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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Jayne followed William's instruction to walk in his shadow and hold firmly to the strap of her satchel, which he wore across his shoulder. He was some thirty years of age, strongly built and of a good height, and seemed to have little trouble forging a path between the oncoming crowd and the houses which fronted the road. Several times, he nodded to individual passersby and received an answering nod in return, but none questioned his purpose in taking the opposite direction to them. When they reached High East Street, he turned to the left instead of attempting to push through the press of people to their right and drew Jayne into an alcove formed by the narrow projecting porchway of a bakery. The doors were closed, but there was enough room for them both to shelter from the teeming mass that thronged the road.

"They're waiting for the priests to be brought from the jail," he murmured. "It won't be long before the cart appears, so I suggest we do the same. The crowd will follow or disperse once they've hurled their insults."

"I'm sorry to have put you to this trouble, William. I should have accepted your mistress's invitation to remain with her for an hour."

"Why didn't you?"

Jayne gave a wry smile. "I found her a little alarming. She assumed I knew who she was, but I don't."

"Lady Alice Stickland, widow of Sir Francis Stickland. She took up residence in Dorchester when her son inherited his father's estates and title two years ago. Young Sir Francis is even less tolerant of her waywardness than her husband was."

Jayne longed to ask what form the waywardness took but didn't choose to show the same ill-mannered curiosity as his mistress. "Is her brother as tolerant?"

"When he's in Dorset. He wouldn't embrace her so readily if she lived in London."

"Why not?"

The question seemed to amuse him. "He'd lose the King's patronage if he acknowledged a sister as outspoken as Lady Alice. She makes no secret of her support for Parliament."

Jayne kept her voice low. "Yet she spoke critically of Samuel Morecott, and there's no more ardent supporter of Parliament than he."

"It's the only belief they have in common. Nothing else about him attracts her." He looked above the heads of the people in front of them. "The priests approach. You should turn away if you don't wish to see their anguish."

Jayne questioned afterwards if it was stubbornness that made her reject his advice. He was overfamiliar for a servant, towards both his mistress and herself, and she was inclined to recite her own lineage in order to put him in his place; but the opportunity never arose, for her voice would have been drowned by the raucous shouts of the crowd. There was no slur too bad to cast at the thin, frail-looking men who stood with their hands tied in front of them in the back of a horse-drawn cart. Children chanted "papist pigs" and flung cow dung; adults favored "spies," "traitors," or "Devil's spawn" and stepped forward to launch mouthfuls of spittle.

One of the priests, the younger, was so frightened he was visibly shaking, and the other took his tethered hands in his own to give him strength. Jayne guessed the older to be close to sixty and wondered if it was age or faith that was allowing him to face his execution so calmly. She saw his mouth move and fancied he was urging his friend to trust in God's love and mercy, but if so, his words fell on deaf ears. The younger man shook his head and gave way to sobbing.

William spoke into her ear. "He'll recant at the foot of the gallows. The Sheriff must hope Hugh Green remains steadfast or the crowd will become ungovernable."

"Is that the name of the older priest?"

"It is. He was confessor to Lady Arundell before his arrest. She wrote to my mistress, begging her to go to the prison and assure Father Green of her continued prayers and devotion, because she wasn't strong enough to make the journey herself. Lady Alice visited him several times during the months he was held."

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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