The Scottish Prisoner

Page 42

“Do you know which room that is?” he murmured to Jamie, nodding toward the lighted window.

“Aye, it’s the library,” Fraser replied, equally low-voiced. “What do ye want to do?”

Grey took a deep breath, considering. Then touched Jamie’s elbow, inclining his head toward the house.

“We’ll go in. Come with me.”

They approached the house cautiously, skirting the lawn and keeping to the shrubberies, but there was no sign of any servants or watchmen being on the premises. At one point, Fraser lifted his head and sniffed the air, taking two or three deep breaths before gesturing toward an outbuilding and whispering, “The stable is that way. The horses are gone.”

Jamie’s cautious researches had indicated as much; word in the village was that all the servants had left, unwilling to remain in a house where murder had been done. The livestock would have been taken away to the village, too, Grey supposed.

Could this nocturnal visitor be the executor? Grey could think of no reason why a legitimate executor of the estate would need to make a surreptitious visit—but then, perhaps the man had come in daylight, as was proper, but then lingered at his work? He glanced up at the moon; it was past midnight. Surely that argued more dedication to duty than he was accustomed to find among lawyers. Perhaps the man was just staying in the house and, finding himself wakeful, had come down in search of a book, Grey thought with a mental shrug. Occam’s razor worked more often than not.

They were within pistol shot of the house now. Grey glanced to and fro, and then, feeling self-consciously dramatic, stepped out onto the lawn. It was lit like a stage, and his shadow puddled dark at his feet, the bright moon almost overhead. No dog barked, no voice called out demanding to know his purpose, but still he walked gingerly, footfalls soundless on the untidy lawn.

The casements were well above eye level. Well above his eye level, at least. With some irritation, he saw that Fraser, who had come silently out behind him, was able by standing on his toes to see into the house. The big Scot shifted to and fro, craning to see—and then froze. He said something out loud, in bloody Gaelic. Grey thought from the tone and the clearly visible expression on his face that it must be a curse.

“What do you see?” he hissed, plucking impatiently at Fraser’s sleeve. The Scot thumped down on his heels and stared down at him.

“It’s that wee arse-wipe, Twelvetrees,” he said. “He’s going through Siverly’s papers.”

Grey barely heard the second part of this; he was already headed for the front door and quite ready to break it down, should it offer him the least resistance.

It didn’t. It was unlocked, and he heaved it open with such force that it crashed into the wall of the foyer. The sound coincided with a startled yelp from the library, and Grey charged toward the open door through which light was streaming, barely aware of Fraser, at his heels, saying urgently, “I’m no going to break ye out of that bloody castle again, just you remember that!”

There was a louder yelp as he burst into the library to find Edward Twelvetrees crouched beside the mantelpiece, the poker clutched in both hands and poised like a cricket bat.

“Put that down, you bloody nit,” Grey said, halting just short of striking range. “What the devil are you doing here?”

Twelvetrees straightened up, his expression going from alarm to outrage.

“What the devil are you doing here, you infamous fiend?”

Fraser laughed, and both Grey and Twelvetrees glared at him.

“I beg your pardon, gentlemen,” he said mildly, though his broad face still bore a look of amusement. He waved his fingers, in the manner of one urging a small child to go and say hello to an aged relative. “Be going on wi’ your business. Dinna mind me.”

Jamie looked around, picked up a small wing chair that Grey had knocked over in his precipitous entry, and sat in it, leaning back with an air of pleased expectation.

Twelvetrees glared back and forth between Grey and Fraser, but an air of uncertainty had entered his expression. He looked like a rat baffled of its cheese rind, and Grey suppressed an urge to laugh, too, despite his anger.

“I repeat,” he said more mildly, “what are you doing here?”

Twelvetrees laid down his weapon but didn’t alter his attitude of hostility.

“And I repeat—what are you doing here? How dare you enter the house of the man you have so foully murdered!?”

Grey blinked. For the last little while, taken up by the magic of the moonlit night, he had quite forgotten that he was an outlaw.

“I didn’t murder Major Siverly,” he said. “I should very much like to know who did, though. Was it you?”

