“Really? What was her name?”

Quarry burst into a violent coughing fit that left his wig askew and his face empurpled.

“You hound,” he said hoarsely, tenderly patting his chest. “What the devil d’you want, anyway?”

Grey rocked back a little on the stool.

“Since you ask—Harry, do you happen to know how one Nathaniel Twelvetrees died?”

Quarry’s eyes flew open. He drew breath, and coughed some more. Grey waited patiently. Quarry frowned, pursed his lips, sighed—and gave up.

“Died following a duel with your brother. Not a secret; a good many people know.”

“You were there?” Grey asked, picking up something in Quarry’s voice. Harry grimaced.

“I was Melton’s second. Twelvetrees shot first, mind. Nicked Melton in the thigh, but he didn’t fall. Staggered a bit, to be sure, but managed his aim and got Twelvetrees through the upper arm. Honor satisfied all round, should have been the end of it and no one the wiser. Only Twelvetrees’s wound turned septic and he died.” Harry shrugged. “Bad luck. Still, Twelvetrees insisted on his deathbed that it was a private affair, and it stayed that way. They’re an honorable family. Cold as death,” he added fairly, “but honorable.”

“I don’t suppose I need ask what was the cause of the duel.” Grey rubbed a hand over his face, feeling suddenly tired. He needed a shave.

“No, I don’t suppose you do. I heard you’d seen the betting book at White’s.”

“Who told you that?”

“Oh, twenty or thirty people, so far.” Harry adjusted his wig, eyeing Grey. “Melton wasn’t one of them.”

“No, I don’t suppose he would be.” Grey made no attempt to disguise the edge in his voice. “Why did he challenge Twelvetrees? Obviously the duel happened after the wager was made. Dr. Longstreet told me Hal had wanted to fight Twelvetrees and the rest to begin with, but cooler heads prevailed—that would be you, perhaps, Harry?”

Quarry’s heavy brows went up.

“How do you know he challenged Twelvetrees, and not t’other way around?” Harry asked.

Grey shrugged. The choice of weapon had to have been Twelvetrees’s; Hal would always fight with a sword, if he could.

“Why did he do it after all? What did Twelvetrees do?”

“That,” Quarry said definitely, “is not my secret to tell. Ask your brother, if you want to know.”

Grey made a rude noise.

“I couldn’t get the name of his tailor out of him with a corkscrew in his present mood. Tell me this, then—did he tell you about the page from my father’s journal?”

Quarry’s eyes opened wide, startled and bloodshot.

“About what?”

“Oh, he didn’t.” Grey felt obscurely pleased at that. At least he wasn’t the only one excluded from Hal’s confidence. He stood up and shook his coat into order.

“All right, then. I’m going home. You know Percy Wainwright’s bought in?”

“God have mercy on his soul,” Quarry said, but the jest was automatic. He reached across and gripped Grey’s arm.

“John,” he said, his voice unexpectedly gentle, “leave it. Your father’s long dead.”

“Thank you, Harry,” Grey said, and meant it. He detached his arm from Quarry’s grip, patting his friend’s hand. “But I’m not,” he whispered, and went out.

He left his horse in the barracks stable and walked to Jermyn Street, managing by the exercise both to work out the kinks of riding and to ease his mind a little. If Hal thought he could be brushed off like an annoying insect, Hal could think again. Still, Hal hadn’t told Harry about the journal page, so it wasn’t only himself his brother was keeping secrets from. Harry had not been with the regiment much above a year—he’d come over from the Buffs—but he was one of Hal’s oldest friends.

At least he would have the upper hand in Germany, he thought. He was himself just as pleased by the change of orders; he liked many things about Germany—beer among them—and had numerous friends among the Prussians and their allies. And as Percy Wainwright did speak German, as well…The thought of Wainwright quite restored his good humor, and he swung whistling down the street and in at his mother’s gate.

He found Percy Wainwright with Olivia, a sempstress, the sempstress’s assistant, and Olivia’s maid, all in a state of hilarity over the fitting of Percy’s suit, which did not appear to be going well.

His first sight, in fact, was of Percy’s bum, clad in linen drawers and exposed to view as Percy bent to touch his toes, indicating a tendency of the so-far sleeveless and skirtless coat to pull across the back.

