Dawn on a Distant Shore Page 163

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"I tried--" Moncrieff began, and the Frenchman cut him off with a raised hand.

"Never mind, Angus. It doesn't matter now."

"Where's the earl?" Nathaniel addressed Contrecoeur directly, in part to see if he would lie.

"In the chamber just above us. I asked for a few minutes alone with Georges," said Contrecoeur.

"This is Monsieur Dupuis?" Elizabeth directed her question to the Hakim, but Moncrieff answered.

"Aye." Moncrieff's tone was bitter. "He's dying, as ye can see for yesel'. Will you no' leave him in peace?"

Nathaniel crossed the room and looked down.

The man in the bed blinked up at him, his eyes hazy with pain. Around his neck was a cloth medallion like the one Nathaniel had taken from Moncrieff. A crucifix hung over the bed. A dying man; a Catholic. A stranger.

Then he smiled, and Nathaniel recognized him.

He was clean shaven, where once he had worn his beard long and ragged. The beard had first earned him the name Dog-Face from the Kahnyen'kehâka --an honor they reserved for the hairiest and ugliest O'seronni. But the priest had proved himself stronger and braver than his countrymen, walking the gauntlet without a sound, falling under one blow to get up again and take the next, and all so that he might be allowed to tell them stories of his strange O'seronni heaven. They had renamed him Iron-Dog.

"Wolf-Running-Fast," he whispered in the language of Nathaniel's adopted people. "You are here at last."

Nathaniel fell without a struggle into the rhythms of the language, and the things it demanded of him. "Iron-Dog, my friend. On the Great River they tell stories of you. They say that the Seneca burned you and ate your heart. They tell stories of your bravery--"

Dupuis hitched a breath and let it go in a long wheezing sigh. "God delivered me from that fate," he said, switching into English. "He had other work for me, here."

"What work?"

That saintly smile, the one that had set him apart. "You know as well as I do. To see you and your father reunited with your family."

"You're the one who told Carryck where to find us."

He swallowed, and the tumors on his neck writhed like living things. "I told Moncrieff where to start looking. It took a long time. Almost too long." He closed his eyes, and for a moment Nathaniel thought he had gone to sleep, but he spoke again, his voice as strong as before.

"Your lady wife."

"Aye," Nathaniel said. "This is Elizabeth."

"English?"

Elizabeth stepped forward. "Yes, sir. I am English."

He swallowed again and held out a long white hand, his palm crisscrossed with old scars.

Once Nathaniel had allowed this man to baptize him although he had not ever believed, not in his god or his devil. But Iron-Dog was one of the few white men who had earned his respect in those days. Nathaniel took the offered hand.

Dupuis pulled him forward. His breath was sweet with laudanum.

"I baptized you by my own hand," he whispered. "But I can direct you no further on your journey. Listen to Contrecoeur. He will be your guide."

"I do not want him as a guide," Nathaniel said, because he would not lie to this man, on his deathbed or anywhere else.

"But you need him," said Iron-Dog. "As he needs you."

28

Contrecoeur led the way up the circle of stairs, followed by Elizabeth and Nathaniel. Moncrieff came close behind, sucking in each breath and pushing it out step by step.

Another tower chamber, but no sickroom this time. Like the rest of the castle it was overfilled with fancy furniture, paintings and china figurines and ivory carvings. A dozen wax candles were all burning at once, so that shadows jumped on polished silver and brass.

"Lady Carryck's chambers," Elizabeth said. She pointed with her chin. "You see, there is her portrait over the mantel."

It meant nothing to Nathaniel--one more pretty picture, this time a woman with hair the color of amber. The earl's dead wife. Nathaniel took Elizabeth's elbow to keep her next to him.

Carryck waited for them at a table, his hand curled around a cup. Mrs. Hope was on the other side of the room with sewing in her lap. She stood and smoothed her skirt, spoke without looking at anybody.

"I'll bide below."

"Stay where ye are, Jean." Carryck's voice was steady; nothing especially affectionate in his tone, nothing to indicate what they might be to each other except for the fact that he called her Jean, in this place where first names were such rare currency.

The housekeeper sat down again and folded her hands in her lap. When Nathaniel met her gaze she looked away.

Candlelight was kind to old faces, but even so the earl looked his age; the whisky, maybe. Or sorrow for Dupuis. Nathaniel could still not quite get his mind around the fact that Iron-Dog was here. What it meant, how he fit in to all of this.

"Come then and sit ye doon."

The earl poured whisky for all of them-- Elizabeth, too--and the room was filled with the bright, sharp smell of it. Nathaniel had never much liked hard liquor but he drank what was put before him, just as he took his turn with the pipe when it went around the Kahnyen'kehâka council fire.

It was Carryck who broke the silence.

"Ye've been waitin' a guid while tae say what it is ye have tae say, Bonner. I'll listen now, and then I'll take my turn and tell ye what ye need tae understand."

Elizabeth put her hand lightly on Nathaniel's knee under the table, and he covered it with his own. Then he looked the earl directly in the eye.

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