The Scottish Prisoner (Page 43)

The Scottish Prisoner (Lord John Grey #3)(43)
Author: Diana Gabaldon

“Come on! Let’s be havin’ ye out of there!”

Not much help for it. Grey tucked his dagger out of sight and stepped out into the aisle.

“Good morning,” he said pleasantly. “Is your master about?”

The groom halted, blinking at this crimson-clad apparition.

“And who the divil are you? Sir,” he added uncertainly.

“An acquaintance of Major Siverly’s. Grey is my name,” he added helpfully.

The man, middle-aged and possessed of a head like a cannonball, paused, blinking suspiciously. Grey wondered whether he’d ever met an Englishman—but of course he must have; Edward Twelvetrees had visited here.

“How does your honor come to be in the stable, eh?” The pitchfork stayed steady. Surely the idiot didn’t take him for a horse thief?

“The butler told me Major Siverly was here, of course.” Grey allowed a certain impatience to creep into his tone, all too aware that Siverly himself might come in at any moment. So much for his ambush! He’d just have to put the best face on it he could and inveigle Siverly into walking back to the house with him. Once out of pitchfork reach …

“Himself’s not here.”

“Yes, I noticed that. I’ll … um … look for him outside.” Before he could be forcibly escorted out with a pitchfork aimed at the seat of his breeches, he whirled on his heel and strode briskly toward the door. The groom came after him, but slowly.

He was mentally cursing his luck and trying to think how best to deal with Siverly—but was saved the effort, as Siverly was not in fact advancing on the stable. A paddock and a field lay between the stable and the little wood where the folly stood, and both were empty.

Grey said a bad word.

“Your honor?” said the groom, startled.

“Are all the horses in the stable?” he demanded, turning on the groom. The man eyed him narrowly, but the pitchfork was now resting tines on the ground, thank God. The groom scratched his head slowly.

“What would they be doing there, for all love? There’s Bessie and Clover out with the big wagon, and the gray mare and her colt with the others in the upper field, and—”

“Saddle horses, for God’s sake!”

“Oh, saddle horses, is it?” The groom was at last beginning to be moved by his urgency, and wrinkled his brow. He squinted off to the left, where Grey perceived several horses switching their tails in a distant field. “Well, there’s the four up there—that’s Richard Lionheart, and Istanbul, and Marco, and—”

“Will you just for God’s sake tell me if any are missing?” Grey’s urgency was taking on a sense of nightmare, the sort of dream where one strove to make progress through some sucking bog, only to encounter the walls of an endless maze.

“No, your honor.” Before the words were fully out of the groom’s mouth, Grey was striding back toward the folly, the sense of nightmare growing.

It wasn’t Siverly’s alarm at his presence that he’d sensed on the steps of the folly. It was acute, impending danger, a sense of harm. He was running now, ignoring the groom’s shout behind him.

He took the steps of the folly in two great strides, smelling it before he saw it, what he must have smelled faintly before, but so much stronger now, and his foot came down in the blood and slid out from under him. He waved his arms, staggering to keep his balance, and fetched up hard against the railing of the folly, breathless and choked with the smell of it, the whiff of death now full-blown and reeking at his feet.

24

Clishmaclaver

JAMIE HAD BORROWED A BOOK FROM PARDLOE’S LIBRARY, A pocket edition of Homer’s Iliad, in Greek. He’d not read Greek in some years, and thought perhaps to renew his acquaintance with the language, but distraction of mind was interfering with his concentration.

Not thus the lion glories in his might,

Nor panther braves his spotted foe in fight,

Nor thus the boar (those terrors of the plain;)

Man only vaunts his force, and vaunts in vain.

He’d last spoken Greek in Ardsmuir prison, trading bits of Aristophanes with Lord John over a makeshift supper of porridge and sliced ham, the rations being short even in the governor’s quarters, owing to a storm that had kept regular supplies from being delivered. There had been claret to wash it down with, though, and it had been a cordial evening. He’d taken care of the bits of business that needed to be done on behalf of the prisoners, and then they’d played chess, a long, drawn-out duel that had lasted nearly ’til dawn. Grey had won, at last, and had hesitated, glancing at the battered sofa in his office, clearly wondering whether he might offer Jamie the use of it, rather than send him back to the cells for an hour’s sleep before the prisoners rose.

Jamie had appreciated the thought, but it wouldn’t do, and he’d set his face impassively, bowed correctly, and bade Lord John good night, himself rapping on the doorframe to summon the dozing guard.

“Merde,” he said under his breath. He’d been sitting on the bench outside the inn, gazing down the road with the book open on his knee, for God knew how long. Now it had come on to rain, and wee drops stippled the page, brushing soft against his face.

He wiped the page hastily with his sleeve and went inside, putting the book in his pocket. Tom Byrd was sitting by the hearth, helping young Moira Beckett wind her fresh-dyed yarn. He’d been making sheep’s eyes at Moira, but at the sound of Jamie’s entrance, his head swiveled round like a compass needle.

