Chapter 2, Captain Kennedy, Part 2
Newly commissioned Lieutenant Archie Kennedy sat in the coach, mired in his thoughts, while young Rees was all agog over his first glimpse of London flying by him outside. For the first time in over eight years, he was going home.
Some of his hard-won complacency was wearing thin at this prospect. He had achieved much in the past two years...he had begun the long road back from despair, he was beginning to believe in himself as a whole man again. Two weeks ago, he had embarked on a journey so fraught with reminders of his past that once it would have destroyed him, but instead he had overcome his worst doubts. And yesterday, before a panel of illustrious Captains known to him only by reputation, he had calmly and precisely answered every single question asked of him, never flinching, never worrying. He had been the only man to pass all day; as he'd been leaving he actually heard one of the Captains say, "Thank God Mr. Kennedy fights for our side..."
And all of that achievement was paling as he approached his father's house.
Stupid, he knew, to have his stomach quake like the frightened child he used to be. With all that he had faced--Simpson, prison, Muzillac--how is it his father could make him feel so damned inadequate?
The carriage lurched to a sudden stop in a fashionable district, in front of an impeccable and imposing town house. The door opened, and taking a deep breath, he turned to the boy. "We're here, Master Rees..."
The butler...a new man Archie did not know, greeted him at the door. "Mr. Archibald Kennedy, I presume? You are earlier than we expected, Sir!"
Archie's mumbled reply was cut off by a joyous cry from inside.
"Damme, if it isn't my bratty younger brother! I cannot possibly be seeing him twice in one year!"
Archie relaxed a bit, glad to know David was home also. "That's Lieutenant Bratty brother to you, David."
His brother came forward, clasping him in a quick embrace. "You passed? God, Archie, that means they'll be sending you off on more dangerous missions, and it shall be another ten years before you set foot in England!" David looked down suddenly. "And this would be your next pet project?"
Rees was standing in the hallway, mouth dropped open. The Kennedy townhouse was indeed a sight! Archie tried to picture it through Rees' eyes...expensive, plush carpeting; yellow damask silk cushions on settees, their wooden arms gleaming with polish. The walls a dark hunter green, filled with artwork, half-paneled with mahogany. It was opulence and understatement at the same time, and had been the pride and joy of his late mother.
"David, this is young Master Rees, lately of Indefatigable, whom father has generously found a position for. I understand that Mr. Hadley shall be bringing him up to Devonshire at the end of this week."
Rees blinked up at David, and for the first time Archie saw the boy act shy. He blushed suddenly and tugged at his coat, hiding his empty sleeve.
David, as always, hid his generosity and kindness behind a bluster of sarcasm and wit. "Master Rees, I bid you welcome. I hope my chatty brother has not talked you insensible on your trip here."
Rees looked with confusion up to Archie. "Oh, no, Sir, Mr. Kennedy has been very kind..."
"Hm, well, what he lacks in looks he makes up in charm, or so I hear." David patted the boy on the head. "Let us get you to Mrs. Carroll, and she will find you a room so you can get a bit of rest."
There was no need to find her, however, for she was there. "Master Archie! Oh, what a sight for sore eyes you are!" She was thin but sparkling, almost sixty now, with steel gray hair arranged neatly in a cap. She approached with a flutter. "And a right handsome young man you've become! And how smart you look in that uniform!"
Archie laughed, and teased her back. "If you persist in your flattery, Mrs. Carroll, I might just turn the uniform in for civilian life! Certainly I am unused to having fine women pay attention to me!" He winked at her broadly, and she tittered.
"Lord, Master Archie, you've not changed, still the charmer you always were."
David leaned over to Rees and whispered confidentially: "You see, he was always HER favorite, Master Rees."
Mrs. Carroll rolled her eyes. "Go on with you, Master David!" And she twinkled down at the young man, so overwhelmed by his surroundings. "And this is Master Archie's young friend, isn't it?"
Rees backed up against Archie, and Archie knelt beside him. "It's all right, Rees," he said, seeing the uncertainty in the boy's eyes. "I know this is all a bit much...and not very much like the Indefatigable. Believe me, it overwhelmed me at times, and I was born here! But there are no better groups of servants than ours...I spent most of my time with them! And they shall take good care of you. And I will not be far away."
Rees rewarded him with a brief smile. "Aye, Aye, Sir."
Archie saluted him solemnly, and Mrs. Carroll swept him off. "Now young man, let's take you to Mrs. Freebody and see if we can't get some proper food into you!"
Archie smiled after the boy, confident in knowing the greeting and kindness that awaited him. In fact, he almost followed behind; it was where he'd rather be. He walked slowly with David towards his room, but his brother had noticed his glance, and was deep in thought, frowning.
"Archie...what you said..." David started.
Pulling his mind back from the thoughts of the warm kitchen and friendly banter, he attended his brother. "Hm? I'm sorry, David. What did I say?"
"To Rees. That you spent most of your time with the servants..."
They stopped on the in the great hall, Archie staring at him with a complete lack of comprehension. "What of it?" he asked, innocently.
David frowned. "It isn't true! At least, it can't be...surely you cannot have seen it that way?"
His face growing hot, Archie retorted, "It was MY childhood, David. I think I can be trusted to remember where and how it was spent."
David's eyes widened. "I did not mean to upset you, Archie. It's just...I never realized it."
"Why should you have? You were five years older and had your own life to live. You and Wills spent most of your time in endeavors that I was either deemed too young for, or unfit for."
David turned to him quickly. "Unfit? When in my life did I ever make you feel unfit for anything?"
With a sigh, Archie shook his head. "YOU never did, David, and I am sorry to paint you with that brush. You paid me little attention, but that is not any different than any other pair of brothers separated by five years." He shrugged. "After mother died, with father being either out doors or in society, I found myself most at home with our staff. That is all I am saying."
David was chewing on his lip. "I did not mean to argue with you. Your visit home is too short for us to spend it in anger."
Archie grinned broadly. "Good. Then shall we send for some tea? Young Rees is not the only man here tired of Navy food, I can tell you."
And David laughed again, back to his usual carefree self. "I can well imagine! We shall have it in the library. Father is calling on business acquaintances, as he had made his mind up that you would not be here before dark, so it shall just be the two of us."
They headed into the library...a smallish room, but packed in every conceivable corner with books, from great tomes on the ancient Greeks to modern literature. Even as David was calling for food, Archie found his hands drifting over the leather volumes, rejoicing in their scent. As long as his father had been out of it, this had been his favorite room in the house. He turned to the old globe, still in the corner, and ran his hands delicately over its smooth surface, turning it gently.
David was seated, smiling at him gently. "You always did love that thing! You'd stare at it for hours at a time, lost in worlds of your own."
Smiling to himself, Archie nodded in remembrance. "Yes, I always wanted to see other lands." And now I have, he added to himself, his fingers grazing lightly over the Mediterranean sea, and remembering the Indy and how she moved...
An icy voice cut through his thoughts. "Good lord, you really did turn up."
Archie raised his head stiffly to find his oldest brother, Wills, in the doorway.
Wills, seven years his senior, had remained in his thoughts untouched by time. But when Archie saw him, the length of his absence was fully brought home to him. Wills was still uncharacteristically tall for the family, though not so tall as Horatio, Archie now realized. His hair was more towards red than his and David's, but now he had not so much of it left, and he was attempting to hide that fact by having the longer sides combed over the top.
When Archie'd gone away, he'd been an athletic sort of bloke, who'd derided his youngest brother as "weak" and sissy. Now, he had a decided paunch that rode over the top of his pants, the buttons on his vest straining slightly. He leaned heavily on an expensive cane; it was just decorative, but Archie could see in is mind's eye that some fifteen years down the road, he would be needing it, much like the portly Lord Exton did.
The voice, of course, supercilious and cold, had remained just the same.
"Did they render you mute in those prisons, Archie? That would be a pleasant surprise." He smiled insincerely.
Archie returned the smile, as if his brother were Admiral Hood. "I am afraid your luck has run out, Wills. My voice is much as it ever was."
David looked more than a bit uncomfortable. "We've just rung for tea, Wills. You'll join us?"
Wills looked with raised eyebrows on David. "Of course."
Archie moved away from the globe as the tea was brought. Somehow he'd quite managed to lose his appetite.
"I suppose you'll be all dyspeptic, Archie, from actually eating fresh food." Wills said, buttering a crumpet heavily.
"Yes, I have forgotten what food tastes like when it is not seasoned with weevils."
Wills went gray in horror as David stifled a laugh. "That, brother, is REVOLTING. No gentleman would bring up such a subject. Or for that matter, choose to eat such vile fare."
Archie, realizing that for once he was getting under the skin of his eldest sibling, pressed his advantage. "In truth, Wills, it would seem that the weevils are, like our enemies, republicans, because they do not differentiate between the biscuit eaten by the son of a lord or a man just pressed from Newgate."
Wills gave him a cold glance. "I can see that my advice to father nine years ago was not incorrect, when I told him the only place you were fit for was the Navy. You truly have found your niche."
Archie knew that Wills meant it as an insult. However, he also knew it to be true, though not in the sense Wills was thinking. And rather than expend useless emotion in the fight, he took the higher road. "Indeed I have, Wills."
Now his brother poured himself another cup of tea, and worked on a piece of cake. Without looking at him, he changed the subject. "By the by, I am no longer to be addressed as Wills. I am surprised David did not tell you."
Unblinking, David deadpanned, "Our brother feels that William has much more dignity, and maintains that is what we should all call him."
Even though David had sounded serious, Archie caught the hint of impertinence. So had his eldest brother.
"It is a name befitting a Lord, not that you should ever need to worry, either one of you."
There was another awkward pause. Finally, clearing his throat, Archie took one last shot at civility. "I understand congratulations are in order...Will...iam. David tells me you are to be married."
Crossing his legs, Wills regarded the buckle of his shoe. "I am, to a woman of good fortune and good name. She will be appropriate for breeding an heir."
*And he thinks my behavior is unbecoming a gentleman?* Archie fumed.
But Wills was not done with him yet. "I am glad you brought it up, however. I must ask you how long you are intending this visit to be?"
"I have arranged passage back to Gibraltar on the sloop Sophia on Tuesday next, William. So it will be a perfect fortnight."
Archie placed his teacup down gently. "I beg your pardon?" He said in stunned disbelief.
"That is an unacceptable period of time. You must go sooner." William met his eyes coldly.
Archie was too shocked to speak. David, however, had no such problem. "Good God, WILLS, how can you talk so? Archie has not been home for over eight years and you would rush him back out the door? What sort of a gentleman...no, what sort of a BROTHER are you?"
Wills folded his arms. "I am the eldest brother, and both of you will be dependent upon my charity once father is gone, so you had best both remember it."
Barely able to speak, Archie choked out, "Why, may I ask...."
"Because my fiancé, Lady Margaret Whitham, will be present on the fifth for a Gala Ball in celebration of our wedding, and I do not wish to jeopardize our match by exposing her to you."
Archie felt as if he'd taken a shot to the chest. His lungs were tight, and his hand shook slightly. For just when he'd felt that maybe he'd managed to learn to deal with his brother, the man had found a way to hurt him. Again.
David was now in the middle of a full-blown rage. "How dare you, Wills, after everything Archie has been through, after everything he's survived, imply that his presence could damage your chances with Lady Margaret!"
"David, I have not discussed our brother's infirmity with her! Why on earth would she ever agree to sully her bloodline in such a manner? We shipped him off to the Navy to begin with to keep him AWAY from society, to keep him from 0ruining our name. Personally, I think it's damned arrogant of him to show his face in this house at all."
"Pity for you, brother, that the French are such poor shots. Must have been quite a blow to you when you learned I was still alive." Archie mumbled into his hands, for he was shamed by the fact that he was still unacceptable here.
Horrified, David could only cry out, "Archie!" even as Wills admitted his disappointment: "A blow is an understatement. There would have been honor in your death, but this..."
Archie rose suddenly, for David had gone purple in the face and he was afraid of what might pass between his two brothers if he did not take action now. "At ease, David..." Then he smiled as he realized the ship's language he'd used, that came so naturally to him. "I have no wish to wear out my welcome. In fact, under the circumstances, perhaps it is best if I take up lodging outside of the house. I will depart for the Spotted Duck tomorrow. It is good enough for my Captain, and therefore it is good enough for me." He hoped, he dearly hoped, that he was able to sound as nonchalant as he wished, for he did not want Wills to know how badly he was hurt.
Wills, however, did not care for his hurt, he only smiled triumphantly, even as David barely restrained himself.
A sudden voice from the doorway commanded true authority. "Archibald is going nowhere, William."
The three of them turned to see their father, having heard most of this last exchange. The man was eyeing his eldest son firmly. "I am not dead yet, and this is still my house. And as long as it is my house, William, then it is the home to all three of my children. I will not bring disgrace to my name to have one of them banished, especially when he is a war hero."
*War hero?* Archie thought in stunned confusion, even as Wills attempted to smooth the situation over.
"Father, I can assure you, I had his best interest at heart. You know his health was always at its worst in society...I wished to spare him the indignity..."
"William, you have not seen him in almost nine years. During which point he has survived countless battles and lengthy imprisonment. I think he can handle a party. Or two."
"I...two?" Wills started.
