The beams of the ship groaned as the wind screamed in the rigging. Emma Taylor lay sprawled in the rain gripping the boards, salt water lashing down in rivulets through her sodden, ragged clothes. She could feel the pace of the ship increasing, even as it turned in spirals, ever further away from its plotted course. The helmsman had abandoned his wheel and was nowhere to be seen.
Emma felt she was going to get lost in this storm. She could not even remember her destination. Where was she trying to go?
Heavy objects could be heard rattling and crashing around somewhere underneath her cabin. Unseen cargo was rolling around dramatically and causing chaos below the decks. Had her possessions come loose from their lashings? If so, everything must have been smashed to bits. Everything she had ever known or cared about was suffering the destruction enacted below the decks.
She opened her mouth to scream for help. Her cry was swallowed up by the wind, which sucked and roared around her in all directions. Her fingers, tight from the tension, were beginning to lose their grip upon the mast. Through the solid pine, she could feel the ship quivering and humming with an energy that racked the sails, testing them beyond endurance.
The sails were struggling with the impossible fury of the storm, sometimes hanging limp and loose, and then singing and screaming as the wind attacked them from yet another direction. The agony of the sails seemed to foretell the death throes of the ship.
Fear upheld its grip upon her as the sound of the gale roared up around her weather-beaten ears. Clouds rolled in ever thicker from the distant north, wreathing about the ship like dark flames consuming tinder wood. A sound like a terrible roll of thunder rushed over her with the next wave, swallowing the figurehead and the foremast of the vessel, rippling over the decks. Sea and sky were coming together now like the maws of a titanic mouth. The sound, and the pressure she felt in her body mounted as the foundering vessel took on more water, vanishing into the abyss. She opened her mouth to let out a final scream, but it was drowned in the onrush of the ocean.
* * *
‘Emma. Emma, darling,’ a voice said. ‘Wake up!’
Emma awoke with a gasp, and she frantically looked around the room. Her eyes lighted on Lady Anna, who smiled through her own anxiety.
‘Breathe deeply, Emma,’ Lady Anna said. Emma tried. Her friend rubbed her back. ‘It’s all right, Emma. Everything is all right.’
‘Oh, God, Anna! It was terrible.’
‘It sounded so. I couldn’t let you go on sleeping through it.’
‘I was on a ship in the midst of a storm. I did not know if I was going to survive. Hurricane winds stirred up the waters, and the ship was swallowed whole.’
‘Yes, that’s what you were saying; ‘a storm is swallowing me, it will dash the ship to pieces.’ You are at home, Emma, at Hampstead. That your nightmares continue seems hardly surprising after all that has happened.’
‘All that has happened?’ Emma said quizzically. She looked around her room more clearly now as the sun’s rays peaked in through the hazy crystal of the windows. Half of her furniture and other possessions had been removed from the chamber and the paintings upon which her eyes had become accustomed to playing were on the floor, covered with sheets. Then, the realisation of what had transpired over the past month came crashing back onto her. A quiet moment of sorrow flickered inside Emma, the last glowing moment of ignorance dying as she remembered the fate of her father.
‘My father…’, was all she could manage to say through her pinching throat as Anna embraced her. ‘How long has it been now?’ Emma asked but was not truly expecting an answer, as she already knew.
‘Almost five weeks now since you have been in mourning. I’m so sorry you had to go through that. There can be no waking up from that in this world.’
Plunging back into her memory, Emma found her feet again at the foot of the willow tree, her eyes looking out over Hampstead Heath back towards Norleigh House, the home she had shared with her father. The old man lay on the ground, wrapped like an unopened flower in his velvet cloak. His face was turned up towards the wintry sky as he took his final breaths of life. The master of Norleigh House was no longer among the living. It had devastated Emma to lose the only parent she had ever known. Anna seemed to share in the vision as she did her best to comfort Emma.
‘I am so sorry, my dear; to have found him like that, it’s unspeakable.’
‘He was so taken with walking out on his own,’ Emma said, brushing away the tears that were dampening her cheeks. ‘He wanted to see the house from afar. He took such pride in it, such delight in owning it. I felt that something was wrong that day, but I thought it was nothing. I never thought to go with him, to look after him. He was so robust, and made it seem that everything would be well, even with so much debt looming over us. It was that which killed him, I’m sure.’
‘For a man of his age, he seemed to be in the best of health,’ said Anna. ‘At least, they say, he could not have suffered, for it came on so suddenly.’
‘But, Anna, none of us were there. We will never know how my father suffered; he was all alone. All the whispers about him taking poison; he just wouldn’t, Anna. The shame of it.’ Emma gave a sigh and looked down at her hands. ‘I feel so alone without him, so exposed and vulnerable.’
‘But you’re not alone, Emma; I am here. You must not dwell now. It is morning. Please forget your dreams for a moment.’
‘But I must dwell,’ Emma said, pulling herself up into a hunched bundle, with the bedsheets hanging off her. ‘It is all lost; the business I mean; that was what killed him. Storms in the South China Sea; a mighty Empire divided by the shabbiest of unhappy circumstances. Father told me he was going out to look at the house for the last time. I thought he meant because it was to be sold, but now I can see that he simply could not go on living without his home. He suffered so much for it, to build it, and it has been taken away from him by evil fortunes; a storm thousands of miles away. It has carried away his home, my home; his life, and mine.’
At this, she gave up trying to talk, to control herself, and gave way to floods of tears. The teardrops ran down her face, wetting her neck and shoulders, which were held tight in the grip of Lady Anna, who sat beside her, and had not let her go since she awoke. Anna’s face, pale and flecked with freckles, was reassuringly close to hers.
When Emma had no energy left with which to make sound or movement, she gave up her strength into her friend’s embrace, and they both sat there, listening to the noises of pigeons scuffling in the rafters. Then there was the sound of heavy footsteps, stomping in the gravel outside.
‘Who is that?’ said Emma.
‘I’m not sure. It could be the solicitors’ agents come to collect more things. Or it could be Joseph,’ said Lady Anna in a hopeful tone.
‘Oh goodness. If Joseph is here, I need to make myself presentable.’
Anne walked to the window to see who had arrived. ‘It looks like Joseph’s carriage is parked up next to mine out there. He must have come to see you, but it looks like he is speaking to some of the servants by the door.’
Emma went quickly to her wardrobe to choose a dress and washed hastily in the china bowl her father had given her after his voyage to Shanghai, before dressing. ‘Is he just pacing out there now? The horror of it! Why doesn’t he come in? We should give him something to eat. Isn’t there anything? Where are the servants, Anna?’
