The Life and Death of Linnette Fortescue

We commence our narrative in the year 1847 Anno Domini, at Fortescue Hall, the residence of Baron Hugo Fortescue, a man known throughout England as one of the most extraordinary men living. The Fortescues had lived at Fortescue Hall, on the bleak moors of Lancashire, since the days of the Conqueror, and had never shown the least desire to get a more comfortable place nearer to London. They had always been proud and eccentric and this Hugo was the most proud and eccentric of the lot. He had been in the Arctic, he had been up the Amazon, he had made mad bets and won them, he had shot things that few English people had even seen, and it was said that he had shot men, too, and broken women's hearts. But at the moment there were no women, and Baron Fortescue, now forty, with a few fine silver strands showing in his black hair but as strong and energetic as ever, was standing alone at the window waiting for a carriage to come up to the gates. The carriage contained guests that Baron Fortescue was expecting for the evening: Lord and Lady Maynarde, of a strange noble house—some said descended from Vikings, not the Conqueror's barons at all—who lived at the oddly named Broken Fell in Cumberland.

A carriage clattered up to the gate, drawn by a fine pair of bays. Baron Fortescue left the window and descended to the front hall. He opened the door himself. There were maids, (two, their names were Sarah and Elizabeth and neither of them would have come to work in this out-of-the-way place if there had been any other places going) but when he was there to open the door, he didn't see why he shouldn't do it. The carriage was on the drive and a young man was handing a lady down from the carriage. She was the most beautiful woman Baron Fortescue had ever seen.

He went out into the drive and greeted them courteously, but as he bowed over Lady Maynarde's hand he looked up at her and saw her turn white. And he knew that she was thinking exactly what he was. The whole evening he fought to take his eyes off her. Not because he had ever hesitated about sleeping with another man's wife, but because even he would rather not do it when the lady and her husband were guests under his roof, nor let her husband know his feelings before he had even begun the affair. But he found it hard to take his eyes off her. She had soft dark hair and deep, liquid blue eyes. He knew, as everybody in Britain knew, her whole life history. Her first name was Linet—or Linnet or Lynet, for sadly her family were illiterate. She was twenty-five years old, and the daughter of a peasant family on the estate adjoining her husband's. He had taken her out of the gutter to marry her. That had been four years ago and they had loved each other madly ever since. But, it seemed, not any more. There was no love in Lady Maynarde's eyes when he looked at her husband now. It was all for Baron Fortescue.

Well, the night that the Maynardes actually spent under Baron Fortescue's roof passed without reproach. But two days later, Lady Maynarde received a letter for her at Broken Fell (she had learnt to read quite well since her marriage). It was addressed "To Lady Maynarde, for her personal perusal only".

And this is what it said: "Angel. Come to see me tomorrow evening at Fortescue Hall. I'll be waiting for you. Hugo".

No explanation. No pleas. No apologies. Lady Maynarde read the letter carefully and then announced her husband that she was going up to London tomorrow for a new dress, and would not be back until the following afternoon. She assured her husband that he need not accompany her, it would only bore him.

So, the following evening, Lady Maynarde arrived at Fortescue Hall. And Baron Fortescue swung her down from the carriage and kissed her. What follows can be guessed at, suffice it to say that Lady Maynarde barely made it home the next day before nightfall.

And Lady Maynarde needed new dresses with increasing frequency over the months that followed. The Maynardes' footman alone knew the full truth, and both Lady Maynarde and Baron Fortescue paid handsome sums to silence him. Baron Fortescue's servants knew that they received holidays more frequently than usual, but they did not know who the lady visiting him was. They would not have spoken if they did. They would not complain about extra holidays.

And Lady Maynarde awaited each visit more and more eagerly, and tore herself away with a greater wrench each time. Never for a moment did she think of her husband between departing on a visit and returning from it, and the guilt that gnawed her when she was at home only made it easier for her to leave again. As for Baron Fortescue, he had surrendered his mind and soul. Every other woman—and there had been many—faded to a wil-o'-the-whisp. And so things continued, for many months. But no stolen paradise remains untroubled. And one morning Lady Maynarde could not get her corset onto its usual hole.

She flew straight to the arms of her beloved. Baron Fortescue dried her tears and swore eternal devotion to her, all the while frantically thinking out what to do. For never had he been so directly and unavoidably confronted with the fruits of his sin. In the end he did the only thing he could think of to do. He told Lady Fortescue to go home and tell her husband she was expecting a baby. And she would raise it as her husband's child. And so that is what she did. Trembling, torn by an irrational desperation not to raise her unborn child on a lie, that is what she did. But Lord Maynarde was no fool, and he had grown suspicious.

His wife went to London for dresses continually, but he had never seen any new dresses on her. Where did she go, then? And now she was expecting a child. It would have taken a very stupid man indeed not to have put two and two together.

One day, when Lady Maynarde was bathing, he opened the drawers in her bureau and found a neat little pile of letters from Baron Fortescue. And he flew into a rage, but a silent, cold rage. He confronted her after dinner, as they sat in the drawing room. Totally unprepared, Lady Maynarde scrambled for denials. But he got the truth out of her in the end. His cold, ruthless determination dragged it from her. He ignored her tears, her pleading. He told her that he was going up to London that night, he would get a lawyer, and he would divorce her. Then he locked her in their room at the top of the house and went for his carriage. Lady Maynarde collapsed on the bed, numb with shock and shame. She had been a respectable lady of society for four years and now she would be left lower than she had ever been before. The lowest of the low. An adulterous, divorced mother of an illegitimate child. And she knew that anything, anything at all, was a better fate than that. So she left a note for her husband saying that she was going to Liverpool, to catch a ship for the colonies, to be a rich man's mistress far away, and then she collected a few of her things and fled to Baron Fortescue.

She knew where her husband kept his pistol, and with it she shot the lock off the door. Then she made her her way to Fortescue Hall. Her husband had taken the carriage, so she hitched lifts in farm carts, and walked down country lanes in the night. She slept in a barn, and, the next evening, arrived at the gates of Fortescue Hall, dirty, exhausted and bedraggled, closer to the peasant girl she was by birth than the elegant Lady Maynarde she was by marriage.

Baron Fortescue flung his arms around her and carried her, almost fainting, into the house. He hid her there, in the top room of Fortescue Hall, and he forbade the servants to go anywhere near it. And so they waited for the baby to be born.

That evening also, Lord Maynarde arrived home with his lawyer, he found his wife gone and a note on the dressing-table saying she had gone to the colonies. He believed the note at first, and searched for her all over Liverpool. He sent frantic letters to the Admiralty, telling them to stop all ships leaving Liverpool, all ships going to the colonies, all ships that might contain his wife... But the search went on for days, and there was no sign of Lady Maynarde and his thoughts began to turn to Baron Fortescue. And so, on a cold night in early 1848, two things happened.

The first was that, in a room at the top of Fortescue Hall, a child was born to Lady Maynarde, a little, wriggling, squalling baby girl. The second was that Lord Maynarde, with a face set like death, seized his favourite horse—one of those same bays that had taken him and Lady Maynarde to Fortescue Hall for the evening not very long ago—and rode like Hell itself to Fortescue Hall. For the suspicion that had dawned in his mind that morning had reached fever pitch throughout the day, until he could restrain himself no longer. He flung himself from his horse and tried to batter down the door. Baron Fortescue broke off from beaming over his child and started up like a hound after blood. He seized his sword and hurled himself down the stairs, wrenched open the front door and fell upon Lord Maynarde. Lord Maynarde, however, had drawn his own sword and they set at it without any preliminaries, fighting in grim silence, and they knew that neither of them would stop but that they fell down dead.

And Lady Maynarde dragged herself exhausted from the bed and staggered down the stairs, her child in her arms. And she saw Baron Fortescue fighting her husband in the hall and she remembered that he was her husband. And she fell in love with him all over again. But before she could speak or do anything Baron Fortescue darted in with his sword and rammed it clear through Lord Maynarde's body. He fell dead before he hit the floor. And Lady Maynarde collapsed in a dead faint on the stairs and the baby that had just watched her father kill her mother's husband yawned and fell asleep.

Baron Fortescue offered Lady Maynarde a home with him. He would hide her from the prying eyes of the law. But she would not stay with the man who had killed her husband. She wanted to go home, at once. So Baron Fortescue let her go.

Needless to say, the law stepped in quickly enough. They realised that it would be completely irresponsible to allow the child to stay with her mother, who was quite mad with grief and ended up—still titled and wealthy—in an institution. They decided that the child herself should be placed in an institution, and trained up to work as a servant or in a factory. But Baron Fortescue loathed all institutions, loathed the Government and the Church, and he simply rode into Smith's Charitable Foundation for Widows and Orphans and took his daughter away.

Smith's Charitable Foundation for Widows and Orphans had christened her Ann Smith, after Mr John Smith's late wife, but Baron Fortescue had her christened, at the little church on the moors which his family had used for generations, as Linnette Fortescue, after one of the spellings of her mother's name, and after himself. Any theological questions posed by this process he ignored. Baron Fortescue was not a Church believer, and he christened his daughter mainly out of pride.

Baron Fortescue's mother was a Hathaway, from Hampshire. They had not been of the baronial class, but they had been well-to-do gentlemen farmers. When Lucy Hathaway came up to Lancashire to marry John Fortescue, she took her childhood nurse with her. It was the granddaughter of this nurse, who lived in a cottage in Hampshire, whom Baron Fortescue turned to now. He placed Linnette with her, and told her to raise her as her daughter, Linnette Jenkins, for this woman's name was Martha Jenkins. Martha Jenkins, as everyone in the village knew, had never married and—as a respectable Church member—was unwilling to pass Linnette off as her own, but she said she would raise Linnette as the child of distant relatives.

And Baron Fortescue dared the Church and the Government to do anything about his decision, and because Baron Fortescue was a rich man, and known for his violence, especially in dealing with the authorities, the Church and the Government let him be.

And Baron Fortescue went back to his baronial hall, for he had no wish to drag his daughter on his rambling lifestyle, knew it was fully impracticable to raise her in the Caribbean, which was where he wanted to go next, and was not used to altering his life plans to suit other people, even his daughter. And it would be as well to raise her, and the young man who would marry her, without the humiliating truth of her background. Besides, every time he looked at his daughter's blue, blue eyes it went through him with a fiercer agony than any sword he had ever felt. He knew he could not bear any more reminders of Lady Maynarde.

So Baron Fortescue returned to his life of adventuring in the Arctic and going out shooting wild animals—and men. But there were no more women for Baron Fortescue and the more sentimental members of society speculated that perhaps a certain mad, sad blue-eyed woman held thrall still over the Baron's heart. And for once, the more sentimental members of society were right—though the more cynical dismissed them as the more cynical always do.

And Linnette herself was raised in the cottage in Hampshire. As a small child, she had no suspicion of her true origins at all. Her distant relative—as she thought— whom she called Aunt, was a good woman who saw to it that she was clean and fed and behaved herself.

Her parents—as she thought—was a good, devout Hampshire peasant farmer, and his wife. Her father had died in an accident chopping wood, before Linnette was born, and her mother had died of scarlet fever soon afterwards. If her parents' distant relative lived in more comfortable circumstances than would be usual, it did not occur to her to question that. For Martha Jenkins and Linnette were comfortably enough off. While the other peasant families went hungry in the winter, Martha always had enough money to buy food and some firewood. The Baron, of course, sent Martha and Linnette money to live on, but Linnette did not know this. When Linnette was five, she went to a small charity school, and here she was taught by the vicar's sister, Miss Halliday, to read, and write a little and do sums. Linnette liked reading, for through books she learnt about the world beyond her village. Not through the school readers, very "appropriate" books containing moral messages, but novels. When Linnette was seven, she got hold of her first novel. For one of the older girls, Julia, had brought it to school and was reading it under the desk.

"What's that?" said Linnette.

"It's Sundered Hearts, it's very good. I got from the library up in town," said Julia, showing Linnette the cover, a brightly-coloured thing adorned with doves and roses.

"Can I have a look?"

Julia considered. She liked little Linnette, the whole school did, despite adult muttering about "godless doings" at the Jenkins place. "After I've finished," she said, "you can read it if you like".

"Thank you," said Linnette in ecstasy, and jumped on Julia's lap, and Julia gave her a boiled sweet and thought she was a sweet little baby.

The next day Julia had indeed finished Sundered Hearts. As promised, she lent it to Linnette. And Linnette was entranced. She was very much struck with the heroine, Gloria, and very impressed by Lord Fotherington-Smith who came to court her, and she wept tears of joy when the sundered hearts were united at the end. The problem was, she was weeping for joy while Miss Halliday was trying to elucidate the finer points of the two times table to her school.

"Now Linnette," said Miss Halliday, "what's that book you're reading?"

"Sundered Hearts, Miss," said Linnette.

"Oh, Linnette, not a novel," said Miss Halliday, who did not approve of novels. "Where did you get it?"

"The lending library, Miss."

"Very well," said Miss Halliday, thinking that she could hardly confiscate a lending library book. The lending library, which hadn't any too much money, might complain, and seeing as the Church gave a bit of money to the lending library, it would hardly be godly.

But she kept Linnette back after school and gave her a stern little lecture on the immorality of reading novels.

After that, Linnette kept her novels at the cottage. Martha did not mind novels, and even if she did, she would not be able to read them, for she had never been to school.

It was shortly after this that Linnette started to sing in the church choir. Martha was a very devout woman who went to the Church of England church in the village every Sunday, often twice, and she was delighted at the thought of her young charge standing in the choir stalls. It was soon clear that Linnette was a very good singer indeed. She had a sweet, clear voice that could sing the old hymns with a passionless purity that made even those who only went to church so their neighbours would not think them "godless" weep. Actually weep. The vicar, Mr Halliday was most impressed with his attendance.

"You have a very good voice," he told Linnette, "keep practising".

"Thank you, sir." She practiced hard, because she loved singing. She would sing to herself in her room and marvel at her voice going up and down. She did not know how exactly she made those notes, maybe it was magic. And Martha would stand in the other room of the cottage and think maybe there were fairies in the bedroom, and they hadn't all died out in her mother's time after all.

One winter's morning, when Linnette was twelve years old, Martha called Linnette in from the yard where she had been throwing some corn to the chickens. "Linnette," she said, "I'm afraid that you have to leave school now. We need the money and it's time you started earning more on the farm". And, she thought, if you don't people will talk. You've been going longer than most of the other children already.

"All right," said Linnette, who did not care a bit, for she did not particularly like school.

But Martha did care.

Firstly, she loved Linnette. She knew how bright she was. She wanted her to go to school and have opportunities.

Secondly, Martha Jenkins was a great believer in the aristocracy and had a deep respect for social position. The fact that she did not understand the finer points of "breeding" only increased her reverence. It stung her pride that she should have the charge of an aristocrat's daughter and raise her like a farm girl.

So Linnette set about the business of a farm girl, tending the vegetables, milking and sieving corn to the chickens. She did not have time to read novels now, but sometimes, when she was standing in the bottom field by the river, she would look away into the far distance, where the green slope of the fields met the sky, that marked the limit of the world she had ever known. And she thought how badly she would like to go out into the unknown, and see what she might find there.

Linnette continued to sing in the church choir and this, indeed, was the cause of a major change in Linnette's life.

The vicar, the Reverend Halliday, though a minor parish vicar, had read theology at Oxford, and a man he had met there, Reverend Matthews, had become rather important in the church, and in fact ran a very respectable choral school in Winchester.

About a year after Linnette left the village school, Rev. Matthews came to see Rev. Halliday, and as he came over Sunday and was a man of the Church, it was only natural that he should attend a service at Mr Halliday's church. He found it interesting enough, to watch Mr Halliday's flock in their busy provincial church, but when the choir began to sing he was mesmerised. There was one young singer, a young girl in the front row, and her voice, her voice! She sang the way he hoped the angels sang. At the end of the service he knew that girl had to come to his choir school. He found Mr Halliday after the service. "There was a girl in a blue dress in the front row," he said. "She was a very good singer. I was just wondering who she was."

"That's young Linnette Jenkins," said Mr Halliday, "she is a very good singer. Completely untaught, of course".

"She must be taught," said Rev. Matthews with conviction.

After Mr Halliday left, Rev. Matthews stood around for a moment, puzzled. He could not put his finger on exactly what puzzled him but there was something puzzling going on. Linnette... where had he heard that name before? Many places, probably, it was a common enough name. He went slowly round to the Jenkins' cottage. Linnette opened the door.

"Good morning," he said.

"Good morning," said Linnette, "do come in".

Rev. Matthews came in and Linnette shut the door. Rev. Matthews took a proper look at the child close to in good light. She had dark hair and blue eyes. Where had he seen that particular combination before... Many places probably, it was an unusual combination, but not that unusual.

"Erm.. I'd like to speak to you and your mother, please, if it would be convenient."

"Oh, she's not my mother, sir," said Linnette, "she's a distant relative".

"Your parents...?"

"They're dead, sir."

"I'm very sorry."

"Thank you sir."

What a very well-brought-up child, thought Rev. Matthews. Very polite.

"Then Mrs Jenkins..."

"Miss Jenkins, sir. Some relative of my parents. I call her aunt."

"Could I speak to her please?"

"Aunt," yelled Linnette, "aunt".

Martha came in from the yard. "What is it?" she said. "Oh, good morning sir."

"Good morning madam."

"You can sit down," said Martha. "Erm... there's only bread and a bit of beer but you can have that if you like".

Rev. Matthews sat down on one stool, Martha on the other, and when Linnette had nowhere to sit, Rev. Matthews got off his stool and sat on the rug instead.

"Thank you, sir," said Linnette.

"Pleasure, pleasure. Now, Miss Jenkins, Miss Jenkins, what I wanted to talk to you about was this. I heard you, Miss Jenkins, singing in the choir this morning."

"Oh, yes," said Martha, "she sings beautifully".

"She does indeed," said Rev. Matthews, "you do indeed, Miss. Mr Halliday told me, moreover, that you are completely untaught."

"Yes, sir," said Linnette.

"To my mind, this is a tragedy. Both for you yourself, Miss, and for music as an art. Now, I propose to teach you."

"What, now?" said Martha.

"Not exactly," said Rev. Matthews, "I run a small choir school in Winchester. I wish to take Linnette on as a pupil. I will teach her to sing and then we can see what can be done about her future."
There was silence.

"Oh, you don't have to decide at once," said Rev. Matthews. "I don't leave until Tuesday, and if you have not made your decision by then, simply write to me. I'll give you my address. I assume... you can write?"

"Linnette can," said Martha, "I've never picked it up, myself". She considered. "This school. How much will I have to pay?"

Rev. Matthews' system of fees was simple. If pupils could afford to pay, they paid as much as they could afford. If they could not afford to pay, they didn't. Mr Matthews had a horror of his school turning into a fashionable fee-paying conservatoire, rather than taking pupils based on talent and dedicating them to God and Music, an entity which almost shared God's pinnacle in Rev. Matthews' mind.

"Nothing," he said simply.

"Well," said Martha, "well, I guess it's just, do you want to go, Linnette?"

Linnette hesitated. She was not particularly attached to her home village, she had no particular friend there. There was Martha, of course. She was fond of Martha. Not obsessively fond, but she liked her the way most thirteen-year-old girls liked their distant relatives who had raised them. But she could always come back and see Martha, and she wanted to go out and see what lay beyond her village. She had always stood in the field and wondered what else there was in the world, and now she could find out. She could go to Winchester, maybe that would be the sort of place where the things which happened in her novels might happen in real life. And unless she went, she would never find out.

"Yes," she said, "thank you very much, I'd like to come a whole lot, sir". She hesitated, then said to Martha, "that is, if you would like me to".

Martha looked at the girl whom she had raised as her own for thirteen years. Wasn't this what she had wanted, really, for her little girl? To go out into the big world and have opportunities. Oh, the house would be such a lonely place without her. But she knew this was for the best.

"Bless you, child," she said, "I'd love you to".

"Well, that's settled," said Rev. Matthews. "When I leave on Tuesday, you can simply come back with me to Winchester if you like."

"She hasn't got any clothes," said Martha suddenly, "not nice clothes like you'd wear to choir school".

"I would be happy to purchase Miss Jenkins' clothes myself, madam, when she arrives in Winchester."

"Well," said Martha. "Thank you very much, sir, it's very good of you."

"Pleasure," said Rev. Matthews.

And he left, amid profuse thanks.

So on Tuesday, Rev. Matthews got back into his carriage and drove back to Winchester, and Linnette went with him, with a small leather bag containing everything she had—her few clothes had been left in the village, as there would be replacements in Winchester. Martha had given her a hat-pin, not a very fine hat-pin, in fact a very utilitarian hat-pin, but still a hat-pin, to "grace all the ladies at choir school".

On the journey, Linnette talked. She talked about what it was like in Winchester, and the Reverend told her about the cathedral, and she talked about her life, and asked the Reverend about his own life and topics ranging from God to fashion. Linnette was a sociable soul. Rev. Matthews, however, was not. He especially believed that young ladies ought to remain quiet on long journeys. However, Linnette's obvious gratitude compensated for a lot, and they arrived in Winchester with Rev. Matthews feeling rather fond of Linnette.

Linnette was most impressed by Winchester, the first town she had ever been in, and by the school, a small grey building that looked rather like a nunnery, but in fact was not. She spent that afternoon with Rev. Matthews' maid buying new dresses. Rev. Matthews had of course specified "nothing too fancy" but they were quite fancy enough for Linnette, much better than her little frocks.

When Linnette returned to school, Rev. Matthews was even more puzzled by her familiarity. There was something about her, especially now that she was very well-dressed, that he thought he had seen before.

Linnette's growing resemblance to her mother had not mattered much in her village, where nobody was well up in society gossip, and even those who had muttered about "godless doings" and been unable to get more specific. But Winchester was that dangerous place, where there were people sufficiently involved in society to have seen Lady Maynarde and remember what happened to her, but was nevertheless sufficiently isolated for the memory to stick around a while, rather than being swept away by new beauties and fresh scandals.

However, the pupils at The Reverend Matthews Choir School were discouraged from going about in town alone, and so for a while Linnette's only companions were the other school children—about fifty of them—and the staff—two maids, a cook, and Rev. Matthews himself. The pupils at the school were mostly girls. There were some boys, but none over the age of ten, because the Rev. Matthews had strong views on what he grimly described as The Baser Emotions.

That evening Linnette met the girls with whom she shared her room. There was Emmeline, the wealthy fifteen-year-old daughter of a London merchant whom the Rev. Matthews had taken on in a mad moment, and whom he feared would drag his school down to the level of a fashionable conservatoire. There was also Mary, who at sixteen was already so fiercely religious that it was almost impossible to have a conversation with her that did not revolve around theological questions. Linnette never became friends with either of these girls.

The reader has hitherto listened to a good deal of exposition, which, though necessary to understand the life of Linnette, does not make for the most thrilling reading. At this point things will become, if not exactly dramatic, at least a little more fast-paced.

The next day, Rev. Matthews summoned Linnette before school to assess what exactly she did and did not know about music. Linnette turned up in a white satin dress with a ruffled skirt, which she was already very fond of.

Rev. Matthews held up a score sheet, with part of Handel's The Messiah on it. "Now, Miss Jenkins," he said, "I would like you to please sing this tune".

"What tune?" said Linnette.

"The tune you see before you." He pressed the sheet into Linnette's hands.

"There isn't a tune, sir, I don't know what you mean."

"This," said Rev. Matthews, increasingly anxious, "is Handel's The Messiah".

"Oh," said Linnette. "I see, sir."
"I would like you, please, to sing it."

"I don't know how it goes, sir".

"This is a score-sheet. If you have been taught music, you will be able to sing this, in tune, simply from looking at that."

"I don't think I can do that, sir."
Rev. Matthews considered. "When you lived with your relative," he said, "and you sang in the choir, how did you learn to sing?".

"The vicar sang it to me, and I sang it back."

"Very well," said Rev. Matthews. He would clearly have to train this girl aurally, at least until she had picked up the conventional ideas of musical notation.

They did a few aural exercises, which went fairly well, but when it came to "do fa me" and the like, and the business of notes and octaves, Linnette was lost again.

At this point, for one of the few times in his life, Rev. Matthews lost his temper. Normally the only things that could rouse Rev. Matthews to anger were the many things he regarded as ungodly. He understood that it was his duty to remain patient with this untaught but clearly extremely able young lady. But he had had a trying night, with one of the girls having brought a bottle of whiskey into school and several of the pupils getting rather drunk.

"Now, listen," he said to Linnette, "I don't see how it's possible to teach you anything if you cannot get it through your head that the object you have just described as a "blot" is in fact the note C. It's hopeless!".

Linnette flung her head up and lashed out. "Well, I don't see how you expect me to know anything when I went to that crummy little church and you probably learned to sing in York Minster or something, so you can just shut up ranting!"

But Rev. Matthews was staring at Linnette in astonishment. "Do that again," he said quietly.

Linnette, puzzled, put her hand on her hip, flung her head up and began again: "Well, I don't see how you-".

"Yes, yes," said Rev. Matthews. He was remembering an incident long ago in Oxford, when he had been reading theology and on his first day there he had had shared a room with a young man, who on his first day at Oxford fought a duel with another student, killed him, and been rusticated. Rev. Matthews watched the duel, and he remembered the young man pulling out his sword, setting one hand on his hip, flinging his head up and saying "en garde" in a voice Rev. Matthews had never forgotten. He was never going to forget the only time he had seen a duel ending in a man being killed. And the boy who had so briefly gone to Oxford with him had been called Hugo Fortescue, and was now a Baron of quite a reputation.

And the black hair, the blue eyes, Lady Maynarde! She had been the toast of the nation for years and now she was dead or in Bedlam or something. And nobody ever had known what had happened to their child.

"Er... Miss Jenkins, that's right isn't it, Jenkins?"

"Yes, sir," said a mystified Linnette.

Now, to tell or not to tell? He could always say that she had reminded him of someone but now he didn't think she did, or maybe she was related to so-and-so. No. The Rev. Matthews, had his faults, but deliberately perpetuating lies was not one of them. He was a firm believer that faith was tested and character shown in adverse circumstances.

"I'm afraid," he said quietly, "I don't think that's true". He hesitated. "Who was your father?"

"His name was James Jenkins. He died before I was born."

"Your father is—I believe—Baron Hugo Fortescue. He had an affair, with a married woman, a Lady Maynarde, and you are their child."

Linnette hesitated. She felt faintly sick. But only faintly. She rallied herself. "So, my folks are posh?" she said, as casually as she could.

"Yes," said Rev. Matthews, "you do indeed have aristocratic connections".

The sick feeling in Linnette's stomach was replaced by curiosity. Her parents were mysterious, scandalous people whom she had never known.

"You know them?" she asked.

"Most people who move in society know a little of them, yes." Rev. Matthews was reassured. This was all a lot easier than he had expected it to be.

Linnette perched on the top of the piano. Rev. Matthews sat down in his chair. Linnette nodded slowly and considered.

"What were they like?"

"Your father is odd. He is a famous man, he has gone exploring in distant parts of the globe. He is also... outrageous. I saw him kill a man. I believe he was only seventeen at the time, and I don't believe he was his first."

"And my mother?"

"Was a beautiful woman. She went mad."

"I see. Tell me about it."

"It?"

"The affair."

So Rev. Matthews told Linnette those details of the affair which were known in society at that time.

Linnette listened, and when he had finished she said, "so they're dead now?".

"No," said Rev. Matthews, "your father is alive—in Arabia right now, I believe. I don't know whether your mother is dead or alive in an asylum somewhere".

Linnette nodded again. She understood that her father had basically abandoned her, but she didn't mind. She had Martha, didn't she? Besides, she could look after herself.

"So father took me out of an institution," she said, "I like that".

"Yes," said the Rev. Matthews, "I believe that conditions in some of these institutions are very poor. I do not believe in wanton luxury, but some of these institutions seem to be punishing children for their parents' wrongdoing. But then, conditions are poor for many of the poorer people in this country. I suppose you know that".

"Yes," said Linnette. "I do."

Rev. Matthews paused, and sighed. "I think, Miss Jenkins, as I believe it would still be better to call you-".

"Yes," said Linnette.

"I believe that we ought to start school now. I apologise for my earlier outburst. You are a very promising pupil."

That conversation left Linnette very thoughtful. It never occurred to her to feel wronged by her parents—on the contrary, she felt very grateful to her father for taking her out of an institution. She was mildly entertained by this story about herself. She did not, of course, approve of her parents' conduct.

But Martha had lied to her, hadn't she? That was what rankled. She knew that her father had told Martha to lie, but still... She liked Martha, really, but something of her trust had dwindled.

The next year at choir school was busy and not entirely satisfactory. Having to remember about scales and harmonics bored her. She had never been expected to listen to lectures on music theory before, and she was an active, impatient young girl.

Rev. Matthews noticed. In vain did he try to teach to teach Linnette simply and naturally, the way she was used to. In the evenings after school he sighed and considered the progress of his pupil.

That winter, the country mourned the death of Prince Albert, and Rev. Mathews took his pupils to a memorial service. Linnette returned from that service to a more personal tragedy. A letter was lying on the mat, addressed to "Miss Linnette Jenkins, The Reverend Matthews' Choir School, Winchester".

She picked it up and slit it open.

"Dear Miss Jenkins,

I am sorry to tell you that Martha died yesterday. Three days ago she became very ill with fever. The disease progressed very quickly and nothing could be done.

Yours with sympathy,

J. Halliday."

Linnette stared at the piece of paper. She blinked and blinked in the hope that it would say something else. It never said something else. Then she fled out to the rain-water butt and was sick over and over again. Rev. Matthews found her crying in a huddled wreck on the bed. He tried to comfort her but there was nothing his unshakeable faith and rather pedantic spirituality could do for the shaking wreck.

Linnette no longer cared about Martha lying to her, all she could think about was Martha singing to her as she brushed her hair, Martha being proud of her little girl who sang in the choir, Martha who was sorry when she had to pull her out of school. Martha whom she would never see again. Ever.

Slowly her crying subsided and she fell asleep.

The next day she went back to her home village for the funeral. Linnette sat alone in the Jenkins pew, in the front row. The vicar preached what everyone agreed was a beautiful service. Martha Jenkins had been a pillar of the community. She had gone to church every Sunday of her life since her mother had first carried her there, an infant three days old. She had always put her sixpence on the collection plate. She had knitted cardigans for the Foreign Mission. She had been a devout and dutiful woman. When the vicar had finished there was a prayer and the congregation rose and sang What a Friend We Have in Jesus. And Linnette got a fair few stern looks, for sitting, hunched and crying, in the front row, when everyone else was singing.

Afterwards, the vicar summoned Linnette to his study.

"Miss Jenkins," he said, "I wish to speak to you about something".

"Yes, sir?" said Linnette.

"When Martha died, she left you some money."

"Oh," said Linnette.

She didn't care. What did it matter to her whether Martha had left her anything or not? Still, she was mildly surprised. Then she was surprised at feeling surprised. There had been a death. After every death there was an inheritance. She was Martha's only living relation. Therefore she would inherit all of Martha's worldly goods.

"Martha Jenkins left, to you, personally and individually, everything of which she died possessed. This comes—aside from ladles, needles, dishes and other sundry household equipment—to five shillings. After death duties-"

"Death duties!" Linnette suddenly burst into slightly hysterical laughter.

"What?" He was not used to being interrupted in the middle of a speech and was slightly put out.

"Death duties! It implies that we owe something to society for the privilege of dying!"

"Essentially, Miss Jenkins, we do. English law is odd like that. However, it can be thought of more as the heir owing something to society for the privilege of inheriting. At any rate, after death duties, that leaves two shillings."

"I inherit two shillings?"

"Yes. And here they are."

The Right Reverend James Henderson gravely handed her two shillings.

"Thank you sir," said Linnette.

"Pleasure, glad to be of assistance."

Henderson cleared his throat. Linnette realised that the speech-making was not yet over.

"Miss Jenkins did not, I'm afraid, appoint you a guardian or make any provisions about your future. My personal suggestion would be to train you as a maid servant or send you to a colony."

Linnette nearly choked. She had escaped to a choir school in the glamorous and sophisticated metropolis of Winchester, only to have that future snatched from her. A flash of fierce resentment at Martha boiled through her.

"Unless, of course, the Reverend Matthews is willing to take you back to his choir school?"

Linnette nearly collapsed with relief. She could barely summon breath to stammer, "yes, sir, I believe he would".

"Very well, I wish you the best of luck in your career in music, Miss Jenkins."

"Thank you, sir," said Linnette.

Then she walked out of the church lytch-gate and down the road to the Reverend Matthew's carriage. She would never see her childhood village again.

Linnette's dreams were haunted by Martha that night and for many nights afterwards. Gradually, however, her youthful spirits recovered themselves and her thoughts turned to other things. For example, how boring it was at choir school. It was better, certainly, than living in her village, and she was certainly grateful to the Reverend Matthews, but she had expected it to be exciting, she had hoped to see the world, and she had barely seen the town.

She spent her inheritance on a pair of dove-grey silk cuffs. She saw them in a shop and wanted them instantly. When she wore them back in school that evening she felt like the most beautiful girl on Earth.

For several years Linnette attended choir school. She became increasingly bored, increasingly annoyed by Rev. Matthews godly rules, and increasingly exasperated that the only boys at choir school were practically infants (the Reverend did not want "incidents" with his young ladies and The Baser Emotions) —the pupils were not, needless to say, allowed to talk to town children or wander unchaperoned around town. So she blossomed into a striking young woman of seventeen. Rev. Matthews was asking her if she wanted to take holy orders, and was disappointed by the vehement negatives. And then a miracle occurred.

Miss Angelica Heronlee arrived at the choir school one day and listened to them sing. Angelica was an opera singer. Rev. Matthews disapproved of opera and opera singers, but he felt it a Christian duty to be civil to the woman. After the singing, Angelica went to talk to some of the pupils. She found herself talking to an intense-looking young girl, with nice blue eyes. Poor thing! Stuck in this dead-end school.

"Do you like the Reverend Matthews' school?" asked Angelica.

"Yes," said Linnette dutifully, knowing that she ought to be polite, and grateful to Rev. Matthews.

"It is a very great opportunity," said Angelica.

Linnette sighed. She couldn't help it.

"Or perhaps not?"

"It wasn't quite what I thought it would be," said Linnette, endeavouring to balance politeness with truthfulness, "I thought it would be more... exciting".

"Exciting?"

"Yes," said Linnette, "you know, travelling and that".

Angelica considered. "What is your name?" she said.

"Linnette Jenkins, ma'am."
"I am Angelica Heronlee." They shook hands solemnly. "Tell me, Linnette. Do you wish to spend your life singing in holy choirs?"

"I-I don't think so ma'am," said Linnette.

"I will tell you something, Linnette. I am an opera singer. Because you have a lovely voice, and because you want an exciting life, I will give you opera lessons, and soon you can leave here and go on the stage."

Linnette froze. She felt as if the breath had been punched out of her. "Really?" she gasped, hardly able to breathe.

Angelica laughed. "Really."

"Oh, oh my God!" Linnette caught her breath and collected her spinning head. "Oh, thank you, I-I...". It was all she could do not to hug her.

"That is agreed, then." Angelica beamed.

"I haven't got any money," said Linnette, her heart plummeting.

"You think I care about money? I am the greatest opera singer ever. I have more money than I know what to do with."

"But it's so kind of you..."

"Not at all. It's a pleasure." Angelica looked as if she meant it, too.

This was all moving staggeringly fast. Linnette was still not entirely convinced that it was not a dream. "The Reverend'll never let me."

"He need never know."

"Thank you," said Linnette, again. "Where shall I find you?"

Angelica looked around. Rev. Matthews was still on the other side of the room. Quickly she handed Linnette her card. "Can you come tomorrow, about five?"

"Yes," said Linnette. "Thank you." She was just in time. Rev. Matthews, becoming aware that an opera singer was having a corrosive influence on his pupils, was approaching to make tactful suggestions about leaving.

The next day, at half past four, Linnette slipped away from school. She found the address on the card quickly enough. It was a large, crumbling house on the edge of Winchester. She walked up the drive and knocked on the door. A maid answered. Yes, Miss Heronlee was in.

She showed Linnette into a large drawing room. Angelica was sitting in an armchair. "Ah, Linnette, how punctual! Wonderful!"

"Good afternoon, ma'am."

"Don't call me ma'am. My friends call me Angelica."

"Yes- Angelica."

"Good! This is my maid, Jessie."

"Hello," said Linnette. She didn't think she had ever been in a house where people introduced their servants. But then, she hadn't been in many houses where they had servants. "Now," said Angelica, "we will have something to eat, and then we will sing. Sit down".

"I thought opera singers had to starve themselves before singing," said Linnette.

Angelica smiled. "Maybe some. I eat, to give me stamina!"

They had some crumpets, oozing butter and honey, and champagne. Rev. Matthews was a teetotaller, and it was the first time Linnette had ever tasted drink. It thrilled her more than deceiving Rev. Matthews, more than learning opera, more than anything else about the situation. While they ate Linnette asked Angelica about life as an opera singer, and Angelica told her, not only about the singing but about the travel, and clothes and fame, and the fascinating and dramatic things that had happened to her.

When they had finished eating they went to the piano. Angelica sat down and gave Linnette the music for Dido's Lament.

"I thought we would try this. This... God, it's a wonderful piece! It's the greatest piece in opera."

"When I Am Laid In Earth," read Linnette.

"Yes. This is what Dido sings when Aeneas abandons her."

"Who's Dido?"

"She was the queen of Carthage, in Africa," said Angelica, "and Aeneas, from Troy in Asia, came to Carthage and Dido fell in love with him. But Aeneas left her, because of a prophecy that he would go to Italy and become father of the Roman race. He married a princess called Lavinia, in the end".

"Oh," said Linnette, "that's sad". It was sad. In her mind's eye she could see Dido looking out over Carthage at the departing Aeneas.

"Yes," said Angelica. "And so Dido stabs herself and is burnt on a pyre, because she could not bear to live without Aeneas."

"Oh," said Linnette. She looked at the words in front of her, and tried to imagine herself Dido, standing there with a knife in her hand.

"I will play the piano," said Angelica, "and you shall sing".

Linnette began to sing, cautiously, self-consciously, not really understanding what she was meant to be doing or why.

When they got to the end, Angelica said, gently, "don't worry too much for the present about getting it absolutely perfect. Tell you what, I'll play a line, you sing it back to me. Don't worry about every detail. Sing the tune. Remember, you are Dido. Have you ever been in love?".

"No," said Linnette.

"Well, imagine the man you love, whom you trusted, leaving you forever."

Linnette nodded.

"Very well," said Angelica. "We will begin again."

So they tried again, and Linnette, losing four years of nerves, did very well indeed, almost as she had done in the little village church choir. Did beautifully, in fact. So beautifully that at the end, Angelica began to cry.

"That was beautiful," she said, "that was how the angels sing, how Dido sang".

They practiced for about an hour more, and then it was time for Linnette to go back to school. She left, thanking Angelica again and again and Angelica assured her that it was a pleasure.

When Linnette returned to school, she was walking on air in the knowledge that she had a future, not in Rev. Matthews choir school, but in the opera.

She continued to walk on air until the next morning, and then, as she descended the stairs, she heard one of the maids, Mary, talking to the cook, Gladys. "So Alice said she saw young Miss Jenkins walking into that house-".

Linnette hurried to the kitchen door, to tell them that her lessons with Angelica were a secret and they must not talk about them, but at this point the door of Rev. Matthews' study opened and he came out into the hall, to hear Gladys say: "So young Miss Jenkins will be in the opera will she? My, I thought the Reverend wouldn't like it".

The Reverend turned pale. He turned to Linnette and glared at her. Very quietly he said, "Miss Jenkins, are they talking about you?".

Linnette sighed. He would get the truth sooner or later, and she might as well spit it out rather than have it dragged out of her. She flung her head up. "Yes," she said.

Rev. Matthews opened the kitchen door. "Mary, Gladys, could I have a word with you please?"

Mary and Gladys came out of the kitchen. "Yes, sir," said Mary.

"Did I hear you say you saw Miss Jenkins going into a house, and that she was going to be in the opera?"

Mary and Gladys hesitated and looked at each other. On the one hand, they did not want Rev. Matthews to sack them, for Rev. Matthews paid his domestic staff well. On the other hand, they both liked Linnette. Most of the girls at the school were aristocratic or wanted to be a nun or both. Linnette was neither of these things, and she was always civil and reasonably cheerful and very apologetic about her inability to tip, as she was the only pupil not to receive any pocket money. Lucy, the other maid, disliked Linnette, but then Lucy liked Violetta Henderson, who was both aristocratic and hoping to be a nun.

Linnette took pity on them. "Yes, they were," she said.

"All right, my girl," said Rev. Matthews, "I suggest you tell me exactly what you've been doing".

"The opera singer, Angelica Henderson, she was giving me singing lessons. She said I could be an opera singer one day."

"And how long," said Rev. Matthews, in a voice that could cut ice, "have these lessons been going on?".

"This was the first," said Linnette.

"I see," said Rev. Matthews. Then he said, "so I let you into my school for nothing. I teach you to sing, and you deceive me—and as the Good Book says, thou shalt not bear false witness—and go to take lessons in corrupting singing with the leader of an immoral life".

Linnette said nothing.

"That woman, Linnette, uses her voice to entertain decadents and fools. She sings of love and greed and violence. She has acted as tarts and murderers. And I do not expect any girl of mine to go to see her and take singing lessons from her."

Linnette decided that if she were to be damned she might as well be entirely damned. "I drank champagne as well," she said.

"Words fail me," said Rev. Matthews, his voice tight with controlled anger.

Then he glared at her with a glare that went through Linnette like a lance. Linnette didn't care.

"Get out of this school," he said.

Linnette nodded. She didn't care. Let him throw her out. She would survive.

"Go and pack your things," said Rev. Matthews, "and get out of this school".

"Yes sir," said Linnette, managing somehow to make it sound satisfactorily insolent. She turned and walked slowly out of the room.

She went to her room and took the little leather bag that she had taken with her from her village. She put in it a pen and a bit of paper and a couple of handkerchiefs. She put in her comb, a spare hair ribbon and her dove-grey cuffs and that was all. There was no room in it for any clothes, as she had not taken any from the village. She would not take the prayer book Rev. Matthews had given her. She had no diary, no keepsakes. Except the hat-pin Martha had given her. She had left it on the dresser for four years as she had not thought it fit to wear, but now she picked it up and slipped it into the inside compartment of her little bag. Then she put on her coat and hat and turned to leave The Reverend Matthews' Choir School forever.

At that point Mary and Gladys came in. "I'm sorry, Miss," began Mary, "I didn't mean to get you get you into trouble. I had no idea we were being overheard".

"It's all right," said Linnette, "I was getting bored here anyway. That's why I was taking lessons with Angelica".

"We'll miss you, Miss," said Gladys, "you're about the nicest person in the place".

"I'll miss you," said Linnette. "Here, you can have any of those clothes you want—provided you don't let Lucy have any of them."

"Thank you," said Mary. "Here," and she pushed a bit of chocolate into Linnette's hand.

"Thanks," said Linnette, and she walked down the stairs and out into the front hall, where Rev. Matthews watched her go with the stern eyes of Godliness Vindicated.

Once out in the street, Linnette turned her attention seriously to what she was going to do now. She could always, she supposed, go home, but the prospect looked distinctly unappealing. She had come so close to escaping and seeing the world, to go back to being a farm girl now would be unendurable. No, one could not go back in life. One must go on. She could, she supposed, go to London and join an operatic company there. Then it struck her: she would go to Angelica. Surely Angelica would not mind helping her young protégée find work.

So Linnette found her way to Angelica's house and was shown in by Jessie.

Angelica was sitting in the drawing room. "Linnette, what a lovely surprise! Can I help?".

"I was thrown out of school-" began Linnette.

"Thrown out? A talented lady like you? What on Earth happened?"

So Linnette explained that Rev. Matthews had figured out what she was doing—Jessie was profusely apologetic, but Linnette assured her that it didn't matter—and now she had no money and nowhere to go except back to the village whence she came.

Angelica agreed that she could absolutely not go back there.

"So," said Linnette, "I was wondering, would you help me find work, please?"

"Find work?" Angelica was astonished. "Then you wish to go and leave me?"

"Leave you?"

"Yes," said Angelica. "Naturally, when you came here, I thought you were going to stay with me."

"I wouldn't dream of imposing on you like that."

"Impose? Nonsense! It would be a pleasure to have you."

"Thank you very much," said Linnette. "It's very kind of you."

"Not at all," said Angelica, "pleasure".

At that moment a boy who looked a little older than Linnette entered the room.

"Oh," said Angelica, "Joseph, this is Linnette. She will be staying with us. Linnette, this is my nephew, Joseph. He will be coming with us."

"Charmed," said Joseph, in a voice which suggested he was not charmed at all.

"How do you do?" asked Linnette, endeavouring to be polite. Then to Angelica, "coming with us where?".

"To Europe," said Angelica, "Edward is in France, on a job, but he will be back tomorrow, and we will all go to Spain".

Linnette thought she was going to explode. To Europe! To Spain! She could see it in her head. The warm air, the... what ever there was in Spain. And her just a farm girl!

"Who's Edward?" she asked.

"My lover," replied Angelica calmly. "He is a jewel thief. That is what he is doing now. Stealing jewels in France."

Linnette was almost giddy with excitement. A lover! A jewel thief! So these were the circles she moved in now!

Then Linnette and Angelica and Joseph all had some buns and champagne. And they talked about all the things they would see in Europe—orange groves and bull fights and the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Maybe they would even go to India and see the Taj Mahal. Then Angelica found Linnette a new dress, a low-cut red silk thing. She dressed Linnette's hair and gave her some powder. Linnette spent a long time dressing and admiring herself in front of the mirror. She did not think she had ever seen herself looking so beautiful before. Her hair gleamed against her new dress, her figure could have been cut with a knife. She tilted her head this way and that in the mirror, studying it.

She was roused from seventh Heaven by a scream. She flew downstairs. She could not tell where the scream had come from, so she looked into the drawing room. Angelica was lying slumped in her chair, one hand clutching the knife she had just driven into her throat.

"Jesus," whispered Angelica.

She crept forward. Angelica was dead. She had not a shadow of doubt about that. She was just wondering what to do when Jessie and Joseph burst in.

"What the hell-" said Joseph.

Jessie screamed.

"She's dead," said Linnette.

She noticed, for the first time, a letter on the table in front of Angelica. It was covered in blood and it read:

"Angel,

Sorry to say the fun is over. I thought we could last but now I've met Marie. Good luck. Enjoy Spain.

Edward."

Twenty-three words. Twenty-three words had led a woman to stab herself with a letter knife. "Whoever this Edward was," said Linnette slowly, "she must have loved him. And whoever he was, he must be a rotter".

"I'll get a doctor," said Jessie. She hurried out.

Linnette stood there, looking at Angelica's face. Angelica had been so very much alive, it seemed completely incomprehensible that she would ever destroy herself. Why would anybody do that to herself? thought Linnette.

More practically, what was she, Linnette, going to do now? "I should maybe leave," she said. Just when she thought her future was sorted, he she was precipitated out into the unknown again. "Could I borrow some money, do you think, sir?"

"Certainly not," said Joseph.

"I'm sorry to have been tactless," began Linnette, "but I've no money of my own and no real home".

"Well there's nothing I can do about that," said Joseph, "it's my money, I'm her heir. And you, young lady, are going to pack your things and leave. Now".

Joseph escorted Linnette upstairs and watched her pack her things. "Are you afraid I'm going to steal something?" she asked, when he followed her round and round the house, only a step behind.

Joseph merely grunted. Presumably he was.

He let her keep the dress and ribbons she was wearing. That was one mercy.

When she came downstairs she looked again into the room where Angelica lay. "Goodbye," said Linnette, "thank you".

Then she put on her coat and hat and walked out the front door.

Thus Linnette was, for the second time that day, cast adrift in the world.

She knew roughly which direction London was in, and struck out determinedly. At first it was a pleasant walk, out into the countryside. Fairly soon, however, the sun began to sink over the horizon and it grew darker. Linnette was tired, and there was no sign of any house or inn where she might take refuge from the cold of the night, if not from robbers.

Linnette was beginning to wonder if she should sleep up a tree, when she met Michael Leeford.

The Leefords were gentleman farmers from Lancashire, but Josiah Leeford's life ambition was to go up in the world. He had had a distinguished career in the navy and was desperately hoping for some kind of title. To the end of going up in the world, he had sent his son Michael to school in Winchester. For several years Michael had enjoyed Winchester. Then one morning he had woken up and decided he wanted to be highwayman instead. He was just bored with Winchester. He had spent the morning (Bible studies and history about the Crusades) reading under the desk. It was Matched and Dispatched: the Sexiest, Sauciest Crimes of Passion in History. It was a mixture of fiction and real life—Guinevere at the stake, Tristan snatching Isolde from the flames, Othello, Zofloya, Deianira's tragic mistake, Medea, Madeleine Smith, Leclair's ex-wife. As he finished Matched and Despatched and the Christians captured Jerusalem, Michael decided to change his life. Enough was enough.

For Michael, to think was to act. He had collected a few of his things—those which he considered necessary to his future life and career—and left school after afternoon lessons. He had bought a pistol from a small shop up a back street. He had purchased a tri-corn hat, and received some very odd looks, from a high street draper's. And then he had struck out in search of that other accoutrement to highway robbery: a horse. He had been reluctant to steal a horse from the local farm labourers, most of them were the most hopeless broken-down old nags. However, just outside Winchester he had found a manor house with a good many meadows outside, and in these meadows were horses. He had made his way into the tack room, appeasing the guard dog with an apple he had stolen from the orchard. He had caught the horse tacked him up, and ridden away. The gentleman farmer had called this horse Fred. Michael called him Hengroen, after King Arthur's famous horse. History does not record which name the horse preferred.

Thus Michael was riding down a lane that opened onto the road which Linnette was walking down. When he saw a richly-dressed young lady walking down a road alone, he called out: "stand and deliver! Your money or your life!".

Linnette heard him and froze. Her heart leapt with a mixture of terror and excitement. A highwayman on a big black horse was right beside her, pointing a gun at her. "I haven't any money," she said, staring down the barrels. Then she raised her eyes to the young highwayman's face. He was very young. Only about her age.

The young highwayman frowned. "You don't have any money?"

"No," said Linnette.

Michael nodded. It was rather odd for a broke young lady to be walking about in a red silk dress, but it was rather odd for a young lady in a red silk dress to be wandering round the lanes alone at this time anyway.

So he said: "Miss, may I ask how then you are so... beautifully attired? And what you are doing here alone?".

"I was an opera singer's protégée," said Linnette simply. She was still thrilled, though she knew she should be terrified. There were highwaymen in England! Real ones and she had met one!

"She was waiting for her lover to come back from France," she continued, "where he was stealing jewels, and a letter arrived saying that he had another woman and she killed herself. Her nephew was there and he threw me out of the house. I have no money of my own, only a handkerchief and things. He let me keep this dress".

If the young highwayman were remotely surprised or shocked, he did not let it show. "I see, madam," he said. "Where are you going, may I ask?"

"London," said Linnette.

"How?"

"I'm not sure. I could walk, or hitch lifts." But Linnette was curious now too, and she decided it was her turn to ask a few questions. She said, "So you're a highwayman".

"Yes, ma'am," he said. "I'm Michael Leeford, at your service, and this is Hengroen."

"Do you like being a highwayman?" asked Linnette. She was fascinated by this young robber on his horse. "I didn't think they had outlaws much in England any more. Only in America."

"I don't know yet." Michael Leeford smiled. "I only started a couple of hours ago, and you're my first assistant."

"Assistant?"

Michael grinned again. "I think it sounds better than "victim"".

Linnette laughed. He was a nice boy, she thought. "Why are you a highwayman?" she asked, "are you poor?". Perhaps Michael had no other way to survive.

"I ran away from school," he said.

"Oh," said Linnette. "Didn't you like it?"

"I liked it well enough," said Michael. "But I got a bit bored. They do say a change is as good as a rest. Besides, my father wanted me to go into a bank. Can you imagine, a bank?" His voice dripped disgust.

"I'd hate to work in a bank," said Linnette truthfully. "Where did you go to school?"

"In Winchester."

"Oh," Linnette considered. If his father wanted him to go into a bank, she could see why he had run away, and sympathised with him. A young man should have more interesting things to think about in life than banks and stocks and things.

"Where are you going now?" she asked.

"Anywhere."

"Oh," she reached up and stroked Hengroen's nose. She felt oddly sad at the thought of seeing Michael go.

The he said: "charming though this conversation is, it is not particularly comfortable in the middle of this lane. Might I suggest we retire to an inn?"

"We?". Linnette could have been knocked down by a feather.

Michael suddenly went scarlet. "I'm sorry to have been forward, ma'am, naturally I wouldn't dream..." Linnette grinned to herself in the dusk at seeing him so uncomfortable.

"We would find that delightful," she said.

"Good. I'm, er, charmed..."

"So you really are at my service?" Linnette felt a slight fluttering in her chest at these words.

"Certainly. I said so, didn't I? Hop on, ma'am."

Linnette surveyed Hengroen. He leant over and gently engulfed her hair in his mouth. She pulled it free and attempted to arrange herself in such a position as to be able to get on. "I can't ride," she admitted.

"Oh, it's simple enough," said Michael. "Right, you're standing on the right side of Henny-"

"Henny?"

"It's that or Groney. So put your right foot on the stirrup." He took his foot out the stirrup and Linnette cautiously inserted her heel. "Now push and twist so you end up sitting sideways."

Linnette pushed as hard as she could off the ground with her other foot and pulled on the saddle. She ended up perched rather precariously side saddle. She pushed herself further on and found herself essentially sitting in Michael's lap. She went scarlet, but took a deep breath and hoped he did not notice. She had taken a great deal of satisfaction out of seeing him blush, and it would do for him to see her blush.

"There's probably a village in a couple of miles. Fortunately I still have some money, so we can stay the night somewhere."

Linnette nodded. Very sensible. "I don't suppose you can steal much with me balancing over the saddle."

"Well, do you have a gun?"

"No," said Linnette.

"Then it's probably best that we wait until you have a horse of your own, and a gun, before we try anything. We can do that tomorrow."

They rode along, slowly, with much sighing from Hengroen about his extra load. "It's all right, Henny," said Michael, "you won't have to carry so much tomorrow".

"What kind of name is Hengroen anyway?" asked Linnette.

"Horse of King Arthur."

"Oh, King Arthur! I love King Arthur. Especially the story about Tristan and Isolde." Linnette reached down to pat Hengroen and he snorted. "He's sweet!"

"If I may take the liberty, madam, what is your name?"

"Linnette Fortescue. Miss."

That's a lovely name." He sounded as if he meant it. "How did you get to be an opera singer's protégée anyway, Miss Fortescue? Did your parents send you to her?"

"No," said Linnette. "She took me in when I got thrown out of school."

"What school?"

"The Reverend Matthews' Choir School."

"Oh, I know that place. Run by a bit of a crank, right?"

"Right."

"What did you do to get thrown out?"

"Went for opera lessons with Angelica."

"Angelica! Not Angelica Heronlee?"

"Yes."

"Good Lord! So she's killed herself, has she?"

"Yes," said Linnette.

"Lord," repeated Matthew. "Are your parents, erm... Only could you not go home?"

"Martha's dead," said Linnette, feeling a slight clenching in her throat as she still did when she thought of Martha.

"I'm sorry, Miss Fortescue.

"Thank you," said Linnette, touched.

"Who was Martha?"

"Martha Jenkins brought me up."

"Then again I'm sorry, Miss Fortescue."

"Why?" said Linnette.

"Your parents, madam." Michael sounded faintly shocked.

"Oh, they're not dead."
"Abroad?"

"Not exactly," said Linnette, rather enjoying shocking him. "I wouldn't know, I wouldn't know if they were dead, in fact."

"Surely they did not abandon you? They must have been very poor..."

"Oh, they abandoned me, but they weren't poor. My father didn't want me and my mother went mad, after my father killed her husband."

"Ah," said Michael. He did not, disappointingly, look shocked.

They had now arrived at a village. They rode down the main street, ignoring stares from passers-by. About halfway down the main street was a large, white-painted inn. They pulled up outside and Michael dismounted and handed Linnette down. The stable boy came out and took Bucephalus from them.

"How much to leave our horse in the stable tonight?"

"A shilling."

Michael handed over a shilling and a tuppence tip. The stable boy, whose tips did not usually exceed a ha'penny, almost glowed with joy at this. "Thank you," he said.

"Pleasure," said Michael, "good evening".

They went into the inn. The sign over the door read, "Whetherby's Inn" and the gentleman inside, leaning over a bar, was presumably Whetherby. "Evening," he called out.

"Evening," said Linnette.

"How much for two dinners and two rooms for the night?"

"Dinners sixpence each, rooms two shillings each."

"I haven't any money," said Linnette, suddenly realising that Michael might have forgotten this, and might not have intended to stand treat.

"I know," said Michael. "That would be fine, only I only have three shillings."

Linnette considered. Maybe they would have to sleep rough.

Then Whetherby said, "it's all right. You can sleep in the hay loft for a shilling if you like".

Linnette sighed in relief as Michael handed over his three shillings.

They sat down in the corner, where the locals continued to glance at them with interest.

"Thank you for the meal and the hay loft, Mr Leeford. Unless, you have some other title..."

"No, just Mr Leeford. And it's a pleasure."

He looked at her with intensity. She had a feeling he was as... fascinated, struck?... with her as she was with him.

"So we haven't any money," said Linnette, which was a sensible thing to say, as they hadn't any money, but also distracted her from the intense looking.

"No," said Michael.

"So how I am supposed to get a gun or a horse?"

"Well, I think that tonight I had better go and see whether I can do some highwaymaning."

"No!" said Linnette, startling herself with her own intensity. "We have to do our first highwaymaning together!"

Michael considered. "Well, we're probably going to get into New Alresford tomorrow-"

At that moment Whetherby brought two plates of meat and two pints of beer over.

"Thank you," they said to Whetherby.

"Pleasure, pleasure," said Whetherby.

Linnette tucked into to her food and drink. It was very good, hot and filling.

"I reckon we should find a jeweller's and steal something," continued Michael.

"How?"

"No idea." He grinned. "Isn't that half the fun?"

Linnette got a giddy rush in her stomach just thinking about it. "Absolutely."

There was a moment's eating silence. "Where did you live with Martha?" asked Michael.

"Just in a village, over in east Hampshire. It was quite nice there." She went on to describe her old home and school and some of the people who had lived in her village. Michael seemed fascinated by her descriptions of Mrs Jackson talking to her chickens, of Mr Green admitting after his wife's death that he had always thought she was trying to murder him, but he still thought "she was a real good wife", of Mr Medway, who had been engaged to Priscilla Smith, but when she broke it off he wrote a bill for everything he had ever spent on her and stood up in church and read it out in front of the entire congregation.

When Linnette asked Michael about his home he told her about his childhood home in Lancashire, and riding ponies over the moors, swimming in the river, going out grouse and duck shooting every summer. He told her about some of the mad people he had known in Winchester, and the barmen and card sharpers in town with whom he had spent a great deal of his leisure hours. On the subject of his actual studies he was vaguer and less enthusiastic.

"Winchester's a long way from your folks back home, isn't it?" said Linnette.

"Yes."

"No wonder," she said, "you seized that chance to tear up a load of billiard saloons".

"Absolutely."

"And you seized the chance while your folks were in blissful ignorance," she continued, with a vague desire to shock, and tease a bit "to find a nice girl and have a nice cuddle".

"Sure," said Michael, "there was a low den and I used to go every Friday night and look the girls over".

"Really?" It hit Linnette like a thunder bolt.

He laughed. "No! I'm kidding!" He considered. "In fact, I don't think I've ever even sat as close to a girl in my life before as I am now." He considered. "There were billiard saloons, though. Lots."

"Well," said Linnette, relieved, "for an amateur you're doing extremely well. You've managed to remain sitting next to me for a whole hour without falling off the seat or turning into a sheep or something. Why did you tell me you had?".

Michael looked rather sheepish. "I wanted to see if you cared. Besides, I could ask you the same question. In a choir school, all on your own... When you went to get singing lessons from Angelica, did you ever take a detour?"

"You know I wouldn't!" she said indignantly. "Besides," with great dignity, "I only went to see once, really, before getting thrown out".

"Some of my mates though, were real, real lady killers." He looked at her as if were testing her, seeing if she would be shocked or if she could take it.

Linnette prided herself on being able to take it. "Do tell," she said, trying to sound neither disgusted not too eager, but merely slightly blasé.

So Linnette laughed, louder than a young lady of careful upbringing has any right to laugh, at stories about someone called Fred and a barman's daughter called Sally.

"So," she said, when Michael appeared to have run out of shocking stories, "what about the murders".

"Murders?"

"Yes. Murders, duels, jewel robberies... I thought your father was an aristocrat."

"A gentleman farmer on the make, Miss Fortescue. And I can assure you that he never got involved in any jewel robberies and I have never murdered anybody."

"Well, for God's sake, get on with it!"

"Get on with it?"

"Yes," said Linnette, with mostly fake seriousness, for she was half joking, "people like you are society's staple supplier of murders, duels and jewel robberies. It's how you earn your place in society, keeping the rest of us nicely supplied with thrills. No slacking off now, do your duty to society".

Her solemnity failed her and they both burst out laughing.

"Well," said Michael "I intend to begin doing my duty to society, just as soon as we've got a bit of money together".

"Most assuredly," said Linnette. Life, she thought suddenly, as she contemplated her future career, was very good indeed.

They had finished eating now, and they went upstairs to the hay loft. In was warm there, and comfortable, and Linnette quickly fell into a deep sleep. She woke early the next morning and shuffled over to where Michael was lying, still asleep, but when she looked at him he woke up.

"Good morning," she said.

"Morning Miss Fortescue." He peered out of the little window in the side of the barn. "Nice weather for starting a life of crime."

Linnette laughed, thrilled at the thought.

They went down to the stable, and tacked up Hengroen.

"Have you got a knife?" Linnette asked Michael.

"Yes," said Michael, handing it over. "Why?"

"This." Linnette cut off the bottom three inches of her skirt. "It's a bit difficult to ride in."

"I can see your legs," said Michael, faintly shocked.

"Good!" said Linnette.

They climbed onto Hengroen, Linnette much better than yesterday. He sighed at his re-burdening. Then they set off for New Alresford. At the end of the high street they stopped Hengroen and tied him up at a ring next to a tank of water. Then they walked slowly down the high street, looking carefully at every shop. "This one's a jeweller's," said Linnette.

They walked over and peered through the window. Sitting there were several jewels, but in pride of place was a ruby. It was big and shiny and looked at Linnette so temptingly that she knew no other jewel would do.

"All right," said Linnette. "Here's the plan. I walk in and start asking-" she peered up at the sign over the door "Mr Phelps to look at the jewels. When he's got them on that little table, you get a pebble and throw it through the window, and then run away, like a hooligan."

"Right," said Michael.

He walked quickly out of the way up the street, but stood on the other side of the street where he could see through the window. Linnette remained outside for a moment, looking through the window as if she were a completely innocent customer. Then she took a deep breath and walked into the shop. "Good morning," she said to Mr Phelps. Mr Phelps was richly-dressed and the shop was richly-decorated. Clearly a profitable business then. Linnette's estimation of the diamond went up even further.

"Good morning, ma'am," said Mr Phelps, "can I help you at all?". He did not seem surprised by her attire. Perhaps he assumed that anyone wealthy enough to walk into a jeweller's must be respectable.

"I'd like to look at some jewels please," said Linnette, her heart pounding in exhilarating terror.

"Of course. What would madam wish to look at?"

Linnette considered. She would not make a beeline for the ruby. "I'd like to look at that emerald please."

"Of course, an excellent idea ma'am." Mr Phelps put the emerald on the counter. "A little... erm... may I ask what madam is interested in paying?"

"Oh, money is no object, Mr Phelps," said Linnette with wicked truthfulness.

"Excellent, excellent, well this emerald..." Mr Phelps set off on a stream of incomprehensible jeweller's jargon.

Linnette asked for several other jewels, and Mr Phelps, as planned, did not put every jewel back in the case when he took another one down. Eventually Linnette decided that the time was right to ask for the ruby. "Ah, the prize of the collection!" Mr Phelps' eyes lit up. "Madam has taste!"

Linnette did her best to preserve her haughty demeanour as the prize was laid before her eyes. Mr Phelps was half way through his jargon when a stone crashed through the window behind Linnette. Michael was grinning provocatively on the other side of the window. Linnette drew herself up and tried to look as far removed from this ragamuffin as possible. Michael prepared to throw another stone. "Excuse me, ma'am," said Mr Phelps, and dashed out of the shop. Linnette waited until he had gone round the corner, then fast as lightening slid the ruby into her little leather bag. Before long Mr Phelps returned. "Sorry about that ma'am," he said, "can I interest you in anything else?".

"No," said Linnette with as much haughtiness as she could muster. "I will go to a shop that is not destroyed by hoodlums, sir."

And she swept out, leaving the jewels strewn all over the counter. She continued to sweep until she was well out eye sight from the shop, then she began to run. She ran all the way back to back to Hengroen, where Michael was waiting for her. "Are you all right?" he asked.

"Yes," said Linnette. "I've got it!"

Michael handed Linnette up onto Hengroen and leapt up behind her. A small, angry crowd suddenly appeared at the bottom of the street.

"Uh-oh," said Linnette. "Quick!"

Michael kicked Hengroen forward, and, despite his heavy load, he flew like a bird. He may have realised that the faster he could get them away from an increasingly angry crowd, the faster they could get another horse. Some of the crowd dispersed among the houses at the edge of town. "I think they're giving up," said Linnette, as they crossed the fields to the east and the crowd running after them fell back in exhaustion.

They had done it! The first Fortescue-Leeford robbery had been a success! "Oh no!" said Linnette. "Horses!"

Sure enough, a group of men who had given up on the edge of town had rejoined the hunt—on horses. Hengroen still had a big head start, but he had a heavier load. They crossed another field, and had to take a detour through the gate, as Hengroen could not jump fences with two people on him. They crossed the lane and plunged into a wood. Then Hengroen ducked and swerved so hard through the trees that only three or four of their pursuers kept track of them. Linnette's heart was in her mouth. The blood rushed in her ears and it felt wonderful. Suddenly they came out of the other side of the wood at the top of a meadow, and on the other side of the meadow was a manor farm. "In there," said Linnette. They dashed across the meadow, Hengroen snorting and foaming at the mouth now. Linnette glanced behind but no-one came out of the wood. They ducked into the farm yard round the back of the farm house, just as Linnette caught a glimpse of a horse on the edge of the wood.

They stopped Hengroen just outside the back door.

"What are we going to say when we get found here?" asked Michael, as they dismounted.

"We ask them for help," said Linnette calmly.

"Right," said Michael. At this moment, a man opened the back door of the farm house. He looked as if he were the master of the house himself. "Hello," he said, "what are you doing?".

"Shh!" said Linnette. They plunged in through the back door into the little passage which ran next to the kitchen.

"What?" the man closed the door behind them. He looked, as well he might, rather annoyed.

Michael started talking. He was used to country gentleman farmers and he knew the kind of thing that would sound plausible. "If anyone knocks on the door and asks if there's anyone in here, there isn't anyone."

"Why not?" said the man, looking more and more and more baffled.

"This is my betrothed," said Michael. Linnette endeavoured not to look too astonished. "And her father is cruel to her and wants her to marry the Earl of Warwick-" picking a town at random "-who is an awful man, he runs a business but he swindles. So she has run away."

The man looked more and more impressed. "Well, I'll be happy to help if I can. I'm John Brown, by the way."

"Linnette... Jenkins."

"Michael Leeford."

"How do you do?".

"How do you do?"

Introductions completed, Brown offered to get them drinks. "No, thank you," said Linnette. "I think we had better check if the coast is clear, and... if we may park our horse in your stable?"

"Of course," said Brown. He led them outside. Linnette cautiously looked round both sides of the farmyard, but nobody was visible in the fields. She and Michael crept through the herb garden round the front, but there was nobody there either. Some of the farm hands looked up curiously as they passed.

Brown came round the house to meet them. "There is a line of people on horses trekking down the main road. I don't think they've noticed you here."

"Thank you, sir," said Michael.

"Pleasure," said Brown, "now, we'll see about your horse, and then you really should go inside and rest".

They went round to the stable. The stable boy, Jem, helped to rub Hengroen down and put him in a spare stall. He was still very tired and damp and he tucked into the bran mash Brown gave him with relish. Michael and Linnette praised him a good deal for his sterling work in the jewel robbery.

Then Brown insisted on Michael and Linnette going into the front room and having a drink. Mrs Brown—Alice—came in, and wished them good luck with their marital bliss.

"I was wondering, sir," said Michael, "if we could leave our horse here for a bit while we walk to a horse market. That is, if there's one near here".

"No, but I have a horse, name of Bob, that's for sale to a good home."

"How much are you asking for him?"

"Well, what kind of thing are you offering? He's a good horse, mind, he's not going for a song."

"Well, we don't exactly have any money," said Michael. "You see, when Linnette's grandmother died, she left her this."

Linnette pulled out the ruby.

"And, well, she was leaving a hurry and hadn't any time to get proper money."

"All right," said Brown. "But, say, that's worth a great deal more than the horse!"

"Could you give us change, sir?" said Michael.

"I could, yes, if that would be convenient for you."

So that was settled. The ruby was swapped for fifty pounds. Then Brown kept twenty pounds for Bob, and gave thirty pounds change to Linnette and Michael.

Then they went out to the stable to meet Bob. Bob was a brown, shaggy, multi-purpose horse with a white blaze on his face. Linnette patted him on the shoulder and he whiffled at her face. He was sweet, she decided.

Then they left the farm, with profuse thanks to Brown and Mrs Brown. Mrs Brown in particular blessed their coming marriage and called to Linnette when they left, "do put butter in cakes after the eggs, dear, in your happy little home".

They both mounted Hengroen ("for the last time, I promise, Henny") and set off for Medstead, leading Bob. They made slow progress, but they got there, in the end, just as dusk was falling. They went first to buy a saddle and harness. It cost a pound for a side saddle and two pounds for all the rest of the harness. Michael showed Linnette how to tack up, and then she swung herself aloft on Bob, perched sideways on her own saddle and holding the reins between her own hands. Bob shook his nose and snorted. Then they set off down the street to a gunsmith's. Linnette found controlling a horse much harder than simply balancing on one.

"Give him a little kick to get him started," said Michael. Linnette gave him a little kick and he lurched into a shambling trot which almost threw her off. She clung on until they came to a turning.

"Pull on your left rein."

She pulled and Bob spent a moment considering. "Pull again! You're in charge!" She pulled sharply and he swerved into the next street. Fortunately, the next street contained the gunsmith's, and all Linnette had to do was pull up to a shambling halt outside.

The gunsmith was just locking up, and he was not at all happy at other customers arriving at such an inconvenient time. However, he agreed, after much grumbling, to show them some pistols. Linnette knew nothing about guns, so Michael studied them and talked about them and eventually decided on a large, vicious-looking pistol that cost three pounds, as well as some ammunition, a holster, and a belt. He handed it to Linnette when they left the shop. Linnette held it in her hand, just looking at it. It was heavy, but not too heavy. Good heavy. Strong. She wanted to play with it but she thought she would do that somewhere less public and crowded. There was a draper's opposite the gunsmith's and Linnette got a needle and thread, in case she ever needed them, and they got two lengths of cotton to cover their faces.

They got back on the road, Linnette riding, slightly more confidently, on Bob, with her pistol stuck in her belt. Soon, just after dark, they arrived at a wayside inn. They stabled Bob and Hengroen, bought some beer and a meal, and got a room each for the night.

After they had eaten, Michael took Linnette out into the field round the back and showed her how to load, aim and fire the gun. She enjoyed this. It felt good slapping the cartridges into the breach, clicking it shut, swinging the gun up, heavy in her hand, and firing. At first the aim was difficult, but she had strong arms and it got easier. "You're good at this," said Michael, "you're a natural". They stayed outside until it was too dark to aim properly.

"All right," said Linnette, when they went upstairs to bed. "At midnight, we get up, put on our scarves and go out to the stables. Then we go out stealing."

"Better make it one 'o' clock," said Michael, "everybody'll probably be up for ages yet".

"All right," said Linnette.

She barely slept at all that night. And at one sharp, she woke up, and slid out of bed. She drew back the curtain and looked out over the fields. The moon shone clear and bright, there was no wind. A good night for robbing, she thought. She pulled on her dress and did her hair, put on her shoes and coat and collected her bag, so she would have something to put her spoils in. She tied her scarf over her face, put on her belt and gun, and crept out onto the landing. Michael was there. Looking at him, Linnette wondered how exactly they had come to be a team. Two days ago he had been demanding her money, and then they had got talking and then... well. Linnette grinned. It was a good thing he had met her, too.

"Ready?" she asked Michael.

"Ready."

They made their way cautiously down the stairs. Linnette felt the back of her neck prickle, convinced that at any point someone would call out "what are you doing?". She grinned wider. "Back way," said Michael, "they have a dog round the front".

Linnette turned down the back passage and fumbled for the door knob. She found it and pushed gently. The back yard was empty and bathed in moonlight. Linnette and Michael hurried round to the stable. Then Linnette heard a low growl. Turning, she saw a dog slinking out from under a pile of wood. "Down boy," she whispered, "quiet".

The dog hesitated. "Down boy," said Michael. It turned and slunk back under the wood. Hengroen and Bob were at the end of the row of stalls. Their gear was on a shelf next to the stall. Linnette slid into Bob's stall. He whickered softly in recognition and she stroked his nose. It was very difficult tacking up in the dark. Linnette was about halfway through when Michael found a candle and some matches on a shelf. After that the going was a little easier and soon they led the horses outside. Linnette swung herself up onto Bob, almost elegantly this time. Then they set off for the highway.

When they got there it was deserted, a long stretch of black road running off into the darkness. They hid themselves behind a low tree growing on the side of the road. Linnette shivered in the night air. The road looked so beautiful, black under the silver moon. To Linnette, it seemed as though she and Michael were completely alone in the vast darkness. Then there came a rumbling of a cart on the road. Linnette leant forward to see, but it was just a farm cart, with a tired farm labourer perched behind a shambling horse. Silence fell again on the highway. Then came another cart, moving in the other direction. This time, it was a fine carriage. A prize!

Linnette laughed, pulled out her gun, and kicked Bob's flank so he lurched forward. She could see Michael right beside her. She jerked Bob to a halt right in front of the carriage. The coachman stopped, the lantern on the front of the carriage swinging wildly. The horses started. "What the hell-" began a cross voice from inside the carriage.

"Go on," said Michael, "you say it".

"Stand and deliver," said Linnette, scarcely able to believe she was actually saying such words, "your money or your life".

The coachman blinked at her. Then he turned and called to the man in the carriage. "Here, sir," he said, "there's an highwayman here. Well, a highwaygirl, but there's an highwayman with her!".

"Oh hell," said the man again.

Leaving Michael to cover the front of the carriage, Linnette rode round to the side window. There was a cross-looking, clearly wealthy young man, and an hysterical, clearly wealthy young woman. "Oh, Rupert," said the young woman, "what are we going to do?".

Rupert glared at Linnette. "If I refuse to give you any money," he said, "will you loose off that peashooter of yours?".

"It's not a peashooter," said Linnette, with quiet confidence. Michael had grown up with guns, and he had taught her enough in the past day to know that that gun was no peashooter. "And yes, I will "loose it off"."

Rupert scowled, then reached down into the carriage and pulled out a purse. It was clinking gently. "Thank you," said Linnette, putting it in her bag. She could hear Michael interrogating the coachman about the contents of the carriage. "Only some money," he said.

All right. Well. "What about you?" said Linnette to Rupert's hysterical lady friend. "You have lots of jewels. Indeed, she was dripping from head to foot in jewels of the first water.

"Oh no," she said. "I won't give you these jewels."

"One," said Linnette. After all, she would not be unreasonable. But really, that woman had more than enough jewels.

"Very well," she said. "Very well." She unlaced a string of diamonds from her neck and thrust them at Linnette. "Here."

"Thank you," said Linnette again.

She went back over to Michael. "I think we're finished here."

"All right," Michael lowered his gun. "All right."

Then they turned and galloped away as fast as they could. They sped across the dark fields and down the lane to the inn. Linnette's heart was in her mouth. She felt as if she had been living in a grey world until now and now she was seeing in colour. She could have flown like a bird at that moment.

They slowed up outside and rode into the stable yard as quietly as they could. The dog crawled growling out from under its pile of wood again. Again they shushed it. They untacked and rubbed the horses down and put them back in the stables, trying to make everything look as it had done when they had left it.

Then they went upstairs and sat on Michael's bed with a candle to admire their spoils. "Fifty pounds!" said Linnette, counting out the money.

Michael was studying the diamond. "I don't know exactly how much this is worth," he said. "But I reckon it's fair to say it's a lot."

"What are we going to do with it?" asked Linnette.

"Sell it on the black market," said Michael. "Tomorrow."

"All right," said Linnette. "We did pretty well, didn't we?"

"Yes," said Michael. "Very well. Night, Miss Fortescue."

"Linnette," said Linnette. "I've never heard of a highway robber being called "Miss" anything."

"Then it's Michael."

"Night Michael."

Linnette went to bed and fell into a deep, dreamless sleep.

They woke late the next morning. "I thought you were never coming down," said the landlord, "want some breakfast?".

"Oh, please!" said Linnette. Breakfast was porridge and more beer. They tipped the stable boy lavishly, just because they could. Then they set out, heading for anywhere where they could sell a jewel.

Linnette enjoyed the journey. It was a warm day and she was increasingly comfortable on Bob. For lunch, they bought some bread and cheese and cordial from a farm. In the afternoon, they reached Alton. They looked around for the lowest den they could find, and soon found one up a back alley. Inside, it looked much the same as any country inn, except for being crowded with clearly disreputable people. People like us, thought Linnette, we're disreputable now.

She approached the nearest group with as much confidence as she could muster.

"Afternoon," she said.

"Afternoon," said a man with a rather lethal-looking cutlass in his belt.

"I was wondering," continued Linnette, "if you would be interested in buying this".

She glanced round to make sure that they were not being watched. Then she pulled out the diamond.

"That?" said the man.

"Yes," said Michael.

The man looked at it.

"I'll give you fifty pounds," he said.

"Sixty," said Linnette, placing her other hand slightly nearer to her gun.

"Fifty, it's not worth a ha'penny more than fifty pounds."

"You're joking," said Michael, "that's daylight robbery, that is".

Another man in the group took a menacing step nearer. "We're offering fifty pounds," he said. "And if that's daylight robbery, well, I'm a robber."

Linnette decided to hold out, not because she cared whether she got fifty pounds or sixty—until recently, fifty pounds had been beyond her wildest dreams—but she would not back down on their first sale. "Then we will have to take our custom elsewhere," she said, turning as if she were going to leave.

"You mean that?" it was yet a third man, rather anxiously.

"We most assuredly do," said Michael.

"All right, all right." It was the first man again.

Linnette turned back.

"Fifty-five," he said. "Fifty-five and not a penny more."

"All right," said Linnette.

"Well, give us the jewel!" It was the second man.

"Give us the money!" said Linnette.

The first man considered. "We give you half the money, then you give us the jewel, then we give you the rest of the money."

"No dice," said Linnette. "Give us the money, now."

"Look, lady," continued the man, "I'm used to setting deals on my own terms, understand?".

He took a step nearer, and Linnette felt Michael shift in front of her.

"I'm used to shooting people who try to make awkward deals," she said, nudging Michael aside and standing her ground.

"Fine," the man almost snarled. He threw a pile of gold coins onto the table. "Here's your money!"

Linnette handed the jewel over, pausing just long enough to be insolent.

"Now get out," said the man.

"Thank you," said Michael, with ostentatious politeness. He only got snarled at in reply.

They went to a draper's, so Linnette could get some more clothes. She went for the brightly-coloured silks, and cut the skirts above her ankles so as to be short enough to ride easily. Also, she enjoyed Michael's slightly awkward glances at her ankles.

It might be worth pointing out why there was not a nation-wide search for Linnette and Michael. Well, there was nobody to look for Linnette. Rev. Matthews had thrown her out, and did not know or care what had happened to her since. The same went for Joseph, who had simply not mentioned her to the coroner at the inquest, because he could not be bothered trying to find her. As for Michael, his parents had been looking for him—rather quietly, so as not to damage their respectability—until his father heard that he had been seen in a low den in decidedly low company. A boy whose father wanted a peerage, who had wonderful chances of getting a job in a bank or a foreign trading company and of making an advantageous marriage, did not abandon all that in favour of wandering round the countryside with a girl— and had Mr Leeford senior known that the girl was undoubtedly one whom he would designate as some common young who's-me-father from Hampshire, he would undoubtedly be prostrated with the shock. As it was, he would simply pretend nothing had happened. The school charged fees in advance, and didn't care if the pupil disappeared after payment.

They struck out into the countryside again. Soon it began to get dark. They carried out the same procedure as they had the last night, and half past one found them once again in a conveniently dark spot on the highway, waiting for a coach to pass. Two farm carts passed before a carriage rolled by. This carriage was large and embossed and obviously contained rich pickings. Linnette and Michael galloped down into the road, Linnette flinging out her gun as she wheeled to a stop in the middle of the road. "Stand and deliver," she said, your money or your life".

This time two armed men leapt out of the carriage.

Bob shied backwards.

"No, we will not give you any money," said one of them, a young, very richly-dressed young man.

"Yes," Michael levelled his own gun right at them, "you will. And then nobody needs to get hurt".

"No!" the other man swung his gun up. Michael's gun flashed, the bang was not as loud as Linnette expected it to be, the man keeled over, dead. The first man wheeled round with his gun, then saw two guns pointing at his head and lowered his weapon. Actually, Linnette was unsure how well-aimed hers was. But she was sure the man did not know that.

A woman's voice came from inside the carriage, high and haughty: "what is going on?".

"Henry's been killed!" said the man, then, to Linnette and Michael, "now, you can't just go around killing people!".

"He was going to kill us," said Michael simply. "Now, we'll trouble you for that money."

"Here, Edwards!" said the man, "why don't you do something?".

"No, sir," said Edwards, the coachman, simply and respectfully.

"Have it then," said the man. He emptied his pockets of gold and emptied Henry's too.

"Oh, no, don't!" said the haughty woman, but the man ignored her.

"Thank you," said Linnette, as Michael counted it out.

Michael tossed a coin to Edwards. "For not giving us any trouble."

"Thank you sir," said Edwards respectfully, grinning hugely as he slipped the coin into his pocket.

Then they wheeled round and galloped off, leaving the people in the carriage staring after them as they disappeared like spectres into the night.

As they sat on Linnette's bed, surveying their spoils, Linnette asked Michael "have you really never killed anyone before?".

"No," he said, laughing, "when would I have had the chance?".

"You're awfully good at it."

"It's awfully easy."

They laughed, then thought.

Then Linnette went to bed and dreamed about diamonds.

The next morning they woke late, breakfasted well, and tipped the maid and the stable boy very generously.

They set off down the road, north into Surrey.

They found Surrey, however, not altogether to their liking. The highways were busier, and there were more police around. They turned north, and continued to make a profit from the highway travellers.

After several days of travelling, plundering whom they liked, they had built up a tidy profit. Linnette had a couple of silver bangles, a pearl necklace and a leather-handled knife. She began to consider herself an expert in her field—the waiting, the dash, the brisk bargaining, the getaway, and, when necessary, the trip into town to find a shady dealer who would buy jewels or bonds for hard cash. And, unbeknownst to themselves, they were acquiring a bit of a reputation. Highway robbery was in decline, very much so. Linnette and Michael were talked about in wayside inns as "the ghost riders" or "the fairy bandits", as it was assumed that anyone with the audacity to set up a life of plunder on a well-maintained, law-abiding British highway must be supernatural in origin.

In the course of their travels, within a few days they happened upon the countryside of northern Oxfordshire, in the conveniently un-busy Cotswolds, with long stretches of tempting highway. They stayed at a small, shabby roadside inn, and that night they struck out onto the highway. As usual, they waited for a fine coach. These did occasionally come down from Lincoln or York to that part of the country. The coach that came, when scarcely half an hour had passed, was a dream of a coach, big, gilded, shiny.

