The Scottish Prisoner

Page 24

“Beggin’ your pardon, good sirs,” Quinn said, with an engaging smile round the room. “I hoped to inquire after the gentleman’s welfare, but I see he’s quite himself again, may God set a flower on his head.”

Quinn advanced into the room, uninvited, but Grey recovered his manners instantly and offered him coffee, then sent Tom down to order up some breakfast, as well.

“It’s pleased I am to see ye so far recovered, sir,” Quinn said to Jamie, and reached into his pocket, coming out with a corked bottle. He pulled the cork and poured a thin stream of pungent whiskey into Jamie’s coffee. “Perhaps this will aid in your complete return to the land o’ the living?”

Jamie’s sense of self-preservation was jumping up and down somewhere in the back of his mind, trying to attract his attention, but the whiskey was much more immediate. He raised his cup briefly to Quinn, said, “Moran taing,” and took a deep gulp, shuddering slightly.

Quinn was chatting easily to John Grey, telling him things about Dublin, asking after Grey’s plans, offering to recommend him to the best livery stable in the town.

“Will it be a coach ye’ll be needin’, sir, or are you after takin’ the post chaise?”

“How far is it to Athlone?” Grey asked. Siverly’s estate was, by report, within ten miles of Castle Athlone.

“Oh, maybe two days’ ride, with the blessing and a good horse. Slower by coach, of course. The post chaise would be one and a bit, but that’s if it doesn’t rain.” Quinn made a quick sign of the horns against this evil thought.

Grey tapped his chin thoughtfully, looking at Jamie.

“I can ride,” Jamie assured him, scratching his ribs. He felt fine now—extremely hungry, in fact.

“But there’s the baggage to consider, me lord.” Tom had popped back into the room, armed with a mug of shaving soap, a folding razor, and a strop.

“Well, yes. You’ll have to go by coach with the baggage, Tom. I’m thinking, though, that Captain Fraser and myself might travel by horseback. Quicker, and less chance of being held up by bad roads.”

He glanced at Jamie, one eyebrow raised in question.

“Aye, fine.” Jamie set aside the empty cup. Now that he was fully awake, his attention was focused more on Quinn than on Grey. He narrowed his eyes at the Irishman, who sedulously ignored him.

“And a fine day for the riding it is, too,” said Quinn approvingly. “My own road lies toward Athlone—if you gentleman might find it convenient, you’re more than welcome to travel with me, so far as ye like.”

Jamie jerked, startling Tom, who was about to apply a brushful of soap to his face.

“I should think we can find our own path,” he said, putting up a hand to ward off Tom. “Athlone’s not out of the way, from what I understand. Though we thank you for your kindness, sir,” he added to Quinn, not wanting to seem churlish. He was in fact strongly inclined to pick Quinn up and decant him swiftly out of the window. The last thing he needed was to have a pixilated Irishman along on this expedition, breathing traitorous suggestions down his neck and distracting his attention while he dealt with Grey and Siverly and whatever else Ireland might have in store for him in the way of trouble.

“Oh, not at all, at all,” Quinn said, waving an airy hand. “I’ll be setting off just after the Angelus bell—at noon, I mean—should that suit your honors. I’ll meet you in the courtyard, aye?”

He moved swiftly out the door before anyone could say anything, then popped his head suddenly back in.

“Darcy’s, in the High Street. Tell Hugh Darcy that it’s Toby Quinn as sent ye, and he’ll see ye mounted on his best.”

GREY THOUGHT THAT Quinn had been as good as his word. The horses provided by Mr. Darcy were sound, well shod, and as well tempered as a livery horse was likely to be. Mr. Quinn himself had turned up at the stable to give advice and had successfully bargained for a decent price. Jamie had given Quinn a narrowed eye, but the man seemed merely kind, if a trifle familiar, and besides, there was no way of preventing his riding out of Dublin along with them—it was a public road, after all.

There was a bit of small talk, as was common among strangers traveling together—Mr. Quinn was bent on business in County Roscommon, he said; an inheritance from a cousin that required the personal touch.

