Grey couldn’t stand to watch him read through Charles Carruthers’s postmortem denunciation, recalling each damning page as Hal read it. He stood up and went to the window of the library that looked out into the back garden of Argus House, ignoring the swish of turning pages and the occasional blasphemous mutterings behind him.

Hal’s three boys were playing a game of tigers and hunters, leaping out at one another from behind the shrubbery with shrill roars, followed by shrieks of delight and yells of “Bang! Take that, you striped son of a bitch!”

The nurse seated on the edge of the fish pool, keeping a tight grip on baby Dottie’s gown, looked up at this but merely rolled her eyes with a martyred expression. Flesh and blood has its limits, her expression said clearly, and she resumed paddling a hand in the water, luring one of the big goldfish close so that Dottie could drop bits of bread to it.

John longed to be down there with them. It was a rare day for early April, and he felt the pulse of it in his blood, urging him to be outside, running barefoot through young grass. Running naked down into the water … The sun was high, flooding warm through the glass of the French windows, and he closed his eyes and turned his face up to it.

Siverly. The name floated in the darkness behind his eyes, pasted across the blank face of an imagined cartoon major, drawn in uniform, an outsize sword brandished in his hand and bags of money stuffed into the back of his breeches, obscene bulges under the skirt of his coat. One or two had fallen to the ground, bursting open so that you could see the contents—coin in one, the other filled with what looked like poppets, small wooden doll-like things. Each one with a tiny knife through its heart.

Hal swore in German behind him. He must have reached the part about the rifles; German oaths were reserved for the most stringent occasions, French being used for minor things like a burnt dinner, and Latin for formal insults committed to paper. Minnie wouldn’t let either Hal or John swear in English in the house, not wanting the boys to acquire low habits. John could have told her it was too late for such caution but didn’t.

He turned round to see Hal on his feet, pale with rage, a sheet of paper crumpled in one hand.

“How dare he? How dare he?”

A small knot he hadn’t known was there dissolved under John’s ribs. His brother had built his own regiment, the 46th, out of his own blood and bones; no one was less likely to overlook or condone military malfeasance. Still, Hal’s response reassured him.

“You believe Carruthers, then?”

Hal glared at him.

“Don’t you? You knew the man.”

He had known Charles Carruthers—in more than one sense.

“Yes, I believed him when he told me about Siverly in Canada, and that”—he nodded at the papers, thrown in a sprawl across Hal’s desk—“is even more convincing. You’d think he’d been a lawyer.”

He could still see Carruthers’s face, pale in the dimness of his attic room in the little garrison town of Gareon, drawn with ill health but set with grim determination to live long enough to see justice done. Charlie hadn’t lived that long, but long enough to write down every detail of the case against Major Gerald Siverly and to entrust it to Grey.

He was the fuse that would detonate this particular bomb. And he was all too familiar with what happened to fuses, once lit.

“WHAT IS THIS?” Hal was frowning at one of the papers. Grey put down the book in his hand and came to look. The paper was in Carruthers’s handwriting, as painstakingly executed as the rest; Carruthers had known he was setting down evidence for a court-martial and had done his best to make it legible.

It was legible—insofar as Grey could make out the various letters that composed the words. But the words themselves looked like nothing he had ever seen before.

Éistigí, Fir na dtrí náisiún.

Éistigí, le glór na hadhairc ag caoineadh san goath.

Ag teácht as an oiche.

Tá sí ag teacht.

Tá an Banrion ag teacht.

Sé na deonaigh, le gruaig agus súil in bhfiainne,

Ag leanúint lucht mhóir an Bhanríon.

It looked like the sheerest gibberish. At the same time, there was something … civilized—was that the word?—in its appearance. The words bore all manner of strange accents and looked like no language with which Grey was familiar, and yet the text was punctuated in what seemed a logical fashion. It was laid out upon the page in the style of verse, with evident stanzas and what certainly looked like a repeated refrain—perhaps it was the text of a song?

“Have you ever seen anything like that before?” he asked Hal. His brother shook his head, still frowning.

“No. It looks vaguely as though someone had made an effort to transliterate Greek, using the Roman alphabet—but the words certainly aren’t Greek.”

“Nor Hebrew,” Grey said, peering at the first line. “Russian, perhaps? Turkish?”

“Perhaps,” Hal said dubiously. “But why, for God’s sake?”