Twelvetrees’s mouth dropped open. “You … cur!” he said, and, seizing the poker up, made to brain Grey with it.

Grey caught his wrist with both hands and managed to pull him off balance as he lunged, so that Twelvetrees lurched and staggered, but he kept his feet sufficiently as to elbow Grey in the face with his free arm.

Eyes watering, Grey dodged a reckless swipe with the poker, leapt backward, and caught his bootheel in the edge of a rug. He staggered in his turn, and Twelvetrees, with a triumphant grunt, swung the poker at his midsection.

It was a glancing blow but knocked the wind out of him briefly, and he doubled over and sat down hard on the floor. Unable to breathe, he rolled to the side, avoiding another blow that clanged off the slates of the hearth, and, seizing Twelvetrees by the ankle, jerked as hard as he could. The other man went over backward with a whoop and the poker flew through the air, crashing into one of the casement windows.

Twelvetrees appeared to have stunned himself momentarily, having knocked his head against the battered mantelpiece. He lay sprawled on the hearth, his outflung hand dangerously close to the unshielded fire. With a relieving gasp, Grey rediscovered how to breathe, and lay still, doing it. He felt the vibration of a large body through the floorboards and, wiping a sleeve across his streaming face—God damn it, the bastard had bloodied his nose; he hoped it wasn’t broken—saw Fraser reach down delicately and haul Twelvetrees clear of the fire. Then, frowning, Fraser rose swiftly and, grabbing the ash shovel, scraped a smoking mass of papers out of the hearth, scattering them hastily over the floor, seizing chunks that had not yet quite caught fire, and separating them from the baulk of burning pages. He ripped off his coat and flung it over the half-charred papers to smother the sparks.

Twelvetrees uttered a strangled protest, reaching for the papers, but Fraser hauled him to his feet and deposited him with some force on a settee upholstered in blue- and white-striped silk. He glanced back at Grey, as though inquiring whether he required some similar service.

Grey shook his head and, wheezing gently, one hand to his bruised ribs, got awkwardly to his feet and hobbled to the wing chair.

“You could … have helped,” he said to Fraser.

“Ye managed brawly on your own,” Fraser assured him gravely, and to his mortification, Grey found that this word of praise gratified him exceedingly. He coughed and wiped his nose gingerly on his sleeve, leaving a long streak of blood.

Twelvetrees groaned and raised his head, looking dazed.

“I’ll … take that … as a no, … shall I?” Grey managed. “You say you did not kill Major Siverly?”

“No,” Twelvetrees answered, looking rather blank. Then his wits returned and his eyes focused on Grey with a profound expression of dislike.

“No,” he repeated, more sharply. “Of course I did not kill Gerald Siverly. What kind of flapdoodle is that?”

Grey thought briefly of inquiring whether there was more than one sort of flapdoodle and, if so, what the categories might be, but thought better of it and ignored the question as rhetorical. Before he could formulate another question, he noticed that Fraser was calmly engaged in going through the piles of paper on the desk.

“Put those down!” Twelvetrees barked, staggering to his feet. “Stop that at once!”

Fraser glanced up at him and raised one thick red brow.

“How d’ye mean to stop me?”

Twelvetrees slapped at his waist, as do men who are accustomed to wearing a sword. Then sat down, very slowly, reason returning.

“You have no right to examine these papers,” he said to Grey, calmly by comparison with his earlier outbursts. “You are a murderer and evidently an escaped outlaw—for I misdoubt that you have been released officially?”

Grey understood this was intended as sarcasm and didn’t bother replying. “By what right were you examining them, may I ask?”

“By right of law,” Twelvetrees replied promptly. “I am the executor of Gerald Siverly’s will, charged with the discharge of his debts and the disposition of his property.”

So put that in your pipe and smoke it, his expression added. Grey was in fact taken aback at this revelation.

“Gerald Siverly was my friend,” Twelvetrees added, and his lips compressed briefly. “A particular friend.”

Grey had known that much, from Harry Quarry, but it hadn’t occurred to him that Twelvetrees would be so intimate with Siverly as to have been appointed executor of his estate. Had Siverly no family, bar his wife?

