by Clio

Part 15 - His Brother's Keeper

The next day dawned dreary, cloudy and cool. A perfect setting for the
mood within Rosefield, Kennedy thought to himself. Annie was sulking in
her room, but whether it was because of Reg's arrest, Hornblower's
departure, or William Edrington's charms her brother couldn't say.
Edward was in the study surveying the makeshift repairs that had been
made to the broken window. Until they could contract with a glazier to
make new glass the temporary shutters would just have to do.

Kennedy had eaten breakfast by himself in an absurdly silent dining room.
As if they sensed the tension permeating the house the servants moved
with a deliberate stillness, almost stealthy, as they went about their
duties. Mrs. Keller had, as usual, prepared enough food to feed an army,
but she could only shake her head in disgust at how little justice was
done to the meal. Despite being present, Kennedy did little except push
his food about the plate, his thoughts far away from the dining room.
When Jenkins took the plate away from him he barely noticed.

"Will there be anything else, Mr. Kennedy?" Jenkins asked.

Kennedy practically jumped out of his skin. The fork he still held fell
from his hand, bounced once on the table and then fell to the floor. He
bent to pick it up at the same time Jenkins stooped for it. With an
agility surprising in a man his age Jenkins snatched the fork away from
Kennedy's outstretched hand and just as quickly straightened up.

"Will there be anything else, Mr. Kennedy?" he asked again, his voice
stiff with indignation.

Kennedy stifled his laughter when he realized what had upset Jenkins.
The master should never stoop to pick up his own fork from the floor,
even if his clumsiness had put it there in the first place! In that
moment he felt a rush of longing for the Indefatigable; for the sight of
her sails billowing in the wind and the music of the rigging; for a place
where he could pick his own fork up if he so wished. Indeed, a place
where he was required to do so! Mr. Bracegirdle ran a tight mess!

With a small smile he answered the butler's question. "No, Jenkins.
That'll be all, thank you. And thank Mrs. Keller for me. Everything was
delicious, as usual."

Jenkins nodded once in acknowledgment and left the room, mumbling to
himself. Kennedy caught the words "...didn't hardly eat anything, did
he?" before the door to the kitchen swung shut behind him.

Kennedy ignored the implied reproof and left the dining room. He felt
stifled inside, as if the gloominess he felt was leaking from the very
walls of the house. A walk on the grounds, even with the incipient
promise of rain, sounded like a heavenly proposition.

On the front steps of the house he stood for a minute, letting the cool
breeze blow the cobwebs from his mind. He had not been able to find a
ribbon amongst his things that morning, so his hair hung loose past his
shoulders. He felt free and unfettered for that brief moment when his
mind was a blank. But unfortunately, thought had to return, and he was
thrown right back into worries over Reg. To distract himself he set out
towards the stables, walking quickly as if to outrun his own thoughts.

As he walked the grounds Kennedy was gratified to see that things were
beginning to shape up. The box hedge had been trimmed to a manageable
state. It would take months before it could be re-shaped back into the
labyrinth it once had been, but that was all right. It was a start. The
rose garden which had given the house its name had been cleared and would
be re-planted in the spring. There were fresh patches of mud on the side
of the stable, showing where cracks in the fieldstone had been repaired.

All of the outdoor staff, the gardeners and stable hands, were eager to
show off the progress they had made. And it was certainly true that they
had done wonders in so short an amount of time. Kennedy spent an
enjoyable two hours wandering the length and breadth of the estate with
the head gardener, listening to the man detail all his plans for the
upcoming year and trying desperately to look interested. But it didn't
matter that the subject bored him to tears; the fresh air was
invigorating, and he was starting to feel as if no force on earth could
hold him back.

Having made his escape from the gardener, Kennedy walked slowly back to
the house. It had begun to rain slightly; a soft mist that dusted his
hair and clung to his eyelashes. The rain smelled like Emma's hair, and
he stopped for a moment, raised his face to the sky and breathed it in.
He smiled in memory of her farewell the previous afternoon. They had
sneaked into Edrington's study like two guilty schoolchildren and spent
five minutes kissing and whispering endearments. It wasn't until Robert
Chamberlain had passed the door, calling for his daughter, that they had
parted. But not before she had told him to come to tea the next
afternoon. Today.

