First of all, for those following along at home...no. I cannot yet share the happy news that Betty Keira has produced her most recent pledge. She was due last Thursday, so it really could happen any time now. ANY. TIME. NOW!!!
I promise to keep all of our dear Bettys updated. (I just talked to Betty Keira, she's had two contractions in the past 1/2 hour! fingers are crossed!)
Let's talk about Polly.
I have a niece (by marriage) named Polly. After a brief, unhappy first marriage (and possibly second?), she finally settled down several years ago with her current husband. He happens to be much older than her - somewhere in the range of 15 to 20 years. They seem to be blissfully happy - and have had two or three kids. The times, they have changed since The Great Betty's days - instead of having the luxury of staying at home full time, this Polly went back to school and earned a degree in nursing. I consider it a bit of a luxury that she was able to get a nursing degree instead of stocking store shelves during the off hours, for minimum wage, to help supplement the family income.
Professor Sam Gervis, 36, is lost...in more ways than one. On a physical level he has merely taken a wrong turn onto one of the byways branching off the shortcut from Pulchester. On a metaphysical level he is lashed together with the wrong soul mate and doomed to swirl around the Toilet Bowl of Infinity with her if something doesn't happen soon.
Polly Talbot, 20, happens.
She stops to give him direction (in more ways than one), is called a rustic chatterbox for her pains and dismisses him from her mind--a mind chockablock with Latin and Greek. (Sona si Latine loqueris. Honk if you speak Latin.)
Polly has a temp job typing up a manuscript for Sir Corpus-Mortem (not really), the local dead languages expert, handily located within cycling distance from home (where live her parents and two gorgeous older sisters and maybe some other people too but we don't care much about them).
Sam discovers her working at Wells Court and he is revealed to be a friend of her boss and mildly gobsmacked that someone who he wrote off (or would like to have written off) at first sight turned out to have a first-class brain. But he can't say the same for her sense of style.
Those were your sisters in church?...very pretty girls and dressed charmingly....You know, you intrigue me.
'I couldn't care less,' said Polly.
Yes, she has herself well in hand when it comes to the Professor, cheerfully lobbing back every volley he sends her way.
Sir Corpus-Mortem mextremum vitae spiritum edere (gave up the ghost) which is all very sad for his family but allows Polly a change of venue. Instead of pounding away at her manuscript in the neighborhood, it is determined that she should come to Sam's house to finish her work, keep his soon-to-married sister, Diana, company and keep out of his elegantly affianced way. That's right. He's engaged to Deirdre--a horse-faced local belle. (He didn't hate it so he put a ring on it.) Naturally she has a bosom which calls to mind breakfast foods of the pancake variety which bodes ill for his future implied conjugal relations...
To Polly, Sam is cold and aloof unless he's being irritable. (But charmingly so.)
On weekends he drives her home, becoming acquainted with her family and her lifestyle. Cora and Marian (the Talbot Babes) are initially very taken with Sam but twig to Polly's as-yet-undiscovered feelings fairly quickly. (Being nice girls, they leave him pretty well alone.) Mother Talbot is just a darling--she has ideas about Sam and Polly, never mind the age gap, their public indifference to one another or his flat-chested fiancee.
And what does Polly feel? Well, she has awakened to the awfulness of her wardrobe and the desire to look better than she does. That's as far as it goes.
When Sam sees her in her off-the-peg but charming two-piece the temptation (oh yes, Sam has been unwillingly tempted for weeks) to kiss his overwhelms his better judgment...which makes her imminent departure that much more pressing.
She has been surreptitiously making plans to begin a nursing course at a nearby children's hospital, not at all sure why Sam can't know, only knowing that when she's gone she must stop thinking about him.
When the last Greek word is thumped out and the last proofs are placed upon his desk, Sam drives her home again. His departure is dispassionately swift and it is only the next day, while taking a solitary walk with the dog that she is poleaxed by the dawning realization. Oh my dear Sam, it's me you need!
Thank heavens she has her position to take up in a few days which will keep her busy and her mind off of Sam...
...right up until he walks onto the ward, nearly swamping her with delight. She didn't even know he was a surgeon. No one ever said.
'Do you have to screw your hair up like that, Polly?'
She gave him a surprised look. '...it doesn't make any difference.'
He studied her for a long moment. 'No, it doesn't.'
That's when we know that love has caught up with Professor Gervis.
Editorial Note: He goes out of his way to tell her that she'll never make a nurse (she takes this to be a comment on her aptitude and he means it as a crypto-love note) which reminded me of Baroness Schraeder making cracks about Fraulein Maria becoming a nun. I don't want to throw any bombs here but I'm betting that his telling Polly her future (some might say dictating) might offend some more modern sensibilities. Might I offer that they are both the kind of folks to want a large family and that she's more a do-the-work-at-hand type than the self-actualized-through-professional-success type. (I think Sam knows this about her.) I also offer that I know someone who nurses, is happily married and has raised 8 children so I'm not saying it can't be done but she doesn't have time for the kind of gentility and luxurious shopping that I think The Great Betty forecasts for her heroine. So, anyway, it didn't bug me a bit and I find him charmingly casting out hint after hint like a Discovery Channel host chumming the waters during Shark Week.
