Archie and Edrington
by Karen L.
Ch. 16--The Scent
The small stable lad I had noticed helping Shadsworth exchange the horses ran up breathlessly. "Goven'r, I saw er. The laidy with the brown hair. Her went off wit' two chaps, walking closelike, between them."
"The coachman. Answer me, boy! Did you see the coachman!" Edrington shook him by the shoulder.
"OWRCH! Coachman was one of the two chaps I saw'er with."
He took a coin from his pocket and gave it to the boy. "There's a bright lad, now, think very hard. Can you tell me what the other man looked like?"
"Nossir, he was wearin' a great cape an' a hat covered is face. He was tall sort, like yourself, sir. Not like this one ere," he jerked a thumb in my direction. (Well! I am not THAT short.)
"These are fresh horses?" Edrington asked, turning to look at the four beasts patiently standing in their harnesses.
"Yessir, changed them out meself."
"Then unhook two of them and saddle them up." The lad scurried back to the stables, returning with two worn, cracked saddles. "Archie, how's your horsemanship?"
"Well enough! Let us ride." Both of us slapped the pistols we carried strapped to our belts, taking some comfort from their familiar presence.
Edrington hoisted himself into the Coachman's seat, pulled a bayonet from his kit that was still strapped to the top, and slung it over his shoulder by its strap. "Archie, I very much fear that Madeline has been taken by French bounty hunters. They'll have her back in France in two days time to the guillotine in less than a week. Bloodthirsty bastards!"
"But how ?"
"Spies...Portsmouth is full of French spies. Do you not remember that the plans for the Quiberon invasion were stolen from the courier in the street?"
"What? No!" This was the first I'd heard of that!
"Someone must have spotted Madeline on her shopping trip with the Pellews and figured out who she was. All that time we were at sea during the repairs to Delphine was plenty of time for the Frogs to have alerted their spies in Portsmouth that a Frenchwoman who was possibly high-born and definitely an informer against her own people went missing the night of the battle of Gironde. DAMNATION! How could I have been so stupid? I should have anticipated this and never let her out of my sight."
We flung ourselves onto the backs of the mounts. "But how do we know which way to go?"
"Moustache will find his mistress." And Alexander reached down and unlatched the door to the carriage. The frantic animal erupted from the interior and began to circle intently in the dusty street. "Just wait," he said quietly.
"Why doesn't he put his nose to the ground?" I asked.
"This breed," he answered patiently, "pursues their quarry by sight. But they do have a good sense of smell, although not so keen as the Foxhounds you are no doubt used to. They air scent, looking for spoor that is carried on the winds." And sure enough, the hound was sniffing raptly with his head high and his eyes nearly closed. Suddenly, he bounded forward and stretched out into a gallop, moving at an unbelievable speed. "He's got her!" Edrington kicked his mount hard and blasted off behind Moustache. Whacking my horse in the side with my hat, I felt leg muscles long unused to riding horseback contract as I pushed forward in my saddle, urging my mount to a furious gallop in order to keep up with the rapidly disappearing red-coated dust cloud before me.
The dog seemed tireless, but after several miles of trailing at alternating fast speeds and slow (as at times Moustache appeared to lose the scent and had to spend some time circling in order to pick it up again) we found ourselves outside of the town of Reading, moving east on a grassy cart path. It was here, at a country crossroads that Moustache finally came to a halt. He circled, panting and whining, but was not apparently able to pick up the trail again. Edrington and I dismounted. "Good boy," he cooed, scratching the frantic hound behind the ears and patting him on the head ."There's a fine doggie, we'll find your mistress. Archie, I think perhaps they rode horseback to this point, and then they must've put her in a closed carriage, else Moustache would not have lost her scent."
"Look over here!" I exclaimed. On one of the grassy areas near the path was the clear imprint of a coach track and an area of trodden-down grass as if a team of horses had been standing there, moving about and grazing for some time. A fresh cart track veered off to the southeast, towards the forested banks of the Thames. "I think they must have gone towards the river."
"It makes sense they would go towards the river. The best way to smuggle her out of England is by boat. The highways would be watched as soon as we reported her missing." We remounted and rode towards the river, following any bit of grass track that looked as though it had been freshly flattened, Moustache loping beside us.
We came to a wooded tract. A disordered clumping of small houses and cottages lining the banks in either direction could be glimpsed through the foliage. As we scanned the riverbank for any sign of activity, a curious farmer passed by in his oxcart. "Pardon me, but did you see a coach come by?" asked Edrington.
"Nossir, not today. Jist left me Barn meself, sir."
"Well, then" I asked him. "Does anyone around here speak French? We heard that there was someone here who could help us translate a letter."
The farmer looked at me in surprise. "Frainch? Well, you might try stone cottage down t' the left. Mr. Coile. He's been ta' furrin parts. e might be the one you eard of. Best holler at him before you go up to the house. He's funny-like about visitors. Shot a peddler's hat off once, e did, for no reason a'tall."
"That's our man," said Edrington grimly, kicking his horse into a trot in the direction of the farmer's outstretched finger. We dismounted and walked down the lane towards a curl of smoke that was rising from a well-shuttered, stone-walled house. There was a gig behind it with two ponies standing in the traces, and a closed carriage half-hidden in a copse to one side. Edrington motioned at me to lead my horse off the road. We went into a thicket and tethered our mounts. He slipped off his jacket and folding it carefully, put it in his saddlebag. "Don't want to advertise our arrival." I did the same with my jacket. Oh, what we wouldn't have given for our dark clothing we wore in Gironde!
We picked our way towards the house, trying hard to keep ourselves concealed in the foliage, but as fall was advancing many of the trees were becoming bare and the dry leaves crackled under our boots. Moustache was silent as a ghost, his breath like steam as he panted. As we drew near to the house, he suddenly threw up his head and coiled as if to leap forward again. Edrington whipped his hand down and grasped him firmly by the scruff of the neck. "Easy, boy. Damn, I wish the dog spoke English. He cannot be allowed to give us away. Archie, see if you can look through the shutters that one appears to have some slats missing." I crept up to the house in a crouch and carefully eased myself up until I could see through the slats. A few minutes later, I went back to where Edrington was waiting, still holding Moustache in a vise-grip.
"All right. There are two men, neither one is the coachman, Shadsworth. One is very tall, like the boy described. They are sitting at a kitchen table and one of them was washing his hand in a basin. The water looked bloody. The other one was pulling up his trouser leg and wrapping a cloth around a big scrape on his shin. I could only hear a little bit, but it was French. Something that sounded like "Mauvais vasche". Alexander, that means something like "vicious cow". Are we sure about this? Supposing they are just two innocent farmers who got hurt by a rogue bullock?"
"Mauvais Vasche, indeed. No, that would be Madeline. So she did some damage, good for her. Archie, cock and load. We're going in fast and we are going in hard. All three of us. Are you ready?"
"Ready!" I said fervently.
We ran at the back door to the cottage, shattering the wood as the door gave way. We fell into the doorway, Moustache vaulting between us as the two men in the kitchen leapt up and grabbed for their guns. I shot one in the hip as he swung around and he went down with a scream. I tossed that pistol aside and pulled out my second. Edrington had his rifle out, bayonet slashing down as he cut the other man deeply at the wrist. That one's attempt to aim his pistol had been foiled by Moustache, who had launched himself at the man, locking his jaws around the man's other arm. Blood spurted everywhere, speckling the walls with a fine spray of droplets. Edrington knocked him out with his rifle butt. My man lay moaning on the floor, blood soaking the side of his pants. I kicked his rifle out of his reach. We heard boards creaking upstairs, closed the dog in the kitchen with the two wounded men, then scrambled into the center of the house. A staircase went up into a darkened second story.
At the top stood Shadsworth, our late coachman, with his arm around Lady Madeline's neck and a pistol to her temple. "ello, Swells. I'd be thinking you'll let me walk out of ere with the lady and no trouble, unless you'd like to see her ead shot off. Put down yer guns I say!" We looked at each other dispiritedly, then slowly put our guns down on the floor by our feet.
"OK, gentlemen. I am aimin' to get meself a little nest egg. Nothing against the lady, ere, feel free to rescue her anytime after I gets paid. So I am just going walk out o ere noice an' easy, got a noice little boat all waitin' choice day for a float down the Thames and you smart chaps would not give me no reason to get all nervous and accidentally shoot er pretty ead off." We backed off silently as he half-dragged, half-shoved Madeline down the staircase. Her eyes were huge and dark and empty, like dead coals in the ashen whiteness of her face.
As she reached the bottom of the stairs, she appeared to swoon. "My head ." she croaked weakly.
"What have you done to her, man?! A dead aristocrat is worth nothing to the Frogs!" hissed Alexander. Surprised, Shadsworth pushed her slightly away from him to better see her face. Her body went instantly limp, slipping momentarily from his grasp and slumping to the floor.
In an instant, she had grabbed up my pistol where it lay, punched the muzzle right into his stomach, and fired. Shadsworth crumpled over; as he did, his fingers tightened reflexively and a shot tore through Madeline's skirts and slammed into the floorboard beneath her. "Thank Merciful Jesu for petticoats!" she muttered.
"Madeline!" We both tried to lift her in our arms at the same time. Edrington got her wrapped up first.
"Did he hit you?"
"Non. The shot went through my skirts, I am perhaps, just bruised." We looked down and saw that half her dress gaped open from a great powder-stained tear at the hip. Her white shapely leg was outlined by the thin linen shift that was all that remained of the fabrics that made up her dress on that side. I must have appeared to be staring, for Edrington wasted no time tearing a curtain off a window and tying it around her waist.
"That will have to do. Come, Archie, let us see what mischief the two blokes in the kitchen are up to." He glanced down at Shadsworth. "This one is beyond our assistance."
"I think you should shoot them both." Madeline said looking at the two wounded men as she hugged Moustache hard around the neck in the kitchen. "You know they were going to sell me to the guillotine."
"Now that's just thinking like a vindictive woman." Edrington replied through clenched teeth. "Get over here and help me bind up this one's arm before he bleeds to death."
"It might be best to pull the knot very tight." Madeline said with an evil-looking scowl.
"These men could be useful to the local authorities. His Majesty's Government would be pleased to question them about the French spy network. We've lost many emigres over the past years. It's been an embarrassment that we cannot keep our French guests safe within our own borders. No, I am going to tie these two up and then we shall ride back into town and send word to the authorities."
He stood up, sweat streaming in rivulets down his dusty face and blood all over his pants. I am sure I looked no better. I went to the basin and found some rags. "Here, Alexander. We'd best clean up as best we can."
"I think we'll help ourselves to that little gig out back. Madeline, do you think there are any more of them about?"
"I only saw the three. Alexander," she put a hand on his arm. I could see bloodstains under her nails. "I will never forget this. Later, you must tell me how you found me so quickly. I was but an hour away from being put in a boat and shipped down the Thames to London. I owe you, and Archie, my life."
"Moustache is the real hero, Maddy. He led us right to this door."
"Oh, he's the best dog in tout le monde!" she exclaimed, ruffling his neck hair furiously. Among us, Moustache was the only one who looked none the worse for the adventure.
"Um, Alexander," I said. "about Shadsworth.." He grasped my meaning instantly.
"Shadsworth. Right. Madeline, I think it would be best if we let Archie be the one who shot Shadsworth in the stomach." Her eyes flashed angrily, but then she squared her shoulders and began to scrub a smear of blood off her cheek. "Very well, it WAS his pistol that felled the pig coachman. And," she said turning to me, "my hero, you were very clever to drop it where I could so easily fall on it."
I regarded her soberly. Was I really falling in love with a girl who could shoot a man in the stomach and then stand so coolly by the basin, toweling gore out of her hair? Perhaps Edrington was not as far off in his assessment of his cousin as I'd believed this morning.
"Are you any good with a whip?" Edrington asked me.
"What?!" I was shocked out of my reverie. "Pardon? Ask that again!"
"I'll need you to drive Madeline in the gig back into Reading. I'll follow behind with the horses."
"Oh. Right. Of course I'll drive the gig. I did not crash the dung cart, did I? Some fellows have what you might call "Natural Ability"!"
Ch. 17--Like a Rolling Stone
FROM THE PERSONAL PAPERS OF ALEXANDER EDRINGTON, EARL OF EDRINGTON
Nov. 3, 1798
Like the proverbial rolling stone which gathers no moss, I seem to have been set steadily about acquiring a lot of little stones ever since I first spoke to Kennedy on the quay about my desire to return home for a visit. Vision of self, returning home quietly to take my ease through Christmastide was certainly not prescient.
Since that day scarcely a month ago I have added to my entourage Kennedy himself, Madeline, her dog, a large musical instrument of a type previously unknown to me, and now a small boy by the name of Jimmy Finch.
In light of the unsuspected treachery of the coachman, I felt it would be more prudent if we looked to ourselves for transport, at least until we reached the more northern counties. The Reading authorities to whom I turned over Coile's gig and made my report upon our return to town yesterday (for it is now yesterday, being well past Midnight here at the Don's Arms) were quite clear that they had every reason to believe that the main roads out of Portsmouth, Southhampton, Dover, and Spithead were continually-watched by spies and informants. Although our hired carriage had been somewhat torn apart internally by the dog, it is still roadworthy.
