Book: Speaks the Nightbird 10 страница

"Here!" Bidwell said. "Look here!" He strode toward the woman, grasped her left breast in a rough grip, and lifted it. He pointed at a small brown blotch underneath. "This is one. Here is another!" He pressed a forefinger against a second mark on her right thigh, just above the knee. "Turn around!" he told her. She obeyed, her face blanked of emotion. "The third one, here!" He put his finger against a dark blotch—a bit larger than the others, though not by very much—on her left hip. "Devil's marks, one and all! This third one here even seems Book: Speaks the Nightbird 10 страница to be the impression of her master! Come, look closer!"

He was speaking to Woodward, who was having as difficult a time in the presence of this compelling nudity as was Matthew. The magistrate stepped forward to get a better view of the skin blotch that Bidwell was showing. "You see? Right here? And there too?" Bidwell asked. "Don't those appear to be horns growing from a devil's head?"

"I . . . well... I suppose so," Woodward answered, and then decorum dictated that he retreat a few paces.

"Her right arm," Matthew said, with an uptilt of his Book: Speaks the Nightbird 10 страница chin. He'd recognized two small, blood-crusted wounds near the elbow. "Rat bites, I think."

"Yes, I see. Another on the shoulder." Bidwell touched the shoulder wound, which was gray-rimmed with infection, and the woman winced but made no sound. "The rats have been after you, Madam?" She didn't reply, nor did she need to; it was obvious the rodents had been visiting. "All right, we can't have you eaten up in your sleep. I'll have Linch catch the bastards. Put your clothes back on." He walked away from her and immediately she bent down Book: Speaks the Nightbird 10 страница, picked up her sackcloth, and covered herself. Then, shrouded once more, she huddled in the hay as she'd been at the beginning.

"There you have it!" Bidwell announced. "She cannot speak the Lord's Prayer, she created those poppets to enchant her victims, and she has the marks. For some unholy reason known only to herself and her master, she murdered or caused the murder of Burlton Grove and Daniel Howarth. She and her hellish kin are responsible for the fires we've been lately enduring. She conjures phantasms and demons and I believe she Book: Speaks the Nightbird 10 страница's cursed our orchards and fields as well." He placed his hands on his hips, his chest bellowing out. "It is her plan to destroy Fount Royal, and on that account she has made great and terrible progress! What more remains to be said?"

"One question," Matthew said, and he saw Bidwell visibly flinch. "If indeed this woman commands such awesome and unholy powers—"

"She does!" Bidwell asserted, and behind him Paine nodded.

"—then why," Matthew went on, "can she not strike mere rodents dead with a touch?"


"The rats, sir. Why is she bitten?"

"A good point," Woodward Book: Speaks the Nightbird 10 страница agreed. "Why would she allow herself to be bitten by common rats, if she's joined with such a demonic league?"

"Because . . . because . . ." Bidwell looked for help from Green and Paine.

The militia captain came to his rescue. "Because," Paine said forcefully, "it's a trick. Would you not think it more peculiar that Noles was attacked by the rodents, but the witch was spared? Oh, she knows what she's doing, gentlemen!" He looked directly at Matthew. "She is attempting to blind you, young man. Her evil is well planned. If she has the bites of rodents on her Book: Speaks the Nightbird 10 страница flesh, it was done by her will and blasphemous blessing."

Woodward nodded. "Yes, that sounds reasonable."

"Then there's no disagreement of the fact that she is a witch?" Bidwell prompted.

Matthew said, "Sir, this is a matter for careful consideration."

"What damned consideration? Who else has poisoned my town but her? Who else murdered her husband and the reverend? Boy, the facts are there to be seen!"

"Not facts. Contentions."

"You push me, boy! Remember, I'm your host here!"

"Would you take my clothes and turn me out into the forest if I refuse to view Book: Speaks the Nightbird 10 страница contentions as facts?"

"Please, please!" the magistrate said. "Nothing is being accomplished by this."

"My point exactly!" Bidwell steamed. "Your clerk seems determined to blunt the weapon you were brought here to wield!"

"And what weapon might that be, sir?" Woodward's raw throat and this dank gaol had combined to inflame his nerves. He felt his self-control slipping.

Bidwell's face might have been a pickled beet. "The law, of course!"

