Archie Kennedy was born to Lord Carnall Kennedy and Lady Samantha on April 5, 1777. He was the fourth son, and therefore his father did not much care for the boy. He was too occupied in placing his oldest, Malcolm, who was ten, and his twins, Duncan and Trenton, both seven, as high on the social ladder as possible for their young ages.
His mother, a beautiful woman, with blonde hair and creamy skin, loved him dearly. She was happy that she would be able to keep this son with her. For with her older children, Lord Kennedy had given them to wet-nurses, not trusting in his petite wife to properly care for his heirs. Now, for the first time, she could mother her baby.
She would sometimes close the door to her room, sit in the sun, surrounded by light and color, and hold her son in front of her, marveling in the tiny perfection in her arms, with the trees casting dancing shadows on her patio in the warm summer air. Her apartments were soft and colorful, the light pastels of young spring.
As soon as Archie learned to walk, he was everywhere, toddling this way and that through the dark and gloomy manor, his mother or his mother's maid following him, preventing him from falling and hurting himself. But he still fell, and many times he hit his head or knees on the hard floor of the hall, and would cry, bringing his mother running, her skirts rustling like frosty grass. And she would kiss his hurts, and he would laugh and give his mother a smile.
And he learned to talk. His mother taught him kind words, and taught him his prayers. He laughed, played at his mother's feet, romped outside, and he was happy. Mother, to him, was a princess, a fairy of light and joy.
Then came Father.
Through his first four and a half years, Archie did not see much of his father. He only knew that a dark and angry man would sometimes see Mother, and Mother would be frightened. He would stand at Mother's side, and cling to her skirts for comfort. The Man would look down at him and scowl in a frightening way. Once, he loomed over Archie, and stared at him so intensely that Archie started to cry.
"Samantha, is this the kind of son you raise me? Thank God I had Malcolm and the twins taken care of by women who knew how to raise boys! Have you even weaned him?" he sneered. "Now it's my turn, Samantha. I'll teach him how to be a boy, not some little lap dog!" And with that, a new chapter started in Archie's life.
Starting from that day, he spent most of the day away from his mother. His father now took to having him stand next to him whenever there were guests, dressed up in a stuffy suit, standing stiffly by his chair, like some mannikin for show. His father had him practice, standing there for an hour at a time. If he started to fidget, a ruler was smacked against his backside. He learned quickly that crying was the worst thing to do in front of Father, who would call him weak, and tell him how his brothers, whom he had never met, never cried.
On his fifth birthday, the sky was clear, and the earth was turning green. He woke up, got dressed, and hopped downstairs, and chanting "It's my birthday, It's my birthday!" over and over.
He opened the door to the dining room, and stared in confusion. His mother and father were there, with his father at the head of the table, as was usual. But there were three men there who he did not know, and looked at him in cold indifference. His mother, who had always sat at his father's side, was now removed by a chair from the rest of the company. His father stood up and started speaking. "Today is a great day. For my sons are now home! Archie, this is Malcolm. He's fifteen. And these are the twins, Duncan and Trent, twelve. They are your brothers."
At a loss of what to say, he fell back on his manners and bowed awkwardly to these strangers. They said nothing, nor returned the gesture. Malcolm whispered something across the table, and the two laughed. "Well, Archie, sit down. It's your birthday today, right?" "Yes, Father." "Good, good. I and your mother have a surprise for you. So eat."
Archie did just that, and soon he was sitting as with all of his five-year-old patience, waiting for the rest of the family to finish. After what seemed ages, Father pushed away from the table, signaling that the meal was done. Father led the way out, followed by the older boys, with Mother taking his hand and the two followed in the back
The procession led to the paddock and stables, which, although forbidden by Mother, Archie had sometimes slipped off to. In a little corral, with a shiny little red saddle on his back, stood a little grey pony. "Well boy, what do you say?"
"Father, thank you! He's perfect! May I ride him?" Archie had let go of his mother's hand and was holding on to the fence, gripping it in excitement and anticipation.
"Any son of mine must learn to ride. Norton will teach you." He motioned to the ancient groom, who was squinting in Archie's direction. And with that left wordlessly. His brothers went into the stable and brought out horses and rode off. Mother seemed anxious to bust, but followed Father dutifully.
