So, next up, according to the votes on the poll, is a piece of writing. I have an awesome poem as well, but Horatio and Archie have been waiting around for their turn for a while. So they’ll go first.
If you’re new or need a refresher, our heroic, British naval officers are on leave for a month with Archie’s family. Horatio was sort of dragged into this, but gradually learning to enjoy himself and have fun with Archie’s family.
There were lots of other fun things, like gingerbread and whist… in the opposite order, but yeah. Here are the past episodes if you’d like to catch up.
And enjoy the next part!
“No!” Archie’s chorus of small siblings stared up at their big brother.
Archie stuck his tongue in his cheek and ran a hand over his face thoughtfully. “I just might, you know… as an experiment. See how I look with a beard.” He winked up at Horatio, who was leaning against the doorframe with a wide smile.
“But it would poke me when I hug you!” Polly protested, worry creasing her face.
“Not with how short you are,” Archie grinned at her and gave a tug at one of her braids.
“No, not that. When you pick me up and spin me around,” Polly bit her lip, “I like that.”
“It would look weird,” put in Will.
“I would like one like Father’s,” said Charlie, not looking half as worried as Polly, “Just a little short one.” He tipped his small blonde head at Archie, “It would look nice.”
Archie raised his eyebrows and smiled, “Thank you! Someone is in agreement at least.”
“You’d look nice with anything,” Mrs. Kennedy sat near Horatio, holding Beth and quietly laughing at Archie’s attempts to stir up his siblings.
Horatio dipped his head in acknowledgement with a smile. “Better start growing then, Archie. You’ll have to shave when we go back.”
“I’ll start now, ” Archie looked like he was concentrating very hard.
Polly’s frown faded, “You’re teasing, Archie.”
“No, I’m deadly serious.”
Mrs. Kennedy stood at a call from the kitchen, “Sorry, Charlotte needs me. Horatio, would you take Beth? Thank you.” Horatio had no time to protest as the pink clothed, warm bundle was settled into his arms and Mrs. Kennedy went hurrying off to the other room. Will and Charlie scampered after, probably to get some scraps from the kitchen.
“You can grow a beard that fast!” Polly protested, “You have to wait.”
“Are you saying I’m not capable?” Archie looked shocked, not noticing the shift behind him. “I believe I could if I at least tried.”
Horatio shifted his arms, hoping he was holding the baby securely enough. Dropping her was out of the question. He sat down and rocked her a little as he’d seen Archie do. Was this how a baby was supposed to feel or was he doing it wrong?
Beth turned her little head with a yawn and opened her bright blue eyes, blinking at Horatio.
Horatio looked down at her with an involuntary frown at her sudden waking. Now entertainment was another addition to this line of duty. And entertainment of small children wasn’t particularly his strong point.
“A-Archie?” he said it quietly, still holding to a small hope that she’d go back to sleep. Beth took in a few small, sobbing sounding gasps and screwed up her little face to cry.
Archie didn’t hear and continued his conversation with Polly.
Beth let out a wail and Horatio rocked her, making hopeful soothing noises.
“Shh… shh…” Horatio closed his eyes in frustration and thought.
Oh, she hasn’t met me yet. That’s probably why.
He cleared his throat and looked down at Beth as she fussed in his awkwardly positioned arms, “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Beth Kennedy. I’m Lieutenant Horatio Hornblower.”
Another wail came, then Beth stopped. Her bottom lip was still in a pout as she looked up at her unfamiliar caretaker in confusion at all the big words he was spouting at her.
Archie shifted in his seat towards the door, “Are you talking to someone, Horatio?” An open-mouthed, unbelieving grin spread across his face as he saw what his friend was doing. He let out a laugh, “Goodness, I never thought the day would come!” he slapped his knee and laughed again.
“Archie, really…” Horatio bit his lip and bounced the again protesting Beth, “This is serious. Why is she crying?”
