Children of One Family
by Pam

Part Ten

"Drink."

Far too many people, Archie reflected muzzily, had been telling him this in
the past year--or so it seemed. But he was in no condition to protest.
Raising the steaming cup to his lips, he took a careful swallow, and nearly
choked over the brandy lacing the tea. He could feel the blood rushing to
his cheeks as the spirits burned their way down his throat.

A few moments' discomfort, then a surge of warmth spread through him, leaving
calm in its wake. He took a deep breath, then another, and managed to focus
his attention once again--to find Margaret watching him intently.

"Better?"

He nodded, not yet trusting himself to speak.

She laid one hand over his. "Forgive me, my dear. I did not mean to give you
such a shock."

"Not--not your fault," Archie managed finally. He gave her hand a brief
squeeze, cleared his throat, and tried to speak more distinctly. "Why was I
never told?"

Margaret shook her head. "I wish I knew! Oh, I can perhaps understand why
the reason for Mama's . . . loss was not *instantly* revealed to you. You
were so young, our nurse mightn't have thought it proper to tell a
six-year-old such things--and she herself was so distraught, because she had
been Mama's nurse too. But someone in the family should have explained--as
Aunt Cecilia explained to me--when you were older!"

Archie took another bracing sip of tea. "Will you--explain now, please?"

Margaret eyed him dubiously. "Are you sure you're up for it? You went so
pale at first, I feared you were about to . . . " She flushed suddenly, her
voice trailing off.

"About to have a fit?" Archie finished for her.

"I know you suffered from them as a child, but--I did not want to embarrass
you, or make you feel self-conscious, by asking."

"I believe they have . . . tapered off, as I've grown older, though I cannot
pretend to understand why this is so. They appear to recur during periods of
great stress or strain. Still, it has been about a year since my last one, in
prison. And there had been another lapse of two years before then." Archie
put down his cup, met his sister's worried gaze steadily. "I can often
tell--when one is coming on; I believe I shall stand what you have to say to
me well enough."

Margaret looked searchingly at him a moment longer, but whatever she saw in
his face seemed to convince her. "As you wish, then, my dear." She folded
her hands on the table, and began. "Knowing what memories we have of our
father, it may be difficult to credit that he felt overmuch affection for
anyone. Yet he did care for our mother. I do not know that I would call him
*uxorious*, but he did care for her. I mentioned before that he could never
deny her when she had her heart set on something." She paused a moment, gave
a faint, wry smile. "Well, neither could he deny *himself* where she was
concerned."

Archie's breath caught. "You don't mean--"

"Oh, no--nothing like that! Mama would never have refused him, indeed, she
would not! But childbearing is not always easy for women, especially those
beyond a certain age. Aunt Cecilia told me our mother had had a difficult
time from the start, and so . . . " She broke off, taking his hands in hers
again.

"A five months' child, I was told, who could not have lived. A girl--I can't
remember what she was to be called. Amy or Amabel, I think. They were . . .
buried together, of course."

Archie shivered. A few details of that terrible day stood out starkly in his
memory--heavy black clothes, an overcast sky that seemed to weep in sympathy
with the mourners, the reddened eyes of his sisters and aunts, the almost
unnatural silence of his brothers, the tight-lipped, stonily austere face of
his father, and the overwhelming sense of confusion and desolation that had
gripped *him*, a boy of six, as they sat together in the family pew. But the
vicar's eulogy, the mourners' whispers and murmurs of sympathy--all these had
rolled over his head like an ocean wave, leaving not a trace behind. And he
had not gone back to the churchyard since, nor wished to. Yet there must be
a headstone, marking the last resting-place of Viscountess Aylesford and the
infant she had borne too early. Amy, Amabel--"the loved one."

"Then, as you know, Papa walled himself up in Kennedy Manor, and proceeded to
tear the family--*our* family--apart." Margaret's voice grew taut. "And it
is that for which I have the hardest time forgiving him. Mama's loss should
have brought us all closer together. That is how she would have wanted it, I
think. Instead, it cast us to the four winds."

Archie moistened dry lips. "He blamed himself."

