THE JOURNEY HOME
"You do realize that he's completely besotted with your sister, don't
"Hmmmm." Edrington's words eventually penetrated Kennedy's befuddled
brain. "Heh? What?"
Edrington nodded to where the rest of the party was still gathered about
the tea table. "Hornblower is completely besotted with your sister." he
said. "Not that I can blame him. She's a lovely girl, Archie. Do you mind
if I call you Archie?"
"No. Of course not." What else could he say? "What did you mean by that
comment, my lord? About Horatio and my sister."
Edrington smiled; a secretive smile that somehow emphasized every
aristocratic line of his face. He gestured toward the expanse of lawn,
and he and Kennedy began to walk. "I simply meant that he seems very
taken with her. I didn't mean to imply anything else."
Kennedy snorted derisively in response. "Bah! He thought he was in love
in France also! We all know how that ended!"
Edrington stopped underneath the spreading boughs of an enormous oak tree
and turned to Kennedy, his expression now all seriousness. "I didn't say
he was in love with her, Archie. I said he was besotted with her. There
is a difference, you know." He thought for a moment. "Actually, its very
similar to what happened with that French chit. What was her name?"
"Ah, yes! Mariette." Edrington started to walk again. He was silent for
some moments, while Kennedy waited in a positive ferment to hear what he
was thinking. Finally the pressure was too much and he erupted.
"Well? I imagine you have more than that to say on this subject. Odd,
isn't it, that you seem to know more about my best friend and my twin
sister than I do."
Edrington had the good grace to look abashed at Kennedy's words. He
rested his hand on Kennedy's shoulder for a moment. "I'm sorry, Archie. I
was just trying to gather my thoughts. Of course I don't know you sister
and your friend better than you do. But what I do know better is human
nature, and this situation is a fascinating study. The similarities to
the situation in Muziallc alone..."
"Edrington!" Kennedy shouted.
"Sorry, I sometimes get ahead of myself." Edrington grinned. "And you may
call me Hal, Archie. Only my mother ever calls me Henry."
Kennedy smiled in return. "Hal, is it? As in Prince Hal?"
"All right. Now that that's settled, perhaps you would continue with what
you were saying about Horatio and Annie."
"I was simply thinking that Hornblower always appears at his best when he
has a role to play. In this case, as in the case of Mariette, he can step
into the role of white knight striving to protect the fair damsel in
distress." Edrington thought some more. "Truth be told, as much as I
admire and respect Hornblower for his good qualities, I rather fancy that
he is so in love with the navy that any woman would pale by comparison."
Kennedy had to laugh at that remarkably accurate assessment of his
friend. Before he could respond, however, Edrington continued.
"I imagine that if he marries at all it will be out of some sense of
obligation and duty. Certainly not for love." He took a moment and stared
up at the sunlight filtering through the oak leaves. "Although I suppose
if he were to fall in love it would be so completely and passionately
that he would scarce know what to do about it!"
They were both laughing at this point, but Kennedy's mirth faded as
something else Edrington had said finally sunk in. "My lord..." Edrington
gave him a look. "Hal, what did you mean by describing my sister as a
fair damsel in distress?" Realization hit Kennedy like a broadside out of
a heavy fogbank. "What have you heard about my family?"
Edrington blushed a little, but he still managed to look Kennedy in the
eye. "That's part of the reason I invited you, and your family, here
today. I wanted a chance to talk to you." He took a deep breath. "You do
know that the village is rife with gossip about your father, don't you?"
"No. I had a feeling, but I didn't know how bad it was."
"Its bad, Archie. Very bad. One of my tenants who sells in the village
market keeps me informed of what's going on." Edrington stared off into
the distance before continuing. "There's a great deal of talk of drunken
binges, and tavern brawling. I've not given much credence to it, but..."
His words trailed off.
Kennedy laughed, but his laughter held a bitter note. "Why not give
credence to it? Its all true!" His voice grew louder and more agitated.
"My father is drunk more often than he is sober, and it doesn't surprise
me that he'd get himself involved in a brawl or two. And my brother is no
Kennedy totally ignored Edrington. "And, to make matters even worse, I
find out that the proposed marriage of my sister to Robert Chamberlain
has never even been proposed!" He began to pace underneath the trees. "My
father just thinks he proposed it." He stilled his motion and looked back
towards the house. He could clearly see Emma Chamberlain, her dark hair
shining in the sun. She was seated beside Annie, and the two of them were
chatting and laughing like old friends.
