Innocence and Experience
by Pam

Sequel to Children of One Family

 

Never seek to tell thy love,
Love that never told can be . . .

--"Love's Secret"

 

PART TWO

 

"Well, my lady--did you enjoy the performance?" Edrington inquired as he
seated himself in the carriage beside his wife.

The countess's green eyes glinted amusement. "Oh, indeed. The entire cast was
excellent. And I would say that the show on stage was nearly as entertaining
as the one in our box at the interval."

The earl raised inquiring brows. "Are you referring to the way we found
ourselves committed for dinner tomorrow?"

"Oh, no--although it's certainly true that Alice Langford never ceases to
command with her attitude. And I must confess that I would not at all mind
dining at Langford House tomorrow, providing that *you* do not object."
Receiving a murmur of acquiescence from her husband, she continued, "I was
referring, in fact, to that brief exchange between Mr. Kennedy and Miss
Tresilian."

Edrington thought back. "What about them? They are already acquainted, it
appears."

"Yes. It also appears that *he* did not recognize her--and that *she* took a
certain satisfaction from that!"

"They dislike each other, then?"

"Oh, not at all! Quite the opposite, I suspect." Lady Edrington smiled down
at the sticks of her fan. "But one should never underestimate the benefits of
a small salutary . . . jolt to a person for whom one might have a decided
partiality!"

Edrington regarded his wife with a mixture of amusement and amazement. "You
are reading a great deal into so brief a conversation, my dear!"

"Oh, but do not forget, my lord--*I* was once a schoolroom miss myself!" Her
smile became reminiscent. "And so I am fully aware of the games young ladies
occasionally play. A favorite is to try out their strength on young
men--rather the way a kitten might try out its claws for the first time."

"Did Miss Tresilian draw blood?"

"A little. But it won't kill him. And if my instincts regarding the course
of their past association are correct, I rather think she let him off more
lightly than *I* might have, in the same situation."

Edrington's dark eyes narrowed in sudden suspicion. "Cecily, have you ever--"

"Tried those games on *you*?" Her gaze was limpid with innocence. "Oh, no,
dearest, you are *far* too clever for that!"

"Mm." The earl leaned back against the squabs, reassured if not wholly
convinced. Although he had known his wife from the time they were both in
leading strings, he rather suspected that there would be a part of her he
would never entirely fathom. On the other hand, attempting to do so lent
savor and challenge to an arranged marriage that might have proved merely
companionable at best or dull as unsalted bread at worst. They had both been
fortunate that matters had turned out so well.

Her voice roused him from his musings. "I wonder why Mr. Hornblower and Mr.
Kennedy declined our offer to drive them back to their lodgings. The Red
Lion Inn is not so very far out of our way."

"I believe they mentioned something about being acquainted with one of the
cast members, my dear, and that they wished to offer their congratulations on
tonight's performance."

*****

"You're limping again." Archie fixed his friend with an accusatory blue stare.

Flushing slightly, Horatio drew himself up to his full height. "A--momentary
unevenness in stride, Mr. Kennedy. Nothing at all to be concerned about."

"Confound it, Horatio, will you stop being such a bloody fool? We should
have bought that walking stick today!"

"An unnecessary expenditure, if ever there was one," Hornblower insisted,
then shifted to the offensive. "Although we could have got you another sling
at the same time!"

Archie felt himself coloring in turn. "The one Dr. Sebastian gave me before
we left the Indy is more than sufficient. And there is *no* comparison
between a dislocated shoulder and a leg full of splinters!"

"All of which were removed," Horatio reminded him, his face setting in
determined lines. "So I consider the subject closed--and would deem it a
courtesy if you would do likewise. Now, I think we had better make haste--or
Miss Cobham will have left the theatre by the time we reach her dressing
room." He set off down the corridor at a brisk clip, quite conspicuously
*not* limping.

Inwardly cursing his shipmate's pride, folly, and general pigheadedness,
Archie stalked after him. Although Horatio's leg had mostly healed by the
time the Indy--holed and missing half its mizzen after an engagement with a
French corvette and a lugger--reached Portsmouth, he had still been warned
against trying to do too much too soon. Discarding his hated crutches during
the last week of the voyage, Horatio had been grudgingly making his way about
the ship with a stick which he had accidentally--or perhaps, accidentally on
purpose--left behind when he and Archie went ashore. Archie's attempts to
convince him to remedy the lack had met with stubborn resistance and a frosty
reminder that he, Hornblower, was not the only one on the injured list.

