San Francisco’s Dragons (by DJK)

Summary:  Sequel to Lady Emily’s Choice, fifth story in the Emily series.
Category:  Bonanza
Genre:  Western
Rated:  PG
Word Count:  9860


 

“Pa, everything will be fine. I did manage to get myself across the continent and back. A trip to San Francisco should hardly be a challenge.” Adam Cartwright’s tone stayed barely on the safe side of insolent. He knew his father was reconsidering coming on the trip even though his pa knew that the ranch could not spare them both right now.

Ben’s eyebrows drew together signaling he had noticed his oldest son’s tone. “You did not have your younger brother in tow nor the responsibility for a young girl on that trip nor any of the few you have made to San Francisco.”

“Well, technically Emily is the responsibility of Miss Cutter,” Adam rejoined.

Be raised his eyebrow.

“Pa, no matter whose responsibility Emily is she’s hardly one to cause any trouble, and Hoss has been doing what I told him since he was two.”

“That he has,” Ben agreed, “even when it was something he shouldn’t have done.”

Adam’s back was to his father as he leaned over the carpetbag he was packing, so he allowed himself to roll his eyes. “Pa, really, everything will go just fine. I already told Hoss we’ll only spend one night on the Barbary Coast.”

“He’s twenty-one,” Ben told himself and then shrugged, “He’s still my son.”

“Ow!” Adam straightened with a snap as he felt the sting of his father’s hand on his backside for the first time since before he had left for college at seventeen. He turned and stared open-mouthed at his father.

The corners of Ben’s mouth curled up at the shock on his son’s face. “A reminder, son, just a little reminder.”

“I thought I had out-grown that kind of reminder,” Adam said ruefully as he rubbed the sting from his behind.

Ben shook his head slowly and mouthed, “Never.” as his grin widened.

Adam answered his father’s grin with one of his own. “Aw, Pa, I was just funnin’,” Adam said in a perfect imitation of his middle brother’s voice.

Ben laughed and then grew serious again. “You do understand your responsibilities?”

Adam looked his father directly in the eye, “I understand them completely, Pa. You know I’d do anything needed to keep Hoss and Emily safe.”

Ben reached out and touched his eldest son’s cheek. “I want you safe too, Adam. Never forget that!”

Adam gave his father one of his rare, deep smiles. “We’ll all be fine, Pa. I promise.”

“All right.” Ben turned and walked out of the room.

Adam finished packing, changed into his nightshirt, and settled on his bed, but sleep did not come. His stomach knotted more tightly each time he thought of the trip ahead even though that simple, ordinary journey should not have created any qualms. Even when Miss Cutter had presented a pressing complication, she had immediately supplied the solution.

“Adam, Mr. Cartwright, you know how fond of Emily I am. I’m so happy she’s being given this opportunity.” The teacher had set down her teacup and bestowed a smile on Adam Cartwright. “You’ve done so much for the girl. Of course, I think she deserves this opportunity. Emily will make the most of her education. She’ll be a wonderful teacher.” Elisa Cutter swallowed and bit her lip.

“Is there something that concerns you, Miss Cutter,” Adam asked reading the look on her face correctly.

“Actually, there is one thing.” Taking a deep breath, she continued, “A teacher’s reputation, well, like Caesar’s wife there can be no appearance of impropriety. Well, have you considered the fact the some people, people who don’t know you, of course, might look, well, unfavorably on a girl Emily’s age traveling with two unmarried, young men? ” Seeing the expressions on their faces, she hastened to add, “I know there would be no impropriety, but, as I said, to some people the appearance would be there.”

Ben was the first to answer, “It hadn’t occurred to us, no, but you’re right Miss Cutter.”

She smiled, “I’ve spent ten years worrying about just this sort of thing, Mr. Cartwright, so it’s not surprising that it would occur to me first. Actually, I’ve also thought of a possible solution.”

“You have?” Adam hoped she had.

“Well, yes, you see, I will be traveling to San Francisco myself to catch a ship.” She raised her chin. “Actually, Mr. Cartwright, the school board will be receiving my resignation at your next meeting. I’m going to Seattle to be married.”

“Congratulations,” Ben managed to respond.

Elisa Cutter quickly continued, “My thoughts were that Emily could officially travel with me, and if a former student and his well-traveled brother, who also happened to be traveling to San Francisco, should offer their services and protection on the trip, well, that would be entirely proper in anyone’s eyes.”

Adam heard his door open. With the help of the dim moonlight from the window, he made out the figure of his middle brother coming toward him.

“Hoss, is something wrong?”

“Nah, Adam, I just wanted to talk to ya. That’s all.”

“You should be asleep.”

“So should you, big brother.”

Since Hoss had become larger than Adam in every physical measurement, Adam had noticed Hoss only called him big brother when that was what he needed Adam to be.

“What do you need to talk about, Hoss?”

“It’s the right thing for Emily, isn’t it Adam?” Hoss inquired softly.

“We’ve talk about this before, little brother. Emily deserves to develop her mind, and this school will give her the education she craves. She will be able to be a teacher, and you know that teaching is her talent.” Adam knew that Hoss was afraid that he was losing Emily not just for two years but forever.

“I know all that, Adam. I’ve settled my mind about her going, really. It’s just, well, she’ll be safe at that school, won’t she? She won’t have nobody there to protect her, Adam, not like she has here.”

Adam reached out and squeezed his brother’s shoulder. Hoss had been Emily’s protector since they were thirteen, and Hoss had stopped some boys from teasing Emily about her father being a drunk. “She’ll be fine, Hoss. She’ll make friends, and I’m sure the teachers are good people.”

“We’ll let them know she has folks behind her, won’t we? We got to do that ‘fore we leave, Adam,” Hoss pleaded.

“Of course. Everybody at that school will know that they will have to answer for any hurt they cause the girl,” Adam answered in his most authoritative tone. He watched the tension leave Hoss.

“Good! Thanks, Adam. Guess I best get back to my bed.”

“We both better get to sleep before Pa comes upstairs, little brother!”

