THIS STORY WAS WRITTEN FOR PLEASURE NOT PROFIT AND IS NOT INTENDED TO INFRINGE ON ANY KNOWN COPYRIGHT

 

 

 

San Francisco Adventure

 

 

A Bonanza Story

 

 

By Kate Pitts

 

 

 

 

 

Ben Cartwright could hardly believe how much the city had grown even in the short time since he had last been here. It seemed that every time he visited San Francisco the place had changed, impressive new buildings being erected and the population growing daily. He’d read that there were now almost eighty thousand people resident in the city that, barely ten years before, had been home to less than five thousand.

 

Glancing at his eldest son, Adam, standing beside him, Ben smiled as he saw that the young man was scrutinising a particularly fine looking edifice that was just reaching the final stages of construction. Adam had returned home only six months previously from four years of college and architecture had been one of the things he had studied.

 

“Look, Pa,” the excited shout of his youngest son, Joseph, brought Ben’s gaze round to where the ten year old and his middle brother, Hoss, were just emerging from a store. This was Joe’s first visit to San Francisco and, born and brought up on the family’s ranch, he was finding the city a fascinating and enthralling place.

 

Ben couldn’t help smiling as the Joe ran over to join him. “Hoss bought me some candy,” he announced, lifting up a package for his father’s inspection, eyes alight with pleasure.

 

“So I see,” Ben said, glancing into the bag, which was filled with lemon drops, peppermint sticks and other assorted sweet things. “Don’t eat too many now,” he warned with a smile, “or…”

 

“I’ll spoil my supper.” Joe finished for him with a cheeky grin. He reached into the bag for a lemon drop. “Where we going now, Pa?”

 

“Well, if I remember rightly there’s a little store just along the street a bit that sells mighty fine tobacco,” Ben told him. “I thought I’d treat myself to some.”

 

“I think I’ll just go and buy a newspaper,” Adam said, hearing his father’s words. “Meet you back at the hotel in an hour or so?”

 

Ben nodded in agreement and Adam turned and headed back up the street towards where they had passed a vendor selling newspapers.

 

“Can I go with Adam?” Joe asked, pulling at his father’s arm, his eyes on his eldest brother’s retreating back. “Please?”

 

“Go on then,” Ben told him, glad that Joe seemed to want to spend a little time with Adam. Relations between his oldest and youngest sons had been strained since Adam’s return from college and Ben was hoping that this time together away from the ranch might bring the two a little closer. He watched for a moment until Joe had almost caught up with his brother then turned away and headed for the tobacco store, Hoss by his side.

 

Joe was just about to call out to Adam, was almost close enough to touch his eldest brother, when a display in a store window caught his eye. Pausing on the sidewalk he hesitated. In front of him Adam also paused and Joe saw his brother cross to look at the newspapers displayed by a vendor at the side of the street.

 

Deciding that choosing a paper was bound to take Adam a few minutes Joe allowed his attention to be drawn by the store display. He walked slowly across to the window, eyes widening at the huge array of toys that filled the area beyond the glass. He had never seen so many in one place before, the mercantile in Virginia City only ever carried a few. There were brightly painted wooden yo-yos and spinning tops and jars of glass marbles glittering in the late afternoon sunshine. At the front with a small sign proclaiming ‘Latest import from Europe’ sat lifelike dolls dressed in clothes of satin and silk and to one side were entire regiments of toy soldiers. At the back of the window hung kites and hoops. The whole thing seemed magical to the boy who stood with his nose almost touching the glass, admiring everything.

 

“Nice soldiers ain’t they?” asked a voice behind him and Joe turned to see a boy a year or two older than him, with straight dark hair and blue eyes who was looking longingly at the massed ranks of military toys. “Wish I had me some like that.”

 

“Me to,” Joe answered with a sigh; he had seen the price on the ticket beside the soldiers and knew they were well out of reach of the amount he could afford. His Pa had given him a little extra allowance this month but it wasn’t enough for the toys.

 

“Name’s Jerome,” the boy introduced himself, thrusting forward a grubby hand for Joe to shake. “Jerome Slater, most folks call me Jem.”

 

“Joe Cartwright,” Joe told him; not adding that most folks he knew called him Little Joe. “Do you live round here?”

 

“Not far,” Jem pointed off across the road. “Over that way,” he looked down at Joe, taking in his tanned skin and the leather boots he wore beneath his expensive, obviously new suit. “You ain’t from round here though.”

 

“I’m from Nevada Territory,” Joe told him. “My family has a ranch near Virginia City.” At the mention of his family he glanced across to the newspaper vendor and was dismayed to see that Adam was no longer there.

 

“What’s wrong?” Jem asked, seeing the look of consternation that crossed the younger boy’s face.

 

“My brother, Adam, he was over there buying a newspaper,” Joe moved away from the storefront and cast an anxious glance down the street. “He’s gone.”

 

“Well, he can’t have got far,” Jem said reassuringly, coming to stand beside Joe. “We’ll find him.”

 

“He must have started back to the hotel,” Joe started walking in the direction he had come from. “I’d better find my Pa.

 

“Where’s he at?” Jem asked, falling in beside him.

 

“He said he was going to buy some tobacco,” Joe told him, looking at the stores they were passing. “Said there was a little place along the street a bit.”

 

“I know the tobacco store,” Jem grabbed Joe’s arm and dragged him towards the road. “It’s this way.”

 

“You sure?” Joe looked doubtfully at the busy thoroughfare before him, more horses and carriages thronging this one road than in the whole of Virginia City.

 

“Sure I am. I know this town like the back of my hand. Come on, we’ll soon catch up to your Pa.

 

With the confidence of someone well accustomed to the busy city streets Jem darted across the road, dragging the younger boy along with him. Joe held his breath as they dodged an oncoming carriage and just missed being ploughed down by an elderly gentleman riding a bay horse. As they safely gained the sidewalk on the opposite side, Joe let out a heartfelt sigh of relief.

