Dawn on a Distant Shore Page 130

"Nathaniel!" Elizabeth stepped toward him, her hands raised. "I'm in no danger. This is Carryck."

There was a shimmer of sweat on his brow, and something in his expression, something that struck such fear in her that her voice broke as she tried to speak. "Nathaniel, did you not hear me? This is the earl."

He blinked at her. "I heard you. My father and Robbie were pressed onto a frigate, Boots. I'd say my lord earl here has caused enough trouble." He lurched toward her. "But you'll have to shoot the man yourself."

Nathaniel grabbed her arm, his grip so fierce that she cried out as he pressed the pistol into her hand. His breath was warm on her face.

"The dragoons," he whispered, and collapsed at her feet.

Carryck forgotten, Elizabeth fell to her knees next to her husband. In the candlelight he was milk white, and his breath came shallow and fast. She had seen him this way before; God, yes, and on that day had hoped never to see him thus again.

"He's been shot." Carryck crouched down next to her, but all his attention was on Nathaniel's face.

"Yes. Here in the left leg." She peeled away the cloak to get a better look, ran her hands over him and then stopped when her fingers came away red-stained. "And in the shoulder, as well."

Rage swept through her so that her hands began to shake even as she pressed her palms to the wound and leaned in hard to stop the flow of blood. When she raised her head, the earl's face was only inches from her own, and a wariness came into his eyes.

"He's bleedin' tae death," he said gruffly. "Shootin' me will ha' tae wait."

"I hope not for long," Elizabeth snapped.

There was a startled cry at the door to the adjoining room. Hannah stood there with both fists clenched at her chest.

"He's alive." Elizabeth spoke as calmly and as clearly as she could. "Get Curiosity, right now. Can you do that?"

"No need." Curiosity appeared out of the shadows, her nightdress floating along behind her. "Now hold down your voices unless you want those babies wailin', too."

Blood was seeping up through Elizabeth's fingers. The muscles in her lower arms quivered and jumped as she put more of her weight on the wound. Nathaniel groaned, and his eyelids fluttered weakly.

"You see," Elizabeth said fiercely, seeking out Hannah's gaze. "He is alive."

"And spoutin' like a geyser." Curiosity sent a pointed look at Elizabeth's nightdress, already streaked with blood. She knelt on Nathaniel's other side and put a hand to his neck.

"How bad is it?" Hannah asked, stepping closer.

Curiosity made a sound deep in her throat. "The man got a heart like a wheel, it just roll right on."

Hannah's breath hissed out through her clenched teeth, and Curiosity looked up at her sharply. "We fixed your daddy up before, and we can do it again."

Carryck had been following all of this silently, but now Elizabeth felt him jerk in surprise. His gaze swung first toward Curiosity, and then up to Hannah. Against the stark white of her nightdress her hands and face shone bronze in the candlelight. Tears sparked in her eyes, as dark as obsidian. When he looked away again the truth was written on his face.

Moncrieff had not told him about Hannah. Elizabeth flushed with a bitter satisfaction. If the earl had not known that Hawkeye's oldest grandchild was half Mohawk, what else had been kept from him?

Curiosity ripped Nathaniel's breeches to the knee in order to get a better look at the wound in his leg.

"This ain't too bad," she said. "Missed the bone, and passed clean through. Let me see that shoulder, Elizabeth."

Hannah said, "We'll need linen for binding."

"He needs a surgeon," said the earl to Elizabeth. "Pickering's Hakim is still at Carryckcastle."

This brought Hannah up short, but Curiosity's mouth thinned. "I take it this here is the earl," she said without even looking at him. "Tellin' us how to look after our own."

"But Curiosity--" Hannah began, but the older woman shook her head sharply.

"I'd be mighty pleased to see the Hakim, but he ain't here, and this bleedin' has got to stop right now. Skip and get that medicine basket of yours, child. Elizabeth, I need more light, and most of all I need Nathaniel up on the bed where I can work on him. If the earl here care to make hisself useful he'll help with the liftin'. Now move aside, both of you, and let me do what I can for him."

Elizabeth wondered when Carryck had last been given a command by anyone, much less a woman. And yet he looked more preoccupied than aggrieved as he stepped away.

She said, "There is no time for civilities, sir. Will you not assist us?"

Carryck exhaled strongly through his nose. "It's no' the civilities that concern me. Do ye trust this woman?"

"I trust her with his life, and with my own."

He crossed the room in a few strides. In a single movement he threw open the casement and whistled, one high piercing note followed by a falling tone. The last of it was still in the air when quick steps sounded on the stairs.

Three men appeared at the open door, young and well built, and all heavily armed. The tallest of them was black-haired, the other two fair and balding and as like to each other as boiled eggs. One of the twins carried a lantern that filled the room with swaying light, and showed up the widening red circle under Nathaniel's shoulders.

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