“Are you familiar with County Roscommon, sir?” Grey asked. “Do you perhaps know a gentleman named Siverly? Gerald Siverly.”

Quinn looked interested but shook his head.

“Sure, I’ve heard the name. He’s got the fine estate, he has, over near Ballybonaggin. But he wouldn’t be knowing the likes of me,” he said, with a deprecating grin.

“What is your trade, sir?” Grey asked, though worried that the man might be a gentleman—there was something in his manner that suggested it, though not his dress—and thus might be insulted. Quinn seemed not to take the question amiss, though, and replied equably.

“Oh, a bit of this and a bit o’ that, sir—though I make most of my living from the printing of sermons and philosophical works of what ye might call a spiritual nature.”

“Did you say something, Mr. Fraser?” Grey turned round in his saddle to look at Fraser, who was following them at the moment.

“I swallowed a gnat,” Fraser replied shortly.

“Ah, better that than to be chokin’ on a camel, so they say,” said Quinn, and laughed at his own wit, though Grey smiled as well.

After a bit, though, conversation ceased, and they went on at a good pace. Grey sank into his own thoughts, these concerned mostly with the impending interview with Gerald Siverly. Always assuming Siverly was in fact in Ireland and hadn’t buggered off to Sweden or India with his ill-gotten gains.

He knew Siverly, very slightly. Had sought him out after the Battle of Quebec to thank him for saving his life, which he’d done by deflecting the blow of a tomahawk that would have brained Grey. Siverly had been quite gracious, and they had shared the necessary glass of wine, but that was the sum total of their relations to date.

That made the current situation a trifle awkward, but Grey had no real scruples over what he was about to do. If Siverly was by some chance innocent—and he didn’t see how he could be—then he should be pleased at the chance to clear his name by coming back and answering the charges at a court-martial. Grey had discussed his plans—some of them—with Hal, and they had thought that this was the best tack to take, perhaps: an apparent assumption on his part of Siverly’s innocence, with earnest representations as to the desirability of facing down these infamous accusations.

Siverly might find it awkward to refuse to accompany Grey, under those circumstances. If he did have the brass neck to refuse, though, Grey had pointed out to his brother that it would be as well to have another plan—or two—in place. Was there anything useful with which he could threaten Siverly?

Yes, he could point out that Siverly risked expulsion from his regiment if the charges went unanswered—to say nothing of expulsion from his clubs, if he belonged to any, and from society in general. Hal made a decent threat, himself; Grey could suggest—with complete truth—that his brother, the duke, was upset by the seriousness of the charges and might bring a question in the House of Lords, but being a reasonable man (he grinned to himself at that) would certainly be willing to meet with Major Siverly. Grey might delicately suggest that in that case, a court-martial might be avoided.

Not bad, he thought judiciously, reliving the conversation with Hal. If neither personal appeal to honor nor threat to reputation worked, he could then turn to official channels; the Justiciar of Athlone Castle was the highest authority within easy reach of Siverly’s estate, and Grey had provided himself with a letter of introduction from Hal, as well as a copy of Carruthers’s packet of evidence. The justiciar might be persuaded that the charges were sufficiently serious as to arrest Siverly and commit him to Grey’s authority. And if all else failed, there was Plan C, which involved a certain amount of physical intimidation and would require the services of Jamie Fraser.

It didn’t seem useful to plan in further detail until he actually saw Siverly, though, and could judge better how he might respond. He therefore let his mind relax, enjoying the soft, moist air and the beautiful green of the countryside. Behind him, he heard Jamie ask Mr. Quinn, in tones of earnest inquiry, what he thought the most interesting sermon he had printed, but being himself uninterested in sermons, spurred up and left them to it.


Tower House

IT WAS A SOFT NIGHT, TOO, AND DAMP, WITH THE LITHE chill of spring moving in the air. Grey lay wrapped in his cloak in a shallow declivity, his rustic couch lined thick with grass and tiny star-shaped flowers, wondering whether he was about to die.

Night had come upon them in open country, and while debating the wisdom of pressing on to the next hamlet or turning back to the last crossroads, in hope of finding shelter for the night at a cottage, Quinn had suggested that as it was not raining, they might do worse than take shelter by a túrtheach he knew.

