The sound of the water was perhaps the most peaceful sound he had ever heard. It washed gently against the sides of the boat, slapping and clapping to its own quiet rhythm. The side to side motion of the boat, coupled with the steady warmth of the midday sun, was leading him inescapably towards sleep, and he was happy to abandon all resistance. It wasn't often that the weather was this good so late in the year, and he was determined to enjoy it. October, after all, was usually about growing winds, large amounts of rain, and impenetrable grey cloud.
He stretched, wishing that the boat was lined with something rather more comfortable than plain wood. A mattress filled with duck feathers would be nice. A deep pillow... He smiled faintly, his mind elsewhere. With the sun so warm and the motion of the boat so relaxing, it was hard to make even one thought crystallise completely. Not that that was really such a shame.
"Stephen!" The voice intruded on his consciousness, but he was drowsy enough to ignore it. It floated somewhere just within his hearing, and he chose to listen to the water instead. "Stephen!"
"Urgghh..." It sounded like a perfectly comprehensible sentence, or had done when he had begun it, but apparently it hadn't had its desired effect, because the person calling him didn't take the hint and go away. Instead she called again, and he knew that he could no longer ignore her. Parts of his mind were awake again now, and were beginning to function properly. He sighed.
"What?" He didn't sit up. That would require far too much energy; and besides, there might yet be a chance of returning to that pleasant verge of sleep. He heard footsteps on the wooden jetty, and turned his head slightly so that it was facing in the right direction. He didn't open his eyes. The sun would be bright, and he knew that it would wash away what little of his drowsiness remained.
"There you are." Her footsteps came closer, and he heard the rustles of material that told him she was crouching down. "It's nearly two. Daddy is not impressed that you didn't turn up for lunch."
"Lunch?" He cracked open one eye, though only by a very little. "Was I supposed to be there for that?"
"You rat, you know you were." She caught hold of the painter and hauled the boat closer to the jetty, then thumped him resoundingly in the stomach. "This isn't exactly making the best of impressions, is it. My father already thinks that you're some dreadful cad, and he's only known you since nine o'clock this morning. Good grief, he's barely exchanged two sentences with you. You have an impressive effect on people, you know that?"
"Yes." He opened his eyes properly, staring up at the young woman with a rakish smile that completely obliterated any sign of the contrition he might have been trying to fake. "Anyway, he's probably right. I am a cad."
"I know that much." She stood up. "But right now you can at least try to pretend that you're a gentleman. The others are arriving, and you have to come to meet them."
"I do?" He yawned theatrically, and stretched. "Why am I suddenly so important?"
"Because it's a dinner party, because my family will be wanting to meet you, and because it's the sort of thing that nice, polite, ordinary people do." She gave his arm a tug, encouraging him to stand up. "Not that you're nice, polite or ordinary, but you can at least try to pretend. My father is very old-fashioned."
"I am ordinary." Stepping out of the boat onto the disappointingly sturdy jetty, he thought sorrowful thoughts of the gently rocking resting place he was leaving behind. Maybe he could sneak out again later, preferably with a cushion or two. "I'm very ordinary."
"Ordinary?" She looked him up and down, from his worn but expensive shoes, to his oddly oversized dress-shirt, collar-less, tie-less and missing both sets of cufflinks. He had explained often enough that comfort was what counted, and that style could be hanged, but she was still only just getting used to that idea. "Stephen, there's nothing ordinary about you. You sleep with a dagger under your pillow--"
"Which I wouldn't go mentioning." He tried straightening his hopelessly creased shirt, and gave up almost immediately. "The bit about how you know that could take some explaining."
"One of the maids told me." She smiled and continued, all the time leading the way back to her father's imposing house. "And don't say that you don't have any maids, because my family isn't to know that. And anyway, to continue with my argument, you keep a journal that looks like it's written in Aramaic or something..."
"Babylonian," he interjected, feeling oddly chatty. She shrugged.
"Whatever. And if that wasn't enough you keep a sword under the driving seat of your car. I've heard of people liking to keep a weapon handy, dear, but most people have guns these days. Swords went out with George III."
"Maybe that's what's wrong with the world." He caught up with her, dropping a careless arm around her shoulders. "Do I really have to go and meet everybody?"
"Yes." She sighed. "You really are perfectly despicable at times, Stephen. I told you what this weekend would be like. You have to behave yourself. Be polite, smile a lot, talk nicely to people who still think Queen Victoria is on the throne... It's important to me."
"I know." He hugged her closer momentarily, enjoying her playful irritation. "I'm just a little out of practice, that's all. I haven't been a part of top-notch British society in some time you know. Things change."
"No doubt. Last time anybody was fool enough to invite you to a country mansion for a respectable weekend, they probably did it in Latin. Just try to be normal, Stephen, alright? Pretend that you're one of us? I've told everybody that you're a scholar, well respected in your field, and that you're thirty-four years-old. Which means, by my calculation, that you were born in 1875. Do try to keep up the pretence."
"I've been doing this for centuries, Rebecca." He was almost hurt, though not enough to bother him. "If I couldn't pretend to fit in, somebody would have noticed a long time ago."
"And you're telling me that they never have? That in five thousand years you've always managed to fool everybody?" She sighed, exasperated but enjoying it. "Stephen... My father might be an old-fashioned tyrant who'd prefer we were still living in the nineteenth century, and he might be insufferable and intolerant at times, but I still love him. I want this weekend to work. I love you - for some peculiar reason that I don't quite understand - and I want the two of you to get along. So promise me, please. Be on your best behaviour, don't look like you'd rather not be here, and please, please, no funny stuff. Promise?"
"Funny stuff?" He frowned at her. "What do you mean?"
"You know exactly what I mean. Trouble follows you around wherever you go. I want a quiet weekend, Stephen. Quiet."
"My dear girl, I assure you that there's nothing I want more than a quiet weekend. I have no intention of indulging in any 'funny stuff'." He smiled. "And trouble does not follow me around."
"When we met you were being chased around the engine room of a cruise ship by a seven foot tall Egyptian armed with a scimitar. A fortnight later there was that incident with the smugglers on the south coast, and barely a week ago you nearly beheaded the postman when he made you jump. Now I mean it, Stephen. No funny stuff."
"I promise." He laid his hand on his heart, an angelic expression that she had long ago learned to distrust plastered amiably across his deceptively youthful face. "This weekend shall pass without a hitch. And I promise not to behead any of the servants."
"Daddy was right. You are a cad." She punched him playfully on the arm. "Now come on. Georgina is bringing her latest beau to meet the family, and I want to be there when they arrive."
"Oh joy. Which one's Georgina?"
"She's my twin sister you reprobate. As you very well know. Stephen I've been schooling you on this all week. I have three sisters, and--"
"I know, I know. Two brothers, four siblings-in-law, and none of them with a name I can remember." He brightened. "Doesn't one of them own a brewery?"
"Yes, David. One of the brothers-in-law." She glowered at him. "But there won't be any beer this weekend. You can sip wine and brandy and sherry like a proper gentleman, and you won't even ask for a beer. That's the sort of thing that the servants and the people in the village drink, and Daddy would probably explode if you asked for any. Respectable, Stephen. Polite. And no funny stuff."
"Yeah, yeah, yeah." He quickened his step to keep up with her, heading all the time back to the house. "No funny stuff. We're in a mansion in the middle of England, in a place where everybody is eminently respectable and nobody is ever seen without their collars buttoned correctly. What in Zeus's name could possibly happen?"
"I don't know." She flashed him an irresistible smile, coloured with just the right touch of reproach. "But with you here, darling, I'm not ruling anything out."
The house was glorious; even Methos, in one of his most surly moods, couldn't have denied that. Four stories, white pillars, grandiose steps at the entrance - everything was imposing and attractive and yet somehow subtle. Very English, really; that clever combination of conceit, arrogance and refinement, which they were currently attempting to spread around the world courtesy of the biggest empire ever known to mankind. That was part of the reason that Methos had come back to Britain, for the country had done a damned fine job of selling itself as the richest and most desirable residence in the world - whilst cleverly hiding the fact that its old guard was actually damned nearly bankrupt. He had found that out almost immediately, and could see evidence even here. The mansion was massive, the furnishings luxurious, and the food that would be on offer at dinner tonight would very probably be lavish, but most of it would be bought by a mixture of credit, old reputations and good faith. Nobody in the landed gentry actually seemed to have any real money anymore.
"It feels so good to be home." Her arm through his, her head on his shoulder, Rebecca seemed comfortable and content. "I've missed this old place. Oh I know that there are cracks in some of the walls, and the roof needs redoing, but it's still all so beautiful."
"It certainly is." He couldn't help eyeing the impressive, leaded windows, and the thick growth of ivy around them. He had broken into houses like this in the past; made a good living out of it too; and this one looked a fine target. That was in his past though, at least for the time being, and he had no intention of robbing this place. And anyway, he had promised to be good.
"Daddy didn't think you'd appreciate it." She smiled up at him, enjoying his faint reaction to the insult. "He thinks everybody is a Philistine these days. So many houses like this have been sold now, to people with what Daddy calls 'new money'. I think he means people who actually did something to earn it, instead of having it passed down through generations, but he gets angry when I ask if that isn't a good thing."
"Traditions come and go." He ruffled her long, dark red hair. "The gentry have been in control of this country for a long, long time now. They're bound to get a bit snippy when somebody else looks like taking over."
"Well you'd know I suppose." She smiled. "But no saying anything like that to Daddy. If he moans about self-made men, and about how all the wealth belongs with the people who have always had it, it's best just to agree. Georgina argued with him once, and he didn't speak to her for a fortnight." She brightened suddenly, standing up straight and letting go of his arm. "Look! There she is now!"
"Who?" A long, jaunty-looking car was pulling up in front of the house, and he realised that she must be talking about her sister. "Oh."
"Oh come on Stephen. She's my twin sister and I haven't seen her since... well, since the last time, anyway. Now hurry up. I want to meet the boyfriend before she introduces him to Daddy. He'll be too cowed and conquered then to show his true colours."
"I know the feeling." He watched her as she ran off, then smiled and quickened his pace. She was a strange thing at times, but her exuberance was a pleasant change. Since leaving Butch and Sundance everybody else had seemed dull in comparison, which had made Rebecca's arrival in his life a welcome breath of air. Well, not so much 'breath of air' as 'raging hurricane', but welcome nonetheless. Up ahead the car screeched to a halt, and he saw the driver's door fly open. If Georgina was anything like her twin sister, he mused, then tyrannical fathers or no, this weekend might turn out to be the most fun he had had in years. He was feeling so optimistic that it should not really have come as a surprise at all when the sensation hit him.
It was a shock; like icy cold water or a burning hot flame; a rush of live wires through his head, all clamouring for attention. Georgina? The boyfriend? Bloody typical. And there was Rebecca, waving to him excitedly, calling him onwards to meet whoever it was that was currently making his spinal cord do back flips. How did he get himself into these things?
"Stephen! Stephen, come on!" She was practically bouncing again, so with a smile that came from years of insincerity, he quickened his step and went on over. At least his fellow Immortal couldn't do anything too deadly. Not here and now, at any rate.
"Stephen, you slow-coach. You may be older than you look, but do you really have to act it?" Seizing his sword arm, which made him feel ridiculously vulnerable even though he didn't have a weapon handy anyway, she gestured to the figure just emerging from the driver's side of the car. "This is my sister, Georgina. Georgie, this is Stephen. I met him on the boat back from Cairo. He's terribly badly behaved, and Daddy thinks that he's practically a barbarian, but I think he's sweet." She gestured at the girl and pushed Methos forward. "Well shake hands, for goodness sakes. You're supposed to be practising your good manners before you're let loose on the dinner party tonight."
"She's always accusing me of bad manners, too." Georgina, it transpired, was not Rebecca's identical twin, but instead was a grey-eyed brunette with the build and poise of a dancer. Methos shook her hand, sensing at once that she was not an Immortal. That was good; beheading a girlfriend's twin sister wasn't the best way to make a relationship last. He managed to make his smile a little more genuine, then switched his senses back on the alert. The boyfriend. It had to be.
He was climbing out of the car already, his movements lazy to the extreme; a tallish man, with short, dark blond hair grown in tight curls. His expression was one of open good humour, his eyes only very slightly cautious, and his lean frame entirely relaxed. Georgina gestured at him with all the excitable pride that Rebecca had shown when introducing Methos.
"This is my dinner guest," she said happily, and waved an introductory hand about with more than a little bit of theatrical flair. "My sister Rebecca, darling, and her companion. Stephen, wasn't it?"
"Pleased to meet you." He was coming around the car now, his manner gracious and warm, although his gaze did linger briefly on Methos. In his expensive suit and short cloak he looked vaguely like a swashbuckler lost in time - and the cane that he held with deceptive insouciance in one hand, and which was undoubtedly a sword-stick, helped to reinforce that impression. He gave a little bow, which made Rebecca laugh delightedly. "Hugh Fitzcairn, ma'am. Most assuredly at your service."
"It's nice to meet you, Mr Fitzcairn." She nudged Methos. "Isn't it Stephen."
"Hmm? Oh, yes." Managing to bolster his shallow smile, Methos shook the other Immortal's hand. He was trying to make himself feel better by remembering that the other fellow was probably just as thrown as he was, but it wasn't really helping. "Pleased to meet you, Mr Fitzcairn."
"Hugh." His hand was pumped with what felt like real enthusiasm. "Or Fitz. Never Mr Fitzcairn."
"I can sympathise." Which at that moment was mainly because he had forgotten his own supposed surname. It wasn't easy, being stuck with a name like Methos when the modern world much preferred John. Or at least this bit of it did, anyway. "So, er... did you have a good trip?"
"Oh yes. Absolutely." Fitz smiled, and pretended to wince. "Georgie here is a splendid driver. I do believe that we only knocked down the one policeman today."
"You toad." His mortal girlfriend, whose personality seemed very similar to that of her sister, punched him squarely on the shoulder. "Now carry the luggage in, the pair of you. I don't want poor Walter hurting his back."
"Walter likes carrying luggage." Methos had met the aged retainer earlier, and had got the distinct impression that there was nothing the poor fellow would like more than hurting his back in the service of the family. By the look of him servitude had been bred into his genes for generations. Rebecca scowled.
"Georgie's right. You two can carry the cases. Come on."
"I suppose that means that we're carrying the cases." Opening the boot with a look of resigned good humour, Fitz hoisted out two cases and handed them to Methos, then fished out another two cases himself. "Honestly, we're only here for the weekend, and she's got enough clothes here to dress half the county."
"I heard that." Already halfway up the front steps, Georgina paused to glare playfully at her companion. Methos was a little surprised to see the two mortals already so far away, and turned to hurry after them. He didn't much like the idea of being left alone with a strange Immortal when there was a sword-stick so clearly in evidence. Fitz had remained leisurely and unhurried in his movements however, and seemed content just to carry the cases.
"Quite a coincidence, isn't it," he offered, as they headed up the steps. "Twins, both choosing our kind."
"Ordinarily I don't believe in coincidences." Methos managed a half smile. "But I suppose you're right."
"You gave me quite a scare, old chap. There I was expecting a boring, if well-fed, weekend in the country, and suddenly my head starts bouncing on my shoulders." He slowed suddenly, the first sign of seriousness creeping into his otherwise easygoing expression. "So what's it to be? There are too many prying eyes in a place like this for a confrontation, and I'd rather not press the issue at all. Collecting heads always struck me as a waste of time, especially when my own gets put at risk in the process. Truce?"
"Yes." Methos wasn't going to admit to his own dislike for fighting, or confess his own distaste for death, but he was more than willing to accept the olive branch. It was as unexpected as this peculiar fellow's arrival in the first place, but he wasn't going to look a gift horse in the mouth. Not openly anyway. He was more the kind to sneak back later, when it had been put away in the stables, and give it a thorough examination then.
"Good." Fitz was positively beaming, but Methos wasn't quite so trusting. The man acted like a buffoon, but he might still be hoping for a Quickening before the weekend - even the day - was over. So much for a relaxing stay in the countryside.
"Ah. There you are." The voice of Lord Featherstone boomed through the entrance hall like a foghorn, and Methos winced. That really was all that he needed to make the moment perfect. He struggled again with his increasingly unhappy smile, and tried to look as though he wasn't about to drop the suitcases. At least Fitzcairn was looking equally alarmed.
"Daddy!" Georgina was hugging her fearsome father in a way that Methos couldn't imagine anybody ever doing by choice. With his ramrod straight poise and thunderous frown he looked the type of man that it was more advisable to run away from than happily run to, but then admittedly Methos wasn't his daughter. Presumably these things were different from Georgina's perspective.
"Georgina." The tall man endured the hug with the look of one who preferred all offspring to be kept at the proper distance, before producing what might be called a smile. "You said something about bringing a young fellow with you. Seen sense and left him behind, or have you actually managed to find somebody suitable this time?" His smile turned back into the disapproving expression of earlier, and Methos considered slipping away until the pleasantries were over. "You can't have done any worse than Rebecca here at any rate. Goodness only know where she found her latest flame."
"Daddy!" Incensed, Rebecca hurried back to hold Methos' hand, but had to give up when she found it tangled up with suitcases. The powerful mortal frowned at her, before recognising Methos and switching the frown to him instead.
"Oh, it's you." He said it as though disappointed that Methos hadn't managed to turn into somebody else since their earlier meeting. "What are you doing carrying all that luggage, man? We employ servants for that sort of thing you know."
"You employ Walter for that sort of thing, and he's not twenty anymore, Daddy. He could break his back carrying that lot." Georgina went over to stand beside Fitzcairn. "And this is my companion. Hugh Fitzcairn."
"Pleased to meet you, sir." Managing to produce another charming smile, Fitz lowered the cases to the ground in an effort to look more like a respectable suitor, and less like an unconventionally dressed footman. Featherstone glared at him.
"Are you? Can't imagine why. Not sure that I'm pleased to meet you." His imposing eyes turned back to Georgina. "What does he do? And he'd better not be some damned businessman."
"He's a painter, Daddy." Georgina spoke with the firm tone of voice of somebody who was used to Lord Featherstone's attitude. "He's got nothing to do with the business world, have you Fitz."
"Fitz? What kind of a name is Fitz?" Shaking his head, Featherstone gave Fitzcairn the most cursory of handshakes, then glared once more at Methos and turned to leave. "You people nowadays. 'Fitz'? Be expecting me to call myself 'Feather' next I suppose."
"Daddy..." Exasperated, but obviously amused, Georgina sighed at the departing back. "Oh well, that went better than it usually does."
"It did?" Fitz was still staring after the bigger man, wondering why it was that he felt so small. His mortal lady-friend nodded, with real feeling.
"Last time I brought somebody here, Daddy had him thrown out."
"And threatened him with a horse-whipping as I recall." Rebecca clearly remembered the incident with something approaching awe. "Georgie had the temerity to turn up for dinner with an industrialist on her arm. Daddy didn't stop raging about it until bedtime, and he still looked furious at breakfast."
"Perhaps now's not the time to tell him that I used to be an entrepreneur." Fitz shrugged, such things apparently being all water off a duck's back to him. "Well if he's good enough to let me stay for the weekend, I'm not going to complain. Not unless he goes for the horsewhip, anyway."
"If you behave the way you did last night, the horsewhip is the first thing he'll reach for." Georgina started to lead him up the stairs. "That or his shotgun. Come on. I'll show you to my room so that you can put the cases in there, but mind you stay out of it otherwise. I know the way that my sisters gossip, and I won't give them extra ammunition."
"Dear lady, as if I would ever do anything to risk your reputation." It wasn't easy to bow with his arms full of luggage, but Fitz made a fair stab at it. "Now lead on, before my hands drop off. Whatever you've got in these cases is doing a damned good impersonation of two hundred weight of lead."
"Mind your language, Fitz. Daddy doesn't mind words like that when it's him that's saying them, but if anybody else does he acts like it's the beginning of the breakdown of civilisation."
"Besides which, if our sister-in-law Mabel hears anything stronger than a 'drat' or an 'I say', she'll more than likely faint." Rebecca took the opportunity to shoot Methos a firm glare. "So you watch yourself as well. Your language can be colourful enough to make a chimney-sweep blush."
"You should have a list of rules printed out for your guests." Admiring the view through a window that they were passing on the stairs, Methos ignored Rebecca's withering glare. "I'll be damned if I can remember half of the things you've told me since you opened the invitation."
"Yes, well knowing you you've forgotten them on purpose." She smiled happily at him. "Now give those cases to Fitz. I don't think you should be going into Georgie's room even if it is just to carry luggage."
"Certainly." Smiling blithely, Methos loaded his burden onto the protesting Fitz, then caught hold of one of Rebecca's hands. "And now that we've done the dutiful bit..."
"No you can't sneak off back to the boat. You can help me to choose a dress for tonight, and then spend the rest of the afternoon being good. Georgie and I have heaps to catch up on, so you and Fitz can get to know each other better. We can all sit in the library and pretend to admire Daddy's collection of first editions."
"And hide from the rest of the family." Georgina was regarding Fitzcairn with a critical eye, obviously wondering whether or not to help him with his load before he dropped it all down the stairs. "Do you know who's coming tonight?"
"Just family. We're in for a terribly respectable evening, listening to our brothers and sisters discussing the loss of good old Victorian morals." Rebecca smiled brightly. "We're sure to be relegated to the less important end of the table though, so we can talk amongst ourselves."
"And you can tell me how you met Stephen." Georgina, who quite evidently was as gregarious and resolutely spirited as her twin, showed every sign of being the type to try digging up every detail of that encounter, which Methos wasn't entirely sure was a good idea. Fortunately Rebecca came to his aid.
"That is one story that definitely isn't being told inside this house. If Daddy found out he'd fix things so that I could never leave the country again."
"Sounds like fun." Georgina started to herd Fitz away across the landing. "We'll see you soon then."
"Yes. And do hurry, we've got such a lot to talk about."
"Don't I know it." Georgina finally deigned to rescue Fitz from imminent collapse beneath the luggage, by removing the smallest of the cases. That in itself nearly caused a landslide, but the beleaguered Immortal managed to keep everything balanced. Methos eyed the sword-stick, carefully held despite the rest of the load, and began planning how best to bring his own sword in from his car. No matter how friendly Fitzcairn seemed to make himself out to be, he was still a stranger with a sword, and Methos was still unarmed. He didn't want to keep things that way for much longer. He watched the pair as they walked out of sight, and wondered if Georgina knew as much about Fitz as Rebecca knew about him. It was probably immaterial. After all, knowing the truth wasn't going to change the fact that one of the girls might well have lost their escort by the end of the weekend. The thought did little to improve his mood, and thinking sorry thoughts of the fun and relaxation he had been hoping for during this trip, he turned about and dutifully followed Rebecca to her bedroom. Maybe she would console him; although with the spectre of her father hanging over the house it didn't seem very likely. He couldn't even go in search of beer.
All in all this weekend was shaping up to be something either very unpleasant or very boring. He wondered which would be worse, and decided that he was probably going to be stuck with both. It would be just his luck if he spent the next day and a half being bored rigid, and then wound up losing his head to the dandy with the sword-stick.
Some things never changed.
