By the time Grey found the lane, he had an uneasy feeling; this grew markedly as he poked his way through the ramshackle sheds and the knots of filthy, polyglot children that broke from their play, brightening at the novel sight. They followed him, hissing unintelligible speculations to one another but staring blankly at him, mouths open, when he asked after Captain Stubbs, pointing at his own uniform by way of illustration, with a questioning wave at their surroundings.

He had made his way all the way down the lane, and his boots were caked with mud, dung, and a thick plastering of the leaves that drifted lazily from the giant trees, before he discovered someone willing to answer him. This was an ancient Indian sitting peacefully on a rock at the river’s edge, wrapped in a striped British trade blanket, fishing. The man spoke a mixture of three or four languages, only two of which Grey understood, but this basis of understanding was adequate.

“Un, deux, trois, in back,” the ancient told him, pointing a thumb up the lane, then jerking this appendage sideways. Something in an aboriginal tongue followed, in which Grey thought he detected a reference to a woman—doubtless the owner of the house where Stubbs was billeted. A concluding reference to “le bon capitaine” seemed to reinforce this impression, and, thanking the gentleman in both French and English, Grey retraced his steps to the third house up the lane, still trailing a line of curious urchins like the ragged tail of a kite.

No one answered his knock, but he went round the house—followed by the children—and discovered a small hut behind it, smoke coming from its gray stone chimney.

The day was beautiful, with a sky the color of sapphires, and the air was suffused with the ripeness of late summer The door of the hut was ajar, to admit the fresh air, but he did not push it open. Instead, he drew his dagger from his belt and knocked with the hilt—to admiring gasps from his audience at the appearance of the knife. He repressed the urge to turn round and bow to them.

He heard no footsteps from within, but the door opened suddenly, revealing a young Indian woman, whose face blazed with joy at beholding him.

He blinked, startled, and in that blink of an eye, the joy disappeared and the young woman clutched at the doorjamb for support, her other hand fisted into her chest.

“Batinse!?” she gasped, clearly terrified. “Qu’est-ce qui s’passe?”

“Rien,” he replied, equally startled. “Ne vous inquietez pas, madame. Est-ce que Capitaine Stubbs habite ici?” Don’t perturb yourself, madame. Does Captain Stubbs live here?

Her eyes, already huge, rolled back in her head, and he seized her arm, fearing lest she faint at his feet. The largest of the urchins following him rushed forward and pushed the door open, and he put an arm round the woman’s waist and half-dragged, half-carried her into the house.

Taking this as invitation, the rest of the children crowded in behind him, murmuring in what appeared to be sympathy, as he lugged the young woman to the bed and deposited her thereon. A small girl, wearing little more than a pair of drawers snugged round her insubstantial waist with a piece of string, pressed in beside him and said something to the young woman. Not receiving an answer, the girl behaved as though she had, turning and racing out of the door.

Grey hesitated, not sure what to do. The woman was breathing, though pale, and her eyelids fluttered.

“Voulez-vous un petit eau?” he inquired, turning about in search of water. He spotted a bucket of water near the hearth, but his attention was distracted by an object propped beside it: a cradleboard, with a swaddled infant bound to it, blinking large, curious eyes in his direction.

He knew already, of course, but knelt down before the infant and waggled a tentative forefinger at it. The baby’s eyes were big and dark, like its mother’s, and the skin a paler shade of her own. The hair, though, was not straight, thick, and black. It was the color of cinnamon and exploded from the child’s skull in a nimbus of the same curls that Malcolm Stubbs kept rigorously clipped to his scalp and hidden beneath his wig.

“Wha’ happen with le capitaine?” a peremptory voice demanded behind him. He turned on his heels and, finding a rather large woman looming over him, rose to his feet and bowed.

“Nothing whatever, madame,” he assured her. Not yet, it hasn’t. “I was merely seeking Captain Stubbs to give him a message.”