Kennedy's words had shocked Edrington. "What do you mean, the proposed
marriage of your sister and Chamberlain?"
Kennedy shot his companion a sardonic glance. "Don't tell me you haven't
heard that rumor? And here I thought it was the most popular one!" He
took a breath and let it out in a heavy sigh. It was no use being angry,
he told himself. Everything would just have to work itself out. "I'm
sorry. I know that its nobody's fault, but I can't help thinking..."
"You wonder if things would have been different if you had been here. If
you hadn't been a prisoner of war and then trapped in some godforsaken
Breton village on the most ill-conceived mission ever to come out of the
Admiralty." Edrington did nothing to disguise the bitterness in his voice
as he spoke. He turned and began walking back to the house. "Well, my
friend, unfortunately things probably would be the same. Life has a funny
way of doing what it wants." He glance sidelong at Kennedy. "Now, are you
going to explain what you meant by your sister marrying Chamberlain?"
Kennedy smiled ruefully. "It hardly matters, does it?" He clasped his
hands behind his back and launched into the story. He left nothing out,
including his conversation the previous day with Emma and the conclusions
he had drawn. "So you see, right now I hardly know what to think. Miss
Chamberlain did promise to speak to her father about this and see if the
question had ever been raised. I imagine its all just wishful thinking on
my father's part."
"Well, you're about to find out."
Edrington nodded toward the house, and Kennedy looked that way. Lady
Sarah was coming down the path, and at her side was Emma Chamberlain.
Edrington did not fail to notice the blush that immediately stained his
friend's cheeks, and he smiled secretly to himself. Kennedy seemed frozen
in place, so Edrington walked forward and took Lady Sarah's arm and
steered her back to the house. His last words, although spoken quietly,
drifted back to where Kennedy stood rooted to the spot.
"Come along, my dear. I think our young friends need to have a few
Kennedy was too shocked to move, but he felt himself blushing fiercely.
He knew it was useless to try and hide it, but nevertheless he turned his
face away, cursing his fair complexion. When he looked back he saw
Edrington glancing over his shoulder. The older man raised his eyebrows
and smiled. You're on your own, his look seemed to say.
Kennedy snapped his attention back to Emma. "My name is Archie." His
words came out sharper than he intended, his voice still tinged with a
bit of anger. He saw Emma take a step back in reaction, and he quickly
reached out and caught her hand. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have barked at
you like that. But since you had invited me to call you Emma yesterday, I
thought turnabout was fair play."
Emma smiled and relaxed. "All right, Archie." She blushed slightly as she
Kennedy noted her rosy cheeks and smiled to himself. His heart was elated
at the thought that she was as effected by him as he was by her. "Would
you care to walk with me, Emma?"
She nodded her assent, and they set off down the path. They walked in
silence for a time, each sneaking glances when they thought the other
"Mr. Kennedy." Emma smiled. "I'm sorry - Archie! I spoke with my father
last night. He confirmed what I told you yesterday. Your father has never
spoken to mine about his marrying your sister. I don't know why everyone
seems to believe that an agreement has been struck. Even Annie thinks
that everything is already decided. She seems to simply be waiting for
the date to be announced!"
Kennedy stopped walking and stared at Emma. "You spoke to Annie about
"Yes, I did. I thought it was best that she know the truth." Her chin
went up slightly, and she had a defiant tone in her voice. "I would like
to consider her my friend, and as such I couldn't keep this from her. She
is quite relieved about the matter now." She cast a sideways glance at
the man beside her. "You're not angry, are you?"
"Angry? Why should I be angry? You spared me the difficulties of having
that conversation with her." He looked up at the beautiful blue sky and
grinned. "I can't say I was enjoying any of this! I never thought it
would be my responsibility to discuss her future marriage with my
Emma laughed. "No, I suppose not. Very few brothers do think along those
lines. But its been taken care of now. So, you see, you don't have
anything to worry about!"
"Except getting through to my father that he never proposed the idea."
Kennedy grimaced. "He's likely to be rather upset when I tell him." And
that, he said to himself, is the understatement of the decade.
Emma sighed. "Yes, there is that. Do you still wish for my father and I
to dine with your family tomorrow evening?"
Kennedy turned to face her. "Yes! More than ever!" He suddenly became
aware of the fact that he was still holding her hand, and his face
reddened as he stared at their entwined fingers. "I would very much like
to have you and your father there when I speak to my father about this
Emma had been greatly aware of her hand in his the entire time they had
been walking. His blue eyes had met and held hers as he spoke, and the
fervency in his words had touched a cord in her. For whatever reason,
Kennedy was nervous about the whole situation and in need of reassurance.
