Chapter Twenty-Five

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I spent the night in the dark, cold cell, reliving the nightmare of my first night in the 19th century.

And to make matters worse, this time I had a cellmate.

Unconscious on the concrete floor, the snores emanating from the man's throat sounded like he had swallowed a lawnmower. I assumed he was in here for drunkenness, due to the potent odour of claret rising from him, permeating the tiny room.

The smell reminded me of Desmond; his seemingly favourite drink.

I had stayed tucked up in the corner on the bench all night, afraid to make a noise and wake him.

When daylight finally came, I wasn't sure if I was afraid or relieved when I heard the clunk of the door bolt unlock. As the solid cell door swung wide open, the person on the other side was not who I was expecting.

"Nicholas?" I exclaimed, placing my feet on the ground, but staying seated. As he stepped towards me, he did a double take when he noticed the body on the floor.

"Oh. So the rumours were true," he said, staring down at the body. I was confused at first, but the door had allowed more light to enter the cell, and it was then I recognised who the man was. Desmond. "Doyle brought him back here last night to sober him up," he explained. Aah, so that's why Constable Doyle had left the party. That's why I ran into him on the main road, I thought to myself. If the idiot hadn't got himself so drunk, I wouldn't have got caught, and I could be back home by now.

Nicholas caught me by surprise when he rushed over to me, kneeling in front of me, and I noticed Constable Doyle hovering outside the door.

"What are you doing here?" I asked.

"When I heard what happened... I didn't believe it. I had to see for myself." His eyes flicked up and down, examining me. "Are you all right? Are you hurt?"

"No, I'm fine. Just scared and shaken."

He enclosed my hands in his own, squeezing them tightly. He no longer seemed angry with me and I was so glad. It felt good to have him here.

"Your hands are freezing."

"How did you know I was here?" I asked.

"Constable Doyle came to the Valentine house early this morning and informed Mr. Valentine that you had stolen the cottage painting, his horse and the Hoggs' buggy last night. We hadn't been up long enough to even notice you or the painting gone. I came here as soon as I could. I had to hear your side of the story. You wouldn't do such a thing." He paused. "Right?" He needed confirmation from me that none of this was true. But I couldn't give it to him. There was no getting out of this.

I tried to ignore the smug look on Constable Doyle's face.

I sighed. "What Constable Doyle said was true. I took the painting and the horse and buggy."

His eyes widened, shocked by my confession. "I don't believe you. Did someone blackmail you into doing this? Has this got something to do with your life back in Hobart Town?" I shook my head. He turned to Constable Doyle. "She didn't steal the painting, Doyle. I asked her to deliver the painting to the cottage. I was buying it back from Mr. Valentine."

"Don't give me that rubbish, Clay. I've spoken to Mr. Valentine and he knew nothing about any of this. As far as he knew, the painting was securely attached to his living room wall and Fletcher was fast asleep in her bed."

He turned back to me. I couldn't believe he was willing to lie for me. He must really care about me. Tears ran down my face, unable to hold them back.

"This is bad," he whispered to me. "Do you know what the punishment is for stealing?" I nodded. "You didn't have to steal, Matilda. I would've painted anything you wanted, as many as you wanted."

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