Monday, August 6, 2012

Ring in a Teacup - Reprise

The very first paragraph in Ring in a Teacup caught my eye:
"The sun, already warmer than it should have been for nine o'clock on an August morning, poured through the high, uncurtained windows of the lecture hall at St Norbert's Hospital, highlighting the rows of uniformed figures, sitting according to status, their differently coloured uniform dresses making a cheerful splash of colour against the drab paintwork, their white caps constantly bobbing to and fro as they enjoyed a good gossip before their lecture began - all but the two front rows; the night nurses sat there, silently resentful of having to attend a lecture when they should have been on their way to hot baths, unending cups of tea, yesterday's paper kindly saved by a patient, and finally, blissful bed."
First of all, did you notice that the paragraph is just one sentence?  Way to go Betty! Actually, what caught my eye was the bit about the hot August morning...which was coincidentally exactly what we've had here for the past couple of mornings.  I don't care for hot August mornings one little bit - mostly because they presage an even hotter August day.  Okay, enough whining from me - how's the weather in your neck of the woods?

I love the bit in Ring in a Teacup when Fraam introduces Lucy to his parents while she is wearing her traveling clothes. I don't remember what I was wearing when I met my future in-laws for the first time, but I do remember that our first introduction occurred when they were in bed! Well, not exactly in bed, they were sleeping in the living room on the hide-a-bed (having loaned out their bedroom to my mother-in-law's mother-in-law who was visiting).  They were rightly embarrassed and I'm sure Dr. van der Stevejinck was subjected to some hurriedly whispered "Couldn't you call first????  Give us some warning???? What were you thinking???".  I wonder if my mother-in-law still remembers our first encounter.  I bet she does.

Betty Debbie

 Two points: A) The cover doesn't match the book hardly at all. Our Lucy has really, really green eyes--not so our cover girl--and long hair. Still, don't you just love it to pieces? B) Upon her marriage, our heroine would take the name of Lucilla Linssen. I vote no.

