lightconductor: (is it a clue?)
[personal profile] lightconductor
As you may or may not be aware, Watson has been writing some adventure romance fiction, because he needs something to do. And I've posted a snippet or two, but this is something I have actually been writing on the side. Not all of it, because honestly, I think everything I know about 19th century India I learned from Kipling, But I've been writing snippets, as they occur to me, and this is the total of what has been written. So far.

Why do I do this? Damned if I know.

It has no title, but the file is called 'indian adventure.doc.' Good enough.



Shaking off the hand that had caught him, Lewis turned fiercely, his fists up and ready to defend himself against this unknown assailant. "And just who the devil are you?" he demanded.

The stranger neither quailed under Lewis's furious glare, nor his threatening posture. In fact, he looked infuriatingly calm for someone who had plucked a soldier off the street and pulled him out of sight. "Private James Lewis, isn't it?" There was something vaguely aristocratic in his airs and gestures, and in the cadence of his speech, and his clothing, though once of fine quality, was noticeably shabby, and perhaps not entirely suited to the Indian climate.

"And if I am?"

"My name is Girard. Robert Girard. I have a proposition for you." Girard smiled, as though there were nothing peculiar about his methods of catching Lewis's attention at all, but the glitter of his keen eyes was hard and wary.

"I am not interested in anything that the likes of you have to say, sir," Lewis snapped. "If you intend on robbing me, you shall find me a hard mark, indeed." He moved forward, intending to drive this point home with his fists, but Girard stepped casually out of the way, waving a hand dismissively.

"Nothing of the kind, I promise you. If you'll consent to join me over a meal, I'll explain all about it."

Lewis stepped back, although he was still breathing hard with anticipatory violence. "Why should I trust you?"

Girard shook his head. "You shouldn't."

***

"This is illegal," Lewis said, in an undertone.

"Technically, yes," Girard agreed, equally soft. They were hunched quite close over the table, out of necessity, for otherwise they would not have been able to hear each other over the din of the other men in the room. "But I repeat to you that we are talking of treasure that is already stolen, already in the hands of men who have no claim to it. We have as much right to it as they do. More, perhaps, because our hands aren't already bloodied by it."

"And you're involving me, a stranger, why?"

"I need a military man to help enact my plan. You will have a full half share, have no fears on that count. I do not intend to cheat you."

"And what is to stop me from informing the authorities about your plan now?"

Girard gave another one of his thin, feline, languid smiles. "You won't," he said, decisively. Truthfully, Lewis found Girard's denial to be rooted in truth, despite how much the man's confidence in Lewis's willingness to break the law irritated him; there was something compelling about the man, something irresistible about his charismatic indifference, something that unnerved Lewis greatly. "I've made inquiries. You are exactly the man I want for the job."

***

He had told himself firmly that he would not contact Girard again, that whatever else might occur he would not let himself fall into the clutches of this man, who was no doubt a ruffian, and a villain, and would just as soon slide a knife into Lewis's back as shake his hand, surely.

He told himself that, but he found himself lying awake that night, thinking seriously. Shillings were not and had never been particularly plentiful for him, and there was much he could do with the sort of money Girard had spoken of. He could set up a proper home, find a pretty girl to take to wife. Was stealing from thieves an acceptable transgression? Whatever else he might say to himself to justify it, it was still illegal. Lewis was no bastion of morality, to be sure, but this was beyond any of his past transgressions.

When he did finally fall asleep, he was still thinking of his new acquaintance.

***


"I should warn you," Lewis said, a stern expression settling across his face, "that if you have any intention whatsoever of crossing me, the moment I suspect I will turn you in to the authorities."

Girard raised an eyebrow. "Why would you suspect that? Have I given you any reason to doubt me?"

"You're no gentleman, regardless of what you might wish me to think."

They were standing far too close in that tight, cramped space to begin with, but Girard leaned forward, pressing a hand warmly against Lewis's shoulder. "You've caught me out," he said, with a small laugh. "Perhaps I am no gentleman, but my word is good, I can promise you that. If you throw your lot in with me, I will honour our agreement as if you were my brother."

"With some men," Lewis pointed out, "that would not be saying very much."

"True," Girard agreed, "but I won't admit to being one of them. Do we have an agreement?"

Lewis told him they did, and they pressed their hands together to finalise the deal.

***


"Before we act, it is imperative that we are familiar with the comings and goings of the house," Girard said, speaking decisively. "I must be familiar, and so should you."

"I should?" Lewis looked at his companion askance, and then returned his gaze to the house they were watching. "I fail to see why. I thought my part in this was to be the responsible, respectable enlisted man that you are not."

