Children of One Family
by Pam

Part One

 

Whatever brawls disturb the street,
There should be peace at home;
Where sisters dwell and brothers meet
Quarrels should never come.
--Isaac Watts, "Love Between Brothers and Sisters"

***********************************************
PART ONE

"'Ah, lovely Devon, where it rains eight days out of seven!'" With a rueful
smile, Archie Kennedy tipped a steady stream of water from the rim of his
bicorne into the washbasin. "All this after a mere five minutes on deck!"

Horatio Hornblower clapped a sympathetic hand on his friend's shoulder.
"Looks like you've a wet journey ahead of you, I'm afraid."

"A *long* wet journey," Archie clarified with a grimace. "There's the ferry
to catch at Torpoint, then almost two days' travel by coach until I reach my
sister's house in Truro." He sighed. "At least the captain was generous with
my leave--ten days, Horatio!"

"Well, the captain has property in Cornwall himself, Archie. Perhaps he
remembers just how long it takes to travel there from Plymouth over land.
Besides," Horatio slanted a sideways glance at his shipmate, "it's not as
though this visit was purely for pleasure, after all."

"No," Archie agreed, his expression somber. "I hardly know *what* to say to
my sister, after such a tragedy. Ten men dead, including her husband, in a
flooded mine . . . " he shook his head in frustration. "And it's worse
because I never even met Hugh Tresilian, in all the time she was married to
him!"

Horatio frowned. "Were they happy together?"

"I *think* so. She rather kicked over the traces to marry him. A younger son
of a Cornish mining family--still a gentleman, but after my other sister
married so advantageously . . . well, Father apparently disapproved but in
the end, he didn't oppose the match. Although he and Margaret seldom speak,
according to my aunt."

"But surely now that she's widowed--"

Archie shook his head again. "My father's capable of holding a grudge until
the Last Trump sounds, Horatio. I'd be surprised if he sent my sister
anything more than the most cursory condolences, and shocked if he deigned to
attend the funeral. And Margaret might well have slammed the door in his
face if he *had!*"

Horatio grimaced. "I don't know how *I* could tolerate such a contentious
atmosphere, even for only a visit!"

"Birds in their little nests, Horatio," Archie sighed.

"What?"

"Something my old nurse used to say to us when we were growing up." Archie
struck a pose and declaimed, " 'Birds in their little nests agree; / And 'tis
a shameful sight, / When children of one family / Fall out, and chide, and
fight.'"

"*Did* you fight with your sisters, Archie?"

"Well . . . no," Archie admitted. "To tell the truth, Horatio, I barely
remember them. After my mother died, " his voice faltered but he rallied
quickly, "well, Father sent both of them to live with my aunt. Something
about their needing a woman's influence. I can probably count on the fingers
of one hand the number of times we've met since."

"Were they all unhappy occasions?"

"Not exactly. I think the *last* time was at Alice's wedding to the Earl of
Langford in '89. Margaret was maid-of-honor. My brothers," he grimaced
slightly, "attended as well, and my father. It was a very grand society
affair, Horatio--all ceremony, and little else! We'd no chance, really, to
exchange anything but the usual polite inanities of how well everyone was
looking and how pleased we were that So-and-So could be with us today!"
Archie sighed. "And now the circumstances couldn't be more different."

"But perhaps it'll be easier, in a way," Horatio pointed out, with
inescapable logic. "After such a loss, your sister might be pleased to see a
friendly face. And since you never met her husband, she needn't fear you'll
have anything to say against him."

"True," Archie agreed. "If she was happy with him and never regretted their
marriage, that's enough for me." He hoisted the laden saddlebag on the cabin
floor to his shoulder. "The jollyboat should be leaving soon. Time I was
away, Your Gravity," he said lightly, trying to dispel his lingering anxiety.
"Be so good as not to let the ship fall overboard in my absence!"

"Another remark like that, Mr. Kennedy, and *you'll* be the one falling
overboard!" Horatio threatened, shaking his head. "Come, let me help you
with your dunnage."

*****
His cloak tented around him, Archie stared unseeingly at the approaching
shore, oblivious to everything but his own thoughts. One of the midshipmen,
Carter, had also been granted leave because of family circumstances but,
noting Archie's preoccupation, he made no attempt to converse with him.

Beneath the folds of his cloak, Archie's hand stole into his pocket, felt for
the religious medal Dr. Sebastian had given him. Rubbing his thumb over the
curved, slightly raised surface helped to calm him somewhat. He wondered
suddenly if there was a patron saint of estranged families; pity he hadn't
thought to ask when he spoke to Dr. Sebastian earlier.

Last night, still feeling apprehensive about this upcoming visit, he'd gone
straight from his watch to the doctor's cabin, knocked tentatively on the
door, been welcomed and admitted. The Indy's surgeon had looked him over
quickly with those perceptive dark eyes, then offered chamomile tea and the
opportunity to unburden himself of whatever was on his mind.

