Author: P Hana

Page 168


It was another hour before the door opened again, this time to admit the Governor. He was still handsome and neat as a white camellia, but definitely beginning to turn brown round the edges. I set the untouched glass of brandy down and got to my feet to face him.

“Where is Jamie?”

“Still being questioned by Captain Jacobs, the militia commander.” He sank into his chair, looking bemused. “I had no notion he spoke French so remarkably well.”

“I don’t suppose you know him all that well,” I said, deliberately baiting. What I wanted badly to know was just how well he did know Jamie. He didn’t rise to it, though; merely took off his formal wig and laid it aside, running a hand through his damp blond hair with relief.

“Can he keep up such an impersonation, do you think?” he asked, frowning, and I realized that he was so occupied with thoughts of the murder and of Jamie that he was paying little, if any, attention to me.

“Yes,” I said shortly. “Where do they have him?” I got up, heading for the door.

“In the formal parlor,” he said. “But I don’t think you should—”

Not pausing to listen, I yanked open the door and poked my head into the hall, then hastily drew it back and slammed the door.

Coming down the hall was the Admiral I had met in the receiving line, face set in lines of gravity suitable to the situation. Admirals I could deal with. However, he was accompanied by a flotilla of junior officers, and among the entourage I had spotted a face I knew, though he was now wearing the uniform of a first lieutenant, instead of an oversized captain’s coat.

He was shaved and rested, but his face was puffy and discolored; someone had beaten him up in the not too distant past. Despite the differences in his appearance, I had not the slightest difficulty in recognizing Thomas Leonard. I had the distinct feeling that he wouldn’t have any trouble recognizing me, either, violet silk notwithstanding.

I looked frantically about the office for someplace to hide, but short of crawling into the kneehole of the desk, there was no place at all. The Governor was watching me, fair brows raised in astonishment.

“What—” he began, but I rounded on him, finger to my lips.

“Don’t give me away, if you value Jamie’s life!” I hissed melodramatically, and so saying, flung myself onto the velvet love seat, snatched up the damp towel and dropped it on my face, and—with a superhuman effort of will—forced all my limbs to go limp.

I heard the door open, and the Admiral’s high, querulous voice.

“Lord John—” he began, and then evidently noticed my supine form, for he broke off and resumed in a slightly lower voice, “Oh! I collect you are engaged?”

“Not precisely engaged, Admiral, no.” Grey had fast reflexes, I would say that for him; he sounded perfectly self-possessed, as though he were quite used to being found in custody of unconscious females. “The lady was overcome by the shock of discovering the body.”

“Oh!” said the Admiral again, this time dripping with sympathy. “I quite see that. Beastly shock for a lady, to be sure.” He hesitated, then dropping his voice to a sort of hoarse whisper, said, “D’you think she’s asleep?”

“I should think so,” the Governor assured him. “She’s had enough brandy to fell a horse.” My fingers twitched, but I managed to lie still.

“Oh, quite. Best thing for shock, brandy.” The Admiral went on whispering, sounding like a rusted hinge. “Meant to tell you I have sent to Antigua for additional troops—quite at your disposal—guards, search the town—if the militia don’t find the fellow first,” he added.

“I hope they may not,” said a viciously determined voice among the officers. “I’d like to catch the yellow bugger myself. There wouldn’t be enough of him left to hang, believe me!”

A deep murmur of approval at this sentiment went through the men, to be sternly quelled by the Admiral.

“Your sentiments do you credit, gentlemen,” he said, “but the law will be observed in all respects. You will make that clear to the troops in your command; when the miscreant is taken, he is to be brought to the Governor, and justice will be properly executed, I assure you.” I didn’t like the way he emphasized the word “executed,” but he got a grudging chorus of assent from his officers.

The Admiral, having delivered this order in his ordinary voice, dropped back into a whisper to take his leave.

“I shall be staying in the town, at MacAdams’ Hotel,” he croaked. “Do not hesitate to send to me for any assistance, Your Excellency.”

There was a general shuffle and murmur as the naval officers took their leave, observing discretion for the sake of my slumbers. Then came the sound of a single pair of footsteps, and then the whoosh and creak of someone settling heavily into a chair. There was silence for a moment.

Then Lord John said “You can get up now, if you wish. I am supposing that you are not in fact prostrate with shock,” he added, ironically. “Somehow I suspect that a mere murder would not be sufficient to discompose a woman who could deal single-handedly with a typhoid epidemic.”

I removed the towel from my face and swung my feet off the chaise, sitting up to face him. He was leaning on his desk, chin in his hands, staring at me.

“There are shocks,” I said precisely, smoothing back my damp curls and giving him an eyeball, “and then there are shocks. If you know what I mean.”

