Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade (Page 70)

Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade(70)
Author: Diana Gabaldon

“Nordman!” he called, going to the hallway. “Call the coach, please—I’m going out.”

Bernard Adams’s house was not grand, but it was elegant; an Inigo Jones jewel, set in its own small private wood. Grey was not of a mind to admire the scenery, but did observe a small stone building, a little way from the house, whose ornaments showed it clearly to have been originally a Catholic chapel. Adams was not Catholic, though—could not have held such positions in the government as he had, if he were.

Not openly Catholic.

“An Irish Jacobite,” Grey murmured to himself, appalled. “Jesus.” Positions in the government. Adams’s rise to power had begun with his appointment as secretary to Robert Walpole—and Grey saw, as clearly as though the scene was taking place before him on the drive, the picture of the tall, ailing prime minister, leaning heavily on his secretary—his Irish secretary—coming down the path to visit the widow of the late Duke of Pardloe.

Clenching his jaw so hard that his teeth creaked, he bounded up the steps and pounded on the door.

“Sir?” The butler was an Irishman; so much was obvious from the one word.

“Your master. I wish to see him.”

“Ah. I’m sorry, sir, the master’s gone out.”

Grey seized the man by one shoulder and thrust him backward, stepping into the house.

“Sir!”

“Where is he?”

The butler glanced wildly round for assistance, and looked as though he was about to shout for help.

“Tell me where he is, and I’ll go. Otherwise…I shall be obliged to look for him.” Grey had worn his sword; he put a hand on the hilt.

The butler gasped.

“He—he has gone to meet the Duchess of Pardloe.”

“He—what?” Grey shook his head, convinced that he was hearing things, but the man repeated it, gaining confidence, as Grey seemed not about to run him through.

“The Duchess of Pardloe, sir. She sent a note this morning—I was there when the master opened it, and, ah…happened to see.”

Grey nodded, narrowly keeping a grip on himself.

“Did you happen to see where the meeting was? And when?”

“In the Edgeware Road, a house called ‘Morning Glory,’ four o’clock,” the butler blurted.

Without a word, Grey let go of his sword and left. He felt dazed and off balance, as though someone had suddenly pulled a carpet out from under him.

It couldn’t be—but it couldn’t not be. No one but his mother would use that title. And to use it to Adams was a direct challenge. It must be her. But how had she got back to London, and what in God’s name did she think she was doing?

Gripped by fear, he ran down the drive toward the street where he had left his carriage waiting. Morning Glory. He knew the house; it was a small, elegant house belonging to the Walpole family. What…?

“Edgeware Road!” he shouted to the coachman, ducking inside. “And hurry!”

Morning Glory looked deserted. The shutters were closed, the fountain in the front court dry, the court itself unswept, carpeted with dead leaves. It had the look of a house whose family had gone away to the country, leaving the furniture under sheets, the servants paid off.

Neither was there any sign of a coach, a horse, or any living person. Grey mounted the stoop softly, and stood for a moment, listening. The place was still, save the cawing of rooks in the bare-limbed trees in the garden.

He took hold of the doorknob; it turned in his hand. Slowly letting out the breath he had been holding, he opened the door and stepped warily inside.

The furniture was under sheets, he saw. He paused, listening. No voices. No sound, save his own breathing. He knew the house, had been here now and then, at musicales—the present Earl of Orford’s wife sang, or thought she could.

The doors off the foyer stood open—all but one. That one led, he thought, to the library. He put a hand on his sword hilt, but decided against drawing it. Adams was a slight man, and twenty years Grey’s senior; he wouldn’t need it.

He set his hand on the doorknob; it was white china, painted with roses, and a pang went through him at the cool slick touch of it on his hand, but there was no time now to think of such things. He eased the door gently open—and came face to face with the barrel of a pistol, pointed directly at him.

He flung himself to the side, seizing a chair, which he narrowly stopped himself from throwing at the person holding the gun.

“Jesus!” he said. He stood frozen for an instant, then, quivering in every limb, set the chair slowly down and collapsed onto it.

“What the devil are you doing here?” his mother demanded, lowering the pistol.

“I might ask you the same thing, madam.” His heart was pounding in his chest, sending small jolts of pain down his left arm with every beat, and he had broken out in a cold sweat.

“It is a private affair,” she said fiercely. “Will you bloody leave?”

He paid no attention to her unaccustomed language.

“I will not. What were you intending? To shoot Mr. Adams on sight? Is that thing loaded?”

“Of course it is loaded,” she said in exasperation, “and if I’d meant to shoot him on sight, you’d be dead at the moment. Will you go away!”

“No,” he said briefly, and rising, reached for the gun. “Give me that.”

