Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade

Page 21


“I swear I shall be relieved when you all are off to Germany,” she said tartly. “I shall worry about you much less, if you’re merely standing in front of cannon batteries and charging redoubts full of grenadiers.”

He laughed at that, though carefully because of his ribs, and stood up, also carefully. Doing so, he felt a small hard object in his pocket, and was reminded.

“Father was a Freemason, was he not?”

“Yes,” she said, and a fresh uneasiness seemed to flare in her eyes. “Why?”

“I only wondered—could this be his ring?” He fished it out and handed it to her. He might have picked it up carelessly in the library; there was a tray of the duke’s small clutter, kept there by way of memoriam, though he did not recall ever seeing a ring among those objects.

He saw her eyes flick toward the little inlaid secretary that stood in the corner of the room, before she reached for the ring. Which told him that the duke had indeed had such a ring—and that she had kept it. So much for the dead past, he thought cynically.

She tried the ring gingerly on her left hand; it hung loose as a quoit on a stick, and she shook her head, dropping it back into his palm.

“No, it’s much too big. Where did you get it? And why did you think it might be your father’s?”

“No particular reason,” he said with a shrug. “I can’t remember where I picked it up.”

“Let me see it again.”

Puzzled, he handed it over, and watched as she turned it to and fro, bringing it to her candlestick in order to see the inside. At last, she shook her head and gave it back.

“No, I don’t know. But…John, if you do recall where you found it, will you tell me?”

“Of course,” he said lightly. “Good night, Mother.” He kissed her cheek and left her, wondering.

He declined Tom’s suggestion of bread and milk in favor of a large whisky—or two—by the library fire, and had just reached a state of reconciliation with the universe when Brunton came to announce that he had a caller.

“I won’t come in.” Percy Wainwright smiled at him from the shadows of the porch. “I’m not fit to be indoors. I only came to bring you this.”

“This” was Grey’s dagger, which Percy put gingerly into his hands. Percy hadn’t been exaggerating about his fitness for civil surroundings; he was wearing rough clothes, much spotted and stained, and he bore about his person a distinct odor of alleyways and refuse.

“I went back to look for it,” he explained. “Luckily, it was under a pile of dead cabbages—sorry about the smell. I thought…you might need it,” he concluded, rather shyly.

Grey would have kissed him, damaged mouth notwithstanding, save for the lurking presence of Brunton in the hall. As it was, all he could do was to press Percy’s hand, hard, in gratitude.

“Thank you. Will I see you tomorrow?”

Percy’s smile glimmered in the dark.

“Oh, yes. Or shall I say, ‘Yes, sir?’ For I believe you’re now my superior officer, aren’t you?”

Grey laughed at that, bruises, bleeding, and his mother’s odd behavior all seeming inconsequent for the moment.

“I suppose so. I’ll arrange a commendation for you in the morning, then.”

Chapter 12

Officers and Gentlemen

We aren’t like the Russians, you see,” Quarry explained to Percy, kindly. “Bloody officers never go near their troops, let alone take them into battle.”

“They don’t?” Percy looked wary, as though thinking this might be a good idea. He had spent the week prior being taught the duties of an ensign and a second lieutenant, which consisted of attending parades, drills, roll calls, and mountings of the guard, keeping exact lists of accoutrements and stores—Captain Wilmot had complimented his penmanship, before excoriating him in round terms for misplacing a gross of boots and misdirecting ten barrels of powder—supervising the care of the sick in hospital—luckily there were relatively few of these at this season—and touring the soldiers’ accommodation.

“Look out for factions,” Quarry added. “We’ve two battalions—one fights abroad whilst the other reequips and brings up its strength—but we aren’t as large as some, and many of our common soldiers are longtimers, who’ve learnt to rub along together. There’ll be an influx of new men over the next month, though, and they tend to be sucked into one group or another. You can’t afford that—you’ll be watched, because of the family attachment, and there cannot be any sense of favoritism toward any group, save, of course, that you must always champion those companies directly under your command—you have four of them. Clear on that?”

“Oh, yes. Sir,” Percy added hurriedly, making Quarry grin.

“Good lad. Now bugger off to Sergeant Keeble and learn which end of a musket the bullet goes in.”

“Keeble’s on the square with a company,” Grey interrupted, having paused to deliver a sheaf of papers to Quarry’s office. “I have a moment; I’ll run him through the musket drill.”

“Good. What’s this lot?” Quarry picked up his spectacles and squinted through them at the papers. His eyes widened and he snatched off the spectacles, as though unable to believe his eyes. “What?” he bellowed.

Grey plucked at Percy’s sleeve.

“You’re dismissed,” he whispered. “Come on.”

Percy cast a last, apprehensive glance at Quarry, who had gone puce with rage and was addressing the sheaf of papers in loudly blasphemous terms. Quarry wasn’t looking at him, but Percy saluted briskly and turned on his heel to follow Grey.

“What was that about, or am I allowed to know?” he asked, once outside.

“Nothing.” Grey shrugged. “Instructions from the War Office, contradicting the last set. It happens once a week or so. How are you getting on with things?” More than busy with his own duties, he’d barely seen Percy during the week.

“Well enough. Or at least I hope so,” Percy said dubiously. “People do shout at me a lot.”

Grey laughed.

“Being shouted at is actually quite high on your list of duties,” he assured Percy.

“No one shouts at you.”

“I am,” Grey said complacently, “a major. No one is allowed to shout at me—within the regiment, of course—save Harry, Colonel Symington, and my brother. I don’t mind Harry, I keep the hell out of Symington’s sight, and I tread with extreme care around Melton; I advise you to do the same. Have you toured the barracks this morning?”

