Innocence and Experience
by Pam

Sequel to Children of One Family

 

I was angry with my friend,
I told my wrath, my wrath did end . . .

--"The Poison Tree"

PART SIX

The sound of the pianoforte greeted them as they started up the stairs to the
drawing-room. Archie concealed a smile as Horatio stiffened slightly beside
him and gave the merest shred of a sigh. Tone-deaf as he was, music could
never be more than a trial to Hornblower! In the next instant, however,
Archie found himself smiling for another reason altogether as a familiar
voice rose in song:

"Come over the hills, my bonnie Irish lass,
Come over the hills to your darling,
You choose the rose, love, and I'll make the vow--
That I'll be your true love forever.

Red is the rose that in yonder garden grows,
Fair is the lily of the valley,
Clear are the waters that flow from the Boyne,
But my love is fairer than any."

In the two years since they had met, Medora's voice had deepened in
timbre--becoming a woman's rather than a child's--but it possessed the same
silver clarity Archie remembered. There was more power in it too, he
discovered, as he listened more closely. The song was not especially
demanding, vocally, but he sensed that Medora was giving it the full benefit
of a finely trained mezzo-soprano. Except for Horatio, the other gentlemen
appeared to be enjoying the sound as well. Archie's smile broadened in
satisfaction: oh, yes--it had been the right thing, to send her to London!

"'Twas down by Killarney's green woods that we strayed.
When the moon and the stars they were shining.
The moon shone its rays on her locks of golden hair
And she vowed to be my love forever."

The ladies smiled at the gentlemen as they entered during the second chorus
but said nothing, lest they disturb the singer at the pianoforte. As if they
could! Archie thought fondly. It would take little less than a cannon being
fired in the room to distract Medora from her music. He smiled at her
straight back, noticing the ease with which her fingers traveled over the
keys as she launched into the final verse and chorus.

"'Tis not for the parting that my sister pains,
'Tis not for the grief of my mother,
'Tis all for the loss of my bonnie Irish lass
That my heart is breaking forever.

Red is the rose that in yonder garden grows,
Fair is the lily of the valley,
Clear are the waters that flow from the Boyne,
But my love is fairer than any."

She ended on a soft minor chord and just managed to conceal her start of
surprise when the men's applause joined that of the women. Archie winked at
her as she turned around from her place at the pianforte and was gratified to
see that she relaxed, accepting her meed of praise with a becoming grace.

And there was to be a music-party the following evening, his sister informed
them--at which Lady Georgiana and Miss Tresilian, along with some others,
would be performing. Both the Halsteads and the Edringtons pronounced
themselves delighted to accept the invitation; Archie, meanwhile, barely
retained his countenance at the flicker of dismay that crossed Horatio's
face. Fortunately, no one else seemed to notice.

With plans for tomorrow night's entertainment thus settled, men and women
began to gravitate towards each other in twos and threes. To Archie's
relief, Lieutenant MacLeod strolled over to the corner where Miss Pearson was
sitting and began to converse with her, leaving him to approach the young lad
y still seated at the pianoforte.

"Well done," he greeted her lightly. "You *have* come on in two years!"

Medora smiled. "I am glad you feel your efforts on my behalf were not wasted,
Mr. Kennedy."

"Not in the least, I assure you." He offered his arm to lead her from the
instrument. "Shall we join the others?"

There were several conversations taking place in the drawing-room. Alice,
Langford, and the Edringtons appeared to be discussing politics, the
Halsteads seemed to be snatching a moment's privacy for themselves, and
Captain Harrow and Miss Halstead were studying the chess set in the near
alcove with the air of two eager would-be combatants. Archie's attention,
however, was immediately drawn to the far alcove where Lady Georgiana had run
Horatio to earth once more. Catching sight of his friend, Hornblower sent
him a beseeching glance; never one to abandon a shipmate in distress, Archie
grinned and headed in their direction, Medora still on his arm.

"You cannot deny me, lieutenant," Lady Georgiana was saying in a very decided
manner. "I am determined not to accept 'no' as an answer!"

