Children of One Family
by Pam

Part Eleven

The stone was of a moderate size, the inscription modest but eloquent.


Hugh Thomas Tresilian

1769 -1795

Beloved Husband, Father, and Brother

 

Head bowed, Archie stood quietly by the grave of the brother-in-law he had
never known. Beside him, Margaret knelt to place a bunch of primroses on the
turf, where they gleamed like a handful of scattered gold.

Archie glanced at his sister, whose expression was sad but serene; only
yesterday had she at last admitted the weight of the grief she had felt and
was still feeling. He had held her as she wept, awkwardly at first, then more
easily, and afterwards, they had sat quietly together in the garden. A
little while later, she had spoken of Hugh--their meeting and courtship, the
early days of their marriage. She did not mention the accident that had
taken him from her, and, already knowing the particulars from Medora, Archie
did not press her. Healing would take time, and he was only glad that she
had finally opened up to him, accepted what comfort he could offer. It was
in that spirit that he had accompanied her to the churchyard today.

"He used to bring me primroses," Margaret said reminiscently. "They flower
early in Cornwall. Sometimes you can even find them in midwinter, if you know
where to look. And Hugh knew--all the hidden places." Her lips trembled
slightly, but she managed to smile nonetheless. "Primroses, and later
bluebells. I could not have been better pleased than if he had brought me
diamonds . . ." She pressed one hand briefly to her mouth.

Archie reached out, hesitantly squeezed her shoulder. She reached up with her
other hand, laid it over his and squeezed back. "Sometimes . . . I think I
grieve most for all the--all the things that *he* will miss, not being here.
The changing seasons, the countryside. Watching Robin grow up, take a wife,
and have children of his own. And his brothers and sister with *their*
families. How he loved them all!"

"As they loved him," Archie said quietly. "And he will be a part of them--and
you, forever."

She breathed out in a long, long sigh. "Yes." Another light squeeze of his
hand. "Dear Archie, thank you for coming with me today."

"I was honored to be asked." Archie glanced again at the headstone. "I wish
I'd known him."

"So do I. You'd have taken to each other very quickly, I believe. And Hugh
always *did* think it a pity that our family should have been sundered as it
was."

"Well, you won't let that happen to *this* family."

"Decidedly not."

Together, they turned away from the grave, began walking back towards where
they had left their horses.

"Do you know, my dear," Margaret continued, "I was almost dreading your visit
before you washed up at my door!"

Archie raised his brows. "Really?"

"Oh, absolutely! We had not seen each other in so many years, and I was
terrified of putting a foot wrong! Medora could probably give you all the
details about how nervous I was!"

"You're not nervous *now*, I trust?"

"Not in the least." She smiled at him. "I think my fears fled the moment I
opened the door and saw you standing there, dripping!"

He laughed a little, embarrassed. "Not exactly an impressive entrance!"

"I thought you--very dear."

Archie felt himself flushing slightly but smiled back. "Well, for that
matter, I was . . . rather anxious myself."

"Were you?"

"It had been so long since I'd been part of a family--*any* family. I dreaded
saying or doing anything, lest I upset you or anyone else. But--I suppose *I*
stopped being anxious too, once the door opened and you started ordering me
about!"

Margaret laughed. "I'm afraid you have a managing woman for a sister! *Two*
managing women, if you include Alice!" She sobered abruptly. "You do know
you have a family *here*? One that cares greatly for you?"

Inexpressibly moved, Archie nodded. "I--am pleased to be counted so. It is
more than I ever hoped for."

"And you *will* come again? Say you will come again!"

"Yes. Yes, of course--I should be delighted to."

"Good." Margaret nodded decisively, then sighed. "Oh, I cannot believe you'll
be returning to your ship so soon! The days seem to have just flown by."

"The time's gone quickly," Archie agreed with regret. "But we will be writing
to each other, of course."

"Indeed--and I expect my letters to be answered! Still, even letters aren't
quite as nice as meeting face to face. I shall miss you so much, my boy."

//"Jack's missed you, boy."//

. . . A dark cloud coming between him and the sun. A thin predatory smile,
in a thin predatory face. A spindly figure sidling crab-like out of the
shadows, reaching for him, as his limbs turned to lead and his throat closed
with fear and hatred . . .

No! Not this time! Archie forced himself to move, stumbling back several
paces, flinging out a hand to ward off . . . Margaret?

"Archie!" His sister's face was pale, creased with concern. "Whatever's the
matter? You're white as a sheet!"

