Dawn on a Distant Shore Page 28

"Really," breathed Aunt Merriweather before Elizabeth could respond with surprise or thanks. "Pardon me, Mrs. Schuyler, but your kindness is premature. The matter is not settled. You must agree that there is no need for my niece to make this journey herself, if my son-in-law is willing to go. Runs-from-Bears will accompany him; he could not want a better guide."

"I am afraid it is not so simple," said Catherine Schuyler firmly. "If there is any chance that Elizabeth's presence will be of use in bringing about a happy conclusion to this situation, then she should indeed go to Montréal with the viscount."

One thin white eyebrow arched in disbelief. "But my dear Mrs. Schuyler, what possible use could Elizabeth be?"

Mrs. Schuyler's placid expression and matronly demeanor were suddenly transformed, gone with a flash of her mild eyes. "Nathaniel is married to an Englishwoman with good connections, and they have two new infants. This cannot hurt his cause with Carleton--the governor is very family-minded. Beyond that, Lady Crofton, may I point out that there is more at stake than the freedom and lives of these good men. Perhaps you do not realize the potential repercussions."

"Repercussions? Does she mean political repercussions? William, please explain."

He cleared his throat. "Do you really want to concern yourself with the local politics, Lady Crofton?"

Aunt Merriweather tapped sharply with her cane. "I am not an idiot, young man. Politics, indeed. Simply explain."

"Very well," Will said, with a brief bow. "The lieutenant governor of Lower Canada-- Somerville, you remember, is also an officer in His Majesty's army--has arrested American citizens and charged them with spying in peacetime. It might be construed as an act of war."

"Exactly," said Mrs. Schuyler. "There are men in our government who would not hesitate to use it as an excuse to take up arms against Canada again--an event I do not like to contemplate. If the worst should happen, and if Somerville, idiotic man that he is, should actually hang one of them--I am sorry, Elizabeth, but we must consider--it would be a catastrophe of larger proportions than you imagine. General Schuyler must be informed at once. He may want to write to President Washington."

Aunt Merriweather let out a small and awkward laugh. "Nathaniel Bonner a spy! He has not the slightest interest in politics!"

"Aunt," said Elizabeth, overcome by a new kind of dread. "The point is that politics may have taken an interest in Nathaniel."

Her first thought at the sound of howling infants was one of relief: better two hungry and angry babies than another half hour of gentle arguing with Aunt Merriweather. Elizabeth claimed the twins from a harried nursery maid and escaped upstairs to the room she was to share with Hannah. They settled down to nursing quite quickly, and Elizabeth was alone with her thoughts.

She was at least two weeks away from Montréal, two endless weeks of travel by water and land. The thaw was upon them; she could feel its touch in the air, in spite of the late snow. The world would turn to mud, a sea of mud between her and Nathaniel that she must navigate with three children. It might mean a longer route. The thought of leaving Nathaniel and Hawkeye in gaol for even one more day was unbearable. "What canna be changed maun be tholed," Robbie would tell her if he were here.

Robbie had seen her through the hardest times in the summer, when Nathaniel's life had hung in the balance and she feared she would lose her mind with worry. And now Robbie sat in the garrison gaol too.

A wave of exhaustion swept over Elizabeth, and her self-control burst like a seed pod. With both arms supporting the babies, she had not a free hand to wipe her face, and so she lay among the pillows and wept, furious with herself for tears that could serve no good purpose.

Some time later Curiosity came in to stand at the foot of the bed, her hands on her hips and a soft expression in her eyes. "My mama used to say that milk and tears flow from the same well. You showerin' these children with both, looks like."

She leaned over Lily, already asleep and dribbling milk, and dabbed at her with a handkerchief. Then she did the same for Daniel, and finally she took Elizabeth's chin between her cool fingers and turned her face up to dry it. A frown twitched at the corner of the wide mouth, but her tone was as gentle as a lullaby as she wiped the wet cheeks.

"Don' need to tell me, I heard all about it. They still at it down there. Spencer is trying to talk sense to her. The man don't look like much, but he's got a way about him."

"He is perhaps the only person who can convince her," Elizabeth agreed.

"What is that name that Chingachgook gave you?"

"Bone-in-Her-Back." Elizabeth let out a wobbly laugh. "That seems very long ago."

Curiosity turned her face from side to side and, satisfied with her handiwork, let her go with a small shake. "Look like backbone run in the family, all right."

"Were you listening at the door?"

The damp handkerchief fluttered dismissively. "You know me better. That housekeeper, now, ain't much she don't know 'bout what goes on."

"Ah, Mrs. Gerlach. She told stories about Nathaniel at our wedding party."

"I don't doubt it. Mighty fond of a tale, is Sally." Curiosity eased the pillow that supported the sleeping babies off to the side and settled them comfortably.

Elizabeth said, "In case you are wondering, I intend to leave for Montréal in the morning, with or without Will Spencer. General Schuyler is arranging passage with a Captain Mudge."

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