Good God! Archie bit back a startled exclamation, saw Horatio's eyes widen in
dismay. Had young ladies really grown that much bolder since they were last
ashore?

"Georgy," Medora broke in levelly, "there are less alarming ways of asking a
gentleman to sit for you."

Was *that* it? Archie wondered if the relief showed as visibly on his face
as it did on Horatio's.

"Oh!" Lady Georgiana gave a little trill of laughter. "Good heavens, whatever
did you think I meant? Of course I am asking you to let me sketch you,
Lieutenant Hornblower!"

Privately, Archie thought Lady Georgiana was not so much asking as
*demanding,* though in the most charming possible way. Certainly Horatio was
not proof against the appeal in those pansy-brown eyes.

"If . . . if you truly think my visage merits such attention, Lady
Georgiana," he began valiantly.

"Oh, but I do! And not merely your visage, but your entire person. In fact,"
she tilted her head charmingly to one side, "I was just considering which
setting might serve as the best background for your--your attributes. Some
place in the garden, perhaps--and there ought to be just enough daylight left
for a preliminary effort. I should be so much obliged if you would humor me
in this, Mr. Hornblower, and it will take me but an instant to fetch my
sketchbook!"

"I think we had better offer to accompany them to the garden," Archie
murmured in Medora's ear as Lady Georgiana flitted from the drawing-room with
a reluctant Horatio in tow. "They oughtn't to be left alone!"

She glanced at him in some surprise. "Are you not doing your friend something
of an injustice? He seems a perfect gentleman--and I am sure Georgy's virtue
is in no danger."

Archie's lips twitched. "I do not think it is *Lady Georgiana's* virtue that
might be in need of defending!"

"Oh!" Grey eyes widened in comprehension, then suddenly brimmed with
laughter. "I take your meaning, sir. And, under the circumstance--you may be
right! Let us go after them."

*****

"Oh, dear! Poor Mr. Hornblower--this is all my fault!"

"Not at all, Lady Georgiana," Horatio replied, not quite through clenched
teeth. "My own clumsiness was entirely to blame."

It had been most fortunate that Lady Georgiana had found the perfect setting
for her sketch almost immediately: beneath the splendid oak tree in the far
corner of the garden. It had been less fortunate that, while trying to
assume the position the young artist desired, Horatio had tripped over a tree
root and gone sprawling. On recovering his breath, he had detected no
damage beyond a slightly twisted ankle--the left, thankfully, rather than the
right--and a seriously bruised dignity. No doubt he'd looked a proper fool,
measuring his length in the dust, and he had braced himself for
ridicule--which did not come. Archie might tease him mercilessly about
certain things but never about anything that might cause him physical injury,
Miss Tresilian's gaze held only sympathy for his mishap, and Lady Georgiana
appeared genuinely contrite.

"Here--lean on me, Horatio." Archie, concern in his blue eyes, knelt beside
him, slung Hornblower's right arm across his shoulders. "Medora, you're
taller than Lady Georgiana--can you take the other side?"

Miss Tresilian obeyed, and between their efforts and his own, Horatio found
himself vertical once more. Leaning on his supporters, he attempted a few
steps, discovered his ankle *would* support him, though it ached and
throbbed. Lady Georgiana led the way to a stone bench in the middle of the
garden--Horatio sank down upon it gratefully. Rummaging through her
reticule, Miss Tresilian located a small bottle of arnica, while Lady
Georgiana donated her own pocket handkerchief to the cause. To his
bemusement, Horatio found himself made fairly comfortable in short order, his
ankle duly anointed and bound up.

"There!" Lady Georgiana secured the handkerchief with a final twist. "Now,
just put your foot up on the bench and rest, until you are feeling much more
the thing."

Horatio cleared his throat. "Thank you. Much obliged to you--all of you," he
amended, trying to acknowledge all three of his companions in a general nod.