 

“Down here.” Jem said, setting off along the street and the two boys hurried past the rows of stores until they came to a narrow alley between two impressive tall buildings.

 

“You sure about this?” Joe asked, as Jem turned into the alley and beckoned for him to follow.

 

“Just there,” Jem pointed and Joe looked over to see a small, red painted door. “Gianni de Rosario. He sells the best tobacco in San Francisco.”

 

Uncertainly, Joe followed Jem across to the red door; as the older boy pushed it open the unmistakable sweet, strong fragrance of tobacco drifted out, enveloping them in its pungent odour. Reassured that this was the right place, Joe preceded Jem inside.

 

“Hey,” a wizened little man peered at the two as they entered the small, dark store. “What you boys doing in here?”

 

“We’re looking for a Mr…” Jem looked at Joe with a frown. “What did you say your name was again?”

 

“Cartwright.” Joe supplied, disappointment welling up in him as he surveyed the empty store.

 

“Mr Cartwright,” Jem told the little storekeeper. “Has he been in here?”

 

The man waved his hands at the boys impatiently. “I don’t know the name of all my customers. What’s he look like?”

 

“He’s tall,” Joe said eagerly, pushing in front of Jem, “with grey hair and brown eyes. My brother Hoss was with him, he’s sixteen...” he stopped as the little man nodded his head.

 

“You just missed him. Bought his tobacco and left not five minutes ago.”

 

“Did he say where he was going?” Jem asked, seeing the crushed look on Joe’s face.

 

“Sorry,” the storekeeper shook his head. “He didn’t.”

 

“Thanks, anyway.” Jem grabbed Joe’s arm and headed for the door. “Come on,” he urged, pulling the younger boy out of the alley. “See them?” he asked, looking along the street.

 

Joe looked both ways, hoping for a glimpse of his father or Hoss but it was difficult to see anything through the mass of people that crowded the sidewalk and he shook his head sadly. “No.”

 

“Any idea where they were going?”

 

“Back to the hotel, I guess. Adam said he’d meet them there.”

 

“Then you’d better head back there as well.”

 

“I can’t,” Joe looked down at the ground, scuffing his foot on the sidewalk as he fought against the tears that were beginning to well up. “I don’t know where it is. It was late last night when we got here,” he explained, seeing Jem’s puzzled look. “I was asleep and Pa carried me in, then this morning we got a carriage and I didn’t pay any attention to where we went.”

 

“Don’t you know the name of the place?” Jem asked incredulously.

 

“No,” tears started in earnest now as Joe realised his predicament. He bit his lip, trying to stop crying but suddenly felt very alone and afraid.

 

“Don’t worry,” Jem patted the younger boy on the back sympathetically. “Tell you what, I’ll take you to my house, my uncles will know what to do.”

 

“You think they can help find my family?” Joe asked hopefully, brightening a little at the thought.

 

“I know they can,” Jem assured him. “They know everywhere in this town and they’re bound to know how to find your Pa and brothers.”

 

With a nod, Joe straightened up and scrubbed at his eyes, a little ashamed of letting his emotions get the better of him. “Okay,” he agreed. “Let’s go.”

 

Jem led the way and the two boys were soon heading into the back streets of the city. Dusk was falling now and the gas lights were on, their cheerful glow lighting the way. Joe looked about him with interest as they walked, the city beginning to look very different as they headed away into narrow alleys where tight packed wooden houses huddled side by side. The sidewalks here were in poor repair, boards missing in places and Joe tripped a couple of times even though Jem warned him to watch his footing. The people they passed were not the well-dressed citizens that had crowded the wide streets they had just left, but shabbily clad men, hurrying home from work at the wharves and factories. Jem pointed out the iron works where his Uncle Pete worked. “My Uncle Eddie used to work there too,” he told Joe. “Until he hurt his leg. He can’t work now, just stays home and looks after me and Uncle Pete.”

 

“Are there just the three of you?” Joe asked, following Jem away from the factory and down another narrow passageway.

 

“My mother and father died when I was a baby,” Jem said matter of factly, as they turned right at the end of the street. “My uncles took me in. I live over here,” he led the way across to one of a row of tiny, single roomed, wooden houses. “Welcome to the Slater home.” Flinging open the door he ushered Joe into the dimly lit interior.

 

“Well, what do we have here?” A deep voice greeted them and Joe saw a dark haired man sitting at a table. He was obviously preparing a meal, a pot half filled with vegetables stood on the table beside him and he was holding a knife and a partially peeled potato.

 

“Joe, this is my Uncle Eddie,” Jem introduced the man. “Looks like Uncle Pete is still out.”

 

“He’s just gone over to the outhouse,” Eddie finished peeling the potato and added it to the pot, then put down the knife and stood up awkwardly. “Who’s your friend, Jem?”

 

“This is Joe Cartwright,” Jem announced just as the door behind him opened and another man entered the house. “He’s kinda lost and I said you’d help him.”

 

“Lost, eh?” Eddie looked sympathetically at Joe. “Pete and I will do our best to help you, won’t we?” he looked across at the other man.

 

“Sure we will.” Jem’s Uncle Pete took off his jacket and hung it on a peg by the door then turned to look at the boys. “Now suppose you tell me just exactly how you came to be lost, young man?”

 

As Joe related his story Pete Slater surveyed the boy with interest. He was obviously from a well to do family; his clothes bore witness to that. This was confirmed when Joe told them about his family’s ranch and Pete began to form a plan. “Don’t you worry, kid,” he told Joe after he had heard all about him being separated from his father and brothers. “You can stay here tonight. Tomorrow I’ll ask around and I’ll soon find your folks.”

 

“Stay here?” Joe looked uncertainly around the room. “Are you sure you’ve got the space?”

 

“Of course we have,” Jem crossed to the curtain that hung down from the ceiling at the back of the house and lifted it up. “Look, this is the bed and if you and me sleep down this end there’s still plenty of room for Uncle Eddie and Uncle Pete.”