As if in agreement, Archie's shoulder had twinged sharply and it had been all
he could do to keep the discomfort from showing on his face as he and Horatio
glared at each other. Although Archie had escaped injury during the actual
battle, enabling him to take command of the lugger after both French ships
surrendered, he had been less fortunate on the sail back to England when they
had encountered a storm. After all three ships had made port, Captain Pellew
had taken a hard look at both his junior lieutenants--one limping, the other
with his arm in a sling--and given them nearly a month's leave while the Indy
underwent repairs.

A week of that time had been spent with Horatio's estimable father, until a
local outbreak of measles--which Archie had had and Horatio had not--had
resulted in their abandoning the country for London for the time being. Dr.
Hornblower, anxious that his already convalescent son should not contract the
disease, which often seemed to affect adults more seriously, had practically
shoved him aboard the stagecoach.

Granted, Archie acknowledged, London was not always the healthiest place in
the world, either. But the odds of Horatio succumbing to measles there seemed
less probable. Certainly he had enjoyed his customary good health on the
journey up to town. And though he had been sorry to depart his father's
house so precipitately, he had been open to Archie's proposals for
entertainment, including seeing whether their old acquaintance, Katharine
Cobham, was performing in any plays this Season.

As was indeed the case--and if Archie were any judge, "Twelfth Night" was a
rousing success. There appeared to be no likelihood of Miss Cobham leaving
the theatre before they had the chance to see her, judging from the number of
admirers and well-wishers outside her door. Craning his neck, Archie could
see an even larger crowd gathered outside another door----probably Miss
Cosgrove's--further down the passage

Horatio crossed his arms and braced his shoulders against the nearest wall,
fully prepared to wait out the others. Archie smothered a grin and followed
suit. It had been like this nearly three years ago too, when he and Horatio
had first come to London after the disaster of Muzillac, badly in need of the
diversion and escape Drury Lane could provide. What had the play been then?
"Romeo and Juliet"? No, "Macbeth"--with Miss Cobham doing her usual stellar
turn as the thane's wicked, scheming wife. It was her ability to submerge
herself entirely in her roles, Archie thought, that had long made her one of
his favorite actresses. Nor was he the only one who felt that way. *Age
cannot wither her, nor custom stale / Her infinite variety* . . .

Of course, three years ago, he had had to curtail his own backstage visit
because of a supper engagement at Alice's house, leaving Miss Cobham and
Horatio alone together--a situation to which, he strongly suspected, neither
one had objected. Indeed, when he had seen Horatio the following day, he had
been even more convinced that, had he remained, he would have been decidedly
"de trop." Dear Horatio--always the chosen one.

Not that he begrudged his friend his night of pleasure. He only wished his
own evening had been half so enjoyable. Muzillac had left him more jangled
and nervous than he had realized and the huge crowd assembled at Alice's had
unsettled him so much that he'd taken his leave as early as possible.

And now it was three years later, and he was once again engaged to dine at
his sister's. Tomorrow rather than tonight, and with Horatio accompanying
him, this time--but still . . . it was strange how things seemed to run in
patterns.

Except that he was no longer that skittish boy, recently freed from Spanish
prison and still shaken by a foreign mission gone terribly wrong. Now he was
*Lieutenant* Archie Kennedy, commissioned naval officer, survivor of several
hazardous engagements, and most recently, commander of a prize ship that he
had sailed--successfully--back to England. Not even Horatio, brilliant
Horatio, had managed that feat so far, though Archie was careful not to
remind him of that. Besides, it could have gone the other way so easily, with
Horatio hale and whole, and *Archie* laid up in sick berth with splinter
wounds in his leg.

Still, it was difficult not to feel pleased by how well the last few years
had gone, overall. And surely he would not feel the urge to flee his sister's
townhouse tomorrow, no matter how crowded and clamorous it became. *Seventy
guests or seventy courses--bring them on. I am up to the challenge.*

Well, *that* challenge, anyway. Of their own volition, his thoughts strayed
to that evening's encounter during the interval . . . and a meeting that
stirred an entirely different set of memories.