"Most assuredly he did. And in his grief and guilt, he could not bear to
remember her." Her lips compressed momentarily before she continued, in the
same brittle tone. "So he got rid of everything that could remind him of
her--her gardens, her furniture . . . and her daughters. And then
you--packed off to sea when you were still only a boy."

"He--he must have been in great pain."

"No doubt. But he never saw how much the rest of us were hurting too." For
once there was no pity in Margaret's eyes. "And that's always been the way of
it with him--never to give or even to receive comfort. To build walls so high
and thick that they shut everything and everyone else out. God forbid that he
should ever acknowledge another's need or admit his own."

"Like father, like daughter."

He had not meant to speak the thought aloud. Margaret blanched, blue eyes
suddenly hurt and incredulous. "Archie, how can you say such a thing? I'm
not a bit like him!"

"I didn't mean--" he floundered a moment, struggling to find the words he
needed. "No," he said finally. "No, you're not very like him. You're like
*her*, so much so at times it takes my breath away. But--you build walls . .
. defenses, rather, the way he does."

"I had not thought of it in quite that way," she said stiffly.

"It's not *exactly* the same. I do not think you would ever tear a grieving
family apart, or send people away--simply because they reminded you of what
had been lost."

"Thank you. Much obliged for that flattering concession." She was still
offended, her tone edged with frost.

Archie flushed, hating that he had upset her, but pressed doggedly on. "But
you do . . . guard yourself and your feelings, almost too well. Henry and
Medora would do anything for you, I think--but you will not let them."

The icy manner thawed somewhat. "I am older than both of them. Is it wrong
for me to take care of those who are younger and more vulnerable than I?"

"No, of course not! But I cannot help worrying about the cost to *you*, of
being strong for everyone else. Who takes care of Margaret?"

"Hugh did."

The admission startled them both. Margaret paled further, the color seeming
to drain even from her lips. She rose quickly, stood gazing around her.
"I--I must go. The mine--I'm late enough as it is . . . "

"Margaret!" Archie sprang to his feet and reached for her hand, felt the
fingers cold and unresponsive in his own. "Don't run away, please."

She glanced at him absently, almost as if she had forgotten he was there. "Wh
eal Random is nearly ready to re-open," she explained with painstaking
patience, as though speaking to a child. "I need to be there." She drew her
hand away, not violently but again as if his presence had not truly
registered with her.

"But we haven't finished--"

"No," she broke in with a decisive shake of her head. "No, I cannot speak of
this. I will not." Her eyes, coming briefly back into focus, met his.
"Pray--forgive me. But I *cannot.*"

Archie swallowed. "The longer you leave it," he said, placing a careful
emphasis on each word, "the harder it will be."

She shook her head again, eyes once more unseeing, then went from the room
with a quick light step. Seconds later he heard the outer door of the
bedchamber closing. He was alone.

*****

"Damn, damn, damn, damn, *damn.*" Archie pounded his head rhythmically
against his clenched fists.

God, what a blunder! He should never have opened his mouth at all. And now
she was gone, and who knew when she would be back or in what state she would
be in when she did.

For a moment he entertained the thought of riding after her. But it would
take time to get a horse saddled and she was a better rider than he and might
be too far ahead for him to catch her up. Always supposing she even *wanted*
to see him after this morning's debacle--and he couldn't blame her if she did
not.

Looking down, he caught sight of his mother's face, smiling up at him from
her miniatures. *Forgive me, Mama--your youngest son is a cloth-head.* He
closed the lids on both boxes Margaret had been showing him and let himself
out of his sister's rooms.

*****

The library was deserted, save for Copper and Tin--equally inactive, for
once--curled up on the window seat together. Archie glanced almost enviously
at the cats; it must be very restful to spend so much of one's life in
slumber. He himself felt too anxious and unsettled to nap or even to read.
Defeated, he left the library as well, wandered down the hall, in search of .
. . something.

Music in the passage. Medora, of course. He quickened his pace,
acknowledging that he did not wish to be alone right now.

She was singing, he noticed as he approached the music room, though not in
her usual manner. The clear soprano was darker, staying in its lower
registers--but it suited the song she had chosen which, after a moment's
astonishment, he recognized as one of the gorier border ballads, about a
baron killed in a cattle raid, with his own wife's connivance. Hmm--perhaps
he was not the only one in the house who felt out of sorts today.

