by Clio

The Message

"Mr. Kennedy? Are you all right?"

Kennedy managed to shake himself out of his stupor, but was unable to
find his voice. Emma felt her concern becoming alarm, so she took hold of
his arm and guided him to a chair.

"Here, I think you had better sit down." She crossed the room and rang
the bell pull.

"Ferguson, could you bring some brandy and water in? I believe Mr.
Kennedy may be in need of a restorative."

When the brandy was brought Emma placed the glass in Kennedy's hand and
raised it to his lips. He took an involuntary swallow. The brandy burned
a trail down his throat, and he coughed and spluttered in reaction.
Ferguson, who was standing behind the chair, clapped Kennedy on the back
until his coughing subsided.

His eyes watering from the brandy and the coughing fit, Kennedy looked up
to find Emma standing above him, a look of concern on her face. He
blinked rapidly to clear his eyes, and with a slight smile Emma handed
him a glass of water.

"Thank you." His voice rasped in his throat, so Kennedy took a quick
drink of water. "Thank you" he said again, his voice sounding much more

"You're very welcome, Mr. Kennedy." Emma gave a small nod of her head,
and Ferguson left the room. "It is rather hot today." she continued. "Its
no wonder that you felt out of sorts when you arrived."

Too embarrassed to admit the true cause of his disorientation, Kennedy
simply nodded. "Yes, it is quite warm today. Thank you, Miss Chamberlain.
I appreciate your kindness."

Emma sat in the chair opposite Kennedy and gave him a quick, yet careful
examination. A cursory glance might lead some to dismiss the young man,
but Emma was shrewder than that. She took in everything; his slightly
disheveled blonde hair, the gentleness in his clear blue eyes, his rigid
posture as he sat straight in the chair. She was evaluating the quality
of his fine leather boots when she heard a quiet cough.

Emma snapped her eyes back to Kennedy's face, praying that the flush she
felt was not visible.

"Mr. Kennedy..."

"Miss Chamberlain..."

Spoken at the same time, their words ran over each other. They both
gestured for the other to continue, and then laughed at their
predicament. Kennedy sat back in his chair, relaxing now that the
awkwardness of those first moments was gone. He took a moment to study
Emma, admiring the glossy sheen of her dark hair and the intelligence in
her grey eyes.

Emma was very aware of Kennedy's admiring glance, but she didn't look
away from it. When his eyes met hers there was a flash of understanding
between them. A flush stained Kennedy's cheeks bright red, but he held
Emma's gaze. He had the oddest sinking sensation in the pit of his
stomach, and he felt as if he was seeing the other half of his soul in
her eyes.

Emma shook herself free of his beguiling blue gaze. Her face was flushed
and her heart was racing. She was dumbfounded; she had never reacted like
this to any man she had ever met. She knew that the younger Mr. Kennedy
was a naval officer, and she was curious as to what had brought him home.
In particular, she was curious about what had brought him to her home.

"What is it you wished to speak to my father about, Mr. Kennedy?"

Her quiet voice jolted Kennedy out of his reverie.

"I...." He found it difficult to bring up the subject with her, but he
forced himself to. "I am concerned about my sister."


"You've met her?" Kennedy asked, surprised.

"Yes, I have. In the village one day. Mr. Gaines introduced us." She was
puzzled by the surprise in his face. "Why? Is there a problem? And how
can you concern for her involve my father?"
Kennedy studied Emma's face, looking for any sign that she might be
lying. As best as he could tell, she was genuinely confused. Does she
really not know, he asked himself? And should I be the one who tells her?

"Miss Chamberlain, I am concerned because my father plans to have my
sister marry your father." There. It was said.

Emma froze. Surely she had misheard him. Her father? Marry again?

"That's nonsense! I can assure you, Mr. Kennedy, that my father has no
intention of marrying again." Emma stood and began pacing the room. "My
parents were very close; they knew each other almost from birth! Its not
possible that he would ever marry again!"

