The Scottish Prisoner

Page 44

“I need to speak with him,” Jamie said, leaning forward to indicate sincerity and urgency—neither one feigned. “It is a matter of his own safety, as well as that of the men with whom he’s involved. Can ye get word to him? I shall meet him anywhere he likes.”

Lally sat back a bit, suspicion darkening his eyes.

“Meet him and betray him to the English?” he said.

“Ye believe that of me?” Oddly, the idea that Lally might believe it hurt him.

Lally grimaced and looked down.

“I don’t know,” he said, low-voiced, and Jamie saw how drawn he was, the muscles of his face hard under the skin. “So many men I thought I knew …” He gave a small, despairing shake of the head. “I don’t know whom to trust—or whether there is anyone who can be trusted, anymore.”

That, at least, held the ring of truth.

“Aye,” said Jamie quietly. “I, too.” He spread his hands out, flat on the table. “And yet I have come to you.”

And yet … He could almost hear Lally thinking. Furious things were going on behind that pale, twitching face.

Ye’re in it up to your eyebrows, poor wee fool, he thought, not unkindly. Add one more to the tally, then; one more man who might go to his doom if this harebrained scheme came to the point of action. One more who might be saved, if …

He pushed his chair back from the table and stood up.

“Hear me, a Tomás MacGerealt,” he said formally. “Quinn will maybe have told ye what he said to me, and I to him. If not, ask him. I said it not from cowardice, not from treachery, nor unwillingness to stand wi’ friends and comrades. I said it from sure knowledge. Ye kent my wife?”

“The Sassenach woman?” The ghost of a smile touched Lally’s mouth, sardonic.

“La Dame Blanche, they called her in Paris, and for good reason. She saw the end of the Cause—and its death. Believe me, Thomas. This venture, too, is doomed, and I ken that fine. I wouldna have it take ye down wi’ it. For the sake of our shared past, I beg ye—stand clear.”

He hesitated, waiting for an answer, but Lally kept his eyes on the table, one finger circling in a puddle of spilled ale. At last, he spoke.

“If the English do not send me back to France to clear my name, what is there for me here?”

There was no answer to that. Lally lived at the sufferance of his captors, as Jamie did. How would a true man not be tempted by the possibility of regaining his life? Jamie sighed, helpless, and Lally glanced up, his gaze sharpening as he perceived pity on Jamie’s face.

“Ah, don’t worry about me, old comrade,” he said, and there was as much affection as irony in his voice. “The Marquise of Pelham comes back from her country house next week. She has a tendresse for me, La Marquise—she will not let me starve.”


Particular Friends

HAROLD, DUKE OF PARDLOE, COLONEL OF THE 46TH FOOT, visited the Judge Advocate’s office, attended by both his regimental colonels and by his brother, Lieutenant Colonel Lord John Grey, to file the necessary documents to call a posthumous general court-martial of one Major Gerald Siverly, on a variety of charges ranging from theft and corruption, to failure to suppress mutiny, to willful murder—and treason.

After hours of discussion, they had decided to proceed with the court-martial at once and to add the charge of treason. It would cause talk—an immense amount of talk—and perhaps bring more of Siverly’s connections to the surface. Meanwhile, those men they had managed to identify from Siverly’s list of the Wild Hunt—a half dozen or so—would be carefully watched, to see whether news of the court-martial might cause them to run, to act, or to seek out others in the plot.

Even with the documents filed, it would be nearly a month before the court-martial was convened. Unable to bear the inactivity of waiting, Grey invited Jamie Fraser to go with him to a race meeting at Newmarket. Returning two days later, they stopped at the Beefsteak, where they took rooms, intending to dine and change before going on to a play in the evening.

By unspoken mutual consent, they had avoided any reference to Ireland, Siverly, Twelvetrees, court-martials, or poetry. Fraser was quiet, occasionally withdrawn—but he relaxed in the presence of horses, and Grey felt a small relaxation of his own tension in seeing it. He had arranged for Jamie’s parole at Helwater because of the horses and the relative degree of freedom, and while he could not deceive himself that Jamie was content as a prisoner, at least he had some hope that he was not completely unhappy.

