The cries of the stevedores as they loaded the last of the freight aboard the Flying Cloud were loud in eight-year-old Amelia Lander’s ears, though they came through the deck above, as the crates were loaded, and the one below, as they were stowed securely in the hold. They sounded like something out of one of the adventure stories her mama read to her at bedtime.
“You must be good—for me, Amelia,” Mama said. They were in the cabin she would share with Mrs. Hoch and would travel in all the way to New York City, around the horn and finally to the East, where she would at last see the wonderful things she had heard so much about from Papa. The cabin was tiny, but Amelia couldn’t wait for the huge sailing ship to put out to sea, through the Golden Gate and into the Pacific, where she knew there would be whales to watch and huge waves for the ship to ride upon.
Her mother’s face seemed to change in front of her eyes, from a stern warning that Amelia must obey what Mrs. Hoch (the companion her father had hired for her) would instruct her to do, to an expression so sad Amelia did not think she had ever seen Harriet Lander’s kindly, worn face ever look so. “I will see you very soon,” Mama said in a thick voice.
“No, you won’t, Mama,” Amelia said without thinking about it. “You won’t see me for ever so long. I’ll be in New York City!”
She saw her mother’s face crumple then and saw her bite her lips to choke back tears. That made Amelia start to cry, too, and she sobbed, “I’m so sorry, Mama! We’ll see each other soon, I know it!”
“No,” her mother said, “No, you are right, my brave child.” Then, seeming not even to think about it, Mama reached up to her neck and unclasped the beautiful diamond necklace she always wore. She held it out to Amelia. “Remember me, Amelia.”
“Papa gave you that!” Amelia exclaimed.
“Yes, and I give it to you,” Mama said, and Amelia took it. “Don’t wear it, child, until you are a woman—and perhaps not even then. But keep it safe. I know you can.” Harriet turned and bent down where little Esther, three years old, clung to her red woolen skirt. “You know your sissy can keep things safe, don’t you, Esther?”
Esther nodded solemnly.
“Give sissy a kiss, now,” Mama said, and Amelia bent her face down for Esther to give a little peck on her sister’s cheek. “Amelia, it will be a very long time, maybe, before you see Esther again too. But promise me you will always do whatever you can to take care of her.”
“Of course, Mama. But she has you and Papa, does she not?”
Mama seemed to bite the inside of her cheek, and a look of new sadness came into her eyes. “Yes, Amelia, but… but she will need you, too. Not now, maybe. But someday. Promise you will take care of her.”
“I promise,” Amelia said seriously.
The cry came from the first mate, “Passengers only aboard! Visitors ashore! Visitors ashore!”
Mama kissed Amelia on the forehead and on both cheeks. “Farewell, my brave girl,” she said. “You will have a better life than mine, I am sure.”
Amelia did not know what her mother meant, but she hugged her tight, suddenly feeling the sadness of parting that the excitement of the journey had pushed aside until then. She felt her own face twist with grief, but she fought back the tears and stepped back and gave her mama a smile.
“Farewell, Mama,” she said. “Farewell, Esther. I shall always protect you. I have promised.”
The marriage of Samuel Allen to Esther Addison stood high in the list of the anticipated social occasions among the small community of the fashionable in the young San Francisco of 1872. The bride’s father was, after all, one of the most successful bankers of the city, and the romantic story of Esther’s adoption when her parents, trustees of Clarence Addison’s bank in the East, had died at sea, was on everyone’s lips. Esther’s début had enlivened the little San Francisco season, such as it was, and it seemed only suitable that her hand should be quickly won by the wealthy, handsome merchant Samuel Allen, just a year arrived from Boston after attaining the rank of Captain in the Grand Army of the Republic and serving gallantly in the famous 20th Massachusetts regiment.
Thirty-two years of age and still a bachelor because of the war and the wanderlust that pushed him round the horn and through the Golden Gate, Captain Samuel Allen had proven a willing—even an eager—victim on the altar of love when confronted by the charms of Esther Addison. Or so Esther was telling her friends when she saw them at Grace Church and at the Cliff House and at the Yacht Club.
