Read Hugh Kenrick Online

Authors: Edward Cline

Hugh Kenrick (10 page)

BOOK: Hugh Kenrick
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“Yes, milord.”

Owen held one of the doors open for Hugh, and they went out together.

The Baron first approached Sir Everard, but then changed his mind and walked over to his brother. He held out the birch rod. “Here is the proof of repentance required for His Grace. Please, present it to his…factotum.”

The Earl’s eyes narrowed, but he shrugged off the insult to himself and the secretary. He drew himself up, took the rod, and smartly presented it to Sir Everard. “Your evidence, Sir Everard—and my apologies.”

“All duly noted, I’m sure,” said the secretary. He examined the rod, bowed his head, and left the room without further word.

Garnet Kenrick turned to the vicar. “Unless you are apprenticing for a position in hell as Satan’s lackey, vicar, the spectacle is finished, and there is no more for you to see.”

The vicar blushed, sputtered an incomplete word or two, and glanced at the Earl, who stood looking at him with an expression as stony as the one with which he regarded his nephew. The cleric said to the Baron, “I forgive you the jest, milord, under these most stressful circumstances.” Then he quickly left the room.

The Baron next turned to his brother. “Are you satisfied, Basil?”

The Earl started at the use of his Christian name. He could not remember the last time it had been used. “Dear brother, well, you see what the situation is, and I—”

“We will discuss this no more, Basil,” said the Baron. “Ever.” And he left the room.

*  *  *

The pain suddenly seized his legs like a douse of scalding water. Hugh buckled, and violently clutched at a table they were passing, almost
knocking over a candle. He leaned on the table with both hands, able to stand, but unable to move his legs. His eyelids fluttered, and the hall seemed to spin.

“Allow me, milord,” said Owen. The valet bent and picked up the boy, heaved him over one shoulder, and walked calmly to the western wing. In Hugh’s room, he lay the unconscious boy gently face down on the bed and removed his coat, breeches, and shoes.

The Baroness came into the room and rushed over to her son. Owen let her inspect the swelling red stripes and the blood on her son’s body. The woman let go an awful cry of pain that had not come from the boy. Then the valet inclined his head, reached into a pocket of his coat, and held out a small round tin box. “If you will permit me, milady,” he said.

“What is it, Owen?” she asked, not taking the box.

“It is balm, milady. Apply it liberally to all the affected parts. Expose the wounds as little as possible to the air, which will aggravate the wounds and prolong the pain.”

The Baroness frowned, but took the tin.

“The balm was prepared by Mrs. Jervis in the kitchen, milady, at my request. It is composed of herbs in an aspic of buttered cream. It is most effective. Master Kenrick should be able to move about in a day or two. With discretion, of course.”

“Thank you, Owen.”

The valet paused, swallowed, and went on. “It may be impertinent to say so, milady, but while the staff of this house, and that of his lordship the Earl, will obey his lordship’s instructions regarding the treatment of Master Hugh henceforth, I feel it…important to convey to you and to the Baron—through you, at your pleasure, of course—that our actions will not reflect our true hearts.”

“Oh…?”

“For myself, milady, I feel obliged to say that if circumstances occur which require me to choose between my dismissal and regarding Master Kenrick as a leper, I should choose dismissal.”

The Baroness nodded her head once in acknowledgment. “Thank you, Mr. Runcorn. Take care to see that such a choice is not necessary. The Baron and I value your service.”

“Thank you, milady. Will that be all?”

“Yes. Please send for Bridget.”

Bridget came in a moment later, and found the Baroness gingerly
applying the balm to her son. “I will be detained by the dinner this evening, Bridget,” she said to the governess. “You will come back here at ten and apply Owen’s salve anew.”

“Yes, milady. How is he?”

“He will heal. Go about your duties now, Bridget.”

The Baroness remained for a moment, stroking Hugh’s damp hair. After a while she rose and went to her son’s desk. She saw an open notebook and idly read one page, then another. She read the first sentence: “I would die, inside, and nourish a wrong.” And she read the last sentence: “I have brought honor to my family, and to myself, for the first time.” She put a hand to her mouth to stifle a cry. For the first time, she understood her son. She guiltily took the notebook and left the room.

