The Scottish Prisoner (Lord John Grey 3) - Page 18

“Well, this bit you brought Hal has the words róisíní bhán in it. It’s not quite the same, but it’s very similar to the Scottish words for ‘white rose’—I saw them often enough to know those. And Mr. Fraser put the word ‘rose’ into his translation, all right—but he left out the ‘white.’ If it’s there to begin with, I mean,” she added. “And perhaps the Irish is sufficiently different that he didn’t see it, if it is there.”

They turned, as though some signal had been given, and started back toward the house. Grey swallowed, trying to quiet the thumping of his heart.

It was clear enough what she meant. The poem about the Wild Hunt might be a coded Jacobite document of some sort. And if it was, Fraser might have recognized that fact and deliberately suppressed it, perhaps to protect friends affiliated with the Stuart cause. If that were the case, it raised two questions, both of them disturbing.

To wit: had Siverly a Jacobite connection, and … what else might Jamie Fraser have left out?

“Only one way to find out,” he said. “I’ll ask him. Carefully.”

12

The Belly of a Flea

THE ICE HAD BEEN BROKEN BETWEEN GREY AND JAMES FRASER, but Grey still felt considerable delicacy about the resumption of what might be called normal relations. He hadn’t forgotten that conversation in the stables at Helwater, and he was damned sure Fraser hadn’t, either.

True, they would be in close company in Ireland and must find a way to ignore the past for the sake of working together—but no need to force the matter before time.

Still, he remained acutely aware of Fraser’s presence in the house. Everyone did. Half the servants were afraid of him, the others simply unsure what to do with him. Hal dealt with him courteously, but with a sense of wary formality; Grey thought that Hal might be having the occasional doubt about the wisdom of his decision to conscript Fraser, and smiled grimly at the thought. Minnie seemed the only member of the household able to talk to him with any sense of normality.

Tom Byrd had been terrified of the big Scot, having had an unsettling experience with him at Helwater—though Grey thought that was more a matter of Tom, who was quite sensitive to social nuance, picking up the violent vibrations occurring between himself and Fraser, than of personal interaction.

When informed that he would be attending to Captain Fraser’s valeting, in addition to Grey’s, though, Tom had grasped the nettle manfully and been very helpful in compiling the tailor’s list. He was passionate in the matter of male clothing and had lost quite a bit of his nervousness in the discussion of what might be suitable.

To Grey’s surprise, Tom Byrd was in the parlor when he came down in the morning, and the valet stuck his head out into the hall to hail him.

“The captain’s new clothes have come, me lord! Come see!”

Tom turned a beaming face on Grey as he entered the parlor. The furniture was draped with muslin-wrapped shapes, like small Egyptian mummies. Tom had unwrapped one of these and now laid out a bottle-green coat with gilt buttons, spreading the skirts lovingly over the settee.

“That bundle on the pianoforte is shirts,” he informed Grey. “I didn’t like to take them up, in case the captain was asleep.”

Grey glanced out the window, which showed the sun well up; it must be eight o’clock, at least. The notion that Fraser might be having a lie-in was ludicrous; he doubted the man had ever slept past dawn in his life, and he certainly hadn’t done it any time in the last fifteen years. But Tom’s remark indicated that the Scot hadn’t either appeared for breakfast or sent for a tray. Could he be ill?

He was not. The sound of the front door opening and closing turned Grey toward the hall in time to see Fraser stride past, face flushed fresh with the morning’s air.

“Mr. Fraser!” he called, and Fraser swung round, surprised but not disturbed. He came in, ducking automatically beneath the lintel. One brow was arched in inquiry, but there was no hint in his face of disquiet or of that closed expression that hid anger, fear, or calculation.

He’s only been for a walk; he hasn’t seen anyone, Grey thought, and was slightly ashamed of the thought. Who, after all, would he see in London?

“Behold,” Grey said, smiling, and gestured toward the muslin parcels. Tom had unwrapped a suit of an odd purplish brown and was stroking the pile.

“Would you look at this, sir?” Tom said, so pleased with the garments that he momentarily overcame his nervousness of Fraser. “I’ve never seen such a color in me life—but it’ll suit you prime!”

To Grey’s surprise, Fraser smiled back, almost shyly.

“I’ve seen it before,” he said, and put out a hand to stroke the fabric. “In France. Couleur puce, it was called. The Duc d’Orleans had a suit made of it, and verra proud of it he was, too.”

