The Girl From Saddler’s Row – Episode 16

EMMA leaned forward in the side saddle and gave Cygnus his head, laughing as he broke into a gleeful gallop, hooves thudding on the stony track, mane flying back into her face. Over the summer her confidence had grown and she sat the horse fearlessly, glancing ahead to see if Josh was there.

Not for the first time, she wished she had a more becoming riding habit to wear, her old dark-green plush being past its best.

Once, she could have approached Alice for a dip into her plentiful wardrobe, but the unfortunate rift had not been breached and she felt again the aching sorrow of friendship lost.

Josh was there as always, waiting in the shadow of a stand of tall pines, a motionless figure on a big black horse.

“Emma,” he greeted her as she reined in, smiling and breathless, beside him.

Black Diamond sidled spiritedly, showing the whites of his eyes, and Josh gave him a calming pat before continuing.

“I watched you coming up the track. You manage Cygnus well now.”

Emma’s heart lurched. She lived for the dawn gallops when she could be with Josh. She wanted the summer to go on for ever and lived in dread of their meetings drawing to an end. Carefully, she phrased her response.

“Not always. Cygnus still tries to make off with me.”

“The deuce he does!” Josh’s blue eyes twinkled. “Mayhap he needs the tickle taking out of his feet. Have you to be back early today?”

“Not especially. My aunt is out visiting and the men are at work. I’m to get the luncheon, so providing I’m home by then the morning is mine.”

“Ah. How about a gallop to the yard? Father’s been asking after you, and the bay mare has foaled. You might care to see her.”

“A filly foal?” Delight blazed on Emma’s face. “Oh, I’d love that!”

“Let’s go, then.”

The horses fell into dancing step, Josh mindful to keep to keep to the hidden raikes and lanes, away from the main highway where they might be spotted together.

“How does your father?” Emma enquired as they jogged along.

“Could be better. I am concerned for him. I don’t like leaving him alone for any length of time, though I fear I shall have to before long. There’s an auction I must attend on the coast. It’s at Parkgate.”

“Why, that’s where Alfie and I come from. I was eight when Mama and Papa passed on and remember it well.”

“What a sad thing to lose both parents. What happened to them?”

“They took a fever that was raging. ’Twas rumoured it came off the ships.”

Memories surfaced, as they always did, and Emma swallowed hard. Conscious of Josh reaching out a hand in commiseration, she snatched her arm away, jerking her rein in the process so that Cygnus threw up his head with a rattle of curb chain.

“What’s wrong?” Josh said.

“I . . . nothing.”

Briefly she met his puzzled stare, glancing away. How could she explain that his very touch was both sweet and bitter to her? There were times when she allowed herself to dream that Josh, not Hamilton, was the focus of the forthcoming marriage plans at Saddler’s Row. Her initial attraction for him had deepened slowly, irrevocably.

Hamilton she loved and respected as her cousin, but what she felt for Josh was different in every respect. He had claimed her heart in a way that Hamilton never would.

She had said nothing about her betrothal. All that was another world, far removed from this joyful escapade with the man with the blue Irish eyes and the soul of a poet, who looked upon a simple rain shower as the pride of the morning.

“Shall we gallop?” Josh gathered up his reins. “See if Cygnus can keep step with Black Diamond!”

They plunged forwards and were soon entering the dealer’s yard. First and foremost was a call at the cottage to see old Sam Brookfield. Emma found him in his chair, wheezing badly, his pallor more pronounced than ever.

“Sir, how are you?”

“All the better for seeing you, Emmie.”

“Flatterer! You look a mite out of sorts to me.”

“Aye, well, I just gets twiddly now and then.”

“Are you taking the remedy I brought you?”

“Aye, Josh sees to that.”

“That’s good.” She gave him a smile. “Well, then, let’s get this room sorted.”

Many visits had been made here since that day in June and the cottage felt almost like home. Chatting brightly, Emma removed her bonnet and went through to the scullery to fetch a broom.

Alan Spink

Alan is a member of the “Friend” Fiction Team. He enjoys working closely with writers and being part of the creative process, which sees storytelling ideas come to fruition. A keen reader, he also writes fiction and enjoys watching football and movies in his spare time. His one tip to new writers is “write from your imagination”.