Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade (Page 72)

Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade(72)
Author: Diana Gabaldon

Grey followed, fast, and Adams whirled, jerking at the knob of the nearest door, which was locked. Adams’s face went tight as Grey approached, and he pressed himself back into the doorframe, hands against the wood.

“You can’t kill me!” he said, voice shrill with fear. “I’m not armed.”

“Neither was the cockroach I stamped on in my quarters last night.”

Adams stood his ground for an instant longer, but as Grey drew within lunging distance, his nerve broke and he dodged away, rushed back past Grey, running for his life.

There was nowhere for him to go. The corridor stretched ahead of him, a long dim tunnel, lit only by the rainy twilight of the tall window at the end—a window that opened on thirty feet of empty space. Adams beat upon the locked doors as he passed, shrieking for help, but no one answered; the doors were locked. It was the stuff of nightmare, and Grey wondered briefly whether the nightmare was his, or Adams’s.

He hadn’t the strength to run himself, and there was no need. His chest pulsed with each heartbeat, and he could hear each single breath echo in his ears. He walked slowly down the corridor, placing one foot in front of the other. The hilt of the sword was slippery in his hand. He found himself drifting to one side or the other, so that his shoulder brushed the wall now and then.

The door just beyond Hal’s office opened, and a curious head poked out. Mr. Beasley, Hal’s clerk. Adams saw him and rushed toward him.

“Help! Help me! He’s mad, he’s going to kill me!”

Mr. Beasley pushed his spectacles up his nose, took one look at Grey, lurching drunkenly down the corridor with a sword in his hand, and popped into Hal’s office like a mole into its hole. He slammed the door, but was not able to lock it before Adams threw his weight against it.

Both men fell into the office in a tangle of limbs, and Grey hurried as fast as he was able, arriving in time to see Mr. Beasley lurch to the desk, hampered by Adams, who was clawing at his leg. The elderly clerk, now missing both spectacles and wig, snatched a letter opener from the clutter, and with a look of profound indignation, stabbed Adams in the hand with it.

Adams bellowed with pain and let go, rolling up into a ball like a hedgehog. Mr. Beasley, the light of battle in his eye, picked up Volume III of Histoire de la Dernìere Guerre de Bohème in both hands and brought it down on Adams’s head with some force.

Grey braced himself with one hand on the doorjamb, his feeling of being caught in an inescapable dream intensifying.

“Leave him to me, Mr. Beasley,” he said gently, seeing the old man, gasping for breath, looking wildly about for a fresh weapon. Mr. Beasley blinked, squinting blindly at him, but then nodded, and without another word, backed out into the hall, dived into his clerk’s hole, and shut the door.

“Get up,” Grey said to Adams, who was trying to crawl under Hal’s desk. “Get up, I said! Or I’ll run this straight up your cowardly arse, I swear it.” He prodded Adams in the buttock with the tip of his rapier by way of illustration, causing the minister to yelp in fright and bang his head on the underside of the desk.

Moaning and groveling, Adams backed out, and at Grey’s peremptory gesture, rose to his feet.

“Don’t.” He swallowed visibly and wiped a hand across his mouth. “I beg you, sir. Don’t take my life. It would be the gravest mistake, I assure you.”

“I don’t want your f**king life. I want my father’s good name back.”

Sweat was running down Adams’s face, and his wig had slid back on his head, showing a thin bristle of grizzled hairs beneath.

“And how do you propose to accomplish that?” he said, the news that Grey didn’t mean to kill him seeming to embolden him.

Grey stepped in close and fast, seizing the man’s neckcloth in his free hand and twisting. Adams went red in the face and clawed at him, kicking. One kick landed painfully on his shin, but he disregarded it. The neckcloth popped before Adams’s eyes did, though, and Adams sank to his knees, clutching histrionically at his neck.

Grey tossed down his sword, and drew the dagger from its sheath. He sank down on one knee, face to face with Adams, and gripping him by the shoulder, placed the point of the knife just below one eye. He was past threats; with a short, soft jab, he thrust the tip of the dagger into Adams’s eye and turned it.

He let go, hearing the thunk of the dagger as it fell to the floor, Adams’s shriek as a distant sound, muffled as though it were underwater. Everything swam about him and he closed his eyes against the dizziness.

He had to struggle to stand up; it felt as though two hundred-weight of sandbags rested on his shoulders. But he managed, and stood swaying, waves of hot and cold washing over him, the muscles of his breast on fire, his left arm a dead weight by his side.

Adams was curled into himself, both hands clasped to his eye, making a high, thin moaning noise that Grey found very irritating. Small drops of blood spattered the confusion of papers on Hal’s desk.

“My eye, my eye! You have blinded me!”

“You have one left with which to write your confession,” Grey said. He was very tired. But summoning some last vestige of strength, he raised his voice and shouted, “Mr. Beasley! I want you!”

Chapter 35

“I Do Renounce Them”

Reginald Holmes, head steward of White’s Chocolate House, was spending a peaceful late evening in going over the members’ accounts in his office. He had just rung the bell for a waiter to bring him another whisky to facilitate this task when the sounds of an ungodly rumpus reached him from the public rooms below, shouts, cheers, and the noise of overturning furniture causing him to upset the ink.

