Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade

Page 3

“Jesus,” Hal said, laughing over Grey’s account of the morning’s events. “Better you than me. Was Twelvetrees there?”

“Don’t know him.”

“Then he wasn’t there.” Hal flipped a hand in dismissal. “You’d have noticed him slipping a dagger in Jones-Osborn’s back. Adams’s lap-wolf. What did you think of the new brother? Shall we have him?”

Familiar as he was with Hal’s quick-change methods of conversation, it took Grey only an instant to catch his brother’s meaning.

“Wainwright? Seems a decent fellow,” he said, affecting casualness. “Have you heard anything of him?”

“No more than we learned yesterday. I asked Quarry, but neither he nor Joffrey knew anything of the man.”

That said much; between them, Harry Quarry, one of the two regimental colonels, and his half brother, Lord Joffrey, knew everyone of note in both military and political circles.

“You liked him?” Grey asked. Hal frowned a little, considering.

“Yes,” he said slowly. “And it would be awkward to refuse him, should he desire to take a commission with us.”

“No experience, of course,” Grey observed. This was not a stumbling block, but it was a consideration. Commissions were normally purchased, and many officers had never seen a soldier nor held a weapon prior to taking up their office. On the other hand, most of the 46th’s senior officers were veterans of considerable battlefield experience, and Hal chose new additions carefully.

“True. I should suggest his beginning at second lieutenant, perhaps—or even ensign. To learn his business before moving higher.”

Grey considered this, then nodded.

“Second lieutenant,” he said. “Or even first. There will be the family connexion. It wouldn’t be fitting, I think, that he should be an ensign.” Ensigns were the lowliest of the commissioned officers, at everyone’s beck and call.

“Perhaps you’re right,” Hal conceded. “We’d put him under Harry, of course, at least to start. You would be willing to guide him?”

“Certainly.” Grey felt his heart beat faster, and forced himself to caution. “That is, should he wish to join us. The general did say they had not decided. And Bonham would take him at once as a captain in the Fifty-first, you know.”

Hal huffed and looked down his nose at the thought that anyone might prefer to reign in hell rather than serve in heaven, as it were, but reluctantly conceded the point.

“Yes, I should like to make him captain eventually, if he proves able. But we leave for France in less than three months; I doubt that is time to try him adequately. Can he even handle a sword, do you think?” Wainwright had not been wearing one; still, most nonmilitary gentlemen did not.

Grey shrugged.

“I can find out. Do you wish me to broach the matter of commission with Wainwright directly, or shall you open negotiations with the general?”

Hal drummed his fingers on the desk for a moment, then made up his mind.

“Ask him directly. If he is to be a member of both the family and the regiment, I think we must treat him as such from the beginning. And he is much nearer to you in age. I think he is somewhat afraid of me.” Hal’s brows knitted briefly in puzzlement, and Grey smiled. His brother liked to think himself modest and inoffensive, and affected not to know that while his troops idolized him, they were also terrified of him.

“I’ll talk to him, then.”

Grey made to rise, but Hal waved him back, still frowning.

“Wait. There is—another matter.”

Grey looked sharply at his brother, hearing the note of strain in Hal’s voice. Distracted by thoughts of Percy Wainwright, he hadn’t really looked at Hal; now he saw the tightness around his brother’s mouth and eyes. Trouble, then.

“What is it?”

Hal grimaced, but before he could reply, footsteps came down the corridor, and someone knocked diffidently at the jamb of the open door. Grey turned to see a young hussar, his face flushed from the cold wind outside.

“My lord? A message, sir, from the ministry. I was told to wait upon an answer,” he added awkwardly.

Hal turned a dark countenance on the messenger, but then beckoned impatiently and snatched the message.

“Wait downstairs,” he said, waving the hussar away. He broke the seal and read the note quickly, muttered something blasphemous under his breath, and seized a quill to scribble a reply at the bottom of the page.

Grey rocked back in his chair, waiting. He glanced round the office, wondering what could have happened since yesterday. Hal had shown no signs of worry during their luncheon with the general and Percy.

