||[Mar. 2nd, 2009|11:34 pm]
"All The King's Men" scrapbook
As mentioned previously, this is a draft that I'm posting in chunks just for the few people reading this comm. Please don't link repost publicly.|
(A note in passing: this is increasing in length by a ratio of 1:1.4, so far. Up to this point was 3850 words before, and is now 5472.)
Edrington was sipping a glass of sherry in the drawing room, browsing casually through the small collection of books on the shelf, when the other two returned, freshly scrubbed. He put down the book he was looking at as they entered.
"I'm famished," declared Archie. "And so is Horatio, though he won't say it."
Fortunately, the admirable Mrs. Perks had prepared a generous meal for them, and they'd no sooner taken their seats at table than she came in herself, bearing a roast joint.
"Why, Mrs. Perks," said Edrington. "I hope you are well?"
"Oh, yes, Master Alexander, nothing to complain of," she replied. "You'll excuse me, but I thought to bring this out myself and see that you was well and safe."
"Perfectly so," said Edrington.
"I don't know what we're coming to," she said, shaking her head. "First poachers, and now the roads not safe to travel, and they tell us to expect those Frenchies on our doorstep any day."
"I shouldn't be alarmed on that count, Mrs Perks," said Edrington, and after he had a few more polite enquiries after her family, she recalled the presence of his lordship's guests and, bobbing a curtsey, returned to the kitchen.
"She and Perks have been here since I was a boy," Edrington explained. "And," he added as more dishes were brought in, "she is an excellent cook. We shall serve ourselves, I think. Mutton, Mr Hornblower? Enough? Pass yours over, Archie. There. And we may make ourselves quite at home, and talk about whatever we like, and put our boots on the table if we wish. A holiday, gentlemen." He lifted his glass. "Your health!"
Archie swallowed a mouthful of mutton, and washed it down with wine. Horatio nodded and sipped at his.
They ate steadily and in relative silence until their hunger was diminished and Archie, who had apparently been considering Edrington's comments, said, "You know, at sea, we never talk of service matters over dinner."
"So I had observed," said Edrington. "Does Captain Pellew keep a strict table?"
"Oh, no! Only, it's tradition." Archie shrugged. "And for obvious reasons, we never talk about the food."
"Quite understandable," replied Edrington gravely, passing the bread. "I always find that I am more often called upon to talk about battlefield strategy when I am on leave than in the field. I suppose, being unable to get over to the Continent themselves, they are eager for any whiff of adventure."
Archie grimaced sympathetically. "And they pin you down for an age, asking questions. Horatio escaped to the card room last time we were in London, and left me entertaining Lady Boyle. I couldn't get away for hours."
"You always tell the stories so much better than I do," said Horatio, looking sheepish nonetheless.
"That's because I tell them stories about you. It's wonderfully handy having Horatio as a friend," he explained to Edrington. "I never run short of adventures to recount, and he never argues; when he can't manage to get away he just sits there blushing."
"You will have to tell me some, sometime; I think I would like to see that," said Edrington, and sat back to enjoy Archie's animation and glowing face as he shared some anecdotes from their recent channel duty. Hornblower, too, was soon engaged in the conversation, offering occasional details, or protesting when Archie's enthusiasm carried him away.
"No, Archie, it can't have been that close," he said in response to a claim that they had almost been able to touch the lee shore during the recent storm.
"Well, a pistol-shot away, at the most! We thought we should end up on the beach, but we got off with a badly scraped bottom. Poor old Indy!"
"And so we came into Plymouth for repair," explained Hornblower, and began to explain the work being undertaken to replace the damaged strakes and re-clad the hull with copper where it had been torn off, and something complicated to do with knees which Edrington was sure couldn't mean what it sounded like. He found himself understanding one word in three, perhaps, but it did give him ample opportunity to observe his guests.
Their last dinner together -- the three of them -- had been in the Indy's wardroom after Muzillac, where Archie had outdone himself joking and flirting and Hornblower had slowly emerged from brooding silence to join the conversation -- if only to prevent Edrington from monopolising Archie's attention. Tonight, he thought, it was much the same: Archie joking and smiling and drawing Hornblower into the conversation, Hornblower joining in with slightly reserved civility; if only Archie's laughter hadn't had a certain brittleness to it, Edrington would have been quite satisfied.
Edrington was feeling rather uncertain himself, though he hoped it did not show; now that the rush of getting them all here was over -- what on earth had made him think this a good idea? The prospect of more time with Archie than he could reasonably hope to have otherwise command must have befuddled his mind. Hornblower had been hectoring Archie -- or so Edrington read between the lines of his letters -- and Archie had been concerned for Hornblower, though not to the point of backing down. It had seemed kind to get them away from the noise and dirt and busyness of the Plymouth dockyards and let them see if they couldn't resolve matters between them -- between all three of them -- with a little more leisure to do so.
And a tactical coup to get them on my ground for once, instead of hanging about on theirs looking for crumbs. Edrington had told himself that the comfort and privacy of a country retreat would please Archie, and he supposed that Hornblower would welcome it, too. How had he failed to consider the complicating effect of entangled interests, or the very real difficulty of being the target of such understandable antipathy from Hornblower's direction? Ah, yes, I was going to charm him into seeing things my way. Perhaps not the most well-reasoned plan. Well, we have a week; we shall see what comes of it.
