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Innocence and Experience
by Pam

Sequel to Children of One Family

 

Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour . . .

--"Auguries of Innocence"

 

PART FOUR

 

"Do I look all right?" Horatio appealed to his friend as they alighted from
their sedan chairs just outside of Langford House.

Archie smothered a grin and made a great show of studying his shipmate, proud
but self-conscious in his new uniform. "I assure you, Mr. Hornblower, there
is nothing in your appearance or your manner to give one a disgust of you . .
. I think."

Horatio glowered at him. "*Thank* you, Mr. Kennedy! What would I ever do
without you?"

Archie did not even try to hide his amusement this time. "I shudder to think,
" he retorted cheerfully, then, glancing towards the house, he felt a little
of that cheerfulness evaporate, to be replaced by apprehension.

In this respect, he and Horatio were entirely in sympathy. Hornblower's brown
eyes widened as he took in the full impact of Langford House. "Your sister
lives *here*?"

"Indeed. Charming little place, isn't it?" Archie replied, with a lightness
he did not quite feel.

Although Alice had claimed that the Langfords' London residence was not to be
compared with either Lansdowne House in Berkeley Square or Devonshire House
in Piccadilly, the mansion was an impressive structure nonetheless: Georgian,
gracious, and beautifully proportioned, with its own grounds and gardens, and
front bedrooms that afforded splendid views of Hyde Park. Several noted
architects had had the planning of it, including the late Robert Adam, but
the result was entirely pleasing and harmonious. Three years ago, Archie
himself had been overawed by his first sight of the place, and even now, the
sheer scope of it was startling.

Well, in for a penny . . . straightening his own new uniform, he drew himself
up to his full height and smiled reassuringly at his friend. "Come,
Horatio--they're expecting us. Even if we *are* a trifle early," he added
with a grin. Hornblower had insisted on their arriving at exactly three
o'clock, refusing to credit Kennedy's suggestion that it was actually more
the accepted thing to appear some fifteen minutes late. Nothing like a Navy
man for punctuality!

The Langfords' butler--Soames, Archie remembered, was the man's name--opened
the door to his mistress's guests, escorted them upstairs to an elegant
drawing-room, announced their arrival, then withdrew with the smooth
unobtrusiveness that characterized the best servants.

Three people were already assembled in the drawing-room--a tall dark-haired
man with regular features whom Archie recognized as his brother-in-law, a
slightly shorter man very similar in appearance to the earl, and Alice.
Exquisite in palest blue crape, his sister rose from her divan to greet them.
"Archie, Mr. Hornblower, I am delighted that you could join us today!"

Archie kissed her proffered, delicately perfumed cheek. "We would hardly have
dared to refuse!"

"Fustian, dearest!" She returned his salute. "Society may have its
dragons--myself included--but they must appear paltry things to a king's
officer!"

"Depends on the officer!"

Alice shook her head at him and turned to Horatio, who bowed punctiliously
over her hand. "Welcome to Langford House, Lieutenant Hornblower. Archie,
you remember my husband, the Earl of Langford?"

"Indeed." Archie and his brother-in-law exchanged cordial nods.

"And this is his brother, Captain Marcus Harrow."

Another exchange of nods--Archie just managed not to react when he noticed
the captain's empty left sleeve, and hoped Horatio had similar control over
his own expression.

"Won't you sit down?" Alice invited, indicating the nearest sofa. "You are
much the first of our guests--and I fear we may have a slightly longer wait
than we anticipated, for dinner. Philippe, our chef, is proving somewhat
temperamental today."

"An understatement, if ever there was one, " her husband remarked, with a wry
smile. "If you value your life, my dear, I advise you to stay away from the
kitchen at present." He crossed to a side table. "Might I offer you a glass
of canary, gentlemen?"

Somewhat hesitantly, Archie and Horatio accepted. As Langford poured out the d
rinks, Alice again addressed her guests. "You mentioned that you had just
arrived in London yesterday. Where are you staying?"

"We've taken rooms at the Red Lion Inn," Archie supplied.

"An inn?" His sister's eyes widened. "But we've so much room here, at
Langford House, and you know we would love to have you!"

Archie felt himself flushing. "We did not wish to impose--"

"Nonsense! You must come and stay with us, *both* of you." A determined lift
of her dainty chin. "I simply won't hear of anything else!"