Dinner, despite his misgivings, was interesting. There were fourteen people around the table altogether, and it soon became obvious that ten of them were sneering at the other four. With his wife, two sons, two eldest daughters and assorted in-laws on his side, Lord Featherstone was in his element, casting disapproving glances at his two youngest daughters and muttering about how dreadfully degenerate society had recently become. Rebecca and Georgina, who were obviously used to the situation, took it all with their usual gentle humour, and beamed fondly at their father whenever his thunderous glare managed to reach as far as their distant end of the table. Fitzcairn also took it all in his stride, smiling at everybody, making toasts every time his glass was refilled, and cracking jokes that only the twins seemed to appreciate. Methos wouldn't have been surprised if the effervescent Englishman had burst into song, and found himself speculating just how Fitz had come to face his First Death. Surely somebody must have killed him through sheer annoyance? It certainly looked as though the redoubtable Lord Featherstone was considering that option.
Never one for large gatherings at the best of times, Methos was hardly in his element during dinner, particularly with Fitzcairn putting such energy into his portrayal of an amiable clot. It had been a particularly tough meal in all respects, from the strangely tasteless soup to the profusion of impressively scorched bread rolls, and Fitz's colourful jokes and boundless supply of odd anecdotes didn't exactly make the going easier. Rebecca and Georgina giggled into their glasses, Featherstone glowered at everything that moved, and his wife, smiling happily, ignored everybody in favour of the meal. It was nice to know that somebody was enjoying it, thought Methos, as he struggled manfully with the third course. Of everything so far it had been the most trying; an extraordinary sauce obliterating some largely inedible fish, pickled onions, and what looked like two hundred weight of barely cooked vegetables, and even Fitz's enthusiasm had been dampened by it. With his incorrigible desire to be nice to everybody temporarily laid aside, he was no longer attracting quite so much attention, which meant that Methos found himself at last beginning to relax. It was a sign of how much he liked Rebecca, he decided, that he was prepared to put himself through such indignities just to keep her happy; but even so he was determinedly wishing himself elsewhere. The first visit to meet a girl's family never got easy, even after five thousand years.
It was as the staff were clearing away the remains of the disastrous fish, and were beginning to wheel in the trolleys that warned of more food yet to come, that Methos began to realise something was wrong. One of the brothers-in-law - he was just about conversant with their names to be fairly certain that it was not David, the brewery owner - was beginning to look distinctly uncomfortable. Moving restlessly in his seat he tugged at his collar, earning himself a fearsome glare from Featherstone. He smiled an embarrassed apology, tried to sit still, then dabbed restlessly at his forehead with a napkin. Already unimpressed with the cooking, Methos looked suspiciously at what remained of the fish.
"Montgomery, dear, if you're not feeling well just say so." The ailing fellow's wife - either Louisa or Madeline, Methos couldn't remember which - was showing a typical lack of real concern. "Would you like a glass of water?"
"Um... No. No thankyou dear." Montgomery smiled at her, managing to look terribly apologetic and desperately ill at the same time. "I just... just might lie down for a while though. Suddenly feel a bit peculiar."
"Why don't I help you into the sitting room, old chap?" Rising to his feet one of the Featherstone sons, neither of whose names Methos could even slightly remember just at the moment, hurried around to where Montgomery was making a brave attempt to rise to his feet. He was still smiling apologetically, trying to mutter his regrets for causing a ruckus at the table, while Lord Featherstone made disapproving noises into his wine glass. Perhaps it was long experience, perhaps it was just instinct, but Methos already knew what was coming next.
"I'm - I'm dreadfully sorry for the interruption." Making it halfway to his feet, Montgomery surveyed everybody with a look that was the picture of absent-mindedness. "I..." He paused, frowning, then wiped his face once again with his napkin, wobbling dangerously when the movement caused him to take his hand off the back of his chair. Whichever member of the family it was who had gone to offer his support made a wild grab for him as he teetered, but missed, and stared aghast as the hapless Montgomery crashed down onto the table. His wine spilled copiously, and the footman dropped most of the fourth course. Methos couldn't help feeling relieved about that, even though it was all too apparent that Montgomery was dead.
"Monty dear, don't be melodramatic." Moving aside as a river of red wine threatened to spoil her dress, his wife dabbed ineffectually at the mess with a tiny silk handkerchief. "Come on now, get up and go into the sitting room. Have you been drinking too much?"
"I don't think he's drunk, Madeline." Featherstone was rising to his feet, his impressive frame giving him a natural authority. His daughter ceased her useless attempts at tidying up, and gave her collapsed husband a closer look. If his staring eyes and slack jaw were not clue enough, his unmoving body certainly was. Inwardly Methos groaned. Why was it so difficult for him to have a quiet weekend?
"Hadn't you better do something?" Staring at her dead brother-in-law with a look of horrible fascination, Rebecca nudged her immortal companion's arm in less than subtle fashion. He frowned.
"You're a doctor!" She tore her eyes away from the body and stared instead at Methos. "Look I know you like to stay incognito, but now..."
"Have you any idea how long ago I qualified as a doctor?" He had visions of some investigative police detective trying to check up on his credentials, and knew full well what would happen when the check didn't find any record of his name on the medical register. Fitz, meanwhile, had risen to his feet.
"I'd stop eating and drinking anything, if I were you." He took a glass of wine from the hand of one of the brothers, and gave it an experimental sniff. "Although the rest of us still seem to be alright, so perhaps there's no immediate danger."
"What?" Featherstone glared up at him. "Are you trying to tell me that by son-in-law was poisoned?"
"It certainly looks that way, sir." Fitzcairn was clearly enjoying himself. Somehow Methos found that he wasn't terribly surprised. He hadn't known the fellow for more than a few hours, but already he was coming to the conclusion that the two of them couldn't possibly have been more different. Featherstone's glare, meanwhile, was growing more fierce than ever before.
"Well who in hell would want to poison Montgomery?" He rose to his feet, kicking his chair aside, and ignoring his shocked wife. She was still reeling from his explosive language, which was clearly a greater social faux pas in her opinion than the relatively minor offence of being murdered at the dinner table. Fitz shook his head thoughtfully, managing to look startlingly learned despite his attitude earlier in the evening.
"Did he have any enemies?" Apparently he had been reading too many detective novels. Methos rolled his eyes. He was going to get dragged into this soon, he knew it. He could see it coming. Perhaps it wasn't too late to try hiding under the table.
"Of course he didn't have any enemies!" David, the other brother-in-law, and the one that owned the brewery, was on his feet as well now. Of all of them he seemed to be the only one who was actually concerned about Montgomery's death, rather than the fact that it had ruined dinner. "Who'd want to kill him? We're all friends here. All known each other for years." His eyes narrowed, and Methos sighed. Here it came. "All except you."
"That's true." One of the brothers, whom Methos was reasonably certain was named Richard, was also looking suspicious now. "There are only two people here that we don't know. Two people we've never met before. The rest of us have known Monty for... well, forever."
"Now wait just a minute." Fitzcairn was affronted. "I'd never met the fellow before. Why would I want to kill him?"
"Why does anybody want to kill anybody?" Featherstone's familiar glare was directed at everybody now, and with an impatient gesture he sent the servants scurrying from the room. There were some things that the hired help were definitely not supposed to see or hear. "There must be some other explanation. He must have... have choked on a fishbone or something."
"We should call the police." Lady Featherstone, an impressively aristocratic woman very much in the mould of the old gentry, was fanning herself now with a place-mat. "Shouldn't we? Isn't that what one does?"
"It might be what other people do." Featherstone leant over the body, clearly not believing his own assertion that it must have been a fishbone. "But I don't intend to have this family spread all over the front pages of the newspapers. We'll handle this."
"But dear..." His wife trailed off at his thunderous look. "Shall I have Cook make us some coffee?"
"Not just now." Folding his arms, Featherstone stared around at the assorted company. Richard was trying to trying to clear up some of the mess Montgomery's collapse had made of the tablecloth, and David was pacing in agitation. Only the women of the family seemed calm, although Methos was well aware that they were watching him. Him and Fitz, the only two strangers present, neither one of whom could really prove that they were who they claimed to be. It was plain bloody typical, and he was sure that he should have seen it coming. The only chance now was to keep a low profile, and hope that something would turn up before somebody decided to make their accusations official. Surely even Fitzcairn could manage something as simple as a low profile? Apparently not.
"Friends." He had taken a pipe from one of his pockets, and was gesturing expansively with it. Sherlock Holmes he wasn't, but by the look of it he wanted to be. Methos groaned. "Friends, we're getting nowhere by making these foolish accusations, suspecting each other for no real reason. We have to examine the clues. Check the evidence. Find a motive."
"I've got a suggestion." Richard glanced up from his unnecessary exertions, his face flushed with anger. "You and this other interloper haven't been seen by anybody all day. You turn up just before dinner, with nobody's word but your own as to where you've been. None of us knows who you are except for Georgina and Rebecca, neither one of whom has ever shown the slightest bit of sense where men are concerned. As for a motive - well if you're planning to make your relationship with my sister permanent, Mr Fitzcairn, I would imagine that you would want to get as many rivals for the inheritance out of the way first. Makes sense to me."
"It makes perfect sense." David looked alarmed. "And if that's your game, none of us are safe." His expression became even more disturbed. "Not even the ladies."
"You're frightening the women, David. Don't be so damned melodramatic." Featherstone poured himself a large glass of wine, and drank it down in one swallow. "There, you see? No poison. Damn silly theory anyway, given that we've all been drinking the same stuff all night. If there's any murdering going on here, we'll find it out - but we won't go causing a panic in the process."
"Yes sir." David lowered his head. "Would you like us to remove the body, sir?"
"I think so. You and Richard take it to the cellar, then join the rest of us back in here. We might as well still have our brandy and cigars, even if the rest of the meal has been ruined. I think perhaps it might be time for the women to depart for the drawing room." He stared pointedly around the table. "If you're still hungry, perhaps one of the servants could find you something in the kitchens?"
"I'm not sure that eating would be entirely appropriate, Arthur." Rising haughtily to her feet, Lady Featherstone cast a sad look upon the unfortunate Monty. "Are you sure that we shouldn't call the police dear? If somebody has--"
"No police officer has set foot inside this house yet, Beatrice, and I have no intention of changing that. This family is one of the last left in England untouched by scandal and blasted tittle-tattle. I won't be gossiped about in the village, or read about in the newspapers. We'll handle this ourselves."
"All fine and commendable of course." Fitzcairn was puffing on his unlit pipe, still looking oddly as though he were enjoying himself. "But do you really think it's safe to send the ladies off alone if there's a murderer in our midst?"
"They'll be safe enough unless one of them is the killer." Featherstone eyed him sourly. "And if you're suggesting that..."
"Well... not entirely, no." Fitz hesitated, rather put off by the sheer force of the scowl. "But it's possible that it might be a servant - isn't it? Somebody who could have slipped the poison into just Montgomery's food or glass?" He smiled uneasily at the many faces now staring at him, and gestured vaguely with his pipe. "Well, isn't it?"
"Unlikely, but not impossible I suppose." Featherstone smiled unkindly at him. "But if you're so certain that the ladies are in danger, perhaps you'd better be the one to sit with them." He waved a hand towards his younger son. "Daniel, you go along as well. Just in case Fitzhugh here isn't all he claims to be."
"That's Fitzcairn, sir. Hugh Fitzcairn. I can see how you might be confused..." Fitzcairn looked suddenly indignant. "What do you mean, in case I'm not all I claim to be?"
"Because he suspects you of murder, sir, as do us all." Richard looked to Methos with obvious hostility. "You'll remain in here, I think. Just to be on the safe side."
"But why do I have to go with the women?" Distinctly unimpressed by the suggestion, Daniel looked sulky and immature. His father fixed him with a steely gaze.
"Because I need somebody I can trust," he said, with all the sincerity of any parent trying to con a child into doing something they didn't want to do. "And because I'm telling you to go. You have a responsibility to your family, Daniel."
"Yes Father." Suitably cowed he went to stand beside his mother, although she did not seem particularly anxious to leave the room. Together the family waited, cold and silent, as David and Richard set to work lifting their fellow guest from the table. Rebecca held Methos' hand so tightly that he could feel her fingers digging into his skin, and he tried to smile at her encouragingly. Nearby Fitz was distracting Georgina's attention with remarkable care, using the charm that had so annoyed Methos during dinner to keep her mind from dwelling on the present. Not such a clown after all, then, and not so self-centred as he sometimes appeared. The old man found that he was glad about that, for there was going to be no shared support amongst the members of the Featherstone family tonight, that much was clear.
The women retired slowly, once the grisly work of removing Montgomery's body had been completed. Even the poor fellow's grieving widow had by then adopted the general family attitude of carrying on as much as normal, and only the twins seemed unduly affected. Methos was amazed. He had seen a great deal in his life, and that included cultures and civilisations that had thought nothing of death - but to see such insensitivity here was a shock. He had never met Montgomery before, and had only spoken to him during their cursory introduction earlier, and yet it seemed that he was more sorry for the fellow's death than was his own widow. And that, he thought, without much humour, was quite something coming from a man as studiedly cold and aloof as himself. He thought of poor Monty now, growing cold down in the cellar, and wondered idly who had killed him and why. Featherstone seemed content to ignore the issue, and his sons and sons-in-law obviously thought - or were happy to spread the idea - that Methos and Fitzcairn were responsible; but somebody had put poison into Montgomery' meal. Not being particularly anxious for Rebecca to be the next victim, he tried running a few theories through his head, but couldn't really come up with anything. He just didn't know enough about the deceased.
"What are we going to do?" There had been silence for some time, as the men of the family drank their brandy and puffed cigar smoke at each other. They had offered their after dinner luxuries to Methos as well - presumably the courtesies of hospitality still applied even when you were a murder suspect - but he had refused. There was still a lot of wine left over from the meal, and he preferred that to the brandy. Poison was hardly going to bother him after all, and if everybody else was too scared to drink it, it would only go to waste - and that would be a crying shame.
"Do about what?" David's sudden question had destroyed the peace, and Featherstone seemed to take that as a personal insult. His son-in-law fidgeted awkwardly under the sharp scrutiny.
"Well... what I meant was..."
"Don't be too rough on David, Father." Richard had obviously been thinking along similar lines to his brother-in-law. "There has been a murder. It feels as though we're being just a little cavalier about it all."
"And you'd rather I took your mother's advice and called in the police, I suppose? Filled up this house with men in blue uniforms, and detectives asking impertinent questions, disturbing the smooth running of the place? There'd be newspapermen and trespassers of all sorts before morning; people looking through the windows, tramping all over the garden, treating us like some damned show for their amusement. I won't do it, Richard, and you can call me old and stupid if you like."
"I don't think that you're stupid - or particularly old for that matter. I just don't think that we can sweep this under the carpet. Any one of us might be a target."
"Perhaps." Featherstone gave his cigar a few more puffs, then leaned forward and ground it out with massive force into a huge black ashtray. "So what do you suggest? Interrogating everyone?"
"We should probably ask the servants some questions, yes." Richard poured some more brandy into his no doubt ridiculously expensive crystal glass. "But I think we should also consider one or two other possibilities. We have good reason to suspect the only two strangers here today - people we know nothing about - but what about the people who brought them here? They do stand to gain more in terms of the inheritance than their 'gentleman' friends do if the rest of us are pushed out of the way first."
"You suspect Georgina and Rebecca of conspiring to murder?" Featherstone's huge white moustache bristled in fury, and Methos considered doing likewise. It wasn't really in his nature to go springing to somebody's defence, but his fondness for Rebecca almost pushed that fact aside. As it was he settled for doing a lot of glaring, and wished that Featherstone wasn't staring his way in obvious anticipation of some act of gallantry. Methos had his own views on chivalry, and they didn't generally extend to arguing with people of Richard's size and build.
"I don't want to suspect them, Father. " Richard didn't sound at all sincere, which was much as Methos might have expected from the obviously spoilt oldest child of absurdly wealthy parents. The fact that his parents were actually no longer absurdly wealthy, in common with most members of their social class these days had obviously not stopped him mentally working out how much his own inheritance would be improved if it turned out that his sisters truly were guilty. Methos could practically see his fingers twitching in readiness to rake in all the extra money. "But can you really think of any other possibilities? How else could these two have known about us?"
"Lots of ways." David was staring into his brandy glass with a faintly dopey expression. "Don't let's be too hasty, Richard - accusing Rebecca and Georgina isn't exactly brotherly, is it."
"And besides." Annoyed that he was being so completely ignored, save for the occasional spiked glare, Methos rose to his feet. He had, he now began to realise, drunk rather too much of the left over wine, but it was too late to worry about that now. "Nobody has even asked me and Fitz-whatever if we're guilty."
"That would undoubtedly be rather pointless." His moment of fairness having obviously only been for the benefit of the twins, David glanced up from his brandy long enough to deliver another glare, then stood up. He seemed unsteady, which Methos could definitely sympathise with. After five thousand years, he should have learnt how much he could drink without starting to feel decidedly droopy. He faced the haughty David wondering whether it was going to be the interrogator or his victim that fell over first.
"How long have you known Fitzcairn?" David slurred his words a little, but still sounded clear enough. Methos glanced at the clock.
"About six hours. We met when Georgina arrived. Anyway, the man's infuriating. I wouldn't choose him for a partner if I was desperate."
"Very convincing." Richard also stood up, considerably more steady even though he had drunk more than David. "Just who the hell are you, anyway?"
"My name is Stephen." He tried to remember what career Rebecca had chosen for him, but failed. Had there been something to do with research? That was what came of letting her to the talking too much of the time - she was more familiar with the story than he was. The truth - that he had no job currently, and was living off the proceeds of a lengthy career robbing stagecoaches, trains and banks in the United States - wasn't really the sort of thing that he could tell anybody here. He tried a different tack. "Look, I have no reason to want to kill Montgomery. You know that. With all due respect, if it was an inheritance issue, why would I kill him when I'm not even married to Rebecca? I'm not going to inherit anything, am I? And why start with an in-law? Not the most logical place."
"He was as much a part of my will as my own children." Featherstone leaned back in his chair, arms folded across his broad chest. "And it seems to me as though you've thought this through fairly carefully. That's not the mark of an innocent man."
"It is when he keeps being accused of things." Methos wondered if this was what Fitzcairn was facing in the drawing room, and thought rude things about the hand of fate that had given the aggravating sod both twins for moral support. "You've got no proof of anything. If I was to leave this house now, the chances are there'd still be more murders. It'd serve you right as well."
"You're not going anywhere." David took a step towards him, wobbled, and nearly fell. "We might not be calling the police in to investigate, but we're still going to have a murderer to deal with in the end. If that's you then you're damn well going to be here to face the music." He wobbled again, and grabbed the back of a chair for support. "So stand still, and stop jigging about like you're planning to make a break for it."
"I'm not jigging about." Methos had been standing completely still, although admittedly he had been thinking about running. "Now listen, I-"
"No more excuses." David was wobbling noticeably now, and there was sweat breaking out on his brow. It was obvious what was wrong with him, and it left Methos in something of a quandary. He could tell the fool to sit down and take it easy; try to use his medicinal skills to make some sort of difference - and consequently look extra-specially guilty when the inevitable happened; or he could stay where he was and watch a man die, without doing anything to help. His sharp mind was already weighing the odds, and telling him to stay where he was. He didn't move.
"David, are you alright?" Richard was looking concerned now, beginning to climb to his feet. David didn't look at him.
"Don't think so actually. Might have drunk a bit too much brandy." He managed a half smile, still staring at Methos. "Damned embarrassing, but at least the ladies aren't here. I was thinking of lying down..."
"Young people these days can never hold their drink." Featherstone was still looking disapproving. "Don't know what's wrong with you all."
"I'm terribly sorry, sir." Pain creased David's brow and he rubbed at his chest. "It won't happen again." He frowned hard, and Methos knew that the mortal's vision was failing him. Could Featherstone really not have noticed? Breaking his own resolve, he stepped forward, but was not even halfway there before David's expression went suddenly blank. He collapsed without a sound.
"David!" Richard hurried forwards, shooting Methos a look that froze him momentarily in his tracks. "Damnation, David. What's wrong?"
"I think you're a little late to ask that." Methos crouched beside the fallen body, checking the pulse with a shake of his head. "He's dead."
"Then you'd better back away, hadn't you. Very slowly." The venom in Richard's voice was a sharp contrast to his earlier façade of a typically doltish aristocrat. Methos moved back automatically.
"I didn't kill him." The words came out even though he hadn't yet been accused. "I was no nearer to him than you were."
"But we know that we didn't kill him." Richard's eyes strayed to David's glass. "Why him, and not us? And how did you do it?"
"I didn't." Methos resisted the temptation to go over to the table and wave David's glass like a flag. "I didn't go near the table, or the tray that the brandy was brought in on. I've just been over at the counter drinking the wine. You know that. You've been glaring at me since you came back in the room."
"You've got an accomplice. I don't know what that fellow with the pipe has been doing all this time, but he could have done anything."
"With your brother watching him?" Methos was angry, and was fast approaching the point where rational thought was growing hard. "It's far more likely--"
"I'm not interested in 'far more likely'. Just in what has happened to my brother-in-law." Richard rose up slowly, leaving the fallen figure sprawled on the cold, polished tiles. "And you're going to tell me."
"He was poisoned." Methos spoke coldly. "Not the same kind of poison as the stuff that killed Montgomery, at a guess - unless he was given less. It didn't have as quick an effect." He shook his head in exasperation, aware that he was digging himself in deeper. "If I was you I'd worry about who's going to be next."
"There isn't going to be any 'next'. Not with the two of you under guard." Richard looked across at his father, who had been watching proceedings with an uncharacteristic reserve. "Father?"
"Ring the bell, by all means." Featherstone glanced down at David, and gave his head a sorry shake. "This hasn't exactly been the evening that I'd planned, with two of my daughters widowed." He looked old all of a sudden, and Methos could almost have been sorry for him - had he been feeling a little more charitable to the family as a whole.
"We'll soon have everything dealt with, Father." Richard rang the bell for the servants, and moments later the immaculate butler appeared in the doorway. He looked at David, and like any well trained butler assessed the situation in moments. He showed no reaction of course, but merely looked, without emotion, to the seated lord. Featherstone waved an arm at him.
"Have somebody help you take David down to the cellar, if you'd be so good. There's no need for the ladies to see him. We're going to be in the drawing room."
"Very good, my lord." The butler made a short bow, then vanished from the room. Featherstone heaved himself upright.
"No doubt this'll be all over the house in minutes," he muttered irritably. "Damn servants'll be chattering like monkeys before David's body is lying next to Montgomery's. The whole thing will be all over the village by tomorrow."
"Nobody can use the telephone without your permission, Father, and we'll tell everybody that they're not to leave the house tonight." Richard's cold eyes centred on Methos again. "Especially him and his friend."
"He's not my friend." He had got tired of denying his guilt, and decided to think mean thoughts of Fitzcairn instead. Why was he getting to sit with the girls, instead of being stuck in here with all the suspicion? Richard just smiled unpleasantly.
"Start heading for the drawing room. You can go first. I don't want you behind me."
"I'm not sure I want you behind me." Methos knew that he was hardly going to get any sympathy on that score, and turned towards the door without any further argument. His anger at being accused of the murders was rapidly dissipating into a sort of sulky irritation, and escape had become his priority. It was clearly time to leave these fools to get murdered one by one, by whoever was really behind all of this. Rebecca's face floated unbidden into his mind, and he wondered if he could really leave her behind. Part of him - the oldest part, probably - said yes. The rest wasn't quite so certain.