Tom’s eyes were round. He looked quickly at Grey—had his employer known that his prisoner hobnobbed with French dukes?—then back at Fraser.

“Pee-yuse?” he said, trying out the word. “Color of a … what’s a peeyuse, then?”

Fraser actually laughed at that, and Grey felt a startled small burst of pleasure at the sound.

“A flea,” Fraser told Tom. “The whole of the name means ‘the color of the belly of a flea,’ but that’s a bit much, even for the French.”

Tom squinted at the coat one-eyed, evidently comparing it to fleas he had known. “It’s not like that word pew-cell, is it? Would that be like a little-bitty flea?”

Fraser’s mouth twitched, and his eyes darted toward Grey.

“Pucelle?” he said, pronouncing it in good French. “I, erm, don’t think so, though I might of course be mistaken.”

Grey felt his ribs creak slightly but managed to speak casually. “Where did you come across the word pucelle, Tom?”

Tom considered for a moment.

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“Well, this bit you brought Hal has the words róisíní bhán in it. It’s not quite the same, but it’s very similar to the Scottish words for ‘white rose’—I saw them often enough to know those. And Mr. Fraser put the word ‘rose’ into his translation, all right—but he left out the ‘white.’ If it’s there to begin with, I mean,” she added. “And perhaps the Irish is sufficiently different that he didn’t see it, if it is there.”

They turned, as though some signal had been given, and started back toward the house. Grey swallowed, trying to quiet the thumping of his heart.

It was clear enough what she meant. The poem about the Wild Hunt might be a coded Jacobite document of some sort. And if it was, Fraser might have recognized that fact and deliberately suppressed it, perhaps to protect friends affiliated with the Stuart cause. If that were the case, it raised two questions, both of them disturbing.

To wit: had Siverly a Jacobite connection, and … what else might Jamie Fraser have left out?

“Only one way to find out,” he said. “I’ll ask him. Carefully.”

12

The Belly of a Flea

THE ICE HAD BEEN BROKEN BETWEEN GREY AND JAMES FRASER, but Grey still felt considerable delicacy about the resumption of what might be called normal relations. He hadn’t forgotten that conversation in the stables at Helwater, and he was damned sure Fraser hadn’t, either.

True, they would be in close company in Ireland and must find a way to ignore the past for the sake of working together—but no need to force the matter before time.

Still, he remained acutely aware of Fraser’s presence in the house. Everyone did. Half the servants were afraid of him, the others simply unsure what to do with him. Hal dealt with him courteously, but with a sense of wary formality; Grey thought that Hal might be having the occasional doubt about the wisdom of his decision to conscript Fraser, and smiled grimly at the thought. Minnie seemed the only member of the household able to talk to him with any sense of normality.

Tom Byrd had been terrified of the big Scot, having had an unsettling experience with him at Helwater—though Grey thought that was more a matter of Tom, who was quite sensitive to social nuance, picking up the violent vibrations occurring between himself and Fraser, than of personal interaction.

When informed that he would be attending to Captain Fraser’s valeting, in addition to Grey’s, though, Tom had grasped the nettle manfully and been very helpful in compiling the tailor’s list. He was passionate in the matter of male clothing and had lost quite a bit of his nervousness in the discussion of what might be suitable.

To Grey’s surprise, Tom Byrd was in the parlor when he came down in the morning, and the valet stuck his head out into the hall to hail him.

“The captain’s new clothes have come, me lord! Come see!”

Tom turned a beaming face on Grey as he entered the parlor. The furniture was draped with muslin-wrapped shapes, like small Egyptian mummies. Tom had unwrapped one of these and now laid out a bottle-green coat with gilt buttons, spreading the skirts lovingly over the settee.

“That bundle on the pianoforte is shirts,” he informed Grey. “I didn’t like to take them up, in case the captain was asleep.”

Grey glanced out the window, which showed the sun well up; it must be eight o’clock, at least. The notion that Fraser might be having a lie-in was ludicrous; he doubted the man had ever slept past dawn in his life, and he certainly hadn’t done it any time in the last fifteen years. But Tom’s remark indicated that the Scot hadn’t either appeared for breakfast or sent for a tray. Could he be ill?

He was not. The sound of the front door opening and closing turned Grey toward the hall in time to see Fraser stride past, face flushed fresh with the morning’s air.

“Mr. Fraser!” he called, and Fraser swung round, surprised but not disturbed. He came in, ducking automatically beneath the lintel. One brow was arched in inquiry, but there was no hint in his face of disquiet or of that closed expression that hid anger, fear, or calculation.