Kennedy watched in silence as Emma paced. When she stopped behind the
desk he stood and faced her. "I'm sorry. I thought you knew about it!
Surely your father would have told you." A new thought struck him. "Miss
Chamberlain, have you met my father? Has he ever been here?"

"Once. He's been here once." Her face was set in anger, her jaw clenched.
"He was drunk when he was here. My father tried to be polite to him, but
eventually had the servants remove him from the property."

Kennedy absorbed this new information. "Is it possible that our fathers
have met somewhere else, in the village? Could my father have offered my
sister to yours then?" He saw Emma growing angry again, and continued
before she could say anything. "Its just that everyone at Rosefield is
convinced that Annie is going to marry your father. And now I find out it
is unlikely that the subject has even come up?"

A new thought occurred to him, so startling that he almost cried out in

"I'm sorry. I have to leave." He quickly crossed to the study door and
pulled it open. He collected his hat and gloves from the table in the
hall. When Emma came out of the study, she had a look of utter
stupefaction on her face.

"Mr. Kennedy....."

"I'm sorry to leave so abruptly." He finished adjusting his gloves, went
to the front door and pulled it open. He turned back to where Emma stood
in the hall. "When do you expect your father to return?"

"Tonight. I expect him home tonight. What....?

Kennedy nodded. "Perhaps you and you father would care to dine with us at
Rosefield in two days time. Shall we expect you then?"

Emma could only nod in response. She was puzzled and confused, but she
understood that something was afoot. The question of her father marrying
Annabelle Kennedy was unexpected, but she felt that in two days time
everything would be resolved.

A shout from Kennedy brought the groom running with his horse. With a
last tip of the hat to Emma, Kennedy trotted down the steps and swung
himself into the saddle in one smooth motion.

"Thank you again, Miss Chamberlain. It was a pleasure." He jerked the
reins to turn the horse down the drive.

"Emma! Call me Emma!" He heard the words shouted behind him. Despite his
anger and confusion, Kennedy found himself grinning all the way home.

"What was your mother like, Horatio?"

"Hmmmm?" Hornblower turned to the woman who walked at his side. Annie's
question had caught him with his mind wandering. He was enjoying the
warmth of the late summer day and the opportunity to walk a distance,
something impossible to do on board ship. He and Annie had been strolling
in such companionable silence that her words had caught him completely
off guard.

"I'm sorry. I wasn't paying attention. Its so beautiful out here." His
gesture encompassed everything around them; the wood at whose edge they
walked, the open meadow that sloped down to a small stream, even the few
sheep that grazed not far away. The look in his eyes seemed to include
Annie, as well.

Annie ducked her head to hide her smile. She knew exactly how Hornblower
felt. During the months that her mother had been sick, and since she
died, Annie had often come to this same spot to be alone with her
thoughts. Now she took pleasure in the company of the man at her side.

"I asked you what your mother was like." she repeated her question.

Hornblower shrugged. "I don't really know. She died when I was quite
young. I was only six at the time."

"Do you remember anything about her? Anything at all?"

"He thought for a moment before replying. "Very little. She had dark
hair, and a soft voice. I remember she sang a great deal." He stopped
walking and looked at Annie. "Why?"

"No reason, really. Its just that...." She stared off into the distance
as she spoke. "I can't really explain it. But for all the time I spent
with her I still feel as if I never knew her. Does that seem strange?"

"Not really. I often feel that way about my father." Hornblower sighed
and looked at his feet before continuing. "He is the most important
person in my life, in many ways, and yet I could not tell you the first
thing about who he is in his heart. I can say that he is a doctor, and a
very fine one, but what kind of man he is?" He looked again at Annie.
"That I can not tell you."

Annie abruptly sat down in the grass, hugging her knees to her chest.
Hornblower lowered himself down beside her, sitting with his long legs
stretched out in front of him. The sun beat down on them, and he felt the
sweat prickle his skin, but he would not have moved for anything. He felt
that Annie needed to talk about her mother, and he was more than willing
to listen and offer what consolation he could.