"You don't think that anything is likely to have happened to the women?" The thought had apparently only just occurred to Richard, which hinted to Methos that this was not a man who was merely covering his own tracks by denouncing the Immortal. One suspect down then, maybe. Featherstone merely mumbled something about how improper it was to murder women. Methos might have found his attitude amusing if he hadn't had genuine concerns for Rebecca. He led the way at a steady pace, not especially fast, and stopped at the drawing room door. He didn't open it.
"What are we going to tell Louisa?" Richard had stepped forward to take hold of the rather grand doorknobs, but he stopped with his hand halfway there. His father glared at him from beneath his beetling white brows.
"Don't prevaricate, boy." He might have been subdued lately, but the power of personality was still there. Richard looked decidedly abashed.
"Sorry, Father." He turned back to the doors, opened them wide, and pushed Methos through them. The Immortal had to struggle not to stumble, and only just succeeded. Of all the pairs of eyes turned towards him, he saw comprehension dawning in about half - then gradually, over the next few moments, it came to the others as well. Louisa stood up, a delicate cup of coffee in one hand, the saucer falling from her lap onto the floor. Methos watched it bounce on the thick rug at her feet, then lie there unbroken. It was white, and covered in tiny pink roses, and its glaze was so bright that he could see Louisa reflected in it, for a fraction of a second before she moved away. She ran to Madeline without speaking a word, and the two recent widows stared back at their older brother with eyes that spoke of habitual emotional control. It was Georgina who asked the question in the end.
"What happened?" She had asked Methos, but he didn't answer. Richard beat him to it, assuming that the question had been directed at him in the first place.
"He was poisoned, just like Monty. Well, maybe not exactly like him. It didn't work so quickly." His expression darkened suddenly. "And rather than asking questions, Georgina, perhaps you should be apologising to your sister. It was you that brought one of the killers here. You and Rebecca, being thoughtless as always."
"I beg your pardon?" Fitzcairn looked up from the glass of sherry that he had been drinking, his eyes innocently rounded. "She brought me here, that's all. And I haven't killed anybody." He frowned and opened his mouth, leaving Methos with the horrible suspicion that he was about to add the codicil: "recently;" but apparently he thought the better of it. Richard shot him a contemptuous look and didn't bother replying.
"We all know that you're guilty. There's nobody else that could be." Daniel, who had gone pale at the realisation that there had been a second murder, clearly wanted his suspicions to be correct. If the killers were under close guard the chances of him being the next victim were greatly reduced.
"Oh don't be so damn silly, Danny." Rebecca went straight to Methos, slipping an arm around his waist. "Are you alright, Stephen?"
"Yes." Oddly glad of her presence, he smiled down at her. "You haven't had anything-?"
"I wasn't exactly hungry." Her eyes were faintly accusing as she looked around at the others, most of whom had apparently been eating something. "I didn't have anything to drink, either."
"Good." By the look of things everyone save Daniel and Fitz had been drinking coffee, but since they seemed to have finished with it some time ago, and nobody was looking at all ill, it was unlikely that any of them were in any immediate danger from that source. The same innocuousness couldn't necessarily be presumed about the little sandwiches on their dramatically engraved silver server, but he didn't say anything. It would only lead to further accusations. Fitzcairn, meanwhile, had produced his pipe again, and had resumed his impression of a somewhat unruly Sherlock Holmes.
"Did David eat or drink anything that the rest of you didn't?" he asked, looking as thoughtful as was possible for somebody of a generally rather irreverent nature. Nobody else seemed inclined to answer, so Methos shook his head.
"They were all drinking brandy," he supplied, wondering why exactly he was fuelling Fitzcairn's play acting. It wasn't as though it was likely to be of any use.
"Hmm." Fitz puffed on his pipe some more, than offered Methos an entirely inappropriate grin. "Doesn't help us much."
"Nothing is likely to do that." Richard turned to his father. "You agree that they must be responsible?"
"I'm inclined to imagine so." The old lord sighed deeply. "I'm disappointed in you girls, being so damned gullible as to bring these two here. They're obviously in this together." He crossed to the tray of coffee things, and poured himself a cup, then turned away without bothering to pick it up. "We'll lock them in the old nursery. It's mostly empty now, and there's nothing in there but a few old chairs. They can't hurt anybody if they're locked up, and the rest of us can take the time to decide what to do about all of this."
"Now see here." Fitzcairn sounded incensed. "This really isn't very friendly. We came here for a nice weekend in the country, and suddenly we're being accused of murder. I thought you types were supposed to be all welcoming, and ready to offer hospitality to everybody? Not being too damned hospitable to us, are you."
"Hospitality tends to go out of the window once people start being murdered." Featherstone fixed the immortal pair with a steely glare. "Now will you go quietly? You're going up to that nursery whatever happens, and with a few servants to back us up we'll be more than able to deal with you if you resist. You can walk up like gentlemen, or you can be dragged up. I don't care."
"You can't lock them up, Father. It's absurd." Still holding onto Methos, Rebecca stared up at Featherstone in angry disbelief. "They're not killers. How could they be? Neither one of them had the opportunity to put anything into any glasses, or into anybody's food. It's far more likely--"
"Never you mind, young lady." Featherstone had crossed to a large oaken cabinet on the far side of the room, and pulled from the top drawer a heavy looking pistol. It looked several decades old, but it gleamed with the look of a weapon that had been well cared for over the years. Almost certainly it was still in working order, and Methos had no desire to see that proved one way or another. He exchanged another glance with Fitz, who shrugged, unhelpfully, and carried on puffing at his still unlit pipe. Methos could cheerfully have hit him.
"We'll come quietly," he said, trying to remember exactly why he had agreed to come to this confounded place. Rebecca looked sour.
"If you lock them up you'll have to lock me up as well," she announced dramatically. Her various relatives sighed, although Georgina nodded her agreement.
"And me. You can't just take them away."
"Yes we can." Featherstone's powerful glare was fixed on her now. "Alright, if you want to be with them, so be it. Just don't turn your backs on them, and if we send up anything for you to eat, don't let them touch it first. Understood?"
"Oh for goodness sakes, Father..." Rebecca gave up. "Yes, we understand. But you shouldn't turn your back on anybody either. Somebody here is a killer, and I know that it isn't Stephen."
"And I know that it isn't Fitz." Georgina took her suitor's hand as though to prove this assertion. "You'll see that, when there's another death and they're still locked up."
"I hope not." Elaine, Daniel's wife and one of the only two in-laws left alive, obviously thought that it was likely she would be next. Methos was rather inclined to share that assumption, but since he wasn't entirely sure that he was prepared to do anything about it even if he wasn't locked up, he decided not to be too concerned. These mortals were annoying him, anyway.
"Shall I call the servants for an escort?" Already hovering by the bell, Daniel looked as though he wanted several guns as well as some more muscle, but his father shook his head.
"I don't want them involved any more than they have to be. I don't trust all of them not to blab. No, we'll handle this ourselves where we can." He waved the pistol at Methos. "Can I assume that the pair of you will act like gentlemen?"
"Always, sir. Always." Bowing low, Fitz beamed at everybody. "Especially when there are ladies present. I do think, though, that--"
"I don't care what you think." Featherstone looked even less friendly towards Fitzcairn than Methos was feeling, which right at that moment was very unfriendly indeed. The old Immortal was prepared to admit that it was entirely unfounded, but being accused of murder, not to mention being locked up, unarmed, with a man holding a sword-stick, was never the sort of thing likely to put him in a charitable mood. Nonetheless he nodded in agreement with the talk of behaving like gentlemen, and preceded the remaining members of the family out of the room. He made sure that Fitz went first though. Even if he wasn't likely to try anything with his sword right now, with so many witnesses, that much still seemed like good sense.
The old nursery turned out to be a pleasant enough room, and fairly spacious, with pale yellow walls and a number of religious and supposedly character-improving wall hangings. As the door was shut and locked upon the unpopular quartet, Fitz turned about to examine the place like a surveyor planning to buy.
"This isn't bad, as nurseries go," he announced in the end, with an enthusiasm that was almost believable. "Bit Protestant in the décor for my liking, but that's always been a fault of modern England."
"Shut up Fitz." Georgina didn't sound angry, but the events of the evening had obviously caught up with her. She sat down heavily on the window seat, and turned to look out at the garden, beyond the sturdy iron bars. "I always did hate these windows. I thought it was like a prison here, and now that's exactly what it is."
"It's alright." Fitzcairn sat beside her, taking a moment to show a soft and considerate side to his personality. "They'll let us out eventually."
"Yes, and how many of them will be left by then? Two of them are dead. Two! It could be one of my brothers or sisters next, or my parents. I don't want to be shut away up here. I want the police to come."
"It's doubtful that they'd do anything more than your father has." Methos gave the door an experimental shake, and had to conclude that it was as solid as a door had any right to be. "We're the most likely suspects, and they'd be sure to take us into custody. There's hardly any evidence to prove that we're not guilty, is there."
"And you promised me that there wouldn't be any funny business." Rebecca took his hands with a smile. "I should have known better than to bring you here."
"This isn't my fault." Methos guided her gently into a chair, then turned to Fitz. "But what about you? I don't know you, and I tend to be very suspicious of people carrying swords."
"I like swords, and I have a suspicion that you probably do as well." He frowned. "And besides, nobody here has been killed by a sword."
"Doesn't alter the fact that I don't trust you." Methos knew full well that it was unlikely Fitzcairn would have a motive for the killings, but in his experience many Immortals didn't need motives, particularly when mortals were involved. Georgina glared at him, showing a remarkable resemblance to certain other members of her family when she did so.
"That's nasty," she said, looking accusingly at Rebecca as though Methos' accusations were somehow her sister's fault. "And unproductive."
"Very likely." Rebecca joined her twin, the better to be able to see both Methos and Fitz. "Now what is it between you two, anyway. You've been glaring at each other since you met, and you were on edge even before the murders started." Her voice faltered a little over the word 'murder', but she carried bravely on. Methos smiled at her, allowing his bad mood to relent a little. It was easy to forget how hard this must have been for the twins. The family put on such a strong face because that was the way of things for them - but the twins at least obviously cared for their relatives, and needed to mourn - let alone worry about what might happen next.
"Maybe we're incompatible." Fitz's eyes were a little hostile, although still the humour remained. "I never did like blokes with dark hair." He smiled, before adding, rather incomprehensibly, "Still, at least this one's English."
"I'm not--" Methos didn't bother continuing with that one. "And I haven't been on edge."
"Yes you have." Rebecca frowned up at him. "You don't really think that Fitz is the killer?"
"Rebecca!" Georgina was angry. Fitz just raised an eyebrow, regarding Methos in silent query. The old Immortal sighed and shook his head.
"No, not really. I think he's an annoying pain in the... neck... but I don't think he's the killer."
"Grand of you to say so, sir." Fitz gave another of his bows. "And just for the record, laddie, I may carry a sword, but I only use it when circumstances demand. I don't fight people who don't attack me first."
Methos nodded. He believed it. Fitzcairn was something of a dandy, and clearly a born charmer; he liked to bow, and speak in flowery sentences, and he obviously knew that doing so annoyed Methos - but he didn't look like an evil man. In fact he looked just the opposite. Summoning up a half-hearted smile, he turned his mind to more likely suspects. Not Fitz, not Richard. The earlier encounter had led him to write off Daniel and Elaine too. Her fear at least had been real.
"Who do you think will be next?" Georgina's question matched the process of Methos' own thoughts, and he offered her an apologetic shrug.
"It would help if we had a motive," was all that he could say in answer. Fitz nodded thoughtfully. He had his pipe ready, and was back to impersonating Sherlock Holmes.
"Means, motive, opportunity," he said with authority. Methos glared at him.
"If you say anything about it being 'elementary' I'll do something painful with that sword of yours." His only answer was a wry smirk. Rebecca sighed.
"Are you two going to start being nice to each other any time soon? I don't want to spend the rest of the day locked in here with a pair of squabbling children."
"Ouch." Clearly feeling that the rebuke had been directed at Methos, and not at him, Fitzcairn couldn't chase away a smirk. Already in the act of glaring, Methos felt his ire rise still further, and wished that there was some way to retaliate. He smiled. There was. It was hardly his style, but since Rebecca already knew his secret, and since Fitzcairn's smile was in dire need of being wiped off his face, it was probably worth the risk.
"It's just as well you're immortal," he said with some considerable relish. "Or somebody would have throttled you long ago."
"Hey!" Looking furtive, Fitz did an elaborate pantomime of head and eyebrow gestures, obviously supposed to draw his fellow Immortal's attention to the two women. Methos made his expression deliberately vague. Over by the window, Georgina was looking as though she had wandered in during the last act of a play, and had absolutely no idea what was going on - that or she was certain she was the only one not thoroughly drunk. Oblivious to her twin's bewilderment, Rebecca looked interested.
"Do you mean...?" She smiled suddenly, and almost bounced over to take Methos' arm. "Is he like you then? I say, and to think that Georgie and I chose the pair of you without realising it. That's quite a coincidence."
"She knows?" Fitzcairn regarded Methos with considerable disbelief. "You told her? You don't act that new."
"She saw me get shot three times and thrown off the White Cliffs of Dover. Believe me, I didn't have a lot of choice." Methos was finding that the minor entertainment value there had been in causing Fitz's mild panic attack wasn't enough to dispel his immediate funk, and his mind was already elsewhere. Whether or not he cared about the mortals downstairs, he had no interest in allowing any further murders. He cared too much for Rebecca. Ignoring Fitz, therefore, he headed back for another look at the door.
"Umm... did I miss something?" Georgina was looking increasingly confused, for Methos' words had been understandably incomprehensible to her, and her sister's reaction to them even more so. Rebecca smiled at her, and over Fitzcairn's half-hearted protests she piped up an enthusiastic explanation that posed far more questions than it answered.
"They're not human," she said, with a happiness that was almost endearing, and proving all the while that Methos' own explanation had been sketchy at best. "They can't actually die, technically, although I know it doesn't sound very believable. I saw a couple of smugglers kill Stephen though, and he wasn't dead, although he wasn't very happy that I'd seen it all. It's something to do with an old competition anyway, and swords..." She frowned. "And they get into trouble a lot, and live for a very long time."
"Yes, well that just about covers it." Fitz raised an eyebrow at Methos, who just shrugged. He was an Immortal, not a college lecturer, and it wasn't exactly an easy phenomenon to describe. Sometimes the right words came, and sometimes they didn't, and the circumstances under which he had had to explain things to Rebecca had been trying at best.
"I... really think tonight's been too much of a strain." Tactfully Georgina didn't say on whom. "Can we get out of here now?"
"My sentiments exactly, my dear." Fitz knelt to peer through the keyhole. "They've taken the key away with them."
"We'd never get it under the door anyway." Methos also knelt down, regarding the lock with a critical eye. He had become quite a locksmith during his time as a thief in the Americas, not to mention the equally nefarious times that he had spent in Europe before that. Locks were growing more complicated, more of a struggle; but this was an old one, and shouldn't be difficult at all. He retrieved his ever present dagger from its hiding place within his clothing, and slid the wicked point into the lock. One of the levers clicked almost immediately.
"We've still got to decide where to go next," he pointed out as he worked. "Even if I do get this open, what then?"
"What do you mean, 'even if you do'?" All admiration and encouragement, Rebecca was trying to hug him, which wasn't really helping his efforts. He smiled patiently.
"It might be tougher than it looks." The lock clicked open, and his smile grew. "And then again it might not."
"I suppose we ought to go to the police." Neatly twitching the dagger from Methos' hands, Fitz examined it with interest. "And you were worried about being unarmed. Sneaky sort, aren't you?"
"It's what keeps me alive." He took the knife back. "Where's the nearest police station?"
"About five miles away, but it's only tiny and isn't always manned. There's a village policeman who lives a little closer, but he'll probably be out doing his rounds at this sort of time." Georgina looked unhappy. "We'll never be able to use the telephone here, and the nearest house is in the village. By the time we get there somebody else might be dead."
"Well we've already been in here long enough." Fitzcairn looked to Methos as though for consent. "I say we make a break for it, and send somebody back here to sort out the mess. If anybody tries to stop us leaving, we'll have to try some persuasion." He raised his sword-stick like a little flag, and waggled it. Methos nodded.
"Sounds good to me."
"We can't leave!" Rebecca had her hands on her hips, staring at Methos in a fury. "Stephen, no! This is my family, and you can't expect me to walk out on them."
"And what do you expect us to do?" Methos pushed the door open, gesturing at the corridor beyond the nursery as though indicating the house as a whole. "They weren't exactly ready to listen to us before, were they. If we go down there we'll get locked up again; or shot, if your father has any say in it."
"I thought you couldn't die." Georgina, who was clearly still very uncertain about that point, blinked at him in sceptical confusion. He nodded.
"True. But I don't think it'd be quite so non-fatal if you or Rebecca got hit. And besides, it's not going to get us very far, is it."
"Exactly. They don't believe us. They won't listen." Fitz took Georgina's hand. "I'm sorry. I want to help, and I know how much it means to you, but what can we do? We can't prevent any more murders, not when nobody will listen to us."
"We could find out who's doing it." Rebecca had a determined glint in her eyes that Methos had learned never to underestimate. He sighed.
"How? Do you think that the servants are involved?"
"No. No, they'd never do anything like that. They've been here for years, and my father is the sort of man who inspires a lot of loyalty in his employees."
"Plus they're all terrified of him," added Georgina. Fitz walked out into the corridor, peering up and down it to check for guards.
"How's it being done then?" he asked. "I was assuming that the servants were behind it."
"Everybody always sits in the same place at these family meals, and the tables is usually laid at least an hour before we all go in to sit down." Rebecca was thinking, and Methos decided that he liked the view. She glared at his appreciative smile, although without real animosity, and herded him out of the nursery. "What I mean is, it would be easy for somebody to go into the dining room and put the poison in a glass or on a plate - that would be possible, wouldn't it?"
"I don't see why not. " Creeping about the corridor like a particularly theatrical burglar, Fitzcairn nodded his curly head thoughtfully. "Poisons can be colourless. A little liquid in the bottom of a glass would be easy to miss. Killing the second fellow would be less precise though."
"No it wouldn't." Methos, a little way ahead now, flat against the wall with the same air of theatricality as Fitzcairn seemed to so enjoy displaying, was trying to peer surreptitiously down the stairwell. "They all seemed to know which glass to use."
"Daddy always gives people glasses. They're leaded crystal - beautiful things." Georgina joined Methos at the head of the stairs, looking as though she was rather entertained by all the cloak and dagger stuff. "They're handmade, and the pattern is different on each one. You have to know it to be able to see the difference, but each one is unique."
"And since the brandy glasses were already on the sideboard at the start of the meal..." Fitz raised an eyebrow, and Rebecca nodded grimly.
"It would have been easy to be sure that it was poor David who was poisoned." She frowned. "Although why anybody would want to kill him, I can't imagine." She looked rueful. "I think I like him rather more than I like Louisa, and she's my sister."
"Mm. I always wondered why he wanted to marry her." Following Methos and Fitz as they began to lead the way down the stairs at a very tentative speed, Georgina smiled sadly. "It's the same with Montgomery. Oh, he was stuck up and old fashioned, and I admit that he used to infuriate me at times, but he was alright really. He could be very sweet."
"So call it a money thing then. If you're so sure that they couldn't have had any enemies, it must be about money." Methos paused on the landing, listening intently. He could hear talking now, and it sounded as though it was getting louder. He hoped not.
"The inheritance." Fitzcairn scowled. "They tried to pin that one on us."
"Yes, well they don't know you as well as I do." Georgina ruffled his hair. "Is it just me, or is someone coming?"
"Someone's coming." Methos pulled out his dagger again, although it struck him as unlikely that Rebecca and Georgina would be happy about him using it. "Sounds like Richard."
"And Mummy." Rebecca turned to head back up the stairs. "Maybe we should go back to the nursery."
"No we shouldn't." Georgina had taken on a new look of resolution. "We have to find out who's doing this, and we're not going to do it locked in a nursery. I don't want to have to worry about what I eat or drink for the rest of my life."
"Then we'd better see what they want, hadn't we." Lowering the sword-stick, and replacing the half unsheathed blade, Fitzcairn straightened his shirt and his shoulders. "Stephen?"
"Yeah." Methos stowed his knife away. He didn't like the idea of confronting Richard particularly, but presumably Fitzcairn could be of some use. The fact that he would far rather be slipping away unseen was just hard luck. Some day he was going to learn to stop falling in love. It always seemed to lead to awkwardness, and very often danger.
"Supposing they won't help us?" The voice of Lady Featherstone was properly audible now. Richard's voice was as well, louder and more forceful than his mother's.
"Who says we need their help? I'm still not convinced that they're not behind this."
"Sounds interesting." Fitzcairn, far less the shrinking violent than Methos liked to be, seemed ready to greet the approaching pair. Georgina looked far paler than usual, and she gripped his arm.
"Something must have happened."
"Another murder." Rebecca was angry. "And they wouldn't listen to us."
"I doubt there was anything we could have done." Fitzcairn looked to Methos, hovering in the shadows with an obvious unwillingness to proceed. "Ready?"
"If I have to be." He tried to tell himself that things weren't really getting worse all the time, and that he should be putting as much distance as possible between himself and this deceptively attractive mansion house. To think that just a few hours ago he had been gloriously happy and relaxed in the boat on the lake.
"What exactly is it going to achieve, anyway? Even if they're not guilty, how is it going to help?" Richard sounded angry. "They don't know anything more than we do."
"They're not part of the family. They might see things we can't." His mother was beginning to sound like harassed mothers the world over, and was speaking to him as though he were a child. "We need help, Richard, and your father is not going to go to the police. What else are we going to do?"
"They're guilty! Going to them for help certainly isn't going to--" Rounding the corner, Richard stopped short as he saw the little group that was waiting for him. Fitzcairn offered a jaunty bow.
"We got bored waiting, old fellow, so we thought we'd come out looking for you." He managed to look rather more serious. "Do we take it that another murder has occurred?"
"As if you don't know that already." Richard's eyes burned with disgust. His mother smiled a silent apology, a gesture which underlined her complete lack of grief at this next death.
"Elaine," she said, much as though she were discussing the weather. Rebecca lowered her eyes, and Georgina's shoulders slumped.
"Poor Elaine." She looked up sharply. "Was it poison again?"
"We were drinking liqueurs." Her mother was clearly more affected by the crass social gaff of allowing a third murder to take place, than she was by any kind of pity for the murder victims themselves. The liqueurs were apparently her favourite part of the evening, and weren't to be spoilt for any reason. "The glasses were locked up, and Arthur says that there's no way anybody can have tampered with them since yesterday, and since you weren't here then... well it must have been the glass that was poisoned, because we all drank the same thing, and since Arthur has the only key to the cabinet where the glasses are kept... well..." She tried out a winning smile. "You're gentlemen, and Arthur feels that that's better than relying on the servants to help us, not to mention being better than calling the police." She took a deep breath. "We need your help."