He’s only been for a walk; he hasn’t seen anyone, Grey thought, and was slightly ashamed of the thought. Who, after all, would he see in London?

“Behold,” Grey said, smiling, and gestured toward the muslin parcels. Tom had unwrapped a suit of an odd purplish brown and was stroking the pile.

“Would you look at this, sir?” Tom said, so pleased with the garments that he momentarily overcame his nervousness of Fraser. “I’ve never seen such a color in me life—but it’ll suit you prime!”

To Grey’s surprise, Fraser smiled back, almost shyly.

“I’ve seen it before,” he said, and put out a hand to stroke the fabric. “In France. Couleur puce, it was called. The Duc d’Orleans had a suit made of it, and verra proud of it he was, too.”

Tom’s eyes were round. He looked quickly at Grey—had his employer known that his prisoner hobnobbed with French dukes?—then back at Fraser.

“Pee-yuse?” he said, trying out the word. “Color of a … what’s a peeyuse, then?”

Fraser actually laughed at that, and Grey felt a startled small burst of pleasure at the sound.

“A flea,” Fraser told Tom. “The whole of the name means ‘the color of the belly of a flea,’ but that’s a bit much, even for the French.”

Tom squinted at the coat one-eyed, evidently comparing it to fleas he had known. “It’s not like that word pew-cell, is it? Would that be like a little-bitty flea?”

Fraser’s mouth twitched, and his eyes darted toward Grey.

“Pucelle?” he said, pronouncing it in good French. “I, erm, don’t think so, though I might of course be mistaken.”

Grey felt his ribs creak slightly but managed to speak casually. “Where did you come across the word pucelle, Tom?”

Tom considered for a moment.

“Oh. Colonel Quarry, when he was here last week. He asked me could I think of anything that rhymed with pew-cell. ‘Usual’ was all I could think of, and he didn’t think much o’ that, I could tell, though he wrote it down in his notebook, just in case, he said.”

“Colonel Quarry writes poetry,” Grey explained to Fraser, getting another lifted brow in return. “Very … um … individual style of verse.”

“I know,” Fraser said, to Grey’s utter astonishment. “He asked me once if I could think of a suitable rhyme for ‘virgin.’ ”

“He did? When?”

“At Ardsmuir,” Fraser said, with no apparent emotion, from which Grey concluded that Harry hadn’t actually shown the Scot any of his poetry. “Over dinner. I couldna bring anything to mind save ‘sturgeon,’ though. He didna bother writing that one down,” he added, turning to Tom. “There was a good deal of brandy drunk.”

“Though for what the observation is worth, pucelle is the French word for ‘virgin,’ ” Grey told Tom. He glanced at Fraser. “Perhaps he couldn’t manage the verse in English, abandoned it, and later decided to try it in French?”

Fraser made a small sound of amusement, but Tom was still frowning.

“Have French virgins got fleas, do you think?”

“I never met a Frenchwoman I felt I could ask,” Grey said. “But I have met a good many fleas, and they tend not to be respecters of persons, let alone of purity.”

Tom shook his head, dismissing this bit of natural philosophy as beyond him, and returned with an air of relief to his natural sphere of competence.

“Well, then. There’s the pee-yuse velvet suit, the blue silk, the brown worsted, and two coats for everyday, bottle-green and sapphire, and three waistcoats, two plain and a yellow one with fancy-work. Dark breeches, white breeches, stockings, shirts, small-clothes …” He pointed at various parcels here and there about the room, consulting the list in his head. “Now, the shoes haven’t come yet, nor the riding boots. Will those do for the Beefsteak, do you think, me lord?” He squinted doubtfully at the shoes on Jamie’s feet, these being the sturdy objects borrowed from Lady Joffrey’s chairman. They had been buffed and polished to the limits of the bootboy’s capability but were not intrinsically fashionable.

Grey joined Tom’s scrutiny and lifted one shoulder in a shrug.

“Change the buckles, and they’ll do. Take the silver-gilt ones from my brown calfskin court shoes. Mr. Fraser?” He motioned delicately at Jamie’s feet, and Jamie obligingly stepped out of the objects in question, allowing Tom to take them away.

Fraser waited until Tom was safely out of hearing before inquiring, “The Beefsteak?”

