Dawn on a Distant Shore Page 27

Out on the lawn Bears had been drawn into a game of snow-snake; a boy appeared at the door to invite Hannah to join them. Elizabeth waved her on with some relief; at least the child wouldn't be subjected to what was about to come.

"You go, child. Work out some of the kinks," agreed Curiosity. "I myself am going to see where our menfolk have got to." Elizabeth did not protest Curiosity's abandoning her, although she would have preferred to have her nearby. She was a valuable ally in any duel of wills. But tomorrow Galileo would start home for Paradise and Curiosity would not see him for some weeks; it was no wonder that she had little patience for this gathering of ladies.

Suddenly the room was again in motion; there was talk of children's tea, baggage, rooms to be gotten ready, and the afternoon departure of various parties. When Mrs. Schuyler's daughters had left them, Aunt Merriweather folded her hands in her lap, and turned her sharpest gaze on her only niece. "I am glad to see that you have fared so well, Elizabeth. Motherhood agrees with you, although you are grown quite angular. If you would allow me to locate a suitable wet nurse--I see that idea does not please you. Well, I expected as much. Ah, look, here is Aphrodite. Come greet Cousin Elizabeth, my lovely. It has been too long since you last saw her."

Her hands spread in welcome and the cat jumped into her lap. The diamonds on the long fingers and Aphrodite's eyes blinked in exactly the same shade of old yellow.

"You see, she is none the worse for having traveled the seas," Aunt Merriweather observed. "But then I see to her diet myself. Elizabeth, my special tea will put some color back in your complexion--"

"Mother," Amanda began gently. "Perhaps Elizabeth has other matters to talk to us about. She cannot have come so far for tea."

"I expect that your daughter is right, Lady Crofton," said Mrs. Schuyler. She was as round and soft as Aunt Merriweather was slender and angular, in figure and in voice. "Not that we aren't delighted to have you, Elizabeth. Most especially glad. The last time I had the pleasure was in Saratoga, on your wedding day-- almost exactly a year ago ..." And her voice trailed away, just shy of an actual question.

"It will be a year in two weeks' time," Elizabeth confirmed. In all the worry and rush, she had not lost sight of this fact.

Looking about the company, Mrs. Schuyler said, "Then you must pardon my curiosity and impatience, Elizabeth. But where is Nathaniel, and why are you here without him?"

"Indeed," agreed Aunt Merriweather, stroking Aphrodite thoughtfully. "There must be some extraordinary reason for a lady to travel so far with infants in this abominable weather--a snowstorm on the first of April! I'm quite sure we do very well with less snow in England." She shook herself slightly. "Please enlighten us, Elizabeth, as to your motives."

Will was leaning against the mantel, his arms crossed. Elizabeth caught his eye, and his encouraging nod.

"Nathaniel is in Montréal, with his father and two friends. We are on our way there," said Elizabeth. "It is a matter of great urgency, and we must leave at first light."

There was an astounded silence that lasted until Aunt Merriweather put her cat off her lap with uncharacteristic abruptness. "This is most irregular. You cannot be in earnest."

"But I am indeed in earnest," Elizabeth agreed, meeting her aunt's eye with studied calm.

Mrs. Schuyler leaned over and squeezed Elizabeth's folded hands. "Let's have the whole story," she said in an encouraging tone. "And then you will tell us how we may be of help."

The whole story could not be told. Elizabeth was not so undone by worry that she would reveal what must not be known: she carried with her a part of a lost treasure claimed by both the British and the American governments. Her aunt might be trusted, but to risk any hint of the Tory gold in a household where she had just been introduced to the wife of the secretary of the treasury--the Schuylers' eldest daughter, Betsy--would be foolhardy. Certainly there was no need to mention Moncrieff, or the Earl of Carryck. She told them no more than they needed to know: that Nathaniel had gone to Montréal to see to his father's and Otter's release from gaol, and that he had been arrested in the attempt. She anticipated her aunt's disapproval, but Elizabeth counted also on Lady Crofton's strong instinct to protect the family name. Such situations were not unfamiliar to her, for she had had a husband with more money than good sense or judgment, and she had a son who was made in his father's image.

At the news that Nathaniel, Hawkeye, and Robbie had been charged with spying, Mrs. Schuyler flushed deeply. "This is an outrage."

"A most unfortunate business," agreed Aunt Merriweather, one finger tapping on an elaborately carved armrest. "Clearly something must be done, but it is a matter best left to the men. William must go, of course." She barely glanced his way, and took no note at all of Amanda's stunned expression.

"I would be very thankful to Will if he should agree to come with us," Elizabeth agreed, trying to catch her cousin's eye. "If Amanda can spare him. I would think that his experience before the bench would be very useful. But I will not stay behind, Aunt. I cannot."

"I see." But it was clear that she saw not at all, and that she was far from being convinced.

"Pardon me, Elizabeth," said Mrs. Schuyler. "But while you and Lady Crofton talk, I will find General Schuyler and inform him of the situation. He will make suitable arrangements. I believe Captain Mudge is docked here, and there is no better man to see you to Montréal."

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