Ian has won Angelique - but at what cost?
“Does she breathe?”
“Aye, MacGwire,” said Jason, “she breathes.” The young man stood slowly, keeping his eyes on the limp form of the battered girl. “But you can’t tell whether she’s broken up inside.” Reluctantly, he looked into the face of her father. “There’s no blood on her breath, so that’s not to fear. But there’s no light in her eyes either.”
On impulse, MacGwire grabbed Jason and Dennis in a hard embrace. Together the three sobbed their grief at the tragedy, and their burning anger at Ian. The salt water soaking the clothes of the two men who had plunged into the waves to save Angelique wetted the thin shirt MacGwire wore, but it chilled him less than the thought of his daughter lying there, limp on the comforter spread on the floor, a mindless invalid for as long as she should live.
A throat cleared in the doorway, and the three looked around. A gang of local men stood there, surrounding a single man. Ian squirmed in the grasp of Geoff’s large hairy hand on his collar, but escape was impossible.
“We caught the vermin trying to hoist sail away from the suffering he’s caused, Mr. MacGwire. If you’re up to it, the rest of the village men would just as soon have the trial now, so we can get the hanging over and done with before the fish all leave for deeper water.”
MacGwire sighed deeply. He looked long at his daughter, her labored breathing a barely audible whisper, her limbs unmoving, not the slightest twitch of her former vitality in her. Slowly he shook his great head back and forth. “Nay, Geoff, but I dinna think we can do this. Angelique walked off the cliff herself, rather than live a single day with Ian. He is not guilty of anything other than being a man we would all like to hang!” A moment’s pause, then he continued: “If any man is guilty of causing this, it is I.”
He took a deep breath, struggling for self-control. “How long can she last as she is? Without care it will be only days, if that. With good care, who knows? But certainly longer. Ian won the contest, with the responsibility to care and provide for her as long as she should live. Perhaps he should fulfill the responsibility he fought so well and hard for. And if she should die sooner than expected,” he glared at the dangling little man, “why, that might be judged as worth hanging!”
Geoff released Ian with a push that sent him stumbling into the house. “You are too kind, MacGwire. I hope you don’t regret your decision.” To Ian, he growled, “See that you do all you can, Innis. Let her die, and you’ll be chum for our fishing!”
For a long moment, the four stood as if frozen: MacGwire trembling and weak, Dennis and Jason glaring hatred, and Ian shaking with the nearness of death, both his and Angelique’s. The two young fishermen broke the spell. “If we can do anything, Mister MacGwire, let us know,” said Dennis, and they left.
MacGwire sighed deeply from his tortured soul, and stumped across the room to drop into his chair. He fixed Ian with an unfriendly glare. “Well, man, you wanted her. Now you have her! I’d suggest you get busy.”
“What do I do?”
“You might start by building partitions around her for a private room, since I dinna think she should be moved upstairs. She might have something broken inside. Then you might go for a doctor. There’s one in Hampton’s Cove less than a day up the coast.” A great cough shook the old man. “And you can get me that bottle of whiskey in the kitchen.”
Bewildered, Ian fumbled in the kitchen for MacGwire’s bottle, then set to trying to erect walls around where Angelique lay. After an hour’s frustrating lack of progress, during which MacGwire constantly upbraided him, Ian threw the hammer down on top of the fourth collapsed attempt.
“It’s no use! I can’t do it. I’m not a carpenter; I’m a fisherman!”
“About as much a fisherman as a carpenter, I say!”
“Wait just a minute, old man! You’re the carpenter here. And since you are her father, why aren’t you building this?”
“Because,” MacGwire slurred through his drink, “I am no longer the man who has the responsibility. You wanted her, and now you have her. And so it is you that has the doing of these things.”
“Maybe it would be better if I just let them hang me now!” muttered Ian.
“Aye, that would be the coward’s way, wouldn’t it?”
Ian whirled around. “Now see here, old man!”
Geoff’s head stuck through the doorway, his yellowed teeth bared in the hair and beard that framed his face. Looking straight at Ian, he said, “Problems, MacGwire?”
“The soft hands of Mister Innis here don’t seem to know the proper ends of a hammer, Geoff.” He heaved his bulk up from his chair. “If ye would be so kind, could a man be spared to show Ian where Hampton’s Cove lies? I hear there be a doctor up there, and,” MacGwire grunted as he bent to pick up the hammer, “by the time Ian finishes these walls, he’ll be asking for the doctor’s grandson.”
Geoff chuckled. “Sure, MacGwire. Dennis isn’t busy right now. Of course, he will lose two days wages, and will need to be paid.” Again his stare fixed Ian where he stood.
A protest formed on Ian’s lips, but was given no voice. It was no good to dissent; he was trapped. He wanted Angelique, of course — all the men had wanted her. But not like this! Yet it had been his conniving ways to win the object of his desire that led to her jump from the cliff. Had he been allowed to sail to Hampton’s Cove alone, he knew he would not have returned. Now he had no say. His earlier choices had taken his freedom from him.
Geoff moved aside and let Ian leave the house. “Go get a cloak and some money, Innis. I’ll have Dennis meet you at your boat.” He saluted the old man and closed the door.
Alone in the darkening room, alone with his battered daughter and the racking cough that ate away his life, MacGwire let the hammer slip from his fingers. He slowly knelt by Angelique, softly brushing her hair off her face. She neither rolled her head nor twitched a cheek; only her tortured breathing said she still lived. He buried his face in her dress and sobbed till he had no more tears.