“Oh.” The woman—French, but plainly the younger woman’s mother or aunt—left off glowering at him and seemed to deflate somewhat, settling back into a less threatening shape. “Well, then. D’un urgence, this message?” She eyed him; clearly, other British officers were not in the habit of visiting Stubbs at home. Most likely Stubbs had an official billet elsewhere, where he conducted his regimental business. No wonder they thought he’d come to say that Stubbs was dead or injured. Not yet, he added grimly to himself.

“No,” he said, feeling the weight of the miniature in his pocket. “Important, but not urgent.” He left then. None of the children followed him.

Normally, it was not difficult to discover the whereabouts of a particular soldier, but Malcolm Stubbs seemed to have disappeared into thin air. Over the course of the next week, Grey combed headquarters, the military encampment, and the village, but no trace of his disgraceful cousin-by-marriage could be found. Still odder, no one appeared to have missed the captain. The men of Stubbs’s immediate company merely shrugged in confusion, and his superior officer had evidently gone off upriver to inspect the state of various postings. Frustrated, Grey retired to the riverbank to think.

Two logical possibilities presented themselves—no, three. One, Stubbs had heard about Grey’s arrival, supposed that Grey would discover exactly what he had discovered, and had in consequence panicked and deserted. Two, he’d fallen afoul of someone in a tavern or back alley, been killed, and was presently decomposing quietly under a layer of leaves in the woods. Or, three—he’d been sent somewhere to do something, quietly.

Grey doubted the first exceedingly; Stubbs wasn’t prone to panic, and if he had heard of Grey’s arrival, Malcolm’s first act would have been to come and find him, thus preventing his poking about in the village and finding what he’d found. He dismissed that possibility accordingly.

He dismissed the second still more promptly. Had Stubbs been killed, either deliberately or by accident, the alarm would have been raised. The army did generally know where its soldiers were, and if they weren’t where they were meant to be, steps were taken. The same held true for desertion.

Right, then. If Stubbs was gone and no one was looking for him, it naturally followed that the army had sent him to wherever he’d gone. Since no one seemed to know where that was, his mission was presumably secret. And given Wolfe’s current position and present obsession, that almost certainly meant that Malcolm Stubbs had gone downriver, searching for some way to attack Quebec. Grey sighed, satisfied with his deductions. Which in turn meant that—barring his being caught by the French, scalped or abducted by hostile Indians, or eaten by a bear—Stubbs would be back eventually. There was nothing to do but wait.

He leaned against a tree, watching a couple of fishing canoes make their way slowly downstream, hugging the bank. The sky was overcast and the air light on his skin, a pleasant change from the day’s earlier heat. Cloudy skies were good for fishing; his father’s gamekeeper had told him that. He wondered why—were the fish dazzled by sun, and thus sought murky hiding places in the depths, but rose toward the surface in dimmer light?

He thought suddenly of the electric eel, which Suddfield had told him lived in the silt-choked waters of the Amazon. The thing did have remarkably small eyes, and its proprietor had opined that it was able to use its electrical abilities in some way to discern, as well as to electrocute, its prey.

He couldn’t have said what made him raise his head at that precise moment, but he looked up to find one of the canoes hovering in the shallow water a few feet from him. The Indian paddling the canoe gave him a brilliant smile.

“Englishman!” he called. “You want to fish with me?”

A small jolt of electricity ran through him and he straightened up. Manoke’s eyes were fixed on his, and he felt in memory the touch of lips and tongue and the scent of fresh-sheared copper. His heart was racing—go off in company with an Indian he barely knew? It might easily be a trap. He could end up scalped or worse. But electric eels were not the only ones to discern things by means of a sixth sense, he thought.

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By the time Grey found the lane, he had an uneasy feeling; this grew markedly as he poked his way through the ramshackle sheds and the knots of filthy, polyglot children that broke from their play, brightening at the novel sight. They followed him, hissing unintelligible speculations to one another but staring blankly at him, mouths open, when he asked after Captain Stubbs, pointing at his own uniform by way of illustration, with a questioning wave at their surroundings.

