The Scottish Prisoner

Page 58

She made an incoherent sound and took a pace toward him, rose onto her toes, and kissed him on the mouth.

A strangled gasp broke them apart, and Jamie turned to see Crusoe goggling at them from the corner of the shed.

“What the devil are you looking at?” Betty snapped at him.

“Not a thing, miss,” Crusoe assured her, and put one large palm over his mouth.



October 26, 1760


“The king is dead!” cried the ballad sellers, the news chanters, the scribblers, the street urchins, their voices echoing through the city. “Long live the king!”

In the furious preparations and public preoccupations that attend a state funeral, the final arrests of the Irish Jacobite plotters who had called themselves the Wild Hunt took place without notice. Harold, Duke of Pardloe, neither ate nor slept for several days during this effort, nor did his brother, and it was in a state of mind somewhere between sleep and death that they came to Westminster Abbey on the night of the king’s obsequies.

The Duke of Cumberland did not look well either. Grey saw Hal’s eyes rest on Cumberland with an odd expression, somewhere between grim satisfaction and grudging sympathy. Cumberland had suffered a stroke not long before, and one side of his face still sagged, the eye on that side almost closed. The other was still pugnacious, though, and looked daggers at Hal from the other side of Henry VII’s chapel. Then the duke’s attention was distracted by his own brother, the Duke of Newcastle, who was crying, alternately mopping his eyes and using his glass to spy out the crowd and see who was there. A look of disgust crossed Cumberland’s face, and he looked back down into the vault, where the huge purple-draped coffin sat somber and majestic in the light of six enormous silver candelabra, all ablaze.

“Cumberland’s thinking he will descend there himself in no short time, I fear.” Horace Walpole’s soft whisper came from behind Grey, but he couldn’t tell whether it was directed to him or merely Walpole making observations to himself. Horry talked all the time, and it seemed to make little difference whether anyone was listening.

Whatever you wanted to say about the royal family—and there was quite a lot you could say—they mostly displayed a becoming fortitude in their time of sorrow. The funeral of George II had been going on for more than two hours now, and Grey’s own feet were mere blocks of ice from standing on the cold marble of the abbey floor, though Tom had made him put on two pair of stockings and his woolen drawers. His shins ached.

Newcastle had surreptitiously stepped onto the five-foot train of Cumberland’s black cloak in order to avoid the mortal chill of the marble floor; Grey hoped he would neglect to get off before his brother started walking again. But Cumberland stood like a rock, despite a bad leg. He’d chosen—God knew why—to wear a dark-brown wig in the style called “Adonis,” which went oddly with his distorted, bloated face. Maybe Horry was right.

The view down into the vault was impressive; he’d admit that much. George II was now once and forever safe from the Wild Hunt—and every other earthly threat. Three officers of the Irish Brigades—so far—had been court-martialed quietly and condemned to hang for treason. The executions would be private, too. The monarchy was safe; the public would never know.

You did it, Charlie, Grey thought. Goodbye. And sudden tears made the candle flames blur bright and huge. No one noticed; there were a number of people moved to tears by the emotion of the occasion. Charles Carruthers had died alone in an attic in Canada and had no resting place. Grey had had Charlie’s body burned, his ashes scattered, that carefully assembled packet of papers his only memorial.

“Such a relief, my dear,” Walpole—who was exceedingly slight—was saying to Grenville. “I was positive they would pair me with a ten-year-old boy, and the young have so little conversation.”

The huge fretted vault of the abbey rustled and chirped as though it were full of roosting bats, the noise a counterpoint to the constant tolling of bells overhead and the firing of minute guns outside. One went off, quite close, and Grey saw Hal close his eyes in sudden pain; his brother had one of his sick headaches and was having trouble staying on his feet. If there had been incense, it would likely have finished him off; he’d thought Hal was about to vomit when Newcastle scampered past him earlier, reeking loudly of bergamot and vetiver.

For all the lack of frankincense and priests saying Masses for the late king’s soul, the ceremony was lavish enough to have pleased a cardinal. The bishop had blundered badly through the prayers, but no one noticed. Now the interminable anthem droned on and on, unmeasurably tedious. Grey found himself wondering whether it sounded any better to him than it would have to Jamie Fraser, with his inability to hear music. Mere rhythmic noise, in either case. It wasn’t doing Hal any good; he gave a stifled moan.

