This spoke to him of a certain amount of care on the part of whoever led the maroons. Who did? he wondered. What sort of man? The impression he was gaining was not that of a rebellion – there had been no declaration, and he would have expected that – but of the boiling over of a long-simmering frustration. He had to speak with Captain Cresswell. And he hoped that bloody secretary had managed to find the superintendent by the time he reached King’s House.

In the event, he reached King’s House long after dark, and was informed by the governor’s butler – appearing like a black ghost in his nightshirt – that the household were asleep.

‘All right,’ he said wearily. ‘Call my valet, if you will. And tell the governor’s servant in the morning that I will require to speak to his Excellency after breakfast, no matter what his state of health may be.’

Tom was sufficiently pleased to see Grey in one piece as to make no protest at being awakened, and had him washed, nightshirted, and tucked up beneath his mosquito-netting before the church-bells of Spanish Town tolled midnight. The doors of his room had been repaired, but Grey made Tom leave the window open, and fell asleep with a silken wind caressing his cheeks and no thought of what the morning might bring.

He was roused from an unusually vivid erotic dream by an agitated banging. He pulled his head out from under the pillow, the feel of rasping red hairs still rough on his lips, and shook his head violently, trying to reorient himself in space and time. Bang, bang, bang, bang, bang! Bloody hell . . . ? Oh. Door.

‘What? Come in, for God’s sake! What the devil— oh. Wait a moment, then.’ He struggled out of the tangle of bedclothes and discarded nightshirt – good Christ, had he really been doing what he’d been dreaming about doing? – and flung his banyan over his rapidly detumescing flesh.

‘What?’ he demanded, finally getting the door open. To his surprise, Tom stood there, saucer-eyed and trembling, next to Major Fettes.

‘Are you all right, me lord?’ Tom burst out, cutting off Major Fettes’s first words.

‘Do I appear to be spurting blood or missing any necessary appendages?’ Grey demanded, rather irritably. ‘What’s happened, Fettes?’

Now that he’d got his eyes properly open, he saw that Fettes looked almost as disturbed as Tom. The major – veteran of a dozen major campaigns, decorated for valour, and known for his coolness – swallowed visibly and braced his shoulders.

‘It’s the governor, sir. I think you’d best come and see.’

‘Where are the men who were assigned to guard him?’ Grey asked calmly, stepping out of the governor’s bedroom and closing the door gently behind him. The doorknob slid out of his fingers, slick under his hand. He knew the slickness was his own sweat, and not blood, but his stomach gave a lurch and he rubbed his fingers convulsively against the leg of his breeches.

‘They’re gone, sir.’ Fettes had got his voice, if not quite his face, back under control. ‘I’ve sent men to search the grounds.’

‘Good. Would you please call the servants together? I’ll need to question them.’

Fettes took a deep breath.

‘They’re gone, too.’

‘What? All of them?’

‘Yes, sir.’

He took a deep breath himself – and let it out again, fast. Even outside the room, the stench was gagging. He could feel the smell, thick on his skin, and rubbed his fingers on his breeches once again, hard. He swallowed, and holding his breath, jerked his head to Fettes – and Cherry, who had joined them, shaking his head mutely in answer to Grey’s raised brow. No sign of the vanished sentries, then. God damn it; a search would have to be made for their bodies. The thought made him cold, despite the growing warmth of the morning.

He went down the stairs, his officers only too glad to follow. By the time he reached the foot, he had decided where to begin, at least. He stopped and turned to Fettes and Cherry.

‘Right. The island is under military law as of this moment. Notify the officers, but tell them there is to be no public announcement yet. And don’t tell them why.’ Given the flight of the servants, it was more than likely that news of the governor’s death would reach the inhabitants of Spanish Town within hours – if it hadn’t already. But if there was the slightest chance that the populace might remain in ignorance of the fact that Governor Warren had been killed and partially devoured in his own residence, while under the guard of His Majesty’s army . . . Grey was taking it.

‘What about the secretary?’ he asked abruptly, suddenly remembering. ‘Dawes. Is he gone, too? Or dead?’

Fettes and Cherry exchanged a guilty look.

‘Don’t know, sir,’ Cherry said gruffly. ‘I’ll go and look.’

‘Do that, if you please.’

He nodded in return to their salutes, and went outside, shuddering in relief at the touch of the sun on his face, the warmth of it through the thin linen of his shirt. He walked slowly toward his room, where Tom had doubtless already managed to assemble and clean his uniform.

Now what? Dawes, if the man was still alive – and he hoped to God he was . . . A sudden surge of saliva choked him, and he spat several times on the terrace, unable to swallow for the memory of that throat-clenching smell.

