by Clio

Chapter 13 - Evidence

While William and Hornblower were calming the scene back at Edrington
Manor, the earl and Kennedy were being shown to their room by Gaines. The
innkeeper was profuse in his apologies about the quality of the
accommodations, but since it was the only available room they didn't have
very much choice. Kennedy was amused by the muscle that jumped in
Edrington's jaw; an obvious sign of a tightly controlled temper. He
thrust some coins into Gaines' hand and shut the door in his face when he
would have launched into another round of apologies.

Kennedy looked around the small room. It was on the top floor and had one
small garret window. It was stifling hot.

"I've slept in worse." he said, shrugging philosophically.

Edrington pushed the window open before turning to survey the room. "So
have I, but at this particular moment I can't exactly remember when. Or
where." He tossed his hat and cloak onto one of the beds - pallets,
really - and sat in the only chair. His shoulders slumped forward and he
looked smaller and less commanding. When he lifted his face he looked
very young and there was anguish in his eyes.

"Now I know how my father felt." he said with a brief flash of a smile.
"Archie, I would ignore this whole mess if I could, but its gone beyond
that now. Surely you can see that?"

For a moment Kennedy was too astonished to speak. "Are you mad, Hal? This
is murder we're talking about! Nobody can ignore that, not for me, and
certainly not for my brother." He threw himself down on his pallet and
propped his head on his hand. "If these people are depending on you to
see that justice carries the day, than that is what you must do."

"Is that truly what you want?" Edrington asked. "Its liable to get pretty
ugly before it gets better, Archie. Can you handle it?"

Kennedy sighed deeply. "I don't know. I won't know until I'm faced with
it. But I have to know the truth; for my sister, for my father, and for

"Then I would suggest we at least try to get some sleep." Edrington said.
"It will probably look a whole lot worse in the morning, but we can face
it then." He blew out the candle stub that had been providing light, and
the soft summer darkness descended on the room.

Out of that darkness came Kennedy's voice. "Really, Edrington. Could you
please keep your rampageous optimism under control?"

A derisive snort and a brief chuckle were the only response.

The next morning breakfast was delivered by one of the maids. It was
simple; bread with butter and strawberry preserves, and a pot of tea.
Kennedy was ravenously hungry after the night's excitement. He barely
noticed when Edrington pushed his portion across the table.

"I don't know how you can eat." he said, taking a sip of his tea. "It
makes me sick to my stomach just thinking about it."

Kennedy swallowed a mouthful before replying. "It won't do anybody any
good if we starve." he said complacently. "I learned that while I was a

"I suppose you're right." Edrington sighed and took a bite.

"Of course I'm right!" He grinned. "Aren't I always?"

Edrington glowered. "Don't push it, Archie!"

Kennedy sobered then. "Hal, what will happen if Reg can't remember what
happened, or if..." He swallowed and forced himself to say it. "Or if he

Edrington pushed his chair away from the table and stood at the window.
"I'm no expert, Archie, but from what we've heard thus far I would say
that a charge of murder is a bit excessive. One fact is glaringly
obvious: this man was killed in what was by all accounts a fair fight.
That hardly constitutes murder." A knock sounded at the door. "Either
way, we're about to find out."

Kennedy opened the door to reveal Gaines on the threshold. The man looked
as if he had aged ten years overnight. Archie ruefully acknowledged that
murder done on your doorstep could have that effect. Without a word he
and Edrington followed the older man down the steps and out into the
sun-drenched morning.

When they reached the green Gaines finally spoke. "Bodkin is waiting for
us, my lord, as is Colonel Mathers."

Edrington's smooth, even stride broke and he briefly stumbled. Kennedy
reached out a hand to steady his friend while Gaines continued ahead.

"What's the matter?" Kennedy asked. "You look like you've been kicked in
the stomach."

Edrington had recovered himself and they proceeded toward the icehouse.
When he answered the question it was in a low voice for his companion's
ears alone. "Colonel Mathers is the matter. He is as unscrupulous an
individual as I have ever come across. I've seen his idea of justice
before; he'd much rather go with the speedy solution than get at the
truth. Why the devil did he have to come here himself?"

"But who exactly is he?"

"The district militia commander." Edrington sneered. "Militia! Bah!
That's a glorified term for Mathers' men. Nothing but thugs in uniform!
He also happens to be the sheriff."

Kennedy would have liked to find out more, but they had arrived at the
icehouse by then. Gaines stood there with Bodkin, looking appropriately
hangdog as well as hungover. With them was an imperiously tall gentleman
dressed in an impeccable uniform. Until that moment Kennedy had always
considered Edrington to be the epitome of parade ground polish, but his
friend paled in comparison to the sartorial splendor of Colonel Mathers.
When he swept of his hat Kennedy received another surprise - the colonel
was as bald as the proverbial egg.

He nodded once to acknowledge their arrival. "Edrington." he said in a
chilly voice.

Never one to be outdone in aristocratic hauteur, Edrington's voice was
ice cold when he responded. "Mathers." Kennedy noted that he didn't
salute the older man. "This is Acting Lieutenant Archibald Kennedy, of
His Majesty's Frigate Indefatigable."