 

Joe approached the bed doubtfully; it was hardly as big as his own bed at home and he had that one all to himself. True, he had occasionally slept in with Pa or his brothers when he was younger but the thought of sharing a bed with three strangers was hardly appealing.

 

“There’s a pot underneath if you need it in the night,” Jem told him, indicating the china vessel with his foot. He looked at Joe with a grin. “It’ll be fun to have a friend to stay.”

 

“Then that’s settled,” Pete said from behind them. “I’ll just get us a bite to eat and then you two youngsters can turn in.”

 

To Joe, used to Hop Sing’s substantial suppers, the bowl of vegetable broth and cup of watered down milk that was placed before him wasn’t much of a meal but he ate it without comment, realising that it was probably all the Slater’s could afford and that they were having less themselves so that he could eat.

 

Getting ready for bed was another eye opener for Joe. Jem showed him the way to the outhouse, a rickety, smelly building, situated some distance from the Slater house and used by the entire street. Jem didn’t wash before turning in as Joe usually did and never even put on a nightshirt, just stripped down to his underwear and climbed into bed. Joe copied the older boy, getting in beside him and pulling the thin blanket around his shoulders, wrinkling his nose a little at the stale sweaty smell of it. Jem was asleep almost immediately and, despite the strange surroundings, Joe soon followed, stirring only once when Pete and Eddie climbed in the other end of the bed an hour or so later.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

 

In the Cartwright’s suite at the Orpheus Hotel Ben gazed anxiously from the window hoping to see his sons returning. “Where could they have got to?” he asked for the umpteenth time in the last hour.

 

“P’raps Adam took Joe off to see something of the city,” Hoss tried to reassure his father, though unable to ignore the anxious feeling in the pit of his stomach. It was way past Joe’s usual bedtime and it wasn’t like Adam to keep his little brother out so late. “He did leave a note.”

 

“That just said he was going out for supper,” Ben didn’t turn from the window, still peering out into the darkness. He and Hoss had returned to the hotel to find the suite empty. They had been surprised that Adam and Joe weren’t back until Hoss saw the note propped up on the mantel. “Joe should be in bed by now.”

 

Hoss came over to join his father at the window. “I reckon they’ll be back soon and Joe’s safe enough with Adam.”

 

“I guess so,” reluctantly Ben turned away from his vigil and reached up to pull the drapes together. “I’m probably worrying for nothing.” Seeing the anxious look on Hoss’ face he smiled at the youth. “And so are you.”

 

Hoss nodded, then turned with a sigh of relief at the sound of a key in the lock. “Here they are.”

 

Ben’s smile of greeting as the door opened to admit Adam faded as his oldest son came in and closed the door behind him. “Where’s Little Joe?” he asked tersely.

 

“Joe?” Adam looked puzzled. “What do you mean?”

 

“He isn’t with you?” Ben asked. A shaft of fear lanced through him as Adam shook his head. “But he went with you.”

 

“No he didn’t,” Adam looked bewildered at his father’s words. “Last I saw of him he was with you and Hoss.”

 

“Oh, dear Lord,” Ben reached to grab his jacket from the back of the chair. “He asked to go with you, I watched until he almost caught up with you.”

 

Comprehension swept across Adam’s face followed quickly by alarm as he realised what this meant. “Then he’s been missing for hours.”

 

Ben nodded tightly, seeing his own worry mirrored in both Adam and Hoss. “I want you to stay here,” he told his middle son quickly as he pulled his jacket on and reached for his hat. “In case he should find his way back. Adam and I will go to the police and then start searching for him.”

 

Hoss nodded numbly. As his father and brother practically ran from the room he crossed to the window and pulled back the drapes, watching the street below and hoping against hope that Joe would appear.

 

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

 

Eddie was up at dawn the next morning. Sunday wasn’t a day of rest in the Slater house, Pete still had to work, though he finished at midday. As was usual Eddie got up to prepare breakfast for his brother before he went, it wasn’t as though he slept well anyway, his bad leg preventing him getting much rest.

 

Putting a pot of coffee on the table, he went to shake Pete awake, being careful not to disturb the two boys sleeping soundly at the other end of the bed. Pete got up reluctantly, yawning and stretching, then came over to drink some coffee before getting dressed.

 

“You gonna ask around about young Joe’s family today?” Eddie asked, pouring the coffee for his brother and passing him the cup.

 

Pete shook his head, taking a long swallow of the hot coffee. “I got other plans.”

 

Eddie looked at him curiously. “What sort of plans?”

 

“Plans to get us out of this dump.”

 

“What are you going to do?”

 

“That kid’s worth money,” Pete told him, putting his empty cup on the table. “I reckon his father would pay well for his return.”

 

“Kidnapping!” Eddie exclaimed, aghast at his brother’s suggestion.

 

“Not really.” Pete put a finger to his lips to warn Eddie to keep his voice down. “We didn’t take the kid, he came to us, we’re just getting payment for his safe return.”

 

“I don’t like the sound of it. He’s only a little boy, Pete; he needs our help, not this.”

 

“It’s our big chance to make some money, get a better future for us and Jem,” Pete saw his brother’s expression soften at the mention of Jem and pressed the advantage. “With money we could get him a good education, it would mean he wouldn’t have to leave school this summer and start work in the factory.”

 

“I guess…” Eddie said doubtfully. “As long as you promise the kid won’t be hurt then I guess it might be okay.”

 

“It’ll be fine,” Pete assured him. “I’ll see to it all.” He picked up his pants and shirt from the chair where he had put them the night before and started to get dressed. “Keep an eye on the boys today,” he told Eddie. “Take them out somewhere. After work I’ll go look for this Mr. Cartwright.”

 

“What will you tell him?” Eddie asked anxiously. “He might go straight to the police.”

 

“Do you think I’m stupid? I’m not going anywhere near the man, I’ll send a note,” he glanced over at the sleeping boys with a frown. “Better take something to prove we have the kid,” he said thoughtfully.