Archie groaned inwardly. Oh, God, another managing woman--his entire family
was full of them!

Lord Langford came around the table to hand the younger men their drinks. "I
advise you to strike your colors now, gentlemen," he remarked, not without
sympathy. "My wife is a seasoned--and currently undefeated--campaigner.
Nonetheless," he added, "she is perfectly right. We would be most glad if you
would stay with us, for however long you are in London."

Archie hesitated, glancing at Horatio, but his friend's face was carefully
shuttered, giving away nothing. Kennedy would have to decide for both of
them--a rare situation!

Common sense, at this point, nudged Archie sharply in the ribs. However
maddening he found his sister's habit of taking charge, it would be easier on
both him *and* Horatio, financially, to stay here. And then there were . . .
certain other matters to consider too. Hadn't Dr. Sebastian suggested, a
few years ago, that he continue to pursue a better relationship with such
family members who were themselves willing to make the same attempt? His
last meeting with Alice had ended uncomfortably, neither entirely
understanding the other. But that had been three years ago--what if things
were different? Surely it was worth staying, just to find that out.

"Very well," he conceded at last, and sensed Horatio relaxing--just a
little--beside him. "We accept your invitation. Only . . . are you sure we
will not be putting anyone else out?"

"Heavens, no!" Alice exclaimed, smiling. "I daresay, we could accommodate an
entire regiment without difficulty!"

The idea of Langford House as a possible barracks made Archie blink. Captain
Harrow, he noticed, was concealing a wry smile behind his own glass of canary.

"It's decided, then, " the countess continued. "You could move in this very
evening, if you like."

"We've already paid our reckoning at the Red Lion through tonight," Archie
demurred. "Why don't we move in tomorrow morning, instead?"

Blue eyes locked with blue eyes, then the countess relented, as though,
having won the war, she could afford to lose a minor skirmish. "Tomorrow
morning, then--but I shall expect you after breakfast! Georgiana," this last
without any noticeable change of inflection, "do stop lurking in the hall
like an ancestral shade. Come in, if you must."

A faint gasp, followed by a soft spurt of resigned laughter, greeted this
remark, then Lady Georgiana Harrow appeared in the doorway, a sketchbook in
her hand and an expression of bland innocence on her lovely face. "You must
forgive me." She favored her sister-in-law and the rest of the room with a
winning look. "I was drawing in the conservatory and quite forgot the time.
You know how it is when one is so preoccupied with one's pursuits!"

"That rather depends," Lady Langford said sternly, "on exactly *what* one is
pursuing!"

Her protege's pansy-brown eyes widened ingenuously. "Whatever do you mean,
Alice?"

Butter wouldn't melt, Archie thought, amusement mingling with admiration. But
despite her patent air of feigned innocence, Lady Georgiana really was a very
pretty girl. And her primrose dress, sashed in dark brown, echoed her unusual
coloring--the flaxen curls and dark eyes. Horatio, he observed, was
regarding her appreciatively too.

Lady Langford sighed. "Never mind. I think you'd best go and change for
dinner. And tell Medora to make ready as well."

"Of course." Lady Georgiana smiled sweetly upon those assembled. "Your
pardon, gentlemen?" She flitted off, with the winging delicacy of a
butterfly.

The countess sighed again. "What *am* I to do with that girl?"

The earl shook his head with a rueful smile. "I'm afraid spanking is no
longer an option, my dear!"

Just then, Soames stepped into the room. "Lord and Lady Edrington," he
announced sonorously.

*****

"I saw them!" Georgiana reported triumphantly, sweeping into the room in a
swirl of pomona-green crape. "And they're even better-looking by day!"

"Indeed." Medora, fastening her mother's pearls around her throat, was at her
most demure. Seated by her window at the appointed hour, she too had managed
a glimpse of a certain pair of naval officers--but there was no need to spoil
Georgy's fun.

"But the *best* news is yet to come!" Georgy's voice dropped to a
conspiratorial near-whisper. "Alice has invited them to stay here, at
Langford House--and they've accepted!"

The necklace's clasp slipped through Medora's fingers. "Drat!" Bowing her
head to hide a suddenly flushed face, she concentrated on securing the
pearls, refusing to look up until they were in place and she was mistress of
herself once more. "Well," she ventured at last, her voice only slightly
breathless, "where else *would* they stay? Mr. Kennedy is Lady Langford's
brother, after all, and Mr. Hornblower is his closest friend."

