Innocence and Experience
by Pam

Sequel to Children of One Family

 

O for a voice like thunder, and a tongue
To drown the throat of war! - When the senses
Are shaken, and the soul is driven to madness,
Who can stand? When the souls of the oppressed
Fight in the troubled air that rages, who can stand?
When the whirlwind of fury comes from the
Throne of God, when the frowns of his countenance
Drive the nations together, who can stand?

--"Prologue, Intended for a Dramatic Piece of King Edward the Fourth"

 

PART FIVE

The sweet course was every bit as impressive as those which had preceded it:
brightly colored jellies, apricot tarts, tiny iced cakes, and "burnt
cream"--one of Philippe's specialties--a rich vanilla custard under a thin,
crackling crust of browned sugar all took their places upon the table.
Cheeses and dessert wines followed, and once everyone appeared comfortably
sated, Lady Langford rose from her chair and, in the age-old tradition of
dinner parties, the ladies retired to the drawing-room, leaving the gentlemen
to their port.

Archie smothered a smile as he saw Horatio relax visibly after the last skirt
had rustled from the room. "Comfortable now, Mr. Hornblower?" he murmured,
wandering around the table to seat himself beside his friend.

"Well enough , Mr. Kennedy," Horatio answered, also under his breath.
"Despite the ladies' attempts to cram me full of food, like a Strasbourg
goose!"

Archie raised his brows. "I am sure they merely wished to show their
solicitude for an officer in his Majesty's Navy, Horatio." He paused. "Or
perhaps they thought you needed fattening up?'

Horatio glowered at him but was obliged to suppress his retort as the port
decanter reached them at last.

Once all their glasses had been filled, the conversation began--lightly
enough, at first, with talk of the Season. For Edrington and MacLeod--as for
Archie and Horatio--this period was but a respite, to be enjoyed until they
received their next posting. MacLeod thought his regiment might be sent to
Ireland; Edrington was less certain about his own future destination but
acknowledged that Ireland was among the possibilities.

"And in the meantime," he continued, "I intend to savor this
interlude--however brief--with my family."

MacLeod nodded agreement. "Indeed, my lord. My own mother is in town, and
so's my youngest sister--she's being brought out and presented this year.
Doubtless they'll want me to escort them to various places, and I shall be
only too happy to oblige!"

"Now *there's* something I meant to ask you, Archie," Langford remarked,
leaning forward in his chair. "Have *you* been presented at court yet?"

Archie blinked at his brother-in-law. "Well, no--not just yet, sir. I had
not given it much thought, under the circumstances."

The earl smiled. "Well, now that you are a commissioned officer and ashore
for the next few weeks, you *can* give it some thought. I understand there's
to be a levee early next week, at St. James's Palace--I would be pleased to
act as your sponsor. Yours as well, Mr. Hornblower," he added, "if you wish
it."

It was Horatio's turn to blink. "I could not impose, my lord--"

Langford waved a dismissive hand. "There would be no imposition, I assure
you. It's as easy to sponsor two as it is one."

"Easier," Captain Harrow remarked with a wry grin. He glanced at his brother.
"Julian and I were presented together too, several years ago--it proved
something of a palliative to anxiety!"

"Indeed it did," Langford agreed. "It kept our knees from knocking together
while we waited to be received."

"The waiting is by far the worst part," Edrington contributed, with a hint of
a reminiscent smile. "The audience itself seems almost easy by comparison.
Nonetheless, I would consider presentation at court a most necessary ritual.
Certainly, it's by no means a bad thing for two young naval officers to make
their bows to their sovereign. Especially two who took part in the
engagement with the Droits de l'Homme."

"You were there?" Lord Halstead glanced at Archie and Horatio with renewed
interest. "I read of that engagement--it must have been something to see!"

"I read of it as well," MacLeod chimed in. "A remarkable achievement,
gentlemen. And I would be delighted to hear more details--if you are willing
to relate them!"

MacLeod's request was quickly echoed by the other gentlemen at the table.
Seeing Horatio glance at him--a bit frantically--for guidance, Archie merely
grinned. "Let Horatio tell it," he said blithely, ignoring the reproachful
brown glare. "He saw much more of the actual engagement than I did!"