 

“Like what?” Eddie looked alarmed at the suggestion. “I won’t let you hurt him.”

 

“His jacket,” Pete grabbed up the garment from beside the bed and Eddie sighed in relief. “That’ll do. Put it away until I need it. Make up some excuse to the boy and lend him Jem’s spare one,” he handed the jacket to Eddie and picked up his hat. “I’d better get going, see you later.”

 

 As the door slammed shut behind his brother, Eddie set to, preparing breakfast before waking Joe and Jem.

 

“Where would you two like to go today?” he asked, as the three of them sat round the table, finishing their meal. “We could go out to see the bear and bull fight at the Mission Dolores if you like, I know someone that would lend us a buggy. No point in us sitting here at home while Pete is out looking for Joe’s family.”

 

“You wanna do that, Joe?” Jem stuffed the last of his breakfast in his mouth then stood up, brushing the crumbs off his clothes. “It’s exciting, they get a real live bear and it fights with the bull till one of them dies.”

 

Joe shook his head slowly, it didn’t sound much like fun to him and besides he was quite fond of bears; last year Hoss had taken him to see a pair of cubs playing in the woods, their antics making him laugh. “I don’t think I’d like that.”

 

“Then how about we go down to the beach and see the sea-lions?” Eddie suggested. “And the waves. Boy, you never seen waves like we get here, Joe.”

 

“I’ve never seen many waves at all. This trip is the first time I saw the sea.” Joe told him. “Though my Pa was a sailor when he was young,” he added proudly.

 

“Beach it is then,” Eddie decided. “Jem, you clear away the breakfast dishes while I go see if old Abel will lend me the buggy.”

 

As Eddie limped away Jem and Joe cleared the table and stacked the dishes on the side.

 

“You want me to help you wash them?” Joe asked as he put the last dish on the pile and placed his glass beside it.

 

Jem shook his head. “We only wash the pots once a day,” he told him. “Water costs twenty five cents a bucket so we can’t afford to waste it by washing too often.”

 

“Don’t you have a well?” Joe couldn’t imagine not having water available whenever he wanted it.

 

“No, we buy it by the bucket and store it in that barrel there,” Jem pointed to the water container beside the sink.

 

At that moment the door opened and Eddie came in, looking pleased. “All set,” he announced. “Let’s go.”

 

Accepting readily enough Eddie’s explanation that he had spilt some milk on Joe’s jacket and would have to get it washed, Joe shrugged into the old one of Jem’s that was offered to him and followed Eddie outside. The boys climbed eagerly into the ancient buggy that stood there, Joe casting a disparaging look at the horse that pulled it, a scruffy roan that looked about ready to be put out to grass.

 

It took them the best part of an hour to reach the beach, the horse labouring a little, but Jem and Joe enjoyed the journey. They talked most of the way, Jem eager to learn all about Joe’s life on the ranch. Reaching their destination Joe found it was worth the journey. He was enthralled by the waves breaking on the shore, huge creamy masses of swirling foam, their sound as loud as thunder. Out in the sea, about a hundred yards from the shore they could see the sea-lions basking in the sun; there must have been around thirty of them all stretched out on a series of rugged, steep rocks that were like small islands in the ocean. Occasionally they called out, their harsh, barking cries audible even above the crash of the surf. Joe and Jem scrambled down from the buggy and ran down the beach, their feet leaving tracks in the sand. It was exhilarating standing close to the sea, the air sharp and clear, more like the fresh mountain air of Joe’s home and he breathed in deeply, glad to be away from the crowded city streets. Laughing with delight, he and Jem dodged the waves, uncaring of the fine spray in the air that soon had their hair and clothes damp with seawater.

 

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

 

“He’s just a little boy lost and alone in a place he doesn’t know,” Ben said, anxiety apparent in his expression. “He’ll be terrified.”

 

“We’ll find him, Pa,” Hoss laid a reassuring hand on his father’s arm. “I just know we will, especially now we got the police and all searching as well.”

 

Ben looked across at his son, trying to raise a smile for the boy. He could see the fear that lurked in Hoss’ blue eyes, despite his brave words, and knew how scared he was for his little brother.

 

“The police didn’t seem very helpful to me,” Adam muttered, his eyes scanning the street as their driver reined in his horse to let a buggy pass by. “And Joe wasn’t alone when he went in Rosario’s tobacco store.”

 

“I’m sure the police will do their best,” Ben said, trying to reassure Hoss who was looking upset at his older brother’s comments. “It’s just that they’re so busy.”

 

“Too busy it seems, to worry about a lost ten year old,” Adam’s annoyance at the attitude of the authorities was apparent. “And suggesting he might have been shanghaied as a cabin boy wasn’t very helpful.”

 

“But it’s possible,” Ben admitted desolately. “It’s like looking for a needle in a haystack, one small boy in this huge city.”

 

“You ain’t gonna give up?” Hoss asked in alarm. “We gotta find him, we just gotta.”

 

“We won’t give up,” Ben assured him quickly. “We’ll search every inch of San Francisco if we have to,” he looked over at Adam. “I just hope the boy Joseph was with at Rosario’s is a decent sort and helps him.”

 

Adam nodded, not turning from the carriage window. Privately he feared that the boy with Joe might turn out to be a very bad thing. He had heard of youngsters who set out to recruit others for gangs of thieves and worse. If the boy was intending to help Joe surely he would have taken him to the police, he reasoned, and he obviously hadn’t. As the driver pulled to a stop and the Cartwrights alighted to begin their search of the streets and alleyways around where Joe had last been seen, Adam could only pray that his worst fears wouldn’t be recognised.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

 

Monday morning dawned bright and clear. Pete left early in the morning for his job in the iron foundry so it was just Eddie, Jem and Joe who gathered round the breakfast table.

 

“Thought I’d take Joe round the harbour today,” Jem told his uncle as he sat down and poured himself a glass of rather brackish looking water from the pitcher that sat in the middle of the table.

