An Echo in the Bone

Author: P Hana

Page 70

   

Lord John Grey to Harold, Duke of Pardloe

4 February 1777

(family cipher)

Hal—

I saw Amandine. Wainwright does live at the manor house—a place called Trois Flèches—and does maintain an unwholesome relationship with the baron. I met the baron’s sister, Wainwright’s wife. She certainly knows of the link between her brother and her husband, but does not admit it openly. Beyond that, she appears to know nothing whatever. I have seldom met a more stupid woman. She is openly lewd in manner and a very bad cardplayer. So is the baron, by which token I am convinced that he does know something of Wainwright’s political machinations; he behaved shiftily when I steered the conversation in that direction, and I am sure he is not schooled in the art of misdirection. He is not stupid, though. Even if he were, he will certainly have told Wainwright of my visit. I have alerted Norrington to watch for any activity on that front.

Knowing what I do of Wainwright’s abilities and connexions (or rather, the lack of them), I cannot quite fathom his involvement. Granted, if the French government does have such schemes in mind as he indicated, they would hardly make open communication regarding them, and sending someone like Wainwright to speak to someone like me might be considered sufficiently sub rosa. Certainly such an approach has the benefit of being deniable. And yet something seems wrong in this, in a way I cannot yet define.

I will be with you soon, and hope by then to be in possession of some definite information regarding one Captain Ezekiel Richardson, likewise one Captain Denys Randall-Isaacs. Should you be able to investigate either of these names through your own connexions, you would greatly oblige

Your most affectionate brother,

John

Postscriptum: I trust your health is mending.

Harold, Duke of Pardloe, to Lord John Grey

6 March 1777

Bath

(family cipher)

I’m not dead. Wish I were. Bath is vile. I am daily wrapped in canvas and carried off like a parcel to be sunk in boiling water that smells of rotten eggs, then hauled out and forced to drink it, but Minnie says she will divorce me by petition in the House of Lords on the grounds of insanity caused by immoral acts if I don’t submit. I doubt this, but here I am.

Denys Randall-Isaacs is the son of a Englishwoman named Mary Hawkins and a British army officer: one Jonathan Wolverton Randall, captain of dragoons, deceased, killed at Culloden. The mother is still alive and married to a Jew named Robert Isaacs, a merchant in Bristol. He’s still alive, too, and has a half interest in a warehouse in Brest. Denys is one of your damned politicals, got ties to Germain, but I can’t find out more than that without being too overt for your tastes. Can’t find out anything in bloody Bath.

Don’t know much about Richardson, but will find out directly. Sent letters to some people in America. Yes, I am discreet, thank you, and so are they.

John Burgoyne is here, taking the cure. Very cock-a-hoop, as Germain has approved his scheme to invade from Canada. I have mentioned William to him, as his French and German are good and Burgoyne is to have a number of Brunswickers. Still, tell Willie to be careful; Burgoyne seems to think he is to be commander-in-chief of the army in America—a notion that I daresay will come as rather a surprise both to Guy Carleton and Dick Howe.

Trois Flèches. Three arrows. Who is the third?

London

March 26, 1777

The Society for the Appreciation of the

English Beefsteak, a Gentleman’s Club

Who is the third?” Grey repeated in astonishment, staring at the note he had just opened.

“The third what?” Harry Quarry handed his sopping cloak to the steward and sank heavily into the chair beside Grey’s, sighing with relief as he held his hands out to the fire. “God’s teeth, I’m frozen solid. You’re going to Southampton in this?” He flung one big cold-blanched hand at the window, which framed a dismal prospect of icy sleet, driven almost horizontal by the wind.

“Not ’til tomorrow. It may have cleared by then.”

Harry gave the window a look of deep suspicion and shook his head. “Not a chance. Steward!”

Mr. Bodley was already tottering toward them under the weight of a tea tray laden with seedcake, sponge cake, strawberry jam, marmalade, hot buttered crumpets in a basket wrapped in white linen, scones, clotted cream, almond biscuits, sardines on toast, a pot of beans baked with bacon and onion, a plate of sliced ham with gherkins, a bottle of brandy with two glasses, and—perhaps as an afterthought—a steaming teapot with two china cups and saucers alongside.