Linnette laughed as she kicked Bob forward. She and Michael skidded to their usual halt in front of the coach. I say usual, but the charm Linnette got from highway robbery was that it never became usual. Each rush as she dashed in front of the carriage felt like the first.

"Stand and deliver," she called.

"Your money or your life," finished Michael.

A woman in the carriage screamed.

The driver of the carriage whipped a pistol out of his jacket and pointed at Michael's head.

"Come on, now," said Michael, quietly, "I don't want to hurt you, just your masters there".

The coachman hesitated, but kept the gun pointing at them, though he let the tip sag a little.

"Money!" called Linnette, riding round to one side of the coach.

"Richard," said the woman, "why don't you do something?".

A man leapt out of the coach and loosed off a pistol. The bullet flew past Linnette's ear, so close she felt the heat. Quick as a cat she fired her own pistol. Her aim was better and it found its mark in the man's head. He slumped to the ground, blood gushing from the wound. It was very red, thought Linnette. She hadn't really noticed that before.

Michael, of course, had come up behind her when he heard the shot, waving his gun around.

"Neat work," he said, just as in the carriage the woman began to scream.

"Do you have any money, madam?" asked Michael.

"Yes," she replied, with mingled fear and indignation. "It's my ten pounds, I cannot believe he—" she glared at the dead Richard—"could let this happen! Here it is, have it all."

Linnette took the most valuable coins from the purse, leaving the coppers, while Michael went round to the front of the carriage to supervise the coachman. However, something of that gentleman's warlike spirit seemed to have left him.

They gave the lady in the carriage back her lightened purse and thanked her politely. She did not reply, merely looked at them, all shock and terrified outrage.

Then Linnette and Michael turned and galloped away into the dark. "Not so much as a good evening," said Michael.

"Well," said Linnette, "I expect she didn't want to part to part with her jewels". She considered. "Or she might have just been frightened."

Linnette was still thinking about that man. He had tried to kill her, and instead she had killed him. She laughed, not in spite, but in wonder at her own power. She could kill now. She looked up at the stars and dared them to challenge her.

That night at the inn she spent a long time looking out of the window. She was wonderful. The world was wonderful. Life was wonderful.

This robbery, however, had consequences. Law enforcement became increasingly suspicious. A young man and a girl on horses were travelling England, robbing and killing. Clearly they had to be stopped. This was, however, rather difficult when they travelled at will through the whole country. For many weeks the police tried in vain to predict their movements, or offered rewards for information in criminal circles, but still Linnette and Michael evaded capture. It was helped by the fact that that Linnette and Michael were known by many criminal groups for charging fair prices, whereas the police were notorious for offering rewards and not handing them over.

They travelled most of southern England, that long, glorious summer. They still met with precious little opposition. Occasional shoot-outs with police occurred on the edges of towns, and there was one dangerous incident in a bar in Suffolk.

Linnette and Michael swung confidently into the bar, and surveyed the prospective customers for a ruby they had stolen the previous night. There was a group of men by the fireplace watching them with interest. Linnette and Michael strolled over to them.

"Morning," said Linnette.

"Morning Miss," said one of the men. "What can I do for you?"

He seems a nice, polite gent, thought Linnette. Looking at Michael she could tell he felt the same. Good customer here.

"Well," said Linnette, "we've got this ruby, a real star, it is". She took it out of her bag and held it in her hand. "Want to buy?"

"Well..." the man considered, "how much are you after?".

"A hundred pounds," said Linnette, and she expected to get it. If this man thought she was asking for twice what she expected to get, he was sadly mistaken.

The man considered.

"I reckon we should buy it," said another man at his elbow.

"Aye," said a third man.

There was a general chorus of nodding and murmuring in the group.

"All right," said the first man, clearly the boss. Linnette expected him to start the money first/ jewel first argument, but he began counting out coins.

"Where did you get it from?" asked the third man.

No need to tell trade secrets. "It fell off the back of a carriage," said Linnette, winking broadly.

The man shifted slightly and suddenly, indefinably, she knew there was something terribly wrong with the situation.

She reached down as subtly as she could as could and put her hand on her gun.

Next to her she felt Michael shifting.

The first man took a step nearer, and said, in quite a different voice, not at all suggestive of a nice, polite gent, "So it fell off the back of a carriage, did it?".

"Yep," said Linnette, casually, tightening her grip on her gun.

"That's right," said Michael.

"Well I suggest," continued the man, "that you come along to the police station at once, young lady, and bring your bodyguard with you".

Michael grabbed Linnette's hand and they leapt backwards, shooting wildly at the same time. A hail of bullets fell all around them, splintering the wooden tables, lodging themselves in the floor.

"Catch them," shouted the police, "stop them".

Linnette fired again, and caught one of the policemen in the neck. "Don't have a bodyguard!" she yelled, as she turned to leave, "don't need one". A glass shattered on the floor less than an inch past her head. She whirled to find a big man bearing down on her, brandishing a gun. She lunged for his gun and tried to wrest it from his grasp. He had a grip like steel and he hung on, kicking at her shins. Michael vaulted over a table, two men hard on his heels.

"I got this," said Linnette.

"Sure?" Michael turned to shoot a policeman who had got too close.

Linnette nodded, aiming a swift kick at the man's knees and pulling out her knife with her other hand.

Michael shrugged and turned to deal with the remaining opposition.

The policeman grabbed at her knife but she was too fast for him. She stuck it into his ribs as hard as she could. He roared like a bull in pain, and shoved her backwards, but she clung to him and they both went backwards over the table. Linnette was underneath, and jarred her back and elbows on the stone floor, but she leapt up, with two guns her hand now. She finished off the policeman with a bullet from his own gun and turned her attention to the rest of the room.

Some of the other denizens of the bar, whether in support of their fellow lawless or just because they fancied a scrap, were joining in.

Only three members of law enforcement seemed to still be alive. A policeman was dashing across the room towards her, barrels blazing, a bearded man with a knife at his heels. Linnette felt a sharp sting like a wasp as she flung her gun up. She fired two bullets, into the chest and head, and the policeman keeled over, presumably dead. Linnette felt hot blood trickling out of her arm, clearly she had been grazed. Across the room, Michael was dealing with one policeman, but another leapt out from nowhere and she barely had time to move before he shot at her. She shot back, but the gun just clicked. Empty.

She shoved it back into her belt as her rounded on her again, taking better aim this time, leveller aim. One more chance. She felt it in her gut and it rushed up to her head. She almost laughed as she flung her knife at him. But bullets move faster than knives and she was already flinging herself to the floor. It messed up her aim and the knife just lodged itself in the floor near his boot. She grabbed a broken glass from the floor and flung it up at his head, rolling over just in time for the bullet to crash into the floor next to her hand, not into her stomach. The broken glass hit him in the head and he crashed to the floor, dead or at least hors d' combat.

Linnette surveyed the wreckage of the room. All the police out of action, one way or another, and nobody else. One of the other bar clients had joined in the fight with a little too much gusto and had a nasty slash down his chest, but he seemed quite lively despite, or perhaps because of, that.

Michael, gasping but grinning, trekked across the room towards her. "Nice work, Linnette," he said.

A huge grin spread over Linnette's face. "Best yet." She made a vague gesture, but was not quite sure what to do, and somehow they ended up solemnly shaking hands.

They turned their attention to the man with the gash.

"Are you all right?" asked Linnette.

"Sure, sure, Miss." He grinned hugely. "Why, that's the best fight I've had in a long time."

"Well, thank you, everyone" said Michael.

There were general choruses of "pleasure", "damn neat work", "good to see the claret run" and the like.

They took their leave of that establishment and, Linnette's arm being really quite sore, took refuge in an inn. When Linnette walked in the door, pale and covered in blood, heads turned.

"Please," said Michael, "my sister was hurt by a scythe. Can we have a couple of rooms to stay in, please?".

The barman looked at him hard. "Can't you go home?" he asked.

"We haven't got a home. We travel around," said Linnette quickly, and almost truthfully.

"And your employers?"

Michael reached into his pocket. "Look, we're not trying to pull the wool over your eyes-"

"They turned us away because we couldn't work any more," said Linnette, trying to introduce a little tremor to her voice.

"All right," said the barman, "but if she faints or something, you're dealing with her".

They got their two rooms and sat in Michael's to look at Linnette's arm. The cut was quite shallow and there was little flesh damage, mostly she was just losing blood. Michael walked to a farm to buy some cloth to use as a bandage and a tourniquet and bandaged her arm very skilfully. Quite like a doctor, thought Linnette, then, what a nice boy he is! Really, very nice! The next morning she felt quite better, and, despite Michael fussing over her a little, they hit the road again, looking for fresh pickings somewhere else.

Early in September, they were heading north-west, down an increasingly pebbly road, and, anxious to avoid the dear old ancestral seats, and any chance of meeting the dear old ancestors, turned back from Cheshire and ended up in Nottinghamshire.

They travelled on as the whim took them, south into Buckinghamshire. Here they found an empty, rural highway, and standing next to it, a house, rather abandoned-looking and overgrown, with a fine view of the highway.

"I wonder who lives there," said Linnette.

"Exactly what I was wondering." Michael rode nearer to the house and peered at it.

"Let's go into a village and find a bar, they're normally pretty talkative."

That is what they did, and, over a couple of drinks, established that the house had been owned by a Miss Lucy Hendrick, who had died ten years ago, and no relatives had turned up to claim it. It now stood empty.

Thus Linnette and Michael put it about that they were relatives of Miss Hendrick, who had been in Australia since childhood, and were coming back to their family roots here, and they were so delighted to have found great-aunt Lucy's house.

That evening, they moved in. It still had all its furniture—and very grand some of it was, too— and was very much habitable, with no dry rot and no damp. Bob and Hengroen were very happy in their stable, and after several nights of good plunder up and down the road, Linnette and Michael were sitting in the pub with the other locals—who thought they were living off their reserves of inherited wealth and were pleased at how friendly and helpful they were—when they first heard of the Sanders Stone. The Sanders were a local family, and Mr Sanders had just brought an enormous topaz back from his foreign travels for his wife. Apparently Mrs Sanders always had to have the very latest in jewels, and even the queen's daughters lived in fear of being outshone. Linnette's eyes met Michael's and she knew that the great minds were thinking alike.

"Whereabouts do the Sanders live?" asked Linnette.

"Oh," said Mr Brown, who worked on a big cattle farm on the edge of the forest, "they live in a big house in the forest, you can see it from the high road, and it looks so grand I reckon it could just be heaven".

"Lucky them," said Linnette, thrill bubbling up inside her.

"They are," said Mr Brown resignedly

That night, they ate their dinner—basically just cake and some wine—and Linnette said "well, are we getting going?"

"Yes," said Michael, "absolutely".

They went out and tacked up the horses and set off for the Sanders' house. They trotted down the high road in the moonlight, with nobody else in sight. "Wait," said Linnette, as they passed Mr Brown's cottage. "He should get a present—from the fairies, of course."
She produced a sovereign, and placed it on the doorstep. Then she took a bit of paper from Michael, who had vague literary ambitions and always carried a pencil and paper around with him. Linnette was an avid reader, but had never learned to write very well, but she managed to scribble a hesitant "from th feriys" on the piece of paper. Then they continued on their journey to the Sanders' house.

They stopped the horses by the gates and looked in. The house stood quite a way back from the gates. There was a long, dark stretch of lawn with no people on between the gates and the house, but there were quite a few lights on downstairs. "We should maybe come back later," said Michael, but he sounded wistful.

"Or we could take our chances with the lights on," pointed out Linnette.

Michael laughed. "Very well! We'll dodge the people in the house looking for a jewel when we aren't even sure where it is."

They dismounted and led the horses just inside the gates. Then they tied them to a tree and crossed the lawn on foot. When they got just outside the glare of the lights, they stopped and studied the house.

"That's the drawing room," said Michael.

"And that could be the corridor with the servants' rooms in," said Linnette, "right?"

"Probably," said Michael.

"So, assuming their keeping the jewel in their bedroom, where do you reckon the bedrooms are?"

"No idea. This house has an enormous upstairs."

"All right," said Linnette, "we've cased the joint, now let's go inside".

They tiptoed round the house. Round the back it was darker. There, near the kitchen, was a small, wooden door. Linnette's heart leaped at the site.

They hurried over to it and tried the handle. Locked.

"I got a safety pin," said Michael, "we could try to pick the lock".

"All right," said Linnette. Michael took a large safety pin from his pocket and shoved the end into the lock. He pushed and twisted but the door would not give.

"They like their security, don't they?" said Linnette.

"They certainly do!"

"You want me to try my hair pin?"

"Sure."

Linnette opened one of her pins and shoved it into the lock. Initially it gave easily, then she felt the hair pin stick against something hard and the lock refused to turn. "It won't turn," said Linnette.

"We could just shoot the lock off," said Michael.

"No," Linnette frowned, "I think if we tried to push the hard bit in with that safety pin and twiddle the other bit with a hair pin, I think I could do it".

"All right," Michael gave her the safety pin.

Linnette pushed the safety pin in hard, and suddenly felt the lock give, then she shoved the hairpin into the lock and twiddled the stiff bits round. Suddenly the door clicked open.

"Yes!" Michael looked as if he were going to fling his arms around her, but ended up shaking her hand instead. "Good work!"

"Thank you," Linnette grinned. "It was!"

"Now, Miss Fortescue," said Michael, "shall we?"

Linnette grinned even wider, and accepted his arm as if she were going to a ball. "Mr Leeford, we shall."

They went through the doorway together, into a passage near to the kitchen. It was very dark and completely empty. Acting on guesswork, they walked quietly down the passage to the door at the end, past doors which Linnette reckoned opened onto the kitchen, and probably the pantry, although she was hardly familiar with grand houses. The passage opened onto the front hall, which seemed as good a place to start their exploration of the house as any. This part of the house had lamps in it, however, and there were voices coming from behind a closed door on the right. There was, however, nobody about. "So," said Linnette, "where do reckon she keeps her jewels?"

"Don't know," said Michael, "but I reckon upstairs, in a safe somewhere".

"All right," said Linnette, "we'll go upstairs".

They proceeded up the grand front staircase, and at the top found themselves on a thickly-carpeted landing. There were innumerable doors leading off from it. Why do people need so many rooms? thought Linnette.

"Excuse me."

They whirled round to find a maid standing on the stairs looking rather puzzled. Linnette thanked God she had not peremptorily pulled out her gun.

"Can I help you?" obviously meaning, "what are you doing here?".

"No thank you," said Linnette. If she thought they were intruders, let her say it. She, Linnette, would give her no grounds for thinking so.

"I don't believe I was expecting you," said the maid, in a tone of harder suspicion.

"We just came," said Linnette, in a tone which she hoped mixed disarming charm with an inexorable right to be on the premises.

"To spend an evening with the master?"

"That's right," said Linnette.

"Oh, I see," the suspicion had gone from the maid's face, though the puzzlement had not. "Beg your pardon Miss-"

A distinct desire to be wicked stole over Linnette. "Fortescue," she said.

"Oh," the maid's deeply impressed look deepened, "any relation of the baron's?".

"Yes," said Linnette.

"Oh, well, if you're quite sure you're all right."

Linnette smiled and nodded pleasantly and the maid left.

"Well," said Linnette, as soon as she was out of earshot, "how long do you reckon we have before she mentions us to the Sanders?".

"Do you reckon you're known yet? As Fortescue? In respectable circles?"

"Don't know," said Linnette. "Come on."

"Where?"

Linnette looked up and down the landing. "I don't know, this is meant to be your kind of house."

"I think you're overestimating my background."
They set off in a random direction down the corridor. Every door they passed they looked into, and every room contained a sitting room or a little study. But no obvious stash for a jewel. They turned into another corridor.

Linnette was cursing silently to herself. How many rooms did this house have? But the first door they opened revealed a bedroom. It was a woman's room, with a dressing table piled high with perfumes. And in it was a safe. Linnette gasped in triumph. There! If a woman were to keep a fabulous jewel anywhere, she would keep it there.

They hurried into the room, knelt down and investigated the safe. It was a large and heavy metal box, which opened with an elaborate-looking lock.

"Same trick?" asked Michael.

"Same trick," said Linnette. She produced her hair pin and Michael handed her the safety pin.

"You have a go," she said.

Michael shoved the safety pin and hair pin into the lock and twiddled it. "It doesn't work," he said.

"I'll try." Linnette took the tools of the trade back off him and tried to open the safe. It would not open, no matter which way she twisted the safety pin.

"I think they have a better lock on this one," said Michael.

"It is called a safe," admitted Linnette.

"We could shoot the lock open," said Michael.

Linnette shook her head. "Too much noise." She sat in front of the safe, her mind running over the possibilities.

"This thing has a lock, right?" she said.

"Yes," said Michael.

"Well, when we tried to pick it, it didn't work, but the thing, the mechanism, it did move around."

"It did," said Michael.

"And isn't a lock basically a bit of metal, or lots of metal, which go into a slot?"

"I reckon."

"Well, if we can-"

But at that moment there were hurrying footsteps in the passage. They froze. "Right," said a man's voice, "they must be in this wing. Now, you guard the end of the passage. We'll go check the rooms".

Michael and Linnette stood up as quietly as they could.

"How many?" whispered Linnette.

Michael shrugged. "'Bout six?"

That would be too many, especially if they all had guns, and they didn't know if they did or not. Martha and Michael darted into the little wardrobe at the back of the room and pulled the door as shut as it would go after them. They couldn't get it properly shut and Martha hoped to God it wouldn't fly open as four men with guns burst into the room She balanced precariously between piles of chemises, endeavouring to peer through the crack in the door, but unable to get herself at the right angle.

"Well, they're not in here," said the same man who had spoken outside the door, presumably Mr Sanders.

"They might be," said another man, hopping round the room excitedly, brandishing his gun.

"We'll search the room," said Mr Sanders. "Hobbs, you take that cupboard, Thornton-".

Linnette knew that she ought to be paying attention, but she was horribly aware that she was stuck in a very small space with Michael Leeford. When she should be concentrating on surviving the wrathful owner of the property and his gun, she was instead thinking about how she was brushing against Michael every time she breathed out. She raised her eyes and Michael looked as if he were thinking exactly the same as she was. She was wrested back to the crisis by a man wrenching open the door of the cupboard.

Linnette was confronted with his gun an inch from his face. Fortunately, he had the disadvantage of surprise, and Linnette fired straight into his face. Immediately, a bullet from one of the other men whizzed past her ear. Linnette bounded out of the cupboard, raising her gun towards (the probable) Mr Sanders, but he leant forward and swiped it out of her hand. Linnette grabbed at it, but it had fallen on the floor, and Mr Sanders was lunging at her with his own gun. Linnette grabbed at it, and twisted it round. It went off, lodging a bullet in the ceiling. Any hope of their remaining undetected had indubitably failed. Mr Sanders was trying to turn the gun round so he could get in a shot at Linnette, but she held on as tight as she could and twisted. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see Michael, preoccupied with the only other man left alive. Not that she would scream for him. She could handle this by herself, she could, she could- the next bullet went so close to her head she could feel the heat.

She tried to reach her knife, but every time she had to use her other arm to block Mr Sanders' punches. And he was a grown man, he was stronger than her... her hand began to slip on the gun. Mr Sanders felt it too. His eyes widened, and, just for an instant, he broke off from punching. She had the knife! Not that she was at all sure what to do with it. She jabbed at Mr Sanders, but he knocked her arm aside. She jabbed again, he blocked and almost sent the knife flying from her grasp. Then he got the gun free- and was whacked round the back of the head with Michael's knife.

"Thanks," said Linnette, getting her breath back. "I had that," she added.

"Indeed, you assuredly did," said Michael, grinning and not too sarcastic. "I think you need to learn knife work. And why not swords, while we're at it?"

"Actually," said Linnette, "that's a pretty good idea".

They looked at each other and both thought the same thing—we have to go. And then: but not without the jewel.

"Right," said Linnette. "I was thinking, if we can get the piece of metal to go out of the slot, the safe will open. Right?"

"We can try," said Michael.

Linnette picked up her gun and began rapping the safe on the top with it.

"No," said Michael, "I think, like this".

He picked up the safe and dropped it. Nothing. He picked it up again and dropped it. Still nothing. Linnette could hear a commotion beginning downstairs. Michael dropped the safe again. And the mechanism clicked! Linnette grabbed the handle and swung the lid up.

There, on a pile of silk, was the jewel. The already-famous Sanders topaz. Linnette picked it up. It was fabulous. Flawless. The best thing they had stolen yet. Again there were running feet on the stairs. Linnette seized the topaz, in her pocket, and darted out into the corridor with Michael. They dashed into the room opposite, as a crowd of servants and well-to-do women in expensive dresses trailed into the room they had just left. Then the screaming began in earnest.

"Come on!" said Linnette, "now!".

They dashed out of the room and down the passage without looking back. They careened down the stairs and into the hall. They looked at the blank rows of doors, trying to find the one they had come from.

"This one, I think," said Linnette, dragging Michael across the hall and into a narrow stone passage which she recognised as being the one they had come into the house by.

The door at the far end of the passage was still open, and they flew out into the night like bats across the lawn. The moon was so high in the sky it was almost like daylight. They ran round the side of the house. And nearly collided with an elderly man with a dog on a leash.

They skidded past him, and as they dashed away, heard him setting up a mad shout: "they're getting away, they're getting away!".

Back to the gates where the horses were waiting. Linnette had never mounted Bob so quickly. Away they sped into the night, leaving the house in its chaos.

But the Sanders establishment was prompt. Scarce had they made it to the top of the hill when they glanced back to see a horde of men and dogs streaming out of the house.

"Ride like the Devil!" gasped Linnette, terror indistinguishable from excitement flooding through her veins. They rode faster. So the Devil must indeed have ridden, on his manic revels. The road was dark and mainly deserted. From the hills on either side, over the drubbing of the horses' hoofs and the pounding of her own heart, Linnette heard a man shout, a dog howl. Then, in front of them, the dark shapes of men on the road. The guns sparked, a bright blaze in Linnette's eyes, then they rode on by, away into the dark. It was not long before they arrived at the house, still standing silent and empty in the night.

They stopped the horses and swung themselves down. Bob and Hengroen panted to themselves as Linnette and Michael examined the stables for any trace of an ambush. Nothing. They wiped the horses down and put them in the stable with some hot mash. Then they crept into the house. No ambush. Nothing. Linnette collapsed at the kitchen table and burst out laughing, in triumph, exhilaration, sheer joy to be alive. Michael poured some more wine.

"To us," he said.

"To us."

They drank.

Then Michael, looking idly out of the window, said, "Say, Linnette, there's a light on the road! Coming this way!".

Linnette froze. She joined at the window. There, indeed, was a dark blob. Men? Horses? Dogs? How many?

"We could fight them off," said Linnette.

"Aye," said Michael.

"But then, they'd come back. We can't stay in this house, can we?"
"I wouldn't like to bet on it."
Linnette considered. For a girl worth so much cash, she had few possessions. A few dresses and some trinkets, that was all.

"I'll be three minutes. You reckon we have three minutes?"

"I reckon."

Linnette dashed upstairs. In her bedroom, she made a roll out of a couple of her dresses, and put her trinkets in her little leather bag. Then it was back down the stairs, out through the kitchen, where Michael had collected some money, to the stables. The horses had finished their mash, but were not at all pleased to be disturbed.

Never had Linnette saddled up so fast. She was in the saddle in moments, noticing in her haste how much her horsewomanship had improved. "Through the woods," she said. Michael nodded. He was right with her, of course he was. They endeavoured to gallop quietly through the woods, never an easy undertaking. However, after a while, they made it to another road, apparently undetected and unpursued, where they slowed up. Nothing, fine. Excellent. Now they just had to keep riding. Maybe, thought Linnette, looking around at the woods and fields, they really had bitten off more than they could chew, this time.

They were all clear for an hour or so, heading south at random, their only thought to get away from Buckinghamshire. Towards morning, they found themselves on some open hills, and lay down in a shepherd's little stone shelter, hoping that if any one came upon them they would take them for country folk (although, as Linnette's skirt was covered in blood, that might be unlikely). There, they caught a few hours' sleep, and their horses a little rest.

They were awoken by hounds giving tongue. Linnette sat up and looked around. Black dots were moving across the far hill side. "You think they're searching for us?" she asked Michael.

"Yes," he said, "what else would it be? You bring your men out in force like this for sheep, do you?".

"Have they seen us?"

Michael and Linnette squinted at the dots moving so purposefully across the hill side. They reached the same conclusion at the same moment: "yes".

They were back on the visibly exasperated horses, heading south again, over the hill tops. They tried to keep to a steady trot, but as their pursuers drew nearer they knew there was no choice but to gallop for it. They leapt forward, but Linnette could feel Bob was rustier than the previous day, and she gnawed her lip.

The men with dogs gained for what felt like aeons, up a hill, down it, up the next hill, down that... Hengroen and Bob were good horses, but a horse always tires in the end, and Hengroen and Bob were tiring. Just when Linnette was becoming concerned for their wind, she saw their chance. "There." A small glen, wooded, with a stream running through it and several ways out. Michael had seen it at the same moment and they dived for it, urging the horses as fast as they could go. If they could just make it to the trees-

The branches closed over Linnette's head and Bob floundered across the stream and out the other side. The dogs would not find them now. The obvious way to turn was west. They would not go that way, then. South. Down the glen. The horses were nearly spent when they finally rounded a bend and, looking back, saw that they had lost their pursuers.

Good. They could go slower, now. For a time.

Thus began the hunt. There was no other word for it. For that day and the next Linnette and Michael were hounded across southern England by man and dog. They ate when they could, they slept when they could, they kept moving. It was one thing to plunder, or even kill, on the country roads, but to kill a well-known merchant in his very house and steal his wife's valuable topaz from their bedroom, was a different matter. It was towards noon on the second day, as the inevitable pursuit appeared across the north slope of the Chilterns, that they knew that they had to stand and fight. The horses could run no more. And when all was said and done, they had had enough of running. They didn't even need to say anything. They simply met each other's eyes, wheeled the horses and dismounted, drawing their pistols.

There were four armed policemen, on horses, with five dogs. One of the policemen—he was in fact a Chief Superintendent, but Linnette neither knew nor cared about that, only that he was clearly in charge—approached them. "Do you surrender?"

Linnette never could resist a challenge. "Never!" she yelled, "Never, never, never!".

"I recommend that you drop your weapons and submit to the law of the British Isles on suspicion of theft and murder. Drop your weapons!"

Linnette tossed her head back. Fierce anger flooded through her. She swung her gun up and fired, a mere opening of hostilities, defiantly into the air. For a moment she regarded them, head up and hand on hip, then came a blaze of answering gunfire.

Linnette shot, re-loaded, shot again and laughed. Then she heard Michael beside her give a little choking sob. She turned to see Hengroen on the ground, blood gushing from his neck. "No!" said Linnette, quietly for she could barely breathe. Hengroen plunged up, blood spurting from his nostrils, then collapsed, dead. Michael was standing there, stunned, staring. "Michael," screamed Linnette, just to bring him back to reality. He turned, saw a policeman bearing down upon him and turned to resume the fight. Linnette herself turned, realised she was out of bullets and flung herself at the nearest policeman with her knife. Linnette was not skilful with a knife, but she had the advantage of surprise. The policeman turned, too astonished to try to shoot until it was too late. Then one of the policemen grabbed Bob.

"Don't you even think about it!" yelled Linnette, taking even herself by surprise by the force of her own voice. The policeman shot, Bob plunged, Linnette was nearly whipped in the face with the rein. She grabbed the rein, and Bob bolted. Linnette flung herself upwards, trying to mount and gain control before it was too late, the policeman shot again, Bob panicked, reared, caught Linnette's foot in the stirrup, and then Linnette was slammed repeatedly on the floor, unable to see, never mind do anything, while Bob plunged. Michael grabbed her and disentangled the reins, just as the policeman shot almost straight at Linnette's head, grazing Bob's flank instead. "Don't you dare!" yelled Linnette, shooting almost at random. More by fluke than skill, for she was still picking herself up off the floor under the hooves of a panicky horse, the bullet hit him through the head. Linnette caught her breath, leaning on a restless Bob.

"You all right sw- Linnette?" asked Michael.

"Sure. You?"

"I'm all right. Poor Hengroen."

"Yes. And poor Bob." Linnette turned to study the wound on his flank. It was shallow, only a graze really, but it probably stung.

Then Bob coughed.

"Has he got a sore throat?" asked Michael.

A cold dread had settled in Linnette's heart. "Let's hope it's that, and not his wind."

"What do we do now?"

"We'll have to leave Hengroen here." Linnette knew he was dead, he was only a horse, he had been Michael's horse, not hers, and she had killed men, but it still felt bleak saying that.

"Yes." Michael's eyes were glittering, Linnette noticed.

"You want to say... words?" she asked.

"I don't know, I don't think so. I don't even know what to say. You?"

"He wasn't my horse," said Linnette. "Also, Reverend Matthews, so, no."
"Just, goodbye," said Michael.

Linnette echoed him. "Goodbye." Then she resumed practicality. "We'll have to go somewhere else with Bob. I don't think he likes the blood."

Bob took a shaky couple of steps nearer to Hengroen, stood there for a moment, flicked his ears a couple of times and then let Michael and Linnette lead him away.

They slept that night in a nearby wood, in a little shelter made of twigs. Their situation was, Linnette had to admit, pretty bad. They still had the topaz, and quite a lot of money, but one of their horses was dead, their clothes were bloodstained and rather travel-worn, and they were still on the run. Also, Bob was not happy. When he coughed, blood came out of his mouth, and there was no denying that his wind was broken. Linnette sighed. There was nothing she could do for a horse with broken wind, and it might have been better to shoot him, but she could not do that. Around midnight, Bob lay down, coughed, sighed, leant his head on Linnette's shoulder and died. Linnette cried then, and so did Michael, and eventually she slept.

When Linnette woke the next morning, she felt better. Not wholly good, but better. Despite all that had happened, they were still alive and still free. But the world owed them a debt for Bob and Hengroen. And the world would pay.

"Where do we go now?" asked Michael, in much the same way as he had before.

"Well," said Linnette, "we're still on the run. I say, London. The sink of all depravity. I'd like to see it and we're not far off. We could get there today."

There was nothing to be done about Bob. They had to leave him as they had left Hengroen, and struck out across the fields and lanes to London.

They arrived in sight of it in early afternoon, a great black cloud on the horizon, a blur, pouring smoke forth across the fields for miles around.

"We can hardly walk into London looking like this," said Michael.

"True," said Linnette. "It doesn't matter, I think we've shaken off the hunt for a bit. We'll change our clothes, and then we'll be all right."

They changed in a little spinney by the side of the road, scrupulously standing some way off and looking the other way.

Then they set off again, this time keeping to the main roads, striding with utter confidence through the main roads as the countryside became town. Linnette felt her spirits rising with every step they took. Here, this crowded city with its rich pickings, was a paradise for crooks. Also, it was the first time either of them had been to the metropolis, and the sheer scale and noise and bustle or the place was staggering. The biggest city in the world. Over a million people. Linnette, who had lived in a village, was staggered. This, she thought, was the life.

Then she saw a newspaper stand, and her heart sank, while at the same time the little shiver of danger ran down her spine. Neither of them read newspapers, and, although they were aware they had acquired a certain reputation among dealers of stolen goods, she had not known that they were stars of the journalism business. And yet the headline read: "Sanders Robbers Still On The Run. Are They The Ghost Riders?".

"Well," said Michael. "That's interesting. They even know our nickname."

"Indeed," said Linnette. "However, they are probably not looking for a well-dressed young lady and a gentleman going for a walk in London. And I've been giving this some thought. You know what I reckon the best place in the world is for hiding? A public house. Come on, let's get a drink."

"How much of that is actually because of your theory that a public house is the best place in the world for hiding, and how much is because it's been ages since you had a drink?"

The public house they found was small, shabby and rather rough. Linnette's expensive dress attracted stares, but their utter confidence indicated that they were no young society folk who had wandered into the wrong tavern. They got a pint of beer and sat in the corner.

"So," said Michael, "what are we doing? More jewel robbery? Smuggling drink?"

"Why don't we steal the Crown Jewels?" said Linnette.

Michael laughed.

"What?"

"Just... some people, when they have..." he rummaged in his wallet "a pound left in the world, when they're in the papers and on the run, would suggest we lie low for a while."

"Absolutely not! It's just got interesting!"

"All right," said Michael. "Let's go steal the Crown Jewels."

It was not quite that simple. They made inquiries among their fellow-drinkers as to the best way to pull off a robbery of the Crown Jewels, pretending they were innocent travellers from the country who wanted to know about the Tower. Apparently it was well-guarded and had high walls. That meant they had to procure some rope, which necessitated leaving their refuge in the public house and braving the newspaper-reading streets of London. Which was, of course, half the fun. Nobody associated these well-to-do, polite young people with the villains of the Sanders robbery, however, and they passed through the city unchecked. They took their bundles, with their money and some odds and ends of clothes, with them, as they did not know what else to do with them. They found their way easily enough to the Tower, then waited in a nearby public house—and spent their last money in it— until dark, when most of the visitors would have gone from the Tower.

Then they approached it cautiously. There was nobody around. Obvious is probably best, thought Linnette. She walked up to the main entrance, then froze. There were guards on the entrance. Very well. Not the main entrance. Across the moat, the stone wall of the Tower rose dark and impenetrable-looking. Nothing is impenetrable, thought Linnette. "We must climb the walls," she said.

"All right," said Michael. They crossed the moat, which was only a strip of lawn, and arrived at the walls on the other side. They looked even more impenetrable close to. Very well. She, Linnette would climb it. If cats and rats could, so could she.

First they had to get the all-important rope over the walls. This was going to be harder than it looked. It was probably possible, just, to get the rope up to the top of the Tower. But how on Earth would she make it stay there?

"If we had some kind of hook..." began Linnette. She tailed off. Michael nodded. "A hook would be good." He frowned. "Here, this might be crazy, Lin," he said, "but you have got a couple of spare dresses in that bundle haven't you?"

"Yes," said Linnette, not understanding.

"I've got some twine. If we cut one of the dresses open, we could probably bend the hoops into some kind of hook."

Linnette opened her rucksack, and fumbling in the dark, found a dress. It was the only one she had left, one having been spoilt in the hunt across England and the other being worn. She had her knife, as she always did.

"I reckon," said Michael, carefully slitting it open, "that we could make some kind of hook from the whalebones".

"I don't wear corsets, you know," Linnette pointed out. "The Reverend always said they were bad for your singing. And Angelica said-." What Angelica had actually said was that men liked curves, but Linnette managed to check that quotation just in time.

"Oh," said Michael, "no, hang on, this one has a rigid back, we can use the bones in there".

Carefully they disengaged the whalebone posture-corrector and bent a couple of the longer bones, which were supposed to fit around the shoulder blades, into two arms of a hook and tied them together with twine from Michael's pocket. (Linnette noted that, as well as small sharp objects for inserting into locks, strong twine was something she should probably always have with her.) "Will that do?" asked Linnette.

"I think," said Michael, "we could do with another arm, just to make it more secure".

"The hoops," said Linnette. They cut open the skirt, and detached a whalebone hoop, which, after a great deal of sawing with their knives, and some rather awkward bending, made a fairly good third arm of their hook.

The remnants of Linnette's dress now being unwearable, she simply bundled it up with everything else. It might come in useful some time. They must have looked a strange sight, a young lady and gentleman sitting on the lawn outside the Tower of London in the night, hacking away at a very good-quality dress. But nobody was around to see them.

They tied the end of the rope to the hook, stood about ten feet from the Tower walls, and Linnette threw as hard as she could. The hook bounced off the wall and fell on the lawn. Michael tried, throwing like a discus, and when that failed, like a cricket ball, but he still could not get the hook to the top of the wall. "We need some kind of catapult," said Linnette.

Michael had a catapult, of course, but there was no way they could get the grappling hook into it. They might have to use some of Linnette's whalebones again. They laced the hoops from the wrecked skirt into a rough v shape.

"What do we use to pull on?" asked Linnette.

Michael considered. "We need something rubbery. Preferably quite strong."

"The dress," said Linnette. "It's got elasticated fastenings."

They found the wrecked dress and pulled out the elasticated fastenings in the back and skirt. They tied the several pieces of elastic together and fastened the string onto the catapult.

Then they put the remains of the dress away again and slotted the grappling hook into the catapult. They stood almost directly under the curtain walls. Michael held the catapult against his shoulder and drew the string back. He released the grappling hook and it flew half way up the wall and stopped. He tried again, this time pulling the string even further back. Still no good. Linnette tried, pulling the string back to her shoulder and taking careful aim at the top of the top of the wall. She pulled back on the string and the grappling hook flew elegantly up into the air—and swooped elegantly down onto the lawn. Linnette sighed.

"Maybe we should try where there are trees," said Michael. "There are some down by the river, the wall's lower there too."

"That's right by the main gate," said Linnette, "there are guards".

"Is that a problem?"

"No," said Linnette.

She and Michael wandered round to the river side of the Tower. There were more people here: a man sliding through the shadows on the river bank; a woman's figure sitting in a huddled heap by the water; a man with a lantern, barely visible at the other end of the street. But that was no bad thing. People meant the guards on the gate were less likely to notice Linnette and Michael, hanging around in the shadows under the trees. The walls were indeed lower, probably not low enough to get a grappling hook over, but low enough to deal with if they climbed one of the many trees growing along the bank.

"I have not climbed trees," admitted Linnette, "since I was, what? eight years old".

"It's a knack you never lose," said Michael.

"Let's hope so."

Linnette shuffled rather awkwardly up the trunk, clinging on with arms and legs. But the knack did come back to her, and when she reached the branches she perched comfortably enough, holding on with one hand and balancing on her toes.

"Very well," she said. "We're here."

"I assume," said Michael, "that we shuffle out along the branches and throw the grappling hook from there".

"I also assume that," said Linnette. She grinned. "Let's have a go with that rope, then".

She crawled out along the branch, with the rope slung over her shoulder. Michael crawled after her. The branch creaked and began to bend ominously. "Go back!" hissed Linnette.

"You sure you'll be all right?"

Linnette was torn between being annoyed and being oddly pleased. "Yes! What will it do? Eat me?"

"You could fall to your death!"

"So could you!"

Linnette sat as comfortably as possible on a swaying branch above hard stone ground. She lifted the rope off her shoulder and placed it on her lap. She attempted the difficult task of getting a length free without either tangling it up or letting it trail on the floor. There was no room to whirl the grappling hook around her head ,because there were branches in the way. She simply held the grappling hook against her shoulder and threw as hard as she could. It was not until it was in mid-air that she wondered what would happen if it fell. Would a guard see it?

By a miracle, however, two prongs of the grappling hook fell over the top of the wall and stayed there.

"I did it!"

"Well done."

Linnette smiled, for some reason. "Shall I let the rope fall?"

"Let it down gradually."

She let it down gradually, and then they scrambled down from the tree.

They hurried across the street and stood under the walls. The walls were massive. The rope looked like a piece of string in comparison and the whalebones looked like sewing needles.

They looked at each other, both thinking the same thing: can I go first?

Linnette said it first. Michael grinned. "All right, then".

Linnette grabbed the rope with both hands. She placed one foot against the wall, and pushed. She set the other foot against the wall. Very well, she was suspended from the curtain walls of the Tower of London. Not everyone could say that, she thought with satisfaction. She found another foot hold, and pushed herself up further. This was easier than it looked. It was like climbing a staircase, but with no hand rails. And no easy way of seeing her feet. And ridiculously high up in the air. Never the less, half the battle was confidence. And she had never lacked that.

Her heart steadied. She climbed further. She looked up, but seemed no nearer to the top. She found herself unable to resist: she looked down. Her stomach lurched, her head spun. But she felt happier than she ever had ever been before. She was clinging to a piece of rope with her hands, and a wall with her feet, high above the dark pavement. This was the life. She kept climbing. She was constantly aware of the void below her, tugging at her, and relished in defying it. She had reached the top now, and, looking down, saw the Tower buildings spreading below her. She looked down behind her and saw Michael beginning to climb. He was beside her in moments, and perched on the wall next to her. "We must be mad," he said.

"Yes."

Now came a bit which Linnette had not thought about. Getting down. They could re-arrange the grappling hook and drop the rope over the other side, but then the grappling hook would become a nuisance to get down, and they could not leave it there, dangling for all the guards to see.

"I suppose if when we got to the bottom we both swung on it, that would snap the whale bones," said Michael.

"Good idea," said Linnette, "well, not particularly, but we have no better".

She picked up the grappling hook, and noticed that one of the whalebones had snapped. That was an unexpected shock, she had expected them to be stronger than that. She put the other two whalebones on the top of the wall and let the rope drop.

"My turn to go first," said Michael.

"All right," said Linnette. She sat on top of the wall and watched him descend into the void. This time, she kept a wary eye on the grappling hook, but it held.

There was no easy way to do this. She would just have to climb. She swung over the edge of the roof, fumbling for a foothold, holding herself up until both feet were securely attached to stone. Then she essentially slithered down, alarmingly fast. She barely stopped herself falling as she grabbed at the wall, skinning her knuckles, dropping the last six feet to land painfully hard on the stone precinct.

"Where do they keep the Jewels?" she asked Michael.

"No idea."

"Hopefully not on the other side of that wall," said Linnette, gesturing at the massive one in front of them.

"First things first, the grappling hook."

"I'll see if I can get it down, we might want it again later," said Linnette.

She twitched the rope but the hook stayed hooked. She twitched it again, and shook it vigorously. It still stayed hooked.

"You have a go," she said to Michael.

Michael twitched the rope and flicked the rope but it still did not come free.

"We need to be quick," whispered Linnette, "there are guards".

She had an idea. "I'll try twisting it."

She took the rope from Michael, and as she twitched it gave it a little flick. It came free and fell at her feet.

"Well done," said Michael.

Linnette hurriedly bundled up the rope and shoved it into her bundle.

"Let's have a look round," said Michael.

They did. The inner wall appeared to be less well-guarded. Linnette and Michael wandered round, trying to find a way in. Then came a noise from ahead of them and the dark shadow of a guard appeared on the wall around the corner. There was nowhere out of the way to run to. There was nowhere in the passage to hide. "Get down," whispered Michael to Linnette. Linnette lay down flat on the floor, squeezed as hard against the stone wall as she could manage. She was now unlikely to be seen by the guard, who carried only a dim, flickering lantern. "What are you doing?" she whispered. Michael ignored her, lounging against the wall right in front of Linnette. The guard approached, apparently not seeing them. "Evening," he said to Michael.

"Evening," said Michael, politely.

"All right night, tonight," said the guard.

"Not half as cold as some," agreed Michael.

The guard walked on. Linnette waited until he had disappeared into the dark, then stood up. "You are... a very clever gentleman," she said.

"I know," said Michael. "But thank you."

They continued to walk, rather more cautiously, around the walls. There was no sign of the Jewels. There was, however, a door leading beyond the wall, with only one sleepy-looking guard outside.

"What are we going to do?" asked Michael.

"Talk our way into it," said Linnette.

"I don't know how long I can keep looking like a guard for," said Michael. "If you're going to wriggle in on your stomach again, you'll have to be quick."

"I can do it," said Linnette. "I'll hoot like an owl when I'm done. Good luck," she added, as Michael approached the guard. They began to chatter about how tonight was a better night than last night, and then about the weather generally. Gradually, Michael drew the guard away from the entrance, still chatting about what the boss had said when he found Jim with Ellen from the grocer's in the old menagerie. Linnette was through the entrance now.

"I haven't seen you before," the guard was saying, "you new?"

Linnette froze.

"Yes," said Michael. "Just come."

"Honestly, why didn't you say so? You won't have met Jim yet, you don't get the point unless you know Jim always claims to be pure as God Himself."

Linnette relaxed. Now just to get Michael away from that guard. She hooted like an owl, as realistically as she could, and waited. Michael could not suddenly break off the conversation, but she hoped he would hurry up, in case there were guards here too.

"Well, I must be going," said Michael.

"Indeed," said the guard. "You don't want the boss to catch you standing here chatting."

Michael sauntered casually through the arch way. When he got round the corner of the wall, he saw Linnette and grinned. Linnette, suddenly self-conscious, shook out her rather crushed skirt.

"We're in!" said Michael.

"Indeed," said Linnette.

She looked around the dark courtyard. They seemed to have done the hard part: there were more hiding places here and she could not see a guard.

"Where are the jewels?" asked Linnette.

"No idea."

Linnette looked around her. There was a massive tower directly in front of her, which presumably had guards at the top. They had to stay in the shadows where they could not be seen from that. But the Jewels might be in there.

"All right," she said, "if you were storing some immensely valuable jewels, where would you keep them?"

"Not sure, let's have a look around, keep quiet for a bit."

Footsteps crunched down the path towards them. They darted behind a large stone building, and stood as still as they could. The guard came closer, stopped at the end of the passage and scanned the area with great precision. Linnette felt her breath cut off. She stayed as motionless as she could, except for sliding her gun, almost as a reflex, out of her holster. Her fingers fitted easily around it in the dark. But they were standing in almost complete darkness, and the guard walked past on his beat around the Tower.

Linnette exhaled. Her fingers relaxed around the gun. After a moment, she and Michael crept out of their hiding place and walked on down the path. The windows of the buildings on either side glared with light, little amber pools spilling out onto the path, which they had to skirt around, while getting a good view in at the window. They saw stone corridors, guards moving about but no Jewels. Linnette was beginning to feel that they must be in the big tower in the middle. At that moment, two shadowy figures separated themselves from the darkness.

Linnette felt a bullet crash into the wall next to her, so close she could feel flakes from the wall hit the back of her head. Clearly there would be no talking. Very well. Linnette whipped her gun out and fired. She thought she had hit one of the figures, but the other fired again. Fortunately for Linnette, he did not appear to be able to aim properly in the dark. Linnette fumbled to re-load, but Michael beat her to it. Just when she thought they had settled it, more guards rushed round the corner of a building. Clearly they had heard the shots. Guns blazed. They looked like little stars lighting up in the dark. Linnette found it hard to believe that if one of those little metal pellets hit her she would probably die.

There was no chance of outshooting them. They would have to run. Linnette turned and ran, ducking and weaving, almost straight into the arms of a group of guards coming the other way. For an instant a gun was practically in her face. Then Michael dragged her down an alleyway, between two high walls. They ducked sideways as a gun blazed behind them. Linnette pressed herself into an alcove, as motionless as possible and making no noise. The confusion passed them by, guns crashing, and rounded the corner out of sight. They waited for a time, giving the guards a chance to get well away, then Linnette whispered, "God, that was close!".

"There is just a possibility," said Michael, "that we should have cased the joint better before butting in. Having said that of course, butting in has its advantages. Exercise, for example".

They crept out into the alley, half expecting to be ambushed by guards. There was nobody there. Right, thought Linnette, let's get the goods.

She walked forward into the more open space at the end of the alley. And there, in front of her, was a wooden door marked "Jewel Room". That simple.

Trouble was, there were two guards on the door.

Fortunately, there were big windows all along the side of the building. "All right," whispered Michael. "Let's go get."

They walked along the lane to the far end of the building, keeping on the side of the lane furthest from the guards. At the end of the building was a large, curved window which looked easy to get in through.

"All right," said Linnette, "is it locked?"

"No, it's fixed."

Sure enough, the window was not intended to be openable. That did not necessarily mean it was not openable. The fun of picking a lock would be replaced with the fun of quietly breaking a window. The difficult word being "quietly".

"If we just smashed it," said Linnette, "do you think they'll notice?".

"Well, if I were all the way over there, I'd probably hear something. I might think it was a cat."

"I doubt if highly-trained guards on the Tower of London will assume that this is a cat."

"I could try something," said Michael, "which will probably make a very big crash and make glass go everywhere, but it might not".

"What is it?"

"I'm not entirely sure."
"Ah, my favourite kind of something."

Michael pulled out his knife and tried to shunty the blade under the metal frame. After a few moments, it slid into the crack. So far, so good.

Then he began gently wriggling the blade upward. The metal frame creaked. The glass screeched and twisted in a way in which glass is most definitely not meant to twist.

Michael withdrew the blade.

"Push it between the frame and the glass," whispered Linnette. "People can push narrow blades through glass. Mrs Grant used to have this bit of really thin glass and all us children would beg her to push her needle through it."

Michael set the blade horizontally against the frame. He pushed gently. The blade skittered, the glass screeched and the window shattered.

Linnette ducked as glass hailed down around her.

"That was one way of doing it," she said.

Then she hopped though the smashed window, and Michael followed her, as they heard the guards clatter down the lane to see what all the fuss was about.

Michael grabbed Linnette's hand and pulled her back against the wall. For what felt like the millionth time that year, Linnette tried to make herself invisible and endeavoured not to breathe. The guards seemed to have reached the window now, they were crunching on the shattered glass.

"Well, it's broken," said one of them.

"It's broken all right. But there doesn't seem to be anyone here."

"Maybe it was a cat."

"Maybe, but it's worth taking a look."
The guard clambered through the window and shone his lantern around the room. Linnette and Michael, however, were well out of the way of the lantern light.

The other guard clambered through the window. "Might as well have a proper look," he said.

"All right."

The guards began pacing the circumference of the chamber, going over every inch. One of them, of course, should have started at the other side of the room, to minimise chances of escape, but clearly they had not thought of that.

It occurred to Linnette that they could climb back through the window, hide round the corner of the building, wait for the guards to leave and climb back in. But suppose they stayed on guard outside the window? No, surely they would go to tell somebody in authority about the window, giving Linnette and Michael a brief chance to grab the Jewels. But one of them might stay.

No, better to stay in now that they had got in. But they could not stand here until the guards finished at the other side of the room and came over here.

The dais.

Quick as a flash, Linnette darted forward, followed by Michael, who did not understand what she was doing, but followed anyway, and crouched behind the dais in the middle of the floor. The guards made their way along the wall, slowly and deliberately. Linnette glanced at Michael, and could tell he did not understand what she was doing. He could not ask her to explain, however, as he had to remain silent.

The guards turned the corner of the room. Linnette whisked round the corner of the dais and Michael followed, now with the light of understanding in his eyes. The scheme was, of course, incredibly risky. All it took was for the guards to split up, or to come and inspect the dais, or for Linnette or Michael to not conceal themselves properly. Which was, of course, half the fun. But none of those things happened. The guards turned the next corner and so did Linnette and Michael. Then the next, so they were crouching on the furthest side from the window.

"Well," said the first guard. "There's nobody here. Must have been a cat."

The other guard nodded. After all, what else could it be? The room had four walls, they had been round all four.

"We'll go tell the boss about the window," he said.

And the guards climbed out of the window, leaving Linnette and Michael alone.

And there were the Jewels, in front of them in a metal cage. Crowns. Sceptres. It looked like a dragon's hoard from a fairy-tale. Linnette crept up to them as if they might hear her coming. "How do we get at them?" she whispered, though there was no need to whisper—the guards were long gone.

"We climb," said Michael.

"We don't even need the grappling hook," said Linnette, "it's my turn to go first, give me a leg up".

She stepped onto Michael's hand and balanced on his shoulders. She clambered up within moments, it was much easier than the wall, as she could jam her feet in between the bars. Then she sat on the very uncomfortable ornamental top of the cage to give Michael a hand up. Then she half-climbed, half-slithered down the other side. It was further than it looked and she hit the ground rather jarringly. But she barely noticed. She was standing right next to the Crown Jewels. She only had to reach out and take to be the richest woman in England—at least.

She forgot about the fact that the guards would probably be returning soon with reinforcements. There could be no sense of urgency when confronted with millions of pounds worth of jewels. She had seen jewellery before, pearls, diamonds, the Sanders topaz of course, but nothing on this scale. It was too surreal.

"They're beautiful," she whispered.

"I know," said Michael.

"So many crowns! Does even the Queen need this many crowns?"

"I read somewhere that some of these have only been used once. Maybe we'll be that rich one day, Lin."

Linnette laughed. "I hope so. Oh, I like this one!"

"That's St Edward's Crown. It's basically a fake."

"Fake?"

"Oliver Cromwell sold the original, because he was broke. After the Restoration, they made another one."

"Really?" Linnette stopped fiddling with a sceptre. Her sole knowledge of Oliver Cromwell was from The Children of the New Forest, which she had got from the lending library as a child.

"Sir Robert Vyner made a whole lot of new stuff. It cost twelve thousand one hundred and eighty-four pounds." He shrugged. "We did the Civil War at school. We were for the king, you see."

"That's interesting. Why did you find it dull there?"

Michael shrugged again. "I get bored easily. I have a terrible boredom threshold."

"Will you ever get bored of stealing things?"

"After a few years."

"When will you get bored of me?" blurted Linnette.

"A lifetime."

Linnette blushed. Why had she even said that? Stupid!

"Is this still an idle conversation we are pursuing in a wholly inappropriate environment or is this a serious conversation... in an equally inappropriate environment?"

Michael looked at her steadily. "It's the truth."

Linnette made a mental note not to tease Michael ever again. Why did she have no brain-to-mouth filter?

"Right," she said. "We did not come here just to start admiring the scenery. We came here to steal. And fake or not, I rather fancy that crown."

At that opportune moment, a guard appeared at the open window.

Linnette whipped out her gun at the same moment he did. For a moment they stared at each other.

Slowly, deliberately, the guard stepped through the window. Linnette held her ground, swinging her gun up higher. The guard stopped, apparently dumbstruck. Then he said "what the hell are you doing here?".

"None of your business!" said Linnette. It might not be the best retort in the history of invading other people's property, she thought, but it was short and to the point.

"It is my business, I'm the guard here, and if you weren't a young lady I'd have shot you dead. And if you're not careful, I still might."

There were advantages to being of the fairer sex, thought Linnette.

"Well you might have a gun," said Michael, "but we have two and if you shoot one of us the other one will shoot you".

"But then the warder will come to look at the window and you'll be mown down."

"We'll chance it," said Michael.

Linnette returned her attention to St Edward's Crown. It was beautiful, she thought. She would have been so good to be able to say she had stolen it. She fingered it lovingly. Then she froze. One of the little topazes was loose. And she still had the Sanders topaz in her pocket. She turned to Michael. He was still talking to the guard.

"You needn't chance it," said the guard. "I could make a deal."

"What kind of deal?" asked Michael.

Linnette slid her blade out of her belt. Then she gently slid it between the topaz and the crown. She wiggled it and the topaz dropped out of its setting and fell into her hand.

"One you'll like," the guard was saying.

Linnette shoved the Sanders topaz back into the setting. It was slightly too big, but hopefully nobody would notice that. It might be years before anyone even noticed that there was a stone loose.

"All right," said Michael. "What do you think?"

That brought the guard's attention to Linnette. "What are you doing?"

"Looking at it," said Linnette, in a carefully perfected insolent tone, shoving her knife out of sight. "And I think all right."

There was a slight noise outside. "I'll handle this," whispered the guard.

He stepped out of the window. "It's all right," he said, "just a cat. I chased it out".

"All right," said a voice outside the window. "Fine."

The guard waited until the footsteps had retreated. Then he turned to them and said "all right. Here's the deal".

"We're listening," said Linnette.

"You better had be," said the guard, "because there's still time to get those guards back".

"There's still time for us to shoot you," said Linnette.

"You couldn't get out of this place without my help."

"We got in," said Michael.

"By a miracle," said the guard, "and if anything, it's your ability to work miracles I'm after here".

He paused. "I think, if you can break into the jewel house at the Tower of London what I'm asking of you is child's play."

"What is it?" asked Linnette, rather flattered, though she would never have admitted it.

"I'm a poor man," said the guard.

"If you're negotiating terms-" began Michael.

"Negotiating terms?" said the guard. "My terms are my job for your lives."

He considered and started again. "I'm a poor man. I had a wife who died of influenza. I had a son who went out to Australia and was killed. Such, sadly, is the way of the world. I have a daughter, her name's Annabel. She is the light of my life. All I have left, really. Now, recently, she got herself entangled with a brute. Name of Hetherington. James Hetherington. We needn't go into details but suffice it to say he's the worst kind of lowlife. I told her to steer clear of him. You know what girls are like. Anyway, she got herself free of this man eventually, or so she thought. Found a nice young man called Harry Johnson."

Linnette was fascinated now. She reckoned she would take this job, guards or no guards. It looked set to be interesting.

"She was going to marry him. Then this Hetherington came round and said, simply put, that he had it in his power to make sure young Johnson and any other respectable man would never so much look at her. I should explain. He has a book. He calls it the Hellfire Book. He showed it to Annabel one night. It's got... pictures and... details. All the women he's ever had an affair with, he says."

"I hate that kind of man," said Michael, with a force which surprised Linnette.

"I didn't know you would care so much," she said. "You spend enough of your time in public houses pretending to be a heart-breaker".

"Pretending, yes," said Michael. "And this is worse than heart-breaking."

"If you please, ma'am, what this young fellow gets up to in public houses is irrelevant to the matter in hand," said the guard. "The question is, will you take this job?".

"What's the job?" asked Michael.

"Go in, get the book, get back out, send the book to me. Sound do-able?"

"Why don't you do it?" asked Linnette.

"Because if he found me and he went to the authorities I'd lose my job. I'd be lucky not to go to prison." He paused. "And my son left a daughter. She's only two. My daughter-in-law fell for an American writer and they ran off to the West, as they do."

Linnette wondered whether he meant daughters-in-law or American writers by this. At any rate, she now appreciated this man's predicament.

"Prison's no place for a baby," said the guard. "Nor's a charitable institution."

"I should think not!" said Linnette.

"So you'll take the job?" said the guard.

"I don't see why not," said Michael. "Lin?"

Linnette shrugged. "Certainly."

"All right," said the guard. "He lives at number four, —'s Street, Mayfair. You think you can remember that?"

Linnette and Michael nodded.

"Good, 'cause I don't think I can write it down. All right, come with me, I'll get you out of here."

They followed him out of the window. He led them in silence down the dark precinct. They hastened down the narrow alley between the high buildings. Just when Linnette thought they might make it out of the Tower without meeting anyone, two guards rounded the corner.

"What's going on here?" asked one of them, looking from Linnette and Michael to the guard.

"I'm showing my niece out," said the guard, trying to push past. He did a very good show of being interrupted about his perfectly legitimate business.

"Who's the boy?" said the same guard.

"Look, did you get a promotion I don't know about? He's my niece's fiancé, all right? Now stop asking me questions," he said, with just the right amount of irritation and not too much.

"There has been an intrusion," said the other guard.

"I know, I heard about it." Then, with a stroke of genius, "that's why I think I should get my niece out, I don't want her to feel nervous. I've told her, of course," he added, "that it's probably just some petty gang who got their hands on a few guns".

"Yes, well Jacob's in quite a bad way. His shoulder's a mass of blood and the doctor says they got some organs."

The guard nodded expressionlessly. "Well, wish him luck. I'll see him in a bit."

The other guards nodded and went past on their duties. The guard leading Linnette and Michael took them round the side of the courtyard, muttering "let's stay unobtrusive", and straight towards the main exit of the courtyard.

The two guards there gestured for them to stop.

"Showing my niece out," said the guard with Linnette.

He led them down the next precinct to a big gate. Linnette recognised the river on the other side as being near where they had come in.

"That's Traitor's Gate," said the guard. "People were brought here to be held prisoner, and killed eventually. Queen Anne Boleyn was brought here."

Linnette had never heard of Queen Anne Boleyn but she nodded anyway.

"What are you doing?" asked one of the guards on Traitor's Gate, more casually than any of the others.

"Showing my niece out."

Linnette and Michael left the Tower and stood by the river, the wind blowing up from the dark water, making Linnette shiver in her thin dress.

"Now," said the guard, quietly, "when you've got it, send it to Christopher Green, P— Street, Lambeth, understand?".

"I understand," said Linnette.

"All right," said the guard. "Now, sweetheart," he continued loudly, with a significant glance at the guards on the gate, "you reckon you'll be all right getting home by yourself?".

"Yes, thanks," said Linnette, trying to sound like a girl who had just innocently visited her uncle, "certainly".

"All right," said the guard. "Thanks, good luck," he whispered, and strolled casually back to the Tower.

Linnette waited until she and Michael had got well away from the Tower before she laughed, from sheer exhilaration.

"What?" said Michael.

"We walked straight past so many guards!"

Michael laughed too. "Do you think he'll keep his side of the deal? Not tell anyone what we did?"

"I think so. But I expect somebody will make the connection with us anyway, eventually. Now, where's –'s Street?"

"I don't know," said Michael. "Let's go street hunting in the dark!"

The streets were still crowded as Linnette and Michael made their way through central London. The streets were still crowded, even though it was two in the morning (as Linnette ascertained from her very fine gold wristwatch purchased by the unwilling generosity of a young aristocrat in Somerset, near Bath)—street vendors, homeless people, finely-dressed people on their way to and from operas and theatres and just people, wandering about for no discernible reason. Wagons and carriages clattered up and down. Aptly was London dubbed The City Which Never Sleeps. They made their way along the river, through the middle of London and paused in a big square adorned with a statue of a grim-looking man. "That's Lord Nelson," said Michael.

"Right," said Linnette. Lord Nelson had received occasional references in some of her favourite novels. "Won a great battle. Had an affair with someone called Emma Hamilton."

"Did he have an affair? Really?"

"You didn't know that?"

"Believe it or not, that bit didn't get taught to me in History class."

"You wouldn't have thought it from that statue either, he looks very straight-laced."

"No, I wouldn't," said Michael thoughtfully, "right, London's huge, we could wander around looking for this street all day. Let's ask one of these people".

"Have you forgotten that we're in all the newspapers?"

"Well it's that or wander round a city of about a million people until we happen upon out destination."

"Oh fair enough, but if we end up hanged, I shall say I told you so."

They approached a very finely-dressed young couple.

"Excuse me, madame," said Michael, with his most charming bow, "do you know where —'s Street is?"

The charming bow charmed. The lady dimpled annoyingly sweetly. She gave careful directions.

"Thank you," said Linnette, trying not to grudge her the dimples and sweetness.

"Thank you madame," said Michael.

They found the street quickly enough after that. They strolled through some very smart streets (Linnette entertaining Michael with the racier details of Nelson's life, and goings-on), past a park, which must be the St James's Park the lady had mentioned. Shortly after that, they found themselves on —'s Street.

"Number four," muttered Linnette. "Ah, here we are."

Number four was a large stone villa, set well back from the road with an immaculate garden set with topiary work and a small fountain.

"Well," said Michael, "let's go".

The iron railings around the garden were almost ridiculously easy to climb. Linnette glided up the driveway, very neat sandstone paving slabs, and began to skirt the side of the house, looking for an easy window.

The first room they past was a parlour, where the window only opened as a narrow crack down the side, presumably to stop the city air coming in off the street. The second room, further round the back of the house was a kitchen, with windows which pushed all the way up. Beyond that was a cobbled yard with stables and a coach house. This Hetherington certainly lived well. Linnette cast a nervous glance at the coach house. The window was very clearly visible from there. But there was nobody in sight.

"I think we should get in here," she whispered to Michael.

"Yes."

Linnette began to pick the lock—it was so easy when one knew how. She took great pleasure in showing off how casually she could it, even though there was nobody else there except Michael, and he could probably have done it just as well.

Just as the lock clicked open, a dark barked over in the stables. Linnette froze. The dog barked again, then stopped. Probably just a cat.

Linnette pushed up the window and stepped through. Michael followed her and carefully pushed the window down after them. They were standing in a large, dark kitchen. Linnette could just make out a big iron range, a few cupboards and a big wooden table.

"Well I doubt if he's going to keep his Hellfire Book in here," said Michael.

"No," said Linnette. She crossed the kitchen, careful not to trip over any of the many metal objects near invisible in the dark.

The door opened onto a stone passage.

"Parlour?"

They found the parlour easily enough. Linnette headed for a big oak cabinet. It contained many china ornaments and exotic statuettes which Linnette thought were probably genuine. It did not, however, contain anything which looked like a Hellfire Book. Michael investigated the big rosewood writing desk, tapping it carefully in search of secret drawers.

"Unless he's done something ridiculously melodramatic, such as hide it behind a wall panel, it's not here," said Linnette.

"Where do you think it will be then?"

"Well," said Linnette, thinking about it, "if I had a book, with the names of all my mistresses in it, and I were keeping it to blackmail people with, I'd keep it near at hand, where it won't be stolen. I'd probably keep it in my bedroom".

"All right then," said Michael.

They went out into the hall and up the lushly-carpeted stairs. Several doors led off the landing.

"Which one do you reckon is his?" asked Michael.

Linnette looked at the door directly opposite them. It was up two little steps like a dais, carved with elaborate spiral patterns and adorned with a knocker which looked like a nymph.

"Well, he doesn't exactly make it hard for us."

They crept up the steps and tried the door. It was locked.

"My turn," said Michael.

"All right." Linnette stepped back and watched him deftly pick the lock.

They listened for any noise which might indicate Hetherington had woken up, but there was none. They nudged the door open. It was a large, luxuriously-furnished bedroom. A man, presumably Hetherington, lay on the elaborate bed in the corner, apparently fast asleep. The room was almost completely dark, which would make searching for something interesting. However, they had to manage with what they had. Linnette tiptoed over to a cabinet against the wall, and began looking through the lower drawers. A collection of birds' eggs. Fragments of pottery, the label, if she squinted in the dark, reading Ming Pottery, whatever that meant. No Hellfire Book.

Michael was opening the drawers next to the bed, as quietly as he could. It did not look as he were having any luck either. Linnette carefully began to investigate the upper shelves of the cabinet. But it was probably inevitable. She banged her hand against something—an ivory elephant it looked like— and it fell over with a thud. Linnette froze. She stood as still and silent as possible, hoping that Hetherington would not awake.

He stirred briefly, then shot up in bed. "Who are you?" he began, awake and angry at once. Linnette reached for her gun, but Michael was faster. He shot him at point blank range. He collapsed a torrent of blood, and lay motionless in a crumpled heap n his own bed.

"I really hate that kind of man," said Michael, with fierce vindictiveness.

"We can have light," said Linnette. There was a lamp and a box of matches on top of the drawers. Michael lit the lamp, and it cast a dim, flicker glow over the room. In a fanciful moment Linnette could imagine how the scene must look to someone else: two robbers and a dead man in a circle of yellow light. It was, however, helpful light. Michael, rummaging through the top drawer, announced almost at once, "this might be it".

It was a slim, perfectly innocent-looking black leather book. There was no kind of decoration on the cover.

"Is it the right one?" asked Linnette going to look.

"I can hardly look. What if it is?"

"I didn't realise you were so bothered about decency," said Linnette, teasing over her surprise. Michael blushed and mumbled something incoherent.

"I'm not a man," said Linnette, "I'll look".

She opened the book at random and glanced inside. A woman's face stared back at her, along with a page of carefully-written notes.

"This is it all right," said Linnette.

At that moment the door opened. A young girl stood there, in a shabby linen frock. She looked from Hetherington to Michael to Linnette and back again.

"Don't tell anyone," said Linnette, raising her gun.

"What, what..." stammered the girl.

"We've killed this man," said Michael. "If you tell anyone, we'll shoot you."

"Oh no," said the girl, "please don't". She looked close to tears. "I came in here when I heard he shot. I don't mean any harm."

"So you won't tell anyone," said Linnette, studying her face. Could she be intimidated or not?

The girl really did seem on the brink of tears. "I've got to tell the police," she said. "I'll lose my job if I let them get away with murdering the master. I might even go to court."

That put a different slant on things. Linnette had assumed that this girl was Hetherington's latest. Instead, she appeared to be a servant in the establishment. (Her name was Flo Whittaker, but Linnette never found that out).

"You mean you work here?" said Michael.

"What did you think I did?" she said bewildered.

"Well..." said Linnette, with tactful nodding towards the bed and raising her eyebrows.

Flo looked puzzled for a moment, then blushed. "No!" she said, caught between relief and indignation. "I work here, and it's the only job I've got. You won't shoot me because I don't want to lose it?"

Linnette suddenly remembered their only worldly asset. The large topaz she had cut out of St Edward's Crown. Here they were in a womaniser's bedroom, with the womaniser dead on the bed and his poor bewildered maidservant threatening to go to the police. It was the perfect opportunity for a beau geste. She took the topaz from her blouse pocket and threw it to Flo. Flo caught it by instinct and then stared. She could not have looked more surprised had she been handed a tiger.

"Lose it," said Linnette. "And never have to work again a day of your life."

Flo stared at her instead of the topaz.

"Is... is this thing real?" she managed eventually.

"Certainly," said Linnette. "Real as you or me."

"How real is that?" said Flo, with a slightly hysterical laugh. "I think I'm dreaming."

"Well," said Michael, stuffing the Hellfire Book into his bundle, "we must be going".

"No!" said Flo suddenly. "What if they take me to court?"

"Madam," said Michael, with a gallantry which would have impressed Sir Galahad, "with that thing you could buy the court".

Linnette merely smiled graciously and snuffed out the lamp.

"Thank you," stammered Flo as Linnette and Michael glided out of the room.

They met nobody else in the house and left through the same window they had used to come in.

Once out in the street, Michael burst out laughing.

"What?" asked Linnette.

"Just thinking about what Mrs Sanders would think if she knew what we had done to her topaz."

Linnette laughed then, remembering what Michael didn't know. "I think she'd be rather impressed," she said. "St Edward's Crown is quite a step up in the world, even for Mrs Sanders".

"What do you mean?"

"While you were talking to that guard, I jimmied one of the topazes in the crown out with my knife and shoved the Sanders topaz back into the setting."

The expression of amazement on Michael's face was priceless.

"I wonder what St Edward would think if he knew what we'd done to his topaz!"

Linnette laughed again. "But hey! We did steal the Crown Jewels! Part of them anyway."

They were walking back towards the river, down the dark, still-populated streets of London. Before they had got very far, however, Michael said, "where are we going now?". Linnette stopped to consider this for the first time. Where were they going? She wanted something to eat. They also needed money, having given away their only means of income. And they had to send that book to Christopher Green. And it might be a good idea to get out of London before they had to indulge in any more shoot-outs with police.

"How about Claridge's?" she suggested.

"Claridge's is expensive," said Michael. "We have no money."

"Exactly," said Linnette. "What better place to get some?"

They found Claridge's easily enough—follow the hordes of well-dressed people steadily trickling into Mayfair from the theatres in Piccadilly.

When they arrived at Claridge's it was half past four in the morning, but Claridge's was used their guests turning up after balls and operas all night. However, when Linnette examined herself in the light outside the great hotel, she realised she looked a little rumpled to say the least. Her hoops, despite her best efforts, had become a little crushed. Her skirt had a few flecks of mud and a couple of dark spots of blood on one side. Also, it occurred to Linnette that the authorities at Claridge's might not agree with her showing so much leg. However, never mind.

The young man at reception looked up brightly. "Madam, sir," he said. "Good evening!"

"Good morning!" responded Linnette brightly.

"What can I do for you?" said the young man brightly.

"Two rooms please," said Michael.

"Of course," said the young man brightly. He did everything brightly. "And will you be requiring breakfast?"

"Yes please," said Michael.

The young man looked harder at Linnette. "Are you all right madam? You appear a little... disarrayed."

"Oh," said Linnette, thinking on her feet, "the stupid coachman didn't check the wheels and and we crashed into a tree".

"A tree?"

"We came through the park," she said.

"I see," said the man. He was considering, and Linnette realised that he was not entirely sure whether to believe her.

He seemed to make up his mind, however, and said, "very well, that's fifty pounds please".

"Oh," said Linnette. "I didn't think to bring my purse when I came out." She hoped she had captured the careless spirit of the well-to-do. "Put it on the bill and when the coachman comes back from the cartwright's I'll send him back for it."

Again that hesitation between scepticism and belief.

"Very well" said the man. "I'll just go get the bill."

He disappeared into another room. He remained in the other room for a long time. Linnette occupied herself by admiring the scenery, attempting to preserve the disdainful air of one who is used to such things. The furnishings were luxurious with a solid, comfortable opulence. There were curtains and drapes and potted plants and well-dressed, elegant people hanging around the room. It was almost literally incredible.

So she didn't notice for a moment how long the man had been gone. Then Michael said "Lin?".

"Mmm?" said Linnette, tearing her attention back from a potted palm.

"How long can it take that man to get the bill?"

Linnette received a sudden cold feeling. She would probably have received it earlier if she had not been slightly pre-occupied with the scenery.

"Let's leave," she said, her hand automatically inching towards her gun.

At that moment there was a clattering on the steps outside. Through the door, she caught a glimpse of policemen crashing their way into the hotel.

Linnette did not hesitate. She leapt over the counter, Michael springing after her. They darted through the doors on the far side of the room. They heard the police trying to keep the crowds in the reception area calm, and then heard footsteps running after them. A bullet crashed into the brickwork above Linnette's head. They swerved through a door marked "kitchen".

"Back way," Linnette hissed to Michael. He nodded.

There was nobody in the kitchen at this hour. Noises came from the wine cellar down some steps, which stopped at the sound of Linnette and Michael crashing through overhead. Linnette imagined a butler getting drinks, confronted with the noise of a herd of elephants trampling overhead, setting the glasses down to go and investigate.

At the end of the kitchen was another passage, cold, bare stone, with a door to what looked like a wash house and another leading out to the considerably less glamorous-looking back of Claridge's.

Linnette rushed out into this passage, aware the whole time of the men behind her, of the bullets which could come crashing into her spine at any moment. One whizzed into the place where she had been standing just as she ducked sideways, heading for the open air. They needed a plan, Linnette thought. They were out-numbered and out-gunned and they could not out-run bullets. The little courtyard at the back had an alleyway leading out into the street. It had a door to the coal cellar. A woodpile. The piles of dirty linen.

The coal cellar.

Linnette glanced back. The police were still in the corridor. She grabbed Michael's hand and pulled him over to the coal cellar. After a moment's bewilderment he grinned in appreciation of her genius.

Linnette was still horribly, yet thrillingly, aware of her back, of the feeling of a speeding lead pellet smashing into her. The little wave of victory which hit her when she slid into the coal cellar was the sweetest thing.

She landed not too near a pile of coal, mercifully. Michael landed almost on top of her. They heard people careening round the corner of the courtyard just as the hatch slammed shut. Linnette sat in the absolute pitch darkness, listening to the police rush through the courtyard and stop. She could picture them, guns raised high, standing in the courtyard glaring around. It was a mercy they had not thought to bring dogs, thought Linnette. Don't look in the cellar, she told them in her mind. Don't look in the cellar.

They did not look in the cellar. Instead Linnette heard them hurrying away, through the alley leading out into the street.

She sighed with relief, and almost immediately choked on coal dust. God, it was dusty in here. She went to push the hatch open, but Michael grabbed her wrist.

"Might be a trick," he whispered.

"Yes, all right," said Linnette. "We'll wait for a bit."

They waited until Linnette was nearly suffocating, then she made up her mind.

"Look, if there are coppers out there, I would rather take my chances than suffocate down here."

"Actually, so would I," said Michael.

Linnette pushed open the coal cellar hatch, and gratefully scramble out into the cold night air. She coughed, took a few deep breaths and declared herself ready for action.

"All right," said Michael. "Our attempts to make our fortune in Claridge's was rudely interrupted. What now?"

"Anywhere you like."

"How about we clear out of London?"
"Fine with me," said Linnette. "In fact, if this gets in the morning papers, we might be better off out of town".

"Tell you what," said Michael. "I'm bored with England. Let's go abroad."
Abroad! London was impressive. The thought of seeing the treasures of foreign shores for herself thrilled Linnette. Her head was filled with a glowing picture of lush trees, big, gleaming buildings with piles of columns, pretty birds that she had heard rumours of, people in beautiful clothes. Why tear up England when you can run riot round the world?

"That sounds like a plan," she said. Plan, however, was an optimistic way to put it. More like "inspiration". They still did not exactly have a plan.

They headed back to the river, hoping to find a boat. "We can always get the night ferry out to America or somewhere," said Michael vaguely.

"We haven't any money."

"We could work our way across."

"We could stow away."
"Either of those sounds fun," said Michael.

They hurried back through the smart streets down towards the river. Even the most determined ball-goers were returning to their houses now and there were fewer people around. As they neared the river, the people became more frequent, striding purposefully down the river bank, either up into the city or towards one of the many bridges. Linnette and Michael paused on the banks of the river, wondering where to go now.

"Where do you reckon the docks are?" asked Linnette.

"Well," said Michael, "the sea's that way," he gestured vaguely down the river, "and it would make sense for the docks to be near the sea".

"Let's go that way, then", said Linnette.

She enjoyed their walk along the river, looking at the dim shapes of London's buildings looming out of the dark on their left, and the black, sludgy water running along on their right. They passed the Tower again, and carried on towards the sea. A shape blundered out of the dark, too big and white for a pigeon. Must be a gull. Good sign. They rounded the bend in the river and there before them were the docks.

The first impression Linnette got was of noise and crowds. People scurried back and forth along the quay, hurrying on and off the ships crouching in the water, battling to get horses and carts through the crowd, winching piles of boxes and crates, which dangled in the air periodically, a menace to those walking past. It was five 'o' clock in the morning now, although the January day was still so black it might as well be midnight, and London was waking up, but the docks looked as if they had been like this all night.

"Mind out, please, Miss." Linnette ducked to allow a sailor pushing a wheelbarrow full of sacks to get by.

"All right," said Linnette. "There are a whole load of cargo ships. Shall we try a cargo ship?"

"Stow away in the hold?"

"Unless you think you'd make a good cabin boy and I'd make a good maid?"

"Well, we'll see when we've picked a ship, looked the people over."

They strolled past the rows of ships, looking at each one as best they could in the dark. Sometimes a lamp would illuminate the names—Albatross, Go and Ask Her, Empress—and Linnette wondered where they were going and why. She could get on any one of them and head—anywhere. Foreign shores. Spain. Canada. Where even were Spain or Canada? She would find out. She had never seen the sea but she could imagine it, a massive blue lake, surrounded by little green hills with orange bushes on them. Or trees. What did oranges grow on? It didn't matter.

"Is that a passenger ship?" Michael was pointing down the key, to where a vast ship was bobbing lazily up and down while people swarmed over her like ants. About a hundred tired-looking people were scurrying down a gangplank, clutching bundles and huddling under their coats. They stood around on the quay in a small, bewildered knot, apparently overwhelmed by the activity around them. Suddenly a cloud billowed up from the ship, making Linnette cough.

"She's on fire!"

Michael laughed. "She's a steamer! Look!"

Three black stumps were sticking out of the deck. Little wisps of steam were coming out, drifting dreamily though the night air.

"That's beautiful!" said Linnette. She laughed at the strangeness of it. "That's incredible!"

"It is."

"We could try our hand at getting on. You know, we're so respectable, we lost our tickets... Or"—catching sight of another ship, almost invisible in the shadow of the steamer—"do I see our kind of people?".

Michael looked where she was subtly indicating. "I think so."

There was no distinguishing mark per se of the less law-abiding citizen. It was more a manner. A kind of swaggering but wary defiance, that Linnette felt like a magnet. These people were two men, both clutching small wooden barrels under their arms, looking up and down the docks.

"I like the look of their boat," said Linnette. Even in the dark, and even to Linnette, who knew nothing about boats, it was clear that she was a good boat.

"Shall we go talk to them?" asked Michael.

"I think we should."

Linnette and Michael strolled over to the men, endeavouring to look perfectly at home. The men looked up as they approached.

"Hello," said one of them warily.

"Evening," said Linnette. "How do you do?"

"Well enough," said the man, more easily. "And you?"

"Not bad," said Linnette.

"Look," said the other man, "any other time we'd be glad to chat, but just now, young lady, young gent, we're busy".

"Well," said Linnette. "I was wondering, actually, if I could give you a hand with that."
"How do you mean?" It was the other man, suddenly suspicious.

"Well," said Linnette, casually, "I've been looking at your ship and I think she's real pretty. And I was wondering if... there were anything you needed doing."

The men were both frowning at her, trying to ascertain if she really were an innocent young lady. She tried to look as knowing as possible. After all, while one did not want to state one's objects out loud, one did not want them to go completely over the head of one's target.

"You like this boat?" It was the first man who spoke.

"She's lovely."

"Do you know where she's going?"

"I'm sure it's lovely."

"She costs a lot to maintain." The man appeared to be understanding perfectly.

"I'm a poor woman," said Linnette, endeavouring to sound rueful and faintly wistful.

"Well," the second man cut in, "we're poor men. Things like extra food, extra... hassle. That kind of thing".

"Oh, we wouldn't be useless," said Michael. "We're willing to make ourselves useful in whatever way we can. In fact," emphatically, "do you want us to give you a hand with those barrels?".

"All right," said the first man. "Deal. But I'm expecting helpfulness and usefulness from both of you. I'm Jack Arnett, by the way. This is just Bill."

"I'm Linnette Fortescue-"

"Of course!" said Bill, "I thought you looked familiar".

"What?" Linnette was taken aback. The last place she expected to hear confirmation of Matthews' assertion of her ancestry was here. How did this man know about eighteen-year-old high society scandal?

Bill shrugged. "Name, face, two and two together." He looked suddenly awkward.

"Anyway," said Linnette, "this is Michael Leeford".

"How do you do?"

"How do you do?"

"All right," said Arnett, who appeared to be the boss, "you can begin by taking a barrel each".

Linnette picked up a barrel—it was quite small—and stowed it under her arm.

Arnett set off up the quay without another word. Linnette followed him. They left the quayside proper and headed between two warehouses. At the end of the alley was a blaze of bright lights.

"What are we here for?" asked Linnette.

"This is a public house," said Arnett. "Friend of mine runs it. He—look, you wouldn't grass would you?"

He sounded reasonably confident but Linnette said "course not" anyway.

"He doesn't want to pay the duty. You know how it is, bit steep sometimes."

Linnette nodded. Common-or-garden booze smugglers, ten a penny in the London docks.

They went into the public house, and Arnett did business with the landlord in full view of the customers, who were presumably not the most law-abiding citizens.

They got five pounds, which Arnett and Bill split between them.

"Who are these?" the landlord asked Bill as they prepared to leave.

"Connections of ours," answered Bill airily.

"Will I be seeing them regularly?"

"No, I don't think so."

"Well, goodnight," said the landlord in their general direction.

"Goodnight," said Linnette, curtseying politely as they left the public house.

Then they headed back to the boat.

Bill lit the lantern on the deck, so they could see what they were doing, and briefly illuminated the ship's name, Pride of Middlesex.

Well, if one is a smuggler, one can at least be proud of it.

First they went into the main cabin. They had some wine and some soup from the brazier and a piece of bread. It was good food, but it was not a chatty meal. Arnett and Bill did not seem chatty people. It was a far from quiet meal, however. Even in the cabin the clamour and clatter of the docks, the wheel and scream of gulls, penetrated.

Arnett let them wash, and Linnette re-did her hair and washed her clothes. She cleaned the two travel-worn frocks and darned the wrecked one, so that it would be fit to wear in the morning, although it would probably look a bit odd.

Then Arnett said he would show them down to the hold.

The hold was a long, low room at the bottom of the ship, piled with an assortment of instruments necessary for ship life, and sheltering a few mysterious-looking boxes in the corners.

"This here's where you'll sleep," said Arnett.

"Thank you," said Linnette.

"You'll be fine here, I'll tell you in the morning when you're wanted. Until then, keep out of the way."

He spoke simply but not rudely. Linnette considered a moment, just to make it clear that she was in a position to consider, then nodded.

"Where are we going?" she asked.

"Dover first," said Arnett, "but that won't be for a while".

"All right," said Arnett, and he handed them the lantern and left.

Linnette curled up in the corner made by the bows—the hold was dryer and more comfortable than she feared it would be—and, for the first time in more than twenty-four hours, slept. As The Pride of Middlesex pulled out of London, at eight 'o'clock in the morning, the sky finally condescended to lighten a little. Not that Linnette noticed: she was fast asleep.

She slept until Bill woke her.

"All right. Get up. Time to keep your side of the bargain now."
Linnette scrambled up. She looked at her watch. Only twelve 'o' clock.

Bill noticed. "You've only been asleep three hours. Jack said you'd be exhausted but you don't seem to be."

"No," said Linnette. "I'm all right. You?"

"Well enough."

"Are we in Dover now?" asked Michael.

"Nearly."

"This ship's fast," said Michael.

Bill shrugged. "We got out of London with the tide, we've had good winds and currents since."

"Still, she must be neat."

"Oh," said Bill, "she's a dream. It's amazing the way she goes, sometimes." His expression softened for the first time. "All right," he said. "Come on then. Jack'll tell you what to do."

Bill led them to the cabin where Arnett was standing polishing his gun.