We were very surprised to see the small stable lad who had been so helpful before our abrupt departure sitting atop this abandoned carriage outside the Buckhead Tavern as if he were watching it for passengers who were inside taking their rest. Two fresh horses stood ready in the traces to replace those we had unharnessed and used for our mounts. The lad, who has a cheeky manner, popped down and wasted no time explaining to us that he felt that as we might have been gone for a bit, he did not want anyone to get the idea that they could help themselves to any of the dunnage still strapped to the carriage roof. Then he shuffled about a bit looking hopeful and I rewarded his ambition with several more coins, the lad having already gotten rather deep in to my pockets earlier that day!
It was Kennedy who thought to ask him his name and where his father was, as he wished to compliment the man for having such a smart lad for a son. When he told us it was Jimmy Finch, and that his dad was a sailor who died at sea and it was apparently, Kennedy's uniform which made the lad so keen to be helpful, Kennedy's own curiosity was greatly aroused. Upon further questioning, the lad revealed that his mother and grandmother were dead and he had come here to work in the stables for his uncle, the rotund publican who had served us at dinner. He said, with such a mask of tragedy as to be worthy of Drury Lane, that his uncle might send him to the workhouse. Kennedy felt certain that he knew the lad's father, who had been one of Hornblower's original gun division. Young Finch expressed the wish to go to sea like his "da'" and after that there was nothing for it but to negotiate with the publican, who agreed to let us take the lad in exchange for three and a half crowns and a promise to try to get him into the Navy.
Kennedy feels certain he can find the boy a spot on the Indefatigable and that Hornblower would take a personal interest in his welfare. It occurred to me that the boy would be useful to have riding on the back of the carriage to serve as a lookout, and that with the loss of the coachman an extra hand with the horses would not go amiss. I can always drop him right back here on my way back to my regiment if he proves unsatisfactory in any way. Madeline purchased a quantity of pastries from the publican's wife and set about feeding the boy, who is small and thin and looks much younger than his professed age of 11. But Kennedy avers that his putative father was a small, wiry sort of man. Kennedy regards his delivery of young Finch to the Indefatigable as a sort of gift to Hornblower. Apparently, the father saved Hornblower's life and then died of starvation disease during a time of rationing when the Spanish cut the supply lines to the Fleet in Gibralter. This is exactly the sort of sentimental grand gesture that I have come to expect from Kennedy. Not every officer would be delighted by the present of an 11 year old boy to look after and I cannot say Hornblower strikes me as particularly paternal.
It was so late when we finally left Reading, that I felt it best if I drove the coach to Oxford. Mr. Kennedy, though both resourceful and courageous during the pursuit and rescue of Madeline, was quite obviously tired. We'd gone no farther than ten miles or so when young Finch set up a great caterwauling in the back and there was a furious pounding on the window beneath my seat. I halted the horses and got down, to find Madeline in great distress unleashing a torrent of unintelligible French in my direction. After grasping her and shaking her firmly, she was able to relate in a more coherent fashion that Kennedy had fallen asleep and begun to thrash about violently. She was quite agitated and clearly thought he might be dying from poisoning, or something of that nature. Tears were shed and so on. I was able to ease her mind when I explained that he was probably just having a fit, and that Lt. Hornblower had spoken to me privately about this possibility, stating that his friend was particularly prone to them at night after a period of extreme physical or emotional exhaustion. Lt. Hornblower further had warned me that if he were to have one, we could expect him to sleep soundly as if unconscious for an hour or more. The only real danger would be if in thrashing about that he did himself some injury.
I really do not understand what it was about today's events that might have caused such a thing. He was evidently not disposed to have one the night of the Gironde invasion and to pursue and shoot enemy should be no unusual exertion for a military officer. His part was performed capably enough.
There was nothing for it but that Madeline would show the recumbent Kennedy every sympathy and kindness. She moved to his side of the coach and put his head upon her lap, stroking his hair back from his expressionless face with such tenderness that it disorders my mind to conceive that these same fingers just hours before had grasped a pistol firmly and fired a fatal shot. I suggested that if Mr. Kennedy were to awake it might not go amiss if he were to have a different sort of pillow to cradle his head, but Madeline's response to this was to give me a look of such irritation that I decided that further debate was useless and the best plan would be to drive on to Oxford with much haste, and hope that Kennedy did not awaken until we had reached our destination.
Which we have. He seemed, upon awakening, to be blissfully unaware that anything untoward had taken place. TomorrowSheffield
November 3, 1798
Capt. Sir Edward Pellew
Dear. Captain Pellew,
Pursuant to our conversations on board the Indefatigable, I am writing to request your permission to write a letter on behalf of Lt. Archibald Kennedy to Admiral Lord Hood.
Lt. Kennedy, as you may have by now seen reports of in the military journals, was instrumental in the rescue of my cousin, Lady Madeline Du Martine from bounty hunters who had abducted her from outside a tavern with the intention of selling her to the French Republican government so that she might stand trial. Prior to this, he had obtained information which led us to her captors by concocting a clever cover story which fooled a local farmer into revealing the location of the French sympathizers who held her.
I, and my entire family, owe him a tremendous debt. I would care to repay it in the only way open to me at this time, by assisting him in the advancement of his career. His physical affliction, as we discussed, will limit his effectiveness as a commander of men, but from my own observations he is perfectly capable of performing almost any feat of subterfuge when acting on his own. It would be very unfortunate for His Majesty's Interests if his unique talents were not put to goodly usage. I would therefore request your permission to add my own recommendation to your own that he be reassigned to Lord Hood's Naval Intelligence group.
Hoping this finds you, and your ship's company, in the best of health and spirits,
Yours most sincerely,
Major Alexander Edrington, Earl of Edrington
November 3, 1798
Lt. Horatio Hornblower
Dear Lt. Hornblower,
I urge you to reconsider your refusal to join my family for Christmas at Edrington Hall. As you may have been informed by your Captain, young Kennedy has left me greatly in his debt. The only way I can conceive of to repay him in a manner that will both delight him, and which he will accept, would be to bring you as my guest to Edrington Manor so that he might introduce you to his family and have the pleasure of your company. His home is quite to close my own.
It would be the least I could do for him to send one of my own carriages and drivers to Portsmouth to bring you to the Northern Counties for a week and then convey you back in plenty of time to rejoin your ship. Captain Pellew has assured me that the training exercises and refittings will be concluded no later than December 18, as he is also desirous of spending Christmas with his wife and children.
I will look forward to hearing from you. My mother, the Countess; my sister, Lady Katherine; and I would welcome you with the greatest of pleasure.
Yours most sincerely,
Major Alexander Edrington, Earl of Edrington
Ch. 18-- Edrington Hall at Last
I awoke slowly from a deliciously deep sleep with the sensation that my head was resting on the softest, sweetest pillow imaginable. Damp, warm breath caressed my face like a tropical breeze. But then a hot wet tongue darted into my ear and my cheek was brushed by slimy, coarse whiskers and I shot bolt upright with a yell of outrage. But it was only the dog, and Lady Madeline, laughing and sounding (or did I imagine this?) almost relieved. Had I really been lying with my head cradled in her lap? Or did I just dream it? I wish I could recall. The carriage was quite dark.
"We're in Oxford," she explained. And so we were.
The Don's Arms proved to be a large inn on the outskirts of the college. The taproom was full of students and Dons of the college arguing amongst themselves with such vigor that it was surprising no weapons were produced. Edrington stood out in their disorderly midst a tall, precise, tired looking soldier with his cape drawn around himself to hide the stains of our adventure in Reading. It was close to midnight when we arrived but he threw sufficient coin at the innkeeper as to induce him to command his wife to put on her nightrobe and have supper and basins of warm water for bathing brought upstairs to our rooms. Despite my slumber in the carriage, I was still exhausted and bathed in haste, sparing just a moment to gaze ruefully at the ruins of my new uniform, hopelessly bloodstained. Thankfully, I had the spare. Edrington generously offered to have a new uniform made up for me by his personal tailor, but I refused. It was my pleasure to assist him in rescuing his cousin. His unconscious assumption that I would not only be willing to ride forth hellbentforleather, but would also be capable of going in shoulder to shoulder with a great military personage such as himself meant far more to me than any mere well-cut jacket with golden trim.
And one day I shall tell him so.
I fell gratefully into my cot and the last thing I saw through my slitted eyes as I drifted into blissful slumber was his lean, nightshirted figure bent over the desk, working studiously over his journals and correspondence as had been his habit every night as I had noticed. Such discipline. I'd have just as soon left it until the morrow.
The next morning, we started with fresh horses for Sheffield. I offered to drive on this portion of our journey and he seemed content to have the opportunity to ride inside with Lady Madeline. Driving is a wonderful occupation if you need some time to think. I hoped that Edrington had used his stint on the reins to reflect on what I had said to him at the Buckhead the day before, but it appeared that if he had his conduct was still vexatious to his cousin. At one point, I felt the entire carriage wall beneath my seat shake as if something had been thrown hard at it from Lady Madeline's side (she preferred to ride facing forward) to his. A very high-spirited girl, our Lady M. I admired her excessively.
But with each passing milepost, Lady Madeline appeared to become more subdued in manner. She shyly broached a delicate subject with me as we strolled about the coach in the afternoon, stretching our legs and exercising the dog.
"Once I am at Edrington Hall, I am afraid we can not be as easy with each other as we have been. I must call you always Lt. Kennedy. Much as it pains me to admit it, my cousin the Earl is right about this. It would not do for us to be too familiar in our addresses to each other."
"I was thinking the same thing, myself, Lady Madeline. Shipboard camaraderie is a wonderful thing, but I would never wish to behave in any way that would cast doubt onto your reputation."
"Or yours," she said with an arch look.
"Well, I am supposed to be the scandalous one."
"You must not let My Lord Edrington vex you with imagined incidents or past events. Here, in your new home, you shall have a clean slate." I said gallantly. And from my own experience, I knew that a clean slate was a chance to reclaim one's future.
"I'll take your advice to heart, Lt. Kennedy." Lady Madeline smiled at me. A small, faintly superior social smile but there was the suggestion of a wink in her eye.
"And might I add, Lady Madeline, that except for your charming accent your English has become impeccable. Perhaps your cousin is beginning to have a greater influence than you think."
"The value of being an avid reader with an English mother, Lt. Kennedy. These words have been ripe for plucking in my mind for many years, it is only now that I have use for them, so that I might strive to match your own pleasing cadence in conversation."
Well! I know when I havebeen outgallanted, but it did not bother me much, somehow.
Thankfully, the next two days' journey proceeded without further incident or excitement. Young Jimmy Finch proved to be a deft hand with the horses and although it had been difficult to convince Edrington to take him with us, he appeared quietly resigned once he saw that the lad intended to be useful. I also perceived a certain softening in his attitude towards Lady Madeline.
"Alexander?" I asked him the following night as we prepared to bed down in a large double-cotted room over a tavern, "I find Lady Madeline to be in better spirits since her abduction than before. Have you reassured her as to the warm welcome she can expect when she reaches your home?"
"Lady Madeline's better spirits, I believe, have more to do with her satisfaction over the great troubles she put us through by being so careless as to venture out of the Buckhead alone than with anything I have said to her."
"Oh, you are much too hard on her, Alexander. You should show some interest in her past, as I have. We had the most fascinating conversation yesterday while you were driving. I asked her about her parents and her younger life." I heaved up on one elbow and struck a match, lighting the candle on my nightstand. In the dim glow, I could see Edrington sitting upright on his mattress, feet together and thighs raised, elbows resting on his knees and his long blonde hair unbound and streaming in rippling waves down his back. In his ruffled nightshirt, he would have looked almost like a tall but homely girl if not for his hairy shins and big feet.
"She told me that her father, the Compte, was the greatest duellist in all of France. Imagine that! It was her father that taught her to shoot."
"For which service we shall be forever grateful, no doubt," commented Edrington wearily. "I shall be sure to tell any potential suitors for her hand that her marksmanship is superb. They'll find that heartening on the wedding night."
I ignored his sarcasm, I was used to it by now. " and that so great was his love for her mother that he refused to leave her side when the mob stormed the Chateaux. Her mother was too ill to be ride out, and he stayed by her even though he had the means to escape to the country with Madeline and save his neck."
"The more fool, he, then. What did that accomplish for any of them? What good did it do his daughter to be left an orphan?"
"Hmm maybe not so good for her, but you must allow it is a romantic story, Alexander. Just think of it! It is like something from Shakespeare. I can see it all so clearly in my mind."
"I am sure France is full of such stories. Every Chateaux must have a romantic tale of brave aristocracy facing down the mob."
"Alexander, she has miniatures of her family in her satchel. I saw them when we were tidying up the mess that Moustache made. Have you seen them?"
"No. And I haven't asked."
