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Authors: Sara Seale

Child Friday

BOOK: Child Friday
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CHILD FRIDAY

Sara Seale

 

“Friday’s child is loving and giving...” Emily Moon was like that, and she accepted sadly that she did not have the extra qualities of beauty or a high-powered brain.

Was she, she wondered, the sort of parson who could be a help to Dane Merritt—blind, embittered Dane, who had been so cruelly let down by the woman he loved? And would she be able to thaw the unchildlike reserve of Alice, the little girl who had never known a warm-hearted affection?

 

CHAPTER ONE

IT was snowing when Emily Moon came for the second time to the discreet offices of Pink’s Employment Agency in a quiet cul-de-sac off Regent Street. She stood on the doorstep watching the fat flakes swirl softly in the evening dusk, remembering her interview of a few days before.

Miss Pink had sat at her desk, shrewd
an
d watchful, her grey hair a miracle of the hairdresser’s art, her complexion a tribute to careful living and the correct face creams.

“You wouldn’t do at all,” she had said, her alert, worldly-wise eyes observing Emily with a tired impatience. Did they not realize, she wondered wearily, these unsuitable young creatures who came to her for jobs, that the best was chosen from the toughest of them, from girls who were fitted for anything; girls who had not this lost look of eager willingness, girls who could look after themselves and take the rough with the smooth?

She looked at Emily, observing the poverty, not only of her clothes, but also of the fine bones of her face and her spare, ill-nourished body, and sighed with unexpressed sympathy. How pathetic they were, how unfitted for the battle of survival in a world where jobs went to the brash, the girls with smiling self-confidence and determination to make the best of what offered.

So she had said: “You wouldn’t do at all,” and watched the eager light die out of Emily’s wide, anxious eyes.

But that had been several days ago. Now, Emily stood in the falling snow, summoned back unexpectedly to Pink’s Agency, conscious of hope long deferred, and the knowledge that fifteen shillings and eightpence halfpenny in her purse was all that remained between her and starvation. She stood for several moments watching the snow, seeing the bloom of dusk intermingle and lights dissolve the gyrating flakes into a mist of faery, then she turned to run up the dark stairs, leaving delight behind her. Something of that delight showed in her thin face as she entered the warm, small office, and Miss Pink looked up for a moment and observed her under speculative brows.

“Sit down,” she said, “I will attend to you in a moment
.”

Emily sat, loosening her collar nervously. The room was impersonal and much too hot, and the woman at the desk the uncaring arbiter of her future. It was not possible, she thought, staring trustingly at Miss Pink’s bent head, to exist for long on fifteen shillings and eightpence halfpenny. Whatever might be offered she must take and make the best of it.

Miss Pink laid down her pen and pushed a pile of papers away. She lit a cigarette and leaned back in her chair, expelling smoke impatiently.

“Tell me again about yourself,” she said, and her eyes rested appraisingly on Emily’s face.

“I can type and take shorthand, and I know a little about book-keeping,” said Emily glibly. “But you know all that, Miss Pink. I’ve taken any job to fill gaps—companion, baby-sitter—anything to earn.”

“You are not very accomplished in secretarial work, I think?” said Miss Pink, and Emily answered humbly:

“No. I’m slow, and I was never properly trained.”

“That’s not good enough these days, when competition is so strong.”

“Yes, Miss Pink.”

“However, when I asked you to tell me about yourself, I wasn’t alluding to your accomplishments. I want a picture of your background—the sort of person you grew up as.”

“Oh!”

For an instant Emily’s eyes widened with surprise. Miss Pink, observing her, saw the faint flush which stained her cheekbones and the embarrassment which stiffened her slight body.

“You should be hardened by now to questions you may consider impertinent,” she remarked dryly. “There are certain positions where background might be more important than ability. Now, we are agreed that your ability is possibly not up to standard. May I have a hint of your background, please?”

Emily swallowed and looked anxious.

“It’s very ordinary, I suppose,” she said. “My mother died when I was very young—my father about three years ago. He had never had me trained for anything. I think the
idea had been that I should remain at home and look after him. When he died he left very little. I took a short secretarial course which swallowed practically everything
and since then


“Since then you have not held down a job for any length of time.”