“My club. The Society for the Appreciation of the English Beefsteak. We are taking dinner there today, with Captain von Namtzen.” He felt a small warmth at thought of Stephan. “I’ve acquainted him with the Siverly matter, and he is bringing someone he knows who might be helpful. He may have some information, but I also wish him to look at that fragment of Erse poetry you translated. He knows a good deal about verse and has encountered several variations on the Wild Hunt.”

“Aye? What sort of establishment is this club?” A slight crease showed between Fraser’s heavy brows.

“It’s not a bawdy house,” Grey assured him, with an edge. “Just an ordinary gentleman’s club.” It occurred to him that perhaps Fraser had never been in a gentleman’s club? Certainly he’d never been in London, but …

Fraser gave him a marked look. “I meant, what is the nature of the gentlemen who are members of this particular club? You say we are to meet Captain von Namtzen; is it a club patronized largely by soldiers?”

“Yes, it is,” Grey said, somewhat puzzled. “Why?”

Fraser’s lips compressed for an instant.

“If there is a possibility of my encountering men whom I knew during the Rising, I should like to know it.”

“Ah.” That possibility had not struck Grey. “I think it is not likely,” he said slowly. “But it would be as well, perhaps, to arrange a … er …”

“A fiction?” Fraser said, an edge in his voice. “To account for my recent whereabouts and current situation?”

“Yes,” Grey said, ignoring both the edge and the return of that simmering air of resentment. He bowed politely. “I will leave that to you, Mr. Fraser. You can inform me of the details on our way to the Beefsteak.”

JAMIE FOLLOWED GREY into the Beefsteak with a sense of wary curiosity. He’d never been in a London gentleman’s club, though he’d experienced a wide range of such establishments in Paris. Given the basic differences of personality and outlook between Frenchmen and Englishmen, though, he supposed that their social behavior might be different, as well. The food was certain to be.

“Von Namtzen!” Grey had caught sight of a tall, fair-haired man in a German uniform coming out of a room down the hall, and hurried toward him. This must be Stephan von Namtzen, the Graf von Erdberg, and the gentleman they had come to see.

The big man’s face lighted at sight of Grey, whom he greeted with a warm kiss on both cheeks, in the continental style. Grey appeared used to this and smiled, though he did not return the embrace, stepping back to introduce Jamie.

The graf was missing one arm, the sleeve of his coat pinned up across his chest, but shook Jamie’s hand warmly with his remaining one. He had shrewd gray eyes, the graf, and struck Jamie at once as both affable and competent—a good soldier. He relaxed a little; the graf presumably knew both who and what he was; there would be no need for fictions.

“Come,” said von Namtzen, with a cordial inclination of his head. “I have a private room reserved for us.” He led the way down the hall with Grey beside him, Jamie following more slowly, glancing aside into the various rooms they passed. The club was old and had an atmosphere of discreet, comfortable wealth. The dining room was laid with white napery and gleaming heavy silver, the smoking room furnished with well-aged leather chairs, sagging slightly in the seat and redolent of good tobacco. The runner under his feet was an aged Turkey carpet, worn nearly to the threads in the middle, but a good one, with medallions of scarlet and gold.

There was a low hum about the place, of conversation and service; he could hear the clinking of pots and spoons and crockery from a distant kitchen, and the scent of roasting meat perfumed the air. He could see why Grey liked the place; if you belonged here, it would embrace you. He himself did not belong here but, for a moment, rather wished he did.

Grey and von Namtzen had paused to exchange greetings with a friend; Jamie took the opportunity for a discreet inquiry of the steward.

“Turn right at the end of the hallway, sir, and you’ll find it just to your left,” the man said, with a courteous inclination of the head.

“Thank you,” he said, and gave Grey a brief lift of the chin, indicating his destination. It had been a long trip from Newmarket, and God knew what might happen over dinner. An empty bladder and clean hands were as much preparation as it lay within his power to make.

GREY NODDED at Fraser’s mute gesture, and continued his conversation with Mordecai Weston, a Captain in the Buffs, who knew von Namtzen as well. He expected Fraser to return momentarily, but after five minutes began to wonder whether something was wrong and excused himself.

He came round the corner in time to see Fraser just outside the privy closet, in conversation with Edward Twelvetrees. Yes, it was bloody Twelvetrees. No mistaking that pale, long-nosed face, the beady little ferret-black eyes. The surprise stopped him dead, but close enough to hear Twelvetrees demand to know what Grey’s business was with Fraser—and to hear Fraser decline to say.

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