Little droplets of rain began misting down. Beside her, he swept up his umbrella and pushed it open.
“You mean, why am I not called Lord Andrew or Lord John, like a proper duke’s son?”
“Simple. I’m not named John.” He spared her another glance. “You’d better walk closer. No point in your getting wet.”
She stepped toward him.
“No, all the way,” he said. “If you keep your distance, I’m liable to poke your eye out with the ribs.”
She stepped under his umbrella. No doubt it was her imagination, but it was warmer close to him. He smelled like clean, uncomplicated soap—just soap, no fussy perfumes or scents. The rain intensified, drumming into the fabric above.
“‘It’s efficient to feed the cats,’” she said, mimicking his gruff tone. “‘If you don’t share my umbrella, I might accidentally blind you.’ I believe you’re speaking English, Turner, but I’m not sure you’re doing a good job of it. It makes a girl wonder what you meant by, ‘Here, let me take you to gaol.’”
“I always mean precisely what I say, even if I don’t say precisely what I mean.”
She was trying to work that one out, when he continued.
“As for the other, I’m not a duke’s son, which is the normal method of acquiring a courtesy title. My brother is a duke, but he took the title from a distant relation. I am just Mr. Turner.”
They’d reached the Prince Street Bridge. He stopped at the edge of the water and rubbed his cheek.
From here, they could see the city’s docks spread out before them. The harbor was full these days. A slim three-masted ship had been hoisted in the dry docks, and a crew scraped barnacles from her hull.
Beside her, Lord Justice—Turner—took a deep breath, and stared ahead.
“Are you much interested in ships?” she asked.
“I ask only because you’ve stopped to look. I took Robbie to the launch of the Great Britain last summer.” She frowned. “It’s still in dock. I don’t know why. It’s been months.”
He turned to where she was looking. “It won’t fit out the locks.” He started across the bridge, his pace even faster.
She jogged along beside him. “What do you mean?”
“It’s the largest steamship ever built from iron. While she was being built, Bristol made some alterations to the locks that regulate the level of the Floating Harbour. Now the locks are too small—or the ship is too big—and she’s trapped until the company can convince the harbormaster to widen the locks. It’s an incredible waste.”
They reached the other side of the river.
“Do you know much about ships, then? It’s the only thing Robbie will talk about. I’ve tried to speak with him about them, but mostly, when I make an attempt, he rolls his eyes and says, ‘That’s not a ship you’re pointing to; it’s a boat.’”
“I know what is happening hereabouts, generally, and that means I occasionally know a tidbit about ships. I have a fair knowledge of watercraft.” He cast her another glance. “I’m unlikely to board one, if that’s what you’re asking, and so all my understanding is theoretical.”
They walked on in silence for a while, past dying weeds dripping rainwater along the footpath.
“So,” Miranda finally said, “if you were to have a courtesy title, what would it be? Lord Andrew? Lord Robert?”
The street they were on was terribly muddy. The rain had only intensified, coming down in heavy sheets, but she was safe under his umbrella. He glanced sidelong at her. His eyes were blue—brighter than the stone-gray of the sky. It was only a few moments that he contemplated her, but still, she dropped her eyes in confusion. It didn’t help; her gaze fixed on his hands, on long fingers encased in dark gloves. One of those fingers reached out and she held as still as she could, waiting…
But he only took her elbow and conducted her to the other side of the road.
“I don’t like my Christian name,” he said as they crossed to the other side. “I thank my lucky stars that I don’t have to contend with it on a regular basis.”
“It can’t be that awful.”
The path they were on dipped closer to the Avon. The water rushed through the channel, swirling in greenish-white rapids.
“Yes, it can.” He took her elbow and guided her to the inside of the path. The gesture seemed almost sweet—as if she were a lady, and he a gentleman, protecting her from being splashed by puddles. He didn’t even seem to have noticed that he’d done it.
“I knew a man named Defatigus once,” she supplied. “He took the stage name of Robert Johns. He wasn’t a pleasant fellow. Your name can’t be much worse. I doubt you have any reason to mope about it.”
He sighed. “You’re indefatigable, did you know that? It’s Smite.”
“Smite? Your father named you Smite?”
“No. My mother named me. Also, she didn’t name me ‘Smite.’ That’s a short version of my real name, which is, ‘The Lord said in his heart, I will not again curse the ground any more for man’s sake; for the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth; neither will I again smite any more every living thing, as I have done.’”
She stared at him.
“It’s a verse from the Bible. Genesis. After Noah’s flood, when God is promising that he’ll never again punish all humankind by drowning them.” He huffed, and waved a hand at her. “Stop looking at me that way. My mother wasn’t well, and my father wasn’t present. I trust you won’t spread that about.”
“Your mother named you after the rainbow?”
He winced. Around the corner, she could see the cold stones of New Gaol rising up.
“Oh, that’s sweet. It makes me think of doves and olive branches and peace. I can’t see why you don’t use the name.”
“For the love of all that is holy.” His words would have been harsh, but his cheek twitched, ruining the delivery.
“I suspect,” Miranda said, “that it has been a long time since anybody dared tease you.”
He didn’t deny it. He didn’t tell her to stop. A few more steps. They reached the dripping front gate of the gaol. He stopped just outside the entrance. “Miranda Darling,” he said in repressive tones that would brook no argument.
So why was it that she heard “Miranda, darling,” instead? Maybe he paused for emphasis. Maybe he paused to indicate a comma. Never had one little punctuation mark mattered so much.
; “Yes?” she answered breathlessly.
“We’re looking for the records of George Patten, due to be released three days before. He was committed the twelfth of August. Yes?”
Ah. That had definitely not been a comma, then. “I told you all that?”
“No. You mentioned his name was George Patten. The rest I determined from our records, and interpolated as to the release date.”
She swallowed. The conversation they’d just shared had verged on the intimate—she had thought. But perhaps he’d not felt the same.
He closed his umbrella. A shower of droplets spun out from it, and the warm cocoon of heat that had enveloped her disappeared. No sun was visible, and the rain had robbed the sky of most of the light. He rapped once on the wooden door, turning from her. The door swung open; he leaned forward and murmured something to the man behind it.
The fellow narrowed his eyes, casting Miranda a sullen glower. Still, he stepped aside and let them through. The heavy door closed behind them. It had seemed dark outside, with the rain clouds hiding the sun. But when the door shut, all the light seemed to vanish. Only a trickle of fitful illumination fell from the gaoler’s lamp—not enough to light the way even ten feet in the damp corridor where they stood.
“Is there not more light than this?” Turner asked.
“No.” The gaoler adjusted the hood on his lamp to demonstrate.
Likely he couldn’t see much. But no doubt he could smell. The gaol smelled of old things—sour sweat, years of mold that had never been scrubbed away, buckets of waste left to sit for weeks. It made her faintly ill.
Turner’s nose twitched, but he showed no other sign of distress.
“Well?” he said. “Let’s get on with it.”
The records were in a dank room off the main hall. They were brought there by one of the gaolers, who stood in the corner. Turner ignored the man and took a dingy book from a shelf. “This,” he said to Miranda, “is the record of arrivals and departures. If anything happened to your friend, it’ll be listed here.”