That stopped Siverly as surely as if he had received a bullet in the heart. Very slowly, he lowered himself to a chair opposite, not taking his eyes from Jamie’s face. Did a flicker of recognition stir in those eyes, or only at last suspicion?
Jamie’s heart was beating fast and he felt the prickle of excitement down his forearms.
“No,” Siverly said at last, and his voice had changed. It was casual now, dismissive. “I’ve no idea how your friend came by that paper, but it doesn’t matter. The subject of the poem is ancient, to be sure. But the verse itself is no more ancient than you yourself are, Mr. Fraser. Anyone who’s read Irish verse in a scholarly way could tell you that.” He smiled, an expression that didn’t reach his deep-set eyes, the color of rainwater on slate.
“What is your interest in such a thing, Mr. Fraser?” he asked, becoming overtly cordial. “If you are in the way to collect antiquities and curios, I should be pleased to give you an introduction to one or two dealers in Dublin.”
“I should be most obliged to ye, sir,” Jamie said pleasantly. “I did think of going to Dublin; I ken a man at the great university there to whom I thought of showing this. Perhaps your dealers might have an interest in it, too.”
A spark of alarm flickered in the deep-set eyes. At what? Jamie wondered, but the answer came immediately. He doesna want a great many people to see it—lest the wrong person hear about it. And who might that be, I wonder?
“Really,” Siverly said, pretending doubt. “What is the name of your university man? Perhaps I know him.”
Jamie’s mind went blank for an instant. He fumbled among the names of his Irish acquaintance for anyone he’d known who might conceivably be or have been at Trinity—but then caught sight of the tenseness of Siverly’s shoulders. The man was trying it on as much as he was.
“O’Hanlon,” he said carelessly, choosing a name at random. “Peter O’Hanlon. D’ye ken him?”
“No, I’m afraid not.”
“Well, nay matter. I’ll thank ye for your time, sir.” Jamie leaned forward, preparatory to rising. He’d accomplished what he came for. He’d learned that the Irish poem was connected to Siverly and had some secret meaning—and he’d successfully fixed Siverly’s attention on him as a person of interest, that was certain. The man was looking at him like a wolf with a prey in view.
“Where are you staying, Mr. Fraser?” he asked. “Perhaps I might discover some further information that would be helpful to you. If, that is, you are still interested in learning more regarding your verse?”
“Oh, aye, sir, that I am. I’m in the village, at Beckett’s public house. Much obliged to ye, sir.”
He stood and bowed to Siverly, then crossed the room to take the paper from the mantelpiece. He heard Siverly rise behind him, saying, “Not at all, Mr. Fraser.”
The reflexes bred from a lifetime of people trying to kill him saved him. Jamie heard the man’s sharp intake of breath and dodged aside, as the knob of the club slashed through the spot where his head had been and crashed down on the wooden mantel, making splinters fly.
Siverly was between him and the door. Jamie lowered his head and charged the man, butting him in the chest. Siverly stumbled back, hit a small table, and sent it flying in a shower of sugared violets, its collection of small ornaments bouncing and ringing off the floor.
Jamie made for the door, then by impulse doubled back, seized the paper, which had floated to the floor, and shoved the settee into Siverly’s way as the man lunged for him, murder in his eye. He’d got hold of the club again and swung it as Jamie danced back, catching him a glancing blow on the point of the shoulder that numbed his arm to the fingers.
Jamie grabbed the candlestick and flung it at Siverly’s head, the candles falling in a clatter of beeswax and smoke as they went out. There were running footsteps in the hall—servants coming.
Without the slightest hesitation, Jamie leapt onto a glove table by the window, kicked out the lights, and hurled himself through the resultant hole, catching a final ignominious blow across the arse as he did so.
He half-ran, half-hobbled straight through the formal garden, trampling roses and flower beds. Where was his horse? Had the gatekeeper taken it to the stable?
He had not. It was tied by the rein to a rail outside the lodge. Stuffing the crumpled paper into his coat, he undid the knot one-handed, blessing the Virgin Mother that Siverly had struck him on the right side. The numbness was fading, but tingling jolts buzzed down his right arm, jarring his fingers so they fumbled and twitched, all but useless. His clever left was all right, though, and before the gatekeeper had realized something was amiss and come out to see, he had flung himself onto the startled horse and was trotting down the road toward the village.
His left buttock was knotted tight, bruised from the blow, and he leaned in his saddle like a drunk, unable to put weight on it. He looked back over his shoulder, but there was no pursuit. And why should there be? he thought, breathing heavily. Siverly knew where to find him. And find him he would; the verse was only a copy, but Siverly didn’t know that. Jamie touched the pocket of his coat, and the paper crackled reassuringly.
It was raining harder now, and water ran down his face. He’d left his hat and cloak; Tom Byrd would be annoyed. He smiled a little at the thought and, trembling with reaction, wiped his face on his sleeve.
He’d done his part. Now it was John Grey’s turn.
