Theft of Life
slowly and surely his prosecutions of slave-owners, his writs of
habeus corpus
and petitions had attracted notice. The man subsisted happily on the charity of his family and no one could find any subtle way of making him stop. Poems were being written against the trade. The Quakers published against it, then last year the Reverend James Ramsay’s book had been widely read. It did not condemn slavery absolutely, but it shone a light on the practices that had shocked many. His character had been attacked with such ferocity by the planters and their friends, that Mr Palmer had begun to think there must be a great deal of truth in what he had written.
    Indeed, Mr Palmer thought it possible the public mood might change, and it would be wise of the Government to reconsider its closeness to the West Indians. But then they had such a great deal of money and, one way or another, had paid for half the Members of Parliament currently in the Chamber.
    ‘Do you know the Jamaica Coffee House, Mr Molloy?’ Mr Palmer said at last.
    ‘Well enough to spend the rest of my evening hours of leisure in that part of town. You’ll be at your lodgings tonight?’
    ‘Sleeping the sleep of the pious and righteous, as always.’
    The shadows gave a low sound that might have been a laugh. Mr Palmer took a small purse from his pocket and passed it over his shoulder into the shadows. There was a soft chink of coin and a low grunt which Palmer chose to interpret as satisfaction. He stood and dusted off his hat. ‘Always a pleasure, Molloy.’
    ‘Likewise, I’m sure,’ the shadows rasped and Mr Palmer went to pay his bill.

I.11
    I T WAS LATE IN the evening when Crowther was shown into the Library at Berkeley Square. He found Mrs Westerman writing at the large desk under the north window. She put her pen aside.
    ‘Crowther! I thought you had seen enough of your fellow beings today. You are become such friends with the world, I hardly know you. Do we go to the Opera? The Pleasure Gardens?’
    ‘You are satirical.’ He sat down on one of the armchairs near the fire and half-closed his eyes. ‘Are you writing to your sister?’
    ‘Yes,’ she admitted and leaned back in her own chair. ‘We argued before I came away. Rather badly, I’m afraid. She feels I should marry again. Her little hints I could ignore, but she has taken it upon herself to find a number of suitable candidates.’
    Crowther put his long fingers together. ‘So I understand.’
    Harriet sat up rather sharply. ‘And how, may I ask, do you know anything of it?’
    He reached into the pocket of his coat and removed a letter. ‘She wrote to me.’ He turned the pages over in his hand while Harriet gaped at him. ‘She has some concern that you may have fled to London because of your passion for me.’ Harriet was speechless. Crowther kept his voice as even as he could manage. ‘Why else could you object to the charming Mr Babington, after all, as Rachel so reasonably asks, were it not for some other guilty passion?’
    ‘She
wrote
to you?’
    ‘She begs me to be kind.’ Crowther looked up at the ceiling. ‘She rightly suspects that I do not wish to be anything other than a bachelor, and hints that although we are good friends, we might not be compatible as husband and wife.’
    There was a silence and a log cracked in the fireplace before Harriet spoke. ‘I shall return to Hartswood at once and murder her in her bed.’
    Crowther’s laughter was rare and sounded like dry leaves turning in the breeze more than anything else, but it made his eyes gleam. ‘Your sister is usually a sensible woman, Mrs Westerman. I can only think the sleeplessness that must follow nursing her child herself has softened her brain a little. You might be pleased to know that within hours I had a letter from her husband telling me to ignore whatever his wife had said. I think he must have been in a passion when he wrote it. Mr Clode’s handwriting is normally far more legible.’
    Harriet did not

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