EMMA fastened the pony to a tethering ring at Beeston market and threw a doubtful glance at the sky. The day had dawned bright but now clouds were gathering, hinting at rain before long.
“It’s to be hoped we’re not in for a drenching,” she said to the pony.
She collected her shopping-basket from the trap and made her way through the ranks of parked farmcarts and carriages, the horses waiting patiently between the shafts, some chomping a nosebag of oats.
Market days always had been a pleasure to Emma. She liked the bustle of the crowds and the camaraderie of the stall-holders, and there was always the chance of a ready bargain.
Today she had left off her housekeeper’s dress and had put on one of the new outfits Rosamund Platt had insisted on having made for her – a sky-blue poplin with bonnet trim to match.
Over the air came the calls of penned animals from the far side of the ground where the beast auction was held, and Emma was reminded of another market 12 long months ago.
What changes there had been in that time. What heartache. Often had she told herself to count her blessings, which had not been lacking of late. Nonetheless, the ache in her heart had never quite gone away and Emma did not have to search very deeply to know why.
She consulted her shopping list. Threads, needles, ribbons. Haberdasher’s first, then, after which she would seek out a stall selling kitchen herbs and spices.
She set off, heading for the haberdasher’s, where already a queue had formed.
Shopping done, she took the heavy basket back to the trap and, tempted by a stall of knick-knacks and fairings, she returned for a closer look. Before setting out, the mistress – or Cousin Rosamund, as she would eventually be known – had pressed upon her a purse of coins, saying in tones that brooked no argument that it was for Emma’s personal use.
A dainty blue jug caught Emma’s eye. She was debating whether to buy it when she felt the first light drops of rain.
Mindful of her fine new clothes, she looked around for somewhere to shelter. Next moment the rain worsened and there was a mass dive for cover. About to join the mêlée, Emma heard a voice ring out above the general din.
“Ah, sure now, what’s a drop of rain? It’s just the pride of the morning!”
Emma stopped in her tracks, her heart racing and throat suddenly dry.
“Josh!” she gasped out. “Oh, Josh.”
“Emma!” He took her hands in his. “I called at the house and they told me I’d find you here. Emma, I’ve searched endlessly for you. Your folks, too. We’ve been desperate to find you. Where in heaven’s name have you been? Why hide away?”
Emma thought distressingly of that dank day in October, waiting for him in vain at their trysting place in the hills. She freed her hands from his.
“I waited but you didn’t come. I waited and waited. It grew dark and wet and still you didn’t come.”
“Father had been taken badly. I couldn’t leave him. I left a note explaining what had happened, bidding you to trust me. Unfortunately you never received it. Emma, there is so much you should know that it’s hard to tell where to begin. This I must say. There is someone at your grandfather’s house who’s longing to meet you.”
Emma bit her lip.
“Josh, the situation has changed. I’m not what you thought.”
“I know.” His look was tender.
“You don’t mind that I’m . . . I’m baseborn?” She was hard put to say the word.
“I minded more about your connections on your mama’s side. I’ve sat half the night puzzling what to do. Emma, I love you. Life without you would be meaningless. What happened in the past is beside the point. All that really matters is us – you and me, and what we make of our life together.”
Emma struggled to take in what he had said. He didn’t mind about her questionable background! He loved her no matter what. Everything was going to be all right.
It was as if a great load had lifted from her shoulders. She gave him a tremulous smile.
Neither of them had noticed that the rain had stopped. The sun appeared, glinting on the silver charms of the bracelet on her wrist. Church, wedding slipper, cottage, spinning-wheel, cradle and tiny horse.
“There, now,” Josh said, smiling, raindrops glistening in his mop of dark hair. “If that little trinket hasn’t worked its magic and brought us back together! Didn’t I say it would bring luck?”
“Oh, Josh!” Emma gazed at him, breathless.
Next moment she was in his arms where she had wanted to be, laughing and crying with joy.