Children of One Family
by Pam

Part Four

". . . men, in their youth, are prepared for professions, and marriage is not
considered as the grand feature in their lives, whilst women, on the
contrary, have no other scheme to sharpen their faculties. . . . To rise in
the world, and have the liberty of running from pleasure to pleasure, they
must marry advantageously, and to this object their time is sacrificed, and
their persons often legally prostituted."

"'Educate women like men,' says Rousseau, 'and the more they resemble our sex
the less power they have over us.' This is the very point I aim at. I do not
wish them to have power over men; but over themselves."

"Gracious Creator of the whole human race! hast thou created such a being as
woman, who can trace thy wisdom in thy works, and feel that thou alone art by
thy nature exalted above her, --for no better purpose?--Can she believe that
she was only made to submit to man, her equal, a being, who, like her, was
sent into the world to acquire virtue?--Can she consent to be occupied merely
to please him, merely to adorn the earth, when her soul is capable of rising
to thee?--And can she rest supinely dependent on man for reason, when she
ought to mount with him the arduous steeps of knowledge?"

Archie set the book down on the table beside him and rubbed his brow, feeling
as dazed and disoriented as if he had drunk a week's spirit ration at one
sitting. What was it Alice had said? "Prone to Ranting," indeed! He was
not sure he agreed with everything he had read, and yet . . . *some* of what
Miss Wollstonecraft had written appeared to have merit. At the very least,
he saw no reason to dismiss her arguments out of hand.

Of course, he himself was a *youngest* son, and so considered largely
unimportant in the worldly scheme of things. Unless his father, his two
odiously healthy older brothers, and whatever legitimate male progeny they
might have begotten on their hapless wives (always supposing they'd found
females willing or desperate enough to marry either of them) all suddenly
perished, he was unlikely to inherit anything of great material worth. Yet
he had not given much thought about what it meant to be a *daughter* of such
a family, to have no prospects beyond marriage or life as an unpaid companion
in the homes of married relations. His sisters, at least, had been handsome
and comfortably--if not extravagantly--dowered. How much more difficult for
young ladies who had neither beauty nor fortune . . . yet who were unfit for
any other life. At least younger sons had a chance to make their way;
Duncan had joined the Army, he was in the Navy--neither was possible for a
woman. Only in plays did women cut their hair, don breeches, and run off to
the wars! But what played well at Drury Lane was frowned upon in Berkeley
Square.

Sighing, Archie placed a hand behind his neck, eased stiff muscles. He'd
been given considerable food for thought, and he suspected he would be
chewing over what he had read for some time to come. At present, however, he
found himself craving simpler fare. Poetry, perhaps, or even one of Mr.
Fielding's novels.

Which reminded him--there were still several shelves of books he had not yet
explored. Rising from his chair, he stretched lingeringly, then strolled
over for a closer look. Science, mathematics, the Greek and Roman classics
(no doubt Horatio would seize upon these volumes with interest) . .
.theology, philosophy. The metaphysics books on the lowest shelf, though,
were so musty they made him sneeze, and he retreated to the other side of the
room in search of something more entertaining. Pope's "The Rape of the Lock"
could usually be guaranteed to amuse, so he tucked it under his arm before
leaving the room. If the weather continued to be this wet, he would doubtless
be back. No sense in exhausting the library's pleasures in just one
afternoon.

*****
*****

Archie suspected he should have turned left rather than right to get back to
his own chamber. Keverne wasn't exactly a large house but there were more
rooms than expected, laid out in a somewhat rambling fashion. It would
probably take him a few days to figure out where everything was.

He cocked his head as a silvery thread of music drifted into the passage,
from a room some two or three doors down. Miss Tresilian--Medora--was still
at it, then? Such dedication was only to be commended. She played well, he
decided as he listened further, with a light, sure touch upon the keys. As
the daughter of a gentleman of means, she had probably begun musical
instruction early. Twice a week, he now remembered, a music-master had come
to teach Alice and Margaret on the harpsichord. Had the lessons continued,
after they went to live with their aunt?

The music stopped . . . then resumed, repeating the original phrase. Stopped
again, at almost the exact same point. Strange--the piece did not sound
especially complicated. Curious, Archie stole down the hallway to the music
room; the door, at least, was ajar, affording him a clear view of what lay
beyond.

Miss Tresilian sat at the spinet, her back to him and all her attention fixed
on the pages propped on the music stand before her. Currently, she appeared
to be engaged in making some kind of notation on those pages with a stub of
pencil. On top of the spinet, a thin grey cat sat washing itself. Tin,
presumably. Even as Archie watched, the cat ceased his ablutions, and
dropped into a crouch, tail starting to lash, green eyes narrowing as he
peered down at the floor.