‘Wait. Calm down, my dear. I can have your people prepare something and see to it that your fiancé is taken care of while you finish getting ready,’ Lady Anna said as she made her way to the door.
‘No wait. Forget that I said that, Anna. I cannot rely on them now,’ Emma said as she stared out the window. Joseph was no longer on the steps, but Emma could see familiar and concerned faces conferring with unknown men, presumably the solicitors’ agents, come to collect more furnishings, as Anna had suggested earlier.
With a sigh, Emma sat on the bed, her hair undone around her shoulders. ‘I can no longer support them. After today, I have to send them away.’
‘Send them away? But you will be alone! Surely, they have been paid, at least for the month?’
‘You do not know the extent of our ruin, nor the depth of our fall,’ said Emma, finishing the fastenings of her overdress; ‘this house, this bed, none of this is mine anymore. I am an urchin now, an orphan. Please, go and find the servants for me. I must speak with them.’
‘Emma, you forget yourself. Do not debase yourself by receiving the servants up here, whatever your changes in station.’
Anna took one final look at Emma’s outward appearance, fussing over her dark locks, and brushing them out of her face. ‘You have such pretty features,’ she said; ‘there’s no harm in letting Joseph see.’
They cautiously went out of the door of the room and onto the landing. Beyond the handsome wooden staircase, there was an unassuming little door. Emma approached it with a trembling hand. It was the first time she had entered this room since her father’s death. She grasped the handle and opened the door to the old study. Beyond, there was a little baize-topped table, adorned with ink-pots, quills, and books of ledgers, all of which had been thumbed fragile.
Emma grasped the top of the elegant chair. The room smelt of her father. She sank down, fighting the tears that threatened to blot the neat ledgers.
‘I can receive anyone you can find, here,’ Emma said.
‘I will look downstairs,’ Anna said uncertainly, releasing a grasp on Emma’s shoulder that had been ever-present since she helped her to get dressed.
After a while, Emma could hear the muted sounds of conversation, and then Lady Anna returned, with a grim-faced young man, who entered after her shyly, a grey cap clutched in his hands. Mr Williams had always been an intense young man, with fiery eyes and a proud bearing, eager to prove his physical and intellectual strength. He had seemed to feel the difference between his own station and that of the Taylor family since he had first been hired. The late Mr. Arnold Taylor made it plain to his staff that, regardless of status, they all respected each other and did their duties well.
‘Please, Miss,’ said Williams. ‘Lady Anna told me you wanted to see me.’
‘Yes, Williams. Come in, you are welcome.’
The young man came further into the study, unwilling to meet her eyes with his own. Lady Anna went to stand behind Emma, who sat in the chair at the desk.
‘Williams,’ Emma said. ‘Do you know what happened to my father?’
‘There was talk, Miss. I don’t know anything for certain about how he died. They said he fell under the old willow tree on the heath. It was his heart, I heard tell. I attended the funeral, which I confess was hard to endure. My condolences, my Lady’ I regret that I could not offer them to you on the day.’
‘Thank you, Williams. However, I have brought you here to tell you some troubling news. It is news I will also have to share with the other servants.’
‘Yes, ‘my Lady,’ Williams said in a worried tone.
‘You must leave me, Williams. As of today, you and all of the other servants are hereby released from your duties. My father’s business was ruined before he died. We have no more money; I have no money. I am afraid you must find work elsewhere; you all must.’
Williams looked at Emma in shock and tried his best to keep his composure. ‘But, this is so sudden, Miss Taylor. Where are we to go? Pray, please let us stay here while we find other means of employment.’
‘I am afraid I cannot do that, Williams. We must all, including myself, vacate this place by the end of the week.’ Emma held her emotions in check as she gave out the order, but she could feel her resolve failing by the minute. She felt the pain that Williams and the other servants would feel at being thrown out so suddenly, but it was something that had to be done.
‘My Lady, I implore you. Give me time. Do not throw us out. Norleigh House is the only employment half of us have ever known, and your father was by far and away the best owner it’s had in my recollection. There are few options for us. We cannot readily move away from Hampstead, and the world is not a kind place to common men and women.’
‘I have no choice,’ Emma said, despairingly. ‘Please, I do know something about the world’s unkindness. It has been brought home to me. Dear Williams, I am sorry, but you all must go.’ Tears once again were welling from her eyes at the cold and uncomprehending expression that seemed to be spreading over the valet’s face. ‘There is nothing left. The solicitors’ agents continue to come and collect what is owed to them. I will have to leave this place soon and find somewhere new to live. I don’t have enough to keep a servant and will have to find a form of employment for myself. I will, of course, write you all the most superlative of references.’
‘Miss Taylor,’ he said. ’Thank you. Norleigh is losing a good heir. Again, I am sorry for your situation.’ Williams then gave a quick nod and left the study with his shoulders slumped, hat still in his hands.
As Emma gathered herself, Lady Anna closed the door and looked at Emma. ‘Do you think you have the strength to tell the others? If not, I could pass on the message for you.’
Emma could hear the echoing of boots on the stairs, and voices in the hall. It appeared that the news of the staff being let go was making the rounds while the family possessions were being taken by the debt collectors. ‘If my mother were still alive,’ she said, ‘what would she say? How is a young lady expected to manage this by herself?’
A sharp rap on the door took her out of her musings and she straightened herself. ‘Come in,’ Emma said. The door opened, revealing her fiancé with his amiable expression, his stocky figure, and his shining nutbrown eyes. His expression changed to worry when he looked upon her face.
‘I’m so sorry to intrude,’ he said.
‘No, Joseph, please,’ said Emma. ‘Thank you for coming,’ she continued. ‘Have you really been waiting outside all this time?’
‘I didn’t think it was my place to let myself in.’ He took a few steps backwards, looking at the bookshelves on the wall, seeming to be scanning them nervously for familiar titles.
‘But you’ve been here so often, Joseph. You were always welcomed here.’
‘Yes. I, uh, overheard your conversation with your man, Williams. A terrible state indeed. Are you sure there is no other way to save your home? Your father had no other means of financial support for you? He always seemed so careful.’
‘It is true, Joseph, yes. I was planning on telling you this news today. I am afraid I have no funds left and it means that I will need to find some form of employment once we begin our life together.’
‘It’s all right,’ said Joseph, pacing into the beams of light coming into the room from the window; his heavy black boots resounding sonorously as they stomped on the patch of carpet where Williams had previously stood. ‘I’m sure we will work something out. Maybe…even go back over your father’s books to see if anything was missed. Are there no papers you haven’t seen? Surely not all of his investments were lost at sea.’
