Summary: It’s a scandal, that much is certain, and Adam becomes aware of it only when it’s much too late to do anything about it. But that doesn’t mean he can’t get agitated. Even though, taking everything in account….
Word Count: 2600
“Production of Romeo and Juliet Burlesque at Bijou Theatre Closed Down for Salacious Immorality.” Adam’s right index stabbed accusingly at the Boston Globe he almost crunched in his left hand. “Salacious Immorality,” he repeated, as if Juliet hadn’t heard it the first time. Or the second, or that last, which itself might have been the 26th time he’d read the headline out loud.
“You’ll poke a hole in the paper if you don’t stop jabbing at it,” she said mildly. “And then you won’t be able to read the article a seventh time.”
He looked up, blinked, then pursed his lips and narrowed his eyes. “Do not,” he said in an accent so clipped it would do honour to the queen herself, “make fun of me.”
Juliet held her hands up. “I wouldn’t dream of it.” Seven years of strict education by Britain’s most aggressively self-controlled governess now payed out: her face betrayed no emotion, her lips curled not the slightest bit. For once, Juliet appreciated Miss Westlake’s lessons.
Of course, she knew Adam would not be fooled anyway, but it allowed him to pretend he didn’t see how she could keep herself in check just so.
He shot her a glare, then the left corner of his mouth twitched—which he hastily tried to conceal by shaking his head. “Perhaps it isn’t him after all. Perhaps Sam sent the newspaper just because he thought it was a good joke. He would do something like that.”
“Sam lives in Hartford, that’s more than a hundred miles from Boston. I don’t think he reads the Globe regularly. He must have been in Boston to get it; and somehow I don’t think he was there serendipitously. He certainly was…summoned.” Juliet smiled, let it sink in for a moment, then continued, “The Globe is no quip. He sent it so we would know.”
“Then I can’t see why you are so serene about it.”
“Adam, I’m outraged.” She clicked her tongue as she saw his eyebrow shoot up. “I am. Of course I am. But this newspaper is three weeks old, and we haven’t heard anything from him—or Sam, for that matter—so I assume everything has been settled already.” She reached for Adam’s right hand, pulled it from the newspaper and softly squeezed it. “It might not be as bad as you assume.”
“Not as bad as I—” Adam wrenched his hand back. “You appear remarkably calm, Mylady,” he said, then held the newspaper a little farther away, so as to adjust his eyes to the small print. “May I remind you? What was announced as the most enticing premiere of the season ended prematurely with tumultuous scenes in the auditorium, and the producer of the play, Abel Stoddard, had to be escorted out of the establishment by police officers to guard him from the enraged audience’s wrath. Hours later, Stoddard was found inebriated—inebriated—at The Swan where he bemoaned the ‘fortune lost at the theatre today.’ A fortune.” He looked up and glared at her. “A fortune.”
“A fortune, yes. That’s still no reason to yell at me.”
“I wasn’t yelling.”
“I was not.” Clipped, again. He cocked an eyebrow, took a deep breath, and roared, “A fortune!”
There was a brief pause, in which Adam breathed heavily and Juliet thought she heard echoes of ‘fortune’ reverberating from the walls, before Adam presented her a lopsided smile and said in a much lower voice, “See: that was yelling. Before, that was only a little agitation. A little.” He grimaced, pinched the bridge of his nose, then let his head collapse into his palm, and ran his hand over his face. Eventually he looked up at her again. “I’m sorry.”
Gracing him with a small nod, she said grandly, “Your apology shall be accepted,” then her tight upper lip softened into a warm smile. “You’re angry and concerned; and I do understand that. But there’s nothing you can do right now—which, on second thought, might be the actual problem. Don’t you think?”
He shrugged it off, an irritated glare finding its way from his face to hers, before he seemed to warm up to…well, not the idea itself, perhaps, but for its solution. He snorted. “I’m half a mind to take the next train to Boston and tell Mr. Abel Stoddard what exactly I think of that immature, insolent, thoughtless, inconsiderate stunt he’d pulled.”
“No, you won’t. You will not embarrass him by come running to pull at his ear. Henry’s young but he’s also a grown man.”
“A grown man who’s just squandered this year’s share of his college funds for an ill-fated, completely senseless, irresponsible undertaking, in which he had no reason at all to get involved. I entrusted him with that money, to use it only on his studies. And he poured it all into…I don’t know…” He kneaded his brow again. “Some adventure he might even have thought to be a good stroke of business.” He groaned. “Oh, Lord, he’s like Joe.”
