Monday, February 6, 2012

Waiting for Deborah - Reprise

I adore heroines who take charge of their own destiny.  Even when they don't have a clue of how to go about it (which is pretty much the case in Neeldom...unless one happens to be a nurse). Deborah Everett wins me over with her blunt refusal to be steam-rolled by her step-siblings.  Good for her! She retains her high standing with me by getting right back on the employment horse every time it bucks her off. 
The pacing for the love story is fairly slow and steady - but somehow a little more satisfying for all of that. 
-Betty Debbie

When we meet Deborah Everett she is being kicked out of her home. Step-brother Walter's first order of business after the death of his invalid father, after rifling the old man's pockets and confiscating the check-book, is to assume his pompous head-of-the-family mantle and magnanimously offer to let Deborah care-take the house while he looks about for a buyer. That she will be homeless when it sells doesn't enter into it. He grudgingly hands her some money for food, tells her to keep careful account of it, twirls his mustache and practically disappears in a cloud of sulphuric gas.

'Stay?' Deborah thinks to herself, 'You've got to be kidding.' She metaphorically stuffs the wad of cash into her B-cup and sets about finding a job. Walter (and his sister Barbara) would be dismayed to lose their money but she hadn't gotten paid to look after their father anyway and she'd be danged if she was going to be pushed around anymore.
Deborah has carroty hair, is much too thin and has been dealt an unlucky hand in life but she's not a weakling in need of rescue. She's the driver and this is her bus.
She lands a job working as a companion/nurse to a catatonic stroke victim. That's right. Old Mrs. Vernon is flat on her back, stuffed in the back of the house where the carpet ceases to be plush (serviceable matting) and the drapes are not bright floral (useful beige). In Neels speak this means that no matter how catatonic Mrs. Vernon is or insensible of her surroundings, her niece, the Young Mrs. Vernon, is a bad person and probably exits rooms with her own flash of sulphuric gas.
Catatonic Mrs. Vernon is not as blank as YMV (Young Mrs. Vernon) would have Deborah believe. Sure, she's dead weight but within five minutes Deborah's worked out a communication method with the old woman. One wink for yes, two for no. (If only she knew Morse Code!) Deborah twigs to the situation. YMV is hoping for auntie's death, is not interested in 'recovery' and is willing to point auntie towards the light. [Don't] force aunt to take her feeds...We must allow the dear old thing to die peacefully'. Hm. Well, Deborah isn't one to take things lying down and sets about enlisting all the aid she can to make sure Old Mrs. Vernon isn't taking it lying down either.
Though YMV has the local doc completely snookered, a consultant is called in. Deborah takes one look at Sir James Marlow and thinks, in the words of Margaret Thatcher meeting Mikhail Gorbachev, "I like [him]. We can do business together." So she whisks down the road, hails his car and confides her fears.
She's got an ally. Catatonic Mrs. Vernon soon begins to mend. Her feet twitch, her muscles are massaged, she grunts and is able to write. YMV is not amused but can't do much about it. When Sir James suggests a trip to Auntie's cottage (for further recovery) she can only agree. Can you see her grinding her teeth? I can.
Sir James gives her a lift. He's not sure why but chalks it up to that worst of default emotions--pity.
He deposits her at Frog Cottage, they grab necessaries at the village shop and the clerk asks, "And your husband here?" (This being 1994, an Arsenio fist pump is not out of order...)
At Frog Cottage she continues working healing magic with the aid of Dr. Plot Device who owns a local practice and...nothing else. But he's just young enough to cause Sir James to feel a vague kind of regret when he thinks of Dr. Plot Device and her marrying. (The RBD is inventing relationships out of whole cloth on the strength of a few blushes?! That's what they call in poker 'tipping-your-hand'.) Still he tells her that she would make a good doctor's wife YOURS! I WANT TO BE YOURS!!! Wow. Those Dawning Realizations just hit you on the head, don't they.
Stroke victim, having achieved a degree of recovery unthinkable before, is fetched back by her family with the lure of a ground floor suite, a good nurse/companion and the promise that they will never, ever (What, never? No never...Well, hardly ever.) try to kill her by slowly starving her to death. In return she won't cut them out of her will. This is bound to end with a casual walk by a cliff head, a strategically placed jostle and a curious tumble to her eventual demise, I'm thinking.
Deborah is out on her ear but picks up a job at a hotel giving our hero a wonderful opportunity to look at her splendid legs while she cleans glasses by the bar. After weeks of seeing her coppery hair and blue eyes swimming before his lecture notes and dreary medical journals, he's come to the rescue--which I don't mind at all because talents like hers are utterly wasted on the public.

