by Clio

Part 11 - Dinner? At Edrington Manor?

Later that same day Kennedy sat in the gun room with his father. They
could hear the sound of saws and hammers working to repair the damaged
window in the study, but other than that the house was silent. Annie was
in her room preparing for dinner that evening, and Hornblower was out
walking the grounds. As seemed to be his habit, Reg had disappeared just
after luncheon. During the meal he had been surly and sarcastic, and had
consumed a great deal of wine. No one was really sorry to see him go.

Edward had made no mention of the previous evening's uproar, for which
Archie was grateful. He seemed more concerned with learning all the
details of how his son had made the acquaintance of the Earl of
Edrington. By the time Archie had finished telling the story, Edward's
eyebrows had taken up permanent residence at his hairline, and he could
not have appeared more astonished if he tried.

"And all of this was sanctioned by the Admiralty?" Edward asked, his
voice incredulous.

"Not only sanctioned, but ordered." Archie replied. "Although I suspect
that it will just as quickly be forgotten." He suddenly realized that he
may have revealed to much. "Father, you can't speak about this to
anybody. I probably shouldn't have said as much as I did."

Edward nodded. "Of course. I understand." He looked closely at Archie.
"You seem surprisingly unbitter about all of this, son."

"What's the use of being bitter about the past? You can't change it. The
only thing bitterness does is make your future miserable."

"Wise words from one so young."

Archie laughed. "Well, I'm not so young as I may appear. Fighting a war
can have that effect on a person." He sat quietly thinking for a moment
before deciding to broach the subject with his father.

"Father, about last night..."

Edward simply sat and waited.

"Reg's accusations... I just wanted you to know that its untrue. I was
bullied and beaten by Simpson on a few occasions, but never anything
else." He felt a blush climb his cheeks, and he felt like a heel for
lying to his father, but he couldn't bring himself to hurt Edward for
anything. It was bad enough that Annie knew as much as she did; he would
keep his father in ignorance for as long as he could.

Edward simply nodded an acknowledgment, but there was something in his
face that made Archie think he wasn't in quite as much ignorance as his
son thought. He stood up and said "Shall we see if you sister is ready?
It wouldn't do to be late for dinner with an earl."

Archie smiled, relieved at being off the subject of Jack Simpson. "Yes.
I'll go check on her now."

When he left the gun room he found Hornblower standing at the foot of the
stairs, lost in thought. He failed to notice Kennedy as he approached,
and it was only when his friend jiggled his elbow that he snapped out of
his trance.

"Archie! What...?"

"You were fathoms deep, Horatio! What could possibly be so intriguing?"

Hornblower sighed. "I was just thinking about the future."

"Not the past?" Kennedy asked, a peculiar note in his voice.

He looked very solemn as he shook his head. "No, not the past. There's no
purpose in dwelling on it."

"But it is rather difficult to avoid, especially after what happened last
night." Kennedy congratulated himself on the even tone of his voice as he

Hornblower turned to his friend, his gaze so intense that his eyes
appeared almost black. Kennedy resisted the urge to make a joke out of
the moment, instead he stood still under his friend's scrutiny.

Finally Hornblower spoke. "Archie, if I had known everything I would have
helped you. You do understand that, don't you?

Kennedy shook his head emphatically. "No! If you had tried to help me
Simpson would have made things worse for you! I wouldn't have wanted you
to put yourself in danger for me. It was bad enough when Clayton did it!"

A ghost of a smile crossed Hornblower's lips. "You too?"

"Me too, what?" Kennedy asked, genuinely puzzled.

"You still feel guilty about Clayton's death." Before Kennedy could deny
it his friend continued. "So do I. I didn't realize how guilty until last
night when Annie made me acknowledge it."

"And now?"

"I think I can put it behind me. I think I can put everything behind me."
He smiled and placed a hand on his friend's shoulder. "Adventure and
adversity, Archie! That's not just His Majesty's Navy, that's life."

"Well" Kennedy said, trying to look pensive, but his blue eyes were
definitely laughing. "Food is also life, and we do have a dinner
engagement. Would you care to assist me in rousting my sister so we can

"I don't think that will be necessary." Hornblower said, nodding his head
toward the top of the stairs.

