Free Hosting

Free Web Hosting with PHP, MySQL, Apache, FTP and more.
Get your Free SubDOMAIN you.6te.net or you.eu5.org or...
Create your account NOW at http://www.freewebhostingarea.com.

Cheap Domains

Cheap Domains
starting at $2.99/year

check

Children of One Family
by Pam

Part Three

 

"Hugh ," Margaret said aloud . . . and then woke up. Memories rushed over her
with an intensity that took her breath away--she forced them back to their
dwelling place. *He's gone. He's been gone for nearly six months and
nothing will bring him back. And there's a house to see to, and a mine, and
other people depending on you now.*

And a younger brother, not seen for years, home from sea. Well, not
*exactly* home, though she hoped he might come to feel that way during his
stay here. Now . . . time to face the day.

Outside her bedroom window, a light but steady rain was falling, bathing the
garden in mist. Margaret dressed quickly, without the assistance of her
maid, pulling on stays, petticoats, and riding habit. Wheal Random, partly
shut down ever since the tragedy, was due to re-open at full strength next
week, and the books needed to be in order for that to go off smoothly. Not
for the first time, she thanked providence for her skill with numbers and
accounts--it had made . . . taking over from Hugh much easier.

Fully clad, she slipped out of her room and down the hall towards the guest
chamber. She should look in on Archie, see how he had fared last night. He
might have found sleeping in a strange bed difficult.

The door was slightly ajar--she eased it open further and peered into the
room. The blue bedspread covered what appeared to be a human crescent,
breathing softly and evenly. At the foot of the bed, a tawny shape stirred,
blinked sleepy green eyes, and gave a huge, tongue-curling yawn.

"*You*," Margaret sighed, under her breath. "I might have guessed."

Venturing further into the room, she approached the bed and gazed down at the
other occupant. Fair hair, escaping its ribbon, lay scattered across the
pillow and framed a young sleep-flushed face. Too flushed? Reaching out, she
laid the back of her hand lightly against Archie's cheek--and drew back as he
stirred, turned over, and opened his eyes. For a moment, he looked
bewildered, even a trifle alarmed, then, as memory returned, he relaxed and
smiled drowsily at her.

Margaret smiled back. "I'm sorry--I did not mean to wake you. How are you
feeling?"

Archie sniffed experimentally, then swallowed. "A little better. My throat
doesn't hurt."

The light voice sounded blurred and slightly nasal, though. Oh, dear--he'd
caught the schoolmaster's cold, after all. At least there did not appear to
be any fever; he'd been warm but not overly so. "How did you pass the night?
I hope you weren't too uncomfortable."

"Not at all," he assured her. "I think I fell asleep the moment my head hit
the pillow."

"So . . . your nocturnal guest did not awaken you?"

"My nocturnal--" Archie began blankly, then, "*oh*" as he caught sight of the
ginger tom. "How did he get in?"

"The door was partly open." Margaret perched on the edge of the bed. "He
seems to have taken a fancy to you. I'll remove him if you like--I know some
people cannot abide cats."

"That's all right." Archie held out a tentative hand and the cat rose from
the foot of the bed and picked its way over the rumpled bedclothes to the
young man's side, where he presented himself to be stroked. "You see? 'A
harmless necessary cat.' Does he have a name?"

"Copper," she supplied. "And he has a brother--all grey--named Tin, of
course. Proper names for a miner's cats." She concealed another smile as the
cat began to purr beneath Archie's attentions. "I'm afraid he took a fancy
to your uniform as well and left cat hairs all over your jacket."

"You great fool," her brother apostrophized the cat, without rancor. "Haven't
you a coat of your own?"

"I removed most of them, but perhaps it might be best simply to clean
everything you were wearing when you arrived. Which reminds me," Margaret
reached into the pocket of her habit, "I thought you'd want to have this
back."

Archie's eyes widened at the sight of the medal, then a tell-tale flush
stained his cheeks. "Thank you." His fingers closed quickly over the silver
disk. "You--you probably think it strange . . . that I have this . . . "

"I thought it might be a luck-piece or a talisman. Something like that."

"In a way." Archie turned the medal over and over in his hands. "Our ship's
surgeon gave it to me. Good man, very devout. When we met, he could tell I
was . . . troubled about some things. He said--this might help."

"Does it?"

"Yes."

"Then that's all that needs to be said." Margaret kept her tone light. One
day soon, she hoped, Archie might feel secure enough to confide further in
her, but for now, this would have to suffice.