*****

Little Joe Cartwright was in a foul mood. Adam and Hoss were leaving to take Emily to San Francisco. Joe did not want his brothers to be gone for even the short time it would take them to complete their errand, and he wanted Emily here in Virginia City not in San Francisco. Joe knew everyone thought that it was a good thing for Emily to go away to school, but he did not. He just could not see what was so important about book learning that a person needed to leave home for years to get it. First, Adam had gone off to college, and now his brother had arranged for Emily to go to school in San Francisco. The youngest Cartwright would miss Emily, and he knew that Hoss would more than miss her. His brother would grieve for his friend, and that was wrong. Little Joe pushed his eggs around his plate and thought of ways to keep everyone where they belonged.

Adam watched his little brother, and thought how glad he was that it was Pa instead of himself who would be left to deal with the baby Cartwright’s black mood.

“Joe, you had best finish your breakfast quickly if you’re planning to come with. We will be leaving in ten minutes,” Ben announced with finality.

“I’m finished,” replied Little Joe pushing his plate away.

Ben pushed it back. “No, you are not. You will clean your plate before you will be excused from this table.”

Joe crossed his arms on his chest and thrust out his lower lip.

“Would you prefer to finish standing up?” Ben inquired.

Little Joe swallowed, picked up his fork, and mumbled, “No, sir.”

“Know what, Short Shanks?” Hoss interjected, “Adam and me is gonna bring ya something special from San Francisco.”

Adam glanced sideways at him frowning at his attempted bribery of their younger brother.

“What?” Joe asked swallowing a mouthful of eggs.

“Ain’t telling, and there ain’t no use in ya trying to guess.”

Joe made a dozen unsuccessful guesses while automatically finishing the food on his plate.

Pleased to find Joseph’s meal eaten, Ben proceeded to get his sons and their luggage to the stage depot. Miss Cutter and Emily Thornton were already waiting there.

Hoss looked around for Emily’s father. “Your pa…”

“We were here early,” Emily quickly interjected, “We said our goodbyes, and I sent papa home.”

“Well, this one here slowed us down a bit,” Hoss said, gabbing Little Joe in a gentle headlock.

Joe Cartwright squirmed out of his brother’s grasp and took a stance directly before Emily. Taking a deep breath, he decided he had to make one last try to prevent the upcoming tragedy even if it meant a tanning from his pa or the pounding Hoss had threatened.

“Emily, don’t go. Hoss don’t want ya to go, your pa don’t, and I don’t neither!”

“Joe!”

Little Joe ignored the fact that his name had been forcefully ejected from the mouths of his father and both brothers.

“Adam just talked everybody into telling ya you should go ’cause he’s so dang hot for people being educated. You don’t need no more education, Emily. You’re a good teacher already.” Joe finished his pleas in one rushed breath and then burst into tears.

Ignoring the fact that her traveling skirt was brand new, Emily dropped to her knees, so she could look directly into the boy’s eyes. She placed her hands on his waist and drew Joe inches from her. “Joe, I’ll miss everyone here, but I need to go. Please, please, understand.”

Joe stared into the eyes of the girl he had come to love almost like a sister. “You have to?”

Emily nodded.

“Okay, ” Joe acquiesced softly.

Emily moved her hands to Joe’s face. “Joe, I need you to do something for me. Something only you can do.” Emily spoke with tears flowing down her cheeks.

“What?”

“Well, Hoss, Adam, and your pa are gonna watch out for my papa, so I don’t have to worry about him.”

“I’m gonna help them too.”

“I know you will, Joe, but there’s something else I need you to do. I need you to watch out for my little ones, what with there being a new teacher and all. Can you watch out for them like a big brother, like Hoss use to watch out for you, and let me know how they are doing?”

Joe knew that the youngest students at the Virginia City School were very special to Emily, and he swelled with pride at the thought that she felt him worthy of this charge. “Sure, I will Emily. Ya don’t have to worry none about them. I’ll put letters in about them when Hoss writes ya.”

“Thank you, Joe.” Emily suddenly hugged the boy so tightly that Ben was not sure who was clinging to whom.

The stage driver came out and took his place. Hoss lifted Emily to her feet, and Ben drew Joe to his side. Adam handed Emily his handkerchief. The girl never had a handkerchief when a Cartwright made her cry.

To quicken the goodbyes, the driver called out, “All aboard!”

Ben handed Miss Cutter into the stage thanking her for her years of service to the children of Virginia City and wishing her happiness in her upcoming marriage. Then he turned to Emily. “Take care, child,” he said softly. “Be good and make us proud.” Then taking her hand, he pressed an envelope into it. Leaning closer, he whispered into her ear, “If ever you need us, that will pay for the telegram. Send for us, and we’ll come. Be sure of that.”

Emily threw her arms around Ben’s neck and kissed his cheek. “Thank you, Mr. Ben.” Dropping her voice to the faintest whisper, she pled, “Take care of my Eric.”

Ben patted her back and then lifted her into the stage. Adam hustled Hoss in next, promised his pa to take care of everything, and took the seat next to Miss Cutter.

*****

It had not been a pleasant journey. None of the Cartwrights had ever been bothered by the motion of the stagecoach, though Adam knew some people were sickened by it as others were seasick on a ship. It simply had not occurred to him to worry about that complication, but Emily had been sick by the time the stage was a mile out of town and remained that way each moment the stagecoach was in motion. She spent most of the time with her head against one of their shoulders and a handkerchief pressed to her mouth. Hoss had been wracked with worry for her. Adam and Miss Cutter had become concerned when she could not keep down even water. Now finally they had arrived, and Adam lifted Elise Cutter down from the stage with a sigh of relief.

Miss Cutter turned to Emily where she stood next to Hoss, “You’ll be fine in a bit; don’t worry, child.”

“Of course,” Emily said managing a wan smile.

Adam was looking around for a hired conveyance to transport his little group, but turned when Miss Cutter stated it was time for goodbyes.

“We’ll see you to your hotel, Miss Cutter.”

“That’s not necessary, Adam. I’ll be fine on my own.”

It was Hoss that stated adamantly, “No, ma’am. Like Adam done said, we’ll be seeing ya to your hotel, and Emily and I want to see ya off on that ship tomorrow.”

Miss Cutter started to protest, but Adam shook his head. “Hoss and I will have to be firm about this. Are you sure you prefer the hotel to coming with us?”

“Your friends were so kind to offer, Adam, but I really can not impose upon them.” She smiled and relented, “But I would appreciate your help in seeing me to the hotel, and friendly faces on the shore will make my departure more pleasant.”

