Dawn on a Distant Shore Page 35

Loading...
Loading...

"Enough mud for a world of pigs," he said. There was a long and involved story that Elizabeth only half heard, of an ox mired to the shoulders and left to bellow itself to death after a day of fruitless efforts to shift it. The story seemed to distract Hannah, which was a useful thing.

There was no help for it: they must take the longer route, which meant more portages, a transfer to whaleboats that would take them over whitewater to Sorel, and finally the seeking out of another schooner to take them on the last leg from Sorel upriver to Montréal. It had sounded to Elizabeth like a dirge as the captain intoned each step of the journey. To hide her frustration took all of her self-control; for the first time she found herself consciously wishing that she could have left all three of the children safely in Paradise. Without them she would have taken on the more direct route to Montréal, mud and all.

It was Curiosity and Runs-from-Bears who put their heads together and came up with a plan that seemed ideal on its surface, and then occasioned the first disagreement Elizabeth had had with Will Spencer since they were children. To the suggestion that Will travel ahead on the shorter route, he responded first with a thoughtful silence and then with the acknowledgment that he did not like to leave Elizabeth alone for the rest of the journey.

"But I am not alone," she said to him, quite confused at his hesitation. They were on the quarterdeck, wrapped in cloaks and shawls against an unpleasantly cold but not quite freezing drizzle. They had left the fine weather behind them on the great lake; ahead of them Fort Chambly's great hulk shone in the dense fog like a castle in a fairy tale.

"Mrs. Freeman is an excellent traveling companion," Will agreed. "Her good common sense has served us well already. But to travel without sufficient male protection is something I cannot countenance, cousin."

Elizabeth bit back a laugh. "Runs-from-Bears is more than sufficient protection," she pointed out. "He guided you and my aunt from Albany to Paradise last fall, and me through the endless forests in much more difficult circumstances. And for that matter, I have traveled the wilderness here alone for days at a time. Under the circumstances, cousin, your concern is a luxury that I cannot afford. My first thought is for Nathaniel and his father. I hope you will make them your first concern, as well."

His pale, good-natured face shone with the rain, or perhaps with perspiration; she could see how uneasy it made him to think of leaving her to travel ahead. But for all his quiet ways, Will was no coward. He met her eye directly.

"If you are certain, Elizabeth. I will trust your judgment."

Now she did smile. "I am certain. You serve me best by leaving me now." She glanced around them, and certain that they were unobserved, Elizabeth pressed a small but very heavy sack into his hand. "You may well have need of this."

He tested the weight with a surprised expression, but before he could ask any of the logical and reasonable questions that must immediately come to him, she grasped his sleeve. And in a whispered rush: "Please don't ask, not right now. Sometime I will tell you the whole story, but for the moment I must ask you to think of this gold as your own, and having nothing to do with me or with Nathaniel. You can use it, Will, but I cannot, not without occasioning questions that will bring us into greater difficulties. Spend it all, if it will help in Nathaniel's cause."

One pale brow rose in a surprised arch. "It seems you have been up to some high adventure, Lizzy. I will want that story in every detail once we are reunited in Montréal."

"You shall have it," Elizabeth said, full of gratitude and relief.

And still Elizabeth found it very hard to watch her cousin set off from the fort in the company of a guide Runs-from-Bears had found for him. She must content herself with the idea that he might be in Montréal in two days' time. Perhaps Nathaniel and the others would be free when she finally arrived with the children. If Will Spencer could manage that feat, Elizabeth would tell him anything he wanted to know, although she feared he would not take the story well. He might be her trusted friend, but he was also an Englishman of a certain class.

Hannah's warm hand on her arm brought her out of her thoughts.

"Your cousin is not much like other Englishmen," she said, offering her highest compliment. She spoke Kahnyen'kehâka, as they usually did when they were alone.

Elizabeth laughed. "I was just thinking the very opposite. What strikes you as less than English about Will?"

Hannah's expression was earnest. "There is no greed in him," she said finally. "He makes no fist."

Struck silent by the truth of this, Elizabeth turned again to catch some sight of her cousin, but he had disappeared into fog.

9

The butcher was snoring again in deep, wet roars that hauled Nathaniel out of an uneasy doze. There was a scuffle and a dull thud as the young pig farmer's clog connected with flesh. Denier's snoring hitched and trailed away with a mutter.

Nathaniel's stomach gave a loud rumble, and he rolled onto one hip on the wooden cot that he shared with his father, the sparse layer of straw crackling. Hunger focused the mind, he reminded himself. And on a Tuesday morning near dawn, with Thompson alone on guard duty, there was good reason to be focused. They were all awake, and waiting. All except Denier, whose snoring was rising again like a tide.

One by one the men got up to use the overflowing bucket in the corner: Moncrieff shuffling and yawning, Robbie with a groan, Hawkeye tense and silent. Pépin's hobnailed clogs struck blue sparks on the cobblestones. Nathaniel took his turn last, closing his mind to the stench.

Prev Next