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Authors: Anna Jacobs

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BOOK: Marrying Miss Martha
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“We s’ll have to wait a bit afore we go outside again,” he said, frowning once more.

Penelope looked at him and forgot what she had been going to say. He was thin, too thin, and his hair had been hacked off unevenly. But in a woman that hair would have been much admired, for it was the colour of new honey, neither blond nor red, and certainly not ginger, but a rich amber colour, curling slightly around his narrow features. His forehead was high and his eyes were bright and intelligent. She had seen that look before in working men and John had taught her that intelligence could be found in any class and was always to be respected.

She realised suddenly that time was passing. “I’m going to be late. My sister will be worried and my cousin furious.”

“And you?” he asked softly.

“I’m enjoying myself in a strange sort of way.”

There was warm admiration in his eyes as he nodded. “Well, you certainly haven’t fainted on me, as I thought a lady might.”

She guessed that if they were to be friends, and somehow she was sure they would be, she’d have to make the overtures. Society imposed rules about who you should and should not associate with, but John had taught her to ignore these. Besides, if she got to know Mr Porter, she might be able to help him achieve his ambition to become an engineer. That would be a very rewarding thing to do.

It was two more hours before Daniel thought it safe to venture out, because the rioters seemed to be rushing to and fro without rhyme or reason. Even then he insisted on going outside first to check that the danger really was past and they could get to the inn safely. When he came back, he nodded. “It’s all right. I’ll just go and get Mr Seaton’s crowbar then I’ll take you to the inn.”

When they arrived, she stood at the door watching him walk away, that bright amber hair standing out like sunshine on a winter’s day. It made him too easily recognisable, though. Then she shook her head and grew angry at herself. Why was she worrying about that now? She’d better go and tell her sister she was safe. And after that she’d bathe her leg. But she wasn’t going to tell Martha about her small injury or exactly how she got it. She didn’t want a scold about rash behaviour.

She had enjoyed talking to Mr Porter and was determined to know him better, but she wasn’t going to mention that, either.

* * * *

In the event the Merridenes didn’t leave Tapton that day. Mr Wright sent a message to the inn as soon as things had quietened down in the town centre, advising that the roads nearby might be unsafe because of the riots and suggesting they stay on for another night. Edward complained unceasingly but took this advice.

On the journey back both ladies were quiet and thoughtful, and although Edward tried again to persuade them to give up this foolish idea of going to live in a town where the poor rioted and put their betters’ lives in danger, he found them unshakable in their determination to move to Tapton. Eventually he subsided into a sullen silence and left them to their thoughts.

 

Chapter 5

 

It was one thing to plan a move, another actually to make it. Both sisters were deeply upset at having to leave Rosemount Lodge, with all its memories. They had already cleared out their father’s possessions during the months of searching for a place to live and work, but now they had to decide which furniture to take and which to sell or give away, then empty their own cupboards and drawers and pack their china in straw.

Penelope wept several times but tried to hide that from her sister.

Martha toiled fiercely, giving herself as little time as possible to think and tumbling into bed each night exhausted, to lie tearless and wish she could weep out her pain as she knew her sister did. There were some nights when it took a long time to succumb to her tiredness.

She knew Sally was watching them both anxiously, hiding her concern for them under gentle scolding and regular cups of tea. It was a comfort. 

Late in the afternoon of the day before they were due to leave, the promised drays turned up in Woodbourne and one of the drivers, a man with grey hair and a kindly face, came to present his master’s compliments to the ladies and check that they would be ready early the next morning. “I’m Jem Saverby, miss, head of the stables at Wright’s. My master sent me with the men to make sure everything was done proper. And I were glad to see a bit of the world, too. Never been out of Lancashire afore.”

“Leicestershire is a lot prettier in the summer than it is now.”

“Aye, well, isn’t everywhere? You wait till you see our moors on a summer’s day. There’s nowt to beat it, in my opinion. Now, I’d be grateful if you’d show me what there is to load tomorrow.” He followed them round the house, not saying much, but occasionally making shapes in the air, as if fitting pieces of furniture together. In the end he nodded. “Aye, they’ll fit all right if we load ’em carefully, but it’ll take us a few days to drive back to Tapton, so Mr Wright’s booked rooms for you at the Dragon again.”