‘Joseph, everything has been combed through by the lawyers. It has all gone to ruin. His ships are sunk, his credit ran further than could be stretched, for all the tea in China. There is nothing left of what he built, not even this house. Do you understand me now?’
‘I am trying to comprehend, yes, but what will you do? Where are you going to live, if not here? Does your family own a house further out of town where you could stay until this gets resolved?’
‘I don’t know; I must find somewhere. This house is the only one my family possessed.’
Joseph stood in front of Emma with a look that she could not truly figure. ‘Is it really as bad as all that? Your family seemed, well, so established. You would think that your connections could help you to find something that will sustain you,’ Joseph said, much to Emma’s annoyance. She had grown tired of hearing this conversation concerning her financial burdens and wished to be rid of it. She wished that Joseph, her betrothed and the only man. Whose glances at her she had ever cared for, would touch her arm, or offer some words of comfort, rather than work through calculations in his head, as she could see that he was doing.
‘‘Are you not listening, Mr. Ravenscroft,’’ burst out Anna. ‘‘Is that all you can say? Well established? I apologise, sir, but you must feel the magnitude of what is taking place here; you are Emma’s betrothed, after all.’
‘Lady Anna,’’ he said, ‘‘I’’m so sorry. I know I am behaving brutally, but I have so much to consider. I would say a lot more if I could, if I were in a position to listen to my heart. We are all the victims of fate. However, Emma, I must go home now, and speak with my own father. I will see what can be done for you. Have faith my dear. You will get through this, and we will have a happy life together.’
‘I don’t understand,’ said Emma, her heart quivering. ‘Are you leaving? You have come so far to be here, merely to kick up gravel in the courtyard.’
‘Yes, leaving. What more can I do?’
‘I don’t know. After all of this,’ Emma said, feeling suddenly the cold air on her hands, and looking down again at the little piles of books.
‘Have faith,’ Joseph said again. ‘There will be a way for you. We will find a way. I will not desert you.’
With that, he left the light, and quickly went to the door, opened it, and quit the room, leaving the two women there, once again alone. The front door opened and closed, and the gravel crunched loudly, obnoxiously at first, and then there was the sound of carriage wheels on the road, which became gradually more distant, until they were no longer audible.
Then, Emma sank down into the old, leather desk chair, and Lady Anna placed her hands on her shoulders, gently waiting until she could seem to take no more of the misery, when she said; ‘come, we must eat, or die ourselves. Will you take something with me? I warn you, I cannot bear to see you despair. You must be strong for me, as you were at school, when I wept to hear of my own mother’s passing. You were always giving me your victuals. Tell me, have you nothing in your larder here?’
‘Yes, we must have something.’
‘Then, come with me, or the servants will have it all, and we will both be finished.’
Emma agreed and got up, and then they went downstairs into the hall of the house. Servants were milling around, speaking in hushed tones with one another, they appeared saddened and resigned, and several cast accusatory glances Emma’s way, but none said anything to them as they passed. Emma had to keep her eyes down as she passed the servants, not wanting to see the anger or pain in their eyes. They went down to the kitchen and larder.
There they found cheese, biscuits, and a bottle of port, and helped themselves to it all. Emma ate heartily, surprised at herself to find that her appetite was increasing, not diminishing, with the changes in her fortune.
‘It’s appalling of me,’ she said, ‘but I am hungrier than I have ever been before in my life.’
‘It is the will to live in you,’ said Lady Anna. ‘I am proud of you for it. This is the most you have eaten in a while.’
After an hour, Lady Anna then excused herself to go and retrieve the daily paper from the other room. In her friend’s absence Emma could hear the ticking of the grandfather clock in the hall, its mechanical rhythm filling the awful emptiness of the house. Then Anna returned, clutching a letter instead of the paper. ‘It’s for you,’ she said, passing it over, reluctantly.
Emma, recognising the handwriting, tore open the letter. Upon reading it, she dropped it to the floor. Her head drooped low, and her tears once again scattered into her lap.
‘What is it?’ said Lady Anna. ‘What else might have happened?’
‘It’s from Joseph,’ said Emma. ‘He regrets that, in the circumstances, he is no longer able to marry me. His father will put a notice in the Times, cancelling the engagement.’
She tried to pass the letter over to Lady Anna, but it fell from her trembling fingers to the floor.
‘My friend,’ Lady Anna said, ‘my carriage has come. It is time to go. Say goodbye to Norleigh, if you can. They will come for the furniture soon, and then where will we sleep?’ It was the end of the week and all the servants had abandoned Norleigh House. Emma looked upon the walls of the home one last time.
‘My father rests in a grave upon the heath,’ said Emma to no one in particular. ‘The priest did not seem as sincere as he should have been, even as he buried the man who had rebuilt the church. The Taylors were to have had our own crypt made that would last for generations; a place to rest, to become one with the soil of Hampstead. Now we are uprooted. I cannot say goodbye to the place. I have nothing more to do with it.’ Emma got to her feet, the chair screeching against the floor as she did so. ‘Let’s just go,’ she said.
Anna took her hand and led her back down the hall towards the front door.
‘I have never left my home with no clothes but the ones I’m wearing,’ Emma said, her eyes landing despairingly on the empty patches of wall where her father’s handsome paintings had hung mere days before.
‘You can have as many of my clothes as you like, my dear,’ said Lady Anna, guiding her out into the bleak sunlight that was bursting through the snowy white clouds over the courtyard. ‘I have some very good new ones, in the French style, unfortunately, so we may be thought unpatriotic, but we will at least be beautiful.’
‘Are they all in black?’ said Emma, attempting a smile that felt more like a grimace.
The carriage was pulled up on the gravel, the driver’s breath nearly as thick as the clouds, his body bulked up in swathes of thick wool.
‘Take us back to Pimlico, Archer,’ Lady Anna said to him, as the two ladies climbed up into the vehicle, taking seats on the cushions. Archer jumped down from his seat and latched shut the door. Before he could do so, Anna begged of him his tinder box, and quickly lit the candle stubs that stood in holders inside the carriage. The air was frigid, and the candles let out only the slightest warmth, but Emma watched as Anna picked up a candle stub and placed it delicately up-ended into the bowl of a pipe she had taken out of her pocket. The smoke from the tobacco filled the carriage, seeming somehow to warm the air with its acridity. Emma, when her turn came, puffed deeply on the pipe, and felt some deep tension in her body subsiding. She closed her eyes, focusing closely on her breathing, and allowing the world around her to vanish away for a second.
