Innocence and Experience
by Pam

Sequel to Children of One Family

 

PART SEVEN

 

The rose was the first thing Medora saw when she opened her eyes the next
morning. Rolling over onto her side, she contemplated the flower, now
reposing in a bud vase, with drowsy satisfaction.

Not her first flower. Not even her first rose. But the first *he* had ever
given her.

And likely the last, so you might as well enjoy it while you can, an odiously
commonsensical voice in her head remarked.

*Oh, go to blazes!* she told it crossly, even as she acknowledged the
foolishness of building a castle in the air on the basis of a single flower,
offered lightly enough.

Better, by far, to concentrate on what pleasures yesterday *had* yielded: his
company, his acceptance of her friendship--even his laughter. Standing there
in the garden, the sunset gilding his hair, and teasing her about how much
she carried in her reticule . . .

She could not but smile at the memory. How was it that someone she had not
seen in over two years could affect her so? Could make her . . . *tingle*
all over, with the merest glance--or touch? She had met other young men in
the interim--some just as handsome, just as good-natured as he. There were
even a few she thought she could like very well, given time.

And perhaps that was part of it. She had not *thought* two years ago--she
had simply *felt,* with all the artless ardor of fifteen. Nor could she
determine the exact moment when her liking for Margaret's charming younger
brother had become . . . something more. Indeed, she acknowledged with a
remembered surge of embarrassment, she had been neck-deep in her infatuation
before even realizing it. Meanwhile *he* hadn't realized it at all--not
until the last day of his visit! And then it had been impossible to ignore
the discomfort and dismay in his eyes, at being the unwitting object of a
schoolgirl's passion. In retrospect, she wondered if he had even consciously
thought of her as *female* during his entire stay!

Well . . . she rather suspected Mr. Kennedy--Archie--thought of her as female
*now*, which must certainly count as an improvement! Respect, affection, and
friendship were all fine things, and she was resolved to be content with
them. But it was . . . very sweet to sense that he admired her--just a
little--the way any young man might admire a young lady.

And he and Mr. Hornblower would be moving into Langford House this morning,
for the duration of their stay in London. The memory brought her fully
awake, suddenly eager for the day's activities to commence.

*****

"Look at the size of it, Archie."

"I've never seen one that long before."

"Do you think I could get all the way in?"

"Well, if you get stuck halfway, I'll know better than to try, won't I?"

"Then--perhaps you should go first, Mr. Kennedy!"

"It hasn't been nearly as long for me," Archie pointed out.

"True," Horatio agreed wistfully. "It would feel so good. We may not have
another chance like this for months!"

"All the more reason to enjoy it while we have the opportunity!"

Again they studied the object in question.

Horatio sighed. "I can't remember the last time I had a proper bath!"

Archie grinned. "Then, by all means, Mr. Hornblower, take the first one!" A
long soak in hot water, he thought, would do Horatio's injuries a world of
good, easing the lingering ache of those splinter wounds and the stiffness of
a twisted ankle.

"Are you sure, Archie?" Horatio eyed him closely, as exasperatingly ready as
ever to renounce creature comforts in someone else's favor.

"Perfectly sure," Archie replied. "I shall take a walk in the garden,
instead. Medora mentioned that the roses look their best in the morning."

"Medora." Horatio turned aside but not before Archie saw his friend's mouth
twitch in a knowing smile.

"That *is* her name," Archie retorted, slightly nettled.

"Indeed it is, Mr. Kennedy," Horatio agreed blandly. "And I see you have no
hesitation about using it."

"Should I?" Archie asked with equal blandness. "She and I are friends--much
like you and *Kitty* Cobham."

Horatio's smile was almost mischievous. "Oh . . .probably not *quite* like
myself and Kitty Cobham, Archie!"

Archie heroically ignored the implications of that remark. "I suggest you
make use of that hip bath, Horatio, before the water grows cold. After all,
you do want to look your best for Miss Cobham this afternoon!" And with that
parting shot, he left the room.

*****

If Archie had hoped to find a certain dark-haired young lady strolling among
the roses that morning, he was doomed to disappointment. But the garden was
occupied nonetheless, and by company that was not at all uncongenial.
Shears in hand, a basket slung over her elbow, Alice was making her way along
the paths, inspecting the various bushes for likely blooms. Even from a
distance, Archie could hear his sister singing as she worked; drawing nearer,
he recognized the song as one of his mother's favorites--a paean to the
gardens she had loved so well:

"--Daffodils, heart's ease and phlox,
Meadowsweet and lady smocks,
Gentian, lupine and tall hollihocks,
Roses, foxgloves, snowdrops, blue forget-me-nots
In an English country garden."