Spotting a buckboard for hire, Adam set Hoss to collecting the luggage while he made arrangements with the driver.

*****

“Dadgumit!” Hoss had attempted to tie his string tie at least ten times, and it still did not look right. Hoss tore the offending item from his neck and threw it across the room. This time his curse was the real thing. It was not the tie; it was Hoss himself. Nothing about him had seemed right since they had arrived at the Rutherford’s home. His clothes, his manners, his speech had all seemed crude and unworthy. He felt over-sized and clumsy in the rooms full of fine furniture and art. Everything here was different from home. Even Adam was different, and the difference made his brother fit where Hoss never would.

Adam had opened the door just as Hoss’ tie flew across the room. He bent and picked up the cast-off and walked over to his brother.

“Pa hears you saying that, and sixteen or not you’ll be tasting soap.”

Hoss shifted nervously. Adam placed the tie around his brother’s necked and swiftly tied it. “There now, that’s done.” He stepped back and ran his eyes over his brother. He tugged here and smoothed there.

“Tain’t no use, Adam!” Hoss exclaimed. “You could say I was feeling poorly and need to be excused from supper.” Hoss sat down on the bed.

Adam opened his mouth to speak, but closed it without comment. If Hoss was volunteering to skip a meal, then his brother must be far more dejected than Adam had realized.

“Are you going to let Emily face it alone?” He asked sitting down beside Hoss.

“She won’t be alone; she’ll have you.”

“You don’t seem to think I’ll be much help to you.”

Hoss looked at his brother. “Ya know I’m not like you and Emily, Adam. Em will do just fine with them folks. They’ll just wonder how you can stand having a brother like me.”

Adam’s eyes blazed. He jumped to his feet and stood glaring down at Hoss. “Don’t you ever say anything like that again. Never! Do you hear me? Never!”

Hoss shrugged his shoulders. Adam could read his thought as clearly as a sentence on a page. It don’t matter if I say it or not; it’s still true.

He breathed deeply and placed his hands on his brother’s shoulders. “Hoss, I know how you feel. Really, I do. When I first got to Boston, my first days at college, I felt the country bumpkin, so out of place. Truth is, I almost high-tailed it home the first week, but I didn’t, and things got better. It’s all new to you is all.”

“Maybe.” Hoss knew Adam was telling the truth. He also knew that he was not like Adam and never would be.

Adam rubbed the bridge of his nose and played his ace. “I really think Emily needs her Sir Eric tonight.”

Hoss stood up, squared his shoulders, and nodded.

The two of them walked down the hall and stopped before the door to the room Emily was using. Adam rapped lightly. Hearing a soft, “Come in.” He opened the door, but before he could enter, he heard Emily’s soft exclamation, “Oh, no!”

Hoss hurried passed Adam. “What’s wrong, Em?”

The girl looked up at him, and a blush colored her cheeks. “Nothing, Eric. I just remembered, well, I shouldn’t have invited you into my room. Not here.” Her blush deepened.

Adam leaned against the door jam and rubbed the bridge of his nose. Then he straightened and walked over to the two young people. “Don’t worry so, Emily. Are you ready to go down to dinner?”

Emily nodded. Then looked up at Adam. “Do I look all right?”

The school had sent a list of the attire that Emily was expected to bring with her. Emily’s pa had managed to supply the basics, and each of the Cartwrights had gifted her with one of the other items. Pa’s gift had been the simple evening dress that Emily was wearing. It was a soft pink, like the first dress they had given her. The color suited the girl. Adam smiled. “You look lovely, child.”

“Tain’t a girl in this city can hold a candle to ya, Emily. That’s for certain.” Hoss beamed down at her.

Emily smiled back at him, not because she believed what he said was true, but because she knew Hoss believed it. “Guess I’m ready then.”

The three of them went down to dinner.

*****

Adam leaned back and sipped the cognac Michael Rutherford had just poured. Hoss, Emily, and Michael’s parents had all retired for the night, and Adam was alone with his friend.

“Emily’s a lovely girl, Adam. I’m glad the committee chose her for the scholarship,” Michael commented as he took a seat across from is friend.

“She’ll do well, I’m sure. She appreciates this opportunity very much. I appreciate all you’ve done too, Michael. If ever I can return the favor, well, I’m in your debt,” Adam replied.

Michael gave a dismissive wave of his hand. “Think nothing of it, Adam. I have a few debts to you to repay, if you remember.”

Adam shook his head and smiled. “Well, we’ll just agree not to keep score.”

Michael returned the smile and said, “Agreed. So, tomorrow we’ll go down to the wharves and see off that Miss Cutter of yours and give Hoss and Emily a look around. Then Emily has a meeting with the headmistress at one o’clock. I thought perhaps a play tomorrow night. There’s a light comedy at the Palace. Mrs. Bentz told mother it was entirely appropriate for young people, and she, my friend, is the absolute unquestionable authority on appropriateness.”

“Well, then I’m sure we can rely on her judgment,” Adam chuckled at the face Michael had made to accompany his last comment. “Thanks, Michael, that sounds very nice. We don’t want to put you to any trouble though.”

“No trouble at all. Sunday, mother will insist on church, but we could take the youngsters to some of the museums in the afternoon. Then Monday we deliver Emily to school. You’re not thinking of rushing off on Tuesday, are you?”

“There is some business I could accomplish, but I wouldn’t want to overstay our welcome.”

“Mother feels she’s been inhospitable if her guests don’t stay at least a week, so you can’t leave before next Friday,” Michael declared with a mock sternness. “Really, Adam, you’ll stay until then, won’t you?”

“I’ll have to conduct some business to justify it, but yes,” Adam agreed.

Michael took a sip of his cognac and gave Adam a questioning look. “Your brother won’t mind, will he? I had a feeling we made him uncomfortable tonight.”

“My brother, well, he is truly a country boy at heart. This is all very different for him.” Adam rubbed the bridge of his nose.

Michael had seen that gesture before. “We’ll try to show him a good time, Adam,” he reassured. Then he commented, “You and he are very different.”

“Our mothers were very different. At least according to my father.” Adam suddenly locked eyes with Michael. “Hoss is the best brother a man could ask for.”

“He seems a very fine lad, Adam. He relaxed a little when we were discussing your ranch. I was impressed with how knowledgeable he was about your cattle operations.”

