THE little dog was not going to be left again in the hated vehicle. She leaped out with her mistress and went pattering on ahead in search of sympathy at the unjust treatment she had received, bobbing round the stranger’s feet and yapping up at him.
Josh, brought abruptly to his senses, met Alice’s harassed gaze with surprise.
“Alice! What brings you here? Here, pup, go to your mistress.”
He scooped up the dog, which Alice seized from him and tucked unceremoniously under her arm.
“Josh, I must speak with you. You’re not leaving?”
“I am.” He threw a disbelieving glance at the fast-setting sun. “I’ve been here too long. I should have been on the road long ago.”
“Where were you going?” Alice asked.
“North. There’s nothing for me here, not now.”
“Josh, there is everything. Emma has been found. Leastways, so I think.”
In mute response Josh indicated the grave and its offering of flowers that were even now closing their petals for the night.
“Violets! This proves it.” Alice was beside herself. “Listen.”
She told him about the visit to Rudge and what had transpired.
“It’s Miss Rosamund Platt of Peckforton. The name of the house is Hillside.”
Josh shook his head.
“There’s more to this than you can imagine. Emma has certain blood ties.”
“The Dawnes, you mean? Pshaw! Hamilton told me about that.”
“They’re gentry. Fish and fowl don’t blend.”
“Josh, you’re worth ten of them. I beg of you, don’t throw away the chance of happiness. You cannot know Emma’s side of things.”
“I know enough,” Josh said harshly. “I went to the shop and spoke with the brother. It’s no use, Alice. I’m getting out of Emma’s life. It’s obviously too late to set off now. Best I put up overnight at the old place and leave tomorrow at first light.”
Alice looked at his set face. What a very stubborn man this was!
“As you wish. But I’m warning you, Josh. This is a decision you’ll live to regret.”
She swung on her heel and walked away while Josh stood there, his gaze returned in hopeless yearning to the flowers by the headstone.
* * * *
Home again, the horse stabled, Alice went inside to find to her surprise her father waiting for her. His face was grim.
“Papa! You are home early.”
“Alice, a word, if you please.”
He indicated his study. Meekly, her heart quailing, Alice entered the room with the dog clutched to her. Her father followed, closing the door behind them with a resounding click. There was no invitation to sit. He came to face her where she stood, uncertainly, in the middle of the Turkish carpet.
“Alice, it has come to my ears that you were unfavourably involved in this unfortunate business with Emma Trigg.”
Alice felt the colour drain from her cheeks. She swallowed hard.
“Papa, I . . .”
“No excuses, miss. ’Tis written all over your face. Why, Alice? Emma was your friend. How could you?”
“It was because of Hamilton,” Alice burst out. “Papa, I love him!”
“Love? You don’t know the meaning of the word! To think that a daughter of mine could be so conniving! To go and deliberately make trouble for one so obviously innocent of wrong-doing. How dare you let your mama and me down in this way? Gideon Trigg is a fellow trader. I respect him, as he does me. Or did . . .”
On and on her father went, the angry words battering on Alice’s brain. Tears spurted. Blindly she lowered the dog to the floor and fumbled in her reticule for her kerchief.
“Papa,” she stammered once her father had stopped for breath. “In truth I have tried to put matters right. That’s what I’ve been doing today. I spoke to Josh Brookfield, but he wouldn’t listen.”
“I’m not surprised.” Her father was incensed. “If you’re expecting a betrothal between you and young Catchpole after this, Alice, you delude yourself. Think you the Triggs would endorse it once they know what you’ve done?”
“They do know. Leastways, Mistress Catchpole does. Hamilton put in a word for me.”
“Did he? I’m telling you, miss, should that young man come asking for your hand, the answer will be no.”
“No! You can wait, be it five year or ten, until I consider you mature enough for matrimony. And think on this, Alice. Don’t expect everyone to be as forgiving as the Catchpoles. Likely you and he will set up home and business away from here. It could be the making of Catchpole, to be apart from his mama. She pampers him, like I have you.
“Still, amends can be made. Instead of twiddling your thumbs at home you can come to the office and work for me. Happen it will stand you in good stead for the future. Catchpole will require some assistance with the paperwork, in business on his own. That will be all. Pray leave me.”
Contrite, Alice did so, unwittingly closing the door on the dog, who gave a pitiful whimper for her mistress. In all likelihood, her pet was the only one in the Courtney household who wanted the company of Alice just then.