Grey ran through in his mind what he knew of Carruthers’s career but turned up no particular connections with exotic languages. Neither had Charlie ever struck him as being remarkably well educated; he was always getting into a muddle over his bills when Grey first knew him, through simple inability to add, and his French was fluent but uncouth.

“Everything else in the packet pertains to Siverly and his misdeeds. So logically this must, too.”

“Was Carruthers particularly logical?” Hal eyed the stack of papers. “He’s legible, I’ll give him that. You knew him a great deal better than I, though—what d’you think?”

Grey thought a lot of things, most of which he didn’t intend to speak out loud. He had known Charlie Carruthers fairly well—in the Biblical sense, among others—though for only a short time and that time, more than ten years ago. Their meeting in Canada the year before had been brief—but Charlie had known Grey very well, too. He’d known who to trust with his inflammatory legacy.

“Not particularly logical, no,” he answered slowly. “Rather determined, though. Once he’d made up his mind to something, he’d see it through.”

And he nearly had. In spite of a failing heart, Carruthers had clung to life stubbornly, compiling this damning mass of testimony, determined to bring Major Gerald Siverly to justice.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice,” he had whispered in John’s ear, during their last meeting. Grey picked up the little stack of papers and shuffled them neatly into order, smelling in memory the scent of that attic room in Gareon, near Quebec. Pine boards, hot with a stifling turpentine perfume. Soured milk and the moldy sweetness of mouse droppings. The scent of Charlie’s skin, sweating with heat and with illness. The touch of his deformed hand on Grey’s face, a light touch but strong with the force of memory.

“I hunger, John,” he’d said, his breath heavy with approaching death. “And you thirst. You won’t fail me.”

br />

Grey couldn’t stand to watch him read through Charles Carruthers’s postmortem denunciation, recalling each damning page as Hal read it. He stood up and went to the window of the library that looked out into the back garden of Argus House, ignoring the swish of turning pages and the occasional blasphemous mutterings behind him.

Hal’s three boys were playing a game of tigers and hunters, leaping out at one another from behind the shrubbery with shrill roars, followed by shrieks of delight and yells of “Bang! Take that, you striped son of a bitch!”

The nurse seated on the edge of the fish pool, keeping a tight grip on baby Dottie’s gown, looked up at this but merely rolled her eyes with a martyred expression. Flesh and blood has its limits, her expression said clearly, and she resumed paddling a hand in the water, luring one of the big goldfish close so that Dottie could drop bits of bread to it.

John longed to be down there with them. It was a rare day for early April, and he felt the pulse of it in his blood, urging him to be outside, running barefoot through young grass. Running naked down into the water … The sun was high, flooding warm through the glass of the French windows, and he closed his eyes and turned his face up to it.

Siverly. The name floated in the darkness behind his eyes, pasted across the blank face of an imagined cartoon major, drawn in uniform, an outsize sword brandished in his hand and bags of money stuffed into the back of his breeches, obscene bulges under the skirt of his coat. One or two had fallen to the ground, bursting open so that you could see the contents—coin in one, the other filled with what looked like poppets, small wooden doll-like things. Each one with a tiny knife through its heart.

Hal swore in German behind him. He must have reached the part about the rifles; German oaths were reserved for the most stringent occasions, French being used for minor things like a burnt dinner, and Latin for formal insults committed to paper. Minnie wouldn’t let either Hal or John swear in English in the house, not wanting the boys to acquire low habits. John could have told her it was too late for such caution but didn’t.

He turned round to see Hal on his feet, pale with rage, a sheet of paper crumpled in one hand.

“How dare he? How dare he?”

A small knot he hadn’t known was there dissolved under John’s ribs. His brother had built his own regiment, the 46th, out of his own blood and bones; no one was less likely to overlook or condone military malfeasance. Still, Hal’s response reassured him.

“You believe Carruthers, then?”

Hal glared at him.

“Don’t you? You knew the man.”

He had known Charles Carruthers—in more than one sense.

“Yes, I believed him when he told me about Siverly in Canada, and that”—he nodded at the papers, thrown in a sprawl across Hal’s desk—“is even more convincing. You’d think he’d been a lawyer.”

He could still see Carruthers’s face, pale in the dimness of his attic room in the little garrison town of Gareon, drawn with ill health but set with grim determination to live long enough to see justice done. Charlie hadn’t lived that long, but long enough to write down every detail of the case against Major Gerald Siverly and to entrust it to Grey.

He was the fuse that would detonate this particular bomb. And he was all too familiar with what happened to fuses, once lit.