Samuel Allen himself held rather a different opinion of the events that had led him to ask Esther’s permission to go to Clarence Addison in order to request his adopted daughter’s hand in marriage. He could not deny that Esther’s maiden charms had fired his blood, but he was old enough now that he found that fire not terribly difficult to bank and to temper.
His reason to court Esther, truly, lay with her father and his credit. She seemed a charming enough girl, to be sure, if rather vain, but Samuel had no doubt that he had a cure in his firm right hand for Esther’s vanity. Nor did he try to deceive himself that the process of correcting his young bride’s faults by baring her bottom time and time again and giving her as many spankings as she required to see his point did not fire his blood quite as much as her maiden blushes or the glimpse of a stockinged ankle as she climbed into her carriage.
He thought to himself of the delicious prospect of Esther’s bare backside, albeit in his accustomed, measured way, as he climbed Nob Hill with his old subaltern, the erstwhile Sergeant Major Michael Sullivan, beside him. They were bound for the meeting with Clarence Addison where they both would sign the papers to seal the transfer, with Esther’s maidenhead, of a great deal of credit that Samuel knew he would have no trouble at all turning into Chinese porcelain, then into Bank of California notes, then into the supplies for which the Comstock miners clamored, and finally into bullion to be sent back East and deposited safely in Boston. There was so much more risk involved with the China trade and the California trade, he thought to himself, than in correcting a spoiled youngster like Esther Addison, that his palm seemed to tingle in anticipation of having a more or less sure prospect within its grasp.
Not that the risks of the China trade frightened him after Gettysburg and Cold Harbor. He remembered the day that he had proposed to his subaltern, Michael Sullivan, after so many of their friends had fallen at Cold Harbor, that they should head West and make their fortunes. “Chinamen and Forty-Niners and ladies of the evening, sir?” Michael had said. “They’ll seem like a fucking joke after Bobby Lee, begging your pardon.”
And now Michael and Samuel were on their way to becoming very wealthy men in this town ,whose hills made Boston’s look like meadows, and where even an Irish Sergeant Major had prospects of becoming a nob. In fact, today, walking up Nob Hill, they were literally on their way, for the transaction with Addison was set to increase their worth considerably with the stroke of a pen.
* * *
Esther sat in the parlor, arrayed prettily in a blue silk gown. When Samuel and Michael were announced by the butler, she rose, a look of displeasure on her face, which he was sure was due to Michael’s presence. He strode over to her, nevertheless, with a smile upon his own face and bent to kiss her hand.
“You needn’t have brought him, need you?” she hissed in his ear.
That really represented too great a provocation, and though Samuel had to confess to himself that he felt a bit of amusement that this sort of little drama should play itself out so very early, he knew it to be of the utmost importance that Esther understand her position as soon as possible. He straightened, slowly and with dignity, and looked her in her face, setting his eyes in the way he had used with his men in the fifth company of the 20th Massachusetts infantry. Esther blushed without her affianced bridegroom saying a single word, but her face was angry.
“Miss Addison,” Samuel said, “I think you ought to reconsider what you have just said.”
Esther looked back at him, and he could see that her heart misgave her. Samuel was sure, too, that she did not even know why her heart should misgive her, for she was used to having her own way in all things, here in her house, and indeed all over the little world of San Francisco that she truly had a right to call her own—though, Samuel thought with determination, that would most certainly change, and soon.
“Why, Captain Allen,” she said, “I see no reason why I should.”
“Miss Addison, you are my affianced bride, are you not?”
“Yes, Captain Allen,” she replied, “I suppose I am.” Esther was trying desperately, Samuel could see, to regain the power she had suddenly realized she had lost somewhere, but it would never work with him.
“In that case, I think you ought to reconsider your words about my good friend Mr. Sullivan.” He turned to glance at Michael—who stood at the edge of the parlor, impassively as he always stood at the edges of fashionable parlors—and winked. Michael showed no sign that he had seen the wink.
Esther’s voice had true desperation in it now, and it almost made Samuel take pity on her. Poor girl. She knew nothing of true dignity, for she had no one to teach her. Her adoptive father spent his days counting money, and her adoptive mother spent her days in the feigned social work that so many society matrons used to fill their days with gossip and assuage their consciences.
“I won’t, Captain Allen,” she said. “I think you should reconsider the tone you adopt with me now.”