He spent the whole morning learning what Norton had to teach. He learned to brush, feed, saddle and bridle Hansel, as he called his pony. Finally, in the afternoon, he was now learning to ride. He soaked up every word of Norton's like a dry sponge, and in half an hour he was trotting around the corral.
"By gum, if ye ain't the fastest little nipper!" commented an elated Norton, glad with the fast progress and easy teaching.
His brothers rode up, dismounted, and leaned on the fence, watching with detached interest. Norton took their mounts and lead them to the stable. "Ere, keep an eye on yer brother!" Called out Norton.
As soon as he was out of sight, they jumped the fence and strode to the boy and pony. "Here now, you'll fall off if you don't hold onto the pommel!" called out Trent. Confused, Archie halted Hansel. His brothers came closer, and Malcolm had a smile on his face. Trent opened the gate, and Ben in a flash, smacked the pony's rump with all the strength he could muster. The pony reared and sped off, a small child holding on for dear life.
Archie wrapped his little arms around Hansel's neck, his face stung by the whipping mane. He bounced on the saddle, closed his eyes tight and managed to hold on for a few minutes. Then he fell.
He hit the ground with great speed. He rolled, bouncing twice. He opened his eyes and looked around. He was on a muddy road, and there was no sign of Hansel. He did not see his house, only a field of tall grass and some distant trees. He looked at himself. His clothes were caked in mud and he had many scrapes, some which were bleeding.
He sniffed. He was all alone. No Mother for comfort. Archie got up, squared his shoulders, and started walking along the road. . . away from Kennedy Manor.
As he walked, he wondered why his brothers had made Hansel bolt. Was it something he did? Had he made them angry? He felt a wave of tears well up, and he let them come, cause Father couldn't see him and Mother wasn't there to comfort. He carried on like this for some time, walking with his vision blurred by silent tears.
"Hello!" a little voice said from in front of him. Quickly he wiped his eyes on his sleeve and looked up. There was a red haired bare-foot boy in the road, his size, who was staring at him in bright-eyed interest. "Who are you?" "Archie. Who are you?" "Liam."
"Do you know how to get home?" "Yes! Come on!" And with that, the boy came and took his arm and tugged him along.
They came to a little house on the edge of the field. It was a noisy house, with chickens clucking and children yelling and a cow mooing. It was quite overwhelming. "This is home."
Archie looked at it. This wasn't home. He was truly lost. He
started crying again, and sunk to his knees. The boy looked at
him in concern. Looking up, he yelled, "MA!" A woman
came out of the house and bustled up to them. "Ere now, what's
the matter?" "Archie wanted to go home, and now he's
crying," the boy, Liam, said helpfully. "Archie, is
it?" she stooped down to where Archie knelt in the mud and
looked into his dirty face. "Saints, this is the lord's son!
What are ye doin' so far from home?" In answer, Archie sobbed
harder. "Never mind." She turned to a girl. "Jess,
go ride and tell the lord we found is son." She then picked
Archie up gently and took him in the house. She set him on the
table, and rummaged through a cabinet, bringing out a jar and
a rag. Setting those down, she poured some water from a kettle
into a bowl. Testing it and nodding, she placed the rag in the
warm water and came toward him. Archie's eyes got wide, but he
did not move, and allowed his cuts to be
cleaned, though it did hurt. Then Ma put some clear, creamy slave on the scratches and cuts, which made them feel better.
"Liam, go along and get a shirt for Master Kennedy here." The boy ran off, and came back with a large shirt. "Now, young Master, if you would take off those filthy clothes and put this on, I'll wash your clothes, and you can go back all nice and clean to your parents." With that incentive, Archie took off his shirt and breeches and donned the shirt, which came past his knees, and followed Ma out of the house to a basin, where she started washing his clothes.
He stood near her by habit, on the left side with his hands at his back. Seeing him standing there at rigid attention, Ma laughed and said, "At ease, little one. Go run with Liam til your cloths are clean. Shoo!" Archie scampered off. He wandered behind the barn, staring at this strange place in rapt interest. It was loud place, but it was happy, with the sounds of animals and the household.
