‘All present, sir,’ Cutter said, saluting. ‘ ’Oom ’ave I the honour of h’addressing, sir?’

‘I am Lieutenant-Colonel Grey. Set your men to watch the ship, please, sergeant, with particular attention to dark craft coming downstream, and then come back to report what you know of matters in camp.’

Cutter saluted and promptly vanished with a shout of ‘Come on, you shower o’ shit! Look lively, look lively!’

Tom gave a brief, strangled scream, and Grey whirled, drawing his dagger by reflex, to find a dark shape directly behind him.

‘Don’t kill me, Englishman,’ said the Indian who had led them to the camp earlier. He sounded mildly amused. ‘Le capitaine sent me to find you.’

‘Why?’ Grey asked shortly. His heart was still pounding from the shock. He disliked being taken at a disadvantage, and disliked even more the thought that the man could easily have killed him before Grey knew he was there.

‘The Abenaki set your tent on fire; he supposed they might have dragged you and your servant into the forest.’

Tom uttered an extremely coarse expletive, and made as though to dive directly into the trees, but Grey stopped him with a hand on his arm.

‘Stay, Tom. It doesn’t matter.’

‘The bloody hell you say,’ Tom replied heatedly, agitation depriving him of his normal manners. ‘I daresay I can find you more smallclothes, not as that will be easy, but what about your cousin’s painting of her and the little ’un she sent for Captain Stubbs? What about your good hat with the gold lace?!?’

Grey had a brief moment of alarm – his young cousin Olivia had sent a miniature of herself and her newborn son, charging him to deliver this to her husband, Captain Malcolm Stubbs, presently with Wolfe’s troops. He clapped a hand to his side, though, and felt with relief the oval shape of the miniature in its wrappings, safe in his pocket.

‘That’s all right, Tom; I’ve got it. As to the hat . . . we’ll worry about that later, I think. Here – what is your name, sir?’ he inquired of the Indian, unwilling to address him simply as ‘you’.

‘Manoke,’ said the Indian, still sounding amused.

‘Quite. Will you take my servant back to the camp?’ He saw the small, determined figure of Sergeant Cutter appear at the mouth of the trail, and firmly overriding Tom’s protests, shooed him off in care of the Indian.

In the event, all five fire-ships either drifted or were steered away from the Harwood. Something that might – or might not – have been a boarding craft did appear upstream, but was frightened off by Grey’s impromptu troops on the shore, firing volleys – though the range was woefully short; there was no possibility of hitting anything.

Still, the Harwood was secure, and the camp had settled into a state of uneasy watchfulness. Grey had seen Woodford briefly upon his return, near dawn, and learned that the raid had resulted in the deaths of two men and the capture of three more, dragged off into the forest. Three of the Indian raiders had been killed, another wounded – Woodford intended to interview this man before he died, but doubted that any useful information would result.

‘They never talk,’ he’d said, rubbing at his smoke-reddened eyes. His face was pouchy and grey with fatigue. ‘They just close their eyes and start singing their damned deathsongs. Not a blind bit of difference what you do to ’em – they just keep singing.’

Grey had heard it, or thought he had, as he crawled wearily into his borrowed shelter toward daybreak. A faint, high-pitched chant, that rose and fell like the rush of the wind in the trees overhead. It kept up for a bit, then stopped abruptly, only to resume again, faint and interrupted, as he teetered on the edge of sleep.

What was the man saying? he wondered. Did it matter that none of the men hearing him knew what he said? Perhaps the scout – Manoke, that was his name – was there; perhaps he would know.

Tom had found Grey a small tent at the end of a row. Probably he had ejected some subaltern, but Grey wasn’t inclined to object. It was barely big enough for the canvas bedsack that lay on the ground and a box that served as table, on which stood an empty candlestick, but it was shelter. It had begun to rain lightly as he walked up the trail to camp, and the rain was now pattering busily on the canvas overhead, raising a sweet, musty scent. If the deathsong continued, it was no longer audible over the sound of the rain.

Grey turned over, the grass stuffing of the bedsack rustling softly beneath him, and fell at once into sleep.

He woke abruptly, face to face with an Indian. His reflexive flurry of movement was met with a low chuckle and a slight withdrawal, rather than a knife across the throat, though, and he broke through the fog of sleep in time to avoid doing serious damage to the scout Manoke.

‘What?’ he muttered, and rubbed the heel of his hand across his eyes. ‘What is it?’ And why the devil are you lying on my bed?

In answer to this, the Indian put a hand behind his head, drew him close, and kissed him. The man’s tongue ran lightly across his lower lip, darted like a lizard’s into his mouth, and then was gone.