Lottie tells Sir James that she'll take good care of Deborah...maybe have some young men around to meet her...a lighthearted remark which made Sir James frown thoughtfully.
She and Uncle Oscar get along like a house on fire. James comes several weeks later because he's keeps thinking about how her hair took it's bright color from daffodils (yes, really!). Uncle Oscar, like all whiskered 7-year-olds, stumbles across Deborah's secret love (she would leave the thing lying about...) and, after cruelly laughing at her hopes, makes it up by helping things along in a ham-fisted manner, saying in front of James, 'No glamour but as wholesome as a loaf of get used to the hair.' Great merciful Zeus, what would he say next?
It doesn't matter what he would say because suddenly James has taken her hand in his and asked to to come to dinner with him. All sensible thought can't have left her head because she does manage to agree before he kisses her cheek as he leaves. Uncle Oscar, with uncharacteristic tact, whispers to himself when he is alone, "Well, well. That I should live to see the day..."
Dinner is lovely, he takes her for a midnight ramble in his gardens (substituting a herbaceous border for the hoary 'etchings', I imagine) and kisses her cheek at the end.
All this cheek kissing is so charming. He's making tentative advances that she couldn't possibly take exception to.
Sadly, her interlude with Uncle Oscar comes to an abrupt end. His daughter has returned and Deborah will no longer be needed. In an unnecessarily complicated tangent, step-siblings (remember them?) show up like something out of a Gothic mystery asking for Deborah. If she has no other place to go then she'll have to go with them (because she's 13, or escaped from the loony bin or...?). Enter Sir James. "She cannot come with you. She's marrying me!" (picturing Nelson Eddy in his singing Mountie costume here)--which sounds like a great set-up for intrigue and tension or a hastily performed marriage of convenience at the very least. Sadly, it only serves to thwart the still-as-yet-undefined threat of the step-sibs and gives Sir James a reason to whisk her off to live with his old nanny for a bit. Let me repeat, at no time is there a spark of emotional tension because he said this and, in my opinion, it constitutes a waste of a perfectly lovely situation. Dead End.
He tells her that 'it was the first thing to come to mind'. (Paging Dr. Freud. Dr. Freud wanted on the white courtesy phone...)
Nanny is lovely but Deborah ups and offs at the first opportunity, taking a job with a fine woman in a fine house with three fine children. But when the measles hit, the veneer of fine-ness drops faster than knickers at a nude beach. (Dear me, Betty Keira has wandered into indelicate wastelands.) Suddenly she's a drudge and then, on top of that, she comes down with a raging case of measles herself. It's as though a perfectly unexceptional house in Britain gets sucked through the time-space continuum and is back to making fire by rubbing sticks together. Pandemonium is let loose and Where in the World is Sir James Marlow?
Rescuing a VIP, that's where but don't allow the barest hint of curiosity to pass your cerebral cortex as it is destined to go unsatisfied.
He finally finds her and walks in on her 'measly person' (I ♥Betty) wearing a look of tender resignation. It sounds like the Dawning Realization saw him drop his wallet 6 blocks back and has been chasing him up 5th Avenue.
Nanny's house is just the right place for recuperation--so handy too if he wants to drive down from London in the middle of the night just to watch her sleep and silently steal away--surely one of the most romantic gestures of Neelsdom.
Soon Deborah is spry and bonny and ready to tackle her future again. So off to London she goes to acquire skills in shorthand typing--a three month course. Sir James is sick with love and worry but if proficiency in low-grade office skills is what she wants...He's going to leave her alone like 'an obstinate little boy'.
Of course it's not what she wants and she's bound to be awful at it. Deborah is not an office woman. Rather, like expanding insulation foam, she fills herself into all kinds of places--chess-playing, stroke-communicating, babysitting, irascible-Uncle-amusing places--a regular Girl Friday. But don't ask her to use 'computer' because she's a flop.
Three months later...
She fails her exams on the same day that her landlady has a stroke (what?! Another one?). At the hospital she sees Sir James who pretends not to see her, mix-ups and hurt feelings ensue only to reach a denouement of tears on his waistcoat.
Because she's homeless again he takes her to Nanny's only to return several days later.
'James. Oh, James, you've come.'
Palm-kisses and dress rehearsals for a bang-up proposal.
The End

I liked it. The peripheral characters are really fun--even if the step-siblings are two-dimensional. I have a soft spot for thin, carroty heroines without tuppence to rub together. She is knocked down several times and, while you could be forgiven for finding her pathetic, she doesn't strike me as a doormat. She isn't waiting to be rescued but neither is she particularly pugnacious. Deborah grows on one. Sir James is pretty great too. We get to see his POV quite a bit for a Neels and when he figures out that he's in love with Deborah, it comes after he's liked her for sometime. No sparks of anger and misunderstanding with these two. She is not urgently trying to hide from him (like Chain of Destiny, for instance) That's the thing about Waiting For Deborah--it's quiet, calm and deeply romantic. But nice for all that. Boeuf en croute.

Food: Downed stroke victim eats lots of water and watered-milk until Deborah varies her diet with broth, Bovril (?), weak tea, and bouillon. Chicken pie, steamed pudding and pasties. Junket (ick.), rich cream cake and toasted tea cakes. Peach melba (twice!), sole bonne femme, homemade lemonade, asparagus soup, fruit tart, and duckling in honey and orange sauce.

Fashion: Cotton dresses, denim skirt, sandals and (gasp!) high-heeled sandals, patterned voile dress in greenish blue, a dark cord skirt I want to get my hands on and a grey sober dress that will be useful for several summers.