He pulled his thoughts hurriedly away from Fraser, moving a little closer to Hal in case he fell over. His undisciplined thoughts promptly veered to Percy Wainwright. He’d stood thus in church with Percy—his new stepbrother—at the marriage of Grey’s mother to Percy’s stepfather. Close enough that their hands had found each other, hidden in the full skirts of their coats.

He didn’t want to think about Percy. Obligingly, his thoughts veered straight back in the direction of Jamie Fraser.

Will you bloody go away? he thought irritably, and jerked his attention firmly to the sight before him: people were crammed into every crevice of the chapel, sitting on anything they could find. The white breath of the crowd mingled with the smell of smoke from the torches in the nave. If Hal did pass out, Grey thought, he wouldn’t fall down; there wasn’t room. Nonetheless, he moved closer, his elbow brushing Hal’s.

“At least now we’ll have a ruler who speaks English. More or less.” Walpole’s cynical remark drew Grey’s wandering eye to the heir—the king, he should say. The new George looked just like all the Hanovers, he thought, the beaky nose and heavy-lidded, gelid eyes undiluted by any softer maternal influence; doubtless they’d all looked that way for a thousand years and would do so for another thousand. George III was only twenty-two, though, and Grey wondered how well he might withstand the influence of his uncle Cumberland, should the latter decide to shift his concerns from horse racing to politics.

Though perhaps his health would not recover enough to allow any meddling. He looked almost as ill as Hal did. Grey didn’t suppose that the outcome of Siverly’s court-martial had actually caused Cumberland to have a paralytic stroke, but the timing was coincidental.

The anthem plodded toward a conclusion, and people began to draw breath in relief—but it was a false amnesty; the ponderous refrain started up again, this time sung by a bevy of angel-faced little boys, and the audience relapsed into glazed endurance. Perhaps the point of funerals was to exhaust the mourners, thus numbing the more exigent emotions.

In spite of the tedium, Grey found something reassuring about the service, with its sheer solidity, its insistence upon permanence in the face of transience, the reliability of succession. Life was fragile, but life went on. King to king, father to son …

Father to son. And with that thought, all the disconnected, fragmentary, scattered fancies in his brain dropped suddenly into a single, vivid image: Jamie Fraser, seen from the back, looking over the horses in the paddock at Helwater. And beside him, standing on a rail and clinging to a higher one, William, Earl of Ellesmere. The alert cock of their heads, the set of their shoulders, the wide stance—just the same. If one had eyes to see, it was plain as the nose on the new king’s face.

And now a great sense of peace filled his soul, as the anthem at last came to an end and a huge sigh filled the abbey. He remembered Jamie’s face as they rode in to Helwater, alight as they saw the women on the lawn—with William.

He’d suspected it when he’d found Fraser in the chapel with Geneva Dunsany’s coffin, just before her funeral. But now he knew, beyond doubt. Knew, too, why Fraser did not desire his freedom.

A sudden poke in the back jerked him from his revelation.

“I do believe Pardloe’s going to die,” Walpole said. A small, neat hand came through the narrow gap between the Grey brothers, holding a corked glass vial. “Would you care to use my salts?”

Startled, Grey looked at his brother. Hal’s face was white as a sheet and running with sweat, his eyes huge and dilated, absolutely black with pain. He was swaying. Grey grabbed the salts with one hand, Hal’s arm with the other.

By the combined effect of smelling salts and force of will, Hal remained on his feet, and the service came mercifully to an end ten minutes later.

George Grenville had come in a sedan chair, and his bearers were waiting on the embankment. Grenville generously put these at Hal’s service, and he was taken off at the trot for Argus House, nearly insensible. Grey took leave of his friends as soon as he decently could and made his own way home on foot.

The dark streets near the abbey were thronged with the people of London, come out to pay their respects; they would file through all night, and much of the next day, before the vault was sealed again. Within a few minutes, though, Grey had made his way through the press and found himself more or less alone under the night sky, cloudy and cold with autumn’s chill, nearly the same purple as the velvet shroud on the old king’s coffin.