Juliet bit her lips, hard. But it was not enough; the grin fought its way into her face nonetheless. “I’ll make sure to tell Joe you’ve said that. He’ll be delighted to know he’s finally succeeded in corrupting his nephew. He’d tried so hard all those years.”
“I can’t see what’s so amusing about that, Mylady.”
“What’s so amusing about it is that you don’t see that Henry is not like Joe. Not completely. He’s like Hoss, too, and just as much like you. And your father. He’s just a true Cartwright.”
“No.” Now Adam grinned too. “Apparently he’s a Stoddard.” He shook his head. “I really feel obliged to question your son’s sanity. Why on earth did he choose that name?”
“Oh, I don’t know. Perhaps he did it because he is your son, too, and not quite so irresponsible and unthinking as you fear right now. Apparently he anticipated possible…difficulties and tried to protect his good name.”
“By choosing that of his great grandfather?”
“Of course. So it wouldn’t be too far from the truth in the event that everything turned out a great success.”
Adam grumbled something of which only the words “idiotic”, “hell”, and “freeze over” were intelligible, and Juliet was wise enough neither to ask for clarification nor to berate him for swearing.
“He could have easily gone with Earl of Barnstoke—perhaps that would even have kept him out of the press. Or at least have had it put down to aristocratic eccentricity.”
“The reporters would have leapt at it like carrion crows and found delight in picking him apart.” Juliet snorted. “Howsoever, Earl of Barnstoke wouldn’t have been a pseudonym, would it? Well, he wouldn’t have dared anyway.”
And had Henry dared to use his title, she’d already have sent Adam to Boston to give their son the tongue lashing of his life. Or, better, she would be on her way herself. But Henry was a smart young man—just as smart as his father, with a side dish of his younger uncle’s cunning—and he knew better than to risk his mother’s wrath. Or to taint the Barnstoke-honour.
“And anyway,” she went on, “this whole affair sounds like something your grandfather would have appreciated—” She warded Adam’s objection off with a gesture of her hands. “…or at least like something about which he would have laughed.”
Adam couldn’t suppress a smile. “Yes, he always was surprisingly understanding of a green young man’s escapades. Still, I don’t think he would have approved of this particular caper.” He frowned. “But I would never have used Pa’s and his hard-earned money for a half-brained hazard such as this anyway.”
“Oh, indeed? You wouldn’t? To me this sounds exactly like something you would do. More probable even than Joe.”
“You must be joking. I never—”
“Ah, come on, Adam. Henry didn’t risk that money to make profit. You’ve read the article half a dozen times, there’s no way you missed that point.” She picked the newspaper from where Adam had let it slip to the desk sometime during their conversation. “Let me see…here, fourth paragraph: The small ensemble The King’s Players from Brighton, England, had lost all their possessions in the fire at the Park Theatre earlier this year, couldn’t secure a new engagement and subsequently became homeless. The young principal’s new born twins…” She looked up. “Do you really need to know more?”
Adam shook his head. “I wonder how he met them,” he mumbled after a brief pause.
“A chance encounter, I’m certain. Just the thing that would happen to a Cartwright.” She smiled at his unbelieving face. “Cartwrights do have a knack for attracting people in need. And then they do what Cartwrights do: they help them get back up in the saddle, encourage and support them to help themselves. They give money to a farmer who is in danger of losing everything to an obnoxious old businessman, help a drinker sell his pictures, an ex-convict regain his footing in society, build a well for a family that is threatened by a drought, lend money to a young couple in need…. Does any of that sound familiar to you, Adam?”
“I see no burlesque plays included in that list, and certainly no immorality.” He tried to keep a straight face but failed superbly.
She laughed. “If he could have, Henry would have offered them a piece of the Ponderosa, Adam. He can’t help it, it’s in his blood. It’s a heritage just like the dark curls and the dimples. And we wouldn’t want him to be any other way, would we?”
There was the slightest shake of Adam’s head, a resigned smile, and a low chuckle. “How do you do that, Mylady? Always…always say the things I need to hear?” His voice was dark, husky; he reached for her hand, pulled her into his arms, held her close, so close.
