Six-year-old Emma Dalcour walked up the steps of the grand mansion, shaking in her boots at the sheer size and grandeur of her surroundings.
She held onto the hand of the village woman who had agreed to deliver her to her aunt. “Now, don’t be frightened,” she said in a Cockney accent. “Your aunt, Miss Fulsom, is a kind woman and will see that you are well looked after.”
Mrs Jenkins patted Emma’s hand with her chubby one, enveloping her in a moment of warmth. The wind howled through the trees that surrounded the drive, making Emma shiver even more. Mrs Jenkins, her neighbour, had been caring for her after her mother’s passing a few weeks before. But she could not take care of her forever. Emma had heard her and her husband discussing the subject, arguing about the expense.
“She ain’t our responsibility,” Mr Jenkins had said. “She’s got relatives. Let them take care of her.”
The last thing that Emma wanted to do was be a bother, but she was afraid to live with her aunt in this imposing house.
A woman appeared at the top of the steps, dressed in a high-collared black dress. Emma gasped, drawing back from her for a moment. She had Mama’s face! “It’s all right, love. Go on then and give your aunt a kiss.” Mrs Jenkins nudged her forward, and Emma walked up the last few steps by herself.
“Hello, Emma,” the woman said. Her voice shook, and Emma wondered why her aunt seemed to be just as nervous as she was. “My name is Miss Fulsom—Aunt Fulsom. I mean, Aunt Catherine—whatever you feel comfortable with.” Aunt Catherine splayed her hands in front of her, shifting her weight from one foot to the other.
“How do you do, Aunt Catherine?” Emma asked, giving a small curtsy.
Aunt Catherine’s face softened into a warm smile. “You need not curtsy to me, child. Come along and we will get you settled into your new home.”
Mrs Jenkins patted her on the arm whilst trying to offer some last bit of reassurance, “You be a good girl now, Emma. Your aunt will take good care of you.” Tears misted her eyes, and Emma tried not to cry. Mrs Jenkins had been one of Mama’s only friends, caring for her during the long months of illness. Emma felt a kinship towards her now. She sniffed back her tears and raised her chin.
“Thank you for taking me in, Mrs Jenkins. I shall miss you and the children. Give my love to them all.”
“I will, deary.” Mrs Jenkins drew in a sharp breath and started down the steps, no doubt wanting to avoid a long-drawn-out goodbye. Aunt Catherine took her hand, her skin icy. Emma jumped slightly, but her aunt hardly noticed.
“Let us get you out of the cold, Emma. The cook will have the kettle boiling by now, I presume, and we can sit down to a nice warm breakfast before we begin the day.” Aunt Catherine’s voice sounded so much like Mama’s that if Emma had closed her eyes, she might have pretended that Mama was walking beside her. Emma looked up at her as they walked down the steps and around the house to the servants’ entrance.
“Were you and Mama twins?” Emma asked.
Aunt Catherine gave a sad smile. “No, but we were very close in age—a little over a year apart. My own mother used to say that we could have been twins, we favored each other so much. But alas, no. We only looked very much alike.”
Emma thought it a small comfort that Aunt Catherine and her mother had favored each other, for, in a way, it was as if a piece of her dearly departed mother was still with her. She had been terrified of forgetting Mama’s lovely face. Now, she might hold that memory with her forever, without the ravages of time making them fade.
“Now, here is the kitchen. You are not to play in here, as Mrs Tethers is very strict. She does not want little ones playing around the hot stove or accidentally cutting themselves, or any such injury that might occur. Is that clear?”
“Yes, Aunt,” Emma mumbled. The kitchen was already a hive of activity, with kitchen and scullery maids coming in and out as they went about their duties.
“Everything has to be ready before the family awakens. Breakfast must be ready to serve the second that the Duke enters the dining room, and his children quickly follow.”
“What about Mrs Duke?” Emma asked innocently.
“Lady Fernsby died several years ago. His Lordship dines alone. The children take their meals in the school room most days unless it is warm. We like to venture out into the gardens on warm summer days.” Aunt Catherine’s tone was dreamy, but she suddenly snapped to, and grasped Emma’s hand. “Speaking of the children, I must get you settled before they arrive for their lessons.”
