Into the Fire
by Pam and Del
But--oh, Medora! nerve thy gentler heart;
This hour again--but not for long--we part.
--Lord Byron, The Corsair
PART THIRTY-NINE: "Marching Orders"
Descending the stairs two days later, Archie was surprised to see several agents from Edinburgh division gathered on the first-floor landing and talking among themselves. Curiosity piqued, he came down to join them.
"And the end of it is," Grant was saying as Archie approached, "that the Vicomte has established Madonna Florinda in her own house, with a pension and servants to help care for the baby."
"Using the money provided him as a reward from the Admiralty, no doubt," said Latour. "He's a devious one, indeed."
"As you say," Grant agreed. She looked around the group. "But where is Caillean? It's as if she's vanished since last night."
"She was looking for Jamieson, I thought," Ferguson replied. "She was asking about him around midnight."
"No, it was Arundel she wanted," Latour corrected. "They worked together when she was last in London."
A sudden silence fell. Archie found his thoughts drifting in a certain direction and flushed guiltily. Although to judge from the various expressions of his colleagues, he was not the only one thinking along such lines.
"Both of them?" Ferguson sounded bemused.
Grant chuckled, not at all perturbed. "Well, it is the end of the mission . . ."
"And Arundel, at least, had better not be abed much longer." Latour's voice was dry. "There'll be new orders for London divisions this morning, along with the changes in command."
"Oh?" Ferguson looked curiously at the doctor.
"Seaton's division will go to Commander Smith--well, we knew that would happen. And Barrington's taking over her old division; he's promoted to commander at last."
"Perhaps even a little overdue," was Grant's comment.
Ferguson grinned. "He worked with Carmichael again and the two of them didn't kill each other. I'd say that means he's finally earned promotion!"
Below them a door closed firmly, and brisk steps approached the stairs.
“Speak of the devil," Archie murmured, and saw Ferguson's grin widen as their commander came into view.
“Time to go and pack, lads," Carmichael announced when he saw them. "And lady," he nodded at Grant. "We're to be on our way at first light tomorrow."
"Back to Edinburgh?" she asked.
"Most of you. I'm to meet Fontaine overseas at the end of the week." Carmichael was holding a wrapped packet; he handed it to Archie. "Old Nick gave me this for you, Stewart, and Doctor--" his eyes found Latour's, "he wants you downstairs. Ferguson, find Rory, Jamieson, and Caillean, and tell them to make ready."
"He can find Rory," Grant spoke up. "I'll tell the others." She slipped away hastily, while Latour, followed by Ferguson, started down the stairs.
Archie turned the packet over in his hands; it was addressed to "Mr. Lennox" in writing that appeared vaguely familiar--then noticed that Carmichael was ascending to the second floor and hurried after him. There was something he needed to ask . . .
"Is there other news?" That was not the question Archie had planned, but he wanted to slow the commander's progress.
Carmichael turned. "You've not heard yet?"
Archie shook his head. "Nothing."
"The word came this morning--they found Minard in his cell."
That had only one meaning. "Dead?"
"Either by his own hand--or someone got to him. They're talking of it now."
"Both London divisions, Old Nick, someone from the Admiralty, and another man from Bow Street."
"Bow Street?" Archie stared.
"Aye. It seems the next order of business will be to settle with the Grey Man." Carmichael had reached the end of the passage, opened the door to his quarters.
"But you're not there?" Archie asked.
"Orders. I'm to leave for Dover before dawn, then on to Calais." Carmichael opened the wardrobe, began to empty its contents onto the bed. "Ask your wee wife to pardon me if I miss your wedding."
"Ah. Yes." Archie found himself taken aback at the speed with which the word had spread. "I . . . er . . . had a question for you."
"Mm?" Carmichael frowned down at the shirt he was folding.
"Is it permitted--to live off the . . . " Archie fumbled for words, "the base?"
"Take a lodging in town, then? With the wife and the little lass?" Carmichael paused thoughtfully. "Aye, it can be done, but it's a wee bit complicated. There's two things likely you'll need."
"And they are?"
"Well, a house, to start with." Carmichael fell silent again, appearing to contemplate the further difficulties.
"And the other?" Archie prompted.
"Oh, well t'other's well-nigh impossible, any road."
"Yes?" Archie could feel the impatience bubbling up inside. "What is it?"
"Permission of a commanding officer," Carmichael announced with ineffably bland smugness. "Devilish hard to come by, I hear that is."
Archie ground his teeth together and contemplated two alternate ways of disposing of a particular commanding officer; he could not decide whether throttling or swift application of a large heavy object would be more satisfying.
Carmichael grinned, finally relenting. "Just let us know where we can find you, once you've settled."
Back in his quarters, Archie unwrapped the packet. There was a brief note on white paper, in the same hand that had written the direction on the outside.
"To Mr. Lennox:
I expect any day to depart for the Indies, and my sojourn there will undoubtedly be lengthy. As it may be even longer until--or ever--you choose to return to the sea, I thought you might take some pleasure from the enclosed tidings and therefore place them in your keeping. I wish you good fortune in your new endeavors, and trust, as well, that we may meet again under more felicitious circumstances."
