The Scottish Prisoner

Page 34

“Oh, to be sure,” Grey said cordially, wondering what the devil he was about to walk in to but walking after the butler, nonetheless.

The butler pulled open the beautifully carved door to the library and bowed with an extravagant gesture, ushering Grey in.

He was looking for Siverly and therefore saw him at once, the major looking up with surprise from what looked like a pair of account books.

“Major Siverly—” he began, infusing his voice with warmth. But then he caught sight of the major’s companion, seated across the desk from Siverly, and the words stuck in his throat.

“What on earth—Bulstrode, what the devil are you at?” Siverly barked at the butler, who blinked, bewildered. “Haven’t I told you not to bring visitors in unannounced?”

“I—I thought—” The hapless butler was stuttering, glancing wildly back and forth between Grey and Edward Twelvetrees, who was staring at Lord John with a look somewhere between astonishment and outrage.

“Oh, go away, you clot,” Siverly said irritably, getting up and shooing the butler off. “Colonel Grey! What a pleasant surprise. You must forgive the … er … unorthodox welcome.” He smiled, though with considerable reservation in his eyes. “Allow me to make you acquainted with Captain—”

“We’ve met.” Twelvetrees’s words were as clipped as bits of wire. He stood up slowly, keeping his eyes fixed on Grey as he closed the ledger in front of him. Not before Grey had time to see that it contained a listing of what looked like fairly large sums.

And speaking of sums—there was an ironbound chest sitting on the desk, its lid open, more than half filled with a quantity of small wash-leather bags, each tied round with string. Under the bay window, the lid of a blanket chest stood open. A depression in the blankets showed where the ironbound chest had rested. Siverly’s eyes darted toward this, and his hand twitched, but he stayed it, evidently not wanting to draw attention to the chest by closing it.

“What are you doing here?” Twelvetrees asked coldly.

Grey took a deep breath. Nothing for it but charge straight in.

“I came to pay a call on Major Siverly,” he said mildly. “And you?”

Twelvetrees’s mouth pursed a little. “Just happened to be in the neighborhood, eh?”

“No, I came particularly to speak with the major about a matter of some importance. But of course I have no wish to intrude,” Grey said, with a brief bow to Siverly. “Perhaps I might come again at some more convenient occasion?”

Siverly was looking back and forth between Grey and Twelvetrees, plainly trying to fathom what was going on.

“No, no, do stay,” he said. “I must confess—a matter of importance, you said?” His face was not particularly mobile, but he wasn’t a good cardplayer, and wariness and calculation flickered over his slab-sided features.

“A private matter,” Grey said, smiling pleasantly at Twelvetrees, who was surveying him through narrowed eyes. “As I say, a more convenient—”

“I’m sure Captain Twelvetrees will excuse us for a few moments,” Siverly interrupted. “Edward?”

Christian names, is it? Grey thought. Well, well.

“Certainly.” Twelvetrees moved slowly toward the door, eyes like a pair of pistol barrels fixed on Grey.

“No, no,” Siverly said, gesturing him back to his seat. “You stay here, Edward; Bulstrode will bring some tea. Colonel Grey and I will just take a stroll down to the summerhouse and back.”

Grey bowed to Twelvetrees, keeping a charming smile on his face, and followed Siverly out of the library, feeling Twelvetrees’s eyes burning holes between his shoulder blades.

Hastily, he reviewed his strategy as he followed Siverly’s broad back across the freshly rolled lawn. At least he wasn’t going to have to carry out his inquisition in front of Twelvetrees, but he’d have to assume that anything he said might well be conveyed to “Edward.”

“What a beautiful property,” he said, as they rounded the corner of the house. It was true; the lawns spread a stately distance before and behind, and edging the back lawn were terraces of roses and other flowering bushes, with a walled garden to the left that was likely the kitchen garden; Grey saw what looked like espaliered fruit trees poking up above the plastered wall. In the distance, beyond the formal terraces, was a charming small white summerhouse, standing on the edge of an ornamental wood, and, beyond that, the stables.

