The Scottish Prisoner (Page 14)

The Scottish Prisoner (Lord John Grey #3)(14)
Author: Diana Gabaldon

“I did. But I don’t now, no.”

Pardloe nodded.

“Well, then.” He held up both hands and folded down one thumb. “You spared my brother’s life.” The other thumb folded. “I spared yours.” An index finger. “You objected to this action.” The other index finger. “But have upon consideration withdrawn your objection?” He raised both eyebrows, and Jamie quelled a reluctant impulse to smile. He inclined his head half an inch instead, and Pardloe nodded, lowering his hands.

“So you agree that there is no debt between us? No lingering sense of injury?”

“I wouldna go that far,” Jamie replied, very dry indeed. “Ye’ve got three fingers left. But there’s nay debt, no. Not between us.”

The man was sharp; he caught the faint emphasis on “us.”

“Whatever disagreements you may have with my brother do not concern me,” Pardloe said. “So long as they don’t interfere with the business I am about to lay before you.”

Jamie wondered just what John Grey had told his brother concerning the disagreements between them—but if it wasn’t Pardloe’s concern, it wasn’t his, either.

“Speak, then,” he said, and felt a sudden knotting in his belly. They were the same words he’d said to John Grey, which had unleashed that final disastrous conversation. He had a strong foreboding that this one wasn’t going to end well, either.

Pardloe took a deep breath, as though readying himself for something, then stood up.

“Come with me.”

THEY WENT TO A small study down the hall. Unlike the gracious library they had just left, the study was dark, cramped, and littered with books, papers, small random objects, and a scatter of ratty quills that looked as if they’d been chewed. Clearly, this was the duke’s personal lair, and no servant’s intrusion was often tolerated. Tidy himself by default rather than inclination, Jamie found the place oddly appealing.

Pardloe gestured briefly at a chair, then bent to unlock the lower drawer of the desk. What could be sufficiently delicate or important that it required such precautions?

The duke withdrew a bundle of papers bound with ribbon, untied it, and, pushing things impatiently aside to make a clear space, laid a single sheet of paper on the desk in front of Jamie.

He frowned a bit, picked up the sheet, and, tilting it toward the small window for a better light, read slowly through it.

“Can you read it?” The duke was looking at him, intent.

“More or less, aye.” He set it down, baffled, and looked at the duke. “Ye want to know what it says, is that it?”

“It is. Is it Erse? The speech of the Scottish Highlands?”

Jamie shook his head.

“Nay, though something close. It’s Gaeilge. Irish. Some call that Erse, too,” he added, with a tinge of contempt for ignorance.

“Irish! You’re sure?” The duke stood up, his lean face positively eager.

“Yes. I wouldna claim to be fluent, but it’s close enough to the Gàidhlig—that would be my own tongue,” he said pointedly, “that I can follow it. It’s a poem—or part o’ one.”

Pardloe’s face went blank for an instant but then resumed its expression of concentration.

“What poem? What does it say?”

Jamie rubbed a forefinger slowly down the bridge of his nose, scanning the page.

“It’s no a particular poem—not a proper one, wi’ a name to it, I mean—or not one I know. But it’s a tale o’ the Wild Hunt. Ken that, do ye?”

The duke’s face was a study.

“The Wild Hunt?” he said carefully. “I … have heard of it. In Germany. Not Ireland.”

Jamie shrugged, and pushed the page away. The little study had a faintly familiar smell to it—a sweet fuggy aroma that made him want to cough.

“Do ye not find ghost stories everywhere? Or faerie tales?”

“Ghosts?” Pardloe glanced at the page, frowning, then picked it up, scowling as though he’d force it to talk to him.

Jamie waited, wondering whether this sheet of Irish poetry had aught to do with what the woman had said. “If you’re sending poor John to Ireland …” John Grey might go to the devil with his blessing, let alone Ireland, but what with the memory of Quinn and his schemes lurking in his mind, the repeated mention of the place was beginning to give Jamie Fraser the creeps.

Pardloe suddenly crumpled the paper in his hand and threw the resulting ball at the wall with a rude exclamation in Greek.

“And what has that to do with Siverly?” he demanded, glaring at Jamie.

“Siverly?” he replied, startled. “Who, Gerald Siverly?” Then could have bitten his tongue, as he saw the duke’s face change yet again.

“You do know him,” Pardloe said. He spoke quietly, as a hunter might do to a companion, sighting game.

There was little point in denying it. Jamie lifted one shoulder.

“I kent a man by that name once, aye. What of it?”

The duke leaned back, eyeing Jamie. “What, indeed. Will you tell me the circumstances in which you knew a Gerald Siverly?”

Jamie considered whether to answer or not. But he owed Siverly nothing, and it was perhaps over-early to be obstructive, given that he had no idea why Pardloe had brought him here. He might need to be offensive later, but no point in it now. And the duke had fed him.

As though the duke had picked up this thought, he reached into a cupboard and withdrew a stout brown bottle and a couple of worn pewter cups.

