by Clio

Love Thy Neighbor

Kennedy had held his sister until at last, exhausted, she had fallen asleep against him. He laid her gently on her bed, covered her with the quilt, and then went in
search of his brother.

After a fruitless ten minutes of wandering the downstairs rooms he found the butler, Jenkins, in the dining room.

"Jenkins, have you seen my brother this morning?"

"No Mr. Archie. He rarely rises before ten in the morning." Jenkins continued counting the silver. "You could probably find him in his room."

"Thank you, Jenkins." Kennedy turned to leave the room, but some impulse made him turn back. Something in the butler's voice had set an alarm going in his mind.
He looked suspiciously at Jenkins' back, but the butler kept his head bent to his task.

Kennedy left the dining room and made his way to the stairs. As his foot touched the bottom most step his mind jumped back to the previous night, and the brandy that Reg had been drinking. The decanter had been missing from the drawing room this morning. His heart vehemently denied the possibility, but his head wouldn't let go. By the time he reached Reg's bedroom he was running.

When a discreet knock on the door yielded no result Kennedy began pounding on it. With each passing second his fears grew stronger. When the door finally swung
open he stood in stunned silence. A quick glance at Reg told him the entire story. He was white-faced and unsteady on his feet, and the dark circles under his eyes were a startling contrast to his pale skin.

"Archie? What is the matter with you?"

Kennedy shoved his brother back inside the room, and slammed the door shut with a resounding crash.

Reg winced at the noise and pressed a shaking hand to his forehead. He opened his mouth to speak, but Archie was there before him.

"How long has this been going on?" Archie managed to keep his voice quiet, despite the rage that was building inside of him.

"How long has what..."

"Stop it!" Archie interrupted "Did you think I wouldn't figure it out?" He turned to the chest of drawers beside him and picked up the empty brandy decanter. The look he gave his brother spoke volumes as he walked to the fireplace and smashed the decanter against the bricks. It shattered in spectacular fashion, scattering shards of glass and lightly perfuming the air with brandy like an afterthought.

Archie walked back to where his brother had collapsed into a chair, bits of glass crunching under his boots.

"So..." Archie said. "Is this your idea of how to cope with your problems? Like father, like son, I suppose."

Reg turned away, unable to meet his brother's steely blue eyes. The barely disguised contempt in Archie's voice made him defensive, and when he spoke it was
with an answering spark of anger.

"You don't understand! You can't possibly imagine what it has been like since Mother died..."

Archie finally let his anger loose. "You're damn right I don't understand! How could I? How could I possibly understand a man who turns his back on people who
need him, people who depend on him, just because he doesn't feel up to the task of caring for them? How could I possibly understand anyone thinking that brandy is the solution to all of their problems?"

He picked up the brandy snifter and hurled it against the wall. More splinters of glass fell on the floor. He stood for a moment, his back turned, and reined in his rage. When he spoke again his voice was calm and controlled.

"I have news for you, Reg. I have suffered in ways that you cannot conceive of in the last few years. But not once did I think that rum, or gin, or wine, or brandy, would make that suffering disappear." He took a deep breath and let it out with a sigh. "I imagine that is the difference between you and I."

Reg sat slumped in his chair, unable to meet his brother's eyes. For a moment Archie simply stood over him, waiting for Reg to respond. When no response came,
Archie snorted with disgust, turned away and went to the door. He had opened the door and taken a step across the threshold before Reg spoke.

"Its not as bad as you think, Archie."

Archie kept his back turned and one hand on the doorknob as he spoke. "No Reg. I imagine its much worse." He half turned toward his brother. "And the worst part is that I could have forgiven you almost anything. The loss of the estate, the ruin of our
family, anything. But your weakness has put Annie in an untenable situation. And that..." He took a deep breath. "That I can not forgive you for."

Kennedy left the room without looking back. He thought he heard something like a sob from Reg's room, but then the door closed quietly. He forced himself to walk
down the hall. When he came to Annie's door he opened it a crack and peeked in. She was still asleep, her hands tucked under her chin. A lock of hair had come loose from her plait and had fallen across her face. Kennedy smiled, thinking to himself that it had
to be tickling her nose. He carefully brushed the hair back from her face so as not to wake her.

"I'm sorry, Annie." he whispered. "I'm sorry that Reg has let you down, and I'm sorry that I didn't realize. Everything will work out for the best, I promise you."

