Children of One Family
by Pam

Part Two

 

"First thing we need to do," Margaret announced, as she led her guest into
the hall, "is get you out of those wet things!" Reaching out, she deftly
unfastened Archie's cloak, and lifted it away, still dripping. The garments
underneath had not fared any better. "I've never *seen* anyone so wet!" she
added, removing his hat for good measure. "Did you swim here or just float
on the tide?"

Archie's attempt at a reply was cut off by another sneeze, followed by an
abashed, barely audible apology.

"Oh, dear!" Margaret fished out her pocket handkerchief and thrust it at him.
"Have you caught a chill? Your hands are like ice!"

Archie wiped his nose and managed a rueful smile. "Yesterday, I shared a
coach with a schoolmaster who had the most frightful cold in the head. I'm
afraid I may have taken it from him."

"Very likely," she agreed, touching his brow with the back of her hand. No
sign of fever, so far, but he looked uncomfortable all the same. "I don't
suppose riding in the rain from Truro to Keverne House helped, either. Here,
let me take your jacket--it'll dry more quickly by the fire."

"Margaret--what's going on? Has your brother arrived?" Medora, carrying an
extra lamp, emerged from the shadows.

"Yes, just this moment. Medora, my dear, this is my brother," she glanced at
the white patches on the jacket's collar, "Midshipman . . . no, you mentioned
your promotion a few letters back . . . Acting Lieutenant Archie Kennedy, of
His Majesty's Navy." Quite deliberately, she gave the words an orotund
flourish that made both her listeners grin, a bit sheepishly in her brother's
case. "Archie, this is my sister-in-law, Medora Tresilian."

"Miss Tresilian." Despite his damp garments, Archie managed a very creditable
bow.

"Mr. Kennedy." Medora dropped a schoolgirl's curtsy, then surveyed him with
candid grey eyes and a complete lack of formality. "Dear life, you're wet!"

Archie's lips twitched. "So I've been told. And asked whether I swam here or
floated on the tide."

Medora responded readily to this glint of humor. "I was about to ask if the
fishermen towed you ashore, along with their daily catch."

"I assure you, I'm far too big to be taken for a pilchard."

Unnoticed, Margaret breathed a sigh of relief; the constraint was well and
truly gone. "In terms of wetness, there's little to choose between you and a
pilchard at the moment. And you must be chilled through. Would you care for
a hot bath? We've water heated--and supper can wait, if need be."

"Oh, God . . . " A beatific smile spread across Archie's face, making him
look even younger. "If it's not too much trouble--yes, please, I should very
much like a bath!"

"You'll be needing dry clothes," Medora declared. "Something of Henry's will
probably fit." With a quick nod, she turned and headed back the way she had
come.

"We've got the guest room made up for you already," Margaret informed Archie
as she took him by the arm. "And a fire in the grate. You can warm yourself
at least, while the servants are readying your bath."

*****

Somewhat self-consciously, Archie removed his breeches and waistcoat, laying
them over the back of the nearest chair. He kept his shirt and smallclothes
on, though, while his sister's servants brought jugs of hot water which they
emptied into a large wooden washtub. Perhaps it was foolish of him but he
could not help feeling ill-at-ease about undressing in front of strangers.

Strangers . . . . Unexpectedly, he found himself smiling, mostly in relief,
over how the meeting he had so dreaded had gone over with such comparative
ease. However hazy his recollections of Margaret might be, he did remember
that she had never balked at taking charge of a situation, whether it was
setting her skittish pony at a gate, or coaxing her equally skittish brother
in from the rain, the way she had tonight. The Tresilian child had helped as
well, with her cheerful refusal to stand on ceremony with him.

But . . . had Margaret always so resembled their mother? Archie thought back
to the last time he'd seen her, at Alice's wedding. Yes, even then, Margaret
had had the same red-gold hair and slightly tilted blue eyes that the late
viscountess had bequeathed to her two youngest children but now . . . the
resemblance no longer seemed limited to physical attributes. There was a
*quality* his sister seemed to possess, a serene calm, like still
waters--perhaps that had been acquired only after she had become a wife and
mother herself. Whatever the reason, he found that quality very restful--and
was grateful for it.

He was aware of a certain degree of irony in this, however. Throughout his
journey, he'd been bracing himself for whatever form her grief over Hugh
Tresilian might take--preparing to face a sister who was "like Niobe, all
tears", or lashing out at the world in bitterness and rage, or, literally,
prostrate with misery and unable to leave her bed. He'd gotten . . . none of
those things. Instead, *he* had been the one taken care of--relieved of his
wet garments, promised a hot bath and supper, escorted to a guest room as sp
acious and handsome as any in the Kennedys' ancestral home.

Except that this room was far more comfortable. Rosewood furniture, a bed
with a quilted blue bedspread, books on the night table, a cheerful blaze in
the fireplace, and the bath, gently steaming, drawn up before it.

