The regency romances, p.114
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       The Regency Romances, p.114

           Laura Kinsale
 

  Behind her, Martha was paying no attention to the yeoman’s talk, occupied fully with extracting her skirt from a splintered barrel where the hem had caught. Young Davan, the O’Connell cousin who’d leaped at the chance to escort Roddy to the capital, managed to hide his dismay. He’d had high hopes of plunging into the heart of the rebellion that his more conservative relations in Kerry had looked upon askance. The easy surrender of arms in the remote southwest had been uninspiring, but Davan had been certain that in Dublin the rising would succeed. He’d only prayed that they’d not be too late for the pitched battle, in which he was certain he would find a chance to perform some deed worthy of glorification in a song or an epic poem.

  It appeared that his prayers had gone unheard. The yeoman led Roddy down the quay, between two hasty fortifications of sandbags manned by armed and confident soldiers, but there was no sign of disturbance. In the long, golden shadows of late afternoon, the Liffey flowed peacefully between its stone embankments. Along the curving riverside avenues crowds moved and shifted beneath the fine new facades and across the arching bridges: ladies borne in open litters and ragged beggars with their outstretched hats, gentlemen on horseback among the brilliant abundance of scarlet uniforms.

  Davan and Roddy joined the throng, unable to hail a litter for the short ride to the inn where she planned to wait for her father. She had not mailed the letter she’d written in Derrynane, but hoped she could summon him faster by sending it directly from Dublin. The mood of the crowd flowing past was strange and artificially gay: a tightly tuned instrument robbed of its performance, a rising exhilaration as smoke from neighborhoods suspected of rebel contamination curled silently into the clear air.

  The innkeeper asked Roddy and Davan to share the public parlor while her room was prepared. “The crush, Your Ladyship,” he explained hastily. “The past week—you can’t know. Everything’s in upset.”

  Roddy barely listened to him. She sat down in the chair offered and stared dully at her teacup, listening to the street noise from the open window and breathing the familiar smell of burning timber.

  Three other ladies sat around a table in the corner, exchanging rumors. “Did you hear what they planned for the Kingston trial?” one asked as she buttered a thin slice of cake.

  “Oh, that came to nothing,” another said. “All that excitement over the trial of a peer—imagine, outfitting the Commons to hold all seventy-one lords just for a silly murder where the prosecution didn’t even make an appearance!”

  “No—no, that’s not the half of it. The viceroy was there, do you see, and the lord chancellor, and—well, the entire government of the country, do you see. And they planned to take it! Right then and there, without a shot fired!”

  “The Unitedmen?” The first woman gasped. “Lawks, you don’t mean it!”

  “Oh, aye, that’s what I heard. My housekeeper is as loyal as the day is long, but she has a sister-in-law whose cousin’s son is high up in their councils.” The first woman nodded, and took a bite of cake. “Without a shot fired, do you see.”

  “Well, they didn’t do it, did they?” the third said complacently. “’Tis crushed now, my husband says. There was a motion in the House this morning to execute all the rebel prisoners. Right away. If they wait upon trials, they fear it might be too late.”

  Roddy’s teacup slid from her fingers and broke in a tinkling crash upon the floor. The ladies all looked toward her, and the one who’d spoken of the executions jumped up. “Oh, dear, what a shame—your pretty dress, love, here, quickly now—” She began patting at the stain on Roddy’s skirt with a handkerchief. “Do pull the bell, sir! What a shame. But soda and chamomile will take it right out, my dear, I promise you.”

  Before Davan could reach for the bell, a change came in the crowd outside. The high-strung, confused gaiety faltered and the noise hushed. For an instant a weird silence settled over the streets; the pedestrians stopped and the horses were reined in, and the sound which had alerted them came clearly through the evening air.

  Drums. The urgent, rolling snap echoed above the poised crowd, calling to arms, sending the redcoats suddenly scrambling and the ladies in their litters crying to the bearers to hurry on, for God’s sake. The women in the parlor looked at one another in horror, and then, like Roddy and Davan and everyone else, ran for the door and stumbled over each other down the stairs, where shopkeepers and businessmen and residents were pouring into the streets.

