Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade (Page 6)

Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade(6)
Author: Diana Gabaldon

Blood pattered into the bowl, and one of the onlookers went quickly outside, whence the sound of vomiting was heard through the still-open door. Mr. Holmes cast a look of despair at the blood spattering the carpet, and went out to render aid.

“I don’t suppose you carry ammoniac salts on your person, do you?” Longstreet asked Grey, frowning at the unconscious man. “I hoped the flow of blood might revive him, but…”

“My brother does. A moment.” Hal had disappeared into the cardroom with most of the other members, who had ceased to be interested in the subject of their wager, now that it was won or lost. Grey went in and returned almost at once with Hal’s enameled snuffbox, which, when opened, proved to contain not snuff but a small corked vial containing sal volatile.

Dr. Longstreet accepted this with a nod of thanks, pulled the cork, and passed the bottle closely beneath the man’s nostrils.

“Why does your brother—Melton is your brother, I perceive? The resemblance is marked—why does he carry salts?”

“I believe his wife is subject to fits of fainting,” Grey said casually. In fact, Hal himself now and then suffered odd spells of dizziness. Having fainted once on the parade ground on a hot day, he had resolved never to appear at such a disadvantage again, and had taken to carrying salts—though to the best of Grey’s knowledge, his brother had never actually resorted to them. He was reasonably sure that Hal would prefer this precaution not to be public knowledge, however.

“Ah!” The doctor made a sound of satisfaction; the patient’s face had suddenly convulsed.

Matters thereafter were so intent as to allow no further conversation. With continued application of salts, cloths wrung out in warm water and applied to the limbs, and—as returning consciousness allowed—judicious infusions of brandy, the gentleman was gradually returned to a state of consciousness, though he remained unable to speak, and merely frowned in a puzzled way when spoken to.

“I believe he has suffered an apoplexy,” Longstreet remarked, surveying his patient with interest. “Common in subjects of a choleric disposition. Observe the burst small vessels in the cheeks—and most particularly the nose.”

“Indeed.” Grey peered at the man. “Will he recover his powers of speech, do you suppose?”

Longstreet shrugged, but appeared in good humor. The man had survived, after all. What more could be asked of a doctor?

“With good nursing, it’s possible. Do we know who he is?”

Grey had gone through the pockets of the man’s greatcoat and discovered among the contents an open letter, addressed to a Dr. Henryk van Humperdinck, at 44 Great Ormond Street.

The gentleman gave some signs of response when addressed by this name, and so a message was sent to Great Ormond Street, and the patient carried off to one of the bedrooms upstairs, under the direction of the long-suffering Mr. Holmes, until his connexions should be located and informed.

“Did you have any money on him?” the doctor asked jovially, wiping his hands on a towel. “I hope I have not beggared you by saving his life. Or your brother, for that matter.”

“No,” Grey assured him. “I should have won, had I been in time to place a bet. And my brother is not a betting man.”

“No?” Longstreet sounded surprised.

“No. He wagers at whist, but only, he says, because he has faith in his skill, not his luck.”

Longstreet gave him a queer look.

“Not a betting man?” he repeated, and laughed in cynic fashion. Seeing Grey’s look of incomprehension, his own face changed, and he pursed his lips, as though considering whether to say something.

“You’ve never seen it?” he said at last, looking sideways at Grey beneath gray brows. “Truly?”

Receiving no reply, he strode across the room and picked up the betting book, which had been left on a side table, following Mr. Holmes’s careful record of the settling of the wager on Dr. Humperdinck’s state of animation.

Longstreet flipped back through the pages, long-fingered and swift, finally discovering what he wanted with a small grunt of satisfaction.

“Here.” He handed the book to Grey, pointing out an entry that stood alone at the head of a page, otherwise blank, save the signatures of witnesses to the wager in the margin.

The Earl of Melton states that the Duke of Pardloe was not a traitor. He stakes twenty thousand pounds on the truth of this. All comers welcome.

Below this was Hal’s formal signature, big and black. Grey felt as though he had suddenly forgot how to breathe.

On the opposite page were three entries, the first written in small, evenly controlled letters, as though in deliberate contrast to the passion of Hal’s wager:

Done. Nathaniel Twelvetrees, Captain, 32nd Foot

Below this were two more names, carelessly scrawled.

Accepted. Arthur Wilbraham, MP

Accepted. George Longstreet

Grey worked his tongue in an effort to regain enough saliva to speak, and mechanically noted the date of the wager. 8 July, 1741. A month after his father’s death. There was no indication that the wager had ever been settled.

“You really didn’t know?” Longstreet was regarding him with something like sympathy, mixed with curiosity.

“No,” Grey said, achieving speech. With some effort, he closed the book and set it down. “George Longstreet. You?”

Doctor Longstreet shook his head.