Archie leaned upon the back of the bench. "Is there anything more we can do
for you, Horatio? We could fetch someone from the house--"

"No!" Horatio broke in quickly. The last thing he needed was for all the
guests to hear that he had fallen down, like some infant who had not yet
learnt how to walk properly. "No," he repeated more temperately. "I think --
I just need to sit still for a while."

"Very sensible," Lady Georgiana approved. "I hope you will not be averse to
my bearing you company, Lieutenant? Nor to my -- sketching you as we sit?"
This last was uttered with such a hopeful air that, despite his lingering
irritation, Horatio found he could not refuse her.

"If that is indeed what you wish, then I am at your disposal, my lady," he
said at last.

"Splendid!" Without further ado, Lady Georgiana took up her pencil and
flipped open her sketch book to the first blank page.

Archie cleared his throat somewhat pointedly. Lady Georgiana looked up with
a brilliant smile. "Oh, dear! Medora, Mr. Kennedy--I fear there is but room
for two people on this bench. Why do you not take a turn about the rest of
the garden? I should not wish you to become bored, and the roses are
especially lovely right now."

"It seems there is no end to your solicitude, Georgy," Miss Tresilian
observed dryly, but she turned to Archie with a faint, rueful smile.
"Margaret and Lady Langford have both mentioned that your mother used to grow
roses at Kennedy Manor. The garden at Langford House has been designed along
quite similar lines. Would you care to visit it?"

"I--I should be delighted," Archie began. "But--"

"For heaven's sake, Archie!" Horatio snapped, discomfort and embarrassment
getting the better of him. "Why *not* go? There's no need to hover--I shall
do well enough here."

Archie recoiled slightly, then assumed a more formal demeanor. "As you wish,
Mr. Hornblower. We shall return presently." He offered his arm to the young
lady beside him. "Lead the way, Miss Tresilian."

Somewhat morosely, Horatio watched them go. He hadn't meant to bite
Archie's head off--and his unhappiness with himself was not tempered by the
knowledge that their rare squalls tended to blow over quickly.

"Pray, will you turn your head to the side, lieutenant?" Lady Georgiana's
voice, rousing him from his dark thoughts.

With a murmur of assent, Horatio obliged. So it was to be a profile sketch.
Fortunately, his stance did not prevent him from looking at the artist
herself, noticing again the striking combination of her blonde curls and
velvety brown eyes. He suspected he had a secret preference for fair women,
perhaps because he was dark himself. Of course, any pretty woman was worth a
second look, whatever her complexion, station, or age.

//Dusky ringlets framing a face no longer young but fine-boned and still
comely, blue eyes gazing up at him mischievously, a low, honeyed voice
drawling in a strong Yorkshire brogue, "The highest--Mr. Aitch" . . . //

No! Horatio forced back the memory. It would not do to keep dwelling on
that--not when Kitty had made it quite clear that she desired only friendship
from him this time. Perhaps when he and Archie took tea with her tomorrow,
he would find it easier to concentrate upon and enjoy the relationship they
were to have now, rather than to regret what was past.

And in the meantime, there was this dainty blonde creature, wholly absorbed
in sketching him, bestowing upon his features the kind of attention that
should surely be reserved for handsomer men. He could not deny that he found
it rather flattering. Although . . . he peered at what he could see of the
drawing, without actually moving his head. Perhaps he could prevail upon her
to make his nose appear . . . just a trifle smaller?

*****

*****

"Mr. Hornblower will be all right," Medora said soothingly as Archie glanced
over his shoulder one last time. "I am sure he did not mean to snap at you."

"No," Archie admitted. "We'll patch things up soon enough. We always do."

"It was a good sign that he could rise and walk--although Lady Langford will
be more than happy to lend her carriage to take you back to the inn later."

"Oh, I am not *greatly* worried about the state of Horatio's ankle. The
splinter wounds he suffered in his other leg were much worse, and those are
healing. I suspect the real injury was to his pride, rather than his foot."

"Not uncommon. One tends to feel thoroughly foolish after falling
down--especially if one sustains no serious hurt! Perhaps Georgy might be
able to soothe his ruffled feelings. She admires him very much, you know."

