Authors: Diana Gabaldon
Tags: #Fiction, #Historical
To his dismay, Grey found that he wanted to laugh.
“It sounds extremely French,” he said dryly, instead. “I’m sure it suits you. What do you want?”
“More a matter of what
want, I think.” Percy had not yet drunk any of the wine; he took up the bottle and poured carefully, red liquid purling dark against the glasses. “Or perhaps I should say—what England wants.” He held out a glass to Grey, smiling. “For one can hardly separate your interests from those of your country, can one? In fact, I confess that you have always seemed to me to
Grey wished to forbid him the use of his Christian name, but to do so would merely emphasize the memory of their intimacy—which was, of course, what Percy intended. He chose to ignore it, and took a sip of his wine, which was good. He wondered whether he was paying for it—and if so, how.
“What England wants,” he repeated, skeptical. “And what is your impression of what England wants?”
Percy took a swallow of the wine and held it in his mouth, evidently savoring it, before finally swallowing.
“Hardly a secret, my dear, is it?”
Grey sighed, and stared pointedly at him.
“You’ve seen this ‘Declaration of Independency’ issued by the so-called Continental Congress?”
Percy asked. He turned and, reaching into a leather bag he had slung over the back of the chair, withdrew a folded sheaf of papers, which he handed to Grey.
Grey had not in fact seen the document in question, though he’d certainly heard about it. It had been printed only two weeks previous, in Philadelphia, yet copies had spread like wind-borne weeds through the Colonies. Raising a brow at Percy, he unfolded the paper and skimmed it rapidly.
“The King is a tyrant?” he said, half-laughing at the outrageousness of some of the document’s more extreme sentiments. He folded the sheets back together and tossed them on the table.
“And if I am England, I suppose you are the embodiment of France, for the purposes of this conversation?”
“I represent certain interests there,” Percy replied blandly. “And in Canada.”
rang small alarm bells. Grey had fought in Canada with Wolfe, and was well aware that while the French had lost much of their North American holdings in that war, they remained ferociously entrenched in the northern regions, from the Ohio Valley to Quebec. Close enough to cause trouble now? He thought not—but wouldn’t put anything past the French. Or Percy.
“England wants a quick end to this nonsense, plainly.” A long, knob-jointed hand waved toward the paper. “The Continental army—so-called—is a flimsy association of men with no experience and conflicting notions. What if I were prepared to provide you with information that might be used to … separate one of Washington’s chief officers from his allegiance?”
“What if you were?” Grey replied, making no effort to conceal the skepticism in his voice. “How would this benefit France—or your own interests, which I take leave to think are possibly not entirely identical?”
“I see that time has not softened your natural cynicism, John. One of your less attractive traits—I don’t know whether I ever mentioned that to you.”
Grey widened his stare slightly, and Percy sighed.
“Land, then,” he said. “The Northwest Territory. We want it back.”
Grey uttered a short laugh.
“I daresay you do.” The territory in question, a large tract northwest of the Ohio River Valley, had been ceded to Great Britain from France at the end of the French and Indian War. Britain had not occupied the territory, though, and had prevented the colonists’ expansion into it, owing to armed resistance from the natives and the ongoing negotiation of treaties with them. The colonists weren’t pleased about it, he understood. Grey had encountered some of said natives himself, and was inclined to think the British government’s position both reasonable and honorable.
“French traders had extensive ties with the aboriginals in that area; you have none.”
“The fur-trading merchants being some of the … interests … you represent?”
Percy smiled openly at that.
“Not the major interests. But some.”
Grey didn’t bother asking why Percy was approaching him—an ostensibly retired diplomat of no particular influence—in the matter. Percy knew the power of Grey’s family and connections from the days of their personal association—and “Monsieur Beauchamp” knew a great deal more about his present personal connections from the nexus of information that fed the Black Chambers of Europe. Grey could not act in the matter, of course. But he was well placed to bring the offer quietly to the attention of those who could.
He felt as though every hair on his body was standing on end like an insect’s antennae, alert for danger.
“We would require something more than the suggestion, of course,” he said, very cool. “The name of the officer in question, for example.”
