“A speech may be conceived in passion,” Fraser conceded, “but it’s executed in cold blood, for the most part. The declaration was written—or at least subscribed—by a number of men. They canna all have been in the grip of passion when they did it.”
Grey actually laughed, though shortly, then shook his head.
“You are trying to distract me from the point at issue.”
“No,” said Fraser thoughtfully. “I think I am trying to lead ye to the point at issue—which is that no matter how much a man may try to do what is right, the outcome may not be one that he either foresees or desires. And that’s grounds for regret—sometimes verra great regret,” he added more softly, “but not for everlasting guilt. For it is there we must throw ourselves on God’s mercy and hope to receive it.”
“And you speak from experience.” Grey had not meant this statement to sound challenging, but it did, and Fraser exhaled strongly through his long Scottish nose.
“I do,” he said, after a moment’s silence. He sighed. “When I was laird of Lallybroch, one of my tenants came to ask my help. She was an auld woman, concerned for one of her grandsons. His father beat him, she said, and she was feart that he would kill the lad. Would I not take him to be a stable-lad at my house?
“I said that I would. But when I spoke to the father, he’d have none of it and reproached me for tryin’ to take his son away from him.” He sighed again.
“I was young, and a fool. I struck him. In fact … I beat him, and he yielded to me. I took the lad. Rabbie, his name was; Rabbie MacNab.”
Grey gave a small start, but said nothing.
“Well. Ronnie—that was the father’s name; he was Ronald MacNab, and his son, Rabbie—betrayed me to the Watch, out of his fury and bereavement, and I was arrested and taken to an English prison. I … escaped …” He hesitated, as though wondering whether to say more, but decided against it and went on. “But later, when I came back to Lallybroch in the early days of the Rising, I found MacNab’s croft burnt out, and him gone up in smoke and ashes on his own hearthstone.”
“I take it this was no accident?”
Fraser shook his head, the movement barely perceptible, as they were passing under the great row of elms along the east side of the park.
“No,” he said softly. “My other tenants did it, for they kent well who had betrayed me. They did what seemed right—their duty to me—as I had done what seemed right and my duty as laird. And yet the end of it was death, and nothing I intended.”
Their steps were soft, nearly shuffling as they walked more slowly.
“I take your point,” Grey said at last, quietly. “What became of the boy? Rabbie?”
One large shoulder moved slightly.
“He lived in my house—he and his mother—during the Rising. Afterward … my sister said he had made up his mind to go south, to see if he might find work, for there was nothing left in the Highlands for a young man, save the army, and that he wouldna do.”
Greatly daring, Grey touched Jamie’s arm, very gently.
“You said that a man cannot foresee the outcome of his actions, and that’s true. But in this case, I can tell you one of yours.”
“What?” Fraser spoke sharply, whether from the touch or from Grey’s words, but did not jerk away.
“Rabbie MacNab. I know what became of him. He is—or was, when last I saw him—a London chairman and contemplating marriage.” He forbore to tell Fraser that Rab’s intended was his acquaintance, Nessie, not knowing whether a Scotch Catholic’s view of prostitution might be similar to that of a Scotch Presbyterian, who tended in Grey’s experience to be rather rigid and censorious about the pleasures of the flesh.
Fraser’s hand closed on his forearm, startling Grey considerably.
“Ye ken where he is?” Fraser’s voice showed his excitement. “Can ye tell me where I might find him?”
Grey rummaged hastily through his scattered thoughts, trying to recall where Agnes had said: My new house … The end o’ Brydges Street.… Mrs. Donoghue …
“Yes,” he said, feeling his spirit rise a little. “I can find him for you, I’m sure.”
“I—thank ye, my lord,” Jamie said abruptly.
“Don’t call me that.” John felt a little better but suddenly unutterably tired. “If we share blood guilt and remorse for what we did to that bastard Twelvetrees, you can for God’s sake call me by my Christian name, can you not?”
Fraser paced in silence for a bit, thinking.
