After her children were off to school on Tuesday morning, Maura hurried down the road to the old bridge. We had agreed to use it as a meeting place again. As she approached the bridge, I stepped from behind the bridge support and called softly. "Come ahead. It's all clear."
When Maura joined me by the bridge support, I took her by the hand. "It's been grand getting to see you again, and to know that you and your children are all right. There will be no chance to see any of you again after I finish with the Earl. Even if there were time, it would be far too dangerous for you. Tell Tim that I appreciate all that he has done also."
My head snapped around to the left at the sound of a noise, but it proved to just be a frog scampering down to the water. "I look forward to telling my family all about you when I get home. If ever you should want to come to America, write me. I will find a way to help you make the trip, and we will help you get settled."
She squeezed my hand hard. "I've dreamed of the Earl getting what he has coming for all this long while, but now that the time has come, I wonder, is it really worth it? Is revenge worth losing your life? Is it worth your wives and sons losing their husband and father? Why don't you just signal the ship tonight and go back home? Sean, I don't want your family to have to go through what my children and I have had to deal with. Please. Go home. Let the Devil deal with the Earl."
"Maura, what you say is well taken, and I appreciate why you want me to give up my mission. However, I can't and I won't, quit now. Grady was killed because of me. That's a debt of honor that I can never turn my back on, even if it means my death." I gave her a hug and said, "Regardless of what happens tonight, I do not want you feeling guilty if things go bad. You have to understand Maura. In the land where we live, danger is a daily companion. I could easily do as you asked, and just go back home. After arriving home, I could be killed by Pawnee or Kiowa warriors. I could be killed by a Grizzly or a mountain lion. I could be drowned trying to cross swift water." Touching her shoulder, I continued. "No Maura, I'll not live my life in fear. If I'm to die today, I'm satisfied, for I'm doing what I believe to be right. You can do me one last favor though. The Captain of the ship will come back every night for yet another week to see if I need to be picked up. If I don't signal him within that week, his orders are to assume that I've been killed or imprisoned, and to return to Boston and get word to my family. Still, with no certain word of my death, it will be hard for them because they won't want to give up hope. They will wonder if maybe I'm a prisoner, or badly wounded somewhere. If I am killed tonight, would you write Mariska and let her know that they are not to wait any longer? It will be better for them to know for sure what happened."
A tear started rolling down her cheek as she replied. "Yes, of course I will Sean. You have my word on that."
"Well then," I replied. "Let's not have any more tears. I'll not have your freckles being washed away."
She smiled and wiped away the tear. "There is one thing before I go back. Do you remember the old McMurphy farm just a little east of here?"
"Sure," I answered.
"Well, he died a couple of months ago, and his family moved to somewhere in County Cork. Where his property meets the stream, there is an old barn. Tonight, there will be a horse waiting for you in that barn. Compliments of my brother Tim. If you should get caught, don't worry. The horse cannot be traced back to him."
"Well, tell Tim that I will be forever grateful. That horse just might be the difference in my surviving the night. Now, you go back home. The longer we drag out the goodbyes, the harder it becomes."
She hugged me so tightly that I was afraid she would break one of my ribs. Then she kissed me on the cheek. "Bless you Sean." She took off running down the road and never looked back.
The rest of the day I spent at the cave, going over my plan in my mind, time after time. I would only have this one opportunity. I could not afford to fail.
The things that I would take back to the ship with me, should I survive, were laid by the entrance to the cave. Then, satisfied that there was nothing left to do that might improve my chances of success, I stretched out and slept.
The sun was low in the sky when I left the cave and started east. As I passed by the edge of town, I saw a woman standing by the well. She waved at me, then walked away. I thought it was probably Maura, but at that distance, I couldn't be sure.
When I reached my old home place, the worker was long gone, so I stopped and looked around for a few minutes. After saying a few words over the graves of my mother and sister, I took one last look at that cottage, then moved on.
Passing the old bridge, I slipped off the road and went to the old McMurphy barn to verify that the horse would be there. Sure enough, a horse was saddled and waiting in a stall in the barn. He had been given hay and water recently. A word of thanks went out in my mind to Tim, for this was not some farm horse. This mount was clearly a racer. If I made it this far and got him onto the road, catching me would be a difficult task for the Earl's men.
As the sun began to disappear, and the shadows grew long upon the land, I eased out of the barn, and carefully made me way to the Earl's property. Following the route I had set forth in my mind, I carefully evaluated each piece of cover, and slipped from one to the other. Each time I stopped and listened. Only when I was sure that it was as safe as it could be, did I move to the next bit of cover, be it a tree, a stand of brush, or a rock fence.
By the time I had moved close enough to have a good view of the house, the sun was down and I was hidden from view by the dark of night. As I looked around, a smile came on my face. The Earl's guards would not last long on the frontier. Each of them had an oil lamp, or a torch, close at hand so they could see. Not only did that rob them of the ability to see anything in the darkness, it also enabled me to spot each guard location.
Being human, as I sat watching the house, my thoughts slipped back to my family a few times, but each time I pushed them back to the rear of my mind. If I were to have any chance at all of ever seeing that family again, I could allow myself no distractions.
I listened carefully as I watched and waited. If one of the Earl's guards should come in the darkness, the change in the normal sound of night activity in the woods would alert me.
After what I judged to have been a half hour or more, there was a sudden increase in activity around the Earl's place. I could hear men talking back and forth as they moved between the house and the stables. A man who appeared to be of some authority, was going from guard to guard, reminding them to be on the alert. Several minutes later, a carriage pulled up in front of the house. The front door opened, and the Earl himself, surrounded by guards, moved from the house into the carriage. A guard force of a dozen men mounted, and surrounded the carriage as it pulled away from the house and disappeared down the road.
I knew it would take a bit for the guards to come down off their heightened state of alert, so I just eased back into the thickest cover around me, and waited. After what I judged to have been an hour, I checked my weapons, took one last look around me, and started toward the house.