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Authors: M.C. Beaton,Marion Chesney

Tags: #Historical romance

The Adventuress: HFTS5 (3 page)

BOOK: The Adventuress: HFTS5
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“Very well,” he muttered. “Seventy-six it is.”

Miss Goodenough once more opened her reticule, extracted the wad, peeled off the necessary sum, and paid him.

“Now, Mr. Palmer,” she said, “I do not like your face or your manner. Make sure you do not set foot in this house again while we have the letting of it. Come, Uncle.”

Palmer and the servants stood in silence until the Goodenoughs had left and closed the door behind them.

The agent rounded savagely on the servants. “This is all your fault,” he grated. “I’ll make up that four pounds out of your wages.” Then he left as well.

The servants shuffled back down to their hall to answer Dave’s excited questions.

“She holds the purse-strings,” said Rainbird, “and that Miss Goodenough is going to be the most clutch-fisted tenant we’ve ever had.”

“S’pose we’ve got to put up with them,” said Jenny. “Not as if there’s anyone else.”

“But there might be,” said Angus MacGregor, “if we got rid of ’em fast.”

“How can we do that?” asked Mrs. Middleton, who was already shaking in her shoes at the thought of the forthcoming interview with Miss Goodenough.

“Easily,” said Rainbird thoughtfully. “It is very simple for servants to drive someone away. Palmer won’t listen to them. They’ve paid the money, he’s accepted, so they can’t take him to court. Good idea, Angus. But, by George, I have seen Mr. Goodenough somewhere before. If only I could remember where.”

“There’s so much to do,” said Alice. “If they’re coming this afternoon, we’d better get the beds aired and the fires lit.”

Rainbird leaned back in his chair. “Why?” he said with a grin. “If we want rid of them, we may as well begin right now by taking it easy. They’ll want tea and cakes. Whip them up something really horrible, Angus!”

At The Bull’s Head in the City, Miss Emily Goodenough corded the last trunk and sat back on her heels. “Well, that’s that,” she said. “I think we are doing very nicely.”

“I think you were a leetle too high and mighty for a young miss, my dear,” said Mr. Goodenough. “Mustn’t give the show away.”

“But I could not let that repulsive Palmer get away with cheating me!”

“And you said ‘chiselling.’ Ladies never talk about people chiselling people. You must try not to use common expressions. Us impostors must always be on our guard.”

“We are not really impostors,” said Emily. “We changed our names by deed poll. We are now Mr. and Miss Goodenough, and you are my uncle. Forget you were the butler, Benjamin Spinks, forget I was ever that little chambermaid, Emily Jenkins. We are of the upper classes now.”

“Outside,” said Mr. Goodenough gloomily. “But inside I still feel like a servant.”

“But we
are
rich,” said Emily. “When old Sir Harry Jackson died and left you all his money, it was like the realisation of a dream.
You
always wanted to be a gentleman, and I always wanted to marry well.”

“Have you thought, Emily, that if just one member of the ton recognizes either the former butler or the former chambermaid, we should be socially damned? That butler, Rainbird, looks familiar.”

For a moment, Emily appeared very young and vulnerable and lost. In that moment, she wished they were servants again, living on dreams. Then she rallied. “Fustian,” she said bravely. “I shall make my début in society, and you shall meet the Prince of Wales, which is all you ever talked about. Courage, my uncle. We shall survive.”

“I shall try to be brave,” said Mr. Goodenough. “Wait here and I shall fetch a servant to carry our trunks. The bell-wire is broken.”

When her “uncle” had left, Emily rose to her feet and studied her face in the greenish old looking-glass over the fireplace. Surely she looked like a lady!

But when she had been a servant, she had felt like a lady inside. Now she felt like a servant inside. Odd.

Emily had been brought up by a spinster aunt. Her parents had died when she was very young. Her aunt had been a hard, unfeeling woman but prided herself on “knowing her duty.” Before her death, she had secured Emily the post of chambermaid at Blackstone Hall, home of Sir Harry Jackson, a childless bachelor of some sixty years. The butler, Spinks, now Mr. Goodenough, had taken her under his wing. Like Emily, he was a dreamer, and they would often walk in the grounds at the end of the day, planning fantastic futures for each other. Emily’s was always the same. Some rich lady would befriend her, bring her out as a débutante, and a rich lord would fall in love with her and marry her. The butler’s dreams were wilder and more fanciful. On some evenings as he walked with Emily, he would fantasise about being a pirate king or becoming a missionary or enlisting in the army, although the one dream he would return to over and over again was that of meeting the Prince of Wales, now Prince Regent.

