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Juliana Wrenn thought she had rarely entered a more uninviting chamber than cousin Pettigrew's drawing room in Bouverie Street. Unpolished panelling, dark hangings and dull green paint on the ceiling seemed to swallow up the sunlight that was valiantly fighting its way through the dirty windows. She felt a little hand gripping her fingers and looked down, summoning up a smile.
'Are you cold, Amy? I am sure Cousin Pettigrew will not keep us waiting much longer.'
Her little sister hugged her rag doll closer.
'I want to go home!' she whimpered.
Juliana sat down on a worn sofa and pulled the little girl on to her lap.
'You know we can't do that, love. We must see if Cousin Alfred can help us.' She smiled up at her younger brother, a stout twelve-year-old who was hovering beside them.
'Come and sit down, Tom.'
'I would rather go back to the kitchen,' said Thomas, thinking of the fruitcake he had left behind when they had been summoned upstairs.
At that moment the door opened, and the three of them jumped to their feet, their eyes fixed on the florid-faced, bewhiskered gentleman who came in.
Juliana gave him her best curtsy.
'Good afternoon, Cousin. Thank you for seeing us.'
Alfred Pettigrew advanced into the room, stripping off his gloves and dropping them, together with his silver-topped malacca cane, on to a side table.
'Yes, well, I have just got inhad to carry out the reading of a will in Mount Street. I gather you have been here all morning?'
'Yes, sir. We asked if we might wait for you and your housekeeper, Mrs Churwell, kindly looked after us.'
'She gave us cake, and a glass of milk,' added Amy and was nudged by Thomas, who hissed at her to be quiet. Juliana ignored the interruption.
'I wrote to you, Cousin.'
'Aye, you did, and I responded, did I not? Even more, I paid for your father's funeral, and saw to the settlement of his affairs for you.'
'Yes, sir, and we are very grateful. But that was three weeks ago, and circumstances have changed.' She hesitated, for the first time losing some of her self-assurance. 'The bailiffs called yesterday and removed everything, and Mr Crewe, the landlord, said he had already let the rooms, so we had to leave this morning.'
Mr Pettigrew looked at her.
'And what am I supposed to do with you?'
'We were hopingthat is ' Juliana took a deep breath. 'We need somewhere to stay. It need only be for a short time, until I can find employment'
He gave an impatient snort.
'And what sort of employment could you find, miss, that would allow you to support the three of you?'
She drew herself up, her hands clasped in front of her rather shabby pelisse.
'Well, Cousin, I was thinking that if you could advance me a small sum, I could find a house for us and earn a living as a tutor. I am very good at French and Italian, and could possibly do a little translation, too '
'Out of the question!'He waved a hand impatiently. 'Why, I would not see my money again for many a year, if ever.'
Juliana closed her lips firmly, quelling her retort. It was common knowledge thatAlfred Pettigrew was a rich man, but it was equally well known that he was not a generous one. She had seen enough of the house to convince her that he was indeed what her father would have called a nip-farthing. She sighed. It was not a charge that could be laid at Papa's door.
'Well, then, what are we to do, Cousin Alfred?' asked Thomas. 'You are the only relative we have.'
'You have no need to remind me of that.' Mr Pettigrew scowled and his heavy jowls shook with disapproval. 'That my cousin Wrenn should leave his affairs in such disorder, with no means of support for the three of youunforgivable.'
He paced the room while three pairs of eyes watched anxiously. At length he stopped.
'Very well. I'll tell you what I will do. I will send you all to Hinton Slade, my house in Devon. My mother lives there; she is not in the best of health and would welcome a companion, I am sure. That way, Miss Juliana, you can earn your keep. Thomas can help out in the stables and young Amy there can train as a lady's maid.'
Juliana looked at him in horror.
'But what about their schooling?'
'Tush, a boy of twelve doesn't need schooling. He is better earning his living. And as for the young 'un, well, you can teach her all she needs in your spare time.'
Juliana looked down at her siblings, fighting the urge to take their hands and walk out of Cousin Alfred's house. Instead she said calmly, 'That is very kind of you, Cousin. Perhaps you would allow me a few days to consider the matter?'
'Don't see there's anything to consider.' His lip curled. 'Unless you have had any better offers?'
'No, but I would like to make a few enquiries.' She tried a winning smile. 'Please, Cousin, may we impose upon your generosity for a few days? I promise you we will be in no one's way.'
'Of course you will be in the way! This is a bachelor establishmentit would be most improper for you to be here.'
'Not if we kept to the servants' rooms, sir. Mrs Churwell told me that she was obliged to dismiss one of the kitchen-maids, so the three of us could sleep in her room for a few nights. We would be most discreet.'Remembering the house-keeper's advice on dealing with the master, she added, 'I'm sure Mrs Churwell would be grateful for a little help now she's one girl short in the kitchen.'
She held her breath. Mr Pettigrew frowned at the carpet, puffing out his cheeks. Amy moved restlessly from one foot to the other and Juliana put a reassuring hand on her shoulder.
'Very well, you can stay, but only for a few days. I can't have the three of you eating me out of house and home. If you've found nothing in a se'ennight, then it's off to Devon with you.'
'Oh, thank you, sir!' Juliana beamed at him. 'We will be no trouble, I promise you. You will not even know we are in the house.'