“I could,” he said slowly. “For now. But I shall go back to—to my place, and it willna do then. I … should find it disagreeable to become accustomed to such a degree of familiarity and then …” He made a small, dismissive gesture.
“You needn’t go back,” Grey said, reckless. He had no power to commute Fraser’s sentence nor pardon him and no business to suggest such a thing—not without Hal’s assent. But he thought it could be done.
He’d shocked the Scot, he saw; Fraser drew a little away, even as they walked together.
“I … am much obliged to your lordship for the thought,” he said at last. His voice sounded queer, Grey thought, and wondered why. “I … even if it should be possible … I—I do not wish to leave Helwater.”
Grey misunderstood for a moment and sought to reassure him. “I do not mean you should be committed to prison again, nor even released to a new parole in London. I mean, in light of your great service to—to the government … it might be possible to arrange a pardon. You could be … free.”
The word hung in the air between them, small and solid. Fraser drew a long, tremulous breath, but when he spoke, his words were firm.
“I take your meaning, my lord. And I am truly very much obliged for the kindness ye intend. But there is—I have … someone … at Helwater. Someone for whose sake I must return.”
“Who?” Grey asked, very startled by this.
“Her name is Betty Mitchell. One of the lady’s maids.”
“Really,” Grey said blankly, then, coming to the realization that this sounded very discourteous, hastened to make amends. “I—I congratulate you.”
“Aye, well, ye needna do that just yet,” Fraser said. “I havena spoken to her—formally, I mean. But there is … what ye might call an understanding.”
Grey felt rather as though he’d stepped on a garden rake which had leapt up and banged him on the nose. It was the last thing he would have expected—not only in light of the social differences that must exist between a lady’s maid and a laird (though a brief thought of Hal and Minnie drifted through the back of his mind, together with a vision of the scorched hearth rug), no matter how far the laird’s fortunes had fallen, but in light of what Grey had always assumed to be Fraser’s very exigent feelings toward his dead wife.
He knew the lady’s maid slightly, from his visits to Helwater, and while she was a fine-looking young woman, she was distinctly … well, common. Fraser’s first wife had been distinctly uncommon.
“Christ, Sassenach. I need ye.”
He felt shocked—and rather disapproving. He was more shocked still to realize this and did his best to dismiss the feeling; it wasn’t his business to be shocked, and even if it were … well, it had been a very long time since Fraser’s wife had died, and he was a man. And an honorable one. Better to marry than burn, they say, he thought cynically. I wouldn’t know.
“I wish you every happiness,” he said, very formal. They had come to a stop near the Alexandra Gate. The night air was soft, full of the scent of tree sap and chimney smoke and the distant reeks of the city. He realized with a lesser shock that he felt very hungry—and, with a mingled sense of shame and resignation, that he was pleased to be alive.
They were more than late for supper.
“You’d best send for a tray,” Grey said, as they climbed the marble steps. “I’ll have to tell Hal what Bowles said, but there’s no need for you to be involved any further. In any of this.”
“Is there not?” Fraser looked at him, serious in the light of the lantern that hung by the door. “Ye’ll be going to speak wi’ Reginald Twelvetrees, will ye not?”
“Oh, yes.” The thought of that necessity had been pushed to the back of his mind during the recent conversation but had not left him; it hung like a weight suspended by a spider’s thread; Damocles’ sword. “Tomorrow.”
“I’ll go with ye.” The Scotsman’s voice was quiet but firm.
Grey heaved a deep sigh and shook his head.
“No. I thank you … Mr. Fraser,” he said, and tried to smile at the formality. “My brother will second me.”
THE GREY BROTHERS WENT THE NEXT MORNING TO PAY their call on Reginald Twelvetrees. They left, grim and silent, and came back the same way, Grey going out to the conservatory, Hal to his den of papers, speaking to no one.
Jamie had some sympathy for the Greys—and for the Twelvetrees brothers, come to that—and, finding his favorite chair in the library, took out his rosary and said a few decades for the eventual peace of all souls concerned. There were, after all, many situations that simply had to be handed over to God, as no human agency was capable of dealing with them.
