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Brother Jonathan’s Treasure

James E. Sanford, Jr

Jake first heard about the big disaster while he was painting in front of his grandfather’s house. He was putting whitewash on the wood picket fence when Tolly came running down the road towards the waterfront. Tolly shouted to Jake as he passed. 

“Hey. Jake. Shipwreck! Come on. Everyone’s goin’ down to the beach.” Tolly was gone before Jake could respond. Jake wanted to drop the bucket of paint and take off in pursuit of his friend, but he had promised his grandfather that he would help him today. 

While watching Tolly run wildly out of sight, Jake heard his grandfather’s voice from the porch. “What in blazes did Tolly say, Jake?”

“He said somethin’ about a shipwreck.” Jake responded as he set the paint pail down and walked towards his grandfather. “Can we take a break and go see what’s goin’ on?”

Les Pinkston looked up from the wood he was nailing together and stared at his blond-haired grandson. The sight of the boy always amazed him. Jake looked like a miniature of his son, Jake’s father. His face was round and had two large blue eyes. His mouth was a perpetual smile, even when he was unhappy.

“Now, Jake. You promised you’d help me out this weekend. I got a lot of chores to finish before the auction.” Les tried to sound firm, but he knew he could never deny a request from Jake. 

“Oh. Grandpa. We’ll get everything done by Monday.” Jake stopped on the bottom step of the old porch. “Can’t we just take a short break? You know? Just till we find out what happened.”

“It’s almost lunchtime. You finish up that fence. Soon as you're done you can take a break while I fix some lunch.” Les loved to see his grandson’s eyes light up with anticipation. With Jake’s father working somewhere down south, the boy had to be the man of the family. He went to school, did chores for his mother, babysat his younger sister, and found time to help out at the feed store. At eleven years old, Jake should be playing games with his friends, not worrying about his family’s financial problems.

Jake ran back to the fence, grabbed his paint pail and brush, and hastily began swabbing the dried wood.

Despite his best effort, it took Jake nearly an hour and a half to finish coating the wooden slats with the milky liquid. Tired and somewhat discouraged, Jake cleaned his brush and put away his pail. He went into his grandfather’s house and ate the soup and bread sitting on an old wooden table.

“Well, Jake. You did a fine job on that fence. I think we’re finished for today.” Les entered the small, dark house from the backyard. He wiped his big, rough hands on a red handkerchief and smiled broadly at the young boy. “Maybe you can catch up with your friend Tolly before you head home.”

“Yeah. Maybe.” Jake said somewhat sadly. “ Reckon all the excitements over. I should just get home and check on Mom.”

Les Pinkston pulled up a rickety chair and sat across the table from his grandson. He sliced a piece of bread from the loaf he had baked early that morning. He chewed the bread and stared at Jake. After a silence of several minutes, Les leaned across the table and spoke.

“Jake. I’m gonna go by and check on your Ma. I want you to do me a favor. Get on down to the beach and find out all you can about this shipwreck business. When you’ve found out all you can, you come and tell me. Can you do that?”

Jake perked up. If he were on business for his grandfather, he wouldn’t have to go home until suppertime. He hadn’t spent time on the waterfront since last summer.  Actually, he hadn’t been anywhere but school, home, and the feed store since his father left to go to Sacramento. The idea of running along the breakwater and visiting with the fishermen made his heart race.

“You sure, grandpa? I don’t wanna get in trouble with Mom. She’s expecting me to come straight home.” Jake wanted confirmation from his grandfather, before taking off for the rest of the day.

“Get goin’ Jake. You’re burnin’ daylight.” Les tried hard not to laugh at his grandson’s excitement. “Be sure you get home before the sun goes down, or your mom will have my hide.”

“Yes, sir. I’ll be home before sunset. I promise. Thank you.” Jake bounded out of his seat and out the front door as he spoke. His long, thin legs churned as he ran the quarter-mile towards the downtown area. He wasn’t sure exactly where he was going, he was just glad to be going somewhere other than home or school.

