Authors: Diana Gabaldon
William breathed, twice, in order to avoid saying anything rash.
“No,” he said in an unfriendly voice.
“Naturally not,” Denys said, gently rebuking the major. He turned back to William. “And naturally, you would have been traveling with a company of American militia because…?”
“I was not traveling with them,” William said, successfully not adding “you nit” to this statement. “I encountered the gentlemen in question last night at a tavern, and won a substantial amount from them at cards. I left the tavern early this morning and resumed my journey, but they followed me, with the obvious intent of taking back the money by force.”
“ ‘Obvious intent’?” echoed the major skeptically. “How did you discern such intent? Sir,” he added reluctantly.
“I’d imagine that being pursued and beaten to a pulp might have been a fairly unambiguous indication,” Denys said. “Sit down, Ellesmere; you’re dripping on the floor. Did they in fact take back the money?” He pulled a large snowy-white handkerchief from his sleeve and handed it to William.
“Yes. Along with everything else in my pockets. I don’t know what’s become of my horse.” He dabbed the handkerchief against his split lip. He could smell Randall’s cologne on it, despite his swollen nose—the real Eau de Cologne, smelling of Italy and sandalwood. Lord John used it now and then, and the scent comforted him a little.
“So you claim to know nothing of the men with whom we found you?” said the other officer, this one a lieutenant, a man of about William’s own age, eager as a terrier. The major gave him a look of dislike, indicating that he didn’t think he needed any assistance in questioning William, but the lieutenant wasn’t attending. “Surely if you were playing cards with them, you must have gleaned
“I know a few of their names,” William said, feeling suddenly very tired. “That’s all.”
That was actually not all, by a long chalk, but he didn’t want to talk about the things he’d learned—that Abbot was a blacksmith and had a clever dog who helped him at his forge, fetching small tools or faggots for the fire when asked. Justin Martineau had a new wife, to whose bed he longed to return. Geoffrey Gardener’s wife made the best beer in the village, and his daughter’s was nearly as good, though she was but twelve years old. Gardener was one of the men the major had chosen to hang. He swallowed, his throat thick with dust and unspoken words.
He’d escaped the noose largely because of his skill at cursing in Latin, which had disconcerted the major long enough for William to identify himself, his ex-regiment, and a list of prominent army officers who would vouch for him, beginning with General Clinton (God, where
Denys Randall was murmuring to the major, who still looked displeased but had dropped from a full boil to a disgruntled simmer. The lieutenant was watching William intently, through narrowed eyes, obviously expecting him to leap from the bench and make a run for it. The man kept unconsciously touching his cartridge box and then his holstered pistol, clearly imagining the wonderful possibility that he could shoot William dead as he ran for the door. William yawned, hugely and unexpectedly, and sat blinking, exhaustion washing through him like the tide.
Right this moment, he really didn’t care what happened next. His bloody fingers had made smears on the worn wood of the table and he stared at these in absorption, paying no attention to what was being said—until one battered ear picked up the word “intelligencer.”
He closed his eyes.
But he was listening again, despite himself.
The voices rose, overlay each other, interrupted. But he was paying attention now, and realized that Denys was attempting to convince the major that he, William, was working as a spy, gaining information from American militia groups as part of a scheme to…kidnap George Washington?
The major appeared as startled as William was to hear this. The voices dropped as the major turned his back toward William, leaning forward into Denys and hissing questions. Denys, damn him, didn’t turn a hair, but he had lowered his voice respectfully. Where the bloody hell
George Washington? He couldn’t possibly be within two hundred miles…could he? Bar the battle at Monmouth Courthouse, the last William had heard of Washington’s movements he was arsing about in the mountains of New Jersey. The last place his cousin Benjamin had been seen.
There were noises outside the tavern—well, there had been all the time, but they were the inchoate noises of men being herded, orders, trampling, protests. Now the sounds took on a more organized character, and he recognized the noises of departure. A raised voice of authority, dismissing troops? Men moving away in a body, but not soldiers; nothing orderly about the shuffling and muttering he heard beneath the nearer sound of Denys’s discussion with Major What-not. No telling what was happening—but it didn’t sound at all like an official hanging. He’d attended one such function three years before, when an American captain named Hale had been executed as a…spy. He hadn’t eaten any breakfast, and tasted bile as the word dropped like cold lead into his stomach.
Thank you, Denys Randall…
he thought, and swallowed. He’d once thought of Denys as a friend, and while he’d been disabused of
notion three years ago by Denys’s abrupt disappearance from Quebec, leaving William snowbound and without purpose, he hadn’t quite thought the man would use him openly as a tool. But a tool for what purpose?
Denys seemed to have won his point. The major turned and gave William a narrow-eyed, assessing look then shook his head, turned, and left, followed by his reluctantly obedient lieutenant.
Denys stood quite still, listening to their footsteps recede down the stairs. Then he took a deep, visible breath, straightened his coat, and came and sat down opposite William.
“Isn’t this a tavern?” William said before Denys could speak.
“It is.” One dark brow went up.
“Then get me something to drink before you start telling me what the devil you just did to me.”
THE BEER WAS
good, and William felt a qualm on behalf of Geoffrey Gardener, but there was nothing he could do for the man. He drank thirstily, ignoring the sting of alcohol on his split lip, and began to feel a little more settled in himself. Denys had been applying himself to his own beer with an equal intensity, and for the first time William had enough attention to spare to notice the deep coating of dust that streaked Denys’s wide cuffs, and the grubbiness of his linen. He’d been riding for days. It occurred to him to wonder whether perhaps Denys’s opportune appearance hadn’t been entirely an accident. But if not—why? And how?