‘Tom,’ he said urgently, coming into the room. ‘Did you have an opportunity to speak to the other servants? To Rodrigo?’

‘Yes, me lord.’ Tom waved him onto the stool and knelt to put his stockings on. ‘They all knew about zombies – said they were dead people, just like Rodrigo said. A houngan – that’s a . . . well, I don’t quite know, but folk are right scared of ’em. Anyway, one of those who takes against somebody – or what’s paid to do so, I reckon – will take the somebody, and kill them, then raise ’em up again, to be his servant, and that’s a zombie. They were all dead scared of the notion, me lord,’ he said earnestly, looking up.

‘I don’t blame them in the slightest. Did any of them know about my visitor?’

Tom shook his head.

‘They said not, but I think they did, me lord. They weren’t a-going to say, though. I got Rodrigo off by himself, and he admitted he knew about it, but he said he didn’t think it was a zombie what came after you, because I told him how you fought it, and what a mess it made of your room.’ He narrowed his eyes at the dressing-table, with its cracked mirror.

‘Really? What did he think it was?’

‘He wouldn’t really say, but I pestered him a bit, and he finally let on as it might have been a houngan, just pretending to be a zombie.’

Grey digested that possibility for a moment. Had the creature who attacked him meant to kill him? If so – why? But if not . . . the attack might only have been meant to pave the way for what had now happened, by making it seem that there were zombies lurking about King’s House in some profusion. That made a certain amount of sense, save for the fact . . .

br />

This spoke to him of a certain amount of care on the part of whoever led the maroons. Who did? he wondered. What sort of man? The impression he was gaining was not that of a rebellion – there had been no declaration, and he would have expected that – but of the boiling over of a long-simmering frustration. He had to speak with Captain Cresswell. And he hoped that bloody secretary had managed to find the superintendent by the time he reached King’s House.

In the event, he reached King’s House long after dark, and was informed by the governor’s butler – appearing like a black ghost in his nightshirt – that the household were asleep.

‘All right,’ he said wearily. ‘Call my valet, if you will. And tell the governor’s servant in the morning that I will require to speak to his Excellency after breakfast, no matter what his state of health may be.’

Tom was sufficiently pleased to see Grey in one piece as to make no protest at being awakened, and had him washed, nightshirted, and tucked up beneath his mosquito-netting before the church-bells of Spanish Town tolled midnight. The doors of his room had been repaired, but Grey made Tom leave the window open, and fell asleep with a silken wind caressing his cheeks and no thought of what the morning might bring.

He was roused from an unusually vivid erotic dream by an agitated banging. He pulled his head out from under the pillow, the feel of rasping red hairs still rough on his lips, and shook his head violently, trying to reorient himself in space and time. Bang, bang, bang, bang, bang! Bloody hell . . . ? Oh. Door.

‘What? Come in, for God’s sake! What the devil— oh. Wait a moment, then.’ He struggled out of the tangle of bedclothes and discarded nightshirt – good Christ, had he really been doing what he’d been dreaming about doing? – and flung his banyan over his rapidly detumescing flesh.

‘What?’ he demanded, finally getting the door open. To his surprise, Tom stood there, saucer-eyed and trembling, next to Major Fettes.

‘Are you all right, me lord?’ Tom burst out, cutting off Major Fettes’s first words.

‘Do I appear to be spurting blood or missing any necessary appendages?’ Grey demanded, rather irritably. ‘What’s happened, Fettes?’

Now that he’d got his eyes properly open, he saw that Fettes looked almost as disturbed as Tom. The major – veteran of a dozen major campaigns, decorated for valour, and known for his coolness – swallowed visibly and braced his shoulders.

‘It’s the governor, sir. I think you’d best come and see.’

‘Where are the men who were assigned to guard him?’ Grey asked calmly, stepping out of the governor’s bedroom and closing the door gently behind him. The doorknob slid out of his fingers, slick under his hand. He knew the slickness was his own sweat, and not blood, but his stomach gave a lurch and he rubbed his fingers convulsively against the leg of his breeches.

‘They’re gone, sir.’ Fettes had got his voice, if not quite his face, back under control. ‘I’ve sent men to search the grounds.’

‘Good. Would you please call the servants together? I’ll need to question them.’

Fettes took a deep breath.

‘They’re gone, too.’

‘What? All of them?’

‘Yes, sir.’

He took a deep breath himself – and let it out again, fast. Even outside the room, the stench was gagging. He could feel the smell, thick on his skin, and rubbed his fingers on his breeches once again, hard. He swallowed, and holding his breath, jerked his head to Fettes – and Cherry, who had joined them, shaking his head mutely in answer to Grey’s raised brow. No sign of the vanished sentries, then. God damn it; a search would have to be made for their bodies. The thought made him cold, despite the growing warmth of the morning.

