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 THREE

Every Night & every Morn
Some to Misery are Born.
Every Morn & every Night
Some are Born to sweet delight.
Some are Born to sweet delight,
Some are Born to Endless Night.

--"Auguries of Innocence"

 

"Shall I fetch your own gown now, Miss Cobham?"

Kitty Cobham smiled at the plain, dark, terrifyingly efficient woman standing
at her shoulder. "Yes, thank you, Miss Smith. I do believe we've seen the
last of them--and not before time!"

The dresser permitted herself a faint smile before departing on her errand.
"Indeed, ma'am. I rather thought some meant to linger until *tomorrow's*
performance!"

Kitty laughed, turned back to the mirror, and began to remove the stage paint
from her face. If tonight's had not been the best performance of "Twelfth
Night" in which she had ever participated, it had certainly ranked *among*
the best. And this, in spite of sweltering in her costume for the first act
(during which Olivia wore heavy mourning, including a veil) and feeling
herself at least ten years too old for the part, as well as being oppressed
by a wholly feminine complaint which would dampen the spirits of the most
ebullient actress. Kitty had never felt herself so much in sympathy with
Olivia's irritable protest, "'Tis not that time of moon with me to make one
in so skipping a dialogue'" as she had before her entrance. Then she had
spoken her first line in the play--and suddenly, misgivings and discomforts
had become . . . unimportant. Magic had taken over.

Not that the performance had been completely error-free. During the "yellow
stockings and cross-garters" scene, Mr. Mangrove--as Malvolio--had made a
few slips, of which he was thoroughly ashamed. Youth and relative
inexperience had been to blame, and Kitty had promised to spend the following
afternoon running lines with the young man so he would be word-perfect for
the next performance. Other than that, however, there had been little with
which to find fault, and the enthusiastic applause at the final curtain had
attested to that fact. Kitty's own euphoria had followed her off the stage
and remained with her throughout the visits from various admirers. Only now
was it beginning to subside: she found herself a little tired and more than
a little hungry. Neither of her patrons--with whom she might have shared a
late supper this evening--was in town this week, so she would sup alone. A
coffee-house, perhaps? She knew of several good ones within walking distance
of the theatre, and after all these years, she had little to fear from the
more unsavory denizens of Drury Lane.

A knock on the door roused her from her thoughts and she barely stifled the
oath that rose to her lips. Another one? Well, she'd just have to send him
away--or better yet, allow him to think she had already departed for the
night.

Then, unexpectedly, a light, clear, oddly familiar voice launched itself into
recitative:

"'Make me a willow cabin at your gate,
And call upon my soul within the house;
Write loyal cantons of contemnéd love,
And sing them loud even in the dead of night;
Halloo your name to the reverberate hills,
And make the babbling gossip of the air cry out--'"

"Archie!" expostulated another, deeper voice--this one unmistakably
familiar. Kitty's hand flew to her mouth in astonished recognition. A quick
glance in the mirror assured her that most of her paint had been removed; she
wiped the rest of it away on a strip of toweling, gathered her robe more
closely around her, and rose to greet her newest visitors.

"No, no, not 'Archie,' Horatio, 'Olivia,'" the first speaker was explaining
patiently but broke off when she opened the door.

For a moment they all stood there, staring at each other: a celebrated Drury
Lane actress and two young naval officers--one compact, fair, and blue-eyed,
the other tall, even lanky, with coffee-dark hair and eyes. Then, suddenly,
the tension burst like a bubble and they broke into simultaneous broad grins.

Kitty held out her hands to both men. "Mr. Hornblower, Mr. Kennedy--what a
delightful surprise! Won't you come in?"

They obeyed with alacrity, following her into the dressing room. How very
grown-up they looked, she thought, studying them covertly as they entered.
Three years ago--had it truly been so long as that?--it had been quite
different: then, both had been "in standing water, between boy and man."
Although--Kitty permitted herself a private smile--Horatio had later proven
himself very much a man in certain matters. Even now the memory of that lean,
ardent young body pressed against hers was startlingly sweet and poignant.

*And best left in the past,* she told herself firmly. Time had not stood
still for any of them. For all she knew, he might have a young lady in
Portugal, or Gibraltar, or even here, in England. Tall, handsome, more
self-assured than he had been . . . what could be more natural than his
having a sweetheart closer to his own age? That *she* continued to find him
devastatingly attractive was entirely her own problem. *Concentrate on the
present, Kitty.*

"So--what brings you gentlemen to London?" she inquired, motioning them
towards a pair of chairs in a tacit invitation.