"Yes. I have had your Aunt prepare invitations. We will have a ball this Saturday night in honor of Archibald's return."
Archie caught David's smug grin even as Wills gaped. "A ball? In his honor? You cannot be serious."
"Have you known me to make jokes, William?" His father retorted. Before he could recover, his father asked him, "I assume you have no objection to a ball yourself, Archibald?"
His time with Captain Pellew, providing swift answers to shocking questions, stood him in good stead. "None at all, Sir."
"Good, good. Your Aunt will be making a point of asking Miss Brandon, by the way." His father went to exit the room, and then turned back to him. "You passed your Lieutenant's exam?"
And actually smiling, Archie announced simply, "Yes, I did, Sir."
His father nodded...he'd expected nothing less from a Kennedy, no doubt. "Well, you are tired after your journey, and must get some rest before dinner. We shall talk afterwards."
And he was gone, leaving his youngest son in a state of shock that would have scared the devil out of Horatio, and possibly even Drew.
Wills, sulking, left the library, while a beaming David turned to his youngest brother. "I am all amazement, Archie!"
Finding his voice, Archie stammered out, "You and I both, David!"
His father had read him well, for the rest was much needed; sleep had been as scarce as fresh food on Sophia, and the encounter with his eldest brother had taken much from him.
Finally rising for dinner, he was grateful to find a note from David...
"Archie...I realized that you probably were less than amply provided for in terms of civilian clothing. From what I remember from our stay at Exton's, I believe our sizes are compatible, so I took the liberty of having my valet provide you with an outfit for dinner. We shall make a visit to the tailor's tomorrow...and see if we cannot spend some of William's inheritance, eh?"
Archie smiled appreciatively, and then began readying himself for dinner. David enjoyed clothing, and dressed well; Archie found the charcoal grey silk jacket and cream breeches to be a perfect fit; the cream shirt felt wonderful after so many years of wearing a uniform. The vest was a rich grey and navy brocade. The valet had also seen fit to polish his shoes, although that barely saved them. Washing his face and re-doing his queue, he felt a new man, although a bit like one who was in a masquerade ball, so foreign was his attire.
His father nodded at him as he came down the stairs. "I see David has shown some foresight. You look much refreshed."
"Indeed, father, I am."
"Well, then, let's get to dinner...no doubt Mrs. Freebody has outdone herself."
And she had. Roast beef, Yorkshire pudding, potatoes in sauce, fresh carrots. Archie felt he could never have enough of the food, even if the company was not all that was to be desired, for William was there, and monopolized the conversation.
Still irked, no doubt, by his father's interference earlier, he found a new way to remind Archie of his place.
"Lovely opera being performed last week, David. I wonder that I did not see you there?"
"I have no ear for Opera, as you well know, William."
"No, no of course not. Pity, because it is the best place to meet one's peers, and be seen with the right company. You would have enjoyed it, no doubt, Archibald. You always enjoyed that arty stuff."
"I am certain there is much I have missed in my time at sea."
"Yes, plays, theater, concerts. I indulge in them frequently. A man highly born has a responsibility to support the arts, and broaden his knowledge. For others, however, it is not truly necessary."
Once, Archie would have been an abashed child, cringing under his mighty eldest brother's pronouncements. Life in the Navy had changed him in more than one way. "Personally, William, I find that there is no man so base that his life is not better for music or beauty."
He felt his father's penetrating gaze on him, but did not even blush, or turn the conversation.
William looked most put out at what he would have perceived as his impudence. "The Arts, Archie, are the protectorate of the Nobility. We commission the paintings, attend the performances, patronize the performers. They are at our beck and call. The average worker has no such claim."
"If all we are is the money in your vision, then we are a poor link in the chain, I fear. With all of your inheritance and education, William, I challenge you to produce a sonnet that will be remembered after your death."
William was getting quite red in the face. "I will have better to leave behind me than some sonnet. As Lord Bridgeleigh, I shall be remembered longer than any poet."
Archie smiled. "Perhaps. But it was our great-great-grandfather Alfred, I believe, who held the title in 1580. I recall no mark of his on history. And during that same period, William Shakespeare was a common man."
"Of uncommon genius!" His father interjected. "Whereas Alfred, I fear, was not the best specimen of Kennedy we have ever seen. He was too preoccupied with appearance, I fear." The elder man dabbed at his mouth with a napkin, and looked with great curiosity at his youngest son. "You should have trained for a lawyer, Archibald."
Archie knew not how to answer that, and was uncertain whether it was a compliment or an insult.
The port was brought in, and with it William slid his chair out abruptly. "I have business to attend to," he snapped. Archie shrugged. If William was going to be that way, it was not his problem. The lines had been drawn, he supposed; they had never been close, and would never be friends. He would not worry about it.
David surprised him by also rising. "I believe I have business also, Father, Archie...if you'll excuse me."
Wide eyed with alarm, Archie stared after him. David met his glance reassuringly, but nevertheless, he made to leave, and his father made no bid to stop him. He realized that David had decided now was a perfect opportunity for a tete-a-tete between his father and his youngest brother...that Archie felt ill-prepared for such a conversation had not entered into his thoughts.
Suddenly at a loss for words Archie studied the thick ruddy depths of the liquid in the crystal glass. It was good Port; better, even, than what Pellew kept on hand. He was not surprised. Nothing but the best for his father had ever been good enough.
Perhaps noting his sudden preoccupation with the liquor, his father noted, "It is strange, Archibald, for me to see you drinking spirits. When you went away, you were not old enough to partake them."
Archie managed a tight smile. "Given the usual state of the fresh water on a ship, father, one learns to prefer spirits pretty quickly." He sipped slowly. "I can assure you, however, that grog is not nearly so enjoyable as this."
"You had a healthy appetite, as well, I noticed. You used to be most finicky with your food."
"Did I?" Archie in truth did not recall ever complaining, although family dinners had been such a trial for him that he often had little appetite. 'More fool I!"
The silence lulled again. In such an instance, what was there to say? When an entire lifetime had passed since last they saw each other? *One would think we'd be busy with the tales of our time apart. But when we never knew how to speak to each other to begin with, how do we start now?* Archie felt his stomach sinking. This was far worse than the exam board.
Clearing his throat, his father tried. "I trust your sail home was uneventful?"
Archie raised his head sharply. Uneventful? Hardly. Could he repeat the circumstances of it to his father? Never. "The weather was clear, we were able to make good time. And I was fortunate to have a skilled crew at my disposal."
Raising his eyebrows, his father leaned back in his chair. "You were in command of the vessel, Archibald? I was unaware of that."
"Yes. After our last skirmish in Gibraltar, there were several changes in command, and Sophia was to be brought back to Portsmouth for reassignment. Captain Pellew assigned me to her so that I might have an opportunity to take my exam, and have a few weeks of leave. Not to mention, it made transporting poor Rees easier."
"Ah. Yes. Our new young stable hand. Hadley has already seen him, and believes he will be a valued asset, even with his handicap."
"He's a willing worker, and Hadley's a good man. Father, Captain Pellew and I are both grateful for your assistance in this scheme."
The man shrugged. "It is the least I can do. During the time you were missing, I often wondered who might be looking out for your best interests. This boy has nobody to worry for him."
Worry? The man was worried about me? Archie swallowed hard and took another sip of port, unused to sentiment of any form from his father. He cast a quick look at him, but the man was lost in thought.
Like his brother William, his father had changed over the years. Archie had remembered him as a big man; not fat, but larger than life. He seemed to have shrunk; though he still stood straight, not bent with time, and though he still maintained quiet command over all that was his dominion, he was not quite so intimidating as he had been. *He reminds me of Captain Pellew* Archie thought, and then was startled by the admission. Though Pellew probably was capable of greater sentiment than his father, they both commanded in similar fashions.
The man was grayer than he had been as well; Archie noted the lines on his face, the creases of time. *How old is he now? Sixty? Not quite. His health seems good, but that is the age when the little things go wrong...*
"You enjoy serving on Indefatigable?"
"Immensely, Father. Captain Pellew is a mastermind, but a good man as well. It has been an honor serving with him."
"Yet it was in his command that you were captured?"
They were getting on dangerous ground, here. How did he admit to his father that he was captured because he'd had a fit in the jolly boat? Worse yet, how did he admit to his father WHY he'd had a fit?
"He bears no responsibility for my capture. We'd been executing a daring raid, and it was my misfortune to be rendered unconscious during the fighting..." And then squirming, he realized he could not do it; lying to his father about his own behavior was not like lying to Hood about the manner of Dawes' death. Angry with himself for being so stupid, he spat out, "The truth is I had a fit during the expedition, and to keep me silent I was struck unconscious and left in the jolly boat. It came lose, and I ended up in enemy hands." He stared down at the table cloth, hating himself with a loathing he was most unaccustomed to.
"Ah." His father said. "So your ailment has persisted?" he asked, with surprising sadness in is voice.
Archie nodded stiffly. "Yes, though seldom now. They were more frequent on Justinian, but had all but disappeared prior to that raid. Our current ship's Doctor believes that as I have gotten older, I have outgrown them. There has been only once since then, and that was in prison."
The silence was deafening. Suddenly his father sighed. "You must have suffered so terribly in prison, Archibald. It was difficult to think on."
Looking at his father in disbelief, Archie realized that the man's eyes were glistening. Tears. For him. For all that he had suffered. His father, the man whom had not even cried at his mother's funeral, was fighting back the tears for a wounded son. Archie was glad, at this moment, that he had not told his father a word of Simpson's torment. It would have killed him.
"I survived, father. It would seem that however flawed I am, I have a tremendous will to live." His tone was light, trying to give his father an opportunity to regain his equilibrium.
It worked, though not quite as he intended. The man's head snapped up, and his blue eyes flashed fire. "Flawed? Who would tell you such nonsense?" Archie gaped, even as his father grunted. "William, no doubt! Bah! Listen to me, Archibald, I will not have you say such things! Fits or not, you are my son, you are a successful Lieutenant in the Navy, and you have more compassion than William will ever have in a lifetime. Thank God your mother cannot see what he has become!" The man cleared his throat in disgust, even as he poured out two more glasses of port.
Inhaling deeply, Archie said the only thing he could. "Thank you, father. Your opinion means more to me than you could ever know."
He nodded sharply, uncomfortable at the sudden display of emotion. So he turned the subject neatly.
"Tell me of your adventures. Who is this man Hornblower David has made mention of?"
And with an easy grin, Archie set off on a path more comfortable for him. He bragged easily of Horatio as a soldier and a friend. He talked of his seriousness, his determination, his intelligence. He talked of their adventures at Don Massaredo's, and his honorable nature. He left out the time he himself had spent in the Oubliette.
His elderly father was as wide-eyed as a schoolboy, for Archie had always had a natural flair for the dramatic. "You returned to prison with him *willingly*?"
"Of course I did. It was a matter of honor."
And their eyes met in total understanding, perhaps the first time in Archie's life that that was ever the case.
"Now this boy Brandon...your Alicia's brother...what exactly was it that went on with you and David when you visited him in Southampton?"
More soberly, Archie told the story of Lord Exton and the man's excessive drinking (which his father was well aware of). He then explained his abusive and violent nature, which was not so well known. He detailed the man's repeated attacks on Drew, told of his own successful plan of freeing him, and then finished with the boy's stony determination to return to Indefatigable.
Disgust evident in his very bearing, the man shook his head. "And all of this because the boy wished to be a doctor?"
"Partially, although it seems the man has a natural bent towards violence, brought on by the drink. He would have attacked Drew no matter the circumstances. This merely gave him a reason. He was quite shamed that the son of a Lord would aspire to practice medicine."
"Yet you say he is a GOOD doctor?"
"I know no man I would more want by my side should I be ill, Father."
Shaking his head, his father was baffled. "I do not understand. David has chosen to pursue the study of law; he does well at it. He might have done other things, but I am content that he is serious about it, and successful. You have chosen the Navy, and seem on your way to a remarkable career. What is the problem with a son pursuing a career path, as long as he works with honesty and integrity? What the devil does a title have to do with it?"
Archie considered reminding his father that he had not exactly CHOSEN to serve in the Navy-he'd been sent away, as William pointed out, to save the family name. But there was no reason for that. He had enough fighting when he was at sea; he wanted to continue to develop this new relationship with his father, not tear it down just as the foundation was being laid.
The man was smiling faintly, as if at a far-off memory. "I confess, Archibald, that I was surprised nine years ago when William approached me. I had been making preparations to send you off to school, when he said you wished to go to sea. But you were too afraid of disappointing me to speak up. That has always bothered me."
"I..." Archie's mouth fell open. What the devil? Wills had told his father HE wished to go to sea? "Father..." He started, anger filling every poor in his body.
But he checked himself. There was no reason to torment the man. Or himself. His life had ended up being just fine. That it went a rather circuitous rout to get to that point was not worth thinking on at this moment. Later, he would tell Wills just what he thought of him.
Seeing that his startled father was waiting for him to finish his sentence, he concluded, "I am sorry if that hurt you. You can be rather intimidating, you know." He finished lamely.
The man nodded. "It is a long time past."
They both rose, and Archie deftly handed his father the cane he now leaned on, without seeming to note the new infirmity. They walked out of the dining room together.
