Page 88 of The Husband Season

Adam laughed. ‘Am I to go about with a placard round my neck proclaiming its wonders? I do not think my bride will be enamoured of that idea.’

‘No, my lord, of course not.’ Seeing his employer’s broad grin, he smiled. ‘It will advertise itself.’ He put his head out of the door and yelled for someone, and very soon a tousle-haired youth of about thirteen arrived. ‘Billy, go and fetch a bolt of that new superfine in dove grey from the warehouse. Be quick now. His lordship does not have all day.’

The boy ran off and returned a few minutes later bowed under the weight of the cloth. He put it on the desk and fled. Adam fingered it thoughtfully. ‘Beautiful,’ he said. ‘It will do very well. Send some up to the house. I will have my tailor call on me tomorrow to make a start on it. Knowing how meticulous he is, he will undoubtedly take an age to finish it.’

‘Yes, my lord.’

Adam left and returned to the gig. Instead of going straight back to Blackfriars, he drove farther up the hill and sat almost on the peak with his back to a large boulder and surveyed the scene. Down in the valley, tall smoking chimneys and the high walls of the mills sat side by side with the humble tenements of the workers. Those of Sir John were in a poor state; as long as they were rainproof, the man did not care to spend money on them. By contrast, his own were well maintained and the tenants took a pride in keeping them spick and span. He found it hard to believe that the occupiers of those houses would rise up against him, but he could not be sure. It might be an idea to attend this meeting himself and if necessary speak from the platform. If enough of his own people were there, they might give him a hearing.

He turned to look in the other direction. Spread out before him were green fields criss-crossed with dry-stone walls and dotted with hundreds of sheep. Their wool made his cloth, their milk produced good cheese, their meat fed his people. This had been his home all his life. As children he and his brother had played in the meadows and bathed in its streams. They had learned to herd sheep and even shear them, though they were nothing like as handy at the task as the itinerant shearers who arrived each spring. He and his brother had been the fifth generation to live at Blackfriars and farm these acres. His brother had gone to his eternal rest, so it was up to him to preserve this precious heritage. Would Sophie come to think of it as her home, too? Or would she yearn for the very different landscape of the fens, Greystone Manor and her close-knit family? This waiting time was getting him down.

* * *

Sophie had not heard from Adam for several days. Ever since he returned to Saddleworth he had been writing to her almost every day. Sometimes the letters were long and full of what he had been doing; sometimes they were short notes because there was some crisis at the mill he had to deal with. He knew her parents would read them as a matter of course, so they were not effusive, not love letters, although he was always affectionate. She did not mind that; she could read between the lines and know he was impatient for them to be reunited and married. But long or short, they always arrived regularly.

The last one had been a whole week before. Her own letters went unanswered. She became listless. Nothing her mother said about the mail being held up or Adam being busy preparing for her arrival as his wife would console her. Adam had changed his mind. Back among his wife’s things, he had realised he could not break that vow after all.

‘Sophie, I am sure there is a perfectly reasonable explanation,’ Jane said one day when she visited Broadacres.

‘Has Mark heard from him?’

‘No, but they were never regular correspondents.’ She paused. ‘Come up to the sewing room and see how I’m getting on with your wedding dress. It could do with another fitting. I am not sure about the neckline.’

‘Do you think I am still going to need it?’

‘Of course you are. Don’t be silly. Adam would never break his word.’

‘But he did, didn’t he?’ she said, as they climbed the stairs. ‘He broke his word not to marry again. Now he regrets it.’

‘Sophie, I shall box your ears if you keep talking like that.’

The gown was exquisite. Made of ivory satin covered in the fine Mechlin lace, it had a well-fitted bodice, a boat-shaped neckline and a skirt cut on the bias so that it fell from her waist to the floor in soft folds. Jane had made hundreds of little pink silk flowers and intended to sew them all over the gown, finishing with two large ones under the bust. ‘Adam will fall in love with you all over again when he sees you in this,’ Jane said, picking up her pincushion.