Mr. Kennedy, now wearing the uniform of a commissioned lieutenant, straddled
one of the chairs and favored her with a droll smile. "Well, to be perfectly
honest, Miss Cobham--the measles!"

"The measles?"

"Archie." Hornblower directed a quelling glance at his friend, then
explained, "We were visiting my father until we learned of a measles outbreak
in the village. I'd never had them, so Father thought it best that we clear
off for the time being."

"And what better place to 'clear off' to than London?" Kennedy finished with
a grin. "It was our good fortune to meet friends who invited us to the
theatre tonight."

"Ah! Did you enjoy the performance?"

Kennedy nodded vigorously. "It was excellent, I thought."

"Indeed." Hornblower sounded a little surprised. "I confess, I had not
expected to enjoy a comedy so much."

"Well, 'Twelfth Night' is considered one of Shakespeare's *best* comedies,"
Kitty pointed out, then sighed wistfully. "I only regret that I am no longer
suited to 'breeches parts'!"

"Not suited?" Hornblower frowned, bewildered. "But surely you must have been
an excellent Viola, in your time!"

Kitty raised her brows. "In my time, Mr. Aitch?"

His eyes widened in consternation as he registered the implications of his
remark, then he flushed exactly like the boy he had been. "I beg your pardon,
ma'am! What I meant to say was--"

"Was that Viola is still half a child," Kennedy interposed smoothly. "So she
can masquerade as a boy. *Olivia,* on the other hand, is all a woman--and in
her prime!"

Kitty threw back her head and laughed. "An excellent recovery, Mr. Kennedy!
And cheer up, Mr Hornblower," she added. "I'm far too pleased by your
presence here to consign you to my black books!"

Recovering some of his equanimity, he returned her smile. "I'm relieved to
hear it, ma'am. And what Archie says is perfectly true--you were well-suited
to the part and your performance was . . . regal."

Well-satisfied, Kitty inclined her head and sat down again at her dressing
table. "I own I had my doubts when I was first cast in the role. I thought
Mr. Sheridan had me in mind for Maria, instead. Not that that would have
been so terrible--'Twelfth Night' has three splendid parts for women." A hint
of mischief crept into her expression. "And I didn't have to compete with
Mrs. Siddons, either!"

Hornblower looked blank.

"Sarah Siddons?" she prompted gently. "The reigning queen of Drury Lane?"

"London's leading tragic actress, Horatio," Kennedy supplied. "Her Lady
Macbeth sets the standard, though I've always thought your portrayal compares
quite favorably to hers," he added, smiling at Kitty.

She smiled back. "High praise, indeed! Of course, Mrs. Siddons always gets
first pick when we put on the tragedies; fortunately for me, she refuses to
play comic parts anymore."

"Comedy doesn't appear to be Mr. Kemble's chosen métier, either," Kennedy
remarked.

"No, none of that family seems to have produced a notable comedian yet.
Although the younger brother, Mr. Charles Kemble, might do well enough once
he grows out of his awkwardness. He was cover for Sir Andrew Aguecheek last
week, when Mr. Bramley was ill--" she broke off, noticing the slightly
befuddled expression on Horatio's face. "I do beg your pardon, Mr.
Hornblower! I'm afraid actors love nothing better than to talk of themselves
or the stage!"

"Perfectly understandable, ma'am," he said valiantly. "No doubt officers are
much the same, when speaking of the service."

"Worse, actually," Kennedy murmured, entirely impervious to his friend's
reproving glower.

"Nevertheless," Kitty continued, ignoring the previous exchange, "I don't
wish to monopolize the conversation. Indeed, I should be delighted to hear
what both of you have been up to in the last three years." She gave them her
most winning smile. "Would you do me the honor of joining me for supper?"

*****

Morning. Horatio blinked awake, lay lapped in comfort a moment longer, then
stretched luxuriously, marveling at the restorative properties of sleep. The
muscles of his right leg still twinged but the healing wounds did not ache
nearly as much as they had yesterday.

A faint stirring in the bed reminded him he was not alone. Smiling, Horatio
turned on his side, ran a caressing hand down the silken flank of the female
stretched out beside him. "Well, Kitty--how did *you* pass the night?"

Crystal-blue eyes blinked drowsily up at him, while the tufted ears twitched.
"Mmrrow?"

"Now what sort of answer is that?" Cradling his head in the crook of one arm,
Horatio stroked the innkeeper's cat with his free hand until her rich purr
filled the air. Snowdrop--predictably named for her white coat--had glided
into his and Archie's room while they were at last settling down for the
night and promptly ensconced herself on Horatio's bed.