Juliana hurried Amy and Thomas back to the kitchens where the housekeeper was waiting for them.
'Well, miss?' she asked. 'It must be good news or you would be out the door by now.'
Juliana smiled. 'We can stay, and I can help you with the maid's work until you find a replacement.'
'Aye, I guessed that would sway him,' Mrs Churwell tutted. 'Miserable old skinflint, and him with more money than he knows what to do with.'
'He did say we could go and live with Aunt Pettigrew,' said Thomas, brightening when he found his half-eaten cake was still on the table.
The footman, sitting in one corner blacking his shoes, gave a derisive snort.
'Ha! She's worse than the master. You'd work your fingers to the bone for that one and not a penny would you get for it. I had a cousin as was groom there for a while, until he joined the army to fight the French. Said he preferred to face Boney himself than old Mrs P.'
'Aye, Lawrence is right,' agreed Mrs Churwell, shaking her head. 'The Pettigrews is a miserly family and no mistake.'
'And that makes it all the more imperative that I find employment,' said Juliana, sinking down into a chair by the table.
'Well, that's a problem for the morrow,' replied Mrs Churwell comfortably. 'Poor dear, I dare swear you have had no end of worry these past few weeks. Now you sit and rest, dearie, and these two youngsters can make themselves useful by shelling peas for dinner.'
Juliana rose early the next morning to find that Mrs Churwell had brought a pile of the master's newspapers to the kitchen, smiling as she put them down on the table.
'I thought you might find a suitable post advertised in here, miss. Sit yourself down and study these news-sheets while I take up the master's breakfast. And don't you worry about Thomas and little Amy, I've set them to folding sheets upstairs, so you can have a bit o' peace.'
When the housekeeper returned to the kitchen some time later, Juliana was still sitting at the table with the newspapers spread out before her.
'It seems there are far more advertisements for those seeking employment than requiring someone. Listen"Governess seeks position, no salary required." What straits must that poor creature be in?'
'The same as you, Miss Juliana,'responded Mrs Churwell. 'You are not to be letting that kind heart o' yours worry about everyone else's problems. You have your family to consider, and if you let the master send you all off to Hinton Slade you'll be stuck in the middle of nowhere, and don't think old Mrs Pettigrew will help you to better yourself, because she won't, not when she sees she can have the three of you doing her bidding for a pittance!'
'I suppose you are right. Oh, Mrs Churwell, it seems a hopeless case.'
'Not a bit of it,' came the robust reply. 'Now, miss, what you must do is to place your own advertisement in the newspaper. And you must write down all the things you can do, just like you told them to me, so that everyone will know what an accomplished young lady you are and they will come begging you to teach their children.'
'That would certainly be very welcome!'laughed Juliana. 'I suppose I could advertise.'
'Of course you could! Mr P. will be in his office by now, so there will be no one in the morning room, and you'll find paper, pens and ink there. You go and write it now, my dear. Strike while the iron's hot, as they say.'
'I will, Mrs Churwell.' Juliana rose. 'I will go and write the best advertisement you have ever read!'
She ran up the stairs, but checked as she reached the top. She could hear voices in the hallway and guessed that Mr Pettigrew was meeting a client. Peeping around the door, Juliana saw her cousin making a deep bow to a tall gentleman. The visitor had his back to her, so that all she could see of the man himself was his black hair and his many-caped driving coat which added even more width to his already large frame.
'Major Collingham' Cousin Alfred's nose was almost touching his knee 'I am most honoured by this visit, sir, following on from our conversation yesterday. But you should not have come out in this rain, sirI should have been quite happy to bring the papers to you.'
'No need, Pettigrew. I had to come this way this morning. I needed to place an advertisement and thought I could do it myself and call upon you on my way. I want to get everything signed and sorted before I leave town next week; thought I was doing well, too, until the children arrived yesterday evening, with the news that their governess had given notice!'
'How unfortunate for you, sir. Come into my office and I will find those papers for you.'
Juliana drew back behind the door as her cousin led the gentleman on, but before the door closed on them she heard the stranger say bitterly,
'Unfortunate? It's damned annoying, man! Particularly now, when I need to take the children into Lancashire with me. That's the third damned woman I've hired in as many months! What can be so difficult about looking after a couple of brats? I tell you, Pettigrew, I'd give a king's ransom to find a governess who could stay the course '
The door closed upon the two men and Juliana stepped slowly into the hall, nibbling the tip of her finger. She looked at the footman, who was shaking out the man's greatcoat.
'Lawrence, that mando you know him?'
'Major Collingham, miss?'
'Yes. Is he is he one of Mr Pettigrew's clients?'
The footman shook his head as he laid the greatcoat gently over a large chest.
'No, miss. But he is trustee for one of 'em.' He added knowledgeably, 'He is the sort of well-set-up gentlemen that people like to appoint as executor to manage their affairs when they turn up their toes.'
Juliana smoothed her hands over her gown and said as casually as she could, 'And, do you perhaps know where he lives?'
'Oh, aye, miss. I've taken papers to his house in Burlington Street many a time.'
Juliana nodded, then turned and made her way back to the kitchen, where Mrs Churwell was busy making pastry.
'Well, now, that was quick!' exclaimed the housekeeper, up to her elbows in flour. 'Have you written your notice already?'
Juliana shook her head, and sat down at the table. 'No, but I think I have found a solution to my problems!'