The Visit
by Bobbi

(This story takes place several months prior to Horatio joining Justinian as Midshipman and includes characters from The Scarlet Pimpernel.)

Prologue

 

Disembarking from the jolly boat, Archie Kennedy bounded up the stone steps of the jetty; his boyish exuberance plain to see.

"Free," he thought and resisted the urge to laugh aloud, "now he's an Acting Lieutenant, I'm finally free of him."

And what better way to celebrate one's freedom than with a four-day liberty! How fortunate that Abby had chosen now to be in London. He couldn't wait to see her, or the boys, again. He was looking forward to being with her; celebrating their shared birthday. He touched the pocket of his coat; feeling her present resting next to his heart. The tiny silver cross was his own design, and the jeweler had done remarkable work recreating it. He was sure she'd be pleased.

Smiling again, causing passersby to smile in return at the handsome young man, he hurried along the avenue, anxious to be with his family once more.

 

Chapter 1

Mrs. Donovan heard the knock on the door and hurried to answer it. Seeing her, Archie went down on bended knee.

"Mrs. Donovan, please," he said, wringing his hands in a most pitiable manner, a twinkle in his blue eyes, "reject me not again. I cannot eat or sleep. You MUST run away with me now I beg you!"

Laughing at the old joke between them, she admonished him, "I canna' Mr. Kennedy. You know my heart belongs only to my Johnny. Now, please, get up off the ground and come inside before you scandalize the neighborhood."

"Ah, Mrs. Donovan," he said, beating his breast tragically and trying not to smile as he rose to his feet, "you are TOO cruel. And Mr. Donovan is, indeed, a lucky man!"

"Now, where is Miss Abigail?" he asked as they walked into the foyer.

"Where she always is when she's in town -- in Mr. Robert's garden," and she led him into the parlor, "out you go; I'll bring tea in just a moment."

"Thank you, Mrs. Donovan," Archie replied, kissing the elderly housekeeper's cheek. Opening the French doors that led to the terrace and garden, he walked outside to find his sister.

Heading down the path, he saw her. Abby was cutting roses from a bush, her back to him. She was singing one of his favorite songs. He paused for a moment to watch her work; enjoying the sound of her voice just as he had as a child. When she'd finished, Abby turned and a smile lit her face as she saw Archie standing in the path. It quickly faded as she caught a glimpse of some emotion flicker beneath his answering smile. Like quicksilver, it was there and gone. Before she could puzzle it out, Archie had come up the path and swept her into his arms.

"Put me down you idiot," she laughed, "do you want to do yourself an injury?"

Arm in arm they walked back to the terrace. Mrs. Donovan appeared with the tea tray, set it on the table and went back inside, smiling at Archie. Abby poured tea for both of them and sat back in her chair.

"It's good to have you home again," she said, "if only for a few days. It's been far too long since your last visit."

"I am very happy to be here," he said, "and glad to see you've finally come to London, but where are the boys? I thought they were coming with you."

"And so they did," she said, "however, they are with Father and Harry - a fortnight hunting trip in the Welsh countryside. His lordship insisted that his grandsons be with him. Something about a gentlemen's trip and too much female influence!"

Abby paused and sipped her tea. Archie frowned. He knew his father had always felt HE had depended on Abby far too much. Apparently, he wanted to ensure his grandsons did not.

"I've no idea what he means by that," she continued, "since they've been away at school, but you know Father - once his mind is made up, no force on earth can stand against him."

"So he didn't know I would be in London on liberty?" Archie asked.

"Actually, I forgot to tell him," she said, an impish grin lighting her face, "it slipped my mind, you see. You're not too angry with me, are you?"

"Ah," he said, laughing, secretly pleased that he would not have to see his father, "you plan to keep me to yourself, then, do you?"

"The thought had crossed my mind."

Leaning back in his chair, Archie stretched his legs before him and closed his eyes. It was, indeed, good to be home again

"Safe," the word rose, unbidden, in his mind, "no, no, I shall not think of him here. It is over and all will be well now."

Opening his eyes, he saw a small box lying on the table.

"Happy 18th birthday, dearest," Abby said with a smile, "open it, please."

Untying the ribbon, Archie opened the box and gasped with pleasure. Lying on the velvet inside was a gold and silver pocket watch, his initials engraved on the outside. With shaking fingers, he removed it from the box, opened the lid and stared at the inscription - To A.K., the best birthday present I've ever received. Love, A.M.

"It's truly beautiful, Abby," he said, his voice quivering, "I don't know what to say."

"Try 'thank you'," she replied, smiling delightedly, "I had hoped you'd like it. Oh, and lest I forget, Catherine Cobham is appearing in Hamlet this evening. Would you, by any chance, be interested in seeing the performance?"

"You know me too well, my love," Archie said, rising from his chair.

"Excellent," Abby said, also rising, "shall we go inside and get ready?"

 

Chapter 2

The evening was sultry and the theater crowded as Abby and Archie were led to her box. Archie smiled as he took Abby's shawl. To many people she was quite plain, very ordinary looking, but to him she had always been one of the most beautiful women he had ever known. No more so than this evening. She was dressed quite simply in dark blue silk, the gown accentuating her dark hair and eyes. Her hair had been pulled back into an elegant chignon. At her throat, the tiny silver cross he'd given her earlier in the evening caught the light of the flickering candles. Sensing his eyes on her, she turned and smiled at him, then took her seat.

"What is this?" the slightly mocking voice sounded directly behind her chair. "Abigail MacKenzie back in London for the first time in two years - and on the arm of a very handsome young gentleman. Scandalous, Madame, simply scandalous!"

"I would have thought you, of all people, would approve, m'lord," Abby said, rising and turning to the owner of the voice.

"Oh I do, Abby, I most certainly do," said Lord Tony Dewhurst, smiling and coming to stand by her.

Slipping his arm about her waist and kissing her cheek, he continued, "It is good to see you back in London, dear cousin, but who is this you've brought with you tonight. Could it be - no, surely not - but it is - Cousin Archie, looking every inch the grand naval officer in his uniform. How are you cousin?" Tony extended his hand to Archie.

Archie took the proffered hand. "Very well, Tony," he said, smiling at his lookalike cousin, "and you?"

Of the same height, they both had the same blond hair and blue eyes; a mirror image of each other.

"You know me," Tony replied.

Before he could continue, another voice interrupted. "Yes, making mischief, as usual."

"And who would know better than you, Sir Percy." Tony laughed.

"Forgive me," he continued, "but you do remember my cousin, Abigail MacKenzie. And this is her brother, Midshipman Archie Kennedy - my 'twin'," and Tony laughed again.

"Indeed," Sir Percy Blakeney said, "Mrs. MacKenzie, it is a pleasure to see you again. And an honor to meet you, sir."

He extended his hand to Archie, the grip firm.

"The honor is mine, Sir Percy," said Archie, bowing.

"Allow me to present my wife, Lady Marguerite Blakeney. My dear, you remember Mrs. MacKenzie."

"Lady Blakeney, a pleasure to see you again," Abby said as she curtsied, smiling.

