by Clio

Tea, Mr. Kennedy?

When the mess in the study had been cleared away Kennedy sent the
servants back to their beds. After locking the door he leaned back
against it. He shut his eyes, took a deep breath, and let it out slowly.
His hand throbbed from its contact with his father's jaw. He cradled it
against his chest as a single tear slipped from his closed eyelids and
ran down his cheek.

He lost track of how long he stood there. The rain had slowed down, but
the wind still blew fiercely. A cold draught came under the study door,
and Kennedy shivered in reaction. The cold air brought him back to his
senses, and he pushed away from the door and made his way to the stairs.
He felt like an old man.

At the top of the stairs instead of heading to his own room, Kennedy
turned and went to his brother's door. He stood outside for a moment,
listening carefully. No sound came from within. He quietly opened the
door and went inside.

The bed was empty. The remains of the brandy decanter he had smashed the
previous day were still in the fireplace. The room smelled stale, as if
it had been closed up for months.

Kennedy moved quickly, pulled back the curtains and pushed the window
open. He leaned out, resting his hands on the sill, and took deep breaths
of the cool, clean air. The rain stung his face, but he stayed there for
a long time. He stayed until the shoulders of his nightshirt were
drenched and his hair began to drip down his back.

Finally the wet and the cold drove him back inside. He shut the window
and settled into one of the chairs to wait for his brother to come home.
How long he sat there he couldn't tell, but eventually he fell into an
uncomfortable sleep.

A noise woke Kennedy out of the uneasy sleep he had lapsed into. At first
he thought it was a part of the dream he had been having, but then the
sound came again. It was quickly followed by a low-pitched voice cursing.

He jumped out of the chair and quickly yet silently made his way
downstairs. In the dim light of dawn he saw his brother struggling to
open the door to the study. Reg's clothes were drenched and disarrayed,
and his hair was hanging loose. He gave one last twist of the knob, then
in frustration he kicked the door.

"God damn and blast!"

"I locked the door" Archie said quietly.

Reg spun around to confront his brother. His foot slipped in the puddle
of water left by his sodden clothing and he fell heavily to the floor.
When he got himself back in a sitting position he looked up at his

"Are you just going to stand there?" he asked. "Or would it damage your
damned officer's dignity to help me up?"

Archie just stood there. The smell of cheap gin was radiating from Reg in
waves, competing with the unmistakable odor of lavender. Archie felt his
stomach begin to churn at the stench.

"Oh, bloody hell!" Reg exclaimed. "Fine, have it your way. I'll just sit
here for a while."

"Where have you been all night?" Archie asked.

Reg laughed. "What are you now, your brother's keeper?" He struggled to
stand, supporting himself with the door at his back. "Where I was, and
what I was doing, is none of your damned business, Acting-Lieutenant
Kennedy." He gestured to the door. "Now how about unlocking this so I can
get a drink?"

"I don't think so, Reg."

"Oh, so you're in charge around here now?" Reg's voice fairly dripped
sarcasm. "I'm so glad that you came home to save all of us from

"You're drunk. I would suggest you go to bed and sleep it off." Archie
gave a quick glance at the condition of his brother's clothes. "And you
might want to clean yourself up. You are hardly fit to be seen!"

Reg pushed himself away from the study door and took an unsteady step
towards his brother. "Unlock this door. NOW!"

Archie recoiled from the stale odor of his brother's breath, but then he
looked closely into his brother's eyes. He searched, but could find no
trace of the man Reg had once been. He had been beaten down by an
inattentive and uncaring father until he couldn't fight anymore. Alcohol
was his means of escape; the only way that he could break free from the
ghosts that haunted him. Archie felt a rush of sympathy for his brother,
but he couldn't allow that to dictate his actions. Reg had abdicated his
responsibilities when he had retreated into a bottle. Somebody had to
step into his place.

Archie turned and walked away from his brother. He was halfway to the
staircase before Reg spoke.

"Where the hell are you going?!"

"Back to bed, to try and salvage some sleep out of this night." He
started up the stairs.

"And I'm so sure that you'll find sleep easily!" Reg's words, though
slightly slurred, cut sharp as knives. "Those fits can just be so
exhausting, I'm sure. But as soon as Father sees that you haven't changed
in that respect, I know that he'll have you packed back to that worthless
ship so fast..."

Archie rounded on his brother, jumped down the stairs, grabbed Reg by his
shirtfront and slammed him against the study door before he had a chance
to say another word. "You're going to listen to me for once, you
worthless sod!" Archie hissed the words. "You haven't done a damned thing
but drown yourself in alcohol since Mother died, and I'll be damned if
I'll let you start now! You wrote to me, remember? You begged me to come
home and help you, REMEMBER? So we'll do things my way, or not at all! Do
you understand me?"