*  *  *

The dinner was a brilliant, gay affair, as the Earl had hoped it would be. The Duke, his companions, and the guests behaved as though nothing untoward had happened. Bons mots lit up the glittering company’s conversation, competing with the candles that flickered magically on the silver and china service that was laid on the fine cambric. The Baroness had made a gift to all the women guests of blue silk fans on which had been painted sweet Williams, and these fluttered in time with the bons mots. She had even had delicate vases of carnations and blue auriculas from the greenhouse placed on the table and sideboards. The conversation shifted from the Duke’s adventures on the tour, to the popular discontent with the adjustment of the calendar in the coming September, in which eleven days were to be skipped in order to bring England into conformity with the Gregorian calendar, to a miscellany of other, triter subjects, all governed by the Duke’s careering interests.

The Earl was in his glory, while the Baron and Baroness were subdued. The empty chair between the couple was to have been occupied by Hugh. Everyone noticed the vacancy, but coldly averted their eyes. Rear Admiral Harle alone sympathized with the couple’s reticence. Fortunately, the Baroness had seated him next to her husband, and the admiral was able to communicate his thoughts under all the chatter. “His Grace is becoming rather boorish, I must admit,” he remarked in a low voice. “I have been on the road with him for a week now, and his company has grown tiresome.”

“I can see how that might be true,” ventured the Baron with caution.
“However, that does not excuse my son’s actions.”

The admiral smiled. He had not known his motive was so transparent. “Perhaps not,” he replied without conviction. “Although I myself have lately mistaken His Grace alternately for a Drury Lane clown and a Smithfield cattle-drover.”

The Baron merely smiled, also without conviction. “How do you plan to spend your day tomorrow, Sir Francis?” he asked in a tactful change of subject.

The admiral took a sip of claret. “We shall tour the Poole Harbor. I will propose to His Grace that we hire a boat that will take us out to the Channel, so that we might appraise the vicinity from an invading enemy’s vantage point. I had intended to ask you or the Earl for assistance in the matter.”

“I know of several men in Poole who would lend you their smacks.” The Baron gladly put down his knife and fork, and finished his glass of Madeira. He had no appetite, and had been eating for appearance’ sake. “Poole Harbor is sandy. We have a schooner, but it puts in at Weymouth more often than it does Poole, on account of the shifting bottom, which often is made impassable by the tides.”

“So the Admiralty maps tell me.”

“As for fortifications, I’ve always thought that either the Purbeck or Poole neck would be ideal for them. Or Brownsea Isle itself.”

“My thoughts precisely,” said the admiral. “Will you accompany us?”

“It would be my pleasure, Sir Francis,” said the Baron. “Unfortunately, I must accompany Fawkner on an inspection of our herds.”

“Ah,
that
business! Then, his lordship, your brother?”

The Baron shook his head. “My brother does not like the sea. It rollicks his stomach, and he will not risk the indignity of the consequences.”

Later, after a dessert of blancmange and Pomfret cake, the company at the long table grew restive. The servants hastened to keep the epergnes refreshed with sweetmeats and the silver wine fountains flowing from the stock in the cellar. Cumberland consulted his pocket watch, then rose abruptly and proclaimed: “Leave us, dear ladies, so that we mere men may knock back a sinful ginful, and discourse on the disreputable without risk of offending your dainty lobes!” He nodded and bestowed a smile on Vicar Wynne. “You, too, sir, if you fear the profane.”

Miss Harris giggled.

The vicar blanched. “I have, in my time, Your Grace, heard seamen
swear, and harlots catalogue their arts. Profane talk is no stranger to my callused ears.”

The Duke laughed. “Ah! A man of the world and the cloth, whose collar and station require him to warn us against cussing and knocking-shops! Behold, company, a veritable St. Augustine here! No doubt it was this God’s gillie—forgive the Scottish term!—who prescribed the chastening of the Childe Aristides!”

The allusion to Hugh Kenrick’s whipping was unmistakable. Everyone understood it, even the servants standing at the ready beneath the paintings, who, having little in the way of a classical education, knew nothing about Aristides the Just, the ancient Greek general and jurist who was banished from Athens for shaming its law courts. The Baron, the Baroness and the Earl did not know what to make of the remark; it could have been an inadvertent compliment, an offhand insult, or the tactless consequence of too many draws from the wine fountain. Sir Everard Fawkner sat immobile, staring at a painting on the wall.

“Forgive me, Your Grace,” answered the vicar nervously, “but you have been ill-informed.
I
did not prescribe the punishment. I had the mere honor and duty of
refining
it.”

