THE JOURNEY OF THE GOLDEN WATCH
Story by Foster Rodda
Written by Sharon Rodda & Susette Huett
Ciera and Bryce were enormously fond of their great Uncle David. He was captain of the “Sitka Bay”, a magnificent clipper ship trading all around the world. He never failed to bring them exotic gifts from his many travels. The children’s favorite by far was Jewel, a nimble squirrel monkey from the steamy jungles of South America. Being a tropical animal, Jewel was prone to chills, so Uncle David commissioned a tailor to make her a tiny replica of his own navy blazer, complete with brass buttons and pockets. “Why Uncle David, she looks just like you!” Ciera teased. The little monkey fingered her shiny buttons constantly. Little did Ciera and Bryce know, Jewel’s attraction for bright objects would lead them to the most exciting and dangerous adventure of their lives.
The breeze freshened on their faces as the “Sitka Bay” sailed north along the California coast. The two young passengers had left their home in San Francisco to embark on a journey that would take them first to Alaska, where their uncle would trade for furs. Then, with the trade winds behind them, they would travel to the far off Hawaiian Islands, where their parents had gone seven months earlier to set up their new home. .”How I miss Father and Mother.” Ciera sighed to herself. Bryce was thinking the same thing and remembering Father’s parting words, “No matter how long it takes, we’ll be together again.” Their separation had already seemed to last forever. But now the winds were favorable and Uncle’s clipper wasted no time in speeding them on their way.
Likewise, the children wasted no time in making themselves at home on the great ship. Almost a floating town, the ship was bustling with men and activity. Adam, the ship’s cabin boy, had befriended them. He was thirteen, but wise for his age, and almost as nimble as Jewel, climbing so high in the rigging they were dizzy watching him. “Aren’t you scared up there?” hollered Bryce. “Never!” Adam yelled back, “I used to live in a tree house!” Adam patiently showed them not only what to stay clear of – like the dangerous rigging – but who to stay clear of – like the foul-tempered cook. He was a huge man, with fists the size of the hams hanging from his galley ceiling. He could be spied on through the companionway, wielding cleavers and knives as he grumbled in his work. He kept time with a big gold watch that swung like a pendulum from the pocket of his greasy britches. The tick of that watch measured the rhythm of life on the clipper, for it measured out the mealtimes at 6:00 and 12:00 and 6:00 again as they plunged through the endless waves.
At the stern of the ship was the captain’s skiff, a small boat that could be lowered and rowed to nearby land. It hung from davits, suspended by ropes and pulleys like a cradle. A sheet of canvas was battened down over the little boat like a tent to keep it weather tight. Bryce noticed it first, and his sister agreed; it made a perfect secret hide out. Before long they had dragged all sorts of items from their quarters to furnish their special place. Ciera thought the bottom of the boat needed some cushioning with blankets. Bryce had to bring the brass spyglass and compass Uncle David had given him. In a small chest they stowed leftover sea biscuits and apples in case they got hungry. They had odd bits of rope to practice the knots the first mate had taught them and a copy of “The Swiss Family Robinson” to practice their reading. It was their own little ship. Once when Adam was touching up the blue and gold lettering on the skiff, he found them out, but he just winked and kept on working. “I knew we could count on him.” Bryce whispered to his sister. He and Ciera could peek out and watch over the whole ship and no one even knew they were there.
One morning it was almost 7:00 before breakfast was served; then lunch was too early; and by dinner, Cook’s mood was as foul as an ocean gale. “Thunder and light’ning, somebody’s stole my watch!” he roared. “It was the captain’s brats for sure, them thievin” monkeys!” He said they were always hanging about looking for a tidbit, and now they’d snitched his watch. Uncle David couldn’t believe the children would have taken Cook’s watch, but he thought they should spend the rest of the evening in their bunks, “Just till things calm down,” he’d said kindly. Bryce and Ciera trudged off to their quarters, but when night had settled and all was quiet, they gathered up Jewel and crept to the safety of their little boat. Inside it was dark and snug. The skiff swung as gently as a cradle and soon they were all asleep lulled by the shoosh of the waves and an odd but pleasant ticking sound.
