I followed the direction of his frown and saw that he was looking at a chubby, jolly-looking woman in her thirties, with light brown hair done in gathered ringlets, who was giggling at Mr. Willoughby. I looked at her with interest. So this was the infamous merry widow of Kingston!
The little Chinese had now got down upon his hands and knees and was crawling around on the floor, pretending to look for a lost earring, while Mrs. Alcott squeaked in mock alarm at his forays toward her feet. I thought perhaps I had better find Fergus without delay, and have him detach Mr. Willoughby from his new acquaintance before matters went too far.
Evidently offended beyond bearing by the sight, the Reverend abruptly put down the cup of lemon squash he had been holding, turned and made his way through the crowd toward the terrace, vigorously elbowing people out of his way.
I breathed a sigh of relief; conversation with the Reverend Campbell was a lot like exchanging frivolities with the public hangman—though, in fact, the only hangman with whom I had been personally acquainted was much better company than the Reverend.
Suddenly I saw Jamie’s tall figure, heading for a door on the far side of the room, where I assumed the Governor’s private quarters to be. He must be going to talk to Lord John now. Moved by curiosity, I decided to join him.
The floor was by now so crowded that it was difficult to make my way across it. By the time I reached the door through which Jamie had gone, he had long since disappeared, but I pushed my way through.
I was in a long hallway, dimly lighted by candles in sconces, and pierced at intervals by long casement windows, through which red light from the torches on the terrace outside flickered, picking up the gleam of metal from the decorations on the walls. These were largely military, consisting of ornamental sprays of pistols, knives, shields and swords. Lord John’s personal souvenirs? I wondered, or had they come with the house?
Away from the clamor of the salon, it was remarkably quiet. I walked down the hallway, my steps muffled by the long Turkey carpet that covered the parquet.
There was an indistinguishable murmur of male voices ahead. I turned a corner into a shorter corridor and saw a door ahead from which light spilled—that must be the Governor’s private office. Inside, I heard Jamie’s voice.
“Oh, God, John!” he said.
I stopped dead, halted much more by the tone of that voice than by the words—it was broken with an emotion I had seldom heard from him.
Walking very quietly, I drew closer. Framed in the half-open door was Jamie, head bowed as he pressed Lord John Grey tight in a fervent embrace.
I stood still, completely incapable of movement or speech. As I watched, they broke apart. Jamie’s back was turned to me, but Lord John faced the hallway; he could have seen me easily, had he looked. He wasn’t looking toward the hallway, though. He was staring at Jamie, and on his face was a look of such naked hunger that the blood rushed to my own cheeks when I saw it.
I dropped my fan. I saw the Governor’s head turn, startled at the sound. Then I was running down the hall, back toward the salon, my heartbeat drumming in my ears.
I shot through the door into the salon and came to a halt behind a potted palm, heart pounding. The wrought-iron chandeliers were thick with beeswax candles, and pine torches burned brightly on the walls, but even so, the corners of the room were dark. I stood in the shadows, trembling.
My hands were cold, and I felt slightly sick. What in the name of God was going on?
The Governor’s shock at learning that I was Jamie’s wife was now at least partially explained; that one glimpse of unguarded, painful yearning had told me exactly how matters stood on his side. Jamie was another question altogether.
He was the Governor of Ardsmuir prison, he had said, casually. And less casually, on another occasion, D’ye ken what men in prison do?
I did know, but I would have sworn on Brianna’s head that Jamie didn’t; hadn’t, couldn’t, under any circumstances whatever. At least I would have sworn that before tonight. I closed my eyes, chest heaving, and tried not to think of what I had seen.
I couldn’t, of course. And yet, the more I thought of it, the more impossible it seemed. The memories of Jack Randall might have faded with the physical scars he had left, but I could not believe that they would ever fade sufficiently for Jamie to tolerate the physical attentions of another man, let alone to welcome them.
But if he knew Grey so intimately as to make what I had witnessed plausible in the name of friendship alone, then why had he not told me of him before? Why go to such lengths to see the man, as soon as he learned that Grey was in Jamaica? My stomach dropped once more, and the feeling of sickness returned. I wanted badly to sit down.
As I leaned against the wall, trembling in the shadows, the door to the Governor’s quarters opened, and the Governor came out, returning to his party. His face was flushed and his eyes shone. I could at that moment easily have murdered him, had I anything more lethal than a hairpin to hand.
The door opened again a few minutes later, and Jamie emerged, no more than six feet away. His mask of cool reserve was in place, but I knew him well enough to see the marks of a strong emotion under it. But while I could see it, I couldn’t interpret it. Excitement? Apprehension? Fear and joy mingled? Something else? I had simply never seen him look that way before.
He didn’t seek conversation or refreshments, but instead began to stroll about the room, obviously looking for someone. For me.
I swallowed heavily. I couldn’t face him—not in front of a crowd. I stayed where I was, watching him, until he finally went out onto the terrace. Then I left my hiding place, and crossed the room as quickly as I could, heading for the refuge of the retiring room. At least there I would be able to sit down for a moment.