"I am not going to give your half share," was the impatient response, "if you expect me to do all the work for you. If something goes amiss, you may very well need to know this."

Lewis gave a sigh, resigning himself to this. There were worse way to spend an evening, although he could think of many better ones. "Fine, I will take your word for it. I will learn what I can."

Girard smiled thinly in answer.

***

Lewis watched the girl leave, faintly astonished at Girard. Truthfully, he was not entirely unhappy about it. He could not really account for the knot of misery that had twisted his stomach while she had been so obviously flirting with him as she brought them their drinks. Jealousy, perhaps, although of whom, he was hard-pressed to say.

He could hardly blame her for her interest, at least. There was something definitely alluring about Girard's charismatic air of roguery. Girard himself had turned his attention to his ale, oblivious to Lewis or the girl for a moment, far more interested in that than in company of any sort.

"I would have expected a man like you," Lewis commented, "to have encouraged her. She was very nearly inviting you into bed with her."

Girard hummed, looking up. "Her? No, no. I doubt Mrs. Girard would appreciate that." He grinned, briefly.

For some reason this was a shock, although Lewis could not say why, and he felt that knot of agony make an attempt at returning. "You're married?"

"Mm, in a technical sense, I suppose." Girard shrugged vaguely. "A mistake on both our parts, I think. The last I heard, my wife was on her way to America. I wished her well, but I doubt I will hear from her again. We were both rather miserable, after all."

"Oh," Lewis said, "I see." He did not, in fact.

"We married for all the wrong reasons, and finally we came to our senses and concluded it was better to part amicably." Girard stretched a little and smiled at Lewis across the table. "At the very least, she's a convenient excuse to fend of the advances of lovesick girls."

"It is a shame, though," Lewis said carefully, "that you shan't be able to remarry a woman you do love."

Girard shook his head. "I doubt that I am missing much," he said.

***


It was easy enough to charm the girl, although Lewis's heart was not in it. She was certainly pretty, and certainly winsome, and she certainly had no objection to the being the subject of interest for a young soldier. Her parents, too, had no objection. Under normal circumstances, it would have been a splendid divertissement, but he could find no joy in it.

He could only suppose it was his conscience that was bothering him. He tried to justify it to himself: no harm would come to her or her reputation. It was necessary that her family trust him to gain access to the house of her father, where their goal was. In fact, the only one whose reputation would suffer from this was his own, and it still surprised him that he was willing to abandon everything for this, so easily, at the word of near stranger.

And, he reasoned, it could not be so terrible a thing to merely take her for a walk in the evening.

After bidding her a good night, Lewis turned back into the street. As he came around the corner, he found Girard, leaning against the wall of a building, and scowling.

"What is it?" Lewis demanded.

"You seem to be enjoying this part of the plan very much," was the answer, almost a growl. "Please don't forget what we're about, here."

"How dare you," he snapped. "I am doing nothing other than what was agreed upon. How can you possibly complain about it?"

Their eyes met, and they glared at each other for a moment.

"Never mind," Girard said at last, turning away. "Come on, we have much to discuss. We'll make our move soon."

***


As they crossed the threshold, Lewis hesitated.

This was it. From here on, he was a criminal. He would have to disappear after this night, for his name and face were known here. His military career would be at an end. He would be wealthy – assuming Girard was true to his word -- but he would be a wanted man.

Girard, realising that his companion had fallen behind, turned back to see what was keeping him. His expression was initially impatient, annoyed, but some of Lewis's anxiety must have showed on his face, for the impatience softened.

"Lewis?"

"I'm coming," Lewis said, and followed.

***

When the alarm was raised, they looked at each for a moment, twin expressions of horror on their faces. Girard snapped the box shut and snatched it up, holding it to his chest. Without so much as a word, he seized Lewis by the wrist and turned to flee, dragging Lewis with him.

They fled through the corridors, silent and hasty, listening to the sounds of the party in search of the cause of the disarray they had left behind them. They made their way outside, the sounds of pursuit close behind them.

"Quick," Girard hissed, "up, over the wall." He shoved the box containing their prize at Lewis, and offered him a hand for him to step up on. Lewis clambered up quickly, and from the top of the wall, looked down at Girard.

A very good deal happened in a very short span of time, then. There was a shout from across the garden, as someone spotted them. It occurred to Lewis that he could easily leap down from the wall and flee, leaving Girard behind. He had the treasure, after all. What allegiance did he owe to Girard, whom he barely knew? In the same instant, an expression of horror and dread passed over the other man's face, as it occurred to Girard exactly what he had done.

And then Lewis lowered his hand, and dragged Girard up and over the wall after him, and they ran through the streets as fast as they could go.

***


"You could have left me," Girard murmured. His gaze on Lewis was very sharp, despite his low tone. "But you didn't."

