"The Pearsall girl," Stubbs said cheerfully, confirming Grey's presentiment. "Olivia? That the name? I say, isn't she engaged to that chap Trevelyan? Thought I saw him just now in the dining room."
"You did," Grey said shortly, not anxious to speak about the Honorable Joseph at the moment. Once started on a conversational gambit, though, Stubbs was as difficult to deflect from his course as a twenty-pounder on a downhill slope, and Grey was obliged to hear a great deal regarding Trevelyan's activities and social prominence--things of which he was only too well aware.
"Any news from India?" he asked finally, in desperation.
This gambit worked; most of London was aware that Robert Clive was snapping at the Nawab of Bengal's heels, but Stubbs had a brother in the 46th Foot, presently besieging Calcutta with Clive, and was thus in a position to share any number of grisly details that had not yet made the pages of the newspaper.
". . . so many British prisoners packed into the space, my brother said, that when they dropped from the heat, there was no place to put the bodies; those left alive were obliged to trample on the fallen underfoot. He said"--Stubbs looked round, lowering his voice slightly--"some poor chaps had gone mad from the thirst. Drank the blood. When one of the fellows died, I mean. They'd slit the throat, the wrists, drain the body, then let it fall. Bryce said they could scarce put a name to half the dead when they pulled them out of that place, and--"
"Think we're bound there, too?" Grey interrupted, draining his glass and beckoning for another pair of drinks, in the faint hope of preserving some vestige of his appetite for luncheon.
"Dunno. Maybe--though I heard a bit of gossip last week, sounded rather as though it might be the Americas." Stubbs shook his head, frowning. "Can't say as there's much to choose between a Hindoo and a Mohawk--howling brutes, the lot--but there's the hell of a lot better chance of distinguishing oneself in India, you ask me."
"If you survive the heat, the insects, the poisonous serpents, and the dysentery, yes," Grey said. He closed his eyes in momentary bliss, savoring the balmy touch of English June that drifted through the open window.
Speculation was rampant and rumors rife as to the regiment's next posting. France, India, the American Colonies . . . perhaps one of the German states, Prague on the Russian front, or even the West Indies. Great Britain was battling France for supremacy on three continents, and life was good for a soldier.
They passed an amiable quarter hour in such idle conjectures, during which Grey's mind was free to return to the difficulties posed by his inconvenient discovery. In the normal course of things, Trevelyan would be Hal's problem to deal with. But his elder brother was abroad at the moment, in France and unreachable, which left Grey as the man on the spot. The marriage between Trevelyan and Olivia Pearsall was set to take place in six weeks' time; something would have to be done, and done quickly.
Perhaps he had better consult Paul or Edgar--but neither of his half-brothers moved in society; Paul rusticated on his estate in Sussex, barely moving a foot as far as the nearest market town. As for Edgar . . . no, Edgar would not be helpful. His notion of dealing discreetly with the matter would be to horsewhip Trevelyan on the steps of Westminster.
The appearance of a steward at the door, announcing the arrival of Colonel Quarry, put a temporary end to his distractions.
Rising, he touched Stubbs's shoulder.
"Fetch me after dinner, will you?" he said. "I'll come along on your widow's walk, if you like. O'Connell was a good soldier."
"Oh, will you? That's sporting, Grey; thanks." Stubbs looked grateful; offering condolences to the bereaved was not his strong suit.
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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No Man's Land
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