“NO angel, Master Brookfield. I’m Emma Trigg. Apparently you and my granfer are acquainted.”
“Aye, exactly so.” He frowned. “Dang me if this room inna spinning like a top.”
“It’s the remedy. It will stop before long.’”
“Dang stuff, making me twiddly in the head.”
“Would you like a drink? A sup of this lemon cordial?”
“I’d sooner a sup of cider,” the old man growled.
“Father, you know what the doctor said,” Josh put in. “No red meat, no strong liquor.”
“Him don’t know what’s good, miserable owd sawbones! I’d lay bets pretty Miss Emmie here wouldn’t thwart a fella of his victuals.”
“No more would I,” Emma agreed stoutly. She gave him a merry smile. She was warming to Samuel Brookfield.
“Emma, what’s going on here? Are we to be all day?”
They turned to find Hamilton in the doorway. His face was grim.
“My apologies, sir,” Josh said. He retrieved Emma’s bonnet from the floor where she had cast it, dusting it down before passing it to her. “I’ll fetch your horse and trap.”
Presently he was handing Emma up into the gig. Hamilton was making a great fuss of checking the harness straps and Josh, his expression safely guarded, took advantage of the moment to whisper, “Saturday, then? Nine of the clock at the Dee Bridge.”
There was no time for response. Hamilton clambered up into the driving seat and with a sharp crack of the reins sent Barney clattering away.
Emma was conscious of Josh standing straddle-legged on the yard, watching her go, the sun glinting on his mop of dark curls. Then they were through the gateway and trotting far too fast down the steep, uneven lane.
“Cousin, slow down,” she said. “You’ll have Barney slip and injure himself. What’s wrong?”
“We’ve dallied long enough,” Hamilton said coldly, though he had the grace to ease the reins. “You’d no call to tend to that old man. It wasn’t your place.”
“Oh, listen to you, Hamilton! You’d have me desert someone in need?”
“It made me look small, going against my wishes like that.”
“I don’t think so. Josh was hardly in a position to notice.”
The name slipped out as a matter of course and Hamilton was quick.
“Josh? Emma, you are too familiar. Whatever would Mama make of it?”
“My aunt would give me credit for dealing with the situation,” Emma said in a tone that brooked no argument.
She turned her attention to the scenery and Hamilton, visibly fuming, concentrated on getting them home.
* * * *
To Hamilton’s chagrin, Emma had judged her aunt’s reaction correctly. As soon as they arrived home Emma went to change her clothes into something more suitable for seeing to the lathered horse, whilst Hamilton, abandoning the animal in his stall, sought out his mother to air his grievances.
Maisie looked up from wielding the smoothing iron over a cotton sheet, boiled to a startling whiteness and crackling with starch.
“’Sakes, Hamilton! What a to-do. A fine summer’s day at your disposal, a jaunt into the country with Emma – and all you can do is grizzle because the girl, out of the goodness of her heart, goes to someone’s assistance.”
“It wasn’t that. It was the horse-dealer. He was flirting with Emma and she was smiling at him, encouraging him.”
“And you were struck by the green eye of jealousy. Well, that’s no bad thing. It shows you care about her.”
Hamilton’s scowl deepened.
“Emma doesn’t change. She’s still the hoyden she was as a child. Her behaviour was deplorable. She’d cast off her bonnet and her hair had come loose. They didn’t see me standing in the doorway. He was staring at her. You would not have been pleased, Mama.”
Briefly Maisie’s gaze flickered. Then she shrugged.
“The objective was to look at a horse for your grandfather. You’d best go and tell him what you thought.”
“Emma will do that. Granfer’s more likely to take notice of her than me.”
“It’s true she’s got a good eye for an animal. Hamilton, where are you going?”
“Out. It seems nothing I say counts any more.”
“But I’ve prepared you some food!”
Her only response was the slam of the door.
Hamilton ran down the uneven stone steps of the Row and stood looking up and down the bustling street. Which way to go? The quiet reaches of the river meadows beckoned.
Still piqued with Emma and upset that his mother had not taken his side, he set off, pushing his way irritably through the mid-afternoon throng.