PLANS went ahead for the betrothal. There was to be a modest celebration to which Alice, as Alfie’s wife-to-be, and her parents were invited.
Maisie tried to get Emma interested in the preparations, but gave up in exasperation.
“You’re looking proper peaky, Emma. Happen you need a dose of burdock.”
Emma submitted meekly to her aunt’s administrations whilst silently craving a remedy for a broken heart. For, despite everything, she loved Josh still.
She knew she would never love anyone else and it was harrowing that Hamilton had latterly become more attentive, showering her with small gifts – ribbons of unbecoming brown sateen, matching gloves, a plain kerchief.
Emma stowed them sadly away and thought how more like a brother than a lover he was to her. How could she ever wed him?
The betrothal date drew relentlessly closer but Emma, in wilder moments that verged on hysteria, gained a certain relief from the fact that the wedding was some while off. Anything could happen in the meantime.
Something did. Something that was to change all their lives.
* * * *
“You’ve been avoiding me,” Alice said to Hamilton. “Why?”
She had seen him crossing the street, plainly undertaking a delivery with a set of harness over his shoulder, and had waylaid him.
“Alice, please. Not now.”
“Oh, Hamilton.” She fluttered her eyelashes at him. “Can’t you spare a moment for me?” She hardened her approach. “Tell me what’s wrong.”
“Isn’t it obvious? I’m shortly to be betrothed.”
“The fact never bothered you before. Don’t you care for me any more?”
“That isn’t the point.”
“I’d say it’s very much the point. Hamilton, my love, you and I are two of a kind. We both know what we want and neither of us is on the right path. Emma’s no more for you than Alfie is for me.”
“Alice, she is to be my wife.” Hamilton faltered and for one heart-stopping moment Alice thought she had won. Then he said firmly, “I must go. Goodbye, Alice.”
Watching him walk away from her, a great rage welled up inside Alice. She wanted Hamilton for herself. It was her he loved. He would not wed Emma!
Whirling on her heel, she set off in the direction of the saddler’s shop. Within minutes she was facing Gideon Trigg across his workbench, her colour heightened, eyes bright as a cat’s.
“Master Trigg. There is something you should see.”
From her reticule she withdrew Josh Brookfield’s letter and held it out.
Frowning and silent, Gideon lowered the bridle he was assembling to his bench, took the letter from her and scrutinised it thoroughly.
The atmosphere in the cluttered little premises was charged with conflicting emotion.
Opposite, Alfie sat watchful at his own bench.
Gideon raised his eyes from the sheet of paper that shook slightly in his hand, and regarded Alice under bushy brows.
“May I ask where you got this from?”
“I saw Josh Brookfield leave it for her in your stable. It’s been going on all summer. He and Emma are lovers.”
Alfie’s stifled groan was loud in the silence.
“I don’t believe it,” Gideon said.
“Then ask her.”
“Oh, have no fear, miss. I shall,” Gideon said heavily.