The Scottish Prisoner (Page 56)

The Scottish Prisoner (Lord John Grey #3)(56)
Author: Diana Gabaldon

“I don’t know how he is with a sword,” Hal went on, frowning, “but I’ve seen the way he moves, and he’s got a six-inch reach on Twelvetrees, at least.”

“To the best of my knowledge—which is reasonably good—he hasn’t had any sort of weapon in his hands for the last seven or eight years. I don’t doubt his reflexes”—a fleeting memory of Fraser’s catching him as he fell on a dark Irish road, the scream of frogs and toads in his ears—“but it’s you who is constantly prating on at me about the necessity of practice, is it not?”

“I never prate,” Hal said, offended. He twiddled the daisy’s stem between his fingers, shedding white petals on the rug. “If I let him fight Twelvetrees and Twelvetrees kills him … that would cause trouble for you, he being nominally under your protection as the officer in charge of his parole.”

Grey felt a sudden clench in the belly. “I should not consider damage to my reputation the worst result arising from that situation,” he said, imagining—all too well—Jamie Fraser dying in some bleak dawn, his pumping blood hot on Grey’s guilty hands. He took a gulp of wine, not tasting it.

“Well, neither would I,” Hal admitted, putting down the tattered stem. “I’d rather he wasn’t killed. I like the man, stubborn and contentious as he is.”

“To say nothing of the fact that he has rendered us a signal service,” Grey said, with a noticeable edge to his voice. “Have you any notion what it cost him to tell us?”

Hal gave him a quick, hard look, but then glanced away and nodded.

“Yes, I have,” he said quietly. “You know the oath of loyalty that they made the Jacobite prisoners swear—those who were allowed to live?”

“Of course I do,” Grey muttered, rolling the cup restlessly between his palms. It had been his duty to administer that oath to incoming prisoners at Ardsmuir.

May I never see my wife and children, father, mother, or relations. May I be killed in battle as a coward and lie without Christian burial in a strange land, far from the graves of my forefathers and kindred …

He could only thank God that Fraser had been in the prison already for some time when Grey was appointed governor. He hadn’t had to hear Jamie speak that oath or see the look on his face when he did so.

“You’re right,” Hal said, sighing deeply and reaching for a biscuit. “We owe him. But if he should kill Twelvetrees—there’s no chance of it stopping with a mere drawing of blood, I don’t suppose? No, of course not.” He began to pace to and fro slowly, nibbling the biscuit.

“If he kills Twelvetrees, there’ll be the devil to pay and no pitch hot, as the sailors say. Reginald Twelvetrees won’t rest until he’s got Fraser imprisoned for life, if not hanged for murder. And we won’t fare much better.” He grimaced and brushed biscuit crumbs from his fingers, plainly reliving the scandal that had followed his duel with Nathaniel Twelvetrees, twenty years before. This one would be worse, much worse, with the Greys accused of failing to stop a prisoner under their control—and if they were not openly accused of using Fraser as a pawn to accomplish a private vengeance, certainly that would be said privately.

“We have used him. Badly,” Grey said, answering the thought, and his brother grimaced again.

“Depends on how you look at the results,” Hal said, but his voice lacked conviction.

Grey rose, stretching his back.

“No,” he said, and was surprised to find that he felt very calm. “No, the results may justify it—but the means … I think we must admit the means.”

Hal swung round to look at him, one brow raised. “And if we do?”

“Then you can’t stop him, if he’s decided to fight. Or not ‘can’t,’ ” Grey corrected himself. “But you won’t. It’s his choice to make.”

Hal snorted a little, but didn’t disagree. “Do you think he does want it?” he asked after a moment. “He intimates that he threw Twelvetrees’s treason in his face publicly to stop his machinations before they could go too far—and he certainly accomplished that much. But do you think he foresaw that Twelvetrees would call him out? Well, yes, I suppose he did,” Hal answered himself. “Twelvetrees couldn’t do otherwise. But does Fraser want this duel?”

Grey saw what his brother was getting at and shook his head. “You mean that we might be doing him a favor by preventing his fighting. No.” He smiled affectionately at his brother and put down his cup. “It’s simple, Hal. Put yourself in his place, and think what you’d do. He may not be an Englishman, but his honor is equal to yours, and so is his determination. I could not pay him a greater compliment.”

“Hmmph,” said Hal, and flushed a little. “Well. Had you better take him to the salle des armes tomorrow, then? Give him a bit of practice before he meets Twelvetrees? Supposing he does choose swords.”

“I don’t think there will be time.” The feeling of calm was spreading; he felt almost as though he floated in the warm light of fire and candles, as though it bore him up.

Hal was staring at him suspiciously.

“What do you mean by that?”

“I thought it out this afternoon, and reached the same conclusions that we have just come to. Then I sent a note to Edward Twelvetrees, demanding satisfaction for his insult to me at the club.”

Hal’s jaw dropped.

“You … what?”

Grey reached into the pocket of his waistcoat and pulled out the crumpled note.

