Dawn on a Distant Shore Page 165

Elizabeth's surprise must have shown on her face, but he would not let her respond, leaning forward to speak directly to her.

"Dinna talk tae me o' Bills o' Relief. I wad be a fool tae put my faith and risk everythin' on the whim o' the English parliament."

Nathaniel sat back to think it through. "So let me see if I got this straight. All this trouble, men dead and missing, children stole--all this 'cause he's one kind of Christ worshiper, and those Campbells his daughter married into--the ones who tried to put a bullet in my head--are another."

"In essence," Elizabeth said.

Moncrieff was sputtering in anger and frustration, but Carryck silenced him with a sharp look. His calm restored, he said, "There's a wee bit mair tae it. It's many years now that I canna openly welcome my priest tae Carryckcastle wi'oot puttin' him in danger o' his life. The hearin' o' the Holy Mass or refusin' tae attend kirk instead could cost me everything I hold dear. Should the presbytery suspect me o' practicing my own faith, they can summon me--me--before them, and if I canna satisfy them that I'm no' papist, they will denounce me tae the Privy Council, and aa my property will be consigned tae my nearest Protestant relative--the Campbells o' Breadalbane--or revert tae the Crown. As a Catholic I canna buy real property, inherit an estate, or leave my property tae a Catholic son. And that same son couldna serve as a governor, factor, or even a schoolmaster. That's what it means tae be Catholic--and faithful--in Scotland."

Nathaniel said, "So your daughter ran off and married into the one family that would put you in the worst spot. What drove her to do something like that?"

The room was so quiet, it might have been empty.

"I did," said Jean Hope. "I wasna truthfu' wi' her when she needed it most, and she married intae the Campbell line tae strike a blow at me."

"Wheest, Jean." Carryck's voice came gentle. "We'll no' speak o' it."

"Won't we?" Nathaniel leaned back in his chair. "Seems to me we've got a right to know all of it. The truth is, all of this puts me in mind of that story--" He reached for Elizabeth's hand under the table. "Remember, Boots, the one you read out loud last winter? About that place with the little people who went to war because half of them liked to start with the big end of a boiled egg and the other half favored the small end. What was that book?"

"Mr. Swift's Gulliver's Travels," she said. "Thousands of the Lilliputians died rather than be compelled to begin their eggs at the small end."

Moncrieff pushed back his chair so violently that it screeched and then crashed over. "How dare ye." He spoke softly, and with such venom that Nathaniel reached for a weapon that wasn't there and then rose to block Moncrieff's path to Elizabeth. "How dare ye insult Carryck in such a way."

"Angus," barked the earl. "Enough! Sit ye doon, man."

"I willna!" Moncrieff was pale with rage. "I willna sit here and listen tae this English bitch make light o' our travails."

Nathaniel grabbed him by the shirt and hauled him forward, bending over to meet his eye. "You're a foul-mouthed bastard," he said easily. "And a coward, to attack a woman when I'm standing right here in front of you."

Moncrieff spat in his face.

Contrecoeur and Carryck both sprang forward, but Nathaniel's fist had already buried itself in Moncrieff's gut. He sank to his knees, grunting and gasping for breath.

Nathaniel wiped the spittle from his face with his sleeve. His wounded shoulder was screaming, and he had broken into a sweat.

"Angus," said Carryck. "Ye disappoint me, man."

Contrecoeur said nothing, but merely helped Moncrieff to his feet. He hung there for a moment, sputtering and coughing, and when he looked up there was nothing of contrition in his expression.

"Aye, I lost my temper," he wheezed. "But I'll take no' a word back. I willna stand by and smile while they sneer at us."

"You are mistaken, Mr. Moncrieff," Elizabeth said. "I do not sneer, nor would I make light of these outrageous penalties and the deprivation of basic human rights. But I do-- I must--challenge your interference in our lives. We are not politicians, and we cannot be held accountable for these wrongs done to you."

Moncrieff coughed. "It has nothing tae do with politics. Should Breadalbane come tae Carryck it will have tae do wi' blood. They'll drive us out wi' whips and canes, the way they drove my grandfaither out o' Dumfries in the riots. He died in the mud, watching his roof burn. His guidwife would ha' froze tae death beside him and my faither wi' her, but for the auld laird. But he gave them work, and a croft and a place tae make their confessions, and tae hear the Mass without fear. Ye wi' yer superiority and yer weeping for the Africans, ye care nothing for what we've suffered under your countrymen. You stand there and speak tae us of eggs."

Elizabeth drew herself up to her full height. "You have suffered great injustice, but we are no part of that, sir."

Moncrieff's mouth twisted with disgust. "She doesna understand," he said to the earl. "I told ye how it would be."

"She understands well enough, and so do I," Nathaniel said. "You want to hold on to what's yours--there's nothing unusual in that. You're Catholics, and I'd guess you're Jacobites, too."

There was a sudden silence as Carryck and Contrecoeur looked at each other.

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