"I think I shall turn in, Archibald. I recommend you do the same. It does not appear you have been sleeping enough."
It was only the greatest restraint that prevented him from saying "Aye, Aye!"
"You are right, Father. Sleep has been hard to come by. I look forward to a few nights in a stable bed!"
They walked together up the stairs and parted at the landing. Only as the man was at his door did he speak again.
"It is good to have you home, Archie."
And with that, he disappeared into his bedroom, leaving an emotionally drained son in the hallway.
"I am glad to be back, father." He whispered to himself,
as he continued on to his own room.
The next morning found him with his brother David in the shops of London. He had a fair amount of money of his own, thanks to Indefatigable's success at taking prizes. But his father had been insistent in pressing him with additional funds, begging him to reserve his prize money for his future, and wishing that he should not restrain himself from any pleasure he might find. After all, he was HIS son, and would be attired in a suitable manner!
So Archie had been to the tailor; he had new uniforms on order, and two new suits of civilian clothes. And, of course, shoes. It was strange after so many years of denial, to have free hand in his choices. The fortnight was young, but his mind raced ahead with gifts he might buy for Horatio and for Drew. And it might be nice if he took some provisions back with him to the officer's mess. Coffee, tea, some jams perhaps; whatever else might keep.
"At this rate," Archie thought wryly. "I will need my own supply ship instead of Sophia."
Ah, yes, and it would be an idea to get Chalk a bottle of something. After all, the man had sought him out for congratulations after he passed his exam, and mentioned that Sophia was to be returning to Gibraltar just at the time Archie would be looking for passage back to Indefatigable, and would he like to come along? Chalk had been a bit embarrassed, Archie supposed, at asking a man to return as a passenger on a ship he had gone out on as her commander. But it had been a welcome offer, and it would put his mind to ease about Owens and Wheeler.
"Well, Archie, I think we've spent a sufficient amount to completely antagonize our brother for today." David quipped.
"Perhaps, but if you do not mind, I have one more item to buy..."
And they walked with sure footsteps on the crowded street, Archie surprised at how well he remembered London. He just hoped that the shop he remembered was still there.
"Archie, I have to ask this. Forgive the impertinence, but you and father..."
Archie looked at him blankly as he paused.
"I...well, deuce it all, is everything all right?"
Archie smiled, for his brother was the picture of embarrassed concern. "We had quite a nice conversation, actually. Surprisingly so." They continued on.
"The truth is Archie, I don't think I ever much thought at how things were from your point of view. You *were* alone a damned lot as a kid after Mum died."
They looked at each other. David, he realized, was perhaps really seeing him for the first time. "Yes, I was. But it was a long time ago, David. I was sick and nobody knew what to make of it. Father had an estate to run, and was active in politics at the time. Everybody did what they thought was best."
"Yes, but it wasn't."
"Perhaps not. I spent a lot of years angry and hurt. But David, let me remind you of this. When I went to the Navy I was not even there two weeks before I had a letter from you. And until I was captured, you wrote every fortnight. I cannot ever tell you how much that meant to me. So do not blame yourself for anything. You were there when I most needed you."
"Things were pretty bad on Justinian, weren't they?"
Archie shivered, but shook off the memory of the despair. "Yes. But it is over. The Justinian is at the bottom of the ocean and only the best of her remains."
With a start, he realized they were at the shop he was looking for. And comprehension dawned in David's face.
"Mum used to come here often, didn't she?"
"Indeed, she did."
They walked in to the tiny storefront, taking up most of its space.
The store itself had no name plate out front, but Archie was used to what his mother called it... Mr. Gold's little shop. Mr. Gold had been a small, round man with a completely bald head, of neat attire. His wife often worked in the store with him. And he made the most exquisite jewelry Archie had ever seen.
His mother, Archie had remembered, would always bring her jewels her to be reset or repaired. But just as often, she would stop in to have a chat with them both, sometimes even a cup of tea, though they were well below her social strata. Archie had often been with her, and Mrs. Gold would fuss over him, providing him with sweets and remarking how like their Simon he was. Archie enjoyed the tea, he enjoyed the pastries, but most of all, he loved being dazzled by their work. The stones were cut impeccably, and set in unusual and timeless ways, and their beauty was unmatched. He used to believe the stones were winking at him, somehow, telling him their secrets.
At their entrance, a youngish man with spectacles and tight blond curls looked up.
"Good day, Gentlemen. Please, feel free to look around, and let me know if I can assist you."
Archie was curious. "Is this still Mr. Gold's little shop?" he asked, blushing at the use of the childhood nickname.
The man twinkled at him. "Well, I *am* Mr. Gold, and the shop is certainly little, so you may call it that."
David chuckled, but Archie nudged him to behave. "I have not been in here for some time. I remember an older man..."
"Ah, that would be my father. He is in the back room, working on some pieces. Shall I get him for you?"
Archie smiled in relief; he had feared the kindly old man had died.
"If it is no bother, I would enjoy seeing him again. Our mother used to visit your parents frequently."
"And you are?"
"Lieutenant Archibald Kennedy, HMS Indefatigable."
David rolled his eyes at Archie's naval demeanor. "We are the sons of Lord Bridgeleigh. Our mother was the late Lady Bridgeleigh."
The young man's eyes widened, and he positively beamed on them. "Lady Bridgeleigh's sons! Well, this is an honor! My parents were very fond of her." And blinking slightly, he gasped. "Why, you must be Mr. Archie! I am Simon! My parents talked of you often."
"Simon! Of course. I ought to have remembered. They continually were telling me how much like you I was."
"Simon! Simon, have we customers?"
And suddenly old Mr. Gold was there, the first person Archie had seen who had been completely untouched by time since his return home. Still small and round, not seaming to have aged in the least in the many, many years it had been since Archie had last seen him.
"Father, an old friend of yours, I believe!"
Gold's eyes peered at him, and Archie found himself smiling, comfortable here with these people. "Ah! My eyesight is not what it used to be. Of course, my wife tells me it never was what it used to be!"
Archie smiled even wider. "Mr. Gold, it is a pleasure to see you again. I am Archie Kennedy, Lady Bridgeleigh's son!"
His eyes widened and his face flushed. "Well! WELL! Master Archie! My goodness, you must not have been more than five the last time I saw you, and look at you now! A Captain!"
"Lieutenant!" He corrected gently. "And this is my older brother David!"
"Ah, yes, of course, although you did not come in so often with your mother! You look quite a bit like her!" He clasped his hands together. "Oh, Ruth will be so sorry she did not come into the shop today! But still, we must have a bit of tea! Simon!"
"I already have a pot boiling, Father." His son replied.
Gold bustled his young visitors to the back room, which was crowded, but he managed to uncover two stools for his visitors, taking a rickety chair for himself "My apologies, Gentlemen, for any discomfort you may have!" Simon remained in the front room, minding the store.
"Mr. Gold, I have spent much of my past years in circumstances far less comfortable, I can assure you."
"Well! Well!" He replied again in wonder, opening a packet which contained small, delicate pastries, rolled with nuts and raisins and cinnamon. "It is fortunate that Ruth always sees me well provided to the shop, anyway. Please, please, help yourself. There is always more than Simon and I can finish."
Archie gladly helped himself; he'd remembered these little bites since he was a child. David was more hesitant, but after the first bite, was also enamored of the treat.
Mr. Gold meanwhile was pouring tea generously into delicate cups. "Sugar? Milk?"
"Thank you, Mr. Gold. Your hospitality is just as I remembered it."
"Ah!" He beamed at him. "Anything for your mother, my dear sirs. She was a fine woman. We owed her so much more than we could ever repay."
Archie was puzzled. "How so, Mr. Gold? I remember she gave you quite a lot of business, but surely..."
Mr. Gold nodded. "Yes, she gave us much business. But it is not that. It is only the fact that she, a Lady of the utmost respectability, one connected to the nobility, even, would be willing just to set foot in this store."
"But why?" Archie asked, with a wince, because David had stepped rather heavily on his foot.
"Surely, Master Archie, you realize that we are Jewish, my family?"
Which explained why David was still trying to render him lame. "Of course I did. But I don't understand what a fig of difference that makes."
Gold sat back, with a faraway smile. "Truly, you are much like your mother, Master Archie. For it never mattered to her, a bit. To others, it mattered. It still matters, far too often. But once she made it known among her friends that SHE considered it acceptable to shop here, why then, they all came!"
David smiled. "Never underestimate the power of a Kennedy, eh?"
"Indeed, she said as much, Master David. That once she had been here, others would find it acceptable to judge us on the quality of our work, instead of our beliefs."
David looked around him. "And it is exquisite work! You are still unrivaled in this city, I see. I know Mother's jewels were always superior to anyone else's."
"I thank you, Master David. I was disappointed, when I heard your eldest brother was betrothed, that he did not visit us."
Archie and David exchanged glances. Finally David spoke. "Wills is rather... different from the two of us."
The old man's eyes blinked in understanding. "I see. I am sorry to hear it. He is the eldest, is he not?"
"Yes." David answered simply.
Leaning forward, Archie came to the point of his visit. "In fact, Mr. Gold, I am hear because I also am, well, nearly betrothed."
He could feel his face blushing as he said it, but Mr. Gold was overjoyed. "Indeed! I had not heard that!"
"It is not announced yet, I expect...I hope it shall be, this week. So I have come to you; I would like to buy two items, if you will. A necklace, and a ring."
"Ah, of course, of course...a necklace, you say? And a ring? Ah! And who is the lucky young lady, if I may ask?"
"Miss Alicia Brandon, the daughter of Lord Exton." He hesitated, but the name meant nothing to Gold.
"And what does she look like?"
Archie was stunned. "She's, um, well, she's quite nice, you know, I mean, I think she's rather..."
David put him out of his misery. "Fair coloring. Very blond, fair skin and very petite. I believe Archie would like something simple and classic, nothing too overwhelming. Eyes are blue, I believe."
Archie looked at him. "Yes, yes, a deep blue...like...like...
David squeezed his arm and turned to Mr. Gold. "You'd best bring something out before he completely goes out of his senses!"
He nodded. "Gentlemen, I believe my son has just recently finished working on the perfect set!"
He brought out a strand of small pearls, strung neatly together on a choker. In the center was a pendant; formed by an intricately carved golden setting. From this were suspended three tiny, seed pearls, forming a triangle which surrounded an oval garnet; hanging beneath this cluster was the most unusual stone Archie had ever seen. It was a blue one, but not a sapphire; instead it had the color and sparkle of the Mediterranean on a sunny day.
"Iolite. From the island of Ceylon. Very unusual."
"Oh, My!" Archie whispered, gently lifting the strand to the light. The stone again sparkled, and he felt he could almost smell the sea air coming from within its depths. Next to him David whistled gently.
"And there is this that matches it well, I think."
He handed Archie a ring set with the same sea-blue stone in the center, with two small pearls on its sides. The ring was more delicate than most of those in fashion these days, yet the mere cut and sparkle of the setting, combined with the almost filigree work on the band, put more ostentatious rings to shame. It was an interesting ring, rare and beautiful, and, Archie feared, out of his price range.
As if reading his mind, Mr. Gold shook his head. "It is not so expensive as you might think, my friend. Iolite is not as popular as Sapphires, or as rare as diamonds. Some might call it a semi-precious stone. But I feel that a stone and a setting that is right for the person who wears it is much more precious than the most expensive diamonds and rubies."
"They ARE truly beautiful, Mr. Gold. In honesty, they are perfect." Archie tried to make a mental note of how much he had spent today...it had to be close to fifty pounds, which was nearly as much as a Midshipman earned in a year, exclusive of prize money. Granted, he had been spending his Father's money, but suddenly the extravagance worried him. He could not get into the habit of living like a...well, like a Gentleman. He faced a frugal future.
"Shall we say seven pounds for the set, Master Archie?"
He nearly fell off of the stool. "I am sorry, Mr. Gold, I am certain I did not hear you correctly. SEVEN POUNDS?"
"If it is too steep, I can adjust the price."
David, arms folded, looked at the man in shock. "Mr. Gold, that cannot even cover the expense of the stones! I can assure you, My father would be willing to pay you a fair price!"
Archie cringed. He did not like living off of his father, even though the man was going all out to make him feel welcome, to make up for their lost time together. But he was afraid of turning into Wills. Of losing his independence. He had had it for too long.
But Mr. Gold was firm. "Gentlemen, I would feel guilty charging more to the sons of Lady Bridgeleigh. Everything my family has today, including our good name, is due to the character of your lovely mother. I beg of you, let me do this, for her memory."
Archie raised the necklace into the light again, and smiled. He remembered all those trips here with his mother as a child, sometimes as often as once a week. He had understood, in some indefinable way, that these people had been different, but it hadn't bothered Mama, and therefore it hadn't bothered him. He wondered now, about the first time she'd decided to cross that threshold, and enter the shop here. Had she worried? Had she feared for her reputation? He doubted it. He remembered her as a very sure woman, one with both courage and humor. Lady Bridgeleigh had always been very much her own person, and had never cared much about the work of gossips. She was unusual and remarkable, and not quite like anyone else. Like this stone. Like Alicia.
"Very well, Mr. Gold. Wrap them, if you please. The ring might need to be fitted, but we have time for that."