“Tolly. Where are you goin’? What about the shipwreck?” Jake encountered his friend near the waterfront. Tolly was walking slowly towards Jake with his head down.

“It’s horrible, Jake. I wish hadn’t gone down there.” Tolly gestured toward the beach as he spoke. “I’m goin’ home. I wouldn’t go down there. It’s really bad.”

Jake started to question his friend but didn’t know what to ask. Tolly stuffed his hands into his pants pockets, dropped his head, and walked away quietly. Jake stood for several moments debating whether to follow his friend or go down to the water and see what was happening. His thoughts were interrupted by yells from somewhere behind him. He turned quickly and saw Terry Baker. The schoolyard bully was standing at the corner and waving his arms madly. It was apparent he was trying to get Jake’s attention.

Jake took a last glance at Tolly’s departing figure, and then slowly walked towards the docks. As he approached Terry Baker, Jake realized the boy was in a frantic state. Terry wasn’t mean, he just liked to tease younger kids and fight with older boys. He was big for thirteen and he could cuss worse than any adult man. Terry had never bothered Jake, probably because he had done work for Jake’s grandfather and respected the man.

“Jake. They’re bringing up the survivors. Hurry. You can see ‘em.” Terry’s green eyes blazed, and his tousled red hair appeared to dance in the stiff summer breeze.

It took Jake a few moments to comprehend Terry’s words. When the reality of what he had said struck Jake, there was a moment of hesitation in his step. Survivors? What survivors? What do survivors look like? Was it the survivors that had so upset Tolly? Before his mind could answer any of these questions, a small crowd rounded the corner. There were five women, with blankets around them, being helped by local men. Other men were carrying three small children, wrapped in big coats. Behind this group were several men looking wet and tired. The sight was interesting, but not scary.

“Where did these survivors come from, Terry?” Jake tried to sound like a concerned adult asking a grown-up question.

“They are the only survivors of the shipwreck.” Terry looked quizzically at Jake before he answered. “Everyone else is dead. More than a hundred, I hear.”

“Oh.” Jake stared at the small group as it moved to the boarding house on Second Street. He had more questions but was reluctant to speak. His next question was barely above a whisper. “Where did the ship sink?”

“Old man Hennigan said the ship went down on a reef about four miles out.” Terry spoke without taking his eyes off the group of survivors being ushered into Mrs. Miller’s Boarding House. “He told everyone that only one boat got off before the ship sank. Nineteen in all. Some local fishermen tried to go out in the rough sea to look for more survivors, but there weren’t none.”

Suddenly, a tall man who lived about a mile north of town came tearing down the street in a small horse-drawn buggy. He was yelling something incoherently as he raced past Terry and Jake. A group of men standing around the area ran to catch up with the man. Jake thought he heard the man say something about a body. He turned and looked at Terry for a reaction. Their eyes met and they simultaneously broke into a run in the direction of the slowing buggy.

“Yep. Dead. Two of ‘em. Washed up on the beach right next to my place.” Mr. Schmidt had an accent that made some of his words difficult to understand. He was a normally quiet man who never got excited. Today his voice was shrill, and he was animated as he spoke to the men gathered next to his small black buggy. Even his horse seemed overly excited.

A lengthy exchange of information took place between members of the crowd and Mr. Schmidt. He had not known about the shipwreck until now. Everyone speculated that the two bodies on Mr. Schmidt’s property were from the sinking. Several men volunteered to go with Mr. Schmidt and recover the bodies. Soon, the horse and buggy headed off followed by six local fishermen.

“Well. Ain’t much more to see here. I’m gonna go walk the beach and see if any more bodies come floatin’ in. Wanna go with me, Jake?” The intensity of Terry’s earlier excitement had completely subsided. He was now his old, intimidating self. His words were so calm he could have been asking Jake if he wanted a stick of licorice.

“Uh. I don’t know. I should probably get back and let my grandpa know what happened. He sent me down here to find out what had happened.” Jake was torn. He did want to go walk the beach, but he didn’t really want to hang out with Terry. He made his excuse and mentioned his grandfather to give it validity.

