Excerpt from Golden Hill by Francis Spufford, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Golden Hill

A Novel of Old New York

by Francis Spufford

Golden Hill by Francis Spufford X
Golden Hill by Francis Spufford
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  • First Published:
    Jun 2017, 336 pages
    Paperback:
    Feb 2018, 320 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Lisa Butts
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Print Excerpt

All Hallows
November 1st 20 Geo. II 1746
I

The brig Henrietta having made Sandy Hook a little before the dinner hour—and having passed the Narrows about three o'clock—and then crawling to and fro, in a series of tacks infinitesimal enough to rival the calculus, across the grey sheet of the harbour of New-York—until it seemed to Mr. Smith, dancing from foot to foot upon deck, that the small mound of the city waiting there would hover ahead in the November gloom in perpetuity, never growing closer, to the smirk of Greek Zeno—and the day being advanced to dusk by the time Henrietta at last lay anchored off Tietjes Slip, with the veritable gables of the city's veritable houses divided from him only by one hundred foot of water—and the dusk moreover being as cold and damp and dim as November can afford, as if all the world were a quarto of grey paper dampened by drizzle until in danger of crumbling imminently to pap:—all this being true, the master of the brig pressed upon him the virtue of sleeping this one further night aboard, and pursuing his shore business in the morning. (He meaning by the offer to signal his esteem, having found Mr. Smith a pleasant companion during the slow weeks of the crossing.) But Smith would not have it. Smith, bowing and smiling, desired nothing but to be rowed to the dock. Smith, indeed, when once he had his shoes flat on the cobbles, took off at such speed despite the gambolling of his land-legs that he far out-paced the sailor dispatched to carry his trunk—and must double back for it, and seizing it hoist it instanter on his own shoulder—and gallop on, skidding over fish-guts and turnip leaves and cats' entrails, and the other effluvium of the port—asking for direction here, asking again there—so that he appeared most nearly as a type of smiling whirlwind when he shouldered open the door—just as it was about to be bolted for the evening—of the counting-house of the firm of Lovell & Company, on Golden Hill Street, and laid down his burden while the prentices were lighting the lamps, and the clock on the wall showed one minute to five, and demanded, very civilly, speech that moment with Mr. Lovell himself.

"I'm Lovell," said the merchant, rising from his place by the fire. His qualities in brief, to meet the needs of a first encounter: fifty years old; a spare body but a pouched and lumpish face, as if Nature had set to work upon the clay with knuckles; shrewd and anxious eyes; brown small-clothes; a bob-wig yellowed by tobacco smoke. "Help ye?"

"Good day," said Mr. Smith, "for I am certain it is a good day, never mind the rain and the wind. And the darkness. You'll forgive the dizziness of the traveller, sir. I have the honour to present a bill drawn upon you by your London correspondents, Messrs. Banyard and Hythe. And request the favour of its swift acceptance."

"Could it not have waited for the morrow?" said Lovell. "Our hours for public business are over. Come back and replenish your purse at nine o'clock. Though for any amount over ten pound sterling I'll ask you to wait out the week, cash money being scarce."

"Ah," said Mr. Smith. "It is for a greater amount. A far greater. And I am come to you now, hot-foot from the cold sea, salt still on me, dirty as a dog fresh from a duck-pond, not for payment, but to do you the courtesy of long notice."

And he handed across a portfolio, which being opened revealed a paper cover clearly sealed in black wax with a B and an H. Lovell cracked it, his eyebrows already half-raised. He read, and they rose further.

"Lord love us," he said. "This is a bill for a thousand pound."

"Yes, sir," said Mr. Smith. "A thousand pounds sterling; or as it says there, one thousand seven hundred and thirty-eight pounds, fifteen shillings and fourpence, New-York money. May I sit down?"

Excerpted from Golden Hill by Francis Spufford. Copyright © 2017 by Francis Spufford. Excerpted by permission of Scribner. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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