The Scottish Prisoner (Page 42)

The Scottish Prisoner (Lord John Grey #3)(42)
Author: Diana Gabaldon

“Concerning me? What the devil—” Siverly snatched the paper from Grey’s hand, anger flaring so suddenly in his eyes that Grey had an instant apprehension of how some of the incidents Charlie had described had come about. The violence in the man was simmering just below the skin; he saw only too well how Siverly had come so close to killing Jamie Fraser.

Siverly read the page quickly, crushed it in his hand, and threw it to the ground. A vein stood out on his temple, pulsing blue under his skin, which had gone an unpleasant purplish color.

“What balderdash is this?” he said, his voice thick with rage. “How dare you come bringing me such whinging, blithering—”

“Do you deny that there is any truth in Captain Carruthers’s account?” The page was one regarding the events leading to the mutiny in Canada. There were more damning pages—many of them—but Grey had thought to start with something clear-cut.

“I deny that Pardloe has any right to question me in the slightest particular! And as for you, sir—” Siverly loomed suddenly over Grey, fists clenched. “Damn you for an interfering, busy-bodying fool! Get out of my sight.”

Before Grey could move or speak, Siverly had whirled on his heel and stamped off, moving like an ox with its tail on fire.

Grey blinked, belatedly realized that he was holding his breath, and exhaled. The summerhouse was twenty feet away; he went and sat on the steps to collect himself.

“So much for gentle persuasion,” he said under his breath. Siverly had already reached the lawn and was forging up it to the house, making the occasional furious gesture en route.

Plainly an alternative plan would have to be put in train. But in the meantime, there was a good deal to think about. Edward Twelvetrees, for one. That ironbound chest, for another.

Grey had been in the army in one capacity or another since the age of sixteen. He knew what a paymaster’s books looked like—and, likewise, a paymaster’s chest. Clearly Twelvetrees and Siverly were involved in something together that involved the disbursement of funds—and fairly considerable funds—to a number of individuals.

Siverly had disappeared into the house. Grey continued to sit for a little, thinking, but could come to no firm conclusions. Obviously, Siverly wasn’t going to tell him anything about the paymaster’s chest. Perhaps it would be worth riding over to Brampton Court—that’s where the butler had said Twelvetrees was staying—and trying to inveigle information out of the other conspirator. At least he was reasonably sure that Twelvetrees wouldn’t try to kill him out of hand. Though it might be as well to bring his dagger.

Just as Grey rose to his feet, Twelvetrees himself came out of the house and, looking out across the lawn, saw Grey at the summerhouse. He lowered his head and came down, looking bitter and determined.

Grey waited.

Twelvetrees was slightly flushed when he arrived but had himself well in hand. None of Siverly’s volcanic passion showed in that lean, long-nosed face. There was hostility, to be sure, and considerable dislike.

“You should leave, Colonel Grey,” he said without preamble. “And do not come back. I tell you this for your own good; there is no profit in pestering Major Siverly, no matter what your motive—and I confess I cannot make that out. No, don’t tell me—” He held up a minatory hand. “I don’t care. Neither do you need to know what my motives are. Suffice it to say that you meddle in matters that you do not understand, and if you continue to do so, you will regret it.”

He made to turn on his heel, but Grey, moved by impulse, put out a hand and grasped his sleeve.

“A moment, Captain, if you please.” He groped with his free hand for his waistcoat pocket and pulled out another sheet of paper—one of the copies of the Wild Hunt verse. “Look at this.”

Twelvetrees looked as though he meant to jerk away, but instead seized the paper impatiently and opened it.

He didn’t even read it but turned pale at sight of the words.

“Where did you get this?” he said, his voice nearly a whisper.

“From Charlie Carruthers,” Grey said. “I see you recognize it. Do you—”

He never got to complete the sentence. Twelvetrees shoved the paper into his chest so hard that he took a step backward to avoid falling. He caught his balance, but Twelvetrees was already striding away across the little flagstone walk. Grey caught sight of a snail on the stone. Twelvetrees’s shoe came down upon the animal with an audible crunch. He paid no attention but forged blindly on, leaving a small, wet stain glimmering on the flags.

23

Plan B

THE NEXT DAY DAWNED SULLEN AND OVERCAST BUT NOT actually raining. Yet. Grey dressed carefully in his uniform, Tom Byrd assisting him with the same sense of solemn ceremony as though preparing Grey for battle. Leather stock, gorget, polished boots … Grey hesitated for a moment over wearing his dagger, but in the end, thinking of Siverly’s attack on Jamie Fraser, put it in his belt.

Fraser leaned against the window frame, half-sitting on the sill, watching the preparations with a small frown. He’d offered to go with Grey, but John had declined, thinking that his presence could not but inflame Siverly. It was going to be a sufficiently sticky interview without introducing further complications.

“If I don’t come back,” he told Fraser at the door, “you have my explicit permission to do whatever you like to Siverly.” He’d meant it as a joke, but the Scotsman nodded soberly.

“I’ll take your body home to your brother.”

