The Girl From Saddler’s Row – Episode 47

EARLY sunshine lit the park. Alice passed through the gateway with her dog at her heels. She was about to take her usual route when a figure stepped out from the shadow of the evergreens by the path.

Alice jumped, but her fright turned quickly to joy when she saw who it was.

“Hamilton! You startled me!”

He gave her a smile.

“My apologies, Alice. I hoped to find you here. May I walk with you?”

“By all means.”

Alice wished she had worn her new tawny outfit rather than the powder-blue, which she felt was somewhat draining to the complexion.

Beneath the tight confines of the bodice her heart thudded wildly. What did Hamilton want of her? Had he had a change of heart?

*  *  *  *

“I confess I’ve missed you,” he said as they fell into step, taking an uphill path that led between borders ablaze with spring flowers towards a seated balcony, approached by a flight of stone steps and overlooking the Dee and greening water meadows.

“And I you,” Alice said carefully. Some inner voice warned caution.

She waited for Hamilton’s next words, and then could have wept with impatience when mere pleasantries escaped his lips.

They reached their destination and, finding the area gratifyingly deserted, sat down and spent an awkward few moments contemplating the sun-pennies on the rippling waters of the river below.

“Alice, may I be frank?”

“Of course. What is it?”

“I want to ask you if you have any notion of Emma’s whereabouts. No, let me finish. I gathered, from something Alfie inadvertently said, that you may know more about Emma’s involvement with Brookfield than any of us.”

“We talked, Emma and I. Of course we did.”

“When you brought Brookfield’s letter to Granfer’s attention, what were your motives? Not those of a loyal friend, I vow.”

Alice was silent. She hadn’t expected this. She felt trapped between a rock and a hard place. Tell all, and she risked losing Hamilton totally.

On the other hand, he’d admitted missing her. That surely counted for something! It seemed that if she stood any chance of winning Hamilton back she would have to be open with him.

She straightened her back.

“I confess I did Emma a wrong, and I’m not proud of it. I told Gideon Trigg that Josh and Emma were lovers. It wasn’t true. Of course it wasn’t. Yet he believed me. It surprised me how readily.”

Hamilton nodded grimly.

“There were other factors involved. Granfer jumped to conclusions.”

Alice swallowed.

“I deliberately misled him. I could see how Emma was falling in love with Josh. I knew it before she did herself. Her face lit up when she spoke of him. I saw them together and I, well, I was envious.

“It wasn’t like that with Alfie and me. There was no magic to speak of. I happened to say something to him about Emma that had him thinking. That was what finished us.”

“I gathered as much. Is that everything? Granfer regrets his treatment of Emma. He’s employed a private investigator to find her. She was traced to an inn at Tarporley. It’s believed she left prior to the blizzard we had in January. Since then, nothing.”

Alice felt a great tide of guilt well up inside her. Her face crumpled. She clutched the warm body of the dog to her for comfort and between great gulps of breath, told Hamilton about her encounter with Josh Brookfield and what had transpired since.

“Hamilton, I knew you’d be searching for Emma. I thought if Josh could find her first he’d seek you out privately and put in a good word for me, and that would make everything right between us again.”

She drew a quivering breath.

“I didn’t mean it all to go so disastrously wrong. And now Emma might be dead and it’s my fault and I don’t blame you if you never want to see me again!”

It was too much. Alice turned away and wept as she had never wept before.

Then, unbelievably, she felt Hamilton’s arms steal around her.

“Hush,” he murmured. “We are all to blame in part for Emma’s disappearance; none more so than Granfer. But he’s doing all he can to rectify it. This investigator, Rudge, is currently following a line of enquiry in Plymouth. We must put our faith in him.”

She raised a blotched, tear-stained face to his.

“You forgive me in spite of everything?”

He pressed a kiss on her forehead, on each cheek, the tip of her nose.

“Alice, I love you,” was his response.

It seemed to say all. He drew her head on to his shoulder.

For a while they just sat there on the park bench, content to be together, while on the river below a herd of swans made its stately procession downstream, leaving a tide of ever-increasing ripples in its wake.

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”.