Adam relaxed and smiled, “He’d better be. He’s doing half the running of them already.”

“Next time you come, you must bring that other brother of yours,” Michael stated as he finished his cognac.

Adam gave his friend a grin over his own glass. “Beware of what you ask for, Michael. Little Joe is very different from Hoss.” Then thinking that his friend might get the wrong impression, Adam added, “Joe is the best baby brother a man could ask for though.”

“You’re a lucky man, if you feel that way, Adam.” Michael rose. “Perhaps we should retire, my friend.”

Adam nodded and followed his friend from the room.

Adam stopped at the door to the room Hoss was using and opened it gently. Hearing no sound from within, Adam slipped into the room closing the door behind him.

“You should be asleep, little brother.”

“How’d ya know I wasn’t?”

“Now how do you think?” Adam settled himself at the foot of Hoss’ bed. “It was too quiet.”

Hoss had become used to his family teasing him about his snoring and simply shrugged.

“Dinner wasn’t so bad, now was it?” Adam asked.

“Tasted fine, I guess.”

“You managed to eat your share.”

Hoss replied shamefacedly, “Didn’t mean to seem hoggish.”

“Hoss, that’s not what I meant.” Adam sighed. “Michael likes you. He’s been making plans. I think you’ll enjoy this visit, Hoss, if you will just relax.”

Hoss stayed quiet for a moment and then asked softly, “He doesn’t think you should be ashamed of me?”

“Hoss! What did I say earlier about that? No! He thinks you’re a fine person.”

“He said that?”

“His exact words were that you are a fine lad.” Adam waited for his brother to reply, but Hoss remained silent. “You know I don’t lie to you, little brother.”

“I know, Adam. Only he’s your friend, so he might have just been being polite to ya.”

Adam growled in exasperation. “If I thought I could whip some sense into you, little brother, I’d go hunt for my belt.”

“Do ya really think I’d let ya, brother?” A teasing tone had entered Hoss’ voice.

“Let me? Since when has let me come into it?” Adam replied with mock sternness.

“Since I got enough growth to pick ya up and throw ya in the trough,” Hoss chuckled.

“Well, that may be, little brother, but Pa put me in charge of you this trip, and we both know that outweighs even those muscles of yours.”

Hoss shifted on the bed and then capitulated, “Maybe. Adam, I just don’t want to embarrass you.”

“Just be yourself then; and quit worrying. Hoss, there are plenty of snobs in the world, but their opinions are of no concern to us, and I definitely am not in the habit of choosing them for friends.”

Hoss smiled sheepishly, “Well, Michael does seem like a nice fellow.”

Adam grinned back at his brother, “You might be surprised at some of the things Michael has done.”

Hoss raised an eyebrow in imitation of his elder brother, “With you?”

Adam rose and smirked down at Hoss, “My lips are sealed. Goodnight, Little Brother.”

*****

Miss Cutter had been safely collected at her hotel and delivered to her ship. Both Cartwrights were glad that Elisa Cutter had been given a proper send-off including some to-be-expected tears from Emily. Comforting Emily had actually helped Hoss to finally start relaxing and be himself. Emily had been wide-eyed at her first sight of the docks and clipper ships, and the young men had enjoyed her child-like delight as they showed her around. Adam had then insisted on treating everyone to lunch at one of San Francisco’s finest restaurants.

“Don’t worry, Em. Lady Emily can handle one old headmistress with no trouble,” Hoss whispered to his friend as the carriage stopped in front of the entrance to the girl’s academy that Emily would be attending.

“I just want you all to be proud of me, Eric,” Emily replied.

Adam exchanged a glance with Michael Rutherford as they exited the carriage. “Miss Bramburg is quite formidable, Emily, but don’t let that bother you too much. Adam, remember Professor DeMarco?”

Adam shot a glance at his friend, “Of course, I do.”

“I thought I’d bust a gut the day you…”

Adam clapped his friend on the back hard enough to cut off his next words. “We best get Emily inside. We wouldn’t want her to be late.”

Michael looked at Adam and grinned at the glare on his friend’s face. Adam looked pointedly at his younger brother, and the message was clear. Michael chuckled, “Is it Hoss or your father that you don’t want to hear that story, Adam?”

“Both,” Adam replied curtly and turned to escort Emily through the door.

Hoss looked at Michael questioningly, and Michael mouthed later. Hoss decided that Adam’s college friend really wasn’t a snob at all.

Adam agreed with Michael’s description of Miss Bramburg as formidable but added the word imperious. The lady had greeted the four of them warmly enough, but then she had commandeered Emily for a private chat in her office leaving the gentlemen to cool their heels in a small drawing room.

“Can she keep Emily from coming here?” Hoss inquired softly looking at Michael.

“Not really, and she wouldn’t want to, without good reason, ” Michael gave Hoss a reassuring smile. “From what I’ve seen, the academy will be glad to have Emily. Hoss, Eleanor Bramburg really isn’t as bad as you think, and she really cares about the students here. She and my mother went to school together, and I’ve heard some tales.”

“Speaking of tales…” Hoss began. Adam shot him a glare that clearly stated his desire for Hoss to drop the subject before he even asked the question.

“Oh, yes, Professor DeMarco.”

“Michael,” Adam’s tone conveyed his message clearly, but Michael ignored it.

“Now there was a formidable man and a mean one to boot,” Michael continued.

Adam resigned himself to the story being told and also decided that Hoss would not be repeating it to their father.

“Professor DeMarco liked to ride first year’s students and break those he could, ” Adam commented.

“He took an almost instant dislike to one student from the uncivilized West. Thought he was too cocksure and insolent,” Michael took up his story again.

“Adam?”

“I can still hear him, can’t you, Adam?” Michael watched Adam nod and subtlety changed his posture and voice into a perfect imitation of the haughty professor. “Master Cartwright of the West, as our resident cowboy, I’m sure you could enlighten us… Then he’d ask Adam something he was sure Adam didn’t know.”

Hoss saw the corners of his brother’s lips curl up. Hoss had seen every look that his brother’s face was capable of forming and imagined the coolly insolent glare he would have used on the professor.

“Adam always had an answer though. Every time he did, DeMarco disliked him more. The man had a sharp tongue, and he used it very skillfully; only your brother, Hoss, is very good at a duel of words.”

Hoss grinned, “That ain’t no news to me.”

