pa was right, he thought. There wasn’t one person wearing a sidearm or working boots, and although there were hats of every shape and size, none resembled his. Pa had of course forbidden him to wear his newly acquired gun, but Joe had insisted on keeping his boots and hat and was already a bit self-conscious of his attire back in Pittsburgh.
Just then he caught the eye of a pretty girl his age walking his way, arm in arm with an older lady. She held his gaze and when they were only a couple of yards away he heard her say, “Look mother, an honest to goodness cowboy!” Joe wasn’t sure if he was honest all the way to goodness but he sure knew how to cowboy. Her smile left no doubt to her appreciation so with a tip of his hat and a grin, Joe thought that just maybe he wouldn’t need city duds after all.
An hour later, a light snow had begun to fall. Teeth chattering from the cold, Joe was standing in front of 14 Sumner, dazed with fatigue but flushed with the excitement at the prospect of seeing his older brother. He vigorously slammed the big gold knocker against the door several times in his newfound enthusiasm. It was short-lived. He heard a woman’s voice getting progressively louder, muttering things like “All right, I’m coming; why so impatient? Goodness!”
“Well!” She exclaimed breathing a little heavily as she opened the door, “And who might you be, young man?” She smiled warmly down at Joe revealing a gap wider than Hoss’s between her two front teeth.
Raising his eyebrows, Joe stuttered, “Well, I’m Joe Cartwright, Ma’am. My bro—”
“Ohhhh, so you’re Mr. Cartwright?” she interrupted, a bit embarrassed, “I’m so sorry; I didn’t imagine you were such a young man. Mrs. Peebles told me she wasn’t expecting you back so soon.”
“Well yes, I am early…but…b…back? You….”
“No matter of course, come in, come in, you poor frozen pup, I’m Mrs. Clover. What happened? Did you lose your key?”
“No—I didn’t have any key, I….”
“Oh you forgot your key, so that’s it?” Mrs. Clover piped in. She had the habit of not letting people finish their sentences, especially when they seemed as young and bewildered as this handsome young man before her who looked about fourteen. But he must be older, she told herself. Funny how those men from the West are attached to their cowboy hats and boots, she mused. “Well, come on in, sir. I’m just about finished in here. Have a seat. Can I bring you a cup of tea?”
“Well sure, thank you, m’am. I am quite thirsty after my trip.”
“Of course you are! It’s a long way from Plymouth, and you must be hungry too. I’ll heat something up for ya right away.”
From Plymouth? Joe shook his head, too worn out to try to understand why the lady, who was obviously Adam’s and his grandfather’s housekeeper, thought he came from Plymouth. Joe dropped his satchel on the floor near the door, yawned and plopped down on the comfortable couch in front of the fireplace, rubbing his hand over the fine upholstery, taking in the rest of the elegantly furnished room. Adam must be out, he thought, deeply disappointed. The fire had just about burned down, so Joe got up, stoked it expertly and placed a thick log on top of the hot embers, then stretched his hands over the heat, trying to get some feeling back in his fingers.
“Here you go, Mr. Cartwright.” Mrs. Clover set a steaming tray down on the dining room table a few minutes later. It held a plate of fried potatoes with ham, some brown bread, a big cup of tea and a slice of lemon pie. Joe realized he was famished and barely thanked the woman as he slid into a chair and began to eat as she looked on appreciatively.
Satisfied that she had done her duty, she began to put on her coat and hat when suddenly she exclaimed, “Goodness! I almost forgot!”
Joe saw her rush up the stairs but was too concentrated on eating and too weary to care. As she came down and purposely placed a thick yellow envelope on the table she looked at Joe and said, “There is a message to accompany this envelope. It goes as follows, so listen carefully.” She glanced down at the piece of paper with the words scrawled by Mrs. Peebles, but her reading skills were flawed and she preferred to commit important things like this to memory. Joe looked at her, vaguely interested, as he started on the lemon pie. He had already decided he would wait for Adam to explain everything and he was beginning to feel downright drowsy.
Mrs. Clover drew herself up to her full height of four foot ten and lifting her chin proclaimed in a loud and clear voice as if she were on stage :
“Surprise buddy! You know what this is for, and I think it’s all you need to follow me to Paris. See you there.”
Joe blinked. What? What had she just said? His mouth full of lemon pie, he shook his head and reached for the envelope. Slowly opening, it his eyes grew wide as he peered down at a thick wad of bills that he decided not to count just now. He looked up again at Mrs. Clover, who was smiling at him expectantly, as if waiting for applause for her performance. He swallowed.
“Could you say that again please? No wait, first tell me who gave you that message for me.”
“Why, Mrs. Peebles of course, who else?” Mrs. Clover stated in a disappointed voice. “Didn’t she tell you she was marrying her daughter in Saugus?”
Joe had no idea what Mrs. Peebles’ daughter’s wedding had to do with him, but he could only shake his head at Mrs. Clover, who was looking at him as if he were not all right in the head.
“She didn’t?” said Mrs. Clover incredulously, “Well now that’s very strange but who am I to judge? Anyway,” she shrugged, “You want me to say the message again?”
“Yes, um, no,” Joe sputtered. “First tell me where my brother Adam is. I thought he would be here since…”
“Why, I have no idea where he is,” the woman exclaimed, a bit defensively. “Are you expecting him? Oh of course you are,” she apologized, suddenly remembering what Mrs. Peebles had told her. “That’s why Mrs. Peebles asked me to prepare the guest room. Silly me.”
“Huh?” Joe creased his forehead trying to make sense of this woman, a sizable amount of money, a mysterious message and Mrs. Peebles daughter’s wedding. And where the heck was Adam?
Mrs. Clover shook her head indulgently at the exhausted young man before her. He was looking at her with eyes half closed, and almost swaying from fatigue as he stood.
“Listen, Mr. Cartwright. I’m sure your brother will be here soon. I imagine he’s your older brother, right?” Joe nodded slowly. “And you’re feeling a bit lost aren’t you? Well don’t you worry. You go get some rest. I’ll leave the message here. Mrs. Peebles wrote it down. You can read it when you feel more like yourself. I must be going. Don’t worry about the wages, everything is settled with Mrs. Peebles.”
Before pulling the heavy wooden door shut, Mrs. Clover noticed Joe staring at her and gave him a quick wave and a smile. Reflexively he raised a hand and gave her a crooked smile. Mrs. Clover paused, rolled her eyes, shrugged and hurried out the door. “That one must’ve fallen from the nest”, she mumbled to herself.
Joe was dead on his feet. His stomach full, the room warm and cozy thanks to the fire, he stumbled over to the couch, lay down, and in five seconds was asleep. His last thought was that Adam better be there when he woke up.
It wasn’t until twelve full hours later that Joe finally emerged, and even then, it was probably from a mixture of hunger, feeling cold, and a need to relieve himself. Shivering in the late morning light, Joe’s first reflex was to restart the fire. Once he felt the warm blaze seep through the chill in the room, he left to see to his other needs, opening doors and closets until he found what he was looking for. Feeling a good deal better than the day before, Joe yawned, stretched, and frowned. Adam still wasn’t back. He spotted the heavy yellow envelope on the table and the scrap of paper with the message, picked them up and carried them over to the couch. He pulled out the wad of cash and caught a square piece of white paper that fluttered to the floor.
Turning it over, he read:
rue du Faubourg, Saint Antoine
Paris.He counted out $2,300. Shook his head and counted again. Joe knew it was a heck of a lot of money. Pa had given him $600 on top of his travel expenses and that was to last until spring and pay for a new winter coat. Joe stared at the words written in an unsure but legible hand.
It must be Adam. In an affectionate mood, he did call Joe buddy, and since Joe hadn’t seen him in several months, maybe their separation had made Adam miss him as much as he missed his older brother. As for a surprise, it certainly was!
You know what this is for
Well, it was his birthday in just under two weeks and Adam knew it, but still, why give him his present now? And why didn’t he write out the message himself? And who in the world was Mrs. Peebles?
But what surprised him the most, what made him have to take a deep breath and read them five times out loud to be sure he was seeing them right, were the lines that followed:
I think it’s all you need to follow me to Paris! See you there!
Paris! Was Adam offering him a trip to Paris for his birthday? Could that be it? Surely Pa must be in on it too! Even Hoss! Joe smiled to himself. Pa and Hoss sure were good at keeping a secret. Then, jumping up on the couch he let out such a loud “WHOOP!” that Mr. Crum three doors down spilt his tea. He couldn’t quite believe it, but everything fit, or at least, enough of it fit, and that would explain why Adam wasn’t there. He was waiting for him in Paris, at the Hotel…Joe picked up the engraved white card again…Hotel Delcourt. He liked the sound of that! With his most seductive smile he said out loud “Bonjour, mademoiselle, I am at the Hotel Delcourt.”
Suddenly a hundred things rushed through his mind at once. First, wire Pa, second, book passage to France, third, get ready for the trip of his life! He was finally going to cross the ocean! And what’s more, on his own!
“PARIS! FRANCE! WHAT IN THE BLAZES IS THAT BOY THINKING??? HE MUST HAVE TAKEN LEAVE OF HIS SENSES!!”
“WHAT IN THE NAME OF HEAVEN HAS HE DONE NOW??? BIRTHDAY SURPRISE INDEED!!! AND HE THANKS ME FOR IT!!”
“HE MUST BE OUT OF HIS MIND!!”
“PA!! WILL YA PLEASE CALM DOWN?” Hoss tried to make himself heard above the roar of Ben Cartwright, but his father was furiously pacing the great room of the Ponderosa ranch house, waving a telegram that had arrived a few minutes earlier, and clearly more upset than Hoss had seen him a very long time. Actually Hoss hadn’t seen him this mad since he and Joe had tried to smoke out an ant invasion in Hop Sing’s kitchen by setting fire to the floor. Even now as a grown man, Hoss, winced at the memory.
“I MAKE SURE HE IS WITH SOMEONE FOR HIS ENTIRE TRIP TO BOSTON AND NOW HE’S OFF CROSSING THE OCEAN BY HIMSELF?? WHAT KIND OF A HARE-BRAINED SON HAVE I RAISED? TELL ME, HOSS…Where did I go wrong with that boy??” Finally running out of steam, Ben Cartwright sagged into his armchair and looked dazedly at Hoss.
“What’s going on Pa? I can’ figure out anythin’ you’re sayin’; yer yellin so loud !! What happened to Joe? Is he all right?”
Ben simply stared back at his middle son, the desperation in his eyes slowly turning back to anger. “Have a look for yourself! Your younger brother has decided to take a trip to Paris for his birthday.”
“Paris? France?” Hoss stammered incredulously as he reached for Joe’s telegram and read:
WONDERFUL BIRTHDAY SURPRISE / HAVE BOUGHT PASSAGE FOR PARIS ON SEAQUEEN LEAVING BOSTON OCT 25 / WILL WIRE ADAM UPON ARRIVAL FRANCE / THANKS SO MUCH PA AND HOSS / MUCH AFFECTION /JOE
Hoss scrunched up his nose and shook his head looking up at his Pa. Years of living with Joe had prepared him for almost anything… his little brother had the craziest imagination of anyone this side of the Mississippi but this time, this time he had really gone overboard and there would be Hell to pay.
“But Pa, why was he thankin’ us?”
Ben Cartwright threw up his hands. “I don’t know Hoss, I just don’t know…”
“And just where’s he gettin’ the money for that kinda trip? The 600 you gave him ain’t nearly enough.”
“Hoss,” Ben sighed, “You’d think there was a lighted fuse attached to his backside.” I thought this trip to Boston would satisfy his thirst for adventure, that Adam would try to civilize him a little… but it looks like I was wrong.”
“But that’s just it, Pa, how come Adam didn’t wire us about this? Where is he anyway? None of this makes sense….”
Ben rubbed his face with his hands and looked up inquisitively at Hoss. “Let me see that telegram again. “Will wire Adam upon arrival in France” Ben read aloud. “What does that mean? Has Adam left for France without telling us? That is certainly not like him but he must know about Joe’s trip. WHY didn’t he say anything?”
“Maybe he don’t know about it Pa. Maybe Joe never got to Boston.”
“This telegram was sent from Boston!” Ben said heatedly and stood up. “I don’t know what’s going on here but I’m going to get to the bottom of this! Saddle the horses, we’re going to wire Adam immediately and wait at the telegraph office until he answers! And he had BETTER have an explanation for his younger brother’s actions or I’ll go to Paris myself and drag that wayward son of mine back by his riverboat gambler hair!”
October 25th 1:30 pm
Adam turned the key to the townhouse on Sumner and pushed open the heavy door. Picking up three letters that had been slipped through the slat on the door, he dropped his small bag at the bottom of the stairs, threw the letters on the couch and headed directly over to the fireplace intent on taking the chill out of the room, frowning slightly at the pile of ashes, and noticing most of the wood gone from the stack: most unlike Mrs. Peebles. Adam shook his head. She must have been preoccupied by her daughter’s wedding, he thought.
Once a nice fire was going, he went to pour himself a relaxing glass of wine, retrieving a delicate crystal glass and a bottle from the small cabinet in the living room. His grandfather’s friends in Plymouth were friendly enough, and he was certainly grateful they had invited his grandfather for a month near the ocean, but forced to engage in small talk and tea for ten days, enduring his host’s attempts at matchmaking, had left Adam mentally exhausted. He was looking forward to seeing his youngest brother and knew Joe’s presence would liven up things a little in Boston. He had already planned several outings and would introduce Joe to a few young men, and ladies, he smiled, so his brother would not accuse him of boredom after a week of sitting around with Adam’s “old” college friends. He knew Joe was not happy at all that Pa had insisted Adam enroll him in school here for the winter but the kid would get over it. It was uncanny how he could twist any situation into something fun.
As he stepped into the kitchen, he was rather surprised to see a few dirty pans in the sink and a feeble attempt that someone had made to clean up a rather sizeable mess. On a whim, Adam checked the pantry, then the larder. Almost empty! Setting his glass of wine on the small table next to the couch he hurried up the steps to the guest room. Sure enough, the bed was unmade, there were crumbs on the floor, a used towel on the back of a chair and a wash basin still full of water on its stand. Peeking out from under the bed, was a green sock that Adam picked up between two fingers. It had a hole the size of a silver dollar in the toe.
He was here. Or at least had been here, and for a few days, or so it seemed.
Rushing back downstairs, he picked up the mail he had thrown on the couch: a letter and two telegrams. Instantly spotting the one from Virginia City, he frowned. Joe was supposed to arrive in Boston on the 25th. If he had arrived early, why wasn’t he still here?
Adam slowly lowered himself on the couch, wondering what kind of improbable situation was about to unfold. With a resigned sigh, he carefully tore open the first telegram.
SEND EXPLANATION IMMEDIATELY JOE DEPARTURE FRANCE OCT 25/ STRONGLY OPPOSE THIS TRIP / AWAIT YOUR RESPONSE /PA
Adam read through the telegram twice, incredulous. With a slightly trembling hand he reached for his glass of wine and downed half the glass in one gulp. Why on God’s earth had Joe gone to France? Glancing at the date of the telegram—October 23rd—Adam shook his head, and opened the second one, sent from New York on October 24th.
BET YOU LIKED SURPRISE BUDDY / THANKS AGAIN FOR LOAN / SEE YOU IN PARIS/ HA /TON AMI BASILE
What in the world? Adam stared at the flames, desperately trying to make sense of things. Joe was on his way to France? Basile had left him some kind of surprise before leaving for France but had not mentioned word of Joe. Pa somehow knew Joe was leaving for France but was furious and needed an explanation—an explanation that Adam was in desperate need of himself! Quickly he looked at the remaining letter but it was addressed to his grandfather from some friends in Gloucester so he placed it on the mantel, frustrated.
A tiny knot of worry had begun gnawing at the pit of his stomach. Leave it to Joe to do something totally unexpected. But worse still, Adam knew, as did his father, that Joe ate recklessness for breakfast and danger for dessert and that all this did not add up to the delicious lobster dinner that he had planned for Joe’s arrival.
“Little brother, you are REALLY in trouble this time,” he grumbled.
Adam grabbed his coat and almost bumped into Mrs. Peebles who was just letting herself in.
“Good day, Mr. Cartwright sir! How was your trip to Plymouth? Is the Captain better? I got those lobsters you wanted right here!” She held up a thick burlap bag with a smile. “And they are big ones! Thought they’d chop my hands right off…” Mrs. Peebles suddenly noticed her employer’s handsome grandson was evidently quite preoccupied. “Is everything all right, sir?”
“Oh Mrs. Peebles…Yes, I mean…no. The trip to Plymouth was fine; my grandfather is much better. I…I can’t…I don’t…” Adam shook his head.
“What is it, sir?”
“Mrs. Peebles, did you see anyone here while I was gone?”
“Why no, I’ve been in Saugus, aside from Mrs. Clover, no one that I know of… I hope nothing is missing. She is a friend of a friend and I can vouch for her, sir, if….”
“No, no, nothing is missing…” aside from my brother he thought, “but, pardon me my confusion, who is Mrs. Clover?”
“My replacement, sir,” Mrs. Peebles said a little worriedly, the young man was not behaving at all like himself. “You remember my daughter’s wedding?” she said slowly, accenting the last syllable and peering at him from under her eyebrows.
“Oh yes! Yes of course. Have you seen this Mrs. Clover since she was here?”
“Why no, I just returned yesterday from Saugus…”
“Can you contact her as soon as possible? I must see her. It’s very important. My brother must have come here while I was away…and….”
Mrs. Peebles could see the agitation and worry in the young man’s eyes. Something had gotten him very upset and she hoped that silly, addle-brained Mrs. Clover hadn’t done anything wrong. “Of course sir, I’ll go see her tomorrow and…”
“NO!” Adam exclaimed a bit too loudly, making Mrs. Peebles jump. “Excuse me for shouting but I really need you to go now. Don’t worry about the house. I’ll pay you for your time, of course. Please bring Mrs. Clover here as soon as you can…”
Mrs. Peebles turned and quickly descended the few steps to the street. “But what about the…” she said, holding up the bag of crustaceans. Glancing back at the agitated young man, she decided to hold her questions for later. “Off I go, Mr. Cartwright. I’ll be back with Mrs. Clover in a jiffy. Don’t you worry!” Suddenly she stopped and turned. “I almost forgot! Your charming friend M’sieur Basile did stop by for just a minute. He never even came inside, just dropped off an envelope for you and a message.”
Adam walked down the steps and stood in front of Mrs. Peebles, taking her two hands in his.
“Where is this envelope and message, Mrs. Peebles, please?” he said in a low voice, trying to control his temper so as not to fluster the housekeeper.
“Why, I left the envelope on your desk with instructions for Mrs. Clover to give it to you if you should return while she was there and repeat the message. You never said exactly when you would be back and I…”
“Repeat the message? It wasn’t written down?”
“Yes, I wrote it down for Mrs. Clover. M’sieur Basile was in a great rush. He was going back to Paris, you know, to see his family.”
“Yes, I know all that,” Adam cut in abruptly. “Do you remember the message? Please, Mrs. Peebles?”