She broke off as she saw him approach and smiled brilliantly at him. "Ah,
good morning, my dear! So glad to see you've arrived. Are the rooms to your
liking?"

"Quite to our liking, thank you. Although," Archie tilted his head to one
side, "was it *really* necessary to send the Langford carriage for us this
morning?"

Laughter sprang into her violet-blue eyes but the rest of her face remained
perfectly grave. "Oh, but Archie, how could I *not* have done? To have
allowed our guests to haul their . . . dunnage (is that the word?) all the
way to Park Lane would not have been at all courteous! Besides," she added
firmly, "Mr. Hornblower probably needed to rest that leg of his."

They never ceased to amaze him--her lightning-quick shifts from airy
insouciance to level-headed practicality. Substance, and plenty of it, from
a woman whom Society tended to dismiss as a charming but trivial butterfly.
Archie himself was determined not to make that same mistake.

Alice was turning back to her labors. "Now, while they are just opening, is
the best time to cut the roses. Will you walk with me, Archie? We have not
spoken privately in many years."

"Hardly ever," her brother confirmed, falling into step beside her.

"No--and for that I *do* blame Papa." A faint, rueful smile. "Does that
surprise you?"

"A little," Archie admitted. Alice's devotion to their father was
undeniable; the other Kennedy children felt somewhat less kindly towards
him, especially when they considered how their family had been broken up
after their mother's untimely death.

"Margaret is still so angry with him," Alice sighed. "And I cannot blame her
for that--although perhaps there was a slight thawing between them at
Christmas. Still, such rifts are not healed overnight. But we are
resolved--she and I--to sustain what family ties we can; life is too short to
do otherwise." She reached out to touch his arm lightly. "I do hope that
you and I will be able to achieve a better understanding of each other . . .
better than we have had in the past."

Startlingly, Archie felt as though a weight had been lifted from his
shoulders, a weight of which he hadn't been fully aware until it was gone. So
he was not the *only* one who had fretted over their lack of intimacy!

"I hope you enjoyed dinner yesterday."

"Oh, yes," Archie hastened to assure her. "Very much, indeed, thank you."

"Not too many people, I trust? I was *such* a widgeon three years ago, to
inflict a great crowd upon you, when you were but recently released from
Spanish prison!" Alice shook her head at her own foolishness. "I hope I have
learnt better since. Julian thought you would be more at ease at a smaller
function too."

The revelation made Archie blink, knowing as little as he did about his
brother-in-law. "That was . . . very insightful of him."

Alice raised her fair brows. "Surprised, my dear? I assure you, not *all*
nobles are as oblivious as Papa!"

Archie flushed slightly, but managed a smile. "I confess, I hardly know Lord
Langford, but he seems a good man."

"He *is* a good man, and a kind one. Modest too--perhaps because he did not
expect to inherit his title. Indeed, if his uncle and cousin had not drowned
in a boating accident, his life would have been very different. Although,"
she paused, a faint frown creasing her brow, "I should like to think that
*our* paths would have crossed nevertheless--and matters proceeded
accordingly. I was still well-dowered, after all!"

"Indeed," Archie agreed, amused and oddly touched by her confession. He had
not thought his *social* sister the sort to kick over the traces for love
alone, but if *Margaret* could, why not Alice? And as their father's
favorite, Alice would likely have brought Lord Kennedy around to her way of
thinking fairly quickly.

"Nonetheless, I'll not deny that his inheritance made things easier for our
families. And for the children too, of course."

"The children." Belatedly, Archie remembered the most recent additions to the
clan. "How many are there, by now? I'm afraid I cannot recall."

Alice dimpled at him. "Odious boy! Two sons--Lucius and Titus. It's a
Harrow family tradition to give the males Greek or Roman names. Both
thriving, both in the country--the heat of a London summer does not entirely
agree with them. I do hope you can meet them someday."

"I--I should like that, very much."

"Margaret's mentioned how good you were with Robin, when you were in
Cornwall." Alice's smile became slightly mischievous. "Any chance you'll be
setting up your own nursery in the future?"

"Not for some time yet!" Archie said hastily. "Have pity on me, Alice! I've
only just made lieutenant--it would be years until I could afford to marry,
even if there was a young lady willing to entertain a proposal from me."

"Hmm." Her eyes narrowed speculatively as she looked up at him. Oh, dear--was
this the infamous matchmaking glint he had been warned against, in women?
Hurriedly, he changed the subject.

"This garden is splendid, sister. Mother would be delighted."

