Children of One Family
by Pam

Part Twelve

 

The day of Wheal Random's reopening dawned fair and clear, with a cool
easterly breeze blowing. Archie stood on the cliff beside the other
Tresilians, as Henry and Perrin, the new underground captain, started up the
mine engine again--though work would not officially resume until the next
day. Sir Edward then declared Wheal Random open once more, but it was
Henry's words that the miners and bal maidens seemed to take most to heart.
His usually cheerful face somber, the youngest Tresilian brother dedicated
the reopening to those who had lost their lives six months ago, naming each
man in turn and ending with Hugh. During the recital, Margaret and Archie's
hands met in a sustaining clasp. Most of the miners nodded, bowed their
heads, or removed their caps; some even murmured "Amen" after Henry had
finished speaking.

There was no ill-will, Archie observed with relief. But then the disaster had
been an act of nature, not of negligence, and the Tresilians had paid as
dearly as the families of those nine other men. And no expense had been
spared to make Wheal Random safe again--or as safe as *any* mine could be,
under the circumstances. Both Wheal Random and Wheal Rhys had been unwatered,
and equipment that had been damaged or even appeared unreliable had been
replaced. If, God forbid, accidents should again befall the mine, they would
not be of this proportion.

Some distance below, on a flat field, several trestle tables holding food and
drink had been set up. Margaret had thought long and hard about whether to
have some kind of celebration to mark the occasion, consulting each of the
family members in turn. Once again, it had been Henry, the Tresilian with the
most obvious "common touch," whose advice had carried the day: "Have one. It
needn't be very large or very grand. But it marks a new beginning--for all of
us."

A new beginning. Relative stranger though he was to Cornwall, Archie could
feel the truth of those words now. The accident had been terrible, but what
reparations were possible had been made, and the healing had begun. The dead
would never be forgotten, but life had to be lived, though perhaps with a
deeper appreciation because it could so easily be lost. And the sun was
shining today, and maybe it was human nature to take heart from that alone.

The fare provided for the celebration was quite simple: pasties, saffron
buns, and ginger biscuits, with ale, cider, and tea (some of the miners were
strict Wesleyans and would not partake of strong drink). Fanny, with a
subdued Medora in attendance, presided majestically over the trestle tables,
making sure that everyone waited his turn and minded his manners as the
refreshments were doled out.

Lady Bountiful, Archie thought, with an inward curl of his lip. If he had not
seen Fanny in all her petulant glory at dinner mere days ago, he might have
found her gracious demeanor entirely convincing. As it was, he thought he
caught a few of the older miners exchanging wry glances as they left the
table after being served. He kept his own face carefully bland as he
approached the table in his turn.

A pasty in one hand, a mug of cider in the other, he strolled a little
distance away to watch everyone else. Many people just stood about in small
groups, eating and talking quietly among themselves. But a handful of the
younger men had dredged up whistles and even a fiddle and were playing while
some of the bal maidens danced. At these, Archie gazed for some time, noting
the swirl of skirts, the occasional flash of bare ankles, the inviting curve
of a breast beneath a lightweight cotton blouse.

Unbidden, his thoughts returned to the previous day's conversation with
Margaret. They had spoken more as they rode back to Keverne, she promising
to honor his wishes to tell no one else of his terrible years aboard
Justinian. But she had been very adamant on another point: namely, that he
was not--for a single second--to believe that he was unfit for or unworthy of
love because of what had been done to him. "Do not," she had entreated,
"allow that *beast* to take any more from you than he already has. You
deserve all the good things that life has to offer."

The music ceased. Archie looked up and straight into the slumberous brown
eyes of one of the prettier bal maidens, now watching him intently. Having
snared his attention, she gave him a lingering smile, a smile that held a
definite invitation. Archie felt his face growing warm even as other parts of
him began to tingle pleasantly but had just enough presence of mind to shake
his head slightly while returning her smile. She shrugged without rancor,
turned her attention once more to the dance, though not without a last
coquettish eye-flick in his direction.

Well, well, well. Whatever damage Simpson had done over the years, he had
not managed to kill appreciation . . . or desire. The realization was oddly
comforting--though the thoughts which immediately followed upon that were not
comfortable at all.