“Oh. Okay. Tell your grandpa I said hello.” It amazed Jake how his grandfather had such an influence on a kid like Terry. He stood and watched the older boy walk briskly toward the beach.

“Jake? Is that you Jake?” Jake swung around at the sound of Mr. Rose’s voice. The owner of the grain and feed store was crossing the street towards him. He was tall, thin, and bald. His droopy mustache was too big for his slender face and seemed to pull his eyes wide open. He was wiping his hands in his dirty apron, something he did constantly. “What you doin’ down here son?”

“My grandfather asked me to come down and see what had happened.” Again, Jake used his grandfather to justify his situation. Jake had told Mr. Rose he couldn’t work today because he was helping his grandfather.

“Oh. Yes. Did you get the place all spruced up for the auction? Real bad about him losing his place. Guess he’ll have to move in with you and your mom, eh?” As well as being the owner of a very profitable grain and feed business, Mr. Rose was also the town’s biggest gossip. Jake’s father had always told Jake not to say anything to Mr. Rose he didn’t want said all over town.

“I don’t know what my grandfather’s plans are, sir. My family doesn’t tell me much.” Jake knew his words were a lie, but he didn’t think lying to a gossip was too bad.

“Yeah. That makes sense. You being so young and all.” Mr. Rose mentally noted not to bother asking the boy any family questions in the future. He immediately shifted direction and asked a totally different question. “So. Jake. What are you going to report to your grandfather about the shipwreck?”

“Uh. I don’t know. I haven’t learned too much. I saw the survivors and heard more than a hundred people died. Mr. Schmidt found two bodies near his place. That’s about it.” Jake was talking aloud more for himself than for Mr. Rose. He wanted to remember what he was going to report to his grandfather.

“Did you forget about the two bodies just brought in by the Wheeler brothers?” Mr. Rose asked his question rather smugly. He was certain Jake knew nothing of the recent discovery.

“I didn’t know about two more bodies, sir.”

“Ah. I didn’t think so. Come with me. We will make certain your report to your grandfather is accurate and up to date.” Mr. Rose gently took Jake’s arm and led him down to the wharf owned by the Wheeler brothers. A small group of men were standing around what appeared to be dead seals.

As Mr. Rose approached, the small gathering moved aside. Jake looked first at the faces of the men gathered at the wharf, then followed their view to the partially covered bodies of two men. It was hard to identify the two bodies as men. They were bloated to three times their normal size and their color was dark blue and splotchy.

Jake stared for a long minute, then pulled his arm away from Mr. Rose’s grasp. He turned away quickly and walked off along A Street. He walked for several minutes and tried to shake the vision of dead bodies from his mind. He wondered if that was the sight that had upset Tolly.

When Jake finally stopped walking, he had passed the buildings of the waterfront and was approaching a long stretch of barren, rocky beach. He decided he would walk the beach for a while before heading home.

The sun was getting close to the horizon and was partially covered by heavy clouds from a fast-running summer storm. Jake took one last look out to sea before turning and beginning the long walk home. He was thinking up an excuse for being late when something caught his ankle. Thinking it was kelp from the stormy sea or a snag from a rock, Jake pulled his leg in frustration. The hold on his ankle continued. Jake looked down and slightly back. Sticking out from a pile of green, mushy seaweed was a gray shirtsleeve. Extending from the shirtsleeve was a white and purplish hand. To Jake’s horror, the hand was grasping his shoe. Jake jumped back and a few feet away from the now-empty hand. He stared in disgust at the bony fingers slowly opening and closing.

“Help me. Help me.” A raspy, croaking voice whispered from the rocks and seaweed. “Helllllp meee.”

Jake’s heartbeat slowly returned to its normal speed and he stopped holding his breath. Hesitantly, he moved closer to the figure hidden by rocks, sand, and seaweed. He bent down and pulled aside large clumps of wet, stringy seagrass. Within a minute he had uncovered the head and shoulders of a man. The man’s hair and beard were soggy, tattered masses that obscured his face. 