Passing by the barn door, he saw a mop of red hair in the loft, a clear sign of Liam. He went in, climbed the ladder and waded through the fresh smelling hay toward the red amid the yellow. He finally made it and sat next to Liam in this little den. A small soft something brushed his leg. Looking down, he saw a little cat. There were many little cats, all colors. Liam had three in his lap, and was cuddling them.
Seeing the other boy's longing stare, Liam carefully took one of the little cats and handed it to Archie, watching him intently. Solemnly the little boy took the proffered animal, and mimicked Liam's posture, stroking its back. To his delight, the silky black ball of fur curled up on his lap. Another kitten came and batted at his hair, catching its sharp little claws in a snarl and yanking at it, but he did not move, for he was enraptured by the tiny creatures.
The boys sat in friendly silence, in a little peaceful pocket of the world, with the smell of hay and the mew of kittens.
The drum of hooves broke the serene moment. Jess' voice yelled to Ma. "The lord's son's is here!" Angry shouting. The kittens scampered into the hay. More voices. Both little boys peered over the hayloft. The top of Ma, Jess, and Malcolm's head were visible. Malcolm looked up, and scowled at the sight of his little brother. "Archibald, get down here now! How dare you go off like that!" He cuffed the boy's head. "Now thank this woman for looking after you."
"Thank you, ma'am." "You're most welcome." Malcolm gave her a look of faux gratitude. "Thank you, Mrs. Rand, for keeping this little demon for us." Ma gave him a clam look. "Sir, e was no trouble at all. E was a right angel. Ere are his clothes." Malcolm took the bundle, and carelessly threw both the bundle and Archie onto his big horse. Mounting up, he sped off.
On their arrival home, which was late, Archie was taken in to his father, who was livid. He raged at Archie, telling him what a nuisance it was to send people out looking for him, how he could have been killed, and ended the terrifying display of anger by caning him. He was ordered to his room. He went to his bed and there he cried into the pillow. It had not been his fault He had done just as he was told, but Ben and Trent had made Hansel bolt, and then he was found by Ma and it was so unfair
Soft as a shadow, Mother came into his room. She sat silently until Archie had finished crying, rubbing his back consolingly til he fell asleep.
Archie dreamed that he was back riding Hansel, and that three big shadows came toward him. They had eyes like fire, and their hands sucked in light. He rode away, as fast as he could, but the shadows grew larger and larger til there was nothing but black void and fiery eyes...
He woke up, his face wet with tears. Bolting up, he looked around wildly. The window let in the moonlight, and in it he saw his mother, asleep in a chair. Quietly, he padded over to her, a blanket in hand, and nestled in her vast skirts. He fell asleep, safe and warm.
The next morning he avoided the house, remembering with clarity the night's thrashing. In dogged determination, he saddled and bridled Hansel, and, taking with him the shirt he had worn yesterday, rode off. Following the road, he found the house again. As there was no one outside, he went to the door and knocked at it. Ma answered. "Master Kennedy! Lost again?" "No, ma'am. Here's your shirt. And . . . my name's Archie."
"And you call me Ma. Liam! Your friend is here. Would you like to play?" "I have to go home, but could Liam come with me? Ma?" he added after a moment. Liam had zipped up and gave Ma a big-eyed look, his hazel and green eyes looking pleadingly at his mother. " Of course. Just be back by supper!" she called after the two boys, who were racing down the road, leading Hansel on foot.
"Is he your horse?" asked Liam, dazzled by the little pony. "Yes. Father and Mother gave him to me for my birthday yesterday. I'm five," he said proudly. "And I," replied Liam, matching his pride, "am five and a half. Oh look!"
Looking over his shoulder, Archie saw, to his delight, the black kitten that he had held the day before, walking after them. Stopping, they waited for him to catch up, and then Archie, with an impish smile, put the kitten on the red saddle. The kitten, who had been wearing an air of aloof dignity, seemed to glow with smug arrogance.
The little parade made their way to the gardens behind the mansion. Archie led them to the pond, and sat on a bench near the water. "You want to take the rowboat out?" He asked. Liam bolted up so fast that Hansel snorted and tugged at his reins, which Archie had tied to the stone bench. "Oh yes!"