“No,” said Emily unhappily.

“And you’re how old?”

“Twenty”

Miss Pink frowned.

“Too young,” she said.

“Was that what you meant when you said the first time that I wouldn’t do?” Emily asked.

“Not precisely.”

“My plainness, then?”

Miss Pink observed her speculatively.

“Do you think you are plain?” she said, and was a little touched by Emily’s reply.

“Of course. My father seldom let me forget it. My mother, you see, was a beauty. I don’t think he readily forgave me for being so different. My mother was one of those people whom everyone turned to stare at. My father was very proud of her.”

The older woman’s gaze became embarrassing and Emily fidgeted restlessly, but Miss Pink, had she known it, was only being kindly critical. The bones were good, she thought, re
mem
bering her own immature longings for a glamour that was out of reach; the eyes beneath a too sensitive forehead were widely spaced and clear, with lashes that could be the envy of many a prettier girl, but in spite of that the girl seemed negative. Her skin was too transparent and the soft brown hair too fine and artless to provide a frame which might distract the eye from the thinness of jaw and temple.

“Can you drive a car?” asked Miss Pink abruptly.

“Yes,” said Emily, puckering her forehead doubtfully.

“Could you manage a house and servants?”

“Ye-es.”

“No,” said Miss Pink impatiently. “I can’t feel, somehow—”

She paused, arrested by the change in the young face opposite her. Emily’s face seemed to shrink with the anxiety which suddenly swamped it and her eyes grew enormous. As she lifted her chin in an unexpected gesture of assertion, the long lines of her throat and neck took on a fleeting beauty.

“I will do anything,” she said.

Anything,
Miss Pink, for a job to tide me over Christmas.”

“Nothing left for the landlady?” Miss Pink asked with resignation.

“The landlady—or me,” said Emily urgently. “I have fifteen shillings and eightpence halfpenny left—and three twopenny-halfpenny stamps—but I might need those.”

“To answer advertisements?” Miss Pink sounded more sceptical than she felt There was something about Emily Moon that disconcerted her.

“Yes, if it isn’t throwing good money away.”

Miss Pink considered her without speaking at once. It was not the first time she had had dealings with Emily Moon. Always there had been something about the girl which had troubled her; a humility, perhaps, that was no help in the perpetual struggle for existence, or, as now, a flash of bitterness which seemed out of place. This girl should have still been at home looking after a father whose affections were buried with dead beauty, growing old in the service of someone who, although he might not forgive her for being different, could at least offer security as wages.

“Even if my father hadn’t died I would have wanted to break away,” Emily said, and her flash of perception was disturbing.

“Would you?”

“Oh, yes. I loved my father but there have been too many plain daughters content to give until it was too late, haven’t there?”

“Yes, indeed. And are you good at giving, Emily? Is that where your virtue really lies?”

Emily’s forehead creased again in the effort to answer truthfully.

“I don’t know,” she said. “But I was
born
on a Friday.”

“What on earth has that to do with it?”

“Don’t you know ‘Monday’s child is fair of face, Tuesday’s child is full of grace?’ ” asked Emily seriously. “Well, ‘Friday’s child is loving and giving.’ ”

Miss Pink was tired after a long day. None of the girls on her books had ever talked to her like this and just for a moment she suspected pertness. She was about to retort rather tartly but suddenly caught the unaware expression on Emily’s face. The girl was watching the snow fall against the uncurtained window and as the flakes clung in little pyramids of light reflected from the room, her mouth curved into an unconscious Smile of tenderness. Yes, thought Miss Pink, the loving
and
giving were there and in that fleeting moment she was not plain. With an impatient movement Miss Pink reached behind her and jerked the curtains across the window.

“The position I had in mind is rather a peculiar one,” she said. “Heaven knows why I should have had second thoughts about you
,
but I’ve interviewed several people already and none seem really suitable. Time’s getting short and my client wishes to be fixed up as soon as possible.”

Emily sat blinking apprehensively. Whatever Miss Pink had in mind she must do her best to meet her requirements. “Yes?” she said.