And she buried her head in his chest, listened to the familiar steady heartbeat, felt herself melt into him—
And then the front door slammed open and into the wall in the unique way that comes from too much strength exerted on a door built to be handled by people not of Hoss Cartwright’s built. They leapt apart like pupils caught red-handed behind the school house, and Juliet felt a blush rising up from her collarbones to her cheeks.
“Papa, Papa, look what we’ve found!” Florence’s voice—that still sounded much more like that of the little girl she used to be than that of an almost fourteen-year-old—was audible even before she and her favourite uncle made it from the hall to the parlour.
Juliet smoothed down her wrinkle-free skirt, Adam adjusted his straight-as-a-soldier-at-attendance waistcoat. Smouldering gazes were exchanged, tiny smiles, subtle lifts of eyebrows—unspoken promises. Then they turned to greet the newcomers.
Hoss looked as apologetic as Florence looked enthralled. The reason of their conflicting expressions was cradled in the young girl’s arms: a shaggy brown fur ball with two of the most piteous huge wet puppy eyes Juliet had ever seen in her life.
Florence shifted her arms a little so as to give her parents a better look at the poor animal’s bandaged front leg. Turning her very own set of doe eyes on her father, she rattled without taking breath once, “He belongs to no one, and some boys threw stones at him, and Uncle Hoss doctored him, and may I keep him, Papa? Please?”
Juliet sighed. She knew what would come next.
At least Adam tried to pretend he thought about it, that much she gave him. Albeit only for a brief moment, then he smiled. “Yes, you may—” He broke off, sobering, glanced at Juliet, and said, “Supposing that your mother has no objections, of course.”
Instantly, Florence’s gaze flew to Juliet, as did Hoss’s and Adam’s—and even the dog’s. They all were watching her intently, with an expression so beseechingly hopeful it was almost comical. Well, no, the expression was definitely comical—and absolutely irresistible.
She sighed again. “Who am I to deny you that?” she finally said. “Of course, we keep him.”
She was rewarded with a delighted squeal quite improper for a young lady from her daughter, a grin from Hoss, and a look from Adam. Hoss announced he and Florence would now treat the dog to a desperately needed bath, outside in the horse trough, and then had to run after Florence, who’d turned and headed out even before Hoss concluded the sentence.
When they heard the front door snap shut, Adam pulled Juliet close again and grinned, “Thanks, Mylady.”
He looked very much like his youngest brother then, so very pleased with himself; and Juliet had to laugh—not only because of that. “Cartwrights,” she said. “You’re all the same. And over the past twenty years it seems to have rubbed off on me. There’s no escaping the curse.”
“No, I guess not.” Adam cupped her face, studied her for a long time and then pressed a gentle kiss on her brow, cradled her head against his chest as before they’d been interrupted, burying his face in her hair.
She heard him inhale deeply, in that old familiar way, and as he spoke, she recognised the smile in his words without having to see it. “Hmm, I don’t know…Perhaps I’ll go to town tomorrow and arrange a bank transfer. Do you think Henry would appreciate an unexpected increase in his college funds for the coming semester?”
She laughed quietly into his chest and felt him trembling with suppressed mirth under her cheek. “You are very proud of him, aren’t you?”
“He’s a Cartwright through and through—with a dash of that endearing Barnstoke eccentricity, and a lot of pure and honest Henry. I am proud of him, very much.” She felt him chuckle. “Abel Stoddard, indeed. Yah, and he’d be proud, too.”
The most important thing for a young man is to establish a credit… a reputation, character. ~ John D. Rockefeller
Compassion is the basis of all morality. ~ Arthur Schopemhauer
A/N: This story is to be taken with a huge grain of salt. It was was written for the Camp in the Pines Challenge, for which I had to incorporate a plot element composed from words randomly selected from a list. That sentence happened to be “Abel Stoddard lost a fortune at the theatre today.” I had already decided to write a story in which Henry would take an important part, and it was part of the challenge to stick to any original plans (as far as humanly possible) – so this is the outcome.
BTW, even though I did some research (theatres in Boston at the time, newspapers, where Sam (aka Mark Twain, Henry’s godfather) lived at the time and such, there are still untruths: there never was a fire at the Park Theatre in 1883, and there never was a burlesque of Romeo and Juliet cancelled for “salacious Immorality” at the Bijou. And yes, I’m completely aware of how far fetched the whole story is, and how many logic-holes there are in it. Please, bear with me here.
With my heartfelt thanks to Sklamb for the beta.