Cover image for Like a diamond
Like a diamond
Macdonald, Malcolm.
Personal Author:
[First U.S. edition].
Publication Information:
New York : St. Martin's, 1999.

Physical Description:
377 pages ; 22 cm
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X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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A young aristocrat is so instantly smitten with the new housemaid of his family's Cornwall estate that he does an unspeakably shocking thing--he shakes her hand! A delightful story about masters, servants, and the power of love.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

As British society begins to change just prior to World War I, the de Vivians are trying to preserve their upper-class values while their younger children, Peter and Beatrice, insist on rejecting them. The family moves to Falmouth in Cornwall, and Peter causes an uproar when he meets the new staff and shakes the hand of the beautiful housemaid, Gemma. He instantly falls in love with her, but Gemma tries to maintain the proper division between their classes. She has reason to be leery of a young master pursuing a maid, as her twin sister was pursued and seduced under similar circumstances, only to be abandoned when she became pregnant. The family, including Gemma, who is Beatrice's personal maid, travels to London for the season. Peter hopes that this will give him more opportunities to convince Gemma of his sincerity, but even if he wins her heart, the couple will have to face his parents. Macdonald's intriguing glimpse into late Edwardian society is sure to please any fan of Jean Marsh's Upstairs Downstairs. --Patty Englemann

Publisher's Weekly Review

In veteran writer Macdonald's latest, beautiful and saucy parlor maid Gemma Penhallow attracts the eye of the handsome young master of the house, Peter de Vivian. In fact, their mutual attraction is so strong that Peter actually shakes Gemma's hand upon their first meeting; in 1910 Cornwall, this is a scandal! And it's not the only worrisome situation in the family, since Peter's unmarried, 19- year-old sister, Beatrice, is already in danger of spinsterhood. If she must marry, the rebellious Beatrice declares, she wants to find a "wicked lord... a rogue" for a spouse. Though Peter has only honorable intentions from the first, it takes a long time to convince Gemma of his devotion; her twin, Ruby, was ruined when she was seduced by the young master where she was employed. Peter finally declares his love during the London Season, where Gemma has accompanied the family as lady's maid. Here, more adventures are afoot, as the de Vivians deal with the death of King Edward and the "new people" with commercial money, who are intruding upon their exclusive society. Peter begins to gamble and has a small "affaire," finds fitting mates both for Gemma's sister and Beatrice, and risks his family's wrath by getting to know Gemma better. When the French maid reveals the liaison, Peter's snooty mother hatches a clever plan to nip this romance in the bud. The resourceful pair discover a surprising piece of information that will ensure that the "mater and pater" accept and bless the ultimate marriage. Again, Macdonald delivers a smoothly written historical novel with nicely delineated characters, expert pacing and vivid setting. (June) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



Chapter One Gemma looked at Martha. Martha looked at Gemma. Which of them would yield first? Really it was Martha's turn to answer the bell, because Gemma had taken the breakfast up to Mr and Mrs Walker, the butler and housekeeper, only ten minutes earlier. And although Gemma was younger than Martha by five years, they were equal in status, both being parlourmaids.     The bell rang again.     "Let me spare those weary old bones of yours, Miss Unwin," Gemma said as she rose and went toward the door of the servants' hall.     "I'll save you this." Martha grinned in petty triumph as she cancelled the flag that showed the origin of the ringing -- the housekeeper's parlour. (Quite unnecessarily, as it happened, for, until the de Vivians arrived to take up their new residence later that same day, no other interior bell was likely to ring.)     "You are too kind!" Gemma gave a grouchy half curtsey and flounced out.     "They'll want more hot water, my lover." Miss Eddy, the cook, handed her a cloam jug in a knitted cosy as she passed through the kitchen on her way to the servants' stair. Silver for the master and mistress; cloam for the upper servants; pewter for the scullery and stables. In some households on board wages the butler and housekeeper would have indulged themselves with silver service until the master and mistress arrived, but not the Walkers. They ran the household just as if the master and mistress were away for the day.     All the same, Gemma thought, as she started on the long climb to the housekeeper's parlour, it was a mercy that the de Vivians were arriving today, at long last.     