“What happened to you?” Jake’s voice was weak and quiet. He wasn’t sure how he could help this nearly drowned person. Jake wondered if the man had been on the shipwreck.

“I was on the Brother Jonathan. It sank. I managed to grab a piece of wood and float here.” The man was shaking violently from being wet and cold. His voice rasped and trembled as he spoke. 

“How can I help? You want me to go for help?” Jake started to stand and move toward town. He hesitated when the man tried to rise and his voice suddenly boomed.

“No. Stay here.” The man collapsed back onto the sand. His breathing was loud and raspy. He slowly stirred and looked at Jake. “Come here, boy.”

Jake took a few steps toward the man. He was torn between staying with this wild-looking stranger or running off to find help. Jake knelt next to the shivering castaway and waited for the man to speak. 

“No one can know I’m here. I’m on a secret mission for the government.” The man paused to catch his breath and control his shaking body. “If you help me, I will pay you twenty dollars.”

The man’s words took a moment to penetrate Jake’s confused mind. Twenty dollars was something that made perfect sense. He knew that twenty dollars would help his grandfather pay his taxes and keep his house. He knew it might help bring his father home sooner and make his mother happy.

“What do I have to do, mister?” Jake needed more information. He wanted the money, but he wasn’t going to volunteer for something dangerous or illegal.

“I need some dry clothes. Some water and food. I’m gonna need a dry place to stay hidden for a couple days.” The man spoke quickly through chattering teeth. Hypothermia was beginning to sap his strength and energy. He was finding it difficult to think clearly. The man fumbled with something at his waist, then produced a shiny twenty-dollar gold piece. He held the brilliant coin out and asked, “Will you help me?”

Jake reached out tentatively and took the gold piece. He was surprised by its weight and dazzled by its luster. Having the coin in his hand gave him immediate resolve. His grandfather’s words came to his mind, “Always give an honest day’s work for an honest day’s wages.”

“There are some clothes and blankets at a shack on the Wheeler Brother’s Pier. I will get you some.” Jake was moving away quickly as he spoke. “I will try to find you some food too.”

Jake ran down the beach towards town. His mind churned with ideas on where he could get food and where he could hide the stranger. He realized there might be a bit of lying and stealing involved, but he believed he could make up for it later. His main concern was getting home late and being in big trouble with his mother.

It was forty minutes later when Jake stumbled across the now dark beach carrying a burlap sack over his shoulder. It took him a couple minutes to locate the unmoving body of the stranger. Jake knelt next to the man and gently shook his wet shoulder.

“Uhhhh. Who’s it?” The groggy voice of the man croaked in the darkness.

“It’s me, mister. Jake. I brought you some clothes and food.” Jake helped the man slowly sit up and lean against a small boulder. “You need to get out of those wet clothes.”

The half-conscious man moved stiffly as he attempted to remove his wet and tattered shirt. His body ached from hours in the ocean and shivering in the cold air. Jake helped the man get out of his shirt and pants, then, helped him get into the dry, musty clothes he had found at the pier. When the man was clothed, Jake wrapped a moth-eaten blanket around the stranger’s slumping shoulders. 

“Water. Did you bring water?” The man whispered hoarsely into Jake’s ear. He was finding it difficult to stay awake and focus.

Jake helped the man sip water from a rusty canteen. The man’s lips were cracked and dry. His beard and hair were turning white from the drying saltwater. A thin layer of salt crystals was forming on the exposed skin of his face and hands. The man choked down several gulps of water, then pushed the canteen away.

After several moments, the man struggled to his knees. He balanced himself against a beach rock and signaled Jake to help him up. Jake moved closer and the man put his arm around Jake’s shoulder. Slowly and shakily the man stood upright. His head was swimming and his entire body ached, but he remained standing as long as he held tightly to Jake.

It took Jake and the stranger thirty minutes to walk away from the beach and along a path that led to a collection of lean-to shacks formally inhabited by Chinese workers. Due to hard economic times, the local dockworkers, fishermen, and merchants had run off most of the Chinese workers. Jake wasn’t sure why, but he knew the shanties would be a good hiding place for the stranger. The last few yards were difficult, and Jake almost had to carry the man to one of the ramshackle little huts.