“Oh dear… I’m not sure…” Mrs. Peebles scratched her head… It was something like “Surprise, buddy, I hope you follow me to France… No, that’s not it. I’m sure there was “Surprise… and buddy… and….”
“Think hard, Mrs. Peebles, it’s very important that I know exactly what he said.”
“Give me a minute… yes! It was Surprise buddy. You know what this is for… and I think it’s all you need to follow me to Paris!”
Adam waited. “Is that all?”
“Well, I think so, Mr. Cartwright but…but…I can’t be sure. He did stick something else in the envelope when he….”
“The envelope! Where is it?” Adam turned back toward the house and rushed up the steps, Mrs. Peebles at his heels.
“I put it on your desk in the bedroom, I’m sure of it,” she huffed, trying to catch her breath. She made a quick detour for the kitchen and deposited the bag containing the lobsters in the sink, thankful not to have to carry the two live creatures to Mrs. Clover’s house. “What a mess.” she mumbled glancing around the kitchen.
Adam took the stairs two by two and an instant later, shouted down: “It’s not here!”
“It MUST be sir, I left it right there on your desk. I promise you sir…Oh dear….”
Could Mrs. Clover have…? No, she was slightly dotty but certainly not a thief. “Mr. Cartwright, I do know something…there were a lot of bills inside but I didn’t take them out. I just peeked to see. I have no idea how much.”
Adam slowly came downstairs, looking at Mrs. Peebles. He was deep in concentration, trying to take in this new information, desperately trying to figure out how this was related to his younger brother…but it didn’t fit. Basile didn’t know Joe, had never met him. What could have possibly possessed his younger brother to take the money and leave?
Adam shook his head. “Mrs. Peebles, exactly how much did you tell Mrs. Clover about me?”
Mrs. Peebles thought for a second, scratching her nose. “She only knew your name was Mr. Cartwright,” she started slowly, “and that you were in Plymouth…oh and that you were expecting your brother. I had her prepare the guest room. That’s all,” she nodded.
Things suddenly clicked in place to form a theory. It seemed so far-fetched, but this was Joe, Adam kept reminding himself. Take crazy and multiply it by a hundred, that’s Joe Cartwright, Joe’s friend Mitch had adequately pegged his younger brother. “Try crazy multiplied by two thousand,” muttered Adam. Still, he was missing a piece of the puzzle.
“Mrs. Peebles, please go find Mrs. Clover now and bring her…WAIT!” Adam shouted, his voice strained, grabbing Mrs. Peebles arm.
“What is it sir? Are you feeling all right?”
Adam visibly paled, swallowed once and said in an urgent voice, dreading the answer he knew already “What day is it today? Please Mrs. Peebles.”
“Why, the 25th of October.”
“Oh great!” Adam spat, disgusted with himself. “I’ve got to get to the harbor, there’s still a chance I can stop him!”
And with that he rushed out without even taking his coat, hat, or key.
Poor Mrs. Peebles, dumbfounded, watched him sprint down the street like a runaway horse. She shook her head. “And I always thought he was such a level-headed man,” she mumbled.
TO: Ben Cartwright Virginia City Nevada
CONFIRM JOE LEFT FOR PARIS ABOARD SEAQUEEN TODAY / WITHOUT MY KNOWLEDGE / AM WIRING FENWAY SHIPPING ROTTERDAM – FIRST SCHEDULED STOP/ REQUESTING IMMEDIATE RETURN / LETTER WILL EXPLAIN/ DON’T WORRY /
TO:Adam Cartwright Boston Massachusetts
WAITING FOR EXPLANATION / WORRY I WILL / PA
Joe awoke to another beautiful morning, the sun shining through the porthole in his tiny cabin. He had quickly acclimated to the movements of the ship, a beautiful, though slightly aging, three-masted barque, and had been sleeping soundly ever since he boarded, finally beating the chest cold he had caught back in Illinois…It seemed so long ago now. He was a day away from sixteen and at last living the adventure he had hoped for all his life!
Although he couldn’t quite shake a nagging thought in the back of his mind, something about Plymouth, he once again shrugged it off and turned his attentions to the excitement of the voyage. Climbing the steep ladder to the top deck, he was greeted by Manning, the boatswain, who, although much older, reminded him so much of Hoss. The first days out in the open sea, Joe had wandered the deck, much more interested in the work of the crew than discussing news or weather with the other passengers. Manning had taken a liking to the young cowboy and was happy to answer his numerous questions about the rigs, navigation, currents and, of course, pirates.
“Ya just don’t run into many more a’ those these days, matey,” he had told Joe one evening when the ocean was eerily calm and pitch black, except where the moon left a brilliant white trail. Most of the passengers had gone to bed, but a few crew members were still out on the deck, and Joe had come across Manning sitting with his back against the gaff sail mast on the poop deck, a small flask in his hand, taking a swig from time to time. Joe sat down next to him and tilted his head back to take in the cloudless night sky. He had never seen so many stars, even on the clearest of nights on the Ponderosa.
“Sure, ya see some ghost ships from time to time in the soup but we steer clear and they let us be.”
“Ghost ships?” exclaimed Joe. “I sure would like to see one of those!”
“Shush lad!” Manning had roughly placed his large hand firmly over Joe’s mouth, glancing around nervously. “Don’t be talking about ghosts on board,” he whispered, “tis mighty bad luck! Davy Jones got ears as big as whales and if he hears ya….”
Wide-eyed, Joe nodded. He knew Adam scoffed at superstition but Hoss had told him once There’s things we just can’t explain, little brother, and there ain’t no use gettin’ on the wrong side of anythin’ spooky if we can avoid it. Joe made a point of heeding Hoss’s advice that sounded as logical as anything Pa or Adam could come up with on the subject.
Manning had caught the wary eye of a nearby sailor just then and the hefty boatswain stared back, widening his eyes and craning his neck to an almost comical length until the sailor shrugged and looked away. Many of the crew had been scraped off the bottom dredges of society before learning to be sailors and Manning knew more than one was itchin’ for an excuse to fleece the young landlubber who must’ve come from some money by the looks of him. They had already bet him he couldn’t rope a dolphin and although Joe had come pretty darn close, he was down $300 and a whole lot more respectful of dolphins.
Manning laughed hard as Joe blinked in the glaring sun and rubbed his eyes. The sailor raked his throat, expelled a noisy spit over the side into the waves and turned back toward Joe.
“Sleep well did ya, young buccaneer?”
Joe chuckled. “I sure did. Like a baby in a cradle.”
Manning softened his expression and stroked his beard. The boy’s smile lacked the bitterness that was burned onto the weathered skin of most men he knew, and yet there was a trace of sadness around the eyes. Something that hadn’t hardened into anger, so, the boatswain decided he must not have faced whatever had caused it alone. Joe wasn’t just another rich kid, starry-eyed on his first ocean voyage; he was quick-witted, nimble on his feet and, most of all, desperate to prove himself.
On the traditional race to climb the main shroud, then up the mainmast to the pole and back, he had beaten all the seasoned sailors but two, despite the dread Manning had recognized in his eyes. The race was open to all, but few passengers ever tried. At the very top, where the boat swayed like a rum-soaked pirate and dizziness made so many clutch the ropes with both arms, Joe concentrated only on what was in front of him and, hand under hand, sure-footed and fast, he reached the deck in record time. Only his pallor, as the crew and passengers congratulated him, told of the effort he had made to dominate his fears.
Had Manning known to what extent, he would have realized how much of an exploit it really was. Joe had forced himself to enter the race. After all, he was about to turn sixteen and it seemed like a good way to celebrate, but the terror that clenched his gut halfway up chased all thoughts of celebration from his mind. Looking anywhere else but at his own hands brought waves of dizziness that threatened to send him tumbling. Once back on the deck, trembling and nauseous, he quickly discarded any notion he had ever had of becoming a sailor.
“Sure is getting’ chilly out here,” Joe shouted over the wind, shaking Manning loose from his thoughts. The weather had suddenly changed and the barque was back to making excellent time in the steady gales that blew down from the North. Joe pulled his wool cap over his ears and buttoned his jacket. Thanks to a kind lady at a seaman’s shop in Boston harbor, he had quickly acquired a few necessary items before embarking. He knew that his Pa, who constantly worried about his slight son catching cold, would approve of the warm wool jacket, cap, rubber boots and thick wool socks.
“Listen boy, ya said ya wanted to learn, so have yerself some coffee and then come back up here. We’re about to work the foresail and jib riggings.”
“Sure thing,” Joe enthused, and turned back towards the ship’s mess.
Sipping a cup of piping hot coffee, Joe chatted aimably with the cook, an amazingly skinny Italian with the longest moustache Joe had ever seen.
“So, howza bambino cowboy?”
“I ain’t a bambino.” Joe chuckled. He had heard the word many times before in Virginia City. Even Adam had called him a bambino a few times, much to Joe’s indignation. “As a matter of fact, tomorrow’s my birthday.”
“So you are a big bambino tomorrow?”
Joe shrugged off the man’s teasing with a smile. He knew Seppi made fun of everybody on the ship. Joe even felt flattered and like a part of the crew.
Seppi observed the strikingly good-looking boy who casually sat at one of the small tables in the mess room, spreading butter on a thick piece of bread. He saw both the innocence and the strength, just as Manning had told him, and he was glad he had persuaded Pike and Dobbins to leave the boy alone.
Joe sensed Seppi staring at him and felt slightly uneasy. Pa had had a talk with him before he left Virginia City, making sure he understood certain things about women… and other things about men that had surprised Joe, although he wouldn’t admit it to Pa. Joe wondered briefly if he should be careful around the cook, then shrugged. Pa had told him in the end to trust his instincts about people, so Joe did. Sometimes Pa’s advice actually was easy to follow.
To: Rotterdam Port Authority
Attention:Fenway Shipping Co. / Captain Finneas Hoag – SeaQueen
PLEASE INFORM OF SAFE ARRIVAL PASSENGER JOSEPH CARTWRIGHT AGE 15 EMBARKED SEAQUEEN OCT 25 BOSTON / FAMILY REQUESTS IMMEDIATE RETURN TO BOSTON
RESPOND TO: Adam Cartwright c/o Captain Abel Stoddard -Boston-Massachusetts-US
Benjamin Cartwright-Virginia City- Nevada Territory-US
October 31, 1858
Dear Pa and Hoss,
By the time you receive this letter, hopefully we will have had news of Joe as the crossing should only last another week or so. I have learned that first anchoring is in Rotterdam to unload merchandise, then travel down the coast to reload in Le Havre.
As I understand it, Joe arrived in Boston five days early while I was still in Plymouth with Grandfather. Our regular housekeeper was away and the replacement housekeeper mistook him for me, and gave him some correspondence intended for me from a French friend who owed me a large sum of money. My friend Basile d’Aulnay had left his repayment to me with a somewhat cryptic, unaddressed note (enclosed). I believe Joe misread the note and in a fit of youthful enthusiasm and wishful thinking, concluded that we had all offered him a trip to Paris for his birthday.
I still do not understand, however, why Joe would leave without an address to find me. He is impulsive, as you well know, but not stupid. I have written my friend Basile, who will hopefully supply me with more details.
Pa, I can’t add anything more at this time except to say I’m sorry I wasn’t here when Joe arrived. This whole thing would never have happened and Joe would be here with me celebrating his birthday as he should. If it could relieve your worries a small amount, know that Joe arrived here in Boston in good health and that, for the few days he spent on Sumner Street, he stayed warm and his appetite was exceptionally good!
With my affection,
Eight days later, squatting on the deck of the SeaQueen, his back leaning on the forecastle and arm wrapped around a backstay, Joe cursed his birthday, Paris, the smell of wet rope and rotting fish, seagull muck, saltwater, and the chapped and blistered hands he got sloshing and stumbling his way outside ten times a day, dragging himself along a guard rope, to vomit up yet another meal. He could have stayed in his cabin but the smell just made him even more nauseous and right now he felt so weak from seasickness he didn’t think he could even crawl back. So, he stayed where he was in the rain, turning his head up toward the soft water, trying to take in as many drops as he could to rid himself of the acrid taste in his mouth and wishing he was back on the Ponderosa on a warm spring day, riding Cochise in the woods. Every now and then a great wave would crash against the hull and spray him with seawater until he was thoroughly drenched and shivering. The great ship was tossed to and fro, from left to right, until the nausea came again and Joe slid on his stomach to the side and threw up yet again out the hawse hole where the water on the deck drained away.
The rain had started only 5 days into the trip and had recently worked itself into a full-fledged storm that had even the most seasoned sailors turning slightly green in the morning. The crew had tried to help him through the seasickness when it started. Now, ten days later, it was all they could do not to toss their own guts.
“Oh God…” Joe groaned and clutched his stomach as he sat back again, weaving an arm for safety into the backstay ropes that held the foremast, a pitiful shelter from the icy wind. “What have I gotten myself into?”
He closed his eyes, spent, and hung his head, trying to picture his father’s face and muster some kind of strength from it. The next thing he knew someone was pulling him up by the arm, looping it over a strong shoulder, and another arm around his waist, practically carrying him, barely faltering, across the slippery and swaying deck….
“Hoss,” he mumbled. “Gotta put up Cochise.”
“Shush lad, go back to sleep. Manning’ll take ya below. Yer weaker than a jellyfish. What possessed ya boy, to sit out there in the rain?”
Manning shook his head as he ducked into Joe’s cabin and softly deposited him on his cot. Picking up Joe’s cap from the floor, he placed it on the shelf above his head and turned to leave. Before closing the door, he glanced at the pale, shivering young man who seemed so much slighter than when he first came on board. No big surprise there, Manning thought. He knew the lad had hardly eaten in six days and he hoped the blasted nor’easter that was pounding them would soon ease up so the boy wouldn’t waste away. He had seen grown men become slack and useless with the sickness and he knew the boy couldn’t take much more. He wondered cynically if the SeaQueen could take much more herself as he listened to her creak and groan her way forward through the swells. They couldn’t be far from the coast now, he thought, although after trying to find their position for the past three days, he and the Captain and many of the crew knew they were now in the storm’s clutches—and she was a fickle one. Making them believe they could outride her, allowing them to get back on course, only to blow them once again wherever the feisty wench’s will decided. Where and when she would release them was anyone’s guess.
He took two steps back into the cabin, gently helped Joe out of his wet coat and boots, and covered him in a wool blanket. Satisfied he had done what he could, Manning closed the door and headed up to the deck to batten down anything that might have come loose.
Several hours later, Joe awoke suddenly to a loud crack, followed by a resounding boom, fearful shouts and running on the deck above. His heart skipped a beat as he realised that the ship had begun to list heavily to one side, causing him to stumble and slam against his door as he stood up. Donning his coat and boots, not bothering to button up, he made his way, grasping what he could, up to the top deck. Hanging on at the top of the stairs, he saw that all hell had broken loose. The Captain was shouting for lifeboats to be lowered, as panicked passengers clung to the railings on the upper side. Crewmen were shouting orders and running right and left. Someone pushed him forcefully aside to get past and Joe fell to the deck. A strong, familiar hand pulled him to his feet.
“I was just going down to getcha, buccaneer!” Manning sputtererd, “Get yerself over to that boat NOW! The SeaQueen has finally lost her crown. She’s goin’ down, and fast!”
“What happened?” shouted Joe above the roar of the gale as he allowed himself to be pulled toward the lifeboat.
“We hit the rocks is what happened lad! The storm pushed us too close and the SeaQueen thought she could hop ashore and dry her legs!” Manning let out a mirthless laugh, spit again, and hauled Joe over the side of the boat where he fell two feet into the lifeboat being lowered.
“THE ROCKS? THE ROCKS WHERE?” screamed Joe as he looked up at Manning’s face, moving further away.
“SOMEWHERE NEAR THE COAST OF FRANCE, BOY! WE BLEW OFF COURSE! TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF, YA HEAR?”
“WAIT!” Joe shouted, but Manning had disappeared and Joe turned to the other people in the boat—shivering, white-faced like himself, he recognized most of the passengers and two of the crew. Suddenly a huge swell lifted up the SeaQueen and, still moored to the mother ship, the lifeboat was rammed against the side and broke the starboard mooring. Frantically, Joe tried to grab onto the side of the boat as he and the rest of the occupants slid down towards the churning waves below. A searing pain in his left wrist made him release his hold and he desperately grabbed for anything to stop his downward motion. He almost had a grip on a seat when someone’s falling body slammed into his leg, twisting it sideways and sending him crashing head-first into the next wooden seat down. Dazed and bleeding from a head wound, he blindly reached out for anything to hold onto. When another body hit him, the force was too much and he tumbled into the dark, icy ocean below. Shocked to the bones by the freezing water, gulping in mouthfuls of air between mouthfuls of seawater, Joe felt himself pulled down by his boots and heavy coat. Using a burst of adrenalin, he kicked off his boots, shed his coat, then, looking up, realised a strong current was pulling him away from the lifeboat. Someone had cut the moorings and the lifeboat had toppled into the water, miraculously upright. Joe struggled desperately to get to the boat, feeling himself getting colder and more sluggish by the second. But the more he struggled, the further away it seemed to get until he didn’t really care anymore. Barely keeping himself afloat, he heard the noise of the wind, the waves and the shouts fade away. He knew he had lost, but the warmth and detachment he felt were a consolation that surprised him, and he smiled. When he heard his father’s voice tell him it would be ok to just let go, he listened and gratefully obliged.
FROM: John Fenway, Fenway Shipping Co.
TO: Cartwright, Virginia City, Nevada Territory
Regretfully inform SeaQueen lost at sea off French coast/ Change of course due to storm/ Survivors unknown/ Rotterdam office closed. Contact autorités portuaires Le Havre for details.
Ben Cartwright had endured every agonizing blow that fate had sent his way with a deep faith that he would not be dealt more than he could handle. He clearly remembered the last time he had struggled to pull himself to his feet, finally cutting himself loose from the weight of loss that he had been dragging around like a hunter lost in a snowstorm, slowly, stubbornly hauling his catch behind him although it would mean his own death. But as he read the telegram Hoss had just handed him, he felt his legs give and a piercing pain in his heart that made him clutch his middle son’s arm in an attempt to stay upright.
Over the years since Marie’s death, he had somehow become overly confident that he would be handed no more trials of this nature from God. He deeply believed he would die an old man with his three sons around his bed, gazing into each of their faces with love and pride. His mind briefly shut out all the logic of tragedy, and he told himself Joe couldn’t be dead because he still loved him.
“Pa, let me help ya, come sit down, I’ll get ya some brandy.” With the help of Hal, the hand who had just delivered the telegram, Hoss guided his father to his chair.
“Ya need me to do anything else, Hoss?” Hal inquired, ill at ease.
“Thanks, Hal. We’ll be all right. Hop Sing’ll be back soon.” Hoss peered worriedly at his father who sat stunned, staring into space, his eyes full of despair. “Pa, here, drink this brandy.”
Ben took the glass absently and swallowed the amber liquid in one gulp. Hoss removed the glass from his father’s hand and sat down on the edge of the hearth, staying close.
“Pa, we don’t know for sure what happened to Little Joe. He’s a fighter and a darn good swimmer. If they weren’t far from the coast, he coulda made it, Pa! I just know it! They don’t yet have all the names…We gotta wait…We gotta believe Joe made it.”