Emma hurried after Aunt Catherine, climbing what seemed to be a hundred different staircases as they made their way to the schoolroom. But instead of going into the large, rectangular room where her aunt gave her lessons, they turned into a narrow doorway, and stepped into a dimly lit space.
Aunt Catherine let go of her hand and gave a soft sigh. “Well, this is where you shall sleep. The Duke agreed to let you stay here with me in my quarters. Under the circumstances, I thought it best for you to not be separated from me. That is, until you are older and more accustomed to your surroundings.”
Aunt Catherine turned, offering to take the carpetbag from Emma’s hands. Indeed, the thing was about as big as she was, and she gladly gave it to her aunt. She set it down on the bed and started putting her things away. She had only one other dress and a book that had been her mother’s favorite. Other than that, she had no worldly possessions. The little house in London had been closed up and everything sold to pay for her mother’s doctor bills. If not for her aunt’s kindness, she might have ended up in the workhouse. The very thought of that horrible place made her shiver with dread.
“Oh, my dear, you must be freezing. The seaside is much cooler than back in town, I admit. But at least the air is fresh, unlike London. For the life of me, I never could understand why your mother wanted to live there.”
Emma sat down on the narrow bed that her aunt had pointed out. It creaked under her slight weight, but she would not complain. At least she had a warm place to sleep, and food for her belly. Many children did not even have that.
“Well, now, I must run along, but I will make sure Cook has something sent up for you in the way of breakfast.” Aunt Catherine knelt before her, taking her hands. “You must stay in here, Emma, do you understand? The other children are not to see you at all. You are not to speak to them or the Duke, or any of their guests when they come to call. No one is to see or hear from you, is that clear?”
Her aunt’s furtive words made her heart pound with fear once more. “Yes, Aunt,” she said sheepishly.
Her aunt’s features softened. “It is not that I would not like to teach you right alongside the others, but it would not be proper, my dear. You and I will have our own lessons, after I am done teaching the Duke’s children, so fear not. You will have an education, to be sure. Your mother was very adamant in her letters, leading up to her—”
Emma waited for a split second before finishing for her aunt, “Death?”
“Yes,” her aunt said. “I am so sorry, Emma. I cannot imagine what you have been through this last year. First your father and now your sweet mama. What it must have been like in the theatre, I will never know.”
“I liked the theatre. Especially when Mama would sing.” Emma’s mother had been one of the most famous singers on the London stage, and her father had been a pianist. He had composed several operas over his career. But none of the music had ever made it to the stage before he passed away.
“I know. I know you did.” Aunt Catherine patted her hand, looking away as tears filled her eyes. “I wish I could have been there during her last days, Emma. But I am here now. And I promised her that I would look after you no matter what happens.”
Emma felt herself relax a little. In many ways, her aunt was very much like her mama. Perhaps, she would be able to find some peace here in this big, old house. Maybe even happiness, in time.
“Now, I really must run. I will see you later on this afternoon, alright?” Aunt Catherine hurried across the room and went out into the hall, closing the door softly behind her. Emma listened for her footfalls, walked a few paces down the hall to the schoolroom. Soon, Emma heard voices floating to her through the walls. The children seemed to be very boisterous. They seemed to be right there next to her, so loud were they. Emma stood up, sneaking silently over to the wall. A small shaft of light came into the room, and Emma bent down slightly, putting her eyes to a small hole. She could see right into the classroom, and she felt a moment of guilt. Was this not like spying?
She bent down a little further and was afforded a view of the brightly lit schoolroom, its large east-facing windows letting in all the delicious light. Her aunt’s back was to her, but she could see the faces of each of the four children. First, there was a young girl who looked to be a little younger than Emma. Her round, smiling face made her look like a cherub, even more so with golden curls framing her face. There were three boys, one who looked about the same age as Emma, another could have been a year or so older, and the eldest, probably three years older than she. All of them had dark brown curls that fell into their eyes whenever they turned their heads.
“What kept you this morning, Miss Fulsom?” the eldest boy asked.
“I had some business to attend to,” she replied. Emma hung her head. Was she simply a matter of business? By her aunt’s tone, she might have thought she was an inconvenience, placed alongside running errands and shoveling horse dung. Of course, she could not say anything about Emma to the other children. The Duke did not want them interacting with her. She was, after all, the daughter of a pianist and an opera singer, which was not exactly polite society. It was one thing for the nobility to go to the opera and enjoy an evening of culture, but it was another thing entirely to associate with the lowborn people who provided the entertainment.
