Tarnished Armor (by DJK)

Summary:  Sequel to Emily’s Sir Eric.
Category:  Bonanza
Genre:  Western
Rated:  PG
Word Count:  2767


 

Hoss watched his little brother trudge across the schoolyard.  As Little Joe reached him, Hoss squatted down to look into the little boy’s eyes.  “Something wrong, Short Shanks?”

Little Joe did not answer. His eyes just slowly filled with tears. Hoss stood and scooped up his brother. Though he had just turned thirteen, Hoss was the size of a stout sixteen-year-old and easily held the six-year-old in his arms. “Tell big brother what’s wrong, Joe, and I’ll see to it.” He thought perhaps some of the other children might have been teasing the little boy.

“Pa’s gonna be mad, Hoss,” Joe muttered into his brother’s bulky chest.

“Why’s Pa gonna be mad?”

“It’s all Emily’s fault,” Little Joe replied thrusting out his lower lip.

“Now what’s Emily got to do with it?” Hoss could not imagine what Joe meant.

“It is her fault, Hoss. She had to go and write this.” Joe reached into his pocket and drew out a folded piece of paper. He thrust it into his brother’s face.

Hoss read his father’s name in Emily’s flowing script. “Emily sent Pa a note?”

Joe nodded his head. “And Pa’s gonna be mad, so it’s her fault.”

Worry settled on Hoss’s shoulders. Emily was a special friend of his. He had befriended her when she was being teased about her alcoholic father and protected her from further taunting.  She was very smart and had helped him during both the past school term and this one with his lessons, especially math. His pa had been so pleased that Ben Cartwright had convinced the school board to have Emily assist the teacher with the beginning students part of the day, even though Emily had just turned thirteen. Emily was even being paid a dollar a week. Since Little Joe had started at the Virginia City School just this term, he was one of the students with whom Emily worked. If the note said something like what Hoss thought it might, it would carry the same weight with Pa has a note from Miss Cutter.  Hoss hesitated to read a note addressed to his father, but the note had not been sealed, so he unfolded it and read. Hoss agreed with his little brother. Pa will be mad. 

“Hoss, when Miss Cutter sent a note,” Joe whispered, “I got a spankin’.”

“I know, Joe.”

“I don’t want a spankin’” Joe sniffed.

Hoss set his brother on the ground. “Stay here and watch Chubby. I’ll talk to Emily.”

Hoss spotted Emily Thornton exiting the schoolhouse. He called to her, and she waited as he walked over.

“Emily,” Hoss began, “you sent this note to Pa.”

Emily sighed. “Little Joe should have given that to your father not you, Hoss.”

Hoss bit his lip.  Emily was the only person who called him Eric when she was pleased with him and Hoss when she was not. “He’s worried about what Pa will do, Em. Ya know our Pa’s strict about school things.”

“I don’t want to get Joe into trouble, but Miss Cutter talked to me. Your pa needs to know that Joe is playing instead of trying to learn and gets sassy when I correct him. I’ve warned him more than once. Besides, if I hadn’t written the note, Miss Cutter would have.  I thought a note from me would be better. Maybe your pa will just talk with him.”

“Maybe,” Hoss replied, but he really did not think so.

*****

Halfway home, Hoss stopped Chubby, and turned the little boy riding in front of him around, so they could look each other in the face. Joe had been sniffling back tears since they had left the schoolyard. Each sniff had been a stab to Hoss’s heart. Hoss wished his older brother Adam was back at the ranch, but Adam had left for college back East just two months before. Hoss knew it would be years before he laid eyes on his older brother again and that he would have to be older brother for Little Joe.

“Now, Joe, you listen here. Emily had a reason for writing that note. You ain’t been working like ya should, and ya been sassy to her.” Anger flashed in Hoss’s eyes. “Now that’s something that better not happen no more, ya hear me?”

Little Joe’s eyes widen at the tone in Hoss’s voice. He had heard the same tone from Pa and Adam many times, but almost never from Hoss. Joe nodded his head and stuttered, “I, I, I won’t sass her no more, Hoss. I promise.”

“Okay,” Hoss replied his voice growing gentler. “Now ya got to promise to pay attention and work hard at your assignments.”

“I don’t like school, Hoss. I don’t like assignments.”

“I don’t like them much either, Short Shanks, but some things just got to be done, and Pa thinks schoolwork is one of them. I guess Pa is right. Leastways, he thinks he is, and that’s all that counts. Now promise me.”

“I promise,” Joe stated solemnly tracing a cross on his chest.

“Okay.” Hoss sighed, making a decision he knew he would likely regret. “Then we won’t show Pa this note ’cause there ain’t no need to trouble him about any of this.”

“So then I won’t get no spankin’,” Joe smiled. “But what about when Emily asks us about it? What are we going to say?”

