Strangers were few and far between in this little corner of Somerset, but Lydia found the unfamiliar territory quite pleasant. In fact, Lydia might go so far as to say exhilarating. She quite enjoyed the intensity of the stranger's gaze whenever their eyes met, and her sudden shortness of breath was not in the least alarming. Perhaps she should cultivate more encounters with strangers if this were to be the result.
They stood some moments watching the dirty water seep farther up the doll's white lace, and then Lydia sighed and turned toward the man's gig. It was a functional sort of carriage rather than showy. With burgundy leather seats and a folded black hood, it was well adapted to reasonable distances in a variety of weather conditions. However, one of its two wheels was splintered and wedged up the side of the incline; the man would not be traveling any farther today—at least, not in this vehicle.
"I am not an expert, but I do believe your carriage is in need of repair." Lydia scrunched up her nose and shook her head for emphasis. "Were you going much farther? The village of Spelding is within walking distance, but it will take you the better part of half an hour to get there. I can offer you a pause at Roseberry,
should you wish us to attempt the repair. It is the least we could do considering Uncle—Well, our coachman, Mr. Hodge, is quite handy with this sort of happenstance."
"This sort of happenstance? Pushing strangers off the road? Does it occur that often?"
"No. You would be the first traveler abjectly affected by my uncle's ill humor."
"My luck, I suppose."
Lydia shrugged with a hint of a smile on her lips—an apology of sorts without using words. He seemed to be the sort of young man who understood these types of indications. Then she recalled the waving and his hurried approach. "Was there some sort of urgency to your journey?" His expression indicated confusion, so she quickly explained. "When I first saw you across the vale, you were standing in your gig, waving—in what I thought was a worrisome manner."
"Ah, yes. That."
"That? Was there a problem?"
"Oh, most definitely. I was trying to warn you about the carriage, the one behind you. I could see it racing down the road.... And your back was turned."
"Oh, you mean the large, heavy carriage that clattered and clanked and rumbled so noisily that it might have woken the dead?"
"Yes, that would be the one."
"I was somewhat aware of its approach."
"Yes, so I gathered."
"I do appreciate the gallantry, though."
The stranger bowed. "It was my pleasure."
Lydia shifted her stance and tried to ignore the flush that was working its way up her cheeks. She did not lean toward the stammers and blushes of most young ladies her age and was surprised by her racing heart. Likely caused by too much sun...or an awareness that time was passing. Yes, that was it. She could dawdle no longer by the side of the road; if she didn't return soon, there would be abject consternation—well, curiosity at the very least.
With renewed focus, Lydia turned the conversation back to the problem of the carriage wheel. "Would you like Mr. Hodge to take a look at your gig?"
She waited, giving him time to decide. She rather hoped that he would take up her offer; he was quite personable and didn't upset her sensibilities whatsoever. There would be shock and disapproval at Roseberry should she return with a stranger in tow, but an occasional deviation from the norm was good for one's character...as long as one's actions never hinted of inconstancy. Lydia was certain she could never be so accused.