How many times had she read the message?
The fair is huge – I can’t describe it. Can’t wait to see the airships!
Perhaps he’d really meant to say, “Wish you were here to see it all with me.”
But then he’d signed it Yours, Will Morris as if they hardly knew each other. There hadn’t been a peep of gossip below stairs about “that boy” and neither Lady Florence nor Miss Allbright had mentioned him at all. But why would they? And, of course, Emily couldn’t ask.
“Mind you, Mrs Wiggan is all puffed up because his Majesty commended her on her ptarmigan pie,” Alice had chattered on. “Now he’s demanding asparagus; at this time of year! There are so many mouths to feed with all the guests and their servants, and beaters for the shooting. Mr Mott’s brought in all the winter vegetables, and Mrs Wiggan’s used up everything she’s bottled!”
“Emily!” Lady Florence’s wails made Emily jump, the curling tongs wobbling dangerously in her sweating hand.
“Miss Allbright, please may I dress your hair in a moment? I’ll just set these down. Do take care.”
“Go on, you poor little thing. If I’m late I’ll just make a more dramatic appearance.”
“Thank you, Miss Allbright.” Emily dashed off.
Could things go on like this until Christmas? Then there was the wedding in March, the first event of the Season, and she would again be run off her feet. She’d proved herself capable of the position for which she’d been hired, but now it seemed that Lady Farrington was moving the fences higher, the same way Emily had seen his Lordship’s trainer do out in the field behind the paddocks. Emily feared that, if things continued, she’d end up in a sprawling heap.
“Here I am, Lady Florence.”
“This is outrageous, Emily! Mama took you on as my lady’s maid, and now I am constantly left on my own! How am I to cope?”
“I beg your pardon, my lady. I’ve been trying to see to both of your needs.”
“Well, it isn’t good enough. I shall tell Mama that this new arrangement simply isn’t working. If you are to do two jobs, then your first duty must always be to me. Surely you should know that by now!”
Lady Florence glared into the mirror, fiddling with an unruly chestnut curl.
“Just look at me! I shall never be ready on time. Theodora should have brought along her own lady’s maid, or whatever they call them in America – if they even have servants there. She talks to you in such a familiar way, you’d think you were equals!”
It was as if a sudden chill had invaded the room. A red-hot rage had crept up from Emily’s feet, filling every part of her. Then something worse than anger began to well up. Not since her mother died had Emily wept, with sobs that had shaken her to the core. But never after that. Instead, since the age of twelve there had been flashing eyes, with her mouth set in a line and her chin tilted upwards.
Now, as she stood in frozen silence, Emily felt something within her close to breaking. As if she didn’t know her place; as if she didn’t know that, no matter how hard she worked, in the end it didn’t matter! If they were equals, she could have asked Miss Allbright the question that burned in her heart. What had happened to Will?
Anger welled up. How she would love to yank open the vast wardrobe, snatch the gown she’d ingeniously adorned and fling it across the room!
Then she took a deep breath and opened the wardrobe.
“I’ve attached a bit of trimming to your gown for this evening, my lady,” she said quietly. “I think it will be most flattering, and eye-catching, too, through not being, well, as flamboyant as some.”
Lady Florence’s scowl softened instantly.
“Where is ”
But her question was cut off by an agonised shriek from Theodora’s room.
“Emily, my hair! What have I done?”