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"The technothriller has a new ace and his name is Larry Bond."—Tom Clancy
"[A] fast-paced, complex thriller."—Publishers Weekly on Larry Bond's First Team: Angels of Wrath
The wind blew without mercy. The man preparing to enter it was a man of great faith, but at twenty thousand feet in the pitch-black night, even faith had its limits.
Samman Bin Saqr took a breath, then uttered a prayer of praise and trust he had learned as a boy. He edged his feet forward, poised at the lip of the apparatus that would help free him from the aircraft's slipstream. The plane held to its course, guided by the hand of an automated pilot, which was also being tested on this flight. The copilot-human-called from the seat a few feet away that they were approaching the target area.
Samman Bin Saqr went by many names in the West. To some, he was Ibn Yaman, the mastermind of the attack on the British embassy in Beijing. To others, he was Umar Umar, who had shown the Australians that Sydney was not immune to suicide attacks. To the Americans, he was either Abu Akil, whose plot to blow up Independence Hall in Philadelphia had been foiled only by a dead car battery the morning of the planned attack, or Kalil Kadir Hassan, whose genius had turned an IRS tax center in Massachusetts into a fireball.
The latest of those attacks, the one that had consumed the devil's tax collectors, had occurred five years before. Because he had not struck since then, Samman Bin Saqr was presumed by many to be dead, or worse, to have lost his nerve. But in fact he had spent the entire time planning and building his next operation.
The idea for it had come to him one evening in Karachi, Pakistan, where he had gone to meet some associates in the Bin Laden group to discuss funding. He happened to pick up a Western magazine and saw a picture of Honolulu. And from that moment, he knew what he would do.
It was a momentous decision. It had stretched his skills beyond belief. It meant locating in a place-Chechnya-he was unfamiliar with. It meant learning a great deal about a wide range of subjects and risking his life in ways the infidels could never imagine.
But more importantly, it meant doing nothing against the enemies of his faith for five long years. Samman Bin Saqr was a man of belief whose whole life had consisted of sacrifice, but even he was not immune to the temptations of glory. It had proven impossible at first to obtain the materials he wanted, and several times he had nearly changed direction to execute a lesser plan.
But he had not. Obstacle after obstacle had been pushed away. Allah had over-seen and blessed all, in the end supplying the most coveted ingredients through the greed of the French and the idiocy of the Russians.
After five years of labor, Samman Bin Saqr was nearly ready. But as the project drew close to fruition, he had begun to consider its consequences on a deeper level. From the start, the plan had called for his demise; it seemed fitting and fair that he should reach paradise as a reward for his struggles. But his death would necessarily bring the end of his organization and the scattering of its abilities.
Was he not being selfish, he wondered, to choose this moment to die?
To reach heaven would truly be wonderful-yet even he realized that his blow would not end the struggle with the West. On the contrary, as Bin Laden himself had taught, it would only provoke them. It would take many such provocations until the final war began; at that point, and at that point only, would Allah assure victory. Did Samman Bin Saqr, whose plan would prove his greatness as an agent of the true Lord, not have a duty to see the battle further?
After much prayer and thought, he had realized that the answer was yes. And after further consideration, work, and prayer, a solution had been found. He had now only to test it.
Assuming that he could overcome his fear. Samman Bin Saqr had jumped from airplanes five times before, but never from this height in the darkness of the night. Nor had he had to pass through such a tricky and potentially deadly slipstream.
His engineers had solved the problem of the howling, wrathful wind by building what amounted to an extendible tube or funnel that could expel him past the fuselage. It had been tested twice, and it worked, but Samman Bin Saqr reserved the final test to himself-it was necessary, he felt, so that he would not be surprised when the time came.
He felt the plane vibrating, then saw his hand shake. To calm himself, he thought of his place in paradise.
Then, still waiting for his copilot to give the signal, he pictured the American paradise covered with radioactive dust, a ghost town filled with the walking corpses, rendered unusable and unlivable for centuries to come. He heard the cries of his enemies, felt their anguish, and was at peace.
"Now," said the copilot.