Archie set the medal down on the night table. "You're dressed for riding.
Are you going out?"

"Yes, to the mine. It'll be reopening soon--and there's still much to be
done."

He started to push back the blankets. "Do you need an escort? I can get
dressed and accompany you--"

"Absolutely not." Margaret fixed him with her sternest gaze. "It is still
raining, and you have a cold. As long as either condition persists, you are
*not* going out of doors!"

He blinked at her martial tone but subsided against the pillows. "I cannot
believe this--I'm on leave from the Indy, and I'm *still* being given orders.
And by a petticoat, no less!"

"Just so." She folded her arms. "And bear in mind that the Articles of His
Majesty's Navy are as nothing compared to the tyranny of an older sister!"
She abandoned the autocratic pose as he began to smile. "We've a library and
a music room--perhaps you would care to explore them later, if you feel well
enough. Breakfast is usually two hours from now, though Mrs. Polwhele would
be happy to fix you something whenever you request it. Henry--my
brother-in-law--will be about for at least part of the morning, and you'll
probably see Robin too."

"Robin?"

"Your nephew. He was abed before you arrived yesterday, but I believe he's
quite eager to meet you." Margaret rose to her feet. "I should be back well
before dinner. Is there something I can fetch you before I leave? Tea,
perhaps, or chocolate?"

"No, thank you," Archie sighed, still looking slightly fuzzy. "I think--I
just want to sleep."

"Very wise." She stroked some of the hair back from his brow as the blue
eyes closed. "I hope you feel better when you wake."

****

The bed shook. And shook again. And again. Archie clawed his way up through
layers of sleep, mouth dry and heart racing, as the vibrations continued.
What the hell--?

An attack? Why could he not hear cannonfire or the drum beating to quarters?
*You're ashore, in Cornwall, you fool,* a dry voice in his head reminded
him. Then what . . . earthquake? Like the one in Lisbon, about forty years
ago? The one that killed thousands--?

He surfaced with a gasp, flinging back the bedclothes . . . and beheld a
small figure in mid-flight, plummeting towards him.

PHLUMPH! The bed shook once more as the bottom of a sturdy three-year-old
struck the mattress and bounced slightly. The next instant, startled brown
eyes stared into equally startled blue ones.

"Good God!" Archie leaned in for a closer look but his visitor uttered a
squeal of alarm and dashed for the door. Before he could vanish into the
hallway, however, a well-muscled arm appeared around the door and caught him
about the waist.

"Got you, brat!" a hearty male voice announced with satisfaction. Archie sat
where he was, watching as the rest of the arm's owner entered the room,
proving to be a stocky young man, close to his own age, with dark hair and
twinkling grey-green eyes.

Archie's smaller visitor showed no sign of offense at this address. Uttering
another squeal, this one apparently of rapture, he proceeded to swarm up the
man's torso and scramble onto his back, where he stuck like a burr.

"Unff! You're getting heavy, bantling," the new arrival remarked before
turning to Archie again. "Sorry about my nevvy--he *will* jump on the beds.
You're Margaret's brother, aren't you? I'm Henry Tresilian."

"Archie Kennedy. I just arrived last night."

Tresilian nodded. "I heard. I'd a supper engagement elsewhere and didn't
get back until after you'd gone to bed. Margaret told me I could say my
how-d'ye-do's at breakfast."

"Consider them said--and returned, Mr. Tresilian," Archie replied, smiling.

"Henry. Both m' brothers were 'Mr. Tresilian' far longer than I was, and I
still can't get used to it. Do you go by 'Kennedy'?"

"Only aboard ship. Best make it 'Archie'--under the circumstances, it seems
silly to stand on ceremony." Archie glanced up at the child, still clinging
to his uncle's back. "And unless I'm mistaken, that is Master Robin? I'm
afraid I mistook him for an earthquake before!"

Henry grinned. "Not surprising. He loves bouncing on beds--and he don't
always check to see they're empty, first! Here now, Rob," he addressed the
boy, "come down and say how-d'ye-do to your other uncle."

The boy buried his face in Henry's shoulder and murmured something that
sounded like "ain't got 'nother uncle", one brown eye still fixed curiously
on Archie.

"'Course you do. This is your mama's brother, Archie." Henry turned back with
an apologetic shrug. "He can be a bit shy with strangers, but it soon wears
off."

"Well, I'll be here for ten days--plenty of time to get used to me, I trust."