"How do you come to have a place in Dorset, Alexander?" asked Archie, as the topic of the acquisition of copper cladding was exhausted. "I thought your estates were in Leicestershire?"
"Melsingham Hall is, yes," replied Edrington. "Sherborne was from an uncle on my mother's side. I must own I find it rather convenient."
"Do you often come to Dorsetshire, my lord?" asked Hornblower.
"Very seldom; I fear that Sherborne is sadly neglected. But had I not kept it, I should not have been able to invite you both to stay. I doubt you would have enjoyed travelling all the way to Leicestershire only to have to turn around at once and go back."
"And here I thought you didn't want to introduce us to your mamma!" said Archie.
"On the contrary -- my mother would be delighted to meet you both, my brother would do his best to draw you into his latest mischief, and my sisters never seem to mind a few more young men about." He looked at Archie sharply. "Do you want to meet them?"
"No! I mean --" Archie laughed. "If we had world enough, and time..."
Edrington was relieved -- he had not wanted to share them with a crowd -- until he noticed the crease between Hornblower's eyebrows. No doubt he would have been just as pleased to have Edrington distracted by family duties. Well, it was Archie's choice; always had been, and if Hornblower hadn't learnt that yet. Edrington changed the subject. "And you, Mr Hornblower? I hope we haven't torn you away from any pressing engagements in Plymouth? Or had you rather go to London on your leave?"
Archie chuckled, and put down his glass. "I think he was rather hoping to renew his acquaintance with Miss Cobham."
"Archie!" said Hornblower, flushing, "I had -- I had no particular engagements in London, my lord."
"Have you seen her lately, Alexander?"
Edrington nodded. "Last month."
"Horatio had a letter from her when we came into port, but only to say that she was going abroad again. I would have thoguht she'd had quite enough of the continent last time she was there."
So would I. "I believe she was offered a very desirable part."
"Well, I'm sorry we missed her. You must give her our love when you next see her."
"Of course -- should I see her."
Before Edrington could cast about for another subject, Hornblower cleared his throat. "I, ah -- Mrs Perks seemed very concerned about the safety of the roads. Do you suppose there are many more men like the one who tried to hold us up today?"
"I don't imagine there are a great many about," said Edrington, "or they should all starve. They can hardly expect to find rich pickings on such quiet roads. No, I expect Mrs Perks is romanticising; if you ask her, she will tell you about the fellow who robbed the Bristol mail when she was a girl. She saw him hanged, I believe."
"I feel quite put out, you know," said Archie. "We might at least have had a proper highwayman in a mask shouting Stand and Deliver. Ours had nothing but a muffler pulled up over his face."
"I couldn't see a thing," said Hornblower. "Do you think you would know him again?"
Archie shook his head, and Edrington frowned, saying, "I saw him for a moment, no more." A jolting, confused moment; a blur of movement in the half-dark. Damn it. "I shall pay a call on Sir Henry Devinish tomorrow. The local magistrate," he added in explanation.
When they had eaten to bursting point and emptied two bottles of claret -- with only a little help from Hornblower, Edrington noticed -- they retired to the drawing room, where conversation turned to the local countryside.
"Tomorrow," said Edrington, "I hope I can offer you a little entertainment. I can't say there's much sport to be had in these parts, but I think you'll find what I have to offer -- interesting, at least."
"Oh yes?" Archie grinned.
"I should value your opinion, in any case." Time enough tomorrow to think of such things. Tonight -- what are we to do tonight? "For now," he said, "I can offer you cards, or backgammon, though we're an odd number for it."
"Should you like to play?" asked Archie, addressing Hornblower, who turned his attention from the indifferent hunting scene on the wall to answer.
"Whist is my game, I'm afraid."
"Mine also," said Edrington, "but it can hardly serve the three of us."
"Cassino?" suggested Archie.
"I think -- if you do not mind -- I should write a letter or two," said Hornblower.
"Very well," said Edrington. "Piquet." He gestured Archie to a seat opposite him, as Hornblower took up his own at a small table across the room, taking a branch of candles with him.
Edrington dealt, and they played several hands, with only an occasional exclamation over their cards. Though he tried to catch Archie's eye, he couldn't hold it for long; the set of Archie's shoulders told him enough. Cheerful, amusing, resolute... He sighed to himself. "A point of five," he said aloud.
"Good," replied Archie, noting down the points.
Competent play, only, thought Edrington. If he expects me to bear much more of this, I shall reach across the table and shake him. He was thankful when the hand was done, and Archie asked, "To whom are you writing, Horatio?"
"Mr. Harris, of the Bellerophon," replied Hornblower, "and my father."
"Oh! Send my best to him -- to Charles, I mean. Another hand, Alexander?"
"Thank you -- but I think not." He shot Archie a look. "I thought you might prefer to retire early to bed -- at least, when Mr Hornblower is finished writing his letters."
"I am quite done," said Hornblower, putting down his pen and folding the sheets.
"Country hours!" said Archie. "Up with the lark, I suppose?" He yawned at the thought. "I am rather tired."
Edrington led the way upstairs, and accompanied them down the corridor to the turning that led to their rooms, where a candle was set atop a ponderous Jacobean cabinet, throwing flickering light against the panelled walls as a draught caught the flame.