The horses whinnied, the gravel crunched, and then its harsh crackle was replaced with the smoother sound of carriage wheels on the paved lane that wound its way around the edge of Hampstead Heath, before merging with the Highgate Road.
The animated sounds of muffled voices rose up as the carriage left the seclusion of the heath and passed into Kentish Town, weaving its way through steadily thickening traffic towards London itself. Through the frosted window, Emma could see cottages giving way to redbrick houses, some with chimneys smoking, others shut up for the day and as quiet and lifeless as the ground in which her father lay.
They passed through Camden Town with its busy market, over the canal, and then headed south towards the open land at Tyburn. Gazing through the window, Emma could see men in frock coats walking the parkland, some with arcane instruments with which they seemed to be measuring the land. At this, Emma closed her eyes, and, when they opened, the carriage was passing the Royal Mews. A troop of cavalry on parade, was passing the carriage. As he caught sight of the women through the carriage window, the young officer at its head doffed his cap gallantly. Lady Anna laughed. Emma tried not to react, but she broke into a smile to see her friend’s enjoyment of the greeting.
‘Stop it, Anna, please,’ Emma said, ‘you’ll only encourage him.’
The lieutenant, noticing Emma, turned to a fellow cavalryman who rode alongside him, and said something. They both laughed.
Lady Anna leaned over Emma, opened the door a crack and cried out, ‘Good day! Give my regards to Bonaparte!’
‘Please,’ Emma said, grabbing the door and slamming it shut. ‘Must you be so frivolous?’
‘I’m sorry, dear, but I have missed the capital.’
‘Yes, I have as well, but that’s what makes it worse; who am I in London now, without a father, without a name? If that young man knew how little I now possess, would he have doffed his cap at me?’
‘Class isn’t all about possessions. That cap may well be cut from his head in a week or two,’ Lady Anna said, illustrating a terrible swipe to the subaltern’s head with her hand. ‘Do you think he cares for status? Shall I run after the horses and ask him?’ Emma laughed.
She clutched her friend’s hand as the dominating townhouses of Westminster went past them, some of brick, but some of grey London stone, which seemed whiter than the clouds, which hung white and puffy upwind of the City.
From bustling Oxford Street, they turned left past Hyde Park, skirting around the edge of Westminster. Heading southwards, the noise of the town diminished somewhat, as the houses became more spread out and leisurely. Here, in the parish of Pimlico, were estates recently laid down by the Clover family, and sold to the rising gentry of London, greatly enriching the once rustic Clovers, who, although aristocrats, had only in recent generations become significant.
Presently, the carriage turned into a neat street, with tall townhouses that had elegant doors of dark green and lacquered black. At one of these, it stopped, and Archer, stretching after his long plight aboard the box, opened the door and let them out.
‘Here we are,’ Anna said; ‘we’re at Ebury again, as if nothing has changed; and, as much as is possible, you must behave as though nothing has. You are my friend, and ineradicably a part of the household here. You will want for nothing when you stay with us. We are, after all, by no means poor.’
‘You are the foremost family in Pimlico,’ Emma said, automatically stating what she knew to be the truth.
Inside, Emma insisted on going up at once to Anna’s room, desperate not to see familiar faces. She got into the broad bed, and fell into silent lethargy, moving little, waking only to accept the bread and milk that were pressed upon her.
* * *
After three days of being in her room, at last, Lady Anna burst into Emma’s room.
‘I can take no more of your mourning, secluded, away from everything,’ she said. ‘You will die at this rate like a poet, or the heroine of a gothic romance. Will you come down now and join us? My brother is here, away from school. He likes you, you know.’ Lady Anna smiled indulgently as she said this.
‘And how can I entertain your brother?’ Emma said, croakily.
‘Why, you can play for us both on the pianoforte! I have new pieces come to me from the Continent by way of a cousin in the army. You will come down now, yes?’
With the mention of music, a few of the clouds that had been obscuring Emma’s thoughts from any of the brightness of the world, seemed to scatter.
‘I will,’ she said, surprised at herself.
‘Come on then,’ said Lady Anna. ‘I’ll help you to get dressed; there’s no need to call for help. Here, put on something beautiful. You need not be outwardly in mourning amongst us.’
Emma nodded, and Lady Anna helped her into a diaphanous dress of white cotton and lace. Emma looked at her face in the mirror. She had been told it was beautiful so many times that she had become incapable of not reluctantly agreeing. However, she seemed to see a mortality haunting whatever beauty she had now, as though the death of her father had stolen away a little of her own life. Her face was gaunt, almost as white as the dress. As she looked, Lady Anna combed her hair, tying in ribbons of dark green, mournful, but not black.
Then, they went down into the bright little room where the Clover family grew exotic plants and practised their various artistic pursuits.
‘This is a new piece,’ Lady Anna said, taking a sheaf of papers from a high shelf. ‘None of us have managed to play it from beginning to end yet, although we’ve had it for a while; but I know you will. The composer is a Herr… well, nobody here knows how to say it properly, but it doesn’t matter. Just play it.’ She unfolded a few pages and slipped them onto the stand attached to the piano.
Emma rubbed her hands, and then caressed the keys of the piano, thoughtfully, digesting the melody. She began to play the arpeggiating chords laid out in the lower hand, picking out the sweet, mournful tune on the higher keys.
‘She’s awfully good, isn’t she?’ said Lord Jeremy, Lady Anna’s brother, who had come in unannounced as the recital began. He had the familiar Clover freckles, and was wearing a frock coat and top hat, clearly unchanged since his return from school.
‘Be quiet and listen,’ said Lady Anna, with a look of plain agreement, which Emma caught, and greeted with what felt like her first carefree smile in many days. She had, as Lady Anna expected her to do, picked up the piece immediately.
‘She’s very pretty, too,’ Lord Jeremy said, boldly.
‘Will you please be silent,’ said Lady Anna, under her breath, ‘and how would you know? How many women do you see at Eton?’
‘None as pretty as her.’
‘It’s all right,’ said Emma, looking up briefly from the sheet music, but not pausing her playing, even as she spoke. ‘I do enjoy an appreciative audience, and I only wish other men were so admiring.’
Lord Jeremy bowed his head, gallantly.
‘You’ve always been the beautiful one,’ Lady Anna said, demurely. ‘I have moved from day to day in your shadow, as you know; a mere satellite of a brilliant orb.’
‘Please. You were the brightest debutante of the season; a social comet. The cornets will be fighting duels for your hand in Hyde Park. I am the one who has been eclipsed.’ She said this brightly, emphasising her intended irony by speaking between the notes.
