The Scottish Prisoner (Page 6)

The Scottish Prisoner (Lord John Grey #3)(6)
Author: Diana Gabaldon

Jamie closed his eyes briefly, drew a deep breath, and pulled his hand free.

“I think God had best look elsewhere, Quinn,” he said. “The blessing of Bride and Michael be on you. Goodbye.”

He turned and walked away, finding Augustus where he’d been left, peacefully cropping the tufts of wiry grass that grew between the rocks. He removed the hobbles, swung up into the saddle, and turned the horse’s head toward the trail. He hadn’t meant to look back but at the last minute glanced down toward the shepherd’s hut.

Quinn stood there in dark silhouette against the late-afternoon sun, a stick-jointed marionette with a nimbus of curls. He lifted a long-fingered hand and waved in farewell.

“See ye in Dublin town!” he called. “Stuart go bragh!” and his merry laugh followed Jamie down the steep track toward Helwater.

HE RODE DOWN from the fells, prey to an unsettling mix of emotions. Incredulity and impatience at Quinn’s fat-heided scheme, a weary dismay at the realization that the Jacobite Cause was still alive, if only faintly squirming, and irritation at Quinn’s attempt to inveigle him back into it. More than a bit of fear, if he was honest. And notwithstanding all that … joy at seeing Quinn again. It had been a long time since he’d seen the face of a friend.

“Bloody Irishman,” he muttered, but smiled nonetheless.

Would Quinn go away now? he wondered. The Irishman was as bullet-headed as most of his race and not likely to give up his scheme only because Jamie refused to help him with it. But he might well go and have a try at some other feckless candidate. Half of Jamie hoped to God that was the case. The other half wouldn’t mind talking to the man again, hearing what news he had about the others who’d left Culloden alive.

The muscle of his leg contracted suddenly, and a chill shivered over his skin as though a ghost paced by his stirrup. Augustus snorted, sensing his tension.

He clicked his tongue in reassurance, letting the horse pick his own way through the tricky footing of the trail. His heart was racing, and he tried to breathe deep and slow to calm it. Damn Quinn for bringing it back. He’d dream tonight, and a mixed feeling of dread and hope rose in him at the knowledge. Whose face would he see?

MUCH TO HIS ANNOYANCE, he dreamed of Charles Stuart. Drunk as usual, amiable as always, the prince reeled down a dark street somewhere at Jamie’s side, poking him now and then, blethering of this and that, grabbing his arm and giggling as he pointed out a row of heads mounted on spikes along a wall.

“Coimhead,” the man kept saying. “A Dhia coimhead am fear ud’ seall an dealbh a th’air aodann!” Look at that one, God, the look on its face.

“What are ye about?” Jamie demanded irritably. “Ye ken ye havena got the Gàidhlig.”

“Bheil e gu diofair,” replied Prince Tearlach. Does it matter?

Quinn, who had suddenly appeared from somewhere, seized Jamie’s arm with great strength, compelling him to stop.

“Coimhead nach ann oirre tha a ghruag aluinn?” Look—does she not have lovely hair?

Jamie had been trying not to look but did now and, surprised, saw that all the heads were women’s. He was holding a torch and raised it to see Geneva Dunsany’s face looking back at him, pale and composed, with black and empty eye sockets. From the corner of his eye, he could see that the next head had a wealth of curling light-brown hair; he dashed the torch onto the wet cobbles at his feet in order not to see and woke, heart pounding, to the sound of Charles’s drunken laughter.

It wasn’t, though. It was Hanks, laughing in his sleep, the sharp smell of beer and urine hanging in a cloud over his pallet; he’d pissed himself again. The moon was up, and the mice who lived in the loft were stirring; moonlight always made them venturesome. Hanks subsided into heavy breathing and Jamie could hear the tiny scratch of nails on the floor, the rustle of straw.

He threw back his blanket, determined not to go to sleep again until the dream had faded. But it had been a long day, and in spite of the cold, he dozed again.

Sleeping cold always gave him bad dreams. The new one had to do with Betty, and he woke from that in a cold sweat. Fumbling in the box that held his possessions, he found his rosary and sank back into the matted straw of his pallet, clinging to the wooden beads as though to a raft that might keep him afloat.


Not Good

Regimental Offices of the 46th Foot


MR. BEASLEY WAS DISTURBED ABOUT SOMETHING. THE AGE of Hal’s regimental clerk was an unknowable secret; he had looked just the same—ancient—ever since John Grey had first set eyes on him, a quarter century before. But those who knew him well could detect small fluctuations in his gray, peering countenance in times of stress, and Grey was seeing more and more of these subtle tremors of the jaw, the subterranean quiverings of eyelid, as Mr. Beasley turned over the pages of Charles Carruthers’s combustible packet with tidy, ink-stained fingers.

The elderly clerk was supposed to be making a list of the men indicted in the documents, those men whom Carruthers had known or suspected to have had dealings, financial or otherwise, with Major Gerald Siverly. Grey was supposed to be joining Hal and Harry Quarry—one of the regimental colonels and Hal’s oldest friend—for a discussion of strategy, but neither one had arrived yet, and Grey had wandered into Mr. Beasley’s clerk’s hole to borrow a book; the old man had a remarkable collection of French novels squirreled discreetly away in one of his cabinets.