Marguerite smiled and nodded to Abby, then extended her hand to Archie. He bowed, brushing the slender fingers with his lips.

"An honor, my Lady," he said.

"I had no idea you were both in London," Tony said, "but I'm afraid we've no time for catching up right now. It appears the curtain is about to rise."

Marguerite whispered something to her husband, and then turned to Tony and his cousins. "Lord Tony," she said in softly accented English, "perhaps you may have the opportunity to "catch up" tomorrow. Mrs. MacKenzie, Mr. Kennedy - we are having a small dinner dance at Richmond and would be pleased if you both could attend. I know it is short notice and understand if you have a prior engagement."

"Just the ticket," Tony said, "please don't refuse Abby." He knew of her dislike for social functions. "Do be a sweetheart and say you'll come."

"How could I refuse so gallant an offer?" Abby smiled at her cousin. "Lady Blakeney, thank you for your kind invitation. We would be happy to attend."

"Wonderful, we shall look forward to seeing you." Taking their leave, Sir Percy and Lady Blakeney departed for their box.

"I must run also," Tony kissed Abby's cheek again, "I'll see you both tomorrow," and he left to join Sir Percy and his wife.

Abby and Archie settled into their seats, the lights dimmed and the play began.

Chapter 3

Abby lay in bed, waiting for sleep to overtake her. Her hand slipped, as usual, to the empty pillow beside her and caressed the soft fabric. Four years a widow now, and she still had not gotten used to sleeping alone. Perhaps that was the penance one did for loving as intensely as she had loved Robert during their two years of marriage and had been loved that way in return.

"Something's wrong with Archie, Robert," she whispered aloud, "I know it. Something's happened to him. And I don't know what to do about it."

The evening could not have been lovelier. First, meeting Tony, and then, the performance of Hamlet. Archie had been enthralled, as always, by the play. Catherine Cobham had made a superb Gertrude. A late supper after completed the evening. But Abby noticed in the carriage riding back to the house that Archie seemed withdrawn. Looking at him, sitting across from her, she noticed the same look in his eyes that she'd seen earlier in the afternoon. It was a look of profound sadness tinged with abject fear. She could not imagine what had happened to make him look so, but she would put an end to it if she could.

She had just drifted into a light sleep when she heard the moans. She knew immediately that it was coming from his room. Grabbing her robe she ran down the hall and into the room. Archie was tossing and turning on the bed - in the grip of some terrible nightmare.

"No, please no," he moaned, "please no more, I beg you. Don't make me do this, PLEASE. . . .PLEASE. . .PLEASE!"

Sitting on the edge of his bed, Abby took his hand in hers, wincing as his grip tightened. With her free hand she softly stroked the hair back from his forehead. In a low voice she began singing to him, just as she had when he was small. Gradually, the tossing and turning slowed and his moans ceased, but the grip on her hand intensified. Suddenly, Archie opened his eyes.

"Abby?" he asked, bewildered.

"Hush love," she said, "go back to sleep. It was just a dream."

Archie closed his eyes and she continued to hold his hand, still brushing the hair from his face. Soon he was asleep again. Carefully, Abby loosened his hold on her hand and pulled it free. Moving a chair closer to his bed, she sat down in it, drawing her legs up under her. He looked so young and vulnerable lying there -- she would stay to be sure he slept undisturbed.

The sun had not yet fully risen as Abby awoke from a light sleep. Glancing over at Archie, she saw he was still sleeping. Rising from the chair and stretching her cramped leg muscles, she walked to the bed, bent over his still form and kissed him lightly on the cheek.

"Sleep love," she said and turned to go.

Quickly she walked to her own room; dressed and headed out to the garden. Seeing Archie as she had, in the grip of that terrible dream, had distressed her far more than she thought possible. She needed an escape - somewhere to go and collect her thoughts before he woke. She could not let him see how upset she was - it would only add to his pain.

Hurrying down the path she found the spot she wanted and sank gratefully to the ground, her back resting against a large oak tree. This was her favorite place. The oak spread its comforting branches above her; the sun filtered through the leaves, bringing warmth to her skin yet casting her face in shadow. Looking down, she noticed her hands were shaking.

"Dear God, Archie," she thought, "what is it? What was done to you?"

Unbidden, tears welled in her eyes and spilled down her cheeks, dimming her vision. She could not stop the storm, so she gave in to it, unaware that he had awakened, dressed and come looking for her.

"Abby," he cried, rushing to her and enfolding her in his embrace, "I am so sorry - please don't cry."

Her head on his chest, she heard the quick thudding of his heart. Somehow, this brought her a measure of comfort, as did his arms around her. Slowly the storm abated and she was herself again.

"Forgive me," she said, wiping tears from her eyes, "I did not mean for you to see me in such a state."

And she smiled up into the sapphire blue of his eyes. Pulling from the warmth of his embrace, she moved away to face him.

"Archie," her voice was very gentle, "please, you must tell me what's happened. I have never seen such sadness in you. Tell me what I can do to take away the pain."

Archie stared at his sister, a sad smile on his handsome face.

"There are others who look as I do," he said, "can you take away their pain as well?"

"If it is possible for me to do so," she replied, "I shall, but you must tell me the cause of all this pain."

"Evil is the cause," he said, eyes downcast, "evil in the form of a man."

He then told her of Jack Simpson, the senior officer of the Midshipmen's mess on Justinian. He told her of the levies imposed on them all -- for clean shirts, their spirit rations and the best cuts of meat. He told her of the verbal and physical abuse issued with relish - and Simpson's favorite pastime - the "Proceedings of the Inquisition," where information was obtained by the use of a rope.
Abby listened to his quiet voice, her heart aching for him, as well as the others he mentioned - Hether, Cleveland, and especially, Clayton. She looked up at him as he finished and knew he had still not told her everything.

"There is more, I think. Something you haven't yet told me that doesn't involve the others."

Taken by surprise, he looked at her and turned away, unable to meet her gaze, but not before she had seen the sheen of tears in his eyes; the shame on his face. Gently, she put her hand in his.

"Tell me."

"And what will you think of me once you know the rest?" he squeezed the hand in his. "God, you cannot possibly imagine. . . . ." his voice trailed off and he turned from her again.

She waited, knowing he would go on. And go on he did. He told her all of it - the words rushing over each other as he sought to purge the sickness from his soul. He told her what had been done to him that had nothing to do with the physical and verbal abuse heaped upon them all. The things he had been forced to do in return - in the dark confines of their sleeping quarters or in the empty spaces below decks where no one ventured.

"Now what do you think of your brother?" he asked bitterly, not daring to look at her, "knowing what I have done and what was done to me!"

"The same as I have always thought," she said her voice as gentle as before, "my brother is a good, decent, kind, caring and honorable man. He is, and always will be, one of the most courageous men I have ever known."

"Archie," she said, "I love you. NOTHING that you have done or been forced to do can ever change that! Do you think so little of me that you would believe otherwise? Somehow, I have failed you - and for that I am truly sorry!"

Abby let go his hand and began to walk back toward the house. There was nothing more she could say. Archie stood where he was, his head bowed. He had hurt the one person in the world who meant more to him than his own life.