He had made his way all the way down the lane, and his boots were caked with mud, dung, and a thick plastering of the leaves that drifted lazily from the giant trees, before he discovered someone willing to answer him. This was an ancient Indian sitting peacefully on a rock at the river’s edge, wrapped in a striped British trade blanket, fishing. The man spoke a mixture of three or four languages, only two of which Grey understood, but this basis of understanding was adequate.

“Un, deux, trois, in back,” the ancient told him, pointing a thumb up the lane, then jerking this appendage sideways. Something in an aboriginal tongue followed, in which Grey thought he detected a reference to a woman—doubtless the owner of the house where Stubbs was billeted. A concluding reference to “le bon capitaine” seemed to reinforce this impression, and, thanking the gentleman in both French and English, Grey retraced his steps to the third house up the lane, still trailing a line of curious urchins like the ragged tail of a kite.

No one answered his knock, but he went round the house—followed by the children—and discovered a small hut behind it, smoke coming from its gray stone chimney.

The day was beautiful, with a sky the color of sapphires, and the air was suffused with the ripeness of late summer The door of the hut was ajar, to admit the fresh air, but he did not push it open. Instead, he drew his dagger from his belt and knocked with the hilt—to admiring gasps from his audience at the appearance of the knife. He repressed the urge to turn round and bow to them.

He heard no footsteps from within, but the door opened suddenly, revealing a young Indian woman, whose face blazed with joy at beholding him.

He blinked, startled, and in that blink of an eye, the joy disappeared and the young woman clutched at the doorjamb for support, her other hand fisted into her chest.

“Batinse!?” she gasped, clearly terrified. “Qu’est-ce qui s’passe?”

“Rien,” he replied, equally startled. “Ne vous inquietez pas, madame. Est-ce que Capitaine Stubbs habite ici?” Don’t perturb yourself, madame. Does Captain Stubbs live here?

Her eyes, already huge, rolled back in her head, and he seized her arm, fearing lest she faint at his feet. The largest of the urchins following him rushed forward and pushed the door open, and he put an arm round the woman’s waist and half-dragged, half-carried her into the house.

Taking this as invitation, the rest of the children crowded in behind him, murmuring in what appeared to be sympathy, as he lugged the young woman to the bed and deposited her thereon. A small girl, wearing little more than a pair of drawers snugged round her insubstantial waist with a piece of string, pressed in beside him and said something to the young woman. Not receiving an answer, the girl behaved as though she had, turning and racing out of the door.

Grey hesitated, not sure what to do. The woman was breathing, though pale, and her eyelids fluttered.

“Voulez-vous un petit eau?” he inquired, turning about in search of water. He spotted a bucket of water near the hearth, but his attention was distracted by an object propped beside it: a cradleboard, with a swaddled infant bound to it, blinking large, curious eyes in his direction.

He knew already, of course, but knelt down before the infant and waggled a tentative forefinger at it. The baby’s eyes were big and dark, like its mother’s, and the skin a paler shade of her own. The hair, though, was not straight, thick, and black. It was the color of cinnamon and exploded from the child’s skull in a nimbus of the same curls that Malcolm Stubbs kept rigorously clipped to his scalp and hidden beneath his wig.

“Wha’ happen with le capitaine?” a peremptory voice demanded behind him. He turned on his heels and, finding a rather large woman looming over him, rose to his feet and bowed.

“Nothing whatever, madame,” he assured her. Not yet, it hasn’t. “I was merely seeking Captain Stubbs to give him a message.”

“Oh.” The woman—French, but plainly the younger woman’s mother or aunt—left off glowering at him and seemed to deflate somewhat, settling back into a less threatening shape. “Well, then. D’un urgence, this message?” She eyed him; clearly, other British officers were not in the habit of visiting Stubbs at home. Most likely Stubbs had an official billet elsewhere, where he conducted his regimental business. No wonder they thought he’d come to say that Stubbs was dead or injured. Not yet, he added grimly to himself.

