Written in My Own Heart's Blood

Author: P Hana

Page 13

   

Smith’s cheeks flushed, but he leaned back a little, gathering his own wits before replying, and returned Grey’s stare, with interest. He was not a big man but had broad shoulders and considerable presence of manner—and Grey knew him to be a very competent soldier. Competent enough not to reply directly to Grey but to turn instead to Corporal Woodbine.

“Corporal. How comes this gentleman here?”

“This is Lieutenant Colonel Lord John Grey, sir,” Woodbine said. He was near bursting with pride at his capture and placed Grey’s King’s warrant and Graves’s accompanying note on the rickety table with the manner of a butler presenting a roast pheasant with diamond eyes to a reigning monarch. “We caught him in the woods near Philadelphia. Out of uniform. Er . . . as you see, sir.” He cleared his throat in emphasis. “And he admits to being a cousin of Major General Charles Grey. You know—the Paoli Massacre.”

“Really?” Smith picked up the papers but cocked an eyebrow at Grey. “What was he doing there?”

“Having the shit beaten out of him by Colonel Fraser, sir—he’s one of Morgan’s officers. He said,” Woodbine added, with less certainty.

Smith looked blank.

“Fraser . . . don’t believe I know him.” Switching his attention to Grey, he addressed him for the first time. “Do you know Colonel Fraser . . . Colonel Grey?”

The elaborate hesitation spoke volumes. Well, he hadn’t expected anything else. Grey wiped his nose as well as he could on a forearm and sat straight.

“I decline to answer your questions, sir. They are improperly put. You know my name, rank, and regiment. Beyond that, my business is my own.”

Smith stared at him, eyes narrowed. Smith’s eyes were rather attractive, a pale gray with black brows and lashes, very dramatic. Grey had noticed them when the man came to tea with Minnie.

Woodbine coughed.

“Er . . . Colonel Fraser said the man was his prisoner, sir. But he wouldn’t say what for, and when I pressed the matter, he . . . er . . . left. That’s when we searched Lord . . . er, the lord colonel here, and found his papers.”

“He left,” Smith repeated carefully. “And you allowed him to leave, Corporal?”

Woodbine was looking less confident in the virtue of his conduct but wasn’t the sort to be easily cowed, Grey saw. He lowered his brow and gave Smith a look of his own.

“Couldn’t have stopped him, short of shooting him. Sir,” he added flatly. The flesh around Smith’s nostrils whitened, and Grey had the distinct impression that the Englishman must find his new command not quite what he’d been used to.

The quarters certainly weren’t. While Smith’s Continental uniform was smart and well tended, and his wig in good order, his tent, while large, appeared to have been through several campaigns, being worn to the threads in places and patched in others. Not entirely a bad thing, Grey thought, briefly closing his eyes as a faint evening breeze came wafting through the walls of the tent, relieving the stifling heat. He had a noticeable headache, and even such minor relief was welcome.

“Very well, Corporal,” Smith said after a moment, having evidently tried and failed to think of something new to ask. “Well done,” he added, offering a belated note of congratulation.

“Thank you, sir.” Woodbine hovered, obviously loath to surrender his share of the excitement. “If I may ask, sir—what do you mean to do with the prisoner?”

Grey opened his eye and a half, interested to hear what the answer might be, and found Smith eyeing him in what seemed a faintly carnivorous fashion. The turncoat smiled.

“Oh, I’ll think of something, Corporal Woodbine,” he said. “You are dismissed. Good night.”

SMITH GOT UP and came over to Grey, leaning down to examine his face. Grey could smell his sweat, sharp and musky.

“Do you need a doctor?” he asked dispassionately, but without hostility.

“No,” Grey said. Both his head and his side ached deeply, and he felt dizzy, but he doubted there was anything a doctor could do about either condition. And he found that after prolonged contact with Claire and her opinions, he had much less trust in physicians than heretofore—and he hadn’t had much to begin with.

Smith nodded and, straightening up, went to a battered campaign chest and dug out two dented pewter cups and a stone bottle of what proved to be applejack. He poured two generous tots, and they sat in silence for a time, sipping.