“That’s very kind of him.”

“If you don’t mind, we’ll start loading tomorrow as soon as it’s light. It’s too late to start now.” With a cheery wave he made his way back to the village inn, where he and his companions were to stay.

That evening the three women sat together in the kitchen sharing a final meal.

“I’m exhausted and shall be glad to leave tomorrow,” Martha admitted, yawning over the stew made from their own potatoes, carrots and onions with a bit of ham.

“Well, at least Mr Edward has done his duty by you, sending his carriage for you to travel in again,” Sally said. “It’s a very comfortable one.”

Penelope chuckled. “Oh, he always sees to his own comfort. His economies usually affect others, not himself.”

The following morning they watched their possessions carried out to the drays one by one, and roped into place. The men worked quickly, with the skill of long practice. The sisters took a last walk round the echoing house and by the middle of the day were able to climb into Edward’s carriage.

“Thank goodness that’s over!” said Penelope as the horses moved forward.

Martha didn’t reply, couldn’t trust herself to speak steadily and was relieved when no one tried to make conversation for the first few minutes. She could only hope she didn’t look as sad and weary as her sister.

They couldn’t make good time on the muddy roads and so were unable to reach the inn where they’d stayed last time. But as nightfall approached they found another inn which offered them a similar level of comfort.

Once installed there, Sally didn’t try to hide her enjoyment of the rare treat of being waited on and that cheered up both sisters.

* * * *

The next day they set off at first light, driving through a bare winter landscape under lowering skies which were becoming increasingly overcast. Just after ten o'clock the first flakes of snow began to fall and soon were settling on the ground.

They were all worried about whether they would manage to reach Tapton before the roads became impassable. Edward's carriage was solidly-built and the team of horses from the last inn was strong and willing, but still, you never knew what would happen when travelling in winter.

An hour later they rounded a corner and the coachman yelled out in shock and reined in his horses sharply to avoid a shabby vehicle which had lost a wheel and run into the ditch. The carriage rocked wildly, tumbling the ladies against one another like skittles, but it drew to a halt with no harm done other than bonnets knocked askew, a bruise or two and pulses beating faster.

The groom jumped down and ran to the horses’ heads, gentling them until they stopped edging about and tossing their heads.

The other carriage had lost a wheel and lay tilted on one side, half in the ditch. A young man was leaning against a tree nearby, his eyes closed. His clothes were in disorder and there was a large bruise on his forehead. He was holding his right arm as if in pain and looked ready to collapse at any moment.

Martha flung open the carriage door and hurried across to him. “I fear you’re hurt, sir. Can we do anything to help you?”

He opened his eyes and turned towards her, but didn’t seem able to speak coherently, only groan then mumble, “Think I’ve—broken my arm”.

She looked round for help but the coachman of the wrecked carriage, a surly-looking fellow, was still trying to disentangle his horses, one of which looked wild with fear. Even as she watched, he yelled to their groom to come and help him before the creature damaged itself.

Martha beckoned to her sister. “I think we’d better get this gentleman into our carriage.”

The two of them supported the injured man as carefully as they could, but he moaned in pain when he stumbled getting into their carriage.

As Martha brushed the snowflakes from her bonnet and shoulders, she was relieved to see him sink down on the seat and lean back against the corner because she’d been afraid he would faint. He was still supporting his right arm with his left and his face was now as white as the snow whirling down outside.

“We’ll have to get him to a doctor to set the bone,” said Sally in a low voice. She leaned out of the carriage to call to the driver of the other vehicle, “Hey you! Where's the nearest village?”

But the man just shrugged and when she called to their own coachman, Tom said, “I don’t know this road well enough, Mrs Polby, I’m afraid.”

When the horses were freed, he came to check that his passengers were all right. “Shall I help the gentleman out and get him into his own carriage, Miss Merridene? I think it’s propped up steady now. We can send help back to him.”

