“Yes,” Grey said. His lips felt stiff. “I did.”
“It is a great inconvenience,” Bowles said reprovingly, “when gentlemen will be conducting their own investigations, rather than leaving such things to those whose profession it is.”
“So sorry to inconvenience you,” Grey said, beginning to grow angry. “Do you mean to tell me that Edward Twelvetrees was not a traitor?”
“Quite the reverse, my lord. He served his country in the noblest fashion, working in secrecy and in danger to defeat her enemies.” For once, there was a note of warmth in that colorless voice, and, glancing down at his unwelcome companion, Grey realized that Bowles was himself angry—very angry.
“Why the devil did he not say something to me privately?”
“Why should he have trusted you, my lord?” Bowles riposted smartly. “You come from a family whose own background bears the shadow of treason—”
“It does not!”
“Perhaps not in fact but in perception,” Bowles agreed with a nod. “You did well in rooting out Bernard Adams and his fellow plotters, but even the clearing of your father’s name will not erase the stain—only time will do that. Time, and the actions of yourself and your brother.”
“What do you bloody mean by that, damn you?”
Bowles lifted one sloping shoulder but forbore to reply directly.
“And to speak of his activities to anyone—anyone at all, my lord—was for Edward Twelvetrees to risk the destruction of all his—all our—work. True, Major Siverly was dead, but—”
“Wait. If what you tell me is true, why did Edward Twelvetrees kill Siverly?”
“Oh, he didn’t,” Bowles said, as though this was a matter of no importance.
“What? Who did, then? I assure you, it wasn’t me!”
Bowles actually laughed at that, a small creaking noise that made his hunched back hunch further.
“Of course not, my lord. Edward told me that it was an Irishman—a thin man with curly hair—who struck down Gerald Siverly. He heard raised voices and, upon coming to see the cause, overheard an Irish voice in a passion, denouncing Major Siverly, saying that he knew Siverly had stolen the money.
“In any case, there was an argument, then the sounds of a scuffle. Twelvetrees did not wish to reveal himself but advanced cautiously toward the folly, whereupon he saw a man leap over the railing, spattered with blood, and rush into the wood. He pursued the man but failed to stop him. He saw you run past shortly thereafter and thus hid in the wood until you had passed, then left quietly in the other direction.
“He hadn’t seen the Irish gentleman before, though, and was unable to find anyone in the area who knew him. Under the circumstances, he was reluctant to make too many inquiries.” He looked up at Grey, mildly inquiring. “I do not suppose you know who he was?”
“His name is Tobias Quinn,” Grey said shortly. “And if I were forced to ascribe a motive to him, I imagine it would be that he was a fervid Jacobite himself, and he thought that Siverly proposed to abscond with the money he had collected on behalf of the Stuarts.”
“Ah,” said Bowles, pleased. “Just so. You see, my lord, that is what I meant about you and your brother. You are in a position to acquire many useful bits of information.
“Captain Twelvetrees had in fact informed me that he thought Siverly was about to abscond with the funds to Sweden; we intended to allow this, as it would have crippled the Irish plan beyond repair. I cannot say how the Irish Jacobites learned of it, but plainly they did.”
There was a brief pause, during which Bowles withdrew a clean handkerchief from his pocket—a silk one with lace edging, Grey saw—and blew his nose daintily.
“Do you know Mr. Quinn’s present whereabouts, my lord? Or if not, might you make discreet inquiries amongst your Irish acquaintances?”
Grey rounded on him, furious.
“You are inviting me to spy for you, sir?”
“Certainly.” Bowles didn’t seem discomposed by Grey’s clenched fists. “But returning to the subject of Edward Twelvetrees—you must forgive me for seeming to harp upon it, but he really was a most valuable man—he could not say anything regarding his activities, even in private, for fear of those activities being revealed before our plans were complete.”
Realization was beginning to push its way through the veil of shock and anger, and Grey felt ill, an unhealthy sweat breaking out on his face.
“What … plans?”
“Why, the arrest of the Irish Brigade officers involved in the conspiracy. You know about that, I believe?”
