“Och, no. Go all day and night, oor Janie will,” MacNab assured him proudly, though he seemed relieved at Percy’s further polite refusal.
“I’ll be off, then. But shall I come again?” the chairman inquired, straightening up. “To carry his lordship home, once he’s fit?”
“No, no,” Grey said hastily. “I believe I am quite recovered. Mr. Wainwright and I will walk.”
Percy’s brows rose, and everyone in the room looked askance at Grey, causing him to think that the damage to his face must be worse than he’d thought.
“You really should be bled, my lord,” the apothecary said earnestly. “’Twould be dangerous to go out into the cold without, and you injured. A terrible strain upon your liver. You might take a chill. And the bruises on your face—a good leeching would do the world of good, my lord.”
Grey hated being bled, and disliked leeches more.
“No, I am quite well, I assure you.” He shoved himself to his feet and stood swaying, brilliant dots of light blinking on and off at the corners of his vision. A chorus of dismayed exclamations informed him that he was falling, and he put out his hands just in time to catch himself as he plumped back down on the divan.
Anxious hands grasped his shoulders and eased him down into a supine position. Cold sweat had come out on his forehead, and a gentle hand wiped it away with a cloth as his vision cleared.
To his surprise, the hand was Percy’s, rather than Nessie’s.
“You stay and be bled like a good boy,” Percy said firmly. One corner of his mouth tucked back, repressing a smile. “I’ll go and find a coach to take us home.” He straightened up and bowed to Nessie and MacNab.
“I am so much obliged to you both for your kind assistance and hospitality. Do allow me to take care of this gentleman’s fee.” He nodded at the apothecary, his hand going to his purse.
“That’s all right.” Grey groped for his coat, which someone had folded tidily and put under his head. “I’ve got it.”
“Ye do?” MacNab’s heavy brows rose in surprise. “I made sure yon thugs would ha’ made awa’ wi’ your purse.”
“No, it’s here.” It was; so far as he could tell, everything was still in his pockets that should be.
“Errr…” The apothecary had reddened, casting an agonized look at Nessie. “That’s all right, gentlemen. I mean—my fee—that’s—”
An ecstatic shriek burst through the wall beside Grey’s ear.
“I promised him an hour wi’ Susan,” Nessie said, looking amused. “But if ye’d care to cover her fee, your lordship…”
“With pleasure.” He fumbled his purse open and extracted a handful of coins.
He looked at the apothecary, now a bright scarlet.
“Could I have Janie instead?” the boy blurted.
Grey sighed and added another florin to the coins in Nessie’s hand.
It was only as he lay back and allowed the apothecary to fold back his sleeve that it occurred to him to wonder. He, too, had assumed the motive of the attack to be robbery. But it must have been plain to the footpads that he was incapable of resistance after that second blow. And yet they had not rifled his pockets and run—they’d beaten him until MacNab’s timely appearance frightened them away.
Had they meant to murder him? That was a thought as cold as the fleam pressed into the bend of his elbow. He grimaced at the sting of the blade and shut his eyes.
No, he thought suddenly. They had a knife. The first attempt had been with a knife; there was no mistaking the grating of metal on brick. If they’d meant to murder him, they might have cut his throat without the slightest difficulty. And they hadn’t.
There was a feeling of warmth as the blood welled and trickled over his arm; it felt almost soothing.
But if they had meant only to administer a beating…why? He did not know them. If it was meant as warning…of what?
What with one thing and another, it hadn’t occurred to Grey to wonder what his mother’s response to his misadventure might be. If it had, he might have expected her to peer at him in sympathy, pour him a stiff drink, and leave for a play. He would not have expected her to go white as a sheet. Not with fear for his well being—with anger.
“The bastards!” she said, in a tone barely above a whisper—a sign of great fury. “How dare they?”
“Rather easily, I’m afraid.” Grey was sitting—gingerly—in her boudoir, examining himself in her enameled hand glass. The apothecary had been right about the leeching; while his jaw was sore, the swelling was much reduced, and only a faint blue tinge of new bruising showed, circling one eye and extending up into his temple. There was a cut on his cheek-bone, though, and a trickle of blood had run down his neck onto his neckcloth and the neckband of his shirt. There was also a sizable rent in his coat, to say nothing of the filth from rolling in the alley; Tom would be annoyed, too.
“Did you recognize them?” The countess’s hands had been clenching a chair back. The first shock receding, she let go, though her fingers curled convulsively, wanting to strangle something. Hal got his temper from their mother.
“No,” he said, laying down the looking glass. “Your ordinary ruffians. It’s quite all right, Mother. They didn’t even manage to rob me.” He pulled the cuff of his coat down a bit, hiding his right hand, which, not having been leeched, looked much worse than his face.
