Do I understand you have no experience of being in service?” The marchioness’s silvery voice simmered with incredulity, and Emily Callow felt her freckled cheeks begin to burn, not with shame, but with the fierce pride and defiance that sometimes worried her dad.
“Yes, my lady.” She lifted her chin as she met the cold gaze of the lady whose decision would shape her future.
“How old is she, Mama?” Lady Florence Farrington sat at the window seat of the morning-room, which overlooked the east gardens.
“I will ask the questions, Florence.”
Emily piped up.
“I’m sixteen, Lady Flor ”
“You will speak when you are spoken to!” The marchioness reread the reference sent by the vicar’s wife.
Emily shifted her feet, but then, as she looked beyond the petulant face of Lady Florence and out to the gardens, she felt her heart skip a beat. Was that Will, walking between the rose beds towards the ornamental fountain? But then the figure turned and she could see that it wasn’t the stocky, sandy-haired lad she’d known all her life.
Will Morris was her older brother’s friend; he had looked after her and doted on her like she’d been his own little sister. But to Emily he’d come to mean so much more . . .
It wouldn’t be Will out there, she thought, because it had only just gone nine o’clock. Will was valet to Bertrand, the son of the marquess and marchioness. The Earl of Witney he might be, but the young man wasn’t given to early rising and Will would still be trying to wake him. This had been one of the things he’d told her about.
Will had been thrilled to have secured employment at Farrington House. But why hadn’t he told her of the unimaginable beauty of the house? Had he not noticed the rich colours of the curtains, the delicate chairs with their intricately embroidered cushions, the huge gilded mirrors and paintings that graced the walls?
“The vicar’s wife says that you have been looking after your brothers and sisters for some time.” The marchioness’s voice cut through her thoughts like a shard of glass.
“Yes, my lady, since I was twelve. Our ma died having Beth. She’s four years old, and then there’s Johnny, he’s seven, and there were the twins, but they died a few months after they were born. Then Jenny -she’ll be fourteen next month. Davey’s the oldest – he’s eighteen, and the only one who can really help Dad on the farm . . .”
“That is all very well, but you are applying to be lady’s maid to my daughter! I cannot imagine what Mrs Whitbread could have been thinking in recommending you for such a position.”
“That’s what Dad said, my lady. But the vicar’s wife has always been very kind to me and the family, and I suppose she thought that, since I can keep all of them in line, there couldn’t be that much more to looking after just one lady!”