In the hushed howl as the wind kicked through the apparatus, the word sounded as if it came from God Himself. Samman Bin Saqr pushed the lever and left the plane, plunging through the whirling vortex into the dark night.
Bob Ferguson liked to think of himself as a reasonable man, so when the two rather large fellows confronted him in the restroom of the Samovar Cafe, he smiled benignly and asked in Russian what they wanted. When the man on the left called him a dirty, foreigner, Ferguson wholeheartedly agreed-he hadn't, after all, had a chance to shower for nearly forty-eight hours. And when the one on the right asked how much money he had, the American answered truthfully, "not much."
But when the second man took a knife from his pocket and slashed the air in front of him, Ferguson sighed and started to reach into his pocket. As he did so, however, the first lurched toward him, and Ferguson found it expedient to duck forward, at the same time swinging his hand into the man's windpipe so sharply that he cracked the man's Adam's apple with the flat part of his palm. The momentum added speed to his right leg as it swept up and landed in the other man's groin.
"How much money do you want?" Ferguson asked, as the men rolled on the floor.
The man he'd kicked in the groin blubbered something in what was probably Kirghiz, the native language.
"Sorry, didn't catch that," said Ferguson. He bent and propped the man up against the wall-probably a little too quickly, as the man's skull smacked against the wall, knocking him unconscious. Ferguson decided whatever he'd been saying wasn't particularly important and let him slump to the floor next to his dozing partner.
"I admire people who can fall asleep anywhere," said Ferguson. He stepped over to the sink, washing his hands, then running them through his hair, which had a tendency to get mussed up when he did a snap kick. Satisfied that he was looking his best, Ferguson stepped over the local toughs and left the restroom, walking up the steps and through the long narrow hallway to the cafe's dining room.
Punctuality was not highly prized in Kyrgyzstan, but as he'd been waiting for nearly two hours, Ferguson decided that the man he'd come to meet probably wasn't going to show at all. And so, rather than returning to his table, he merely waved at the proprietor and slid a few bills out on the counter to pay his tab. Besides a few son for his tea, Ferguson left fifty dollars euro to cover the mess in the restroom.
A dark, inky haze hung over the street, spread by the incinerator smokestacks that clustered around the city like trees the developers had forgotten to clear away. Tall and thin, built of bricks that were once bright yellow but were now black almost to the bottom, the brick forest vented the smoke from the region's only moneymaking industry-waste disposal. The furnaces beneath the stacks handled refuse from all over Europe; encouraged by the former Soviet Republic's lax environmental standards and even laxer bureaucracy, the waste industry had made this corner of the landlocked country a cosmopolitan capital of refuse. The countryside around it was a repository for everything from onion skins and spoiled lettuce to spent nuclear waste. Located twenty miles south of Talas near a new railroad spur, the city had been a ramshackle collection of one-story hovels and played-out mine shafts ten years before. Now it boasted wide, macadam streets and new town houses, three movie theaters and a Western-style grocery that outshone anything in Bishkek, the capital far to the north-east.
For many of the inhabitants the fine layer of soot that covered everything was a small price to pay for relief from grinding poverty; others had never known the city without it. Anything that could be burned was burned here, and many things that couldn't be burned often found their way to the furnaces as well. The waste dumps were located on the other side of the railroad spur beyond the incinerator forest. The largest dumps were for ash and chemical refuse, but there were smaller, deeper facilities for more toxic materials as well. On a good day, the wind slashed through the sweet, terrible odor, leaving the city with a merely nauseous smell; on bad days, it formed an impenetrable barrier to the outside world.
Today was a good day. Ferguson jabbed his hands into his pockets, practically bouncing as he walked briskly past the local police station, head tilted slightly as if to increase his forward momentum. Though dressed in clothes almost identical to what the two thugs he'd met in the restroom were wearing-dirty black jeans, a plain brown shirt over two thick T's, a black leather jacket-there was no question that he was a foreigner, and most of the natives who saw him would undoubtedly think he was some sort of spy-CIA, probably, because that's what every foreigner was considered in Kyrgyzstan. Russians from Moscow, French nuclear waste engineers, the Spanish interior commissioner who had concluded a deal just yesterday to bury waste near here-all were perceived to be spies in the employ of the American Central Intelligence Agency. Most visitors welcomed this perception, if for no other reason that spying was a considerably more glamorous profession than garbage, though at their heart their concerns were exactly the same.