Lady Anna caught her overly sincere tone and giggled, stopping herself almost at once to pay closer attention to the music. The piece was becoming ever more mournful as the melody played out, with a sense of inevitability that allowed the tears to come creeping once more from Emma’s eyes, not so despairingly as before, but as though she had resolved to become one with the melancholy.
She heard a dog barking below stairs, and the moving-about of people. In the passage of a few more bars of lachrymose music, a servant entered apologetically, shuffling, either accidentally or with a respect for the music, in time with its tempo. The music resolved with a satisfying cascade of notes. ‘Please, my lady,’ he said to Lady Anna, as silence settled. He handed over to her a letter, addressed in a neat, assertive hand.
Lady Anna read the letter to herself. Emma could see her friend’s lips moving and tongue flicking as she unconsciously made the shapes of the words. Once upon a time, they had made a trick of speaking to each other silently, so as to be able to communicate unnoticed in the cold classroom. She tried doing so now, but Jeremy was looking at her attentively, his eyes eager with the joy of the music.
Her eyes scanned the score of the second movement. She put her fingers to the keys, and the music launched into something she had never encountered before, a vast chromatic trill almost like a spectrum of light refracting through a glass, or through water, demanding all her concentration.
Then Lady Anna looked up at her and said a single word; ‘eureka.’
‘What is it?’
‘It is wonderful news, darling. I have found a position for you.’
‘Oh, how exciting. Is it with the circus?’
At this suggestion, Lord Jeremy burst out laughing. Emma looked at him smilingly and said, ‘it is an old joke of ours from school. We were always on the brink of running away together and joining the circus.’
‘Oh, I see,’ he said. ‘I also want to run away, but to join the army, or the navy, perhaps.’
‘Wait until the war is over,’ Emma said. ‘I couldn’t live with any more tragedy.’
Lord Jeremy looked uncertain. ‘Well, for you, Miss,’ he said, ‘I might wait, but the others will mock me for my lack of honour.’
‘Then just you let them mock you.’
‘I’ll see if I can take it,’ he said.
‘It is not quite the circus, no,’ said Lady Anna; ‘it is a grand house, in Scotland, one of the grandest, they say. You’ll have heard of the owner.’
‘It’s the Duke of Lochnagar, Edward Lyon.’
‘Oh, your fabulously wealthy cousin!’
‘Second cousin, yes. He’s a Scotsman, but a civilised one. He went to Harrow, which of course means he’s a sworn enemy of yours, Jeremy. After that, Oxford, and then the army. He has a brother in the navy, who is still at sea, or so I hear. The family have quite a history, I can tell it to you if you want, or you can find it for yourself in the Almanac de Gotha.’
‘And what would they want with me?’
‘Well, Edward, The Duke of Lochnagar, has a sister, Elizabeth; they call her Lizzie, I think. She needs a governess.’
Emma pictured herself standing over an indistinct child, instructing her in – what? Emma’s father had given her a very liberal education, but she was painfully aware that she had little idea what a Duke’s sister ought to know. Everything and more, she suspected.
‘Well, I wrote Edward a long letter in which I let on that I had just the perfect candidate. He was one of several I wrote, as it happens, and is quite the best of them on every front. Nothing more fortunate could have happened.’
‘Yes, and as you say that, I am beginning to remember a thing or two about this Duke of Lochnagar. He inherited the title very recently, didn’t he?’
‘That’s right. His poor old father died, so they say, in the midst of a rebellious toast at a banquet, surrounded by poets and outlaws. Edward inherited the title just after returning from his first battle in Germany. They say it was an awful one; an ambush in which the dragoons were massacred. Edward was injured, and he hasn’t been seen in London since, although the family has a house in Belgravia.’
‘I see,’ Emma said. ‘Was it the Duke who sent you the music?’ It was difficult for her to square her knowledge of military men with the intense, mournful sonata she had just been playing.
‘How would I get to Scotland?’
‘You could take a ship.’
‘Oh, heavens above,’ Emma said. The music stopped and she stared at her friend. ‘I don’t think I can. I have so little now and to be out at sea would only remind me of what I have lost. Please understand that I cannot take to the sea, at least not now.’ In her mind’s eye, once again, the awful sea was swelling, threatening to pull her down with her father’s ships.
After a moment Lady Anna said, ‘I’m sorry I even suggested it. We will arrange something better; but will you go?
‘Yes,’ Emma said. ‘I will go.’
Archer drove Emma, Lady Anna, and Lord Jeremy the few miles across London to Islington High Street, which was even more bustling than usual. Dominating Islington was a smart, three-storey inn, decorated with the ornate sculpture of an angel. Archer parked the carriage not far from this artwork, behind a row of neat, burgundy mail coaches, the drivers standing by in little groups, checking their watches, and talking of exotic places like York, Doncaster, and Newcastle. He then helped out his passengers and resumed his seat aboard the driver’s platform. He seemed uncomfortable amongst the crowds, and his gaze was unsteady, as he scanned about him constantly, keeping a particularly tight grip on his horses’ reins.
‘What’s wrong, Archer?’ Lord Jeremy said, a broad grin on his face.
‘Too many people,’ Archer mumbled. ‘Half of them ruffians of one sort or another.’
‘Surely you’re safe amongst the mail coaches,’ Emma replied. ‘Nobody would dare commit a robbery here of all places. The drivers are armed, and the penalties are gruesome.’
‘Not gruesome enough for this mob,’ Archer said.
‘Farewell, Archer,’ Emma said, aware that this was one of many farewells she would have to make, before being able to start her life afresh.
‘Good day to you, Miss Taylor. I am sorry for what has happened to you. Godspeed.’
Emma smiled, and turned away, following Lady Anna and Lord Jeremy through the broad entrance of the Angel, pushing past men with pipes, who were lounging in the relative warmth of the winter sun, and letting out clouds of blue smoke that shimmered in the air. They paused for a moment, basking in the sunlight, on the platform that stood above the frosty mud of the thoroughfare.
As they lounged, taking in the warmth of the sunlight, a midnight blue carriage pulled up and parked itself conspicuously at the head of the queue of mail coaches. The driver, elegantly attired in flamboyant livery, got down to the street, buffeting aside passers-by. He opened the door, and out came an elderly woman in old-fashioned clothing of dark hue.
She seemed to take a deep breath as she surveyed the scene, then she caught sight of Lady Anna, Emma, and Lord Jeremy standing in the doorway. With a word of thanks to the driver, she surged forwards through the crowd, and caught a hold of Lady Anna by the hand. A few indistinct words ensued, and then she hurried them all into the parlour of the inn.
