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       Lord John and the Hand of Devils, p.1

         Part #2.50 of Lord John Grey series by Diana Gabaldon
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Lord John and the Hand of Devils


  Contents

  Title Page

  Dedication

  Acknowledgments

  Foreword

  LORD JOHN and the Hellfire Club

  Part I: A Red-Haired Man

  Part II: Intrigue

  Part III: Christened in Blood

  LORD JOHN and the Succubus

  Chapter 1: Death Rides a Pale Horse

  Chapter 2: But What, Exactly, Does a Succubus Do?

  Chapter 3: A Remedy for Sleeplessness

  Chapter 4: The Gun Crew

  Chapter 5: Dark Dreams

  Chapter 6: Hocus-Pocus

  Chapter 7: Ambush

  Chapter 8: The Witch

  Epilogue

  LORD JOHN and the Haunted Soldier

  Part I: Inquisition

  Part II: Family Matters

  Part III: The Hero's Return

  About the Author

  Also by Diana Gabaldon

  Copyright

  To Alex Krislov,

  Janet McConnaughey, and

  Margaret J. Campbell,

  sysops of the Compuserve Books and Writers Community

  (https://www.community.compuserve.com/Books),

  the best perpetual electronic literary cocktail party in the world. Thanks!

  Acknowledgments

  The author would like to thank

  ...Maxim Jakubowski, for inadvertently launching Lord John on his solo career.

  ...Marte Brengle, whose mention of her infamous ancestor Sir Francis Dashwood supplied me and Lord John with the basis of his first adventure.

  ...Karen Watson, of Her Majesty's Customs and Excise, for patient sleuthing through the byways of London in search of plausibly revolting locales and interesting historical trivia.

  ...Laura Bailey and Becky Morgan, for helpful suggestions regarding clothing and daily practicalities.

  ...Barbara Schnell, for making sure the German bits are accurate (well, they started out that way; we hope they still are).

  ...Steven Lopata, Piper Fahrney, Janet McConnaughey, and Larry Tuohy, for useful information on explosions, cannon-loading, fracturing metal, and other violent phenomena of the battlefield.

  ...Lauri Klobas, Eve Ackermann, John S. Kruszka, and the dozens of other kind, intelligent people from the Compuserve Books and Writers Community (whose names I have unfortunately misplaced or forgotten over the last ten years), who are always on hand with suggestions and information ranging from the mundane to the bizarre, and then some.

  ...Silvia Kuttny-Walser, for the title of this book.

  ...the excellent editors who have worked with me on this book, both piecemeal and entire: Max Jakubowski, Betsy Mitchell, Bill Massey, and John Flicker.

  ...Virginia Norey, aka the Book Goddess, for her wonderful design.

  and

  ...the unsung genii of the Random House art department, who came up with the marvelous covers for the new Lord John books. Thank you!

  Foreword

  In which we find A PUBLISHING HISTORY, BIBLIOGRAPHIC INFORMATION, AN AUTHOR'S NOTE, and A WARNING TO THE READER

  Dear Reader--

  PRELIMINARY WARNINGS

  1. The book you are holding is not a novel; it's a collection of three separate novellas.

  2. The novellas in this collection all feature Lord John Grey, not Jamie and Claire Fraser (though both are mentioned now and again), but

  3. I did want to assure you all that there is another Jamie and Claire book to follow A Breath of Snow and Ashes. I usually work on more than one book at a time, and have been working on that one, too. It's just that this one is shorter, and therefore got finished first.

  Awright. Now, for those of you still with me...

  Lord John Grey has been largely accidental, since the day he rashly decided to try to kill a notorious Jacobite in the darkness of the Carryarrick Pass. His association with Jamie and Claire Fraser (and with me) dates back to that passage in Dragonfly in Amber. While he did have small but important parts to play in subsequent books of the Outlander series, I really didn't intend to write books about him on his own. (On the other hand, I never intended to show Outlander to anybody, either, and here we are. You never know, that's all I can say.)