"That is what worries me!"

Medora shook her head at him. "She is sincerely remorseful about his
accident. There is no harm, now, in leaving them together."

"You mean, she prefers her conquests sound in wind and limb?"

A corner of Medora's mouth quivered suspiciously but she answered with
perfect gravity. "No, what I meant was that, for all her madcap ways, Georgy
won't overstep the bounds of propriety--not with a young, unmarried man.
She'll do nothing to compromise Mr. Hornblower or herself. Besides, that
bench is in the middle of the garden--they'll be plainly visible to *anyone*
who passes by. It's not as if they've found some secluded spot somewhere and
told no one where they would be."

Archie sighed. "I suppose there's no real harm then--if we know where they
are, and they know where *we* are."

"Indeed. If it will set your mind at ease, we shall still be able to glimpse
them from the rose garden, and should they call out to us, we'll hear them."

"Meanwhile, *you* are not apprehensive about being alone in the garden--with
a young, unmarried man?"

"Should I be?"

"Clearly not." Despite his resolve to let the memory of last night's
encounter fade, a note of pique crept into his voice. "Seeing as how I am
'like another older brother' to you."

"Oh, dear!" The grey eyes, candid as ever, surveyed him with rueful amusement
and more than a hint of penitence. "That was very bad of me. I do beg your
pardon, Mr. Kennedy."

Disarmed. Or was that *dismasted*? Whichever it was, Archie found himself
responding to the warmth of her words . . . and her eyes. "I am--not so sure
that *I* should not be the one to beg pardon," he confessed. "I made . . .
rather an ass of myself two years ago, didn't I?"

"Perhaps a little." A brief flash of her crooked smile. "But no more than I!
Poor Mr. Kennedy--you certainly didn't ask to become the object of a silly
schoolgirl's calf-love. I must have been a sad trial to you."

"You were never that." Archie spoke before he thought, but realized instantly
that he was speaking no more than the truth.

The grey eyes were undeniably warmer now, as was the smile, though the latter
had grown slightly tentative. "Then--we are friends again?"

"I should like that." Feeling somewhat tentative himself, Archie reached for
one gloved hand, held it lightly in his own. "I should like that *very*
much."

"So should I." Medora's smile slipped sideways again, but it seemed to be
herself she was mocking now. "It's all part of growing up, I suppose."

"What is?"

"Calf-love. Having it. Surviving it. But I am--glad that if I *had* to
endure it, that I possessed . . . the taste and discernment to choose *you.*"

"Then--I am flattered to have been chosen" Archie strove for a similarly
light tone, feeling his face grow warm. To mask his emotions, he swung their
linked arms back and forth, desisted at a sharp stab of pain in his left
shoulder.

Medora peered searchingly up at him. "Is something wrong? You're favoring
that arm."

"It's nothing," he said hastily. "The merest twinge--"

"Fustian--as your sister would say!" she retorted. "You're hurt--"

"Convalescent!"

"Was it during the same engagement in which Mr. Hornblower was injured?"

"No, no--it happened later. I was sailing one of the prize ships back to
England and we ran into some trouble in a storm. I got knocked to the deck,
dislocated my shoulder . . . "

Medora winced in sympathy. "Henry did that last year, falling from his horse.
Dr. Enys and Margaret had to manipulate the joint back into place. Have you
a sling to wear?"

"Ye-es," Archie admitted. "But I've not brought it with me today . . . "

She gave him an incredulous stare, then rolled her eyes skyward. "Men!" This
last addressed to the heavens. "Is it too much to ask that they show even a
*little* common sense?"

"I wore it the entire week we stayed with Horatio's father," Archie defended
himself. "By the time we left, Dr. Hornblower told me it was healing well and
that I need use the sling only when my shoulder grew fatigued." He massaged
the aching joint with careful fingers. "I think Horatio might have leaned on
it a bit too heavily just now, that's all. Don't tell him, though--he blames
himself for too many things already."