A Poultice for Bruising
IN ORDER TO KEEP FROM GOING OUTSIDE EVERY FEW MINUTES, Grey had accepted the invitation of two local men to join them at darts. One of his opponents had only one eye—or at least wore a patch over the problematic socket—but seemed little incommoded on that account, and Grey strongly suspected that the patch was mere gauze, doubled and dyed black, but no true obstacle to aim.
No stranger to sharp practice, his answer to this stratagem was the proposal that they play for pints rather than coin. This agreeable arrangement ensured that, regardless of skill or artifice, any man who won repeatedly would soon lose. The beer was good, and Grey managed for the most part not to think about what might be happening at Glastuig, but as the day drew down and the landlord began to light rush dips, he was unable to keep his thoughts at bay and thus excused himself from the game on grounds that he could no longer see to aim and stepped outside for a breath of air.
Outside, the rain had finally ceased, though the plants all bore such a burden of water that merely brushing the grass by the path soaked his stockings.
Quinn had gone off on unstated business of his own—and Grey would not have made a confidant of the Irishman in any case. Tom also had disappeared; Mr. Beckett had a comely daughter who served in the public room, but she had vanished, replaced by her mother. Grey didn’t mind, but he would have liked to have someone with whom to share his worry over Jamie Fraser’s prolonged absence.
There were of course excellent possible reasons for it. Siverly might have been intrigued by the poem, or by Fraser, and thus invited him to stay for supper in order to carry on their conversation. That would be the best possibility, Grey supposed.
Less good, but still acceptable, was the possibility—well, call it likelihood, given the state of the roads—that Fraser’s horse had thrown a shoe or gone lame on the way back and had had to be walked, taken to a farrier, or, at worst, shot. They had sent back the livery’s horses; Fraser was riding a nag borrowed from Mr. Beckett.
Running down the list of increasingly dire possibilities, Grey thought of highwaymen, who were attracted by the horse (surely not; the thing looked like a cow, and an elderly cow at that) and had then noticed the gaudy vest and shot Fraser when he was unable to produce any money. (He should have insisted Jamie have money; it wasn’t right to keep him penniless.) A larger than usual mudhole that had forced him off the road, there to fall into a quaking bog, which had promptly swallowed him and the horse. A sudden apoplexy—Fraser had once mentioned that his father had died of an apoplexy. Were such things hereditary?
“Or perhaps a goose fell dead out of the sky and hit him on the head,” he muttered, kicking viciously at a stone on the path. It shot into the air, struck a fence post, and ricocheted back, striking him smartly on the shin.
Clutching his shin, he looked up to see Tom hovering in the gloaming. At first assuming that his valet had been attracted by his cry of pain, he straightened up, dismissing it—but then saw the agitation of Tom’s countenance.
“Come with me, me lord,” Tom said, low-voiced, and, glancing over his shoulder, led the way through a thick growth of weeds and brambles that put paid altogether to Grey’s stockings.
Behind the pub, Tom led the way around a ramshackle chicken run and beckoned Grey toward an overgrown hedge.
“He’s in here,” he whispered, holding up a swath of branches.
Grey crouched down and beheld an extremely cross-looking James Fraser, ribbon lost, hair coming out of its plait, and a good bit of his face obscured by dried blood. He was hunched to one side and held one shoulder stiffly, higher than the other. The light under the hedge was dim, but there was sufficient left to make out the glare in the slanted blue eyes.
“Why are you sitting in the hedge, Mr. Fraser?” he inquired, having rapidly considered and discarded several other inquiries as being perhaps impolitic.
“Because if I go inside the pub at suppertime looking like this, the whole countryside is going to be talkin’ about it by dawn, speculating about who did it. And everyone in said public house kens perfectly well that I’m wi’ you. Meaning that Major Siverly will ken it’s you on his trail by the time he’s finished his coffee tomorrow morning.” He shifted slightly and drew in his breath.
“Are you badly hurt?”
“I am not,” Fraser said testily. “It’s only bruises.”
“Er … your face is covered with blood, sir,” Tom said helpfully, in a tone suggesting that Fraser might not have noticed this, and then added, in substantially more horrified tones, “It’s got onto your waistcoat!”
Fraser shot Tom a dark look suggesting that he meant to say something cutting about waistcoats, but whatever it was, he swallowed it, turning back to Grey.
“A wee shard o’ glass cut my head, is all. It stopped bleeding some while ago. All I need is a wet cloth.”
From the slow difficulty with which Fraser wormed his way out of the hedge, Grey rather thought a bit more than a wet cloth might be needed but forbore saying so.
“What happened?” he asked instead. “Was it an accident?”
“No.” Fraser rolled clumsily onto hands and knees, got one knee up, foot braced—and then stopped, clearly contemplating the mechanical considerations involved in getting to his feet. Without comment, Grey stooped, got him under the left arm, and levered him into a standing position, this operation being accompanied by a muffled groan.
“I showed the poem to Siverly,” Fraser said, jerking his coat straight. “He pretended not to know me, but he did. He read it, asked me who I was, then tried to dismiss it as a fraud of some sort, a faked antiquity. Then I turned my back to take my leave, and he tried to kill me.” Despite obvious pain, he gave Grey a lopsided smile. “I suppose ye’d call that evidence, aye?”