"Morning," said Arnett. "Right, today's the day you're expected to do some work."

Linnette and Michael perched themselves on packing cases to listen.

Arnett continued. "Today, another ship should approach ours, with something to sell. Bill and I will do the negotiations, and you two can earn your keep by slinking off round the rest of the ship and seeing what you can lay your hands on."

"Sure," said Michael.

Linnette shrugged. "All right."

Arnett then dismissed them, so Linnette went down to the hold and looked at her frocks. They were good as new and nearly dry. Then she and Michael strolled out onto the deck. It was the first time Linnette had ever been on a boat, indeed, she realised, the first time she had ever seen the sea. And she loved it. She loved the salt smell, the rhythmic yet disorientating lurch and sway of the boat, how far away the coast looked, brown and fuzzy in the distance. And above all she loved the sky. She had never realised that the sky could be so big.

I could sail off anywhere, she said to herself, anywhere at all.

Then Arnett called them over to sort out some ropes, and for the next couple of hours, Linnette learned the basics of sail craft.

There was something else she was thinking of too, of course. It was the first time she had had a chance. Michael had said in the Tower of London that it would take him a lifetime to get bored of her. Had he been teasing? No. No. There had been an... an... exasperated defensiveness there that did not feel like idle time-wasting. And it was the truth. He had said it was the truth. He would take a lifetime to get bored of her. Well? What did it matter? It would take Linnette a lifetime to get bored of pearl earrings and cheap French wine. So what? Yes, but that was simply not what one said to a person. Simply not what one said...

Of course, her other concern was for Christopher Green. How much did he trust them? He had sounded completely trusting in the Tower but then one did, did one not, place faith in anyone in mad moments of desperation? In the cold light of day, if the Hellfire Book did not appear, would he not start to have doubts? Might he even think they had run off with the Hellfire Book, perhaps intended to torment him and his daughter with it the way Hetherington had done.

Trust me, she told him in her mind, I'm onto it.

It was a few hours later that Pride of Middlesex dropped anchor in a little rocky cove. They all assembled on the deck, waiting for the other ship.

She soon arrived, bobbing merrily over the waves like a little white duck, looking more like a coastal farmers pleasure boat than a smuggler's ship. Her name was emblazoned across the bows. Angel. She pulled up alongside Pride of Middlesex. A man appeared on the deck, well-dressed, confident-looking, with a bit of a swagger but otherwise looking more like a country tradesman than a crook.

"Ahoy there! Are you Pride of Middlesex?"

"We are," said Arnett, coming up behind Linnette.

"We'll stretch the gangplank across. You hop across, all right?"

"All right," said Arnett, turning to rally his own crew. "Now remember," he said, "eyes in the back of your head, hands on weapons, all right?".

They all nodded.

When Linnette returned her attention to Angel, the gangplank was released from its moorings and swinging out across the sea, controlled by a boy who only about thirteen or fourteen. Linnette wondered briefly, as she wondered about everybody whom she met in the criminal world, how exactly he had got there. Then she resigned herself to the fact that she would never know. It took all sorts to make a world, and the criminal world was no different.

Arnett and Bill secured the gangplank to the deck of Pride of Middlesex, with a rather amateur system of ropes. Then they swung themselves over the rail and strolled across. When it got to Linnette's turn it was rather more difficult than it looked, but she felt a glow of pride on strolling across the gap between two moving decks quite airily.

"I'm Johnathon," said the country-tradesman-looking man. "This is my cabin boy, Daniel Middleton."

"Jack Arnett. This is Miss Linnette Fortescue"—Johnathon nodded but did not bow—"Bill, Michael Leeford".

"All right," said Johnathon. "Let's go and talk in the cabin."

He led them down a ladder to the main cabin. Linnette and Michael stood unobtrusively at the back of the group, ready to slip off at the correct moment.

"You go," whispered Arnett crossly as he passed them.

"We got this!" Linnette hissed back, annoyed at his lack of faith.

Whatever they were discussing, it was in a barrel. Probably more booze. They were soon haggling somewhere around fifteen pounds. Everyone was totally absorbed. Like a shadow, Linnette slipped away. Michael followed her. Once up on deck they stopped and looked around.

"If they had anything valuable on this ship," said Linnette, "where would it be?".

"In the hold?" suggested Michael.

"Probably."

They climbed back down the ladder, past the door of the cabin and round a tight bend. Then they found themselves in a dark, cramped space. A hold. Piled against the wall were bundles of soft, brightly-coloured fabric. Silk. Linnette considered. There were piles of rolls. Surely three would not be missed?

She picked up three rolls and pinned them to the underside of her skirt.

Michael was inspecting dusty boxes of black and brown powders.

"I think they must be spices," said Linnette.

"I think they are," said Michael. "I've seen boxes like this in a shop once."

"Which one's the most valuable?"

"I read somewhere that it was saffron."
"Which one's saffron?"

"I don't know. I don't even know if they have any. I think it's yellow."

"We could just take all the yellow ones."

They took a couple of boxes of yellow powder and hesitated over some reddish-yellow strands.

"We might as well take them," said Linnette. "They might be saffron."

"I only have so much room in this bundle!" Michael shuffled a couple of boxes around. "All right, there's room. This'll look bigger than it did when we came in, though."

Linnette shrugged. "Nobody'll notice."

She looked around. "How much time do you think we have left?"

"I don't know."

"Call it two more minutes."

"Sure."

Linnette inspected a box. Small brown dusty leaves lay in little piles. "Just tea leaves. Boring."

"But valuable."

"But boring."

She turned her attention to a large cloth on the far side of the hold. She walked over to it and idly pulled it back. Immediately she was riveted. Under the cloth was a cage. In the cage was a pile of straw, on which was a white, fluffy blob. It could easily be seen in the light of a lamp hanging from the wall above the cage. As Linnette lent down to look in the cage, it mewed. Her heart melted. Not that she knew what on Earth it was.

"I think it's a snow leopard," said Michael, coming up to the bars of the cage.

"What are they?"

"Not sure. They live in Asia, I think."

"Do you reckon it's valuable?"

"Probably."

It took them about thirty seconds to pick the lock on the cage. Linnette leant over and scooped up the little bundle. It squirmed, and curled up against her dress.

Michael laughed. "Look at you cooing. This is the girl who shed human blood and all."

"Do you think he'd be all right in my bundle?"

"I think so."

Linnette carefully placed him in her bundle. Then, hearing scraping and clattering noises above, they hurried up the ladder from the hold, and met Arnett and Bill coming out of the cabin.

They said polite farewells to Jonathon, and to Daniel Middleton, and walked back across the narrow, teetering gangplank to Pride of Middlesex. Linnette was afraid that the snow leopard cub would make a noise but he remained silent.

Once they were back in their own cabin, anchor up and on the move, Arnett called a meeting. "We got the barrel." he said. "Fifteen pounds exactly. Miss Fortescue, Leeford, I trust you got us something worth having for nothing?"

"Indeed," said Linnette. Opening up her bundle, she produced the snow leopard cub. It whined and licked her fingers.

"Good Lord." Arnett could barely breathe. "I've heard of them."

"They're valuable," said Bill.

"They are indeed," said Arnett.

They put the cub on the table, and gave him some milk. Then they inspected the rest of the stolen property—the silk and tea leaves—and then Arnett Linnette and Michael various ship maintenance tasks to do, under the supervision of Bill, while he went into Dover to sell the smuggled goods.

Linnette found herself very interested in the workings of the ship, in how to steer and set a sail. It also took her mind off... other things.

The little she saw of Dover—the port from the deck of Pride of Middlesex—was very nice, a bustling place with ships from all over the world, judging by the strange, illegible writing on the sides.

Arnett was soon back, with a sack of money slung over his shoulder.

"Got three hundred pounds from that little lot," he yelled incautiously.

"All right, all right" said Bill, "there's no need for the entire port to know".

"What? I'm a perfectly respectable trader. Here, you two," catching sight of Linnette and Michael, "split fifty pounds between you."

"I thought the deal was we didn't pay them," said Bill.

"But that leopard! One hundred and fifty pounds of this came just from that. A fine lady returning from Germany. Gone on holiday to Baden-Baden or something."

"Thank you very much," said Linnette.

The next stop was Hastings, where they could spend all their money and Arnett and Bill could take on some more jobs.

They arrived in Hastings at an inconvenient hour in the middle of the night. Hastings was more of a sea side town, but the harbour was quite serviceable, and Linnette and Michael helped to moor Pride of Middlesex before taking their fifty pounds and going into town. Arnett told them to be back at the ship at about noon. They quickly found an all-night bar, in a very respectable-looking district, in fact. They bought drinks and sat in a corner at the back until the morning. The landlord glowered at them all night for taking up seats while only buying one drink, but they ignored him.

At about five in the morning, they set out to find breakfast. They went to a pastry cook's and ate hot pasties, sitting on a bench looking out to sea. By that time the post office was open, so they brought brown paper, string and some stamps, and made the Hellfire Book up into a neat parcel. Then they dropped in a post box with relief that that was one complication out of their lives.

Near the post box they were stopped by a paper boy. Michael shrugged and took one, and they perched on a nearby wall to have a look. As soon as they looked at the front cover Linnette's blood froze. "Rumours of a Break In At the Tower Utterly Unfounded, But Hunt Still On For Sanders Robbers".

"Well," said Michael, "at least we are now famous".

"Indeed," said Linnette. "Feels kind of odd being in a newspaper."

"At least Green kept his promise. He didn't tell."

"Seems to have stopped anyone telling as well. Even this sensationalist rag has just dismissed it as an unfounded rumour."

"His trust was well-placed," said Michael. "Even if I do say so myself. As for the hunt still being on, let them hunt!"

"They'd be hard pressed to catch us now," agreed Linnette.

Linnette wanted to buy new clothes, but Michael told her frankly that he would rather be shot than dragged round the Hastings draper's shops. So Linnette took half the money and went to buy new clothes. The attendant in the draper's looked at her rather askance. Madame, he seemed to be saying, was wearing a rather faded gown. Madame, however, had twenty pounds in cash and the attendant quickly unfroze. By eleven 'o' clock, Linnette had bought a fair chunk of the shop and had returned to her natural state of ravishing finery. Well, even she realised that a Gossamer Backless Ball Gown With Slashed Skirt, Integral Swan Wings And One Hundred Percent Silver Threading might not be the most appropriate clothing on a boat, but she erred on the side of style.

She wandered back down to Pride of Middlesex with her purchases, and met the others there. She changed into a red silk dress with a bit of ruffling on the skirt, and got on with preparations for departure.

"You look lovely," said Michael, as Linnette emerged from the cabin, and she wondered why her face was so hot.

"Thanks," she said, knowing it sounded awkward. "I know." That was better.

The next stop was Brighton. They would probably arrive that evening, as the tide and winds seemed favourable.

When Bill and Arnett weren't maintaining The Pride of Middlesex, they spent most of the time in the cabin playing cards. Linnette was not used to their being sociable, but she thought this was unsociable even by their standards. Once or twice, she caught Arnett looking at her with narrowed eyes. Did he not like her neckline? Well, she didn't care.

They did indeed arrive in Brighton that evening. Linnette and Michael were down in the hold fetching planks for something when Linnette felt the boat stop, and bump gently against the side. She heard the now familiar noises of gulls, shouting and various things banging around, felt the ship jolt as other ships collided with her. She picked up her end of the plank and hurried to the door, anxious to get a look at Brighton. The door was locked.

Linnette sighed. "Arnett," she yelled, "we're locked in".

No answer. "Arnett, open the door. Honestly..."

Still no answer. Annoyed now, Linnette put down the planks and hammered on the door. "Open the door, idiot!"

No answer.

"You don't suppose they could have realised that we're wanted?" asked Michael.

An icy thunderbolt struck Linnette. "No!" But she realised it did make sense. Why else would Arnett have been looking at her so oddly on deck that day? "What did he want planks for, anyway?" asked Michael.

"That's true," admitted Linnette. "We never asked."

She had to admit, she had not been expecting this. But already a slow anger was working itself up against Arnett. So he had realised, had he, sent them down here on a pointless errand, and was even now searching for the authorities in Brighton? "The dirty little rat!" she exploded. "We had a deal!"

"We have to open the door ourselves," said Michael.

"Indeed."

It took Linnette about thirty seconds to open the lock on the hold door. She remembered the battle to open the Sanders' back door, and felt smug.

They left the plank in the hold and hurried out into the narrow stairwell.

Then they heard noises on the deck above them.

Linnette froze.

"Just down here, sir," Arnett was saying.

"They've brought the police, I think," Linnette whispered.

They scrambled up the ladder, emerging on deck next to the main cabin just as the door opened. Michael dragged Linnette round the corner of the cabin wall just in time.

They saw Arnett, Bill and two policemen disappear down the ladder to the hold. The policemen looked extremely placid, but Linnette knew that when it came to policemen appearances could be deceptive.

"Come on," said Michael. "It'll only take them a couple of minutes to realise we're not there."

He grabbed her hand—which she took a few moments to notice and resist—and pulled her down the deck to the gangplank.

"Where are we going?" asked Linnette.

"Don't know," admitted Michael. "Doesn't matter."

The harbour at Brighton, unlike the docks in London, was small and peaceful-looking. There were a few people standing about staring at the sea. Linnette sensed that a shoot-out here would be more unpopular with the police than it would be with her and Michael.

They walked quickly along the harbour, as quickly as possible without looking as if they were actually running away.

"Hey!" came a voice. "You there! Stop!"

A policeman arose from the shadow of Pride of Middlesex. When Linnette and Michael ignored him he began advancing down the harbour side towards them. Their cover blown, Linnette and Michael fled.

Linnette knew that they stood a pretty good chance. They were probably both stronger and fleeter of foot than the policeman. And he would have to be pretty determined to start a fire fight on the Brighton seafront.

By now the policeman's yells had summoned Arnett and Bill up from the hold, along with the other policemen. Still another appeared further up the harbour.

"Stop!" one of them called.

"Surrender!"

Linnette thought of the hangman's noose and ran faster.

They were nearing the end of the sea wall now, and the harbour underwent an abrupt change of direction. Around this bend came a policeman. There was no direction to run. Linnette was reminded instinctively of that fight in the Chilterns, with Justice advancing inexorably towards them.

And again, she knew they had to fight back. Before the policeman could begin brandishing a truncheon or anything, Linnette pulled out her gun and shot him through the head. There. First shots fired.

That, of course, meant the pursuit, presence of Respectable Middle-Class Holidaymakers notwithstanding, would shoot back.

They seemed however, to be summoning assistance. Ah. More policemen where that one came from.

Escaping the harbour now seemed difficult.

Michael turned down a limb leading down the side of the harbour.

"That's a dead end," Linnette pointed out.

"No, it's not. With that lot coming one way and the other lot approaching the other way it's about our only live end in the place."

He stopped by a large pleasure craft just as the first bullets came crashing into the woodwork above his head.

Michael hopped up onto the deck and handed Linnette up over the rail.

"We're stealing a boat?" asked Linnette.

Michael nodded, turning on the deck and firing into the crowd of policemen. They fired back, but they weren't such good shots as Linnette and Michael, not half so confident with their weapons.

Linnette could think of a thousand and one problems with Michael's plan—or rather, impromptu brain wave—which was probably why she was joining in his enthusiasm.

Then something crashed into her stomach.

It felt like a brick, but it shattered. Inside her.

Linnette realised that one of the policemen at least knew which end of a gun to hold.

At first it didn't seem to matter. In fact, she didn't understand how being shot could possibly kill anyone. She was standing on the deck, watching Michael cast off. And then when she reached to untie a knot her hands wouldn't work. She couldn't remember whether it had been seconds since she had been shot or hours.

Why was the floor up there? The floor was meant to be under her feet. From somewhere far away, she heard Michael call "Lin!".

Then there was nothing at all.

When she woke up, pain stabbed in the stomach. She gasped and realised she was alive. Her eyes popped open and were confronted with a wooden ceiling. Why would the ceiling be wood? She was lying on hard wooden boards too. Then Michael's face appeared and she remembered everything.

"All right?" he asked. There was something a bit too cheerful about that tone. His eyes were red. Had he been crying? She tried not to grin at that thought, and then wondered why she wanted to grin.

"I'm all right," she said, "but my stomach isn't. Bullets are rather indigestible".

"Good!" There was no disguising that relief. "Sorry about the whole boat-stealing idea."

"I think it's a fantastic idea. Where are we?"

"Oh yes. Welcome aboard Another Gamble, apparently so named—you were comatose for most of the guided tour—because her previous owner was something of card fiend."

"I see." Linnette sat up, resisting calls from her stomach that that was a bad idea. She found that she had a large, already rather bloodstained, bandage around her stomach. "Where are we now?" she asked.

"Somewhere in the English Channel. We've had very good weather so far. Got away from Brighton very fast."

"I suppose we should be grateful to Arnett and Bill," said Linnette, "for teaching us to sail".

Linnette's stomach was still throbbing. It turned out that Michael had simply staunched the bleeding, cut part of her dress free, washed out the wound in iced water from the little kitchen, dipped a needle in a bottle of brandy, washed it with soap and more iced water, found a thread in the little saloon and simply stitched her up as if he were darning a shirt.

"I think maybe when we get to France or somewhere you should see a doctor," he said.

"Why? They're ever so pricy and they won't do anything other than what you did. Some of them still haven't realised that you're meant to clean things."

"Yes, but they'll do it with many polysyballic ramblings, surrounded by impressive-looking skeletal models."

"I'll be fine," said Linnette.

She took a hot bath and changed her bandages. She washed and patched her frock. It being now very late—or rather early—she then retired to bed.

The next morning she felt better. A doctor would probably have told her to stay in bed and keep to a strict diet, but no such luxuries exist on a stolen yacht (steam and sail) with a crew of two in a blustery English Channel. It's sail the ship or the ship will sink.

So Linnette ate some porridge which Michael had found in the kitchen and drank some wine. Then she went up on deck. She saw the most beautiful thing she had ever seen.

No land.

None at all.

In every direction there was nothing but ocean and sky. It was as if they were the only people in the world. Linnette forgot the pain in her stomach in sheer exhilaration of living. The boat pitched and spray blew over the deck, splashing her face and hands. In that moment, the waves could have carried them anywhere. The sunny shores of Spain, the jungles of Brazil and Africa where strange creatures lurked, the lands they talked about in romantic novels where bears were white, had never seemed more real.

But first they had to get there. The main impediment to this was that they had only five pounds left in the world.

However, as Michael pointed out, they could always try piracy.

Linnette laughed at that. But when she thought about it, she could not think of any reason not to try piracy. After all, plenty of people did. Certainly anything seemed possible, standing here on the deck with Michael.

They could loot and plunder, make a fortune, see the world, live lives of leisure on foreign shores. Why not? You only live once.

However, Another Gamble was a pleasure craft, and as a pirates' vessel she needed serious kitting out.

The first stop, therefore, was fairly near to hand. It was the north coast of France. There could acquire supplies and probably, from somewhere, weaponry. They had only the most tentative idea of how exactly to get to France, but they had seen Arnett reading charts, and it wasn't long before they found Another Gamble's charts and worked out their position and where France was.

They soon saw land again, on the bows, and when they landed in the town of Cherbourg, nestled between low green hills, it was still fairly early.

A few of the good people of Cherbourg were busying themselves about the harbour, shifting boxes of fish or simply strolling along looking out to sea.

Nobody paid much attention to the arrival of a small yacht with an English name being moored in the town harbour.

And so it was that Linnette, hopping down the gangplank in the fresh morning air, first set foot on foreign soil. It was a weird feeling. There was nothing about Cherbourg, France, intrinsically different from any coastal British town. And yet... it was France! That knowledge alone made Linnette giddy with excitement. The air itself seemed more exotic somehow. Those cobblestones, they were French cobblestones. Those little grey houses behind the harbour, they were French little grey houses. That box of potatoes twenty feet down the key, it was a French box of potatoes.

"So what's the modus operandi?" asked Michael.

"First, breakfast."

"We've had breakfast."

"It is the right of every one in England to have two breakfasts should they wish to. If the law is different in France, I am not aware of it."

"Very well."

"And then a gun factory or something."

"I don't know if there is one here."

"Well," Linnette said, admiring the sights and sounds of France as she wandered up the quayside, "why don't you ask somebody? This young lady, for instance".

"I don't speak French," said Michael thoughtfully.

"Yes, you do. You learnt it at school."

"I was taught it at school. That's not the same thing."

"Oh come on, how hard can it be? They probably get tonnes of leisured British tourists over here."

"Yes, but most of the leisured British tourists probably aren't asking where they can buy guns."

Linnette sighed. "Ask her where we can get some food first, then ask her about the guns."

Michael obediently stepped forward and bowed to the young girl coming the other way, clearly going about her morning shopping, with a basket of milk and bread. She smiled politely.

"Ezz-coo-tezz mademoiselle," he began, hopelessly phonetic. "S'il vous plaît … er… c'est… er wo ist die Kaffeehaus? Damn, wrong language, le… fontaine le… vin or... café ?"

The young lady looked at him blankly. "Monsieur," she began, "do you speak English?".

"Oh," said Michael, "yes. We are English, actually".

"Perhaps English is easier," she suggested firmly. "How can I help you?"

"We were wondering," said Michael, "if there were anywhere we could get something to eat".

"There is a pastry cook's just up there," said the girl. "I will show you, if you like."
"Thank you," said Michael, "that would be very kind".

The girl began to lead them up the street away from the harbour.

"To whom have I the pleasure of speaking?" asked Michael.

"Marielle," said the girl, smiling.

Michael and Linnette introduced themselves, and explained that they had come to France for a holiday—which was basically true.

As she led them through Cherbourg she chatted to them in impeccable English. Linnette asked her if they had many British holiday-makers and she replied that they got quite a few. She then mentioned that she and Michael were thinking of going out into the countryside behind Cherbourg and doing some shooting. Did Marielle know of anywhere they might be able to buy guns, as they had unfortunately forgotten to bring their own from England.

Marielle pointed out, sounding faintly puzzled for the first time, that they were both carrying guns. Linnette replied that really they wanted big guns, for shooting trips. In fact—taking a bit of a risk—they might go out in the boat with a large party of more English people who were coming soon.

Marielle nodded and said that there were two shops in Cherbourg which might suit them.

"There is the little one near the ferry port, that one is very good, but rather expensive.. There is also one behind the draper's. It is—" she lowered her voice "less respectable, you understand. In fact, sometimes it is in trouble with the police". She continued more confidently. "But it is cheaper."

Linnette and Michael both looked at each other. They were both thinking the same thing: the one behind the draper's.

They had arrived at the pastry cook's now. They thanked Marielle for being so helpful and she wished them a pleasant stay in Cherbourg.

"How did you learn to speak English?" asked Linnette.

Marielle shrugged. "Well it's only over there, isn't it?"

They bought hot pastries and ate them sitting on a bench looking at the little street and the French shops. Then they set off to find the draper's. Unfortunately, at this point Linnette's stomach began hurting again, worse and worse as they proceeded up the street. She sank down on a bench, attracting concern from passers-by.

Michael explained—in English, which they all seemed to understand as well as Marielle did—that she was all right. The last thing they wanted to do was explain to crowds of kind people how Linnette had come to be shot in the stomach.

Linnette did make it to the draper's and in the little alley round the back they found, just as Marielle had said, the gun shop.

They had expected from Linnette's description to find a low den, but they found a clean, immaculately-presented shop, where the gentleman—for all Marielle had claimed he got in trouble with the police, he seemed perfectly friendly and gentlemanly—behind the counter smiled at them and seemed pleasant.

When they spoke to him in English, apologising for not being able to speak French, he replied in the same language. "Do you want a chair, madam?" he asked Linnette. "You look tired."

"Thank you, yes," said Linnette. She sat down and tried to ignore the pain.

"What do you require?" asked the gun seller—who did not introduce himself.

"We'd like some fairly large guns, please," said Michael. "Suitable for use on a boat," he added, deciding to chance everything in one fell swoop.

"Of course."

Discussion became technical, while Linnette and Michael battled to avoid being swindled, and to conceal their general ignorance of the art of gunnery—Michael had considered himself something of an expert at shooting, but he was out of his league here.

They eventually appropriated a clutch of large guns, for only thirty pounds. Now the only issue was to get them down to the boat without attracting too much attention from the people of Cherbourg. The gunsmith lent them his wagon free, and a tarpaulin to hide the contents from prying eyes.

They drove the wagon—pulled by a couple of portly donkeys— down to the harbour and, between them, unloaded the guns. They were heavy, and they had only got halfway through when Linnette's stomach began to bleed.

They quickly scrambled off the boat, and Michael insisted upon Linnette seeing a doctor, even though Linnette said they would probably be wasting their money on a quack.

Michael led Linnette up the street. By now, the front of her bodice was soaked with blood. She tried to ignore the staring eyes. Michael asked a fisherman where he could find a doctor, and fortunately one was nearby. Linnette could now hardly walk. "I'm fine," she insisted, as Michael half dragged, half carried her up the street. Michael seemed a lot more worried than Linnette was, which she found amusing and vaguely touching.

When they got to the doctor, the maid took one look at them and yelled for the doctor. She led them into the surgery, and Michael pushed Linnette into a chair before she collapsed on the floor.

"How much money have we got?" Linnette asked, as soon as the maid had gone.

"Fifteen pounds."

"Won't be enough."
"Might be."

"Better get some of his."

Michael began wandering round the room. It was a very nice room, with red velvet chairs and vases of wax lilies and roses. On the wall was a map of South America and a bat skeleton. On the sideboard was a box of stuffed owls. A large pile of books, in various languages, on subjects ranging from anatomy to toxicology, was balanced precariously on the desk.

Michael had just found the drawer where the doctor kept cash from the clients, and was pocketing a twenty-franc note, when the door opened and the doctor himself came in.

"I was just admiring your butterfly collection," said Michael easily. The doctor's butterfly collection was in the same drawer.

"Ah yes, it's fascinating," said the doctor, completely unsuspecting. "I'm sorry about the delay," he added in perfect English, "I was in the middle of cleaning a fossil rat".

He sat down in one of his armchairs. "Do sit down, young man." Michael sat down next to Linnette. "A cigarette?"

"No, thank you."

"A glass of wine?"

"No thanks. Look, it's rather urgent, if you could just..."

"Quite so. Now, what appears to be the trouble?"

"I've been shot," said Linnette. "In the stomach."

"How come?" said the doctor.

"Somebody felt like doing it. I don't know why. I don't work in Bedlam."

"I see. Yes, there are some extremely disreputable people around these parts, as I dare say there are everywhere."

The doctor rang the bell and asked the maid for a bowl of hot water.

"I will now have to examine it," he said.

Linnette nodded. Whatever this man did or did not know about doctoring, he was at least clean.

He washed his hands in the approved new style with soap, and then Linnette unlaced the bottom section of her bodice and he inspected the wound.

"Someone appears to have already put stitches in it," he remarked.

"I did," said Michael.

"I see. Well, you did a very good job. It's very clean too. I take it you washed it?"

"Yes. With soap."
"Excellent. Unfortunately it's also rather deep. And I take it you did not extract the bullet?"

"No, I don't know how."

"Very wise. Far more harm than good is done by well-intentioned people trying to remove things from each other."

He then announced that he was going to surgically remove the bullet. This being the first time either Linnette or Michael had ever been to a doctor's in their short and healthy lives, they were not sure what to expect.

It consisted, however, of Linnette lying on a couch while the doctor washed a knife and a pair of forceps in his basin, and then administered a substance he called chloroform. Linnette was at first rather alarmed by the fact that she was unable to breathe but then she realised that she was falling asleep anyway...

When she woke up there was a different kind of ache in her stomach, less throbbing.

"How long have I been asleep for?" she asked.

"About a quarter of an hour," said Michael. "The operation only took about three minutes though. Well, maybe about seven if you count the stitches. They took a while."

"Here is the bullet," said the doctor.

Linnette stared at the little, partially shattered, bloodstained lump of lead. She laughed.

"Can I keep it?"

"Well I don't want it!"

Linnette put it in her bag.

"Now," said the doctor apologetically. "That will be thirty francs, please."

"I'm afraid," said Michael smoothly, "that we only have twenty francs, but we do have fifteen pounds. Well, fifteen pounds thruppence, actually."

"All right, I'll take the twenty francs and fifteen pounds. Never mind about the thruppence."

They paid the doctor and he showed them to the door. "Try to rest it," he said. Linnette and Michael glanced at each other. They knew there would be precious little resting in their new life.

And so, with many polite thanks, they left.

They returned to the boat and to the business of unloading the guns. Once they had got them all on board Another Gamble, Michael returned the wagon and donkeys to the gunsmith.

Then they sat down in the cabin of Another Gamble, broke once more, and sailed away in the afternoon sun.

They did not sail far. Only to a nearby bay. There they weighed anchor and set up the guns properly, on their mounts. The end result did not seem quite as impressive as the pirate ship in The Life, Adventures and Piracies of the Famous Captain Singleton, for Another Gamble, was, first and foremost, a pleasure yacht, and only a makeshift pirate ship. She looked impressive enough, though, when they set sail, dancing before the breeze, heading out into the Channel, turning west to the sunny Mediterranean climes. Linnette was now in a position to appreciate Another Gamble more thoroughly, undistracted by pain. She was a beautiful ship, a lady every inch, who ploughed serenely forward through the waves, with no bucking or rolling, and steered at even the lightest tough. Looking at her, Linnette felt the burning pride of the possessor of true beauty.

They passed the Channel Islands that afternoon. They knew that here, with ships going back and forth all the time, was the ideal opportunity to try out their new-found way of life.

A huge merchant ship was rolling out of the harbour of Guernsey, her crew, who presumably were not expecting an attack so close to the shores of northern Europe, nowhere to be found, except for two men who were hanging over the rail in the stern, looking at the scenery.

Linnette and Michael turned the bows of Another Gamble and made a beeline for the other ship. She turned, trying to get out of their way, but Another Gamble was lighter and faster. Before long they had arrived at her nose and crouched there, bobbing in the waves. The big ship turned herself against the wind and stopped. For the first time, Linnette saw her name, embossed in gold lettering on the side. Flying Fish.

She stood as tall as she could in the bows, like a ship's figurehead with her gun in her hand, casually hidden by her side. When the captain came out to see what on Earth was going on, she shone with confidence. "Good morning," she said, "give me any cargo you have of any value".

The captain stared. He seemed not to have heard. Eventually he said quietly "could you repeat that, please?".

"Certainly," said Linnette, calmly as if it were the most normal thing in the world. "Give me any cargo you have of any value."
The captain seemed to have recovered from his shock. He looked at her steadily. Her heart beat a little faster. When your— how was it Michael had described her? assistant?— looks at you steadily you know you have a fight on your hands. There were, after all, probably a hundred or more men on that ship, all of them probably armed. And there was only Linnette and Michael on Another Gamble.

But she knew to let none of those thoughts show. She went on looking at him expectantly. Michael was standing behind her, silent and watchful, holding his gun.

"No," said the captain.

"Excuse me?" said Linnette, "do it now".

"No," said the captain again.

Linnette took a deep breath. She had to keep in control of the situation. "W-" she began, then stopped. She would not say "why not?". That would give him an excuse to give a reason why not, and start up an argument. She was not having an argument. She was giving an order.

"I am asking you to give me any cargo you have of value. And in these situations the wishes of the lady with the gun are usually respected, sir."

"I have one hundred and fifty men on this ship. Nearly all of them have pistols. Are you sure you want to do this?"

"I don't care how many men with pistols you have. I have a pistol and it's pointing at your head."

The captain considered. "We're a merchant vessel," he said. "We're haven't got any shipboard mounted guns. So we're going to have to do this hand to hand. And we will win. And we will board your ship, capture you if you are still alive and sail into the harbour at Guernsey. There are British police and British authorities just over there on the horizon. Be careful what you're doing on their doorstep."

"If the British police and the British authorities feel like raising any objections they can come over here themselves and raise them."

She was getting drawn into a debate here. She would get no cargo this way. At that moment a bullet flew into the wooden railing near Michael. "Sorry captain," said a voice from the ship. "My aim's a bit rusty."

Linnette seized the opportunity. She fired at the captain's leg and she hit it.

"As you can see," she said, as he collapsed on the deck, clutching his bleeding leg and glaring savagely, "you may have one hundred and fifty men with pistols but we know what to do with ours. The next bullet goes in your throat".

There were more men on the deck now. Hurrying back and forth, holding whispered consultations, most of them indeed armed. With the captain temporarily hors de combat and whoever came next in the ship's command structure presumably either out of his depth or pretending he didn't exist, the chances of somebody doing something rash were increasing every minute.

Linnette waited with growing impatience. She could, theoretically, have shot pretty much any one of them, their nearly all being armed, but she preferred, out of courtesy, to only shoot people who were at least looking at her, which nobody seemed to be doing. Then a small group of sailors went off, under snarled orders from the captain, and dragged a man out from below.

He approached the rail.

"Who are you?" said Linnette.

"I'm the first lieutenant."

"All right. And are you going to give us what we came here for?"

The first lieutenant looked at the captain, who glared and shook his head.

"Apparently not," said the first lieutenant, but he did not sound at all sure.

He had a gun, which he seemed to remember suddenly. He pointed it with a triumphant air at Linnette.

"All right," said Linnette, feeling that it was time to move things along a bit, "If in one minute nobody comes out with any cargo of value, we start shooting."

There was silence on the ship.

Then the captain, ignoring his leg, made up his mind. "Attack!" he announced.

The crew raised their guns and fired pretty much simultaneously. Most of their aim was frankly dire, and the bullets ricocheted off the woodwork of Another Gamble. Linnette fired and she aimed straight. She knew that she did not, frankly, have much of a chance in the out-and-out combat, but she kept a cool head. No need to throw away any chance she did have.

Michael was trying to work one of the big guns in the bows, but it was overwhelmed almost at once by the crew of Flying Fish. The struggle was violent but short. Linnette was grazed on the shoulder by a bullet, and then grabbed on the wrist while she was trying to re-load. They got the gun away from her, and she could not reach her knife. At that moment, Michael was grabbed by a group of crewmen. He raised his pistol, and was shot by one of the sailors. It was point-blank range, impossible to miss, and he got him straight in the chest.

Linnette froze. She was aware of someone ramming a knife up against her collar bone. She was aware of being picked up and carried onto Flying Fish. But she was not thinking about any of this. She was thinking about Michael. Was he dead?

He could not be dead. Somehow she got that idea into her head as she was dropped, limp and shocked, on the deck of Flying Fish. He could not be dead. They dropped Michael beside her. For a moment she could not look, dimly aware of the seeping mass of blood. Then she steeled herself and looked.

He was alive. He was breathing. His chest was soaked in blood, and his heart beat visibly like a bird's when he panted. But he was alive.

The captain, clutching the ship's railing, dragged himself upright and looked at them with eyes of stone.

Linnette took a deep breath and gathered her fighting spirit. Michael or no Michael, she would see this through. She'd see if there weren't a way to come out on top yet. She sat up, gathering her strength.

"What," said the captain quietly, "are you doing?".

"Piracy." Linnette picked herself up and, in the part of her mind which was not occupied talking to the captain, began to take stock of the situation: how many men were on the deck, where they were pointing their pistols, how aggressive they looked. The results of this survey were not favourable.

"You and this young gentleman thought you could rob a British merchant vessel, with one hundred and fifty men on board, within a stone's throw of a British harbour, and get away with it?"

"Yes."

"Well, I would like to hang you from the yardarm here and now, but I guess I'll have to take you to the British harbour now, and see what they'll make of this. And I'll wager, madam, that they will not be happy." His tone was completely level, grim, relentless.

Linnette took a deep breath. She too could be relentless. "You can threaten all you like captain. I have settled your precious British authorities before and I will do so again."

The captain turned away. "Take them below. Lock them in the hold. Tie them up. Chain their ship to the stern, we'll tow her in. The police will love a captured ship."

Linnette was grabbed by two sailors. They wrenched her knife away from her. They took Michael's weapons, even though he was hardly in a position to use them. She kicked out furiously, but they had hold of both her arms and held them in an iron grip. This ship was bigger than Another Gamble and Pride of Middlesex and there were many winding stairwells before they arrived at the hold. One of the sailors opened the door and Linnette felt her wrists seized and tied together behind her, very firmly with strong cord. There was no way of getting those knots undone without considerable time and care. Then she was pushed into the hold, Michael was dropped almost on top of her and the door was slammed and, with much clattering and scraping, locked.

Linnette and Michael were alone in the hold. It was dark, with the only light the light which shone between cracks in the wood. By that light, Linnette could see piles of sacks and barrels and boxes. She was sitting on one of the few vacant areas of floor space.

There was a way out of here. There was a way out of everywhere. But first, Michael. He was in a very bad way, his breathing was increasingly harsh and ragged.

"Michael?" said Linnette. "Michael?"

No answer. She knew what she ought to do—bathe the wound and bind it up—and she was sure that she could have done something for him, even locked in a hold, but it is hard to carry out useful first aid with ones hands tied behind ones back.

She attempted to staunch the bleeding with her handkerchief, which was in her skirt pocket and which she could just reach, but even sitting sideways on at a very awkward angle it was still virtually impossible to reach the wound and all she did was saturate the little bit of cotton in torrents of blood.

No, before she could help Michael, she had to get her hands undone. It would be difficult: the knots were very tight, so tight it was getting harder and harder to move her fingers.

Could she cut through the ropes? No, not really, but she could scrape through them. She sat so she had her back against a wooden box, large, with a sharp corner made of rough wood with plenty of grain. She placed her wrists against the box and scraped as hard as could. There was no discernible effect on the ropes, but she kept going. It was her only hope. About three splinters had buried themselves in her wrists before she felt a little bit of give in the ropes. She scraped faster, and when virtually all the skin had come off her hands she finally felt a little snap.

And that was it. Suddenly she could move her hands. There was a moment of agony as she straightened her fingers and all the blood rushed back into them.

She knew she had to deal with Michael as fast as possible. It felt as if rubbing through her ropes had taken years. She did not want to think about how long it had really taken her. She picked up her handkerchief again and took Michael's from the pocket where she knew he kept it and went in search of water. She was not optimistic. This was, after all, the hold. But there in the back corner were two barrels labelled Water (Washing and Drinking). Linnette dashed over to them and released the little tap at the bottom of the nearest barrel. Then she hesitated. How clean was this water? Decent? Awful? Washing the wound with dirty water was worse than not washing it all. The barrel, however, looked sturdy and solid, not a flimsy construction which would let mould in, and the exterior at least seemed clean enough. She decided to go for it.

She washed the blood off her handkerchief. Some of it had stained already but the main thing was that it was serviceable to wash a wound. Then she soaked Michael's handkerchief. She carried the two dripping handkerchiefs across the floor. She pressed the handkerchiefs against the hole in Michael's chest, mopping the blood away so she could see the edges of the wound. Then she wrang out the handkerchiefs and tied them round the wound, holding them in place with a bit of string she found in her purse. Note to self: always carry a bit of string. She waited to see if the handkerchiefs had any effect whatsoever on the bleeding and for several horrible minutes they did not.

To her horror, Linnette felt the tears building behind her eyes. She could not remain calm and collected any longer. The tears spilt out of her eyes and gushed down her cheeks. Frantically, she took gulping breaths. She would not, she would not,sit here on the floor and cry like a child. She had pride... gulp... and courage... gulp... and dignity...

"Michael," she said, she could no longer help it, "Please don't die". She knew it was irrational. Nobody could stop people dying just by telling them not to. But she found herself saying it again. "Please don't die."

Michael moved. He turned his head and groaned. Then, as if by a miracle, his eyes opened.

"Michael!" Linnette choked. Hurriedly she brought her voice under control and scrubbed at her face, thankful that it was so dark in the hold. "How are you?"

"Kiss me Hardy."

"You're all right then, I take it."

Michael pushed himself up against a box and looked around the hold. "Are you?"

"I'm fine."

"So, did we win?"

"Erm... no."

"I thought not. This accommodation looks rather bleak. What are we going to do now?"

Good point. There was very little point in saving Michael from death by being shot if they would both end up decorating a town square in Guernsey. She knew she attractive and all that but no lady looks her best suspended from the upper spine. "Escape," said Linnette. "Triumphantly."

"I guess the first thing is to open the door," said Michael.

"Indeed," said Linnette.

Michael began to pick the lock on the hold door.

"Michael," said Linnette. Somehow she was unable to get the image of him lying on the deck, a blood-soaked mess, out of her head.

"Yes?"

"You know when you said it would take a lifetime for you to get bored with me..."

"Yes," Michael almost dropped the safety pin. Were his hands shaking only because he had just been shot, or was he nervous?

"What did you mean?"

"I don't know what you mean by that," said Michael. Again he almost dropped the safety pin. He began to stammer. "I... meant what I said... What else could I possibly have meant...? You're a... very interesting person... "

Linnette was aware of a sudden crushing disappointment settling in her chest. Michael could be so frustrating sometimes.

She stepped forward and took the over from Michael, as his hands were shaking like a leaf, and he immediately slumped on the door, blood dripping onto the floor.

Linnette bit her lip. He was in a very bad way. But then he had just been shot. What did she expect?

Also, the door was not coming open. There must be a padlock on the other side or something else rendering the door impossible to open from the inside.

"Should we force it?" asked Michael.

"I think we should try," said Linnette.

But the door was made of heavy, solid wood and metal and held in place by huge bolts. It was more than one girl and a man who had just been shot could force, though they shoved with all their strength. It really did look as Michael were about to faint, so Linnette gave up.

"Do you think there's something we could use as a battering ram?" asked Michael.

"We could have a look," said Linnette. She set about searching the hold, to see if there were anything, even a wooden bar, which she could use as a battering ram. Nothing was immediately apparent, but Linnette carried on right to the back of the hold, past boxes of grain and sugar, until she came upon a small number of barrels and boxes piled up in the corner. Linnette opened one of the boxes, and found a dark, sticky stuff.

"Urgh! What the hell is this!"

Michael dragged himself over to look at it.

"Something awful has happened to this treacle," said Linnette showing it to him.

Michael frowned. Then he dipped his finger in the sticky stuff and very cautiously tasted it. "I don't think that's treacle," he said, "I think that's opium".

"Opium?" Linnette stared at the black sticky stuff. "Fair enough." She shoved the box back on the shelf.

"You know," said Michael, frowning, "I don't think this is fair enough".

"What do you mean?" asked Linnette.

Michael picked up another box. "This is labelled "Coffee Grounds" right?"

"Sure."

Michael opened the box. He began rummaging through the contents. There was nothing there but coffee grounds. Then suddenly, more opium. Michael dropped the box triumphantly.

"If he's labelled this thing coffee grounds," said Linnette, thinking it through, "he doesn't want anyone to know that it's opium".

"So I doubt if he's got a nice commission from a hospital to import some of the stuff from Afghanistan, he wants to do this hush-hush."

"He must be smuggling it!" said Linnette. She frowned. "Why?"

"You can make money from these things," said Michael. "People are setting up opium dens in London now. They'll be all over the place in a few years."

"I only know it from when Mrs Smith back home got a bad back and needed an ointment for it from the doctor. You don't mean those little dens like the ones they have abroad?"

Michael was pulling boxes off the piles in the hold. He was opening them up and rummaging through them like a man possessed. "Yes, those places."

Five boxes of opium now lay at their feet. "I reckon this is the lot," said Michael.

Linnette stared at it. "It's enough though, isn't it?" she said. "If we tell the authorities in Guernsey about this he'll be hanged alongside us."

"I don't think they do hang you for smuggling any more. Not unless we can get him for piracy, like us."

"Well, at any rate, we'll get a very long gaol term."

"What's the good of that?" Michael was studying the boxes of opium, and the structure of the hold, with a pensive air. "I mean, it might be the finish of him, but it won't get us anywhere, all we'll get is points for good citizenship".

"I'm sure we can turn this to our advantage."

Michael said, very slowly, "I... suppose... we could just tell the captain that if he doesn't let us go at once we'll tell the authorities, but if he does... we won't".

"Blackmail is for cowards!" Linnette went scarlet. "That is low!"

Michael looked relieved. "Good old Lin!"

"I guess," said Linnette, "that this leaves us with the old idea of breaking out of this hell-hole".

"Yes," said Michael.

Linnette realised that they had probably been rather more leisurely than they could afford to in their discussion of the opium trade.

She rummaged at random through a pile of barrels.

"What are you doing?" said Michael.

"Looking for some kind of battering r-."

The word died in Linnette's throat. She was staring at a massive pile of guns.

"Is it normal to for a trading vessel to have this amount of weaponry on board?"

"No, well, some do, if they're going to far, far, distant shores, where-" he grinned "-there are pirates. And I dare say smugglers have more weapons on board".

"Well, there certainly are a lot of them," Linnette opened more barrels. Gunpowder. Grenades.

"Maybe he smuggles weapons as well."

"I think this might be a way out," said Linnette.

"Firework displays?" Michael was grinning.

"Absolutely."

Linnette took hold of one of the grenades. It was heavy and cold and holding it felt staggeringly good. She carried it over to the door. She wasn't entirely sure how to use a grenade, but she knew that they are meant to explode, so how hard could it be? Explosives just explode.

She took a piece of string from her pocket and tied it to the top of the grenade. Then she tied the other end to the door handle.

"Can you find some matches?" she asked Michael.

Michael seized a box of matches from the shelf near the door. Linnette lit the end of the string and retreated behind some barrels. She was not sure entirely how this would work, but she was sure it would be spectacular. The spark ran up the string, reached the base of the grenade and sat there for a moment, fizzing medativly. Then the grenade exploded in a shower of smoke, sparks and gunpowder. Linnette leapt up, laughing with delight. Michael grinned. "You're a genius."

Linnette dashed over to the door and cleared away the smoke so she could see through. The door was nearly smashed through but not quite. "They must make them tough," she said.

She ran to get another grenade and Michael helped her to balance it as near to the door handle as she could. There, that must be all right. Then she lit the string again and dived behind the barrels again.

There was another explosion, this one bigger, rocking the hold from side to side. A pile of boxes crashed to the floor. Linnette felt the force of it through her feet.

And the door had given. It had given! Linnette leapt up and dashed over to the door. There was a gaping hole in it. She and Michael seized some of the big guns. Linnette found it brutally heavy to carry, not to mention clumsy to manoeuvre, not like her own gun. She strapped across her shoulder and tried to get it comfortable. She was pleased by how confidently she handled it, even when she had not got a clue how to use this uncomfortably big gun.

Then she ducked through the gaping hole in the door, (it was fastened with padlocks and chains from the outside) and Michael scrambled after her. The blood had soaked through the handkerchief and his shirt front was soaked in the stuff. It was dripping onto the floor as he moved, and his face had turned a greyish colour. But he looked grimly determined to go on.

Linnette realised she was staring at him.

"What?" he asked.

"Nothing," said Linnette. "You... look like a vampyre."

He laughed, then winced as more blood trickled through his shirt.

At that moment, there were footsteps down the stairs. Clearly someone had heard the noises and was going down to investigate. Or perhaps they had already got to Guernsey! Linnette's heart slammed, the blood jumping through her veins as if she had been kicked by a horse. She seized Michael's hand—then let go of it again—and dashed up the other flight of stairs, her heart still pounding at what felt like twice its normal speed.

"Hey!" came a voice. "Stop!"

Linnette ran faster. She almost crashed into the wall in front of her, the stairs were so steep. Behind her she heard bullets splinter woodwork as the sailors tried to stop them escaping.

"Does anyone," said Michael, between pants, "in these situations... ever... stop?".

Linnette laughed, and emerged with relief into the corridor of the lower deck. Of course, she and Michael had no actual plans for their escape. And now, Linnette thought, would be a good time to develop one.

The pursuit were gaining on them in the stairwell—well, of course they were, none of them had just been shot.

"In here!" Michael pulled Linnette into a small room which proved to be a cabin. They crouched on the bunk and listened while the running footsteps of the men crashed past.

"Let's go!" said Linnette. She knew it might be trap—one of the sailors might have seen them go into the cabin and be waiting outside with a gun—but she knew the bigger danger was of docking in Guernsey. The ship she could escape from, an angry crowd of people in the streets of Guernsey perhaps not.

There was nobody waiting outside. Linnette and Michael dashed up the stairs, heading for what looked like the fastest route up to the deck—and Another Gamble.

It was on this deck that they crashed into a group of armed sailors coming the other way. For a moment everybody froze, staring at each other. Then simultaneously, everybody swung up his or her gun.

"I'm the second lieutenant," said a voice. The man near the front of the crowd stepped forward. "And I order you to surrender right now. You are on your absolute last chance. If I weren't a good Christian soul and if one of you weren't a young lady, I would not be giving you an absolute last chance."

"Take your absolute last chance with you to Hell!" said Michael. "I'm not surrendering to a bunch of drug-dealing thugs!"

The second lieutenant did a double take. "What did you just call me?"

"A drug-dealing thug! And I know you are so don't try to deny it! And don't you preach "good Christianity" at me!"

"I lack the remotest conception," said the second lieutenant, "of what the Hell you're talking about".

"Where did you get those guns?" said somebody else. The second lieutenant glared at him. "What? You're not the only one allowed to speak to them, you know!"

"From your secret stash in the hold," said Linnette.

"What secret stash in the hold?" said someone else.

Their confusion seemed genuine. For the first time Linnette was less sure of her ground. "There is a secret stash of weapons in the hold," she said, slowly and carefully.

"What!" The second lieutenant, and most of the sailors, had eyes staring out of their heads at this.

Linnette decided that here there was a situation she could make the most of. "There are weapons in the boxes in the hold. And opium labelled coffee grounds."

"Opium" said the second lieutenant with the air of a drowning man clutching at straws, "is a perfectly legitimate import, for various medicinal purposes".

"Then why would they be labelled coffee grounds?" asked Linnette.

"By mistake?" suggested the second lieutenant faintly.

But general feeling was with Linnette and Michael.

"Come on!" It was the same man who had asked where they had got the guns. "Let's go down to the hold and check for ourselves!"

"What about the prisoners?"

"Oh, leave the prisoners."

And so Linnette and Michael found themselves essentially alone in the corridor, as a crowd of angry men swarmed past and hurled themselves down the cellar.

They carried on. The next staircase led to the deck. Linnette laughed for joy when she felt the sea breeze tugging at her hair, and saw the sky so big and blue and... boundless. Light. Air. Freedom. Not that they had won yet. They still had to get their ship back. And their guns. They weren't leaving them behind in the hands of the drug-dealing thugs. No sir! Then Linnette saw how close they were to the harbour in Guernsey and she froze. They were nearly there! Right, where were their guns?

At that moment the captain came dashing out of the bridge, accompanied by the first lieutenant and about a dozen men.

"You again!" he snarled. His face was suffused with rage. "What the Hell are you doing here?"

"Escaping!" said Linnette.

But the captain was staring at their guns. "Where did you get those?"

"In your hold," said Linnette. "Give us back ours and we'll be only too happy to hurl these into the sea."

"Absolutely not," said the captain. "You never learn, do you? I don't see why I should give you to the authorities in Guernsey! I'll kill you myself!"

Linnette swung round and shot him through the head.

Silence fell on the deck.

Linnette registered in the back of her mind that the ship had stopped moving towards Guernsey. Presumably the men who were meant to be sailing her were too busy rummaging around in the hold.

Then the sailors who had gone below scrambled up onto the deck. "Come and look at this!" the second lieutenant was almost dancing with excitement. "Look what we found below!" He waved a box of opium in the air.

"Order!" howled the first lieutenant.

But no order could be restored. The sailors were overwhelmed with rage and bewilderment.

"Who killed the captain?" said someone.

"I did," said Linnette.

"Give that lady a medal!" Everyone laughed and slapped Linnette on the back.

"Kill the prisoners at once!" the first lieutenant was practically hysterical—never a good way to assert one's authority.

Linnette took a deep breath and command of the situation. "We would like please," she said, "our own guns back and our own boat, Another Gamble".

"Well, you can't have them," said the first lieutenant.

"Give them to us!"

"Give us the guns," said Michael, quietly and coldly. He was exhausted and blood-soaked. His breath came in ragged gasps and he swayed on his feet. The blood had started to pool on the deck at his feet, giving him a macabre air. But his eyes were blazing with a cold, steely light and there was not a man on that deck who did not look a little afraid of him.

"You are outnumbered and out-gunned. If you have the slightest trace of sanity about either of you, you will submit to the legitimate authority on this ship. And, frankly, I doubt if any chance of mercy awaits you in Guernsey, except the chance to die a more Christian death." He made this speech with an air of smug triumphalism.

"Then we have nothing to lose," said Linnette.

"I will not surrender to a bunch of opium dealers while I'm breathing," said Michael, quietly and viscously.

"That won't be for much longer, judging by the state you're in," said the first lieutenant.

"Well, in that case feel free to hurry things along a bit," said Linnette. "Because we'd rather die than accept your mercy".

"Why?" said the first lieutenant, almost wailing with exasperation. Then he paused and his eyes narrowed. He spoke in a different tone. "On what grounds do you despise me?"

Suddenly it was very quiet on the deck.

"You," said the second lieutenant, "are pirates and murderers".

"So?" said Linnette.

"So don't pretend to me that you're saints," said the first lieutenant, completely calm and collected now. "Because you're no better than I am."

Then someone said "hold on, what do you mean "than I am"? Do you know about this?".

"No," said the first lieutenant, but totally unconvincingly.

"You were," yelled someone else, "you knew about this".

"You turned this ship into a smuggler's ship."

"You could have landed us all behind bars if the authorities found out about this!"

Then the second lieutenant yelled "kill him!".

Immediately the sailors sprang at him, waving daggers and guns.

"Tom," called the first lieutenant, "Matthew, with me!".

A few of the sailors turned back to attack two sailors, presumably Tom and Matthew, who were hanging around at the back of the crowd.

"Are you mad?" said the first lieutenant viscously. His eyes glowed like an angry rat's. "Are you going to have a mutiny here? Here, in plain view of Guernsey harbour? You're mad! Start loosing off guns here and you'll have the entire fleet out to see what's going on."

"We'll chance it."

"We'll tell them what's going on." It was the same man who had suggested giving Linnette and medal. He seemed to have appointed himself spokesman for the small, angry group of sailors. "We'll tell them exactly what's going on and we'll let them decide for themselves who's in the wrong."

"Why don't you kill them?" He gestured frantically at Linnette and Michael. "They attacked this ship. They killed people! You saw them kill. Why do hate me?"

The sailors considered for a moment, then the new spokesman said, "we might kill them, later". He paused. "After we've given the young lady her medal." Everybody laughed at that. "I ain't saying they're good people. But at least they don't take men on in good faith and then use them for their dirty dealing. I mean, really and truly, if the authorities had seized this ship, and asked you and the captain whose fault it was, who would you have blamed? And who would they have believed?"

"Well, if you're going to kill them, why don't you get on with it, rather than hanging around killing me? Why don't you kill me later... or not at all? Maybe. Please. Please... Oh, God, please..."

"And another thing," said the spokesman, "at least they can stand up and look at a gun without pulling a face". And he shot him in the head.

There was another long silence on the deck. The spokesman reloaded his gun.

Then he turned to Linnette and Michael. "Well, that's that," he said. "I... really would give you a medal, you know, Miss..."

"Fortescue. Linnette Fortescue. And thank you."

"And you?" said the sailor.

"Michael Leeford," Michael practically whispered, still clinging grimly onto his gun.

"Samuel Taylor." He took Linnette's hand, then quickly kissed it. He shook hands with Michael, who could barely stand up now.

"And now," he said. "I suppose we commence shooting at each other."

Linnette steadied her hand on the gun.

Samuel Taylor raised his gun and Linnette, mechanically, swung hers up.

Then Taylor hesitated. "Oh, hell," he said, "I can't just shoot you standing here in cold blood. Not now I've spoken to you and we've been introduced".

"They're pirates," said someone. "We've got to shoot them."

There was a general chorus of agreement at this. Linnette felt her heart escape her chest and begin pounding in her mouth instead. Should she start shooting now? What did it matter if she did? They were outnumbered and outgunned. There was nothing she could do to escape death now. But the more certain she became of this, the more her nerves sharpened themselves like those crackling wires she had once seen at a Miracles Fair. She was suddenly very aware of the deck shifting beneath her feet, of the feeling of the wind tugging at her hair, and above all, like a pivot on which everything else swung, the pistol in the hand of the man in front of her. She could not stop a small smile tugging at the corner of her mouth.

Taylor raised the gun, then dropped it. Linnette could understand his hesitation. There was something rather horrible about having a conversation with someone and turning it into a fight to the death.

The crowd pressed closer, seemingly divided fairly evenly into shoot-them and don't-shoot-them factions. Taylor still hesitated. Then he said, "all right, suppose we settle this decently, with a duel?".

"I'm game if you are," said Linnette.

"I'm pretty sure that's illegal now, you know," said the second lieutenant.

"So is shooting people. I just shot the captain."

"He was a drug smuggler. These people are pirates. If anyone complains about your shooting them, just say they were a menace to civilised society. But if you duel with them, you grant them... legitimacy."

But a duel seemed to be generally popular.

"Come on then!"

"Let's see you have a go!"

"Seems fair to me, we're all civilised people after all."

Linnette took a deep breath.

"Madame," said Taylor, "I challenge you to a duel. To the death. If you win, we let you go in peace. If you lose- well, clue's in the part which said "to the death"".

"All right," said somebody, "we promise".

"I accept," said Linnette.

"I'll do it, said Michael.

"Nonsense, Mr Leeford," said Taylor. "I refuse to fight someone who already has blood pouring out of him".

Michael, who had slumped against the railing, actually hauled himself upright, briefly. "I haven't got blood pouring out of me," he said. Then blood poured out of his mouth in a scarlet stream. Linnette nearly choked with horror. "I can fight. I can stand." His voice tailed away. "Look.." And then he collapsed on the deck in a faint. His face was ash grey. Blood was pouring from his chest and trickling from his mouth. His eyes flickered in his head. Linnette felt her throat catching.

"If I win," she said, "you have to get him to a doctor. There's one in Cherbourg. I'm not sure if he'll be too pleased to see him again so soon after last time but...".

"With pleasure, Miss," said Taylor, "but I wouldn't hold out too much hope if I were you, frankly. He'll likely die, with doctor or without".

"Don't say that," said Linnette. "Please don't say that." She had a horrible feeling she was going to cry. She knew she mustn't—duellists on the field of honour never cried. But the tears threatened to overwhelm her.

Michael, however, had come to. "I'll duel lying down," he said. "If I'm going to die anyway, it doesn't matter."

"It's no good," said Taylor. "There's no honour in fighting a dying man."

"But she's a girl, you can't hit a girl... or shoot one."

For the first time Taylor hesitated. He looked round at the watching crowd.

"Well..."

"I don't care," said Linnette. "I'm a woman of honour, I'm not a coward. I'll go through with it."

"That's your answer," said Taylor.

"At least let me be second," said Michael.

"I don't need a second, Michael."

"All right," said Michael. Then, so quietly that if Linnette had not been watching his lips she would probably not have seen it, "go in and win, Lin".

Linnette took a deep breath and drove all thoughts of Michael out of her head. She checked that her gun was properly loaded and ready to fire. Then she turned to Taylor. She could feel something in the air between them, an electric current, pulling them in.

So this is what duelling is about, she thought. Facing someone and knowing that, in about two minutes' time, one of you would be dead. She forced herself to listen to the second lieutenant laying out the rules. "Each walk ten paces. Three shots. No seconds. Any objections?"

"No," said Taylor.

"I'm not having a duel with this thing," said Linnette. "I want my own pistol back."

"Agreed," said the second lieutenant. Two men hurried off to the bridge and returned bearing Linnette's pistol and all the other weapons which had been taken away from Linnette and Michael.

"Thank you," said Linnette. She dropped Michael's gun and little dagger on his lap. She stuffed her own knife into her belt. She threw the ridiculously big and heavy gun onto the deck.

Time to begin.

Taylor bowed, and Linnette made her deepest curtsey, the one Martha had taught her. Then she turned and walked ten paces along the deck. She forced herself to focus on the duel, not on Michael, who was curled up in the heap by the railings.

The deck was swaying around—she had to make herself think about this. That would make it harder to aim and fire. She didn't know how good a shot this Taylor was. She had better just do her best.

She had walked ten paces. She turned. Taylor turned at the same time. Michael was- she would not think about Michael. The second lieutenant dropped his handkerchief. Linnette fired, the deck shifted and she missed. At the same time something whizzed past her ear. So, Taylor was not brilliant. But, unless she smartened up her game, he would still win. She ought to have been able to anticipate the deck. She was not concentrating properly. Her hand was shaking as if she had stood in a bucket of ice for half an hour.

Second shot. Linnette took a deep breath and steadied her hand. She focussed on the movement of the deck. The handkerchief came down again. Go in and win. The bullet crashed into Taylor's neck. His bullet clipped the ship's railing.

Linnette automatically re-loaded her gun.

She walked over to Taylor, but it was quite clear that he already dead.

She knelt down next to Michael.

"Michael," she whispered. "I won."

He smiled at her.

"He's got a damaged lung, Miss." It was the second lieutenant.

"You have to take him to a doctor. You promised!"

A man who had been at the back of the crowd came forward. "I am the ship's doctor. If you like, I will take care of Mr Leeford."

"Yes please," said Linnette. The doctor and the second lieutenant picked up Michael—who had fainted again— between them. "Thank you."

Linnette followed the doctor and the second lieutenant down below to the doctor's cabin, past the silent, staring, astonished crowd.

As the little door closed behind them, Linnette heard the silent crowd suddenly break into equally astonished uproar.

The doctor's cabin was small and meticulously tidy.

The doctor laid Michael on the bunk. Michael was barely conscious, the gasping had subsided into quiet, steady, but shallower and shallower breathing.

Linnette collapsed into a chair by the bunk. She could no longer stop the tears. They gushed down her face, fast and hot and uncontrolled, and she did not care what the doctor or the second lieutenant thought about her for them.

The doctor was studying Michael's chest, mopping the blood away with a cloth, but the blood flowed so quickly that he barely had a chance to examine Michael properly.

"We have to stop the bleeding," the doctor was saying to the second lieutenant. "I'll need some bandages."

"Can't you stitch the wound?" asked Linnette through her tears, thinking of how quickly and simply Michael had stitched up her stomach wound.

"Not that simple. Unless he's the luckiest man going, there'll be pulmonary laceration, probably contusion, heart problems, I just want the blood clearing out of the way."

Linnette blinked. The second lieutenant realised that she didn't understand. "I think he's saying, that the bleeding isn't the real problem. His chest's been actually damaged. His lungs and things."

After what felt like hours, and probably was at least half an hour, the doctor appeared to have got the bleeding under enough control to begin on the "real problem".

His first impression of the real problem was not reassuring.

"Sweet Jesus, the man's got practically no lung left!"

At this Linnette began to cry again. She knew that the doctor was probably finding this completely unhelpful, but she couldn't stop herself. The thought which was lodged in her head was that Michael might die. Might stop breathing, now, in the next five seconds, in the next ten minutes, and never breathe or move or speak or laugh again.

And she didn't know what she would do if that happened. She wasn't even sure what that reality would look like. So she buried her face in her skirt and sobbed with a horrible, physical agony.

When she had cried out every last drop of water in her body, and physically couldn't cry any more, she asked the doctor if he needed any help.

The doctor was busy cutting at Michael's lung, and only shook his head without looking round.

"Don't distract him," whispered the second lieutenant.

Linnette watched as the doctor poked around in Michael's lungs, tutting and shaking his head. Eventually he sat back, and began gently cleaning the blood away with a cloth.

"All right," he said. "I've patched up the lad's lungs as best I can," he was speaking not to Linnette but to the second lieutenant. "The rest is in the hands of God and his constitution."

The doctor turned to Linnette. "Thank you, sir," she said.

"You're welcome, ma'am."

The doctor packed away his belongings.

"Right," said the second lieutenant. "I should actually go and do my actual job. I really have no business to be hanging round here at all..."

He looked, a steady, analytical look, at Linnette. Linnette looked steadily back. Then he turned and walked away. As he opened the door she caught a glimpse of a group of sailors, trying to get a look through the doorway at her and Michael.

"Well," said the doctor, "if you two will be quite all right alone, I'll leave you with him. But I warn you, don't bother him. He needs rest".

"All right," said Linnette. She took a deep breath. The doctor left, leaving Linnette alone with Michael.

She looked at him. He looked shattered and blood-soaked, but he was breathing. Not strongly or evenly, but ragged, gasping breaths. But Linnette could tell they were fighting breaths, he was no longer lying grey and corpse-like the way he had done on the deck. He was still completely out of it, but when Linnette touched his hand his finger may have twitched a little. Or she may have imagined it.

For a very long time nothing happened. Linnette did not know or care what anyone else on the ship was doing. Her attention was on Michael, lying on the doctor's bunk, fighting for every breath. While he lay there, she knew she could not move away. The ship rocked back and forth, but she didn't move. So they weren't going to Guernsey. Where, she wondered vaguely, were they planning to go?

After a while the doctor re-entered.

"I came to see how he was getting on," he said.

"Very well, thank you," said Linnette.

"You seem very... distressed ma'am."

"I am," said Linnette, quietly.

There was a moment's pause. The doctor sighed and looked at her. "Perhaps, ma'am, you will take this as a warning."

"A warning?" Linnette didn't understand.

"Change your life."

Linnette simply stared at him. "W-w-what?"

"Ma'am," said the doctor, very quietly and gravely, "I can't see any warning I could offer you which would stand as a starker warning that the one in front of you. Change your life. You're English, aren't you?".

"Yes," said Linnette. "So what?"

"Go back to England. Give up this nonsense. No more shooting."

Despite her gratitude to the doctor, Linnette's temper began to rise as she realised what he was doing. "How dare you," she began in a voice trembling with suppressed anger, "attempt to tell me what to do with my life?".

"How dare I? How dare I? I am not the one who has attempted to plunder this ship by main force, who has killed her crew. You can thank the decent feelings of Taylor that you won't be handed in to the authorities in Guernsey and hanged. Personally I think you ought to be. So yes, ma'am, I dare anything."

"If I did go back to England," said Linnette, completely ignoring the doctor, "what would I do then?".

"I am sure that a strong young lady like you will be able to find work anywhere. There are positions all over the country for domestic servants and an increasing demand for factory girls."

Linnette laughed. She couldn't help it. The poor doctor's proposition seemed so patently absurd. "You think I'll just go back to England, find work grubbing in a factory, die in a cottage of old age and overwork?"

"What, ma'am, is so disagreeable about that?"

"It's... ridiculous," said Linnette. She tried to square the image the doctor painted her with her life now. "I can't just go back to that. After everywhere that I've been, everything I've seen, done..."

"What you have done, madam, is deprive law-abiding citizens of their livelihoods, indeed their lives, and made an unutterable nuisance of yourself."

"So your captain and his tag-alongs are law-abiding now, are they?" Linnette was caught between bewilderment at the doctor's pleas that she return to a respectable life, and outrage at this slur.

"No, but I doubt very much if they are your first victims. And men whom you have shot were perfectly law-abiding."

"Well, more fool them!" Her voice was rising now.

"So you suggest," the doctor was also beginning to lose his temper, "that it is foolish to not make the same decisions as you have, which have led you to this point? Because some people, ma'am, looking at this scene, would say it is you who are foolish".

"Why? Because your captain shot my bo- er... my friend?"

"Ma'am, I have no intension of being drawn into an argument-"

"Drawn into one? You started it, sir!"

"I was attempting, ma'am, to give you a little friendly advice-"

"What, so because you can't have me hanged you help us and give me "friendly advice"?"

"Yes, ma'am, I do. If not for the sake of the men you shot-"

"If they had obeyed me instead of shooting at us, I wouldn't have shot them!"

But he overrode her. "That is beside the point. If not for the sake of the men you shot then for your sake and the sake of this young man."

Linnette was incredulous. "For my sake!" She stared, now gasping with indignation. "You want me to go back home to England and find "respectable" work as a skivvy or a factory hand, and you tell me you are doing it for my sake?"

"Yes." The doctor hesitated. "What is so dreadful about that life that you would prefer to risk Mr Leeford's, not to mention your own, death?"

"What's so dreadful? When I was a girl I lived in a cabbage patch in a village. I spent my childhood peeling spuds and darning frocks, when Martha took in laundry. Is that all my life will ever be? I thought it was, and I got out of that life more than a year ago, and it's the best time I have ever had in my life. And if you think, that I'm going to turn around and go back to England, drink skimmed milk and dream of a better life, then you couldn't be more wrong. I don't want to just wish for... things!"

She broke off, overwhelmed by her own emotions.

"So you would rather die young and violent as far from home as possible? Dream big! I give up on you! I meant to help but your continued ingratitude gets on my nerves—and my conscience."

"Lin?" said a quiet voice from the bunk, "Lin?".

Michael's eyes were fluttering open. He tried to push himself upright, winced, and nearly collapsed.

"Michael," choked Linnette, "you're alive!".

"Well," Michael considered the blood-soaked bunk, "they make them tough in Lancashire".

"You, young man," said the doctor, "are very lucky to be alive".

He might have said something else, but broke off when Linnette, overwhelmed with relief, flew at Michael and kissed him on the mouth.

The doctor turned away with a revolted shudder.

As for Linnette, she was transfixed with horror when she realised what she had just done. She froze. Then Michael, who for a moment had sat there, just as stunned as Linnette, seized her—as best he could, still semi-conscious and practically lungless—in his arms and began kissing her right back. "Linnette," he said, "you're an angel".

"Funny kind of angel," she said, "duels and kissing".

"It is inadvisable," said the doctor, with the air of one in the last stages of faintness, "to asphyxiate a man with injured lungs".

Linnette looked at him, propping himself up on his desk, and took pity on him and his sense of decency. "All right," she said to Michael. "Are you strong enough to come upstairs?"

"I'm right as rain," said Michael, springing down from the bunk and going to the door, only wincing a bit, "thanks doctor".

"Thanks doctor," repeated Linnette, looking after Michael.

The doctor managed a tight smile and an equally tight "pleasure".

Linnette followed Michael up onto the deck. She clambered through the dark corridors feeling as if she were walking on air. She had finally, finally, in a mad moment, found the courage if not to exactly explain to Michael how she felt, at least to make those feelings clear beyond all doubt. She had never seen a man who had had such a close brush with death look as happy as Michael had looked in the moment when he had called her an angel. And she had never imagined that it could make her so happy to be called an angel by anyone.

When she arrived on the deck it was to the sight of the entire crew standing, patiently and with deep fascination, around Another Gamble in the stern. The second lieutenant stepped forward. "Miss Fortescue, Mr Leeford," he said, "here, in accordance with your agreement, is your ship. You are at liberty to depart from our vessel at your convenience. In fact," slightly sternly, "the sooner the better".

"What are you going to do with the drugs and guns?" asked Michael.

"We're going to throw the drugs into the sea," said the second lieutenant. "We have the boxes here." He produced a collection of bags and boxes from a sack at his feet.

"You should weight them," said Michael.

"We shall," said the second lieutenant. "We have metal chains from the store. I'm sure that they're quite heavy enough to sink these boxes."

They were indeed heavy enough to sink them, and it only took five minutes for the entire crew to bundle the little stashes of opium up in chains and hurl them overboard. Linnette watched them sink with a certain satisfaction.

"Now," said the second lieutenant. "What to do with the guns is another matter. They are indeed smuggled. We have no right to them. They don't appear on our cargo inventory. I don't know where the captain got them from."

"We'll take them," said Linnette.

"If it's quite all right with you," added Michael.

"It's fine," said the second lieutenant, looking deeply relieved. "Actually, I'd be rather glad to offload them onto you. We're all," with a slight air of superiority, "decent law-abiding citizens here".

Linnette and Michael collected the cargo of smuggled guns. "I'm sure we'll put them to good use," said Michael.

And that was that.

"We're leaving now," said Linnette. "Goodbye and thank you for your... reasonableness."

"Goodbye," said the second lieutenant, his tone courteous, his expression unreadable. Linnette had a feeling that he was unsure what the appropriate way to respond in this situation was.

She and Michael boarded Another Gamble and the crew of Flying Fish cast off. Linnette held the tiller, Michael pulled on the sails. Another Gamble leapt forward, skimming across the waves. The wind caught the sails and tugged them out into great, billowing sheets. Linnette kept her gaze fixed on the horizon. She never looked back at Flying Fish, who slowly hauled herself around and disappeared round the curve of Guernsey. Linnette let the wind take Another Gamble, her nose was set right, into the open water of the Atlantic, and ducked under the mast to where Michael had just set the sails right. She didn't speak. She hurled her arms round him and kissed him again and again.

"I thought, for a horrible moment," she said, "well— more than a moment, that-".

"I thought," he said, laughing, "that I'd never have the guts to tell you how I felt".

"I had the guts."

"Yes, but I thought I was only deluding myself that you'd ever like me."

"I do like you," said Linnette. "I like you because you're sweet, and... a real gentleman."

"No I'm not!"

"Well, you're good enough for me." She rested her head on his shoulder, and he stroked her hair. She laughed.

"What?"

"You think I'm so pretty, and you're so... smitten!"

"Yes, you are pretty, and yes, I am smitten, like... a damn fool kid. God, Linnette, I've never met anyone remotely like you."

Linnette laughed again. "Where are we going now?" she asked.

"I don't know. Spain? Somewhere fun?"

"Sounds good." Anywhere would have sounded good. Linnette could at that moment have descended to the inner circle of Hell and she would not have cared, provided she was with Michael.

The boat, however, actually needed sailing. Soon they would be nearing the rocky shores of Brittany. Linnette ducked back under the mast and adjusted the tiller.

As the sun went down in front of the bows, in a blazing splendour of scarlet and gold, Linnette and Michael sat down on the deck and began to consider their pretty impressive store of weaponry.

"What do we do with it?" asked Linnette. "Sell it?"

"Well, I don't want it," said Michael. "I mean, we might need half a dozen barrels of gunpowder at some point in our lives, and I dare say grenades have their purpose, but I reckon we're already armed to the teeth."

Linnette considered the piles of guns and explosives. She agreed. They were undoubtedly the latest advancements in criminal technology, but she and Michael were two pirates and smugglers, not an army. A veritable armoury would only drag them down.

"All right," she said. "Better to have the cold hard cash. We'll ditch them in the morning."

That night Linnette went to bed and slept like a log, and she dreamed of boundless seas and boundless wealth.

The next morning, according to Another Gamble's charts, they were nearing the town of St.-Nazaire.

St.-Nazaire was a pleasant town, with friendly, courteous people. They bought food and looked around the town. There was no hurry to offload their cargo. Michael bought a French phrase book. It was nearing noon when, having sampled the cakes and wine of St.-Nazaire as best they could on their—despite the phrase book— non-existent French, managing on the fact that everyone in St.-Nazaire appeared to be able to speak English, they finally decided to get down to business. They had become rather good at sounding out the profit-making potential of a city. They enquired, in a perfectly polite and civilised manner, about local gun traders.

This proved slightly difficult for the phrase book did not contain the phrase "where can I sell half a dozen smuggled grenades and some heavy duty guns?".

"Honestly," said Michael, frowning disgruntled at the "going shopping" page, "this thing's useless. There's nothing here which anyone will actually use. When will I want "have you a fine camel which I could hire for three shillings?" or "my grandmother has fallen out of the stage coach and requires attention?".

"This book is intended for the use of the average respectable tourist," Linnette reminded him. "What would you prefer? "The attackers have boarded the makeshift pirate ship and require repulsion"?"

"No but something tailored a little more to our actual needs might be nice."

"Does it have "my postilion has been stuck by lightning" in it?"

"No," said Michael, flicking through the "transport" section.

"Aw, that's the best one!"

"It has "my postilion has fallen into the crevasse" and "my postilion has stolen my umbrella"."

"All right, they'll do."

They eventually got their point across to the citizens of St.-Nazaire and were directed to a small shop above the harbour. This shop was run by an elderly man who sold antiquated fowling-pieces, and who seemed quite alarmed by two young people offering to sell him a pile of gunpowder, grenades and heavy-duty rifles.

"I'm not sure if it's quite in my line, Miss Fortescue, Mr Leeford," he said.

Under their polite, professional manner, however, he began to waver. "Well, I'll see what we can do," he said. "How much are you asking?"

Linnette and Michael negotiated terms, and the gun trader, eventually, decided that the guns were suitable for him to buy and bought them. Linnette and Michael walked out of the shop, bidding the gun dealer good day, fifty francs the richer. They went to a pastry-cooks and bought hot fruit pastries. Then they went to a tavern, and there they toasted a major triumph. They had successfully sold a major collection of, well, not exactly stolen, in the end, but freely acquired, goods, and sold them for a decent profit.

"Well," said Linnette, "that went fairly well. Very well. Shall we stick around, or shall we clear out of town?"

"Better clear out," said Michael, finishing his drink. "I don't want anyone to realise that we didn't have a licence for the guns we imported."

"Probably better, I prefer the high seas anyway. Still, it's perfectly legitimate business which we did. Nothing wrong with trading."

"I wonder where FlyingFish was taking those guns," said Michael, "and where the captain had got them from".

"I guess we'll never know," said Linnette. "All right," she finished her drink, "come on, then".

When they got back to Another Gamble, however, they found the winds and tides wholly unsuitable for departing. They had to wait until to-morrow, which wasn't too painful, for St.-Nazaire was a nice town.

They slept in the harbour that night, bouncing up and down gently on the waves. It was very late that night that there came a clattering on the deck. Linnette started up. It was very dark in the cabin. Early, then, rather than late. The clattering noise came again. Linnette fumbled for the lamp in the dark. It sputtered into life. Now she could see, she hopped out of bed, sliding into her boots, and reached for her dagger and gun. She slipped out into the passage and nearly collided with Michael, also wielding a lantern and a gun.

"I take it you also heard the noises," he whispered.

"Aye," said Linnette. The noise was unmistakeable now, the sound of someone creeping rather uncertainly across the deck above their heads. She grinned. "The invaders are boarding the makeshift pirate ship and require repulsion!"

"Do we go and repulse them?"

The noises were approaching the door down into the ship. The shadows beyond the pool of lamp light danced and flickered. Linnette became spine-tinglingly aware of how small and fragile the boat was, of how dim and—suddenly—cramped feeling it was down here. All humans felt that little extra shiver in the dark. The dark was not humans' natural environment. And the best bit was that Linnette too could slip around in the shadows.

"Absolutely," she said.

She crept after Michael up the staircase-cum-ladder up to the little door. Then they burst out of the door, holding their lanterns high.

The young woman stood there, blinking in the lamplight. She was holding only a candle, more suitable for a house than creeping around harbours in the dark. She didn't have a gun, but Linnette, with her instinct for picking out potential enemies' weapons, spotted a long, curved-handled knife at her belt.

"Are you-" she began. She stopped. "Are you-" She stopped, staring , eyes wide with fear, at their guns.

"It's all right," said Michael, "we're not going to hurt you". He lowered his gun, but maintained a tight grip on the handle.

The young woman blinked, swallowed and began again. "Are you the people who sold some... weapons... to the gun dealer here?"

"Maybe," said Linnette. She didn't mean to be rude, but a woman who wanted to conduct legitimate business seldom came creeping around other people's boats.

"He's in trouble," said the woman. She seemed barely able to control tears. "You have to come at once."

That got Linnette's full attention. "We're coming," she said, "at once. Just... not in our night attire".

"All right," said the woman. She smiled hesitantly.

Never had Linnette thrown on her clothes more quickly than she threw them on then. She even neglected her normal careful hair arranging, tying it back in a single ribbon. She nearly collided with Michael in the passage. "Your hair looks really nice like that," he blurted.

"Thanks," said Linnette, allowing herself to be distracted for a moment.

Within minutes they were up on deck, and the young woman with the feeble candle was standing waiting for them. "Come on," she said, "this way".

They followed her ashore and through the silent streets of St.-Nazaire in the dark. Linnette checked her watch in the light of her lamp. Just gone two 'o' clock.

"What's your name?" asked Michael. Linnette glared at him. "What, I'm allowed to ask her name!"

"Emma," said the woman, politely ignoring the rest of the conversation.

"Emma..." prompted Linnette.

"Just Emma," she said, not looking at them.

"Well, I'm Linnette Fortescue," said Linnette. "This is Michael Leeford."

They all said "how do you do?" and proceeded up the streets in the dark, Linnette and Michael trusting the mysterious Emma to guide them around the unfamiliar streets. Sure enough, before very long, they found themselves outside the gun shop.

"Is this the right one?" asked Emma, more quietly now.

"Yes," whispered Linnette.

They approached the shop quietly. There appeared to be some kind of stealthy commotion going on there. A dim figure was blundering around in the doorway. There came a muffled crash.

Linnette didn't think. Quiet as a shadow, she and Michael slipped down the dim street into the little gun shop. Emma was now following them. When they got outside the door, they stopped and looked in quietly. Three men had entered the shop. They were rummaging around, peering behind the shelves where the guns were, tapping with great concentration at the till. They were talking to each other, partly in French, but there was one man who always spoke English, with an unmistakable English accent. Linnette was delighted with this, for it meant that she could understand more or less what was going on.

"Look," the man was saying, "where ever they are, they obviously aren't here. Perhaps he's hidden them somewhere".

"It looks likely," another man replied. "Come on, let's go find the gun seller."

Meanwhile, Linnette and Michael were edging further into the shop, hovering near the door, nobody appeared to notice them. They watched as the men crossed the shop towards the back room.

"What are they doing?" whispered Linnette.

"Well, they seem to be looking for something. Or some things. He said "they" aren't here."

"What would people be looking for in a gun shop?"

"Guns?"

Linnette noticed that Emma seemed to have disappeared.

"You stay here," said the second man to the first man. He appeared to be in a position of authority. "Stay on watch."

The man stayed there, and moved to take up his position near the door. Michael and Linnette just ducked out of sight into the porch in time.

At that point, however, the owner of the gun shop came out of the back room. He was wearing a dressing gown and looked slightly alarmed to find three men in his shop.

He began to say something, and the men cut across him. He shrugged and began to say something else.

"What's he saying?" It was the man who couldn't speak French.

"Learn French, will you?" said the man who seemed to be the leader, and to the gun trader, "speak English".

The interrogation proper appeared to begin. "Where have you put them?"

"Where have I put what?"

Simultaneously, three guns appeared near the gun dealer's head. He shifted uncomfortably. Despite his profession, he was clearly not a bellicose man.

"You know what."

Why, thought Linnette, do they always say that?

"I assure that I don't."

They always say that too.

"The guns, you fool."

"What guns? I handle guns here on a daily basis. I am unaware of any particular guns which you may care so much about."

"The guns, grenades, powder, which you stole from our boss."

"Which I stole from your boss? I don't know what you're talking about, I've never met your boss."

"Did you," the leader said, beginning to lose his temper, pushing the gun nearer to the the gun dealer's face, "have guns here or not?"

"Yes," said the increasingly bewildered gun dealer. "I'm a gun dealer, guns are what I do. I did and do have many."

"Did you have any yesterday afternoon?"

"Yesterday afternoon? Yes, I had quite a few guns yesterday afternoon."

"Where did you get them from?" Now that the gang were making progress, the leader became slightly less aggressive.

"Well, all the guns I got yesterday afternoon came from a young lady and gentleman."

"Where did they come from?"

"Well, they were English." The gun dealer was maintaining fairly good self-control for a man being intimidated in his own house, dressing-gown and the small hours by armed men.

"The people off the boat!" The chief interrogator whirled round in triumph to the other two. "I knew it was them."

Meanwhile Linnette and Michael had crept further into the shop. Nobody appeared to notice them. Linnette was increasingly puzzled. Why were these people intimidating a tradesman in his own home? What—what on Earth—did it have to do with her and Michael? How did these men know that they had come off a boat?

The chief interrogator turned round to the gun dealer. "Where are they now?"

"Where are what?"

"The guns?"

"I sold them."

"You sold them?"

"Yes. I'm a shop. I sell things."

"To whom did you sell them?"

"Some industrialist. I don't know his name."

"Name of the company?"

"I don't know!"

"Damnation! All right," the chief interrogator pulled himself together, "where are the people who sold you the guns?".

"I don't know."

"Where are they now?" in exactly the same tone, but the gun drew a little nearer to the gun dealer's head. Finding the people who had sold this man his guns seemed more important than finding out where the the man he had sold them to was.

"I don't know." The self-control was breaking.

Then the man with the gun lost his temper. "For your own good," he snarled—there was no other word for it—"you will co-operate. Or, needless to say, you will die. Now, for the last time, where are they?".