Oh, God. Archie gasped and looked down quickly, fighting for composure.

No. He would not let this poison what peace he'd found here. And there was
a world of difference between his sister's words, spoken in loving regret,
and Simpson's obscene, leering innuendo. Nothing to tie them together but a
coincidental choice of words--and it was up to *him*, Archie, to sever that
tie in his own mind.

Head still lowered, he managed to regain control, first of his breathing,
then of his speech. "It is--it is nothing." He mustered a smile that
probably looked as sickly as it felt. "Someone just . . . walked over my
grave." The jest fell flat as his voice broke on the last word.

Margaret's mouth tightened. "It is most assuredly *not* nothing!" Putting an
arm around his shoulders, she guided him to the low stone wall bordering the
churchyard and made him sit down. "How might I help? Is there anything I
can do for you?"

He shook his head, trying to keep his eyes fixed on the ground. "Please. Let
it go."

A brief pause, then her voice, gentle, loving, and wholly implacable. "My
dear, I cannot. Not when you are in such obvious distress."

Archie's head came up at that. "I came to help you with *your* difficulties
not trouble you with--" he broke off, biting his lip in vexation at his
unruly tongue.

"Then there *is* something troubling you!"

He looked away again. "A lady should not have to hear of such things."

"Should a young man have to live through them?" Margaret countered. Seating
herself beside him, she took his hands, rubbing warmth and feeling back into
them. "Yesterday, you broke through *my* guard. Because you knew--better
than I knew, myself--that I needed to unburden my heart. To admit the pain
of loss, so I could truly begin to heal from it at last." She placed a hand
under his chin, turned his face towards her. "Burdens shared are burdens
halved. And I think you have borne *your* burden--whatever it may be--too
long alone."

Archie swallowed painfully and closed his eyes.

"Dearest, you've told me a little of what you endured after the French
captured you. Was this *also* something that happened, while you were a
prisoner?"

"N-not only that." The words forced themselves out, despite his effort to
contain them. "Earlier. Wh-when I first joined the Navy." He drew a
shuddering breath and resumed, "There was an older man--another m-midshipman.
A bully. Senior in the mess. He used to raid our sea-chests, take whatever
he wanted. And if we d-defied him, he'd beat us . . . "

Margaret's arm tightened around his shoulders, anchoring him. Unconsciously,
he leaned into her embrace.

The stumbling torrent of words would not cease. "B-beat us . . . and, and
*worse* than beat us." Archie's shivering intensified as he struggled to
shape the phrases that would carry him over the last, most terrible hurdle.
"S-sometimes, he'd--he'd--" He choked, abruptly unable to continue.

A sharp intake of breath. Archie's eyes flew open and met his sister's,
blazing with shock, anger, compassion, and--most astonishing of
all--understanding. A warm hand caressed his face, drew his head down to
rest against her shoulder.

"Oh, my dear. I am so sorry . . . "

*****

"I seem . . . to keep borrowing your handkerchiefs."

"Shh--do you truly think I begrudge the loan?" Gentle fingers stroked the
damp hair back from his brow. Archie continued to sit with his head on his
sister's shoulder, feeling as limp as a wrung-out rag after the emotional
storm of the last twenty minutes.

"How did--" he cleared his throat, "how did you *guess*?"

"About what had been done to you?" Margaret fell silent for several moments,
then, "I love Cornwall." It was not an irrelevancy, for she continued, "But
I've no illusions about it being another Eden. Some terrible--evil--things
have happened here. Hugh told me--some forty years ago, there was a man
living in the county, who used to . . . prey upon the miners' children. They
would vanish and never be seen again--not alive. Finally, one of his victims
escaped and made it back home. The miners confronted him that night . . .
then they flung him off the nearest cliff." She gave him a smile that was
more of a grimace. "The Cornish have a certain--rough sense of justice."

"Better rough justice than no justice." Archie sniffed, made another pass
over his face with the borrowed handkerchief. "I must confess--I can't quite
understand why he told you of such a thing. It's not exactly what--"

"What a husband would tell a wife? But I was to share Hugh's life--why would
he not tell me of his world, or the dangers I might find there? Especially
the ones that might threaten our children?" Margaret's brow creased
momentarily. "Hugh thought that man might have had some form of *sickness*,
that made him do the things he did. Not that it made his actions any less
wrong or depraved but--?"

Archie shook his head at the slight note of inquiry in her voice. "I don't
know if S-Simpson was so afflicted. Perhaps. But it may have been that he
just enjoyed c-causing pain, hurting people . . ."