The two little boys took the little rowboat out into the pond. Archie knew how to row, and quickly demonstrated to his eager companion how to man one of the oars. They rowed around in silence for a bit, than at Archie's suggestion, they took turns being the captain. After yelling at each other like they supposed captains did, they moored the rowboat. Archie led the way into the kitchen door, where their cook sat chopping. She turned, and the sight of her face, which was that of great displeasure, added to her bloodstained apron and knife dripping with gore, was enough to send Liam hurtling out of the kitchen, screaming. Archie held his ground, and in an instant Kate realized who he was.
Her face softened at the sight of her favorite visitor. "Archie, luv, what d'ye need?" "I'm hungry, and so is Liam." "Oh, the li'l red top?" Liam peeked his eyes and nose around the door frame, obviously not trusting a husky woman, covered in blood, who brandished a huge cleaver. "Liam, this is Kate, the cook. She won't bite," he added as he saw the calculating look on Liam's face as he eyed up Kate. "There's some leftover meat pockets on the counter, and a bit o' pie under that cloth."
Both boys were hungry, and taking their spoils underneath a large willow tree, sat and feasted like kings. Kate had made an apple pie, and had spooned a bit of sugar on the top. Liam's distrust for Kate melted into adoration as the meal progressed. He never had any qualms about seeing her again, and she soon gave the two of them treats when they came into the kitchen.
Later, Jess came and took Liam home. Archie smiled and looked down at the kitten, which was laying down near him. He picked him up and took him inside.
It had been the best day ever. He had made his first two friends.
"Liam! Liam!" Seven-year old Archie hollered, running to where his friend sat sitting under a tree, laboriously reading a dog-eared book to his six-year old sister, Maria. "What is it, Arch? Get in trouble with Mr. T again?"
Mr. T, or Tiddly, was Archie's tutor, a stick of a man who had owed Lord Kennedy a favor, and Lord Kennedy had had no qualms about calling up the debt. After two years of tutelage under Mr. Tiddly, Archie was well into his letters and arithmetic. Unfortunately, Mr. Tiddly had a bad habit of forgetting what he had assigned, and had never hesitated to report these "missed" assignments to Lord Kennedy, who punished Archie for his "neglect of study".
"No, not that!" panted Archie, leaning on his knees. "Mother and Father are going to London for a week, to pick up my brothers from school. They are taking me with them! And," his eyes were dancing, "Mother said I could bring YOU! Let's ask Ma if you can go!" Grabbing his friend's hand, Archie dragged his friend all the way down the hill.
"I don't see why not," mused Mrs. Rand, rubbing her chin thoughtfully, attempting to ignore the two pairs of eyes, one bright, vivid blue, the other a swirl of rich green and brown, that were trained on her. Both were as large as possible and, for good measure, were tearing slightly. Archie and Liam both knew that Ma could hardly resist Archie's blue eyes, and seldom refused her youngest son. Together, they were a overwhelming team. And this incident was no different then the time they had asked to play at the pond.
A minute later, the boys were running out of the house, whooping with all the energy that boys could have. They had made a huge fuss over Ma, hugging and kissing her til she shooed them off. They ran up to the manor, then, composing themselves, quietly went up the stairs to Archie's room, not even daring to breathe when they passed the study's closed doors. They closed his door, and then started to plan.
"Now, I don't think that father knows you're coming, Mother told him a friend would come and accompany me, but you know Father..." Archie trailed off. Both boys were sitting on Archie's bed. "Aye," said Liam sagely. "You gotta have a pedigree to be in his presence." "So, you can borrow my clothes. I have plenty." "Um, Arch? I'm almost half a head taller than you." Archie frowned. That was a large catch in the plan.
A big black cat came up and rubbed on his legs. "Midnight, don't your hair on my stockings. I get in trouble." Archie waved at the cat, but Midnight ignored the gesture and jumped up on the bed, and rubbed on his arm instead. Archie scratched him behind the ears.
"Say, what about your brothers' clothes? They still have that?" inquired Liam. Archie's brow furrowed, then his face lit up. " Mother would know. Let's ask her." The two boys ran to Lady Kennedy's chambers.
