Dawn on a Distant Shore Page 96

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Moncrieff stood with both arms stemmed against the rail. His voice carried on the wind, clear as the air itself. "Do ye think Carryck cares aught for her, or for any of us, for that matter? It's his heir that he wants. Think, man! If we sail on now, the Jackdaw will follow us anyway."

"Maybe so," interrupted Hawkeye. "But you won't see that shore again yourself, Moncrieff. I've got you in my sights, and I ain't about to let you make off with my grandchildren again."

Moncrieff's face was a mask, his tone as cold as the rain on their faces. "Go on and shoot me, if ye must. The Isis will still sail for Scotland wi' the bairns and you'll still follow. And that's all that matters."

"Oh, I don't know," said Hawkeye. "I'd wager that Pickering will hand them over for the woman. Once you're dead, o' course."

Moncrieff's mouth turned down at one corner. "A noble plan, Hawkeye. And it would work, no doubt, but you dinna ken Pickering's situation. He can ill afford the earl's wrath. Ask him yourself. Horace, and were I deid, would you hand over the bairns? Think carefully now, before you answer."

The captain's expression stilled suddenly. He looked at Giselle, at Curiosity where she stood with the babies, at Moncrieff. He began to speak, and then stopped.

"Do you see?" said Moncrieff. "Shoot me if you must, but the Isis sails for the Solway Firth, and your bairns wi' her."

Robbie had hung back beldecks, but now he rose out of the hatch in a fury. "Angus Moncrieff, ye bluidy dog. Ye'll beg tae die should I get ma hands on ye, man!"

Elizabeth saw something flutter across Moncrieff's long face. Regret? Doubt? But it was gone as quickly as it came, and he only shrugged. "You o' all people should understand what's at stake, MacLachlan."

"I understand weel enough. I understand that we sat in that hole o' a gaol for weeks because ye arranged for it! Ye abused our trust and friendship, Moncrieff. Ye're naught bu' a bairn-snatcher, a common thief, and a damned liar." Robbie spat over the rail in disgust.

Elizabeth drew in as much air as she could hold, and let it go in a rush. "Give me back my children!"

Moncrieff's head swiveled toward her. "Mrs. Bonner, you may come to your children," he said. "You alone. Sail on with us, in comfort."

Nathaniel turned his head and met her eye, and in his expression was failure, and regret, and a deep, abiding fury. They had risked this, and lost. Giselle was not enough to move Moncrieff; his own life was not so important to him as this errand for Carryck.

He touched her face, and swallowed so that the column of muscles in his throat worked hard. "Go on."

She caught his hand. "I will not go without you!" And she turned her face back up to Moncrieff. "All of us! All four of us must board!"

But Moncrieff was shaking his head. "I'm no' so verra soft in the heid, Mrs. Bonner, as to invite three men on board who want nothing better than to slit my throat. Come and care for the bairns, and you'll see your menfolk in Scotland."

Hannah leaned into Curiosity, who rocked all three children against her.

"I give you my word that I won't raise a hand to you!" Nathaniel shouted.

Moncrieff stood there, stone-faced. Pickering was talking in a low voice into his ear, but Moncrieff's gaze was unfocused, set on something on the horizon that they could not see, or even imagine. Her children were nothing to him but a problem to be solved. Elizabeth flushed hot; she could feel the anger pushing at her, pushing her forward.

"Coward!" She screamed it, and the word spiraled up to him and hit him full in the face; she saw him flinch as if she had slapped him. Somehow Elizabeth had found the right weapon: she had shamed him by calling his courage into question.

He blinked. "Your husband can come on board, if he comes unarmed."

"Done." Nathaniel's voice was hoarse with effort.

"The wind is picking up," shouted Pickering. "There's no time to lose!"

Elizabeth took leave of Robbie and Hawkeye, who stood grim faced, their weapons still at the ready. She touched her cheek to their bristled ones, but they spoke little. What was there to say, after all? They were bound for Scotland; Moncrieff would have his way. She might try to convince them to go home now, but she knew that it was no good: they would follow, and if Moncrieff led them to China. Hawkeye could no more turn away and leave his son and his son's family to their fate than he could put a gun to Nathaniel's head. And Moncrieff knew it. She could see that certainty on his face: he would keep Nathaniel and Daniel close by, and Hawkeye would follow.

Elizabeth left the Jackdaw without a backward glance. Nathaniel followed her up the rope net with the carry bag slung over his shoulder. Halfway between the two decks, she paused to look back at Hawkeye and Robbie.

Nathaniel read her mind, as he did so often. "We're not beat yet," he said quietly. "Don't give up hope."

She nodded, wiped her face against her sleeve, and went up to claim her children.

There was a knot in Nathaniel's belly, a twist of pure anger and relief. The sight of his children whole and unharmed was one part of it; Moncrieff was another. He had given his word and he would do his best to keep it, but it wouldn't be easy unless the man kept his distance.

The babies were howling in confusion or joy; he could not tell which. Even Squirrel wept openly. "We can't leave Grandfather and Robbie," she wailed in Kahnyen'kehâka. And then she said it again, yelled it down over the rail. Hawkeye raised a hand and touched his fingers to his mouth.

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