Page 70 of The Husband Season

 ‘You missed Cassie’s come-out ball on account of it.’

 ‘Yes, that is to be regretted. Was it a lively affair?’

 ‘Yes. Everyone was in good spirits. The music was good and the food excellent. You were missed.’

 ‘By you?’

 ‘By everyone, particularly Cassie,’ she said quickly.

 ‘Then perhaps it was as well I did not go. I would not want to raise false hopes. Miss Malthouse will no doubt soon find someone else.’

 So Cassie was to be disappointed. It seemed he really meant to keep his vow not to remarry.

 The horses were slowing for their next stop where they planned to have something to eat and drink. Bessie, helped down from the box by the jovial coachman, joined them for their meal and personal conversation was set aside. Less than an hour later they were on their way again, but this time Bessie rode inside.

 Talk was desultory and for the most part consisted of Bessie, prompted by Sophie, telling them what she and the coachman had talked about and what she had viewed from her seat beside him. Adam showed no sign of being bored and listened with grave attention, even putting in a comment of his own now and again. Thus the journey continued, during which they stopped several times to change the horses. They reached the Cross Keys in Saffron Walden as dusk began to fall, late at that time of the year, and there Alfred Farley was waiting for them with bedchambers booked.

 They all dined together, master and man, mistress and maid, and it did not seem to matter. Their coachman found convivial company elsewhere. Sophie was used to sharing with Bessie, but she was surprised that Adam was so easy with Mr Farley. He was not uncouth, but rough and ready and seemed to enjoy more than the usual rapport of master and man with the viscount. It was one more indication of his lordship’s character, she decided.

 * * *

 As soon as the meal ended, Sophie and Bessie went up to the bedchamber they were to share and left the men enjoying tankards of ale.

 ‘Did you have any trouble on the way, my lord?’ Farley asked.

 ‘No, everything went smoothly, thanks to you. But I did wonder if we were being followed. I could hear hoofbeats behind us on some of the harder roads. When we stopped to allow Miss Cavenhurst’s maid to step down, they stopped, too, and resumed as soon as we were on our way again.’

 ‘Did they follow you into the yard here?’

 ‘No, I do not think so. Perhaps I imagined it.’

 ‘Could be the cove who was dogging you in the Smoke.’

 ‘But why?’

 ‘I have no idea, my lord, but it seems someone is very curious to know what you are about.’

 ‘I am not doing anything clandestine.’

 ‘No, but he is.’

 ‘Have you booked our change of horses for the rest of the way?’

 ‘Yes, my lord, as far as Downham Market. The last four cattle should take you to Hadlea, if not hurried.’

 ‘Good. How did you find the mare? Was she up to it?’

 ‘Yes, my lord. She is a goer, I’ll give you that.’

 ‘You did not press her too hard?’

 ‘No, my lord. I left her at an inn for a couple of stages and hired a hack so that she could rest. I picked her up again on the way back, just as you instructed. She is in fine fettle.’

 ‘Then follow on behind tomorrow, and if you should notice anyone taking more than a casual interest in us, come and tell me. I do not need to warn you to say nothing of our follower to the ladies, do I?’

 ‘No, my lord, certainly not.’

 ‘Better go to bed now. We still have a long way to go. I’ll see to myself.’

 ‘Very good, my lord.’ Farley rose stiffly, evidence of his long hours in the saddle. Adam smiled as he watched him mount the stairs, hauling on the banister to help him up. He would go a long way before he found a man as willing and loyal as Alfred Farley. He was a good man to have at his side in a sticky situation.

 Whether they were truly in a sticky situation, he did not know. But if there were someone following them, was it the same someone who had followed him back to Wyndham House two nights before and cheekily saluted him from the road? What on earth could he want? He didn’t think it was anything to do with Teddy Cavenhurst or Sophie, but it would be good to be sure. He rose and went up to his bedroom, but before he climbed into bed, he primed his pistol and checked his ammunition.

 * * *

 The journey next day continued as the day before with casual conversation and frequent stops to change the horses. Sophie was amused to see that Farley was riding Swift and was keeping close behind them. Occasionally he rode off somewhere, but soon returned and took up his place behind them. Poor man, it must be very tiring for him. Adam was sitting opposite her again, his legs uncomfortably squashed.