“Well, eventually DeMarco gave all his attention to your brother, and the rest of us very gratefully watched the show. Then DeMarco played his trump card and failed Adam on his midterm paper.”

“Adam wrote a failing paper!” Hoss gaped in amazement.

“I did not write a failing paper,” Adam snapped. The sight of that grade still rankled. “But he gave me a failing grade anyway.”

“What did ya do, Adam?”

“I decided to teach the professor a lesson.” Adam looked at Michael and gestured for him to finish the story.

“Honestly, Hoss, there wasn’t anything Adam could do about that grade. Grades are at the total discretion of the teacher for that sort of thing. Adam decided that DeMarco needed a payback that would convince him not to do it again. It was an elaborate and risky plan.”

“I didn’t intend to be expelled,” Adam inserted, “But then I didn’t intend to be failed either.”

“What did you do?”

“Found his Achilles’ heel and used it.”

“DeMarco was a hypochondriac,” Michael began again.

“A hypo what?”

Adam explained, ” A hypochondriac, Hoss. Someone who always thinks he’s sick or is worried about getting any disease he hears about.”

“There were about a dozen of us in on it. We let DeMarco overhear conversations about Adam and the disease he carried. Adam started having these little attacks.” Michael chuckled at the memory.

“Ya pretended to be sick with something that professor could catch?”

“Very convincingly,” Michael declared. “It preyed on DeMarco’s mind. This mysterious disease from the West, this contagion against which he had no protection. Then he really started to believe he was coming down with this illness. That’s when Adam let DeMarco see him taking his medicine. DeMarco and Adam came to an agreement of sorts. Not that either of them said anything that could be used against them. Adam received an A for his final grade, and DeMarco received a bottle of Indian elixir guaranteed to cure Paiute Fever.”

Hoss looked at his brother, “What was in that bottle, Adam?” Adam thought that Hoss sometimes sounded remarkably like their father.

“Just one of Hop Sing’s herbal tonics.”

“Which one, Elder Brother?”

“The one that sends a body quickly and repeatedly to the outhouse each time you take a spoonful.”

“And how many spoonfuls did that professor take?”

Adam turned and looked at his brother with a broad grin on his face. “Two a day for two weeks was the prescribed dose, I believe.”

Hoss shook his head. That professor fellow should have known better that to take on elder brother.

*****

Adam and Michael waited for Hoss to bring Emily down so they could leave for the theater. Hearing voices, they rose and went to the foot of the stairs. Looking up, they saw Hoss and Emily descending.

“You did say you think of her like a little sister,” Michael inquired softly as he eyed Emily appreciatively.

Recognizing the tenor of his friend’s remark, Adam stated with a warning in his voice, “I’m a very protective older brother, Michael. She’s not even out of the schoolroom.”

“So true, so true, and under Mother’s protection as well,” Michael replied with a sigh. “And there’s Hoss to consider too, I take it?”

“They’re still children, Michael,” Adam stated dismissively. Michael ran his eyes up and down the towering figure of his friend’s brother and rolled his eyes.

“You look lovely, Emily,” Adam said as the two young people reached them.

“Miss Rutherford sent her maid to do my hair.” Emily’s hair was swept up in curls and ribbons. Her evening dress swept the floor, and only her eyes and smile looked sixteen.

“She’ll be the prettiest gal in that theater, won’t she, Adam?” Hoss said with a proprietary smile.

“That she will, Hoss,” Adam assured. A blush suffused Emily’s cheeks.

“They always talk that way, Mr. Rutherford. Do you think I look all right?” Emily demurred.

“I am in total agreement with Adam and Hoss. You look just perfect.”

“Ready, children?” Mrs. Rutherford had come sweeping into the room on her husband’s arm.

Smiles played across both Adam’s and Michael’s lips at her appellation, but they gave their assents, and the party gathered their wraps and departed.

*****

Emily looked around wide-eyed. The theater was an ornate building, and it was filled with the most elegantly dressed people she had ever seen. Emily clung to Hoss’ arm and murmured polite answers as the Rutherfords repeatedly introduced their guests. Finally they reached the Rutherfords’ box and took their seats. The lights dimmed, and the play began.

The play was a comedy, and the audience was soon laughing repeatedly at the antics on the stage. In the second act, a new character appeared, and Emily stopped laughing. Then Hoss realized what effect the appearance of a town drunk was having on Emily as did Adam. Hoss reached over and took Emily’s hand in his. He felt her tremble and looked over at her face. Even in the dim light he could see the sheen of tears on her cheeks. He looked back at Adam who was seated behind him. Quickly but quietly, Hoss rose and pulled Emily to her feet. Then he put his arm around her and swept her from the theater box into the lobby.

“I’m sorry, Hoss. I’ve spoiled it all. I’m sorry.” Emily buried her face in Hoss’ dress jacket.

“Now, Em, ya ain’t got nothing to be sorry for,” Hoss cajoled, “Ol’ Hoss understands. Ain’t nobody going to be upset with you.”

“I’ve embarrassed Adam and the Rutherfords, Hoss. How could I?” Emily sobbed.

“I’m not the least embarrassed, and you’ve no need to be.” Adam’s voice was clear and calmly comforting. He and Michael had followed Emily and Hoss to the lobby.

“I’m the one who should be sorry,” Michael offered. “I didn’t know, Emily, or I would never have suggested this play.”

Emily turned and looked at Michael. “How could you know I’d be so silly?” Emily accepted the handkerchief Adam handed her. “Really I don’t usually carry on so. It’s just…just…well, I guess part of it is that I miss my papa.”

Hoss and Adam exchanged glances. “We told Mr. and Mrs. Rutherford to stay while we took you home, ” said Adam.

“Oh, you don’t need to do that!” Emily exclaimed.

“Emily, would you rather stay or go?” Adam gave her a look that said she knew better than to lie to him.

“Go.”

“Then go we shall,” Michael declared and led the way out the door.

*****

“Come with me, Emily,” Adam ordered gently, “I want to talk to you.” Adam drew Emily’s arm through his and walked her out to a small gazebo in the Rutherford’s garden. The sun was starting to set and, and the long shadows played around them. Church had been pleasant if somewhat long, and Sunday afternoon had included a sightseeing excursion with Adam and Michael showing Hoss and Emily more of the city’s wonders. Emily gave Adam a sidelong glance wondering about the serious set of his jaw.