And while they walked and dreamt, neither guessed that old Sir Harry was shortly to die and leave all his fortune to his butler.

Now that they were rich, now that they were on the threshold of that long-dreamt-of Season, Emily felt the stronger of the two. Mr. Goodenough was basically a timid man. Emily often suspected he missed his days of butling. When she was married and had a title, he could live with her always, decided Emily. The years would pass and he would become accustomed to being a gentleman and no longer dread exposure.

“Pity we paid our shot in advance,” said Mr. Goodenough as he came back into the room. “But I did not expect to find anywhere so quickly.”

“That house has been advertised for the past three months,” said Emily, “and at such a low rent. I wonder why no one else snapped it up.”

“As to the matter of the rent,” said Mr. Goodenough cautiously, “I feel you should have paid the full eighty pounds. Oh, I know that dreadful Palmer needed a set-down, but it was done in front of the servants, and, if you but remember, we servants have a hearty contempt for anyone who appears miserly.”

Emily laughed. “I think I am forgetting more quickly than you the thoughts of a servant. Do not worry. The staff at Clarges Street will have no cause to complain of my treatment.”

But it was a tight-lipped Emily who stood in the front parlour at 67 Clarges Street an hour later. The fire had not been lit, and the holland covers still lay in a pile in the corner where Rainbird had thrown them that morning.

She rang the bell and waited. And waited.

After ten minutes, she gave it a savage pull.

Rainbird sauntered in and stood looking at her, eyes bright with insolence.

“You r-a-a-a-n-g?” he drawled.

“Take your hands out of your pockets when you address me,” said Emily, turning pink with anger. “You will find our trunks still standing in the hall. Have them carried up to our rooms. We shall take the bedrooms on the second floor in case the large one on the first needs to be turned into a saloon. Light the fire here and light the fires everywhere else. Jump to it. And serve tea
immediately!”

Rainbird skipped out while Emily glared furiously after him.

“My dear,” quavered Mr. Goodenough, “such studied insolence does, I fear, betoken that they have guessed our humble origins.”

“Stuff!” said Emily roundly.

They waited impatiently as oh-so-slowly Joseph lounged in and made up the fire, placing lumps of coal delicately in the hearth with the tongs, one piece at a time.

Rainbird came in with the tea-tray and set it down on a console table with a loud crash that made the silver clatter against the china.

But Emily brightened. For the array of cakes looked absolutely delicious. Her stomach gave an unmaidenly rumble.

Rainbird began to skip off.

“Stop!” cried Emily. “Cannot you leave a room in a civilised manner?”

Rainbird turned hurt eyes on her. “You told me to jump to it, ma’am,” he said plaintively, “so I am jumping.”

“When I have finished tea,” said Emily evenly, “I want you and the rest of the staff to assemble here. Such impertinence must cease immediately.”

“Impertinence?” demanded Rainbird, folding his arms and leaning against the door jamb. “I—”

He broke off as a resounding volley of knocks sounded on the street door.

He sprang to answer it.

The Earl of Fleetwood stood on the doorstep.

“I am come for another look at this place,” he said, strolling in past Rainbird.

“The house is taken,” cried Rainbird, but Lord Fleetwood had already entered the front parlour.

He stopped short before the vision that was Emily.

Emily looked at him, her eyes wandering from his handsome, clever face to his elegant dress, the large jewel sparkling in his cravat, and then down to those boots which had caused even Beau Brummell to turn green with envy.

“My apologies, ma’am,” said the earl. “Am I to understand the house is let?”

“Yes,” said Emily breathlessly. “To me.”

“Me being?”

“Introduce yourself first,” snapped Emily, who was quite overset by the insolence of the servants.

He raised thin brows and looked at her haughtily. “My name is Fleetwood.”

“Earl of,” prompted Mr. Goodenough
sotto voce
.

“Well, Lord Fleetwood, I am Miss Emily Goodenough, and this is my uncle, Mr. Benjamin Goodenough.”

“Your servant, Miss Goodenough. When did you decide to take the house?”

“Today, my lord.”

“And you are satisfied with it?”