Samantha was packing, aided by her new maid, Anne, a severe woman who had the air of barely tolerating children. As the duo entered, and, with perfect manners, bowed to the two ladies. Archie had made a point to teach Liam everything that he had learned on manners. For, as he said, "What if you are rude to a lady? Or meet a gentleman, and make you-self look like some stupid peasant? Then you will be laughed at." After that visual, Liam had had his "mannerly lessons" with no complaint.
"Mother, do you know where," he stopped, giving a apprehensive look at Anne, who was giving him a thinly veiled hostile glare. "Where what, darling? Whisper it in my ear. Ah, I see." Lady Samantha nodded. "You have three heads between the two of you. Good thinking. Anne," she called, "I would like to bring my parasol, the one with the embroidered birds. Fetch it for me?"
After Anne had left, she led them to a huge wardrobe in one of the extra bedrooms. "Everything's in there. Liam, pick about six suits. Archie, help him pack. There's a trunk at the foot of the bed. I best go before Anne finds us all out." She gave a lovely smile and whisked out.
As she made her way down the hall, Samantha smiled to herself. This was not the first time that the two had come to her with a problem. She recalled that a year ago, they had snuck in to her room, dripping wet, and tearfully explained how, when chasing frogs by the pond, they had slipped and fallen in. She remembered them clearly, Liam, muddy and wet, and her little Archie with water plants hanging in his hair.
Liam had not understood then why Archie was so upset about getting dirty. Poor thing, he had learned quick enough when he was threatened for going to the kitchen for something to eat. Carnall had hit him with his walking stick and told him that if he was caught thieving again, he would be punished severely. By then, Archie had arrived and seeing his father hitting his friend, had yelled, "Father! Stop! Liam is my friend! Don't hit him!" She had quickly come before any more blows could be laid, calmed Carnall, and took the boys away. Caranll had given Liam compensation for his unjust beating, and had then forgotten the whole incident, and even forgotten about Liam. But since then, both boys avoided Lord Kennedy like the plague.
Throwing open the closet, Archie pulled out a drawer at random. He fell, laughing hysterically. Liam ran up to him alarmed. "Arch, what is it?" Archie pulled out what looked like a little frilly dress. "It's....Malcolm's.....baby clothes!" Five minutes later, after they had both laughed til tears, the drawer was put back, and the packing commenced in earnest.
Liam was trying on different suits of various sizes and colors. Malcolm's clothes tended to be more gaudy, and usually of a more noticeable color. Duncan had darker and more Spartan clothing, while Trenton had a taste that was a compromise between the two.
"If I wore this, I'd blind the whole town," mumbled Liam, as Archie tried, and failed miserably, to keep a straight face. Liam was wearing a hideous lacy yellow satin coat with matching breeches, which stood out horribly against his deep red hair. Liam looked at Archie, who had both hands clamped over his mouth, and looked as if his face would explode. Archie managed to shake his head, and Liam quickly took it off. He put the repulsive suit back, making no effort to be careful in its replacement.
After an hour, Archie and Liam had found six suits, or rather, mixed-and-matched to equal six suits, for use. Archie was of the opinion that if the suits were mixed, Lord Kennedy would be less likely to recognize them, if he even noticed that Archie had a friend along at all. But Archie knew better than to count on his father's blind eye and unawareness of his smallest son.
"Well, what next?" Archie thought for a second. "You still need shoes, socks, shirts, and hair ribbons." "What! Hair ribbons, are you serious? My sisters wear hair ribbons." Archie gave his friend a dirty look. He did not like it when Liam hinted that some upper-class things were girly'. "All gentlemen wear ribbons to pull their hair back. Father does, Mr. T does, and Father's friends do too. So if you want to come, you'll pack 'em." He added a severe note to the last phrase.
Liam gave in, and with no further comments, the truck was packed and ready, and Jess came and took Liam back home.
At dinner, Archie sat at his father's side, eating in silence. His mother sat across from him, and Anne sat next to her. Archie had heard Anne comment on how children were best out of sight, out of mind, and did not wish to incur her wrath again. She had backhanded him a few days ago, when Midnight had gone into her room and clawed her when she had kicked at him. She had screamed for Archie to take his vile cat out of her room, and hit him as he ran for the door with Midnight under his arm. He had also had been scolded loudly when he had run around a corner and crashed into her.