"Abby, wait," he called, "please." Catching up to her, he continued, "It is I who should apologize to you. You have always been the only one who saw any good in me - the only one who loved me unconditionally, never asking anything in return."

"What will you do?" she asked, slipping her arm through his, accepting his apology without any words. "Is it possible to request a transfer to another ship?"

"No," he said, "and even if it was, I would not do it; for two reasons. First, Simpson is now an Acting Lieutenant and as such, he has been temporarily transferred to another ship until his examination. And secondly, there is one lesson you have taught me, though you may not be aware of it."
Raising an eyebrow, she glanced quizzically at him. "Is that so?"

"Yes. You taught me that life is for living - no matter what may happen."

 

Chapter 4

Archie glanced over at Abby as the carriage drove through the massive iron gates of Richmond, the ancestral home of Sir Percy Blakeney. She was elegant in a gown of pale green silk; her hair pulled back, curls cascading down. A black velvet ribbon wound round her slender throat. Suspended from it was a small locket that held, he knew, Robert's likeness as well as his own. He smiled as he looked down and saw nervous fingers playing with her fan. Gently he placed his own strong hand over them and squeezed her hand lightly. Her dark eyes met his blue ones and Abby smiled, grateful to him for trying to calm the anxiety she felt.

How handsome he looked in his full dress uniform, the blue of his coat accentuating the sapphire of his eyes.

"It will be all right," he said, returning her smile, "you'll see."

She was glad to see that the shadow of sadness had lifted from his face. He seemed to have found a measure of happiness after the storm of this morning. She recalled his words - "life is for living; no matter what happens."

"Abby. . . . .Abby," his call brought her back to the present.

The carriage had pulled to a stop in front of the great entrance hall. Archie had jumped down and was now offering his hand to her. Abby stepped down from the carriage and took her brother's arm. Together they walked toward the house.

"My heaven, Archie," Abby whispered, noting the many people milling about, engaged in various stages of conversation, "if this is Lady Blakeney's idea of a small dinner dance; I shudder to think what she might consider a LARGE one!"

"Oh, my dear girl. . . " he said, laughter bubbling in his throat.

Before he could continue, a familiar voice was heard, "Ah, there you both are. I was beginning to think that you'd had second thoughts about coming this evening."

Looking up, brother and sister smiled. Lord Tony Dewhurst, with Sir Percy and Lady Blakeney beside him, came forward to greet his cousins. Arms outstretched, he drew Abby into a warm embrace, placing a kiss on her soft cheek.

"You look uncommonly beautiful this evening, cousin," he remarked.

"Flattery will get you nowhere, sir," she replied gaily, "do you not see that I already have an escort?"

"And a handsome devil he is - quite dashing."

Tony shook hands with Archie, who was trying to smother a grin.

"I believe, though, Madame, you may very well lose your escort to one of these young ladies before the evening is over, once they've spied him in that uniform. Don't you agree, my Lady?" he finished, looking at Marguerite, his eyes dancing.

Marguerite laughed, the sound light and musical.

"La, Lord Tony, I believe you may be right. There is something to be said for a man in uniform," she said, extending her hand to Archie.

Smiling, he took her fingertips in his and lightly kissed them.

"You are too kind, my Lady," he said.

"I believe we must test your theory this instant, Lord Tony," Marguerite said, and raising her dainty hand, she waved to an elderly gentleman who was deep in conversation with a young woman. "Admiral James, could you spare a moment, sir?"

"Anything for you, my Lady," the admiral answered gallantly, coming to join their party, his young companion by his side. "How may I be of assistance?"

As he caught sight of Abby, the admiral smiled, "Why Abigail MacKenzie, is it really you? It has been a long time!"

"Indeed it has," Abby answered, "just look how Emily has grown!"

"I see introductions are not necessary," said Marguerite, "if you will excuse me then, I shall see to my other guests."

"No, my Lady," Abby said, "Admiral James and my husband were boyhood friends."

"Then I leave you in good hands," Marguerite smiled as Abby dropped a curtsey. "I shall see you at dinner."

Taking her husband's arm, she led him onto the terrace.

"I must leave you for a moment also. There is someone I must speak with," Lord Tony said, kissing Abby's cheek once more. "You will save a waltz for me, though, won't you?"

Bowing to them all, Tony took his leave.
Turning back to the admiral, Abby said, "Arnold, I don't believe you've met my brother. Admiral James, Miss Emily James -- may I present my brother, Mr. Midshipman Archie Kennedy."

Admiral James turned to the young man at Abby's side. Archie immediately came to attention and saluted.

"Admiral," he said, "it is an honor, sir."

Emily smiled and held out her hand, her eyes never leaving Archie's face. She was very pretty - petite, with dark curls framing her heart-shaped face.

"It is a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Kennedy," she said, her lilting voice sending a shiver down Archie's spine.

"The pleasure is all mine, Miss James," he replied, kissing the tiny white hand in his.

The young girl blushed. At that moment, the musicians began playing.

"May I have the honor of this dance, Miss James?" Archie smiled and led her on to the floor.

 

Chapter 5

Abby slipped through the open French doors to the terrace. The night air was deliciously cool after the oppressive heat in the crowded ballroom. Above, stars glittered like diamonds in an indigo sky. She had done well tonight - she'd danced; made small talk over dinner; even listened to the vapid conversation of two overly dressed, elderly dowagers centering on the latest fashion trends from Paris. Now what she needed was a little solitude - some time to herself in which to collect her thoughts.

Coming to the end of the terrace, Abby sat down on the balustrade. Arranging her skirts, she gazed out at the river beyond the gardens. A small smile played at her lips as she thought of Archie. How happy he seemed as, Emily James in his arms, he danced the night away; oblivious to everyone save her. He was totally entranced by the young girl. Again the smile came - Abby knew exactly how he was feeling - she knew all too well!

"And is his happiness worth the few hours you spend here tonight, feeling totally out of place, dear heart?"

Robert's voice filled her mind almost as if he was standing beside her. She could just feel his gentle hand on her face.

"Yes, my love," she whispered in response, "that and so much more."

"I thought I'd find you out here," a jovial voice broke into her thoughts, "hiding out from the multitudes, are you, my girl?"

Lord Tony came toward her, two glasses in his hand.

"No lectures, please Tony," she said, looking up at him. "I've been good tonight, truly I have. I just came out for a breath of fresh air. It is so oppressively warm inside."

"I know," he said, sitting down beside her and handing her one of the glasses. "That's why I came. I thought you could use a little refreshment, as well as some company."

Taking a sip from his glass, Tony continued, "I see that my prediction has come true. Archie seems totally smitten with our lovely Miss James and you, my dear, are now minus your escort."

"And she with him, I daresay," Abby answered, "to the exclusion of the attentions of all the other eligible young men here tonight."

"I noted," she continued smiling slyly at him, "she seems totally immune to your not inconsiderable charms, as well."

"Ah well," Tony sighed, "there really is no accounting for taste. I do believe she prefers the strong, silent type. As for myself, I prefer the company of more mature women."

Leaning over, he kissed Abby's cheek.

"Do you, indeed?" she laughed.