I pushed open the heavy door and stepped inside, relaxing at once as the warm, comforting scents of women’s perfume and powder surrounded me. Then the other smell struck me. It too was a familiar scent—one of the smells of my profession. But not expected here.
The retiring room was still quiet; the loud rumble from the salon had dropped abruptly to a faint murmur, like a far-off thunderstorm. It was, however, no longer a place of refuge.
Mina Alcott lay sprawled across the red velvet chaise, her head hanging backward over the edge, her skirts in disarray about her neck. Her eyes were open, fixed in upside-down surprise. The blood from her severed throat had turned the velvet black beneath her, and dripped down into a large pool beneath her head. Her light brown hair had come loose from its dressing, the matted ends of her ringlets dangling in the puddle.
I stood frozen, too paralyzed even to call for help. Then I heard the sound of g*y voices in the hallway outside, and the door pushed open. There was a moment’s silence as the women behind me saw it too.
Light from the corridor spilled through the door and across the floor, and in the moment before the screaming began, I saw the footprints leading toward the window—the small neat prints of a felt-soled foot, outlined in blood.
IN WHICH MUCH IS REVEALED
They had taken Jamie somewhere. I, shaking and incoherent, had been put—with a certain amount of irony—in the Governor’s private office with Marsali, who insisted on trying to bathe my face with a damp towel, in spite of my resistance.
“They canna think Da had anything to do with it!” she said, for the fifth time.
“They don’t.” I finally pulled myself together enough to talk to her. “But they think Mr. Willoughby did—and Jamie brought him here.”
She stared at me, wide-eyed with horror.
“Mr. Willoughby? But he couldn’t!”
“I wouldn’t have thought so.” I felt as though someone had been beating me with a club; everything ached. I sat slumped on a small velvet love seat, aimlessly twirling a glass of brandy between my hands, unable to drink it.
I couldn’t even decide what I ought to feel, let alone sort out the conflicting events and emotions of the evening. My mind kept jumping between the grisly scene in the retiring room, and the tableau I had seen a half-hour earlier, in this very room.
I sat looking at the Governor’s big desk. I could still see the two of them, Jamie and Lord John, as though they had been painted on the wall before me.
“I just don’t believe it,” I said out loud, and felt slightly better for the saying.
“Neither do I,” said Marsali. She was pacing the floor, her footsteps changing from the click of heels on parquet to a muffled thump as she hit the flowered carpet. “He can’t have! I ken he’s a heathen, but we’ve lived wi’ the man! We know him!”
Did we? Did I know Jamie? I would have sworn I did, and yet…I kept remembering what he had said to me at the brothel, during our first night together. Will ye take me, and risk the man that I am, for the sake of the man ye knew? I had thought then—and since—that there was not so much difference between them. But if I were wrong?
“I’m not wrong!” I muttered, clutching my glass fiercely. “I’m not!” If Jamie could take Lord John Grey as a lover, and hide it from me, he wasn’t remotely the man I thought he was. There had to be some other explanation.
He didn’t tell you about Laoghaire, said an insidious little voice inside my head.
“That’s different,” I said to it stoutly.
“What’s different?” Marsali was looking at me in surprise.
“I don’t know; don’t mind me.” I brushed a hand across my face, trying to wipe away confusion and weariness. “It’s taking them a long time.”
The walnut case-clock had struck two o’clock in the morning before the door of the office opened and Fergus came in, accompanied by a grim-looking militiaman.
Fergus was somewhat the worse for wear; most of the powder had gone from his hair, shaken onto the shoulders of his dark blue coat like dandruff. What was left gave his hair a grayish cast, as though he had aged twenty years overnight. No surprise; I felt as though I had.
“We can go now, chèrie,” he said quietly to Marsali. He turned to me. “Will you come with us, milady, or wait for milord?”
“I’ll wait,” I said. I wasn’t going to bed until I had seen Jamie, no matter how long it took.
“I will have the carriage return for you, then,” he said, and put a hand on Marsali’s back to usher her out.
The militiaman said something under his breath as they passed him. I didn’t catch it, but evidently Fergus did. He stiffened, eyes narrowing, and turned back toward the man. The militiaman rocked up onto the balls of his feet, smiling evilly and looking expectant. Clearly he would like nothing better than an excuse to hit Fergus.
To his surprise, Fergus smiled charmingly at him, square white teeth gleaming.
“My thanks, mon ami,” he said, “for your assistance in this most trying situation.” He thrust out a black-gloved hand, which the militiaman accepted in surprise.
Then Fergus jerked his arm suddenly backward. There was a brief rip, and a pattering sound, as a small stream of bran struck the parquet floor.
“Keep it,” he told the militiaman graciously. “A small token of my appreciation.” And then they were gone, leaving the man slack-jawed, staring down in horror at the apparently severed hand in his grasp.