He went down the stairs, his officers only too glad to follow. By the time he reached the foot, he had decided where to begin, at least. He stopped and turned to Fettes and Cherry.

‘Right. The island is under military law as of this moment. Notify the officers, but tell them there is to be no public announcement yet. And don’t tell them why.’ Given the flight of the servants, it was more than likely that news of the governor’s death would reach the inhabitants of Spanish Town within hours – if it hadn’t already. But if there was the slightest chance that the populace might remain in ignorance of the fact that Governor Warren had been killed and partially devoured in his own residence, while under the guard of His Majesty’s army . . . Grey was taking it.

‘What about the secretary?’ he asked abruptly, suddenly remembering. ‘Dawes. Is he gone, too? Or dead?’

Fettes and Cherry exchanged a guilty look.

‘Don’t know, sir,’ Cherry said gruffly. ‘I’ll go and look.’

‘Do that, if you please.’

He nodded in return to their salutes, and went outside, shuddering in relief at the touch of the sun on his face, the warmth of it through the thin linen of his shirt. He walked slowly toward his room, where Tom had doubtless already managed to assemble and clean his uniform.

Now what? Dawes, if the man was still alive – and he hoped to God he was . . . A sudden surge of saliva choked him, and he spat several times on the terrace, unable to swallow for the memory of that throat-clenching smell.

‘Tom,’ he said urgently, coming into the room. ‘Did you have an opportunity to speak to the other servants? To Rodrigo?’

‘Yes, me lord.’ Tom waved him onto the stool and knelt to put his stockings on. ‘They all knew about zombies – said they were dead people, just like Rodrigo said. A houngan – that’s a . . . well, I don’t quite know, but folk are right scared of ’em. Anyway, one of those who takes against somebody – or what’s paid to do so, I reckon – will take the somebody, and kill them, then raise ’em up again, to be his servant, and that’s a zombie. They were all dead scared of the notion, me lord,’ he said earnestly, looking up.

‘I don’t blame them in the slightest. Did any of them know about my visitor?’

Tom shook his head.

‘They said not, but I think they did, me lord. They weren’t a-going to say, though. I got Rodrigo off by himself, and he admitted he knew about it, but he said he didn’t think it was a zombie what came after you, because I told him how you fought it, and what a mess it made of your room.’ He narrowed his eyes at the dressing-table, with its cracked mirror.

‘Really? What did he think it was?’

‘He wouldn’t really say, but I pestered him a bit, and he finally let on as it might have been a houngan, just pretending to be a zombie.’

Grey digested that possibility for a moment. Had the creature who attacked him meant to kill him? If so – why? But if not . . . the attack might only have been meant to pave the way for what had now happened, by making it seem that there were zombies lurking about King’s House in some profusion. That made a certain amount of sense, save for the fact . . .

‘But I’m told that zombies are slow and stiff in their movements. Could one of them have done what . . . was done to the governor?’ He swallowed.

‘I dunno, me lord. Never met one.’ Tom grinned briefly at him, rising from fastening his knee-buckles. It was a nervous grin, but Grey smiled back, heartened by it.

‘I suppose I will have to go and look at the body again,’ he said, rising. ‘Will you come with me, Tom?’ His valet was young, but very observant, especially in matters pertaining to the body, and had been of help to him before in interpreting post-mortem phenomena.

Tom paled noticeably, but gulped and nodded, and squaring his shoulders, followed Lord John out onto the terrace.

On their way to the governor’s room, they met Major Fettes, gloomily eating a slice of pineapple scavenged from the kitchen.

‘Come with me, major,’ Grey ordered. ‘You can tell me what discoveries you and Cherry have made in my absence.’

‘I can tell you one such, sir,’ Fettes said, putting down the pineapple and wiping his hands on his waistcoat. ‘Judge Peters has gone to Eleuthera.’

‘What the devil for?’ That was a nuisance; he’d been hoping to discover more about the original incident that had incited the rebellion, and as he was obviously not going to learn anything from Warren . . . he waved a hand at Fettes; it hardly mattered why Peters had gone.

‘Right. Well, then—’ Breathing through his mouth as much as possible, Grey pushed open the door. Tom, behind him, made an involuntary sound, but then stepped carefully up and squatted beside the body.

Grey squatted beside him. He could hear thickened breathing behind him.

‘Major,’ he said, without turning round. ‘If Captain Cherry has found Mr Dawes, would you be so kind as to fetch him in here?’