In the next instant, Tin launched himself from the top of the spinet at his
would-be prey. Unfortunately, his wild spring carried him over the keyboard
en route. Medora recoiled with a startled cry, then uttered something that
sounded distinctly unladylike as the cat's leap sent papers, music stand, and
pencil flying. Archie blinked, then remembered the girl had grown up with
three older brothers, which could well account for a more varied vocabulary,
and grinned. Hurrying into the room, he bent to help her pick up her
scattered things but misjudged his trajectory along with hers. Their heads
cracked smartly together, provoking simultaneous exclamations of pain,
followed by equally simultaneous apologies. This exchange was promptly
curtailed by a crash from the other side of the room. Beholding the result,
Miss Tresilian again expressed herself in noticeably warmer terms.

Under the circumstances, Archie couldn't blame her. With astonishing speed,
Tin hurtled through the room, seeming to carom off every vertical surface and
leaving chaos in his wake. Dazedly observing the cat's progress, Archie
wondered if this was what a bullet looked like during a ricochet. With a
last twisting pass that knocked several books and papers to the floor, the
grey tom streaked out of the music room as though he'd been shot from a
cannon.

Archie felt his brow tenderly. "Good Lord, what was he after?"

"Your guess is as good as mine," Medora replied, rubbing her own forehead and
staring after the cat with considerable disfavor. "He fancies himself a
great hunter--mice, rats, blackbeetles . . . dust motes. A few days ago he
slipped on the floorboards while chasing a spider and skidded into the wall
with a pitiful furry thud. It appears he has learned nothing whatever from
the experience!" Having relieved her feelings with this scathing
pronouncement, she turned back to Archie. "Are you quite all right, Mr.
Kennedy?"

"No worse off than you, Miss Tresilian," Archie replied reassuringly. "I
think it may have been more impact than injury, on both sides." He studied
her more closely; she had a child's smooth, rounded brow--thankfully,
unbruised by their collision--but her grey eyes held an expression that made
her seem older. She did not look so solemn in the library portrait; however,
her parents and brother had still been alive then. Like Margaret, she wore
mourning--somber, lusterless black that did not complement her olive
complexion or straight dark hair, pulled severely back from her face with a
simple ribbon.

Her smile, wry and a trifle lopsided, was charming, though. "Medora, please.
According to some, I'm not yet of an age to be called 'Miss Tresilian.' "

No, clearly she wasn't out yet. A child, then--precocious but likable.
After Horatio, he was used to precocity in his friends. "Then you must call
me Archie," he said lightly, "or I shall think myself back aboard ship and
start swabbing the deck, whether it needs it or not!"

Again the smile, somewhat wryer. "I am afraid this room is anything *but*
'shipshape' at present. Cats!" This last in a tone of infinite disgust. "I'd
best start setting it to rights."

"Allow me to assist you," Archie offered, picking up some books from the
floor.

"Oh, no, I couldn't! You are a guest here. Besides, Margaret mentioned you
were some slight."

"A bit of a cold," Archie admitted. "Nothing serious. And I've been very
well cared for since I came here." He smiled. "If I'd known sisters were
like this, I'd have visited much sooner!"

The girl studied him thoughtfully. "Not *all* sisters--but Margaret
certainly is. Truly, you mustn't exert yourself if you are ill. The window
seat there is very comfortable and I could send to the kitchen for a hot
drink if you need one."

"I assure you, I am feeling quite well, for the most part. And the cleaning
up will go much faster with two rather than one." Archie smiled at her. "You
know I am right."

Medora looked disposed to argue the point further, then suddenly capitulated,
throwing up her hands. "Very well, then. I will show you where things go."
The expressive roll of her eyes said, more plainly than words, "Men!"

Working together, it took them perhaps twenty minutes to restore order.
Archie wagered there was more clutter and mess than actual wreckage; Tin had
overturned a small table but, fortunately, not one on which anything
breakable had been set. Nonetheless, there were enough books, papers, and
cushions scattered on the floor to make the room appear a shambles. Medora
directed placement of all three, depositing the cushions back on chairs,
locking the papers in a drawer for the present, and returning the books to a
small case in one corner of the room. Poetry and songbooks mostly, Archie
observed as he put them back on the shelves, according to the girl's
instructions.

Finally, all he was left with was the volume of Pope he had come in with, and
a single sheet of paper he'd picked up from the floor during the beginning of
Tin's rampage and shut in the book for safekeeping. Removing it from between
the pages, he glanced at it, raised his brows at the sight of several lines
of what appeared to be musical notes. "'Lullaby for Robin.'" He read the
words aloud with a quizzical air. "By 'M. R. T.'?"