Her voice hardened. "That makes him all the more monstrous, then. Oh, my
dear," her arm tightened around Archie's shoulders again, "*why* did you not
tell us how you were suffering?"

"I--I thought about it," he confessed softly. "I *wanted* to. But I
couldn't bring myself to . . . not in a letter, and the last time I was
home--was Alice's wedding."

Margaret's face went stark at those words. Was she remembering now, as he
was?

"Father spent all his time in the study, with the lawyers, working out the
settlements. And our uncles and aunts . . . most of them hadn't set eyes on
me since before I went to sea. I knew nothing of Lord Langford. And Alice was
busy too, of course--and you were with her, throughout. Nor were we on such
terms that--" he broke off, shaking his head again. "There was--there was *no
one.*"

The memory haunted him still. A houseful of people, all preoccupied with the
wedding, with neither the time nor the attention to spare for a youngest son,
home from sea for just a few short days. And he himself, with Simpson's
recent abuses still marked out on his body and fresh in his mind, wandering
through rooms crowded with guests, who might as well have been in Timbuctoo
for all the good they were to him. No help, no comfort there. It had been
one of the loneliest times in his life.

"But surely there must have been *someone*--"

"Who? Malcolm or Duncan, perhaps?" Archie's mouth twisted. "What could
*they* have done? And--would they even have cared? They might even have
thought I deserved it." He dropped his gaze to the ground again, his next
words almost a whisper. "And I was--ashamed enough to wonder the same thing,
sometimes."

"Ashamed?" Margaret's voice rose incredulously. "What had *you* to be ashamed
of?"

"I couldn't stop him! I could *never* stop him . . . when he would hurt me--"

"How could you? A child up against a man twice your age and size? And if
others were helping him--"

"But even when I was no longer a child, I couldn't do anything against him! I
just--froze, like a frightened rabbit." The admission, the sense of his past
helplessness, galled him even now.

"If he had been hurting you, vilely, for years--that is not so surprising."
Margaret squeezed his hand. "You would not be the only person to suffer . . .
paralysis, in the face of what you feared most. "

"But I cannot allow that fear to, to incapacitate me any longer! It is in
the past, and it must remain there!" Archie pressed his fingers against his
brow as though he could push back the memories. "I am--*learning* to leave
it there."

"Understood." She brushed her lips against his temple. "But--one thing
more, Archie. Is Simpson dead?"

"Yes."

"Good." A single syllable of flint-hard satisfaction.

In spite of himself, Archie felt a corner of his mouth quirk up in response.
"He was going to kill Horatio. Captain Pellew shot him. Afterwards, the
captain wouldn't even take the body aboard for burial at sea. Not after
Simpson cost the Indy one midshipman and tried to murder another." He exhaled
shakily. "He's the one who set me adrift--into French hands."

Margaret swore, suddenly and violently. A soldier's oath, her brother
realized, after a brief shock--probably learned from Duncan. "Our father who
art in London has a great deal to answer for!"

"I don't want him to know!"

"Archie, he sent you into hell. He should be made to account for it!"

"Then let someone else call him to the accounting!" Archie caught his breath,
swallowed, then continued, starkly calm. "Milord already thinks of me as
'the son who has fits.' But I prefer even *that* designation to 'the son who
was used like a whore.'"

She blanched, but held her ground. "This *wasn't* your doing--or your fault!"

"N-no," Archie admitted. "And I've . . . recovered enough to see that, for
myself. But I don't want what happened to me--to be the first thing my family
thinks of, with *regard* to me." He licked his lips, still feeling his heart
racing. "Simpson is *dead*, Margaret. He's been rotting in the earth two
years and more. I don't want to bring him back!"

"No, no--of course not! But--" Margaret bit her lip. "Oh, love, you've kept
this to yourself for so long--and at such cost! I just don't want that--that
monster to have any more power over you, even from beyond the grave. And if
you let this fester--"

"I won't. I won't--I have told some people. Enough that they know what to
look for on other ships, so they can put a stop to it. As *I* will, should I
ever see this again--though I pray I will not."

"That doctor," Margaret said slowly, "the one who gave you the medal--does
*he* know?"

Archie nodded. "He knows. And a few others. And now you. But I do not want
our father to know. Nor our brothers. Or even Alice. But especially not our
father."

Troubled blue eyes searched his face, then, "Very well, my dear," Margaret
conceded, at last. "I shall respect your wishes in this."