 

“Sounds like fun,” Eddie said, with a smile for Joe. “There are lots of big ships to see. You’ll enjoy it.”

 

“Shouldn’t we be looking for my family?” Joe asked anxiously. He had enjoyed his day with Jem yesterday but was missing his father and brothers. He missed having a bed of his own too, having been woken more than once in the night by Eddie’s tossing and turning.

 

“Don’t you worry about it,” Eddie looked down at the table, feeling uncomfortable with the knowledge that his brother had already found where the Cartwrights were staying. Pete planned to contact Joe’s father that evening. “We’ll soon have you back with your folks.”

 

“Uncle Pete is sure to find them today,” Jem said confidently. “You just wait and see.”

 

Joe nodded and turned his attention to the bowl of oatmeal that Eddie placed in front of him. He hoped Jem and Eddie were right, the thought of his father and brothers seemed to cause a lump to form in his throat and he swallowed his breakfast with some difficulty. He really wanted to see his Pa.

 

The meal over, Jem cut a couple of slices of bread and filled a bottle with water to take with them and the two boys headed out. For a while Joe forgot all about missing his family as Jem led him among the wharves of the San Francisco waterfront. The place teemed with activity, as burly dockworkers loaded and unloaded ships from all over the world. The huge wooden vessels stood alongside the wharves, massive ropes holding them in place, their masts reaching high into the cloudless blue sky. Sailors thronged the dockside, many talking in languages the boys didn’t understand.

 

Jem seemed to know many of the dockside workers and they all had a cheery word for the boys. One man handed Jem a bag of lemon drops and another gave him a piece of fruitcake from his lunch pail. The two boys ate their own lunch sitting atop a pile of crates that were waiting to be put aboard a ship bound for the Indies. The dry bread and water wasn’t the most appetising of meals but the slice of cake the docker had given them rounded it off nicely. Popping a lemon drop into his mouth, Jem handed the bag to Joe as the two scrambled down off the crates. They stood and watched for a while as a cargo of wine was unloaded from a French vessel, then started back towards Jem’s home. As they walked the air around them began to grow damp, fog swirled in from the bay and settled over the city. Joe was amazed at how quickly the fog arrived, the bright sun soon lost in the mists. The wharves seemed different now, sound muted by the blanket of grey moisture. Figures appeared and disappeared as the mist eddied about them. Joe shivered a little, the fog was cold and it bit through the thin jacket that Jem had lent him. He was pleased when they left the harbour behind them and headed into the narrow streets towards the Slater’s home.

 

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

 

“Pa!” Adam burst into the hotel room to find his father standing by the table poring over a map of the city. “Look at this,” he thrust a package into Ben’s hand. It was roughly wrapped in newspaper and string but had been partially opened, revealing the contents.

 

“It’s Joe’s jacket!” Ben pulled the remains of the paper from the garment. “Where did you get it?”

 

“It was handed in at the desk,” Adam told him. “The porter was just about to bring it up when he saw me. There was this as well,” he handed his father a folded piece of paper. “I started to open the parcel then brought it straight up when I saw what it was.”

 

Ben unfolded the paper with a hand that trembled slightly. He read silently, then handed the note to Adam and sat down unsteadily in the chair next to the table. “Thank the Lord he’s alive,” he murmured softly.

 

“We have your son,” Adam read aloud, deciphering the scrawled and misspelled script with difficulty. “He is safe and well. We want $10,000 or we kill him. We will be in touch tomorrow. Don’t go to the police if you want the kid to live.”

 

“We have to get that money,” Ben stood up, a look of determination on his face. “I’ll go straight along to the bank now.”

 

“We don’t have that much in the account, Pa.

 

“We’ll get it somehow,” Ben assured him, reaching for his jacket. “You stay here with Hoss, he’s asleep in the bedroom. I managed to get him to rest for a while.”

 

“You’re not thinking straight,” Adam put the letter down on the table and looked at his father. “We can’t just pay up like that.”

 

“What else can we do? We can’t risk Joe’s life.”

 

“And if we give them the money? Who’s to say they will return Joe? We don’t even know that he’s really safe and well, they could already have…” Adam stopped abruptly and swallowed hard, the thought of his little brother being dead bringing a lump to his throat. “We just don’t know,” he continued hoarsely.

 

“I can’t think that way. If I thought Joe wasn’t coming back…” A desolate look settled on Ben’s face as, just for a moment, he contemplated that very possibility. “I have to get the money. I have to believe that they will return him.”

 

“Okay,” Adam conceded. “But we have to work out some sort of plan.”

 

“We’ll talk about it when I get back,” Ben picked up his hat and crossed to the door. “I just pray that I can get the money in the first place or Lord knows what will happen to Joseph.”

 

“If it hasn’t already happened,” Adam whispered softly to himself as his father left the room.

 

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

 

“What’s the problem, Joe?” Jem asked anxiously, looking at the younger boy’s unhappy face. “Don’t you like it here?”

 

It was mid afternoon and the two boys were exploring. Eddie had asked them to stay close to home, but Jem was intent on showing Joe some more of the city. This morning they had been around the area known as the Spanish quarter, a part of the city that still retained the atmosphere of the Mexican village of Yerba Buena that San Francisco had been a few short years ago. Like yesterday on the dockside, Joe was surprised at the number of people who seemed to know Jem and stopped to talk with him a while. Lunch had been a bowl of tamale offered to them by an old Mexican senora and the boys had thoroughly enjoyed the spicy dish, sitting on the edge of the sidewalk outside the woman’s home.

 

Now however, they were in the Chinese quarter of the city and, at the sight of the men in their robes of silk, their hair plaited into queues that hung down their backs, Joe had felt a rush of homesickness for the Ponderosa and for Hop Sing. “I just want to find my Pa,” he told Jem softly. “I miss him.”

 

Unsure what to do to comfort his friend Jem looked around him for some distraction. “How about we go and see if we can sneak into the Chinese theatre?” he suggested, pointing off up the street. “That’ll be fun.”

