Dawn on a Distant Shore Page 179

"MacArthur," she said, in a calm tone she knew he would recognize. "There is no cause for alarm. Lady Isabel is in no danger. These are friends, although I realize they gave you a shock. We will continue on our way in just a few moments."

The large jaw worked convulsively as he tried to take this in. Then he sat again, his whip across his lap.

"And here we thoucht we'd have tae storm Carryckcastle tae see ye again," Robbie repeated for the third time. "What are ye doin' here, and how come ye doon the road in a coach bearing the arms o' the Countess o' Loudoun?"

"What are we doing here?" Nathaniel laughed.

"Indeed," said Elizabeth. "We might ask you the same thing. You most especially, William Spencer."

"He came to rescue you from the Jackdaw, but he had to be satisfied with two old men instead," said Hawkeye, tucking Daniel into the crook of his arm just as Daniel tucked his thumb into his own mouth.

"Is that so?" Elizabeth slipped an arm through his. "This is a William Spencer I am unfamiliar with."

Will was not to be ruffled. "Elizabeth," he said calmly. "You did not really believe that once Runs-from-Bears told me of the kidnapping, I'd sit in Québec and wait for word of your fate?"

It was Will's voice and manner of expression, but otherwise Elizabeth hardly recognized her cousin. Gone were the elegant coats and silk stockings; he stood before her in a rough linen shirt and homespun breeches with a dark cape flung back over his shoulders, his hair shorn close to the scalp. He too was leaner, almost wiry now, and when he smiled he revealed the loss of an eyetooth, giving him a decidedly disreputable look.

"I didn't think you'd come racing after me," she said.

An oxcart piled with manure and buzzing with flies came around the corner and slowed as the farmer gaped, openmouthed, at the strangers gathered in the road.

"This ain't the right place for a discussion," said Hawkeye.

"True enough," said Nathaniel. "But there's things to clear up before we get to Carryckcastle."

"And Lady Isabel is in great distress," Elizabeth added. "We can delay no longer."

The men exchanged glances, and then Will Spencer spoke to Nathaniel. "You take my horse, and I will ride in the coach with the ladies. That way we can exchange news as we go along. Do you think that will be acceptable to Lady Isabel, Elizabeth?"

"I think she is insensible of most everything at the moment," Elizabeth said. "But give me a moment to make her ready."

"So it was Christian Fane," Elizabeth said later, when her cousin had related the events of the last month: how Will had crossed paths with his old friend in Halifax when he had been desperately seeking a ship and captain willing to pursue the Jackdaw. The way they had come upon Mac Stoker just as they had caught sight of the fleet on its way to engage the French. The damage done to the Jackdaw, and Stoker's pride. Will's disappointment to find that Elizabeth and Nathaniel were not on board at all, but on the Isis, a much more formidable foe.

"Fane was eager to be of help," said Will. "As always, very glad of a chance to be of service to you. Once we learned from Hawkeye and Robbie that you were on the Isis, he wanted to set off in pursuit--" He paused, and glanced at Lady Isabel.

Elizabeth had arranged her veils around her face to spare her embarrassment, and her breathing-- still shallow--caused the fine white netting to flutter fitfully. She seemed still undisturbed by their conversation, and Will continued.

"But the admiral got sight of us and there was no help for it, we were ordered straight into battle," Will concluded. "It was a most ill-timed and unfortunate diversion."

"A diversion," Elizabeth said dryly. "To have put yourself in such danger--"

"You run the risk of offending me, cousin. Do you think I was not equal to the challenge? I admit I did not acquit myself in battle as well as your father-in-law and Robbie did. Fane would have liked to commission them on the spot. I myself caught a piece of shell--"

He turned his head to show her a healing wound on the back of his scalp. "It cost me my hair, as you see, but I find I quite like being shorn like a sheep. Amanda does not mind terribly."

"Amanda," said Elizabeth. "Where is she?"

"With her mother in Edinburgh," said Will. "Waiting for you, and very impatiently, I must say. They are greatly worried. Can you tell me what lies ahead for us at Carryckcastle? How difficult will it be?"

Daniel was sitting on Will's lap, examining the ties on his shirt with great interest and gumming them when he managed to get one into his mouth. Elizabeth watched for a moment while she gathered her thoughts.

"I suppose I must begin the story in Canada, with Monsieur Dupuis," she said, checking once again on Lady Isabel. "It begins with him, and I think it may end with him, as well."

Hannah and Jennet climbed the oak in the fairy wood with their pockets full of bread and cheese and pears from the conservatory, blush-pink and still warm from the sun.

"Ye're verra quiet the-day," Jennet said, contemplating Hannah's profile. "Can ye no' tell me what's the matter? Is it the story my granny tolt ye, or are ye still thinkin' aboot Dame Sanderson?"

Hannah bit into her pear and wiped the juice from her chin with her palm. "I dreamed about her last night."

It was not the whole truth, but it would have to suffice for now.

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