"No doubt," Henry agreed affably. He glanced up at his nephew again. "I'd
better take Rob here back to his nurse. Will you be at breakfast? Margaret
said you mightn't be feeling quite the thing."

Archie grimaced. "One of my fellow travelers shared his cold with me. I
could wish he'd been less generous."

"D'you feel well enough to get up? I could ask Mrs. Polwhele to send a tray
to your room."

Archie sniffed, taking careful stock of himself. Extra sleep seemed to have
helped--the congestion in his head had diminished to the level of a minor
annoyance, and what residual aches he was now experiencing appeared to be the
aftereffects of yesterday's ride rather than the symptoms of illness. "I
think--I should like to attempt getting up, thank you. It may take me a
while, though."

"No hurry--everything'll be kept hot on the sideboard. Do you need to borrow
more clothes?" Henry assessed Archie's slighter form. "I could lend you some
of my things--back from before I gained half a stone," he added with a grin.

Archie shook his head, smiling. "Thanks for the offer, but I do have a clean
shirt and breeches in my saddlebag. A bit wrinkled, perhaps, but that won't
matter after I've been in them for a while."

"I'll see you at breakfast then." Henry nodded and moved off, Robin still
adhering to him like an oversized barnacle.

*****

"Well, I'm off," Henry announced, pushing his chair back from the table and
getting to his feet. "Can't leave Margaret to handle everything alone."

Archie swallowed the last bite of an excellent breakfast. "She said there
was much to be done."

"There is." Henry's cheerful face grew grim. "Everyone wants to make damn'
sure that an accident like this never happens again!"

The tragedy that had robbed Margaret of her husband had also cost Henry--and
the other Tresilians--a brother, Archie reflected. And young Robin was
fatherless. The families of those nine other men were likewise bereft.
Small wonder, then, that repairing and reopening this mine was a serious
business indeed. "I hope everything goes well," he said sincerely.

"So do we all." Henry's smile was wry but it was a smile nonetheless. "Sorry
to be such a poor host on your first morning here. But I hope you'll find
something to amuse yourself tolerable well. Not bookish myself, but we've a
decent library. And my sister's about if you want company--good little
thing, Medora, if you can drag her away from the spinet for five minutes."
Miss Tresilian, according to Mrs. Polwhele, had breakfasted much earlier and
promptly taken herself off to the music room afterward.

Archie shook his head, smiling. "I wouldn't dream of spoiling her pleasure.
I'll try the library, thank you."

Henry grinned. "Better you than me! I expect I'll be back by dinner. Good
day to you."

"Good day," Archie echoed as Tresilian strode from the room. Alone, he drank
what remained of his tea and let the quiet soothe away lingering anxieties.
The combination of a bath, two hot meals, and a night of--almost--unbroken
sleep had had remarkable restorative powers. Except for his cold, he felt
better than he had since leaving the Indy. And he was not about to let a
minor ailment interfere with the exploration of the Tresilians' library. Who
knew when he might have such a chance again?

*****

"Well, well, well." Archie glanced appreciatively around the comfortable,
book-lined room. "'Decent' may be damning with faint praise, Mr. Tresilian."

While not on a par with the libraries of universities or certain great
estates, Keverne boasted a respectable collection, with titles enough to
satisfy various tastes. Smiling, Archie scanned the shelves, content at
present to browse--history, politics, drama, poetry . . . even popular
novels. At length, his pereginations brought him halfway around the room, to
the fireplace, where a bright blaze was going. The ginger tom lay curled up
in one of the nearby armchairs.

Archie tickled the cat under the chin. "And where were you this morning when
I was being attacked by unruly three-year-olds, hm?" Copper merely grunted
in response, tucking his chin deeper into his chest.

Warming his hands before the fire, Archie glanced up at the portrait hanging
over the mantel. "Sir Robert Tresilian and Family", the placard read.

Sir Robert. Margaret's father-in-law. According to her letters, both the baro
net and his wife had died the year before she met Hugh--in some kind of
epidemic. Head cocked to one side, Archie studied the figures in the
painting.

