"Flanked, not only by the mystery of a missing piece of jewellery, further mysteries lay hidden; secrets so unexpected, the turning point of relationships upstairs and down, where only idle gossip could cast an influential spell on others.
"'Companion of Lady Holmeshire' is such a stimulating good read, I could not, nor would I, put it down. It also has the most compelling kick which can knock you sideways. And let it be known; the outcome could never have been predicted.
"Thank you Debra for allowing me into your world.
"Your adoring fan
~Chapter 1~ A Servant Girl’s New and Quite Extraordinary Life
Chilly winds filled a once-shining black carriage. Over many miles and due to the dry conditions of the week, it had acquired a uniform coating of dust. Warming stones had gone cold on the journey from London to northern England, and Miss Emma Carrington pushed them from her feet as she huddled, shivering on her seat. Exhausted from the bumping and jostling, the changing of horses and the searching for meals in frightening and unfamiliar places, Emma sighed with relief and relaxed her tight shoulders as she traveled through the last village. Holmeshire, the center of her childhood memories, was the home of her many friends.
A short ride remained, though it seemed eternal, out of the town and up the hill through an intimidating, ivy-covered stone gateway. The carriage ascended the hill to an old masonry castle, which was this night set beneath a large moon. Built as a stronghold in the years of Scottish wars, the fortress’ cold, formidable appearance was deceptive, for the warmest hearts in Britain dwelt inside.
The horses came to an impatient stop at the first edge of the house, wanting their feed and water. Emma took the coachman’s hand to step from the carriage. He hoisted her luggage off its top. In fine London dress, she hurried to the heavy servants’ door, turned her great key and pushed her way through.
She shushed the man carrying her cumbersome case as most of the domestics had gone to bed, but someone watched from a window in an old watchtower now filled with beds. Eager proclamations rang from that chamber to the next through the servants’ wing, and night-capped revelers poured into the stone kitchen.
Emma removed her warm winter wrap and hung it near the door, smiling and exchanging excited nods. “Miss Emma,” said the delighted scullery maid. “Are you really here? Look at you, all fancy.” Emma, the former housemaid, felt quite out of place in the ringlets and refined dress, the multitude of petticoats and the soft, tended hands of a London beauty. She blushed and hugged the young girl.
She regaled when a hefty man snatched her and spun her about below tin-coated copper pots and iron utensils, which hung from a rack. . “Put me down,” she said with a laugh. “Have you not grown up in all this time? London society will never accept me if they hear of this.” She sighed, knowing they never would regardless. She dreaded facing the coming Season.
The cook appeared and snapped a rebuke. “Put her down, lad, before everything crashes to the ground. You have hit her boot on the table leg. Those are high-priced boots you will be payin’ for, and I’ll take the table out of your hide. Besides, the rest of us cannot get our arms about the lass. Emma, girl, you were gone too long.”
Barreby the butler, still fully dressed in the adjoining pantry, had been auditing the silver serving dishes. He smiled when Emma arrived, and shook his head at the carrying on. He closed and locked a cherry-wood hutch and hurried up two flights of stairs to notify the sleeping countess, The Lady Winifred Holmeshire, that his Tiger Lily had arrived.
Emma glowed as even the countess came down to the kitchen to join the celebration which had produced the cake, puddings and tea prepared for her companion’s return.
Emma curtsied and accepted the lady’s warm words of welcome. “How happy I am to be home,” she told Lady Holmeshire, and turned about in a dignified way to show her the beautiful gown.
The lady sat in the kitchen for the reunion that had burst through the thick of night and ordered that bottles of fine wine be brought from the cellar for all to share. Emma enjoyed seeing the servants relish their first taste of an expensive bottle.
She spoke of her training in the ways of refinement. “I was terribly hard to correct,” she said. “I am best seen with a scrub brush and broom.” She listened as they asked about her time spent away. They went out infrequently, she replied, and focused on music and languages in the house. She learned to sleep past five in the morning, though it was oh so hard to do, she told them, her eyes widened and shaking her head. Teasing and hearty laughter continued for two hours. Emma had, after all, returned.
At long last, a night-robed footman, tired and tousled of hair, brought Emma’s belongings up to the elegant room that awaited her. She would love to stay and never return to London, but Lady Holmeshire had made other plans.
Emma had been happy in service, for though Lady Winifred lived the leisurely life of a countess, she had a place in her heart for humanity. A butler had been chosen to maintain order amidst laughter and guard the welfare of the lowest maid.
A new, framed mirror under candled sconces showed Emma the condition of her dark hair and olive complexion. Dusty, she thought—dirty, dreadful skin it was for a lady’s companion. She sighed with disgust and wiped off the traveling grime. At least a bonnet had protected her hair. She stepped back on long legs to analyze the new clothes she wore, so above her station in life. Would these clothes hide the truth?
In her soft, new, feather bed she closed her eyes and drifted to the pleasures of times past on Holmeshire Hill. She’d enjoyed a climb in the fragrant breeze as a girl. She’d loved watching animals amongst the trees. She loved autumn, when the fallen leaves offered themselves as colorful stepping-stones. The oaks and yews of Holmeshire were her childhood friends. Before her need for an income required her to go into service, she had spent free hours alone on the hillside, sketching twisted branches and their pleasing foliage.
Emma woke to see some of her works hanging on the old walls of her new room, delighted to find them framed during her absence, a gift from the lady. It touched her heart. The countess was good indeed. Emma could not fathom this kindness—but her companionship would quiet the lady’s loneliness.
Surely, she determined to be a loyal companion.
Emma threw open the lined velvet drapes that blocked the morning light and looked about her well-scrubbed room. In the past, she had many times cleaned the slate fireplace that now warmed her after a silent housemaid’s early endeavor.
As a maid herself, Emma had washed the wide-plank floor, oiled the four-poster bed and polished the brass when guests were to be accommodated. She had wiped down the single leaded-glass window and had been in awe of the inspiring, misty view it afforded. Ruins of an ancient monastery at the foot of the hill were visible through naked winter branches. She had often paused her scrubbing to absorb it, and now it was hers to enjoy.
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