As though the duke had picked up this thought, he reached into a cupboard and withdrew a stout brown bottle and a couple of worn pewter cups.
“It’s not a bribe,” he said, setting these on the desk with a fleeting smile. “I can’t keep my temper about Siverly without the aid of a drink, and drinking in front of someone who’s not makes me feel like a sot.”
Recalling the effect of wine after long abstinence, Jamie had some reservations regarding whisky—he could smell it, the instant the bottle was uncorked—but nodded, nonetheless.
“Siverly,” he said slowly, picking up the cup. And how did ye ken I knew him, I wonder? The answer to that came as quickly as the question. Mina Rennie, otherwise known as the Duchess of Pardloe. He pushed the thought aside for the moment, slowly inhaling the sweet fierce fumes of the drink.
“The man I kent wasna a real Irishman, though he’d some land in Ireland, and I think his mother was maybe Irish. He was a friend of O’Sullivan, him who was later quartermaster for … Charles Stuart.”
Pardloe looked sharply at him, having caught the hesitation—he’d nearly said “Prince Charles”—but nodded at him to continue. “Jacobite connections,” Pardloe observed. “Yet not a Jacobite himself?”
Jamie shook his head and took a cautious sip. It burned the back of his throat and sent tendrils swirling down through his body like a drop of ink in water. Oh, God. Maybe this was worth being dragged off like a convict. Then again …
“He dabbled. Dined at Stuart’s table in Paris quite often, and ye’d see him out with O’Sullivan or one o’ the prince’s other Irish friends—but that’s as far as it went. I met him once in Lord George Murray’s company at a salon, but he kept well apart from Mar or Tullibardine.” He had a moment’s pang at thought of the small, cheerful Earl of Tullibardine, who, like his own grandfather, had been executed on Tower Hill after the Rising. He lifted his cup in silent salute and drank before going on. “But then he was gone. Frightened off, thought better, saw nay profit—I hadn’t enough to do wi’ him myself to say why. But he wasna with Charles Stuart at Glenfinnan, nor after.”
He took another sip. He wasn’t liking this; the memories of the Rising were too vivid. He felt Claire there by his elbow, was afraid to turn his head and look.
“Saw no profit,” the duke echoed. “No, I daresay he didn’t.” He sounded bitter. He sat looking into his cup for a moment, then tossed the rest back, made a houghing noise, set it down, and reached for the bundle of papers.
“Read that. If you will,” he added, the courtesy clearly an afterthought.
Jamie glanced at the papers, feeling an obscure sense of unease. But again, there was no reason to refuse, and, despite his reluctance, he picked up the top few sheets and began to read.
The duke wasn’t a man who seemed comfortable sitting still. He twitched, coughed, got up and lit the candle, sat down again … coughed harder. Jamie sighed, concentrating against the distraction.
Siverly seemed to have made the most of his army career in Canada. While Jamie disapproved of the man’s behavior on general principles and admired the eloquent passion displayed by the man who had written about it, he felt no personal animus. When he came to the part about the pillaging and terrorizing of the habitant villages, though, he felt the blood begin to rise behind his eyes. Siverly might be a proper villain, but this wasn’t personal villainy.
This was the Crown’s way. The way of dealing with resistant natives. Theft, rape, murder … and fire.
Cumberland had done it, “cleansing” the Highlands after Culloden. And James Wolfe had done it, too—to deprive the Citadel at Quebec of support from the countryside. Taken livestock, killed the men, burned houses … and left the women to starve and freeze.
God, that she might be safe! he thought in sudden agony, closing his eyes for an instant. And the child with her.
He glanced up from the paper. The duke was still coughing but had now dug a pipe out of the midden and was packing it with tobacco. Lord Melton had commanded troops at Culloden. Those troops—and the man who sat before him—had very likely remained to take part in the cleansing of the Highlands.
“No lingering sense of injury,” he’d said. Jamie muttered something very rude under his breath in the Gàidhlig and went on reading, though he found his attention still distracted.
