Let's Create a Wonderland (book 3)
Let's Create a Wonderland (book 3)
Author: mariehiggins
One

Something was not right. Unrest flittered in Emiline Lucia’s stomach, prickling the hairs on the back of her neck as her carriage rocked to a halt outside the family’s two-story townhouse in Calais. Servants scampered from the house, carrying trunks as they loaded them on a coach.

Curiosity, and determination to discover what was going on, enveloped her as panic settled in her chest. She gave her hand to the footman as he helped her down from her carriage, and headed toward the front door. Several French soldiers stood guard near the white wrap-around porch as if they expected trouble at any moment. They eyed her warily until she walked closer, and then their postures relaxed a bit. She was used to being surrounded by some kind of political figure or a group of soldiers considering who her uncle was, but today’s display of guards greatly unnerved her.

After striding into the house, she tugged on the ties of her bonnet to loosen them. “Can someone explain to me why there are so many soldiers outside?” she asked as two of the servants rushed by.

“My Lady Sarah.” The housekeeper scampered toward Emiline from the parlor. “Thank the Lord you are back, but you must make haste. There is no time to lose.”

Inwardly, Emiline cringed. Lately she’d been so sick of people using her first name instead of her middle name—Emiline—the very name her mother used to call her. But then again, since dreaming of her mother last night, and how Emmie missed her, how could she not become nostalgic?

“I don’t understand why—” Emmie’s words were interrupted when the housekeeper hooked an arm around her elbow, whisking Emmie up the stairs toward her bedroom. As they passed by the first two guest-rooms, the servants rushed around inside, shoving clothes into trunks.

Emmie glanced at Hester still pulling her along. Lines of worry etched on the older woman’s round face at the corner of her eyes and mouth. Sheen of moisture touched the servant’s forehead.

“Hester, I beg you, please tell me what is amiss. Why are there so many soldiers about?” She glanced in another room and saw the same chaos.  “Why is everyone so panicked?”

As they reached Emmie’s room, Hester bustled in first, heading directly to the armoire. Already three trunks sat open on the bed. Emmie couldn’t understand why they needed to leave. She and her father had only arrived from Paris five days earlier to stay for the summer

“My lady, your family is in great danger. Your uncle, Bonaparte, was just exiled to Elba. All of his family are in danger. Your father fears for your life.”

Emmie slowly removed her bonnet as she tried to absorb the housekeeper’s words. Although she didn’t want anyone to know, she didn’t approve of what her uncle had been doing all of these years. In her opinion, he should stop trying to conquer the world. Wasn’t it enough that he’d killed so many people? “Pray, why would my father fear for my life, Hester?”

“Because your aunt is Marie-Louise, and she is in danger, as well. She and her son are fleeing to Austria.” Hester fanned her red face. “Mobs are forming as we speak. They want to get rid of all of Bonaparte’s relatives.”

Terror climbed through Emmie’s body, clutching her heart. Would the people of France really punish her just because her aunt married Bonaparte?

Shaking herself out of her thoughts, she focused back on the housekeeper. “Are Father and I returning to Paris then?”

“No, unfortunately. Because your father is governor, he will stay and try to protect the family’s estates, but he’s sending you to England…to Hampshire.”

What?” Emmie shrieked. “Why there? I’m quite certain I have never heard of that place.”

Hester took a gown from the armoire and with trembling hands, carefully folded it and laid it in the trunk. “Some friends of your father live there, Mr. and Mrs. Crampton.”

Recollections of her father telling her about the Cramptons flitted through her mind. Her father probably hasn’t seen them since her mother died fifteen years ago. “Do they know I’m coming?” She moved to assist Hester.

“Yes, my lady. Just this morning your father sent a messenger with the note.”

Footsteps pounded on the floor down the hallway. Emmie swung toward the door just as her lady’s maid ran in to the room. Strands of her dark brown hair had escaped her mop cap and clung to her pale cheeks. She did a quick curtsy. “Lady Sarah, your father instructed me just now that we are to have you packed and on your way within the hour.”

Impossible! There was no way they would have her packed that quickly. “Then there is no time to stand around and converse.” She marched to another armoire, swung open the doors and started yanking out gowns. “I shall help pack.” Glancing over her shoulder, she peered at her maid. “Anna, I suggest you start on those drawers in the corner.”

“Yes, my lady.”

To some servants, seeing Emmie packing her own trunks might seem out of character for the daughter—an only child—of the governor, but Lady Sarah Emiline Lucia had always been different. As a child, they could only afford a few servants, so Emmie learned to do things herself. Two years after her mother died and her father had become the governor, Emmie had more servants than she needed. Having her father with a new title changed everything, it seemed. She missed doing things with him, just the two of them.

With a wistful sigh, she recalled when they used to go sailing. He’d taught her everything about commanding a boat. How she had loved sailing, only because it made her feel so powerful—so in control of her own life. Her father even taught her how to ride a horse. She had entered many horse races as a child and won ribbons. As she grew to be a young lady, it was unheard of for a girl of her mature age to compete in horse races, which saddened her greatly. At that point in her life, her father had become more political and he didn’t find time for his daughter.

Heavier footsteps thudded up the hallway and stopped at the door. She knew who stood there before looking his way. Her father’s presence commanded attention no matter where he traveled or who he encountered.

Glancing over her shoulder, she met her father’s eyes. “I’m almost packed.”

Nodding, he looked at Hester. “Will you give me a private moment with my daughter?”

“Yes, Governor.” Hester curtsied and hurried out.

Anna turned to follow the other servant, but Emmie’s father touched her arm. “I would like for you to stay.”