They sat in companionable silence for several moments. Looking at Abby, Tony tried to decide how best to broach the subject he had come specifically to discuss with her.

"Best just to say it and let events take their natural course," he thought.

"And what about you, Abby?" he asked her. "It's been four years now. . . . ."

"Oh no, Tony," she burst out laughing, "NOT you too!"

Bewildered, he stared at her for several seconds.

"I've no idea what you're talking about, cousin," he said, confused.

"Do you mean to say that you are not going to try, as everyone else I know, to play matchmaker for me?" she asked.

"Good Lord, no. Whatever gave you that idea?" He was aghast at the very suggestion.

"Your words," she answered.
"You've completely misunderstood me," he said, "I'm saying this all wrong. Let me start again. I only meant that; it's so good to have you back in London. I was just wondering how long you were going to keep hiding in the wilds of Scotland in that godforsaken town!"

"Lochcarron is NOT a godforsaken town, Tony," Abby said gently, "it is my home. My family is there."

"You've family here, too, Abby," Tony replied, "and we miss you!"

Gone was the jovial tone from his voice; the mischievous look from his eyes. Abby could not remember when she had ever seen her cousin so serious. She waited for him to continue.

"Would you promise me," he asked, "that you'll visit London each year? You could summer with the boys. Please, Abby, it would be such fun - and it would mean the world to me."

"Why is it," she said, looking into the blue eyes so like Archie's, "that I could never refuse you or Archie anything you asked?"

"All right, Tony," Abby continued, "I promise. Each summer, the boys and I will be in London. However, you must do me a favor in return."

He looked at her expectantly and she continued, "I know of the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel and that you are member."

She held up her hand to stop his protest.

"Please, let me finish. What you do, what you have done, is brave and honorable; but it is also extremely dangerous. Please be careful - that's all I ask - I don't think I could bear it if anything were to happen to you. You are as dear to me as Archie, and I love you as I do him."

"You have my solemn vow that I shall, indeed, be careful," he said, "and don't worry. It will all be over very soon."

Rising, he held out his hand to her.

"I've had enough of this serious talk, Madame," that playful look in his eyes once more, "I do believe you owe me a waltz!"

Taking his arm, Abby allowed him to lead her back inside and onto the dance floor. In her heart, she could only hope that what he'd said was true.

 

Chapter 6

The sun shone brightly through the lace of the curtains as Archie woke. Patterns of light played upon his handsome face as he yawned, stretched and smiled - remembering the feel of Emily James in his arms. Seldom had he felt so at peace, so happy.

"One day," he promised himself, "I shall make that lovely girl my wife."

Thinking these pleasant thoughts, he rose, dressed and went in search of his sister.

Though it was Sunday, the house was strangely silent. Perhaps Abby had decided to sleep late. They had, after all, stayed at Richmond until the wee hours of the morning - she deserved to be asleep still. Entering the dining room, Archie spied the note propped up by a place setting on the table.

So, it read, the sleeper awakes at last. I have gone to St. Gregory's for mass. Today is the Donovans' day off. You will find breakfast on the buffet. I shall see you shortly.
Love,
Abby

Smiling, Archie helped himself to breakfast. He was about to sit down when the front door opened and Abby came in.

"You look none the worse for wear," she said, kissing his cheek, "I do believe dancing agrees with you. Perhaps, though, I should amend that to say -- dancing with MISS JAMES agrees with you."

Archie's face reddened. "Did YOU enjoy YOURSELF?" he asked, trying to change the subject.

"I did, indeed," she replied, "Tony was a most agreeable escort once my own deserted me." And Abby laughed at her brother's discomfort. "I shall be in the garden if you need anything."

Archie finished his breakfast and headed outside. It was a perfect day. The sky above was crystal blue and cloudless. The sun was warm upon his face. He thought of the plans he'd made with Emily for today - rowing on the Thames and tea after - indeed, a perfect day to spend with the perfect woman.

"Correction," he thought, "the perfect WOMEN. I shall ask Abby to come along. I know she'd enjoy it!"

He found his sister on the terrace, a basket of blue iris before her on the table.

"Come Madame," he said, his manner formal, but a merry look in his eyes, "get your hat and parasol - Emily, er, that is, Miss James, and the Thames await."

"Oh Mr. Kennedy," she replied, rolling her eyes at him in mock exasperation, "I despair of you - I truly do, sir. Do you not realize the first rule when courting is - two's company, but three is a crowd?"

And Abby laughed as Archie's face reddened once again.

"And while I do appreciate your kind offer, I believe that you and Emily can manage quite nicely without me. Therefore, I must decline."

"B-b-but Abby," he spluttered, "I thought you might enjoy an outing. Besides, I am NOT courting!"

"Rule #2," Abby continued as though he had not spoken, pulling the silk ribbon from her hair, "flowers are appreciated by the fairer sex."

Taking the iris from the basket, she tied the ribbon around them, making a bouquet that she handed to Archie.

"And the most important rule when courting," she said, "NEVER keep your lady waiting! Off you go. Enjoy yourself my love. I shall see you this evening. Oh, and Archie," she paused as he turned in the door.

"Yes ma'am?"

"My regards to Admiral James." And she blew him a kiss as he headed back out the door.

As he stepped outside, Archie smiled to himself, and began walking down the street. Pausing a moment, he inhaled the fragrance of the iris Abby had given him for Emily.

"Oh Abby, you know me too well," he thought, "courting Emily is EXACTLY what I am doing."

From the moment he first set eyes on that sweet-faced young girl last night, he knew some day Emily James would be his wife.

Continuing on through the streets of London, Archie came at last to the James' home. It was a stately brick building; ivy covering one wall. Sunlight gleamed in myriad patterns on the many mullioned windows. The front door was polished mahogany; a brass anchor mounted in the center - the doorknocker a fitting tribute to the current occupant's profession. As he knocked on the door, Archie looked at his hand and realized it was trembling slightly. Quickly he balled the hand into a fist and brought it back down to his side.

"Mr. Kennedy, sir," it was Admiral James himself who answered Archie's knock. "It is good to see you again. Won't you come inside? Emily is about ready."

"Thank you, sir," Archie answered, saluting.

He followed the admiral into a comfortably furnished sitting room. Admiral James picked up his pipe from a table and gestured for Archie to have a seat.

"How is your sister this beautiful day?" he inquired. "Well, I hope."

"She is, sir. And she bade me give you her regards."

"Very kind, I'm sure," the admiral said. "Now then, what are your plans for today?"

"With your permission, sir," Archie looked directly at James, "I plan to take Miss Emily rowing on the Thames and then to tea. I promise to have her home no later than 6 o'clock."

Admiral James nodded, clearly satisfied with what he'd heard. At that moment, Emily entered the room. She was lovely in a gown of pale blue muslin; a darker ribbon of blue around her slender throat. A small straw bonnet sat atop her dark curls, and a parasol of the same pale blue as her dress was held in one dainty hand.

"Good afternoon, Mr. Kennedy," she smiled at Archie.

"Miss James," he said, rising from his seat on the sofa and handing her the bouquet Abby had made, "you are even more lovely in the light of day."