"Fie on ye, lady--why did ye do sae?
Ye have opened the gates tae the false Inverey!

Oh, there's dule in the kitchen, and mirth in the ha'
For the Baron o' Brackley's dead and awa' !"

Hands crashed stormily on the spinet keys as Medora launched into the last
verse.

"Then up spake the babe, on his nurse's knee,
'Gin I live to a man, it's avengéd I'll be!'"

She ended on a last thundering chord, threatening another generation with
violence and bloodshed, then sat brooding over the instrument. Archie sidled
into the room, peered cautiously at what he could see of her face. In
profile, her expression looked almost sulky--not a word he would normally
apply to her.

He cleared his throat, not wanting to startle her. Mishandling things with
*one* female was quite enough for the day.

She half-turned around, saw him, and offered up a listless half-smile by way
of greeting. "Good morning."

Archie cocked his head. "Is it? Forgive me--but you look more than a little
bilious."

She sighed, putting up a hand to either side of her face. "I believe I *feel*
more than a little bilious."

He venturned further into the room. "A surfeit of food--or a surfeit of
Fanny?"

"Both, I think." She dropped her hands, revealing shadowed grey eyes in a
face sallow with fatigue. Even her hair, loose as a child's now, looked too
heavy for her head. "What's Beatrice's line? 'I never can see *her* but I am
heart-burn'd an hour after.'"

"Something like that." Seeing that she raised no objection, he perched on the
other end of the music bench. "Would a cup of tea help? Or perhaps a powder?"

Medora shook her head. "It's not just yesterday's dinner, or having to spend
so much time with Fanny. I'd a dream last night that--oppressed me."

Archie grimaced. "My sympathies. A nightmare?"

"I don't know. But Hugh was in it." Her eyes darkened in distress. "I
dreamed of my brother, but I can't remember any details, whether the dream
was good or bad . . . or anything!"

After a moment's hesitation, Archie reached out and patted her shoulder.
"I've--had a few dreams like that myself," he ventured. "Usually about my
mother."

"You lost her young, didn't you?"

He smiled sadly and nodded. "I haven't many memories of her. Perhaps the
dreams are a way of making up for that."

"It's like that with my parents too, though I was a small matter older than
you when they died. And then we were all very sick--perhaps that blurred the
edges a bit. Not like--not like *this.*" Her lips trembled suddenly. "I
don't want to forget Hugh. It hurts to remember, but it hurts worse *not*
to!"

Archie reached into his pocket for a handkerchief but she was already
pressing her palms hard against her closed eyes. As he had that day in the
garden, he tried to give her the chance to compose herself. It took less time
than before; Margaret, he reflected ruefully, was not the only one with a
formidable array of defenses.

Clearing his throat, he ventured, "Would it--would it help to speak of him?"

"To you?"

"If you like. I assure you, I don't mind listening. You see, I know hardly
anything about the men my sisters married--and I find I regret that, now."

"But you've *seen* Hugh, haven't you? In the library portrait?" At his nod,
she continued softly, "I am biased, of course, and think all of my brothers
are good-looking men. But Hugh has--*had* the Tresilian coloring and the
Drummond features. 'Twas a difficult combination to resist. We used to tease
him that half the girls in the county were mad for him, and that when he
finally chose one, the rest would all jump in the sea. But it wasn't just
his looks. He had wit--I think he could see the funny side to any
situation--but he was *kind* with it too, never malicious. And he was the
most bookish of us. Papa sent him to university in hopes he'd gain a
fellowship or go on to study law.

"After our parents died, though, Hugh thought it his duty to come home to
help run the mine. Edward did insist that he finish his year at
university--and that's when he met Margaret." She smiled, a little color
creeping back into her cheeks. "He said once he knew her, no one else would
do for him. The Tresilian way, of course--but I own Henry and I were *both*
relieved that he had found someone much nicer than Fanny!"

Archie smiled back appreciatively. "Were you at the wedding? I understand it
was a small ceremony."