  Davan was first to reach the entry, in a pitch of renewed excitement. He grabbed at a running soldier, and got a shove and a curse for his pains. “The news!” Davan shouted after, his bellow nearly lost amid the noise and the drums. “What’s the news?”

  “They’re massing at Santry!” A youth in civilian clothes lunged for the door. “Out of the way, man—I’ve got to get at my uniform!” The youth squeezed and pushed his way in, losing his hat and panting apologies to the ladies. “Mama—Mama—my coat—”

  “Santry—where’s—”

  “To the north,” one of the ladies said wildly.

  “So close!” The press of other guests and servants behind them began to push Roddy and Davan out the door. She clung to the frame, unable to pick individual thought out of chaos. Davan was looking about wildly; he took a step out into the street and stumbled under the force of collision with an aproned shopkeeper.

  He grabbed the man by both arms. “The United army,” he yelled. “Where is it?”

  “Rathfarnham,” the shopman cried in triumph. “Six thousand already, and more coming.”

  “How do I get there?”

  The shopkeeper tore himself from Davan’s arms. “Are you a friend? Go to Newgate—they’ll need you there! Lord Edward’s to be freed to lead the attack!”

  Roddy reached out, trying to catch Davan’s arm. She knew that name—Lord Edward Fitzgerald, the Duke of Leinster’s brother, the center of Geoffrey’s circle of aristocratic radicals. But one of the women from the parlor caught her back. “Attack! Are they going to attack?”

  Roddy turned for an instant, just long enough to shake herself free. When she looked back again, Davan was gone.

  Roddy stared into the surging crowd, unable to open her gift to this intensity. It pressed at her through her barriers, frighteningly like the night of the fire, a crowd-mind that knew no reason, no sense, but only swept and swayed with wild emotion as the drums crackled their dread message through the streets.

  She squeezed her eyes shut, trying to escape it, trying to think. Someone ran into her, and she had to move to avoid falling. She opened her eyes and saw a cavalryman urging his frantic mount forward, almost on top of her. She pressed back, trying to avoid the animal’s hooves as it half reared and came down, knocking a porter aside. The press of people caught her up; she had to move to keep from going to her knees.

  She was pushed one way and then the next by the surge and shuffle. The color of the crowd seemed to be gaining red as the barristers and attorneys and merchants and bankers and students and apothecaries of the city threw on uniforms and became yeomen desperate to reach their mustering points. She stumbled along the riverside in their midst, already far down from the inn where she’d lost Davan. The sun was setting, throwing the buildings and milling crowd into high relief. Still the drums went on, calling and calling for the men who were helplessly jammed in the press.

  Reason seemed impossible in the noise and confusion. At first, she tried to battle her way back toward the inn, but the general movement was opposite, and she exhausted herself without making headway. Shorter than the rest, she could not see which way to move, could only follow her perception of where the crowd thinned.

  The river flowed like a silver dagger down the center of the mob. She found herself at a bridge, and grabbed a yeoman’s hand and shouted in his ear for the way to Newgate, receiving a vague wave and an uninterpretable shout in return. Like a stream branching around a rock, the people around her pushed her along onto the bridge, across it, and into the mass on th
e other side.

  She shouted again for the way to Newgate, and this time a barefoot beggar boy answered, not with words, but with a tug on her arm and a motion to follow.

  She hung on to him until sweat popped out on her palm and made the contact slippery and hard to keep. But his small, dirty fingers dug into her skin, pulling at her, squeezing her through among shoulders and arms and legs while dusk settled into shadows.

  They left the river far behind, but the crowds did not lessen. It was almost all uniformed men by now, and a strange hilarity had begun to grow among them, made of fear and helplessness and determination. She heard laughter, and saw bottles of porter making rounds. Many of them tried to move and make way for Roddy as they saw a gentlewoman in their midst. “Get along home, ma’am,” someone cried toward her. “We’re standing buff for your defense!” A spate of encouraging calls followed, but Roddy had not time to answer, clinging to her small guide, afraid she would lose him as darkness closed in.