He was anticipating the pleasure of seeing her again, and of spending
time in her company, when he was brought up short by the sight of
somebody moving behind the windows of his brother's room. Whoever it
was was dressed in light colors, so it couldn't be one of the servants.

He ran to the front of the house and took the steps two at a time. Annie
was in the front hallway when he burst through the door.

"Archie!" she gasped, pressing a hand to her heart. "You frightened me!
Whatever is the matter with you?"

"What were you doing in Reg's bedroom?"

Annie flushed slightly, but she held her head high and didn't flinch from
her brother's gaze. "I was simply checking to see whether the room
needed to be cleaned. That's all."

Kennedy stared intently at his twin. "I don't believe you." he bluntly

Annie laughed. "What do you think I was doing? Destroying evidence that
might prove Reg innocent of murder? Or perhaps you think I was planting
evidence to prove him guilty?" She shook her head. "God, Archie! You
can be such a prig sometimes!" She made to walk away, but he caught her
arm and held her. She looked to where his fingers encircled her forearm.
"You're hurting me." was all she said.

He loosened his grip on her arm but still held on to her. "Annie, you
didn't need to go into Reg's room to know that it needs to be cleaned and
aired. I imagine you know that he hasn't allowed any of the servants in
there in nearly a month. So tell me the truth - what were you doing in
Reg's bedroom?"

Annie turned her head to look at the wall, but not before Kennedy caught
a glimpse of the tears that glistened in her eyes. She shook her head,
almost as if denying the need to cry, before meeting his eyes again. "I
thought that maybe...." she took a deep breath and let it out in a sigh.
"I thought that maybe, if I looked hard enough, I could find something to
explain what he's done! And I don't mean this whole situation with
Chambers, either. I wanted to know why he told those tales about me being
forced to marry Mr. Chamberlain."

"You know about that?" Kennedy asked, incredulous. "How? I've not

"I heard you. Yesterday morning." Annie laughed mirthlessly. "I know
you thought you were whispering, but I heard you nonetheless. Reg made up
everything about my marriage to bring you home. But I don't understand
why!" She was crying now, tears slowly trailing down her cheeks.

Kennedy reached out and pulled his sister into his embrace. "I wish I
understood why as well! But the why doesn't matter any more. We need to
concentrate on getting this matter of murder resolved." He pulled back
and gently wiped the tears off of Annie's cheeks. "Maybe then we can
figure the rest of it out. All right?" he asked, a cajoling note in his
voice and a soft smile on his face.

"Yes. Of course, you're right." Annie said, stepping out of the embrace
and wiping her face with her hands. As Kennedy watched her spine
stiffened and she stood proud and tall. "I'll just go and speak to Mrs.
Keller about cleaning up Reg's room, shall I?" And without waiting for
an answer she set off toward the kitchen.

Kennedy watched as his sister walked away, feeling a twinge of worry. He
found himself wondering just when Annie would retreat from her problems,
perhaps into alcohol, perhaps into another form of self-abuse. But he
guiltily shook those thoughts away. Annie was strong, like their mother
had always been. She might bend, but she would never break.

Jenkins came in at that moment, bearing the morning post on a silver
tray. Kennedy took the pile and quickly sorted through it. One seal
jumped out at him, and he hastened to open the envelope.

Please convey my greetings to your sister and your father. I have just
now concluded a meeting with Colonel Mathers. He granted permission for
your father to see and speak with Reg tomorrow morning. No later than 10
o'clock. He was most insistent on that point. If you and Mr. Kennedy
would care to breakfast at Edrington Manor tomorrow, we three will ride
to the village after. I await your response.

In Friendship,
H. E."

Kennedy took the letter to the study, where his father sat behind the
desk, staring off into space. He was drumming the fingers of his right
hand against the chair arm, and nervously tapping a foot. When his son
entered he didn't turn around right away. He just sat and watched the
rain slowly leaking around the shutters on the broken window.

