Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade (Page 69)

Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade(69)
Author: Diana Gabaldon

The O’Higginses exchanged glances, shrugged, and seemed satisfied, though Rafe did offer one last caution.

“Your honor does realize, don’t ye, that a felon what escapes prison and is caught is promptly hanged, no matter what it was he was jugged for in the first place?”

“Yes, Mr. O’Higgins. As are those found to have conspired in his escape. All those found to have so conspired.”

The guards would almost certainly realize the deception, but with a choice between raising a hue and cry, during which their own dereliction would become obvious, and quietly listing one Percival Wainwright as having died of gaol fever…Hal wasn’t a betting man, but Grey was, and a long way past reckoning the odds regarding this particular endeavor.

A gap-toothed grin split the Irishman’s stubbled face.

“Oh, well, then, sir. So long as we’re clear. Will your honor come along to see the fun?”

“I—” He stopped dead. He had not thought of the possibility. He could. Unshaven, dressed in filthy homespun, in the midst of a gang of Irish roisterers, he could pass into the prison undetected. Could be one of those who transferred the body into Percy’s cell, saw him change clothes with the corpse. One of those who, arms about his warm and living body, carried Percy out in the same guise of drunkenness, and saw him laid in the coffin in which, disguised as a deceased relative of the O’Higgins brothers, he would be carried to Ireland and Susannah Tomlinson, while the nameless corpse was hastily buried.

For an instant, the desire to see Percy one more time, to touch him, blazed through his body like a liquid flame. He drew breath, and let the flame go out.

“Better not,” he said, with real regret, and handed over a small fat purse. “Godspeed, Mr. O’Higgins.”

Chapter 34

Duchess of Pardloe

After the private—but well-appointed—funeral of Percival [sic] Wainwright, Grey found himself at loose ends. Not yet healed enough to return to duty, but too healthy to be confined to bed, he found himself at once depressed and restless, unable to settle to anything. The family, sympathetic but relieved, left him largely to himself.

On the morning of October 13, he stood in the back garden of his brother’s house, moodily flipping bits of bread into the fishpond, and trying to feel grateful that he was not standing before a court-martial.

He became belatedly aware that Tom Byrd was standing beside him, and had been there for some time.

“What?” he said, depressed spirits making him abrupt.

“It’s some of them Irish, me lord,” Tom said, his tone making it clear that he spoke for the household, and the house hold did not approve.

“Which Irish?”

“Tinkers, me lord. But they insist as how you know them?” The rising inflection of this statement suggested the gross improbability of its being the truth.

“Oh, his honor’s well-acquainted with us, sure.”

Tom jerked round at this, offended at discovering two ragged, unshaven presences just behind him, grinning.

“Tinkers, is it?” one of them said, nudging Tom Byrd with a familiar elbow as he passed. “And who died and made you Pope, boyo?”

“Mr. O’Higgins. And Mr. O’Higgins.” Grey felt an unaccustomed and involuntary smile come to his face, despite his surprise. He had never expected to see them again.

“The same, your honor.” One—Rafe?—bowed respectfully. “Begging your pardon, sir, for the slight overstayin’ of our leave. We’d a few family matters of urgency to be settled. I’m sure your lordship’s known the like.”

Grey noticed that Mick—if that was Mick—had a heavily bandaged arm, the bandage fairly fresh but stained with blood.

“An accident?” he inquired. The O’Higginses exchanged looks.

“Dog bite,” Mick said blandly, putting his injured hand in his pocket. “But the anguish has passed, your honor. We come to report for duty, see, all fit.”

Meaning, Grey supposed, that Ireland was at present too hot to hold them, and they proposed to take refuge in the army. Again.

“Have you indeed?” he asked dryly.

“Aye, sir. Having safely delivered your message to the lady—which she give us a missive to hand to you upon our return.” The Irishman groped in his coat with his uninjured hand, but failed to find what he was looking for. “You got it, Rafe?”

“O’ course not, clumsy. You had it.”

“No, I never. Now I think, you had it last.”

“God damn yer eyes for a bloody liar, I didn’t!”

Grey rolled his own eyes briefly and nodded to Tom, who reached into his pocket and, with a long-suffering air, produced a handful of coins.

The letter being now miraculously discovered, the O’Higginses gracefully accepted a further generous reward for their service—with many disclaimers of reluctance and unworthiness—and were dismissed to report to Captain Wilmot at the barracks. Grey was sure Wilmot would be overjoyed at their reappearance.

He sent Tom to be sure the O’Higginses actually departed the house, unaccompanied by silverware or valuable small objects, and, alone, took out the letter.

It was addressed simply, Major John Grey, in an unfamiliar hand, without additional direction. Despite himself, his heart beat faster, and he could not have sworn on the Bible whether it was dread or hope that made it do so.

He slid a thumb under the flap, noting that it had been sealed but the seal was missing; only a reddish smear from the wax remained. Only to be expected—though he was certain that if pressed on the matter, the O’Higginses would claim virtuously that the letter had been given them in that condition.