  Lord John began his independent life apart from the Outlander books when a British editor and anthologist named Maxim Jakubowski invited me to write a short story for an anthology of historical crime that he was putting together in honor of the novelist Ellis Peters, who had recently died. Now, I had never written a short story--barring things required for English classes in school, which tended to be pretty lame--but I was fond of Ellis Peters's Brother Cadfael mysteries, and I thought it would be an interesting technical challenge to see whether I could write something shorter than 300,000 words, so..."Why not?" I said.

  It had to be the eighteenth century, because that's the only period I know well, and I hadn't time to research another time adequately, just for a short story. And it couldn't involve the main characters from the Outlander series, because a good short story has high moral stakes, just as a novel does; thus, it would be difficult to write a short story involving the Frasers that would not include an event significant enough to have an impact on the plot of future novels involving them. Since I don't think up plots in advance, I thought I'd just avoid the whole problem by using Lord John; he's a very interesting character, he talks to me easily, and he appears only intermittently in the Outlander novels; no reason why he couldn't be having interesting adventures offstage, on his own time.

  Enter Sir Francis Dashwood and his notorious Hellfire Club, plus the murder of a red-haired man, and Lord John made his first solo appearance in a short story titled "Hellfire," which was published in 1998 in the anthology Past Poisons, edited by Maxim Jakubowski, and published by Headline.

  The stories for this anthology had a limit of 10,000 words. "Hellfire" was a hair over 12,000, but luckily nobody complained. I thought the ending was a bit rushed, even so--and so later rewrote the ending, expanding it slightly. Things turn out the same way, but with a little more style and elegance, I hope.

  "Hellfire" has had an interesting publishing history, since that first appearance in Past Poisons. That anthology went out of print within a couple of years (it's since been reprinted), which is the point at which U.S. audiences began to hear about "Hellfire" and to express interest in Lord John's solo adventure. Unfortunately, there's really nothing you can do with a 14,000-word short story; it's too long for magazine markets, much too short to be published alone.

  At this fortuitous point, a couple of online acquaintances of mine decided to start an e-publishing business, and asked me whether I had "a boxful of old short stories under the bed" (Why do people think every writer begins with short stories? Or if so, that they would be willing to expose this juvenilia to the world?) that they might be able to publish.

  "What the heck?" I said, figuring this was as good an opportunity as any to explore the brave new world of e-publishing. In addition to my friends' business, the e-publishing arm of my German publishing company also decided to offer an electronic German version of "Hellfire," and so Lord John ventured out into international cyberspace.

  This was an interesting experience, and fairly successful in e-publishing terms ("success" in e-publishing terms does not generally mean quitting your day job, let's put it like that). That experiment ended when my friends decided to list all their titles with Amazon.com--a very reasonable decision--but informed me that owing to the Amazon.com discount required of publishers, they would have to sell "Hellfire" at $6.50, in order to make any money. I couldn't countenance the notion of selling a 23-page short story for six dollars and fifty cents, so we cordially parted ways at
that point.

  At this point, I began to think what else might be done with the story. It occurred to me that I'd enjoyed writing it--I like Lord John, and the complexities of his private life tend to lead him into Interesting Situations--and what if I were to write two or three more short stories involving him? Then all the short pieces could be published together in book form, and everybody would be happy. (Well, Lord John and I would, at least.)

  "Hellfire" next saw print--retitled as "Lord John and the Hellfire Club"--as an add-in to the trade-paperback edition of the first Lord John Grey novel, Lord John and the Private Matter.

  And here it is again, at last in book form, in company with two novellas: "Lord John and the Succubus," which was originally written for another anthology; and "Lord John and the Haunted Soldier," written specifically for this collection.

  Other accidents happened--his lordship is prone to such things, I'm afraid--and I wrote Lord John and the Private Matter, under the delusion that this was in fact the second Lord John short story. I was informed by my literary agents, though, that in fact, I had inadvertently written a novel. (Well, how would I know? To me, a novel is just getting started at 85,000 words.) This was good, insofar as my assorted publishers were ecstatic at the revelation that I actually could write a "normal"-sized novel, and promptly gave me a contract for two more Lord John Grey novels--but it still left "Hellfire" sitting there by itself at 14,000 words.