“Yes, I do. How do you know about it?”
“Edward Twelvetrees. He brought me the outline of the plan but hadn’t yet collected a full list of those involved. ‘The Wild Hunt,’ they called themselves—most poetic, but what can you expect from the Irish? Edward’s untimely death”—a small note of irony was detectable in Mr. Bowles’s voice—“kept us from knowing the names of all the men involved. And while your brother’s worthy attempt to arrest the conspirators succeeded in bagging some of the prey, it alarmed others, who have either fled the country to cause trouble elsewhere or who have merely sunk into hiding.”
Grey opened his mouth, but could find nothing to say. The wound in his chest throbbed hotly with his heartbeat, but what was worse, what burned across his mind, was his memory of Reginald Twelvetrees’s face, set like granite, witnessing the destruction of his brother’s name.
“I thought you ought to know,” Bowles said, almost kindly. “Good day, my lord.”
HE’D ONCE SEEN Minnie’s cook take a sharpened spoon and cut the flesh of a melon out in little balls. He felt as though each of Bowles’s words had been a jab of that spoon, slicing out neat chunks of his heart and bowels, one at a time, scraping him to the rind.
He didn’t remember coming back to Argus House. Just suddenly found himself at the door, Nasonby blinking at him in consternation. The man said something; he waved a hand in vague dismissal and walked into the library—thank God Hal’s not here; I have to tell him, but, God, not now!—and out through the French doors, across the garden. His only thought was to find refuge, though he knew there could be none.
Behind the shed, he sat down carefully on the upturned bucket, put his elbows on his knees, and sank his head in his hands.
He could hear the watch ticking in his pocket, each tiny sound seeming to last forever, the stream of them endless. How impossibly long it would be before he died, for only that could put an end to the echo of Bowles’s words in the hollow of his mind.
He had no idea how long he sat there, eyes closed, listening to the reproach of his own heartbeat. He didn’t bother opening his eyes when footsteps came to a stop before him and the coolness of someone’s shadow fell on his hot face.
There was a brief sigh, then big hands took him by the arms and lifted him bodily to his feet.
“Come wi’ me,” Fraser said quietly. “Walk. It will be easier to say what’s happened, walking.”
He opened his mouth to protest but hadn’t the strength to resist. Fraser took his arm and propelled him firmly through the back gate. There was a narrow lane there, wide enough for barrows and tradesmen’s wagons, but at this hour of the day—it was late, he thought dimly, the whole of the lane was in shadow—there were only a few female servants loitering near the gates of the big houses, gossiping or waiting to walk out with a young man. These glanced at the two men sidelong but turned their heads away, lowering their voices as they continued their conversations. He wished passionately that he was one of those women, had a right still to engage in the ordinariness of life.
There was a lump in his throat, hard and round as a walnut. He didn’t see how words would ever find their way past it. But Fraser kept hold of his arm, guiding him out into the street, into Hyde Park.
It was nearly dark, save for the pinprick campfires of the tramps and gypsies who came into the park by night, and there were few of these. At the corner where pamphleteers, electioneers, and those possessed of strong opinions stood to speak, a larger fire was burning, dying down unattended, with a smell of charred paper. A figure hung from the branch of a nearby tree, an effigy that someone had tried to set on fire, but the fire had gone out, leaving the figure blackened and stinking, the pale square of paper pinned to its chest unreadable in the dark.
They’d made nearly half a circuit of the park before he found the first words, Fraser walking patiently beside him, no longer holding his arm, and he missed the touch … but the words came at last, at first disjointed, reluctant, and then in a burst like a musket volley. He was surprised that it could be said so briefly.
Fraser made a small sound, a sort of soft grunt, as though he’d been punched in the belly, but then listened in silence. They walked for some time after Grey had finished speaking.
“Kyrie, eleison,” Fraser said at last, very quietly. Lord, have mercy.
“Well enough for you,” Grey said without rancor. “It must help, to think there is some ultimate sense to things.”
Fraser turned his head to look at him curiously.
