Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade

Page 37

Grey was filled with a pleasant sense of well-being, brought on by two or three quarts of wine and spirits, and a sense of anticipation regarding the coming campaign. It was true that he and Percy would not have the sort of intimacy they had been allowed in London—but they would be in each other’s company, sharing adventure and a camaraderie of the spirit. As for that of the body…well, opportunity did occur now and then—and at the worst, they had winter to look forward to, and the privacy and freedom of Rome.

Buoyed by these pleasant thoughts and the brilliant light of a full moon, it was some time before he realized that Hal was not sharing his elation, but was pacing along with his head down, evidently weighed down by some preoccupation.

“What’s the matter?” Grey asked. “Were we slighted in some manner that I didn’t notice?”

“What?” Hal glanced at him, surprised. “Oh. No, of course not. I was only thinking that I wished it had been France.”

“Well, France has its advantages,” Grey said judiciously, “quite aside from the fact that it’s full of Frenchmen. But I think we’ll do well enough here.”

“Ass,” Hal said again, though without heat. “It’s nothing to do with the campaign; that’s all right—we may be in the minority here, but I think we shall have a good deal more autonomy under Ferdinand than we might under Frederick. No,” he continued, frowning at the uneven cobbles in the street, “I wanted France because of the Jacobite exiles there.”

“Oh?” The word “Jacobite” pricked a hole in the soap bubble of Grey’s intoxication, and he put out a hand to ward off a passing tree. “Why?”

He hadn’t told Hal anything regarding his inquiries of Jamie Fraser; no need, unless they came to something. They had seen Sir George and Lady Stanley safely embarked for Havana, the week before their own sailing, and in the frantic rush of embarkation, Grey had not spared a single thought for the puzzle surrounding his father’s death. No more journal pages had surfaced; no further attacks had been made. The whole business seemed to have vanished, as suddenly as it had begun.

“Nothing, probably. Only I had a name or two, from Bath—”

“Bath?” Grey said, stumbling slightly. “What the bloody hell is in Bath?”

Hal glanced at him, then made a small gesture of resignation.

“Victor Arbuthnot,” he said.

For a few moments, Grey could not place the name, but then it came to him.

“Father’s old friend? The one he did astronomy with?”

Hal snorted.

“He may have done astronomy, but his friendship is questionable. He was the man who presumably denounced Father as a Jacobite conspirator.”

“He—what?” Grey came to an abrupt halt, staring. The moon was bright enough that his brother’s face was fully visible. He could see that Hal was at least as drunk as he was, though still able to walk and speak. “You found him—and you let him live?”

Hal waved a hand impatiently, nearly overbalanced, and gripped a tree.

“Arbuthnot swears he did not. He gave a statement, yes, and bitterly regrets it. I might have done it, too, if they’d done to me what they did to him.” Hal’s jaw tightened a little as he swallowed. “He admitted to being a Jacobite himself, to conspiring with Catholics from Italy and from Ireland, thinking it was safe enough to give their names—but he swears he gave no names of men within England; no one who could be taken up and questioned. And definitely not Father.”

Grey didn’t bother asking why Hal believed Arbuthnot. Plainly he did, and Hal was not a fool.

“Then how does he explain—”

“He doesn’t know. He didn’t write the statement himself—he couldn’t.” Hal’s mouth twisted. “He only signed it—with a man named Bowles tenderly guiding his hand, he said.”

“Bowles,” Grey said slowly. His own insides had surged at the name, and he swallowed several times, to make sure they stayed put. “You…know this Bowles?”

Hal shook his head. “Harry does. Small sadist with a face like a pudding, he says. Intelligencer. You’ve met him?”

“Once,” Grey said, and pulled at his stock, wanting air. “Just the once.”

“Yes, well, I don’t know what he is now, and Arbuthnot didn’t know what he was then—an assistant of some kind, Arbuthnot said. I sent Mr. Beasley to look for the original statement,” Hal added abruptly. “Not to be found.”