The other man had followed Tom across. “There’ll be no use him staying here, miss. It’ll be tomorrow at the earliest afore I get away because I’ll have to wait for a new wheel to be fitted.” He looked at his passenger. “You’d best hire another vehicle, sir, and get yourself home where people can look after you.”

The gentleman roused himself to glare at him. “Then give me my money back.”

“I ha’nt got it. It’s my master you should see about that.”

“Damn you, how am I to continue without money?”

“I think we’d better take you to a doctor before we decide anything else, sir,” Martha said soothingly and looked at Tom. “We’ll have to stop in the next village.”

“Mr Merridene wouldn’t like this,” he grumbled. “It’s not safe taking up strangers, let alone this gentleman’s not our responsibility.”

“We can’t leave him here with a broken arm!” Martha snapped, thinking that even Edward’s servants had adopted his mean-spirited attitude towards the world. “Kindly get his luggage and stow it with ours.”

Tom jerked his head towards the groom, who did this with ill grace before swinging up into his place again.

“Sorry to be so much trouble,” muttered the stranger, groaning involuntarily as the carriage jerked into movement.

“We couldn’t pass by and leave you in distress.”

Martha studied him surreptitiously. He was quite young, with a thin face, full lips and fine, mousy hair. This had obviously been crimped with hot irons to give it a fashionable curl but was looking rather limp now. He was wearing side whiskers and had left a tuft of hair growing on his chin, not large enough to be called a beard. This must be the latest London fashion, though she couldn’t like it. His neck cloth was now somewhat battered, but had obviously been very high, and though his cravat had slipped sideways a little, it was still tied in an over-large bow.

She was sure her father would have called him a coxcomb and become very stiff when dealing with him. Indeed, she felt the same way herself, hadn’t taken to him at all. But still, she couldn’t feel it right to leave him.

He leaned back in the corner, wincing as the carriage bumped along, but although the movement tried him considerably, he insisted on talking.

“Allow me to introduce myself—Peter Brindley—” He stopped talking to grunt in pain as the carriage bumped into and out of a series of particularly large potholes.

Martha made the introductions for the ladies.

It was a moment or two before the man could reply, then he started speaking but couldn’t finish his sentence, “Pleased to meet you. Grateful . . . ” For the next few minutes, while they continued to watch him anxiously, he remained slumped in the corner with his eyes closed.

Suddenly he roused himself again, blinking across at Martha. “May I inquire where you're heading, Miss Merridene?”

“We're making for a town called Tapton. Perhaps you know it?”

“Tapton!” He let out a bitter laugh. “The last place to which anyone as kind as yourselves should be going!”

“Brindley!” Penelope exclaimed suddenly. “One of the millowners in Tapton is called Brindley. Are you related?”

“He’s my father. Ah, I see you know of him. He’s a hard man.”

“Yes. So I gather.” Penelope’s tone was curt. She didn’t like to hear him speak so disloyally of his father to strangers.

She remembered the riot in Tapton and the fact that this man’s father was the one who had brought in troublemakers. She compared Peter Brindley to Daniel Porter and found him greatly lacking. Daniel might not be a gentleman, but he had an open countenance and blunt, honest speech. This man had tried to overlay his northern accent with a more refined one and succeeded only in sounding affected.

“I think you would do better to lie back quietly and conserve your energy, Mr Brindley,” she said quietly.

A sigh was her only answer.

When she glanced out of the window she saw that the snow had now all but covered the grimy-looking winter grass in the fields, though it was not yet too deep to prevent travel, nor did it seem to her to be falling as thickly. But perhaps that was wishful thinking.

Mr Brindley kept quiet for a few moments, then asked abruptly, “Did you say you were going to Tapton?”

“Yes.”

“I wonder . . . Could I beg you to take me with you? The thing is—I've run out of money. Spent my last few guineas on hiring that carriage and unless there's somewhere I can pawn my watch in the next village, I won't have enough even to pay for a night's lodgings, let alone a doctor.” He saw that they were looking at him in disapproval and flushed, then bowed his head for a moment, before saying in a low voice, “I've been foolish, I admit. London can be very tempting to a young man from the country. I shall know better next time, believe me.”

BOOK: Marrying Miss Martha
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