Typically, Archie had found this occurrence vastly amusing. "You see, H
oratio? None of the women can resist you!" Dodging the pillow flung at him
by his exasperated friend, Kennedy had rolled over with a chuckle and
promptly gone to sleep. Or appeared to, which amounted to the same thing.

None of the women can resist *me*? Horatio shook his head in disbelief;
clearly *one* woman could--and had, if Kitty Cobham's demeanor was any
indication. Friendly and open she had certainly been when they visited her
after the performance, but she had so far displayed no sign of any deeper
interest--not in him as a man.

Of course, he should know better than to presume upon acquaintance. And
truly, he had not come to her door with any expectations beyond seeing an old
friend, perhaps talking over old--and new--times. But neither had he
forgotten what had passed between them three years ago. The shadows of El
Ferrol, the ghosts of Muzillac . . . both had been purged during that brief,
sweet interlude when they had found comfort, even joy, in each other's arms.
The following morning, they had parted with affection and without regrets.
As for the future . . . well, she had told him that they would know, when
they met again, whether it would be *right* for them to be together, in that
way.

Now that that moment had, in fact, arrived, Horatio was forced to admit that
he knew nothing of the kind! Nor could he discern Kitty's own
inclination--whether she desired only friendship from him or something . . .
a little deeper. Consummate actress that she was, there was no telling what
she might be hiding behind that polished mask of manners. After they had
escorted her home, she had expressed a wish to see them again, even inviting
them to take tea with her the day after next. But as before, this was no
private rendezvous that she intended.

Inevitably, his thoughts turned to last night's supper party. And indeed, it
*had* been rather like a party--gay, convivial, even exhilarating, spiced
with good food and lively conversation. Horatio could not remember when he
had last talked or laughed as much. Towards the end, he had felt almost
*drunk*, despite having had no more than his limit of two glasses of wine.

Talk had ranged over topics too numerous to count--last year's battle with
the Droits de l'Homme, the Indy's most recent engagement with the French
corvette, politics, poetry, plays in which Kitty had acted, plays which
Archie had seen, the craft of acting itself--and how necessary it was, not
merely on the stage but in other walks of life. Those subjects were all
Horatio could remember at present, and he knew there had been more. Kitty had
been at her most animated and attentive, while Archie . . . had been
practically *effervescent.*

Horatio shook his head at the memory. He had seen Archie in high spirits,
even *tearing* high spirits, before, and he did not doubt that his friend had
sincerely enjoyed the events of the previous night. All the same, there had
been almost an *exaggerated* quality to his gaiety--as if it were being
partly used to conceal something else. Kitty, Hornblower suspected, had
noticed nothing untoward, but a man who had been Archie Kennedy's friend for
most of five years might be in a better position to assess his demeanor.

Frowning, Horatio glanced over at the neighboring bed, seeing tumbled sheets
and blankets, but no sign of the occupant himself. *Perhaps he's gone down
to breakfast--or to the privy.* Odd that he wouldn't say anything, though.
On the other hand, he amended hastily, it was not as if Archie required his
permission to attend to a call of nature!

A brisk step in the passage and a cheerful whistle hailed the return of his
missing shipmate. Seconds later, the door opened and Archie stepped over the
threshhold, lugging a can of hot water with him.

"Morning, H'ratio," Kennedy greeted him with what appeared to be his usual
buoyancy. "I see that you and your charming guest are finally awake. I've
brought shaving water for us both," he added, indicating the can.

Hornblower absently murmured his thanks, still stroking Snowdrop's stomach
and watching his friend closely. "Did you sleep well, Archie?"

"Like a babe in arms." Kennedy's bright grin flashed as he emptied some of
the water into a washbasin. "I think we should wash and breakfast as soon as
possible, don't you? The smells from the kitchen are simply wonderful, and
I'm hungry enough to eat a bear." Reaching for the shaving soap, he began to
mix up a rich lather.

Considering the matter, Horatio discovered that he was hungry too. "What
about your sister's?"

"Hm?" Archie paused in the process of applying the shaving brush to his face.
"Oh, well, that's not for several hours yet. We'll be more than ready to dine
by three o'clock."

"That's not what I meant." Horatio propped himself on one elbow, gazed
earnestly up at his shipmate. "I meant, do you still want to go? If it will
make you uncomfortable--"

Blue eyes widened in astonishment over cheeks speckled with suds. "Good God,
Horatio--why should it?"

"Well, it's been several years since you've seen Lady Langford--and you did
imply that matters did not go smoothly then."

"Oh." Archie deftly scraped soap and stubble away from one side of his face
with his razor before replying further. "True enough--but that was still some
time ago, and much has changed." He grinned, then tackled the other side of
his face. "For all her complaints about my infrequent letters, Alice and I
*have* been in correspondence, so I do feel that I know her somewhat better
now than I did before."