“Ah!” said Harry, looking happier. “I see you expected me.”

Grey smiled. If not on campaign or called away by duty, Harry Quarry invariably entered the Beefsteak at four-thirty on a Wednesday.

“I thought you’d need sustenance, with Hal on the sick list.” Harry was one of the two regimental colonels—as distinct from Hal, who was Colonel of the Regiment, it being his own regiment. Not all colonels took an active hand in the operations of their regiments, but Hal did.

“Malingering bugger,” Harry said, reaching for the brandy. “How is he?”

“Quite his usual self, to judge from his correspondence.” Grey handed Quarry the unfolded letter, which the latter read with a burgeoning grin.

“Aye, Minnie will have him sorted like a hand of whist.” He put down the letter, nodding at it as he raised his glass. “Who’s Richardson and why do you want to know about him?”

“Ezekiel Richardson, Captain. Lancers, but detached for intelligence work.”

“Oh, intelligence laddie, eh? One of your Black Chamber lot?” Quarry wrinkled his nose, though it was not clear whether this was a response to the notion of intelligence laddies or the presence of a dish of grated horseradish accompanying the sardines.

“No, I don’t know the man well personally,” Grey admitted, and felt the same pang of deep unease that had been afflicting him with increased frequency ever since his receipt of William’s letter from Quebec a week before. “I had been introduced to him by Sir George, who knew his father, but we didn’t talk much on that occasion. I had heard a few things to his credit—in a quiet sort of way—”

“That being, I suppose, the only way one wants to hear anything about a man in that line of business. Huuuuuh!” Harry drew a tremendous gasp of air through his open mouth and up into his sinuses, by the sound of it, then coughed once or twice, eyes watering, and shook his head in admiration. “Fresh horseradish,” he croaked, taking another large spoonful. “Very … huuuuuuh … fresh.”

“Quite. Anyway, I met him again in North Carolina, we talked a bit more, and he asked my permission to approach William with a proposition regarding intelligencing.”

Quarry stopped, a slice of sardine-laden toast halfway to his mouth.

“You don’t mean to say you’ve let him lure Willie off into the weeds?”

“That was certainly not my intent,” Grey said, nettled. “I had some reason to feel that the suggestion would be good for Willie; for one thing, it would get him out of North Carolina and end with him attached to Howe’s staff.”

Quarry nodded, masticating with care, and swallowed thickly.

“Aye, right. But now you have doubts?”

“I do. The more so because I can find very few people who actually know Richardson well. Everyone who recommended him to me in the first place did so by reason of someone else’s recommendation, it seems. Except for Sir George Stanley, who is presently in Spain with my mother, and old Nigel Bruce, who’s rather inconveniently died in the meantime.”

“Thoughtless.”

“Yes. I imagine I could root out more information, had I time, but I haven’t. Dottie and I sail day after tomorrow. Weather permitting,” he added, with a glance at the window.

“Ah, this would be where I come in,” Harry observed, without animus. “What shall I do with any information I find? Tell Hal, or send it to you?”

“Tell Hal,” Grey said with a sigh. “God knows what the post may be like in America, even with the Congress sitting in Philadelphia. If anything seems urgent, Hal can expedite matters here far more easily than I can there.”

Quarry nodded and refilled Grey’s glass. “You’re not eating,” he observed.

“I lunched late.” Quite late. In fact, he hadn’t had luncheon yet. He took a scone and spread it desultorily with jam.

“And Denys Wossname?” Quarry asked, flicking the letter with a pickle fork. “Shall I inquire about him, too?”

“By all means. Though I may make better progress with him on the American end of the matter. That’s at least where he was last seen.” He took a bite of scone, observing that it had achieved that delicate balance between crumbliness and half-set mortar that is the ideal of every scone, and felt some stirrings of appetite return. He wondered whether he should put Harry onto the worthy Jew with the warehouse in Brest, but decided not. The question of French connections was more than delicate, and while Harry was thorough, he was not subtle.

“Right, then.” Harry selected a slice of sponge cake, topped it with two almond biscuits and a dollop of clotted cream, and inserted the whole into his mouth. Where did he put it? Grey wondered. Harry was thickset and burly, but never stout. No doubt he sweated it off during energetic exercise in brothels, that being his favorite sport despite advancing age.