Kennedy winced at the use of his full name but otherwise showed no
reaction. He was determined to be just as cool and unaffected as the two
army officers were.

Mathers looked him up and down, his opinion all but written on his face.
Admittedly, he didn't present much of a picture. Dressed in his
second-best uniform, with his hair hanging loose, he was hardly the ideal
image of an earnest young naval officer. But he stood quietly under the
scrutiny, consciously mimicking Captain Pellew's posture.

"A relative of the accused?" The sudden question jolted Kennedy out of
his stillness.

"His brother." Edrington replied. He overrode the objection Mathers had
been about to make. "And as such perfectly within his rights to be here."

Mathers recognized the change from major to earl, and let it go. "Let's
get on with this." he snarled, yanking the door open and disappearing
into the gloom of the icehouse. Bodkin followed behind like a whipped

Kennedy took a step toward the door, but was stopped by Edrington's hand
on his elbow. "Archie, no matter what happens in there keep a tight rein
on your temper. You are an observer, nothing more. Let me handle this."

Reg was conscious but bleary-eyed when they arrived on the scene. He gave
his brother one hateful glance and then studiously ignored him. Kennedy
hung back from the circle, aware of the tension that was palpable in the
air, and determined to follow Edrington's instructions and simply

Colonel Mathers took charge of the questioning. Right away it was clear
that, as Edrington had said, Mathers preferred the easy answer to
ferreting out the truth. Kennedy was moved on a couple of occasions to
protest, but a warning glance from the earl made him clench his jaw shut.

"I didn't kill the man." Reg's voice sounded sullen and flat, as if he
didn't really care what would happen.

"You were beside the body. With blood on your sleeve." Mathers caught the
material and waved Reg's right arm about. "What other possible
explanation could there be?"

"Did you see what happened, Mr. Kennedy?" Edrington's quiet and even
voice was a stark contrast to the colonel's confrontational attitude, and
Reg responded to that. He sat up a little straighter and made an attempt
to make his clothes more seemly.

"No. I didn't see anything." His brow furrowed as he concentrated; trying
to remember. "It was getting dark, and there were just so many people
milling around. I really couldn't tell."

"What about the argument?" Mathers' voice lashed like a whip. Reg looked
confused, and Mathers continued, getting angrier by the minute. "We have
witnesses who saw you and this man..." He turned toward Bodkin.

"Chambers, sir." Bodkin piped in.

"You and this man, Chambers, arguing in the tavern. Everyone says you
were outraged at something, and that the discussion turned into a
physical fight! So why did you kill him?"

"Actually, the witnesses said there were at least eight people involved
in the argument." Edrington said, again quiet and unassuming. "And those
same witnesses said that all those people took part in the ensuing

Mathers gave the earl a withering look, but it had no effect. With one
last look at Reg and a gesture to Bodkin to remain, he stormed out of the
icehouse without a backward glance.

Edrington glanced at Kennedy with a raised right eyebrow before
following. Kennedy shook his head ruefully. I bet he perfected that
expression in his lordly cradle, he said to himself as he trailed along
behind. He stepped out into the sunlight and right into a heated

"I can not understand your concern in this matter Edrington." Mathers was
railing upon Kennedy's arrival. "But since you have, shall we say
ëinserted' yourself into the matter, the least you can do is face the

Edrington's temper flared, much to his friend's surprise. "Oh, by all
means, lets face the facts. But perhaps you'd do me the courtesy,
Mathers, of facing ALL of the facts. Not just the ones that are
convenient to your interpretation of events!" He began ticking off on his
fingers as he spoke. "One, we have a dead body with a knife in its back.
That is hardly in dispute. Two, Reginald Kennedy was seen kneeling beside
that dead body. Three, Reg had blood on the sleeve of his coat." He
glanced at Kennedy. "Have I left anything out?" he asked, sarcasm and
anger giving his voice a harsh edge.

"Only that my brother was not in the habit of carrying a knife." Kennedy

Mathers glared scornfully at Kennedy. "That hardly makes any difference.
He could have had the knife in his possession without your knowledge. He
could have bought it in the village earlier that day! There are any of a
dozen ways that he could have come to have that knife in his hand! And
how else did the blood get on his sleeve, if he didn't stab the man?"

Edrington snorted. "Were you looking at the same man I was?" he asked,
gesturing to the icehouse door. "He had a bloody nose and a split lip!
The blood could be his own for all we know! Never mind the fact that the
knife was still in the wound; I imagine it hardly bled at all under those

"Oh really?" Mathers' voice was withering. "And just how much medical
knowledge do you base that opinion on?"

Kennedy leapt into the fray at that point. "Any man who has seen battle
can tell you that it is only when the sword or bayonet is withdrawn that
the victim bleeds profusely. But then, you've not have seen very many
deaths in battle, have you Colonel?" The words were out of his mouth
before he could stop them.

Mathers turned purple, his mouth gaping open like a landed fish.
"Bodkin!" he bellowed once before he whirled and marched away.

