Lavinia Hawkins is 26. Small, neat, a little plump, and plain, except when she smiled. She and her teenage sister Peta are orphans. Lavinia lives at the hospital in London and goes down to visit Peta on her days off. Peta is stuck living withTerrible Horrible Aunt Gwyneth until she gets her OWLS, I mean, O Levels. Baby Sister is getting more and more fed up with Aunt G. and Lavinia is getting more and more worried that Baby Sis might do something rash like run away. While hanging out with her nursing buddies, Lavinia spies an ad in the Nursing Mirror. "Registered nurses wanted...with theatre experience and at a salary which was quite fabulous." The only problem is that the job is in Amsterdam. Lavinia whips out a pen and starts doing sums on the underside of her uniform skirt. She decides that the money would be enough to enable her to live out and share a place with Peta. Peta is thrilled with the idea, enough so that she can bear putting up with Terrible Horrible Auntie G. for a bit longer. Of course Lavinia gets the job (La Neels needed to get her over to Holland so that she could meet a RDD). There is a going away party at the hospital, where she is advised to marry someone rich and good looking, with a large house. Check. Check. Check. I'll hurry off and do just that....Editor's Note: Betty always makes a point of having her nurses work in Holland even though they don't speak a lick of Dutch. As a patient, I find that I have much more confidence in a nurse/doctor who speaks my language fluently. Am I the only one? Also, even if everyone in the Operating Theatre speaks English, I'm pretty sure that would not be a good place to find out the the word for, say, "Retractor" and "Ultrasonic Tissue Disruptor" sound very similar...but aren't. We finally get around to meeting Professor Radmer ter Bavinck on page 30 of my edition. Lavinia has been asked to take some unspeakable specimen up to the Path Lab...and there he is. She is a little tart with him, he smiles..."Ah, the English nurse - Miss Hawkins, is it not? In fact I am sure...no nurse in the hospital would speak to me like that."Lavinia gets to thinking about him...he might - given the right circumstances - be rather super. Well of course he's super! He's the RDD your friends told you to find! He is a little older than the average hero..but not by much. He's pushing 41...but he wasn't completely idle in his younger years. He comes complete with a teenage daughter (Sibendina aka Sibby). I'm not sure but what this may be the only teenage half-orphan daughter of a hero in Neeldom. She's 14 years old - which can be a bit of a tricky age. Which is why, after a couple of chance meetings and one date, he announces his intention of asking Lavinia to marry him - in front of his daughter. Lavinia is rightfully gobsmacked. "Don't look like that...I shan't do anything earth-shattering like dropping on one knee and begging for your hand; just let the idea filter through, and we'll bring the matter up again in a few days..." When he does bring it up again, a few days later, Dear Radmer proceeds to outline A Marriage of Convenience. "There is no question of falling in love, my dear. I think I may never do that again - once bitten, twice shy...ours would be a marriage of friends..." No question of love? We've heard THAT one before. "...I promise you that I will take care of you and Peta, just as I shall take care of Sibby." Lavinia would like a little explanation...."Why me?" Here's the money quote...the one he will spend the rest of his life making amends for, "You're sensible, your feet are firmly planted on the ground....you will never be tempted to reach for the moon, my dear." Wait, did he just call himself "the moon"??? Don't be silly. She asks for a little time to think it over - she really would have liked to fall in love and then get married, but that's okay - when she sees him in the hospital the next day she becomes aware of a peculiar sensation, rather as though she had been filled with bubbles and wasn't on firm ground anymore (which bring to mind the scene in Willy Wonka with the fizzy lifting drink). She walks right up to Radmer in the hall and tells him there, in front of witnesses that she'll marry him. You go girl! Radmer makes the wedding arrangements...no white satin, no orange blossom, no bridesmaids (all of which Lavinia would secretly like, but is not going to get). Sibby is thrilled to be having Lavinia and Peta join the family...now she will have someone to talk girl-talk with. And hatch schemes, no wait, I'm getting ahead of myself. It's now Time To Meet The Parents. They are dears (natch - Neels never met a in-law, on the groom's side, she didn't like). Radmer's mum asks Lavinia a question. "Do you love Radmer?" Lavinia does not proceed to snort tea out of her nose...nope. She answers back quite truthfully "With all my heart." I admire the way Lavinia just puts it out there. Mum asks her if she knows anything about Helga, Radmer's first wife. No, and she's not about to ask. Which is why this marriage will be Haunted by the Ghost of Helga. Radmer gives her the family jewels (no, not THOSE), it's a ring with an old-fashioned setting that Haunting Helga refused to wear. A quick jaunt over to Horrible Aunt Gwyneth's, without so much as a "hey there, do mind if we stop by?" Peta is rescued from Aunt G's clutches - by the very smooth Radmer, and Lavinia rounds on her aunt (I just love how feisty that sounds!) when she tells Lavinia that she is a fool to marry a foreigner..."don't dare speak of Radmer in that fashion! He's a good, kind man and we shall be very happy!" They drive back through London - we are treated to a brief, but productive shopping excursion at Harrod's (for both Lavinia and Peta) and then a musical (I'm imagining them seeing Phantom of the Opera - which came out in 1976). We skip right over the wedding (we only get glimpses of it as Lavinia is musing about it, after the fact). Since this is a MOC, there is no honeymoon involved, however, the girls go away for a few days to Radmer's parents. This is a pleasant little interlude that includes some wining and dining in the evenings. Also a pearl necklace. "I feel like the Queen!" Radmer suggests that Lavinia go and buy a couple of pretty dresses - for said wining and dining. Lavinia splashes out on a pink and a peach dress - because Radmer says, "I like you in pink." When he comes home and sees her dressed in her new pink dress, it earns her a fierce, hard kiss. Wow. Pink dresses are very appealing to RDD. Who knew? Lavinia is looking better and