"Well, you should. Her father was extraordinarily handsome, in an old-fashioned sort of way. It's hard to tell what her mother looked like under the big, white-powdered wig she wore to have her portrait painted but I fancy she looks quite a bit like Lady Madeline. She also, um, has a miniature of her brother. The one who died. He was a beautiful child. It's so sad, Alexander, " I said with feeling. "Oh, I am sure if you would but look at them you would see that she is greatly to be pitied."
"Lady Madeline might have many fine qualities but she has killed at least one man in the few weeks I have known her, and wounded several others..self included. She is a lioness. Do not underestimate her just because she is a woman, and do not overestimate the way she has obviously tried to gain your sympathies." He smiled at me. A wan, but kindly smile which I found irritating beyond all reason. "Archie, go to sleep. Tomorrow we shall be at Edrington Hall and you can meet my sister and I shall give you a proper bed to sleep in. My valet shall care for your wardrobe so you can make the last leg of your journey home looking like a proper officer in His Majesty's Navy. Good night." And with that, he rolled over and pulled the blanket over his head.
The next day we found fair weather and made good time from York to Aynsley. Northumberland is a rough country compared to the gentle rolling pasturages and vegetable plots drained by the Thames, but I find it to be beautiful in its way. It is a land divided between the mining of coal and the husbandry of sheep and cattle. The coal towns are full of dark, stunted-looking men. The countryside is dotted with flocks of sheep and boasts the best climate for wool in all of England. Game is plentiful and shooting parties come together every weekend in the autumn and winter to make sport of the grouse and pheasant cocks, which have already flown with the hens and made the Springs' crop of hatchlings. The streams run fat with salmon in the fall, making their way up to the shallow gravels where they drop their eggs, then die. It is a land where death and rebirth, renewal and decay are all played out in the open air like a vast repetitive drama.
I joined Edrington up in the coachman's seat for the last few miles of our journey. I was excessively eager to see Edrington Hall and his lands. We turned through an open gate of ornate black iron grillwork. High stone walls appeared to stretch for miles in each direction along the road. Our coach clattered for several minutes down a long brick driveway lined with yews and then, rounding a bend, I saw Edrington Hall rear up before my eyes. My older brother's descriptions of it had not prepared me for the monumental size of the place. It appeared to have been built in several sections over the centuries and did not have the symmetrical architecture of newer manor houses such as our own, but it had a sprawling majesty as its many levels cupped the top of a hill like a well-fitted bicorn on a Midshipman's domey head. The back of the edifice faced a dizzying drop to the river mouth as it entered the North Sea. Stone walled paddocks, garden plots, barns, and the houses of tenant farmers dotted the green hillsides that sloped along the river banks in both directions from the big house. To the west I could see the patchwork quilt of grain fields turning to gold in the autumn sunshine.
"And here we are." Edrington said simply. "Welcome to my home, Archie. It'll be tight, but we'll try to squeeze you in."
Looking at thispalace!--I thought to myself but dared not say "That must have been one hell of a favor."
Ch. 19While Kennedy Sleeps
FROM THE PERSONAL PAPERS AND CORRESPONDENCE FILES OF ALEXANDER EDRINGTON, EARL OF EDRINGTON
Nov. 3, 1798
Sheffield, we are in Sheffield and it is almost midnight. I envy young Kennedy's capacity for instant slumber as soon as his body touches a mattress. I wonder if it is due to his life on board a ship, which by comparison must render all other accommodations spacious and quietly restful. But his sleep is like the deep, untroubled sleep of childhood and he awakens with the same childish immediate energy and alertness. So perhaps it is instead just an attribute complimentary to his direct, enthusiastic nature.
I have indeed thought long and hard about the various earnest lectures I have endured from him on the subject of Madeline. He sees the surface--that which is tragic about her life and which awakens in him a mixture of pity and concern for her tender emotions. I see the past, and how it must have shaped her to become the spitting wildcat she seems to become whenever she perceives herself backed into a corner by my superior rationality on certain topics.
What can I know for sure about her life, and what must fall into the realm of unproductively idle speculation? All that I know is that she has been living with persons who were formerly servants on a tenant farm, masquerading as a former governess returned to country life by lack of employment. In this time, she has added poaching, milking, herding, and bartering with peddlers to her previous education in art, literature, music, and dancing. She has also had no realistic chance of marriage in all that time, which must go hard on a woman. How she handled that sense of loss is one of those matters for idle speculation. That she ingeniously thought of a plan to trade information on the Gironde fortress for a means to leave France is not. She could not have known I would be a part of that invasion, or could she? Did her mother ever speak of her English kin? I havehad no stomach to bring that subject up again, so uncomfortably am I reminded of my rudeness the first time I saw her.
At times, I feel as if I am outflanked and outmaneuvered by an enemy who will not show itself. To interrogate Capt. Pellew or Admiral Hood on this topic would betray too much interest. She is returned. I am doing my duty as an Edrington and as her only living male relative. That is sufficient.
And to be sure, I have been unfair to her in one regard. Upon consideration, it does seem to me that her rough manners are inevitable considering that she has spent the last few years passing as a commoner. To have behaved as a lady of her birth should would have given her away as surely as if she had stalked through the muddy streets of Gironde in her court dress and ablaze with diamonds. I am gratified to see that with a few pointed reminders that she has become steadily more decorous in her public behavior. I was surprised at how well she absorbed and agreed with that part of the subject I broached with her earlier today that of how she must address Kennedy once we are home. She clearly wished to do nothing which would be cause for speculation, particularly that which would arouse concern that he had behaved with her in an overly familiar manner. Clearly, her concern for HIS reputation was as great or perhaps even greater than her concern for her own. An unusual sentiment for a female.
Unless, of course, an attachment was forming between them. I decided, perhaps unwisely, to press my advantage and bring up a more delicate subject. That of how her deportment towards Kennedy might serve to give the young man encouragement, which would be cruel, since clearly she could not be seriously considering someone who had no fortune and only modestly good breeding. I had hoped through taking this tack with her to entice her to reveal her true state of heart. However, she seized upon the perceived sleight to Kennedy's birth and held forth for some time on my snobbery, coldness, lack of honest feeling, lack of appreciation for Kennedy's many excellent qualities (which of course I am NOT insensible of), and lack of confidence in her ability to conduct her own affairs. Additionally, she threw a meat pie at my head, which would not have been so bad if not for it being still in the clay potfortunately, the pot hit the carriage wall behind my head. The Deerhound enjoyed the carnage from this battle to the utmost, and despite her lingering outrage she did still laugh as the dog put both paws on my legs and proceeded to lick meat pie out of my hair. Lady Madeline had the grace to apologize for her bad temper, but only to the extent that she allowed she wished she would taken the pie out of the pot before flinging it at me.
We are going through clean uniforms quite quickly on this trip, Kennedy and I. My valet will probably concoct some rather fanciful tales to tell dowstairs after he unpacks our trunks and repairs the damages. He looks forward to my sporadic homecomings. I do strive not to disappoint him. Noblesse oblige.
Outside of York tonight and should be within a few miles of home by tomorrow afternoon. Today was long but without incident. Madeline subdued. Is she really that overwhelmed at the thought of meeting my mother?
Kennedy is like someone with a high fever. I cannot tell if it because of his excitement at returning home after such a long absence or if his emotions are inflamed by the presence of Lady Madeline. I suspect there is attachment formed on his side, at least. Poor sod.
Kennedy allowed that he is not much of a letter-writer. His correspondence home only revealed that he hoped to return sometime in early November so they are not expecting him on a particular date. I remember Kennedy's father Lord Kennedy, a Baronet, quite well. An affable, stoutish sort of gentleman. I think that at one time he actually aspired to have his elder son Edward pay court to my sister. I cannot account otherwise for why two such poor shots would come to every shooting party on the estate. Thankfully, Katherine would have none of Eddie Kennedy. It seems from Archie Kennedy's description of his brother's matrimonial prize that he succeeded in securing a wife with lands and a title after all, although young Kennedy says the wife is somewhat disagreeable. I do not think that the brothers Kennedy were particularly close. Kennedy has several sisters and they are much younger than he is. I am fortunate that Katherine and I are close in age and can be companionable with each other. Kennedy seems to consider the gap in age between his brother, his younger sisters, and himself so vast that there was never any real prospect for mutual affection except that demanded by the ties of blood. But I suspect, from my memory of the elder Kennedy brother, that age is not the primary factor. Of his mother, Kennedy says little, taking her presence in his life for granted as most men do.
He's been a fine companion and it was my pleasure to offer him a night's stay at my home, and then the use of my best carriage and team to return him to his family. It strikes me that with the older Kennedy brother in residence, that it would be of some benefit to Archie Kennedy if he made his entrance with a little more dash. This will be particularly important since he will also be arriving with young Finch trailing unannounced in his wake. I am not keeping him.
Ch. 20A Family Portrait
Edrington drove the coach around a curving, circular carriageway and halted it at the base of black marble steps, which rose in a flight of a dozen or more to the tall ornately carved double doors which comprised the entry to Edrington Hall. A pale, narrow man's face appeared briefly in a window. Then the doors were flung wide and out swept a tall, old lady in a gown of the very latest cut, flanked by six footmen and a bevy of maids who arranged themselves in two lines up the stairs forming a gauntlet through which we were obviously expected to pass. The lady, who was unquestionably Edrington's "mamah", the Dowager Countess of Edrington, stayed put up top waiting for us to come to her. Little Jimmy Finch set about unloading the bags to the flagstones behind the carriage. Edrington and I dismounted and he opened the door of the carriage, extending a hand to Lady Madeline, who took it and eased out of the carriage gracefully. She was dressed in the same gown she had worn at Pellew's dinner and looked a lady. Edrington pursed his lips, inspected her, and then nodded as if pleased. She did not nod back, her eyes downcast but her chin high.
I mounted the steps behind them. As we passed each servant, the footmen bowed and the maids bobbed their heads and all murmured, "Welcome home, My Lord".
"Edrington!" the old lady exclaimed. "So good to have you home, dear heart." She pecked him on a proffered cheek.
"Mamah, I would like to present to you our second cousin, Lady Madeline Du Martine. Lady Madeline, this is my mother, the Dowager Countess of Edrington." Madeline kept her eyes lowered, curtsied deeply.
"Your Ladyship, I am delighted to make your acquaintance and I am grateful for your hospitality."
The Dowager Countess peered hard at her, then snorted and pulled out a lorgnette she would had hidden in the folds of her dress. She squinted through it, inspecting Lady Madeline as if checking her for fleas. "Oh Dear. Oh my," She sighed, "Well, I suppose it cannot be helped. Lady Madeline, welcome to Edrington Hall."
"Mother, this is Lt. Archibald Kennedy, a friend of mine. I have invited him to stay this evening. You remember his father, Lord Kennedy?" The Countess turned her gaze to me, peering through her lorgnette. It magnified her eyes alarmingly. They were watery blue but very piercing.
"Yes, indeed I do. I am charmed, Lieutenant Kennedy. Any friend of Edrington's is always welcome here."
"Thank you, your Ladyship." I bowed low, kissed her extended hand. "I now know why my father enjoyed his visits here so very much."
"Why, you're a dear boy! Come whenever you like." She had a deep, husky voice for a woman with none of the tremulousness of old age. She looked back at Edrington, brows knitted. "Edrington, why were you driving? Where is the coachman? I DO hope no one saw you up there."
"Lady Madeline shot our coachman, Mother."
"Oh did she?" she looked sharply at Lady Madeline who was still standing demurely with her eyes lowered. "Well, in that case I expect she'll want to freshen up before dinner. Child, it's at 7 o'clock." She snapped her fingers at a footman. "Montross will show you to your room. Montross, get her bags. Put her in the Chinese bedroom. Mary," she motioned at one of the maids. "Mary will be your maid today. We have a busy day for you tomorrow. In the morning, we will see the dressmaker and then we shall interview several ladies maids for you."
"You are all kindness and consideration, your Ladyship, to make these arrangements on my behalf." Lady Madeline raised her eyes.
"Nonsense. Anyone can see your need is pressing."
"But, Alexander, what about ?"
"Ah. Yes. Of course." Edrington shouted down to Finch. "Jimmy! Take Moustache out now please! Round the back and to the stables. Ask for Reese, he'll help you clean him up."
"Yes, sir, m'lud." The lad pulled Moustache from the carriage on his leash.
Edrington glanced at Madeline. "Is that all right? He's expecting him, I wrote about him. He'll feed him, clean him up so he can come in the house. I'll have him brought to you tonight." Madeline nodded, satisfied.
"What's that?" asked the Countess, taking a good look at young Finch for the first time and a dim view it appeared to be. "A child?"
"That would be Finch, mother. He wants to join the Navy." Edrington replied smoothly.
"The NAVY?' the Dowager looked dubious. "What is he doing here, then?"
"He's taking the scenic route to Portsmouth. Come on, Archie. Let me take you inside and introduce you to my sister. Mother, where is she?"
"Lady Katherine is in the library, she knows you are here. Don't keep her waiting too long." The Countess clucked softly to herself, smiling and shaking her head.
