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'There's a ship in trouble in Deacon's Cove.' Morwenna Morgan looked up as her elder brother, Michael, entered the kitchen where she sat with her younger brother, Jacques, and her servant Bess, eating her supper. 'I'm going down to see if I can help the survivors.'
'I'm with you ' Jacques leaped to his feet, closely followed by Morwenna and Bess, and the kitchen became a hive of activity as they gathered ropes, hooks, grappling irons, lanterns and their weapons.
A shipwreck would bring the villagers to the beach and sometimes fights broke out over the spoils. It needed a firm hand to control them and on occasion, Michael had been forced to fire a musket over their heads.
'Not you, Morwenna,' Michael said as she reached for her shawl. 'There's no need for you to come.'
'I shan't be in your way, Michael.'
'Do as you're told,' he snarled. 'Stay here and make yourself useful. We'll need hot food and drinks when we get back.'
Morwenna's hand dropped to her side. She saw Jacques glance at her and smile, giving him a proud look in return. Waiting until the sound of the men's voices had gone, she picked up her shawl and wrapped it over her head.
'Where are you going?' Bess asked. 'You heard what Michael said. He wants you here for when they return.'
'I'll be back in time to help,' Morwenna said. 'I can't just stay here while people out there are in trouble. Michael doesn't own me even if he thinks he does.'
'You know his temper, girl. Your brothers will do all that is necessary.'
Morwenna tossed her head and went out, ignoring the dark look from Bess. It was bitterly cold as she made her way down the cliff towards the cove. She could see that the main beach was teeming with people. A ship had been driven on to the rocks and foundered. She could see figures in the water. Men were swimming out towards the wreck. She knew her brothers would be amongst the first, ropes tied to their waists that were held by others on shore. It was true that she was not needed on the main beach, but, as she knew from experience, sometimes men were carried by the tide round a spur of rock to another smaller cove. Turning aside, she scrambled down a path towards the inlet. As she'd known, no one else had thought of the cove and the tiny beach was deserted apart from a man stumbling up the beach.
From his manner, she could see that he was injured. As she ran towards him, he fell to the ground and slumped forwards to lay face down on the sand.
She threw herself down on her knees and rolled him on to his back. The moon was bright and she could see a nasty gash on his head, which was bleeding. His eyes were closed and for a moment she feared that he might be dead, but then he moaned, his eyelids flicked and he looked up at her. 'Who are you?'
'My name is Morwenna Morgan and I've come to help you,' she said. 'Your ship was wrecked, sir, and the current brought you towards this cove.'
'Mor ' He groaned again. 'My head hurts I can't I can't remember '
His eyes closed and she knew he had lost consciousness again. She would need to get help if she wanted to take him back to the house. Standing, she was preparing to run to the next beach when she saw a man coming towards her and knew it was Jacques.
'I knew you would be here,' he said as he came up to her. 'This is where you found the others. Is he still alive?'
'He was conscious for a moment, but I think he has passed out again.'
Jacques bent over him. 'Help me get him up, Wenna. I'll carry him over my shoulder. Did he have anything with him?'
'Yes, there is a bag just at the water's edge. He must have dropped it,' she said and ran to retrieve what was possibly all that had survived of the stranger's possessions. As she rejoined her brother, she nodded at the unconscious man. 'He's had a nasty bang on the head, Jacques. He will need nursing or he may die.'
'He's lucky you found him then,' her brother said. 'Most of the men they've pulled out are already drowned. One is badly injured and may not last the nightbut there were no women or children that we could see. There was some cargo, a few barrels of rum or brandy. The villagers will have them away before the militia gets here. Give me a hand and I'll put him over my shoulder.'
Like her brothers, Morwenna came from strong stock and she helped Jacques to hoist the unconscious man over Jacques's shoulder. Going ahead of them, she held her lantern to show Jacques the way. Because this cove was nearer to the house than the main beach, they would be home in time to have the injured man in bed before the other men returned.
Bess stared at them, shaking her head as they entered.
'Now what have you done, girl?' she muttered. 'There'll be trouble over this, you mark my words.'
'We couldn't leave him to die. We'll take him up to the spare room.'
She followed behind her brother, ignoring Bess's grumbling. The bed was already made up and Morwenna pulled back the clean if slightly shabby sheets.
Jacques soon had the stranger stripped of his wet things and his long boots, while Morwenna hurried back down to the kitchen and helped Bess to boil kettles. The stewpot was always kept bubbling away on nights like this, for they simply added meat and vegetables to what was left of supper to make a nourishing soup.
When Michael came home the soup was ready for him and a couple of the men that crewed his ship; they'd helped on the beach and accompanied him home for some warming food as a reward. Morwenna ladled the nourishing soup into thick earthenware bowls. Served with chunks of bread baked earlier that day, it was a filling meal for men who had fought the sea.
