THE JOURNEY HOME
At dinner that evening Hornblower received a lesson in family life. The atmosphere in the dining room was distinctly chilly; barely ten words were spoken the
entire meal. Edward Kennedy sat at the head of the table, eating very little but making free with the wine decanter. Reg sat pale-faced and tight lipped with anger while Annie kept her eyes lowered to avoid calling attention to herself. Only once did she look up
with a quick smile for her twin.
Kennedy took advantage of the situation to study his father. In truth, he had barely recognized the older man when he had staggered out of his study in response to the uproar in the entry hall. He seemed smaller, diminished by age and his grief at his wife's death. His face was puffy and bloated, and, underneath the rosy blush of the alcohol, pasty white. He hadn't spoken, only nodded at his youngest son. A slight lift of the eyebrows was all the reaction Hornblower had displayed. With a small shake of his head Kennedy had indicated that they would talk later.
Now he watched as his father poured yet another glass of wine. He noticed Reg watching as well, and he caught his brother's eye. That moment of silent communication was enough for Archie; he knew then that things were much worse than he had anticipated. He pushed his chair back from the table, excusing himself as he rose. Reg quickly followed suit, and without acknowledging their father he left the room.
Archie spared a quick glance and a smile for his sister before following Reg. As the door closed behind him he heard Hornblower ask Annie about the history of the
house. He said a silent thank you to his friend; grateful for his presence and his willingness to help. Just keep her distracted, Horatio, he said to himself, while I learn the worst.
He found Reg in the drawing room. It was chilly; one of the windows was open and the fire was not yet lit. His brother was starting the fire as Archie came in and shut
He stopped and looked around, marveling at how little the room had changed over the years. It had been their mother's favorite spot in the house. He could vividly
remember the last time he had seen his mother. She had been sitting in this room when he had come to say goodbye before leaving to join the Justinian. The morning sunlight filled the room from the eastern windows and created a halo of sorts around her. She
had sent him away with well wishes and a smile, and he had never given her a hint of the turmoil he had suffered on board that ship.
He pushed those thoughts away and stared at the portrait of his mother that hung over the mantle. Tears welled up in his eyes as he studied her face.
"She was very beautiful."
Archie jumped at the sound of his brother's voice. When he turned to face Reg, he saw all of his emotions reflected on his brother's face. He turned back to the portrait.
"Yes, she was" he said. "I don't think I've ever seen a woman as beautiful."
Reg went over to the sideboard and poured a glass of brandy. He offered Archie a glass, but he shook his head. Better to keep my thoughts clear, he said to himself.
Reg toasted their mother's picture before turning back to Archie.
"Actually, you have seen another woman like her, you just haven't realized it." Reg smiled. "You missed watching Annie grow and change, so you wouldn't have
noticed it. She is the absolute image of Mother."
Archie stared at the portrait, comparing it to a mental image of his twin. Unfortunately, in his mind he always saw Annie as a thirteen year old girl, as she had
been when he had joined the navy. That image certainly didn't match up with the portrait. Seven years ago Annie had been a gawky, awkward and undeveloped girl.
Archie's mind jumped to earlier that day, when he had watched his sister run down the stairs and into his embrace. With a sense of shock, he realized his brother
was absolutely right. Annie had grown and changed into a stunningly beautiful woman; tall, slender, well formed, and all of it topped off by a crown of red-gold hair that would be the envy of anyone. She was, indeed, a duplicate of their mother.
Reg shook his head as he studied the portrait. He turned to his brother and said, "Why do you think Father is so determined to have her married as soon as possible? He can't stand having her in the house; she's too vivid a reminder."
Archie felt a hundred different thoughts whirl in his mind, but he was only able to give voice to one of them.
Reg understood. "Our new neighbor." He shrugged and sat down. "Robert Chamberlain."
Archie sat down across from Reg. "What is this neighbor like?"
Reg took a drink from his glass before he responded. "I don't really know. I've never met the man. But I do know that he has a daughter who is about your and Annie's age."
For a moment Archie was too stunned to speak. "He has a daughter our age? And Father wants Annie to marry this man?" He struggled to calm himself. "What have you done about this? Surely you don't think this is a good match!"
"What do you think Father and I were arguing about when you arrived?" Reg asked, turning to stare into the fire. "You don't honestly think I'd let him give Annie to a man more than twice her age, do you?"
Archie studied his brother for a moment, watching the play of firelight on his face. Red had his jaw clenched so tight that a muscle jumped in his cheek. Lines of
worry bracketed his eyes and creased his forehead. Even relaxed as he was the signs of strain were evident.
Archie sighed and rested his head on the back of the chair. His mind was spinning with the effort of absorbing everything. Now that he was home with his family he found all the emotional turmoil of the last few weeks was receding, only to be replaced by new worries. As anxious as he was to ensure the family estate, he was more concerned with protecting Annie. He ruefully acknowledged that he hadn't been the best brother in the world; being in the navy didn't allow for that. But he was home now, and as long as he was alive he would make sure of her health and happiness.
