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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"I'm saving time, William. My young friend is in a hurry to reach High East Street, and I believe she'll have a better chance from this exit than from the front."

"You wish me to accompany her, milady?"

"We will both accompany her. The house she seeks is Samuel Morecott's, and I doubt she'll gain entry without assistance, since I'm told all visitors are refused." She turned to the oldest of the maids, a woman of some fifty years. "Mistress Swift needs to cover her gown, Molly. Will you fetch her a cloak and one for me also? Perhaps a plain bonnet as well? The one she's wearing has far too much lace and does little to hide her curls."

As the maid hurried away, the footman pulled on a plain dark jacket and brushed imaginary dust from a pointed hat. "I would prefer you to remain here, milady," he said with unusual firmness. "The Sheriff fears rioting if anything goes amiss with the executions, and I can't be responsible for two if that happens. My duty is to you, which means Mistress Swift will have to fend for herself. Do you wish to put her in such danger?"

"You're a tiresome person, William."

His eyes creased in an affectionate smile. "There's a powerful crowd out there, milady. You'll not keep your feet if they push against us. Humor me and stay inside."

She sighed. "I humor you every day, even though your single aim in life is to spoil my fun. My desire is to observe, not engage."

"You'll not observe anything if you fall, milady. Does the window at the front not serve the purpose?" He gestured behind him. "We see faces well enough through this one."

"But do you feel what they feel, William?"

"Thankfully not, milady, since I don't have their thirst for Catholic blood. The problem will be if the priests recant. There'll be no holding the mob if they're cheated out of their pleasure."

The maid reappeared with cloaks and a bonnet. "May I help you dress, milady?"

"Not this time, Molly. William refuses to take me."

The woman gave the footman an approving nod. "As he should, milady. Your leg hasn't mended from the last time you were caught in a crowd. To risk such a press again would be madness." She turned to Jayne. "If you give your bag to William, ma'am, I can better ensure your head and gown are properly covered."

Jayne did as she was bidden, since she doubted she'd have better luck opposing the stern-faced maid than the mistress. She handed her satchel to the footman before allowing Molly to thrust her smoky-brown curls beneath a second bonnet and use pins to stitch her into a brown woolen cloak. Once properly covered, she turned with a grateful smile to her rescuer.

"You've been most kind, ma'am. Please remember me to your brother."

The woman nodded. "I will," she said. "If what he tells me about you is true, you're better qualified to help Ruth's son than the ignorant quacksalver Samuel has been employing."

"May I ask which physician it is, ma'am?"

"Robert Spencer. Do you know him?"

"Only by name and reputation. I'm told his cure for gout is to plunge the foot into near-boiling water while instructing the sufferer to drink vinegar."

The matriarch's eyes lit with amusement, but she delivered a warning nonetheless. "Even so, he's an elder of Samuel's church and highly respected in the town. Ruth must have summoned you without Samuel's knowledge, for I cannot imagine a single circumstance where he would permit another physician to question Robert Spencer's ability. Samuel's too ambitious to improve his status to make enemies unnecessarily."

Jayne thought this a perceptive description of Samuel, who had distanced himself from his family rather than admit his humble origins. "Ruth says their son is dying. Surely any father would seek a second opinion in those circumstances?"

"You would hope so."

"But not Samuel?"

"I fear not." The matriarch urged Jayne towards the door. "With William's help, you've a better chance of forcing your way inside. I wish you luck in saving the little boy's life, but know that Samuel will give the plaudits to Robert Spencer if you do. He guards his future prospects too carefully to give credit to a woman."

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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