“DID you get everything?” Maisie Catchpole enquired from behind the central kitchen table, where she stood up to the elbows in flour. She brushed the back of a hand across her over-warm forehead, leaving a smudge.
“Yes, Aunt.” Emma put the shopping basket down on the other end of the table. “Will I put the things away?”
“If you please. You can leave the raisins and sultanas out. I shall need them shortly for the pudding. Was the fair busy?”
“Busier than ever. It rained, too, just a little. Luckily I found shelter.”
Maisie looked with suspicion at the heightened colour on her niece’s cheeks.
“Your new bonnet. Is it spoiled?”
“No, not in the least.”
“I told you not to wear that bonnet. Straw can turn to mush in the rain.”
She watched Emma bustle to and fro, putting this item in the larder off the kitchen, another in the dresser cupboard where the dry goods were kept; every move slightly impatient and somewhat chaotic.
“Did you meet anyone in particular, child?”
The response was quick and a little breathless and Maisie’s angular face sharpened. You never knew with these young misses, and with young Emma’s background . . .
“Are you sure? You look bothered to me.”
“I’m hot, that’s all. What with the bread oven lit as well as the range it’s like a furnace in here. Will I open the casement?”
“And let all the flies in?” Maisie clucked her disapproval. “Tut, girl. What are you thinking of! When you’ve finished there you might stone the fruit for me. ’Sakes, it will be a miracle if I get this plum duff on the table tonight!”
Shopping basket emptied, Emma approached the table with a small package in her hand.
“This is from the fair for you, Aunt.”
Maisie ripped off the wrappings to reveal a length of buff-coloured cotton lace, ideal for trimming her Sunday blouse. Her face softened.
“There, but you’ve a kind heart, Emma. Thank you. You shouldn’t go spending your money on me. It’s to be hoped you’ve got yourself something, too.”
“Oh, I’ve done well enough,” Emma said noncommittally. Donning a voluminous white pinafore that swamped her slight figure, she pulled a stool to the table and set about the irksome task of stoning and cleaning the dried fruit.
Later that day, the shop doorbell jangled. Gideon Trigg rose from the workbench and went through to the shop premises.
Standing by the scuffed old counter was a tall young man with a mass of dark curls and a sun-browned, pleasant face. In his hand he carried a package.
“Master Trigg? Afternoon, sir. You won’t know me, but I believe you’ve had dealings with my father, Samuel Brookfield? I’m Josh. We’re in business together these days.”
Gideon Trigg looked the caller over closely.
“You’re Sam Brookfield’s whelp? Aye, you have a look of him. You’ve your ma’s hair and eyes, though. Irish lady, wasn’t she? And a beauty to boot. Tragic that he lost her so young. It’s been a while since I set eyes on Sam. How does he these days?”
Josh Brookfield’s expression changed.
“I’m afraid Father’s none too good, sir. He makes light of it but he gets short of breath and can’t do what he used to.”
“Bless me, I’m sorry to hear that. I’ve not much time for those of your calling but I’d trust Sam with my last penny.” Gideon Trigg paused. “Now, then. What can I do for you? Is it tack you’re wanting? We’ve plenty on the shelf.”
“Good stuff, too, by the look of it. I shall certainly be paying the shop a visit in the near future. In fact, I’ve come with this.” The package was dropped on to the counter. “I got talking over a jar at the alehouse with a fellow who has the drapery stall under the cathedral walls. Apparently a niece of Mistress Catchpole of Saddler’s Row had left this behind. Mistress Catchpole does reside here?”
“Aye. Her’s my daughter.”
“And the young maid?”
“That’ll be my granddaughter, Emma.”
“Perhaps you could see that she gets this parcel.”
“I will. I’ll not bother my daughter with it. Gets all of a heap over the slightest thing, does Maisie. Well, her’s not had it easy. Widowed, and her not long wed. It were at the same time my lad and his missus lost their lives in a coaching accident, leaving their two little ’uns orphans.”