"After accusing them of being the killers." Rebecca folded her arms, glaring at her mother in a manner that until recently she would never have dared to use. Lady Featherstone smiled breezily.
"Oh that doesn't matter, dear. They understand all that, don't you gentlemen?"
"Huh." Richard was glowering more than ever. "If they can break out of the nursery, they can break into a cabinet. They're the killers, Mother."
"Oh do think of a new topic of conversation, Richard." Annoyed with him, Lady Featherstone turned her smile back on, trying to warm the corridor with her presence. "Gentlemen? A fresh outlook is all that we're asking. We're not expecting miracles, but our family, to say nothing of our reputation, is at risk. Somebody has to do something, or we could all end up dead, and I don't think that not eating or drinking anything is going to help us much. Whoever is responsible might stoop to anything."
"Very likely." Methos felt Rebecca's hand slide into his, and sighed. Complications everywhere. He collected them the way furniture collected dust.
"We'd be delighted to help, dear lady. Delighted." Taking Georgina's hand, Fitzcairn reached once again for his pipe. "Sleuthing has always been a hobby of mine, and this isn't the first murder investigation that I've been involved with."
"I can believe that." Richard was acting as sulky as Methos had been feeling earlier. The Immortal might have been sympathetic, if the eldest Featherstone child hadn't been such an insufferable prig. And if Methos had been the type to feel sympathy for anyone. He didn't feel that way often, as a rule.
"Richard, shut up." Clearly rather excited that her boyfriend had been elevated to murder detective, Georgina was eager to get downstairs. "How's Daniel? He's just lost his wife, which makes him much more important than your ego."
"Daniel's fine." Furious that his sister had spoken to him in such a fashion, Richard spun smartly on his heel and began to walk away. "We'll all be in the drawing room, when you can be bothered to join us."
"We're coming." Rebecca tugged at Methos' hand, leading him onwards, and he let her pull him down the stairs. He wasn't happy about the twins going down, where the risk was far greater for them, but he knew Rebecca well enough to be sure that she would never agree to stay in the nursery. Georgina would very likely be just as unwilling to agree to such a thing, which rather precluded any chance of keeping either of them safe. All that he could do was to keep an eye on them both, and hope that they were sensible enough not to expose themselves to any further risks - not that any amount of caution would have helped Montgomery. With the way things were going now, only quick thinking was going to be saving the Featherstones tonight.
The drawing room was very quiet, and Elaine's body was still lying where it had fallen. A small tablecloth had been draped over her, but it covered little save her head, and did nothing to lessen the grimness of the scene. Methos checked her over, looking for any clues as to the type of poison being used; not that it was likely to help much. Fitz, meanwhile, was beginning to pace up and down the room.
"Just to allay your fears, ladies and gentlemen, I'd like to assure you that my colleague and I are extremely familiar with this sort of situation." He was beginning to wish that he had a deerstalker hat, and flourished his pipe more noticeably to make up for the loss. "We'll have this sorted out before you're even aware of it."
"I thought you'd only just met?" inquired Richard, turning the question into an obvious accusation. Fitzcairn smiled at him.
"My colleague that I've only just met, and I," he corrected blithely, "are very confident. At least I am, I haven't asked him yet whether he is."
"Just do something." Sitting all by herself, as though shunned by the others, was Richard's wife Mabel. She was the only in-law left alive now, and it appeared that most of those present had identified her as the next most likely victim. They were avoiding her as though they were afraid she might explode. "Who's doing this?"
"One of us." Methos stood up, leaving Elaine in peace. "It has to have been."
"Were the glasses that you used for the liqueurs as individual as the ones you drink your brandy out of?" Examining a left over coffee cup the way that he felt a proper detective should, Fitzcairn asked the question to the room at large. A blustery, faintly embarrassed Lord Featherstone answered in the affirmative. Fitz nodded.
"Then Elaine was targeted just as surely as the other two. Our murderer can have been as sure of the order of the deaths as he or she was of the identity of the victims themselves." He was clearly enjoying himself. "So - to motives."
"Money," Georgina put in, with feeling. "It's always been an issue. I thought we decided that upstairs."
"Yes, but the estate isn't really worth as much as it used to be, is it. We haven't been able to do the place up for years." Lady Featherstone's expressive face clearly showed her disapproval for the subject matter. Talking about money wasn't done. "Anyway, what's to squabble over? You all stand to inherit one day."
"Yes, but there's less to inherit every year, as the debts go up, and the profits go down. This isn't the working estate that it used to be." Rebecca sat own on a chair, looked with obvious unease at a half full glass of something that was standing nearby, then turned her attention back to the two immortal detectives. Holmes and Watson they weren't. "Maybe somebody decided that the legacy would better if it didn't have to be shared."
"Well it's not me." Richard was still looking sulky, and was completely failing to offer his wife any support. If he thought that she was to be the next to die, he showed no obvious concern. Methos couldn't help wondering how the twins came to be related to these people.
"So you keep saying," he ventured, beginning to sound testy. "Who poured the liqueurs?"
"I did." Featherstone glared at him. "I hope you're not suggesting that I'm responsible for this evening's unpleasant events, young man?"
"Not really." Methos didn't know whether or not he suspected the lord, but he wouldn't have admitted it even if he did. Not within Featherstone's hearing, certainly. Fitz held up a hand, apparently waiting for permission to ask a question, then beamed innocently at everybody when they turned to look.
"I was just wondering." His smiled flickered slightly, showing something of the strength of the man beneath. "If we're all betting on money as being the motive for all of this, who is there that has the most to gain? Is anybody having any cash flow problems for instance?"
"Money isn't exactly a suitable topic for polite conversation." Richard's haughtiness was in full evidence again. "Even if somebody is having financial problems, the rest of us are hardly likely to know about it."
"You're determined to be unhelpful today, aren't you Richard." Rebecca ignored her brother's answering glare. "We've all had money worries, Fitz. Georgie and I are trying to be independent, and neither one of us has ever had to work before. It's not easy. Daniel has made some very bad investments lately, and David's brewery was facing bankruptcy. I don't know why, I'm afraid. I don't know anything about finance and business, but I've heard things." She smiled. "People talk in front of women, especially young ones. Maybe they assume that we don't understand, or maybe they assume that we won't be interested. My family is no different."
"Rebecca..." Featherstone's tone was filled with warning. "I appreciate your desire to help, but there are things that we don't talk about. Not to strangers, not to anybody."
"With all due respect, Father, there are all kinds of things that we have to talk about if we're going to find out who is trying to kill us all."
"Humph." Looking unhappy with the reality of her words, Featherstone brushed at his moustache with his fingers. "Damned foolish talk, anyway. How can it be about money? If Louisa had wanted to be sure of inheriting, she wouldn't have needed to kill her husband. Similarly Daniel would have had no reason to kill Elaine. She wasn't in his way, was she. She would have inherited with him, not against him." The old lord saw the flicker of contrition in Rebecca's eyes, and smiled in triumph. "Hadn't thought of that, had you."
"Some of us had." Methos muttered the words quietly, well aware that only Fitz could hear him. His answer was a slight nod.
"You've certainly thought ahead of us, sir." Smiling as though with some embarrassment, Fitzcairn lowered his eyes slightly. Featherstone's own smile broadened in appreciation of this display of humility.
"You've got to think of these things," he said loudly. His wife nodded in agreement, backing him up as he so obviously expected her to.
"So where does that leave the theory?" Georgina seemed at a loss, but Fitz took her hand brightly enough, and offered her one of his charming smiles.
"We'll soon come up with another theory. Ten of them if it'll make you feel better. In the meantime, though, I want to think things through properly. Stephen - how about joining me in a stroll around the property, see if we can't find anywhere where an intruder might have broken in? Perhaps there's a chance that an outsider is responsible for this after all."
"You're not going anywhere without one of us coming with you." Suddenly threatening again, Richard moved forward, but his father stopped him in his tracks.
"Leave them alone." His voice was like razor wire. "If they run, they'll prove their guilt, and we'll have everybody in the county after them before midnight. They're not fools."
"They're not bloody guilty, either." Methos couldn't stop the sarcasm, although he knew that it would not be well received. He endured a fierce glare, and smiled a little faintly in reply.
"Come on." Fitzcairn headed for the door. "I'd suggest that nobody eat or drink anything while we're gone. I don't care how innocent you're all convinced you are. Don't trust anything."
"You're wasting your breath." Methos pulled open the door and preceded Fitz into the corridor. "They wouldn't believe what's going on here if they saw the killer doing their work." Rebecca's expression looked a little hurt, but even that was not enough to quell his irritation. He pulled the door shut, closing her off from him, and thereby destroying the need for guilt. Fitz eyed him questioningly.
"Richard?" he asked. Methos shrugged uncertainly.
"My money's on Mabel, but you might be right. They're the only ones who haven't lost a spouse, and it stands to reason, doesn't it. The girls were right, and somebody wants the money before the day to day expenses of this monstrosity suck it all up. Featherstone thinks he's proving them all innocent with his little theories, but he's just driving home the sword."
"Let's avoid the sharp weaponry analogies, shall we?" Fitzcairn nodded slowly, assimilating his companion's words. "Unless Mabel or Richard dies next, I'm assuming that it's one or both of them, which means that any of the others is a target, and they'll almost certainly be killed some time soon. All of them."
"Assume Lord and Lady Featherstone to be last on the list. The old fellow is all that's keeping the police out of this." Methos smiled ironically. "Ridiculous. They're all bloody mad. Refusing to call the authorities, muddling along as if there's nothing wrong, refusing to even consider that one of them is behind this. It's like they're living in another world."
"They are, and you know it. It's called the Land of Aristocracy. The place where the ancient rich like to live in blissful ignorance of the rest of the world." Fitzcairn's smile held little humour. "Nobody else could even think up something like this. The murderer being the only one left alive would be one hell of a give-away for starters, but here they don't even think about that - because they have no intention of calling the police. They've always handled things themselves, and they always will. I'll bet the family lawyers can be counted on not to ask impertinent questions when it's time to inherit, as well."
"You sounds as though you're speaking from first hand experience." They were wandering further from the drawing room now, and were playing their roles less. Alone they could be Immortals discussing mortal foibles, without having to worry about what somebody might overhear. Fitzcairn shrugged.
"Oh I've hobnobbed with the best, me. Richest society in Europe. How about yourself?"
"Here and there I suppose." There had been a time when Methos had been a familiar face at many a society ball, if only because it gave him the inside knowledge necessary to pull off the robberies that were still helping to keep him financed nearly a century on. He knew the aristocracy as well as anybody. "Anyway, we may have several hundred years of tradition and stubbornness against us, but at least we have a fair idea who to point the finger of suspicion at. I'd bet on Mabel, working alone."
"Maybe. But us thinking that isn't enough, is it. Lord Arthur and his clan are never going to believe what we have to say."
"Then we'll have to find some proof. Something that even that lot can't argue with. And in the meantime, I would like to try to keep Rebecca from getting dead."
"And I don't especially want anything happening to Georgina, either. They're not stupid enough to eat or drink anything, even if the others still don't believe there's any danger; but there's more than one way to kill a mortal."
"A lot more than one." Methos took a new direction on their random ramble, heading off down a small corridor leading past dusty family portraits. "Do you think that the servants are at risk as well?"
"They're witnesses, and they know that it's murder. Killing them is probably the only way to be sure of getting away with this."
"Then I wonder if they're still alive." The thought struck Methos rather suddenly, and he saw that Fitzcairn was thinking the same thing. The Featherstone family killer had already shown a remarkable talent for murder, and neither Immortal had seen the servants since the removal of David's body from the dining room. Certainly none of them seemed to have reported to the drawing room to collect Elaine.
"I think we have to assume that they're dead, which means that we're probably alone here now." Fitz shouldered his sword-stick, looking as serious as he ever looked. "If it's Richard and Mabel, we could have our work cut out."
"I don't think Richard's involved, but it doesn't really improve the odds with the family still against us." Methos went to a window, a small, leaded affair that looked out onto a tiny herb garden, and a marble statue of a shepherd boy. It was very dark outside now, which added to the isolation of the house. The family had purposefully shut themselves off from the world outside, but the night was completing the task. Methos didn't like it. He didn't like being involved in other people's lives at the best of times, but this was asking for trouble. "I hate this. We could leave, right now. By the time they realise--"
"True, dear fellow, true. But by the time they realise we're gone, the twins could be dead." Fitzcairn offered his companion a sympathetic smile. "Believe me, I don't like sticking my neck out. I'd be out of here quicker than a shy virgin escaping a bachelor party if I could be, but we can't walk out on the girls. Right?"
"Right. I suppose." He knew that he sounded grudging, but he wasn't here to win awards for selflessness. By the sounds of things neither was Fitz. "I suppose we'd better head back then."
"And tell them what? That we're ninety percent certain the killer is the eldest son's beloved wife?"
"No." Methos thought about that hostile room, with its prejudice and hatred, and was hit by a wave of futility. How did he get himself into these things? "We tell them that we found a window open, and footprints in the hallway. Let Mabel think she's safe, and leave the rest of them happy that they don't have to suspect each other. Then..." He trailed off, shrugging helplessly. "Hope to trip her up I suppose."
"And the servants? If they are still alive, we should warn them at least. Perhaps one of them would nip out for a policeman?"
"Who'll arrest the both of us and leave it at that. Lord Arthur probably plays golf with the local Chief Constable, and one phone call will send the whole investigation whichever way he wants. No police detective is going to ask for a look if we tell him there are bodies down in the cellar. He'd be out of a job by Monday morning if he did that. Besides, how well will your 'Hugh Fitzcairn - artist extraordinaire' identity hold up under police scrutiny?"
"They might wonder why I don't have a birth certificate, but things are fairly genuine beyond that." Fitzcairn frowned. "Although there is a minor incident on my record involving a bishop's jade chess set, but nothing was ever conclusively..." He nodded. "Alright. No police. How about warning the servants?"
"If there's anybody left to warn." They had, despite their joint intention to return to the others, come to the end of the thin corridor. It had sloped gently downwards, and that direction was as much a clue to their current whereabouts as was the stout oaken door now before them. Fitz gestured at it with his sword-stick, at the same time fishing his pipe out once again.
"Kitchen?" he asked. Methos nodded.
"I'd imagine so."
"Then... we tell them to leave? Hide? What?"
"All three maybe." The oldest Immortal pushed open the door, feeling the hot air beyond of a thick-walled room warmed by a massive oven. He smelt the food that they had been served earlier; the relics of past meals and hints of future ingredients; and the strong smell of alcohol. Fruity, like spilt wine. Fitz helped him to push the door the rest of the way, for it was caught on something. Something dressed in immaculate black.
"Too late." Stepping over the dead body of the butler, Fitz stared about at the room. There were five of them in all, the aged Walter amongst them. His glasses had fallen off, and were lying cracked and bent on the hard, flagged floor. Strangely his wine glass hadn't broken, and there was still some wine left in it. Neither Immortal felt like trying to identify the poison. It wouldn't help much, anyway.
"By at least an hour by the looks of things." Methos stared about with a fine display of dispassion. "Poor sods."
"Do you think this is all of them?" Stopping to settle the fallen maid into a more dignified position, Fitz found himself checking her pulse. There was none of course, for it was clear that she, like the others, was long dead. Methos nodded.
"According to the theory of the family finances, it's a wonder they managed to keep this lot on. There won't be any others."
"And our murderer's total rises to eight." Fitzcairn rose to his feet, pausing to look at the bottle of wine standing in the centre of the table. "Most servants help themselves to the good stuff every once in a while. Can't have been hard to dress up a doctored bottle to make it irresistible to somebody."
"She's a cold fish alright." Methos picked up the sword-stick, abandoned so that Fitzcairn could make his brief perusal of some of the bodies. Despite the sword's clever hiding place, his seeking fingers made short work of the trick latch, and he drew the blade out a little way. It always made him feel better to play with a good sword when he felt out of his depth.
"Yeah." Fitz cast a faintly uneasy look at the sword in his companion's hand, but didn't make any move to take it away. "Arrogant too. I'd bet anything that she's been waiting for a chance like tonight to get things underway. A family gathering, with two handy strangers that she can blame everything on. Nobody's got any alibis except for each other, and we haven't got many people willing to vouch for us. We have five bodies here that Lord Featherstone doesn't know about, so he can't hide them in his cellar to avoid the scandal - but we can't tell the police about them because we're the ones who'll be arrested. Sure to be."
"And doing that would leave the twins to face a death any smart killer could set up to look like something we'd rigged earlier. Anything we can do, chances are she's got herself covered."
"Ah yes, my friend, but she doesn't know yet that she's dealing with Immortal minds. Intelligent, sophisticated, devious." Fitz emptied the remains of the wine down the sink, unwilling to leave the deadly stuff available for anybody else to drink; then immediately negated his claim to be intelligent by turning to Methos for inspiration. "So do we have a plan?"
"I don't. Do you?" Wondering why it was that everybody always seemed to ask him such questions, even when they didn't know how old he really was, Methos snapped shut the sword-stick, and threw it down onto the kitchen table. It clattered and rang noisily, before falling still and silent. "Try to catch her red-handed? Even that arrogant bunch upstairs can't deny the evidence if they see her trying to kill someone."
"She won't get caught out that easily." Fitz retrieved his stick, tucking it under one arm in the manner of a pompous general. "This bunch must have families though. I'm sure Georgina said something about the servants not living in anymore - so somebody is going to miss them in a few hours. People will start asking questions. That sets our lady friend a definite time limit."
"Yeah." Methos turned sharply, heading back through the door. "Come on. We've been away long enough."
"We still don't know what we're going to do, though. Besides walking back in there, and getting accused of murder all over again I mean." Fitzcairn shook his curly head. "I have a friend... Scots fellow, but he can't help that... who gets himself into situations like this all the time. He's good at it. Nobody ever accuses him of murder. Well, except the once, when I was with him."
"Maybe he hasn't been getting himself into situations like this for long enough." Methos was walking briskly, mostly so that he could get back to the drawing room before his instincts got the better of him, and sent him hurrying in the opposite direction. Fitz strolled jauntily along in his wake.
"Maybe. He's quite a bit younger than I am." The effervescent Englishman grinned. "Bit more honest, too, which probably helps. I never was the dashing knight in white."
"Just as well. Dashing knights never did anybody any good." As they strolled on down the corridor, Methos felt himself warming at last to the man beside him. "Least of all themselves."
"You're older than you look." Fitz's eyes were teasing, and Methos smiled.
"Considerably. Aren't we all? Age doesn't always help, though, not when it matters."
"It gives us an advantage." Fitzcairn laid his hands on the knobs of the drawing room doors. "Ready?"
"Jolly good." Fitzcairn threw open the doors - and looked straight down the barrel of Lord Featherstone's sizeable pistol. He frowned. "Did we come at a bad time?"
"Never mind the jokes." Featherstone's face carried the expression of a figure carved in stone. "Just put your hands up, the pair of you, and come in here. Don't make any sudden movements, although believe me when I say that it would not be a chore to shoot you both."
"Something's happened." Raising his hands with an air of resignation, Fitz walked slowly into the room. Methos followed. The oldest Immortal moved with urgency, searching for the twins to be sure that they were alright before he worried about anything else. He saw them both, crouched beside a figure sprawled on the floor, and briefly looked away. Louisa. No wonder Lord Featherstone's manner had changed so abruptly. Everything changed when it was your daughter lying dead on the floor.
"Stephen." Rebecca tried to run to him, but Richard pulled her away. He was also armed now, and he pointed the gun at Methos.
"You're not going near any more members of my family." His voice was filled with fury, and Methos did not argue. For once neither did Rebecca, although she looked pale and afraid. Richard directed her into a chair, gentle but firm, eyes never once leaving Methos.
"Richard, they weren't even here. How-?" Georgina broke off when she saw the expression on his face. "So what happens now? I mean - well what are you planning to do?"
"That's nothing for you to worry about." Lord Featherstone ushered Fitz and Methos onto a richly upholstered settee, where they exchanged a wary look. This did not sound good.
"Daddy..." Madeline, the Featherstone's eldest daughter, was looking almost as concerned as her younger sisters. "Daddy you should call the police now. Don't you think this has gone far enough?"
"Far enough?" The old man's eyes were bright and cold and furious, and showed the only signs of grief that he would ever permit to be seen. "Your sister is dead. However I might have felt when it was your husband who was murdered, I feel differently now. But I won't call the police."
"If you'd called them before, Louisa might still be alive." Madeline looked more animated than the family had ever seen her, and her father's fury stood checked. For a second his expression wavered, as her charge registered in his mind, and he pondered the possibility that she might be right - then he shook his head with such force that his shock of white hair waved in the breeze.
"Nonsense. Nonsense. And anyway, what difference could it have made?" He shook his head again, less violently this time. "And it doesn't change anything. I still won't call the police. Never have, never will."
"Louisa is dead." Rebecca was holding back tears that she would not allow to fall. Not now, when she still had a point to get across. "What does the family name matter now?"
"Even more." He spoke quietly, forcefully, and with a brutality that boded well for no-one. "Do you think that I could see my daughter's death turned into newspaper fodder? That I could let people all over the country know what happened; see her face at their breakfast tables; chat about her in cheap cafés and factories all across the land? No. Nobody will ever find out about this."
"And we tell everybody that she disappeared, do we? Her, and Montgomery, and David, and Elaine?" Georgina was joining in as well now, part of the phalanx of young women trying to change Featherstone's mind. "You can't keep this kind of thing a secret."
"And it won't do you any good anyway." Wondering why the usually chatty Fitz had fallen so quiet, Methos took the initiative now. "Lord Featherstone, whatever you believe, we're not guilty. We haven't killed anybody here, and just a few minutes ago you were convinced of that yourself. The liqueurs--"
"Richard told me that you broke out of the nursery. That alibi doesn't hold water anymore." Featherstone stared down at him. "I'm willing to give you the chance to prove your innocence, but you'll have to do better than that. You wouldn't be the first criminals that have been dealt with in this house - nor the first ones buried in the grounds. My grandfather killed the man who dishonoured his daughter, and he's been buried all these years near the willow tree by the river."
"Anything to avoid a scandal." Smiling thinly Fitzcairn stared down at the stick in his hands. He didn't bother looking up, or meeting Featherstone's angry eyes. The lord seemed to grow several inches through sheer outrage.
"I wouldn't expect you to understand," he announced in the end, in a grand tone of voice. Fitz didn't bother replying. His attitude said it all - he had no wish to understand.
"Whether we understand or not," interjected Methos, trying to head off what looked like a possible explosion, "you're still making a mistake. We haven't killed your daughter. None of this is anything to do with us, and you're all still in danger. You can kill us, bury us under whatever willow tree in the garden takes your fancy, but you'll still end up dead before the evening's over. I don't know what she's planning to say; whether she thinks she can present all your bodies to the world tomorrow morning and insist it was Fitzcairn and me who were responsible. To be honest I think she's too damned arrogant to have thought that bit through at--"
"She." Mabel was sitting very still, very erect, the image of respectability and good form. "You keep saying 'she'."
"Yes." Richard moved a little closer, his gun pointing at Methos like a beady eye fixed on its target. "Just which 'she' do you mean exactly? Of course you're not blaming the twins. That only leaves my mother, my wife, and my--" He broke off, staring at Louisa, mentally noting that he no longer had two sisters besides the twins. "And my sister." Madeline's eyes also drifted towards Louisa, and she swallowed hard.
