Quinn had promptly declared that he knew Lough Ree well, would guide them safely and find them transport to Inchcleraun. “For sure, I’m after having my own small bit of business nearby, am I not?”

It was roughly twenty miles from Athlone to the far end of Lough Ree, but a torrential downpour that turned the road to liquid mud, bogged the horses, and sank the cart to its axles marooned them four miles short of their goal.

At this point, Grey was not precisely grateful but at least not displeased that Quinn had come with them, for the Irishman did apparently know the countryside and found them shelter in a tumbledown structure that had once been a cow byre. True, the roof leaked and there was a lingering scent of the building’s former inhabitants, but it was substantially drier than the open air, and there was enough dung and a few damp peats to scrape together for a meager fire.

Grey admitted to a reluctant admiration for Quinn’s sangfroid. He behaved precisely as though they were all jolly companions, joking and telling stories, and such was his skill that in fact the atmosphere in the dank little shelter was relaxed and pleasant, in spite of what Grey either knew or suspected of the Irishman.

“And what of you, lad?” Quinn was saying to Tom. “D’ye have a tale to tell, to pass the time?”

Tom blushed visibly, despite the darkness.

“I’m no hand with a tale, sir,” he said, deprecating. “I, um, could maybe read a bit, though?”

Tom had, for reasons best known to himself, brought along as light recreational reading for the journey a shabby volume borrowed from Hal’s library, entitled The Gentleman Instructed. This was a treatise on deportment, etiquette, and general behavior, dating roughly from the year of Grey’s birth, and, while extremely entertaining in spots, was perhaps a trifle obsolete in its advice.

“Oh, by all means, Tom,” Grey said. “I’m sure all profit from a bit of elevating discourse.”

Tom looked pleased and, after a bit of thumbing, cleared his throat and read:

“Dueling is a Great Evil, which a Christian Gentleman should strive always to avoid. Should appeal to Reason fail to resolve Conflict and Honor prevent gracious Capitulation, a Gentleman should then seek the Assistance of Friends, who by dint of Persuasion may bring your Opponent to a sense of Christian Obligation and Responsibility. However …”

Someone must have given it to Grey’s father—his name was inscribed on the flyleaf—but Grey couldn’t imagine his father having actually purchased such a book himself.

Still, Grey reflected, he’d take The Gentleman Instructed any day in preference to Tom’s usual favorite, Arbuthnot’s Ailments, from which he was accustomed to regale Grey, in tones of gloomy relish, with descriptions of exactly what happened to persons so reckless as to neglect the proper balance of their humors. Allowing one’s phlegm to get the upper hand was particularly dire, he understood, and cleared his throat in reflex at the thought, spitting neatly into the fire, which hissed and sizzled at the insult.

“Should Armed Conflict prove unavoidable, the Gentleman should give his Opponent every Opportunity for Withdrawal without loss of Reputation. To this end, such Epithets as ‘Coward,’ ‘Seducer,’ ‘Fop,’ or most particularly ‘Dog’ are strongly discouraged to be used.”

Grey was beginning to wonder whether perhaps his mother had given the book to his father as a joke. It would be quite like her.

He relaxed against the backstop of his portmanteau and, with belly pleasantly full and lulled by Tom’s reading, fell into a half dream in which he called Siverly out. A duel would be so much more straightforward, he reflected drowsily. “Have at you, sir!” And a straight thrust through the heart … Well, no, better through the guts; the poltroon didn’t deserve a clean, uncomplicated death.

He’d been out a few times, mostly with swords. Inconsequential encounters—both parties drunk, hasty words, perhaps a blow—that neither one could find enough coherence to apologize for while preserving any countenance.

The advantage to dueling while drunk, he’d found, was that there wasn’t any sense of fear or urgency about it; it was an elevated sort of feeling, literally—he felt as though he stood a little above himself, living at a faster pace, so that he saw every move, every thrust, as though performed in exquisite slow motion. The grunt of effort, the tickle of sweat, and the smell of his opponent’s body were vivid punctuations of their dance, and the sense of being intensely alive was intoxicating in itself.

He always won; it didn’t occur to him that he might not. A decent fight, a simple stab, a quick slash that drew a little blood, honor satisfied, and they stood together, chests heaving, often laughing and leaning on each other, still drunk. He hadn’t had that sort of duel in years, though.

“Ye’ve been out now and then yourself, haven’t ye, Jamie?”

