“HAMILTON, I’ve decided to go ahead with that horse,” Gideon said.
Hamilton looked up from his work bench.
“An excellent choice, Granfer.”
“Aye. There’s another excellent choice I want a word about. When are you and Emma announcing your betrothal? It ain’t good to keep a maiden guessing. With Alice Courtney and Alfie looking to beat her to the altar, she’ll think she’s left on the shelf.”
An unfathomable expression crossed Hamilton’s face. He gave a small shrug.
“Emma’s young in her ways. It might be wise to wait a while.”
“Poppycock! She’ll grow up soon enough once you put a ring on her finger.” Gideon glanced round as the shop doorbell jangled. “That’ll be the man about the London harness.”
Making a mental note to have a word on the matter with Maisie when he could catch her alone, he went to attend to his client.
The opportunity to speak to his daughter arose that evening. Alfie had gone to see his intended. Hamilton was off on some mission of his own and Emma was upstairs stitching a new gown. For once they had the parlour to themselves.
“Maisie, I’ll not beat about the bush. I want Hamilton and Emma betrothed before the summer’s end. You can plan an Easter wedding for next year. How does that sound?”
Maisie speared her needle into the sock she was darning and set her work aside.
“I’m not sure. Emma has excellent qualities but she’s still such a scatterbrain. I can’t seem to drill into her that she must take time to think before she acts.”
Gideon took a moment to draw deeply on his pipe.
“Emma’s impulsive, I admit, but marriage and a full cradle will sort that out.” He paused, fixing her with a serious look. “That’s not your only concern, is it?”
“No. Father, you know my thinking well enough.”
“Aye,” Gideon said heavily.
There was a long silence, into which intruded the shifting of coals in the grate and the slow tock of the clock in the hallway.
Gideon cleared his throat.
“Daughter, Emma’s been with us since she were a nip of a child. You’ve brought her up to be God fearing and mannerly, and that is what we must dwell on. You will speak with Hamilton? Tonight, when he comes in?”
“Very well, Father,” Maisie said with a sigh.
When the clock struck nine Gideon took himself off to bed, and soon afterwards Hamilton appeared.
“Mama! You are late up. Is something wrong?”
“No, though there is something we need to discuss.” Maisie put away her mending and rubbed eyes that were sore from straining in the dwindling light. “Your granfer brought up the subject of you and Emma again.”
“Yes, he spoke to me earlier.”
“Best you do as he says, my love. You are fond of your cousin, aren’t you?”
Hamilton fingered his top pocket in which rested an elegantly written missive secreted to him that afternoon.
“Of course I’m fond of Emma. She’s my kin.”
“But not so close in blood ties to matter. Your granfer suggests a betrothal before the end of the summer, and an Easter wedding.”
Hamilton was silent. He had liked being with Alice. Emma never looked at him the way she had, as if he was the only one in the world for her. It had made him feel strong and protective.
He enjoyed her bright talk that Granfer Trigg passed off as prattle. It had felt good, strolling along the river meadow with a fashionably dressed young woman on his arm.
Afterwards he had been swamped with regret that the interlude would not be repeated.
Then he had received the note from her . . .
He met his mother’s gaze.
“Give me a few days’ grace to consider the matter.”