When Reg didn't respond right away Archie shook him. "Do you understand
me, Reg? Because those are my terms. If you don't like it, believe me,
I'd be more than happy to return to my ship. I'll take Annie away and get
her a home in Portsmouth and be back on board the Indy before you even
realize what happened. Then you and Father can slowly do yourselves in
with alcohol and self-pity, and no one will be the wiser. Is that really
what you want?"

Reg had started to cry halfway through his brother's tirade. The tears
were flowing freely down his face, and he could only shake his head in
response to Archie's final question.

When he saw that head shake Archie let go of the shirt and thrust his
brother away. "That's what I thought." He started back up the stairs, but
he turned around for one last word. "In case you haven't noticed, Reg, I
am no longer the weak link in this family."

Despite the disturbances of the previous night, Kennedy was able to sleep
until nearly noon. When he opened his eyes the room was flooded in
sunlight. The previous night's storm seemed almost not to have happened.
Voices were coming from next door in his sister's room, so he got up,
donned his robe and went to check on Annie.

He knocked on the door and then pushed it open slightly. Annie was
sitting on the bed, and she looked so beautiful that Kennedy's heart
caught at the sight. She was wearing a gown in an unusual shade of peach
that highlighted her lovely auburn hair. He face was flushed and her eyes
were alight with laughter.

Curious as to what was causing this reaction, Kennedy pushed the door
open further. Hornblower sat in a chair opposite Annie, her injured foot
resting in his lap. He was bandaging the wound again, and as he did so he
told Annie about an incident on board the Indy involving Captain Pellew,
Lt. Bracegirdle, and a basket of pilchards. By the time he reached the
part where the basket had split open, dumping dozens of the fish all over
the quarterdeck, Annie was gasping with laughter and holding her sides.

"Good morning." Kennedy quietly spoke.

Annie started slightly, and turned toward the door. "Archie! We were
wondering when you be joining us. Horatio said that you could confirm
everything of what he just told me about the pilchards, but I find it
hard to believe." She turned back to Hornblower. "And I still don't
understand what statues in Florence have to do with the whole story!" Her
smile was wide and her laugh infectious, but Kennedy had not failed to
notice the incipient bruise on her cheek where their father had slapped

He tossed a questioning look at his friend. Hornblower nodded slightly,
silently letting Kennedy know that his sister was all right. He breathed
a sigh of relief and went to sit beside her on the bed. Without another
word, Hornblower stood and quietly left the room.

"So," Kennedy said, taking his sister's hand. "how are you feeling this

"Fine, Archie." Her smile wavered a little. "I'm just fine."

"I'm sorry, Annie." He couldn't meet her eyes as he said it.

"For what, in heaven's name? You didn't cause any of it, and it wasn't
you who slapped me!" Annie took her brother's chin in her hand and tilted
his face toward her. "Archie, if you hadn't been there it might have
been much worse!"

"And Horatio?"

Annie blushed. "I... I don't..." she stammered

Kennedy wrapped an arm about her shoulders and held her close against his
side for a moment. "Don't worry, old girl. He feels the same way about
you, believe me!" He leaned back to look her in the eye. "Will you be all
right for a while? I need to see about repairing that window and talk to
Mrs. Keller about dinner tomorrow night."

"I'll be fine." Annie said, raising her chin a little. "I am a Kennedy,
after all! We're made of sterner stuff than that!"

Kennedy chuckled and kissed her cheek. "Yes, you are made of sterner
stuff." He stood up and opened the door, but a sudden thought pulled him
back. "Annie, if you'd rather not go to tea this afternoon I can send a
message to Lord Edrington...."

"Don't you dare!" Annie pleaded. "This may be the only chance I ever have
to meet an earl! Even if I have to hobble over there on one foot, I'll do

Later that day Kennedy carefully dressed in his uniform for the first
time since leaving the Indy. He was glad he had had the presence of mind
to have it cleaned by one of the maids. It had been sponged, pressed,
wiped, and brushed until he hardly recognized it. Looking at himself in
the mirror, he thought that it looked rather odd, however. Almost like a
boy playing a game with his father's clothes.

Shaking away his melancholy thoughts, Kennedy left his room. The door to
Annie's room was open, so he went in.

His sister was sitting in one of the chairs, struggling to fit her shoe
over the bandage on her foot.

"Hellfire!" Annie muttered under her breath.

Kennedy chuckled. "What language from such a lovely lady! What will his
lordship say?"

"Oh, you..." And without another word Annie threw the shoe at her

Kennedy ducked, and the shoe sailed over his head and hit Hornblower
squarely in the chest. He had come up to stand behind Kennedy, and he
reacted quickly, catching the missile before it could hit the floor. He
moved to stand beside Annie's chair and presented it to her.

"Yours, I presume?"

