The Scottish Prisoner (Page 63)

The Scottish Prisoner (Lord John Grey #3)(63)
Author: Diana Gabaldon

He knew the lady’s maid slightly, from his visits to Helwater, and while she was a fine-looking young woman, she was distinctly … well, common. Fraser’s first wife had been distinctly uncommon.

“Christ, Sassenach. I need ye.”

He felt shocked—and rather disapproving. He was more shocked still to realize this and did his best to dismiss the feeling; it wasn’t his business to be shocked, and even if it were … well, it had been a very long time since Fraser’s wife had died, and he was a man. And an honorable one. Better to marry than burn, they say, he thought cynically. I wouldn’t know.

“I wish you every happiness,” he said, very formal. They had come to a stop near the Alexandra Gate. The night air was soft, full of the scent of tree sap and chimney smoke and the distant reeks of the city. He realized with a lesser shock that he felt very hungry—and, with a mingled sense of shame and resignation, that he was pleased to be alive.

They were more than late for supper.

“You’d best send for a tray,” Grey said, as they climbed the marble steps. “I’ll have to tell Hal what Bowles said, but there’s no need for you to be involved any further. In any of this.”

“Is there not?” Fraser looked at him, serious in the light of the lantern that hung by the door. “Ye’ll be going to speak wi’ Reginald Twelvetrees, will ye not?”

“Oh, yes.” The thought of that necessity had been pushed to the back of his mind during the recent conversation but had not left him; it hung like a weight suspended by a spider’s thread; Damocles’ sword. “Tomorrow.”

“I’ll go with ye.” The Scotsman’s voice was quiet but firm.

Grey heaved a deep sigh and shook his head.

“No. I thank you … Mr. Fraser,” he said, and tried to smile at the formality. “My brother will second me.”

36

Teind

THE GREY BROTHERS WENT THE NEXT MORNING TO PAY their call on Reginald Twelvetrees. They left, grim and silent, and came back the same way, Grey going out to the conservatory, Hal to his den of papers, speaking to no one.

Jamie had some sympathy for the Greys—and for the Twelvetrees brothers, come to that—and, finding his favorite chair in the library, took out his rosary and said a few decades for the eventual peace of all souls concerned. There were, after all, many situations that simply had to be handed over to God, as no human agency was capable of dealing with them.

He found himself losing his place, though, distracted by his memory of the Greys going off together, shoulder-to-shoulder, to face what must be faced. And the thought of Reginald Twelvetrees, privately mourning two lost brothers.

He had lost his own brother very young; Willie had been eleven when he died of the smallpox—Jamie, six. He didn’t think of Willie much, but the ache of his absence was always there, along with the other scars on his heart left when someone was torn away. He envied the Greys their possession of each other.

Thought of Willie, though, reminded him of another William, and his heart lifted a little with the thought. If life stole dear ones from you, sometimes it gave you others. Ian Murray had become his blood brother after Willie died; sometime he would see Ian again, and meanwhile the knowledge of his presence in the world—looking after things at Lallybroch—was a true comfort. And his son …

When this was over—and pray God it would be soon—he would see William again. Be with him. He might—

“Sir.”

At first, he didn’t realize that it was himself the butler meant. But Nasonby repeated, “Sir,” more insistently, and when he looked up, the butler presented his silver tray, upon which reposed a sheet of rough paper sealed with a daub of candle wax and marked with the print of a broad thumb.

He took it with a nod of thanks and, putting his rosary away, brought the letter upstairs to his room. By the rainy light from the window, he opened it and found a note penned with a careful elegance, much at odds with its crude materials.

Shéamais Mac Bhrian, the salutation read. The rest was in the Irish, too, but was simple enough for him to understand:

For the love of God and Mary and Patrick, come to me now.

Tobias Mac Gréagair,

of the Quinns of Portkerry

At the bottom of the page was drawn a neat line with several boxes perched atop it, and below it written “Civet Cat Alley.” One of the boxes had an “X” marked through it.

An extraordinary feeling ran through him, a cold grue that fell over him like an icy blanket. This wasn’t merely Quinn’s usual drama—still less the intended mischief of his note denouncing Grey as a murderer. The simplicity of it, plus the fact that Quinn had signed it with his formal name, carried an undeniable urgency.

He was halfway down the stairs when he met Lord John, coming up.

“Where is Civet Cat Alley?” he asked abruptly. Grey blinked, glanced at the paper in Jamie’s hand for an instant, then said, “In the Rookery—the Irish quarter. I’ve been there. Shall I take you?”

“I—” He started to say that he would go alone, but he knew nothing of London. If he went on foot, asking his way, it would take a great while. And he had a deep certainty that there was not a great while to spare.

He was prey to the most profound anxiety. Was Quinn threatened with imminent arrest? If so, he should certainly not take Grey to him, but … Or it might be that the Jacobite plotters, learning that they were betrayed, had decided that it was Quinn who had betrayed them. Oh, Jesus. If that were the case—

Yet something in the dark cavern of his heart gave off a metallic echo, a note of doom, small and inexorable as the chime of Grey’s pocket watch. Ticking off the moments of Quinn’s life.