Medora, righting the music stand by the spinet, turned around swiftly. "That
would be mine. I was working on it earlier."

Archie eyed her with renewed interest. "You compose?"

She colored. "I . . . make up tunes sometimes, and set them down on paper."
A small shrug. "Robin told me he'd heard all my stories before, so I thought
I would write him a lullaby instead. I hoped to finish before Margaret came
back, so my playing would not distress her."

Archie was surprised. "But you play quite well. Does my sister not care for
music?"

"Oh, no, it is not that!" After a brief pause, she continued, "We are
Cornish, sir--music means something to all of us. And often, in the
evenings, we would gather here and sing." A bittersweet smile touched her
mouth. "Margaret--or I--would play. Henry is a decent fiddler, and Hugh . .
. Hugh had the best voice in the family." She pushed back a strand of hair
from her brow, looked up at Archie with troubled grey eyes.
"Margaret--seldom comes here, since the accident. And I," she concluded with
a faint grimace, "cannot seem to stay away!"

"Forgive me." Archie cleared his throat. "It was unpardonable of me to pry."

Medora shook her head. "I would not call it 'prying,' and you meant no harm.
But . . . may I have my composition back?"

"Certainly. Only . . . if you don't mind satisfying my curiosity on one
further point, what does the 'R' stand for?"

"Rose. After my mother."

"Ah, of course." Archie handed back the composition with a flourish. "Carry
on, maestra--but would you mind very much if I stayed to listen? I do not
often hear music."

"Truly? I'd have thought the sea a very musical place."

"Well, the captain comes aboard to the sound of pipes," Archie conceded.
"And the men sing sometimes--though with more enthusiasm than skill.
Occasionally, one of my messmates will scrape a fiddle or toot upon a fife.
But 'the song of the sea' loses some of its appeal when one's likely
companion of the watch is prone to mal de mer and obliged to 'heave to
leeward' when the waves turn rough!"

"Oh, dear!" Medora put a hand up to her own mouth, unable to hide her
amusement. "I take your meaning, sir--and you are welcome to stay. Only--are
you sure you do not wish to return to your room? You look as though you could
do with a nap before dinner."

"Perhaps Morpheus will visit during the performance," Archie suggested. "What
better way to test a lullaby? Play on, Medora Rose. I promise to be an
appreciative--if somewhat sleepy--audience."

"I promise to throw a cushion at you if you snore," the girl said gravely,
but there was a smile lurking in the wide grey eyes.

Archie smiled back and curled up on the window seat, settling a cushion under
his head. She was right--the embrasure was surprisingly comfortable. And to
one hand, he had a fine view of the garden, with the sea a silver-blue ribbon
in the distance; to the other, the fire-lit coziness of the music room.

He glanced over at the spinet, where Medora had reseated herself and was now
preparing to play once more. The first notes faltered a little, as though
she were still a bit self-conscious about performing in front of a stranger
but within minutes, the crease between her brows smoothed out and she
appeared to forget his existence, becoming completely absorbed in her music.
Closing his eyes, Archie leaned back on the cushions, letting the soft
strains wash over him . . .

*****

*****

Heavenly odors greeted Margaret as she stepped over the threshold and closed
the door behind her. She'd had little appetite for the last six months but
Mrs. Polwhele could make a dish of wood shavings palatable and with a guest
in the house, the cook was clearly on her mettle.

"Ah, there you are!" Medora appeared in the parlor doorway. "I did not wish
to leave without thanking you for having me."

"You mean to be away, then?" Margaret asked, noticing that the girl had
donned her riding cloak.

Medora smiled wryly. "Well, the rain appears to have let up, somewhat--and I
suppose I *must* return to Tresilian Manor eventually."

"On the contrary, my dear," Margaret linked her arm through her
sister-in-law's, "you are staying to dine with us--and for several days
thereafter!"

"Margaret, what *have* you done?" Surprise and pleasure mingled in Medora's
voice.

"Oh, Edward came by Wheal Random earlier today--and I simply made a point of
informing him that I had a guest whose comfort I could not attend to as
scrupulously as I wished, because of the mine. And that I required your
assistance in running the household while this situation persists. After due
consideration, he agreed, and he'll even be sending a servant over later with
some extra clothes for you."

"Famous! But what did Fanny say?"

"Fanny was not there, so I cannot imagine she has anything to say about it at
all."