It was signed simply, "Pellew".
News clippings. A thick stack of them--from the Gazette, and the Chronicle: Archie swallowed and thumbed through them, scanning the columns with a fierce intensity.
To HMS Renown . . . "
"HM Sloop Retribution arrived in port, under the command of . . . "
To the rank of post-captain: Horatio Hornblower, RN. . . . "
"The Lady of Captain Horatio Hornblower, of the Royal Navy, delivered of a son, . . .."
Archie laid the clippings down slowly, remembering. Open air, the open sea, and a ship's sure progress through the water, standing beside the rail in the sun, accompanied by the familiar presence . . . a little of his past, finally restored to him.
Might there be more someday? Was it foolish of him to wish that there might be? He had regained more than he had ever dreamed possible, after his losses at Kingston, and it was seldom wise to tempt fate. And yet -- Latour had advised him, two years ago, not to abandon hope. He had not done so then, nor would he do so now.
But, in the meantime, there was the present to be lived--and cherished. Before he had parted from Carmichael, the latter had granted him permission to see Medora before the division returned to Edinburgh. "You know where to find me," she had said, during her last visit.
Smiling, Archie reached for pen and paper.
"Dearest heart, why are you frowning?"
"Was I?" Archie asked, turning his head to look into troubled grey eyes.
Medora touched a finger to the space between his brows. "You were. And your mouth was getting that tightness about it too."
"Sorry." Archie rolled over on the bed and took her in his arms again. "I suppose I was just thinking about tomorrow."
He nodded gloomily. "I must leave for Edinburgh, at first light."
Medora bit her lip and wound her arms more tightly around him. "We just found each other again, and now we have to separate."
"Not for long," Archie promised her. "As soon as I've found us lodgings in Edinburgh, I'll send for you--and Rosemary, of course. It shouldn't take longer than a month, at the most."
She sighed, resting her head upon his bare chest. "I suppose I can survive a month apart--barely. And I do have to settle my own affairs here and back in Cornwall too. Not the least of which is figuring out what to tell people about my moving to Scotland."
"As little as possible?" Archie suggested. "Or merely that you struck up an acquaintance with some dashing Scot you met in London and he wants you to elope with him to Gretna Green and dwell in his windswept castle upon the Highland moors?"
Medora raised her brows. "I thought you were a Lowlander, sir."
She laughed and embraced him again. "Well, I suppose that--or some such variant--will serve the purpose. Of course," she added, more somberly, "I still haven't figured out what to tell your sister."
"Margaret or Alice?"
"Both. Either. Though I've been granted a respite from telling Alice, actually. Lord Kilcarron -- requested that I allow him to break the news."
"Kilcarron?" Archie felt the habitual twinge of irritation over the earl's involvement in his affairs.
"I think he means to tell Julian first, and then--that will likely determine how Alice is informed." Medora sighed. "They'll be in town any day now and, craven though it sounds, I'm almost glad the decision has been taken out of my hands. I wouldn't know how to begin to tell Alice--and I should hate to lie to her."
He grimaced in sympathy. "Telling lies has got to be one of my least favorite aspects of being a spy. Unfortunately, it's also one of the most vital."
"I know." She kissed him on the forehead. "Or you would not be here with me now."
"At least, I can try not to lie to you anymore. Or at least," he added, "as seldom as possible."
"Thank you." Her face was grave. "After the last two years . . . I should be grateful for that indeed."
"Two years," Archie echoed. Despite the happiness of their reunion, he knew the regret for that lost time would always be with him to some extent. And with Medora too, he realized, seeing his own wistfulness reflected in her eyes.
She sat up suddenly. "That reminds me. I have something for you." Throwing back the bedclothes, she shrugged on her wrapper and padded over to the chair where their discarded clothes were heaped. Locating her reticule, she removed something from it, then returned to Archie's side. "I want you to have this," she said, pressing the object into his hand.
Archie looked down into the miniature of their daughter. "My rose--"
"Take it," she insisted. "I have the original, so you may keep this -- until we're all together again."
Archie swallowed, closing his hand over the precious likeness. "Thank you." Earlier, he'd been given back some of his past. Now he held a piece of the future as well. And as for the present . . . he glanced at Medora, noting with pleasure how the gauzy sage-green silk of her robe revealed as much as it concealed.
"I have at least another hour before I must return to headquarters," he remarked. "Shall we make good use of it?"
She went unhesitating into his arms.
In the great library, two tables had again been set end to end, to accommodate all the agents who had taken part in the recently concluded operation. Taking a seat between Rory and Jamieson, Archie was irresistibly reminded of the first morning in London, when the room had fairly simmered with tension and hostility. No evidence of either today: the agents grouped around the tables radiated . . . not triumph--too much had been lost for that--but sober satisfaction for a job well-done. In the course of the investigation, London and Edinburgh divisions had managed to come to terms with each other; the successful outcome of this mission owed much to collaborative effort.