“Hoss,”, Ben blinked and turned to look at his powerful middle son.
He knew the fierce protectiveness that ran deep in both his older sons. They first learned it watching out for each other and by the time Joe had lost his mother, it was engrained in them like the Lord’s good word. If there was one question they asked each other more than anything else it was ‘You seen Joe?’
Ben remembered one day when Joe had come home from school very early since Miss Jones had taken ill. He must have been ten or eleven. A huge thunderstorm had begun shortly thereafter and hadn’t let up all afternoon. Ben was beginning to seriously worry about his two older sons as he and Joe were about to sit down to dinner when suddenly they burst into the house, soaked, shivering and exhausted. As they stared wide-eyed at their younger brother, Joe began to laugh uncontrollably. “What the heck…happened…to…you two?” he managed.
“Dadburnit Joe! We’ve been lookin’ for you for hours! Which trail did you take comin’ home? Hoss’s relief slowly turned to anger as he watched his little brother giggle.
“Yeah, how many times have we told you to take the same trail back from school?” growled Adam as he hung his dripping hat on the peg and began pulling off his slicker. “When the storm started, we went to wait for you at the turn off, and when you didn’t show up we rode all the way to Virginia City and back.”
“Hey, I took the same trail as always,” Joe protested, piqued at his brother’s anger. “I didn’t do nuthin’ wrong.”
After Ben got everyone to calm down and explained why Joe was back early, they all settled into dinner, Hoss and Adam too tired to do anything but shrug as Joe continued to make fun of his brothers. The next day, however, when they all went out to survey the damage, Joe remained uncharacteristically quiet. The yard was strewn with branches of all sizes that had been whipped off the trees by the wind, part of the barn roof had blown off, every creek in the area had flooded and bridges had been swept away. Several trees had been hit by lightning and lay partly across the trail to Virginia City. As they all sat on horseback looking down at where the bridge used to be that Joe took every day, Ben leaned over and patted Joe on the leg. “You okay son?”
“They coulda got killed lookin’ for me Pa,” he whispered, “and I was makin’ fun of ‘em.”
“Son, your brothers understand, he whispered back, “I should have sent someone to let them know you were home.”
“I shouldna laughed”, he said shaking his small head, realising for the first time what his brothers had risked to find him. “It wasn’t funny.”
“ Pa, I’ll go to town an’ wire Adam. He can get to Joe quicker than us. You know it’d take us the better part of a month just to get to New York.”
Hoss studied his father’s face, waiting for an answer. As Adam had taught him, he’d already folded up and packed away the greater part of his fear. You don’t try to get rid of it, Hoss, his brother had repeated countless times when Hoss had come running scared for one reason or another. You just get it out of the way so you can think straight.
With a deep breath, Ben stood and walked purposefully to the credenza. As he reached for his gunbelt, his hand touched Joe’s new one that was rolled up next to his and he let it linger there for an instant.
“All right. I’m coming with you.” he said buckling his belt and grabbing his hat. He would not mourn his youngest yet.
Joe did not hear the SeaQueen Captain’s order to abandon ship, nor did he feel the strong arm that pulled him from the icy ocean, just as he was sinking under, and dumped him into the lifeboat, along with three other passengers that he had saved from drowning, before being pulled down into the depths himself. Manning gave a seaman’s prayer for God’s mercy as another wave crashed over him. He struggled, and failed, to grab one last breath before he felt himself getting sucked down with the SeaQueen as she sank. His final thought was an amused one. His curiosity about Davy Jones’ locker was about to be satisfied.
Adam stood nervously on the deck of the steamship on which he had booked passage as soon as he received word of the SeaQueen’s demise. He had decided not to tell Pa, thinking it would only worry him more and now he regretted it. Pa would be frantic with worry no matter what. His hands clenched and unclenched the metal railing, anger and despair battling for position in his heart, as he looked out over the ocean. The anger against Joe for being such a fool carried with it the hope that he was still alive so he beat the despair into submission.
Overwhelmed by the guilt of not being in Boston when his brother had arrived, he knew it was his responsibility to bring Joe back to Pa, whatever the cost. Suddenly he felt just as much a fool as Joe for rushing off to find his brother without thinking things through. True, he had written Basile a second time, informing him of Joe’s demise and his own imminent arrival. That letter should arrive a few days before he did and from what he knew of Basile’s family, they would be able to help him to find out about Joe. Joe…as he thought about what might await him on the other side of the ocean, despair crept back into his heart and he turned his face to the biting wind and closed his eyes.
During three long, frustrating weeks, Ben and Hoss tried desperately to distract themselves with ranch work as they waited for an answer to one of their three wires to Adam and as many to Fenway shipping. Despite the fact that at least ten different people had volunteered to ride up to the Ponderosa with any wire that came in, they still made up excuses to be in Virginia City and stalk the telegraph office for hours.
One morning, Ben woke early to a pounding on the front door and, grabbing his robe, he quickly hurried down the stairs. Hoss was already there, pulling open the door as an excited Hal thrust a paper into his hand.
“It’s a telegram from Adam, I’m sure.” Hal nodded, pleased to bring much-awaited news to his employers. “Mr Cartwright.” Hal tipped his hat to Ben, who strode quickly to Hoss’s side as he carefully opened the telegram.
HopSing came out of the kitchen, wiping his hands on his apron, and hovered close behind the two Cartwrights.
“It’s from Fenway Shipping in Boston, not Adam,” Hoss said slowly. “It’s dated December 1st.”
Ben braced himself, one hand on the credenza. “Read it, Hoss.”
ST. EUSTACHE HOSPITAL JERSEY ISLAND SAYS PATIENT SEAQUEEN SURVIVOR / MALE AGE 15-16 / POSSIBLE FIRST NAME: JOE. / GRAVELY ILL / FAMILY URGENTLY REQUESTED.
“It’s Joe, Pa! It’s him.” Hoss’s hope had soared seeing Joe’s name, then plummeted with the words that followed and he knew his father had done the same.
“That’s good news ain’t it?” commented Hal, looking from Ben to Hoss. “I mean, he’s alive and all.”
“Yeah, Hal, it’s good news. Thanks for bringin’ the telegram so fast.” Hoss put his hand on Hal’s shoulder and turned him around gently.
“Don’t mention it, Hoss. I was just finishin’ a poker game when that guy came lookin’ in the Bucket for any Cartwright hands to ride the message back. I hope yer brother’s okay.”
“Yeah, thanks; bye Hal,” Hoss said distractedly as he observed his father still staring at the words on the telegram…
“News about number three son?” Hop Sing asked tentatively.
Hoss turned toward the cook who was anxiously twisting his hands, trying to read first Ben’s then Hoss’s expressions. “They found Joe on an island, Hop Sing. He’s alive but the telegram says he’s sick.” Hoss took a few heavy steps toward the fireplace; placing one hand on the mantel, he hooked the thumb of his other hand in a belt loop and leaned over, staring intensely at the hearth. “Why hasn’t Adam answered us, Pa? I don’t get it, where in tarnation could he be?”
“Hoss.” Ben slowly lifted his head from the telegram. “I think Adam has gone after Joe,” he stated solemnly. “He was in Boston. He wouldn’t just sit there and wait for news of his brother when he could just get on a boat and go find him.”
“Yeah,” Hoss shook his head, “I guess you’re right. Ain’t no way Adam would be sittin’ there feedin’ the squirrels with Joe missin’.”
“Feeding the squirrels, Hoss?” Despite the seriousness of the situation, Ben couldn’t help but wonder at Hoss’s remark.
“Yeah, I know, it don’t make no sense to me either Pa. Adam said people in Boston town feed the squirrels.” Hoss picked up the biggest log he could find in the pile next to the fireplace and dropped it on top of the embers in a whoosh of sparks and ash. “Dadburnit Pa! I’m pretty near crazy with all this waitin’. Just when we know for sure Joe’s alive, we find out he’s sick!”
Neither man had to mention to the other that in the time the telegram took to reach them, Joe could already be dead. They both knew you couldn’t dwell on supposings and maybes and what ifs, all fast-growing weeds that could quickly smother a man’s good sense if you gave them an inch.
“You come have breakfast. Decide when to go find number three son after.” Hop Sing called, setting the coffee pot on the breakfast table, not realising he had just voiced what both Cartwrights were thinking.
“I don’t think it’s possible Adam could have learned that Joe was on Jersey Island before he left,” Ben stated, tipping the coffee pot towards his cup. “He would go directly to Paris, thinking Joe would try to reach him there.” Ben held his cup in both hands. “But we can’t keep guessing, Hoss. I just can’t wait here to find out if Joe is still with us. If he’s still alive, he needs us…” “And if he’s not…” Ben’s voice faded to almost a whisper and he hung his head, shaking it slowly. “Hoss… I’m not sure I…” He took a deep breath. Ben was struggling to overcome the weakness he felt and push aside his premature grief. Setting his cup on the table, he massaged his temples with one hand, giving hope time to take root. He lifted his head, caught the quiet faith in his son’s eyes. “I’m leaving for New York tomorrow and from there to Jersey Island,” he stated with calm conviction.
“Well, Pa, I ain’t gonna let you go alone.”
None of the survivors had any recollection or idea of what providential current had pulled their small boat away from the rocks of Jersey Island, a British protectorate with a large French speaking population off the northern coast of Normandy, and washed it up the next morning on the beach, with all its occupants still alive. They did not see the SeaQueen go down, or hear the screams of those who had drowned. It had made believers out of the two survivors that didn’t worship the Lord and had reinforced the faith of the five others.
Seven out of the 55 passengers and crew had survived. All had regained consciousness by the next day, all except a young, skinny, dark-haired boy whom everyone had seen on board and two had thought his name was Joe. The only crew member who had survived said he remembered something about the boy being from the West, a cowboy, son of a rancher. When the boy spoke in the pneumonia-induced fever that raged on for days, it was in mumbled English that no one understood. In the tiny hospital on Jersey Island, run by an order of French nuns, many thought it was unfair for the boy to die after such a miraculous survival but most were resigned to his fate. When his fever had finally abated, he was left so emaciated that his bones were pushing through his skin. Only the devotion of a young novice, Soeur Agnès, kept him alive.
He was hanging on by a thread and his survival became the talk of the island, so much so that one day the island’s most famous inhabitant of the time, a self-exiled French writer, came to see the boy for himself. The nurses whispered by the door as the imposing bearded man sat next to Joe on his hospital bed, took his thin hand in his and stroked the top gently with his thumb. In a deep voice with a strong French accent, he spoke.
“Alors mon garcon. You might want to wake up to the world now. The sun is beautiful, and love awaits. That is enough to live for, is it not?”
Deep down in the dark world where Joe resided, a tiny flicker of light appeared, like a match struck in a huge, empty cave. It wasn’t the first time it had happened but the lights usually went out after a while and Joe didn’t pay attention. This time, something was making it grow brighter. He suddenly felt the sensation of someone stroking his hand, and the awareness shocked him. Emotions that he thought had faded forever from his consciousness, hope and fear, slammed into his heart, pushing his eyes open for the first time in two weeks. He saw the blurry image close to him and focused on his voice, the stroking on his hand.
“Pa,” he said in a scratchy whisper.
The man stopped stroking his hand and touched Joe’s forehead. “C’est bien, mon garcon. You find again a will to live. So you have a Papa, yes? He will come for you, I am sure.”
“Nooo.” Joe tried to turn on his side but found he was so weak he could barely carry even the thought of moving. “My brother…” he whispered. What was it about his brother? Blinking, Joe tried to clear his vision. Where was he?
“N’ayez pas peur, mon garçon. You are in good hands.”
A man with a beard was holding his hand and saying things Joe couldn’t understand. Overpowering unfamiliarity and panic tightened his stomach. Even the arm attached to the hand, still held by the bearded man, looked foreign. Where seconds before, a voice and a caress had nurtured hope, now a nightmare was forming in front of his eyes and he felt he was drowning. A nurse quickly rushed over as he was seized by a racking cough, propping him up higher to help his breathing.
“Monsieur Hugo, je crois que le jeune homme a besoin de se reposer maintenant—he needs to rest,” she whispered, reverently.
As the imposing man began to slide his hand away from Joe’s, he was surprised by the pressure he felt for an instant, as if the young man was trying to hold on to him.
Monsieur Hugo had heard for many days that this boy was at the door of death, and it was because there had not been the expected announcement of his passing that he had come. He told himself it was first out of pure curiosity. He was always searching for a reason why some held on so desperately so life and others let go. He thought of his own beloved daughter’s tragic drowning only a few years back and admitted to himself that what he had wanted to see was the face of a miracle, and learn its meaning. He refused to listen to those who said his daughter’s death was senseless. The fools! What other deaths, besides those of the ancient, had the privilege of making sense? And couldn’t one say, then, that this boy’s survival was also senseless since its meaning was just as obscure? No. Death belongs to God alone.*
Sometimes, Hugo knew, God pushed you to the spiritual frontier of your own life and challenged you to stay and fight or let go. He wondered if his daughter had been given such a choice or if had God simply taken her, and handed the challenge to him.
“I will return to visit you.” He squeezed the boy’s hand one last time. Glancing up he saw that his eyes had closed again, his head slowing turning to the side. He could see through the illness and lack of nourishment the profile of a handsome youth, the straight nose and delicately defined mouth, dark curls and fine cheekbones. He knew a painter who would love such a face, should the lad survive.
Who was this boy he mused, this américain? So many were leaving for America, why would such a young boy be travelling to Europe? He would have liked to hear his story but the nurse was right: the boy appeared exhausted, his breathing laboured.
He hesitated for an instant, pulling out his notebook and a pen. What had he seen in the boy’s eyes for a fraction of a second, something fierce and desperate and…wishful. Strange that he called for his papa and not his maman. His father must surely be a man who loved him. He only hoped he wouldn’t arrive too late.
Hugo stood and pocketed his notebook, patting the unconscious lad’s arm. He hoped whoever it was wouldn’t arrive too late. Shaking his head slowly, he turned and headed toward the door of the large hospital room and asked the nurse to have someone inform him of the boy’s welfare, whatever it might be.
Several days before, Adam had arrived in the French port of Le Havre and, after making several heated inquiries with the Fenway Shipping office who had no new information regarding the survivors of the SeaQueen, had taken a train directly to Paris. Exiting the bustling Gare Montparnasse, his eyes searched immediately for a hired coach. Had he been less intent on his mission, he would have noticed several young, and a few not so young, ladies discreetly turning his way. The tall American cut a handsome figure in his grey wool suit and black Stetson, and something in his stride spoke of a mixture of self-assured elegance and raw physical strength that made him stand out in the crowd. Finding his coach, he greeted the driver in halting but well accented French and showed him a piece of paper with Basile’s address. As he sat back, surprised at the luxurious thickness of the carriage’s upholstery, he allowed himself a few minutes of respite, gazing out the small window as the coach rolled along the cobblestone streets.
Paris…city of artists, intellectuals, beautiful women and fine food. Adam had always dreamed of coming and wished deep in his heart that the circumstances had been different. Joe might well be dead, drowned in a tragic accident at sea, and the thought seemed to shroud the city in grey. Taking his head in his hands he rubbed his tired eyes and forced his mind not to imagine Joe’s fear or his last thoughts… had he drowned trying to save himself or was he unconscious when the ship went down? Had he made it to shore? Was he lying sick somewhere? Helpless? “Oh God, Joe,” Adam groaned. Then it was his father’s grief-stricken face that haunted him. On a street corner, Adam watched a young girl sell flowers to an elderly man who paid and patted the girl’s head. She caught Adam’s eye and smiled as he passed. Adam tried to summon a returning smile but knew it must have been a poor imitation as the girl shrugged, in a manner so like Joe that Adam was back to thinking of his younger brother.
He so often berated himself for not protecting his family that he sometimes wondered if God himself could find him truly worthy. He shook his head. Adam and God had had a few intense discussions over the years. He remembered when Marie died he couldn’t understand how his father could still believe, still pray, when he felt his own faith waiver. The bitterness had gnawed at his gut until he literally threw himself into caring for Joe, Hoss, the ranch and even his father. He’d almost dared God to take another one of them. Adam laughed sadly. It was a long, slow, angry grief that he had shared with no one. Even during his four years in college, he found himself often melancholy, sensing that a lighter, carefree heart would have attracted many more women. But it always remained just out of his reach. It had only been upon his return to the sanctuary of the Ponderosa, witnessing his brothers’ easy laughter and his father’s appreciation for life that had finally reconciled him with Marie’s death, and with God. It won’t happen again, Pa, he thought. It can’t.
After an exchange of letters with Basile, Adam knew that Joe had Basile’s address and he hoped, if Joe had survived the shipwreck, that he would attempt to reach him there. Basile had certainly learned early of the sinking of the SeaQueen and he was probably doing everything possible to find out what had happened to his brother. He knew Basile even felt partly responsible for the misunderstanding that had led Joe to France.
As the coach came to a halt, Adam descended slowly and wearily paid the driver, who handed him his bag.
“Bonne journée Monsieur!” the driver shouted and shook the reins vigorously as he took off down the narrow street.
Turning towards the Hotel Delcourt, Adam found himself facing two enormous, intricately carved wooden doors, over fifteen feet high. He knocked softly at first, then louder, until he noticed a cord attached to a bell a good ten feet up near the door. He pulled on the cord and waited.
Again he thought of the circumstances in which he was finally visiting Basile… he always imagined one day he would come to Paris but in that dream he was much older, perhaps married, with a child….
“Adam!” Basile greeted his friend warmly when Adam had been ushered into a vast, ornately decorated living room. “When I got your wire from Le Havre I was shocked. I didn’t realize you had left Boston so soon. Please sit down, mon ami, you must be exhausted.” He led Adam over to a comfortable green satin couch near a large polished stone fireplace and a warm fire. Above it hung a huge mirror in a beautifully carved gold frame. Adam glanced around at the lavish décor and took the small glass Basile handed him and settled back.
“It’s not brandy, but I’m sure you’ll like it.”
Taking a sip of the amber liquid, he smiled softly, “Cognac. I’ve only tasted it once. It’s exquisite.” Suddenly the circumstances that had brought him there came rushing back. He couldn’t enjoy anything completely…Joe…“Baz, any news of Joe?”
“Nothing for sure, Adam.” The young man shook his head regretfully. ”But I have at least four different agents searching and one has found a promising lead to the Island of Jersey.”
“Jersey Island? I thought that was part of England.” questioned Adam.
“Yes, yes, but it is very close to the French coast. I have received a report from the shipping company. One of the survivors….”
“So, there were survivors,” Adam interjected.
“They say six or seven, out of the forty-five aboard.”
“Six or seven….”
Seeing his friend’s crestfallen expression, Basile quickly spoke up “One of the survivors mentioned a boy who almost drowned. He was taken to a hospital on the island. The man had only a vague recollection…said the boy was in very bad condition…”
“A boy? Did he say how old? How many young men or boys were on board? Did they give a list of the survivors?
“One question at a time, mon ami. We will soon have many more details. I am expecting news today or tomorrow from my agent. There are many political problems in France at this time…and travelling is perilous. Information also takes time to travel and sometimes does not reach its destination. Please, let me show you to your room so you can rest. We will dine in an hour; perhaps there will be news by then.”