There were several pages; the first held a brief note:

If you are reading this, Major, you have fulfilled both my requests, and you have my thanks. You do, I think, deserve something more, and here it is. Whether and how you make use of it is up to you; I shan’t care anymore.

Your most obt. servant,

Michael Bates, Captain, Horse Guards

His first emotion was relief, mingled with disappointment. Relief, however, was uppermost, followed quickly by curiosity.

He turned to the next page. The name of Bernard Adams leapt out of the paper, and Grey sank slowly into his chair as he read.

I make this statement as a condemned man, knowing that I shall soon die, and speaking therefore the truth, as I swear upon my hope in God.

I first met with Mr. Adams at a party at Lord Joffrey’s house, upon the 8th of April last year. Mr. and Mrs. T were also there, and Mrs. T spent some time in conversation with me alone. Upon her retiring for a moment, Adams came up to me and said without preamble that she was a handsome woman, but no doubt expensive. If I cared to hear of a way of making some money, I should call upon him at his home upon the Tuesday next.

My curiosity was roused, and so I did. Taking me into his private library, he shocked me by producing a sheaf of notes, signed by me in promise of payment of various gambling debts, some very large. He produced also certain correspondence, written to me by Mrs. T, and of a nature which made the relations between us more than clear. These would have ruined both of us, if made public.

I perceiving that Mr. Adams had me in an invidious position, I inquired what use he might have in mind to make of me.

The note then detailed Adams’s enrollment of Captain Bates in a scheme involving the abstraction and transfer of a number of documents. The names of Ffoulkes, Otway, and Jeffords were mentioned; others were involved, Bates believed, but he did not know their names. Ffoulkes had been drawn into the conspiracy by the offer of money, Bates believed; Otway and Jeffords by the threat of exposure.

Bates had stolen various documents from several offices in Whitehall; he was well known there and his presence passed without remark. He had given these documents to Adams, who, he presumed, was collecting information from his other cat’s-paws, as well.

The attack upon Adams was a sham; the plan had been for Bates to meet him privately by the river near Lambeth, where Adams would pass over a small chest containing all the documents.

A boat would be waiting. Bates would create the signs of a struggle, wound Adams slightly for the sake of conviction, and then go aboard the boat, which would carry him to France, where he would deliver these documents to Mrs. Ffoulkes’s brother. The chest would contain not only the official documents but also the evidence of Bates’s gambling debts, Mrs. Tomlinson’s letters, and a sum of money. Once safely in France, he might destroy the former, send for Mrs. Tomlinson, and live in peace.

Adams had told me that Otway and Jeffords were to burgle his house for the look of the thing, then make themselves scarce, but that he would keep hold of the documents himself until they were given me. I learned later from Otway that Adams had men in hiding, who sprang upon him and Jeffords the moment they had entered the house. Meanwhile, he proceeded to our rendezvous, where other men of his employ were already waiting.

These emerged as soon as I had done my part of wounding Mr. Adams slightly, scratching his arm with a knife as agreed upon, and seized me.

I do not know what became of the documents themselves. Adams had with him a small chest, but this was knocked over in the struggle and proved to be empty. You will know what followed.

The statement ended abruptly.

This was signed by Captain Michael Bates, his signature witnessed by the governor of Newgate, and—a final touch of Bates’s sardonic humor—one Ezekial Poundstone, hangman.

Grey folded the sheets carefully together. It was a brief, clear statement, but possessed of a sufficiency of detail—names, dates, places—and the nature of some of the documents Bates had removed at Adams’s behest.

He stood looking into the pond for some time, quite unaware of where he was or what he was looking at.

Plainly, Adams’s plan had been to have Bates, Otway, and Jeffords blamed for the theft. He could not have expected what had actually happened—that the theft would be hushed up, the conspirators condemned for unnatural vice rather than theft and treason—these being, of course, quite natural vices.

What had been Ffoulkes’s part in the matter? Presumably, to conduct the negotiations with France, using his wife’s relatives as the go-between with Louis’s spymasters. But when had Ffoulkes shot himself? It seemed so long ago, and Grey’s memory of anything further back than yesterday was still undependable. He did recall one thing, though, and going hastily into the house entered the library and rummaged through the drawer into which he was inclined to decant miscellaneous papers, until he emerged with a smeared and worn-edged broadsheet, the faint smell of coffee still in its creases.

He hastily unfolded Bates’s statement to check a date. No, Ffoulkes had shot himself a few days before the arrest of Bates, Otway, and Jeffords.

The theft would have been discovered very shortly; Adams could not delay in executing the part of his crime designed to shield himself from blame. But what of the other part? The delivery of the stolen material to France? With Ffoulkes dead, that pathway might be closed.

He folded the letter again, and thrust it into his pocket. These were all questions that could wait. The important thing was that he now had a tool that might be used to open up Bernard Adams like a keg of salt herring. Someone in authority would need to see this letter—but not just yet.