Emily’s Sir Eric (by DJK)

Summary:   Hoss dons his armor when sees a lady is in distress.
Category:  Bonanza
Genre:  Western
Rating:  PG
Word Count:   7910


 

Hoss walked out of the schoolhouse and hurried to saddle his horse.  The teacher had kept him after to redo his math. He would be late starting his chores, and he was worried his Pa would be angry. He hoped his pa would understand that he had tried the first time and that he really had paid attention to the teacher. Adam had even tried to help him understand the problems when they had worked on his homework the night before. Once again he wished he was as smart as Adam. Adam could learn anything.  He already had more book learning than most people in the county and was preparing to go to college to learn more.  Everyone always commented on how smart Adam was, what a good student he was, and how much he enjoyed learning. Hoss was so proud of his older brother, but sometimes it was hard to hear how smart Adam was and see the question in people’s eyes: Why aren’t you smart like your brother!  He would like to know the answer to that one.  It seemed to Hoss as if he was the only Cartwright who people would never describe as smart.  Pa was smart, and Little Joe was as sharp as a whip though Hoss did not think school would suit Little Joe like it had Adam.  Right now Pa and Adam were teaching Joe at home because he was just six, and it was a long ride from the Ponderosa ranch house to the Virginia City School.

 Of course, his not being smart might have something to do with their mothers. He, Adam, and Little Joe each had a different mother. Adam’s mother had died when Adam was born, so she had been dead six years before Hoss was even alive, but his pa always said that Elizabeth was smart.  Hoss knew Joe’s mother was a smart woman.  Marie had been a mother to him for almost six years before she had died in a fall from her horse.  Hoss had not known his own mother because she had been killed by Indians when he was only a few months old. Inger, though, had owned and managed a store before she married his pa, so she must have been smart too. Hoss sighed.  There was no answer to some questions and no use in wishing for something that could never be.  He would just have to settle for being strong, but being strong did not help when it came to math problems.

*****

Hoss heard the laughter before he saw the children in the road ahead. Hoss recognized immediately the type of laughter he heard. It was the mean, spiteful laughter that erupted when one person made fun of another.  Hoss slowed and then stopped where he could survey what was happening. Three boys from school were teasing one girl.  She was keeping her back to them as she trudged forward. Her head was down, and her shoulders were hunched.  Even so, Hoss knew who she was. The boys’ taunts would have been enough to identify their target.  The boys were taunting Emily Thorton about her pa.  Everyone knew that Sam Thorton was a drunk, and he was often the object of ridicule.  Hoss knew Emily had spent most of her twelve years hearing hurtful comments about her father, her ramshackle home, and herself.  Some had been spoken in pity and simply overheard; many others had been hurled at her with the intent to wound like those she was hearing today. Hoss felt the urge to get off his horse and shut the three boys’ mouths with his fist.  Hoss knew without a doubt that he could handle Mike Thatcher and the Duckett brothers, but he also knew what his pa would do if he found out Hoss had been fighting. Ben Cartwright was strict about his sons not fighting, and he was especially strict about Hoss using his fists.  Hoss considered the situation, and then nudged Chubby slowly forward.  Hearing the approaching horse, the boys turned and separated allowing Hoss to pass.  He rode up beside Emily.

“Miss Emily,” Hoss began in a most respectful tone, “Would ya please allow me to give ya a ride home?”

Emily stopped and looked up at the large boy on the horse.  His blue eyes looked down at her with gentleness. She could not remember ever once hearing Hoss Cartwright make a mean remark about anyone.  She looked over her shoulder at the boys behind her.

Surprise had momentarily shut their mouths, but she had no delusions that the teasing would begin again.  If they extended their taunts to Hoss, he might be drawn into a fight. She quickly decided the best course was to try and ride away from the problem.

“I’d be thankful, Hoss,” she replied softly. Hoss reached down and swung Emily onto Chubby. Emily slipped her arms around his waist. As soon as he was sure Emily was seated securely, he spurred Chubby forward and left the three boys in a cloud of dust.

Having left the three tormenters far behind, Hoss slowed Chubby to a more comfortable gait.  He could feel Emily clinging lightly to his waist, and he considered what he might say to her.

“Hoss,” she spoke softly from behind him, “you can stop now.”

Hoss brought the horse to a standstill, turned slightly in the saddle, and looked over his shoulder. “Something wrong, Emily?” he asked worriedly.

“No, no, Hoss. It’s just that they’re gone now, and I can walk from here,” she stated quickly.

“Now, gal, I offered you a ride home, and home is where I’m taking ya,” Hoss declared firmly.

Emily shook her head. “It’s out of your way, Hoss. I don’t want to make you late.”

“Now don’t ya worry none about that, missy. I’ll have you home in a wink,” Hoss assured her and then spurred Chubby forward at a quicker pace.