So was the Indian.

He rolled over onto his back, blinking. A dream. It was still raining, harder now. He breathed in deeply; he could smell bear-grease, of course, on his own skin, and mint – was there any hint of metal? The light was stronger – it must be day; he heard the drummer passing through the aisles of tents to rouse the men, the rattle of his sticks blending with the rattle of the rain, the shouts of corporals and sergeants – but still faint and grey. He could not have been asleep for more than half an hour, he thought.

‘Christ,’ he muttered, and turning himself stiffly over, pulled his coat over his head and sought sleep once again.

The Harwood tacked slowly upriver, with a sharp eye out for French marauders. There were a few alarms, including another raid by hostile Indians while camped on shore. This one ended more happily, with four marauders killed, and only one cook wounded, not seriously. They were obliged to loiter for a time, waiting for a cloudy night, in order to steal past the fortress of Quebec, menacing on its cliffs. They were spotted, in fact, and one or two cannon fired in their direction, but to no effect. And at last they came into port at Gareon, the site of General Wolfe’s headquarters.

lsquo;All present, sir,’ Cutter said, saluting. ‘ ’Oom ’ave I the honour of h’addressing, sir?’

‘I am Lieutenant-Colonel Grey. Set your men to watch the ship, please, sergeant, with particular attention to dark craft coming downstream, and then come back to report what you know of matters in camp.’

Cutter saluted and promptly vanished with a shout of ‘Come on, you shower o’ shit! Look lively, look lively!’

Tom gave a brief, strangled scream, and Grey whirled, drawing his dagger by reflex, to find a dark shape directly behind him.

‘Don’t kill me, Englishman,’ said the Indian who had led them to the camp earlier. He sounded mildly amused. ‘Le capitaine sent me to find you.’

‘Why?’ Grey asked shortly. His heart was still pounding from the shock. He disliked being taken at a disadvantage, and disliked even more the thought that the man could easily have killed him before Grey knew he was there.

‘The Abenaki set your tent on fire; he supposed they might have dragged you and your servant into the forest.’

Tom uttered an extremely coarse expletive, and made as though to dive directly into the trees, but Grey stopped him with a hand on his arm.

‘Stay, Tom. It doesn’t matter.’

‘The bloody hell you say,’ Tom replied heatedly, agitation depriving him of his normal manners. ‘I daresay I can find you more smallclothes, not as that will be easy, but what about your cousin’s painting of her and the little ’un she sent for Captain Stubbs? What about your good hat with the gold lace?!?’

Grey had a brief moment of alarm – his young cousin Olivia had sent a miniature of herself and her newborn son, charging him to deliver this to her husband, Captain Malcolm Stubbs, presently with Wolfe’s troops. He clapped a hand to his side, though, and felt with relief the oval shape of the miniature in its wrappings, safe in his pocket.

‘That’s all right, Tom; I’ve got it. As to the hat . . . we’ll worry about that later, I think. Here – what is your name, sir?’ he inquired of the Indian, unwilling to address him simply as ‘you’.

‘Manoke,’ said the Indian, still sounding amused.

‘Quite. Will you take my servant back to the camp?’ He saw the small, determined figure of Sergeant Cutter appear at the mouth of the trail, and firmly overriding Tom’s protests, shooed him off in care of the Indian.

In the event, all five fire-ships either drifted or were steered away from the Harwood. Something that might – or might not – have been a boarding craft did appear upstream, but was frightened off by Grey’s impromptu troops on the shore, firing volleys – though the range was woefully short; there was no possibility of hitting anything.

Still, the Harwood was secure, and the camp had settled into a state of uneasy watchfulness. Grey had seen Woodford briefly upon his return, near dawn, and learned that the raid had resulted in the deaths of two men and the capture of three more, dragged off into the forest. Three of the Indian raiders had been killed, another wounded – Woodford intended to interview this man before he died, but doubted that any useful information would result.

‘They never talk,’ he’d said, rubbing at his smoke-reddened eyes. His face was pouchy and grey with fatigue. ‘They just close their eyes and start singing their damned deathsongs. Not a blind bit of difference what you do to ’em – they just keep singing.’

Grey had heard it, or thought he had, as he crawled wearily into his borrowed shelter toward daybreak. A faint, high-pitched chant, that rose and fell like the rush of the wind in the trees overhead. It kept up for a bit, then stopped abruptly, only to resume again, faint and interrupted, as he teetered on the edge of sleep.

