Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade

Page 17

This seemed to annoy the infant, though; he contorted his face, went red, and emitted a high-pitched shriek, which caused Nanny Elspeth to snatch him protectively from Grey’s arms. She patted the little back soothingly, giving Grey a look of marked disapproval.

“I only wondered—has he any hair?” Grey asked, in desperation. That produced a complete alteration in the women’s attitude; from reproach, they turned all eagerness, vying with each other to remove the baby’s cap and demonstrate the virtues of its scalp.

The child did have hair. A soft darkish slick that ran down the center of its head like the stripe on a Spanish donkey.

“May I?”

The nurse looked as though she would prefer to hand the child over to a convicted ax murderer, but as Isobel nodded encouragingly, she reluctantly surrendered the little creature to Grey’s dubious care again.

He took a firm hold on the infant, making soft whistling noises through his teeth; that usually worked on strange dogs. He strolled to and fro across the room, joggling it gently, meanwhile maneuvering the little creature as unobtrusively as possible, so as to get the light behind it.

He thought there was a reddish tinge to the hair—but could not swear to it.

“Is he not lovely?” Isobel petted the tiny stripe of hair lovingly. “I think he will look like my sister—see? He has her hair, I’m sure of it.”

With a sense of chagrin, Grey realized that, indeed, Geneva had had hair of a deep chestnut color. No answers here, then. He was trying to think how to return the child to the women without rudeness, but the boy settled the matter himself, by emitting a loud belch and decanting a remarkably large quantity of partially digested milk over Grey’s shoulder.

“Does he not make you wish to marry at once and have children of your own?” Isobel asked, fondly patting the baby’s back as the nursemaid—with bad grace—swabbed the offending mess from Grey’s clothes.

“I do believe I can contain my impatience,” he said, and both women laughed as though he had made some clever jest.

“Oh, look!” Isobel peered at the infant in delight. “He’s smiling, Lord John. He likes you!”

“Well, in fact…” the nursemaid began, eyeing the child’s rapidly reddening face thoughtfully, “I do believe…”

“Oh, dear!” said Isobel. A most unusual odor—sweet but foul—filled the air.

“I’m sure the sentiment is mutual,” Grey said politely, and bowed toward the infant. “Your servant, sir.”

It was not until he and Tom were halfway back to London that it occurred to him that he had never thought to ask the infant’s name.

Chapter 9

Unnatural Acts

Grey returned from the stark silence of the fells to a London in ferment.

As Hal had predicted, the printers had got hold of Ffoulkes’s French family connexions and unearthed the hints of unsavory conspiracy; Ffoulkes’s wife had fled the country and was presumably in France; another conspirator, a lawyer named Jeffords, had been arrested and was to be tried along with Captain Bates and Harrison Otway on a variety of charges ranging from lewd conduct to sodomy, conspiracy to commit unnatural acts, and, as a definite afterthought, conspiracy to assassinate various justices and ministers—presumably those who had been most outspoken about the need to crush this abominable vice.

“Not, I see, on charges of treason,” Grey remarked to his brother, crumpling a broadsheet with a cartoon illustrating two of the conspirators engaging in one of these unnatural acts and tossing it into the fire in Hal’s office. “As you suspected.”

Hal shrugged moodily.

“Doesn’t take a fortune-teller to see that Bernard Adams and that lot would strongly prefer a nice sodomitical conspiracy to outrage the public and keep them distracted than alarming news of a gang of traitors who came damned near to cutting Adams’s throat and did manage to pass a great deal of damaging information to their master in France. To say nothing of fifteen thousand pounds—though I take leave to doubt that it all went to France.”

“They did?”

“They did. It’s been kept very quiet, but Bates sent a note to Adams, cool as dammit, and inveigled him into meeting privately in the yard of a tavern in Lambeth, saying he—Bates, that is—had something of advantage to confide. Adams went, the idiot, and only escaped being killed because Bates missed his footing on a patch of mud, allowing the fool time to shout for help. Adams was wounded, and Bates escaped, of course, but they caught him—trying to make it to Ireland, evidently.”

