The Seduction Of Elliot McBride

Page 62

Of the Mackenzie family, Elliot had only ever talked at length with Cameron, his sister’s husband, but he’d found Cameron too different from himself to form an instant friendship with him. He and Cameron could talk about horses, but Cameron raced expensive champions, while Elliot had confined his horse owning to useful farm animals. They both had traveled the world, but Cameron had always lived in luxury in the best hotels, while Elliot had eked out an existence either on army pay or on his own, living in hovels that he shared with reptiles and large insects.

Ian Mackenzie, on the other hand, was easy to be with. For one thing, the man didn’t feel the need to talk.

Ian also knew what fishing was all about. A man stood on the bank and cast his line, then waited in silence. He might lend a hand to his fellow fisherman then quietly return to his own line when the task was done.

Everyone else Elliot met wanted him to make small talk. Even McPherson and McGregor, though both were good-natured, expected Elliot to contribute to conversations and looked at him with puzzled patience when he did not.

Ian, on the other hand, just fished. And shut his mouth.

The two men hadn’t said a word to each other since Elliot had found Ian examining the fishing rods in the back hall of McGregor Castle that morning. Elliot had said, “Do you fish?” and Ian had nodded, brushing his fingers over a particularly good pole. “Come on then,” Elliot had said.

The two men had chosen poles and nets and gone down to the river, where they’d stood in silence ever since. Elliot pushed aside thoughts of Stacy and the horde of people about to descend on his home. Nothing existed but the quiet plop of hooks into water, the faint hum of flies, the ripple of a fish going for the bait.

Elliot had caught two fish, Ian three, when a figure in a dark suit, a garb more common to the dingy streets of London than the open Highlands, walked down the path to the flat bank of the river.

“Mr. McBride.” The man held out a hand. Elliot wiped the fishy dampness of his hand on his kilt and shook it. The man nodded to Ian, who acknowledged him only with a glance before going back to his fishing. “I’m Inspector Fellows.”

“I gathered as much,” Elliot said.

“I’ve looked into the matters you asked me to,” Fellows said. “I can tell you here, or we can…” He motioned toward Castle McGregor, the top spires of which were just visible through the trees.

“Here, if you don’t mind,” Elliot said. “If we return to the house we might be recruited to round up things for the jumble sale.”

Fellows acknowledged this with a half smile. “Ian can keep his own counsel,” he said with another look at Ian, who was far more interested in the river than their discussion.

“Archibald Stacy,” Fellows said. “Joined your regiment in 1874 and went to India. Was a subaltern.”

“Two years younger than me,” Elliot said. “I was a lieutenant by then. He was a good shooter already, so they had me help train him to be a sharpshooter. He learned quickly.”

“Left the regiment four years later, decided to try his hand at civilian life in India. But you know this too.”

“I had no trouble helping an old friend.”

Fellows’s expression didn’t change. He was a man doing his job, an expert at turning up solid information. But Elliot sensed a curiosity in the hazel eyes that would lead the man to make more connections than someone simply taking down facts.

“Mr. Stacy was reported dead in Lahore, after an earthquake that unhappily took quite a few lives,” Fellows went on. “Right before you returned to Scotland.”

“He was gone from home before that,” Elliot said. “I got back to my plantation after my escape in October of that year, and Stacy was already gone. So my manservant informs me. I don’t have much memory of the time.”

“Interesting that Stacy traveled to Lahore,” Fellows said. “Your plantations were closer to Pathankot, nearer the native state of Chamba, to the east, is that right? I consulted a map,” Fellows added in his dry tone as Elliot felt mild surprise. To many Englishmen, India was all one place, the same no matter where one traveled. They didn’t know about the vast differences in climate, weather, vegetation, animals, and people. Englishmen were still shocked at the change when they traveled from someplace like Bengal to the northern Punjab.

“If you are asking me why he went to Lahore,” Elliot said, “I have no idea. He had business interests in Rawalpindi, but none in Lahore as far as I know. As I said, I wasn’t very coherent when I returned, and I’d of course been gone for nearly a year.”

Fellows acknowledged this with a nod. He didn’t exclaim in sympathy at Elliot’s laconic statement of his time in captivity, which Elliot appreciated.

“An investigation was carried out when Stacy went missing after the earthquake, of course,” Fellows said. “By the local British authorities. He’d been seen there quite obviously before the earthquake, but not afterward. Bodies were recovered from a collapsed building, but too battered to be identified, and witnesses put Stacy in that area that day. A death certificate was issued, and the case closed.”

“How thorough was the investigation?”

Fellows shrugged. “From the report I read, and answers to cables, I’d say not very thorough. But I can’t blame them—things must have been in chaos. But Stacy never came forward to announce he’d survived.”

“A man can make certain he’s presumed dead,” Ian said, casting his line back into the water. “If he wants everyone to think he is.”

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