Hesitantly, between sips, Archie related the bare particulars to his
counselor--Hugh Tresilian's death several months back, the letters that had
passed since then between Archie and his widowed sister, the tentative
suggestion that they meet when he was next in England. And now, here he was,
anchored off Plymouth and preparing to depart on the morrow, filled with
doubts about the wisdom of this impending encounter. The doctor had listened
with his usual attentiveness--in the last several months, he'd heard much
about Archie's family--his distant, often incomprehensible, father, his
beloved late mother, the brothers who shared his surname and blood but little
else. About the Kennedy daughters he had heard comparatively little--and no
one was more aware of that omission now than Archie himself.

"Are your memories of your sisters unpleasant?" Dr. Sebastian asked gently.

"Not so much unpleasant . . . as *insubstantial.*" Archie cradled the cup
between his palms as though seeking reassurance. "They went to live with my
aunt, barely a fortnight after Mother's funeral. When I try to remember life
at the manor, when we all lived under one roof, it's like--grasping at a
handful of smoke. No matter how I strive to hold on to it, it just trickles
through my fingers." He frowned into his cup. "Alice was my father's
favorite, I think. All ribbons and curls. He used to swing her up onto his
knee or his shoulder, and she would laugh. She was pretty--the way a
porcelain doll is pretty. We met in London last year. She may be the only
member of my family who's shorter than I am, her head barely reaches to my
chin."

"Ah, so you *have* seen one of your sisters recently. Did the meeting go
well?"

Archie flushed. "No . . . not really. There was no--animosity, just . . .
incomprehension, on both sides. She married a peer of the realm, she's one
of Society's leaders. When we met, she invited me to her house to dine but
there must have been upward of a hundred people there that night." He drew
one finger along the rim of his cup, his flush deepening. "It wasn't so long
after Muzillac and my release from a Spanish prison. I found--I could not
tolerate the noise and all those people. I came away as soon as possible but
I fear Alice may not have understood . . . and I lacked the courage to
explain it to her."

"Perhaps she did understand--or came to understand--and your next meeting
will go more smoothly." Dr. Sebastian sipped from his own cup. "And your
other sister, Margaret?"

Archie paused before replying. "What I remember most about her, from
childhood--is that she was always running away!" His mouth quirked. "Can't
say I blame her for that. She was forever riding off on her pony, visiting
the stables or the kennels, or simply wandering the grounds by herself."

"She sounds a very independent young lady."

"She could be kind, though. There were times when she took me up on her
pony, and once she showed me the loft where the barn cat had her kittens.
And she was in the habit of caring for injured strays. I think she may have
preferred animals to people."

Dr. Sebastian smiled. "Some children do."

"She did marry, though, so it appears that she found someone at least as
interesting as her pony." Archie swallowed the last of his tea. "I never met
her husband, though--and they married while I was at sea. They'd a far
smaller wedding than Alice and Langford, and she went off to Cornwall
immediately after. Still running away, I suppose."

"Is that what you think?" Sebastian was watching him closely.

"A little," Archie confessed. "Only perhaps . . . that is better left
unsaid." He sighed. "Another reason to dread this visit! What if I say or do
the wrong thing? There are so many potential caltrops--I do not wish to
cause my sister greater pain, but how can I be sure that my presence will
afford her any sort of comfort?"

The doctor smiled again. "I think you are selling yourself short. As for the
rest," Sebastian laid one hand against the side of the younger man's head,
"there is no greater comfort in grief than love. I have every confidence
that you will succeed in finding the right way to deal with your sister,
Archie."

*****
*No greater comfort in grief than love.* The words rang in his ears now,
drowning out the sounds of wind, rain, and sea. *But could you love people
you could barely remember?* Archie's hand closed over the medal in his
pocket, tightly enough to feel the graven image pressing into his palm.

"Alice," he murmured. "Margaret." As if the utterance of their names could
bring their childhood images before them, not blurred by time and distance,
but sharp and clear as a new oil painting. But in his mind's eye, all he
could see was a flutter of ribbon in tossing flaxen curls and a straight
young back galloping away on a dappled grey pony. . .

*****

"Do you think there'll be enough food?" Margaret Kennedy Tresilian appealed
to her sister-in-law. "Young men are always so hungry."

"There's plenty," Medora Tresilian replied, setting a bowl of buttered
carrots on the table. "I believe you've thought of everything." She grimaced.
"Except the weather, unfortunately. It has been so mild up until now--a pity
your brother will be arriving in a downpour."