They spoke a few times about inconsequential things including the weather and several sights that they passed, but most of the time they rode in silence.  Hoss wanted to say something to wipe away the hurtful things Emily had heard earlier but knew there was little chance that he could.  He stopped in front of the rundown cabin that was Emily’s home, quickly slipped from the saddle, and lifted the girl to the ground.

“Thank you, Hoss, for everything. I wish I had something I could offer you besides a drink of cold water,” Emily said looking up into his blue eyes and then quickly dropping her head to focus on the ground.

“Well, now, I would appreciate a cold drink of water before I head home,” Hoss said with a smile.

“I’ll get you one.” Emily darted to the well and lowered the bucket.  Hoss followed her.  He helped her draw the bucket from the well, and took the dipper she handed him. Then he refreshed himself with a long drink.

“Chubby deserves a drink too.” Emily dipped water from the bucket with both her hands and let the horse drink from them.

When the horse finished, she petted Chubby’s head but spoke softly to Hoss. “It was real kind of you to be my brave knight and rescue me, Hoss.”

Hoss began petting Chubby’s neck. “It weren’t nothing. Now, if any of those boys or anybody else starts anything with ya ever again, well, ya just tell me, and I’ll tend to it.”

“I wouldn’t want you fighting on my account, Hoss.”

“Doubt you’d even be able to call it a fight, so don’t ya worry.  Just you promise to come tell me.”

“Hoss, I don’t want you…”

Hoss borrowed the tone his Pa and Adam used to obtain obedience from Little Joe, “Promise me, girl!”  He placed his finger under her chin and brought her eyes to his.

“Okay, Sir Eric, I promise.” She stood on tiptoe, gently kissed his cheek, and dashed away.  Stopping at the door, she turned, waved, and then darted inside.

Hoss beamed and his chest puffed out proudly, as he mounted Chubby.  The words brave knight and the appellation Sir Eric resounding in his thoughts while he rode home.

*****

“About time you got home,” Adam commented dryly as Hoss lead Chubby into the barn.  Hoss looked around quickly and saw that Adam had finished his own chores and had already begun work assigned to Hoss.

“Sorry, Adam,” Hoss offered as he quickly began tending to Chubby. “Has Pa said anything?”

“You’re in luck, little brother. Pa’s not back from town yet,” Adam replied. “Why are you so late?”

“Got kept after school,” Hoss mumbled.

Adam knew his younger brother’s behavior was seldom a problem. “Did the teacher send a note?”

“I ain’t in trouble, Adam. I had to redo some math.” Hoss glanced over to observe Adam’s reaction.

Adam knew his younger brother well enough to read the concern in his eyes and his posture.  Adam had hoped to spend the evening advancing his own studies in preparation for his college entrance exams, but he stifled a sigh and said, “We’ll work some more after supper then   Now let’s hurry and get these chores done.”

*****

Hoss lay in bed. Pa had arrived home just in time for supper. Conversation at the table had alternated between ranch business and Little Joe’s account of his day’s adventures.  Adam had not mentioned Hoss’s tardy arrival home, so he had not had to explain to his father that he was having trouble with his schooling again. Then Adam had tried once more to help Hoss understand the mysteries of percentages. Adam could be very patient, and he never showed any sign of frustration when working with Hoss, but Hoss knew his older brother must sometimes wondered how anyone could fail to understand what was so obvious to him. After an hour Hoss had declared he now understood everything, though he knew he did not. Adam had accepted his declaration and hurried to his own studies. Hoss was truly grateful he had Adam for a brother. At eighteen, many brothers would have put their own interests before those of a twelve-year-old kid, but Adam had always been there for Hoss whenever Hoss needed him. Adam seldom told his family in words that he loved them, yet Hoss was glad Adam’s actions always did.

Hoss heard his door open. Adam entered the room bringing in a soft light with the lamp he carried.

“You should be asleep,” Adam admonished. “Is something wrong?”

“It must be hard, don’t ya think, Adam,” Hoss inquired,” to be ashamed of your folks?”

Adam used the time it took to set down the lamp and walk over to the bed to overcome his surprise at the question. “I suppose it would be. I really wouldn’t know.”

“We can’t really know, I reckon. I can’t remember a single time Pa made me feel anything but proud.”

“Neither can I,” Adam sat down beside his brother and studied his face.  He waited for Hoss to arrive at the point of this discussion.

“There’s always people who are gonna say ugly things about anybody, but when someone said something about Pa, well, we always knew what the truth was. Must be really bad if ya know that the ugly things they’re saying are true. Not that them being true is any call for meanness.  No call at all for such meanness.”

“Exactly what meanness are we discussing?”

“Some boys was teasing Emily Thorton about her pa. She’ a nice girl, Adam, and they was plum mean.  I put an end to it though.”

“Did you fight them?” Adam inquired his voice filling with concern.

Hoss looked directly into Adam’s eyes. “No, but I will if I need to, Adam.”