He could not have said what drew his eye to the scrap of paper. Hal’s office resembled nothing so much as the den of some large beast of untidy habit, and while both Hal and his elderly clerk, Mr. Beasley, could lay their hands on anything wanted within an instant, no one else could find so much as a pin in the general chaos.

The paper itself lay among a quantity of others scattered on the desk, distinguished only by a ragged edge, as though it had been torn from a book. Grey picked it up, glanced at it casually, then stiffened, eyes glued to the page.

“Do let my papers alone, John,” Hal said, finishing his reply with a viciously scrawled signature. “You’ll muddle everything. What’s that you have?” He tossed his quill on the desk and snatched the paper impatiently from Grey. He made to put it back on the desk, then caught sight of the words and froze.

“It is, is it not?” Grey asked, feeling queer. “Father’s writing?” It was a rhetorical question; he had recognized both the hand and the style of writing at once. Hal hadn’t heard in any case; the blood had drained from his face, and he was reading the journal page—for that is what it clearly was—as though it were notice of his own execution.

“He burnt it,” Hal whispered, and swallowed. “She said he’d burnt it.”

“Who?” Grey asked, startled. “Mother?”

Hal glanced up at him sharply, but ignored his question.

“Where did this come from?” he demanded, barely waiting for Grey’s shrug before shouting, “Mr. Beasley! I want you!”

Mr. Beasley, promptly emergent from his own pristine sanctuary, denied any knowledge of the sheet of paper and confessed complete ignorance of its means of arrival in Hal’s office. He was, though, able to supply the helpful information that the paper had definitely not been upon the desk earlier in the day.

“How on earth would you know?” Grey inquired, giving the desk and its contents a disparaging look. Two beady-eyed stares turned upon him. They’d know. Grey coughed.

“Yes. In that case…” He trailed off. He had been about to inquire who had come into the office during the day, but realized at once the difficulty of the question. Dozens of people visited the office every day: clerks, sutlers, officers, royal messengers, gunnery sergeants, weaponers…. He’d come in once and found a man with a dancing bear on a chain and a monkey on his shoulder, come to collect payment for performing at a jollification for the troops in honor of the queen’s birthday.

Still, surely some effort should be made.

“How long had you been here before I came in?” he asked. Hal rubbed a hand over his face.

“I came in just before you. Otherwise, I should have seen it at once.”

“Ought we call in the door guard, and the men in the building?” Grey suggested. “Query each of them as to anyone who might have entered the office whilst it was unoccupied?”

Hal’s lips compressed. He’d got control of himself; Grey could see his mind working again, and rapidly.

“No,” he said, and consciously relaxed his shoulders. “No, it’s not important.” He crumpled the sheet of paper into a ball, and threw it with apparent casualness into the fire. “That will be all, Mr. Beasley.”

Mr. Beasley bowed and went out. The paper glowed and burst into flame. Grey’s hands clenched involuntarily, wanting to seize it from destruction, but it was already gone, ink stark for an instant on the charring paper before it fell to ash. The unexpected sense of loss made him speak more sharply than his wont.

“Why did you do that?”

“It doesn’t matter.” Hal glanced at the door, to be sure that Beasley was out of earshot, then took the poker and thrust it into the fire, stirring it so that sparks flew up the chimney like a swarm of fiery bees, making sure no trace of the paper remained. “Forget it.”

“I am not inclined to forget it. What did you mean, ‘He burnt it’?”

Hal put the poker back in its stand with a careful precision.

“That was not a suggestion,” he said softly. “It was an order—Major.”

Grey’s jaw tightened.

“I do not choose to obey you—sir.”

Hal turned, startled.

“What the hell do you mean, you bloody don’t choose to—”

“I mean I won’t,” Grey snapped, “and you frigging well know it. What do you propose to do about it? Clap me in irons? Have me locked up for a week on bread and water?”

“Don’t bloody tempt me.” Hal glared at him, but it was clear to both of them that he had given in. Partly.