We walked into the entryway of the house and I had to struggle to keep from gaping like a gasping carp. Of course I'd been in many fine homes, but this one had by far the most impressive entry. A cavernous hall went all the way back to tall windows that opened onto a view over the cliff, and down to the river below. The floor was green serpentine marble square slabs each a meter or more across and a frieze of marble with mythological gods and warriors and women in diaphanous Greek draperies played out their drama in an endless circle on the walls high above my head. In the center of the great hall, sat a life-sized statue of a laughing nearly naked boy riding a dolphin on marble waves that looked so real it was as if the boy and fish had sprung from a fountain beneath the floor.
"We were lucky enough to have a crack at some of the really good pieces Lord Elgin brought back from the Mediterranean. Do you like them?"
"Do I! Alex__, My Lord, they are beyond compare." Our boots rang out on the polished marble tiles and Edrington, placing a hand on my shoulder steered me towards one of the doors that opened onto the hall.
Through a beautifully-appointed parlor and then through another door and I saw a seated woman who was without question the most beautiful lady in the world. She sat on a chair draped with embroidered cloth of damask and gold thread. A shawl of some lilac-colored wool covered her lap, where she had placed a leather-bound volume that I saw to be Ovid, one slim finger between the pages to hold her place. Her hair was thick and curly and dark brown, styled into perfect ringlets. Large, almond-shaped brown eyes with gracefully-arched brows gazed up at Edrington with a look of complete delight. Her mouth was full and beautifully-shaped, her smile broad and welcoming, her skin was the color of cream and her bosom was as opulent as the rest of her. All these things I saw in an instant, and then Edrington was over to her side in a rush, sinking to one knee and pressing his forehead against hers.
"Katherine. You look so beautiful." He kissed her forehead.
"Zandy!" she squealed. "You are taller and handsomer every time you come home."
I sputtered, choking back laughter. The vision in the chair inclined her head towards me. Zandy? Him? I found myself thinking of what a laugh Horatio would get when I told him. Edrington grinned sheepishly.
"Katherine, I would have you meet my friend, Lt. Archie Kennedy. Kennedy, this is my sister, Lady Katherine Edrington." I walked over and took her hand, kissing it. Ah, she was so languid, so graceful in her movements. A true Lady, too fine to rise simply to meet a mere Lieutenant.
"Welcome, Lt. Kennedy. I have been eager to meet you; Zandy has written me much about you." I arched a questioning eyebrow at him. "Oh, everything he wrote was most complimentary. He has already got you partnering several local beauties at the dance we shall have here next weekend," She trilled. "Or did not he tell you? Well, that would be just like him. Leaving his sister to do the deed."
"I only hope I am up to the task, "Zandy?"" I said, wrinkling my nose.
"Childhood nickname." Edrington said simply. "Katherine couldn't pronounce Alexander. It came out that way and just stuck. No need to put it about, Kennedy," he said gruffly. Lady Katherine laughed.
"Always the dignified one." She teased. "Pay him no mind." She pulled on a bell cord behind her chair. "I expect you'll want a brandy. And I shall introduce you to our new Major-domo."
In seconds, a most unique-looking person oiled into the room, dressed immaculately in black and white. His skin was the color of coffee with milk, not cream, and his large dark eyes and perfect set of dazzling white teeth flashed in the darkened library when he smiled and bowed. His short hair was combed back and its blue-black shine was as brilliant as any I'd ever seen on Edrington's boots. "This is Ashok* Ashok, I want you to take good care of my brother and our guest Lt. Kennedy." I am sure Edrington's open-mouthed stare was a mirror of my own. He recovered his composure quickly, though.
(* pronounced A-shoak')
"You have only to ask Ashok, and it is already done." He bowed again. A Punjabi. What an unexpected thing to find in Northumberland. The man walked lightly on the balls of his feet, almost dancing out of the room.
"A real find, Ashok!" Lady Katherine said warmly.
"Katherine, wherever did you find an .Indian..up here? And what happened to Hurley?"
"Hurley was unsatisfactory, so I sacked him. I got Ashok from Col. Wellesley. You know him, don't you Zandy?"
"The "Sepoy Colonel"? What is he doing up here? Why isn't he in India or back at his own home in Ireland?"
"Col. Wellesley is forming a new division for the Guides. There are so many young men displaced by the clearances, they are fairly pouring over the border. They are all good horsemen and good shots. He feels Northumberland is an excellent place to recruit for the India Divisions. Also, his sister is married to Sir Charles MacAllister, so he has family he can stay with. He visits us quite often."
"Oh does he at that?"
"Yes. He's delightful, I am sure you'll like him. He's a particular friend. Anyhow, Zandy, he brought back Ashok and agreed to loan him to me after I sacked Hurley. He's been wonderful." She leaned forward and put a hand on Edrington's forearm but she looked up to draw me into the circle of conversation. "He's terribly well educated for a butler. His father is physician to a Raja and Ashok has the most interesting ideas about medicine. Ashok wanted to come to England to learn more about our society and to better his English. He doesn't mind working here at all. Mother adores him."
"But Katherine, what do our friends think?"
"Some of the men think it a scandal, but the Countess of Aylesford already tried to hire him away, so they have stopped talking." She raised her chin and flashed me a saucy smile. "Really, we're Edringtons we set the tone. Now everyone wants a Punjabi butler."
Ashok reentered the room as if on cue with two beautifully-cut crystal brandy snifters, handing one to each of us with a bow. Now that I had gotten over my surprise, I could see that for an Indian he was exceptionally fine-looking tall, well-made, with strong, regular features. Edrington swirled the amber liquid, then sipped, looked thoughtful, and smiled. "This is Father's best. And it's holding up extremely well."
"I told Ashok to pour from that cask for you. It's not every day you come home."
I took a sip from my glass. Heaven.
"How do you find it, Lt. Kennedy?"
"Like drinking molten gold, my Lady."
"Oh, he has a ready wit! He'll do nicely, Zandy, you were quite right." Oh dear "Well, I must go and dress for dinner," Lady Katherine said. "Ashok." The dark man immediately moved to the back of her chair and flipped the ornate cloth over her lap, smoothing it carefully without touching her. It was only then that I was able to see the wheels beneath.
Ashok wheeled her out of the room and I turned to Edrington. I hardly knew what to say. He would never said a thing to prepare me, you see. "She is as beautiful and charming as you portrayed her," I said. But I am sure I looked rather more plussed than non.
"Come. I'll show you to your room so you can dress. I feel the need of stretching out a bit and working on my father's brandy. I wasn't exactly expecting to find Wellesley sniffing around the place and some sort of Punjabi version of Hornblower carting my sister about. It's a bit of a shock."
"I thought his name was Ashok."
"Archie .I am in no mood " then he laughed. "Oh hell! Maybe I should go out to the stables and make sure we still have horses and not elephants. Care to join me?"
Ch. 21--Pheasants and Flying Fish
Edrington had been as good as his word. While we had been enjoying our snifters and I had been getting acquainted with Lady Katherine, my dunnage had been brought to my room and Edrington's valet had given such redeemable clothing as I possessed a good going-over and pressing. I came down to dinner with my Leftenant's jacket over a snowy white shirt and breeches, my shoes polished to a gleam which reflected that I had always seen on Edrington's own boots. I could definitely get used to this standard of living, I thought.
Lady Madeline had been in the back of my mind ever since she was handed over to the good offices of Montross and the little lady's maid, Mary. I wondered how she was faring. It was clear that the Dowager did not consider her ready to meet Lady Katherine until she had been given a good going over, any more than Edrington had been willing to let her dog in the house before he would had a bath in the stable. I suppose I'd spent a little too much time dawdling in my room, admiring my shoes and so forth for when I entered the dining room, they were all there assembled like a painter's tableaux the aristocratic English family at home. Well, except for one's in a wheeled chair, one's looking daggers at the Major-domo whenever he turns his back to attend to the dagger-eyed one's sister, and one's sitting ramrod straight looking like she is got a really bad itch but is too proud to scratch it. Only the Dowager Countess, fussing about the table snapping orders at the young footmen in a manner that put me very much in mind of Captain Pellew, appeared completely at ease.
It was the first time I'd seen Edrington out of his military uniform, other than when he was in a nightshirt. A simple dark brown coat, very unadorned, but with a severe cut and high collar that made a quiet but firm announcement that he had got it from the best tailor in London. Tan waistcoat, cream-colored breeches; I scarcely recognized him. I'd gotten so accustomed to the entire display of red, and gold, and white and gleaming brass that comprised the uniform of a high-ranking army officer that this new Edrington looked strangely younger, slighter; not as tall and forbidding as I had always thought him. He looked, well, aristocratic but not terribly exceptional. Not all that much different, for example, from myself.
Lady Madeline was seated in a corner deep in conversation with Lady Katherine. Madeline's hair had indeed been the object of Herculean labors on the part of the maid, and although it was secured tightly in a style reminiscent of the Dowager's own precise arrangement of curls it appeared to me that the maid had got it pulled a little too tight. Lady Madeline looked a bit cross and uncomfortable, and could not seem to stop from tugging at her curls to loosen them.
The Dowager swept toward me with a vigorous step. "Ah, Mr. Kennedy. Now our party is complete. I hope you will enjoy what the cook has planned for us tonight. Ashok and Reese shot some lovely pheasant today." She almost looked coquettish as she tilted her head. She was taller than I am, which rendered the effect alarming.
"Your Ladyship, pheasant is my most favorite food in all the world, and in scarce supply on a Frigate of War as you can imagine." She seemed to find this funny, or at least she laughed convincingly. Breeding will out.
"The shooting's not much then, in the Navy?"
"Not unless you want to make sport of flying fish, Ma'am." I ventured a discreet wink. "A good test of marksmanship to be sure, but full of bones. I cannot recommend them to Your Ladyship."
"Mr. Kennedy, do they really fly?" Lady Katherine asked, wide-eyed, one elegant hand over her bosom. "Zandy, did you ever see them?" I heard a wet, spluttering sound from Lady Madeline's direction.
"No, Katherine. I did not. But Lt. Kennedy has seen duty in more tropical seas than I have. The English Channel is not noted for exotic sea creatures."
"To answer your question, Lady Katherine, they glide. Not unlike pheasant do from thicket to thicket, but in their case, it is from wave to wave." I arced my hand in a graceful motion, fluttering my thumb and pinkie.
"Oh, I would so like to see that! You must have seen many interesting things on your travels. I adore nature and all animals, Mr. Kennedy."
"I am very much looking forward to showing you my dog, Lady Katherine." Lady Madeline volunteered, hoping to be included in the conversation. "Your brother (I could tell she REALLY wanted to use the name "Zandy" but dared not) has told me that you have a Deerhound bitch, who is related to Moustache."
"Oh yes," said Lady Katherine, "I do she is a lovely girl. I am all eagerness to meet Monsieur Moustache, Madeline." She leaned forward and placed her hand on the table next to Madeline's. "We have sort of a routine here, which I think you will enjoy. After dinner, we allow our dogs to come into the house and join us in the library by the fire. Mother usually enjoys her stories (she wrinkled her nose), and I work on correspondence. ZAlexander isn't home much of course, but when he is he likes to sit, drink port, and move his chessmen about periodically complaining about how bored he is listening to us."
"That's hardly true!" Edrington spluttered. "I am not complaining I am just offering, er, literary criticism." He turned to me. "My mamah is much addicted to a sort of Ladies literature. It is perfectly foul, you'll see..."
"Oh, I am sure that Her Ladyship has excellent taste in all things. Did she not command this superb dinner?" And to be sure, the footmen entered bearing the first courses and the Dowager bade us sit.
"Mr. Kennedy lays it on rather thick," she commented dryly, "but I cannot say it goes amiss. I havereached an age when I am resolved to do as I please and do not require my son's good opinion to enjoy my foibles to the fullest".
"Quite right, Mother. You do not." Edrington smiled fondly at her. "Lady Madeline has promised me that she will read you whatever you like, isn't that so, Madeline?" he said with a pointed look.
"Yes, Your Ladyship, it will be my pleasure I am sure." She tugged again at her curls. "Is this, then, the latest fashion for hair in England? I find it most uncomfortable."
"You'll get used to it in time." Lady Katherine said smoothly. "Perhaps you would find the style more pleasing if you had a more modish dress and the proper ornaments. We shall take care of that tomorrow. My brother has already written the dressmakers and advised them as to the color and type of fabric and trimmings to purchase for your gowns."
"Oh, has he really?"
"Of course, these things had to be already taken care of, since you must have new gowns by next Saturday. We're having quite a grand ball. You'll be launched into our society there. It wouldn't do not to have you dressed as well as any woman there." Lady Katherine explained reasonably.
"And do I then get no choice in colors or fabrics?"
"If that yellow gown you had made for yourself in Portsmouth is any example, it would be better if you did not," said Alexander with a thin-lipped, tight smile. "It's not flattering to your complexion."
"Shocking rudeness, Edrington," said his mother stoutly. She turned to face Madeline. "It is too bad you and my daughter are not of a size. She has an incomparable wardrobe. But you are so, well, of such singular proportions. You will need to be fitted."
Lady Madeline looked like she was simmering. She muttered something about some people not looking quite so fine in red as they supposed. Edrington's eyebrows shot up. I felt it time to change the subject back to something neutral, like fish.
