“EMMA, what are you thinking of, standing here in the glare of the sun? You know how you freckle. Do you want to return home looking like a gypsy?”
Emma was taken aback at his tone. Rage rose within her. She glowered at him, lips pressed tightly together. How dare he speak to her like that, and them not even betrothed yet!
She was saved from giving vent to her feelings by an unexpected cry from the cottage.
In the doorway an old man was holding on to the door frame in obvious distress. He seemed to be gasping for breath.
Josh turned to her.
“It’s Father! Excuse me. I must go.”
He went sprinting off and Emma was about to follow when she felt a hand grip her arm, holding her fast.
Hamilton had dismounted, thrown the reins over the gatepost and come to assert his authority.
“Emma, this is none of our concern. We’ve accomplished what we came for and now it’s best that we go. Come, let us fetch the horse and trap and be on our way.”
Emma threw another troubled glance at the cottage. Josh was now at his father’s side but the old man appeared to be on the verge of collapse. Help was clearly required.
Hamilton’s grip tightened on her arm, reminding of her upbringing and the necessity of obedience. She looked in confusion from Hamilton to the pair at the cottage door.
What should she do?
“Sir, let me help,” Emma said.
Breathless and flustered from the impulsive dash across the stable yard, she took Samuel Brookfield’s arm. Between them she and Josh assisted the old man into the cottage and sat him down in a ladder-backed chair by the fire.
To Emma’s relief, the leathery face which had been pinched and pale was starting to show a little colour. Even so, he was still fighting for breath and clutching his chest in discomfort, and she despaired to think that she had almost given in to Hamilton’s request and left the scene.
“Have you anything to give him for these attacks?” she asked Josh.
“The doctor did prescribe something.” Josh was loosening his father’s shirt collar, trying to support him, anything to give him ease. “Father refuses to take it.”
“It might be worth trying. Will I stay with him while you get it? Oh, drat this bonnet!”
Impatiently Emma yanked at her bonnet strings and flung the offending headgear aside. Designed more for fashion than comfort, it was now restricting in the extreme!
Swathes of corn-gold hair tumbled about her shoulders, releasing a waft of rosemary, and Josh stared, momentarily taken aback.
Collecting himself, he went to rummage in a cupboard on the wall. Bringing out a slim, purple glass phial, he sloshed some water from a pitcher into a pewter cup and added a measure of the tincture.
They managed to get some of the remedy into the old man and gradually the wheezing abated. The pain seemed to subside; he sank back in the chair with a sigh.
“That’s better,” Emma said gently. She reached for a bolster from a nearby settle and placed it behind his head. “You lie back and rest. Don’t try to talk just yet.”
She looked him over closely. The sinewy frame spoke of a once-vigorous strength and the face under the thatch of white hair was kindly.
It struck Emma how irked he must be by his condition and her heart went out to the man whom sickness had brought so low.
Josh came to stand beside her. In his hand was a brimming cup.
“The least I can do after your trouble is offer you some refreshment. It’s Father’s lemon cordial.”
“It was no trouble at all. I was pleased to be able to help.” Now that the crisis was over Emma felt distinctly shaky. She accepted the cup gratefully. “Thank you.”
“It should be me thanking you.” Josh smiled ruefully. “It devils me how you women cope in these situations. I must confess to panic.”
“Well, it’s worse when it’s your own kin.” She picked up the phial of medicine, inhaling. “Foxglove. It has a bitter taste. I’m not surprised your father dislikes it.”
“You are a herbalist?”
“No. I grow a few physic herbs in the garden behind our house but I’d need more ground to do it properly. I’d like a stillroom to work in, and little jars with cork stoppers. And brass scales and . . .”
Realising her tongue was running away with her, she stopped, darting a look of apology under long lashes.
“You are ambitious, mistress. That’s to be admired.”
“My aunt Maisie wouldn’t agree,” Emma said repressively.
A stirring from the invalid regained their attention. Shrewd, faded-blue eyes scrutinised Emma soundly.
“Lor’ dumble us! I thowt I were seeing a ministrin’ angel, what with that golden hair and bonnie face.”