Harry’s bluff, craggy face inspired confidence in men and a remarkable degree of sensual abandonment in women, which Grey considered one of the great mysteries of nature. On the other hand, he didn’t presume to know what women thought attractive. In the present instance, though, Adjutant Halloran appeared to have been taken in by Harry’s casual charm as easily as any society lady.
“Lot of talk, regimental gossip,” Harry said, dismissing all of this with a wave of one broad hand. He spilled coffee into his saucer and blew on it, making wisps of aromatic steam rise from the dark brew. “Got him round to Siverly eventually, though. He respects Siverly, doesn’t much like him. Reputation as a good soldier, good commander. Doesn’t waste men.… What?”
Both the Greys had made noises. Hal waved a hand at Harry.
“Tell you later. Go on. Did he say anything about the mutiny in Canada?”
“No.” Harry arched a brow. “But he wouldn’t, would he? It wasn’t brought to a general court-martial, and if it was a regimental affair …”
Grey nodded; regimental courts-martial were usually kept private, no regiment wanting to wash its dirty linen in public. For that matter, the public wouldn’t be interested in such affairs, which dealt with the daily crimes and trespasses of common soldiers, for the most part: drunkenness, theft, fighting, insubordination, lying out of barracks without leave, and selling their uniforms. General courts-martial were different, though Grey was unsure of just what the differences were, having never been involved in one. He thought there had to be a judge advocate involved.
“He hasn’t been brought before a general court-martial yet,” Hal said grimly.
Harry’s eyes narrowed, lips pursed as he sipped his coffee. It smelled good, and Grey reached for the pot.
“Really?” Harry said. “That’s what we have in mind, is it?” Hal had informed Harry, by note, of their interest in Siverly, asking him to find out what he could of the man’s particulars—but knowing Hal’s way with letters, Grey thought there had probably not been much detail given.
“Certainly,” Hal said. “So, what else?” He picked up one of the biscuits and examined it critically before popping it into his mouth.
“Siverly’s not wildly popular in the regiment, but not disliked,” Harry said. “Sociable, but not active. Invited in society, accepts occasionally. Has a wife, but doesn’t live with her. She brought him some money, not a great deal, but no great connections.”
“Has he any of his own?” Grey asked, mouth half full. The biscuits were ginger-nuts, and fresh, still warm from the kitchen. “Any family?”
“Ah,” said Harry, and glanced briefly at Hal. “No family connections to speak of. Father was a captain in the Eleventh Dragoons, killed at Culloden. Mother was the daughter of a wealthy Irish family, but from the country, no influence.”
“But?” Hal said sharply, having caught the glance. “He has important friends?”
Harry took a breath that swelled his waistcoat and leaned back.
“Oh, yes,” he said. “The Duke of Cumberland important enough for you?”
“He’ll do to be going on with,” Hal said, brows raised. “What’s the connection there?”
“Hunting. Siverly has an estate in Ireland and has entertained His Grace there on occasion. Together with a few of the duke’s intimates.”
“An estate? Inherited?” Grey asked.
“No, bought. Fairly recently.”
Hal made a low humming noise that indicated satisfaction. Obviously Siverly hadn’t bought a large estate, even in Ireland, on his pay. From Carruthers’s accounts, Siverly’s ventures in Canada had netted him something in excess of thirty thousand pounds.
“Very good,” he said. “That would impress the board of a court-martial.”
“Well, it might,” Harry said, flicking crumbs off his stomach. “If you can get him in front of one.”
“If necessary, I’ll have him arrested and dragged there by force.”
Harry made a hmmphing noise, one implying doubt, which made Hal give him a narrow look.
“You don’t think I’d do it? This blackguard disgraces the name of his profession, as well as damaging the whole army by his gross behavior. Besides,” he added, as an afterthought, “John’s bound to see justice done, by his word of honor.”
“Oh, I think you’d do it,” Harry assured him. “And so would Grey. It’s just that Siverly’s in Ireland. Might complicate matters, eh?”
