Dawn on a Distant Shore Page 86

She squared her shoulders and met Nathaniel's eyes. "Moncrieff wants you and Hawkeye, after all. The Osiris wouldn't take the risk of firing on us."

"I suppose that's true enough, Boots," said Nathaniel quietly.

"What is it that you fear, then? Do you think she might try to board us?"

The men exchanged glances over her head.

"It wadna be easy for her tae get alangside a schooner," said Rob. "But I expect she'll try, and then she'll see us come on board, at the end of a muzzle, if necessary."

With a glance around them to make sure that they could not be overheard, Elizabeth said, "Does it not strike you as odd that the Earl of Carryck should risk two valuable merchantmen in this pursuit? To have them cross the Atlantic without the protection of a convoy--it is remarkable to the extreme. I think we are missing something in all of this, and it may be quite important."

In a disgusted tone, Robbie said, "Carryck's naucht but a bluidy stubborn man, wha' will ha' his way, and gin it means he must strangle the heavens for it."

"No," said Elizabeth, her gaze still focused on Nathaniel. "It is more than tenacity. It is desperation."

All day they ran before the wind, with the Osiris behind them like a knot in the tail of a kite. Elizabeth borrowed a spyglass to have a look at her now and then, but she could make out nothing but the fact that the ship seemed to have a great many sails unfurled. Too many, according to Connor, Stoker's first mate, who stood at the wheel muttering loudly. "And they call us reckless. She'll snap a mast and then we'll laugh, won't we."

"Not if they catch us up first," Elizabeth said. It was a mistake, for he refused to lend her the spyglass again.

With each passing hour the tension on deck grew. Stoker alternated between climbing the rigging to hang there for long periods, conferring with Connor about speed and sails, and pacing the deck. He would not be drawn inffconversation with his passengers, although Robbie tried more than once.

Finally Robbie gave up and settled down near the longboat where the Bonners had claimed a spot for themselves out of the crew's way. For a while they watched a pod of whales that was running along with them in great leaping dives, as sleek and fast and mysterious as lightning in a darkening sky. But none of them could concentrate on the sight for long, as beautiful as it was.

The Bonners had too little experience on board a ship the size of the Jackdaw to be of any real help, and so they found other things to occupy themselves. Nathaniel cleaned the muskets and the rifle while Hawkeye sharpened their knives with a whetstone borrowed from the galley. Robbie had found the sailmaker's kit and set himself to mending a rent in his shirt, while Elizabeth sorted through the few belongings that the men had had with them when they came so unexpectedly on board.

She was put in mind of her aunt Merriweather, who never traveled with less than six trunks, no matter how short the journey. They were four and they had among them a single carry sack with the gown and cape she had been wearing yesterday, two extra shirts and one pair of breeches, a half-horn of powder, some shot and a patch box, the bag of silver coin they had taken away from the Isis (hawkeye wore both sacks of gold on leather thongs slung across his chest), a straight razor, and more curiously, a deck of cards and a few thick tallow candles wrapped in a piece of homespun.

She held one up, surprised at its weight although she knew very well that it held a blade at its center.

"From your friend the pig farmer in Montréal?"

Hawkeye inclined his head. "You never know when you'll have need of a little light." His gaze scanned the horizon; Elizabeth knew what he was looking for.

"Hawkeye," she said. "Do you intend to kill Moncrieff?"

She felt Nathaniel's eyes on her, but she kept her gaze on her father-in-law. She had not often seen Hawkeye openly angry, and even now she could not call the expression she saw in his face so much anger as resolve.

"I intend to get my grandchildren back safe and sound," he said. "If no harm has come to them, and if nobody stands in my way, why then, nobody will get hurt. Unless you're wanting to see the man dead, that is. I could find my way to oblige you without too much trouble."

Elizabeth pulled her folded legs up and pressed her forehead to her knees, rocking slightly. She did not like this razor-sharp edge of herself: all emotion, and no reason at all. For she would gladly see Moncrieff dead; even to think his name filled her mouth with a bitterness she could barely swallow. And these three good men would take a life to appease the burning inside her. They were capable of that, for all their kindness and care; and so was she, now. A man that studieth revenge keeps his own wounds green. She might have said it aloud; she feared she had, for she felt Nathaniel's hand on her back.

"I want my children back," she said, able now to raise her head and meet his gaze. "Whatever the cost."

"Christ on the cross, ye useless bilge rat!" Stoker's voice carried the length of the ship, so that they turned just in time to see young Jacques scoot out of the way of his captain's swinging arm. Elizabeth drew in a sharp breath, but Stoker had already given up the chase, and the boy was safe.

"There's a mannie in a black mood," said Robbie.

Hawkeye nodded. "His reputation has caught up with him. He never thought they'd give chase, and now he's got to show us what he's worth." He looked at Elizabeth, his gaze narrowed and thoughtful. "The Osiris is gaining on us, anybody can see that plain. If push comes to shove, then you go beldecks and sit tight."

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