He stood up and began to pace - too agitated to sit still. He stopped in front of the southern windows, which offered the best view of the park. Although it was nearly dark, his mind knew what he was seeing. His mother's rose garden, the box hedge, the summer house - all would be visible from this window come morning.
Archie turned around to find his brother studying him.
"You're wondering if it still looks the same, aren't you?" Reg asked.
"Yes. As a matter of fact I was."
Reg came and stood beside his brother. "The answer is no, it doesn't. Father had the roses dug up the day after Mother was buried. He burned every last bush. And
he broke every window in the summer house."
Archie listened to his brother in silence. In his mind's eye he saw his father - grief-stricken and more than likely drunk - setting fire to the roses that his wife had loved so much. It was a telling image.
"Reg..." he had to clear his throat before continuing. "How bad is Father?"
Reg moved away to stand beside the fire. "You saw him. In the mornings he sits in his study and drinks until he's unconscious." A rueful smile curved his lips. "The
servants now leave him there to sleep it off." He walked away from the fire, setting down his brandy as he did. "By mid-afternoon he is alert enough to be belligerent, and that is when we argue."
"Argue about what?"
"Anything. Everything. He is so completely unreasonable!"
Archie took a deep breath before speaking again. "Reg, is there anything we can do? Legally, I mean."
Reg shook his head. "No. I've already checked with the lawyers. There is no way that we could prove Father is out of his mind; we would just spend a great deal of
money trying. About the only thing we could do is buy the estate off of Father - lock, stock, and barrel. I don't suppose you're hiding a fortune in prize money somewhere?"
Archie had to laugh at the thought. "I was in prison for nearly two years Reg! How many ships do you think I captured in that time?"
Reg shrugged, and a smile lit his face. "You couldn't have managed at least one?" His smile broadened into a grin as he laid his arm across his brother's shoulders.
"Have I told you yet how glad I am to have you home?"
"No, you haven't!" Archie smiled in return. "But I imagine its as glad as I am to be here."
The next morning Kennedy was awake with the sun. It had been a restless night; without the sound of the ship's bells he found sleeping difficult. The house was quiet as he dressed and made his way downstairs. He was curious as to why none of the servants were awake; there was no sign of breakfast in the dining room, so he made his way to the kitchen.
Outside the kitchen door he hesitated. He could hear voices inside; low pitched with an occasional spark of laughter. It would appear that breakfast was being made,
and from the laughter it was obvious that someone was in the cook's good graces. Kennedy decided to brave Mrs. Keller's displeasure, and pushed open the door.
At the sight of the group gathered around the table he stopped short. Hornblower was there, dressed in civilian clothes, and laughing and talking with three
of the downstairs maids. Mrs. Keller was at the stove, standing with her face averted, but Kennedy caught a glimpse of her wide grin.
He cleared his throat to announce his presence. The maids immediately scrambled out about their duties, and Mrs. Keller composed her face into an appropriate expression of somberness.
"I suppose you'd be wantin' yer breakfast, Mister Archie" she said, pouring him a cup of tea as she spoke. "Yer friend ëere ëas been waitin' for you, and turnin' the ëeads of them foolish young girls." She indicated the door through which the maids had
Hornblower grinned and sat back in his chair. "I was doing no such thing! I was simply telling some stories of life aboard ship." His eyes sparkled with humour. "Can I help it if they were entertained by it?"
Kennedy shook his head and rolled his eyes before taking the seat beside Hornblower. It was a relief to see his friend smile again. Even if it means that half the female staff are going to fall for him, Kennedy ruefully acknowledged to himself. Of course, Hornblower was completely unaware of his impact.
Kennedy started out of his reverie when Mrs. Keller deposited his breakfast on the table. At the sight, and especially the smell, of the food he realized how hungry he was. He had been too tense and nervous to eat very much at dinner last night. He fell on the plate like a starving man, and barely noticed when Mrs. Keller slid a second portion of everything onto his plate.
Beside his friend Hornblower did likewise. Mrs. Keller's cooking was a most welcome change from dried beef and ship's biscuit. The two young men were quiet
while they ate, each concentrating on his plate as Mrs. Keller stood by with an appreciative smile.
When he had finished, Kennedy wiped his mouth with the napkin and gulped down the last of his tea. He stood and walked to where Mrs. Keller was chopping vegetables and kissed her loudly on the cheek.
"Mrs. Keller, you are a wonder, as ever! What I wouldn't give to have you cooking on board the Indy!"
Mrs. Keller flushed with pleasure at Kennedy's praise.
"Get on with the both of you! ëOw's a body to get any work done around ëere with you lads about? Eat me out of me own kitchen, you will!"
