The Girl From Saddler’s Row – Episode 20


THE watcher was unhappy. Hamilton was avoiding her and Alice wanted to know why. She was really taken with Hamilton and had been sure her feelings were returned. So what was the reason behind the sudden cooling off?

“Suzette, my pet, it’s not good enough,” she said to the dog, who whined in response, looking for the titbit she knew was forthcoming.

“There.” Alice delivered the sweetmeat absently.

They were two of a kind, herself and Hamilton. She felt extraordinarily connected to him, enjoyed his company. Some deep-rooted honesty within her accepted that Alfie – dear, constant Alfie – was too good for her, and deserved better.

Galling was the thought that Emma was still seeing her horse-dealer. Envy that Emma looked to be succeeding where Alice had seemingly failed churned inside her. She would bide her time to get even.

“It will come, my pet.”

She pressed a kiss to the dog’s soft head and reached for the dish of sweetmeats. Violet creams, her favourite. Hamilton had bought her them, and it would not be the last token of his affection.

She’d see to that!

Later that evening she was letting Suzette out for a bedtime run, in the rear garden that along with others flanked the section of shops and dwellings, when she heard a faint noise from further along. A grassy lane skirted the properties, wide enough for access with a horse and trap.

The sound had come from the saddler’s yard. Instantly alert, Alice let herself out of the garden gate and sped silently along until she reached the place in question. Someone was entering the stables.

Standing back in the shadows, she waited until she observed a tall figure leaving the premises.

Josh Brookfield! What was he doing here? She had to find out. Her breath held, she entered the yard and went into the stable where the two horses were bedded down for the night. It was hard to see in the dimness, but pinned to the wooden partition was a crumpled envelope.

Alice snatched it up and made her retreat. Back in her bedroom, she lit the lamp and saw that her find was directed to Emma.

Ripping it open, she read the missive that had obviously been written in haste.

Dearest Emma,

Forgive me, but Father has taken a turn for the worse and I cannot leave him. I am sure you will understand. Trust me.

Ever yours,

Josh.

So that was how the land lay! She might have known. Tempted to fling the letter into the fire that crackled in the small black-iron bedroom grate, Alice resisted the urge. Perhaps the discovery could work in her favour at some point.

Eyes narrowed in thought, she folded the letter and stowed it securely away in her reticule. She’d get Hamilton for herself yet. She would!

*  *  *  *

He wasn’t coming! Cygnus fidgeted restlessly and Emma peered hopefully into the murk of the chilly October dawn, her ears strained for the welcome beat of hooves. But there was nothing but the plop and drip of rain-sodden countryside and the dismal cawing of rooks.

It wasn’t like Josh to be late. Perhaps, she thought, he had been delayed. She’d give it a while longer.

Overhead, rainclouds were again gathering and she shivered, pulling her cape more securely around her.

“Josh,” she murmured. “Where are you?”

The rain began, lightly at first then growing heavier, and in the end Emma gave up and left. She arrived home drenched and unhappy. Unsaddling, she rubbed the horse down and gave him some hay.

Old Barney in the adjoining stall whickered to her so she fetched him some extra feed as well.

Next moment she had buried her face in her old friend’s mane and was sobbing quietly, whilst beyond the stable door the rain pelted down and the wind buffeted, shredding the trees in the back gardens of the last of their leaves.

Once the storm of weeping had subsided Emma mopped her cheeks with a soggy kerchief and headed for the kitchen.

“Look at you!” Aunt Maisie said. “Soaked through. Best go and change your clothes before you take a chill . . .”

Her aunt’s scolding followed Emma up the stairs and she reached her room with relief, conscious of something dark and formless having entered her soul.

He hadn’t come! He’d had a change of heart. He didn’t love her after all. She was destined to stay here on Saddler’s Row, year after year, growing old and out of temper like Aunt Maisie. Granfer had been right – horse dealers were a feckless lot.

Before divesting herself of her wet clothes Emma snatched the bracelet from her wrist and dropped it into a vase on the mantel, where it lay among the lost hairpins and stray buttons of years, rejected and unwanted.

So much for lucky charms.

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 aspiring tip to new writers is to “write from your imagination”.