Late in the night watch a squall out of the north flared up just as quick as Cook’s temper. Everyone on board was jolted into frantic action. The sudden blast slammed the “Sitka Bay” with giant walls of water and icy winds. Sailors scuttled up into the rigging, risking their lives to reef the flapping sails. They fought their way across the decks to batten down the hatches. No one could see from port to starboard in the torrents of rain. Ciera, Bryce, and Jewel startled awake to a great shudder of the mighty ship and then felt themselves falling – falling – falling as the skiff broke free from the davits and landed with a CRACK in the cold sea. And then, all that could be heard was the screaming wind. How long the threesome bobbed on the ragged waves can only be guessed.
The day after the storm dawned clear and promising on the “Sitka Bay” clipper. Little by little the ship came to life as the sun peeked up over the horizon. Sailors set about righting barrels and inspecting the ship for damage. “No repairs needed back here,” cried the mate from the stern, “but we’ve lost the captain’s skiff!” Listening from the rigging, Adam’s heart sank. He clambered down and raced to Bryce and Ciera’s cabins. The children were not there! In the confusion of the squall, the skiff had disappeared with the children in it! Alone in his galley, Cook wrung his big hands anxiously over the news. The captain was comforted only when Adam promised he would search for the children himself. “I won’t give up till I’ve found them, Sir!” vowed the boy. They agreed he would be let off the ship at the next landfall to begin his search.
The wind and rain gradually slackened and the seas calmed. As they drifted the children had time to realize what had happened and to worry about what would happen next. They thought forlornly of their parents waiting and eager for them in Hawaii. “Do you think we’ll ever see them again?” Bryce whispered. Ciera felt for the locket around her neck that held a photograph of Father and Mother. It had been Mother’s parting gift. She squeezed Bryce’s hand and repeated to him Father’s good-bye words, “No matter how long it takes, we’ll be together again.” By now they had drifted into a quiet bay. A deserted beach circled them, hemmed in by a tall dark forest. Huge driftwood logs lay crushed and battered like matchsticks. All was still, clean and fresh from the storm. Brave Ciera poked her head out from under the canvas. “We’re going to be all right!” she called back to Bryce, “The storm is over and I see land!”
When Bryce and Ciera woke up hungry on the firm sand of the bayshore, they heard Jewel chattering busily in the brush at the forest’s edge. She had found berries to eat! “Blackberries and huckleberries, just like at home! They ate up most of the tidbits in the skiff’s provision chest before they stopped themselves, remembering that no meals would be served in the little bay. “I think we’re going to miss Cook’s suppers,” Bryce admitted. They were perched on the drawn up skiff, wondering how much time had passed since they’d fallen off the “Sitka Bay”, when Jewel reached her little monkey hand into her coat pocket and pulled out – Cook’s gold watch! “You – you -,” spluttered Bryce, “you sneaky little thief! You got us in trouble! We wouldn’t even be here if it wasn’t for you!” Jewel just showed her teeth and hugged the shiny watch. But Ciera gathered Jewel up into her lap and said quietly, “What’s done is done, Bryce. Right now we have to figure out what we’ll eat, where we’ll sleep, and how we’ll stay warm.” And she pulled the blanket tighter around her shoulders.
Jewel was too curious to stay in Ciera’s lap for long. She scampered down to the water’s edge just as a dark young woman walked into view, her long hair lifting in the breeze. Seeing Jewel, she cried out, dropping her basket and digging tool. Then she giggled and stooped down to take the strange little creature’s outstretched paw. The children called her Pa-Tee because that’s the closest they could come to pronouncing her Indian name. Without words she taught them how to make a fire on the beach, where to find the fattest oysters and how to pull the dark mussels from the rocks at low tide. “They’re awfully slippery,” said Bryce, “but not too bad if you’re starving.” The smoked salmon she shared from her pack was their favorite. They sadly said good-bye to Pa-Tee as the gulls cried overhead. She needed to go meet up with her family, just as they needed stay and wait for Uncle and their parents, who would surely come and rescue them.
