Untie My Heart
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Rams are the most difficult to shear. There is nothing like trying to move around three hundred pounds of indignation and hard-homed obstinance.
-- Emma Darlington Hotchkiss
Yorkshire Ways and Recipes
The events that would drop Emma Hotchkiss -- verily sink, she might have said -- into a quagmire of sin and crime began on the first sunny day she'd seen in a week as she galumphed gracelessly across a green Yorkshire field in the vicar's unbuckled muck boots. His boots, with her in them, clopped along, as big as buckets on her feet, making a nice rhythm: a hollow plock on the lumpy ground, then a clap as her foot knocked forward, her ankle catching at the gum rubber instep. She held her skirts high as she made good progress, collecting nary a mishap. That is to say, out of habit and despite the protective boots, she stayed clear of sheep droppings while making a fairly direct path for the far road, which she had to cross to get to her neighbors', the Tuckers', farm. She was headed there to collect their mending, which was how she brought in the extra shilling or two.
Emma was about fifty yards from the road, when she heard the unusual noise: a rising clatter that halted her, making her twist at the waist to look sideways down the road.
There, on the other side of the hedgerow, from around the far bend, a huge coach appeared, one of the largest she had ever seen. The driver atop it, hunched forward, heeyahed the horses as he energetically cast and recast his whip, calling to his team of eight. The whole thing, vehicle, team, and driver, shook and rolled hell for leather up the lane toward Emma, an unbelievable sight.
And not just because of the size and noise and lightning haste of the vehicle. The horse team comprised, shoulder to shoulder, eight of the shiniest black coaching stallions she'd ever laid eyes on -- like black glass -- with glimpses above the hedgerow of galloping white socks to their knees and hocks. Any more perfectly matched horses could not have existed, nor galloped better in time. Their braided manes jarred along in perfect synchronicity to a jangle of tack and the clatter of wheels, the brass fittings sparkling in glints from the sun. The coach itself shone: As it came closer, its black and green and gold filigree paint all but leaped into relief, bright, crisp, and clean in the way of new things.
It was a new brougham, in its seat a coachman in new livery, while, peering over the back, two footmen held on for all they were worth -- each with one arm through a metal rail, the other gloved hand clamped to the crown of his top hat. Such rolling magnificence did not often frequent the country roads this far north of London. There was only one reason such an event should happen today, and, as the vehicle sped by, the family crest on the side of the carriage confirmed her suspicion: The new Viscount Mount Villiars was taking up residence. At jolly high speed.
Not that he would like what he saw when he got there. If he took the time to see it -- the old place, Castle Dunord, had fallen into disrepair. Though what did it matter? He wouldn't stay long. The Viscounts Mount Villiars never did.
She shook her head, thinking how dangerous it was for a carriage to race through narrow, crooked roads bordered by hedgerow and stone boundaries as old as the Roman invasion. The new viscount was going to kill himself (which was, come to think of it, what the last viscount did).
But, no, in the next moment, her silent rebuke heralded a different disaster, one more her own: For, up the road, from within a huge cloud of dust, the careening coach barely visible within it, came an exclamation, the coach driver yelling something. This quickly blurred into the scrape of carriage wheels, the creak of springs, a din of metal and stone. After which Emma distinctly heard a small thud and a tiny outcry.
Not human. Animal. Thank God, she thought at first, though her heart sank. For she knew the cry instantly -- as it came again -- to be the loud, plaintive bleat of a sheep.
The bleating pierced the air with distress, louder, clearer as the clatter of the carriage dimmed -- the vehicle swerved in the lane, then trundled off again with nary more than a pause. While the bleating continued, high-pitched, desperate, hurt. No, not a sheep. A lamb. A baby. The sound was thin-voiced, forlorn: The wee animal bayed.
Emma was running. She wasn't sure when she'd begun, only that she moved her legs as fast as they would go, her skirts hiked in her fists, her heart thudding loud in her chest. The air she breathed felt hot in her lungs as her feet beat against the ground up into her shins. Or clomp-hopped -- somewhere, she'd lost a boot in the bargain, so her gallop had become lopsided. As she came up on the hedgerow, she saw the carriage disappear completely in a puff of dust at the next bend, its rumble fading to a distant drone. Gone. She clambered up and over the thick bushes, her clothes and hair tangling in them. The hedgerow held her for a minute, with Emma struggling, shoving at it, branches snapping, scratching. Then it released her, and she was out onto the road.
Silence, all but for the rasp of her own breathing and the thump-thump of her heart that echoed in her ears. On the road though, no sound. Quiet reigned as she spotted the lamb. It was only a few yards up, midway in the short straightaway. She hurried over, then squatted beside it, a pathetic thing at the edge of the roadbed. The animal lay on its side at an awkward angle, a tangle of thin black legs, the rear ones bright with blood. Its hips and abdomen oozed, the red spreading into the woolly white coat ...