"Yes. Margaret married from your aunt's house, and your uncle gave her away.
Your father and brothers did not attend, but your other sister was
bridesmaid." Medora paused, remembering. "She was very grand, Lady
Langford--I hardly dared speak to her!"

"Believe me, you would not be the only person to have that reaction! Did it
upset Margaret--that Father and our brothers weren't there?"

"If so, she gave no sign of it. I don't think she and Hugh ever took their
eyes off each other that day. Or any other day thereafter." Her smile turned
slightly apologetic. "Perhaps I exaggerate a trifle. No doubt they'd their
share of disagreements and squabbles, but I cannot remember *many* and they
truly seemed to agree together most of the time."

"It's a rare couple that can stay sweethearts forever," Archie mused.

"It was as though he never stopped wooing Margaret, even after they were wed.
He used to call her his 'nighean ruadh.'"

"Red-haired girl?"

She nodded. "We all learned some Gaelic from Mama's side of the family. And
there was an old song too--one of my grandmother's favorites--that Hugh sang
when they were courting. And again, after they married." A soft shred of
laughter at the memory. "Margaret would always pretend to be indignant, and
claim she wasn't at all like the girl in the song."

"What would your brother do?"

"Laugh--and go on singing." Her fingers trailed over the spinet keys. "Henry
started to play it last night," she said abruptly. "Not deliberately, but he
often provided the accompaniment when Hugh sang. You saw, I believe, how
quickly he stopped once he realized . . . but I don't think Margaret noticed."

"Yes, I saw," Archie admitted. "But Margaret and Sir Edward were discussing
the mine, so I am fairly sure she did not notice."

She closed her eyes. "I wish *I* could say the same! That song has been
running through my head all morning, and I cannot rid myself of it."

"Have you tried, simply, *playing* it? Perhaps it might--lay the ghost."

"Of *course*, I've considered it!" The girl fretted her lower lip. "But how
can I? If Margaret--"

"She's left for the mine." Archie grimaced. "My fault, I fear. We were
speaking earlier, and I mishandled things. I doubt she'll be back until after
she's cooled off."

"Oh, dear." Her gaze was sympathetic. "Well, if it's any consolation, she
isn't one to hold a grudge. And I don't see how she could manage to stay
angry with *you*, of all people!"

Remembering how furious Margaret still was at their father, Archie feared the
girl was putting far too optimistic a slant on things. But there was no need
to disillusion her. Instead, he mustered a brief smile. "Medora Rose, if you
can bear to play your brother's song, I think--I should very much like to
hear it."

She glanced at him from under lowered lashes. "Are you sure?"

"If you are. You needn't continue, if it distresses you."

A long pause, then her hands slowly came to rest upon the keys, to shape the
tune he had heard the night before. A few chords, then her voice, plaintive
and sweet, blended with the melody:

"When I've done the work of day, and I row my boat away
Down the waters of Loch Tay, when the evening light is falling
Then I look towards Ben Lawers, where the after glories glow
And I dream on two bright eyes, with a merry mouth below.

She's my beauteous nighean ruadh, she's my joy and sorrow too
Though I own she is not true, ah but I cannot live without her
For my heart's a boat in tow, and I'd give the world to know
If she means to let me go, as I sing hori horo."

A love song--undeniably sentimental, but wearing its emotions openly and
honestly. Archie sat quietly, listening to the testament of another man's
devotion to his sister. Medora's playing became less tentative, her voice
fuller as the music caught her up in its spell.

 

"Nighean ruadh, your lovely hair has more beauty I declare
Than all the tresses fair from Killin to Aberfeldy
Be they lint-white, gold or brown, be they blacker than the sloe
They mean not as much to me as a meltin' flake o' snow.

And her dance is like the gleam of the sunlight on the stream
And the songs the Wee Folk sing, they're the songs she sings at milkin'
But my heart is full of woe, for last night she bade me go
And the tears begin to flow, as I sing hori horo."

 

It was as the last soft chords faded away that Archie felt the back of his
neck prickling, sensed the presence of someone else in the room. With a
sinking heart, he turned his head--and inevitably beheld his sister,
outwardly composed but white to the lips, standing in the doorway. Beside
him, Medora's horrified intake of breath revealed her own distress at the
sight.