Blue and grey eyes met in a conspiratorial glance, then Medora flung her arms
around Margaret with a strangled whoop of delight. "You are the *best* of
sisters!"

Margaret hugged her back. "Well, what I told Edward was no less than the
truth. You are a tremendous help to me, my dear. Now, why don't you go make
yourself ready for dinner? I imagine it will be served quite soon."

"Of course." Medora detached herself, glowing. "I believe my grey serge is
already here, so I can change my dress. Is Henry with you?"

"He stayed to speak with the underground captain but he'll be along shortly.
How have things been here?"

"Fine--rather quiet, for the most part. Nurse just put Robin down for his
nap."

"Did my brother keep to his bed?"

"Oh, no--he seems to have been up and about most of the day. I left him
asleep in the music room not an hour ago."

"Asleep in the music room?" Margaret echoed, astonished. "Good heavens, why?"

Medora hesitated briefly before replying. "I was--writing a lullaby for
Robin and your brother stayed to listen." Her eyes crinkled. "It sent *him*
to sleep, so I trust it may have the same effect on the person for whom it's
intended! I'll go wake him, if you like."

"No, no, my dear--I'll go myself. Right after I change out of my habit."

*****

*It is just a room,* Margaret reminded herself sternly, as she pushed open
the door. *You have been here many times before--if not recently.*

All the same, she could not suppress a shiver as she crossed over to the
window seat where Archie lay sleeping. Someone, probably Medora, had fetched
a patchwork quilt from the linen cupboard and covered him up to his chin.
Curled on his side, fair hair once again working free of its ribbon, her
brother looked younger than ever. The merest child, in fact.

She perched on the edge of the window seat, taking care not to wake him.
Dinner would be ready in half an hour, Mrs. Polwhele had said. He could rest
a little longer.

How quiet it was here! She'd forgotten that, but then she'd rarely come into
the music room unaccompanied. Evenings at home, gathered around the spinet,
had been gay and convivial, everyone singing their particular favorites or
embarking upon new songs together. There was nothing like music to break
the ice; even at the manor, there'd been musical evenings when Mama had been
alive . . .

Unbidden, her memory conjured up another day--autumn, grey and cheerless,
leafless trees standing out in stark relief against an overcast sky. And
within the house . . . an eerie silence had reigned. Nurse had ordered all
of them to stay indoors, saying it was too cold to play outside. Unable to
visit her pony, bored by the dolls Alice found so fascinating, she had chosen
to wander the manor alone. At the end of one corridor, she'd found
six-year-old Archie--looking wan and apprehensive--huddled on a window-seat.
Seeing her, he'd left his perch, slipped a small cold hand into hers.
Although she'd preferred solitude, she hadn't had the heart to rebuff him.

"Where's Mama?" he had whispered, eyes huge in his pale face. "Where is she?
No one will tell me . . . "

Margaret had done her best to soothe and distract him; meanwhile, the house
was growing ever quieter. The first cry had shattered the silence with the
force of an explosion. Archie had flinched violently, the blue of his eyes
drowned in white, and Margaret had felt her palms dampening, her stomach
dropping into her soles of her feet. Then a quivering, keening wail, more
animal than human, had rent the air--and, in the next instant, Archie had
crumpled to the floor and begun to convulse . . .

A touch on the back of her hand drew her back to the present. She gasped,
shook herself, and turned towards the source of that touch.

Archie. Disheveled, slightly flushed, but fully awake, blue eyes wide with
concern. "Are you all right?"

She summoned up a smile from somewhere. "Quite all right, my dear--though I
believe that is supposed to be *my* question." Composing herself, she
reached out to feel his brow. Cool. "Your cold is no worse?"

He shook his head. "Better, I assure you. You'll be pleased to hear I
obeyed your orders to the letter and stayed inside all day!"

"Excellent. Do you still--?" Have fits, she thought of saying but stopped
herself and amended, "Do you still like fricassee of chicken? Mrs. Polwhele
has made it for dinner, along with several other things."

"Lovely," Archie said almost absently, his eyes intent on her face. She found
it difficult to meet their steady regard. "Are you *sure* you're all right?
You looked a million miles away."

"Oh," she strove for a casual tone, "not so far away as that. Merely
woolgathering. Would you care for a drink before dinner, and perhaps a few
cakes?"

After a moment's consideration, he agreed he would not mind a glass of
something and they set off for the parlor together, talking in light,
desultory fashion. There was no need, Margaret decided as she closed the
door of the music room behind them, for Archie to know what she had been
remembering. At least--not at present.

There were enough shadows in both their pasts without bringing up this one.

The day their mother had died. The day their family had ceased to exist.

 

END PART FOUR