Bodkin emerged from the icehouse, and with a chagrined glance at the pair
he followed in Colonel Mathers' wake.

"Oh dear!" Kennedy exclaimed as a blush climbed his cheeks. "That didn't
come out right."

Edrington burst out laughing at that point. "Oh Lord, Archie! That was
absolutely priceless!" He gasped for breath. "I've been waiting years to
see somebody take Mathers down a peg! I'd bet the entire estate that the
overstuffed prig never expected it from an Acting Lieutenant in His
Majesty's Navy!"

"I'm so glad that one of us is amused." He looked at Edrington, who was
struggling to get his mirth under control. "You heard the colonel. He
thinks Reg is guilty, and nothing you or I might say will change his

"No, he won't change his mind. But lucky for us, and your brother, he's
not the magistrate." The creak of the icehouse door caused them to turn.
"Is he to be held in custody, Gaines?"

"Yes, my lord. Colonel Mathers' orders." Gaines looked uncomfortable at
the thought.

Edrington nodded. "Good. At least we know he'll be safe there." He met
Gaines' eyes. "Keep an eye on matters for me, Gaines. I want to be
alerted immediately if anything odd happens. Do you understand?" Without
waiting for an acknowledgment he went on. "When is the magistrate due
back in this area?"

"Four days, my lord."

"Excellent. We should have matters resolved by then." His gaze was
piercing. "Don't forget, Gaines; anything, and I mean anything, odd, let
me know as soon as possible." And on that note they made their way to the
livery stable to reclaim the horses.

Their pace on the way back to the manor was much more sedate than the
previous night's headlong gallop to the village, and Kennedy's protesting
muscles were grateful for it. They were both lost in thought, and it
wasn't until they were halfway home that Kennedy spoke up.

"What was all that about, Hal?"

"All what?"

"That ëanything odd' business. What is it you expect will happen?"
Kennedy's voice was slightly worried.

Edrington sighed and reined in to a stop. He crossed his arms on the
pommel. "I don't ëexpect' anything to happen, Archie. But I know Mathers,
and I wouldn't put any skullduggery passed him and his militia."

Kennedy was aghast. "You surely don't think they'll simply take Reg....
Without a trial? That would be..." Kennedy's mind balked at the thought;
he couldn't conceive of any word adequate enough for such wickedness.

Edrington flashed his familiar rueful grin. "Yes, it would be. But I've
seen it before. When I was twelve years old a traveling peddler came to
town and got mixed up in a similar situation. Without waiting for the
magistrate or anything as formal as a trial, Mathers let the mob have the
man. They hanged him." Kennedy gasped and would have interrupted, but
Edrington plowed forward with the story. "Mind you, Mathers never
officially turned the man over, and he wasn't present at the hanging, but
my father never doubted that the colonel was involved in the whole mess.
He just could never prove it."

Sudden comprehension dawned in Kennedy's face. "That's what you meant
last night when you said you knew how your father felt! But surely he
would never consider such an action in this case! I mean, Reg is the son
of a respected gentlemen."

"Yes, he is. But will you father do anything to protect, or even defend
him?" Edrington asked.

Kennedy's face fell. "I don't know." he answered quietly. "I don't know
anything anymore. But if what we were talking about yesterday is true, he
may be content to let Reg rot. I couldn't say."

"You're worried."

"Of course I'm worried! Bloody hell! Who wouldn't be? My brother charged
with murder, my father struggling against his own demons, my sister
trying to balance everything and not upset anybody..." He ran out of
breath and rubbed his face with one hand. "I'm beginning to think I
should have just stayed in that Spanish prison. The world is a lot
simpler when you're locked away from it." He smiled slightly. "I'm also
really starting to miss my mother. She'd know what to do, and what to
stay, to keep the family together." His voice caught on the final word.

Edrington had been looking away, but brought his eyes back to his friend
then. Kennedy's turmoil was written large across his face. He reached out
and placed a hand gently on the younger man's shoulder. "We'll figure it
out, Archie. You can count on that."

"What if we don't find the answer we expect?" Kennedy asked.

"As long as its the truth, it won't be the wrong answer." Edrington
grinned. "I know that sounds like a worthless platitude, but it seem
appropriate to the situation. But are you sure you can handle it, no
matter what happens?"

Kennedy nodded, a determined expression on his face. "I'm not backing
down now. I have to know the truth. It may hurt..." He laughed outright.
"Oh, be honest Archie! It will more than likely hurt, but it has to be
done." He took a deep breath and exhaled on a gusty sigh. "So shall we

Both men urged their horses forward and continued on their way. They rode
in companionable silence for a few moments before a soft chuckle caught
Edrington's ear. He gave his friend a questioning glance.

"I was just thinking how upset Horatio will be at leaving in the middle
of things." He laughed again. "He denies it, but I know he enjoys the
excitement of a battle. And this certainly has the makings of an epic

They both laughed at that, but then Edrington suddenly pulled up. "Oh my
God! Hornblower!" And without another word they both spurred their horses
to a gallop.
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