Linnette decided that they had learnt all they could from hanging around. "Here," she said.

The three of them whirled round. The gun dealer nearly jumped out of his skin. Linnette considered the men facing her, then shot the chief interrogator. That seemed to surprise the men more that their presence. In fact, Linnette was getting the feeling that they didn't have quite the advantage of surprise she was hoping for. She fumbled to re-load quickly, while the other two men, now, it would seem, leaderless, stared at their dead colleague.

"The boss," said the one who didn't seem able to speak French, "is not going to like that".

"Then we deal with this quickly and he'll overlook it."

They returned their attention to Linnette and Michael. "Now," he said, "I like to introduce a little ceremony to these proceedings, but the gist is, we kill you".

"Well, we might have our own views on that subject," said Michael, and shot him.

Now there was only one man left. He took in the situation at a glance, realised he had two guns pointing at him, and decided to surrender.

"Now," said Linnette, quietly and with understated menace. "What's all this about?"

The man seemed quite happy to tell them. "You took some weapons," he said, "belonging to our boss".

Linnette considered. It was quite obvious that he meant the weapons she and Michael had taken from Flying Fish. Best to check, though.

"What weapons?"

"Some guns and gunpowder. You must have stolen them from our contact. Speaking of our contact, what have you done with him?"

"He's dead," said Linnette.

"Your fault?"

"Maybe."

The man cursed extravagantly. At that moment Linnette noticed the gun dealer, very quietly and cautiously, picking up the gun from the floor where the man had tossed it down and sitting, cradling it, on the side of the counter looking dazed.

"How did you know," said Michael, "that we took them?".

"We were expecting to meet our contact in a tavern. He didn't turn up. Instead, you turned up, a couple of hours later, and any moderately intelligent person could have worked out what you'd done."

"So Emma..." said Linnette.

"Was paid, yes."

"And you just pretended to break into the shop and ask questions?"

"Not at all. It was very useful to know the answer to all those questions."

"But the aim of this nocturnal escapade was, I take it, to wreak your vengeance on those who have dared to oppose your boss?"

"Essentially."

"What are you going to do now?"

The man blinked. "What?"

"I think it's a perfectly simple question," said Linnette. "What are you going to do now?"

"Go back and report to the boss."

"Who's he?" said Michael.

"Not telling!"

"I suggest you do," said Michael. "I really suggest you do."
"Or you shoot me? He'll shoot me, if tell him who you are."

"Then really, what have you got to lose?"

"Still not telling."

Linnette tried to control her frustration. If she had the gun, she told herself, she was in control. But she knew that it did not really work like that.

"All right," she said, "what will your boss say when you tell him that you have failed to wreak vengeance on those who have opposed him?".

"I'll tell him you're dead."

"Will he believe that?"

"He might."

"And your colleagues here?"

"He'll be angry with you, not me."

"Give me the gun," said Michael to the gun dealer. But he appeared to be in a trance and Michael had to repeat himself a couple of times before he returned to life and handed over the gun.

"All right," said Michael. "Go and tell your boss that Mr Leeford and Miss Fortescue send their complements and wish to remind him that they are very much alive. Any time he wishes to correct that, he's welcome to call."

"I won't tell him you're alive."

"Tell him we're dead, then. Personally I think my speech is better, but please yourself."

"Give me my gun back."

"No," said Linnette. "We shall not."

The man snarled. "Give it back."

"Sir," said Linnette, "we have no desire to give you back that gun, and you can thank our generous spirit that we don't shoot you. Given the circumstances, we would be perfectly entitled so to do".

"You will pay for this."

"They all say that," said Linnette, though in fact she was a little perturbed by his rage.

"No, I mean it. When the boss wants blood, he gets it."

"I suggest," said Michael, coldly, "that you shut up. The more you rant and rave, the more likely we are to think better of our generous spirit and kill you".

"Generous spirit! Generous spirit!" He almost fumed with rage. Linnette expected him to explode at any moment. "Do you expect me to be grateful for your generous spirit? Because I'm not. And I'm damned if I'm to stagger out of this shop, with no gun, on the so-called generous spirit of... of an unhinged pirate and his... insolent floosie. So take that, Mr Generous Spirit, and put it in your pipe and smoke it! And got God's sake, give me back my gun!" This last sentence was almost a howl.

Michael had frozen. Only Linnette noticed how rigid he had become, for the man was too busy raging and the gun dealer was too busy being hunched over and stunned. "What did you say?" he said, and his words slashed through the man's increasingly incoherent rage.

He stopped raging at once, and, shocked into obedience, repeated, "for God's sake, give me back my gun".

"Before that." The tone was inexorable.

"Michael, don't get cross," said Linnette.

"I'm damned if I'm to stagger out of this shop, with no gun, on the so-called generous spirit of... of an unhinged pirate and his... insolent floosie-"

"Yes, that bit," said Michael. "For your information, my girl is not a floosie."

"Michael he's not worth it."

"She is... er... right, Linnette's good qualities time. Er... she saved my life. Won a duel. And er... that's about it."

"Gee, thanks."

"Well, can you think of any? I think you're beautiful, but does that count as a good quality?"

"I have a plethora of good qualities," said Linnette. "Such as... I'll get back to you on that one."

"Returning to the matter in hand," said Michael, regaining his dignity in an instant, "you are an insolent whelp and I do expect you to be grateful for our generous spirit". And with that, he shot him.

"Michael," said Linnette, "you really can't do things like that".

"Why not?"

"It's a bit... vengeful."

"When I do people favours, I expect them to be polite! I at the very least expect them to be... dignified."

"Yes, dear, very chivalrous. Now let's go. I'm sure this gentleman will be quite all right if we just leave him where he is."

The gun dealer suddenly came to life. "I will not be all right," he said, with wounded indignation. "There have been intruders in my shop. They are now... dead. What am I supposed to say to my customers when I open in four hours? "Excuse the dead gun smuggler on the floor, it's not my fault"?"

"Well I'm sorry," said Linnette, "but really, that's not our problem".

With that, they left all the problems of the scene.

It was, however, far from the last they would hear of it.

Their next attempt at piracy went rather better. They ploughed across the Bay of Biscay, dancing across the waves. The ship, a large, elegant, prosperous-looking vessel was carrying tonnes of tea from India, and coffee beans from Brazil. Linnette flicked the rudder with almost casual ease. Another Gamble swerved and glided in front of the other ship. Linnette and Michael balanced in the bows, holding their guns, which looked very small against the massive bulk of the other ship. Well, they didn't have much trouble with the captain this time. Linnette put her usual demand. The captain nodded once, and let Linnette and Michael board the ship with no difficulties. Linnette leapt across the gap between the ships, almost carelessly, impressed with herself. Linnette and Michael helped themselves to tea and coffee by the sack full. The sailors said nothing to them. Some of them seemed to be in a state of shock, others were trying, clearly, to be vaguely defiant. They fixed their expressions into sullen stoicism. A few had expressions of pure round-eyed awe.

When a few men suddenly tumbled out of the hatch onto the deck, wielding guns, Linnette cursed. She hadn't expected a group of sailors to suddenly take it upon themselves to oppose the attackers. She prepared to bargain with them, but they had made up their own minds. They were going to attack. Linnette fired almost as a reflex. Michael fired at the same time. Two of the sailors collapsed, either dead or, at the very least, not in a state to keep fighting any more. The others looked at Linnette and Michael, cursed and surrendered.

"I should warn you," said Linnette, quietly and emphatically, "that is a very bad idea".

"I can tell," said one of the sailors, a very young boy who was leaning against the rail watching them with a faintly wistful air, "you just demonstrated".

The captain glared at him.

"I hope," said the captain to Linnette and Michael, "that you are going to take your leave now".

"Assuredly sir," said Linnette. "Thank you for your co-operation."

With that they leapt aboard Another Gamble, and within an instant Another Gamble had glided away.

The main difficulty was to find somewhere to offload their superabundance of tea and coffee. This proved harder than it looked. Few coastal towns and fishing villages were willing to buy sacks full of untaxed tea and coffee. Linnette made a mental note that probably, on the whole, cash was better. Eventually, however, they sold the tea and coffee in one of the many villages bordering the Bay of Biscay.

If piracy is that easy, thought Linnette as they approached the northern coast of Spain, why doesn't everyone do it?

And indeed, it did seem a way of getting easy money. Board the ship, get the plunder, sell the plunder. They did send some money—anonymously, of course—to the doctor in Cherbourg.

They picked up some neat daggers and a couple of swords too, for Michael remembered that, long ago in Buckinghamshire he had promised to teach Linnette sword fighting. On the tilting, swaying deck, Linnette practised the art of duelling. Even holding the sword was difficult at first, but it came naturally to her, and soon the sword began to feel like an extension of her arm, strong but flexible, deadly, silent and coldly glittering. She loved her sword.

Off the French-Spanish border they caught a cutter from the Caribbean, laden with spices, sugar and bananas. This ship was slightly more of a challenge. For one thing, she was bigger. For another, coming from the staggeringly lawless environment of the Caribbean, her crew were more vigilant. Barely had Linnette started with her speech before she noticed half a dozen guns pointed at her. Deciding that surprise is the essence of success, she seized one of the ropes of the sail, and, before she could think about whether or not it was a good idea, hopped off the deck and swung, not quite as elegantly as she had hoped but without falling into the sea either, over their heads and onto the deck. "As I was saying," as Michael landed beside her, "nobody make a nuisance of himself and nobody gets hurt".

She stood there with her gun in one hand and a dagger in the other, and the crew accepted the inevitable. Well, not quite. When Linnette and Michael had exhausted the ship's not very extensive supply of gold coins, they accepted fruit and spices, especially when assured that they were valuable. One young sailor decided that that was an excessive demand. He raised his gun and very deliberately shot at Michael. The bullet went wide and Linnette disarmed him with a banana. Clearly he was one of those people who thought guns were some kind of decoration. Another sailor, emboldened by these efforts, drew his dagger, a long, curved lethal-looking thing, only to be knocked out by Michael with a pineapple.

That was another of Linnette and Michael's more successful endeavours. Certainly as Linnette gorged herself on pineapples that evening, she thought so.

The next day dawned bright and early and Linnette and Michael, with all the time in the world and money to spare, explored the towns and countryside of northern Spain. Linnette liked Spain, it looked nothing like England. The sky was actually blue, the sea was blue too, a deep shimmering azure, and the towns with clung to the coast at the foot of the mountains were warm and pleasant, and the bars were cheap. Linnette found herself singing as she strolled through one of the fishing villages, an old ballad which Martha had taught her. She thought she had forgotten it, and it surprised her to hear herself singing it again. She had never been anywhere less like that little English village as where she was now. And that, on the whole, felt good.

They set off late in the afternoon, Linnette and Michael and Another Gamble, ploughing west to the Atlantic. They were way out in the bay before they saw the other ship. A tall, sleek ship, leapt and danced over the waves.

"All right," said Linnette, "I know we're not that strapped for cash, but..".

"We never know when we will be," said Michael.

Funnily enough, the ship seemed to be heading in exactly the same direction as Another Gamble. Quickly too, gaining on them. As the ship began to draw alongside them, Linnette caught her name emblazoned across the bows. Little Princess. Linnette bounced towards the bows of Another Gamble. But something very odd had happened. A young man had appeared in the bows of Little Princess. He held a gun in one hand and a rapier in the other and he looked dangerous. On the deck of Little Princess were half a dozen other men, all of them similarly armed, watching Another Gamble with quite obviously hostile intent.

"Oh," said Linnette. "Well, I guess pirates get pirated sometimes."

Little Princess pulled in alongside Another Gamble.

"Who are you?" asked the man in the bows.

"I'm Linnette Fortescue, this is-"

"Michael Leeford," said Michael.

"Of Another Gamble?"

"Yes. Who are you?" said Linnette.

"I am Mr Daniel Robinson, of Little Princess and formally of England. Also known as your doom."

"Bit clichéd, that last bit," said Michael.

Little Princess turned herself sideways along the wave. Within moments she was so close to Another Gamble that the noses scraped. Linnette barely had time to raise her gun before Mr Robinson had leapt across the gap to Another Gamble. He landed in front of Linnette and reached out smoothly and swiftly to take the gun from her. She hung on to it and for a long few moments they fought for it. Behind Linnette Michael began shooting. Someone shot back, the guns cracking viscously. Linnette was preoccupied trying to wrest her own gun, fully loaded, from Mr Robinson. The gun went off, just before Robinson managed to wrest it round to her head. Robinson swept at her with his rapier, but before things could get really interesting Linnette clawed at the gun, ramming he thumb down on the trigger. It went off again, into the air, and at the same moment they threw it down. Linnette whirled round, leaping away from Robinson and the reach of his rapier. Michael was trying to fight a man with a cutlass. Michael's cutlass was unwieldy compared with the cutlass the other man was brandishing. Also, he was bleeding pretty impressively out of the side of his stomach, where he appeared to have been stabbed or slashed. A man balanced on the ship's railing put in his own attempts at target practice, which came near to Michael's neck. Linnette whipped her longest and most viscous sword and leapt down to help him, only to find herself in a forest of guns.

"Now," said Robinson. "I hope you calm down and surrender. Look at me, ma'am, sir, for mine is the last face you will ever see."

"Why?" said Linnette.

It appeared that Robinson was not expecting that. He blinked. "What do you mean why?"

"You heard. Why?"

"Because you have taken what is rightfully mine and profited by it, and I want my revenge."

Linnette had no idea what he was talking about. "Are you some kind of angry sailor person?"

"I am Robinson. The notorious thief and smuggler. It took me a long to find you after that incident in St.-Nazaire, but I have done so, and now I am going to kill you, so shut up."

"Oh," said Michael. "You mean the guns we sold in St.-Nazaire. You're the boss of those men".

"Yes, and you have stolen my property, which is humiliating, and killed my employees, which is irritating. The property in question is not only the guns but some particularly valuable opium."

"Well, you should teach your employees better public relations," said Michael.

"Silence, young man, and prepare to meet thy God."

"I don't understand," said Linnette. She could see no possible way out of the current situation, but she wasn't prepared to meet her God just yet. She knew that if she could keep this Robinson talking, it would be their best bet at survival. At least until she could come up with a better idea.

"Don't understand what?" said Robinson.

"Don't understand why... why you're a criminal and a smuggler."
"Why are you, young woman? Use your imagination, can't you?"

"Nevertheless... when I ask you a question I think it's polite to answer it."

"Well..." Robinson began to waver, he was clearly a fairly naturally chatty man. "I hate to be thought rude," he admitted.

Linnette decided to prompt him a little. "It can't be easy, finding sea captains willing to smuggle guns for you."
"No, it's not." Robinson considered. "I give them a fair bit of money though, that helps."

"I expect so."

"I have to admit, the hardest bit of the job is keeping them once I've got them. They're always taking the cash and ratting to law enforcement. Keep the cash and get a reward from law enforcement."

"Must be a pain," said Michael, "but clearly you're capable of... well, revenge".

"Not on all of them." Robinson was scowling. "There was one chap, an old friend of mine called Bill, who pinched from me... well, it was why I got into the business in the first place, to steal this damn thing. They call it the Black Diamond."

"I've never heard of it," said Linnette.

"Oh, it was easily ten, twelve years ago now. I'm not surprised that you've never heard of it."
At that point he was interrupted when Michael gasped, choked, spurted a stream of scarlet blood from his mouth and almost keeled over.

"Oh my God!" said Linnette. "Michael, don't!" Her mind began to swirl. She had come so near to losing him before, she couldn't bear it if she lost him now.

"Oh don't worry about him," said Robinson. "It's a flesh wound. It bleeds dramatically, but in terms of actual damage it's all pretty tame."

Michael grinned ruefully at Linnette and began dabbing at the worst of the damage with his already stained shirt.

"All right," said Linnette, calming herself down. "Tell me more about the Black Diamond."

"The Black Diamond? Beautiful thing it was— is, for it still exists. Lost, it's meant to be, but I know where it is. Well, I don't know where it is, but I know who does."

"Where?"

"My old mate Bill has it." Robisnson scowled like thunder.

"Where is your mate Bill? Why don't you go and avenge yourself on him?"

"Because that wouldn't get me the Diamond back!"

"You want it?"

"I want the Black Diamond."

"I see," said Linnette. There was no real answer to that. Except perhaps "why wouldn't it get you the Diamond back?".

"He doesn't have it with him. He hid it somewhere. I don't know where. I have no way of finding out. That was the last I ever saw of him and it was years ago. Perhaps he's dead now, anyway."

"I still don't understand."

"Years ago, when we were young, Bill and I were living in London. We were both living off money inherited from our fathers. Well, that money started to run out. So Bill and I came up with a grand scheme to see us through for the rest of our lives. We had only just heard of the miracle they called the Black Diamond. We went all the way to America for it. Apparently the Diamond already had a long and bloody history. It was stolen from a mad cattle rancher in South America and taken to the States. Found it in pond or something he did. The cattle rancher, I mean."

"If there are diamonds lying in ponds all over South America," said Linnette, "why does anyone bother to go to prison by stealing them over here?".

"It was immensely valuable," said Robinson, rather irritably. "It's also said to have been cursed and all that, but to me that seems a farrago of nonsense." He sighed. "Or perhaps not nonsense, given what happened next. We stole the Diamond—it was a piece of cake. Bill pinched the diamond from me and ran off from America back to England."

"Didn't you revenge yourself while you had the chance?" said Michael. He was now very bloodstained and sounded weak.

"Are you sure he'll be all right?" Linnette asked Robinson.

"Of course he won't be all right. I'm going to kill you both. But he won't die of his wound. Not unless it were left open and bleeding for about two hours."

He continued. "And yes, I did revenge myself. Well, I tried to. I was a fool not to just shoot him while I had the chance. But I fought with him instead. A duel, with swords." He laughed, shortly, bitterly. "Like gentlemen."

"And you lost?" asked Linnette.

"I lost and I was nearly killed. For many weeks everyone thought I was going to die. I got a letter from Bill. From Spain."

"Spain?"
"Yes, that's where he lives now. Some kind of private island off the coast of Spain. The letter said that if I lived I was welcome to come and find him and kill him. If I died, I could rot in Hell. I wouldn't find the Black Diamond. He had hidden it."
"How do you know?" said Michael. He was mumbling so much that Linnette could barely hear him.

"What?" said Robinson.

"He said," said Linnette, ""how do you know?"".

"Because Bill Jefferson's a man of his word."

"Well, he was," Linnette felt obliged to point out, "until he reneged on his deal with you and ran off from America with the diamond you had half off".

Robinson made an exasperated, slightly embarrassed gesture. "There was a girl in it. Of course there was."

Linnette looked shocked.

"Oh, you fool! Don't you know how scrappy men can get over girls?" His eyes narrowed. "Almost as scrappy as girls can get over a fellow, so watch it with that boyfriend of yours, Miss."

Miss blushed scarlet and that boyfriend of hers gasped and spat more thick, scarlet blood out of his mouth.

"I'm watching it," said Linnette, mainly because she had to say something to look dignified.

Michael grimaced and tried to pinch the edges of the wound together. "What happened with the girl?"

For the first time, Robinson's expression softened. "She was called Bella. We met her on the boat coming over to America. She was emigrating, alone. She was scared, she was lonely. I fell for her, she fell for me. I didn't know that Bill liked her. He hid his feeling very well. I didn't know that he liked her until I got that letter from Spain, when he called me all kind of vulgar things, the gist of which was that I had no morals and no sense of decorum. Well, Bella gave up on emigrating. She went back with me to England. When I didn't die in that duel she agreed to marry me. She said she loved me. But now I really was broke. I had broken the law about duelling. I spent the last of my money on that wedding. Then I decided. We would go to the Arctic. To Canada, miles from anywhere. We would hunt whales, pan for gold. No sooner had we got to Nova Scotia than she got sick. I reckoned that I had stolen once so I could steal again. I stole and stole. Paid all the best doctors. And all the best doctors failed. She died. She's buried in some hole of a church yard in Nova Scotia."

"I'm sorry," said Michael.

"Yes," said Linnette, and she meant it.

"Anyway." Robinson sighed. "Now I was poor, I was broke, I had no way to make an honest living so I turned to crime. Well, not exactly turned to it. Crime's what I've done ever since father's money ran out. You could say it's the only paid work I've ever had. And it's crime I've been doing for ten years."

"Right," said Linnette. Her mind clicked into activity as she realised that she had not been keeping Robinson talking to give her a chance to work out a plan of escape, she had been actually interested in Robinson's story and she had not thought about escape once.

But Robinson seemed in no hurry to kill her. He was watching her carefully. "Here," he said carefully, "would you like your life?".

"I would," said Linnette. "I value my life as well as another."

"Well," an idea seemed to be forming in Robinson's mind, "how about a deal?".

"What kind of deal?" said Linnette, hope rising as the prospect of escape dawned on a horizon containing only death.

"If you get me back the Black Diamond, I'll forget your theft of my property and your murder of my employees. If you don't, I shall slay you where you stand."

Linnette considered. She had no desire to be slain where she stood. Besides, she saw no reason why she could not accept the deal and then sail away from Robinson forever, and let him hunt them down if he could, and fret about his own Black Diamond. On the other hand, she was reluctant to even go through the motions of making a deal with an opium smuggler. Michael gasped again and the blood gushed. That made up her mind.

"Deal," she said.

Michael, it seemed, had ideas of his own about this. "Lin, you can't honour that man's deal, he's an opium smuggler."

"Michael..." What Linnette really wanted to say was "I'll endure the humiliation of making deals with an opium dealer if it means keeping you alive" but she would not say that in front of Robinson. It was embarrassing, somehow, for this man to know how deeply she cared about the boy friend he had told her to "watch it with". "Don't be annoying," she settled for. The expression on Michael's face indicated to her that he knew exactly what she meant, and could not decide whether to be flattered or irritated.

"I can't go collecting diamonds for you," Michael began, then winced, coughed, and brushed a spout of oozing, trickling blood away from his stomach, "looking like this".

Robinson coughed. "Pardon me, young man, you appear to be under a misapprehension. You will not go to collect any diamonds. You will remain here, as this young lady's security."

"What?" said Linnette, almost choking with horror.

"You heard me, I think, madam."

Linnette was stunned. She had assumed Michael would be coming with her.

"But he'll die," she said. "You said yourself he would die in a couple of hours."

"Yes, he would die in a couple of hours, from blood loss, but I intend to keep him on my ship and give him the best medical treatment. Should you fail to return to the shore near here—the rocks just east of Gijón- within, say, twenty-four hours hours, bearing the diamond—and by the way, I can remember perfectly well what the real Black Diamond looks like, so no trotting back here in two hours with a paste diamond—I shall shoot him. Do you understand?"

"Suppose he's hidden the Diamond in the Antarctic or somewhere? How am I supposed to get there and back in twenty-four hours."

Robinson considered. His desire to threaten versus his appreciation of the possible.

"Then come back with definite instructions on where I can find the Diamond. I'll keep your boyfriend prisoner until I've got it though."

"Can't you treat him, let him rest, then send us both? Where's the urgency, you've waited ten years?"

"As I pointed out, I will need some form of security. Usually I appropriate some form of material goods, but seeing as we have here an injured boy, whom you obviously care a great deal about, why not use him instead?"

That stung. Not only had Linnette made a bargain with an opium dealer, he did not even trust her to keep the deal. Not that she would have kept the deal, but it is nice when one's opponents have a high enough opinion of one's character for that to come as a surprise.

"Very well," said Linnette. "Very well. I'm still sceptical that we—that I—am able to find a Diamond which you can't, but I'll try. I assume you'll at least tell me where this private island of the coast of Spain is, which he supposedly has. I know you say the Diamond isn't there, but I have to start somewhere."

"Certainly," said Robinson. "Isla Jefferson. In fact, Harry, bring the map!"

One of Little Princess' motionless, watchful, crewmen hurried away and returned within moments with a curled up scroll. He handed this to Robinson who handed it silently to Linnette.

"Any more questions, Miss Fortescue?"

"Linnette," said Michael, as firmly as he was able to through heavy bleeding, "you shouldn't..." he became awkward, "I mean, not on your own... the danger... not worth it," he became firm again "for me".

"Michael, be silent."

"Any more questions, Miss Fortescue?" asked Robinson again.

"No." She turned to Michael. "I'll be back."

"Don't do anything foolish, Lin."

"I won't do anything you wouldn't."

"Don't do anything I would! And... if... rather than let it get too tough... you just... I shan't..."

"Michael, I shall both return and slap you for even suggesting that I abandon you. You needn't be chivalrous with me sweetheart."

"It is now," Robinson produced his watch, "five 'o' clock in the afternoon. Twenty-four hours, Miss Fortescue".

"See you in Hell," said Linnette.

Robinson bowed mockingly, knowing that no amount of "see you in Hell" could let Linnette out of the inevitable. Then he seized Michael, dragged him back onto Little Princess, wrenched her nose around and darted across the waves.

Linnette sat silently in the bows of Another Gamble. For a moment it was a lot to take in. But only for a moment. Then she unrolled the little map. It was clear enough. Isla Jefferson was a small island off the coast of Spain, not far away. No time to lose.

By seven 'o' clock that evening, as the dusk was falling over the water, Another Gamble pulled into a quiet cove on Isla Jefferson and Linnette weighed anchor and hopped out of the boat.

Storm clouds were gathering on the distant horizon. She didn't envy the fishing fleets tonight.

There was nobody about. No sound except the lapping of waves on the shore, quietly, for it was a sheltered cove. Linnette climbed the little hill above the cove, and lay down quickly at the top, so she would not be seen, for Isla Jefferson was a private island and technically she was trespassing. From here she could see over the whole island, more or less, for it was very small. A grassy, rocky mound, with a small flock of goats, barely visible in the dusk but clearly audible in the clear evening air. A few straggly, wizened lemon trees. In the distance, on the other side of the island, a white-painted villa nestled among the lemon trees. Linnette considered whether to moor Another Gamble nearer to the villa, where she could get away faster, or leave her where she was less likely to be seen. She decided to leave her where she was, and set off across the island. It was a twenty-minute brisk walk, and Linnette quickly arrived in the backyard of the villa and realised that she had not the remotest conception of what to do next. Should she break into the villa and creep around? Should she announce herself to the owners of the villa? What was for the best? Every minute she spent hanging around here was a minute off her twenty-four hours.

Break in and creep around. After all, if that failed to produce results, she could announce her presence as... something and see where that got her. She hurried over to the nearest back window of the villa and peered inside. A large kitchen, completely empty. The lock was old and stiff and took a while to pick. The mechanism gave in the end, and Linnette pushed the window open and slipped into the lions' den.

Should she start looking for the Black Diamond in the kitchen? No. Robinson had been confident that Jefferson was not keeping the diamond in the house at all, and if he were, surely he would not keep it in a kitchen. If she searched every corner of a probably Diamond-less villa she would be here until her time ran out.

She had to find a bedroom, somewhere where the Diamond might possibly be, if Jefferson had lied and was keeping it in the house. Failing that, some kind of map, some kind of papers, something which would give Linnette a clue as to where the Diamond might possibly be. In any other circumstances she would have loved this challenge, but all she could think of was that Michael was counting on her. She hurried out of the kitchen and into a stone passage. She hurried along it in the direction which she thought was the front of the house. Suddenly a door opened and a woman stepped out into the passage, carrying an enormous pile of cheese. Linnette ducked behind the door and flattened herself against the wall. Too late.

"Hello, ma'am, can I help you?" said the woman.

"No, thank you," said Linnette.

The woman hesitated. It was clear that she had been trying to say "who are you?" politely. Linnette stood there looking innocent. She would volunteer no personal information until asked.

"Who are you, ma'am?" asked the woman finally.

"Linnette Fortescue," said Linnette, relinquishing her anonymity, now it was inevitable, with the dignity and pride of lesser women who might have said "Cleopatra" or "Helen of Troy".

The woman frowned at her tone. "Friend of Mr Jefferson's, are you?"

The last thing Linnette wanted—just now—was an interview with the master of the house.

At that moment, inspiration struck. "Piano tuner."

"Piano tuner?" The woman looked still more amazed, but not sceptical. "I'm Dora Smith," she said. "I'm the cook. At least, I used to be the cook. Now I'm the maid of all work."

"In a place this size?"

"Well, half the rooms are hardly used nowadays. Not many balls here any more."

It was on the tip of Linnette's tongue to say "why not?" but she knew that it was not the sort of thing a piano tuner would say.

"Well," continued Dora, "you won't find many pianos here, Miss Fortescue. In fact, there's only one in the house. I'll take you to it."

"Thank you, Miss Smith," said Linnette. "I think I got a bit lost."

Dora led Linnette up the passage, across a hall with a cracked and faded pseudo-Roman mosaic on the floor, passed a door where lamplight flickered and Jefferson, or perhaps his family, presumably lurked, up the main staircase to a little sitting room. The sitting room had a charming view over the sea, and was tastefully decorated in pale blue. The furniture looked shabby, though, and the place had a neglected air. In the corner was a small upright piano, the only thing in the room which looked neat or well-cared-for.

"Here it is," said Dora.

"Thank you," said Linnette. She went over to the piano and began studying it with great concentration, attempting to conceal from Dora that she had never tuned, or indeed touched, a piano before. She expected Dora to go, but Dora remained.

"Do go ahead," she said. "Mr Jefferson always has perfect faith in the abilities of his piano tuners."

Linnette pressed a few keys and listened with what she hoped was an intelligent air. She had some, vague ideas about pitch drummed into her by Reverend Matthews. She was a vocalist, though, and manually adjustable strings had never come into it.

Dora began chatting cheerfully about the weather, the price of wheat, the fashion in ladies' hats. Linnette pressed a few more keys, nodding when Dora expected her to speak. She realised that unless she persuaded Dora to leave, she would be sitting here at the piano until she had pulled it to bits, and then would be escorted from the premises, probably paid handsomely, and—oh, horror—maybe even taken to meet Mr Jefferson, who would say that he had not hired a piano tuner and had no idea who this woman was.

"This piano's pretty badly out of tune," she said. "It will take a while to fix. Don't let me keep you here."

"Oh, it's no trouble," said Dora. "I hardly ever get to talk to people," she said wistfully.

Linnette, with Dora's eyes on her, ploughed on with the piano tuning and watched the time tick by. Eight 'o' clock. Linnette opened the piano and began to pull on the strings. She pressed the keys again. It sounded no different. She pulled the strings again. The sounds coming from the keys became more and more hideous. Quarter past eight. She gave the strings another tug and a couple of them snapped, which she hastily concealed from Dora, who was already watching her with growing suspicion.

"Are you all right?" said Dora.

"Yes," said Linnette. "Thanks, it's just... the A string."

"That's the C string."

"Yes. I have to make it... match the A string."

"I see. You have... if you don't mind my saying... a rather... unusual approach to tuning a piano."

Linnette ignored this remark, assumed a brisk and competent expression and continued torturing the piano.

Half past eight. The piano was now a screeching wreck.

Linnette had an idea. "Miss Smith," she said, "I need some oil. Could you get me some please?"

"Certainly," said Dora.

She hurried away.

Linnette, relieved to be alone, wondered what to do now. Perhaps now she could find the diamond—however she was supposed to do that. She tried to put herself in Jefferson's shoes. If she were hiding a diamond, where would she put it? Sell it? It would a pretty good way to ensure that it did not get retrieved. Sell it to a jeweller's and have it cut into pieces? What if Jefferson did not want to keep his prize at all? What if his only satisfaction was making sure that Robinson never got hold of it? It was possible. But Linnette thought it was improbable. This man, Jefferson, had stolen the Diamond as a prize, out of spite, over a woman. He would have kept it. Linnette considered her own actions in such circumstances and a wave of such scalding fury washed over her that she shuddered. She was surprised that Jefferson had not murdered Robinson outright. But some people—even criminals, even angry criminals—simply are not bloodthirsty.

Perhaps he had written a letter—a note—a will? Where would she find such a thing in this house? A study?

She slipped out into the corridor. She had never been in enough great houses before to have any idea where a study might be. She ran along the landing, opening doors at random. The first one was a bedroom. A young woman's bedroom. Large and airy, with lilac wallpaper and a tapestry on the wall with a map of northern Spain on. Another bedroom. A married couple's room, it looked like. Then, just as Dora's feet were sounding on the stairs, she tried another door and found it locked. With no time to pick the lock, she wrenched open the door of the next-door bedroom and darted inside. Dora opened the door of the little sitting room.

"Miss Fortescue?" Linnette heard her call. "Miss Fortescue?"

Linnette remained silent in the bedroom.

"Miss Fortescue?"

There was a long silence. Then Dora obviously reached a decision, for Linnette heard her feet hurrying away. She slipped out of the bedroom, and picked the lock on the door. The door swung open to reveal a room which looked like a study. Breathless with excitement Linnette slid into the room and silently shut the door. There were a couple of bookshelves, one of which seemed to be devoted to such tedious subjects as law and estate management, the other to more general reading. Linnette noted with approval several titles which she herself had read. There was a large, solid-looking, elegant wooden filing cabinet. It took Linnette only a few moments to open the drawer marked "business correspondence". She flicked through a tedious pile of nonsense about shares and gold mines in America. Not the interesting bit of gold mines in California about murders and ravening wolves. The bits about which depth they had found gold at and which banks were interested.

Linnette opened "business correspondence, continued". More of the same, but it became apparent even to Linnette's inexpert eye that Robinson's finances had deteriorated over time.

The drawer marked "personal". There was very little in this drawer, only a few letters from parents and someone who seemed to be a sister. All dating from more than ten years ago. That was about it. Oh no, a poem.

Now I lay me down to sleep,

I pray the Lord my soul to keep,

If I die before I wake,

I pray the Lord my soul to take.

A child's prayer. Linnette had learnt it herself as a little gurgling thing on Martha's knee. Then, scribbled on the corner of the piece of paper The Garden of Eden.

Ridiculous, decided Linnette. The man was mad. That was the only explanation. Why else would he write out a common childhood prayer, scribble The Garden of Eden on the corner and keep in the drawer of his filing cabinet marked "personal"?

Then Linnette heard footsteps on the stairs. She froze. Then she shut the drawer and ducked into the alcove by the window with the paper in her hand, hiding behind the long curtains.

The voices on the landing were Dora's, a man's and another woman's, but Linnette had no idea what they might be saying. The door of the little sitting room opened. The voices continued. The voices went out again onto the landing. The other woman's was raised now, hysterical. "Oh, Bill, suppose she's still in here!"

"Don't worry, my love, I'll search the house. Here! Thomas! Harris! Come up here and help me look for a lunatic piano tuner!"

Footsteps clattering on the stairs. Presumably this was Thomas and Harris.

"Oh, God..." said the woman.

Jefferson's voice became inaudible again, but the woman's increasingly tearful divine invocations became more and more shrill. Linnette could barely hear Jefferson issuing instructions to the other two men. She thought she heard Thomas being told to go search the guest bedrooms and Harris being told to search the servants' rooms. Then she heard Jefferson opening the door to the bedroom, then to the other bedroom. Linnette looked out of the window. It was a long way down onto rocky ground. Long enough to survive a fall? Possibly. Long enough to remain able to fight for the Black Diamond? Decidedly not. Perhaps Jefferson would not look in the study, assuming she had been unable to open the door. Perhaps he would just glance in. Or perhaps he would look behind the long curtains in front of the windows. Linnette tried the handle of the window. It was open. She wondered what would happen if she shot Jefferson. How far away were Thomas and Harris? What about the women? If she survived and escaped, would she be able to get back in again? How much time would she have left? The door of the study opened.

Jefferson walked into the room. There was silence. Linnette pictured him standing in the doorway, listening, sounding out the air like a tiger with a gazelle. Well, if he thought he was hunting a gazelle, he was mistaken. Tiger-like, some instinct drew him immediately to the window. Linnette moved like a shadow. She pushed up the window, ducked through and jumped, grabbing at the window ledge, only just getting hold with her right hand, ramming her feet against the wall and pushing to get a better handhold. All without making any noise, for the slightest sound would give her away.

Jefferson pulled aside the curtain and found himself looking at nothing. He looked at nothing for a long time. Linnette held her breath. How visible were her fingers on the stone ledge? Then Jefferson slammed the window down. Linnette waited until her arms were aching, then pushed herself up onto the ledge, ready to descend again if Jefferson were waiting in the study. Jefferson was nowhere around, however, so she pushed the window up. It refused to budge. Must be locked. She balanced precariously on the window ledge as she picked the lock and hopped down back into the study. She pushed the window back down after her and listened. She could not hear Jefferson, Dora or the hysterical woman. She could not tell where Harris and Thomas were. She returned her attention to the scrap of paper.

Garden of Eden. She dredged her mind back to her childhood churchgoing. Well... it was a garden. And... erm... something about sin? No, she was taking the wrong approach. This was not idle theological speculation. There was a perfectly sensible reason for putting the piece of paper where it was. Now I Lay Me... a prayer... a prayer about going to sleep... a prayer about death. Was that all it was? When he died he wanted to go to Heaven? Well, that was a common enough desire. But the Garden of Eden was different from Heaven. The Garden of Eden... original sin. Oh, Hell, probably he was just being metaphorical... He wanted the return of the human race to innocence or something.

Unless he were being neither theological nor metaphorical. If he were dying, what would he want? If Linnette were dying, what would she want? Precious little. Probably for Michael to never find anyone more beautiful and clever. All right, if she were a respectable gentleman and she died, what would she want? Someone to look after her dependants... someone to look after her property... a will of some kind. Why bother being cryptic about a will? Because he only wanted a particular person to find it and read it? Someone who would understand, more or less at once, but definitely in the end, what he was trying to say. So the Garden of Eden must be a literal garden, one where Jefferson had left some kind of instructions regarding his mortal property after his immortal property had shuffled off the coil. And why would he want only one person to find and read it? Perhaps... please let it be... because he had written about the Diamond.

Did this villa have a garden? If so, where would it be? Linnette glanced at the clock. Nearly nine.

She tried to think sensibly, remembering the layout of the house as she had come through it. In so far as she could make out, she had got in through a back window, into the part of the house occupied by the kitchen—oh, it was such a ridiculous house, so big and straggly—and then gone down a passage to the front hall. Up the stairs from the front hall, and she was now, it seemed, over the downstairs passage. So the servants' rooms were over the kitchen and the guest rooms were over the front of the house. Which was a funny shape for a house, unless—unless there were a fourth side to the house. Which would make sense. The house was on a small, sun-scorched island of the coast of Spain, hilly, windy and covered in rocks and feral goats. Probably none too much water around. If there were a garden, then, it would be in a courtyard in the middle of the house. And the house had looked, from the back, in the dusk, more or less square, albeit rather ramblingly square with bits sticking out. She had seen no garden at the back of the villa and at the front was only the sea.

Linnette took a deep breath, then slipped the piece of paper back into its rightful place in the filing cabinet and very slowly opened the study door a crack. Nobody in sight. She whirled the door open as fast as she could. Nobody tried to ambush her. There were voices coming from downstairs. Linnette leant over the banister. Nobody about. The noises behind the door, voices becoming increasingly emotional, were coming from the same room as where the lamp had been on. Possibly there was some kind of family conference going on there.

Linnette began to descend the stairs, glad that they were stone and would not creak. Then Dora hurried across the front hall. Linnette sprang back into the shadows. Doors opened and closed. Then she heard footsteps along the corridor behind her. She flung open the bedroom door. She ducked inside. She held the bedroom door open a crack. Thomas came hurrying along the landing. Linnette scowled in frustration. Thomas disappeared down the stairs.

Half past nine.

Linnette once again crept to the head of the stairs. Once again she looked around. Nobody was there. She crept down the stairs. Nobody was in the hall. She studied all the doors leading off the hall. There was one small door leading off the hall which had a lock on it. An outside door probably.

Linnette glanced round to check that nobody was watching her, then began to pick open the lock on the door. The lock clicked after only a few minutes and the door slid smoothly open outwards. Linnette found herself in a large, dark courtyard garden. Through the gloom, she could see the shapes of trees, with birds, or perhaps bats, flitting among the branches. The liquid music of the birds drifted down to Linnette, warm and sleepy at this time of night. A cuckoo called in the tree near Linnette. "Cuck-oo, cuck-oo! Good night! Good night!" It appeared to have fallen asleep on the last "oo". The garden smelt of fruit and flowers. A strong, sweet, perfumy smell. Linnette stepped forward off the colonnade onto a paved stone path. Something soft brushed her face. A bat, perhaps. If they called this the Garden of Eden it deserved the name.

The path seemed to lead across the garden, wandering back and forth between the trees and past the pond. It did not lead anywhere in particular, just to the colonnade at the other side. A narrow path led off into the trees on Linnette's right. The garden was not very large, but the plants were thick enough to conceal, quite comfortably, a will hidden underground, or up a tree, or behind a bench, or anywhere really. Then, as Linnette turned, she saw a familiar gnarled shape in the gloom, and a familiar smell drifted across the grass, among the sweet scent of oranges, lemons and roses. An apple tree.

Linnette grinned in the darkness. If she had judged Mr Jefferson correctly, this would be where he was keeping his will. Or whatever it was that he had hidden.

Linnette approached the apple tree and studied it. There was no hollow in the trunk, no obvious place of concealment. But then, there was no good to hiding a secret somewhere obvious. Linnette glanced at her watch. Ten 'o' clock.

She clambered up into the lower branches of the tree. Had the will been shoved into a crack between branches? No. She stood up and rummaged through the higher branches. No good. She leapt down from the tree and was smashed into the path by something behind her.

She rolled over. A man lunged at her, and she just had time to roll clear before something dark and sharp flashed down where her head had just been. He had a knife. She leapt up, whipping out her sword and lashing out with it. The man ducked and flew at her again with the knife. Linnette twisted the sword round and the knife flew out of the man's hand. He stood still, gathering his breath.

"Who the Hell are you?" he said between gasps.

"I am a piano tuner. What, sir, do you mean by attacking me in the dark?"

"A piano tuner? Don't make me laugh. I've seen that piano you tuned, it's a wreck."

"I assure you, sir, I am a piano tuner."

The man looked at Linnette's sword, which she was holding pointing at his throat, and decided discretion was the better part of valour.

"All right. So you are a piano tuner. Would you mind telling me... please... what you are doing prowling round the garden at this time in the evening?"

"I came out because I was feeling ill, sir."

"And it's necessary to take the air up an apple tree?"

"Possibly. I would prefer it, sir, if you were to explain what you are doing prowling round the garden at this time in the evening yourself, Mr... Jeffrerson?"

The man snarled. "Harris."

"Harris. Delighted to meet you, sir."

Harris snarled again. Then he lunged at Linnette. He seized her by shoulder and shoved. She dodged sideways and Harris reeled. Then he slammed his fist into Linnette's head, so hard she saw stars. She lashed out blindly with her sword, catching Harris in the side of the stomach. He howled so long and loud with rage and pain that Linnette was sure he must raise the house. But when he stopped howling, he had the knife.

She followed up the blow quickly, but Harris dodged sideways and lashed with his fist at her throat, and with his knife at her ribs. Linnette whirled the sword round and caught Harris on the side of the throat. He fell heavily, dead.

Linnette knew there was no explaining that away with trying to tune a piano.

She returned to the matter in hand, keeping as far away from the growing puddle of blood as possible. She began to rummage in the roots of the apple tree. Nothing. Only bark and soil, and Linnette still not sure if there were anything to find.

Then Linnette's fingers closed on something hard, cold. Metal. Linnette pulled it free of the tree. A metal cylinder. About the right size to have a curled-up sheet of paper inside it.

Brilliant.

Linnette took the metal cylinder and twisted. The end opened and Linnette tipped a small, coiled slip of paper onto her hand. She grinned. This was exactly what she had hoped for and not dared to expect.

It was too dark to see anything on the slip of paper. Linnette returned to the door into the hallway. She stopped outside, listening. There was no sound from within. She pulled out her gun and slammed the door open. No ambush. Nothing.

Linnette carried the piece of paper over to the hall lamp. She unrolled it and studied it.

Blank.

Linnette's heart froze. She flipped the paper over and over, staring first at one side then at the other. Blank.

Michael. That was the one thought that occupied all of Linnette's mind. Michael was still Robinson's prisoner. He would die if she could not find the Black Diamond for Robinson. She had thought herself so close. Now she was failing.

Or was she?

Why would a man bury a small slip of paper in a metal tube in the roots of an apple tree if the paper had nothing on it?

Linnette, hardly daring to hope, moved the piece of paper nearer to the lamp.

Slowly but purposefully the words traced themselves across the page. Invisible ink. Only showed up near a flame. Linnette's heart was in her mouth. Only a few short sentences.

Last will and testament of Bill Jefferson. I give and bequeath everything of which I die possessed to my daughter Sarah Jefferson, on condition that she keeps the Black Diamond hidden and never lets any living soul get hold of it, and certainly not Daniel Robinson or any relative of his.

Bill Jefferson.

3rd March 1858 Anno Domini.

Linnette stared and stared. So when Jefferson died, the Diamond was to go to his daughter. But did Sarah already know where the Diamond was or had Jefferson left clues for her follow?

"What the Hell are you doing here?"

A young man had emerged from the room with the lamp. He stared at Linnette. "You're the piano tuner, aren't you?"

"Yes," she said.

The man drew himself up to his full height. "Right, I demand that you explain exactly who you are and what you're doing in my house."

"You're Mr Bill Jefferson?"

"So what if I am?"

"Mr Jefferson, I'm Linnette Fortescue. As you can probably guess from the state of your piano, I'm not a real piano tuner."

"So who are you?"

Linnette decided that the time for fooling around was over. "I'm a thief. And I'm here for your Diamond."

"I don't have a Diamond."

Linnette swung her gun up. At the thought of Michael her voice cracked like a whip. "Don't lie to me, man, or I will shoot your heart out and make you eat it."

Jefferson took one look at Linnette and realised that she was in earnest.

"All right," he said sullenly, "I do have a Diamond. What about it?"

"Tell me where it is." The blood rushed in Linnette's ears. This was so easy. Why had she bothered sneaking around at all?

Then a voice from the head of the stairs called "hey" and Linnette remembered that stand-offs with guns could get uncomfortable.

It was Dora. Her eyes slid from Linnette to Jefferson and back again.

"Miss Fortescue?"

Linnette beamed. "Miss Smith. Glad you could make it. You can spare your employer for a couple of minutes can't you? Or-" she looked at Jefferson significantly- "permanently".

Dora considered. "Who are you?"

"Some kind of criminal thug," said Jefferson, a bad attempt at icy dignity failing to cover the horror in his voice. "Calls herself Fortescue."

"You are a criminal?" said Dora to Linnette.

"Yes," said Linnette. If this woman thought her wide eyes and breathless incredulity would stop Linnette owning it with pride she could think again.

"And you're pointing a gun at Mr Jefferson?"

"What does it look like?"

"And you're willing to shoot him?"

"Yes." Linnette looked significantly at Jefferson to let that sink in. "A gun is not a mantelpiece ornament, as some people seem to think it is."

A wistful expression flitted across Dora's face. Then she pulled a small pistol from her blouse pocket and shot Jefferson twice, with an expression of complete calmness. Then she froze, incredulous, and stared at Linnette.

"Oh my Lord," she said, "I didn't mean to do that".

Together, Linnette and Dora stared at the body of Jefferson.

Doors slammed upstairs and Linnette pulled herself together. "Champagne cork," she whispered, leaping in front of Jefferson's body.

"Oh, Lord," said Dora, with a convincing show of exasperation. "I got champers all over the carpet."

A young woman appeared at the head of the stairs. "What is it?"

"I've spilt champagne everywhere, Miss Jefferson. I do apologise."

"Champagne in the hallway?"

"Yes, I was bringing some in to your father and Mr Vere."

"Oh, all right then."

"The young woman turned her attention to Linnette. "I don't believe we've met."

"Piano tuner, ma'am," said Linnette.

The young woman disappeared.

"Right," said Linnette. "We're getting the body out of the hallway."

"What's going on out there?" said a voice from the room Jefferson had come out of. "Jefferson?"

"Who's that?" Linnette had not realised there was anyone in there.

"That's Mr Vere," whispered Dora. Then she called "it's all right, Mr Vere. Mr Jefferson will be back shortly".

"All right then." said the voice.

"Now," said Linnette quietly to Dora. "What was all that about?"

"Oh nothing," said Dora, but the bitterness rising in her face made it clear that it was not "nothing" at all. "Just the fact that he employed me on a miserable desert island here for ten years with barely a pittance and not a word of gratitude, and his criminal thugs coming in and out all the time, drinking and gambling and what's a poor Christian woman to do, Miss Fortescue?" She let out a little choking sob.

"I deeply sympathise and I admire your spirit. But you had ten years to kill him and, erm, actually I kind of needed him just then."

"I guess..." Dora started to look rather embarrassed "I took it into my head that because you're a criminal, and because you said you were willing to kill him anyway, I could say you... you had... killed him". Dora's voice faded to a whisper. "But obviously I see now that I couldn't do that. It wouldn't be Christian." Her eyes shone wet with tears but her face was rigid as her resolve stiffened.

"I see." Linnette considered. "It's all right Miss Smith. I understand your position and I assure you that the only person who knows that you shot Mr Jefferson is me and I have no intension of breathing a word to a soul."

"No." Dora was resolute. "I will pay the penalty, Miss Fortescue, I will."

"You will not," said Linnette. "I take credit for other people's good deeds, Miss Smith." She winked at Dora, who smiled shyly.

"Thank you, Miss Fortescue."

"Now," said Linnette. "The first thing to do is to hide the corpse."

"Where?"

"Where's a box? A large box, which a man could fit inside?"

"The nearest one," said Dora, "is in there, with him".

She pointed to the room where the mysterious Mr Vere was.

Linnette cursed quietly, then grinned. After all, standing in the hallway of a Spanish villa, with the dead body of the villa's owner at her feet and an impossible puzzle to solve was just her kind of thing. If it weren't for Michael, she would have enjoyed herself...

"Any other boxes?"

"Only in the bedrooms."

"Who goes in the kitchen?"

"Only me."

"We'll put him in there, then. I have urgent business to attend to. We'll sort him out later."

Linnette seized the feet of Jefferson. Dora seized the shoulders and together they dragged him down the passage to the kitchen and left him under the table.

Half past ten.

"Right," said Linnette, mainly to herself, "Jefferson's dead. His will—is it even legally binding? I think so. I wish Michael were here. He knows law. Anyway, if we notify the authorities, they'll tell if it's legally binding or not".

But the authorities would take a long time to notify and a long time to get out to the island. Then they would hold an enquiry into who had murdered Jefferson. Linnette might end up hanged in Spain and Michael would die on Robinson's ship.

What was the alternative? Linnette pulled the piece of paper from her pocket and studied it again, both sides. There was nothing else there. No clue.

Should she approach Jefferson's daughter?

"Was that young lady Jefferson's daughter, Miss Smith?"

"Yes," said Dora. "Why? What do you want here?"

"A jewel." Linnette decided she might as well come clean now. "The Black Diamond."

"The Black Diamond? I've got no idea where that might be. I don't think I've ever heard of it."

"I need to speak to Miss Jefferson."

"And tell her what? That her father's dead?"
"Who's this Mr Vere?"

"Just a man. He came to play cards with Mr Jefferson."

"I'll tell her he killed him."

"But-"

"Never mind, Miss Smith. Thank you for your help. I think it's best if you go to your room now and let me deal with this."

"Are you sure?"

Dora hovered anxiously at Linnette's elbow.

"Perfectly thank you, Miss Smith."

"All right." She yawned. "I am tired. Oh God." She began to shake, as the fact of what she had done to her employer came home to her.

"Never mind," said Linnette. "Have a drink and get some sleep."

"I shall," said Dora. "Thank you."

And with that she left the room, and Linnette was left alone.

Linnette took a deep breath and considered her options. There only really was one option. She had to go to find Jefferson's daughter. However, she could not say "I just killed your father, who wants you to inherit his wealth, including a Black Diamond which you may or may not have heard of, but would you mind telling me where it is, so I can steal it?". She could, however, say... something else.

She was an insurance agent, she wanted to see if the Black Diamond was insured. That would do, it sounded vaguely plausible. No, she had already announced she was the piano tuner. However, perhaps it could be arranged.

She hurried out of the kitchen and down the passage. She paused at the hall door and opened it a crack. Nobody there. Then she hurried up the stairs to where the young woman had been. There was nobody there. Linnette headed for the woman's bedroom she had seen earlier. The door was shut. Linnette knocked.

"Come in!" It was a woman's voice.

Linnette opened the door. Jefferson's daughter was sitting on the bed, a young woman about twenty-one or twenty-two, dressed in a gown which was expensive, but in the style of many years ago, and at this distance Linnette could see that her face was marked with tears. She looked surprised.

"I'm sorry," she said. Can I help?"

"I'm the piano tuner," said Linnette.

"Yes, how is the piano?" Jefferson's daughter still looked puzzled at having a piano tuner knocking on her bedroom door at this time in the evening.

Linnette took a deep breath. "You are Miss Jefferson, Mr Jefferson's daughter?"

"Yes." The confusion deepened.

"I'm Linnette Fortescue. And I've come here-"

Linnette stopped. On the wall above Miss Jefferson's head was the tapestry of the north coast of Spain. Various mythological figures adorned the landscape. Dryads, naiads, mermaids. And in one particular cove about a hundred miles away there was a huge, tentacled octopus, clutching a pearl. A large, black pearl. Of course, it would not be a diamond. That would be too obvious. But Linnette knew now where the Black Diamond was.

"I, er... I've got some bad news, Miss Jefferson."
"Yes?"

"I regret to inform you that your father died very suddenly earlier."

Miss Jefferson choked.

"He tripped and hit his head on a fireplace. I'm very sorry."

Miss Jefferson choked again. Her eyes went wide. She looked shocked. But not distressed. She looked... frightened.

"Miss Jefferson," said Linnette. "Are you all right?"

"I'm fine," whispered Miss Jefferson. But she looked far from fine. She stumbled across the room a fumbled for the bell pull. Linnette heard a bell jangle far away in the kitchen.

"I think Miss Smith has retired to bed."

"Oh, of course, well, I won't wake her." Miss Jefferson's fear for now a tangible aura.

"Miss Jefferson," said Linnette. "If you will excuse me, is something bothering you?"

"Has Mr Vere gone?"

"I don't think so."

Miss Jefferson began her lip. "Go and ask him if father won," she said. "Please."

"Won what?"

"Won his game."

"All right," said Linnette.

Linnette went back down the stairs, and, now with the confidence of one on a mission from the mistress of the house, opened the door of the room where the mysterious Mr Vere lurked.

It was a large, handsome drawing room, but like most of the rest of the house, it had a shabby, neglected air.

Mr Vere was sitting at a card table with a glass of brandy in his hand and a steely glint in his eye.

"Can't you knock, woman?"

"This isn't your house. It's Miss Jefferson's."
"Mr Jefferson's."

"He's dead. He left it to his daughter, along with everything else he owned."

"Ah, well in that case, the Black Diamond is mine."

For a moment, Linnette was gobsmacked.

"The what?"

"The Black Diamond."

"All right," said Linnette. To herself, she added "come and get it, if you can". She remembered what Miss Jefferson had told her to say. "Miss Jefferson told me to ask you if Mr Jefferson had won."

"No, he was losing to me. Then he went out and now, it appears, he is dead." Vere gestured at the card table. Linnette suddenly understand.

"You had a bet with Mr Jefferson? At cards? And you were wagering the Black Diamond?"

"Yes. Mr Jefferson has let his finances get into a pretty poor state."

"So now it's yours?"

"Indeed. Now, young woman, I don't believe I've had the pleasure of making your acquaintance, so get out."

Linnette got out. She went back upstairs to Miss Jefferson.

"Apparently," she said, "your father was losing".

"Oh, God," said Miss Jefferson, shaking like a leaf now.

"Miss Jefferson," said Linnette, more firmly, "is there a problem?".

"Oh, no, I'll be all right." Seeing that Linnette did not believe her, she added "it's just father".

But Linnette was certain that Miss Jefferson had no grief, only fear.

Not that there was time to deal with that now.

Linnette smiled brightly at Miss Jefferson. "I'm sure, Miss Jefferson, that you want to be alone at this terrible time."

From Miss Jefferson's expression she most certainly did not, but Linnette left anyway, striding down the main staircase, past the bewildered-looking Mr Vere, who had finally lost his patience and emerged from the drawing room to see what was going on, and out through the front door.

She rushed across the dark grass of the island in the night, down to where Another Gamble was waiting. Then she leapt onboard, lit her lantern, weighed anchor and flew across the waves like an angel in the bows of a winged chariot. It was nearly quarter past eleven.

She had the little map Robinson had given her, but it was still largely guess work, working her way along the coast, past black cliffs and long, pebbly beaches, barely visible in the night, with the dusty hills of Spain rising behind them, black against the blackness. Black cliffs. Black sky. Black ocean. Once the distant orange lights of a fishing fleet. Otherwise nothing. Linnette was alone, listening to the water rush against the bows.

Eventually she reached a cove which she was almost certain was the right one. It was hard to tell because it was now midnight, and the night was moonless. The only light came from Linnette's lantern. She held the lantern aloft.

Dimly visible above the waves was a coral reef. She could see enough to appreciate its beauty. The coral, for all it barely rose above the surface of the water, rose in intricate multi-coloured patterns, and clambered over the tawny-striped rocks, which tumbled down from the cliffs into the sea. On a summer afternoon it would have been a beautiful spot for a picnic. In the middle of the night it was a beautiful spot to contract hypothermia and drown.

So. Next stop: the Black Diamond.

The cause of all this trouble.

Linnette moored Another Gamble to an outcrop of reef. Then she stepped carefully out onto the reef. She paced carefully back and forth, using the lantern to illuminate every corner of the reef, tripping occasionally over lumps of coral in the dark, wading across narrow channels in the ocean from one outcrop to another.

She scrambled across the rocks near the cliffs. Still nothing. No sign of the Diamond. But then she was looking for a Black Diamond on black rocks in the dark. She studied the cliffs for any sign of a cave. Nothing. The cliffs rose steep and sheer above the sea.

She scoured every inch of the rocks, every inch of the coral. Perhaps the Diamond was hidden on a part of the reef which was only visible at low tide. After all, leaving the Diamond exposed for all the world to see was inviting theft. Perhaps the Diamond had been stolen, years ago, and Linnette was wasting her time on a fool's errand. One 'o' clock came. And passed. Two 'o' clock. Quarter past.

Perhaps, if Jefferson had hidden the Diamond somewhere where he had not wanted it to be stolen, he had hidden it under water. Should she dive for it? She could not take her lantern into the water. She would not be able to see the Black Diamond in the dark water.

But she could try. She hung her lantern and gun on the outcropping of reef where she had moored Another Gamble. She remembered to take off her watch. She tied her knife and sword on firmly. Then she plunged into the Bay of Biscay.

The water was cold. She had not felt the cold scrambling around up to her waist. She felt it now the water came over her head and closed above her. It was like being in another world. A cold, dark, slippery world. She had bathed in the river back in England but that had been a tame, friendly river in the lazy summer afternoon heat. This was the open ocean. It was a cove, but not a particularly sheltered one. Linnette felt the swell even under the water, and deeper, more powerful currents which even in the shelter of the reef dragged at her, threatened to pull her down. The deeper Linnette swam, the stronger the underwater currents grew. When she swam round the other side of the reef, it was a little more sheltered, but not much. She could not see a thing in the dark. She had to feel along the shelves and ridges of the reef. The salt stung her eyes. Each time she came up for air the night breeze ripped the air of her lungs as if it were a force ten gale.

Linnette had no idea what time it was. She dripped her way back to the boat to look at her watch. Four 'o' clock.

The sky began to lighten after that. Linnette welcomed being able to see properly. But when she had dived and fumbled and nosed around off every rock and outcrop of coral in the cove, she was no closer to the Diamond. It was now nearly six 'o' clock in the morning.

As Linnette continued her increasingly frustrating search, she saw a boat approaching. It was heading straight for the cove where Linnette was scrambling around on the coral reef and in the bows was Miss Jefferson, staring straight in front of her. As the boat approached, Linnette saw how absolutely terrified Miss Jefferson looked.

"Hello," said Linnette.

Miss Jefferson clambered awkwardly out of the boat. She nearly fell in the water and obviously had no idea how to tie it up. "Hello," she said. Her voice was choked with tears.

"Miss Jefferson," said Linnette earnestly. "Please, tell me what's wrong. I can help you."

"It's Ada. And, Miss Fortescue, I need the Black Diamond. Have you heard of it?"

"It's Linnette," said Linnette. "And I regret to inform you, I have not only heard of it but I need the Black Diamond."

"Have you got it?"

"No, but I intend to."

"You mustn't. You have to give it to me."

"I do not have to do any such thing," said Linnette. She felt sorry for Ada, but she needed that Diamond, and that was that.

"It's mine. It's mine by right. My father left it to me."

"It ain't about who has a right to it. It's about who wants it. And if you want it, I suggest you find it before I do."

"You won't help me?" Ada's incredulity was tangible.

"No."

"You... you bitch."

"Wash your mouth out."

"Don't you dare patronise me!"

"Then stop acting like a spoilt child."

Linnette returned to her search. Ada followed her, plunging down crevices among the coral with increasing desperation. Sobbing, shaking, on the verge of hysteria. Linnette began to feel sorry for her.

"Look, I know you're as broke as the Ten Commandments. But seriously, you don't need this Diamond. There are other diamonds."

"But I haven't any money to buy them."

"You don't buy them, you steal them."

"Stealing? Ada's eyes widened. "But stealing's wrong."

"Says who?"

"Says... says the Bible, for one."

"The Bible says your sins are already forgiven, too, so I wouldn't worry too much."

Ada's eyes widened still more, but she stuck to her guns.

"Says every civilised country in the world."

"Civilisation's over rated."

"You're a thief! What do you know about civilisation?"

"More than you, in your desert island with your criminal hermit father!"

"Father was a criminal?" An expression of pain, rage and disgust so strong crossed Ada's face. "I knew he was awful, but I never knew he was that bad."

Linnette lost her patience. "Look, in a coffee shop in the next town, I would be happy to go through your parental issues, but I'm doing a job right now."

"You'll never get the Diamond!" Ada lashed out at Linnette. Linnette was taken by surprise, but Ada struck with more desperation than force, and Linnette easily got a sharp right hook in at her jaw. Ada nearly fell into a channel between two little coral atolls. Linnette dragged her up until she was mainly above the water, and seized her wrists as she choked and spluttered and tied her wrists behind her back with her belt—a very nice pink silk one, slightly ruined by its immersion in sea water.

Then she continued, splashing across the atoll in water up to her knees to the next crevice. Then she stopped. In the middle of a lump of coral was a tunnel, which had been invisible in the night, but was clearly visible now in the clear blue water. The tunnel led clear through the white, red and orange coral until it twisted round a lump of delicate salmon-pink coral. The water was clear enough for Linnette to see clearly right into the depths of the reef. Some instinct spoke to her.

She balanced herself above the tunnel. She took a deep breath. She bent over and kicked off, straight as an arrow, dropping like a stone through the tunnel of coral. Tiny fish darted among the the filigree pattern of holes, arches and little tree-like growths. The water was cool but warming under the rays of the sun which lanced down through the water and danced among the coral.

Linnette passed the twist in the tunnel. Now the tunnel seemed to run parallel to the surface. The coral was giving way to rock. Still there was no sign of the end. She was having to push her way down now. Her eyes were stinging. Her lungs were starting to burn. She ploughed on. She probably could never have made it back to the other end of the tunnel in time to breathe anyway.

The water was colder. The sunlight never reached here. Then there was another twist in the tunnel and Linnette was rising. She kicked for the surface, natural buoyancy would never get her there in time to breathe. She could not quite make it anyway. As she broke the surface of the water she gasped and got a mouthful of salty water. Coughing and spluttering, Linnette rose at last and clung to the mouth of the tunnel, gasping and trying to bush sea water from her eyes with a hand covered in sea water.

She was in a cavern. The tunnel rose almost vertically through the floor. The floor was the black rock of the cliffs. The rock walls rose steep and sheer and so smooth as to be almost shiny. The ceiling was solid rock. A tiny hole about the size of Linnette's fist allowed a single shaft of sunlight through the ceiling. Otherwise it was dark. There was coral growing on the floor and walls. The whole cavern smelt of salt and the walls gleamed as if they were slightly damp. Clearly there were times when the sea came into the cavern.

Linnette climbed out of the tunnel and looked around. Little was visible in the gloom. However, she could see a small lump in the floor in the far corner of the cavern. She drew nearer and realised that the rock and coral had formed a kind of natural basin in the floor. The coral had formed long, delicate spires around a skeletal dome, so the little, natural pool looked like a ceremonial dais.

And in the pool, under about five inches of water, was a huge, jet-black diamond.

The Black Diamond.

At last.

It was about the size of an egg. Linnette could only guess at the value.

She knelt in awe, almost reverence, before the huge stone. Then she reached out her hand. Into the salt water of the pool. Her fingers closed around the cold, hard stone. She lifted it out. And that was it.

She'd won.

She rose and slipped the Black Diamond into her blouse pocket and fastened it securely. Then she turned to return to the underwater tunnel.

"Ahem," said Vere, "I assume you're on the same mission as I am".

"And what would that be?" said Linnette, calmly surveying a dripping wet Vere, who had just emerged from the tunnel and who was clutching Ada, just as wet and half-dead, it seemed, with fright and shock, in his arms—a sword at her throat-, and another man, who held a long, wicked-looking sword in one hand and a club in the other.

"The Diamond."

Linnette surveyed him steadily. "I don't know what you're talking about." She knew he would not believe her. She knew any attempt to sound bewildered and convincing would only be more unconvincing. She was merely being defiant.

"You do."

Linnette tossed her head up and set her hand on her hip. "If you're so confident about that, why have you dragged this young lady down an underwater tunnel and why are you now trying to strangle her?"

Ada made a choking noise. "Because of father's bet," she said.

"What?"

"Oh, God, Linnette, if he can't get the Diamond, he's going to get- me."

"What?" Linnette's stomach dropped out of her, leaving an ice block.

"Father left me as his security, I told you he was awful."

Linnette whirled round to Vere.

"Is this true?" Something in her tone actually made Vere flinch.

"I believe that the exact terms of the agreement—I would read you the contract but it's back in my boat, paper dissolves, you see—were that if I lost I would pay all Mr Jefferson's debts, of which he had quite a few, and that if Mr Jefferson lost, he would give me the only thing of any value—his Diamond—and should that fail, the only other thing he had of any value." He twisted Ada's arm and she gasped.

"I don't know which one of you makes me more sick, you or Jefferson." And Linnette felt literally sick. Then she whirled round to face Ada. "Why did you not mention this to me?"

"Would you have cared if I had?"

Linnette was speechless.

"So, Miss Fortescue," said Vere, with a trace of impatience. "I take it you have heard of the Black Diamond."

"Yes," said Linnette, very very reluctantly.

"Do you know where it is?"

Linnette was very conscious of the weight of the Diamond in her pocket. She studied Vere and his backup carefully. She knew that neither of them had guns, because they could not take them down the undersea tunnel. Vere was partially hindered by the fact that he was holding Ada—in front of him, Linnette noticed with particular revulsion, like a human shield—and his sword was occupied against Ada's throat. She did not know how many other knives and daggers he might have concealed about his person. Physically, he was a man, he was bigger and probably stronger than Linnette. The backup was definitely stronger, he was built like an ox, probably some sort of professional bodyguard. He was festooned with knives and daggers and a particularly vicious-looking leather whip. There was always a chance, as there frequently was with bodyguards, that a good deal of the weapons were for show. There was one dagger pointing straight at Linnette. Did he know how to throw?

Linnette was armed, and she knew she was a good fighter, but the presence of Ada, whom she suspected was not, made her reluctant to take her chances.

Vere spoke her worst fears. "I suggest, Miss Fortescue, that you answer me truthfully. If not I will cut Ada's throat." He dug the sword into her neck to emphasise his point and it broke the skin: little beads of blood sprang up against the blade.

It suddenly dawned on Linnette how thin and fragile a human neck is.

"And then," continued Vere, quietly, ruthlessly, "Jack here will kill you. Or I will".

"Hi, Jack," said Linnette. "Nice to meet you. I would shake hands only I don't want to be within range of your dagger much more than you want to be within range of mine."

Jack did not answer.

Vere hissed like a viper. "Don't pretend you're not afraid, Miss Fortescue, because I know you are. You might be happy to play dice with your own life, but not with this young lady's. Or worse, with her wedding veil."

Ada let out a sob.

"Which colour do you think will look best, Miss Fortescue, white, or that fashionable magnolia hue?"

Ada's eyes stared pleadingly at Linnette over Vere's sword.

"How could he have ever loved that American girl?" Linnette blurted suddenly.

"Who?" said Vere.

Ada knew what Linnette was talking about. "He didn't. It was a passing infatuation. By the time I was a toddler, he was making mother's life Hell. When he started to lose his money, it just got worse. Oh, he never beat her up, never laid a hand on her. But he knew how to be a brute just the same. Manipulative. Unfaithful. Controlling. I think she died of a broken heart."

"I think I preferred the opium dealer," said Linnette. "I really regret that I didn't kill that man myself."

"What are you two talking about?" snapped Vere.

"My father," said Ada.

"Now," said Vere. "Ada here-"

"Don't you dare call her Ada."

"I call her what I want, she's my fiancée." But Vere sounded slightly less smug. Slightly... disconcerted. "Miss Jefferson here," he continued, "told me where you had gone. I arrived, you see, slightly late for the party, although I'm sure neither of you missed me. However, Jack and I took Miss Jefferson—whom you had so conveniently rendered helpless for us—down the tunnel after you. And at the end of this significant-looking tunnel I see a significant-looking cavern with a significant-looking natural basin in the floor. The basin, however, is empty. This means, that unless all this significance is building up to nothing, that you have the Diamond. Am I right?"

Linnette said nothing.

"Give it to me," said Vere. Quietly. No threats, no taunts, no ifs no buts no conversation. But Linnette knew that he was in earnest. He didn't need to bluster. Linnette could see Ada's eyes and the dull, cruel steel of Vere's sword against her bleeding throat.

Vere had won. But it hurt. It hurt because of Michael. Michael who had waved his gun in her face, in England, in another world. Michael who had laughed on top of the wall of the Tower of London. Michael who had kissed her in the bows of Another Gamble in the Bay of Biscay. Michael who loved her and needed her and whom she had failed.

Linnette felt the tears rise in her eyes. She didn't try to fight them. She didn't care what Vere thought of her. She reached into her pocket and pulled out the Black Diamond. Looking at it, she hated it. She tossed it onto the floor of the cavern. It fell with a little clatter and Jack snatched it up and tossed it to Vere, who put it in his pocket.

"Thank you," said Vere.

Linnette hissed. It was a hiss of pure rage and hatred. She vowed to herself that she would get revenge on Vere one day.

Then Jack leapt over to Linnette and, as she raised her dagger, slashing him in the arm, clubbed her over the head. She crashed down onto the stone floor and from far away heard Ada shriek. She blinked away stars to find that Jack had grabbed her wrists and was prizing her dagger off her. She began to kick, but Vere threw Ada down and seized Linnette's ankles, tying a leather belt round and round her ankles. She got in a good kick at where she hoped his head was—she was wearing kitten heels—and heard him curse. Now her wrists had been tied together by the Jack. He was solid, bodyguard muscle and she was helpless as a mouse. It was all over in about ten seconds, except for adjusting the knots.

She blinked away the blinding pain in her head.

"What do you think you're doing?" rage giving her dignity.

"Clubbing you over the head, tying you up and leaving you in the corner of an undersea cavern," said Jack, who seemed a fairly literal-minded man, wiping the blood of Linnette's dagger-stroke off his arm.

"Why?" Linnette spoke to Vere, who was calmly removing Linnette's weapons and inspecting them with approval.

"Because, Miss Fortescue, we can hardly have you running about Spain trying to get your hands on my Diamond, my bride or my neck. You see, we are going to leave now. You will be quite comfortable here, apart from the headaches, slight tinnitus, nosebleeds and nausea which are likely to accompany being hit on the head with a heavy object. They should wear off in about five or six hours, by which time you will probably have other things to worry about. You see, as you've probably noticed, there is coral in this cave. Coral grows in water. At high tide the water rises in this tunnel and fills the cavern to the roof."

He paused to let that sink in. If he thought it would frighten her, he was wrong. She was too afraid for Michael, still a prisoner on Robinson's ship, frightened—no, not frightened, Michael was never frightened. Despite herself, Linnette smiled. He would probably have something amusing to say, even now. Besides, at least it would save Ada, who was smiling weakly now.

"Thank you," she said to Linnette, barely more than an exhausted whisper.

"Any time," said Linnette, trying to sound gracious and gallant, although she had a horrible, crushing pain in her chest, so raw and physical she thought she would cry.

Vere, seemingly disappointed at being ignored, continued. "In case you haven't worked it out, you will drown. Eventually. I have generously given you am little time to lie here and think over your sins and make your peace with God."

"You're a sick, twisted, control freak," said Linnette. It didn't even come close to expressing her depths of rage and revulsion, but she knew no words could do that.

Vere ignored her. He picked up Ada and began dragging her towards the tunnel, Jack following. Ada was stunned, then her face contorted with fear.

"Hey," yelled Linnette, "where are you going?".

"I am taking to my fiancée to make arrangements for our happy day."

"But... but you've got the Diamond."

Vere shrugged. "So?"

"But the deal... the bet... it was for Ada or the Diamond. Not both."

Vere shrugged again. "So? Mr Jefferson is dead. The only person stopping me from taking both is you, and you, Miss Fortescue, are in your last moments on Earth."

"You are despicable."

"Oh, surely you know me too well now to think I have a sense of honour and would worship a deal made with a long-dead crook who would sell his own daughter at cards."

It was true. Linnette knew she had been a fool to think that Vere would honour the deal. In the same way, she knew it would be futile now to appeal to his sense of honour, or his mercy, or the fact that Ada was a woman and only a brute would hurt her. Because this man was the worst brute Linnette had ever met.

Linnette fought against her bonds but the ropes and belts were strong and held fast. She watched Vere, Jack and Ada, who seemed beyond tears, disappear down the tunnel.

Vere turned back. "Oh," he said. "Sometimes there are sharks." Then he was gone.

Linnette lay on her back. The pain in her head in her head was pounding and unrelenting. She felt a trickle of blood, as Vere had predicted, slide out of her nose. But she did not really notice these things. She had failed Michael, he was going to die, and she had not even saved Ada. She was not sure which was worse: not knowing what exactly was happening to Ada, or the deep, dull certainty exactly what would happen to Michael. And when. Five 'o' clock. Linnette's watch was still outside, but she could feel the hours slip by, outside this miserable, dark, underwater cave. After a while, she was unsure whether one hour had passed, or two, or five minutes. Truly, Vere knew how to make his enemies suffer.

Linnette wrestled with the knots. Silently, fiercely. The temptation, which grew more and more powerful as the time passed, was to give in. To lie here in this cave, watch the ceiling, feel her head throb, drown before very long and spend eternity here as spent white bones. But she could not do that. Michael needed her—and she could not abandon hope entirely. Ada needed her. But she could barely move—the knots on her wrists and ankles were tight, and no matter how much she wriggled and twisted, they got tighter instead of loser, as the salt water made them contract, biting into her until her hands and feet were slick with blood and her fingers were too slippy to get hold on anything. The more she wriggled, the more sick she felt. The salt water had made her thirsty. The harder and faster the tears pelted down her cheeks, the thirstier she became, but she could not stop the tears. And it was cold in the cavern. Linnette was already cold, and dripping wet, from diving in the Bay of Biscay and in the still air of this near-sunless cavern, she became colder and colder, until it bit into her bones and her wretchedly numb hands and feet.

But she scraped her wrists against the rock, doing more damage to her hands than the rope and leather, and before long pain was shooting up her arms whenever she tried to bend her elbows

After a while—she could not guess how long—she noticed that the water was splashing out of the tunnel and onto the floor of the cavern. The tide was coming in. Was Michael dead now? Or did he have hours left? Would he die before her or afterwards? Did he still have faith in her, or was he watching the clock with a sinking heart? She didn't know what would be worse. Bitter disillusionment or blind faith unto the last.

She tried to bend her legs up behind her, with a mad idea that she could free her ankles without freeing her hands and at least have the use of her legs, even if it meant she had to rush to Ada's rescue without the use of her hands. But that only made her head spin, sickeningly. Small sparks floated in front of her vision. Her numb, blood-slicked fingers slid clear off the knots.

Anyway, what if she got out of the cavern only to find that Vere had taken her gun? Or Another Gamble? Or both?

Well, the gun she could deal with. She would fight Vere with her bare hands if she had to. But building a raft out of coral and sailing it across the notoriously fickle Bay of Biscay—or climbing sheer cliffs and running across strange country without a map— to an unknown destination—for where would she go, to save Ada, if indeed it were not too late?—might be more of a problem.

The pool of water was spreading across the cavern floor. Little salty rivulets came trickling towards Linnette. She kept working on her wrists, but the dull certainty had settled on her that there was no chance. After a few minutes—hours?—the water had risen from trickles to a definite pool—not much deeper than a film, but definitely there and rising—over the whole floor of the cavern. Linnette realised she was now lying, literally, in the sea. She had to lie flat on her back now, or a trickle of water would come into the corner of her mouth every time she inhaled.

Then she snapped through one loop of rope on her wrist, then another. Her heart jolted with triumph, but there were still other loops of rope and a particularly tight leather belt, which seemed determined to eat its way through her wrist to her bones, and she could now barely feel her hands.

Now the water had started to lift up her skirt. It lifted the curls which spilled over her neck. She felt it trickle, cold, into her ears. Now her back left the ground every time she rubbed her wrists against the rock. She had stopped crying—no tears left to cry. She pushed her wrists down harder. All she did was float up. It was getting harder and harder to push against the floor. Then her back left the ground and she realised she was floating. She tried to reach her arms down behind her but they were too stiff.

She realised, as the sea bore her gently upwards, that she might take a long time to drown. There was nothing she could do now except wriggle and squirm and kick, but it was hard to swim with her legs tied together and her arms useless. She had learnt to swim in a gentle river and this was beyond her.

There was no swell here. The water was calm, like in a bathtub. Linnette could almost—almost—imagine herself in a bathtub. Except that the thought of Ada and Michael forced itself on her mind. She felt sick, and it was not because of the bash on the head. She would not have felt quite so bad if she had saved Ada. But it was all for nothing.

She kept fighting to keep her head above water, and her skirts fanned out and bore her up. She would not give in. She would not lie down and take it. Because Ada might be saveable. Michael might be saveable. But she knew in her heart that nothing short of a miracle would save her now, never mind them. Any satisfaction she might have got from fighting to the end was swallowed with guilt and terror over the people she had failed.

Then came the miracle. Michael emerged from the tunnel, half-swam, half-leapt across the cavern, seized Linnette, pulled her upright and kissed her.

Was this a mirage? A hallucination induced by being hit on the head?

"Are you dead?" she said.

"Not quite sweetheart."

With his dagger he cut through the ropes on her wrists and handed her sword and her knife to her.

"The pond life left them on the rocks."

Linnette stabbed through the ropes in her ankles with her sword—God, that swish and flick of gleaming steel felt good, even underwater.

"Ada..." she began falteringly, still overwhelmed.

"I know." Michael and Linnette were plunging through the water towards the mouth of the tunnel.

"How the Hell are you alive?"

"Lancashire grit." They took a deep breath and plunged into the water.

What had actually happened was this.

Robinson grabbed Michael and leaped with him back onto Little Princess. Glancing behind him, Michael saw Linnette urging Another Gamble forward as Little Princess turned away.

He wrenched himself free of Robinson and glanced round the deck of Little Princess. She was a neat, sleek ship, and most of her crew appeared to be on deck, watching the drama. There were not many men but they were heavily armed and Michael was feeling distinctly unsteady on his feet. The blood was no longer coming in a steady gush but in pulses as his heart beat with less and less enthusiasm.

Nevertheless, he reached for his gun. He swung it up—it suddenly felt awfully heavy—but Robinson sprang at him and twisted it out of his grasp. The bullet harmlessly clipped the wooden deck. Michael tried to grab his gun back off Robinson, but the blood rose in his throat and he choked and doubled over.

One of Robinson's crewmates grabbed his arms and when Michael had finished spitting the blood out of his mouth Robinson's gun was pointing at his head. Robinson had good aim—steady, level. Michael knew he had no chance—if only because he was beginning to see double.

He heard Robinson say to the man who was holding his arms "take his weapons". The man took Michael's sword and cutlass and long knife. Michael was waiting for Robinson's aim— or the two Robinsons' two aims—to waver. It did not waver.

"Take him below," said Robinson. He lowered his gun.

Michael saw his chance.

He summoned all his strength and leapt at Robinson's throat. Robinson smashed him round the head with the butt end of his gun. A bullet whizzed past Michael's head.

"Don't damage the security," shouted Robinson. That was one advantage to Michael if Robinson wanted him alive.

Michael punched Robinson in the back of the head. He aimed a sucker punch at his gut, but Robinson shoved him dizzy onto the deck. Michael tried to jump up but his balance was failing and he fell straight into the arms of the other crewman. Robinson, outraged and covered in Michael's blood, glared at him. "The more you run around, young man, the more blood you lose at a time when you really should not."

It was true. Michael was beginning to feel short of blood now. It was an odd feeling. Made him slightly sick.

He stood up as straight as he could while being nearly strangled and having his hands tied behind him. He gave Robinson a look of withering scorn. Robinson quailed slightly. "George, get him below."

Michael was dragged below by George and another crewman. At first he tried to struggle, but soon realised it was hopeless. Even if he had not just been shot, it is almost impossible to fight off two men without the use of one's hands. He decided to save his strength and work out as much as possible about the design of the ship.

Michael was shoved into a large cabin in the stern, on the first deck down.

"This is captain's cabin," explained George.

"Robinson?"

"Yes." He turned to the other crewman, who was covering Michael with a pistol. "Ed, you patch him up, you're better at that sort of thing."

George took Ed's pistol and Ed helped Michael onto the table in the middle of the room. He got some bandages and forceps and a bottle of whiskey.

He rinsed his hands in Robinson's wash basin and began poking at Michael's wound, which hurt far more than the wound had done already. Cures, Michael thought, often worked like that. He had no idea what Ed was actually trying to do. The bottle of whiskey appeared to be to sterilise things with, although Ed took meditative swigs as he fixed the wound.

"There," said Ed, "good as new".

"Thanks," said Michael coldly—this man was Robinson's henchman after all. He sat up and stretched, as best he could with his hands tied behind his back.

"Here, lad, you want a bit?" Ed offered the whiskey bottle.

Michael considered. On the one hand, he could do with a drink. On the other hand, he did not want to be gracious to any friend of Robinson's.

"No."

Ed shrugged. "Please yourself." He took a final swig and put the bottle back on the shelf.

George took Michael firmly by the shoulders and, escorted by Ed with a gun, steered him out of the room. Robinson was waiting for them in the corridor. They headed down the corridor to the other end. Here the corridor widened into a large space in the bows, with several portholes set in the nose of Little Princess. Doors opened into this area from the rows of cabins and storerooms on either side of the passage, and a staircase from up on deck was at one side. Clearly it was intended as some kind of saloon for the ship's passengers, but the boxes and sacks which were piled against the walls indicated that it was being used as a storage space.

"Right," said Robinson. "We're not really used to having prisoners here. However, Mr Leeford, you can remain here, in the forward saloon. George, you guard him until nine 'o' clock, then I'll send you relief. Understand?"

"Yes sir," said George.

Michael sat on the narrow bench which ran around the bows wall of the saloon. George took up his position in the mouth of the corridor, brandishing his gun. Michael settled down to stare out of a porthole and watch the waves crash against the nose of Little Princess. On the deck was a great clattering noise.

"We moving?" asked Michael.

"We're going to Arcachon. Pick up a cask of wine from Bordeaux."

Michael shrugged and returned to staring out of the porthole. He could see very little outside for the night was drawing in and before long—Michael could not see his watch—the last red ribbons of sunlight across the ocean—the sun itself was out of sight—had vanished. The sea was merely a blacker shade of dark than the velvety sky. The saloon was almost as dark. The only light came from a lantern which swung, flickering, from a beam. Two hours, perhaps, passed, then three, but Michael did not feel remotely tired. He felt anxious about Linnette.