They’d passed two or three of these ruined tower houses on the journey from Dublin, tall bleak remnants of the Middle Ages. No more than shells now, crumbling, roofless, and black with damp, the tenacious dark ivy that crawled up their walls the only sign of life. This tower was much the same—though it had a well, this being Quinn’s chief reason for recommending it, they having finished the ale Tom had packed for them.

They found the well, marked by a rough circle of stones, just within the tower’s walls. Jamie Fraser had tied a string to his canteen and dropped it down to the dark water six feet below, then brought it up and sniffed at it with a long, suspicious nose before taking a cautious sip.

“I think nothing’s died in it lately.”

“Well and good,” said Quinn. “We’ll say a prayer, then, and slake our thirst, shall we?”

To Grey’s surprise, both his companions promptly bowed their heads over the crude well coping and murmured something. The words weren’t the same—they appeared each to be speaking his own language—but the rhythm was similar. Grey was unsure whether this was a prayer of thanksgiving for the provision of water or some ceremonial invocation against being poisoned by it, but he obligingly fixed his eyes on the ground and waited in silence until it was done.

They’d hobbled the horses and set them to graze on the lush grass, then supped themselves, decently if not luxuriously, on bread and cheese and dried apples. There hadn’t been much talk over the food; it had been a long day in the saddle, and they sought their beds soon after.

He’d fallen promptly asleep; the ability to sleep anywhere, instantly, was a soldier’s talent, and one he’d acquired very early in his career. And then had wakened some unknown time later, heart thumping and hairs erect, clutching for the dagger in his belt.

He had no idea what had wakened him and lay quite still, listening for all he was worth. Then there was a rustling of the grass nearby, quite loud, and he tensed himself to roll away and spring to his feet. Before he could move, though, there came the swish of moving feet and the hiss of a Scottish whisper.

“Are ye mad? Drop it, or I break your arm.”

There was a startled huff of air and the faint thump of something hitting the ground. Grey lay frozen, waiting.

“Hush, man.” Quinn’s voice came to him, barely louder than the sigh of the wind. “Ye don’t want to wake him.”

“Oh, that I do, if ye were doing what I think ye were.”

“Not here. Come away, for God’s sake!”

The sound of breathing, hesitance, then the quiet sough of feet through thick grass as they moved off.

Very quietly, Grey rolled onto his knees, shucking off his cloak. He took the pistol from the bag he’d been using for a pillow, rose, and followed, matching the rhythm of his movements to theirs. The moon had set, but he could see them by starlight, twenty yards ahead: Fraser a looming mass against the paler ground, Quinn so close beside him that he thought Fraser might be grasping the Irishman by the arm, pulling him along.

They went around the ruined tower and essentially disappeared, no longer visible against the dark bulk of its stone. He stood still, not breathing, until he heard them again.

“Now, then.” Fraser’s voice came clearly to him, soft but with the anger clear in it. “What the devil d’ye mean by this?”

“We don’t need him.” Grey noted with interest that Quinn didn’t sound frightened—merely persuasive. “You don’t need him, Mo chara.”

“There are a good many folk in the world I don’t need, including you, ye wee gomerel. If I thought it right to kill them on that account, I’d have done awa’ wi’ you before we left London.”

Grey blinked at that and felt a cold finger down his back. So Quinn had been in touch with Jamie in London? How? Had Jamie sought him out? What had Fraser told him—and why had he joined their company? And why had Fraser not told Grey that he knew Quinn before? He swallowed bile and moved a little closer, fingering the pistol. It was loaded but not primed, because of the damp.

“If he’s dead, ye could disappear, Mac Dubh. Nothing easier. Ye’re safe out of England now; I’ve more than one place in Ireland where ye could lie hidden for a bit, or ye could go across to France should ye feel the need—but who would hunt ye?”

“That man’s brother, for one,” Fraser said coldly. “Ye’ve not had the benefit of meeting His Grace the Duke of Pardloe, but I’d sooner be hunted by the fiend himself. Did it never occur to you to ask if I thought it a good idea to kill the Englishman?”

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