The Scottish Prisoner

Page 45

What the devil made him do it? was the refrain that pulsed in Grey’s temples, along with the brandy. He didn’t mean Twelvetrees, though he wondered that, as well; he meant James Fraser. He wanted urgently to go find out but made himself sit until the bottle was empty and the conversation had turned to other things.

Only until they get outside, he thought. The news would spread like ink on white linen—and be just as impossible to eradicate. He stood up, wondering vaguely what he’d tell Hal, took his leave of Tarleton and the remaining company, and walked—very steadily, concentrating—up the stairs to the bedrooms.

The door to Fraser’s room stood open, and a male servant—the Beefsteak employed no chambermaids—knelt on the hearth, sweeping out the ashes. The room was otherwise empty.

“Where is Mr. Fraser?” he asked, putting a hand on the doorjamb and looking carefully from corner to corner of the room, lest he might have overlooked a large Scotsman somewhere among the furnishings.

“ ’E’s gone out, sir,” said the servant, scrambling to his feet and bowing respectfully. “ ’E didn’t say where.”

“Thank you,” Grey said after a pause, and walked—a little less steadily—to his own room, where he carefully shut the door, lay on his bed, and fell asleep.

I CALLED HIM a murderer.

That was the thought in his mind when he woke an hour later. I called him a murderer, he called me a sodomite … and yet it’s Fraser he called out. Why?

Because Fraser accused him, point-blank and publicly, of treason. He had to challenge that; he couldn’t let the statement stand. An accusation of murder might be mere insult, but not an accusation of treason. And particularly not if there was any truth in it.

Of course. He’d known that, really. What he didn’t know was what had possessed Fraser to make the accusation now, and in such a public manner.

He got up, used the pot, then splashed water from the ewer over his face and, tilting the pitcher, drank most of the rest. It was nearly evening; his room was growing dark, and he could smell the luscious scents of tea preparing downstairs: fried sardines, fresh buttered crumpets, lemon sponge, cucumber sandwiches, sliced ham. He swallowed, suddenly ravenous.

He was strongly tempted to go down and have his tea instantly, but there were things he wanted more than food. Clarity, for one.

He can’t have done it for me. The thought carried some regret; he wished it were true. But he was realist enough to know that Fraser wouldn’t have gone to such lengths merely to distract attention from Twelvetrees’s accusation of sodomy, no matter what he personally thought of Grey at the moment—and Grey didn’t even know that.

He realized that he was unlikely to divine Fraser’s motives without asking the man. And he was reasonably sure where Fraser had gone; there weren’t many places he could go, in all justice.

Justice. There were a good many different ways to achieve that enigmatic state of affairs, in descending levels of social acceptability. Statute. Court-martial. Duello. Murder.

He sat down on the bed and thought for a few moments. Then he rang for paper and ink, wrote a brief note, folded it, and, without sealing it, gave it to the servant with instructions for its delivery.

He at once felt better, having taken action, and, smoothing his crumpled neckcloth, went in search of fried sardines.



FRASER HAD, AS GREY THOUGHT, GONE BACK TO ARGUS House. When he arrived himself, Grey had barely ascertained as much from Nasonby when Hal came storming up the steps behind him, his tempestuous entrance nearly jerking the door from the butler’s grasp.

“Where is that bloody Scotchman?” he demanded, dividing a glare between Grey and Nasonby.

That was fast, Grey thought. News of what had happened at the Beefsteak had clearly spread through the coffeehouses and clubs of London within hours.

“Here, Your Grace,” said a deep, cold voice, and Jamie Fraser emerged from the library, Edmund Burke’s A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful in his hand. “Did you wish to speak with me?”

Grey had a moment’s relief that Fraser had finished the collected disputations of Marcus Tullius Cicero; Burke would make much less of a dent in Hal’s skull if it came to blows—which looked likely at the moment.

“Yes, I bloody wish to speak with you! Come in here! You, too!” He turned to glower at Grey, including him in this command, then swept past Fraser into the library.

