Hal grimaced and John nodded understanding. Neither one of them desired to speak with Symington at the moment. They stood silent, waiting. Sure enough, the steps came to a halt, and a fist thundered on the panels of the door. Symington was as brutal of manner as of appearance, resembling nothing so much as a dyspeptic boar.

Another thunderous assault on the door, a moment’s pause, and Symington uttered a muffled oath and limped off.

“He’ll be back,” Hal said, under his breath, and took his cloak from its peg by the door. “Come with me to White’s; we’ll talk on the way.”

Grey thrust his arms into his greatcoat and a moment later they had escaped into the street, Hal having instructed Mr. Beasley to tell Colonel Symington that Lord Melton had gone to Bath.

“Bath?” Grey asked, as they exited. “At this time of year?” It was no more than half-past three, yet twilight was louring. The pavement was dark with wet and the air thick with the scent of oncoming snow.

Hal waved off his waiting carriage, and turned the corner.

“Anywhere closer, and he’d follow me there. Say what you will of the man, he’s damned persistent.” That was said with grudging respect; persistence was Symington’s chief military virtue, and not a mean one. In more social situations, it was somewhat trying.

“What does he want?”

Grey asked only for the sake of delaying discussion, and was not surprised to receive only a moody shrug from Hal. His brother appeared no more eager to resume their conversation than he was, and they walked for half a mile or so in silence, each alone with his thoughts.

Grey’s own thoughts were a jumble, veering from anticipation and curiosity at the thought of Percy Wainwright to concern at his brother’s obvious agitation. Over all of it, though, was the image of the page he had held so briefly in his hands.

He forced all other thought from his mind, concentrating on remembering, committing the words he had read to memory. He still felt the shock of Hal’s throwing the paper into the fire, and could not bear the thought that those words of his father’s, pedestrian as they might be, should be lost to him. The duke’s journals were no secret, and yet he had read them secretly, abstracting one at a time and smuggling each volume to his room, returning them to their shelf, careful that no one should see.

He could not have said why it seemed important to keep this postmortem relationship with his father private. Only that it had been.

He had more or less succeeded in fixing at least the substance of the vanished page in memory, when Hal finally hunched his shoulders and spoke abruptly.

“There has been talk. Regarding conspiracies.”

“When is there not? Which particular conspiracy concerns you?”

“Not me, so much.” Hal settled his hat more firmly, bending his head into the wind. “And it has not yet blown up into open scandal, but it almost certainly will—and soon.”

“I don’t doubt it,” Grey observed caustically. “There hasn’t been a decent scandal since Christmas. Who does this one involve?”

“A sodomite conspiracy to undermine the government by assassination of selected ministers.”

Grey felt a tightening of the belly, but replied casually. It was not the first time he had heard of such a notion; sodomitical associations and conspiracies were a standby of street criers and Fleet Street hacks whenever news became too slow.

“And why does this concern you?”

Hal fixed his eyes on the slimy cobbles.

“Us. It is a thing that was said. Of—of Father.” The word struck Grey in the pit of the stomach, like a pebble from a sling. He was not sure he had ever heard Hal use the word “Father” any time in the last fifteen years.

“That he was a sodomite?” Grey said, incredulous. Hal drew a deep breath, but seemed to relax a bit.

“No. Not in so many words. Nor was it—thank God—a popular rumor. Only random accusations at the time of his death, made by members of the Society—such accusations were common, thrown at almost every man of any visibility connected with the South Sea Bubble. The scandal was blamed on ‘companies of sodomites’—though God knows it was blamed on every other group, interest, or person anyone could think of, as well. But the Society was prominent at the time, and sodomitical conspiracies were their particular obsession.”

“The Society?” Grey said blankly. “Which Society is this?”

“I forgot. You would not have been old enough to hear much at the time—”

“Damned little, in Aberdeen.” Grey made no attempt to keep an edge of bitterness from his voice, and his brother glanced sharply at him.

“Which is precisely why you were sent there,” Hal said, his voice level. “In any case, it is the Society for the Reformation of Manners to which I refer; you have heard of them?”

“I have, yes.” Angry and unsettled, Grey was making no effort to hide his feelings, and let distaste and contempt show in his voice. “Prigs and puritans, who will not acknowledge their own base urges, but find delight—and release, no doubt—in accusations of corruption, in blackening the characters of innocent men. They are—”

Hal put a restraining hand on his arm again—no more than a touch, this time—to keep him from speaking further, as two chairmen went by at the trot, their heads wreathed in white smoke from their panting breath.