Emily blushed, a beautiful rose color suffusing her face.

"Thank you sir," she replied, "these are lovely. I shall just put them in some water."

And she disappeared into the kitchen.

She returned with the iris now arranged in a vase. Putting them on a low table in front of the sofa, she turned to her father.

"Father," she said, "are you certain you'll be all right alone for the afternoon?"

"My dear girl," he replied, "I believe I am capable of spending one afternoon alone. I am, after all, an adult - not to mention an admiral in His Majesty's Navy."

"All right," she laughed, coming to his side and kissing him lightly on the cheek, "then I shall see you later this evening."

"Do have a good time," he said, hugging her in return.

"I intend to," she said, taking Archie's arm and leading him to the front door. "Goodbye Father."

The river was calm as Archie helped Emily onto the small rowboat. A soft breeze caressed her cheeks as she settled into the boat. Taking the oars, Archie pushed off from the dock and began to row downstream. He had taken his jacket off and pushed up the sleeves of his white shirt. As he rowed, the muscles on his biceps and forearms rippled. Emily could scarcely take her eyes off of him. How wonderful it had been to feel those arms around her as they danced. The breeze blew his strawberry blonde hair back from his forehead. His face had a tranquil expression as he continued to row downstream; a slight smile on his lips. Emily wondered what it would be like to feel those lips on hers.

"You are rather quiet just now, Miss James," Archie said, looking at her. "May I inquire as to the nature of your thoughts?"

Startled out of her romantic reverie, Emily blushed again. "Oh, Mr. Kennedy," she said, "I was just thinking what a perfectly beautiful day this is. And what a wonderful idea you had to go rowing!"

"Yes," he said, "the weather could not be finer. And, I would be very pleased if you would call me Archie."

"Then you must call me Emily."

They rowed on in silence - each busy with their own private thoughts.

"Mr. Kennedy - Archie, I mean," Emily said after awhile, "would it be improper of me to ask you to tell me something of yourself?"
"Not at all, Emily," Archie smiled at her, "is there something in particular you would like to know?"

"Everything!" she sighed, causing him to laugh aloud.

"Very well," he said and began to tell her of his life.

He told her of growing up in the big, old manor house - Kennedy Hall - in London. He told her of his indifferent father and the older brothers who teased him because he was smaller than they. He told her how Abby had become like a mother to him after their mother had died.

"She has always been my anchor," he said, "my port in stormy seas. I don't know what I would do if she was not a part of my life!"

"And you, Emily," he asked, "have you any brothers or sisters?"

"Alas, no," she said, a sad light in her eyes, "Mother died shortly after I was born."

"I am sorry," he said.

"Please don't be. I have a father whom I adore. I am a sailor's daughter, Archie - and quite content to be so."

"I think we best be getting back, Emily," Archie said, glancing up at the westering sun.

Expertly, he turned the little boat around and headed back upstream to the dock. When they reached the landing, Archie jumped onto the dock and quickly tied the boat to it. Reaching down, he extended his hand to help Emily out of the boat.

At that instant, a barge came down river, sending a wave crashing against the boat. As Emily raised her foot to climb out, the wave hit. Emily's bent knee struck Archie squarely in the groin. The pain was immediate - sharp and intense. Archie released her hand so suddenly that Emily fell back and sat down hard on the bench in the boat.

Horrorstruck, Emily looked up at Archie. His face was twisted in pain.

"Oh Archie," she cried, "I am so sorry. I didn't mean to - it's just that the wave came in and struck the boat - and oh - are you all right my dearest?"

Her hands were clasped together at her breast - she looked almost ready to cry.

Smiling through the tears of pain in his eyes - and all too aware of her endearment - Archie looked down at her.

"I believe that I shall recover," he said, and began to laugh.

Extending his hand once more, he helped Emily from the boat.

"Shall we have tea now, Miss James," he asked, "before any other untoward accidents occur?"

"Oh yes, please Mr. Kennedy," she said, taking his arm.

Together they walked off, laughing quietly over what would become known to them affectionately as - "the river incident."

 

Chapter 7

The day had been perfect! Archie smiled to himself as he slowly wandered home through the early evening traffic of London. He kept replaying the events of the afternoon over and over in his mind. He could not get Emily James out of his head - or his heart. Her lovely heart-shaped face; those expressive brown eyes; her lilting voice and graceful walk - it was as if her image had been branded, now and for all time, upon his soul. Was it possible to love someone so completely?!

"Yes," he thought, "that's exactly how Abby felt - how she still feels - about Robert."

Arriving home at last, Archie opened the door. As he stepped into the foyer, he heard Abby singing. Walking through the house, he found her in the kitchen, laying out a cold supper for them both.

"Breakfast this morning - and dinner tonight," he teased, coming to her and giving her a quick hug and kiss. "What have I done to deserve such bounty at your own hands, Mrs. MacKenzie?"

"Mr. Kennedy," she said, "mind your manners and kindly remove your hat in the house."

"Yes ma'am," he replied, looking sheepish.

"Mother always said. . . . ." she continued. . . . .

"The lady of the house must know how to do everything her servants do!" they finished together, laughing.

Taking their plates into the dining room, Archie and Abby sat down at the spacious table. For several moments there was no sound, save the rustling of the utensils as they ate.

"By the look on your face," Abby said, smiling at her brother, "I take it you had an enjoyable time with Miss James?!"

Archie nodded, his handsome face aglow.

"Well, are you going to tell me or not?"
Archie smiled and proceeded to regale his sister with the events of the afternoon, including the mishap as the boat docked.

"We call it our 'river incident'," he said, laughing at the memory.

Listening to him, watching his expressive face as he spoke of Emily, Abby knew without a doubt that her brother was in love. She could not have been more pleased with this development. If anyone deserved happiness, it was Archie!

"I have never met anyone like her before. She is so beautiful - so vibrant - so alive," he finished.

"Abby, is it possible. . . . .I mean. . . . . is there any truth to that old saying about 'love at first sight'?" he asked her, a self-conscious smile on his lips.

"Yes dearest," she answered, her brown eyes holding his blue ones, "I truly believe there is. And I am very happy for you!"

"Thank you," he said, a small quiver in his voice. "And just how did you occupy yourself this afternoon?"

He had noted a glow on Abby's cheeks when he came into the kitchen. Her eyes were sparkling with mischief and delight.

"I spent a delightful hour with Mr. Shakespeare," she began, "and then Tony came by. We went riding in Hyde Park until just about an hour ago. I haven't been riding since Robert died. I'd forgotten how wonderful it feels on horseback; the wind in your hair; the sun on your face!"

Abby smiled at her own memory, but Archie was no longer listening to her.

He'd heard the word - riding! - she'd been riding! Suddenly, he was no longer sitting at the dining room table in her London townhouse. He was at his cousin's house - Dewhurst Park.
Time had, somehow, shifted backward, and he was not Archie Kennedy, Midshipman of His Majesty's Ship of the Line, Justinian, visiting his sister on liberty.

He was Archie Kennedy, youngest son of Lord James Kennedy, and it was his sixth birthday - Abby's sixteenth! God, he remembered that day as if it was yesterday. The shared birthday he wanted so much to forget!