  Past a church, down a wide street, twisting and wriggling among the throng. Roddy began to think the child was leading her a dance; it seemed that they must have doubled back twice, and she could smell again the evening odor rising off the river. Rumors flew—reports that shadowy figures had been seen assembling in the churchyard they’d just passed, where pikes were buried by the hundreds; that rebel couriers had been heard to cry, “Liberty, and no King!”; that mounted sentries posted outside the city had been driven in by the rebels advance guard; that a secret column of rebel sympathizers was already among them, preparing to set fire to the House of Parliament. At one point they scraped by a crowd of well-dressed women, and Roddy heard one arguing strenuously that she and her companions should seek the protection of a Mr. Beresford at his “interrogation center.”

  The thought of being caught between Unitedmen and loyalists in the narrow, packed streets was terrifying. “Here ’tis, mum!” the urchin cried, before Roddy could decide whether or not she should try to join the group of ladies. She looked up at the dark windowless walls of the prison in despair, not knowing what she was doing there, not wanting to believe that Earnest and Geoffrey were really barred behind those stones, liable to be executed at any moment in the rising tide of fear.

  The child hugged her hips, holding out one thin hand. The crowd was thinner here, and Roddy had room to bend and take off her shoe, slipping out the emergency shilling her mother had taught her to carry always. The boy grabbed it and vanished into the growing darkness.

  Roddy stood, indecisive and miserable. The prison itself drew her, though she was sure that she would never find Davan here. She doubted he had made it this far.

  There seemed nowhere else to go. An alley beckoned, walled on one side by the prison, on the other by the backs of closed and boarded shops, mercifully empty of yeomen or confused citizens. She slipped between two arguing university students and sought the relief of a space of solitude. She could not plunge back into the surge of people, not yet. Drawing a breath of river-laden air, she moved down the narrow lane.

  With relief, she relaxed her taut barriers, keeping alert for any threat. Never had she been alone in a city. It scared her more than being lost in the black night at Iveragh. Her fears then had been mostly in her mind, but here the danger was painfully real.

  She heard the intruders enter the alley before she could separate them from the crowd-mind that she’d set at a distance. Quickly, she drew back into a doorway, batting aside a rug that had been left out to air. It took no effort to focus on the strangers approaching. They were already at a fever pitch of excitement, and their intentions reached her with blazing clarity.

  Her fingers closed and twisted at her skirt as she recognized Davan’s wild enthusiasm among the approaching group. They spoke in whispers that kept breaking to agitated louder speech.

  “’Tis the only chance,” someone hissed. “Without the rest of ’em. It’s been done before, mark me—if no one falters, we can make it.”

  “Och, are we here to falter?” That was Davan. “I’m a Kerryman—I’ve run cargo past the King’s best men and thumbed my nose.”

  There was a scuffle. “Go on, I’ve thumbed me nose a’ a few Orangemen in me own day. You’ll be bringin’ up me rear on that ladder, Kerryman.”

  “Shut it,” another voice warned. “’Tis no schoolboy prank. We should have been thirty, and with a horse waitin’ to take him. We’ll likely die of this, takin’ it on with half a dozen.”

  “Are you afraid of it?” Davan’s voice dripped scorn. “’Tis a fine enough way to die.”

  They were directly opposite Roddy now. She heard something metal clatter, and a pike fell at her feet, its blade glittering underneath the rug in the last of light.

  “I’m not afraid.” That was a lie, fierce and quick. The rush of feet carried them all past her. “Lay down your weapon, and I’ll be glad enough to show you with my bare hands!”

  “Give over. We’ve no time for that. Where’s the rope?”

  “Who’s going up?” someone asked. The voice’s owner had to work hard to keep it from shaking with excitement and fright.

  “We’ll draw lots. Hand in your cockades. Green go up; white take the gate.”

  “I haven’t one,” Davan said impatiently. He was torn, not sure if the assault by ladder or front entrance would be more heroic.