 

Joe shook his head. “I don’t want to. I just want my family. You said your uncle would have found them by now.”

 

“I guess it must be harder than I thought,” Jem could see that Joe was close to tears and hated to see his friend so upset. “Perhaps we should try.”

 

Joe looked up, a spark of excitement in his eyes. “We could?”

 

“Sure, why not?” I know where lots of hotels are, we’ll just go see if you recognise any of them.”

 

It sounded like a good plan to Joe and he eagerly followed Jem as he led the way.

 

Four hours later Joe’s eagerness had faded away. He was tired, hungry and miserable. Together he and Jem had gone from hotel to hotel but none of them had seemed familiar and none had a Ben Cartwright registered among their guests.

 

“I guess we’d best head home,” Jem said as they left the lobby of the Adelphi where a haughty desk clerk had unwillingly checked the register for a Ben Cartwright before telling the boys to get out of his hotel, quick smart, or he’d call the police.

 

“Perhaps we should go to the police,” the desk clerk’s words had made Joe think. If he’d been lost in Virginia City, not that that was likely, he’d have gone to Sheriff Coffee. The police were sort of like sheriffs, he figured, they might be able to help.

 

“The police!” Jem was disdainful; his Uncle Pete had told him never to have any dealings with them. “They wouldn’t be any good. Don’t you worry, Joe, if Uncle Pete ain’t found your folks then we’ll look again tomorrow. Plenty more places to check.”

 

Trailing sadly after Jem as he headed back towards the Slater home Joe resolved that if they didn’t find his Pa by tomorrow night he was going to go to the police whatever Jem said.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

 

At the Orpheus Hotel, Ben was anxiously awaiting further instructions concerning Joe. He had spent most of the previous evening and half of today in consultation with the managers of his bank. They had been more than a little hesitant to lend him such a large sum of money until Ben had brought in various people that he did business with in San Francisco, who offered to act as guarantors. Eventually, reluctantly, the money had been handed over and now sat in the Orpheus’ small safe. So far the kidnappers hadn’t been in touch again and Ben was beginning to wonder if something had gone wrong. Unable to sit still he found himself worriedly pacing the room, stopping from time to time to glance out of the window at the street below. Downstairs in the hotel lobby Adam was waiting with the desk clerk who was ready to point out the man who had left the parcel containing Joe’s jacket. Outside, in the deepening shadows of the evening, Ben could see Hoss positioned opposite the hotel doorway, ready to intercept the man if he tried to make a break for it. Though his middle son was only sixteen he was as big as a grown man, bigger than most, and well able to hold the kidnapper if he attempted to escape.

 

As the gas lights were lit and night descended on the city Ben was beginning to despair. He was about to go down and tell Adam to give up for the evening when a commotion erupted in the corridor outside the room and he heard Hoss’ voice. “Just you hold it right there you little varmint, you ain’t goin’ nowhere till you tell us what you know.”

 

Flinging open the hotel door, Ben was greeted by the sight of Adam and Hoss struggling to hold a boy of around fourteen, a poorly clad youth with greasy blonde hair.

 

“Let me alone!” the boy shrieked as Hoss dragged him towards the hotel suite. “I ain’t done nuthin’ wrong.”

 

Following Hoss and his captive into the room Adam shut the door and leaned back against it, preventing the boy’s escape. He reached into his pocket and withdrew a piece of paper, which he handed to Ben.

 

As he quickly scanned the note, Ben looked over to where Hoss had shoved the youth onto a chair and was standing over him as though daring him to try and get away. “You brought this for me?” he asked.

 

“If you’re Mr. Cartwright then I did,” the boy looked up, a touch of bravado in his grey eyes. “I just did a guy a favour is all. Didn’t know I’d get set on by this big lug,” he glared at Hoss.

 

“Somebody just gave him a dollar to deliver it,” Adam said with a sigh. “He doesn’t know who it was.”

 

“The person who gave it to you, where did you meet him?” Ben asked. “What did he look like?”

 

“He was just a regular feller.” The boy answered readily enough, a puzzled look on his face. “He came up to me down by the wharf, asked if I knew this place and said he’d give me a dollar to take that letter to you. What’s the problem?”

 

“The problem, kid,” Adam said, deserting his post by the door and coming over to take the chair opposite the boy. “Is that whoever gave you that note has my young brother as a hostage and he’s threatened to kill him.”

 

“I’m sorry,” a shadow of sympathy passed across the youth’s face as he spoke. “But it ain’t nuthin’ to do with me, mister.”

 

“I appreciate that,” Ben told him reassuringly. “And we’re not going to hurt you. We just need to know anything you can tell us about this note.” He fingered the paper as he spoke, the words written on it still fresh in his mind. ‘Leave the $10,000 in the empty barrel with the blue chalk on it next to the berth of the Charlotte Anne at five tomorrow evening. Come alone. You will be watched. When we get the money, we let the kid go.’

 

The boy was cooperative, but the man who had approached him was a total stranger and his description of him, while quite detailed, meant nothing to the Cartwrights. Eventually they were forced to admit defeat and let the boy leave.

 

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

 

Eddie had wanted Jem’s help the following morning. He was taking clothes and bedding to the Chinese laundry and found it awkward to carry the load with his bad leg. Joe went with them, interested to see the Chinese area again but once more reminded of Hop Sing and home. Jem tried to get his uncle to let them go off exploring after lunch but Eddie insisted that they stay close to home, sending them on errands to the local stores.

 

“Never mind,” Jem reassured Joe as they returned from getting bread and approached the Slater’s door. “We’ll look for your folks tomorrow.”

 

Joe nodded in agreement though he had already made up his mind that he was going to slip away once everyone was asleep this evening and go and find a policeman. “I just have to use the outhouse,” he told Jem. “I’ll see you in a minute.”