Adam sighed. When his middle brother made a decision deep inside himself, there was no way to deter him from his chosen path.  In Hoss, the Cartwright stubbornness was rarely seen, but Adam thought Hoss’s stubbornness was strongest of all.

“Be sure of the need then, little brother, because you can be sure of the consequences.”

*****

Hoss put his lunch aside and pulled out the paper in his pocket.  He unfolded it and stared at it again. The grade had not changed, and it would not change before he showed it to Pa. Pa would not be mad because Adam had told Pa they had worked hard to learn the math for the test.  No, his pa would not be mad, but he would be disappointed.  That was worse. Adam would be disappointed too.  Adam would also blame himself for not being able to teach his brother enough to pass the test.  Adam was always blaming himself for things that were not his fault.  Hoss hated disappointing his father and brother, but the thought that brought despair was that he knew when he took the test again, he would fail again.

“Let me see, Hoss.”

Hoss looked up to see Emily sitting beside him.  He shook his head.

“I can’t see how to help you learn it if I don’t see what you did wrong.” She spoke softly and took the paper from his hand.  Hoss watched her study the problems on the paper.  Emily was smart. In fact, Hoss guessed that she might be as smart as Adam.  Hoss recognized intelligence even where most people overlooked it.

Emily chewed on her lower lip. “You don’t know when to do what.”

“Adam keeps trying to help me see, and sometimes I think I do, then I go and do it all wrong,” Hoss admitted. “Don’t guess it’s any use to keep trying. When it comes to math, I’m just dumb.”

“Eric Cartwright, Emily’s voice hissed with anger, “Don’t you dare say that!  Don’t you ever say that.”

Startled by the anger flaring in her eyes, Hoss was incapable of answering. His mouth open, he stared at the changed girl before him.

“You are not dumb, and you are not giving up. Sir Eric does not give up until the dragon is slain,” Emily declared firmly. “Can you stay today?”

Hoss simply nodded.

*****

Hoss repeated to himself once again, “Is over of, percent over one hundred, multiply corner to corner, divide by the left over.” He read the next problem, repeated the words again, did his calculations on his slate, and neatly wrote the answer on his homework paper.  He repeated the process until all the assigned problems were completed.  He looked toward his father’s desk.  Pa and Adam were still going over the papers they had been discussing all evening.  Hoss felt guilty about it, but he was glad that the problem with the contract had kept his father and brother from asking him about his math test.  He had wanted to see if what Emily had taught him would work for him alone as well as it worked when Emily was guiding him.  He picked up the math book and his paper, and he walked over to his older brother.

“Adam, could you see if I done these right?” Hoss asked.

“Sure.” Adam took the book and the paper. He proceeded to mentally calculate the answers and check those his brother had written.  He handed them back with a smile. “All but two.  We need to look at three and seven…”

“No, I’ll do them again.” Hoss hurried back to the table and redid the work on both the second and seventh problems.  After crossing out his old answers and writing down the new, he returned the paper to Adam.

“You’ve got it, boy!  Now they ‘re all right.”  Adam gave his brother an enthusiastic slap on the back.

Hoss smiled and swallowed.  Now he could show his father the test.  He pulled the paper from his pocket and handed it to his father.  Ben unfolded the paper and frowned as he looked at the grade.

“I’m sorry, Pa, but I can do better on the next one.”

Adam had taken the paper from his father’s hand and looked at the grade. “I don’t understand, Hoss.”

“Well, I told you I was late ’cause I was getting help on some schoolwork. Well, Emily showed me a new way to do all them kind of problems, and, dadgumit, it sure enough works,” said Hoss with a smile.

“Show me,” Adam demanded. Hoss got his slate and proceeded to explain how Emily had shown him one pattern for working all three different kinds of problems. Adam recognized immediately how it worked and why it would be less confusing to his brother.  He wondered who had taught this method to Emily.

“Well, it seems that problem has been solved. Make sure you thank Emily for her help,” remarked Ben cheerfully. “If your other homework is finished, I think Little Joe is waiting for a game of checkers.”

*****

Hoss arrived at school early the next morning. He wanted to talk to Emily before school started.  He settled his horse and then found a comfortable spot to wait.  As Mike Thatcher followed Emily down the road into the schoolyard, he did not notice Hoss.  Mike darted forward to come along side the girl. Extending his leg suddenly, he caused her to trip and stumble forward.

“Having trouble walking, Thornton?” he taunted. “Maybe ya been drinkin’ too much of your daddy’s liquor.”  His laughter rang out but was suddenly cut off as he was pinned from behind and lifted off his feet.

Hoss was angry, but he felt there was no need for him to use his fists. He was two years younger than Mike Thatcher but four inches taller and a good thirty pounds heavier.