George, however, did seem tired, and several times Michael suspected he was about to at least fall into a doze. He chose these moments to scrape his wrists against the rough wood of the saloon walls, as quietly and subtly as possible. Just when he thought he had started to work the ropes lose, he noticed a change in the rhythm of the waves against the bow. George appeared to notice it too, and was suddenly alert.

Little Princess rolled from side to side. The wind had picked up, Michael noticed.

"Storm coming," muttered George.

Michael ignored him and continued to stare out of the porthole at the little he could see.

Little Princess held her course. Michael began to slide from side to side of the seat each time she swooped. The sky was no longer velvet but coal black. Lightening rent the sky from left to right. The thunder boomed, echoing and re-echoing around the little saloon. It was almost overhead, but the Bay of Biscay was famous for the savagery and unexpectedness of its storms.

The waves were crashing into the portholes now. Michael found himself almost face-to-face with a surprised-looking fish, barely visible for a moment in the lantern light. The wind whistled above decks, anything without a hundred nails in it rattled, flapped and crashed. George had become faintly irritated. He was now more interested in keeping his footing than in guarding Michael. Michael resumed his wearing through of his ropes.

Within a minute or less, he had freed his hands and stretched his fingers, glad to have some feeling back in them. Now there was only George standing between him and freedom. Michael considered his angle of escape, in between not falling over while not revealing that his hands were free. At that point George's relief arrived, staggering down the steps from the deck, soaking wet and looking glad to be in the dry.

"Pretty bad up there," he remarked.

"I don't suppose you'd take sixpence for letting me stay in the dry?"

"Not a chance! Get me dry below decks, now!"

George cursed, and waited until the relief had propped himself against the wall with his gun between Michael's eyes before staggering up the steps onto the deck. At this point Little Princess swerved particularly wildly. The guard almost dropped his gun. Michael saw his advantage and leapt up. The guard regained his footing and within an instant the gun was pointing dead between Michael's eyes.

"All right," he said. "So you've worked your hands loose have you?"

Michael remained silent.

"Well, you just stand right there young man, unless you want shooting."

Michael stood still and considered his next move.

Little Princess swerved again, this time even more sharply. Something cracked, not like the other vague cracks from above them. A wrong kind of crack. Michael and the guard were both thrown to the floor. Michael was first back on his feet, sprinting towards the stairs. He had just got there when he heard the guard behind him.

"My gun's pointing at your neck."

Michael turned.

The guard was picking himself up, gun in hand. "If you weren't our security you would be dead now."

Michael said nothing.

"Get back over there against the wall, right now."

The floor, Michael began to notice, was beginning to lean at an odd angle. The clattering and banging overhead had intensified. He got back over there, against the wall.

"George was probably half asleep," said the guard. "He always does that. I'm not half asleep, though."

A huge wave crashed into the porthole, tipping Little Princess so hard onto her side that Michael thought she was about to turn turtle.

The trapdoor at the top of the stair burst open.

"Abandon ship. Abandon ship," shouted someone, barely visible in the darkness, over the howling gale.

"What?" said the guard.

"We're sinking."

The guard forgot all about Michael and leapt up the stairs. Michael, alone in the saloon, realised that he was no longer important. He ran up the stairs, burst through the trapdoor and a blast of wind nearly knocked him over. It was obvious that something was badly wrong on board Little Princess. The entire stern was under water, the waves were crashing up the deck, running around Michael's ankles.

The crew had gathered on the deck. In a flash of lightening Michael saw the whole scene clearly, before darkness descended and he was forced to blunder along the deck of the stricken ship to where the rafts—two rough, badly-made wooden bundles—were straining at the ropes binding them to the stern.

A few crewmen were fumbling at the ropes, trying to launch the rafts. Other men had gone below, presumably with the intension of salvaging what cargo was salvageable. Michael valued his life and, if possible, Linnette's, above grabbing a few bits of treasure. But he could do nothing to help either of them unless he got his weapons back off George.

Where was George? Was he one of the fools who had gone below?

Michael splashed across the deck to the staircase leading down below, just as George, dripping wet and laden with boxes and sacks, emerged.

"Hey," said Michael, balancing himself as firmly as he could on the swaying deck. "Give me back my weapons."

"Don't be daft." George was barely listening to him.

"Give them back." Michael was starting to lose his temper.

George's attempt to say something was interrupted as he was nearly knocked over by a wave. "What, give them back to you so you can kill us all?"

"I'm quite happy to just leave, you know." Michael followed George up the deck, out of the water, to the last really dry place on Little Princess, up in the bows, which were leaning at an increasingly steep angle. The crew had flung the first raft overboard, only half full, and the remaining crewmen were fighting for a place on the remaining raft. Robinson was nowhere in sight. Either he had grabbed a place on the first raft or—Michael hoped—he had drowned, perhaps salvaging treasure below decks.

Michael grabbed an oar from the rudimentary wooden raft and whacked George round the head with it with all the strength he could muster. George, astonished and enraged, dropped what he was carrying and wrenched the other oar out of the grasp of another man who was just launching the raft, and who grabbed cursing at George's dropped treasure.

Michael had followed it up with another blow, which sent George reeling, but now George lunged at him and clouted him as hard as possible round the head with the oar. Michael lunged again, George parried. He was getting good at this.

Michael twisted his oar around and thrust upwards under George's arms. George took a step backwards, up to his ankles now in water, nearly overbalancing on the tilting deck. The raft was long gone, leaving George and Michael to deal with it—or drown—alone.

The oars cracked against each other faster and faster as they both realised they were running out of time. Michael feinted left, then swung round to the right, dealing George a smashing blow on the chin. George reeled and fell over backwards into the water. Michael bent to grab his weapons before the water got into his gun barrel and rendered it useless, but George leapt up, aiming his oar at Michael's throat. Michael reacted by instinct. He lashed down with his sword, caught George on the side of the head, and grabbed him as he collapsed. The whole duel felt as if it had taken hours, but it must have been less than a minute.

Michael flung George against the ship's rail to go through his jacket pockets and retrieve his weapons. He shoved these into his own belt and glanced round. The water was alarmingly high now. Little Princess had appeared to be all in one piece, but there must be a wound in her belly, for the water was strewn with wooden planks, in between burlap sacks, pieces of furniture and some more buoyant boxes and barrels.

Michael's main concern was to keep his gun dry. He could swim, but not keep his gun above water at the same time. Fortunately, a plank was floating by at this moment and collided with the bows. Michael leapt onto this plank. Immediately it was almost submerged by a wave. Michael emerged, spluttering from the water. He swung himself upright and looked around for George. George appeared to be basically floating, with his feet stuck in Little Princess' railings.

Michael considered. George was breathing. That meant he was alive. However, he would not remain alive if Michael were to leave him in the Bay of Biscay in a storm. Michael would not have minded killing George, but there seemed to be something especially cold-blooded about leaving him to drown. He could kill him now, with his knife, but the thought of stabbing a stunned, defenceless half-drowned man sat uneasily on his mind. George, however, received a mouthful of water at that moment, which seemed to recover something of his senses.

He seized a long, wicked-looking knife and flung it at Michael's head, with the sort of glare which if looks could kill would have struck Michael down on the spot. His aim was unerring. The sea, however, was unpredictable. A wave picked up Michael's plank, spun it round, then flung it, it would seem, halfway to the bottom of the Bay of Biscay. When Michael saw the surface again, George's knife was lost to the ocean. So, it would seem, was George, for he was nowhere in sight. Michael sat upright on his plank, so he could use his oar to keep his balance. His first priority was to move his gun further up his shoulder strap. It might be a bit too late now to worry about keeping his gun dry, but he could try.

Before long—although quite long enough for Michael to begin feeling like a drowned rat— the waves began to calm. The thunder was already crashing in the distance. Michael had no light and could not see where he was or where he was going. The waves had swallowed Little Princess.

A table floated by, so he abandoned his plank and perched on the more comfortable and dry underside of the table. There was no sign of any other flotsam, or any other people.

The night was very cold. It was very quiet. Michael could not sleep. He was too worried about Linnette. Was she dead? Was she dying? It was horrible not being by her side. He longed to do something, to go somewhere, anywhere. That, however, was stupid. He could not see land. He could not see anything. He knew that land was to the south. He also had a vague idea of what stars are over the Atlantic in early spring. That was a start.

It was cloudy. That was a finish.

It could have been minutes or hours. All he knew was that it was—or seemed—darker than ever. But lights glimmered in the distance. Not cold, pale moonlight. Warm, orange light. People!

Michael struck out with his oar. He got nearer to the lights and nearer still. He could make out the dim outlines of boats. Then he was right in among what appeared to be a night time fishing fleet.

"Excuse me," he called.

Silence.

"Excuse me."

A commotion on the nearest boat. Dim figures in the lantern light turned to point at him, where he sat, wet and bedraggled, on his table in the sea.

Hope sprang in Michael. These people would pull him out of the sea, he would find Linnette and they would go chasing Black Diamonds together. And when they had found the wretched thing, they would profit off it themselves, Robinson or no Robinson. Everything was going to be all right.

"Hola!"

"Hello. Er... I'm English..."

"Ingles," called someone.

The entire fishing fleet had gathered round the mysterious English boy on his table now.

"I speak English."

Michael turned to the boat behind him. A figure, barely visible, stood in the bows, waving a lantern. "Good evening," he shouted.

"Good evening. What are you doing on a table in the sea?"

"Going bathing, sir!" Michael was unable to resist saying.

The dim figure laughed. "Were you shipwrecked?"

"Yes, basically, sir."

"Are you all right?"

"Fine thanks. Very comfy table."

The figure laughed again. "Would you like to come on board?"

"You're too kind."

"I will drop a rope overboard. Paddle your table up to the side of the boat. Then climb up the side of the boat."

Michael paddled as best he could—a table is not ideal for fine manoeuvring—up to the side of the fishing boat, where the dim figure was leaning over the side. He fumbled for the rope and caught hold of it. Then, taking the rope within both hands, he pulled himself up off the table and up the side of the boat, to where the man and two other men reached out to pull him over the side.

"Thank you."

"You are welcome. Is there anything further I can do for you?"

"What time is it?"

"Three 'o' clock in the morning."

"Right. Do you need that boat at all?"

"Yes. I'm a fisherman."

Michael rummaged in his belt for his wallet. "How much to take me to a place called Isla Jefferson?"

"Isla Jefferson?" The fisherman stared at Michael in horror. "Take my advice, kid, and go near Isla Jefferson if you value your life or your honour."

"Thanks for the advice, but it's important."

"Fine. It is, after all, your funeral. Twenty pesatas."

"Done." Michael counted out twenty pesatas into the man's hands.

"You want to go now?"

"Yes, please. As fast as possible."

"Fine." The man shrugged and sighed. "My name's Juan Estravados by the way."

"Michael Leeford, how do you do?"

"How do you do?" Mr Estravados was already turning the nose of the boat. She inched free of the fishing fleet, who had now returned to fishing, although still with many curious glances at the young Englishman. Someone appeared to be hauling up the table on a rope.

A few people called out to Mr Estravados, and Mr Estravados shouted back in Spanish. His words were repeated across the fishing fleet as the boat sped away into the dark water. Michael stood in the bows and watched the stars come out as the sky cleared. He dismantled his gun and laid it out on the deck to let the powder dry. The boat barely seemed to be moving, but when Michael looked down and saw the white streaks of foam the boat kicked up against the black sea he realised how fast they were going. Mr Estravados was certainly taking "as fast as possible" seriously. Michael grinned. He leaned dangerously far over the rail and watched the waves below.

"Be careful," said Mr Estravados. "We don't want you falling in again when we've only just got you out."

"I won't fall in." Michael ran his hand along the wooden railing. "She's a lovely boat. What's she called?"

"Angelína."

"Nice name."

"Nice boat."

"Got the time? My watch has water in."

"About half past three. We will probably get to Isla Jefferson by about seven 'o' clock. What, may I ask, is the hurry?"

"A madman slashed my stomach open and held me hostage so he could make my young lady steal a Black Diamond from some kind of criminal mastermind."

"And now where are you going?"

"To find said young lady."

"What's she called?"

"Linnette Fortescue."

"What's she like?"

"She's... amazing. She's smart, pretty, she makes me laugh. And she's got nerves of steel. You can't get one over on my Linnette."

"You sound happy with her."
"I'm the luckiest man in the world."

"Make sure you tell her so."

"Don't worry, she tells me."

Mr Estravados laughed.

"You?"

"I had a girl I like. I dithered about trying to find the courage to tell her she was the most beautiful girl in the world, and then she went off with someone else. Old story. That is why I tell you, make sure you tell her how pretty she is, how nice her hair looks, whatever. You know the kind of thing I mean."

"I know."

"You only live once. Or twice, if you're the religious type. But I'm sure you know that. You're the one with the criminal mastermind and the madman." He sighed. "Her name's Isabella, by the way, the girl I like."

"Nice name."

"Nice girl."

The moment's silence, while Michael and Mr Estravados stared at the night sky and considered their respective love lives.

Then, because life goes on, Mr Estravados brightened. "Have they started betting on who will win the Grand National yet?"

Michael laughed. "The Grand National isn't for months."

"Get in early, that is what I always say."

"They haven't even started giving out tips yet."

Mr Estravados sighed. Horse racing, it appeared, was his passion. He and Michael—who had been a betting fiend in his young day and found he still could not resist the allure of the Grand National—discussed the famous races of bygone days, the winners and spectacular losers, and the amateur races they had competed in themselves.

The sun rose over the horizon. The little boat was now ploughing across dazzling blue water. Dolphins leaped up before the bow, flicked their tales and sprayed them with foam. A blob appeared on the horizon, which quickly solidified into a low, dusty green island.

Angelína pulled into a little cove under the slope of the gentle hill.

"Isla Jefferson," said Mr Estravados.

"Thank you very much, sir. Would you stay while I have a look round?" He rummaged around in his wallet.

"Keep your money, kid. I'll stay here. You go find your girl."

"Thank you sir."

"Unless you need a hand?"

"Would you?"

"Not half!"

"Thank you."

Michael and Mr Estravados hopped over the side of the boat and hurried across the island to the sprawling white villa.

Outside the villa, Michael considered. The subtle approach or the waltz in? His gun was locked and loaded. Waltz in.

He seized the huge bell pull and far away inside the house a deep bell clanged, deep and solemn as a monastery bell.

After a long while the bolts were drawn back and the door opened a crack. A face peered out.

"Good morning. Open the door if you please in the name of... of... me."

The door opened further to reveal a rather shabbily-dressed woman standing in a huge, crumbling marble hall.

"Yes?" she said. She sounded weary and nervous.

"Madam." Michael gave a sweeping bow. "Do you know the whereabouts of a young woman called Linnette Fortescue?"

"No."

"No?"

"I'm sorry, look, who are you?" She sounded at the end of her tether.

"Michael Leeford, bandit, pirate, all-round desperado. Miss Fortescue is my young lady."

"I'm Dora."

"Charmed." Michael gave her his most reassuring smile. "Now, Miss Fortescue..."

"She was here a while ago." Dora sounded more confident. "She left in a hurry. I don't know where to."

"Dora." It was a woman's voice, high and hysterical. An overdressed, over-powdered woman burst out of one of the rooms. "Dora, fetch me a sal-volatile. I haven't slept a wink all night."

"Oh, go away, I'm talking to a pirate."
The woman gave a faint shriek and disappeared.

"Who was that?" asked Michael.

"His latest mistress."

"I see. Keen on that, is he?"

"He was."
"He doesn't give the impression of being drastically reformed to me."

"He hasn't drastically reformed. He's dead."

"I see, sorely missed by all, eh?"

"Sorely missed by his creditors."

"Did he know where Linnette was going?"

"No, I don't think so. Unless she's gone to the same cove as young Miss Jefferson."

"Young Miss Jefferson?"

"Miss Ada Jefferson. Mr Jefferson's daughter."
"Where has Miss Jefferson gone?"

"I'll show you."
Dora led Michael and Mr Estravados upstairs to Ada's room. She showed them the map on the wall and explained that Ada had told her she was going to a cove further along the coast. "I have to admit," she said sadly, "I haven't a clue what's going on. No sooner had Miss Jefferson than that Mr Vere set off in a state in state of high dudgeon, saying he was losing his prize". Michael became faintly unsettled.

"What do you mean, his prize?"

"I'm not sure." Dora became more unsettled than ever. "I think that Mr Vere has some sort of claim on the Diamond. And Miss Jefferson."

"Miss Jefferson?"

Dora only shrugged. "I don't understand," she said.

Michael became distinctly unsettled. Mr Vere had a claim on Miss Jefferson? A sense of urgency came over him. He studied the map intently, to memorise the position of the cove. Then he turned to Dora. "Got a boat I could borrow?"

"No, Miss Jefferson took it."

He turned to Mr Estravados.

"Are you willing to lend me your boat again?"

"Anywhere. This is the maddest thing which has ever happened to me in my life."

"How much to take me to a cove?"

"Nothing! Madmen, criminal masterminds..."

"You're a saint. Come on then, we're going to a cove."

They scrambled back into Angelína and Mr Estravados struck off for the distant cove.

By the time they got there it was after ten 'o' clock and Michael was torn between relief and anxiety to see Another Gamble moored to the rocks, along with another boat, and Linnette's gun strung on the rocks out of reach of the waves.

Michael leapt ashore, brandishing his gun, leaving Mr Estravados to tie up Angelína. There was no one on the little coral atoll. Michael was immune to the charms of the scenery, and the little blue and orange fish which darted around his ankles.

"Lin," he shouted. "Linnette."

Silence.

"Linnette." Worried now, Michael scrambled and splashed across the almost totally submerged atoll, Mr Estravados at his heels. There was no sign of Linnette.

"Perhaps she is somewhere else," suggested Mr Estravados.

"But she never goes anywhere without her gun!"

"Then perhaps..."

"No," said Michael, in a voice like an ice letter-knife. "I would know."

Then he saw it. Right by his feet. A round hole. The hole became a tunnel which led clear through the fragilely beautiful coral, until it twisted round and Michael could no longer see where it led.

"There," he said. "Please remain here, sir, and guard the boat and my gun."

And he sat on the edge of the tunnel and dived in.

The water closed around him. He pushed forward, through this strange blue silent world. The tunnel twisted and twisted again. He could feel his knife heavy in his pocket.

He emerged gasping into air again in a cavern. There, in front of him, was Linnette.

Now, Michael grabbed Linnette's hand and they plunged into the tunnel.

Linnette was still reeling with astonishment. She swam as strongly as she could, but it was harder now. She was so cold and her head throbbed. She exhaled, pushing herself downward, and her head reeled so suddenly she gasped, taking in a mouthful of water.

Michael had stopped, watching in alarm as she tried to escape drowning. She gestured I'm all right, trailing blood from her chafed wrists through the water, and kept swimming. Now she was short of air. The pain in her head was growing and she closed her eyes. Sparks danced before them. She was running out of strength to swim now.

Then something brushed her leg. A huge red blob filled the tunnel, writhing tentacles dancing round as if each one were itself alive.

Octopus.

Linnette reached for her knife. The octopus wrapped its tentacle round her arm. She wriggled free, but another tentacle wrapped around her chest. She grabbed hold of the rocky tunnel wall and tried to pull herself free. The octopus had other ideas. It got a tentacle round draped round her shoulders. She fought it off, but there were more tentacles where that one came from.

It was not a very large octopus but it seemed definitely... assertive. And it was between Linnette and Michael and the surface—and air. Michael had slashed at it with his dagger. It shrank back—for a moment. Then it whipped out with three rubbery tentacles. Linnette lashed out with her knife, and slashed through the tentacle round her chest. It continued to writhe in the water, brushing against her face. She slashed again, but more feebly, the knife almost slipped out of her fingers, but she grabbed at it. Her head was spinning so hard she could barely tell which way was up. Michael dodged between the tentacles and stabbed again. The water was filling with octopus blood, sticky blue stuff.

Linnette felt herself sliding out of consciousness. She was vaguely aware of Michael grabbing her hand and pulling her, and of trying to move her legs. Her head pulsed and her stomach churned. Her lungs burned as everything went black.

Light and air. At last. Half fainting, she gulped in mouthfuls of life-giving air. She tried to struggle to her feet, fell and tried again. This time she was upright.

"Are you all right, love?" Michael steadied her.

"Yes, just, bash on the head..."

Another man was approaching. "I'm sorry, who are you?"

"Oh, this is Juan Estravados," said Michael. "Mr Estravados, this is the one and only Linnette Fortescue."

"Pleased to meet you," said Mr Estravados. "I've heard such a lot about you."

"How do you do?"

"All right," said Michael. "Let's see your head. What happened?"

"Here." Linnette showed him. "Vere's bodyguard clubbed me."

"Because he had a claim to Miss Jefferson? I'm right in thinking that means he thinks he's entitled to marry her, right?"

"Right. Mr Jefferson had some sort of bet at cards."

"Looks all right to me." Mr Estravados was studying the bruise on Linnette's head. "You will be all right if you sit down for a bit. Exhaustion cannot have helped."

"You're all right, love," said Michael. "So he clubbed you on the head and made off with the Diamond and Miss Jefferson?"

"I gave it to him. He said he would let Ada go."

"And then he didn't?"

"Then he didn't."

"Mr Estravados, where's the nearest church?"

"I'll show you. It's just up the coast, nice natural harbour."

"All right," said Michael. Lead on. That is, if you're still game."

"I'm game for as long as you are."

Linnette and Michael collected their guns leapt into Another Gamble—Michael with a feeling of great homecoming—and Mr Estravados into Angelína. Angelína lead Another Gamble along the coast—Linnette and Michael explained to each other what they had both been doing— to a place where the cliffs fell away and a little village huddled between the slopes of the hills. The land curved round, providing a wide, shallow bay.

They scrambled out of the boats and ran down the village streets to the little stone church in the middle. The villagers, most of whom were busying themselves in their vegetable gardens or gutting fish, lined the little lane to watch the three gun-toting strangers advance upon their little church.

Linnette ignored them. She was thinking of nothing but Ada. Nausea rose in her throat at the thought that she might be too late.

She raised her gun and crashed open the church doors, Michael and Mr Estravados beside her. Inside the cool, dimly-lit room an elderly was arranging some candles on an altar.

"Where are they?" she said.

The elderly gentleman looked at her, and considered the guns she and Michael were pointing at his head in a gently detached way.

"No hablo Ingles. Lo siento, señorita."

Linnette turned to Mr Estravados.

"This is the priest. I will talk to him."

"Ask him where Vere and Ada are."

Mr Estravados and the priest talked for a while.

Then Mr Estravados turned back to Linnette. "There was a man here. He called himself Vere. There was a young woman with him. He claimed she was Ada Jefferson, Mr Bill Jefferson's daughter."

"That's them. Did he marry them?"

More talking.

"No, he didn't marry them. Miss Jefferson is a Protestant."

"So they can't get married! Everything's all right!"

"No, Miss Fortescue, it is not."

"What do you mean?"

Mr Estravados looked grim. "Mr Vere was Church of England. He converted to Roman Catholicism some weeks ago. Otherwise, he would have been hard pressed to find a Catholic Church in the whole of Spain which would have been willing to marry them."

"He plans ahead," said Michael, looking just as grim.

"But if Ada's Protestant-"said Linnette.

"She can always convert."

"But that would require taking Catholic blessings, surely Vere can't just convert her against her will..."

"Oh, certainly, she must show a... nominal voluntary commitment to her new faith."

"But..." Linnette was still bewildered. "If he-" she pointed at the priest "- won't marry them..."

More talking in Spanish. The priest sounded angry.

Mr Estravados turned back to an increasingly anguished Linnette and Michael.

"The Protestant Church is sinful, and mutinous against the will of God. Her adherents are little better than heathens. If a Protestant is to convert to the Catholic Church—the true Church of Our Lord—she must undergo the teaching and instruction necessary to prepare her spiritually."

"How long does that take?" asked Linnette. Again light was shining in the darkness of desperation. Her heart began beating again.

"Months. Years."

Her heart took a joyful leap and several back flips.

"So we have years to stop the wedding! Well, I should think we can do that."

"No, Miss Fortescue, it is not that simple."

"What, then?"

"The actual rite of acceptance into the Catholic Church only takes hours, strictly speaking. The Church considers years of spiritual soul-searching necessary to create a devout Catholic, but ultimately it is in the will of the convert."

"So there's nothing stopping them simply strolling into a church and Vere demanding a conversion?"

"In the purest terms, no."

"And if the priest is sufficiently-"

"Co-operative, quite."

Linnette turned to the priest. "Thank you," she said earnestly, "for not being co-operative".

"Indeed," said Michael. "Where might Vere find a priest who is co-operative?"

"The nearest church is Todos Santos. It is not a wealthy parish, and I have heard that the priest there... is no great disciple of mortification of the flesh. He has been raising funds for an icon of the Virgin Mary for several decades."

"Let me guess," muttered Linnette, "the Lord has not seen fit to bestow an icon on them yet?".

"Right," said Michael. "We're going to Todos Santos."

"We're too late," said Mr Estravados.

"What do you mean?"

"They have hours of lead on us. By the time we have walked there, it will be too late. It is not much further along the coast, but it is on the cliffs, so it impossible to take a boat round."

"At least we can shoot the filthy swine!"

"We'll buy horses," said Michael.

The priest said something.

"You will struggle," said Mr Estravados, "to find anything other than a few donkeys in this village".

"Ask him where the lord of the manor is," said Michael

Mr Estravados listened to the priest and translated. "Señor Martinez. Just up the hill."

"Then let's run."

They ran. Up the lane, past the bewildered villagers, to where a rambling manor house perched on the hill.

They hammered on the door with their fists, to the astonishment of the maid who came to open it. "We need to speak to Señor Martinez."

"Señor Martinez is out." She looked disdainfully at their dishevelled clothes and assorted weaponry.

"When will he be back?" asked Linnette between gasps.

"In a couple of hours."
"How much to borrow his horses for a bit?"

"You'll have to ask him." The maid attempted to close the door.

Linnette caught Michael's eye. They both thought the same thing.

"All right," said Linnette. "That's fine."

The maid appeared surprised that these apparently desperate people should give in with so little disappointment. She gave them one final glare and shut the door.

"Stables round the back," said Linnette. Once again, they ran.

They burst into the stable yard and dashed over to the nearest stalls. Within moments, they had the horses out in the yard and were tacking up. When the stable boy arrived, he gaped in astonishment. Linnette grinned with the cheerful confidence she had perfected.

The stable boy shouted to them. It wasn't hard to guess he was saying "what are you doing?".

"Tell him the master said we could," muttered Linnette quickly to Mr Estravados, swinging herself up onto her horse.

Mr Estravados shouted back to the stable boy with a cheerful confidence Linnette herself would have been proud of. Before the stable boy could reply, the three of them had galloped away across the fields, just as the maid came rushing out of the back door, looking horrified.

The church stood among rolling green fields by the edge of the cliff on the edge of the village, looking sweet, charming, idyllic and generally harmless. But in the spire, the bell was tolling like a funeral bell. Each chime thudded into Linnette's heart like a lead brick. Any moment, any moment now, the little procession could emerge from the church. Mr and Mrs Vere. Mr and Mrs Vere...

Linnette urged José—as she had christened her horse— faster, down the hill to the church door. The rage within her now had concentrated into a cold, sharp pain and determination. If she did not kill that man, did not feel his blood splash over her hands, then she would die of hatred and frustrated vengeance.

The door was open and the three off them burst straight through into the church. The heads of the congregation turned. Two young men and and a young woman, on very fine horses, brandishing guns, were galloping up the aisle of the House of God as if it were a horse race.

Linnette saw him at once. The calmly arrogant face, the slightly overdone charm and affection to the woman standing trembling by his side. Vere.

"Vere," she yelled.

He was looking right at her. She saw his eyes widen with fear. She laughed. The gun clicked. Oh, so easy in her hand. Vere shrieked with pain, slumped backwards across the alter, blood spurting from one knee.

"That," she said, quietly and vindictively, "is for Ada".

"That," put in Michael—the other knee—"is for Linnette".

"And that," from Mr Estravados—through the stomach—as they stopped in front of the alter, "is for good measure".

Vere stared at them. He seemed to be in a trance of fear. Everyone else in the church was in a trance of shock. For a moment, Linnette could have heard a mouse's thimble drop in that church.

Then pandemonium broke out. The congregation began to shriek. A few people began brandishing assorted weapons, unsure whose side they were meant to be on but ready for action. Ada leapt from her place at Vere's side and flung herself at Linnette with such grateful joy that Linnette fell off her horse and they both crashed onto the stone church floor. The priest let out a howl of rage.

"What in the name of God do you think you are doing? You draw weapons in the House of God! You disrupt his sacraments with this godless commotion. You have got human blood all over my alter cl-" He broke off, finding the points of both Linnette's and Michael's swords at his throat.

"I wouldn't go so far as to describe Vere as human, Father." Michael held his sword against the priest's throat. "But then, I'm not too sure about you either."

There was an edge to his voice at which the entire congregation fell silent.

"Put that down," cried the priest with a mixture of outrage and fear. He attempted to assert his authority. "Who are you? What do you want?"

"I'm Linnette Fortescue," said Linnette. "My friends call me Linnette. You can call me Miss Fortescue."

"And you," said the priest to Michael, "are with this lunatic?".

"I'm courting this lunatic, so watch how you talk about her." He dug the point of his sword a little deeper into the priest's neck. "Why don't you tell the congregation exactly what's been going on, Father?"

"You are rank infidels," said the priest. Michael made no answer but blood trickled down the priest's neck. His eyes widened. "You wouldn't dare."

"Don't push me," said Linnette, very quietly.

The atmosphere in the church was electric. The only noise was a murmured rush as people who spoke English hurriedly translated for the others. All eyes were on the on the odd little group at the front of the church.

"I am a man of God. The Lord will strike you down."

"Any time the Lord feels like trying, give him a call. From Hell."

Vere spluttered. The blood from his mouth sprayed over Linnette's dress. She sighed and rubbed at her bodice with her handkerchief. "Do you mind? This is new."

The priest found the little icon of the Virgin Mary. He picked it up and cradled it like a shield. It seemed to give him a desperate burst of courage.

"I am a man of God. And if you wish to stab me, you heathen rabble, then I shall die at my post a martyr. Do it if you dare."

Two swords drove simultaneously clear into him. The little Virgin shattered on the stone floor.

"I never fail a dare," said Linnette.

Pandemonium broke lose again. Ada fainted. Vere fixed bloodshot, hate-filled eyes on Linnette.

The shouts of the crowd ranged from "three cheers for the bride" to "kill the infidels". Bewilderment was tangible.

Linnette took effortless command of the situation. She turned and raised her hand. Silence fell.

"The man Vere who is currently dying slowly on your church floor is a dissipated wastrel, who took to professional gambling and money-lending."

A murmur of rage from the honest folk of the Asturias.

"He then made a bargain with a man, Jefferson, deeply in his debt over a game of cards. Jefferson, it appears, had begun life with great character and had gone to the bad after a long and complicated story of unrequited love. There were two stakes. One of them was Jefferson's daughter."

The murmur grew louder.

"He forced her to convert to Catholicism and was trying to force her to marry him. Your shepherd of God is a liar, a hypocrite and a grasping money-sponger."

The murmur became a roar.

"This noble and gallant gentleman," she indicated Mr Estravados, who blushed to the tips of his ears, "and we have retrieved this young woman to liberty and great wealth".

Uproarious cheers.

"What," said Mr Estravados, regarding Vere with a look of deep distate, "are we going to do with that?".

Linnette grinned. "Oh, he's dying. In agony. Taking his time about it." Her well-aimed kick cracked into Vere's ribs. Then she rummaged in his pocket and produced the Black Diamond.

With a bow she handed it to Ada. "Yours, I think, madam."

Ada had been tended round from her faint by Mr Estravados and Michael. Now she looked at Linnette with tears shining in her eyes. "I thought that you wanted it."

"Long story."

Ada took a deep breath. "I don't want it."

"You don't want it?" Linnette could scarcely believe her ears.

"It's a horrid, blood-stained thing. I don't want it. Give it to Dora, if you like."

"Do you know where she is?"

"What on Earth," said a small, exhausted voice from the church door, "is going on?".

Linnette grinned at Ada, whispered "take two", bowed and offered the Diamond to Dora. "Yours, I think, madam."

"What is?" said Dora.

"This," said Linnette. "The Black Diamond. It's yours."

"Goodness. This is the Diamond?"

"Yep."

"Well, really, I don't know, what on Earth is going on?"

Explanations were lengthy and involved. Almost as lengthy and involved was Dora's account of being surrounded by fishermen waving knives and talking very excitedly about Miss Jefferson and her excursions round the neighbourhood with assorted English people.

The church congregation proved an ideal audience. They gasped and clapped in all the right places.

At the end of it all, when Linnette was starting to feel her exhaustion, Dora said, "so the Diamond's mine, now?".

"Indeed. May it give you great pleasure."

"I don't want it."

"Really? Bit of a recurring theme."

"It's a nasty-looking thing. Perhaps it's silly of me, but... I don't want to be like Mr Jefferson. He was a very wicked man."

"He was," said Linnette. She looked at the Diamond, gleaming black and beautiful in her hand. It looked like a chunk of black ice lying there. She turned to Mr Estravados.

"This is getting repetitive. Yours, I think, sir."

Silently, he shook his head.

Linnette turned to Michael.

"Finders keepers, eh, love?"

"Why? Do you want it?"

Linnette looked at the Diamond and realised she didn't.

"No," she said. She tore her eyes back from its shimmering depths. "I don't."

She held it above her head. "One Black Diamond, open auction, starting price, willingness to take the wretched thing!"

Everyone laughed at that, including Ada, who was drying her tears with a handkerchief Mr Estravados had been quick to offer her.

"Any bidders? Any at all?"

The laughter faded. Within moments, the little church was as silent and solemn as the grave.

"No." It was an old woman in the front row, peering at Linnette under her bonnet. "No bidders."

"All right," said Linnette. She looked at Ada and at Michael. "Let's just finish it." They walked out of the little church to the edge of the cliff. The entire congregation followed them. Linnette held up the Black Diamond and hurled it, glinting in the sun, spinning over and over, down into the sea.

"My Diamond!"

It was Robinson. Ragged, blood-stained, half-crazed, he staggered up the path along the cliff.

"Mr Robinson," said Michael. "What a pleasant surprise. We can settle our score."

Linnette already had her sword out.

"My turn," said Michael. He drew his own sword. "How did you even find us here?"

"You've been leaving a trail of destruction across the countryside in your wake. You're not exactly a subtle bunch."

"All right," said Michael. "Well, now you've got no back-up. Jefferson, you'll be pleased to know, is dead. You're on your own. Let's settle it."

"Fine."

Steel clashed. Ada gasped. Linnette watched, grinning quietly. Michael was just so good with a sword. Slightly over-confident. You're not performing in a circus ring, my dear... Ooh, that was neat, that was neat, follow it up quick...

The swords flashed in the sun-light. Michael and Robinson danced round each other, Michael laughing. Then, in a spurt of scarlet, it was over. Robinson lay dead on the grass and Michael was wiping down his sword.

He smiled at Linnette. "There. All over. Time for us to go, methinks."

"Yes," said Linnette, "as seems to be becoming habit, we're leaving the bystanders with the corpses".

Ada hugged both of them. "Thank you," she said.

"My pleasure," said Linnette.

"Any time," said Michael. He turned to Mr Estravados, who was standing beside Ada with his arm through hers, and fished in his wallet. "Here." He handed over a ten pound note. "For your boat and your valuable gallantry."

"Not at all," said Mr Estravados, "do not be so silly, Mr Leeford".

"Nonsense," said Michael. "You can buy the fish slice with it."

"Fish slice?"

But Michael just grinned and winked at Linnette and, when Mr Estravados still refused to take the money from him, tossed it at his feet.

Then he took Linnette's hand and they mounted their horses and rode away.

They had to give the horses back, of course. There was practically the entire neighbourhood out hunting for them with rifles. They changed their tune when they heard what they had wanted the horses for though—those who believed them. And enough did believe them for Señor Martinez to realise that any attempts to press legal charges would prompt a popular uprising.

Then they took Another Gamble, steered her to some secluded cove and washed, changed and slept.

They left the Bay of Biscay and for months strolled at their leisure around the coast of Europe. They admired the mountains and coves of northern Spain. They plundered the silver, coffee and exotic fruits of the cutters sailing from the Americas to Vigo, Porto and Lisbon. Linnette remembered her feelings as she stood for the first time in Lisbon's Castelo de São Jorge for the first time. She leant over the stone walls to look at the city streets winding below, drank the scent of blossom on the air and listened to the peacocks screaming.

Oh, the things she saw. The crags and tropical gardens at Silva, where Lord Byron had been so impressed with the palaces and convents he had sat down to write Childe Harold. The Portuguese and Spanish beaches basking in the spring sun shine. The citadel of Silves. The gardens of Seville where Linnette had put orange blossoms in her hair and danced for joy in the city square to the sound of the guitars. Michael had kissed her under the orange trees.

They swaggered into the British colony at Gibraltar around April. They were laden with silver and regarded the British naval ships with withering scorn. They moored in Gibraltar harbour, got the silver through the customs in their usual expert manner and wandered into town. Linnette sat under the trees sketching Barbary macaques. The air was warm and pleasant. The shops were cheap, the people friendly. Admittedly there was a sharp contrast between the brisk military efficiency of the British Government buildings and the squalid houses of the town, but the Rock looked beautiful, with a haunting majestic beauty, especially against the sunsets of the lengthening spring days. They stayed a few days, then a week. Linnette revelled in plundering the British cutters coming back from Egypt, or from India around the Cape of Good Hope, under the full view of an important British naval base. Not that Her Majesty's Navy remained entirely ignorant as to that. Admittedly it took them more than a month.

Linnette and Michael were sailing back from the Atlantic to the harbour at Gibraltar, laden with sapphires from China, beautiful blue shining things which Linnette tied into her hair, when they were stopped by a large British naval vessel called, in elegant curling letters across the stern, the St. Mary.

"Stand back to repel borders," shouted Linnette.

There was no chance. The borders scrambled aboard Another Gamble as Michael swung her stern around to flee. Another Gamble was quick and she was nimble, but she was no match for the St. Mary. Linnette felt the deck tremble as the St. Mary's cannons caught them broadside. She answered with a couple of neat shots across the St. Mary's stern, but the heavy cannon had done their work. Another Gamble was in no immediate danger of sinking, but she could not steer and could barely move at all. The St. Mary's men leapt aboard with guns and cutlasses. Linnette shot a couple, but within moments dozens were on the deck.

"Out numbered and out gunned," said Michael ruefully.

"Been here before, sweetheart," said Linnette, turning her attention to the big, authoritative-looking man who strode towards them along the deck.

"You are out-numbered and out-gunned!" he began.

"We've noticed," said Linnette.

"If you refuse to surrender, you will be shot where you stand."

"And if we do surrender," said Michael, "we will be taken into Gibraltar and hanged?".

"Quite correct." He considered. "You'll be given a fair trial. Then you'll be hanged."

Linnette considered. She had no faith whatsoever in the fair trial. But she did have faith in a better chance to escape presenting itself between now and the gallows.

"I vote we surrender," she said to Michael, "at least we get a bigger audience on the gallows".

"Indeed. I need to compose my dying poem. I don't want it wasted."

"We surrender," shouted Linnette.

Thus they ended up in irons in the hold of the St. Mary, heading back into Gibraltar harbour with Another Gamble limping after them on tow-ropes.

They had company. A young man, about Linnette's own age, was sitting in the corner of the hold in gyves. He looked up when they came in and smiled brightly. "Hi, wish I could offer you more comfortable accommodation but this will have to do. I expect you'll be out of it soon, one way or another…?"

He looked at them inquiringly.

"Gibraltar gallows," said Linnette.

"My Lord," the young man looked genuinely upset. "A nice young lady like you? Hanged? Shameful!"

"I am a murderer," said Linnette. "And a pirate."

"So what? You are a young lady who ought to be treated with more respect."
"Oh, I'm sure the hangman will give me his most gallant bow. Linnette Fortescue, by the way."

"Oh, I'm sorry! Where are my manners, we haven't been introduced… Sam Brown. At your service… well, I'm in chains, so my services might be limited."

"Michael Leeford. Also a murderer and a pirate. How do you do?"

"How do you do?"

Polite nods all round.

"What, if I may ask," said Michael, "is your destination, Mr Brown?".

"Sam. The wall of the courtyard at Gibraltar naval base."

"What have you done to wind up there?"

"Only run through the lieutenant in a bar."

"Did he die?" asked Linnette.

"Of course he died!"

"What was it about?"
"Three guesses."

"A lady?"

"Right first time."

"I'm very sorry," said Michael.

"Thanks. It doesn't matter. Just my rough luck I suppose."

"Well," said Linnette as comfortingly as she could, "I don't know if I can think of anything cheering to say, but you… have my condolences".

"Thank you, madam. As have you mine, only, say…" He became slightly more cheerful. "If you're pirates, you'll have quite a bit of cash, won't you?"

"Absolutely rolling," said Linnette.

"Well, you'll be all right then," said Sam. "Sprinkle a few coins around and they'll bow you out of the courtroom and probably make you Lord Mayor or something."

"Really?" said Linnette.

"Lord, yes, ma'am, they take cash as if it were picking flowers round here."

"Can't you sprinkle a few coins around?"

Sam grinned. "I wish! Haven't got any to sprinkle round, have I?"

"We'll give you some," said Michael.

"Would you really? Thanks, Mr Leeford, you're a real gent for all you're a murderer.

"It's Michael."
"Thanks Michael. It's no good though, I'm afraid. It isn't really about the lieutenant getting himself run through in a bar. It's the Governor himself who's baying for my blood, and he does not take cash. Not when it's personal."

Linnette was impressed. She had been in Gibraltar for weeks and she had not yet made a personal enemy of the Governor.

"What on Earth did you say to him?"

"I didn't just say things, it's what I did that's the problem."

"What did you do?"
Sam groaned. "You know I said we were both courting the same girl?"
"Yes…"

"Her name's Miranda. She's beautiful and good and…. good and… beautiful…"

"Quite," said Michael.

"And she's the Governor's daughter."
"Oh," said Linnette. "Oh dear."
"You've not half said it. "Oh dear" is along the lines of what I said to myself when the old man got wise to the love letters I was sending to his precious little girl."

"And this lieutenant…"

"Has a good salary and good prospects and everything and I've got nothing."
"I'm very sorry."
"Such is life." Sam sighed and slumped against the wall of the hold.

It dawned on Linnette that there was nothing she could do to help Sam with his love life or indeed his life at all. Unless by some miracle she could break through her chains and free them all from the miserable hold the St. Mary he would die and she and Michael would be bribing their way to life and freedom before the oh-so-unworldly angels of justice.

She felt responsible for Sam now. He had told her his tragedy and helped them and now she felt she owed him something in return. Certainly, she couldn't help being more lucky than he was, but it was a bitter sight to see Sam so resignedly hopeless.

"Is there anything we can do for you?" she asked.

"Not much, in chains, ma'am."

"When we bribe our way out of the chains."

"I'll be dead by then, ma'am."
"You don't know that."
"Who's going to rescue us? Your pet unicorn?" He laughed grimly. "I'm sorry, ma'am, I didn't mean to be rude, but take a look around you. I can't see a way to cheat the dear old Grim Reaper, can you?"

"No," said Linnette. "You know, old Martha used to say pray."

"She sounds like a wise woman."

"She was." Linnette tested the chains. No good. These were no amateur knots but Her Majesty's Navy's very finest irons.

Sam thought for a moment. "Do you mean what you said? That you'd do something for me?"

"Yes," said Linnette, "anything I can do honourably and fairly… ish."

"It's like this. Miranda's father, the Governor, wants her to marry this young army captain"

"You dispatched the lieutenant and he's the replacement spouse?"

"Exactly. Now, what's absolutely essential to the old man is that he can pass his little girl off as a good woman."
"Is she not?"

"She's a saint. But I was in love and I wrote… letters. You know how it is. I said things… they weren't improper…. At least, not in the moonlight sitting under my angel's balcony. It's just… in the broad clear light of day…"

"They look improper."

"Exactly."

"So what's going on?"

"The old man has got these letters and his first idea, it appears, was to use them to blackmail Miranda. If she did anything he disapproved of, he would show this young captain… his name's Driver or Drovers or something… the letters and he would refuse to marry her. And when she told him she didn't want to marry him, he told that if she didn't he would pass them round the town."

"But then he stands no chance of marrying her to anybody!" said Michael.

"Mr- Michael, if he's been slighted, he'll get revenge whether it's worth it or not. The one thing he can't bear is tarnished pride. If this story gets out, the fact that a young sailor was writing letters to his daughter, it's over with him. And he'll do anything to stop that happening, or get revenge if it does, whether it's sensible or not."

"The man's a brute," said Linnette, with grim anger. She had met men like this before—hadn't Hetherington been a man like that?

"So, what do you want us to do?" said Michael.

"Get those letters back," said Sam. "Please. It's my fault she's in this mess, and I can't get her out of it. You can though—if you would be so kind."

"This man dangerous?" asked Michael.

Sam considered, then shrugged. "No more dangerous than any other slightly egomaniacal omnipotent Government thug." He grinned. "You're pirates and murderers. Isn't slightly dangerous supposed to be your thing? Dying man's dare?"

"I always do dares," admitted Linnette. She decided she liked Sam. "All right, you're on. Where does he live?"

"The big house near the army barracks. Where it looks like the Governor lives. And he's having a party tonight, everybody who's anybody is going."

"Social event of the calendar. Splendid. All the best scandals come with canapes."

Sam laughed. "You're a saint."

"Oh no," said Linnette, as the St. Mary ground to a halt with much rattling of chains. "And personally, I'd hate to be."

Two young sailors appeared in the doorway of the hold. "Mr Brown?"

"That's me."

"Come with us."

Sam was dragged up and, as best the yards of clanking chain would allow, led out of the hold.

"What do we do with these?" said one sailor.

"Captain said just leave them. They can't be tried until this afternoon. His Worship, who judges piracy cases and such like, is always out with the hounds in the morning."

"So long," said Sam.

"So long," said Linnette, doing her best to smile, for his sake.

"Don't worry about anything," said Michael. "We've got it."

And that was the last they ever saw of Sam Brown.

Linnette was subdued for the rest of the afternoon. The trial in the hot, crowded Supreme Court went very much as Sam had said it would. A few nods, a few winks, a few sapphires passed around under tables, and Linnette and Michael walked out into the sunshine free and respectable citizens. Sam prayed on Linnette's mind. Her own inability to do a thing to save him made her angry, his laughter in the hold of the St. Mary hurt and her determination to let him rest in peace waxed as the day wore on.

Only as six 'o' clock drew nearer did Linnette's spirits lift.

She went into the smartest area of town—the area outside the British garrison, where the colonels' wives went to do their shopping—and went into the small, discreet but extremely luxurious smuggled goods shop.

Every ludicrously expensive item a lady of leisure could possibly want was on sale here. Saffron in little wooden boxes. Arabian perfume by the quart. Exotic blends of tea. All of it smuggled. And the dresses! Oh, if the fine ladies in London dressmakers could see them. Linnette felt like a fine lady herself as the gentleman who owned the shop nearly fell over himself to cater to madam. She inspected several items before making her choice.

A deep purple silk—real Arabian silk—so deep purple it seemed to shimmer under the lights with blues and blacks and silvers. The bodice was a tight fit, and lower off the front, back and shoulders than anything Linnette had ever seen. The skirt, which swept along the ground, was impossibly ruffled and flounced and hooped wherever ruffle, flounce or hoop could possibly be placed. A delicate thread of white cotton was attached to the side of the skirt and slid over Linnette's wrist, so the skirt seemed to float in the air behind her.

"How much?"

"One hundred pounds, madam."

Linnette had never parted with one hundred pounds so gladly in her life.

At five 'o' clock, as she stared at herself in the mirror of her bedroom on Another Gamble, she grinned at her reflection. Shoes—purple slip-ons with heels which would have made Martha faint. Martha… what would Martha have thought if she could see her little girl now? For a moment it gave Linnette a pang.

Kohl, thick black streaks of it round her eyes. Scarlet lipstick. Nothing else. No. That was perfect.

Linnette picked up her travelling cloak and wrapped it round herself before going out into the passage where Michael was waiting. Michael possessed no suit, or anything else a respectable English gentleman might where to a ball, but he had made himself look as civilised as possible.

He grinned when he saw her. "Aren't I allowed to see?"

Linnette grinned back and shook her head.

"Very well. Let's go."

They arrived at the Governor's house just after six—fashionably late, like real fine folk.

Two footmen guarded the entrance to the Governor's house. Ladies and gentlemen swept past arm in arm, the footmen nodding to everybody as they past. Nobody was asked to display and invitation. Presumably everybody here knew each other.

Linnette glided up to the door on Michael's arm, confidence in every inch.

Her heart sank as one of the footmen said, politely but firmly "Madam? Sir?".

Linnette turned bright innocent eyes to him.

"I'm the Governor's niece. Just come off the boat."

"Oh I see." All suspicion vanished. "Have a nice evening, madam."
"Thank you."

"Child's play," whispered Linnette as they entered the hall.

Linnette removed her cloak in the ladies' cloak room and went back out into the hall to Michael. He gasped. So did every other man in the room.

"What do you think?"

Michael was speechless.

"Too much?"

Michael grinned. "No such thing as too much. You look… good."

"Good? The fine art of the complement, straight from The Deportment of Courtship and Marriage."

But what he said didn't matter. The look on his face was enough.

He kissed her. "Let's dance."

They danced. And in the whole of Europe, there was nothing more lovely.

"All right," said Linnette. "Down to business."

"Indeed. Get the letters. Scram. Well… maybe hang around a little to have a good time and make the most of this excellent champagne."

"Why's that man staring at us?" Linnette nodded towards a young man on the other side of the room, whose eyes had been following them everywhere they went.

"'Cause we're just so pretty?"

"Michael, be serious, it's not that kind of look at all. It's distinctly… hostile.

"I don't know, Lin." Michael shrugged. "Probably not his fault he looks like a Basilisk, poor bloke. Where do you reckon the Governor is?"

"I don't know," said Linnette. She surveyed the room. "And we can hardly ask, can we? Not if we're supposed to be his guests… and I'm supposed to be his niece."

"What do we do when we find him?"

"Kill him?"

"Always fun. But this is a party and public displays of murder can make people feel uncomfortable."

"Wait until later, when they've had too much to notice if we burn the house down, then kill him?"

"Perhaps he doesn't keep the letters on him?"
"We'll deal with that when we get there."

"I think we might have got there. That there"—Michael nodded across the room—"says to me the master of the house—and indeed the country".

Linnette turned to see a large, powerful-looking, expensively-dressed man with a small train of admiring sycophants, trailing round the room shaking hands and, it would seem, telling every lady she was the best-dressed lady in the room.

"Aye," she said. "That's the boss."

They strolled over. The Governor smiled like a benign grandfather as they approached, but Linnette wasn't fooled: she had seen his eyes like little shards of flint.

"Evening Governor," she said, with her most glittering smile.

"Evening," said Governor. "Very nice to meet you, ma'am."

"Linnette Fortescue," said Linnette, very quietly. It was probably the boldest thing she had ever said.

The Governor merely frowned in bewilderment. "I don't believe we've met," he said. "But your name sounds familiar. Yes, distinctly".

"This is Mr Michael Leeford."

The Governor of Gibraltar seemed to have never heard the name Michael Leeford.

"How do you do?"

"Now," said Linnette, "if you would be so kind, sir, there's something we wanted to talk to you about".

"Of course." A nod and the trailing crowd of sycophants melted away.

"We are here," said Linnette, her voice hardening, "on behalf of a young gentleman whom you have deeply wronged, and your daughter".

"What on Earth are you talking about?"

"I think you know," said Linnette, as viciously as a little cobra.

The Governor smiled. It did not reach his eyes.

"If you wish to speak to my daughter, she is upstairs ill, but I'm sure I can arrange for you to speak to her."

"It was you we wanted to speak to."

"I don't see how-"

"I'll make myself perfectly clear. All the letters Mr Brown sent to your daughter, I wish you to give to us. Then you will hear no more about it."

"I'm sorry, I don't discuss my private affairs with a stranger."

Michael whipped out his sword. The Governor's eyes widened. Michael grinned as heads turned in the ball room. "We can discuss it or we can fight over it."

The Governor contorted his features into a smile. "Outside," he mouthed. Then he cleared his throat. "Yes, very fine sword young man. I saw one rather like it in Innsbruck once…"

Ball room talk continued. Michael held the Governor's arm in a vice-like grip as they strolled casually across the dance floor out into to the front hall.

"All right," said Michael, as they found themselves alone. "The letters."
"Allow me to explain-"

"I do not listen to explanations. Or negotiations. Or excuses or wheedling or threats. The letters."

The Governor of Gibraltar was not used to being spoken to like that in his private Empire.

"I fail to understand," in a voice not unlike Genghis Khan on his Mongolian steppes, "the burning interest you take in this juvenile Casanova and—". He broke off.

"Go on," said Linnette. "What are you going to call your own daughter. Floosy? Jezebel?"

That was enough. The Governor's own sword flashed. He turned to Michael—apparently brandishing a sword at a woman was too much even for him—and steel sang on steel with that cold ringing which was Linnette's favourite sound.

The Governor was a strong man and a good fighter. Round and round they danced, nobody gaining. Two minutes… three… an aching five.

Then, as soon as it had begun, it was over. The Governor lay on his back choking with rage, the tip of Michael's sword at his throat.

"Give them to me."

"All right," said the Governor. He reached into the breast pocket of his jacket, grunting with pain. Then his eyes flashed. Linnette realised what he was going to do a second before Michael did. "Michael," she screamed.

Then pistol clicked. The sword came down. The pistol fired. Blood splashed over the stone tiles. Michael's right leg buckled.

His face twisted in pain. He knelt clumsily beside the dead Governor, putting most of his weight on his left knee. He and Linnette felt in the Governor's pockets.

"Are you all right?" asked Linnette.

He nodded, blood still pumping out of his leg and pooling on the floor. "Not on him."

"All right, we've been here before. If I had incriminating papers, blackmail letters, whatever, where would I put them?"

"We established you would put them in your bedroom." Michael sank down gasping.

"Let me look at your leg."

"It's all right."

It was not all right. His knee was a shattered, bloody mess.

"I'm fine Lin, honest."

"How long until someone runs out into the hall and sees the body?"

"Not long, I guess."

"Let's shove him under the stairs and then escape the scene of the crime."

They hid the body of the Governor and hurried up the grand staircase—well, Linnette hurried, Michael limped. By the time they got to the top of the stairs, a trail of blood lead down into the hall and Michael was almost fainting.

The landing was a mirror of the entrance hall. On the left, where the dining room was downstairs, was a set of mahogany double doors. A matching set was on the right.

"I reckon one of those is the Governor's bedroom," said Linnette.

"But which one?" At least, that was what Michael was trying to say.

"Let's try the ones on the left first," Linnette flung the doors open and strolled inside as if this were her own house.

The young woman on the bed inside screamed when she saw Michael dragging himself through the door and collapse fainting in a chair.

"Hi," said Linnette.

"Hi," whispered the girl.

"Are you the Governor's daughter?"

She nodded once. She was clearly terrified.

Linnette felt giddy with relief. "You know the letters?"

The Governor's daughter didn't answer.

"The letters Sam- Mr Brown- sent to you?"

Another nod.

"Do you know where they are?"

A single shake of the head.

"Have you any idea?"

No answer.

"Look," said Linnette. "I'm not going to hurt you. I want to help you." She sat down on the bed next to the Governor's daughter. "My name's Linnette. This is Michael. Sam sent us. What's your name?"

The Governor's daughter sighed. She looked about Linnette's age, and was wearing a thin, flimsy golden dress. "Phoenix."

"All right, Phoenix, do you know where your father keeps the letters Sam sent you?"

"No. Please… where is Sam?"

"He's dead."

Phoenix gave a little smothered gasp. She did not faint or cry, however, merely stared out of the window. Her face looked suddenly much older and very tired.

"All right," said Linnette. "I'll go and find the letters. You stay here. All right? Or would you like a drink or something?"

"No," said Phoenix quietly. Then she seemed to come back to the present. "No, thank you. And you needn't worry about the letters."

"What do you mean?"

"Publish and be damned, as the great Wellington put it."

"But these letters… are not the sort of letters which should be passed round in public circles, ma'am."

"Phoenix, please. I don't care who reads them, you understand. I don't want to marry that horrible army captain and I won't."

"Nevertheless, would you not rather the letters were found and destroyed, for the sake of… your reputation?"

"I don't have a reputation any more."

"On the contrary you are the daughter of a… respected gentleman in the community. I know you feel terrible over Sam-"

"I don't."

"I beg you pardon?"

"I don't. Not any more."

In the chair, Michael groaned. Linnette, anxious and guilty, bit her lip. She knelt down by the chair. "Michael, Michael, sweetheart, are you all right?"

Michael mumbled.

"Michael?"
"Yes." He pushed himself upright. "May I borrow a sheet, madam?" he said to Phoenix "and apply a tourniquet?".

Phoenix silently pointed to the drawer. Linnette hurried over and began fashioning a tourniquet out of a sheet and fastening around Michael's leg. The blood began to come back into his face.

Meanwhile, Linnette continued to try to talk to the distrait, nervous Phoenix.

"You're over Sam."
"I loved him. And he loved me. And now he's dead. For being…"

"A murderer."

"Aye. A murderer because he loved me. Yes, I'm over him. I'm all right." She was not. Her eyes were too bright. "I promise."

"Well, if you want to marry someone else, in the future… not the army captain, wouldn't you rather be free? Of the past?"

"I will never marry. I won't marry the army captain. Father can't make me."

"Very well. And you're right. He can't make you marry the army captain. He's… dead."

"Father's dead?" For the first time a smile flickered across Phoenix's face.

"Yes. You're free. But those letters could still get into the wrong hands. The army captain, for instance, could make himself a dangerous enemy in the future. You understand?"

"I told you. I don't care for my reputation."

"But I promised Sam I would get these letters back. Please could you help me? For him?"

"What can he need? He's dead."

"There's such a thing as… as a man's memory, I think. He's already dead. How much more does society need to punish him?"

"He's a sentimental fool."
"Very well. Michael and I shall find the letters ourselves. Good luck in your future life, madam."

"You too. And yes. Go. Go now, please."

Linnette helped Michael up and they turned to leave.

And that moment a man came through the door. He was expensively dressed, in his mid-twenties, and carried a sword and an elegant cigarette case. He reminded Michael of some of his old school mates.

"Miss- Oh, we have company…"

"Yes, Mr Dalton, they were just leaving."
"Who's this?" said Linnette.

"Mr Dalton. Good night Miss Fortescue."

"That's not really an answer, Phoenix."

"And I don't see that it's any of your business," Phoenix snapped.

"I think it is," said Michael. He sounded exhausted, but grim. "I know an overdressed rat when I see one. I've seen enough in my time."

"All right," said Phoenix. She tipped her head up. "I'm his mistress. There. Go on, be shocked."

"I'm not shocked," said Linnette. "I'm travelling Europe with a murderer. But… it's a bit soon after Sam."

"Mr Dalton is going to take me out of this miserable hole. He's going to take me to England." Phoenix's icy calm was breaking down. She was tearing up. "He's going to give me money, and clothes, and jewels. He's going to put me in variety shows."

"Variety shows…" said Linnette. She tried to think of a tactful way to put it. "My aunt always told me never to go to variety shows." It was true that Martha had told her just that.

"Go away," said Phoenix. "Go away and take your perfect murderer husband with you."

"He's not my husband."

"Then I don't see why your criticising me. I have Mr Dalton. You have murderer boy."

"Except Michael isn't going to take me round Europe and put me in shows."

Phoenix's jaw set. "Go away. I'm not interested in you and your perfect life."

"What exactly is wrong in your life, Phoenix, that even now your father is dead, you still need Mr Dalton? Why not just tell him to go away?"

"Miss Whoever-you-are," began Dalton. "I don't think you understand the situation. Phoenix has agreed to be my mistress. We are going to tour Europe—the world—together." He reached out and touched Phoenix's arm. "Now leave us alone, Miss."

"I'm going nowhere," said Linnette. "You can't make me." She caught Phoenix's eye and Phoenix gave her a look of such stunned, dumb pain that her heart lurched. "Michael, take Mr Dalton outside."

Michael got up from where he had perched on the edge of the dressing table. He took Mr Dalton by the arm and led him out onto the landing. Dance music came through the open door. Mr Dalton paused in the doorway and looked back. "Remember, Phoenix, I can ruin you any time I want to, now." The door closed.

"There," said Linnette, "now they've gone, you and I can talk about everything".

"Why should I talk to you about anything?"

"Because… because Sam trusted me."

Phoenix's face changed.

"I've got nothing," she said quietly. "Father's dead. He's left the house, the money, everything, to my brother. I have nothing. What can an orphaned girl do, Linnette?"

"Won't your brother provide for you?"

"You think my father's son would lift a finger for me?" Phoenix laughed bitterly. "Really?"

"No, maybe not."

"So, what can I do?"

"You could get work," said Linnette. "There's plenty of work."

"I… don't want to be a maid. Maybe… maybe I'm a bad girl, Linnette. Sloth's a sin, isn't it? But I don't want to work all day and into the night and have no money and my hand's get raw and red and when I'm old and can't work any more end up in the poor house. Can't you understand?"
"Yes. But when you're old and not pretty any more, you'll go to the poor house just the same. Rich men's mistresses have a high turnover rate. And there's no too much money in shows."

"But I'm young and pretty now. I don't want to go down a mine." The tears began to stream down her face. "I don't want to hunch over like a gremlin and breath coal dust."

"I understand."

"I know I'm a bad girl, but would you like to go down a mine?"
"No. And I was born a poor girl too, you know."

"So you became Michael's mistress. So don't preach."
"I'm not preaching. And I'm not his mistress. I just love him."
Phoenix giggled.

"How is that funny? It's true."
"Wait until he gets his way. See how much he loves you then."
"Sam loved you."

"And now he's dead."

"So what?"

"So he can't save me, can he?"

"You don't need someone to save you."

"All right. So what do I do?"

"You can pack some clothes. You can walk out of your bedroom and out of this house. I'll give you some money and you can go down to the docks and catch a ship going… anywhere. Anywhere at all. Where do you want to see?"

"South America."

"Go there then."

"You make it sound so easy."
"It is easy."

Phoenix dried her tears. "How do I make money then? How do I live?"

"The way I do. Steal it. Kill for it. Get lucky."
"You're a criminal?"

"Yes. I told you, Michael's a murderer."

"I thought he killed someone once!" Phoenix laughed. A real laugh this time. "I didn't think you both do it for a living. I can't believe this. I have a criminal in my bedroom, talking to me, giving me life advice."

"Yes."
"I can't be… a murderess."

"Why not?"
"Murder's wrong."
"Not always."
"I makes you a bad person."
"Being a rich man's mistress makes you a bad person."
"I thought you said you weren't preaching!"
"I won't if you won't."

"The Bible says it's wrong."

"The Bible says it's wrong to follow Mr Dalton around Europe, letting him put you in shows."

"I doubt if it's mentioned in so many words."
"No, but that's the gist."
"Murder's still wrong."
"Sometimes people ask for it."
"I doubt I could tell that to a judge. When I'm hanged."

"Is that what you're afraid of?"

"I don't want to die. Is that wrong?"

"No."

"I'm a church member, I do believe in Heaven, I do, I promise! I'm a good girl…"
"Why are you so anxious to prove to me that you're a good girl? Me, of all people?"

"The Bible says murderers will go to Hell."

"Afraid of bumping into your victims? Because that could be awkward, I admit."

Phoenix laughed again. "Seriously, though, doesn't that bother you?"
"The only thing I ever really learnt about Hell is it's almighty hot and I'll go there for reading paperback novels. Now that's a commandment which really seems to have been missed off the slab. Huge thing, the Bible, no mention of Newgate Novels or reading Kidnapped under the desk."

"I ain't… I ain't a good girl any more."

"What do you mean, you ain't a good girl?"

"If Ma were still alive… she wouldn't like me talking to Mr Dalton."

"It's all right. You never have to talk to him again."
"My name… isn't really Phoenix. It's Mary."

"That's a nice name."
"I called myself Phoenix when I spoke to Mr Dalton… because… because I wanted to be… someone else. And I still do. What… oh, God, what would Sam think?"

"I don't believe he'd think anything."

"I haven't got the guts to be a murderer."

"Yes, you do."

"I swear I'm a bad person for even thinking about it… How's it better than being Mr Dalton's mistress really?"

"Because…. Because the life I have is my life. For me. I tried being a good girl once. I lived in a bare room and wore plain frocks. Now I can do… I can do whatever I want. I don't have to lie to anyone—unless I want to, I'm a very good liar, actually—or flatter anyone or call anyone "sir". I can wear pretty dresses-"

"Mr Dalton would buy me pretty dresses."

"But these are my pretty dresses."
"And you steal things? And kill people?"

"Only when they irritate me."

Mary laughed. "You're mad."

"Perhaps. But all the best people are a little mad."

Mary fell silent. She got up off the bed and went to the mirror on the wall. She studied her reflection for a minute. Then she turned to Linnette with a little shrug.

"What should I do?"

"Come with me." Linnette drew her sword and turned the hilt to Mary. The moonlight falling through the window danced on her purple silk dress and her sleek black hair. The sword gleamed silver, the lamp light making little flames run up and down the blade. The front of her ball gown was soaked with the blood of Michael and Mary's father. She looked impossibly beautiful.

Mary reached out as if mesmerised. She took the hilt of the sword and held it. "I… I can have this?"
"Yes," said Linnette.

"Thank you."

"Pleasure."

Mary took the sword from Linnette and held it aloft. She swung it back and forth through the air and the blade swished as if it were singing. She laughed.

"Now," said Linnette. "Practicalities. You have no money at all?"

"None."
Linnette rummaged in her purse. "Here are five pounds. You must pack a valise. Do you have one?"

"Yes. On top of my wardrobe."
"Shall I help you pack?"
"Yes please, if you wouldn't mind. I only have a few things, though. I can always get new clothes, can't I? Like yours."

Mary fetched her valise from the top of the wardrobe and began to put her hair bush and a few small perfume bottles from the dressing table into it. Linnette chose a few of Mary's nicer dresses—there is no need to bother with "practical day dresses" when one's a crook—and put them in the valise.

"I don't want to be called Phoenix any more. But… I don't want to be called Mary either. I'm done with this life."

"Good. A fresh start.

"So you don't think I'm being silly."

"Not at all."
"I was tired of father bullying me, tired of army captains who wanted to marry me, tired of… feeling bad about Sam. I was going to be the Phoenix who rose from the ashes. Except I don't want to be Mr Dalton's toy lady friend either. I'm going to be…" She laughed. "I can't think of one."

"Are you thinking elegant and aristocratic? Short and sweet? Symbolic? Allusive? Subtle? Down-right ostentatious?"

"Oh, something obvious."
"Obvious… hmm. Obviously she must be outstandingly beautiful."

"Obviously."

"And spirited."
"Indeed."
"And she has to be someone who doesn't die tragically."

"That bit's important."

"Which makes it hard. Guinevere dies tragically… Elaine the Lily dies tragically… Patience Heatherstone—ever read Children of the New Forest?—but she's a bit wet… Marion?"

"All right. Marion it is. Aye…" Mary—Marion—gazed out of the window at the stars. "I like Marion."

"Marion it is then."
Marion wrapped herself in her cloak and gathered up her valise.

"Before you met Michael… were you frightened?"
"No. And you won't be either. You've just got to have a little faith in life."
"Do you think I'll ever meet someone like Michael?"

"I hope so… I think so. It's another one of these things you've got to have a little faith in."

"You have a lot of faith…"

"I've got Michael."
"I've got Sam… in a way. I'm going to go… and be a crook. A thief. A… murderer. Not dying will be a miracle. Perhaps one day, I'll meet someone who isn't like Mr Dalton or that lieutenant or the army captain. Someone who's… not exactly like Sam, I don't want to replace him. But… who loves me like Sam. That would be two miracles. Is that too much to ask for?"
"I'm alive and I got Michael. That's two miracles. It's do-able."

"So you do believe in miracles!"

"Whatever made you think I might not?"
"Well. You don't believe in God."

Linnette gasped, then laughed. "I did not say that, you wicked girl! Stop putting words in my mouth."
"See. I told you I was a bad girl!" But now Marion was smiling. "Now, out there is Mr Dalton."

"Don't worry about him," said Linnette. "Leave him to me."

They emerged from the room, however, to find Michael sitting in the window alcove, holding a bundle of letters over a candle flame, while Mr Dalton's corpse sprawled on the rug.

"Hi, ladies. Sorry if you wanted him for anything. He was irking me." Michael smiled and studied a small brass statue of a Greek goddess with distinct blood stains on the base. "Functional decoration! I love it."

"No, no," said Linnette. "I don't want him, sweetheart. Yes, just leave the body—that's our favourite tactic," she explained to Marion. "Now, if you've had enough of that undeniably excellent champagne I suggest we take our leave of the people who have so kindly allowed us to gate crash them for the evening."

"You can't," said Michael. "He's dead, if you recall."

With that cheering thought the three of them descended the main staircase to the hall. The hall was in some confusion.

A group of young, rather hysterical ladies had gathered round the corpse of the Governor, while a group of young, rather drunk men stood nearby, showing off to the ladies with macabre horror stories and discussing desultorily amongst themselves who would be Governor of Gibraltar now.

Everybody in in the hall looked up as Marion appeared, accompanied by a young woman in a beautiful blood-stained dress and a limping, bleeding young man.

"Oh there you are." A plump woman had descended upon them. "I was just wondering if someone should be sent up to tell you, Miss Mary. Someone's gone for the doctor made I'm afraid it's too late…"
"That's all right, Mrs Taylor."
"Where are you going to in that cloak, Miss Mary?"

"To the shop, Mrs Taylor."
"You are going to the shop? With a sword? You'll be pick-pocketed, Miss Mary, you'll catch your death."

"Thank you for your concern, Mrs Taylor, but I assure you that it is unwarranted. Oh." Marion fumbled in the front pocket of her valise and produced a string of pearls. "Take these."
"What?"
"They're yours, Mrs Taylor, you've earnt them."
"But Miss Mary…"
Marion flung the pearls at Mrs Taylor, who caught them by a reflex. She turned to Linnette and Michael. "Thank you," she said, and swept out of the hall, all eyes upon her, and out into the night.

She was never seen in the Governor's house again. She lived for a good many years and was the terror of the Atlantic shipping lanes, before meeting her end on the gallows in the Caribbean.

"Well," said Michael, to the tipsy and bewildered guests. "Thank you for the lovely party. In the light of the sad tragedy, I think we should just take our leave…"

He took Linnette's arm and they turned to follow Marion.

"Just wait a minute!" It was the man with the Basilisk stare.

"Yes?" said Linnette.

"You killed him!"

"I killed whom, exactly?" said Linnette, all doe-eyed innocence and fake bewilderment.

"You killed the Governor." He approached them, his hand on his sword.

"What," said Michael, "are the grounds for that monstrous accusation?".

"You're those pirates."

The entire hall was a circle of enthralled spectators now. More and more people were emerging from the ball room to come and gawp and the dead body and the mystery guests.

"What pirates?" said Michael, with the end of a mortally offended gentleman.

"I saw you a week ago, you boarded my ship, made off with two boxes of spices. Just because you've dolled yourselves up for the party doesn't mean I don't recognise you."

"You," said Michael—oh, he was magnificent—"are a foul slanderer. If you are attempting to blackmail me or this young lady, I suggest that you move out of our way before we do something distinctly unpleasant to you".

For answer the man whipped out his sword. "Go on then, do it."

Michael drew his own sword. They closed.

Michael had a distinct disadvantage, he was bleeding still a little when he tried to move and his leg hurt to badly for fancy foot-work. Linnette felt anxious for the first time. The other man, however, appeared to be slightly over-boozed. He stumbled, slipped and once or twice nearly lost his footing. Linnette grinned as she watched Michael press home his advantage… then again… then again… and it was over.

Two minutes. The young man lay dead on the floor.

Michael turned to Linnette. "Now," he said, "I suggest we vacate the premises before we get arrested".

The spell-bound audience came to life and began to scream.

Linnette seized Michael's hand and they rushed out of the door into the night, Michael limping and wincing. They crept down to the harbour, with many pauses to allow Michael to catch his breath and control his bleeding, expecting at any moment to be stopped and seized, but nothing happened.

They found Another Gamble and slipped away into the star-lit sea. Behind them they left only the tattered wreck of polite Gibraltarian society.

It took several days for Michael's leg to sort itself out, it hurt for weeks and he limped a little for the rest of his life.

Linnette and Michael sailed to Malaga, where Linnette bought herself another sword, and went overland to Granada and Linnette saw the Alhambra by moonlight. They sailed to Valencia and Barcelona, and enjoyed the smarter bits of the French Riviera, colliding at every turn with respectable holiday-makers from England. The vineyards and hills of southern France were very picturesque. In July, they arrived in Milan, where they played at high society, with Linnette wearing silk dresses and skipping from the Cathedral to the various art galleries, smart shops and theatres as if she were a fashionable young English lady sent to Italy to get "accomplishments". La Scala moved her to tears. Needless to say, nobody had any idea that she was an infamous crook, who found rich pickings in the decadent Milanese social whirl.

The Tyrrhenian Sea provided a bountiful harvest. Imported luxury goods from Europe and north Italy, lemons, olives and grapes from the Mediterranean islands, silk, dates and horses from north Africa all passed through.

As winter closed in, and the fierce winds blew down from the north, they arrived in Naples. They took a trip to Mount Vesuvius and the ruins at Pompeii. They went the galleries in Naples and to the Archaeological Museum. Linnette enjoyed pretty clothes and good wine and plenty of fun—everything she had wanted out of life.

There was one large suburban Villa in particular which soon caught their eyes. Large, stately and opulent-looking, it stood in the midst of palm trees and mountains of exotic flowers. When the shipping had declined for the winter, they went to the Villa to case the joint.

"What do you reckon?" asked Michael, peering through the window. "Pictures? Statues?"

"Statues. I don't fancy lumbering around Naples with a huge Renaissance portrait under my arm."

They strolled round the Villa, admiring it from all sides.

"Well, this looks easy enough," said Michael.

"Tonight?" said Linnette.

"Why wait? When they lock the park gates we'll hide among the trees, come back to the villa and see what we can find."

They retreated to the far end of the park and sat down behind some trees. Twilight came, the evening chorus began from the fat doves in the pine trees.

As the people in the park began to trickle away, Linnette got a distinct impression of being watched. When she looked round, however, there was nobody there, so she relaxed.

"Do you reckon they'll have piles of Roman gold?" she asked.

"I hope so. Mountains of treasure from the crusades!"

The gates were being shut below them now, heavy iron bars being drawn across.

"I reckon we should stay here for a few minutes," she said. "Long enough for the guards to relax a bit."

"Good idea," said a voice behind her.

Linnette whirled round, her hand flying to her gun. A young man was leaning against a tree, looking as if he had been quite comfortable there since the dawn of time, and would be quite happy for several aeons more. He was nicely dressed and on one finger was a huge ruby.

"Who are you?" she asked. "And don't you know better than to listen to a private conversation?"

"A private conversation between a couple of criminal masterminds? I think not. I think it my duty as a good citizen to listen and report it."

"Why didn't you sneak off and report it then?" asked Michael.

"As you can probably tell from the fact that I'm creeping round the grounds of a private Villa after dark, I'm not a good citizen."

"You still haven't answered my first question," said Linnette. "Who are you?"

"I'm Giacomo San Giovanni. My friends call me Giacomo. People who have me at gun point can call me Mr San Giovanni."

"That's my line," said Linnette.

"People who have you at gun point aren't people you can make demands of," said Michael.

"I'm not your conventional hold-up victim," said San Giovanni. He reached out, took hold of Michael's hand and calmly shifted his gun five inches to the right. "Not expecting that, good sir?"

Michael sighed. "Cut the cross-talk act and cut to the chase."

Their maddening guest only smiled. "Why am I the only one who's made introductions? How rude…"

"I'm Linnette Fortescue," said Linnette.

"Charmed."
"And this is Michael Leeford."

"Charmed."

"And you want?" said Linnette.

"I want to rob that Villa. And so do you. How fortunate for all of us."
"You can't just invite yourself to our party," said Michael.

"What?" He grinned. "Lovers' tryst?"

"Yes," said Linnette. "It's more intellectually stimulating than the music hall."

Michael glared at San Giovanni. "You are not necessary."

"No, and nor are you, but we can help each other."
"And the reason you're not going to stab us in the back is?"

"You have my word as a… thief."
"Aye," said Linnette, "very trustworthy".

"I trust you, madam, and now, I think you suggested we just wait here for a bit, until the guards relax. A very good idea."

That was what they did, returning to the villa in the twilight, as the last rays of the setting sun cast its lilac glow over the paths between the cypresses. It looked like a night for violin music and coffee in the piazza. Or major felony.

At first it was easy. There was a wide, curving window at the back of the palace, opening onto the terrace. Linnette tested the lock. Locked. She had it open in a few moments, and pushing up the sash, whirled round at the sound of a polite "excuse me" from behind her.

A guard stood there, sword drawn, waving a lamp in their face.

"This is private property, you are not—" he broke off as he found three guns in his face.

"You will keep walking," said Linnette. "You didn't see anything here."

"I'll have you arrested—"

"I hate to shoot a man just doing his job," said Michael. "I really do. So I'm giving you one last chance to move right now. Here." A gold hundred lira piece glinted in the lamplight. That decided it.

"All right. But mind, if we ever meet when you don't have a gun…"

"That will never happen," said Linnette, as the guard turned to walk away.

She ducked through the window with Michael and San Giovanni.

"Do you reckon he's gone to raise the alarm?" said Michael.

"I expect so," said San Giovanni. "But if we want it too easy we can go to a tavern and play cards for our fortunes. We're the nerves of steel club."

They were standing in a large, well-appointed lounge.

They could take their pick: a marble statuette of Venus, a delicate Japanese fan, a jade dragon. They went out into the corridor. It was dark there and quiet. Linnette admired the pile carpets and stylish wall paper which were still, after years in the crime life, a startling luxury.

They went into the dining room. Nobody was about. Quietly at first, then with growing confidence, they whispered among themselves.

"Whereabouts are you from?" asked San Giovanni.

"England," said Linnette and Michael.

"Venice. But I've travelled a lot. Parents big international crooks."

"No? Really?"

"Really. I'm the dutiful son, me, going into the family business."

"I ran away from home," said Michael.

"I don't have a home," said Linnette.

"Your parents are crooks despite being called San Giovanni?" said Michael.

"Well, they've got to do something to compensate for being crooks. Get some afterlife good points. Also, it sounds so aristocratic, don't you think?"

"Are you aristocratic?" asked Linnette.

"Unless you count the highest circle of criminal society aristocratic, no, I'm not."

"Let's go upstairs," said Michael. He knew, of course, that the further upstairs they went the higher their chance of colliding with a member of the law-abiding public, but they could not resist the temptation. They had got this far, after all. They went upstairs and helped themselves to a small jewel-encrusted shell on the mantelpiece of the fire on the landing. Apart from a few pot plants, there was nothing much on this landing.

They crept upstairs again and found themselves in a long gallery, with windows down the side looking out over the garden. At the end was a statue of Aphrodite. It was not a particularly large statue, but it would be heavy. Not the sort of thing Linnette wanted to lug around Naples all night.

"Is this the Lost Aphrodite?" asked San Giovanni suddenly.

"What?"

"In a book I read as a kid. King Minos—this is ridiculous, right, I warn you now—made the most beautiful statue of the goddess Aphrodite after she came to him in a vision, gave the statue to the king of Atlantis and never saw it again. Atlantis drowned beneath the waves. Most of the rest of the book was swordplay and bodices coming undone. Some quite anachronistic Atlantean bodices."

"Maybe they did have bodices in Atlantis," said Linnette. "I read a book where the Atlanteans had, you know, those incandescent bulb things. And flying machines, too, I think. But what makes you think this is the Lost Aphrodite?"

She looks the same as she did in the picture on the front cover.

"Most likely," said Michael, "Mr San Giovanni's childhood reading matter is pure fantasy, the thing before us is a decades-old plaster job, ten-a-penny". But he sounded faintly wistful as he said it.

"Spoil sport," said Linnette.

That decided it.

"All right," said Michael. "Let's go."

He picked up the head of Aphrodite. Linnette took old of the middle and, just as San Giovanni was about to grab the feet, a door swung open to reveal an astonished guard with a rifle.

He had the disadvantage of surprise. San Giovanni shot him as he raised his gun to fire. The noise crashed around the gallery.

"I bet that's an interesting alarm clock," he said.

There was a clattering of feet in the passage to their left. Linnette looked back and realised that their way down the stairs was cut off by two men at the head of the stairs and an indeterminate number crashing up from below.

As she dived through the double doors at the end of the gallery, still clutching Aphrodite round the waist, she caught a glimpse of a beautiful young woman in a jewel-encrusted dressing gown and a huge, excited, hairy dog with a silk ribbon tied to its head. She jumped backwards as two bullets crashed through the door before they slammed it shut.

She dropped Aphrodite to drag the bar across. Then she moved out of the way of any bullets which might come through the doors and stared through the big window, covering about half the far wall, which was their only way of escape.

The place was clearly a ladies' boudoir or sitting room. Ladies' plural because there was no sign—alas—of a door with any other room. Except for the window, they were cornered.

Cautiously, Linnette approached the window. There were lights coming on outside. Men were shouting, dogs were barking.

"What do you reckon?" asked Linnette.

"If we go down there," said Michael, "we have to fight off guards with guns and dogs".

"More to the point," said San Giovanni, "how on Earth do you propose getting down?".

"The ivy?" said Linnette. Behind her, bullets crashed into the wooden door.

"There is no ivy." There was an outraged battering on the door.
"We climb down the wall," said Michael. The bolt on the door shook.

"Down a sheer drop in the dark? Three floors?" said San Giovanni calmly. He sounded faintly amused.

"He has a point, Michael."

They shoved the other bolts across the door just as a bullet whizzed clean through the wood and just past Michael's head. More bullets followed. They ducked away quickly.

"The trees?" said Michael.

"They're too far away, mate," said San Giovanni. "And it's still a—what?, six foot?, ten foot?—drop down".

"You in there," said a voice. An aristocratic voice. Icy. Commanding. "Drop your weapons. Drop that statue. Come out. Right now. Otherwise we will break down this door and slay you where you stand. Surrender is your only hope of survival."

"Sir," replied Linnette. "We are ready to defend our lives and our criminal livelihood to the last drop of blood. There is still the door between you and us. We shall sell our lives dearly and you shall not come at that statue save over our dead bodies. Good evening, sir."

There was a moment's silence, then a renewed burst of shooting at the door.

"All right," said Michael quietly. "We can't go out through the door or we'll die a bloody death. We can't go down..."

San Giovanni was grinning. "Are you thinking what I'm thinking?"

"I think so," said Michael.

"If I am," said Linnette, "then it's terrible. But brilliant".

"We can go up," said San Giovanni.

Linnette looked up. It was actually simple enough to climb up onto the roof. Once there, it was easy enough to climb along the ridge of the roof and thence down some of the trees at the back.

"All right," said Michael, "let's go".

"You two go first," said San Giovanni. "Then Mr Leeford can help you, Miss Fortescue, if you need it."
"I don't think I shall," said Linnette. "But all right. If you're quite certain you can manage that statue by yourself."

"I think so. I have an idea."

San Giovanni walked over to one of the stylish tapestries on the wall. Carelessly he pulled it down and tied it around the little Aphrodite and then around himself, so it looked as if he were giving the statue a pick-a-back. Linnette burst out laughing. "I guess that could work," she said.

"All right," said Michael. "Let's go." He took her hand and they climbed out onto the window sill.

Michael went first, then Linnette grabbed hold of the edge of the roof and pulled herself up. There was a giddy moment as her feet left the window sill and she hung over nothing, then she swung herself up to the (relative) safety of the edge of the roof. She stood up carefully. The wind which had barely existed in the garden was stronger up here. The line of trees which would provide their escape were at the back of the Villa. There was another clump, much further away, on the other side of the roof, but there was no point going over there.

"The near clump," said San Giovanni, slightly breathlessly, as he swung himself onto the roof, just as a huge crash in the room below indicated that the outraged palace-dwellers had come to reclaim their statue—only to find the cage empty and the bird flown.

