Today's Reading

"Aren't you hungry, sir?" Ned had wolfed down half his sandwich and spoken with his mouth full.

Quinn took a sip of fine summer ale. "Not particularly."

"But you must keep up your strength. My brother Bob told me that before he was sent off. Said when the magistrate binds you over, the most important thing is to keep up your strength. You durst not go before the judge looking hangdog and defeated. You can't run very far on an empty belly neither."

The boy had lowered his voice on that last observation.

"I'll not be escaping, Ned," Quinn said gently. "I've been found guilty and I must pay the price." Though escape might be possible. Such an undertaking wanted vast sums of money—which Quinn had—and a willingness to live the life of a fugitive, which Quinn lacked.

"Why is the Quality all daft?" Ned muttered, around another mouthful of bread and cheese. "You find a bloke what looks half like you and has the consumption. You pay his family enough to get by, more than the poor sod would have earned in his lifetime, and you pike off on Sunday night leaving the bloke in your place. The poor sod ends his suffering Monday morning knowing the wife and brats is well set, you get to live. It's been done."

Everything unspeakable, ingenious, and bold had been done by those enjoying the king's hospitality. That was another lesson Quinn had gleaned from incarceration. He'd seen schemes and bribes and stupid wagers by the score among London's monied classes, but sheer effrontery and true derring-do were still the province of the desperate.

He'd also learned, too late, that he wanted to live. He wanted to be a better brother and a lazier banker. He wanted to learn the names of the harp tunes Althea so loved, and to read a book or two simply to have the excuse to sit quietly by a warm fire of a winter night.

He wanted...

What he wanted no longer mattered, if it ever had. The reprieve Ned spoke of was more burden than blessing, because Quinn was fated to die, awfully, publicly, and painfully, whether he'd committed murder, manslaughter, or neither.

"If you're not going to eat that, guv, it shouldn't go to waste."

Quinn passed over his sandwich. "My appetite seems to have deserted me."

Ned tore the sandwich in half and put half in his pocket. For later, for another boy less enterprising or fortunate than Ned. For the birds—the child loved birds—or a lucky mouse.

Quinn had lost not only his appetite for food, but also his interest in all yearnings. He did not long to see his siblings one last time—what was there to say? He certainly had no desire for a woman, though they were available in quantity even in prison. He had no wish to pen one of those sermonizing final letters he'd written for six other men in the previous weeks.

Those convicts had faced transportation, while Quinn faced the gallows. His affairs were scrupulously in order and had escaped forfeiture as a result of his forethought.

He wanted peace, perhaps.

And justice. That went without saying.

The door banged open—it was unlocked during daylight—and the under-warden appeared. "Wait in here, ma'am. You'll be safe enough, and I see that we're enjoying a feast. Perhaps the famous Mr. Wentworth will offer you a portion." The jailer flicked a bored glance over Ned, who'd ducked his head and crammed the last of the food into his mouth.

A woman—a lady—entered the cell. She was tall, dark-haired, and her attire was plain to a fault.

Not a criminal, then. A crusader.

"Bascomb," Quinn said, rising. "My quarters are not Newgate's family parlor. The lady can wait elsewhere." He bowed to the woman.

She surprised him by dropping into a graceful curtsy. "I must wait somewhere, Mr. Wentworth. Papa will be forever in the common wards, and I do not expect to be entertained. I am Jane Winston."
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