Lucilla "Lucy" Prendergast, 23, is swimming upstream. She has four distressingly gorgeous siblings, pleasing (though not pretty) features, and blazing emerald eyes which she has just managed to prop open when the cold and disapproving stare of a hospital guest lecturer greets her. It serves him right for making the Night Duty Student Nurses attend a speech about...(rifles through notes, checks spelling)...I don't care already. A feeling I am sure is echoed in poor Lucy's modest bosom.
For his part, Fraam der Linssen, nudging forty and possessing 'the kind of good looks so often written about and so seldom seen', has strode into the lecture hall, appraised the audience and prepared himself to hold forth on a topic near and dear to his heart when he spots that most insignificant of hospital denizens (possibly ranking even lower than a good ward maid with rheumatism and a smoking habit)--a student nurse--nodding off in the center of the front row. How dare she? Wickedly, he directs a question at her...
I didn't hear what you were saying, sir--I was asleep.
To hear him tell it later, he had the most difficult time not whisking her out of her seat then and there and marrying her out of hand.
She has to apologize, naturally.
They next meet at the scene of an accident. She saves the life of a little blighter...uh, boy...who has run into traffic. Fraam (which name is difficult to murmur endearingly, I imagine) scoops her up and (after she drops off to sleep in the Casualty area) 'examines' her--finding only bruises and scrapes. If there were a sliding scale of things you don't want handsome men to see/do around you, where holding your hair while you vomit canal water onto a grassy verge is a 10 and catching you in a minor fib is a 1, then I'd rate this a solid 7.
Although it doesn't seem like he likes her very much, she thinks about him from time to time and wishes she'd been engineered better.
They meet again in Holland.
An old friend of her father, Doctor de Groot, wants her to stay with him and his only child Mies for a holiday.
(whistle, whistle, blatant plot device, whistle, whistle)
Don't you like each other? says a confused and beautiful Mies when they meet up with Fraam (an old family friend of Mies' too).
That remains to be seen. (Oh Fraam. You're at your best when you're as enigmatic as a Russian arms dealer.)
Lucy also meets Willem de Vries who I thought was destined to be a colorless, slope-shouldered suitor until I found out he had money. Then, naturally, he was better suited to be a young lovelorn fellow meant for Mies.
While Fraam moonlights as a one man chauffeur service by offering numerous women of a variety of hair hues rides in his swanky Panther de Ville, Lucy plots to bring Mies and Willem together. Maybe, she suggests, Willem could pretend to be interested in her. Waters are slightly muddied.
At the Dutch hospital ball, Lucy arrives in a horribly modest emerald number that Fraam just loves. If he could waltz her into a corner...Alas, she had told everyone that she wasn't dancing in a bid to not have Mies scrounge a date for her. Willem doesn't take no for an answer, however, and leads her onto the nearly empty dance floor...where she shakes her moneymaker in a jaw-dropping fashion. She's clearly the best dancer there.
Fraam plucks her out of a clutch of young people and claims a dance. But then he's a little insulting about it. I shall be sadly out of fashion if I can't say that I have danced at least once with you. Notice, he didn't risk asking her to dance (she might turn him down) and then he excuses his behavior as duty. Fraam is being very weenie. Forgive him though. He loves her very much and already thinks she thinks he's too old for her. He puts things to right by finding a quiet balcony and praising her dancing and her dress and laughing a little at the precarious fashions being held up by sticky tape and prayer out there on the dance floor. Detente.
The rest of Holland comprises a rescued kitten, Willem doing the psychological equivalent of taking Mies across his knee and walloping her, Fraam telling Lucy that he does his utmost not to see her and then a whopping kiss.
Sailing home with an upgraded stateroom and a massive bunch of flowers, Lucy is unaware of the palm greasing Fraam engaged in to make it so.
Fraam comes to England to give another lecture and this time Lucy takes care to sit well in the back to avoid him noticing her. Skipping down an unused corridor afterward, she is nevertheless irritated that he gives her nothing more than a frosty nod in passing. It bugs her all day and she decides to skip socializing and go to bed.
But she's pulled away by a message. There's a man down there in the waiting room. A real live man. For Lucy.
It's Fraam. Looking about him at the unwelcome surroundings he comments, 'I wonder how many young men survive a visit here? She answered him seriously. 'Well, if they're really keen, it doesn't seem to matter,' she told him, and wondered why he smiled.
And then he has time to be either a weenie again or a strategist. Mies made me promise to take you out for a meal while I was over here. Will you come now?
(Oh Fraam! You'll never defeat the Nazis if you don't charge out of the foxhole!)
At the end of a very nice night he catches her close. 'I almost forgot,' his hand came up and lifted her chin gently: 'I had to give you this from Mies.' She had never been kissed like that before.
They next meet during a blizzard in her home village. Fraam just happened to be in the area...He goes out in the teeth of the storm to assist her in the at-home delivery she's had the misfortune to get roped into. Oopsie. The baby's breech. Double oopsie. The baby is twins. In a blizzard. Way out in the country.
This is one of those moments that underscores my deep and heartfelt affection for the easy charms of suburbia...
But I digress. Lucy is so glad to see Fraam. She is just a student nurse after all and another pair of hands is more than welcome. Attach those hands to the body of a hot, hot RDD and then I think we've got the makings of a triple word score.
Fraam cooks and holds the babies and shovels snow. Lucy collects the eggs and milks the goat and makes hot mash for the chickens. They wait for the sound of a helicopter or snow-plow to rescue them. It's like Little House on the Prairie meets the Rebel Alliance on the ice-planet Hoth.
And when they finally do make it back to her parent's house Lucy nods off from exhaustion. Fraam scoops her up and carries her to bed. Mrs. Prendergast tucked her in. 'The darling's absolutely out cold.' 'The darling's absolutely darling,' remarked Mr. der Linssen at his most suave. Putting aside the fact that I think 'suave' is a perfectly horrid word choice at a time like that, we've got some very telling signs.
When Lucy is shoveling snow with Fraam the next morning her dawning realization hits her over the head with a snow shovel. Eureka! I love him! What now?
Fraam asks Lucy to come to Holland to nurse Doctor de Groot who happens to need surgery for the very complaint that Fraam lectured on (and Lucy slept through). No matter. He'll fill her in.
She arrives after a long and weary day of travel dressed in the most utilitarian clothes possible when he stops at his house and invites her in to meet his family. If he'd tried that with me I'd feel legally bound to tell him that for his own safety and for the safety of others he'd better get used to wearing protective shin guards. But Lucy doesn't kick him under the table. They have a lovely dinner and she thinks how lucky some girl would be to get those in-laws.
When Lucy finally (after some very light nursing) gets another free day Fraam kisses her gently and then bundles her into a car. (THE Panther de Ville?) I'm going to marry you. You can think about it on the way to the house.
Now before we get all judge-y about his delivery I'd like to make a couple of points:
  • Sure those three little words weren't said ("Account at Harrods.') but he has been kissing her pretty steadily. Oughtn't she to have known?
  • As soon as he read her brainwaves and angry Japanese snowmen as a token of her undying love for him, he proposed just as soon as he could. He's been waiting to ask her for months and it's as though he's a contractor who didn't let his foundation properly cure before slapping a house on top of it. The cracks from all that unseemly haste will soon begin to show.
She accepts and very sweetly tells him she loves him (which is his cue for...?) but wants to work out her notice at the hospital--so that he can be extra sure. Mies, who heretofore had been kind of a dim-witted and fairly kind parallel character, at this point gets under my skin.
Wow. You're, like, totally engaged. You are so not his type. He's liked a ton of other girls before. Let's sit down and make a list of them. No, no, we're going to need the thick pad of paper... Alright, now first the blonds...
Mies mentions a name Lucy hadn't heard before--Adilia. (Pity that I have not the time to find a font with daggers and dripping blood because Adilia looks a little innocuous in the default blogger font.)
To her credit, Lucy asks him about it and though he is cold (Framm-speak for uncertain and worried) he answers her well enough. He even invites Adilia to lunch and tells Lucy 'Now you know what she's like' which settles it as far as he's concerned.
And then Aunt Sophie gets to Lucy at a family function. (Marvelous that you young things know how to look the other way when your husbands play the field...) Fraam manages to say that he loves Lucy (to his aunt! which is nearly unforgivable as Lucy hasn't heard the words herself yet) so feathers are smoothed.
And then Lucy sees Fraam driving Adilia in his Panther de Ville (What is he a taxi service?!) at a time when he is supposed to be 'at work'. They begin to have a tearing row but Fraam doesn't waste time being icy and aloof. 'Now, now, my love,' he said soothingly, 'what is all this?' He kissed the top of her head. 'I believe Tante Sophie's hints and spite did their work, after all.' And then he explains. The reader begins to wonder if this will be the whole of their married life--jealous rages and solicitation all the way into the grave.
So she is calmed again.
And then he says he has to go to Brussels which got my Disaster-o-meter ringing bells like crazy. Shall we recite, class, the First Commandment of Betty:
Danger lies in Belgium.
There, be pirates and death rays and all manner of villainy.