“Yes, I gather he has an Irish mistress.”

Hal blinked at him.

“He does? Who told you that?”

Realizing that it might be impolitic to reveal his conversation with Minnie, Grey merely shrugged, as though it were common rumor.

“Who told you all this?” he asked.

“Harry. Likely got it from his half brother, Joffrey.”

“Much more likely from Lady Joffrey,” Grey observed, and Hal made a brief grimace of agreement.

A sudden grinding noise made Grey’s head jerk round. In the corner stood a large wooden cabinet, which to this point he had assumed to be part of one of Mr. Beasley’s futile efforts to bring some semblance of order to Hal’s office. The doors to this swung slowly open, revealing a figure inside, and he clapped a hand to his dagger with an exclamation.

“It’s all right.” Hal was still cross, but his voice showed a tinge of amusement. “It’s only an automaton.”

This was by now apparent; the cabinet contained a life-size figure, or rather half of one; the thing ended at the waist, the bottom half of the cabinet presumably being filled with the clockwork mechanism whose whirring had attracted Grey’s attention. Going closer to examine this object, he discovered the figure to be made of wax, wood, and metal, gaily painted to resemble the popular conception of a native of India, complete to kohl-rimmed eyes, red lips, and gauzy turban.

He put out a hand to touch it, then jerked the hand back as a loud clank came from the machine. The figure leaned abruptly toward him in sinister fashion, but proved only to be inserting a stiff hand into a jar placed before it. More clanking and whirring, a long pause…and the figure snapped back into its original position, one arm swinging up so violently that it nearly struck Grey in the face.

“What the devil?”

“It’s a fortune-teller,” Hal said, quite unnecessarily. He was openly amused by this time.

“So I see.” The figure’s metal fingers held out a bit of folded paper, which Grey took gingerly and opened.

“The greatest danger could be your own stupidity,” he read aloud. He refolded the paper and dropped it back in the jar. “Very nice. Where on earth did you get this?”

“Sergeant-Major Weems confiscated it from the O’Higginses,” Hal said. “Put it in here for safekeeping until he can discover whom they stole it from.”

“You’d think it wouldn’t be difficult to trace the owner.” Grey walked round the cabinet, examining it. It was battered and scarred, though originally of very good manufacture.

Hal shrugged.

“They claim they won it in a dice game.”

“Yes, well.” Grey dismissed the automaton and sat down again. “You said the conspirators did succeed in getting material to France?”

“Adams says they did. Whilst he was frolicking on the river with Bates, Otway and Jeffords evidently burgled his house and took the contents of his safe, which included roughly fifteen thousand pounds: the property of His Majesty, intended to be handed over next day to the paymasters of two regiments bound for France. In the kerfuffle over all this, several offices in Whitehall discovered they were also missing assorted bits of important paper—though my personal suspicion is that they’ve leapt at the opportunity to blame any lapses in their bookkeeping on this so-called conspiracy.”

“Rather enterprising for a gang of sodomites,” Grey remarked, fascinated. “What are they supposed to have intended doing with the money—holding orgies of disgusting vice?”

“God knows. The last newspaper I read speculated that they proposed emigrating to France—using the stolen money to insure their welcome—where presumably disgusting vice flourishes unchecked in the streets.”

“Were the documents and money recovered?”

Hal leaned back in his chair.

“No, they weren’t. None of the conspirators had any suspicious material on them when they were arrested, and it wasn’t found in Ffoulkes’s house following his suicide—so the supposition is that Louis of France now has it.” Hal grimaced, as though his breakfast hadn’t agreed with him. “And speaking of France…”

Grey looked up sharply, hearing a new note in his brother’s voice.


“We aren’t going there.”


“The regiment’s orders have been changed. Read that.” Hal extracted a letter from the mess on his desk and threw it in front of Grey. It was from the Ministry of War, and in a few curt lines, ordered the 1st /46th to join with the forces of Duke Ferdinand of Brunswick, in Prussia.