Am I right to treat him thus? he wondered, watching Fraser’s broad back as the Scot preceded him from the dining room. Will it give him something to remember, to recollect with pleasure when he goes back—or only increase the bitterness of his position? God, I wish I knew.

But then … there was the possibility of freedom. He felt his stomach knot at the thought but wasn’t sure whether it was from fear that Fraser would gain his freedom—or that he wouldn’t. Hal had certainly mentioned it as a possibility, but if there proved to be a fresh Jacobite plot, the country would be swept up once more in fear and hysteria; it would be nearly impossible to have Fraser pardoned in such circumstances.

He was so caught up in these reflections that it was some moments before he realized that he knew the voice coming from the billiards room to his right.

Edward Twelvetrees was at the green-baize table. He looked up from a successful shot, his face alight with pleasure, then caught a glimpse of Grey in the hallway, and his face went stiff, the smile freezing into a tooth-baring rictus. The friend with whom he’d been playing stared at him in astonishment, then turned a bewildered face toward Grey.

“Colonel Grey?” he said, tentative. It was Major Berkeley Tarleton, the father of Richard Tarleton, who had been Grey’s ensign at Crefeld. He knew Grey, of course, but plainly could not understand the sudden hostility that had sprung up like a wall of thorns between the two men.

“Major Tarleton,” Grey said, with a nod that did not take his eyes away from Twelvetrees. The tip of Twelvetrees’s nose had gone white. He’d received his summons to the court-martial, then.

“You unspeakable whelp.” Twelvetrees’s voice was almost conversational.

Grey bowed.

“Your servant, sir,” he said. He felt Jamie come up behind him and saw Twelvetrees’s eyes narrow at sight of the Scot.

“And you.” Twelvetrees shook his head, as though so appalled that he could find no speech to address the situation. He turned his gaze upon Grey again. “I wonder at it, sir. Indeed, I wonder at it. Who would bring such as this fellow, this depraved Scotch creature, a convicted traitor”—his voice rose a little on the word—“into the sacred precincts of this club?” He was still holding his cue, clutching it like a quarterstaff.

“Captain Fraser is my particular friend, sir,” Grey said coldly.

Twelvetrees uttered a most unpleasant laugh.

“I daresay he is. A very close friend, I have heard.” The edge of his lip lifted in a sneer.

“What do you imply, sir?” Fraser’s voice came from behind him, calm, and so formal as almost to lack his usual accent. Twelvetrees’s hot eyes left Grey, rising to Fraser’s face.

“Why, sir, since you are so civil as to inquire, I imply that this arse-wipe is your”—he hesitated for an instant, and then said, elaborately sardonic—“not merely your most particular friend. For surely only the loyalty of a bedfellow can have led him to do your bidding.”

Grey felt a ringing in his ears, like the aftereffects of cannon fire. He was dimly conscious of thoughts pinging off the inside of his skull like the shards of an exploding grenade, even as he shifted his weight: He’s trying to goad you, does he want to provoke a fight—he’ll bloody get one!—or does he want a challenge, if so, why not give one? Because he wants to look the aggrieved party? He’s just called me a sodomite in public, he means to discredit me, I’ll have to kill him. This last thought arrived simultaneously with the flexing of his knees—and the grasp of Tarleton’s fingers on his arm.

“Gentlemen!” Tarleton was shocked but firm. “Surely you cannot mean such things as your conversation might suggest. I say you should command your passions for the moment, go and have a cooling drink, take sober thought, perhaps sleep on the matter. I am sure that in the morning—”

Grey wrenched his arm free.

“You bloody murderer!” he said. “I’ll—”

“You’ll what? Fucking sodomite!” Twelvetrees’s hands were clenched on the cue stick, his knuckles white.

A much bigger hand came down on Grey’s shoulder and dragged him out of the way. Fraser stepped in front of him, reached across the corner of the table, and plucked the cue out of Twelvetrees’s hands as though it were a broomstraw. He took it in his hands and, with a visible effort, broke it neatly in two and laid the pieces on the table.

“Do you call me traitor, sir?” he said politely to Twelvetrees. “I take no offense at this, for I stand convicted of that crime. But I say to you that you are a greater traitor still.”

“You—what?” Twelvetrees looked mildly stunned.