Medora. Try as he might, he could not entirely believe what Margaret had
told him yesterday. That engaging child, nursing a secret passion--for
*him*, of all people? If the news had come from anyone but his clear-sighted
sister . . .

Uneasily, his gaze drifted back to the trestle tables where Medora, every
inch the dutiful ward, was still helping to hand out the refreshments. He
had liked her from the start, grateful for the kindness that had smoothed
over the awkwardness of his arrival and the candor about *her* family that
had helped him to a better understanding of his own. She had become a
friend, a person whose company he enjoyed and whose talents he appreciated.
But beyond that . . .

For the first time since they had met, Archie forced himself to look at her
as he might any young lady, assessing her from top to toe. Neither very tall
nor very short--a shade over five feet perhaps, though the long, light bones
gave promise of more height in future. Straight dark hair, caught loosely
back with a ribbon today, framing a face whose contours were just beginning
to emerge from childhood; a clear complexion but also rather dark, like
olives or honey. Wide, expressive grey eyes--probably her best feature--that
could take on a bluish or greenish cast depending on the light or her mood.
The other features were pleasant enough, he supposed, though a trifle
indeterminate. She might remain ordinary in appearance or grow into good
looks eventually.

Eventually. Now *there* was the rub. The thin figure under the white muslin
frock was still immature, with scarcely any fullness to breast or hip. "Flat
as a board, fore and aft" as one of the ratings might say. And when he
looked at her, there was not even a trace of the arousal he had experienced
while watching the bal maidens.

She glanced up from her task, but not--fortunately--in his direction. Henry,
escorting a pretty brown-haired girl in sprig muslin (the mysterious Charity
Pendennis perhaps?), had appeared at her elbow. Too far away to hear the
resulting conversation, Archie surmised that Henry was offering to spell his
sister at the tables. Fanny appeared to agree to this, handing Medora a
saffron bun and a cup of tea. The moment her back was turned, however, Henry
replaced the tea with a glass of cider, then motioned his sister away before
Lady Tresilian could notice the substitution. Remembering Medora's lament
that her family rarely allowed her anything stronger than tea, Archie
couldn't help smiling at the way her eyes brightened as she bore off her
prize. A *very* engaging child.

"Enjoying yourself, my dear?"

Archie turned to smile at Margaret. "Oh, yes. Everything's fine. Henry was
right, it seems, about a celebration being in order."

"He usually is, about such things.. I believe, of all the family, he has the
best sense of how the miners will think and feel in a given situation. Even
Hugh was not quite as astute in that way."

Archie studied his sister's face but her expression was as calm as her tone
was matter-of-fact. "And you--are you . . . enjoying yourself?"

"Oh, more or less." She smoothed the collar of her dove-grey dress; full
mourning had been put off for the day. "I am . . . glad that repairs are
complete, that we can take on more workers as needed, even though mining
itself leaves a great deal to be desired as a profession! Perhaps, someday,
there will be a safer way to earn a living in Cornwall!"

"Perhaps there *is* no safe way," Archie pointed out ruefully. "Perhaps
*every* profession has its hazards."

"True enough," she conceded, her smile turning wistful. "Oh, my dear--you
*will* be careful, won't you? With you and Duncan both in the service . . . "

"As careful as I can be, under the circumstances," Archie promised. A change
of subject appeared to be in order; glancing about, he saw something else
that made him smile. "Young Robin seems to be enjoying the festivities!"

Margaret laughed. "Oh, he's been everywhere this afternoon, with all of us!
I left him with Edward when I came over to speak to you."

Together they looked over to where the boy was munching a ginger biscuit and
riding on the shoulders of his eldest uncle, who did not even seem to mind
the crumbs his nephew was depositing in his hair.

"The miners all seem inclined to make rather a pet of him today. Perhaps it
augurs well for the future." Margaret smiled. "I only hope he will not get
sick from all the treats he's been consuming! And what about you, love?" she
continued, turning back to her brother. "Have you had enough to eat?"

Archie nodded, indicating the half-eaten pasty, laden with beef, potato, and
onion. "Yes--it's very good. So's the cider." He took an appreciative
swallow of the latter. "Excellent flavor--not too sweet, and just enough
fermentation."

