The Scottish Prisoner

Page 17

“Do sit down, gentlemen,” the duke said, with great courtesy, gesturing at the chairs near the hearth. “John, would you tell Pilcock to bring us some brandy?”

“WE WANT TO BRING HIM to court-martial, I think,” Hal said, putting down his glass. “Rather than pursue a civil case in the courts, I mean. On the one hand, a civil case—if we won—would allow us to recover whatever money the bastard hasn’t yet spent, and it would give us scope to blacken his name in the press, hound him relentlessly, and generally ruin his life. However—”

“However, the reverse is true, as well,” Grey said dryly. He’d fortunately never been sued but had been threatened by lawsuits now and then, escaping by the hair of his teeth, and had a very good idea of the chancy and dangerous nature of the law. “He presumably has the money to employ good lawyers. Could—and quite likely would, if half what Carruthers said is true—countersue us for defamation, drag us through the courts, and make our lives a misery for years.”

“Well, yes,” Hal agreed. “There’s that.”

“Whereas in a court-martial, the custom of the army is the basis of procedure, not statute,” Harry put in. “Offers summat more flexibility. In terms of what’s evidence, I mean.”

This was true; essentially, anyone who liked could give testimony at a court-martial, and everything anyone said was considered evidence, though the court-martial board might dismiss or consider any of it, giving what weight they liked to the matter.

“And if he’s found guilty at a court-martial, ye could, I suppose, have him shot?”

All three Englishmen looked at Fraser, startled. The Scot had sat quietly through most of their deliberations, and they’d almost forgotten he was there.

“I think it might be hanging,” Hal said, after a brief pause. “Generally, we shoot men only for desertion or mutiny.”

“An attractive thought, though.” Quarry lifted his glass to Fraser in acknowledgment, before turning to the others. “Do we want him dead, do you think?”

Grey considered that. The notion of bringing Siverly to justice and making him account for what were very serious crimes was one thing. The notion of hunting him deliberately to his death, though …

“I don’t know,” Grey said slowly. “But perhaps I ought not to take part in such considerations. Siverly did save my life at Quebec, and while that wouldn’t stop me pursuing a case against him … I think—no. I don’t want him dead.”

Grey didn’t look at Fraser, unsure whether the Scot might consider this reluctance to exterminate Siverly as pusillanimous.

“Much better to have him cashiered and imprisoned, held up as an example,” Hal said. “Besides, being executed is over too quickly. I want the bugger to suffer.”

There was a faint sound from the corner where Fraser sat, a little apart. Grey glanced over and saw to his surprise that the man was laughing, in that odd Highland manner that convulsed the face while making very little sound.

“And here I thought it was mercy ye offered when ye declined to shoot me,” Fraser said to Hal. “A debt of honor, did ye say?” He lifted his glass, ironical.

A deep flush rose in Hal’s face. Grey didn’t think he’d ever seen his brother at a total loss for words before. Hal looked at Fraser for several moments, then finally nodded.

“Touché, Captain Fraser,” he said, and without a pause turned back to Grey.

“Court-martial it is, then. Harry and I will start the business here, while you and the captain go to retrieve Major Siverly. Now, Harry—who do you know in Ireland who might be of help?”


Vulgar Curiosity

EDWARD TWELVETREES WAS IN GREY’S MIND WHEN HE awoke in the morning from a disturbing dream in which he faced a man in duello, at pistols drawn. His opponent had no face, but somehow he knew it was Edward Twelvetrees.

The roots of the dream were clear to him; he would never hear the name Twelvetrees without some thought of the duel in which Hal had killed Nathaniel Twelvetrees, after Nathaniel’s seduction of Hal’s first wife. Grey had known nothing about the duel at the time—let alone its cause—he being both too young and not present, having been sent away to Aberdeen after the death of his father.