“You see?” Percy was saying. The women, seeing Grey in the doorway, burst into laughter.

“Well, yes, I do,” Grey said, endeavoring not to laugh himself, but failing, as Percy shot upright and whirled round, wide-eyed. Grey bowed, hand on heart. “Your servant, sir.”

“I fear you take me at a disadvantage, sir,” Percy said with mock dignity, whipping a pair of half-finished cream silk breeches off the settee and wrapping his loins in them.

If we were alone, I certainly would, Grey thought, and allowed some hint of this to show in his smile. Percy caught the hint; a higher color rose in his cheeks, already flushed. He held Grey’s eyes for a fraction of a second, his own alight with speculation—and acceptance—before joining in the general laughter.

br />

“Really? What was her name?”

Quarry burst into a violent coughing fit that left his wig askew and his face empurpled.

“You hound,” he said hoarsely, tenderly patting his chest. “What the devil d’you want, anyway?”

Grey rocked back a little on the stool.

“Since you ask—Harry, do you happen to know how one Nathaniel Twelvetrees died?”

Quarry’s eyes flew open. He drew breath, and coughed some more. Grey waited patiently. Quarry frowned, pursed his lips, sighed—and gave up.

“Died following a duel with your brother. Not a secret; a good many people know.”

“You were there?” Grey asked, picking up something in Quarry’s voice. Harry grimaced.

“I was Melton’s second. Twelvetrees shot first, mind. Nicked Melton in the thigh, but he didn’t fall. Staggered a bit, to be sure, but managed his aim and got Twelvetrees through the upper arm. Honor satisfied all round, should have been the end of it and no one the wiser. Only Twelvetrees’s wound turned septic and he died.” Harry shrugged. “Bad luck. Still, Twelvetrees insisted on his deathbed that it was a private affair, and it stayed that way. They’re an honorable family. Cold as death,” he added fairly, “but honorable.”

“I don’t suppose I need ask what was the cause of the duel.” Grey rubbed a hand over his face, feeling suddenly tired. He needed a shave.

“No, I don’t suppose you do. I heard you’d seen the betting book at White’s.”

“Who told you that?”

“Oh, twenty or thirty people, so far.” Harry adjusted his wig, eyeing Grey. “Melton wasn’t one of them.”

“No, I don’t suppose he would be.” Grey made no attempt to disguise the edge in his voice. “Why did he challenge Twelvetrees? Obviously the duel happened after the wager was made. Dr. Longstreet told me Hal had wanted to fight Twelvetrees and the rest to begin with, but cooler heads prevailed—that would be you, perhaps, Harry?”

Quarry’s heavy brows went up.

“How do you know he challenged Twelvetrees, and not t’other way around?” Harry asked.

Grey shrugged. The choice of weapon had to have been Twelvetrees’s; Hal would always fight with a sword, if he could.

“Why did he do it after all? What did Twelvetrees do?”

“That,” Quarry said definitely, “is not my secret to tell. Ask your brother, if you want to know.”

Grey made a rude noise.

“I couldn’t get the name of his tailor out of him with a corkscrew in his present mood. Tell me this, then—did he tell you about the page from my father’s journal?”

Quarry’s eyes opened wide, startled and bloodshot.

“About what?”

“Oh, he didn’t.” Grey felt obscurely pleased at that. At least he wasn’t the only one excluded from Hal’s confidence. He stood up and shook his coat into order.

“All right, then. I’m going home. You know Percy Wainwright’s bought in?”

“God have mercy on his soul,” Quarry said, but the jest was automatic. He reached across and gripped Grey’s arm.

“John,” he said, his voice unexpectedly gentle, “leave it. Your father’s long dead.”

“Thank you, Harry,” Grey said, and meant it. He detached his arm from Quarry’s grip, patting his friend’s hand. “But I’m not,” he whispered, and went out.

He left his horse in the barracks stable and walked to Jermyn Street, managing by the exercise both to work out the kinks of riding and to ease his mind a little. If Hal thought he could be brushed off like an annoying insect, Hal could think again. Still, Hal hadn’t told Harry about the journal page, so it wasn’t only himself his brother was keeping secrets from. Harry had not been with the regiment much above a year—he’d come over from the Buffs—but he was one of Hal’s oldest friends.

