The Fiery Cross

Author: P Hana

Page 142

   

“Hmm.” Jocasta pursed her lips, frowning. “The cookhouse would be madness. And with so many folk about . . . well, we can ask Mariah and the others, but I shouldna be surprised if they dinna recall even carrying the dishes, let alone someone tampering with them. It would take nay more than a moment, ken; distract the girl, whisk in the glass . . .” She waved a hand, indicating the scandalous ease with which murder could be committed.

“Or someone could have gone up to the attic under the pretext of seeing how she was, and given her something to drink, with the glass in it then,” I suggested. “A syllabub would be perfect. People were coming and going, but Betty was alone up there for long stretches, between Dr. Fentiman’s visit, and the time the other slaves came to bed. It would be quite possible for someone to go up there unseen.”

“Very nice, Inspector Lestrade,” Brianna said to Roger, sotto voce. “But there’s no proof, is there?”

Jocasta and Duncan were sitting side by side, rigid as a pair of Toby jugs, carefully not facing each other. At this, Jocasta took a deep and audible breath, obviously forcing herself to relax.

“True,” she said. “There’s not. Ye dinna recall Betty offering you a cup of punch, a dhuine?”

Duncan gnawed fiercely on his moustache for a moment, concentrating, but then shook his head.

“She might have . . . a bhean. But she might not, too.”

“Well, then.”

Everyone fell silent for a moment, during which Ulysses moved silently round the table, clearing things away. At last Jamie gave a deep sigh and straightened up.

“Well, so. Then there’s what happened last night. We are agreed that the Irishman who entered your chamber, Aunt, was Stephen Bonnet?”

Brianna’s hand jerked, and the cup of tea crashed to the table.

“Who?” she said hoarsely. “Stephen Bonnet—here?”

Jamie glanced at me, frowning.

“I thought ye’d told her, Sassenach.”

“When?” I said, with some irritation. “I thought you’d told her,” I said, turning to Roger, who merely shrugged, stone-faced. Ulysses had swooped down with a cloth and was blotting up the tea. Bree was white-faced, but had regained her self-possession.

“Never mind,” she said. “He was here? Last night?”

“Aye, he was,” Jamie said reluctantly. “I saw him.”

“So he was the thief who came after the gold—or one of them?” Brianna reached for one of the silver cups of port and drank it off as though it were water. Ulysses blinked, but hastened to refill the cup from the decanter.

“It would seem so.” Roger reached for a fresh scone, carefully avoiding Brianna’s eyes.

“How did he find out about the gold, Aunt?” Jamie leaned back in his chair, eyes half-closed in concentration.

Jocasta gave a small snort, and held out her hand. Ulysses, accustomed to her needs, put a piece of buttered toast into it.

“Hector Cameron told someone; my brother Dougal told someone; or the third man told someone. And knowing them as I did, I should lay odds it wasna either Hector nor Dougal.” She shrugged and took a bite of toast.

“But I’ll tell ye one thing,” she added, swallowing. “The second man in my room, the one who reeked of drink. I said he didna speak, aye? Well, that’s plain enough, no? He was someone I ken, whose voice I should have known, if he spoke.”

“Lieutenant Wolff?” Roger suggested.

Jamie nodded, a crease forming between his brows.

“Who better than the navy, to find a pirate when one’s wanted, aye?”

“Would one want a pirate?” Brianna murmured. The port had restored her composure, but she was still pale.

“Aye,” Jamie said, paying little attention to her. “No small undertaking, ten thousand pound in gold. It would take more than one man to deal with such a sum—Louis of France and Charles Stuart kent that much; they sent six to deal with thirty thousand.” Little wonder, then, if whoever learned of the gold had enlisted the help of Stephen Bonnet—a well-known smuggler and pirate, and one with not only the means of transport but the connections to dispose of the gold.

“A boat,” I said slowly. “The Lieutenant left by boat, during the supper. Suppose that he went downriver, and met Stephen Bonnet. They came back together, and waited for the opportunity to sneak into the house and try to terrorize Jocasta into telling them where the gold was.”

Jamie nodded.

“Aye, that could be. The Lieutenant has had dealings here for years. Is it possible, Aunt, that he saw something that made him suspect ye had the gold here? Ye said Hector had three bars; is any of it left?”

Jocasta’s lips pressed tight, but after a moment’s hesitation, she gave a grudging nod.

“He would keep a lump of it on his desk, to weight his papers. Aye, Wolff might have seen—but how would he have kent what it was?”

“Perhaps he didn’t at the time,” Brianna suggested, “but then later heard about the French gold, and put two and two together.”

There was a nodding and murmuring at this. As a theory, it fitted well enough. I didn’t see quite how one would go about proving it, though, and said so.

Jamie shrugged, and licked a smear of jam off his knuckle.

“I shouldna think proving what’s happened is so important, Sassenach. It’s maybe what comes next.” He looked at Duncan, straight on.

“They’ll come back, a charaid,” he said quietly. “Ye ken that, aye?”

Duncan nodded. He looked unhappy, but determined.

