by Clio

Moments Of Truth

Dinner that evening had been an informal affair, with much conversation
and laughter. Edward had spent the meal regaling Hornblower with tales of
Archie and Annie as children, and Hornblower had returned the favor with
stories of life on board the Indefatigable. A sober Edward was able to
exert a considerable amount of charm, and Hornblower softened from his
usual reticence.

Kennedy had sat and watched the easy interaction of his father, his
sister, and his best friend. He himself felt more at ease then when he
had arrived, but at the back of his mind a worry still nagged. Reg was
not at home. According to Jenkins he had gone out just before dinner,
with no word as to where he was bound or what time he expected to return.
Despite his joy at having his father back, Kennedy knew that there were
still questions to be asked, and his instincts told him that only Reg
would have the answers.

When told about the invitation to Edrington Manor, Edward's face had
paled, but he agreed to go. That brought a measure of ease to Kennedy's
mind, but he still felt unsure. Before dinner he had dispatched a message
to Edrington, detailing the change in his father and expressing his hope
that it spelt the end for his family's troubles.

"She's really quite sweet, Father. You'll like her. Archie certainly

The sound of his name dragged Kennedy's thoughts back to the table. Annie
was smiling at him, but with a mischievous gleam in her eye. Hornblower
kept his gaze on his plate, but his grin was also unmistakable.

Kennedy glared across the table at his sister. "What exactly has brought
my name into this?"

Before Annie could answer Edward spoke up. "I was just asking about the
Chamberlain's, Archie. Considering what you told me earlier, I'm
understandably curious." He smiled at both of his children. "Annie was
just telling me about Emma."

Kennedy felt his face flame and quickly ducked his head; to all intents
completely absorbed in his last bite of trifle.

"I must say she sounds like a perfectly charming girl. What did you think
of her, Hornblower?"

Hornblower looked at his friend before replying. Kennedy narrowed his
eyes and shook his head slightly, as if to say "Don't you dare!"
Hornblower took the warning as meant, and confined his remarks to

Kennedy breathed a sigh of relief when his father appeared to drop the
subject, but his relief was short lived. For when he glanced up from his
plate he found his father's eyes on him, shrewdly assessing his seeming
disinterest in the subject of Emma Chamberlain. He had forgotten, if
indeed he ever really knew, just how intuitive his father was. He laughed
inwardly at the idea that he could ever have hidden anything from Edward.

After dinner Edward took Hornblower out for a brief tour of the grounds.
As they went out the door Edward was already bubbling over with ideas for
re-planting the rose garden. Hornblower looked a little dazed at the flow
of information. He mentioned that in six years in the navy he hadn't seen
many roses, but Edward rolled right over that. He was in high spirits,
and there was no stopping him. Hornblower followed along rather meekly,
uttering an occasional Yes sir and No sir in response to questions.

Kennedy carried his sister into the drawing room and set her gently on
the sofa. He sat in the chair opposite her and took a deep breath. Annie
had been reaching for her book, but at his in-drawn breath she stopped
and met his eyes.

"What's bothering you, Archie?"

"I..." He swallowed hard. "I wanted to talk to you about something."

Annie smiled slightly. "What, pray?"

Her eyes were knowing and shone like emeralds in the light. Kennedy had a
sudden image of himself as a boy, caught in some mischief and brought to
his mother to answer for it. He had the same feeling now with his sister
that he had then. He fidgeted in his chair under the impact of her gaze.

Well, better to get right down to it and take it like a man, he told
himself. "I want to talk to you about Horatio." He watched his sister
closely for any sign of a telltale flush at mention of the name, but her
cheeks remained pale. For no reason her composure irritated Kennedy;
perhaps because of his own inability to remain unruffled when Emma
Chamberlain was mentioned.

"What, no maidenly flush?" His voice came out sharper than he intended.
"You were certainly quick enough with your blushes this morning!"

