"I believe," Elizabeth said, "it means to tell a lie in a place like this."
"Do you know how the Crown punishes perjurers? They are sentenced to gaol, and they live their lives in a dark, dank cell. Would you want that to happen to you?"
"It certainly doesn't sound very agreeable," Elizabeth said. "Would I be able to take my jewels and gowns?"
Shouts of laughter shook the chandeliers that hung from the vaulted ceilings.
"No, you would not!" "Then I'm certainly happy I haven't lied." Sutherland was no longer certain whether he'd been duped, but he sensed that he'd lost his effort to make Elizabeth sound like a clever, scheming adulteress or a terrified, intimidated wife. The bizarre story of her flight with her brother had now taken on a certain absurd credibility, and he realized it with a sinking heart and a furious glower. "Madam, would you perjure yourself to protect that man?" His arm swung toward Ian, and Elizabeth's gaze followed helplessly. Her heart froze with terror when she saw that, if anything, Ian looked more bored, more coldly remote and unmoved than he had before.
"I asked you," Sutherland boomed, "if you would perjure yourself to save that man from going to the gallows next month."
Elizabeth would have died to save him. Tearing her gaze from Ian's terrifying face, she pinned a blank smile on her face. "Next month? What a disagreeable thing to suggest! Why, next month is-is Lady Northam's ball, and Kensington very specifically promised that we would go," thunderous guffaws exploded, rocking the rafters, drowning out Elizabeth's last words-"and that I could have a new fur."
Elizabeth waited, sensing that she had succeeded, not because her performance had been so convincing, but because many of the lords had wives who never thought beyond the next gown or ball or fur, and so she seemed entirely believable to them.
"No further questions!" Sutherland rapped out, casting a contemptuous glance over her.
Peterson Delham slowly arose, and though his expression was carefully blank, even bemused, Elizabeth sensed rather than saw that he was silently applauding her. "Lady Thornton," he said in formal tones, "is there anything else you have to say to this court?"
She realized that he wanted her to say something else, and in her state of relieved exhaustion Elizabeth couldn't think what it was. She said the only thing she could think of; and she knew soon after she began speaking that he was pleased. "Yes, my lord. I wish to say how very sorry I am for the bother Bobby and I have caused everyone. I was wrong to believe him and to dash off without a word to anyone. And it was wrong of him to remain so angry with my husband all this time over what was, after all, rather an act of kindness
on his part." She sensed that she was going too far, sounding
too sensible, and she hastily added, "If Kensington had had Bobby tossed into gaol for trying to shoot him, I daresay Bobby would have found it nearly as disagreeable a place as I. He is," she confided, "a very fastidious person!"
"Lady Thornton!" the Lord Chancellor said when the fresh waves of laughter had diminished to ripples. "You may step down." At the scathing tone in his voice Elizabeth dared a look in his direction, and then she almost missed her step when she saw the furious scorn on his face. The other lords might think her an incorrigible henwit, but the Lord Chancellor looked as if he would personally have enjoyed throttling her.
On shaking limbs Elizabeth permitted Peterson Delham's assistant to escort her from the hall, but when they came to the far wall and he reached for the door leading to the corridor, Elizabeth shook her head and looked imploringly into his eyes. "Please," she whispered, already watching over his shoulder, trying to see what would .happen next, "let me stay over there in the alcove. Don't make me wait out there, wondering. " she begged, watching a man striding swiftly down the long aisle from the main doors at the back of the chambers, heading straight for Peterson Delham.
"Very well," he agreed uneasily after a moment, "but don't make a sound. This will all be over soon," he added consolingly.
"Do you mean. " she whispered, her gaze glued to the man walking up to Peterson Delham, "that I did well enough up there for them to release my husband now?"
"No, my lady. Hush, now. And don't worry." Elizabeth was more puzzled than worried at that moment, because for the first time since she'd seen him, Ian seemed to take an interest in something that was happening. He glanced briefly toward the man talking to Peterson Delham, and for a split second she actually thought she saw a look of grim amusement flicker on Ian's impassive face. Following the assistant into the alcove, she stood beside the dowager, unaware of the gruff, approving look that lady .was giving her. "What's happening?" she asked the assistant when he evidenced no sign of needing to return to his seat.
"He's going to pull it on," the young man said, grinning. "My Lord Chancellor," Peterson Delham raised his voice as he nodded quickly at the man who'd been talking to him. "With the court's permission-indulgence, I might say-I would like to present one more witness who, we believe, will provide indisputable proof that no harm came to Robert Cameron as a direct or indirect result of the time he spent on board the ship Arianna. If this proof is acceptable to the court, then I feel confident this entire matter can be put to rest in short order."
"I feel no such confidence'" snapped Lord Sutherland. Even from there Elizabeth could see the Lord Chancellor's profile harden as he turned to glance at the prosecutor.
"Let us hope for the best," the Lord Chancellor told Lord Sutherland. "This trial has already exceeded the limits of decorum and taste, and that is due in no small part, my lord, to you." Glancing at Peterson Delham, he said irritably, "Proceed."
"Thank you, my Lord Chancellor. We call to the witness box Captain George Granthome."
Elizabeth's breath stopped as a suspicion of what was going to happen was born in her mind. From the side of the room the doors opened, and a tall, muscular man came striding down the aisle. Behind him a cluster of burly, tanned, and weathered men gathered as if waiting to be called. Seamen. She'd seen enough fishermen in Helmshead to recognize those unmistakable features. The man named Captain Granthome took the witness box, and from the moment he began to answer Peterson Delham's questions, Elizabeth realized Ian's acquittal of Robert's "death" had been a foregone conclusion before she ever walked in. Captain Granthome testified to Robert's treatment on board the Arianna and to the fact that he had escaped when the ship made an unscheduled stop for repairs. And he smoothly managed to indicate that his entire crew was also prepared to testify. It hit Elizabeth then that all her terror during the trip down, all her fears while she testified, were actually groundless. With Ian able to prove that Robert had come to no harm at his hands, Elizabeth's disappearance would have lost all sinister implications.