Even as Mike began to struggle, Hoss easily kept the smaller boy pinned against him with Mike’s feet inches above the ground. Walking with the trapped miscreant over to the nearest water trough, Hoss deftly let go of the boy only long enough to grasp him by his collar and his belt.  He then lifted the boy and dropped him face first into the trough stepping nimbly back to avoid the spray of water. The laughter of several students who had arrived just in time to see Mike Thatcher’s comeuppance filled the air.  Mike scrambled up and stood in the trough glaring at Hoss.

Placing his hands on his hips in unconscious imitation of his pa, Hoss cautioned, “Leave her be, Thatcher, or the next time you’ll get more than wet!”  He then turned and walked over to Emily.

“Hoss, you shouldn’t have…” she began.

Hoss cut her off, saying, “Shush, gal, it needed to be done.”

The laughter of his fellow students as he stepped from the water trough had incensed Mike.  When Amos Duckett goaded him about being bested by a younger boy, rage over came him, and he charged at his adversary. Hoss turned just in time to see Mike’s approach and sidestepped the attack. Mike’s momentum took him to his knees.  He sprang back up and came at Hoss again.  This time Hoss lifted his arm and caught his attacker with a backhand that split Mike’s lip and left him on the ground.  Hoss put his arm around Emily’s waist, and they walked quickly into the schoolhouse. The teacher arrived five minutes later to find most of the students standing in small huddles that went silent at her approach.

*****

After much consideration, Hoss had decided to tell his pa about the incident in the schoolyard. Mike Thatcher had left before the teacher’s arrival and remained absent.  The students of Virginia City School had spread the story among themselves, but none of them had spoken of it in front of Miss Cutter, so he was not in trouble at school. Still, Hoss felt the story might yet spread to the adults of the town, and if his father was going to hear about his actions, the story had best come from Hoss himself. There was no need to spoil supper, though. He would tell his pa after they had eaten.

Hop Sing was about to serve dessert when the sound of horses in the yard was followed by a knock on the door.  Adam rose and went to answer the knock.

“Pa, it’s Mr. Thatcher. He’d like a word with you,” Adam called ushering Mr. Ethan Thatcher and Mike into the great room.

Ben rose and went to greet his guests. Hoss followed behind him.

“Hello, Ethan, to what do we owe the pleasure?” Ben inquired.

“Well, Ben, there ain’t no pleasure in it,” Ethan Thatcher replied curtly pulling his son forward. “Look at what your boy done to my son’s face.”

 Ben looked and saw the bruise and the swollen lip that marred Mike’s features.  His eyes darkened.  Knowing to which son Ethan must be referring, he bellowed, “Eric!”

 “Yes, Pa” Hoss walked forward and stood facing his father.

“Did you fight this boy?”

“It weren’t exactly a fight, Pa.”

“What exactly was it that left his face in this condition?”

“I backhanded him. I didn’t use a fist, Pa.”

“Why did you strike him?”

“He was coming at me the second time, Pa. There weren’t nothing else to do. I’d already tried dropping him in the trough.”

Adam was unable to totally stifle his untimely guffaw.  If he was correct in his assumption that Hoss’s actions were related to his promise to defend Emily Thornton, he thought the horse trough a wonderful idea.  As Ben directed a glare at his eldest son, Adam sent Hoss an encouraging glance.

Ben returned his glowering eyes to his middle son.  “I want the whole story, Eric.  Now!”

Hoss gave a simple and complete account of the morning’s encounter. At its conclusion Ben addressed Ethan Thatcher. “It appears that we both have something to discuss with our sons.”

“It does,” Ethan replied taking his son by the arm. “We’ll be going now.”

“Eric, go upstairs and wait for me,” Ben directed as he turned and escorted the Thatchers out.

Little Joe had sidled up to Adam as they listened to Hoss’s story.  He knew it was serious when his pa called Hoss by his given name.  He also knew what often happened when their pa sent one of them upstairs to wait for him. “Hoss is in trouble, ain’t he, Adam?” Joe whispered.

Adam dropped down and pulled his little brother into the circle of his arm. “He might be,” he replied.

“Is it spankin’ trouble?” Joe queried.

“I hope not.” Adam picked up Joe. “Let’s get some of Hop Sing’s pie, little buddy,” he said carrying Joe back to the dining table.

*****

Hoss waited for his pa. When he heard the knock on the door, he stood up and watched his father walk into the room.

“Sit down, son,” Ben directed. Hoss sat down on the bed, and Ben pulled up a chair and sat in front of the boy.

“Eric, we’ve talked before about using force on others, haven’t we?” began Ben.

“Yes, sir, and I don’t unless there’s a need,” Hoss replied looking directly into his father’s eyes.

Ben knew his middle son had the slowest fuse of all the Cartwrights, and he was thankful for that fact more and more as Hoss grew older. “Hoss, you’ve been blessed with more strength than most, son, but that strength brings a responsibility.”

“I know, Pa, and I didn’t lose my temper. This was the second time I saw Mike picking on Emily, and she didn’t deserve it, Pa. I knew a dunkin’ wouldn’t hurt him none, so I tried that first. I didn’t hit him ’til he came at me a second time, and I didn’t use my fist,” Hoss explained with resolve.

