The Girl From Saddler’s Row – Episode 36

NEVER had Josh made a sale so recklessly. With the coins from the transaction of the two geldings jingling in his pocket, he mounted his horse and headed out through driving snow for the Tarporley turnpike.

Emma, Emma, Emma . . . The thundering hoofbeats spoke her name and were rhythm to his pounding thoughts. He had tried to contact her, had no response, had gone in desperation to the shop and spoken with Gideon Trigg. Again he had drawn a blank.

That night he hadn’t known what to think. He had stood in the street below, looking up at the building for sight of her, and all the while she had not been there! Banished, and by the very one responsible for her welfare! What had come over the man to have acted so irrationally? No wonder the saddler had looked so wretched.

Conditions were worsening and Josh checked the horse accordingly. The biting wind seized his breath and icy droplets stung his face, all but blinding him. Would he ever get there?

His comfortable lodgings at Flookersbrook came to his mind, shamefully, and were dismissed. All the comfort in the world was worth the sacrifice for Emma.

At last, snow crusting the horse’s mane and his shoulders, hands frozen on the reins, Josh caught the welcome whiff of woodsmoke from distant chimneys, saw the glimmer of lamplight through the swirling whiteness, and minutes later he was riding thankfully into the yard of the Swan Inn.

A lad peered out from the doorway to the stables. Josh, dismounting stiffly, called across to him.

“Here, fellow. Take my horse and rub him down well. See that he has a warm mash. Is the landlord around?’”

“Aye. You’ll find him inside.”

The lad shambled up and took the horse and Josh, after tossing him a coin, strode into the inn and pounded on the desk for attention. After a few moments a girl in an ill-fitting dress and ugly calico cap appeared.

“Sir? Can I help?”

“A hot meal wouldn’t come amiss. But first I want to speak to Emma Trigg.”

“Emmie?” The girl looked at him with a frown. “You’re too late, sir. Emmie’s gone.”

Josh stared at her in disbelief.

“Gone where? Home to her grandfather’s at the saddler’s shop at Chester?”

“I dunna know about a saddler’s shop. Her’s been turned off.” The girl spoke with relish. “For misbehaviour. The landlord dunna allow any of that here.”

Josh’s expression darkened.

“Misbehaviour? Emma? If there’s been any wrongdoing the blame does not lie with her. So tell me. Where has she gone?”

The girl lifted a shoulder.

“That’s anybody’s guess. She were on foot. Tes a wonder you dinna pass her on the road.”

“What?” Josh couldn’t take in what he was hearing. “She left today? In this?”

An angry gesture indicated the conditions beyond the window. The wind moaned in the chimney, sending down a splattering of hailstones to fizzle blackly on the hearthstone.

“God save us, doesn’t anybody have an ounce of common decency or compassion any more? No, I saw nobody on the road. It was impossible to see anything in the blizzard I’ve come through. It’s to be hoped Emma’s taken shelter somewhere. I’ll not vouch for her chances otherwise.”

The girl blinked, as if the enormity of what had happened had only now occurred to her.

“Shall I get you your meal?” she enquired timidly.

“What? Aye. I’ll travel the better with food inside me.”

He’d give himself an hour. That should see the horse rested for the journey back. God willing, he’d come across Emma on the road. Failing that, someone would surely have news of a solitary female traveller.

*  *  *  *

Emma had made her retreat as far as the Whitchurch turnpike. By this time the blizzard was disorientating and she inadvertently strayed off the road. Gasping and slithering, she found herself on a rough uphill track that was fast disappearing under a thick coverlet of snow.

She paused, glancing feverishly through the dancing flakes to get her bearings.

Taking a chance, she set off in what she hoped was the right direction. After a few steps she missed her footing and went tumbling headlong. She had been on the edge of a craggy gorge and now seemed to be hurtling through the air.

“Help!” she screamed. But her voice was torn away by the wind.

She came to a stop with a thump that knocked her senseless, the fall broken by a spindly rowan sprouting between the rocks. She lay motionless, the snow happing up around her, covering her tracks, and was not aware that at that moment Josh was riding past on the top road, with hope in his heart for sight of her.

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