The Girl From Saddler’s Row – Episode 40

RUDGE wrote ponderously in his book, the scratch-scratch of the quill loud in the silence.

“There. I think I have all the details. You believe there was an assignation in progress between the missing girl and the horse-trader Josh Brookfield.

“The girl left your roof nearly four months ago in October last year. You suspect she made for the Brookfield yard at Broxton in the Bickerton Hills, though according to your son’s and nephew’s findings, the yard is now abandoned.”

“That is correct,” Mistress Catchpole said.

“Master Trigg.” Rudge directed the saddler a piercing look. “You say young Brookfield approached you recently. Did he give any indication as to why he had vacated the premises?”

“No. He spoke only of Emma. Seems he weren’t aware she were no longer with us.” Gideon Trigg made a helpless gesture with his hand. “I should have questioned him further. Would that I could go back and start again!”

“This friend of Miss Emma’s.” Rudge consulted his list of names. “Alice Courtney. It was she who brought your attention to the letter that started everything off. Would an interview with her be possible?”

“Out of the question,” Mistress Catchpole replied. “Her papa would never allow it.”

Rudge struck a line resignedly through the name and leaned back in his chair, mulling over his next move. Overnight the wind had changed and sleet slithered down the grimy window. It would be an unwelcome ride up into the hills on the morrow.

“That will be all for now. With your permission I shall go out there and see what I can discover. May I call at your premises on the way back, or do you prefer to see me here?”

The woman nodded.

“Come to the house. We shall be waiting for your news.”

“Very well, madam.”

Rudge gave her the full force of his smile. This was an interesting case, promising many twists and turns. He liked these people. He would do his best for them.

Then again, he always did.

*  *  *  *

The sleet had ceased next morning, but the leaden sky hinted of a return to snow as Rudge followed the steep road to the horse-trader’s yard, the collar of his greatcoat turned up against the bitter wind that gusted, his roan gelding picking a way stoically through the tracts of congealed snow that lay thickly here.

As expected, the yard was deserted. Inspection of the feed loft above the stables revealed signs of someone having slept up there.

Rudge’s quick eye detected a flicker of white in the dimness. It was a lady’s kerchief, embroidered with the initials
E V T. Emma Verity Trigg. So she had been here, but what happened next?

Some instinct told him she had not fallen foul of the ruffians that roamed the hills.

His mind busy, Rudge returned outside, remounted his horse and threw a look around at the well-kept buildings and snug cottage. What would make a young man with an ailing sire leave premises like this?

The answer was immediate. A bereavement. He had passed a church on the way here. He’d check out the churchyard while he was here.

At Holy Trinity, Bickerton, the churchyard within its tall protecting yews yielded the information he required. Just inside the gates a headstone announced that Kathleen Mary Brookfield lay here, and the dates were 1790-1815. A more recent interment proved to be her husband.

Samuel Edward Brookfield. Together again.

The poignant simplicity of the inscription brought a lump to Rudge’s throat. It was unexpected – he had thought to be hardened to life’s miseries by now.

Leaving that quiet place, he pondered on which route to take. A mile or so further on was the copper mine. Happen an enquiry there might not come amiss.

At the copper mine Rudge located the office amongst the motley collection of wooden sheds surrounding the mine face.

Here he questioned the clerk, producing the miniature from the inner pocket of his greatcoat.

The fellow took the item with ink-stained fingers, twisting it this way and that in the chancy light of the lamp.

“Last October time, you say? Thinking on, I do recall something. It’s that hair, the gold of clear honey. A carrier’s cart went by with a young woman riding passenger. That in itself was not usual and I watched a moment. She turned to look at the mine.”

“Did she have a troubled air?”

“I couldn’t say. The carrier whipped up the horse and they were gone.”

“One more thing.” Rudge returned the miniature to his pocket. “Where does this road lead?”

“Salter’s Lane? It goes to Nantwich eventually, though there is a turning for Tarporley. That’ll be where the carrier was heading. Happen he dropped her off at an inn. You might try the Swan. It’s a posting house and well attended.”

“My thanks, sir. You’ve been a good help.”

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”.