“Can you believe it, Emily? The King, sitting beside me in my own motor car!” Theodora Allbright’s eyes sparkled like sea glass. “‘Shall we go for a spin, my dear?’ As if I’d say no! Have you ever ridden in a motor?”
“No, miss.” Emily smiled weakly as she brushed the American lady’s auburn hair.
“You must! Wasn’t Daddy a darling to have bought the car and have it waiting at the station when we arrived! Now, shall I wear the cherry brocade with the frills down the front or the green with the feathered neckline? I love bright colours; they make me feel warmer in these freezing rooms.”
She shivered, her cheek nearly colliding with the pair of hot curling tongs that Emily had been holding over the spirit lamp.
“Do be careful, miss!”
But any response was drowned out by a shriek from Lady Florence’s room.
Emily bit her lip, her temples pounding. The headache had begun the night before, some time between two a.m. – when she’d helped each of the ladies into their night dresses after the engagement ball – and three, after she’d finished attending to last-minute alterations to Lady Florence’s gown for this evening’s dinner.
“Lady Florence is impossible!” Alice had cried. “With all those frocks, why does she suddenly need that one altered?”
“It’s because of that extraordinary dress and embroidered jacket that Miss Allbright wore to her engagement ball,” Emily had said. “She said they were made by a new designer in Paris. The King was quite taken with the effect. Lady Florence has been in a terrible state over Miss Allbright causing such a stir. And just when she thought there might be a chance of playing a rubber of bridge with His Majesty, he went off with Miss Allbright in that motor car, leaving poor Lord Witney gaping in the forecourt!”
“Poor man. I still can’t imagine why such a beautiful lady would marry him.”
Emily had shrugged.
“Now Lady Florence thinks all her new gowns are dreary, so I thought I’d try something new with this one.”
She’d gathered up the side of the skirt, pinning a cascade of flowers below the waistline. Unlike the rosebuds that adorned other gowns, these looked like the wild hedge roses that lit up the countryside in early summer; a charming touch that enhanced the understated, classic lines.
Alice had touched the delicate petals.
“Wherever did you find these, Em?”
“I was just fiddling with a piece of silk.”
“Oh, you are clever!”
Emily had been weak with exhaustion when she’d made the flowers, but as she’d twisted and turned the fabric this way and that, trimming and stitching, her mind had drifted quietly back to another day, a long time ago. A magical day in summer that had felt like a dream . . . Emily tucked the secret memory away.
“How is everything downstairs?”
“There have been words between Hester and Mrs Keppel’s lady’s maid, and Mr Runciman’s got his teeth on edge because he heard that when the King is in Norfolk, he often plays bowls in the library! Ruby says one of His Majesty’s valets keeps sneaking into the scullery and trying to ‘take liberties’, as she puts it.
“Mrs Wiggan is cross with both the King’s valets for playing cards in the kitchen, and drawing Lord Witney’s new man into the game. ‘On my table, and drinking beer like they owned the place!’”
Emily had felt a stab at her heart at the mention of Phillip, his Lordship’s new valet. It had been the worst moment in her life, apart from the day her mother had died, when Perkins had appeared in the drive, the carriage empty. If only she knew where Will was – when he was coming back; if he was coming back. She’d heard from him only once, a picture postcard of a giant wheel looming high into the air.
Of course Emily knew that Will wasn’t in the habit of writing letters. He’d never been comfortable with pen in hand and, besides, he’d never been further than the St Giles Fair. Last time she’d been home she’d asked Davey if he’d heard anything, but she’d known what the answer would be. Will wouldn’t have written to his aunt Hazel, who’d raised him with an iron hand after his parents had died. He’d spent more time at the Callows’ cottage than he ever had at his aunt’s.