“Emily, have flowers been put in Miss Allbright’s room?” Mr Runciman asked. He could not disguise the agitation in his voice, and Emily noticed that, uncharacteristically, beads of sweat had formed on his brow.
“Yes, sir. Mr Mott has sent some of his best roses from the glasshouse. The Blue Room is all ready for Miss Allbright.”
“But is Lady Florence nearly ready? We must all be assembled to receive Lord Witney and the lady in an hour’s time!”
“Yes, Mr Runciman, but Lady Florence is asking for a chocolate. She says she’s feeling weak, and . . .”
“Alice will see to that. Go on, girl, there’s no time to waste!”
Emily hurried back to Lady Florence’s room, her heart racing. It had been months since Will’s last letter. She’d often talked about him to Alice, and that morning she’d spilled out her secret hope.
“Are you all right, Em?” Alice had been concerned as she looked up from the hearth in Emily’s room, where she was collecting the ash.
“Oh, Alice, I’ve hardly slept.”
“I’m not surprised. What a cheek, to expect you to be lady’s maid to Miss Allbright! And with all you have to do already. Still, I expect you’re making a few bob with it.”
“It isn’t that, Alice. It’s Will.”
“Will? I thought you’d forgot all about that devil. Besides, you deserve better than the likes of him! How long has it been since you’ve had a letter?”
“I know. But he’s coming back with Lord Witney and Miss Allbright, and now I know just how much I miss him.”
She imagined the carriage gliding into the forecourt bearing Lord Witney and the mysterious American lady.
And there, in the cab beside Perkins, would be Will, his face lit up with that wonderful, crooked grin.
For now, all her thoughts must be concentrated on Lady Florence. Thank heavens Emily had already dressed her hair, securing the hairpiece under swirls of Lady Florence’s chestnut locks.
“Did you bring the chocolate, Emily?”
“Mr Runciman is having some sent up, my lady. But we must get you into your corset!”
It was just as well the chocolate had not yet arrived, Emily thought, as she prepared to fit the long, boned stays round Lady Florence’s slim figure. Next came the lacing. Emily had become an expert at this, first securing the Neena bust improver under the corset, then pulling the laces until Lady Florence was forced into a pronounced S shape. The suspenders were clipped to the stockings, after which pink satin pads were secured on the hips and under the arms, followed by the lacy drawers.
“I met two American ladies at Cowes, do you remember, Emily? How loudly they speak! Why, we shall all be deafened by Christmas time!”
“Step into the petticoat, my lady, there’s no time to lose.” She spread it out on the floor, and Lady Florence stepped into the frothy ring of fine lawn, Emily then drawing it up and tying it round her waist.
“Where is my chocolate, Emily? I must have it at once or I shall faint dead away!”