Annie blushed bright red, but she still managed to maintain her dignity.
"Thank you, sir." she said grandly before she began to giggle. "Although
what use it is I don't know! I can't even get it on my foot!" She looked
up at Hornblower and then at her brother, both of whom wore their dress
uniforms. "My goodness! You both look wonderful!"

Kennedy glanced at his friend and had to admit the truth of his sister's
comment. Unlike himself, Hornblower looked perfectly at ease in his
uniform. There was none of the awkwardness that he showed in civilian
dress. He stood tall and straight, looking as if he were made to wear
such clothes. Kennedy felt a moment's jealousy of the white lapels on his
friend's jacket; the mark of his rank, and his hand strayed to the white
patch on his collar.

Hornblower caught the motion out of the corner of his eye, but he ignored
the gesture. Of all people he knew how lucky he was to have received his
commission. He also acknowledged that it was only the fact of
imprisonment that had prevented Kennedy from doing the same, and any
jealousy would be gone in the blink of an eye. They had been through too
much together to ever let such a thing get in the way of their

"How am I supposed to get down to the carriage?"

Annie's question startled both men from their thoughts. Hornblower opened
his mouth to respond but Kennedy jumped in ahead of him. "I guess I'll
just have to carry you. Brotherly privilege, you might say." He put a
hand under her elbow and assisted her to her feet, then lifted her and
held her against his chest. The trio made there way out to the waiting
carriage. Kennedy carefully set his sister inside and then climbed in and
sat beside her. Hornblower took the seat opposite, and they set out.

During the ride to Edrington Manor Annie was uncharacteristically silent,
especially in contrast to her high spirits of earlier that morning.
Kennedy loosely held her hand, but his thoughts were miles away, back on
that beach on the coast of Brittany. Hornblower too found his mind
dwelling on memories; memories of an exploding bridge, of cannon fire on
a beach, and of a calm voice penetrating the haze of pain and grief that
was growing around him. I think we are well done with this place. Simple
words, really, but with a wealth of meaning.

He looked over at Kennedy and found his friend looking directly back at
him. They shared a common thought at that moment, and each smiled
ruefully in acknowledgment of what might have been. But neither of them
was interested in dwelling on what they had been through, so when Annie
innocently asked what the earl was like, they both leapt on the subject.

"Older than you probably think." was Hornblower's response.

"Young, tall, and handsome." was Kennedy's. "Everything an English
nobleman should be." he continued, laughing as he said it.

"Except that he is also intelligent and rather clever." Hornblower said,
a slight edge to his voice. "I don't believe hose are qualities often
valued in the nobility." He glared at his friend, daring Kennedy to
contradict him.

Kennedy only laughed more. "True, Horatio! Only too true." He glanced at
his sister and saw the confusion on her face. "Don't worry, Annie. He's
actually a fairly regular sort, once you get to know him."

At that moment the carriage came to a halt at the foot of a broad,
sweeping stone staircase. Annie looked out her window at the imposing
facade before her and turned a surprised, and somewhat nervous, face to
her brother. "He's actually a fairly regular sort?" she asked, parroting
Kennedy's words.

Kennedy smiled reassuringly. "Absolutely! The most regular!"

Two footman came down the stairs and opened the doors on either side of
the carriage. Kennedy alighted quickly and went to help Annie down. When
he moved to lift her as before she vehemently shook her head. "No,
Archie. I'll be introduced standing on my own two feet.

Kennedy ignored her protest and lifted her in his arms. "Sorry!" he said
with a grin. "But since you can't stand on your own two feet, I think
I'll just carry you." He looked up just as the front door opened and
Edrington came out to greet them.

At first Kennedy hardly recognized the man. He was dressed in civilian
clothes and smiling broadly. When he came out of the shadow of the front
door the sunlight glinted on his blonde hair. As soon as he spoke the
sense of unfamiliarity fell away.

"Mr. Kennedy! And Mr. Hornblower! Its a pleasure to see you both again.
Welcome to Edrington Manor."

Kennedy mounted the stairs, still holding Annie in his arms. At the top
of the flight Annie jabbed him sharply in the ribs, and he carefully set
her down, still supporting her with an arm about her waist.

"My lord, allow me to present my sister, Annabelle."

Edrington took in Annie's injured foot in one quick glance, and when she
made to curtsey he caught her hand to forestall the motion. "There's no
need for that." he said. "I can see that you've hurt yourself." He smiled
again and bowed to her. "Miss Kennedy; its an honour to meet you." He
straightened up. "Come inside, all of you. Barton?" The butler appeared
in the doorway. "Show our guests to the drawing room, please."

Kennedy picked his sister up again and followed the butler into the
house. Hornblower hung back for a moment, admiring the architecture of
the manor. When he noticed Edrington looking at him speculatively he
spoke to forestall any questions.

"Its beautiful, my lord."