"It's not me," she said quickly. Richard shot her an impatient look.
"I know it's not you. Nobody is saying that it is." He stared back at Methos. "Are they?"
"No." He spoke quietly, then turned his guarded eyes towards Madeline. "I know you're not the killer, which is why I know that you're in danger. Killing us isn't going to save anybody."
"He's right." Rebecca stepped up to stand alongside her older sister. "You have to listen to him. We all do."
"Shut up Rebecca. Sit down and let your father deal with this." Lady Beatrice, as haughty as it was humanly possible to be, fixed her youngest daughter with a look so sharp that it might have conduced anybody to obey. Rebecca took a step back, her hand searching for Georgina's, her mouth closed to a hopeless, frozen line. Methos was struck by an unfamiliar desire to comfort her, but he stayed where he was. Mabel, however, rose primly to her feet.
"If we're in danger from somebody here," she said quickly, her eyes fixed on the two accused men, "I think we should be told who it is. If there's any chance that they're telling the truth..."
"They're not." Becoming more highly-strung by the moment, Daniel was apparently anxious to get what was probably his first lynching party underway. "You, a murderer? Or Mother? How could they be telling the truth?"
"But somebody else could die." She was moving closer, her shoes click-clacking on the floor as she came. "If they're telling the truth, and you take them out and shoot them - well then somebody else is going to die, aren't they. It could be anyone. Everyone. Couldn't it."
"You know damn well it will be." Fitzcairn was staring up at her with a furious heat in his gaze. Methos saw the danger coming, and put out a hand to stop his inflammatory companion from doing anything rash. He was too late. Fuelled by the same propensity for gallant acts that had got him into trouble more than once in the past, Fitz jumped to his feet. He saw undeniable danger for Georgina in Mabel's apparently innocent face, and whilst he might not always have been the heroic type, Hugh Fitzcairn would do almost anything for a beautiful woman. The long years of his past might have warned him to remain seated, but he was not one to let age and experience stay his hand. Methos groaned.
"You want to know who the killer is?" Swinging around to face everybody, standing as tall and as grand as he could make himself, Fitz caught the full glare of the accumulated Featherstones. They were watching him now with all the horror of any conservative member of the aristocracy confronted by something that was not genteel and polite. He could see that they didn't care for his words of his warning. They cared only for each other, and for the conventions that they had guarded all their lives. "It's her, damn it. Mabel."
"Fitzcairn..." Methos reached up to pull him back onto the settee, but the other man ignored him. He had been quiet and still for too long, and now the more impulsive side of his nature was taking over. The side that frequently led him into the sort of peril it took a MacLeod to correct; the side that had always kept his fortunes spinning in an erratic whirl.
"She's going to kill you all." He turned to look at Georgina, staring at him now with horror in her eyes. "Whatever happens, don't trust her."
"Why you--" Enraged, Richard moved towards him, gun ready to fire. Georgina let out a little shriek, certain that she was about to see her boyfriend shot down, but Fitz easily side-stepped Richard. What he was planning to do he had no idea, since he was hardly the type to use physical violence to force Mabel to confess. Methos started to rise to his feet, determined to forestall his fellow Immortal. Whatever was going to happen, it couldn't be good. The Featherstones were not the type to believe that the murderer was among them.
"You stay where you are." Lord Featherstone was beside him, gun resting against the old man's chest, casually, almost lightly, but with perfect accuracy. It was pointed directly at the heart beneath, with all the calm certainty of a man who had done this sort of thing before. Methos froze, but his eyes still moved, turning to follow Fitz as he advanced further on Mabel.
"Tell them the truth." Richard was coming after him, but Fitz was ignoring him, intent on his target. "They won't believe me, but they'll have to believe you. Tell them what you've done."
"Damn cheek." Richard caught Fitz by the arm, spinning him around. "That's my wife you're talking to."
"For now, yes." Fitz let himself be turned around, but his stick was ready in his hand if it became necessary. "How long before she's your widow?" The sword was sliding out of its resting place, its thin, flawless blade catching the light. "You're a fool. A complete--"
"Richard, look out!" Mabel was moving, a blur of white and gold as she hurried forward. Methos saw something in her hand and started to shout out a warning, but Featherstone's gun collided with his chest with such startling and unexpected force that he fell backwards onto the settee before he could say a word. Sixth sense alerted Fitz though; turned him around in time to see Mabel throwing herself at him with a statuette raised as a weapon. He reacted instinctively, sword drawn and ready long before his conscious mind could tell him that he couldn't do that; couldn't act that way here. It was too late. At the sight of the naked sword Mabel screamed; reacting to the sound Fitz stepped forward; and with the viciousness that came from a sudden fear and desperation, Richard lashed out. His gun caught the Immortal a terrific blow to the head, and Fitz fell immediately. He landed hard, but the force of that meant nothing to him. He was already unconscious.
"Fitz!" Georgina tried to run to him, but Rebecca held her back. Something in her brother's eyes scared her, and she didn't want to find out what would happen if they got in his way just now. Instead it was Methos was went to Fitzcairn, slowly, carefully, and all the time expecting to be overpowered.
"He was right, you know." He spoke to Daniel, who was closest to him, if not the one that was most disposed to listen fairly. Richard shot him a scathing look, but made no riposte, going instead to the window and tugging loose a length of curtain cord.
"Daniel." His voice was brisk and businesslike, showing a determination not to let his brother be taken in by any more of this talk of killers within the family. His younger brother looked up.
"Yes?" He was a little less highly-strung than before, the sudden act of violence that he had witnessed having apparently helped to release a little of his tension. Richard threw the curtain cord at him.
"Stop gaping and tie him up." His moment of great practicality done with, he turned to his wife. "Are you alright?"
"Yes, of course I am." She was back behind the veneer of unshakeability that was so expected of them all. "I was put out, that's all. Being accused of - of all these horrid things..."
"Yes, well they won't be doing that for much longer." He looked back towards Methos, being thoroughly bound by Daniel, then turned his haughty eyes to the twins. "I hope you're happy. Look what you've let loose on us all here."
"You're so wrong, Richard. So very wrong." Rebecca couldn't take her eyes of Methos, pushed to his knees beside the incapacitated Fitz, arms tied behind him in a complicated tangle of knots that was far past practical and into the realms of absurdity.
"We are not wrong." Lord Featherstone glared at her in a way that suggested he was going to have words with her later. "We're saving the family. Saving you."
"I don't think so." Inspired, perhaps, by his contempt, Georgina hurried forwards, anxious to check up on Fitz. "Don't kill them, Daddy. Please. There's no need."
"There's every need. There are always stories that we can tell. Patches to stick over the cracks. Ways to save the family name. With these two in court there'll be no way to protect any of us."
"Because that's all that really matters, isn't it." Pushing past Daniel, Rebecca helped Methos to his feet. "Like Fitz said, anything to avoid a scandal. You're happy to commit murder, as what? A punishment for murder? You don't think that's a bit inconsistent?"
"It's not a punishment." Daniel moved her back, as though he thought that the unconscious Fitz or the helpless Methos might prove to be dangerous to her. "We're not judge and jury. Just damage limitation. You have to learn that there are things that are more important than revenge or retribution."
"Well said Daniel." Sticking his gun into his belt, Richard bent to lift up the slumped form of the Immortal lying between them. "Now help me to carry him outside."
"And you others stay here. Nobody is to follow us. Beatrice, I expect you to make sure of that." Coldly authoritative, and as dispassionate as a man could be, Featherstone gave his orders to his wife, then took hold of Methos' arm to lead him to the door. Rebecca tried to follow, but Methos shook his head.
"Don't worry about me." She had forgotten what he was in the heat of the moment, and he saw the memory sparking in her eyes again now. "Just watch yourselves."
"Is she--" She had kept her voice low, but he hushed her anyway, a gentle shake of his head warning her to silence.
"Just be careful. I might be gone some time."
"You'll be gone for ever." Featherstone gave him a hefty push, knocking him away from the young woman and through the open doors. Methos spared him a cool glance; the look of a man who had had five thousand years during which to perfect every expression. It was a temptation to say something - anything - to give Featherstone's smug arrogance a shake, but he kept silent. No sense in drawing attention, in risking injury. Nothing to be gained in trying to make Featherstone look a fool in front of his family. All that he wanted was for this next part of the evening to be finished with.
"How did Louisa die?" He hadn't thought to ask before. Featherstone cuffed him hard.
"Was it poison?" He wanted to do as he was told, and shut up. Be quiet and unobtrusive. Sometimes, though, questions needed asking. Featherstone let out a long, hissing sigh.
"Yes." He clearly did not want to be drawn on the subject. So the old tyrant did have feelings after all. "She was smoking a cigarette. I keep some of her favourite brand in the desk drawer."
"A cigarette?" Clever - he had to give her that much. Mabel, for all her prim and faintly dopey appearance, was a very clever woman. Once again she had chosen a method of murder that would allow her to be certain of whom she would kill, and possibly even when. It was almost as if she was playing a game; enjoying seeing the fears and suspicions that her actions were causing. In his experience, though, for most killers half of the attraction of the act was in the game. Subdued, he didn't speak further as he was directed out of the house and across the imposing front drive. He had been expecting to be hurried out of the back, so it was something of a surprised to be ushered over the immaculate front lawn, past ornamental bushes and imposing marble statues, to a grove of obviously old trees. There was a fishpond in the middle, rather incongruous in its placidity. They walked past it, to an empty flower bed covered with fallen leaves, and lined with little white stones. All was neat and peaceful, and oddly funereal. Methos wondered if he was going to have to dig his own grave.
"You really are making a mistake you know." He turned to face the others, well aware that they weren't going to listen. Somehow, though, he still felt that he had to try. If they were going to shoot him, not to mention bury him as well, it could be an hour or more before he was able to return to the house. There was no telling who else might be dead by then. Certainly the chances were that he was looking his last upon one of them at least.
"I think this one's dead." Dumping Fitz on the ground, Richard looked as though he wished he had found somebody else to do the strenuous work. "At least, I don't think he's breathing."
"It doesn't matter. He'll be dead enough when he's been buried a while, anyway." Featherstone nodded to Daniel. "There are some spades by the rubbish heap over there. Go and fetch them."
"Are we going to dig?" Richard obviously didn't want to put himself out. Featherstone was unsympathetic.
"Would you rather I found somebody else? You do this sort of work yourself; never trust anybody else with it. Besides, a good bit of hard work won't kill you, boy. You look like you could use it."
"And there's no way I'm going to do it." Methos only muttered the words, but by the look of him Richard had heard, or at least had caught the tone of voice. He made no further objection, though, and grabbed one of the two spades that Daniel had retrieved. He attacked the flower bed with real vigour, and soon enough had dug a hole that was big enough to throw Fitz into. It wasn't six feet deep, which was a relief to Methos. Six feet was hell to dig up through. This was more like four, which made all the difference.
"Won't the men find them when they come to do the gardens?" Chatting nervously, Daniel worked hard but mechanically to fill in the hole once again. Richard shook his head.
"Too deep, I should think. Besides, they won't dig here again until the spring, and by then nobody will be able to tell who these two were, if they're found."
"We can come back another night. Use quick lime to destroy the bodies, or just bury them a lot deeper." Featherstone was sounding something like a lynching connoisseur. "For now it's more important that we don't leave the women alone for too long."
"Particularly since one of them is a killer." Methos couldn't stop the comment - and what were they going to do in retaliation, anyway? Kill him? Featherstone settled for a particularly cold glare.
"That sounds like a threat to me. If you have any more little surprises rigged up around my house, you'd be wise to tell me about them."
"Just don't eat, drink or smoke anything." Methos wondered what other things Mabel might have poisoned, and wished that these infuriating mortals would listen to him for a change. Richard leant on his spade for a moment, taking a break from digging the second grave.
"Thought you could get away with it, didn't you. You thought that you were so clever."
"Not really. If I was that clever I'd never have come here." Decidedly glum, Methos eyed his prospective grave. It looked much like all the others he had had over the years; cold, earthy and unpleasant - and very difficult to dig his way out of with his hands tied behind his back. "Look, do one thing for me, yes? Don't let the others out of your sight. All of you stick together, at least for the rest of the night. Your servants are dead, so there's nobody else in there to help you."
"The servants?" Featherstone's face contorted for a moment into an expression of such rage that Methos was taken aback. Even the dead family members hadn't qualified for this much upset. "The... servants." The old lord shook his head with obvious sorrow. "Walter has served this family since he was nine years-old. We grew up together. You poisoned him, I take it?"
"They were poisoned, yes."
"Shame we can't do the same to you." Daniel threw down his spade. "Hole's dug. I think it's time we put him into it."
"I agree." Richard caught hold of a bound arm, and dragged Methos over to the edge of the new hole. He stood there with a heavy heart, trying to brace himself. Bullets were painful things at the best of times, and he hated being shot in the chest. "Will you do the honours, Father?"
"I think so." Featherstone took careful aim, hands rock steady on the butt of his gun. He pulled the heavy hammer back. "Any last words?"
"There are a few last requests I can think of."
"I'll bet there are." For a moment the pain burned its way through the lord's lined face, and Methos was treated to the real emotions that were so carefully hidden from all other eyes. He felt sorry for the old fool, for a moment at least. He had lost his daughter, his daughter-in-law and two sons-in-law, as well, apparently, as an old friend. It was no excuse for stupidity though; for plain bloody-mindedness and foundless accusation. It was certainly no excuse for shooting unpopular dinner guests in petulant displays of aristocratic revenge.
"He's trying to make you angry, Father. Probably hoping for a last chance at escape." Richard was speaking very softly, more calm now than Methos had seen him since Montgomery's collapse earlier in the evening. "Would you like me to take over?"
"I'm still the head of the house, thankyou Richard." Featherstone smiled unkindly, and raised one heavy brow. "See you in hell, whoever you really are."
"Oh I think I'll see you sooner than that." He readied himself for the shots, staring down the barrel of the gun. Daniel was already taking a spadeful of earth, waiting to begin filling in the grave. It was a scene that must have been played out in these grounds before, many times over the years. Successive generations of Featherstones, dealing with imagined slights and insults, handling family crises in the quickest and most secretive way that they could. Avoiding scandal, protecting the family name. He smiled sourly - and felt his whole body jerk under the impact of two bullets. The grave was fairly shallow, but as he tumbled backwards into it, and into something far, far deeper, it seemed that he was falling forever. He didn't remember when the ground came up to meet him. By then all that he knew was the dark.
Methos awoke to a cold breeze, and a mouthful of mud. He wanted to spit it out, but the only way to do that seemed to be to turn over, and his chest didn't want him to do that. He settled for choking instead, and saw stars exploding in the back of his skull when he did so.
"I should try breathing. It comes in handy when you want to be alive." The voice sounded very loud, which his skull disliked as much as it disliked the stars. The advice made sense though, so he tried breathing, and then remembered the mouthful of mud and wound up choking again. By the time he had managed to turn his head to the side and get rid of the obstruction to his windpipe, he was starting to feel a little more human. He opened his eyes.
It was night; darker than it had been when he had been taken outside. He was lying in the flower bed, the dug out remains of his grave just beside him, and Fitz sitting cross-legged at its edge. Few stars were visible, for it had begun to rain, and the sky was a mass of building cloud. Methos groaned.
"I should take it easy." For once Fitz was not being either jubilant or capricious, but sounded sympathetic. "Your chest was a mess when I pulled you out, and that wasn't that long ago. All that earth being thrown on top of the bullet holes must have got in the way of them healing."
"Ow." Methos managed to roll over, then realised that his hands were still tied behind him. "Why am I still tied up?"
"Several reasons." Fitz stretched, unconsciously revealing the fingers, torn from digging upwards through the ground, that were only just healing. "Only one of which being that I found it faintly amusing. I was tired when I finally managed to get out of my own hole, and then I had to pull you out of yours. I couldn't manage the knots, and I couldn't find your dagger." He touched his head rather ruefully. "And I couldn't see a lot, either. I think Richard fractured my skull in rather a lot of places."
"Oh." Sitting up and wishing that he hadn't, Methos shook his head to clear it, and spat out a bit more mud. "Thankyou. I don't like waking up underground."
"Who does?" Rubbing his hands quite violently through his hair to get rid of the earth tangled in his curls, Fitz stood up, hauling Methos up alongside him. "How do you feel?"
"Like I've been shot twice at close range with a bloody big gun, and then buried for a couple of hours." Methos glanced up again at the sky. "And then left out on a cold night in the middle of a rain storm. Can we get inside?"
"Where's your knife?"
"Hidden." He directed Fitzcairn to the secret sheath, then stretched his arms gratefully when they were free. "What time is it?"
"About ten I think." Fitzcairn handed him back the dagger. "I thought I heard a clock chime the hour just before you woke up."
"Ten?" It was later than he had hoped. "We have to get back in the house."
"I know. Can't exactly walk in through the front door though, can we." Fitz was rolling his head around, clearly still having problems with it. "I'm still seeing two of everything. He really must have hit me hard."
"Some Immortals we are." Wishing that his chest would stop hurting, and that the blood in his arms and shoulders would hurry up and start circulating properly, Methos started off back to the house. He pulled unconsciously at the bits of ropes still caught around his wrists as he went, unable to work his way through Daniel's impossibly complicated knots. This really was turning out to be one of his all time least favourite nights.
"Hey, we're alive aren't we?" Falling into step beside him, Fitzcairn began the process of making himself look tidy again. He clothes were decidedly bedraggled, but he tried straightening them all the same, doing the best that he could for a collar that had lost its stud, and a sleeve that might have dropped its silver cufflink anywhere between the makeshift graves and the drawing room. Methos rolled his eyes.
"I don't think anybody is going to care what you look like. If they see us they'll be too busy screaming and fainting to worry about how straight your cravat is."
"Georgina isn't the screaming and fainting type. And besides, I always like to look my best when there are beautiful women about. It's nice to make the right impression." He scowled. "And anyway, it's not exactly going to be the surprise it should be, is it, since somebody got loose with his tongue up in the nursery. Do you always go telling people what we are, or were you just in a particularly dim mood back then?"
"Dim? Me? Because I'm the one who got the whole family angry by playing at Tales From Conan Doyle, and then decided to make things worse by attacking one of the women with everybody watching. That really helped."
"I was attempting to solve the crime." Going back to his laborious attempts to make his clothes immaculate once again, Fitz scowled. "And anyway, getting myself hit over the head turned out to be the clever option. At least I missed out on getting myself shot that way."
"It's because of that that I got shot. If you hadn't been so damned quick off the mark we could still be inside in the warm, keeping the twins safe."
"Oh, rubbish. They decided to shoot us the moment Montgomery collapsed all over the dinner table." Having finally got his clothes more or less in order, Fitzcairn started rubbing his head instead, obviously still in some pain. "Why do head injuries take so damned long to heal, anyway?"
"In your case probably because you use your head so rarely that the rest of your body has forgotten it's up there." Methos took a new direction, heading towards the numerous garages instead of to the house. "Try to keep to the shadows, alright? We don't really want to be seen by everybody who happens to be near a window."
"I am keeping to the shadows. You're the one who's flaunting himself like a... like a big flaunty thing." Fitzcairn had to quicken his step to catch up with the other Immortal. "And where are we going, anyway?"
"The garages. My car is in one of them, and my sword is inside it." He wanted the sword. It would increase his self confidence, even if it didn't do anything else.
"Might be a way into the house from the garages." Fitz nodded, agreeing with the plan. "And don't think that I didn't catch that bit about my head. If it hadn't been for my head healing at least in part, you'd still be buried back in that flower bed. I'd like to see you trying to dig yourself out of it with your hands all tied up." He grinned. "Got you there, laddie. Now try to tidy yourself up before we break in. No sense in me looking so stylish and dashing if you're just going to lower the tone."
"Stylish and dashing?" Methos looked askance at the other man, eyeing him with a wry amusement. He might think that he looked stylish, but two hours underground tended to make it impossible for anybody to look that way. The large amounts of blood that stained so many of the dark blond curls didn't help, either. "You always think you look good, don't you."
"I do always look good. My dear fellow, I can understand a certain amount of jealousy on your part, but there's no point in denying the obvious. I'm renowned throughout the world - throughout the centuries - for my style and splendour. Women have been finding me irresistible for hundreds of years."
"Women have been finding all kinds of things irresistible for hundreds of years. Wigs, perfume and knickerbockers for starters." They reached the garage that they had been heading for, and Methos broke open the lock with his dagger. Inside, his car gleamed finely in the moonlight. Somebody had washed it by the look of things; some well intentioned servant of the Featherstone family, who was even now lying in the kitchen with his fellows, growing cold thanks to Mabel and her supply of poison. Fitzcairn sauntered up, eyeing the car with approval.
"Not bad. Who did you steal it from?"
"Nobody." Opening the driver's door, the old Immortal slid his hand under the seat and drew out his sword. There was not much light for the blade to catch, but it reflected a little, turning white-grey, and gleaming in stripes with the shadows. Fitz eyed it with a certain amount of trepidation.
"Now would probably be a good time to stop insulting you," he observed, apparently only half-joking. Methos nodded.
"I'd advise it." He let the sword lie in his hands for another moment, letting the coldness of the blade breathe a little more life into his still stiff arms and chest, then he slid the weapon back into its sheath, and buckled it on around his waist. He didn't often wear it openly these days, but sometimes you had to make exceptions.
"So now what?" Leaving the car, they headed to the back of the garage. Sure enough there was a door there, presumably leading inside the house at some conveniently out of the way point where they could be sure of not being seen. "We grab her? Make her confess?"
"How? They're probably all still in the drawing room together." Going to work on the lock, Methos glanced back at Fitzcairn. His companion, apparently unconsciously, was checking his appearance again. "Maybe we can do something to get the twins alone. They're the only ones who'll listen to us, and they might be able to help get Mabel away from the others."
"Chancy, but it might work." They slipped into a corridor that neither man recognised, and had to take a moment to get their bearings. "Okay. I'm always game for peering round doors and hissing 'psst'. Recalls my days doing secret operations for the underground Catholic rebel movement years ago. Lots of creeping around in dark corridors being terribly heroic."
"Underground Catholic rebel movement?" Methos shook his head slowly, faintly amused. "I don't remember a movement exactly, although I do remember hearing rumours of some botched attempt to blow up King George in Westminster Abbey. Whoever was behind that was even more hopeless than Guy Fawkes."
"Huh." Fitzcairn looked slightly subdued, which might have been for the first time ever. "Anyway, I still enjoy peering round doors and saying 'psst'. It's the kind of thing that women appreciate."
"Hmm." They were heading along the corridor now, past pictures of the local countryside. Several were paintings, others were photographs showing the gradual development of photography through the years. The sepia prints were faded, but the landmarks were still recognisable. Fitzcairn peered at them all in passing.
"These are good. I used to be a photographer."
"Yeah?" Methos wasn't really interested, but Fitz seemed to like chatting. The younger Immortal nodded.
"Struck me as a good way to make money. There weren't many people taking pictures at the time, but everybody wanted them. You can make a fortune when everybody wants to hire you."
"And did you make your fortune?" The corridor reached an intersection, leading onto the same one that they had followed earlier, when they had found themselves on their way to the kitchen. The immortal pair knew where they were now, and moved a little faster accordingly.