He felt both elated and peaceful, almost valedictory: a strange state of mind to experience in the wake of a funeral.

Part of it was Charlie, of course, and the knowledge that he had not failed his dead friend. Beyond that, though, was the knowledge that it lay within his power to do something equally important for the living one. He could keep James Fraser prisoner.

Rain began to fall, but it was a light drizzle, no more, and he did not hurry his step on that account. When he reached Argus House, he was fresh and damp, the smoke and stink of the crowd blown away, and in possession of a fine appetite. When he came in, though, his thoughts of supper were delayed by discovery of an equerry, waiting patiently in the foyer.

Stephan, he thought, seeing the distinctive mauve and green of the outlandish livery of the house of von Erdberg, and his heart jumped. Had something happened to the graf?

“My lord,” said the servant, bowing. He bent and picked up a large, round, lidded basket that had been sitting on the floor and presented it as though it contained something of immense value, though the basket itself was rough and common. “His excellency the graf hopes you will accept this token of his friendship.”

Deeply puzzled, Grey lifted the lid of the basket and, in the light of the candles, found a pair of bright dark eyes staring up at him from the face of a tiny, long-nosed black puppy, curled up on a white linen towel. The little hound had floppy ears and absurdly stumpy, powerful legs, with huge paws and a long, graceful tail whose tip beat in tentative greeting.

Grey laughed, utterly charmed, and gently picked the puppy up. It was a badger hound, specially bred by Stephan; he called them Dackels, an affectionate diminutive for dachs-hund—“badger hound.” It put out a tiny pink tongue and very delicately licked his knuckles.

“Hallo, there,” he said to the puppy. “Hungry? I am. Let’s go and find some milk for you, shall we?” He dug in his pocket and offered a coin to the servant but found the man now holding a sealed note, which he put into Grey’s hand with another obsequious bow.

Not wanting to set down the dog, he managed to break the seal with his thumb and open the note. In the light of the nearest sconce, he read Stephan’s words, set down in German in a firm black hand.

Bring him when you come to visit me. We will perhaps hunt together again.



December 21

It was cold in the loft, and his sleep-mazed mind groped among the icy drafts after the words still ringing in his mind.

Bonnie lad.

Wind struck the barn and went booming round the roof. A strong chilly draft with a scent of snow stirred the somnolence, and two or three of the horses shifted below, grunting and whickering. Helwater. The knowledge of the place settled on him, and the fragments of Scotland and Lallybroch cracked and flaked away, fragile as a skin of dried mud.

Helwater. Straw rustling under him, the ends poking through the rough ticking, prickling through his shirt. Dark air, alive around him.

Bonnie lad …

They’d brought down the Yule log to the house that afternoon, all the household taking part, the women bundled to the eyebrows, the men ruddy, flushed with the labor, staggering, singing, dragging the monstrous log with ropes, its rough skin packed with snow, a great furrow left where it passed, the snow plowed high on either side.

Willie rode atop the log, screeching with excitement, clinging to the rope. Once back at the house, Isobel had tried to teach him to sing “Good King Wenceslas,” but it was beyond him, and he dashed to and fro, into everything, until his grandmother declared that he would drive her to distraction and told Peggy to take him to the stable to help Jamie and Crusoe bring in the fresh-cut branches of pine and fir.

Thrilled, Willie rode on Jamie’s saddlebow to the grove and stood obediently on a stump where Jamie had put him, safe out of the way of the axes while the boughs were cut down. Then he helped to load the greenery, clutching two or three fragrant, mangled twigs to his chest, dutifully chucking these in the general direction of the huge basket, then running back again for more, heedless of where his burden actually landed.

Jamie turned over, wriggling deeper into the nest of blankets, drowsy, remembering. He’d kept it up, the wean had, back and forth, back and forth, though red in the face and panting, until he dropped the very last branch on the pile. Jamie had looked down to find Willie beaming up at him with pride, laughed, and said on impulse, “Aye, that’s a bonnie lad. Come on. Let’s go home.”

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