  Roddy drew in a breath, preparing to step out and put a stop to this nonsense, when the one who seemed in command said, “Those that go over the top—don’t waste time looking for Lord Edward. Just finish off the first guard you see, take their keys, and start opening doors while we have them distracted in front.”

  She had a sudden, wild change of heart, a thought that perhaps they could do it. If Earnest happened to be in the right cell…

  “My friends,” a new voice said, low and smooth and startlingly familiar. “I don’t believe you’ll be distracting anyone just now.”

  Roddy’s stomach went liquid with shock. She made a move for the rug, pulling back the folds, peering through the dimness at the little knot of men in the alley and the broad back of the red-coated and bewigged British officer who held them at pistol point.

  She knew that back. She knew that voice, and the unmistakable taut grace. She knew every muscle and limb of the man who held a gun pointed at Davan’s head.

  Chapter 23

  “Iveragh,” Davan said. At first it was only stunned surprise, but an instant later the youth put the uniform and the man together. “Great God, you’re a King’s man!”

  “Your acuteness astounds me,” Faelan said flatly. “You and your companions may lay down your pikes.”

  Davan took a breath, and tightened his grip on his pike handle. His companions stood straighter behind him.

  “Lay it down,” Faelan said.

  Roddy bit down on her tongue, holding back sick fear. She could not allow Faelan to murder a silly boy for his silly dreams of glory. Her husband could do it; had done it—Geoffrey had been witness. And the wild chance—maybe the only chance—to save Earnest and Geoffrey was evaporating before her eyes.

  The pistol didn’t waver, still aimed at Davan’s forehead. Roddy’s eyes stung with fright. Any moment—any moment and the gun would explode and Davan would crumple, shot down like the cattle at Iveragh. Roddy swallowed bile. She held the curtain back and bent over, easing the pike at her feet upward into her hands. Her heart was pounding so that her fingers would hardly move for their shaking. She felt Davan’s second shock as he recognized her behind Faelan in the shadows.

  Davan blinked and then stared at the pistol, unable to accept the possibility that it might be his death. It seemed to him only a piece of metal, but as he looked at it he had a vision, clear and graphic, of what it might feel like to take a ball between the eyes.

  He dropped the pike.

  “The rest,” Faelan said. When no one else obeyed, he cocked the gun. “Do you dislike your Kerryman so much?”

  One by one, the other four pikes fell with a clat
ter onto the pavement.

  The young rebels all had the sense to keep their faces under control as Roddy lifted her weapon and slid one foot silently out into the alley. She had to remind herself to breathe. The pike handle was smooth and heavy in her hands, with a damp spot where it had fallen in a tiny puddle. She took another stealthy step, coming into the open.

  “You won’t turn us in,” Davan said. “You wouldn’t.” It was half to gain time, that question, and half a real fear. His eyes were locked on Faelan, trying to gauge Roddy’s slinking approach from the shadows. Sweet Mary, will she hit him? Her own husband…

  Roddy took another step, and another, and suddenly she was within range of Faelan’s head with the pike handle.

  “I ought to,” Faelan said, “God knows, you’re an inconvenience to me.”

  Roddy’s grip tightened. It seemed impossible that he did not know she was there.

  Davan’s eyes narrowed. “Bastard,” he said softly. He had to strain to keep his eyes from Roddy. “Damned slimy informer.”

  “Don’t try my patience, O’Connell. You have half a minute to disappear.”

  Roddy stood, within range, with the pike handle lifted to deliver the blow. She held it there, staring at her husband’s unprotected back.

  I’m here, she cried silently. Don’t you know I’m here?

  Davan’s lip curled. “You peached on the others, didn’t you? ’Twas you who put Lord Geoffrey’s head in a noose.”

  And my brother’s. Oh, God—Faelan…

  “I’ll not listen to that,” he snapped. “Get out of here, you damned bumbling puppy.”

  He motioned with the gun. Davan’s eyes widened, but he stood his ground, expecting Roddy to strike. Her arms were trembling under the weight of the weapon, and still she did not swing.

 
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