"Listen well to me." The magistrate's voice was calm but strained, and the power of it seized Bidwell like a hand around the scruff Book: Speaks the Nightbird 10 страница of a cur. "My clerk and I have come to this place to discover the truth, not to use the privilege of law as a battering ram." Bidwell glowered at him but didn't speak. "You may be the master of Fount Royal, but I am the master of a larger realm. I will decide whether Madam Howarth is a witch or not, and I will determine her fate. And no man shall rush or shove me to judgment. You may take that as a fact. If you have some problem with it, Matthew and I will be glad Book: Speaks the Nightbird 10 страница to find other lodgings."

"Let me understand this fully, then!" Bidwell said. "Who is the magistrate and who is the clerk?"

Woodward clenched his teeth to restrain what he'd really like to say. "I need some air," he told Matthew. "Will you join me in walking back to Mr. Bidwell's house?"

"Yes, sir."

"Is that all?" Paine asked. "Aren't you going to interview the witch further?"

"Not today." Woodward motioned toward the woman's crumpled form. "I don't believe she's in a communicative mood, and I'm damned certain I'm not! Matthew, come along!" He turned Book: Speaks the Nightbird 10 страница away and started for the exit.

"She needs a hot iron to loosen her tongue, is what she needs!" Bidwell shouted after them as they went along the corridor between the cages. Noles gave a snort and a spit as they passed. His senses still shaken by his introduction to Rachel Howarth, Matthew knew he would win no contests of popularity hereabouts, and especially that he should beware making further enemies in the uncertain days to come.


OUTSIDE THE GAOL, the humid air and clouded light seemed the breath and glow of paradise. Woodward disdained the carriage, where Book: Speaks the Nightbird 10 страница Goode sat on the driver's seat whittling a piece of wood with a small blade, and began walking in the direction of the spring. Matthew followed close behind.

"That man galls me!" Woodward said. "I may be a servant of the law, but I'm not his slave and neither are you!"

"No, sir. I mean, yes, sir." Matthew got beside him and kept pace. "As much as his manner grates, however, I can understand his anxiety."

"Well, aren't you the generous soul!"

"I might be as eager for an execution if I'd put so Book: Speaks the Nightbird 10 страница much money into Fount Royal, and now saw my investment near ruin."

"To the Devil with his investment!"

"Yes, sir," Matthew said. "I think that's what he fears."

Woodward slowed his pace and then stopped. He mopped beads of sweat from his face with his shirtsleeve, looked up at the ominous sky and then at his clerk. "That's why you're so invaluable to me, you know," he said, his anger dissolving. "At a glance you see the picture, the frame, the nail, and the wall."

"I see only what's there to be seen."

"Yes, and surely Book: Speaks the Nightbird 10 страница we've today seen a bit too much of Madam Howarth. She was . . . younger than I suspected. Much more handsome, as well. One might say lovely, if in different circumstances. When she disrobed, I . . . well, I haven't judged very many female defendants. Never have I stood and seen a woman disrobe willingly before strangers."

"Not willingly," Matthew said. "She knew her clothes would be taken from her, so she elected to remove them herself."

"Yes. What does that say about the woman?"

"That she wishes to retain some measure of control over herself. Or, at least Book: Speaks the Nightbird 10 страница, deny that control from Bidwell."

"Hmm." Woodward began walking west along Truth Street again, and Matthew walked alongside. Though the village still seemed very quiet, there were residents going about their daily business. Two women were crossing the street ahead, one of them carrying a large basket. A man at the reins of an oxcart passed, hauling bales of hay and a few barrels. "I should like to know," the magistrate said, "... what intrigues you have with Mrs. Nettles."


"You may wear that expression of innocent surprise with everyone but me. I know you too well. On this day, of all Book: Speaks the Nightbird 10 страница days, you would never have been late rising from bed. In fact, I suspect you were up early in anticipation. So why did Mrs. Nettles say such a thing to Bidwell?"

"I . . . promised her I wouldn't betray her confidence."

Woodward pulled up short again, and this time when he looked at Matthew his gaze was more penetrating. "If it has to do with Madam Howarth, I should like to be informed. In fact, it's your requirement as my clerk to inform me."

"Yes, sir, I know. But—"

"Promise her anything you please," Woodward said. "But tell Book: Speaks the Nightbird 10 страница me what I ought to be told."

"She did ask that I not speak a word to Mr. Bidwell."

"Well, neither shall I. Tell me."