“Yesterday. Ah…is there anything I should look for especially, in terms of brewing trouble?”

Grey had gone with him for the first round of such tours, but now explained the finer points.

“For those in barracks, look for signs of drunkenness—which is not difficult to spot, I assure you—excessive gambling, or a disposition to excessive whoring. For those in billets in the town—”

“How do you know what’s excessive?”

“If a man is missing important bits of his uniform or equipment, he’s gambling excessively. If he’s missing important bits of his anatomy from the syphilis, or if you find a whore actually in his bed, that’s considered above the odds. Pox and the clap are more or less all right, provided he can stand up straight.”

“Easier said than done. Ever had it?”

“No,” Grey said, edging aside and giving Percy a stare. “Have you?”

“Once, in my younger years.” Percy shuddered. “Only time I ever bedded a woman. If I hadn’t already known what I was, that would likely have been enough to seal the matter.”

“Was she a whore?” Grey inquired, not without sympathy. He had himself bedded several whores over the years, partly from necessity, and partly—at first—from a curiosity as to whether the experience might suddenly trigger some dormant desire for the female.

“No,” Percy said. “In fact, she was a rather well-known lady with a marked reputation for piety. A good deal older than myself,” he added delicately.

“Is she dead?” Grey asked, with interest. “Do I know her?”

“Yes, you do, and no, she isn’t, worse luck, the old baggage. Anyway, what am I looking for when Colonel Quarry says, ‘the looks of the men’?”

“Oh—” Grey waved a vague hand toward the distant parade ground, where a mass of new recruits were being chivvied into awkward lines by barking corporals. “If they seem thinner or paler than usual, not themselves.”

“And how would I know that?” Percy protested. “I’ve only seen most of them once!”

“Well, you visit them every week—oftener, if you have reason to think there’s trouble brewing,” Grey said patiently. “You ought to know all their names by the end of the second week, and the names of their mothers, sisters, and sweethearts by the third.”

“After which I will perhaps have mastered the duties of ensign, and be allowed to forget them all, as a second lieutenant?”

“You won’t forget them,” Grey said with confidence. “An officer never forgets his men. Never worry—I have the greatest faith in you.”

“Well, I’m glad you think so,” Percy said, in tones of extreme doubt, following Grey into the armory. “And these are muskets, are they?”

Despite Percy’s protestations of ignorance and ineptitude, he proved to be a more than adequate shot. Grey had taken him out to the edge of London, to an open field, to try his hand without witnesses, and was agreeably surprised.

“And these are muskets, are they?” he mimicked, poking a finger through the center of a target, the cloth shredded by multiple shots.

Percy grinned, unabashed.

“I didn’t say I’d never held a gun before.”

“No, you didn’t.” Grey rolled up the target. “What kind of gun?”

“Target pistols, for the most part. Fowling pieces, now and again.” Percy didn’t go into detail, shrugging off Grey’s praise with modesty. “What Colonel Quarry said—about the family connexion…” He hesitated, not sure how to express his question.

“Well, there will be a bit of jealousy amongst the other officers,” Grey said, matter-of-factly. “They all view each other as rivals, and of course will suspect you of preferment. Not a great deal you can do about it, though, save do your job well.”

Percy rubbed a handkerchief over his face to remove the powder stains.

“I mean to,” he said with determination. “What other skills ought I to possess, do you think?”

“Well,” said Grey, with a glance at Wainwright’s graceful form, “you must be able to dance. Can you dance?”

Percy looked at him in disbelief.


Grey looked back in similar disbelief, but this wasn’t mockery. He tended to forget, given Percy’s ease in society, that he had not been born to that world but rather into a family of strict Methodists. He knew nothing of Methodists, but supposed they considered dancing sinful.

“Dance,” Grey said firmly. “Dancing is most necessary for any man of good education, and the more so for an officer. And I quote from a well-known authority: ‘Fencing endows a man with speed and strength, while dancing brings elegance and dignity to carriage and movement.’”

“In that case, I am doomed.”

“Well, dancing is somewhat less lethal in intent,” Grey said, rubbing a finger beneath his nose in an effort not to laugh. “Come with me.”

“Where are we going?” Percy gathered up the musket, cartridge box, shot pouch, powder horn, and other impedimenta of shooting.

“To my brother’s house. My sister-in-law employs a very good dancing master for her sons, and I’m sure will make arrangements for you to be tutored discreetly.”

Minnie was charmed by Percy, whom she had not yet met; still more charmed that he should seek her help. Grey had noticed this female paradox before: women who swooned at the notion of powerful men who would protect them at the same time liked nothing better than an open admission of helplessness on the part of any male within their sphere of influence.

He left Percy to Minnie, who was—in spite of her pregnancy—demonstrating steps and figures with considerable deftness, and went to the library.

Hal’s collection of military historians, tacticians, and theorists was considerable, and Grey helped himself without compunction to those volumes he thought might be of most service in Percy’s military instruction.

Flavius Vegetius Renatus—known chummily as “Vegetius” to his intimates—who wrote Epitomae Rei Militaris sometime between A.D. 385 and 450. One of Hal’s favorites, a good place to start.

“Few men are brave; many become so through care and force of discipline,” Grey murmured, tucking the book into the crook of his arm.

There was Mauvillon’s Histoire de la Dernière Guerre de Bohème, in three volumes. Very popular, and quite recent, having been published only two years before, in Amsterdam. Only volumes I and II were present—Hal must be reading volume III—but he took the first one.

He hesitated among Marcus Aurelius, Tacitus, and Vauban, but on impulse added Virgil’s Aeneid, for some relief. That would do for now; after all, Percy had very little time to read these days—no more than Grey himself did.

He turned from the bookshelf at the sound of a step, and found his brother had returned.

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