"You intend it for the wedding?"
Simon came into the back room and began to wrap the parcel. "Are they what you were seeking, Mr. Kennedy?"
"Indeed they were!"
He nodded. "I thought of the sea when I worked with that stone. Such a nice blue, so peaceful, almost. Perhaps it will give your lady comfort when you are away from her." His eyes sparkled. "Must be wonderful to travel over the ocean and see so many lands."
"It can be. It can also be both lonely and terrifying!"
"Ah, well, each of us where we belong, I suppose! Do have her come back to have that ring fit!"
"I will indeed. Simon, it was good to meet you, and Mr. Gold, It was wonderful to see you again!"
And they headed back out from the magic little shop into the bustle of the London street.
"Shall you call on Alicia today?"
Archie shook his head. "I sent her a note early this morning. I am to be permitted to walk out with her tomorrow afternoon, and attend tea with her Aunt."
"I see. And shall you present her with your gifts then?"
"Perhaps. It depends."
"Good lord, man, depends on what?"
"On whether or not she still wishes to marry me after our conversation."
David stood still. "Archie! I saw how she looked at you when we were in Southampton. What on earth could you say to her that might change that?"
"I have...much baggage in my past, David. Some you know of, some you do not. But I must have her know it. I cannot accept her love unless it is given in honesty and understanding."
"Your fits, are you talking about? No, it's something more, isn't it?"
"It is." Archie, however, was resolved to say nothing further. He patted the package in his coat pocket and strode purposefully ahead, returning towards his father's house.
David looked at the unusual man his younger brother had become.
There had been no indication of this stubborn, willful person
in the child he had been. He enjoyed the change; enjoyed the company
of the man, the FRIEND, even if he could not help but mourn...just
a little bit...the shy, innocent baby brother he had lost.
Archie's heart was in his throat as he approached the town-house, in a respectable, if slightly less fashionable section, of London He had not seen Alicia since his rescue of her brother. Their correspondence had been frequent, but he still feared that somehow, she would no longer find him appealing in person. Unconsciously his hand went to the packet hidden in his coat. Either she'd be wearing this necklace this evening, or he'd dash it into the Thames.
He knocked at the front door, clearing his throat and smoothing his hair back gently. A servant in a neat cap opened it.
"Good d-day. I am Archie K-Kennedy, here to see Miss B-brandon." Good god, where had that stutter come from? Better than a fit, he supposed, but not much.
He was shown into the small hallway. It was very fussy, loads of miniatures and other knick-knacks, but he had no eyes for any of it.
"Mr. Kennedy?" A soft voice called to him, and he turned. There she was.
It seemed she was smaller than he remembered her. She stood a bit shyly in the doorway, her hair arranged carefully in golden ringlets, her eyes sparkling just like he remembered them. She was wearing a print dress, pale yellow sprinkled with small blue flowers, in a material Archie supposed was suitable for the season. She tilted her chin up at him, a hint of that defiance, that fire, that had captivated him just last April.
"Alicia..." He whispered joyously, enjoying her blush. Then, as her aunt approached from the drawing-room, he made a formal greeting, "Miss Brandon," bowing low.
She curtseyed neatly, her eyes never leaving his face. "LIEUTENANT Kennedy, May I present my Aunt, Mrs. King."
Archie greeted her in all proper manner, though he could not see anything but the beautiful woman before him. He offered her arm, and she took it gently, after putting on her hat. Alicia was all demure smiles even as they left the front door, with her Aunt reminding them that they were to have tea in two hours.
"It is a fine day, is it not, Lieutenant Kennedy?"
"Indeed it is, Miss Brandon. Shall we stroll through Hyde Park?"
"That sounds wonderful, Lieutenant Kennedy!"
Archie grinned, chuckling slightly.
"Whatever do you find so amusing, Sir?" She quipped, tapping his arm.
"I am reminded, indeed, of the false formality that is often forced between Mr. Hornblower and myself. It is rather a joke between us. However, I can assure you, you are better looking."
"Dear Archie!" She whispered, so nobody could hear. "It does indeed seem strange, after all we might say to each other in our letters, to be forced to be so formal when we are finally together."
"Society!" He sighed.
They strolled about the lake in relative quiet. He spied an empty bench up ahead, one secluded slightly from the path, and nodded towards it. "Shall we sit for a spell, Alicia? I would like very much to be able to speak with you in confidence for a few moments."
She turned those blue eyes on him, with a gaze as piercing as her brother's. "Of course."
They settled themselves in, Archie leaning forward with his elbows on his knees, his head in his hands.
"Archie?" Alicia whispered. "Are you ill?" She stroked his head gently.
He gave a half laugh. "Funny, your brother might ask me the same thing if he were here, only with more understanding to the question." He turned to her. "Alicia, I love you. I want to spend the rest of my life with you. I want to marry you."
"Oh, Archie...there is nothing I want more..." She smiled tremulously, a hint of tears in her eyes.
"Wait, my love, before you answer me." He squeezed her hand gently, and gazed into her face.
"There are things I must tell you first, Alicia," Seeing she was about to speak, he shook his head. "Please, I must get this out. I am...no good to you, Alicia, if you do not know the truth before you agree to marry me. I have lived in uncertainty with too many people for most of my life. Not this time."
She nodded. "Alright, Archie. Please, tell me what it is that bothers you so?"
Taking a deep breath, he sat back and stared out over the lake. "There are two things. The first...well, it has been considered a black mark against me almost since birth. I suffer from a strange ailment, Alicia. From fits that I cannot control."
He closed his eyes. "I was born early, Alicia, and very small. My parents were not even sure I would survive. It was a battle, and the Doctors told them, evidently, that if I did survive I would likely be sickly for most of my life. But nobody predicted what would happen."
"The fits started when I was three. I cannot recall them. Only that one moment I would be playing in the nursery, and the next I would be in bed, with my mother and the nurse standing over me, worried. I would have a crashing headache and then sleep like the dead. My mother seemed to accept the ailment; my brother Wills tormented me endlessly; my father acted as if they-nay, as if I, didn't exist. David, taking cue from my mother, was more accepting, and tormented me only as much as he might any younger brother. But once my mother died-I was not quite six-I felt very alone. The fits got worse, and I felt ashamed. I was kept from society, because it seemed my fits occurred mostly when I was under stress or under scrutiny. I remember some things. Other relatives, shaking their head at me, mistaking me for deaf, or maybe just not caring. Talking amongst themselves that I had best be kept out of the way, or neither of my brother's would ever secure a bride. I myself was considered hopeless. There was talk of my being institutionalized, although I now realize never from my immediate family. Instead, I was sent to the Navy when I was twelve."
He blinked, then looked at her. "You must understand, Alicia, nobody understands the fits. I have not had one in over a year, and your brother seems to believe they will be unlikely in the future. But he cannot promise they will not happen at all. However, there is no HISTORY of them in our family; he thinks they might have been partially related to the circumstance of my birth. So our children..." He could feel himself blushing now. "Ought not to be afflicted."
She grasped his arm and leaned forward. "Archie! If I were blessed with a son like you, I should not care if he had fits or not! And look at you! This has not prevented you from doing so much with your life! How could I fault you for this so-called affliction."
He blinked. "I thank you, Alicia. I know I ought not to have doubted your generosity. I am only just learning, I am afraid, to accept my own faults, it still seems incomprehensible to me that others can."
In the momentary silence, as Archie gathered his courage, he was very aware of her hands on his arm. "Archie? You said two things?"
Again, he turned away from her. How on earth could he explain Simpson to her? By all bounds of propriety, she ought not to even know that such doings could exist. Of course, by all bounds of propriety, neither should he. But, dash it all, how did one discuss a sexual violation with the woman one wished to marry?
"Archie, whatever it is, WHATEVER it is, please, do not fear my reaction. Have I not seen enough in this life to understand its darker nature?"
He gave a wry smile. "Indeed, Alicia, you have seen much darkness. Too much. I think it is why your brother felt he could encourage me to begin a relationship with you, because he believed you could accept me. But, of all things, I do not want to drag you into even darker places. Yet, Lord help me, I know not how I can be honest about my past without doing just that."
She stroked his arm gently. "Why don't you begin at the beginning, Archie?"
He nodded. "Very well. But I must warn you, my dear, that some of what I must tell you, are things that a lady ought never hear." And with a gulp, he started.
"I was but a lonely twelve year old when I came to Justinian, unwanted and plagued by fits. The Captain, Keene, was suffering from some hideous disease that was killing him slowly, and he had lost interest in taking control of the ship. And that let control fall to men who ought never know the meaning of the word. One of those men was Jack Simpson."
His face floated before Archie now; he could hear his laugh. Feel his breath, hot and stinking of brandy, on his neck. Simpson is dead, Archie thought. He cannot hurt me now. I am only telling a story. And with a slight shiver, he heard his voice from far away.
"Simpson was evil, pure and thorough. Most of the other Midshipman were older, in their late teens. One, Clayton, who would become a good friend, was an older man, over thirty. He was kind, but rendered helpless by a weakness for alcohol. Simpson tormented him, as well as Cleveland and Hether, and the others, brutally. He enjoyed beating them, or tormenting them psychologically, the same way your father might have enjoyed tormenting Drew."
She grasped his arm even tighter. "Where were your officers, Archie?"
He shrugged. "Indifferent. We had many in a row; it seemed the Justinian was the least desirable commission, in a Navy that had more than its share at the time. Remember, this is before the war broke out. A good man would soon find his way to another ship. Only towards the end did we have Lieutenants with any ability, in Eccleston and Chadd, but by then the ship was too far gone, Simpson's hold too secure, and they were unable to believe, anyway, at the depths of the evil on board her."
"I knew nothing of this, of course, only that I was a miserable boy in a miserable situation, with no mate my age. The powder boys were in quite a different sphere than I was, for I was an officer! Little did I know how much I would have rather berthed with the young men whom I was kept from by my so-called social standing. For Simpson did not torment me, at first."
"No, no, he tried to befriend me. In a strange sort of way. Yet I did not trust him; his kindness had an edge to it that was almost worse than the cruelty he foisted on others. So might a cat play with a mouse he finds. Only at least the cat has no motive other than his dinner. Simpson's appetites were far different."
"The day it all changed, one of the men, one of the men who serves with Indefatigable still, was sent to get me for Mr. Simpson. He did not know for what reason, he only knew that Simpson could and would find a way to have him flogged to death if he failed to obey. And, unknowing, I followed Styles into the cable tier, where..." His voice failed him.
The tears now rolled freely on Archie's face, and Alicia dabbed at his cheeks with her handkerchief.
"Forgive me." He whispered.
"It is okay, my love. It is okay." But she looked at him in concern. "What then, Archie? Did he beat you? Did he torment you?"
"No. Yes." He pause, and knew this would be the hard part. Turning to her, he grasped her hands in his, and stared deeply into her eyes. "My dear, the worst thing, short of death, that could happen to a woman, is to be so violated as to have her innocence taken from her, by a man. A man who would use her as a wife, but against her will. Do you take my meaning, Alicia?"
She went pale to the lips. "Yes, Archie, I do." She whispered.
He nodded. "Right then. Well, the same thing can happen to a man. Another man can use him in a vile manner, like a woman could be violently used. I know this is possible, because it is what Simpson did to me." He closed his eyes, not wanting to see her reaction, fearing it. "Not just that once, but many times, until there was no more sport in it for him, until I was just an empty shell gone beyond all feeling. It took so very much to free me from this. But I knew if I did not tell you this, that freedom never would be mine."
The silence deafened him. He could hear Simpson's taunts in his ear. *What's wrong, little boy? Are you crying? Does it hurt? You're not a man! Why, you're just a little girl, aren't you? My little girl. And no other little girl will ever have you now.* The park seemed to spin, but he focussed on the feeling of her hands on his, and he forced the dizziness to stop, concentrating on the woman who was now his center. "I would understand..." he sighed, "if this has changed your feelings for me, if you find me to be less than a worthy man because of this. This is not a burden I would wish you to bear, and what society would think of me if they knew..."
"Archie!" Her voice was crisp and strong, almost stern. In surprise he opened her eyes and met her glance.
It was a defiant one, her eyes sparking with the same sort of fire he had seen the night her father had beaten her brother, while Archie had run into the garden. Her chin was up, her cheeks flushed. And before he knew what happened, she...kissed him.
The touch was so sudden, so unexpected. Her lips on his; their pressure strong and enticing. He found his arm around her waist, and was lost; lost in the sort of pleasure that he had always thought would be denied him because of what that man had done. The sweetness of her taste brought new meaning to his life, to his needs.
She pulled gently away from his lips, but not from his grasp. "Society be damned, Mr. Kennedy." She whispered, her mouth gentle but her eyes angry. "I love you, and I always shall love you. This day has proved nothing to me other than what I already knew: you are the best man, the strongest and the bravest man, I have ever known." She blushed suddenly, as she realized their position. Archie was glad, now, that they were secluded from onlookers, and he slowly, unwillingly, drew his arm from her waist. "I suppose you think that was very forward of me." Head tilted down, she cast him a quick upward glance, and Archie laughed out loud at the sudden display of modesty belayed by the spark in her eye, and the blush on her lips. And when he laughed, she smiled.
"There, now, that is my Archie!"