“Aye, I ken.” He reached out a hand and took Jocasta’s—the first gesture of the sort I had ever seen him make toward her. “We shall be ready, Mac Dubh.”

Jamie nodded, slowly.

“I must go, Duncan. The planting willna wait. But I shall send word to those I ken, to have a watch of some sort kept upon Lieutenant Wolff.”

Jocasta had sat silent, her hand unmoving in Duncan’s. She sat up taller in her chair at this.

“And the Irishman?” she said. Her other hand rubbed slowly across her knee, pressing lightly with the heel of her hand, where the knife blade had cut.

Jamie exchanged a glance with Duncan, then with me.

“He’ll come back,” he said, grim certainty in his voice.

I was looking at Brianna as he said it. Her face was calm, but I was her mother, and I saw the fear move in her eyes, like a snake through water. Stephen Bonnet, I thought, with a sinking heart, was already back.

WE LEFT NEXT DAY for the mountains. We were no more than five miles on our journey, when I caught the sound of hoofbeats on the road behind us, and saw a flash of scarlet, through the spring-green of the chestnut trees.

It was Major MacDonald, and the look of delight upon his face as he spurred toward us told me all I needed to know.

“Oh, bloody hell!” I said.

The note bore Tryon’s scarlet seal, bloodred as the Major’s coat.

“It came this morning to Greenoaks,” the Major said, reining up to watch as Jamie broke the seal. “I offered to bring it, as I was bound this way, in any case.” He knew already what the note contained; Farquard Campbell would already have opened his.

I watched Jamie’s face as he read. His expression didn’t change. He finished reading, and handed me the note.

19th March, 1771

To the Commanding Officers of the Militia:

Sirs:

I Yesterday determined by Consent of His Majesty’s Council to march with a Body of Forces taken from several Militia Regiments, into the Settlements of the Insurgents to reduce them to Obedience, who by their Rebellious Acts and Declarations have set the Government at defiance and interrupted the Course of Justice by obstructing, overturning and shutting up the Courts of Law. That some of your Regiment therefore may have a Share in the Honor of serving their Country in this important Service, I am to require you to make a choice of thirty men, who shall join the Body of my Force in this Endeavor.

It is not intended to move the Troops before the twentieth of next Month before which time you shall be informed of the day you are to assemble your Men, the time of march and the Road you are to take.

It is recommended as a Christian Duty incumbent on every Planter that remains at Home, to take care of, and assist to the utmost of his Abilities the Families of those Men who go on this Service that neither their Families nor plantations may suffer while they are employed on a Service where the Interest of the whole is concerned.

For the Expenditures ordered on this Expedition I shall give printed Warrants payable to the Bearers, These Warrants will become negotiable, until the Treasury can pay them out of the contingent Fund in case there is not a sufficiency of Money in the Treasury to answer the necessary Services of this Expedition.

I am &c. &c.,

William Tryon

Had Hermon Husband and James Hunter known, when they left River Run? I thought they must. And the Major, of course, was bound for New Bern now, to offer his services to the Governor. His boots were filmed with the dust of his ride, but the hilt of his sword gleamed in the sun.

“Bloody, bloody, f**king hell,” I said softly, again, with emphasis. Major MacDonald blinked. Jamie glanced at me, and the corner of his mouth twitched up.

“Aye, well,” he said. “Nearly a month. Just time to get the barley in.”

PART SIX

The War of the Regulation

56

“. . . AND FIGHT THEM, SAYING THEY HAD MEN ENOUGH TO KILL THEM,

WE CAN KILL THEM”

Deposition of Waightstill Avery, Witness

North Carolina

Mecklenburg County

Waightstill Avery Testifieth and saith that on the sixth Day of March Instant about nine or Ten OClock in the Morning He this Deponent was at the now dwelling house of one Hudgins who lives at the lower end of the long Island.

And He this Deponent there saw Thirty or Forty of those People who style themselves Regulators, and was then and there arrested and forceably detained a prisoner by one of them (who said his Name was James McQuiston) in the Name of them all, and that soon after one James Graham (or Grimes) spoke to this Deponent these Words “You are now a Prisoner and You must not go any where without a Guard.” immediately after adding that “You must keep with Your Guard and You shan’t be hurt.”

This Deponent was then conducted under Guard of two Men to the regulating Camp (as they termed it) about a Mile distant, where were many more persons of the same Denomination and others came there some Hours after, in the whole as this Deponent supposes and imagines about two hundred and Thirty.

That from themselves He this Deponent learned the Names of five of their Captains or leading Men then present (Viz., Thomas Hamilton and one other Hamilton, James Hunter, Joshua Teague one Gillespie and the aforesaid James Grimes (or Graham). He this Deponent heard many of them whose Names are to Him unknown say approbrious Things against the Governor, the Judges of the Superior Court, against the House of Assembly and other persons in Office. While a surrounding Crowd were uttering Things still more approbrious the said Thomas Hamilton stood in the Midst and spoke Words of the following Tenor and purport (the Crowd still assenting to and affirming the Truth of what was said):

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