Blood pressure. That’s what Claire called it. To do with how hard your heart beat and the force with which it drove the blood round your body. When your heart failed you and blood no longer reached the brain, that’s what caused fainting, she said. And when it beat hard, in the grip of fear or passion, that was when you felt the blood beat in your temples and swell in your chest, ready for bed or battle.
His own blood pressure was rising like a rocket, and he’d no desire to bed Pardloe.
The duke took a spill from a pottery dish and put it to the candle flame, then used it to light his pipe. It had grown dark outside, and the smell of oncoming rain came in through the half-open window, mingling with the musky sweet scent of the tobacco. Pardloe’s lean cheeks hollowed as he sucked at the pipe, the orbits of his eyes shadowed by the light that fell on brow and nose. He looked like a skull.
Abruptly, Jamie set down the papers.
“What do you want of me?” he demanded.
Pardloe took the pipe from his mouth and exhaled slow wisps of smoke.
“I want you to translate that bit of Irish. And to tell me more—whatever you know or recall of Gerald Siverly’s background and connections. Beyond that …” The pipe was in danger of going out, and the duke took a long pull at it.
“And ye think I’ll do it, for the asking?”
Pardloe gave him a level look, smoke purling from his lips.
“Yes, I do. Why not?” He raised the middle finger of one hand. “I would consider it a debt, to be paid.”
“Put that bloody finger back down before I ram it up your backside.”
The duke’s mouth twitched, but he put the finger down without comment.
“I also wished to see you, to determine whether you might be of assistance in bringing Major Siverly to justice. I think that you can be. And what I want above all is justice.”
Jamie drew a breath and held it for a moment, to ensure against hasty speech.
The duke blew a thoughtful cloud of blue-tinged smoke, and Jamie realized suddenly what the sweet, pungent odor was. It wasn’t tobacco; the duke was drinking hemp smoke. He’d smelled it once or twice before; a doctor in Paris had prescribed it to an acquaintance who suffered from a lung complaint. Was the duke ill? He didn’t look it.
He didn’t sound like it, either.
“Siverly has taken leave from his regiment and disappeared. We think he has gone to his estate in Ireland. I want him found and brought back.” Pardloe’s voice was level, and so was his gaze. “My brother is going to Ireland on this mission, but he will require help. He—”
“Did he bloody tell you to fetch me here?” Jamie’s fists had doubled. “Does he think that I—”
“I don’t know what he thinks, and, no, he has no idea that I’ve brought you here,” Pardloe said. “I doubt he’ll be pleased,” he added thoughtfully, “but as I said—whatever disagreements you and he may have do not concern me.” He laid the pipe aside and folded his hands, looking at Jamie straight on.
“I dislike doing this,” he said. “And I regret the necessity.”
Jamie stared at Pardloe, feeling his chest tighten. “I’ve been fucked up the arse by an Englishman before,” he said flatly. “Spare me the kiss, aye?”
Pardloe drew breath through his nose and laid both hands flat on the desk.
“You will accompany Lieutenant-Colonel Grey to Ireland and there render him every assistance in locating Major Siverly and compelling his return to England, as well as obtaining evidence to aid in his prosecution.”
Jamie sat like stone. He could hear the rasp of his own breath.
“Or your parole will be revoked. You will be taken to the Tower—today—and there committed to imprisonment at His Majesty’s pleasure.” The duke paused. “Do you require a moment to consider the situation?” he asked politely.
Jamie stood up abruptly. Pardloe stiffened, barely saving himself from jerking backward.
“When?” Jamie asked, and was surprised at the calmness in his voice.
Pardloe’s shoulders relaxed, almost imperceptibly.
“In a few days.” For the first time, his eyes left Jamie’s face, surveying him from head to toe. “You’ll need clothes. You’ll travel as the gentleman you are. Under parole, of course.” He paused, gaze returning to Jamie’s face. “And I will consider myself in your debt, Mr. Fraser.”
Jamie looked at him with contempt and turned on his heel.
“Where are you going?” Pardloe said. He sounded startled.
