Ben glanced down at her, then pulled on the reins and drew the cart to a stop.
“Jenny, what’s wrong?”
She put her face in her hands, hot with embarrassment.
“I don’t know. I’m thinking such terrible thoughts, Ben, selfish and jealous thoughts.”
“What do you mean?”
She rubbed her hand across her eyes and he produced a handkerchief.
“I’ve always felt discontent, missing something that Emily always seemed to have. She was very close to our mother, you see. Dad depended on Em, and doted on Beth. When he married Sarah, she seemed to feel the same. Once Emily went to work at Farrington House, everyone was proud of her. I wanted to do something new and different, too.”
“But you hated the factory. It was a good thing you came to work at the big house.”
“That was only because of Emily. She’s always been admired and needed. They took me on because of her. I’m just an . . . afterthought.”
“That couldn’t be true!”
“Lately, I’ve begun to feel I’m finding my feet with the countess. But soon Emily will be back, and then everything will be the way it was. I do love and miss her. At first I really enjoyed our work together, especially using that fancy sewing machine. But when you talked about wanting your mum to have a new life, I couldn’t help wishing I had one, too, one that feels all my own.”
Tears trickled down her cheeks and he sat very still beside her. Then, tenderly, he reached out and drew her close.
“Jenny,” he whispered. “Everyone admires you. And we all miss you at the cottage. Your dad and Sarah can’t wait for your visits. When I opened that garden door, I stepped into a new life. Maybe a new life is waiting for you, too. Just as long as you don’t join those suffragettes,” he joked wryly.
She slowly drew herself up and away from him.
“Wasn’t the countess proud of Lord Witney, going to Hester’s rescue and getting her out of jail!”
“I’ll polish up my armour in case you ever need me to rescue you.”
“You’re so good to me, Ben. I know I was horrid to you at the beginning, and I’m sorry.”
“I probably deserved it. All I want is to become worthy of all that your family has given me. It’s felt like a miracle.”
“I’m glad. We should be off; Sarah will have dinner waiting.”
He clicked to the horse and they set off again towards the cottage.