Adam physically felt the tiny glimmer of hope in his heart grow slightly brighter. Survivors, a boy…Jersey Island…the possibilities spun in his head with the effects of the cognac on an empty stomach. That, coupled with his fatigue, made him sway slightly upon rising from the couch. Basile immediately offered his arm, but Adam waved him off. “I’m all right…just tired and worried about Joe…He’s…well…I….”
“No need to explain, mon ami. I have no brother, as you know, but if I did I could only hope I would be as devoted to his welfare as you are to Joe’s. Come, rest. We’ll talk later.”
“I’m sorry Baz, I’ve been very impolite…not even asking you how you have been…I….”
“S’il te plait, don’t worry about it, buddy,” Basile said, affectionately putting an arm on Adam’s shoulder. “I completely understand.”
Lying down on the soft bed in a room decorated in rich colors of violet and gold, Adam finally let the fatigue of his trip wash over him and numb the constant worry about Joe. He barely managed to kick his boots off before falling asleep.
He was waking up every day now. Soeur Agnès, the nurse who cared for him most of the time, took that as a good sign, but the doctor that examined the frail young man just shook his head sadly after each examination. The boy had miraculously survived pneumonia and was eating, barely enough to survive, but he was taking in nourishment. However, he had not spoken or seemed to recognize anyone that tended to him and, when he wasn’t sleeping, he spent his time listlessly staring out the window. Soeur Agnès knew differently, though, and tried to explain to the doctor that the boy called for his father in his dreams and when he woke up in the night, and she was on duty, he grasped her hand and spoke in English, what appeared to be long, full sentences. He spoke in earnest and she so desperately wanted to understand, to tell him not to worry. But all she could do was nod her head until he seemed to realize she understood nothing and then the saddest look washed into his eyes and he sank back on his bed and stayed that way for almost entire days, until he woke from the next dream.
As it was, the doctor had too little time to devote to finding out what was ailing the boy’s mind and hardly listened to the young nurse, thinking she was becoming attached to the patient and so believing he was more responsive than he appeared.
Although Jersey was part of the British Empire, many French citizens lived there and the small hospital where he worked, for the poorest of the Islands inhabitants, was run by an order of French nuns. Many, like Soeur Agnès and himself who had only recently arrived, barely spoke English.
After listening to his heart and lungs and taking his pulse he once again turned the boy’s face towards him. The young man’s hazel eyes were dull but focused briefly on the doctor.
“What is your name mon garçon? he repeated his usual litany in heavily accented English, mixed with French. You are Djo? You have famille, yes?”
Joe could hear the doctor speaking to him but by the time his words pushed through the thick, heavy cloud of fatigue and melancholy that Joe had grown accustomed to, it was already too late to answer. He remembered waking up from nightmares to find his young nurse by his side and knew he had said things to her, but nothing ever changed. Joe couldn’t understand why the doctor always seemed to come when he was so tired he could barely keep his eyes open. So he let them close again, wondering what this nightmare was.
“Soeur Agnès, venez ici!” The doctor called to the nurse on duty who quickly came to his side. “If the boy hasn’t spoken by the end of the week, have him prepared to leave for the mainland,” he ordered, “I’m sending him to l’Asile Sainte Anne in Bretagne.” He hated having to make the decision but there had still been no answer from the shipping company to whom he had sent word in Rotterdam a few days after the boy’s arrival, with the names of two other survivors he had treated at the hospital and a description of the boy, “Joe.”
“Mais docteur,” SoeurAgnès, said in alarm, “he is too weak to travel; I’m sure we can help him. Just a little more time docteur, s’il vous plaît!” She was desperate to keep the young man out of a French asylum, knowing all that went on in those haunted, filthy places, even if they were run by Sisters of the Holy Cross.
“I’m sorry, ma soeur, we have tried long enough. He seems beyond our help now. It has been four weeks. Have him ready by Monday.”
The doctor turned once again towards Joe. Taking his limp hand in his own, he said softly, “I’m sorry, son.”
Joe felt lost in the fog but strangely safe. He did try to will his mouth to speak, even heard his words in his head but couldn’t push them out of his mouth. Most of the time he couldn’t remember why he was in this place, this hospital where everyone spoke French…but hadn’t this doctor spoken English? He was so confused and tired and sad. He remembered his family and the Ponderosa, his horse Cochise, pine trees…but it all seemed so far away. Had it all been a strange dream and was this reality? But no, he was thinking in English, not French. That encouraged him a little. He didn’t belong here. He felt the nurse’s hands taking care of him but he wasn’t interested. When they spoke to him he understood nothing. He remembered a man with a beard who had said some words in English, and another man…was it the man who was just speaking to him? Why had his family left him here? Were they dead? Something had gone very wrong but he couldn’t remember what it was and there was no one here who could tell him.
So Joe slipped back into the warm fog in his mind where he didn’t have to worry about anything. But this time, in the split-second before he went, he had the strangest vision. It was Hoss, looking out over the railing of a ship. Joe was watching him from underneath, from the water, when suddenly Hoss looked down and right at him. It was such an incongruous image that he almost held onto it, certain it held meaning. But thinking about it brought nothing more so he let it fade.
That evening Soeur Agnès paid a quiet visit to the only person she thought might be able to keep Joe out of the horrid French asylum and, as they hurriedly made plans, she sent up a prayer for Joe’s family to find him soon.
“Télégramme, Monsieur.” Basile’s butler presented it to him on a silver tray and bowed away from the table where Adam and he were having lunch the day after Adam’s arrival. Adam had already repacked his bag and was preparing to join Basile’s agent in his search.
He put down his glass. “Who is it from?”
“It’s from my agent in Normandy,” Basile said hurriedly, and tore it open. Adam was instantly out of his seat and standing behind Basile, trying to decipher the French. “It’s good news, mon ami!” Basile exclaimed. “He sounds sure he has found your brother in a hospital on Jersey Island.”
“He’s alive…Joe…” Adam whispered, shocked. He realized at that instant that he had all but convinced himself that Joe was dead. No wonder. With Hoss not around to show him the bright side, he always seemed to migrate toward the dismal. “You’re real good at preparing for the worst, Adam,” Hoss always told him. “Ya gotta work now on hopin’ for the best.”
God, he wished Hoss was there by his side, but he knew Pa needed him more right then. Adam began peppering Basile with questions. “Is he all right? Why is he still in the hospital? Why hasn’t he tried to reach me? I must send word to my father and then leave immediately!” Adam pushed himself up from the table, deposited his napkin and headed briskly toward the staircase.
“Adam, wait.” Basile tried to calm his friend.”We can send a telegram from here. My servant will take it. I must also wire my agent, and I think it best we try to get word to the hospital. It will reach them in a few days at most. Your message to your father will take more than two weeks.”
Pa must be out of his mind with worry, Adam thought. I’ve got to let him know that Joe is alive.
He quickly wrote up a message for Ben and Hoss and addressed it to the Ponderosa.
Three weeks later Hop Sing would receive it and, with the help of a ranch hand he was able to decipher that the cable had originated in France. The hope that it gave him regarding number 3 son sustained him during the long weeks he waited for his family to come home. Number 1 son was in France. Hop Sing nodded his head in understanding. Cartwrights all go find Little Joe. It was as it should be. The next day, he carried the telegram to Virginia City and had it forwarded to Fairview Hotel, 2nd Avenue, New York City. But, because a young relay telegrapher in Witchita was feeling poorly, Ben and Hoss missed the wire by three days.
In the noisy train that carried him from Paris to Saint Malo, a city on the northern French coast from where he could travel by boat to Jersey, Adam kept nodding off. This time he was nudged awake by an elbow and an irritated female voice.
“Monsieur, s’il vous plaît!”
Adam quickly sat up straight, realizing his head must have lolled onto the young woman’s shoulder.
“Je suis désolé mademoiselle, errr madame…” he said politely, trying to hide his embarrassment. The lady was stunning but obviously a bit put off and Adam didn’t have the courage to make conversation in French. Why was he so darn tired? He longed for a cup of coffee, or three.
He again gazed out the window, trying to look with interest at the French countryside, but it was all a blur. He caught the eye of a young boy who couldn’t be more than five or six sitting stiffly on the opposite seat, his small hands folded in his lap. He was staring at him intently. Adam gave him a quick wink. Keeping a straight face, the boy winked back in that determined way of children who have just learned how, his whole face participating in the effort. His mother gave him a small tap on the knee and said something a bit harsh in French. Adam made a mock frown and one corner of the boy’s mouth lifted ever so slightly.
Wake up! Adam admonished himself for the tenth time, head leaning against the glass pane, but in vain…the rhythmic movements of the train soon had him nodding off again.
Joe woke up to the sensation of movement, bright light, and the warmth of the sun on his face and body. It was the first time in a long while he had felt truly warm and he reveled in the feeling, hoping it would never stop. He was being carried somewhere on a stretcher, he realized. Turning his head to the side he cautiously opened one eye to look around. The first thing he saw was the ocean, a vast expanse of blue, straight to the horizon, and off in the distance he made out several sailing vessels of different sizes. Suddenly, without warning, his stomach cramped, his heart raced and he squeezed his eyes shut against a blinding pain behind his eyes. Moaning, he watched as images of the shipwreck flashed through his mind…the cries of the passengers, the freezing ocean…then he saw himself in Boston, waiting for Adam, holding an envelope of money…Adam! France! So many memories pounded through his foggy brain that it felt numb. He gave in to them, tried to slow his breathing….
A voice said “Whoa there lad, you’re all right. We’re just takin’ you to Mr. Hugo’s house. Don’t worry, boy…relax, now.” He felt someone hold his arm.
Joe tried to respond to the words in English but he could only produce a soft whimper.
Then a female voice he recognized spoke to him in French… “Calme-toi, Joe. Tout ira bien.” The familiar voice soothed him and his thoughts slowly cleared. The SeaQueen had sunk and he had survived. He was going to meet Adam…Adam!
He tried to open both eyes, to reach out for any of the nearby voices, but he felt so weak.
“Please…” he managed, “my brother Adam…Adam Cartwright. He must be looking for me…” The woman took his hand and spoke again in French. The words were gentle, her tone was soft and comforting… he gave her hand a light squeeze, caught a flash of blonde hair beneath what looked like a white kerchief and when she turned towards him to respond to the pressure on her hand he saw her reassuring smile. He fought to stay with it until he drifted back to sleep.
Adam was tucked into the corner of the small cabin of the fishing boat he had hired to bring him to Jersey. Not only was there barely any heat in the cabin but the small boat seemed to be taking every wave head on, rising up several feet then dropping with a thump. With as much dignity as possible, Adam held back the rising nausea he felt until it got to be too much. Then he left the cabin to let the cold wet wind whip his face, clearing his senses until, shivering, he returned to the cabin where the cycle started over again. Much to his initial frustration, he was told that no regular line was running since the ocean was so choppy, but he’d walked the docks searching for any boat that was leaving for Jersey, offering to pay twice the normal price. Eager to make some extra cash, a Jersey fisherman changed his mind about staying in Saint Malo that night and agreed to take a passenger.
“You’re not gonna enjoy this, young sir, I can tell you that much. That is one rough sea out there and we got a three-hour ride ahead of us,” he warned Adam.
“Don’t worry about me,” Adam retorted. “I have to get to Jersey tonight. Let’s go.”
Shaking his head with a chuckle, the man cast off the ropes and put Adam to work until, an hour later, he noticed the young man’s green-tinted complexion and frozen hands.
“Get inside or you’re gonna fall in!” he yelled over the wind, “and I don’t feel like fishin’ tonight!”
Adam gratefully obliged, swearing that once he returned to America, he would never set foot on another boat again, at least not one under fifty feet in length. At that moment he longed to be on horseback, even under the driest, hottest desert skies of southern Nevada, feeling the soft sway of his mount beneath him, the silence and harsh beauty of the desert landscape…anything but this wet, biting wind and sickening, churning ocean.
Several hours later, Joe awoke to new surroundings that surprised him by their luxury. He was in a large, comfortable room with whitewashed walls where a portrait of a young girl in a red dress, sitting in a garden, hung on the wall opposite his bed. To his right, there was a hunting scene with several beautifully painted horses that immediately made Joe think of home. He felt tears come to his eyes but blinked them back. A window above a large oak dresser shed a pinkish, early evening light onto the white embroidered coverlet on Joe’s bed. The warmth was heavenly, the softest of pillows beneath his head gave him the impression he was floating. Too soon, he was overwhelmed with the recent memory of the shipwreck and his efforts to understand this new situation. Just as he was about to call out, the door opened and a familiar man with a grey beard stepped in accompanied by another, much younger, man with a thick black mustache and a wide, friendly smile.
“Bonjour, jeune homme,” the elder said, “I’m happy you are awake.” He approached the bed and looked into Joe’s eyes, trying to gauge the boy’s awareness. Seeing the tired but alert eyes focus, he nodded and continued. “Soeur Agnès tells me you are feeling much better. I just couldn’t let them send you to Saint Anne, knowing the reputation of the place and the fact that I strongly suspected you were not alone in the world and am now certain, thanks to this gentleman here, that your family is searching for you. “
“They…they are?” whispered Joe. His memories of this man were vague but associated with a feeling of kindness…Joe needed to trust him; he was feeling so lost. “How do you know?”
“Ah! Excellent! You are quite coherent, just like Soeur Agnès told me. It is a great pleasure for me, jeune homme!” said the bearded man jovially. He picked up Joe’s right hand. “Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Victor Hugo; perhaps you have heard of me. I am a writer and a poet of certain reputation.”
Joe let the man shake his hand while he furiously racked his brain for any memory of the name. “I’m sorry sir, he said softly. “ Guess I wasn’t listening that day in school.”
“No mind,” spoke Hugo, smiling and shaking his head.
“But you said my family…where….”
“That brings me to this man here, M. Folgier, a private agent hired by M. d’Aulnay to discover your whereabouts.”
“M. d’Aulnay…” repeated Joe, the name snagged on a yet another memory.
M. Folgier stepped forward and shook the bewildered boy’s hand. “Bonjour, Joseph Cartwright.” He spoke with a thick French accent, “Your brother Adam is very worried about you. I believe he should be arriving soon.”
Joe concentrated on trying to understand the man’s words. “Adam. Adam is coming here?” Rarely had Joe felt such a feeling of relief upon hearing those words. He sat up and started to push back the blankets, feeling a dull ache in his left arm and noticing the bandage. “I have to go…where is he? For that matter, where am I? Is this France?” Confused and frustrated, Joe frowned and felt his head ache.
“Please, calmez-vous, you are much too weak to leave this bed.” Victor Hugo rested a hand on Joe’s arm. “S’il vous plait…it would be a pity if you were to fall sick again. Your brother has been notified, I assure you.”
“Word has also been sent to your father in Nevada,” said Folgier.
“My father…” Joe said weakly. “Pa….”
“You have been sick for quite a while after surviving the sinking of the SeaQueen. The sisters of the Holy Cross have been caring for you in their small hospital here on Jersey Island, not far from the coast of France. They could no longer keep you there since there has been an outbreak of influenza. It would even have been dangerous in your weakened condition but much, much worse, I’m sure, to send you to an asylum in Brittany. You cannot, however, blame the good doctor as he tried his best to help you,” explained Hugo.
Folgier nodded at this.
“How long?” whispered Joe with dread, “How long since the SeaQueen sank?”
“Four weeks,” answered Folgier.
Joe closed his eyes and couldn’t help the emotion building in his chest, bringing tears to his eyes. Four weeks with no news, oh God! Pa would be frantic…first, hearing the ship had sunk, then not knowing…Joe felt a lump in his throat and swallowed, embarrassed. “Are you sure my Pa knows I’m OK? How were you sure it was me?”
“I’ve been looking for you even before your brother Adam arrived in France. He sent a very detailed description of you, even mentioning the scar you have on your left side, under your arm.”
Joe remembered jumping onto a pile of hay in the barn, not seeing the nail protruding from the wall that ripped open his side. He must have been around eleven. Adam had been working with the horses not far away and was the first to come running. He absently fingered the scar beneath his nightshirt, thinking that the description could very well have served to identify his dead body.
“The main office of the shipping company in Rotterdam closed several weeks ago,” Folgier continued, “and there were some problems gathering and communicating the names of the survivors. There were only seven of you and all left Jersey Island very quickly—except for you, of course.”
Joe was still focusing on something Folgier had said before…“What do you mean before Adam arrived? He wasn’t waiting for me in Paris?”
“Apparently not,” Folgier shrugged. “But I do not have all the facts.”
Joe looked even more confused and shook his head, lying back on his pillow.
“Please rest now, Joseph,” soothed Victor Hugo in a deep, calm voice…so much like Pa’s, thought Joe as he closed his eyes again.. He tried to stay awake…he had so many questions…but fatigue overpowered him, and he didn’t hear the men quietly leave the room.
December 7th, late evening.
Joe was trying to sleep but Pa and Adam were discussing some problem downstairs, their voices loud enough to hear but he couldn’t distinguish what they were saying…Joe wished they would stop and let him go back to sleep; he was so tired. He pulled his blanket over his head and tried to muffle the noise but it wasn’t working. Only one thing left to do, get up and tell them….
Suddenly Joe opened his eyes, sitting up in bed…aware of the very real voices downstairs. Adam and Pa? No, he had been dreaming…and yet it sounded so much like…he had to find out. Dragging himself out of bed, he tried to stand but dizziness sat him right back down. Standing slower this time he leaned against the bed post, then the wall, noticing for the first time a large bandage around his knee. He winced when he put weight on the leg, but it held. He limped to the door of his room, opened it and managed to grab the banister at the top of a flight of stairs. There, shivering, he listened more intently, trying to ignore the dizziness and the pain shooting up from his knee. Adam! As he recognized the voice, warm relief flooded through him; it felt like years since he had seen any of his family…he had to see him.
“Adam!” he whispered. “Adam!” he said a little louder. Frustrated that he couldn’t get himself to call for his brother, he took a deep breath and yelled as loud as he could “ADAM!” It didn’t sound half as loud as Joe had hoped and was followed with a bout of coughing that shook him so hard he almost let go of the banister. But the voices suddenly stopped; he heard a door open, and someone rush to the bottom of the stairs. Swaying slightly, he blinked and stared right into the shocked eyes of his older brother, who hesitated for one brief second before bounding up the stairs two by two. “Joe! Don’t move!” he shouted. As he reached for his little brother at the top of the stairs, Joe let go of the banister and fell into Adam’s arms. “My God, Joe!” Adam whispered, “You scared the hell out of me.”
Joe didn’t know if it was for all the time he was gone, or just seeing him at the top of the stairs that had scared Adam but if the tightness with which Adam held him was any indication, he knew his usually stoic brother was feeling just as much relief as he was and he didn’t want it to stop. He felt himself shiver and go weaker in Adam’s embrace, just wanting to let go of all the fear and loneliness he had felt for so long. He realized how long he had been trying to hold himself together and felt the emotion now get the better of him. He hoped Adam would understand that he didn’t have the strength to keep the tears from his eyes and sobbed once, trying weakly to put his hand on his brother’s shoulder.