Placed thus upon the spot, Horatio hesitated but, seeing--as Archie
saw--nothing more than eager interest on the faces turned in his direction,
he cleared his throat and began, a trifle diffidently, "Well, part of it
really began back in December of '96 . . . " Taking up his now-empty
wineglass, he started to maneuver it towards the center of the table. "The
Indefatigable was sailing *here*, on reconnaissance duty, when she found the
French fleet," he glanced around for something else to use, so Archie passed
him his own empty glass, "lying at anchor, in Bertheaume Bay . . . "

To Archie's delight, his friend's confidence began to grow as he continued
his recital, his brown eyes kindling avidly, his voice becoming more
authoritative. Empty glasses, the saltcellar, stray spoons, and even the
cheese knife all came into play as Horatio reenacted the battle with the
Droits de l'Homme for their host and his other guests, each of whom watched
intently. Sometimes one of the military men would break in with a question,
to which Horatio responded quickly enough. Archie himself remained silent
during the recital, except to fill in an occasional detail when his
shipmate's mostly excellent memory faltered. But for the most part, Horatio
had the matter well in hand and his audience eating from the palm of that
hand!

In retrospect, there had been many reasons to be glad of accepting Alice's
invitation to dine today. Watching Horatio come out of his shell was
definitely one of them!

*****
In the drawing-room, the ladies' conversation--over coffee and tea- had
already ranged over such topics as fashion, the theatre, and now, travel.
Lady Halstead was doing the honors, relating the details of her recent
wedding trip, which had included Essex, Norfolk, the Lake District, and
Scotland. Another sign of how the war had changed everything, Medora
reflected somberly. Six or seven years ago, a newly married couple might have
gone to France, Italy, or Switzerland for their honeymoon. But there were so
many places now that just weren't *safe* anymore.

>From weddings and honeymoons, it was but a short step to the discussion of
children--Lady Langford's two young sons, Lady Edrington's infant daughter,
and the heir with which Lady Halstead hoped to present her husband before the
year was out. At this point, the young unmarried ladies began to separate
from their elders, tactfully excusing themselves to examine a book, admire a
painting, or engage in a brief promenade. Although fond enough of children,
Medora was grateful when Georgy commandeered her for the latter enterprise.

"The gentlemen appear to be taking their own sweet time about putting in an
appearance," Georgy murmured in her friend's ear as they took a sedate turn
about the drawing-room.

Medora shook her head reprovingly. "Don't be so impatient, Georgy. You had
Mr. Hornblower's company all through dinner."

"Not entirely." Georgy pulled a slight face. "I had to share him with Hetty
Halstead. Worse--he seems to find the creature attractive!"

"She's not *that* bad."

"Pooh! You didn't know her at school. And she was just a Long Meg then, with
freckles and ginger hair. She's only become presentable in the last two
years, though you wouldn't think so, judging by the airs she puts on."

Privately, Medora wondered if this was a case of the pot calling the kettle
black but refrained from saying as much.

"And confess!" Georgy insisted. "*You* would not be at all averse to further
speech with Lieutenant Kennedy--and you *did* have his undivided attention
throughout the meal."

"Mr. Kennedy and I are . . . practically family," Medora demurred. "Of course
we had much to discuss."

"Fustian," her friend retorted. "None of *my* brothers ever looked at me like
that!" She dimpled. "Or if they did, 'twould be most indecent!"

"Georgy!" Medora felt the blood rushing to her cheeks. At that moment, she
understood completely why Lord Langford and Captain Harrow sometimes remarked
that their youngest sister ought to be strangled or drowned in the Serpentine.

Fortunately, Georgy had flitted off to another subject. "He's very handsome,
of course--Mr. Kennedy. And so is Mr. Hornblower. *His* looks are a trifle
more . . . unusual, though. Oh, my fingers just *itch* to sketch them both!"

"Well, if they are to be staying here, no doubt you will have plenty of
opportunity," Medora pointed out, glad of her friend's distraction.

"Miss Tresilian?" Lady Halstead's voice, breaking into their murmured
conversation.

Medora turned towards the new viscountess. "Yes, my lady?"

The older woman smiled at her, a little tentatively. "Alice and I were just
discussing that little concert she gave last Christmas--and I remembered that
I had always meant to ask you about that song you sang then. 'I have done
this for my love' or something of that sort?"

"Oh! 'This have I done for my true love'?" Medora hummed a few notes.

Lady Halstead nodded. "Yes--yes, that's the one! It quite sent shivers up my
spine. Pleasurable ones, of course."

"I am glad to hear it," Medora replied, smiling back. "It's quite an old
carol, but often sung in Cornwall at Christmas."

Lady Halstead glanced from her to Lady Langford. "Shall you be giving more
concerts this season?"

