“Thank you, Perkins.” Thea nodded to the driver as he helped her into the carriage.
He gave a hand to Emily, his brow furrowed at this most unusual turn of events.
“Now, don’t you worry, Emily, dear,” Thea said as they rode along the snow-dusted road. “Daddy says I can sweet-talk my way around anybody. Your sister simply must come to work at Farrington House. She shall be my maid, and the pair of you will make dresses for me! And for Florence, too, I suppose.”
“I’m ever so grateful, Miss Allbright.”
“Why, it’s the other way around, dear. The very idea of Bert’s mama going ahead and engaging a maid for me, without even asking me about it! Thank heavens I happened to see those simply marvellous drawings of yours, and you told us about your sister learning to use a sewing machine. She’ll be home today, won’t she?”
“Yes, the factory is closed on Saturday.”
Emily put her hand on the seat of the carriage, feeling the soft leather. How different it was from riding in the farm cart, or even in the trap. It now seemed a lifetime ago that Will had driven her home and told her that he was going to America.
She longed to ask Miss Allbright what had happened to him and where he was. But something held her back. Miss Allbright had been good to her, but still, she was a grand lady.
“I wish there had been time to let my family know we were coming, Miss Allbright,” Emily said. “My stepmother would have wanted to prepare . . .”
“Nonsense! Why, I used to love it when people dropped in to see Daddy and me.” Thea’s eyes were misty with memories. “Riding along in the snow reminds me of the sleigh rides Daddy and I always took across Central Park at Christmastime. Those sleighs were the prettiest sight, with their curling high backs and jingling bells. And then I’d go shopping along the most elegant street you’ve ever seen. They call it ‘The Ladies’ Mile’!”
Emily tried to imagine a street with shops stretching as far as the eye could see.
“New York City must be a very exciting place.”
“My stars, yes!” Thea laughed. “Have you ever been to a city?”
“Yes, miss, just once. A long time ago my father took all of us to St Gregory’s Fair. He raises vegetables on his own plot, you see, and it was a good year, so Dad thought we all should have a treat. We didn’t have much to spend there, but, oh, it was something out of heaven – all those fine ladies going to tea at the Ranscome Hotel . . .”
Emily’s eyes glistened as she remembered the day that gave her starved imagination wings. She’d never forget those beautiful summer dresses . . . imagining the feel of the fabric and how it moved and caught the light. How it draped in certain ways, and, most fascinating of all, how different designs could flatter.
From that day, all she ever yearned for were scraps of paper and a bit of charcoal to draw the dresses that floated through her mind.
Now, she tucked the memory away.
“After that day at the fair, well, that’s when I started to draw, you see. Though it was only when I came to Farrington House that I had a proper pencil and pen to do it with. I do wish I had a bit more paper, though. That’s why I used Mrs Wiggan’s lists that I found in the bin.”
“I shall buy you boxes and boxes of paper!” Thea exclaimed. “And your sister shall have the very best sewing machine so that she can make up your designs.”
Emily dared not even think of such a dream coming true.
“Lady Farrington didn’t seem very pleased with the idea of hiring Jenny for your maid, though, miss. And my sister, well, once she has her mind made up about something, all the trouble you’re going to may be for nothing.”
“Why would your sister want to keep working at that factory instead of becoming my maid, and making dresses? Just leave it all to me.”