She looked through the peephole once more, fascinated by the children’s silk outfits and clean faces. The children from her neighbourhood back home had not been brought up with all the comforts these children were used to. It was a much rougher way of life, but they had looked out for each other. Already she missed the camaraderie of Mrs Jenkins and her five children.
“Finish your breakfast, children, so that we might begin our lessons for the day.” Her aunt stood up, placing her napkin on the table. The children followed suit, wiping their mouths with the linen napkins before they followed her to the desks. They each took a seat, and her aunt plunged into a history lesson.
Emma sighed heavily. She couldn’t just sit on the floor and look at the other children for the rest of the day. She went over to the bed and plopped herself down, tired from the long journey from London. She did her best not to cry as she listened to the children’s voices wafting to her through the wall. They seemed so terribly happy and content. Her lower lip trembled, but after several brave attempts, she finally succumbed to her tears.
Truly, would she ever be happy again?
Henry Fernsby walked out of his room and looked back at his little brother with profound contempt. He rolled his eyes, grabbed his brother’s arm and pulled him out of the room. “Come along, George. We will be late for breakfast.” George covered a yawn, waiting for their youngest brother to appear. Henry poked his head into the room they all shared and huffed in frustration. “Frederick, come on! Miss Fulsom will be cross with us if we are late.”
Six-year-old Frederick came out of the room, still working at a button that had come loose on his waistcoat. “I cannot get it,” he mumbled, frowning up at Henry. He bent slightly and helped his brother button his waistcoat and then smoothed down the silk article. His brother’s belly protruded ever so slightly.
“Stand up straight, Freddy. Mama always said we must be very careful to have good posture.” Henry was assailed by a dark cloud of sadness. Mama had been gone for only a year, but it seemed like an eternity. Frederick grabbed his hand, and they all started to walk down the hall towards the schoolroom. Henry smiled down at him.
Henry did not really mind holding hands with his younger brother, even though they were too old for such shows of affection. At least, that is what his father would have said had he seen them. Henry would be leaving for boarding school very soon, and he wanted to spend as much time with his younger brothers and sister as possible. They had become very close over the last year, having to lean on each other for comfort as they mourned their mother’s death. Their father did not seem to have the fortitude to help them through their grief as well as deal with his own. And so, Henry had become a sort of father to his younger siblings. It was a weighty responsibility for a nine-year-old to carry, but someone had to do it.
“Come along, George. Do not drag your feet so—you are making a terrible ruckus.” Henry looked back at his brother, who was traveling a pace behind them. Instead of picking up his feet, he allowed them to dangle behind and then would stomp loudly, creating a resounding ker-thunk, ker-thunk as they travelled down the hall.
“I do not want to do lessons today,” George whined. At eight years of age, he could not have been more different from Henry and Frederick. Both enjoyed their lessons, whilst George was more likely to be caught staring off out the window, daydreaming. Henry bit his lip, worried for him. What would he do once they arrived at boarding school? Henry was afraid George would have a terrible time with his tutors and the other boys. But Henry tried to calm his nerves with the thought that he would be there to protect him.
“We must have lessons today, so you might as well get used to the idea.” Henry opened the schoolroom door for the boys, but paused before following them inside. A noise had caught his ears, floating to him from his right. He glanced at Miss Fulsom’s bedroom door and cocked his head to the side.
“What is it, Henry?” Frederick asked.
“I do not know. Go inside and I shall be there shortly,” he instructed. He walked towards the door, the sound growing louder. Someone was singing! And whoever it was had the most beautiful, angelic voice he had ever heard!
He stood at the door, listening for a moment. He closed his eyes, his heart swelling as the voice rose in pitch. She held the note aloft and then quieted, plunging back down in a series of trills. Henry opened his eyes, feeling that he must know who the charming voice belonged to. But he dared not knock on his governess’ door. Would she scold him for prying into affairs that did not concern him? He gathered his courage and decided to call to her. “Miss Fulsom? Is that you?”
The singing immediately stopped, and he heard someone rustling on the other side of the door. Heart sinking, he called once more, “Hello? Who is that?”
