What Manner of Man

Chapter 5


Curious, he walked over to the wrought iron fence and peered up into an immense old oak. Believing himself familiar with every nuance of the night, he was astonished to see Aubrey perched precariously on a swaying limb, arms wrapped tightly around another, face nearly as white as his crumpled cravat.
"What the devil are you doing up there?" Henry demanded, beginning to feel that Captain Evans had sent him on a fool's mission. The night was rapidly taking on all the aspects of high farce.
Wide-eyed gaze searching the darkness for the source of the voice, Aubrey flashed a nervous smile in all directions. "Seeber dared me to spend a night in one of these trees," he explained ingenuously. Then he frowned. "You're not the Watch are you?"
"No, I'm not the Watch."
"Good. That is, I imagine it would hard to explain this to the Watch."
"I imagine it would be," Henry repeated dryly.
"You see, it's not as easy as it looks like it would be." He shifted position slightly and squeezed his eyes closed as the branch he sat on bobbed and swayed.
The man was an idiot and obviously not capable of being a French spy. Bouchard would have to be a greater idiot to trust so pliable a tool.
"I don't suppose you could help me down."
Henry considered it. "No," he said at last and walked away.
He found Sir William Wyndham, the last name on the list, and therefore the traitor by default, at White's playing deep basset. Carefully guarding his expression after Viscount Hanely had met him in a dimly lit hall and leapt away in terror, Henry declined all invitations to play. Much like a cat at a mouse hole, he watched and waited for Sir William to leave.
Unfortunately, Sir William was winning.
At five, lips drawn back off his teeth, Henry left the club. He could feel the approaching dawn and had to feed before the day claimed him. He had intended to feed upon Sir William, leaving him weak and easy prey for the captain's men ¨C but Sir William obviously had no intention of leaving the table while his luck held.
The porter who handed Mr. Fitzroy his greatcoat and hat averted his gaze and spent the next hour successfully convincing himself that he hadn't seen what he knew he had.
Walking quickly through the dregs of the night, Henry returned to Albany but, rather than enter his own chambers, he continued to where he could gain access to the suite on the second floor. Entering silently through the large window, he crossed to the bed and stared down at its sleeping occupant.
George Gordon, the 6th Lord Byron, celebrated author of Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, was indeed a handsome young man. Henry had never seen him as having the ethereal and poignant beauty described by Caroline Lamb but then, he realized, Caro Lamb had never seen the poet with his hair in paper curlers.
His bad mood swept away by the rising Hunger, Henry sat down on the edge of the bed and softly called Byron's name, drawing him up but not entirely out of sleep.
The wide mouth curved into an anticipatory smile, murmuring "Incubus" without quite waking.
"I don't like you going to see that poet," Varney muttered, carefully setting the buckled shoes to one side. "You're going to end up in trouble there, see if you don't."
"He thinks I'm a dream." Henry ran both hand back through his hair and grinned, remembering the curlers. So much for Byron's claim that the chestnut ringlets were natural. "What could possibly happen?"
"You could end up in one of his stories, that's what." Unable to read, Varney regarded books with a superstitious awe that bordered on fear. "The secret'd be out and some fine day it'd be the stake sure as I'm standing here." The little man drew himself up to his full height and fixed Henry with an indignant glare. "I told you before and I'll tell you again, you got yourself so mixed up in this society thing you're forgetting what you are! You got to stop taking so many chances." His eyes glittered. "Try and remember, most folks don't look kindly on the bloodsucking undead."
"I'll try and remember." Glancing up at his servant over steepled fingers, Henry added, "I've something for you to do today. I need Sir William Wyndham watched. If he's visited by someone named Yves Bouchard, go immediately to Captain Evans; he'll know what to do. If he tries to leave London, stop him."
Brows that crossed above Varney's nose in a continuous line, lifted. "How stopped?"
"Stopped. Anything else, I want to be told at sunset."
"So, what did this bloke do that he's to be stopped?" Varney raised his hand lest Henry get the wrong idea. "Not that I won't stop him, mind, in spite of how I feel about you suddenly taking it into your head to track down evil doers. You know me, give me an order and I'll follow it."
"Which is why I found you almost dead in a swamp outside Plassey while the rest of your regiment was inside Plassey?"
"Not the same thing at all," the ex-soldier told him, pointedly waiting for the answer to his question.
"He sold out Wellington's army to the French."
Varney grunted. "Stopping's too good for him."
"Sir William Wyndham got a message this afternoon. Don't know what was in it, but he's going to be taking a trip to the coast tonight."
"Damn him!" Henry dragged his shirt over his head. "He's taking the information to Napoleon himself!"
Varney shrugged and brushed invisible dust off a green striped waistcoat. "I don't know about that but, if his coachman's to be trusted, he's heading for the coast right enough, soon as the moon lights the road."
Henry stood on the steps of Sir William's townhouse, considered his next move and decided the rising moon left him no time to be subtle.
The butler who answered the imperious summons of the polished brass knocker, opened his mouth to deny this inopportune visitor entry but closed it again without making a sound.
"Take me to Sir William," Henry commanded.
Training held, but only just. "Very good, sir. If you would follow me." The butler's hand trembled sightly but his carefully modulated voice gave no indication that he had just been shown his own mortality. "Sir William is in the library, sir. Through this door here. Shall I announce you?"
With one hand on the indicated door, Henry shook his head. "That won't be necessary. In fact, you should forget I was ever here."
Lost in the surprisingly dark depths of the visitor's pale eyes, the butler shuddered. "Thank you, sir. I will."
Three sets of branched candelabra lit the library, more than enough for Henry to see that the room held two large leather chairs, a number of hunting trophies, and very few books.
Sir William, dressed for travel in breeches and top boots, stood leaning on the mantelpiece reading a single sheet of paper. He turned when he heard the door open and scowled when he saw who it was. "Fitzroy! What the devil are you doing here? I told Babcock I was not to be.
Then his voice trailed off as he got a better look at Henry's face. There were a number of men in London he considered to be dangerous but until this moment, he would not have included Henry Fitzroy among them. Forcing his voice past the growing panic he stammered, "W-what?"
"You dare to ask when you're holding that?" A pale hand shot forward to point at the paper in Wyndham's hand.
"This?" Confusion momentarily eclipsed the fear. "What has this to do with you?"
Henry charged across the room, grabbed a double handful of cloth and slammed the traitor against the wall. "It has everything to do with me!"
"I didn't know! I swear to God I didn't know!" Hanging limp in Henry's grasp, Sir William made no struggle to escape. Every instinct screamed "RUN!" but a last vestige of reason realized he wouldn't get far. "If I'd known you were interested in her..."
"Carmilla Amworth."
Sir William crashed to his knees as Henry released him and stepped back. "So that's how you were going to hide it," he growled. "A seduction on your fabled yacht. Was a French boat to meet you in the channel?"
"A French boat?"
"Or were you planning on finding sanctuary with Napoleon? And what of Miss Amworth, compromised both by your lechery and your treason?"