Annie stood there, looking so beautiful that Kennedy nearly staggered at
the sight. It was almost as if their mother's portrait had suddenly come
to life, because Annie was wearing the very same gown and had piled her
hair loosely on her head in imitation of the painting. Both men were
stunned into immobility, but as she began to descend the stairs Kennedy
noticed she was still favoring her injured foot, and that simple fact
broke the spell. He held out his hand to her as she came down the final
three steps.

"Are you alright to be walking on that foot?" he asked her.

Annie smiled and nodded toward Hornblower. "Why don't you ask the

Hornblower laughed as Kennedy took her hand and settled it on his arm.
"She's fine. I checked earlier today, and the wound is clean and

Kennedy looked at his friend; blue eyes meeting brown. "Thank you,
Horatio." He spoke quietly, but with an intensity that conveyed just how
grateful he was for his friend's help.

Hornblower understood without any words. He rested his hand briefly on
Kennedy's shoulder. When the door to the gun room opened they all turned
to greet Edward as he emerged.

He stopped short when he noticed the attention focused on him, but he
appeared to soak up the sight of the three young people together. His
eyes stopped on Annie, and for a moment the whole scene froze. Then he
started forward and wordlessly offered his arm to his daughter. With a
bright smile she withdrew her hand from Kennedy's arm and settled it on
her father's, and together they walked out the door.

As they drove up the drive toward Edrington Manor Kennedy saw that the
house was lit up as if for a ball. Light blazed from every window on the
lower floor, and flowed down the steps from the open front door. Edward
stared open-mouthed at the sight before swallowing hard and clenching his
jaw in determination. All the same, his hand shook slightly as he
assisted his daughter from the carriage and escorted her up the steps.

Barton greeted them in the entryway. They could hear voices and laughter
coming from the drawing room as the footmen took their cloaks. They were
halfway across the hall when the drawing room door opened and a cheery
voice greeted them.

"Ah, the Kennedys! A pleasure to meet you all!"

The voice came from a figure that was silhouetted against the light
behind him. Until he took several steps forward there was little to be
clearly seen of him.

Annie came to a sudden, stunned halt as soon as she caught sight of the
newcomer. It was no wonder; he was tall, handsome, with a face wreathed
in a warm smile and bright green eyes that shimmered with laughter.
Except for the eyes he was the absolute picture of his brother.

Lieutenant The Honourable William Edrington extended a hand, and in
bemusement Edward shook it. He presented the rest of the party, leaving
his daughter for last. As William bowed over Annie's hand his brother
emerged from the drawing room to greet his guests.

Seeing them side by side the resemblance was not so startling as Kennedy
had first thought. William was taller by at least four inches, and his
hair was lighter by several shades. His cheerful and boisterous manner
was also in stark contrast to the calmer, more sedate earl.

"William, I think you can bring our guests in now." Edrington said, in
his distinctly dry tone of voice.

William's only response to the implied reproof was to smile even wider.
He sketched a small bow to his brother, offered his arm to Annie and
swept into the drawing room with her at his side.

Edrington hung back and took a moment to greet Kennedy and Hornblower.
When presented to Edward he very gravely shook the older man's hand.

"An honour, Mr. Kennedy." he said. "I am happy to see you looking well."

Edward looked abashed and cleared his throat before responding. "My Lord,
the honour is mine."

Edrington smiled and gestured his guests to enter the drawing room. As
they walked side by side he spoke quietly to Kennedy. "I meant what I
said, Archie. He does look remarkably well, all things considered." He
cast a quick glance to where Edward was bowing over the dowager's hand.
"Is he all right?"

Kennedy nodded. "A little shaky, but otherwise fine." His glance took in
the assembled party and his voice lowered still further. "Hal, I need to
speak with you." He waved away the response Edrington had started to
make. "Its not about my father. As you can see, he's in possession of his
faculties, and he and I have already spoken about the whole Robert
Chamberlain marrying Annie situation. No, its about my brother."

Something in his face or voice must have given it away, for Edrington's
eyes narrowed as he studied Kennedy. "What happened, Archie?" he asked,
his voice full of concern.

Kennedy looked over the earl's shoulder and saw Lady Sarah approaching.
He shook his head slightly. "After dinner." was all he would say.

