What Manner of Man

Chapter 2


Setting the gleaming boots to one side, Varney stared at his master with frank disapproval. "You merely frightened them away?"
"I did consider ripping their throats out but as it wasn't actually necessary, it wouldn't have been..." he paused and smiled, "...polite."
"Polite!? You risked exposure so as you can be polite?"
The smile broadened. "I am a creature of my time."
"You're a creature of the night! You know what'll come of this? Questions, that's what. And we don't need questions!"
"I have complete faith in your ability to handle whatever might arise."
Recognizing the tone, the little man deflated. "Aye and well you might," he muttered darkly. "Let's get that jacket off you before I've got to carry you in to your bed like a sack of meal."
"I can do it myself," Henry remarked as he stood and turned to have his coat carefully peeled from his shoulders.
"Oh, aye, and leave it lying on the floor no doubt." Folding the coat in half, Varney draped it over one skinny arm. "I'd never get the wrinkles out. You'd go about looking like you dressed out of a ragbag if it wasn't for me. Have you eaten?" He looked suddenly hopeful.
One hand on the bedchamber door, Henry paused. "Yes," he said softly.
The thin shoulders sagged. "Then what're you standing about for?"
A few moments later, the door bolted, the heavy shutter over the narrow window secured, Henry Fitzroy, vampire, bastard son of Henry the VIII, once Duke of Richmond and Somerset, Earl of Nottingham, and Lord President of the Council of the North, slid into the day's oblivion.
"My apologies, Mrs. Evans, for not coming by sooner, but I was out when your husband's message arrived." Henry laid his hat and gloves on the small table in the hall and allowed the waiting footman to take his coat. "I trust he's in better health than he was when I saw him last night?"
"A great deal better, thank you." Although there were purple shadows under her eyes and her cheeks were more than fashionably pale, Lenore Evans' smile lit up her face. "The doctor says he lost a lot of blood but he'll recover. If it hadn't been for you..."
As her voice trailed off, Henry bowed slightly. "I was happy to help." Perhaps he had taken a dangerous chance. Perhaps he should have wiped all memory of his presence from the Captain's mind and left him on his own doorstep like an oversized infant. Having become involved, he couldn't very well ignore the message an obviously disapproving Varney had handed him at sunset with a muttered, I told you so.
It appeared that there were indeed going to be questions.
Following Mrs. Evans up the stairs, he allowed himself to be ushered into a well-appointed bedchamber and left alone with the man in the bed.
Propped up against his pillows, recently shaved but looking wan and tired, Charles Evans nodded a greeting. "Fitzroy. I'm glad you've come."
Henry inclined his own head in return, thankful that the bloodscent had been covered by the entirely unappetizing smell of basilicum powder. "You're looking remarkably well, all things considered."
"I've you to thank for that."
"I really did very little."
"True enough, you only saved my life." The captain's grin was infectious and Henry found himself returning it in spite of an intention to remain aloof. "Mind you, Dr. Harris did say he'd never seen such a clean wound." One hand rose to touch the bandages under his nightshirt. "He said I was healing faster than any man he'd ever examined."
As his saliva had been responsible for that accelerated healing, Henry remained silent. It had seemed foolish to resist temptation when there'd been so much blood going to waste.
"Anyway..." The grin disappeared and the expressive face grew serious. "I owe you my life and I'm very grateful you came along but that's not why I asked you to visit. I can't get out of this damned bed and I have to trust someone." Shadowed eyes lifted to Henry's face. "Something tells me that I can trust you."
"You barely know me," Henry murmured, inwardly cursing his choice of words the night before. He'd told Evans to trust him and now it seemed he was to play the role of confidant. He could remove the trust as easily as he'd placed it but something in the man's face made him hesitate. Whatever bothered him, involved life and death ¨C Henry had seen the latter too often to mistake it now. Sighing, he added, "I can't promise anything, but I'll listen."
"Please." Gesturing at a chair, the captain waited until his guest had seated himself, then waited a little longer, apparently searching for a way to begin. After a few moments, he lifted his chin. "You know I work at the Home Office?"
"I had heard as much, yes." In the last few years, gossip had become the preferred entertainment of all classes and Varney was a devoted participant.
"Well, for the last little while ¨C just since the start of the Season, in fact ¨C things have been going missing."
"Papers. Unimportant ones for the most part, until now." His mouth twisted up into a humorless grin. "I can't tell you exactly what the latest missing document contained ¨C in spite of everything we'd still rather it wasn't common knowledge ¨C but I can tell you that if it gets into the wrong hands, into French hands, a lot of British soldiers are going to die."
"Last night you were following the thief?"
"No. The man we think is his contact. A french spy named Yves Bouchard."
Henry shook his head, interested in spite of himself. "The man who stabbed you last night was no Frenchman. I heard him speak, and he was as English as you or I. English, and though I hesitate to use the term, a Gentleman."
"That's Bouchard. He's the only son of an old emigre family. They left France during the revolution ¨C Yves was a mere infant at the time and now he dreams of restoring the family fortunes under Napoleon."
"One would have thought he'd be more interested in defeating Napoleon and restoring the rightful king."
Evans shrugged, winced and said, "Apparently not. Anyway, Bouchard's too smart to stay around after what happened last night. I kept him from getting his hands on the document, now we have to keep it from leaving England by another means."
"We?" Henry asked, surprised into ill-mannered incredulity. "You and I?"
"Mostly you. The trouble is, we don't know who actually took the document although we've narrowed it down to three men who are known to be in Bouchard's confidence and who have access to the Guard's offices."
"One moment, please." Henry raised an exquisitely manicured hand. "You want me to find your spy for you?"
"Because I can't be certain of anyone else in my office and because I trust you."
Realizing he had only himself to blame, Henry sighed. "And I suppose you can't bring the three in for questioning because two of them are innocent?"
Evans' pained expression had nothing to do with his wound. "Only consider the scandal. I will if I must but, as this is Wednesday and the information must be in France by Friday evening or it won't get to Napoleon in time for it to be of any use, one of those three will betray himself in the next two days."
"So the document must be recovered with no public outcry?"
"I would have thought, the Bow Street Runners.
"No. The Runners may be fine for chasing down highway men and murderers, but my three suspects move in the best circles. Only a man of their own class could get near them without arousing suspicion." He lifted a piece of paper off the table beside the bed and held it out to Henry, who stared at it for a long moment.
Lord Ruthven, Mr. Maxwell Aubrey, and Sir William Wyndham. Frowning, Henry looked up to meet Captain Evans' weary gaze. "You're sure about this?"
"I am. Send word when you're sure, I'll do the rest."
The exhaustion shading the other man's voice reminded Henry of his injury. Placing the paper back beside the bed, he stood. "This is certainly not what I expected."
"But you'll do it?"