The Scottish Prisoner

Page 37

Did Twelvetrees know about Siverly yet? He wondered.

He tilted his head to spill the rain from the brim of his hat and blew on the hot potatoes.

Tom gathered the remaining potatoes in a fold of his cloak, deposited two in front of Quinn without remark, and came to sit down beside Jamie to eat his own share. Jamie hadn’t yet told him about his plan—if his intentions could be dignified by such a word—let alone about Quinn’s desire to abandon Grey, but was interested to see that Tom plainly didn’t trust the Irishman.

Good lad, he thought.

Rain hissed and sputtered as it struck the fire. It wouldn’t last much longer.

“How far is it to Athlone?” he asked, licking his fingers.

Quinn grimaced in thought. “From here? Maybe two hours.”

Jamie felt, rather than saw, Tom perk up a bit at that, and turned his head to smile at the young valet.

“We’ll get him back,” he said, and was surprised at how gratified he was to see relief and trust flood Tom’s round face.

“A-course we will,” Tom said stoutly. “Sir,” he added hastily. He didn’t ask for details, which was just as well, Jamie thought.

“Sleep a bit,” he said to Tom, when the fire showed signs of being finally extinguished. “I’ll wake ye later, when it’s time to go.”

Quinn gave a small snort at this, but Jamie ignored it. Quinn knew fine that Jamie didn’t trust him, and plainly Tom knew, too. It didn’t need saying.

Jamie wrapped the borrowed cloak tighter round his body, wishing for a plaid and thick Highland stockings. The cloak was wool and would hold his heat, even if wet—but nothing shed water like the waulked wool of a Highland plaid. He sighed and found a place to sit where his arse wouldn’t be in a puddle and there was a stone at his back to lean on.

His mind kept nagging at him, wanting to think, to make plans. But plans were pointless, until they reached Athlone and saw how things lay. As for thinking … he needed to let matters rest and sort themselves. He was bone-tired, and knew it. He patted his breeches and found the pleasantly bumpy little bundle of his rosary. And there was the matter of his penance, after all.

The smooth wooden beads were a comfort to his fingers, as the repetition of the Aves was to his mind, and he felt his shoulders finally begin to relax, the counterpoint of the pattering rain on his hat and the distant gurgling of his wame a peaceful background to his prayers.

“It’s not a crackbrained scheme.”

“Eh?” Quinn had spoken so quietly that Jamie had only half-heard him, such was his state of mind.

“I said, it’s not a crackbrained scheme.” Quinn swiveled on his rock to look at Jamie directly, his eyes dark holes in his face. “The plan.”

“Aye?” Jamie’s brain was slow to focus on this. What plan? He thought dimly. “Perhaps I spoke too hasty, Quinn. I’ll ask your pardon.”

Quinn’s attitude changed at once from hostility to forgiveness; he straightened and, with a glance at Tom curled in a sodden lump some distance away, got up and came to crouch beside Jamie.

“Not a bit of it, mo chara,” he said, patting Jamie’s shoulder. “I hadn’t told ye the meat of it—doubtless it sounded fanciful.”

Jamie made a sound meant to indicate cordial dismissal of this notion, privately wondering what in the name of God himself … oh, Jesus.

“The cup?” he asked. “Because I told ye, when—”

“No,” Quinn replied. “I mean, that’s a part of it, sure, but what I hadn’t told ye yet was how the invasion is to work.”

“The invasion …” Jamie’s mind was coming hastily back from its peaceful bourne of prayer, and the knotting of his belly was not due to raw cabbage alone. “Ye’d mentioned raising an army. I recall that.” And he recalled fine that Quinn had wanted him to raise it.

“Aye, but there’s more.” He saw Quinn’s head turn as he looked over his shoulder, the picture of stealth. Then the Irishman leaned closer, close enough that Jamie could smell the man’s sour breath. “The Irish Brigade,” Quinn whispered in his ear.

“Aye?” He must have sounded as baffled as he felt, for Quinn gave a brief sigh of exasperation.

“Ye’ll have heard of the Irish Brigade, at least?”