Annie gave her brother an appraising glance and turned away from him to
pick up the embroidery she had been working on. "If you have something to
say to me, Archie, perhaps it would be best if you said it." The needle
flashed in and out of the linen; her hands were steady, but the chill in
her voice was like ice.

"All right, I will." He stood up so that he could look down to where his
sister sat. "I don't want you encouraging him, Annie. He'll be back on
board ship in a couple of days, and then back at sea. Its no use
pretending any different, and if you think he'll give that up for your
sake, then you are sadly mistaken!"

Annie set the embroidery beside her on the sofa and viciously stabbed the
needle down. She looked up at her brother, not in the least bit cowed by
him as he stood over her. "And just which of us are you more concerned
for, Archie? Are you so worried that I'll hurt him, ruin his career,
spoil his future?" He voice began to rise with the tide of her anger. "Or
is it me you're worried about? Are you afraid I'll be so devastated by
his leaving that I'll do some harm to myself? Or is it something more?
Perhaps you believe that I'll unthinkingly give myself to him before he
leaves, thereby spoiling whatever decent marriage chances I have!"

She stood up then, eye to eye with Kennedy. "Well, I have a bit of news
for you, Archie. I am neither that stupid nor that self-loathing! So you
can cease fretting about your friend and me. I promise, I'll do nothing
to ruin either of our reputations!" She abruptly sat back down, aware
again of the pain in her foot.

Chastened by her words, it was a moment before Kennedy could bring
himself to speak. "Annie, I didn't mean..."

Annie cut him off, her voice sharp as a knife. "I know exactly what you
meant, Archie! What I can't understand is why you would consider, even
for one moment, that I would do anything of the kind! Am I so different
to the girl you remember?"

Kennedy knelt in front of his sister and took both of her hands. "No! You
aren't different at all! I just don't want..." He stopped, not quite sure
how to express his thoughts. "I don't want you to get hurt. I know he's
intelligent, and handsome, and he can be charming... But, Annie, Horatio
is in love with the navy! That is where he belongs; where he's happiest!"
He looked into Annie's eyes. "Do you understand what I'm saying?"

Annie laughed and reached out a hand to brush a lock of hair back from
his forehead. "Did you think I wouldn't figure that out for myself?" She
began to laugh harder. "Oh Archie! You sweet, adorable, fool!"

Dumbfounded now, Kennedy could do little but sit back on his heels as his
sister gave way to merriment. Despite his earlier discomfort and her
anger, he couldn't help but smile at seeing her so happy. Only when her
laughter had quieted, and then died, did he speak again.

"Are you finished?" he asked, a smile in his voice and his eyebrows

One last giggle escaped; Annie clapped one hand over her mouth and
nodded. When she removed her hand she was grinning broadly: a beautiful
smile that reached to her eyes. "I'm sorry, Archie, but if you could have
seen your face..." She swallowed another round of laughter. "But to think
you were so concerned about how I feel about Horatio leaving!"

Kennedy got up from his knees and sat besides his sister. "Well, you have
to admit I had reason to wonder! You two have grown quite close in the
brief time you've known each other. What else could I think?"

Annie shook her head. "You could have given me some credit for brains,
Archie!" She sighed deeply. "I may have been entertaining thoughts along
those lines, but seeing him in uniform..." She laughed a little. "Well,
that made it perfectly clear! He's not meant to stay on land and have a
regular life, with a wife and children." She looked off into space for a
moment. "Although I'm guessing that he doesn't yet realize it."

Now it was Kennedy's turn to laugh. He shook his head at his own
foolishness and put an arm around his sister's shoulders. "Yes, I should
have given you more credit. Its strange, because Edrington said almost
exactly the same thing this afternoon."

"What did he say?"