Linnette scrambled along the roof. The only light came from the stars. She had to practically feel her way, testing each foothold. One slip and she would undoubtedly fall to her death. She reached a chimney stack and looked behind her. San Giovanni was still there, following them, with Aphrodite strapped to his back. She stepped forward, her foot slipping along the tiling. Her breath froze in her lungs. She held her balance by a miracle, felt the giddy rush of triumph and remembered why she loved this life. She cheated death for an evening's entertainment. That never happened in a little village in the South of England. There one died of hypothermia, or cholera or sometimes got trampled by cows. None of them particularly entertaining.

"You all right?" said Michael.

"Yes, love."

Then two bullets crashed into the roof right in front of her. It just got even more interesting.

Linnette grinned and crouched low against the gable. Silence. She darted forward. Crack! said the guns in the garden below.

"They're shooting at us," said Michael.

"Captain obvious."

"Should we shoot back?"

"And risk giving our position away?" Another bullet missed Linnette's head by an inch. Michael grabbed by the back of the head and slammed her face into the chimney pot. "Not helping," she muttered, as her lip burst and a stream of blood poured out of her nose.

"Sorry, darling."

"To Hell with our position," said Linnette, sitting up. "That was just rude."

She pulled out her gun and fired at a lantern. The lantern lurched and went out. Linnette grinned as a hail of bullets landed around them.

They crept further along the roof, but only one more volley of bullets came. The Villa guards clearly preferred not to play killer tag with invisible criminals.

They reached the trees. Now came the hard bit. Linnette balanced on the edge of the roof. She judged, as best she could in near total darkness, the distance between the roof and the trees. She could not afford—she really could not afford—to make a mistake over the sheer drop.

"Ready?" she asked Michael.

"When you are."

She took his hand.

"Three," she said. "Two. One. Jump!".

They jumped.

Linnette grabbed hold of a branch only for it to slide through her fingers. She grabbed another and felt herself land in the tree. She sat for a moment, gasping with relief and exultation. Then she turned to look back and the roof.

"Where's San Giovanni?"

"I don't know. I hope he's not dead."
Linnette grinned. "I doubt it. Mr San Giovanni seems quite capable of taking care of himself, don't you think?"

Indeed, when they climbed down from the tree and began prowling around the gardens round the outside of the Villa, there was no sign of San Giovanni, his body or the statue.

"You don't think…" said Linnette, a horrible thought entering her mind.

"That he double crossed us?" Michael's face was grim. "I'm glad it's not just me being cynical."
"So much for his word as a thief!"

"Well," said Michael. "If he thinks we'll give the Lost Aphrodite up for lost, sail away and forget it, he's got another think coming."

"Where do you reckon he is?"

"Don't know. Shouldn't be too hard to find. Irritatingly smug Venetian crook."

They lost no time. San Giovanni had never mentioned anywhere where he might be staying, so they asked around the bars. Nothing. "If you do see him," Linnette always said, "let us know. It's fairly urgent".

"Maybe he just arrived," said Linnette, come the dawn, as the most determined late-night drinkers wended their way home.

"Maybe he's already left."

"We'll find him if it kills us."

"Indeed. There must be somewhere, even in a city the size of Naples, where he's hiding and if we scour this city with a fine tooth-comb we'll find him."

They sat at a table on the street outside a little café, in one of the shabbier quarters of Naples. Linnette glanced around her at the half-dozen or so Neapolitans who wandered down the street, either starting their day or ending it. At the end of the street was a little girl in a shabby blue frock. She approached them cautiously.

"Hi," said Linnette. "Ciao."

The girl smiled. "Ciao." She went on in English, only hesitating a bit over some of the words. "You're the English people who have come off the boat, yes?"

"Yes," said Linnette. "Who are you?"

"My name's Lucia. I live… I… really I have no home. Normally the nice woman who runs a bakery lets me sleep on the shop floor, provided I never touch anything."
"And don't you touch anything?"

"No. She'd be angry if I did. Are you looking for Mr San Giovanni?"

"Yes."
"I know where he is. He has a little room at the bottom of the crypt in the monastery at Santa Chiara."
"What's he doing there?"

"Living."

"No, I mean, why live there when he can probably afford anywhere in the city?"

"He is alone. He will not be disturbed. He can go where he likes and watch everybody and nobody watches him—or at least, he thinks so! I watch him. I watch everything in this city."

"You're very clever, Lucia."

Lucia beamed with joy. "Thank you. Also, I think he just likes to live in a crypt in a monastery. He finds it exciting, or something. Certainly it looks very dramatic. There are already people who say he worships the Devil."

"And does he?"

"Not that I know of. And I know everything, as I said."

"Shame. I'd have liked to meet a real, live Devil-worshipper in my life."

"That is all," said Lucia. "Goodbye."
"No," said Linnette. "You can't simply go like that."
"No?"
"No, we have to pay you…"
"You. Will. Pay. Me?"

"Yes," said Michael. "Of course."
"Here." Linnette pressed a hundred liras into her hand.

Lucia's eyes stared out of her head.

"Buy yourself a gun," said Michael.

"And a pretty frock," said Linnette.

"And rob a train."

"And live like an Empress on the pickings for ever."

"I shall be a criminal?"

Linnette grinned. "Criminal queen."

"Thank you."

"Pleasure."

Lucia ran off up an alleyway grinning.

Linnette and Michael waited until nightfall, then made their way to the Santa Chiara church and nearby monastery. All was dark and silent. Monks, Linnette thought, probably went to bed early. They made their way easily enough through a window, across the corridor, out to the central courtyard and thence to the entrance of the crypt.

It took a while. The monastery was large and rambling and Linnette wondered if they did it on purpose to bewilder the laity. The slightly overdone gargoyles and Madonnas, peering out from every corner, were starting to get on her nerves. Down in the crypts it was bitter cold and pitch dark. Mercifully, a torch hung on the wall by the mouth of the crypt, and Linnette had some matches. With the torch, they could at least see where they were going. Not that it was particularly pleasant to see. Vaults of marble and dull black rock lined the tunnel. Narrow, dark tunnels led off to the left and the right. Linnette wondered where, if she were Giacomo San Giovanni, she would hide.

Presumably nowhere too conspicuous. What about this tunnel, leading off to the left?

"How about down here?" she whispered to Michael.

They crept forward—turned a corner—and saw a soft yellow glow. Linnette grinned. Here at last, then.

She took Michael's hand and the two of them raised their guns and burst forward. Unfortunately, there was a step down into the room. Unfortunately, she never saw it. Unfortunately, they crashed into the marble Aphrodite, nearly went flying and, when they picked themselves up, found San Giovanni's gun pointing at their heads.

"Hi, people. Nice you could join me. Drinks on the house. What's it to be?"

Linnette admired San Giovanni's room, favourably impressed. After the dark, cold, bleak crypt, this little room, which looked as if it had been a shrine before being converted into a bandit's lair, was actually quite welcoming, with all the lamps lit and rugs on the floor. Bed, wooden chest, booze, biscuits, a pile of plunder of various types. Small furry animal sitting on the bed.

"Thanks but no thanks," said Linnette. "We're here strictly on business. By the way, nice little place you've got yourself here. Des res in a crypt."

"Thanks. Notice please, the human skull I use as a book end. It's some kind of 13th century monk who had an affair with the abbot's mistress and was buried alive. Apparently his ghost wanders the corridor to this day. I find it lends the place a touch of atmosphere. Reminds me of its origins, as it were."

"Yes, well, about that business," said Linnette. "We're all standing here covering each other with our guns—you weren't supposed to notice us until we said "hands up" but after embarrassing failure that plan got scrapped, which evens the odds a little—and there are two of us and one of you-"

"I can count, you know, I went to school."

"So I suggest-"

"Strongly suggest," said Michael.

"Strongly suggest, then, that you but your gun down and allow us to peaceably depart from this place, bearing the Lost Aphrodite."

"Suppose I say no?"

"You get shot."

"I can shoot too. And my gun is aimed straight, unlike yours."

Linnette tried to inconspicuously adjust her aim so the gun was pointing at San Giovanni's head. A bullet cracked into the floor at her feet. She caught her breath slightly but rage held her rooted to the spot. This man had cheated her out of what was rightfully hers and she wanted it back.

"Don't move your gun, Miss Fortescue, I can happily play target practice all night, but I'm not sure you would be so happy after a few rounds."

"Don't you dare threaten my girlfriend." Michael's voice was ice cold and as deadly.

San Giovanni seemed oblivious. "Oh, I don't want to shoot a girl, I really don't. However, I'm sure you'll agree Miss Fortescue isn't exactly a damsel in distress. Now, are you sure you won't have a drink?"
"Yes please," said Linnette. She saw no reason why not, after all. She would not have to put her gun down. San Giovanni would hopefully put his down and then they could arrange more equal terms for a duel, for she hated to shoot an unarmed man, especially a man who was giving her a drink.

San Giovanni, however, did not put his gun down. He held it dead level while he got a bottle of wine and two glasses and put them on the table. He looked at Linnette narrowly, in a way which disconcerted her slightly, and she suddenly wondered if he had something up his sleeve. He looked her dead in the eye. Then he put the gun down.

Linnette took this opportunity to move her own gun so it was pointed straight at San Giovanni. He smiled as he filled the glasses. "Taking this opportunity to defend yourselves?" He handed them the glasses. "Excellent."

Linnette raised the glass to her lips.

"I do hate to kill my enemies un-armed."

Then Linnette understood. She grabbed Michael's hand and dashed the glass away. It shattered on the stone floor, her own glass falling on top of it. The room was deluged in broken glass.

"What?" said Michael, slightly irritated. "Sweetheart, that was a good glass of wine."

"You wanted to poison us!" said Linnette.

San Giovanni shrugged. "I did indeed. What more fitting, here in the home of Lucrezia Borgia-"

"You do realise Lucrezia Borgia was from Subiaco?" said Michael.

"Pedant. What more fitting, here near the home of Lucrezia Borgia, than to give you all poison? Who, after all, would notice a couple more young corpses in this place of death? Not arsenic, though, arsenic poisoning's a very ugly business. Unpredictable, too. This is pure cyanide."

"How did you do it?" said Michael.

"I know," said Linnette. "It was in that enormous ruby ring, wasn't it?"

"Yes. Exactly. Very observant."
"I didn't exactly see you do it. I just didn't trust you."

"Still very clever. Very psychologically astute."

"All right," said Linnette. "So we're back to square one. You're pointing your gun dead between our heads, we're pointing our guns somewhere kind of near you- so don't move."

San Giovanni sat down on the bed.

"All right… sit down. Then don't move!"

"That," said Michael, "was a dirty trick".

"How is it? Just because you're jealous because you don't have a huge poisonous ruby…"

"It was an unfair advantage."

"Aw, sore loser…"
"I haven't lost."
"Yet."
"Look, do you want a duel? Straight up, one-on-one, no clever stuff."
"No, I'd hate to tax your intellect."

"Right, that's it. How do we do this? If, on the count of three, we all put our guns down? Then we discuss the paces and the number of shots and whatever? All right… one… two… three!"

Nobody moved.

"What?" said Linnette. "Scared?"
"Merely not acting like an idiot. If you're not careful, someone will start saying the same to you…"

"I have good reason not to trust you, Cesare Borgia."

"All right," said Michael, trembling with suppressed rage. "We try it again…"

But Linnette and San Giovanni were not finished.

"Cesare Borgia? Anyone would have thought you were some kind of Angel of Rectitude. House breaking… piracy… how many people have you killed?"

"That's how crime works, pampered idiot!"

"Pampered idiot?"

"You're just the spoilt brat of some weird Venetian crime family. Name one thing you've done with your life other than… gate-crash people's conversations, poison them, live in crypts like a mole… only moles are cuter."

"Other than cramp your style? Well, I've stolen the Mona Lisa."

"Really?" Linnette was surprised.

"Yes. What you see in the Louvre is a fake, drawn by me. You're the only person who knows that. And you know that because you're going to die soon."

"Well, I daresay it's easy when you've been raised to the profession from your cradle. What did your god father give you when you were christened? Lock picks? I was raised in a cottage in Hampshire and I've raided the Tower of London."
"With your boy friend."

"What's wrong with team work?"

"I reckon we're just about even, then. I learned from the greats, you've got your incomparably devoted Man Friday to haul you out of difficulty."

"I do not need Michael to haul me out of difficulty. I can look after myself."

"Evidently. That would be why you fell down two steps and nearly broke your neck."
"That was… over-enthusiasm."

"So juvenile?"
"Don't pretend you don't love this stuff, too."

"I don't deny that I love it, I just take a slightly more professional attitude to it—seeing as it is, after all, a profession."

"Whereas for me it's a way of life. You do realise that if it weren't for my business, I would still be living in my Hampshire hovel?"

"Oh, spare me the hard luck story. I spent most of my early years locked in my room with corpses of people my parents had killed, to teach a lesson of what death looks like."
"Whereas I just had to go to the cottage hospital to realise what death looks like."

"Yes but I'll wager you never did go."

"No… I had to eat potatoes, though."

"Oh, the hardship."
"Lots of potatoes… you don't know what that's like."

"I can imagine. If I ever went out stealing and failed to bring something back, I wouldn't eat at all."

"It never got that bad," admitted Linnette. "Only because my father used to send us money, though, and I didn't know that at the time, so it might have been that bad."

"My father threatened to kill me when I was a child. Several times."
"He wouldn't have done it, though."

"Why not? He killed my brother. He threw my sister out of the house for refusing to kill a boy she loved and now she's in the work house. She was thirteen."

"Veritable horror story. My father abandoned me when I was a baby."

"With someone. He didn't exactly throw you into a bush. I spent my childhood watching my parents kill people."

"Well, I left school at the age of twelve to work in a cabbage patch."

"Well, I killed a man at the age of eight."

"That's not having a hard and brutal life. The man you killed got the hard and brutal life. I bet you had a ball."

San Giovanni burst out laughing. "Point taken."

"If you're wondering," said Michael, "I had a lovely childhood. Now, shall we get on with things?".

"Yes, Miss Fortescue, let's," said San Giovanni, ignoring Michael.

"Right," said Linnette. "One to one. Michael, put the gun down."

"But sweetheart-"

"I can deal with him, Michael. Put the gun down."

Michael stuck his pistol back in his belt.

"All right," said Linnette, "now, Mr San Giovanni, I dare you, on the count of three, put your gun down".

"Consider that mutual. And I should warn you, Miss Fortescue, I always do dares."

"So do I. Now. One… two… three."

They lowered their guns, but still held them pointing at the floor.

"All right," said Linnette. "Back to back."

They went back to back.

"You choose the paces, Mr San Giovanni."

"Ten."

They took ten paces, Michael counting.

"One the count of three," said Linnette. "Michael, you count to three." She was not thinking anything. Her blood was tingling the way it always did before a fight. It never occurred to her to wonder whether she would win or lose. She would just fight. What happens happens.

Michael counted three.

Linnette whirled round, already pulling back the trigger. Too soon. The bullet missed by inches. San Giovanni's bullet was—irritatingly—nearer than hers. She felt the heat on the side of her head.

"Nice shot," he said.

Linnette narrowed her eyes, but he seemed to be sincere. "Thanks."

"I wonder, though," he sounded almost wistful, "if you're sure you don't want to put the gun down and… do something more interesting?"

"It is conventional," said Linnette icily, "to put the gun down before beginning to flirt".

"It is conventional for a young lady to come to a young man's house with a calling card and ring the bell."

"Don't you dare flirt with my girlfriend, you whoreson whelp," said Michael.
"Do you even have a door bell?" said Linnette.

"As it happens, yes. That bell."

Linnette glanced as quickly as possible at the ceiling, to make sure he was not just trying to gain an advantage by distracting her, but found that there actually was a large church bell attached to a hook in the ceiling, with a rope leading across a series of ceiling hooks to dangle down outside the door.

"All right," she said. "So I breached etiquette. But then, Mr San Giovanni, I wasn't aware that this season's engagement rings come in cyanide flavour."

"Engagement? You flatter yourself. Just because you dress nicely there's no reason to suppose I'm that interested."

Michael's gun whipped out of his holster like lightning. Linnette's gun whipped back-handed across his face like greased lightning. He stumbled, scowling, blood gushing out of his nose.

"Behave, Michael. This man's mine. I deal with him."

"If you're sure, Lin," mumbled Michael round a couple of broken teeth.

"You've achieved two things," said San Giovanni. "Breaking your young man's nose and moving your gun. Advantage to me, unless you want to refurbish my wall tapestry."
At that moment, Linnette could quite happily have vented her rage on San Giovanni's wall tapestry.

"Why do you keep making me move my gun?"

"Stop playing dirty with a lady, you Casanovine double-dealing mental sadist," spluttered Michael.

"Michael, if you don't shut up I'll break every single bone in your skull. This is personal, do you hear?"

"It's personal for me, too."

"Well, you didn't exactly make it easy for me." She turned back to San Giovanni. "Well?"

"I don't make you do anything. You do it all by yourself… With help from Man Friday- No, don't even think about moving."

Linnette saw his finger tighten on his trigger and realised he was in earnest.

"You play dirty."
"I wasn't aware of a no-talking rule in duelling." San Giovanni moved his gun almost casually to one side. "Now," he said, quite conversationally, to Linnette, "the thing with Man Fridays is they're so terribly easy to shoot".

"You wouldn't…"

"Why not? Surely you can't pretend there's anything unsporting about this, can you? He's a man, he's locked, loaded and levelled and he looks murder." He turned to face Michael.

"It would be no murder to kill you," said Linnette. "It would be justified execution."
"Same to you."
"I don't deny it."

"So," said San Giovanni. "Shall we test your true devotion to this young man of yours? Are you willing to put your gun down and leave quietly, leaving the statue with me, or are we going to have another lovely corpse for this vault?"

Linnette saw a window of opportunity. This arrogant lunatic was playing very nicely into her hands.

"What makes you think I'm so agonisingly attached to him?"

"Aren't you?"
"Other fish in the sea, after all. Might be nice to get a change of scene. Play the field a bit."

"That's the spirit, lady."

"He is, as you can see, exceptionally stupid. Beginning to be more bother than he's worth."

"Oh, I wouldn't say that. Don't be too harsh."

"You haven't had to put up with him for two years."

"So what's it to be, lady? Lose your statue, or lose your bodyguard?"

The standing lamp on the nearby table crashed across the back of Giacomo San Giovanni's head. The last thing he ever said was "or neither".

"Gun or no gun," said Linnette quietly and viciously, "never turn your back on an angry Northerner. And never, ever threaten a Northerner's boyfriend".

She stepped over his body and kissed Michael until they were both breathless.

"I guess," she said, "the crypts got a lovely corpse after all—Devil's brat".

"But you liked him."

"So did you."

She lifted the small furry creature up of the bed and cuddled him against her. He blinked impossibly cute eyes at her.

"Oh, he's adorable," she said. "Do you know what he is?"

"No," said Michael. "Seems to be some kind of giant mouse." He laughed.

"What?"

"You! Kneeling in the blood of a man you killed and cuddling a fluffy. I love you."

"I know that."
They took the Lost Aphrodite and the small furry creature and climbed back to the land of the living.

It was not very late. The little shop down by the harbour which sold every kind of stolen and smuggled object was still open. The small furry creature curled up quite contently on Linnette's shoulder and licked her ear.

"Hi," said Linnette, leaning on the counter. "Got a real gem."

"The capybara?"

"The what?"

"On your shoulder?"
"Oh, no, he's not for sale. I meant the Lost Aphrodite. Genuine Atlantis."

The man who ran the fence studied the Lost Aphrodite in detail for some time.

"That's a cheap copy, made last year in Athens," he said.

Back on Another Gamble that night, sailing out into the moonlit Tyrrhenian Sea, Linnette cuddled the capybara on her lap.

"Do you think he'd like some hot milk?"

"I'm sure he'd love some hot milk."

Michael got up to get the hot milk and Linnette, watching him as she leaned back on the bed against the cabin wall, wondered why she loved him so ridiculously much.

"Here, little fellow." Michael put the bowl of warm milk down on the bed next to the capybara.

"He needs a name," said Linnette.

"How about… Fluffy?"

"Fluffy the Terrible?"
"Fluffy the Terrible it is."
Fluffy the Terrible set to work on his bowl of milk, lapping up the milk with his little pink tongue and licking it off his whiskers.

Linnette scratched his head and he squeaked softly. When she got behind his right ear he stretched out, closed his eyes, lowered his chin serenely into his milk and purred like a happy cat.

Michael put his arm round Linnette and she leant her head on his shoulder.

"Still alive, Lin."
"Oh, we're always alive, aren't we?" She laughed drowsily. "What a team, eh?"

"Lin?"

"Mm?"

"You're beautiful."
"Really?"

"And… nice."
"Do continue. This is just what I like to hear."

"Erm… your eyes…"
"What about them?"
"Well, they're… nice."
"Nice?"

"Beautiful."

"I love you," said Linnette. "Just never be a poet."

"Excuse me! I'm writing a poem, I'll have you know."
"What's it about?"

"You, of course."
"Let's hear it."
"You're not supposed to hear it until it's finished."
"When will that be?"
"Well… erm… at the current rate of progress…"
"Better hear it then."
Michael produced a scrap of paper from his shirt pocket. He unfolded it, cleared his throat and announced with a melodramatic flourish.

"Ode to a Fair Maiden—that's you," he added in a whisper.

He cleared his throat again. "I know a girl called Linnette Fortescue." He stopped and looked at Linnette expectantly.

"Go on."
"That's it."
"Oh." Linnette hadn't been expecting much, but this surpassed her low expectations. Fortunately, she loved Michael the man, not the aspiring poet. She still laughed, though, before guiltily trying not to.

Michael laughed too. "I would say don't laugh, but… it's a pretty dire poem. The point is… the point is… I'm no poet but honest to God, Linnette, you're the only person like you I've ever met and you're only woman I've ever loved and when your eyes go twinkle-twinkle it gives me a reason to live." And he kissed her.

Linnette felt happier than she'd ever felt in her life. Eventually, when they could no longer breathe, she sat back and laughed uncontrollably, without thinking what, if anything, she was laughing at.

"The good thing is, I love you too." They kissed again. "Cue confetti and happy ever after."

Fluffy the Terrible raised his head and frowned at them.

"Oh," said Linnette. "The withering scorn."

Fluffy wriggled out of the way with ruffled dignity and Linnette returned to kissing Michael. Pity, she thought, that there was nobody around to witness the scandalous behaviour of a young unmarried woman kissing a young unmarried man on a luxury pirate ship several hundred miles from home.

She had got it pretty well in life, when all was said and done. Here she was, young and strong and very pretty even if she did say so herself, with Michael Leeford, the best partner in crime any girl bandit could have wished for.

"You're an angel, Linnette Fortescue," said Michael. "An angel who, erm… insert corny phrase of choice."
"An angel with eyes that go twinkle-twinkle?"

"Yes."

"Funny kind of angel, with a pistol."
"The angel in the Garden of Eden had a sword. You're just bringing it up to date."

Kiss. Kiss. Kiss.

Linnette wondered how she had ever lived without Michael Leeford. He was such a sweet boy. So kind, so gentlemanly, so… well, he was a murderous madman, but that was why they were good together. And he loved her. She only had to look at the way his eyes were shining, at the way that, since they had first met, he had smiled at her every time he looked at her, at the bunch of flowers he always kept in the locked cabinet—and which usually fell over on the high seas.

It was lovely to have a mountain of gold and exotic spices, but it was better to have Michael Leeford.

She was sitting on Michael's lap, now, they were curled up at the head of the bed, Michael unpinning Linnette's hair. But she did not really realise what they were doing until he started unfastening the back of her bodice.

Linnette froze.

"Lin?"

She pushed his hands away, struggled to her feet, gasping.

"Lin, are you all right?"

"Yes… no… I don't know."

She crossed the little cabin to the window. The sea was gentle in the darkness, the little salty breeze lifted her hair off her shoulders and stirred it round. She knew how maddeningly attractive that must look.

What was she doing here? Why was she here? Was she, after all, very stupid and wrong? Did she—really, truly—love Michael? Yes. She knew the answer to that. There was no doubt about that. Yet sitting by the window, looking out at the sea, she suddenly felt afraid.

The huge, dark sky overhead made Another Gamble look so small and fragile, her little orange glow swallowed up by the gathering darkness. Linnette suddenly felt horribly lost and a long way from home.

Home. Where was her home, really? She had heard the phrase a thousand times: "home is where you hang your hat". She hung her hat here, in Another Gamble. "Home is where the heart is." She had no affection, not even a lingering spark, for the village where she had been raised.

But what if, in some far-off future time, when she was an old woman (impossible, said the little voice of vanity in her head, I'll never be an old woman. Impossible, said the tiny voice of some hidden daemon, you won't live to be an old woman…) she wanted to go home? Well, she could, she had a boat.

What would they think of her, there, these staid, respectable village people? That young Miss Jenkins had sailed around the world and come home to them, that was what. They would be proud of her.

Only she would know the truth. The one thing that each and every one of them would slate her for. Hate her for. She was a fallen angel. One of those wild girls. Whatever they wanted to call it, the girls she had grown up with, who might be married now, and expecting children of their own.

Theft was forgivable. Murder was forgivable. To be cheap was not forgivable.

Martha had raised her to be a good girl. That was what it came to, in the end.

"Lin? What's wrong?"

"Martha wouldn't like it."

Silence. Silence so long and aching that Linnette thought she would scream.

Very quietly. Very gently. "Martha's dead."

Yes. Martha was dead. And Martha was a liar. This was her life now.

But there was something else. She was frightened. Frightened of being made to choose, now, irredeemably, what sort of person she was going to be. Because if she said "no" that was irredeemable too. Michael, ever the gentleman, would never touch her again. That, she knew, was that.

Very clearly in the soft lamplight. "Lin, you're not your mother."

No. That was true.

"Michael," she said softly, "I love you".

She stood up. She very deliberately sat down on Michael's lap and kissed him. "Now," she said. "Where were we?"

The next morning, Linnette woke up to find Fluffy, who had crawled up from the foot of the bed, trying to push his nose into her ear.

Michael's much more appropriate morning greeting was a kiss.

"Where to, now?" asked Linnette.

"How about Arabia?"
"Sure."

"Can we stop in Greece, though? And North Africa?"

"Raid a mummy's tomb?"

"Where's the danger in that?"

"Depends if you believe in curses."
"Linnette, I'm English, C of E… nominally, went to a very good school, do I seem to you as if I believed in curses?"

"Prefer your enemies animate and brandishing swords, do you? So do I, to be honest."

The year turned.

They stopped in Greece, admired Delphi, the Acropolis of Athens (Linnette's sketches of Fluffy the Terrible sitting on the steps of the Temple of Athena Nike wearing Linnette's sun hat were among her most treasured possessions for the rest of her life) and the Acropolis of Rhodes. Linnette loved Greece, warm and sunny, high craggy mountains and the crystal-clear blue sea. She admired the archaeological sites with the aid of Murray's Handbook and bought souvenirs, which she locked in the little cabinet in the cabin she now shared with Michael in Another Gamble.

The Pyramids of Giza were as beautiful as Linnette had hoped they would be from the adventure stories of her childhood. They scorned to travel the Nile with the Cook's Tour Company barges, infinitely preferring to travel on camels, haughty, ill-tempered brutes who reminded Linnette of herself.

They landed in Beirut in the Spring. It was a beautiful city, the domes and spires glowing against the morning sky. They moored Another Gamble and went by camel down to Damascus. Linnette saw the magnificent Citadel in the morning sunlight and stood before the mausoleum of Saladin. It was a long way from Hampshire. It was in Damascus that Linnette and Michael found themselves a little short of funds. Not that that was a problem. After all, the camel trains frequently struck out East from Damascus laden with silk, olives, figs and grapes, returning groaning from India and China with silk (and more prosaic things such as tea and rice).

They hired camels in Damascus and set off south for an isolated spot on the long, empty stretch of road between Damascus and the Persian Gulf. They knew the camel drivers were no fools, and usually carried guns and scimitars to protect themselves from the likes of Linnette and Michael.

The desert was hot and dusty and quiet and as night fell it became cold and dusty and quiet. Linnette began to shiver in her thin dress and Michael lent her his jacket. Fluffy the Terrible was quite happy, sitting in Linette's lap wearing his sun bonnet and socialising with the camel, who answered his soft chirps and squeaks with groans and grunts.

The camel trains would be parking for the night now. As Linnette and Michael heaved their camels over a rise by the side of the road, they saw a chain of a dozen or so camels calling halt for the night. Now was their chance.

Linnette kicked her camel forward. "Stand and deliver, your money or your life." She wasn't sure how much English the camel drivers could understand but her meaning was unmistakable. It was like being a highway-girl again. The men turned with almost bored resignation which piqued Linnette. English people had some respect for banditti. There were more of the camel drivers than there were of Linnette and Michael, but Linnette and Michael's guns were in their hands and the camel drivers' weapons were in their belts, which gave Linnette and Michael the advantage, provided that they kept their distance.

At that moment a camel-rider appeared from behind the other dune, gun and scimitar flashing in the dusk. "Oh," he said in perfect English. "I've been beaten to it."

"Not by much," said Linnette. "I'm sure there's enough to go round. We go halves, fair?"

As the mysterious rider came into the light of the camel-drivers' torches, Linnette noticed another figure on the camel, small and with frightened eyes, so swathed in a ragged blanket that Linnette could see nothing but the face.

The camel drivers took advantage of this distraction to draw their weapons and the advantage shifted.

"You speak English?" said the leader of the camels.

"Yes."
"I'm giving you ten seconds to turn and run, right now, because I've never killed a lady before and I don't want to start now. Consider that the only warning you're ever going to get."

He was in earnest. Linnette could tell he was in earnest. So was she. She looked at Michael. She looked at the mysterious stranger. Their eyes said the same thing. We get one chance. At the same moment, the three of them raised their guns and shot the leader of the camel drivers. At the same instant she leant forward and grabbed the jewelled scimitar out of his hand. The mysterious stranger had lunged straight for the basket of silk. Michael struggled with another camel driver over a basket of spices. Several seconds were a turmoil of gunshots and groaning camels.

Linnette knew from hard experience how long she would have before the sheer law of averages spelt her death sentence.

"Enough now," she called, as the indigent camel drivers closed around them. The three camels turned and galloped off, with the rocky, lolloping gait of camels.

When they had put a good distance between themselves and the outraged camel train, they halted.

"Right," said Linnette, "so, that was fun…".

She tailed off as the mysterious stranger slid from his camel and rolled onto the rocky ground. Linnette and Michael leapt down from their camels to help him.

It became quite clear, as Linnette struck her lantern and surveyed the ragged, gushing wound in his chest, that he was beyond help.

"Sir?" she said.

He looked at her. He looked like what he was—at death's door with his hand on the knocker—but his were still bright and clear and he focussed on her quite easily.

"I'm dying."

"No," said Linnette, trying to staunch the bleeding with her handkerchief. "Don't be silly…"

"I'm not a complete idiot. I can tell when I'm dying." He looked very young, younger, perhaps, than Linnette and Michael. As the little figure jumped down from the camel and moved into the lamplight Linnette got a clear look for the first time at a little girl about seven or eight years old. Her face was pinched and thin and she looked exhausted. As she looked at the dying man on the ground an expression of incredulous horror came over her face. She looked at Linnette with desperation. Linnette could only shake her head. The man reached out and stroked the little girl's cheek. She never moved or said a word, but Linnette was watching her eyes and the pain in them was unendurable to watch. Crime was no place for children, thought Linnette. With a sudden blaze of anger she snapped at the man on the ground. "What did you bring her for, you fool? Do you think she wants to watch this?"

He caught his breath as best he could. "I had no choice. She's my little sister. And…" he could speak no more. He reached out, took Linnette's hand and put it in the little girl's with such an expression of obvious pleading that Linnette had no more anger.

"You want me to look after your little sister when you're dead, is that it?"

He nodded. The blood, despite Linnette's best efforts, was gushing in a river onto the sand. A harsh scream rang out over head. The vultures were already circling. Fluffy crept onto the man's chest and sat licking at his face.

"Where do I take her?"

For a moment there was silence and Linnette thought she was too late. "To her family. East of here. Near Al Jawf."

Linnette's hear sank. It was miles to Al Jawf.

The man took another breath, struggled to speak again. "The plunder… on the camel… all yours."

"No," said Linnette. "I don't need paying."

"Honour among thieves…"

"It belongs to your sister. That's honourable."

"All right. Thank… thank…"
"You're welcome."

The man whose name Linnette still did not know gasped a couple more times and then, quietly, in the middle of the Syrian desert in the falling night, died.

Linnette attempted the Kiss of Life but it was all too plain that it was too late.1 She turned to the little girl, who sat stunned beside her.

"Are you going to take me to Uncle Ahmad?" she asked.

"Yes," said Linnette. She had no idea what to say or do now. "I'm Linnette," she said eventually. "This is Michael. This is Fluffy. What's your name?"
"Aisha."

"Aisha. How do you do?"

Aisha burst into tears. Linnette, helpless, could only sit next to her and put her arms around her, while she sobbed and sobbed. Fluffy, subdued, curled up next to her and began to lick her fingers. Aisha raised her head. She smiled through her tears, a thin, tremulous little smile, but still a smile. She reached out and patted Fluffy's head. He climbed up onto her knee and began to lick her tears off her face. They tasted salty and he sniffed. Aisha giggled, tears still pouring down her face.

Eventually, she stopped crying. She looked more exhausted than ever.

"Aisha?"

"Yes."

"Do you have any food?"

"No."

"Then how about you come back to Damascus now with us and we get something to eat and we go to find your uncle Ahmad in the morning?"

"No! I have to go now!"

"Is it urgent?"

"Mother's father is going to kill me."
"What? Why?"

"I don't really understand."
"Explain what you can understand."

"Father was a bandit. He lived in the hills above Amman. His people weren't always banditti. Grandfather lived near Al Jawf and farmed goats and camels. I think he and father had some kind of quarrel. Father moved nearer to Damascus, and the camel trains to Baghdad and Kuwait." Aisha hesitated. "He got married to a very beautiful woman. She was Bahadur's mother."

"Bahadur?"

Silently, Aisha pointed to her dead brother.

"She was from a village near ours. Her people were also banditti. They got on very well together. She understood our family. This is what Bahadur tells me." She stopped. "Told me." Aisha paused for a moment.

"She died. Father was very sad for a long time. Then he married my mother. She was a very rich woman. Her father was from Cairo. I think there was some kind of scandal when he married a rich Frenchwoman and now she's dead he wants all her money to go to him and his new wife and children—they're Catholics, now, I think—and not to me. He's never seen me. He never wanted mother to marry father."

Aisha hesitated. She frowned. "It's complicated. At least, mother is dead now, and father was murdered by Bahadur's mother's family. They had a bit of a feud. You know, bandit families do. When father was alive, that was fine. He could protect me. But now… awful things have happened in our family. We had no money. We had no food. We stole to live." She choked and began to cry again, softly, bewilderedly.

"It's all right," said Linnette. "We'll take you to your uncle Ahmad. Who exactly is your uncle Ahmad?"

"He's father's brother. Grandfather's dead now, you see, so he can't object to my coming back."
"Will your uncle take you?"
"He has to!" Aisha became almost frantic. Her desperation cut Linnette to the quick. "I've nobody else!"

"Don't worry," said Michael. "It'll be fine. We'll go to your uncle tonight. By the way, I found some figs Bahadur stole."
"Then let's eat," said Linnette. "First, though, we'll have to bury your brother, Aisha."

"Out here? In the desert?"

"Yes, I'm afraid so."

Digging a shallow dirt gave, with nothing but their hands and swords, in the middle of the night with only a guttering lamp to light them was the ugliest, nastiest work Linnette had ever done. Aisha gathered stones to put on top of the grave. She muttered a brief prayer.

"It's a pity we can't do it properly."

"I'm sorry," said Linnette.

"Not your fault, was it?"

They got on their camels—Aisha sitting in front of Linnette, Fluffy sharing with Michael—and rode away from the grave.

Linnette called a halt to eat the figs they had stolen from the camel train, but Aisha wanted to keep going. "Mother's family will be right behind us."

They ate on the move—fortunately they had some water, although Linnette did not see how it could possibly last until Al Jawf—and pressed on through the night.

Riding at night in the desert was lovely. There were no lights except their flickering lanterns, so Linnette could see the stars twinkling above them, small, cold silver sparks. She had never seen so many, not even in rural Hampshire. Aisha fell asleep, but Linnette was not at all sleepy, quite happy to sit on her camel and look up at the stars. The camels jogged on steadily through the night, without a moment's weakness, and seemed quite capable of carrying on the Al Jawf as steady as three steamships.

It felt like years before a glimmer of light began to show ahead of them. When the glimmer appeared, however, the sun seemed to rise in seconds. Instantly, it was hotter. Linnette felt the sun baking down on her head so hard it was like a solid, physical object. It was not too bad at first, though. After all, there was plenty of water in the bottles, and every step took them nearer to Al Jawf. After worryingly few hours, though, there was no longer quite as much water in the bottles as there had been, and even Aisha, who had spent her whole life in the desert, began to look tired and ill.

Still, they could not stop to rest. They ploughed on, the camels grumbling as they trudged through the desert.

"How much further?" Linnette asked Aisha.

"Far. Miles and miles."

It was all Linnette could do not to groan.

"Do you know where there's a water hole?"

"Up ahead. I think."

By afternoon Linnette was hungry and her headache fierce. She began to wonder what the point was of Aisha escaping her grandfather if she were only to die out here in the desert with a couple of thugs for company. She told herself she was merely being defeatist, but in her heart, she was not so sure. After all, people did die in the desert.

The afternoon wore on. The heat diminished. Linnette's thirst did not. The camels jogged along, calm and, seemingly, perfectly healthy. Linnette asked Aisha how much further it was to Al Jawf, but she seemed unsure.

They climbed a rise. There before them, in the sand and dust, lay an oasis.

For a moment Linnette thought she was dreaming. A small, rocky oasis, nothing glamourous, not even any trees, only a few small scrubby bushes. On the far side, a gravelly slope strewn with boulders led to a narrow gulley. To Linnette at that moment it was Heaven.

"Michael? Can you see that?"

"If "that" refers to a small oasis, surrounded by stones and scrubby bushes, I can."
"Water!" Aisha nearly cried.

Linnette flung herself off her camel. She knelt down and gulped mouth-fulls of fresh, clean, pure water.

Aisha waded right into the oasis, jumping up and down with joy. Linnette laughed, and Fluffy the Terrible plunged right in, jumping up and down with Aisha, squealing, letting her roll him over and over.

The camels, too, knelt down and, with more dignity than the humans, drank. They then set to work on the scrubby bushes. For the humans, the real problem became hunger. There was no fruit on the bushes. There were no fish in the oasis.

Linnette sighed, gave eating that afternoon up as lost and filled their bottles. The ambush took them all by surprise.

Suddenly they were surrounded by camels. Aisha screamed. Linnette had a split second to think. No time to mount the camels, no time for a discussion. One thing for it. She grabbed Aisha's hand, Aisha grabbed Fluffy by the stomach.

"Run!"

If there were one thing their attackers really were not expecting, it was that. They ducked under the pistols, past the snorting camels and ran faster than Linnette had thought she could run up the slope. She knew that the camels could outrun them in seconds on the flat, but carrying their riders up the slope, tripping on the pebbles, they stood a chance. Just about. Maybe.

Indeed, in the time it took their attackers to realise what had happened, the four of them had gained a few precious seconds. The next few minutes, although it felt like hours, were a whirl of snorting camels, gunshots bouncing off the rocks around them, making Aisha shriek, Linnette losing her footing, slipping, pushing forwards again. The ground levelled out a little. Up ahead, the ravine led to a range of low, rocky hills, little more than overgrown boulders really. But if they could gain the ravine, they could perhaps hold it. Or she and Michael and Fluffy could hold it and send Aisha off to safety.

Or they could all get sit in the ravine and get shot, like rats in a trap.

On the flat, the camels were gaining on them. Linnette could hear their hooves, still tripping and stumbling, but closer and closer. A bullet came so near to her head she felt the heat.

"Linnette!" It was Aisha, clinging to Linnette's hand, shaking like a leaf and sobbing as Linnette half-dragged her along. "Linnette! I'm scared!"

"Don't worry," said Linnette. "Look on-" gasp, gasp, run "the bright side".

"Bright side?"

"Being chased by lunatics is character-building."

Aisha almost laughed. "I like my character-" the camels were so close that Linnette could feel the cool of their shadows- "the way it is".

Almost at the gorge. Almost. Last dash—if she had it in her. Even as she sucked in a gasp of air she knew she did not have in her. But almost—the last lunge to the gorge was one of despair. The camels fanned out round them and closed round.

Linnette stood reeling and gasping for breath. Linnette grabbed her gun and pointed it at the nearest man, who sat perfectly comfortably on his swaying camel while brandishing a pistol in one hand and a sword in the other, but a dozen pistols surrounded them on every side.

"Who are you?" asked Linnette.

"Oh, I suspect you know full well, Miss," said one of the men, who held a particularly wicked-looking scimitar. Linnette's grip on her gun tightened.

"Let's just say I don't. Explain anyway."
"Plucky, aren't you? How's this for an explanation? If you move, if you say another word out of turn, if you even think about loosing off your toy gun, it will be the last thing you ever do."

"I call that very good as a threat, useless as an explanation."

"You're coming with us, young lady."
"Excellent, will there be coffee?"

Two men with scimitars grabbed her with a swiftness and accuracy which suggested long practice. She wriggled, but the grip on her arms was iron hard.

"Don't you touch my girlfriend." Michael's voice was like a quiet ice razor blade as he lunged at the nearest man, only to be kicked in the ribs by the camel and sent flying.

"Four of you for that one!" Four men descended on Michael with ropes and scimitars. "He's got a temper!"

As a bag descended on Linnette's head, she saw something which dropped coldly sick brick into her stomach. Aisha, shaking like a leaf, lifted into the air, holding Fluffy by the leg, a sack descending over her face.

"Hey!" shouted Linnette. "You drop her, right now."

"You know," said the man on the camel, "I would feel afraid of you if you weren't so utterly helpless. I won't, though, because that girl, I suspect, is exactly whom I came for."

Linnette's heart sank. This was exactly what she had expected and dreaded.

"You don't recognise your own grand-daughter, but you're going to kill her, anyway?"

"Oh, she's not my grand-daughter. Jacque Martin of Cairo is my employer."

"Jacque Martin?" Linnette's gun and dagger were snatched from her and her hands were bound. "Who's Jacque Martin?"

"This young lady's grandfather, now that he's set himself up as a respectable Cairo merchant and married a respectable French merchant's daughter."

"So you know who he is?" Linnette felt the camel move off. She tried to work out where they were going, but could not. "You know what he wants?"

"Perfectly. He wants my master to find the girl and kill her. He sent us."

"I hope you're ashamed of the work you do for Jacque Martin."

"Correction. The work I do for Martin Ltd."

"This is some kind of official business arrangement?"

"Of course. Nothing is underhand at Martin Ltd."

"Still, I hope you're ashamed of it."

"This conversation is becoming tedious. Another word before we get back to the camp and it'll be the last word you ever say."

Linnette fell silent. She remained silent as the camels wended their way across an unseen landscape.

Eventually, after a great deal of bumping and jolting, Linnette was removed from the camel and placed on her knees on the floor. As the bag was removed from her head, she gasped in astonishment. She was in a cave. Not a tiny, shallow scrape in a rock face. A huge, high-ceilinged cavern.

The floor was bare rock. The room was full of men, mostly weary, scruffy, armed men, and weapons. Linnette, Michael and Aisha were sitting on the floor in front of a throne.

Linnette had to blink a few times to check that she had not gone mad. No, she really was looking at a throne— with a man in it. The man had a long, naked sword across his knee and was stroking gently with one finger. He looked Linnette dead in the eye and she looked back.

"Good afternoon."

"Go to Hell."

"I was planning on my men going out to bring Aisha here to me to kill. And I'm afraid that, as you were in my way, I'm going to have to kill you as well."

Aisha was weeping quietly, rocking back and forth on the floor.
One of the men said something which Linnette could neither hear nor understand.

"Ah, your camels are laden with assorted valuables, it appears. Silk. Coral. Salt. How useful."

More conversation.

"I hear that you proved quite hard to capture. Nearly hid down a ravine. I admire your spirit."

Both Linnette and Michael ignored this comment. Linnette found that to run for one's life across a desert, ambushes, mad dashes, were one thing, but to come face-to-face with a killer, to sit there in cold blood, was different, there was no giddy fighting tooth and claw for life. There was only sitting and staring death—almost literally—in the face. And what mattered more than her death was Aisha's.

"Oh," the man on the throne noticed Fluffy, sitting on Aisha's lap. "He's adorable. What's his name?"
"Fluffy," said Linnette. "Fluffy the Terrible."

"Very amusing." The man climbed down from the throne and stroked Fluffy's head. Fluffy bit his thumb.

"I told you he was Terrible," said Linnette. She took a small satisfaction in seeing this vile man holding up his thumb, dripping blood over his overly-expensive jacket.

"Very well." The man controlled himself. "Let's get on with things."

"Are you actually going to do it?"
"Kill you? Yes, I'm afraid I am."

"I didn't mean me. I've got it coming to me, anyway, one of these days."

"Really? Such courage from a bandit and a thug?"
"How do know I was a bandit?" Linnette was so surprised that for a moment she forgot her outrage.

"A young, well-dressed woman, wielding a sword and a gun, wearing a very expensive-looking dress, out in the desert with a known bandit's daughter and a couple of camels. And to so nearly escape, too. What else would she be?"

"I meant," said Linnette, no longer interested in a murderous thug's powers of deduction, "could you really kill that child?".

"Yes. Do you really doubt it?"
Linnette looked at him and looked at Aisha and could not doubt it.

"Who are you anyway?"

"Just call me "sir"."

"What? You're so afraid of us that you won't tell us your name, even though you're about to kill us? You're such a coward!"

"I have a lot of names. I have a name for most of the transactions Martin Ltd. undertakes. If you really want to know, I'll tell you it's… A'zam."

"Please sir…" she began. She had no idea what to say, no idea what, if anything, this man would listen to.

"Oh, are you going to do the speech? All about how I don't have to do this and how I'm better than this and how this is an appeal to my better nature? Because I don't have a better nature young woman."

"I'm telling you," said Linnette. Rage had evaporated to quiet, cold, vicious desperation. "I'm telling you that if you kill her I will find you, from beyond the grave if I have to, I will hunt you over land and sea and wherever you hide, rat, I will find you and you will wish you had never been born. Slowly and with screaming."

At that moment she believed it. She would come from beyond the grave if she had to. If sheer cold-blooded desperation could ever have cheated death, it would have done so then for Linnette.

"Why do you care so much, anyway?" It was the vaguely interested, dispassionate question of a scientist testing the reactions of a worm in a box. But his eyes were anything but dispassionate. They were scared. And Linnette knew that if the Grim Reaper were to take her revenge from her, she would always have the satisfaction of seeing the fear in his eyes.

"I care," said Linnette, because why not tell him why, if it would post-pone death a little for Aisha? "I care because I promised her brother when he was dying."

"Dying man's wish, eh?"

"Yes."

"Knew him well?"

"Never met him before."
"A man you'd never spoken to before. How very honourable."

"Some of us believe in honour among thieves. Do you have the faintest notion of what that means or am I wasting my breath?"

"Frankly, my good lady, you are wasting your breath."

A'zam turned to Aisha. Aisha was no longer crying. She was looking steadily up at Sir. She looked very small and she was shaking like a leaf, but she never flinched.

"Now," said A'zam. "Let's get on with the business. The family business, after all."

"All right," said Aisha. "Go on. I'm not scared of you." Her voice rose. "I'm not scared because Bahadur never was. When you find grandfather, and his other family, you just tell that to him. And tell him that mother was twice the woman he was, and father twice the man." Suddenly she almost grinned. "And watch out, that's all, when you tell him that you couldn't find the gold coins we took with us from home."

"What?" A'zam became frantic. "What gold coins?"

Despite everything, Linnette almost laughed at Aisha's cleverness.

"Where's the money?"

Aisha was almost laughing in her brief moment of triumph. "I shan't tell you."

A'zam cursed. "All right." He strode over to Aisha. "Let's get on with it."

"Aisha," said Linnette. "Aisha, I'm so sorry…"

"It doesn't matter," said Aisha. "You tried."

Linnette felt sick. She could not cry. She could barely breathe. She turned to Michael. He was sitting beside her, trembling with futile rage, glaring at A'zam as if looks could kill.

"I'm sorry, Aisha," he said. "Lin…" His face changed. Despairing anger became grim, desperate determination. "Lin, I love you. And I'm sorry. And, God damn it, I didn't become a bandit to die on my knees with my hands behind me. So, how about this, Sir? You and I, hand to hand, just the two of us, fair and square?"

"No."
"Go on. You set the terms. Make 'em tough. Make 'em sadistic. Have your fun. I'll take anything. You know you want to…"

A'zam smiled slowly. "A sadistic duel? A tough way to die? Is that really what you want?"

"Yes."

"Very well. It's not a duel, as such. It's more… a challenge. You a gambling man, Mr…?"

"Leeford. Michael Leeford. This is Linnette Fortescue. She's amazing. And yes, I'm a gambling man."

"Very well. This is how it works. Young Miss Aisha stays here. You and your good lady do a little favour for me."
"We've been here before," said Linnette.

"I'm sure you have. With your gift of the gab, I'm surprised you haven't talked your way out of an Arabian cobra's jaws before. I want you to go to the Bandit King of the Mountains. He has something of mine."

"Cut the suspense and just tell us what it is," said Linnette.

"It's a tiara. The details of the story are lengthy and complicated. It belonged to a great princess of Ancient Times. Or perhaps it was stolen from the Romans. Some say it comes from China or even further afield."

"Yes, we get the idea. Origins steeped in the mists of time etc. etc.. It's probably a fake."

"Be quiet. I don't want it so badly that I won't kill the lot of you right now if you provoke me. Very well. This tiara, you'll know it when you see it, it's huge and diamond-encrusted, is kept in the hall of the Bandit King of the Mountains. He keeps it around mainly to remind him of the old days, when we were the greatest banditti this side of the Persian Gulf."
"We?"

"We worked together, in the old days. It didn't work out. I found decent, respectable work for a South Asian and African trading company. He… didn't. Now he's old, poor and lives alone in a crumbling palace up a mountain."

"Why do you want this tiara so badly, anyway?"
"To settle our feud." For a moment he did not seem to be looking at Linnette but at something far away which only he could see. His voice was quietly vicious.

"But you won't go and get it yourself?"

Immediately his voice returned to its usual drawl. "A respectable businessman for Martin Ltd. running around a desert after diamond tiara? I think not."

"Oh, I see. You're afraid your boss wouldn't like it."

A'zam was becoming impatient. "You have two days to find this tiara, retrieve it and bring it to me. Do you accept, Miss Fortescue?"

"Yes. Of course."

"Very well. Thank you."
"Please. Spare me your manners."

A'zam finally lost his temper and slapped her round the face. "You don't have your gun yet, Miss Fortescue."

Michael leaped up, forgot his hands were tied together and fell flat on his face.

"Don't you dare," he mumbled, through his broken and bloody nose, "slap-"

"Michael, behave!" said Linnette.

"Now, you're going to leave with my men, blindfolded, and go back to your camels. I've removed the plunder from the camels, needless to say. When you are no longer near this place, my men will return your weapons to you. If you do return with the tiara, you will be allowed to go free, armed, with Aisha, unharmed, and with your camels—but not the plunder you stole from that poor innocent camel train outside Damascus. If you return without the tiara, you're idiots."

"How do I know you'll keep your word?"

"Why would I not do? Martin Ltd. is a decent and honourable company. However, if you do what I think you'll do, you'll take advantage of your new freedom to go straight back to Damascus and clear out of here. However, only time will tell."

Linnette bit back a furious reply. She smiled at the stunned Aisha. "I'll be back," she said. "It'll be fine." Then she turned to A'zam. "I'll be back," she said again, as the bag descended over her head.

An hour or two later, Linnette felt the bag lifted from her head and found herself back by the oasis. The men surrounded her, presumably to make sure she did not attack one of them or something.

She let the man beside her hand her down from the camel. He gave her back her weapons and, knowing that she was far too out-numbered and out-gunned to begin venting her rage here, she took them and put them in her belt. Then she let Michael hand her up onto her own camel and they set off.

Night was falling again in the desert as they set off for the mountains. The stars were peeping through the purple sky. The moon sailed above them, bigger and brighter than in England, with no clouds in the way. The beauty of the scenery cheered Linnette up a little, despite everything.

They rode hard, towards the mountains. The camels thudded along steadily, without fretting or grumbling, as if they realised the importance of the situation. Linnette, who had not slept for a day and a half, felt herself dropping in the saddle, but she forced herself to stay awake. She knew that if she were to fall asleep now, she would be wasting time, and then Aisha might die. Fluffy the Terrible wrapped his paws around his nose and fell asleep, clinging to the front of Linnette's dress.

It was almost day before they arrived at the mountains. The first, pink rays of the rising sun showed them, perched a jagged peak, almost directly in front of them, a castle, the same tawny colour as the rock itself, very small and slightly crumbling, but still undeniably a castle.

Linnette spurred the camel forward. He scrambled up the narrow, boulder-strewn gorge which was the only way to the castle. When they arrived, it was still mostly dark, but a beam of scarlet sunlight falling on the castle made it impossible to rely on the darkness to sneak up on the castle unseen. There was nobody about, however, so Linnette parked the camel at the mouth of the gorge and crept up cautiously to the castle.

"This is not an easy target," she whispered to Michael.

"No. There's only one way out. We'd be rats in a trap if they did catch us."

Linnette took out her gun and held it ready in her hand. She approached a window—little more than an arrow slit— at the end of the nearest wing of the castle.

"There's no way we'd fit through that," she whispered.

"No."
"So how do we get in?"
"The roof? I mean, we should go un-noticed. A'zam said he lives here alone. I can't imagine he keeps an army here with him—in a house like this, who needs one?"

"Right. But how to we get onto the roof?"

"Well, I reckon it's easy enough to climb onto that window sill. Then I'll give you a hand onto the roof."
"Right. Good idea."

There was only room for one at a time on the window ledge. Linnette stepped up first, then Michael helped her up onto the little ledge at the top of the window and stepped up behind her. Now Linnette could almost reach the next window. A mad leap, a scramble, and she was there. Then she had to do the whole thing again, this time dizzyingly high above the rocky ground. She braced herself on the narrow ledge, leapt awkwardly, nearly fell and crashed into Michael's arms.

He steadied her and pushed her back up onto the ledge. Then she reached up as near to the edge of the roof as she could and leaped. This time her hands caught the edge of the roof. She pulled and scrambled and somehow managed to land on the edge of the roof. She collected Fluffy from Michael and leaned down to give Michael a hand up.

The three of them sat there for a moment, gathering their breath, then surveyed the roof. It did not look promising. The only way down from the roof, other than over the side and back to square one, was down a narrow chimney which descended at an angle, so Linnette could not see the bottom.

She looked at Michael. They both knew that it was the chimney or nothing. They had no time to spare, every second was precious.

"I'll go first," said Michael.

"No way! I go first!"

"We don't know what's down there."
"It's my turn!"

"You just went first."

"Because going last was more dangerous!"

"Oh, all right then."

Linnette sat down on the edge of the chimney and turned round so she could climb, slowly and carefully, down the inside of the chimney. The advantage of facing this way was that she could see her feet. The disadvantage was that she could not see where she was going.

When she got to the bend in the chimney she hesitated, then turned round as best she could in the narrow space and slid down.

She landed in the fire place of what was clearly a main living room. Fluffy landed on her head.

It was dimly-lit, as the only window was an arrow-slit high up in the wall, and still cold in the early morning. Apart from the fire place, the only furniture was a table, a sofa and a beautiful old sword, mounted on the wall.

This seemed to be the main room if the house, as other heavy doors led off in various directions. It was impossible to see what—or who—might be behind these doors.

Linnette held her gun very tight indeed.

"Well it's not here," said Michael. "Unless he keeps it somewhere really strange, such as in the sofa cushions."

"Surely a man wouldn't keep an important keepsake which reminds him of his youth in some sofa cushions."

"Where is it then?" said Michael. "I wish we had a map of this place."

"What about his bedroom?"

"Which one of these doors is his bedroom? That's the thing with these defensive structures. They never have helpful signposts."

"Probably upstairs."

"Which way's upstairs?"

Linnette shrugged. She opened a door on the left. The door led into what seemed to be a tower, with a room at the bottom containing guns and swords and a spiral staircase.

"Right," said Linette. "This way looks as good a way as any."
"My turn to go first."
"All right."

Michael went first and Linnette followed him up the stairs of the tower. Fluffy rode happily on Linnette's shoulder.

At the top of the tower was a door. Linnette leaned on the door and listened. No sound.

"Anybody there?" whispered Michael.

"No."
"Let's go then."

They burst in, guns at the ready. The room was deserted. It was clearly a man's bedroom, with a low bed, a chair and a book case. There was no sign of the tiara.

"I suppose it might be on the bookshelf," said Linnette.

"It might."

They studied the bookcase. It was large and solid. There was no obvious place for a tiara—or an inobvious place for a tiara.

Linnette turned to leave. Then froze.

A young man was standing in the door of the room, his gun pointing straight at Linnette's head.

Linnette considered. She and Michael were at a disadvantage, that was for sure, but that never meant that all was lost.

"Who are you?" said the young man.

"Linnette Fortescue. The Bandit King of the Mountains, I assume."

"No. Merely his nephew. Guns down or I fire."

"You wouldn't shoot a girl."
"I'll shoot your young man."

Linnette and Michael shot first. Simultaneously. The young man fell dead on the threshold.

The noise of the shot echoed back off the walls. The whole house must be roused now. Linnette grabbed Michael's hand and they ran back out the door and down the steps of the tower. Already, feet were running the other way.

Linnette, breathless, nearly collided with the young girl as she turned the corner. The girl took one look at the two banditti and screamed. Linnette pushed past her into the living room. The girl lunged at Linnette with a knife, but she ducked.

"Which way now?" asked Linnette.

"Next door?"
Needless to say, they were not leaving without the tiara. Aisha's life hung on it.

They crashed through the next door, the girl's blade whistling past Linnette's head.

They found themselves on the steps of a dark, low-ceilinged, subterranean room, filled with treasure of fabulous kinds. That took only a moment of Linnette's consideration, however, because she almost collided with an elderly-looking man who hurled himself at her brandishing a gun.

For a moment they were both astonished, but the unknown man, for all he was elderly and frail-looking, was running to attack the invaders of his home and property and Linnette and Michael were fleeing discovery. Inevitably, the man's aim was dead on and Linnette's was off. She was again at a disadvantage. And now, as the girl and her throwing knife appeared on the stairs behind her, she realised she was cornered.

"Hi."

Silence.

"You must the Bandit King of the Mountains. I'm Linnette Fortescue and this is Michael Leeford and escaping traps in desert dungeons is all in a day's work for us."

Fluffy hid his eyes in Linnette's hair.

"This is not the dungeon. This is the cellar. The dungeon is on the other side of the living room and you would not like to be there. And yes, I am the Bandit King of the Mountains." The Bandit King of the Mountains inched round them, forcing them to move over to the far side of the cellar so he was in between them and the door.

"I've come for your diamond tiara."
"Ah, I knew he'd come for it one day. I won't tell you who, because he'll only have told you a different name. But yes, I knew he'd come for it one day. I didn't expect him to send a young lady, though… I would never have done that."

"I assure you I'm incredibly dangerous."

"You are!" It was the girl. She spoke quickly to the Bandit King in Arabic.

As he listened, the Bandit King's face changed from grim determination to pain and horror, then to cold anger.

"You killed my nephew."

Linnette and Michael said nothing.

"I might have spared you, Miss Fortescue. I've never killed a young woman before. But this means death, you understand? That boy was my family, my last remaining family. For him, and for the honour of this family, there is blood feud between you and me."

"He would have killed us," said Linnette simply.

"I know."

"Listen," said Michael. "I don't believe you'd really kill Linnette."
"Well… perhaps not. I'd kill you, young man, don't doubt that for a second."
"Oh, I don't. But what I mean is, could you not give the tiara to Linnette and let her go, and then we'll stay here and fight to the death."

"You seem mighty determined to get that tiara."

"We are," said Linnette.

The Bandit King sighed. "Why do you work for him anyway? Nice young people like you? Mind you, that's probably it isn't it? I forget he's turned respectable…"

"Well, I don't respect him!" said Linnette. "And as for our working for him, he kidnapped us and nearly killed us. We're not exactly friends."

"You're just the nearest bunch of manipulable cowards who happened to be around when he was planning his big revenge, were you?" The Bandit King sounded bitter.

Linnette was stung. "I'm not a coward."
"The I'd love to know why run around the desert doing his bidding, getting involved in bandit feuds which are no concern of yours, when you so clearly know exactly what this man is."

"And I'll tell you. Because he's kidnapped a friend of ours and he'll kill her if we don't give him the tiara."

"Not my problem. Live like a bandit, die like a bandit, that's what I say. Although I do think it's pretty low of him to threaten a woman. We didn't do that in the old days…" He trailed off wistfully.

"Oh yes, the old days when knights were bold and monkeys chewed tobacco. Well listen, no child, bandit or no bandit, deserves to die the way Aisha will die if you don't give us what I want."

"A child?"
"Yes."
"Are you sincere in this? You're not just pulling at my heart strings because you think it'll make you more likely to get what you want?"

"I'm sincere. I'm don't work for him, I hate him. He's vile. I'm a bandit like you, sir."

"You're a bandit who's become embroiled in what's completely none of your business out of the goodness of your heart. How noble."
"It's true."

The Bandit King hesitated. "I believe you," he said slowly. "God knows I might be wrong, in which case I've thrown away my most valuable possession for nothing. But if what you say is true, then I'm honour bound. I'm sick of people who think that just because they've gone straight, ordinary moral rules don't apply to them."

"So are we," said Linnette.

"Aadhila, go and fetch the tiara."

Aadhila ran up the steps and disappeared.

"Who's Aadhila?" said Linnette. The Bandit King had said that his nephew was his last remaining family.

"My maid. She comes from Baghdad. Her family abandoned her in the desert when she was only a child. We found her and took her in. Now all the old gang are dead or gone."

Aadhila returned. She was carrying one of the most spectacular diamond tiaras Linnette had ever seen.

This was it. This was the prize. Not as hard as Linnette had thought.

"I kept it by my bed. To remind me of the old days. Help yourself, Miss Fortescue."
"Thank you, sir."
"Don't you thank me, criminal thug. I'm doing this for the child."

"I'm sure she'd thank you, sir."
"Tell her she's welcome. Now, off you go. No, not you," as Michael followed Linnette up the cellar steps. "You and I have unfinished business, young man. A duel to the death, for example."

Michael shrugged. "All right, sir. So be it." Only his grim, rigid face showed that this would be anything other than a walk in the park.

Linnette felt a nervous flutter. The thing she hated about watching Michael in a one-on-one duel was that she could not help him. She could only watch.

"Lin? What are you doing?"

"Watching your back."
"You should get going, sweetheart."

Linnette knew he was right. Aisha was depending on her. But she hated leaving Michael. Not that she really had any doubts about his ability to win. She just wanted to be able to offer moral support.

Linnette turned to the Bandit King. "You listen to me. I'm grateful for the diamond tiara but seriously. Anyone who kills Michael Leeford will die. Anyone. You understand?"
"I would be reluctant to indulge in a blood feud with a young lady."

"Spare me your principles. You have altogether too many of those. That's probably why you're in a crumbling fort in the desert on your own with one girl."

"Probably," said the Bandit King quietly.

"Michael," said Linnette. "Go in and win."

"I'll do it for you, sunshine," said Michael, with a mock chivalric wink and outrageous swagger which made Linnette giggle despite herself.

"You love that boy, don't you?" said the Bandit King to Linnette.

"Yes," said Linnette.

"Listen. I'm a bandit. I'm used to bandits' lives and bandits' deaths. I'm an old man and I've lost a lot of people and things which were important to me. If, Miss Fortescue, you want one last chance at this young man's life, I… I'll give that chance."
"Thank you, sir," said Linnette, genuinely touched. Even Fluffy took his head out of her hair and squeaked.

The Bandit King grinned wryly. "This time I'll let you thank me."

"How do I earn this chance?"

"The first thing I stole. In the old days. Stole it from a bandit in the hills outside Damascus. A little gold statue of a dolphin. It was stolen. When I was young I would have stalked this desert from end to end—nay, this world—like vengeance itself. Now I'm old man and I can't ride and my sight is weak. I want you to get it back for me."

"Oh, God, not another impossible task! I mean… yes, sir, right away, I'd be glad to."

"Very well. Now, the man who stole it is called Ba's. He lives in Ma'an. I know who he is because he had the insolence to leave a calling card."

Linnette giggled.

"Oh yes, hilarious. Now. It's about ten in the morning. I want you back here by midnight, Miss Fortescue. If you return with the dolphin, you may claim any reward you wish. If you do not, Mr Leeford and I will be having that duel to the death we were talking about."

"You're serious about my claiming any reward I wish?"

"You have carte blanche. I would give every sack of stolen Roman and Spanish gold in my coffers, every jewel I possess, to see that statue once again."

"All right," said Linnette. "I'll go. And in the meantime, good sir, don't even think about hurting my boyfriend."

"Be careful!" said Michael.

"Seriously Michael, when will you learn that I can look after myself?"

"I don't mean to be publicly humiliating or cast doubt on your abilities or anything sweetheart, but remember what happened last time…"

"That was a year ago."

"I just don't want you to die, that's all."

If Linnette had hoped that the Bandit King would let his guard down, she was very wrong. He kept a beady eye on her all the way to the camel. He saw her off, watching her like a hawk all the way until she was out of sight.

She rode hard. She was hungry, thirsty and exhausted. The heat of the desert threatened to crush her. She had gone to Arabia expecting to be amazed—and she had definitely not been disappointed, Damascus was the most beautiful city she had ever seen—but she had not expected it to be quite so hot. Her eyes hurt in the desert glare. As dusty dusk fell, saddle-sore and raging thirty, Linnette at last came upon Ma'an.

She rode up to the main coffee house in the min square—she knew from experience that this was the best place to find out anything about a town. The respectable denizens of Ma'an stared at this apparition—armed to the teeth, in a dusty silk dress. They were happy enough, however, to answer the apparition's polite questions about where Ba's lived, and seemed to find nothing suspicious.

Linnette claimed she was Ba's' niece, turned down the offer of coffee—she was so thirsty she felt sick but she was horribly conscious of the time—and left for a large, leafy villa on the outskirts of Ma'an.

The lights were on at the top of the villa, but there was nobody about and the villa was silent. Linnette tied her camel to a tree and checked that she had her gun—loaded—her sword, her little dagger, Fluffy. Fine. Ready.

Ba's was sitting in his study, drinking coffee and going through a history of canals he had been writing for twenty years. He had had a good day's crime and he liked to relax with his canals in the evening.

Someone cleared her throat. Ba's looked up. A young woman with some kind of rat on her shoulder was standing by his writing desk pointing a gun at him.

"How did you get in here?"
"You left your chimney open. Gold dolphin please."
"You're pointing a gun at me."
"You'll get over it. Gold dolphin please."

"What gold dolphin?"
"The one you stole from the Bandit King of the Mountains."

"Who are you?"
"Linnette Fortescue. This is Fluffy the Terrible. People who get in our way tend to die. This is your chance to not be one of them."

Ba's sighed and rolled his eyes. One could not win them all. He knew that. He pulled the gold dolphin out of the safe in the corner of the room.

At that a small, brown snake wriggled through the open door and across the carpet. Ba's noticed it first.

"Miss Fortescue?"

"Yes?"
"There's a snake."
"Seriously? Oldest trick in the book."
"Seriously, madam, I think you will find that there's a snake."

Linnette rolled her eyes and turned—to see the small brown snake wriggling towards her across the floor.

"Is that…?"

"An Arabian cobra? Yes. Perhaps you should shoot it."
"I'm not moving my gun an inch, mate." She addressed the cobra. "Erm… good evening, Mr Cobra. Would you mind going away?"

The cobra stopped.

"It's just… we're busy at the moment."
The cobra turned and wiggled away.

"Good cobra," said Linnette, relieved.

The cobra disappeared into a crack in the wall.

"I guess A'zam was right," said Linnette. "Now. Where were we before we were so rudely interrupted?"

Ba's sighed again and handed the gold dolphin to the mad woman with the rat.

"Thanks."

With that, Linnette stuck the dolphin in her belt pouch and flipped herself out of the window. She slithered down a tree outside the window, ran through the garden, mounted the camel and was hurtling down the main street of Ma'an within minutes.

"Well, that was easier than I expected," she muttered. "Quite anti-climactic, in fact."

Riding back through the desert at night was at least less hot, although she was still exhausted and thirsty. And cold.

Linnette lost track of time—there was no way to keep it, here in the desert, alone. She rode as fast as she could, for as long as she could. The camel grumbled. Her head throbbed. Her lungs rasped.

When she arrived back at the mountain, she could barely coax the camel up the rocky path to the door. There was no need for sneaking around now—and at any rate, she had not the strength—so she simply seized the great chain attached to the huge bell outside the main door and pulled with all her remaining strength.

It clanged and clanged. She sighed and slumped against it.

There was rattling and scraping in the mountain fastness. After a great of scraping, she finally heard footsteps approaching the door. A stone was pushed aside, revealing a tiny metal grill.

"Who's there?" It was Aadhila.

"I am. Linnette."
"You have the dolphin?"
"Yes."

There was a pause, then more scraping and rattling. The door creaked back on its hinges. Aadhila stood there in the doorway. "Do come in."

She led Linnette down a passage, very short, like a large porch, but so thick and rocky it was more like a tunnel. It was lined with a series of doors and portcullises, before they emerged into another passage, running at right angles, and then into the bare stone living room.

Michael was there, grinning when he saw Linnette. The Bandit King was standing at the other side of the room, covering Michael with his gun.

"Lin!"

Linnette flung herself at Michael. "Back! Bet you missed me!"

"You all right?"
"Oh, aye."

"Thanks."

The Bandit King coughed. He looked surprised.

"Back so soon?"

"It was… easier than I expected." No need to understate the achievement after all. "Of course, I am very good at that sort of thing…"
"I'm sure you are. Now, touching as this reunion is… dolphin, Miss Fortescue."
"Oh, of course." Linnette flung the dolphin carelessly at the Bandit King.

"Thank you, Miss Fortescue. You are at liberty to leave, with your boyfriend, at your convenience. Unless you would like a drink or something? And of course… if you want paying… money, jewels, anything, really."
"No thank you," said Linnette. "I don't have time for a drink and I don't need money. Unless… you said you took this dolphin from a bandit in the hills near Damascus?"

"Yes, Miss Fortescue."
"Well, there is one thing I would like…"

"Yes?"

"The dolphin."

For a moment, the Bandit King simply stared at Linnette. She wondered if he were going to shoot her.

Then he laughed.

"The dolphin? Are you serious?"

"Yes. What do you want with it, after all?" Linnette knew she was making a gamble, but she took the plunge. "Because it's valuable? You have many things far more valuable. Because it's beautiful? Frankly, it's hideous. You wanted it because it's yours. Because you're the Bandit King of the Mountains and nobody messes with you. To bolster you pride. To not be beaten. Very well. I can understand those feelings. But you were not beaten. Here is the dolphin. You win."

The Bandit King sighed. "Very clever, young woman! I suppose you want to tell thugs in bars some long-winded saga about snatching it from a cursed Roman altar or something."

"Is it Roman?"
"No idea. Probably ten years old and a sad mistake, by the look of it… Oh, go on. Have it."

"Thank you, sir."

"Now get out!"

They got out. Aadhila had put some water and dried fruit on the camels, so they could at least drink and have something to eat as they rode, but there was nothing to be done about coldness and exhaustion. It was just after midnight when they set out. They had until five 'o' clock in the afternoon.

They rode hard again—how many times in the past day and a half had Linnette done that? She sank into a monotonous routine of jolting up and down, up and down in the saddle.

Time dragged by, but at the same time it flew by. The time they had to save Aisha was running out.

The heat of the day came. And passed. Now anxiety was sharpening in Linnette's stomach. Where was the oasis? Had they taken the wrong direction? Were they too late?

She looked at Michael's grim face and knew that he was thinking exactly the same thing.

They came over a small rise and saw the oasis, but it took until Linnette was almost upon it for her to accept that it was not a mirage and finally start to hope.

No sooner had they arrived at the oasis than a dozen or more men appeared around them, seemingly springing out of the sands of the desert itself. Linnette, however, had been expecting them and remained calm as they put the bags over their heads, bound their hands and lead them to A'zam.

He was waiting for them.

Aisha, bound hand and foot, looking exhausted and terrified, but unharmed, was on the floor below his throne.

The posse of armed men stood around the walls, polishing huge, wicked-looking weapons.

For a moment nobody moved or spoke. Then A'zam smiled and his smile made Linnette sick.

"Do you have the tiara?"

She flung it at his feet.

"Stop having a temper tantrum." He clicked his fingers and one of his men picked up the tiara and locked in a small wooden box.

It was all Linnette could do to control herself. "Give us Aisha. Now."

The smile widened. "No. I have the tiara, you see. Now I just kill you and draw my salary from Jacque Martin."

Linnette gaped as if she had been slapped in the face with a fish.

For a moment she seriously thought she might faint.

"What did you say?" gathering every remnant of her dignity.

A'zam's eyes were hard and cold. "I've already threatened once to kill you. I'm clearly willing to kill women and children. Do you really think that a man like me would honour a deal he makes to someone like you?"

Linnette could not reply. She could barely breathe. Rage and hatred, guilt and shame and despair were rising in a tidal wave which threatened to engulf her.

"You are so naïve. It's unbelievable."

Linnette would not scream. She would not plead. She would not lose her temper. She most certainly would not cry.

"I hope you understand. I am not a sadistic man. But I have a job to do and I do it to the best of my ability."

"I don't need to probe the murky fetid recesses of your psyche."

"Nice last words. Perhaps they'll make a quotations book. Now, the stiller you keep, the less this will hurt."

A'zam approached, wielding his sword.

At that moment Fluffy, who had been cowering on Linnette's shoulder, launched himself at A'zam's throat.

Linnette gasped, it was so unexpected.

A'zam shrieked with pain. The blood spurted over the floor, Fluffy's fur, Linnette's dress and face.

Fluffy squeaked joyfully, tearing at A'zam's throat.

"Fluffy," choked Linnette. "You're meant to be a herbivore!"

"Fluffy," said Michael. "You're finally living up to your name."

"Fluffy," whispered Aisha. "That's amazing."

And she jumped up, seized A'zam's sword, slashed through the ropes around Linnette's and Michael's wrists—and nearly sliced through their wrists, too, but it was all right for a first attempt—and, seizing Fluffy, ran.

A'zam's henchmen were in turmoil. Their master slowly dying by capybara, they were either grabbing as much of the silk and salt which Linnette and Michael had brought with them as they could lay their hands on, fighting it out for who would fill his position—it appeared that some of them had not really understood some of the finer points of becoming a legitimate businessman—or, rather half-heartedly, pursuing the prisoners.

A few shots fired in the general direction of the pursuit saw off all but the most determined. The three of them scrambled onto their camels. The camels hurtled off almost before they were mounted. They certainly needed no encouragement. South, south, towards Al Jawf.

They lost the pursuit, quickly enough. They had, after all, brought so much easy wealth with them for the picking when they raided the camel train. Why should a thug turned legitimate business man make things harder for himself than they need be?

Nevertheless, Linnette knew that there could be no slowing down. No rest (except for Fluffy the Terrible who, thoroughly praised and spoiled, went to sleep in Michael's lap). They ate and drank on the move. They rode all night. By now, all Linnette wanted to do was wash and sleep. No use wishing, however. The faster they got to Al Jawf, the faster Aisha could be safe and she and Michael could return to the lives of crime they were used to.

It was mid-morning when they finally arrived at a small nomads' camp on a low rise outside the town of Al Jawf.

If the elderly man watching scrawny sheep nibble at the non-existent grass were surprised at the arrival of a young man, a young woman, a child and a capybara on camels, he never showed it. When Aisha sprang off the camel and flung herself into his arms, weeping for joy, he simply led her to the mouth of the tent and poured tea.

Over tea, they told the whole story. Bit by bit, very confusedly, slightly incoherently but very dramatically. Aisha's grandfather assured everybody that it would be his pleasure to take Aisha and thanked Linnette and Michael profusely. Aisha herself thanked them even more profusely.

They assured him that it was a pleasure and presented Aisha with the small gold dolphin which the Bandit King of the Mountains had stolen from her father many years ago.

"He let you have it?" asked Aisha.

"Yes. He didn't really want it, I don't think. He only wanted it for his pride. He was a proud man, I think, but a good man. Honourable. He must have been a gallant bandit once."

"Sounds to me as if he still is," said Aisha's grandfather. "Aisha, however, is not going to be a bandit. You're a brave girl young lady," to Aisha "and your brother was a very brave young man, but I'm a peaceful sheep farmer and I've no time for blood-baths and feuds. You're my only living grandchild and I'm keeping you safe!"

"Very well, grandfather."

Aisha's grandfather tried to pay Linnette and Michael for their help, but they refused. They were happy with drinks, a meal, a bath and sleep.

Then they set off back to Damascus. The journey was long, hot, strenuous and wholly uneventful—but even for Linnette, uneventful might not necessarily have been so bad. They had acquired massive fines in Damascus from the camel hire (which they met by raiding camel trains). They returned to Beirut and Another Gamble, who was waiting for them patiently in the dock, bobbing up and down as sprightly as ever.

"Hello, mate." Linnette beamed at Another Gamble's elegant main mast. "Have you missed us?"

Bob.

Linnette decided that meant "yes".

"Splendid! Now, let's go. Adventures new await!"

They took their time along the coast of Africa as the days lengthened, Spring came and waxed into Summer, visiting Tunis and the ruins of Carthage, going on to Morocco, going overland to admire the markets in Fes and taking camels to Marrakesh. They dawdled, there was no hurry. The late Summer days were long and warm as they sailed into Casablanca. Casablanca was one of the most lovely cities Linnette had ever seen. It was warm, exotic… a million miles from England. She stood on the deck of Another Gamble and looked at the houses and mosques of the city rising over the horizon in the morning light. This, now, this was seeing the world.

When they had seen Casablanca, plundered a few Spanish galleons and had wander-lust again, they set sail quietly in the pale pink morning light and slipped away into the Atlantic Ocean. Now, to sail down the coast of Africa and hunt for the mythical Paradise at the South Pole or to plough across the vast and inhospitable Atlantic to the wild (and profitable) hunting grounds of the Caribbean?

"I think the Caribbean," said Michael. "Can't call yourself a sailor until you've conquered the Atlantic really, can you?"

"I think the Caribbean," said Linnette. ""Pirates of the Caribbean" has a better ring to it than "Pirates of the Southern Ocean", don't you reckon?"

They loaded up with supplies (a small minority fairly bought and paid for) in the Canaries and, on a fine, clear spring Tuesday, with the wind from the East to blow them on their way, they set off across the ocean desert of the Atlantic.

Crossing the Atlantic took about a month. It was a pleasant voyage, however, very scenic. Several times Linnette saw dolphins gambling by the port bow, and once a whale, which frolicked by the side of the ship and squirted water, drenching them. They dried quickly, however, in the hot sun.

The ships who crossed their path, however, were increasingly wary. They were more used to pirates than the European trading vessels, heavily armed and watchful. They plundered a couple of Spanish galleons, though, and once or twice found silver. One British ship returning from Jamaica with a cargo of sugar did not even put the effort in. The captain took one look at the two buccaneers, cutlasses gleaming and brandishing pistols, sighed, rolled his eyes, muttered "if you must" and sulked in the corner, periodically mumbling "Embarrassing… cutlasses…".

Linnette noticed that occasionally she felt slightly ill. Sometimes, especially in the evenings, her stomach would cramp. Was she developing sea-sickness all of a sudden?

Linnette was glad when they finally arrived in the Caribbean. The sun shone, the palm trees whispered in the breeze, the parrots sat and squawked on the bushes of colourful flowers. Linnette smiled as they glided along the coast of the Bahamas. Plundering an allegedly haunted sunken treasure ship off the coast of Cuba, however, proved tame.

That night, as Linnette and Michael sailed away to the Turks and Caicos Islands, and Linnette sat in her window, wondering if the wild, mad Caribbean were all it was cracked up to be, when she felt her stomach cramp again. She shifted on the window-sill. Her legs felt oddly stiff. When she moved, her stomach felt… odd. Not ill, exactly, not sore. More… stiff.

"Michael!"

"Mmmm?" He came in, Fluffy sniffing at his heels.

"I think I'm ill…"

"What's wrong with you?"

"Don't know. Nothing really. Just stiff."

"Hmmm." Michael studied her critically. "Lin?"
"Yes?"

"What hole do you normally put your belt on?"

"Fifth."

"What did you get it into this morning?"

"Fourth. The holes only have about a finger-nail between them, though."

"Lin, are you pregnant?"

Linnette stood stunned. "What?" she managed finally.

"Are you pregnant?"

Linnette put her hand on her stomach. It felt normal… almost. There was, if she thought about it, a kind of tense feeling in her stomach, as if her body knew something was there which her hand could not feel.

"Yes," she said faintly. "Yes. I do believe I am."

Michael was grinning. "That's amazing!"

"Is it? I mean.. I think it's amazing, but you…?"

"Of course it's amazing. I've always wanted to be a father." He leaped across the room and kissed her.

Linnette laughed. She could hardly believe it.

"I'm pregnant. I'm going to have a baby. I'm going to be a mother… How did you suspect that it was that anyway? I didn't!"

"You forget that I never went to a terribly refined choir school… my school was the biggest bastard factory in the South West. The drunken ramblings I've listened to about pregnancy and the weeks of pregnancy and abortion shops… and hush money. Especially the hush money."

"Oh yes. You and your mis-spent youth."
"It was not my youth which was mis-spent, my lady! It was… well, especially Fred's. He's probably kept a few poor-houses of England's parish churches in business for many years, and for all I know he's still at it somewhere."

"Yes, well… enough about Fred." Linnette smiled disapprovingly. "We're what matters."

"Yes. We are." He kissed her again. "Oh, Lin, we're going to be such terrible parents."

Linnette laughed. "We are. Oh, Lord…" She pictured them standing on the deck of Another Gamble, clutching the hand of a toddler… who was clutching a pistol. "But, oh, it'll be so much fun! The three of us! More. A whole tribe. The Leeford tribe. Terrors of the high seas!"

"What about the Fortescue side of the family?"

"Oh I'm going to marry you, of course."

"Are you?"

"Are you objecting, Michael, dear?"

"No, merely wondering if I get any say in the matter."
"None whatsoever. You and I are going to the nearest Church of England in the Turks and Caicos Islands, I shall walk down the aisle in white and we'll be married in the eyes of God… and I'll get to eat far too much cake."

"Right you are, sweetheart." He kissed her again, playing with the hair which had escaped from her bun. She laughed and swatted him away, teasing.

"Now you must propose to me."

"Begging your pardon, I thought you had already done that!"

"No, no, no, propose properly."

"Very well." Michael took Linnette's hand and knelt at her feet. And very dashing he looked, she thought, as the moonlight streamed through the window and shone in his eyes. Quite the Prince Charming. And she was charmed.

"Will you, Miss Linnette Fortescue, marry me?"

"Mr Michael Leeford, I will."

He grabbed her round the waist, pulled her onto his knee, and kissed her.

It was a long night.

Some two days later, borne on the warm Gulf Stream, they arrived in the Turks and Caicos Islands. The main British settlement, with its official buildings, warehouses and small Church of England, gleamed in the sunlight among the palm trees.

To Linnette it looked beautiful. It was beautiful, of course, but more beautiful for being her island of dreams. Here she would get married. A small, rather odd ceremony it would be, to be sure, but a wedding was a wedding, with a white dress, flowers and cake.

"Here's to the newly-weds," she whispered.

"Who are you afraid of over-hearing, Fluffy?"

"Well, we are being a bit… scandalous."

"The we'll be boldly scandalous." He offered her his arm. "Miss Fortescue, thief and murderess, will you accompany me to the church?"