“I am sorry about last night,” Emily demurred.

“Don’t you be, girl,” Adam said sternly. He sat Emily on a bench and took a seat beside her.

Emily turned her body, so she could gaze into his face. She recognized the expression she saw there. It was Adam’s big-brother look.

She smiled. “If you’re going to tell me to be good, study hard, and stay out of trouble, I’ve already promised both my papa and yours.”

Adam smiled back. “I’ve no doubt that you have or that you’ll keep that promise.” Then his face was serious again. “But I do want to talk about the time you’ll be at school.” He looked at her, and memories slipped in and out of his mind. There was the ragamuffin of a thirteen-year-old crying because she was sure that she would be forbidden to see Hoss, and the same young girl scrubbed and bedecked in pink opening like a rosebud at that first celebration supper. There was Emily facing down her tormentors, Emily teaching Hoss, Emily admonishing Little Joe, and Emily filled with questions and comments about some book.

“Emily, remember when you stood up to Essie Blackwell?” Essie had tormented Emily about her father’s drinking at a school picnic. Hoss’ friendship had given Emily the confidence to face the girl and put her in her place.

Emily dropped her eyes to her hands. “I know there are girls like her everywhere, Adam. I can handle them, really, and I promise not to throw any lemonade.”

Adam’s lips curled up at the corners. “That’s just it, girl. Next time I want you to throw lemonade.”

“Adam!” Emily’s eyes widened in surprise.

“Emily, you and I have some things in common. The reasons were different, but both of us, well, we took on being responsible kind of young. Emily, when I got to college I had barely turned eighteen. My grandfather didn’t consider me full-grown, and well, I didn’t have to be. Most of my fellow students hadn’t ever needed to be responsible for more than grades and pocket money.” Adam stood up and paced the gazebo unsure of how to convey what he felt Emily needed to hear and feeling as if he was doing a poor job of it so far. Emily sat quietly and waited for him to speak again. He walked back to her and went down on his heels, so he could look directly into her face. “You can’t talk to Hoss about what I’m going to tell you, Emily.”

“I am good at not saying things, Adam. I don’t tell you what Hoss and I say to each other, so it’s only fair.”

“After I’d been at school for about month, I went with some friends out on the town one Saturday night. The details aren’t important, but actually a policeman who knew my grandfather delivered me to him in the wee hours of Sunday morning.” A sheepish look crossed Adam’s face, and Emily’s eyes widened and then sparkled.

“I expected a lecture, of course, a real dressing down from the old captain.” Adam paused.

“But he was understanding and forgiving,” Emily ventured.

Adam shook his head and grinned wryly, “Not exactly. My grandfather gave his only grandson a royal scolding and a blistered backside before he was understanding and forgiving. Emily, Grandfather expected me to be good, study hard, and stay out of trouble, and to accept an appropriate reminder when I didn’t, but he didn’t expect or need me to be anything but young. I want you to be sixteen, Emily. I want you to be young while you’re here. I want you to know you’re allowed to be silly or immature or even naughty from time to time.”

“I am?” Emily muttered softly, and her eyes filled with tears.

Adam reached into his jacket pocket and brought out a small package. He placed the brown-paper bundle in Emily’s lap. She opened it, and found three large cotton squares like the handkerchiefs carried by all the Cartwrights.

“I know you brought some of those frilly, useless things that ladies call handkerchiefs,” Adam stated as he took one of the squares from the bundle, “But these are for use not show.” He wiped her cheeks and held the handkerchief in front of her eyes. “This one is for when you cry because you miss us. This one is for when you cry because you’re homesick. This one’s for when you cry just because you’re sixteen.”

Suddenly Emily was clinging to Adam like Little Joe did after a nightmare. Adam patted her back and whispered in her ear. “I think you’ll want to stay, Em, but know you don’t have to. You can come home anytime, little girl. Just send word to Michael to send for me, and I’ll fetch you home quick as a wink.”

Emily raised her head and gazed up at Adam. “Your papa gave me telegram money. Hoss said an army couldn’t keep him away if I sent for him.”

“You know then.”

Emily gave him a watery smile. “I know.” Emily made a face, “I’d have to get in a stagecoach again, wouldn’t I?’

Adam placed the damp handkerchief into Emily’s hand. “Next time I’ll get something from Hop Sing to settle your stomach. Now blow.”

After she obeyed him, Adam placed his finger under her chin and tilted her eyes to his. “Now, don’t get me wrong, girl. I’m not giving you permission to run wild. If I ever hear of a policeman having to take you in hand, I’ll blister your backside myself. Understand me?” He gave her his most paternal scowl.

“Yes, sir,” she answered and then giggled at the thought of Adam Cartwright in the hands of a Bostonian policeman.

*****

Michael had talked his mother into allowing “the boys”, as she referred to Michael and the Cartwright brothers, to deliver Emily to school without her on Monday morning. The school campus was a bustle of activity. Girls, their parents, and servants were everywhere. Greetings and exclamations filled the air. Emily stood with Hoss, Michael, and Adam. She could feel the glances, looks, and downright stares that they were receiving, so could the young men with her.

Hoss spoke softly into Emily’s ear, “Now don’t ya fret, Em. It’s just that you’re a new girl is all.”

Emily’s lips curled into a knowing smile. “That’s not it at all, Eric.”

Adam raised an eyebrow questioningly.

“Do you see any other girl here in the company of three handsome, dashing young men? Half those girls are going pea green with envy, and the other half are hoping you’re all just my brothers.” Emily’s eyes danced as each of the young men reddened to varying degrees.

Michael grinned. “Feel free to barter introductions to me with any of the older girls you deem worthy,” he offered coolly. “I’ll write out my preferences if you’d like.”

“Down, boy,” Adam rejoined, “I’ll not have Emily helping you rob the cradle.”

“Now, don’t be a spoilsport, old man,” Michael replied. “If Emily can make some lucrative deals granting introductions, I’m quite willing to make some little girl’s heart flutter with a few flirtatious remarks. You should be willing to do your part. It’s for Emily after all.”

“Well, if it’s all for Emily,” Adam retorted sarcastically, “I’ll do my best.”

“Mmmm,” Emily murmured tapping her pointer finger against her chin, “that idea does have possibilities.”