"She was very beautiful, and very kind."

"Yes, she was beautiful." Hornblower smiled when Annie looked quizzically
at him. "I've seen the portrait in the drawing room. You look a great
deal like her. When I first saw it I thought it was a portrait of you."
He laughed "Archie set me straight, however."

"Do you really think I look like her?"

Hornblower turned to Annie. His eyes traced every feature of her face,
from her brow to the line of her jaw. His gaze rested on her lips for
just an extra moment before he met her eyes. She was undeniably
beautiful. Perhaps not in a classical sense; her jaw was somewhat to
strong and she had a smattering of freckles sprinkled across her nose,
but she had an inner beauty that was beyond compare. Hornblower could
easily imagine the well-to-do men of the district lining up to court her.

"Yes" he said, his voice soft. "I think you are very beautiful." He
focused his gaze on her lips again and leaned towards her.

A sudden breeze blew an errant strand of her hair across her face,
spoiling the moment. Before she could react Hornblower reached out and
brushed it away. His hand rested against her cheek for a few seconds
before he let it fall back to his side. They shared a quick smile before
returning their gazes to the meadow beneath them.

"I hope I have an opportunity to be as happy as my mother was. I know he
doesn't seem like it now, but my father is a wonderful man. He's
intelligent, witty, charming; no wonder Mother fell for him!" Her
expression was wistful as she stared off into the distance. "They were
very close, our parents. Sometimes it seemed like they were all that
mattered to each other. Certainly I don't think any of their children
ever meant as much! Except perhaps for Jon."

"Your brother who died?"

Annie nodded. "Father absolutely idolized Jon. Is it any wonder that Reg
seems to measure up so short? How can he possibly fight his brother's
ghost? And Archie...."

Hornblower noticed the changed tone of her voice and sensed that this
subject was a painful one. There were many things about his friend that
he didn't understand and would never have asked directly. This seemed
like a heaven sent chance to learn more, and with a mental apology to
Archie he asked the question that had always nagged at him.

"Annie, why did your father send Archie to the navy? Why not the church,
or have him study law? Or even buy a commission in the army? I would have
thought any of those alternatives to be more acceptable than the navy!"

Annie plucked a blade of grass and twirled it between her thumb and
forefinger while she considered the question. She sat like that for so
long that Hornblower was tempted to repeat himself, thinking that she
hadn't heard. But at last she threw the grass away. She took a deep
breath before replying.

"I really don't know. Maybe he thought that the hardships of life at sea
would be more likely to kill him."

Hornblower opened his mouth to protest her statement, but Annie held up a
hand to stop him. "Let me finish, Horatio." She turned to look at him,
her intense green gaze holding him spellbound. "You have to understand.
For as long as I can remember Archie has had those fits. At some point
our mother insisted on having a doctor look at him, but the doctor just
said there was nothing that could be done for him. He said it would
perhaps have been better if Archie had died at birth! I remember hearing
my father repeating those words to Mother. But it wasn't just the fits,
you see. Archie has always been different. He would rather read a book
than ride to the hounds. He would rather spend an evening at the theater
than play billiards in some stuffy smoke-filled club. Father could never
understand that, so I imagine it was easy to convince himself that there
was something wrong with Archie. Something that being in the navy would
burn out of him, if it didn't kill him first!"

Hornblower sat in silence, absorbing all that Annie had just said. It
explained a great deal; Archie's terror of being bullied, his lack of
confidence in himself, even his attempted suicide while they were in
prison. If a boy has never been told his worth, what kind of man can he
grow up to be? And yet he had seen Archie overcome all these obstacles
and beat down all his demons. He was a better and stronger man than
anyone in his family could have imagined.

Hornblower was about to make a statement to that effect in an effort to
reassure Annie, when her face broke into a brilliant smile.