It happened that Ferguson-or Ferg as he was more often called-was in fact in the employ of the CIA, though in the Agency's parlance he was an operations "officer" as opposed to an agent, "agent" generally meaning someone of foreign extraction persuaded to supply information. Ferguson had a cover-he was in the country as the American representative of a small firm that manufactured gas nozzles used in waste combustion apparatus. The CIA officer was so thoroughly "covered" that he actually was authorized to make a sale on behalf of the firm, though if it came to that he would not be entitled to the sizable commission-60 percent-independent sales representatives for the company normally took.
Ferguson turned the corner to Yeliseev Street, making his way to the office of the man he had come to the city, to meet, Alex Sheremetev. His appearance there would undoubtedly throw the eminently corruptible official into something approaching a panic. But in Ferg's view panic was a healthy thing; he quickened his pace as he turned the corner and crossed the dusty street, ducking between ten-year-old Ladas and even more ancient Hondas, which here were considered symbols of wealth.
Sheremetev-though Russian, he was no relation to the family that gave Moscow its famous garden-worked on the second floor of the Municipal Order Building #2. In a cramped room overlooking a dusty alley, Sheremetev processed permits for a number of waste projects. One in particular interested Ferguson-a French-Russian project to contain and dispose of experimental nuclear reactors built in Russia during the 1980s. Spent fuel, reactor rods, and assorted machinery from the devices were processed at a site south of Buzuluk on the Samara River. From there, special casks of the material were shipped by train in special cars south to Kazakhstan and then into Kyrgyzstan, where they were buried in a deep-earth facility. The material was transported under heavy guard and carefully accounted for. But two months before, the CIA had detected a discrepancy between the radiation count taken by an American monitoring station near the Kazakhstan border and the one officially recorded at the waste facility.
Ferguson had been sent to Kyrgyzstan to account for the discrepancy by the Joint Services Special Demands Project Office-a CIA-Special Forces unit that answered directly and only to the deputy director of operations at the CIA. Generally referred to either as the "First Team" or simply "the Team," Ferguson worked with a Joint Special Operations Forces (SOF) unit headed by Colonel Charles Van Buren, who not only had a battalion of Army Special Forces soldiers under his command but controlled a range of resources to support them as well. The Team had been created to address unconventional threats in an unconventional way, without interference from the bureaucracy of either the intelligence or military establishments. The arrangement made Ferguson and the SF troopers who worked with him essentially free agents, and Ferg was a free agent par excellence.
Ferguson had never been in the municipal building before, but he had studied its floor plan earlier, thus knew to go in through the side entrance, avoiding the security officer in the lobby. A quick turn to the left, a jog up the steps, and the caffeine rush from all the tea he'd drunk earlier was almost entirely dissipated.
Sheremetev's secretary momentarily revived it, her short skirt riding up on her hips as she hunched over a filing cabinet behind the desk. She wore a tight sweater despite the fact that it was spring and comparatively warm outside; Ferguson smiled at the fit, then asked in Kirghiz for her boss.
The secretary frowned and replied in Russian that he wasn't there. Ferguson apologized for his accent, then asked where she thought he might be. She said in Kirghiz that she had no idea, and repeated the information in Russian.