"Oh I'm always making my fortune." Fitz took the lead, moving with a lithe and silent speed that showed the real measure of the man. "I've made nearly as many fortunes as I've lost." They came to a halt outside the drawing room, and he fell silent, listening carefully. "I can't hear anything, can you?"
"No." Methos leant against the door, dagger in his hand. "She wouldn't have killed all of them?"
"I doubt it. Not her style, is it." Fitzcairn laid a hand on the nearest of the two ornate doorknobs, then looked up questioningly. "Shall we see?"
"Don't have a lot of choice, do we." Taking the other handle, Methos turned it very slowly. The faint click that it made sounded deafeningly loud to him, but he knew that it wouldn't be nearly so noticeable to anyone inside the room. They wouldn't be listening for it. A slight crack appeared as Fitz eased his door open, and soon there was enough of a space to peer through. Nobody was visible through that small crack, and Methos pushed the door a little wider. He could see the small, central table now, with the coffee pot still standing on it, and Louisa lying nearby. Her cigarette lay beside her hand, cold now, though presumably still just as deadly. The rest of the family were no longer gathered around her though.
"Where did they go?" Wandering in, Fitz looked about; at the remains of the sandwiches, carefully cut up in what had perhaps been the cook's last service for the family; at the neat chairs and the settee where he and Methos had been held at gun point; at the sideboard with its row of decanters holding sherry, brandy and whisky. Louisa's saucer still lay where it had fallen when she had learnt of David's death; and Elaine, sprawled in an ungainly shape nearby. Nobody had bothered taking either body down to the cellar to join Monty and David, or even to cover them up more completely. Such things did not generally affect Methos, but he could see that they bothered Fitz. The heartlessness of the Featherstone family had obviously got to him.
"Maybe they went to bed?" Nodding at the clock, which was now ticking onwards past ten fifteen, Methos sat down on the arm of the nearest easy chair. "It's all 'early to bed and early to rise' with these types."
"Bed? Who'd sleep after everything that's happened here?" Retrieving his sword-stick, Fitzcairn drew the blade and examined it unnecessarily. Somebody had obviously picked it up and sheathed it after he had been knocked out by Richard, but it didn't seem to have been used. The blade was still clean and flawless, and he slid it home again as though stowing away something terribly precious. "Maybe they left? Went to the village?"
"Lord Featherstone? He wouldn't go there for anything. Not when there's a chance of the story getting out." Methos went to the fireplace, eyeing the logs. By the look of things it had been more than an hour since any had been replaced. "Maybe they went somewhere else? The library? Back to the dining room?"
"Maybe we should ring the front door bell and wait for them to come and answer it." Only half joking, Fitzcairn headed back to the doors. "We'll try the library then?"
"And then upstairs." Punching the door frame on his way past it, Methos put his dagger away and drew his sword instead. He was getting uneasy now. The house was too quiet; too still. The sense of dislocation too great after his enforced absence. "Where the hell are they?"
"Ssh." Warning the older Immortal to silence, Fitz gestured into the corridor. "Sound carries in a place like this, and we're supposed to be dead. You might think it's a good idea to go telling all your girlfriends that you're immortal, but it's usually a good idea to keep it a secret, remember?"
"Alright." Pushing past his companion, Methos headed for the library. "And just for the record, I do not go telling all of my girlfriends what I am. There were special circumstances, and--"
"You have a habit of getting chatty when you should be keeping quiet, don't you." Taking the lead again, Fitz made for the library door. "I can't hear anything here, either."
"They've got to be somewhere." Once again Methos eased the door open, and once again they tried to gauge the room's contents through the tiny crack. Shelves of books lined the walls of the library, and wing-backed chairs stood like stiff, leather sentries; but there were no people visible. He sighed and pushed the door wide. "Maybe they have gone to bed."
"Maybe some of them have." Wandering ahead, Fitzcairn had seen something beside the chairs, and he crouched down beside it. "You better take a look at this."
"At what?" Methos joined him, staring down at the figure that was lying stretched out on the thick rug covering the polished floorboards in the centre of the room. Her clothing was neat and there was no sign of a struggle, but it was obvious that she was dead, and that her neck had been broken. It was Mabel.
"Where does this leave us?" Sitting down on one of the chairs, Fitz looked up at Methos. "I was so sure we were right."
"We were. We had to be." Methos started to pace, one eye on the door all the time. "Maybe Richard...?"
"Revenge? Or more damage limitation? I don't know. She'd be buried in the garden with the rest of the wrongdoers if that was the case. Could it be an accident?"
"Did she trip on the rug you mean? No, she's been laid here gently enough. She didn't fall there." The old Immortal tapped irritably on his leg with his sword blade. "What the hell happened here?"
"We'd better look upstairs. I don't like this." Standing up, Fitzcairn drew his own sword, at the same time brandishing the stick he had pulled it from as though it too were a weapon. Certainly it was made from stout wood, and the gleaming metal end could do damage enough with a bit of force behind it. It seemed an unnecessary precaution to go so heavily armed against a beleaguered family of aristocrats, especially when the only person they had real reason to suspect of ill deeds was already dead, but the atmosphere now was changing. Both men felt it, with the heightened senses that all of their kind possessed, particularly those who had already lived several mortal life spans. Senses kept you alive, and showed you the world through different, sharper eyes.
"There are still a lot of rooms down here." Methos looked about the ground floor corridor, but could think of nowhere that the family was likely to use as a refuge. Fitz was right, and upwards was the most likely direction to take now. They went together to the stairs, their jokes and exchange of insults from earlier now forgotten. Now they were just two old warriors doing what their people had always done best, whether they had learnt their skills in an ancient Europe that was long forgotten, or in the more recent England of the Middle Ages. There was only a faint light on the stairs, a scattering of dim lamps, gas powered and unreliable, and badly in need of an upgrade to the greater efficiency of electricity. It meant that there was barely enough light to see where to put their feet as they headed upstairs.
"Were to?" Fitz breathed the words so quietly that Methos barely heard them. He shrugged in answer, wondering about that himself. The twins' bedrooms? The nursery? Where did the others sleep when they were staying here? He had no idea, for he had not bothered to find out. Kronos would roll his eyes in impatience, he knew, at such a display of stupidity. Always check the lay of the land; always familiarise yourself with the area - how often had they told each other that? But much had changed, and Methos no longer thought of such things these days. He wasn't the warrior so much anymore; just a guy now, wandering through life with as little trouble and hardship as possible.
They reached the first landing at the same time, separating slightly, almost as though they expected an attack from the grandfather clock that stood there. There was no sound save its ominous ticking, and Methos quelled an urge to shut the damn thing up. He nodded to Fit, and they started to climb again, up the next flight, all the time looking back the way they had come, and peering ahead into the murky half light that lay before them. They could see nobody, and hear nothing. Nothing save the clock.
"I wish there was more light." Straining his eyes to see properly, Fitz silently cursed the gas lamps for their incessant flickering. Methos nodded.
"Doesn't help not being sure what we're seeing." They reached the next landing, and he gestured on down the corridor to Rebecca's room. The doors stood half open, and he could see a glow from within. Somebody had turned on a light in there, and there was certainly a chance that they were still inside. Fitz nodded.
"Right with you." He hefted his sword. "On three?"
"On three." They moved towards the door with speed, then readied themselves in the corridor for the next move. All the while they watched each other, the countdown a silent one, Fitz's fingers marking the time. Methos wasn't sure that he wanted to take the next step, but if Rebecca was already dead there was no point in hanging around in dark corridors without finding out about it. As Fitz's fingers hit zero, and the clock on the landing chimed its clockwork half hour, the Immortals swung into the room.
"Stephen!" It was Rebecca, sitting on the bed with her knees drawn up to her chin. She was pale; too pale. The shine was gone from her eyes, too, and even her usually buoyant red hair seemed darker, heavier, less lively. Methos hurried over to her.
"Are you alright?" He hadn't lowered his sword, and she looked at it nervously.
"I don't know. I was worried. I kept thinking that... that I'd imagined everything, and that you weren't really... you know. I thought you were dead. Daddy said he buried you in the garden..."
"He did." Methos could still taste the mud in his mouth, and his chest was still sore. Oh for the days when he still sought bloody and terrible retribution for such transgressions - but then Rebecca probably wouldn't appreciate it much if he pulled all her father's fingernails out, and then skinned him alive.
"But fortunately I saved the day." Fitz smiled broadly, and gave his quirky little bow once again. "And now, once again, we are at your service, dear lady. Is Georgina alright?"
As far as I know. I haven't... I mean, I wanted to..." She shook her head. "Daddy had Richard lock us all in our bedrooms to keep us safe, but when my door opened... well I got scared, and stayed in here. I was afraid of what I might find if I went out there."
"You were locked in, but your door opened?" Methos went over to it. It hadn't been forced, that much was clear. "I wonder who's been messing about with that then?"
"Richard, if he's the one with the key," said Fitz. Methos nodded.
"Maybe. We should find the others."
"You think Richard opened the door?" Rebecca still hadn't moved from the bed. "I thought you suspected Mabel?"
"Of the murders, yes. But Mabel's dead." Methos was looking up and down the corridor, worrying over why everything was so quiet. "Somebody killed her in the library."
"We were rather hoping you might have a theory about that." Gallantly helping her to her feet, Fitz led her over to the door. "And about one or two other things. Why did you all leave the drawing room?"
"I didn't want to stay there any longer, not with Louisa and Elaine lying there. We went to the library, but we were all pretty restless. Georgina was upset, and I couldn't convince her that you'd be alright. I wasn't sure I believed it myself, and Richard kept boasting about how you were both dead. In the end Georgie said that she wanted to be alone, and I didn't blame her, but when we said we were going for a walk Mabel said that she liked the idea too, and Daddy thought it would be better if the three of us all went together." She flushed. "Well we wouldn't. Nobody else believed what you said, but we did. There was no way we were going to go for a walk with Mabel... and there was an argument, and she got all upset, and then Daddy told us all that we could just shut up and go to bed, so he had Richard lock us all in. He said we all had to be alone, so we couldn't go suspecting each other and getting afraid. I think he was angry because we weren't pleased about how he'd dealt with you two." She drew in a deep breath, looking a little exhausted by her long outburst. "Are you sure Mabel is dead? Really sure?"
"Yes." Methos thought about the neck, and knew that there was no mistake. She might have looked peaceful, and she might have been laid out gently, but there had been nothing gentle about the snap that it must have taken to break her spine.
"And she's not... like you?"
"No." Fitzcairn's voice was more gentle than that of his fellow Immortal, but then Fitzcairn was rather more of a sensitive man. He tried to offer her a reassuring smile. "But it doesn't have to mean anything particularly. Maybe somebody found out that she was the killer, and... well. Decided to do the hangman's job for him. Wouldn't be the first time."
"No. No, my father certainly proved that tonight." She stared at the carpet. "This was going to be such a lovely weekend. I thought that we could have some fun, making the others think that we were terribly badly behaved. I like making Daddy look disapproving, and the first half of dinner was wonderful... and then... Poor Monty, and the others. And Louisa." She buried her head in Fitzcairn's chest, and gave her a quick hug. Methos was still out in the corridor, still searching for clues, or listening for the others. He glanced back, though, when Rebecca's sobbing became audible.
"Maybe you should leave," he suggested. "Take my car, go to the village. Perhaps there's somebody there that you can stay with."
"But not the police." She stared at him accusingly. "Even after Daddy tried to kill you, you still don't want to go to the police. You're as bad as he is."
"I've wanted to go to the police plenty of times tonight, believe me." He came back over, and gently pulled her away from Fitz. "But you know that we can't. Even if your family chooses to be sensible and not tell everybody that they shot and killed the pair of us earlier, we're still the only ones likely to be held up as suspects. I don't like that kind of attention. Sorry."
"He's right, I think." Fitz flashed her an apologetic smile. "Best if we keep things quiet. I've seen the insides of enough prison cells in my life to have no intention of risking another one, especially if it means leaving you and Georgie alone with a murderer on the loose - and I don't want people asking awkward questions about why we're not buried in a flower bed, either."
"Yes." She smiled, clearly looking at them properly for the first time since they had found her cowering on her bed. "You'd certainly cause a few questions, both of you. Fitz, it looks as if your head's been split open, and Stephen... well. You won't be wearing that shirt again. Just as well you didn't take my advice and wear your best suit to dinner."
"Huh. This was my best suit." Looking down at the ruined and muddy white shirt, with its two large, blood-edged holes, Methos made a face. Sartorial elegance had never been one of his finer points, but this was taking casual dress too far even for him. Mud from the flower bed stained his trousers as well, and he knew that there were sure to be smudges of it on his face. He probably looked much as he had after a particularly good battle, back in the old days. No time for getting cleaned up, though. Not with so much that still needed explaining. "Come on. Whatever we look like, we've still got to find the others."
"Georgina's room is at the end of the corridor." Fitz moved into the lead, not at all enjoying the pervading atmosphere of foreboding. "Damned old houses. Why does everything have to creak so much?"
"Mostly because nothing's been repaired in fifty years." Rebecca edged closer to Methos, even though she knew that the noises of the house were harmless. She had grown up with them, and listened to them every night as a child; but just now everything had lost its familiarity. "Stephen, who do you suppose unlocked my bedroom door?"
"I don't know. Perhaps it was Georgina, but she was scared away by something before she went in to you?" He didn't really believe that, and knew that she wouldn't either. She shook her head.
"Georgie would have come in. She'd know that I'd be afraid if somebody opened my door and then didn't say anything. If it was her... well then something pretty terrible must have happened to make her go away. You don't think-?"
"No." Fitz spoke firmly. "She's fine, and you're both going to stay that way. Whoever opened your door... well it's best not to dwell on that. Whoever it was probably heard me and Stephen coming into the house, and got scared away. Just think about how lucky you are."
"And not about how lucky I very nearly wasn't." She did a good job of managing not to quake. "It was him, wasn't it. The killer. Mabel's killer I mean."
"Probably. Although why he'd come after you..." Methos shrugged. He didn't know anything else, and there was no point in scaring her by discussing possibilities. Fitz had come to a halt outside the end door, and was standing very still, listening.
"I can't hear anything," he said quietly. Methos nodded slowly. Neither could he.
"Ready?" he asked. Fitz shrugged. He reached out, testing the door knob very slowly, and discovering, to his not very great surprise, that it was unlocked.
"Somebody's been here," he observed. There was a sadness in his face. Methos sympathised, but there was work to do. He pushed Rebecca away, as gently as he could whilst still being firm, and made sure that she was not going to follow them. Not until they had found out one way or another.
The light was turned off inside the room, and the shifting clouds outside the windows made the moonlight sporadic. It leant a fluttering silveriness to the room, which illuminated the large shapes of the antique furniture, creating huge and bulky shadows all over the walls and the floor. Methos had always had good night vision, a skill picked up, perhaps, through years of associating with the shadow dwelling Kronos, and it did not take him long to ascertain that the room was empty, at least of human life. A spider scuttled across the windowpane, creating a massive shadow of itself on the far wall that might have been startling, had both men not had rather more pressing concerns. Fitz checked under the bed, and in the huge oaken wardrobe, and Methos threw a quick look into the small, quaintly furnished en suite bathroom - but there was nobody there. Georgina had gone.
"Do you suppose she left of her own accord?" Thinking inescapably of Mabel, sprawled alone in the library, Fitz turned to look at Methos. There was genuine worry on his face. For all his obvious womanising ways, and his generally cavalier attitude to most things, Fitzcairn clearly had depths. The women in his life meant something to him, even if there were countless hundreds of them.
"There's no sign of a struggle." Besides, why would anybody want to take her away? Methos could see no reason for it, although in one of his more tactful moments, he didn't point that out. If anybody had wanted to do something to Georgina, they would have killed her here, not lured her away, or abducted her first. The murders of the first part of the evening; a game of timing and poison, were over. There was no subtlety in evidence now.
"We should carry on looking. See if we can find any of the others." Fitz was already heading back to the door, trying to convince himself that his lady friend was in some other room, waiting with the rest of the family, maybe sharing a joke over the worry they had caused. Knowing that Georgina was not the type to play such a joke stopped even that small fantasy from easing his troubled mind.
"Maybe in one of the other bedrooms." Methos headed back to the door, wondering if there was some gentle way that he could best phrase their lack of discovery to Rebecca. She would be glad, surely, that Georgina was not hurt, but hardly reassured by the fact that the truth of her twin's safety could not properly be established.
"Well?" She was practically in the doorway, not quite daring to peer around it. "Did you--"
"She's not in there." Fitzcairn stepped past her, looking back down the corridor. "Where would she have gone?"
"Nowhere. Not without me. Are you sure that--"
"We're sure." Methos tried out a smile that he was fairly certain wouldn't have reassured anybody. "She's not in there."
"I suppose I should be glad." She smiled back, looking pale and distracted. "It's possible I suppose. If somebody came for her, or if she thought that she would be coming right back..." Her expression changed suddenly. "Or maybe--" But whatever she had thought of so suddenly, Methos and Fitzcairn were not to find out, for she broke off abruptly at the sound of a terrified scream. Fitzcairn's sword snapped up into its fighting position, and he came to attention almost like a well schooled soldier.
"That was Madeline." Rebecca's voice sounded flat. "Stephen..."
"Come on." He was breaking into a run even though he knew that he should be telling her to stay behind. Fitzcairn followed on, a competent rearguard that Methos actually found he had faith in, even if he didn't entirely understand why. He still hadn't seen the fellow fight.
"It's down a floor. Almost beneath my room." Rebecca sounded out of breath, although she couldn't have got that way yet through exertion. Remembering his promises to her earlier, that the weekend would be quiet and ordinary, Methos felt a rush of pity for the girl. It was enough to send her mad overnight, when all that she had wanted had been to introduce him to a family she loved despite its failings.
He almost lost his footing going down the stairs, the high polish of the wood seeming like glass to his light footwear. How so few servants had managed to make so much of the house so clean and shiny was beyond him, but since there was no longer any chance of seeing them at work, he could only imagine how many long, hard hours they must have devoted to the task. In the dreadful light of the stairwell he could only faintly see the clock that stood so prominently on the landing, and he came close to colliding with it. He might have laughed at his apparent clumsiness, if he hadn't been so anxious. Behind him he could hear Fitzcairn's own sliding feet, although Rebecca seemed more certain of her footing. Perhaps she was more used to running on highly polished stairs than were they. Perhaps she was just the only one of them not stupid enough to be wearing fashionable shoes.
"This way." She tried to take the lead when they reached the next floor, but Methos pushed her behind him. Fitzcairn caught her, stopping her from running back to the front of their little line.
"Stay back," he hissed at her, with enough urgency in his voice to make her obey. He saw her nod, faintly, the movement little more than a ghosting of her too pale face in the midst of the darkness. She didn't try to stop him as he pushed her behind him, but she stayed close.
"This the room?" Methos spoke so quietly that his words were little more than a sigh. Fitzcairn felt the girl nod, but her own words, if she used any, were inaudible. He glanced back at her, briefly, and saw her staring at the ground. It was all but invisible, but she seemed fixated on it anyway.
"It's the place." He spoke her answer for her, and Methos nodded. There was no sound coming from inside the room now; no scuffles or further screams; nothing that indicated that there was something inside, or a reason for the obvious fear displayed earlier. The door was closed, but when Methos laid a hand on the wrought iron knob, it turned easily. The door swung open without so much as a creak.
"It's dark inside." He raised his sword, ready for the possibility of an attack, but none came. Inside the room a light was burning; a small oil lamp on a table, that fluttered and glowed with a white light. By its pale illumination, rather like that of the intermittent moon shining through the oddly uncovered window, Methos saw the table itself and little else. A book lay open, the pages unmoving in the absence of any sort of a breeze; a glass half filled with something ruby red stood beside it. Other than that the room was in shadow. Drawing a breath, Methos stepped inside and headed straight for the lamp.
There was a little wheel on the side that controlled the burning of the wick, just as there was on every such lamp. His fingers found it with all the ease of familiarity, and the glow brightened immediately. He saw the table in full detail, down to the tiny carvings at the edge of its surface; he saw the tiny printed text of the book that lay open; he saw the gleam of light reflected in the huge mirror that was nailed to the wall. He saw something else, too; something reflected in the mirror. Something that made him look instinctively to the door, to make certain that Rebecca had not tried to follow him inside.
Madeline was dead. It was pointless checking, for he was certain that nobody could have survived such an attack. One of the curtain rails had been torn down, leaving a heap of thick velvet beneath the window where the curtains themselves had fallen loose; and the long metal pole had become a frightful spear. Madeline lay on her bed, the curtain rail driven through her chest so hard that it had gone through the bed itself as well, and by the look of things had even stuck itself into the floorboards. A gigantic stain of blood was spread across her dress, and had even sprayed up onto the wall. One of her hands hung over the side of the bed, and the blood was still running down it, still dripping onto the floor. She had been dead no more than a minute or two by his reckoning, and he wondered if the scream he had heard had been the sound of her death.
"Stephen?" It was Fitzcairn's voice, and Methos went quickly to the door. He didn't want Rebecca to see this without at least some form of preparation.
"She's here." He kept his voice low, partly from an unwillingness to disturb the quiet, and partly because he knew that the killer was not likely to be too far away. "She's dead. I'm sorry Rebecca."
"Dead." She didn't sound as surprised as she might have done earlier in the day, and he hated to hear that change in her voice. It felt almost as though he were responsible for putting it there.
"Yes." He debated over whether to invite her inside, but decided in the end that she didn't need that. Instead he moved aside for Fitzcairn, and wasn't surprised when Rebecca hung back. He left her in the corridor, and turned back inside.
"Good grief." Fitzcairn took the lamp from Methos, moving closer to the bed. "Somebody was pretty angry."
"Angry or insane." Methos trailed after him. "She's been pinned to the bed."
"But a curtain rail? Doesn't suggest that the killer came here planning to murder her. It's more of a last minute thing, wouldn't you say?" Fitz glanced about the room. "No sign of a struggle. Nothing except the torn down curtains."
"Somebody came in, spoke to her, and at some point decided to kill her." Methos shrugged. "Seems pretty straightforward."
"Murder is never straightforward." Apparently about to go back into his Sherlock Holmes act, Fitzcairn sheathed his sword and stood up straight. His companion's fierce glare didn't discourage him in the slightest. "Her father, or one of her two brothers. It has to be. I don't think that the women of this family are strong anough to do something like this."
"Not unless they were all in it together." Methos gave an experimental tug on the curtain rail, but all that came loose was more blood. The rail itself was immovable, and he couldn't believe that it had been driven in with any great deal less difficulty than it would take to remove it. He certainly couldn't imagine Lady Featherstone being behind such force, and the only other women left alive in the family now were the twins.
"This is not turning into a great night." Fitzcairn turned smartly on his heel, Sherlock Holmes pretence abandoned, usual flair replaced with sharp practicality. "Come on. We're getting the others out of the house, and then we're going straight for the police. I don't care if they lock us up and throw away the keys. This has been going on long enough."
"Yes, I suppose you're right." Methos trailed along after him, back across the room. "Although if we get them all out of the house we'll be taking the killer along too."