“Much the same thing,” quipped the Duke with a mischievous chuckle. “Your hand could be seen on the
reddened
rod of Mars—metaphorically speaking.”

Garnet Kenrick looked up with new interest, first at the flustered vicar, then at the insouciant mien of Fawkner, and finally at the supercilious composure of his brother, the Earl. The Earl caught his eye, but glanced away. The Baron stared at him now with a venom in his glance that he disguised only with great effort.

At this point, because she did not wish to prolong the vicar’s baiting—though she thought he deserved it—and because she suspected her husband’s thoughts, because they were very likely her own—the Baroness chose to rise. All the other women rose on the signal. “By your leave, Your Grace,” she said with a bow of her head.

“Retire, fair lady,” replied the Duke with a wave of his glass. “And, I
must
say this: If I cannot esteem the good Baron there for his contumacious progeny, then I must envy him for his taste in alluring conjugality!”

The table laughed dutifully. Garnet Kenrick blushed, but inclined his head in acknowledgment of the crude compliment. The men at the table rose in courtesy, and the Baroness led the procession of gowns from the
great hall. Maud Harris turned once and winked provocatively at the Duke.

When the women were gone, some of the men drew out their pipes and snuffboxes. The servants busied themselves with decanting harder liquor than what was acceptable at dinner. Cumberland fell back into his chair. “Well, Lord Basil, have you any good racers hereabouts?”

The Earl smiled apologetically. “Our steeds mostly pull hay, Your Grace, or uproot stumps in our fields with the oxen.”

“Pugilists?”

“None to speak of, Your Grace,” ventured Drew Tallmadge. “The fist trade among the population here is embarrassingly artless.”

The Duke chuckled. “Then you must journey up to London frequently, to escape the boredom!”

“Often, Your Grace,” said Covington Brune. “But on business, mostly.”

“Too often,” muttered Garnet Kenrick to himself, with a glance at his brother.

“Pretty country, Dorset,” mused Cumberland. “Pretty holdings you gentry have here. Yours especially, Lord Basil. Your terraces are placid enough to inspire a poem or two. The sheep safely graze!—to borrow a notion from that Bach fellow!”

“It is prettier in the spring, Your Grace,” said the Earl. “In all fairness, however, it is to my brother the credit must be given.”

*  *  *

Later that night, the Baron, the Earl, and Sir Everard discussed the army contract. And when the Duke and his companions had retired, and the guests had departed, Garnet Kenrick walked wearily to his and his wife’s bedchamber. Effney Kenrick showed her husband the pages from Hugh’s notebook. “We have made a martyr of him, Garnet,” she said.


I
have made him a martyr,” replied the Baron. “
You
did not wield the rod.”

The Baroness shook her head. “I sanctioned its use.”

In silence, the Baron read the pages. He recognized the first sentence. And he understood the last.

“It is an alien thing he discusses there, Garnet,” said the Baroness. “But I know it is right.”

“It is not so alien a thing to me,” mused the Baron. His wife wondered why his words sounded like a wrenching confession.

The Baroness sat down on the bed next to her husband. “I am certain of this much, Garnet: I shall no longer be afraid for Hugh. Such a thing as he observes about himself cannot ever be broken, or tamed, or made to submit.”

Garnet Kenrick looked away from his wife, and merely nodded in agreement. Then he reached out and held her close, so that she could not see the tears in his eyes. He agreed with her, but not entirely. He hoped he could some day. Then he held her away and told her what he had learned, and what he must do.

*  *  *

Still dressed for dinner, and silver candleholder in hand, he called on his brother in his bedchamber after the Earl’s valet had gone. The Earl was dressed in his nightgown and day cap. “Yes, my tireless brother?” he inquired, amiably stepping aside. “What can I do for you?”

The Baron passed without word through the anteroom and into the bedchamber. He set down the candle on a wing table, faced his brother, and asked, “Do you hate my son so much that you wished to see him bleed?”

“What?” replied the Earl.

“I have spoken with Vicar Wynne and Sir Everard. The vicar states that you claimed that Sir Everard required the rod to draw blood. Sir Everard, in turn, asserts that he demanded no such thing. Moreover, he said that His Grace did not demand it. Ergo, it was your assertion alone—your desire.” The Baron paused. “Not that any one of them was
displeased
with the blood.”

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