“Somewhat dangerous,” Wolfe went on carelessly. “But, then, it’s the Highlanders—no great mischief should they fall. Would you care to join us?”

“Don’t follow him into anything stupid.” Right, Hal, he thought. Any suggestions on how to decline an offer like that from one’s titular commander?

“I should be pleased, sir,” he said, feeling a brief ripple of unease down his spine. “When?”

“In two weeks—at the dark of the moon.” Wolfe was all but wagging his tail in enthusiasm.

“Am I permitted to know the nature of the … er … expedition?”

Wolfe exchanged a look of anticipation with his adjutant, then turned eyes shiny with excitement on Grey.

“We’re going to take Quebec, Colonel.”

So Wolfe thought he had found his point d’appui. Or, rather, his trusted scout, Malcolm Stubbs, had found it for him. Grey returned briefly to his quarters, put the miniature of Olivia and little Cromwell in his pocket, and went to find Stubbs.

He didn’t bother thinking what to say to Malcolm. It was as well, he thought, that he hadn’t found Stubbs immediately after his discovery of the Indian mistress and her child; he might simply have knocked Stubbs down, without the bother of explanation. But time had elapsed, and his blood was cooler now. He was detached.

Or so he thought, until he entered a prosperous tavern—Malcolm had elevated tastes in wine—and found his cousin-by-marriage at a table, relaxed and jovial among his friends. Stubbs was aptly named, being approximately five foot four in both dimensions, a fair-haired fellow with an inclination to become red in the face when deeply entertained or deep in drink.

At the moment, he appeared to be experiencing both conditions, laughing at something one of his companions had said, waving his empty glass in the barmaid’s direction. He turned back, spotted Grey coming across the floor, and lit up like a beacon. He’d been spending a good deal of time out of doors, Grey saw; he was nearly as sunburned as Grey himself.

“Grey!” he cried. “Why, here’s a sight for sore eyes! What the devil brings you to the wilderness?” Then he noticed Grey’s expression, and his joviality faded slightly, a puzzled frown growing between his thick brows.

It hadn’t time to grow far. Grey lunged across the table, scattering glasses, and seized Stubbs by the shirtfront.

“You come with me, you bloody swine,” he whispered, face shoved up against the younger man’s, “or I’ll kill you right here, I swear it.”

He let go then and stood, blood hammering in his temples. Stubbs rubbed at his chest, affronted, startled—and afraid. Grey could see it in the wide blue eyes. Slowly, Stubbs got up, motioning to his companions to stay.

“No bother, chaps,” he said, making a good attempt at casualness. “My cousin—family emergency, what?”

Grey saw two of the men exchange knowing glances, then look at Grey, wary. They knew, all right.

Stiffly, he gestured for Stubbs to precede him, and they passed out of the door in a pretense of dignity. Once outside, though, he grabbed Stubbs by the arm and dragged him round the corner into a small alleyway. He pushed Stubbs hard, so that he lost his balance and fell against the wall; Grey kicked his legs out from under him, then knelt on his thigh, digging his knee viciously into the thick muscle. Stubbs uttered a strangled noise, not quite a scream.

Grey dug in his pocket, hand trembling with fury, and brought out the miniature, which he showed briefly to Stubbs before grinding it into the man’s cheek. Stubbs yelped, grabbed at it, and Grey let him have it, rising unsteadily off the man.

“How dare you?” he said, low-voiced and vicious. “How dare you dishonor your wife, your son?”

Malcolm was breathing hard, one hand clutching his abused thigh, but was regaining his composure.

‘It’s nothing,” he said. “Nothing to do with Olivia at all.” He swallowed, wiped a hand across his mouth, and took a cautious glance at the miniature in his hand. “That the sprat, is it? Good … good-looking lad. Looks like me, don’t he?”

Grey kicked him brutally in the stomach.

“Yes, and so does your other son,” he hissed. “How could you do such a thing?”

Malcolm’s mouth opened, but nothing came out. He struggled for breath like a landed fish. Grey watched without pity. He’d have the man split and grilled over charcoal before he was done. He bent and took the miniature from Stubbs’s unresisting hand, tucking it back in his pocket.

After a long moment, Stubbs achieved a whining gasp, and the color of his face, which had gone puce, subsided back toward its normal brick color. Saliva had collected at the corners of his mouth; he licked his lips, spat, then sat up, breathing heavily, and looked at Grey.

“Going to hit me again?”

“Not just yet.”