Jamie walked across the room and sat down deliberately, looking coolly at Hal. The door had barely closed behind them when Hal swung round to face Fraser, face livid with shock and fury.

“What have you done?” Hal was making an effort to control himself, but his right hand was flexing, closing and unclosing, as though he were keeping himself with an effort from hitting something. “You knew what I—what we”—he corrected himself, with a brief nod at Grey—“intended. We have done you the honor of including you in all our counsels, and this is how you repay—”

He stopped abruptly, because Fraser had risen to his feet. Fast. He took a quick step toward Hal, and Hal, by pure reflex, took a step back. His face was flushed now, but his color was nothing to Fraser’s.

“Honor,” Fraser said, and his voice shook with fury. “You dare speak to me of honor?”


A large fist crashed down on the table, and all the ornaments rattled. The bud vase fell over.

“Be still! Ye seize a man who is your captive—and your captive by honor alone, sir, for believe me, if I had none, I should have been in France these four years past! Seize and compel him by threat to do your bidding, and by that bidding to betray ancient comrades, to forswear vows, betray friendship and loyalty, to become your very creature … and ye think ye do me honor to count me an Englishman!?”

The air seemed to shiver with the force of his words. No one spoke for a long moment, and there was no sound save the drip of water from the fallen vase, dropping from the edge of the table.

“Why, then?” Grey said quietly, at last.

Fraser rounded on him, dangerous—and beautiful—as a red stag at bay, and Grey felt his heart seize in his chest.

Fraser’s own chest heaved visibly, as he sought to control his emotions.

“Why,” he repeated, and it was not a question, but the preface to a statement. He closed his eyes for an instant, then opened them, fixing them on Grey with great intensity.

“Because what I said of Twelvetrees is true. With Siverly dead, he holds the finances of the rising in his hands. He must not be allowed to act. Must not.”

“The rising?” Hal had subsided into his chair as Fraser spoke but now sprang to his feet. “There is a rising, then? You know this for a fact?”

Fraser spared him a single glance of contempt.

“I know it.” And in a few words, he laid the plan before them: Quinn’s acquisition of the Druid king’s cup, the involvement of the Irish regiments, and the Wild Hunt’s plan. His voice shook with some strong emotion at moments in the telling; Grey could not tell whether it was rage at them or fear at the enormity of what he said. Perhaps it was sorrow.

He seemed to have stopped speaking, letting his head fall forward. But then he drew a deep, trembling breath and looked up again.

“If I thought that there was the slightest chance of success,” he said, “I should ha’ kept my own counsel. But there is not, and I know it. I canna let it happen again.”

Grey heard the desolation in his voice and glanced briefly at Hal. Did his brother know the enormity of what Fraser had just done? He doubted it, though Hal’s face was intent, his eyes live as coals.

“A minute,” Hal said abruptly, and left the room. Grey heard him in the hall, urgently summoning the footmen, sending them at once for Harry Quarry and the other senior officers of the regiment. Calling for his secretary.

“A note to the prime minister, Andrews,” Hal’s voice floated back from the hallway, tense. “Ask if I may wait upon him this evening. A matter of the greatest importance.”

A murmur from Andrews, a great rush of exodus, then a silence, and Hal’s footsteps on the stairs.

“He’s gone to tell Minnie,” Grey said aloud, listening.

Fraser sat by the hearth, elbow on his knee and his head sunk upon one hand. He didn’t answer or move.

After a few moments, Grey cleared his throat.

“Dinna speak to me,” Fraser said softly. “Not now.”

THEY SAT IN SILENCE for half an hour by the carriage clock on the mantelpiece, which chimed the quarter in a small silver voice. The only interruption was the entrance of the butler, coming in first to light the candles, and then again, bringing a note for Grey. He opened this, read it briefly, and thrust it into his waistcoat pocket, hearing Hal’s footsteps on the stair, coming down.

His brother was pale when he came in and clearly excited, though plainly in command of himself.

“Claret and biscuits, please, Nasonby,” he said to the butler, and waited ’til the man had left before speaking further. Fraser had risen to his feet when Hal came in—not out of respect, Grey thought, but only to be ready for whatever bloody thing was coming next.