“Hoss, it took a good deal of force to bust his lip and leave that bruise.”

“I guess it did, Pa, but I don’t think anything less woulda stopped him.”

“There is always danger, son, when force is used. You have to remember that.”

“I know, Pa. I never like hurting anyone. I know your consequences for fighting too, and if ya think I deserve them, I know ya just want to teach me right, but I’m not sorry for what I did, Pa.  I can’t be sorry ’cause there was need.”

Ben took one of his son’s hands into both of his own. He knew the power in them would continue to grow for years more.  He prayed for the strength to always help his son use that power constructively. Ben smiled at his child. The boy was only twelve. He had tried to defend someone else and to avoid a fight.  Ben smiled and ruffled the boy’s soft, fine hair.  “I can see the need, son, so there won’t be any further consequences this time.  Come on, let’s get some dessert before your brothers eat it all.”

*****
Emily sat next to Hoss as he opened his lunch pail. “Hoss, did your pa find out about what happened yesterday?’

“Yeah, Mike’s pa brought him to my house.”

“Did you get into trouble?” Emily asked concern filling her voice and eyes.

Hoss shook his head. “Pa and me talked. He understood. Now, Emily, I told ya before if any of them boys bothers ya, you just tell me.”

“We’ll make a deal, Hoss.”

“What kind of deal?”

“I’ll let you help me if you let me help you.”

“How?”

“I’ll teach you math. We can work on it at lunch and recess if we need to.”

“You’d give up your playtime to do math with me?”

“You’d be giving up your playtime too. I want to do it, Hoss, like you want to do for me.”

Hoss’s gape-toothed smile lit his face. He stuck out his hand. “It’s a deal. Shake!”

Emily smiled back and shook his hand.

For the rest of the school term, Emily and Hoss ate lunch together each day and went over the math lesson.  At the noon recess, they worked on the math homework due the next day.  Hoss told his family about his and Emily’s arrangement, and Hop Sing started putting extras into Hoss’s lunch pail for him to share with the girl.  The boys at the Virginia City School understood that Emily was under Hoss’s protection.  Since only a few of the oldest boys were larger than Hoss, Emily endured no more taunting on her way to and from school.  Hoss and Emily were both happier at school than they had ever been before.  The week before the final exams, Hoss and Emily stayed late every day to review.  Then Hoss took Emily home on his horse. Hoss found he could talk to Emily with ease. Smart as she was, she listened to him and asked him about things he knew.  He told her about the plants and animals. She told him stories from books especially about brave knights who fought for good and saved damsels from evil foes. When no one else was around, Emily called him Sir Eric, and he called her Lady Emily.

*****

Adam had a plan, and he set about step by step to accomplish his goal. First he spoke to his father and then to Hop Sing. Agreement and support secured, he proceeded to Virginia City, and spoke with Miss Cutter. He left the schoolhouse whistling and drove to the home of Amy Caruthers. After a short conversation, Amy was beside Adam in the buggy on the way to a shop on lower B Street. Leslie Tucker and Cecelia Danvers were exiting that shop, as Adam and Amy were about to enter. Their eyes widened as Adam followed Amy inside, and their curiosity swelled to enormous portions when they overheard him say, “from the inside out.”  After escorting Amy back to her house, Adam proceeded to a rather seedy saloon on C Street.  Five minutes later, he was in the buggy headed out of town.

*****

Emily watched Hoss ride toward home and then went inside. Tomorrow was the last day of the school term. Emily knew she was probably the only student in Virginia City who was saddened by that fact, but tomorrow would be nice. Emily never worried about exam results, and she was sure Hoss had done well in math this time. She would wash her dress and her hair tonight. She would enjoy the end of the year festivities and forget about the lonely days ahead.

The knock on the door was unexpected, and Emily was even more surprised when she opened the door.

Adam Cartwright removed his hat and asked formally, “Miss Thornton, may I have a word with you?”

“Sure,” Emily managed to say as she motioned Adam inside.  Her mind raced.  Of course, Hoss’s father had simply sent his eldest son to deliver the message.  Well, she had been half expecting this to happen weeks ago.  It was only recently that she had allowed herself to hope it would not.  The wave of despair that washed over her caused her to turn her back to her guest.

Adam saw the fear flash in the girl’s eyes, and when she turn away from him, he correctly read her body language, though he could not fathom what caused it.

Emily could not look at the young man as she spoke, but she forced out the words, “I expect your pa sent you.  He doesn’t have to worry. I understand it wouldn’t be right for Hoss to spend any time with the likes of me after school’s out.”

 Adam took a step back in shock and repeated her words, “the likes of me.” My God! The child thinks Pa has forbidden Hoss to associate with her.  He reached out and turned the girl, so she faced him.  Her eyes were liquid, but she was allowing no tears to fall. “No, child, that’s not it at all.  Pa, I, we think you’re one of the best things to ever happen to Hoss. That’s why I’m here. We want to thank you for everything you’ve done.”