All rose when Kilcarron entered, followed by two footmen bearing trays.
"Agents, be seated," the earl ordered, his voice as calm and even as ever.
They obeyed, and the footmen circulated, handing each agent a glass filled with some aromatic spirit. Whiskey, by the smell of it, Archie thought.
Once everyone had been served, Kilcarron spoke again. "While some concerns have still to be addressed, tonight marks the official end of an operation that has taken many months to resolve--and at a dearer cost than we anticipated." For a moment, Archie saw the shadows of pain and fatigue on the earl's face before it resumed its customary impassivity. "Therefore, I must commend all of you for your diligence and cooperation in bringing this mission to a successful conclusion.
"Tomorrow, London and Edinburgh divisions will take up their new assignments. There is but one thing left remaining."
Kilcarron raised his glass. In silence, the assembled divisions, both London and Edinburgh, followed suit, waiting until he spoke again.
"To Commander Mary Elizabeth Seaton, Lieutenant Anthony Baxter of His Majesty's Navy, and Monsieur Jean-Jacques Daubigny. They gave their lives in the service of their country."
As one, Kilcarron's private army brought their glasses to their lips and drank.
"My God!" Julian Harrow, Earl of Langford, regarded his fellow peer with a mixture of emotions too violent for him to describe. "And I brought him to your attention. I spoke of him to you! And now you tell me you have him, have had him for two whole years -- dear God, man, my wife is still in mourning!"
"And must remain so a little longer, I fear." Kilcarron proceeded to elaborate upon the last months, watching the other man's face intently. During the recital, Langford's expression lost some of its indignation, became more reflective and somber.
"An intelligence agent," he said finally, when the older man had finished. "Right here in London." He shook his head, his brows drawing together again. "You've had him alive all this time, under your command. I don't know whether to thank God for you or to plant you a facer!"
"Your brother-in-law has already done the honors," Kilcarron said dryly.
Langford gave a short bark of laughter. "Good for him!"
Kilcarron, prudently, did not respond to this.
After a brief pause, Langford looked up again, now sufficiently composed to deal with the matter at hand. "May I see him?"
"He is no longer in London."
Eyes narrowed, Langford opened his mouth to expostulate, but was forestalled.
"But you may wish to speak to Miss Tresilian before she returns to Cornwall," Kilcarron informed him. "I believe that you and yours may have a wedding to observe in the near future."
One week later
"How was the journey, my dear?" Margaret asked solicitously, as Medora started to unpack her last trunk. "Not too tiring, I hope?"
"It was fine," Medora assured her "The Langfords lent me their very own carriage to travel in."
That had not been all they had bestowed upon her. Alice, informed of Archie's survival, had lavished embraces and kisses upon her, when not bombarding her with questions that Medora had answered as best she could. She would have dearly loved to have told Alice *everything* but, mindful of Kilcarron's warnings, she had kept some of the more sensitive details of Archie's new career to herself. Fortunately, Alice had *not* probed too deeply in that direction. For the Countess, it had almost been enough to know that her beloved younger brother lived--and that a reunion would be arranged as soon as possible.
But if Alice had been told, surely Margaret could not be left in the dark. Margaret, who was Medora's sister twice over, through her marriage to Hugh as well as Medora's betrothal to Archie.
"You look a new woman--and not just because of the fine clothes!" Margaret observed, smiling. "I am so very glad that you decided to go to London!"
"So am I!" Medora siad fervently. If she had not gone . . . the thought made her shiver, in retrospect.
But Margaret was right--she was no longer that grief-stricken near-recluse who had shunned society before it could shun her. Archie's resurrection had been largely responsible for the change, but Medora realized that the friendships--old and new--that she had formed had played some part in it too.
So many farewells to be said: to Julian, to Alice, to Georgy and the Halsteads, to Kitty Cobham, and to Lady Barbara Wellesley. Perhaps, someday, they might all meet again--in the meantime, one could always write.
The journey back to Cornwall had taken about five days--fortunately, no difficulties with the roads or the weather had delayed her progress. The Langfords' carriage had been comfortable and well-sprung too. Nonetheless, Medora had found it a relief to reach Keverne at last.
Rosemary had come hurtling out of the house and into her mother's arms, refusing to be dislodged for a good twenty minutes. She had loosened her grip only after she had been shown her presents from London: a doll nearly as large as she was and a colorful spinning-top. After inspecting both, she had finally toddled off--a gift in either hand--with her nursemaid.
Of course, the best gift--of her very own Papa--was still to come, Medora reflected. And not a moment too soon. Dear life, this month was going to last forever . . .
"Medora." Margaret's voice broke into her thoughts and she glanced at her sister-in-law inquiringly. "I don't see Rosemary's miniature with your things. Have you put it somewhere else?"
Medora took a deep breath, then walked to her bedroom door, closed and locked it to afford them both more privacy.
Margaret stared at her, mystified.
Taking the older woman's hands in hers, Medora led her to the bed and made her sit down upon it before replying.
"I gave it to her father . . ."
END PART THIRTY-NINE