“I have, aye.” He glanced at Tom, regretting that he hadn’t let the lad take first watch; Quinn wouldn’t be telling him this sort of thing. The Irishman’s next words drove vain regrets from his mind, though.

“There are three regiments of the Irish Brigade in London,” Quinn whispered, eyes alight with suppressed glee. “The officers of two of them are with us. When the word comes that all is in hand here in Ireland, they’ll seize the king and hold Buckingham Palace!”

Jamie was struck dumb, and a good thing, too, for Quinn went on:

“We’ve loyal men in brigade regiments posted in Italy and France, too. Not all the officers—but once the thing is in motion, the rest will fall in. Or if they don’t—” He lifted one shoulder, a fatalist’s shrug.

“If they don’t … what?” Jamie knew what that shrug meant, but he wanted it spelled out, if only to give himself a moment’s time to think. His scalp was prickling, and his wame had curled itself up into a quivering ball beneath his ribs.

Quinn pursed his lips. “Why, then … those loyal to the Cause will take command, of course.”

“Ye mean they’ll kill those who don’t go along with it.”

“Now, then. Ye know as well as I do, ye can’t make wine without squeezin’—”

“Don’t bloody say it!” Jamie had the obscure feeling that cliché on top of treasonous insanity was more than anyone should be obliged to put up with. He rubbed a wet hand over his wet face, the bristles of his beard harsh under his palm.

“Each regiment has at least two volunteers among the officers. When the signal comes …” But Quinn hadn’t said “volunteers” in English, though he was speaking English. He’d used the Irish term, “Deonaigh.”

In Jamie’s experience, excluding clergy and peasants, Irishmen seemed to consist of two sorts: rabid fighters and maniac poets. These traits weren’t often combined in the same man, though.

That word, “Deonach.” It was in the Wild Hunt poem; he wouldn’t have taken notice, save that there was a popular soldier’s song, a sentimental, maudlin thing in Irish, called “The Volunteer.” There’d been several Irishmen in the group of mercenaries with whom he’d fought in France, much given to singing it when in liquor. That was almost the last song he recalled, before the blow of an ax had severed him forever from music.

“Sé an fuil á lorgadh, is é a teas á lorgadh,” he said abruptly, his heart beating quicker, and Quinn’s face turned sharply toward him. They search out blood, they seek its heat.

A moment’s silence, save for the rain. The fire was drowned now, even the black mark it left on the earth quite drowned in darkness. The cabbage was making its presence felt and Jamie clenched his buttocks, silently easing himself.

“Where did ye hear that, now?” Quinn said, his voice mild, and Jamie realized with a small shock that his life might depend upon his answer.

“Thomas Lally said it to me,” he replied, his voice as mild as Quinn’s. “When I met him in London.” Quinn might know that he’d met Lally—and it was true that Lally had said those words to him, reading them from the written sheet, a puzzled expression on his face.

“He did?” Quinn sounded blank, perhaps a little frightened, and Jamie expelled his breath, only then realizing that he’d been holding it. So. Lally maybe wasn’t part of the plot. But Quinn was fearful lest he knew about it?

“Tell me more about this, will ye?” Jamie said quickly. “Is there a date set for it?”

Quinn hesitated, still suspicious, but eagerness to talk and desire to win Jamie over got the better of him.

“Well, there is, then. All I can say is, it’ll be a day when the streets will be crowded, the beer flowing from the taverns, the squares all hoaching like weevils in a sack of grain. All the regiments will parade down Pall Mall and then go off to barracks. One of the Irish Brigade regiments will come at the last of the procession, and instead of heading back to their quarters, they’ll go round behind the palace. Once His Majesty’s gone inside, they’ll move into the grounds, overpower any guards at the back, and take the palace. The guards in the front will be taken up with the crowds and won’t know a thing’s afoot until it’s too late—and then the second regiment sweeps in to secure the place. All the other regiments will be busy stripping off and putting away their tack—even if word comes as to what’s happening, they’ll never pull themselves together in time to stop it. And once the king is in hand, messengers will go out to our supporters in Wales and Scotland, ready to march and take London entire!”

