EMMA ripped off the wrappings and let out a gasp of surprise. It was the sprigged muslin she had so admired on the drapery stall! Included for good measure were matching thread and a trim of pale green ribbon. Tucked into the fold was a fragrant spray of lavender.
Emma’s mind travelled back. She recalled standing, entranced, at the flower-seller’s speck, a trug of purply-blue cottage blooms picked with the dew still on them scenting the air with freshness. Plainly he had seen her.
She bit her lip. She could hardly accept so personal a gift from so casual an acquaintance. It was too forward of him by far.
Then again . . .
The next moment she was loosening the folds of the material, draping it around herself and admiring the effect in the full-length looking-glass of the mahogany wardrobe. What a fetching gown it would make, flounced and pin-tucked, with the ribbon as a sash.
Downstairs in the hallway, the tall-cased clock soberly chimed the hour. Aunt Maisie would be expecting her to help dish up the evening meal. She must leave this for now.
As she descended the stairs, an idea struck. Alice Courtney, her friend at the vintner’s on Eastgate Row, would know what to do.
Alice and Alfie had recently announced their betrothal. No date had been set as yet, but Emma thought what a handsome couple they would make. She just hoped that fun-loving Alice appreciated what an utter treasure she would have in Alfie.
It was later than usual when the family finally sat down to their meal, Maisie’s face like a boiled beetroot from her labours in the broiling heat of the kitchen.
Everyone agreed on the excellence of the boiled fowl and duchess potatoes, and the plum duff and custard sauce that followed exceeded all expectations.
Supper over, Emma longed to get away but Granfer Trigg, it appeared from the huffing and clearing of the throat from the head of the table, had something to say.
“I’ve a mind to buy a new trap horse. I’ve had a word with the co-owner of the place where Barney came from. They’ve got a ride-and-drive animal that might suit.” Gideon looked across the table at his nephew. “Hamilton, you can take Emma there on Saturday, try it out for me.”
“This coming Saturday? What about that London harness order? I thought it was wanted in a hurry.”
“That’s in hand. We can put in extra time of an evening. It’ll help keep Alfie’s mind off that pretty miss at the vintner’s he’s so taken with. Proper little flibbertigibbet she’s turned out.”
Maisie, with a glance at the two spots of affronted colour on Alfie’s cheekbones, interrupted hastily.
“You were saying, Father?”
“Eh? Where was I? Ah, yes. What say you, Hamilton, to a jaunt up country?”
“I’m willing if Emma is. Where is this yard, Granfer? It is a dealer’s yard, I presume.”
“Aye, a reliable one. This is Sam Brookfield’s stable at Bickerton. Seems his lad’s at the helm now. Josh, he called himself.”
Emma swallowed hard. It looked as if Fate was casting a hand here. No mention was made of the muslin, she was thankful to note.
As if in a dream she heard her grandfather concluding the arrangements for Saturday, heard her aunt’s outpouring of distress at the prospect of sending her son and niece on what could be a potentially dangerous mission. For wasn’t it fact that the hills were rife with bands of ruffians who lay in wait to relieve unsuspecting travellers of their gold?
“It were a couple of cheeses, according to what I read in the newspaper,” Gideon dryly informed his daughter.
“Apparently a bunch of them rifled one of the farms for dairy stuff for a bit of lucrative trading. Didn’t do them much good, bless me, no! The ringleader’s bound for the gibbet and the rest for deportation. I shouldn’t worry your head, Maisie. Hamilton will take good care of Emma”
Emma’s mind went back to the muslin.
“Well,” she announced, “if Alfie is going to be occupied in the workshop this evening I might give Alice some company myself. If I may, Aunt?”
“Of course, dear.”
“You can ask Roland to send me another case of that Rhenish, Emma,” Gideon put in. “Tell him to charge it to my account. I’ll square up with him at the end of the month.”
“Very well, Granfer,” Emma said, and made her retreat before her grandfather could begin on another of his lengthy diatribes which frequently had them all sliding surreptitious glances at the clock.