"Whiggery-pokery! Oh, that's ripe, Grey, very ripe. Must remember to tell it to the Old One." The Old One was Stubbs's father, a minor baronet with distinct whiggish leanings, and likely a familiar of both White's Club and Lord John's brother.
"So, you a member here, Grey? Or a guest, like me?" Stubbs, recovering from his attack of mirth, waved a hand round the spacious confines of the white-naped dining room, casting an admiring glance at the impressive array of decanters being arranged by the steward at a sideboard.
Trevelyan was nodding cordially to the Duke of Gloucester, who returned the salutation. Christ, Trevelyan really did know everyone. With a small effort, Grey returned his attention to Stubbs.
"My godfather enrolled me for the Beefsteak at my birth. Starting at the age of seven, which is when he assumed reason began, he brought me here every Wednesday for luncheon. Got out of the habit while abroad, of course, but I find myself coming back, whenever I'm in Town."
The wine steward was leaning down to offer Trevelyan a decanter of port; Grey recognized the embossed gold tag at its neck--San Isidro, a hundred guineas the cask. Rich, well-connected . . . and infected. Damn, what was he going to do about this?
"Your host not here yet?" He touched Stubbs's elbow, turning him toward the door. "Come, then--let's have a quick one in the library."
They strolled down the pleasantly shabby carpet that lined the hall, chatting inconsequently.
"Why the fancy-dress?" Grey asked casually, flicking at the braid on Stubbs's shoulder. The Beefsteak wasn't a soldier's haunt; though a few officers of the regiment were members, they seldom wore full dress uniform here, save when on their way to some official business. Grey himself was only uniformed because he was meeting Quarry, who never wore anything else in public.
"Got to do a widow's walk later," Stubbs replied, looking resigned. "No time to go back for a change."
"Oh? Who's dead?" A widow's walk was an official visit, paid to the family of a recently deceased member of the regiment, to offer condolences and make inquiry as to the widow's welfare. In the case of an enlisted man, such a visit might include the handing over of a small amount of cash contributed by the man's intimates and immediate superiors--with luck, enough to bury him decently.
"Really? What happened?" O'Connell was a middle-aged Irishman, surly but competent; a lifelong soldier who had risen to sergeant by dint of his ability to terrify subordinates--an ability Grey had envied as a seventeen-year-old subaltern, and still respected ten years later.
"Killed in a street brawl, night before last."
Grey's brows went up at that. "Must have been set on by a mob," he said, "or taken by surprise; I'd have given long odds on O'Connell in a fight that was even halfway fair."
"Didn't hear any details; I'm meant to ask the widow."
Taking a seat in one of the Beefsteak's ancient but comfortable library wing chairs, Grey beckoned to one of the servants.
"Brandy--you, too, Stubbs? Yes, two brandies, if you please. And tell someone to fetch me when Colonel Quarry comes in, will you?"
"Thanks, old fellow; come round to my club and have one on me next time." Stubbs unbuckled his dress sword and handed it to the hovering servant before making himself comfortable in turn.
"Met your cousin the other day, by the bye," he remarked, wriggling his substantial buttocks deeply into the chair. "Out ridin' in the Row--handsome girl. Nice seat," he added judiciously.
"Indeed. Which cousin would that be?" Grey asked, with a small sinking feeling. He had several female cousins, but only two whom Stubbs might conceivably admire, and the way this day was going . . .
Excerpted from Lord John and the Private Matter by Diana Gabaldon. Copyright© 2003 by Diana Gabaldon. Excerpted by permission of Delacorte Press, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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