"Oh, Alicia, I do not know what I would do without you in my life."
She tilted her head coquetishly. "Then it would be best that you never find out, I think."
Grinning, he went to his coat pocket. "In that instance, my love, you may have your gifts...well, one of them, anyway."
He pulled the necklace out and her eyes were wide. "Oh, Archie...how wonderful! For me?"
"Well, I darned well don't intend on wearing it. Here..."
She turned to him and he fitted the choker around her. She lifted her golden ringlets up from her neck, but Archie could feel them brushing his fingers, which were suddenly too clumsy to operate the clasp. Her soft, pale skin smelt of lavender, and he was becoming intoxicated by her scent. Finally, and too soon, the clasp was in place, although he let his fingers linger for just a second before hastily pulling them away.
She turned back to him, breathing perhaps a bit more heavily than before. "How do I look?"
The necklace was, as he'd suspected, perfect, falling gracefully just above the cut of the neckline of her gown, nestled on her bosom. Strange one could feel envious of a stone. Then, he realized he'd been staring, and without answering her, he went back to his pocket. "Th-there is a ring, too." He held it out. "Our wedding ring."
Looking downward, he grasped her hand and slipped it over her finger. A perfect fit! Imagine that.
Alicia, with eyes the same color as her new jewels, held her hand out. "It would seem we are destined for each other, Mr. Kennedy." Then with a sigh, she took it off and handed it back to him, for its eventual use. "The ring and I, anyway."
"More than the ring!" He whispered closely to her.
Then, with a start, she stood up. "My goodness, Archie! The time!"
He looked down at his pocket watch. "Egads, Alicia, we must hurry or we shall be late for tea! I would not have your aunt form so bad an opinion of me on our first acquaintance!"
They hurried off, walking quickly, arms linked, and each lost in a world of their own.
"Yes, my love?"
"I have but one question to ask of you from all you told me this evening." He held his breath and waited. "Whatever became of that beast Simpson?"
Without hesitating, Archie replied: "Captain Pellew shot him dead."
He looked down at her, but she was staring forward, and her face broke into a wide grin. "I have always liked Captain Pellew, my dear. We must have him to the wedding."
And as the last of his worries melted away from him, Archie
could do nothing but smile himself.
Letter from Archie Kennedy to Drew Brandon:
I am uncertain whether or not this letter shall reach you before I do, but I feel compelled to attempt it.
What can I say to you at this time, my friend? Friend? Hell, my BROTHER! (Well now, if that isn't enough of a hint perhaps you have us all fooled with that supposed brain-power of yours).
It is true. Even after I made your sister aware of my rather complicated past, she has opted to throw her lot in with mine anyway. She would seem to love me, and rather was affronted that I ever doubted that! She is a truly remarkable woman, and allow me to wish fervently that you would be equally as lucky when your time should come to fall in love.
I have written to your father in Scotland for permission, which I have not a doubt of receiving. Especially once he reads that my father, Lord Bridgeleigh, one of the DEVONSHIRE KENNEDYS was heartily in favor of the match. Or did I lay that one on too thick? I should dearly like to see Stanton's face when HE reads it.
As to the wedding itself, with all the usual preparations to be made, it would seem it must wait for my next trip to London. So it may in fact be a rather long and frustrating engagement.
Funny thing about my father. He really does seem to approve of the match. And everything else about me, for that matter. I find it occasionally disconcerting. In hindsight, and in observing my father with my Aunt Gardiner's brood, all under ten, I have realized that my father in fact is rather clueless about any child! Has no clue how to talk to them, no imagination to run away with in their presence, and no patience. All those years I thought it was me, when in fact he is ill-equipped to handle anybody too young to hold a lengthy conversation on the state of affairs of parliament (or an equally esoteric subject). As I have returned home INTERESTING, I have nothing but his highest approval!
David begs to be remembered to you, and asks that I tell you he is not the annoying fop he appeared at your house. So, as he wishes, I shall tell you this, although after spending a day shopping with him I am rather in doubt of the veracity of the statement!
Your sister joins us this evening for a ball, given in my honor. I am surprisingly looking forward to it. Although many of those there will be a stranger to me, I am well acquainted with the only woman there worth knowing, so I am at peace.
I depart now, for I must prepare myself for the festivities of the evening.
Commissioned Lieutenant Archibald Kennedy
(Hm? Oh, yes, I did pass my exam. Pass that on, would you?)"
Humming quietly to himself, a new, confident Archie Kennedy dressed for the ball his father-HIS FATHER!-was giving in his honor this evening. His choice of outfit reflected and symbolized this confidence, for though the tailor had delivered two fine new suits of civilian clothing, he had opted instead to wear his brand new Lieutenant's uniform instead. Even as he carefully buttoned up the waistcoat, he smiled. He could not help it. He was in love, he was loved in return, and his health had never been better. He had a career and a future, and a family. Life was good.
After a sharp rap at the door, David entered. "My dear brother, although I was skeptical of your choice of attire, I must say, it does suit you! Perhaps if I had gone into the navy I might have had your luck with women!"
With a chuckle, Archie adjusted his dress-sword. "My luck with WOMAN would be more apt. One attempt, one success, and it is enough to keep me happy. Perhaps, David, if you would narrow your odds a bit, you might be better served!"
Looking at his brother, Archie noticed nothing for him to worry about. He was a bit more slender than Archie, his hair was the same shade but worn shorter, as was the fashion, and it curled more readily. He always had a ready smile and a pleasant manner, and an impeccable sense of fashion this day noted in an outfit of hunter green and gold. And beyond that, he was genuine, a caring person, though he would hide it.
He stretched now, and looked out the window for the signs of the first company to arrive. "Well, I have two fine examples of marital bliss before me, with you and Wills. Seeing as, in my opinion, the two of you have neatly split the odds in future happiness, I feel it is best if perhaps I did not take the gamble." And for a second his face froze, and there was a pain there that Archie found startling. "Lady Margaret will be attending this evening."
Surprised, Archie turned around. "Really? I should have thought, after our last argument, Wills would have done anything in his power to keep her away from his embarrassing younger brother!" The hurt from Wills' statement was gone from Archie; it was mere curiosity now.
"Oh, you know society, Archie, how much more embarrassing would it have been if Lord Brigdeleigh were to give a ball and his eldest son's fiancé were not invited? Wills wouldn't hear of such a slight." He brushed an imaginary bit of lint off his jacket. "Best go prepare ourselves, Arch. Besides, I could use a glass of wine. Shall we?"
His equilibrium had been slightly disturbed. If he had been on the Indefatigable, he would have said that the air had a disturbing feeling, and Mr. Bowles would have been taking in the sails with all haste. Shaking his head, Archie tried to put the simile out of his mind. *I have been at sea for too long; this is only a ball, not a battle.* But even as he would smile and nod to the servants as he went down stairs, he could not rid the image from his mind.
What was most strange to him was that the eye of the storm
for once was not over him, but over David.
The strange feeling of impending doom was utterly lost forty-five minutes into the ball, when Alicia arrived.
By that point, Archie had been through the ordeal of greeting all the relatives, near and distant, his father had invited, as well as some business acquaintances of his. Most of them he knew; or rather, had known, once upon a time. He was so changed now that none of them would have known him if they had passed on the street. One distant cousin, a rather bossy old lady named Lady Victoria Erthwhite, arriving at the end of a rush of arrivals, announced imperiously that she felt she'd walked the gauntlet! Archie had smiled sweetly, apologized for the length of the line, and gladly passed her on to David, who went to fetch her some punch. With some amusement, he tried to picture the old aristocrat having to walk a gauntlet, and he wondered if she understood at all what she said!
Then, she was there.
She was in a creamy pale yellow silk, cut fashionably low, and with delicately embroidered lace trimming both the neckline and the sleeves. Her skirt was a full cascade of the rich material, which seemed to have a faint pattern imprinted in it. Her hair, swept upward save for a few tendrils gracing her face, was decorated with nothing, for it needed no help. And at her throat rested his gift; the subtle color of the dress bringing out the brilliance of the stone, and her eyes.
Those eyes spoke volumes as he took her hand. "Miss Brandon."
And turning with as much of a smile as he could ever imagine, he took her to his father. "Father, May I present my fiancé, Miss Alicia Brandon."
His father bowed deeply, staring at her in fascination, wondering no doubt what sort of woman his youngest son had managed to find. "Miss Brandon, I am delighted to make your acquaintance at last."
Rising from a deep curtsey, she did not hesitate to look his father in the eye. "The honor is mine, Lord Bridgeleigh. I have heard much about you, Sir."
The old boy raised an eyebrow. "Have you, eh? Liable to be a mixed impression you have then, my dear."
She smiled and raised her chin. "I form my own impressions, Sir."
"A very smart young woman, then! Archie, for heaven's sake, the young lady must be parched; do take her for some refreshment!"
"Aye, Aye, Sir," He replied, before he could stop himself.
He would have been horrified, but his father gave him no chance; the man absolutely chortled. "Ha! Very good! Glad to see you've been paying so much attention to your career. Just don't start saluting me!"
And laughing back, Archie soon swept Alicia away.
Or as away as he was allowed to. An Aunt here, a cousin here, old acquaintances, all one by one found their way to him, each seeking an introduction to the woman who would be his bride. Archie was more than a little pleased to note that among them were the Aunts who had so long ago given up any hope of his finding happiness. But still, he wished badly to have her to himself!
Thank heavens for the dancing! There, he might nearly forget everyone else but his bewitching Alicia. At least for the first four dances, for he would not permit himself to be engaged by anyone else but her. He could feel the eyes of the room upon him, but cared not, though it would have terrified him as a child. This time, the only eyes that mattered were hers.
She beamed up at him at one point. "You dance quite well, Archie," She whispered.
"Do I? It must be my partner, for I have had little enough practice myself."
"I am all astonishment. Do you not often have balls on board ship?"
"Aye, my lady." And he whispered into her ear. "Cannon balls."
Her laughter was like bells in the sudden absence of the music as the band stopped. Taking her arm, he was guiding her for more wine when another woman caught his eye.
This one he had never seen before in his life, he was sure of it. She was tall and angular; her eyes were a soft brown and her features nondescript; almost plain. Her most spectacular feature was her deep brown hair, which was glossy and rich; but unfortunately she had piled it on her head in a fashionable but severe and very unbecoming hairstyle. Still, from the richness of her clothes, Archie knew she must be SOMEBODY.
Alicia caught his expression, and leaned in to him, whispering behind her fan. "Lady Margaret Whitham. I did not expect to see her here."
"Ah." He was a bit surprised...how had David described her? The most horse-faced heiress England had ever seen? Really, she was not that bad looking, though of course, nothing to his Alicia. David must have judged her solely on her taste in accepting Wills. "Alicia, she is my brother Will's fiancé."
"Oh, I had not heard that. I am obviously not as forward with my gossip as most young ladies in London."
"Please, do not change that on my account," he hastily interjected.
And they were separated for a bit at that point, for Archie was buttonholed by some politicians; Alicia accepted David's invitation to dance, which suited him just fine. Later, he noted her from across the room, in conversation with some other young ladies, just as David grabbed his elbow.
"You are indeed a lucky man, Archie." David looked both happy for him and deeply miserable at the same time; Horatio had once worn the same look. Had David been crossed in love as well?
"I noticed she is the only lady you have deigned to dance with, brother. I am surprised; I expected you to be much more in your element than I am."
"I am not in the mood for dancing this evening."
"Well, since you did not take any risk other than my fiancé, perhaps you ought to oblige Lady Whitham? I noticed she has not danced at all this evening, and heaven's knows there is no use in waiting for Wills to ask her; there will be peace with France first." He turned to his brother, to see him as pale as death, a vein throbbing in his neck.
"I thank you, no, Archie." And, gulping down his wine, he stormed off, out of the ballroom and out of sight.
*What the devil?* Archie thought, and was about to go after him, when Alicia touched his arm. "Does something ail your brother, Archie?"
Shaking his head, Archie could only murmur, "In truth, I do not know, Alicia. He is quite unlike himself." Then, bringing his attention back to his beloved, he forced a smile. "Have you managed to amuse yourself without me, Alicia?"
"I have, for it is a skill I must have in the future. In fact, I have been catching up on my gossip, as promised."
"Dear, dear, and what scandalous whispers have you overheard?"
She turned herself towards Lady Margaret, at the elbow of Wills, looking blankly off into the distance. "According to society, I believe it is not a love match between your brother and Lady Margaret, I am sorry to tell you."
"Do not be sorry, and do not think me surprised. I should have thought very much less of her if she loved him."
"Yes, well, it would seem the marriage was arranged by her father. A desirous match between two established blood lines. In fact, it was believed there was another suitor, one whom she fell madly in-love with while summering with an Aunt near Bournemouth, but her father forced her to cut off the acquaintance. No title."
Archie shivered. "Beastly. Thank heavens your father did not care that I am not in line for the title."
"And thank heavens that you at least had the bloodlines, Archie, for without that we would have been in much the same way."
He shook his head. "I would move heaven and earth before I would see you in a loveless marriage, Alicia!"
They both watched as Lady Margaret stirred aimlessly, looking lost and so very alone. Alicia nudged him. "Ask her to dance, Archie!"