Distracted by memory, Grey hadn’t noticed that Tom had stopped reading, but was pulled from his thoughts by Quinn’s interjection. Grey looked up and caught a most peculiar expression on Jamie’s face.

“Once or twice,” Jamie muttered, averting his eyes. He picked up a stick and poked the fire unnecessarily, making the peats crumble and glow.

“In the Bois de Boulogne, wasn’t it? With some Englishman. I recall hearing about it—a famous fight! And did ye not end in the Bastille for it?” Quinn laughed.

Fraser glanced round with a truly awful look in his eyes, and had Quinn been watching him, he would either have been turned to stone on the spot or leapt up and run for his life.

John himself leapt in, wanting above all to disrupt the conversation.

“I once killed a man by accident during a duel—or thought I had. It was the last duel I fought; I think it might be the last altogether. A most distressing experience.”

That duel had been with pistols. He hadn’t been drunk then. He’d been suffering the aftereffects of being electrocuted by an electric eel, and the entire experience had been so unreal that he still didn’t trust his memories of it. He had no idea how it had begun, still less how it had finished.

uinn had promptly declared that he knew Lough Ree well, would guide them safely and find them transport to Inchcleraun. “For sure, I’m after having my own small bit of business nearby, am I not?”

It was roughly twenty miles from Athlone to the far end of Lough Ree, but a torrential downpour that turned the road to liquid mud, bogged the horses, and sank the cart to its axles marooned them four miles short of their goal.

At this point, Grey was not precisely grateful but at least not displeased that Quinn had come with them, for the Irishman did apparently know the countryside and found them shelter in a tumbledown structure that had once been a cow byre. True, the roof leaked and there was a lingering scent of the building’s former inhabitants, but it was substantially drier than the open air, and there was enough dung and a few damp peats to scrape together for a meager fire.

Grey admitted to a reluctant admiration for Quinn’s sangfroid. He behaved precisely as though they were all jolly companions, joking and telling stories, and such was his skill that in fact the atmosphere in the dank little shelter was relaxed and pleasant, in spite of what Grey either knew or suspected of the Irishman.

“And what of you, lad?” Quinn was saying to Tom. “D’ye have a tale to tell, to pass the time?”

Tom blushed visibly, despite the darkness.

“I’m no hand with a tale, sir,” he said, deprecating. “I, um, could maybe read a bit, though?”

Tom had, for reasons best known to himself, brought along as light recreational reading for the journey a shabby volume borrowed from Hal’s library, entitled The Gentleman Instructed. This was a treatise on deportment, etiquette, and general behavior, dating roughly from the year of Grey’s birth, and, while extremely entertaining in spots, was perhaps a trifle obsolete in its advice.

“Oh, by all means, Tom,” Grey said. “I’m sure all profit from a bit of elevating discourse.”

Tom looked pleased and, after a bit of thumbing, cleared his throat and read:

“Dueling is a Great Evil, which a Christian Gentleman should strive always to avoid. Should appeal to Reason fail to resolve Conflict and Honor prevent gracious Capitulation, a Gentleman should then seek the Assistance of Friends, who by dint of Persuasion may bring your Opponent to a sense of Christian Obligation and Responsibility. However …”

Someone must have given it to Grey’s father—his name was inscribed on the flyleaf—but Grey couldn’t imagine his father having actually purchased such a book himself.

Still, Grey reflected, he’d take The Gentleman Instructed any day in preference to Tom’s usual favorite, Arbuthnot’s Ailments, from which he was accustomed to regale Grey, in tones of gloomy relish, with descriptions of exactly what happened to persons so reckless as to neglect the proper balance of their humors. Allowing one’s phlegm to get the upper hand was particularly dire, he understood, and cleared his throat in reflex at the thought, spitting neatly into the fire, which hissed and sizzled at the insult.

“Should Armed Conflict prove unavoidable, the Gentleman should give his Opponent every Opportunity for Withdrawal without loss of Reputation. To this end, such Epithets as ‘Coward,’ ‘Seducer,’ ‘Fop,’ or most particularly ‘Dog’ are strongly discouraged to be used.”

Grey was beginning to wonder whether perhaps his mother had given the book to his father as a joke. It would be quite like her.

He relaxed against the backstop of his portmanteau and, with belly pleasantly full and lulled by Tom’s reading, fell into a half dream in which he called Siverly out. A duel would be so much more straightforward, he reflected drowsily. “Have at you, sir!” And a straight thrust through the heart … Well, no, better through the guts; the poltroon didn’t deserve a clean, uncomplicated death.