“Listen to me, Esther Addison,” Samuel said, quietly but with an authority he had earned on the battlefields of the most terrible war in the history of the human race. “Are you listening?”
Esther’s face went white, and she nodded, her eyes as wide as San Francisco Bay. Samuel saw there exactly what he had looked for: she was not unteachable, not truly lost to the world in which she thought she belonged, of parties and dressmakers.
“In a week’s time, you will be my wife. I do not think your idea of what that will mean is very well formed, especially considering the relations of your parents, which do not at all follow the pattern I mean to enforce upon ours. You must understand that I will not tolerate disrespect to me, nor to those in whom I choose to place my trust. As my affianced bride, you have earned yourself a spanking with your words here today, and I will give it to you after I have met with your father.”
“What, Captain Allen?” He saw Esther bite her lower lip, and watched her left hand move instinctively backward, as if to ward off a phantom chastisement. Her voice betrayed not anger, he thought he could tell, but exactly the sort of terrified fascination he had thought he might hear.
“You heard me, Miss Addison. You will remain in this parlor, and I will take you over my knee as you have merited on that divan,” (Samuel pointed to the piece of furniture he had identified as most suitable) “and I will give you the spanking you deserve.”
Without another word, he released her hand and turned away. He nodded to Sullivan, and they walked the few steps to the door of Clarence Addison’s office. Behind them, Esther was saying, “B-but… but, Captain Allen…”
Samuel rapped at the door of the office, and Addison opened it, looking distracted. “Ah, Allen,” he said. “Come in.”
Signing the contracts took almost no time at all. Samuel could not deny that he paid the words very little attention (thank goodness he had read them thoroughly when copies had been sent to his own office by the docks), as he thought about the prospect that now awaited him of spanking Esther for the first time.
“Mr. Addison,” he said, as he finished the final signature, “I hope you will not mind if I am frank with you about my intentions with respect to the guidance I feel your daughter requires.”
Portly, florid Addison looked at him quizzically. His once blond hair was now almost entirely gray and receding across a red forehead. His muttonchop whiskers gave him an air of prosperity, but also one of slight absurdity, Samuel thought. Best to get Esther under his guidance as soon as possible.
“If I may be so bold, I suspect that Esther has never been properly disciplined. Am I correct, sir?”
Addison’s brow furrowed. “Look here, Captain Allen, if you mean to suggest that her mother and I have been remiss…”
“I suppose I do mean to suggest that, sir, but only with the greatest respect for you and for your wife. The decision of how to discipline a youngster is not an easy one. I only mean to tell you that it is my intention to remedy your daughter’s behavior as I believe I know how, and as will be my right as her husband.”
Addison’s eyes narrowed. “What are you asking, then, Captain Allen?”
“Indeed, sir, I am not asking anything. Rather, I am declaring that I am going to spank your daughter in your front parlor in a few moments.”
“What, Captain Allen? Do I hear you correctly?”
“You do. Esther was insufferably rude to Mr. Sullivan here. I consider it to be of absolutely vital importance that she understand as soon as it can be made clear to her that I will not tolerate that kind of behavior and that her bottom will always pay the price should she choose to engage in it. I am informing you of my intention to spank her today in order that you not be surprised when I do so, and also in order that if a disagreement about my method of disciplining Esther should arise, we should understand one another. I will not have a bride whose behavior I feel I may not correct with my firm hand, when she needs it. And I am quite sure that Esther will need a good deal of it from my hand, and even from my belt from time to time.”
Addison seemed confounded for a long moment. Then he said thoughtfully, “I suppose I am not averse to your experiment, Allen. I know well how spoilt my daughter is; her mother and I have been at our wits’ end a dozen times over her profligate ways just these past six months.”
“Thank you, sir,” Allen replied. “I rather hoped you might see it that way. Would you like to watch me spank her today? I think it may allay any fears you have and perhaps even demonstrate the wisdom of the policy. Having you there will also make it clear to Esther that she should not think of appealing to you or to your wife to interfere in her punishments. Her assurance of that fact will, I think, do much to hasten her improvement—and indeed to save her bottom from more correction.”
“I am afraid,” Addison said, “that I have another appointment; but I shall be happy to tell Esther that you have my full support.”