As he left his sister's room, quietly shutting the door, Kennedy felt his resolve strengthen. He knew what he had to do, it was just a matter of forcing himself to take the necessary steps.

At the head of the stairs he met his friend coming up. Hornblower had a worried look on his face and when he spoke it confirmed that impression.

"Archie? Are you all right?" he asked. "I heard glass shattering, and I wondered..."

Kennedy reached out and briefly touched his friends shoulder. "I'm all right, Horatio. But I may be about to expose myself to a broadside." He smiled slightly. "Can I count on your support?"

Hornblower noticed the cautious look in his friend's eyes, but he accepted the smile, and without hesitation he nodded. "Of course Archie. I'll do whatever I can to

"Thank you, Horatio." Kennedy's smile blossomed into a full fledged grin. "Have I mentioned how glad I am that you are here with me?"

"No, but I already had that figured out." Hornblower's grin was at least as wide as Kennedy's. He turned and followed his friend down the stairs.

As they went down the steps Kennedy told Hornblower what he had discovered in his brother's room. Hornblower's impassive face gave no hint of his thoughts, but Kennedy could tell his friend was mulling over this latest problem in the saga of the Kennedy clan.

"What are you going to do?" Hornblower asked.

Kennedy stopped, turned and looked at his friend. "The only thing I can do. Somebody has to preserve and protect what's left, and I guess that will have to be me." He went down the final three steps. "Horatio, could you wait for me in the dining room? I may need you at my back for what I'm about to do."

"Of course. You know you can count on me, Archie." Hornblower's gaze never faltered, and his tone remained even. Kennedy took what strength he could from his
friend's presence before walking back towards the kitchen.

Hornblower stood alone at the foot of the stairs and worried about his friend. They were in a pressure packed situation, and he was frightened that Kennedy would react as he often had in the past. True, he had not had a fit in nearly four months, but nevertheless Hornblower was nervous that it would happen now. Although nothing had ever been said, he had always wondered if Kennedy's father had pushed him into the
navy to get rid of a family embarrassment. If Archie were to break down now....

Hornblower shook his head in denial. His friend had held himself together remarkably well during the disaster at Muziallc, and had been so strong and supportive once they had returned to the ship. He could not bring himself to believe that Kennedy would lose himself here, in the closeness of his family.

"Mr. Hornblower..."

The quiet voice behind him made Hornblower jump. He spun around, his heart thumping, and met a pair of soft green eyes.

"Miss Kennedy! You startled me!"

Annie came down the stairs and stood at Hornblower's side. "I'm sorry. Perhaps I should not walk so quietly." She was smiling, but her brow was furrowed as she looked down the hall, in the direction her twin had gone.

"What is going on?"

Hornblower looked toward the kitchen before answering. "I'm not really sure. Archie simply asked that I wait for him in the dining room." He offered Annie his arm.
"Will you join me, Miss Kennedy?"

Her smile intact, Annie placed her hand in Hornblower's arm. As they walked toward the dining room, Hornblower found himself glancing frequently at the young woman at his side. She was so like her twin, but so different, and the difference went deeper than just being female. Even in the midst of the family's turmoil, there was a
tranquillity about Annie; a sense of peace. Despite his best intentions Hornblower was fascinated by her.

When they arrived at the dining room, they found Kennedy already there. He was standing at the head of the table, his hands tightly clenched behind his back.
Hornblower recognized the "junior officer trying to look commanding" pose, so he gently removed Annie's hand from his arm and sat in one of the chairs against the wall.

Annie stood there for a moment, unsure of what was happening. She looked from Hornblower to her brother, hoping for some sort of signal. She was worried; that
much was obvious in her tense posture and the expression on her face.

Kennedy smiled reassuringly at his sister. She opened her mouth to ask a question, then thought better of it. She sat in the chair beside Hornblower, clasped her
hands together in her lap, and waited.

They did not have long to wait. Within a moment the door that led to the butler's pantry and the kitchen opened and the servants filed into the room. Jenkins and Mrs. Keller led the small procession. They were followed by the three downstairs maids, the two upstairs maids, the young scullery maid and the even younger boot boy. The gardeners, grooms and stable hands came in last. They all looked nervous.

Kennedy noticed the anxious glances being exchanged, and he hastened to reassure the staff.

"Its all right, all of you. I haven't asked you here to let anyone go, or to unleash verbal abuse on you." He continued, half under his breath. "I imagine you've been
getting quite enough of that from Father."

"Sir?" Jenkins asked, puzzled.

