Ian has won Angelique - but at what cost?
The evening shadows began to thicken, bringing yet more darkness to Ian’s soul. His body ached from the day’s exertions: the sudden and hard trip back from Hampton’s Cove, then tramping all over the village, getting doors slammed in his face.
His heart was weary, too. No sooner had he started to collect his wits after the doctor left than MacGwire had come back to Angelique’s little room. The old man was drunk, blood matting his beard from his coughing spells, and he had ranted at Ian for several minutes before succumbing to another coughing fit. And when MacGwire stopped, he simply collapsed.
Ian carried and drug the man back to his bedroom, then proceeded to clean up the mess of phlegm and blood. Noting the sickly smell of it, he minded the doctor’s orders that Angelique was too weak to fight off a sickness. That and the need for a softer bed for her prompted Ian to move her from the floor to her own large feather bed upstairs.
As he awkwardly placed his arms underneath her, he came very near to tears. The first time he had ever held a woman, and it had to be like this. And may never be much more!
It took three tries before he got his arms positioned correctly, and even then he almost dropped her twice before he got her up the stairs and into bed. The girl’s bedroom was clean, bright, and airy, filled with the glow of sunset and the soft evening breeze, and Ian’s spirits lifted slightly. Then he noticed the other odors the doctor had mentioned, and his heart sunk again. His next task must be to find Angelique a nurse. But who would help him? With a sigh, he set out for the first cottage.
She was outraged, the woman was, at the very notion of helping Ian. “I care for my own five children,” she sputtered, “and I don’t have time for a grown woman! Besides, why should I do anything to help the like of you?” At that moment, her husband appeared around the corner of the house, a short fish gaff in his hand, the wicked-looking hook dull from old bloodstains. Ian quickly retreated, apologies gushing from his lips.
Next he tried Geoff’s house. But the man himself answered the door, and would not let Ian speak to his wife. As he turned to go, Ian glimpsed Dennis, Jason, and a few others there with him, and he would swear he heard the word “hanging.”
He stopped at his own home to grab a quick meal and to decide what to do next. He lived in a small cottage, kept clean and neat only by the efforts of an idiot village girl who could do little more than sweep and make a bed. The coin he paid her helped her parents with their living; it was the one magnanimous thing in Ian’s life. A thought came rushing to him — the girl’s mother might be willing to help him. In the last light, he made for their house.
Ian had difficulty explaining to the girl’s mother what he needed. It was, after all, a delicate matter to be sharing with another. Suddenly, understanding flashed across her face, followed by outrage. She slapped him, a torrent of curses spewing from her mouth. Ian simply turned and fled.
As he ran, he came to another path through the forest, and stopped. At the end of this path, Ian knew, lived an older couple. They had been in bad straits some years ago, and Ian had helped them by giving them money. They had avoided him since, which was just as well with Ian. Now, though, it was time to pay them a visit.
The path was swept clear of leaves and stones, and bright flowers dotted the way. Bushes carefully tended stood sentry on either side of the door, which was open to the cool evening breeze. A cheery melody wafted back to Ian from inside the house. Ian’s long shadow intruded into the front room, and the song choked to a sudden halt.
The husband came to the doorway, squinting against the last of the setting sun glowing in his eyes. “May I help you?” he asked. Ian took another step, and the shadow of his shoulder blocked the light from the man’s face. Recognition came immediately, bringing a guarded look to his countenance, like a small frightened dog bravely facing a fight he knows he will lose.
“What do you want, Innis?
Ian smiled, comfortable again. This was his element, pulling on the strings attached to others. They may well disdain him or even outright hate him, but Ian Innis always came out on top!
Ian halted in front of the doorway. “Duncan, my good man! It’s been a long time. How is your wife doing?”
“You’re a bit out of your way for a social call, Innis,” said Duncan gruffly. “Although darkness is your time, I suppose. What’s your business?”
“Business, yes. How perceptive of you, Duncan. Can we talk?” Ian made as if to enter the house, but Duncan stood firm, though he swallowed hard.
“Say your piece and be gone, Innis!”
Ian’s grin faded. “Very well, Duncan. Since you refuse to be nice, I shan’t either. I’ve come to collect the debt you owe me.”
“I paid you back, every cent and then some! I owe you nothing!” Duncan began to retreat and close the door.
Swiftly, Ian took a long step and thrust a foot into the doorway. “Not so fast!” He pushed his way inside the house.
“Now see here, Innis!” Duncan was larger than his adversary, something Ian had forgotten to consider in his confidence, and he now advanced on the smaller man. “I want you out of my home!”
Summoning all his bluster, Ian put up a restraining hand. “Oh, I will go — just a soon as I’ve collected.”
“For the last time, we paid you everything you demanded! You soaked us far beyond what we borrowed, but we owed and we paid.”
“Ah, but there is something you still owe for,” Ian said, smiling smugly. “I have been silent for the last three years, Duncan. How long would Geoff keep you employed if he knew you were a thief?”
“Why, you despicable little creature!” cried his wife. “How could you sink so low?”
“Mary, please,” said Duncan quietly. “We knew what he was when we touched him.” He turned back to Ian. “All right, Innis. What is it you want?”
Mary gasped. Duncan clenched his fists and began walking towards Ian. “You’ve gone too far, Innis. Get out! Say what you will to whomever you will, but leave my house now!”
“Nay, Duncan, you didn’t give me a chance to finish. I need your wife’s help. The daughter of MacGwire lays unconscious, and must have help only a woman can give. I have been given the responsibility for her care, so I am looking for her a nurse.” Ian paused dramatically. “And, my good man, I will pay.”
Mary stepped forward. “I’ve heard talk in the village. Some say it is hopeless, that she is on the verge of death. If so, why a nurse?”
“The doctor believes she may yet awaken. He’s shown me how to feed her and such. But there are some things it is not proper for me to do.”
“I will do it,” she said.
Duncan grabbed her arm. “Mary, no! For this monster? You can’t be serious!”
“Not for him, Duncan. For her, and for God.”
“Yes,” interjected Ian. “An opportunity to be of Christian service.”
“Christian and service — two things you know nothing of!” muttered Duncan. “All right, Innis. Mary will be down in the morning.”
Ian smiled broadly and, tipping his hat to Mary, turned to go. Duncan stopped him. “One thing, Innis. We’ll not be paid by ill-gotten coin. If we do this as Christian charity, we’ll not tarnish the Lord’s name by supporting illegal activities.”
“A mighty lot you thought of the Lord’s name when you took that money!”
“That was three years ago, Ian!” Mary snapped. “A man can change in three years.”
“Maybe he can, and maybe he can’t! I’ll see you in the morning, Mary.” Ian left into the darkness, finally a small smile on his mouth.