"I'm sorry!" Tears sprang to the girl's eyes. "Margaret, I did not know you
could hear me! I'm so sorry--"

"It's my fault!" Archie interposed hastily. "All mine! We were talking, and
I asked her if she would play--"

Their simultaneous apologies stumbled to a halt as Margaret held up a hand.

"It is nobody's fault." Her voice sounded almost normal. "And it is right,
my dear, that you should play and sing the songs your brother loved." Her
colorless lips compressed, then curved in a painful parody of a smile. "And
perhaps, one day . . . I will be strong enough to listen."

She turned swiftly from the door, and was gone, her light footsteps fading
away down the hall.

Shaking off his paralysis, Archie gave Medora's shoulder a reassuring squeeze
and hurried after his sister.

*****

*****

He caught up with her in the back garden, standing by the low stone wall and
gazing blindly out to sea, her blue eyes unfocused.

"I'm sorry," he began again, but an abrupt shake of her head dismissed what
he was about to say as irrelevant.

"The longer I left it, the harder it would be. That's what you said, isn't
it?"

"Something like that--yes."

Margaret drew a shaky breath. "I--I thought about that . . . all the while I
was riding to the mine. I did not *want* to see it, to admit it was true.
But it is, it is--and you were right. That's partly why I turned round and
came back." Again that painful death's head of a smile. "I'm a fine one,
aren't I, to scoff at Milord's defenses, when all this time I've been
building a great fortress of my own?"

"You're not really like him!" Archie insisted, wishing he'd bit his tongue in
two before that thoughtless comparison ever escaped his lips. "You don't
close yourself off from others or deny comfort to anyone else."

"No--I simply refuse to *accept* it from anyone else. And there is
something--ungenerous in that."

Archie shook his head. "I would not call it so."

"No? What would you call it, then?"

"Independent, perhaps. You've always been so, even when we were children.
You never wanted anyone to pity you or feel sorry for you, for whatever
reason."

"But there's a difference, isn't there--between not wanting to take advantage
of someone's pity and not *allowing* anyone the--the consolation of offering
comfort? Hugh--would not have approved, I think. He knew how to give and
receive . . . with *equal* grace." Margaret rubbed her forehead as if it
ached. "But--I have never known, properly, how to grieve for him. And here,
surrounded by everyone else who knew him and had him, longer than I, it
seemed . . . *wrong*, almost self-indulgent to carry on like, like--"

"Like a woman who has just lost her husband?" Archie offered softly. "I do
not see how anyone *could* consider a widow's grief self-indulgent. And
whether you were married to him five years or fifty makes no difference to
the depth of what you feel."

"You believe you know what I feel?" A hint of challenge in the question.

Archie flushed slightly. "I cannot presume to know, exactly, how it feels to
lose a spouse. But d'you think I could have stayed here this week and more,
and not learned *something* of Hugh Tresilian, and what he meant to those who
knew him?"

It was her turn to color. "I'm being a perfect shrew. Forgive me . . . "

"For missing your husband?" Archie shook his head. "There's nothing to
forgive. For what it's worth, I know that you grieved--and still grieve for
him. That you loved him. And that he loved *you* fully as much."

Her face was stark, the blue eyes suddenly glassy with unshed tears. "He
changed my world."

Oh, dear God. Aching for her, Archie waited for his sister to continue.
After several minutes, she resumed, voice still taut with strain, near to
breaking.

"I have not wept often, in my life. Weeping did not bring Mama back, nor make
us a family again. I told myself, when *this* happened, that I had to be
strong, for his child, for his family--so that what we'd built would endure,
even--even without him." She wrapped her arms tightly around her body.
"B-but that was only part of the reason. I feared--I feared that if I *ever*
let myself weep, for Hugh, that I would never stop!" She brushed almost
angrily at the tears now spilling down her cheeks. "That if I ever admitted
loss or loneliness, I would just--fall, and go on falling, into this . . .
bottomless well of grief . . . "

*Is there no pity sitting in the clouds / That sees into the bottom of my
grief?* . . .

Archie swallowed, blinking back tears of his own. "Give me your hand, nighean
ruadh. I promise I will not let you fall."

 

END PART TEN