At least he would have the upper hand in Germany, he thought. He was himself just as pleased by the change of orders; he liked many things about Germany—beer among them—and had numerous friends among the Prussians and their allies. And as Percy Wainwright did speak German, as well…The thought of Wainwright quite restored his good humor, and he swung whistling down the street and in at his mother’s gate.

He found Percy Wainwright with Olivia, a sempstress, the sempstress’s assistant, and Olivia’s maid, all in a state of hilarity over the fitting of Percy’s suit, which did not appear to be going well.

His first sight, in fact, was of Percy’s bum, clad in linen drawers and exposed to view as Percy bent to touch his toes, indicating a tendency of the so-far sleeveless and skirtless coat to pull across the back.

“You see?” Percy was saying. The women, seeing Grey in the doorway, burst into laughter.

“Well, yes, I do,” Grey said, endeavoring not to laugh himself, but failing, as Percy shot upright and whirled round, wide-eyed. Grey bowed, hand on heart. “Your servant, sir.”

“I fear you take me at a disadvantage, sir,” Percy said with mock dignity, whipping a pair of half-finished cream silk breeches off the settee and wrapping his loins in them.

If we were alone, I certainly would, Grey thought, and allowed some hint of this to show in his smile. Percy caught the hint; a higher color rose in his cheeks, already flushed. He held Grey’s eyes for a fraction of a second, his own alight with speculation—and acceptance—before joining in the general laughter.

“Johnny! How quick you’ve been! I didn’t think you’d come ’til teatime.” Olivia waddled forward and went a-tiptoe, straining over her bulge to kiss his cheek. “Here, you try this coat. Perhaps it will fit you better.”

He felt his own face grow warm at the notion of publicly disrobing—even partially—in the presence of Percy Wainwright, but the latter was grinning at his discomfiture, and he allowed himself to be stripped of his uniform coat and waistcoat, though he did retain his shirt and breeches. Catching, as he did so, a brief glimpse of Percy, bare-legged and clad only in drawers, as the latter wrapped himself in Grey’s banyan, Olivia having evidently stolen this garment from his room.

Grey turned his back hastily, thrusting an arm randomly through what he hoped was the proper hole of the coat the sempstress held for him. The fabric was a heavy silk velvet of a midnight blue, and it was still warm from Percy’s body. He bit the inside of his cheek, and tasted blood.

The sempstress, herself flushed and laughing, but still attentive to business, was circling him with a bit of chalk and a calculating eye, making him raise and lower his arms, move to and fro. Breaking out in a dew of sweat, he bent over at her order, remembering too late that he’d worn the stained doeskin breeches for riding.

Further outbreaks of hilarity, this time at his expense, but he didn’t mind. He had a momentary qualm when the sempstress knelt at his feet to pin a waist seam, but she merely flushed a little more and cast her eyes modestly down, her shy smile making it evident that she considered it a personal compliment; she was a handsome young woman, and likely had had such before.

Percy Wainwright knew where the compliment lay. He laughed with the girls, teasing and making comments, but his gaze kept returning to Grey, alive with interest. He had left off his wig, and at one point, he casually ran a hand through his short-clipped hair, as though to order the dark curls, and glanced at Grey.

Did you get it, then? his upraised eyebrow said.

Grey raised his own.

Percy grinned at him, but glanced away a moment too soon, and when he looked back now and then, Percy was always engaged in conversation with Olivia, a maid, or Tom—who had arrived belatedly and was experiencing loudly audible mortification over Grey’s breeches.

What was this? he wondered. He was not mistaken in the attraction; he knew that for certain. And he had not had any indication during their previous conversations that Percy was either light-minded or flirtatious in the least. Perhaps it was only caution, he told himself—a reluctance, lest anyone notice what was going on between them.

When they had at last resumed their usual garments and the sempstress and her assistant departed with armloads of blue velvet, he made occasion to brush shoulders with Percy at the door of the drawing room.

“Melton tells me I am to have the honor to familiarize you with the ways of the regiment, your duties and the like. If you have time this afternoon…?” For the first time, he regretted staying in his mother’s house. Though officers’ quarters in the barracks would not have been much better. How far away were Percy’s rooms?

“I should like that more than I can say,” Percy replied. “But I am, alas, engaged.” The regret in his voice seemed real, but Grey experienced it as a small blow, nonetheless.