“Good.” He stretched out a hand, and Grey took it, grunting as he helped Stubbs to his feet. Malcolm leaned against the wall, still panting, and eyed him.

“So, who made you God, Grey? Who are you to sit in judgment of me, eh?”

Grey nearly hit him again but desisted.

“Who am I?” he echoed. “Olivia’s fucking cousin, that’s who! The nearest male relative she’s got on this continent! And you, need I remind you—and evidently I do—are her fucking husband. Judgment? What the devil d’you mean by that, you filthy lecher?”

Malcolm coughed and spat again.

“Yes. Well. As I said, it’s nothing to do with Olivia—and so it’s nothing to do with you.” He spoke with apparent calmness, but Grey could see the pulse hammering in his throat, the nervous shiftiness of his eyes. “It’s nothing out of the ordinary—it’s the bloody custom, for God’s sake. Everybody—”

He kneed Stubbs in the balls.

“Try again,” he advised Stubbs, who had fallen down and was curled into a fetal position, moaning. “Take your time; I’m not busy.”

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“Somewhat dangerous,” Wolfe went on carelessly. “But, then, it’s the Highlanders—no great mischief should they fall. Would you care to join us?”

“Don’t follow him into anything stupid.” Right, Hal, he thought. Any suggestions on how to decline an offer like that from one’s titular commander?

“I should be pleased, sir,” he said, feeling a brief ripple of unease down his spine. “When?”

“In two weeks—at the dark of the moon.” Wolfe was all but wagging his tail in enthusiasm.

“Am I permitted to know the nature of the … er … expedition?”

Wolfe exchanged a look of anticipation with his adjutant, then turned eyes shiny with excitement on Grey.

“We’re going to take Quebec, Colonel.”

So Wolfe thought he had found his point d’appui. Or, rather, his trusted scout, Malcolm Stubbs, had found it for him. Grey returned briefly to his quarters, put the miniature of Olivia and little Cromwell in his pocket, and went to find Stubbs.

He didn’t bother thinking what to say to Malcolm. It was as well, he thought, that he hadn’t found Stubbs immediately after his discovery of the Indian mistress and her child; he might simply have knocked Stubbs down, without the bother of explanation. But time had elapsed, and his blood was cooler now. He was detached.

Or so he thought, until he entered a prosperous tavern—Malcolm had elevated tastes in wine—and found his cousin-by-marriage at a table, relaxed and jovial among his friends. Stubbs was aptly named, being approximately five foot four in both dimensions, a fair-haired fellow with an inclination to become red in the face when deeply entertained or deep in drink.

At the moment, he appeared to be experiencing both conditions, laughing at something one of his companions had said, waving his empty glass in the barmaid’s direction. He turned back, spotted Grey coming across the floor, and lit up like a beacon. He’d been spending a good deal of time out of doors, Grey saw; he was nearly as sunburned as Grey himself.

“Grey!” he cried. “Why, here’s a sight for sore eyes! What the devil brings you to the wilderness?” Then he noticed Grey’s expression, and his joviality faded slightly, a puzzled frown growing between his thick brows.

It hadn’t time to grow far. Grey lunged across the table, scattering glasses, and seized Stubbs by the shirtfront.

“You come with me, you bloody swine,” he whispered, face shoved up against the younger man’s, “or I’ll kill you right here, I swear it.”

He let go then and stood, blood hammering in his temples. Stubbs rubbed at his chest, affronted, startled—and afraid. Grey could see it in the wide blue eyes. Slowly, Stubbs got up, motioning to his companions to stay.

“No bother, chaps,” he said, making a good attempt at casualness. “My cousin—family emergency, what?”

Grey saw two of the men exchange knowing glances, then look at Grey, wary. They knew, all right.

Stiffly, he gestured for Stubbs to precede him, and they passed out of the door in a pretense of dignity. Once outside, though, he grabbed Stubbs by the arm and dragged him round the corner into a small alleyway. He pushed Stubbs hard, so that he lost his balance and fell against the wall; Grey kicked his legs out from under him, then knelt on his thigh, digging his knee viciously into the thick muscle. Stubbs uttered a strangled noise, not quite a scream.

Grey dug in his pocket, hand trembling with fury, and brought out the miniature, which he showed briefly to Stubbs before grinding it into the man’s cheek. Stubbs yelped, grabbed at it, and Grey let him have it, rising unsteadily off the man.

“How dare you?” he said, low-voiced and vicious. “How dare you dishonor your wife, your son?”