“Thank you,” Siverly said, a note of pride in his voice. “I’ve been improving it, these last few years.” But he was not a man to be distracted by compliments. “You did say …?” He turned to Grey, one steel-gray eyebrow raised.

“Yes.” In for a penny, in for a pound. Grey felt something of the giddy recklessness he experienced when plunging into a fight. “Do you by chance recall an adjutant named Charles Carruthers? He was with one of your companies in Quebec.”

“Carruthers,” Siverly said, a mildly questioning tone in his voice—but it was plain from his face that the name was familiar to him.

“He had a deformed hand,” Grey said. He disliked reducing Charlie to such a description, but it was the quickest and surest way forward.

“Oh, yes. Of course.” Siverly’s broad, pockmarked brow lowered a bit. “But he’s dead. I’m sure I heard that he was dead. Measles, was it? Some sort of ague?”

“He is dead, I’m afraid.” Grey’s hand dipped into his coat, hoping he remembered which pocket he’d put the folded paper in. He pulled it out but held it in his hand, not offering it yet to Siverly.

“Do you know my brother, by chance?”

“Your brother?” Siverly now looked frankly puzzled, “The duke? Yes, of course. I know of him, I mean; we aren’t personally acquainted.”

“Yes. Well, he has come into possession of a rather curious set of documents, compiled by Captain Carruthers. Concerning you.”

“Concerning me? What the devil—” Siverly snatched the paper from Grey’s hand, anger flaring so suddenly in his eyes that Grey had an instant apprehension of how some of the incidents Charlie had described had come about. The violence in the man was simmering just below the skin; he saw only too well how Siverly had come so close to killing Jamie Fraser.

Siverly read the page quickly, crushed it in his hand, and threw it to the ground. A vein stood out on his temple, pulsing blue under his skin, which had gone an unpleasant purplish color.

“What balderdash is this?” he said, his voice thick with rage. “How dare you come bringing me such whinging, blithering—”

“Do you deny that there is any truth in Captain Carruthers’s account?” The page was one regarding the events leading to the mutiny in Canada. There were more damning pages—many of them—but Grey had thought to start with something clear-cut.

“I deny that Pardloe has any right to question me in the slightest particular! And as for you, sir—” Siverly loomed suddenly over Grey, fists clenched. “Damn you for an interfering, busy-bodying fool! Get out of my sight.”

Before Grey could move or speak, Siverly had whirled on his heel and stamped off, moving like an ox with its tail on fire.

Grey blinked, belatedly realized that he was holding his breath, and exhaled. The summerhouse was twenty feet away; he went and sat on the steps to collect himself.

“So much for gentle persuasion,” he said under his breath. Siverly had already reached the lawn and was forging up it to the house, making the occasional furious gesture en route.

Plainly an alternative plan would have to be put in train. But in the meantime, there was a good deal to think about. Edward Twelvetrees, for one. That ironbound chest, for another.

Grey had been in the army in one capacity or another since the age of sixteen. He knew what a paymaster’s books looked like—and, likewise, a paymaster’s chest. Clearly Twelvetrees and Siverly were involved in something together that involved the disbursement of funds—and fairly considerable funds—to a number of individuals.

Siverly had disappeared into the house. Grey continued to sit for a little, thinking, but could come to no firm conclusions. Obviously, Siverly wasn’t going to tell him anything about the paymaster’s chest. Perhaps it would be worth riding over to Brampton Court—that’s where the butler had said Twelvetrees was staying—and trying to inveigle information out of the other conspirator. At least he was reasonably sure that Twelvetrees wouldn’t try to kill him out of hand. Though it might be as well to bring his dagger.

Just as Grey rose to his feet, Twelvetrees himself came out of the house and, looking out across the lawn, saw Grey at the summerhouse. He lowered his head and came down, looking bitter and determined.

Grey waited.

Twelvetrees was slightly flushed when he arrived but had himself well in hand. None of Siverly’s volcanic passion showed in that lean, long-nosed face. There was hostility, to be sure, and considerable dislike.