It was supposed to have been a happy day for them both. It had started out with such promise; but it was to end in tragedy - for Abby.
Chapter 8

Dewhurst Park - home of the Duke and Duchess of Exeter. It was a palatial estate; the manicured lawns and gardens adding an air of elegance to the grand manor house that sat upon its grounds. It was a place of wealth and position, but without the usual ostentation associated with such splendor. It was a place where one instinctively felt at home.

Her Grace, the former Victoria Kennedy, had persuaded her brother to bring his children to Dewhurst for a visit.

It has been too long since we've seen you and the children. I'm sure the older
boys will enjoy the hunt, as I know you will. And Antony would love to have
some time to go riding with Archie & Abigail. Please, James, say that you
will come to see us.

Affectionately,
Victoria

The Earl agreed to the visit at last. The prospect of the hunt on his brother-in-law's lands was the carrot that drew him, as Victoria had known it would.

Prior to the visit, Sir James made arrangements to have a new stallion delivered to Dewhurst Park. The horse was a birthday present for his youngest son - one befitting Archie's skill and horsemanship. Reluctantly, he had to admit that the boy rode far better than any of his brothers. It was as though he had been born to the saddle. Even the riding master had commented upon his ease and grace on horseback.

"Well," thought Sir James, "the boy deserves the horse and he shall have it."

So, the horse had been delivered; the Earl and his children had come for their visit; and the day of the hunt - the shared birthday of Archie and Abigail - arrived.

It was a splendid June morning. The guests gathered in the great hall, resplendent in their riding ensembles. The Duke of Exeter descended the staircase, his wife on his arm, and greeted his guests effusively.

"Ladies and gentlemen," he said, a smile lighting his broad, handsome face, "I know that we are all anxious to start the day's festivities; however, there is a small matter that simply must be attended to before we can begin."

At this, he motioned to his brother-in-law and Sir James came forward.

"Today is the birthday of my darling niece and dear nephew," the Duke continued. "They were born on the same day, exactly ten years apart. And their father wishes to present each of them with his gift. Sir James. . . ."

"Abigail," Sir James began, handing her a box of deep blue velvet, "your mother wore this on our wedding day. I know that she would have wanted you to have it."

Opening the box, Abby gazed at the lovely pearl choker that lay on the velvet within. Her first set of pearls - each one matching the other exactly. And they had belonged to her dear mother. With tears in her eyes, Abby looked at her father.

"I am honored by your gift, sir," she said, "thank you."

Bowing to his daughter, the Earl turned to his youngest son and led him to the front door. Opening it, he motioned Archie outside. Waiting there was the stallion, its magnificent chestnut coat glistening in the early morning sunlight.

"Archie, this is Bonny Prince Charlie," the Earl said. "Take good care of him!" he added brusquely.

"I shall, Father," Archie replied and bounded down the stone steps to the horse.

Raising his hand, he gently rubbed the animal's head and nose. The horse nickered softly and put his head on Archie's shoulder.

"Thank you, Father," he said, bowing to Sir James, his face aglow.

"Quite all right," Sir James replied and turned to his brother-in-law. "I believe, sir, that we are now ready."

"Ladies and gentlemen," the Duke of Exeter addressed his guests once more, "let the hunt begin."

With a glad cry, the assemblage made their way to the waiting horses. When all were mounted, the bugle sounded and the hunt began in earnest. Alone, now that the hunters had departed for the north woods, Abby and Tony descended the steps to admire Archie's gift.

"He is truly beautiful, Archie," Abby said to her brother, her eyes dancing.

Looking at both the boys, she continued, "What say we ride to the south meadow for a picnic? We should be well away from the hunters there."

The boys agreed at once. Tony ran to the stables to ask the groom to saddle two more horses. Abby went back inside to put away the choker and change into her riding habit. She then went to the kitchen and asked the cook to prepare a picnic lunch for three. Soon, all was in readiness and the three of them set out.

Archie sat tall and straight in the saddle. How well he rode! It was as if he and Charlie were one. Abby smiled as she looked over at him.

"I must remember to thank Father for his kindness, although I wish he could have shown a little more affection when he gave Charlie to Archie" she thought.

Ah, well, Archie's happiness was all that really mattered.

"And I don't believe I've ever seen him so happy!" Abby smiled once more as she looked at her brother, his pleasure at receiving such a wonderful gift from their father evident by the glow that suffused his face.

The three rode on in silence until, at last, they reached the south meadow. Allowing their mounts to graze in the tall grass, they found a shady tree and quickly spread a blanket beneath it. Abby began laying out the lunch as the two boys played hide-and-seek among the trees.

"Cook has certainly outdone herself," Tony said, taking a bite of the cold ham sandwich he held in one grimy fist.

Archie smiled at his cousin, his mouth too full to say anything in return.

"Then we must remember to thank her as soon as we return," Abby said, smiling as Archie vigorously nodded his head in agreement.

Lunch over, Abby settled her back against the tree and reached into the pocket of her riding habit to remove the small book she always carried with her. Opening it, she began to read the well-worn volume of Shakespeare's sonnets - careful to keep an eye on the boys as they roamed the meadow.

"Abby, read us your favorite," Archie said, startling her as he dropped to a place beside her and place a small bouquet of wildflowers in her lap.

Tony was already stretched full length on the blanket, his hands under his head, face turned to the sun.

"Yes, Abby," he said, "I'd like to hear it, too!"

Smiling at them, Abby opened the book and began to read aloud.

"Let not my love be call'd idolatry,
Nor my beloved as an idol show,
Since all alike my songs and praises be
To one, of one, still such, and ever so.
Kind is my love to-day, to-morrow kind,
Still constant in a wondrous excellence;
Therefore my verse to constancy confined,
One thing expressing, leaves out difference.
Fair, kind, and true, is all my argument, --
Fair, kind, and true, varying to other words;
And in this change is my invention spent,
Three themes in one, which wondrous scope
Affords.
Fair, kind, and true, have often lived alone,
Which three till now never kept seat in one.
"

"That's my favorite," she said, glancing up at the sky.

The sun was far to the west.

"I believe we'd best be getting back. Evening will soon be upon us," she continued. "Archie, Tony, please see to the horses."

The boys jumped up and gathered the reins of the three mounts. Once in the saddle, Tony and Archie grinned at each other, mischief in their blue eyes.

"A race, Abby, across the meadow - please," Archie pleaded with his sister.

"All right," she replied, "since no one's around to see me behaving in so unladylike a fashion - you're on!"

The boys spurred their horses at once, leaving Abby behind. Smiling, she switched her mare's flanks with her riding crop and raced off after them. The boys reached the far side of the meadow well ahead of her and turned to watch as Abby spurred her horse on.

And then it happened - the unthinkable. The mare reared up just as she crossed the middle of the meadow, obviously frightened by something. Abby was thrown from the saddle. Archie's eyes widened in fear and alarm as he raced back out to where his sister lay.

"Oh God," he prayed silently, "let her be all right!"

Reining Charlie to a halt, he jumped from the saddle and ran to Abby. Her eyes were closed tightly, her breath coming in smothered gasps. One leg was twisted up under her at an odd angle.

