Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade (Page 71)

Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade(71)
Author: Diana Gabaldon

She eyed him, one brow raised.

“A great deal to lose,” she said evenly. “But I am a gambler, too—and I have a great deal of patience.”

He picked the pistol up, and carefully uncocked it.

“Did you calculate the odds of being caught?” he asked. “Even if you could prove that Adams killed Father—and Gilbert Rigby’s admission is far from proof—you’d very likely be hanged for murder. And what would Sir George think of that?”

She looked surprised.

“What? What do you think I am?”

“You don’t want me to answer that, Mother. What do you mean?”

“I mean I didn’t intend to kill him,” she said indignantly. “What good would that do? Beyond the minor gratification of revenge, what would I want with his miserable little life?” she added bitterly.

“No. I meant to make him confess the crime”—she nodded toward the table, and Grey saw that besides the leather case containing Rigby’s debts, there was a portable writing desk, as well—“and then let him go. He could leave the country if he liked; he would be exposed, he would lose everything that mattered to him—and I could give Gerry back his honor.”

Her voice trembled on the last word, and Grey brought her hand on impulse to his lips.

“I’ll see it done,” he whispered. “I swear it.”

Tears were running down her face, but she took a deep breath and held her voice steady.

“Where is he? Adams?”

“Running, I think.” He told her what Adams’s butler had said. “As he hasn’t come, he probably supposes that you do have proof. And there’s this—” He fumbled in his pocket, turning out the usual assortment of trifles, among which was Captain Bates’s postmortem denunciation.

She read it in silence, then turned back to the first page and read it again.

“So he’s gone,” she said flatly, laying the papers on her knee. “Taken the money and fled to France. I frightened him, and he’s gone.”

“He hasn’t left the country yet,” Grey said, trying to sound encouraging. “And even if he should escape—plainly he has lost his position, his reputation. And you did say you don’t want his life.”

“I don’t,” she said, between clenched teeth. “But this”—she smacked the papers with the back of her hand, sending them to the floor—“is useless to me. I don’t care that the world knows Bernard Adams for a criminal and traitor—I want him to be known as my husband’s murderer; I want your father’s honor back!”

Grey bent to pick up the papers from the floor, and rising, tucked them back into his pocket.

“All right,” he said, and took a deep breath. “I’ll find him.”

He hesitated for a moment, looking at his mother. She sat upright, straight as a musket barrel—but she looked very small, and suddenly her age showed in her face.

“Will I see you…home?” he asked, not sure where her home might be. The house in Jermyn Street had been closed; should he take her to Minnie’s house? His heart sank at thought of the hubbub that would cause.

“No,” she said, obviously having thought the same thing. “I have a carriage; I’ll go to the general’s house. You go.”

“Yes.” But he didn’t go, not at once. Thoughts, fears, suppositions, half-baked plans were whirling through his head. “If you should need…help…if I am not nearby—”

“I’ll call on Harry Quarry,” his mother said firmly. “Go, John.”

“Yes. Yes, that—” A sudden thought struck him. “Does Quarry know? Everything?”

“Certainly not. He would have told Hal at once.”

“Then how did you induce him to…” He nodded at the leather case. To his surprise, his mother smiled.

“More blackmail,” she admitted. “Harry writes erotic verses—very elegant, really. I told him that if he didn’t do what I asked, I’d tell everyone in the regiment. It was all quite easy,” she said, with a certain degree of complacence. “It is possible to deal with men. You just have to know how.”

Grey was so flabbergasted at the revelation of Harry Quarry’s identity as the Sub-Genius that he barely noticed where he was going, and in consequence had walked a good quarter mile before remembering that he had left a coach waiting in a side street near Morning Glory. He turned back, hurrying, trying to think where to start in pursuit of Bernard Adams.

He thought it very likely that his mother was right; Adams was bound for France. That being so, though—would he take ship from the nearest port? Grey could quite possibly catch him up, if that were the case; he had no more than an hour’s start, perhaps two. But what if he meant to travel overland, take ship from a more distant port, to confuse pursuit?

Was he expecting pursuit, though? He was presumably acting on the supposition that the duchess had proof of his actions, but it would take more than a day or two for her to make that proof—had it existed—known to anyone who might take action.

And if he did not expect pursuit—but he had left his house abruptly, without pausing to pack any personal belongings. That argued precipitate flight…

Caught up in these musings, and half-running in his anxiety, Grey mistook the side street where he had left his coach, became convinced that the coachman had become tired of waiting and left, realized his mistake, and went back. By the time he found the coach, he had sweated through his shirt, his arm was throbbing, and his chest had begun to burn. He seized the door of the coach, swung it open, and stepped in, then halted, startled to find someone already sitting inside.