When the children woke up one morning with the tide lapping a few feet from the skiff they knew it was time to move to higher ground. They scrambled out of the overturned boat that had been their home and looked at each other. At exactly the same time they both pointed to a tall, windswept hemlock just beyond the bay and said, “We could build a tree house!” Remembering Adam’s tales of tree house living helped them plan as they scavenged for driftwood and other usable items among the flotsam and jetsam strewn along the beach. Hunting along the tideline, Ciera suddenly cried out in delight. Almost hidden in the foamy spindrift, was a curious ball of glass, glistening like a great green bubble as it rolled back and forth with the surf. She ran back holding the ball in her outstretched arms and calling for Bryce. It wasn’t long till they spent their last night in the skiff. The tree house was ready.
A well-worn path led from the beach to the tree house overlooking a small lake. A stairway wound round the trunk of the weathered old hemlock, up through layers of branches, to the entry. Over the child-sized door hung the name “Sitka Bay” in blue and gold, taken from the stern of their little skiff. Behind the door their cozy house nestled high (but not too high) atop the tree’s massive arms. It was furnished with three soft beds, one of which was tiny, that were laid out on the floor with fragrant cedar cushioning. They’d brought up their treasured belongings from the skiff – the provision chest, their book, Bryce’s spyglass and compass, Ciera’s shell and rock collection, and the sparkling glass ball. They would have hung Cook’s gold watch from a peg by the door, but Jewel wouldn’t let them have it. Bryce tied Ciera’s apron to the tallest snag he could reach, still, nobody knew they were there.
Just when they thought they couldn’t get any lonelier Bryce and Ciera heard voices out on the trail. Scrambling down the stairs they almost ran into a couple of gray-bearded men arguing over who should go up first. “You’re just a stubborn old Swede and you know it,” growled one. “Mind the children here, cousin, and mind your manners too!” said the other. “Good day,” they said, sweeping off their furry hats to Ciera, “and if you don’t mind us askin’, what are you two doin’ out here in a tree?” The children told their tale to Merle and Johnny over the fire. The trappers shared fresh meat with them and made generous gifts of venison jerky and warm furs. Johnny tried to coax Jewel into trading her watch for a bag full of raisins, but she would have no part of it. They would have brought the children back to Astoria, but they were heading for the inland wilderness. The men a quota of pelts to meet, and they had to keep their word. “A man ain’t nothin’ if he don’t keep his word”, Johnny said. Merle sewed them both hats of rabbit fur. “If you want to get warm, just put on your hat,” said Merle. They were funny and kind. Their advice was to stay put until help came. “It’s a jungle out there.” they warned. Ciera and Bryce almost cried as they watched the trappers waving good-bye at the trail’s rise, but they had promised to tell every soul they came across about the children’s plight. Bryce and Ciera knew their promise would be kept.
Captain David checked his charts; the next landfall was Astoria, on the great Columbia River. With a stout heart Adam stuffed his few belongings into his sea bag, his wool cap and rain slicker right on top. On arrival at the Astoria docks he spoke with a grizzled old fisherman who steered him to Nettie’s Bed & Board, an old lodging house down on Wharf Street. “If it’s news you want, lad, it’ll pass through Nettie’s”. The old boarding house was a stop for every sort of wayfarer. Sailors like himself, along with loggers, fishermen, miners and trappers all made a temporary home there. Nettie was a redheaded widow with a twinkle in her eye. She ran a pretty tight ship, except for the pile of dogs on the porch and the cats on every windowsill. She gave Adam a bed and handed him a broom. “Just stay busy and you can stay till you leave,” she smiled. One day while he was sweeping the front porch Adam overheard a tale that made his heart jump. A logger, passing through from one of the camps up north, told a vague story he’d heard “from a couple of crazy trappers”. “Two proper city children living in a tree up along the coast.” “Said they had a strange little pet with them too, and it was wearing a seaman’s coat with buttons!” Bryce and Ciera were alive and safe! All he had to do was find them! Adam threw his kit together along with a new map and bid Nettie a grateful farewell. He was off across the wide Columbia and northward.