"I will indeed." She took his arm and they swept down the gangplank and down the dirt road as if they were at a coming-out ball at Buckingham Palace. And every head turned to follow them down the street. Linnette basked in it.

The church was a small, wooden, building. The door stood open and the inside was bare and rather little-used-looking.

They wandered in—they must have looked quite a sight. Linnette was wearing a silk dress and a pearl string which would not have looked out of place in Mayfair. They were both carrying guns and assorted daggers and Linnette was carrying Fluffy on her shoulder.

The vicar emerged from a back room as they came in. "Good morning. May I help you?"

"Will you be giving a service to-morrow, sir?" asked Michael.

The vicar did not seem remotely perturbed by these visitors to his church. Perhaps they were used to odd customers on this small, remote island full of pirates and warring colonial soldiers. "Yes, I give a service every Sunday morning. Are you thinking of coming along?" he added hopefully. If he could sound optimistic and the prospect of Linnette, Michael and Fluffy in his church, he must be really short of devout Church of England followers.

"Not exactly, sir. We were just wondering if you could read the banns, please," asked Linnette.

"Why yes, of course. Congratulations, Miss, on your decision to be joined in holy matrimony. I'm assuming…" he looked rather doubtfully at Fluffy.

"Oh, no, not Fluffy. I'm Linnette Fortescue. This is Michael Leeford."

"Excellent, excellent," the vicar took down a note-book and made a note of their names. Within a few minutes, everything was arranged, and two weeks on Monday Linnette and Michael were to be married.

As Linnette stepped out into the clear island sunshine, she felt happier than she had ever felt before. So it would not be a conventional wedding. She would never become a staid housewife. But that was not what mattered. She would say "I do" to Michael Leeford. She would tell a couple of random Turks and Caicos Islanders whom they persuaded to be witnesses, and a few tropical birds who got in through the windows, that she loved Michael Leeford. Because she did. And he loved her.

They went to buy an engagement ring. Stolen spices seemed quite fair exchange for a diamond ring to the shop owner. Michael slipped it onto her finger and kissed her under the palm trees. Linnette's life was complete.

They went to buy a wedding dress. There was only one draper on the island and he did not have reams of white silk. He did have a white cotton shift. Linnette shrugged. Provided she got to walk up the aisle in white she did not care whether she got silk or not. Wedding rings—that was easy, plenty of smugglers passed through the Turks and Caicos Islands on their way from the South American gold mines to Europe. The cover of darkness, a few shots fired, a whole sack of gold jewellery.

Easy.

They now had two weeks—three Sundays—to kill in the Turks and Caicos Islands.

They spent a week or so in happy plundering along the islands' coasts.

Linnette tired easily now, but she still enjoyed stealing. It was her life, after all, and she was never going to change that. She would bring her baby up in it.

It was then that they heard rumours of Cherub. She had returned from a voyage to try to find the North-West Passage. She had failed, but on the way south had loaded up with furs, herring—smoked and dried—sugar, tobacco—and gold.

She would arrive in the Turks and Caicos Islands the next day. Here she would take on more sugar before making the long journey, laden with cargo, back to England to complain of her failure in the Arctic.

Early the next morning, as the Sun rose pink and amber over the Eastern horizon, Linnette and Michael sailed North to meet Cherub. She looked magnificent, glowing in the sunlight, armed to the teeth. The whole scene—the ship running before the wind, the gulls wheeling and screaming above her against the lightning sky—resembled something out of a dream, it was so achingly beautiful. Linnette stood up very straight in the bows of Another Gamble.

She drew her gun as they cut across the bows.

"Stand and deliver. Your money or your life."

There was a commotion on the deck. Some men sprang to their guns. Others ran to the rail to watch what promised to be an exciting spectacle.

Linnette, having sportingly offered her assistants a chance, decided to preserve what remained of her advantage of surprise. She seized the rope hanging from Another Gamble's main-mast and swung herself onto the deck of Cherub, Michael by her side.

The men swarmed round her with guns, Linnette shot first.

The result was chaos. Linnette was fighting for her life with a swarm of angry law-abiding sailors. The captain appeared on the deck, breathless with indignation, and began barking orders to his men.

Linnette was backed into a corner, a bullet nearly landed in her throat. She lashed out with her cutlass, caught the gun-man in the chest with the edge of the blade. There was another man where he had been- and there was the captain, standing on the bridge roof, yelling.

"Don't kill her, idiot! We take them into town, get rewarded."

Nobody seemed to hear for a moment. A couple of people looked up at the word "rewarded" and tried to push the other men away from her. Linnette, wondering where Michael had got to, lashed out with her cutlass again, but she had a distinct feeling that she was losing this fight. Immediately, she banished the thought. The first rule of a fight was expect to win. Believe that you would win. Somehow.

"Surrender, ma'am," yelled the captain.

"Never," yelled Linnette.

At that moment someone grabbed her from behind and lifted her off he feet. She turned, gun in hand, only to see that it was Michael, clinging onto a rope attached to Cherub's main-mast, swinging through the sky. Of course! The only way out of a tight corner—up!

He had been hurt, the side of his face gushed blood and where his right eye had been was a scarlet stream, but he was grinning as they sailed over the captain's head out over the edge of the deck—a bag of what looked like solid gold in Michael's hand.

Then Michael flinched. Blood was gushing out of his arm.

And then about a dozen things happened at once. They reached the edge of the deck. Michael's grip on Linnette's waist loosened as his arm cracked into some hideously unnatural angle. Linnette looked down—and saw Another Gamble.

Cherub's cannons had done their work. A cannon ball had lodged in Another Gamble's stern.

She was sinking.

Linnette's head reeled in shock—and her arms loosened round Michael's neck. He dropped her and she crashed down on the deck. The bag of gold landed on top of her.

She caught one last look at Michael's face, horror and guilt, as he slumped, bleeding, into the midst of the outraged crew. Then the mask of horror deepened and Linnette followed his eyes up—the main-mast of Another Gamble was rushing down towards her. She rolled away—still, somehow, clinging to the bag of gold—only to feel the floor give way beneath her as Another Gamble turned turtle. The mast crashed down onto her head, the water rushed into her mouth, then darkness.

She woke in a small, bare room, with white-washed walls.

Is this Heaven?

No, surely not. Heaven was not a small, white-washed room.

Hell?

No, this was surely not bad enough to be Hell.

She must be alive, then. Could she sit up? Yes.

Very well. She looked around. The room was small. The walls were stone and the floor was stone slabs. The high ceiling was stone, too.

That by itself was odd.

Nearly everything in the Turks and Caicos Islands was made of wood. And yet—she stood up on the stone bench on which she had been lying and looked out of the small, barred window—she seemed to still be in the Turks and Caicos Islands.

There were palm trees with tropical birds flying among them, the sun was warm and the sky was blue. And she was in this cold stone cell.

For of course it must be a cell. She must be in prison on the Turks and Caicos Islands, after the failed raid on Cherub. Imprisoned alone. Then where was Michael?

It hit her like a lightning bolt in the chest. Was he dead? No, surely not. He could not, he must not, be dead. If he were, she would know—somehow. He was alive. Somewhere. All she had to do was find him.

Besides she was not entirely alone. She had Baby. And Fluffy must be with Michael—she could not for an instant believe he would leave his side.

All they had to was find each other.

First things first. The cell. The door was the most obvious place to begin. It was heavy, thick, solid metal. There was no grill, hatchway or opening anywhere. No hinges were accessible from the inside. There was no lock to pick. The door must be secured entirely on the outside. She pushed, shook and rattled at it. Nothing doing. Next, the window. It was high, but if the stood on the stone bench, the ledge came up to her neck. The window had heavy, solid iron bars, firmly nailed in place, running vertically about an inch apart. She rubbed her hands along them, trying to bend them the way people did in adventure novels, but they never gave an inch. Even if they did, she doubted if the window would be big enough for her to fit through. Very well. The walls—nothing doing. The floor—no good. The ceiling—she was unable to reach, even standing on the bench.

Very well, she would wait, that was all. Find out more about where she was, what life was like here, how it was run, what kind of people lived here. Somehow, soon, she would escape. Or Michael would find her and break her out.

It was now—Linnette checked her watch, which seemed miraculously to have survived its immersion in the Atlantic—ten in the morning. At some point—unless they wanted to starve her to death—whoever was holding her here would have to feed her.

Sure enough, at twelve 'o' clock, the door creaked open.

Outside were four guards. Armed to the teeth. She stood no chance.

A woman came into the room. She was carrying a tray with food on. "Here," she said.

"Good morning," said Linnette.

"Good morning." The woman looked surprised. Clearly she was not used to graciousness from her prisoners. "I've brought you something to eat."

"Thank you," said Linnette. "What is this place?"

"This is the official prison. It's the back of the courthouse."

"Am I still on the Turks and Caicos Islands?"

"That's right."

Linnette feigned bewilderment.

"But why am I here?"

"Because you're a pirate and a menace to civilised society, that's why! When the fishermen found you, you looked like a mermaid floating there, trapped under the mast of a little steam-and-sail yacht. You were clinging that bag of gold to you with your dead fingers—so they thought—as if you were a fiend from Hell. Well, sooner or later, everybody worked out who you were. You were Linnette Fortescue—a pirate. So we brought you here."

"How is the ship?"

"Oh, repairable. It's a nice clean break. They're fixing her up down in the harbour right now."

"What'll happen to her then?"

"Oh, doubtless the British Government'll use her for something."

"Tell them to treat her right. She's a good boat."
"Oh, they know that. The harbour master—real old sailor—he said that he'd never seen a boat so lovely in all his days. Real lady, he called her."

"Hurry up," muttered one of the guards. "You're not paid to talk!"

"Oh, leave her," muttered another guard. "It's not as if we have anything better to do."

"Does anybody know," said Linnette, "what happened to the boy on her?".

"Oh," the woman frowned. "There was something about a boy. Michael Leeford, or something, he was called. I think the crew of Cherub took him away with them. He's probably in prison, too."

"Alive?"

"Lord, Miss, I don't really know. He mean a lot to you?"

"Everything."
"Well," the woman smiled kindly. "I'm sure you'll meet in Heaven."

"In Heaven?"

"Oh, yes, I'm sure you're both heading for the gallows. Sure as night follows day."

"But I'm innocent!"

The woman smiled, a little sadly. She seemed to genuinely pity Linnette's plight.

"They all say that, Miss. They all say that, and we learn quickly enough not to believe them. I can tell you're not innocent at any rate. You'd have been more surprised, Miss. And you'd have said that you were innocent before asking about the boat."

Linnette cursed her foolishness silently.

"Am I to be hanged to-day?"

"Lord, no, Miss. The Governor is very particular about fair trials. You'll be tried next week. Monday. Hanged the day after that, probably."

"And what do I do in the mean-time?"

"Sit here and make your peace with God, Miss. Now, I must go. The warden doesn't really like us to socialise with the prisoners. It encourages poor discipline."

In the meantime, Michael had been taken to a cell at the nearby naval base. He was hurriedly and not very skilfully patched up. He was then placed in a high, cool, draughty cell, very similar to Linnette's. His hands and feet were chained to the wall, and, of course, he had only one eye now. His first thought, of course, was for Linnette.

"Excuse me," he asked the guard who stood outside his cell. "Is Linnette all right?"

The guard merely grunted.

Michael was left in his cell, with only a tired, grumpy Fluffy and an uncommunicative guard for company. Thus he spent Tuesday. The cell was serious business. Small, solid rock, impenetrable. There were guards, it appeared, outside the doors night and day. They were all as uncommunicative as each other. The young woman who came to feed him never even looked at him.

By the time Wednesday morning dawned, he was beginning to realise the hopelessness of his situation. Nobody would give him any news of Linnette and there was no obvious way—no way even when he scoured his brains—out of the cell.

One thing he clung to: Linnette was not dead. He would escape, and he would find her, wherever she was. Unless she got to him first. That resolution was probably the only thing which kept him from going mad all Wednesday. The alternative was simply too much for his soul to bear.

On Wednesday afternoon, in another, better, part of the naval base, Captain Smith was talking to his daughter, Jane.

"Here's your dress, Jane. It's lovely, isn't it? Do you want to go and try it on?"

Jane looked up sullenly from her sewing.

"No, father."

"Now don't be like that, Jane. It's a lovely dress."

"But I don't want a wedding dress, father."

"Don't be silly, it's all the way from England. White silk. Lovely, isn't it?"

"I don't care if it's white silk." Jane laid down her sewing. Her voice was rising now.

"What do you mean you don't care? What do you want to get married in? Rags?"

"I don't want to get married."

"Don't be silly. It's very kind of the Admiral to offer to marry you. A poor girl with no prospects ought to be glad to."

"Is it my fault you have no prospects?"
"No, but is it mine, Jane?"

"Well, I do think you might have made it to Admiral. And then you can retire on a comfortable pension to England. We can get off this island and live in London. The Queen will give you a pension and a knighthood and I can have my fun and marry someone young and handsome."

"Well, I haven't made it to Admiral!" Captain Smith was shouting now. "I'm a captain. Just try to think about my life. I have to do my job. We live here, in the Caribbean. And if you have a problem with that, you can write to the Admiralty. Now, young woman, you are going to behave yourself and show me some respect."

"Then earn some! When did you think about my life? I don't want to live here. I want to go out in society. I want to have…"
"Luxuries? Fripperies? Well, you'll get them, won't you, my girl, when you marry the Admiral and go with him to England?"

"But I don't want to go to England married to a middle-aged man. I don't want to be a housewife stuck on his stupid country estate."
"Don't talk about the Admiral's estates like that, my girl."

"Why can't I marry a Lord? Then I'll have a decent life. Have fun."

"Because no Lord would ever marry you! It's not you, personally. It's quite simply that a Lord will marry a girl with a large dowry, and I can't provide you with a large dowry. Now, forget about marrying a Lord and marry the nice, kind Admiral."
"But your cousin married a Lord, didn't she?"

"As you know full well, that ended in tragedy. The fool woman had an affair with a Baron, went mad with grief when he killed her husband-"

"And ended up in a mad house," finished Jane.

"Exactly. I, my girl, had to work my way up from the bottom. I won't end up in a mad house, you'll see, and you won't either, my girl. You'll be a prosperous housewife and mother, and we'll have made it in society, my girl! We'll have come a long way from my father when your children are born."
"Well, I don't see why you have turn this family into a cattle market, now."

"Cattle market! Such an expression to use about your marriage."

"Well, it's true. And if you've worked your way up from the bottom this far-"

"I certainly did. I went to sea when I was eleven years old-"

"Why can't you just work your way up a bit more?"

"Because the world doesn't work like that, my girl. Hard graft will only-" He realised what he was saying. "Hard graft is vitally important in life. Part of that is to be willing to make sacrifices of one's personal convenience-"

"Of my happiness! Of my future life!"
"Stop talking like something out of a romantic novel! As I was saying, part of that is to be willing to make sacrifices of one's personal convenience to the greater good."
"Who's greater good? Mine or yours?" The tears were coming now.

"The greater good of this family."
"I do believe that you think I'm merely a piece of property to be traded with."

"And I do believe that you're a fine spoilt lady who has no idea, because I spent my youth making enough money to shield you from it, how hard life can truly be!"

"My life is hard!"

"Your life is dull. There's a difference."
"Father, what you are asking me to do is wrong!"

"I am your father. This is a good match. It's this, my girl, or throwing yourself away on a penniless whaler."

"Father!" The tears came hot and fast. "Father you can't make me marry him."
Whether Captain Smith truly would have made her marry him is anybody's guess. He was not an entirely heartless man and she was weeping. But "you can't" had bitten something in his soul. Captain Smith was a hard man. It was the first thing he told new men on his ship and he made sure he lived up to it—at first at least. He had not worked his way up from nothing by being anybody's fool.

""Can't", can't I? We'll see about that, my girl. I'm telling you now that I can and I will."

"Father! Listen! I barely know the Admiral. You barely know him! He might be an awful man."
"He's not an awful man. He's very well known and highly respected at sea. He'll give you a comfortable life."

"Father, surely you're not so naïve as to think that just because a man is well-known and highly respected in his profession-"

"Which happens to be the service of his country."

"That doesn't necessarily make him a good husband to a poor girl with no dowry, who hasn't mixed much in Society."

"What on Earth are you driving at, girl?"

"Sometimes even the most respectable men in public are quite scandalous behind closed doors. Lord Nelson, for example."

"Oh, you needn't have any fears of the Admiral leaving you for some pretty debutante, if that's what you're fearing for. He's highly respectable. Well-known for a strong sense of traditional Georgian family values. I was born in the reign of George IV, don't forget that."

"Well, I hadn't supposed it was George I."
"None of your impudence! You take it from me, young lady, the Admiral is perfectly dependable as a husband and—listen, this is important—will expect you to be perfectly dependable as a wife. You understand what I mean, don't you?"

"Yes, father." Jane, the threat of outraged wifely dignity at least settled, drying her tears.

"So any slipping up to London to buy new dresses, or anything of that sort, just don't, do you hear? Just remember what happened to my cousin."

A change came over Jane's face. "Supposing I weren't dependable?"
"Then he'll throw you over without a penny. Do you understand?" Captain Smith glared under his eyebrows.

"Even now?"
"What do you mean by that?"

"Well, I'm not married to him yet."

"And you'll wait until you are," growled the Captain.

"So, no playing the field?"

"Playing the field! What a vulgar expression! I've never heard the like. Absolutely not!"

"And, if he were to find out that I had been seeing someone else, the marriage would be off?"
"Yes!"

"He'd never forgive me?"

"Not in a million years!" He glared suspiciously at her. "Why? Got some young fellow following you around giving you flowers, have you?"
"Oh, no, no father," quickly.

A long pause. Jane returned to her sewing, the Captain to his pipe.

Presently Jane said, musing, "It's funny about those pirates, isn't it, father?"

"Eh? Oh." The Captain was quite glad to get off the subject of his daughter's impending marriage. "Isn't it."

"Do you know where they came from, father?"

"No. Probably idiots trying to make money the fast and easy way."

"Is that boy all right?"

"The boy? Oh, yes, he's all right."
"He'll never recover the sight in his eye, will he?"
"No. No. Mind you, that'll probably be the least of his worries."
"Oh yes, of course. He's going to killed, I suppose?"
"He has to be tried, first."
"When's that?"

"Most likely Monday."
"That's my wedding day!"

"Sorry, darling, but we're all so busy, out here. It's the only day the judge can manage. If your soft heart bleeds for the silly thug, just think of something else and enjoy your special day."

"So he'll be executed-"

"On Tuesday, most likely, yes."

"Did they find out who the drowned girl was, father?"

"Oh, she wasn't drowned. The latest news is that she lived. Won't live much longer, of course. Her trial, I expect, will be next week, too."

"So there's no chance of her coming to rescue him?"
"You can set your mind easy on that score. We can sleep safe in our beds."

"Good." Jane sat and sewed in silence for the rest of the evening.

That evening she took the keys to the cell from the officers' mess and went down to see the new boy.

Michael was sitting on the bench in the corner of his cell, trying to scrape through his chain by rubbing it against the wall. His head hurt and his anxieties about Linnette were growing. He was certain now that she must be in some kind of difficulty—in prison, marooned, injured, ill. That she was… dead he simply refused to let into his head. Suppose she were in danger? And he was here, as much use as a chocolate teapot, in his cell, rattling his chains and kicking his heels. Why could these people not be obliging enough to have a lock in the door for him to pick? Then he would only have his chains to deal with. And the guards.

There was a soft footstep in the corridor. Someone was coming. Not the guard shift. Not the woman who usually fed him either. He knew their footsteps. No, this was someone new.

A young woman appeared at the grill in the front of his door. It was indeed someone whom he had never seen before. She was wearing a dress of some good-quality material and she looked clean and well-fed, but tired and anxious.

"You may go," she said to the guard.

"Are you sure, Miss?"

"Yes."

"Very well, Miss."
"Thank you."

She moved closer to the grill as the guards moved away.

"Evening," she said.

"Evening, Madam," said Michael. He got up as best he could in his chains and limped over until he was about half way across the cell and the chains did not allow him to go any further.

She smiled at him through the door. "What's your name?"
"Michael Leeford, ma'am. How do you do?" He bowed as best he could—after all, merely being chained up in a cell was no excuse for forgetting his manners.

"How do you do? I'm Jane Smith."

"Pleasure."
"Pleasure all mine." She gave Michael a smile which was just too sweet. Michael tried to be too gentlemanly to scowl. It was his automatic reaction to young English Roses smiling sweetly.

Jane continued to talk.

"I hear you're a pirate."

"I'm not, ma'am."
"They all say that." Jane laughed. Again, her laugh was just too sweet.

"Ma'am," said Michael coldly, "I shall be forced to regard that as an insult. You are calling me not only a pirate but a liar". He doubted if Jane were here to trick him into a confession, because he doubted if the judge here used such cunning methods. More likely he would take one look at him, declare him guilty and drag him out him out to the gallows. However, it was always possible that they had a genuinely conscientious judge here, who liked to make sure that his prisoners were guilty.

Jane laughed again. "You don't have to call me ma'am. You can call me Jane."
"Yes, ma'am."

Jane leaned on the bars. "My, you're an old-fashioned one! I just come to see if you were all right."

"I'm quite well, thank you, ma'am." Michael relaxed. It was quite possible that she was here to see that he was well, in which case it was very kind of her.

"Want anything? Food? Drink?"

"No thank you."
"Sure? I don't like to think of you here alone. It can get mighty cold at night."
"The nights here, ma'am, are the hottest I've ever known."
"Where you from then?"

"England." Michael was lonely in his cell and happy enough to talk.

"Oh, well, it would be hot here, then. But are you sure you don't want a drink, some whiskey or something?"

He was about to accept, but she smiled again and it occurred to him that this conversation perhaps meant more to her than it did to him. In which case she must be pretty desperate. Not all girls tried to flirt with a man who was probably going to die soon.

"Well, let me know if there's anything I can do."

"Actually, there is something you can do. Do you know what happened to the lady who was with me? Linnette Fortescue her name is. My fiancée." He smiled unconsciously at the thought of Linnette. Jane saw the smile and was not happy.

"She's alive," she said. Was Michael imagining things or was she speaking slowly, slightly bitterly? Well, if she did want to court him in his prison cell, it was probably for the best that she realised she did not have a chance sooner rather than later. "She's alive, but in prison."

"What are they going to do to her?"

"Hang her, I expect. Next week."

"Where am I? What are they going to do to me?"

"You're at the Royal Navy base. They're going to try you for piracy and murder and goodness knows what—you have quite a reputation—and hang you."

Michael considered. "I don't suppose," wistfully, "that you know of any way to get either of us out of prison? I mean, you probably do, but you won't tell me…".

"I… don't know." She looked so uncomfortable that Michael decided not to press her.

"Listen," increasingly anxious. "All I want to do is release Linnette from prison. Is there any way I can do that? Any money I can give to the judge, anything like that?"

"No, nothing like that."

"Damn." He sighed. Never had a prison cell looked so cold, so dark, so utterly impenetrable, as it did to Michael Leeford at that moment.

There was silence.

"Tell me about England," said Jane. "I've never been."

"It's awful. You would hate it."

"Is London not lovely?"

"Only been to London once. Spent most of our time… shopping." He almost said "stealing things".

"I'd love to go to England. And go to the balls. And the opera. And perhaps I'd marry a dashing young man." She looked at him, smiling, then laughed charmingly. But her fingers were playing constantly, restlessly, with a loose thread in her sleeve.

She's scared, thought Michael. And she's desperate. I wonder why?

"I get so bored and lonely here," she went on, wistfully. "Nothing ever happens." She looked at him. "I suppose you must have had an exciting life."

"As a spice and sugar trader? No, I don't think so."

Jane laughed again. "You're very careful, Mr Leeford."

There was another pause.

"Did you say your young lady was called Miss Fortescue?"

"Yes, ma'am."

"Any relative of the Baron's?"

Michael felt oddly defensive and on edge. "Yes."

"The same Baron as who ran away with Lady Maynarde?"

"I believe so."

"Oh, my! How exciting!"

More silence, but only briefly.

"Mr Leeford, I don't want you to die!"

"Thank you," said Michael, but he was wary. Why did this feel like something out of a stage show?

"I'd help you, if I could." She bit her lip. "But I can't."
"Never mind, ma'am. If I'm to be tried, there's always hope."
"I fear not! Oh, he's so cruel, that judge. I'm afraid of him, really I am."

Definitely stagy. Michael ignored that remark.

Jane looked around. She looked genuinely frightened.

"I must go, now. I'll come back and see you, to-morrow." She gave him a sweet smile. "Guards!"

The guards hurried back into the corridor.

"Goodnight."

"Goodnight, ma'am."

And Jane left, feeling that she had made a good start, at least, with escaping her marriage to the Admiral.

Thursday found Linnette tired and nauseous. She ate the food the woman gave her, but was not really hungry. She wondered if any of the people here knew that she was pregnant. Would it make any difference if they did? Perhaps they would keep her alive. Then she could find Michael. But if she were stuck in a cell, how could she find him then?

Escape, at any rate, seemed to be an impossibility. She scoured the cell, floor, North wall, South wall, East and West walls. No hope of a way out. She had heard of people making mad dashes to freedom in disguise—but she had no disguise—or in boxes of books—she had no box of books—or by tunnelling through the wall—she actually tried to tunnel through the wall with her bare hands, but she could not make so much as a dent.

At lunch time, the woman who brought her food confirmed that Michael was alive, in prison in a naval base on a nearby island and probably with the gallows hanging over him. Well, gallows or no gallows, at least he was alive.

By the afternoon, she had realised that there was only one thing possible. She would have to sit and wait. Wait for Michael to come and find her. If she could not find a way out, he would have to get her out. Her mind settled on that resolution. Either she would escape, or Michael would find her. Somehow. He always did. He was alive, and he would find her, and they would be together again for the rest of their lives.

"Michael," she whispered. "I need you…"

Michael spent Thursday increasingly worried. He could not escape. Linnette was alive, but in prison and would be hanged. Even if they accepted that killing a pregnant woman, even a pirate, was simply too cruel, she would surely spend the rest of her life in prison. Which was worse, in a way.

No, it was escape, rely on Linnette to escape so that she could rescue him, or die. And he did not want to die. More than that, he did not want Linnette or their unborn child to die either. Perhaps, at the trial, if he pleaded to the judge, he might spare them, if not him. Maybe the judge was married, maybe he had children, maybe he would understand what Michael felt. But people like judges rarely seemed to think that people like Michael could feel at all. Idly he wondered which came first: did people become contemptuously judgemental and then become judges because they were so suited to it or did they become judges and then harden their hearts?

Jane spent the day happy and chatting excitedly about her wedding to her father. Captain Smith wondered if perhaps he had been too harsh in saying that he would force her to marry the Admiral. It was just that she could be stubborn and irritating—there were some things his paterfamilial pride would not bear and having his authority questioned was one of them. He wondered if he should mention this, but she seemed now genuinely happy about her forthcoming marriage. Perhaps she had seen sense at last. Maybe he should just leave it at that. After all, it was a highly desirable match.

That evening, Jane came to see Michael again.

She asked him about England again and they talked for a while. Michael noticed that she was wearing powder and rouge. Chance, perhaps, or perhaps not?

"Does piracy make you rich?" asked Jane.

"I'm not a pirate."

Jane laughed. "Keep telling us that, Michael!"

"Mr Leeford, if you please, ma'am," said Michael, rather coldly.

Jane sighed. "Oh, have it your way."

"Does piracy make people rich?"

"Yes. Very."

"I'm getting married on Monday," said Jane, after a pause.

"Really? Congratulations." Michael was genuinely happy for her, but also happy that the sweet smiles might stop.

"Oh, no, not congratulations!"

"No?"
"Mich- Mr Leeford, I don't want to marry him!"

"No?" Michael looked at her. They were almost certainly genuine tears in his eyes.

"No! He's awful, Mr Leeford, middle-aged."

Michael felt sorry for the poor girl. Now he understood why she had smiled so sweetly for him—she was desperately seeking comfort.

"I'm sorry to hear that," he said.

"Thank you, Mr Leeford." Jane smiled bravely through her tears.

"Is there no way for you to escape marrying him?"

"None at all, I fear. My father's said I must, and, oh!, he's so stubborn. He won't listen to me. I don't think he cares about me at all." She was crying harder. "He only cares about advancing his position and silly things like that."

It was truly dreadful, Michael thought, when nobody cared for a person. Cared for them as a person, not a bargaining chip. Jane must be so alone.

"Mich- Mr Leeford, will you help me?"

"If I were not in this cell I would be glad to commit any thefts and murders necessary to get you out of this marriage. Regretfully, I'm helpless." He realised what he had said and froze.

Jane laughed through her tears. "Oh, I won't tell a soul! Merely saying that you would do something is not the same as actually doing it. Besides, we all knew the truth, anyway."

"Well, I guess that's all right, then."

Then they talked more, idly, about stars and palm trees and what—they speculated—English high society was doing.

Then Jane reached through the bars of the cell door and touched Michael's hand. It was only a light brush, but it was accompanied by one of her sweet smiles. Michael snatched his hand away and glared at her.

There was an awkward pause before conversation was resumed.

"There is a way out," said Jane suddenly, as if—but perhaps it was only as if—she had suddenly decided to risk everything.

"Of your marriage?"

"No. Of this cell."

"What is it?" Michael's heart began to race.

"I know where they keep the keys to the cells. I can always send the guard away and then you can get out of your cell and I'll take you right away from here."
"Thank you, ma'am. That's very kind of you. We'll go at once, if it's quite convenient for you."

"But," said Jane, and now her pleading tears barely concealed her smile of triumph. "You have to take me with you."

Michael's stomach gave a sick lurch. "What?" he gasped.

"You have to take me with you to England and there I can live the high life."

"But, Jane, this is a pirate ship. You'll risk ending up dead if you come with us."
"That's true." Jane bit her lip. "I don't want to die."

"I know. Neither do I. Nobody wants to. It's just a risk we run. Besides, I don't think Linnette would like it if you were to come with us."
"You mean she'd be jealous."
"Yes. She'd be jealous. You wouldn't enjoy it, ma'am."

"All right, I won't come to England. But, oh, Mr Leeford, I have to get out of this marriage. Would you leave me here to suffer?"

"Ma'am, Linnette cooped up for two weeks or more with you, a pretty lady, is going to be rather difficult to live with. That's the long and short of it." And perhaps I don't want you on the ship if you're going to smile at me like that. But of course, he never said that bit.

"I can't marry him, Mr Leeford, I can't." The tears were coming again. "I don't love him, I don't want to marry him. He has a lot of money, but… it's just not enough, Mr Leeford."
"I'm sorry to hear that. Why don't you murder him and be rid of your problem for good? Oh, Lord, I didn't mean to say that…"

"All right." Jane laughed through her tears. "I'm not here to incriminate you, Mr Leeford. I don't care what you say about your illegal activities. All I care about is escaping this marriage."
"Yes," said Michael rather coldly. "To the point where you're willing to dangle life and freedom over my head as a bargaining chip."

"Well, it's your own fault. You chose the life you chose."

"What? Because I didn't want to end up like the Admiral? A rich old man hand-picking pretty young trophy wives."

"You know," oh, the smile was so sweet. "That's the second time that you've called me pretty. Do you really think I am?"

"Yes," said Michael, still more coldly, for what else could he say?

"Oh, it's sweet of you to say that." She giggled, a musical giggle which turned Michael's stomach. "Tell you what, if you really think I'm pretty…"

"Go on, ma'am. What?"

"Well, you don't have to actually take me with you to England. You don't want to make Linnette jealous, after all."

"I certainly don't want to make Linnette jealous."

"So why don't you simply… stay with me to-night."

"What?"

"Linnette will never have to know."

"What?"

"Oh, Michael, you did say I was pretty…"

"My good lady, I have sincere sympathy for your forthcoming marriage. However, the prospect of you… staying with me to-night is inconceivable."
"For all I'm pretty?" The merest suggestion of a pout.

"Ma'am, your prettiness is irrelevant. You say you don't love the Admiral? Well, I don't love you."
"Not at all?" There was a wild look in her eyes, despite her attempts to be seductive, and the sweetness of her smiles. "Not a little?"

"No, ma'am, not at all. Certainly not by Monday, after which" drily, "it would be too late".

"Well, you're the only man who's said that!"

"Very well, I shall be the only one."

"Oh, Mr Leeford, surely you won't deny me this? Have you no heart?"

"Yes, ma'am and it bleeds for you. In chains and in a cell, I can do no more."

"I don't want to… to be a good wife… to an old man without… without… seeing a little of the world first. On my own terms. I want to… be… with a nice, handsome young man whom I chose for myself. You do understand what I'm saying don't you?"

"Both your meaning and your flattery are noted. The handsome young man, however, wants a little choice of his own."

"Don't be cruel to me, Mr Leeford! Please don't."

"Do you really just want to assert your independence with me, or is something else going on here?"

"Oh, I do just want to assert my independence- I mean, I honestly think you're a handsome young man. It's just that, well, the Admiral is a little old-fashioned—which is one of the things I don't like about him, and why I think you're so much nicer—and so he might, well, complain…"

"And the wedding would be off? I see. Very clever. Regrettably ma'am, I'm equally old-fashioned."

"Very well." Rage and shame flashed across Jane's face. "I'll leave you here to die then. Think of me, won't you, on the gallows? Think of the life you could have had."

"With all due respect, ma'am, I'll have better things to think of on the gallows than your crude attempts at bargaining."

"Your girl-friend," with as much scorn as Michael had ever heard packed into two syllables.

"My fiancée."

"You really love her, don't you?" Wistful despair came over Jane's face.

"Yes," said Michael simply, with equal wistful despair.

Jane burst into tears. "I hate you. I hate your fiancée. I'll go away and never come near you again!"

She fled weeping up the corridor, calling for the guards, who came running.

Michael was quite happy for her never to come again. She was irritating and miserable company. He felt sorry for her but there was nothing he could do to help her and he was tired of her crude attempts at seduction.

Friday found Linnette feeling brighter than she had felt yet this week. Her faith in Michael was absolute. If she could not save herself, he would save her and their child.

The child was restless. At least, Linnette knew that it was far too young and small to be really restless but she could feel it cramping her stomach. She wondered if it understood anything which was going on, even young and small as it was. Perhaps it could feel her thoughts. In which case, she ought to soothe it.

She got up and began to pace back and forth. Her baby calmed down and she could feel it getting more relaxed.

When the woman who brought her meals came to give her some tea that evening, she watched Linnette pace back and forth for a moment. Then she said casually "Are you pregnant?".

Linnette was stunned. Looking down she saw that she was a little, just a very little, plumper round the waist, but she had not really noticed.

"You are aren't you?"

"Yes," said Linnette. "How did you know?"

"How far on?"

"I'm not sure, maybe five weeks. A little more, perhaps, five and a half. It's so hard to tell."

"You haven't been to a doctor?"
"No. How am I supposed to go to a doctor? I'm not married. I am engaged though. We were going to be married on Monday."
"Well," the woman, with a slightly guilty morbidity, "you'll be on trial for your life on Monday".

"Oh, I don't know." Linnette laughed. "My Prince Charming might come and make a miracle rescue by then."

"I wouldn't count on it, ma'am. The cells at that naval base are famous in these islands for being well-nigh impossible to get out of. No, if you ask me, the best thing to do is to give your fellow up to God right now."
"Oh no! I can't do that."

"It's a hard thing, but trust me, ma'am. When my husband died, I thought I'd never get over it. I did, though. Well… almost. I've never married again. No, if you want my advice, your best bet of getting off the gallows is that baby. Tell the court you're pregnant and they'll spare you. Probably. They might not. Still, I don't think even our hanging judge would be so heartless… there's such a thing as public opinion."

"Thank you for the advice," said Linnette.

"You're welcome, ma'am. Too soft-hearted for a job like this, that's my problem."

Michael spent Friday worried and frustrated. Every hour that ticked by was nearing the end for Linnette. And there was nothing he could do about it. He would never even say goodbye. Today was only Friday, there was a whole week-end before the trial, surely they would save the execution until the next day, surely he could think of some way to save Linnette, surely he could appeal to the better nature of his judge… But in his heart, he felt that these were vain hopes. Maybe Linnette would tell the court that she was pregnant and they would spare her. But she would only be placed in a mad house or sent to hard labour in Australia. He would never see her again. She would die young of some loathsome disease…

He knew there was no good torturing himself. He just could not help himself.

That evening, as Michael had expected and frankly dreaded, Jane came again. She was pale and looked even more anxious than she had been yet. She dismissed the guards.

"Michael?"
"Mr Leeford, ma'am."
"I'm sorry. Mr Leeford."

"Good evening, ma'am."

"Michael, I'm so sorry." She was breathless and unsteady. "I have bad news…"

Bad news. That could mean only one thing. There was only thing which could make his situation worse.

He felt his stomach clench. It was a cold, dull feeling. He sat down on the bench. Suddenly he was weak at the knees.

Very clearly, yet from very far away, he heard Jane: "Linnette's dead".

Michael turned his face to the wall and said nothing. There was nothing to say.

"I'm sorry," said Jane again.

"Leave please."

Jane still lingered. Michael wanted to be alone, but somehow, despite everything, he felt sorry for the lonely girl and could not force her to go.

"Michael, I'm… I'm lonely. And scared…"

"Scared?"

"Of being married."

Michael tried to listen and sympathise, even though, in his mind, he was miles away. Linnette was dead. Linnette was dead. Linnette was dead. Over and over again in his mind. Until he could accept it. Until he could at least believe it. It was odd that he had felt nothing, no sign. He knew that sixth senses and things were foolishness, really, but he had never quite rid himself of the belief that somehow, because he and Linnette loved each other so much, he would always know, somehow, if she did die. Like a little light in his heart which could only burn while she was alive. But now he felt nothing. No sign from God. She had died today, and he was here, in his cell, and had never said goodbye. Would probably never even see her body. And that was all there was to that.

Jane was talking, fast, desperately. He tried to listen—he could not be heartless. "But she's gone, Mr Leeford. I know it's hard, but she's gone."

Michael could say nothing. His voice would not work. At any rate, there was nothing to say. He knew she was gone. He just could not believe it.

"So, if she's gone, there's nothing between us, is there?"

Outrage and disgust grabbed Michael's attention. "What did you say?"

A woman less desperate than Jane would have left now. Jane was desperate and she kept talking. "Michael, why not just move on? She's gone and there's nothing to stop us being together."

"What do you mean?"

"Let me stay with you to-night, Michael, let me comfort you, let me help…"

"Get out!" Not loudly, but viciously. Jane flinched.

"She's dead. Linnette's dead." Somehow as he said it to her he found that he realised it himself. The tears came gushing down his face, hot and fast. He could barely talk. "And all you care about," grief and rage tumbled over each other through a tear-blurred red haze, "is your stupid wedding. I'm sorry about your wedding, but you can't spend the night with me, now or ever, because Linnette was my fiancée and I love her. And I don't love you. You don't even know what love is or you would never say what you just said. No wonder you don't love the Admiral. You've never loved anybody. You can't."

Jane was hurt, but also desperate. If this plan failed, she might easily be wed to the Admiral on Monday.

"But Mr Leeford, don't you want to live?"

"Not particularly." For a moment he was quiet, as he realised that that was true. "Now get out."

Jane got out. Michael slept not a wink on Friday night. He lay on his bench and stared at the darkness. The night might have been hot but Michael was cold. He thought of Linnette and the darkness came crashing down on the bleeding wound in his heart and he cried and cried until no more tears came, and sank into an exhausted stupor, more like death than sleep, and stared at nothing all night.

On Saturday Linnette was hungry and slightly ill. The baby, probably. She searched the cell for a way out, as she had done every day, found none, as she had done every day, monitored the guard shifts, as she did every day, and realised that not with all her brains and nerve could she find a way out, as she did every day.

She did not despair. She might not be able to get out, but Michael would get her out.

Michael barely noticed Saturday dawn. He sat and stared out of the barred window at the sky, ignored his food and wished he were dead.

On Saturday night, Jane came to see him. He did not even look at her.

"Go away."
"Oh, no, please, Mr Leeford, you're the only person who's ever offered me sympathy or tried to understand me."

He summoned all his sympathy and turned to look at her. She looked shifty.

"Mr Leeford… Linnette's alive."

"What?" Michael could barely hear her.

"Linnette's alive."

It was as if Michael himself had come back to life. Some inner strength returned to him. He got up off the bench. Linnette was alive. Perhaps not for much longer, but here, now, she was alive and needed his help. That gave him a reason to live.

"She's alive?"
"She's alive. Still with the gallows hanging over her, of course." Again that shifty look.

A horrible suspicion entered Michael's heart. "Why did you tell me she was dead?"

Jane was powerless to resist Michael's glare. "I'm sorry," she said, as if it were being dragged out of against her will by Michael's sheer will-power. "I'm sorry, I thought, once you were rid of her, you might… set me free of my marriage. And then you would be free to go on and have a happy life. You can carry on being a pirate or whatever you like."

"Once I was rid of her? Once I was rid of her?" The rage burning through Michael's veins frightened even himself. It was vicious, concentrated, deadly rage. He did not shout, he hissed. "Linnette's the best thing that ever happened to me in my life and all you can talk about is when I'm rid of her?"

"I'm sorry, I didn't think you could love her."
"I said so, didn't I?"

"I thought it might just be infatuation. I didn't think… you know… that people like you, can… fall in love."
"People like me? What's that supposed to mean? Thieves? Murderers? Atheists? People who sleep together before marriage? People in the hang-man's noose? Just explain precisely what sort of person I am, and what sort of person my Angel is, and why exactly, we don't fit your narrow-minded world-view of what people are."

Jane was crying now. "Be quiet! Be quiet! Or I'll call the guards…"

"Go on, call them! Please, merciful God, let me be rid of your presence."

Jane controlled herself with difficulty. "I'm sorry, Michael, I was wrong, I was foolish, won't you forgive me?" She stretched her arm through the bars of the cell.

At the look of humble pleading on her face, Michael's rage evaporated, to be replaced with a colder, more durable emotion: hatred. He hated Jane Smith. Hated her with a cold-blooded agony of hatred fuelled in part by the fact that he could never get revenge. Partly because he was locked in a cell and partly because Jane was a lady. Gentlemen never raise their hands against a lady and Michael, despite everything, was a gentleman.

"I spent twenty-four hours in Hell," he said, quietly and very deliberately. "I pray that God may one day put you through that Hell."

But Jane had recovered from her fear of Michael's anger. She was still afraid of the Admiral. "Hate me if you wish, Mr Leeford, but now that your girl is still alive, do you really want to die?"

"Death before dishonour, Miss Smith."

"What's so really dishonourable about my staying the night with you? Am I really that ugly?" She attempted a teasing smile. At the expression on Michael's face it faltered and died.

"It's dishonourable because I'm promised in marriage to somebody else."
"You're not even married yet!"

"I gave my word."

"And that's really worth dying for?"

"Yes."

"But it's not just your death we're dealing with, here. It's the death of the girl you love so much…"
It went through Michael like a physical knife. He groaned in pain.

Jane smile triumphantly. "All we need is one night. Then I can escape the Admiral. You can go free and save your girl."

Michael closed his eyes. It hurt too much. Everything hurt too much.

"But it's wrong, Jane."

"What's it matter?"

"It matters… it matters because the thing is, with "people like me", is that if we don't draw lines somewhere, lines we won't cross, then we're nothing and we just slide down into the dark."

"But, Mr Leeford, don't you have other duties? Duties to save your girl-friend from death, to protect her from harm. Is that not also your duty?"

Michael could say nothing.

"She's waiting for you, Michael. If she loves you as much as you love her, she's waiting for you and surely to God you can't let her down."

Michael sighed. "I can't do it, Miss Smith, I just can't."

Jane sighed and left.

Linnette spent Saturday sitting in her cell, thinking about Michael, Another Gamble, the wedding, their future together. Everything, she believed, would be all right.

Michael spent Saturday desperately hopeful. His only hope, he realised, was for Linnette to rescue him, as there was no way that he could rescue her.

That evening, Jane came to talk to him again.

"The trial's on Monday."

"I know."

"It's a hard business, you know. I've seen it many times. The judge is merciless, Mr Leeford."

"All judges are."

"Mr Leeford, I implore, for your own sake-"

"Don't pretend to care about me!"

"For Linnette's sake!"

"Or her!"

"For your child! Michael- Mr Leeford- you're a father. This isn't fair on your baby, it won't even have a chance to grow up, you won't even have a chance to see it."

Michael knew that she had lifted her lines out of romantic melodramas to torture him emotionally. He also knew that everything she said was true.

"I know what you're hoping for. You're hoping for a miracle. You're hoping that Linnette will somehow escape and save you. Well, she won't. She's trapped, just as you are. Only difference is, you have a way out." Suddenly the fear and pleading in her voice were genuine. "Michael, you have to let me stay with you. You can't leave me with that awful old Admiral. He's middle-aged." The stomach-turning sweet tone again. "He's not as handsome as you are."

Michael did not reply. He was being torn apart inside. He did not love this woman. He hated her. He always would. He had lost all pity for her. He owed her nothing. If it came to his own death, he was willing to chance that. He was a criminal, he had done would criminals do: gambled with his life. And he had lost.

But Linnette. Linnette whom he loved. Linnette the young. Linnette the hopeful. Linnette the brave. Linnette the mother. His Linnette, his beautiful, amazing woman whom he might never see again.

"Well," said Jane, "I'm going now. To put the final touches on my wedding dress…" She left.

Michael thought of Linnette and her wedding dress which she would never get to wear and her shroud, which they were probably sewing now.

Linnette spent Sunday washing and cleaning her dress. She wanted to look her best for her trial to-morrow. Always give a good first impression. She looked at her reflection in the water in her wash-basin.

Lovely. As always. She looked more like a young gentle-woman than a crook.

Michael spent Sunday miserable, bleak, increasingly hopeless. He too washed and cleaned his clothes. He was tortured by freedom, so close, so accessible, outside the door. It hurt to look at the wide, bright, beautiful sky and to wonder if Linnette were also looking out it. He had not been apart from her for as long as this for two and a half years.

Evening came, inevitably. He should make the most of it. How many more would he get, after all? But he could not think about that. He only think about Linnette. He realised, in the darkness of the evening, that he had never told Linnette how much she meant to him. Sure, he had told he loved her, many times, that he loved her very much, that she was beautiful, but he had never told her that she was the most amazing person he had ever met, that she was the best companion he had ever hoped for in life, that being with her and with their child was the only thing he wanted in life, that it would make him completely happy. But there are no words to tell her exactly how much she meant to him, they just do not exist.

Perhaps the words which come closest were that he would have done anything, given anything he had, his life, anything, for her to be safe and well, would have sold his soul to the very Devil and been glad of the bargain to see her once again.

Done anything except the one thing he could have done when, inevitably, Jane came again to see him.

"Last chance."
"Not quite. There's Monday night."

"Depends how soon they decide to kill her."
"If they decide to kill her."

"Oh, Mr Leeford, you gamble lightly with the lives of those you claim to love."
"I do love her."

"Then you'll save her."
"It's dishonest."
"To save the woman you love from a cruel, miserable, agonisingly public death? How is that dishonest."

Silence.

"It's a painful death, the scaffold. I expect you know that, though, don't you?"

He knew. He had seen public hangings in his time. The picture of Linnette hanging hovered in the pit of his stomach. Sickening.

"Painful. Public."
"Lin's always been a bit of a show-girl."

"Death."

Silence.

"Mr Leeford, I leave it with your conscience."

More silence.

Michael, for the first time in his life, offered a sincere prayer, simple, desperate. Oh God, help me. What do I do?

"You can come in," he said.

Jane unlocked the door. There was a moment of hope when Michael wondered if he could snatch the keys from her and unlock the chains which bound to the wall of his cell. But Jane hung the key by the door of the cell, where Michael's chains were too short to let him reach, before coming in.

Michael hesitated. Despite knowing that he had no choice, this still felt like a betrayal.

Then he reached out and took Jane's hand.

The next morning four guards came into Linnette's cell to chain her hands and feet together. She was quite proud of that. She knew that it seldom took more than two guards to deal with a woman.

Then they led her out of her cell, along the corridor and into the courtroom. The courtroom was made of wooden planks. Big, high windows let the light and air in. Linnette was chained to a small wooden dining chair at the back of the courtroom. Four armed guards surrounded her.

Sitting on a couple of benches at the side of the courtroom was the jury. Linnette counted only eleven jury-men but this did not seem to bother the harassed-looking colonial officer, lacking robes and with a wig too small for him, who was presumably the judge. Of scribe, clerk of the court or lawyers of any kind there was no sign.

"Right!" said the judge. "This court will come to order."

The court was already in order—indeed, most the jury seemed to be asleep—but he said it again and bashed several times on the rather flimsy-looking dining table with a hammer.

"Linnette Fortescue?"

"Yes, sir."
"Please rise."
"I'm tied to the chair, sir."

"So you should be, you're a dangerous criminal."
"Not yet, sir, I'm not guilty yet."

"Order! Where's the twelfth jury-man?"

"In a bar, sir," said one of the other jury-men.

"That's all right, then. Provided he hasn't absconded with my boss' wife. Mind you, I expect they'll wait until Tuesday to do that, he's going to his cousin's wedding… Very well. Order!" He bashed the table with his hammer again.

"You do realise it's American judges who have hammers?" said Linnette.

"Silence from the prisoner!" Even harder bashing with the hammer. The judge cleared his throat. "Linnette Fortescue. Charge: murder, piracy, grand larceny, petty larceny, resisting arrest, perverting the course of justice, perjury-"

"But I haven't said anything on oath yet!"

"Well, you will do so we might as well get perjury in now and save time later. Verdict…" More frenzied bashing. "Guilty as charged."

"I think they're meant to decide that, sir," said Linnette, nodding at the jury.

"The jury are asleep, Miss Fortescue." Indeed, the entire jury now seemed to be asleep. "I consider it my duty not to disturb them. They can't possibly do their duty if they're constantly badgered and harassed."

For once, Linnette had nothing to say. She rubbed the ropes binding her wrists against the back of the chair.

"Does the prisoner have any grounds for escaping the death penalty?"
"I'm pregnant, sir."
"But you're not married."

"I'm engaged, sir. This was going to have been my wedding day."

"Well, if you're not married, I see no grounds for your being pregnant. You're probably lying anyway."
"Get a doctor."

"Don't be ridiculous. There's no doctor on the island and any doctors in the Caribbean have enough work to do looking after law-abiding folk without dealing with people like you."

"I think you're bone idle and stupid."
"Order!" The hammer crashed down so hard that the table cracked down the middle. "Sentence: death."

"Fine!"

"Fine?" The judge stared in astonishment. "Did I hear you say "fine"?"

"Yes, sir."
"It's fine that I'm sentencing you to death, is it?"
"Yes, sir. I've been in tighter fixes than this before and got out of them. I've been tied up in a cave with water coming in."

"Really?" The judge was genuinely interested. "How on Earth did you get out of that one?"

"Michael rescued me."
"Michael?"

"My fiancé."

"Ah, yes. Well, he won't rescue you now, young lady, as you can see. You'll submit to British justice, fiancé or no fiancé."

"He will."
"I beg your pardon?"

"He will."

"How dare you contradict me in this manner? I am the judge and you are the criminal and I will not have this disrespect."
"He will. He always does. He's my fiancé."
"The two of you are some kind of terrible duo?"

"That's right, sir. Linnette and Michael Leeford, Fluffy the Terrible and Baby. Terrors of the high seas!"

"And you, I take it, save him."

"That's right. We've got each other's backs, sir."
"How very touching. Love among the low-lives. Most interesting. To-day, however, there's no hope for you."

Something moved behind the judge's head. Linnette looked up. Michael was sitting on a rafter, gun in hand and Fluffy round his neck. He was tying a piece of rope around the rafter. When he saw her looking at him, he grinned and winked.

"Oh, I think I have hope sir. I think there's always hope, don't you?"

With that, Michael launched himself off the rafter. At the same moment, Linnette scraped through the last of the ropes around her hands and leaped into his arms. They swung high over the heads of the astonished guards.

Linnette laughed as the kicked the chair off her ankles, caught it on a beam and sent it flying across the room, where it crashed onto the judge's table, reducing it to a pile of splinters.

From the rafter, they bounded out of the window, into a tree and down to the ground, landing with a slither, a flump and a shower of bullets over their heads.

They ran, hand in hand, down towards the harbour.

"We might," panted Michael, "have to wait for the wedding until we get out of town".

"Their faces," was all Linnette could splutter through laughter. "All the jury woke up and, oh, their faces."

They both nearly dissolved at this image.

The Admiral had arrived. Jane and her father were there to greet him. Captain Smith was the picture of a happy father, secretly almost wilting with relief that everything had been so easy and trying not to show what a strain the past few days had been, dreading at any moment a renewal of Jane's resistance. Jane was the picture of the demure bride, keeping her triumphant secret to herself.

Jane waited until they had gone inside for her big reveal. She looked increasingly nervous and restless, fiddling with the hem of her dress, until the Admiral said "Miss Smith, is something wrong? You seem ill at ease?".

"No, sir, I'm delighted at the thought of our forthcoming marriage."
Yet her unease grew.

"Miss Smith," said the Admiral. "Forgive if I seem forward, but seriously, are you ill? You're concerning me, Miss Smith?"
"No, sir, it's just…" Jane decided to let the tears fall. They were not entirely feigned, for she was dreading the prospect of marrying the Admiral.

"I have something, sir, to confess…"

"To confess?"

"Well, yes, sir."

Captain Smith, who had been lounging in his chair, murmuring "quite so" while he pretended to listen to the Admiral talk about the stock exchange, began to sit at up and, with growing feelings of dread, pay attention. What could his darling daughter possibly have to confess? Nothing—surely?—which would jeopardise the union of her and the Admiral…

"I have broken you faith in me…"

"What on Earth to you mean?"

"Oh sir," the tears were flowing freely now, the smile hidden behind her hands. "There was a young man here… the escaped pirate…"

"Yes, it's disgraceful, the way these pirates escape," said the Admiral, as if he had known dozens of cases. "The judges round here ought to be less idle."

"There are no other judges round here," said Captain Smith, wondering if the Admiral were holding him responsible.

"True." The Admiral now seemed more interested in judicial incompetence then the distress of his fiancée.

"Sir, I'm so sorry…" Jane mumbled.

"Ah, yes. Sorry darling, what were you saying?"

"The young man, he was here for days. He was lonely. He was so young and he was going to die. I used to go sometimes and talk to him."

The Captain groaned. Letting his daughter run wild. It was unforgivable.

"And… and… he was so polite to me. I thought he must be a nice young man. I like him. And I think he realised that I liked him and began to flatter me shamelessly. But I won't make excuses, sir. There is no excuse for what I did. It was wrong. Oh sir, sir, forgive me…" Jane descended into incoherent sobbing and waited for the inevitable condemnation.

Instead the Admiral, surprised and baffled, but not particularly angry, said "Miss Smith, I quite understand. Don't cry, ma'am."
"What?" Sheer horror coursed through Jane. The tears now were wholly genuine, hysterical, desperate.

"Some young men who take to crime can be very charming. They learn to seduce innocent, gently-raised young woman. It's shameful, I know, but that's the way of the world. It conceals a rotten core, my dear, as I'm sure you have now learned."

"I'm sorry, sir."

"It's all right, dear. It's not your fault. You were the victim of a vile man who lured you to his side with empty promises and sweet nothings. Believe me, Miss, I've seen it before. They prey on the young and innocent deliberately. But you did right to confess. It showed that you had moral fibre." The Admiral was vaguely pleased with this situation. It was the first exciting thing which had ever happened to him in his life. He could now be the white knight, saving damsels in distress from criminals. He entered his new role with satisfaction. His quiet, uneventful life had left him with a loathing for people who were in any way unconventional. Michael was certainly unconventional.

As for Jane, she was distraught. She had come so close to freedom only to have it snatched away at the last moment. Only through the stupid, pointless chivalry of a fool. An old, rich, English fool. The worst kind of fool, she thought drearily.

"Thank you, sir," she spluttered into her handkerchief, for she was almost too overwhelmed to talk. She was inconsolable for hours, weeping bitter tears until no more tears would fall. Each soothing word from the Admiral brought on a fresh burst of hysteria.

It was a long time before she was presentable enough to be married. She walked up the altar with her head held high, resigned to her fate.

Within minutes, she was the Admiral's legally wedded wife. She felt her life and future slip through her fingers.

The harbour folk were alarmed to see Linnette and Michael appear so suddenly, running, laughing, with what sounded like a small army in pursuit. Some people recognised them as the people who had ordered such oddly sudden wedding banns and had been going to marry to-day. Of course, everyone knew that they were pirates, now, for they had been the talk of the islands. There were pirates enough to be sure, but such a young, glamorous couple, such a pretty girl—rumoured to have aristocratic connections in distant England—that was unusual, a talking point and, as pretty girls and glamorous young engaged couples usually are, an object of sympathy.

Before long there were crowds lining the streets, jostling each other for a look at Linnette and Michael.

They ignored the crowds, and hurried along to the end of the quay. There, just repaired and good as new, was Another Gamble. She smelt of paint and new-cut wood, gleaming in the sun-light, a proud as any survivor of a cannon across the stern should be. She was still on a wooden frame and Linnette realised that it was likely that the guards, and the troopers or whoever they had brought with them, would shoot her and Michael before they had a chance to launch Another Gamble and escape.

Where could they hide? There were people everywhere, pointing, gasping, some of the women fainting. If they went into a house or a shop, they would be found in instants. So they went to the only place they could go to, on the spur of the moment. The church.

The church was empty. They ran up the aisle and into the bell-tower, Linnette giddy with breathlessness and still laughing. They dragged the door of the bell-tower shut and waited in the cramped, shadowy cut-wood smell.

Linnette took deep breaths and tried to calm herself down so she could be absolutely quiet when the pursuit arrived. It arrived within moments, clattering, shouting and loosing off guns in all directions. Linnette listened to them trailing around the church, clambering on the pews, crawling around under the altar. They seemed to have no notion of division of labour. It was child's play to wait until they had gone into the vestibule (shutting the door) and then slip out of the bell tower and run out the back door into the small, little-used cemetery. Then they waited until they heard the front door of the church slam, indicating that the guards had now taken the search out to the church yard, and slipped back in through the back door and hid in the bell tower.

In a few minutes, the guards were stumping back down the path in front of the church, muttering to themselves about incompetence and lying townsfolk.

Linnette thought it safe to relax a little. She burst out laughing, Michael shushed her and she controlled herself until she was merely giggling.

"If that's the best the Colonial Office can do, I think they might need to go on a recruitment drive!"

Michael smiled, but in his heart, now that he was alone with Linnette, the immediate danger was past and he could look into her clear blue eyes, he felt a long way from laughing. Guilt was already gnawing at him.

"Thanks for the he-man drama, it was very effective and maddeningly attractive," Linnette continued. She was giddy with exultation. That judge had thought that he had her in his grasp, but she had escaped! She was back with Michael. Back with Fluffy too, who was snuffling happily at her hair. The four of them were together again. As they always would be. They were, after all, invincible.

"Well," she said, calming down a little. "I think we won't get to the boat until night-fall. What do you reckon we should do until then?"

"I don't know," said Michael. "Stay here?"

"I guess. Might as well make ourselves as comfortable as possible, then. You can tell me all about your adventures."
"Adventures?" For a moment, Michael seemed to away with the fairies.

"Escaping and coming to rescue me?"

"Oh, of course, adventures."

"Go on, then!"

"There's not much to tell. When the guards realised what a docile, well-behaved prisoner I was, they stopped paying quite so much attention when it was their turn to guard me. Sometimes they wouldn't turn up at all and would go to play dice. So I just picked the lock on the door, escaped, made my way down to the shore, stole a rowing boat, crossed the channel in the cover of darkness and found the court room. Sorry for cutting it so fine, by the way." It was the first time he had ever lied to Linnette. He hoped to God it would be the last. He looked into her eyes, literally shining with love—oh, the little things he loved about Linnette—felt his heart shatter and cursed himself for a coward and a fool. None of it showed.

Linnette was perfectly happy. She sat in the bell-tower, tickling Fluffy's tummy and thinking about her wedding—which they would of course still have, it just might take a little longer to find somewhere where they would not be immediately arrested—until it was time for evening service. The evening service had one member in the pews and Linnette and Michael in the bell-tower. The one member was a woman, old, by the sound of her voice and her shuffling footsteps, who seemed very devout, joining in with the sermon and singing the hymns loudly and tunelessly. Linnette and Michael could not possibly be heard over that.

They waited until seven 'o' clock before leaving the bell-tower. The door of the church was locked, but easy enough to pick open.

The journey down to the docks was un-eventful. At night, the sugar-planters, small-time smugglers and sea captains' wives disappeared behind locked doors and the bigger fish came out to play. These bigger fish were usually duly respectful to the talent they recognised. Linette and Michael walked among them from shadow to shadow with their heads held high.

They went straight to Another Gamble, where they were indistinguishable from a dozen other shadowy, furtive-looking figures in boats, packing and unpacking bags and boxes. Another Gamble had been lowered from her frame to bob in the harbour. She still smelled almost as new as she had done that morning and Linnette greeted her enthusiastically, as pride and joy. And first Linnette and Michael were cautious, expecting an ambush, but they soon realised that nobody was there.

Most of the furniture had been retrieved from the sea and was inside Another Gamble, if in the wrong places. Of their smaller, moveable goods, however, there was no sign.

Perhaps they were at the bottom of the Caribbean but perhaps some had been retrieved. If they had been, they would probably be in the harbour-master's office.

They managed to pick the lock without waking the harbour-master in the adjoining cottage and crept in. The harbour-master's office was small, dark, cramped and cluttered with what appeared to be the flotsam and jetsam of various ship-wrecks, some of it seemingly new and almost intact—indeed, potentially valuable—other objects ancient and dashed to pieces.

"We wouldn't need to be pirates," whispered Linnette. "We could just plunder harbour-master's offices!"

On a table by the door was a small sign dangling from strings.

"Open auction sale," read Linnette. "Sundry artefacts recovered from the wreck of Another Gamble, the ship of the dread pirates Linnette Fortescue and Michael Leeford. Tuesday, 9-5."

Linnette recognised several of her and Michael's belongings. There were some books, rather torn and dog-eared, imperfectly dried. There was Michael's note-book, partially burnt in an attempt, presumably, to dry it until it was readable. Some of Linnette's sketches, including her ones of Fluffy in a sun-hat, now grey and rather crisp, but recognisable. There were some clothes, a few pieces of jewellery, a hair brush and Linnette's white wedding dress. Battered, salt-stained, a poor, pathetic-looking piece of white cloth. But it was her wedding dress and it broke her heart to see it so un-loved. She picked it up and laid it lovingly over her arm as they gathered up the rest of their belongings—including the sack containing almost all of their gold coins. That was not on the auction table but at the back of the room in a corner, presumably the harbour-master had decided to keep that piece of plunder for himself.

It was so easy it was almost disappointing: gathering their belongings, taking them aboard Another Gamble, casting off, sailing away into the darkness.

Linnette curled up in Michael's arms, with Fluffy on her head, and slept soundly. Michael could not sleep. He sat with his arms round Linnette, wondering if he still had the right to touch her, hating himself, staring into the dark. He knew that regrets are pointless. He had made his decision, for better or for worse, now it was too late to anything about it. But he could not help regretting, cursing his decision, eating his own heart out with bitterness. He wondered if perhaps he should wake Linnette and tell her everything, but he knew that he would never have the do that. He could never bear to lose her. He would have died for Linnette. Gone through Hell for her. Fought the Devil himself for her. But he couldn't bear to be honest with her. He had always thought he was honourable, he had certainly never thought that he was a coward. Now, he knew he would never trust himself again. He had done the right thing, the only possible thing. He kept telling himself that. But was that not how the Devil tempted people? With the right thing. The only possible thing. Had he been tempted, and failed?

He looked down at Linnette's sleeping face. The thought of never seeing her again made him feel sick. The words of the marriage service ran through his head. To love and to cherish… till death do us part… for better, for worse. Funny how when people said that it always turned out to be for worse.

"Till death us do part," he whispered. Linnette heard him in her sleep and smiled without waking.

They landed in the Bahamas he next morning. Linnette was cheerful, chatting about her baby to Michael.

"What should we call it?"
"It won't be born for months!"

"Still, it's good to plan ahead. What should we call it?"

"Linnette," said Michael.

"If it's a girl. What about if it's a boy? Michael?"

"No," said Michael with unexpected coldness.

"What, too modest? Never thought that was like you."

"I don't want my child to be named after me. I want it to grow up a good person."
"What?" Linnette frowned. "Michael, you are a good person."

"Drinking? Cards?" His voice was light. His eyes were not. "I don't call that saintly."

"That's not important. Or has that church service we listened to had an impact?"

Michael caught his breath. "Oh, I'm just a bit overwhelmed. Being a father and everything…"
"You'll make a great father." Linnette kissed him. "Promise."

He nodded and smiled. They had arrived in the Bahamas now and they set to work mooring Another Gamble.

"Now, I'll get the paper if you get the booze."
"Shouldn't you be off the booze?"
"Actually, you're probably right. You can get the coffee though, anyway."
"All right," said Michael. He wandered off along the quay. He was still quietly, gnawingly depressed. It would be better, he thought, if she would only suspect something, but she had such complete faith in him, he could not shatter it. He bought the coffee, one bottle of rum, and with a vague idea of assuaging his guilt, a bunch of flowers.

Linnette went to buy the paper. The Caribbean did occasionally get respectable British and American newspapers, for the missionaries, colonial officers and their wives to read in their front porches, all about the economy and Cabinet ministers. The most common paper, however, was a semi-literate, scurrilous, sensational rag which dished up month-old British and American society gossip for missionaries, colonial officers and their wives to read in their back parlours.

This paper had a "Stop Press" head-line. Linnette paid little attention to this. Most "Stop Press" head-lines were for an article about yet another missionary and yet another sugar-planter's wife, or else about the Princesses Victoria and Alice's new hats of about a month ago.

This story, however, actually seemed to be of genuine local interest. It was about an English Admiral, who had married yesterday morning to a young local girl. Her name was Jane Smith, she was a sea captain's daughter who had spent her whole life in the Caribbean. Now, she would be returning to England with her husband, after completing a tour in the East Indies doing Admiral-y things to fleets.

So far, so gossip column. At the bottom of the page, something caught Linnette's eye. Michael Leeford. She blinked. "Rumour has it that Miss Smith has been—shall we say?—a little friendly with a certain Mr Michael Leeford—that's right ladies, gasp and swoon, gents, lock up your daughters. It's Michael Leeford, the infamous international pirate, terror of respectable society, and quite a heart-throb, dare we say?" Linnette's first reaction was to laugh. What on Earth would Michael think? "Heart-throb"! He would never let it go. The article went on. "It's believed that while Mr Leeford was incarcerated in a naval base in the Turks and Caicos Islands, he succumbed to the charms of Miss Smith. Or perhaps she succumbed to his charms, which, I'm sure you'll agree, ladies, are considerable, for it appears she went so far as to release him from prison and the force of Her Majesty's law! Only for him then to go to the rescue of his supposed beloved, Miss Linnette Fortescue (the Baron's little accident, we know all about her relatives), leaving Miss Smith at the altar! Dear, dear, Mr Leeford, naughty, naughty! What will Miss Fortescue think?"

Miss Fortescue was stunned. Her head was reeling. Could Michael…? Had Michael…? No, it was a trick. A cheap, spiteful journalistic lie. They did things like this all the time. She must pay no attention. She must take the paper to Michael and they would have a good laugh over it.

But it would explain so much… Michael had been odd, he had been… distrait. And she, like a fool, had believed him that he was overwhelmed by becoming a father. What must he think of her? Poor little foolish, trusting Linnette? Stupid, naïve, childish Linnette?

Rage hit her like a brick. She loved Michael. She had loved him for years. She was carrying his child. And this was all she meant to him. One pair of pretty eyes—for Miss Smith, of course, must be dazzlingly beautiful—and he was smitten. Not a thought for her, languishing in prison, faced with death for her and her child. Oh, no, just dallying with Jane Smith until the last minute. She was his fiancée. He had told her that he loved her. He had cheated on her. He had lied about it! It was that most of all which stung.

Michael must not see the newspaper. He must not know that she knew. Not until… until she had decided what to do. What would she do? What would she say to him? Did you cheat on me? Why did you lie to me? Do you love me? Did you ever love me? Who are you, anyway?

She did not think she could hear the answer to any of those questions and remain sane. She was unsure if she were sane now. She wanted to sit down and cry. She wanted to run away and never see Michael again. She wanted to cling onto his neck and never let him go. She wanted to tear her own face off. But she could not do that—it would ruin her looks. She might have lost her man. She might have lost her pride. She might have lost the only true love she had in a world where the only other person who did not want to kill her was a capybara. She might be feeling, hideously, gut-wrenching lonely and afraid. But she was still beautiful. Still the sweet-faced, charming girl who had so infatuated faithless Michael Leeford what felt like a life-time ago, in England. She had some reason to live.

She tore the front page off the newspaper and hurried back along the quay to Michael and Another Gamble.

"Hello, love." Michael sounded relieved to see her. Why was that? Was he afraid she would leave. "Got the paper?"

"Yes. Sorry, the front cover blew off into the sea."

"Oh, no matter. There's nothing but gossip in it anyway." His tone of voice was perfect. His eye unflinching as he looked at her. How convincingly, how determinedly, could a man she loved lie?

Linnette went to sit in the bows of Another Gamble with Fluffy, watching the waves rush before the ship. Normally, she felt free and happy just looking at the sea. Today it mocked her.

Linnette, Linnette, stupid, ugly, scarlet woman.

"I am not a scarlet woman," she whispered. She wondered, though, if in fact she were. Maybe it was her fault. She had been a fool. She had allowed a stupid boy to make a mistress of her. To make a toy of her. She should never have been so naïve as to expect anything better. She had sowed and she was reaping. Linnette Fortescue, the Whore of Babylon.

Even the gulls mocked her, wheeling and screaming over her head, soaring in the wind which could only lift her hair.

Linnette, Linnette, ugly farm-girl, go and live in a nunnery, give your child to an orphanage, you're stupid, you'll raise stupid children, you're a failure as a wife, you'll be a failure as a mother.

Never had Linnette so badly wanted wings, so she could soar up into the sky, fly free and leave it all behind. Fly to Heaven. Crash into the sun like Icarus and fall burning into the deep, blue, oblivious sea…

Suppose she were to jump over the rail? Right now. Nobody could stop her. She could leave pain and misery and humiliation behind her. She could go down into the dark and forget. Maybe Michael would be sorry when she had gone. Or maybe he would not. Maybe he would be glad. He could marry any girl he wanted to now. She hoped he married someone stupid and faithless.

But then she thought of her child. She might not care whether she lived or died, but she had to live for her child. It was unfair to deny it its whole life simply because her life was ruined. She sat up straight and raised her chin, staring down the ocean which ran before Another Gamble's bows. She was going to live. She was going to live for her child. If for nothing else. Linnette sat in the bows all day. Grief welled inside and stung. Rage swelled like the sea and boiled, hard and hot, against her ribs. Michael tried to talk to her, but she ignored him.

The Sun went down over the sea behind her. The shadow of Another Gamble leaped and danced in front of Linnette on the waves. The sky was pink over her head, darkening behind her. The wind began to blow cold over the sea.

"Lin?" It was Michael. He sounded worried. She turned and looked at him, standing by the mast, so sweet, so handsome, such worried eyes. A sham. A lie. All he cared about was himself. And he really thought she was stupid enough not to notice. And she had been stupid enough not to notice.

"Lin? Are you all right?"

"Yes." Linnette thought the words would choke in her throat.

"You don't sound it. You've been so quiet all day. Are you ill?"
"No."
"Is it the baby?"

"No."

"Please tell me what you're upset about, sweetheart." But he sounded afraid. Michael never sounded afraid, not of anything. Was he afraid of her? Linnette smiled at the thought. "Here, have some flowers." He had a vase of them. A pot vase of roses. Her favourite flower. He was a thoughtful boy, she thought, sweet, romantic. Had he been romantic with Jane Smith, too?

"Did you sleep with Jane Smith?" The words were rapid-fire, like bullets from Linnette's trusty gun.

Michael's eyes widened. He said nothing. But the look in his eyes was enough, he simply could not keep up the pretence any more.

"You did, didn't you?"

"I'm sorry."

Sorry. What good was it being sorry? He had betrayed her, lied to her face, humiliated her, left her to die. And now he was sorry. What kind of a word was sorry? Weak. Pathetic. Stupid. Grief and shock and raw pain, despair, resentment and spite concentrated and boiled in one torrential stream of savage anger.

"You're sorry?" Quiet and vicious. "You're sorry?" She fumbled for her gun. Her heart was slamming against her ribs as if it were about to explode. "You're sorry?" A howl of animal pain. The gun was in her hand, shaking like a leaf. She swayed as she stumbled towards him across the deck.

"I've loved you, I was happier than I had ever been in my life. My God, I hate you, now."

"Just let me explain…"
She never let him explain. It was the knife, in the end, slipping into her hand as she lunged at him, lashing out in blind rage. The little, silver, wicked knife. She stabbed at his chest, his neck, his head, she knew not where. Frenzied, almost hysterical, but deadly determined. The only thought in Linnette's blood-drenched mind was kill. She had spent more than two years killing. She was good at it. She realised now that she belonged to it. Kill.

He never lifted a hand against her, only looked at her with horror and shock and grief and deep pity. In seconds it was over. He fell to the deck of Another Gamble, said "I love you" and died, his blood sliding over the edge of the deck into the sea.

Linnette's blood-lust hovered stinging over her eyes and choked at her throat. She stood with blood soaking into her skirt, running down her hands, drenching her. So much blood. So much blood when a man died…

She collapsed on the deck. Her head was buzzing. She felt ill—maybe it was Baby—and exhausted. She wanted to sleep. To sleep and sleep until the world ended or she died. What was she thinking about? What did it matter?

She picked herself up, slowly. The little knife was still in her hand, Michael's blood drying to a solid crust over it. She got below and fell down on her bed. Her head ached. Michael should come and get her a glass of water… Michael was dead. Good. She was tired.

She wanted to die. Pain came in waves. Why could she not just die? Because of Baby. She had to stay alive for Baby. It was her duty. She would be a better person than Michael. She thought she was going to be sick, but she wasn't, probably because she had not eaten since breakfast.

The light was dimming outside the window. Soon it would be night-time. She should sail the boat, she would not sail herself. But she was tired, first she had to sleep. But she could sleep. The sky outside the window turned black and the waves crashed on the bows of Another Gamble, but she could not sleep. She tossed and turned, her clothes clung to her but with sweat or blood she could not tell. The cabin stank like an abattoir. Michael was dead. She had killed him as punishment for betraying her. Now he could rot. Rot in Hell. Hell… was is hot in the cabin? Had she gone to Hell?

No, she was alive. If she were dead, she would not be able to feel pain or anger, and she felt both. God, how she hated herself. She was ugly, she was stupid, she was a murderess, she was dying… Why had she ever been born. Why was it so hot?

Hot? No, it was cold? Cold and empty. Linnette lay curled up on the bed and shook like a shot deer and tried to get to sleep, or at least oblivion, or somewhere where the pain could not reach, pain so sharp and cruel that she could not tell whether her body or her soul was hurting. But were they different, really? It hurt, it was awful, that was what mattered. Maybe she cried, she could not remember. Maybe she just lay on her bed, alone, until she slipped into a faint. Not a faint at the last stage of a fever, to rid the body of infection and gather its strength, but a heavy, dull faint that lay on her mind until wanted to drive a knife into herself. But she could not do that. She had to live and get strong for Baby. For Baby. She was going to be a mother. She would bring her child up to be good and strong. Not like faithless, shallow Michael or stupid, ugly, old-fashioned, stubborn Linnette who let her man slide so easily through her fingers.

Her first conscious thought was that it was morning. She must have slept through the night. She pushed herself up on the bed. She was weak with hunger and so thirsty she might die. Which might be no bad thing.

There was something sticky on the bed. What….? How…? She looked and gasped. The bed was drenched with blood. More than could have come off the knife she still held clutched in her fingers. More than could have come from the cuts it had made in her fingers, or from the daemons in Hell. Then it must have come from somewhere else…

Her stomach hurt. A lingering, throbbing pain. Her legs were drenched in blood. She knew then that she must have lost the baby.

The baby. Her baby. The last thing she had to live for.

She was numb. Her tears were spent. She sat curled up on the bed and stared dully out at the sea. In the back of her mind she registered that she was no longer looking at the sea but at a beach with palm trees, but it did not matter.

Michael was dead. Her baby was dead. She was alone. Now, now, she could die and be done with it. Goodbye cruel world.

No. The girl in the newspaper. Jane Smith. Jane who had stolen her man, would her Admiral, would live happily ever after with a pile of money. In Linnette's mind she pictured Jane Smith, faceless, dressed in Linnette's wedding dress and drenched in blood, standing by Michael's side. In her mind, Jane was laughing. She would not laugh much longer. Oh no.

That was when Linnette learned that hatred is a cold, cold feeling. And a lonely feeling.

She went up on deck. It could not, she noticed, possibly be morning, as the Sun was descending towards the Western horizon, but was not as low as it had been when she had killed Michael, so she must have been in bed for an entire day. She felt nothing now except a hatred of Jane Smith which would die only when she did. Michael's body was still on the deck. He lay, young, blood-soaked, covered in ugly, jagged knife holes and coldly stiff but still, somehow, handsome. On top of him lay the corpse of Fluffy. Even the damn capybara was dead. Now Linnette was truly alone.Completely alone.

She still had her gun and the bag of money. She would find out where she was and then pursue the Admiral and Jane to India and beyond if she had to. She had enough money, an entire sack-full of gold.

Two men were walking along the beach towards Another Gamble. Linnette wondered what on Earth she should say to them. If she were to say the wrong thing, they might kill her and then Jane Smith would be allowed to get away with destroying her life. If she were to say the right thing, they might tell her where she was and where she could find food and water.

"Halloo!" called one of the men.

"Hello," replied Linnette, in weak, exhausted voice.

"Are you all right?"

"Yes, thank you, sir."

The men had arrived at Another Gamble now.

"Goodness," said the other man. "You're covered in blood."

"Don't make personal remarks," whispered the other man. "I'm George Dalton, by the way. This is Jim."

"Linnette Fortescue." She held out a hand soaked in blood and the men shook it gingerly. "Don't worry, murder's not contagious."

"What did you just say?"
"Nothing, nothing."

"I don't mean to sound personal," said George, "but, well, you are covered in blood. And is that a corpse on your deck?"

"My husband and I were attacked by pirates. They didn't kill me, because they were quite gentlemanly pirates, but they killed my husband. He was taking us to America to start a new life, but I know nothing about sailing and we were blown off course. Where is this place?"

"Bermuda, Miss Fortescue," said George.

"Would you like me to show you to a bar?" said Jim.

"I am thirsty," said Linnette. "And hungry. What time is it?"

"Perhaps you should see a doctor first," said George.

"Perhaps you should move your boat off the tide-line."
"Perhaps you should see an under-taker."

"Yes," said Linnette. "I'll do all those things. She looked at her watch. "Goodness, five 'o' clock already. I have been rather ill. I've had to go to bed for… a day, I think."

"Then you must be hungry," said Jim. "Come with me now. It's quite a trek to the bar and it'll shut if we don't get there in time."
"Why?" asked Linnette.

Jim looked at her as if she were a little stupid. "Because it's Sunday to-morrow, Miss. The pub doesn't open on a Sunday. Most particular about it, the Governor is."

"Sunday! Today's Wednesday!"

"No, definitely Sunday."
"Oh, my Lord. I must have been dreaming. I could have sworn that it was Wednesday."

"Come to the bar," said Jim. "You'll feel better after a few drinks."

Linnette, cleaned, tidied and in fresh clothes, accompanied Jim to the bar while George went into town to see the Governor about it all. But she did not feel better after a few drinks. She felt worse. Every feeling of anger, bitterness and self-loathing, every bleak image of her future, dying miserable, ugly and alone, every joyful thrust of a knife into Jane Smith's ribs increased ten-fold as she drank, until Jim had to take her home, as her tears and entreaties to the Lord to preserve her were unsettling to the good folk of the Bahamas, a law-abiding lot, on the whole.

Linnette spent the night with Jim's family. His wife, Florence, did her best to feed up the poor, thin, pale little waif whom her husband had found on the shore.

"Like a mermaid," said their youngest child.

Linnette slept like a log that night, the deep, dreamless sleep of the broken. It was not healing sleep. She woke feeling no better. If anything, she felt worse.

Jim and his wife reminded her of what she and Michael could have been. The children reminded her of her own child, who would now never be born. It hurt to be among happy, hopeful people. She was jealous, she realised, of their happiness. Had she become so bitter, so utterly destroyed, that the only thing which could give her satisfaction was seeing other people's unhappiness?

The Governor called. He explained that Another Gamble had run aground. She had not sunk, but she would never sail again. She was fit only for scrap wood. Linnette listened with an emotionless face but inside another kernel of human soul shrivelled and died. Another Gamble. The only home she had ever had. The only place she had ever been truly happy. Gone. She was no longer Linnette Fortescue of Another Gamble, Terror of the High Seas. She was Linnette Fortescue the lost and homeless, living for revenge.

The cabin of Another Gamble was un-damaged. His men had recovered the personal assets from the cabin. Not that there had been very many, not enough to emigrate to America on, he thought… He said this with no suspicion, merely puzzlement. However, possibly some items were lost to the sea. Such as they were, here they were. Linnette gratefully accepted her clothes, her toiletries, a few pieces of jewellery, Michael's note-book—for some reason she kept that—her sketches and the pot vase, broken, with a few scattered roses. Linnette nearly cried when she saw the roses. Michael's last present. He had given it to her to manipulate her, to keep her sweet while he went out with other women behind her back, but for some reason they still gauged into the wound in her heart.

Now the Governor was asking her questions. Did she have any relatives in America? No. Any independent means of income? No. Where in America had she planned on going? She was unsure. She thought that she would like to return to England. Or, if there were any boats going to India, she could go to stay with her uncle there.

The Governor frowned. Few boats came to Bermuda, he explained. Linnette could quite give up any hope of going anywhere except entirely locally during the Autumn and Winter. In Summer, there might be a boat going from America to England and stopping in Bermuda. Linnette should wait until then.

Her heart sank. She would have to wait in Bermuda for months. She had nothing to do with herself. And somewhere Jane Smith was smiling in triumph, laughing behind her hand… Why did she have to run aground in this back-water, of all places?

The Governor endeavoured to be comforting. He knew that she would be lonely and grieving, but the depth of her anger was something he could never understand.

Linnette was installed in Bermuda's only guest-house, where the land-lady, Mrs Griffith, was so stunned at actually having a guest that she hovered around Linnette all day, to make sure that she was real. Linnette had enough money in her bag of gold to pay the rent until Summer. All she had to do was survive until then.

That afternoon, they buried Michael. Linnette had to pretend to be a broken-hearted young wife and pay for his funeral. Every penny she spent on his burial rankled. She would quite happily fling his body into the sea. Instead he got a decent funeral, if a humble one. The church was full—not much of interest happened in Bermuda in 1867. Linnette pretended to be too broken-hearted to give a speech. Instead, she was too angry. She would not stand up in church and give a speech to a gaping congregation about how much she had loved Michael Leeford. Her pride would not allow it. The Lord's prayer, a brief sermon about the resurrection of Lazarus, no hymn. He was buried in the little grave-yard at the back of the church, with a granite head-stone reading:

"Michael Fortescue

1848- 1867

Requiescat in Pace"

That evening Linnette went for a walk alone by the shore. Mrs Griffith offered to go with her but she refused. She wanted to be alone, she said. She needed to be alone.

At the same time, though, she wanted, she desperately needed, company. Sympathetic, friendly, human company. Someone who could listen to her say "I killed my fiancé" and not be shocked. Someone who would tell her that she was beautiful the way Michael had told her that she was beautiful. And she knew that there was nobody here who would tell her that she was beautiful, nobody who cared about her at all. It was just her and the trees, the rocks, the sea, the dim purple sky.

The Sun set faster in the Tropics than in England, sliding over the horizon like a bloated red wound. The air cooled. The wind blowing off the sea, cold and hard, whipped Linnette's hair back from her face, stole icy fingers over her neck, drove shards of ice into her face. The last red blood seeped out of the sky. Blood. Blood dripping from her knife. Blood gushing from Michael's head over her hand. Blood on Jane Smith's wedding dress.