As he felt his younger brother grow weaker in his arms, Adam pulled himself together. He was having a hard time letting go of Joe but knew they couldn’t stay there in such a precarious position at the top of the stairs. His heart was still beating hard and fast as he placed a hand on the back of his brother’s head. Few things had scared him so much as seeing his impossibly thin, pale brother barely standing at the top of that long flight of stairs. Dressed only in a long white nightshirt and bare feet, he was like an apparition, both a dream and a nightmare.
“Tout va bien?” a deep voice called from below, prompting Adam to begin to pull slowly away from his brother, still keeping him very close. He supported Joe’s back with his left arm and picked up Joe’s right arm, placing it gently over his shoulders. Joe suppressed a twinge of pain and rested his head against Adam’s shoulder. As Adam turned, he saw Mr. Hugo had reached the top of the stairs himself and, stepping in front of them, saying a few words in French, he led the way to Joe’s room, then quietly left the two brothers alone.
Adam helped Joe over next to his bed where Joe sat with relief, blowing out the breath he had been holding in. His stomach and ribs still hurt from all the coughing and his legs felt shaky…not to mention his knee that was sending up waves of pain. He folded his hands in his lap, trying to ignore it all and looked at his older brother, not yet fully realizing he was there. Adam picked up a blanket from the bed and put it around Joe’s shoulders; then, making sure Joe wasn’t going to fall over, he turned to pull up a chair and sat opposite his brother, their knees almost touching.
“Adam…” Joe whispered, knowing he must look to his brother just the way he felt: a skinny, tired, vulnerable kid who had been lost for weeks.
Adam leaned forward. “Joe, don’t try to explain now…it’s ok.” Adam tried to calm his voice and the beating of his heart as he put his hand briefly on Joe’s folded ones. When he had arrived at the tiny hospital only to hear that ‘le garçon Joe’ was no longer there…he had had to sit down, so certain was he that he had come too late and Joe was gone from this world. Then a young nurse had taken his hand and softly explained. After the reassurance that his brother was alive, he had just arrived and was explaining who he was when Joe had called from the stairs.
“But Adam, I hafta figure out what’s going on.”, Joe said in a strained voice, scratching the bandage on his arm, “I was coming to see you in Paris…you left a message and some money, a whole lot of money…I lost it all…in the…when the…ship sank…some lady at your grandfather’s house, Mrs.—I can’t remember, told me….”Joe shook his head. “It was a present, wasn’t it, Adam?” Joe looked up at his brother.
“Joe, Adam stated softly, “don’t worry about it.”
“Was it?” Joe said again, more intently.
“No, Joe, it wasn’t,” Adam relented. “Things got mixed up. You jumped to a conclusion that no one expected, although I guess we should have since it’s Joe Cartwright we’re talking about here,” he said with the hint of a smile, patting Joe’s un-bandaged knee.
Joe shook his head again. “Whew!” he breathed, “Feeling a little dizzy….”
“Here, lie back.” Adam stood quickly.
Joe held up a hand. “No; I’m all right. I don’t want to sleep just yet.” He steadied himself with one hand on the bed, holding the blanket around him with the other. “Go ahead. I want to know more….”
Adam looked dubious but continued. “The money was from my French friend, Basile. He was paying back a loan I’d made him. The message was intended for me too, of course. I think what convinced you was that he called me ‘buddy.’ He liked the word, used it for all his friends. That, and a lot of wishful thinking on your part.” He grinned. “Anyway, Mrs. Clover was replacing the regular housekeeper. She had never seen me before and mistook you for me. Hard to imagine but true. Are you following this, Joe?” Adam hesitated, seeing his younger brother close his eyes wearily. “This can wait.”
Joe opened his eyes. “Adam, I think… I mean I’m sure I messed up pretty bad this time, didn’t I?”
“That you did, little brother. That you did. I imagine a hundred years from now old folk’ll still be telling their grandkids about young Joe Cartwright of the Ponderosa who up and left for France with his brother’s money and got shipwrecked.”
“Ya think so?” Joe said meekly. Actually he kind of liked the idea of being the hero of a story that folks told their kids.
“Well, sure, but we don’t know the whole story yet. I’m sure folks will talk about what kind of punishment Pa thought up for you, and then there’s the story of how you paid me back those 2300 dollars…”
“Adam…” Joe interrupted softly, lifting his eyebrows in a forlorn expression that Adam knew well.
“Does Pa know I’m alive at least?” Joe’s voice cracked slightly and he held his breath, searching his brother’s face.
Adam looked at him steadily. “I sent word from Paris. He’ll know real soon if he doesn’t already.”
“God, Adam,” Joe exhaled and looked up at his brother. “Pa and Hoss, they were so worried about me going on this trip.”
“Joe, don’t think about that now.” Adam rested a hand on Joe’s arm.
Sighing, Joe lifted a hand to his forehead. “I’ll be lucky if Pa lets me feed the chickens by myself after this,” he muttered dejectedly.
Adam smiled and reached out to ruffle his younger brother’s hair affectionately. “Well, you know Pa; he’s a worrier all right, especially where number three son is concerned.”
“Yeah, ya don’t have tell me. You know, I kinda wish he could just tan my hide and the whole thing would be forgotten…”
Adam noticed his brother was shivering slightly. “Come on Joe, let’s get that hide of yours back in bed.” He helped Joe under the blankets. And don’t worry, by the time you’re thirty-five or so, I’m sure Pa will let you go pick up the mail by yourself.”
Joe lifted his head and saw the broad grin on his brother’s face. He couldn’t help but grin back.
“OK if I stay here a little while, Joe?” said Adam as he settled back in his chair. “I’m not quite ready to let you out of my sight myself.”
“Yeah, sure,” Joe said, feeling grateful, safe, and exhausted all at once.
Adam watched as Joe fell asleep in less than a minute. He had found his younger brother, in sorry shape, but alive…he let the feeling wash over him, felt his eyes tear up as he looked over at Joe, whose thin, bandaged arm rested on the coverlet, his fingers slightly curled, relaxed in sleep. He tensed and stood when Joe had another coughing fit and managed to push his blanket to his knees in the process without ever waking. Adam observed the swollen knee, then gently pulled the blanket back over his brother, watching him for several long minutes, making sure he slept. Sinking back into the chair he finally closed his eyes himself and relaxed into the first restful sleep he had had in a long while. “Happy birthday, little brother,” he whispered before he completely drifted off.
Waking up with a start at dawn, Adam quickly checked on Joe in the pale light. His brother seemed a little warm but his breathing wasn’t too labored. Silently, Adam closed Joe’s door and slowly descended the long stairway. Just when he reached the bottom of the stairs, a young maid came into the hall, startling him, and she smiled.
“Well, hello sir,” she said with a strong British accent. “Mr. Hugo said we had another guest. Would you like me to show you your room now? Course now that it’s mornin’, I guess you won’t be goin’ back to bed.”
“Well, no, I don’t suppose.” Adam glanced around, trying to get his bearings, as Mr. Hugo himself walked in.
“Bonjour, Monsieur Cartwright. I see you rise with the sun, like myself. C’est bien. And how is your young brother this morning?” Hugo’s deep voice resonated in the hall, despite that fact that he was trying to speak quietly. “I imagine you weren’t too comfortable last night but it is understandable that you needed the proximity to your brother, yes?”
Adam observed his bearded host who must be around Pa’s age and seemed just as imposing, which was rare in itself. Yet, there was something else, a definite sense of self-importance. This was a man who was used to an audience. I wonder what he does for a living, Adam thought.
“Yes, Joe is my youngest brother,” he answered, “I was very worried. He seems to be resting somewhat peacefully now. I do thank you for taking care of him. It is very charitable of you.”
Just then the door bell rang and the maid rushed to open it while Hugo turned to welcome his visitor in French. “Armand, do come in. You are right on time. I want to read you the last two poems that I finished last night. They are full of surprises.”
Armand, a well-dressed young Frenchman, smiled and handed the maid his hat, gloves and cane. “When the poet is Victor Hugo, surprises can only be excellent I’m sure,” he chuckled.
It was one of the few occasions in Adam’s life that he would ever admit to being dumbfounded. Did he understand correctly? Was his host actually the great, renowned Victor Hugo, author of Les Chatiments, Ruy Blas and The Hunchback of Notre Dame? In a daze, Adam heard Hugo ask him if he wanted to join them for coffee. He nodded briefly and followed the two men to the dining room, shaking his head. Leave it to Joe to inspire the generosity of one of the greatest thinkers of the century and not even be aware of it. Little brother, he mused, if this turns out as interesting as I think, I just might let you off the hook for those two thousand dollars you owe me.
Knowing that the frail young man in the upstairs guest room was in no condition to travel, Victor Hugo had graciously told Adam he could stay as long as was needed for his brother to recuperate. Although Hugo worked constantly on his writing during the day, he made time whenever possible to chat a few minutes with Joe and engage his elder brother in many deep and animated discussions, often on American affairs, a subject that fascinated Hugo. Both men had a similar grasp of each other’s language and found they had no trouble making themselves understood.
“Joe, when I’m talking to Mr. Hugo, sometimes it feels like I’m dreaming,” Adam exclaimed one evening, as he kept Joe company while his brother ate dinner. “Imagine it Joe, he is one of the most respected and renowned writers in Europe right now, and we’re living in his house! “
Joe smiled, happy to see his brother so excited. He still felt guilty about the mess he had made and, though Joe didn’t really see what all the fuss was about, he was grateful Adam never seemed bored for a second during Joe’s long recovery.
“Yeah, and his voice sounds so much like Pa’s don’t ya think?”
“Yes, it does Joe. I’ve noticed that too.” Joe’s comment brought Adam back to the reality of his brother’s illness. In the week since he had arrived, Joe’s improvement had been agonizingly slow. He still coughed constantly and had barely gained back any weight. Often plagued by nightmares, Joe woke sometimes two or three times a night, drenched in sweat and disoriented, calling for Pa.
“How come he hasn’t written yet, Adam?” Joe said in a tired voice, handing Adam his tray.
“He will, Joe. It just takes a long time for letters to travel, even telegrams, since there are no transatlantic cables. If you want, I’ll stop by the hospital tomorrow to see if there is word. Basile knows where we are; he’ll contact us if he receives any news from Pa. You just concentrate on getting better.”
Adam rested a hand on Joe’s shoulder and gave it a squeeze. Seeing his brother’s dejected expression, Adam tried to think of something to bring his spirits up. “You want to try to walk on that leg again tomorrow? We can try the grand tour of the upstairs, if you want. Joe, there is a window in the back that has a view of the ocean you wouldn’t believe.”
Joe sunk down further into his bed and closed his eyes. “I’m not sure I want to see the ocean Adam. I feel like I’m drowning in it every night,” he murmured. “And I just can’t get used to those darn screeching gulls, either.”
“Yeah, they do take some getting used to, but if you listen close, you kinda start hearing what they’re saying.”
“You’re startin’ to sound like Hoss.”Joe smiled and tried to find a comfortable position. “But I know what you mean. There’s the short squeak, the long squawk, the laughing screech…”
“So, you have been listening.” Adam pulled Joe’s blankets up to his brother’s chest.
“Ain’t got much else to do,” said Joe in a sleepy voice as he closed his eyes. Joe didn’t want to tell Adam how sad and hopeless he really felt, like he would be sick forever and never see the Ponderosa again. And it was all his own stupid fault.
Adam blew out the lamp next to his bed. Carrying the tray downstairs to the Hugo’s kitchen, he told himself he would ask their doctor to come back sooner than planned. Joe wasn’t getting worse but he certainly didn’t seem to be getting better.
“Adam, Adam, mon ami. Do you really think there is no other way for the Americans to work through this problem other than war? Slavery is indeed an abomination but so is war. So is war…” Hugo’s voice trailed off as he shook his head.
The two men were having a glass of cognac in Hugo’s living room after dinner. Ten days had passed since Adam arrived and Joe had suddenly taken a turn for the worse. His fever was back, although not as high as before, and he had never really stopped coughing. Adam berated himself for encouraging Joe out of bed a few times to walk around the house. A bit distracted with worry about Joe and wondering whether he should contact the doctor again, he tried nevertheless to concentrate on his discussion with Hugo.
“I assure you, sir,” he managed, “there is no way around this. The union must be preserved. If the southern states follow through with their threat of succession, there will be war, civil war.”
“Civil war?” Hugo boomed. “What does that mean? Is there any foreign war? Isn’t every war fought between men, between brothers?”*
Adam knew the truth of Hugo’s words and it pained him. Seen from a distance, the political problems his young country faced were grave and what he felt as the inevitability of war, a tragedy. The southern economy depended on slave labour. Aside from being morally wrong, it was also incompatible with northern economy. He shook his head. When the Dred Scott decision ruled that slaves were private property and that neither they nor their descendants could ever become citizens of the United States, it eliminated all possibility of compromise. Now Congress had no authority to prohibit slavery in Federal territories. Unionists and abolitionists were frantic with worry that slavery could spread to the North. The debate over states’ rights was more boisterous than ever.
“Brothers can fight and still remain loyal to their father, but when the father too must choose a side, family loyalty is shattered. Neutrality is no longer an option for anyone,” Adam stated sadly.
“You are correct, alas, “ Hugo muttered and shook his head, pouring himself another glass of cognac. “Good men sometimes have no choice but to sacrifice their neutrality, often with dreadful consequence.” He downed his glass.
Adam felt the familiar hard knot in the pit of his stomach brought on by thoughts of his country at war with itself. Would the South really go so far as to pull out of the Union? Adam’s loyalties were strongly with the North, but what about his father? And Joe? He had tried several times to bring the subject up at home but Joe wasn’t interested, didn’t think any war could possibly reach them. And Pa always managed to avoid the subject. Only Hoss ever spoke with him about it, asking Adam to explain some things he wasn’t sure about. Adam suspected Hoss’s main concern was how a war might affect his family and he shared those worries with Adam whenever he read some particularly alarming newspaper article or spoke with someone from the East.
“Adam,” he’d said one evening out on the porch just that past spring, “Joe sometimes gets this notion that he’s from the South, ya know, ’cause of Ma.”
“Yeah, I know.”
“It don’t mean he believes in slavery or nuthin’. He’s just proud of his Ma bein’ from New Orleans.”
They both listened to the night for a few minutes in comfortable silence.
“Adam, “Hoss questioned softly, “you don’t think Joe could ever get the notion of defending the South in a war, do ya?”
“No, I don’t think so, Hoss,” he replied. “God, I hope not,” he whispered.
Hugo paced the living room floor, visibly agitated. “War. Massive, legal execution…” he muttered. Suddenly he stopped in front of Adam. “Tell me Adam, have you ever seen an execution? Yes, I suppose you have.”
“Unfortunately, I have seen several.” Adam had expected that Hugo sooner or later would bring up the subject. He raised his head and looked straight at the imposing author. He knew the man’s thoughts on the death penalty, knew he was ferociously opposed to the execution of a man by the law. Adam had thought long and hard about the difference in killing to defend one’s life and killing as a collective decision of society to punish.
“How did you feel watching society’s murderous solution to crime by ridding itself of a life? Hugo said. “And please don’t quote the Bible to me. The life of one man is as precious to God as that of his own Son.”
“If you are referring to ‘an eye for an eye,’ I know it is wrong to say it gives us the right to take another man’s life as punishment, but it does encourage men to seek justice. My father taught us the difference between revenge and just punishment. As you well know, ever since we were chased from the Garden of Eden, we have been struggling to find solutions to deal with evil while respecting human life. I’ll never say hanging a man for murder is perfect justice but we haven’t found anything better yet.”
“Oh, but that’s where you’re wrong, my young friend. The death penalty pulls men back to barbarous times while giving them the illusion they are civilized. “
Adam sipped his cognac, unsure of how to continue. Hugo certainly seemed an idealist at times. He respected life above all else, raised the consciousness of men with his powerful writing which Adam respected and greatly admired. But Adam lived in a place far removed from the literary salons of Paris. He had grown up in close proximity to death and danger while Hugo had lived a more or less sheltered childhood. Adam had watched the woman he considered his mother die a violent death and yet his father had taught him not to hate even the Indian who had let fly the arrow that killed her.
But was it enough not to hate, not to want revenge, to accept a verdict of hanging by a court of law as just punishment? Adam gazed at the fire in the hearth, his thoughts anything but peaceful.
“Mon jeune ami…” Hugo began, when suddenly he was interrupted by a loud knock on the door.
“Etrange. Qui cela peut-il bien être à cette heure?” Who could that be at this hour ?
“The maid has gone home and my wife is away, that leaves the great Victor Hugo to answer his own door,” Hugo laughed.
“Allow me, Adam said quickly as he stood, grateful, for once, for the interruption.
“Non, non, je plaisante mon ami. I’m joking.” Hugo put up his hand, indicating that Adam stay seated as he pulled open the large oak door, revealing a shivering Sœur Agnès.
“Come in, come in , ma soeur. Come warm up near the fire. Que se passe-il? To what do we owe your visit ?” Hugo ushered the young novice into the living room and seated her near the fireplace.
“Bonsoir ma soeur,” Adam greeted her with a smile which she returned shyly, as she reflexively held her hands over the heat of the fire and rubbed them together.
“I’m sorry to bother you so late Messieurs,” she began. “But a telegram has arrived at the hospital from a Monsieur Benjamin Cartwright and I was certain that Monsieur Cartwright here must want to see it right away.”
Adam took the envelope she handed him and opened the thin paper with care, barely hiding his excitement to finally receive word from his father. “Yes, it’s from my father. Thank you for bringing it.” He quickly scanned the page.
Will arrive in Jersey Island on or about January 18th. Patient Joe is son Joseph Cartwright. Please keep him in your care until my arrival or arrival of son Adam Cartwright. All medical expenses will be reimbursed. Thank you. Benjamin Cartwright.
Pa is coming to Europe? Adam stared incredulously at the telegram. What could have possibly made him make such a long, exhausting trip? He obviously already knew I had come to get Joe…
“Is everything alright mon ami? queried Hugo, “You look like you need another glass of cognac.” Without waiting for Adam’s answer he refilled the glass.
“Thank you.” Adam took a healthy sip of the strong smooth liquid. “Excuse me, I am quite shocked and intrigued to learn my father is traveling here from Nevada. I can’t imagine why he would undertake such a trip. He’s not a young man…”
“And how old, may I ask, is Monsieur Cartwright père? And be careful in your answer, young man! This grey beard of mine is but a disguise. You are speaking to a man of fifty-five who could easily swim from here to LeHavre if an alluring young wench beckoned,” Hugo chuckled
“Monsieur Hugo! Please,” whispered Soeur Agnès, shock written on her delicate features. Something told Adam she was feigning a good deal of it as he saw her hide a smile.
“Ah my dear Soeur Agnès, do forgive this old man his bawdy humor. I sometimes suffer from great lapses of propriety but it keeps me young, you understand of course? Ha ha.”
“Well, what I mean is, continued Adam, “I thought he would wait for me to bring Joe home. Something must have made him want to come halfway across the world.”