The sense of the dream stayed with him through breakfast, and he went out into the garden, in hopes that fresh air would clear his head. He had not walked up and down for more than a few minutes, though, when his sister-in-law came out of the house, a basket with a pair of secateurs in it over her arm. She greeted him with pleasure, and they strolled up and down, talking idly of the boys, the play he’d seen earlier in the week, the state of Hal’s head—his brother suffered periodically from the megrims and had had a sick headache the night before. But the thought of that duel would not leave him.

“Has Hal ever told you very much about Esmé?” he asked suddenly, on impulse. Minnie looked surprised but answered without hesitation.

“Yes, everything. Or so I suppose,” she added, with a half smile. “Why?”

“Vulgar curiosity,” John admitted. “I was quite young when they married and didn’t really know her. I do remember the wedding—huge affair, white lace and diamonds, St. James’s, hundreds of guests …” He trailed off, seeing her face. “I’m sorry I wasn’t here for your wedding,” he said hastily, trying to make amends.

“So am I,” she said, dimpling on one side. “You would have doubled the guest list. Though it wasn’t here. Not in England, I mean.”

“A, um, private affair, I take it?”

“Rather. Hal had Harry Quarry to stand up with him, and he got the landlady of the pub to be the other witness. It was in Amsterdam. She didn’t speak English and had no idea who we were.”

Grey was fascinated but afraid of giving offense by being too inquisitive.

“I see.”

“No, you don’t.” She was openly laughing at him now. “I hadn’t the slightest intention of marrying him, despite a six-month belly. He paid absolutely no attention to my objections, though.”

“Desp—oh. Er … Benjamin?”

“Yes.” A flicker of what Grey thought of as maternal contentment touched her face, softening her mouth for an instant. She glanced at him, a glint in her eye. “I could have managed well enough.”

“I daresay you could,” he murmured. “How did you come to meet Hal again in Amsterdam?” What was it Hal had said? “It took me nearly six months to find her.”

“He came looking for me,” she said frankly. “Strode into my father’s bookshop one day with fire in his eye. I nearly fainted. So did he, when he saw I was with child.”

She smiled, but it was an inward smile now, one of reminiscence.

“He took the most enormous breath, shook his head, then walked round the counter, picked me up, and carried me straight out of the shop and into a coach Harry had waiting outside. I was most impressed; I must have weighed eleven stone, at least.” She glanced sideways at him. The dimple was back. “Are you dreadfully scandalized, John?”

“Dreadfully.” What he was really thinking was that it was a mercy that Benjamin so strongly resembled Hal. He took her hand and tucked it comfortably into the crook of his elbow.

“Why are you thinking of poor Esmé?” she asked.

“Oh … just thinking that it wasn’t like Hal to marry a boring woman.”

“I am reasonably sure that she wasn’t boring,” Minnie said dryly. “Though I thank you for the implied compliment.”

“Well, I know she was beautiful—quite beautiful—but as to her character …”

“Self-loving, narcissistic, and anxious,” Minnie said concisely. “Not happy unless she was the center of attention—but very talented at getting said attention. Not stupid, by any means.”

“Really.” He absorbed that for a moment. “Getting attention. Do you suppose—I mean, if Hal’s told you that much, I imagine you know about Nathaniel Twelvetrees?”

“I do,” she said tersely, and her hand tightened a little on his arm. “Do I think she had an affair with him for his own sake, you mean? Or in order to regain Hal’s attention? The latter.”

He looked at her, surprised.

“You seem very sure. Is that what Hal says?”

She shook her head, and a lock of hair fell loose and drooped beside her ear. She thrust it back without ceremony. “I told him so, but I don’t think he believes it.

“She loved him, you know,” she said, and her mouth tightened a little. “He loved her to distraction, but it wasn’t enough for her—she was one of those spoilt girls for whom no amount of devotion is ever enough. But she did love him. I read her letters.” She looked up at him. “He doesn’t know that, by the way.”

So Hal had kept Esmé’s letters, and Minnie had found them. He wondered if Hal still had them. He squeezed her hand lightly and let it go.