"In essence, she requested that you and I both approach this case with an open mind. She believes Madam Howarth to be falsely accused."

"And she told you why she believes this?"

"No, sir. Just that she fears our minds will be poisoned."

Woodward stared off across Truth Street at a small pasture where several cows grazed. A woman wearing a straw hat was on her knees in a beanfield, pulling up weeds, while Book: Speaks the Nightbird 10 страница her husband was at work nailing shingles atop their farmhouse. Nearby, on the other side of a split-rail fence, stood a farmhouse that had been abandoned by its previous tenants, its field now a swampy thicket. Three crows perched on the roof of the forlorn house, looking to Woodward like a trio of black-robed magistrates. Perhaps, he mused, they were awaiting the departure of the next-door neighbors.

"You know," he said quietly, "that if Rachel Howarth is a witch, then she has powers of influence that are much beyond our perception."

"Mrs. Nettles asked me not Book: Speaks the Nightbird 10 страница to mention our conversation to Bidwell, for the reason that he might think her so influenced."

"Hmm," Woodward said, a sound of thought. "Poison can be served from many cups, Matthew. I'd beware the one from which I chose to drink. Come, let's walk." They started off once more. "What did you make of Noles's story?"

"Hogwash. He wants out of his cage."

"And the Devil's marks on the woman's body?"

"Inconclusive," Matthew said. "Such marks are common on most people." He didn't have to mention the blotches that marked Woodward's pate Book: Speaks the Nightbird 10 страница.

"Granted. What, then, of the poppets?"

"I think you should see them for yourself."

"Agreed. I'm sorry Madam Grunewald is no longer available."

"You should ask Bidwell for a list of witnesses who are available," Matthew suggested. "Then you should secure some place to interview them where Bidwell can't interfere."

"Yes." He nodded, then darted a sidelong glance at Matthew. "We will have to interview Madam Howarth again, of course. At length. She seems to be acceptable to your questions, but mute to anyone else. Why do you think that is?"

"I don't know."

Woodward let Book: Speaks the Nightbird 10 страница them stride a few more paces before he spoke again. "You don't think it's possible that she knew Mrs. Nettles would speak to you this morning? And that by only addressing your questions she might. . . how shall I put this?. . . Win some favor from you?"

"I'm just a clerk. I have no—"

"—powers of influence?" Woodward interrupted. "You see my point, don't you?"

"Yes, sir," Matthew had to admit. "I do."

"And her unwillingness or inability to speak the Lord's Prayer is especially damning. If she would or could speak it, then why won Book: Speaks the Nightbird 10 страница't she? Do you have any theories?"

"None," Matthew said.

"Except for the obvious, that—as Paine said—her tongue would be scorched by mention of the Holy Father. It's happened before in witchcraft trials that the accused made an attempt at speaking the prayer and fell convulsed with agony to the courtroom floor."

"Has it ever happened that anyone accused of witchcraft spoke the prayer and was set free?"

"Of that I can't say. I'm far from an expert in these matters. I do know that some witches are able to speak the name of Book: Speaks the Nightbird 10 страница God without ill effect, being somehow shielded from harm by their master. That much I've read in court dockets. But if Madam Howarth did speak the prayer—in its entirety, with proper holy attitude and without fainting or crying out in pain—then it would go a distance in helping her cause." The magistrate frowned, watching another crow circling above their heads. It came to him that the Devil could take many forms, and he ought to be wary of what he said and where he said it. "You do realize, don't you, that Madam Howarth Book: Speaks the Nightbird 10 страница today made a confession of sorts?"

"Yes, sir." Matthew knew what he meant. "When she disrobed, she said, 'Here is the witch.'"

"Correct. If that's not a confession, I never heard one. I could order the stake to be cut and the fire to be laid this afternoon, if I had a mind to." He was silent for a moment, during which they neared the conjunction of Fount Royal's streets. "Tell me why I should not," he said.

"Because the witnesses should be heard. Because Madam Howarth deserves the right to speak without pressure from Bid-well Book: Speaks the Nightbird 10 страница. And because . . ." Matthew hesitated, "I'd like to know why she murdered her husband."

"And I the—" same, Woodward was about to say, but before he could finish he was interrupted by the high-pitched voice of a woman.

"Magistrate! Magistrate Woodward!"