“You need look no further for a reason, Adam. I have learned much about Benjamin Cartwright from Joe. He speaks of him constantly as well as that other brother of yours, the Colossus of Rhodes I call him, what is his name? Ah yes, Hoss. Well I presume that your father is a passionate man with no less passionate sons, and the heart that pumps the blood of humanity is made up of passionate men. Of course he will travel across the world out of love for his youngest son. I would expect no less of any passionate man, and neither should you!”
Adam gave Hugo a heartfelt smile. “I believe, sir, that you are correct in your description of my father,” he stated. Adam felt a twinge of worry about his Pa, passionate or not, he must have feared greatly for Joe’s life to leave the ranch for so long. Adam shuddered inwardly, wondering when his father had left the Ponderosa, hoping he hadn’t made the trip with the idea of bringing Joe’s body home. Joe… “I’m sure this news will help my brother with his recovery. I wonder if he’s awake…”
Adam wanted nothing more than to bound up the stairs to bring the news to Joe, but education, as usual, won that tug of war. Standing, he turned toward the novice and took her hand. “Thank you again Soeur Agnès. Please allow me to accompany you back to the hospital.”
“Don’t worry, mon ami,” interjected Hugo. “My coachman will take her back. I’m sure the old goose is still playing a game of tarot in the room off the kitchen. “
Adam thanked him with a final nod to Soeur Agnès, he picked up the small lamp he used to find his way in the dark and quickly mounted the stairs.
Knocking softly on the door to Joe’s room, Adam heard coughing in response and pushed the door open. Joe was sitting up in the dark, reaching for a handkerchief from the pile of linens next to his bed.
“Hey, buddy; I wasn’t sure you were awake. How are you feeling?”
Joe coughed a few more times and spat discreetly into the handkerchief. “Hey older brother”, he managed between sniffles. “Couldn’t sleep. It’s too hot in here.”
Adam glanced over at the fire that had died down. The room was warm but certainly not hot. Frowning, he sat next to Joe and felt his forehead.
“Don’t give me any bad news, I’m so tired of being sick.” Joe pushed himself up further on his pillows. “Who was that at the door? I heard someone knock.”
Adam immediately realized Joe’s temperature was a bit higher, but Joe didn’t seem too uncomfortable so he decided not to mention it. “Good news, Joe,” he said, resting a hand on his brother’s too-thin shoulder. “Real good news. Pa is coming. He should be here in a few weeks.”
Joe’s eyes widened. “Pa is coming? You ain’t kiddin’, me are ya Adam? He’s coming HERE?”
“Hey, calm down Joe.” Adam spoke softly as he realized the excitement of the news had provoked a coughing fit. “Yeah, I was as surprised as you but I guess he’s not gonna let you get on another boat without him. You know Pa.”
“I can’t believe he’s really coming. How do you know? Did he send word? The news felt to Joe like a warm Nevada breeze, bringing smells of pine, hay and horses, dispersing his gloomy thoughts like dandelion seeds in the wind.
“Soeur Agnès, you know, the novice who cared for you in the hospital?”
Joe remembered her well. Even though he understood almost nothing of what she said, her voice was an anchor, her touch had kept him in this world when he had felt himself so often drifting away. “Of course I remember her,” he said solemnly.
“Well she brought over a wire that Pa had sent to the hospital …”
“Can I see it? Joe interrupted. “Show it to me.” He wanted to feel something tangible from his father, even if it was only words that came through a wire. They were his Pa’s words.
Adam hesitated. The wire wasn’t written to Joe and he feared that would upset his brother. But he couldn’t find any excuse not to show him. He took the telegram from his pocket and handed it to Joe, who brought it closer to the lamp that Adam had set on the table next to his bed.
“He thinks I’m still in the hospital. How will he know we’re here?”
“Don’t worry, I’ll leave word at the hospital and I’ll send a wire to Fenway in Le Havre. He’ll find us. This island is smaller than the Ponderosa and nothing will make Pa leave here before he finds you.”
“ Yeah, I guess you’re right.” He handed the telegram back to Adam and shook his head, thinking of the distance his father was traveling to get there. “You know Adam, he told me his seafaring days were over, and I know he had a lot of business in SanFrancisco… Gosh, I hope he’s not gonna be too mad at me. Boy, I sure can’t wait to see him, Adam. But, I guess this means I won’t be able to stay with you in Boston.”
Adam chuckled to himself, watching Joe’s face portray about ten different emotions in the space of ten seconds.
“Slow down, Joe. Remember we’re not far from one of the most beautiful cities in the world. That’s where you were going when you started out.”
“Oh yeah. Paris.” Joe paused. “Do ya still think we can make it there, Adam?”
“I’ve been and I sure want to go back. There’s so much to see Joe. It’s beautiful. I’ll do everything I can to convince Pa to go, but first you have to get back on your feet. Come on, buddy, try to get some sleep. I’m going to get in touch with the doctor again tomorrow. I want him to listen to that cough.”
“Aw Adam, doctors just make me feel sicker. Do you have to?”
“Yes. I have to. Now quit protesting and go back to sleep.”
“I gotta pee first.”
“Well, do what you have to do, I’ll wait outside the door.”
Joe’s chuckle turned into a cough and Adam stopped smiling as soon as he closed the door.
After examining a slightly more feverish Joe while Adam hovered close, the doctor quickly diagnosed a relapse of pneumonia. Adam had, at first, been relieved to learn that the doctor, an Englishman, was well-informed of the latest healing methods in Great Britain. However, his relief was short-lived.
Two days later, he had just returned from the apothecary, when he was appalled to find Joe deathly pale, lying listlessly on his bed, one arm covered with blood-sucking leeches, while the doctor was trying to force him to swallow a mixture of what Adam later discovered to be mercury and some other foul smelling chemical. The room was stifling hot and Joe’s expressionless face was covered in sweat.
“What do you think you’re doing!” Adam shouted as he stormed into the room, barely containing his anger. “What are you giving him?” He looks ten times worse than when I left him this morning. Get these things off his arm! Adam pushed the doctor aside, took the open bottle of medicine from the table and read the label ‘Fordman’s elixir vitae’. What is in this? He picked up the second bottle ‘Brown’s chlorodyne.” I asked you to speak with me before you gave anything to my brother, did I not?”
Adam’s eyes flashed furiously at the doctor as he picked up Joe’s limp hand. With the other, he felt his brother’s forehead. Joe was now watching him, fear in his eyes. “Sorry, Joe. I didn’t mean to frighten you,” he said in a much gentler voice, “How do you feel?”
Before Joe could answer the doctor piped up, “My dear sir.” The doctor rose from his chair to face Adam, “Will you please leave me with my patient?” he stated in a voice mixed with arrogance and annoyance. “I am the doctor here and my methods have been proven worthy. Queen Victoria herself has great faith in them.”
“I don’t care a tinker’s damn about Queen Victoria and how she cures her royal headaches!” Adam’s face was inches from the doctor’s. The doctor gave a short intake a breath at what he considered blasphemy. Heedless, Adam continued, “I asked you to inform me of the treatment you planned to give my brother and you did not respect my wishes. I asked you once and I will only ask you one more time: Get these leeches off my brother NOW!” Adam towered over the doctor, restraining himself with difficulty from pulling the foul things off his brother’s arm himself. He knew it had to be done slowly.
Joe eyed the creatures with disgust. In a scratchy voice, he whispered, “Get ‘em off me, Adam.”
Adam grabbed the doctor’s arm. “NOW!”
The doctor cowered beneath the American’s anger and, mumbling something unintelligible about revolution and heathens, he began slowly removing the leeches.
Joe turned his head, preferring not to look at the bleeding welts left by the bloodsuckers. As he suddenly began coughing uncontrollably, Adam rushed to his side, supporting his back as he tried to help his brother breathe, all the while glaring at the doctor.
When the doctor dropped the last leech, now fat with Joe’s blood, he quickly closed the jar, hastily bandaged the patient’s arm and packed up the rest of his things. Without a glance at Joe, he stormed out of the room. “Mark my words. I won’t ever return again to this house of savages!” he declared as he rushed down the stairs. “Ignorant fool heathen!” he yelled, “God save the Queen!” before slamming the door so loud the window panes shook.
Adam turned quickly to Joe and saw a weak smile form on his brother’s face that turned quickly into soft laughter as their eyes met. Adam couldn’t help chuckling himself and, as he held his brother to help calm a new bout of coughing, he hoped he had made the right decision. At that instant, Victor Hugo stuck his head into the room, a amused expression on his face, dark eyes twinkling.
“I see the Americans have once again driven out the British!” He grinned affectionately at the two Cartwrights. “Well done my friends! Well done!”. He turned and headed down the stairs, shouting “God save the wretched Queen! Long live the pompous wench!” and laughing heartily.
“Sounds like he don’t like the ole Queen much either, whispered Joe.
“No, he doesn’t,” Adam laughed, “He told me he may well get himself booted off the island because of it.”
“Ya think it’s true she lets them put those bloodsuckers on her when she’s sick?” Joe made a disgusted face looking at the bandage on his arm and sunk down further on his pillow.
“I don’t know, Joe, but Inger told Pa once that she watched her own father slowly lose all his strength and die because some doctor bled him. She made Pa swear he would never do it. Luckily Doc Martin doesn’t believe it helps either. We would’ve been hard-pressed to find another doc close by.”
“Yeah, Joe smiled. “With all my bumps and scrapes, I wouldn’t have a quart of blood left in me by the time I was 12.”
“Well, Joe, you know your body can make more blood if you lose it. It just takes time. The problem is when you bleed too much and too fast, faster than your body can…” Adam glanced down at Joe, who had closed his eyes. “Okay, little brother, I’ll explain all this another time.”
“It’s not that I ain’t interested…” Joe yawned, then coughed. “Just a little tired… think I’ll take a nap.”
“Sure Joe, you do that.” Adam felt Joe’s forehead, slightly cooler. He wondered what the best course of action would be. Maybe he should try to wait it out. If Joe’s fever came down further and the cough improved a bit….
Adam slowly closed the door to the bedroom. Rubbing his chin, he once again counted the days before his father’s arrival. Again, he felt the familiar pangs of worry but mentally reprimanded himself. Can’t go down that road now, I’ve got to see about Joe. When he’s better, I’ll think on Pa. Taking a deep breath, he suddenly smelled steak cooking downstairs with some herb, thyme perhaps, and his stomach growled. Having barely eaten dinner the previous evening and only having had coffee that morning, for once he understood Hoss’ irrepressible hunger.
The Hugos left on December 23rd to visit friends on the other side of the Island for Christmas, leaving Mrs. Cobbs, the maid, to help the Cartwrights. Shaking Hugo’s hand, Adam regarded him warmly. “Thank you for all your help, sir. I don’t know if we’ll be here when you return.”
“Pas d’inquiétude mon ami. Don’t worry my friend. Stay as long as you need and Joyeux Noël!”
“Joyeux Noël!” Adam and Mrs. Cobbs waved as the carriage carrying the Hugos pulled off down the street.
It was a beautiful day on the island. Never had Adam seen Christmas without a thick coating of snow or at least a freezing rainstorm that sent every creature who wasn’t there yet, into hibernation. He didn’t really miss the snow, but he knew his younger brother did. For all his bravery and guts, Joe had the heart of a kid at Christmas and Adam was determined to give his brother a little holiday cheer.
“Mrs. Cobbs, if you are sure you can stay with Joe for a while, tell me again what you need in town. I’ll be back in a few hours.”
Adam felt lighthearted for the first time in weeks as he breathed in the fresh salty air walking down to Beauport, the fishing port near the Hugo’s residence. The strong smell of fried fish reached him as he neared the town. A flock of screeching gulls fought for a crab close to the shore. As usual, the neighbor’s collie trotted at his heels. Funny how dogs pick their friends, he thought. No need for introductions, you just appeared in their life one day and they decided they liked you and wanted to stick close for a while. Adam had come to expect the dog to show up whenever he left the house and even waited for him at the end of the street. He often sat atop the stone wall of the pier biding his time until his canine companion completed whatever business he had in town before returning home. If either of his brothers knew that Adam Cartwright stopped what he was doing to wait for a dog, they would tease him mercilessly. Adam chuckled to himself. This was the kind of thing he kept in his private world. The frustration he caused his brothers when they couldn’t figure him out was a definitely a reliable source of amusement.
“Hey younger brother! You know what day it is today?” Adam entered Joe’s room and pulled open the curtains, letting in some rare sunshine.
Joe rubbed his bleary eyes, sat up in bed and waited through the coughing fit that was his usual morning ritual.
“You okay, buddy?” Adam sat on Joe’s bed and eyed his brother.
“Yeah, I’m fine. I just wish I could get rid of this cough, it’s killing my stomach. Hey, how come you woke me up?”
Adam winked, stepped outside Joe’s door and came back in carrying four big boxes tied with ribbons that he placed on Joe’s bed. Then, stepping once again outside the door, he returned with a tray laden with delicious French pastries and a pot of hot coffee that he placed on the dresser.
“Hey! What’s goin’ on? Does this mean what I think it does? But, I didn’t get you anything… “
Joe looked so contrite, Adam had to laugh. “Hey, don’t worry about it Joe. Just open your presents.”
Adam poured the steaming coffee and put two of the most appetizing pastries on a dish that he handed Joe, with a cup.
“Merry Christmas Joe,” he said quietly, holding out his coffee cup to make a toast.
Joe touched his brother’s cup with his own and, with wide eyed seriousness said, “Merry Christmas, Adam.”
They weren’t home, and there were just the two of them, but in that small room as they shared breakfast and Adam watched Joe open his gifts, he felt the warmth and love of Christmas on the Ponderosa, and was grateful for that—and so much more that he couldn’t begin to express.
“These sure are some fancy duds, Adam!” said Joe as he pulled the dark tweed jacket, grey wool pants and white shirt from the boxes. Joe had lost everything in the shipwreck and had only a nightshirt and robe to his name. Another box held toiletries, black leather boots, several more shirts and a thick, double-breasted winter coat. When Joe opened the last box he stared at its contents then looked up at his brother. “It’s almost just like my old one,” he exclaimed, pulling the grey Stetson out of the box and placing it on his head. “Where did you get this?”
“I wish I could say it was me, but the hat is compliments of Mr. Hugo, Joe. When I mentioned I was looking to buy you a hat he said and I quote “Joseph is a horse busting youth, he needs a horse-busting hat.”
“I told him it was bronc busting, Joe laughed. “Did he really say “horse-busting”?
“Yes he did. Then he told me he had a friend, a haberdasher—”
“A person whose craft it is to make hats. Anyway, when I drew a picture of your hat, he said he’d make one, and this is it. Looks like he did a pretty good job, too. It’s good to see you wearing it, Joe, real good. If you weren’t such a pale-face, that is.”
“Yeah, guess I could use me some sun.” Joe smiled. “What do ya say we do a little huntin’ up by Yellow Creek today?”
“Hey, I’m up for it, said Adam, playing along, “I’ll saddle the horses while you get Hop Sing to pack us some grub. Meet you out by the barn in 10 minutes!”
“I’ll go see if Hoss…” Joe suddenly became pensive and let out a sigh. “Gee, I miss home, Adam. I mean, I wanted to come to Boston and all but… well, it’s Christmas and…”
“Forget it Joe. I know it doesn’t mean you wouldn’t have been happy to stay with me in Boston.”
Joe gave his brother a wan smile and let out another sigh. “You must be so tired of tendin’ to me, older brother. I feel like I’ve been nuthin’ but sick since I stepped on that barque.” Joe shook his head slowly, then looked back at Adam, his eyes suddenly wide. “But you shoulda seen her Adam, boy, she was a beauty!” “When all her sails were out and the wind was perfect. I understood what Pa meant about the sea. It was magic.” His eyes then clouded and he looked away.
As Joe leaned back against the headboard, wearing just the new grey Stetson and a huge white nighshirt over his skinny frame, the deep affection Adam felt for his brother rose to his awareness. God, he loved this kid.
“How many people survived, Adam?” Joe asked in a small voice. It was the first time he had really spoken of the wreck. The memory was something he had tried to avoid until now, he was just too afraid of what he would hear.
“They told us seven, you included,” stated Adam, “Here, let’s get all these boxes off the bed so you have more room.”
“Was there anyone named Manning?”
“I saw the list, Joe. There wasn’t any Manning. Was he a friend?”
“Yeah,” Joe said in a whisper. “A good friend. I think he…he must’ve saved my life when I fell in…in the ocean. ” His eyes unfocused as he remembered the accident again.
“I’m sorry you lost a friend, Joe.” Adam sat on the bed and placed a hand on his brother’s wrist. “And I’m sure grateful he was able to pull you out of the water. I’ve no doubt he was a good man. Maybe we can make a search for his kin and you could write them a letter.”
“Yeah, I’d like that.” Joe’s voice cracked slightly and Adam gave his brother a moment to remember his friend. Slowly a wistful smile broke out on the younger man’s face. “Ya know Adam? I never saw Manning laugh so hard as when I tried to rope that dolphin.”
“Well, it was a bet and I was so sure I could get ‘im but the dang thing was always one leap ahead of me.”
“How much did you lose?” Adam queried.
Joe glanced up at his brother and saw the humor in his eyes. Reassured, he continued, “Well I guess it don’t make much difference now if I tell ya. Three hundred dollars.”
“Why am I not surprised?”
Joe shook his head and shrugged. You know I really think that critter was laughing at me the whole time? Just waitin’ for me to throw that rope so he could jump over it…”
“You know, that dolphin sure reminds me of a younger brother of mine, Adam said, tousling Joe’s hair.
“Gee I never thought of Hoss as a dolphin,” said Joe with a mock frown, shaking his head, “But I guess maybe you’re right.”
Adam laughed. It felt good to share a joke with Joe at Hoss’s expense.
“Promise me something, little brother. Can you wait a few years before you decide to take another boat trip halfway across the world by yourself? You keep doin’ this and I’ll be as grey as Pa before I’m thirty.”
Joe managed another smile. “Hey, I’ll tell ya one thing, as soon as I get home, I’m gonna
sit me up on a horse and mosey into town like the world just offered me a life of leisure. Get myself a nice cold beer. Maybe even sit Sally May on my lap. That’s all the excitement I need for a while.”
Adam couldn’t help but laugh at the picture of the well endowed rear-end of Sally May sitting, more like flattening, his little brother’s lap. “Well, you may get some excitement from Pa when he hears you’ve been having beers in town with ladies on your lap.”
“Adam”, Joe said, incredulous, “You ain’t forgotten I’m sixteen now? That’s a man in these here parts.”
“Well I don’t know about these here parts but in Pa’s parts, you’re barely a day over twelve.”
“Yeah, ya don’t have to remind me…”mumbled Joe, fingering the fringe on his blanket. Suddenly brightening, he asked, “Hey you think we’ll be back at the Ponderosa by the end of March? There’s at least three mares gonna foal. One of ‘em sired by Hellion, you remember the Fisher’s stallion, big grey one with the freckles on his nose? I gotta see that foal.”
“Sure I remember Hellion, that story of him almost bitin’ the tale off of Sam’s mule was around town for months. But hey, what about Paris, buddy?”