"Promise."

"*Yes.* Only . . ." She hesitated. "Are you sure--about telling no one
else?"

"That--that rather depends." Archie moistened his lips again. "If--if I were
to marry one day, my wife would *have* to know, I think. We would be
*intimate*, in a way no one else would be. I could not . . . keep such a
secret from her, not when I'm--marked by it, body and soul. But I do not
know if she could ever understand."

"It would not be an easy thing for a wife to hear," she admitted. "But . . .
anyone who loved you would *try* to understand. Whatever scars you carry,
the shame is *not* yours to bear--let no one make you believe that it is."

Archie nodded, nearly undone by the warmth and fierce loyalty of her words.

"And now, dearest," she reached up to stroke his hair again, "I rather think
we could *both* do with some refreshment!"

*****

*****

Mr. Truscott's establishment in St. Perran had started out as an alehouse.
Once there was a *Mrs* Truscott, however, the place underwent a considerable
transformation, serving food as well as drink. There was even a dining-room
for customers who wished to enjoy a meal in quieter, pleasanter surroundings.
To this, Margaret and Archie were shown, at the former's request. After a
sidelong glance at her brother, who was disinclined to talk, Margaret ordered
for them both. Ale came first and Archie sank a third of his tankard at one
go. Afterwards, he seemed calmer, slightly more relaxed. Oyster soup and
fresh-baked bread revived him further, and he actually brightened when a dish
of pigeons, spit-roasted with bacon, was set before them.

Margaret smiled. "Cornish food isn't all pasties and pilchards, my dear. Will
you carve?"

He took up knife and fork preparatory to the task. "We won't offend your
Cornish cook by dining out, will we?"

"Not a bit of it. I told her we might not be back until late afternoon and
not to keep dinner waiting for the others."

The pigeons were delicious, almost melting in the mouth, and the trimmings of
early peas and new potatoes added a special zest. Nuts, a good mellow
cheese, and jam tart with cream finished off the meal. To Margaret's relief,
Archie ate with what appeared to be a normal appetite.

After they had settled their reckoning, Margaret proposed a walk "for
digestive purposes." Leaving their horses to recover their wind at the
Truscotts' stables, brother and sister traveled the short distance to the
beach. Three miles of golden sand, washed by a powerful, surging sea,
although the waves were comparatively gentle today. Margaret watched
Archie's face as he watched the sea and saw more of the tension draining from
him. However dreadful his early years in the Navy had been, he had clearly
come to love some aspects of the life.

Together they wandered towards the south end of the beach where the sea had
carved great arches in the cliffs and a few caves as well. She and Hugh had
used to come here, Margaret remembered with a bittersweet pang. On fine days
such as these, often with a picnic meal in a basket. It felt right, though,
to be sharing this place with someone else she loved, although in an entirely
different fashion.

Archie seemed to be growing a little weary, and she too felt the need for a
brief rest. Although the sun was not strong and a cool breeze was blowing,
they took shelter in the shadow of some tall stones, spreading their riding
cloaks upon the sand. When Archie's eyelids began to droop, and he
eventually sank down upon his cloak and fell into a doze, Margaret made no
move to wake him. It had been a difficult morning for them both--small
wonder if he was exhausted now. Let him sleep.

Idly, she trickled sand through her fingers and watched the swell as it
surged, billowed, and cast itself upon the shore, sending up bursts of spray
as it struck the rocks. The sea had its own song, its own music, if one
listened attentively enough. Did it also have "charms to soothe the savage
breast"? On balance, she rather hoped so--thinking about this morning's
revelations was making *her* breast feel very savage indeed!

All the anger that was not directed at her brother's thankfully deceased
tormentor, she realized, was directed at their father. Part of her would have
liked nothing better than to dash off a furious letter or, more ideally, to
confront him in person about the damage his self-absorbed grief had caused
the family, particularly his youngest son.

But Archie did not want him to know. Did not want *any* of the others to
know. And thinking it over more calmly, Margaret had to admit he was probably
right. Malcolm and Duncan would neither understand nor sympathize; a
condescending pity might be the best Archie could expect from either of them.
And Alice . . . Margaret knew their sister would never blame Archie or think
any less of him for having been abused. But the discovery of what he had
endured would fret her like a sore tooth--and the knowledge that the father
she adored had been partly responsible for it . . .