Two years ago. A visit of condolence to his other sister, Margaret, recently
widowed and living in Cornwall. Initial reservations and apprehensions, born
of a long separation, on both sides, but the reward--in renewed closeness and
affection--had exceeded any expectations he and Margaret might have had. He
now counted those ten days among the happiest in his life, warming himself
with the memories during times when the world seemed cold and bleak. And one
of the warmest memories was that of a fifteen-year-old girl whose candor and
uncomplicated friendliness had helped to make that visit a success rather
than the failure he had dreaded and half-anticipated.

Uncomplicated, that is--until the day before he left Cornwall . . .

*****

Cornwall, 1796

 

"Might I write to you?" Bright, eager eyes gazed up at Archie, confirming
his worst fears.

"Of course!" he said quickly, his voice perhaps a shade overloud. "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 both his knowledge of her
infatuation and his inability to reciprocate. Medora, lacking neither
sensitivity nor perception, discerned his meaning immediately and flushed
painfully up to the roots of her hair. 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 . . .

*****

Archie shuddered. Even now, the memory induced a wincing discomfort. To say
that he had handled the situation with gross ineptitude was entirely too
charitable. Although he and Medora had patched over that awkward moment as
best they could before his departure, he had not truly expected her to write
to him.

And then the first letter came, a little more than a month after his visit.
The tone had been a bit prim, even stilted--that of a child writing to an
elder--but the style had warmed, become more natural by the end. Pleased,
Archie had responded; he suspected that his own tone was too self-consciously
fraternal at first, but fortunately, Medora did not appear to take offense.
Since then, they had corresponded . . . oh, not *quite* regularly, but
perhaps every two months or so, letters in a round schoolgirl's hand had
found their way to him. Sometimes they were accompanied by Margaret's brisk,
sensible missives, bracing as the wind from the sea. By the autumn of that
first year, however, Medora's letters had arrived not only from Cornwall but
from London, where she was studying music and living with Alice, who had
taken a keen interest in the girl's education, as well as a liking to the
girl herself.

The scope of the letters had broadened then, deepened--as another world
opened before her. Remembering his own first experiences of London, Archie
had found himself reveling in hers--at the excitement, the air of discovery,
the increased freedom and assurance with which she wrote of her new life.
Even her handwriting became more sophisticated. Yet she remained Cornish at
heart, often missing her seas and cliffs, and too levelheaded to be wholly
seduced by the city, even in its most glittering guise. And for that, too,
Archie was glad--he was too fond of his young friend from Cornwall to wish
her wholly transformed.

Transformed. The shock still juddered through him, hummed like wind in the
rigging . . .

He'd recognized the eyes first, as the fan swept down and the lashes swept
up. Wide, expressive grey eyes, then the other features, more clearly
defined than they had been two years before: the short, straight nose, the
mouth too wide for fashion but well-shaped, canting up in a familiar crooked
smile. He had not even needed to see the mother-of-pearl locket around her
throat by then, although his gaze had been drawn downward by the line of the
necklace to the drape of her bodice . . . and what he saw nestling there was,
most assuredly, *not* a child's, anymore.

Then she had spoken. And in the storm of conflicting emotions that followed
her words, he had not known whether he wanted to continue to admire her
lovely bosom--or reach out and wring her lovely neck!

Medora Rose. Grown two years older, prettier . . . and thornier.

*****

*****
Cornwall, 1796

 

She thought she had never seen a more unprepossessing object.

Lips blue with cold, rain-darkened hair trailing limply down his back, he
stood there in his sister's hallway, bedraggled, shivering, sneezing, and
dripping water from every visible garment. He looked like something the tide
had washed in. He looked like something the cat had *refused* to drag in.

Then Margaret had offered him a bath.

And he had smiled . . .

*****

London, 1798

 

"Shall I take your hair down, miss?"

"Hm?" Medora roused from her thoughts. "Oh, yes--thank you, Emily," she
replied, then obediently sat still while the maid removed first the pins,
then the ribbons, before combing out the long dark tresses. Lady Langford
had exclaimed over the color and thickness of that hair when Medora had first
come to London; the girl had been somewhat less enthusiastic. Difficult to
become excited over something that had grown on your head all your life,
refusing to curl, wave, or do anything but simply *hang* there, like flax
from a distaff. Now, however, she conceded that her hair had some good
qualities--namely, a healthy gloss and smooth texture. With patience and
diligence, a wave could even be coaxed into it, though it still refused to
hold a curl for longer than a few hours.

