The Silver Touch

The Silver Touch by Rosalind Laker Read Free Book Online

Book: The Silver Touch by Rosalind Laker Read Free Book Online
Authors: Rosalind Laker
anyone else in similar circumstances.’
    His eyes dwelt on her. ‘I’m pleased to hear you say that.’
    Briefly she touched his hand where it rested on the table. ‘I’ll give you a sign when I can get away. Then go round to the kitchen yard and wait for me there. We can have a little while together.’
    She left him again to return to her duties. As he made the ale last, savouring the full-bodied flavour, he thought over what she had said. His quiet temperament was disturbed by disruptions and still more so by lawlessness and violence. He had no stomach for bear-baiting, cockfights or similar pastimes when animals were set upon each other for the pleasure of spectators. He always avoided the huge crowds that gathered for a hanging at Newgate prison, once having been enough for him when he had been trapped by pressure in the street and unable to get past until the event was over. Yet none could call him weak-kneed, for like most people slow to anger, he had a fierce temper when it was aroused, and if he made a stand on a principle, nothing could shake him from it.
    There was no doubt that his preference for a peaceful existence came from his beginnings. He could scarcely remember his parents and his childhood had been spent in country pursuits with his grandfather, fishing and rambling and riding, the two of them always together. Books had been another part of that secluded existence, a rich world within that delapidated old house, servantless and dusty, where they had eaten their meals at a long kitchen table, watched by waiting dogs and with hens pecking about their feet. No boy ever had a happier existence, but being reared by an old man had made him staid for his years and old before his time.
    When, following in his father’s footsteps, he had gone to Westminster School, life had been a nightmare until he had floored a few bullies with his fists and asserted himself. As for his apprenticeship, he saw it in terms of the last gold coins taken from a box to pay for his seven years’ indenture, bringing poverty right over the threshold into that Staffordshire house where one old man now lived alone with the last of the dogs and horses gone from the stables. To have done less than his best in his training would have been to betray everything from his past, which was also why his apprenticeship had been singularly free of the reckless escapades usually indulged in by young men bound by restraining circumstances. His plan to slip back into the Harwood building by way of the grid was new to him and full of risk, a measure of how much it had meant to him to see Hester again.
    She came to collect the emptied tankard as a sign that she was ready to meet him, although the taproom seemed no less busy. He went out into the night to follow the Strand to a side street that would give access to the rear of the tavern. Not possessing a sword, he walked with fists balled in readiness as he entered the darkness of the alleyway, not knowing who might be hidden in the blackest shadows. A few rats scuttled out of his path, making him start, but he met nothing else.
    Hinges screeched as he entered the Heathcock’s kitchen yard. Rectangles of golden light, thrown down by the tavern windows, lay across the cobbles. He passed swiftly through them and sat down on the steps where he had first seen Hester at her sketching. Almost at once she came from the door leading to the flight and dropped down on to the step beside him, smiling into his face.
    ‘I thought it wasn’t fair to keep you too late. One of the other girls is covering for me until I get back. If you like I’ll see you tomorrow instead. I can be free on a Sunday afternoon.’
    ‘Much as I should like it, I’m afraid that’s not possible.’ He was uncomfortably aware of the Harwood Sunday dinner looming on the morrow. ‘Would next Sunday do instead?’
    She had looked down at her hands in her lap at the first shake of his head at her suggestion, as if to hide any

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