“And he’s replied. Six o’clock tomorrow morning, in the gardens behind Lambeth Palace. Sabers. Odd, that. I should have thought he’d be a rapier man.”

32

Duello

MUCH TO HIS SURPRISE, HE SLEPT THAT NIGHT. A DEEP, dreamless sleep from which he woke quite suddenly in the dark, aware that the day was coming.

An instant later, the door opened, and Tom Byrd came in with a candle and his tea tray, a can of hot shaving water balanced in the crook of his arm.

“Will you have some breakfast, me lord?” he asked. “I brought rolls with butter and jam, but Cook thinks you should have a proper cooked breakfast. To keep up your strength, like.”

“Thank Cook for me, Tom,” Grey said, smiling. He sat up on the side of the bed and scratched himself. He felt surprisingly well.

“No,” he said, taking the roll to which Tom had just applied a lavish knifeful of apricot preserve, “this will do.” If he were facing a daylong battle, he’d tuck solidly into the ham and eggs, black pudding, and anything else on offer—but whatever happened today wouldn’t last more than a few minutes, and he wanted to feel light on his feet.

Tom laid out his clothes and stirred up the shaving soap while Grey ate, then the valet turned round, razor in hand and a determined look on his face.

“I’m a-going with you, me lord. This morning.”

“You are?”

Tom nodded, jaw set.

“Yes, I am. I heard the duke and you talk about it last night, saying he oughtn’t to be there, and that’s all well and good; I see that him being there would just make more trouble. I can’t second you, of course. But somebody ought to—to be there, at least. So I’m going.”

Grey looked down into his tea, quite moved.

“Thank you, Tom,” he said, when he could trust his voice. “I shall be very happy to have you with me.”

IN FACT, he was glad of Tom’s company. The young man didn’t speak, seeing that Grey was in no mood for conversation, but sat opposite him in the carriage, Grey’s best cavalry saber balanced carefully on his knees.

He would have a second, though. Hal had asked Harry Quarry to meet Grey at the ground.

“Not only for moral support,” Hal had said. “I want there to be a witness.” His mouth thinned. “Just in case.”

Grey had wondered, in case of what? Some chicanery on the part of Twelvetrees? The sudden appearance of the Archbishop of Canterbury, roused by the noise? He didn’t ask, though, fearing that the “just in case” Hal had in mind involved having someone present to memorize Grey’s dying words—unless you took the blade through the eye or the roof of the mouth, you usually did have a few moments while bleeding to death in which to compose your epitaph or send an elegantly phrased farewell to your beloved.

He thought of that now and wondered briefly just what Jamie Fraser would do, if made the recipient of some particularly florid sentiment of a personal nature, with Grey safely out of neck-breaking range. The thought made him grin. He caught sight of Tom’s shocked expression and hastily erased the grin, replacing it with a grave look more suitable to the occasion.

Maybe Harry would write his epitaph. In verse.

Master me … Damn, he never had found the other line to his couplet. Or did he need two lines? Me/be—that rhymed. Maybe it was two lines, not one. If it was really two lines he had, then he clearly needed two more to make a quatrain …

The carriage pulled to a halt.

He emerged into a fresh, cool dawn and stood still, breathing, while Tom made his way out, handling the sword gingerly in its scabbard. There were two other carriages pulled up, waiting under the dripping trees; it had rained in the night, though the sky had cleared.

The grass will be wet. Bad footing.

Little jolts of electricity were running through him, tightening his muscles. The feeling reminded him—vividly—of his experience of being shocked by an electric eel the year before, and he paused to stretch, easing the tightness in chest and arm. It was the bloody eel that had led to his last duel, the one in which Nicholls was killed. At least if he killed Twelvetrees this morning, it would be on purpose …

Not if.

“Come on,” he said to Tom, and they walked past the other carriages, nodding to the coachmen, who returned their salutes, sober-faced. The horses’ breath rose steaming.

The last time he had been here, it was for a garden party to which his mother had required him to escort her.

Mother … Well, Hal would tell her if … He put the thought aside. It didn’t do to think too much.

The big wrought-iron gates were closed and padlocked, but the small man-gate beside them was open. He passed through and walked toward the open ground on the far side of the garden, his heels ringing on the wet flagstones.

Best fight in stocking feet, he thought—no, barefoot, and then came out from under an archway covered with climbing roses into the open ground. Twelvetrees stood at the far side, under some kind of tree flocked with white blossoms. Grey was interested—and relieved—to see that Reginald Twelvetrees was not with his brother. He recognized Joseph Honey, a captain of the Lancers, who was evidently Twelvetrees’s second, and a man with his back turned, who from his dress—and the box by his feet—appeared to be a surgeon. Apparently, Twelvetrees planned to survive, if wounded.

Well, he would, wouldn’t he? he thought, almost absently. He was already beginning the withdrawal from conscious thought, his body relaxing, easing, rising into eagerness for the fight. He felt well, very well. The western sky had changed to a luminous violet, the final stars almost gone. Behind him, the eastern sky had gone to pink and gold; he felt the breath of dawn on the back of his neck.