EMMA quailed beneath her grandfather’s glower. She had never known him so angered, so unforgiving.
“I’ve given you a home, miss, and this is how you repay me! How dare you fly in the face of all you’ve been taught? Did you never spare a thought for your family’s good name and reputation? Your aunt’s feelings? Hamilton’s?”
She stood silent while he raged on, her world as she knew it tumbling around her. She longed for escape, but Gideon Trigg’s final words she never expected to hear.
“You can go, miss! Pack your things and leave. I never want to set eyes on you again. I’ve always feared things might come to this. Blood will out! Go on. Be off with you!”
She turned and fled, tears blinding her as she stumbled up the stairs to the bedroom that she could no longer lay claim to. Hardly knowing what she was doing, she dragged a carpet bag from a cupboard and began randomly to fling clothes into it.
A light touch on her shoulder made her look round into her aunt’s troubled face.
“Emma, I’ve tried to talk to your granfer. It’s useless. He won’t listen.”
“I know.” She sobbed. “Aunt Maisie, I’m sorry.”
“Hush, child. What’s done is done.”
“What Granfer accused me of was not true. Josh and I were never . . . there was no misconduct between us. Granfer wouldn’t say what was behind all this. He was too incensed to reason with. He wouldn’t entertain anything I tried to tell him.”
“There was a letter. He wouldn’t show it to me. It’s been destroyed. I don’t think he knew what he was doing.”
“A letter?” Emma shook her head helplessly. “I don’t understand. Aunt Maisie, Granfer did say something puzzling – ‘blood will out.’ What could he mean?”
Defeat crossed Maisie’s drawn face. She sank down on to the bed, patting the space beside her.
“Come and sit here by me. What I’m about to say will come as a shock to you, but under the circumstances happen ’tis best that you know.”
Hesitantly at first, Maisie spoke of a secret she and her father had vowed would never come to light.
Emma learned with growing horror that the man she had called “Papa” was not her real papa. Her true sire had been a midshipman, betrothed to her mother, who left her pregnant when he worked his ticket to the Americas.
“He didn’t know about the child – you. They were to be wed on his return from the voyage. ’Tis the old story – a storm at sea, the ship lost with all hands. Your mama was distraught.”
“And Papa? I mean . . .”
“My brother, Gideon, had always loved your mother. When he learned of her plight he promised to bring you up as his own if she would wed him. Emma, it was a good union. They had you, and then Alfie came along. They were happy in their marriage.”
“So Alfie is not my true kin.”
Emma’s thoughts whirled. She couldn’t take it all in.
“He is, to all intents and purposes,” Maisie insisted.
A bellowing from downstairs brought them jumping to their feet. Maisie pressed a full purse into Emma’s hand.
“Take this. ’Twill see you through till you can find work. Farewell, child. God keep you.”
Presently Emma found herself on the city street, the bulging carpet bag at her feet. In her hand she clutched the charm bracelet, retrieved at the last moment from the vase where she had abandoned it. Josh had given it to her. She couldn’t leave it behind.
She picked up the heavy bag. Where should she go? There was only one place possible. Even if Josh no longer wanted her, perhaps old Sam Brookfield would let her stay.
She set off purposefully, heading for the highway that would take her into the Bickerton Hills and the dealer’s yard that had come to feel like home.
Tackling the twelve miles on foot was very different from riding there. Before long Emma’s boots had rubbed blisters on her heels, but she dared not stop. Already the short October day was losing some of its light and fear of the bands of brigands that roamed the hills made her struggle on.
Dusk was gathering as, tired and footsore, she hobbled up the wheel-rutted track to Brookfield’s Yard.
She knew from the lack of smoke from the chimney that all was not well. Reaching her destination, she found the yard-gate swinging on its hinges, stables and cottage closed and shuttered, and the occupants gone.