  But accidents continued to happen: I was invited to write a novella for a fantasy anthology, and presto! We had "Lord John and the Succubus," which came in around 33,000 words. This meant that one more novella of that length or more, and we'd have critical mass.

  Here, things got slightly tricky, though. By sheer happenstance, the short Lord John pieces alternated with the full-length novel: "Hellfire," Private Matter, "Succubus." And I had embarked on the second novel, Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade. All fine--but the German publisher, anxious to have the collection, asked whether I might be able to hurry up and write the final novella before finishing the second novel. Easygoing sort that I am, I said I reckoned I could do that--and I did. Allow me to note that writing a novella that follows a novel that isn't yet written is not the easiest thing in the world, but if I wanted an easy life, I suppose I'd clean swimming pools for a living.

  This collection was originally to have been titled Lord John and a Whiff of Brimstone (because of the supernatural aspect common to all the stories), but the German publisher explained that they couldn't use that title, because my most recent Outlander novel, A Breath of Snow and Ashes, is titled Ein Hauch von Schnee und Asche in German--and German does not have separate words for "breath" and "whiff"--ergo, they'd have another Ein Hauch... and they thought one was plenty. They suggested instead, Lord John and the Hand of Devils, which I thought was wonderful, and immediately took for the English-language volume as well.

  I hope you'll enjoy it!

  Best wishes,

  Diana Gabaldon

  Part I

  A Red-Haired Man

  London, 1756

  The Society for Appreciation of the English Beefsteak, a gentleman's club

  Lord John Grey jerked his eyes away from the door. No. No, he mustn't turn and stare. Needing some other focus for his gaze, he fixed his eyes instead on Quarry's scar.

  "A glass with you, sir?" Scarcely waiting for the club's steward to provide for his companion, Harry Quarry drained his cup of claret, then held it out for more. "And another, perhaps, in honor of your return from frozen exile?" Quarry grinned broadly, the scar pulling down the corner of his eye in a lewd wink as he did so, and lifted up his glass again.

  Lord John tilted his own cup in acceptance of the salute, but barely tasted the contents. With an effort, he kept his eyes on Quarry's face, willing himself not to turn and stare, not to gawk after the flash of fire in the corridor that had caught his eye.

  Quarry's scar had faded; tightened and shrunk to a thin white slash, its nature made plain only by its position, angled hard across the ruddy cheek. It might otherwise have lost itself among the lines of hard living, but instead remained visible, the badge of honor that its owner so plainly considered it.

  "You are exceeding kind to note my return, sir," Grey said. His heart hammered in his ears, muffling Quarry's words--no great loss to conversation.

  It is not, his sensible mind pointed out, it cannot be. Yet sense had nothing to do with the riot of his sensibilities, that surge of feeling that seized him by nape and buttocks, as though it would pluck him up and turn him forcibly to go in pursuit of the red-haired man he had so briefly glimpsed.

  Quarry's elbow nudged him rudely, a not-unwelcome recall to present circumstances.

  "...among the ladies, eh?"

  "Eh?"

  "I say your return has been noted elsewhere, too. My sister-inlaw bid me send her regard and discover your present lodgings. Do you stay with the regiment?"

  "No, I am at present at my mother's house, in Jermyn Street." Finding his cup still full, Grey raised it and drank deep. The Beefsteak's claret was of excellent vintage, but he scarcely noticed its bouquet. There were voices in the hall outside, raised in altercation.

  "Ah. I'll inform her, then; expect an invitation by the morning post. Lucinda has her eye upon you for a cousin of hers, I daresay--she has a flock of poor but well-favored female relations, whom she means to shepherd to good marriages." Quarry's teeth showed briefly. "Be warned."

  Grey nodded politely. He was accustomed to such overtures. The youngest of four brothers, he had no hopes of a title, but the family name was ancient and honorable, his person and countenance not without appeal--and he had no need of an heiress, his own means being ample.

  The door flung open, sending such a draft across the room as made the fire in the hearth roar up like the flames of Hades, scattering sparks across the Turkey carpet. Grey gave thanks for the burst of heat; it gave excuse for the color that he felt suffuse his cheeks.

