Dawn on a Distant Shore Page 69

The governor had arrived first, on horseback. A great number of soldiers waited in the courtyard, clearly discomfited by the cold rain. Elizabeth was chilled to the bone, too, but she could feel no sympathy for them. If things were to go badly here, these men would be dispatched to arrest Nathaniel, Hawkeye, and Robbie. The thought could not be borne, and so she thrust it away from herself.

Elizabeth waited for the governor in his drafty front hall, low of ceiling andwitha stone floor that radiated a chill even through the thick carpet. There was only a banked fire in the hearth, and no sign of a servant. Major Johnson of the King's Own stood off to one side with his hands crossed at the small of his back, rocking to and fro on his heels. He smelled of onions and frying liver, his teeth were ivory or perhaps the bone of some animal, and his distaste for this guard duty was as clear as the dark stubble on his cheeks.

Elizabeth pulled her muddied cloak closer around herself and returned his stare. "You are impertinent, sir."

"And you are a turncoat, Mrs. Bonner."

"Pardon me, Major Johnson. I mistook you for a gentleman."

He had the good grace to flush, but before he could put words to his contempt, the double doors at the far end of the hall opened, and a small silver-haired lady floated through with Sir Guy just behind her. She was perfectly dressed and groomed at four in the morning--for so proclaimed the mantel clock. Elizabeth supposed she must be used to drama at all hours of the night.

"Mrs. Bonner, my dear." Her tone was contained and carefully modulated, with the breathy quality of those women who never quite got over a presentation at court. She had never been a beauty, her face too round and her complexion too rough for it, but her eyes snapped with curiosity and intelligence that might be very good or very bad news for Elizabeth. If Lady Dorchester were to take over the questioning, she would have a much harder time of it than she would have with the governor.

Her first words put Elizabeth's concerns to rest.

"Mrs. Bonner. Welcome to the Château St. Louis, and please may I beg your pardon for the abominable treatment you've received at my husband's hands. I am Lady Dorchester. What an outrageous affair, there are no words. No words. Most disconcerting. I hardly know what to say."

"My dear--" Sir Guy began, and she turned on him in a cold fury.

"This is Mrs. Elizabeth Middleton Bonner, Lord Dorchester. Do you hear? Of Oakmere. Lady Crofton's niece, the one she spoke to me about last spring when we met in Montréal. And you have dragged her out of her bed, and away from her children--did he not, my dear? And for what purpose?"

"We are looking for her husband and his father," said Sir Guy, struggling for his dignity and not quite succeeding. "You know very well that it is standard procedure to question suspects alone."

Lady Dorchester gave a very unladylike snort. "She is a suspect?"

"Her husband is."

Elizabeth was so relieved at this unexpected ally that she might have laughed out loud to see the governor's plans so neatly turned on ear.

"Exactly!" Lady Dorchester advanced a step toward the governor. "Her husband. She has not committed any crime." Her gaze dared him to contradict her.

She took Elizabeth by the arm. "My dear, we must have patience with them, for they are merely men, after all. Most excellent men, it is true, but men nonetheless. We will send you back to the Isis, my dear, but first you must have dry boots, and this cloak--you must be chilled through."

"Lady Dorchester," Elizabeth began. "Please, a little damp does not bother me. I am worried about my children."

The tiny woman drew up in amazement. "Of course you are, my dear. But this damp is not to be trifled with. It would do no good to send you back as you are to the Isis; you will surely take a chill and then how shall I explain myself to Lady Crofton? No, you must have dry things. You are of a size with my elder daughter; I am sure it can be managed quickly." The bright eyes moved to her face. "You have twins, I understand? When do you expect they will need your attention? Surely another hour can be spared."

Elizabeth considered Lady Dorchester's resolute expression, and sighed. She did not wonder that she had made so fast a friendship with her aunt Merriweather; they were fashioned of the same strong stuff.

"An hour, Lady Dorchester. But no more."

The governor was making distressed noises, little chirps that came up from his chest.

"Sir Guy, do speak up if you have something to say." Lady Dorchester's tone was more solicitous now that she had secured Elizabeth's promise.

He scowled. "I have not had a chance to question this lady! There is a serious matter at stake here. You have no consideration for my sense of duty, madam!"

Pale fingers fluttered dismissively around her face. "On the contrary, I am well acquainted with your sense of duty, Sir Guy. I have been at truce with it now for these many years. Very well, ask your questions, if you must. I shall return shortly." She disappeared into the back hallway, calling for servants in a staccato French that must have carried through the house.

Elizabeth was left alone with the governor and Major Johnson. She had feared that Sir Guy would be angry at this complete failure of his scheme to frighten her into a confession, but there was a thoughtful look about him, as if he were weighing his options.

"Mrs. Bonner, I should not have brought you here if I had had your cooperation."

It was as close as he would come to an apology. Elizabeth said, "I am happy to tell you what you most need to know, sir. And that is this: these men you are looking for are not spies. They have no interest in politics of any kind."

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