Dawn on a Distant Shore Page 87

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"But we cannot take on a ship the size of the Osiris. That would be madness." Elizabeth looked at each of them, and got only dark expressions in return.

"It ain't up to us," said Nathaniel, wiping down the barrel of the musket. "It's Stoker's ship."

"Maybe not," said Hawkeye, and he pointed with his chin.

The first mate had appeared on deck carrying Granny Stoker in his arms. In the bright afternoon sunlight the old lady's complexion was a papery yellow and she seemed as frail as dried grass, but her voice could still carry.

"You useless sons o' whores," she screeched. "Standin' about wit' your thumbs up your sorry arses! Connor, you damn idiot, put me down or I'll skin your ugly back meself, and wit' a dull knife."

The first mate did as she asked with a stony face, settling her into a sling chair hung from an arm low on the foremast.

Stoker came marching down the deck, his expression enough to make Elizabeth draw back into the circle of her menfolk.

"Mac, have you gone blind as well as daft?" His grandmother waved her cane in Stoker's direction as if she would gladly box his ears with it. "More sail, boyo, more sail! Put some muscle in it!"

Stoker bent his dark head down to hers and bellowed, "I'm the captain of this ship, you stinkin' old trout, and I'll sail her as I see fit!"

"Old trout, is it? And have ye had a sniff at your high-and-mighty self lately?" She swiped at him with the cane and he sidestepped.

"Go back to your hidey-hole, Granny. I've no need of you here."

"Is that so? And did I sign over this beauty of a ship to you to see her mishandled? She needs more sail to do her work, unless you're after havin' a great bloody merchantman slide up your skinny arse."

Elizabeth drew in a hiccup of surprise, but the men grinned into their hands.

"If I was a betting man, I'd put some coin on the old woman," said Hawkeye.

"I havena heard sic language since I left the army," said Robbie, his color rising a shade with every exchange between Stoker and his grandmother.

Elizabeth knew that she should be shocked, but at the moment she was more interested in what the argument revealed about their fate.

"Anne Bonney," said Hawkeye, studying the old woman with one eye squeezed shut against the sun. "I wouldn't have believed it."

Elizabeth said, "I wonder that I have never heard of her before, as she is known to all of you."

Robbie threw her a sidelong glance. "I expect the tales canna be tolt in polite company. Most folks believe she hung long ago, doon Jamaica way. A bonnie lass, wi' the heart o' a lion and the habits o' a crow--she'd snatch up any shiny bauble tha' took her eye. And in a battle, when things turned tae the worse and men began tae flee for their lives, she cursed them aa for cowards, and foucht on. So goes the tale o' the pirate Anne Bonney."

"Pirate?" Elizabeth's head came up in surprise.

"Och, aye," said Robbie. "A marauder o' the first rank, was Anne Bonney. Ye'll nivver see anither like her."

"Let's hope not," grunted Hawkeye.

Around them the sailors were spreading more sail in response to Stoker's shouted commands.

"Ye see," said Robbie. "She's no' the kind tae give in."

As if she had heard them talking about her, the kerchiefed head swiveled and the old lady fixed Elizabeth with a stare. The mass of jewels and coins hung around her neck sparkled in the sunlight.

With a reluctant glance at Nathaniel, Elizabeth left the men to go forward.

"There you are," said Granny Stoker. "I thought you and me had some trading to do."

Elizabeth was keenly aware of the captain standing there. He seemed to be watching the sails of the Osiris on the horizon, but she knew that he was listening. She answered, "I would like to talk to you about that toothbrush"--and saw him snort to himself in disgust.

Annie's cane came flashing out to poke him in the ribs, so that he jumped and turned on her, wild-eyed.

"Sweet bleedin' Jesus, Granny! And what was that for?"

"Gawping. Connor needs talking to and there you stand, sniffin' about a skirt."

Stoker scowled. "And why would I be botherin' wit' the likes of her? Don't grouse, old woman. I'll leave youse to your bloody hen party." And he leaped, with dexterity born of practice, out of the reach of the cane.

"You just see to your own business, boyo," called Anne Stoker, waving it after him. "And let us see to ours."

Elizabeth said, "You remind me of someone I know. She enjoys goading the people she loves best, too."

"Oh, so you think you've seen through me right to my soft heart, eh?" The old lady thumped her chest with a knotty fist. "Let me tell you, dearie, that if I ever had one it ran down long ago. Now, there's a story or two you've to tell me, is there not?"

"Tell me first about the ship that's following us," said Elizabeth.

The old lady narrowed an eye. "What is it you want to know?"

"I assume she can outgun us, but can she outrun us? She can't be more than a few miles off at this point."

"She's trying her damnedest, but it ain't time to break out the powder yet." The old lady's gaze wandered along the deck to where Nathaniel stood with Hawkeye, examining a carronade. "That must be your man, there." She pointed with her chin, a faint smile turning up one corner of her mouth. "No trouble on the eyes, that one. You get on well?"

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