 

“Okay,” Jem watched Joe head off along the street before reaching for the door. Hearing raised voices from within the house he hesitated and instead of flinging the door wide just cracked it open an inch or so, peering around it. To his surprise both his uncles were in the room, standing by the stove, their backs to him. About to make his presence known he was stopped by the mention of Joe’s surname.

 

“I told Cartwright five tonight,” Pete was saying. “The wharves will still be busy then so there’s less chance of us being spotted.”

 

“You knew I didn’t want to be involved in this,” Eddie’s voice was angry. “Now you want me to be a lookout.”

 

“I just need you to watch and make sure Cartwright is alone.” 

 

“We don’t even know what he looks like,” Eddie said in exasperation. “How can we watch him?”

 

“You’ll know it’s him when he leaves the money,” Pete explained, beginning to outline his plan. “You scout back along the wharf a bit, reckon you’ll soon see if he’s alone. You’d recognise a policeman, and if his other sons are nearby they’ll stick out like a sore thumb in those rich clothes they wear. Then come back and let me know if the coast is clear,” he chuckled quietly. “Just think, Eddie, he’s giving us $10,000 for that kid.”

 

Jem didn’t wait to hear any more, pulling the door quietly closed he moved away a little and leaned back against the wall, thinking over what he’d just heard.

 

“Hey, Jem,” Joe called as he came down the street on his way back from the outhouse, surprised to find his friend waiting. “I thought you were going home.”

 

“Decided to wait for you,” Jem said, and waited till Joe drew abreast of him before continuing. “How about we go see if we can find your Pa in a little while?”

 

“Today?” Joe was a little startled at the suggestion but eager to get on with the search. “Won’t your uncles mind us going out?”

 

“Let’s not mention it to them,” Jem told him. “I seem to recall they’re going out themselves soon.” 

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

 

“What’s all the commotion out in the street?” Ben asked the porter as he and Adam left the hotel carrying the bag of money that the kidnappers had demanded. “Seems to be a lot of shouting and yelling going on.”

 

“Bad business Mr. Cartwright,” the porter shook his head sorrowfully. “There’s trouble brewing. Seems someone shot the editor of one of the local newspapers. Took exception to the editorials about political corruption. They reckon there are men queuing up now to form a vigilance committee and take over running the city. I’d be leaving if I was you.”

 

Exchanging a worried frown with Adam, Ben thanked the porter for the information, just hoping that the troubles wouldn’t affect his getting Joe back. “I’ll walk part way then get a cab,” he told Adam as they walked away from the hotel. “You’ll be all right?”

 

“Sure I will,” Adam assured him. “Look we’ve been over this a dozen times. I’ll get a cab now and get down to where that ship is berthed. When you get there ask any of the sailors and they’ll tell you where it is, I found it easy enough this morning.”

 

“And you’ll be out of sight but keeping watch.”

 

“That’s the idea,” Adam looked down at the rough workmen’s clothes he had borrowed from the desk clerk’s brother. “I should blend in wearing this. If you do spot me, just ignore me. When whoever it is takes the money I’ll follow them. Wait for me at the Golden Palace saloon.”

 

“Just be careful,” Ben warned. “We don’t know how desperate these people are.”

 

“Don’t worry,” Adam gave him a reassuring smile. “I’ll be on the alert.”

 

Alighting from the cab a short while later Adam slipped unobtrusively into a group of men that were heading down to the wharves. He had been alarmed by the crowds on the streets as the cab made its way here, groups of men standing around talking, many with raised, angry voices. The obvious unrest only served to intensify his worries over Joe, as he contemplated getting caught up in the city’s problems.

 

The Charlotte Anne was a fine clipper ship, newly arrived in San Francisco from New Orleans. She was waiting to be loaded ready for the return trip and her sailors were on shore leave in the town. Scouting the area that morning Adam had found few places where he could conceal himself so he’d decided that the most effective way of not being noticed was to blend with the crowd and he strolled along to join the dockworkers who were unloading a ship a couple of berths further on.

 

“Just got taken on as casual labour and they sent me here,” he told the one man who enquired who he was. Then he set about hefting crates down the gangplank, all the time keeping a close watch on the Charlotte Anne. It wasn’t long before he saw two men approach, both tall and lank with dark hair, one carrying a barrel on his shoulder, the other walking with a pronounced limp. Adam watched as the lame man took up a position on the edge of the dock and the other put down the barrel and then scooted up the gangplank of the Charlotte Anne and crouched down out of sight. It wasn’t long before Ben came into view, walking purposefully toward the barrel that stood by the quayside. He stopped and looked around before depositing the parcel of money, but if he saw Adam he gave no sign.

 

As soon as Ben walked away Adam saw the lame man start to follow. He expected the other man to go and get the money and was surprised when he remained where he was for some fifteen minutes until his partner returned. Then he ran down the gangplank and delved into the barrel, grabbing the parcel and clutching it to him triumphantly. The two men then turned and started walking away and Adam let them go for a moment before taking off after them, ignoring the puzzled looks from the men he had been working with.   

 

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

 

Back at the Orpheus, Hoss glanced again at the big clock that stood against the wall of the hotel room. It was almost six and if all had gone according to plan his father would have handed over the money and he and Adam should be trailing the kidnappers. Crossing to the window, Hoss looked out, he had wanted to go to the docks with Pa and Adam but someone had to stay in case the kidnappers brought Joe here and Hoss had been the obvious choice.

 

The street outside was busy and Hoss watched the people idly, until his attention was drawn to two young boys who were walking towards the hotel. Pressing nearer to the glass Hoss looked more closely. The smaller of the two had curly brown hair and looked just like…his heart began to pound in his chest as the boys drew closer…it was…it was Joe! Running for the door, Hoss was down the stairs as fast as his legs could carry him and arrived in the hotel lobby just as Jem and Joe walked in.

 

“Joe, thank the Lord you’re safe!” Hoss charged across the lobby and in front of an amazed and startled clientele grabbed his younger brother and hugged him, lifting the boy clean off the floor.