And if Twelvetrees was so intimate—what did he know concerning Siverly’s actions?

Whatever it was, he obviously wasn’t about to confide his knowledge to Grey. John got to his feet and, manfully trying not to wheeze in the smoke-filled air, went to the bay window and threw back the lid of the blanket chest. The ironbound box was gone.

“What have you done with the money?” he demanded, swinging back to Twelvetrees. The man glared at him with profound dislike.

“So sorry,” he sneered. “It’s where you’ll never get your thieving hands on it.”

Jamie was collecting the half-charred bits of paper he had saved from the fire, handling each with ginger care, but looked up at this, glancing from Twelvetrees to Grey.

“D’ye want me to search the house?”

Grey’s eyes were on Twelvetrees, and he saw the man’s nostrils flare, his lips compress in disgust—but there was no hint of agitation or fear in his red-rimmed eyes.

“No,” Jamie said, echoing Grey’s thoughts. “He’s right; he’s carried it away already.”

“You’re quite good at this business of outlawry,” Grey said dryly.

“Aye, well. I’ve had practice.” The Scot had a small collection of singed papers in his hand. He carefully pulled one free and handed it to Grey.

“I think this is the only one that might be of interest, my lord.”

It was written in a different hand, but Grey recognized the sheet at once. It was the Wild Hunt poem—and he did wonder where the devil the rest of it was; why only this one page?—much singed and smeared with ash.

“Why—” he began, but then, seeing Fraser jerk his chin upward, turned the paper over. He heard Twelvetrees’s breath hiss in, but paid no attention.

The Wild Hunt

Capt. Ronald Dougan

Wm. Scarry Spender

Robert Wilson Bishop

Fordham O’Toole

Èamonn Ó Chriadha

Patrick Bannion Laverty

Grey whistled softly through his teeth. He knew none of the names on the list but had a good idea what it was—an idea reinforced by the look of fury on Twelvetrees’s face. He wouldn’t go back to Hal quite empty-handed.

If he wasn’t mistaken, what he held in his hand was a list of conspirators, almost certainly Irish Jacobites. Someone—had it been Fraser or himself?—had suggested that the Wild Hunt poem was a recognition signal, and he had wondered at the time, a signal for whom? Here was the answer—or part of one. Men who did not know one another personally would recognize others in their group by the showing of the poem—on its face a bit of half-finished, innocuous verse, but in reality a code, readable by those who held the key.

Fraser nodded casually toward Twelvetrees. “Is there anything ye want me to beat out of him?”

Twelvetrees’s eyes sprang wide. Grey wanted to laugh, in spite of everything, but didn’t.

“The temptation is considerable,” he said. “But I doubt the experiment would prove productive. Just keep him there, if you would, while I have a quick look round.”

He could tell from Twelvetrees’s dour expression that there was nothing further to be found in the house, but, for form’s sake, he went through the desk and the bookshelves and made a brief foray upstairs with a candlestick, in case Siverly should have kept anything secret in his bedchamber.

He felt a strong sense of oppression, walking through the empty darkness of the house, and something akin to sadness, standing in the dead man’s chamber. The servants had stripped the bed, rolled up the mattress, and tidily covered the furniture in dust sheets. Only the moving gleam of candlelight from the damask wallpaper gave a hint of life.

He felt curiously empty, as though he himself might be a ghost, viewing the remnants of his own life without emotion. The heat and excitement of his confrontation with Twelvetrees had quite drained away, leaving a sense of flatness in its wake. There was nothing further he could do here; he could not arrest Twelvetrees or compel answers from him. Whatever might yet be discovered, the end of the matter was that Siverly was dead, and his crimes with him.

“And his place shall know him no more,” he said softly, and the words fell and vanished among the silent shapes of the sleeping furniture. He turned and left, leaving the door open on darkness.


A Tithe to Hell


The Wild Hunt

THEY STRAGGLED INTO LONDON ON THE LATE MAIL COACH, unwashed, unshaven, and smelling strongly of vomit. The channel crossing had again been rough, and even Grey had been sick.

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