When they rode out of Eton the sky gradually paled to the light sapphire blue of dawn, while a blushing shade of red stretched from the horizon in the east. The trill of birdsong rose, lifting to its crescendo in a mass chorus to serenade the breaking dawn. The whole night had been surreal.
“Who are you, sir?” the boy twisted to ask, looking sideways in Edward’s direction.
Before Edward had chance to answer, Ellen’s voice filled the distance between them.
“This gentleman, John, is Lord Edward Marlow. He is a very good friend of ours.”
Leaning from the waist Edward bowed slightly, “I am at your service, Master Harding,” and then formally reached to offer the child his hand, their animals’ paces a steady canter. Accepting the gesture with what appeared a keen for excitement smile, the boy took Edward’s hand firmly.
“I am pleased to meet you, Lord Edward. Thank you for escorting my Mama.” The boy’s voice mimicked the severity of an adult.
Edward smiled and let go of the boys hand “You’re very welcome,” then added, “I hope we shall be friends,” before looking back to the road.
“Where to now, Ellen?” In the distance a crossroads loomed.
“Ellen?” he encouraged again, but glancing across his shoulder for her response, what he saw was uncertainty, she’d thought no further than this point.
There was only one place he knew they could go where he would feel safe.
His gaze falling down to the child’s he concluded, “We’re heading for the Earl of Barrington’s estate in Yorkshire, my brother’s home, John. But first there is an inn in Guildford I know. We will stop there to break our fast and hire a carriage and then travel on.”
“I’ve never been to Yorkshire, Lord Edward,” the boy countered.
Edward reached across and pressed a hand on John’s forearm briefly, the weight of this new responsibility settling firmly on his shoulders. It instilled a revived sense of purpose in him. “Then we will have an adventure will we not, Master John? Come, we have a long way to travel.” With that he looked forward and tapped his heels urging his stallion to a gallop, throwing Ellen a look over his shoulder that called her to follow and match his pace. In answer he caught another look of gratitude.
“Can we gallop, Mama?” He heard the boy call behind him.
She had thrust them both upon Edward’s charity when he’d not even known of John’s existence. Now she was obligated to Edward. She felt vulnerable. The circumstances were too similar to when she had lost John. She didn’t know how this would end; what Edward thought.
Her fingers gently caressing John’s ebony hair, she felt his weight increase as he fell asleep. She pulled the blanket up across his shoulders then rested her brow against the side of the carriage, looking out the window.
Edward was riding at their side, slightly ahead, his seat in the saddle perfect, the horse a part of him. He’d thought of everything when he’d organised this, in less than an hour. The thought did not reassure her. If he liked his life so well ordered it was hardly a positive thing, she had foisted herself and John upon him and thrown it out of kilter. He’d hired the carriage and the men. He was taking them as far as Yorkshire. But what then? She didn’t want to think on it. She dare not guess the questions and emotions circulating in his head.
He’d offered her marriage but he’d not anticipated a child to support. He’d told her he loved her, but had John’s existence changed his feelings?
A tear streaked down her cheek. She wiped it away. Now was not the time for self-indulgent tears over a life she’d lost years before. She had John.”