"Edrington tells me that you have a fine run of salmon in the river, Lady Katherine."
"Oh yes! Do you enjoy angling, Mr. Kennedy?"
"I don't know how to angle for fish of that size and reputation. But it sounds great fun. I delight in learning new things. And I don't mind getting a bit wet learning them."
Katherine smiled broadly, appreciating my little joke. "Then Zandy shall teach you. I will insist he does. I adore going down to the river and watching him cast for salmon. It requires the utmost grace and precision." I must have looked puzzled for she read my thoughts as easily as if they were written on the napkin in front of her. "You must wonder how I can make it down the steep riverbanks. Mr. Kennedy I have not always been unable to walk."
"No, no, no I could tell by the look on your face that Zandy had not said anything to you about my affliction. He loves to do that. I think it is quite intolerable of him." She gave Edrington an adorable pout. "He likes to see how people react to me it's sort of a "test" of character. He's quite dreadful. I despair." She flicked her tongue out at him. First time I haveever seen the daughter of an Earl do that. "Anyhow, I had a fever six years ago and was near on to dying, but when I recovered I found I was unable to walk. Before then, my legs were as good as any woman's."
"Lady Katherine WOULD go to the tenant farms with food baskets when there was fever about," said the Countess.
"Now Mother, you know that there is no understanding why the good Lord afflicts some but not others with sickness," defended Lady Katherine. "Well, here is some happy news. I can once again get about outside without chair or carriage. I can go to watch the salmon in the river just as I used to."
"But how? Darling, the banks are so steep.." Edrington murmured, taking her hand in his.
Lady Katherine interrupted with a vague wave, "Ashok." she said simply. "He has designed a saddle for me so that I can ride again. It is a fabulous invention. He based it on the type of thing they put on the back of an elephant in India. On it, I am totally secure, and can direct my sure-footed pony with crop and reins. Oh! What a great pleasure to ride again under my own direction! I am forever in his debt." She favored Ashok with a dazzling smile the likes of which I would be pleased to see on the face of young lady at a dance.
"Ashok seems to have made himself very much in evidence for the short time he's been with "us"." Edrington said acidly. Ashok stood placidly behind Lady Edrington's chair, gazing over our heads as if contemplating the tapestry on the opposite wall.
Lady Madeline had been quiet all this time, poking her food around on her plate. Unusual for her, as she generally did eat whatever she was given perhaps a vestige of her life as a commoner. But her thoughts were not to be altered by talk of elephants and salmon. "Alexander, I am not insensible of the efforts that you have gone to on my behalf. Indeed, I am grateful. But must I be guided by your taste? Have I no will of my own here?"
"Madeline," Alexander leaned forward over his plate. "I would have you be dressed and comport yourself like the other ladies who will be present in the society in which we move. If you are not, it will be difficult for you to find yourself properly settled into the life your birth entitles you to."
"You mean, marry an English nobleman?" She spat the words out, chin outthrust.
"Precisely, isn't that what you want? It is what we want for you. You surely cannot wish to remain unmarried."
Lady Madeline flushed. "Surely there is time for me to find a gentleman whose nature is pleasing to me and whose company is a delight. I do not see why I should have to resort to artifice to win such a husband. Surely if one is natural in one's behavior one will find the person one could be happy with is naturally attracted to one."
"I suppose, Lady Madeline, that if that were case you'd have found a nice pig farmer in Brittany by now."
"Alexander, this may come as something of a surprise to you, but I did in fact once live in a house almost as fine as this one. With music and paintings and fine sculpture and books and dances and entertainments. In fact, I was once engaged to be married to a Baronne, before the revolution. A very wealthy young nobleman."
"But you did not marry him?" I asked, as much a statement as a question.
"No, his head was cut off by order of Danton. You see, some of us have had more pressing concerns than whether our ringlets should be draped over our left or right shoulder, and whether or not yellow is our very best color."
"How very sad, Lady Madeline I did not know " I trailed
"Did you love him, then?" asked Lady Katherine, her eyes sparkling with excitement.
"I was eighteen years old." Lady Madeline answered, as if that was explanation enough. "But my point is, I have not always lived on a pig farm no matter what some people at this table might think. And I was, at some point, considered worthy of an offer by a nobleman. Perhaps I am up to the task still."
Edrington looked somewhat embarrassed, shook his head slightly, and then sighed. "Madeline, you shall have to listen and model yourself on those who know how things are done. You are in England, and we do things differently than the French. You must defer to my wishes."
"Oh really!" she cried. "You are not the Lord of me!"
"Yes," Edrington said, "I am." He paused and looked genuinely pained, very uncomfortable. "It seems you are not pleased to hear the facts if mine is the voice that is telling you." He turned to me. "Kennedy, you have been with us since the very beginning, since the very first day that we met Madeline on the beach. Would you please explain it to her? Perhaps she would find the truth more palatable coming from your lips."
I gathered my thoughts and then said gently, "He's right, you know. He's the Earl of Edrington, your only living male relative. It is his duty to see you properly married and any man who wants to ask for the honor of your hand will need to ask it first of him." Madeline regarded me, appalled. "I think he has your best interests at heart, Lady Madeline. In fact, I know he does." Everyone at the table was silent. Edrington gave me that subtle narrowing of the eyes that has always been his wordless "well done!".
"Thank you, Lt. Kennedy, for explaining my situation to me so eloquently, yet simply. And so, Alexander, if I dress as you wish, wear my hair as you wish, and behave as you wish then that would please you?" The Dowager squinted at her son. Lady Katherine fanned herself and reached for her wineglass.
"Then I shall do it In fact, I shall consider it a challenge, like shooting flying fish out of the air.." And on that note, we finished dinner, making little more than small talk over the various courses, their flavor and presentation.
Ch. 22--The Bonny Lieutenant
As we assembled in the library after dinner, I waited to see which chairs the Edringtons would take before selecting a deep leather chair for myself. Coming from a large family, I knew that most people have a favorite chair in the evenings and it seems to cause a certain distress if a visitor occupies it. The library was brilliantly lit and a fire crackled in the fireplace. Five glasses of Port wine were lined up on a silver tray. I'd been so enchanted by my first meeting with Lady Katherine that I had not really taken the time to look about the rest of the room. It had high ceilings with intricate plaster work and moldings and beautifully-polished bookcases of dark wood went from floor to ceiling along one entire wall. A little ladder on wheels stood ready to assist any reader who desired a book from the upper shelves. Lady Madeline could not contain herself. She squealed with delight.
"You enjoy reading, don't you?" asked Lady Edrington.
"Yes indeed, ma'am, it was my chief pleasure during my years in Gironde, but good English books were scarce."
"Well, you may help yourself to anything you see, but I must warn you that that side" she waved vaguely at the shelves towards the corner of the room where Edrington sat unpacking his chessmen from an ebony case "is pretty dull. That's Edrington's collection of military history. Whenever I find sleep hard to come by, a mere glance at even the cover of one of those musty things is sufficient to plunge me into the dreamless." I found this quite funny my goodness, she was a tart old girl. Hardly the weeping spurned wife I had been led to expect by Edrington's tragic tale of his childhood shadowed by the perfidy of Lady Madeline's wayward mother. Good Lord, I thought, that sounded just like some untalented novelist's idea of a gripping plot!
"Lady Edrington, it would no doubt serve me well in my career to emulate his good example and improve my knowledge of military strategy. I must side with you, however, it puts me right to sleep. Everything I know about warfare I learned from William Shakespeare. I prefer a good story, told with wit and feeling."
"Then you are about to be put to the test, for mamah is right in the middle of a particularly gripping story and we shall endure several chapters at least." Lady Katherine said teasingly.
"And I prefer it if an author comes to the point with me!" Edrington grumbled. "I want useful facts, not who kissed Lady Beverly behind the wisteria bush and "
His oratory was thankfully interrupted by a great influx of dogs. I don't know what I expected, but Ashok trailed into the room behind a parade which included two Deerhounds who looked as twins to me, a small greyhound-like dog with a muzzle white with frost, two small terriers, and a little Spaniel type lap dog of the sort I'd seen in paintings from the past century which wasted no time in snuggling itself into the crook of the Dowager's elbow. It became evident which dog was Moustache, for he went straight to Madeline and she greeted him with every enthusiasm. The elderly hound went straight to Edrington and coiling up like a serpent, wedged its body between the Earl's hip and the leather armrest, panting happily up into his face as he stroked down the back of her neck. "There you are, old thing! How's my girl hmmm how's my old Katie?"
"Reese says her joints are stiff in the morning, but she gets around all right after a bit." Ashok volunteered in his singsong but perfect English. Edrington looked up at him with irritation, still surprised by his presence.
"Thank you, Ashok." Ashok bowed, handed around the port, then left. The dogs seemed to be well-used to this routine for they all took their customary places with the same assurance as their masters and mistresses had. Except for Moustache, who seemed torn between sitting at Lady Madeline's feet and going over to sniff the britches of the other Deerhound, who now that it was stretched out on its side I could tell was a female. Lady Madeline commanded him sharply in French to lie down and be still.
Lady Katherine handed a small book to Lady Madeline and asked her if she would care to read to the Dowager. A silk ribbon bookmark lay draped between the pages. "Kennedy, do you play?" Edrington asked me.
"Not well, and not lately. Backgammon and whist are more the thing on board the Indy. The chessmen tip over and roll about every time the boat hits a big wave, which gets tedious. But I'll give it a go." My modesty was proven not to be false, for it only took about ten moves on Edrington's part to put me hopelessly checkmated. But to be fair to myself, I was extremely distracted by Lady Madeline's rendition of a little tale, which turned out to be entitled "The Bonny Lieutenant". It might have been my imagination, or the turgid prose, but it seemed to me that she read with a sort of breathy, girlish excitement that was laid on awfully thick, particularly the sighs she produced over certain passages. I could tell that it was beginning to get deep under Edrington's skin for the next game it took him 18 moves to get me into checkmate. "Something affecting your concentration?" I asked him. He grimaced and jerked his head subtly towards the three women Lady Katherine busy at her needlework with her head down and the corner of her mouth twitching and Lady Edrington leaning back in her chair with her eyes closed, an expression of dreamy bliss on her old, hooded-eyed, hawk-nosed face.
The gist of this tale as near as I could make it out having thankfully missed some of the first chapters was that this young naval officer who was of course, extremely handsome and brave, had gone into town when his ship was at anchor and had driven off ruffians who had been robbing a Damsel in the street. The Damsel, who oddly enough was an Admiral's daughter, nevermind she was allowed to roam about back alleys alone and draped in jewels, lost no time in hauling the wounded Leftenant home to meet Papa. With predictable results...Papa objectedhe had his eye on a Post-Captain for his precious daughter at the very least. The key plot element that I could make out were that the two contrived numerous opportunities to elude the watchful eye of Papa the Admiral and exchange vows of undying love and quite a few glances of wordless longing, impassioned weeping, and deep sighs in the garden behind her home. Apparently this brave Leftenant had few duties aboard ship to distract him from his courtship of the rescued Damsel, who had earned his undying devotion by bandaging his head and by having lovely, long-lashed eyes and bouncing ringlets under a most fetching bonnet. It made perfect sense to me. Lady Madeline suddenly laughed .a silvery, unexpected sound.
"Mr. Kennedy! Listen to this " she read. "Leftenant Andrew Kitchener regarded himself in the mirror. He had never thought of himself as handsome, indeed, the question had never arisin in his mind before today when he overheard Miss Isabelle describe him so to her friend Miss Lucy Driggs. The face looking back at him in the mirror showed itself to have blue eyes, blonde hair pulled back in a short pigtail with wispy rebellious strands which he constantly tucked back behind his small, close-fitting ears. A firm jaw line, white teeth, small straight nose and regular features completed the picture. His form in the navy, gold and white of a British Naval officers uniform was trim, but broad-shouldered, his calves neatly filled out the white stockings under his breeches .Oh dear! I think this author must be describing you! I shall picture you in my mind as we continue "
"I am not worthy of the honor, ma'am. Please don't!" I said pleasantly, but I felt my face flush. Edrington and Katherine both laughed.
"It seems you do get around, Mr. Kennedy! Any Admiral's daughters in your past?"
"Oh well, I have never beaten off ruffians in the street but years ago I did attempt to pay court to one, but it came to nothing. Her father, you see. And I was just a boy."
Lady Katherine clucked sympathetically. "Lost love a lifetime of regret for what might have been " She affected a heavy sigh, fanning herself and rolling her eyes to the ceiling plaster. "I think I feel a novella coming on where's Ashok? I need him to sharpen my nib."
"Oh NO! Not you, too.." said Edrington with a pained grimace. "Have I no allies here?"
"The men in these stories, Zandy, give ever so much more satisfaction than those one meets in real life," added Lady Katherine with a snap of her fan. "Note, if you will, that the Bonny Leftenant devotes much attention to his lady, sneaking off his ship to evade the watchful eye of the Captain. Most military men in my experience consider romance and flirtation to be something one does to pass the time between wars, or skirmishes, or whatever you men do."
"Oh unfair!" I cried. "You know that wars must be fought."