“No,” he said, feeling the weight of the miniature in his pocket. “Important, but not urgent.” He left then. None of the children followed him.

Normally, it was not difficult to discover the whereabouts of a particular soldier, but Malcolm Stubbs seemed to have disappeared into thin air. Over the course of the next week, Grey combed headquarters, the military encampment, and the village, but no trace of his disgraceful cousin-by-marriage could be found. Still odder, no one appeared to have missed the captain. The men of Stubbs’s immediate company merely shrugged in confusion, and his superior officer had evidently gone off upriver to inspect the state of various postings. Frustrated, Grey retired to the riverbank to think.

Two logical possibilities presented themselves—no, three. One, Stubbs had heard about Grey’s arrival, supposed that Grey would discover exactly what he had discovered, and had in consequence panicked and deserted. Two, he’d fallen afoul of someone in a tavern or back alley, been killed, and was presently decomposing quietly under a layer of leaves in the woods. Or, three—he’d been sent somewhere to do something, quietly.

Grey doubted the first exceedingly; Stubbs wasn’t prone to panic, and if he had heard of Grey’s arrival, Malcolm’s first act would have been to come and find him, thus preventing his poking about in the village and finding what he’d found. He dismissed that possibility accordingly.

He dismissed the second still more promptly. Had Stubbs been killed, either deliberately or by accident, the alarm would have been raised. The army did generally know where its soldiers were, and if they weren’t where they were meant to be, steps were taken. The same held true for desertion.

Right, then. If Stubbs was gone and no one was looking for him, it naturally followed that the army had sent him to wherever he’d gone. Since no one seemed to know where that was, his mission was presumably secret. And given Wolfe’s current position and present obsession, that almost certainly meant that Malcolm Stubbs had gone downriver, searching for some way to attack Quebec. Grey sighed, satisfied with his deductions. Which in turn meant that—barring his being caught by the French, scalped or abducted by hostile Indians, or eaten by a bear—Stubbs would be back eventually. There was nothing to do but wait.

He leaned against a tree, watching a couple of fishing canoes make their way slowly downstream, hugging the bank. The sky was overcast and the air light on his skin, a pleasant change from the day’s earlier heat. Cloudy skies were good for fishing; his father’s gamekeeper had told him that. He wondered why—were the fish dazzled by sun, and thus sought murky hiding places in the depths, but rose toward the surface in dimmer light?

He thought suddenly of the electric eel, which Suddfield had told him lived in the silt-choked waters of the Amazon. The thing did have remarkably small eyes, and its proprietor had opined that it was able to use its electrical abilities in some way to discern, as well as to electrocute, its prey.

He couldn’t have said what made him raise his head at that precise moment, but he looked up to find one of the canoes hovering in the shallow water a few feet from him. The Indian paddling the canoe gave him a brilliant smile.

“Englishman!” he called. “You want to fish with me?”

A small jolt of electricity ran through him and he straightened up. Manoke’s eyes were fixed on his, and he felt in memory the touch of lips and tongue and the scent of fresh-sheared copper. His heart was racing—go off in company with an Indian he barely knew? It might easily be a trap. He could end up scalped or worse. But electric eels were not the only ones to discern things by means of a sixth sense, he thought.

“Yes!” he called. “Meet you at the landing!”

Two weeks later, he stepped out of Manoke’s canoe onto the landing, thin, sunburned, cheerful, and still in possession of his hair. Tom Byrd would be beside himself, he reflected; he’d left word as to what he was doing but naturally had been able to give no estimate of his return. Doubtless poor Tom would be thinking he’d been captured and dragged off into slavery or scalped, his hair sold to the French.

In fact, they had drifted slowly downriver, pausing to fish wherever the mood took them, camping on sandbars and small islands, grilling their catch and eating their supper in smoke-scented peace, beneath the leaves of oak and alder. They had seen other craft now and then—not only canoes but many French packet boats and brigs, as well as two English warships, tacking slowly up the river, sails bellying, the distant shouts of the sailors as foreign to him just then as the tongues of the Iroquois.