Emma gave his hand a gentle squeeze, and was delighted when he smiled in
response. Kennedy tucked her hand into the crook of his elbow and they
continued their walk.
When they returned to the garden the tea things had been cleared away and
quiet had settled on the gathering. Lady Sarah and Annie were conversing
in low tones, punctuated by an occasional peal of laughter. Edrington
slouched low in a chair, his long legs stretched in front of him and his
face tilted up to the sun. An expression of pure contentment was on his
face, rather like a cat after an especially delectable dish of cream.
Each time a giggle bubbled from either of the ladies his lips quirked
upward in the slightest of smiles. Except for that small movement any
observer would think him sound asleep.
Three members of the party were noticeably absent, however. Kennedy was
about to question Lady Sarah about Hornblower, Mr. Chamberlain and Lady
Edrington when a quiet voice came from behind him.
"They've gone inside. Mama is giving the grand tour and her most in-depth
lecture on family history." Edrington stirred himself and sat up in his
chair. "She never misses a chance to show this place off."
Lady Sarah sighed deeply, stood, and came nearer. She took Edrington's
hand and held it loosely between hers as she spoke. "You're not being
fair, dearest. You know how proud your mother is of this house, and of
"Children?" Kennedy asked. This was the first he had heard of the major
having any siblings. He had been under the impression that he was the
Edrington shot his fiancee a look that would have curdled cream, but she
blissfully ignored it. Raising his hand to her lips, she pressed a kiss
into his palm and they went back to her chair beside Annie. Kennedy
directed Emma to a chair before sitting down himself.
Edrington grunted. "Outvoted again!" he said under his breath. But his
eyes were soft as they followed Sarah, and his smile spoke volumes. He
turned back to his guests.
"Yes, Archie. Children. I have an older sister, Alexandra, and a younger
brother, William. Alexandra is married to Viscount.... somebody or
"Ainesley, Hal." Lady Sarah said. "Viscount Ainesley."
He acknowledged the information with a brief nod before going on. "She
lives in Pembrokeshire and my brother is in the army, like myself.
Lieutenant The Honorable William Hugh Edrington." A brief laugh. "That's
exactly how he styles himself; he won't leave out one bit of his title or
his name." He glanced shrewdly at Kennedy. "I think you'd like him,
however." An idea seemed to occur to him. "I expect William home
tomorrow. Why don't you join us for dinner? All of you." His gesture
encompassed Emma and Annie. "I'm sure William would appreciate the
company of such lovely young ladies."
Kennedy opened his mouth to respond, but Annie got there before him.
"Actually my lord, my brother had invited Miss Chamberlain and her father
to dine with us at Rosefield tomorrow night. It will be Hor... I mean Mr.
Hornblower's last night with us, so we were thinking of something of a
going-away celebration, weren't we, Archie?"
Edrington's brow furrowed. "Hornblower's last night? I thought he had
been granted more leave?"
"He had, my lord, but that leave had been granted by Captain Pellew."
Annie continued in a voice to cheerful to be believed. "He's been
transferred. To HMS Renown."
Kennedy gave the briefest of nods in response to Edrington's questioning
look. "Its true. He needs to leave the day after tomorrow so he can
return to Portsmouth to take up his new posting. So you see, Major...."
He let his sentence trail off.
Edrington stood and began to pace about the garden. Although he did not
really know either of them that well, he could not conceive of Hornblower
without Kennedy, or vice versa. He had witnessed the strength of their
friendship himself at that bridge, and, to his surprise, had found
himself envious of their bond. Except for his brother, Edrington had been
isolated from virtually all of his contemporaries from the age of
fourteen, when his father had died and he had suddenly found himself an
At that moment Lady Edrington appeared in the doorway, with Hornblower
beside her and Chamberlain trailing behind. She was speaking softly; so
softly, in fact, that Hornblower had to hunch over slightly to hear her.
Edrington caught one word in the whispered discussion: Agincourt. The
words erupted from him before he could stop them.
"Good God, Mother! Would you please stop trotting that moldy old story
out for every guest that sets foot in this house?"
"What about Agincourt?" Emma piped in. "I haven't heard the story, my
lord, but I would certainly like to."
"As would I." Annie said.
Edrington glanced at Kennedy, who gave him a sheepish shrug in response.
"Sorry, but I would also like to hear it."
The earl threw his hands up in disgust. "Very well, if you all insist!