“My cousin. I witnessed the wager, though.” The doctor’s mouth, long and mobile, quirked at one side. “It was a memorable night. Your brother came very close to calling Twelvetrees out and was dissuaded only by Colonel Quarry—he was only a lieutenant at the time, of course—who pointed out that he could not honorably risk leaving his mother and younger brother defenseless, were he killed. You must have been no more than a child at the time?”

Blood burned in Grey’s cheeks at that. He had had nothing to drink, but felt a rushing in his ears, together with that peculiar sense of detachment that sometimes came upon him after too much wine, as though he were not responsible for the actions of his body.

“Mr. Holmes!” he called, his voice surprisingly calm. “A quill and ink, if you please.”

He opened the book, and taking the quill hastily supplied by Holmes, who stood by anxious-faced and silent, he wrote neatly beneath his brother’s entry:

Lord John Grey joins this wager, upon the same terms.

He hadn’t got twenty thousand pounds, but it didn’t seem to matter.

“If you gentlemen will be so kind as to witness my hand?” He held out the ink-stained quill to Longstreet, who took it, looking amused. Holmes coughed, low in his throat, and Grey turned round to see his brother standing in the doorway, watching, expressionless. The sound of laughter and shouts of dismay came from the cardroom behind him.

“What in God’s name is the matter with you?” Hal asked, very quietly.

“The same thing that’s the matter with you,” Grey said. He took his hat and coat from the hallstand and bowed. “Good night,” he said politely. “Your Grace.”

Chapter 3

Pet Criminal

Once home, he could not sleep, and after a restless hour spent churning the bedclothes into knots, he got up, poked the fire into life, and sat by the window with a blanket round his shoulders, watching the snow come down.

Ice crystals coated the glass like clouded lace, but Grey barely noticed the cold; he was burning. And not with the fires of sudden lust this time—rather, with the desire to walk across town to his brother’s house, drag Hal from his bed, and assault him.

He could—he supposed—understand why Hal had never mentioned the wager to him. In the wake of the scandal following the duke’s death, Grey had been shipped off promptly to some of his mother’s distant relatives in Aberdeen. He had spent two grim years in that gray stone city, during which time he had seen his brother only once.

And when he had come back to England, Hal had been virtually a stranger, so preoccupied with the business of re constituting the regiment that he had no time to spare for either friends or family. And then…well, then he himself had met Hector, and in the cataclysms of personal discovery that followed that event had had no attention to spare for anyone else, either.

The brothers had only come to know each other again when Grey took up his commission with the regiment, and discovered that he shared the family taste and talent for soldiering. Certainly Hal had not forgotten the wager, but as it had plainly never been settled, it was conceivable that it might not have occurred to him to speak of it, years after the fact.

No, what was galling him was not that Hal had never mentioned the wager, but the fact that his brother had never told him openly that he believed their father had not been a traitor. Grey had lived on the tacit assumption that this was the case, but the matter had never been mentioned between them—and a casual observer would have drawn quite a different impression from Hal’s actions, taking these as the efforts of a man to live down shame and scandal, repudiating his patrimony in the process.

In fact, Grey admitted to himself, he had only assumed that Hal shared his faith in their father because he could not bear to think otherwise. If he were honest with himself, he must admit now that if Hal had not spoken to him of the matter, it was as much because he had never brought it up as because Hal had avoided discussion. He had been afraid to hear what he feared was the truth: that Hal knew something unpleasant and certain about the duke that he did not, but had spared him that knowledge out of kindness.

While it was good to discover the truth of Hal’s feelings now, any sense of relief he might have felt in the discovery was obscured by outrage. The fact that he knew the outrage to be largely unjustified only made it worse.

Worst of all was a sense of self-disgust, a feeling that he had wronged Hal—if only in his thoughts—and anger at the sense that he had been betrayed into committing injustice.

He got up, restless, and strode round the room, careful to step softly. His mother’s room lay below his.

He couldn’t even have it out with Hal, as that would involve his admitting to doubts that he preferred to keep buried, particularly now that they had been disproved. At least, his doubts regarding Hal had been disproved. As to his father…what the devil did that page from the missing journal mean? Who had left it? And why had his mother told Hal the duke had burnt the journal, when clearly he had not?

He glanced at the floor beneath his feet, debating the wisdom of going down and rousing his mother in order to ask her. But Hal had wished to speak to her alone; Grey supposed that was his right. Still, if either one of them thought he would be fobbed off now with further evasions or easy reassurances…He realized that he was clenching his fists, and opened them.

“You are grossly mistaken,” he said softly, and rubbed his palm against his leg. “Both of you.”

He had left his watch open on the desk. It chimed softly now, and he picked it up, holding it toward the fire to see the time—half two. He set it down again, next to the journal that also lay there, one of his father’s. He’d taken the volume at random from the library and brought it upstairs with him, for no good reason. Only feeling the need to touch it.