It was so sharp and startling that for an instant Woodward thought the crow had spoken his name, and if he were to look up he would see the evil bird about to sink its talons into his scalp. But suddenly a woman came into view, hurrying across the square where Fount Royal's streets met Book: Speaks the Nightbird 10 страница. She wore a simple indigo blue dress, a blue-checked apron, and a white bonnet, and she carried a basket that held such household items as candles and blocks of soap. The magistrate and Matthew halted as the woman neared.

"Yes, madam?" Woodward asked.

She gave him a sunny smile and a quick curtsey. "Forgive me, but when I saw you walking I had to come and introduce myself. I am Lucretia Vaughan. My husband is Stewart, who owns the carpentry shop." She nodded in the direction of Industry Street.

"My pleasure. This is my clerk, Matthew—"

"Corbett, yes, I know Book: Speaks the Nightbird 10 страница. Oh, you two gentlemen are quite the talk hereabouts. How you defied that mad innkeeper and fought off his brood of murderers with a single sword! It's made for a welcome tale of bravery among us!" Matthew had to hold back a laugh; it seemed their midnight flight from Shawcombe's tavern was being transformed by the residents of Fount Royal into something akin to Ulysses's monumental battle with the Cyclops.

"Well," Woodward said, unconsciously puffing out his chest a bit, "it did take all our wits to escape that gang of killers." Matthew was forced to Book: Speaks the Nightbird 10 страница lower his head and study the ground.

"But how exciting that must have been!" the woman went on, almost breathless. It had already registered to Woodward that she was a very handsome figure, in her thirties perhaps, with clear blue eyes and a friendly, open demeanor. Curls of light brown hair escaped her bonnet, and her face—though lined by time and the rigors of the frontier life—was as pleasing as a warm lantern on a chill, dark night. "And to have found such a treasure, as well!"

Woodward's smile faltered. "A treasure?"

"Yes, the sack of Book: Speaks the Nightbird 10 страница gold coins you discovered! Spanish gold, wasn't it? Come, sir, please don't be coy with a simple country lady!"

Matthew's heart was beating somewhere in the vicinity of his Adam's apple. He said, "May I ask a question?" then waited for Mrs. Vaughan to nod. "Who informed you of this sack of gold coins?"

"Well, I heard it from Cecilia Semmes, who heard it from Joan Baltour. But everyone knows, Mr. Corbett! Oh!" Her eyes widened, and she put a finger to her lips, "Was it supposed to be a secret?"

"I fear you Book: Speaks the Nightbird 10 страница've been misinformed," Woodward said. "My clerk found a single coin of Spanish gold, not a sackful."

"But Cecilia promised me it was God's truth! And Cecilia's not one to pass on tales that aren't true!"

"In this case, your friend has erred. Grievously," Woodward added.

"But, I can't understand why—" She stopped, and a knowing smile spread over her face. Her eyes gleamed with delight. "Ohhhh, I see! The cat jumped out of the bag, didn't it?"

"I beg your pardon?"

"You can trust me, sir! Mum's the word!"

"I'm Book: Speaks the Nightbird 10 страница afraid mum is not the word. If you're thinking that we have a sack of gold coins that we wish to keep a secret, you're sadly mistaken."

The coin was in the pocket of Matthew's breeches, and he would've taken it out to show her but he doubted it would do any good but simply set more tongues in motion. "I really did only find one," he told her.

"Yes." Her smile remained constant. "Of course you did. That's what I certainly shall tell anyone who asks me . . ." She looked hopefully at the magistrate Book: Speaks the Nightbird 10 страница. "When will the witch swing, sir?"

"Well, I—"

"I would like to know in advance, so I might make some pies to sell. There will be a great number of people there to see it, I'm sure. The whole town, most likely. Where will the gallows be constructed?"

It took Woodward a few seconds to recover from the jarring shock of the woman's rather brusque questions. "I really don't know, Mrs. Vaughan. But at the moment there are no plans to construct a scaffold."

"Oh?" Her smile began to fade, a frown tugging at the edges of Book: Speaks the Nightbird 10 страница her cupid's-bow mouth. "I presumed you were here to carry out an execution."

"You and many others, evidently. I am here to satisfy justice."

"I see. So you're saying there will be an execution, but it may be delayed for several days?"

Now it was Woodward's turn to study the ground.

