Voyager

Author: P Hana

Page 30

   

Grey extended his own hand in reflex, and a small object dropped into his open palm.

It was a sapphire, dark blue as Fraser’s own eyes, and a good size, too.

Grey opened his mouth, but said nothing, choked with astonishment.

“There is your evidence that the treasure existed, Major.” Fraser nodded toward the stone in Grey’s hand. His eyes met Grey’s across the tabletop. “And as for the rest—I am sorry to say, Major, that ye must take my word for it.”

“But—but—you said—”

“I did.” Fraser was as calm as though they had been discussing the rain outside. “I kept that one wee stone, thinking that it might be some use, if I were ever to be freed, or that I might find some chance of sending it to my family. For ye’ll appreciate, Major”—a light glinted derisively in Jamie’s blue eyes—“that my family couldna make use of a treasure of that sort, without attracting a deal of unwelcome attention. One stone, perhaps, but not a great many of them.”

Grey could scarcely think. What Fraser said was true; a Highland farmer like his brother-in-law would have no way of turning such a treasure into money without causing talk that would bring down the King’s men on Lallybroch in short order. And Fraser himself might well be imprisoned for the rest of his life. But still, to toss away a fortune so lightly! And yet, looking at the Scot, he could well believe it. If ever there was a man whose judgment would not be distorted by greed, James Fraser was it. Still—

“How did you keep this by you?” Grey demanded abruptly. “You were searched to the skin when you were brought back.”

The wide mouth curved slightly in the first genuine smile Grey had seen.

“I swallowed it,” Fraser said.

Grey’s hand closed convulsively on the sapphire. He opened his hand and rather gingerly set the gleaming blue thing on the table by the chess piece.

“I see,” he said.

“I’m sure ye do, Major,” said Fraser, with a gravity that merely made the glint of amusement in his eyes more pronounced. “A diet of rough parritch has its advantages, now and again.”

Grey quelled the sudden urge to laugh, rubbing a finger hard over his lip.

“I’m sure it does, Mr. Fraser.” He sat for a moment, contemplating the blue stone. Then he looked up abruptly.

“You are a Papist, Mr. Fraser?” He knew the answer already; there were few adherents of the Catholic Stuarts who were not. Without waiting for a reply, he rose and went to the bookshelf in the corner. It took a moment to find; a gift from his mother, it was not part of his usual reading.

He laid the calf-bound Bible on the table, next to the stone.

“I am myself inclined to accept your word as a gentleman, Mr. Fraser,” he said. “But you will understand that I have my duty to consider.”

Fraser gazed at the book for a long moment, then looked up at Grey, his expression unreadable.

“Aye, I ken that fine, Major,” he said quietly. Without hesitation, he laid a broad hand on the Bible.

“I swear in the name of Almighty God and by His Holy Word,” he said firmly. “The treasure is as I told you.” His eyes glowed in the firelight, dark and unfathomable. “And I swear on my hope of heaven,” he added softly, “that it rests now in the sea.”

11

THE TORREMOLINOS GAMBIT

With the question of the French gold thus settled, they returned to what had become their routine; a brief period of formal negotiation over the affairs of the prisoners, followed by informal conversation and sometimes a game of chess. This evening, they had come from the dinner table, still discussing Samuel Richardson’s immense novel Pamela.

“Do you think that the size of the book is justified by the complexity of the story?” Grey asked, leaning forward to light a cheroot from the candle on the sideboard. “It must after all be a great expense to the publisher, as well as requiring a substantial effort from the reader, a book of that length.”

Fraser smiled. He did not smoke himself, but had chosen to drink port this evening, claiming that to be the only drink whose taste would be unaffected by the stink of tobacco.

“What is it—twelve hundred pages? Aye, I think so. After all, it is difficult to sum up the complications of a life in a short space with any hope of constructing an accurate account.”

“True. I have heard the point made, though, that the novelist’s skill lies in the artful selection of detail. Do you not suppose that a volume of such length may indicate a lack of discipline in such selection, and hence a lack of skill?”

Fraser considered, sipping the ruby liquid slowly.

“I have seen books where that is the case, to be sure,” he said. “An author seeks by sheer inundation of detail to overwhelm the reader into belief. In this case, however, I think it isna so. Each character is most carefully considered, and all the incidents chosen seem necessary to the story. No, I think it is true that some stories simply require a greater space in which to be told.” He took another sip and laughed.

“Of course, I admit to some prejudice in that regard, Major. Given the circumstances under which I read Pamela, I should have been delighted had the book been twice as long as it was.”

“And what circumstances were those?” Grey pursed his lips and blew a careful smoke ring that floated toward the ceiling.

“I lived in a cave in the Highlands for several years, Major,” Fraser said wryly. “I seldom had more than three books with me, and those must last me for months at a time. Aye, I’m partial to lengthy tomes, but I must admit that it is not a universal preference.”