“WHAT IS THIS?” Hal was frowning at one of the papers. Grey put down the book in his hand and came to look. The paper was in Carruthers’s handwriting, as painstakingly executed as the rest; Carruthers had known he was setting down evidence for a court-martial and had done his best to make it legible.

It was legible—insofar as Grey could make out the various letters that composed the words. But the words themselves looked like nothing he had ever seen before.

Éistigí, Fir na dtrí náisiún.

Éistigí, le glór na hadhairc ag caoineadh san goath.

Ag teácht as an oiche.

Tá sí ag teacht.

Tá an Banrion ag teacht.

Sé na deonaigh, le gruaig agus súil in bhfiainne,

Ag leanúint lucht mhóir an Bhanríon.

It looked like the sheerest gibberish. At the same time, there was something … civilized—was that the word?—in its appearance. The words bore all manner of strange accents and looked like no language with which Grey was familiar, and yet the text was punctuated in what seemed a logical fashion. It was laid out upon the page in the style of verse, with evident stanzas and what certainly looked like a repeated refrain—perhaps it was the text of a song?

“Have you ever seen anything like that before?” he asked Hal. His brother shook his head, still frowning.

“No. It looks vaguely as though someone had made an effort to transliterate Greek, using the Roman alphabet—but the words certainly aren’t Greek.”

“Nor Hebrew,” Grey said, peering at the first line. “Russian, perhaps? Turkish?”

“Perhaps,” Hal said dubiously. “But why, for God’s sake?”

Grey ran through in his mind what he knew of Carruthers’s career but turned up no particular connections with exotic languages. Neither had Charlie ever struck him as being remarkably well educated; he was always getting into a muddle over his bills when Grey first knew him, through simple inability to add, and his French was fluent but uncouth.

“Everything else in the packet pertains to Siverly and his misdeeds. So logically this must, too.”

“Was Carruthers particularly logical?” Hal eyed the stack of papers. “He’s legible, I’ll give him that. You knew him a great deal better than I, though—what d’you think?”

Grey thought a lot of things, most of which he didn’t intend to speak out loud. He had known Charlie Carruthers fairly well—in the Biblical sense, among others—though for only a short time and that time, more than ten years ago. Their meeting in Canada the year before had been brief—but Charlie had known Grey very well, too. He’d known who to trust with his inflammatory legacy.

“Not particularly logical, no,” he answered slowly. “Rather determined, though. Once he’d made up his mind to something, he’d see it through.”

And he nearly had. In spite of a failing heart, Carruthers had clung to life stubbornly, compiling this damning mass of testimony, determined to bring Major Gerald Siverly to justice.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice,” he had whispered in John’s ear, during their last meeting. Grey picked up the little stack of papers and shuffled them neatly into order, smelling in memory the scent of that attic room in Gareon, near Quebec. Pine boards, hot with a stifling turpentine perfume. Soured milk and the moldy sweetness of mouse droppings. The scent of Charlie’s skin, sweating with heat and with illness. The touch of his deformed hand on Grey’s face, a light touch but strong with the force of memory.

“I hunger, John,” he’d said, his breath heavy with approaching death. “And you thirst. You won’t fail me.”

Grey didn’t intend to. With slow deliberation, he tapped the papers on the table, squaring them, and set them neatly down.

“Is there enough here, do you think?” he asked his brother. Enough to cause a general court-martial to be called, he meant—enough to convict Siverly of corruption, of abuse of his office. Of misconduct amounting to the murder of his own men. Siverly did not belong to Hal’s regiment, but he did belong to the army to which Hal—and Grey himself, come to that—had given most of their lives.

“More than enough,” Hal said, rubbing a hand over his chin. It was late in the day; the bristles of his beard made a tiny rasping sound. “If the witnesses can be found. If they’ll speak.” He spoke abstractedly, though, still puzzling over the mysterious sheet.

Do chuir siad na Róisíní Bhán ar an bealach go bua.

Agus iad toilteannach agus buail le híobáirt an teannta ifrinn.

Iad ag leanúint le bealach glór an Bhanríon.

“Do choo-ir see-ad na Royseence …” he read aloud, slowly. “Is it a cipher, do you suppose? Or a code?”

“Is there a difference?”

“Yes, there is,” Hal said absently. He held it up to the light from the window, presumably to see if anything showed through, then bent and held it over the fire.