“Not mine to share, at the moment. But once a negotiation in good faith is opened …”
Grey was already wondering to whom he should take this offer.
Sir George Germain. Lord North’s office? That could wait, though.
“And your personal interests?” he asked, with an edge. He knew Percy Wainwright well enough to know that there would be some aspect of the affair to Percy’s personal benefit.
“Ah, that.” Percy sipped at his wine, then lowered the glass and gazed limpidly at Grey across it.
“Very simple, really. I am commissioned to find a man. Do you know a Scottish gentleman named James Fraser?”
Grey felt the stem of his glass crack. He went on holding it, though, and sipped the wine carefully, thanking God, firstly, that he had never told Percy Jamie Fraser’s name and, secondly, that Fraser had left Wilmington that afternoon.
“No,” he said calmly. “What do you want with this Mr. Fraser?”
Percy shrugged, and smiled.
“Only a question or two.”
Grey could feel blood seeping from his lacerated palm. Holding the cracked glass carefully together, he drank the rest of his wine. Percy was quiet, drinking with him.
“My condolences upon the loss of your wife,” Percy said quietly. “I know that she—”
“You know nothing,” Grey said roughly. He leaned over and set the broken glass on the table; the bowl rolled crazily, the lees of wine washing the glass. “Not one thing. About my wife,
Percy lifted his shoulders in the faintest of Gallic shrugs.
As you like
, it said. And yet his eyes—they were still beautiful, damn him, dark and soft—rested on Grey with what seemed a genuine sympathy.
Grey sighed. Doubtless it
genuine. Percy could not be trusted—not ever—but what he’d done had been done from weakness, not from malice, or even lack of feeling.
“What do you want?” he repeated.
“Your son—” Percy began, and Grey turned suddenly on him. He gripped Percy’s shoulder, hard enough that the man gave a little gasp and stiffened. Grey leaned down, looking into Wainwright’s—sorry,
face, so close that he felt the warmth of the man’s breath on his cheek and smelled his cologne. He was getting blood on Wainwright’s coat.
“The last time I saw you,” Grey said, very quietly, “I came within an inch of putting a bullet through your head. Don’t give me cause to regret my restraint.”
He let go and stood up.
“Stay away from my son—stay away from me. And if you will take a well-meant bit of advice—go back to France. Quickly.”
Turning on his heel, he went out, shutting the door firmly behind him. He was halfway down the street before he realized that he had left Percy in his own room.
“The devil with it,” he muttered, and stamped off to beg a billet for the night from Sergeant Cutter. In the morning, he would make sure that the Fraser family and William were all safely out of Wilmington.
AND SOMETIMES THEY AREN’T
WE ARE ALIVE,” Brianna MacKenzie repeated, her voice tremulous. She looked up at Roger, the paper pressed to her chest with both hands. Her face streamed with tears, but a glorious light glowed in her blue eyes. “Alive!”
“Let me see.” His heart was hammering so hard in his chest that he could barely hear his own words. He reached out a hand, and reluctantly she surrendered the paper to him, coming at once to press herself against him, clinging to his arm as he read, unable to take her eyes off the bit of ancient paper.
It was pleasantly rough under his fingers, handmade paper with the ghosts of leaves and flowers pressed into its fibers. Yellowed with age, but still tough and surprisingly flexible. Bree had made it herself—more than two hundred years before.
Roger became aware that his hands were trembling, the paper shaking so that the sprawling, difficult hand was hard to read, faded as the ink was.
December 31, 1776
My dear daughter,
As you will see if ever you receive this, we are alive …
His own eyes blurred, and he wiped the back of his hand across them, even as he told himself that it didn’t matter, for they were surely dead now, Jamie Fraser and his wife, Claire—but he felt such joy at those words on the page that it was as though the two of them stood smiling before him.
the two of them, too, he discovered. While the letter began in Jamie’s hand—and voice—the second page took up in Claire’s crisply slanted writing.