"The witch must swing," Mrs. Vaughan plowed on. Her initial sweetness had given way to something more sour. "For the sake of this town and everyone in it, she must be executed as soon as possible. I mean to say, as soon as Book: Speaks the Nightbird 10 страница justice is satisfied. Do you have any idea when that might be?"

"No, I do not."

"But. . . you're in charge, aren't you? Surely you're not going to suffer the witch to live and keep cursing us too much longer, are you?"

"Magistrate!" Woodward and Matthew saw that Bidwell's carriage had stopped nearby, before it made the turn onto Peace Street. Bidwell had removed his tricorn and held it between both hands, a gesture that Woodward took as contrition. "Good day there, Mrs. Vaughan! I trust you and your family are well?"

"I'm feeling quite ill after learning Book: Speaks the Nightbird 10 страница Rachel Howarth won't swing anytime soon!" the woman replied, her comely face now stitched tight with disgust. "What's wrong with this magistrate? Has the witch already claimed him?"

Bidwell decided, at this combustible moment, to deny the powder its flame. "Magistrate Woodward has the situation well in hand, madam. He operates in a considered and proper judicial manner. Magistrate, may I have a word with you?"

"Good day, Mrs. Vaughan," Woodward said, and she gave an indignant grunt, lifted her pinched nose in the air, and strode away in the direction she'd come. He Book: Speaks the Nightbird 10 страница walked to the carriage. "Yes?"

Bidwell stared at his tricorn, his fingers working the curled brim. "I . . . must make a deepfelt apology, sir. Sometimes I let my impatience guide my tongue." He glanced quickly up to gauge the magistrate's reaction, then lowered his eyes once more. "I'm very sorry to have caused you grief. I know this is a difficult situation as it is for all of us. But you do understand my responsibility here, don't you?"

"I do. I trust you understand and will respect mine."


"In that case, I accept your apology. I'd Book: Speaks the Nightbird 10 страница also like you to know I will do my best to resolve your predicament as soon as possible, within the bounds and necessities of the law."

"I ask nothing more," said Bidwell, and then he put his tricorn back on and gave a visible exhalation at the fact that this distasteful business of apology was concluded. "Might I offer you and your clerk a ride?"

"Yes, I'd certainly accept one. It is terribly humid this morning, isn't it?" Woodward was also grateful that the air had been cleared, since any difficulty with their host would be painful Book: Speaks the Nightbird 10 страница to endure. He stepped up on the carriage's footclimb as Bidwell opened the door for him, and then he eased himself into the seat that faced the other man. He realized that Matthew hadn't moved an inch from his previous position.

"Matthew? Aren't you coming?"

"No, sir, I am not."

"My apology," Bidwell said, and now the word tasted like spoiled cheese, "was directed to your clerk as well as to you, sir." He was staring at Woodward, not even bothering to lay eyes on the boy.

"I'd rather walk," Matthew said, before the magistrate Book: Speaks the Nightbird 10 страница was put in the position of having to be a diplomat passing chilly responses between warring powers. "I would like the chance to think awhile. Also to explore the town."

"If your clerk desires to walk, he shall walk." Bidwell raised his voice to deliver a command to his servant: "Goode! Drive on!"

At once Goode gave the reins a flick, the team of horses responded, and the carriage moved away from Matthew. It turned left onto Peace Street, running out of its path a couple of scruffy-looking dogs who were growling over a muddy bone. Matthew watched Book: Speaks the Nightbird 10 страница with amusement as a third dog—much smaller than the other two—darted in just behind the carriage's wheels, grabbed up the bone, and fled at speed while its rivals seemed to gape in an amazed stupor before they took pursuit.

Matthew was on his own. He began walking again, going no particular place and certainly in no hurry. He crossed the intersection of streets and headed westward on Industry. Strolling past more fields and farmhouses, picket fences and barns, he greeted and was greeted by several people who were either at work on their various labors of living Book: Speaks the Nightbird 10 страница or who were walking to other destinations. Here and there stood groups of oak trees, massive shapes that overhung their branches above the roofs and yards. The number of large treestumps told Matthew that it had been an endeavor of some sweat and toil to clear this land for any kind of use, but the fallen trees had been put to good service in the walls that protected Fount Royal. It had been no easy job to build this town to its present condition, that was a surety; the sheer willpower of the people to settle what Book: Speaks the Nightbird 10 страница not long ago had been thick woods at the edge of a seaboard swamp greatly impressed Matthew, and seeing the number of houses and plowed fields, greened pastures, and gardens made him fully realize the hopes that humans held to be masters of an untamed land.

