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Authors: Evelyn Hervey

The Man of Gold

BOOK: The Man of Gold
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The Man of Gold

Evelyn Hervey

Contents

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter One

Even before the terrible events of the spring of the year ‘74 Miss Unwin had regretted, frequently and sometimes bitterly, her decision to accept the post of governess to Mr Richard Partington’s two motherless girls. On the very day she had first gone to call on Mr Partington at his father’s grim old house in the Harrow Road on the western outskirts of London she had done her utmost to decline the position.

Yet she had accepted it. She had known almost from the moment she had seen the twins, so thin and forlorn in their bedraggled frocks with the scanty drooping unstarched flounces, that she would agree to come to them.

At the time, though she hardly realised it, it was not only the challenge which the two warily suspicious girls, so startlingly alike in looks, presented to her that made her act so against her customary common sense. There had been something else. An attraction, she knew not of what nature, had made her determined to go to the house.

Certainly the remuneration offered did nothing to make her feel she ought to accept the post.

‘As to salary,’ Mr Richard Partington had said, giving her a sudden wry, apologetic smile, there and gone in a moment, ‘as to salary the figure fixed upon is twenty-five pounds per annum.’

He must have seen the expression of dismay Miss Unwin had struggled in vain to conceal. The sum was barely half what she received in her present post, soon to come to an end.

‘That is – That is Mr Partington at once stammered. That is twenty-five pounds is the sum which my father, from whose purse your salary will be found, is prepared to offer.’

He came to a halt then and his round face was lit up by another of the rueful quick smiles Miss Unwin was to come to know so well.

‘And I am afraid I am instructed to say,’ he added, ‘that he will not budge from that figure.’

At that moment Miss Unwin had had words of uncompromising refusal on her lips. It was monstrous, really monstrous, to be asked to accept less than some servants. But the two little girls, standing so silently looking at her like a pair of identical kittens ready at a moment’s fright to dart away, had kept those words from being voiced. Or had there even then been something else? It was a question Miss Unwin was to come to ponder very frequently when winter had at last yielded to spring.

She turned at that moment to the girls and put another question to them, something merely designed to make them talk and reveal whether the spark of intelligence she thought she glimpsed behind their carefully unexpressive faces did truly exist.

‘Now, girls, how old are you? Your Papa has not told me that.’

The twin who was standing an inch or so forward spoke up.

‘We’re nine.’

Their father hastily intervened.

‘Louisa, Louisa, you should address this lady as Miss Unwin. It is not at all polite to do otherwise.’

Once more there darted out to Miss Unwin that elusive timid smile that seemed to contradict so entirely the plain, round face which at the same time it illuminated.

‘So you are Louisa,’ Miss Unwin said to the first twin, keeping firmly to the business in hand. ‘And what is your sister’s name?’

‘It’s Maria.’

But quickly Louisa’s sister covered up her twin’s renewed lack of politeness.

‘I am Maria, Miss Unwin. And we had our ninth birthday just last week.’

‘I see. And were you given some nice presents?’

‘No,’ said Louisa, sharply uncompromising. ‘We had only one each.’

‘But they were nice, Miss Unwin,’ Maria again came to the rescue. ‘They were spinning tops. A red one for Lou and a blue for me. Papa made them himself.’

Miss Unwin felt a rising up of surprise. The children of this house which, shabby though it seemed, was a gentleman’s house, to be given as birthday presents no more than a homemade wooden top apiece. And nothing, so it appeared, from the grandfather who was to pay her own salary. It was strange. Strange indeed.

She decided that this was a subject that had better not be pursued. Her few words with the girls in any case had shown her that the spark of quickness she had wondered about did indeed exist, if in Louisa’s case it took a form that was less than pleasant. But that made the challenge of putting things right all the more appealing.

She turned to the girls’ father.

‘The sum you suggest, sir,’ she said, ‘is less than I am receiving at present.’

‘Yes, yes. I know it is small, terribly small. But – But, let me assure you, were it in my power – No. No, when it is in my power I shall remunerate you as handsomely as – As any Lord in the land would do.’

‘I should not require a greater sum than my services are worth,’ Miss Unwin said.

Mr Partington swung round, with an abruptness of action seemingly a compensation for his noticeably small stature, an abruptness Miss Unwin was to come to know as typical, and addressed his two daughters.

‘Girls, girls. Beg this lady to accept. You know that
of all who have seen you she is

He paused and turned back to give Miss Unwin a look that was almost a frank stare.