‘Mabel Macpherson,’ she said, offering her hand to Emma. ‘You must be Miss Taylor? I am to be your companion between here and Inverness.’
‘Charmed,’ said Emma.
Jeremy found them a table, and then bought a couple of tickets from the agents of the postal service who crowded the parlour. When they had eaten lunch and dared a few thimblefuls of the neat gin Jeremy was intent on trying, they checked the time, and then went outside. Archer, his teeth gritted, oversaw the transfer of luggage from the Clover carriage to the allotted mail coach. When this was done, Lady Anna threw her arms around Emma, and kissed her cheeks.
‘Farewell,’ Lady Anna said, crying. Then she whispered softly to Emma. ‘Write to me often. And good luck amongst the savages!’
Emma laughed and then offered her cheek to Lord Jeremy, who kissed it gently.
Miss Macpherson climbed into the mail coach without waiting for assistance.
‘Come along, Miss Taylor,’ she said. ‘The mail waits for nobody.’
Emma jumped in, and sat down opposite Miss Macpherson on the plush, crimson cushions.
‘Well, at least there are no other passengers,’ Emma said.
‘Yes,’ Miss Macpherson agreed. ‘As we continue our journey, it may become necessary to hire all four seats, rather than surrendering them to hoi polloi.’
Emma laughed at the old lady’s frankness, warming to her. Then there came the sound of a horn. The driver cracked his whip, and the wheels began to roll. The Angel, with its row of coaches, disappeared, and gradually, they left behind the maelstrom of London, and were on the open road.
* * *
Days past, during which the flat lands of East Anglia, gradually gave way to the more rugged country of the north. They had both brought books with them and entertained themselves largely in solitude. Emma was grateful to Miss Macpherson for her general lack of curiosity or interest in small talk.
She felt relief, setting out from Berwick, that England was finally behind her. At Edinburgh, Miss Macpherson funded the relative luxury of a hotel on Princes Street. Then they set out once again on a further journey that took them, after many chilly stops to the granite city of Aberdeen.
There, Miss Macpherson bought them both tickets on the private coach to Inverness, where Miss Macpherson welcomed her at a comfortable private house, another satellite of the Lyon family estate, along with the house at Belgravia, of which Emma had heard tell from Lady Anna.
From what Emma had gleaned of her background from their brief conversations aboard the mail coaches, Miss Macpherson’s family were entwined with the Lyon Clan over a history of many generations, and she was the product of the marriage between a female cousin of the late Duke’s, and the Macpherson chief who had run the agricultural businesses operating on the Lyon estate. Her Macpherson relatives, she told Emma, still dwelt in a sturdy manorial farmhouse not far from the castle. She seemed now to be living in quiet retirement in Inverness, respected by all but needed by none.
Macpherson sent Emma out the following day in a carriage borrowed from Inverness gentry. She apologised for not completing the journey with Emma but seemed to fear imposing upon the family. She was also clearly satisfied to have returned to the city in which she felt most at home. The carriage set out upon a snowy road, north westward from the city, rising up into the hilly countryside that plunged down to the south towards Drumnadrochit and the deep, steely waters of Loch Ness.
The road, having climbed through snow-laden pinewoods, at last failed due to the depth of the snow, and the driver apologised, but bid her set forth on foot, assuring her that she was less than a mile from Lyonesse, the ancient seat of the Dukes of Lochnagar.
Emma, grateful for the sturdiness of her boots, gave him thanks, and plunged forwards, as the driver turned his team around and urged them back towards Inverness. After a while the road turned northwards, and opened up to a broad avenue, which followed the slope of a hillock, at the top of which lay the house and castle of Lyonesse.
Emma observed that it lay amid rolling hills beyond which the sun threatened to go down behind the snowy masses of distant Highland mountains. The foothills were carpeted as far as the eye could see with pine forest.
She walked up the hillside towards the promised house. As she did so, the sun sank down below the highland forest. The moon, which had briefly been her only light, was rivalled now by a series of lanterns, hanging from the branches of trees, leading up towards the dark pile of a house, which stood on its hillock, nestling amongst the forest.
She heard a rustling in the woods, catching her breath. A herd of deer were drinking from a stream that trickled down over shining rocks in the middle of a patch of bracken. As they caught wind of her, they startled, scattering at once into the forest. Emma had never felt so close to the real wilderness before. If there were herds of deer roaming on Hampstead Heath, they knew not to draw too near to urban civilisation.
‘Damn you,’ a voice said, without emotion to support it, and a man emerged from the mists to the right of the road. The dark shape of the object in his hand bore - she realised - the silhouette of a gun; a rifle, she guessed.
‘Who are you?’ she said, startled by the sudden appearance of a man in the near darkness.
‘I live here. I should be asking who might you be coming around these parts so close to nightfall,’ came the only reply, plainly and without any apparent enthusiasm.
Emma felt guarded against the stranger. She thought it best not to answer his questions at once. Instead, she said ‘You were waiting for a deer, I suppose. Is that the sound I heard earlier? I’m sorry if I scared them off and ruined your hunt.’ The prickling nervousness that Emma felt would not subside as she continued to talk to the dark figure in the forest. She had expected to be greeted by a member of the household or at least one of their servants. Perhaps this was one of the Duke’s people.
‘It doesn’t matter. They come and go often this time of year. They’ll come back eventually,’ continued the voice in its apathetic drawl.
‘When will they return?’
‘I don’t know.’ The man then looked Emma up and down as he moved closer. ‘You are the governess I presume?’
‘Yes. And who might you be?’ Emma asked.
‘I’m sorry I spoke rudely to you. I had waited for hours to see them. The deer I mean,’ was his response. The man was now leaning on the indistinct and threatening instrument in his hands.
‘You intended to shoot them? For food or sport?’
‘You were just watching then?’
‘Yes. Is that so wrong?’
‘Then why do you have a gun?’ Emma asked as she pointed to the object upon which the man supported himself.
The dark shape lurched closer, coming more clearly into view. Emma could see now that what she had taken to be a gun was merely a tall staff of pine wood. The man was leaning on it once more, watching Emma without any apparent feelings that she could decipher.
‘I don’t,’ he said, simply. ‘I was tarrying by the burn. I had heard that sometimes the herd rested there, and I wanted to see it for myself. Even so, it is not unheard of to have a gun out in these parts in the woods. You never know when you may have to defend yourself.’
Emma thought the man’s voice did not betray any true signs of feeling. It was as though its owner had gone beyond any possibility of real pleasure or pain.