"And the *other* lady with whom you have been 'in correspondence'?"

"Who, Medora?" A brief, unreadable flicker behind the blue eyes, followed by
an equally inscrutable shrug. "I was a little taken aback, that's all." His
mouth compressed momentarily before resuming its usual configuration. "She
*has* grown up considerably--so perhaps I shouldn't begrudge her a bit of fun
at my expense. But I don't doubt we'll be on easy terms again, soon enough."

Horatio's brow creased dubiously. "Are you certain of that?"

"Of course." Archie wiped away the last traces of soap. "She's my young
friend from Cornwall, after all. The same person she always was. Now, Mr.
Hornblower, I suggest you avail yourself of this shaving-water while it's
still hot!"

*****

*****

"Medora? Medora! Oh, do wake up--this is important! Medora!"

The imperious young voice finally penetrated the layers of sleep, like a
knife cutting through cobwebs. Not an entirely agreeable sensation, Medora
thought, fighting her way back up to consciousness. A spasm in her neck made
her groan; opening bleary eyes, she discovered that she had fallen asleep
over her exercise book again, one arm flung across the pages. A frantic
glance reassured her that she had at least remembered to place the inkpot and
quill on the night table before sleep had overtaken her. Emily had been full
of reproaches the last time, over the inkblots left on the sheets, although
Lady Langford had taken the small accident completely in stride.

Placing a hand behind her neck to ease the stiffness, Medora rolled over onto
her back and thence to a sitting position, the better to receive her visitor:
a dainty blonde girl in a day-dress of primrose muslin with a brown velvet
sash. "Georgy?" she inquired hazily. "What--what's going on?"

Lady Georgiana Harrow, perching at the foot of Medora's bed, rolled her brown
eyes comically. "'What's going on?' she asks. My dear, *have* you forgotten
about dinner? And those two simply divine young officers who will be joining
us today?"

Medora felt herself flushing, quickly scrubbed at her face with her hands to
conceal the worst of it. "I assure you, I have forgotten nothing. Indeed, I
am quite looking forward to this afternoon."

Georgy darted a sidelong glance at her. "You did not tell me that Mr.
Kennedy was so handsome."

"Didn't I?" Medora kept her tone light and evasive. "Well, he is Lady
Langford's brother, though I think he resembles Margaret more closely. But
good looks seem to run in that family."

"True enough," Georgy agreed. "Although I think Mr. Hornblower is just as
handsome in his way."

"Mm." Medora thought back to the previous night's encounter. Mr. Hornblower
had often figured in Mr. Kennedy's letters--she felt slightly embarrassed now
to recall that, intent on Mr. Kennedy, she had paid his companion little
heed. Even so, a part of her mind had noted the tall, dark young man in
uniform; yes, many women would consider Mr. Hornblower's looks quite
arresting.

"Somehow, one doesn't think of sailors being good-looking, at least not in
the way *redcoats* are," Georgy remarked, then giggled suddenly. "Perhaps
it's because they spend so much time being beaten by the elements--like their
ships!"

"' 'Tis in grain, sir, 'twill endure wind and weather,'" Medora murmured,
half to herself. Aloud, she said, "Some women have been known to prefer men
who have that *seasoned* look. And a man who actually does something for a
living can be much more interesting than one who does *nothing*!"

"I would not disagree with you there. I imagine our guests will have far more
exciting things to discuss than fashion and Society gossip." Georgy's
rosebud mouth quivered into a mischievous smile. "Shall we flirt with them?"

"Georgy!" Despite herself, Medora began to laugh. "You're incorrigible!"

"Pooh!" Georgy tossed her fair curls. "No one boggles if a *man* acquires
additional . . . experiences before landing in the parson's mousetrap. I'm
not proposing we join the muslin company, but why should not a lady have the
opportunity to meet and *sample*--within acceptable limits, of course--as
many young men as possible, before 'dwindling into a wife'?"

"When you put it that way, it sounds harmless enough," Medora conceded. "But
I should still--tread carefully with our guests. I believe Mr. Kennedy
mentioned that Mr. Hornblower was rather shy." And Mr. Kennedy himself, a
voice in her head observed tartly, could be as thick as two planks! Medora
shook her head to silence that voice and changed the subject. "I really
should get up. What time is it?"

"Half-past nine."

Medora's eyes widened. "Heavens!"

"I wondered that you were not up before me, as usual."

"Oh," she grimaced slightly, "I could not fall asleep directly, so I sat up
for a while last night."

"Composing in bed again." Georgy deciphered without difficulty.