Malcolm was breathing hard, one hand clutching his abused thigh, but was regaining his composure.

‘It’s nothing,” he said. “Nothing to do with Olivia at all.” He swallowed, wiped a hand across his mouth, and took a cautious glance at the miniature in his hand. “That the sprat, is it? Good … good-looking lad. Looks like me, don’t he?”

Grey kicked him brutally in the stomach.

“Yes, and so does your other son,” he hissed. “How could you do such a thing?”

Malcolm’s mouth opened, but nothing came out. He struggled for breath like a landed fish. Grey watched without pity. He’d have the man split and grilled over charcoal before he was done. He bent and took the miniature from Stubbs’s unresisting hand, tucking it back in his pocket.

After a long moment, Stubbs achieved a whining gasp, and the color of his face, which had gone puce, subsided back toward its normal brick color. Saliva had collected at the corners of his mouth; he licked his lips, spat, then sat up, breathing heavily, and looked at Grey.

“Going to hit me again?”

“Not just yet.”

“Good.” He stretched out a hand, and Grey took it, grunting as he helped Stubbs to his feet. Malcolm leaned against the wall, still panting, and eyed him.

“So, who made you God, Grey? Who are you to sit in judgment of me, eh?”

Grey nearly hit him again but desisted.

“Who am I?” he echoed. “Olivia’s fucking cousin, that’s who! The nearest male relative she’s got on this continent! And you, need I remind you—and evidently I do—are her fucking husband. Judgment? What the devil d’you mean by that, you filthy lecher?”

Malcolm coughed and spat again.

“Yes. Well. As I said, it’s nothing to do with Olivia—and so it’s nothing to do with you.” He spoke with apparent calmness, but Grey could see the pulse hammering in his throat, the nervous shiftiness of his eyes. “It’s nothing out of the ordinary—it’s the bloody custom, for God’s sake. Everybody—”

He kneed Stubbs in the balls.

“Try again,” he advised Stubbs, who had fallen down and was curled into a fetal position, moaning. “Take your time; I’m not busy.”

Aware of eyes upon him, Grey turned to see several soldiers gathered at the mouth of the alley, hesitating. He was still wearing his dress uniform, though—somewhat the worse for wear but clearly displaying his rank—and when he gave them an evil look, they hastily dispersed.

“I should kill you here and now, you know,” he said to Stubbs after a few moments. The rage that had propelled him was draining away, though, as he watched the man retch and heave at his feet, and he spoke wearily. “Better for Olivia to have a dead husband, and whatever property you leave, than a live scoundrel, who will betray her with her friends—likely with her own maid.”

Stubbs muttered something indistinguishable, and Grey bent, grasping him by the hair, and pulled his head up.

“What was that?”

“Wasn’t … like that.” Groaning and clutching himself, Malcolm maneuvered gingerly into a sitting position, knees drawn up. He gasped for a bit, head on his knees, before being able to go on.

“You don’t know, do you?” He spoke low-voiced, not raising his head. “You haven’t seen the things I’ve seen. Not … done what I’ve had to do.”

“What do you mean?”

“The … the killing. Not … battle. Not an honorable thing. Farmers. Women …” Grey saw Stubbs’s heavy throat move, swallowing. “I—we—for months now. Looting the countryside, burning farms, villages.” He sighed, broad shoulders slumping. “The men, they don’t mind. Half of them are brutes to begin with.” He breathed. “Think … nothing of shooting a man on his doorstep and taking his wife next to his body.” He swallowed. “ ’Tisn’t only Montcalm who pays for scalps,” he said in a low voice. Grey couldn’t avoid hearing the rawness in his voice, a pain that wasn’t physical.

“Every soldier’s seen such things, Malcolm,” he said after a short silence, almost gently. “You’re an officer. It’s your job to keep them in check.” And you know damned well it isn’t always possible, he thought.

“I know,” Malcolm said, and began to cry. “I couldn’t.”

Grey waited while he sobbed, feeling increasingly foolish and uncomfortable. At last, the broad shoulders heaved and subsided. After a moment, Malcolm said, in a voice that quivered only a little, “Everybody finds a way, don’t they? And there’re not that many ways. Drink, cards, or women.” He raised his head and shifted a bit, grimacing as he eased into a more comfortable position. “But you don’t go in much for women, do you?” he added, looking up.

Grey felt the bottom of his stomach drop but realized in time that Malcolm had spoken matter-of-factly, with no tone of accusation.