He’d been out a few times, mostly with swords. Inconsequential encounters—both parties drunk, hasty words, perhaps a blow—that neither one could find enough coherence to apologize for while preserving any countenance.

The advantage to dueling while drunk, he’d found, was that there wasn’t any sense of fear or urgency about it; it was an elevated sort of feeling, literally—he felt as though he stood a little above himself, living at a faster pace, so that he saw every move, every thrust, as though performed in exquisite slow motion. The grunt of effort, the tickle of sweat, and the smell of his opponent’s body were vivid punctuations of their dance, and the sense of being intensely alive was intoxicating in itself.

He always won; it didn’t occur to him that he might not. A decent fight, a simple stab, a quick slash that drew a little blood, honor satisfied, and they stood together, chests heaving, often laughing and leaning on each other, still drunk. He hadn’t had that sort of duel in years, though.

“Ye’ve been out now and then yourself, haven’t ye, Jamie?”

Distracted by memory, Grey hadn’t noticed that Tom had stopped reading, but was pulled from his thoughts by Quinn’s interjection. Grey looked up and caught a most peculiar expression on Jamie’s face.

“Once or twice,” Jamie muttered, averting his eyes. He picked up a stick and poked the fire unnecessarily, making the peats crumble and glow.

“In the Bois de Boulogne, wasn’t it? With some Englishman. I recall hearing about it—a famous fight! And did ye not end in the Bastille for it?” Quinn laughed.

Fraser glanced round with a truly awful look in his eyes, and had Quinn been watching him, he would either have been turned to stone on the spot or leapt up and run for his life.

John himself leapt in, wanting above all to disrupt the conversation.

“I once killed a man by accident during a duel—or thought I had. It was the last duel I fought; I think it might be the last altogether. A most distressing experience.”

That duel had been with pistols. He hadn’t been drunk then. He’d been suffering the aftereffects of being electrocuted by an electric eel, and the entire experience had been so unreal that he still didn’t trust his memories of it. He had no idea how it had begun, still less how it had finished.

His opponent had died, and he regretted that—though not very much, he admitted to himself; Nicholls had been a boor and a waste to society, and, besides, he’d asked for it. Still, his death had been an accident, and Grey really preferred to kill on purpose, when it was necessary.

Interrupted, but not offended, Tom shut the book with his finger in it to hold his place and leaned forward, face wary. That duel had sent him and Lord John to Canada; he hadn’t been there when Grey killed Nicholls but certainly remembered the occasion, and it occurred to Grey to wonder whether Tom had chosen the Gentleman’s admonition against dueling on purpose.

Quinn’s interest had shifted from Fraser to Grey, though, which was what Grey had intended, so he answered when Quinn inquired what he meant by saying he thought he’d killed the man by accident.

“I meant to delope—to fire up into the air?” Quinn nodded impatiently, familiar with the term. “But my man fell and sat bleeding on the grass—he was quite alive, though, and didn’t seem much hurt. The bullet had gone up and more or less fallen on him from a height but hadn’t struck him on the head or anything. He walked off, in fact, in the company of a surgeon who happened to be there—it was following a party. I was therefore entirely shocked to hear the next morning that he’d died.”

“An accident, sure. But are ye saying that really wasn’t the way of it, at all?”

“I am, indeed. It was months later that I received a letter from the surgeon, informing me that the man had had a congenital weakness of the heart—an aneurysm, he called it—that had burst as a result of the shock. It wasn’t my shot at all that had killed him—or only indirectly—and Dr. Hunter said that he might have died at any time.”

“Dr. Hunter?” Quinn sat up straight and crossed himself. “John Hunter, is it—him they call the Body-Snatcher?”

“Dr. John Hunter, yes,” Grey said warily, suddenly on dicey ground. He hadn’t meant to mention Hunter by name—and hadn’t expected either of the men to know that name, either. Hunter did indeed have a most unsavory reputation, being rapacious in the collection of bodies for dissection. And the question as to just how Dr. Hunter knew of Nicholls’s aneurysm …

“God between us and evil,” Quinn said, shuddering visibly. His usual breezy manner had quite vanished. “Think of it! To be taken off and anatomized like a criminal, skinned like an animal and your flesh cut into bloody bits … God and all angels preserve me from such a fate!”

Grey coughed and, glancing to the side, caught Tom’s eye. He hadn’t shown Tom Dr. Hunter’s letter, but Tom was his valet and knew things. Tom coughed, too, and neatly closed his book.

