Word Count 1746
Disclaimer As always
I had the honor of remixing the work of Lemurling. Her body of work gave me a lot to choose from,(Nevertheless I am greedy for more of her writing.) I chose to work off of the 'Youth of Delight, Come Hither,' chapter 4.
I can only hope it is 1/5 as much fun to read as it was to write.
They Have to Take You In
The coach rocked down the same streets, heeling a bit as it took the same corners. It was the same as scores of times before, it was coming home. And Archie could not make himself believe that he was not afraid.
The sour clench of his gut was fear. Foolish, but he could not help it. And really, what was there to fear? It had all been said before. He could write the scene himself, direct the players. He knew the lowering of his father's brow, the clench of jaw, the grit of teeth. He knew the exact degree of sadness in his mother's eyes. He knew he was a shocking disappointment. Too late now to be anything else.
He looked across at Hornblower. Archie felt a certain amount of guilt about dragging the boy along. Horatio had some sort of horror, apparently, of meeting an Earl. Really, had it not been for Horatio's misery, it would be funny. Poor Horatio was grasping the edge of the coach seat so hard his knuckles were white. The long flexible mouth pulled as he gnawed his lip. He peered out the small window of the coach, in apprehension, although Archie knew perfectly damn well that all he could see was streaks of rain.
“Come here, let me fix your hair at least. You are all ahoo.”
Horatio nodded. He came willingly to be groomed, and sat quiet. Archie found himself talking the sort of soothing grumbling nonsense that one uses to gentle a horse. It did not take long to make the wild dark curls respectable. Really, it was no time at all before the boy slid away from his touch.
And now they were making the last turn. They were passing the final lamp-post. Archie could hear the coachman pulling the team to a stop.
Archie jumped down, into the puddled courtyard. The same, it was all the same. The smells, the reflected rain, the blowing of the horses. He might have been five, or seven, or ten. The joy and fear mingled inside him felt the same too. Up there, behind the lighted windows, was his half forgotten life. It was as real as the sheets and scuppers of Justinian. He had a right to his mothers kiss, his sister's smile. Maybe by morning it would all seem real.
Hornblower was peering nervously out of the coach, fumbling with something stowed under the seat.
“Come along,” Archie said “The boys will take our things in”
John and Bob, the footmen were crowding forward, ready to do so. Archie stopped to greet them, smiling in return to their smiles, asking after their doings. It gave Horatio a chance to crawl awkwardly out of the coach, so at least he was not in their way.
The door opened for them and the spill of light bloomed, like spilled cream, on the marble steps-- home, home.
“God's sake, Hornblower! Hurry along. You are letting the heat out!”
Archie heard the snappish tone of his own voice, and those big brown eyes blinked at him. Hornblower's throat worked as he swallowed. Then they were in, and it smelled the same, and the little sounds, those sounds of nothing much, were all the same, and he found that he removed Horatio's coat, himself, and gently.
“Don't know how you got yourself soaked through inside a coach. Really, Horatio.”
He fussed and tidied. No need for it of course. No need at all. The poor thing was apprehensive already. And Archie's parents would not care at all how he looked. Archie knew his mother would love the shy motherless boy, with all her warm heart. The old man would think him an example of a serious model midshipman, certainly better than Archie. The Earl liked most other boys better than Archie now.
These grim thoughts were snapped clean, then, by a familiar delighted laugh.
“Archie, you are come home! You kept me waiting all day!”
Anne flung herself down the broad stairway, in a blur of white dress and curls. Then her arms were around him tight. Her warm girls cheek pressed against his cold one. Archie squeezed her back, and lifted her up to spin her.
“Oof,” He dropped her mercilessly. “What have they been feeding you? Cannon-balls? No wonder you don't take the bannister anymore.”
“ I am 18 now, Archibald. I am a sedate young lady. I have not gone down by the bannister for six months at least.” She smiled, and her smile was warm and happy.
“But, I am remiss. Who is this?” She turned her gaze on Horatio, who looked somewhat alarmed.
“Surely this can only be Mr Hornblower.” Anne rose onto her toes in excitement. “Am I right? Oh, do tell me he is come to stay!”
Archie could see that his sister liked Horatio instantly. He usually knew what she was thinking. He and Anne were only 11 months apart. She had been his companion in mud, his partner in trouble, his dearest friend, all his childhood years.
