Emily looked about her, wondering now why her heart didn’t lift at the sight of the banks of bluebells and daffodils lighting up the countryside.
“What were you going to tell me before, Will?”
Will bit his lip.
“Witney’s planned a trip to America.” He looked sideways at her, caution in his expression.
“America? Why? And when?”
“Quite soon. First to New York, and then on to St Louis.”
“It’s further west. You see, there’s going to be a big fair, and later, a lot of races and sporting events.”
“I know, Mr Runciman mentioned the fair. He was reading about it in the newspaper. Is it like St Giles? Mr Runciman didn’t say much.”
“Much bigger! It’s called a World’s Fair, remember. Other countries are taking big exhibits over, and men from all over will be running in the races.”
“Nobody has said that Lord Witney was going abroad. Are you sure?”
“Yes. He decided at the last minute. He wasn’t certain about entering the races, but now he’s set on it. He bought our tickets last week, and . . .”
With sudden understanding, Emily began to tremble.
“You’re going with him!”
“Yes. I’d meant to tell you straight away, but . . .”
“How long will you be gone?”
“I’m not sure. The races are in August, but then his Lordship wants to see the sights.”
“When do you leave, Will?”
“Witney managed to get passage for the next ship. It leaves in two weeks.”
“I was surprised, too. But he hoped we’d be able to be in St Louis in time for the opening of the fair at the end of next month. Then he wants to travel, ending up back in St Louis for the races. After that, who knows. I’ll miss you, Em,” he said helplessly.
He reached across for her hand and she looked up as she forced her lips into a stiff smile.
“It should be quite an adventure,” she said briskly. “You may even be spending Christmas in America, if that’s what his Lordship decides. He couldn’t put one foot in front of the other without you.”
Will laughed with relief.
“Dear Em. I knew you’d be excited for me!” he said. “I can’t believe it. There will be exhibits and airships!”
Of course Emily was excited for him. It would be horribly selfish not to be, she told herself. Besides, it wasn’t like they were sweethearts. Why, he’d never even kissed her.
He chattered on as Emily stared ahead, watching for the cottage to come into view. Soon she could see Beth jumping with delight as they approached. There would be a lot to explain to the little girl. No, Emily couldn’t stay more than a day, and yes, Sarah was now coming to live in the cottage for ever, and Beth and Johnny must do everything she said.
The cottage looked just as it had when Emily’s mother had been alive, right down to the now-threadbare rag rugs she’d pegged, and the sprigs of lavender she’d kept in a jam jar to sweeten the air. Emily had managed to find fresh lavender to use every year, sometimes from the gypsy pedlars. But she’d never thrown away the old sprigs.
Now it suddenly struck her that the cottage would be Sarah’s from now on. Everything was about to change. Before too long, Beth might no longer be the baby any more.
Then she saw Dad coming out of the door wearing his Sunday clothes, and she felt her spirits lift a little as he held Beth up in one arm and waved wildly with the other. Whatever the future might hold, it was his wedding day, and Emily was happy for him and for Sarah.
But how would she feel back at Farrington House, without the snatches of conversation with Will to look forward to?