The Best Of Both Worlds – Episode 51

“Emily, come here! My cloak has ripped!” “I’m coming, Lady Farrington!” Emily bounded up the narrow redwood staircase.

Dr Campbell had arranged for the Farringtons to rent this intriguing house not long after Lady Florence’s illness.

“He is a charming young man, Reginald,” Lady Farrington had said, “though hardly the sort we would want Florence to take up with.”

“I do not sense that he is particularly taken with her, Julia. He is an excellent doctor, and I gather he is very solicitous about his patients. He has mentioned his Scottish background. Perhaps that explains his interest. In any case, he has found us a house.”

“It will be a great relief. Do you know who owns it?”

“It belongs to a friend of his, an architect who is abroad for a year.”

“I hope he isn’t some Bohemian!”

“I am sure all will be well.”

Lord Farrington had signed the papers sight unseen. So it was with a sinking heart that the family first viewed the crooked house, tucked amongst a tangle of leafy vines.

But Emily had fallen in love with every twist and turn. The asymmetrical platforms that branched out from the spiral staircase made it feel like the tree house she’d read about in “The Swiss Family Robinson”, one of her favourite books borrowed from the Farrington House library.

“Will it be mended in time, Emily?”

“Yes, Lady Farrington, it’s nearly finished.”

Florence appeared in the doorway of her room.

“Emily, how is my rouge? I cannot see properly. Oh, why would anyone build windows into the ceiling?”

Emily scrutinised her as she stitched.

“It will be fine for the reception, but you will need to refresh it before the opera. That cerise gown certainly brings out your colour.”

“I never would have chosen it, but you always know best, Emily, and I simply cannot wear the turquoise ever again, even if it does suit me. The last time I did, I met that horrible Charles Bransford. ‘Call me Chuck.’” She shuddered. “What sort of name is that?”

“The turquoise does look lovely on you as well, though, Lady Florence.”

“I never want to see it again! I don’t care what you do with it.”

Emily made a note to remove the offending dress, and tried not to think of the hours of work she and Jenny had spent on it.


“Carriage arrived for Lord and Ladies!”

Cheng Tao, the Chinese cook who also served as laundryman and cleaner, had been watching from the kitchen. His light step constantly startled and disconcerted the Farringtons, as did the strange dishes he served up. But Emily found him fascinating, with his gleaming plait and high-collared shirts over loose trousers.

Lord Farrington appeared, silk topper in hand.

“We shall be attending the ball afterwards, and having breakfast at the Palace Hotel.”

“My opera glasses!” Florence searched through her evening bag. “I must have them or I shall die of boredom. Is ‘Carmen’ terribly long, Papa?”

Emily rushed to Florence’s room, producing the jewelled case.

“You will be hearing Caruso, dear,” he said. “Think of that!”

They rustled out and into the waiting carriage.

Emily leaned against the closed door and gazed up through the skylight. It promised to be a clear, starlit evening, and she pictured the streets dazzling with elegant men and ladies in their satin and diamonds. The opera! She couldn’t begin to imagine what such a thing was like. There would be singing, she knew that, because even she had heard of the great man whose magnificent voice had captivated the world.

She was startled by a knock on the door. She peeked through the tiny side window, thick with vines. To her embarrassment, the visitor was doing the same. She opened the door.

“Good evening, Emily!”

“Doctor Campbell!”

“I’ve just seen the Farringtons’ carriage rounding the corner. Of course, they’ll be off to the reception. I’d hoped to ask Lord Farrington a question, but . . . may I come in?”

“Of course.” She wondered if she should offer him tea.

“I have a problem.” He ran a hand through his hair. “I’ll get straight to the point. A patient of mine is unable to attend the opera and his wife refuses to go without him. So I have two tickets on my hands. I’d love to hear Caruso, but would hate to go on my own.” His blue eyes were bright with hope. “Will you accompany me, Emily? Lord Farrington wouldn’t mind – he’s told me you’ve done wonders for the household, and I’m sure he’d approve of your having a treat. It would certainly be one for me.”

For a long moment Emily simply stared at him, and when she finally opened her mouth she couldn’t think what to say. But then his gaze darted over her head, and turning, she saw that Cheng Tao had appeared. To her astonishment, the doctor began to talk to him in a stream of Chinese. Finally Cheng Tao padded back to the kitchen, his face beaming.

“It’s all arranged. I shall return in two hours. Will that be enough time for you?”

Dazed with surprise and excitement, she heard herself say, “Yes, thank you.”

“It is entirely my pleasure. Until then . . .”


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