A happy family group--and the happiness appeared to be genuine, as opposed to
merely assumed for the portrait. The baronet--a broad-shouldered, stocky
man with dark hair and merry brown eyes--and his lady--slim, fair, and
grey-eyed, her hand resting on her husband's arm--occupied the central
positions in the painting. Around them were grouped four children, ranging
in age from five to eighteen. As the youngest and the only girl, Medora was
immediately recognizable; although she was dark rather than fair, Archie
thought she had a definite look of her mother, especially with regard to her
eyes, mouth, and build. Henry, who must have been eleven or twelve at the
time, also had his mother's grey eyes but otherwise resembled his father,
right down to the stocky build and good-humored expression. The older two
appeared to combine the traits of both parents. The eldest--Edward, was
it?--had the fairest coloring of the four, but with his father's brown eyes,
though they held a slightly anxious expression; he looked taller than Sir
Robert but his frame likewise tended to the solid. Hugh, by contrast, had
his father's coloring paired with a lighter build and features that were more
finely drawn, like those of his mother. It was a combination that young
ladies would doubtless find attractive, if they could get past Hugh's being
the *second* son instead of the heir. Clearly, Margaret had.

"You were a handsome man, Hugh Tresilian," Archie said aloud. "Did you make
my sister happy?"

The painted eyes gave back no answer but Archie suspected he knew already.
Moving away from the fireplace, he turned to study the rest of the room.
More books, of course, awaiting his exploration; a glass-fronted cabinet
containing a small assortment of curios; and a handsome writing desk by the
window alcove. In one corner of the desk, stood a fine globe, flanked by a
small stack of books.

A thought struck him. One could usually tell something about people from the
books they read. Henry had admitted that he himself was not bookish, so it
was more likely that the books were Margaret's. With what did his sister
occupy herself, when she was not busy with the house or the mine? Picking up
the topmost book, Archie examined the spine . . . and his brows rose in
surprise at the words he saw printed there. *A Vindication of the Rights of
Woman.* By someone named Mary Wollstonecraft.

Rights of woman? Was this perhaps anything like Thomas Paine's *Rights of
Man*? It seemed a logical enough guess. Frowning, Archie opened the front
cover, and a small folded note fluttered free. He caught it before it could
fall to the floor, blinked in surprise at the wild handwriting, distinguished
by the haphazard capital letters and multiple underlinings, that he instantly
recognized as belonging to his other sister, Alice. Before he could stop
himself, he had opened the note and started reading.

My dear Sister, [Alice wrote]

It has taken me this Age to find a second copy of the 'Vindication' for you,
but I trust you will agree 'twas worth the wait! Such a To-Do, my dear, when
it first came out these four years ago, and I vow the Furor has not died down
yet, in certain circles! While I must own that Miss Wollstonecraft is Prone
to Ranting [three underlinings under 'Ranting'] and I do wonder if a cooler
tone might better serve her Purpose at times, yet I find myself so much in
Sympathy with her Aims, so stirred by her Passionate Conviction, that this is
fast becoming one of my Most Especial Books! [more underlinings] I do
believe that you, as well, will be favorably impressed--indeed, some of your
past letters indicate that your particular Views on certain Matters are quite
similar to those of Miss Wollstonecraft. I await your response, as ever, with
Eager Interest.

Your affectionate Sister,
Alice, Countess of Langford

 

Dazed, Archie refolded the note and replaced it in the book. How . . .
extraordinary. He'd never considered that Alice gave much thought to
anything beyond this year's fashions--her butterfly demeanor in Society
certainly gave little indication of that. He'd have been astonished to learn
that she read at all, least of all that she counted what appeared to be a
treatise on women's rights among her "Most Especial Books."

"Most Especial." He found himself smiling wistfully--that had been one of
their mother's phrases. "Archie, Cook has prepared a most especial treat for
you children." "Come into the garden, and see my most especial rose." Alice
also liked to garden, he remembered suddenly. Did she too have a "most
especial" rose? He wished he'd thought to ask. Clearly it wasn't only
Margaret he needed to get to know better.

He flipped open *The Vindication* and scanned a passage at random:

My own sex [Miss Wollstonecraft wrote], I hope, will excuse me, if I treat
them like rational creatures, instead of flattering their *fascinating*
graces, and viewing them as if they were in a state of perpetual childhood,
unable to stand alone. I earnestly wish to point out in what true dignity
and human happiness consists--I wish to persuade women to endeavor to acquire
strength, both of mind and body, and to convince them that the soft phrases,
susceptibility of heart, delicacy of sentiment, and refinement of taste, are
almost synonymous with epithets of weakness, and that those beings who are
only the objects of pity and that kind of love, which has been termed its
sister, will soon become objects of contempt.

Archie's lips pursed in a soundless whistle. Strong stuff, indeed--but worthy
of further study. Tucking a finger into the book to avoid losing his place,
he wandered back to the fireside, sat down in the armchair *not* occupied by
the cat, and began to read . . .

END PART THREE