One of the servants had just left with his empty jug. Archie wandered over
and peered into the tub--it seemed almost full enough, and he knew the water
level would rise once he sat down in it. Suddenly, he could wait no
longer--chilled limbs and sore muscles were crying out for that bath. The
journey from Truro to Keverne, accompanied by his sister's groom, had not
been very long--five miles at most--but it had been years since he'd ridden
and he ached not merely in his legs but in places that should not be
mentioned in polite company. He made a mental note to apologize to Horatio
for ever being amused by his struggles with the horse at Muzillac, then began
to undo his shirt . . .

*****
Shirt, breeches, jacket . . . Margaret sorted through the dry clothes Medora
had brought. Woolen stockings and a pair of bedroom slippers, the latter a
trifle large but not impossibly so. John had placed Archie's saddlebag in
the parlor--it could easily be taken up to his room if he needed something
from it right away. Meanwhile, these garments were already clean and
pressed; they would serve to have supper in. Laying the clothes over her
arm, she picked up the last jug of hot water with one hand, the bottle of
hair soap with the other, and started upstairs.

The door to the guest room was half-ajar and even before crossing the
threshold, she could glimpse a naked form, softly gilded by firelight, moving
about the room. Too long a wife and mother to be discomfitted by unclad
males, she took two steps inside--and stopped short at the sight of his back
. . .

. . . his back, and the network of thin scars, white and pink, that
crisscrossed the fair skin like a veil of fine mesh . . .

*Oh, dear God.* Knees shaking, she took two steps back, then two more to the
side, removing herself from the room before he could turn and see her
standing there.

Her hands were shaking too. Water sloshed from the jug she was carrying,
spattered on the floor of the passage. She set the jug down altogether,
leaned against the nearest wall, and pressed the back of her hand hard
against her mouth, while the world swam in and out of focus. Eventually,
things righted themselves and rational thought came creeping back, even
though her eyes still stung and her throat felt tight and painful.

Who, in heaven's name, had *done* this to him? A sardonic voice inside her
head observed that *heaven* probably had little to do with it. Margaret's
mouth twisted in self-derision. *Do have a bit more sense, my girl.* The
Navy meted out harsh punishments, she knew--canings, floggings . . . though
she would not have fingered her brother as a rebel or a discipline problem.
But there were also those years he'd been a prisoner of war, and who knew
what tortures he'd endured then?

In the end, did it really matter *where* Archie had gotten those scars--as
long as they no longer caused him pain or shame? Margaret exhaled; clearly,
there was much she did not know about her younger brother and deeply as this
discovery troubled her, bombarding him with questions about what had surely
been a terrible time in his life was the *last* thing she should do right now.

A splash followed by a gasp drew her attention back to the room and its
inhabitant. Stiffening her spine, she picked up the jug again, stole up to
the door, and peered around it. Archie had at last climbed into the tub,
which was almost large enough to sit in comfortably, provided one did not
object to bending one's knees. At least it was better than a hip bath, over
which one's bare--and freezing--legs were invariably obliged to dangle. Even
as Margaret watched, her brother seemed to grow accustomed to the temperature
of the water. His gasp was succeeded by a long, drawn-out sigh; gradually,
he leaned back, bracing his broad shoulders against the side of the tub.

Margaret donned a smile that she hoped did not look *too* artificial and
entered the room with a brisk step. "I've brought more hot water," she
announced brightly, "and the dry clothes we mentioned."

Archie's head, tilted back in dreamy contemplation of the ceiling, snapped up
at her approach, his blue eyes widening in consternation. Knees drew up to
chest and arms hugged knees in a frantic attempt to conceal as much as
possible, while the fair skin flushed brightly pink in a way that had nothing
to do with the heat of the bath.

"For heaven's sake, Archie!" Margaret exclaimed, momentarily diverted. "I
used to help Mama bathe you!"

If anything, he colored even more deeply. "Ye-es . . . but I was
considerably younger at the time!"

"So you were," she conceded, taking pity on him and placing the jug on the
floor just within arm's reach of the tub. "Well, I daresay you can add more
water as you see fit. And here's some hair soap I bought in Truro, quite
suitable to the purpose. I'll just lay these," she indicated the clothes,
"over by the towels, for when you are finished bathing."

Archie uncurled himself with a little splash. "My saddlebag--"

"It's in the parlor. I can have it brought up to you."

"Please. My nightgear is in it."

"I'll see that it's laid out for you before you retire for the night."

"Thank you." A trifle shyly. "You're very kind."

"I am your *sister*, Archie." Margaret laid a gentle emphasis on the word.
"And while you are here, I hope you will make yourself completely at home."
Draping the borrowed shirt over the back of a chair, she gathered up his own
discarded clothes, and turned to go. "I meant what I said earlier, about
supper waiting. Do soak in the tub as long as you need to--I daresay you
haven't been in the saddle for a good many years!"

Humor warred with embarrassment on his face, but the former--just barely--won
out. His mouth curved in a crooked smile. "'Bless thee, Bottom . . . thou
art translated!'"

She surprised herself by laughing, a little, then took her leave, resisting
the temptation to ruffle his hair on the way out. It was only fair, after
all, that she leave him with *some* of his youthful dignity intact.