“What’s going on now, for God’s sake?” he asked crossly, mopping at the puddle with his handkerchief as one of the waiters appeared in his doorway. “Do these men never sleep? Bring me a cloth, Bob, will you?”

“Yes, sir.” The waiter bowed respectfully. “The Duke of Pardloe has arrived, sir, with his brother. The duke’s respects, sir, and he would like you to come and witness the settling of a wager in the book.”

“The Duke of—” Holmes stood up, forgetting the ink on his sleeve. “And he wants to settle a wager?”

“Yes, sir. His Grace is very drunk, sir,” the waiter added delicately. “And he’s brought a number of friends in a similar condition.”

“Yes, I hear.” Holmes stood for a moment, considering. Disjoint strains of “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow” reached him through the floor. He took up his accounts ledger and his quill, and turned to the page headed Earl of Melton. Drawing a neat line through this, he amended the heading to Duke of Pardloe, and with a flourish, inserted beneath it a new item reading, Breakages.

The singers had now reached the second verse and some semblance of unity.

“We won’t go home until mor-ning,

We won’t go home until mor-ning,

We won’t go home until mor-ning,

’Til day-light doth appear!”

“Fetch up a cask of the ’21 Santo Domingo,” Mr. Holmes instructed the waiter, writing busily. “I’ll put it on His Grace’s account.”

It was with an aching head and dark circles beneath his eyes, but impeccably attired in blue-striped silk and cambric ruffles, that Lord John Grey took his place by the baptismal font at St. James Church next day and received several yards of white satin and Mechlin lace, within which he was assured was his goddaughter, Lady Dorothea Jacqueline Benedicta Grey. Minnie had toyed with the notion of naming her daughter Prudence or Chastity, but Grey had dissuaded her, on the grounds that it was unfair to burden a child with such an onerous presumption of virtue.

The general, newly returned from the Indies, and Lady Stanley were there, standing close together, her hand upon his arm in a picture of the nicest marital affection. Grey smiled at his mother, who smiled back—and then stepped forward in alarm as the child wriggled in its wrappings and Grey momentarily lost his grip.

Snatching her granddaughter from destruction, Benedicta settled the christening robes more securely, and with a look of some reservation, handed the child back to her son.

Minnie, on the far side of the font, eyed him severely, but was occupied in restraining her own three sons, all of them decently silent, but wriggling like small satin-clad worms. Hal, beside her, appeared to have fallen asleep on his feet.

Mr. Gainsborough, the portrait artist who had been commissioned to commemorate the christening, skulked in the shadows, motioning to his assistant and squinting back and forth from his sketching pad to the scene before him. He caught Grey’s eye and motioned to him to lift his chin and turn toward the light.

Grey coughed politely and turned instead toward the priest, who was speaking to him.

“Dost thou renounce the devil and all his works, the vain pomp and glory of the world, with all covetous desire of the same, and the carnal desires of the flesh, so that thou wilt not follow, nor be led of them?”

“I do renounce them.” Minnie’s sister, the child’s godmother, stood beside him, and murmured the words with him.

“Dost thou believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth? And in Jesus Christ, His only-begotten son, our Lord? And that He was conceived by the Holy Ghost; born of the Virgin Mary; that He suffered under Pontius Pilate; was crucified, dead, and buried; that He went down into hell and also did rise again…”

Grey looked down into the sleeping face of innocence, and swore. He did not know if he might believe. But for her, he would try.

Following the christening, the family rattled home by coach to the Grey manor on the edge of Hyde Park. The trees were in their autumn glory, their falling leaves borne on the wind, and bits of red and gold and brown flew up in showers from the wheels as they passed.

Minnie and her sister went up to return the baby to her nurse, but the boys demanded food, and shedding their pumps, satin coats, and linen neckcloths with abandon, besieged their father for nourishment.

“I want almond biscuits, Papa!”

“No, apple ’n’ raisin pie!”

“Treacle tart, treacle tart!” piped Henry, raising a general cheer.

“Yes, yes, yes, yes,” Hal said, trying in vain to quell the riot. He put a hand to his head, which seemed somewhat the worse for wear. “Come along, Cook will find us something, I daresay.”

He ushered his troops firmly before him, but then paused and looked back at Grey, hand on the baize door to the kitchen passageway.

“Will you do us the honor to share a dish of treacle tart for breakfast, my lord?” he asked politely.

“With all my heart,” John said, and grinned exceedingly. “Your Grace.”

He handed his cloak to the footman and made to follow them, but was stopped by a glimpse of his own name. The early post had been left on the silver salver by the door, and a letter addressed to Lord John Grey lay on top. Frowning, he picked it up. Who would send a letter to him here?

He broke the seal and unfolded two sheets. The first was a drawing; a sketch of the Roman Forum. He recognized the view, from the top of the Capitoline Hill. The message on the second sheet was brief, written in a clear, round hand.