"I will not tell him, if *you* promise to put your sling back on when you
return to your rooms--at least until the pain subsides!"

Archie raised his brows. "Blackmail, Medora Rose?"

Grey eyes met his unwaveringly. "I think 'extortion' is a far more elegant
term. And don't think to cozen me by using my Christian name!"

Archie felt his lips quirking in a reluctant smile. "Very well. I shall
obey." Privately, he acknowledged that wearing his sling--at least for a few
hours--probably *was* a good idea. Meanwhile, a change of subject seemed to
be in order. "Talking of Christian names," he remarked, "I believe I gave you
permission to call me by *mine* back when you were fifteen. You never have,
though--not to my knowledge."

"Oh!" Medora's gaze dropped as she fretted her lower lip between her teeth.
"Well--back when I was fifteen, it did not seem quite . . . *proper.* She
pulled a slight face over the last word.

"And now?"

She mulled it over several minutes more, brows drawn together in
contemplation, then looked up. "I think, in company, we had best remain 'Mr.
Kennedy' and 'Miss Tresilian.' But when it is simply the two of us . . . I
should *like* to try--Archie."

He had not guessed how much the sound of her voice speaking his name would
please him--but he could feel the smile growing on his face, could see it
reflected in her eyes. "You see?" he asked lightly. "That wasn't so
difficult. And it'll get easier each time."

"There's something else I should like."

"Which is?"

"I want to hear about the rest of your voyage aboard the prize ship--apart
from your being injured, of course!"

"Later, I promise you! Now, however," he drew a deep breath, inhaled a rich,
familiar fragrance, "unless my nose deceives me, I do believe we have
reached the rose garden."

And so they had.

*****

*****

The first sight of it, though an opening cut in a boxwood hedge, took
Archie's breath away. For a moment, he was back at Kennedy Manor, his hand
clasped in his mother's, as they promenaded along the circular paths, in
search of blooms to fill her basket. Mama would not let him handle the
shears yet, saying they were a bit too large and sharp for him to wield
safely, but she always let him sniff each rose and offer an opinion as to
whether it smelt good enough to be taken inside. There had been a soft pink
rose--possessing an unusually sweet scent--of which she had been especially
fond . . . would he, perhaps, find it here?

"Your sister is a great fancier of roses," Medora informed him. "I think she
must have planted at least twenty different varieties here."

"It's," Archie cleared his throat, "it's lovely. Even more impressive than
the one at Kennedy Manor, I think."

He did not exaggerate. Between them, Alice and her gardeners had created a
thing of beauty. As in his mother's garden, the roses had been planted in
concentric circles, grouped harmoniously according to color and size. Mama,
however, hadn't had nearly as many breeds from which to choose--Archie had
not thought there would be so many variations in hue or shape. There was a
summerhouse too--at the far end of the garden, its walls and roof adorned
with twining pink and white blooms.

Early summer . . . and the flowers were at--or nearing--the height of their
beauty. Again Archie breathed in the heady mingling of scents, remembering
that no two roses ever smelled exactly the same. "How does Alice ever keep
all of them straight?"

"Written records," Medora answered promptly. "And sketches. Georgy's done
some of them for her." She smiled at his astonishment. "It's a great passion
for her--and one she wishes to share with everyone!"

"Including you?"

"To a degree. I believe it would be impossible to live in Lady Langford's
house for nearly two years and *not* learn something about roses!"

Archie smiled. "Enlighten me, then."

"Now?" Medora blinked at him. "Are you sure? This could take a while."

"Why not? We've a little time yet before it's dark. And our friends," Archie
jerked his chin towards the bench, just visible from where they were
presently standing, upon which two figures, one in Navy blue, the other in
apple-green, could be seen reclining, "do not appear to require our company."

"Very well," Medora agreed. "Just remember--your sister is still the true
authority in this house!"

Despite the warning, Archie thought she did a very creditable job. As they
paced along the paths by the formal beds, Medora managed to name and describe
most of the blossoms his sister was growing. While the special passion with
which she spoke of music was lacking in her current recital, she nonetheless
evinced sufficient interest and pleasure in her topic to engage his own.