*****

*****

A good three-quarters of an hour passed before Archie presented himself at
supper. But he moved with greater ease and looked much more comfortable than
he had on his arrival. The borrowed clothes fit well enough, though Henry
was more broadly built about the torso and thicker around the waist. There
was more color in Archie's face too and his newly washed and tied hair was
drying to a gleaming copper-blond, a shade lighter than Margaret's own. A
handsome boy--all the more engaging because he seemed so unaware of it.

Boy . . . now *there* was a question. Was she dealing with a boy or a man?
The beardless cheeks and still softly rounded planes of the face suggested
the former, the expression in his eyes, to say nothing of the scars on his
back, told another tale altogether. But it was a tale that would have to
wait, at least for the time being.

He ate with appreciation, but did not overindulge. The chicken-and-barley
soup seemed to find the most favor with him, perhaps because it was easiest
to swallow. Despite the hot bath and the warmth of the dining room, he was
still sniffling and his light, pleasant voice was beginning to hoarsen.
Margaret sighed inwardly and resolved to dose him before he went to bed.
Medora, likewise adept at detecting such signals, adapted the conversation so
that Archie did not have to strain his voice through overuse.

After the sweet course, Margaret abandoned any pretense of socializing and,
with all the tact of which she was capable, ordered her brother off to bed.
After a brief astonished flicker of those blue eyes, he went and, like the
guests at Macbeth's banquet, stood not upon the order of his going.

*****

It felt strange to lie in a bed that did not rock with the sea's rhythm. But
the mattress was thick, the pillows soft, the blankets warm and plentiful.
Archie sipped at his tea, tasting strongly of blackcurrants but spiked with
lemon, honey, and whatever local herbs were supposed to be efficacious in
warding off a chill. He was to finish every drop, Margaret had said, her
tone brooking no opposition.

In truth, he could not remember when he had last been so pampered.
Childhood, perhaps, when his mother had still been alive and her warmth had
penetrated to every corner of the manor. Even Father, as distant and remote
as he appeared, had been touched by that warmth, reflecting it even if he was
incapable of generating it himself.

Keverne, of course, was not so grand a house as the Kennedy manor, but it was
by far more of a *home.* People had been happy here--*Margaret* had been
happy here. Archie frowned a little over his tea. Lord knew he was grateful
for the kindness and solicitude his sister had shown him since his arrival .
. . yet the one thing they had not discussed all evening was the situation
that had brought him here: *her* bereavement and current emotional state.

Unlike many widows, she did not seem to shroud herself in grief. She wore
mourning, of course--the black clothes oddly flattering to her fair skin and
bright hair--and she'd eaten little at supper. But he supposed that could be
attributable to a number of things, including a small appetite. Thinness was
fashionable, after all--though he could not imagine Margaret starving herself
to satisfy a fashion. It was not at all sensible . . . and she struck him as
an eminently sensible woman.

*Steadfast of thought. / Well made, well wrought.* He smiled; Skelton's words
might have been written for his sister. *Far may be sought, / Ere that ye can
find / So courteous, so kind / As merry Margaret, / This midsummer flower /
Gentle as falcon / Or hawk of the tower.*

Perhaps she was one of those people who poured most of their energies into
tending others? Including the energy that might otherwise be spent in tears
and lamentations. Beneficial to those she cared for, certainly, but was that
the best course for *her*? To suppress what must be very deep pain and
sadness . . . if that was indeed what she was doing.

Archie shook his head and set his empty cup down on the night table. At this
point, it was presumptuous to draw any such conclusion--especially since he'd
been here for mere hours. He would have ten days in which to get to know his
sister.

Surely that would be enough.

*****

With both her guests safely tucked up in their respective rooms (it had been
far too late and wet to send Medora back to Tresilian Manor tonight),
Margaret visited the library to check on the progress of Archie's uniform,
spread out before the fire.

Clearly, the jacket was dry enough now . . . or the ginger tom would not have
ensconced himself on top of it. Hands on her hips, Margaret stared
meaningfully into the cat's peridot-green eyes. After several minutes, he
yawned luxuriously, stretched, and, with a deliberateness that plainly
indicated that moving was all *his* idea, strolled to the other side of the
room and hopped onto the nearest armchair.

Taking up the jacket, Margaret shook off the cat hairs as best she could,
then reached for Archie's breeches. They too had dried; she picked them up
in turn and tucked them over one arm . . .

. . . and gave a start of surprise as something fell out of his pocket and
landed on the hearthstone with an audible *clink.* Puzzled, she knelt to
recover what had dropped. Silver glinted in the firelight . . . a coin? No,
it was too large for that, and the wrong shape--oval instead of round. She
peered more closely, saw the graven image of a woman upon the surface.

A religious medal? How odd. And a *Catholic* religious medal too, unless
she missed her guess. Yet the Kennedys had always been a Protestant family .
. .

Not that it mattered, of course. She did not begrudge Archie whatever
spiritual comfort he found. And it could as easily be considered a luck-piece
as a religious talisman. She'd heard that sailors tended to be a notoriously
superstitious lot. The medal's presence, though, represented yet another
chapter in a story she did not know--along with the scars on Archie's back
and the shadow behind his eyes. Yet, surely, she would hear *some* of that
story, during his leave?

She only hoped ten days would be enough.

END PART TWO