“Oh,” said Hal, looking rather blank.
“Why?” asked Grey, stopped in the act of pouring more coffee. “What’s he doing there?”
“Damned if I know. All Halloran said was that Siverly had asked for—and been granted—six months’ leave to attend to personal matters.”
“He didn’t resign his commission, though?” Grey leaned forward, anxious. He wasn’t sure but thought a court-martial couldn’t try someone who was not in the army. And going after Siverly in the civil courts would be a much more laborious undertaking.
Harry shrugged. “Don’t think so. Halloran only said he’d taken leave.”
“Well, then.” Hal put down his dish in a decided manner and turned to his brother. “You’ll just have to go to Ireland and bring him back.”
THE ARRIVAL OF the picquet party put paid to further discussion, and Grey found himself paired with Leo Clifford, a pleasant young captain who had recently joined the regiment. Clifford was no particular hand at cards, though, which left a good bit of Grey’s mind free to brood on the recent conversation.
“Go to Ireland and bring him back.” He supposed he should be flattered that Hal trusted him to do such a thing, but he knew his brother well enough to know it was merely expectation and not compliment.
Could you court-martial someone in absentia? he wondered. He’d have to ask Minnie. She had ferreted out records of court-martial for the crime of sodomy when their stepbrother, Percy Wainwright, had been arrested. The army had shipped Percy back to England from Germany to stand trial, so perhaps you couldn’t try someone not physically present.
“Repique,” he said absently. Clifford sighed and wrote down the score.
He’d got over Percy. Or at least he thought so, most of the time. Every now and then, though, he’d catch sight of a slender young man with dark curly hair, and his heart would jerk.
It jerked now, a tiny bump at the sudden thought that it was the mention of Ireland, more than courts-martial, that had made him think of Percy. He’d arranged for Percy to escape to Ireland, though his erstwhile lover had made his way eventually to Rome. Surely he would have no reason to go back to Ireland …?
“Sixième!” Clifford said, his voice full of joy. Grey smiled, despite the loss of points, gave the proper reply of “Not good,” meaning his own hand could not beat that, and put Percy firmly out of mind.
Harry had suggested that Grey and Hal might leave after the first game, but Grey was entirely aware that Harry knew this wouldn’t happen. Hal was a cutthroat cardplayer, and once his blood was up, there was no dragging him away from the table. As picquet was a game for two hands, obviously Grey couldn’t leave until Hal did, or the numbers would be unbalanced.
They therefore played in pairs, changing partners after each game, the two men with the highest scores to play the final game. Grey did his best to put everything out of his mind but the play. He succeeded to such an extent that he was startled when his brother—now opposing him—stiffened in his seat, head turning sharply toward the door.
There were voices raised in greeting in the outer room and the noise of several people coming in. In the midst of it, he caught the high, oddly prim voice of the Duke of Cumberland. He stared at Hal, who compressed his lips. Hal cordially disliked Cumberland—and vice versa—and the revelation that the duke was an intimate of Siverly’s was unlikely to have improved this animus.
Hal’s eye met his, and Grey knew what his brother was thinking: it would be necessary to proceed with the utmost secrecy. If Cumberland caught wind of the matter before the court-martial could be organized, he might well plant his fat arse right in the middle of it.
Then Grey caught the sound of another voice, deeper, gruff with age and tobacco, replying to something Cumberland had said.
“Scheisse!” Hal said, making everyone look at him curiously.
“Don’t you say carte blanche if you have a hand with no points?” Clifford whispered, leaning over to Grey.
“Yes, you do,” Grey replied, narrowing his eyes at Hal. He felt like saying something much worse himself, but it wouldn’t do to attract attention. Harry, on the other side of the room, had heard that voice, too, and pursed his lips, eyes fixed on his cards.
Grey hadn’t heard Reginald Twelvetrees’s voice in some time, but he had vivid memories of it. Colonel Reginald Twelvetrees had headed a board of inquiry into the explosion of a cannon, two years before, and had come uncomfortably close to ruining Grey’s career over it, out of the long-standing hostility that had existed between the Greys and the Twelvetrees family since Hal’s duel with Nathaniel, the colonel’s younger brother.