Georgy pouted. "Well, you might sound a *little* more excited about it! To
have two such handsome fellows staying under our roof? You must admit, this
has been a plaguey dull season so far, at least where young men are
concerned."

"True," Medora agreed with deceptive gravity, "this year's crop of sprigs has
left something to be desired."

"*Everything* to be desired!" Georgy corrected, with another grimace. "And
dear Mama hopes I may choose a husband from among them? Pooh, I'd rather be
an ape-leader!"

Medora hid a smile, as she reached for her bottle of scent. She knew all
about Georgy's clashes with her "dear Mama." Under the circumstances, it was
perhaps just as well that the Dowager Countess of Langford was staying with
her elder daughter, Charlotte, soon to be confined with her second child, and
had left her youngest daughter's London season in the capable hands of her
son's wife. Georgy, certainly, had hailed the news that she was to come out
under the aegis of her stylish sister-in-law with jubilation.

And certainly Lady Langford had been an invaluable guide to London society
and the ways of the ton, Medora conceded. She owed the countess so very much
. . . it would not do to dwell too wistfully on how lovely it might have been
to have *her* mother here. Could Mama see her now? Papa? If it were true
that the spirits of the departed sometimes returned to the world of the
living, might they be with her at this moment? And did they know, even
better than she did, what was in her heart?

Dismissing the thought as pure fancy, Medora unstoppered the bottle and
dabbed scent just behind her ears, then at the pulses of her wrists and
throat. Rosewater, of course. Oh, she had experimented with other perfumes
once she was out, but time and again, she returned to the one her mother had
loved. Perhaps it was because of the memories the scent evoked: of sitting
on Mama's bed as a young child, watching her dress for parties and balls,
marveling as the abigail applied cosmetics--very sparingly--to my lady's
face, then brushed, coiled, and even, on one occasion, powdered the shining
wheat-blonde hair into the more elaborate coiffures of the time.

*Shall I do you credit, Mama?* Medora wondered, gazing into the mirror. *I
am not fair like you.* Still, on consideration, her reflection did not
altogether displease her. All but the slightest quantities of powder and
rouge were forbidden her, as a young lady in her first season, but her skin
was clear, her color good, her teeth white and even when she smiled. Emily
had dressed her dark hair high and smooth--first, in an elegant knot at the
crown of her head, secured with an ivory comb, then the rest of it falling in
soft curls to just above the clean-swept nape of her neck. The curls would
doubtless be going straight by supper, Medora suspected, but by then she
could just wear her hair in braids or its usual chignon. Oh, for natural
ringlets, though, like Georgy's, artfully tousled under a bandeau of green
silk.

"I do like that frock on you." Her friend's voice interrupted her thoughts.
"Are you *sure* it wasn't made in London?"

Medora laughed, and began to pull on her elbow-length gloves; this morning's
bath had removed the worst of the ink stains but the gloves would conceal
any last trace of them. "As someone who endured an interminable number of
fittings for this gown, I assure you that it is entirely the handiwork of
Mistress Trelask!" The Truro seamstress whose establishment the Tresilian
women had long patronized was known for her meticulous attention to cut, fit,
and--once she had been apprised of the latest fashions--style. No London
modiste could have taken greater pains, and Medora had been well-pleased with
her purchases.

"I see I shall have to call upon the lady, if I ever visit you in Cornwall."

"Of course. Though I should warn you--her shop is a far cry from Bond
Street!" Rising to her feet, Medora shook out the skirts of her gown, taking
comfort from the knowledge that she looked well. Yellow could be a difficult
shade to wear if one were dark; last year, as a birthday present from Fanny,
she had received a lemon-colored muslin frock, against which her olive
complexion had violently revolted. Thank goodness she had outgrown it
quickly! But the tint of *this* gown was softer--the creamy hue of newly
opened primroses--and much more becoming. High-waisted, of course, with
short puff sleeves and a skirt falling in slim, straight lines to the
ankles--though Mistress Trelask had added a few individual touches, including
a scalloped neckline intended to accentuate the curve of a lady's bosom while
concealing just enough for decency's sake. The result was quite flattering,
but, on balance, Medora was thankful that her mother's double strand of
pearls would fill in some of the expanse of bare skin. New slippers dyed to
match her gown, an ivory fan, a dainty reticule holding a few
essentials--what more did she need to give her confidence?