Under other circumstances, Ferguson might have lingered a bit to refine his accent and admire the scenery but he knew that the two SF soldiers who comprised his trail team were probably getting antsy. So he left a business card and brochure on the desk and trudged back down the steps, carrying the slight glow a pair of smooth legs always left him with. Out on the street, a black Lada whipped toward him. Ferg kept one eve on it as it barreled past, noting that there were three men crammed into the backseat. He resisted the impulse to throw himself to the ground; when the back of his head wasn't ripped by bullets, he congratulated himself on his good judgment and told himself that he was being much too paranoid. Continuing down the block, Ferg smiled at an old lady pulling a two-wheeled folding shopping cart, then cut through the gas station-a special deal on A92 petrol today and every day-turning down a street lined with apartment houses that looked as if they'd been built by Stalin in the fifties, though in fact they were only a year old. Beyond the apartments were industrial warehouses waiting to be demolished for more housing. Sheremetev's apartment was on the other side of the buildings in a row of town houses that marked the outskirts of the affluent neighborhood.
Three boys were playing soccer in a field near the end of the block. The ball bounded away and rolled toward him; Ferguson ran to it, dribbling back and forth, then passing off to one of the kids on the left. The boy fumbled badly, sliding as he went to kick it; his friends started to goad him. Always one for the underdog, Ferguson swept back and dribbled the loose ball toward the goal, marked by upside-down water buckets. The others gave chase belatedly. He bounded back and took them on, ducking left and right, then launching a bullet that smacked one of the buckets so hard it left a dent. Laughing, he caught the ball on the rebound and headed it skyward.
The kids started jabbering in Kirghiz that he should play. Ferguson laughed and told them thanks, eying the black Lada moving slowly along the nearby road. It looked exactly like the car he'd seen earlier-but then that might be said of any black Lada, which came in dozens of varieties and had been made for decades.
Excerpted from LARRY BOND'S FIRST TEAM by LARRY BOND JIM DEFELICE Copyright © 2004 by Larry Bond and Jim DeFelice. Excerpted by permission.
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Chapter One: A Crimean Night
Lieutenant Sutch was the first of General Feversham's guests to reach Broad Place. He arrived about five o'clock on an afternoon of sunshine in mid June, and the old red-brick house, lodged on a southern slope of the Surrey hills, was glowing from a dark forest depth of pines with the warmth of a rare jewel. Lieutenant Sutch limped across the hall, where the portraits of the Fevershams rose one above the other to the ceiling, and went out on to the stone-flagged terrace at the back. There he found his host sitting erect like a boy, and gazing southwards towards the Sussex Downs.
"How's the leg?" asked General Feversham, as he rose briskly from his chair. He was a small wiry man, and, in spite of his white hairs, alert. But the alertness was of the body. A bony face, with a high narrow forehead and steel-blue inexpressive eyes, suggested a barrenness of mind.
"It gave me trouble during the winter," replied Sutch. "But that was to be expected." General Fever-sham nodded, and for a little while both men were silent. From the terrace the ground fell steeply to a wide level plain of brown earth and emerald fields and dark clumps of trees. From this plain voices rose through the sunshine, small but very clear. Far away towards Horsham a coil of white smoke from a train snaked rapidly in and out amongst the trees; and on the horizon rose the Downs, patched with white chalk.
"I thought that I should find you here," said Sutch.
"It was my wife's favourite corner," answered Feversham, in a quite emotionless voice. "She would sit here by the hour. She had a queer liking for wide and empty spaces."
"Yes," said Sutch. "She had imagination. Her thoughts could people them."
General Feversham glanced at his companion as though he hardly understood. But he asked no questions. What he did not understand he habitually let slip from his mind as not worth comprehension. He spoke at once upon a different topic.
"There will be a leaf out of our table to-night."
"Yes. Collins, Barberton, and Vaughan went this winter. Well, we are all permanently shelved upon the world's half-pay list as it is. The obituary column is just the last formality which gazettes us out of the Service altogether," and Sutch stretched out and eased his crippled leg, which fourteen years ago that day had been crushed and twisted in the fall of a scaling-ladder.
"I am glad that you came before the others," continued Feversham. "I would like to take your opinion. This day is more to me than the anniversary of our attack upon the Redan. At the very moment when we were standing under arms in the dark -- "
"To the west of the quarries, I remember," interrupted Sutch, with a deep breath. "How should one forget?"
"At that very moment Harry was born in this house. I thought, therefore, that if you did not object he might join us to-night. He happens to be at home. He will, of course, enter the service, and he might learn something, perhaps, which afterwards will be of use -- one never knows."
