DEMAND? No-one demanded anything of Gideon Trigg! Gideon’s temper, not helped by the strain he was under, had got the better of him. He sent the young man packing.
Now, Gideon was regretting his action. Brookfield travelled the length and breadth of the country in his capacity of horse-dealer. If anyone had the means of tracing Emma, it was he. Gideon recalled, with a spasm of disquiet, the missives that had dropped through the letter-box along with the usual business mail. He’d torn them up, unread.
He gazed frowningly into the fire. Where could the lass be? What young Brookfied had said gave credence to what Emma had tried to tell him on that fateful day. Why had he not listened, instead of jumping so disastrously to conclusions?
The door opened to admit Maisie with the tea tray, which she placed on the low table between them. Dealing with the tea, she sat down and gave him a searching look.
“Father, I’ve been thinking. Why don’t we make a hunt for Emma?”
“Eh? Don’t take me for a fool, Maisie. I’d lay a pound to a penny there’s been plenty of searching going on hereabouts. All fruitless, I suspect.”
Maisie did not pursue that line of argument. She pursed her lips, seeking the right words.
“I don’t know if you saw it, but in yesterday’s newspaper there was a piece about an agency which specialises in finding missing persons. I’ve kept it by me. No, let me speak, please. Why don’t we approach them over Emma? At least read what the paper has to say.”
Gideon gave his daughter a glower over his teacup. His lips worked as he wrestled with the matter. He decided to have none of it.
“Oh, have it your own way,” he heard himself say instead in a choked voice. “Give the newspaper here. Let’s see what it’s all about.”
* * * *
What are you doing with that?” Emma’s voice was sharp and Prudence swung round guiltily, the charm bracelet dangling on her wrist.
“I . . . I were just trying it on, that’s all.”
Emma advanced into the garret bedroom, for once oblivious to the icy draughts that ripped across the floor.
Christmas had come and gone in a frenetic whirl of activity. Throughout the whole of the festivities she’d been lucky to snatch a few meagre hours’ sleep per night.
The New Year was now upon them and the Swan ran another full house. So exhausted was she that this morning she had overslept by a good 30 minutes. Prudence, never a willing riser, had taken advantage of a lie-in and had also slept on. It had been a case of hasty ablutions and running downstairs to attend to their duties.
Emma had been serving the noontide meal when she had realised that in her haste that morning she had left the bracelet by the bedroom wash-bowl. This had been the first opportunity to get up here and rescue it.
“Give it to me,” Emma said peremptorily.
In miserable silence the girl unfastened the clasp and dropped the bracelet into Emma’s outstretched palm.
“Dunna tell on me. I wunna meaning no harm.”
Not for one moment did Emma believe her.
“So you say. Just remember this – if I find you with any of my belongings again there’ll be trouble. Now, you’d better get downstairs and start on the dirty saucepans.”
Prudence flung her a look of dislike and fled, her booted feet clattering down the bare treads of the back stair.
Emma sank down on her bed and returned the bracelet to her wrist. In all her life she had never felt so dispirited. Having to share a room with a potential thief was one burden too many.
Tears prickled her throat but she choked them down. Weeping solved nothing. She had quickly learned that.