“Yes,” he said abruptly. “Now.”

OF COURSE he had known, from the moment the note was put into his hand. But still, he urged the carriage on by force of will and, in Civet Cat Alley, went in to the house with heart hammering and scarcely able to breathe. He seized a young slattern with a baby in her arms in the first room he came to and demanded the whereabouts of Tobias Quinn.

“Upstairs,” she said, affronted but frightened of his size and his ferocity. “The fourth floor back. What are ye wantin’ wit’ him?” she added in a bawl after him, but he was pounding up the stairs to what he knew was there, leaving Grey to deal with the gathering crowd of curious, half-hostile Irish who had followed the carriage through the streets.

The door was unlocked and the room orderly and peaceful, save for the blood.

Quinn had lain down on his bed, fully clothed save for his coat, which was neatly folded at the foot of the bed, the checkered silk outermost. He had not cut his throat but had turned back his cuff with great care and cut his wrist, which dangled over the Cupán, set on the floor beneath. The blood had overflowed and run red across the sloping floor almost to the door, like an unfurled carpet laid for royalty. And neatly, as neatly as a man could print with a finger dipped in his own blood, he had written the word “TEIND” on the wall above his shabby cot. A tithe to hell.

Jamie stood, trying not to breathe, though his chest heaved with the need for air.

“May God rest his soul,” said Grey’s voice, quiet behind him. “Is that it? The cup?”

Jamie nodded, unable to speak for the glut of grief and guilt that filled him. Grey had come beside him, to look. He shook his head, gave a little sigh, and, saying, “I’ll get Tom Byrd,” left Jamie alone.

37

Sole Witness

Inchcleraun

QUINN COULD NOT BE LAID TO REST IN CONSECRATED ground, of course. Still, Abbot Michael had offered the aid of some of the brothers for the burial. Jamie declined this offer—though with gratitude—and with the wooden coffin perched on the sledge that the monks used to fetch home peats from the moss-hag, he set off across the bog, a rope round his shoulder and his burden bumping and floating by turns behind him.

When they had reached the rocky small hill in the middle of the bog, he took up the wooden spade Brother Ambrose had given him and began to dig.

Sole witness, sole mourner. He had told the Grey brothers that he would come alone to Ireland to bury Quinn. They had looked at each other, their faces reflecting the same thought, and had made neither objection nor condition. They knew he would come back.

Others had seen the body, but he knew he was the sole true witness to Quinn’s death. God knew he understood this death as few others could. Knew what it was to have lost the meaning of your life. Had God not bound him to the earth with the ties of flesh and blood, he might well have come to such an end himself. Might come to it now, were it not for those same ties.

The soil was rocky and hard-packed, but only for the first few inches. Below that was a rich, soft earth of lake silt and decayed peat moss, and the grave opened easily, deepening with the rhythm of his shoveling.

Teind. Which of them was it who was meant to be the tithe to hell? Quinn, or him? He supposed Quinn had meant himself, for surely he expected to go to hell, as a suicide. But the nagging thought recurred: Why leave the word written there in his blood? Was it confession … or accusation? Surely if Quinn had known what Jamie had done, he would have written “fealltóir” Traitor. And yet the man was an Irishman, and therefore poetical by nature. “Teind” carried a good bit more weight, as a word, than did “fealltóir.”

The day was warm, and after a bit he took off his breeches and a little later his shirt, working nak*d to the air, wearing nothing but sandals and a handkerchief bound round his brow to keep the sweat from running into his eyes. There was no one to see his scars, no one but Quinn, and he was welcome.

It was late when at last he’d made the grave square and seemly. Deep enough that the water began to seep into the hole at the bottom, deep enough that no digging fox would scrabble at the coffin lid. Would the coffin and the body rot at once? he wondered. Or would the dark-brown water of the bog preserve Quinn as it had once preserved the thrice-killed man with the gold ring on his finger?

He glanced up the slope at that other unmarked grave. At least Quinn would not lie alone.

He’d brought the cup, the Cupán Druid riogh. It lay wrapped in his cloak, awaiting restoration. To whom? Beyond asking whether the cup was the Cupán Druid riogh, Grey had never mentioned it again. Neither had the abbot asked after it. Jamie realized that the thing was given into his hands, to do with as he wished. The only thing he wished was to get rid of it.

“Lord, let this cup pass away,” he muttered, dragging the coffin to the lip of the grave. He gave it a tremendous shove and it shot forward, falling with a loud crunk! into the earth. The effort left him trembling, and he stood for a moment gasping, wiping his face with the back of his hand. He checked to see that the lid had not come off and that the coffin had not burst or turned sideways in its fall, and then once more took up the spade.

The sun was dropping toward the horizon, and he worked fast, not wanting to risk being stranded on the islet for the night. The air cooled, and the midges came out, and he paused to put his shirt on. The light came in low and flat now, gilding the drifting clouds, and the dark surface of the bog glimmered below like gold and jet. He took up the spade again, but before he could resume his shoveling, he heard a sound that made him turn round.