And in the late summer dusk of the first day, Manoke had wiped his fingers after eating, stood up, casually untied his breechclout, and let it fall. Then waited, grinning, while Grey fought his way out of shirt and breeches.

They’d swum in the river to refresh themselves before eating; the Indian was clean, his skin no longer greasy. And yet he seemed to taste of wild game, the rich, uneasy tang of venison. Grey had wondered whether it was the man’s race that was responsible or only his diet?

“What do I taste like?” he’d asked, out of curiosity.

Manoke, absorbed in his business, had said something that might have been “cock” but might equally have been some expression of mild disgust, so Grey thought better of pursuing this line of inquiry. Besides, if he did taste of beef and biscuit or Yorkshire pudding, would the Indian recognize that? For that matter, did he really want to know, if he did? He did not, he decided, and they enjoyed the rest of the evening without benefit of conversation.

He scratched the small of his back where his breeches rubbed, uncomfortable with mosquito bites and the peel of fading sunburn. He’d tried the native style of dress, seeing its convenience, but had scorched his bum by lying too long in the sun one afternoon and thereafter resorted to breeches, not wishing to hear any further jocular remarks regarding the whiteness of his arse.

Thinking such pleasant but disjointed thoughts, he’d made his way halfway through the town before noticing that there were many more soldiers in evidence than there had been when he’d left. Drums were pattering up and down the sloping, muddy streets, calling men from their billets, the rhythm of the military day making itself felt. His own steps fell naturally into the beat of the drums; he straightened and felt the army reach out suddenly, seizing him, shaking him out of his sunburned bliss.

He glanced involuntarily up the hill and saw the flags fluttering above the large inn that served as field headquarters. Wolfe had returned.

Grey found his own quarters, reassured Tom as to his well-being, submitted to having his hair forcibly untangled, combed, perfumed, and tightly bound up in a formal queue, and, with his clean uniform chafing his sunburned skin, went to present himself to the general, as courtesy demanded. He knew James Wolfe by sight—Wolfe was about his own age, had fought at Culloden, been a junior officer under Cumberland during the Highland campaign—but did not know him personally. He’d heard a great deal about him, though.

“Grey, is it? Pardloe’s brother, are you?” Wolfe lifted his long nose in Grey’s direction, as though sniffing at him, in the manner of one dog inspecting another’s backside. Grey trusted he would not be required to reciprocate and instead bowed politely.

“My brother’s compliments, sir.”

Actually, what his brother had had to say was far from complimentary.

“Melodramatic ass” was what Hal had said, hastily briefing him before his departure. “Showy, bad judgment, terrible strategist. Has the devil’s own luck, though, I’ll give him that. Don’t follow him into anything stupid.”

Wolfe nodded amiably enough.

“And you’ve come as a witness for who is it—Captain Carruthers?”

“Yes, sir. Has a date been set for the court-martial?”

“Dunno. Has it?” Wolfe asked his adjutant, a tall, spindly creature with a beady eye.

“No, sir. Now that his lordship is here, though, we can proceed. I’ll tell Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart; he’s to chair the proceeding.”

Wolfe waved a hand.

“No, wait a bit. The brigadier will have other things on his mind. ’Til after …”

The adjutant nodded and made a note.

“Yes, sir.”

Wolfe was eyeing Grey, in the manner of a small boy bursting to share some secret.

“D’you understand Highlanders, Colonel?”

Grey blinked, surprised.

“Insofar as such a thing is possible, sir,” he replied politely, and Wolfe brayed with laughter.

“Good man.” The general turned his head to one side and appraised Grey. “I’ve got a hundred or so of the creatures; been thinking what use they might be. I think I’ve found one—a small adventure.”

The adjutant smiled despite himself, then quickly erased the smile.

“Indeed, sir?” Grey said cautiously.


Tags: Diana Gabaldon Lord John Grey Suspense
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