“You’re pa don’t mind about…well…about my pa?”

“Pa has nothing against your father, and he certainly doesn’t hold anything your father might do against you.”

The girl once again left Adam at a loss, for she started to sob. Females, especially young ones, were impossible to comprehend. Adam did the only thing he could think of to do.  He drew the girl into his arms and let her weep into his vest while he murmured the same comforting utterances he used with his baby brother.

 Adam wiped Emily’s face with his clean linen handkerchief.  “Now, blow,” he ordered gently.

Emily’s eyes twinkled as she followed orders.

“Better?” Adam asked.

“Better,” Emily declared with a smile.

“Good, because you’re coming to the Ponderosa with me for a celebration.”

“What kind of celebration?”

“A family celebration in honor of Eric Cartwright and Emily Thornton’s successful collaboration.”

“We don’t know yet what Hoss made on his math examination.”

Adam placed his hand under Emily’s chin and turned her eyes to his. “I’m sure Hoss did well, but that’s not the success that’s really important. Hoss didn’t give up, and neither did you. You gave him the confidence to keep trying, and that’s the most important success of all.  Pa and I want to thank you, Emily Thornton.”

The choice between a feast at the Ponderosa and the meager, solitary meal she would eat waiting for her father to return from the saloon was not worth considering. Still Emily hesitated, “I don’t have my pa’s permission.”

“But you do, girl. I spoke with him earlier today. So come on,” Adam replied and swept Emily out to the buggy.

By the time the ranch house was in sight, Adam realized what his brother saw in Emily.  After drawing her out, he had actually enjoyed their conversation. The girl really was very bright and mature. It was a shame her father was such a drinker.

Adam stopped the buggy and turned to Emily. “My pa wanted you to have something.”  He reached behind the buggy seat and produced a large parcel. “It’s a thank-you present.”

Emily took the parcel, untied the string, and pulled back the brown paper. She realized that the package contained clothes. She gasped. “I couldn’t. I can’t accept this!”

“Of course you can, girl. Most teachers get paid. You’ve earned more than this,” Adam insisted.

“I’m not a teacher,” Emily said shaking her head.

“You have been to Hoss.”

“I was just being his friend. He was my friend first.”

“If you’re Hoss’ friend, then you’re a friend of the entire Cartwright family. Emily, a friend always accepts a gift from a friend.”

“Okay,” Emily agreed softly, “Thank you!”

“Good, because that’s what your wearing to the celebration. First, Hop Sing has a hot bath and robe waiting in the washroom. Hop Sing will lay these things out in the guest room and take you there when you finish your bath. Take your time and get ready.  I’ll come and get you for supper.  Just one thing: please wait in the guest room until I come because I want you to be Hoss’s surprise.”

*****

Emily pulled her new dress over her head. She couldn’t believe she owned anything so pretty.  She heard a knock on the door. She did not think it could be Adam already.  She went quickly and opened the door part way. She saw a pretty young woman in a lavender party dress.  She had seen the woman at church and knew her name was Amy.

“I was told this was the lady’s retiring room,” said Amy with a smile, “Can I come in?

“Sure,” Emily stepped back to allow Amy to enter the room. Amy came in, pulling the door closed behind her.

“As desirable as the Cartwright men are individually, they can be somewhat intimidating in mass. Adam and I thought you might enjoy having another girl at dinner tonight,” Amy said conspiratorially as she shed her shawl, gloves, and bonnet.

Emily relaxed and smiled. “Yes, I would. So you’re the one who helped Adam pick out my things.”

“Oh, Adam told you about that.”

“No,” Emily said with a giggle, “I just figured.  Well, I couldn’t see Adam Cartwright walking into a shop and asking for a pair of girl’s bloomers.”

Amy’s giggles joined Emily’s. “So right. He did go with me. Now don’t let on I told you, but he blushed when I asked for them.  Now, do you want some help with those buttons?”

 “Please.” Emily turned her back to Amy who nimbly completed the job.  Amy stepped back and looked over Emily from head to toe.

“Adam did his share, though, and right well. He told us measurements, and, as well as that fits, he came awfully close. Looks pretty on you too.”

Emily twirled around and stopped in front of the full-length mirror. She looked at herself in the first dress she could remember having that was not second hand. The soft pink fabric was edged with white lace and the round yoke and sleeves were embroidered with sprays of white flowers.

“I’ve never had anything so beautiful, so fine,” Emily exclaimed.

“We did do an excellent job, if I say so myself. Now I came early because for something special; my sisters and I do each other’s hair, and I thought you might like me to do yours.”

“Would you? You wouldn’t mind?” Emily could not believe such a fine lady could be willing to do such a task for her.