Sarah had reached the pair by that time, her face puzzled. "You two look
like conspirators; huddling in a corner like this. Whatever is the

"Nothing, my dear. Nothing." Edrington hastened to reassure her. She
looked doubtful, however, and was about to persist in her questions when
Barton entered the room.

"Dinner is served." he announced.

"Saved by the butler." Edrington said under his breath before offering
his arm to Lady Sarah.

"But not for long." she replied, just as quietly. In response to
Edrington's shocked look, she smiled sweetly and slid her arm through
his. Together they led the way to the dining room.

Dinner was quite enjoyable; the food excellent and the conversation
stimulating. Kennedy had blushed upon finding himself seated beside Emma
Chamberlain, and he caught the quick, conspiratorial look exchanged by
Lady Sarah and the dowager countess. He need not have feared being
tongue-tied in Emma's presence, however. The conversation was largely
dominated by William, who had been away from home for over a year and was
eager to hear and impart all manner of news.

He found himself casting frequent glances to Annie as the meal
progressed. She was seated across the table from William, and the young
army lieutenant seemed to be expending tremendous effort to charm her.
Not that he needed to work so hard; Kennedy could tell by her blushes and
shy smiles that Annie was quite captivated by the younger Edrington. And
judging by the way his eyes never left her face, the feeling was mutual.

Uh oh, Kennedy thought to himself before taking a quick look at his
friend. Hornblower sat on Lady Sarah's right. His innate shyness seemed
to be in remission; he was talking animatedly with both his hostess and
Robert Chamberlain, who sat opposite. But every few moments his eyes
strayed to Annie, and he could not fail to notice how she was responding
to William. A shadow of pain marred his features, and as Kennedy watched
his brown eyes became shuttered and closed off. For a moment he fancied
he saw a glimpse of the boy Hornblower had been, and the pain he had
suffered when his mother died. But the look was quickly veiled, and his
countenance resumed its customary impassive cast.

"How long will you be with us, Lieutenant Edrington?" Emma's quiet voice
filled the lull in conversation. Kennedy forcibly dragged his mind back
to the subject.

William managed to pull his attention away from Annie and focus it on
Emma. "Only a week this time, Miss Chamberlain. But I've been promised an
entire month of leave at Christmas, if I behave myself and am a good
soldier." His smile positively beamed with mischief.

"Then I imagine we will not be seeing you for that holiday." Edrington
dryly commented.

"Henry....." Lady Sarah began before her future brother-in-law stepped

"A palpable hit, Major!" His laughter was light and infectious. "Indeed,
if my leave were truly dependent on my behavior, I would never be allowed
away from my regiment!"

The entire party laughed in response to William's remark. When the
servants came into the dining room to clear the last of the dishes away,
Lady Sarah stood and the ladies withdrew. As they left the room Annie and
Emma had their heads together and we talking in low voices. A quick
giggle escaped from one of them; Annie turned her head and her eyes met

He stood up rather quickly. "I believe I'll just join the ladies, if you
gentlemen will excuse my absence. I'd like to spend as much time as I can
with Mama while I'm home."

No one could argue with that sentiment, although Kennedy had his own
ideas about William's eagerness to sit in the drawing room listening to
ladies' gossip. He had very little time to speculate, because as soon as
William was out the door Edrington stood. With an elegant gesture and a
soft-spoken "Gentlemen..." he preceded Edward Kennedy and Robert
Chamberlain from the room and into the library.

Once there Edrington dismissed Barton and began pouring the brandy
himself. Kennedy held his breath when the earl unthinkingly offered a
snifter to Edward, but was gratified to see his father refuse and content
himself with an odorous cigar instead. He was equally surprised to see
Hornblower accept both the brandy and the cigar. He stood close to his
friend and pitched his voice for Hornblower's ears alone.

"Horatio, you hardly ever drink, and I don't think I've ever seen you
smoke. Why tonight?"

Hornblower grimaced slightly. "I have a feeling I might need it. I know
that this evening is ostensibly a celebration, but this gathering feels
remarkably like a council of war." He looked Kennedy directly in the eye.
"Have you figured out what exactly is going on with your brother?"