 

“Hoss,” Joe protested as he felt the breath being squeezed out of him. “Put me down.”

 

Reluctantly, Hoss set Joe back on his feet, still keeping a large hand on his shoulder as though worried he might disappear again.

 

“This is my brother Hoss,” Joe told Jem, with a wide grin of delight at being with at least one of his family again. “Hoss, this is Jem. His uncles have been looking after me.”

 

“His uncles?” Hoss frowned as he looked from Joe to Jem, the boy dropping his eyes as Hoss’ gaze turned his way. “His uncles had you?”

 

Jem saw enlightenment cross the face of the big youth and turned to run, but Hoss was too quick, and grabbed him before he could get away. “Right,” he said, his voice suddenly hard and angry. “Suppose you tell me exactly what this is all about.”

 

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

 

Hoss, Jem and Joe caught up with Adam and Ben at the Slater home. The three had left the Orpheus as soon as Hoss had heard Jem and Joe’s story and had rushed through the crowded streets as fast as they could. By the time they reached Jem’s home Eddie and Pete had been caught by surprise by the arrival of the two older Cartwrights. Easily overpowered, Jem’s two uncles were now bound to their own kitchen chairs while a furious and terrified Ben Cartwright demanded to know the whereabouts of his youngest son.

 

“He was here,” Eddie quavered, for the fourth or fifth time. “He was here with our nephew. I don’t know where they’ve gone.”

 

“If anything has happened to that boy,” Ben words were low and menacing as he towered over the Slater brothers. “Then so help me I’ll see you both…”

 

“I’m here Pa,” At the sound of Joe’s voice from the doorway Ben whirled around, the Slaters momentarily forgotten.

 

“Joseph!” The single word held utter relief as Ben saw his youngest son standing in the doorway, safe and well. He reached out and pulled the boy to him, hugging him tightly for a long while. Eventually he pulled back and held Joe at arms length to get a better look, reassuring himself that his son was unhurt.

 

“I’m all right,” Joe assured him, trying in vain to hold back tears of joy at being reunited with his father. “Jem, Pete and Eddie looked after me real well. Honest.”

 

At this reminder, Ben turned, still keeping a hand on Joe’s arm. “I have my son back,” he told the two brothers. “And I have my money back but I’m not going to let you get away with this. Adam, help me get them to the police.”

 

“No, Pa! Please don’t…” Joe’s entreaty brought his father’s attention back to him. “Please don’t take them away.”

 

“But they did wrong, Joe,” Ben said gently. “They must be punished.”

 

“I know they did,” Joe shot a glance at Jem who was standing beside Hoss, a frightened look on his face. “But they’re all that Jem has. If they go to prison Jem will have nowhere to go and he’s my friend, Pa, I don’t want him to be homeless.”

 

“If it wasn’t for Jem,” Hoss put in. “Joe would still have been here, he brought him back, helped him find the hotel.”

 

“And Eddie and Pete didn’t hurt me,” Joe added. “They were real nice to me. Eddie took me to the beach and all.”

 

“But they threatened to kill you,” Ben said, though his tone was softer now. “How can I let them go?”

 

“I didn’t mean that,” Pete’s voice was hopeful, seeing that Joe’s pleas were having some effect. “I just said it so you’d get the money. I wouldn’t hurt a kid.”

 

“Please, Pa?” Joe looked up into his father’s face, hazel-green eyes pleading.

 

Ben shot a look at Adam, who just shrugged his shoulders and put the gun he was holding back in the waistband of his pants. “All right,” Ben made the decision and was rewarded by a dazzling grin from his son. “Untie them, Hoss.”

 

“Thanks Pa,” Joe flung his arms around his father and hugged him, pleased that Jem’s uncles weren’t going to prison and so glad to be safe with his family again.

 

“Good to have you back Joe,” Adam said quietly, coming over to tousle his youngest brother’s hair affectionately. “Good to have you back.”

 

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

 

As the steamer prepared to leave San Francisco on its journey to Sacramento Joe scanned the dockside anxiously. The person he had hoped to see wasn’t there and he sighed, turning away.

 

“What’s up?” Adam asked from beside him. “I thought you’d be glad to be going home.”

 

“I am,” Joe told him, for that was certainly the truth. Exciting and interesting though the city was he couldn’t wait to get back to the Ponderosa. “I just hoped Jem might come to say goodbye.”

 

“Oh, I see.” Adam looked out at the crowd alongside the ship. He too was glad to be leaving, there was trouble brewing in San Francisco and he was glad to be out of it. “Did you get what you wanted at the toy store?” he asked, walking towards the door that led down into the passenger lounge of the ship, his brother following him. Joe had asked his father if they could pay a visit to the store that morning and, after some persuasion, Ben had agreed.

 

“Yes, I did,” Joe brightened at this reminder of his morning’s errand. “Toy soldiers, Adam, you should see them. They’re real beauties.”

 

“I didn’t know you had enough money left to buy something like that.”

 

“Pa bought them,” Joe informed him and hastened to add. “They’re not for me,” when he saw a small frown crease his brother’s brow.

 

“Joe! Hey, Joe!” the shout from the dockside interrupted the conversation and Joe left his brother and ran to the railing just as the ropes were loosened and the steamer began its journey.

 

“Jem!” he called excitedly seeing his friend standing on the quay. “Did you get them?”

 

In answer Jem held up his hand in which Joe could see the bright colours of the toy soldiers he had chosen so carefully that morning and Pa had asked to have delivered to the Slater’s home. “Thanks, Joe!” Jem yelled as the distance between the ship and the dock widened. “Come back and visit some time.”

 

“I’ll write,” Joe shouted back, waving frantically. Feeling a hand on his shoulder he looked up to see that his father had joined him, Adam and Hoss standing behind. He smiled up at Ben before giving a final wave to Jem. He’d never forget his friend in San Francisco but it sure was good to be going home.

 

 

 

 

 

THE END

 

 

 

 

 

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