As the meal was nearing its end, Lord Kennedy rose up from
his seat. "Samantha, I will be leavingWednesday morning for
the Earl of Arlington. He has sent me me a message that he has
acquired a set of white horses that I have been looking for. I'll
meet you Saturday at the Dove Wing Inn. From there, we will go
on to London. I'll explain the rest after some port. And you'll
have some wine, love? Archibald, Anne, you are excused."
As they left, Anne gave Archie a savage glare, and stormed to
her room. He stuck out his tongue at her retreating back. She
was so mean and cranky! What had Mother been thinking, getting
a sour old goat for a maid? Mother had said that after Rachel,
she needed an older, less expensive maid, but why Anne?He went
to his own room, and got into his nightshirt. He washed his face,
found Midnight, and snuggled in bed. He wrapped his down blanket
around himself and his cat, and stared out the large window. Soon
it would be summer, and Mr. T would leave for his
sister's, leaving Archie with a few school-free months. The sky was not quite dark, and he counted the stars as they appeared til he fell asleep.
The next day was dark and rainy. Mother forbid him to go out to Liam's, and through the day he amused himself by playing with Midnight, and he managed to spend some time with Mother in the parlor, on the spinet. She played little songs, and he sang along. Mother smiled and told him he had a beautiful voice. They ate in her room, and talked about the trip. Mother told him some stories, and he had gone to bed. But Midnight was missing. He searched his room, and now thoroughly alarmed, ran to Mother. "Mother, have you seen Midnight?" "No, dearest, I haven't." He ran out, and sprinted through the halls, opening every door, calling loudly.
At the end of one of the halls, he opened the door to an old unused room upon Anne, who was bending over something behind the bed. "Get out of here!" she shrieked. Frightened, Archie slammed the door. But his natural curiosity got the better of him, and he waited til Anne left. He quietly entered, and went behind the bed. There was Midnight, with a noose on his neck pulled tight. Archie screamed in horror. Midnight's eyes opened slightly. He was still alive!
Archie's little hands quickly undid the knot on the bed post and gently took his beloved pet out of the room. Tears blinding him, he ran for Mother, heedless to the fact that people were sleeping. He banged the door open and ran into Anne, quickly got up and ran around the hissing harpy to the soft arms of Mother.
"Archie! Dear one, what ever is the matter?" Sobbing, Archie tried to tell her, but all that came out between sobs was "Midnight...rope..." "Midnight was tied?"she inquired. "No!" why could Mother not see it? "Anne...tried to kill him!" Mother bolt up, and stared at her maid in open astonishment. "Anne, what is Archie trying to say?" The maid shrugged. "He must have had a bad dream. I hadn't seen the creature since it attacked my leg." Quivering with anger, Archie yelled, "You did too try and kill him, you bad lady!" The door slammed open, and a very angry Lord Kennedy stood in the door way in his robe.
"What in the bloody hell is going on?" He demanded, his eyes unforgiving chips of steel. His gaze penetrated each of them in turn, only softening ever so slightly at his wife. "Samantha, what is the reason for this ruckus at ten at night?" "Archie couldn't find Midnight, and a while later, he came in and told me that Anne had tried to kill it." "Who is Midnight?" Lady Samantha swallowed. If she said the wrong thing, he was likely to take out his anger on Archie and the cat. "It's Archie's cat, the one who caught all the mice that were in the parlor." "Oh yes. Fine animal. But what does it have to do with our son running around and screaming like a banshee? I have to leave early tomorrow!"
Yes, love, I know. But Archie said that Anne tried to kill it." "Tis too late to deal with this. Anne, I want you in my study tomorrow before I leave. Archibald, you too. Now good night!" And with that he slammed the door. Samantha quickly ushered Archie to his room. "Tomorrow I'll get you up. Now behave, and, if you want to, lock the door." Then, with a quick kiss, she left. Archie opened his dresser and pulled out his key. It was attached to a long ribbon that was tied onto a nail in the dresser, and was long enough to get into the keyhole. This measure had been implemented by Mother when he had locked the door and lost his key. For two hours he had yelled for help, and finally Father had heard him and come with his spare key and let him out.
Locking the door, the heavy click reassuring him, Archie took his poor cat and wrapped them both up in his blankets. He fell asleep almost instantly, but was plagued with dreams of a black fiend that tried to hang him with a rough rope.
