Authors: Marie Laval
She didn't have much choice, so she opened the door. As soon as he walked in the room felt too small, hot and stuffy. Painfully aware of her state of undress, she glanced around and let out a small whimper as she spotted her freshly-washed stockings and drawers dangling from the back of a chair at the side of the fireplace.
âJust let me tidy those away,' she stammered as she rushed to the fireplace to pull her undergarments down and throw them in a heap on the floor.
He looked at the bed, the covers down and the pillows still bearing the imprint of her body, then at the window and his face hardened.
âWhy the hell did you leave the curtains open? Anybody can see you from the square. I told you these men were after you.'
âOhâ¦ I didn't think. You're right, of course. It's just that I have thisâ¦ thing about dark, confined spaces, and I can't breathe if I don't see the sky, the stars, the moonlight.'
He arched his eyebrow. âYou're afraid of the dark.'
She grimaced and gave a brief nod.
âYou never complained when we were at
âYou were there, so I wasn't afraid.'
âWell, I'm here now too and I don't want to risk anybody seeing you from the street and finding out which room you're in.'
He walked to the window and drew the green curtains with a sharp tug.
âSorry I'm so late, but the maid took her time bringing hot water and towels, and then I had to talk to Wallace.'
âThe maid?' she said in a sour voice. âI hope her soft hands didn't disappoint.'
He frowned. âWhat are you talking about?'
Embarrassed, she shook her head.
âNothing. Just forget it. What you do with chambermaids is none of my business. I shouldn't have said anything.'
He seemed to think for a moment, then he drew in a long breath.
âI was only trying to sweet-talk the girl into telling me about her cousin's whereabouts â the mail-coach driver. Poor Effie is most upset with him because he ran away to Inverness yesterday having taken her all her savings. No one in her family understands why he left his work for the Royal Mail. They all think he's gone madâ¦Of course, I found out tonight at my own costs that if the driver ran away, the mail-guard is still around, and is in fact in league with Morven and they are trying to prevent you from reaching Westmore.'
He pulled a chair and sat down near the fire, stretching his long legs in front of him.
âLet's get on with that diary, shall we?'
She nodded, picked the diary up she'd left on the bed and sat opposite him to read the first entry once again, translating it into English as she went along. Every time she looked up, he was staring straight at her, sharp and intense, absorbing her every word.
Her hand shook a little as she turned the page.
â17th June. 3:30am
Captain McRae died twenty minutes ago. I stayed with him until the end. It was odd that I should feel the man's death so keenly. It wasn't the first time I saw a man die from battle wounds â God knows I killed enough men myself â but there was something about him, something I can't explain, a connection of some kind. I guess I'm just being fanciful. It's probably because I'm so damned tired.
The question is, what do I do now? I can't go to my superiors since they wouldn't give a damn about McRae's last will and testament, and riding to the 92
Highlanders camp is out of the question. So I guess I have to wait and keep the three letters I wrote on McRae's behalf safe in my greatcoat bag until I can dispatch them to Scotland when the campaign is over. I don't know what good it'll do, though. I don't share McRae's faith in human nature. Pride and greed too often take precedence over justice and fairness. In the case of Niall McRae and his son, I fear this is exactly what will happen.
As well as the letters, McRae also entrusted me with his personal effects. There isn't much. A monogrammed silk handkerchief embroidered with heraldic griffins, a silver whisky flask, a pair of fine leather gloves and a particularly fascinating item I didn't immediately recognise - one half of a gold medal, the Order of the Crescent, granted by Selim III, ruler of the Golden Porte, to British officers after the Anglo-Ottoman victory at the 1801 battle of Canope.
McRae had it cut in half, so that only half the moon crescent, the star and sunrays remained, as well as the first two digits of the date. The man said he gave the other half to his woman, and begged me to send his own back to her, together with one of the letters.'
Rose lowered the diary on her lap.
âBy Old Ibrahim's Beardâ¦ I think my father just described your medallion.'
McGunn sat up, looking pale and tense. âIt seems like it,' he said at last.
âButâ¦ how did it come to be in your possession?'
âI have no idea. I was told it belonged to my mother. It passed onto me after she died. Please carry on.'
âI have to skip a few pages. Two days after Quatre-Bras, on June 18
, it was of courseâ¦'
âWaterloo,' he finished.
âThat's right. The next time my father mentions Niall McRae is on 22
June. After Waterloo, my father followed Napoleon's retreat to Paris where he witnessed the Emperor's abdication in favour of his son.'
We're camping at the palace, and despite the tents and campfires on the grounds and the garrisons standing guard at the gates, the atmosphere is quiet and subdued. There was no sign of Napoleon today. The word is that he is preparing to leave for La Malmaison to plan his next move â not that he has an awful lot of choices. It won't be long before Wellington, BlÃ¼cher and their armies are at Paris' gates. According to the latest reports the Prussians are already marching towards us, destroying villages and crops on their way.
I haven't been able to dispatch McRae's letters and personal effects to Scotland yet. I keep thinking about the man's anguish that last night, and of his determination to make sure his woman and child were provided for. I hope I won't fail him.
The Emperor left for La Malmaison. We are now left to our own devices and waiting for the allied forces to enter the capital. I have resolved to travel to Scotland and deliver the letters in person as soon as I am discharged from my duties.'
âYour father came all the way to Westmore?' Bruce asked, startled.
Rose flicked through a few pages and shook her head.
âNo. He was entrusted with an important mission in the following weeks and chose one of his men, a Capitaine Raymond Pichet, to take the letters in his place.'