Lewis was still breathing hard from his run, and his head fairly buzzed with high emotion. It seemed to him that every sound in the street was the sound of their impending capture. They would have to leave the city, that night. He'd known that, of course, and had what few possessions he could not part with ready to go, but this fact seemed significantly more pertinent, now.

"What sort of man would I be if I left you?" Lewis hissed back, annoyed. He leaned back against the wall, trying to catch his breath again, grateful for the private silence of that dark alley.

"You don't even know me," Girard pressed. "That we were almost caught there was my fault, my error. If it weren't for me, you wouldn't have been there in the first place. Why would you extend me any charity at all?"

"Why shouldn't I? I am a gentleman."

"No," Girard laughed, weakly, "you're not. That's the entire point. If you were a gentleman I would never have asked for your aid."

"You insult me."

"I identify you."

Lewis shook his head, irritated. "You don't know what you are speaking of. Did you really expect me to abandon you like that?"

"Yes," Girard gasped, desperately. "Of course I did. What am I to you? I have led you astray, I have guided you into danger, all for the sake of some stolen Hindu gold. You have no reason to like me, let alone trust me. Why should you risk yourself for my sake?"

Lacking any sort of answer that made sense to him, Lewis shook his head, silent. Girard was right, of course – the damnable man often was – but he could not account for his behaviour either. He only knew that there had been no other course of action he could possibly have taken.

Girard was looking at him very sharply, his keen eyes glittering. It was very silent between them, and all the sounds of the night seemed somehow sharpened. When he leaned closer, Lewis did not move away; when Girard's mouth descended upon his own, it seemed the most natural thing for him to do.

***

"What are you playing at?"

Girard took Lewis's demand with as much nonchalance as he appeared capable of mustering, although he was quite pale. "I don't know what you're speaking of."

"Don't expect me to swallow any old lie you toss at me," Lewis protested. "You kissed me. Do I strike you as that sort of man? As… as… as some sort of mandrake, some sodomite?"

With a sudden movement, Girard half-rose from his seat, grasping Lewis by the lapel. "No," he hissed fiercely. "No, you do not. I beg your pardon, Mister Lewis," Lewis thought he had never heard his name said with so much venom, "and I would be very much obliged if you were to forget it had happened entirely!"

"I cannot very well forget something like this!" Lewis protested. Why he kept pushing at the topic, he could hardly have said himself, but he could not leave it alone either. He wrapped his hand around Girard's on his jacket, squeezing tight. "Good God, Girard. You've single-handedly caused me to abandon my career, and my personal honour, and now you go and do some damn fool thing like kiss me, and you haven't even the decency to explain yourself!"

"I haven't anything to explain," Girard shot back. "It was a mistake, a whim of the moment. It is better forgotten. Let go of my hand."

"Let go of my jacket."

They released each other, at more or less the same time, and Lewis backed cautiously away. The rented room, their temporary hideout until they could get away properly, seemed suddenly far too small and far too close. The fact that they were quite stuck with one another until they were safe away and able to sell the treasure they're recovered was not lost on Lewis.

"You should sleep," Girard said. He looked as awkward as Lewis felt just then. "Go ahead and take the cot; I shan't be sleeping for some time, and dawn is nearly here, in any account."

Lewis felt no more certain about his chances for sleep that night, but he resolved to try.

***

"I think our escape is going quite well," Girard said, peering out of the train window at the departing countryside. "Once we reach Calcutta, we should be in a good position to rid ourselves of our burden, at a profit. And then," he turned to give Lewis an arch look, "you shall be rid of me, and I shall be rid of you."

Lewis sighed, shifting in his seat opposite him. "The sooner the better," he said. He was growing thoroughly sick of Girard and the bizarre mood he had been in seemingly since the night of their robbery, strange and uncomfortable and awkward. In all honesty, he wasn't sure what he would do, once they reached Calcutta and they had no reason to do anything but part ways. To be suddenly in possession of more money than he had ever dreamed of, and to also have nowhere to go!

"What will you do with your share?" Lewis asked, suddenly, surprising himself.

Girard also looked startled, and turned away from the window to settle against his seat. "What sort of question is that?"

"An honest one. I'm new to the criminal lifestyle."

Girard laughed, and it was almost refreshing. "What have I done to you? I appear to have ruined you, Private." It was certainly the cheeriest he had been in several days. "I plan on spending it, and enjoying it. I shall certainly be disappearing, anyway."

Feeling somewhat nettled, Lewis shrugged and looked out the window. "I have never disappeared before. I suppose I shall have to find a new name."

"I've had several," Girard smiled. "Would you like to borrow one of my cast-offs? I shall make it a gift to you."

