Unraveled (Turner 3) - Page 2

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Nobody said anything, so she kept her eyes on the floor. How many people had stood here like this, hoping for the best? A bead of sweat collected on her forehead. After a few moments—seconds really, although it felt an age—she dared to lift her eyes.

Lord Justice watched her, unblinking, one hand on his chin. If there’d been a hint of softness in his manner toward Widdy, it had evaporated at her appearance. Next to him, his colleague frowned in puzzlement.

It would be a mistake to let the stretching silence drive her to speak. That way lay babbling, and too much revelation altogether. She dropped her chin and contemplated the floor instead.

Lord Justice spoke first. “You saw the entire thing.” It wasn’t quite a question, the way he said it. Still, she bobbed her head in response.

Beside her, the clerk shuffled his feet. “Should she be sworn in?”

Lord Justice gave a negative wave of his hand. “What is your name?”

“Whitaker,” Miranda said. “Miss Daisy Whitaker.”

Her day-gown was serviceable muslin, one that a countrified girl might wear. He’d already taken note of her accent. He glanced to either side of her, and then scanned the room before raising one eyebrow.

“You are here unaccompanied,” he commented.

“My father is a farmer. A gentleman farmer. He’s here for market, and brought me along to town. It’s my first time.” Miranda ducked her head. “I didn’t think it was wrong to come. Was it?” She glanced up once more through darkened lashes, and willed him to see a headstrong girl from Somerset. Someone not used to being chaperoned at all times. Someone who might walk through fields by herself at home. She wanted him to see a foolish chit, so innocent that she believed going out alone in the city was no different than traipsing down a dusty lane.

“I had to come,” she added softly. “He was just a child, Your Worship.”

Lord Justice examined her a minute longer—as if she were a mouse, and he the owl about to swoop down and gobble her whole. “Where do you and your father stay?”

“The Lamb Inn.”

His gaze cut away from her. “Mr. Pathington, in what manner did Master Widdy remove the loaf of bread from your premises?”

The baker who’d made the accusation jerked his head up. “I—well—that is to say, I did not precisely see him take it. But there was no one else about. I saw him; I turned away for the barest of instants. I turned back, and the loaf was gone. Who else could it have been?”

Lord Justice tapped his fingers against the bench. “Precisely how bare was your instant?”

“Pardon?”

“Estimate how long you stood with your back turned. What were you doing?”

“Counting change for a half-crown, Your Worship.”

Magistrate Turner looked up and away, as if in calculation. “As much as a half-minute, then. You want me to punish this boy, who had no bread on him when he was apprehended, because you did not watch your storefront?”

Pathington flushed red. “Well, Your Worship, I wouldn’t put it precisely like that—”

Lord Justice turned to face the other magistrates. “In my opinion, the charges have not been proven. Gentlemen?”

“Here now,” the mayor said, “Miss…uh, the miss over here has not delivered her testimony.”

Turner’s lips compressed. “No,” he said shortly. “But there is no need to hear it, as it is duplicative of what we can determine by reason. The lady—” he glanced sharply at Miranda “—need not expose herself.”

“You cannot be serious, Turner. Maybe the boy didn’t steal this particular loaf of bread,” the mayor said. “But surely he is guilty of something. Skulking about bakeries, carrying billy-dos. We can’t just let him go.”

Lord Justice turned to the mayor. Miranda had that sensation once again—that he could have been on a stage, so clever was his timing.

“How curious,” he finally offered. “Here I thought our duty was to decide if the charges before us could be proven. I recall the indictment most particularly, and yet I don’t remember seeing this boy charged with the illegal carrying of letters.”

The mayor flushed and looked away. “Suit yourself, Turner. If you insist on letting the rabble run free, I suppose I can’t stop you.”

A small smile touched Lord Justice’s lips. “You heard the man. Master Widdy, you are free to go.”

Miranda held her shoulders high, not daring to gasp. Still, relief flooded through her. Thank God. He’d not seen through her. This time, she’d scarcely had to talk with him. She’d survived. She felt as if she’d landed that double backflip atop a moving horse, and she could not keep from grinning.

But just as the babble in the room was beginning to grow, Lord Justice held up one hand.

“Miss…” He paused. “Whitaker, you said?” His lip curled.

Miranda’s apprehension returned in full force. “Yes, Your Worship?”

“The Lamb Inn is through the market. A woman shouldn’t walk down those mobbed streets unaccompanied. There are cutpurses loose. And worse.”

“If I leave now, Your Worship, I’ll be back before my father returns.”

He drummed his fingers against the oak bench. “I’ll see you to your lodgings, if you’ll wait a few minutes in the anteroom.”

Oh God. What a ghastly proposition. “Your Worship. I sh-shouldn’t take you from your duties.”

He sighed. “We are in complete accord on that point. Nevertheless.”

Before she had a chance to argue, he signaled and the clerk struck the gavel. The waiting crowd rose to its feet, and the magistrates stood as well. Miranda wanted to run. She wanted to shriek. But she didn’t dare draw attention to herself—not here, not with constables and magistrates both close by.

The clerk hopped to his feet and ran to open the rear door. The other judges turned and marched out of the room, one in front of the other.

Turner was the last of the three to leave, his black robe swirling about him as if he were some kind of dark angel. But the clerk held the door open even after Lord Justice passed through, as if waiting for one last judge. And sure enough, from under the bench, a dog pushed to its feet and headed for the door. Miranda hadn’t seen it before; it must have lain quietly on the floor for the duration of the session.

The animal, a bit higher than her knee, was a mass of gray-and-white fur. It followed on Turner’s heels, as stately and ageless as its master. It paused when it reached the doorway, and looked back. She couldn’t even see its eyes through all that fur. Still, it felt as if the creature were marking Miranda, ordering her to wait until Lord Justice could see to her. She shivered, once, and the creature turned away.

Just her imagination.

And just her luck that His Worship had chosen today to show a gallant streak. She could not let him accompany her. There was no gentleman farmer, no comfortable inn. There was nothing but her cold garret waiting, and if he knew that the shining blond ringlets on her head were a wig, and her gown a costume…

Miranda swallowed. She didn’t need justice. She needed to get out of the room—and fast.

Chapter Two

THERE WERE TIMES WHEN Smite Turner disliked his Christian name. And then there were times when it felt all too appropriate. Today, it seemed, was one of the latter occasions. As soon as the door shut on the hearing room, he sprang into action. Step one was to divest himself of his robe; that was accomplished in one fluid motion. After all, if his suspicions were correct—and they usually were—he had only seconds to act. He threw the dark, heavy wool in a careless heap to the side, and spun around.

His coat wasn’t on his desk where he’d left it.

“Palter,” he swore, “What have you done with my greatcoat? I’ve got to get out of here now.”


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