"It's stronger than it appears," Margaret warned. "The first time I had it,
I most unwisely consumed two glasses at one sitting and was tiddly for the
rest of the day!"

Archie grinned. "Well, one thing a sailor *does* acquire quickly is a head
for liquor!"

They both laughed at that, then Margaret glanced back over at her son. "I
think I had better reclaim Robin, before Edward's patience is completely
exhausted." She leaned in to kiss her brother on the cheek. "I am--so very
glad you were here with us today."

Still smiling, Archie watched her go. Strange to think that he had once
dreaded this visit, dreaded meeting her. Now it was as though, to some
extent, he had recovered the family and home he had lost as a child. The
warmth spreading through him had as much to do with that realization as it
did with the cider. Popping the last bit of pasty into his mouth, he turned
towards the cliffs and the view of the sea beyond --

--and came face to face with Medora.

"Mr. Kennedy!" A note of pleased expectancy in the clear voice. "I was
hoping we might have a chance to speak today."

One good thing about having a mouthful of food--it gave one a chance to think
before attempting speech. Archie slowly chewed his pasty, swallowed, and took
a pull of cider before replying. "Ah, Medora Rose--have you been enjoying
yourself today?"

"Yes, surprisingly." Her crooked smile flashed briefly. "I did not fully
expect to, after . . . what happened. But it's been--it's been *nice.*" She
sighed, looking as relaxed as he had ever seen her. "The last six months
were so horrible--but today really *is* a new beginning. Just as Henry said."

"You've turned a corner," Archie agreed. "All of you have."

"Yes--and that is what I wanted to talk to you about!"

"Oh?" Archie raised inquiring brows, noted uneasily the brightness of her
eyes, the slight flush on her cheeks. A little flown, perhaps? Henry *had*
slipped her that glass of cider . . .

"Margaret told me a little about the plan you have, to try to send me to
London. To study music!" The grey eyes were brilliant now. "I cannot thank
you--either of you--enough!"

"Ah." Archie cleared his throat self-consciously. "Well--it seemed the next
logical step to us." He wondered if he sounded as pompous to her as he did to
himself.

If so, she gave no sign of it. "It's--oh, it's beyond *anything* I dared
hope for." A dazzling smile. "I was afraid I might have to spend the next few
years, until my coming-out, in attendance on Fanny! And instead . . . "

"Don't count your chickens yet," Archie cautioned her. "There's still the
actual letter to be written and sent. And your brother must agree to it--even
if Fanny's not around to oppose the plan."

"Oh, I know! But--I just have the feeling, in my bones, that this *will*
work out."

He ventured a small smile. "Well, Margaret has promised to keep me abreast
of the situation, in her letters."

"Oh! Might I write to you too?"

The question came out with a heightened degree of urgency. Gazing at that
bright young face, upturned to his, Archie saw confirmation of what he had
feared in the expressive eyes and parted lips.

Panicking, he rushed into the breach. "Of course!" Was his voice a shade too
loud? "Of course. Indeed, I shall look forward to that. It will be--like
getting letters from a little sister!"

He regretted the words the moment they were spoken--and not only the words,
but the tone: too hasty, too hearty, betraying far too much. His knowledge
of her infatuation, his inability to reciprocate, his discomfort with the
whole idea--only someone with a hide as thick as that of a rhinoceros could
have failed to discern his true meaning. Medora, lacking neither sensitivity
nor perception, discerned it immediately and, in the way he had seen only
once before, reddened up to her hairline. Archie felt himself turning scarlet
as well, though whether in dismay at his own clumsiness or sympathy for her
embarrassment he could not have said. Mute and miserable, they stood as
though rooted to the spot, unable to meet each other's eyes; by now, Archie
reckoned, they probably looked like a pair of boiled lobsters.

Medora recoverd first, drawing on who knew what reserves of pride and dignity
in the Tresilian bloodline. "But of course." Her voice sounded only slightly
strained. "We are--as good as family, are we not?'

Archie nodded, his face still burning. "Just so," he managed.

"Indeed." She swallowed, perhaps a little more audibly than she had intended.
"If you will excuse me, I think--I will go back to helping Fanny. With the
refreshments."