French roses--gallicas, Alice called them, using the botanical expression--in
all the sumptuous shades of red, from scarlet to darkest crimson to
near-violet. Damask roses ranging from palest to deepest pink. Creamy albas,
ruffled centifolias and their close relatives, the moss roses. China
roses--Parson's Pink and Slater's Crimson--made an appearance here too,
though Medora told him that Lady Langford grew more of those in her
conservatory than in the garden, because they needed some coddling in the
winter.

Many of the roses also had fascinating names: York and Lancaster, Cuisse de
Nymphe, Unique Blanche, La Belle Sultane, Old Velvet, and Apothecary's Rose.
After some hunting, Archie also found his mother's "most especial rose"--a
silken-petaled pink damask known as Celsiana. The merest whiff of its
fragrance brought back a surge of memories . Archie cupped his hand about
one particularly fine blossom, felt his eyes prickle nostalgically--but
managed to smile. How Mama would have enjoyed her eldest daughter's garden!

"Lady Langford is also fond of that one." Medora's tone was gentle. "She
mentioned it was your mother's favorite."

"Yes." Archie cleared his throat. "Is it Alice's, too?"

"Possibly. One of them, at least. But, for now, she's most interested in the
new rose she's been trying to breed herself!"

"A *new* rose?"

"Yes--let me show you." She led him some distance down the path towards a
bush not yet in bloom but studded with bright red buds. "Two years ago, she
crossed a pair of gallicas--Apothecary's Rose with Old Velvet, I think. The
bush did not flower last summer, but now it seems her patience has been
rewarded. There were several earlier attempts with other roses that did not
take."

"What is she breeding *for*?"

"Oh, color, fragrance, habit of growth . . . "

"Thornless stems?"

"Oh, I hope not!"

Archie raised questioning brows. "You see no appeal in 'a rose without a
thorn'?"

Medora made a moue of distaste. "Henry VIII called one of his wives that.
Then he cut off her head."

"True," he acknowledged, trying not to smile.

"I think--having thorns is the *nature* of the rose. It's her only defense,
and she should be allowed to keep it."

"Mm." Archie regarded her thoughtfully. Thorns--defenses. It was not at all
difficult to draw the appropriate conclusion. The fifteen-year-old girl he
remembered had indeed been undefended and vulnerable--alarmingly so, in fact.
Two years later, it appeared she had grown her own array of thorns. But not
so very many! he added hastily to himself. Not enough to mar the sweetness or
discourage someone who was truly determined to know her better.

"'For women are as roses,'" he quoted softly, still studying her half-averted
face. "'Whose fair flower / Being once display'd, doth fall that very hour.'"

Her crooked smile came and went as she gave him back Viola's response. "'And
so they are: alas, that they are so! / To die even when they to perfection
grow!'"

"Does the new rose have a name?"

"Not yet. Lady Langford probably means to wait until the flowers are fully
open." Medora turned back towards the center of the garden. "Shall we
continue? There is still a section or two you have not seen."

"Of course." He fell into step beside her.

The sky itself was rose-tinted with the first hints of sunset when they
finished their progress. Together, they stood by the summerhouse, drinking in
the perfume and each other's company, reluctant to depart.

"Have you a favorite?" Archie asked suddenly.

"Oh, they are all beautiful."

"But if you had to *choose*--"

"I don't know . . . that one, perhaps." She indicated a short bush, perhaps
four feet high, laden with ruby-red blossoms, bright as jewels, their
clustering petals affording just a glimpse of the golden heart within. "Rosa
gallica conditorum, I believe it's called. And sometimes, Hungarian rose.
They use it for rose attar there." Medora smiled. "Do you know the story of
St. Elizabeth of Hungary? I like to think *these* were the roses she found in
her apron!"