*It would destroy their relationship.* Of all the Kennedy children, Alice
was perhaps the only one who loved their father unreservedly, who had managed
to forgive him for sending them away all those years ago. Milord might not
deserve such devotion, Margaret thought, but *I* don't have the right to
devastate Alice like this. One could not, in all conscience, topple another
person's cherished idol without putting something else in its place. And
again, Archie did not want it this way.

Margaret glanced at his brother, still curled on his side, face rosy with
food and sleep. How he had suffered! And yet he had emerged from terrible
ordeals--ordeals that might have permanently cowed or corrupted another
man--with his strength, courage, and compassion intact. Did he have any idea
how remarkable he was? If not, she hoped he would, someday.

A son and brother to be proud of. And fond of, quite easily. Too easily?
Margaret frowned, mulling over something that had come to her attention
several days ago. She had always meant to broach the subject--privately, of
course--to Archie, still meant to. But that discussion could wait for a bit,
at least until he was awake again!

*****

It was perhaps a little more than half-an-hour later when he stirred,
groaned, then came fully awake with a start.

"Good God!" He jerked upright, stared about him with an air of chagrin. "I
can't believe I fell asleep. Why didn't you kick sand on me, or throw a rock
or something?"

Margaret laughed. "You looked so peaceful, I couldn't bear to disturb you.
Besides," she added mischievously, "*Robin* is usually the better for a nap
in the afternoon, as well."

Archie pulled a slight face at being lumped in with his three-year-old nephew
but otherwise accepted the teasing in good part. Margaret thought he looked
much restored and said so.

"I *feel* restored, I think." A tentative smile. "Better, at any rate." He
stretched languorously, gazing out to sea. "So--with what did you occupy
yourself, while I was snoring the afternoon away?"

"Well, for starters, you didn't snore. As for the rest--oh, any number of
things. New clothes for Robin--he's growing out of his old ones. The
harvest, though I'm sure Henry will be overseeing that when the time comes.
The mine, of course--I'm glad that you will be here to see it reopen. And,
for the last ten minutes, I've been composing that letter I mean to write to
Alice, about Medora."

"Ah." His smile was more definite this time. "Yes--our common cause. I had
wondered what you meant to do about that."

"Oh, I assure you, the matter has *not* slipped my mind. I was thinking I
might send the letter ahead to London since Alice and Langford will be going
up for the Season, quite soon." Margaret eyed her brother thoughtfully, then
made a decision. "So--now you know my intent. I hope you will not be
offended if I now ask about *yours*."

Archie blinked. "I beg your pardon?"

Margaret sighed. "My dear--what do *you* mean to do about Medora?"

"Do?" he echoed. "I don't--quite understand . . . "

"Archie, she's more than half in love with you!"

He shook his head dazedly. "B-but she *can't* be! She's only a child!"

"She's fifteen. Juliet was fourteen."

"Thirteen, actually," Archie corrected, then stopped, eyes widening in
consternation. "I didn't--I mean, I never dreamed . . ." his voice trailed
off helplessly.

*No, of course you didn't,* Margaret thought, with a sudden flash of wry
understanding. On first noticing Medora's partiality for Archie, she had
feared that her brother, like many sailors on leave, might be simply passing
the time in an idle flirtation with an impressionable young girl. She had
done him an injustice, but this discovery was equally disconcerting in its
way: not only had Archie *not* been flirting with Medora, he had not even
realized the girl was smitten with him. Instead, he'd been completely . . .
oblivious.

He was staring at her now, his expression so stricken and woebegone it was
almost funny--or it would have been, had not the situation touched so closely
upon the happiness of someone just as dear to her.

"I suppose it's only to be expected that you mightn't have noticed," she
said, relenting a little. "At sea since you were twelve, surrounded by men
and hardly ever seeing any girls your age . . . but my dear, surely you can't
have overlooked the fact that she is fond of you?"

"And I am fond of her," her brother said hastily, "but . . . " Again his
voice trailed off.

"Just--*not* in that way?"

"She's too *young*!" Archie insisted, flushing.

"Yes," Margaret agreed sadly. "So she is." She fixed her brother with an
earnest, penetrating gaze. "But she has known a great deal of loss in her
life. I do not wish to see her hurt. Not that you *would* cause her pain, "
she added quickly. "Not intentionally, that is--but . . . please, whatever
you do, tread carefully."

"Of--of course." He still looked as though she had dropped a brick on his
head.

Sighing inwardly over the density of young men, Margaret rose to her feet.
"Come, love--let us walk back and reclaim our horses. It's time we went home."

 

END PART ELEVEN