"Indeed. Tomorrow night, in fact--we'll be holding a musical evening here.
Not quite as formal as a concert, but several of the people who performed at
Christmas will be here." Lady Langford leaned forward, her blue eyes
questioning. "Have you and Gerald not yet received your invitation? I did
send it round the other day."

"Oh, then it must be among the cards we have not got to yet! We'd so many
messages waiting for us on our return, we could hardly see the mantelpiece.
But yes, I should be happy to accept."

"Good." Lady Langford turned an embracing smile on the rest of her guests.
"It will begin at seven, and everyone here is welcome to attend."

"I shall have to discuss this with my husband first," Lady Edrington replied.
"But it sounds like a delightful diversion."

To Medora's pleasure, the conversation turned readily to music. Nearly all
the ladies had been taught to sing, play a musical instrument, or bot
h--though with varying degrees of proficiency. Miss Halstead admitted
frankly that she could barely sing or play at all, while Georgy did her best
not to appear too smug upon hearing the news. Lady Halstead likewise
confessed that her singing ability was negligible but, attempting to draw her
younger sister out, mentioned that Letitia possessed a far better voice. Far
from being gratified by the compliment, Miss Pearson turned scarlet and
stammered out a barely coherent denial, resisting any and all attempts to
coax her into song.

Remembering how terrified she had been the first time she performed before
strangers, Medora suggested that perhaps they should find something
*everyone* could sing--a proposal quickly echoed by the others. Taking the
first turn on the pianoforte, Lady Langford soon had everyone--even Miss
Pearson--joining in on "Cherry Ripe" and "O, Waly, Waly."

What with trios, duets, and the occasional instrumental piece, the ladies
contrived to pass the time pleasantly enough, even as several wondered what
could possibly be keeping the men . . .

*****

*****

From discussing the Droits de l'Homme, the other half of the party had
progressed, naturally enough, to the battle of Cape St. Vincent and the more
recent engagement at Camperdown. As Navy men, Horatio and Archie were
somewhat better versed in those subjects than their fellow guests, although
Captain Harrow at least had read several accounts of both events.

"The Navy appears to be dealing quite well with the Frogs, overall," he
remarked. "I wish our land forces were as successful."

"Even *half* as successful would be a distinct improvement," Edrington said
dryly. "Most of their generals appear to be quite formidable. Better than
many of ours and," his eyes met those of the two naval lieutenants,
"certainly better than those who fought for the Royalist cause three years
ago!"

"That's right," Langford remembered, glancing from Edrington to his
brother-in-law. "You were part of that Quiberon expedition, weren't you?"

Aware of Horatio gone quiet and still beside him, Archie spoke for them both.
"We were."

"A bad business." The earl's tone was sympathetic. "And fatal to the Royalist
cause, or so I understand."

"Near enough." Edrington's lips quirked in a wry smile. "It was my dubious
privilege to be involved in *two* consecutive disasters that year! Out of the
frying pan and into the fire, as it were."

"Flanders," said Lord Halstead. It was not a question. "My father-in-law was
there, but he doesn't like to speak of it. He grows practically apoplectic if
the subject even arises."

"Not surprising." Captain Harrow's mouth twisted. "One of the only good
things one can say about Quiberon is that it was over quickly. It did not
drag on for two years, while our generals made every mistake imaginable,
discipline fell all to pieces, and too many good men died!"

Archie blinked at the vehemence in the older man's voice, sensed Horatio's
similar astonishment. Given their circumstances, they had heard very little
about the land campaigns. From his seat at the head of the table, Langford
was regarding his brother with a mixture of pride and sadness.

Halstead was looking dismayed. "Your pardon, sir! I did not mean to dredge up
such painful memories."

The captain sighed, recovering some of his composure. "I assure you, it is
not *painful* to speak the truth. I hope--it is not painful to *hear* it
spoken, either?"

Halstead shook his head. "Pray, continue. I should like to know more."

"The truth is," Harrow exchanged a wry glance with MacLeod, suggesting shared
sympathies of long standing, "the Flanders campaign was a disaster from start
to finish. And we, along with the Austrians, have nobody to blame but
ourselves. Prince Frederick of Saxe-Coburg and the Duke of York should
collaborate upon a volume of military strategy entitled 'How *Not* to Fight
the French' and distribute it to every regiment under their command!"

"Prince Frederick's plan was to advance slowly and lay siege to border
fortresses," MacLeod contributed. "It was considered a successful
tactic--from about a century before!"