She took two steps back, holding the gun—which was not only loaded and primed, but cocked, he saw—protectively against her breast.

“John, I wish you to leave,” she said, as calmly as she could, though he saw the pulse beat fast in the hollow of her throat, and the slight shaking of her hands. “You must go, and now. I will tell you everything, I swear it. But not now.”

“He isn’t coming.” That much had dawned on him. It was nearly half past four—he had heard the bells strike, just before his arrival. If Adams had meant to come, he would be here. The fact that he was not…

She stared at him, uncomprehending.

“Adams,” he repeated. “It is Bernard Adams who killed Father?”

Her face drained of all color, and she sat down, quite suddenly, on a sofa. Her eyes closed, as though she could not keep them open.

“What have you done, John?” she whispered. “What do you know?”

He came and sat down beside her, removing the pistol from her hand, gone limp and unresisting.

“I know that Father was murdered,” he said gently. “I’ve known since the morning you found him. I was there, hiding in the conservatory.”

Her eyes sprang open in shock, the same light blue as his own. He laid his free hand over hers, squeezing gently.

“When did you come back?” he asked. “Does Sir George know?”

She shook her head blindly. “I—three days ago. I told him I wanted to be in London for the marriage of a friend. He will come back himself in a month; he made no objection.”

“He will probably have objections, should he come back to find you dead or arrested.”

He breathed, feeling his heart begin to slow.

“You should have told us,” he said. “Hal and me.”

“No.” She shook her head, closing her eyes again. “No! He would never have let it rest. You know what Hal is like.”

“Yes, I do,” Grey said, smiling despite himself. “He’s just like you, Mother. And me.”

Trembling, she bent her head, and buried her face in her hands. A constant fine tremor was running through her, like the shifting of sand beneath one’s feet as the tide goes out, terra firma melting away.

“I have lost a husband,” she said softly, to her feet. “I would not lose my sons.” Lifting her head, she gave him a quick, desperate glance.

“Do you think I know nothing about men? About you and your brother in particular? Or about the general?”

“What do you mean?”

She made a small sound that might have been a laugh or a sob.

“Do you mean to tell me that I might have told you this—any of you—and expected you not to go straight out in pursuit of the matter, regardless of the threat?”

“Well, of course not.” He stared at her in incomprehension. “What else could we do?”

She drew a trembling hand down her face, and turned to the wall, where an ornamental looking glass hung.

“Would it be better if I’d had daughters?” she asked the mirror, in apparent earnestness.

“No,” she answered herself. “They’d only marry men, and there you are.”

She closed her eyes for a moment, plainly collecting herself, then opened them and turned to him, composed.

“If I’d known who it was,” she said firmly, “I would have told Hal. At least,” she amended, “I would have told him once I’d decided how best to deal with the matter. But I didn’t know. And for him—or later, you—to go charging into danger, with no clear notion where the danger lay, nor how widespread the threat might be? No. No, I wasn’t having that.”

“You may have a point,” he admitted reluctantly, and she gave a small snort.

“But you did find out.” It occurred to him, with a sense of awe, that she had never been reconciled to the duke’s death—that she had been waiting, patiently watching, all this time, for an opportunity to discover and destroy the man who had killed him. “How did you discover Mr. Adams’s name?”

“I blackmailed Gilbert Rigby.”

Grey felt his mouth fall open, and swiftly closed it.

“What? How?”

The ghost of a smile crossed her lips.

“Captain Rigby—I suppose I must call him ‘Dr. Rigby’ now—gambles. He always did, and I kept an eye upon him. I knew he had run through most of his family’s fortune, when he sold the town house his father left him, last year. He’s using some of the funds donated for the Foundling Hospital now. And so I asked Harry Quarry to make inquiries, very quietly—and to buy up his debts.” She reached toward a leather case that lay on the table beside the sofa, and flipped open the cover, to show a sheaf of papers. “I showed him them, and told him I would expose him if he did not tell me who had killed Gerard.”

What had he told Dr. Longstreet? Had she known which man it was, she would have killed him, I assure you.

Grey felt shock, but no particular surprise.

“And he did.”

“I think it was a relief to him,” she said, sounding faintly surprised. “Gilbert is not a bad man, you know—only weak. He could not bring himself to tell the truth at the time; that would have cost him everything. But he was sincerely appalled at what had happened—he said that he did not know for certain that Bernard Adams had killed Gerry, and had managed to keep his conscience dormant all this time by telling himself that Gerry must have committed self-murder. But faced with the truth—and with those—” she cast a sardonic eye toward the leather case, “he admitted it. He still has something to be lost, after all.”

“And you don’t?” Grey asked, piqued at the thought of her planning to face Adams by herself.