The cold and twilight kept many folk indoors, but there were those whose livelihoods compelled them to the streets, and as they approached St. James Street, there began to be more of them. A balladeer, chestnut sellers, apple-women crying the virtues of their wizened fruit. Grey saw his brother scrutinize each person they passed, as though he suspected them of something.

“Captain Michael Bates is thought to be deeply involved,” Hal said at last. “The general told me of the matter after you and Wainwright had left yesterday; Bates’s father is General Ezekial Bates—long retired, but an intimate of General Stanley’s.”

“Ah,” Grey said. “I see.” He felt unsettled still, vaguely alarmed, pointlessly angry—but this intelligence relieved his mind a little. At least now he knew why the matter had come to Hal’s attention. “And the other men you mentioned—Otway and Ffoulkes?”

“Otway is a private soldier in the Eleventh Infantry, a nobody. Ffoulkes is a reasonably well-known solicitor in Lincoln’s Inn.”

“How are these men connected?”

“Through Bates.”

Captain Bates and Ffoulkes had met, according to General Stanley, when Ffoulkes had handled a minor matter of business for the captain’s family. Otway had evidently met Bates in a tavern near Temple Stairs, formed an unwholesome connexion with him, and then later been introduced to Ffoulkes, though the general did not know the circumstances.

“Indeed,” said Grey, thinking of the bog-houses near Lincoln’s Inn, a spot much patronized by both lawyers and mollies. “This…association is what they refer to as a ‘company of sodomites’? It seems lacking in both membership and organizing principles, I think.”

Hal snorted a little; his breath purled white in the winter air.

“Oh, there’s more. Our friend Ffoulkes, it seems, has a French wife. Who in turn has two brothers. One of these brothers is a notorious pederast—notorious even by French standards—while the other is a colonel in the French army.”

Grey grunted in surprise.

br />

Hal grimaced and John nodded understanding. Neither one of them desired to speak with Symington at the moment. They stood silent, waiting. Sure enough, the steps came to a halt, and a fist thundered on the panels of the door. Symington was as brutal of manner as of appearance, resembling nothing so much as a dyspeptic boar.

Another thunderous assault on the door, a moment’s pause, and Symington uttered a muffled oath and limped off.

“He’ll be back,” Hal said, under his breath, and took his cloak from its peg by the door. “Come with me to White’s; we’ll talk on the way.”

Grey thrust his arms into his greatcoat and a moment later they had escaped into the street, Hal having instructed Mr. Beasley to tell Colonel Symington that Lord Melton had gone to Bath.

“Bath?” Grey asked, as they exited. “At this time of year?” It was no more than half-past three, yet twilight was louring. The pavement was dark with wet and the air thick with the scent of oncoming snow.

Hal waved off his waiting carriage, and turned the corner.

“Anywhere closer, and he’d follow me there. Say what you will of the man, he’s damned persistent.” That was said with grudging respect; persistence was Symington’s chief military virtue, and not a mean one. In more social situations, it was somewhat trying.

“What does he want?”

Grey asked only for the sake of delaying discussion, and was not surprised to receive only a moody shrug from Hal. His brother appeared no more eager to resume their conversation than he was, and they walked for half a mile or so in silence, each alone with his thoughts.

Grey’s own thoughts were a jumble, veering from anticipation and curiosity at the thought of Percy Wainwright to concern at his brother’s obvious agitation. Over all of it, though, was the image of the page he had held so briefly in his hands.

He forced all other thought from his mind, concentrating on remembering, committing the words he had read to memory. He still felt the shock of Hal’s throwing the paper into the fire, and could not bear the thought that those words of his father’s, pedestrian as they might be, should be lost to him. The duke’s journals were no secret, and yet he had read them secretly, abstracting one at a time and smuggling each volume to his room, returning them to their shelf, careful that no one should see.

He could not have said why it seemed important to keep this postmortem relationship with his father private. Only that it had been.

He had more or less succeeded in fixing at least the substance of the vanished page in memory, when Hal finally hunched his shoulders and spoke abruptly.

“There has been talk. Regarding conspiracies.”

“When is there not? Which particular conspiracy concerns you?”

“Not me, so much.” Hal settled his hat more firmly, bending his head into the wind. “And it has not yet blown up into open scandal, but it almost certainly will—and soon.”

“I don’t doubt it,” Grey observed caustically. “There hasn’t been a decent scandal since Christmas. Who does this one involve?”

“A sodomite conspiracy to undermine the government by assassination of selected ministers.”