In the meantime, Uncle David had driven his faithful crew night and day, racing to Hawaii so he could break the tragic news to Tom and Leslie. Uncle David hated to tell his niece that he couldn’t take them back to the mainland himself; the “Sitka Bay” was bound for Australia. “Don’t worry, Uncle David, we’ll find a way,” said Leslie, leaning on his shoulder. And they did find a way, by a happy coincidence. Their eccentric friend Mr. Gabriel chanced to be visiting them, having sailed his world-class racer to the sunny islands from New York and around the Horn. “I’ll skipper you myself!” he offered. His schooner was “The Rising Moon.” She was a beauty – her picture was tattooed across his sun-tanned chest. Although he looked like a bit of a pirate, he was a good-hearted fellow. “We’ll cut right through those westerlies and have you two in Astoria before your tears have time to hit your hankie! We’ll get news of young Adam there and join him in his search.” As they sped toward the west coast the frightened parents clung to the hope that they would see their son and daughter again.
A few short weeks later, “The Rising Moon” nosed her way up the coast of Washington Territory, in and out of small bays, along narrow peninsulas and sandbars. News from Nettie had steered them in this direction with renewed hope Tom and Leslie took turns squinting through the telescope, scanning the misty shoreline for a sign of the missing skiff. . But weeks went by with nothing to encourage them. “It doesn’t matter how long it takes,” Mr. Gabriel assured his friends. They were working their way south along the leeward shore of a peninsula mapped out on their chart of Grays Harbor. In the isolated fishing village they had passed earlier, no one had heard of children in a tree house. One fellow’s comment was typical: “With a monkey too, you say? And the monkey has a watch? I wouldn’t believe a yarn like that even if I did hear it! Someone’s pullin” yer leg. I’d say.” Their spirits were dampened as they rounded the point of still another small bay. They smelled the smoke before they saw it. At the same time, they saw a limp white cloth hanging from the tip of a snag not far inland. They could hardly row the skiff fast enough and had trouble being polite as they took turns stepping onto the squelching wet sand. Up near the band of driftwood were the remains of a recent beach fire and just beyond, a break in the thick brush marked the beginning of a well-traveled path. By now they were whooping and running in a very undignified way as they realized that the white hump tucked behind the piled driftwood was Uncle David’s skiff from the “Sitka Bay”!
What joyous greetings, kisses and happy tears were exchanged when they found each other beneath the twisted gray branches of the sheltering hemlock. Even the sun broke out in harmony with the moment. Adam had reached the camp only days before. He’d turned his foot so badly stepping in a mountain beaver hole, that Bryce and Ciera had been waiting on him ever since. “I came to rescue them and they rescued me,” Adam joked. But the children only looked at him with shining eyes when they thought of all he’d been through to find them. Their father swelled with pride when he saw so much evidence of his children’s courage and resourcefulness. Father’s eyes sparkled as he said, “Don’t you children think this would be a perfect spot for a holiday cottage with room for guests? We’d want a dock, of course, and perhaps a modest sweep of lawn sloping down to the lake,” he said, emphasizing the sweep with his arm. “You’ll want to avoid this monsoon season, Tom,” said Mr. Gabriel, “I’m afraid my tattoo is melting.” Their mother giggled, but then her voice quavered when she said, “This certainly has been an exciting and perilous chapter in our lives. I’m glad we’ve come to the happy ending.” “And it was practically all your fault!”, scolded Ciera, shaking her finger at Jewel. The little monkey just grinned and hugged Cook’s gold watch. Bryce summed it all up when he said. “Well, it sure took a long time, but you were right, Father; we are finally together again!”