“My client lives in Devonshire and requires a combination of secretary-housekeeper-companion. The circumstances are a little unusual, but to the right applicant, the position carries future—er—benefits.”

Miss Pink seemed to be momentarily embarrassed and began tapping her blotting-pad with plump, well-kept fingers.

“You mean it might become a permanency?” asked Emily, puzzled.

“Yes, exactly. A month’s trial on either side, you understand, and after that, if things are satisfactory, your future would be assured.”

“What would the lady expect to do?” enquired Emily, wondering where t
h
e peculiarity might lie.

“Your employer would not be a lady,” replied Miss Pink briskly. “Mr. Merritt is personally known to me, however, and should you meet with his requirements you would find him both considerate and generous.”

Emily looked slightly startled.

“But what would he want with a female companion?” she said, grasping at the one duty which she thought she could accomplish with least criticism.

“The same as any lonely person in like circumstances,” Miss Pink returned a trifle shortly. “Besides, there’s the child.”

“Oh, I see. He’s married,” said Emily, and Miss Pink gave her a sharp look.

“No, he is not married,” she said irritably. “The child is his ward. He inherited Pennyleat, and old house on Dartmoor, about a year or so ago, also a very comfortable small fortune on condition that he gave the little girl a home. In the circumstances a woman is needed permanently at Pennyleat.”

“A nursery governess, do you mean?”

“No, I do not. Governesses have been tried without success and anyhow the child goes to school and is only at home in holiday times. Mr. Merritt requires more than a governess—someone to do his secretarial work, to drive the car and be generally—er—helpful about the place. Do you
think
you could manage that?”

“Yes—yes, I
think
so. But doesn’t it seem rafter strange,
Miss Pink


“There is nothing at all irregular in what I am offering you, my dear,” interrupted Miss Pink suavely. “This is an extremely respectable agency as everyone knows, but if you don’t like the sound of this situation, say so at once and we’ll close the subject. I have, however, nothing more to offer you at present.”

Panic rose in Emily. She thought of the fifteen shillings and eightpence halfpenny in her purse, and her landlady’s wrath at the end of the week when she would be unable to pay, and she saw the cold glint in Miss Pink’s eye and felt humble and grateful and bewildered all at the same time.

“I didn’t mean ... I can’t afford to turn anything down ... any
thin
g
...”
she stammered, and Miss Pink’s glance softened as she saw the embar
r
assed color mount in the girl’s
thin
cheeks
.

“No, I don’t think you can,” she said briskly. "Well, now, let’s get down to business. This office is almost due to close and I want to get h
o
me.”

Emily listened mutely while Miss Pink discoursed concisely but without elaboration. Emily would go to Devonshire immediately, for the little girl was expected home from school for the Christmas holidays. If after a month she or her new employer should find things not to their liking, she would leave and no harm done; if, on the other hand, Mr. Merritt decided to make the arrangement permanent, Emily would have no need to return to P
ink
’s Agency. She was younger than Mr. Merritt had stipulated, but since the little girl was only ten that might be all to the good. Emily would be provided with sufficient money to settle her affairs besides her fare to Devonshire; the salary was good and if she proved satisfactory both parties would benefit immeasurably. It all sounded a little strange.

“How old is Mr. Merritt?” was all Emily could find to say when Miss Pink stopped talking. Old people were sometimes difficult to please, as she had already found in some of her short-lived jobs.

“About thirty-five,” replied Miss Pink absently and frowned at Emily’s expression of dismay. “What had you expected?”

“N-no one quite so young,” Emily stammered, and Miss Pink smiled a little wryly.

“Easier than a pernickety old fusspot, my dear. You won’t find Dane Merritt troublesome, I assure you. There was an unfortunate affair a few years ago which left its mark, I believe. She was a lovely girl and he always had a passion for beauty. Now, are you ready to give it a trial?”

Emily’s spirits dropped. Was she all her life to meet the sad comparison with beauty?

“Yes,” she said, “only


“Only what?”

“If he—if he cares so much for beauty, won’t he—won’t h
e—

“He won’t see you,” answered Miss Pink, thrusting papers into the drawer of her desk and turning the key with a snap. “I omitted to tell you at the beginning, but Dane Merritt is blind.”

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