He looked surprised; then a flicker of understanding came into his expression. He reached into the drawer of his desk, and pulled out my fan, white silk embroidered with violets.

“This is yours, I suppose? I found it in the corridor.” His mouth twisted wryly as he looked at me. “I see. I suppose, then, you will have some notion of how your appearance earlier this evening affected me.”

“I doubt it very much,” I said. My fingers were still icy, and I felt as though I had swallowed some large, cold object that pressed uncomfortably under my breastbone. I breathed deeply, trying to force it down, to no avail. “You didn’t know that Jamie was married?”

He blinked, but not in time to keep me from seeing a small grimace of pain, as though someone had struck him suddenly across the face.

“I knew he had been married,” he corrected. He dropped his hands, fiddling aimlessly with the small objects that littered his desk. “He told me—or gave me to understand, at least—that you were dead.”

Grey picked up a small silver paperweight, and turned it over and over in his hands, eyes fixed on the gleaming surface. A large sapphire was set in it, winking blue in the candlelight.

“Has he never mentioned me?” he asked softly. I wasn’t sure whether the undertone in his voice was pain or anger. Despite myself, I felt some small sense of pity for him.

“Yes, he did,” I said. “He said you were his friend.” He glanced up, the fine-cut face lightening a bit.

“Did he?”

“You have to understand,” I said. “He—I—we were separated by the war, the Rising. Each of us thought the other was dead. I found him again only—my God, was it only four months ago?” I felt staggered, and not only by the events of the evening. I felt as though I had lived several lifetimes since the day I had opened the door of the printshop in Edinburgh, to find A. Malcolm bending over his press.

The lines of stress in Grey’s face eased a little.

“I see,” he said slowly. “So—you have not seen him since—my God, that’s twenty years!” He stared at me, dumbfounded. “And four months? Why—how—” He shook his head, brushing away the questions.

“Well, that’s of no consequence just now. But he did not tell you—that is—has he not told you about Willie?”

I stared at him blankly.

“Who’s Willie?”

Instead of explaining, he bent and opened the drawer of his desk. He pulled out a small object and laid it on the desk, motioning me to come closer.

It was a portrait, an oval miniature, set in a carved frame of some fine-grained dark wood. I looked at the face, and sat down abruptly, my knees gone to water. I was only dimly aware of Grey’s face, floating above the desk like a cloud on the horizon, as I picked up the miniature to look at it more closely.

He might have been Bree’s brother, was my first thought. The second, coming with the force of a blow to the solar plexus, was “My God in heaven, he is Bree’s brother!”

There couldn’t be much doubt about it. The boy in the portrait was perhaps nine or ten, with a childish tenderness still lingering about his face, and his hair was a soft chestnut brown, not red. But the slanted blue eyes looked out boldly over a straight nose a fraction of an inch too long, and the high Viking cheekbones pressed tight against smooth skin. The tilt of the head held the same confident carriage as that of the man who had given him that face.

My hands trembled so violently that I nearly dropped it. I set it back on the desk, but kept my hand over it, as though it might leap up and bite me. Grey was watching me, not without sympathy.

“You didn’t know?” he said.

“Who—” My voice was hoarse with shock, and I had to stop and clear my throat. “Who is his mother?”

Grey hesitated, eyeing me closely, then shrugged slightly.

“Was. She’s dead.”

“Who was she?” The ripples of shock were still spreading from an epicenter in my stomach, making the crown of my head tingle and my toes go numb, but at least my vocal cords were coming back under my control. I could hear Jenny saying, He’s no the sort of man should sleep alone, aye? Evidently he wasn’t.

“Her name was Geneva Dunsany,” Grey said. “My wife’s sister.”

My mind was reeling, in an effort to make sense of all this, and I suppose I was less than tactful.

“Your wife?” I said, goggling at him. He flushed deeply and looked away. If I had been in any doubt about the nature of the look I had seen him give Jamie, I wasn’t any longer.

“I think you had better bloody well explain to me just what you have to do with Jamie, and this Geneva, and this boy,” I said, picking up the portrait once more.

He raised one brow, cool and reserved; he had been shocked, too, but the shock was wearing off.

“I cannot see that I am under any particular obligation to do so,” he said.

I fought back the urge to rake my nails down his face, but the impulse must have shown on my face, for he pushed back his chair and got his feet under him, ready to move quickly. He eyed me warily across the expanse of dark wood.

I took several deep breaths, unclenched my fists, and spoke as calmly as I could.

“Right. You’re not. But I would appreciate it very much if you did. And why did you show me the picture if you didn’t mean me to know?” I added. “Since I know that much, I’ll certainly find out the rest from Jamie. You might as well tell me your side of it now.” I glanced at the window; the slice of sky that showed between the half-open shutters was still a velvet black, with no sign of dawn. “There’s time.”