What was the man saying? he wondered. Did it matter that none of the men hearing him knew what he said? Perhaps the scout – Manoke, that was his name – was there; perhaps he would know.

Tom had found Grey a small tent at the end of a row. Probably he had ejected some subaltern, but Grey wasn’t inclined to object. It was barely big enough for the canvas bedsack that lay on the ground and a box that served as table, on which stood an empty candlestick, but it was shelter. It had begun to rain lightly as he walked up the trail to camp, and the rain was now pattering busily on the canvas overhead, raising a sweet, musty scent. If the deathsong continued, it was no longer audible over the sound of the rain.

Grey turned over, the grass stuffing of the bedsack rustling softly beneath him, and fell at once into sleep.

He woke abruptly, face to face with an Indian. His reflexive flurry of movement was met with a low chuckle and a slight withdrawal, rather than a knife across the throat, though, and he broke through the fog of sleep in time to avoid doing serious damage to the scout Manoke.

‘What?’ he muttered, and rubbed the heel of his hand across his eyes. ‘What is it?’ And why the devil are you lying on my bed?

In answer to this, the Indian put a hand behind his head, drew him close, and kissed him. The man’s tongue ran lightly across his lower lip, darted like a lizard’s into his mouth, and then was gone.

So was the Indian.

He rolled over onto his back, blinking. A dream. It was still raining, harder now. He breathed in deeply; he could smell bear-grease, of course, on his own skin, and mint – was there any hint of metal? The light was stronger – it must be day; he heard the drummer passing through the aisles of tents to rouse the men, the rattle of his sticks blending with the rattle of the rain, the shouts of corporals and sergeants – but still faint and grey. He could not have been asleep for more than half an hour, he thought.

‘Christ,’ he muttered, and turning himself stiffly over, pulled his coat over his head and sought sleep once again.

The Harwood tacked slowly upriver, with a sharp eye out for French marauders. There were a few alarms, including another raid by hostile Indians while camped on shore. This one ended more happily, with four marauders killed, and only one cook wounded, not seriously. They were obliged to loiter for a time, waiting for a cloudy night, in order to steal past the fortress of Quebec, menacing on its cliffs. They were spotted, in fact, and one or two cannon fired in their direction, but to no effect. And at last they came into port at Gareon, the site of General Wolfe’s headquarters.

The town itself had been nearly engulfed by the growing military encampment that surrounded it, acres of tents spreading upward from the settlement on the riverbank, the whole presided over by a small French Catholic mission, whose tiny cross was just visible at the top of the hill that lay behind the town. The French inhabitants, with the political indifference of merchants everywhere, had given a Gallic shrug and set about happily overcharging the occupying forces.

The general himself was elsewhere, Grey was informed, fighting inland, but would doubtless return within the month. A lieutenant-colonel without brief or regimental affiliation was simply a nuisance; he was provided with suitable quarters and politely shooed away. With no immediate duties to fulfil, he gave a shrug of his own and set out to discover the whereabouts of Captain Carruthers.

It wasn’t difficult to find him. The patron of the first tavern Grey visited directed him at once to the habitat of le capitaine, a room in the house of a widow named Lambert, near the mission church. Grey wondered whether he would have received the information as readily from any other tavern-keeper in the village. Charlie had liked to drink when Grey had known him, and evidently still did, judging from the genial attitude of the patron when Carruthers’s name was mentioned. Not that Grey could blame him, under the circumstances.

The widow – young, chestnut-haired, and quite attractive – viewed the English officer at her door with a deep suspicion, but when he followed his request for Captain Carruthers by mentioning that he was an old friend of the captain’s, her face relaxed.

‘Bon,’ she said, swinging the door open abruptly. ‘He needs friends.’

He ascended two flights of narrow stairs to Carruthers’s attic, feeling the air about him grow warmer. It was pleasant at this time of day, but must grow stifling by mid-afternoon. He knocked, and felt a small shock of pleased recognition at hearing Carruthers’s voice bid him enter.

Carruthers was seated at a rickety table in shirt and breeches, writing, an inkwell made from a gourd at one elbow, a pot of beer at the other. He looked at Grey blankly for an instant, then joy washed across his features, and he rose, nearly upsetting both.

‘John!’

Before Grey could offer his hand, he found himself embraced – and returned the embrace wholeheartedly, a wash of memory flooding through him as he smelt Carruthers’s hair, felt the scrape of his unshaven cheek against Grey’s own. Even in the midst of this sensation, though, he felt the slightness of Carruthers’s body, the bones that pressed through his clothes.

