Dawn on a Distant Shore Page 13

But the young farmer seemed not to hear him at all, or not to care. A bottle was making the rounds, and he took a long swallow, staring fixedly at Denier's heaving form.

Jones cleared his throat loudly and flushed the color of his uniform. A vein began to throb in his forehead.

"High time to be away," Nathaniel said, and heard Robbie's grunt of approval. But it was too late; Jones rounded on them and pointed to Robbie, easily the biggest man in the crowd, twice his own size. "You haul the carcass to my sledge over there."

"The pig?" The old woman grinned, her gums showing dull red. "Or Denier?"

Jones's eyes moved over the massive back of the dead animal, and Nathaniel could see him calculating. "Both. The pig comes along as evidence."

"And dinner, forbye," muttered Robbie.

The young farmer's attention shifted from the pig to Jones, and his brow creased in understanding and the first glimmerings of new rebellion.

"What are you staring at, boyo?" Jones stepped toward him. "It's the magistrate for all of youse, a pig and two frogs--"

"And a Welsh horse's ass," added Robbie in French. There was a single loud guffaw followed by a wave of uneasy laughter.

"What was that?" Jones roared. "What was that?"

Robbie raised a brow. "I said, the lad's got nae English."

"Then bloody tell him in French," snapped Jones. His gaze fixed on Nathaniel. "You there, Jacques. You look a right enough frog to me. You tell him."

Nathaniel considered. He could do what this little man was commanding him to do, or he could do what he wanted to do, and show him his back and his contempt. There was no chance now that Jones would be of any use to them in getting Hawkeye and Otter out of gaol; the question was, how badly could he get in their way.

"Permit me," said a familiar voice. Nathaniel sighed inwardly, not especially surprised to see Angus Moncrieff pushing through the crowd. Well dressed, straight of back, he nodded to Jones and in swift, Scots-accented French he explained to the farmer what he needed to know. When he was finished, he turned to Nathaniel and Robbie.

"Moncrieff," said Nathaniel.

A brief smile in response. "Nathaniel. I'm pleased to see ye here at last."

Moncrieff suggested a place near the docks that would be close to empty early on a workday morning. Because it was cold and there was no way to avoid the conversation, Nathaniel and Robbie went with him to the small tavern in the shadows of Notre Dame de Bonsecours.

It was a clean tavern, warm, and the smells of fresh bread and mutton roasting over a slow fire were inviting. There were only two other customers: a middle-aged man crouched over his ale, and a young sailor with a heavily bandaged leg. The first seemed to have no interest in anything but what he found at the bottom of his tankard; the second snored loudly, his tar-stained hands crossed over his chest and his head thrown back against the wall.

The serving woman greeted Moncrieff by name, and showed them to the best place near the hearth.

Before they were settled, Moncrieff said, "So tell me, man. Have ye guid tidings from Paradise?"

A broad smile broke out on his face when he had heard Nathaniel's news. He was all curiosity and good wishes, asking for details that would interest few men.

"We must drink to your guid fortune, and your lady's health," he announced finally.

The serving woman brought them tankards, kicking up her skirts to flaunt her ankles as she crossed the room. Moncrieff watched her go, tucking his pipe into the corner of his mouth with a thoughtful expression.

"A friend of yours?" Nathaniel asked.

Moncrieff lifted one shoulder in a gesture that spoke more of France than Scotland. But there was no mistaking him for anything but a Lowland Scot: he had the face, long and lean, large eared and strong of nose and chin. Nathaniel had seen faces much like his in his mother's drawings of the family she had left behind: uncles and cousins he had never met, would never know except by the set of their eyes and the angle of jaw. Moncrieff must be in his mid-fifties at least; there were deep wrinkles around his eyes and the beginning of dewlaps at his jawline. But he still had a full head of lank dark hair tied in a neat queue, and an energy that many younger men lacked. The truth was, Nathaniel was inclined to like the man, wanted to believe him, but there was something just below the surface that he could not be sure of. Trust was a luxury he could not afford, not right now.

"That's Adele," said Robbie, one corner of his mouth twitching upward as they watched the woman move about the room, hips swinging. "A widow woman, is she no'? One o' Angus's muny special friends."

Moncrieff smiled over the edge of his tankard. "Aye, I've a few friends in Montréal. Until today I counted Jones among the useful if less pleasant o' them."

Nathaniel said, "We weren't there to start a fight with the man."

"That I can weel believe. But it's uncommon easy to quarrel wi' Jones. "Big heid and wee wit, never gaed tegither yet." Or so it's said."

Robbie snorted in appreciation.

Moncrieff chewed on the stem of his pipe and stared at Nathaniel for a moment. "You were planning to pay Jones to slip Hawkeye and Otter out o' the garrison gaol."

Nathaniel shifted, trying to find a more comfortable spot on the settle. "And if we were?"

Another Gallic shrug. "It isna an especially guid plan to put faith or your money on a man like Jones. He'd sell his mither to the de'il, and were there profit in it." Moncrieff met Nathaniel's eye. "And o' course, he's heard tell o' this Tory gold. He'd be thinking you've got it wi' ye, and wondering how to get his hands on it."

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