“What’s your name, boy?” The man asked his quiet question through painful moans as he curled up on the floor of the tiny shed.

“My name is Jake, Sir. Jake Pinkston. I live here in Crescent City.” Jake answered quickly. He wanted to get home as fast as possible. He knew his mother would be very worried and angry with him for being late. “I will put this food and water right here. I will try to come by in the morning and start you a fire.”

“My name is James Sherrard. Thank you for your …”. The end of the sentence became a deep, raspy snore. The man had lost consciousness.

Jake stared into the dark shack for a moment then gently closed the hinged wood that served as a door. He turned towards home and broke into a fast run. Jake figured it would take him twenty minutes to reach his house. He knew his mother would be standing at the front door waiting for him. He knew she was going to yell at him. He didn’t know what excuse he would give for being so late.

The sun came out early for this time of year. It was only eight o’clock and the fog had already burned off. It was going to be a hot summer day by Crescent City standards. Normally, summer days on the north coast of California were hazy and cool. The temperatures inland a few miles would climb to over a hundred degrees, but in Crescent City it would stay in the mid-seventies. Today’s temperature would not be normal.

Jake woke early and completed his chores around the house. His mother and he did not speak when they passed each other. She was giving him the silent treatment to let him know she was still upset with him. When he got home around ten o’clock last night, she had yelled at him and told him how worried she had been. She promised to let his grandfather know about his misbehavior and threatened to write to his father. Jake had tried to share the story he had concocted, but his mother didn’t want to hear it. He was actually glad he did not have to lie to his mother. The threat of writing a letter to his father bothered Jake more than anything else. His father had gone to Sacramento and San Francisco to find work. The family was broke and there was no work locally. Jake’s father had found odd jobs in the south and sent home some money to help out, but it was not enough. His grandfather’s home was going to be auctioned off for taxes and his mother was afraid they would soon lose their home too. Jake did not want to be a burden on his father by causing his mother to worry. He though about getting the twenty-dollar gold piece hidden in his room and showing it to his mother, but he didn’t know how he would explain it without disclosing the mysterious stranger hiding in a Chinaman’s shack near the beach. He decided he would deal with his Mother’s wrath now and surprise her later.

It was almost eleven o’clock that morning before Jake told his mother that he was going over to his Grandfather’s house to complete the work he was doing. His mother gave him an unhappy look and said nothing. Jake sulked out the front door and headed across a large open field to where his grandfather lived.

“Good morning, Sir.” Jake was seldom formal when talking to his grandfather. Today he felt he should be on his best behavior. He knew when his mother told his grandfather how late he had come home, there would be a punishment. “Would you like me to whitewash the side shed today?”

“Mornin’ Jake. You alright? Can’t remember the last time you called me sir.” Les Pinkston looked up from the small logs he was chopping and spoke while panting from the exertion of his work. “You in trouble with your Mom?”

“Yeah. Kinda.” Jake hesitated. His grandfather always seemed to know what was going on in the family. Jake decided to confess his lateness to his grandfather instead of letting him hear it from his mother. “I got home late last night, and Mom was really upset. She isn’t talkin’ to me this morning.”

“Damn it, Jake. I told you when you left here yesterday to get home before sunset. What happened?” Les Pinkston rarely got upset with his grandson. He knew the boy worked too hard, was lonely, and missed his father. He also knew how Jake’s mother Patti was also having a hard time. For the past year, his daughter-in-law had been separated from her husband and was constantly worrying about the family’s financial situation. She had taken in laundry and sewing to help keep food on the table and coal in the stove.

“Grandpa. I just lost track of time in all the excitement down at the piers. As soon as I realized it was getting dark, I headed straight home.” Jake tried hard to not  bend the truth too much. He hated telling his grandfather a lie, so he decided it was okay to just not tell him everything. He wasn’t lying when he said there was a lot of excitement down at the piers.