‘She is – She is the most kindly looking by far.’ He gave her a different smile then, a sudden grin that spread from one side of his wide mouth to the other. ‘And I am sure much the cleverest.’

‘You have hardly had opportunity to judge of that, sir,’ Miss Unwin said.

She had felt the need, the duty even, to state the truth. She was not going to yield to any obvious flattery, however warmly and pleasantly spoken.

And yet in the end she had yielded.

She did not do so there and then in the little chilly parlour where Mr Partington saw her, with its fire grate empty even on that grey wintry day and with its hard horsehair chairs and yet harder and more forbidding horsehair sofa. But, even as Mr Partington had seized up his hat to escort her out, she had known for all she said firmly that she would need a day and a night to make up her mind that she was going to accept.

Not even the ridiculous incident over summoning a cab put her off.

As she had stood on the wide pavement outside the old, paint-worn house next to the factory where Partington’s Patent Pins, those useful devices that everybody knew of, were manufactured with the sharp wind tugging at her skirts, Mr Partington had insisted that she must have a cab to take her back to Bayswater.

‘No, really, it is kind, but there is an omnibus that goes almost the whole way.’

‘No, no, Miss Unwin. An omnibus for a lady who has come all this way to see me and my poor girls. I could not think of such a thing.’

‘But I came on an omnibus, sir.’

‘And it was not right that you should have done so. It was abominable that you should have done so. It was very
wrong of me not to have made it plain when I wrote that of course you should take a cab when you came here. At my expense. That is, at my father’s–’

He came to a full stop and looked down at the grey stones of the pavement with such a disconsolate expression on his round countenance that Miss Unwin had been tempted to laugh. And had found in herself then somehow an even greater determination to take the offered post despite the meanness of the salary.

But before Richard Partington had been able to excuse himself any further a hansom had come clattering along on the far side of the road and, waving his hat like a madman, he had run into the roadway to halt it.

Yet this was not the end of the business. That came when Miss Unwin was sitting safely behind the half-doors which protected her from the cab’s horse and the grime upthrown from the cobbles. Richard Partington attempted then to pay the driver perched up behind her on his box.

He plunged his hand into his pocket with the evident intention of pulling out a shilling for the fare. And, as evidently, he found his pocket empty. He tried then the other pockets in his much-worn green trousers, which yet showed a certain elegance of cut, as well as the pockets in his blue swallow-tail coat, as old, as elegantly fitting his short figure, but not really matching the green trousers.

Had this odd mixture of garments been a factor in Miss Unwin’s irrational decision to take the poorly paid and unpromising post? Its air of being at once slightly ridiculous and yet of speaking of the trials of a widower’s life had struck her certainly. But she did not really know.

The curiously dressed young widower having searched his each and every pocket and been unable to find as much as a sixpence, indeed not as much as a single farthing, looked up at her piteously.

‘My dear Miss Unwin,’ he said, ‘I’m afraid I shall have
to ask you to pay the fellow yourself. Oh, but have you enough in your purse? If you haven’t I’ll – I’ll – I’ll manage somehow, see if I don’t.’

‘Pray, don’t concern yourself, Mr Partington. I have quite sufficient. Don’t concern yourself at all.’

What she had said was only partly true. She did have a shilling in her purse and three pennies besides. But that was all that she had allowed herself for the remainder of the week, and if the shilling was given to the cab-man there were things she would have to do without unless she was to rob her small savings.

But she put a brave face on it. She felt she could not mortify Richard Partington more than he had been mortified already.

So the hansom rolled smartly away and she sat there trying to persuade herself once again not to take the post. And knew that no amount of rational argument was going to be of any avail.

Somehow the poverty that seemed so evident in everything she had seen in the shabby house beside the pin works made her feel she could not do what, clearly, a good many applicants had done before her: leave in appalled dismay and forget the offer had ever been made.

The grim horsehair chairs and sofa in the little chilly parlour had not repelled her as they should have done in any sensible view of them. The very lack of a fire in the grate, however small and smoky, had not made her say to herself that the days she would spend in winter in the house would be cheerless in the extreme. The dinginess of the twins’ white pinafores and the sad unstarched flounces of their frocks had only made her heart go out to them.

In her own earliest days, when the workhouse had been all she had known, she had endured worse deprivation by far. Then she had had nothing, and little hope of ever having anything. Richard Partington’s daughters, on the other hand, or rather old Mr Partington’s daughters, on the other hand, or rather old Mr Partington’s granddaughters
as it seemed, were deprived surely because the good things that could have been theirs had been deliberately withheld.

BOOK: The Man of Gold
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