"Well," said Lady Katherine, "Perhaps not all men give women so little thought. Perhaps I am unfair." She smiled warmly at me.
"That's enough! The spell is quite broken now. I DO like this writer, though. He only publishes anonymously, but I really do think he writes a good romance. There's a bit of comedy in it, too. This is the third of his stories I have enjoyed this year," said the Dowager. "And you do read well, Madeline dear, thank you just next time dispense with the commentary and then I can really get lost in the tale."
"Well then, mamah, how about a true story of a daring rescue performed by Kitchner's alter ego with a bit of help from the narrator, the damsel's dog, and the damsel herself?"
Edrington launched into the tale of Lady Madeline's abduction outside the Buckhead Tavern, telling it in his spare, economical style. Lady Katherine's eyes were huge. She glanced back and forth from me to Lady Madeline throughout the telling. Lady Edrington nodded, hrrmphed, and then was silent as the mortal danger of the situation became clear. As for Lady Madeline, she was not so much listening to the story as watching her cousin's hand, which was stroking the old dog's neck and flank, fingers running along the jawline of the muzzle and gently rubbing the fine silky ears as he told the story. In the growing darkness of the room, the graceful movement of his pale fingers stood out against the background of dark leather chair, his dark brown coat, and the dark metallic gray of the old dog's fur. The rhythmic stroking seemed to entrance her as she sat opposite, an expression of almost feline inscrutability on her face.
Edrington finished up. "Well, dear!" said the Dowager, turning to face me. "I hardly know what to say I have to admit I did not believe my son earlier today. He sometimes says things just to vex me." She chewed on her lower lip, switching her attention to Lady Madeline. "Well, good shot anyhow, Madeline. No wasted powder. Thrifty, and he definitely had it coming to him. I think, though, that it would be best if this story stays between us." The Dowager shook her lorgnette at me. "Mr. Kennedy, I see our family owes you a debt."
"No, your ladyship. The honor was mine, and your son downplayed his role extremely. Between Lord Edrington and Moustache, Lady Madeline's rescue was assured. For I am certain that when the coachman opened the kitchen door to leave the house, Moustache would have taken him down. His loyalty to his mistress and his courage is unsurpassed."
"Mr. Kennedy is extremely modest." Lady Madeline said. "It was as Alexander told it. He can always be relied upon for the unadorned facts."
The Dowager stood up abruptly, "I am off to bed. Mr. Kennedy, if I do not see you before you leave in the morning, have a pleasant trip home. Convey my regards to your parents and we shall look forward to seeing you at the Harvest Ball." I stood and bowed as she swept out of the room.
"Mr. Kennedy, I think you can add my mother to your list of conquests, which as we have seen tonight already includes Miss Isabelle, the Admiral's daughter," Lady Katherine said, obviously still enjoying the joke at my expense. "I am going to spend some time now writing invitations and would like to send you home with yours. I shall of course, invite your parents, and your brother Sir Edward, and his wife. Are any of your sisters out yet?"
"No, Lady Katherine, the eldest does not make her debut until the Spring."
"Very well, then. Look for it by your plate at breakfast. Zandy " she took a deep breath. "I have invited Lady Honoria. I thought you should know that."
Edrington slapped his forehead so hard it sounded like a shot. "Bloo , sorry.. What? Is she still on the shelf?"
"You are rude, my brother. If she is it is through no one's fault but your own. I have had tea with her. Lately. She bears you no ill feelings and is, in fact, looking forward to seeing you."
Edrington stood up and brushed dog hair off his jacket. "Well, then, I suppose it would be best to get it over with."
"Who is Lady Honoria?" Madeline asked. "If I am to join your social set, then it might help me to know a little more about the people I will be meeting."
"Quite right, Madeline. I shall be happy to tell you what you need to know. Next weekend, we shall have most of the county, plus Col. Arthur Wellesley and the higher-ranking officers from the nearby regiment. Col. Wellesley is the hero of the Battle of Mysore, and he is a most impressive man. You will enjoy meeting him and he, I suspect, will enjoy meeting you. Lady Honoria is the daughter of Viscount Neville. It was widely assumed two years ago that Lady Honoria would become my sister-in-law."
"Assumed, but wrongly," said Edrington tersely.
"Well, you gave her every indication. It was badly done, but no matter. That is the past."
"What is she like?" Lady Madeline asked with an innocently wide-eyed expression.
"She is one of the County's great beauties, tall and very blonde, with extraordinary blue eyes and white skin like skimmed milk. Her gowns are much copied, and her manners are graceful," said Lady Katherine. "It would please me, Madeline, if you paid particular attention to her."
"It will be most instructive, I am sure," said Lady Madeline.
"Enough of Lady Honoria you vex me, sister, and you know how and why. Come, Lady Madeline. I would like to show you our Portrait Hall. It is time you met your kin." He turned to me, hopefully. "Kennedy, would you care to come with us?"
The Portrait Hall was in the other wing from the east wing where the library and our bedrooms were located. It was a long hallway that wrapped around the ballroom, which occupied most of the ground floor of the west wing. The ballroom ceiling was three stories high. A railed banister overlooked the ballroom floor below and the Edrington portraits were arrayed on the second level. It was too dimly lit below for me to get much more than a glimpse of the ballroom floor other than it was cavernous. Moustache and the old dog, Katie, had followed us out and seemed content to race each other around the balustrade. Our footsteps and voices echoed in the vast and empty space beyond the balcony rails. Edrington came to the first portrait.
"This is the first Earl." A bearded man in a jeweled cap and doublet stood holding a sword and a piece of parchment. Two large gray dogs lay at his feet. I recognized it immediately as a Holbein.
"Oh, Deerhounds like Moustache!" breathed Madeline with delight.
"Yes, our family has always had this breed but in this painting the Deerhounds at his feet and the sword are meant to symbolize his Scottish conquests it was he who took the first Deerhounds--the Great Gray Ghosts of Scotland--from the Lairds. The parchment is the paper that was signed by King Harry granting the title and lands to him and his descendants."
He continued on, ticking off paintings and facts like a scholar. The faces began to blend and blur in my mind. Portraits of men in doublets changed to men in huge white martingale collars and then to goateed-Earls in satin breeches and hats with big feathered plumes.
"Now this man here, this is the Fourth Earl and he is your great-grandfather, Madeline. This is the last relative we have in common in direct line of descent." She peered with great interest at his face, looking earnestly for any signs of resemblance to her own, no doubt. That's what I would have done. Edrington patiently held the lantern to illuminate the portrait until Lady Madeline pronounced herself satisfied.
Edrington Countesses and daughters paraded past in a variety of gowns, necklines rose and plunged, wrapped in gauzy fabrics and lacy collars up to their chins. I rather fancied Lady Katherine bore a resemblance to her paternal grandmother, who was by Edrington's account considered a great beauty in her day. Finally we came to the most recent additions. Here was Edrington's mother, as a young bride. Her almost masculine features stood out in contrast to the extravagant femininity of her lacy gown and the jewels and feathers in her elaborate headdress. Not a beauty, but her face had character and a kind of humorous charm. Then Edrington's father. A sad-looking, brown-eyed face, its handsome lines similar to Edrington's but somehow less strongly drawn, the nose smaller, the eyebrows thinner as if they had been plucked. This hung next to a portrait of a young man whose hawk-nosed features were very reminiscent of Lady Edrington's--the deceased older brother, the 7th Earl. The last portrait in the hall was a charming tableaux of two children a boy of about eight and a girl of five or six, dressed in the fussy over-beribboned way that mothers always seem to choose when they have their children's portraits done. The girl was undoubtedly Lady Katherine in her childish, rounded cheeks and big doe-like dark eyes lived the clear harbinger of her mature beauty. I looked at the young boy and my heart lurched. "Who is this?" I asked.
"That's me." said Edrington. "Pasty-looking thing, wasn't I?" But in fact, the boy's face staring out at me from the portrait was as identical to the face I had seen in the miniature of Lady Madeline's dead older brother as the two Deerhounds in the portrait of the First Earl. I looked at Lady Madeline to see if she shared my shock and surprise, but her face was impassive and revealed nothing. Sensing my unspoken question, she met my eyes boldly, a look of warning and a look of challenge evident in the firm set to her chin and the directness of her gaze. Oh Good Lord .
FROM THE PERSONAL PAPERS OF ALEXANDER EDRINGTON, EARL OF EDRINGTON
Nov. 7, 1798
A day of signing my name to paper. It is only to be expected,
as I come home
but once a year, still it amazes me how many things our Bailiff feels unable
to leave to Katherine or my mother, requiring tenants, creditors, and
various other complainants to wait upon my return. Still, the books look to
be in order and with a good harvest virtually assured by a summer of
plentiful rainfall and what has to be the most clement Autumn in recent
memory there should be no shortages.
Whatever the defects of my parents marriage, in at least one
respect it was
a resounding success. Mother's dowry was so sizeable that it has put the
Edrington family onto firm footing ever since. The main problems I have to
think about today are not those of finance, but those of inheritance.
I do not know if Katherine shall ever marry. She has been courted
by one or
the other gentleman continuously, even after her sad illness, but has so far
refused all offers. She says that if another gentleman says gallantly that
"a lady so beautiful shouldn't have to walk" that she will slap him soundly.
I do not know if she has a horror of pity, or if she has come to enjoy her
independence. To be sure, she will never want for money and she reigns as
the queen of Northumberland's social life&cultivated by every high-born
dragon as she is no longer considered competition for their daughter's beaus
now that she has reached the advanced age of twenty-seven. I suspect that
her chief interest lies in matchmaking, and from what I am able to worry out
of her, she is spinning a clever web with which to entrap a suitable husband
for Madeline. All of her romantic nature seems to have been channeled into
this task. Madeline asked her in her typically blunt fashion if she had any
desire to play matchmaker for Kennedy, and Katherine replied that she felt
he was doing just fine without any help from her. I wonder what she meant by
that? She claims to have an ideal candidate already in mind for M. but
teases me and tries my patience sorely and will not reveal the name. I
wonder if it is Wellesley? Or perhaps Lord Vaughn. He shares Madeline's love
of books. Good Lord, it might even be Kennedy himself.
I have wondered about that. They exchange meaningful glances
those characters in my mother's execrable romance novels. But as to the
nature of their silent and shared conspiracy, I am unsure. Kennedy was
equally attentive to Katherine as to Madeline. In truth, his manners are the
sort that women find pleasing; natural, artless, but graceful and assured.
He has wit, and transforms his personality when females are present to
become something other than, other than..what he is in their absence, which
is a young officer still unsure of his fitness for command. There is never
anything insinuating or sly with Kennedy. He seems truly to enjoy and
appreciate the conversation of women and women, in their turn, seem to
return his regard. It was time for him to go home.
Which of course leads me to the unavoidable conclusion that
if I do not
seriously consider marrying soon that I acknowledge it as probable that the
next Earl of Edrington might in fact be Lady Madeline's son. I must face the
reality that we are at war. And as Kennedy once so aptly put it in his own
inimitable and incontrovertible logic, they ARE trying to kill us. Mayhap
one day they will actually get off a lucky shot.
And then there is Honoria, put forward by my ever-attentive
sister for my
I do not know what I would do without this journal. I should
surely go mad.
There are so many things that I cannot discuss, even with my family.
Sometimes I read back over things I have written days or even months ago and
I can see where my reasoning was faulty, perhaps because at the time I was
not in possession of the salient facts. Then I know my time spent jotting
down these thoughts was useful. Other times, though, I am simply
embarrassed at myself for being a bloody idiot. I have spent some painful
minutes tonight rereading my journals from two years ago, when I courted and
then walked away from Lady Honoria Neville without so much as a backwards
glance because I had grown to hate the sound of her voice and cringe at the
touch of her breath against my ear. She was a great one for whispering
confidences. Yet, I can't recall a one of them.
She is beautiful, she has breeding, and she has grace, and
is considered a
diamond of the first water. Kennedy would say, what is the problem here? I
wish I knew. But I did not love her, nor I suspect, did she love me. She did
love the idea of being the Countess of Edrington. And I enjoyed the effect
and stir that having her on my arm created wherever we went. But she is
cold, as I am cold and it would have been a stony marriage bed. But by what
right do I have to expect anything else? A soldier should not marry a woman
whose devotion to him is such that his long absences will be intolerable. I
shall try to look again at Lady Honoria with an unjaundiced eye. Perhaps the
passing of time has changed us both in subtle ways and her companionship
will be more pleasing to me.
Nov. 8, 1798
Today I had the luxury of several uncommitted hours and I saddled
up my old
stallion, Ganymede, and enjoyed a brisk gallop around the estate. I cannot
imagine a more sublime Autumn than this one; I simply cannot recall such a
stretch of golden days and clear nights. Northumberland has usually taken on
a grey, gloomy cast by this time of year but our weather is exceedingly fine
still. I rode down the to river and saw the returning salmon, their
silvery-blue, cylindrical forms darting through the riffles. Every so often,
a broad tail would smack the surface of the water in a glide and I knew they
were feeding on the nymphs emerging in great clouds from the surface of the
pools. All of a sudden, I thought of Kennedy and my promise to Katherine to
teach him to cast the greased line. I must write to him. I had not realized
how much I had enjoyed his companionship and ready wit afore I had spent
three days in a house with none but women and servants for company. He went
home much too soon.
