“I would imagine this news has come as a pleasant surprise to you,” Lady Farrington said, her eyebrows arching a fraction as she eyed Emily, who stood before her in the sun-filled morning room. Snow had fallen on Christmas night, and now everything lay under a white blanket, sparkling under a cloudless blue sky.
All was silent for a moment as Emily tried to adjust to the devastating turn of events.
“Hester has told me that not only will her friend make an excellent lady’s maid for Miss Allbright, she will also be able to start on New Year’s Day. She and Hester have known each other for some time, you see, and as she is older and more experienced, I should think that you will learn a good deal from her.
“Emily, are you listening to what I am saying?”
“Yes, my lady.”
“I should think you are very grateful for this lessening of your duties, are you not?”
“Well, yes, thank you, my lady. But . . .”
“Yes? Speak up, Emily. I have something else of great importance to say to you and I am very busy this morning.”
“Just before Christmas, on my return from London, I was told that you had been spending time in the library, which you know is forbidden. And that you are responsible for these.” Lady Farrington reached into a drawer of her writing desk and produced a stack of assorted paper – sheets of stationery and odd scraps, including Mrs Wiggan’s discarded and rumpled shopping lists, which had been smoothed out.
Emily stood in frozen horror as Lady Farrington continued.
“They are yours, are they not?” Lady Farrington idly leafed through the pieces of paper, which were covered with fashion sketches.
She turned the shopping lists over, her eyes narrowing slightly as she studied a drawing of a dress with a dropped waist and narrow skirt which ended in a swirl of tiny pleats. On another was a three-quarter-length coat with dramatic asymmetrical lines.
Emily was now breathless with rage, her voice barely more than a suffocating whisper.
“Where did you get those? They were in my room. You had no right!”
The marchioness stiffened, drawing herself up to admonish the girl.
But Emily took a step forward.
“Lady Farrington, those drawings belong to me. They were on my writing desk, though I thought I’d slipped them under the blotter. Give them to me!”
Lady Farrington recoiled but Emily stopped suddenly as the answer came to her. Then she spoke, her voice low and measured.
“Someone stole them and gave them to you!”
Lady Farrington was speechless. The girl wasn’t lying; that was clear from her flood of anger.
Hester’s supercilious voice echoed in Lady Farrington’s memory.
“It is indeed fortunate, my lady, that I happened to notice the girl in the library as I walked past. Later, I returned, just to check, and found these. Just look at this one – of lingerie.”
She had cleared her throat at that point, drawing out the word.
“To think that one of the men might have . . .! Well, it doesn’t bear thinking about. Of course, I had no choice but to come straight to you, my lady.”
It was true that the servants were never allowed to linger in any of the rooms except for the purpose of cleaning them, and certainly not the library. Most were unable to read in any case, but if they could, there was always the risk of their imaginations being piqued.
But this was hardly the important issue, as it now seemed the girl hadn’t been in the library at all. And, good heavens, she was very talented indeed. It was all most disconcerting.
Emily continued to stare, daggers in her eyes, and Lady Farrington felt her mouth go dry as she floundered desperately to regain composure. To her immense relief, at that moment the door burst open and Thea swept into the room.
“Where on earth is Bert? Have you seen him, Julia? I can’t imagine he’s gone out into the snow, though I can’t think of anything I’d like to do more! Isn’t it glorious! I wonder if it’s snowing in New York?”
She noticed the drawings that Lady Farrington still gripped in one hand.
“What extraordinary designs. Just look at the cut of that coat! But the paper’s all crumpled up. How odd.” She took them out of Lady Farrington’s hand and seemed both enchanted and mystified as she leafed through. “I must have this ball gown – look at the dreamy garland of leaves around the overskirt. Simply divine to have leaves instead of flowers! But where have these come from?”
She turned the paper over and her eyebrows drew together in confusion as she read Mrs Wiggan’s scribbled list.
Two dozen eggs; six guinea fowl; two pounds of oxtails.
Then she looked up, straight into Emily’s face. The girl’s white-hot anger had transformed into something else, and as Thea met her gaze she saw something in Emily’s expression that she couldn’t define. Was it dignity? And surely that was just a hint of triumph in the lift of her chin and the steadiness of her eyes.
The penny dropped.
“Emily, dear,” Thea said, knowing it was true. “They’re your drawings, aren’t they?”