As for the rest . . . Medora glanced sideways into the dressing table mirror.
She was not so deluded as to think herself a beauty; her reflection told
her she was "well enough," but certainly not likely to become a Toast. Her
features lacked classical perfection, her complexion, while clear, was darker
than the pink-and-white considered the ideal. Considering the matter
dispassionately, Medora supposed her eyes and mouth to be her best features.

At least the face in the mirror was no longer a child's. In the last year or
so, the line of cheek and chin had become more defined; overall, the features
seemed to owe more to the Drummond rather than to the Tresilian side of the
family, which was no bad thing if one had been born female.

*I look like a young lady, finally.* And not only above the neck--she had
grown nearly three inches in two years, filled out in chest and hip. *I
actually have a bosom.* Not a very large one, to be sure, but at least she
did not need to have ruffles sewn on the inside of her bodices to compensate
for what nature had failed to provide.

A young lady. As Mr. Kennedy, having outgrown most of his boyishness, was
now a young *man.* Her heart--treacherous organ!--had missed a beat when
they entered the box and she had seen that it was indeed he. Was it the new
uniform that made him appear taller and trimmer than he had two years ago? A
commissioned officer at last--she remembered how anxious he had been over
whether he could pass his examination--and how well the lieutenant's
blue-and-white became him! Small wonder if the misses of London found him
irresistible.

But in her eyes, he had always been . . . beautiful. Even when he had been
in the process of breaking her heart. *Especially* then.

*Stop--right there.* She shook her head in vexation, drawing a faint protest
from the maid. Remembering where she was, Medora apologized and resumed her
former stationary position.

*Don't be such a tragedian!* she told herself sternly. * You are no longer
fifteen--and by now you have learned better than to cry for the moon.*

He hadn't meant to break her heart, of course. And it certainly hadn't been
*his* fault that an awkward schoolroom miss had developed a moonstruck i
nfatuation for him, nor that he had been entirely unable to respond as she
wished. At least he hadn't laughed. He had merely tried--a little too
hastily, a little too clumsily--to put some distance between them. That it
had resulted in mortification for both of them was . . . unfortunate. For at
least a fortnight after, she had burned with embarrassment over the memory
and wished very much that she could dislike him. But *knowing* Mr. Kennedy,
remembering also his kindness, his goodness--that wasn't really possible.
And he was dear Margaret's brother, and so tied to the Tresilian family
forever, or as long as he cared to be.

And apparently he *did* care to be. When she had asked if she might write to
him, he had agreed, claimed to be looking forward to hearing of her progress
in music. He had replied to her letters too, in his friendliest manner,
offering encouragement and contributing his own anecdotes about London and
what she might find there. Only a complete fool would scorn a friendship
simply because that was all that was being offered. And whatever her
failings might be, Medora felt fairly sure that she was not a *complete* fool.

On balance, she thought her heart had not been broken so much as bruised,
along with her pride. But whatever the injury had been, it had healed in
timely fashion. And there had been so much else to think about and
discover: the great, sprawling metropolis of London, her studies, even the
admittedly superficial but still diverting pleasures of one's first Season.
And . . . other young men as well, though Mr. Kennedy, with his gentle ways
and easy manners, remained her secret beau ideal.

"Shall I help you out of your gown now, miss?"

Emily again. And it wasn't really a question. Medora obligingly stood up,
let the maid divest her of her evening frock before helping her on with her
nightgown and robe. This, like much else in recent months, was also a new
experience. For most of her life, she had dressed and undressed herself. It
felt odd to stand here and have such things done by someone else now--as if
she had suddenly become nothing more than an oversized doll. Still--it
wouldn't do to tear one's frocks through careless handling, and Emily clearly
knew what she was about.

And it was a very beautiful frock, Medora conceded as the maid carefully
smoothed out the skirts before replacing it in the wardrobe and taking her
leave for the night. Sea-green gauze, trimmed with silver ribbons, worn over
a chemise of white satin--finer than anything she had owned before. Clothes
might not make the woman, but they could certainly lend her confidence. She
had come up to London with several nice new things, sewn by the painstaking
Mistress Trelask in Truro, and enough wherewithal to purchase a few more
elaborate toilettes, if need be, but this gown had been a gift from Lady
Langford, on the occasion of Medora's seventeenth birthday. And as Lady
Langford had impeccable taste, the effect had been all that any young girl
could hope for.

