SUMMER gave way to autumn. On every side the harvest fields lay bare under the soft October skies. Barns and stackyards everywhere held fodder against the lean months of winter ahead. In the farming calendar it was a time of fulfilment and rejoicing, yet all Josh could think of was loss.
“Go seek her out, lad,” his father said. “Put an end to that betrothal shenanigan an’ bring her here, where her belongs. Tes what you want, inna it?”
Sam Brookfield had long seen how things were and Josh gave his father credit for astuteness. He also knew, however, that what he suggested was out of the question.
“Father, I can’t. We’re talking about a respected family here. Emma’s name could be blighted for good and the scandal could bring discredit to Gideon Trigg’s business. I can’t take the risk.”
“Aye, there is that. Well, then, I dunno. Seems things will have to be left to chance. If tes meant to be, then ’twill happen.”
Frankly Josh had his doubts, but he was in for a surprise.
On Saturday he went into town to the weekly market. He was leaving the square, his goods in a sack on his back, when he heard a shout for help.
It was a female voice and he threw a frowning glance around. In a dark alleyway two drunken youths were trying to rob someone of their money.
“Gi’ us your purse! Gi’ it here!”
“No, no! Get away from me!”
It was too dim to see properly, but though she appeared to be putting up a fight she was obviously no match for her attackers. Josh dropped his sack of purchases and sprang to the rescue.
“Hey! Leave her be!”
His appearance was unexpected and the youths took fright and ran. On the greasy cobblestones a shopping-basket lay overturned, its contents scattered. Josh scooped them up and replaced them before turning to the owner.
One look and he let out a gasp.
“Josh? Oh, Josh!”
She fell trembling into his arms. He held her close, stroking her loosened hair and murmuring endearments until she grew calmer.
“Better?” he asked in concern.
“Much.” She managed a wan smile. “It was so sudden, though I didn’t give in. I think tomorrow they’ll sport a few bruises.”
“I’m glad to hear it,” Josh said.
He did not release her and she made no attempt to free herself. It felt right for her to be there in his embrace. For the moment that was all that mattered.
Josh knew then that he could not give her up. Whatever it took, whatever the outcome, he had to see her again.
“Emma, forgive me for what I said before. I was wrong to drive a wedge between us. Will you meet me tomorrow? Are you able to get away?”
“Yes,” she whispered, clinging to him. “I’ll be there. Josh, I’ve missed you so much.”
His lips met hers in a kiss that went on and on, as if neither of them wanted it to stop. People were passing the entrance and when, eventually, a housewife turned into the alleyway the lovers broke apart. Josh retrieved his sack of supplies and handed Emma her shopping-basket.
“Come, I’ll see you home. Tomorrow we’ll talk.”
Together they walked through the town, turning off into Bridge Street and mounting the steep, uneven flight of steps to the Row where Gideon Trigg had his shop.
Outside the door they parted and Emma went inside.
Josh threw a vigilant glance around. All seemed quiet. In a daze he headed off for the inn where he had left his horse.
Someone had seen, however. Concealed behind a pillar, she watched the exchange between the two.
Once the path was clear she continued on her way, neatly shod feet tap-tapping along the boards, little dog trotting alongside, a cloud of Attar of Roses lingering in her wake.