“It’s a nightmare I have sometimes,” Quinn confided, rubbing his hands together as though he were cold. “The anatomists have got me, and they’ve boiled up me bones and strung me up as a skellington, left hanging there grinning in some medical bugger’s surgery for all eternity. Wake from that in a cold sweat, I tell ye truly.”

“I shall keep a lookout, Quinn,” Jamie said, making a decent attempt at a grin. “Should I see a skeleton wi’ a missing eyetooth, I promise I’ll buy it and see it given decent burial, just in case.”

Quinn reached for his cup and raised it to Jamie.

“It’s a bargain, Jamie dear,” he said. “And I shall do the same for you, shall I? Though I’m not sure I should be able to tell the difference between your skeleton and that of a gorilla, now.”

“And where would ye ever have seen a gorilla, Quinn?” Jamie leaned forward to pour himself another mug of ale.

“In Paris, of course. King Louis’s zoo. The King of France is most generous to his subjects,” Quinn explained to Tom, who had come to put more fuel on the fire. “On certain days, his collection of outrageous animals is open to the public—and a boggling sight they are, to be sure. Ever seen an ostrich, have ye, lad?”

Grey drew breath, relaxing slightly as the conversation turned safely away from dangerous topics. He wondered briefly about the famous duel in the Bois de Bologne and who the Englishman had been that Fraser fought. That would have been before the Rising; Fraser had mentioned being in Paris then, during a conversation about French novels that they had had at Ardsmuir.

Quite suddenly—and with a yearning that astonished him with its strength—he thought of those rare evenings of friendship, for they had been friends, in spite of their uneasy relationship as prisoner and gaoler; had shared conversation, humor, experience, a commonality of mind that was rare indeed. If he had only had more control, had not made his feelings known … Well, a good many regrettable things wouldn’t have happened, and he had cursed himself on many occasions since, for his bad judgment. And yet …

He watched Fraser through his lashes, the glow of the burning peat shining red along the long, straight bridge of the Scotsman’s nose and across the broad cheekbones, the light molten bronze in the loose tail of hair pulled back with a leather thong and dripping wet down his back. And yet … he thought.

He had sacrificed their easiness together, and that was a great loss. Fraser, in his turn, had reacted with such revulsion to the revelation of Grey’s nature as had led to terrible exchanges between them—and Grey still didn’t wish to think about the revelation that had come to him regarding just why—but in the final analysis, he had not lost everything. Fraser knew. And that was in itself a remarkable thing.

There was not easiness between them any longer—but there was honesty. And that was a thing he had had—ever would have—with precious few men.

Quinn was telling some tale now, but Grey paid no great attention.

Tom had been humming under his breath as he went about the business of supper and now escalated to whistling. Absorbed in his own thoughts, Grey hadn’t noticed what he was whistling but suddenly caught a phrase that echoed in his head with its words: Down among the dead men, let him lie!

He jerked, with a quick, reflexive glance at Fraser. “Down Among the Dead Men” was a popular song, originally from Queen Anne’s time, but, in the way of popular songs, with words often adapted to current feeling. The patrons of this afternoon’s pub had been singing a blatantly anti-Catholic version, and while Fraser had given little outward sign of offense, Grey was well enough accustomed to his facial expressions—or lack of them—as to have detected the attention to his ale cup that hid the smolder of his eyes.

Surely he would not think Tom’s absentminded whistling a reference to—

“Sure, he’ll not be troubled,” said Quinn casually. “He doesn’t hear music, the creature, only words. Now, when it came time to—”

Grey smiled and pretended courteous attention to the rest of Quinn’s tale, but was deaf to its details. He was startled not only by the Irishman’s acuity—as to have noticed both his wary glance at Fraser and to have deduced the cause of it—but by the casual revelation that Quinn knew that Fraser was tone-deaf.

Grey himself knew that, though he had momentarily forgotten it. In the time at Ardsmuir when he and Fraser had dined together regularly, Fraser had told him—as the result of a question regarding which was his favorite composer—that in consequence of an ax blow to the head some years before, he had quite lost the ability to distinguish one note from another.

True, Jamie might have mentioned this disability to Quinn in passing sometime during the last two days—but Grey doubted it extremely. Jamie was an extraordinarily private man, and while capable of extreme civility when he wanted to be, his cordiality was often used as a shield to keep his conversant at arm’s length.


Tags: Diana Gabaldon Lord John Grey Suspense
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