“Perhaps tomorrow—” he began, but saw Percy grimace in apology.

“My engagement is in—in Bath,” he said quickly. “I shall not be back for two or three days. I should in fact have left this morning—I will be very late—save that I hoped to have a chance of seeing you before I left,” he added softly. He looked directly at Grey as he said this, and Grey felt some easing of his disappointment, if not his baser urges.

Bath, my eye, he thought. But after all, the man was surely entitled to his privacy, if he did not wish to say what his engagement was. Percy owed him nothing—yet.

“Find me upon your return, then,” he said. He clapped Percy briefly on the shoulder. “Safe journey.” He turned, and without looking back, went out in search of some privacy of his own.

Chapter 10

Salle des Armes

He returned in the evening, to discover that the dowager countess had likewise come back from her excursion. He went to her boudoir to pay his respects, and found her cheerful, if a little pale from her journey, and with a few lines of worry round her eyes. These, he took to be the natural effects of her discovery of the extent of Olivia’s ambitions as a wedding planner.

He did his best to distract her, therefore, with the story of the afternoon’s fitting, nobly sacrificing his own dignity in order to include his stained breeches and Percy’s drawers.

“Oh, dear, oh, dear—poor Tom!” The countess made small snorting noises. “He does take his position very seriously, God help the poor lad. I think you must be a very great trial to him.”

“Yes, he was in hopes that Percy Wainwright might be a macaroni—you could quite see visions of embroidered waist coats and clocked silk stockings dance in his head—but I was obliged to dash his hopes, alas.”

The countess smiled afresh at that, but her voice was serious.

“Do you like Percy Wainwright?”

“Yes,” he answered, rather surprised that she would ask. “Yes, we get on quite well together. Common interests, and the like.” He trusted that no hint of just how common those interests were showed on his face. He cleared his throat and added, “I like the general, too, Mother—very much.”

“Oh, do you?” Her face softened. “I’m glad of that, John. He’s a very fine man—and so kind.” She pursed her lips then, though still with a look of amusement. “I am not sure your brother is quite as taken with him. But then, Hal is always so suspicious, poor boy. I really think sometimes that he trusts no one but you and his wife. Well, and Harry Quarry, to be sure.”

The mention of his brother reminded Grey. In the flurry of his return from Helwater, the preparations for the wedding, and the regiment’s new orders, he had momentarily forgotten. But surely Hal had had sufficient time to speak with her by now.

“Mother—did Hal mention to you the page from Father’s journal that we discovered in his office?”

If he’d thought her slightly pale before, he’d been mistaken. He’d seen her pale with fatigue and white with fury. Now, though, the blood washed from her face in an instant, and the look of fear in her eyes was unmistakable.

“Did he?” he repeated, trying to sound casual. “I rather wondered whether perhaps you had had one, too. Delivered by post, perhaps?”

She looked up at him, her eyes quick and fierce.

“What makes you think that?”

“The way you spoke of James Fraser when I departed for Helwater,” he told her frankly. “Something must have disturbed you quite suddenly, for you to take such note of the man; you have known of him for years. But since the only thing you do know of him is that he was once a prominent Jacobite…?” He paused delicately, but she said nothing. Her eyes were still blazing like a burning glass, but she wasn’t looking at him any longer. Whatever she was looking at lay a good way beyond him.

“Yes,” she said at last, her voice remote. She blinked once and looked at him, her gaze still sharp, but no longer burning. “Your father always said you were the cleverest of the boys.” This wasn’t said in a complimentary tone. “As for ‘was once a prominent Jacobite’—there is no ‘was’ about it, John. Believe me, once a Papist, always a Papist.”

He forbore pointing out that “Papist” and “Jacobite” were not invariably the same thing. When politics entered the room, principle often flew out the window. While most Papists had indeed supported the Stuart cause, there were not a few Protestants who had as well, either from personal opportunism or from a sincere conviction that James Stuart was the divinely appointed sovereign of Great Britain, his religion notwithstanding.

“So you did receive a page from that journal,” he said, making it a statement, rather than a question. “May I see it?”

“I burnt it.”


Tags: Diana Gabaldon Lord John Grey Suspense
Source: www.StudyNovels.com