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 summer 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 remarkable 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, sunburnt, 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 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 breech-clout 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 recognise 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 before. 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 sunburnt 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, powdered and tightly bound up in a formal queue, and with his clean uniform chafing his sunburnt skin, went to present himself to the general, as courtesy demanded. He knew James Wolfe by sight; Wolfe was 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 had been far from complimentary.

‘Melodramatic ass,’ was what Hal had said, hastily briefing him before his departure. ‘Showy, bad judgement, 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 eyed Grey, appraising him. ‘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.’

br />

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 summer 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 remarkable 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, sunburnt, 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 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 breech-clout 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 recognise 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 before. 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 sunburnt 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, powdered and tightly bound up in a formal queue, and with his clean uniform chafing his sunburnt skin, went to present himself to the general, as courtesy demanded. He knew James Wolfe by sight; Wolfe was 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 had been far from complimentary.

‘Melodramatic ass,’ was what Hal had said, hastily briefing him before his departure. ‘Showy, bad judgement, 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 eyed Grey, appraising him. ‘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.

‘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 sunburnt 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. He 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 pretence 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 dishonour 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 his face, which had gone puce, subsided back toward its normal brick colour. Saliva had collected at the corners of his mouth; he licked his lips, spat, then sat back, breathing heavily, and looked up 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 judgement 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. Judgement? What the devil d’you mean by that, you filthy lecher?’

Malcolm coughed, and spat again.

‘Yes. Well. 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 foetal position, moaning. ‘Take your time; I’m not busy.’

Aware of eyes upon him, he 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 still clearly displaying his rank – and when he gave them an evil look, they hastily dispersed.


Tags: Diana Gabaldon Lord John Grey Suspense
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