"Ready?" Georgy inquired brightly, smoothing her own skirts.

*As I'll ever be,* Medora thought. Aloud, she murmured a polite affirmative
and followed her friend to the door.

*****

*****

More guests had arrived--and Alice was circling the room, blithely making
introductions. In addition to the Edringtons, there were a Lord and Lady
Halstead, recently married and just returned from their wedding trip. With
the couple had come two younger sisters, the Honorable Miss Halstead and Miss
Letitia Pearson. Then a last-minute addition--a Lieutenant MacLeod whom
Captain Harrow had encountered just that afternoon at his club; the two men
had served together in Flanders.

As it turned out, Edrington too had been in Flanders, during the last months
of that ill-managed campaign. (That would have been just before Muzillac and
Quiberon Bay, Archie remembered). Naturally enough, the three army men
gravitated towards each other and were soon deep in conversation.

Meanwhile, Miss Halstead, a tall, striking redhead, had noticed Horatio and
was doing her best to draw him out. Archie attempted to do the same with
Miss Pearson, a bashful, mousy-haired damsel of perhaps sixteen, but found it
heavy going. Though not a bad-looking girl, Miss Pearson seemed to have
little to say for herself; she was also much given to blushing, stammering,
and lapsing into awkward silences. Archie stifled a sigh as his latest
conversational gambit fell flat. Even Medora, at fifteen, had had more
countenance than this!

Speaking of whom . . . half-unwillingly, he scanned the room. Surely she and
Lady Georgiana would be making an appearance shortly. In spite of last
night's maddening encounter, he had to admit he was rather looking forward to
seeing her again. And, of course, now that he knew what to expect, surely he
would not be taken aback when he next laid eyes upon her.

How long had it been since her last letter--three months? Yes, she had
written to him in March, just before her birthday and departure for London.
Odd, that--he hadn't realized he had been keeping track . . .

Then a vivid gleam of apple-green at the corner of his eye caught his
attention . . . and they were there, framed in the doorway: the fair Geo
rgiana and her taller, darker companion. In the next instant, grey
eyes--familiar and strange at once--met his across the crowded room.

A curious jolt, almost like an electrical charge, flashed between them. To
his annoyance, Archie found that his mouth was dry, his palms slightly damp.
He swallowed impatiently and made himself smile in her general direction.
Fine feathers--that was all. He had hardly ever seen his young friend in
anything but the sober hues and heavy fabrics of deep mourning. What lady did
*not* look her best when rigged out in the first stare of elegance? Primrose
yellow was obviously very becoming to Medora . . . though, perhaps, it was a
little strange that seeing Georgiana in that exact same color had not
affected him in quite this way.

*****

Conversation continued a few minutes longer, as Lady Langford introduced her
two proteges to whomever had not made their acquaintance before. Rather to
Archie's relief, Lady Halstead reclaimed her younger sister, along with Miss
Halstead, for that purpose, leaving the two shipmates alone.

"Enjoying yourself, Horatio?"

"I . . . *think* so," his friend admitted. "You know I am not entirely at
ease in such settings, but everyone has been very pleasant, so far."

Archie grinned. "Especially Miss Halstead!"

"That will do, Mr. Kennedy!" Horatio glanced about the drawing-room.
"So--what happens next? We go in to dinner?"

"Yes. Alice should be assigning us to partners any minute now. You might
remember something of that, from when you dined at Government House."

Horatio nodded. "I remember Sir Hew Dalrymple took in the Duchess, and
Captain Pellew took in Lady Dalrymple. I was partnered with another guest."

"It goes mainly according to precedence. And married couples *don't* go in
together. " Archie glanced around the room at the other guests. "I believe
the Edringtons are the highest ranking guests here, so Alice will be
partnered with him and Langford with her. Then Captain Harrow and Lady
Georgiana will probably go in with the Halsteads, leaving us to escort the
other three ladies."

"In any particular order?"

"Possibly." Archie shrugged. "Alice will clarify matters, soon enough."

Horatio smiled. "So, Archie--you may end up escorting your Miss Tresilian."

"She is not," Archie maintained firmly, "*my* Miss Tresilian."

