‘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 manoeuvred himself 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 honourable thing. Farmers. Women . . .’ He 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 damn 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 little, 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 realised 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. Bright green 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 bent 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 the Admiral’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 pen-knife.

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 jeweller 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 wash-leather pouch, and an official-looking document on several sheets of good parchment, this folded and sealed – this time with the seal 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.

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‘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 manoeuvred himself 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 honourable thing. Farmers. Women . . .’ He 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 damn 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 little, 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 realised 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. Bright green 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 bent 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 the Admiral’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 pen-knife.

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 jeweller 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 wash-leather pouch, and an official-looking document on several sheets of good parchment, this folded and sealed – this time with the seal 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 a small, heavy gold paperweight, made in the shape of a half-moon set among ocean waves, into his hand. It was set with a faceted – and very large – sapphire, that glowed like the evening star in its setting. Where had James Fraser acquired such a thing? he wondered.

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 it 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 god-damned 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.

The duke had suspected the existence of a Jacobite ring for some time, and had identified three men whom he thought involved in it. Still, he made no move to expose them, until the warrant was issued for his own arrest, upon the charge of treason. Hearing of this, he had sent at once to Adams, summoning him to the duke’s country home at Earlingden.

Adams did not know how much the duke knew of his own involvement, but did not dare to stay away, lest the duke, under arrest, denounce him. So he armed himself with a pistol, and rode by night to Earlingden, arriving just before dawn.

He had come to the conservatory’s outside doors, and been admitted by the duke. Whereupon ‘some conversation’ had ensued.

I had learned that day of the issuance of a warrant for arrest upon the charge of treason, to be served upon the body of the Duke of Pardloe. I was uneasy at this, for the duke had questioned both myself and some colleagues previously, in a manner that suggested to me that he suspected the existence of a secret movement to restore the Stuart throne.

I argued against the duke’s arrest, as I did not know the extent of his knowledge or suspicions, and feared that if placed in exigent danger himself, he might be able to point a finger at myself or my principal colleagues, these being Joseph Arbuthnot, Lord Creemore, and Sir Edwin Bellman. Sir Edwin was urgent upon the point, though, saying that it would do no harm; any accusations made by Pardloe could be dismissed as simple attempts to save himself, with no grounding in fact – while the fact of his arrest would naturally cause a widespread assumption of guilt, and would distract any attentions that might at present be directed toward us.

The duke, hearing of the warrant, sent to my lodgings that evening, and summoned me to call upon him at his country home, immediately. I dared not spurn this summons, not knowing what evidence he might possess, and therefore rode by night to his estate, arriving soon before dawn.

Adams had met the duke there, in the conservatory. Whatever the form of this conversation, its result had been drastic.

I had brought with me a pistol, which I had loaded outside the house. I meant this only for protection, as I did not know what the duke’s demeanour might be.

Dangerous, evidently. Gerard Grey, Duke of Pardloe, had also come armed to the meeting. According to Adams, the duke had withdrawn his own pistol from the recesses of his jacket – whether to attack or merely threaten was not clear – whereupon Adams had drawn his own pistol in panic. Both men fired; Adams thought the duke’s pistol had misfired, since the duke could not have missed, at the distance.

Adams’s shot did not miss fire, nor did it miss its target, and seeing the blood upon the duke’s bosom, Adams had panicked and run. Looking back, he had seen the duke, mortally stricken but still upright, seize the branch of the peach tree beside him for support, whereupon the duke had used the last of his strength to hurl his own useless weapon at Adams before collapsing.

John Grey sat still, slowly rubbing the parchment sheets between his fingers. He wasn’t seeing the neat strokes in which Adams had set down his bloodless account. He saw the blood. A dark red, beautiful as a jewel where the sun through the glass of the roof struck it suddenly. His father’s hair, tousled as it might be after hunting. And the peach, fallen to those same tiles, its perfection spoilt and ruined.

He set the papers down on the table; the wind stirred them, and by reflex, he reached for his new paperweight to hold them down.

What was it Carruthers had called him? Someone who keeps order. You and your brother, he’d said. You don’t stand for it. If the world has peace and order, it’s because of men like you.

Perhaps. He wondered if Carruthers knew the cost of peace and order – but then recalled Charlie’s haggard face, its youthful beauty gone, nothing left in it now save the bones and the dogged determination that kept him breathing.

Yes, he knew.

Just after full dark, they boarded the ships. The convoy included Admiral Holmes’s flagship, the Lowestoff, three men of war: the Squirrel, Sea Horse, and Hunter, a number of armed sloops, others loaded with ordnance, powder and ammunition, and a number of transports for the troops – 1,800 men in all. The Sutherland had been left below, anchored just out of firing range of the fortress, to keep an eye on the enemy’s motions; the river there was littered with floating batteries and prowling small French craft.

He travelled with Wolfe and the Highlanders aboard Sea Horse, and spent the journey on deck, too keyed up to bear being below.

His brother’s warning kept recurring in the back of his mind – Don’t follow him into anything stupid – but it was much too late to think of that, and to block it out, he challenged one of the other officers to a whistling contest – each party to whistle the entirety of ‘The Roast Beef of Old England’, the loser the man who laughed first. He lost, but did not think of his brother again.

Just after midnight, the big ships quietly furled their sails, dropped anchor, and lay like slumbering gulls on the dark river. Anse au Foulon, the landing spot that Malcolm Stubbs and his scouts had recommended to General Wolfe, lay seven miles downriver, at the foot of sheer and crumbling slate cliffs that led upward to the Heights of Abraham.

‘Is it named for the Biblical Abraham, do you think?’ Grey had asked curiously, hearing the name, but had been informed that in fact, the cliff top comprised a farmstead belonging to an ex-pilot named Abraham Martin.

On the whole, he thought this prosaic origin just as well. There was likely to be drama enough enacted on that ground, without thought of ancient prophets, conversations with God, nor any calculation of how many just men might be contained within the fortress of Quebec.

With a minimum of fuss, the Highlanders and their officers, Wolfe and his chosen troops – Grey among them – debarked into the small bateaux that would carry them silently down to the landing point.

The sounds of oars were mostly drowned by the river’s rushing, and there was little conversation in the boats. Wolfe sat in the prow of the lead boat, facing his troops, looking now and then over his shoulder at the shore. Quite without warning, he began to speak. He didn’t raise his voice, but the night was so still that those in the boat had little trouble in hearing him. To Grey’s astonishment, he was reciting ‘Elegy in a Country Churchyard’.

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