"By all means," said Sutch, with alacrity. For since his visits to General Feversham were limited to the occasion of these anniversary dinners, he had never yet seen Harry Feversham.
Sutch had for many years been puzzled as to the qualities in General Feversham which had attracted Muriel Graham, a woman as remarkable for the refinement of her intellect as for the beauty of her person; and he could never find an explanation. He had to be content with his knowledge that for some mysterious reason she had married this man so much older than herself, and so unlike to her in character. Personal courage and an indomitable self-confidence were the chief, indeed the only qualities which sprang to light in General Feversham. Lieutenant Sutch went back in thought over twenty years as he sat on his garden-chair to a time before he had taken part, as an officer of the Naval Brigade, in that unsuccessful onslaught on the Redan. He remembered a season in London to which he had come fresh from the China Station; and he was curious to see Harry Feversham. He did not admit that it was more than the natural curiosity of a man who, disabled in comparative youth, had made a hobby out of the study of human nature. He was interested to see whether the lad took after his mother or his father -- that was all.
So that night Harry Feversham took a place at the dinner-table and listened to the stories which his elders told, while Lieutenant Sutch watched him. The stories were all of that dark winter in the Crimea, and a fresh story was always in the telling before its predecessor was ended. They were stories of death, of hazardous exploits; of the pinch of famine and the chill of snow. But they were told in clipped words and with a matter-of-fact tone, as though the men who related them were only conscious of them as far-off things; and there was seldom a comment more pronounced than a mere "that's curious," or an exclamation more significant than a laugh.
But Harry Feversham sat listening as though the incidents thus carelessly narrated were happening actually at that moment and within the walls of that room. His dark eyes -- the eyes of his mother -- turned with each story from speaker to speaker, and waited wide-open and fixed until the last word was spoken. He listened fascinated and enthralled. And so vividly did the changes of expression shoot and quiver across his face, that it seemed to Sutch the lad must actually hear the drone of bullets in the air, actually resist the stunning shock of a charge, actually ride down in the thick of a squadron to where guns screeched out a tongue of flame from a fog. Once a major of artillery spoke of the suspense of the hours between the parading of the troops before a battle and the first command to advance; and Harry's shoulders worked under the intolerable strain of those lagging minutes.
But he did more than work his shoulders. He threw a single furtive, wavering glance backwards; and Lieutenant Sutch was startled, and indeed more than startled, he was pained. For this, after all, was Muriel Graham's boy.
The look was too familiar a one to Sutch. He had seen it on the faces of recruits during their first experience of a battle too often for him to misunderstand it. And one picture in particular rose before his mind. An advancing square at Inkermann, and a tall big soldier rushing forward from the line in the eagerness of his attack, and then stopping suddenly as though he suddenly understood that he was alone, and had to meet alone the charge of a mounted Cossack. Sutch remembered very clearly the fatal wavering glance which the big soldier had thrown backwards towards his companions -- a glance accompanied by a queer sickly smile. He remembered, too, with equal vividness, its consequence. For though the soldier carried a loaded musket and a bayonet locked to the muzzle, he had without an effort of self-defence received the Cossack's lance-thrust in his throat.
Sutch glanced hurriedly about the table, afraid that General Feversham, or that some one of his guests, should have remarked the same look and the same smile upon Harry's face. But no one had eyes for the lad; each visitor was waiting too eagerly for an opportunity to tell a story of his own. Sutch drew a breath of relief and turned to Harry. But the boy was sitting with his elbows on the cloth and his head propped between his hands, lost to the glare of the room and its glitter of silver, constructing again out of the swift succession of anecdotes a world of cries and wounds, and maddened riderless chargers and men writhing in a fog of cannon-smoke. The curtest, least graphic description of the biting days and nights in the trenches set the lad shivering. Even his face grew pinched, as though the iron frost of that winter was actually eating into his bones. Sutch touched him lightly on the elbow.
"You renew those days for me," said he. "Though the heat is dripping down the windows, I feel the chill of the Crimea."