"Oh, do give it a rest," Lewis groaned, and Girard laughed again.

***


Without preamble, Girard gave him a little sideways glance, his expression tight and nervous. "I will give you some advice," he said, sighing. "When the money is in our hands, you should leave India. England is probably not much safer. Australia, perhaps, or America."

Lewis glanced back at him; he found that he rather resented, actually, the unsolicited advice and the implication that he was helpless without Girard's criminal influence. "Is that what you plan, then?" His voice was rather gruff.

Girard shook his head. "I'm rather good at disappearing," he said. "I've done it before."

"Is this what you always do, then?" Lewis snapped. "Recruit some unwitting man to be your partner and your dupe, corrupt him and ruin him, and vanish off into the night like the thief you are?"

To his surprise, Girard looked rather wounded, and shrank minutely away. "No," he said. "No, I have never done anything of the kind before."

It took Lewis a moment to gather his wits enough to ask the obvious question. "Then why do it now? Surely you could have accomplished this without me, or without taking me into your confidence and making me an equal partner?"

Girard, evidently, had no answer to that. He ignored the question and the subsequent ones; indeed, he ignored Lewis entirely until Lewis gave conversation up as futile.

***

"And here, as promised, is your share. You'll note that you have still not been double-crossed, nor will you."

Lewis looked down at the money in his hand, feeling somewhat blank. This was it, this was what he had given up his life for. It hadn't been much of a life, perhaps, without a lot going for him, and it had been exciting while it had lasted. Good God, but it had been exciting.

And now, he was going to be left to work out what was left of his life, alone. He could hardly say he regretted anything, and they had harmed none. What they had stolen had not been the rightful property of those who held it, after all.

"I suppose I shall take my leave of you," Girard continued on, smoothly. He was not looking anywhere in Lewis's direction. "No doubt you'll be relieved to be rid of me and my corrupting influence." His voice was full of venom.

Girard was actually moving away, and Lewis had the intense feeling of standing on a precipice. This man had changed his entire life, and now he was about to walk out of the life he had changed for good. "Wait," Lewis said, with an effort. "Please." Turning, Girard fixed him with a curious and wary eye, one thin brow raised. Lewis swallowed, hard. "I plan on finding an establishment to have a drink, to celebrate my newfound wealth. I would like it very much if you would join me."

The smile on Girard's face was cautious. "Well." He exhaled audibly. "I suppose I can wait that long."

***

"We must speak of that night," Lewis said, in a low voice, with his eyes on the table and his hands around his drink.

Girard's face twisted into an expression that was part pain and part anger as he began to rise. "No, we must not, Lewis, and if this is why you brought me here--"

"No," he said quickly, "no, that's not it at all, forgive me, please sit down."

"Fine. Say whatever nonsense you feel it necessary to inflict upon me, and be done with it." Girard sat, glaring fiercely.

"I do not intend," Lewis said, speaking very slowly, "to berate you or blame you for that. I merely wish to understand one or two things, and make one or two things equally clear." He hesitated; Girard was quiet, thankfully waiting for him. "I have never considered myself to be a lover of men. I have never given it much thought, to be honest. But you... you have waltzed into my life so casually, and you have changed everything, and you have taken away everything I thought I knew about myself -- let me finish, please," he interjected, seeing Girard about to speak. "I cannot stop thinking about that night, and what you did. I have never, not in my life, considered such a thing, but now I am. I must know, Girard, please… why did you do it? Honestly?"

Girard was silent a long moment, long enough that Lewis was beginning to think he would have no response at if he was lucky, and a violent rejoinder if he was not. "You asked me on the train why I should recruit you, as I did. " He spoke very softly, so softly that Lewis, so close across the table, could scarcely hear him. "The fact of the matter is that I had seen you before, and was fascinated by you. You say that you have never considered yourself a lover of men, but for myself? I have always known myself for nothing but an avowed invert. I asked your help because I liked you, because you were handsome and loyal and good, while just immoral enough to dance on the wrong side of the law with me, and while I could not assume that you would want of me what I wanted of you, I should at least be able to give you some small gift in return for your company for a time." He shook his head. "I should not have kissed you. It was a moment of weakness, a moment of damnable foolishness. I had hoped to part on good terms, for the sake of what we cannot – what we should not have. I ruined that. If you have any pity, any mercy in your soul, James Lewis... then let us part as amiably as you can find it in yourself to grant me."

Lewis had no words. He could see Girard becoming anxious across the table, as the silence stretched on.

"As I said, I cannot stop thinking of that night. Perhaps," he said at last, "we need not part at all?"

Girard looked up at him, some small measure of fearfulness in his face, and he smiled.
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