"Well?" Lord Kennedy loomed over the sharp-featured maid. "Is what Archibald said true?" Anne was standing calmly as Archie finished recounting the happenings of the night before. "My lord, I have no idea what the boy is talking about. The cat must have become tangled in the spare room. But other than that presumption, I have nothing else to offer." Archie, who was standing ramrod straight, stole a glance at Anne. She was at ease, her shoulders relaxed, and seemed to have no scruples about lying to her employer's face. Lord Kennedy, however, had dealt with enough problematic servants to sense that something was amiss.
"Anne, you are dismissed. Obviously, your recommendations were not to be trusted. I cannot stand a liar, or a maid that holds herself above reproach. Pack your things, and leave my house at once."
Anne's nostrils flared, and her eyes sparked like flint. It was plain she would have very much liked to throttle Lord Kennedy for dismissing her, and little Archie for putting her in this position. She gave a small curtsy, and stormed out of the room. Carnall gave a sigh, and on his way out of the study, ruffled his youngest son's hair in an unusually affectionate gesture. Surprised and pleased, Archie did not move as the clomp of Father's riding boots faded down the hall. Only when he heard the door slam did he race outside.
The storm the day before had left everything sparkling and bright with rain. Incidentally, it was also the perfect day to have a mud-fight with Liam and Maria. After telling Mother where he was going, she told him that if it was all right, Liam spent the rest of the time before leaving with them. So it was with great joy that he raced to the little farmhouse.
After two hours of mud fighting, after which Archie, Liam, and Maria were covered head to foot, they went to the stream by the house and washed off. Wet, but clean, Liam and Archie said goodbye to Ma, who gave Liam a bundle of extra clothing and some treats for them both, and Maria, who solemnly hugged them both, and made them promise to look after each other. Archie and Liam promised, and then Maria lost control and started crying. (Jess was tending to the neighbors ailing child, and was not there to say goodbye.)
The following day, the house was all a bustle with servants, maids, and Kate preparing for the next day's journey. And in the middle of all this upheaval, a serious-faced Archie was marching around, with Midnight in his arms, determined to find a suitable keeper for his beloved cat. After being nearly run down by a trunk that slipped down the stairs, however, Archie wisely waited til the lull in activities, right after lunch. As Kate started cleaning up from the meal, Archie came up to her, all blue eyes.
"Kate?" "Yes, luv?" "Would you take care of Midnight for me?" Kate gave him a warm smile. "O'course, luv! I'll give him the best scraps and e'll sleep on me own bed." "Oh, thank you!" cried Archie, and dropped Midnight to hug Kate. Midnight gave a yowl of indignation, and stalked off, tail held at a haughty angle.
Mother was slightly out of breath the whole day, trying to manage the whole house without the aid of a maidservant. Her hair was loose, flowing around her head like a golden waterfall, having escaped from the hasty bun she had put it in. She put Archie and Liam to bed early, telling them to get to sleep. Of course, as soon as her foot steps faded, they were talking in excited whispers about the coming escapade. Then Archie yanked hard on one of his friend's curls, being rewarded by a yelp and a feather pillow being hurled at him. Grabbing his own, the two became engaged in a vicious and increasingly louder pillow fight. They were shouting, laughing, and jumping on the furniture and bed when the door was thrown open and a bedraggled and robed Lady Kennedy lurched in, half asleep and fully irritated.
"It is late! Get into the bed, close your eyes, and go to sleep!"she barked. Jumping to the issued commands, the two quickly got in the bed and closed their eyes. The door was closed, and, for fear of another entrance by what had looked like a crazy woman, the night passed silently.
The next morning, Archie woke to Mother rubbing his back. "Archie, wake up. We have to get on the road if we are to meet father on time. Come on, wake up." "Unnn." Archie sat up and rubbed his eyes. Looking out his window, he saw the sun was not yet up. "Mother, it's still dark. I wanna go back to sleep." Mother shook her head. "We need to get on the road. You and Liam can sleep in the carriage. Get Liam up and get dressed." She gave his forehead a kiss, and went out of the room.