Hal folded his hands behind him and essayed a small smile, meant to be cordial.

“As you point out, Mr. Fraser, you are not an Englishman,” Hal said. Fraser gave him a blank stare, and the smile died aborning. Hal pressed his lips together, breathed in through his nose, and went on.

“You are, however, a paroled prisoner of war, and my responsibility. I must reluctantly forbid you to fight Twelvetrees. Much as I agree that the man needs killing,” he added.

“Forbid me,” Fraser said, in a neutral tone. He stood looking at Hal as he might have examined something found on the bottom of his shoe, with a mix of curiosity and disgust.

“You cause me to betray my friends,” Jamie said, as reasonably as one might lay out a geometric proof, “to betray my nation, my king, and myself—and now you suppose that you will deprive me of my honor as a man? I think not, sir.”

And, without another word, he strode out of the library, brushing past a surprised Nasonby, coming in with the refreshments. The butler, nobly concealing any response to current goings-on—he had worked for the family for some time, after all—set down his tray and retired.

“That went well,” said Grey. “Minnie’s advice?” His brother gave him a look of measured dislike.

“I didn’t need Minnie to tell me the sort of trouble that will happen if this duel takes place.”

“You could stop him,” Grey observed, and poured claret into one of the crystal cups, the wine dark red and fragrant.

Hal snorted.

“Could I? Yes, possibly—if I wanted to lock him up. Nothing else would work.” He noticed the fallen bud vase and absently righted it, picking up the small daisy it had held. “He has the choice of weapon.” Hal frowned. “Sword, do you think? It’s surer than a pistol if you truly mean to kill someone.”

Grey made no reply to this; Hal had killed Nathaniel Twelvetrees with a pistol; he himself had killed Edwin Nicholls with a pistol much more recently—though, granted, it had been sheer accident. Nonetheless, Hal was technically right. Pistols were prone to misfire, and very few were accurate at distances beyond a few feet.

“I don’t know how he is with a sword,” Hal went on, frowning, “but I’ve seen the way he moves, and he’s got a six-inch reach on Twelvetrees, at least.”

“To the best of my knowledge—which is reasonably good—he hasn’t had any sort of weapon in his hands for the last seven or eight years. I don’t doubt his reflexes”—a fleeting memory of Fraser’s catching him as he fell on a dark Irish road, the scream of frogs and toads in his ears—“but it’s you who is constantly prating on at me about the necessity of practice, is it not?”

“I never prate,” Hal said, offended. He twiddled the daisy’s stem between his fingers, shedding white petals on the rug. “If I let him fight Twelvetrees and Twelvetrees kills him … that would cause trouble for you, he being nominally under your protection as the officer in charge of his parole.”

Grey felt a sudden clench in the belly. “I should not consider damage to my reputation the worst result arising from that situation,” he said, imagining—all too well—Jamie Fraser dying in some bleak dawn, his pumping blood hot on Grey’s guilty hands. He took a gulp of wine, not tasting it.

“Well, neither would I,” Hal admitted, putting down the tattered stem. “I’d rather he wasn’t killed. I like the man, stubborn and contentious as he is.”

“To say nothing of the fact that he has rendered us a signal service,” Grey said, with a noticeable edge to his voice. “Have you any notion what it cost him to tell us?”

Hal gave him a quick, hard look, but then glanced away and nodded.

“Yes, I have,” he said quietly. “You know the oath of loyalty that they made the Jacobite prisoners swear—those who were allowed to live?”

“Of course I do,” Grey muttered, rolling the cup restlessly between his palms. It had been his duty to administer that oath to incoming prisoners at Ardsmuir.

May I never see my wife and children, father, mother, or relations. May I be killed in battle as a coward and lie without Christian burial in a strange land, far from the graves of my forefathers and kindred …

He could only thank God that Fraser had been in the prison already for some time when Grey was appointed governor. He hadn’t had to hear Jamie speak that oath or see the look on his face when he did so.

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