When a household comes off board wages it suffers as many aches and pains as an old man or woman might feel on waking to a new day. It is bad enough when only a skeleton staff is kept on, but Mrs de Vivian had kept on the full complement from the days of the Deverils, the previous owners of Number One, Alma Terrace, Falmouth, and that made it far worse.     True, Mrs de Vivian had rented all their furniture three weeks back and moved it into the house at once, so that it might acquire the deep lavender-beeswax shine she expected to see her face in when she arrived; and she had moved all their bedding in a week ago, so that it could be thoroughly turned and aired in front of the fire before they had to sleep in them. But the Deverils had left back in February almost two months ago, and for most of that time there had been neither furniture to dust, nor carpets to hide the dust under; nor were there beds to make, nor baths to carry, nor clothes to sponge and press and mend ... nor all those myriad services to perform that exhaust the servant's body and quench the fires of combat. And servants thus liberated have time enough to exploit their knowledge of one another's strengths and weaknesses, the blind spots, the pet hates, the hopes and fears that drive them all beneath their usually well-disciplined exteriors.     As Gemma mounted the stair, Mrs Walker, the housekeeper, was saying to her husband, James, the butler, "One more week without a family to keep us busy, and there'd have been murder under this roof. More toast? Where is that girl?" She pressed the electric button again and heard the distant tinkle. "See? It is working. I said it was."     "I believe one more slice would not come amiss, my dear," he replied. "That's what these communists don't understand with all their talk of working-class solidarity. Take away our masters and mistresses and where's your solidarity, eh? Flown out by the window, that's where. There's only one thing unites us -- repression by our middle-class masters, nothing else. We could do with some more hot water, too."     Gemma Penhallow, the younger of the two parlourmaids, stood in the doorway -- a slender, good-looking girl of eighteen with light green eyes and pale ginger hair; though it was long and slightly frizzy, she kept it tied in two firmly disciplined buns, above and behind each ear.     "You took your time!" Mrs Walker snapped, holding up the empty water jug. "Arguing the toss with Martha about who should answer the bell, weren't you!" She saw the replacement jug in Gemma's hand and said, "Oh," in a softer tone.     "Shall I bring more toast?" Gemma swapped the jugs.     Mrs Walker nodded and managed the ghost of a smile as Gemma left. When they were alone again she said, "I begin to worry about that girl."     He cleared his throat and returned his attention to the two remaining slices of toast and marmalade. "Pray, why, my dear?" he asked casually.     "The de Vivians have a boy of around twenty -- name of Peter. And, from one or two things Mrs de V was saying last week, I gather he's not the sort who collects stamps and butterflies. She as good as told me that one of their reasons for moving to Falmouth was to break all ties with his present set of cronies -- young men of the world."     Her husband sniffed. "She's in for a rude awakening then, if she imagines the young bucks of Falmouth are all Sunday-school teachers."     "Quite. Still, that's their worry, not ours. Ours is that thing which rears its ugly head when young masters of that age and inclination live under the same roof as pretty young things like Gemma. As we know only too well! " she concluded pointedly.     He laughed drily and with little humour. " He's the one who's in for a rude awakening if he tries anything with Gemma. Especially since ... well, you know."     " I know," she replied ominously. "And you know. And that's the way it had better remain, Walker, dear. No one else here knows. None of the other servants knows why Ruby really left us. So -- ignorance is bliss, eh? There's certainly no need for the de Vivians to hear of it."     "I'm not so sure we're the only two who know -- apart from Gemma herself, of course. She may have told Martha. You know the way they chatter after lights-out up there."     "Not her." She shook her head emphatically. "She felt the shame of it more than anyone. More than the Deverils did. She's never so much as mentioned it, not even to me. And she has no reason to hold her ..."     "To you?" Walker frowned. "But why should she mention it to you? I mean, you were there. We both were."     "That's what I'm saying. I was involved from first to last. I even saw it coming. So she has no reason to be coy with me. I often thought she'd like to talk about it -- such a loss. A twin sister!" She broke off as a new thought occurred to her. "By the by," she said, "I forgot to tell you -- Mister de Vivian asked me to make sure no one speaks of twins in his wife's hearing. The young master had a twin once -- Peter and Paul, they were -- and she never got over Paul's death, he said. Anyway -- to get back to Gemma Penhallow -- she's never once referred to the business about Ruby, from that day to this. Not to me. Not once. Not so much as a flicker of an eyelid when the topic of servant girls keeping their honour has come up. No!" She shook her head again. "I agree with you there -- she has a hardness in her as would blunt the blade of any young master who tried his luck. There'll be none of that nonsense from our Gemma. But as for Master Peter ..."     "Where is she with that toast?" her husband asked irascibly as he licked remnants of the marmalade from his fingertips.     At that moment Gemma was standing over Bridget Condron, the little sixteen-year-old kitchen skivvy, who was hard at work scrubbing down the front steps. "Well?" she asked.     "Well what?" the girl responded pugnaciously.     "I told you to get another rack of toast from Miss Eddy, that's what. And take this down, while you're at it." She thrust the empty jug at the skivvy.     Bridget butted it aside with her shoulder. "And I'm after telling you I'm busy at these steps. Go fill it yourself. Have you no hands on them arms nor legs beneath them skirts?"     "I'm not going to argue with you, Condron," Gemma said. "I'm simply telling you -- go and get that toast. At once."     "And I'm telling you no." Bridget went on calmly scrubbing the doorsteps. "Not unless cook says I may. You go ask Miss Eddy. She's the one I take my orders from -- not you. And I just know what she'll tell you! She'll eat you a mile off."     "Hellew, hellew, hellew!" Henry Trewithen, the valet-footman, parodied an upper-class accent. "All the jolly jollies, eh!" He rubbed his hands enthusiastically. "Trouble on the lower decks? Muttering among the serfs?" He noticed a thread sticking out of his white gloves and picked it off fastidiously. "Can't have that."     "Piss off, yew!" Bridget cried, not even pausing in her toil. " Some of us has to work around here."     She was scrubbing so hard she did not see the shock her words -- or that one word in particular -- had given the two upper servants. A lesser man than Trewithen would have burst out laughing, but years of maintaining a poker face while waiting at a table where outrageous things were being said came to his aid. Besides, to laugh at so shocking an outburst with young Gemma there would have lost him all her regard. At the slightest suggestion of coarseness, in word or gesture, she turned into a veritable ice-maiden. He leaned over Bridget and, tipping her a wink where Gemma wouldn't see it, said severely -- and in his normal Cornish accent, "If you ever use such coarse language again, maid, you'll be out of this house within the hour. Have you got that?"     "Yes, Mister Trewithen," she intoned in a tendentious singsong, half sighing the words.     "I wouldn't have you touch their toast now," Gemma said, salvaging what dignity she could from the girl's refusal to obey her. She stumped off through the house, down the long corridor to the kitchen.     "Take a tip, my lover," the footman said when she was safely out of earshot. "Never use a coarse expression or tell a coarse tale or make a coarse gesture when that one's around."     "Jaysus!" Bridget relaxed and mopped her brow. "What is she -- a runaway nun or something?"     "She just will not tolerate coarseness, that's all. And somehow she makes the rest of us conform. When my sister called and took a dish o' tay with us, two weeks ago it was. Your day off, I believe? Anyway, she told a harmless little tale -- leastways, the rest on us thought it harmless enough, but not Miss pure-as-the-driven-snow Gemma! She told my sister ..."     "What tale? Go on -- tell us. My arms think my head's a tyrant." The girl sat back on her heels and trained her large, searching eyes on him.     He chuckled. "Don't get your hopes up. I said 'twas a harmless wee tale about a little girl who wouldn't let a little boy into her bedroom. She was in the bed, see? And the boy asks why not. And she says 'cos she's got her nightdress on and her mammy told her never to let little boys into her bedroom when she's got her nightdress on. And then there's a short pause, see, and then she calls out, `All right, you may come in now. I've tooken my nightdress off!' That's all. I said 'twas harmless enough, but Miss lawdy-daw Gemma didn't think so. She told my sister to apologize or be gone. Honest! Go and never come back. You could have cut the air and sold it to the silent monks. So you just mind your PS and QS when she's around, see?"     They were both laughing as a furious Gemma emerged from the kitchen with a full rack of toast. "Nice for some!" she said as she started back up the stairs to the housekeeper's parlour.     "Keep out of her way for a while, eh?" was his final advice to Bridget as he set off after Gemma.     He caught up with her on the first landing. "Don't be too hard on the kiddy, eh, Miss Penhallow?" he suggested as he followed her up the passageway. "She is Irish, after all."     "What's being Irish got to do with it?" Gemma snapped. "You're in my way."     He leaped aside like a dancer. "She's a fish out of water here, that's what I mean. God knows where she ought to be but ..."     "About time!" the butler barked at Gemma as he jerked open his door and saw the pair of them standing there. "Do we think we have time to stand around gossiping, eh! Is the silver all set out?"     "Yes, Mister Walker," Trewithen replied.     "And spread with Silvo?"     "Yes, Mister Walker."     "Well, cut along and start polishing. I'll be down as soon as I've shaved -- which I would be already if someone had hurried up with the toast."     Trewithen stared at Gemma, daring her to admit that she had tried to palm the chore off on little Bridget; but Gemma just muttered something about the stove not wanting to draw, what with the wind being in the northeast. The butler didn't even bother to listen.     "God knows where she ought to be," Trewithen went on as if their previous conversation had suffered no interruption -- a trick familiar to all in service -- "but if we treat her right and don't try to iron out too much of her spirit all at once, we could make something useful of her, don't you think?"     Gemma pursed her lips but did not argue.     He pressed his point home. "Act of charity, eh? Never know when we'll be in need of help ourselves. Eh?" He bent forward and peered up at her, for she was trying to turn her face away. "Eh -- come on now."     She relented and smiled at last. "Has anyone ever been able to stay angry with you for longer than ten seconds, Mister Trewithen?" she asked.     "Angry?" He spoke as if the word amazed him. "Were you angry with me, my lover? Why on earth should anyone get angry with me?"     "Well, I'm not," she said. "And to prove it, I'll give you a hand with the silver -- if you have a spare pair of gloves."     "You shall have the best," he promised, leading the way to the butler's pantry, whose door he unlocked with a flourish; Trewithen did most things with a theatrical flourish. Sometimes Gemma wondered if he was entirely sane. She put on her gloves and, picking up one of the smaller pieces, polished the Silvo off the cartouche. "So that's the de Vivian coat of arms," she murmured, gazing at the engraving. "A hussar about to chop a toy bridge in half. What's it mean?"     The valet put on a superior face. "I don't know about making something useful out of little Condron out there -- we'd better start with you , my 'ansum. That is not a coat of arms, it's just the crest. And it's not a hussar about to chop a toy bridge in half. The proper heraldic description, in case you're interested, is: `Issuing from a bridge of one arch, embattled, at each end a tower, a demi-hussar of the Eighteenth Regiment, in dexter a sabre, in sinister a pennant, flying to sinister, gules.' So there! And the motto, Vive revictmus , means `Live like a man who knows he will survive.' See?"     She stared at him, open-mouthed in admiration. "How do you know these things, Mister Trewithen?" she asked.     "I don't, Miss Penhallow -- or I didn't until last week. But the minute this silver arrived, I went down the library and looked it up." He glanced slyly at her. "As a matter of fact, you Penhallows have a crest, too -- but I suppose you know that."     She laughed, not believing him for a moment.     "It's true," he assured her. "`A goat, (passant,) azure ..."     "A what ?"     "A goat ..."     She shook her head and laughed. "I'm not going to believe that. You're codding me, as little Condron says. A goat, indeed?     "Believe it or not," he went on mildly, "it's a fact. A goat means wisdom, by the way, so you needn't think it's an insult. Your goat is `hoofed and attired' -- that means with horns -- `or.' So there you are!"     "Or what?"     "No, `or' means golden in heraldry. `Gules' is red."     "Ho ho!" She laughed and stuck her nose in the air. "So the Penhallows have real gold and the de Vivians only have red paint!" More soberly she added, "Mind you -- the Penhallows did once have lands and title." Then, remembering her manners, she asked if the Trewithens had a crest, too.     He shook his head and pretended to weep. "The Trewarthens, yes, even the Trewarthas. But not us Trewithens. Boo hoo!"     They laughed and set about polishing the crested silver with some vigour.     After a while she glanced at him shyly, for he was some ten years her senior, and risked saying, "You're something of a dark horse, Mister Trewithen. Where did you learn all that about heraldry and suchlike?"     "A valet has many idle hours to fill, my lover. It's not like being a lady's maid. A maid has always got lace to take off, lace to blue, lace to goffer, lace to sew back on, velvet to revive ... et cetera, et cetera. I only hope Mister de Vivian has more than astronomy books in his library. A good book is a powerful killer of time."     "Talking of lady's maids ..." Gemma ventured.     "Yes?"     "Did you hear anything about Mrs de V having one? Is she going to bring one with her?"     He shook his head. "I don't think she is. She must have had one but I can't imagine any lady's maid being willing to leave Plymouth for the same position in Falmouth." He gave out a single laugh. "The Walkers would have a fit to hear me say it but it's the truth. The world has changed since they started in service. Servants interview masters and mistresses these days, not the other way round. Why d'you ask, anyway?"     "Well ..." She licked her lips hesitantly. "I was wondering if I might have the makings of one. I've already begun learning ..." She paused.     "Yes? Learning what?"     "You won't tell anyone? Swear it?"     "I swear it."     "The others would only laugh if they knew. They'd say I was giving myself airs."     "Why d'you think I wouldn't, then?"     "Well -- learning all that about heraldry. You'd understand. The thing is, you know I go to my mother's in Penryn every Tuesday evening?"     "Yes."     "Well, I don't. At least, that's not all I do. I see she's all fight, then I come back to the Drill Hall ..."     He laughed. "You! In the Territorials?"     "No!" She laughed at the idea and then, shouldering a long soup ladle like a musket, marked time, saying, "Left, left, left, right, left!" Then, dropping the horseplay, she explained, "The WEA holds classes there, too. And I've been ..."     "What's that, then -- WEA?"     "The Workers' Educational Association. We meet in the committee rooms upstairs. I've been taking French classes there. The teacher is Miss Isco-Visco, who teaches French at the grammar school."     "That's a grand old English name," he commented.     "She's French. She says I'm quite good."     " Voulez-vous promenader avec moi ce soir? " he asked, making no attempt at a French accent.     She laughed and said, " Promener. Not promenader ."     He shrugged ruefully. "And it's all in aid of becoming a real lady's maid, eh?"     She nodded. "Not to pretend I'm French, of course. But just so's I'm not left out among the others."     He had never met anyone, man or woman, so concerned about the opinion of those around her. But now he understood why she had so generously offered to help with the silver. "Maybe ..." He spoke as if thinking aloud. "Maybe I could suggest it -- in passing, you know -- to Mister Walker? If the topic were ever raised, I'm sure he'd ..."     "Oh!" She stared at him as if the idea had never crossed her mind. " Would you, Mister Trewithen? That would be so kind. Also ..." She bit her lip.     "Yes, Miss Penhallow. Her terrier-like persistence both amused and impressed him.     "Well, Mrs de Vivian has a daughter, we hear. Miss Beatrice?"     He nodded. "Aged eighteen. Actually, there are three daughters ..."     "Yes, but Miss Beatrice is the only one still at home."     "And you think the two of them might share a lady's maid -- in short, two reasons to advance your cause?"     "Well ..." She cleared her throat and braced herself to say, "Actually, I was thinking ... what with the de Vivians being so rich ... perhaps they'd need two lady's maids? One apiece."     "You and ... Martha?" he teased, knowing that Martha Unwin -- a big-boned country girl who could just about read and write -- would be quite unsuited to the post.     Gemma laughed. "No! I'm fond of Martha, of course, but -- no. I was thinking of my cousin, Lucy Carminow. She was here at Christmas."     He nodded, having a vague memory of the girl. "Age?"     "Seventeen. She'll be eighteen come the fall. They live in Penryn, too. She's been to domestic school and she can ply a needle so's you'd think it was little fairy's work. So -- if they wanted a lady's maid each -- two girls who get on well together and who wouldn't argue about helping each other out ... well ... you see?" She broke off and grinned. "Do the Carminows have a coat-of-arms, too?"     "Crest." He corrected her. "I'll look it up tell you tomorrow."     Later that morning, when she and Martha were making up the beds with the by now well-aired bedding the de Vivians had sent on ahead, it suddenly struck her that Trewithen must have looked up the Penhallow crest entirely off his own bat -- all that stuff about the goat `attired' with the golden horns and so forth.     That was interesting, surely?     It showed he had some kind of interest in her, taking the trouble to look up her family crest. She wondered what sort of a husband he'd make. Not necessarily to her ...     Well, yes, to her.     He was quiet, reserved, abstemious, a diligent worker ... She was sure he'd saved a good share of his wages, meagre though they were. He never uttered a coarse word -- at least, not in her presence -- and just look at the way he'd pitched into the Condron creature for saying that disgusting cuss.     He was even-tempered, too. She'd seen him annoyed, of course, but never angry. And, as she'd told him, it was impossible to stay cross with him for more than a minute on end. Also he was interested in the world -- always reading bits of this and snippets of that from improving books. Ambitious but not absurdly so. He'd never over-reach himself, put on airs, make himself seem ridiculous.     It was curious she'd never thought of him in a romantic light before now. Actually, even now it was hardly romantic . She distrusted romance. She wanted nothing to do with it. Romantic marriages always ended in disaster. One should choose a husband with all the care that went into life's other important decisions, like what household to work in, where to live, where to worship, and so forth.     She decided she must take a greater interest in him from now on, now that the possibility of choosing him as a husband had occurred to her.