“Mind? I can hardly wait to get my hands on those curls. Now I know why we bought ribbons.”

*****

After leaving Emily, Adam tracked down his younger brothers. He told them they were having guests for dinner, and then proceeded to ride herd on the two boys. Chores were completed in record time. After that, he managed to have Hoss and Joe both bathe and dress in their Sunday clothes. It only took one swat and two threats that he would send for their pa. He then turned his brothers over to his father and quickly bathed and changed himself.

Hoss and Joe sat on the settee wondering what guests required this much fuss. Joe whined about having to bathe, wear a tie, and stay on his best behavior. Hoss considered the smells coming from Hop Sing’s kitchen and decided the upcoming meal might be worth the fuss. He speculated that Adam wanted to impress some new gal or his father wanted to impress business associates.

Adam came down the stairs, exchanged a look with his father, sauntered to the door of the guest room, and knocked. The door opened, and Adam gave a long whistle of appreciation, bowed, and said, “Ladies, would you join us?”

Ben, Joe, and Hoss watched as Emily and Amy walked out of the guestroom.  Each girl took one of Adam’s proffered arms, and he escorted them over to his father and brothers.

Ben beamed his welcome. “Sons, I believed we are extremely fortunate to have such lovely ladies grace our dinner table tonight.”

Emily was speechless and attempting to read Hoss’s reaction, so Amy replied, “Why thank you for the compliment, Mr. Cartwright.  Emily and I are looking forward to dining with the four most charming men in the county.”

Hoss stared at Emily. She looks like a princess!

Hop Sing came in and announced dinner. Ben put his hand on his middle son’s shoulder.  “Since this dinner is in honor of Emily and you, son, please escort your guest to the table.”

Hoss stepped forward and extended his arm. His ma, Marie, had seen to it that he had been taught proper manners, and he moved instinctively. Emily took his arm, and they lead the way to the dining room. When everyone was seated, Adam made a short speech about the reason for the celebration, and presented his brother’s graded math examination with a flourish. The large B at the top of the paper made Hoss gasp, and Emily squeal with delight. It was the highest grade Hoss had ever made on a math test.

Hop Sing then served a meal that consisted of all of number 2 son’s favorite foods.  Emily was sure that somewhere her fairy godmother had put an enchantment on the evening.  More than her clothes or the delectable and abundant food, Emily savored the way everyone treated her with inclusiveness and kindness. After dinner, Adam played his guitar, and they all sang. Amy had driven her buggy to the Ponderosa, but Ben and Adam would not think of allowing her to drive home alone. It was decided that Adam would drive Emily and then Amy home. Hoss would accompany them. They would tie Sport and Chubby to the buggy and then ride home from Amy’s house.

*****

Hoss got down from the buggy and went around to help Emily. Swinging her to the ground, he walked with her to the dark house.

“Don’t look like your pa’s home yet,” Hoss said worriedly.

“Sometimes he’s late. It’s fine, Hoss.”

“I’ll come in ’till you light a lamp.”

“Okay.”

Hoss followed Emily through the door and waited while she lit the lamp. “Are sure you’ll be all right?”

“Of course. Hoss, tell your pa thank you again for me, please. Tell Adam too.  I think it was mostly his idea.”

“Big brother can come up with some fine plans. I need to thank you, Emily. Thank you for helping me make Pa and Adam proud.”

“You slew your dragon, Sir Eric. You should be proud.”

 Hoss smiled, leaned over, placed a kiss on Emily’s cheek, and then dashed out the door.

*****

Adam and Hoss rode through the dark toward home.  The moonlight was bright, and the night clear.  A thousand stars filled the sky.  Both Cartwright brothers were on a natural high.  Adam’s celebration had been an unmitigated success, and his goodnight to Amy he had been all for wish he had hoped.  He was pleased with himself and with the rest of the world.  Hoss kept reliving all the best moments of the evening.

 “Adam, I don’t think Emily could have been any happier. What ya done was real special.  Thank you, big brother!”

“It did go well, didn’t it. Even Joe behaved himself. Of course, he spent half the night being petted by Amy and the other half being pampered by Emily.”

“Joe sure can charm the ladies,” Hoss chuckled.

 “I’ve a feeling we’ll find that less amusing in a dozen years,” Adam mused.

“Adam, ya made tonight really special. I can’t thank ya enough, big brother.”

The darkness was soft and comforting, and it seemed like they were the only people in the world.  “You’re special to me, little brother.  Never forget that, Hoss.”

“Don’t you forget you’re the best big brother anyone could have.”

“Lucky for you, since I’m the only one you ever will have!”

“Adam, you’re the only big brother I’d ever want!”

They were almost to the house before either brother spoke again.

“I have an idea of my own, Adam,” Hoss began.

“Want to try it out on me?”

“Well, you know Pa said the school board was talking about how the school’s growing, but here ain’t quite enough young’ns to justify another teacher.”

“Yes, he’s said that they talked about it several times.”