“Oh yeah, Paris,” Joe said with all the enthusiasm he could muster. Talking of home had made Joe just want to be back there as soon as possible and he could hardly believe he had set out for Boston, then Paris with such blind eagerness. But he knew Adam had his heart set on visiting the city and he wasn’t about to deprive his brother of that pleasure. “Sure we’re goin’. As soon as Pa gets here, right ?”
“Right. Now, how about you try on these fancy duds and we try to make church at noon? It’s only a block away and the day is unusually warm. You up for it?”
Joe was finally on the mend and getting stronger daily, no thanks to the doctor, thought Adam. Much thanks instead to Mrs. Cobbs and the simple but hearty fare she had been feeding Joe as soon as his appetite returned. He was still weak and his knee was giving him trouble but on the whole, he was much better.
Joe brightened considerably at the idea of finally going outside.
“You bet I’m up for it!”
In the small church that overlooked the ocean, the joyous singing of Christmas hymns could be heard from far away. No one could imagine that several members of the congregation would be dead in less than a month.
January 18th 1859
“Pa! Wake up Pa!” Hoss shook Ben’s shoulder and couldn’t keep the excitement out of his voice as he looked out the porthole. “We’re finally here, Pa, France!”
Ben slowly rose from his bed and groaned. “The sea is really a young man’s life,” he grumbled. “I don’t know how I never noticed the constant rocking and creaking, the howling wind and ice-cold mist that creeps into your bones.” Ben shook himself awake and then remembered his youngest son, like he did every morning since that first telegram. His heart constricted and he took a deep breath before rising and pulling on his clothes. He noticed Hoss had already gathered their possessions around the cabin and was closing his bag. He was once again thankful to have this son with him. This son who never doubted that Joe was still alive and was bound and determined to get to him.
Alive. Ben allowed himself to believe. There was no other way.
They had waited three days for a telegram from HopSing in New York but had only received response from Captain Stoddard who had confirmed Adam had left for France and that Joe was still alive early December.
Yet Ben’s hope had dwindled during their voyage. With every great wave that splashed the deck with freezing seawater, with every off-hand comment by a crew member about the SeaQueen’s wreck, he thought of his son and he almost cursed every story about his own adventures at sea that he had told his boys. Word travelled quickly between ships, he remembered, and became legend even faster than in the West. One sailor had said the SeaQueen had crashed against the rocks and disintegrated into so many pieces that barely a splinter had washed up on shore. And it was hard to tell if it was a fragment of bone or boat. Ben had grabbed his sleeve and hissed in a gruff voice, “Do you know what you’re saying, man?” before Hoss took his arm and pulled him away.
The pain of imagining Joe’s loneliness and fear when the ship went down was overwhelming and he fought to keep it at bay. Joe was brave, Ben knew; he would have helped as much as he had been able, he would have thought of others before himself, even given his life to save another. They had been blessed with so many miracles regarding Joe that Ben constantly feared they would run out one day. God only knew how, but Joe had survived the shipwreck. Now, he just had to hold on. Joseph.. Ben whispered to himself. He felt Hoss’s arm on his shoulder and opened his eyes.
“You ready Pa?” Hoss asked softly.
Hoss felt those he loved physically anchored in his heart. Ever since his mother Marie died and Hoss had sensed something come loose in his chest and pull away, leaving an empty space for months, he knew it would be the same for them all. Especially Joe, who was latched on to his heart like tangle gut. Yeah, he’d sure know it if Joe pulled away.
Ben donned his wool overcoat and hat, picked up his bag and said, “Alright Hoss, let’s go find your brother.”
“I see it, Pa. That’s Joe. It couldn’t be anyone else.”
Ben and Hoss were seated on a wooden bench in the Fairfield Shipping Company office of Le Havre trying to read the short report on the SeaQueen in French. Six names were listed as “survivants” then, next to number 7 there was written: jeune homme, 15-16 ans, mince, cheveux bruns. Prénom possible: “Joe”.
Ben felt himself lean slightly against Hoss and close his eyes for an instant. He stood and addressed the attendant, a young Frenchman barely older than Joe.
“Please, this boy,” Ben said in earnest, pointing to the name on the list, “this boy is my son, my son!”
The young man stared back. “Je suis désolé, je ne comprends pas.”
Ben pointed to himself, “Papa” he said looking straight into the man’s eyes, then put a thick finger right under Joe’s name “son” and looking up at the attendant, saw with relief that he understood.
“Fils?” he said. “C’est votre fils?”
“Oui!” said Ben, suddenly remembering the words spoken by Marie so many times “Mon fils!”
“Une minute, Monsieur.” The young man couldn’t believe that there were two more people inquiring as to the whereabouts of the mysterious “Joe” from the SeaQueen.. It had been a double stroke of bad luck that the Rotterdam office closed just when the SeaQueen had made her last voyage. The passenger list and all wires had first transited to London, then to Boston, since most of the passengers and crew were American or British, before finally reaching the office in Le Havre.
After the tall, dark-haired American who first came anxiously asking for information and was deeply angered there was none, a polite Frenchman had come and left a card with an address he was to give to anyone with information on a certain Joseph Cartwright whom he believed to be the “Joe” on the passenger list. Then there was the telegram he had received 3 weeks before.
He held up a finger, smiled at the two tired Americans, pulled a telegram from behind the counter. “Vous”, he said pointing to Ben, “Monsieur Benjamin Cartwright?”
“Yes”, Ben nodded and took the telegram, his hands shaking. It was addressed to him and dated December 15th 1858.
PA/ JOE ALIVE AND RECOVERING/CONTACT MR VICTOR HUGO JERSEY ISLAND/ WILL AWAIT WORD/ADAM
Hoss grabbed his father’s arm. “I told ya Pa! What did I tell ya? Joe’s alive. He’s gonna be okay. Pa? Pa, you all right?” Hoss looked anxiously at his father who had paled and swayed on his feet. Come sit down again Pa, you ain’t lookin’ too good. “
“I’ll be all right, Hoss.”
Hoss looked at the attendant. “You got any brandy?”
The attendant stared back at him.
Hoss brought an imaginary glass to his lips. “Drink”
“Eau” Ben said weakly. In his mind’s eye he saw Marie splashing in Lake Tahoe with Joe no more than a year old. Come Ben! L’eau est bonne he heard her say.
The young man hurried behind the counter and brought back a cup of cold water that Ben sipped slowly.
“Give me a minute, Hoss. I’ll be fine. It’s just… Joe…Adam’s wire and… Victor Hugo? “ Ben said shaking his head.”Contact Victor Hugo?”
“The name sounds familiar, Pa. Adam’s got a book by him, right?” Hoss still eyed his father warily. He once again thanked God he had decided to accompany his father on this trip. Pa was certainly not an old man but they had traveled fast and hard across the country and he knew it had to be rough on him.
“Hoss, Victor Hugo is one of the most famous writers alive. Why on earth would Adam tell us to contact him?”
“I don’t know, Pa, but what I do know is that’s where we’re goin’. You want to rest a bit here? We can get a room.” Hoss wanted nothing more than to hop on a boat for Jersey but right then his first priority was his father.
“No! We’re leaving today.” Ben stood with renewed energy. “S’il vous plait,” he queried the young attendant, handing back his cup, “bateau for Jersey, where?”
“Jersey?” the young man repeated. He had heard them say Victor Hugo and he wondered vaguely if they might be friends of the great man. It was common knowledge he lived in exile on Jersey Island. He felt a renewed sense of duty towards the two Americans. Stepping outside he called to someone and they exchanged a few words that neither Hoss nor Ben understood. He returned to the office with a man around Ben’s age wearing a long, double-breasted wool coat that had seen better days and an old British sea captain’s hat. Turning towards Ben and Hoss he stuck out his hand and in an accent that neither Ben nor Hoss had ever heard, he spoke: “So, mates, I hear tell you want to get to Jersey? I’m leaving for Cherbourg in three hours. From there, you’ll find another boat to Jersey. If you’re interested, it’ll cost you 20 British pounds. “
Ben had barely made out what the man said but he had understood the price. He nudged Hoss who pulled out from under his jacket a pouch of coins and handed it to his father.
The captain’s eyes widened when he saw Ben shake out several gold coins.
“I’m sure you’ll accept gold coin instead of pound notes, won’t you Captain?
The captain took the coins, bit one, and smiled at the Cartwrights. “That I will sir. May’s Folly lifts anchor in three hours.”
“May’s Folly. We’ll be there,” said Hoss and shook the captain’s hand.
January 19th Jersey Island
“I mean it, Joe. You have been walking around on that leg far too much. Your limp is worse, and I know you’re hurting. Plus the weather has changed and it’s colder than a polar bear’s nose outside. Yesterday Mrs. Cobbs told me you fell asleep in the chair while she was changing your sheets. I want you to stay inside, at least for a few days.”
Adam and Joe were having dinner in the Hugos’ dining room. A large bay window on one side looked out on the ocean and down on the small coastal town below. Seated with his back to the window, Adam was irritated that Joe seemed to be ignoring him, choosing instead to stare out the window. His little brother’s annoying habits had certainly returned with his recovery. “Joe, did you hear me?”
“Huh? Yeah Adam. I heard ya,” he mumbled, his eyes still trained on something behind Adam.
“Joe, will you please look at me.”
Joe stood up and limped over to the window.
“Something’s burning down there, Adam. Look, there’s a lot of smoke!”
“What?” Adam hurried to stand beside Joe. Thick black clouds visible against the grey evening sky were rising up from somewhere in the town. “Mrs Cobbs!” he called. They began to hear screams from far away. A man came running up the street out of breath. Adam rushed to the door, Joe and Mrs. Cobbs right behind him.
“What’s happening?” he yelled to the man, who was trying to catch his breath, two hands on his knees, bent over.
He lifted his head. “FIRE!” he shouted, “DOWN BY THE LIVERY. IT’S SPREADING FAST TO HOLSON’S! FIREMEN ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE ISLAND,” he huffed.
“Oh dear Lord!” exclaimed Mrs. Cobbs.
Adam grabbed his coat and hat by the door, as did Mrs. Cobbs and Joe. As the housekeeper began running down the street, Adam turned and stopped Joe with both hands on his shoulders.
“Joe, get back to the house. I know you want to help but…”
Suddenly they heard the distinctive sound of galloping horses on cobblestone, several shouts, then two horses appeared barreling directly towards them, barely visible in the waning light. They were trailing an apparatus that had been attached to a carriage or a wagon and it was slowing them down as they raced up the hill. Adam pushed Joe aside with a final shout “Joe! Back to the house!”
But Joe was having none of it. He stood on the opposite side of the street waving his arms, like Adam, trying to distract the horses. Adam saw out of the corner of his eye what Joe was about to attempt and he knew it was too late to stop him. He also knew that if anybody could do it, he was the one. At the split second the horses became level with Joe, Adam watched his brother latch on to the horse’s mane with his left arm and using the horse’s momentum, swing up on his back. Grabbing the trailing reins, he pulled back hard and several yards up the hill, the horses came to a stop.
Adam ran over to his brother who was leaning over the horse’s neck, coughing. Several people alerted by all the commotion were now in the street. He reached for his brother’s arm and slid him off the horse’s back.
“That was some feat, young man!” a bystander said to Joe who was still in the throes of a coughing fit. He turned towards Adam. “This is Clancy’s team. I’ll take ‘em for you and make sure they get back to their owner. Spooked by the fire no doubt.”
As he led the horses away, more men and women were leaving their homes and heading towards town. Shouts were getting louder, and from time to time the wind sent billowing clouds of smoke in their direction.
“Joe, are you alright?” Adam held his brother’s chin and lifted his head. Joe’s cough had just subsided.
“Yeah, I’m alright… you know sumthin’ Adam? That sure felt good… being on a horse I mean.”
“Of all the crazy things to do. Come on Joe.” He turned his brother toward the house and felt Joe falter when he put weight on his bad leg. “Damn it, Joe!” he said softly.
“It’s nuthin’,” Joe said a bit breathless, but Adam saw him wince. Deciding there was no time for further remonstrations; he helped his brother up the few steps, shoved open the door and deposited him on the couch. Reaching for a pitcher of water he filled a glass and handed it to Joe. “Drink,” he ordered. “Now, lie down.”
“Aw, Adam, come on. I’m fine.” Joe complained as he lay back on the couch. For good measure, Adam carefully pulled his brother’s boots off, taking care not to hurt Joe’s knee. Suddenly too weary to argue, Joe lifted his arm over his eyes. Just a quick rest, he thought to himself, then I’ll go help. Joe felt himself drift off to sleep, surprised at his own exhaustion.
With one more glance at his brother, Adam rushed out and began running down towards the town.
Hoss and Ben had just disembarked at the small fishing port of Beauport when the shout of FIRE had first been heard.
“What in tarnation!” Hoss exclaimed as two men careered into him rushing past.
“Look over there Hoss!” Ben saw the flames shooting up from a building in the middle of a row of houses and shops that lined the port in a half circle. Hoss quickly deposited their bags in a nearby dinghy and ran to join the line of people hauling buckets of seawater to douse the flames. They watched as a large house behind the livery burst into flames. A woman was screaming in an upstairs window, holding a small child while a man covered in soot and partially hidden by smoke was on the roof of the house, on his stomach, leaning over to the woman with a long rope, shouting instructions they couldn’t hear. Ben’s eyes smarted from the smoke; he blinked away the burning sensation and tried to see the man again. Something about him looked familiar: the way he moved, his size. Another cloud of smoke hid the man from view as Ben felt a full bucket of water shoved into his hands. He quickly turned to the task at hand, shaken by what he had seen.
Joe had woken with a start on the couch a half hour later. Quickly coming to his senses, he dashed out of the house and limped down the street, ignoring the pain that shot up from his knee to his hip. Halfway to town he rubbed his shoulders against the chill in the air and hesitated, thinking of going back to fetch his coat. His desire to find Adam and lend a hand with the fire pushed the cold to the back of his mind. At the edge of town, the piercing screams, shouts and the roar of the flames were deafening. Inhaling a deep breath of smoke set him coughing and he staggered back against a wall, suddenly seeing himself again on the deck of the SeaQueen as she was going down. He slid his back along the stone wall until he felt the corner and turned to get out of the smoke, trying desperately to stop the rising panic that made him breathe too fast. Come on, Joe, get hold of yourself, he whispered. Pulling himself upright, he spied the line of men relaying buckets with their backs toward him and limped over, pushing himself between a boy of about twelve and a tall man with white hair. The line automatically lengthened to include him. He took the heavy bucket from the hands of the boy and passed it without looking to the man on his right. All heads were turned toward the fire on the right, down the street.
Ben heard the young man next to him coughing up a storm. He almost told him to get out of the smoke but refrained. They needed every man they could find. “Hoss! “Ben forced the words from his irritated throat, searching the roof, “Did you see that man up there? Did he get down?”
“I saw ’im Pa. I think he made it,” Hoss shouted.
His eyes still glued to the rooftop behind the livery, Ben stretched both arms out to the left, anticipating the next bucket of water, but in its, place he felt the strangest thing. A trembling hand rested on his left arm. He felt the fingers tighten and give a slight pull. Intrigued, he turned slowly, expecting to see a frightened boy who had mistaken him for someone else; instead, he found himself staring into the wide, glistening eyes of his youngest son.
Ben felt his heart stop then start again.
Ben stepped out of the bucket line pulling Joe with him. The line quickly closed behind them.
Sill holding his father’s arm, Joe just stood there, stunned, breathing heavily, staring at his father’s face.
Reaching for the back of Joe’s neck, Ben gently drew his son into his chest and held him there. The relief was overwhelming.
Joe literally fell into his father’s arms. He had thought he was dreaming when he saw the hands he knew so well reaching out in front of him, then his father’s voice, so close, calling to Hoss. Hoss… Just as he said his name, he felt the strong arms of his brother on his shoulders. Ben released him, and Hoss turned him around and picked him up in a bear hug.
“I missed ya, little brother,” was all he whispered.
The shock of seeing his family had made Joe breathe in too much smoke and his throat was raw. He could barely catch his breath between coughs. Ben held his arm, tenderly rubbing Joe’s back until he was able to speak. “Pa… Hoss…” he rasped, “I can’t…believe…you’re here. Wh-where’s Adam?”
Jo glanced at the fire that had now spread to two neighboring buildings. Close by, a dog was barking furiously.
“Adam in the middle of this, Joe?” questioned Hoss, the urgency in his voice evident. At Joe’s nod, he put a hand on his father’s shoulder. “I gotta go see if I can help Pa.”
“I’m… comin’ with ya…Hoss,” managed Joe.
“Joseph, son, I don’t..”
“Hey, what’s with..,this…dog?” Joe muttered. A collie had latched on to Joe’s sleeve with his teeth and was trying to pull him toward the fire. Joe shook loose but the dog wasn’t giving up. He kept barking at Joe, running toward the fire then running back to Joe.
“You know this dog, Joe?” shouted Hoss over the din.
“I’ve seen him… once or twice.” Joe shrugged and turned the palms of both hands up. “He followed me an’ Adam to church I think.” Joe’s throat was burning with the smoke and the effort not to cough was becoming increasingly difficult. He knew once he started again it would be hard to stop.
“Hoss turned back toward the fire, “Pa, I gotta go. You stay with Joe.”
“Hey, wait a minute…”
Before Joe could protest, Hoss turned and sprinted in the direction of the flaming buildings, the dog yelping at his side.
“Pa, I’ve… got to go… help with the fire…”
“Joseph, you’re in no shape to be fighting fires.” Ben held his son’s arm, unconsciously noticing its thinness. He had never seen his son so frail. A strong wave of fatherly protectiveness washed over him. His youngest was obviously not completely well but Ben was torn between the urgency of the fire and forcing his son to safety. He hesitated.
“Pa, Adam’s in there…” he shouted. He pulled away from his father and began jogging with a noticeable limp towards the heat and flames. Ben yelled once for Joe to stop but was already running himself to catch up with his sons. He wasn’t about to lose sight of his youngest again.
Hoss heard the woman screaming before he reached the livery that was now totally consumed in flames. Something told him it was Adam he had glimpsed up there on the roof behind the livery and the collie at his side seemed to be leading the way. When they reached the stables, the scorching heat and flames prevented them from moving forward so they backtracked to a side street between two buildings that took them behind the livery. The roar of the fire was drowning out the woman’s desperate cries but Hoss followed them, and the dog’s barking, through the smoke.
When he came upon her, her face black with soot, clothes in tatters, she grabbed his arm. “Please!” she screamed hysterically, “There’s a man still up there! He got me down. The roof caved in. Please! You’ve got to help him!”
Hoss looked up at the flames shooting out the first floor window; part of the livery roof had fallen on the smaller house causing the east end of the wooden roof to collapse. Burning embers shot out from the blaze, some landing on the ground at their feet. The whole bottom of the house was now in flames. A gust of wind blew smoke in the opposite direction and, as his vision of the house cleared, Hoss frantically tried to figure out how to get to the second floor.
He cupped his hands around his mouth.“HEY! ANYBODY UP THERE? HELLO!”
Suddenly a loud crack resounded. Hoss scrambled backwards pulling the woman with him as a huge thick beam fell from the livery stables and landed, one end on the ground, the other miraculously held in place against what remained of the roof. The collie was already starting to climb up the beam, her paws slipping dangerously to the side every few steps.