"I had not planned on dancing with anyone other than you, Alicia!" He protested.
"We shall have the rest of our lives to dance together Archie. Who knows when she may dance again?"
So within five minutes, he found himself partnering Lady Margaret, who looked a little confused, but flattered. They made pleasant, obvious small talk; Archie felt that introducing Wills into the conversation would be welcome for neither of them. She seemed rather shy, but made a valiant effort at keeping some light banter going.
"From what town is your fiancé from, Lieutenant Kennedy?"
"Her family's estate is outside the Village of Rushton, in the Lake District. However, they also spend much time at a house in a town outside Southampton."
"Indeed? I know Southampton well, Mr. Kennedy. I have an Aunt who lives in Poole." And her face flushed, just a bit.
"Poole, you say? Why, that is where my brother David practices Law!"
He could have kicked himself the minute he said it. For her face went gray and she swallowed hard. "Does he indeed? Well, I am there but seldom, and doubtless that is why I had never met him."
Never met him? The hell she hadn't. They finished the dance in silence, but Archie's stomach churned. Poole was near Bournemouth. She had loved a man without a title in a town near Bournemouth. His middle brother made his living in Poole. And he was wandering through this party angry and bitter. How stupid could he have been?
As the dance finished, and before he could think of some way to try and make amends for causing her pain, Wills was beside him, seething.
"What the HELL do you mean with dancing with my fiancé, Archibald?" He snapped. A few heads turned to them, then quickly turned away.
"I meant nothing, Will...iam." He gulped in surprise. "She was without a partner, and I felt now would be an appropriate time to meet my new sister." He said evenly, calmly, trying to settle this down.
"Oh, no doubt you FELT that." He spat out. "Trying to feel something else, perhaps?" A gasp or two went up from those near them.
Archie felt his jaw drop. "I will pretend, brother, that I did not hear you impugn my honor by suggesting I would behave in such a manner. I am sorry if my attentions to your fiancé were in any way unacceptable. Now, if you will excuse me!" He stiffly turned away, his face red, but hoping he seemed to be the master of the situation. He had no desire to embarrass his father.
Grabbing him suddenly, it seemed his eldest brother had no such objection. "Blast you, you miserable cripple!" He cried out, taking a wild swing at him. Archie, after years of battle, was more than prepared, and he spun out of his grasp, barely grazed by the punch. Instead, Wills was thrown off balance, crashing to the floor, where he stared up at his shocked younger brother with nothing but malice. "Do you think me so stupid that I don't realize you're trying to cut me out with her? With your fancy uniform and your pretty ways. You may have everyone else fooled, but not me; I know you for maimed weakling you are."
Archie held his voice in control with effort. "Wills, you are drunk, and you are making a spectacle of yourself in father's house. I do not know what you were thinking, but I have a fiancé, and have no intention of trying to steel yours."
Wills laughed loudly. "As if you wouldn't trade that...that...mongrel from a drunken social climber's litter for a woman of more fortune..."
His fist clenched. He thought, for a moment, of his sword, but two firm arms grasped him.
"Archibald." His father, deep shame on his face, said gently to him. "Perhaps you'd best take a turn out-doors."
Slowly, he nodded. "I think that is an excellent idea,
father." He said softly, his voice husky with anger. And
without seeing much before him, he headed out into the street.
The cooling night air helped to clear his head but not his anger. Later on, in detachment, he might wonder at himself that he should not have had a fit in such a provoking situation. But now, dear God, he still wished fervently he could strike his brother dead. He had certainly killed men before; men whom he had no grudges against other than their unfortunate nationality. Men who probably had wives, children, families that they loved, and were all in all better human beings than his eldest sibling.
There was simply no excuse for Wills, and never had been. His brother cared for nothing; even his father's shame meant nothing to him. He could not understand that; his father's opinion of him had always meant more to him than anything. But Archie had accepted everything that Wills was a long time ago. He did not care, much, that Wills still tried to torment him. He did not care that Wills was to get the title. And thought it saddened him on her behalf, he did not even care that Wills would force a woman to marry him. But he most certainly did care about Alicia, and would not have Wills hurt her for the world.
"Archie? You alright?" David called suddenly from the shadows. Archie blinked and saw him coming forward out of the night.
"Did you...hear that?" He said shakily.
"I did. I re-entered the ballroom while you were dancing with...Lady Margaret."
Archie eyed him gently. His voice had been even. No hint, there, that he had any feelings for her. "She deserves better than Wills."
David twitched his head. "She made her choice."
No, you great idiot, the choice was made for her, Archie wanted to scream out, but decided against it. It was enough to have fought with one brother this evening.
David changed the subject, anyway. "You wanted to run him through, didn't you?"
"Only after he insulted Alicia. I do not care a jot what he says about me. But I will not have her insulted."
"I am glad you did not. Someday, instead, perhaps I shall have the pleasure myself. A far happier alternative. I kill Wills; I hang for it; you get the title and live happily ever after with your beautiful wife. You might, perhaps, name a son after me."
It was said lightly, but with a growing sense of horror, Archie feared there might be an undercurrent of desire in the statement. "David! Wills is not worth killing, do you hear me? He is not worth either of us throwing away our futures on."
"That is easy for you to say, when you have a future." Again, light, with humor and irony, but the pain, Archie believed, was real. He had an image of himself, in a prison bunk in Spain, with much the same despair in his heart. He thought of Horatio.
"David, you must be honest with me. You love her, do you not?" When he did not answer, Archie pulled him roughly forward to face him. "I will have an answer, David! Do you love Lady Margaret?"
Startled at the sudden force of his baby brother, David croaked out, "Oh, God, with all of my being." His face crumpled, and Archie watched him force back tears. "But she does not love me, Archie. Oh, she seemed to, once. For a summer. But she was not returned to London one week when I had a letter from her, explaining she could never lower herself to my level. I have tried hard to hate her." He shut his eyes, and composed himself. "But I cannot. She will be the only woman I will love in my entire life, and she will marry a man who thinks of her with even less regard than father would think of a thoroughbred horse."
Archie sighed, and grasped his arm, gently. "David, do you know that it is believed that she has been forced into this marriage?"
"Impossible." He was breathing unevenly, confused. "She was...she is, a strong, intelligent woman. No man could force her to such a thing."
"A father could." Archie shook his head. "Think of what Alicia's father was capable of doing to his own children. Had he objected to me for any reason, how could she have fought him? This world is not fair, David, seldom is it fair for those not privileged, and, from what I have seen, not at all to women."
Clapping his brother on the shoulder in a half-embrace, he came to a realization. "As I think on it, David, I do believe I have never understood how rare a man our Father is. We are very fortunate."
David was lost in thought. "Forced?" He whispered in wonder. "How could her father do such a thing? Condemn a daughter to a life of despair?"
"After seeing Lord Exton in action, David, I can believe anything."
"But what is to be done?"
The quiet of the street filled the pause that followed. Archie had no idea what was to be done. It had been easier to take action to save Drew. He had not the slightest idea how Lady Margaret's father was to be worked on.
"Well, my sons, how is the evening?"
The voice of his father startled Archie; the man walked slowly but steadily down the front stairs. "The evening is cooling, father." Archie replied quietly.
"As has your anger, I see." He nodded towards a still shocked David. "David, I would appreciate it if you would attend Lady Erthwhite for a few moments. She is feigning palpitations after our excitement, and as you are her favorite cousin, I had hopes you might calm her down."
And returning to his normal state of sarcastic indifference with effort, David bowed. "As you wish, Father."
As David left, Archie began remembering the incidents inside with mortification. "Father, I am truly sorry to have caused you any embarrassment this evening."
The man met his eye in mild surprise, then sighed. "Yes, Archibald, YOU would be. You, who did nothing to provoke the situation and made every attempt to diffuse it, are sorry about even the possibility of bringing shame to our family. And William, who caused every problem this evening, could not care less that he has, again, shamed our name." He closed his eyes, and leaned backward against the wrought-iron gating that surrounded the town-house. "My sons were born out of turn."
Archie swallowed hard. He was deeply aware of the compliment his father paid him, and deeply touched by it. "Strangely, for all that he might attempt to bully you, William retreated soon enough at my command. He has departed to stay with his friend, Colonel Lunt. He will probably not return until it is time for his own ball, next Saturday."
Taking the bull by the horns, Archie turned to his father. "Is there still to be a ball? With this scene, is it not possible that Lady Whitham's father will terminate the engagement?"
"I doubt it. A pity. David loves her deeply, and I believe she loves him. But it is out of my hands."
Archie slipped off of the fence and onto the sidewalk. Trying to pick himself up with some shred of dignity left, he gasped, "You know?"
"Yes, I do. David has always had an open heart. I can read him well. You have always been much harder for me to figure out." He turned to him. "I wish I could have understood you better when you were a boy, Archibald. Then I might have realized that Wills was deceiving me when he told me of your sudden desire to go to sea."
Tremors rose in Archie's breast. "How...How...did you find out..."
"The other night, the minute the words were out of my mouth about Wills telling me how much you wanted to enter the Navy, I saw the shock on your face. When it happened, all those years ago, I was still able to pretend Wills was a good, upstanding young man. Today? Well, let's just say I have not held such illusions for a long time now."
Archie swallowed. "Father, I want you to know, I truly love the Navy, and believe I will have an excellent career. I will not lie to you and tell you it was always that way, for I am more frightened of your perception now, after this evening, than I ever was as a child!" His father laughed slightly. "But I am happy, Father."
"Good. You deserve to be. Now, we had both of us best return to our party, before we occasion more comment than we already have."
With a start, Archie felt fear in his chest. "Alicia! Father, how must those words have sounded to her!"
"Do not fear, Archie. Your Aunt has taken her under her wing, and she has made quite a splash with all of the young ladies at the party today. The sympathy is entirely on her side, and she has been well looked after."
As they returned into the hall, Archie feeling relief in his veins, he caught a glimpse of a hooded figure making quickly for the doorway to exit; one who did so with no good-byes to her hosts. Archie caught a glance of a tear-stained cheek. Lady Whitham. Poor girl. There was nobody looking after HER.
And in sorrow for his brother and this lady he had just met,
Archie wondered if anything could be done.
Letter from Katherine Cobham to Sir Edward Pellew...
I had the wonderful joy this evening of entertaining your young Mr. Kennedy and his friends at a small dinner party at my lodgings.
I had run into him and his brother yesterday during a Matinee performance; he was most overjoyed to see me, and I confess, I was overjoyed as well. It made me feel a bit closer to you. In any event, I learned of his engagement to Miss Brandon, and I invited the family over for a light repast the following evening.
You must imagine my surprise, Edward, when not only Archie, Miss Brandon and his brother arrived, but Lord Bridgeleigh, as well! I was utterly and totally bewildered, and convinced that my food and my situation were utterly unacceptable to a gentleman who is distant cousin to the King! However, of the many members of the elite class whom I have heard described as charming and gracious, I believe Lord Bridgeleigh is the one man of whom it is the truth! Although formal, he was quite intelligent and betrayed no feelings of vanity.
One exception: he is inordinately proud of his sons, both of them. Being a typical man (you know it is true) he could not of course, say such a thing. But I could see it quite clearly. The eldest son was not there, and was not mentioned, which I found odd.
Miss Alicia is positively delightful, just like her brother. Same sparkle, same intelligence, and same passion. In her event, she has devoted herself fully to your young Lieutenant, without managing to cling to him like a wet cape, the way so many of these young women do. They will be a darling couple, my dear.
Archie mentioned that the original intent of his trip dealt with some young powder monkey (what a terribly strange term!) who had been injured in action. I feel that you would desire to know that young Rees (have I spelt that correctly, dear?) is by all accounts doing remarkably well, and was just transported up to Devonshire yesterday. Lieutenant Kennedy got rather misty-eyed about it, for the boy had been quite grateful to him. Mr. David Kennedy added that the boy had vowed that should Lieutenant Kennedy need any assistance in the future ever, he would be there! So another of your fine young men is doing alright, Edward.
I am glad to hear of your recent successes, even as I was disturbed by the incidents surrounding Dunbarton. Archie will not speak of Captain Strong's character, but HOW he doesn't speak of it says volumes. I am sorry for the inconvenience it all must cost you, but your men are up to it. And with Bracegirdle, Bowles, Hornblower, Cousins and Brandon all surrounding you, I have no doubt you are better protected from harm than most.
With the utmost love...
Letter from Lord Exton to Lieutenant Archibald Kennedy.
"My Dear Sir...
It was with the utmost delight that I read of your desire to take my daughter's hand in marriage. You have, of course my permission; it has been my fondest desire since our meeting of so many months ago, when you enlightened me to the TRUE NATURE of my youngest son. I am only grateful that your opinions of our family's worthiness for a union with yours were not altered by his disgraceful actions, and dare to hope that he is in some way improved over this time.
I will look forward to speaking with Alicia further on the arrangements, when I return to England at the end of the month.
Letter from Mr. Stanton Brandon to Lieutenant Archibald Kennedy:
Many congratulations on securing my sister's hand. My father, as you no doubt will hear in the letter that departs with this one, is beyond pleased at the match.