Sam invents reasons to take her home and fetch her back. He conveniently forgets to have dinner until they're on their way. He chats her up in the hallways (breaching all sorts of unspoken hospital etiquette concerning whom a student nurse may speak to and whom they may most definitely not speak to). He's doing a spot of skirt-chasing and it is only by implying (loudly and publicly) that, since he knows her father, he merely is casting an avuncular eye on her, that he avoids having her gossiped about.
And then Diana invites her over to see her wedding dress. There is a storm. Polly, cautiously suggests leaving early. Sam calls. Diana peels out of the driveway anyway...nearly killing them both in a highway accident. Polly saves them by driving to the verge. Sam finds them and since Diana has fallen asleep he bawls out Polly.
And then later he finds her on the ward and bawls her out again.
I remember being more bugged at this part in previous readings but, since he hasn't been told anything other than, 'Polly insisted we leave,' I don't blame him too much. He's shaken and furious and still loves her anyway:
My only regret is that I've started my training at this hospital; I had thought I would never have to see you again.
'You don't mean that, Polly.' His voice was so gentle...
He manages to force her into a public acceptance of his sister's wedding invitation (he is so clever and single-minded!) and we get a simply charming interlude where Sam in practically drunk on the wine of love. Polly wears a sweet, little Laura Ashley dress and he only just stops himself from proposing on the spot.You look so pretty... Deirdre slithers around and makes herself objectionable...oh, and his sister clears up the accident mis-communication at the end which didn't matter at all since Sam had decided that he'd take Polly any way he could get her.
For her part, Polly is beginning to notice the Professor's partiality. This has to stop, you know...
In a muddle, Polly decides to give in her notice and quit--seeing Sam everyday and waiting with morbid fear for his wedding to be announced is killing her. Before she can formally do so, she finds a choking baby, does all the right initial aid, and then sprints across the hall and thrusts the poor darling at the Professor. Sam...do something! Being ticked off for rule-breaking is the last straw on her frayed nerves and she practically flings her notice at the SNO and takes a bus back home.
Mother, brilliant, brilliant mother, knows to make an extra large dinner. Sam will be showing up soon, she just knows it.
And he does, and we're ever so close to some top-drawer snogging when he gets a blasted phone call. (The good health of an entire tenement full of sleeping children was sacrificed for this minor plot twist. I hope you're happy.)
Deirdre shows up, uncorks her vial of venom and pours it into Polly's ears and Polly, who had begun to hope, turns into a block of ice.
She must get away. Immediately. Scotland!
Sam tracks her down at a train station lunch counter and does his explaining, proposing and snogging in cheerful view of an appreciative audience.
Rating: Lashings of No-Calorie, Guilt-Free Whipped Cream! This story belongs to both the hero (our scheming, plotting hero) and our heroine (our dizzy, Latin-drenched heroine) equally. Yes, the age difference is not incidental (his 36 to her 20) but she's so good at managing him that you have no doubt that she'll have him meekly tucking into his soup while she presents him with pledge after pledge of her affection for years to come.
I love that his name is Sam--a lovely, accessible name--and that he falls so hard and so publicly (I mean, everyone knows he's got a yen for the plain little student nurse) for the girl he named the 'rustic chatterbox' at their first meeting.
I love Polly--she's at just that age when personal make-overs (particularly for girls who like their Latin more than fussy footwear) are uncomfortably embarked upon (feel free to sing the icky lyrics of 'Girl, You'll Be a Woman Soon'). And it's usually a boy who gets the ball rolling in that direction--that's how you know that Polly likes Sam.
If there is a moment that dates itself a bit, it's when Sam's young cousin is essentially told that being a surgeon's wife is the next best thing to being a surgeon. She's a little young to be told that having a family and career are mutually exclusive (though I am of the camp that thinks you can have it all but often not all at once--which applies to my husband and myself) but this is a very peripheral quibble.
This was one of the last Neels titles I ever read and I was over the moon that she still was able to surprise and delight me. Go get this one. You'll thank me.
Food: Rhubarb jam, porridge, bacon, eggs, fried whitebait, lamb chops, lobster patties, roast lamb, trifle, avocado pear stuffed with prawns smothered in a delicate sauce (no, thank you), salmon patties, bacon and egg pie and Mrs. Talbot plans a large steak and kidney pie when Polly washes out of nursing school because she knows Sam will be 'round for supper.
Fashion: A too-big blouse with a prim collar, a plain pleated cream dress with bronze leaves, an elderly jersey dress, a candlewick dressing gown which has him looking down his nose at her (purely a defensive move on his part as she's been easily entrancing him--lovely clothes or no). Polly goes on a not-overly-thought-out shopping trip to update her look, buying a pink cotton blouse and skirt, a sleeveless dress in cream jersey, a knitted jacket in all colors I'm having some trouble imagining, some frivolous sandals and a flimsy apricot night dress (the better to be caught on midnight forays to the kitchen in). Deirdre wears a blue crepe trouser suit with jangling jewelry. Sam's sister wears a wedding dress of white organza and lace. Deirdre wears a vivid yellow dress to the wedding with a wavy-brimmed hat covered in pink roses. Happily, due to last week's Bertha I know that to La Neels a vivid dress is code for blindingly garish.