Dawn on a Distant Shore Page 91

Curiosity cleared her throat. "First the child needs some sun," she said. "Then there's time for your microscope machine."

But a fine misting rain met them, and skies the color of old pewter. Hannah helped Hakim Ibrahim with the trees, which were watered from the rain barrels on deck. And all the time she kept an eye out for Mr. MacKay, and studied the horizon.

There was no sign of another ship like the Isis. After this first disappointment a truth showed itself to her as she stood at the rail: she would like the sea if she had come to it of her own accord. In the sharp salt air something deep inside her fluttered open as surely as pennants and flags fluttered overhead. Hannah drew in all the air that she could hold, and felt her skin rise with the pleasure of it.

It was very still; the winds had come to rest to suit the Isis drifting so aimlessly in the smoky green-gray sea. The sky was full of birds: black-backed gulls, skuas calling to each other in scratchy voices, ha! ha! ha!, others that the Hakim did not recognize, all of them coasting broad-winged on the scant wind. She envied the birds, who would see the topsails of the Osiris first, even before the lookout high in his perch above their heads. She thought of climbing the rigging herself. It would not be very hard: the cliffs on the north face of Hidden Wolf were higher, with less to hold on to.

But the captain was watching her from the quarterdeck, so Hannah turned her attention out over the sea to the north where a small ship sat hove-to with dories scattered around it in an arc.

"Cod fishermen," the Hakim explained.

There were four dories, narrowly built and sharply pointed at either end, just big enough for two fishermen and their catch between them. Over the water came the faint sound of singing from the dory nearest the Isis, in a language Hannah could not name by its rhythms. She watched as the two men stood, one after the other, the dory tipping up to flash its red-painted underside. They began to haul in a line, one of them flipping cod onto the growing mound with a back-handed jerk while the other coiled the emptied line into a great round tub. Hannah thought of her home waters where full-grown men wrestled with sturgeon and sometimes lost, waters full of wily trout and catfish with fins that could slice a finger to the bone. These saltwater cod had no fight in them, lining up to take the hook like schoolchildren waiting patiently to have their palms caned.

A voice behind them, and Hannah jumped in alarm. But it was Captain Pickering this time, and his expression was one of real concern.

"You would be more comfortable in the round-house," he said. "Out of the rain." He stood in the posture of all the officers, with his hands clasped at his back and his misshapen head tilted to one side, trying not to look at her clothing, the fringed overdress and close-fitting leggings, the new moccasins, all darkening now in the rain. His own face was shadowed by his tricorn. The Hakim moved farther along the deck, checking to make sure that each tree was still securely tied. Hannah wished he would come back.

"I like the rain," she said.

The captain was the strangest kind of O'seronni, one of those who pretended not to see what was plain to see, as if to look at her and know her for who she was might cause them both to disappear. Elizabeth had tried to explain it to her many times: it was how they kept distance from one another in a world that had become too crowded, this seeing but not seeing.

He cleared his throat, once and then again. She knew very well that he was looking for some way to apologize to her.

Hannah said, "How long do you think it will be before the Osiris catches us up?" And waited to see if he could lie to her when she looked him in the eye.

The captain drew in his huge lower lip and let it out again. "I would expect her anytime. Midday, at the latest."

Unless something has gone wrong. He did not say it, but she saw it in his expression. Hannah studied his ruined face. Of course it was hard for him to look at the world, because the world did not like to look at him. She wondered if he would be surprised when Giselle Somerville left him. Some of her anger slipped away, although she did not want to let it go.

"Miss Somerville thinks Moncrieff will not allow my people to come on board the Isis."

"What a strange thing to say." He blinked his surprise. "I am the captain of this vessel, after all."

He did have a spine, then. "So they are on the Osiris, and you will allow them on board?"

He shifted his weight back on his heels, and then rocked forward again. "That was the intention, yes. I believe that is still the plan."

Not much of a spine, Hannah corrected herself. "I wonder what Miss Somerville meant."

The captain flushed. "I am afraid you will have to ask her yourself, but you must be patient. She does not rise before eleven and it is not even eight of the clock now."

Hannah might have pushed a little harder, but a ship had appeared in the distance. For a moment she watched it over the captain's shoulder as it bobbed in and out of sight on the gently heaving back of the horizon. A fisherman, perhaps; perhaps something more. She knew she should look away, but she could not, and the captain turned to follow her line of sight.

"Mr. Smythe, sir!" he called in a booming voice toward the quarterdeck. "What have we there off the stern quarter? A schooner, as I see it."

"Aye, Captain. Don't recognize her, but she's flying American colors, and coming on fast. Perhaps a packet out of Boston. She's just hoisted the white flag, sir!"

A small shiver ran up Hannah's back, traveled down her arms to blossom in her fingertips. She sent the captain a sidelong glance.

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