"Doesn't matter. Whoever it is won't do anything while we're all together." Fitzcairn tugged open the door that he didn't remember closing. "By then we should know who it is anyway."
"We will?" Methos was starting to feel a little left behind by the abrupt change in attitude of his fellow Immortal. The often grandiose body language was still there, and so were the faint flourishes of speech, but the laziness, the nonchalance, were gone completely.
"We will. Whoever did this is either going to be covered in blood or wearing something different to earlier. We're not exactly left with a lot of suspects now anyway, are we."
"Not really." Following Fitzcairn out into the corridor, Methos looked about in surprise. "Where's Rebecca?"
"She wouldn't have wandered off? Not with a killer on the loose?" Fitz shook his head in disbelief. "How could anybody be so stupid? Of all the--" He broke off. "Stephen, shine that lamp over here."
"Light?" It took a surprisingly long moment to realise that he was still holding the oil lamp, but at Fitzcairn's understandably derogatory look it sank in, and he obliged. The faint light shone down onto the dark wood of the floorboards, and picked out the shape of a small golden brooch. It had a design engraved into it, depicting bold swirls and tiny flowers, and Methos knew it at once. Fitzcairn picked it up.
"There's still some material pinned to it," he said slowly. "I don't think this fell off."
"We shouldn't have left her out here alone." Swinging the lamp about, Methos looked for some other signs of what must have happened. "Damn it! He could have taken her anywhere."
"Maybe not. Look." Fitzcairn was pointing at the wall, where a small smudge of blood stood out even against the wooden panelling. "I think our killer stayed close by, and he still had Madeline's blood all over him when he grabbed Rebecca. It was still wet."
"Then we better hope that he knocked against the wall again." Methos went further along the corridor to his right, looking for more such stains. "I can't see anything this way."
"Then we try the other way." Fitzcairn swung his sword-stick with an almost jaunty speed. "Maybe he's taking her to Georgina."
"Maybe." Methos flashed the light onto the walls again, but could see no further sign of blood. "Maybe we should split up? That way we can cover both directions."
"And walk straight into a trap one at a time." Fitzcairn shook his head. "I don't know about you, but I have a knack for getting into awkward situations. I'd like to buck the trend just this once."
"We're taking a big chance assuming they went this way. There's no nice trail of blood to prove it." Methos stared back at the one smudge that had first alerted them to the possibility of an easy task. "Although I suppose the blood in this mark does seem to be smudged this way."
"Then it's settled." Fitzcairn offered him one of his insufferably cheerful smiles. "It's this way."
They ran along the corridor with no thought now of silence. It seemed unlikely that this new killer had no knowledge of them, since he had undoubtedly been close by when they had discovered Madeline's body; so stealth gave way to urgency and they hurried on. Fitzcairn's optimism seemed not in the slightest bit dampened by the fact that they had no idea where they were heading, and he threw open doors as they passed them with reckless abandon. Methos had no idea quite what such foolishness was supposed to accomplish, but he found himself carried along by his fellow Immortal's enthusiasm anyway, even if he was constantly expecting to have his chest blown apart by gunfire at any moment, for the second time that night.
"What do we do when we find them?" He asked the question in a lull between doors, when the lengthy corridor widened out into a gallery of sorts. Several busts of old family members stood guard over a balcony that looked down onto the lower floor, and several paintings with frames that looked as though they could easily have solved the family's financial problems, gazed stonily down onto the bedraggled Immortal pair. Fitzcairn paused.
"Yes, do. When we throw open one of these doors and find somebody on the other side of it with a knife to Rebecca's throat; or we find most of the remaining members of the family lined up waiting to shoot us down? Puffing on your damn pipe and pretending to be Sherlock Holmes doesn't make you bullet-proof, and getting shot isn't going to help the twins."
"Oh. You mean that sort of do." Fitzcairn looked slightly thrown. "I was rather assuming that you had a plan."
"Me? You're the one running about throwing doors open."
"Yes. But you were following me without bothering to complain much." Fitzcairn sighed. "I have to confess that planning isn't my strongest suit exactly. Or at least, I'm rather good at making plans - lots of them as it happens. I'm just not quite so good at making them work. Things enjoy going wrong." He smiled, looking none too concerned. "So I take it that we don't have a plan then?"
"Not an immediate one, no." Methos sighed. Luck was a curious thing, but quite why it disliked him so much he didn't think he would ever discover. "How about we carry on as before?"
"And if we throw open a door and find the remaining members of the family ready to shoot us down?"
"Well we won't be shooting back, that's for sure. Not unless you have a pistol you've been keeping to yourself all this time."
"No pistol, no." Fitzcairn shrugged. "Don't even own one as it happens. I did have one once, that I bought in the Americas about fifty years ago. Had a pearl handle that the ladies of San Francisco used to quite admire." He sighed. "But it was stolen, one night while I was asleep."
"By the ladies of San Francisco?"
"No, in Blackpool about six months ago, by a very beautiful young lady named Carmella who had quite the most flexible body you could ever imagine. There's something about a Spanish lady contortionist."
"No doubt." Wondering exactly how the little story could possibly be relevant, Methos began moving forward, heading for the end of the gallery, and the beginning once again of rows of doors. "Fitzcairn?"
"Did you ever go for a quiet weekend somewhere that actually did turn out to be a quiet weekend?"
"Honestly?" The younger Immortal was silent for a moment, then shrugged and smiled one of his characteristically cheerful smiles. "Not very often, no. Why?"
"No reason." Methos hefted his sword in his hand. "Just wondering."
"Oh." Fitzcairn gestured towards the first of the doors. "Time to go back to throwing doors open with reckless abandon?"
"I shouldn't bother." It was Richard's voice, which didn't come as much of a surprise to either Immortal, even if its sudden appearance did. They looked back the way they had come, and up ahead into the continuing corridor, but there was no sign of the elder Featherstone child. There was just empty corridor; a long, tapering row of wooden panelling, decorated with an occasional painting. There were no people, or so it appeared at first; for only as their eyes began to adjust to the darker gloom at the far end of the corridor could they discern the human shape standing at one side of it. The shape of a man, holding a gun, and staring back towards them. Fitzcairn sighed.
"So much for throwing open the door and coming face to face with him. What do you want to do?"
"I'd suggest surrendering." Richard could obviously hear them clearly, despite the distance, and his voice carried well in return. If the corridor transmitted sound so well there was little chance of a quiet conversation to discuss strategy, so Methos merely shrugged.
"I don't fancy getting shot again."
"Fine." Fitzcairn shouldered his sword-stick with a typical air of insouciance, and started forward. "Might as well give up then."
"Fitzcairn!" Wishing that the confounded man would at least look as though he was taking things seriously, Methos hurried after him. He didn't lower his sword as he went, although he didn't really plan to use it. There was no telling where the twins were, or in what kind of danger they might be; and if Richard was not acting alone, attacking him might be the worst thing to do.
"I'm not going to ask how you come to still be alive." Richard's eyes were narrowed, and his face, as they came close enough to see it, twisted unpleasantly. "But clearly you are."
"We're hard to kill." Fitzcairn beamed at him, in a manner almost guaranteed to annoy. "Unlike you, I'd wager."
"And unlike my sisters, who you seem to care something for." Richard reached out with one hand, pushing the door nearest to him so that it swung wide. They could all see into the room beyond then; a bedroom, sparsely furnished, but hung with a great many paintings. They were landscapes mostly, by artists of varying skill and expertise, and they gave the walls a blue-green blur of colour that was fed by the blue light of the gas lamps on the walls. There were oil lamps as well; at least ten of them standing at various points around the room, flickering faintly and casting short shadows, illuminating the mixed group waiting inside the room. It was a small group, for there were few enough of the family left alive. Arthur and Beatrice Featherstone, roughly tied, sat on a small leather couch to one side, looking shocked but otherwise alright. Both were white-faced at the appearance of two men they had believed to be dead, and Beatrice was beginning to tremble. Opposite them, tied rather more securely, were their twin daughters. All four were gagged, and all four were watching the three men now in the doorway. Fitzcairn took a step forward, relief for once chasing all sign of clownishness from his face.
"Georgie! I thought you'd run off and left us."
"Keep back." It was Daniel, stepping up from behind the twins, a dark and gleaming gun held firmly in both hands. He looked pale, and his eyes were strangely bright. Fitzcairn stopped immediately.
"So you're in on this too." His quick eyes surveyed the others, wondering how much they knew of what had happened. Did Lord and Lady Featherstone know that those of their children who were with them now were the only ones that remained?
"He's helping me." Giving Methos a hard shove, Richard followed on into the room. "Aren't you Daniel."
"I'm helping him." Daniel didn't sound too certain, but Richard seemed to be providing him with a focus that he otherwise lacked.
"Did you help him to kill your sister?" Not bothering to resist as his sword was taken from him, Methos turned hard eyes onto the younger Featherstone son. "You did know Madeline was dead?"
"I... knew." Daniel sounded as though he might be lying, and his parents certainly looked shocked. Fitzcairn guessed that this was the first any of them, save Rebecca, had heard of it, and he wished that Methos had been a little more circumspect. Georgina, was also hearing the news for the first time, and her shoulders began to shake.
"She had to die." Richard gave Methos another push, directing him into the middle of the room, right between the two couches that held his other prisoners. "For the good of the family."
"The good of the family?" Methos' mind went back, to a similar conversation earlier in the day. "Anything to avoid a scandal."
"Exactly." Richard was checking the load in his gun, looking and sounding excited now. "Just like when we had to kill you earlier. Just like I had to kill Mabel too. You were right, and it was her doing the killing, so once I found that out I had to kill her. Then I had to kill everybody else, too. Secrets need keeping, for the good of the family, and everybody who knows about all of this has to die too. That way nobody knows." He smiled happily at his father, who didn't meet his eyes. "Maybe it would have been alright if you'd stayed dead. Maybe then the secret could have stayed dead with you, or with Mabel." He frowned suddenly. "Is Mabel still dead?"
"Yes." Fitzcairn gently laid down his stick, hoping that, since Richard had not taken it, he had forgotten its hidden blade. If that was so, keeping it out of his sight might be a considerable advantage. Richard frowned at him.
"Are you sure? Because if she's not then we'll have to start all over again. Her, and Madeline... And what if Montgomery and the others have come back to life as well? Then everything since will have been pointless, and I won't need to have killed anybody." He scratched his head, then shook it hard. "Or maybe I'll have to kill everybody, all over again right from the start."
"Um..." Fitzcairn hesitated before continuing, not entirely certain that he was following this line of argument. "If we all promise to keep this a secret, how about not killing any of us?"
"Shut up." Since Fitzcairn was not within easy reach, Richard thumped Methos instead. "Don't think I haven't worked it all out. The two of you turn up here, and suddenly people start dying, and just because Mabel was the one who killed them, I'm supposed to believe that she was responsible? It's never that simple. These things happen to try us and to test us, and I can see straight through your disguise. I killed you. I smashed your skull - and you. My father shot you. I can see the holes in your shirt and the blood on your chest, so don't try to tell me that he missed, or that the bullet was deflected somehow. You're dead men, both of you - except that you're not. And that just about proves it, wouldn't you say?"
"Proves what exactly?" Methos was having as much difficulty following Richard's reasoning as was Fitzcairn. Richard smiled unpleasantly, and rammed the muzzle of his gun against the Immortal's head. Methos froze. He hadn't got a clear look at the weapon, and had no idea of its calibre, but it felt big and heavy, and he didn't fancy his chances if it went off this close to his head.
"Proves everything. That you're devils, come here to cause trouble. That you caused Mabel to kill the others, so that I had to kill her as well. So that I had to kill everybody. To protect the family, to keep it all a secret, I have to kill everybody. All because you came here." He knocked the gun against Methos' skull once again, to press home his point. "Both of you, and you know that being alive again proves it. I don't know what you did to my sisters to make them bring you here, but since I have to kill them both anyway I don't suppose it matters. Not now."
"Kill us now and we'll only come back again." Methos kept his voice level, extremely unhappy about the gun. Richard just laughed.
"I doubt it. I've brought them all here to watch, and they're going to go with you to make sure that you don't come back. That way it'll work, won't it Daniel."
"I should think so." Daniel didn't sound remotely convinced, but his uncertainty didn't seem to bother Richard any. Instead his older brother nodded.
"See. Daniel's the one who always paid attention in Bible classes. Extra marks for answering all the questions right. That's why I know that I can kill you properly this time."
"You're daft, man." Exasperation leant heat to Fitzcairn's words. "You think that you can keep us dead by killing your family as well? What are they going to do? Drag us into the next world with them? We're immortal, you fool. You can't kill us no matter how many people you kill as well." He leaned over, pulling off Georgina's gag. "And then what? Do you and Daniel kill each other, to make sure that your secret stays kept? Your family name won't matter much when there's no family left."
"The name is all that matters. It's what will be remembered long after we're gone." Daniel drew himself up to his full height, looking hugely self-important. "The Featherstones have always kept their reputation, and we won't lose it now just because of you. We've always handled trouble ourselves, as we saw fit, we've always dealt with troublemakers ourselves, and we've always kept everything within these walls. Just because the rest of the world is changing around us, doesn't mean that we have to as well. You'll die, both of you, and all of this will die with you. The Featherstone name will remain untarnished, and nobody need ever find out what's been going on here tonight. That's what matters. That's what always matters."
"I couldn't have put it better myself." Richard was beaming, although his father merely shook his head in sorrow. Methos might have smiled, if he had been in more of a mind for it. Lord Featherstone, it seemed, did not now think much of the monster he had created. Daniel smiled shakily at his brother.
"I'm right then, aren't I. Our name. The family name. Nobody will ever know."
"Nobody will ever find out a thing." Richard twisted and turned his gaze about, looking at the others all at once. "All that we have to do is to finish the job."
"How?" Annoyed now, and not least by the manner in which the other prisoners all seemed to be looking at him, expecting him to do something decisive, Methos stepped backwards away from the gun. "How are you going to kill us all? Shoot us one by one? If you don't kill us all at the same time, how do you expect your family to keep Fitzcairn and me dead? Or hadn't you thought of that?"
"I've thought of everything." Richard still sounded confident, although Daniel was beginning to frown.
"We have to kill them all at once?" he asked. Richard glared at him.
"That's why I'm thinking of everything, and not you." He sounded brutal, but he smiled suddenly, reassuring his brother immediately. "But I couldn't do this without you."
"So he says now." Fitzcairn tried out his own attempt at a voice as brutal as Richard's had just been. "But he's going to kill you as well, Daniel. He'll have to. How can he leave you alive, when he's so determined to kill everybody else who knows about this?"
"He's not going to kill me. Doesn't have to. He knows I'm not going to talk to anybody." Daniel stood tall, shoulders back, a classic military pose. "I'm doing this to protect the family name, aren't I. Not going to do anything to bring it down afterwards."
"And what do you say if anybody ever asks you what happened to your family? What happens when the people in the village wonder where your father and mother are?" Methos had eyes like flint, and a voice that was no less hard. Even Fitzcairn looked surprised, and he at least knew that an Immortal would often have more than one side to their personality. Richard glowered at him.
"We'll tell them whatever we think they need to hear. Holidays, business trips. People emigrate, move away. My father has often talked of retiring to the house he owns down in Dorset. There are a hundred excuses that could work, if they have to. But you don't know the people around here. They don't ask questions, especially about this family."
"So that's it then." Looking up, her eyes wide in her pale face, Georgina pressed closer to Fitzcairn. "You're really going to kill us. Like you killed Mabel, and - and Madeline."
"Well it's nothing personal, Georgina." His smile was almost kind. "You just have to understand that it's for the best. I'm doing this for you as well." He reached out, grabbing Methos by the collar of his ruined shirt. "And anyway, it's your fault as well .You and Rebecca. You brought them here. Look at this man. He has blood all over him, and earth. You do know why that is? He was shot dead, and buried in a hole in the garden, but he's still here. If he and your boyfriend there hadn't come, Mabel would never have killed anybody. How could she? You knew her. She was... well she wasn't a killer, was she. When did she ever do anything to suggest that she could kill Montgomery and David... Elaine... Louisa. All the servants...?" He shook Methos, a violent animal shaking its prey. "It's all led to this, you see. Poor Mabel..."
"Poor Mabel had been planning this for months." Fitzcairn's fingers itched to pull out his pipe, but he left it in his pocket. Drawing anything out now would probably only invite a bullet, and the blood on Methos' shirt was reminder enough of how painful all of that was. "We're not demons, Richard. Or devils, or magicians. Mabel wanted the family money, and she didn't want to share it with anybody. She knew the family well enough to know that your father would never allow the police to be brought in, and she knew exactly how to kill you all without implicating herself. We had nothing to do with it."
"If you were innocent, you would be dead." Richard spat the words out, his voice a deep-throated growl that seemed likely to tear his own vocal chords with its ferocity. "There's no way that you're going to talk your way out of this, Fitzcairn. My wife was driven mad by demons. She would never have done this to my family otherwise. I exorcised her demons. If I could have left it there, I would; but I saw it all clearly enough when I was breaking her neck. It couldn't end there, and it won't." He shoved Methos down to the ground, pointing his gun at him once again. "You were wondering how I was going to kill you all at the same time? Well it's simple. We don't use this part of the house much anymore. It's been sitting here untouched for forty years. All it would take would be a small fire, just in these rooms. We wouldn't miss them. Besides, sometimes sacrifices have to be made, and the house would understand. It would want to protect the family name as much as we do. The name is a part of the house too."
"Burn us?" Georgina shook her head, shrinking back into the settee as far as she could. "You're going to burn us? Richard, please. No."
"Should have thought of what might happen when you and your twin brought these people here." Richard turned his back on them all, striding over to the nearest of the lamps. "Anyway, it'll be quick enough, once the fire has taken hold."
"Be a bit difficult to keep it a secret then, though, won't it." Climbing back to his feet, Methos went over to Lord and Lady Featherstone, pulling off their gags. His instinct had told him to use the time to go to Rebecca instead, but sense told him that Richard's parents would probably get a better result. "People will see the flames for miles, and the fire brigade will find bodies here. They might even find out that four of them were tied up. There'll be no saving the family name then, especially when they see the rest of the house, and all of the other bodies."
"Listen to him, Richard." Spitting strands of material from his mouth, Featherstone straightened up a little. Methos would have untied him, but the gun was facing in his direction again, and getting shot would help no one. He raised his hands.
"Listen to him? Father, you shot him! That's how desperate you were to save our reputation. You were willing to take any number of risks of being found out; of somebody finding the body, or hearing the shots, or one of us letting slip about what had happened... You shot him! Now I'm doing what I have to do, that's all. I'm right, and you'll see it eventually. I'm sure that Louisa and Madeline will agree, when you meet them... meet them wherever it is that you go."
"They won't tell us anything." Featherstone tried to stand, but couldn't make it with his hands and feet tied. "Damn it Richard, don't be such a fool. Maybe you're right, and these two are... demons, or - or something. Maybe your sisters were damned fools for bringing them here. But all of this? All of this killing? That's not what we're supposed to do. We dispense justice to those who wrong us, but we don't kill each other. We never kill each other."
"Don't listen to him, Daniel." Glaring at his father and his younger brother, Richard turned his attention back to the oil lamps. "I'll put a few of these together, I think. Then if I smash one, the ones around it will catch and spread the fire very quickly. This wooden panelling always burns slowly at first, but all of these paintings will help. The frames burn very well, and the canvas will help to spread the heat. There are no houses for miles on this side of the building, so even if somebody does see the flames, the word won't spread for a while, and help won't come until we've had a chance to... well, to disguise things, or hide things, or at the very least to come up with a proper story. Yes, I think that's the best thing to do."
"Oh, listen to yourself. Talking like this, to yourself like a mad man. You've lost your head, Richard. Finding out about Mabel has pushed you over the edge, and now you don't know what you're doing, or what's right. Now stop all this nonsense and untie us, before you go too far."
"He's already gone too far, Father. Don't forget about Madeline." Georgina shook her head from side to side. "Why couldn't you have brought her here as well? Why did you have to kill her somewhere else? At least then we could all have been together."
"She isn't a part of this. This is about these two, and the people who brought him here. And Mother and Father, who have to sit in judgement. Madeline just got caught up in things moving around her. It's you - all of you - who have to be here now." Richard frowned, suddenly seeming to realise that most of his prisoners had been ungagged. "Now be quiet, the lot of you. No more of this talking. I've made my decision, and if you can't see that it's for the best, it's because you've been got at by these two... whatever they are. Just the way that they got at Mabel."
"You're a fool, Richard." Featherstone's voice was bitter. "I've always known that you weren't quite as solid a man as you should have been, but by God I never realised just what a fool you are until now. When I taught you to uphold our old values, I never taught you to treat your own family this way in the process. If I did, then I'm sorry for it. I should never have told you all those stories of the wrongdoers we've buried in the gardens all these years. I should never have opened my mouth."
"Richard?" Looking worried now, Daniel took a few steps forward. His path took him dangerously close to Fitzcairn, but for now the Immortal did nothing. Biding his time, he merely took the chance to lean over and finally remove Rebecca's gag.
"Just watch everybody, like you're supposed to, Daniel." Richard sounded huffily self-important. "Don't worry about what's being said here. These two are getting to Father now. Working their magic like they've been working it since they came here. You can't believe anything that's being said."
"Including what he says." Methos moved very slowly forward, keeping his eyes fixed on Daniel. "Think about it, Daniel. If we can make your father say these things, and make Mabel kill the others, surely we can get to Richard as well? Maybe it's us making him think this way. Maybe we've made him kill his wife, and his sister, and made him plan to kill everybody else?"
"Don't listen to him." Eyes spitting fury, Richard walked back to the centre of the room. "Everything was clear to you before, wasn't it?"
"Well... no, not exactly." Daniel's gaze drifted uncertainly around the others. "I... Well I'm not sure, that's all. I want to protect our reputation, of course I do. It's what's always been done. But he's right, Richard. If he's some kind of evil spirit, the way you say, maybe he is making you think the way you do. How can we be sure?"
"Because I'm sure, you fool." Richard pointed his gun at Methos. "So you be quiet, or I'll shoot you now. It might not kill you, but it kept you out of the way for a while the last time. It'll be long enough this time for me to get everything finished, without you interfering."
"Long enough for you to kill your own family. Your own mother." Lord Featherstone stared up at his oldest son with a mixture of sorrow and contempt. "This is madness, Richard, and if you can't see it I'm sorry. Daniel, you at least can see that this is wrong, can't you? How could it not be? Are you really prepared to burn your own mother to death, just so that you can pretend tonight never happened? What's your name really worth to you?"
"Everything; you always taught me that. Nothing's more important than the Featherstone name. It's centuries old, and it's always meant something." Daniel squared his shoulders. "You always told me to stand up for that. Featherstones do what needs to be done."
"Do they burn women to death?" Fitzcairn could have reached out to touch Daniel now, but still he stayed his hand. The time wasn't right just yet, not when Richard was still within reach of even one of the flickering yellow oil lamps. "What would that do to your precious name?"
"Well I--" Daniel turned back to his brother. "Richard?"