"Abby," Archie said, his voice barely a whisper, "please answer me."

"It's all right, Archie," she said through clenched teeth, "see to Starfire, please - she may be injured."

At that moment Tony came riding up.

"I'll do it, Archie," he said, "you stay with Abby."

Archie flashed a grateful smile at his cousin, then turned his attention back to Abby.

She looked up at him, brown eyes filled with pain. His own brimmed with tears that began to course down his dirty cheeks. Reaching for his hand, Abby gave it a reassuring squeeze.

"I think you'd better go and find some help," she said, "I'm not certain, but I think I've broken something because it hurts like the very devil."

"Your leg," he said, "it's twisted beneath you."

"Try and straighten it, Archie, will you?"

"Abby, I can't," he said, fear evident in his voice.

"You have to, Archie," she said and smiled up at him. "Don't worry, you won't hurt me."

Gently, Archie reached down and straightened the twisted limb. Looking up, he say Abby's eyes closed, her lips clamped together in a thin, white line as beads of sweat broke out on her forehead.

"I'm sorry I hurt you again," he said as Tony came back, leading Starfire, "but it's done."

The mare, at least, appeared to be uninjured.

"Tony, I need to stay with Abby," Archie said, looking up at his cousin, "you must ride back to the house for help."

Tony nodded. Quickly, he turned both horses around and headed back to house. Archie sat down in the meadow beside Abby and held her hand. The wait seemed interminable. At last, though, Archie heard the sounds of horses and men's voices carrying clearly across the meadow.

"Help is here, Abby," he said, taking a handkerchief from his pocket and gently wiping the sweat from her forehead.
Chapter 9

The doctor closed the door softly and turned to face the anxious eyes of the Duke and Duchess. Sir James stood apart, staring out the window, but looked up as he heard the doctor approach.

"How is she, Dr. Morgan?" Victoria asked.

"In a great deal of pain, but more concerned about the two little boys than anything else," he replied.

"Can she travel?" Sir James' gray eyes bore into the doctor's solemn brown ones. "I want to return to London first thing in the morning."

"Now really, James. . . ." the Duke began, but stopped as Dr. Morgan raised his hand.

"My Lord," he said, "if it had only been her leg that your daughter had broken in the fall, I would readily agree to her return to London, but. . . . ."

"What do you mean, Doctor," Victoria interrupted, a worried edge to her voice, "we thought she'd. . . . ."

"Your Grace," Dr. Morgan continued, his tone and manner extremely gentle, "your niece has also broken her hip, and as such, she CANNOT, under any circumstances, be moved at this time. She must remain immobile for at least eight weeks if the bones are to have any chance of setting properly. Even at that, I believe she will have a slight limp for the rest of her life."

"Humph," Sir James fumed, "if that's all she winds up with, I'd say she's damned lucky. The fool girl could have broken her neck. And now, if you will excuse me, I must find my sons and tell them we are leaving at first light."

With that, Sir James bowed and took his leave. Victoria turned to the doctor, an embarrassed smile on her face.

"Please excuse my brother," she said, "he really does care about Abigail; however, he is not one to show emotion readily."

"I understand," Dr. Morgan said, although, truth be told, he could not see how any person could fail to show emotion where their child was concerned.

"Doctor," Victoria continued, "would you care to come downstairs for tea before you leave?"

"Thank you, Your Grace. I would be honored," he said, "and after tea, I shall check on my patient again before I go."

The three remaining adults walked down the wide staircase, leaving the hallway deserted.
Opening his door just a crack, Archie peered out to make sure they had all gone. When he was sure no one remained, he slipped out the door and into Abby's room. She was lying on the bed, staring out the window at the late afternoon sun. Hearing her door open, she looked at him and smiled.

"I'm glad you're here," she said, "have they gone?"

Nodding his head in the affirmative, Archie drew a chair closer to the bed and sat down. He looked so forlorn, his sapphire eyes red-ringed from the tears he'd shed.

"How do you feel, Abby?" his voice trembled slightly, "Does it hurt very much?"

"A little," she answered, looking steadily at him, her expression serious. "Archie, forgive me!"

"For what?"

"For ruining a very special day for you. I'm truly sorry."

"But Abby," he said, tears glistening in his eyes again, "it was all my fault. I wanted to race."

"No," she replied, taking his hand in hers, "you must never blame yourself for what happened. It was an accident - pure and simple."

At that moment the door opened and Sir James came in, accompanied by his sister. Seeing Archie sitting beside the bed, his expression grew stern. Archie squeezed Abby's hand tightly, drawing strength from her.

"I have been searching all over for you," Sir James said to his youngest son. "Go to your room and pack immediately. We leave for London in the morning. Abigail will remain here until she is well again."

His tone said clearly he was not in the mood to be trifled with, but Archie looked up at him anyway.

"Please Father, I should like to stay with my sister," he said. "Perhaps I can help with her care."

"I think that's an excellent idea, James," Victoria, ever the peacemaker began, "it would be good for Abigail. . . . ."

The Earl whirled around to face his sister. Seeing the expression on her brother's face, Victoria stopped.

"No, Victoria," he said, "I have made my decision and it will be abided by."

"I want him to stay," said a quiet voice from behind Sir James.

He turned, his gray eyes blazing with fury. Abby looked back at him, brown eyes steady on his face. She would not be intimidated. The two stared at each other like combatants across a battlefield.

"Now see here, young lady," the Earl said, "I'll not have my plans disrupted by the whims of an invalid."

Yet, both of them knew her request was nothing of the sort. It was a demand - one, which brooked no argument. Her brown eyes continued to gaze steadily at him, but she said nothing else. She was prepared to stay that way until he agreed to let Archie remain with her. Abby knew she couldn't let him return to London with their father and brothers. God only knew what torments he'd endure at their hands! No, she had to keep him with her, and out of harm's way, as long as she could.

Sir James recognized that look. Hadn't he seen it often enough during the course of his marriage? Yes, it was the same look Isabelle had worn on more than one occasion.. He'd forgotten just how stubborn and obstinate his wife could be.

"And Abigail is so like her mother," he thought, "gentleness masking the core of iron at the center of her being."

"Very well, Abigail," he said, the fury replaced by icy steel, "since you seem set upon having Archie remain, he may stay - provided your aunt and uncle agree."

"Thank you, Father," Abby said, her voice as quiet as before.

"It will be our pleasure to have him stay on," Victoria said. "Now, if you will excuse me, I shall have tea sent up for these two."

Sir James looked at his son and daughter one more time. "I'll take my leave of you both now," he said.

"We shall be leaving quite early and I would not wish to disturb your rest," he added, sardonically.

Bowing, he turned on his heel and left the room.

"Archie. . . . .Archie!"

Startled out of his memory, Archie looked up. Abby was staring at him, a concerned expression on her face.

"You haven't heard a word I've said," she told him, "where were you just now? Still thinking of Emily James?!"

"Abby," he asked, his blue eyes holding hers, "do you remember the last time we went riding together?"

"Of course I do," she replied, "it was our birthday. The year we visited Dewhurst Park and Father gave you Charlie."