Captain Harrow snorted. "If we'd been fighting them a hundred years ago,
perhaps we'd have fared better! As it was--they outplanned, outmaneuvered,
and simply outfought us at every turn. We had military drills and
traditions; *they* had daring--and initiative."

Halstead was frowning slightly. "But I knew someone who fought at
Valenciennes. He said it was an important victory."

"Oh, we'd some successes--at Valenciennes, then later at Vaux and Beaumont.
But in between, there was Dunkirk and Hondschoote--and not enough artillery
for us to conduct a siege. By spring of '94, everything had started to fall
apart. They broke us at Tourcoing." Almost absently, Captain Harrow fingered
his empty sleeve. "After that we were on the run. And the winter retreat .
. . " He shook his head. "A complete shambles!"

"I'd never seen men fall apart so badly," Lieutenant MacLeod agreed. "Like a
dropped stitch in knitting--everything just . . . unraveled!"

"Did the fighting itself end, at that point?" Horatio asked.

"Not entirely. There were isolated skirmishes and sorties--none very
successful, I'm afraid." Captain Harrow stared into the depths of his port.
"One of the worst I've heard of . . . must have been in autumn of '94. Our
forces were in retreat, but a brand-new captain decided to make a stand--from
a position that even his sergeant knew was indefensible. His company was
wiped out, all but a handful of men." His mouth twisted mirthlessly. "Damned
good thing the captain died of wounds himself, or they'd have held a
court-martial just for him!"

"And now there's this new wave of Frog generals making their presence felt on
the Continent--and elsewhere," Edrington observed. "I fear we may have our
hands full for some time to come."

"There's one in particular bears watching, I was told," MacLeod volunteered.
"Bono, or Buona-something. I can't remember the full name."

"Buonaparte," Lord Langford, silent for much of the conversation, spoke up
suddenly.

"Yes." MacLeod nodded affirmation. "That's the one. He was fighting in Italy
last year."

Edrington nodded as well. "I too have heard the name. The Italian campaign
was a great success for France."

"Buonaparte's triumph hasn't made him a favorite with the Directory,
however," Langford remarked. "They fear a rival--and with reason. His
talents seem matched only by his ambitions; I think he wants to be more than
just another Frog general."

Captain Harrow frowned. "Buonaparte . . . that name itself sounds almost
Italian."

"Corsican," Langford corrected. "But he considers himself French. I've heard
he's even started signing his correspondence 'Bonaparte' to appear less . . .
foreign."

Archie leaned forward in his chair. "Is . . . Buonaparte," he pronounced the
name carefully, "still in Italy?"

Langford eyed his brother-in-law thoughtfully, almost assessingly. "Not . .
. just at present. I had heard--unofficially--that he had amassed troops and
artillery, and had taken ship, for parts unknown."

Horatio sat up straighter. "An invasion of England, perhaps?"

"The thought had occurred to many of us," the earl replied. "And it cannot
be altogether discounted as a future hazard. But for now--and again," his
gaze traveled around the table, "this is quite unofficial--it appears that
his present destination is Egypt."

Egypt! Archie and Horatio exchanged glances. News at sea could be weeks,
even months, in arriving--yet hadn't they heard that Admiral Nelson was
patrolling the Mediterranean . . . not so distant from Alexandria?

A shiver--half-anticipatory, half-apprehensive--ran along Archie's spine.
*O, 'tis most sweet / When in one line two crafts directly meet!* What an
encounter *that* might be--between this new French hope and the great Nelson!
Yet, surely, the advantage must be Nelson's; Buonaparte was an *army* man.

"Egypt?" Lord Halstead echoed blankly. "Why there, of all places?"

"He may be poised to strike at India from there. At least, that would be my
guess. Perhaps Buonaparte sees himself as another Alexander." Langford
sighed. "He has lofty aspirations, for a man not yet thirty."

Captain Harrow grimaced. "That's the damnable thing about genius. It shows
itself at such an early age!"

"It may be premature to designate this man a genius," Edrington pointed out
reasonably. "His Egyptian adventure may not achieve his desired ends.
Indeed, it could prove to be a costly mistake on his part."

"You do not think he bears watching, then?" Harrow asked.

"I did not mean to imply that. Indeed, I think it only prudent that we *do*
watch him. Especially since none of our own generals appears to be enjoying
so meteoric a rise. And that worries me every bit as much as Buonaparte's
successes."

A gloomy silence followed this pronouncement. After several minutes of it,
Langford roused himself with a sigh. "I fear we grow morose, gentlemen, and
should do something to restore our convivial spirits. Come--let us join the
ladies."

 

END PART FIVE