Archie merely nodded, and watched with a sinking heart as she walked quickly
away from him, not looking back even once.

Oh, God--he'd done it again. Blundered inexcusably. Tread carefully,
Margaret had said--and instead he had dragged her secret feelings for him out
into the merciless daylight and trampled all over them in his haste to
discourage her. If she never spoke to him again after this, he wouldn't blame
her one bit. If she no longer wanted even to be friends--well, he couldn't
blame her for that either.

And to top it off, he discovered ruefully, what he mostly felt--even now--was
astonishment that she admired him at all. At least in *that* fashion. If
he'd had Horatio's striking looks and precocious talent, Captain Pellew's
power and air of command, or even Major Edrington's cool self-assurance,
perhaps he could have understood. As it was . . .

*She'll forget.* In a few years' time, some young squireen will come
knocking on the door at Keverne. Or, perhaps, some London beau, if she has a
Season in town. Yes, inevitably, there would be other suitors with greater
prospects and claims to distinction--and confronted with their superior
attractions, her brief youthful infatuation with him would fade, and rightly
so. That was how it should be.

Quite deliberately, he refused to examine why this likely scenario was not as
comforting as it might have been.

*****

It was heading on toward evening when they arrived back at Keverne, the
ladies and Robin riding in the family landaulet, the men following on
horseback. For all her uneasy relationship with Fanny, Margaret was grateful
for the loan of Sir Edward's carriage, however condescendingly it had been
offered. Robin was too small to sit a pony as yet, and--given his tendency to
squirm and fidget when he had to sit still too long--it would have been a
trial for any of the adults to carry him on their own saddles. As it was,
Robin occupied the ride back by thumping enthusiastically upon a goatskin
drum bestowed on him that afternoon by a beaming miner, to the delight of the
child and the dismay of his mother. Casting a covert glance at Lady
Tresilian's pinched expression, Margaret wondered if her sister-in-law was no
longer regretting her childless state quite as much.

Although invited to sup, Edward and Fanny chose to press on to Tresilian
Manor. Thanking Henry for the loan of his best hack, Edward climbed into the
landaulet beside his wife and they rode off through the gathering dusk. The
Keverne Tresilians straggled inside to wash, rest, and sit down, an hour or
so later, to a light supper.

On the ride home, Margaret's attention had been entirely taken up with her
boisterous son. Now, however, with leisure to observe her companions, she
noted with apprehension that neither Medora nor Archie was saying very much.
Indeed, whenever possible, they avoided looking at or addressing each other
directly. Had it been any other two people, she might have suspected a
quarrel, but there was no sign of petulance or ill-humor. More like a
certain--mutual reticence, at whose cause she could only guess.

Knowing both of them, however, she rather thought she *could* guess with a
fair degree of accuracy. Oh, dear. Glancing from Medora's downcast eyes to
Archie's downturned mouth, she decided to choose her moment with care.

So it was after supper and Robin's bedtime, while the family sat or lounged
at their ease in the parlor, that she made her move. "Well, my dears--I
don't know about the rest of you, but I think I should like to hear some
music."

Archie and Henry, sprawled in a pair of deep armchairs, roused at that, as
did Medora who had been curled up on the sofa with Copper purring beside her.
"Margaret," the girl gazed at her with searching grey eyes, "are you *sure*
about this?"

Margaret smiled. "Never more so, love. Will you do the honors at the spinet?"

"Of course!" Medora sprang to her feet with alacrity, took up a candle, and
led the way upstairs. The two young men followed her, uncertain but willing.
Margaret brought up the rear, smiling to herself. What was it Mama had once
said--about music being the surest way to break the ice?

*****

Graced with candles and vases of fresh flowers, the music room seemed a more
convivial place now, Archie thought, gazing around him. Had it been so, in
Hugh's time? He stole a glance at his sister, noting the new tranquility in
her face. Deeply though she had mourned her love, she was now done with
shunning the places where his memory might linger. And with that, the true
healing could finally begin.

Medora seated herself at the spinet, ran her fingers lightly over the keys.
"What shall we start with? Something soothing, or something gay?"

"Why not something a bit--celebratory?" Margaret suggested. "Perhaps a song
in which we could all join in?"