Silence greeted him. Perhaps the angel was shy. He could not imagine it was Miss Fulsom, for surely, she would have sung for them by now, if she had such a beautiful voice. He placed a hand on the door, wishing for a sign, anything that would give him a clue as to who the mysterious voice belonged to. When a minute passed without another sound, an idea struck him. He hurried away, entering the classroom. Frederick and George looked up at him in surprise.
“Well? What is it?” Frederick asked again.
“Nothing. Do not worry yourselves. I shall be back presently.”
Henry reached for a piece of paper and a quill, flipping the lid off the inkwell in one fluid motion. He then wrote a hurried note, blew on the ink to help it dry faster, and folded it. He held it up and smiled at his brothers as if he had accomplished some impressive feat. He then hurried back out of the room, no doubt leaving his brothers to wonder at his strange behavior. He knelt at Miss Fulsom’s door, and slipped the paper under the crack. For a moment, he wondered if the phantom voice would refuse his offering of friendship.
Henry knelt and tried to look under the door. To his surprise, he saw a tiny white hand pick up the note and slide it the rest of the way through the crack under the door. Henry stood up then, waiting for them to read.
His note had been simple. I heard you singing, and I must know who you are. My name is Henry. What is yours?
After several minutes had passed, and no sounds came to him from the opposite side of the door, Henry stepped up and gave a light knock on the wood. “Hello? Can you read?” he asked.
“Of course, I can read,” came a small voice from the other side.
Henry breathed a sigh of relief. His curiosity was piqued even more, for the voice sounded like she could be no older than his little sister. “What is your name?” he asked, calling to her.
“I cannot say,” came her reply.
“Why ever not?” he asked, laughing at the ridiculousness of the situation. “Come out then, and we shall have a proper introduction.”
Henry heard rustling on the other side of the door once more, and then a note was passed under the crack. He picked it up and read. Miss Fulsom would be angry if I came out. Please go away and forget you ever heard me singing.
Disappointment overtook him, and he crumpled the note. But there was nothing more he could do, for he heard Miss Fulsom’s voice coming down the hall as she talked with his little sister, Louise. Henry hurried into the schoolroom and sat down at the breakfast table, trying to make it seem like he had been there the whole time. Miss Fulsom and Louise appeared in the doorway, and Miss Fulsom greeted them.
Soon, they were all sitting down to breakfast, his siblings chattering away as happily as if nothing mysterious had ever occurred. But Henry could not focus, could not take a bite of his food. Who was the child? And why was she secreted away in Miss Fulsom’s rooms?
“Henry, what is ailing you? You have barely touched your food.” Miss Fulsom stood and came around the table, placing her fingers against his forehead. “You do not seem to have a fever. Are you well?”
“I am quite well, Miss Fulsom. That is, I am not hungry this morning.”
George smirked. “It is because of the girl he heard singing this morn.”
Miss Fulsom’s face went white, and she cleared her throat. “What girl? Whatever are you talking about, George?”
“We heard someone singing in your rooms this morning when we came in. Henry was trying to find out who it was, I think.”
Miss Fulsom went back to her seat and sank down into it, straight-backed and silent. Henry licked his lips. Had he done something wrong?
“We were only curious, Miss Fulsom. She has a very good voice. Who is she?”
Miss Fulsom wiped her mouth with a linen napkin and then folded it slowly, placing it next to her plate. Henry felt like an eternity passed before she spoke. “I am only going to say this once, children, and then we must never speak of this again. Do you understand?”
They all nodded their agreement, and Henry waited with bated breath as she started to explain. “The voice you heard was that of my niece. She has just arrived from London. Her mother passed away some weeks ago, and she is to live here with me on the condition that she does not show herself around the house.” She looked pointedly at Henry. “You must never try to talk to her again, Henry. Is that clear?”
Henry bristled. Why was she to be kept hidden away? She seemed like a charming girl. “Why?” he asked simply. He wondered if this was his father’s doing.
“It must be this way, Henry. If she is to remain here, she cannot have any interaction with you or the rest of the children. Now, I know you will obey me in this, Henry, for if you do not, I fear she will be turned out of the house. I am the last living family member she has. It would be cruel for her to be sent away, possibly to a workhouse. Is that what you want?”
Henry did not. He would never hear that angelic voice again and that he could not live with. The thought of her being locked away in some dingy, cold workhouse was unthinkable. He would not try to see her if that would save her from the death sentence that would surely be her lot if she were sent to a workhouse. He nodded slowly. “Yes, Miss Fulsom. I understand.”