“Just leave that to me,” Hoss replied with a sigh. If Pa ever finds out, my britches are gonna wind up hotter than Joe’s. 

*****

Hoss swung Little Joe from the saddle and started to settle his horse for the day. He turned as he heard someone approach.

“Hey, Emily.”

 “Good morning, Eric,” the young girl greeted him. Biting her lower lip, she plunged ahead. “Was your pa awfully mad when he read my note?”

“Not awfully.”

“Then Joe didn’t get a… didn’t get punished.”

“No, he didn’t get punished, but he knows now, Em, that he’s got to work hard, and I guarantee that you won’t be hearing anymore sass from him.”  Hoss placed his hands on his little brother’s shoulders.  “You’ve got something to say, don’t you Joe,” Hoss urged sternly.

Remembering what Hoss had told him on the way into school, Joe swallowed and began,

“I am sorry, Miss Emily. My pa dun raised me to behave better than that and from now on, I’m gonna be a good boy.”

Emily lowered herself onto her heels so she could look directly into the little boy’s eyes.  “You are a good boy, Joe. Sometimes you just need to remember how a good boy acts. I accept your apology. We’ll start today with a clean slate. Okay?”

Joe’s face lit with a smile. “Okay!”

Hoss looked down at Emily and Joe and prayed that this would be the end of the problem.

*****

“Mr. Cartwright.”

Ben Cartwright turned to find Emily Thornton addressing him. The girl was wearing the dress she had received from the Cartwrights. Adam had certainly done well when choosing it. The girl looked pretty as a picture in her Sunday best.

“Good morning, Emily. Can I help you? I think Hoss is around the other side of the church.”

“He is, sir. I didn’t want Hoss. I wanted to speak to you.”

“Of course, dear. There isn’t a problem, I hope.”

“No. That’s just it. I wanted to tell you that ever since you spoke to Joe about my note, he’s been trying much harder, and his behavior is better.”  Emily expected her statement to bring a look of pleasure to the man’s face. She so wanted to bear good tidings instead of bad to the man who had done so much for her. When she saw his eyes darken and his lips narrow, she realized things had grown more complicated.

“I’m pleased Joe is showing improvement, but I need to know to what note you are referring, Emily.”

“The note I sent you…let me see, yes…I sent it on Tuesday.”

“And this note explained what?”

Emily swallowed and took a steadying breath. “That Joe wasn’t putting enough effort into his lessons and was sassy when I corrected him.” Emily watched Ben’s anger increase and rushed to say, “But since Wednesday, he’s been as good as gold. Well, much improved, anyway.” It was obvious to Emily that Mr. Cartwright had never seen her note. That meant that Hoss and Joe had lied to her. The thought cut Emily with a physical pain.

Ben Cartwright saw that pain flash in the girl’s eyes. His anger rose another notch. “Emily, did Eric know about this note?”

“Yes, sir.” Emily’s answer was so soft that Ben barely heard it.

“Excuse me, child. I have something important to attend to,” Ben stated calmly as he strode off to find his sons.

*****

Emily sat on the school steps and watched the wagon approach. Ben Cartwright and his two younger sons climbed out of the wagon and walked over to the girl.

“Joseph,” Ben said positioning the little boy in front of the girl.

Joe tilted his head back to look at his father’s face. The look Ben gave his youngest launched Joe into his apology.

“Miss Emily, I ‘m awful sorry I disobeyed you and didn’t give Pa your note and was de…desee…” Joe looked at his father.

“Deceitful,” Ben supplied.

“I’m sorry that I was deceitful, and I won’t never be that way again ‘cause Pa don’t tolerate no deceitful sons.” He glanced at his father to see if his apology had been acceptable.

“And?” Ben indicated that Joe had yet to finish.

Joe swallowed. “And I’m going to work hard and never sass you again.”

“And?” Ben repeated.

“And I deserve any punishment you decide to give me.”  Joe looked up through his lashes to study Emily’s face. Joe bit his lip. His pa had said Miss Emily could spank him if she decided on that punishment, but Emily didn’t look like she wanted to spank anyone. She looked more sad than she looked mad.

Emily looked at the little boy and then at his father. “You’ll have to stay in at recess and write, Joseph,” she stated softly.

“Yes, Miss Emily,” Joe replied and looked again at his father.

“Go in and wait for school to start, Joseph,” Ben instructed. Then he turned to his middle son.  “Eric.”

Hoss stepped forward. His face shone with perspiration, and his hands twisted the brim of his hat.  He swallowed twice then began, “Emily, I’m real sorry too.”

Emily had risen; she looked up into his sad blue eyes. “You lied to me, Hoss. You lied to me.”  The tears spilled from her own eyes, and she turned and darted away.

“Emily!” Hoss called after her.

Ben placed his hands on his son’s shoulders. “Give her some time, Hoss. That’s the thing about deceit, son. It hurts the people you care about.”