“Not quite,” said Emily with a baleful look at Rainbird, who was staring at the cakes in a most peculiar way. “I find the staff lacking in respect. Pray be seated, my lord.”

Lord Fleetwood sat down. “I confess I do not like the servant class, Miss Goodenough,” he said. “I find them all prone to gossip and insolence.”

Rainbird picked up the plate of cakes and headed for the door.

“Put those cakes back down immediately,” said Emily crossly. “And go away, Rainbird. I shall speak to you later.”

Rainbird slowly put the cakes back on the tray as Emily drew a chair up to the table and asked Lord Fleetwood if he took sugar and milk.

The butler ran downstairs to the kitchen. “Angus,” he wailed, “that Lord Fleetwood has called and she is about to offer him those cakes. What did you put in them?”

“Enough curry powder to blow his head off,” said the cook.

“We must stop him eating them,” screamed Mrs. Middleton.

“Why?” demanded the cook laconically. “I don’t like him either.”

“Fleetwood is a leader of the ton, you lummox!” howled Rainbird. “This house is damned as unlucky, and now added to that will be the tale that the servants try to poison their masters. I must think of something.”

Upstairs, Emily held out the plate of cakes to the earl. “Thank you, Miss Goodenough,” he said, “but they look so delicious, I feel you should have first choice.”

But Emily’s appetite had left her. Mr. Goodenough had muttered something about seeing to his unpacking and had left the room, leaving her alone with this terrifying aristocrat. She knew, as she watched a look of surprise cross the earl’s face, that it was bad ton to leave a young girl alone and unchaperoned with a gentleman.

“No, I thank you,” she said. “Perhaps later.”

The earl selected a large confection that appeared to be made of chocolate and cream and raised it to his mouth.

Then there came a loud shout from outside. He jumped to his feet. Outside the window, his horses were rearing and plunging while his little tiger clung desperately to the reins.

He ran from the room. Emily went to the window and was able to admire how efficiently the earl soothed down his frightened horses.

She turned about to return to her seat and let out a terrified scream as a large grey rat scuttled into the room, followed by The Moocher, the kitchen cat. She jumped up on her chair, holding up her skirts. Rainbird ran in after the cat, crashed into the table, and sent the tea service and cakes flying across the room. Dave erupted into the front parlour, deftly seized the rat by the tail, ran out again, with The Moocher in hot pursuit, and opened the front door and threw the rat out.

Unfortunately, the rat struck the returning earl full in the face and the kitchen cat jumped on him, howling and uttering war-cries.

The earl pulled the stunned rat off his face and threw it into the middle of the street, where it landed in the kennel.

Emily was still screaming as he hurried into the parlour.

“This house is infested!” cried Emily. “We must leave. We cannot stay.”

Despite all the shocks and alarms, the earl could not help noticing that her ankles revealed by her pulled-up skirts were absolutely beautiful.

“It was only a rat,” he said soothingly. He helped her solicitously down from the chair. “What a set of happenings! My tiger tells me that some red-headed giant jumped up and down in front of the horses shouting, “Boo!” at the top of his voice.

“It’s those poxy servants,” said Emily bitterly. “Bad cess to ’em.”

From the sudden chill in the earl’s eyes, Emily realised miserably that her newly acquired refined speech had slipped into vulgarity.

She tried to compose herself. She said she would ring for more tea. But the earl’s face had become a polite social blank. He sent his regards to her uncle, he was sad the house had been let, but assured her with patently false gallantry that it could not have been let to a more charming tenant, and bowed his way out.

Emily ran upstairs to pour out her troubles to Mr. Goodenough, only to find he was fast asleep in a chair in the bedroom.

She trailed back down to the front parlour. She would have to tackle these terrible servants herself.

Emily was twenty years of age, and her recently adopted haughty manner often made her look older, but as she threw herself down in a chair beside the fire and burst into tears, she looked little more than a child.

Joseph opened the door of the parlour, a dustpan and brush in his hand ready to sweep up the mess, saw the weeping Emily, and backed out in confusion, bumping into Rainbird. He whispered to the butler that Miss was in distress and they were joined by Mrs. Middleton, who was twitching like a nervous rabbit and clutching the housekeeping books to her chest. Together they peered round the door of the parlour at the miserably sobbing Emily, and then quietly closed the door and stood together in the hall.

BOOK: The Adventuress: HFTS5
4.31Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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