Star of the Sea
A Bonanza Fanfiction Story
This story started when I read about the worst maritime disaster the United States of America ever suffered in peacetime. While I have taken the liberty of adding the Cartwrights into the story, the facts about the ship SS Brother Jonathan and her subsequent demise in 1865 are all true.
Joe surveyed the contents of his carpetbag thoughtfully, wanting to be sure that he had not forgotten a single thing. The forthcoming journey to Portland, Oregon would be his first business trip with his elder brother and Joe was determined not to let Adam down. He rifled carefully through the contents: his good, dark suit; fine linen shirts, a fancy dark green brocade vest and silk cravats, plus underclothes, dress shoes and his toilet kit. Everything appeared to be in order. Satisfied, Joe added some casual shirts and pants and sat back, having a sigh of relief.
"Socks!" The omission hit him like a thunderbolt and Joe scampered across to his dresser in search of the elusive items. "How could I forget to pack my socks?"
"Looking for these?" Ben stood in doorway, smiling at the expression of guilty surprise that crept across his son's handsome face.
Lord, the boy grows more like his mother everyday! But no, he's not a boy anymore, Ben realised, as he observed the taut muscles beneath Joe's tan shirt that showed his youngest son was indeed a man. It was sometimes difficult and painful to accept that this last, cherished child was grown up and he was still reluctant to let the young out of his parental care for too long. It had taken prolonged pleading from both Adam and Joe before he would agree to the forthcoming trip. Still, he had to learn to let go at some point and trust that he had prepared Joe to deal successfully with the wider world on his own terms.
"Thanks, Pa!" Joe took the socks sheepishly and crammed them into a corner of his luggage. "I guess it wouldn't do for me to arrive in Portland with bare feet, would it?"
"It would certainly be different," Ben agreed dryly. Then his face broke into a smile as he took hold of Joe's arm and drew him close. "You're not worried about these meetings, are you?"
Joe studied his feet carefully, a telltale sign which eloquently betrayed his nervousness. "I don't want to let you or Adam down," he said softly. "I know how long you've been in negotiations with the Oregon Timber Company and I don't want to be the one who ruins it all."
"Why ever would you think such a thing?" Ben chided. "I have every faith that you will do your best, Joseph. Every faith." He patted Joe on the shoulder, trying to install some confidence in his son.
Fresh colour flooded Joe's face. "I know you believe in me, Pa. But…"
Ah! Now we're getting to the heart of the matter! "And so does Adam," Ben stated, in tones which left absolutely no room for argument. "He wouldn't have asked you to accompany him otherwise, would he?"
Realising when he was backed into a corner, Joe nodded agreement. A small part of his being wanted to protest that Adam was taking his younger brother on this trip solely because his father had decreed it was time Joe learned about the timber side of the Ponderosa operations, but he knew better than to voice his thoughts. There was no sense in creating discord at this late stage. Still, Joe felt uneasy flutterings of dismay at the impending journey in the company of his upright and utterly capable elder brother. Would he ever achieve the lofty heights Adam achieved so effortlessly? The eldest Cartwright son cast a long and impressive shadow and sometimes Joe felt trapped in the shade.
"We'll pick up our tickets on the day before we set sail." Adam's clear tones floated up the stairs as Joe walked slowly along the hallway. "The steamship Brother Jonathan is one of the finest ships sailing on the west coast, with a power that's unequalled."
Ben leant forward. "Wasn't she renamed the Commodore a few years ago?" he asked, trying to place the ship in his mind.
"For a short time, in 1861," Adam agreed. "Then the owner changed her name back."
Normally not a superstitious man, there was enough of the sailor in Ben Cartwright's body for this announcement to send a shiver of fear through him. A ship's name was sacrosanct and inviolate: changing it, however briefly, was tantamount to directly inviting trouble. He struggled to suppress his unease.
"I've secured us a stateroom on the upper deck," Adam continued blithely, totally unaware of his father's concerns. At the sound of footsteps behind him, he turned and smiled at Joe. "Well, little brother – are you looking forward to your first sea voyage?"
"I guess so," Joe said tentatively. "I just hope we don't get seasick, that's all."
"With our seagoing heritage? I hardly think that's likely," Adam reassured him. He would later think back to this moment and groan at the memory.
Hop Sing emerged from the kitchen and pressed a small packet into Joe's hand.
"Powdered ginger root – add to hot water and no sickness," he murmured, his eyes searching Joe's face carefully. "Very old Chinese remedy."
Joe smiled his thanks and bounded back upstairs to tuck the packet securely away in his carpetbag – he was not going to leave anything to chance! Down below, he could hear HopSIng imperiously summoning the family to the dinner table and resolved to make his last night at home a happy and enjoyable one.
"Tell me more about this ship," Hoss demanded, spooning copious quantities of horseradish sauce onto his roast beef.
Adam favoured him with a thin-lipped smile. "I don't suppose you're interested in hearing about the 72 inch cylinder engine, with its vertical 'walking beam'?" he enquired.
Hoss shook his head firmly.
"Or the fact that each of the paddle wheels is 33 feet high?" Adam continued blandly.
He received a hard stare. "Adam, I trust you to have picked a ship that's safe and seaworthy. What I'm interested in how you're gonna feed my little brother until you get to Portland. Look at him!" Hoss jabbed his fork at Joe, who was helping himself to mashed potatoes. "He's got them itty bitty bird bones and he needs fed regular!"
Surveyed the pile of food Joe was tucking into with evident relish, Adam shook his head in sorrow. How could the kid put away so much food and not put on a single ounce? Life was very unfair sometimes. Taking only a moderate helping of potato from the serving dish, Adam turned back to Hoss.
"Don't you worry – the SS Brother Jonathan has a fine salon, serving gourmet meals for discerning passengers. I guarantee you that we will both eat like kings!"
For the first time since the trip was announced, Hoss found himself wishing that he was going along too. Normally, he was content to stay close to home, in surroundings that were familiar and comfortable, but the possibilities of travel were now becoming apparent. With a loud sigh, he poured a generous portion of gravy over his meal and applied himself stoically to it.
Stifling a chuckle, Ben looked contentedly at his three sons: solid, reliable Hoss, quiet by nature, but with an inner strength the whole family treasured; sensible, thoughtful Adam, with his deep sense of duty, the epitome of responsibility and Joseph, the finest rider this side of the Sierras, whose fun-loving quicksilver nature kept everyone on their toes. How different his sons were, yet how perfectly they complemented one another, merging into a seamless whole that made the Ponderosa such a successful operation.
"Just don't whistle when you're on board that ship!" he thought and nearly laughed out loud at the memory of violent scolding from his own youth, when an older sailor accused him of trying to conjure up a storm. He hoped his boys would benefit from this glimpse of life at sea and gain a little understanding of the power and beauty of the sea, which had so entranced their father.