“He won’t hear it from me.”

“I know that,” she said, “or I wouldn’t have told you. I don’t suppose you’re any more anxious to see him fight another duel than I am.”

“I didn’t see him fight the first one. But what—why ought he—oh. Never mind.” There must be something in Esmé’s letters, some clue regarding yet another admirer, that Hal hadn’t noticed but Minnie had.

She didn’t say anything, but paused, taking her hand from his arm, and squinted balefully at a bush of some sort, turning back the rusty new leaves with one finger.

“Greenfly,” she said, in a tone boding no good for either the greenflies or the gardener. Grey made an obliging noise indicating concern, and after a further glower, Minnie snorted and returned to the path.

“This Mr. Fraser of yours,” she said, after they’d walked a few moments in silence.

“He’s not actually mine,” he said. He’d intended to speak lightly, and thought he had, but she shot him a glance that made him wonder.

“You know him, though,” she said. “Is he … dependable, do you think?”

“I suppose that would depend upon what one expected of him,” Grey replied cautiously. “If you mean, is he a man of honor, then, yes, he is. Certainly a man of his word. Beyond that …” He shrugged. “He is Scotch, and a Highlander, to boot.”

“Meaning what?” She was interested; one brow arched upward. “Is he such a savage as people say Highlanders are? Because if so, he apes the gentleman to an amazing degree.”

“James Fraser apes nothing,” he assured her, feeling an obscure sense of offense on Fraser’s behalf. “He is—or was—a landed gentleman, and one of breeding, with substantial property and tenants. What I meant is that he has …” He hesitated, not quite sure how to put it into words. “… a sense of himself that is quite separate from what society demands. He is inclined to make his own rules.”

She laughed at that. “No wonder Hal likes him!”

“Does he?” Grey said, feeling absurdly pleased to hear it.

“Oh, yes,” she assured Grey. “He was quite surprised—but very pleased. I think he feels slightly guilty, too,” she added thoughtfully. “At making use of him, I mean.”

“So do I.”

She smiled at him with great affection. “Yes, you would. Mr. Fraser is fortunate to have you for a friend, John.”

“I doubt he recognizes his good fortune,” Grey said dryly.

“Well, he needn’t worry—and neither need you, John. Hal won’t let him come to any harm.”

“No, of course not.” Still, the feeling of unease at the back of his neck did not go away.

“And if your venture should be successful, I’m sure Hal would see about getting him pardoned. He could be a free man then. He could go back to his home.”

Grey felt a sudden stricture in his throat, as though his valet, Tom Byrd, had tied his stock too tightly.

“Yes. Why did you ask about him—about Fraser, I mean—being dependable?”

She lifted one shoulder and let it fall.

“Oh—Hal showed me the translation Mr. Fraser made of that page of Erse. I only wondered how faithful it might be.”

“Have you any reason to suppose it isn’t?” he asked curiously. “I mean—why shouldn’t it be?”

“No particular reason.” She chewed her lower lip, though, in a thoughtful sort of way. “I don’t speak Erse myself, of course, but I recognize a few words. I, um, don’t know quite how much Hal told you about my father …?”

“A bit,” Grey said, and smiled at her. She smiled back.

“Well, then. I saw the occasional Jacobite document, and while most were in French or Latin, there were a few in English, and even fewer in Erse. But they all tended to have some internal clue, some casual mention of something that would assure the recipient that what they were holding wasn’t merely an order for wine or a merchant’s inquiry about the contents of his warehouse. And one of the code things you saw mentioned quite often was a white rose. For the Stuarts, you know?”

“I do.” For a vertiginous instant, he saw—as clearly as though the scene had sprung from the earth at his feet—the face of the man he had shot on Culloden Moor, his eyes dark and the white cockade in his bonnet stark in the dying light of evening.

Minnie paid no attention to his momentary distraction, though, and went on talking.

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