‘I never thought you’d come,’ Carruthers was repeating, for perhaps the fourth time. He let go and stepped back, smiling as he dashed the back of his hand across his eyes, which were unabashedly wet.

‘Well, you have an electric eel to thank for my presence,’ Grey told him, smiling himself.

‘A what?’ Carruthers stared at him blankly.

‘Long story – tell you later. For the moment, though – what the devil have you been doing, Charlie?’

The happiness faded somewhat from Carruthers’s lean face, but didn’t disappear altogether.

‘Ah. Well. That’s a long story, too. Let me send Martine for more beer.’ He waved Grey toward the room’s only stool, and went out before Grey could protest. He sat, gingerly, lest the stool collapse, but it held his weight. Besides the stool and table, the attic was very plainly furnished; a narrow cot, a chamber pot, and an ancient washstand with an earthenware basin and ewer completed the ensemble. It was very clean, but there was a faint smell of something in the air – something sweet and sickly, which he traced at once to a corked bottle standing at the back of the washstand.

Not that he had needed the smell of laudanum; one look at Carruthers’s gaunt face told him enough. Returning to the stool, he glanced at the papers Carruthers had been working on. They appeared to be notes in preparation for the court-martial; the one on top was an account of an expedition undertaken by troops under Carruthers’s command, on the orders of a Major Gerald Siverly.

Our orders instructed us to march to a village called Beaulieu, some ten miles to the east of Montmorency, there to ransack and fire the houses, driving off such animals as we encountered. This we did. Some men of the village offered us resistance, armed with scythes and other implements. Two of these were shot, the others fled. We returned with two wagons filled with flour, cheeses, and small household goods, three cows and two good mules.

Grey got no further before the door opened. Carruthers came in and sat on the bed, nodding toward the papers.

‘I thought I’d best write everything down. Just in case I don’t live long enough for the court-martial.’ He spoke matter-of-factly, and seeing the look on Grey’s face, smiled faintly. ‘Don’t be troubled, John. I’ve always known I’d not make old bones. This—’ He turned his right hand upward, letting the drooping cuff of his shirt fall back, ‘—isn’t all of it.’ He tapped his chest gently with his left hand.

‘More than one doctor’s told me I have some gross defect of the heart. Don’t know, quite, if I have two of those, too—’ he grinned at Grey, the sudden, charming smile he remembered so well, ‘—or only half of one, or what. Used to be, I just went faint now and then, but it’s getting worse. Sometimes I feel it stop beating and just flutter in my chest, and everything begins to go all black and breathless. So far, it’s always started beating again – but one of these days it isn’t going to.’

Grey’s eyes were fixed on Charlie’s hand, the small dwarf hand curled against its larger fellow, looking as though Charlie held a strange flower cupped in his palm. As he watched, both hands opened slowly, the fingers moving in strangely beautiful synchrony.

‘All right,’ he said quietly. ‘Tell me.’

Failure to suppress a mutiny was a rare charge, difficult to prove, and thus unlikely to be brought, unless other factors were involved. Which in the present instance, they undoubtedly were.

‘Know Siverly, do you?’ Carruthers asked, taking the papers onto his knee.

‘Not at all. I gather he’s a bastard.’ Grey gestured at the papers. ‘What kind of bastard, though?’

‘A corrupt one.’ Carruthers tapped the pages square, carefully evening the edges, eyes fixed on them. ‘That – what you read – it wasn’t Siverly. It’s General Wolfe’s directive. I’m not sure whether the point is to deprive the fortress of provisions, in hopes of starving them out eventually, or to put pressure on Montcalm to send out troops to defend the countryside, where Wolfe could get at them – possibly both. But he means deliberately to terrorise the settlements on both sides of the river. No, we did this under the general’s orders.’ His face twisted a little, and he looked up suddenly at Grey. ‘You remember the Highlands, John?’

‘You know that I do.’ No one involved in Cumberland’s cleansing of the Highlands would ever forget. He had seen many Scottish villages like Beaulieu.

Carruthers took a deep breath.

‘Yes. Well. The trouble was that Siverly took to appropriating the plunder we took from the countryside, under the pretext of selling it in order to make an equitable distribution among the troops.’

‘What?’ This was contrary to the normal custom of the army, whereby any soldier was entitled to what plunder he took. ‘Who does he think he is, an admiral?’ The navy did divide shares of prize-money among the crew, according to formula – but the navy was the navy; crews acted much more as single entities than did army companies, and there were Admiralty courts set up to deal with the sale of captured prize-ships.


Tags: Diana Gabaldon Lord John Grey Suspense
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