It was perhaps unfortunate that Lady Langford chose this moment to appear at
his elbow. "Ah, Archie, Lieutenant Hornblower--we're about to begin the
procession into dinner. Mr. Hornblower, would you be so good as to escort
Miss Pearson? And Archie--I've paired you with Miss Tresilian."

There was nothing for it but to assent graciously. Archie inclined his head,
ignoring the glint of amusement in Horatio's eyes, and went to seek out his
dinner partner.

He found her standing by the pianoforte, talking to Captain Harrow with whom
she appeared to be on terms of considerable intimacy.

"--must commend you, Miss Tresilian," the older man was saying warmly. "I do
believe your diligence has had a most salutary effect on my little sister.
Georgiana never applied herself so thoroughly to her music before you came to
stay."

Medora smiled. "You give me too much credit, Captain Harrow. I think 'tis
merely that practicing with a companion is less *lonely* than practicing by
oneself. I know *I* have been glad of a friend's encouragement from time to
time."

Archie stepped into the conversational lull. "Miss Tresilian?"

She glanced up at him with the old familiar candor, no laughter or mockery in
her level gaze. "Lieutenant Kennedy--I am pleased to see you here, sir."

"I am pleased to *be* here," Archie returned, observing the forms as
punctiliously as she. "Might I have the honor of escorting you into dinner?"

A slight smile, expressing only pleasure. "Indeed you may, sir. If you will
excuse us, Captain Harrow?"

The older man stepped back with a nod, which they both returned, and an
indulgent smile, which Archie chose to ignore.

Once before, he had offered his arm to Medora--at another dinner party, less
formal than this one. She had been a trifle overset, then, after an
uncomfortable exchange with the hostess, her sister-in-law Fanny. Now,
however, she came forward--serenely dignified and poised--to lay one gloved
hand on the crook of his arm. Archie felt himself strangely aware of that
light pressure, as if her hand were resting on his bare forearm, rather than
on fine woolen broadcloth. Seeking distraction, he turned his head to smile
casually at her, and was startled to find that he no longer had to look down
so far to see her face--no more than six inches, at a guess. Absurd of him
not to remember: she had not been done growing two years ago.

"'We must," he cleared his throat and continued lightly, "'we must follow the
leaders.'"

Returning his smile, she capped his quotation with ease. "'In every good
thing.'"

Around them, couples were lining up before the drawing-room door in their
proper order. The Langfords paired with the Edringtons, as Archie had
predicted, followed by Lady Georgiana, Captain Harrow, and the Halsteads.
Lieutenant MacLeod was next, escorting Miss Halstead. Archie followed with
Medora, sensing rather than seeing Horatio and Miss Pearson moving into place
behind them.

Fourteen at dinner. Not perhaps as neat a number as twelve or ten, Archie
thought, but comfortable and convivial enough for the purpose. A far cry from
the great crowd he had endured three years ago. If, by chance, he happened to
be nervous or anxious this time, it would be . . . for an entirely different
reason.

Before he could reflect on what that reason might be, Soames announced that
dinner was served.

*****
*****

Temperamental the unseen Philippe might be, but his culinary efforts proved
well worth the wait. Once the guests were seated around the table, spread
with a snowy damask cloth and set with silver and china polished to a
mirror-like brightness, the courses began to arrive: piping hot, delicious,
and subtly seasoned by a master's hand. And the wines--claret, hock,
madeira, and champagne from the Langfords' own cellars--were uniformly
excellent.

Alice had arranged the seating with her usual care. Not everyone was paired
with his or her escort, but the combinations appeared to be satisfactory for
all concerned. Archie had to smile, though, at the sight of Horatio, seated
between Miss Halstead and Lady Georgiana--his friend would certainly not lack
for feminine companionship at this meal!

Nor was Archie surprised to find Medora seated on his own right. However,
turning towards her after the soup had been served, he found her already
engaged in conversation with her other partner, Lieutenant MacLeod. And a
considerably *long* conversation at that.

Archie's mouth tightened. Like Edrington, MacLeod was wearing his
regimentals--and the military scarlet flattered his fair skin and chestnut
hair. Unlike Edrington or even Captain Harrow, MacLeod was within a few
years of Archie's own age. Twenty-four, perhaps? He certainly appeared no
older than twenty-five. And he had preceded Archie and Horatio into the
dining room, so he must be of good birth. A peer's younger son? Very likely;
many of them joined the army--especially if they could afford to buy
commissions, he thought sourly. Of course, it was no business of *his*, if
Medora Rose became infatuated with a redcoat--though her brothers might not
be too pleased about it!