It might conceivably work. God knew, much madder schemes had.

“But they canna hold out for very long, even wi’ the king’s person to bargain with,” Jamie pointed out. “What if there’s some delay in Charles Stuart coming wi’ the new army from Ireland?” Some delay, he thought, remembering all too well what it took to assemble even an ill-equipped rabble, let alone feed and transport them. And that was reckoning without the Bonnie Prince himself—a weak reed for a revolution to lean upon, and surely to God Quinn must know that much. Or was that what the conspiracy counted upon?

“We thought of that,” Quinn said importantly, and Jamie wondered just who “we” were. Could he get Quinn to tell him names? “There are fallbacks. The regiments in London don’t stir a step until they’ve heard the word.”

“Oh, aye? And what word is that?”

Quinn grinned at him and shook his head.

“Never you mind that, laddie. It’s a mark of the great trust I bear ye that I’ve told ye what I have—but ’tis more than my life’s worth to say more just yet.” He leaned back and a loud fart ripped the air beneath him, surprising him.

“Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!”

Despite the recent hair-raising revelations, Jamie laughed. Tom stirred at the sound, and a popping noise like distant gunfire emerged from the mound of wet blankets. Quinn glanced at Jamie, eyebrow raised.

“Three’s a lucky number, so it is.”

JOHN GREY HAD SOME experience of prisons but had never been a guest of one. As such establishments went, the cell to which he’d been shown was fairly reasonable: there was no one else in the tiny room, the slop bucket was empty and dry, and there was a small, barred window. The walls oozed damp—why not, everything else in Ireland did—but there were no puddles on the floor, and while there was neither bed nor pallet, there was a wadded blanket in one corner of the room. He was glad to see it; the cell was bloody cold and his clothes were damp, his linen clammy; the heavens had opened on them an hour before they reached Athlone.

He paced the dimensions of the cell: eight feet by ten. If he were to walk seven hundred lengths of the cell, that would be approximately a mile. He shook out the blanket, dislodging a dead cricket, two live moths, and the broken fragments of what had once been a cockroach. What the devil had eaten it? he wondered. Rats?

Suddenly very tired, he sat down on the floor and pulled the blanket round his shoulders, shivering. He’d had time to think, riding to Athlone. He thought he’d have quite a bit more now but didn’t expect it to do him much good.

It was both good luck and bad that Sir Melchior was gone. Bad, as it meant that the sergeant of the garrison had locked Grey up, because the deputy justiciar had not yet arrived, and the sergeant refused to summon the magistrate from the town until the morning. Good, as Sir Melchior or his deputy would very likely have questioned Grey—rather awkward—and then either put him under guard or demanded his parole, either of which would have kept him from getting back to Siverly’s house or making his own investigation into Siverly’s death.

His main concern was for Edward Twelvetrees. There had been no sign of the man, and none of the servants had mentioned his being there. Had he been at Glastuig, he could not but have noticed the uproar and come out to inquire. Ergo, he wasn’t there—presumably because he had fled in the wake of the murder.

It had to have been Twelvetrees that Grey had heard in precipitate flight from the summerhouse after the murder. And as the man plainly had not gone to the stable, he must have returned—however briefly—to the main house. Why?

Either to fetch away something, or because he was cool enough to have realized that open flight would be an admission of guilt. Or possibly both, Grey thought. It was a substantial chest; it would have taken two footmen to carry it. Twelvetrees couldn’t merely have scooped it up and ridden off with it under his arm.

It had been nearly noon when Grey found Siverly’s body. Had Twelvetrees ridden up to the property, left his horse, then crept up to the summerhouse and bashed in Siverly’s head with what Grey recognized as an Iroquois war club—doubtless the weapon with which Siverly had attacked Jamie Fraser?

Or had Twelvetrees never come back at all? It was possible, Grey supposed, that Siverly had enemies—given his record, it would be strange if he did not. And his possession of an Iroquois war club argued some fear of his life, did it not? Though the man did collect things; his room showed the normal accretions of a military man.

He sighed, closed his eyes, and tried to find a comfortable position, resting his head on an outstretched elbow.

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