Page 71 of The Husband Season

 ‘I see your man is riding Swift,’ she said.

 ‘Yes, it is one way to transport the animal, and he had to ride on ahead to arrange for horses to be ready. I did not want to leave it to chance.’

 ‘It must have been uncomfortable riding all day. I noticed him walking rather stiffly when he dismounted at the last stop.’

 ‘Yes, so did I. I will take a turn riding shortly and he can sit beside the coachman.’

 * * *

 At the next change of horses he took over the riding and Farley rode on the box, leaving Sophie and Bessie in possession of the interior of the carriage. The air was stifling and Sophie could see Bessie was suffering. ‘We will stop again soon,’ she said. ‘And I will ask his lordship if we can spare a little time so that you may go into the inn and have a cold drink and rest in the shade.’

 ‘We must not delay him,’ the maid said. ‘You know how cross he was last time.’

 ‘He can be as cross as he likes. I shall insist.’

 ‘Oh, dear, I am sorry to be so much trouble to you.’

 ‘You are not half as much trouble to me as I have been to you, Bessie, so do not think of it.’

 ‘I wish the weather would cool down, then I should be more comfortable.’

 * * *

 They had not gone much farther when her wish was granted. The sun was blocked out by dark clouds rolling in from the north and the interior of the carriage became almost as dark as night. ‘It is going to rain,’ Sophie said. ‘That will cool us all down.’ As she spoke they saw a flash of lightning and seconds afterwards a rumble of thunder.

 Adam, who was riding behind, called the coachman to stop. He dismounted and tied Swift on behind the carriage. ‘Alfred, into the carriage with you,’ he said. Then to the coachman, who was even then putting on a heavy overcoat with several capes, ‘Can you keep going?’

 ‘Aye, my lord, though the horses might get a bit skittish.’ A sheet of lightning lit the sky as he spoke and the thunder seemed nearer. The horses moved restlessly.

 ‘In that case find somewhere where we can shelter, an inn or a farm building. Not trees.’

 ‘I do know better’n that,’ he said, miffed.

 Adam joined his servant and the ladies in the carriage, doubling himself up to leave them adequate room. Bessie was shivering now, not so much with cold but fear. She had always been terrified of thunderstorms and would always go round the house when one threatened, covering all the mirrors and making sure any cutlery was safely in drawers. There was no cutlery or mirrors in the coach, but the horses were definitely nervous. They were galloping at a cracking pace and they could hear the coachman calling out, trying to calm them. To make matters worse, rain was beating on the roof in a loud tattoo. Bessie threw her shawl over her head and even Sophie was uneasy as the carriage lurched from side to side. Suddenly they swung into a farmyard, turned into an open-sided barn and pulled to a sudden stop. Sophie was catapulted into Adam’s lap.

 Instinctively he grabbed her. She found her head against his chest and his arms enfolding her. She could feel the regular beat of his heart and tilted her head up to look at his face. He was smiling. ‘Much as I would like to savour the moment, I fear I have to let you go,’ he murmured in her ear. ‘I must help with the horses.’

 She scrambled inelegantly off his knees and returned to her seat, her face on fire. He left the coach followed by Farley and she decided to go, too, and help. Swift, with no one on her back, had had no trouble keeping up with the carriage, but she was shivering and her eyes were wide with terror. Sophie went to calm her, holding her head and murmuring softly in her ear, ‘Easy now, my beauty. Easy. It will soon be over.’ Outside the rain beat down and the farmyard was soon awash. The mare became calmer, but she still shook when thunder rolled.

 Adam, aware that Sophie knew what she was doing, left Swift to her and concentrated on the carriage horses. It took the combined efforts of the three men to stop them rearing every time lightning lit up the gloom in the barn. There was a haywain piled with hay at the far end. Adam pulled a few handfuls from it to give to the horses, and Sophie filled a nosebag for Swift.

 They heard a dog barking and turned as a large mongrel ran into the barn and stopped to growl, baring his teeth. He was closely followed by a stout man in fustian coat and breeches, wearing a sack over his shoulders. His broad-brimmed hat was dripping rain from the brim. ‘What d’yer think you’re a-doin’?’ he demanded angrily.

 Adam went forward. ‘Good day, sir. I’d be obliged if you would call off your dog. He is frightening the horses. I fear they will lash out and do some damage.’