Mesdames Blair and Fenwick have outdone themselves in the matter
Madeline's new wardrobe. It is entirely suitable for her, having both
elegance and a certain Naval fervor which is not unwasted on a woman with
such strong features. She seems to have thrown herself into the task of
keeping her promise to me with the same enthusiasm she formerly reserved
solely for flinging meat pies at my head. Katherine reports that she stands
placidly for her fittings and has been receptive in the extreme to all
comments about her diction, posture, and address.
I came upon her alone today in the mirrored hall, wearing a
new gown and
seeming to practice walking about in it, fluttering her fan and looking over
it into the mirror. There was a great deal of curtseying, much counterfeit
tittering and so forth. She did not know I was there, so I watched her for
quite the while. It occurred to me that the acquisition of feminine wiles is
more or less like the manufacture of sausages. Something that is best
appreciated when it is served up in its golden fragrent completeness on
one's plate, but not something one wishes to view during the grinding and
At any event, once she noticed my presence, she snapped her
fan at me,
hoisted her nose in the air, and in general, behaved as if she had been
rudely approached by an impudent stableboy. I quite approved. She might make
an Edrington at that.
Nov. 8, 1799
Lt. Archibald Kennedy
Dear Lt. Kennedy,
I am writing in hopes that you will oblige my sister Katherine,
Countess, and myself by continuing on as our houseguest for the weekend
after the Harvest Ball on Friday evening. If you will but bring some extra
clothing suitable for angling and riding, it will be my great pleasure to
offer you once again the services of our carriage to convey you back home on
Sunday after services.
The salmon run is in, and it would give me the utmost pleasure
if you would
join our party on a picnic and excursion to the river. You are, of course,
expected to stay for dinner. Please convey my regards to your parents.
R.S.V.P. by my messenger.
My mother's face when I stepped out of Edrington's fine carriage was so full of happiness that I felt really, really beastly for not having applied for shore leave long ago, right after I was released for the second time from Don Massaredo's prison. But the face that appeared behind her joyfully transfixed one, that of my brother Edward, reminded me all too sharply of why I had found it so easy to postpone this moment. He stared at me, then the carriage, and frowned disapprovingly.
"Mother!" I croaked, overcome by a sudden rush of emotion. I let her hug me, stroke my hair, and grab my face in her hands. She peered into my eyes as if in some confusion as to my identity; then she burst into tears and kissed me many times. Our reunion was afterwards as one might expect if one's mother had thought one dead for four years.
"Very fine...very fine indeed.." Edward commented. "What are the Edringtons to you, Archibald?"
"Oh, really?" said Edward, eyebrows raised.
"Look, Eddie. This one here is Jimmy Finch." Young Finch hopped down off the carriage. He looked better as Reese had given him a decent set of livery which had been outgrown by one of his own sons. "Young Finch is traveling with me. He's the son of an old shipmate and I am going to take him back with me to Indefatigable. How is our stable? Can we use a stable lad for a few weeks?"
"No." said Edward. "We don't need one."
"Yes, of course," said my mother kindly. "Jimmy, is it? Jimmy, go around to the back and I'll have cook give you some tea."
"You see I made Lieutenant now," I bragged, tugging at my white lapels.
"And in only seven years!" Edward said. "Impressive."
"Oh stop it, Eddie!" my mother said. "Archie's just home and I'll not have you teasing him before he's even unpacked." And she set to bustling about and having my things brought up to my old bedroom, which turned out to have been completely refurbished, with lace curtains and a design of cabbage roses on the paper on the walls.
"What happened to all my books; my drawings; and my telescope?
"Well, Archie .when you disappeared, of course, we thought "
"Of course, mother. It will be just fine. I can look at the roses for now."
"Edward's wife, Lady Georgina, is expecting," cooed my mother. "We were going to give her this room when she goes into her confinement."
"Yes, Archie. And tomorrow I'll take you down to see where you are buried" Edward added brightly.
"That will be sufficient!" snapped my mother. "Come on, your father is in his study. He's deaf as a post now, dear and probably doesn't even know you've arrived. Let us go see him."
There was a rhythmical drumming of feet out in the hallway and my three sisters came bursting through the door in a manner that was reminiscent of the Edrington dogs. My twin sisters, Mary and Lizzie, both eleven, followed by my oldest sister Margaret, aged fifteen. "Ooooh," I said with wonder. "Who are these beauties?" They stared at me in awe, Mary sucking on her fingers like a baby.
"They scarcely remember their brother," said my mother.
"Oh, I do!" said Margaret. "But he did not used to be this fine-looking. He used to be snotty and pull my hair." She grinned, a younger female version of Edward.
"Or maybe you were just too young to notice that sort of thing," my mother replied. "Our Archie has always been a handsome lad." She ruffled my hair affectionately. "Girls, give your brother a kiss."
The next few days passed quickly enough. There were so many things to tell them. I got to know my sisters, who were delightful young girls, full of chat and very eager to hear tales of great battles at sea. They particularly liked anything I told them having to do with Horatio. Margaret sighed heavily each time his name was mentioned, and pronounced him the perfect romantic hero. My mother fussed over me, fed me too much, and browbeat me continuously about ever having joined the Navy in the first place.
"I still do not understand why you did not go into public life like your father wanted. You'd make a fine MP. Or even the clergy .Archie, dear, your affliction it has to hurt you in the eyes of your fellow officers."
"Mother, it has been a problem but I think I am overcoming it. Captain Pellew has confidence in me." I explained proudly. "I truly love the Navy and I have learned so much from serving on Indefatigable. I might not be the best officer, in fact, I am not .that honor would surely go to my friend Hornblower, but I try my best. Please understand that I did not want to do something easy; I wanted to do something which would be hard for me."
Edward was in residence with his wife, Lady Georgina, who was indeed expecting. Triplets at least, by the size of her. I'd never met Edward's wife. He was still, apparently, courting Lady Katherine without success when I left home and enlisted. But then, having been continually and firmly rebuffed at Edrington Hall, he encountered Lady Georgina at a London society matron's ball and after a brief courtship, his suit was accepted. She was no beauty but her gowns and jewelry showed her to be a lady of wealth and standing.
Edward Kennedy looks a little like me. All of us Kennedys have the same coloring--dark reddish blonde hair and blue or green eyes. Edward is most like me, only he is bigger everywhere. Taller, broader, and gotten rather stocky through the middle like our father. He stands to inherit a lot of money and land when Lady Georgina's father dies. Even so, it appears to me looking back on my childhood that he was somehow jealous of me. He never missed a chance to rub my face in the dirt whenever no one was watching, and he teased me unmercifully about having fits. Which treatment usually resulted in my having another one. The fit stopped the torture, and brought Nanny out to collect me and put me into bed, where my mother would sit and watch me with sad eyes.
I had hoped to escape this sort of torment by running off and joining the Navy. My father reluctantly agreed to my enlisting, and we left it until the last possible minute before telling my mother. But then, when I found myself on board Justinian, I encountered a man who made Edward look like a saint. And it all started again. Horatio was the one bright spot and his friendship and loyalty meant everything to me then, and now.
These memories flitted through my mind like a school of darting silversides as I gazed over an iron fence and contemplated my own grave, perched high on a windswept hill beside the cathedral. It was the section reserved for those who had perished at sea and the gravemarkers were so close as to be practically touching, for men lost to the waves need very little land. The date of my death was chiseled out. Edward said that so long as I was in the Navy, one never knew when having a marker already in place would save quite a lot of bother.
We were having supper on Thursday when a note came by messenger from Edrington Hall. I opened it and read it aloud.
"Well, Archie! You seem to have made quite an impression on the Earl's family. I always thought them a cold, proud sort of people." My father said. "The Countess was all right, though."
Lady Georgina piped in "Well. I would not go there. That house is a scandal. And I don't want you," she directed a sharp glance at Edward, "going either." My temper flared.
"No, I would not have it. They are most amiable. Lady Katherine is the soul of hospitality and Alexander Edrington is a very good friend of mine, now, after the adventures we've had together."
"Alexander Edrington has the reputation of being a prig. There was a lot of gossip about him several years back. He practically ruined a fine lady's reputation." Lady Georgina said stoutly, cutting me off. "And that new butler, or whatever his actual duties are ."
"Lady Georgina, it is true that he can seem cold and snobbish, but that is simply his way. I think he is just someone who is hard to get to know, but once you know him he's really decent. And he is quite a wit, although I don't think he means to be laughed at. He just cannot help himself. I think he must be very lonely," a thought which occurred to me at the moment that I said it. I'd not really thought about Edrington before how he must feel about his life. "Look, he did not expect to be the Earl. I think all he wants to be, really, is an army officer. And he's a good one, too. He's just not got a pleasing manner with women. And he's only about three times more intelligent than anyone else around him, which cannot make friendship easy."
"The way I see it, he doesn't like women at all."
"No I am sure that's not true. He's very affectionate to his mother and sister."
Lady Georgina gave me an arch look over her spoonful of pudding. "Relatives hardly signify. I think he's a show-off. A peacock. You wait until this ball, you'll see. It's a spectacle."
My parents had already accepted the invitation to the Harvest Ball so I asked them if they would care if I stayed on an extra day. Father said he thought it would be a fine idea to cultivate the Edringtons, since I seemed to be having more success than Edward ever did. He glowered at me, but blotted his lips with his napkin and kept silent. That afternoon, he invited me to go riding with him.
"You know, I'd like to go to that ball but Georgina would not hear of it. When you are married to Lady Katherine," he gave me a sly and insinuating wink, "you'll soon learn that keeping peace in the boudoir is the key to a happy life, my brother."
"I could never aspire to Lady Katherine! She is so far above me."
"Before her illness, that would be true. But not now. She is got all the money she needs. You should try and make her fall in love with you. The way I hear it, she does whatever she likes. Or is it the so-called "long-lost French cousin" that strikes your fancy? The whole county is buzzing about her. I hear they are going to launch her like a ship at this ball. Lady Georgina goes to the same dressmaker and "
"Eddie, I would not bandy a woman's name and I am sure I know all I need to know about the Lady in question, having traveled with her and her cousin the Earl for many weeks."
C'mon Archie, you can tell me. I can help you. You'll never get the Governor to tell you the ins and outs of being married, but I will."
I was flattered that he wanted to have this sort of discussion with me. "I do fancy the cousin, Madeline is her name and she is quite a girl. She is the bravest thing you ever saw and quite handsome in her way. But now that I have met Lady Katherine, I find she is in my mind quite a bit as well. She a beautiful woman, even if she cannot walk. She is not bitter or sad about it, like most women would be. She is everything admirable." And I knew what it was to be pitied for an affliction that was no fault of one's own.
"Well, there's reasons enough for that happiness, no doubt." Edward kicked his mount into a brisker trot, and started speaking louder so I could hear him over the horse's drumming hooves. "I hear tell Arthur Wellesley's become a frequent visitor. Have you met him yet?"
"No. But Lady Katherine spoke of him in the highest terms."
Edward suddenly pulled back on the reins, slowing his horse to a walk. He leaned over towards me, "Confidentially, there are those as say that Wellesley came back from India but did not want to go back home to Ireland where he would have to see his fiancee. There are those who say he's got some sort of tropical disease and is taking the cure. There are others who say that the tropics aren't the only place this disease is catching, if you take my meaning."
"Oh, rubbish! He's a truly great soldier. People shouldn't talk like that. I am sure it's not true!"
"Wellesley is a great soldier, no one disputes that Archie, but off the field of battle the man is a libertine. You might do well to keep an eye on him if you truly have regard for those ladies at Edrington Hall."
"Thanks for the warning, I think." I did not want to talk about this; it was distasteful. I hoped to change the subject. "Edward, do you remember Sue Northcote? Does she still live around here?"
"Oh, now that's a sad story." Edward said. "Little Sue Northcote ." He snapped his fingers. "Yeah. You were sweet on her once, weren't you Archie? But you did not have the guts to stand up to her father, as I recall it. Well, the old Admiral went and got himself ruined."
"Old dog got caught cheating at cards. Pretty soon, word got around and he had no entree. Not anywhere. He got so despondent, I guess he just died. Turns out they were living on air, anyway. He gambled away a lot of the money he would made while in the Navy. He couldn't stay away from the Whist tables. Got fleeced by every raw Midshipman or Lieutenant with an ounce of skill. Shameful."
My heart sank into my stomach. "That's awful! What happened to Sue?"
"Well, there's another sad story. She had to go live with a maiden aunt down in York. Tiny little cottage, I heardon't know how they make ends meet maybe take in sewing, washing, that sort of thing. Last time I saw her, her hair was all cut off. She sold it, you see, to pay for a decent frock or something. If she is married, I don't know about it. It's hard to find a husband when your father's disgraced."
"Does anyone know the name of the Aunt?"
"No one around here. She is been gone four years, Archie. Anything could have happened."