“You should leave, Colonel Grey,” he said without preamble. “And do not come back. I tell you this for your own good; there is no profit in pestering Major Siverly, no matter what your motive—and I confess I cannot make that out. No, don’t tell me—” He held up a minatory hand. “I don’t care. Neither do you need to know what my motives are. Suffice it to say that you meddle in matters that you do not understand, and if you continue to do so, you will regret it.”

He made to turn on his heel, but Grey, moved by impulse, put out a hand and grasped his sleeve.

“A moment, Captain, if you please.” He groped with his free hand for his waistcoat pocket and pulled out another sheet of paper—one of the copies of the Wild Hunt verse. “Look at this.”

Twelvetrees looked as though he meant to jerk away, but instead seized the paper impatiently and opened it.

He didn’t even read it but turned pale at sight of the words.

“Where did you get this?” he said, his voice nearly a whisper.

“From Charlie Carruthers,” Grey said. “I see you recognize it. Do you—”

He never got to complete the sentence. Twelvetrees shoved the paper into his chest so hard that he took a step backward to avoid falling. He caught his balance, but Twelvetrees was already striding away across the little flagstone walk. Grey caught sight of a snail on the stone. Twelvetrees’s shoe came down upon the animal with an audible crunch. He paid no attention but forged blindly on, leaving a small, wet stain glimmering on the flags.


Plan B

THE NEXT DAY DAWNED SULLEN AND OVERCAST BUT NOT actually raining. Yet. Grey dressed carefully in his uniform, Tom Byrd assisting him with the same sense of solemn ceremony as though preparing Grey for battle. Leather stock, gorget, polished boots … Grey hesitated for a moment over wearing his dagger, but in the end, thinking of Siverly’s attack on Jamie Fraser, put it in his belt.

Fraser leaned against the window frame, half-sitting on the sill, watching the preparations with a small frown. He’d offered to go with Grey, but John had declined, thinking that his presence could not but inflame Siverly. It was going to be a sufficiently sticky interview without introducing further complications.

“If I don’t come back,” he told Fraser at the door, “you have my explicit permission to do whatever you like to Siverly.” He’d meant it as a joke, but the Scotsman nodded soberly.

“I’ll take your body home to your brother.”

Tom Byrd made a horrified noise, but Grey smiled, affecting to think this a witty riposte to his own feeble jest.

“Yes, you do that,” he said, and went downstairs, bootheels thumping.

The butler at Glastuig opened the door to him, eyes wide at seeing him in his uniform.

“I will see your master, if you please,” Grey informed him, stepping inside without invitation. “Where is he?”

The butler gave way, flustered.

“The master’s not in the house, sir!”

“Where is he, then?”

The man’s mouth worked for a moment and he glanced from side to side, looking for a suitable answer, but he was too discomposed by the uniform to lie.

“Why … he’s out in the summerhouse, to be sure. He often sits out there of a morning. But he—”

Grey nodded and turned on his heel, leaving the butler dithering behind him.

He walked across the lawn toward the folly, rehearsing what to say—and thinking what to do next if his reasoning did not move Siverly. He had very little expectation that it would, but he owed it to his own sense of fairness to give the man a chance to come back voluntarily.

If not … then he’d come back under arrest. The slightly sticky part being that Grey had no formal authority in Ireland, still less the authority to arrest anyone, and Siverly almost certainly knew that. Grey could do it legally, by requesting the justiciar at Athlone to send a party of soldiers to bring Siverly to the castle—if the justiciar saw the matter in the same light—there to be formally handed over to Grey, who would then serve as a military escort to see Siverly into the custody of the British army.

This supposed, though, that Siverly would remain in situ while Grey rode to Athlone and back, that the justiciar’s deputy (the justiciar being presumably a-wooing in France at the moment) would be moved by the force of Grey’s argument to arrest an obviously wealthy and locally esteemed man and then submit him to the mercies of a foreign government, and that Siverly would in turn meekly submit to the justiciar’s men. Frankly, Grey thought the odds low on all three fronts.

The alternative was summary arrest—well, kidnapping, if you wanted to be blunt about it—carried out by Grey and Jamie Fraser, with Tom Byrd holding the horses. Grey was strongly inclined to favor this line of action, and he knew that Fraser would be only too pleased to assist him.

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