Indeed, a *most* gratifying effect. Cornflower-blue eyes widening, lips
parting in surprise . . . again she experienced that delicious, oddly
exciting realization: he had not recognized her! It had been so like a
fantasy she had entertained as a spurned fifteen-year-old that she had
briefly succumbed to temptation and indulged herself, for just one moment.

For which, she admitted ruefully, she was now paying with a belated attack of
conscience. She had never attempted to tease Mr. Kennedy before--though
their previous interactions had been light and friendly for the most part--so
she had had no idea how he would react. Perhaps with a smile, or a rueful
laugh, maybe with a temporary flash of pique . . . she had *not* expected him
to look--slightly hurt. Oh, dear--she did not want that at all. She owed
him--and Margaret, of course--far too much. While Margaret's letter to Lord
Langford had set in motion the plan to send Medora to London, it had been Mr.
Kennedy's idea that the earl, rather than his countess, who should propose
the plan to Edward, Medora's eldest brother and guardian.

Seating herself once more at the dressing table, Medora found herself
smiling, albeit a little wickedly, at the memory. The plan had succeeded
brilliantly, much to the vexation of Fanny, Edward's wife and Medora's other
legal guardian, who seemed to take a perverse pleasure in squelching any
scheme she had not conceived of herself. Medora's smile widened into an
unrepentant grin. Her sister-in-law's patrician nose had been conspicuously
out of joint for weeks after she had returned from Bath and discovered the
course of Medora's further education had already been decided without her.

It had been in the first intoxicating flush of impending freedom from Fanny
that Medora had taken up her pen to thank Mr. Kennedy for his efforts on her
behalf. Initially, she had wrestled with the ghost of lingering
embarrassment--the first three drafts of her letter had finished in the fire
and even the final version had begun somewhat stiltedly--but then, by dipping
her quill into the memories along with the ink, she had found the words and
the tone she sought. And there was much to remember that was good: the easy,
unforced camaraderie of their earlier friendship, the way in which Mr.
Kennedy entered so wholeheartedly into the concerns of her family, steeped
in sadness over the loss of Hugh--her brother and Margaret's husband--in a
mining accident. Even Keverne, the Tresilian home for generations, had
seemed brighter and warmer for his presence.

She had not expected a reply. According to Margaret, men in the service were
often notoriously lax about writing back--and with one brother in the army
and another in the navy, her sister-in-law was surely in a position to know
such things. So when one had finally arrived, she had been surprised and
pleased. Of course, there was nothing in the letter she could not have
shared with Margaret or, for that matter, with her three-year-old nephew,
Robin--and the tone was undeniably, even discouragingly, fraternal. But that
he had taken the time to write at all was something to be grateful for.

They had continued to exchange letters, perhaps every two or three months,
even after she had gone up to London. Mr. Kennedy had regaled her with tales
of his own adventures in the metropolis, informed her of various diversions
in which a young lady might engage without incurring censure from Society,
then teasingly warned her against *too* much dissipation. On the whole, they
were charming letters and she had kept them all, tied together with a bit of
blue ribbon and stowed at the bottom of her trunk. For her part, she had
written to him of her studies, of her impressions of London as it grew more
familiar to her, and, especially, of the theatre, when she had occasion to
visit it; Mr. Kennedy loved the theatre and attended whenever he could.
However, since she was addressing someone who clearly thought of her as a
younger sister, she adapted her style and subject matter accordingly.
Neither Edward, Henry, or Hugh could have had the *least* interest in hearing
about clothes or preparations for a London Season!

Medora sighed. Brothers. *I have three older brothers--two living. And
dearly as I love them, I DON'T really want another one!* But Mr. Kennedy
seemed uncomfortable with any other sort of association, and she had learned
to accept that.

But might there be another option? Something that would allow them to meet on
a less . . . disparate footing? A friendship--a true friendship, between
equals? She was seventeen now, he was two-and-twenty--the difference between
their ages no longer seemed as great. If she were to put the proposal
before him, would he accept? Always supposing he could forgive her for
teasing him so tonight! She would do her best to make amends to him
tomorrow, when he came to dine.

He would be here tomorrow. *He* would be here tomorrow. She made herself
absorb the thought, all the while studying her face in the glass. The
schooling of the last two years appeared to hold--no sign of apprehension or
inner turmoil disrupted that calm, poised countenance. All was well . . . she
breathed a long, careful sigh--

--and only then noticed that she was gripping her comb so tightly that its
handle left an imprint on her palm.

 

END PART TWO