Tom Byrd made a horrified noise, but Grey smiled, affecting to think this a witty riposte to his own feeble jest.

“Yes, you do that,” he said, and went downstairs, bootheels thumping.

The butler at Glastuig opened the door to him, eyes wide at seeing him in his uniform.

“I will see your master, if you please,” Grey informed him, stepping inside without invitation. “Where is he?”

The butler gave way, flustered.

“The master’s not in the house, sir!”

“Where is he, then?”

The man’s mouth worked for a moment and he glanced from side to side, looking for a suitable answer, but he was too discomposed by the uniform to lie.

“Why … he’s out in the summerhouse, to be sure. He often sits out there of a morning. But he—”

Grey nodded and turned on his heel, leaving the butler dithering behind him.

He walked across the lawn toward the folly, rehearsing what to say—and thinking what to do next if his reasoning did not move Siverly. He had very little expectation that it would, but he owed it to his own sense of fairness to give the man a chance to come back voluntarily.

If not … then he’d come back under arrest. The slightly sticky part being that Grey had no formal authority in Ireland, still less the authority to arrest anyone, and Siverly almost certainly knew that. Grey could do it legally, by requesting the justiciar at Athlone to send a party of soldiers to bring Siverly to the castle—if the justiciar saw the matter in the same light—there to be formally handed over to Grey, who would then serve as a military escort to see Siverly into the custody of the British army.

This supposed, though, that Siverly would remain in situ while Grey rode to Athlone and back, that the justiciar’s deputy (the justiciar being presumably a-wooing in France at the moment) would be moved by the force of Grey’s argument to arrest an obviously wealthy and locally esteemed man and then submit him to the mercies of a foreign government, and that Siverly would in turn meekly submit to the justiciar’s men. Frankly, Grey thought the odds low on all three fronts.

The alternative was summary arrest—well, kidnapping, if you wanted to be blunt about it—carried out by Grey and Jamie Fraser, with Tom Byrd holding the horses. Grey was strongly inclined to favor this line of action, and he knew that Fraser would be only too pleased to assist him.

While it had the appeal of directness—plus the additional charming possibility of collateral damage sustained by Siverly in the course of resisting arrest—he didn’t delude himself that it would be simple. They’d have to get Siverly across half of Ireland and onto a ship without attracting undue attention—in a country where he spoke the local language and they didn’t.

“Needs must when the devil drives,” he muttered, and stamped heavily up the steps of the folly, in order to give Siverly fair warning of his advent. He thought he heard movement inside, but as his head came above the top of the steps, the folly appeared to be empty.

He’d been a soldier for a long time, though, and the sense of danger struck him so acutely that he ducked before realizing consciously that anything was wrong. Crouched on the steps with his heart hammering, he grasped his dagger and listened for all he was worth. He heard a loud rustling of the shrubbery behind the folly and instantly leapt up, ran down the steps and round the folly.

Siverly had made it into the ornamental wood; Grey couldn’t see the man, but he heard the snap and crunch of a body forcing its way through undergrowth in a hurry. Follow, or go round?

He hesitated for no more than an instant, then ran to the left. The man must be heading for the stables; he could cut him off.

He vaguely saw servants in the distance, pointing at him and shouting, but paid them no mind. He’d lost his hat, but that didn’t matter, either. He galloped through the kitchen garden, leaping a basket of turnip greens set dead in the middle of the walk, and dodging the openmouthed cook who’d set it there.

The gate was shut, and he didn’t bother fumbling for the latch but seized it with both hands and vaulted over, feeling an absurd rush of fierce pleasure in the feat. A short, destructive dash through a terrace of rosebushes, and the stables loomed ahead of him. The big sliding door was closed; Siverly hadn’t got out yet. He wrenched the door open and charged into the dim-lit stable, where his tumultuous advent startled a number of horses, who snorted and whinnied, dancing and curvetting in their stalls. He ignored them all and stood panting in the center of the aisle, facing the door at the opposite end.

The guilty flee where no man pursueth. The words came to him and he would have laughed, if he’d had breath. He hadn’t wanted any more proof of Siverly’s guilt, but this open admission by flight would give Grey the excuse to make an immediate arrest.

It occurred to him vaguely that Siverly outweighed him by at least three stone and might be armed, but he dismissed the thought. He had the advantage of surprise here, and meant to use it. He took up a position to the side of the sliding door and stepped into a narrow alcove used for storing tack.

The horses had calmed down, still snorting and bobbing their heads but now beginning to munch hay again. He heard the rumbling as the sliding door opened—but it was the wrong door, the one he’d come in by. He risked a quick glance out of his hiding place but saw only a groom, pitchfork and manure shovel in hand. He ducked back, muttering, “Shit,” under his breath. He didn’t need a witness, let alone one armed with a pitchfork, who would likely come to his master’s aid.

The groom’s eyes flicked from side to side, though, instantly sensing something amiss among the horses. He dropped the shovel with a clang and advanced toward Grey’s end of the stable, fork held menacingly before him.