Kennedy just grinned as Hornblower finished his meal. After thanking Mrs. Keller again the pair left the kitchen and mad their way back to the main hall.
"How did it go with your brother last night?"
"Well. It went well." Kennedy responded. "Certain facts are now clearer."
Kennedy steered Hornblower toward the drawing room. When they were both seated he leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees.
"There is a problem that I didn't tell you about before, Horatio." He took a deep breath before continuing. "Father is determined to have Annie married. By the end of the year, if possible."
Hornblower raised his eyebrows at that bald statement. "That's hardly unusual, Archie. She is twenty years old."
Kennedy stood and began pacing. "You don't understand, Horatio. He's not thinking clearly about any of this. All he cares about is getting Annie out of the house."
Hornblower stood and put a hand on his friend's shoulder, quieting Kennedy's nervous motion. "I agree that your father isn't thinking clearly, but what does any of that have to do with wanting your sister to marry?"
"He wants her married and out of the house because of that!" Kennedy gestured toward the portrait above the mantle.
Hornblower studied the painting for a moment before responding. "Its a portrait of Annie. I still don't understand..."
Kennedy laughed mirthlessly at his friend's summation. "That's not Annie, Horatio. That's our mother."
Hornblower looked again at the portrait and then back at Kennedy. Comprehension dawned in his eyes.
"I see. It makes more sense now. If your parents were as close as you say..."
"They were." Kennedy abruptly stood. "Let's go outside."
Hornblower followed as Kennedy walked to the south lawn of the park. What he saw there was further proof of the decline of the estate. An overgrown area that might
have been a garden at one point was the prominent feature. A bedraggled hedge marked a boundary of sorts. And off in the distance he could see a summer house of
sorts. It was almost obscured by a growth of ivy.
Kennedy turned to face his friend. He pointed to the area that had once been a garden.
"That was Mother's rose garden. Reg told me last night that Father had all the bushes dug up and burned the day after Mother was buried. And that box hedge over
there? We used to play there as children. Mother would chase us around in that maze for hours. And do you see the summer house down there?"
"That was one of mother's favorite spots on the grounds. Father broke every window in it after the funeral. "
Kennedy turned to face the house again. "That room was Mother's favorite because from there she could look out at all of this." His gesture encompassed the entire south lawn. "I think Father wants his life stripped of any reminders. I'm surprised he hasn't destroyed that portrait yet!"
Hornblower looked around at the evidence of one man's overwhelming grief. His logical mind reeled at the thought of that intensity of emotion. But there was no
doubting the facts. Edward Kennedy was systematically destroying the life he and his wife had shared, even though it meant destroying his children in the process.
He glanced up toward the house and caught sight of a figure standing in the window that looked out over the south lawn. Kennedy looked up at the same moment and without another word to his friend began running to the house.
When he burst into the front hall he caught a glimpse of Annie's skirts as she rounded the stair landing.
She didn't stop, so Kennedy took the stairs two at a time. He caught up with his sister outside the door to her bedroom. He opened the door and followed her inside. He leaned against the closed door while Annie sat in one of the chairs near the fireplace.
"I need to talk to you."
"I know." Annie said.
"Then why did you run?" He went and knelt in front of her chair and took her hands. "Annie..."
"It doesn't matter, Archie. Nothing I say or do makes any difference." She focused her attention on their clasped hands.
"Do you really believe that I feel that way? Or that Reg does? Annie, look at me."
She lifted her head, and green eyes met blue.
"Annie, do you know that Father has been trying to arrange your marriage?"
Annie swallowed hard before she replied. "Yes. He wants me to marry our new neighbor, Robert Chamberlain." A tear fell from her eye and ran slowly down her cheek.
Kennedy reached out and gently brushed the tear away. "Reg is not going to allow this marriage to happen, Annie. You don't have to worry."
Annie laughed outright at that statement. She pulled her hands free and went to stand beside the bed. Her fingers lightly traced the circular pattern on the quilt that was spread across the foot. With a shock Kennedy realized that it was their mother's wedding quilt. Annie must have taken it and hidden it in her room before their father could have it burned.
She turned to face her brother again. "Do you think I trust Reg to help me?" Tears were flowing freely down her cheeks now. "He's weak, Archie. He can't fight
Father forever. I'm surprised he's lasted this long! Eventually he'll give in, simply to stop the argument. And that will be that. I'll be married to a man twice my age before anything else can be done." She sat on the foot of the bed and began to sob.
Kennedy sat beside her and placed an arm around her shoulders.
"Annie, do you trust me?"
"I am not going to allow anything to happen to you. As long as I am alive, you'll be all right. Do you believe me when I say that?"
In reply Annie simply turned her head into her brother's shoulder. Kennedy put his arms around her and let her cry.