'If it please your honour, the lady below would be obliged if she might have a private word.'
Jesus shut the door in the boy's face. Smiling, he sauntered back to the table and rested his arm along the back of St Peter's chair on the left of his own. He bent down and spoke into St Peter's ear. 'I shall be back directly - I must make sure that all is ready. Let them toast their inamoratas if they grow impatient.'
'Is it time?' Frank said. 'Is it time?'
'Nearly,' Jesus said. ' Believe me, it will be worth the wait.'
He straightened up. St Andrew asked Frank a question about the merits of water spaniels as gundogs, a temporary but effective distraction. Jesus left the room, closing the mahogany door behind him. The air was at once much cooler. He was on a square landing lit by two candles burning on a bracket next to a small uncurtained window. For a moment he put his head close to the glass and rubbed a circle in the condensation. It was too dark to make out much, but at the far end of the garden a lamp glimmered above the side door of Lambourne House.
He walked quickly downstairs. The pavilion stood at the bottom of the garden. Its plan was straightforward - the great room above fi lled the whole of the fi rst fl oor; the stairs at one end linked it to a lobby on the ground fl oor, where there were two doors. One door led outside to the garden, the other to a narrow hall running the length of the building and giving access to the covered terrace beside the river and to several small rooms. The footboy, who had the absurd name of Augustus, was sitting on a bench in the lobby. He sprang to his feet and bowed. At a nod from Jesus, he opened the door to the hall. Jesus passed him without a word and closed the door in his face.
Candles in pairs burned on brackets along the walls, creating globes of light in the gloom. Jesus tapped on the second door along, and it opened from within.
Mrs Phear drew him inside. She stood on tiptoe and murmured in his ear, 'The little weakling has failed us.'
The chamber was small and painted white like a cell. But it was snug enough because a coal fire glowed in the grate, the curtains were drawn and the shutters closed. The room was furnished simply with a little bed hung with white curtains, a table and two chairs. On the table stood a bottle of wine, another of cordial, two glasses and a bowl of nuts. On the mantelshelf was a candle, which provided the only light in the room apart from the fire.
'Failed?' Jesus said.
'Look for yourself.' Mrs Phear wore a nun's habit with a black wimple that framed and obscured her face. 'Take the light.'
Jesus picked up the candle and went to the bed. The curtains were tied back. A girl lay on her back with her fair hair lying loose on the pillow. White cords attached her wrists and ankles to the four bedposts. She was dressed in a white nightgown with a loose neck. She must have been beautiful in life, he thought, the sort of girl you felt you could crush into a million fragments if you squeezed her hard enough.
He bent closer. She was young - perhaps thirteen or fourteen. Her skin was naturally very pale but her cheeks were red, almost purple. Her eyes were open and her lips widely parted. He held the candle nearer. There was froth on the lips, and a trickle of vomit at the corner of her mouth. Her eyes protruded from their sockets.
'God damn it.'
'It is such a waste,' Mrs Phear said. 'And I believe she was really a virgin, too.'
'The little bitch. Was ever anything so unlucky? What happened?'
The woman shrugged. 'I made her ready for him. I went up to the house for more candles, and she asked me to put a nut or two in her mouth before I went. And when I came back she was as you see her. She's still warm.'
Jesus straightened up, though his eyes lingered on the girl's face. 'It's as if someone smothered her.' He looked quickly around the room.
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