“As you wish.” Anna curtsied, too.

After he closed the door, he strode closer, his arms folded over his massive chest. Indeed, he was a large man, and not one to be trifled with. Worry lines creased his forehead and around his mouth. It seemed he had aged several years since she had visited with him this morning. Definitely, the strain from the recent upset had taken its toll.

“Father, what is amiss?”

For a few long and awkward moments, he stood in silence. Finally, he cleared his throat. “I have a wild idea, and I need both of you to do something for me.”

Emmie exchanged glances with Anna, before she returned her focus back to her father. “What is it?”

“Where I’m sending you, there are many people who loathe your uncle. They would rather cause mayhem and make others miserable than try to find peace.”

Emmie frowned. “Do you blame them, Father? They have suffered a lot from Napoleon’s campaigns—”

“Please,” he interrupted, holding up a hand. “Let me finish.”

Nodding, she kept her mouth closed, and especially, her opinions to herself.

“Because it’s hard to decipher from those who want revenge and who want peace in Britain, I cannot trust people I don’t know. It’s that reason I’m sending you to my friends, Henry and Martha Crampton. But because I don’t trust their neighbors, I cannot have my daughter in danger with me so far away.” He took a deep breath. “So because of that, I have formulated a plan that only us three will know about.” He looked at Anna. “Before you reach Hampshire, you both will switch roles. Anna, you will become Lady Sarah—” he met Emmie’s wide eyes, “—and you, my darling daughter, will be Lady Sarah’s maid.”

Slowly, Emmie shook her head, not quite understanding what her father was saying. She must have cotton in her ears. Did he really want her to play a servant? “Papa?” she asked in a small voice. “Let me understand this correctly… You wish me to switch places with my maid?”

“Yes. Just while you are staying with Mr. and Mrs. Crampton.”

“But, will they not realize we are fooling them?”

“No.” He walked closer to her and stopped right in front, stroking her cheek lovingly. “Mr. and Mrs. Crampton have never met you. If you and Anna play your parts precisely, my friends will never know of the deception.” He motioned his head toward Anna. “You and your maid are only a few months apart in age. You both have dark hair and dark eyes. During your carriage ride, you can instruct Anna on how she needs to act.”

“Oh, Governor,” Anna spoke quickly, her voice raised in excitement. “Lady Sarah doesn’t need to instruct me. I have been her maid for several years. I know how the daughter of a governor is required to act.”

He smiled wide. “Splendid. Then I shall need you to instruct my daughter how to act like a servant.” He glanced back at Emmie and winked. “I fear my daughter has been pampered of late.”

Inwardly, Emmie growled. She was quite certain she would not need lessons, either. But…a maid?

She couldn’t stop the panic bouncing inside of her from his suggestion. “Father, forgive me for voicing my opinions, but I cannot act like a maid! It’s just not done. I would be expected to know how to do things. I will certainly mess up and then cause suspicion.”

“Hmm…” He nodded and rubbed his chin. “I do see your point. All right then, instead of Lady Sarah’s maid, you shall be her companion. I’m quite certain Mr. and Mrs. Crampton will have a maid to tend to Lady Sarah while you are there.”

Without being able to stop herself, Emmie snorted a laugh. “A lady’s companion? Truly, father, I’m not old enough to play that role.”

“On the contrary, my dear. Not all ladies’ companions are old. We will tell Mr. and Mrs. Crampton that you are Lady Sarah’s poor relative and you have been her companion for three years now. You will not be required to do all the duties of a maid, and you shall have more freedom to do other things when you are not with Lady Sarah.”

Emmie kept quiet as her mind turned over her father’s idea. The more she thought, the more she realized this just might work. “All right. I believe I can handle being a lady’s companion.”

“Splendid.” He kissed his daughter’s forehead. “Now that is all settled, I will have only a few soldiers following you during your journey. They will only follow until you cross over to Britain.”

Her heart sank. “But…would the soldiers not draw attention to us if they are following?”

He shook his head. “I shall instruct them not to follow too closely.” He took his daughter’s hands and squeezed. “I believe your journey will go smoothly. When you reach Hampshire, I want you to enjoy yourself. Think of this as a holiday, if you will. Try not to worry about your Papa or your uncle.”

Emmie’s heart clenched and she frowned. “That is asking a lot of me. I cannot help but worry about you.” Her uncle, however, she would love to forget completely.

Her father pushed his fingers through his graying black hair. “My dear little Emmie, you worry entirely too much about me.”

“Father, it’s hard not to worry.” Tears pricked her eyes. “I don’t want to lose you like we lost mother.”

“Nonsense. Your mother was killed by a pirate ship.”

“Exactly. Are they not part of the same group who are after Uncle Napoleon?”

Chuckling, he patted her cheek. “My dear, you are too intelligent and you know too much about politics. Rest assured, all will be well.”

She released a pent-up breath. “Promise me you will not do anything rash and get involved where you shouldn’t.”

He offered a sympathetic half smile. “Not to worry, my dear little Emmie. The Lord will watch over both of us.”

Her father turned and opened the bedroom door before leading them down the grand stairs to the front door. Servants loaded trunks onto the coach as Anna climbed into the vehicle. Emmie hugged her father before getting in herself. Once she sat, he reached in and grasped her clutched hands.

“Godspeed, my dear.”

“I shall see you soon.” She smiled, although she didn’t put much effort into the emotion due to her jittery feelings.

As the coach jerked into action, her heartbeat slowed considerably. The next little while was definitely not a holiday, no matter what her father tried to tell her. And she had promised to be a lady’s companion the whole time.

Good grief, what had she been thinking to agree to her father’s plan?

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