Chapter Five

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As we jolted along in the box on wheels, the blinding afternoon sun descended closer towards the mountainous horizon.

Having neither a watch nor a phone to check the time, I estimated we had been sitting in awkward silence for about twenty minutes.

Needing a distraction from my aching back, and curious about the 19th century man sitting alongside me, I attempted to make conversation.

"So, how long does it take to get to town in this contraption?"

Without taking his eyes off the road, he answered, "Thirty minutes, Miss."

I nodded, thinking of another question. "Does your horse go any faster?"

"Yes. But it would be unsafe to do so on this road."

Come on, Tilly, I thought to myself. No more stupid questions. If there was even the slightest chance that I had been whisked back to the 1800s, I needed to know how to get back again.

"So, um, do you have any other interests besides painting?" Witchcraft or magic, I thought.

"Painting is my occupation, Miss Fletcher. I spend most of my time working on my projects. But I do like to read."

"When was the cottage built?"

"The construction was completed in 1842."

"I see. And is this the first time someone has suddenly dropped in unannounced in your living room?"

This time he glanced at me, one eyebrow raised, then faced the front again.

He sighed, losing patience with me. "It most certainly is."

I decided to stay quiet for a while, not getting the answers I needed, anyway. If he suspected something odd about the cottage, it's unlikely he would tell me about it. If I flat out asked him about time travel, he would send me straight to an asylum, for sure.

For the first time since we'd left the cottage, we met another horse and buggy travelling in the opposite direction. Nicholas nodded once at the man and the stranger returned the nod, leaving a cloud of road dust in his wake. The sudden intrusion of dust up my nose and in my mouth made me cough, silently cursing Nicholas for not having an enclosed buggy.

A thought struck me. I realised I had no idea what year I had been swept back to. It had to be around mid to late 1800s, going by when the cottage was built and when Nicholas' parents passed away.

I glanced over at my travelling companion. He sat upright, shoulders back, eyes focused intently on the road. I looked down at my lap and started fidgeting with the hem of my jumper. I sighed.

"What is it you would like to ask me, Miss Fletcher?"

I jumped at the sound of his voice. Was he also a mindreader?

"Oh, nothing," I said, dismissing the question with a flick of my hand. He already thought I was crazy, so it couldn't hurt to ask. "Well, actually, I'm still feeling a little light headed from my fall," I lied. "And, well, this is going to sound silly, but I was just wondering if you could tell me what year it is?" I let out a small, nervous laugh.

His eyes briefly flicked over to me and back again, keeping his head forward. He waited at least five seconds before he answered me. It felt like five years.

"The year is 1869."

My stomach did a cartwheel. 1869. 150 years before my time. No cars, no electricity, no phones. Just great.

I was pulled from my thoughts when we came to the town's intersection, Nicholas guiding the horse and buggy right, into the town's main street.

It looked very much the same; the only major difference was the dirt road instead of bitumen. Of course, the town was still small and quiet. A handful of sandstone buildings, most of them shops, stood on either side of the road, simple rectangle designs with timber awnings protruding from the shopfront. The stores were selling necessary items such as food, clothes and tools. There was even a post office, and the smell of freshly baked bread wafting out of the bakery window was to die for. I realised all I had pretty much eaten all day was a smoothie and half a scone. I smiled to myself when I saw the sign above the door: Hogg's Bakery. It had to be a relative of Hettie's, for sure.

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