“HOSS!” Ben shouted as he made his way towards his middle son, one arm firmly supporting a heavily limping Joe, vainly trying to get his father to move faster.
“Pa, I’m goin’ up there! There’s a man on the second floor.” Hoss yelled. The look he gave his father told all. It very well might be Adam. But, whoever it was, there was no stopping him.
“Hoss…I’ll go…let me go…” Joe was breathing with difficulty and in obvious pain but the need to help was overpowering.
“Joseph,” Hoss warned, moving toward his brother. Then, in a softer voice, one hand lightly cupping his brother’s head, he said “Little brother, you gotta stay here and get ready to help whoever’s up there when I bring ‘em down. Can you do that?”
Joe, breathless, nodded. He had a mission. It was enough for now.
His heart beating double-time, all Ben could shout as Hoss began crawling up the beam was “Steady, son! If you don’t see anything, you come back down quick.” God help anyone who was in that burning house, God forbid it was his eldest son.
The dog was at the top of the beam barking up a storm when Hoss reached him. Immediately the collie ran over to a pile of half burned beams and broken roof tiles that had fallen on a bed. The smoke was horrendous; Hoss dropped to his knees and crawled. The floor was hot and he feared it would give way any second. He had to act fast.
ANYBODY HERE? HELLO!
Hoss began throwing pieces of wood aside as he fought against the smoke. On the far side of the bed the dog’s barks had turned to yelping and whining. Convinced the collie had found something or someone, Hoss scrambled atop the bed, and peered down. There, lying on his side, pressed up against a large dresser was Adam, unconscious and bleeding from a head wound. Wasting no time to check for further injuries, or even to see if his brother was still breathing, Hoss reached down and grabbed Adam under the arms. It took tremendous strength to pull his dead weight up over the bed and then hoist him over his shoulders. Hoss breathed in too much smoke and began coughing as he searched blindly for the way out, afraid of falling off the edge of the floor to the ground below. Providence sent a gust of wind that cleared the smoke just in time for Hoss to see the top of the beam. In a burst of energy, he staggered towards it.
Hoss had wrapped his left arm around Adam’s left leg and he grabbed Adam’s left wrist to pull him tight against his shoulders. With his one free hand he swung around and straddled the beam, shimmying backwards as fast as he could. A little more than halfway down, completely spent, he felt someone tugging at his brother. For an instant Hoss feared Adam was slipping and he pulled tighter. But then his father’s voice reached him.
“I’ve got him Hoss, let him go, I’ve got him.”
Ben slid Adam’s body over to the side and held him under the arms looking for Joe several feet below. Suddenly a ledge on the house gave way and the beam dropped a foot. Holding on to Adam and keeping himself on the beam took all of Ben’s strength.
“Go ahead Pa, I can catch him!” Joe shouted, “Let him go!”
Ben and Hoss had to get off the beam fast. The roof would soon collapse entirely, bringing them down with it. Ben had no choice but to hope Joe was strong enough to break Adam’s fall.
When Joe looked up and recognized his unconscious brother, he felt a surge of strength. Oblivious now to the pain in his leg, shortness of breath and burning throat, he planted his feet firmly on the ground and waited to catch Adam. The weight of his brother when it hit him slammed into Joe’s arms and he cried out from the excruciating pain in his knee that buckled as he fell flat on his back, his brother on top of him. It knocked out what little breath he still had. Noises of the fire, shouts, everything muted into a dull background noise. As the world began to fade, he felt his brother cough into his chest and the relief it gave him was intense. Joe could barely breathe but at that moment he would’ve gladly given his own breath for his brother’s life.
“Shhhh. Joseph, Relax.” Ben was mumbling prayers of thanks as he reassured his youngest. Joe had seemed to take forever to breathe after they had carefully lifted Adam off him. Ben, too, had heard Adam coughing and was assured that he still lived but Joe just lay there, unmoving, eyes closed. Ben was seized with panic.
“HOSS!” he had cried. “Joe’s not breathing!”
Hoss gently laid his older brother on the ground and rushed over to Joe. Even in the moonlight, he could see his chest wasn’t rising. He remembered how Sam Billings had pulled his tiny girl from the Truckee a few summers ago. Everyone had thought she was a goner but Billings had lifted her up by the arms then draped her over his arm. In a few seconds she began to vomit water.
Hoss didn’t hesitate. He pulled his brother up by the arms as if he were a five-year old, then draped him over one arm and slapped him on the back. Joe remained limp. His head lolled from side to side, his arms dangled lifelessly.
Ben was frantic. “Hoss! Dear God, why isn’t he breathing?”
Hoss pulled Joe up again and held him from behind, wrapping his large arms around his small brother’s chest. He squeezed once, twice. “Come on little brother…”
Suddenly Joe wheezed in a long breath and began coughing. Hoss and Ben sagged with relief.
Joe’s first words when he opened his eyes were, “I’ve got ‘im Pa, don’t worry…”
“I know, son. It’s okay, you got him.”
Joe had regained consciousness after only a few minutes but was too dazed to react for at least a half hour. He and Adam had been carried to the makeshift hospital in a small restaurant protected from the fire by a creek. When the fire was finally under control, several townspeople had helped Ben and Hoss bring Joe and Adam up to the Hugos’ house.
With Adam and Joe settled upstairs, Ben and Hoss had managed to find something to eat in the kitchen and, reluctant to explore the house in the middle of the night, decided to rest in the living room until morning. Mrs. Cobbs had still not returned and Joe had been barely able to tell them where the house was. Adam had only briefly regained consciousness when the doctor had finally shown up, hours after the fire. He coughed so much he threw up, but the doctor said it was the only way to get rid of the smoke he had swallowed and that they should be thankful he was still coughing. Adam’s head wound needed a few stitches but aside from a walloping headache and several days of coughing, the doctor thought he would be alright. He seemed more worried about Joe’s knee than anything else. It had swollen to a considerable size and, from the look on Joe’s face, was obviously throbbing with pain. Ben’s frustration with the doctor who seemed to do little to help his sons, and spoke even less, was mounting.
“Will they be alright?” he asked in a strained voice.
“The big one’ll be fine if he gets all that smoke out.” The doctor’s voice was mechanical, exhausted. “The boy is too thin. The knee is bad. No walking for him. They both need to rest. Get the smoke out…” He gave Ben some powders to give them, saying he wished he had more but there were a lot of injured people in town.
As he rose and went for the door, Ben asked when he would be back.
“I don’t know,” he stated wearily. So wearily in fact that Ben could only thank him as he saw him out. He knew there would be no rest for the doctor that night.
Hoss took a large armchair and Ben stretched out on the couch. Although past exhaustion themselves, they both took a long while to fall asleep listening to Adam and Joe coughing in their sleep upstairs.
Never one to sleep soundly in a strange place, especially with his sons ill, Ben started awake at a tiny noise near the front door. The room was pitch black. He had no idea what time it was.
“Hoss,” he whispered, “wake up. There’s someone outside.”
“I hear it, Pa.”
Having just reunited with sons and brothers, Ben and Hoss were infused with a fierce protectiveness and both rose slowly to their feet. Without needing to say anything, both dug quickly in their bags, extracted their handguns and, checking they were loaded, crept toward the door. The noise Ben had heard was now distinctively louder. Someone was fumbling with the lock and grunting in frustration. After several attempts at pushing open the door, the man walked back down the steps.
“He’s going around back Pa. Look there!”
They could barely make out in the moonlight a man with a large black cape making his way to the back of the house. Ben and Hoss quietly moved towards the kitchen. Guns at the ready, Ben stood behind and to the left of the door while Hoss crouched low to the right. The man turned the knob on the back door and pushed. They heard him sigh as the door opened slowly with a creak. Ben stepped out immediately, stopping the man in his tracks. The sound of two pistols cocking in unison rang loud in the silent air.
“Stop right there.” Ben stated firmly. “Who are you?
Victor Hugo had made an exhausting three hour trip in the middle of the night when news of the fire had reached the other side of Jersey. He was relieved to see his house still standing and now wanted only a relaxing glass of spirits and his bed. The unmistakable sound of a bullet entering a gun chamber sent a shiver down his spine but pride immediately stamped out fear. What were these men doing in his house? Americans, no doubt, by their accents. Where were Joseph and Adam?
“QU’EST-CE QUE CA VEUT DIRE?” he boomed, startling Ben, who took a step back though his pistol never wavered.
“QU’EST-CE QUE VOUS FAITES CHEZ MOI?”
Suddenly Ben had serious doubts about the man’s identity. Something about the way he was acting seemed to indicate he had a right to be there.
“I don’t understand French,” he stated in a clear voice.
“I am Victor Hugo and this is my house,” Hugo said, barely containing his anger.
Ben raised his eyebrows and backed up a step. Hoss stood and watched as Hugo took in his height and stature.
Both men lowered their guns and stuck them in their belts.
Suddenly Hugo’s face broke into a large smile and stepped towards Hoss. “The Collosus of Rhodes!” he exclaimed, as he picked up Hoss’s hand to shake it vigorously. Hoss blinked and and tried to grin back, wondering what in tarnation the man was talking about. “And you, sir,” he said amiably as he turned towards Ben and shook his hand in turn, “must be the passionate Monsieur Cartwright, honorable father to my guests, Joseph and Adam. Where are those boys? I hope they were not hurt in the fire.” Hugo pushed his way between Ben and Hoss and strode to the living room. The two Cartwrights exchanged a puzzled glance, shrugged in unison, and followed Hugo.
Pulling out a container of fine cognac and three glasses, Hugo poured his two new guests a glass and sat back to listen. He heard Joe and Adam coughing upstairs and immediately inquired as to their health, then requested news of the fire. Before long, realizing the Americans were just as exhausted as himself, he led Ben to an extra bedroom, Hoss to a comfortable couch, and then sank into his own bed. Now I’ve got a whole family of horse busters, he smiled before falling asleep. I wonder if I could put this in one of my books. Perhaps, a poem…
The following three weeks would be remembered by the Cartwrights as perhaps one of the rare times they truly relaxed, together, for such a long period of time.
Adam had recurrent headaches but otherwise bounced back quickly from his ordeal. When, a few days after the fire, a collie began keeping vigil on the Hugo’s doorstep, Adam had reluctantly admitted he had befriended the animal and listened solemnly while his family recounted the collie’s actions the night of the fire. For lack of a name, and since no apparent owner ever appeared, the collie was soon referred to as “Adam’s dog.” A bowl of leftovers was left systematically on the back doorstep every evening, and found licked clean the next morning. Adam continued to take long solitary walks with his dog. It wasn’t rare that someone would spot him sitting high on a hill overlooking the ocean, the collie as his side. The ocean air and silent companionship relieved his headaches and brought him a sense of peace he hadn’t felt in a long time. News of his grandfather’s health was good and, despite the injured knee, Joe was almost back to his endearing, aggravating self.
Hoss and Joe became even closer that winter, if that was at all possible. While Hoss pushed his younger brother all over the small town, weather permitting, in the wheelchair Pa forced him to use, Joe spoke endlessly of his ordeal.
“Hoss, you know what the worst thing is? Twice I thought I was dying and both times I wasn’t even scared. You know why, Hoss?
“Tell me again, little brother.”
“It’s ’cause I didn’t really care, like it was okay to die, you know, like it wasn’t sad…why is that, Hoss?”
“Well Joe, I reckon you got real close to heaven and with all them pretty angels singing in your ears, how could ya be sad?”
As much as Hoss disliked thinking again and again how they’d almost lost Joe, he knew his brother needed to talk, to try to make sense of being alive. It was a hard thing to do at sixteen but he would get used to it after a while. Life was funny that way.
“Hoss, did you know Hugo had a daughter who drowned?”
“Nope, didn’t know that.”
“I heard him tellin’ Pa. Well, I told Hugo later that drownin’ wasn’t the worst way to die. That you’re scared at first but then ya aren’t anymore. Things become nice and peaceful, like your Ma just tucked you in to go to sleep and everything is just fine. I think he was glad to hear that.”
“I guess he was, Joe. It helps to know that someone you love left this world without bein’ afraid.” Hoss thought just then of Marie and his own mother, Inger, and hoped they had found that quiet place that Joe was speaking of.
Often he would push Joe down to the docks where they watched the fishing boats come in, the gulls squawking like crazy as they circled above the boats, the fishermen hauling in crate after crate of all kinds of silver colored fish they could hear flopping around inside. They strolled along the docks with the other townspeople, Joe’s wheelchair sometimes bumping around so much on the cobblestones that he got up to walk, looking over the fish set up on wooden tables till they came across a good sized haddock or some sardines. Ben fretted constantly that Hoss was keeping Joe out too long until the pair would finally come in, laughing, Joe’s cheeks bright from the cold, as he proudly handed over the fresh fish to Mrs. Hobbs for the evening meal.
Ben hid his relief and slowly learned to accept that his youngest was very much alive and getting healthier every day.
Often during those weeks Ben stayed up late in the night talking with Victor Hugo, and as soon as Adam was feeling better, he joined them. Most of the time, Joe managed to get Hoss to stay with him for a game, or just to chat, but a few times Joe had fallen asleep early and Hoss joined the discussions with Hugo, much to the latter’s delight. Victor Hugo was deeply intrigued and impressed by Hoss Cartwright. His uncomplicated manner, sensitivity and deep understanding of man and animal, coupled with incredible physical strength, were characteristics he vowed to use as the basis of one of the characters in the book he had planned.
Each one of the Cartwrights was an intriguing character to Hugo and he scribbled many notes during their talks.
Joe asked him once about it. “What are you writing down there, sir?”
“Just some things that you say, and the way you say them, “ replied Hugo.
“Are you gonna write about me in one of your books?” he questioned eagerly.
“Let us just say you are an inspiration for me and, thanks to you, one of my characters will come alive.”
“Wow,” said Joe, “Wait till Adam hears that!”
They left for France near the end of February on a calm day. Soeur Agnès, Victor Hugo and many of the townspeople of Beauport saw them off.
“Now you take care of yourself petit Gavroche,” Hugo boomed as he vigorously shook Joe’s hand.
Adam lifted his head and smiled at Hugo who winked back. The two had shared several discussions on Hugo’s monumental work in progress.
“Gav…Rosh … um…what does that mean, sir?” Joe questioned with a puzzled look.
“Well, when my book called Les Miserables comes out, you read it and you’ll know, mon jeune ami. There is a lot of you in him.”
“The miserables? Joe made a face. “Well… yeah sure but it don’t sound too happy…”
Hugo laughed heartily. “You can start with that copy of David Copperfield I gave you by that old goat Dickens. You did bring it with you, of course?”
“Oh sure, I did.” Joe thought of the heavy volume at the bottom of his bag that he had almost left behind but decided he would conveniently forget in Paris.
“I’ll get on it right away. Thank you sir, for everthing. I’ll never forget Jersey Island, you can be sure of it!”
Victor Hugo was of course invited to the Ponderosa and even promised he would make every effort to come. They would learn by letter much later that he almost did, but the Civil War had gotten in the way.
Adam had never learned the collie’s name but he barked furiously on the dock until the boat was out of sight.
By some stroke of fate, or Joe would say, luck, the train that carried them from Saint Malo to Paris broke down only five miles outside of the city, with no hope of repair before the next morning. Hoss and Adam had gone looking for a carriage, along with every other passenger, but the last one was rented right under their nose. On their way to find a hotel room, Hoss noticed a good fifty horses grazing off in the distance.
“What do ya think Adam?” he questioned his brother, gesturing toward the horses.
“I don’t know, Hoss, but it’s worth a try.”
When they rode up to the small café where they’d left Ben and Joe, pulling two other horses with strange looking saddles, Joe almost jumped up before Ben grabbed his arm.
“Joseph, please don’t strain that knee!”
“Pa!” he exclaimed, “Look! I think we’re finally gonna ride!”
“Turns out, Pa”, Adam explained, “The man owns a coach rental on the Champs Elysées and has a good number of horses to deliver. He found four that were saddle-broke and he was willing to rent me the saddles.
“If ya can call these little doilies saddles,” grumbled Hoss, shifting his weight around in the small English saddle. “I’m feelin’ a bit tight in here and there ain’t even no dadblame saddle horn to rest your hands.”
“Come on Hoss, quit complainin,” Joe chortled. This is better than that noisy old train any day!” The youngest Cartwright’s eyes were bright with the anticipation of riding and he walked, with barely a limp, towards a doe-eyed sorrel with one white sock.
While Ben watched, a bit nervous, as Adam boosted Joe up on the horse. He saw his youngest son’s still too thin face break out into the most dazzling smile he had seen since the night Ben had told him he could make the trip to Boston.
“It don’t hurt my knee at all Pa, I swear!” he said excitedly.
Whether it did or didn’t, Ben knew from the look on Joe’s face, that his son wasn’t about to get off that horse.
“Come on Pa, mount up!” Adam coaxed with a smile in his voice, “The man delivering the horses is waiting for us down the road. We’ll follow him into Paris. I’ve got our bags stowed on that buckboard he’s pulling.” He was suddenly feeling real good himself to be back on some horseflesh. “We should get there before nightfall.”
“Joseph, I hope you are not lying to me about your knee,” Ben warned as he mounted.
“I feel great, Pa!” said Joe.
“I know you do, son.” Ben smiled warmly, patting Joe’s thigh. “I know you do.”
The sun was setting behind the Arc of Triumph at the top end of the Champs Elysees when a man driving a buckboard followed by a long string of horses came into view. A young photographer experimenting with the daguerreotype happened to be there that late afternoon, trying to catch the waning light. The horses silhouetted against the setting sun made a splendid scene. The photographer scrambled to prepare his camera for another picture before all the horses left. He groaned as the last horse descended the avenue. He was about to begin folding up his equipment when four men on horseback came into view. Framed by the Arc of Triumph, silhouetted against the last rays of the dying sun, they stopped, side by side, speaking softly among themselves.
All four wore those low wide-brimmed hats favored by men in the far West and, though they had no guns, and led no cattle, something about the way they sat their mounts, their size and confident stature, made them unmistakably American.
Mumbling a prayer of thanks for his luck, the photographer excitedly clicked the switch that let light shine onto the glass plate coated in a silver compound.
A framed blow-up of that early photograph still hangs today, one hundred and fifty years later, on the main wall of a popular restaurant on the Champs Elysees. It has become a legend. Many stories have been told about the men in the picture, some true, some pure fantasy, but no one can come into the restaurant and not be struck with awe at the splendor of the scene, the perfect light, magnificent horses and the proud men who rode them.
The title of the photograph, written by hand, is still legible at the bottom:
Four American Riders at Sunset on the Champs-Elysées
Heartfelt thanks to my beta, Sandspur, for her grammatical prowess, countless judicious comments and kind encouragement. Without her very generous efforts, I just might have given up.
I tried to remain historically and chronologically believable but there are many times when I just let fiction rule.
I hope the French words were understandable in context. If not, I apologize.
*Death belongs to God alone
*Isn’t every war fought between men, between brothers – (both are actual Hugo quotes)
Other Stories by this Author
- None Found