“Keep your voice down, at least.” Hal went to the door, looked out into the hallway, but didn’t shut it. That was interesting, Grey thought. Did Hal suppose that Mr. Beasley might creep up to listen outside the door, if it were closed?

“Yes, it was a page from one of the journals,” Hal said, very quietly. “The last one.”

Grey nodded briefly; the date on the page had been two weeks prior to the date of their father’s death. The duke had been a meticulous diarist; there was a small bookcase in the library in Jermyn Street, filled with row upon row of his journals, kept over more than thirty years. Grey was familiar with them, and grateful to his father for having kept them; they had enabled him to know at least a little of his father as a man, once he reached his own manhood. The last journal in the bookshelf ended three months prior to the duke’s death; there must have been another, but Grey had never seen it.

“Mother told you Father had burnt it? Did she say why?”

“No, she didn’t,” Hal said briefly. “I didn’t inquire, under the circumstances.”

Hal was still watching the open door. Grey couldn’t tell whether he was merely on the alert, or avoiding meeting Grey’s eyes. Hal was a good liar when he needed to be, but Grey knew his brother extremely well—and Hal knew him. He took a deep breath, ordering his thoughts. The smell of burnt paper was sharp in his nose.

“Clearly it wasn’t burnt,” Grey said slowly. “So we must assume, first, that it was stolen, and then that whoever took it has kept it until now. Who, and why? And why does he—whoever he is—inform you now that he has it? And why did Mother—”

“Damned if I know.” Hal did look at him then, and Grey’s anger faded as he saw that his brother was indeed telling the truth. He saw something else that disquieted him extremely—his brother was afraid.

“It is a threat of some sort?” he asked, lowering his voice still further. There had been nothing on the page he had read to suggest such a thing; it had been part of an account of a meeting his father had had with a longtime friend and their discussion of astronomy, quite innocuous. Therefore, the page had plainly been meant only to inform Hal of the existence of the journal itself—and whatever else it might contain.

“God knows,” Hal said. “What the devil could it—well.” He rubbed a knuckle hard across his lips, and glanced at Grey. “Don’t speak to Mother about it. I’ll do it,” he added, seeing Grey about to protest.

The sound of boots and voices along the passage prevented further conversation. Captain Wilmot, with his sergeant and a company clerk. Hal reached out and quietly closed the door; they waited in silence as the noise died away.

“Do you know a man named Melchior Ffoulkes?” Hal asked abruptly.

“No,” Grey replied, wondering whether this had to do with the matter at hand, or was a change of subject. “I am reasonably sure I’d recall him, if I did.”

That provoked the ghost of a smile from Hal.

“Yes, you would. Or a private soldier named Harrison Otway? From the Eleventh Foot.”

“What a ridiculous name. No, who is he?”

“Captain Michael Bates?”

“Well, I’ve heard of him, at least. Horse Guards, is he not? Flash cove, as Tom Byrd puts it. What, may I ask, is the purpose of this catechism? Do sit down, Hal.” He sat himself, and after a moment’s hesitation, Hal slowly followed suit.

“Have you ever met Captain Bates?”

Grey was becoming annoyed, but answered flippantly.

“Not to remember, certainly. I couldn’t swear that I’ve never shared a bed with him in an inn, of course—”

Hal’s hand gripped his forearm, so hard that he gasped.

“Don’t,” Hal said, very softly. “Don’t make jokes.”

Grey stared into his brother’s eyes, seeing the lines of his face cut deep. The journal page had shocked him, but he had already been disturbed.

“Let go,” Grey said quietly. “What’s wrong?”

Hal slowly withdrew his hand.

“I don’t know. Not yet.”

“Who are these men? Have they anything to do with—” He glanced at the fireplace, but Hal shook his head.

“I don’t know. I don’t think so—but it’s possible.” The sound of footsteps echoed in the hallway, and Hal stopped speaking abruptly. The footsteps were distinctive, the sound of a heavy man with a decided limp. Ewart Symington, the second regimental colonel, Harry Quarry’s opposite number.

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