*****

Hoss thrust his uneaten sandwich back into his lunch pail. He looked across the schoolyard and watched Emily reading a book. In the past four days, Emily had been polite and helped him whenever he asked her about his schoolwork. He had apologized to her several more times, and she had said she forgave him, but Hoss knew things were not right between them.  In the past four days, Emily had not once called him Eric.

Miss Cutter looked out the window first at Hoss and then at Emily. The girl had become an invaluable help to her. Emily was a natural teacher. She had watched Emily bring out abilities in Hoss Cartwright that most people would never have guessed were there. She knew what had caused the problem between the two of them and was concerned about the effect on both of them.  She decided Sunday to have a private word with Ben Cartwright.

*****

Ben Cartwright watched his two youngest leave for home. He waited for Emily Thornton to come out of the school and start walking down the street. He moved his buggy up beside her. “Emily, might I give you a ride home?”

Emily turned and stared into Ben’s face. She bit her lower lip. “You want to talk to me about Hoss?”

“Well, yes, I do. We could talk as I drive you home.”

“That would be fine, sir.” Emily took the hand Ben offered and climbed into the buggy.

The girl stared down at her hands and waited for the man beside her to speak. Ben Cartwright had always been so kind to her, and she knew all three of his sons had great love and respect for their father. Just maybe he could help fix things between Hoss and her.

“Emily,” Ben began, “whenever one of my sons is hurting as much as Hoss has been hurting these past few days, I have to try and help.”

“I don’t know if you can help, Mr. Cartwright.”

“Hoss is truly sorry he hurt you by lying, child. He just can’t keep from protecting his little brother’s hide.”

“He loves Little Joe so much. I know that’s why he lied, Mr. Cartwright. I know he’s sorry, and I forgive him, really I do.” Emily’s hands twisted the material of her skirt.

Ben stopped the horses and turned to face the girl. “Do you, child, or have you simply tried to forgive him?”

Emily fought to swallow the tears that filled her throat. “I thought…  I didn’t think he’d lie to me. Not my Sir Eric.”

Ben put his arm around the girl, and Emily turned to sob against his chest. Ben thought it best for her to release some of the emotions she had obviously been holding back and simply rubbed her back gently until she cried herself out. Then he took out a clean neckerchief, wiped her face, and told her to blow.

Emily obeyed and gave him a slight smile. “Adam must have learned what to do when a girl cries from you.”

“Boys cry too, Emily. They just keep it more of a secret.”

“Little boys maybe.”

“Big boys too. Even some of your brave knights shed a tear now and then.”  Ben put a finger under the girl’s chin and raised her eyes to his. “Some of them make mistakes and tarnish their armor now and then also.”

Emily dropped her eyes, veiling them with her lashes.

“Emily, Eric was your knight in shining armor, but inside that armor was a thirteen-year-old boy. Sometimes people disappoint us, child.” 

“I know.”

The sight of Emily’s father drunk in the street flashed into Ben’s mind. “Yes, I suppose you do.”

“Life’s never really like a story, is it, Mr. Cartwright?”

“Seldom, child, very seldom.”

“Would you take me home now, Mr. Cartwright?”

“Certainly, dear”

***** 

Hoss dismounted and walked to Emily’s door. He stood there a moment, took a deep breath, and knocked.  Emily opened the door. Her father was lying in a drunken stupor on his bed, so she stepped out and closed the door behind her. “Hello, Hoss.”

“Emily,” Hoss began. He had rehearsed another apology, but the words fled as he looked at Emily’s face. “Em, why… why can’t ya forgive me?” The tears rolled down his face. He looked very young and very lost. Emily reached up and wiped the tears away with her fingers. “I forgive you, Eric.”

The sound of his given name sent a wave of joy though Hoss. He grabbed the girl up in a bear hug and twirled her around the porch. Setting her back on her feet, he sighed heavily,

“Ya do now. Ya really do, don’t ya?”

Emily smiled. “I really do.”

“I missed ya so much, Em. I won’t never lie to ya again. I didn’t know it would hurt ya so bad.  I’m sorry.”

“I’m sorry, Eric. I know you didn’t mean to hurt me. It’s just…”

“I disappointed ya. I disappointed Pa too.”

“I should have forgiven you as fast as your Pa did.”

“Pa forgave me, but not until after her got his message across on my backside.”

“Was he awfully mad?”

“Oh, yeah, he was awful mad. Like Joe said, he don’t tolerate no deceitful sons.”

“Your pa talked to me.”

“He did?”

“Yes. He reminded me real people make mistakes, and you can’t hold it against them that they’re not people in a story book.”

“But it’s nice sometimes when we try to be.”

“Will you take me for a ride, Sir Eric?”

“Why sure, Lady Emily!”

***The End***

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