"Well, you would let them in," he told the fire irons with a slate-cold flatness. "So hear them, and have them out of here before the bugle."
"It is very late for visitors," said Beamabeth as she looked the new arrivals up and down, her voice soft and carrying more of the local accent than Mosca had expected from anyone in a silk dress. Her tone made her words sound more like an apology than a criticism.
"Usually Father likes to have the house locked up from an hour before dusk till an hour after dawn."
"Rest assured, ma'am, when you understand the urgency - "
"Would you like to sit down?" Beamabeth interrupted Clent without apparently realizing that she was doing so. Clent and Mosca obediently sat, Mosca keeping a tight hold on Saracen's leash in case anything in this elegant room appeared edible.
"Miss Marlebourne, I must come to the point, and I hope you will forgive me if my tidings distress you. You are, I fear, the target of an odious and felonious scheme. In short, there is a plan afoot to kidnap you and force you into marriage."
Beamabeth's eyes became pools of utter surprise.
"What? But... I don't understand." Her eyes flew to her adopted father, who had at last raised his eyes from the fire and was staring at Clent with an aggressively interrogative eye. "I... that is horrible. Somebody wants to do that... to me?" The incomprehension in her face left no room for fear. It was the look of a kitten that has never been kicked, and merely stares at the boot speeding toward its small pink nose.
"Brand Appleton," growled the mayor. He stood, caught up the poker, and drove it into the heart of the clustered embers as if impaling a foe. "It has to be Appleton."
"Father, it might not be..." Beamabeth looked dazzled, distraught. "I cannot believe that of Brand, even now."
"All right - let's hear these people out." The mayor folded his arms, leaned against the high back of Beamabeth's chair, and subjected Mosca, Clent, and Saracen to a withering glare. Marlebourne had over six feet of mayorness at his disposal and apparently knew how to use it to the best effect.
Fly Trap by Frances Hardinge, © 2011 HarperCollins Publishers, all rights reserved.
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