  Nothing like. Of course he is nothing like. Who could be? And yet the emotion that filled his breast was as much disappointment as relief.

  The man was tall, yes, but not strikingly so. Slight of build, almost delicate. And young, younger than Grey, he judged. But the hair--yes, the hair was very like.

  Lord John Grey." Quarry had intercepted the young man, a hand on his sleeve, turning him for introduction. "Allow me to acquaint you with my cousin by marriage, Mr. Robert Gerald."

  Mr. Gerald nodded shortly, then seemed to take hold of himself. Suppressing whatever it was that had caused the blood to rise under his fair skin, he bowed, then fixed his gaze on Grey in cordial acknowledgment.

  "Your servant, sir."

  "And yours." Not copper, not carrot; a deep red, almost rufous, with glints and streaks of cinnabar and gold. The eyes were not blue--thank God!--but rather a soft and luminous brown.

  Grey's mouth had gone dry. To his relief, Quarry offered refreshment, and upon Gerald's agreement, snapped his fingers for the steward and steered the three of them to an armchaired corner, where the haze of tobacco smoke hung like a sheltering curtain over the less-convivial members of the Beefsteak.

  "Who was that I heard in the corridor?" Quarry demanded, as soon as they were settled. "Bubb-Dodington, surely? The man's a voice like a costermonger."

  "I--he--yes, it was." Mr. Gerald's pale skin, not quite recovered from its earlier excitement, bloomed afresh, to Quarry's evident amusement.

  "Oho! And what perfidious proposal has he made you, young Bob?"

  "Nothing. He--an invitation I did not wish to accept, that is all. Must you shout so loudly, Harry?" It was chilly at this end of the room, but Grey thought he could warm his hands at the fire of Gerald's smooth cheeks.

  Quarry snorted with amusement, looking around at the nearby chairs.

  "Who's to hear? Old Cotterill's deaf as a post, and the General's half dead. And why do you care in any case, if the matter's so innocent as you suggest?" Quarry's eyes swiveled to bear
on his cousin by marriage, suddenly intelligent and penetrating.

  "I did not say it was innocent," Gerald replied dryly, regaining his composure. "I said I declined to accept it. And that, Harry, is all you will hear of it, so desist this piercing glare you turn upon me. It may work on your subalterns, but not on me."

  Grey laughed, and after a moment, Quarry joined in. He clapped Gerald on the shoulder, eyes twinkling.

  "My cousin is the soul of discretion, Lord John. But that's as it should be, eh?"

  "I have the honor to serve as junior secretary to the prime minister," Gerald explained, seeing incomprehension on Grey's features. "While the secrets of government are dull indeed, at least by Harry's standards"--he shot his cousin a malicious grin--"they are not mine to share."

  "Oh, well, of no interest to Lord John in any case," Quarry said philosophically, tossing back his third glass of aged claret with a disrespectful haste more suited to porter. Grey saw the senior steward close his eyes in quiet horror at the act of desecration, and smiled to himself--or so he thought, until he caught Mr. Gerald's soft brown eyes upon him, a matching smile of complicity upon his lips.

  "Such things are of little interest to anyone save those most intimately concerned," Gerald said, still smiling at Grey. "The fiercest battles fought are those where very little lies at stake, you know. But what interests you, Lord John, if politics does not?"

  "Not lack of interest," Grey responded, holding Robert Gerald's eyes boldly with his. No, not lack of interest at all. "Ignorance, rather. I have been absent from London for some time; in fact, I have quite lost...touch."

  Without intent, one hand closed upon his glass, the thumb drawing slowly upward, stroking the smooth, cool surface as though it were another's flesh. Hastily, he set the glass down, seeing as he did so the flash of blue from the sapphire ring he wore. It might have been a lighthouse beacon, he reflected wryly, warning of rough seas ahead.

  And yet the conversation sailed smoothly on, despite Quarry's jocular inquisitions regarding Grey's most recent posting in the wilds of Scotland and his speculations as to his brother officer's future prospects. As the former was terra prohibita and the latter terra incognita, Grey had little to say in response, and the talk moved on to other things: horses, dogs, regimental gossip, and other such comfortable masculine fare.

 

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