“Out,” Jamie said, and reached for the doorknob. He glared back over his shoulder. “Under parole. Of course.” He jerked the door open.
“Supper’s at eight,” said the duke’s voice behind him. “Don’t be late, will you? It puts Cook out.”
IT HAD COME ON TO RAIN, AND THE GUTTERS WERE STREAMING. John Grey was soaked to the skin and was steaming. He stamped down Monmouth Street, oblivious to pelting rain, ankle-deep puddles, and the soggy skirts of his coat flapping about his thighs.
He’d been walking for what seemed hours, thinking that the exercise would burn away his anger, make it possible for him to speak to his brother without striking him. It hadn’t. If anything, he grew more infuriated with each step.
Even for Hal, to whom high-handedness was as natural as breathing, this was raw. Not only to have ignored John’s plainly stated position with regard to Jamie Fraser but to have decided without a word or a by-your-leave to have Fraser brought to London—and to have bloody done it without a word to him, overriding his authority as Fraser’s legal parole officer … and then—then!—to have compounded the crime by informing John—not asking him, oh, no, commanding him!—to go to Ireland in Fraser’s company.… He wanted urgently to wring Hal’s neck.
The only thing stopping him was the presence of James Fraser at Argus House.
He couldn’t in justice blame Fraser for the present situation. He doubted the man was any happier about it than he was. Justice, however, had nothing to do with his feelings, which were exigent.
The rain turned briefly to hail, tiny balls of ice bouncing off his head and shoulders, and a covey of orange-girls scuttled past him, squealing in a mix of consternation and exhilaration, leaving a delicious scent of chilled oranges in their wake. One of them had dropped a fruit from her box; it rolled at his feet, vivid on the pavement, and he picked it up and turned to call after her, but the girls had gone.
The cold globular feel of the orange was pleasant in his hand, and the slackening hail had cooled his blood a little. He tossed the fruit in the air and caught it again.
He hadn’t tried to strike Hal in anger since he was fifteen. It hadn’t gone well. He could probably do it now, though. Hal was still quick and an excellent swordsman, but he was nearly forty now, and the years of campaigning had told on him. Still, what would be the point of hammering his brother, or even pegging him with an orange at short range? The situation would still be what it was. He put the orange in his pocket and sloshed moodily across a flooded street, kicking floating cabbage leaves out of the way.
“Lord John!” The shrill hail made him look up, in time to be deluged by a massive wave of filthy water thrown up by the wheels of a carriage. Spluttering, he wiped mud and offal from his face and saw a young woman in the window of the coach, her own face convulsed with laughter.
“Oh, your lordship—how wet ye are!” she managed through her giggles, shielding the red velvet flowers on her very stylish hat from the blowing rain with a spread fan.
“Yes. I am wet,” he said, giving Nessie a marked look. Agnes, she was called; a young Scottish whore he’d met three years before. Apparently, she’d come up in the world considerably since. “Is that your coach?”
“Och, no,” she said with regret. “If it was, I’d offer ye a ride. I’m on my way to see a new swell; he sent it for me.”
“Well, I shouldn’t like to spoil your client’s upholstery,” he said, with exquisite politeness.
“Ye’ll catch your death standin’ there,” she advised him, ignoring this. “But ye’re no far from my new house. The end o’ Brydges Street. If ye go there, Mrs. Donoghue will gie ye a wee dram against the chill. And maybe a towel,” she added, surveying him critically.
“I thank you for the suggestion, madam.”
She flashed him a brilliant smile and waggled her fan.
“Nay charge. Get on wi’ ye, then, ye stocious bugger, before I’m drowned!” she shouted toward the coachman, and, withdrawing her head, promptly snapped the window shut.
He leapt back but not quite in time to avoid receiving another discharge of cold water and wet manure across his legs as the coach surged into motion.
He stood still, dripping and breathing heavily, but then realized that there was some virtue in Nessie’s suggestion. He should seek shelter, if he didn’t want to die of pleurisy or come down with la grippe. And the only thing worse than going to Ireland in Jamie Fraser’s company would be doing it with a bad head cold.