They were hard at it when Dawes came in, accompanied by both Fettes and Cherry, and Grey ignored all of them.

‘The bitemarks are human?’ he asked, carefully turning one of Warren’s lower legs toward the light from the window. Tom nodded, wiping the back of his hand across his mouth.

‘Sure of it, me lord. I been bitten by dogs – nothing like this. Besides—’ He inserted his forearm into his mouth and bit down fiercely, then displayed the results to Grey. ‘See, me lord? The teeth go in a circle, like.’

‘No doubt of it.’ Grey straightened and turned to Dawes, who was sagging at the knees to such an extent that Captain Cherry was obliged to hold him up. ‘Do sit down, please, Mr Dawes, and give me your opinion of matters here.’

Dawes’s round face was blotched, his lips pale. He shook his head and tried to back away, but was prevented by Cherry’s grip on his arm.

‘I know nothing, sir,’ he gasped. ‘Nothing at all. Please, may I go? I, I . . . really, sir, I grow faint!’

‘That’s all right,’ Grey said pleasantly. ‘You can lie down on the bed if you can’t stand up.’

Dawes glanced at the bed, went white, and sat down heavily on the floor. Saw what was on the floor beside him and scrambled hurriedly to his feet, where he stood swaying and gulping.

Grey nodded at a stool, and Cherry propelled the little secretary, not ungently, onto it.

‘What’s he told you, Fettes?’ Grey asked, turning back toward the bed. ‘Tom, we’re going to wrap Mr Warren up in the counterpane then lay him on the floor and roll him up in the carpet. To prevent leakage.’

‘Right, me lord.’ Tom and Captain Cherry set gingerly about this process, while Grey walked over and stood looking down at Dawes.

‘Pled ignorance, for the most part,’ Fettes said, joining Grey and giving Dawes a speculative look. ‘He did tell us that Derwent Warren had seduced a woman called Nancy Twelvetrees, in London. Threw her over, though, and married the heiress to the Atherton fortune.’

‘Who had better sense than to accompany her husband to the West Indies, I take it? Yes. Did he know that Miss Twelvetrees and her brother had inherited a plantation on Jamaica, and were proposing to emigrate here?’

‘No, sir.’ It was the first time Dawes had spoken, and his voice was little more than a croak. He cleared his throat, and spoke more firmly. ‘He was entirely surprised to meet the Twelvetrees at his first assembly.’

‘I daresay. Was the surprise mutual?’

‘It was. Miss Twelvetrees went white, then red, then removed her shoe and set about the governor with the heel of it.’

‘I wish I’d seen that,’ Grey said, with real regret. ‘Right. Well, as you can see, the governor is no longer in need of your discretion. I, on the other hand, am in need of your loquacity. You can start by telling me why he was afraid of snakes.’

‘Oh.’ Dawes gnawed his lower lip. ‘I cannot be sure, you understand—’

‘Speak up, you lump,’ growled Fettes, leaning menacingly over Dawes, who recoiled.

‘I— I—’ he stammered. ‘Truly, I don’t know the details. But it— it had to do with a young woman. A young black woman. He— the governor, that is— women were something of a weakness for him . . .’

‘And?’ Grey prodded.

The young woman, it appeared, was a slave in the household. And not disposed to accept the governor’s attentions. The governor was not accustomed to take ‘no’ for an answer – and didn’t. The young woman had vanished the next day, run away, and had not been recaptured as yet. But the day after, a black man in a turban and loincloth had come to King’s House, and had requested audience.

‘He wasn’t admitted, of course. But he wouldn’t go away, either.’ Dawes shrugged. ‘Just squatted at the foot of the front steps and waited.’

When Warren had at length emerged, the man had risen, stepped forward, and in formal tones, informed the governor that he was herewith cursed.

‘Cursed?’ said Grey, interested. ‘How?’

‘Well, now, there my knowledge reaches its limits, sir,’ Dawes replied. He had recovered some of his self-confidence by now, and straightened up a little. ‘For having pronounced the fact, he then proceeded to speak in an unfamiliar tongue – though I think some of it may have been Spanish, it wasn’t all like that. I must suppose that he was, er, administering the curse, so to speak?’

‘I’m sure I don’t know.’ By now, Tom and Captain Cherry had completed their disagreeable task, and the governor reposed in an innocuous cocoon of carpeting. ‘I’m sorry, gentlemen, but there are no servants to assist us. We’re going to take him down to the garden shed. Come, Mr Dawes; you can be assistant pall-bearer. And tell us on the way where the snakes come into it.’


Tags: Diana Gabaldon Lord John Grey Suspense
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