Still groggy, Archie stumbled to the clothes that had been staged the day before. Clumsily, he got on his pants and shirt. Remembering his still-sleeping friend, he clambered on the bed and rubbed Liam's back, not quite as gently. "Wake up. Come on, we gotta go. Get up, you layabout." Liam grunted and pulled the covers over his head. Archie, irritated now, yanked off the blankets and shook his friend's shoulder roughly. "Get up!" Getting no response, he stood up, and started jumping on the bed, bouncing the sleeping inert form around unnecessarily hard.
Liam bolted up, and asked wildly, "What's goin' on? Is t'house falling down?" "Shut it, Liam," Archie grumbled, "And get dressed. We gotta go." He was tempted to throw his friend's clothes at him, but the impulse was quelled by the bother Mother made of wrinkled clothes. Sleepily, the boys dressed and stumbled downstairs. Lady Kennedy ushered them into the carriage, and soon they were asleep.
Liam awoke first, due to an uncomfortable jabbing in his side. Blinking, he lifted his head, which had been resting on Archie. He and Archie had fallen asleep on each other, and Archie's elbow was digging into his side. So as not to wake his friend, he carefully moved Archie's elbow back, just enough so it was not in his ribs. Archie moved around in his sleep, then settled again, his head resting on Liam's shoulder. Liam looked out on the passing country. With the sun rising, he could make out the farmers moving about in their houses and beginning the day. As he looked from one window to the next, He realized that Lady Kennedy was seated opposite of them. She was looking at them in a distant manner.
Samantha had been watching the two boys sleep, noting how young they looked. She could not remember her other sons ever looking so peaceful, in sleep or in waking. She watched as Liam woke up, and gently moved the still-sleeping Archie into a more comfortable position. They sat in silence for a while, then Samantha asked, "What do you want to do in London?"
Liam answered in a very placid manner. "Well, I don't know. Ma has told me about shops and the street shows, but that's all Ive heard about London."
On his shoulder, Archie lifted his head and yawned. "Are we there yet?" He asked Mother. "No, and we won't be until tomorrow. Your father will meet us at the Dove Inn tonight." By lunchtime, both boys were getting restless. They had started arguing about everything, from one another's socks to their "sides" of the seat.
Archie gave Liam a push. "Stay off my side." Liam moved right back and pushed Archie. "I'm on my side. You stay off my side!" Lady Kennedy rolled her eyes and called to the coach driver over the bickering to pull over at the next field. Mercifully, the two boys were soon out of the carriage and running off their pent-up energy. The lunch was taken down, and they all ate. Lady Kennedy had them run around some more, hoping to burn off some of their energy before they started the last leg of their trip, but called them back when it started raining heavily.
The afternoon passed more quietly, due to the fact that Lady Kennedy had pulled out a storybook and read to the two. They listened avidly, cheering and booing at places. Eight stories, Ma's treats and five hours later, the sun went down. They arrived at the Dove Inn in darkness, and after putting on jackets and hats, the three travelers went in through the downpour.
The landlord took them upstairs, where the set of rooms had been reserved. There, in a chair before the fire, sat Lord Kennedy. Archie and Liam both took off their hats and gave a bow. Lord Kennedy motioned for them to take off their coats. He seemed particularly good-humored. As soon as the boys were in front of the fire and Lady Kennedy in the chair opposite of him, he started speaking.
"Samantha, good news! I went and saw Arlington's horses, and they were beautiful! Pure white, strong, equine perfection. I sent em back with Donald. He'll join us at the town house. How was your journey?" "Fine, Carnall. Everything went smoothly." "Good, good. Boys," he said, acknowledging their presence for the first time. "Get on to bed. Tomorrow we're leaving early, and, with luck, we should be there by lunch."
They scuttled into the adjoining room, and there was a brief tussle over the first one to use the wash basin. It was quickly ended by Lord Kennedy's rather dramatic appearance. With no warning, the door was slammed open, and he stood in the doorway, with the light from the fireplace behind him illuminating his large, menacing silhouette. Without speaking, he stared at the two. Then, in a calm, chilling voice, he said slowly, "Get ready for bed." Then he slowly closed the door.
Silence reigned. Then in a hushed whisper, Liam gulped and said, "Saints, your father's scary." "Yea, he is," agreed Archie in a soft voice. They slipped into their bed, silent as mice, and fell asleep.