Grey felt a tightening of the belly, but replied casually. It was not the first time he had heard of such a notion; sodomitical associations and conspiracies were a standby of street criers and Fleet Street hacks whenever news became too slow.

“And why does this concern you?”

Hal fixed his eyes on the slimy cobbles.

“Us. It is a thing that was said. Of—of Father.” The word struck Grey in the pit of the stomach, like a pebble from a sling. He was not sure he had ever heard Hal use the word “Father” any time in the last fifteen years.

“That he was a sodomite?” Grey said, incredulous. Hal drew a deep breath, but seemed to relax a bit.

“No. Not in so many words. Nor was it—thank God—a popular rumor. Only random accusations at the time of his death, made by members of the Society—such accusations were common, thrown at almost every man of any visibility connected with the South Sea Bubble. The scandal was blamed on ‘companies of sodomites’—though God knows it was blamed on every other group, interest, or person anyone could think of, as well. But the Society was prominent at the time, and sodomitical conspiracies were their particular obsession.”

“The Society?” Grey said blankly. “Which Society is this?”

“I forgot. You would not have been old enough to hear much at the time—”

“Damned little, in Aberdeen.” Grey made no attempt to keep an edge of bitterness from his voice, and his brother glanced sharply at him.

“Which is precisely why you were sent there,” Hal said, his voice level. “In any case, it is the Society for the Reformation of Manners to which I refer; you have heard of them?”

“I have, yes.” Angry and unsettled, Grey was making no effort to hide his feelings, and let distaste and contempt show in his voice. “Prigs and puritans, who will not acknowledge their own base urges, but find delight—and release, no doubt—in accusations of corruption, in blackening the characters of innocent men. They are—”

Hal put a restraining hand on his arm again—no more than a touch, this time—to keep him from speaking further, as two chairmen went by at the trot, their heads wreathed in white smoke from their panting breath.

The cold and twilight kept many folk indoors, but there were those whose livelihoods compelled them to the streets, and as they approached St. James Street, there began to be more of them. A balladeer, chestnut sellers, apple-women crying the virtues of their wizened fruit. Grey saw his brother scrutinize each person they passed, as though he suspected them of something.

“Captain Michael Bates is thought to be deeply involved,” Hal said at last. “The general told me of the matter after you and Wainwright had left yesterday; Bates’s father is General Ezekial Bates—long retired, but an intimate of General Stanley’s.”

“Ah,” Grey said. “I see.” He felt unsettled still, vaguely alarmed, pointlessly angry—but this intelligence relieved his mind a little. At least now he knew why the matter had come to Hal’s attention. “And the other men you mentioned—Otway and Ffoulkes?”

“Otway is a private soldier in the Eleventh Infantry, a nobody. Ffoulkes is a reasonably well-known solicitor in Lincoln’s Inn.”

“How are these men connected?”

“Through Bates.”

Captain Bates and Ffoulkes had met, according to General Stanley, when Ffoulkes had handled a minor matter of business for the captain’s family. Otway had evidently met Bates in a tavern near Temple Stairs, formed an unwholesome connexion with him, and then later been introduced to Ffoulkes, though the general did not know the circumstances.

“Indeed,” said Grey, thinking of the bog-houses near Lincoln’s Inn, a spot much patronized by both lawyers and mollies. “This…association is what they refer to as a ‘company of sodomites’? It seems lacking in both membership and organizing principles, I think.”

Hal snorted a little; his breath purled white in the winter air.

“Oh, there’s more. Our friend Ffoulkes, it seems, has a French wife. Who in turn has two brothers. One of these brothers is a notorious pederast—notorious even by French standards—while the other is a colonel in the French army.”

Grey grunted in surprise.

“And is there any evidence of—I suppose it must be treason?”

“It is. And there is. The War Office got wind of something, and has been quietly pursuing the matter for some months. Bates—he was General Stanley’s chief aide-de-camp for some time before joining the Horse Guards, by the way—”

“Christ.”

“Precisely. He apparently had been passing secret materials to Otway, who in turn delivered these to Ffoulkes in the course of their assignations. And from there, of course…”

Grey drew the evening air deep into his lungs. The last of his defensive anger chilled, leaving him cold. It was a personal matter—but not directly personal. Hal’s concern was for the general, of course—and for their family, lest the old rumors be resurrected in light of fresh scandal, stimulated by their mother’s new marriage.

“What has been done?” he asked. “I have heard nothing of it in the streets, read nothing in the periodicals.”

Hal’s shoulders hunched a little; they were passing a gate where torches burned, and Grey saw his brother’s shadow, foreshortened and shrunk, the image of an old man.