“It’s not a bribe,” he said, setting these on the desk with a fleeting smile. “I can’t keep my temper about Siverly without the aid of a drink, and drinking in front of someone who’s not makes me feel like a sot.”

Recalling the effect of wine after long abstinence, Jamie had some reservations regarding whisky—he could smell it, the instant the bottle was uncorked—but nodded, nonetheless.

“Siverly,” he said slowly, picking up the cup. And how did ye ken I knew him, I wonder? The answer to that came as quickly as the question. Mina Rennie, otherwise known as the Duchess of Pardloe. He pushed the thought aside for the moment, slowly inhaling the sweet fierce fumes of the drink.

“The man I kent wasna a real Irishman, though he’d some land in Ireland, and I think his mother was maybe Irish. He was a friend of O’Sullivan, him who was later quartermaster for … Charles Stuart.”

Pardloe looked sharply at him, having caught the hesitation—he’d nearly said “Prince Charles”—but nodded at him to continue. “Jacobite connections,” Pardloe observed. “Yet not a Jacobite himself?”

Jamie shook his head and took a cautious sip. It burned the back of his throat and sent tendrils swirling down through his body like a drop of ink in water. Oh, God. Maybe this was worth being dragged off like a convict. Then again …

“He dabbled. Dined at Stuart’s table in Paris quite often, and ye’d see him out with O’Sullivan or one o’ the prince’s other Irish friends—but that’s as far as it went. I met him once in Lord George Murray’s company at a salon, but he kept well apart from Mar or Tullibardine.” He had a moment’s pang at thought of the small, cheerful Earl of Tullibardine, who, like his own grandfather, had been executed on Tower Hill after the Rising. He lifted his cup in silent salute and drank before going on. “But then he was gone. Frightened off, thought better, saw nay profit—I hadn’t enough to do wi’ him myself to say why. But he wasna with Charles Stuart at Glenfinnan, nor after.”

He took another sip. He wasn’t liking this; the memories of the Rising were too vivid. He felt Claire there by his elbow, was afraid to turn his head and look.

“Saw no profit,” the duke echoed. “No, I daresay he didn’t.” He sounded bitter. He sat looking into his cup for a moment, then tossed the rest back, made a houghing noise, set it down, and reached for the bundle of papers.

“Read that. If you will,” he added, the courtesy clearly an afterthought.

Jamie glanced at the papers, feeling an obscure sense of unease. But again, there was no reason to refuse, and, despite his reluctance, he picked up the top few sheets and began to read.

The duke wasn’t a man who seemed comfortable sitting still. He twitched, coughed, got up and lit the candle, sat down again … coughed harder. Jamie sighed, concentrating against the distraction.

Siverly seemed to have made the most of his army career in Canada. While Jamie disapproved of the man’s behavior on general principles and admired the eloquent passion displayed by the man who had written about it, he felt no personal animus. When he came to the part about the pillaging and terrorizing of the habitant villages, though, he felt the blood begin to rise behind his eyes. Siverly might be a proper villain, but this wasn’t personal villainy.

This was the Crown’s way. The way of dealing with resistant natives. Theft, rape, murder … and fire.

Cumberland had done it, “cleansing” the Highlands after Culloden. And James Wolfe had done it, too—to deprive the Citadel at Quebec of support from the countryside. Taken livestock, killed the men, burned houses … and left the women to starve and freeze.

God, that she might be safe! he thought in sudden agony, closing his eyes for an instant. And the child with her.

He glanced up from the paper. The duke was still coughing but had now dug a pipe out of the midden and was packing it with tobacco. Lord Melton had commanded troops at Culloden. Those troops—and the man who sat before him—had very likely remained to take part in the cleansing of the Highlands.

“No lingering sense of injury,” he’d said. Jamie muttered something very rude under his breath in the Gàidhlig and went on reading, though he found his attention still distracted.

Blood pressure. That’s what Claire called it. To do with how hard your heart beat and the force with which it drove the blood round your body. When your heart failed you and blood no longer reached the brain, that’s what caused fainting, she said. And when it beat hard, in the grip of fear or passion, that was when you felt the blood beat in your temples and swell in your chest, ready for bed or battle.

His own blood pressure was rising like a rocket, and he’d no desire to bed Pardloe.

The duke took a spill from a pottery dish and put it to the candle flame, then used it to light his pipe. It had grown dark outside, and the smell of oncoming rain came in through the half-open window, mingling with the musky sweet scent of the tobacco. Pardloe’s lean cheeks hollowed as he sucked at the pipe, the orbits of his eyes shadowed by the light that fell on brow and nose. He looked like a skull.

Abruptly, Jamie set down the papers.

“What do you want of me?” he demanded.

Pardloe took the pipe from his mouth and exhaled slow wisps of smoke.

“I want you to translate that bit of Irish. And to tell me more—whatever you know or recall of Gerald Siverly’s background and connections. Beyond that …” The pipe was in danger of going out, and the duke took a long pull at it.