“Good, now let us say no more on the subject. Finish your breakfasts so that we may start our lessons.”
But despite Miss Fulsom’s warnings, Henry could not stay away. He remained true to his word that he would not try to see her. But Miss Fulsom had said nothing about them passing notes back and forth.
A few days after he had sent his first note under the door, the girl had informed him of the peephole she had into the classroom.
Let us pass our notes through the peephole, she had written one day. I would hate for my aunt to discover us and get you into trouble.
Henry had applauded the idea, but had taken it a step further. He found the peephole as she suggested and peeled back the wallpaper. A hole the size of a shilling would make it possible to send their notes to and fro without fear of discovery. But what if he wanted to pass more than notes? Henry started working away at the hole with a letter opener, widening it until it was the size of his fist. Plaster dust and chunks from the wall littered the floor, and when he was finished, he heard footsteps on the other side of the wall. He leaned down, looking through the opening in hopes of catching a glimpse of her face.
“Lean down here, so I can see you!” he called in a hushed whisper. He saw a skirt on the other side, but she did not lean down.
“I dare not,” she replied in her slight, mousy tone. “The Duke will throw me out if he finds out.”
Henry huffed in frustration. “Well then, at least tell me your name. What can that hurt if we are never to see each other face to face?” She had refused to tell him her name. He held his breath, hoping against hope that she would give on this one point.
He heard her rummaging around and then scribbling on a piece of paper. She rolled the note, slipping it through the widened hole. Henry unraveled it and smiled at the simple message. My name is Emma.
Smiling, he went to Miss Fulsom’s desk and scribbled a response. Emma! What a beautiful name, he thought. He rolled his reply, slipping it through the hole.
Please keep singing. Do not be afraid of discovery, for my father rarely comes to the children’s wing. It does my heart good to hear you.
He waited for a moment, and then she began to sing in response. A smile spread across his face as he listened in awe, and started to clean up the mess he had made of widening the hole. He then smoothed the wallpaper back in place and stood back. No one would ever be the wiser.
Five years later…
Emma did her best to sound cheerful. Her aunt had worked hard to make sure her new uniform fit properly, and it would do no good to complain as it was. Today she was to start as a scullery maid in the duke’s household.
“I feel bad that we have had to keep you locked away for so long, Emma. At least now you will be afforded with some liberty, and will be earning an honest wage. We may still continue with your lessons in the evenings when you are done with your work for the day.” Her aunt stood back and took in her new dress. “Yes, I think that will do very nicely.”
Emma nodded. “Thank you, Aunt. You are right, I suppose. I cannot waste my life locked up in our rooms. It will be exiting to be able to explore the rest of the house.”
“Yea, well,” her aunt replied, her mood turning serious. “You must be sure to work with diligence and not give Mrs Severin cause to scold you.”
“Oh, of course not!” Emma said, shaking her head vigorously. “Fear not, Aunt. I will do my best to make you proud of me.”
“Very good. Now come along and I shall walk you downstairs. You will have to make sure and get yourself up and ready each morning, for I shan’t be able to do this every day.”
“Yes, Aunt,” Emma replied. She took one last look in the mirror, feeling quite grown up with a white maid’s cap over her bright red hair. Nervous butterflies swirled in her stomach as they exited their shared room, and headed down the hallway towards the back staircase.
Mrs Severin was a kind woman, but firm in the resolve that the house should run with the preciseness of a grandfather clock—with every wheel and cog working together. She had been the housekeeper for the Duke for almost twenty years. She could display the most leg-melting scowls imaginable. But Emma knew she had little to fear from the woman—if she did her work.
“Ahh, there is our new addition. Are you ready to get started, Emma?” Mrs Severin asked. She took out the packet watch clipped just under her collar, looking down at it with a one-eyed stare. “We better get started. Don’t want the family to see you.”
Emma felt a pinprick of doubt. Was she really ready for this?
Her aunt seemed to sense her trepidation and knelt before her. “It is that way for all scullery maids, dearest, not just you. Do not feel that you are being punished for anything you have done. It is simply the way of things. Now, be a good girl, work hard, and I shall see you at supper.”