He was perhaps halfway through his soup--a creamy lobster bisque--when she
turned to him at last. "I beg your pardon, Mr. Kennedy--I fear I've been
neglecting you shamefully."

Archie did not know which he found more annoying: the neglect itself or the
implication that he might have been upset by it. The realization that he
was indeed a trifle upset did not improve his humor. "Not at all," he
replied, trying to keep the edge from his voice. "It gave me more opportunity
to savor this excellent soup."

Her grey eyes widened, then narrowed slightly at this perceived snub. "Pray
do not let me keep you from it, then."

"No more should I wish to keep *you* from your conversation with Lieutenant
MacLeod," Archie retorted--and instantly regretted his words. *Damn!* Was he
forever destined to say the wrong thing whenever he and she were in company
together? They had managed so well before, in Cornwall and their
letters--could that easy intimacy ever be recaptured?

To his surprise, Medora did not seem to be taking umbrage at his latest
remark. Instead, she studied him thoughtfully for a moment before
responding. "Lieutenant MacLeod appears to be doing quite well--now that Miss
Pearson has overcome her shyness enough to converse with him. But I thought
he might be a small matter anxious--never having dined here before and
knowing only Captain Harrow. I had hoped to set him a little more at ease.
'Tis never easy coming among strangers, until they *cease* to be strangers."

Archie flushed, experiencing a sudden gust of shame. Two years ago, in
Cornwall, *he* had been the newcomer among strangers--and Medora, along with
the rest of her family, had done her best to make him feel welcome. What
right had he to resent her showing a similar kindness to someone else?

"All the same," Medora continued, more warmly, "I should not have left you
to fend for yourself so long. It is merely that you and I have known each
other this age--"

"And no doubt I am much the *oldest* of your acquaintance!" The words slipped
out and Archie again cursed his unruly tongue.

Medora's lips quivered in what might have been a smile. "I would not say
*that*, precisely. Yet I do consider you a *close* friend--and hope you might
regard me in a similar light. Unless," to Archie's surprise, a faint flush
stole into her cheeks, "unless you feel that I am presuming too much, upon
two years' acquaintance?"

"Not at all!" Archie hastened to reassure her, his own voice growing warmer
now. "Indeed, I do count you among my friends, and the days I spent in
Cornwall among the happiest in my life." He seized thankfully upon a topic he
knew to be close to both their hearts. "Is everyone there well? And have
you heard from Margaret, recently?"

Her smile was more definite this time. "Oh, yes, everyone's quite well! And I
write to Margaret every week and receive regular replies. Last year, she was
with me in London for several weeks, but she's chosen to remain in Cornwall
*this* year. I know she'll be very sorry to have missed you."

"And I to have missed her," Archie said, with a sigh. "No problems with
anything else--the house or the mines?"

"Keverne and Tresilian Manor are still standing," she assured him. "And the
mines," a shadow flitted briefly across her face--doubtless a memory of her
lost brother, "continue to do well. We did need to replace some of the
pumping rods in Wheal Fortune last winter, but there have been no accidents."

"I'm relieved to hear it. And everyone else--your brothers and my promising
brat of a nephew?"

A light, musical laugh that still held a trace of her former girlish giggle.
"Oh, Edward and Fanny go on much as they have before. Henry's reached an
understanding with Charity Pendennis, though--and Robin started lessons in
the spring."

"Good God, really? I had thought him a trifle too young, yet."

Medora shook her head. "He was five in February. Margaret's engaged a tutor
for him. The vicar's nephew: a very serious young man who hopes to study
for a fellowship one day. I'm afraid Robin will lead him a merry dance!"

Archie chuckled, remembering the lively three-year-old who had loved
spillikins, blackberry jam, and bouncing on beds. "I shouldn't be at all
surprised! Does my sister mean for him to be schooled entirely at home?"

"For the first two or three years, perhaps. After that--well, there's a fine
grammar school in Truro . . . "

Talk of Cornwall and their extended family lasted through the soup course and
into the fish course: turbot in lobster sauce, filets of sole, and buttered
crab took their places on the table. The company was dining "a la française"
so Archie served Medora and himself from the various plates, and began to
feel more at ease. For all her improved looks and new sophistication, his
friend had not changed so very much--the warmth and candor he remembered from
two years previously was still there, and he was glad. Many of the young
ladies he had met ashore--especially the fashionable ones--tended to be coy
and simpering or brittle and bored. Medora, blessedly, was neither.