But, now, this was strange. As she spoke to Horatio, he saw her suddenly, as if from afar. Her curtsey was pretty and perfect. She was laughing up at his friend, eliciting a blushing laugh in return. She was not just his sister. She was a real young lady, finished, completed, somehow in his absence. Anyone could see, she was lovely.
“Mother and Father are in the music room,” she said. “ Father says you should have been here hours ago. Best to go and get it over with.”
“Any chance of tea first?” Archie made his most woebegone expression. It availed him not at all. Anne wagged a finger at him.
“No. You are too late. You must do without.” She turned to Horatio.
“Do not fear, Mr Hornblower. As Archie knows very well, dinner will be served quite soon.” This time, Horatio returned her smile.
Anne fairly dragged him up the stairs. He could hear his mother and father and John talking, he could hear the squeak-pop of his mother's embroidery. He could hear the rustle of his fathers newspaper.
He took a deep breath. It was hard to get it back out. Really, this fear was foolish. He was too old to be publicly beaten now. (At least at home,) That left speech. And it had all been said before. He opened the door, and went in.
Father was standing, back to the fire. He had heard the steps on the stairs, of course.
“Ah-- Alexander.” He said. “We expected you an hour ago. Were you late in leaving Portsmouth?”
Archie found himself standing at attention. He spared a glance at Hornblower. He was gawping like a fish, of course-- he didn't know about Archie's other name.
“No Sir.” Archie's voice was steady and low. No fault could be found here, at least. “The rain slowed us, somewhat.”
Father made the hrmph noise. It meant that he would have loved to say something, but could find no flaw in the argument. His brows drew down, but he would not explode in front of a guest. Archie dared not smile, of course.
Archie presented Horatio, formal and correct. Horatio's bow was creditable, and by the time the curly dark head came up, Archie could see that his mother was charmed. Of course she was, and why not after all? Archie could see, looking closely, that even the old man's eyes dwelt on Horatio with interest and warmth. Everyone liked Horatio Hornblower. It was wrong of Archie to feel ice inside. God knows, he felt warm toward Horatio. (A good deal warmer, in fact, than God recommended.)
“Do we have time to wash before dinner, mother?” He knew that they did, but it was something to say. It led to Horatio being seated at her side, and plans made, not only for dinner, but for the next four days.
“As you did not give the servants warning, Archie, you must give Mr Hornblower your room. It is already made up. You can take the peacock room, and endure the dust and spiders.”
She took Horatio's hand. “The peacock room is right next to where you will be, Mr Hornblower. That way, my scatter-brained son--” She gave Archie a warm squeeze, “can help you with anything you need, and the two of you can sit up late, and talk.” She nodded decisively.
“Anne, touch the bell please.”
Archie walked with Horatio, to the bedroom wing. He boys had brought Horatio's things up. Archie knew that there would be warm water to wash with, and every comfort. Horatio would sleep the night among the remnants of Archie's childhood. When Horatio nestled down in the bed, it would be Archie's bed, soft and warm and flat. It would have the same linen sheets which had been Archie's all through the years of his growth.
The peacock room was a guest room. It was slightly smaller. The peacocks gleamed on the wallpaper, each one different, hand-painted and nearly life sized. The theme was repeated on the bed-hangings, and the andirons. Archie felt a secret fondness for the peacocks, actually. He and Anne had named them all, as children. Standing by the window now, he reached out a gentle finger to trace one proud uplifted wing.
“Keep your fingers off the wallpaper,” Archie muttered.
Then it was time to go through the connecting door and see Horatio. Horatio explored the room, much as a mouse does, making little ventures, asking questions about everything. His long nose was practically twitching. Archie got him laughing, and after some time, Horatio hopped up to try Archie's bed out.
“Better than your hammock, right?” Archie felt himself wanting to grin like a fool.
“Hmm.” Horatio nodded vigorously.
“I'm glad you are able to stay.” That was as close as Archie dared to saying what he really felt.
“Me too. I like your family very much.”
“I can tell they like you too.” Archie reached out to ruffle Horatio's hair, but he ended up petting the hair instead, pushing his fingers through those curls over and over. Horatio let him do that. And it was the best part of the day.