Harry roused himself from his absorption.
"The stories renew them," said he.
"No. It is you listening to the stories."
And before Harry could reply, General Feversham's voice broke sharply in from the head of the table --
"Harry, look at the clock!"
At once all eyes were turned upon the lad. The hands of the clock made the acutest of angles. It was close upon midnight, and from eight, without so much as a word or a question, he had sat at the dinner-table listening. Yet even now he rose with reluctance.
"Must I go, father?" he asked, and the General's guests intervened in a chorus. The conversation was clear gain to the lad, a first taste of powder which might stand him in good stead afterwards.
"Besides, it's the boy's birthday," added the major of artillery. "He wants to stay, that's plain. You wouldn't find a youngster of fourteen sit all these hours without a kick of the foot against the table-leg unless the conversation entertained him. Let him stay, Feversham!"
For once General Feversham relaxed the iron discipline under which the boy lived.
"Very well," said he. "Harry shall have an hour's furlough from his bed. A single hour won't make much difference."
Harry's eyes turned towards his father, and just for a moment rested upon his face with a curious steady gaze. It seemed to Sutch that they uttered a question, and, rightly or wrongly, he interpreted the question into words --
"Are you blind?"
But General Feversham was already talking to his neighbours, and Harry quietly sat down, and again propping his chin upon his hands, listened with all his soul. Yet he was not entertained; rather he was enthralled, he sat quiet under the compulsion of a spell. His face became unnaturally white, his eyes unnaturally large, while the flames of the candles shone ever redder and more blurred through a blue haze of tobacco-smoke, and the level of the wine grew steadily lower in the decanters.
Thus half of that one hour's furlough was passed; and then General Feversham, himself jogged by the unlucky mention of a name, suddenly blurted out in his jerky fashion --
"Lord Wilmington. One of the best names in England, if you please. Did you ever see his house in Warwickshire? Every inch of the ground you would think would have a voice to bid him play the man, if only in remembrance of his fathers....It seemed incredible and mere camp rumour, but the rumour grew. If it was whispered at the Alma, it was spoken aloud at Inkermann, it was shouted at Balaclava. Before Sebastopol the hideous thing was proved. Wilmington was acting as galloper to his General. I believe upon my soul the General chose him for the duty, so that the fellow might set himself right. There were three hundred yards of bullet-swept flat ground, and a message to be carried across them. Had Wilmington toppled off his horse on the way, why, there were the whispers silenced for ever. Had he ridden through alive he earned distinction besides. But he didn't dare, he refused! Imagine it if you can! He sat shaking on his horse, and declined. You should have seen the General. His face turned the colour of that Burgundy. 'No doubt you have a previous engagement,' he said, in the politest voice you ever heard -- just that, not a word of abuse. A previous engagement on the battle-field! For the life of me I could hardly help laughing. But it was a tragic business for Wilmington. He was broken, of course, and slunk back to London. Every house was closed to him, he dropped out of his circle like a lead bullet you let slip out of your hand into the sea. The very women in Piccadilly spat if he spoke to them; and he blew his brains out in a back bedroom off the Haymarket. Curious that, eh? He hadn't the pluck to face the bullets when his name was at stake, yet he could blow his own brains out afterwards."
Lieutenant Sutch chanced to look at the clock as the story came to an end. It was now a quarter to one. Harry Feversham had still a quarter of an hour's furlough, and that quarter of an hour was occupied by a retired surgeon-general with a great wagging beard, who sat nearly opposite to the boy.
"I can tell you an incident still more curious," he said. "The man in this case had never been under fire before, but he was of my own profession. Life and death were part of his business. Nor was he really in any particular danger. The affair happened during a hill campaign in India. We were encamped in a valley, and a few Pathans used to lie out on the hillside at night and take long shots into the camp. A bullet ripped through the canvas of the hospital tent -- that was all. The surgeon crept out to his own quarters, and his orderly discovered him half an hour afterwards lying in his blood stone dead."
"Hit?" exclaimed the Major.