“Uh, huh.” The gray-haired man mumbled suspiciously as he wiped a kerchief across his sweating brow. The day was balmy for August and his work was hard. At fifty-five, Les Pinkston had done a lot of hard work. He and his son Jerry had come to California in 1850 to find gold. They never got rich, but they fell in love with the beautiful countryside.  In Pennsylvania, they had farmed and raised dairy cows. With the little gold, they did find, Les and Jerry had bought land in Crescent City and did some farming. The first few years had been hard, but productive. Even when farming was slow, there was always work around the piers or in the lumber business. Jerry had sent for and married his childhood sweetheart, Patti. Jake had come along the next year and Jerry and Patti had moved into their own house. Les wasn’t sure what caused the local economy to slow down, or why local work began to disappear. Some said it was because of the civil war going on back east. Local fishermen blamed it on less fish being caught. Many locals blamed it on the cheap Chinese labor taking all the jobs. Whatever the reason, the Pinkston’s and many other families began to have financial difficulties. Some folks moved away to the bigger cities looking for work. Les and Jerry had chose to stay and make it through the hard times.

“Well, Jake. I’m pretty much finished around here. I got that shed this mornin’.” The tall, slender man walked slowly over to Jake as he spoke. He put his big hand on Jake’s shoulder and spoke in a quieter voice. “Times are real hard right now, boy. Your Mom and pop don’t need any additional stress from you. Try bein’ on your best behavior. Okay?”

“Yes, sir. I will. I promise not to worry mom anymore.” Not being yelled at was the worst punishment Jake could imagine. When his grandfather didn’t give him a loud, stern lecture, it meant the man was hurt. The last thing in the world Jake wanted was to hurt his grandfather’s feelings. His grandfather was his best friend. They traveled all over the county together. They hunted, fished, and camped in the beautiful forests that spread out for miles along the coast. Les Pinkston was well known throughout the area and was treated with great respect. Jake was always happy to be at his side when they visited folks locally, or as far away as Eureka.

“Now. I want you to do somethin’ for me. Get down to Mr. Rose’s store and pick up a box of items he has for me. Fetch it and bring it back here. Can you do that for me?” Les Pinkston’s whole demeanor changed. He went from appearing worried and hurt to his normally jovial self. He patted Jake on the shoulder and gave him a gentle nudge in the direction of town.

“Yes, Grandpa. I’ll be back shortly.” Jake broke into a run as he headed for the center of town. Not only was Jake glad his grandfather wasn’t mad at him, but he was also glad to get a chance to go by and check on the stranger hiding in a Chinese shack near the beach. Jake decided he would go by Mr. Rose’s store first and get the box for his grandfather. He thought he might pick up some new information about the shipwreck and the survivors.

“Morning, Mr. Rose. I came to pick up a box for my Grandfather. He sent me to fetch it.” Jake spoke as he walked through the big side door of the feed and grain store. This entrance was where all the big deliveries came and left from. Mr. Rose was sitting at a small desk positioned at the wall next to the delivery entrance.

“Hmmm. Well, I guess it’s still morning. You runnin’ late today Jake?” Mr. Rose barely glanced at Jake as he spoke. His attention was on a ledger book lying on the small desk.

“Well, no sir. I finished my chores at home and then went by my grandfather’s house. He asked me to come by here.” Jake wasn’t sure the meaning of the store owner’s question. The man seemed a bit angry.

“Oh. Jake. I’m sorry. I was thinkin’ you were supposed to be here today for work. I forgot you were helping your granddad.” Mr. Rose came out of his chair quickly and came over to where Jake was standing. His words were sincere, and his voice was apologetic. “Please forgive my being short with you.”

“It’s okay, Mr. Rose. I will be here on time next week.” Jake was a little surprised at the shop-keepers abrupt mood change. Mr. Rose did not apologize to most people for his forgetfulness or other errors. Jake realized that, once again, it had something to do with his grandfather’s reputation in the community.

“Good. Good. Now let’s get that box for you.” The man turned quickly and walked across the large storage area filled with bins and boxes.

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