Edrington accepted the words at face value, and decided against asking
anything. "Yes, it is. My father had a great deal of work done to the
house when he first inherited it. The central block dates back to the
time of Henry V." He gestured Hornblower inside and followed the younger
man into the hall. "If you are much interested in the manor's history,
I'm sure my mother would be more than happy to enlighten you. Its her
great passion in life."

Hornblower's face brightened at that. "I would indeed enjoy that, my
lord. Thank you."

Edrington smiled slightly. "Don't thank me just yet! You may not escape
for days if my mother senses a keen interest in you!"

When they entered the drawing room Kennedy and Annie were already there.
Annie was sitting on the sofa opposite the huge fireplace, but her eyes
were taking in the entire room. Kennedy was roaming about the room
absorbing everything. He stopped in front of the fireplace and stared at
the Edrington coat-of-arms that was carved on the centerpiece of the
mantle. When he heard their entrance he moved to sit in one of the chairs
near his sister.

Hornblower took the seat beside Annie. Before anyone could speak there
were voices outside the door, and the sound of a cane tapping the
hardwood floor. Edrington moved to the door and opened it wider to admit
the two women who had come in.

At the sight of the older of the two both Hornblower and Kennedy jumped
to their feet. She was tiny; at least a foot shorter than any of the men,
and she walked somewhat unsteadily with the assistance of her stick. But
there could be little doubt as to who she was. Although somewhat faded,
her hair was still a vibrant golden shade and every feature of her face
was indelibly stamped on her son.

Edrington moved to take her arm and guided her to a chair. Once she was
seated he stood behind the chair and introduced their guests.

"Mama, this is Lieutenant Hornblower, and Acting Lieutenant Kennedy, of
His Majesty's frigate Indefatigable, and Miss Annabelle Kennedy." He
gestured to each in turn. "Mr. Hornblower, Mr. Kennedy, Miss Kennedy,
this is my mother, the Dowager Countess of Edrington."

As he bowed to the countess Hornblower's unruly mind jumped to the past.
He could clearly hear Edrington's memorable words on a rather memorable
occasion: My mama could beat them off with her parasol. He felt a blush
creep up his cheeks and he bowed lower in an effort to hide it. When he
straightened up, however, his eyes met the earl's. It was obvious that he
too was recalling that conversation, for his cheeks were also stained a
bright red.


The quiet voice startled Hornblower out of his reverie. Hornblower and
Kennedy turned toward each other. Henry? Kennedy mouthed the question
before he grinned. Hornblower could only shrug and bite his lip to keep
from laughing.

The single word was spoken by the young woman who had come into the room
with the countess. She was tall; indeed nearly as tall as Edrington
himself. She had towered over her companion. She was slender but with a
shapely figure clearly outlined under her simple gown of pale green. Her
honey colored hair was loosely piled on her head with tendrils gently
curling around her face.

Edrington's face perceptibly softened when he turned to her. He moved to
stand beside her, taking her hand. "Gentlemen, Miss Kennedy. May I
introduce my fiancee, Lady Sarah Elliot?" When all three had acknowledged
the introduction Lady Sarah turned back to Edrington.

"Henry, I though perhaps we could have tea outside in the garden today.
Its so lovely out; much too lovely to be inside."

Edrington smiled gently at her, completely altering his face. "Of course,
my dear, if you like." He moved back toward the chair. "Mama? Would that
be acceptable?"

The dowager grinned. "Eminently acceptable, Henry." She got to her feet
with the assistance of her son. "Perhaps you could help Miss Kennedy? She
seems more in need than I."

Annie blushed at the attention being focused on her, and Hornblower came
to her rescue. "There's no need, my lady. I can help Miss Kennedy." And
he lifted her out of the chair and moved towards the doors leading to the

Kennedy watched his friend carry his sister, so he went and offered his
arm to Lady Edrington. "M'lady, I would be honored to assist you." And
they made their way out to the garden.

Edrington and Lady Sarah were last. When she placed her hand in the crook
of his arm she said softly "I like them."

He grinned at her and kissed her cheek. "I knew you would!"

Outside in the garden they settled into chairs. Hornblower again sat
beside Annie. Kennedy watched the two of them; watched as his sister
blushed and laughed in response to Hornblower's remarks. When he turned
his attention to his host he saw that Edrington had not failed to notice
their closeness. Kennedy found himself hoping that he might have a chance
to talk with Edrington later. He instinctively trusted the older man;
remembering his calm and controlled demeanor during the failed mission in

Three servants came out of the house just then with the tea things.
Edrington pulled a watch out of the pocket of his waistcoat and checked
the time.

"I was expecting two more guests, but perhaps we could go ahead without
them." he said. "Sarah, if you could....." He gestured to the tea table,
but before he could finish his sentence Barton came outside and announced
the arrival of the other two guests.

"Mr. Robert Chamberlain and Miss Emma Chamberlain."

Free Web Hosting