“Here’s hoping I find your honor well,” one of the O’Higgins brothers said politely. “The devil of a time ye’ve been about your business, and you’ll pardon my sayin’ so.”

Grey sank onto the squabs, wiping a sleeve across his sweating forehead.

“What are you doing here?”

“Waitin’ on yourself, to be sure.” He leaned out the window and called up to the coachman, “On, me boy. Where I told you, and be quick, now!”

“And where is that?” Grey was recovering his breath and his wits, and eyed O’Higgins warily.

“The regimental offices, to be sure,” the Irishman said. “That’s where he’ll be.”

“He?”

O’Higgins rolled his eyes.

“Bernard Adams. A poor excuse for an Irishman, and him a wicked apostate, too,” he added piously, crossing himself.

Grey relapsed against the cushions, realization dawning.

“You read Bates’s letter.”

“Well, we did, then,” O’Higgins agreed, without shame. “Proper shockin’, it was.”

“Not nearly as shocking as you think,” Grey said dryly, beginning to collect himself. “Why do you think Adams is at the regimental offices? And come to that, how do you come to be here?”

“Oh, I follied your honor, when you left Adams’s house,” the Irishman said, airily. “My brother having gone after Mr. Adams, when he left, just afore you. Don’t be fretting, sir, even if he’s gone before we get there, Rafe will stick to him like a bur.”

“But why has he—”

“Well, the money, to be sure,” Mick said, as though this were obvious. “He hid it in our fortune-teller’s cabinet. And he’s gone to your brother’s office for to get it back—not realizin’ that it’s gone.” The Irishman grinned cheerfully. “We thought the least we could do to show our gratitude to your honor was lead ye to him.”

Grey stared at him, barely noticing the tooth-rattling bump of the carriage over rough cobbles as they hurtled through the streets.

“You found it. The money.” Something else occurred to him. “Was there anything else there—papers?”

“Oh, there were some moldy bits of trash wedged beneath the clockwork, to be sure; we burnt them,” O’Higgins said comfortably. “As to having found any money, I couldn’t say as to that, sir. But I will say that, havin’ had the chance to think it over, Rafe and me decided that perhaps the army don’t suit us after all. We’ll be for going back to Ireland, once this business here is done.”

The coach rattled round another corner and pulled to a stop, horses blowing, at the corner of Cavendish Square. It was late in the day; the regimental offices would be deserted. Which was, of course, what Adams had waited for, Grey realized.

Tossing money up to the coachman, he turned toward the building, to see a slouching figure detach itself from a patch of evening shadow and come toward him.

“Is he inside, then?” Mick asked, and Rafe nodded.

“Just gone in, not five minutes ago.” He glanced at Grey, then up at the building’s facade.

“No need to call the guard, I think,” he said. “Should your honor care to deal with the matter man to man? We’ll see he don’t get out, Mick and me.” He lounged against the doorjamb, looking most unsoldierly, but thoroughly competent, with a hand on his shillelagh.

“I—yes,” Grey said abruptly. “Thank you.”

The door was unlocked; he went in and stopped, listening. Sweat trickled down the back of his neck, and emptiness murmured in his ears.

All the doors in the ground-floor corridor were closed. Hal’s office was upstairs. Almost by reflex, Grey drew his sword, the whisper of metal against the scabbard cold in the silence.

He made no effort to mute his own footsteps. It didn’t matter if Adams heard him coming.

The corridor upstairs was empty, too, lit only by the fading light that came through the casement at the end. A sliver of light showed to the right, though; Hal’s door was open.

What ought he to feel? he wondered, as he walked along the hall, bootheels steady as a heartbeat on the floor. He had felt too much, for too long. Now he felt nothing, save the need to continue.

Adams had heard him; he was standing by the desk, his sallow face tense. It relaxed as he recognized Grey, and put out a hand to the desk, to steady himself.

“Oh, Lord John,” he said. “It’s you. I was just looking for—”

“I know what you were looking for,” Grey interrupted. “It doesn’t matter.”

Adams’s eyes turned wary on the instant.

“I fear you have mistaken me, sir,” he began, and Grey raised the point of his rapier and pressed it to the man’s chest.

“No, I haven’t.” His own voice came oddly to his ears, detached and calm. “You killed my father, and I know it.”

The man’s eyes went huge, but with panic, not surprise.

“What? You—but, but this is nonsense!” He backed away hastily, hands batting at the blade. “Really, sir, I must protest! Who would tell you such a—such a taradiddle?”

“My mother,” Grey said.

Adams went white, pushed the blade aside, and ran. Taken by surprise, Grey went after him, to see him running full-tilt down the corridor—at the end of which stood the burly figure of Rafe O’Higgins, shillelagh at the ready.