"Not a bit of it," said the surgeon. "He had quietly opened his instrument-case in the dark, taken out a lancet, and severed his femoral artery. Sheer panic, do you see, at the whistle of a bullet."
Even upon these men, case-hardened to horrors, the incident related in its bald simplicity wrought its effect. From some there broke a half-uttered exclamation of disbelief; others moved restlessly in their chairs with a sort of physical discomfort, because a man had sunk so far below humanity. Here an officer gulped his wine, there a second shook his shoulders as though to shake the knowledge off as a dog shakes water. There was only one in all that company who sat perfectly still in the silence which followed upon the story. That one was the boy Harry Feversham.
He sat with his hands now clenched upon his knees and leaning forward a little across the table towards the surgeon; his cheeks white as paper, his eyes burning and burning with ferocity. He had the look of a dangerous animal in the trap. His body was gathered, his muscles taut. Sutch had a fear that the lad meant to leap across the table and strike with all his strength in the savagery of despair. He had indeed reached out a restraining hand when General Feversham's matter-of-fact voice intervened, and the boy's attitude suddenly relaxed.
"Queer incomprehensible things happen. Here are two of them. You can only say they are the truth and pray God you may forget 'em. But you can't explain. For you can't understand."
Sutch was moved to lay his hand upon Harry's shoulder.
"Can you?" he asked, and regretted the question almost before it was spoken. But it was spoken, and Harry's eyes turned swiftly towards Sutch, and rested upon his face, not, however, with any betrayal of guilt, but quietly, inscrutably. Nor did he answer the question, although it was answered in a fashion by General Feversham.
"Harry understand!" exclaimed the General with a snort of indignation. "How should he? He's a Feversham."
The question, which Harry's glance had mutely put before, Sutch in the same mute way repeated. "Are you blind?" his eyes asked of General Feversham. Never had he heard an untruth so demonstrably untrue. A mere look at the father and the son proved it so. Harry Feversham wore his father's name, but he had his mother's dark and haunted eyes, his mother's breadth of forehead, his mother's delicacy of profile, his mother's imagination. It needed perhaps a stranger to recognise the truth. The father had been so long familiar with his son's aspect that it had no significance to his mind.
"Look at the clock, Harry."
The hour's furlough had run out. Harry rose from his chair, and drew a breath.
"Good night, sir," he said, and walked to the door.
The servants had long since gone to bed; and, as Harry opened the door, the hall gaped black like the mouth of night. For a second or two the boy hesitated upon the threshold, and seemed almost to shrink back into the lighted room as though in that dark void peril awaited him. And peril did -- the peril of his thoughts.
He stepped out of the room and closed the door behind him. The decanter was sent again upon its rounds, there was a popping of soda-water bottles, the talk revolved again in its accustomed groove. Harry was in an instant forgotten by all but Sutch. The Lieutenant, although he prided himself upon his impartial and disinterested study of human nature, was the kindliest of men. He had more kindliness than observation by a great deal. Moreover, there were special reasons which caused him to take an interest in Harry Feversham. He sat for a little while with the air of a man profoundly disturbed. Then, acting upon an impulse, he went to the door, opened it noiselessly, as noiselessly passed out, and, without so much as a click of the latch, closed the door behind him.
And this is what he saw: Harry Feversham holding in the centre of the hall a lighted candle high above his head, and looking up towards the portraits of the Fevershams as they mounted the walls and were lost in the darkness of the roof. A muffled sound of voices came from the other side of the door-panels. But the hall itself was silent. Harry stood remarkably still, and the only thing which moved at all was the yellow flame of the candle as it flickered apparently in some faint draught. The light wavered across the portraits, glowing here upon a red coat, glittering there upon a corselet of steel. For there was not one man's portrait upon the walls which did not glisten with the colours of a uniform, and there were the portraits of many men. Father and son, the Fevershams had been soldiers from the very birth of the family. Father and son, in lace collars and bucket boots, in Ramillies wigs and steel breastplates, in velvet coats with powder on their hair, in shakos and swallow-tails, in high stocks and frogged coats, they looked down upon this last Feversham, summoning him to the like service. They were men of one stamp; no distinction of uniform could obscure their relationship -- lean-faced men, hard as iron, rugged in feature, thin-lipped, with firm chins and straight level mouths, narrow foreheads, and the steel-blue inexpressive eyes; men of courage and resolution, no doubt, but without subtleties, or nerves, or that burdensome gift of imagination; sturdy men, a little wanting in delicacy, hardly conspicuous for intellect; to put it frankly, men rather stupid -- all of them, in a word, first-class fighting men, but not one of them a first-class soldier.