Emma gave her a brave nod and followed Mrs Severin. “You will rise at five o’clock each day. Pray, do not be late…”
Weeks passed, and Emma fell into a routine. The work she did was exhausting; she washed dishes, lit fires in the mornings and kept them burning throughout the day. She also helped in the laundry when needed. She was dead on her feet most evenings. And yet, her aunt insisted that she kept on with her studies.
“There is nothing so valuable as an education, Emma,” her aunt liked to say when Emma wanted to fall into bed without completing her reading assignments for the day, at the very least. Thankfully, she was fond of reading, and would stay up late with a candle on her bedside table. She was more fortunate than most servants, for the Duke afforded her aunt as many candles as she liked.
The snows had come as Christmas drew near, and Emma could not help but feel excitement at the prospect of seeing Henry once again. That is, by passing notes through the peephole with him. He had been away at boarding school for nearly four years. Still, every holiday she could look forward to renewing their correspondence.
He never asked to see her face anymore. He had given up on that venture after tireless months of begging when she had first arrived. But she could not go against her aunt’s wishes. It was enough to know that she had a friend, even if he could not see her face to face.
“What are you smiling about?” her aunt asked one cold winter night as Emma sat in bed reading Milton. She jumped at her aunt’s question, for she had not been focusing on the words at all.
“Was I smiling? I did not mean to,” Emma said, closing the book around her finger so she could keep her place.
“I do not mean that you should not smile. I only wondered what it was about. I did not think Milton would strike you as particularly amusing.” Her aunt started to change into her nightdress, turning her back on her niece. Emma looked away, feeling the heat rising in her cheeks. She had been thinking of Henry. He would be arriving tomorrow for his two-week Christmas holiday. How much had he changed since she had last seen him?
“It isn’t. I mean, it is very instructive, but I would agree with you that it is not humorous. I was thinking of something else.”
“Oh? And what is that?” Her aunt turned around, hanging her dress and underclothes over the chair before climbing between the covers.
Emma had to think fast to come up with an amusing anecdote from her day. She was certainly not going to tell her aunt that she was thinking of Henry. “It was nothing, really. It is just that one of the other maids, she just happened to stick her head too far into the hearth. A pile of soot decided to fall on her head at that exact moment, and she came out covered in soot!” She laughed heartily, which her aunt joined in with.
“I am sure the unfortunate girl will think twice about doing that again,” her aunt agreed.
In the morning, a thick layer of frost covered the window. Emma sat up and stretched, the room cold since the fire had gone out. She threw her legs over the side of the bed and went to the hearth, poking at the coals. They would need to be relit. She sighed, starting her day by building the fire up for her aunt. When a cheery fire was again blazing, she stood and went to change. But before she had taken a step away, she heard a rustling on the other side of the wall. Her heart stopped, and she glanced over her shoulder at her aunt’s still sleeping form. She snorted and rolled over, but did not wake.
She breathed a sigh of relief and knelt at the peephole. She peeled the paperback from their hiding place and was surprised to see a note waiting for her. Emma smiled as she took it out, replaced the wallpaper and unfurled the missive.
Please forgive my early morning ramblings, but I could wait no longer. I arrived late last night and have been able to think of nothing else but you. These last few months have been a torment as I have counted down the days until we could write to each other.
Tell me everything that has happened whilst I was away. Have you read any books that you find particularly interesting?
Postscript: I hope I may enjoy a virtuoso one of these nights. I miss hearing you sing.
Emma smiled and snuck over to her aunt’s desk. She peeked at the watch she clipped to her bodice, its long chain clinking noisily on the wood. She had a few more minutes until she needed to be downstairs. She sat down at the desk and penned a hurried response:
I have missed you, too. I am reading Milton right now. It is good, but not as exciting as the novels I keep hidden from my aunt. She says they offer no practical value. (You know how she is about education.) But I digress.
I am working below stairs now, and I am finally settling into my new duties. It is much better than staying locked away in the governess rooms all day long. I aim to prove myself to Mrs Severin in hopes that she will promote me. The days are long, but the nights are so much longer when you are away. I so look forward to your notes and our easy friendship.
I will indeed sing for you, but you shall not know from whence my voice comes. All I can say is that I have been practicing something very special in your honor.