"We can mull some ale or cider to take off the chill," Margaret said
absently, brushing a stray wisp of hair back from her forehead. "Perhaps I
should have had a green goose as well. . . "

Medora shook her head, amused. "Margaret, hasn't your brother been in the
Navy for years? After a diet of salt beef and weevilly biscuits, I should
think he'd find the *worst* of Mrs. Polwhele's efforts palatable!"

Fortunately, Margaret thought, the dishes prepared for supper were far from
being the worst her cook had to offer. Plain fare, of course, but
well-prepared and perfectly seasoned, if she did say so herself.
Nonetheless, she appreciated her sister-in-law's reassurance. Medora might
be only fifteen, but she did not lack for sense and she'd remarkable
self-possession for one so young. "No doubt you're right. Weevilly biscuits
surely represent a comestible low point!"

Medora grinned. "At least they knock the weevils out of the biscuits first,
or so I'm told!" Turning to reenter the kitchen, she trod accidentally on
the tail of the large ginger tom stretched across the threshhold, who
promptly sprang up and away with an aggrieved yowl.

"Silly beast! If you *will* persist in lying there--" Medora scooped the cat
up into her arms and administered comfort which, after a last baleful glare,
he deigned to accept. "Shall I put him in the library? You won't want him
walking on the table during the meal!"

"No, indeed," Margaret agreed fervently. A thought struck her. "You *will*
join us tonight, won't you?"

The girl raised her eyebrows. "And sit bodkin between you and your brother?"

"Unless you'd rather ride back to Tresilian Manor--in the rain--and sup with
Edward and Fanny instead?"

At the mention of her guardians, Medora made a slight face at her
sister-in-law over the cat's brindled back. "Well, if you put it that way,
then of course I accept your invitation, *dear* Margaret!"

"Good." Margaret relaxed and said, with real appreciation, "My dear, you'd be
doing me the most tremendous favor. Henry's already sent word he'll be
supping with the Pendennises tonight. If *you* desert me as well, it'll be
only the two of us."

Medora wrinkled her brow. "Are you that nervous--about seeing your brother
again?"

To someone who'd spent her entire life surrounded by brothers, that thought
probably seemed strange indeed, Margaret reflected with a faint, rueful
smile. "Perhaps a little. Archie was scarcely more than a boy when I saw
him last. We grew up in separate households, not like you with Edward,
Henry, and . . . Hugh to play with." There, it was out. With the passage of
time, it *was* becoming easier to speak her husband's name aloud.

And to hear it spoken, she hoped, in Medora's own case. The girl had been
close to her brother, grieving as much for him in her way, as Margaret had.
Indeed, the young widow wondered, would she herself have been so affected by
the loss of any of *her* brothers? She remembered that she'd wept at the
news that Archie was feared dead before learning he was in fact a prisoner of
war--had that been grief, or simply guilt that she hadn't troubled to know
him better? Well, they were both about to get that opportunity now . . .

Except for a faint flicker of sadness in her eyes at the mention of Hugh,
Medora remained composed. "He must be almost a stranger to you, then," she
said frankly.

Strangers with the same blood, history, and surname . . . it was daunting to
contemplate. "Just so," Margaret admitted with a sigh. "Heaven only knows
what we'll have to talk about!"

"*We'll* think of something," Medora promised. She stroked the cat, who was
starting to show distinct signs of restlessness. "Let me put his Highness in
the library. Then perhaps we can come up with six possible topics of
conversation before your brother arrives!"

Alone, Margaret pondered the possibilities herself. The weather was always a
safe subject, she supposed--and the condition of the roads. She hoped Archie
wasn't prone to coach-sickness.

A clatter of hooves in the courtyard. Here already? Picking up a lantern, she
hurried to the front door and eased it open, falling back a step as a
windblown flurry of rain spattered the threshold. Undeterred, Margaret
lifted the lantern and peered through the gloom. Dim shapes were just visible
through the downpour--large bulky forms barely identifiable as horses,
smaller forms who, by default, must be their riders.

"John!" She shouted the groom's name into the darkness. "Is that you?"

A gusty sneeze was the only response to her query. Margaret called out a
tentative blessing, raised the lantern higher . . . and saw a slight figure
stagger into the light and gaze up at her from the foot of the steps leading
to the front door.

Her first thought was that he was very young. Her second was that he was
very *wet.* Astonishingly, even shockingly wet. Rain dripped from his
bicorne, streamed from his cloak. shimmered in beads on a pale, fine-featured
face dominated by a pair of clear blue eyes.

Margaret swallowed, her throat suddenly tight. "Archie?" she asked, just
managing to keep her voice steady, and was answered by a faint, almost shy
nod.

"F-forgive me for staring." The boy's blue eyes were at once candid and
contrite. "It's merely that you look . . . so much like Mother."

Margaret smiled, feeling an unexpected rush of warmth as she looked down at
her brother's upturned face. "Why don't you come in out of the rain,and let
me see whom *you* resemble?"

END PART ONE