Kennedy raised his voice again to be heard by all in the room. "I have asked you all here to request your help." His face became serious. "Many of you know that your master, my father, has not been well since the death of his wife." He laughed ruefully. "Let's tell the truth, shall we? He's been insensible with drink most of the time. In the short time since I have come home, I have not failed to observe the state of disrepair into which the house and the park have fallen." The worried looks were back, and he plowed ahead with what he had to say. "I am not blaming anyone of you. But I would like to see things back to where they should be. I know that my brother, as well as my
father, has had his problems recently, so I will take full responsibility." He looked around the room, catching the eye of every member of his audience. "I want this place back to normal. That means the hedges trimmed, the grass mown, the house dusted, the windows cleaned, the broken glass repaired, and anything else that I can think of. Are we all understood?"

There was stunned silence in the room. It seemed that no one was willing to countermand the wishes of a master, even a drunken one. Finally Jenkins took a step

"If that is what you wish, Mr. Kennedy, that is what shall be done." He turned to face his staff. "I want the household staff in the kitchen in fifteen meetings. You will receive your directions there." He turned back to Kennedy. "Will there be anything else, sir?"

Kennedy was startled. Not only had Jenkins not called him Mr. Archie, he had called him sir! He felt a rush of warmth towards the man; indeed, for the entire staff. It seemed that they were more than willing, it had been first Father's, and then Reg's, mismanagement, that had reduced things to this state.

Jenkins was still waiting for an answer.

"Oh, yes Jenkins! Please have a horse saddled for me. I am going to pay a call on the Chamberlains."

Jenkins nodded and ushered the staff out of the dining room.

After the last servant left Hornblower took a deep breath and exhaled loudly. He now understood what his friend had meant when he said he was going to expose
himself to a broadside. Going directly to the staff had been a somewhat ill-advised move, albeit a necessary one. I wonder what will happen when Mr. Kennedy and Reg
become aware of what Archie's done, he said to himself.

He suddenly became aware of movement beside him. Annie had stood up and walked to her brother. The pair of them simply stared at each other for a moment. Than
Kennedy reached out to touch Annie's shoulder and she stepped closer and into his embrace. Hornblower quietly left the room.

He went to the drawing room and stood at the southern window. Already the outdoor servants were at work, trimming the hedges and using long scythes to trim the
grass. The laughed as they worked, their wide grins visible even at a distance. Hornblower marveled at the change that had been wrought simply because some one
had taken charge. He was extraordinarily proud of his friend.

But at the back of his mind, worry still niggled. He had left the drawing room door open, and across the hall was the study where Edward Kennedy spent his days.
Sounds of movement, and an occasional curse, could be heard through the door. If the elder Kennedy were coherent enough, Hornblower imagined that all of Archie's hopes would be dashed. The older man had not appeared to be a particularly forgiving man, nor one who would tolerate interference.

A sound behind him made Hornblower start and turn towards the door. Annie stood there, one hand nervously stroking the skirt of her dress. She came into the room
and with a guilty look across the hall to the study, quietly shut the door. Hornblower turned back to the window, and Annie came and stood beside him. They saw a groom bringing a saddled horse up from the stable, and moments later heard its hooves on the hard-packed earth of the lane as Kennedy trotted off to pay his call on the Chamberlains.

"You're worried about him, aren't you?" Annie asked.

Without turning to look at her Hornblower responded. "Yes, I am. He's my best friend in all the world, and I don't want to see him hurt."

Annie smiled at the response, but she still felt wary of this newcomer. She was so grateful that her twin brother had found such a man as a friend. In his letters to her, Archie had often spoken of Hornblower; with affection, with some exasperation, but most of all, with admiration. She knew also that Archie trusted him implicitly, and believed that his friend would never let him down. Because of that, she felt herself
trusting Hornblower as well, but she still felt the need to protect Archie as best she could.

"You're wondering when he's going to crack under the pressure. When he's going to have a fit."

Hornblower turned an astonished face toward the woman at his side. Before he could respond she continued, her voice as hard as flint.

"I'm right, aren't I? You've seen it happen before, so now you're just waiting for him to fall apart, so you can step in and say I told you so! Just like Father! You don't think he can handle anything; you think its a sign of weakness! You think its a waste of time to even let him try! You...." Annie stopped speaking when she saw the puzzlement and shock on Hornblower's face. For a moment she thought he was mocking her, but then came the realization that he was on her side just as surely as he was on her brother's.

"Miss Kennedy..."