"That Horatio was so in love with the navy that any woman would pale by
comparison" He looked pensive for a moment. "But I fancy there's more to
it than that. At least in this instance." He looked at Annie sitting
quietly at his side, her eyes intent on him. "Our last mission... I can't
tell you everything, Annie, but we were in France, in Brittany, with
Royalist troops and a half-battalion of British infantry. That's how
Horatio and I met Lord Edrington. There was this girl in the village..."
He stopped speaking, his mind flashing back to powder smoke and musket
fire; to his terror as he ran across that bridge - the fire of the
explosions singeing his hair and the tails of his coat; to a beach and an
empty sea.


Kennedy shook himself out of his memories. "I'm sorry. The experience is
still rather vivid." He smiled slightly at those words, an understatement
if ever there was one. "There was this girl. Horatio wanted to protect
her; I think he believed he was in love with her."

"What happened?"

"She was killed. Shot by Republican troops. Her own side. She had hurt
her ankle somehow, and couldn't run. Horatio was helping her and
supporting her with an arm around her waist. She was shot in the back,
and she was dead before she fell to the ground." He saw the understanding
dawn on Annie's face. "So you see, Horatio is still reeling from that.
Its like he's trying to feel his way through a whole maze of emotions
that he's never felt before. Add into that his obvious attraction to you
and it makes for an awkward situation all ëround, don't you think?"

Annie was thoughtful for a time, worrying her lower lip with her teeth.
"I imagine he also feels guilty because I'm your sister."

"Yes, I would imagine that's part of it."

She picked up her embroidery again. "Well, no reason to worry. I'm not
going to lose my head over a little flirtation and a couple of kisses." A
blush rose on her face as she remembered the couple of hours asleep in
Hornblower's arms, but she resolutely pushed those thoughts from her
mind. "I would be pleased and honored to call Horatio my friend, and I
hope he feels the same way."

A quiet knock on the door intruded into the conversation. Jenkins entered
the room, bearing a message on the silver calling card tray.

"From Edrington Manor, sir." he announced.

Kennedy had already recognized the seal before Jenkins had said a word.
He quickly opened and read the missive.

I was extraordinarily pleased to read that your father has begun to make
his way back to himself. I know it cannot be easy, but you may trust in
me to help in any way I can. Lady Edrington, Lady Elliott and myself look
forward to your presence at dinner tomorrow evening with pleasure. Please
convey my regards to your sister and father, as well as to Mr.

In Friendship,
H. E.

"Well, I guess we are still expected at Edrington Manor tomorrow. Thank
you, Jenkins." The butler acknowledged the thanks with a brief nod and
left the room just as Edward and Hornblower came in. They were talking
animatedly, if somewhat breathlessly. At least on Edward's part. He had
not regained his breath, and was hurrying to keep up with Hornblower's
longer strides.

When he noticed his twins sitting there Edward came to an abrupt halt,
but only for a moment. He took a chair across from his children and
immediately resumed the discussion, pulling Archie and Annie in.

"I'm surprised, Archie, about how little knowledge your friend has about
horticulture." he said. "Although I suppose you can't grow very many
plants on board a ship."

Kennedy laughed at his father's simple assessment. To Edward not being
able to have a garden would be a form of hell on earth. "Yes, Father.
There is very little room for gardening on board a frigate." he said, a
touch of laughter in his voice.

Hornblower had blushed slightly at Edward's words, but he rallied to his
own defense. "You can't hardly blame me, sir! My father was never a
gardener, and as you yourself said, it is difficult to grow plants in the

"What about your mother, lad?" Edward asked, innocently blundering onto a
difficult subject. "I've never met a woman that didn't have some interest
in gardens."

Annie looked up from her embroidery as Kennedy tensed at her side.

"Father..." she began.

Hornblower held up a hand and stopped Annie's words before he met
Edward's eyes. "My mother died when I was only six, sir. I hardly knew
her. But you are right in assuming she was interested in gardening. There
were lilac bushes in front of our house that Father said she had planted
just after their marriage." He smiled slightly; a wistful grin that said
more than his words. "I always think of my mother when I smell lilacs in

Edward looked somewhat abashed at his misstep. "I'm sorry, Mr.
Hornblower. If I had known..."