“She’s being held by someone who’s never held her before. So far none of my siblings have died from that particular ailment.”
“Archie…” Horatio’s voice was desperate.
With a shake of his head, Archie stood and walked over. “Here, set her upright in your lap like this…” with obviously experienced hands, Archie pulled the fussing baby up into a sitting position in Horatio’s lap.
“Now put your hands behind her and support the neck… not so stiffly, Horatio. She’s not a cannonball. There.” Archie sat himself down on the bench next to him and leaned over to look at his little sister. “Hello, Beth!” he greeted cheerfully.
Beth’s teary, closed eyes opened at the voice and she looked at Archie.
Archie smiled down at her and tickled her middle with a finger. “Hello! Sweet little girl, how are you?”
A toothless, crooked smile spread across Beth’s face and she waved her arms happily. Archie made a silly face and she even let out a tiny giggle.
“Now you try, Horatio. She’s happy now.” Archie pulled back to watch.
Horatio looked at him, “Talk to her?”
“Well, that and a few funny faces at least,” Archie leaned against the doorframe above, “I’ll be right here to save you if she starts up a gale again.”
Taking a deep breath, Horatio redirected his attention to the still happy bundle in his lap. Beth’s big eyes stared up at him in laughing, crescent moon shapes and she flapped her arms with a loud coo.
Horatio smiled involuntarily, “Hello.”
“There, you’ve got it,” Archie approved as Beth’s happiness stayed in place, “Try a silly face now.”
Swallowing and trying not to drop his smile, Horatio tentatively stuck out his tongue.
Beth’s smile got a tiny bit wider.
“I can barely even see that, Horatio. Try harder,” the smile in Archie’s voice was obvious. “Cross your eyes or something. Smile bigger.”
Horatio gave Archie a pained look.
“She’ll start crying again,” threatened Archie. As if to prove his point, Beth squirmed and started to fuss a little.
Horatio turned back to her, defeated. He took a wincing moment to muster his courage, then stuck his tongue up to touch his nose and crossed his eyes. The halfhearted fussing stopped and a delighted baby laugh took its place.
Polly looked up at it and began to laugh as well, “Oh, Mother, look!”
Horatio heard the footsteps and dropped the silly look back to simply sticking his tongue out a little bit as Mrs. Kennedy reentered the room.
“What is it?” she asked, looking between her children. Polly pointed at Horatio, whose face was now bright red.
“Come on now. Do it again,” Archie laughed. “He was making a wonderful face for Beth to make her laugh,” he explained to his mother. “Even touching his tongue to his nose.”
Mrs. Kennedy turned to Horatio a smile on her lips, “I’m impressed. And your first time holding her, too.”
“It was silly…” Horatio kept his eyes down on Beth, who now seemed to be enchanted with him.
“That’s why it was wonderful,” Archie said, leaning forward expectantly.
With a sigh, Horatio made the face again. Laughs rose from all the Kennedys in the room, Beth most enthusiastically included.
“Well, you were certainly good at minding her for me. Thank you,” Mrs. Kennedy scooped Beth up gently, smiling at Horatio, “I’ll be likely to give her to you to hold again if you’re near.”
“Oh, there’s… really no need… I…” Horatio stood.
“He’d love that,” finished Archie, clapping him on the back as Mrs. Kennedy went off to feed Beth. “Well, Horatio. That was quite an accomplishment. You have my congratulations.”
Horatio smiled reluctantly and clasped his hands behind his back.
“This day shall go down in the history of the great Horatio Hornblower: The day he first held a baby and made a funny face. Both quite successfully, I might add. She didn’t even spit up on you that I know of.”
“Spit up?” Horatio looked down at his shirt in alarm.
Archie shrugged, “Your shirt is white, so even if she did it wouldn’t show.”
Horatio didn’t find that too comforting. Somehow, a member of the British Navy having baby spit-up on his shirt seemed wrong.
“Has she spit up on you?” he asked Archie.