"You can see Reg tomorrow" Kennedy said with no preliminaries. "Lord
Edrington has arranged it." The chair turned around then and his father
faced him. He held the letter up before tossing it onto the desk. "He
also invited us to breakfast with him before going to the village."

"Us? Edward asked. He read the letter. "No. Absolutely not." He shook
his head. "I don't want you there when I speak to your brother. You
don't need to hear what I have to say to him."

"Then I'll stay outside. But wherever I am when you actually speak to
Reg, I have every intention of accompanying you. So you can forget about
trying to convince me otherwise."

Edward stared long and hard at his youngest son. There was a
determination in Archie's face that hardened its boyish lines and lit a
fire in his blue eyes. "I'd rather you didn't come at all, but if you
insist...." The statement hung in the air as Edward turned the chair
back to the window.

"Father...." He hesitated a moment before speaking. "Father, the day I
arrived you and Reg were having an argument. Just as I came through the
front door Reg stormed out of this room shouting 'I am not going to agree
to that! You can just forget about it, because I won't allow that to
happen!' What did he mean by that?"

Edward waved off the question. "That? It was probably an argument about
my plans to officially divide the estate equally between the two of you.
Nothing important, I assure you."

Kennedy felt his jaw drop. He swallowed hard before he responded.
"Nothing important? NOTHING IMPORTANT?!" He felt his voice rising. "My
God, Horatio and Edrington were right! That IS why Reg concocted that
story about Annie's imminent marriage to persuade me to come home!"

At that last statement Edward turned back around, stunned surprise
visible in his slack jaw and wide eyes. "Are you telling me that Reg
made up...." He was too surprised to continue.

"Yes, Father. That whole story of Annie being forced, by you, to marry
Robert Chamberlain was a fiction that Reg dreamed up to bring me home.
That whole story that everyone in the district apparently took as gospel.
Nothing but a pack of lies."

"But why?" Edward asked, his voice agonized. "If Reg wanted to convince
me not to divide the estate equally I would have thought he'd want you as
far from Rosefield as possible!" He studied Archie and decided that the
time for hiding things had arrived. He sighed and began to speak. "Not
long after we had been told you were still alive, albeit in prison, your
mother and I made this decision. She always loved you with a special
intensity, you know. I imagine because of...."

"Because of the fits?" Archie interrupted. "I thought they were a source
of embarrassment! Didn't that one doctor say that it would have been
better if I had died at birth?" His voice was full of scorn.

Edward shook his head. "Your mother never believed that. She said you
had been touched by God; that you were special. And one day the whole
world would know it." His eyes took on a faraway look; he was captured
by the memories. "She never wanted you to go to the navy, you know. She
begged and pleaded with me, but I refused. I thought you needed
toughening up; that life at sea would wash away childish behaviors and
fantasies. God, how wrong I was." This last was spoken barely above a

Kennedy collapsed into one of the chairs that faced the desk, his mind
reeling from an overload of information. He could think of nothing to
say, so he waited for his father to continue.

"You didn't need toughening up. I should have known that your
stubbornness was simply a sign of tremendous inner strength. A strength
that I wished to heaven that I possessed! A strength that I always
believed I had. Until...."

"Until Mother died." Kennedy said quietly.

"Yes. When Margaret died I fell apart. I couldn't imagine life without
her. For nearly thirty years she had been the center of my life, my
heart, my soul! And just like that she was gone! I couldn't handle it."
He scrubbed his face with his hands. "I got drunk the night before we
buried her, and I stayed that way until just a couple of days ago. Eight
months of inebriation."

"What happened to your plans for the estate?"

Edward paused for thought, struggling to call up a memory that was foggy,
at best. "About a week after her burial, in one of my more lucid
moments"; a self-deprecating smile; "Reg came to me and said that he
imagined her death had put to rest any thoughts of dividing the estate
equally. He was so certain that the whole idea had been Margaret's in
the first place, and that with her gone I would cease to even consider
it. At first I agreed. I told myself that you would be worse than
useless around the estate; even if you weren't at sea for months at a
time you could hardly be expected to manage things. But then I started
to notice little things. I didn't give any of it much thought; I was
more interested in my next bottle of brandy. But it became increasingly
clear that not only was Reg not capable of handling matters, but he
really didn't give a damn. So, my mind went back to you. You, at least,
cared about Rosefield; cared about the land and keeping it for future

"So the day I arrived, what exactly were you arguing about?"