“Do ye not think so? Whether ye call the ultimate cause—or the ultimate effect, I suppose—God or merely Reason? I have heard ye speak with admiration of logic and reason.”
“Where is the logic in this?” Grey burst out, flinging out his hands.
“Ye ken that as well as I do,” Fraser said rather sharply. “The logic of duty, and what each man of us—you, me, and Edward Twelvetrees—conceived that to be.”
“I—” Grey stopped, unable to formulate his thoughts coherently; there were too many of them.
“Aye, we’re guilty of that man’s death—the two of us, and dinna think I say so out of kindness. I ken well what ye mean—and what ye feel.” Fraser stopped for a moment, turning to face Grey, his eyes intent. They stood outside the house of the Earl of Prestwick; the lanterns had been lit and the light fell through the wrought-iron bars of the fence, striping them both.
“I accused him of treason in public, to stop him executing actions that would have injured folk who are mine. He challenged me, to prevent any suspicion attaching to him, so that he could carry out his schemes, though they were not the schemes I—we—assumed him to have. You then challenged him, to—” He halted suddenly and stared hard at Grey. “Ostensibly,” he said, more slowly, “ye challenged him to preserve your honor, to refute the slur of sodomy.” His lips compressed into a tight line.
“Ostensibly,” Grey echoed. “Why the bloody hell else would I have done it?”
Fraser’s eyes searched his face. Grey felt the touch of the other man’s gaze, an odd sensation, but kept his own face composed. Or hoped he did.
“Her Grace says that ye did it for the sake of your friendship with me,” Fraser said at last, quietly. “And I am inclined to think her right.”
“Her Grace should mind her own bloody business.” Grey turned away abruptly and began walking. Fraser caught him up within a pace or two, bootheels muffled on the sandy path. Small forms darted in and out of the scattered light from the lanterns of the big houses: children, mostly, scavenging the piles of horse droppings left on the riding path.
Grey had noticed the nice distinction: “for the sake of your friendship with me,” as opposed to the simpler—but far more threatening—“for me.” He didn’t know if the distinction was Minnie’s or Fraser’s, but supposed it didn’t matter. Both statements were true, and if Fraser preferred the greater distance of the former, he was welcome to it.
“We are both guilty in his death,” Fraser repeated doggedly. “But so is he.”
“How? He couldn’t have suffered your accusation without response. And he couldn’t have told you, even privately, what the truth of his position was.”
“He could,” Fraser corrected, “save that he saw it as his duty not to.”
Grey looked at him blankly. “Of course.”
Fraser turned his head away, but Grey thought he detected the glimmer of a smile among the shadows. “You are an Englishman,” Fraser said dryly. “So was he. And had he not tried to kill ye at the last—”
“He had to,” Grey interrupted. “His only other choice would have been to ask me to yield—and he knew bloody well I wouldn’t.”
Fraser gave a cursory nod of acknowledgment. “Did I not say it was logical?”
“You did. But …” He let his voice trail away. In the enormity of his own regret, he hadn’t paused to think that what Fraser said was true: he also had a share in Twelvetrees’s death—and therefore in the regret.
“Aye, but,” Fraser said with a sigh, “I would have done the same. But ye’ve killed men before, and likely better men than Twelvetrees.”
“Quite possibly. But I killed them as—as enemies. From duty.” Would it have come to this pass if not for Esmé and Nathaniel? Yes, likely it would.
“Ye killed him as an enemy, did ye not? The fact that he wasna one in fact is not your fault.”
“That is a very specious argument.”
“Doesna mean it’s not true.”
“Do you think you can argue me out of guilt? Out of horror and melancholy?” Grey demanded, annoyed.
“I do, aye. It isna possible to feel urgent emotion and engage in rational discourse at the same time.”
“Oh, yes, it is,” Grey began, with some warmth, but as it was that unfortunate conversation in the stable at Helwater that would have formed his prime example, he abandoned this tack. “Do you truly consider all impassioned speech to be illogical? What about the bloody Declaration of Arbroath?”