He found himself losing his place, though, distracted by his memory of the Greys going off together, shoulder-to-shoulder, to face what must be faced. And the thought of Reginald Twelvetrees, privately mourning two lost brothers.
He had lost his own brother very young; Willie had been eleven when he died of the smallpox—Jamie, six. He didn’t think of Willie much, but the ache of his absence was always there, along with the other scars on his heart left when someone was torn away. He envied the Greys their possession of each other.
Thought of Willie, though, reminded him of another William, and his heart lifted a little with the thought. If life stole dear ones from you, sometimes it gave you others. Ian Murray had become his blood brother after Willie died; sometime he would see Ian again, and meanwhile the knowledge of his presence in the world—looking after things at Lallybroch—was a true comfort. And his son …
When this was over—and pray God it would be soon—he would see William again. Be with him. He might—
At first, he didn’t realize that it was himself the butler meant. But Nasonby repeated, “Sir,” more insistently, and when he looked up, the butler presented his silver tray, upon which reposed a sheet of rough paper sealed with a daub of candle wax and marked with the print of a broad thumb.
He took it with a nod of thanks and, putting his rosary away, brought the letter upstairs to his room. By the rainy light from the window, he opened it and found a note penned with a careful elegance, much at odds with its crude materials.
Shéamais Mac Bhrian, the salutation read. The rest was in the Irish, too, but was simple enough for him to understand:
For the love of God and Mary and Patrick, come to me now.
Tobias Mac Gréagair,
of the Quinns of Portkerry
At the bottom of the page was drawn a neat line with several boxes perched atop it, and below it written “Civet Cat Alley.” One of the boxes had an “X” marked through it.
An extraordinary feeling ran through him, a cold grue that fell over him like an icy blanket. This wasn’t merely Quinn’s usual drama—still less the intended mischief of his note denouncing Grey as a murderer. The simplicity of it, plus the fact that Quinn had signed it with his formal name, carried an undeniable urgency.
He was halfway down the stairs when he met Lord John, coming up.
“Where is Civet Cat Alley?” he asked abruptly. Grey blinked, glanced at the paper in Jamie’s hand for an instant, then said, “In the Rookery—the Irish quarter. I’ve been there. Shall I take you?”
“I—” He started to say that he would go alone, but he knew nothing of London. If he went on foot, asking his way, it would take a great while. And he had a deep certainty that there was not a great while to spare.
He was prey to the most profound anxiety. Was Quinn threatened with imminent arrest? If so, he should certainly not take Grey to him, but … Or it might be that the Jacobite plotters, learning that they were betrayed, had decided that it was Quinn who had betrayed them. Oh, Jesus. If that were the case—
Yet something in the dark cavern of his heart gave off a metallic echo, a note of doom, small and inexorable as the chime of Grey’s pocket watch. Ticking off the moments of Quinn’s life.
“Yes,” he said abruptly. “Now.”
OF COURSE he had known, from the moment the note was put into his hand. But still, he urged the carriage on by force of will and, in Civet Cat Alley, went in to the house with heart hammering and scarcely able to breathe. He seized a young slattern with a baby in her arms in the first room he came to and demanded the whereabouts of Tobias Quinn.
“Upstairs,” she said, affronted but frightened of his size and his ferocity. “The fourth floor back. What are ye wantin’ wit’ him?” she added in a bawl after him, but he was pounding up the stairs to what he knew was there, leaving Grey to deal with the gathering crowd of curious, half-hostile Irish who had followed the carriage through the streets.
The door was unlocked and the room orderly and peaceful, save for the blood.
Quinn had lain down on his bed, fully clothed save for his coat, which was neatly folded at the foot of the bed, the checkered silk outermost. He had not cut his throat but had turned back his cuff with great care and cut his wrist, which dangled over the Cupán, set on the floor beneath. The blood had overflowed and run red across the sloping floor almost to the door, like an unfurled carpet laid for royalty. And neatly, as neatly as a man could print with a finger dipped in his own blood, he had written the word “TEIND” on the wall above his shabby cot. A tithe to hell.