“No,” he said, and drew a deep breath. “Drink, mostly.”

Malcolm nodded, wiping his nose on his sleeve.

“Drink doesn’t help me,” he said. “I fall asleep, but I don’t forget. I just dream about … things. And whores—I—well, I didn’t want to get poxed and maybe … well, Olivia,” he muttered, looking down. “No good at cards,” he said, clearing his throat. “But sleeping in a woman’s arms—I can sleep then.”

Grey leaned against the wall, feeling nearly as battered as Malcolm Stubbs. Pale green aspen leaves drifted through the air, whirling round them, settling in the mud.

“All right,” he said eventually. “What do you mean to do?”

“Dunno,” Stubbs said, in a tone of flat resignation. “Think of something, I suppose.”

Grey reached down and offered a hand; Stubbs got carefully to his feet and, nodding to Grey, shuffled toward the alley’s mouth, bent over and holding himself as though his insides might fall out. Halfway there, though, he stopped and looked back over his shoulder. There was an anxious look on his face, half embarrassed.

“Can I … The miniature? They are still mine, Olivia and the—my son.”

Grey heaved a sigh that went to the marrow of his bones; he felt a thousand years old.

“Yes, they are,” he said, and, digging the miniature out of his pocket, tucked it carefully into Stubbs’s coat. “Remember it, will you?”

Two days later, a convoy of troop ships arrived, under the command of Admiral Holmes. The town was flooded afresh with men hungry for unsalted meat, fresh baked bread, liquor, and women. And a messenger arrived at Grey’s quarters, bearing a parcel for him from his brother, with Admiral Holmes’s compliments.

It was small but packaged with care, wrapped in oilcloth and tied about with twine, the knot sealed with his brother’s crest. That was unlike Hal, whose usual communiqués consisted of hastily dashed-off notes, generally employing slightly fewer than the minimum number of words necessary to convey his message. They were seldom signed, let alone sealed.

Tom Byrd appeared to think the package slightly ominous, too; he had set it by itself, apart from the other mail, and weighted it down with a large bottle of brandy, apparently to prevent it escaping. That, or he suspected Grey might require the brandy to sustain him in the arduous effort of reading a letter consisting of more than one page.

“Very thoughtful of you, Tom,” he murmured, smiling to himself and reaching for his penknife.

In fact, the letter within occupied less than a page, bore neither salutation nor signature, and was completely Hal-like.

Minnie wishes to know whether you are starving, though I don’t know what she proposes to do about it, should the answer be yes. The boys wish to know whether you have taken any scalps—they are confident that no red Indian would succeed in taking yours; I share this opinion. You had better bring three tommyhawks when you come home.

Here is your paperweight; the jeweler was most impressed by the quality of the stone. The other thing is a copy of Adams’s confession. They hanged him yesterday.

The other contents of the parcel consisted of a small washleather pouch and an official-looking document on several sheets of good parchment, this folded and sealed—this time with the insignia of George II. Grey left it lying on the table, fetched one of the pewter cups from his campaign chest, and filled it to the brim with brandy, wondering anew at his valet’s perspicacity.

Thus fortified, he sat down and took up the little pouch, from which he decanted into his hand a small, heavy gold paperweight, made in the shape of a half-moon set among ocean waves. It was set with a faceted—and very large—sapphire, which glowed like the evening star in its setting. Where had James Fraser acquired such a thing?

He turned it in his hand, admiring the workmanship, but then set it aside. He sipped his brandy for a bit, watching the official document as though it might explode. He was reasonably sure it would.

He weighed the document in his hand and felt the breeze from his window lift the pages a little, like the flap of a sail just before it fills and bellies with a snap.

Waiting wouldn’t help. And Hal plainly knew what it said, anyway; he’d tell Grey eventually, whether he wanted to know or not. Sighing, he put by his brandy and broke the seal.

I, Bernard Donald Adams, do make this confession of my own free will …

Was it? he wondered. He did not know Adams’s handwriting, could not tell whether the document had been written or dictated—no, wait. He flipped over the sheets and examined the signature. Same hand. All right, he had written it himself.

He squinted at the writing. It seemed firm. Probably not extracted under torture, then. Perhaps it was the truth.

“Idiot,” he said under his breath. “Read the goddamned thing and have done with it!”

He drank the rest of his brandy at a gulp, flattened the pages upon the stone of the parapet, and read, at last, the story of his father’s death.


Tags: Diana Gabaldon Lord John Grey Suspense
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