Annie closed her eyes and felt a blush of shame creep up her cheeks. "Oh Lord! I'm sorry!" She covered her face with one hand, and her voice came slightly muffled
from the fingers across her mouth. "I can't believe I just said all that! You must think I'm the most addle-brained and ill-tempered woman alive!"

Hornblower reached out and gently pulled her hand from her face. At his touch, Annie opened her eyes and saw that he was smiling. Her cheeks warmed again, but
this time it had nothing to do with embarrassment. She was acutely aware of how close they stood to each other, and to the fact that he still held her hand

"Miss Kennedy." Hornblower's voice was gentle. "I can assure you that I have perfect faith in Archie's abilities." For a moment his eyes were clouded with memories. "Believe me, I have seen him handle himself with poise and courage under incredibly trying circumstances. He saved my life not long ago, at tremendous risk to himself. I can not think of anyone else who has his enormous strength of will, and I have no doubt that he will be able to put things right here. It is his responsibility, after all. I am here simply to support my friend." His words seemed to sink in after a moment, and he blushed bright red. "Oh, dear! That sounded frightfully pompous, didn't it?"

Annie laughed outright at that comment, and shook her head. "No, Mr. Hornblower! It sounded honest, and I would much prefer a man to be honest with me than say what he thinks I want to hear. And I would very much like to hear about some of the adventures you and Archie have had together." She moved to take a seat on the small sofa beside the window, her hand still clasped in Hornblower's. "And my name is Annie!"

"I beg your pardon?"

"I rather dislike being referred to as Miss Kennedy, so I would appreciate your calling me Annie."

Hornblower looked at their two hands still joined, and then back to Annie's eyes. "Annie it is, then." A slight flush stained his cheeks. "I heartily dislike my given name, but I would be honoured if you called me Horatio."

********************************************************Kennedy had ridden hard to cover the five miles to Marsden Hall. According to Jenkins the Chamberlains, father and daughter, had moved in just six months ago.
They kept mostly to themselves, although the daughter had been seen in the village on a number of occasions. The village gossips had dismissed the girl. She was not
considered to be a beauty, and therefore not worth speculating about. The only comment made about her was that she had dark hair. He felt his curiosity growing as
he drew closer to the neighboring house, eager to meet the family that his father wanted Annie to marry into.

Whatever shortcomings the Chamberlains had did not include their domestic staff. When Kennedy dismounted at the front entrance there was a groom standing by
to take the horse to the stable. He was only halfway up the steps when the front door was opened, and he was ushered into the sunlit front hall. The servant took his hat and gloves, and went to fetch the butler.

While he waited Kennedy amused himself by comparing this visit with the last time he had been at Marsden Hall, over eight years ago. Well, he said to himself, the floor is the same! Everything else was so different as to make the house almost unrecognizable. He spied the silver calling card tray on one of the tables, and cursed under his breath. He had forgotten to take some of the Kennedy family cards before he left, so he would have to play this by ear.

"May I help you, sir?"

Kennedy turned to face the butler. The soft Scottish burr in the man's voice was a welcoming sound.

"Yes. My name is Kennedy, Archie Kennedy. From Rosefield. I would like to speak with Mr. Robert Chamberlain, if I may."

"I am sorry sir, but Mr. Chamberlain has gone to town on a business matter. Perhaps you could speak to Miss Chamberlain?"

Kennedy felt a small pang of disappointment, but decided it would do no harm to speak to the daughter. "Yes, thank you. I would like to speak with Miss Chamberlain."

"This way, then, sir." He began walking towards the rear of the hall.

The butler stopped and pushed open one of the doors. "If you'll wait here in the study, Mr. Kennedy, I shall fetch Miss Chamberlain."

"What is your name?"

"Ferguson, sir."

"Thank you, Ferguson." If Kennedy had learned one thing in His Majesty's Navy, it was the importance of thanking people by name.

Ferguson smiled slightly to acknowledge the thanks before he quietly left the room. It wasn't long before footsteps sounded in the hall, and low voices murmured
outside the door. Kennedy pretended to be studying a shelf of books, keeping his back to the door.
"Mr. Kennedy? I understand that you wished to speak to me. I am Emma Chamberlain." She came forward with her hand outstretched.

He turned around and stood stunned. It seemed that the village gossips were unjust in their treatment of Emma Chamberlain. True, she did have dark hair, but all the
rest was false. She was, quite simply, the most beautiful girl that he had ever seen.

Free Web Hosting