‘Do you know if The Duke of Lochnagar’s house is close by? You deduced that I was the new governess so you must work in his household, correct?’
For a moment, Emma could see a change of expression on the man’s angular face, but it quickly resumed its stoicism. ‘Know of the place? I own it.’ he said with an amused, laconic tone.
She didn’t quite know what to say. She had been expecting to encounter the duke in his great house, not exposed in the wilderness, with deer for companions.
‘Emma Taylor, of Hampstead Your Grace,’ she said simply as she gave a slight bow, setting her bags down on the path. Emma now felt nervous as she spoke to her employer.
‘Enchanté,’ the Duke said in response.
‘Will you take me to the house please, Your Grace? It has been a long journey and I do not wish to stay out in the cold any longer. Is there someone who could help me with my things?’ She was feeling the chill despite the layers of clothing she had put on for the journey.
The duke waited a moment, looking back mournfully towards the gaps in the trees into which the deer had slipped. ’I will take you to the house now. Follow me,’ he said before stamping up the path, lit by the lanterns, which followed a sloping course towards the spot where the house stood, commanding a view of the approach by the lamplit forest road. Emma hefted her bags back onto her shoulders, noticing that His Grace had made no offer to lighten her burden.
‘You’ll forgive us our rudeness,’ the mellow voice trickled back towards her. ‘We are not accustomed to receiving people from civilisation. As for the cold, the winter lasts longer and is crueller this far north, but if you stay until summer, you will find the temperance of the climate and the beauty of the land repay you for your endurance.’
‘I’ve never visited Scotland before,’ Emma said, struggling to catch up with the man. He must have heard exhaustion in her voice, for he slowed his loping pace, almost allowing her to catch up with him.
‘I trust you will find it agreeable,’ he said. ‘It is my home, and I would have it no other way.’
The house was now becoming visible ahead of them, on the peak of the hill they were climbing, so that it looked down into the valley, but had the mountains as a barrier around it to the north and west. Emma could see at least four storeys, with crenelated towers, and what looked like the brooding, squat bodies of cannons jutting out over the battlements. Despite the obvious size of the house, Emma could see candlelight in only one or two of its rooms.
‘If I may ask Your Grace, will I be meeting any of the other members of your household? How many of you are there here?’ she asked.
‘Do you count ghosts?’ came back the voice, mildly.
‘Oh, the castle is haunted?’ She laughed nervously as she said it, although now she was far from home, in her heart, she was less certain of the absurdity of such things.
‘So they say,’ he said, an irony in his voice, which made it difficult to judge the sincerity of his words.
‘Well, I’m a skeptic by nature and upbringing, Your Grace, so I will not be counting ghosts until I have seen them for myself.’
‘Then there are only four of us, beside the servants. There is myself, my brother, who is away - and my mother and sister.’
‘Have you many servants?’
‘Enough for our purposes, but we are not as rich as you might expect us to be from exposure to your Dukes of London.’
‘I have had no exposure whatsoever to Dukes of any kind,’ she said, taken aback by his apparent assumptions about her. ‘I am from Hampstead, your Grace. Do you know where that is?’
‘I’ve lived in town awhile, he said. My family keep a house in Belgravia, the costs of which are being borne painfully upon me now as I go through my late father’s accounts.’
‘I am sorry for your loss, your Grace,’ said Emma.
‘And I for yours. As for Dukes, I do not know that many around these parts besides myself. By my family’s heritage, I am a Highland chief, first and foremost. Fire and isolation are the watchwords of my clan.’
‘Your Grace, I have no expectations here beyond fair treatment and civil attention.’
‘Then I will do what I can to provide what you expect.’
They were climbing up now over the forest in which the deer had been sighted. Emma could hear the stream trickling over rocks beside her. It must come, she thought, from a spring far up in the mountains. She imagined being a child in a place so wild.
‘My student,’ she began but was cut off by the Duke.
‘Will cause you no difficulty, I am sure. She is a good child, if not too remarkable. I am fond of her inordinately and spoil her correspondingly. Here we are.’
The Gothic mass of the house was upon them, rising grandly and asymmetrically like an outcrop of the mountains. She felt herself suddenly a little like an animal searching for shelter amongst the rugged terrain.
The Duke had reached a set of oak doors. Taking out a well-worn silver key, he unlocked and opened them. The light of a fire suddenly lit up his features, and Emma could see his face properly for the first time. A handsome face it was, with a strong jaw and haunting blue eyes, framed by curls of a warm auburn, almost red. Its beauty however was offset and piqued by the scar tissue marring it.
‘I was wounded in battle,’ the Duke said, clearly conscious of her gaze, and turning so that the damaged cheek was in shadow.
‘I know,’ Emma said quickly, feeling a sudden and inexplicable urge to reach out and soothe the broken skin. ‘At Bremen?’
‘That’s right. The tale of it is no prettier than the consequences. Faces like mine are the price of victories trumpeted and generals rewarded. As you have seen, my leg was also damaged in the fight and has healed incompletely. Consequently, walking troubles me. I am aware that seeing me could make some people uneasy. I do not need their pity nor their stares.’
Emma did not know how to respond to the Duke but merely nodded her head to show that she understood how sensitive he was about his injuries.
‘Well,’ the Duke stated, bringing Emma out of her thoughts, ‘come on in and get settled. You start tomorrow morning.’
Stalking into the hall, the Duke slipped his staff into an umbrella stand beside the doorway and lurched over to the fireplace, supporting himself with an elbow on the mantelpiece. Emma could see now that he was dressed sombrely, reminiscent of her own mourning clothes. A black cloak was over his shoulders. A silver dagger, a dirk, was strapped to his calf. A green and purple tartan sash and kilt revealed scars like those on the Duke’s face on his left leg. Emma felt a surge of shock to see the grooves of scar tissue that ran over what she could see of his left knee. She marvelled at his strength to be out at night, alone, walking the hillside. To Emma, the scars complimented the duke’s slim frame and profoundly blue eyes.
Emma then turned from the Duke and looked at her surroundings until her gaze landed on the chimneypiece. Above the mantle, a heraldic crest portrayed a lion rampant upon a black field. The motto was written in gaelic: ‘s rìoghail mo dream’.
‘What does it mean?’ Emma said.
The Duke, who had been staring into the fire, looked to see what she meant. ‘Oh, that,’ he said. ‘Royal is my race. It refers to a legendary connection to the Kings of Scotland. The Lyon chief who fought at Bannockburn was said to have been a natural son of Robert the Bruce. If it’s true, my surname ought really to be FitzBruce.’