Medora flushed. "Well . . . yes. I enjoyed all the performances in the play,
but was not the music a trifle--bland?"

Georgy, herself an accomplished harpist with a good soprano voice, considered
the question. "I admit, I was too busy admiring Mr. Baring's profile to pay
much heed to the songs. But--they did strike me as . . . little more than
adequate. But then one attends a performance of Shakespeare to hear *his*
words, does not one?"

"Yes, but good music can only enhance a good play," Medora argued. "And
'Twelfth Night' is one of Shakespeare's loveliest--and most lyrical--works.
Surely it deserved better than such indifferent arrangements."

Georgy glanced at the exercise book, still lying open on the bed. "So that
is what you were writing? New music for 'Twelfth Night'?"

Medora nodded. "I've started with 'O, Mistress Mine.'"

"Shall you show it to Signior Rossini, when he comes tomorrow?"

"If it's finished by then. I fell asleep in the middle, though." Medora
glanced worriedly at the exercise book. "I do hope I haven't smudged the
page."

"Well, if you have , it's no great matter," Georgy pointed out with a gurgle
of laughter. "He could always read the notes off the inside of your arm!"

"What?'' Medora glanced at her left forearm and promptly exploded out of bed
with one of Henry's choicer oaths on her lips.

Georgy, endowed with two older brothers herself, did not so much as turn a
hair. "It could be worse. You could have fallen asleep with your cheek on
the page instead." She giggled. "Fancy having a line of musical notes down
one side of your face! It could start a new fashion!"

Medora gave her a withering look as she scrubbed away at her arm before the
washbasin. "You are *not* being helpful!"

Georgy dimpled. "I'll ring for your maid. Would that be helpful enough?"

*****

After several exclamations and expostulations--to which Medora submitted
meekly--Emily recommended a bath and set off to have one prepared. Her sniff
as she left the room revealed all too well her opinion of young ladies who
sat up at night, scribbling away at heaven only knew what, instead of going
to sleep like proper Christian souls.

Medora smiled wryly at her friend. "Just as well I was planning to wash, in
any case."

"Indeed. I had a bath myself, when I first got up. What are you going to wear
at dinner? I can't decide between my lavender mull or my pomona-green
crape."'

"Oh!" Medora tried to recall the contents of her wardrobe and came up empty.
"I--hadn't thought about that yet."

"There's that peach satin. Or the primrose sarsenet?"

Medora glanced ruefully at her arm. "Which of them has longer sleeves?"

"Doesn't matter--you'll be wearing gloves," Georgy reminded her.

"That's right," Medora acknowledged with a brief, grateful nod.
"Perhaps--the sarsenet. And Mama's pearls."

"Excellent choice," Georgy approved. "And whatever I wear, we shan't clash!"
She slid off the bed. "I'll leave you to bathe, then. And I mean to
contrive a closer look at our guests before dinner--somehow."

"Oh?" Medora raised questioning brows. "How do you plan to do that?"

"I haven't yet determined." A mischievous, dimpled smile. "But I am sure to
think of something, given time!" Still smiling, she flitted from the room.

It was all very well for Georgy, Medora thought, a little enviously.
Heart-whole and fancy-free, with a blithe disregard for the opinions of those
she considered her inferiors. Similarly, she could afford to indulge her
curiosity about two attractive naval officers, without in the least caring
what they thought of her. If Lieutenants Hornblower and Kennedy proved
indifferent to Lady Georgiana's considerable charms, there would be other
young men with whom she might flirt and amuse herself.

Georgy had . . . nothing to lose. The same could not be said of Medora.
Whatever the temptation, she found she shrank from the actual prospect of
being caught lingering downstairs when Mr. Kennedy and his friend arrived.
She desired his respect, as well as his friendship, which meant that she must
not, for all the world, embarrass him or herself with behavior such as she
had displayed two years ago. No sighing, pining, ogling, nor hanging
half-out the window like a hoyden, waiting for him to come up the street!

Although . . . her bedroom window *did* provide a fine view of the juncture
between Park Lane and Grosvenor Street. If she were simply to leave the
curtain drawn a little aside, letting a bit of light into the room--what
could anyone have to say to that? And if she were to be seated before that
window, perhaps reading a book or working on her latest composition, say,
between half-past-two and three o' clock, and just *chanced* to see their
dinner guests arriving--well, surely that would be unexceptionable too.
Wouldn't it?

Crossing to the window, she twitched a fold of the curtain aside, glanced
casually up and down the lane. Not bad--not bad at all.

A knock heralded the arrival of the bath. Smiling to herself, Medora went to
open the door.

 

END PART THREE