(I'm going to get a cease and desist letter from the Belgium Chamber of Commerce--you see if I don't.)
Lucy is in the front parlor of Fraam's (they're living together, didn't I say? Properly chaperoned!) when Adilia (imaging the gore and daggers) walks in. I have come to suck your blood!
No, she does something worse than suck the life out of her dooming her to an eternity of pallid skin and a monotonous diet. She uses little truths to make a gigantic lie. Fraam is in London! I vill soon be there! Ah, Ah, Ah! Let's ask Fraam's faithful butler vere he is. London! Ah, ah, ah! You can have his ugly babies and I vill have his heart!
Lucy, having the grottiest day ever, keeps it together until Adilia leaves and then, flinging her ring into a teacup, dashes upstairs for her coat and gloves. All she knows for sure is that Fraam said he was going to Brussels when he actually went to London.
She walks all day and checks into a nice hotel when she can't walk any more. But she doesn't have her purse/money/passport. Blast. And when she tries to explain to the check-in clerk that she's Doctor Linssen's fiancee and that she doesn't have it, the glorified pencil pusher's eyes dart to her ringless hand.
They ask her to wait in her room...and then lock her in. Before she has a chance to fashion a make-shift rope out of bedsheets or stage a prison riot (No justice, no peace!), Fraam walks in. His rage (which I sympathize with) evaporates when she explains. Tears and kisses. He went to London to get her released from having to work out her remaining time at the hospital so they could get married sooner. Brussels was a head-fake. (Whew.)
He'll give her a week to get her wedding dress and in the mean time that ring is to stay put.
The End

Rating: I remember liking this book but I also remember being irritated at the end. Why doesn't she trust him more? Why does she take off so fast? But upon re-reading I noticed some things that helped me like this waaaaay more. 1) Adilia called Lucy's future children plain. This is a super big deal--the bony brat found Lucy's insecurities like Luke Skywalker hunting womp rats and imploded them faster than the Death Star. 2) Though this Betty is not a fan of weekending in Brighton, she is an enormous fan of pre-marital snogging in the vicinity of Southern England. (Keep your hands to yourself!) Much of Fraam's problems would have been evaporated the second he decided to use that William and Mary settee in the front parlor for more than tea-sipping. 3) What guarantee do we have that Lucy's doubts are finally banished? On the final page Lucy flings her arms about Fraam's neck and kisses him. Heretofore, she had been cheerfully accepting his kisses but worried about invading his personal space on her own bat. This all changes when she finally (finally!) realizes that he's been waiting for her as long (longer, actually) as she was waiting for him.
Still, it would have been nice had there been a few fewer Adilia's waiting to shank Lucy when Fraam's back is turned.
No matter. I give it a Queen of Puddings!
Also, there are really wonderful bits with her family and as a nurse on the ward that I didn't cover very thoroughly in the review but which are well worth the read.

Food: Roast beef, fish and chips, currant buns, Sole Picasso (Cubed Sole?), vanilla ice cream, milk pudding, Poussin en Cocotte, carpet-bag steak (This sounds as tough as old boots.), cheese straws, bubble and squeak, and fried bread.
Fashion: She wears a jersey dress and jacket, a tweed skirt that she hates, a full rose-patterned skirt and (to the hospital ball) a green silk jersey gown with a modest neckline that she'd like to take some shears to and slash the bosom of. Tourists make themselves conspicuous with clothes made of 'uncrushable man-made fibers'. Fraam has a trendy waistcoat and a beautifully cut suit with the pant legs stuffed into wellies. Lucy meets her future in-laws in her traveling clothes--a tweed skirt, a shirt blouse (?) and sweater.