Grey took down a copy of Abbé Prévost’s Manon Lescaut, and thumbed casually through the pages, watching Beasley covertly as he did so. He knew better than to ask; Mr. Beasley was the soul of discretion, that being only one of the attributes that made him invaluable to Hal, as he had been to the first earl of Melton, their father and the founder of the regiment.

The disturbance was growing worse. Mr. Beasley made to dip his pen but instead allowed it to hover above the ink-stand and then slowly set it down. He had turned over a page; now he turned it back and studied something upon it, thin lips compressed almost into invisibility.

“Lord John,” he said at last, and removed his spectacles to blink nearsightedly up at Grey.

“Yes, Mr. Beasley.” He put down Manon Lescaut at once and looked expectant.

“You have read these documents, I collect?”

“I have,” Grey said cautiously. “Perhaps not with the greatest attention to detail, but …”

“And His Grace has read them. What—if I may inquire—was his state of mind upon reading them?”

Grey considered. “Well, he didn’t break anything. He swore quite a bit in German, though.”

“Ah.” Mr. Beasley appreciated the significance of this point. He tapped spatulate fingertips upon his desk; he was perturbed. “Do you—would you describe him as having flown into a horrid passion?”

“I would,” Grey said promptly.

“But he did not mention anything … specific … with regard to these documents?” He glanced at the neat stack beside him.

“No …” Grey said slowly. Hal had certainly noted the Erse poem, if that’s what it was, but that sheet had not been given to Mr. Beasley; that couldn’t be what was disturbing the elderly clerk. He risked a question. “Have you noticed something?”

Mr. Beasley grimaced and turned the sheet around, facing Grey.

“There,” he said, placing a precise finger in the middle of the page. “Read that list of Major Siverly’s known associates, if you would be so kind.”

Grey obligingly sat down and bent his head over the sheet. Three seconds later his head snapped up and he stared at the clerk. “Jesus!”

“Yes,” said Mr. Beasley mildly. “I thought that, too. You don’t think he’s seen it?”

“I’m sure he hasn’t.”

They stared at each other for a moment, hearing the sound of footsteps coming down the corridor. Grey swallowed.

“Let me do it,” he said, and, taking the sheet, folded it hastily into his pocket, then rose to greet his brother.

HAL HAD A CARRIAGE waiting outside.

“We’re meeting Harry at Almack’s,” he said.

“What for? He’s not a member there, is he?” Harry was a clubbable man, but he was largely to be found at White’s Chocolate House, Hal’s own particular haunt in terms of coffeehouses, or at the Society for the Appreciation of the English Beefsteak, which was Grey’s favorite—a gentlemen’s club rather than a coffeehouse. There were occasional clashes between the patrons of White’s and those of Boodle’s or Almack’s; London coffeehouses inspired considerable loyalty.

“He’s not,” Hal said tersely. “But Bartholomew Halloran is.”

“And Bartholomew Halloran is …?”

“The adjutant of the Thirty-fifth.”

“Ah. And thus a source of information on Major Gerald Siverly, also of that regiment.”

“Quite. He’s a casual acquaintance of Harry’s; they play cards now and then.”

“I hope Harry’s wily enough to lose convincingly.” The carriage hit a pothole and lurched, flinging them heavily to the side. Hal saved himself by thrusting a foot hard into the opposite seat, between his brother’s legs. John, with equally good reflexes, grabbed the foot.

The coach swayed precariously for an instant but then righted itself, and they resumed their original positions.

“We should have walked,” Hal said, and made to stick his head out the window to call to the coachman. Grey seized him by the sleeve, though, and he looked at his brother in surprise.

“No. Just—no. Wait.”

Hal stared at him for a moment, but then lowered himself back to the seat.

“What is it?” he said. He looked wary but keen.

“This,” said Grey simply, and, reaching into his pocket, handed over the folded sheet. “Read the list of names in the middle.”

Hal took the sheet, frowning, and began to read. Grey counted in his head. Hal didn’t read quite as fast as he did.

Five … four … three … two … one …


“Well, yes.”

They looked at each other in silence for the length of several heartbeats.

“Of all the men Siverly could have had dealings with—” Hal said, and shook his head violently, like a man trying to rid himself of flies.

“It has to be, of course,” Grey said. “I mean, there aren’t two of them, surely.”

“Would that there were. But I doubt it. Edward Twelvetrees is not that common a name.”

“Once upon a time, there were three brothers,” Grey said, half under his breath. Hal had closed his eyes and was breathing heavily. “Reginald, Nathaniel … and Edward.”

Hal opened his eyes. “It’s always the youngest who gets the princess, isn’t it?” He gave John a lopsided smile. “Younger brothers are the very devil.”

AT THIS HOUR of the morning, Almack’s public rooms were bustling. Harry Quarry was chatting amiably with a thin, worried-looking man whom Grey recognized as a stockbroker. On seeing them, Harry took his leave with a word and stood up, coming to meet them.