She paused a moment as she realized just exactly what he had asked.

"Oh Archie," she said, "you don't still blame yourself for my fall, do you?"

"And who else should I blame, Abby? If I had not begged you to race, it would not have happened," he said, "and you would not now walk with that limp."

It was slight, the limp. It would become more pronounced only if she was tired. No one noticed it at all - save him. He continued to look at her, his handsome face marred by the sad expression upon it. Abby took his hand in hers. The gesture was all too familiar. She'd done it so many times while they were growing up.

"Archie," her voice, quiet and gentle as always. "What happened that day was an accident. NO ONE was at fault - least of all, YOU!

"I wanted that race as much, if not more, than you did," she continued.

"Why?" he asked.

"Perhaps because I knew that my childhood was ending that day, and this race was one more chance for me to be a child," she said, "but that's not the point. The fall happened - nothing can change that. But it was an accident - no more than that. And I will not have you going through the rest of your life thinking it was your fault."

"Am I making myself clear?" she asked, the same look in her eyes - the one that said the matter was closed.

"Yes ma'am," he said, trying to be serious and failing utterly. "Now I know why Father gave in to you that day."

"Oh you do, do you?" she asked pertly, "would you care to enlighten me?"

"Indeed, Madam," he said, "it's because, like me, he was afraid to incur your wrath if he refused."

Archie burst out laughing, but quickly tried to sober his expression as Abby pressed her lips together - a look of mock indignation on her face.

"For that impertinence, sir," she replied, "you shall help me with the dinner dishes."

Chapter 10

The time had come to say goodbye. Their time together had finally come to an end, as must happen with all good things.

As the carriage wound its way through the streets of London, Archie kept his eyes fixed upon the hands folded in his lap. He dared not look at her or even try to speak. He was all too aware that some part of him wanted desperately to stay, but there was another - a deeper part of him that longed for the sea. He wanted to return to the ship - to feel the deck beneath his feet; hear the wind singing in the rigging; feel the salt spray upon his face. Archie knew he had no choice but to follow that longing, even though it meant leaving the only home and family who meant anything at all to him.

"You are certainly quiet this afternoon," Abby said, "and by the look on your face, the thoughts that seem to occupy your mind must be of a serious nature indeed."

Her tone was light, almost teasing, and Archie looked up - his sapphire eyes meeting her brown ones. His handsome face wore an expression of deep melancholy. Seeing the battle he silently waged - his love for her and his home at war with his love of the sea - Abby smiled.

"I want you to stay, too," she said, "but if you did so, you would not be happy. The sea is too much a part of you, Archie. It is in your soul."

"But Abby," he said sadly, "I shall miss you."

"I know - and I shall miss you too, little brother. But each of us must go where we belong. My place is here - yours is out there."

Archie smiled and said nothing. She knew him so well - better, at times, than he knew himself. She was right - the sea was his life's blood. It was the only other place, save with her, where he felt he belonged. Even the specter of Jack Simpson could not diminish his love of it.

"Besides," she continued, her eyes fixed upon his face, "we have our letters. You'll write and tell me of your adventures on the high seas, and I shall regale you with the triumphs and trials of my boys. And no matter where you go, or for how long, you'll always be in my heart."

"And the candle," he asked, "you won't forget?"

"Here in London - and in Locharron. For as long as you are away, it will burn so that you can find your way home again."

At that moment, the carriage drew to a stop at the dock. Archie jumped down, offering his hand to Abby.

"Well, Mr. Kennedy," said a jovial voice at his side, "by the look on your face, I'd judge your liberty was enjoyable."
Archie turned to the owner of the voice and a smile lit his handsome features. The man was tall, ruggedly handsome. He wore his uniform with the ease of one long accustomed to service in His Majesty's Navy. The smile on his face extended all the way to his expressive eyes.

"Clayton," Archie said, genuine pleasure in his voice, "what are you doing here?"

"Overseeing supplies for the ship," Clayton answered. "Someone must do the work so that others may while away their hours on liberty in idleness."

Archie laughed heartily, and turning to Abby, he took her hand and drew her forward.

"Clayton," he said, "allow me to present my sister, Abigail MacKenzie. Abby, this is Mr. Midshipman Clayton of His Majesty's ship, Justinian - my friend."

"It is a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Clayton," she said, extending her hand.

"The pleasure is mine, Mrs. MacKenzie," Clayton smiled at her as he took the hand and placed a light kiss on the fingertips.

"Abby," Archie continued, "I shall just put my personal things in the jolly boat. You'll be all right here."

"Of course, Archie," she laughed. "What could possibly happen in the minute or so you'll be gone. Besides, I have Mr. Clayton to protect me."

Abby smiled fondly as her brother pulled his bag from the carriage and bounded down the steps to the waiting jolly boat.

"Mr. Clayton," she said, her quiet voice serious, "I want to thank you for the kindness you have shown my brother."

"He is a decent and honorable man, ma'am." Clayton answered, understanding the meaning behind her words. "It was my privilege."

"As you are, Mr. Clayton," Abby smiled up at the tall man before her. "Archie is fortunate to have your friendship."

Clayton inclined his head, a soft smile on his face, as Archie came back up the steps of the jetty.

"If you will excuse me," he said, bowing. "I must see that the supplies are finished being loaded."

Abby smiled again. She liked this man who, time after time, offered her brother comfort and solace from the miserable existence forced upon him by Jack Simpson.

"I hope to see you again, Mr. Clayton," she said. "You are welcome in my home anytime."
"I look forward to it, Mrs. MacKenzie."

Bowing once more, Clayton turned and walked down the steps to the boat. Archie turned to Abby, a wistful smile on his face; tears misting his eyes.

"I have to go," he said, taking her in his arms and holding her close.

"I know."

Reaching up, she touched his cheek. Silently, he took the hand in his and brought it to his lips.

"I love you, Abby," he said, that love reflected in the depths of his blue eyes.

"And I you," she answered.

Stepping back from her, Archie turned and walked slowly down the steps. Climbing into the waiting boat, he raised his hand to his hat and saluted her. Abby waved in return.

"Safe passage, Archie," she whispered, remaining on the dock until the boat was out of sight.
Epilogue

January, 1793 - and the winter's day dawned gray and cold.

Rain fell in icy sheets upon Justinian's deck as Archie moved to the rail. A shore boat was plowing its way through seas churned by the wind and rain. Archie could just make out a figure seated in the rear of the boat.

As the boat drew alongside, Archie saw the young man closely for the first time. He had dark, curly brown hair with matching dark brown eyes. His face was pale, and Archie suppressed a smile as he noted the greenish pallor beneath. The poor man was obviously seasick, though he stoically tried to hide it. Archie guessed they were roughly the same age. Glancing at the sea chest sitting in front of the man, he noted the name, H. Hornblower, in gilt letters on its lid.

"Jump for it - you'll be all right," Archie said, turning his attention once more to the man in the boat.

Reaching out, he helped the man aboard and stood back as the stranger got his first look at the ship upon which he would now serve.

"Welcome to Purga'try," Archie said, smiling.

 

FIN