Dawn on a Distant Shore Page 104

"I'll let go now, but I'll come down hard again if you make a row. Are we clear on that?"

MacKay nodded. "Aye."

Nathaniel wiped his hands on his breeches. "Do you know what I want?"

MacKay's face went white under the stubble of his beard. His expression said he didn't understand plain English, or didn't care to.

"For the love of the Almighty, man," he breathed heavily. "It's too late tae be playin' games."

Nathaniel settled his knee a bit harder. "Now, that surprises me. After all I've heard about how fond you are of games."

The long face twitched. "I dinna take yer meanin'."

MacKay grunted as Nathaniel drew a knife from his belt.

"Think hard," he said. "It'll come to you."

The narrow brown eyes darted from the knife to Nathaniel's face. "Moncrieff willna like it should ye cut me."

"What'll he do, send me to bed without my supper?"

"Why dinna ye ask him, and leave me be?"

Nathaniel contemplated the tip of the knife. A casual flick netted one bone button off MacKay's shirtfront. A twitching began at the corner of the broad mouth.

"Now there's the riddle," Nathaniel said, studying the man's heaving chest. "Why would you set out to hurt a child who's done you no harm?"

His eyes darted away. "I dinna take yer meanin'."

The knife flicked again, and MacKay's face went one shade paler. Nathaniel kept his own expression flat as he took another button.

"I nivver laid a hand on the little savage."

The knife was sharp, and it slit the corner of the pale mouth with no sound at all. MacKay let out a little sigh and his whole body seemed to fold in, as if Nathaniel had punctured something deep inside him.

"Cut me, then," MacKay whispered, his eyes eager and bright. "Go on and cut me. It won't change anything. Ye'll burn in hell for your sins, for livin' among the infidels and fatherin' more o' the same. And yer spawn will burn richt beside ye."

In the heat of battle it was dangerous to let rage or fear get the upper hand. A man made mistakes when he let himself slip like that, and Nathaniel intended to make no mistakes here. He breathed deep and let the calm flow through him, feeling the knife in his hand and knowing what it would be like to put it in this man's throat and watch him choke on his own blood. How right that would feel, at this moment.

MacKay took his calm for fear. He smiled with bloody teeth and began to hiss, sputtering spit and blood and venom: ""Because I have called, and ye refused. I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your fear cometh; When your fear cometh as desolation, and your destruction cometh as a whirlwind; when distress and anguish cometh upon ye. Then shall ye call upon me, but I will not answer; ye shall seek me early, but ye shall not find me.""

"Proverbs, chapter one. Mr. MacKay, I suggest you concentrate on the New Testament." Elizabeth's voice came cool and calm, just above them. Her head poked through the ladder hole, and then she came down in a rustle of skirts.

"Boots," Nathaniel said. "I should have figured you couldn't sit still. I was just having a discussion with Mr. MacKay."

"Yes, I heard. Now, Mr. MacKay, are you familiar with the gospel of Mark?"

Some of the madness had slipped away from MacKay's eyes, and he seemed suddenly embarrassed at this situation he found himself in.

"O' course. Let me up, man."

"And with chapter ten, verse fourteen?" Elizabeth went on.

He flushed, and set his bloody mouth in a hard line.

"Let me quote: "But when Jesus saw it, he was much displeased, and said unto them, Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: forof such is the kingdom of God.""

MacKay made a coarse sound in his throat.

"I see," Elizabeth said. "You are one of those faithful who pick and choose those parts of the scripture that best suit your purpose. And your purpose is to cause a little girl as much agony as possible."

MacKay struggled a little, and Nathaniel pushed harder with his knee until he stopped. "You don't want to be rude, now," he said, wiping his knife on the man's shirt. "The lady spoke to you."

""Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection,"" MacKay replied.

Nathaniel leaned in closer, but Elizabeth stopped him with a hand on his shoulder.

"Let me be blunt, Mr. MacKay." She came closer, and crouched down to look him directly in the face. "If you come anywhere near any of my children again, if you speak a word within my stepdaughter's hearing, if you even look at any of them, I will not bother to intercede when my husband next chooses to come looking for you. And more than that, I will see to it that you lose your commission on this ship and never get another. Do we understand each other?"

MacKay's mouth contorted. "I understand weel enough," he said. "Papist savages and whores. Ye'll fit right in at Carryck, the lot o' ye."

His nose broke with a crack that made Elizabeth jump. Nathaniel hauled MacKay forward by the collar, and let him struggle while the blood ran down his face.

When he stopped coughing, Nathaniel said, "Right now I'm wondering just how dull-witted you are. You'll either give your word that you'll leave me and mine alone, or you and me will finish this conversation face-to-face."

Elizabeth was very pale, but she said nothing. And neither did MacKay, who hung limp from Nathaniel's fist.

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