Your father’s hand won’t stand much more. And it’s a bloody long story. He’s
been chopping wood all day, and can barely uncurl his fingers—but he insisted
on telling you himself that we haven’t—yet—been burnt to ashes. Not but what we
may be at any moment; there are fourteen people crammed into the old cabin, and
I’m writing this more or less sitting in the hearth, with old Grannie MacLeod
wheezing away on her pallet by my feet so that if she suddenly begins to die, I can
pour more whisky down her throat.
“My God, I can
her,” he said, amazed.
“So can I.” Tears were still coursing down Bree’s face, but it was a sun-shower; she wiped at them, laughing and sniffing. “Read more. Why are they in our cabin? What’s happened to the Big House?”
Roger ran his finger down the page to find his place and resumed reading.
“Oh, Jesus!” he said.
You recall that idiot, Donner?
Gooseflesh ran up his arms at the name. A time-traveler, Donner. And one of the most feckless individuals he’d ever met or heard of—but nonetheless dangerous for that.
Well, he surpassed himself by getting together a gang of thugs from Brownsville
to come and steal the treasure in gems he’d convinced them we had. Only we
hadn’t, of course.
They hadn’t—because he, Brianna, Jemmy, and Amanda had taken the small hoard of remaining gemstones to safeguard their flight through the stones.
They held us hostage and rubbished the house, damn them—breaking, amongst
other things, the carboy of ether in my surgery. The fumes nearly gassed all of us
on the spot …
He read rapidly through the rest of the letter, Brianna peering over his shoulder and making small squeaks of alarm and dismay. Finished, he laid the pages down and turned to her, his insides quivering.
did it,” he said, aware that he shouldn’t say it, but unable not to, unable not to snort with laughter. “You and your bloody matches
burned the house down!”
Her face was a study, features shifting between horror, indignation—and, yes, a hysterical hilarity that matched his own.
“Oh, it was not! It was Mama’s ether. Any kind of spark could have set off the explosion—”
“But it wasn’t any kind of spark,” Roger pointed out. “Your cousin Ian lit one of your matches.”
“Well, so it was Ian’s fault, then!”
“No, it was you and your mother. Scientific women,” Roger said, shaking his head. “The eighteenth century is lucky to have survived you.”
She huffed a little.
“Well, the whole thing would never have happened if it weren’t for that bozo Donner!”
“True,” Roger conceded. “But he was a troublemaker from the future, too, wasn’t he? Though admittedly neither a woman nor very scientific.”
“Hmph.” She took the letter, handling it gently, but unable to forbear rubbing the pages between her fingers. “Well,
didn’t survive the eighteenth century, did he?” Her eyes were downcast, their lids still reddened.
“You aren’t feeling
for him, are you?” Roger demanded, incredulous.
She shook her head, but her fingers still moved lightly over the thick, soft page.
, so much. It’s just—the idea of anybody dying like that. Alone, I mean. So far from home.”
No, it wasn’t Donner she was thinking of. He put an arm round her and laid his head against her own. She smelled of Prell shampoo and fresh cabbages; she’d been in the kailyard. The words on the page faded and strengthened with the dip of the pen that had written them, but nonetheless were sharp and clear—a surgeon’s writing.
“She isn’t alone,” he whispered, and putting out a finger, traced the postscript, again in Jamie’s sprawling hand. “Neither of them is. And whether they’ve a roof above their heads or not—both of them are home.”
I PUT BY THE LETTER. Time enough to finish it later, I thought. I’d been working on it as time allowed over the last few days; not as though there was any rush to catch the outgoing mail, after all. I smiled a little at that, and folded the sheets carefully, putting them in my new workbag for safekeeping. I wiped the quill and put it aside, then rubbed my aching fingers, savoring for a little longer the sweet sense of connection the writing gave me. I could write much more easily than Jamie could, but flesh and blood had its limits, and it had been a very long day.
I looked over at the pallet on the far side of the fire, as I had been doing every few minutes, but she was still quiet. I could hear her breath, a wheezing gurgle that came at intervals so long that I could swear she had died between each one. She hadn’t, though, and from my estimation wouldn’t for a while. I was hoping that she would, before my limited supply of laudanum gave out.