“Emily Thornton!” Hoss exclaimed a reprimand clear in his tone.

Just then two girls approached. “Hello,” the blonde said cheerily, “I’m Natalie Benton and this is Clara Barnes. You must be a new girl, and we just wanted to welcome you.” Natalie spoke to Emily, but her eyes swept up and down Emily’s three companions.

“I’m Emily Thornton. I’m very pleased to meet you.” Natalie gave Emily an expectant look, and Emily continued, “May I introduce my companions? This is Michael Rutherford, Adam Cartwright, and Eric Cartwright.”

Everyone exchanged polite comments.

“We could show you to your room when you’re ready,” Clara volunteered.

“That would be very nice. Thank you.” Emily turned to Hoss and Adam. “There’s really no reason for you to stay any longer.” She gave them a weak smile. “I’ll be fine.”

“Adam,” Hoss nudged his brother and gave him a significant look. Adam understood its message and glanced at the two girls standing expectantly to the side.

Adam took Emily’s hand and spoke clearly. “Now, Emily, you know that you’ve nothing to worry about. Any problems that come up, you just let us know, and they’ll be seen to.” Adam smiled, “You know everyone says how overprotective we Cartwrights are.”

Michael chuckled. “Overprotective? That might be one way to put it. I could tell you about,” Michael saw the glare that Adam shot in his direction. “May I just say, Miss Emily, that I also am always at your service, and the Rutherfords can be quite formidable allies too.”

Hoss had watched Natalie and Clara faces. He realized that the message he had wanted Adam to deliver had been received and would be spread quickly throughout the academy’s students.

“Thank you,” Emily’s voice trembled, and her eyes began to shine with unshed tears.

“Now, Lady Emily,” Hoss said softly. “We ain’t leaving San Francisco for a few days, and we’ll be back before then to see ya, so no goodbye tears.”

“A goodbye hug?”

Hoss pulled Emily into a bear hug. Natalie’s and Clara’s eyes widened.

“Now you run along with your new friends,” Hoss ordered gently cupping Emily’s face in his large hands. “I’m so proud of ya; I always will be.” His voice dropped to the barest whisper. “You don’t need me to slay your dragons, but I will if’n you ask.”

“I’ll always need you, Sir Eric.” Emily rose on her toes and kissed Hoss’ cheek.

*****

Adam looked at his younger brother and realized that Hoss was drunk. He was three sheets to the wind himself, and Michael was currently singing a bawdy love balled with an off-key trio of inebriated friends. Below the alcoholic numbness, thoughts scurried around Adam’s mind.

What in the world had ever possessed him? Pa would kill him if he ever found out. Not that he would. Oh, no, there was no way that he was going to let that happen, and Hoss had more to worry about on that score than he did. The image of his father mouthing the word never rose in Adam’s mind, and he shifted uncomfortably. Well, he definitely had as much to worry about, so Hoss would be careful to avoid any mention of this part of their trip. Of course, they could truthfully say they had not ventured near the Barbary Coast, nor had they entered a saloon. Despite the drinking, gambling, and scantily clad women, this was not a saloon. No, this was a private gentleman’s club in a safe part of town. No danger of being shanghaied here, and no fear of police intrusion. According to Michael, the club paid well to insure that its patrons would have no encounters with the San Francisco police force. A closed carriage would take them directly home, so there was really nothing to worry about.

Adam looked again at the sloppy grin on his brother’s face. No, nothing to worry about except that his little brother was thoroughly drunk, and he was responsible. A groan escaped Adam’s lips, but it went unnoticed in the noisy room. Not that it was Hoss’ first experience with liquor. According to his pa, Hoss had imbibed once before with a group of his friends.

A shudder passed through Adam as he remembered what his father said the consequences of that episode had been for his little brother. They should go. Adam started to rise, the room swirled, and he sank back into the chair. Why, oh why, had he agreed to come here and bring his sixteen-year-old brother along? Admit it, Cartwright; you were feeling guilty. Ever since we left Emily at that school, Hoss’ eyes have been so melancholy that you can’t stand it because you’re the one who took her away from him. Adam leaned back and closed his eyes. He should have known that drowning your sorrows never works out well.

Adam felt a weight settle on his body and opened his eyes to find that a redhead had settled in his lap. He considered displacing her, but his arms seemed so heavy that he simply let her sit and run her fingers through his hair.

A single thought had been repeating in Hoss Cartwright’s head for days. As he sank into inebriation, the thought became more strident, and the voice in his head drowned out everything else. Suddenly he surged to his feet and trudged unsteadily through hallways and doors until he reached the street. The damp air was cool and momentarily lightened his mental fog. He managed to hail a cab and give the driver the correct address. He stumbled and nearly fell climbing into the closed carriage, but settled onto the seat with a grin. He was on his way. He would do what he had to do.

Back in the smoky salon of the gentleman’s club, alcohol and the redhead’s bosom obscured Adam’s vision, and he failed to notice his little brother’s departure.

*****

Emily sat in the dark room leaning her head against the window frame. The open window let the damp, cool air move against her hot cheeks. She reached up and wiped the tears from her eyes with a large cotton handkerchief, the one for when she missed them. Mentally she chided herself. Hoss and Adam had not even left the city, and her she was crying for them, the rest of the Cartwrights, and for her papa.

It was not until she heard the bird call for the second time that it caught her attention and made her suck in her breath and hold it. She recognized that sound and knew that there was no bird within a hundred miles that gave that call. It had to be Hoss.

Emily slipped from the dormitory and listened for the call to come again. She followed the sound and found Hoss among the shadows.

“Hoss! What on earth? Is something wrong?” Emily rushed to Hoss who grinned down at her.

“Em, ya got to promise,” Hoss said in a slurred and overly loud whisper.

Emily had spent too many years with an alcoholic not to recognize immediately the young man’s condition. “Hoss Cartwright! You’re drunk!”

“No mever nind bout that. Ya got to promise.” Hoss swayed and grabbed Emily’s shoulders to steady himself.

Emily jerked away anger bubbling up like lava. “Promise,” she spat, “I don’t make promises to drunken boys who won’t even remember them in the morning.”

“’Member, Em. Ya got ta promise.” Hoss swayed again and then plopped to the ground.