"I am glad that he proved Father wrong! I could tell as soon as I saw him
the other afternoon that he had changed." She turned to look at
Hornblower. "I am so very proud of him!"

Hornblower smiled in response. "You should be. He's a good man, and a
good officer. I count myself lucky to have Archie as my friend."

"He's lucky to have a friend like you, Horatio." Annie turned her smile
on Hornblower. "And I am happy that I had a chance to make a friend of
you as well."

Hornblower felt himself blushing at her words, but he couldn't look away
from her face. Slowly, almost of its own volition, his hand reached out
and he brushed the backs of his fingers against her cheek. He gently
cupped her chin in his hand.

Annie's smile had faded at Hornblower's touch. She felt rooted to the
spot; unable to move a muscle. She stared into his eyes, transfixed as he
leaned towards her. At the last second her eyelids fluttered closed.

Their lips met. Tentatively at first; then, when neither drew away, with
more urgency. The world shrank down to the small, sunlit patch of grass
on which the two of them sat.

Hooves sounded in the distance, approaching rapidly. Annie pulled back
and quickly stood up. Her face was flaming from a combination of
embarrassment and the rush of sensation she had felt when Hornblower had
kissed her. She turned her back to him and stood with her hands pressed
to her cheeks, striving to regain her poise and self-control.

Hornblower stood and reached out to gently touch Annie's shoulder. She
jumped at the contact, spinning around to face him. Before either could
say a word Hornblower caught sight of the approaching rider.

"Archie!" he called out.

Kennedy saw his friend and his sister, and galloped over to where they
stood. He slid out of the saddle and held out two letters to Hornblower.

"Here." he said. "Read the top one first!"

The one letter was already unsealed, so Hornblower opened and read it
quickly. His eyes widened as he worked his way through the missive. When
he looked up at Kennedy the amazement was plain on his face.

"Tea?" he asked, his voice incredulous. "At Edrington Manor? This can't
be serious!"

Annie gasped out loud and snatched the letter from Hornblower's hand. "An
invitation from the Earl? We're to go to Edrington Manor? When?" She
looked at her brother, a wide grin brightening her face. "Oh Archie, this
is wonderful!" She re-read the letter. "Tomorrow? Tomorrow?!" She raised
a newly stricken face. "What ever am I going to wear?!" Then she picked
up her skirts in one hand and ran back towards the house.

Kennedy watched her go with a grin. He had known as soon as he read the
invitation how Annie would react. He turned to Hornblower to include him
in his amusement. Hornblower had opened the second letter and was staring
at it in shock. His face was so pale that for a moment Kennedy feared he
would faint.

"Horatio! What is it?"

Hornblower took a deep breath. "I..." He cleared his throat before
continuing. "I'm being transferred. In a week's time I am "requested and
required" to report for duty aboard HMS Renown. I have to leave the

"What?!" Kennedy grabbed the letter. His eye caught the distinctive
fouled anchor emblem of the Admiralty, then he read the entire message.
The paper shook slightly in his hand.

" I can't believe this! Leave the Indy?" Kennedy's voice cracked
slightly. "You can't leave the Indy! You....." He caught sight of
Hornblower's face.

Kennedy sighed deeply. "You have to obey orders. Not much choice in the
matter, is there?" His face brightened. "The Renown! A ship of the line!
There ought to be some excitement in that, don't you think?"

Hornblower smiled, but it was a feeble attempt. His heart had dropped to
his toes when he saw that word "transfer". He could not conceive of
leaving The Indy; it had been his home for many years, and its crew his
family. Still, as Kennedy said, he had to obey orders. And being posted
to a ship of the line was exciting! Even if he was posted as the most
junior lieutenant.

He turned to walk back to the house. "Yes Archie. I think there will be
some excitement in this!"

Kennedy moved to follow his friend, leading the horse, and he clearly
heard Hornblower's last, amused comment.

"Archie, how come you never told me that Lord Edrington lived so close to
your family?"

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