"I had told Reg that the day before I had signed the papers making it
official. I also said that although the two of you would share in the
money equally, I was naming you as my actual heir. That you would have
the responsibility as well as the power to make all decisions concerning
the estate. He raged at me, screaming that I was out of my mind, that he
would fight me tooth and nail. Then he seemed to calm down, and he asked
if there was anything that would change my mind."

Kennedy sat quietly, his mind and stomach churning. "And you said....?"

"I said only Archie's death." And with that statement Edward turned his
back to Archie. The conversation was over.

Later that day as Kennedy rode to Marsden Hall he replayed the
conversation over in his mind. At the time he had been too stunned by
the revelations to make any real sense of it, but know that he had time
to think, his mind wouldn't let go. Try as he might, he couldn't stop
thinking about Reg plotting his death. His heart denied the possibility
vehemently, but an insidious little voice kept whispering in his brain
"What if?".

As he rode up the drive of the hall he saw a figure making its way
through the wood, its head bowed as if deep in thought. The sound of
hooves on the hard packed earth announced his presence, and the figure
glanced up. Emma! He reined in to a stop and swung out of the saddle
while she quickly picked her way through the trees.

She ran the last few yards, all but throwing herself into his arms. At
the sight of her and the feel of her as he held her close his heart
immediately lightened, his mind closed down, and he gave himself over to
the pleasure of her presence.

An eternity later Emma pulled away and looked carefully in his eyes.
"What's wrong, Archie?" she asked. "You look worried."

He laughed then. "More or less worried than I looked yesterday?"

Deciding that it wasn't the time to push him into talking about whatever
was bothering him, Emma played along with his lighthearted question.
"About the same, I would judge." she said, her slightly crooked smile
playing across her face. "Can I take that to mean there has been no more
bad news?"

In response Kennedy simply kissed her.

"Mmmmmmm!" Emma said when their lips parted. "Whatever did I do to
deserve that?"

"Nothing!" Kennedy stated. "Simply by being yourself you earn kisses
like that every day. And I intend to make sure you get them, every day
for the rest of your life." He seemed suddenly to realize what he had
just said. His eyes grew wide and he blushed furiously. He cleared his
throat. "That is, if you'll have me for the rest of your life?" It came
out as half question, half plea.

"Marriage, Mr. Kennedy? On such short acquaintance?" she said, laughter
in her voice.

"For someone who believes in love at first sight" he said. "I would
think that marriage on short acquaintance would be just the thing!" He
grew serious then, took both her hands in his and looked intently into
her grey eyes. "Emma Chamberlain, will you marry me? Will you be my
wife, my lover, my best friend?"

Emma swallowed hard as she felt tears well in her eyes. Instinctively
she had known this was coming from the moment they met. It was like a
force of nature, like lightning, and there was nothing to be done but
agree. "Yes." she said, barely audibly at first. "Yes." she repeated,
her voice stronger. "YES!" she shouted, loudly enough to frighten the
birds from the trees. They came together in an embrace that toppled them
to the ground, where they lay laughing until Kennedy sealed their bargain
with a kiss.

Some minutes later they were walking up the drive toward the house. Emma
was trying to re-arrange the disarranged bodice of her gown and Kennedy
was picking twigs out of his hair and trying to brush dust from the
shoulders of his jacket. The horse walked placidly alongside, unruffled
by anything he had witnessed.

Kennedy glanced over at his fiancee and stifled a laugh as she hitched
her gown back into place and gave her bosom a slight shake. "You know,"
he said, the first words either had spoken since Emma's acceptance of his
proposal. "It's a very good thing you said yes, else I would never be
able to keep that promise to show you what a ship of the line is like!"

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