He wondered, suddenly, how Horatio was faring with *his* dinner companions .
. .

*****

"I believe we have something in common, Lieutenant Hornblower," Miss Halstead
remarked.

Horatio swallowed a delectable mouthful of sole in lemon butter and blinked
at the flame-haired beauty beside him. "And what might that be, Miss
Halstead?" he inquired cautiously.

Mournful crescents appeared at either side of her rosy mouth. "Our initials.
You are Horatio Hornblower, *I* am Henrietta Halstead. What *were* our
parents thinking!"

Horatio could not help smiling. "A fondness for alliteration, perhaps? Do
any other members of your family have Christian names beginning with 'H'?"

Miss Halstead appeared to give the matter due consideration, as she toyed
with her turbot. "Well, I'd an aunt named 'Helena,'" she volunteered at
last. "And I do believe my grandmama was 'Hermione'! My brother, however,
was christened 'Gerald,' which, you must own, is both unexceptional and
unexceptionable!"

"Yet an unusual name can be one to conjure with," the fair-haired Lady
Georgiana spoke up from her place at Horatio's left. "At the very least, one
does not easily *forget* it, having heard it."

"However hard one tries?" Horatio ventured, in an uncertain attempt at humor.
What had Kitty, in her Duchess guise, once said about quips and sallies? He
wished he had attended more closely at the time.

Fortunately, Lady Georgiana dimpled up at him with apparent appreciation.
"Indeed! But what *can* one do with a name like John or George, especially
when paired with an appellation as prosaic as Jones or Smith?"

Miss Halstead gave her the indulgent smile of an elder to a child. "I am sure
Captain John *Smith* and Admiral John Paul *Jones* might have something to
say about that if they could, my dear."

Lady Georgiana flushed slightly, the look in her brown eyes suddenly
dangerous. Horatio quickly set about pouring oil on the troubled waters.

"I will grant you Captain Smith, Miss Halstead," he conceded. "He was one of
our bravest and most enterprising explorers. But I think that few English
officers would care to emulate Jones's rather notorious example."

"True enough," she acknowledged, magnificently ignoring Georgiana's look of
triumph. "Perhaps--'tis most accurate to say that a name is what one makes
of it?"

"Quite so, Miss Halstead," Horatio agreed. "I would not contest that
proposal."

"Nor would I," Lady Georgiana declared, her good humor quite restored. "And
I am sure, lieutenant, that you will make all that *you* can of your name."
She reached for the nearest dish. "Might I offer you some more of this
excellent crab?"

*****

"Poor Horatio!" There was an unmistakable note of laughter in Mr. Kennedy's
voice. "He looks as though he's about to be devoured alive!"

Medora glanced in the direction indicated, and saw the dark-haired lieutenant
was indeed wearing an expression of considerable apprehension. Georgy and
Miss Halstead, seated to either side, seemed to be vying with each other for
the opportunity to ply him with the choicest viands. Surprisingly, Mr.
Hornblower looked almost embarrassed by the attention. Oh, dear. Medora
hoped her friend wasn't being *too* aggressive in her campaign; on the other
hand, having to compete for attention with the slightly older, more
sophisticated Miss Halstead might have put Georgy on her mettle.

None of the other guests appeared to have noticed this little rivalry,
however, being much more intent on the lavish second course now being served.
And here Philippe had truly outdone himself: roast fowls with sage and
rosemary stuffing, spring lamb in a fragrant crust of herbs, served with
asparagus and new potatoes, fricandeau of veal with high sauce, raised game
pie, and sweetbreads sauteed with mushrooms. Mr. Kennedy served them both as
the dishes came their way; he had been most assiduous about that throughout
the meal. Cutting her lamb and asparagus into bite-sized pieces, Medora took
advantage of the lull to gaze about the dining room.

Although dinner was not yet concluded, Lady Langford could surely count this
gathering among her many successes. Course after course succeeded each other
without the slightest hitch, and the conversation flowed as easily as the
wine, though, fortunately, no one seemed to have overindulged in the latter.
To Medora's other side, Lieutenant MacLeod had managed to draw Miss Pearson
out with, of all things, a discussion of embroidery. The lieutenant's own
mother, as it turned out, was passionately fond of needlepoint.

