By James Bradley
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Robert nods. ’ He dips into the stew again, then continues. ‘He sought to force us to pay more and more, and threatened to starve us if we did not. And so they determined they would humble him. ’ ‘Perhaps. But the prices were driven by our own greed as much as by his. ’ ‘Respect,’ Robert says. ’ I make a sound of contempt, and Robert looks up from the plate, his eyes steady. ‘You think their own pride does not interfere with their judgement? ’ ‘He sells to van Hooch, and Brookes and the others,’ I say.
I pulled away, stepping out into the rain. In the doorway Mr Tyne watched, his eyes scanning the length of the sleeping street. Seeing me looking back he smiled, a thin thing of pleasure at my discomfort. The rain spilled downwards, cold wires descending to strike our faces and cheeks. In the cart the Irishman was lifting something from the straw, a bundle shape, swinging it towards me, and then it was on my shoulder, heavier than I had expected, its bindings wet and thick with the scent of earth.
He asks. ‘I do not know,’ I say. But Mr Tyne does not shift, and in his eyes is suspicion, a violence I have not seen before. ’ ‘I did,’ I reply uneasily. ’ I shake my head. For a long time he does not move. Then at last he steps aside so I may pass, his body close to mine, his eyes hard upon my face. IN THE DAYS that follow the weather grows worse: first rain, then sleet, then a choking mist which settles on the streets and will not lift. Everywhere the air is thick with it, its fumes burning at the eyes and throat.