I understand from you that the timing of the union might be in question, as it shall be some time before you might appear in England again. I must warn you of this: my father is determined to see the match through, though is health is failing rapidly now, and mentioned he might move himself and Alicia to Gibraltar in hopes of increasing the speed of the date's arrival. I shall, of course, remain by his side, so that it might decrease any damage he could do.
However, it goes without saying that we must be very careful in Drew's portrayal in Gibraltar. And sadly, he could not possibly attend the wedding in safety. It pains me to say it, because I know little could make him happier than this match. But I know neither you or Alicia could bear to start your new lives together causing pain and suffering to one you hold dear, so I am certain you will understand how it must be.
With many felicitations...
Letter from Miss Margaret Whitham to Mr. David Kennedy, delivered via Mrs. Carroll, housekeeper:
I have struggled in vain for the past year, but seeing you at your father's house brought back all of the pain and anguish of the letter I wrote you last. I could not live knowing I had left you in such pain, with such a low opinion of me. There is enough suffering in my future; I could not bear this also. So I am taking my chances, that I might at least explain to you how this all has come about.
I had not returned from my Aunt's one week before I brought up our acquaintance to my mother. I never mentioned you by name, I only said that a young, promising attorney had stolen my heart, and I felt certain you would be calling on me soon to continue the acquaintance. I was bursting with happiness; I had never been beautiful, and could not believe that so fine a man as yourself would choose ME! It did not occur to me that my own family would not share my joy.
That they did not, was soon made evident. My father, most desirous of a match, had spent the summer convincing William of the suitability our situation, and felt that I had no right to make him look foolish on account of some silly matters of the heart. I had not even met William before I discovered I had been promised to him, and my father dictated the letter I wrote you while standing over my shoulder. Then, the next morning, he made me re-write it, to hide the effects my tears had cost on the original draft.
He did not know that you were William's brother; indeed, I did not know so for some time myself. Remember, you had been most secretive about your family; I assume from the desire to make sure I fell in love with YOU and not your situation in life. When I met William, lord knows *I* saw no resemblance between you. It was only a month ago, when William was talking about the failings (his word, my love, not mine) of both of his brothers, that I realized it. And from that moment, I dreaded the time when we should all be together.
The ball Saturday evening was the worst moment of my life, David. To see you so angry and so hurt wounded me; to see the happiness and natural goodness of your youngest brother, injured me also. Had he been the eldest, there is no doubt in my mind he would never have entered into a loveless marriage. The mere fact of your father's acceptance of Miss Brandon told me he would have had no problem with my union with YOU.
After the scene that arose that evening, I hoped that my family would be so shamed by his behavior that the match would be called off. If I could not have the happiness of a life with you, at least I could be spared the agony of life with your brother. But I am not such a lucky woman; though my mother was mortified, my father wrote it off as William's passion for me, and blamed me for nearly destroying the match. William himself was quite cold; he would hold me responsible as well, except that he would much rather blame Archie, whom he hates more. He does not know about our past together.
I must leave off now. I shall never write to you again, I only hope that in some way I can make you despise me less with this explanation.
With affection forever,
Thursday, August 31
Archie returned from another afternoon stroll and tea with Alicia with a sigh. Walking into the library, he absent-mindedly picked up a text and sat in the leather chair, but he stared vacantly at the open pages. Distracted, his eyes went to the window, where a beam of sunshine made its way through the curtained windows. He imagined himself on the Indefatigable, her sails gleaming white in that sunshine, the wind rushing over the quarterdeck. It had been a good trip home. But he had begun to wish himself back.
To be sure, the time with Alicia had been wonderful. Every day they walked through the park, talking of anything and everything, or sometimes nothing at all, content in the silence of their love. Blushing, he recalled stolen moments and kisses in hidden coppices, pushing the bounds of propriety. It was enough to tease him only; he would return to the ship longing all the more for a speedy wedding day. Certainly such brief encounters only increased his restlessness, and slamming the book shut he stared hard at the globe. Sliding his finger gently over Gibraltar, and onward to Madeira.
A sound from the door caught his notice, and he looked up to see his father observing him sadly.
Archie smiled at him apologetically. "I did not hear you come in, father."
The man grimaced as he made his way over to a chair opposite him. "That was quite evident, Archibald." He stretched his leg out, wincing.
"Can I get you anything, Father?"
He frowned. "A new knee would be nice! Ah, well, I suppose such things are bound to happen when one gets up in years." He leaned backward and stared at Archie with resignation. "You are already longing to return to sea, I notice. I hope the visit has not been too intolerable."
Archie looked with new-found fondness at him. "Father, it has been more than I could have hoped for. And I promise you, it will not be eight years before I return again."
"You are, as I have said, welcome here any time." Perhaps to mask his emotion, he cleared his throat and changed the topic. "Do ships sail for the Americas still, Archibald, even in times of war?"
Puzzled, Archie nodded. "Not as often as they used to, I am afraid, but it is still possible to gain crossing. Surely you are not thinking of the journey?"
"Not for myself." He met his eyes deliberately. "How would this be arranged?"
"Well, one could sail on a British ship for a neutral port, such as Oporto. There, one would find passage on an American ship."
"And the cost?"
"Depends on the ship and the quality of passage. Unless one wanted to be in the hold with the animals. I should say fifty pounds at least."
"A small price for happiness, though." He sighed. "The engagement party for William is in two day's time."
"Yes, I remember." It had never been far from his thoughts. David had, in extreme depression, shown Archie the letter Lady Margaret had penned for him. He would be leaving for Poole tomorrow morning, unwilling to cause either one of them more pain. Archie ached for his brother, but without the permission of Lady Margaret's father, nothing could be done. Unless he encouraged his brother to elope. And with no money and the ensuing disgrace that would materially damage his career prospects, what sort of a life would that leave him?
His thoughts were interrupted by his father's slamming his cane down on the polished wood floor. "I do not like bringing disgrace on the family name, Archibald!" His father snapped suddenly. Archie looked up sharply, startled and confused.
"Of course not, father. I understand that." He had no idea what the man was talking about; Archie felt as if he were only present for half of the conversation; one that was going on in the old boy's head, and he was only hearing those parts spoken out loud.
His father continued: "The question becomes, then, what is the bigger disgrace? And would I place family honor above the happiness and well-being of my children?" The man slowly rubbed his temples. "Society can be a deuced difficult thing."
Archie blinked, at a total loss for words.
"Weddings can still take place on board ship, right? With minimal formalities?'
"With no formalities, as long as the Captain is agreeable."
"And you know the man you sail with on Sophia?"
"I do. Commander Chalk."
"And do you think he is a good man?"
"I believe him to be, yes." Surely, his father was not suggesting he get married on board? For what reason? Did he suddenly feel the marriage would be disgraceful? Archie flushed in anger, and made no attempt to bite his tongue:
"Father, I intend on marrying Alicia, as soon as opportunity allows, in broad daylight and without hiding from anyone. I had thought I had your approval on that, but with it or without it, it is what will happen. I would not consider that to be a disgrace."
His father stared at him wide-eyed, then grinned at him broadly. "Well, this is most impressive. I am glad I am only your father and not your enemy; I would not wish to see you in such a state with you armed!" His eyes sparkled. "I truly do approve of your marriage to Miss Brandon, and am sorry it might occur in Gibraltar, where I will not be able to attend. And I hope that when she returns to England, she will make her home here with us, as I understand her father to be most disagreeable."
Archie deflated. "Oh!" He frowned. "But what...?"
"David, Archibald. Once again we find our way back to David. And William. And Lady Margaret. Our little love triangle." He scowled again. "William, I have been aware, has had several dalliances with some extremely undesirable women in London. Which I am assured he has no intention of giving up upon his marriage. He has also shown himself prone to fits of violence; I understand he has hurt one of these woman to the point of needing hospitalization. I would have no heart if I were to contemn Lady Margaret to such a life. And there is just as much disgrace in that, as in...what I am thinking of orchestrating." He chewed on his lip. "Will Sophia return to Gibraltar by way of Oporto?"
A glimmer of understanding came to him. "I believe so, but it would take but a day for me to send a message off to Chalk to enquire if it is to be certain. Or to see if he might take additional passengers."
His father nodded, as their eyes met, and he stood abruptly, leaning on his cane. "Archibald, get your brother. I wish to meet with both of you in my study in about fifteen minutes."
David, confused, sat beside him in father's study. The books were out, and his father was making notes. Absentmindedly he pointed towards the decanter, and Archie poured out three glasses of whiskey. He sipped delicately; David merely swirled the liquid around in the crystal glass.
With a final sigh and sealing some letters, he at last looked up at them. "David, Archibald, this recent visit has proved most enlightening for me." He drummed his fingers on the desk. "It is, I realized, the first time I have had the three of my sons under my roof as adults. And it forced home something that I tried to ignore as long as it was not evident before me. William is entirely inadequate as an heir and a gentleman. And he will be even less adequate as a husband."
David winced, the pain evident on his face, and their father reached over and touched him on the wrist. "David!" He said gently, as his son looked at him in surprise. "I have been aware of your feelings for Lady Margaret since the moment William announced his betrothal. I had hoped her father would come to his senses, but since he did not call off the engagement last week after William's inappropriate behavior, it seems I must take matters into my own hands." He coughed slightly, and withdrew his hand. "But first matters first."
"I have always believed in planning for any disaster, in prudence. Although I do not believe myself to be ungenerous, I have always lived within my income. When your mother and I first married, we had planned a large family, for she loved children, and I wanted to be certain any daughters we might have would be amply provided for. Your mother was not extravagant; she had simple tastes, and economy, if you will, was easy enough. So as the years went by, I kept up with my business, with investments outside the estate, from the savings I had on our income, which is around fifteen thousand a year."
"As it would turn out, there were only three children, and no daughters. You, my younger sons, have been, as you were raised to be, diligent and hard working, and have been successful at your chosen careers. You have never been extravagant; any money you do spend has never been outside of your income, unless I have offered a gift of it. Neither of you have saddled me with gaming debts or other debts of a...baser nature to be taken care of. Unfortunately, William has done both."
"He is entirely unacceptable as my heir, but there is not a thing I can do about it. The title, the estate, and its income, are entailed upon the eldest son."
Tapping the sealed missives before him, he added, "But there is something I can do with the personal fortune of sixty thousand pounds I have amassed on my own over my lifetime."
Archie's jaw fell in shock. "Father...I had no idea..."
He smiled. "Nobody did, except for my steward. Certainly I was afraid when you were younger to broadcast that fact. I did not wish to encourage either of you in idleness. However, these letters confirm it. Rather than wait for my death, I will make a gift of the money to you now, so that I can be certain William will have no hand in its disbursal. Thirty thousand each, to be spent as you see fit. It will bring an income of fifteen-hundred a year untouched; not quite what you grew up with, but certainly more than you are earning in your careers. Archibald, it shall, I believe, enable you to establish a home for your wife, free from want or worries as you are away. And David..."
David was sitting back in stunned disbelief. "Yes?"
"I believe it will be enough for you to start a new life in America. With your wife."
David sucked down the whiskey in a gulp. Looking into its empty depths, he blinked back tears; Archie saw his hand shake slightly as he finally put the glass down on the desk. Composing himself with effort, he spoke slowly. "Father...I want to be certain I understand what you are asking me to do...I love Midge...Lady Margaret. She is the only woman I will ever marry."
"Does she love you still?"
Thinking, perhaps, of his letter, he nodded. "I believe she does."
"And have you not considered eloping in all of this time?"
Lips pursed, David shook his head. "Until this week I did not understand that her rejection of me was not her doing. And then, I have to ask myself, what could I offer her, if I stole her away? Archie and I spoke of it yesterday. Could I ask her to suffer in poverty and shame?" He swallowed. "Even now, father, with your generous gift , I am not certain I understand how we are to bring this about."
Archie spoke up this time, looking to his father for encouragement. "I believe, David, the idea is that you and Lady Margaret shall sail with me on Tuesday on the Sophia."
"Unmarried?" He said in shocked propriety. His father smiled; here was the ultimate indication of the difference in nature between his eldest and second son.
Grinning as well, Archie continued. "Commander Chalk can marry you at sea. When we arrive in Oporto, you shall seek passage to the Americas. If you think she will agree, of course."
David sat back in thought. "I must have a few minutes alone with her, to speak to her privately. I do not know how that shall be managed."
Thinking out loud, Archie murmured, "Alicia might invite her for tea tomorrow. It would be normal enough for her to wish to know her future sister, despite the rather inauspicious start to their relationship. And if you and I should happen to be there, then Alicia and I could certainly find a way to give you time alone."
The color returning to his face, David looked up at him. "It...might...work. If she will be willing to give up her life here, then...Oh, but there is so much that must be prepared!"
He stood abruptly, pacing back and forth. "How shall I get her away without raising hugh and cry from everyone, and without dragging Archie into the mud with me?" He ran his fingers through his blond curls, making them wild.
Lord Bridgeleigh leaned back with an almost mischievous grin on is face. "The day after the engagement ball, William plans a hunting trip up in Devonshire...with his future father-in-law." He drummed his fingers thoughtfully. "Lady Margaret might plan on visiting her Aunt in Poole, where you will meet her. Gain passage with all speed to Portsmouth."
David sat down weakly, his head in his hands. "Oh, if only she says yes!" And he slowly looked up, from Archie to his father. "I cannot...thank you...both of you...enough."