"I remember." The tale had been in one of Dr. Sebastian's books on saints
and martyrs. He glanced more closely at the rose, certainly splendid enough
to deserve a place in such a legend, then back at Medora. She looked very
pretty tonight, all cream and honey in that gown--and the green frock she had
worn to the theatre had become her as well. But he thought she would fairly
glow in rose-red or crimson.

"Do you think Alice would object if I were to pluck just one rose?"

"She cuts them regularly to put in the house, so I don't think she would
mind--as long as you were careful about it."

"Splendid." Striding over to the bush, Archie reached for the nearest
conditorum blossom--and drew back with a yelp as a fine, needle-sharp thorn
sank into his thumb.

"Archie!" Medora hurried up, took his wounded hand in her own. "Oh,
dear--you're bleeding!"

"Just a scratch," he assured her, fishing about for his handkerchief. "It'll
stop any moment, now."

"Silly lootal!" Her tone made the words a caress. "Here, let me." She
produced her own handkerchief from her reticule, pressed it lightly to the
beads of blood welling up on the ball of his thumb. "Just keep it there for
a few minutes. Oh, dear," she said again. "I know I told you that gallicas
haven't many thorns, but the ones they *do* have--"

"My fault," Archie said hastily. "I was fairly warned. Having thorns is the
nature of the rose, isn't it?" Her touch, light and careful though it was,
was having the most curious effect on him, and so were the traces of scent he
could now detect rising from her hair and skin. Rosewater. He had smelled it
on her before, but it had never made him feel disoriented, almost . . .
intoxicated, the way he did now. Most unfair. What would happen if he were to
. . . reach out and skim his fingers along the bare-swept nape of her neck?
Would *she* gasp and shiver at the unexpectedness of it? Flinch and shy
away? Or lean into his touch, letting it continue as long as possible . . .

Archie's upbringing nudged him sharply in the ribs. You are supposed to be a
gentleman, he reminded himself sternly. And this is your *friend*--your
young friend, who trusts you. How can you think of taking such liberties with
her person? Don't be such a . . . lootal. His mouth twitched suddenly as
laughter threatened--wasn't "lootal" the Cornish vernacular for "idiot"?

"There!" Medora blotted the last of the blood and straightened up from her
task. "Now, just keep this handy if you start to bleed again. At least the
thorn didn't break off and lodge in your thumb."

"That would have been most unpleasant," he agreed. "But I mean to make
another attempt, especially since I haven't yet got my flower!"

Medora sighed. "You'd best borrow my penknife, then," she remarked, delving
into her reticule again.

Now he *did* laugh. "Arnica for Horatio, a handkerchief and now a penknife
for me! Good God, what else do you carry in that thing?"

Her chin tilted up with a hint of defiance. "A few pins. Needle and thread.
Sal volatile--*I'm* not prone to swooning but several young ladies of my
acquaintance are. And, sometimes, though not this evening, my embroidery
scissors."

Archie chuckled. "Well, if you should ever fall among thieves, you've a
splendid weapon to hand. Being struck by a fully loaded reticule might result
in serious injury!"

Grey eyes narrowed dangerously. "Margaret told me I should be prepared for
every eventuality. Now, do you wish to borrow my knife or not?"

Stifling his amusement, Archie begged pardon and accepted her offer. The
blade made short work of thorns and prickles, and once those had been
stripped away, he held out the rose with a flourish. "Yours, Miss Tresilian!"

"Mine?"

"Who else would it be for?"

"I--thought you meant it for your buttonhole. Many gentlemen have adopted
that style."

"Not this gentleman. Take it, Medora Rose--you've said it was your favorite."

Flushing slightly, she took the proffered rose carefully between gloved
forefinger and thumb, inhaled its rich perfume. "It's lovely, and I thank
you. I only wish you had not come to grief reaching for it."

"'Out of this nettle, danger, we pluck this flower, safety?'" Archie
suggested lightly.

Medora laughed a little, but shook her head. "If you'd plucked one of those
white ones there, you wouldn't have had to chance so many thorns."

Archie raised his brows. "Where's the challenge in that? Besides," he
added, smiling. "I find I like the thorny roses best."

 

END PART SIX