But Harry Feversham plainly saw none of their defects. To him they were one and all portentous and terrible. He stood before them in the attitude of a criminal before his judges, reading his condemnation in their cold unchanging eyes. Lieutenant Sutch understood more clearly why the flame of the candle flickered. There was no draught in the hall, but the boy's hand shook. And finally, as though he heard the mute voices of his judges delivering sentence and admitted its justice, he actually bowed to the portraits on the wall. As he raised his head, he saw Lieutenant Sutch in the embrasure of the doorway.
He did not start, he uttered no word; he let his eyes quietly rest upon Sutch and waited. Of the two it was the man who was embarrassed.
"Harry," he said, and in spite of his embarrassment he had the tact to use the tone and the language of one addressing not a boy, but a comrade equal in years, "we meet for the first time to-night. But I knew your mother a long time ago. I like to think that I have the right to call her by that much misused word -- friend. Have you anything to tell me?"
"Nothing," said Harry.
"The mere telling sometimes lightens a trouble."
"It is kind of you. There is nothing."
Lieutenant Sutch was rather at a loss. The lad's loneliness made a strong appeal to him. For lonely the boy could not but be, set apart as he was no less unmistakably in mind as in feature from his father and his father's fathers. Yet what more could he do? His tact again came to his aid. He took his card-case from his pocket.
"You will find my address upon this card. Perhaps some day you will give me a few days of your company. I can offer you on my side a day or two's hunting."
A spasm of pain shook for a fleeting moment the boy's steady inscrutable face. It passed, however, swiftly as it had come.
"Thank you, sir," Harry monotonously repeated. "You are very kind."
"And if ever you want to talk over a difficult question with an older man, I am at your service."
He spoke purposely in a formal voice lest Harry with a boy's sensitiveness should think he laughed. Harry took the card and repeated his thanks. Then he went upstairs to bed.
Lieutenant Sutch waited uncomfortably in the hall until the light of the candle had diminished and disappeared. Something was amiss, he was very sure. There were words which he should have spoken to the boy, but he had not known how to set about the task. He returned to the dining-room, and with a feeling that he was almost repairing his omissions, he filled his glass and called for silence.
"Gentlemen," he said, "this is June 15th," and there was great applause and much rapping on the table. "It is the anniversary of our attack upon the Redan. It is also Harry Feversham's birthday. For us, our work is done. I ask you to drink the health of one of the youngsters who are ousting us. His work lies before him. The traditions of the Feversham family are very well known to us. May Harry Feversham carry them on! May he add distinction to a distinguished name!"
At once all that company was on its feet.
The name was shouted with so hearty a goodwill that the glasses on the table rang. "Harry Feversham, Harry Feversham," the cry was repeated and repeated, while old General Feversham sat in his chair, with a face aflush with pride. And a boy a minute afterwards in a room high up in the house heard the muffled words of a chorus --
"For he's a jolly good fellow,
For he's a jolly good fellow,
For he's a jolly good fellow,
And so say all of us,"
and believed the guests upon this Crimean night were drinking his father's health. He turned over in his bed and lay shivering. He saw in his mind a broken officer slinking at night in the shadows of the London streets. He pushed back the flap of a tent and stooped over a man lying stone-dead in his blood, with an open lancet clenched in his right hand. And he saw that the face of the broken officer and the face of the dead surgeon were one; and that one face, the face of Harry Feversham.
Copyright © 2002 by Simon & Schuster
Posted August 26, 2010
No text was provided for this review.