Kennedy tensed at that, and then relaxed with a brief laugh. "I should
have known you'd read me so well. Yes, I think I have figured it out." He
looked around the room to make sure the other men were out of earshot
before continuing. "I believe that Reg invented the whole story of Father
forcing Annie to marry Robert Chamberlain to make sure I came home. But I
can't figure out why! Why was it so important that I come home now?"

Hornblower gave the question some thought. When he replied it was with a
faint blush staining his lean face; he was obviously uncomfortable with
what he had to say. "I think, perhaps, that Reg's drinking is clouding
his mind. He may not even understand why he wanted you home so badly."
Kennedy made to interrupt but Hornblower cut him off. "Yes, yes, I know
that he was, at some point, concerned about your father, but that won't
wash any longer. And the change in his behavior in just the last two days
has been astounding. I think..." His voice cut off sharply as Edrington
came to join the pair.

"Don't stop on my account, Mr. Hornblower." He looked from one younger
man to the other. "I gather by your hushed voices and general mien of
mystery that you are discussing Mr. Reginald Kennedy." His shrewd brown
eyes locked on Kennedy. "What happened yesterday evening to prompt such
intense speculation?"

Kennedy gestured to Hornblower, inviting him to tell the tale. With his
habitual honesty Hornblower left nothing out. He described Reg's rather
sudden return to Rosefield, his appalling drunkenness, and his horrid
statements and accusations against his brother. Kennedy blushed fiercely
at that point but his eyes held steady on Edrington's.

Except for a slight wrinkling of his aristocratic forehead, Edrington
showed little reaction to the story. He waited until Hornblower had
finished before he spoke. Kennedy waited for the inevitable question -
"Is it true?" - but it didn't come. Edrington seemed more interested in
what was to be made of Reg's increasingly erratic behavior.

Kennedy felt obliged to reveal certain facts of his acrimonious
discussion with Reg earlier that day. When he reached the end of his
story Hornblower looked shocked, and Edrington as inscrutable as ever.
His eyes were intense as he gazed at Kennedy.

"If I may be permitted to theorize" he began. "It seems that for some
reason Reg's primary motive in wanting you to come home was to further
separate you from your father." He glanced quickly over his shoulder to
where Edward and Chamberlain sat. "Is it possible that at some time
before your mother's death your father was considering disinheriting Reg?
And naming you as his heir?"

Kennedy was dumbfounded; this was one explanation that had never occurred
to him. He thought about it. "It is possible, I suppose." He shook his
head vehemently. "No, I can't imagine it! My father forced me into the
navy because I was an embarrassment! Why would he suddenly turn around
and embrace me as a scion of the Kennedy Clan?"

"But don't you see? That's exactly what he has done!" Hornblower's voice
grew louder in his agitation before Kennedy and Edrington could hush him.
He continued, chastised and quiet. "Once he was able to see past the haze
of alcohol, he has brought you closer to him. His attitude toward Reg
last night proves it."

Edrington looked at Kennedy and raised his right eyebrow. "I think he's
got it." he said with a nod to Hornblower.

Kennedy, while still skeptical, was able to see the force of the
argument. "Well, there's one sure way to find out." And he moved
decisively toward where his father sat, complacently enjoying his cigar.

Edward looked up when his son reached his chair. He was somewhat
surprised at how awkward the three younger men appeared. Even Edrington
stood with his eyes fixed on the floor, looking for all the world like a
guilty schoolboy caught in some mischief.

Deciding that there was little to be gained by softening the blow,
Kennedy jumped right in with both feet. "Father, I want to ask you a
question. It has to do Reg and why exactly he so urgently wanted me home.
We..." he gestured to include Hornblower and Edrington. "We've been
discussing matters, you see, and..."

Before he could finish the door to the library swung open and Barton
entered, bearing a message.

"From the village bailiff, m'lord."

Edrington crossed to his desk, pulled out a letter opener and quickly
slit the message open. As he read it his face blanched. He looked up to
see all the men gathered around him.

"There's been an incident in the village." His voice was strained. "A
disagreement in the tavern led to an all-out brawl on the green, and a
man was knifed. A man by the name of Chambers." Kennedy sucked in his
breath and waited for Edrington to finish. His gaze skimmed the two naval
officers before settling on Edward "Your son has been accused of murder."

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