I felt terrible, picturing Sue's beautiful dark, brown glossy curls lying in a heap on the floor, or worse yet, being pinned to the headdress of some wealthy but shrewish woman like Lady Georgina. We turned our horses to go back home. I admired the gleaming coat on mine, the same color of dark brown as the curls I'd just been picturing. Young Finch had done a bangup job currying the horses. He was a hard worker. He would get on fine in the Navy. He was obviously more intelligent than his da, a good man but not a clever one.
My brother wasn't finished with me yet, though. He reached over and grabbed my reins, pulling my mount to a halt alongside his. "There's one more thing."
"There are some as say, and these would be in a position to know, that a glass of warm milk isn't all that brown butler brings Lady Katherine at bedtime to help her get to sleep." I heard a roaring in my ears and before I knew it, I had taken a sidearmed swipe at Edward's smirking face and we both fell backwards off our horses and were rolling around in the dirt, scrapping and pummelling each other for all we were worth. He still had the weight and strength advantage on me, but I was quicker and more agile and I think he was surprised that I was giving him back as good as I was getting when..
"ARCHIE! EDWARD!" Finch had spotted us rolling around in the dust outside the stable and had evidently alerted our mother, who was racing towards us waving a parasol and shrieking. "Stop that AT ONCE." She reached over and grabbed both of us by our ears and hauled us to our feet. "This is absurd. Oh, I am so angry! Fighting like children .why, oh why could you two never play nicely together! What will Lady Georgina say, Eddie? She'll probably drop that baby just from the shock of seeing your ugly face." Mother looked into my eyes. "And what will they think at the ball? Honestly, Archie, how do you expect any decent woman to dance with you if you look like a common street brawler?" I could already feel one eye starting to puff closed.
Ch. 26--The Harvest Ball
When I had quitted Edrington Hall to return to my home, my thoughts on the 20-mile journey had often centered around how very large their establishment was to house so few people. Alexander Edrington, his sister, and his mother seemed to be almost lost in such an enormous edifice the only place the family appeared really at home and at ease was in the cozy library. But upon pulling up once again along the circular carriageway, I realized that one would need to have a home of this size in order to entertain on such a grand scale. The front of the hall was awash in a sea of carriages and coaches of every size and description, and coachmen and stable lads were busily occupied leading horses about and carrying feed and water to them. The whole place was ablaze with light, the sun having just set as my parents and I arrived. Jimmy Finch perched jauntily on the back with my case, eager to see Reese again. I had come prepared to spend an extra day and night. I wouldn't have missed the sport for the world, nor the fishing.
My mother's eyes sparkled with excitement. I could tell both she and my father were delighted that I had made such grand connections. We went in and were immediately greeted by Ashok, who cut a strange figure indeed with his dark exotic face under the white periwig that footmen and butlers always donned for formal parties in order to distinguish them from the guests. My mother looked a little taken aback, but she was mollified considerably when he took my cape, bowed deeply and said, "Lt. Kennedy Sahib, Lady Katherine particularly wishes me to bring you and Sir Reginald and Madame Kennedy to her as soon as you have been given refreshment."
The ballroom, which had appeared dark and cavernous the night I had accompanied Edrington to see the portraits, was aglow and packed with people. Several elegantly appointed drawing rooms opened off of the ballroom where people could go for quieter conversation and refreshment away from the crush and the music. It was in one of these rooms we found Lady Katherine ensconced on a red velvet lounge with a man who appeared only slightly older than I did. He wore a red coat with golden epaulettes and was leaning casually against the mantle next to the fire, one shining black boot on a small footstool, apparently deep in conversation with our hostess. As we entered the room behind Ashok, I saw the officer throw back his head and laugh at something Lady Katherine had just said.
He was not tall, in fact he was no taller than I am, but he cut a fine figure indeed in a uniform which showed that he held the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the Army. His dark hair was cut short in the back in the new fashion, a few longer locks draped over his forehead in the romantic, Byronic style. His face was not at all handsome, not to my way of thinking, but it was certainly arresting. He had immense deepwater blue eyes under brows which appeared arched in a permanent expression of surprise, very fair skin, and an extremely prominent nose with a keel on it like a whaling ship. I suppose one would call it aquiline, but I am not sure that really even begins to describe it. His chin was similarly definite. Between these two distinct features, his mouth was delicate, girlish, almost a cupid's bow. Lady Katherine, becoming aware of our entrance, waved smilingly and gestured that we should come to her.
"Lady and Lord Kennedy, Lt. Archibald Kennedy," she said, "This is Colonel Arthur Wellesley." We exchanged bows and handshakes. "Colonel Wellesley, Lt. Kennedy is a friend of the family and has served with my brother. He is under the command of Capt. Sir Edward Pellew, of whom I am sure you have heard much."
"Ah yes." said Wellesley. "Sir Edward is a remarkable frigate captain, is he not? I would be delighted to hear of your exploits under his command, Lt. Kennedy." I was quite flattered. He looked with some amusement at my eye, which was starting to turn faintly violet. "Ah, I take it you have seen recent action, Lt. Kennedy?" I smiled in what I hoped was a self-deprecating manner.
"No, Colonel, it was sort of a riding accident. Nothing worth telling about. But I would like to hear of the situation in India from one who has served His Majesty with such distinction."
"There will be plenty of time for that later, Mr. Kennedy." Lady Katherine exclaimed. She was beautifully gowned tonight, as always. "I have kept Col. Wellesley here long enough. Both of you are greatly wanted out on the floor. We have an appalling shortage of good dancing partners for the ladies so typical of life in the country." She shooed us with her fan. "Go on, sirs, do your duty."
"When duty calls, we can but answer," said Wellesley, with a little smile. And a most pleasurable duty it was.
Despite my bruised face, I had no difficulties finding dancing partners and indeed, the Dowager Countess took care to insure that any young ladies who appeared to lack a partner were put before me, offered up like an interesting new dish to try. As I scuttled back and forth between sets bringing claret and champagne from tray-bearing footmen to various young ladies who appeared to be in need of it, I was able to glimpse Edrington himself from time to time. I began to see why my sister-in-law thought him priggish, for he danced but seldom, and only with his mother and a lady of remarkable beauty. She was nearly as tall as he was, with hair so blonde it was almost white, and the fairest skin. Her eyes appeared large, long-lashed with pale lashes, and of a pale blue color like a winter sky, a color which was matched by her gown, pale blue and shot through with silver thread. Eventually, my path took me near enough that Edrington reached out and grasped my arm, drawing me over to stand in front of the lady. This lady turned out to be none other than the Lady Honoria with whom he had appeared so reluctant to renew an acquaintance. She was a cool beauty, languid in her movements; she greeted me politely but then returned her rapt attention to the Earl. She used her fan gracefully and walked like a queen. They were an arresting couple being both so blonde and fair, and the target of many surreptitious glances and whispering behind fans among the older ladies seated around the ballroom.
"Surely he's not going to renew his suit?" one of them buzzed as I walked past. "Oh no, dear, I cannot imagine she would have him. Such a set-down!" "But look, her eyes never leave his face, you don't suppose ?" and more of that nature. I was certain that I would have little difficulty finding out the gossip from my mother, who appeared to be cultivating a group of dowager thisandthats in a corner. My father's gout making him indisposed to dancing, I was comfortably certain he could be found exchanging political talk and trying to find someone to give him a game of snooker.
When the musicians were taking a rest, I found Lady Madeline in another of the drawing rooms. Compared to Lady Honoria, of course, she was not particularly striking, but I thought she looked very fine in a green gown of the Grecian style, which displayed her pleasing neckline to most decided advantage. Her hair was elaborately braided atop her head but she had managed to dislodge some of the intricate coils and some reddish-brown curls framed her face attractively. She greeted me warmly, and before our conversation had progressed much past the my aren't you looking well, and what happened to your face stages I became aware of a young man standing quietly at her elbow who I recognized quite quickly from my childhood. An old school friend.
"Cecil!" I exclaimed enthusiastically. "Do you remember me? Archie Kennedy?"
"Pon my word, I do!" he said, clasping my hand. "It's Lord Vaughn now, for me. My father passed on last year, but you can call me Cecil, of course, same as ever. How on earth are you, old boy? I heard you joined the Navy, died, and were resurrected. Neat trick, that. Delighted," he beamed, pumping my arm. "Absolutely delighted to renew the aquaintance and so forth."
Cecil Vaughn was a studious but outgoing lad and had gown into a man whose appearance was more scholarly than soldierlike. He was stocky, ever so slightly stout, and had a ruddy complexion and small nose, on which was perched a pair of spectacles framing large green eyes which shone with intelligence. His auburn hair was cut similarly to Wellesley's but on him this style lent none of the romantic appearance that had so distinguished Wellesley in my opinion. For the first time in my life I found myself to be one of the very few men in a room whose hair was longest. It was clear to me that in my protracted absence from English society that modes had greatly changed. I was glad to be a military officer, and know that my dress uniform was correct for any social occasion. Else, I'd have needed a new wardrobe with no time to procure one.
Lady Madeline gave every evidence, though, of enjoying Vaughn's company. He was remarkably solicitous in his running commentary, which I listened to for a few minutes with great amusement, his words tumbling out in a torrent to keep up with his rapidly flitting thoughts.
"Now try this, Lady Madeline, it would please me so. These small cakes are not unwholesome, I assure you. Archie, I guess you have been to Gibralter, you must tell me all about it, did you see the Rock Apes? It would gladden my heart immeasurably to see one. Lady Madeline, we must continue our discussion of Rousseau; but look, here is another glass of champagne, you simply must drink it before the bubbles are all gone; to wait another moment will surely desolate the palate, and Archie, your parents are well? And your brother? I hear you are to become an uncle shortly. Yes. Very nice. Very nice indeed."
"Whoa, Cecil." I laughed. "You've not changed a bit! Still not at a loss for chat. Only boy in school who could out talk a Kennedy."
"You've gotten that right," He grinned sheepishly. "I have probably monopolized Lady Madeline long enough, such an interesting little talk we've had, I'll leave her in your capable custody but do find me again, we've so much to catch up on." And with that, he bustled cheerfully away, possibly in search of more dainties with which to tempt Lady Madeline.
"Archie," she whispered confidentially behind her fan. "If I'd been offered another tea cake I am sure I would have had to fake a swoon. Lady Katherine showed me how."
"You mean those swoons aren't real? I am shattered. My tender illusions .."
"It's been an education. Still, I like Lord Vaughn. He's very amusing and extremely well-read. He speaks French as well as I do, and so does Col. Wellesley. It's delightful to converse in one's own language, if only for a little bit." She looked briefly wistful. At that moment, Edrington joined us. He had come into the drawing room alone.
"Kennedy. Madeline. I am sorry to have neglected you. I hope you've found pleasing company Kennedy! What happened to your face?"
"I had a riding accident." I said. "It was nothing." Edrington looked at me quizzically.
"Well speaking from my experience in the cavalry, I'd advise you try falling on your backside next time. It makes for a softer landing altogether." He reached over and tucked Lady Madeline's trailing tendrils back into her topknot, an unconscious, gentle gesture. "I would have you always in green, Madeline." She shook her head boldly to dislodge the errant curls, the glimmer of the old fiery Lady M. sparking in her eyes.
"Lord Vaughn likes my hair this way. It's a new style." Edrington looked briefly pained. "But I promised, so very well." She removed her glove, licked her fingers delicately and smoothed the wayward locks back into place, stabbing them back in tightly with a hairpin.
"Actually, I came in to see if you would do me the honor once Katherine and I are finished," he said evenly, the dispassionate mask firmly back in place.
"And I would like a dance as well," I added.
"With pleasure," said Lady Madeline. "Lord Vaughn is not much on dancing and I find few things more enjoyable. These musicians are excellent, Alexander, you were SO clever to have found them. You have the MOST exceptional taste in all things." She looked up at him over her fan, fluttering her lashes. Then she spoiled the effect by wrinkling her nose. "How was that? As good as Lady Honoria? Well, no matter. I am sure she is had MUCH more practice. I'll need another week at LEAST." She turned to me, dropping the fan so I could pick it up for her. "Thanks ever so much, I am completely indebted to you, Mr. Kennedy, possibly for my entire life, if not longer. After Alexander, I have committed several dances to Col. Wellesley, and then I would be delighted, Mr. Kennedy, to stand up with you for several more." She winked. "Good thing I am so well-fortified with tea cakes by Lord Vaughn." Edrington left the drawing room wordlessly and I offered Lady Madeline my arm, stifling my amusement as best I could. We returned to the ballroom together, where we were almost immediately rejoined by Cecil Vaughn.
"Oh now, you've never seen this have you, Archie. Oh, this, now this is really worth coming for. It is quite a performance. They have been doing it for years." He leaned over confidentially, whispering in my ear behind his hand. "Of course, Lady K. was the most enchanting dancer before her illness and it pains her not to be able to take part, though she would never let it show a bit. Proud, like all the Edringtons, but tough as nails, would not show weakness." He gave me a telling look over the top of his spectacles.
"No man save the Earl himself could presume to lift her up in public view, so he decided he would find a way she could have her dance after all. Just watch .just watch ."