"Or seasonal?" Archie ventured. "Like 'A Rosebud in June' or 'Sumer is
icumen in'?"

Henry broke into a mischievous grin and thumped on Robin's drum, which he had
confiscated before his nephew's bedtime, in a rhythm Archie did not
recognize. "Oss, Oss, Wee Oss," he chanted softly.

Medora giggled, suddenly looking more like her usual self.

"Oss, Oss?" Archie looked blankly from one Tresilian to the other.

Margaret explained, "It's part of the May Day celebrations, in Cornwall."

"In Padstow, specifically," Medora volunteered. "They have this Hobby Horse
that runs and dances through the streets while the villagers sing a carol.
In the middle of the song, the Horse pretends to die, but then it leaps up in
the next verse--to show how spring is the season of renewal." She smiled at
Archie with some of her old unguarded friendliness. "And now you will think
you've landed in a nest of pagans, Mr. Kennedy!"

Archie returned her smile, a little diffidently but relieved by the easing of
the tension between them. "There could be worse fates."

"Let's do the carol, then" Henry proposed, tucking the drum under his arm.
"It's not exactly *demanding,* in the musical sense, but it's nothing if not
rousing." He glanced at Archie. "You can clap the time, if you don't know
the words."

"I think I'll just listen, to start."

"Very well." Seeing no opposition from the others, Henry resumed the measure
he had been beating on the drum, quickly picked up by Medora on the spinet.
Together the two instruments created a pulsing, throbbing rhythm that was
oddly infectious. A few more beats, and Medora's voice soared into the
opening verse:

"Unite and unite, and let us all unite,
For summer is a-come in today,
And whither we are going, we all will unite
In the merry morning of May."

Henry and Margaret chimed in on the next verse, the three voices blending in
a harmonious whole that suggested years of singing together.

"The young men of Padstow, they might if they would;
For summer is a-come in today,
They might have built a ship and gilded it with gold
In the merry morning of May.

The young girls of Padstow, they might if they would;
For summer is a-come in today,
They might have made a garland of white rose and the red.
In the merry morning of May."

A brief pause, then Margaret's warm alto sang, unaccompanied:

"Arise up Mr. Kernow and joy you betide
For summer is a-come in today,
And bright is the bride that lieth by your side,
In the merry morning of May."

Henry took the next verse in his deep baritone:

"Arise up Mrs. Jenkins all in your gown of green
For summer is a-come in today,
You are as fine a lady as waits upon the Queen,
In the merry morning of May."

A slight modulation of tone, then the trio's voices surged together again.

"O where is St. George, O where is he now?
He's out in his long-boat all on the salt sea-o.
Up flies the kite, down falls the lark-o;
Aunt Ursula Birdhood, she had an old yeowe,
And she died in her own park-o."

Another pause, then the pulsating rhythms resumed with the same exuberance:

"Where are the young men that now here would dance?
For summer is a-come in today
Some they are in England, and some they are in France.
In the merry morning of May.

Where are the young girls that now here would sing?
For summer is a-come in today
They are in the meadows a-flower gathering.
In the merry morning of May."

Gazing at the trio grouped around the spinet, Archie thought that if he could
suspend time, he would do so just at this moment. Lamplight and candlelight
bathed all three faces in a warm glow, turned Margaret's coppery hair to
flame, and shone reflected in Medora's wide grey eyes. In ten short days,
despite pain, loss, and misunderstandings, these people had become a part of
him, and, more astonishingly, he had become a part of them as well. It was as
if some charmed circle had opened to admit him, scarred and apprehensive
though he was, *healing* as they were healing. A clan, a family--the likes
of which he had never thought to belong to again.

It would be all right. Whatever the future held for them or for him, it would
be all right, as long as the center held. And hold it would, for as long as
affection lasted. Of that Archie was entirely sure--as sure as one *could* be
in this uncertain world.

Within the sheltering walls of Keverne, the song swelled to a triumphant,
even exultant conclusion:

"With a merry ring, adieu, the joyful spring!
For summer is a-come in today
How happy are the little birds and the merrier we shall sing
In the merry morning of May!"

 

END PART TWELVE