She flicked through the diary and put her finger on a page.
âAh, here it isâ¦'
Captain Pichet came for his orders today. He's a good man and I trust him to fulfil his duties with efficiency and integrity. I revealed only the bare minimum of McRae's story, enough for him to understand the importance of his mission but not enough to jeopardise the necessary secrecy surrounding McRae's family circumstances.
I advised him to start with McRae's lawyers in Inverness â Longford and Stewartâ where he should hand in the will I scribed and witnessed at Quatre-Bras, as well as McRae's personal effects and the letter to his wife. He should then travel north to deliver the last missive. He promised to keep me informed of developments by writing to the French consulate in Algiers where I have now been assigned.'
âThere were three letters,' Lord McGunn remarked. âOne to the lawyers, the other to Lady Patriciaâ¦ Who was the last letter addressed to and did Pichet succeed in his mission?'
âMy father didn't write the name of the recipient of the last letter,' Rose replied, âand poor Capitaine Pichet was murdered in Scotland at the end of August. My father only heard of it a few months later.'
I received some sad news today. Pichet was mugged and killed in Scotland, but the details of his death are still unclear, according to the report the local police sent the French consul in London. The poor man appeared to have been robbed, beaten up and left to die on a stretch of moorland near Kinbrace, north of Inverness.
It took some time to establish his identity because his bag with all his papers was missing and he was wearing civilian clothing. He was eventually identified thanks to his regimental signet ring which was tucked inside his coat pocket and the tenacity of a Scottish police constable who got in touch with our War Office.
Since I don't know if Pichet managed to deliver all of McRae's letters and personal effects, I thought it best to write to the lawyers to introduce myself, relate the circumstances of my meeting with their late client and relay his last wishes all over again, especially regarding his child and the woman McRae loved so much.'
âI wonder who this person was, and why my father didn't write their name.'
âKeep reading,' was all McGunn said.
âStill no news from Scotland. Have written to the lawyers again. Losing patience now. Told them I will visit them in Scotland myself if I do not receive a reply soon.
Have received at last a brief letter from Langford and Stewart assuring me that they did meet with Captain Pichet at the end of August and followed the instructions left by Niall McRae regarding his estate and last will and testament. They also write that they gave Lady Patricia her own letter and her late husband's personal effects. It's a great relief to me to learn that MacRae's last wishes were fulfilled. May he now rest in peace.'
âIs that it?' McGunn's voice was hoarse.
She shook her head.
âNo, there is something else. A few months later, my father received a report from the French consul in London about the enquiry regarding Pichet's death.'
âIt is dated March 1816 but my father didn't get his copy until the summer.'
Algiers, August 15
I received this morning a copy of the report sub-inspector MacLellan from the sheriff's office in Inverness sent the French Consul in London regarding Captain Pichet's death. It seems all loose ends have finally been tied and that Pichet's killer was apprehended and punished for his crime. I feel saddened and angry that Pichet died carrying out my orders. It should have been me travelling on that lonely stretch of road that day.
I attach the report below.
To Colonel Hugo Saintclair, care of His Excellency RenÃ© Eustace d'Osmond, French ambassador to London
You wished to be kept informed of developments in the enquiry into Captain Auguste Pichet's murder which occurred near Kinbrace at the end of August 1815. My initial investigation pointed to the killing having been carried out by a group of vagrant soldiers recently discharged from their regiment and who had since been causing trouble in the area on numerous occasions.
I wasn't very hopeful of apprehending the gang until I came across new evidence pointing to the culpability of a certain Donald Robertson. A former private in the 92
Gordon Highlanders from the parish of Tongue, Robertson was arrested after a brawl in a Thurso tavern four weeks ago, during which he stabbed a man to death.
The weapon he used was a four-inch folding knife with the following inscription carved on the bone handle: â
2Ã¨me cuirassiers, toujours'.
A search of Robertson' person and belongings produced the sum of three pounds and ten Napoleons. At first Robertson refused to explain how the above came to be in his possession, but he later confessed to taking part in the ambush and the killing of the French man.
As he was charged with murder he claimed to have been instructed to carry out the attack on Pichet by a âperson of high distinction and status' whom he promised to name at his trial. It was all lies of course. Robertson was a thief and a murderer without scruples or conscience, who had made so many enemies he got himself stabbed to death in his cell the day before his trial.
I hope you will find that justice has been done in the case of Captain Pichet. I remain at your service should you require further information.
The room became dark and cold, almost as cold as his heart. He swallowed hard, and pushed a long gulp of air into his lungs.
He closed his eyes as a memory he thought he had managed to forget flashed into his mind. It was summer. He was sixteen years old and on leave from the military academy and was caught one evening by one of his grandfather's men getting a little too familiar with the blacksmith's daughter. The man sent the girl home and dragged him, barefoot with his shirt hanging out of his breeches, all the way back to the Lodge and his grandfather's study where Doughall had given Bruce a resounding slap.
âI thought the army would teach you how to be a man of honour,' he had said, seething with anger. âI should have known you'd be too much like your no-good father. In fact, not only do you look more like him with every passing day, but you are following in his footsteps and proving eager to sow your bad seed and produce your own bastard children, just like he was.'
His eyes had narrowed to slits, hardly visible under his bushy grey eyebrows. His face flushed bright red with rage and drink, he had spat one last insult. âThe man dishonoured your mother, brought her nothing but misery. He killed her, as surely as if he had pushed her off that cliff himself.'