So close to Midsummer Day, it was still bright light out, though Grey could hear the rattle and shuffle of a camp beginning the evening routine. A mule brayed loudly, and several more answered it in raucous chorus. Wagons, then . . . perhaps artillery? He breathed deeply, nostrils flaring; an artillery company had a distinct smell to it, a sort of distillation of sweat, black powder, and hot metal, much more pungent than the scent of an infantry company with their muskets—the scent of searing iron seeped into an artilleryman’s clothes, as well as his soul.

What came to him was not the stink of guns but the smell of roasting meat. It drifted through the tent, and his stomach growled loudly; he’d eaten nothing since the beer that had been his preliminary to a preempted meal. He thought Smith’s mouth twitched a little at the noise, but the colonel politely ignored it.

Smith finished his drink, refilled both cups, and cleared his throat.

“I will not plague you with questions, as you don’t wish to answer them,” he said carefully, “but in the interests of civil conversation, should you wish to make any inquiries of me, I should not take offense.”

Grey smiled wryly.

“Very gracious of you, sir. Do you wish to justify your present allegiance to me? I assure you, it’s unnecessary.”

Small red patches sprang up immediately on Smith’s cheekbones.

“That was not my intent, sir,” he said stiffly.

“Then I apologize,” Grey said, and took another mouthful. The sweet strong cider was assuaging his hunger pangs as well as the pain in his side, though it admittedly wasn’t doing much for the dizziness. “What sort of question did you think I might ask? What is the current state of the Continental army? I could deduce that easily enough, I think, from the state of the gentlemen who captured me, and . . . other evidence.” He let his eyes roam deliberately around the tent, taking in the chipped pottery utensil under the lopsided cot, the tail of dirty linen straggling out of a portmanteau in the corner; evidently Smith had either no orderly or an inept one. For an instant, Grey felt a pang of nostalgia for Tom Byrd, the best valet he had ever had.

Smith’s flush had faded; he gave a small, ironic laugh. “I imagine you could. It’s not much of a secret. No, I rather thought you might be curious as to what I propose to do with you.”

“Oh, that.” Grey put down his cup and rubbed gingerly at his forehead, trying not to touch the swollen area around his eye. “Frankly, I’d forgotten, in the surprise of seeing you. And the pleasure of your kind hospitality,” he added, lifting the cup with no irony at all. “Corporal Woodbine and his men appeared to think I should be promptly hanged, both on the charge of spying and on the more serious one of being related to Major General Charles Grey, who I gather is believed to have committed some atrocity at a place called Paoli.”

Smith’s brow creased.

“Do you deny being a spy?”

“Don’t be ridiculous, Smith. I’m a lieutenant colonel. What on earth would I be doing, spying in a deserted wood? Well, deserted until Woodbine and his merry men showed up,” he added. His cup was empty; he stared into it, wondering how that had happened. With a small sigh, Smith refilled it.

“Besides, I was carrying no documents of information, no secret writings—no evidence whatever of spying.”

“Doubtless you committed to memory whatever information you had gained,” Smith said, sounding cynically amused. “I recall that you have a prodigious memory.” He gave a small snort that could perhaps have been called a snigger. “So sayeth Sally, nimble-fingered, as her grip upon his prick did linger . . .”

In fact, Grey’s memory was quite good. Good enough to remember a dinner at which a number of officers from different regiments had been guests. When the gentlemen were at their port, Grey had—upon invitation, and to thunderous applause—recited entirely from memory one of the longer, and very scabrous, odes from Harry Quarry’s infamous Certain Verses Upon the Subject of Eros, copies of which were still eagerly sought and covertly passed around the circles of society, though the book had been published nearly twenty years before.

“What on earth is there to spy on?” he demanded, realizing the logical trap too late. Smith’s mouth turned up at one corner.

“You expect me to tell you?” Because the answer, of course, was that Washington’s entire force was likely on the move in his immediate vicinity, positioning for the move into Philadelphia—and, very possibly, for an attack on Clinton’s withdrawing troops.

Grey dismissed Smith’s question as rhetorical and took another tack—though a dangerous one.