"Do you think so?" She broke into a smile of unabashed pleasure. "She was
never far from my thoughts when I was planning it. Julian's mother planted
some rose bushes here, of course, but in a somewhat haphazard fashion. I
wanted something more . . . complete."

"It is that--and more," Archie assured her. "I had not known there were so
many different kinds of roses."

"Oh, more are becoming available all the time. From the Continent and even as
far distant as China! And then there are the new blooms that botanists and
rose breeders are trying to create from varieties that already exist."

"Like your own experiment?"

"Pooh, I'm the merest dabbler! Although," again the violet-blue eyes narrowed
in contemplation, "I confess that if my latest attempt succeeds, I shall be
encouraged to try my hand with others! Who wouldn't want to create something
beautiful, that would give pleasure to so many--especially in *this* day and
age?"

"Who, indeed?" Archie smiled down at his sister, marveling at her infectious
enthusiasm. "Now . . . would you care to show me your 'most especial rose'?"

*****

It was a good half-hour later before Archie made his way back to the house.
He and Alice had wandered the garden together, helping to fill her basket
with flowers and talking of various things. Overall, the tone of their
conversation had been light and easy; nonetheless, it was perhaps the longest
they had *ever* had. She had a special fondness for moss roses, he had
learned, partly for their plentiful petals and rich fragrance, partly for
their sentimental associations. It had been with a moss rose--"the
ambassador of love"--that Julian had first declared his intentions toward
her.

In the course of their promenade, they had also paused to inspect the new
rose she was trying to breed. The crimson buds were definitely more swollen,
some of them even unfurling a few petals, but Archie and Alice thought it
might be yet another day, possibly two, before the flowers were fully open.
Alice had no name for the rose yet; she would decide upon one after the bush
had truly bloomed.

They parted at the terrace door, Alice heading for the conservatory, Archie
for his own room. On the first floor landing, however, he paused and cocked
his head. Faint but unmistakable, the light, silvery trilling of a
harpsichord reached his ears.

He smiled. At this hour, there was little question in his mind about who was
playing. For a moment, he hesitated; just the night before, he had
experienced a very vivid and sensuous dream. It had begun in the rose garden
with a kiss, then he had carried Medora into the summerhouse, laid her down
upon the nearest bench, and started to make frantic love to her! Within the
dream, she had responded quite ardently to his advances--but on waking, he
had been shocked and dismayed by the workings of his unconscious mind.

But it was just a *dream,* he told himself sternly, dismissing any lingering
misgivings with a shake of his head. A dream that perhaps any pretty girl
might have inspired in a sailor who saw women so infrequently. And
everything looked different in "the cold light of day." Indeed, it was far
more likely that he would find the familiar friend this morning, rather than
the seductive Circe of his nocturnal yearnings. Head high, shoulders
squared, he strode off in the direction of the music.

The music room turned out to be as impressive as every other chamber in
Langford House: gracious, well-proportioned, to accommodate several
instruments of varying sizes. A fire had been lit in the fireplace, to combat
the morning chill. And at the harpsichord, as Archie had foreseen, sat
Medora, singing softly to herself as she played.

Not wishing to interrupt, Archie stood in the doorway and merely listened.
Even at half-pitch, Medora's voice was clear and true, yet, as he had noticed
last night, more controlled than it had been two years ago. Yes, she had
indeed made considerable progress.

The tune of her song was not familiar, but the words sounded increasingly so.
Recognizing them at last, Archie broke into a smile:

"What is love? 'Tis not hereafter;
Present mirth hath present laughter;
What's to come is still unsure.
In delay there lies no plenty,
Then come kiss me sweet and twenty
Youth's a stuff will not endure."

She finished on a clear trill and Archie applauded heartily. "Brava,
maestra--well-played!"

Medora started, then almost instantly relaxed as she registered his voice.
"Archie, you really *must* stop doing that! I near jumped out of my skin. Can
you not announce your presence less abruptly?" The light tone, the welcoming
smile in her grey eyes, belied the severity of her admonishment.

Archie merely grinned. "When you are that intent upon your music, I could
discharge a pistol in the room and I fancy you would not notice!" Strolling
into the room, he took up a position at the far end of the harpsichord,
leaning his folded arms lightly upon the top of the instrument and studying
the girl seated at the keyboard. She did indeed look younger and more
approachable this morning, he observed with relief. Her evening finery had
been replaced by a simple frock of sprig muslin and her dark hair was loose
about her shoulders. He could see more clearly traces of the child he had
befriended two years before--and yet, the young woman she had become since
then was no less visible.