"He can't answer you. He's too crazy to know what you're asking." Rebecca's voice sounded faint and shaky, and as she spoke she leaned back against her sister, her eyes upon Methos. He didn't look like the man she had fallen in love with, even though she had seen him in worse shape than this before. When she had seen him shot and thrown from a cliff top she had found him covered in blood - but he had greeted her then with an air of endearing sheepishness that had rather belied all that he had just been through. Now though, standing facing Richard, streaked with mud and blood and with jagged holes in his shirt to show where his chest had been shot apart, he looked cold and hard. His eyes had no humour in them, and his face was rigidly set. It was an expression that led her to wonder, for the first time since he had told her of his great age, about all the things he might once have been. The thought scared her, though not as much as the coldness now in his gaze. This was not Stephen, the incorrigible layabout she had fallen in love with - but who was it instead?
"Shut up." Richard snarled the words out, then looked back to the lamps. "It'll be quick enough, I'll grant you that much. A Featherstone kills for honour, not for revenge. I don't want to hurt any of you. Even these two demons, or whatever they are."
"They're not human, I'll grant you that." Featherstone tried again to get to his feet, but again had to give up. "Richard, can't you see that you're going about this the wrong way? You don't have to kill the rest of us. What's wrong with you, man?"
"He's insane." Methos' voice was soft, insidious, an impressive whisper that might have cut through steel. "He's lost his mind. Lost it with Mabel, and her schemes to steal the family money; always supposing that there's any of it left. He doesn't know what he's doing any more."
"I do. I know exactly what I'm doing." Richard took a step towards him, eyes bright with far too much rage. "I know that I'm doing what's expected of me. What's always been expected of me. I'm a Featherstone, and Featherstones defend the family name. Featherstones... Featherstones..."
"Oh believe me, we've heard all about the family name. The great name of Featherstone, revered for centuries. Protected from all scandal; idolised, no doubt, by the downtrodden masses. You've done nothing but rave all bloody evening about the great family name, and I've had my fill of it. It's all nonsense, Richard. All mad spouting by a man who doesn't see when he's missed the boat. Just give it a--"
"I'll kill you now you aberration." Hurling himself at Methos, seeming to double his height through sheer fury and madness, Richard almost lost his footing on the floor. Showing a presence of mind that was admirable, his mother tried to trip him as he ran, but her tied feet made movement too awkward, and she merely made him stumble slightly. It slowed his momentum though, and when he collided with Methos, he did so with less force. The collision sent both men to the ground nonetheless, and Methos could not help but groan with pain when the hard wooden floor slammed into his back. Fitzcairn, however, was smiling. Taking advantage of Daniel's distraction, relieved that at last he could act without the threat of Richard's proximity to those all too lethal oil lamps, he caught hold of the younger Featherstone son by the arm, and spun him around. Daniel cried out, but he was not able to defend himself, and he spun, helplessly, straight into Fitzcairn's fist. The triumphant Immortal followed up his attack with a swift blow to the stomach that left Daniel slumped and gasping, then made a grab for the gun that his victim had dropped in the midst of the attack. Daniel stared up at the barrel, all life gone from his eyes. Fitzcairn sympathised. He had seen that look before, in the eyes of traumatised mortals throughout the centuries, sent mad by things they had seen.
"Stephen!" Rebecca's voice brought his mind back to his fellow Immortal, but hampered by the need to keep pointing the gun at Daniel, there seemed little that he could do. Methos was in trouble, that much was obvious. His assailant was bigger than he was, and angrier, and madness often lent a strength that it was hard to combat. All the same, the wiry Immortal was putting up a good show, struggling to land as many punches as he received, and clinging to consciousness even when Richard began to beat his head against the floor.
"Richard, leave him alone." Daniel's voice surprised them all, raising itself as it did to be heard above the tumult. "It's over. Nothing's worth this, it can't be. It's just a name."
"Just a name?" The words were all that would have stopped his brother, and Richard rose up now with a new madness in his eyes. "Just a name? It's our name. It's the name that our ancestors gave meaning to centuries before any of us were born."
"I doubt that." Blood dribbling from his chin, Methos sat up. Richard didn't even cast him a glance. "He's right you know, Richard. Nothing is worth this. You can kill for killings sake, or you can kill for money or power. Some people even kill for beliefs, and an idea that they're protecting something. But for a name?"
"Even an old one." Fitzcairn hauled Daniel to his feet, the better to confront his brother. "Listen to Daniel, Richard. Maybe he's finally starting to speak some sense."
"Daniel's always been weak. A weak fool, led by others. He's never spoken sense in his life, and I don't expect him to start now, with a gun pointing at him, and the knowledge that I have to kill his family." Richard pushed Methos back down, aware that the Immortal was coming at him, even though Methos had thought that he was being quiet. "Well if you're so sure that I'm doing wrong, Daniel, why don't you try to stop me?"
"I can't." Daniel would not have moved even if Fitzcairn hadn't been holding the gun. He was too scared of Richard, and too scared that all this talk of necessary killing might actually be right. He didn't want to risk stopping his brother, if there was any chance that the man he had revered all his life was not so wrong after all. He shook a little, and didn't back away, but his eyes slid to stare at the floor, and his shoulders lost their shape. Richard smiled.
"Then I think we'll get on with things." He cast one more triumphant look at Methos, sprawled on the ground covered in blood, then headed for the nearest oil lamp. Fitzcairn raised his gun to point at him, but at the same moment Daniel stepped forward. Something joined him to his brother, and clearly he was still ready to help him, or at least to prevent his death. Fitz's hands wavered, but he returned his aim to the younger son. Methos did not even notice the momentary scuffle. His sword was within reach now, its great, beautiful length so close that he could feel it in his hands even before they closed around the hilt. He rose to his feet.
"Are you insane?" Lord Featherstone's eyes were wide with disbelief, but not at the actions of his son. "Richard, behind you!"
"Huh?" Stunned that the aristocrat, tied and awaiting execution, should have called out a warning to his would-be killer, Methos almost didn't react in time. Richard caught up a lamp and turned about.
"A sword? You want to fight me with a sword? And I'm supposed to be the mad one." He raised the lamp, ready to bring it down. It would not take long, once it had smashed, before the fire spread. "I have a gun, you fool."
"No you don't." Methos had seen the gun, and knew that it lay on the ground close to where he himself had just been lying. He could have picked it up as easily as his sword, but he preferred his own weapon right now. If there was death coming, it would come his way.
"I have a gun right here." Richard held up his hand, not seeming to notice that it was empty. The fingers of his other hand clenched more tightly around the lamp. "Back off, demon, or I'll--"
"Shoot me?" Methos stepped forwards. "I think we've already proved once tonight that that isn't going to work. Even if you did have something to shoot me with."
"I told you, I have a gun!" Richard was sweating heavily now, and his eyes cast themselves wildly about. His father shook his head, sadness clear on his face.
"Richard, give up. I don't want to see you carted away to hospital, but I'll do my best for you. What money the family has is yours, as the eldest, and we'll use it to get you treatment. You don't really want to kill us."
"Move aside, Stephen. I think I can get a clear shot." Fitz was waving the gun about between the partially subdued Daniel and the half seen form of Richard. It would do no good to have to shoot Methos first in order to get to the real target. Richard could have smashed half a dozen lamps by then. Methos didn't move. "Stephen, I said--"
"I heard you." Methos was speaking softly again, and moving forwards as he did so. "He wants me to move aside, Richard, so that he can shoot you down. Shoot you, stop the fire before it can begin... He'll have won then. We'll both have won. And you'll be dead, just like Mabel and the others. Just like we wanted from the start, remember? Just like we planned, when we came here and twisted your wife's puny little mind. We'll have won, and you'll have lost."
"No!" Richard stepped back, grabbing for another lamp. The one that he was already holding wobbled in his grip and he made a snatch for it, almost missing, catching it just in time. The fragile glass broke and with a sudden flare of bright light, his sleeve caught fire. He screamed, dropping the other lamp, causing a streak of flame to light up the floorboards.
"Richard!" Fear for her son cutting through any other feelings that she might have had, Beatrice Featherstone fought against the ropes that held her. Richard turned at the sound of her voice, moving towards her with flaming shirt glowing fiercely. His intention was obvious; he planned to ensure that the fire spread, even if it meant using himself as the catalyst. For Methos there was only one course of action, and one that he had put off for too long. Putting all the weight of his body behind it, he thrust forward with his sword and drove the full length of it through Richard's burning chest. The body dropped to the ground, and he smothered the flames as best he could with his own body. Fitzcairn, meanwhile, finally trusting Daniel not to try anything, tossed the twins from their sofa and used the heavy cushions to destroy the second fire. Only then, when everything was finally silent, did he manage to breathe properly once again. Methos retrieved his sword and, giving the blade a good clean on one of the fire damaged cushions, began cutting the prisoners free.
"Fitz!" Georgina ran to her beau, throwing her arms around his neck without any thought for the mud that covered his clothing. Rebecca went more slowly to Methos, but he welcomed her warmly.
"Are you alright?" He asked the question gently, and she nodded without speaking. There was no point in her returning the question, and he understood that. When most of her family was dead, there was no reason to ask an Immortal if he was alright. He had already proved tonight that it would be hard for him to be anything else.
"I'm sorry." He turned her slightly, so that she was not looking at Richard. "I wouldn't have planned for it to end this way. I'd hoped--"
"I know." She looked over at her parents, pale and forlorn, and stepped back. "I should--"
"I know." He smiled, slight and sad, and let go of her. "Go to them. They'll need you. There's a lot that'll have to be done."
"And you can start it now." She pointed him at the door. "Telephone the police. It's long past time that they came."
"I agree." Lord Featherstone didn't look at Methos, and the Immortal couldn't really blame him. "Long past time. If I--" He shook his head. "Just go. Tell them to come quickly. And don't be here when they arrive."
"Father!" Incensed, Georgina held Fitzcairn all the tighter, but he gently pushed her away.
"No, he's right. We should leave. It wouldn't do to have to answer all those awkward questions. Your father is sure to be able to come up with a convincing story, and there's no need for Stephen and me to be here. It's best for us all if we leave now."
"And don't come back." Lord Arthur stared at him with eyes that, though deadened and pale, still showed flashes of the bombast and strength of earlier. "I'm not forgetting anything. I know that you came back from the dead, both of you. I'm not asking why, and I'm not going to wonder at it either - but you came back to life, and my son suggested a very good explanation for how you did it. I owe you the lives of my wife and daughters, and for that I'm letting you leave here. Don't come back. Not ever."
"Yeah." Methos slid his sword back into its sheath, and threw Fitzcairn his sword-stick. "We're going. But if you ever find your pride landing you in trouble again, Lord Featherstone, you can't count on help to fix things. Don't look for it. You can burn in your castle for all I care."
"Stephen..." Rebecca was looking after him, and he smiled at her. She needed her family right now, and he wasn't going to get in the way of that. In the course of one night she had lost almost everybody who mattered to her. Wandering Immortals were hardly what the doctor would order. Slapping Fitzcairn on the shoulder he turned to leave, and Fitz, dropping into a low, impressive bow, followed after. The little room seemed horribly stifling now.
They met later the next day, at a footbridge over a stream near to the neighbouring river. Rebecca and Georgina looked tired and drawn, and Fitzcairn at least felt bad for seeing them that way. Methos, rather less inclined towards notions of sympathy, nodded a simple greeting. He couldn't help feeling that he knew exactly how this little rendezvous was going to end. It was the way these things always ended - with goodbyes, and half-meant apologies, and explanations about why mortality and immortality weren't compatible. Even the people who never found out what he was tended to end things abruptly. Methos, like so many of his kind, attracted trouble; and trouble was something that many mortals just didn't want to cope with.
"Stephen." Rebecca seemed almost shy, and Methos answered her smile.
"And Fitz!" Georgina's enthusiasm broke the ice rather suddenly, and the gallant adventurer drew his twin into a typically extravagant embrace. Methos rolled his eyes.
"I take it that's his way of saying hello."
"Fitz rarely just says hello." Georgina ruffled her immortal boyfriend's copious blond curls, then turned suddenly serious. "Oh dear. I don't feel at all right about being... well..."
"Happy," finished Rebecca. She leant into Methos' surprised embrace, and rested her head on his chest. "I feel terrible. I didn't think I'd feel anything, to be perfectly honest. Isn't one supposed to feel numb?"
"I don't think you're supposed to feel anything." Having had an unusually long experience with grief, to say nothing of its many and varied effects, Methos was certainly something of an expert. Georgina nodded slowly.
"I suppose so. I don't know what I feel to be honest, but whatever it is it's not helped by policemen asking questions, and Daddy getting all silly again. He's refusing to tell the truth about anything, and of course Mummy and Daniel won't say anything that he won't say, and the whole thing has become completely daft. He's claiming that everybody was killed by two men who forced themselves in during the evening, and made off with some family heirlooms."
"I didn't even know we had any family heirlooms." Georgina smiled bitterly. "Maybe that's his way of setting up a good story if the truth about our finances ever comes out. He can blame it all on his two thieves."
"Either way, it all seems a bit distasteful. Lying about who murdered his daughters." Rebecca held Methos more tightly. "And we shouldn't even be here. We should be back at the house answering more questions, and not knowing what on earth we're expected to say. I mean, do we tell the truth and confuse everything, or do we just go along with the lies, and feel rotten?"
"The lies." Methos tilted her head up so that she was looking at him. "It's usually best. And easier."
"In this case, perhaps." She sighed. "I just want to tell the truth. I want everybody to know that my sister in law murdered everyone, and then my brother went mad when he found out. I don't know why I want everybody to know. I just do."
"Trouble shared is trouble halved," murmured Fitz. Methos shook his head.
"In my experience it's more like trouble shared is trouble quadrupled. Then the cause of even more trouble heaped on top. Stick to the lies. Get the police out of the house as quickly as possible. You don't need their questions right now, and it's not as if telling them the truth is going to change anything anyway. There's no murderer out there who needs catching; nothing for them to investigate. If there was it would be different, but as it stands..."
"Yes, I know. What would be the point? Let Daddy do things his way." Rebecca sighed, then pushed herself away from him, standing on her own two feet again. "I suppose I just wanted to hear somebody else say all of that."
"Do we take that to mean that you two beautiful ladies are going back home?" Managing to look both sorrowful and soulful, and at the same time to smile rakishly, Fitzcairn kissed Georgina's hand. She nodded.
"I'm afraid so."
"Then give me just one moment alone, dear lady, so that I can say a proper goodbye away from prying eyes." This time his expression was more sinful than soulful, and she couldn't help laughing as he drew her away beyond the bushes. Methos smiled after them.
"Fitzcairn seems rather good at making people feel better. That's not a talent I've ever picked up."
"You're not the most reassuring of people, no." She looked distant, and he braced himself. This was where the goodbye came in. Funny how much he regretted it. "Stephen...?"
"You remember that I asked you to promise there'd be no trouble this weekend?"
"Yes." He lowered his eyes, remembering how carefree she had been, just the previous morning. How she had laughed and joked, and how they had played around. It was a very different picture to the one she presented today, pale from lack of sleep, and tired from too many searching questions. "Most people would usually apologise at this point, but I'm afraid that's another talent I've never picked up." He frowned. "Not that most people would have much to apologise for. Most people don't tend to carry disasters around in their pockets."
"You don't need to apologise. Actually, I wanted to do that. To say sorry for ever having asked you to make such a stupid promise; as though I was assuming that any trouble would be your fault. It wasn't, and I don't want you thinking that it was. Just because you get into trouble a lot doesn't mean that it's you that somehow causes it. I wanted you to know that I don't think you're some kind of bad luck charm or something. And I don't want you thinking that either."
"Oh." He smiled faintly. "That's not quite what I was expecting."
"What were you expecting? Goodbye?" She saw the look in his eyes, and sighed. "That's exactly what you were expecting, isn't it. You thought I'd come here to tell you that I never wanted to see you again. Does that sort of thing happen often?"
He nodded, a trifle ruefully. "Quite a bit, yes."
"Well not this time." She leant against him again. "It might be a while before I can see you again though. I don't know how long all of this will take to resolve itself. My father has powerful friends and contacts, and I should think that the inquests will be rushed through fairly quickly, but there are still loose ends to tie up, and questions to be answered. How Richard came to be killed by a sword for one, although with Madeline having died the way she did... Well, that makes it a little easier to explain. There's so much else though. So many official things that seem to need to be done."
"Sure to be." He held her at arms' length. "And then?"
"And then... I think it might be rather nice to go away for a while. After the funerals of course. I want to get away from here, and not just by going back to my own house, and my job. I want a complete change."
"Now that's something I am good at." Feeling rather more optimistic, he pulled her close again. "Actually I've been thinking of going to the Continent. Italy perhaps, or Russia. I haven't been there in a while, and I quite fancy seeing the old place again. It can get a bit chilly of course, but it's a beautiful country."
"I don't speak Russian." She smiled. "But I was always rather good at languages in school. I think I'd like to go. Do you have any friends over there?"
"Not these days. I used to know a chap named Rossov, but that was in the eighteenth century." He couldn't resist a teasing smile. "Then there was a family called Romanov, but I shouldn't think anything much ever became of them."
She blinked. "You know the Czar?"
"No. Not personally." His smile grew a little more wicked. "Although I did know Nicholas I. Very serious type. He didn't like me very much."
"Reprobate." She sighed. "And now I'm smiling again, and I feel bad about it. My oldest brother and two of my sisters not even buried yet, and I already feel... I don't know. Not how I should."
"And how should you feel? There's no rule book about grief, Rebecca. There never was. It's just like life itself, really. You have to take each moment as it comes."
"My boyfriend, the philosopher." She sighed. "And now I really do have to be getting back. I wonder where Georgie and Fitz have got to?"
"Knowing Fitzcairn - not that I do, happily enough - I'd say that they could have got anywhere." He frowned. "You're not thinking of taking them with us to Russia?"
"You don't think that would be a good idea?" She laughed lightly at his expression, then sobered up quickly, once again feeling bad for seeming to be too happy. "Relax. I'm no fool, Stephen. I know exactly what sort of man Fitzcairn is. Delightful, yes. Loveable, certainly. But beyond that? I love him to bits, but I don't think for one moment that Georgie has found herself a lasting relationship there. They'd probably have split up before we got much past Germany."
"And you don't feel you should stay here to help pick up the pieces?"
"What pieces? My sister goes through men probably almost as fast as Fitzcairn goes through women. Not that that's something I should say in polite company, but since there's nothing at all polite about you, I should think that I'm fairly safe." She smiled. "You're holding me up, you know. I should be heading back."
"You'll book us some tickets? A boat to France, and then a nice train? Or a romantic wagon ride?"
"Romantic? It might seem that way after the first few miles have gone by, but you'll be thinking it's anything but by the time we finally get to Moscow. Trust me. I've lived in a world where wagons were the only form of transport going, and it wasn't just the horses who were pleased when somebody finally got around to inventing the train. There is no way that I'm going that far by wagon, romantic or otherwise."
"Train it is then." She smiled at him. "A month from now?"
"One month. From today."
"I can't wait." She sighed. "Well, wish me luck. I have to go and speak to a sergeant who thinks that women shouldn't really be allowed to speak to anybody, and should always remember their place. I think he wants to know if I can describe the two imaginary men who stole our non-existent family heirlooms. Daddy said he was knocked out and blindfolded, so I get to decide what they looked like." She frowned. "I've a mind to describe Mabel and Richard, but I won't."
"Wouldn't do any good. Wouldn't make you feel better."
"I know." She took a deep breath. "I just can't believe that my father lied. That after all he said, he went back to 'defending the family name' again."
"Old habits die hard."
"I know. But after the things that he said about it to Daniel and Richard, I thought maybe he'd changed, even if it was only a little."
"What's happening about Daniel?"
"I don't know. He didn't actually do anything, when you think about it. He was with us in that room when Richard killed Madeline, and I really don't think that he knew it was going to happen. Besides, I don't think Daddy can stand to lose another son. He'll probably be packed off to a clinic somewhere, where everybody can pretend that he's just tired. My family is very good at keeping secrets, and turning blind eyes."
"Yeah." He hesitated. "Well, um... goodbye."
"Yes." She took a step back, glad to see that he was smiling, even if she didn't feel quite right doing so herself. It was very clear that this farewell was not the one that he had come here expecting. "I'll get a message to you, when I can see you again."
"Yes. Yes, of course."
"And I'm looking forward to Russia."
"So am I." He smiled happily at her. "There's a lot over there that I can show you."
"Good." She watched him for a moment, and he considered trying out one of Fitzcairn's moves, and perhaps kissing her hand. It didn't seem like his style, and he threw the idea aside. He was no demonstrative romantic. He was more the awkward and casual type. "Goodbye then, Stephen."
"Yes." He nodded, and offered her a slight wave. "Bye."
"Bye." She was gone then, and he watched her go, a lightness in his heart. It was a nice feeling, but it evaporated instantly, as soon as he felt the aura approaching in his mind. He swung around - but it was only Fitzcairn of course, sauntering over with his hands in his pockets.
"Well that was a passionate farewell. Casanova himself wasn't a patch on you, was he."
"Why are you still here? Don't you have a sunset to trot off into?" Exasperated, Methos turned back to stare after Rebecca. Fitzcairn grinned.
"I came to offer to buy you a drink. I'm supposed to be leaving for America in the morning, and I thought you might like to say goodbye to me first."
"I'll say good riddance. Don't know about goodbye."
"Oh Stephen. Your heartlessness destroys me, it really does." Fitzcairn came closer, ever the jovial bundle of jokes and good intentions. "So what do you say? A nice long beer in a country pub?"
"Yeah, why not." Well the man might be annoying, but far be it for Methos to refuse a beer. "You're leaving for America?"
"Yes... the old feet are getting itchy. Adventure calls. Romance, fortune. I might find Captain Kidd's treasure, you never know."
"I have a fair idea that you won't, but I suppose there's always a chance." He grinned. "Georgina said her goodbyes then?"
"Well... seems there's a policeman..." He sighed, and scowled. "Well what does it matter? Poor girl needs somebody who can see her through a difficult time, doesn't she, and I've never been good at the more serious things in life. I'm more one for whirling spirited women away into lives of excitement and peril."
"America really doesn't appreciate what it's getting itself into, does it." Methos had to smile. "Just as a matter of interest, do you actually have any money to pay for this beer you're supposed to be buying me?"
"Well, not as such, no. I was hoping that there might be a landlady who'd succumb to my not-inconsiderable charms."
"Oh. Well you might have a problem there. The only pub within walking distance doesn't have a landlady, or even a waitress. It just has a very big, very ugly landlord, who isn't in the slightest bit likely to succumb to anybody's charms."
"Oh." Fitzcairn shrugged, spirits not in the slightest bit dampened. "Well, alright. I'll regale the place with tales of my daring exploits in Africa, and somebody will give us the beer for free. It usually works."
"Yeah. The other times they just lock me up instead, but you don't mind that especially, do you?"
"You're a strange, strange man, Fitzcairn."
"I'm a hero." Fitzcairn smiled happily, and Methos, despite himself, smiled back just as broadly.
"You're a madman."
"Whatever." Fitz slapped him on the back. "So we're still heading for the pub, right?"
"Yeah." Methos rolled his eyes, and couldn't help thinking that he should be heading in the opposite direction very fast. "Yeah, whatever. We're still heading for the pub." And, very probably, for disaster.
But what the hell. After all, he had a month to kill.