“It has been kept as quiet as possible. Bates and Otway were both arrested yesterday, though.”

“And Ffoulkes?”

Hal’s head lifted, and he blew out a long white breath.

“Ffoulkes shot himself this morning.”

Grey walked on, mechanically, no longer feeling chill or cobble.

“May God have mercy on his soul,” he said at last.

“And ours,” Hal said, without humor.

Hal could not or would not say more, and they walked the rest of the way in silence. Disturbed in mind though he was, Grey was jerked out of his thoughts as they turned into St. James Street.

Candlelight streamed welcomingly through the windows of White’s, illuminating what appeared to be the body of a man lying on the pavement by the door. As they approached the building, Grey saw a head pop out of the club’s open door, survey the body, then pop back in, only to be succeeded by a different head, which repeated this procedure.

“Do you know him?” Grey asked his brother, as they came up to the body. “Is he a member?” Grey was of course a member of White’s, as well, but seldom patronized the club, finding the cozy shabbiness and excellent food of the Beefsteak more appealing.

Hal squinted at the body, and shook his head.

“No one I know.”

The body lay prone, legs sprawled apart beneath a greatcoat of decent quality. The man’s hat was also a good one; it had fallen off and rolled against the wall, resting on edge there like a tipsy beggar.

“Is he dead, do you think?”

The man’s wig had slipped askew, half covering his face. It had begun to snow lightly, and between the flickering light and the swirling flakes, it was impossible to perceive whether he was breathing.

“Let me look; perhaps—” Hal stooped to touch the man, but was prevented by a shout from the doorway.

“Don’t touch him! Not yet!” An excited young man issued from the club and seized Hal’s arm. “We haven’t put it in the book yet!”

“What, the betting book?” Hal demanded.

“Yes—Rogers says he’s dead, and I say he’s not. Two guineas on it! Will you join the wager with me, Melton?”

“He’s dead as a doornail, Melton!” came a shout from the open door, presumably from Rogers. “Whitbread and Gallagher are with me!”

“He ain’t, I say!” The young man slapped his palm on the doorjamb. “You lot couldn’t tell a corpse from a tailor’s ham!”

“Hoy!” Grey caught a glimmer of movement from the corner of his eye and whirled round, hand on his sword—but not in time to grab the ragged boy who had darted in to snatch the body’s hat. A hoot of triumph drifted back through the thickening snow.

“Call the Watch, for God’s sake. We can’t let him lie here, dead or not,” Hal said impatiently. “He’ll be picked clean.”

Grey obligingly belted down the street to the Fount of Wisdom, where he found two members of the Watch fortifying themselves against the weather. Reluctantly gulping their mulled cider, they huddled themselves grumbling into coats and hats and came back with him to White’s, where he found his brother standing guard over the body, leaning on his sword.

“About time,” Hal said, sheathing it. “They’re here!” he shouted, turning toward the open door, where Mr. Holmes, the club’s steward, hovered in anticipation.

Holmes promptly vanished, and the call of, “The book is closed, gentlemen!” rang through the house.

In moments, the body was surrounded by a crowd of eager bettors, who poured out into the snow, still arguing amongst themselves.

“What do you say?” Grey muttered to Hal. He sniffed the air, but was unable to detect any telltale scent of death, above the waft of smoke, coffee, and food drifting from the club. “Ten to one he’s alive,” he said, on impulse.

“You know I never bet on anything but cards,” Hal muttered back. Still, he held his position at the front of the group, curious as any of the bettors, as one of the Watchmen gingerly lifted the wig away from the man’s face.

There was a moment’s silence as the face was revealed, gray and slack as potter’s clay, eyes closed. The Watchman bent close, cupping the fallen jaw, then jerked upright.

“He’s alive! I felt his breath on me ’and!”

The group exploded into voice and action then, several men hastening to lift the victim and carry him inside, others calling out for hot coffee, a doctor, brandy, had the man a pocketbook, papers? Where was the doctor, for God’s sake?

A tall, gray-haired man came out of the cardroom glaring at the interruption.

“Who wants a doctor?”

“Oh, there you are, Longstreet. Your patient, sir.” Hal greeted the doctor, whom he evidently knew, and gestured toward the man in the greatcoat, who had been laid out on a settee and was being tenderly ministered to by the same men who had been wagering on his demise moments earlier.

Doctor Longstreet grimaced, shed his coat, and began to roll up his sleeves.


Tags: Diana Gabaldon Lord John Grey Suspense
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