“Well, I was thinking if one of the older students helped with the lessons for the real little ones.”

“Like a teaching assistant.”

“Yeah. Well, it would help Miss Cutter have more time for the older students, and they wouldn’t need to pay the assistant very much.”

“And would you have a likely candidate for the job, brother?”

“Emily.”

“Emily’s rather young for such a position.”

“But she’s a natural teacher, Adam. She’d only be teaching the ones just learning, and she’d make um feel like they could do it. Adam, if she was doing some teaching, well, then the rest of them kids would have to give her some respect, and if she saved up, she could buy herself some of the things she needs. ‘Sides, she so smart she gets her own lessons done lickety-split and has plenty of time for teaching.”

“The idea has merit. We could talk to Pa, and he could present it to the school board.”

“We can talk to him tomorrow?”

“Sure, but, Hoss, I think we should wait until the school board says yes before we tell Emily.  If they like the idea, but decide to choose some older student, well, we don’t want Emily to be hurt.”

“Okay,” Hoss replied bowing to his older brother’s wisdom, but counting on his father’s ability to convince the school board that anyone who could teach his middle son math was capable of handling beginning students.

As they rode into the yard, Adam said,” I’ll see to the horses, Hoss. I want you to be able to get up for school tomorrow.”

“It won’t be a problem,” Hoss assured his brother. For the first time he could remember, Hoss was looking forward to school the next day.

*****.

Emily looked at her father as he lay sleeping. She knew it would be sometime before he roused.  She had wanted to show him how she looked in her new clothes, but that would have to wait for another time. The last day of the term was set aside for returning exams, academic competitions, public reading of compositions, and recitations.  It was only a half-day and finished with refreshments.  The children who had them wore their Sunday clothes.  For the first time Emily had something special to wear. She felt as if she could dance all the way to school.

For the second time, a knock at the door startled Emily. She hurried to open it.  Hoss stood outside smiling.

“Adam had to go into town for business and to get supplies. We came to see if ya wanted a ride.  You’re looking just too fine to be walking all that way.”

Emily smiled. “Thank you. I’m ready to go.”

Hoss helped Emily onto the wagon seat and climbed up next to her.

“Thank you, Adam. It was kind of you to come so far out of your way.”

 Adam smiled at the girl. “Pa will tell you that a Cartwright would go much farther to get a pretty lady to ride beside him.”

Emily blushed. The three of them chatted, and the trip to the schoolhouse passed pleasantly.

“I’ll be here to take you home,” Adam said as Hoss helped Emily from the wagon.  “I’ll probably be here early as I need to speak to Miss Cutter about something too,” Adam said with a wink at Hoss.

The day went well. Emily knew some of the whispering among her classmates was about her new clothes, but she ignored the speculation and enjoyed herself.  Hoss caught several of the boys casting looks at Emily and then him, but none of the boys chose to challenge Hoss’s protection of the girl. Essie Blackwell, however, decided that there was not a thing Hoss Cartwright could do about anything she said to Emily. Everyone knew that one of Ben Cartwright’s sons would never lay a finger on a girl. She started speaking louder and louder until she was sure Emily and half the school could hear her.

“Well, maybe her father has started stealing as well as drinking. He couldn’t have gotten her those clothes any other way. Then again, maybe she just stole them herself.”

Emily was standing next to Hoss drinking lemonade. As Essie’s words reached them, the blood drained from Emily’s face and rose inside Hoss. His hands clenched, and he stepped forward. A hand grasped his arm, and he looked to see Adam standing behind him.

“You can’t, Hoss,” Adam declared firmly.

“But, Adam…”

 “You can’t, Hoss,” Emily’s voice reiterated, “but I can.” She started toward Essie.

Hoss moved to follow her, but Adam again held him back. “She let you slay your dragon, brother.  This time let her slay hers.”

Hoss, Adam, and most of the students of the Virginia City School watched Emily Thornton walk up to Essie Blackwell. Emily looked at the glass of lemonade in her hand and then at Essie.  Abruptly she moved her hand. Essie jumped back expecting the liquid to fly toward her, but Emily had stopped short of throwing her drink in Essie’s face.  A tittering laughter filled the air. When it faded, Emily smiled and spoke in clear tones that carried across the schoolyard, “My pa may drink, Essie, but apparently he did a better job of raising me than your parents have done with you. I know better than to be rude, mean-spirited, or belittling to anyone. I also know better then to waste good lemonade on the likes of you. Now if you will excuse me, I have two of the finest gentlemen in the county waiting to escort me home.” With a toss of her head, Emily turned and walked back to the Cartwright brothers.

“Well done,” Adam said as he extended his arm. Emily took it and turned toward Hoss.  Hoss extended his arm also, and as she took it, he whispered in her ear, “You’re the finest lady here, Emily.”

“Thank you, Sir Eric,” Emily said and kissed his cheek.

***The End***

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