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Excerpt from The Swift and the Harrier by Minette Walters, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Swift and the Harrier

by Minette Walters

The Swift and the Harrier by Minette Walters X
The Swift and the Harrier by Minette Walters
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    Jul 2022, 500 pages

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"John Bankes of Corfe."

Jayne made a play of lifting her heavy satchel from across her shoulders to give herself an excuse to lower her head and avoid the other woman's all-too-penetrating gaze. She could hardly accuse an elderly matriarch of lying, but her disbelieving expression would have made her skepticism clear. Sir John was the King's Chief Justice, owner of Corfe Castle, and a Royalist to his core. His booming voice could often be heard condemning Parliament for inciting discontent, and he pledged his castle and his household to the King's cause as soon as war became inevitable. How could he be brother to this pale Puritan who looked as if strong meat and intoxicating liquor never touched her lips?

The reason for Sir John's gout had been obvious in his huge girth and the broken veins in his bulbous nose and fat cheeks, and he hadn't taken kindly to Jayne's removal of the tankard of brandy that he hugged against his chest. As for praise, there had been none. Sir John had had only insults for Jayne throughout the time she'd ministered to him. When she wasn't an "imperious despot" for forcing him to drink water in "hideous" quantities and a "vile torturer" for holding his throbbing foot in a bucket of costly imported ice, she was a "two-faced shrew" for teaching his wife to prolong his persecution. Every other physician bled him with leeches. Where were hers? And how dare his friend Richard Theale send a woman in his place?

The first lesson Richard had taught Jayne when she began her studies with him was never to betray a patient's confidence. If she couldn't earn a reputation as a physician through the success of her healing methods, she'd not do so by naming her clients and their ailments. Leave that to the quacks, he'd said. Men of little ability had no other way to attract business than by listing which members of the gentry they'd tended.

"Forgive me, ma'am, but I doubt your brother would want you discussing him with a stranger. I know mine would not." To divert the woman's attention, she gestured towards the portrait of a handsome man, hanging on the wall behind the chairs. "Is that your husband?"

The matriarch's mouth twitched. "My husband had a cast in his eye and would never allow me to paint him. That's John when he was a struggling young lawyer. He was quite beautiful before the King's patronage turned him rubicund and fleshy. I've caught his image several times during his life."

Jayne could see the likeness now that it was pointed out. The shape of the face might have changed but not the eyes. "You're a fine artist, ma'am."

"Some say so."

Jayne moved closer and made out a signature in the bottom right-hand corner of the painting. It was a name of some renown, Gilbert Jackson, and she wondered if the woman had lied about being the artist or had forged the signature to add spurious value to her work. Either way, Jayne decided she'd rather take her chances on the street than remain in this house. Neither solitude nor religious fervor was healthy, and it was a strange lunacy that adopted the manner and dress of Puritanism while claiming close connections with artists and prominent Royalists.

She reached for her bag again. "You must forgive me, ma'am, but I truly must leave. My cousin begged me to make haste and I am pledged to honor her wish."

The matriarch nodded. "No doubt requesting that you come during the executions when she knew Samuel would be away?" When Jayne made no answer, she went on: "It won't help you. Ruth will have no more authority to admit you in her husband's absence than when he's there, so you must be forceful in demanding entry." She pushed herself to her feet, wincing again at the effort. "Allow me and my footman to escort you. Three will make better progress than one, and William has the strength to push against the door if the need arises."

There was no gainsaying her. She led Jayne through an interlocking room, magnificently furnished and with several more portraits on the walls, and thence down a corridor to the kitchen. Several startled maids dropped deep curtsies, and a footman rose from his seat at a table and bent his neck in a bow. "You should have rung, milady."

From The Swift and the Harrier by Minette Walters. Used with the permission of the publisher, Blackstone Publishing. Copyright ©2022 by Minette Walters.

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