Lord Bridgeleigh shook his head. "We are family. There is no need for thanks. Now, you have much to attend to, I believe!"
And with a sudden grin that reminded Archie so much more of the happy, light-hearted brother he remembered, David shot up. "Indeed I do, Father! I must get to work at once...at once!" And he ran off muttering to himself of various needs and preparations, leaving behind his laughing brother and smiling father.
Looking with almost obvious affection at his father, Archie decided he WOULD say it, even if it might embarrass the old boy to death. "I do love you, Father."
The man stared for some seconds, swallowed twice, and muttered, "Um, yes, well, you must write to Chalk, then, make sure he is going to Oporto, else David will end up joining the Navy and that would not do at all, um..." He shuffled papers nervously.
Still smiling, and understanding what the man could not say,
Archie got up and headed for the door, leaving his utterly confused
father behind him. He had done what HE wished to; Archie needed
nothing more. Whistling softly, he sprinted up the stairs to his
room, to arrange a passenger sail.
Monday, September 3
Archie and Alicia were strolling through now familiar paths, on what would be their last walk together until they could be reunited and married. Alicia's arm was linked through his; she would occasionally give him an additional squeeze. But they were mostly silent, each occupied with their own thoughts.
Alicia was worried about her father's return. Archie had shared with her the letter he'd had from Stanton, outlining the most likely plan of action he would take. She was hurt to know that Drew would be banned from her wedding-Drew, whom had brought them together, and whom she had cared for since he was little more than six years old! Still, she recognized the wisdom of it; she was only concerned that one wrong word spoken while in Gibraltar might cause an unpleasant scene, and hurt her dear brother further.
Archie, meanwhile, was a mess himself, but Alicia was the most secure part of his life at this moment! Chalk had been most surprisingly agreeable to the entire scheme, even offering up his cabin for the bride, and eventually her groom, once they were underweigh. Of course, that meant Chalk would be forced to the Lieutenant's berth, and therefore Archie would be left among the midshipman; Chalk, sensitive to a possibly volatile situation, worried about that terribly, but Archie didn't mind it in the least!
It had been just last Friday when Alicia had invited Lady Margaret, or Midge, as he now thought of her, to tea. She had almost fainted on beholding David, and Archie and Alicia had escaped into the kitchen garden for long enough that an understanding could be reached. Given the warmth and passion of the embrace that they walked in on some ten minutes later, there was no doubt that everything had been worked out to David's satisfaction.
Midge was, even now, with her Aunt in Poole; said Aunt spent her Tuesdays working for the Church. She was usually out of the house shortly after dawn. Midge would feign illness, take a walk "to clear her head" and conveniently run into David, who had a friend with a carriage to drive them, at best speed, to Portsmouth. They ought to be there at two; Chalk would be departing as soon as possible afterwards. Midge's disappearance would not be noticed until dark, and a false trail would be laid for Scotland, the usual place for such elopements. They ought to be in Oporto by the time anyone realized otherwise.
Still, Archie had a thousand worries about his brother. And just how would Wills react, anyway, when he returned from Devonshire to learn that his OTHER brother had stolen his fiance? One thing Midge was certain of: the rather gaudy, ostentatious diamond necklace (Midge claimed it reminded her of a dog's collar) that Wills had ceremoniously presented her with during Saturday's ball, would remain behind! She might even leave it in a package for Wills so he would be certain to understand her meaning.
"Archie, my love, I feel there is much we ought to say, but somehow I cannot bring myself to utter a word of it."
"I know how you feel, Alicia."
"Do you think everything will go well for David?"
"Think so? Yes, I do; but that doesn't seem to keep me from worrying anyway."
"I know. I feel the same sort of worry about our wedding affecting Drew."
"Perhaps it is us whom ought to run away!"
She chuckled and slapped his harm playfully. "No, Mr. Kennedy, I will stand in a church and declare my love for you for all the world to see. And my brother will be there in spirit, if not in person, and my father will leave us alone."
"Captain Pellew will arrange everything to make certain Drew is safe, I am certain." Archie soothed, though he was still uncertain as to how that would be. But if anyone could do it, Pellew could.
Just the mention of his name seemed to cause Alicia to relax. "Of course he will. He would not let harm come to him. How lucky I am that the two of you are on HIS ship."
Archie squeezed her hand gently. "It is a good thing the Captain is thoroughly in love with Miss Cobham, else I'd fear my standing with you," he teased.
"H'm, I'm afraid it wouldn't do, I seem to be partial to blondes."
And they laughed together, taking in the sunset. Soon they would have to make a return for her home. And pulling her discretely to the side of a clump of trees, Archie embraced her as close as he dared.
"Alicia, I know I do not need to tell you that our marriage cannot take place soon enough." He whispered, his voice trembling.
She trembled as well, and looked at him with such longing that he almost swept her away then and there. Instead, he stole one last kiss, and tasted her tears as he did so. Or perhaps they were his. In the precious seconds of closeness, it was hard to tell.
He backed away, as a gentleman ought to, still shaken, frustrated, exhilarated, anxious and excited. A rather exhausted state of being. And taking her arm again, they resumed their slow walk back to her Aunt's, no more words necessary.
Tuesday, September 4, 6am
Archie, his head nearly split in two by a ferocious yawn, watched as the servants helped load his dunnage into his father's carriage. The man had insisted he take it back to Portsmouth. He also insisted on rising to see his son off, even when he learned of the early time of his departure.
Gruffly muttering something to the butler as he approached, his father handed him a cup of coffee. "You've got ample food to take with you, I hope."
"Indeed, Sir, Mrs. Freebody has made certain to feed the whole Indefatigable, with anything that might not perish."
"Good, good. Take this on to Captain Pellew for me, will you? I realize it must be unusual for a Captain to receive gifts as such, but I cannot believe he would turn down a vintage Port."
Archie took one look at the bottle and whistled. The oldest and most valuable bottle in his father's cellar. "I am certain he will be very grateful, father." Archie looked out to the horses as they were being hitched, and sipped what he knew would likely be his last cup of good coffee in a long time, though he was bringing beans back to the mess. Glancing at the sky, he thought of his brother. "He should be picking up Midge shortly."
"Yes, let us hope all has gone to plan."
As the butler refilled his cup, Archie realized that the one thing he had forgotten to do while on leave was procure a new watch for himself. His old one had disappeared somewhere in the myriad prisons that had held him not so long ago. Well, perhaps in Oporto... Curious, he asked his father what time it was.
"Deuced if I know. I've lost my watch."
Archie almost dropped the china cup. "You've what, father?"
"Can't find a sign of it. It is terribly vexing."
Archie was saddened, for he knew that it was a family heirloom; exquisitely crafted, and, more importantly, handed down through generations of Lord Bridgeleighs. He was surprised to see his father take it so well.
"Wills will be furious. He's been eyeing that thing for years."
"Ah, well, I shall replace it with something flashier, more expensive, maybe with diamonds on it. And he will not care that something more valuable was lost."
It was such an accurate description of Wills that Archie smiled despite himself. "True, he has never appreciated what he has."
The butler removed the cup from Archie's hand, for the carriage was ready. As anxious as he was to be away, he was suddenly shaken by leaving his father. All the more so as the realization hit him that it was not impossible this would be the last time they saw each other. But he knew the man was uncomfortable with raw emotion, so he forced himself to stay calm, to remain a Kennedy with the last of his fiber. "Father, it has been very good to see you." He forced out.
His father, too, struggled to compose himself, and clapped him on the shoulder. Leaning on Archie instead of on his cane, he walked him to the door to see him settled inside. It was an excuse for as much physical closeness as he could allow, but Archie was not about to call him on it.
As Archie seated himself in the luxurious coach, his father finally spoke. "Stay alive, now, young man. I refused to bury you once, don't make me do it again."
"I will endeavor not to disappoint you, Sir."
And just before the driver took up the reins, his their eyes met, identical blue gazes staring at each other past eight years' of understanding, accomplished in little more than two weeks.
"You never have, Archie. You never have."
*He called me Archie.* He thought in shock.
As the carriage took off, Archie watching the figure of his father, still standing straight, not giving in to age or grief, or loss. And thanked God and Captain Pellew, for letting him make this trip home.
It was three pm that day when Sophia set sail. Chalk, proving significantly less nervous than Archie would have expected, was overjoyed to see him, overjoyed to see his brother, grateful for the bottles of Claret Archie had brought for his stock, and so totally in command for a man so jovial that Archie discovered whom he might pattern his own command on, someday. It would be left to Horatio to be the second coming of Captain Pellew.
David was a wreck. Arriving just afternoon, Midge (for some reason totally calm) was smuggled on board and already sequestered in the tiny captain's cabin. David, meanwhile, began pacing above decks furiously, getting hopelessly in the way of one Mr. Tyson, a young midshipman new to the Sophia. Archie had threatened, half-joking, to tie David up in the riggings if he didn't calm down.
David, not quite sure what that meant, turned to Chalk. "He can't do that, can he?"
Chalk, quite entering into the spirit of things, jauntily replied, "Well, he could order you to kiss the gunner's daughter instead, but I doubt you'd find that an improvement." Chalk and Archie had laughed, and even Mr. Tyson's cheeks had twitched a bit. Finally, old Doctor Crane took pity on David, and brought him down to the sick berth for a cup of brandy and a game of cards.
So Archie had headed in to the midshipman's berth, where he was eagerly greeted by two old friends, Mr. Owens and Mr. Wheeler.
Had it really only been four weeks since they met? Two since Archie departed Sophia? A lifetime had passed since then. Mr. Owens was more mature in behavior, though still capable of a mischievous joke now and then. And Mr. Wheeler...
Oh, Archie was glad to see the change in him. Less shy. Giving him a gentle smile, sincerely happy to see him once more. More sure of himself. He, too, was on the road back from the hell he'd been in.
"Take your pick of hammocks, Mr. Kennedy. They are all equally comfortable." Owens joked, helping him store his sea-chest.
Archie remembered too well exactly how comfortable hammocks were, and tousled Owens' hair. "Your hospitality is noted, Mr. Owens. Therefore, I think I owe you young gentlemen some hospitality in return." He opened the chest and removed a tin. "Mrs. Freebody's scones, gentlemen. They are unmatched, and certainly a vast improvement over the state of biscuit one usually sees on a ship. You'd best get started before the weevils join you."
He knew well enough he need offer no further encouragement to a couple of growing boys presented with such ambrosia.
"Thmk yww, Srr" Wheeler replied, a bit guiltily and entirely incomprehensibly, thanks to a mouthful of scone.
"You are welcome. Now go and take those out to the other boys, and I will be along shortly." For something in his sea-chest had caught his eye.
A small parcel, wrapped in brown paper and tied with string, that he was certain HE had not packed. He waited until Owens and Wheeler were off before he took it out. Closing the chest, he sat down on top of it and untied the bundle.
His father's pocket-watch...the family heirloom, passed from eldest son to eldest son for generations...was nestled there.
Lord Bridgeleigh had written a brief note on the inside of the paper:
"To my son Archie, who reminds me so much of the man I used to be. May your life be untouched by further tragedy, may you never forget the road you have traveled, and may you never lose the love for life that has brought you so far. I hope you always continue to appreciate what you have. I know I do. With love, Father."
He did not even know he was crying until he felt Wheeler's hand on his shoulder. "Mr. Kennedy," He said gently, handing him a handkerchief. "Is everything alright, Sir?"
He smiled up at him, even as he wiped his face. "Indeed it is, Mr. Wheeler. It is better than fine."
Relieved, Wheeler smiled back. "Captain Chalk asked me to let you know that he would be honored to have you at dinner this evening. He will perform the wedding ceremony tomorrow morning, when we are well out of sight of land, and feels your brother will need all the distraction he can get."
Chuckling, Archie stood up, delicately folding his note, and stashing it away with his new watch. "Then we shall endeavor to provide it for him, Mr. Wheeler."
As they exited together, Wheeler tentatively asked. "Was it a good trip home, Sir?"
Placing a hand on the young man's shoulders, Archie beamed.
"It was, Mr. Wheeler. It really was."
Letter from Archie Kennedy to his father, mailed from Oporto.
I wished to let you know that all of our plans have gone off splendidly. David and Midge were married on the second day of our voyage. How much they have had the opportunity to enjoy married life, if you will, I cannot say, for our weather has been ferocious and even I have felt the effects of sea-sickness. But they are basking in each other's love, anyway.
We arrived in Oporto two days ago and immediately gained them passage for America on a ship named The Republic, bound for Boston. It sailed this morning, so I guess they are safe from the wrath of Wills. Chalk made quite a pretty little speech about how honored he was to serve the Devonshire Kennedys that you would have quite approved of. However, David interrupted him and said given the fact that he was not likely to be welcomed back into England any time soon, Chalk was really serving the Massachusetts Kennedys. It doesn't quite have the same ring to it. I do not think it will catch on.
Meanwhile, father, I must tell you the strangest thing. While examining my sea-chest I seem to have come across a watch that is the exact picture of the one you lost. It does seem odd, does it not, that there should be two such watches in this world? Well, I shall hold on to it anyway, and perhaps I shall be able to pass it on to my own son, someday. I will make certain he is fully aware of the honor that travels with it.
Wishing you health and happiness,