“Secret? Or destroyed?”

“Don’t know. He couldn’t find anybody who would admit even to having seen the thing.”

And yet that statement was the basis for the warrant of arrest issued for Gerard Grey, first Duke of Pardloe. The warrant that had never been served.

“Jesus.” They had stopped walking, and without the flow of air across his face, Grey felt his gorge rising. “I think I’m going to puke.”

He did, and stayed bent over for a minute, hands on his thighs, breathing heavily. The purging seemed to have helped, though; he was somewhat light-headed when he stood up, but his mind seemed clearer.

“You said, ‘definitely not Father.’ Do you—or does he, rather—mean that Father was a Jacobite, but Arbuthnot didn’t denounce him? Or that he wasn’t a Jacobite at all?”

“Naturally he wasn’t a Jacobite,” Hal said, angry. “What are you saying?”

“Well, if he wasn’t—and you know that for a fact—why do you want to talk to Jacobites in France?” He stared at Hal, whose face was pallid in the moonlight, his eyes dark holes.

“He wasn’t,” Hal repeated stubbornly. “I just—I just—wait.” He swallowed visibly, and Grey could see the sheen of sweat on his brow.

Grey nodded, and sat down on a low wall, trying not to hear the retching noises; his own stomach hadn’t quite settled yet, and he felt pale and clammy.

A few minutes later, Hal came back out of the shadows and sat down heavily beside him.

“Damned oysters,” he said. “You oughtn’t to eat oysters in a month without an ‘R’ in it, everyone knows that.” Grey nodded, forbearing to point out that it was March, and they sat still for a time, a cold breeze drying the sweat on their faces.

“You could have told me, Hal,” Grey said quietly. They were sitting on the wall of a churchyard, and the shadow of the church itself covered them in darkness. He could no longer see Hal as anything save an indistinct blur, but could sense him and hear him breathing.

Hal didn’t answer for some time, but finally said, “Told you what?”

“Told me that Father was murdered.” He swallowed, tasting wine and bile. “I—should have liked to be able to speak of it with you.”

He felt the shift of Hal’s weight as his brother turned toward him.

“What did you say?” Hal whispered.

“I said why could you not have told me—oh. Oh, Jesus.” His bones turned to water, as he belatedly grasped the horror in his brother’s question. “Jesus, Hal. You didn’t know?”

His brother was absolutely silent.

“You didn’t know,” Grey said, voice shaking as he answered his own question. He turned toward Hal, wondering where the words had come from; he hadn’t any breath at all. “You thought he killed himself. I thought you knew. I thought you always knew.”

He heard Hal draw breath, slowly.

“How do you know this?” Hal said, very calmly.

“I was there.”

Hardly knowing what he said for the roaring in his ears, he told the story of that summer dawn in the conservatory, and the smell of the smashed peach. Heard the echo of that first telling, felt the ghost of Percy warm beside him.

At some point, he realized dimly that Hal’s face was wet with tears. He didn’t realize that he was weeping, as well, until Hal fumbled in his sleeve by reflex, pulled out a handkerchief, and handed it to him.

He mopped his face, scarcely noticing what he did.

“I thought—I was sure that Mother had told you. And that the two of you then had decided that I wasn’t to know. You sent me to Aberdeen.”

Hal was shaking his head, back and forth, like an automaton; Grey could feel, rather than see it, though he made out the movement when Hal wiped his nose heedlessly on his sleeve. It occurred briefly to Grey that he didn’t think he’d seen his brother cry since the death of his first wife.

“That…that cunning old…oh, God. That bloody woman. How could she? And alone—all these years, alone!” Hal covered his face with both hands.

“Why?” Grey felt breath beginning to move in his chest again. “Why in God’s name would she not tell you? I understand her wishing to keep the truth from me, given my age, but—you?”

Hal was beginning to get himself under control, though his voice still cracked, going raggedly from one emotion to another, relief succeeded by dismay, only to be replaced by horror, sorrow giving way to anger.

