Mark read it and handed it to Jane. ‘No, I have heard nothing. Wounded, the man says. I doubt my cousin would fight a duel unless he was uncommonly provoked.’ He stopped suddenly as another thought came to him. ‘Saint Peter’s Fields! The rally. The papers are full of it. A massacre, they are calling it. Dozens killed and many more wounded. The militia were called in.’
‘I read of it,’ Sir Edward said. ‘But Manchester is some way from Saddleworth. Would Viscount Kimberley be involved?’
‘I think he might. When he was in London he was trying to find out about a meeting he knew was being planned. He talked to Orator Hunt about it.’
‘While you are standing about debating, Adam is dying,’ Sophie cried out. ‘I need—I must—go to him.’
‘I will take you, Sophie,’ Mark said. ‘If anything happens to Adam, there will be things to see to, and I am his only male relative. How soon can you be ready?’
‘As soon as you are,’ she said. ‘Oh, Mark, thank you, thank you.’
* * *
Even in Mark’s chaise and with the horses galloping whenever it was safe to do so and being changed every ten miles, it still took three days of travelling. Mark was as anxious as she was to arrive, and they made only very short stops to rest and eat. Sophie insisted she would not sleep if they took rooms at an inn and so they continued through the night. They spoke little, though Mark did tell her a little about the rally on St Peter’s Fields. ‘Some newspapers put the numbers at sixty thousand,’ he said. ‘Some said it was as many as eighty thousand. It was a sunny day and there were women and children there, treating it as a day out and bringing picnics with them.
‘The local magistrates were afraid the mob would get out of hand and ordered the military to arrest Orator Hunt and others who were on the platform and intending to speak. Adam might even have been one of them. The militia were ordered to disperse the crowd. It was nigh on impossible with a gathering of that size. The cavalry charged with sabres drawn. In the mêlée fifteen people were killed and upwards of seven hundred injured.’
‘That’s dreadful. Do you really think Adam was there?’
‘It would not surprise me.’
Sophie’s tired brain conjured up images of Adam in all that carnage. But why would anyone want to hurt him? He was not one of the workers, unless they had turned on him. Her thoughts went round and round. Would they be in time? Had the letter been a mistake and she would find the man she loved, if not well, then on the road to recovery?
* * *
She was dozing fitfully in the corner of the roomy carriage when Mark put a hand on her shoulder and woke her. ‘We are here, Sophie.’
She sat up with a start. The carriage had stopped before a large stone house which reminded her so much of Greystone Manor she thought she was home again. The feeling only lasted an instant before she came fully awake. Alfred Farley was standing in the open doorway. She scrambled out and hurried towards him. ‘How is he? He isn’t...’
‘He is holding his own, Miss Cavenhurst.’
‘Take me to him.’
‘Would you not like to wash and have something to eat first?’ Mark said, knowing he would not be able to persuade her that it was not proper for a single lady to enter a gentleman’s bedroom.
‘Later. After I have seen Adam. Show me the way, Mr Farley.’
Adam was lying on his back in a huge bed. His chest was swathed in bandages. His face was the colour of parchment, apart from the dark rings round his eyes. His eyes were shut. She fell on her knees beside the bed. ‘Adam, I am here. I have come to be with you and make you better.’ She turned to Farley, who hovered behind her. ‘Can he hear me?’
The answer came from the bed, feebly, no more than a whisper. ‘I can hear you.’
‘Oh, Adam.’ She took his hand. It was burning with fever. ‘I came as soon as I received Mr Farley’s letter. Mark is here, too. He will take care of everything and I will look after you.’
‘My irrepressible Sophie,’ he murmured.
‘You must not tire yourself trying to talk,’ she said. ‘I will be here. I will always be here.’
Farley quietly left the room. Sophie hardly noticed his going. She continued to kneel at Adam’s side, holding his hand and murmuring to him. She talked about the times they had spent in London, the dreadful faux pas she had made and the protracted journey to Hadlea. ‘I was in love with you then,’ she whispered. ‘You didn’t know that, did you? I will love you until the day I die.’