As for herself and Mr. Kennedy . . . matters seemed to be progressing
satisfactorily there as well. The ice was thawing, the awkwardness gradually
working itself out as they talked. From speaking of Cornwall, they had
progressed to a discussion of the theater and the production of "Twelfth
Night" they had just seen. To Medora's relief, they agreed on the merits of
Miss Katharine Cobham's work and believed that Miss Cosgrove had a brilliant
future before her. Just last year, Medora had seen her as Helena in "A
Midsummer Night's Dream," and the young actress had been by far the best of
the quartet playing the strayed Athenian lovers. Mr. Kennedy had been eager
to hear all the details, from casting to costumes.

Around the table, the conversations continued as before, underscored by the
clink of cutlery and murmurs of appreciation over Philippe's various
offerings. No raised voices or discordant notes to disrupt the harmony Lady
Langford had so skillfully created. Elegant, peaceful, and perfect . . .
that is, if one could forget the *other*, uninvited guest sitting among them
this evening.

The war.

Not mentioned outright, only referred to in passing--as if all the guests had
made some secret pact not to speak of it. But it was there nonetheless,
Medora knew. In the brief silences between the more lighthearted exchanges,
in the fleeting expressions of tension that crossed every face as weightier
topics arose, only to be discarded, in the splendid uniforms that four of
their number were now wearing. Army scarlet and Navy blue.

Captain Harrow had lost his left arm in Flanders; Lieutenant MacLeod and
Major Lord Edrington had served there as well. Mr. Kennedy and Mr.
Hornblower had seen action too--that celebrated engagement against the Droits
de l'Homme last year . . . and it had *not* been their first experience of
combat.

The women too had been touched by the war. Lady Langford, sitting so
serenely at the far end of the table, had one brother in the Army, another in
the Navy. Lady Edrington was a soldier's wife, while Lady Halstead and Miss
Pearson were the daughters of a colonel. Even Georgy knew what it was to
love and fear for somebody in the service.

*And now--so do I.* The thought rose unbidden in her mind, and she forced it
back, along with the tears suddenly stinging her eyes. How precious this
moment truly was--and how fragile. And how beautiful these men were, in a
way that had nothing to do with physiognomy or splendid uniforms.

Just last week she had been reading Richard Haklyut's account of the
discovery of Muscovy and come across a letter, the words and sentiments of
which had moved her deeply.

 

"We commit a little money to the chance and hazard of fortune: he commits
his life (a thing to a man of all things most dear) to the raging sea, and
the uncertainties of many dangers. We shall here live and rest at home,
quietly with our friends and acquaintance; but he in the meantime labouring
to keep the ignorant and unruly mariners in good order and obedience, with
how many cares shall he trouble and bear himself, with how many troubles
shall he break himself, and how many disquietings shall he be forced to
sustain . . . Wherefore in respect of the greatness of the dangers, and the
excellency of his charge, you are to favour and love the man thus departing
from us, and if it falls so happily out that he return again, it is your part
and duty also liberally to reward him."

 

Sir Henry Sidney had written that commendation of merchant captain Richard
Chancellor, pilot of the Muscovy fleet. Yet the words might as easily apply
to Mr. Kennedy, or Mr. Hornblower, or any of the officers now gathered around
the table. For *all* man risking their lives in the service of their country.
Was it really possible to do too much for them?

"Mr. Kennedy," she said suddenly, turning towards him, "I remember--how fond
you are of new potatoes. Might I help you to some more?"

He blinked at her, and she felt herself coloring. Heavens, what a profoundly
silly thing to have blurted out in that fashion! And as clumsy as if she had
not absorbed *any* of Lady Langford's teachings for the last two years!

To her relief, Mr. Kennedy did not seem offended by her gaucherie. Amused,
perhaps . . . the blue eyes were smiling, but not unkindly. He was never
unkind--at least not in her experience. And his voice, when he responded,
was entirely cordial. "Thank you. I should be glad to take a few more, provid
ed you do likewise."

"Of course," she agreed. "They are very good, are they not? Fresh from Covent
Garden this morning, I believe." Reaching for the bowl, she served first
him, then herself.

Around them dinner continued, undisturbed.

 

 

END PART FOUR