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 halted before the door, wondering what to do. It was two months since Samuel had banished her permanently from his house after she'd questioned one of his more foolish interpretations of a biblical text, and the servants would refuse to admit her on that basis alone, with or without orders to keep all visitors away. Preferring guile over force, she moved three houses down. "Doctor Spencer has sent me with a delivery of medicine for Mister Morecott's son," she told the footman who answered her knock. "My instructions are to go to the rear of the building and place it in the hands of a servant so that the little master isn't disturbed by noise. Can you tell me how to find the entrance to the kitchen quarters?"

He pointed to an alleyway some fifty yards farther on. "Walk to the cross path, turn left and count off six doors," he said. "Give the medicine to the cook. She's the only one with the courage to hand it to Mistress Morecott of her own accord. The rest are too afeared of their master to act without his instruction."

Jayne produced a shy smile. "Would it be possible for you to accompany me, sir? I'm sure the cook will answer more willingly to you than a stranger. Doctor Spencer was most insistent that the child start his medicine this morning. He would have come himself were it not for the executions."

The footman eyed her for a moment, perhaps trying to assess how truthful she was being, and then, with an abrupt nod, closed the door behind him and led her towards the alleyway. Mention of the executions had loosened his tongue, and he regaled Jayne with complaints that service to another meant he was unable to attend. How was this fair, he asked, when high days and holidays were so few that all men should be allowed to enjoy them?

Jayne was relieved that he didn't expect anything more than sympathetic noises by way of answer and that his impatient steps brought them quickly to the house they wanted. He knocked loudly, calling out his name, and the door cracked open a couple of feet to reveal a timorous maid holding a finger to her lips. With the shutters at the window closed, the entire kitchen was in darkness, although light from the doorway reflected off the white aprons and bonnets of other women in the room. All were whispering "shush" as if their lives depended on it.

With a murmured thank you to the footman, Jayne stepped around him and pushed her way inside before the maid could close the door again. "Don't be alarmed," she said, picking out faces in the gloom. "Some of you know me from previous visits. I am Jayne Swift, cousin to your mistress, and have come at her request. Only she and I will be blamed for my presence here."

"The master banned you, ma'am."

"He did indeed," said Jayne, shooing the barely seen women aside and moving firmly towards the door that led from the kitchen to the rest of the house. "And when he returns, you may tell him I used deceit to gain entry."

"Have you come to help little Isaac, mistress?" asked another voice.

"I have."

"Then you'll need our prayers, ma'am."

Jayne opened the door to the corridor. "I'd rather have your assistance than your prayers," she answered. "Will one of you show me to Isaac's chamber?"

It seemed not. The request was met with silence, as if the household felt they'd already transgressed enough.

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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