Medora colored slightly at his retort but did not dispute it. Instead, she
turned to the matter closest to her heart. "Did you like the song?"

"Very much," he assured her. "Only--that wasn't the tune they were using at
Drury Lane, was it? Your own? I thought so," he added, at her nod. "You still
compose, then?"

"Always. Did you think I had given it up?"

"I was not certain. I liked the carol you sent me last Christmas, but you had
not mentioned you were working on anything new, since then."

"Oh!" A wry twist of the mouth. "Well . . . I have not been entirely
satisfied with some of my latest efforts. It did not seem worthwhile to
mention those--or anything else, until I had composed something which *did*
please me."

The desire to achieve perfection. Archie was used to that quality in
Horatio; yet it seemed oddly appropriate to find it in her as well. "Does
*this* please you?" he asked, indicating the song upon the music stand.

"It does not . . . *displease* me." She essayed a rueful half-smile. "I
shall have to show it to Signior Rossini--and he can be very exacting!"

"The music master. Is he a good teacher--a kind one?" Archie did not like
to think of Medora being browbeaten, even for the sake of her art.

"He is certainly a good teacher--among the best I was told. And he is . . .
" Medora searched for the right word, "a *fair* one. He does not cosset
me--or Georgy, for that matter--but neither is he a complete martinet. He may
be sterner with us because we are not quite as high-strung as his budding
primas!"

"Or because he perceives the scope of your talents," Archie countered,
remembering how often Captain Pellew challenged Horatio, and, on occasion,
Archie himself with the more difficult tasks.

Medora brightened. "I should like to believe that! And perhaps there is a
grain of truth to it."

"More than a grain, I should think!"

She smiled fondly at him. "Ah, but you are partial, sir--just like my own
family!"

"Partiality hasn't rendered me deaf!" he retorted. "You have a gift, Medora
Rose. What do you mean to do with it, now that you've had two years to study?"

Medora did not respond immediately. Instead, brow slightly creased in
thought, she trailed her fingers over the keys, played a soft minor chord.
"To tell the truth . . . I have not quite decided." She looked up again.
"London has been a true education for me, Archie. Oh, it can be artificial
and *superficial* in many ways--yet I have learnt things here that I think I
would *not* have learnt so readily, had I stayed in Cornwall."

"Such as?" he prompted gently.

"How to take a more realistic view of my own abilities, for one! At home, my
family usually liked whatever I played or composed--well, maybe not Fanny,"
she amended hastily. "But in any case, I was much petted and praised for
being 'musical,' and my efforts were hardly ever criticized. Here, however,"
again she smiled ruefully, "I have discovered that, as a composer, I am not a
female Bach or Handel. Or even, alas, a female Scarlatti! *They* had
genius--I have merely . . . a modicum of talent."

"That is more than many people possess," Archie pointed out.

"Mm." Again she fingered out a minor chord. "I am learning to come to terms
with that. And Signior Rossini has expressed a willingness to help me
develop what ability I do have. It may be . . . simply a matter of finding
the right *outlet* for it."

"What about the singing--and the playing? I know you've made progress there."

"Oh, yes!" There was no shadow in her smile this time. "I do feel much more
at ease as a performer, and my voice doesn't wobble on the high notes the way
it did when I was fifteen! Signior Rossini says it's not quite reliable
enough on the topmost notes to be of operatic quality, but he thinks it's
shaping well nonetheless. And he's given Georgy and me some lessons on the
Spanish guitar too."

"You see?" Archie smiled back. "You're becoming ever more versatile. If you
cannot become a prima donna of the operatic stage, you could probably give
concerts or perform at musicales, like tonight's."

"That is true." The prospect did not appear to displease her. "By the way,
you'll be here this evening, won't you?"

"I wouldn't miss it for the world. Who else will be performing?"

"Oh, Georgy, of course. A tenor who sang here last Christmas, Mrs. Carstares
on the violoncello, Peter Carrisford--"

"Who?" Archie interrupted, discerning an unfamiliar note of enthusiasm in her
voice at the last name.

"Peter Carrisford. A distant connection of the family's; I think the Dowager
Countess is his godmother. He plays the violin and he is *very* good!" No
disguising her enthusiasm now.

Archie felt a sudden sharp pang somewhere in the region of his stomach. "Is
he a better fiddler than your brother, Henry?" he asked, trying not to sound
waspish.

"Well . . . " Honesty struggled with family loyalty and prevailed. "Yes, I
think so. Of course, Peter's had years of formal instruction, ever since he
was a little boy. He's only one-and-twenty now--and simply first-rate as a
musician."

