Araminta Pomfrey's parents didn't want her very much. They were aging intellectuals whose implied conjugal relations were just that--implied--and it must have seemed puzzling when the little blue stick turned green. But maybe they thought they'd make the best of things; name the little nipper Caratacus, found a dynasty of little Celts to carry on their work. Alas, it turned out to be a girl and she didn't look all that bright either...
They lost no time thumbing through the baby-name book, determined to do their best by her. But it all became a tedious bore long before they reached Boadicea ('What a brain-wave that would have been,' they thought to themselves in the ensuing years.), and The Book of Kells was calling, so they dragged their fingers down the page and stabbed at 'Araminta'. That would do well enough.
She'd been a handy little homebody for several years (being more or less at their beck and call and working locally at a children's convalescent home) but now, at 23, she wanted to branch out. Training to be a nurse was a parochial little calling. Her parents, more disappointed than anything, had decided in the dark watches of the night that they would try very hard to accept this alternative lifestyle with good grace.
But first they'd farm her out like an indentured servant to a friend of a friend who needs a temporary nanny. (Much of a muchness with their previous treatment of her.) What could be better?
Professor Marcus van der Breugh, 36, has been landed with twin nephews Peter and Paul for a month. He's a busy, dedicated medical professional who is looking for 'a nice unassuming girl who won't intrude' to keep the kids out of his hair. If there's not a junkyard dog and a 'Trespassers will be shot' sign on his heart, then there is, at least, a modest, but firm, brass-plated 'No soliciting' placard.
They hie off to Holland and settle into proscribed roles. He to work hard and play sparingly. She and the children to 'be [them]selves in the nursery'. Occasionally, thoughts about her hair (of all things!), like dive-bombing sparrows in springtime, assault his brain. And then he is disturbed about the way
Does she get wrapped up in a bear-like hug? Commended for her cool head under pressure? No. An icy-cold rage is on requisition...She'll be shot at dawn.
Things go from bad to worse. The boys get mumps. The only positive things to arrive from this are that Christina is loathe to darken the Professor's door and...and that's it. The bad things are:
- Araminta must invent new and exciting ways to tell the boys they can't get out of bed, eat anything substantive, or have any fun.
- The Professor leaves. Why should he stay around just because his relations are nigh unto death? (No. That's unfair. He leaves only when they are in the irritable/recovery phase.)
- Araminta meets Dr. Piet van Vleet (Oh Betty.) who is agreeable, presentable and disposed to take her out on dates!
|The Professor couldn't get it out.|
What a rotten night. Araminta is crushed--well and truly crushed. It wasn't even that Piet was Young Love's Dream but he was a very good contender for Young Love's Back-Up Plan Because, Seriously, No One Else Is Interested and I'll Go Stark, Staring Mad if I Have to Listen to Celtic Lore 'Til I Die.
She holds it together until the door is closed and the Professor, already knowing how bad it must be, lets her fling herself at him and cry it out.
He assures her that it will be better if she gets it all out and I beg to differ. When one's pride is keeping company with the Titanic, the last thing you want is a witness to it all--and, worse, a witness who has never starved for admiring females in his life.
For his part, he is gently aware of 'the softness of her person' (I love our Betty) and the wholly unexpected concern he feels for her. But that's not enough to get the train out of the station.
The household decamps back to England and Araminta, driving away from Marcus' home, has the bottom drop right out of her world. She loves him. Great.
Within days she has said goodbye to all that has become beloved and dear and has been escorted home by Briskett (The Manservant) who sees the empty house and the chilly welcome and the brisk note telling Araminta to fend for herself and relates it all to The Boss...who is furious.
This is his Dawning realization, I think (Even if he's still not quite man enough to admit it). I love it because Marcus didn't even see Mintie (ick) off. He managed to be at work and he probably congratulated himself on the level of I-don't-care-ness he (with difficulty) achieved. And then he finds out that she was abandoned at home and the rage he feels is all out of proportion. See, he didn't know her or her family before they met. He'd gained an independent idea of her worth and constructed this whole life for her based on how much he treasured her. Her homecoming, he realizes, ought to have been approximately the size of Texas and, instead, it rises to the level of a boiled egg and some stale bread and he can't do a thing about it and he hates it.
'He took himself for a brisk walk and went to bed--but he didn't sleep.'
The following week brings Araminta to her nursing career at last--which is what she wanted in the first place. Because she's a little behind the others, she has to get the hang of things as she goes along and she has to fill the place of an ominously washed-out student nurse on Sister Spicer's ward. Long story short: She's a flop. She hates it and Sister Spicer rides her hard and she's always doing something to earn her wrath. And just when the flood-waters have risen to her chin (Can you tell we've had a sodden March here in Oregon?), Marcus catches her on the stairs and allows himself the luxury of letting her weep all over him. (And he enjoys it. Ugh. He's so pathetic, he thinks to himself.)
Zippo-Chang-o and he's talked a certain nurse out of her contract (Unbuttoning his collar so the SNO could oogle his chest hair was so demeaning but what had to be done had to be done.) and into a position at a young boy's boarding school as Assistant Matron.
When she gets time off to visit Peter and Paul for the weekend he attempts a little wooing but he's only successful in unpacking all the red herrings he brought.
|Oh Troy. I can't say if I'll still love you when |
board shorts become the fashion...
Him: Heck yes.
Her: Is she pretty? I want to hack my tongue off for saying that.
Him: Yes. I think she the most babe-a-licious babe in the universe. Do you recognize my description from anywhere? The bathroom mirror, perhaps?
But they don't get anywhere...until she is dismissed from her job (right before Christmas!) and crying her eyes out (Part II was a bit of a weep-fest.) in a beach shelter. (The theme music to A Summer Place is playing in my head right now.)
He makes it clear in no uncertain terms that he won't crack open a book about Celtic history for as long as he lives.
Rating: Queen of Puddings. I don't know if this rating would apply to every reading but this book just happened to land at just the right time for me in the TBR queue. Yes, Araminta is the quintessential Araminta--plain, put-upon and poor(ish)--but she manages to be a great match for the Professor--always plucky but never snappy (maybe she's tart during the worst of the mumps but hardly ever).
One of the details that I can't quite swallow is fact that she can't make it as a nurse--her circumstances for success (prior experience with ill children, good sense, and her slightly more mature age) all bode well for a career as a professional fevered brow soother. Also, the ending (in what, I swear, sounds like a sea-facing bus shelter) is a little anti-climactic. Oh, and I loathe the idea of everyone calling her Mintie forever.
But these are small quibbles.
Food: Apple tart and whipped cream, roast guinea fowl, marinated aubergine, sea bass and sticky toffee pudding, chips (which offend the Professor greatly), krentenbollejes (currant buns), mushroom soup (which my childish self would probably describe as floating boogers...), cold lemonade when the boys get the mumps, ice cream and yoghurt. When she returns to her abandoned home, Araminta eats a boiled egg and stale bread (Make French toast, silly!).
Fashion: Though she doesn't have a whole lot of money, Araminta manages to wear a brown two-piece jersey with a corn silk tee shirt (both ladylike and sensible, which her Celtic-loving mother would approve), a soft, blue crepe dress described in scathing terms as 'adequate' and 'sober' and a scanty nightie that he sees her in, looking like a 'normal girl'. (How many of those has he seen?) Mevrouw Lutyns wears a black silk trouser suit that probably looks wonderful until she bends in any direction. For her ill-fated dates with Piet van Vleet she buys a dress and loose wool jacket in a pale amber.