“Woodbine gave you a correct assessment of the circumstances in which he discovered me,” he said. “Plainly I was not discovered in flagrante by Colonel Fraser, as he would simply have done what Corporal Woodbine did and arrested me.”

“Are you asserting that Colonel Fraser met you by arrangement, to pass on information?”

Jesus Christ. He’d known this tack was dangerous but hadn’t foreseen that possibility—that Jamie Fraser could be suspected of being his confederate. But of course Smith would be particularly sensitive to such a possibility, given his own change of loyalties.

“Certainly not,” Grey said, allowing a certain asperity to creep into his tone. “The encounter that Corporal Woodbine witnessed was of a purely personal nature.”

Smith, who plainly knew a thing or two about interrogation, cocked a brow at him. Grey knew a thing or two about it, too, and sat back, sipping his applejack insouciantly, as though quite sure his statement had settled matters.

“They will probably hang you, you know,” Smith said after a suitable pause. He spoke quite casually, eyes on the amber stream as he refilled both cups again. “After what Howe did to Captain Hale? Even more, after Paoli. Charles Grey is your cousin, is he not?”

“Second or third cousin, yes.” Grey knew the man, though they didn’t move in the same circles, either socially or militarily. Charles Grey was a pig-faced professional killer, rather than a soldier, and while he doubted that the Paoli Massacre had been entirely as described—what sort of idiots would lie on the ground waiting to be bayoneted in their beds? Because he didn’t for an instant think a column of infantry was capable of sneaking up in the dark over rough country to within stabbing distance without giving some notice of their presence—he did know about Charles’s merciless bayonet tactics at Culloden.

“Nonsense,” Grey said, with as much confidence as he could summon. “Whatever one may think of the American high command, I doubt it is composed entirely of fools. My execution would yield nothing, whereas my exchange might be of value. My brother does have some small influence.”

Smith smiled, not without sympathy.

“An excellent argument, Lord John, and one I’m sure would find favor with General Washington. Unfortunately, the Congress and the King remain at loggerheads over the matter of exchange; at present, there is no mechanism to allow the exchange of prisoners.”

That one struck him in the pit of the stomach. He knew all too well that there were no official channels of exchange; he’d been trying to have William exchanged for months.

Smith upended the bottle, dribbling the last amber drops into Grey’s cup.

“Are you a Bible-reading man, Colonel Grey?”

Grey looked at him blankly.

“Not habitually. I have read it, though. Some of it. Well . . . bits. Why?”

“I wondered if you were familiar with the concept of a scapegoat.” Smith rocked back a little on his stool, gazing at Grey with his lovely deep-set eyes, which seemed to hold a certain sympathy—though perhaps it was just the applejack. “Because I’m afraid that is where your chief value lies, Colonel. It is no secret that the Continental army is in poor condition, lacking money, disillusion and desertion rife. Nothing would hearten and unify the troops more—or send a more potent message to General Clinton—than the trial and very public execution of a high-ranking British officer, a convicted spy and close relation to the infamous ‘No Flints’ Grey.”

He belched softly and blinked, eyes still fixed on Grey.

“You asked what I meant to do with you.”

“No, I didn’t.”

Smith ignored this, leveling a long, knobby finger at him.

“I’m sending you to General Wayne, who, believe me, has ‘Paoli’ carved upon his heart.”

“How very painful for him,” Grey said politely, and drained his cup.

EINE KLEINE NACHTMUSIK

THE INTERMINABLE DAY was reluctantly ending, the heat at last beginning to fade from the forest along with the waning light. He didn’t suppose that he would be taken directly to General Wayne, unless that worthy were close at hand, and he thought not. He could tell from the sounds and the feel of the camp that it was a small one, and plainly Colonel Smith was the senior officer present.

Smith had asked him, pro forma, to give his parole—and been substantially taken aback when Grey had courteously refused to do so.

“If I am in fact a duly commissioned British officer,” Grey had pointed out, “then clearly it is my duty to escape.”

Smith eyed him, the failing light shading his face with sufficient ambiguity that Grey was not sure whether he was fighting an impulse to smile or not. Probably not.

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