How old was Harry? he wondered suddenly. A few years older than Grey, a few years younger than Hal. He’d never thought about it, no more than he had with reference to Hal. The two of them had always seemed immortal; he had never once contemplated a future lacking either one of them. But the skull beneath Harry’s wig was nearly hairless now—he had, in his usual way, removed it to scratch his head at some point and set it casually back without regard to straightness—and the joints of his fingers were swollen, though he handled his teacup with his usual delicacy.

Grey felt of a sudden his own mortality, in the stiffening of a thumb, the twinge of a knee. Most of all, in the fear that he might not be there to protect William, while he was still needed.

“Eh?” said Harry, raising a brow at whatever showed on Grey’s face. “What?”

Grey smiled and shook his head, taking up his brandy glass once more.

“Timor mortis conturbat me,” he said.

“Ah,” said Quarry thoughtfully, and raised his own. “I’ll drink to that.”

THE PLOT THICKENS

28 February, A.D. 1777

London

Major General John Burgoyne,

to Sir George Germain

… I do not conceive any expedition from the sea can be so formidable to the enemy, or so effectual to close the war, as an invasion from Canada by Ticonderoga.

April 4, 1777

on board HMS Tartar

HE’D TOLD DOTTIE that the Tartar was only a twenty-eight-gun frigate and that she must therefore be modest in her packing. Even so, he was surprised to see the single trunk—granted, a large one—two portmanteaux, and a bag of needlework that comprised her entire luggage.

“What, not a single flowered mantua?” he teased. “William won’t know you.”

“Bosh,” she replied with her father’s talent for succinct clarity. But she smiled a little—she was very pale, and he hoped it wasn’t incipient seasickness—and he squeezed her hand and went on holding it all the time until the last dark sliver of England sank into the sea.

He was still amazed that she’d managed it. Hal must be more frail than he’d let on, to be bamboozled into allowing his daughter to take ship for America, even under Grey’s protection and for the laudable purpose of nursing her wounded brother. Minnie, of course, would not be parted from Hal for a moment, though naturally worried sick for her son. But that she had uttered no word of protest at this adventure …

“Your mother’s in on it, is she?” he asked casually, provoking a startled look through a veil of windblown hair.

“On what?” Dottie pawed at the blond spiderweb of her hair, escaped en masse from the inconsequent snood in which she’d bound it and dancing over her head like flames. “Oh, help!”

He captured her hair, smoothing it tight to her head with both hands, then gathering it at her neck, where he plaited it expertly, to the admiration of a passing seaman, clubbed it, and tied it up with the velvet ribbon that was all that remained from the wreck of her snood.

“On what, forsooth,” he told the back of her head, as he finished the job. “On whatever the dreadful enterprise is on which you’ve embarked.”

She turned round and faced him, her stare direct.

“If you want to describe rescuing Henry as a dreadful enterprise, I agree entirely,” she said with dignity. “But my mother would naturally do anything she could to get him back. So would you, presumably, or you wouldn’t be here.” And without waiting for a reply, she turned smartly on her heel and made for the companionway, leaving him speechless.

One of the first ships of the spring had brought a letter with further word of Henry. He was still alive, thank God, but had been badly wounded: shot in the abdomen, and very ill in consequence through the brutal winter. He had survived, though, and been moved to Philadelphia with a number of other British prisoners. The letter had been written by a fellow officer there, another prisoner, but Henry had managed to scribble a few words of love to his family at the bottom and sign his name; the memory of that straggling scrawl ate at John’s heart.

He was encouraged somewhat by the fact that it was Philadelphia, though. He had met a prominent Philadelphian while he was in France and had formed an immediate liking for him that he thought was returned; there might be something of use in the acquaintance. He grinned involuntarily, recalling the instant of his meeting with the American gentleman.

He hadn’t paused long in Paris, only long enough to make inquiries after Percival Beauchamp, who was not there. Retired to his home in the country for the winter, he was told. The Beauchamp family’s main estate, a place called Trois Flèches, near Compiègne. And so he had bought a fur-lined hat and a pair of seaboots, wrapped himself in his warmest cloak, hired a horse, and set grimly off into the teeth of a howling gale.

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