“You speak of particular friends, sir. Your own most particular friend, Major Siverly, faces a posthumous court-martial for corruption and treason of a most heinous kind. And I say that you should be tried along with him, for you have been partner to his crimes—and if justice is served, doubtless you will be. And if the justice of the Almighty be served, you will then join him in hell. I pray it may be swift.”

Tarleton made a small gobbling noise that Grey would have found funny in other circumstances.

Twelvetrees stood stock-still, beady eyes a-bulge, and then his face convulsed and he leapt upon the table, launching himself from it at Jamie Fraser. Fraser dodged aside, and Twelvetrees struck him no more than a glancing blow, falling to the floor at Grey’s feet.

He remained in a crumpled heap for a moment, panting heavily, then rose slowly to his feet. No one tried to assist him.

He stood up, slowly straightened his clothing, and then walked toward Fraser, who had withdrawn into the hall. He reached the Scotsman, looked up as though gauging the distance, then, drawing back his arm, slapped Fraser bare-handed across the face with a sound like a pistol shot.

“Let your seconds call upon me, sir,” he said, in a voice little more than a whisper.

The hall was full of men, emerged from smoking room, library, and dining room at the sound of raised voices. They parted like the waves of the Red Sea for Twelvetrees, who walked deliberately away, back ramrod-straight and eyes fixed straight ahead.

Major Tarleton, with some presence of mind, had fished a handkerchief out of his sleeve and handed it to Fraser, who was wiping his face with it, Twelvetrees’s blow having been hard enough to make his eyes water and slightly bloody his nose.

“Sorry about that,” Grey said to Tarleton. He could breathe again, though his muscles were jumping with the need to move. He put a hand on the edge of the billiards table, not to steady himself but merely to keep himself from flying out in some unsuitable way. He saw that Twelvetrees’s bootheel had made a small tear in the baize of the table.

“I cannot imagine what—” Tarleton swallowed, looking deeply unhappy. “I cannot imagine what should have led the captain to speak in such a—to say such—” He flung out his hands in total helplessness.

Fraser had regained his self-possession—well, in justice, Grey thought, he’d never lost it—and now handed Tarleton back his handkerchief, neatly folded.

“He spoke so in an effort to discredit Colonel Grey’s testimony,” he said quietly—but audibly enough to be heard by everyone in the hallway. “For what I said to him is the truth. He is a Jacobite traitor and deeply involved, both in Siverly’s treason—and in his death.”

“Oh,” said Tarleton. He coughed and turned a helpless face on Grey, who shrugged apologetically. The witnesses out in the hallway—for he realized that this was what they were, what Fraser had intended them to be—had begun to whisper and buzz among themselves.

“Your servant, sir,” Fraser said to Tarleton, and bowing politely he turned and went out. He didn’t go toward the front door, as Twelvetrees had, but rather toward the stairway, which he ascended in apparent unawareness of the many eyes fixed on his broad back.

Tarleton coughed again. “I say, Colonel. Will you take a glass of brandy with me in the library?”

Grey closed his eyes for an instant, flooded with gratitude for Tarleton’s support. “Thank you, Major,” he said. “I could do with a drink. Possibly two.”

IN THE END, they shared the bottle, Grey taking the lion’s share. Various friends of Grey’s joined them, tentatively at first, but then with more confidence, until there were more than a dozen men clustered round three tiny tables shoved together, the tables crowded with glasses, coffee dishes, bottles, decanters, plates of cake and sandwich crumbs, and crumpled napkins. The talk, at first carefully casual, swung round quickly to loudly expressed shock at Twelvetrees’s effrontery, with a general consensus that the man must be mad. No word was said regarding Fraser’s remarks.

Grey knew they did not think Twelvetrees mad, but as he was in no way prepared to discuss the matter himself, he merely shook his head and murmured a general bewildered agreement with this assessment.

Twelvetrees had his supporters, too, of course, but there were fewer of them, and they had retreated to a stronghold in the smoking room, from which a stream of uneasy but decidedly hostile murmuring flowed like the tobacco smoke that shielded them. Mr. Bodley’s face was pinched as the steward set down a fresh tray of savories in the library. The Beefsteak was no stranger to controversy—no London club was—but the staff disliked the sort of argument that led to broken furniture.

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