“When do you say scheisse?” Clifford whispered.
“When something untoward occurs,” Grey whispered back, repressing an urge to laugh. “Septième,” he said aloud to his brother.
“Not good,” Hal growled, and tossed in his hand.
Why Am Not I at Peace?
IT HADN’T BEEN A GOOD NIGHT. IT WASN’T GOING TO BE A good day.
Hanks and Crusoe didn’t look at him when they all made their way up to the house for breakfast. He’d been screaming in his sleep, then. A dull red flush burned up from his belly, radiating from a core of hot lead somewhere deep inside. He felt as though he’d swallowed a two-pound shot, fresh from the cannon’s mouth.
He’d dreamed, he knew that much. Had wakened before dawn, shaking and drenched with sweat. It had been a dream of Culloden, because all he recalled was the sickening feel of a sword driven into flesh, the momentary toughness just before the skin split, the yielding drive into muscle and the grate and jar of bone. The feeling still quivered in his left arm; he kept flexing his hand and wiping it against his thigh.
He ate nothing but managed a mug of scalding tea the color of dirt. That soothed him, and so did the walk out to the farthest paddock, bridle in hand. The air was still chilly, but the lingering snow on the fells was melting; he could hear the voice of running water, coming down through the rocks. The bogs in the low ground—“mosses,” the locals called them: White Moss, Threapland Moss, Leighton Moss—would all be greening now, the ground growing softer and more treacherous by the day.
There was a long slender switch of fresh elder floating in the horse trough in the far paddock, though there were no trees of any kind within a quarter mile and no elders nearer than the manor house. Jamie muttered, “Christ,” under his breath, and plucked the stem out, dripping. The dark resinous buds had begun to split, and crumpled leaves of a vivid light green keeked out.
“He says to tell you the green branch will flower.” He flung the branch over the fence. It wasn’t the first. He’d found one laid across his path three days ago, when he’d brought his string in from exercise, and another yesterday, wedged into a cleft in the fence of the riding arena.
He put his hands to his mouth and shouted, “NO!” in a voice that rang off the tumbled stones at the foot of the nearest fell. He didn’t expect to be heard, let alone obeyed, but it relieved his feelings. Shaking his head, he caught the horse he’d come for and made his way back to the stable.
Life had gone back to its accustomed rhythm since his meeting with Quinn, but the Irishman’s pernicious influence lingered, in the form of bad dreams, as well as the mocking greenery.
And then there was Betty. Coming up to the house for his tea—much needed, he having had neither breakfast nor elevenses—he saw the lass loitering about the gate to the kitchen garden. A lady’s maid had no business to be there, but the flower beds were nearby, and she had a bouquet of daffodils in one hand. She raised these to her nose and gave him a provocative look over them. He meant to go by without acknowledgment, but she stepped into his path, playfully brushing the flowers across his chest.
“They havena got any smell, have they?” he said, fending them off.
“No, but they’re so pretty, aren’t they?”
“If ye canna eat them, I’m no particularly inclined to admire them. Now, if ye—” He stopped abruptly, for she had pressed into his hand a sprig of willow, with its long, fuzzy yellow catkins. A note was wrapped about the stem, secured with string.
He handed it back to her without hesitation and walked up the path.
He knew it was a mistake to turn around, but ingrained courtesy had turned him before he could resist. “Mistress Betty?”
“I’ll tell.” Her black eyes glittered, and her chin thrust out pugnaciously.
“Aye, do,” he said. “And I hope ye’ve a fine day for it.” He turned his back on her but, on second thought, turned again.
“Tell who what?” he demanded.
She blinked at that. But then a sly look came into her eyes.
“What do you think?” she said, and turned away in a flounce of skirts.
He shook his head, trying to shake his wits into some semblance of order. Was the bloody woman talking about what he’d thought she was talking about?