Dawn on a Distant Shore Page 94

A long, unhappy cry from above them and Elizabeth clutched her arms to her throbbing breasts. Nathaniel grabbed her with his free arm. "A gull," he whispered against her ear. "Just a gull."

As if she would not know that sound anywhere on earth, or in hell itself. Her children were on that deck, and crying for her.

Mac Stoker's dark head appeared over the rail as sleekly wet as a newborn's. Hannah watched this strange, upward birthing and held her breath. They all did: the sailors, Moncrieff, the captain, even Miss Somerville, who stood completely still, one hand held to her throat as if to keep herself from speaking. Giselle's expression might have been carved from stone, but the man who came up the rope net had the kind of face that told stories. His black eyes chased the length of the ship, skimmed over Hannah and Curiosity, and skidded back again to come to rest on Mr. Smythe, who stood next to the captain with a musket aimed and cocked.

"Not much of a welcome, Pickering."

He was a big man, more than a head taller than any of the men on the Isis. Over one broad shoulder he carried the boy like a sack. Stoker set him on his feet and he stood wobbling, looking about himself uncertainly.

"Your reputation precedes you, Mr. Stoker. What are you doing in these waters, and how come you to this lad?"

Stoker clucked his tongue. "And what should I be doin' in these waters, but pursuin' me line of work? Here I am out of the goodness of me heart with news you'll be needing. And the lad, of course, unless you're not wanting him. He calls himself Mungo."

Hannah could barely withstand the urge to rush forward to shake news out of the boy, who stood squinting in the rain, pulling on the shock of blond hair that fell over his brow. There was dried blood on his ear.

"Mungo," said Captain Pickering. "What happened?" The boy tugged harder on his hair. His mouth worked, but nothing came out.

Moncrieff thrust himself in front of the captain. "Give us your news, lad! What o' your ship?"

Mungo flinched away, holding an arm up to his face.

"Addled," said Stoker. "He won't be talking much this day."

Hakim Ibrahim said, "He has had a blow to the head. I need to examine him." And without waiting for the captain's approval he took Mungo by the arm and led him away.

"That's too bad, but never mind," said Stoker. "I can tell you what happened to the Osiris."

Moncrieff whirled around to him. "Speak up!"

Stoker sucked in a cheek as he considered the smaller man. "And who might you be?"

"Angus Moncrieff. Factor and secretary to Earl o' Carryck, the owner of the Osiris."

"Ah," said Stoker. He scratched the corner of his mouth thoughtfully. "Well, then, it's bad news, I'm afraid. The Osiris is at the bottom of the sea."

Hannah's stomach rose into her gullet, pushing all her breath before it. Vaguely she felt Curiosity's hand on her arm, holding her up and steering her to rest against the rail. There was a rushing in her ears so that she could hardly hear. She pressed her cheek to the cold, wet oak of the rail and closed her eyes, waiting for the world to right itself.

"... the Avignon. The captain meant to board her and take the cargo, but the gun crews were too enthusiastic in their work. She went down quick."

"How quick?" Captain Pickering's voice was hoarse.

"Before they could get much of the cargo or crew, that's for certain."

Hannah opened her eyes. Below her was the Jackdaw, rising and falling on the waves, grinding and nudging up against them like a stray dog that wants petting. Peeling paint, and gobs of tar leaking like clotting blood from the joints. A dirty porthole. She blinked the rain out of her eyes and looked hard: a face at the glass. A woman's face, very old, grinned up at her. Her great-grandmother Made-of-Bones had had a grin like this one.

"Sir." Giselle's voice. It was enough of a surprise to make Hannah turn. "It is the American passengers who are of interest. What of them?"

He smirked. "Are you talking to me, sweetings?"

"Watch yourself, Stoker," said the captain, frowning.

"Watch meself? The lady spoke to me first, did she not? Oh, but look, she's in a snit now."

One eyebrow lifted in a scornful arch. Giselle said, "This person wants to be paid for his information."

"And keen eyed, too. Sure, and I've gone to some trouble and I've earned a coin or two. But tell me, darlin', are the rumors about you true, then? You're off to be married, they say. The Montréal garrison will be in mournin' for a year to lose your custom of a Saturday night."

Hannah could barely follow what happened next, for it all seemed to happen at once. The captain had grabbed the musket from Mr. Smythe even while the others rushed forward. Stoker tossed Moncrieff aside with a casual flick of his arm and did the same for the two sailors who came to Moncrieff's aid. There was a wild scrambling and then a musket shot sounded. On the quarterdeck a sailor screamed and grabbed his leg.

In the sudden silence, both babies began to cry. Curiosity grabbed Hannah's shoulder in a pinching grip meant to keep her just where she was.

When the black powder cloud had cleared, Mac Stoker stood with his back to the rail with Giselle Somerville held tight against his chest, a long knife held to her throat. The huge fist looked very dark against the white skin of her jaw and neck. Hannah thought that Giselle had swooned, but then she saw the blue eyes blink.

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