Her lips pressed together, nostrils flaring. Motherlike, unable to attack the miscreants who had harmed her offspring, her annoyance was shifting itself to said offspring.
“Whatever were you doing in Seven Dials, John?”
He started to raise an eyebrow at her, but it hurt and he desisted.
“Hal and I took Percy Wainwright to the salle des armes. He and I were on our way to luncheon.”
“Oh, Percy Wainwright was with you? Was he hurt?” Her fair brows drew together in concern.
“I swear I shall be relieved when you all are off to Germany,” she said tartly. “I shall worry about you much less, if you’re merely standing in front of cannon batteries and charging redoubts full of grenadiers.”
He laughed at that, though carefully because of his ribs, and stood up, also carefully. Doing so, he felt a small hard object in his pocket, and was reminded.
“Father was a Freemason, was he not?”
“Yes,” she said, and a fresh uneasiness seemed to flare in her eyes. “Why?”
“I only wondered—could this be his ring?” He fished it out and handed it to her. He might have picked it up carelessly in the library; there was a tray of the duke’s small clutter, kept there by way of memoriam, though he did not recall ever seeing a ring among those objects.
He saw her eyes flick toward the little inlaid secretary that stood in the corner of the room, before she reached for the ring. Which told him that the duke had indeed had such a ring—and that she had kept it. So much for the dead past, he thought cynically.
She tried the ring gingerly on her left hand; it hung loose as a quoit on a stick, and she shook her head, dropping it back into his palm.
“No, it’s much too big. Where did you get it? And why did you think it might be your father’s?”
“No particular reason,” he said with a shrug. “I can’t remember where I picked it up.”
“Let me see it again.”
Puzzled, he handed it over, and watched as she turned it to and fro, bringing it to her candlestick in order to see the inside. At last, she shook her head and gave it back.
“No, I don’t know. But…John, if you do recall where you found it, will you tell me?”
“Of course,” he said lightly. “Good night, Mother.” He kissed her cheek and left her, wondering.
He declined Tom’s suggestion of bread and milk in favor of a large whisky—or two—by the library fire, and had just reached a state of reconciliation with the universe when Brunton came to announce that he had a caller.
“I won’t come in.” Percy Wainwright smiled at him from the shadows of the porch. “I’m not fit to be indoors. I only came to bring you this.”
“This” was Grey’s dagger, which Percy put gingerly into his hands. Percy hadn’t been exaggerating about his fitness for civil surroundings; he was wearing rough clothes, much spotted and stained, and he bore about his person a distinct odor of alleyways and refuse.
“I went back to look for it,” he explained. “Luckily, it was under a pile of dead cabbages—sorry about the smell. I thought…you might need it,” he concluded, rather shyly.
Grey would have kissed him, damaged mouth notwithstanding, save for the lurking presence of Brunton in the hall. As it was, all he could do was to press Percy’s hand, hard, in gratitude.
“Thank you. Will I see you tomorrow?”
Percy’s smile glimmered in the dark.
“Oh, yes. Or shall I say, ‘Yes, sir?’ For I believe you’re now my superior officer, aren’t you?”
Grey laughed at that, bruises, bleeding, and his mother’s odd behavior all seeming inconsequent for the moment.
“I suppose so. I’ll arrange a commendation for you in the morning, then.”
Officers and Gentlemen
We aren’t like the Russians, you see,” Quarry explained to Percy, kindly. “Bloody officers never go near their troops, let alone take them into battle.”
“They don’t?” Percy looked wary, as though thinking this might be a good idea. He had spent the week prior being taught the duties of an ensign and a second lieutenant, which consisted of attending parades, drills, roll calls, and mountings of the guard, keeping exact lists of accoutrements and stores—Captain Wilmot had complimented his penmanship, before excoriating him in round terms for misplacing a gross of boots and misdirecting ten barrels of powder—supervising the care of the sick in hospital—luckily there were relatively few of these at this season—and touring the soldiers’ accommodation.
“Look out for factions,” Quarry added. “We’ve two battalions—one fights abroad whilst the other reequips and brings up its strength—but we aren’t as large as some, and many of our common soldiers are longtimers, who’ve learnt to rub along together. There’ll be an influx of new men over the next month, though, and they tend to be sucked into one group or another. You can’t afford that—you’ll be watched, because of the family attachment, and there cannot be any sense of favoritism toward any group, save, of course, that you must always champion those companies directly under your command—you have four of them. Clear on that?”
“Oh, yes. Sir,” Percy added hurriedly, making Quarry grin.
“Good lad. Now bugger off to Sergeant Keeble and learn which end of a musket the bullet goes in.”
“Keeble’s on the square with a company,” Grey interrupted, having paused to deliver a sheaf of papers to Quarry’s office. “I have a moment; I’ll run him through the musket drill.”