Grey stopped his involuntary move to snatch the paper; there were ways of doing secret writing, and most of those showed up with heat. Though why one would add an overtly mysterious code to a paper with hidden writing, thus drawing attention to it …

The paper was beginning to scorch and curl at the edges, but nothing was showing up save the original words, cryptic as ever. Hal pulled it back and dropped it smoking on the desk, shaking his fingers.

“For what the observation is worth,” Grey said, gingerly picking up the hot sheet, “I don’t see why Carruthers would trouble himself with encoding this particular document. Given the rest of it, I mean.”

Hal compressed his lips but nodded. “The rest of it” included specific denunciations of a number of men—some of them powerful—who had been involved in Siverly’s defalcations. If Carruthers trusted Grey to handle such incendiary stuff, what might he have balked at?

“Besides, Charlie knew he was dying,” Grey said more quietly. He laid the sheet on top of the others and again began to tidy them into a square. “He left this packet addressed to me. He expected me to use it. Why would he have tried to conceal some part of the information from me?”

Hal shrugged, acknowledging the argument.

“Then why is it here? Included by mistake?” Even as he suggested this, he was shaking his head. The packet itself had been meticulously assembled, with documents in chronological order. Some of the papers were Carruthers’s own testimony; some were statements signed by other witnesses; some were original army documents—or perhaps copies made by a clerk. It was impossible to tell, unless the original had borne a stamp. The whole bundle spoke of care, precision—and the passion that had driven Carruthers past his own weakness in order to accomplish Siverly’s destruction.

“It is Carruthers’s hand?” Unable to let a puzzle alone, Hal reached out and took the sheet of gibberish from the top of the stack.

“Yes,” Grey said, though that much was obvious. Carruthers wrote a clear, slanted hand, with oddly curled tails on the descending letters. He came to look over Hal’s shoulder, trying to see if the paper provided any clue they could have missed.

“It’s laid out like verse,” he observed, and, with the observation, something fluttered uneasily at the back of his mind. But what? He tried to catch a glimpse of it, but the thought skittered away like a spider under a stone.

“Yes.” Hal drew a finger down the page, slowly. “But look at how these words are repeated. I think it might be a cipher, after all—if that were the case, you might be picking a different set of letters out of each line, even though the lines look much the same in themselves.” He straightened up, shaking his head. “I don’t know. It could be a cipher that Carruthers stumbled onto in Siverly’s papers but to which he hadn’t the key—and so he merely copied it and passed it on in hopes that you might discover the key yourself.”

“That makes some sense.” John rocked back on his heels, narrowing his eyes at his brother. “How do you come to know so much about ciphers and secret writings?”

Hal hesitated, but then smiled. Hal smiled rarely, but it transformed his face when he did.

“Minnie,” he said.

“What?” Grey said, uncomprehending. His sister-in-law was a kind, pretty woman, who managed his difficult brother with great aplomb, but what—

“My secret weapon,” Hal admitted, still smiling at whatever thought amused him. “Her father was Raphael Wattiswade.”

“I’ve never heard of Raphael Wattiswade.”

“You weren’t meant to,” his brother assured him, “and neither was anyone else. Wattiswade was a dealer in rare books—traveled to and from the Continent regularly, under the name Andrew Rennie. He was also a dealer in intelligence. A spymaster … who had no sons.”

Grey looked at his brother for a moment.

“Tell me,” he begged, “that her father did not employ Minnie as a spy.”

“He did, the scrofulous old bugger,” Hal replied briefly. “I caught her in my study one night during a party, magicking the locked drawer of my desk. That’s how I met her.”

Grey didn’t bother asking what had been in the drawer. He smiled himself and picked up the decanter of sherry from the tea tray, unstoppering it.

“I gather you did not immediately have her arrested and taken before a magistrate?”

Hal took a sherry glass and held it out.

“No. I had her on the hearth rug.”

The decanter slipped from Grey’s fingers, and he caught it again by pure luck, splashing only a little.

“Did you, indeed?” he managed.

“Give me that, butterfingers.” Hal took the decanter from him, and poured carefully, eyes fixed on the rising amber liquid. “And, yes, I did.”

Grey wondered, reeling, whether Minnie had been a virgin and decided instantly not to ask.

“Then I put her into a coach, made her tell me her address, and said I would call on her in the morning, to ask after her welfare,” Hal said offhandedly, and passed John a glass. “Here. Hang on to it this time. You look as though you need it.”

He did, and drank off the sherry—which wasn’t bad—in a couple of gulps.


Tags: Diana Gabaldon Lord John Grey Suspense
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