better. "Lavinia, sitting in the soft glow of the pink-shaded table lamp, her ordinary face brought to life by excitement and the wine, became positively pretty." That's it. I'm buying a pink lampshade. After work the next day Radmer comes home to find Lavinia sitting on the floor working on her Dutch homework. Her teacher "...told me that it was even more necessary that I should master Dutch quickly...I have to read the papers each day...so that I can discuss politics with you." Radmer shouts with laughter "I never talk politics...I'd rather come home to a wife in a pink dress who listens sympathetically to my grumbles about work and makes sensible comments afterwards." Again with the pink dress. Lavinia should take the hint and fill her closet with pink. With a few peach dresses for good measure. When Radmer sees her in the peach chiffon he tells her "this one is charming"... He studied her carefully, then said "Remind me to buy you a fur wrap". Lavinia knows better than to do that. "Wives don't remind their husbands to buy them things like furs." Out comes his handkechief and he ties a knot in it to remind himself...A.D.O.R.A.B.L.E. They go out for dinner and dancing - they are both splendid dancers, natch. Lavinia was surprised to find that Radmer was just as good at the modern dances as he was at doing the waltz and foxtrot. "At the end of one particularly energetic session he said almost apologetically: 'Sibby taught me; I find them rather peculiar, but they're fun sometimes...'" (I was Peta's age when this book came out - and my dad ocassionally chaperoned dances that I went to. He has the "energetic" part down pat - but his style is all his own. Dad's fast dancing is a bit like bouncy jogging in place, interspersed with random clapping and a fair amount of arm action. I love how enthusiastically he dances - and I think I inherited all of my graceful dancing style from him.) It was a a lovely evening, says Lavinia, splendid says Radmer...let's take the long way home. On the way home Lavinia spots a farm on fire - so the happy couple stop to do what they can. Radmer instructs Lavinia to stay put, but she's braver than that. Lavinia goes into the barn and gets all of the animals out safely, then she goes to the house to help Radmer - she brings out a toddler and then a newborn baby. Radmer just brings out mum (dad is passed out on the front porch). Then he asks her to try and revive the farmer while he goes to get the animals out of the barn. "I already used my awesome superpowers to do that, Radmer". Now she gets to use those superpowers to do something even more amazing. More death defying, more....no, wait, Radmer is just asking her to drive the Bentley with mum and the babies to someplace with a phone and by the way, call the police or an ambulance or something. All's well that ends well, except for the peach dress. But who cares about that when we readers are treated to Radmer starting to realize that he loves Lavinia...loves her. Not that he says that. (Besides we still have Haunting Helga to deal with). The next day Sibby and Peta come home, and "the honeymoon's over" so to speak. Lavinia has no idea what has happened to upset the casual friendliness (LOVE, that's what happened, silly)...so she takes a second glass of sherry, "Dutchman's courage, Lavinia?" Radmer thinks she's nervous about the girls coming home...but that's not it (it's LOVE, Radmer, LOVE!). The girls are pretty quick to notice that there's not a lot of snogging going on - so Radmer takes them up on their suggestion to kiss Lavinia in private. Kiss him back, girlfriend, kiss him back! Oh well, maybe later. It's now time to take a brief family vacation in Friesland, complete with an outing on the Mimi. Yes, the boat is named after Betty Magdalen's dog. Lavinia tries to have a talk with Radmer but muddles it...she tells Radmer that she doesn't want to come between him and the memory of Haunting Helga and please, can we still be friends? His response is less than informative. "You could never come between me and Helga." What's a girl to think? Back home in Amsterdam Lavinia's mother-in-law stops by and spills the beans about Haunting Helga. Who was not fit to be any man's wife (make of that what you will). Radmer stays out until 3am that night...and when he finally comes in, Lavinia yells at him like a fishwife. Even the densest of teenagers would have sensed that there was something "off" between Lavinia and Radmer - Sibby and Peta are not that dense. Impetuous, yes. They hatch a plan to run away to Rotterdam. "...we thought that if we did something really drastic, like almost drowning or being knocked down by a car or running away, you would both have to help each other and it would make you fond of each other...[you would] understand each other and share the same feelings....we decided we'd run away...because we both swim too well to drown easily, [if we walked in front of a car] we might have been killed instead of a little wounded...so we ran away, and if you had not come after us we would have known that you did no love each other." Their evil little plan worked - there are declarations of love (Radmer, not Lavinia), public snogging and a very pretty little speech by Radmer: "I once said that you were a girl who would never reach for the moon, dearest Lavinia, but you will have no need to do that, for I intend to give it to you - I'll throw in the sun and the stars for good measure." The end.
Rating: It's nice to have a book that's easy to rate. I'm giving this one a Queen of Puddings. I can't give it a Lashings of Whipped Cream because there's really not quite enough to the story to warrant that rating. There is no evil villain. No villainess (you can't count Haunting Helga, she's dead!). Aunt Gwyneth is pretty horrible, but she's not a major player. Even the teenagers get along and are good (they ran away for a good cause...). It's just a gentle story of two people falling in love. Cinderella and her RDD. Lavinia is a little on the quiet side, but I get the feeling that spending a year or two with two teenage girls will help pull her out of her shell.
Food: Baked beans on toast, smoked eel, chocolate mousse, hors d'oeurves, Poulet Poule mon Coeur, syllabub, anchovy toast, kipper pate, crepes souffles aux peches, steak.
Fashion: he wears a dogtooth check suit with a silk shirt and a tie of somber magnificence, she wears a green silk jersey dress, cream crepe wedding dress, blue and white coat dress with blue sandals, pale blue denim slacks with matching Indian cotton shirt (which is described as "sexy" by Sibby).