Never had Linnette been so dead inside as she was now, in the dark of the Tropical evening with grief rotting her soul.

The only words she had were old, clichéd, tired words. She had heard Martha sing them, so many times in her home village in the old days. But there was something comforting in their age and cliché. If others had found comfort, perhaps so could she.

"Amazing Grace! How sweet the sound,

That saved a wretch like me!"

She was back in the kitchen in Hampshire and Martha was making bread. She was in the vegetable garden and Martha was planting onion bulbs.

"I once was lost, but now am found;

Was blind but now I see."

She sang beautifully, as beautifully as she had sung in the church choir as a child. The birds cackling and screaming stopped to hear her. One young woman out bringing in the pigs heard her and decided that she did believe in angels. Nobody else heard her at all.

"'Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved;"

She tried to think of any time she had been really afraid. In the cave, perhaps, as Vere's prisoner, but never a fear like this. A horrible, aching dread, of loneliness and age and death. And would grace save her now? Was that what revenge was? The saving grace which gave her reason to live, courage to endure.

"How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed."

She tried to believe.

"Through many dangers, toils and snares,
I have already come;
'Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home."

Home. Where was home, anyway? The bread baking on the hearth, the fire flickering in the dusk, Linnette sewing, Martha singing? She had been young then. Beautiful. She had always known that she could do anything. The future had been a beautiful place, once. Why could she not be like Martha, with Martha's simple faith. Perhaps… perhaps living in a cottage in Hampshire would not have been so bad, after all. At least she would be able to dream of the good life, of the dashing young hero who would sweep her away. The dashing young hero was a liar and a brute and the dream had soured. But had that cottage really been her home? If she were to return there now, revenge accomplished, would that give her peace? No. Martha had lied to her, too. A "good" lie, a harmless lie, but Linnette would never be able to go back to that village again. There was no peace there, but longing, resentment, dissatisfaction, shame.

"The Lord has promised good to me,
His Word my hope secures;
He will my Shield and Portion be,
As long as life endures.

Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease,
I shall possess, within the veil,
A life of joy and peace."

A life of joy and peace. How hollow those words sounded, now. There was no one listening in the cold and distant stars. She was alone, singing at the sea. The darkness and cold echoed back at her. She collapsed on the wind-swept grass. When Mrs Griffith found her, she was crying long, quiet, endless tears, like a lost soul, which she was.

She said nothing, but went to bed and slept.

She did not feel better in the morning. Nobody ever did, she thought. That was another lie. She never felt better again.

As Winter set in on Barbados, Linnette spent her days by the sea, scanning the horizon for the boat which would take her to England and freedom—the sweet freedom of revenge, of blood on her hands again.

She tried stealing a few things, just to keep her hand in, but she could not put any effort into it, and it did not feel the same as in the old days, so soon she no longer bothered. The glamour had faded.

The hurricane season advanced. Icy, screaming winds battered the Barbados shores. Linnette sat in the hurricane cellar, quiet, staring into space, haunted-looking, the land-lady thought.

Sometimes hurt, grief and bitterness die with time, and desire for revenge fades with the smart of the insult. Sometimes, the opposite happens. So it was with Linnette. The more days passed, the heavier the shadow lay on her mind. She could think of only one thing, Jane Smith, faceless and mocking in the white wedding dress, Jane's blood gushing out of the deep wound in her living, hurting flesh.

That was the only thing which could give Linnette any happiness now, and she fed off it, to keep the darkness away. She knew what lay in the darkness, beckoning with icy fingers. Death. It was waiting in the darkness, beyond the reach of the fire and the lamps. It was the darkness and it was coming for her. Sometimes she woke up in the night, shaking and breathless, listening to the wind screaming and battering the walls of the house like a daemon let out of a cage, and, half-awake in the little, creaking room at the top of the guest-house, nightmares would come to her.

Michael drenched in blood, hovering in the corner of the room, sightless eyes just bloody sockets, but somehow he saw her, raised his hand, pointing: you.

"No," she whispered, "no, I didn't…".

Or Jane would be with him, faceless but impossibly beautiful, with hair like silk, dancing like a nymph.

"I'm beautiful, too," said Linnette.

"But he doesn't love you. He never did…"

And Jane would twist her arms round Michael's neck and kiss him with an awful, vampyric mouth, long and luxuriously, until Linnette moaned and buried her head in the bed-clothes.

The worst nightmare, the worst of all, was a blood-stained baby who would say and do nothing at all, just float by the bed until Linnette wished so fervently that she were dead that it was a wonder she did not die of horror on the spot.

At first, the men on the island, most of them good, pious, gentlemanly farm boys, found this mysterious, ship-wrecked young widow—her wedding ring stolen by pirates, no less—very attractive indeed, and there was a good deal of jealousy of Linnette among the local young women.

Linnette smiled when she saw them stare. She was still beautiful, she had that, at least. She could catch a better man than Michael Leeford, any day, bait him and snare him and keep him at heel. But she never did. Perhaps she did not trust herself any more. Combing her hair, washing her face, matching her dress to her ribbon, they were empty little rituals she went through, persuading herself she was in the game still. She was beautiful, she was, she was, she would make the effort. But she never spoke to a man, never even graced him with a smile. What better way to keep believing in her own charm and good looks, than to never put them to the test?

But sleepless nights and bitter thoughts took their toll on Linnette. Her eyes sunk, her cheeks hollowed, she grew thinner. In vain did she make up her face more desperately than ever. The men became afraid of this lonely, restless woman who paced the shore like a ghost, looking for ships. Linnette felt their attention wander and it stung.

Spring came. The sailing season would come again. Linnette paced the shore with a quicker step. She would be going back to England soon… to England and that man-stealing hussy Jane.

So it was that in Summer Linnette packed her bag, said goodbye to Mrs Griffith and set out on My Fair Lady, who was doing a triangular circuit of the Atlantic, calling at Bermuda on her way to Jacksonville, then calling in New York City and returning to England.

As Linnette sailed away from Bermuda on My Fair Lady, she looked back at the small, barren island, lying alone in the wide Atlantic Ocean, one last time. Then she turned her face to the horizon, towards Jacksonville, every wave which broke under My Fair Lady's bow bearing her nearer to revenge.

They took their time, though. As the captain said "My Fair Lady's built to go steady, not to race". Time dragged by, for Linnette. She ignored the gulls, the dolphins frolicking around the boat, the spectacular moons they saw at night, and kept her eyes fixed on the horizon.

Jacksonville was hot, noisy and crowded. Linnette barely noticed. This was her first time in America, she was seeing the world. Even the passengers who were going to New York got off briefly in Jacksonville to stretch their legs and look around. Linnette sat in the bows, why would she want to disembark?

"Got yourself a figure-head?" one of the men shouted to the captain.

"She does like sitting there," admitted the captain. "But why not? It's a nice spot, good view."

New York, big, bustling, full of life. Linnette sat in the bow, quiet and listless, but at the same time so tense, so obviously under strain, that the crew of My Fair Lady became genuinely concerned for her. They began to keep a friendly eye on her. The first mate even whispered that he thought there was a chance she might throw herself over-board. The second mate replied that surly the fresh sea air and a change of scene would do her some good.

They did no good at all. Linnette's health and spirits did not improve, if anything they deteriorated the nearer they got to England. The general opinion among the crew was that it was the weather, which they knew could upset those newly returned from Tropical climes. The cabin boy said she had daemons, but nobody listened to him. Truth was, nobody asked Linnette what was wrong, because everybody was a little afraid of her. They did not admit this, of course, not even to themselves, but it was true.

By the time they pulled into Southampton, Linnette was on the verge of another breakdown. Her nerves were on edge and almost shattered. It was Autumn again. Linnette realised with regret that she might have had her child by now.

The fog crept along the edge of the quay, welcoming visitors to the fair land of England with clammy tendrils. Linnette shuddered. No wonder she and Michael had been so glad to leave this place. She disembarked from the ship and found a cheap, uncomfortable but respectable-looking inn in Southampton, where she settled down for the night. She was tired after her long voyage but could not sleep for nightmares.

The ache in her stomach when she thought about Michael and Jane had not lessened, the sick revulsion twisted in her gut. Her one relief from this pit of pain was the knowledge that she was now at last in England, the Admiral would undoubtedly have finished in India and have brought Jane back.

She could kill Jane. Avenge her suffering.

First, however, she had to find Jane. She tried the Navy List. She could remember the Admiral's name—it was Fitzwarren. Very well, she was looking for Admiral Fitzwarren, married to Jane, nee Smith. That should be easy enough.

Nothing. No mention whatsoever of Admiral Fitzwarren or his wife, Jane.

Linnette was puzzled. She knew how slowly the wheels of bureaucracy can grind, but even if he had only been made an Admiral the year he had married Jane, last year, he ought to be in this year's Navy List. Was he not a real Admiral, or something? In vain, she tried Who's Who. Nothing.

With growing frustration, she packed her bags and set out the next day to London, to the Admiralty.

It was a long journey on the early train. It was, indeed, the first time Linnette had ever been on a train, but she was not in the mood to appreciate novelties. The station in London was crowded and noisy after Bermuda. Linnette, overwhelmed, wandered through the crowds in her travelling cloak, clutching her case, head down against the crowds. The crush to get out into the street nearly made her faint.

"Are you all right, Miss?" It was an elderly gentleman with a case.

"Yes. Thank you." Linnette pulled herself together.

"You sure, Miss? You look ill."
"I'm fine, sir."

She gathered her strength and battled through the Central London crowds to the Admiralty Building.

The last time she had been in London, she had been seventeen, a criminal and a murderess, happy, falling in love, pleased with herself and life, looking forward to the future. Now, only three years later, she felt much older. She had done so much since then, gone to so many places, but it was about a minute, on the deck of Another Gamble in the Caribbean Sea, which meant that she could never go back to the London she knew. She saw it differently now—or perhaps it was London herself which had changed, grown tired and decrepit with the passage of time. She saw now the meanness of the little streets leading off the grand boulevards. The smoke that clung to the roof-tops. The wan faces and sullen hurrying of most of the people. Even the well-dressed men in Whitehall barely looked up from the pavements.

Linnette knew nobody at the Admiralty. She simply followed the well-dressed men into the building and nobody stopped her or asked her what she wanted. Indeed, nobody seemed to notice her at all.

Linnette had been hoping to find a desk marked "Inquiries" in the hall, or some helpful person in attendance. There was nothing so obvious. Men strolled off up stairs and down corridors, or ambled past smoking and talking.

"I've got Crock of Gold on the two fifteen."

"I fancy Angel, myself. Not the favourite, I know."

Possibly they were talking about Admiralty work—but probably not.

"May I help you, Miss?" It was a boy, presumably the office boy round here, as he made efforts to look presentable, but was carrying a penny shocker under one arm and was sucking a boiled sweet.

"Yes, please. I'm trying to make enquiries."

"Come with me, please."

"Is there an Inquiries department?"

"No, not really. But Mr Jackson knows everything."

The boy led her along a corridor, up some stairs and along another corridor. At the end of the corridor was a door. The boy knocked and a rather harassed-sounding voice answered, "come in, if you must".

The boy opened the door, showing Linnette into a comfortable, tastefully-furnished office, where a man stood rifling through a sheaf of papers. He looked as harassed as he sounded. This, presumably, was the encyclopaedic Mr Jackson. "If it's about bloody ship-building, tell the foreman of the yard to deal with it!"

"It's not," said Linnette.

"Thank God. I'm sick of being used as the errand-boy in this place. That's your job." He glared at the boy who had brought Linnette. "I swear I'm the only person who does any work in this place."

"Right," said the boy. "Here you are, Miss."

"Thank you," said Linnette.

He hurried away, leaving Linnette alone with Mr Jackson.

"Good morning."

"Good morning. Have a seat, Miss… erm…"
"Fortescue. Linnette Fortescue."

"Henry Jackson." They shook hands and Linnette had a seat.

"Thank you, sir."

"Now, how can I help you, Miss Fortescue?"

"I have an Inquiry, sir."
"I'll do my best, Miss Fortescue."

"It's about Admiral Fitzwarren."

"Yes?"

Linnette surprised herself by how easily the lies came. "I'm his niece. I've just come back from Australia, sir."

"Yes?"

"And I'm going to stay with the Admiral, sir. He's my uncle, you see, my guardian."

"Yes, I quite see."

"And I was just wondering where he lives. You see, I have absolutely no idea."

"He's your guardian?"
"I've lived in Australia all my life, sir."

"I never knew the Admiral had any relatives." He sounded surprised, but not suspicious. Linnette said nothing. When one's enemy is not suspicious, never give him reason to become such.

"Well," said Mr Jackson, "I'm afraid, Miss Fortescue, the Admiral's dead."

"Dead?" Linnette was astonished.

"Yes. He died recently in India."

"Oh," said Linnette. She had no idea what to do, now.

"I'm sorry to have to tell you this, Miss Fortescue."

"Thank you, sir. I'll be all right… I think." The shock in her voice was real. All she had to manage was a tremor suggesting grief.

"Do you need a drink, Miss Fortescue?"

"Yes, yes, please, sir."

Mr Jackson poured her some sherry and she gulped it down.

"Thank you, sir. Was the Admiral married?" she said as casually as possible.

"Yes, he was only married for a month."

"And his widow," Linnette assumed the frown of one trying to remember a name. "His widow was… Jane, wasn't it?"

"Yes. Jane Smith, from the Caribbean." Mr Jackson seemed quite happy to gossip with Linnette. Perhaps it was better than working.

"I hear it was an arranged match."

"I hear it was."

"It's just that… it was a bit sudden, his death, wasn't it?"
"Yes, I suppose. I mean, he was briefly ill. But he wasn't that old and had never been really ill before."

A wicked plan was forming in Linnette's heart.

"I suppose his widow gets all his money, now?"

"Yes, she does."

"Good for her." This was the clinch moment. The tone had to be exactly right, the eyebrows knowingly raised just slightly over the rim of her glass as Linnette finished her sherry.

Mr Jackson frowned, but not with disapproval, merely with puzzled amusement. "If you have any melodramatic ideas about her murdering him, Miss Fortescue, I suggest you get them right out of your head."

"Did she love him then?"

"Oh, I very much doubt it. If she loved anything about him, it was his gold. No, it's just that I met Mrs Fitzwarren when she came back to England from India, with all her black morning crepe. I swear I've never seen a more crushed-looking creature. No, Jane Fitzwarren could never murder a soul. Bright enough to, I've no doubt as to that, I just don't think that, when it comes down to it, she would have had the nerve." He looked at Linnette as if her were wondering whether she would have the nerve. Possibly, he was not entirely comforted by his conclusion, as he inched his chair a little further back, and his tone of voice lost what remained of its professionalism, and became entirely gossipy, if a little uneasy.

"No?" said Linnette, politely. She had never met Jane, but from what she knew of her, she was not at all surprised by what Mr Jackson said about her. It sounded like her.

"No, I would have said that she preferred other people to do her messy work. Not the most independent woman I ever met." He sounded faintly meditative. "Mind you, I might have got entirely the wrong impression."

Linnette hoped he had. Watching Jane Fitzwarren meeting her end on the scaffold would have given her great satisfaction.

"Anyway." Mr Jackson laughed. "He died of cholera. All the doctors say so. There's no mistake."

"Oh." The hope died in Linnette. There was a pause. "Where's his wife now?"

"I doubt if she's your legal guardian, you know."

"But she has all his money! Am I not entitled to some?"

"Not unless he explicitly willed you some money. And he didn't. He left everything to his wife. There was no mention of a niece.

"Do you know where she lives?"

"No, I don't, I'm afraid. The Admiral's place is in Lincolnshire, but his wife sold it soon after his death, I believe."

"Oh," said Linnette. "Very well." There seemed to be nothing more to say. She rose. "Thank you, sir."

"You're welcome. I only wish that I could have been of more assistance."

Linette turned to leave.

"You said your name was Linnette Fortescue?"

Linnette stopped. She turned to look at him, staring intently at her. Her heart had started jolting in her mouth.

"Yes, sir."

Mr Jackson nodded slowly. "A relative of the Baron, then," he muttered. "My, he must have been a deep one… Who'd have thought?"

Linnette smiled brightly. "I'm sorry sir. Excuse me?"

"Nothing, nothing at all. I beg your pardon for being personal. It's just" slightly pathetically "nothing interesting ever seems to happen to me".

"You never know, sir. The future might bring anything."

"Very true." He smiled. "Shall I show you out?"

"No thank you, sir. I can show myself out."

"Goodbye, Miss Fortescue. "
"Goodbye." Linnette had not realised that she was holding her breath until she let it out. She turned and left. She wondered if Mr Jenkins had worked out who she really was. He probably wondered, and suspected there was something odd going on, but he was unlikely to inform the authorities if, as he had said, this really were the first interesting to ever happen to him.

She went to find lodgings while she thought out what to do next. She found a quiet, shabby but respectable street in the East End, where she could rent a back sitting room, cheap. The room was shabby and bare, and that night Linnette almost froze, shivering beneath a blanket as thin as that which she had had as a child in Hampshire, if not thinner.

There was a small fire-place and she was entitled to a little, just a very little, coal. The land-lady, a fierce woman who lived in the basement, apparently threw lodgers out into the street for taking too much coal. It did not make the room much warmer, though.

The other residents were an elderly lady in the front sitting room and kitchen and a young married couple upstairs. Linnette never became friends with these people, despite the elderly lady, in particular, taking pity on the young, lonely-looking girl who never seemed to get out, or have any friends. Linnette had cut herself from friendliness and pity, it only hurt. This was a good, respectable woman. She had probably done what hundreds of other Londoners had done. Come from a village as a young girl when she was married, or when she had boys just growing up. And she had found work, and kept house, and perhaps raised her family, and her husband and sons had probably died. Too old to work, she had found this miserable back-street to die in. She might have a hard life, but she was, presumably, a good woman, of blameless life, who did not deserve to be part of Linnette's little box of pain. It would only poison her.

Linnette hunted Jane from her London slum as ruthlessly as a blood-hound. She scoured the society columns in every local and national newspaper. Her land-lady looked at her as if she were mad when she returned with arm-fulls of the things. Linnette's gold coins, which had seemed so plentiful in the Caribbean, ran out quickly in London. She had to pay her rent, buy her newspapers, feed herself, mend her clothes, for she could not bear to go about shabbily-dressed. Every morning she looked in the window—there was no mirror but the frost-covered window would do—and saw a pale, hollow-cheeked, thin girl whom she barely recognised. Her hair, her pride and joy, fell limp about her face, where the London smog and grime got in. Her eyes were still bright, but it was an unwholesome brightness, a feverish, hectic glow. So she painted her face more and more desperately, smeared cheap, garish, scarlet make-up on her cheeks which she knew poisoned her, made her more thin, more ill, more weak. But at least she could look again, however desperately, however sadly, like the girl who had once had it all, the girl Michael Leeford had once loved. Who had been so happy, so confident. When she daubed the latest quack's magic potion on her face, she could watch her transformation from walking death to herself again. She could stand a little taller, hold her head a little higher. That felt good.

Winter was setting in. Flurries of snow blew up the London streets. They mixed with dirt and coal dust until the whole of the East End languished under a black paste. The frost clung to Linnette's window, day and night. The water tap in the back yard froze solid in the night and the young man from the first floor had to take a hammer to it.

Linnette was used to this. As a child in Hampshire, the winters had been if anything more cold. At least in London, the factories rumbled day and night and the hot chimney smoke kept off the worst bite of the cold.

London was so smoky, though, and so dirty. And so lonely. A city of more than a million people, but it was lonely. The people who queued at the pumps in the morning or stood, teeth chattering, huddled against the cold, outside the poor house gates, were people she had never seen before, probably would never see again. Sooner or later they started to look the same. All had cold, pinched faces and blue fingers. All wore ragged clothes and all looked hopeless. And Linnette was one of them. There were thousands of slum lodging-houses in London. There were thousands of careless, untended graves of the destitute. Linnette was one of millions. She was ragged, she was cold, she was counting her pennies in her little back room. Only she had the light of determination in her red-rimmed eyes (the red so carefully painted over) which kept her from utter hopeless. People stared at her as she stalked the streets, from the news-agents to her lodgings, with her arms full of papers and the predatory gleam in her eye.

It was ball season in high society. Occasionally Jane's name would appear in the list of attendees at some ball or other. Linnette would make a note of the address, go to the whole-salers, buy apples or nuts or whatever was going cheap, go to the address, usually a smart town house, and go round to the back door. She would claim to be a fruit seller and the servants would usually take pity on her and let her into the kitchen, where a decent fire was going, and they would gossip about the ball, and who had been there, and Linnette would gently probe them about Jane, but nobody ever knew where she lived. These houses were not always in London and train fares to people's country seats ate still deeper into Linnette's slender purse. Sometimes, Jane went to the opera or the theatre—she certainly seemed to be enjoying the London winter Season. Nowhere was there any reference of her own house. Presumably she was simply not that prominent in Society. Really fashionable young women seemed to do something news-worthy every day, even if it were just to buy a new hat.

Then came the day when the money ran out. Linnette sat in her lodgings and shook her last tuppence onto her lap.

Very well. She must find a way to get some more. Revenge was an expensive business, it seemed. She had nothing to sell. She could not find work as a domestic servant or any other job where she was required to live in. She needed her freedom to travel and read her newspapers. For the same reason, factory work was not the best, although provided she had her freedom in the evenings it would be manageable. She asked a couple of factories whether they wanted a worker, but they looked at her, a thin little thing with a sunken face and a hectic, obvious beauty that clearly came from compensating for her waxy pale skin, and shook their heads. They would not hire a girl so sick that she would keel over and faint before she could put any work in. They would hire country girls, and when the London smog got into their lungs and set them coughing like pipe smokers, dismiss them and hire somebody else. Linnette did without fuel and food that night.

She tried to take to crime again—she still had all her weapons, and, indeed, could not bear to part with them, as they made her feel strong and reminded her of the good old days. But when she tried train robbery it made her feel sick. The gun in her hand shook. All she could think about was that she had been a criminal before, a highway robber, with Michael Leeford. She remembered their first robbery. She remembered her first kill—how easy it had been, how quick. She remembered stabbing Michael, over and over again, with this knife. She could barely breathe. She was there again, on the deck of Another Gamble, feeling the rage course through her, white-hot, uncontrollable. Feeling the splash and sticky flop of Michael's blood, she could see it on her hands, now, red, glistening. She scrubbed her hands against her skirt and wrenched herself back into the present. She was sitting on the ground, the world swinging beneath her, her head spinning, her stomach heaving so violently the thought she might suffocate.

Crime, she realised, was impossible. She did not have the strength. The gun shook in her hand and she failed.

In the end, she spent her last tuppence on an advertisement. She borrowed the dictionary from the parish library to check her spelling and grammar. It read

"Sewing and laundry

Competent, conscientious, honest seamstress

Neat and punctual

Reasonable price"

Then she gave her address and sent it to the local evening paper.

By the next day, she had sewing work from various shops, from laundries, from local families and from wealthy people in the smart bits of London. There was precious little money from it, but she could at least buy herself something to eat that night.

Winter dragged on, January into February. Linnette's back room where she sat sewing was cold. Her fingers were blue by six 'o' clock in the evening at the latest. She wrapped herself in her shawl, but in had worn thin and she shivered so hard sometimes she could barely hold the needle. But worse than cold fingers, aching back and neck and eyes, needle-pricks in her hands, was the bitter resentment she felt at her work. She had sewed dresses and put patches in jackets in Hampshire. She had escaped that to go the choir school. She had sworn to herself that she would never live like this again. Now, it was worse than it had ever been, for she was not only cold and uncomfortable but alone with the stain of blood on her head, and the sheer monotony of this drudging humiliated her. She had failed in her ambition to escape her roots. She was reduced to this hand-to-mouth work to survive. She did not count how many hours a day she had to work. She had not the heart. Suffice to say she barely slept. She sat working until the small hours, sometimes to that brief pause between the dead of night and the lightening of the sky when even London was still for a moment. For of course, she could not spend the whole day working, as she must not only to live but fulfil her whole purpose of living: carry out her revenge.

She made a list of all the opera houses and theatres which Jane, according to the gossip-merchants, had visited. She took to dawdling outside these, when the people were going in for the performance or coming out afterwards, in the hope of seeing Jane there. She knew that the chances of being at the same opera or theatre as Jane was were extremely small, but she had to do something. Sometimes, the well-dressed people going for an evening out turned and stared at the young lady who hovered outside the door, watching them pass, with a pile of sewing beside her, for she would sit on the steps outside and sew while the performance was going on. The door-man at the Adelphi took pity on the poor girl, who looked so tired and ill and who shivered in her thin dress at eleven at night in the snowy street. He invited her to take a tot of brandy, "warm your bones", and Linnette gratefully accepted, warming her bones with his brandy and her hands on his brazier until the theatre-goers came out, that night and many nights afterwards. She became quite friendly with this door-man, and he gossiped about some of his regular customers. Jane, it seemed, was not one of them, though. Yes, he had heard the name, once or twice, he thought she had been here a few times, but he knew nothing about her, not really. Mrs Willoughby, now… He never asked himself why this young woman should turn up at the theatre just as the customers arrived, sit outside sewing and talking until they left, and then slip off quietly, alone into the night. Probably she just liked looking at the pretty costumes. It was lonely work and unsociable hours, outside the door of the Adelphi until the small hours of the morning. Linnette became quite good at wheedling gossip out of pretty much all the door-men in the cities, the way she gossiped to servants in the kitchens of big houses. Some of them knew quite a bit about Jane, but not of them were sure where she lived. It might be in London, but it might be Bournemouth or Tunbridge Wells.

Linnette assumed that the Admiral, as a man, presumably, of wealth and property, would have been on the Electoral Register in his life-time, however, this was presumably at his place in Lincolnshire. Jane, according to Mr Jenkins, had sold the house after his death. In the desperate hope that he might be mistaken, she travelled up to Lincolnshire. While she was unlikely to find out where the Admiral's estates were simply from asking at the borough office, she could at least find out which borough he had been registered to vote in. Then she might be able to find people who remembered him and his wife, and know where Jane had moved to. If she played her cards right. If she were innocently gossipy enough.

Linnette travelled up to Lincolnshire on the train. She abandoned her lodgings in London and moved into similar lodgings in a back street in Lincoln—this could take a while, she knew. There she took in sewing, tried to eat while finding enough money for her train fares around the county and paced her garret at night, trying to make herself so exhausted that she would not be able to dream. But she did. She always did.

Most boroughs had old copies of the Electoral Register lying around—obviously, the Admiral was no longer on the Electoral Register—and Linnette found it easy enough, with a few polite questions, to look at these.

Spring was setting in now, so the cold lessened. Linnette still had few comforts but she no longer sat in her room with her fingers turning blue. That was something. Her misery, however, only grew more bitter with the spring. As the town came to life around her and the good people of Lincolnshire celebrated putting the hardships of winter behind them, she felt more isolated from her fellow-beings than she had ever been before. She alone was not enjoying the lengthening Spring days, or looking forward to Summer. She was looking forward to one thing and one thing alone: murder. She could murder as well in the winter as in the Spring. The fields grew green. The first woolly lambs of Spring tottered through the fields on wobbly baby legs. Linnette sat in borough offices, toiling through electoral registers with death in her heart.

She did eventually find the borough in which the Admiral had lived. The Revising Barrister showed not a trace of suspicion as Linnette explained that she was looking for the late Admiral Fitzwarren's property because of a legal dispute involving various business ventures in… in the South Seas, in which he had been involved. She was representing her uncle, who was very ill and bed-ridden. The Revising Barrister was either a very naïve country Revising Barrister, to believe her story, or very corrupt, to go along with her without asking questions. Linnette did not care which. The Revising Barrister allowed her to study the Electoral Register for as long as she pleased, and then—wonder of wonders—actually asked her if she would like him to show her the house.

Linnette thanked him, and they set off in his pony and trap, through the pancake-flat Lincolnshire countryside, to the estate. They could not go into the estate, because the new owner—a Mr Blake, a rising industrialist—was very angry about trespassing on his property, but they could admire the old family mansion through the iron railings surrounding the park. When they had stared their fill, and Linnette had heard the Fitzwarren family's scandalous gossip dating back many generations, they returned to the borough council office. The Revising Barrister was very courteous to Linnette. He hoped he had been of assistance to her. He wished her luck in her uncle's legal case. Eventually, Linnette stopped pretending not to take the hint and just tipped him. Clearly not that naïve, then.

She returned herself that afternoon, to the village near the Admiral's old manor. She could understand why Jane, seeking the high life, had chosen not to live here. It was hardly a thrill a minute. She found the church and went in. Clergymen, she knew, were usually good gossip merchants. This vicar, however, was not in his church, so she went to the nearby vicarage. There she rang the bell, and waited.

The maid answered the door.

"Hello, Miss?"

"I'd like to speak to the vicar, please."
"On a spiritual matter?"
"Yes please."

"Very well, Miss. He's in his study."

The maid showed Linnette into the vicar's study, a large, comfortable room, cluttered with books—on theology but also every other subject—with a view of the garden and some flat Lincolnshire fields.

The vicar was having a cup of tea and appeared to be translating a sermon into a language Linette didn't recognise. Probably missionary work. Linnette wasn't interested. She was a woman of one idea.

She explained to the vicar that she was the Admiral's niece. She had been in Australia, but when she heard that he was dead she had come straight back to England to visit his family house and local area. She was quite alone in the world now, with no family to take care of her, and she had always been fond of her uncle, whom she had never seen, as she had been born in Australia, but who had written to her regularly.

The vicar was kind and sympathetic. He asked the Lord to comfort her in her grief. He talked with her about the Admiral and his life and Linnette mentioned his marriage.

"Yes. Married Jane Smith just before he died, Miss."

"Yes, I heard. It must be terrible for her to lose her husband so suddenly."

"Yes, it must. However, she seemed in quite good spirits and to be recovering from her grief when she returned from India."

Linnette could read between the lines well enough to know that that meant "she never really cared for him" in polite vicar's code.

"I believe that she has inherited all his money, sir?"

"Yes, that's right, she's a very rich lady, now. Of course," he added, "faith in the Lord is the true wealth which brightens all our days".

"Oh, yes," said Linnette. "Does she still live round here?" she asked casually.

"No, I think she's moved."

"Ah, probably the best way to deal with grief. Change of scene. Come up to London."

"Oh, I don't think she went to London. She sold the house yes, but she went to… oh, now, I think it was Bath."

"Bath? Ah, well, I've heard it's nice there. I'm sure she'll be very happy."

"Yes," said the vicar. "I'm sure she will."

They talked for a little longer, about the Admiral and his life and Linnette's entirely imaginary life in Australia, then Linnette thanked the vicar and left.

Linnette went back to her lodgings, settled her affairs with her land-lady and took the next train to Bath.

Bath, she knew, would be harder than Lincolnshire. As a woman, Jane had no vote and would not appear on the Electoral Register of any borough. If she were to buy or sell land in the neighbourhood, pay taxes, get married or register a child, that would be the best place for Linnette to get some idea of her address, or at least the general area in which she lived.

There was a shortage of cheap lodgings in Bath. She found a small attic at the top of a very smart house in a fashionable street, where the well-to-do young lady charged a wholly extortionate rent. Linnette spent the whole of that day sewing, and went to bed exhausted, but with the taste of triumph on her lips. She was getting nearer and nearer to Jane every day. She did not care if finding her were to take another week, another month, another year. She would get there in the end and the longer Jane's happiness and comfort as a rich widow lasted, the sweeter her ultimate revenge would be. Let Jane forget her. Let her think she was safe. Linnette was circling her out here in the dark.

The nearer Linnette got to her revenge, though, the worse the nightmares became, until she could barely sleep and the night was a place of Hellish things and terror for her soul.

The next day, she fished a newspaper out of a bin.

It said nothing about Jane. The only piece of society gossip was a party on the river at the country place of some country gentleman.

The next day, Linnette, now desperately hungry, as she had barely eaten for two days, again fished her newspaper out of the bin. Nothing helpful in the society gossip section.

Linnette was about to use the newspaper to try to coax yesterday's spent ashes into a fire, when her eye fell on a headline in the serious news section. It was not often Linnette read the serious news—all stocks and shares and Government ministers—but this article… this article mentioned her mother.

It read thus.

"Lady Linet Maynarde, the late Lord Robert Maynarde's wife, died yesterday at a mental institution. On her death, her property, which she inherited on the death of her husband, has been claimed by her second cousin, Jane Fitzwarren, widow of the Admiral. Another claimant is James Maynarde, a cousin of Lord Robert Maynarde's. The two intend to settle their dispute in a court of law. Proceedings will begin on Tuesday at the Mayor's and City of London Court, in London, where Mr James Maynarde is living. Mrs Fitzwarren will travel up from her home in Bath. Both Mrs Fitzwarren and Mr Maynarde are very wealthy, and Mr Maynarde is involved in the stock market."

Linnette smiled. A slow smile of triumph. Oh, revenge was sweet. Long-awaited, cold-blooded, pitiless revenge. Jane would never know what had hit her.

"At last," she whispered. She stood up and looked out of the sky-light in her attic at the clear, bright spring morning. She felt light as air. She could have stepped on the sunlight itself and climbed to Heaven—no, sailed to Heaven. She picked up her hand and her gun was steady. It gave her strength, all the solid, cold viciousness of a metal gun. It focussed her nerves and sharpened her mind. She felt a quivering in her chest, like a hunting dog who scented the fox. "At last."

She dressed herself, on an impulse, in her red silk dress. It was the red silk dress she had been wearing on the road out of Winchester long ago, when she had first met Michael Leeford. She had not worn it since she had murdered him. Perhaps, in the back of her mind, she had always been saving it for this. It was beautiful, and when she put it on and looked at her face in her bucket of water which she kept in her attic for washing in, she knew that she was beautiful too.

"The Maynarde Fortune has another claimant."

She packed her bag. She did not bother to settle her affairs with the land-lady. She had never liked her anyway. She set off in the Spring sunshine to the railway station and London.

On the train journey back to London from Bath, Linnette felt more alive than she had felt in years. More than she had ever felt in her life.

She disembarked at a platform heaving with commuters, and walked through them all head so high and step so light that even the most well-dressed commuters stood aside to let her pass, and some even touched their hats, for this ghost-pale girl, with shadows round her coldly glittering eyes, in a scarlet silk dress.

She made her way to the Mayor's and City of London Court. Once she got there, proceedings seemed to have already begun. There was nobody outside the building but a few journalists, sitting on the steps waiting for people to emerge, taking the opportunity for a bottle of beer.

It was several hours before a clatter and the noise of talking in the court heralded the end of proceedings. Linnette spent those hours in blood-soaked trance. She sat quite still and looked across the street. There was none of that restless, hunted air about her which there had been so lately. She was the huntress now. She thought so, at least, but there was always something, on the edge of her mind, circling round and round, honing in as she honed in on Jane. A horrible, formless, sick horror, living and malign, worse than mere grief or fear of death, something strong and dark and terrible, coming out of the recesses of her own soul.

A young man came out of the court-room, first. He was muttering to himself, frowning. A troop of men in dark suits followed him, looking shifty and apologising. This must be James Maynarde with his lawyers.

"The girl was in the right," said one of the men to another, aggrievedly.

"Yes." Quieter, "and she paid the bigger bribe".

"Quite so. Quite so."

Then a young woman emerged. She was smiling with triumph, her lawyers were chatting and laughing. She was wearing a beautiful dress of sky-blue satin, but to Linnette's astonishment, she was not particularly beautiful. Oh, she was young, and sweetly, charmingly pretty. But Linnette, studying her with the bitter accuracy of a woman scorned for her rival, knew that she, Linnette, had better hair than Jane, and better eyes and, probably, when she had had enough to eat, had a better figure.

Linnette's rage deepened ten times. It was bad enough to be left for the siren in her mind. It was worse to be left for some English house-wife. Her pride smouldered within her. She set off down the street after Jane. Her hand was on her sword and her eyes were boring into the back of Jane's head and deep into her sword.

Linnette crossed the street and made a bee-line for Jane. Her pulse was racing and her hand was twitching with eagerness on her sword.

Jane said goodbye to her lawyers and, to Linnette's horror, got into a cab, which had been waiting outside the court-room. She set off into town, seemingly quite happy, humming as she got into the cab. Her happiness tortured Linnette.

Linnette chased the cab down the street and through central London. Mercifully, it was busy day so the cab could not go too fast, and Linnette, ducking and weaving through the crowd, could just about keep it in sight. It turned into St. James's Park, and Jane got out of the cab, tipped the driver and began to stroll down the path towards the lake.

"Hey!" yelled Linnette.

Jane could have no doubt that she was talking to her. Linnette's voice was like a knife in her back.

She stopped and turned. Quite a number of innocent Londoners also turned. Why on Earth was this quiet, well-dressed young lady being pursued across St. James's Park by this impudent young girl in a most immodest dress?

"Jane Fitzwarren?"

"How do you know my name?"

"I've been following you since I was nineteen. I've followed you from the Caribbean all over England."

"Why have you done that?" Jane was puzzled and indignant—this was deeply embarrassing after all, why did the girl not just go away? But she was also scared. Who was this woman and why had she followed her? Linnette saw the fear in her enemy's eyes and laughed.

"I'm Linnette Fortescue."

"The Baron's brat?"

"Yes."

"Have you come to dispute my inheritance?"

"Not that. Though I have a claim on it, if I wanted it. But you robbed me of something far more precious, Jane Fitzwarren."
"What?" She was truly frightened now. The crowd was getting restless.

"Have you forgotten?" Quietly. Rage was sucking Linnette's breath out of her.

"Forgotten what?" Fear and embarrassment rose to a shriek.

"Michael Leeford."

The colour went out Jane's face. "You're…"

"Yes." Linnette drew her sword. "I am. Draw your sword, Mrs Fitzwarren."

"I don't have one."

Linnette's vison was hazing over into a red film. She wanted to seize her sword right now and plunge it into the writhing body of Jane Fitzwarren. But she wanted a fight, damn it. She wanted the clash of steel on cold steel, the rush of air as the sword slashed through it, the weight of it in her hand as she balanced. If she were to fight to live, perhaps she would remember, or feel the ghost of the memory, what it felt like to want to live.

"What have you got?"

Jane's face changed. There was a new light, the light of battle, in her frightened eyes. "I thought something like this might happen. I got this."

She pulled out a small dagger.

So she had expected something like this, had she? Linnette laughed. Even Jane Smith had been smart enough to not forget Linnette Fortescue. She had been afraid, all this years, despite her comfort and wealth.

"Very well. We'll make this fair." Linnette pulled out her own dagger and sheathed her sword. "I like my sport."

For a moment, they looked at each other. The crowd was frozen.

"En garde," hissed Linnette. She lunged at Jane.

A small knot of people left the crowd and went running, possibly for the police, but Linnette did not care and barely noticed.

She slashed at Jane's throat. Jane parried, but badly, nearly knocking the knife out of her own hand. Linnette laughed. Jane really did not stand a chance. She lunged again, easily ducking a clumsy swing from Jane. Oh, yes, this was living. This was what it felt like.

Again and again, in an exultation of rage, crazed with grief that burned her up, Linnette stabbed and thrusted and slashed like a wild thing. But Jane, who was fighting not to relieve her feelings but for her life, kept calmer at the crucial moment and slashed at Linnette in return.

Linnette ducked, but nearly fell over. She was weak, tired, under-nourished, out of practice. She realised that with a jolt. She was no longer Linnette the invincible, terror of the Seven Seas.

The burst of animal fury at the knowledge of her own weakness drove her into a fresh frenzy. She slashed at Jane's shoulder. Blood spurted.

Blood. First blood. Life blood.

Linnette was back with Michael on the deck of Another Gamble. She was stabbing his broken body again and again. And he was not fighting back… Jane was, though, and Linnette, dragging her blade along Jane's arm, heard a voice from somewhere, like a dying wolf with glass in its throat, shriek: "Michael, why did you never love me?".

It was a cry of pure pain. It distracted Jane from the fight and she jumped backwards, eyes wide. It even distracted Linnette herself and she was back in the present, on the grass, under the blue sky and warm sunshine in St. James's Park, clutching Jane by the shoulder and trying to get a grip on her throat.

"He did love you," spluttered Jane in astonishment.

"A likely story. He said he loved me and left me and my child at death's door to philander with you." A slash with the knife.

"That's not-" another slash- "what happened!".

Linnette got a grip on Jane's throat but her strength was nearly spent, her hand was slick with blood, Jane stepped backwards, Linnette tripped and collapsed on top of her.

"I told him-" Linnette's knife glanced off Jane's ribs, Jane slashed Linnette along the face and hot blood spurted into her eye- "you were dead. He said he didn't want to live any more".

Linnette froze. "What?"

Jane was talking fast, frantically, her eyes were staring into Linnette's like a frightened filly's.

"He didn't want to live any more when he thought you were dead. The only reason he slept with me at all was so he could get free to free you and save you." The words were tripping over each other. "He loved you."

Those last three words hit Linnette like a brick in the gut. The tears came, noisily, explosively, uncontrollably. They mingled with the blood on her cheek, the salt stung her eyes in blinding agony and she could barely see.

"Is this true?" She knew in her gut that it was, but she had to check. "You're not just saying this in the hope of saving your life?"

"No!" There was desperate sincerity in Jane's voice. She thrashed around. She got one arm over Linnette's neck, with her other arm she slashed the knife along her stomach. Linnette choked with pain, but it only made her angrier. In a lucid flash of boiling rage, she saw everything.

"You," she spat the word, "you…". Her strength, so nearly exhausted, came in a burst. She stabbed and stabbed. She was vaguely aware of Jane stabbing back, but she barely felt it, of her screaming, but she barely heard. "You are a filthy," she was aware that Jane was no longer moving, "Scarlet Woman".

One last time, the knife came flashing down, cold and vicious, like Linnette's heart. It buried itself in Jane's throat. There was a gurgling cry, a last twitch, silence. For a moment, Linnette was riding higher than she had been in years. A sea of blood-soaked exultation, the sweet burn of victory, the hot sweet bath of blood.

Then Linnette snapped back into herself. She brushed her lose strands of hair back off her face with a bloodstained hand.

Her hatred of Jane, now sprawled pale and still and bloody on the ground in front of her, was a cold, hard lump in her chest. Michael had loved her. He had loved her and Jane had seduced him, blackmailed him, tortured him. Tortured Linnette, too. For a second, a smile flickered on Linnette's lips as she sat on the grass in Jane's blood. Michael would be glad if he could see the revenge which she had taken on both of them.

But she, Linnette had killed him. She had murdered the man she loved. Who had only ever loved her.

There was no life of joy and peace. There was only a dull, silent, deathly hollowness which swallowed her up.

Then the pain hit her in a shock-wave. Linnette looked up into the police-man's face, whispered "morning, officer" and fainted.

When she woke up, the first question which hit her was "where did the cop come from?". Then she saw the ceiling. High, white-washed, stone. This looked familiar. She must be in a police cell. Some well-meaning by-stander must have fetched the police. That was where the cop had come from. Very well. She was in prison and she would hang.

She did not care. She was willing to die. She had nothing to live for.

Everything hurt. Her gut especially. It hurt to move. Jane had fought back hard, that was for sure. The side of her face hurt most. She touched it and it was bandaged. This vaguely surprised her. Somebody must have been looking after her.

She looked at her watch. Three in the afternoon. She sighed and went back to sleep. There were no nightmares—unless a horrible cold shadow, lying on her heart, which engulfed her and dragged her down to some empty, dead place inside her skull where she did not want to go counts as a nightmare.

She woke the next morning. She was horribly weak. She was hungry but she did not want to eat. She wanted to go back to sleep. To go back to sleep and sleep herself dead. But hunger gnawed at her, worsening the pain of the wound in her gut.

Hunger was stronger than sleep. It was stronger even than the will to die. It dragged her upright, despite the pain. She looked around the cell for the first time. She was lying on a pallet bed against the back wall, under a high, small, barred window, through which dawn sunlight trickled. There was a table in the cell, on which was a bowl of porridge and a cup of coffee. Linnette ate and drank ravenously. It was good food, hot. Perhaps life as a guest of Her Majesty was not too bad.

Then she looked around the rest of her cell. Her suitcase was standing by the door. There was a small table by the wall with a metal jug and basin. There was some water in the jug, Linnette poured it out into the basin and looked at herself. She saw a young woman in a low-necked, scarlet dress, caked with drying, reddish-brown blood. There was blood in her hair, on her face, under her fingernails. Her face, desperately over-made up, was thin and weary. Her left cheek was covered in bandages, so much that she could barely see that side of her face. She washed, rummaged around in her suitcase and dressed in fresh clothes. She brushed her hair and re-did in a fashionable style. Her weapons had been removed, but that was fair enough for what would she want them for, anyway? She did not want to kill anybody. Ever. Jane had been fun. Michael, now, was not.

When she had thrown the ruined red dress in the corner, she felt almost human. Except for the ache in her heart from a wound too unbearable to look at. Guilt. Love. Self-hatred. Un-looked-at, it festered.

At noon, the wardress came to see Linnette. She looked kind enough, but was accompanied by armed guards.

"Good morning, Miss."

"Good morning."

"You've finished your breakfast!"

"Thank you, yes."

"I'm so glad. You ate nothing, yesterday. We thought you might die."
"I wish I could."
"Don't say that, dear. Don't say that."

"Why not?"

The wardress looked at her. She had the sad eyes of a woman who had seen many such cases pass through her care. "Have a hope, dear, please."

"I have no hope."

"Everyone has a hope, dear. Everyone who comes before the British justice system. That's what makes it great. All you have to do is speak the truth and shame the Devil and you'll be assured of justice."
"The only justice for me is death."

"Well, dear, don't be too sure about that. The court may be merciful, you know."

"You mean, I haven't been tried yet?"

"How could you be? You were unconscious."

"When will I be tried?"

"Two weeks, dear."

"Then I'll be hanged."

"You haven't been found guilty yet," said the wardress, with encouraging sternness.

"I am guilty, though."

"Fortunately for you, young woman, I count as off the record. Don't say that in front of a lawyer. Chin up, though. Even if you are guilty, the court may be merciful."

"I thought you said they would be just."
"Justice and mercy aren't necessarily incompatible, you know."

"You don't know what I've done."

"I've heard the story. And I don't need to hear it again." With a trace of impatience "I can only ignore what I'm hearing for so long, you know. I'm trying to be on your side, you know. I was the one who told them to bring your suitcase from your lodgings. They wanted to burn it".

"I know you're on my side," said Linnette. "Thank you. If I haven't been tried, yet, why am I in prison?"

"Awaiting trial."

"I don't get bail?"

"No, you're dangerous! Besides, can you afford it?"

"No," said Linnette. "That's true. I can't afford it." So she was dangerous, was she? She did not think so. She might have been, once. Yesterday. But not any more.

"Eat your lunch, now," said the wardress. "I'll see you this evening."

"Yes, thank you."

The wardress left Linnette alone. Linnette sat on her bunk until evening, then ate her tea, then lay down on her bunk as darkness gathered outside the window and waited for the nightly slide down into cold oblivion.

Over the days that followed, oblivion was Linnette's only relief. It was terrifying enough—dark, empty, lonely, it left her helpless. She knew that these dark places lived inside her and even when she was awake, with the Sun shining through the window, she was still in the dark places, really. It was worse at night, though, with nothing to stare at except the shadows which clustered like solid objects on the ceiling, reaching down to take her away until her heart was empty and she did not know whether she was awake or asleep.

But even the oblivion was better than the knife which twisted in her side every waking moment. I killed Michael Leeford. I killed Michael Leeford. I'm a murderess, a murderess, a murderess… Every day that knife twisted deeper. When it reached her heart, she thought drearily, perhaps she would die. She hoped she would.

She paced her cell. She tried to work the knife out of her, like a wounded animal trying to work the poison out. Back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. But before her were always the blank walls of the cell. Solid rock. No way out, no way back, no way back to before… The rising panic choked her. She slumped against the wall.

For two days, her only company was the wardress. She was kind, she tried to be cheerful and optimistic, but she had no idea what Linnette was really going through.

Then, a doctor arrived to take the bandages of Linnette's face. He was a stern man, who called her "girl" but she did not care any more that he was rude to her. Why would she? What could his petty little barbs do? She held still while he tore the bandages off her stomach, her arms, her face.

Her face still hurt. She touched the wound. It was raw and rough, a long, jagged gash. She stood up and went across to her metal wash-bowl.

"Sit down, girl, I haven't finished!" said the doctor.

She ignored him. She was looking at her face. The whole left side of it was destroyed. A jagged line ran down her cheek from forehead to chin, and the stiches had pulled the flesh together too far, so it formed a lump, all mauve and red. It pulled at the corner of her mouth and eye, so her face felt stiff. She tilted her head slowly from side to side. No angle made it look any better.

"Is that where she cut me?"
"Yes. It's quite a nasty cut, I'm afraid. There'll always be a scar."

Always.

Linnette had been young and beautiful, on top of the world. Now, she had even lost her looks. Her last remaining pride. However pale and thin she had become, however hollow her eyes had grown, she had always remembered what she had looked like, in the good old days, and fought tooth and nail to maintain it, with her last shreds of dignity. She had been an attractive girl, she knew it. She had lost Michael but there were other men in the world. She could hunt them, win them, keep them. Not anymore.

That night, she lay on her bunk and stared at the ceiling and knew that her last kernel of human soul had just died. Now, she was running on empty.

The next day, the wardress came to see her. She sat and looked at her face in the glass, miserable.

"What's wrong?"

"Oh, I'm just admiring my face." Her voice was fragile, bitter.

"You look lovely," said the wardress, but she clearly didn't mean it.

"Don't mess with me. You seen this?" She gestured at her scar.

"Don't be silly, miss. It's not that ruining your looks, half the young ladies in London would kill for such an impressive scar."

"What is it, then?"

"The way you lurk around your cell like a dead-eyed ghost, with eyes like a witch. That's what's ruining your looks!"

"Well, I can't help that!" And Linnette turned away, feeling no better.

For about a week, all she saw was the wardress. She came three times a day to feed Linnette, and always tried to make sure that she was all right. She tried to encourage Linnette, but eventually realised that she was beyond encouragement, and offered her nothing more than a quiet "good morning" and "good night".

Linnette never spoke to a lawyer, as she could not afford one. Even if she had been rich, she would probably never have put the effort into defending herself.

By the end of the week, Linnette was barely eating. It was too much effort. She was too tired, she wanted only to lie on her bunk and try to forget, try to push out the pictures that came crowding in on her mind every time she blinked. Try to slide down into the dark. It got easier and easier day by day. She could lie in the dark and stare at nothing. Was this what death looked like? Dark, quiet. Linnette had faced death before. She had run long odds. It made her feel alive. She thought she knew what it looked like. She knew now that it was wrong. It was this. This small, bare stone cell. The silence at night, the cold that reached out behind her to touch her on the shoulder, and she just knew that she could turn round and look in the face of the Grim Reaper. And it was so tempting to turn round.

The wardress became concerned. "Please eat," she said to Linnette.

"I'm not hungry."
The next day. "Please eat. You're weak. You'll make yourself ill."

"I'm not hungry."

"Are you afraid that things will go badly for you?"

"No."

"What are you afraid of, then?"

"Nothing."

"Miss Fortescue, listen. The judge, Mr Webster, is a fair man. He will not condemn anyone to death without just cause. If you really are innocent, then the jury will find you innocent."

Linnette said nothing.

"Juries are clever, rational, humane men. They're very brave to do what they do, Miss Fortescue, they're aware of the responsibility. You can have every faith in them. You won't be treated unjustly."
"I don't even have a defence lawyer."

"There's no need of one. If you're truly innocent, put your faith in the jury and the Lord and all will be well."
"But I'm guilty."
"I didn't hear that, now, Miss Fortescue."
"But-"

"If you are guilty," a sigh, a shrug, "put your faith in the Lord".

"I can't."

"Now, young lady, that's foolish talk. I'll have none of that in this prison. The Lord will see justice done. He is omniscient and omnipotent and you would do well to believe in him."

Linnette said nothing. So it was that on the day before her trial—when Linnette still would not eat—the wardress, becoming seriously concerned for her health, decided this was out of her range and summoned the vicar.

His name was Rev. Floyd. He was quite a young man, with an intense face, bright eyes and flowing robes. He bore a library of holy books under on arm.

"Miss Fortescue?"

"Yes, sir?" Linnette sighed to herself. Here was yet another well-meaning, harmless meddler determined to get sucked into her world.

"Apparently you don't eat much."

"I'm not hungry much, sir."

"Have you been sleeping?"

"Yes, sir."

"If you have trouble sleeping, I can get you some pills."

"Do they make me go to sleep, go right to sleep whenever I want to?"

"Yes, Miss."

"Then I'd like some, please."

"Very well." Rev. Floyd was quite pleased. He had least got a response.

"Thank you, sir."
"Pleasure. I want to do anything I can to help you, Miss Fortescue."

"Thank you, sir, but I'm afraid you can't do much."

"You might let me try, Miss Fortescue. What's wrong?"

"Nothing."

"Apparently, Miss Fortescue, you have no faith in the Lord. Is there some spiritual matter I can help you with?"
"No, sir."

"It's my job, you know. There are many in the prisons of London who have undergone hardship in life, who face a difficult and uncertain future. If I can help you, I want to."
Silence.

"You've been charged with murder. And if you are Linnette Fortescue, the Baron's daughter, then you're charged with various other capital crimes—not all of them on British turf, it's true. Is it fear of being hanged which troubles you? I assure you-"

"Yes," said Linnette. "You can assure me of all the things which the wardress has already assured me of. About the greatness of the British justice system and the cleverness of the jury. And if that fails, there's always your precious God isn't there?"

"The greatest, most just and most merciful God of all."

"And you can tell be about how I needn't be afraid of dying because if I say sorry enough I can go to Heaven," her voice was rising in anger now "and it's lovely, warm, sunny, flowing with milk and honey, whatever. Well, it's not hanging that's frightening me, Reverend. Frankly, it's all the same to me whether they hang me or no".

"What is it then?" Rev. Floyd sounded sadly bewildered.

Linnette looked up at him. "I'm a murderer, sir."

"Very well, Miss Fortescue. You're not the first murderer I've spoken to. I'm wondering, though, if legal matters are not best left to the court room. I'm happy to do what I can, but I'm no lawyer."

"No." Suddenly Linnette was very tired. She realised she did not care any more—let this mad old fool with his Bible and his stammered prayers hear it all, let him get her life story if he wanted it. "I've told you, I don't care if they hang me or not."
"Why not, Miss Fortescue? Why, to use your own words, can't you put your faith in the Lord?"

"Life's hard, Reverend. You don't get that in your vicarage, do you? You can chat to your God and rake in your church rates, but my life's hard. Don't you understand that?"

The tears came from somewhere. It felt good in a way. She had thought she had cried all her tears, but no, she had more, she could still feel.

"Miss Fortescue, I have worked in prisons for many years. Before people are tried, in prison when they're punished, the nights before the gallows, the penal colonies abroad. I've met many like you."

"Yes, there are hundreds of people like me. I'm sure of it, it's the same old slush. You've heard it all before, Reverend, why do you pretend to care?"

"No." The sheer desperation in the Reverend's voice made Linnette look up in surprise. She was not used to members of the clergy losing their studied, pious self-control. "That's not what I meant!" His tone was almost pleading. "I meant that you're not alone, Miss Fortescue, you're not alone. There are others like you."

"I'm alone in this cell. Apart from you, and you're no help whatsoever."

"Oh Miss Fortescue, I want to be of help. The Lord can help. Just let me help you to let Him help you."

Linnette looked at her hands, lying in her lap. She had washed the blood-stains off them. She had never washed the blood-stains off Michael's face. Then she looked up at Rev. Floyd.

"I've done a bad thing," she said simply.

"You've sinned?"

"I guess."

"We all sin, Miss Fortescue."

"You don't."

"Man is born-" The Reverend stopped. Thhis anguished bunk in a desolate cell on the brink of likely death sentence wrenched his well-worn soothing lines from him. "Lots of people do bad things. They repent, they move on. The Lord lets them move on."

Linnette shook her head.

"Do you regret what you did, Miss Fortescue?"

"Yes. Oh, yes. More than anything." The tears fell boiling hot and fast, now. "I wish to God I'd never done it."

"Then God has heard your prayer."
"And He'll undo it? He'll bring Michael back to life?"

"No, but He can offer you love and forgiveness."

"But I've done a bad thing. I'm a bad person. I'm a murderer."
"No, you're not a bad person. You may have sinned. Perhaps you made a mistake, perhaps you were tempted and fell, whatever you did, there is hope."
"A mistake?" Linnette laughed. "I killed my fiancé and that's a mistake? Ask God what He calls a catastrophe."

"It's not a catastrophe. You are a child of the Lord. He loves you."
"You reckon. Listen, preacher, when I killed Michael, I saw visions of him. Nightmares—I think. He would stand in the corner of the room, covered in blood and watch me with empty sockets. And then I killed Jane."
"And the visions have got worse?"
"No, they've gone."

"Is that not good?"

"No! He's gone, completely gone, gone forever, and I'm here, alone, and night in my cell, when it's dark, and nobody else is awake and perhaps not even I'm awake, I shake and shake until I want to kill myself. Anything other than the emptiness, preacher, anything other than the dark."

"The Lord is light, Miss Fortescue. Even in darkness, He's there."
"Not with me. I'm alone."
"Yes, Miss Fortescue. With you. You're a child of God's, Miss Fortescue, and He's here, when you need Him, He'll never leave you."
"I used to think Michael would never leave me. But he did."

"You'll meet again, Miss Fortescue, in Heaven."

"In Hell. Is that not where sinners go?"

"Unrepentant sinners, Miss Fortescue. And you sound anything but unrepentant."

"Michael never repented. And I won't go to Heaven without him. I'll never be separated from him, not ever again."

"Miss Fortescue, God loves all His children. He does not condemn without good cause-"

"What part of being a murderous thug is not good cause?"

"He's merciful, Miss Fortescue. He is not a High Court judge. The whole point of what Jesus taught us was that we are all redeemable. Nobody is too bad as to be out of reach."

"I am."

"Miss Fortescue, Jesus forgave those who crucified him, nobody is beyond His mercy. He loves you, Miss Fortescue. He can offer you comfort and peace, freedom from fear and grief."
"He can't." Linnette moaned in anguish. "He doesn't. It isn't true."

"Miss Fortescue, God is love. This is the core of the Christian religion. Have faith, and you will find peace and freedom. God is love."

"Sanctimonious humbug."

"No, Miss Fortescue, it is not."

Linnette raised her eyes and looked at him again. "You really believe it, don't you?"

"Yes."

"How can you?"

"Because it's true."

"Or it's convenient. After all, you're a good man. He decent man. A man of the Church. Whatever you say, that's all you are, isn't it? Have you ever loved a man? Just one man? With all your heart and mind and soul, and then lost him? Or so you thought. And then stabbed him—again and again until the blood spattered into your face? Do you know what that's like?"
Rev. Floyd shook his head, for he had no idea. "You must have suffered, Miss Fortescue."

"I have." She was quiet. Her tears were spent.

"I am sorry for your grief."

He seemed sincere so Linnette said "thank you".

"But no matter what you have suffered, please don't despair. If Jesus taught us one thing on the cross it's that no suffering is too great to endure and that God is watching over us even in out misfortunes. All you have to do, Miss Fortescue, is have faith, and God's goodness and mercy, and his enduring love, will lead you home."
"You still don't understand." Very quietly. "I don't want God's enduring love. I want Michael's love."

Rev. Floyd had nothing to say. Fortunately he did not have to, as Linnette raised her voice a little. "Please go now."

Aching inside, helpless, Rev. Floyd left. There were tears on his own cheeks now. He turned in the door-way and looked back at the young woman sitting motionless in her cell. She looked so like her mother. He had only ever seen a portrait of Lady Maynarde, but he remembered her beauty and her tragic fate.

The next day, the wardress brought Linnette a little bottle of sleeping pills and wished her luck. Linnette, despite knowing that her luck had run out long ago thanked her. She dressed herself in clean clothes. She chose the wedding dress she had never worn. She might as well wear it once, she thought. She twirled in it and admired her face in her wash basin, like a real young bride on her wedding day, but every time she was close to escaping into her imagination she saw the stone walls and the bars on the window and knew that this was a sad shadow of happiness.

Linnette was summoned into the huge courtroom. There was a universal gasp when she came in. She looked like a bride or a ghost in her flowing white dress, with her bone-white face, jet-black hair and sunken black eyes. Most of the young men saw her shattered beauty and in their hearts a few tendrils of pity stirred.

This courtroom was totally unlike the one in the Caribbean. It was huge, solid stone, with a cavernously high ceiling and portraits of dead kings adorning the walls. They looked a humourless bunch, thought Linnette. If she had had any morale, they might well have sapped it.

She stood in a proper, solid wooden dock. The judge's chair was opposite her on a dais, the jury, twelve of them, on benches in stands at the side of the court. There were clerks of the court, lawyers, dozens of people. And then there were the public, up in the stands. They pointed at her, stared at her, whispered behind their hands. Nobody seemed very anxious to stop the whispering, even when everybody rose for the judge. Linnette wondered what they were saying. Did they think she was innocent or guilty? Being here, in the dock, all eyes on her, preparing to fight for her life, was almost like being really alive. She could almost feel a flutter in her dead heart.

Everybody fell silent when the judge (without a hammer) called for order, allowing him to give full play to an ultra-Oxford accent.

"Ladies and gentleman, please be silent and behave decorously. The trial will now proceed. Linnette Fortescue?"

He looked at her, apparently requiring an answer.

"I beg your pardon, sir?" Linnette had been paying more attention to one of the jurors. He was sitting bolt upright in his chair, glaring at her as if he expected to find innocence or guilt written on the inside of her skull, and if he were to stare hard enough he would find it. He looked vaguely familiar, but Linnette could not for the life of her place him.

"Linnette Fortescue?" said the judge again, irritated. It seemed that he was not used to having people not listen to him.

"Yes sir. Sir, who's that?"

"You will address me as Your Honour. I'm asking the questions, young lady, don't interrupt."

"I have the right to challenge a juror's right to sit, I believe."

The judge looked uncomfortable. He hated it when prisoners knew their rights.

"That gentleman, Miss Fortescue, is Mr Josiah Leeford."

So that was why she thought she had recognised him. Michael's father. He looked very like Michael, only older, and there were lines of care and worry on his face which there had not been on Michael's. So he wanted to find out whether she truly was the Baron's daughter, whether she really was the unprincipled monster who had led his son and heir astray?

Very well. She looked him dead in the eye. He looked back and smiled nastily. Well, if he thought he could push her over just by pulling faces, he could think again. A grain of Linnette's old contrary pride had returned. She had been able to bother to put up a fight, but now she could. Who would have thought that on trial for her life, she would meet Josiah Leeford, of all people? Her nearly-father-in-law, whom Michael had mocked for years.

She grinned. "Hello, dad. Not the nicest way to meet the in-laws is it? I do apologise that I can't offer you a more comfortable seat."

Josiah Leeford spluttered like a beached whale at this impudence.

"Order," said the judge. "Well, young lady," impatiently, "do you object?".

Linnette made sure Mr Leeford could see her grin. "No, sir. I'll take him on. Every inch of the way, sir."

The crowd laughed.

The judge frowned. He thought she was lowering the tone. "Order," he said again. "Now, Miss Fortescue, before we proceed, allow me to clear up who you actually are. You last appeared in a parish register as Miss Linnette Jenkins."

"That's right, sir."

The judge gave up on insisting on his correct title.

"Your new identity appears to be based on your claim to be Baron Fortescue's bastard daughter. Your sole ground for this claim appears to be a chance resemblance to the late Lady Maynarde. Would you mind explaining when you first noticed this resemblance?"

Linnette told him all about choir school, and what Reverend Matthews had told her. She told him that he was not the only one, either. Other people had commented on her resemblance to her mother.

"Very well," said the judge. "Now, we have travelled to Lancashire and found a record of baptism for a Linnette Fortescue, whom the locals claim was the Baron's daughter. They say that she was sent away, they don't know where, and is now quite possibly dead. There is no baptismal or birth record for a Linnette Jenkins in Hampshire dating from this time. This lends credibility to your story."

"Thank you sir."

"I have myself seen Lady Maynarde. I was a young man and it was only once, but I remember it distinctly and you do look"—for a moment some emotion softened the judge's voice—remarkably like her. Personally, I am satisfied that you are who you claim to be".

"Thank you, sir."

"However, this is a decision which the whole court ought to agree on. Has anyone seen Lady Maynarde, or a portrait of her?"

Several hands rose.

"Public galleries do not get a say. Hands down, please, gentleman."

There were still plenty of hands in the air.

"Keep your hands up if you have difficulty believing, based on appearance alone, that this woman is Lady Maynarde's daughter."

All the hands went down.

"Does anyone have any other questions, comments or objections?"

No hands went up.

"Whole court this time—but still not the galleries, you are not entitled to an opinion—hands up if you are not satisfied."

No hands.

"Very well, we're satisfied as to the identity of the prisoner."

A murmur ran round the pubic galleries. The Maynarde scandal had caused quite a stir at the time. It had now been largely forgotten about, but people were starting to remember.

"Now, Miss Fortescue, you are charged with murder, piracy, grand larceny, robbery with violence and disrupting the public order. How do you plead?"

Linnette looked at Josiah Leeford. Whom had he had to bribe to come here and get her hanged? "Not guilty," she said. She gave him a triumphant look. He looked disappointed.

"Very well. Mr Fog, Q.C, will make a speech for the prosecution."
The public craned forward to watch Mr Fog, Q.C, make his speech for the prosecution.

He delivered his speech slowly and impressively, with many rhetorical gestures, and everybody fell absolutely silent when he spoke, not so much as a cough or a rustle of sweet wrappers. Linnette could have heard a pin drop in that room.

"This woman has committed a depraved an abominable crime. The crime of murder. The victim was a charming, intelligent, deeply pious young lady, tragically widowed at a young age. I will tell you, gentleman of the jury and great British public, how it happened. This woman's foolish and reckless mother broke the holy bonds of matrimony. She had no gratitude for the position her husband had raised her to out of the gutter. She had no sense of wifely duties, no sense of shame, no interest in maintaining her public reputation or that of her husband. She threw herself away on this Baron Fortescue, a man of noble blood, it's true, but of unhinged character and few morals—a murderer himself, I believe."

"But a rich one," said Linnette. "So he never got caught."

"Be silent," said the judge.

"This young woman" pointing dramatically at Linnette "was the spawn of that union. Her father was overwhelmingly generous to her. Despite his other commitments in life, and the difficulties of a single man in raising children, he saw to it that she was comfortably kept and well-fed. She never wanted for money, gentleman of the jury."

"I didn't get an allowance since Martha died!"

"Be silent," from the judge, through gritted teeth.

"This young woman has never lacked the opportunity to better herself and improve her station in life. As you have heard from her own lips, the Reverend Matthews took her into her his school entirely out of the goodness of his heart, expecting nothing in return but piety and virtue. He saw it as his Christian duty as a man of the Church. An admirable attitude, I'm sure you'll agree."

A murmur of agreement.

"Was Miss Fortescue grateful to him, though? No, indeed. In rank ingratitude, she left his care without a word of thanks and took to lawlessness. It is believed that, in the course of these travels, she met Michael Leeford, the son of one of this country's leading citizens. A landowner, formal naval officer, financier of some repute."

"So that's how you make your money!" She could not resist. "Desk clerk in a bank! Fine, noble work, isn't it? What, blushing? Too ashamed of farming sheep in Lancashire now that you're a leading citizen?"

"Be silent."

"This man had raised his son to be a credit to his family and his country, and before he encountered the corrupting influence of this criminal thug, he was."

"That's no true!"

"Be silent."

"Miss Fortescue dragged this young man into the murky underworld of this country. I dread to think, gentlemen, what kind of scrapes she got herself into. So far, we have heard rumours of the brutal murder of the colonial Governor of Gibraltar, of the theft of a very valuable diamond from its rightful owner, a Mr Vere, and indeed his murder, indulging in bandit blood feuds in Arabia, encouraging a very loose life-style among good Christian people. And indeed, I boggle to think what kind of domestic arrangements Miss Fortescue herself came up with. Did she practice what she appears to have preached, gentlemen? Perhaps it is better to move on from these matters. At any rate, Mr Leeford appears to have escaped from the toxic environment of this woman's life, crimes and disasters. At least, we can hope so. Because there are other rumours, gentlemen of the jury. One is that he was murdered by pirates. Yes, gentlemen, a bright young hope for England's future, wantonly destroyed by thugs like the thug you see before you, for money or such trivialities. Verily are greed and sloth sins, for they drive a depraved thug to the plundering and murdering of honest Christians! But there is yet another rumour." Mr Fog dropped his voice. The whole court room held its breath.

"The rumour is that this woman murdered Michael Leeford. Yes, the woman who now stands before you, looking his grieving father in the eye. He wanted to leave this increasingly vicious heathen Scarlet Woman and marry a respectable young lady of means. She killed him for his money."

"That is not true!" An animal shriek which seized the attention of everyone in the courtyard, even the pigeons. Linnette was shaking like a leaf, so breathless she could barely speak.

"Be silent."

Linnette sat numb and bruised with shock. How dare this man…? How dare he….? He was telling lies. Clever plausible, damnable lies. Linnette felt the eyes of the public like shards of ice in her skin, felt their scalding waves of loathing and contempt and bowed her head. Her humiliation was complete. The tears pricked her eyes.

Mr Fog continued. "Oh, she denies it. Great hurry to deny it, too. Perhaps, gentlemen, she protests too much." He smirked. "But that's your conclusion, isn't it? Now we come onto the murder, the events of two weeks ago. Linnette Fortescue, having returned to England, loaded with ill-gotten gains, heard that her mother had died, still wealthy, in a lunatic asylum, for she had always possessed fragile mental stability—a wanton, greedy woman, who set herself up to fall from her pinnacle of pride. This heartless girl thought only of what her mother's grief might do for her. She felt no grief, oh no, for she who had given her birth."
"I've never spoken to her. I don't remember what she looked like."
"Be silent."

"When she heard that her legitimate relatives, good Christians, law abiding citizens, pious relatives who mourned the unfortunate lady's demise."

"You were insulting her a minute ago! Besides, how do you know what they felt?"

"Be silent."

"She hunted this poor young lady down. Bold with greed, she had the indecency to proceed with her nefarious murder in a public park, in St. James's, no less. It's shameful, isn't it?" Murmurs of assent.

"She found her, menaced her with a sword, drove poor Mrs Fitzwarren mad with terror and butchered her. Publicly and passionately."

"Justice should be seen to be done."
"Be silent." He malevolent hiss.

"And now she has the audacity to mock her deed! We can only guess, of course, at Mrs Fitzwarren's pain and terror. This grisly deed was carried out, need I point out, in full view of ladies and young children. We can only imagine the effect that kind of scene must have on a child, on how it must damage their innocence and bright faith. But I do not ask you merely to take my word for it, gentlemen of the jury. Oh, no. I have before you a series of witnesses, who have had the courage to act on their principles and come here to deal justice this day. I leave the witnesses in the capable hands of His Honour."

With that, Mr Fog left the stage, leaving an outraged, stunned Linnette in the dock.

The witnesses all recalled the same story. Linnette had attacked Mrs Fitzwarren. She had done it deliberately, drawing her sword and threatening her, before attacking her with a knife. Mrs Fitzwarren had fought back, but Linnette had killed her. There was no chance that it could have been an accident. It must have been premeditated—there was no way that Linnette would just find Mrs Fitzwarren in St. James's Park. Some them agreed that it must have been about the inheritance, but others said that Linnette had mentioned Michael Leeford, and which of them he had loved. It was some sort of passion thing, they said.

There was a whole parade of witnesses, and the more they all reeled off the same story, the more smug Mr Leeford grew. The more Linnette's heart sank.

Then the judge cleared his throat. "Miss Fortescue, the case against you looks damning. Have you anything to say in your own defence?"

"Yes, Your Honour," said Linnette quietly. She looked at Mr Leeford. She thought of Michael. Whose side would he be on, now, if he could see her? Hers or his father's? She realised that she had lost and she wondered why she had bothered trying to fight at all. She realised that she had played right into Mr Leeford's hands. He looked smugger now than he had at the start of the trial and he had just watched her character be publicly slated by a slanderer in a daft wig in front of hundreds of people. It was so embarrassing. Her cheeks burned with shame. He would not see her cry, though, he would not see her look away. There was one thing to clear up. A confession to make—to Michael's father—but also the remnants of her character to retrieve. If they were to hate her, let them hate her for what she was, not for what Mr Fog had said she was.

She gathered her words and took a deep breath. The public were hanging even harder onto her words than they had been onto Mr Fog's.

"All right," she said. "I killed her. I killed and I'm not sorry. I'm sorry I wasted all your time—well, I'm not really, I don't care, you're all either being paid or enjoying yourselves hugely. Probably both."

"Are you aware that that counts as a confession, young lady?"

"But I have a few things to say." Linnette ignored the judge, who, not used to it, spluttered with indignation.

She looked at Mr Leeford. "A few things to clear up, with Mr Leeford, mainly. But just to set right. I didn't kill Jane Fitzwarren for her money. This has nothing to do with my mother or the inheritance, and everything to do with Michael Leeford. You see, sir," directly to Mr Leeford, "I loved him. I don't think you ever did. He certainly never loved you. But I loved him, because he was kind and brave and made me laugh and adored me. We had good times together". She smiled. "The best times. Yes, we were criminals, yes, we did bad things, and I'm not sorry for them either, but we weren't as bad as Mr Fog makes out. Michael Leeford was a good man. The best man I ever met. And I used to be a good person. Even when I was a crook. I believed so, anyway. I was pregnant."

The crowd grew restless, shocked.

"Be silent," from the judge.

"I was pregnant and we were both very happy."

"So you didn't go to the abortion doctor and be spared the shame and bother of the brat?" asked Mr Fog.

"Silence Mr Fog!" from the judge. Linnette smiled in triumph.

"We were passed shame. As for bother, we were already wanted criminals, dicing with death. We got engaged to be married."

"Legitimise the brat and save face?"

"We loved each other."
"A likely story. Twoo wuv among thieves and thugs."
"Don't mock, Mr Fog, not until you've been there, yourself. I loved him, and he loved me. He's saved my life. But before we could be married, we were caught robbing a ship."

Astonishment in the galleries.

"We were imprisoned separately. Neither of us could escape. Michael slept with Jane Fitzwarren so that she would set him free so he could save me. He held out against temptation for a week."

"A likely story. He took his chances with a pretty girl!" Mr Fog saw his triumph slipping out of his fingers.

"She wasn't as pretty as I was."

Laugh from the galleries. Linnette was winning some sympathy. Mr Leeford's face was mauve.

"He didn't tell me. I found out the truth from a newspaper." She paused. This was the simple bit. The easy bit. The bit which had ruined her life.

"I killed him."
Gasps. Then a choked, leaden silence.

"I was ill. I lost the baby."

Some of the women in the audience began to cry.

"I vowed I would hunt Jane Fitzwarren down and kill her. And I did. It took me a year, but I did. I killed her. She told me the truth. That Michael had loved me, that when he thought I'd died he wanted to die, too. I knew that he really had loved me. I'm sorry I killed him, now. But Jane asked for what she got, the scheming devil, and she got it."

The silence stretched. It stretched and stretched. Mr Leeford looked painfully embarrassed. Mr Fog looked contemptuous and frankly bored. The judge looked astonished.

"Well," he said, and his accent was slightly less ultra-Oxford than it had been. "That's certainly an interesting story. It's also a confession. Therefore we have no choice but to find you guilty." He recovered his manner and adjusted his wig. "Linnette Fortescue! You are found guilty on your own confession of murder. The murder of Mrs Jane Fitzwarren."

"Mercy!" called a juryman.

"Mercy!" called a woman in the crowd, clutching a baby.

"Be silent in the galleries! Anyone who interrupts proceedings will be removed from the court."
"Mercy!" persisted the juryman.

"Mercy!" echoed another.

"Does the jury recommend mercy?" asked the judge. "That is to say, a penalty less than death?"

"Yes!" it was a third juryman.

The cry was taken up generally by the jury, except Mr Leeford.

"This is absurd." It was Mr Fog. "This woman is by her own confession a dangerous criminal and a passionate, hysterical woman of violent temperament and lose morals. She ought to hang as an example to society of what we do to people who defy Christian morality."

"She is not immoral." It was another woman in the gallery. She was wearing black widow's weeds, shabby ones. She looked as if she had none too much money and had red-rimmed eyes. Was she ill? Had she been crying? Did she know the grief, if not the guilt, Linnette felt?

"She's a dangerous criminal," said Mr Fog. "She abandoned the assistance of a good Christian man who was willing to help her advance her station. He lifted her out the gutter, housed her and fed her, raised her as if she were a lady, and what a thankless task it proved. If this is how she treats kindness, she doesn't deserve mercy. She'll exploit whatever Christian charity is offered to her. She needs the sin beating out of her. She needs the gallows."

This last sentence was deafened in cries for "mercy!". Linnette looked up at the galleries. They were packed. Hundreds of people, all watching her. Many of them were crying for mercy. Certainly nobody was crying "hang her!". Linnette broke down and wept.

"Quiet!" called the judge. "This is not a football match! This is a courtroom and anyone disrupting proceedings will be removed." He did not sound entirely certain of this, however. He probably realised that any attempt to remove people from the room would end in a riot.

The judge took a deep breath. "What is the opinion of the jury?"

"Mercy!" was the unanimous—bar one—cry.

That one—Mr Leeford—got up and walked around the court to where the judge was sitting. He endeavoured to whisper privately, but he had a naturally carrying voice, especially when he whispered, and Linnette had no difficulty in hearing him. Probably nobody did in the room.

"Your Honour, I beg you to ignore them. Think about what this means for me. Years, I've spent, working my way up. I don't mind telling you, Your Honour, provided you don't tell anybody else, that I was a farmer, by birth. In Lancashire. I've spent years of hard work getting myself up from that position. The right clubs, the right school, the right investments. It's been many a sleepless night, I can tell you. And now this. It's a shame, it's a scandal, to have my son's name connected with this nonsense. All a pack of lies, of course, but still, people will talk, Your Honour, you know what they're like."

The judge attempted to interrupt, but Mr Leeford, fast and breathless, rode straight over him. "I was virtually guaranteed for this year's Honours List. And now this. This uppity little hussy has led my son astray. She has brought shame on this family. The whole reason I made sure I was on this jury was to get her hanged. If you don't hang her I shall ask for my money back. She's led him into crime, she's led him into disrepute. Our names shall be inextricably associated with her. I'll be dragged through the mud."

He whispered even more conspiratorially, and could now probably be heard out in the street. "And they had… inappropriate relations, Your Honour. My son, the heir to my estates, and that bastard. Bastards begetting bastards. It's too horrible to think of. And I took such care trying to get the right match for him, too. To think that everything I've done to pass to some child of sin my son got in his youth with the spawn, frankly, of a mad Baron and a mad peasant. It's unendurable."

"It's not unknown, you know, for wealthy young men to… sow a few wild oats before settling down, you know," said the judge. "Even with—especially with—peasants."

"But it doesn't normally come out in court. If it were simply a baby, you understand, I could deal with it, abort it, pay up, move on. It's this whole criminal connection that's so dreadful. And if they had been going to get married, that makes it worse in a way. Peasant girls, you understand, are conventionally willing enough to fade into the background. But her, because she's a Baron's bastard brat, she thinks it makes her better than other bastard brats." He seemed completely oblivious to the fact that everyone was now listening to him. "Thank God she did murder him, that's all. Otherwise it could have become… most embarrassing."

There were smothered gasps from the audience.

Thank God she did murder him, rang round the room, damningly.

Mr Leeford realised what he had said, stumbled, tried to go back, but too late.

The audience came to life. "Shame! Shame!"

The jury joined in. "Shame! Shame!"

"Order!" called the judge. "I think the majority of the jury are in favour of mercy. My own feelings incline me towards a more humane and Christian form of correction, considering her youth, upbringing and difficult childhood circumstances, than the gallows." And he thought he might be lynched if he did sentence her to death.

He cleared his throat. "Miss Linnette Fortescue. You are found guilty of the wilful murder of Mrs Jane Fitzwarren. I sentence you to life imprisonment."

Linnette's heart sank. Her brief moment of joy at the crowd's support faded. She realised the truth of her situation again. She was going to spend her life in prison. She knew what prisons were like—she had read her books. They were cold, dark, lonely places, surrounded by high walls. She would stay there forever. It would be Hell. And that was mercy.

She was led in chains back to her cell. She would be moved to Holloway the next day. She said nothing. She sat on her bunk and stared at the wall. She would spend the rest of her life doing that. To-morrow she would be taken to Holloway. They would cut off her hair, dress her in rags, chain he hands and feet. And she would sit there in the dark, forever. In a cage behind metal bars like one of the animals in a zoological garden. FeminaScelesta. This specimen captured 1869, London.

Linnette had no happiness left in life and no hope of any. She had no friends, no family, no future except as a damaged thing. But she did have her father's pride. Even all she had gone through had not destroyed that. And she did not want to spend the rest of her life on a human scrapheap. Shabby, patronised by vicars, tormented by prison guards.

And wake up every morning knowing what she had done to Michael, spend all day with the feeling of his blood sliding over her hands, the feeling she could never wash off. Hear his voice when she was alone. "I love you."

She would rather die.

And she could die, couldn't she?

The suitcase had been taken away, presumably to be sold. But the little bottle of sleeping pills still stood by the bowl. She went over to it and looked at the label.

"Recommended dose. One pill for mild sleep problems, two for severe insomnia. DO NOT EXCEED THREE PILLS. This can be dangerous."

So that was that. She did not want to go to Holloway. And she would not go. She opened the bottle and tipped eight pills out into her hand. That should do it.

A clatter at the door announced that the wardress had arrived.

"I've brought you something to eat."
"Thank you."
"There, there, dear, don't look so down. Prison's better than hanging, eh?"

"Yes," said Linnette. "Yes, it is."

The wardress remained concerned. The poor girl looked so tired, and her eyes were foggy and far away. "Chin up. That's right. Everything looks better in the morning."

"Oh, I'm all right, ma'am. Quite resigned to my fate, that's me."

"Erm… good," said the wardress. She was not sure that it was good, though. After all, "resigned to my fate" sounded so… doom-laden.

"After all," Linnette smiled bleakly. "Il faut souffrir pour être belle. No?"

"Yes, I guess… well, good night." And the wardress left, sighing and shrugging.

Linnette sat down on her bunk. In one hand, she held the sleeping pills, in the other, the jug of water from the wash-stand.

Well, nothing else to do. This was it. Rest in peace. Such re-assuring words.

It was surprisingly easy. There was no clap of thunder, no voice from God. She put the pills in her mouth and gulped water until she swallowed them. Nothing happened. She put the jug on the floor and lay down on her bunk.

She was tired. God, she was tired. She closed her eyes and a fuzzy darkness descended around her head. There was a pain in her stomach, but not strong enough to pierce the dark blanket over her head. She could no longer breathe.

Make a lovely corpse. Was that not what they said?

Michael, I'm sorry.

The wardress found her that evening. Before long, she had summoned the gaoler, the guards, the vicar, and someone send the office boy for the doctor.

The doctor was too late, off course. She looked ghastly, stretched out on her bunk, pale and limp, like a marionette with the strings cut, eyes closed, the blood trickling out of her mouth onto her white wedding dress. In her folded hands she held a diamond ring and a hat pin.

They wanted to bury her in the prison court-yard. It was illegal to bury suicides on holy ground, as suicide, as every good Christian child learned in Sunday school, was a crime against God, against nature, a rebellion against the Christian example of patient endurance.

But the Baron, returning from West Africa, had heard the story of Linnette's trial and suicide. He did what he always did: precisely what he pleased. He rode into the prison gate on a fine bay horse, with his butler, who had met him at the docks, driving a coach and four behind him, and took his daughter away.

He buried her in the cemetery of Fortescue Hall, in Lancashire, the house where she had been born, among the graves of the previous Barons and their lovely young wives— Crusaders, explorers, conquerors, mad-men. It was a simple shallow grave, with a black granite head-stone which read:

"Linnette Fortescue

1848-1869

Surely nothing dies but something mourns."

FINIS

1 The Kiss of Life was invented in 1773 by William Hawes, no matter what anybody may tell you to the contrary.