“Oh, yes. It washes out just fine, though. I see it as a sort of big brother-hood christening,” Archie stood up straighter and make a mock serious face.
Just then a knock sounded at the door, the wood clunk sounding through the house. Archie strode quickly over to the entrance.
“I’ll answer it,” he called as he pulled over the latch and swung the door open. A man in a thick, wet coat and hat stood there, pulling out a letter as he saw Archie there.
“Is Mr. Horatio Hornblower here?” he asked. “I was told this was where he had taken his leave.”
“Yes, he is. Is that a letter for him?”
“Would you take this to Mr. Hornblower for me?” The man handed over the letter. “It was written about two months back, but there was a mix up and it wasn’t delivered until now.”
“Well, hard to keep up with mail when one’s at sea anyway. Thank you, I’ll give it to him.” Archie took the sealed envelope, wished the man a good day and shut the door.
Will appeared behind Archie and tried to peek around, “Who is it for?”
“Horatio, actually,” Archie flipped the worn letter over in his hands to show Will the name on the back, “And it’s been a while in coming.” He frowned as he walked back into the other room.
Strange… Horatio almost never gets letters.
Horatio was sitting back on the bench, his hands clasped between his knees when Archie came back in. Pulling his normal smile back in place, Archie waved the letter.
“Something for you, ‘ratio.”
“Really?” Horatio stood and took the worn piece of paper. “Hmm…”
Archie nodded and watched Horatio’s face as he broke the seal and opened the folded letter inside. His friend’s eyes moved back and forth as he read, his expression slowly changing.
The trace of a smile that had been there dropped right away and Horatio’s eyes registered a saddened shock. He tightened his lips and lowered his eyebrows as he finished the letter. His arm holding the paper dropped to his side loosely, but his knuckles were white with the grip he had on it.
“What is it?” Archie asked, his brow furrowed in concern. “Bad news?”
Horatio closed his eyes and let out his breath slowly. A strange catch interrupted the calm sounding exhale. He stopped and bit his lip. His hand slowly closed on the paper, crumpling it into a neat, white ball.
“Horatio, what’s wrong?” Archie took a step towards him, but Horatio turned and walked away down the hall to his room. The door was shut calmly behind him and Archie stood watching with his head cocked curiously to the side.
Never seen him act this way before. I wonder what on earth was in that letter? Archie walked to the door, keeping his footsteps soft. He was just about to knock when he saw something by the door.
The little, white ball that Horatio had crumpled the letter into.
Archie went down on his heels and picked it up. The paper was harder to pull apart than he expected, it was smashed together so tightly. But after a bit of loosening corners he was able to flatten it back out to read it. He stood and walked towards the kitchen as he read.
As a friend of your father and therefore your only possible contact on this matter, I regret to inform you of some very upsetting news I discovered upon a visit to your father’s town.
After a short and unexpected bout with a fever, your father has, sadly, breathed his last. His practice had never done very well, as you know, but especially so near the end of his life. He died without a shilling to his name and only through the kindness of a former business partner was he able to get a proper burial.
I think it better for you to learn in a letter from a friend than from trying to find him on leave and learning from some unsympathetic busybody in town.
Honestly, I’m simply shocked your father died before I. But life is full of surprises, the majority of them being unpleasant.
You have my utmost sympathy and hopes for a brighter future than the former Mr. Hornblower.
Archie realized he had stopped walking and was standing in the doorway to the kitchen. His mother and Charlotte were both looking at him rather worriedly.
“Is everything okay, Archie?” asked Charlotte.
Archie took a breath and twisted his mouth to the side, “Not for Horatio.”
I’ll leave it at a bit of a cliffhanger there for you. I was already over my normal page count for one part. 😛
Lots more coming soon. Including, but not limited to poems, tags, donut recipe and a movie review for Mission Impossible 5 (my gosh that movie…. *claps hand over mouth so I won’t explode*).
Yep. Stay tuned!
What did you think of the story?