"Good mornin' to you!" called a man who was mending a broken fence.

"Good morning," Matthew answered.

"Your magistrate's gonna deliver us from the witch, I hear," the man said, straightening up from his work.

"The problem is being considered," was all Matthew felt free to say.

"I hope he does Book: Speaks the Nightbird 10 страница more'n consider it! Sooner she hangs, sooner we can sleep well at night!"

"Yes, sir. I'll be sure to pass that along to the magistrate." He kept walking, continuing on his westward trek. He expected another response, but the man had returned to his task.

They're ready to hang her, Mrs. Nettles had said. They'd hang her this morn, if they could.

He thought of the shape wrapped in gray sackcloth, huddled in the hay.

What she needs is a champion of truth.

He thought of the way she'd risen to her feet, the slow and Book: Speaks the Nightbird 10 страница sinuous movement that had started his heart beating harder.

Somebody to prove her innocent. . . He thought of the sackcloth coming open, and what was revealed beneath. He saw her lean taut body, her raven-black hair, her heartshaped face and strange gold-hued eyes . . . when ever'body else is again' her.

He had to stop thinking. The thoughts were causing him distress. He heard the dark growl of distant thunder and realized, not without a sense of humor, that he'd grown his own lightning rod. That was a damnable thing, and to be ashamed of. The Book: Speaks the Nightbird 10 страница woman was, after all, a widow. But still she was a woman, and he a man; though he often wore a lightning rod at the sight of some female that might be passing by, he had devised methods of deflating the issue. Reciting by memory Bible verses in Latin, mentally working complex mathematics problems, or observing the patterns of nature; all those had sufficed at one time or another. In this instance, however, neither Deuteronomy nor geometry had the least effect. Therefore he steered himself by the foremast toward the nearest mighty oak and sat down beneath it to ease Book: Speaks the Nightbird 10 страница his passions in study of grass, clouds, and anything else that needed studying.

More rain, that gift of life the people of Fount Royal certainly could live without for a time, was coming. Matthew saw the charcoal-gray clouds against the lighter gray, and could smell the scent of water in the air. It would soon be above the town, and Matthew welcomed it because it would wash some of this nonsense out of him. And it was nonsense, really, to let himself be so bothered, so discomforted, by the sight of a woman's nudity. He was the clerk Book: Speaks the Nightbird 10 страница—the trusted clerk—of an important magistrate, and by that office and responsibility he should be above these transgressions of thought.

He watched the storm clouds fast approaching. In a pasture nearby, the cows began lowing. A man on horseback rode past, his steed visibly nervous and fighting the bit. The smell of rain was stronger now, and the next boom of thunder was like the sound of a kettledrum being pounded. Still Matthew stayed where he was, though he'd begun to wonder about finding better shelter. Then the wind came and made the oak's Book: Speaks the Nightbird 10 страница branches shiver over his head, and so he got up and started walking eastward along Industry Street.

Lightning flared across the sky. Within another moment, large drops of rain began pelting Matthew's back. He picked up his pace, realizing he was in for a thorough soaking. The severity of the rainfall rapidly increased, as did the hard-blowing wind. Matthew had not yet reached the conjunction of streets when the bottom fell out of the bucket with a boom and crash, and the rain descended in a gray torrent that all but blinded him. In a matter of Book: Speaks the Nightbird 10 страница seconds he was as wet as a carp. The wind was fierce, almost shoving him headlong into the mud. He looked desperately around, rain slapping his face, and saw in the aqueous gloom the square of an open doorway. There was no time to beg invitation; lie ran toward the shelter, which proved to be a small barn, and once inside he stepped back from the windblown entrance and shook the rain from himself like one of Fount Royal's bone-chasing mongrels.

Matthew surmised he would be captive here for a while. On a wallpeg hung a lantern, a flame Book: Speaks the Nightbird 10 страница aglow within its bell; Matthew realized someone had been recently here, but where that someone now was he didn't know. There were four narrow stalls, two of them each confining a horse; both horses stared at him, and one rumbled a greeting of sorts deep in the throat. Matthew ran a hand through the stubble of his wet hair and watched the deluge at a prudent distance from the doorway.

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