'I found one survivor in the inlet,' Jacques said as he entered the kitchen, giving his sister a warning look. 'He's in the small guestroom upstairs. For the moment he's unconscious, but I think he will recoverunless the fever takes him.'
Michael glared at him. 'What manner of man is he? Did you find anything on him of valueanything to tell you whether he's worth a ransom? Any form of identity?'
'He was wearing good breeches and boots,' Jacques said. 'He had nothing in his breeches pockets and the sea must have taken his coat. Yet by the look of him I would say he was of good family. If Morwenna nurses him, he will likely pay her well for her trouble.'
Michael glared at him, then turned his dark gaze on her. 'Are you willing, girl?'
'Yes, of course. My mother would never have left anyone to die of neglect, whoever they might be. I care nothing for whether he will pay or not.'
'Then you're a fool. We work hard for what we have, girl, and he should pay if he can. There, I might have known what you would say. Your mother was never one of us,' he muttered. 'I'm not a murderer. I'll allow you to keep your survivorand don't think I don't know you two were in it together. Nurse him, but be careful. Remember he's a stranger and keep a still tongue in your head. You tell no one anything that is family business. This is important. Listen to me, both of youmake one slip and we may all find ourselves in trouble. It won't be just me they hang, it will be both your brothers, Morwennaand if they think you're involved you could find yourself in chains and whipped at the cart's tail or in prison.'
'I should never tell anyone even if I knew what you were doingand I don't,' Morwenna said, a flash of fire in her green eyes. 'You're my brother, Michael. I don't want either of you to hang.'
'Well, remember that when this man starts to recover and becomes curious.'
'I'm not a fool,' she flared back. 'I may have a different mother, but I'm a Morgan the same as you.'
'Just remember that and we shan't fall out.' Michael finished his soup and nodded to Bess. 'Very good. Away to your bed now. You, too, Morwennaunless you need something for your patient, don't come down again for a while. I've something to say to Jacques and my men, and it's better if you don't know, then you can't tell.'
Morwenna was smarting inside. As if she would tell even if she did know! She didn't answer him, but simply filled a jug with clean water before following Bess from the room. Behind her there was silence. Michael was waiting until she was safely out of earshot before telling his men whatever he did not trust her to hear.
She felt a little resentful and yet she knew that he probably thought he was protecting her. If she could truthfully claim she knew nothing of his darker activities, she might escape should he and the others be caught.
Pray God it would not happen! She did not wish either of her brothers to die a cruel death or the men who sailed Michael's shipbut Jacques was the only one she truly felt close to, the only one who ever took any thought for her. Michael took her service for granted, forgetting that she should have been waited on instead of waiting on them.
She thrust the thought of Michael's secrets to a tiny corner of her mind as she went into the room in which her patient was lying. He appeared to be peaceful, his eyes still firmly closed. Touching his forehead, she was relieved that he did not appear to be suffering from a fever as yet, though he could of course develop one in the next day or so.
She poured some water into a bowl and dipped a cloth into it, then she bent over her patient and bathed the wound at the side of his head. It had bled quite a bit, but was not deep enough to have opened his skull. He had been lucky, because she'd seen men pulled out from amongst the cruel rocks with their heads cracked open and their brains spilling out. There was never any hope for them and if they still lived Michael despatched them with his knife. It was quick and less painful than seeing fatally injured men suffer a slow death.
'You were lucky,' she said as she bent over him, noticing that he was a fine-looking man. Jacques was right to say he looked like gentry. 'If we had not found you, you might have lain there all night and died of cold.'
For a moment his eyelids flickered, but they did not open. Morwenna poured some of her water into a horn cup and set it on the chest beside the bed. Then she took the salves she had stored in this room and a strip of linen and bound his head. Once again, his eyelids flickered, but did not open.
'You are safe here,' she said, though she was not sure he could hear her. 'My brother Jacques brought you here and Michael has given me permission to nurse you. I'm not sure if you can hear mebut be careful, sir. My brother does not care for strangers. Do not go wandering about the house at night or you may find yourself in trouble.'
The man gave no sign that he'd heard her.
'I shall leave you and return later,' she said. 'I do not know who you are but be careful.' Leaving him to rest, Morwenna went out and closed the door behind her.
She hoped that Jacques had not helped her carry a spy into her home. It would not be the first time the militia had sent someone to try to discover the truth about her brother's activities. If Michael discovered that this man was one of them, he would not hesitate to kill himand that would be a shame, as well as dangerous for them all.
Her brother claimed he was not a murderer, but if he acted in defence of his family he would not consider it murder. He had learned to be ruthless since their father died and he'd been forced to seek his living from the sea. Yet at times she could still see in him the brother that had carried her on his shoulder when she was too tired to climb the cliff to their home.
Even so, she would not like anything bad to happen to the stranger.
Morwenna smiled to herself. She was used to the company of strong handsome men, but she liked the look of the stranger and she would not have harm come to him if she could prevent it.