Jamie shook his head slightly, and Tom grimaced, but then turned back to Moira.

“D’you know what time it is, Miss Beckett?” Tom asked politely.

“About half-three, so it is,” she replied, looking a little startled. Jamie suppressed a smile. She’d turned her head to look out the window at the light, just as Jamie had when Tom asked the question. The notion that anyone would not be able to know what time it was by the light was clearly foreign to her, but Tom was a Londoner bred and born, and thus never out of hearing of the bells of one church or another.

“I s’pose his lordship must be having a good visit with his friend,” Tom offered, looking to Jamie for confirmation.

“Aye, well, I hope he had a more cordial reception than I did.” Grey had left for Glastuig just after ten; it was no more than a half hour’s ride. Five hours was surely a portent of something, but whether it might be good news or bad …

He shook his head and went upstairs. He sat by the window and opened his book again, but could not bend either eye or mind to the tragedy of Hector’s ignominious death.

If it came to him having to go back to England with Grey’s body and deliver him to Pardloe … he might just take Quinn at his offer and run, he thought. But surely the wee fool would have been on his guard, knowing what had happened to him? After all—

He sat up straight, his eye catching the flicker of movement far down the road. It wasn’t Grey, though; it was a man on foot, half-running, with the hitching, lolloping gait of one forcing himself past his bodily limits.

He was down the stairs and out the door, Tom Byrd on his heels, by the time the runner came within hailing distance, and they rushed to him, supporting him.

Quinn was deathly pale, drenched in sweat, and gasping for breath.

“I think ye’d best come, Jamie. Your friend’s killed Major Siverly, and the constable’s after arresting him.”

THERE WAS A KNOT of people standing on the lawn, most of them gesticulating. There was a man in a sober cloth coat and good cocked hat who seemed to be in charge of the proceedings—Jamie supposed this must be the constable. Most of the other folk there were obviously the servants of the house, all talking at once and waving their arms. And in the midst of it all stood John Grey, looking vastly irritated.

He was disheveled, his hair coming out of its plait, and there were smears of mud on his uniform—Tom Byrd willna care for that, Jamie thought automatically. He was right; beside him, Tom gave a small squeak of outrage, and Jamie put his hand on the lad’s arm to keep him quiet.

Making his way cautiously toward the little knot of people, he kept out of sight as much as he might, until he should determine how best to be of help. From twenty feet away, he saw that Grey’s wrists were bound together in front of him and that the dark smears on his boots and breeks were blood, not dirt.

Grey was saying something, his voice pitched loud to be heard over the clishmaclaver, but Jamie couldn’t make out what he said. Grey turned away from the constable, shaking his head in disgust—and his eye caught Jamie’s. His face went from anger to calculation in an instant, and he made a brief, violent shooing gesture with one hand. “Go away,” it said, clear as day.

“What are they going to do with him?” Tom whispered urgently in Jamie’s ear.

“I dinna ken.” Jamie faded back a step or two into the shrubbery. “They’ve arrested him, Quinn said. Maybe they’ll take him to the local gaol.”

“They can’t do that!”

He glanced at Tom, whose round face was set in indignation, fists clenched at his sides.

“Aye, well, wait and see.” Thoughts were running through his mind, trying to make out what it was Grey wanted him to do.

“Go out where he can see ye, wee Byrd,” he said, narrowing his eyes at the scene. “They’ll let ye near him, I think, as ye’re his servant.”

Tom gave him a wild look, but then drew himself up and nodded manfully. He stepped out of the shrubbery and walked toward the group, and Jamie saw Grey’s expression of annoyance and anxiety ease a little. His own eased, as well; he’d guessed right, then.

There was a good bit of palaver and some shoving, the servants trying to keep Tom Byrd away from Grey. The young valet stood his ground, though, and Grey added his own insistence, scowling and gesturing at the constable with his bound hands. The constable looked slow and suspicious, but he had an air about him of authority; when he lifted a hand for silence, the magpie chatter ceased.

“You’re this man’s valet, ye say?” Jamie could just hear, above the patter of rain on the leaves and the servants’ muttering.

“I am, sir.” Tom Byrd bowed deeply. “Will you let me talk to him, please?”

The constable glanced from Tom Byrd to Grey, then back. He stood in thought for some moments, but then nodded.

“Aye, go ahead. You lot!” He lifted his chin imperiously at the servants. “I want to speak to the person who found the body.”

There was a general shifting and glancing to and fro, but then a maid stepped out of the throng, pushed by two of her fellow servants. She looked wild, her eyes showing white like a spooked horse, and her hands wrapped in her apron, strangling it.

“Was it you found your master, then? Go on, now, there’s naught to fear,” the constable said, in a tone that he probably thought was reassuring. He might as well have said that he proposed to take her straight to the hangman, for the maid wailed in terror and threw the mangled apron over her head.

One of the men with her appeared to be her husband, for he put an arm around her and stuck out his chin—trembling, but out, Jamie noted with approval—at the constable.