Mother, I believe you have the floor." He looked down at the grass under
his feet. "Or the ground, I should have said." And he collapsed back into
his chair and studiously ignored the rest of the group.
The dowager countess kept her audience enthralled with the tale of the
first Viscount Edrington, fighting bravely and saving the life of his
king on the field at Agincourt. Except for an occasional derisive grunt
from her son, all was silent until she had finished. She had not sat
while she spoke, choosing instead to pace the small patch of grass. She
even acted out certain things, much to the delight of her listeners.
At the end she was standing beside her son's chair. She reached out with
one foot and kicked his legs as he slouched, ankles crossed. He jumped
up, startled by her sudden movement, and she moved away and gracefully
took a chair across from him.
"Henry hates all these stories." Lady Edrington announced. "Perhaps when
he has children of his own," she glanced meaningfully at Sarah, "he'll
Edrington just sat in his chair, an enigmatic smile on his face.
Lady Sarah stood up and went to stand beside her fiancee. "That's not
fair, my lady! You know that he just dislikes hearing them over and over
Edrington reached out and pulled Sarah down to perch on his leg. "Thank
you for defending me, my dear." He kissed her cheek before setting her
back on her feet and then rising to his. He went and knelt before his
mother's chair, clasping her hand in both of his. He looked so like a
penitent seeking absolution that Kennedy had to laugh. The sound
shattered the scene and set everyone else off. Lady Edrington cuffed her
son on the ear, but she was grinning as she did so.
Robert Chamberlain spoke up at that moment. "Mr. Kennedy, my daughter
tells me that we are to dine with your family at Rosefield tomorrow
night. I look forward to it."
Kennedy blushed a little and glanced over at the earl. "Actually,
Edrington jumped in at that point. "Actually, I would be pleased if you
would all dine here at Edrington Manor tomorrow night. My brother is due
to arrive home on leave, so it would be a celebration of sorts." He
glanced at Hornblower. "As well as a going away dinner. I understand from
Mr. Kennedy and his sister that you've been transferred to a ship of the
line, Mr. Hornblower. My congratulations."
Hornblower accepted the hand that was offered to him, as well as the good
wishes of the others. He looked over at Kennedy with a question in his
eyes, and Kennedy nodded in response.
"On b..b..behalf of my friends, my lord, we would be honoured to dine
with you and your family tomorrow night." He blushed as his slight
stammer betrayed his awkwardness.
Edrington clapped him on the back. "Splendid!" He turned to Kennedy.
"Your father and brother are both included in the invitation, Archie."
For a moment Kennedy panicked at that thought of his father and Reg,
drunk and angry at Edrington Manor. But there was nothing he could do but
give his assent.
After that it was time to leave. Kennedy was distracted by his thoughts
of the upcoming dinner, so Hornblower carried Annie and installed her in
the carriage. As he was about to walk out the front door Edrington caught
his sleeve and held him back for a moment.
"Archie, there is another reason I wanted to have all of you here." He
seemed edgy and nervous, almost at a loss for words. "I wanted you to
have the support of as many friends as possible in dealing with your
father. I hope I've not overstepped my bounds."
Kennedy looked into the earl's handsome, aristocratic face, and felt a
shock of realization. Despite what had passed between them in Muziallc,
Edrington respected him, and perhaps even liked him a little. It was a
dizzying sensation. For most of his life Kennedy had been too withdrawn
to truly build any friendships; first because of his fits, and later
because of Simpson's abuse. But Hornblower was his friend, and now
Edrington was offering him a helping hand, and the support of friendly
faces in a trying time.
"Overstepped your bounds?" His voice was incredulous. "My God, Hal, that
is probably the most generous thing anyone has ever done for me! I can't
even begin to thank you!"
After an afternoon of being the blusher, Kennedy was relieved to see the
red stain creep up Edrington's cheeks. "You don't have to thank me,
Archie. Just don't get yourself killed in your next engagement, all
right?" His lips quirked in his distinctive half-smile. "Besides, I don't
think Miss Chamberlain would be pleased at that, do you?"
Oh well, Kennedy said to himself. Back to blushing. He peered out the
door and watched as Emma and her father climbed in their carriage. She
waved until they were out of sight. Kennedy trotted down the steps and
fairly leapt into the carriage. Hornblower had taken the seat next to
Annie, leaving Kennedy to the backward facing seat.
As the carriage pulled around the bend in the drive he looked back toward
the house. Edrington and Lady Sarah stood arm in arm at the top of the
stairs, watching their guests drive off. The last glimpse Kennedy had of
the couple they were engaged in a passionate kiss.