“No explanation?” Grey raised a brow at his brother, who glowered back.

“No. Not that I need one. It’s frigging Twelvetrees’s doing.”

Twelvetrees. That name rang bells of warning, and within a moment, Grey had recollected why. “Nathaniel Twelvetrees?” Grey hazarded. “The gentleman with whom you—”

“Nathaniel Twelvetrees is dead, and so is the matter to which you refer.” Hal’s voice was flat, but his eyes dared Grey to say more on pain of death. “This is his elder brother. Colonel in the Royal Artillery.”

“I see.”

Which he did. While Hal had succeeded in regaining something of the family honor by his military efforts, he had done it with the assistance of capable men, dedicated soldiers such as Harry Quarry, whom he had lured away from the Buffs with the promise of higher rank and freedom of authority. Other regiments—such as the Royal Artillery—boasted officers of privilege and noble family, if not any pronounced military skills. Such men would want nothing to do with Lord Melton’s disgrace, or his regiment. Consequently, Hal could not rely on so many of the favors and connexions that gave some other regiments preferment.

Evidently, Colonel Twelvetrees thought the French campaign offered more scope and opportunity for distinction in battle, and wished to deprive the 46th of such opportunity. From what Grey knew of the war in Prussia, it was likely to be a long, drawn-out affair, with the Duke of Brunswick’s troops—which they would be joining as allies—at a numerical disadvantage.

Likewise, the English formed a smaller part of the army on the Prussian front, and would therefore have less influence in the management of the campaign.

“Well,” Grey said at last. “The beer is better.”

Hal’s bad temper at last gave way, and he laughed, if reluctantly.

“Yes, that’s something. And at least you speak German. I’ll need you by me, so they don’t slip anything past us.”

“Percival Wainwright speaks German, as well,” Grey said, and his heart jumped. He touched his waistcoat pocket, where the lock of dark hair lay curled in secrecy.

“Does he?” Hal was interested. “Good. Will you have time to show him his business? He signed his papers of commission this morning. I can turn him over to Wilmot or Brabham-Griggs, if you’d rather, but as you seemed to get on with him—”

“No, I can do that,” Grey assured him, rising. “Do you know where I might find him today? Is he at the barracks?”

“No. Actually, he’s at Mother’s house, being fitted with a suit for the wedding. I narrowly escaped myself. Oh—which reminds me: Olivia said if you turned up here, I was to send you home at once to be measured.”

“All right.” This suited him excellently well, though he had his reservations regarding Olivia’s taste. “She isn’t insisting upon yellow velvet, is she?”

“No, but she said something about persimmon waistcoats.”

Grey glanced suspiciously at his brother, who looked back with a perfect bland innocence.

“You wouldn’t recognize a persimmon if you sat on it,” Grey said, “and nor would Olivia.”

He was nearly out the door, when he remembered.

“That page of Father’s journal,” he said abruptly, turning back. “Did you speak to Mother? Have you learned any more about it?”

Something flickered in his brother’s eyes, and then was gone.

“No,” Hal said casually, returning his attention to the stack of papers on his desk. “Not a thing.”

Grey did not go home immediately, in spite of the presence there of Percy Wainwright. Instead, he crossed the courtyard and went upstairs to see if Harry Quarry was in his own office.

He was, leaning back in his chair, and apparently asleep, a half-dried quill stuck to a blotted page in a copybook on the desk before him.

“Practicing your penmanship, Harry?” Grey said, in a normal tone of voice. Quarry opened one bleary eye, reached out a hand, and flipped the book closed, the quill still inside it.

“Don’t bellow, there’s a good chap,” Quarry said, pressing both hands against his temples, apparently in hope of keeping the contents of his head from escaping.

“Late night, was it?” Grey pulled up a stool and leaned on the desk, eyeing his friend.

“I believe I’ve eaten something that disagreed with me,” Quarry said with dignity, and stifled a belch by way of illustration.

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