"A prodigy," Archie remarked. Was there an edge to his voice?

If there was, Medora gave no sign of noticing it. "Perhaps. But he's not at
all vain; actually, he's quite modest. And serious. Rather like your Mr.
Hornblower, in fact. I am sure you will like him when you meet."

"Mm," Archie said neutrally; he was rather less sure about liking the
talented Mr. Carrisford but it would be ill-natured to say so. Straightening
up from his position against the harpsichord, he wandered with deliberate
nonchalance towards the window and looked out. An exclamation of dismay
escaped him as he beheld a disquietingly familiar sight.

"What's wrong?"

Archie felt his face flushing. "I--had not realized that the rose garden was
so . . . visible from here."

"Oh, yes." Medora laughed, blissfully unaware of his inner turmoil. "Visible
and, at times, audible. Sound carries in strange ways. Some mornings, when
the window is open, I can hear Lady Langford singing while she cuts flowers fo
r the house. And sometimes I hear the under-gardener, Maddox, sneezing! Poor
man--I think some of those flowers give him the catarrh!"

"Most unfortunate," Archie managed, trying not to think about what else might
be seen or heard from the music room window. He glanced uneasily towards the
summerhouse, remembering his dream: the kisses, the caresses, the way her
eagerness had seemed to match his own. From this angle, he could not actually
see *inside* the building, but if sound carried as well as Medora had said it
did . . .

No, best *not* to think of that! Turning away from the window, he mustered
up a smile. "So, what room will the musicale be held in? Not this one,
surely? There doesn't seem to be quite enough room for a great crowd of
people."

"The main drawing room in the other wing," Medora replied. "Where you were
shown last night? The pianoforte is there and Georgy's best harp. This room
is used mostly for instruction."

"And the time?"

"The music will start around seven, but there will be some light refreshments
served around six--for those who can stomach them, that is! *I * never can,
before a performance like this!" she added with a shudder.

"Poor Medora!" he teased lightly. "You weren't so troubled back in Cornwall!"

"I *knew* everyone back in Cornwall," she retorted, giving him a look that
was positively regal in its disdain. "Performing in front of strangers--or
near strangers--is entirely different!"

"So it is," Archie agreed, with a grin. "Well, I shall endeavor to arrive in
a timely manner. Possibly not as early as six, but certainly well before
seven."

Grey eyes widened in surprise. "You are going out?"

"For a time." Archie could not resist adding, "Horatio and I are engaged to
take tea with a lady."

"Oh?" The grey eyes narrowed this time. "Anyone of my acquaintance?"

"Not of your acquaintance, though you are already familiar with her
reputation. I am speaking of none other than the celebrated Katharine Cobham!"

"Oh!" A brief discordant thump on the harpsichord keys accompanied this
exclamation, while eyes now the color of a stormy sea glowered up at him.
"You, Mr. Kennedy, are a perfidious wretch!"

Archie raised inquiring brows. "Jealous, Miss Tresilian?"

"Positively green. But not for the reason you think, so you needn't look so
pleased with yourself, sir! I should *love* to take tea with a famous
actress, but it's not the sort of thing a 'proper young lady' does." She
brooded over the keyboard a moment longer. "I should be sorely tempted to
kick over the traces and insist on accompanying you, except that Signior
Rossini will be here any minute now--and I promised Georgy I would rehearse
with her all this afternoon for tonight's performance."

Archie smothered a smile. "Would you be satisfied with full disclosure? I
promise to tell you all the details--or at least, as many as I can, while
remaining a gentleman!"

"Hmmph. Well, I suppose that's fair enough," she conceded. "And I'm not
likely to get a better offer, am I? Just see that you're here with us
tonight!"

"Oh, be sure I will," he replied, but added mischievously, "that is, unless,
Miss Cobham's allure makes me completely forget the time!"

Medora shook her head and pursed her lips. "Fickle," she pronounced
mournfully. "Utterly and hopelessly fickle, like the rest of your sex. What
is a respectable young lady to do with such as you?"

Several possibilities--some of them rather ribald--occurred to Archie but the
appearance of the parlormaid, announcing the arrival of Signior Rossini,
prevented him from uttering any of them. Donning his most innocent
expression, he took his leave instead.

Medora, however, had the last word. No sooner had the door closed than
Archie heard the harpsichord start up again, then her voice raised in song:

 

"Sigh no more, ladies, sigh no more,
Men were deceivers ever,
One foot in sea, and one on shore,
To one thing constant never."

 

Grinning, Archie made for the bedroom and his own ablutions.

 

END PART SEVEN