Hornblower brushed of the apologies. "There was no way you could have
known. I don't exactly make it public knowledge. And it was a long time
ago. I've long since gotten past it."

The front door slamming brought a halt to the conversation. Voices could
be heard in then hall, one quiet and calm and another loud and

"Where is that self-righteous prig who calls himself my brother?" a voice
demanded, the words slightly slurred.

Annie set down her embroidery at the words and turned a worried face to
her brother. Hornblower had not sat down when he and Edward had come into
the room, and he moved to stand beside his friend as Kennedy rose to his
feet. They were all facing the door when it burst open with a crash.

Reg stood in the doorway, swaying slightly on his feet and with a
satisfied smirk on his face. Edward jumped to his feet at the appearance
of his elder son.

"Well, well, well. The happy family at home. With guest. How charming!"
Reg exclaimed, his sarcastic tone sending a chill around the room.

Archie took a step forward, but his father was there before him.

"You're drunk, Reg." Edward said calmly.

Reg laughed. "What, and you're not? Now there's a surprise! A little
short on brandy supplies, are we? Never fear, Father. I've brought my
own!" He pulled a bottle of gin from his coat pocket, pulled the cork and
took a long drink. He carefully put the cork back in the neck and set the
bottle on the table, within easy reach of Edward's hand.

Edward glanced once at the bottle and clenched his fist, but otherwise
showed no reaction. He turned back to Reg. "You're drunk." he repeated.
"I think perhaps you should go to bed and sleep. We can talk about this
in the morning." He looked to where Jenkins hovered just inside the
doorway. "Jenkins, would you please help Mr. Reginald to bed?"

He turned away and was resuming his chair when Reg grabbed hold of his
arm. "Oh no, Father! Not so fast! I'm not leaving this room until I say
what I've got to say." He turned his bitter and mocking face toward his
brother. "And what I have to say concerns my oh-so-noble brother." He
waved to include Edward, Archie, and Hornblower. "You all may as well
sit. We may be here a while."

Archie resumed his seat beside Annie; Edward and Hornblower took the
chairs on either side of the unlit fireplace. All four of them watched
Reg with wary, closed expressions on their faces.

Reg rubbed his hands together gleefully, his grin broadening. "Well,
where shall I begin? Its a simple story really. I have just spent a most
fascinating afternoon in the company of a sailor. A man by the name of
Chambers." He looked at Archie and Hornblower. "Ah! I see that name means
something to the both of you! Very good."

"Just get on with it, Reg. " Archie said stiffly.

"Don't rush me, little brother. Now, it seems this man Chambers is
acquainted with the both of you." He pointed at the two younger men.
"Seems he served on board a ship called the Justinian and knows a few
things about that ship." He noted with satisfaction how both his brother
and Hornblower were sitting rigidly, their faces set in stone, revealing

"In particular he told me about things that were known to take place in
the midshipman's berth. Would you know anything about that, Archie?"
Archie looked away. "No? Well, what about you, Hornblower?"

Hornblower unwaveringly met Reg's stare but for one quick flash of the
eyes toward his friend. "I know a great deal about what went on in the
midshipman's berth on board Justinian, Reg. Far more than either Chambers
or yourself could ever know."

Reg laughed, but it was completely without humor. "I suppose you were in
on it also." he said maliciously.

"In on what?" Edward asked.

Reg turned to his father. "I am so glad you asked that! All manner of
things, Father. Bullying, beatings, all manner of brawling. But what
Chambers really remembered was all the talk of buggery."

"Of what?!"

"Bug-ger-y." Reg said the word distinctly and clearly so that there would
be no misunderstanding. "In short, Father, sodomy. Your precious son and
a chap by the name of Simpson..."

Archie had shot to his feet at the mention of that name. He opened his
mouth to speak but his throat closed tight on the words. His felt his
hands begin to shake. His sight grew blurry and darkened around the
edges. The last thing he remembered before pitching face forward to the
carpet was Annie's cry of alarm.

Free Web Hosting