My rating: 7.5/10
This past Saturday morning which went rather sideways (three hours Good Samaritan detail waiting in a parking lot for BCAA to unlock a neighbour’s vehicle with the keys left inside) was salvaged by a very productive visit to the semi-annual Rotary Club book sale, where I picked up two small-but-packed-full boxes of pleasing finds for a mere $50. And best of all, I had my husband along to help in the search, and to lend strong arms to carry off the finds! (No mutters about “More books, why do we need more books?!” when he is involved in the process himself, and he was right in there with me searching for good things among the heaped tables and boxes of many other people’s cast-off reads.)
George Gissing’s The Odd Women, Antonia White’s Strangers, and Miles Franklin’s My Career Goes Bunk – all three nice unworn Viragos. A pristine Persephone edition of Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day. Several new-to-me Willa Cathers – Death Comes for the Archbishop, The Professor’s House, and The Song of the Lark. A first edition of Rosemary Sutcliff’s The Shield Ring, not ex-lib, with perfect dust jacket, in Brodart, yet! And others too numerous to name off. (Well, here are just a few more: Doris Lessing, Sinclair Lewis, Pearl S. Buck, Margaret Bell Houston, Jeanette Winterson, W.P. Kinsella, Rex Stout…what good reading awaits us.)
And then there was this book, a lovely early edition hardcover in only-slightly-worn dust jacket, Georgette Heyer’s Charity Girl. How could I resist? Bumped off the bedside table was Margaret Laurence’s most excellent book of Ghanian-set short stories, The Tomorrow-Tamer, with but two stories left to read, to be temporarily eclipsed by something much more playful – I think “frothy” would describe it well. In the very best way, of course.
Handsome, athletic, witty, kind-hearted, and fantastically wealthy Viscount Desford (Ashley Carrington, to his family and friends) has displeased his gruffly doting father by refusing to settle down and marry the most eligible Henrietta (Hetty) Silverdale. The Silverdales and Carringtons are long-time neighbours and friends, and Desford and Hetty have been happily paired up since childhood, though both confound their respective parents by insisting that things are strictly platonic, and bound to remain so. In the meantime, neither has met anyone they like well enough to marry, though suitors and prospective brides are swarming round both attractive honeypots, to be kindly brushed away in the politest way possible. But the thirties are approaching, and gossips whisper that both are surely bound to settle soon, though with whom is up for abundant debate.
Desford attends a party hosted by the scheming Lady Bugle, who, with five daughters to get off, has hopes that her eldest, the admittedly lovely Lucasta, will snag the prize. But Desford preserves a wisely noncommittal silence, unbending only when he meets the household’s least prominent member, a semi-orphaned neice, one Charity Steane, who goes by the name Cherry, and is as sweet and delectable as that implies. Cherry is properly grateful to her Aunt Bugle, but her position in the household is a lowly one, being something between nursery maid and unpaid companion to the younger girls, and no one hesitates to remind Cherry of her obligations, and the digressions of her parents. (Her late mother, Aunt Bugle’s sister, had eloped with the dodgy Wilfred Steane, a man who has notoriously lived by his clever wits and card-sharping skills, and who has vanished from the scene, permanently, it seems, as all devoutly hope.)
Cherry is overheard spilling her personal story to the interested Desford, and the resulting brouhaha sees her fleeing Lady Bugle’s house in tears and trudging along the road towards London in a forlorn and lonesome state. Desford, on his way home all happily innocent of knowledge of Cherry’s disgrace, stops his curricle and rescues the maiden, and conveys her to London, hoping to settle her with her grandfather, the notoriously crusty skinflint, Lord Nettlecombe. But Lord Nettlecombe appears to be out of town, and no one knows his whereabouts. What to do, then, with the hapless runaway?
In a mood of increasing desperation – the gossips will no doubt already have started the whispers about Desford being seen with an unaccompanied and very lovely young female person of unknown provenance – Desford conveys Cherry to Hetty’s house, setting off a string of events which entangles not only Desford, Hetty and Cherry, but their respective families – including a very-much-not-dead Wilfred Steane – as well as Hetty’s chief suitor, the reliably calm and cool Mr. Nethercott, and Desford’s bumptious younger brother, Simon.
Despite the title, the book is centered around the two Carrington brothers rather than the girl, for once Simon appears he rivals his elder brother in both personal attractiveness and slightly muddled goodwill to the delicious but one-dimensional Cherry, who is of a type to be carried along pell-mell by her tempestuous fate, a very good girl at heart, seeking only to please those who undertake her care, and desperately longing in her simple way for a place to at last call home.
A collection of pleasing characters, all in all, with even the villains having their likeable moments, as the tale tumbles to its easily foreseen conclusion. A light and pleasant read; perfect a few hours escape from gloomy, dark November.