She hurriedly rolled the note and stuffed it into their hiding place. When she smoothed over the wallpaper, she heard Henry immediately take out the message and leave the schoolroom. Emma went to the door, peeking out to make sure the coast was clear, before making her way out into the hall. It was a wonder she had managed to keep her face hidden from Henry all these years. There had several times when they had nearly run into each other, coming down the hall towards the schoolroom. But always, she would see him and change course, hiding until he was gone.
The kitchens were already a bustle of activity as they made preparations for the Christmas celebrations. Christmas Eve was the following day, and there was still much to be done.
Mrs Severin greeted her as she came down the stairs, “Good morning, Emma. Today, I shall need you in the great hall to help us decorate. We have pine boughs and holly that need to be hung on the railings and around the hearth. Oh, and bring that crate of oranges up with you, please.” She pointed to a small case filled with ripe, shiny oranges. Emma breathed in the citrusy scent as she picked them up.
Once upstairs, Emma was thrown into one project after another. First, she helped hang evergreen boughs around the hearth, nestling oranges, pinecones, and small wrapped packages in the greenery spread over the mantel. She then went to the grand staircase, and helped the other maids dress the railings with bright foliage. Even though she was working, there was a spirit of celebration in the air that was contagious. There would be no work for them on Christmas Eve, and a small party would be thrown for them in the kitchen. The family would eat a buffet-style meal that evening and again on Christmas morning, so the servants could enjoy the holiday as well.
But until then, Emma and the rest of the servants would have their work cut out for them. The decorations would need to be finished in time for the party that the Duke was throwing that evening. All the best families in the neighbourhood would be in attendance, dancing late into the night and into the early morning hours.
Of course, Emma and the rest of the scullery and upstairs maids would have to watch from a distance, hidden in the shadows of the stairwell. They would only be able to catch glimpses of the beautifully dressed men and women when the footmen came in and out of the servant’s door. But Emma wanted to catch a glimpse of Henry in his Christmas finery.
When all the decorations were in place, Emma was allowed to head downstairs to the kitchens for teatime. She hurriedly drank a cup of tea and gobbled a biscuit, before heading up to her room to change her apron. She would need to spend the evening alongside the cook and kitchen maids, helping to wash dishes and stoke fires long into the night.
She decided to check hers and Henry’s secret cubby before she went back down and was surprised to see a small package nestled within the wall.
“Oh, Henry,” she breathed. She unwrapped the package and found a small, velvet-covered box inside. Her heart began to pound as she lifted the lid. Gasping, she took out a pair of matching silver combs. The design was exquisite, with tiny flowers and music notes intertwined in the precious metal. “Oh, my goodness.”
Emma had never received anything this generous before. She took out one of the combs and held it up to the waning light shining through the window. The silver surface sparkled, and she replaced it safely in the box.
“How can I accept this?” she asked, whispering to herself. She placed the lid back on the chest and decided to hide it under the mattress. What had he been thinking? She would never be able to wear such an expensive gift in public? She was a simple scullery maid! But his gesture had touched her heart, nonetheless. Tears welled in her eyes as she took off her soiled apron and put on a clean one.
Placing her hand over her heart, she whispered, “I shall cherish it always, Henry. Even though I will be the only one to ever see them.”
“The Songbird of a Duke’s Heart” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Emma Dalcour has had more tragedy in her young life than one should be able to bear. After becoming an orphan, she is sent to live with her aunt who works as a governess for the Duke of St. Albans. There, she is careful to remain completely out of sight until she is old enough to be given the position of a maid. However, she soon attracts everyone’s attention with her beautiful voice, including young Henry, the eldest son of the duke…
What could happen when years after, Henry returns from university and his charm draws Emma out? Will Emma dare to believe in an unthinkable love?
Henry is a man of honour, tasked with protecting and caring for his three younger siblings. Even though he is newly engaged to the beautiful Lady Margaret, his heart urges him down a different path after finally laying eyes on the enchanting songbird of his estate. His responsibilities are heavy though, and Henry struggles with escaping from a seemingly inevitable fate.
Torn between love and duty, he is desperately searching for the key to this dilemma…
What begins as a friendship between two young children, becomes an undeniable love in the course of time. Unfortunately, the road to happiness is full of thorns, especially when someone is determined to take Emma out of the picture. Will Emma and Henry find a way to bridge the gaping hole between their classes and overcome the barriers? Or will crushing expectations and devotion to duty tear them apart?
“The Songbird of a Duke’s Heart” is a historical romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.