Dawn on a Distant Shore Page 19

She brought up her gaze slowly. "Really? In my experience, the men of your family are all very energetic sorts."

"Oh, I don't doubt they can be distracted from the work at hand, on occasion," Hawkeye said easily. "It's something a man grows out of, though. For the most part."

Giselle let out a small laugh of surprise at this challenge, but a young lieutenant broke in before she could respond.

"This cannot surprise you, Miss Somerville," he said, waving a hand. "Surely you know that Americans are not good sportsmen."

"Not by English rules we ain't, that's true enough," Hawkeye agreed.

Giselle interrupted the young man's sputtering reply. "Lieutenant Lytton, what I have in mind is not an English game, but a Scottish one, directly from Carryckcastle--Mr. Moncrieff tells me it used to be played there regularly, when the earl had guests."

"Hmmpf." Robbie sat up straighter, looking interested.

As Giselle explained the fine points, grins began to appear around the table.

"Ah," said MacDermott. "Razzored Harries is what we called it when I was young. In the end you're all packed together like herrings in a dish of cream."

Johnson pushed away his untouched banana. "It's just the reverse of hide-and-seek. It's played in Shropshire, as well. We called it pickle packing."

"Do I understand correctly?" interrupted Quinn, trying to make sense of the game through a fog brought on by Portuguese sherry. "Should I find the hiding place instead of announcing that fact, I simply ... join the group already there."

"Yes, and try to keep quiet," Giselle confirmed.

"Quite good sport." Pickering rubbed his hands in anticipation.

"Miss Somerville, may I assume you will be the first to hide?" asked a young merchant.

"But of course, Mr. Gray," said Giselle. "What fun would it be otherwise?"

"Grown men, runnin' aboot and playin' at children's games," muttered Robbie as they made their way back down to the kitchen. "There's nae dignity in it."

Above them there was a shout of laughter and the sound of breaking glass.

"It's not dignity that brings them here," Nathaniel noted dryly.

Robbie pulled up short. "Ye dinna mean --she couldna, no' wi' aa those men--"

"No," Nathaniel said. "I ain't supposing she would. But one of them won't be going straight home. As long as it ain't Otter, that's all that concerns us."

They paused at the door into the kitchen, where two young girls were coping, bleary eyed and short tempered, with great piles of dirty china and crystal. For the moment there was no sign of Fink.

"I wasna cut oot for this kind o' warfare," Robbie announced with a sigh. "A musket wad suit me far better than parlor games wi' a crowd o' nut-hooks."

"Then we'd best get gone," said Hawkeye from the stairs behind them. Nathaniel pivoted. His father was there, with Moncrieff just behind. Hawkeye's grip on his shoulder was still like iron, and the hazel eyes blazed at him with a furious joy.

"Da," he said, hearing the break in his own voice. "High time."

"I cain't say I ain't glad to see you, son. Rab, it's been too long."

Nathaniel said, "Fink will be looking for us."

"Nivver mind about him," said Moncrieff. "He's too drunk tae remember where he put his own nose, and he willna be thinking o' us while he's got a card game with the guards in the upstairs pantry. I'll go fetch Otter." And he ran back up the stairs.

They were itching to be gone, but they could only hope Moncrieff would be fast in cutting Otter loose from the game. Hawkeye was as tense as Nathaniel had ever seen him, but he didn't wonder at that after a few weeks in the garrison gaol. He caught Nathaniel's gaze, and produced a weary grin. "I want the news from home, but first we're best shut of this place, and Moncrieff. I don't trust the man."

Robbie bent in closer. "Wi'oot Moncrieff ye wad still be in gaol, Dan'l."

"I'm not free and clear yet," Hawkeye pointed out. From overhead there was the sound of running feet, a door opening and slamming. A lot of swearing followed, and the footsteps ran off again.

"Moncrieff went to some trouble," Nathaniel said, meeting his father's eye. "He got us in here. I promised in return that you'd listen to what he has to say."

"I ain't hanging around, son. Not for anybody. What is it that he wants?"

Nathaniel glanced up the stairs, and lowered his voice. "You won't believe it when he tells you, Da. But I'd rather he do it himself. We can let him come along as far as Chambly, that will give him opportunity enough."

Hawkeye grunted. "If he can keep up, aye. But first there's the matter of pulling the boy out of her damn game--ah." He nodded, clearly relieved, as Otter appeared at the head of the stairs and started down, with Moncrieff at his heels. Otter came directly to Nathaniel to grasp him by both lower arms.

"Raktsi'a," he murmured. Older brother. This was the traditional greeting for the husband of his oldest sister, but it struck Nathaniel that Otter had outgrown it. He was a man now, broad of shoulder and almost tall enough to look Nathaniel in the eye. There was an earne/s in his expression that was new since they had last seen each other.

"How did you get away?" Hawkeye asked.

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