Hunkering down, the man checked the underside of his gig. "It might not be an easy fix; the axle might need to be replaced as well."
"All the more reason not to try for Spelding." Lydia leaned across the gig's seat. She grabbed the reins and then secured them to a nearby bush. "I'll have Jeremy fetch the horse, and we can leave the carriage in Mr. Hodge's capable hands—a very competent man in regard to coaches and carriages. He won't steer you wrong."
Standing back up, the man dusted his hands together in a slow, deliberate move. When he looked up, meeting her gaze, he nodded. "Well, it would be most convenient as Roseberry Hall was my destination."
Lydia frowned, straightened her back, and unconsciously lifted her chin. "Really, sir?
You are expected at Roseberry Hall?"
"Might you be Miss Lydia Whitfield?"
"I might be." Lydia was uncomfortable with such a personal question issued from the lips of a stranger, no matter how handsome and gallant. It just wasn't done.
"Excellent, most excellent." The gentleman nodded, seemingly unaware of her sudden uneasiness. "I had hoped for a proper introduction. This is a little awkward, but one must make the best of a bad...or rather an inelegant...situation, don't you think?" As he spoke, the stranger reached inside his caped coat.
"I have here a letter of introduction. I was expecting to give it to your uncle, Mr. Kemble." Glancing at the gate again, where Uncle Arthur had disappeared, the young gentleman hesitated a moment and then continued. "But I think in these circumstances, I had best give it to you directly."
"Indeed?" Lydia was flummoxed. This was highly irregular; all delicacy dictated that she...that she...bother! The situation was such that she had no precedent on which to lean. She was quite at a loss.
"From Mr. Alfred Lynch."
Lydia's hand went out instantly, but she slowed it just enough to take the letter with great dignity and solemn interest. "Mr. Lynch of Bath? My solicitor?"
"One and the same."
The letter was not long and took mere seconds to peruse. "You are Mr. Newton? Mr. Robert Newton? Mr. Lynch's clerk?"
Mr. Newton leaned forward, looking down at the paper as if he were going to read it upside down. "Clerk? Is that what he calls me?"
Edging back, Lydia instinctively pulled the letter to her bodice. "Are you not his clerk?"
"Well, I am. But he offered me an apprenticeship just last week. Though I will admit he did not state exactly when it was to begin. Still, he might have referred to me as an apprentice-in-waiting."
"A somewhat unwieldy title."
"True enough. Though it's more likely that he forgot."
"Seems unlikely. The man's mind is as sharp as a tack."
"Been a while since you've seen him?"
"At my father's funeral, three years ago. Not that long."
"Yes, well...a lot can happen in three years."
Lydia thought about how much 'her' life had changed and reluctantly agreed—though silently. "Mr. Lynch's letter does not explain why you are here to visit us."
"No, it does not."
Lydia waited for him to continue, but he didn't seem disposed to enlighten her. "So why have you come all the way from Bath to Roseberry Hall, Mr. Newton?"
"Bath isn't all that far. It only took me a couple of hours." He glanced over at his gig and shrugged. "Would have been faster on horseback, but Mr. Lynch did insist. Thought it looked better. More official."
Lydia's heart skipped a beat, and she swallowed with a little difficulty. "Do you need to look official?"
"In some eyes, yes, I would say so."
"You aren't being very clear, Mr. Newton. Rather cryptic."
"Mr. Lynch said you were clever."
And so it was that Lydia stood on the side of Spelding Road just outside her own gates, observing that the day had grown chilly and that the splash of the rill was rather boisterous, in a less than charming manner. Had she been of the right disposition, she might have snapped at Mr. Newton for his uninformative conversation. She was now overburdened with thoughts of tardiness and broken wheels while her solicitor's emissary thought nothing of being mysterious.