Denys drained his mug and set it down, eyes closed and mouth half open with momentary content. Then he sighed, sat up straight, opened his eyes, and shook himself into order.
“Ezekiel Richardson,” he said. “When did you last see him?”
That wasn’t what he’d been expecting. William wiped his mouth gingerly on his sleeve and lifted one brow and his empty mug at the waiting barmaid, who took both mugs and disappeared down the stairs.
“To speak to?” he said. “A week or two before Monmouth…maybe a year ago. I wouldn’t talk to him, though. Why?” Mention of Richardson annoyed him. The man had—according to Denys, he reminded himself—deliberately sent him into the Great Dismal Swamp with an eye to having him abducted or killed by rebels in Dismal Town. He’d nearly died in the swamp, and mention of the man made him more than edgy.
“He’s turned his coat,” Denys said bluntly. “I suspected him of being an American agent for some time, but it wasn’t until he sent you into the swamp that I began to feel sure of it. But I had no proof, and it’s a dangerous business to accuse an officer of spying without it.”
“And now you have proof?”
Denys gave him a sharp look.
“He’s left the army—without the nicety of resigning, I might add—and showed up in Savannah in the winter, claiming to be a Continental army major. I think that might be considered sufficient proof?”
“If it is, then what? Is there anything to eat in this place? I hadn’t any breakfast.” Denys looked closely at him but then rose to his feet without comment and went downstairs, presumably in search of food. William was in fact very light-headed but wanted also a few moments to come to terms with this revelation.
His father knew Richardson slightly—that was how William had first come to take on small intelligencing missions for him. Uncle Hal had—like most soldiers—thought intelligencing not a suitable activity for a gentleman, but Papa hadn’t shown any reservations about it. It was also Papa who’d introduced him to Denys Randall, who’d been calling himself Randall-Isaacs at the time. He’d spent some months with Randall-Isaacs in Quebec, poking about to little apparent end, before Denys had abruptly gone off on some undisclosed mission, leaving William with an Indian guide. Denys was most certainly…For the first time, the absolute conviction that Denys was a spy, and the notion that Papa himself
have been one, floated into his head. By reflex, he thumped the heel of his hand against his temple in an effort to dislodge the idea, but it wouldn’t go.
Savannah. In the winter. The British army had taken the city in late December. He’d been there himself soon after, and had good cause to remember it. His throat thickened.
Voices below, and Denys’s footsteps coming back up. William touched his nose; it was tender and felt about twice its normal size, but it had quit bleeding. Denys came in, smiling in reassurance.
“Food is on the way!
more beer—unless you need something stronger?” He peered closely at William, made a decision, and turned on his heel. “I’ll get some brandy.”
“That can wait. What—if anything—has Ezekiel Richardson got to do with my father?” William demanded abruptly.
That froze Denys, but only momentarily. He moved to the table and sat down slowly, his eyes fixed on William with a distinct look of calculation. Calculations. William could actually
thoughts flitting through the man’s mind—he just couldn’t tell what any of them
Denys took a deep breath and placed both hands on the table, palms down as though bracing himself.
“What makes you think that he has anything to do with Lord John?”
“He—Lord John, I mean—knows the fellow; Richardson approached him with the notion that I should…keep an eye out for interesting bits of information.”
“I see,” Denys said, very dryly. “Well, if they were friends, I should say that such a relationship no longer exists between them. Richardson was heard to utter certain threats regarding your father, though he has apparently not chosen to act on them. Yet,” he added delicately.
“What sort of threats?” A spurt of angry alarm had shot up William’s spine at this, and blood surged painfully into his battered face.
“I’m sure they are unfounded,” Denys began.
William half-rose to his feet. “Bloody tell me, or I’ll pull your fucking nose off.” He reached out, swollen knuckles poised to do just that, and Denys shoved his bench back with a screech and stood up, fast.
“I’ll make allowances for your condition, Ellesmere,” he said, giving William a firm look of the sort people tried on a dog that threatened to bite. “But—”
William made a noise low in his throat.
Denys took an involuntary step back. “All right!” he snapped. “Richardson threatened to make it known that Lord John is a sodomite.”
William blinked, frozen for a moment. The word didn’t even make sense immediately.
Then it did, but he was prevented from saying anything by the entrance of the barmaid, a plump, harassed-looking girl with a squint in one eye, bearing a massive tray of food and drink. The scent of roast meat, buttered vegetables, and fresh bread hurt the membranes of his nose but made his stomach convulse in sudden urgency. Not urgent enough to take his attention off what Randall had just said, though, and William rose, bowed the girl out, and shut the door of the chamber firmly upon her before turning back to Denys.
? That’s…” William made a wide gesture indicating the complete unbelievability of this. “He was married, for God’s sake!”
“So I understand. To the, um, merry widow of a Scotch rebel general. That was quite recent, though, wasn’t it?” The edge of Denys Randall’s mouth tucked in a little in amusement, which incensed William.
“I don’t mean that!” he snapped. “And he wasn’t—I mean, the bloody Scotchman’s not dead, it was some sort of mistake. My father was married for years to my mother—I mean, my stepmother—to a lady from the Lake District.” He huffed air, angry, and sat down. “Richardson can’t do us any damage with that sort of lying gossip.”
Denys pursed his lips and exhaled, slowly. “William,” he said patiently, “gossip has probably killed more men than musket fire.”
Denys smiled a little and acknowledged the exaggeration with a slight shrug. “That might be stating it a bit high, but think about it. You know the value of a man’s word, of his character. If Major Allbright hadn’t taken my word at face value just now, you’d be dead.” He pointed a long, manicured finger at William. “What if someone had earlier told him that I made my living cheating at cards, or was the principal investor in a popular bawdy house? Would he have been so inclined to accept my testimony as to the soundness of