‘I like Lyon… Your Grace,’ Emma said, realising as she did so that she ought to keep such thoughts to herself, but it was true. She wanted to tell the Duke he had no reason for shame, that to be injured and survive whatever hardship he had endured was a strength, not a weakness.
The Duke, giving no answer to this, leaned back upon the mantelpiece and lifted his proud head, giving out a commanding roar. ‘Mrs. Smith, if you please!’
There was the sound of bustling, and a middle-aged woman emerged from a hallway. Without being given a task, she immediately went over to the Duke to remove his cloak and scowled at his pallid face.
‘How long have you been out?’ she demanded as she continued to fuss over him.
‘Not long,’ the Duke responded. ‘I have found Miss Taylor, the new governess. So now, I am retiring for the night. And yes, I already have eaten and followed the doctor’s instructions, Mrs. Smith.’
At those words, the Duke launched into motion with a different walking stick, breathing heavily every time his left foot made contact with the floor as he moved quickly out of the room.
‘Goodnight, your Grace,’ Mrs. Smith said. Emma wondered if mistaking him for a vagabond in the woods was disrespectful in his eyes and she wished to rectify her mistake at once with her new employer.
‘Your Grace, I am afraid I might have offended you,’ Emma said. ‘Earlier, when I mistook you for someone else in the woods. I am a stranger here and was not informed who I would be meeting once I arrived at your estate. For that, I apologise.’
He did not turn back but said; ‘You will find I am not so easily offended. Hopefully, we will all be less strange to one another in good time. Goodnight, Miss Taylor. Mrs. Smith, when you see Jimmy, have him extinguish the candles; our governess has arrived, and I am expecting no-one else. Then send him to me.’
‘I will, your Grace,’ said Mrs. Smith. ‘Goodnight.’
The Duke disappeared down a candle-lit passageway. His uneven steps could be heard on a staircase deeper inside the house.
‘Don’t worry about him, dearie,’ Mrs. Smith said, stooping to throw a small log onto the fire, and, pausing to watch it take, she rested her gnarled hands on her hips. As the fire blazed, she smiled at Emma. Her lined face betrayed what Emma suspected to be a wealth of common sense.
Mrs. Smith beamed at Emma and patted her on the cheek.
‘His Grace’s way is to be awkward with all who come so that they might have a reason to leave. Come this way, I have your room all set up for you.’
Mrs. Smith took one of Emma’s bags, and led her down the corridor towards the staircase. The walls were all panelled with wood and sparse but for occasional heraldic symbols and melancholic hunting trophies with glass eyes and petulant expressions. Emma wondered whether the Duke’s injuries were what had caused him to take a more tolerant attitude towards the animals on his estate.
‘I’m afraid I find it hard to understand,’ Emma said quietly, as Mrs. Smith went ahead of her to show the way. ‘I thought the Duke’s sister needed a governess for the foreseeable future, but you say that he wishes to be rid of me.’
‘I didn’t say he wanted to be rid of you, only that he wishes to give you that impression should you want an excuse to go back to England. He feels the damage to his appearance has made him unacceptable among polite society. In truth, it is his scars that remind him of the hardship he endured at war. It haunts him.’’’
‘But his appearance is nothing too shocking, certainly no reason to return to England. He is a handsome man, and a hero.’ She blushed to hear herself saying it.
‘Then one of these days you might tell him both of those things,’ Mrs. Smith said, animatedly. ‘He sees himself as a ghost, haunting this castle. You know what they said about him in the scandal sheets when he returned to London?’
‘I was busy, I think, at the time, with other matters.’
‘The loss of his troop, and his disfigurement, combined; he has buried himself in this estate.’
‘I have already said this evening that I am no believer in ghosts.’ She laughed to hear the certainty her voice expressed, which inwardly she did not quite share. Aside from that, nothing could induce me to go back to England. There is nothing there for me but a single friend.’
They had gone up a series of staircases into what Emma presumed to be a turret of the castle. ‘Well then, I hope you’ll be liking your room. Here it is.’ Mrs. Smith said as she opened the door. She then handed her the key to the room and walked in with Emma’s bag.
The room, which had a formidable oak door, was round, and boasted a bed, a carpet, a bookshelf with some yellowing tomes of Scottish history, and a fireplace of its own, in which coals were merrily crackling.
Mrs. Smith set down Emma’s bag for her, as she took in the room.
‘Here is your key,’ she said, placing it neatly into Emma’s hand. ‘Your shutters and curtains are closed to keep out the cold, and you’ll find the moonlight a little glaring at this time of the month if you open them. Nevertheless, if you can wait out this strange visit until at least the morning, you’ll see a bonnie view of the estate from high up here, that’s if the weather’s not too foul.’
‘Thank you, Mrs. Smith, it’s beyond charming really, and you have made me feel welcomed here. I will take your word for the Duke’s character, and, as for your observation that I am a lady, I would say that it is clearly mutual.’
Mrs. Smith laughed, inclining her head.
‘I hope you and I will be friends,’ Emma said, warmly.
‘If you are a friend to him and Miss Lizzie, I will be as well disposed towards you as I already feel determined to be. Goodnight Miss Taylor.’
‘Goodnight Mrs. Smith.’
The housekeeper beamed heartily at her, her cheeks as ruddy as the coals in the fire, then she said in parting, ‘I’ll see you in the morning, I hope.’
With this, Mrs. Smith left. Emma sat down on her bed. It was not long before she was lying underneath the blankets, supported by pillows and mattresses, gazing up at the rafters and the pointed ceiling of the chamber. She could tell that sleep was coming fast upon her, and she marvelled at how relaxed it was possible to lie in those clean sheets, a thousand miles away from her vanished home.
She wondered whether another person, in her place, father passed, home sold, country vanished, would have done better or worse. She had cried a lot, it was true, over the past few weeks and months, but she had not succumbed.
She lay again in silence, the darkness spreading a deep peace in her mind. She retraced her journey from Aberdeen to Inverness, her final parting from Miss Macpherson, and her journey in the fading light up the road and onto the estate. Her mind lingered over her meeting with the duke, who seemed once more to emerge from the gloom, his eyes dark but tinted with moonlight. His face and demeanour disturbed her, as did the obvious pain he felt surrounding his injury, and his self-imposed exile. She realised she would have to stop thinking about it if she was ever going to get some sleep.
After all, she considered, the Duke’s misery was not her own. He was a quite different class of person to herself. He had his troubles, and she had hers, and there was nothing to stop them from co-operating as neutral forces do. She had come to save herself and not him.
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