The Girl From Saddler’s Row – Episode 43

WHEN Emma awoke again darkness had fallen and the family, five children and their parents, were sitting at supper around a scrubbed deal table.

Memories now came rushing back with terrible clarity. Banishment, rejection, false accusation; all the horrors of a world turned unfairly against her.

A slight movement of her arm brought the familiar tiny jingle of the charm bracelet that still, wonderfully, encircled her wrist. Josh! Her heart lurched at the memory. Tears gathered, sliding helplessly from beneath closed lids.

“Her’s cryin’,” an incredulous voice piped up in the sure knowledge that grown-ups never wept.

“Hush, our Tommie,” the child’s mother said.

Emma felt that same calming hand on her arm.

“There, now. Tes weakness that’s taken a hold. What you need is a dish of good mutton broth. Husband, tuck this bolster behind her while I lift her. That’s right. Annie, pour me some of that broth.”

With food inside her Emma felt a little better.

“I must not stay,” she said to her hosts and group of wide-eyed children. “I’ve been an encumbrance long enough.”

“You’re going nowhere till my Sarah deems it right,” the shepherd replied with rough kindness. “Get your strength back, lass. Then we’ll see.”

*  *  *  *

A week went by before Emma was on her feet again. It was a time of crippling weakness and easy tears. It was several more days before she ventured outside, feeling the bite of the February easterlies as she had never felt it before.

She drew her shawl more tightly around her and breathed welcome fresh air into her lungs. Snug though the cottage was, the presence of many bodies, plus a caid lamb being hand-reared on the hearth, made the atmosphere less than pleasant. Mercifully her carpetbag containing her belongings had survived the fall with her.

Emma was aware of how her clothes hung on her bones; a glance at her reflection in the well revealed gaunt cheeks and dark-shadowed eyes. Slowly, her resilient young body recovered.

Emma was overwhelmingly grateful to the shepherd’s wife, who treated her well and never asked awkward questions though her glance sometimes went to the charm bracelet.

Hiding away suited her state of mind. Here in the remoteness of Peckforton, no-one could find her. No-one could make promises they would not keep.

She did what she could to help around the place, but the housewifely disciplines impressed upon her by her aunt Maisie, and soundly reinforced during her sojourn at the hostelry – “Break a platter
and it gets docked from your pay!” – appeared to have deserted her. All her old carelessness and seeming inability to perform the simplest task returned.

Sarah Coles, pushed to the limits of her endurance at dropped pots and other clumsiness, shook her head in despair and laughingly sent Emma out to entertain the children, which she did admirably with stories and little rhymes and songs.

March came in on a brisk wind, bringing swelling buds and smells of freshly ploughed ground.

“It’s time I made a move,” Emma said as they sat by the fire one night.

“No hurry, lass.” The shepherd knocked the dottle from his clay pipe and set about filling it with fresh tobacco. “Though since you mention it, Sarah did chance on a place that might suit.”

His eyes sought those of his wife. Sarah pursed her lips as if in doubt, and then shrugged.

“Tes a mile or so further on from here, Peckforton. There’s a housekeeper-companion wanted. I’s warning you, Emma, her inna the easiest of bodies. There’s many a one given up and left.”

Emma’s thought uneasily of her doubtful housewifely skills.

“There’ll be servants for the general work,” Sarah Coles continued, guessing Emma’s worries perfectly. “You’d be doing the overseeing and keeping the mistress happy. You’d be good at that. Tes a Mistress Rosamund Platt of Hillside House.”

Emma thought hard. She could scarcely impinge on the couple’s goodwill for ever, another body in the already overcrowded little dwelling, sleeping on a pallet and eating their food.

Peckforton was suitably off the beaten track to keep her presence hidden, which was a point in favour. Really, though, when all was said and done, what choice had she?

“I’ll take it,” she heard herself say, and felt an immediate trickle of what could have been foreboding travel down her spine.

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”.