“Because she knew I’d go after the bastard. And, damn her, she thought he’d kill me, too.” Hal brought a fist down on the wall, making no sound. “God damn it!”

“You think she knew who it was.” Spoken aloud, the words hung in the air between them.

“She knows at least who it might be,” Hal said at last. He stood up and picked up his hat. “Let’s go.”

The brothers walked the rest of the way in silence.

Chapter 24


As one of the battalion’s two majors, Grey held responsibility for roughly four hundred troops. When the army was on the move, it was his duty to ensure that everyone turned up in the right place, more or less at the right time, suitably trained and equipped to do whatever they had been sent to do. As Hal’s acting lieutenant-colonel, it was also his work to be actively in the field when the regiment was engaged, managing the logistics of battle, directing the movements of some twenty-six companies, and carrying out—to the best of his ability—such strategy and tactics as his orders gave him.

Through the entire month of April, the forces of Duke Ferdinand and his English allies had been on the move—but not engaged, owing to the cowardly disinclination of the Duc de Richelieu’s French and Austrian troops to stand still and fight.

Consequently, the army had moved up, down, and side ways to the Rhine Valley for weeks, forcing the French gradually back toward their own border, but never managing to force an engagement.

Consequently, Grey’s daily occupation consisted generally of sixteen hours of argument with Prussian sutlers, Hanoverian mule drivers, and English quartermasters, endless meetings, inspecting and approving—or not—each new campsite, housing, and culinary arrangement, dealing with outbreaks of flux and pox, and dictating orders to—and listening to the excuses for not following said orders—of twenty-six company commanders regarding the behavior, equipment, and disposition of their men.

Grey sought occasional relief from this tedium by going out on patrols with one or another company. The ostensible—and in fact the actual—purpose of this exercise was for him to judge the companies’ readiness and the competence of their officers. So far as he was concerned, the principal benefit of such excursions was to keep him from losing either his temper or his mind.

He must rigorously avoid any appearance of favoritism, of course, and was in the habit of choosing which company to attend by dint of throwing a dart at the list hung on the wall of his tent. By the vagaries of chance, therefore, the lot did not fall on one of Lieutenant Wainwright’s companies until late April.

He saw Percy himself often—they shared supper most evenings, whether in the officer’s mess or privately, in Grey’s tent—and of course inquired after his companies in the usual way—but most of their conversation was of a personal nature. He had not yet seen Percy work his men, save for drills, and thus went out on April 24 in a state of mingled anticipation and apprehension.

He rode a gelding called Grendel, whose mild temper belied his name, and the weather had obligingly adopted a similar disposition. The day was sunny and warm, and the men more than happy to be out and active. Percy was nervous, but hid it reasonably well, and everything went smoothly for most of the day. In early afternoon, though, the column found themselves perhaps six miles from camp, progressing along the edge of a bluff over the river.

The terrain was thickly wooded, but with a broad, grassy lip along the edge of the bluff, and a good breeze came up from the silver sheet of the Rhine below—a grateful relief to men who had made the steep climb up the bluff in full uniform and equipment. Then the wind changed, and Grendel’s head came up, nostrils flaring. His ears went forward.

Grey reined up at once. Ensign Tarleton saw his movement and properly signaled the company to halt, which they did in a rather blundering, complaining fashion, muttering and stepping on each other’s heels. Percy turned round to frown at them in rebuke.

“Tell your men to fall into firing order; I don’t like something over there,” Grey said under his breath. He nodded at a copse, a hundred yards away. The wind was coming from that direction; it touched his face.

The other officers’ horses were lifting their heads now, nickering uncertainly. Percy didn’t ask questions but rose in his stirrups, calling orders. The sense of alarm spread like fire in straw; all complaint and disorder vanished in a moment, and the men snapped into a double line, their corporal shouting the orders to load.

A blast of musket fire burst from the copse, a stitchery of bright flashes through the trees and a sharp smell of powder smoke, borne on the breeze.

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