“My Lord!” Emily muttered dropping to her knees. What in the world was she going to do? Hoss was out cold, and if she were any judge, he would not be waking anytime soon. There was no way she could move him, and if she were found outside her dormitory in the dark with a boy, she would be expelled. She couldn’t move him, and she couldn’t leave him. Emily sighed and settled on the ground beside Hoss wondering how long it would take for Adam to get there. “Lord, send him before anyone sees me here,” she prayed.

*****

Adam decide that if fear could be bottled it could be sold as a sobering agent. Ever since he had realized that Hoss was no longer inside the gentleman’s club the fear surging through his veins had washed all the effects of alcohol from his brain. After searching the nearby streets, he had managed to drag Michael with him to the carriage. They had gone first to Michael’s home to make sure Hoss had not simply returned there alone. When they knew for certain he was not there, Adam gave the carriage driver the address of the only other place in San Francisco to which Adam could conceive of his brother going.

Adam saw the dark shapes in the moonlight and prayed. He walked up slowly as Emily scrambled to her feet.

“He passed out an hour ago,” Emily stated in a flat whisper pointing to Hoss’ inert body.

“Emily…” Adam began.

He had come close enough for Emily to smell the odor of whisky emanating from Adam. She realized that wherever Hoss had gone to drink Adam had taken him. She spun on her heel and raced for her dormitory.

Adam watched her disappear into the shadows. His first impulse had been to go after the girl, but he realized if he did anything that called attention to Emily and led to her discovery outside the dormitory, he would be taking way the chance he had worked so hard to give her. The best thing he could do for Emily was to get Hoss up and away from the academy as quickly as possible. He whistled for Michael, and together they got Hoss on his feet and into the carriage.

*****

“Emily is waiting for you in the guest parlor. Please remember that she must breakfast and be to class within the hour,” Miss Bramburg stated firmly.

“We appreciate you’re allowing Emily to see us and say goodbye,” Adam replied smoothly.

“And we’ll most certainly see that she is to class on time,” Michael interjected. “Mother, wanted me to tell you…”

Michael’s voice faded as he walked away with the headmistress.

Adam turned to his brother. “Let me speak to Emily alone for a few minutes, Hoss. Then Michael and I will give you some privacy for your farewells.”

“Sure, Adam,” Hoss replied flatly. Adam tugged his ear as he studied his brother’s face. Hoss had spent the previous day in bed with the worst hangover that Adam had ever seen. Even Michael’s surefire cure had done little to help, and Hoss still looked green around the gills. Adam’s own head had pounded while his stomached whirled, but Adam knew his distress was as much the result of worry as of alcohol.

Adam closed the door behind him, and Emily turned to face him. Her school uniform and long braid made her look very young, but the look on her face was that of an angry schoolmistress.

“You didn’t get caught?” He had to ask the question even though Miss Bramburg’s behavior had indicated that Emily’s midnight excursion was still a secret.

“No one knows. Hoss?”

“Doesn’t remember a thing. He has no idea he came here.”

“There’s no reason he should.” Emily’s statement sounded rather like an order.

“None at all. Emily, I …”

Emily cut his words off with a gesture. Then she launched into a scolding that lacked nothing in vehemence despite its low volume. Adam mentally conceded that his pa could not have done a better job. Finally she sputtered, “To do, to allow such a thing, why you, you should, you should be…”

“Horsewhipped?” Adam supplied, “I could borrow the driver’s for you.”

“No,” Emily snorted.

“Thrashed then? You could borrow my belt.”

“No,” Emily answered in a softer tone.

“Paddled? They must have a stout ruler about the place.” He had stepped closer with each suggestion and now stood inches from the girl.

“No,” Emily sighed, “Though your papa would say that Michael, Hoss, and you all deserve a tanning.” Her lips curled slightly upward, “ Of course, Mr. Ben would say I deserve the same for sneaking out.”

“Probably. So we all have a vested interest in saying nothing about this ever again.”

Emily nodded.

Adam looked into her eyes. “I’m sorry, Emily. Forgive me, please.”

They must get that look from their father,” Emily thought for she had seen it now from all three of Ben’s sons. “Yes. I forgive you.”

“And Hoss?”

Emily smiled. “I always forgive Eric. Your pa taught me how. I really wasn’t too mad at him anyway. Why ever did you do it, Adam?”

“Poor judgment. It won’t happen again.” Adam straightened, and his face reverted to its normal maturity.

The door opened, and they both turned to watch Hoss enter.

“Farewell, Emily.” Adam leaned over and kissed her cheek.

Emily reached up and hugged his neck. “Have business in the city soon, Adam.”

Adam winked and walked from the room squeezing his brother’s arm as he passed.

Hoss walked over to Emily and looked into her eyes. “This place good for ya, gal?”

Emily looked at him and answered, “It’s good for me, Eric. I want to be here, but, but I miss home so much it hurts.” The tears slid from her eyes.

Hoss gathered her up and sat with her on his lap. He pulled a large handkerchief from his pocket and wiped her eyes.

She smiled at him and said, “Don’t tell Adam I didn’t have a handkerchief.”

Hoss smiled and crossed his heart with his finger. “I’ve been thinking on things, Em. We’re not grown yet, not full grown, so it’s best ya stay here and get the education ya want. It’s the right thing to do, Em. Ya know, right after Adam went off to college, well, it was about like somebody had died, but we got through it, and now he’s back. We missed him something fierce, but we went on, and things got right.”

“I’m won’t be nearly as far away as Adam was.”

“You’ll be getting visits.”

Emily saw the tears clouding the blue of his eyes. She put her arms around his neck and whispered in his ear, “I promise I’ll come home, Sir Eric.”

He put his arms around her and pulled her close. “I promise to always be there.”

The door opened, and Michael’s head poked into the room. “Tsk, tsk.”

Emily jumped from Hoss’ lap as he scrambled to his feet. Michael entered followed by Adam. “Bamburg’s headed this way, children.” Michael looked at the sad faces around him and shook his head. “Such long faces.” Then his eyes sparkled, “What we need is a story, a funny story to lighten the mood. Now, let me see, have I told you about the time Adam and, what was her name, Elsie…”

“Michael!” Adam snapped his cheeks flushing red. “We haven’t time!”

“Now, Adam, the story’s bound to be told sometime.”

“Not if I can help it,” Adam muttered to himself as he ushered Michael and Hoss away.

***The End***

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