“That’s certainly true,” Grey agreed. He squinted, following the track of the first smoke ring, and blew another. Just off target, it drifted to the side.

“I remember,” he continued, sucking fiercely on his cheroot, encouraging it to draw, “a friend of my mother’s—saw the book—in Mother’s drawing room—” He drew deeply, and blew once more, giving a small grunt of satisfaction as the new ring struck the old, dispersing it into a tiny cloud.

“Lady Hensley, it was. She picked up the book, looked at it in that helpless way so many females affect and said, ‘Oh, Countess! You are so courageous to attack a novel of such stupendous size. I fear I should never dare to start so lengthy a book myself.’” Grey cleared his throat and lowered his voice from the falsetto he had affected for Lady Hensley.

“To which Mother replied,” he went on in his normal voice, “‘Don’t worry about it for a moment, my dear; you wouldn’t understand it anyway.’”

Fraser laughed, then coughed, waving away the remnants of another smoke ring.

Grey quickly snuffed out the cheroot, and rose from his seat.

“Come along then; we’ve just time for a quick game.”

They were not evenly matched; Fraser was much the better player, but Grey could now and then contrive to rescue a match through sheer bravado of play.

Tonight, he tried the Torremolinos Gambit. It was a risky opening, a queen’s knight opening. Successfully launched, it paved the way for an unusual combination of rook and bishop, depending for its success upon a piece of misdirection by the king’s knight and king bishop’s pawn. Grey used it seldom, for it was a trick that would not work on a mediocre player, one not sharp enough to detect the knight’s threat, or its possibilities. It was a gambit for use against a shrewd and subtle mind, and after nearly three months of weekly games, Grey knew quite well what sort of mind he was facing across the tinted ivory squares.

He forced himself not to hold his breath as he made the next-to-final move of the combination. He felt Fraser’s eyes rest on him briefly, but didn’t meet them, for fear of betraying his excitement. Instead, he reached to the sideboard for the decanter, and refilled both glasses with the sweet dark port, keeping his eyes carefully on the rising liquid.

Would it be the pawn, or the knight? Fraser’s head was bent over the board in contemplation, small reddish lights winking in his hair as he moved slightly. The knight, and all was well; it would be too late. The pawn, and all was likely lost.

Grey could feel his heart beating heavily behind his breastbone as he waited. Fraser’s hand hovered over the board, then suddenly decided, swooped down and touched the piece. The knight.

He must have let his breath out too noisily, for Fraser glanced sharply up at him, but it was too late. Careful to keep any overt expression of triumph off his face, Grey castled.

Fraser frowned at the board for a long moment, eyes flicking among the pieces, assessing. Then he jerked slightly, seeing it, and looked up, eyes wide.

“Why ye cunning wee bastard!” he said, in a tone of surprised respect. “Where in the bloody hell did ye learn that trick?”

“My elder brother taught it to me,” Grey answered, losing his customary wariness in a rush of delight at his success. He normally beat Fraser no more than three times in ten, and victory was sweet.

Fraser uttered a short laugh, and reaching out a long index finger, delicately tipped his king over.

“I should have expected something like that from a man like my Lord Melton,” he observed casually.

Grey stiffened in his seat. Fraser saw the movement, and arched one brow quizzically.

“It is Lord Melton ye mean, is it not?” he said. “Or perhaps you have another brother?”

“No,” Grey said. His lips felt slightly numb, though that might only be the cheroot. “No, I have only one brother.” His heart had begun to pound again, but this time with a heavy, dull beat. Had the Scottish bastard remembered all the time who he was?

“Our meeting was necessarily rather brief,” the Scot said dryly. “But memorable.” He picked up his glass and took a drink, watching Grey across the crystal rim. “Perhaps ye didna know that I had met Lord Melton, on Culloden Field?”

“I knew. I fought at Culloden.” All Grey’s pleasure in his victory had evaporated. He felt slightly nauseated from the smoke. “I didn’t know that you would recall Hal, though—or know of the relationship between us.”

“As I have that meeting to thank for my life, I am not likely to forget it,” Fraser said dryly.

Grey looked up. “I understand that you were not so thankful when Hal met you at Culloden.”

The line of Fraser’s mouth tightened, then relaxed.

“No,” he said softly. He smiled without humor. “Your brother verra stubbornly refused to shoot me. I wasna inclined to be grateful for the favor at the time.”

“You wished to be shot?” Grey’s eyebrows rose.

The Scot’s eyes were remote, fixed on the chessboard, but clearly seeing something else.

“I thought I had reason,” he said softly. “At the time.”

“What reason?” Grey asked. He caught a gimlet glance and added hastily, “I mean no impertinence in asking. It is only—at that time, I—I felt similarly. From what you have said of the Stuarts, I cannot think that the loss of their cause would have led you to such despair.”

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