Monday, May 6, 2013

Only By Chance--Reprise

Hail Fellow Bettys, well met!
In the closing remarks of her review, Betty Debbie discloses that she loves the parts of this that show Our Hero in Love.  The canon can be split along a fairly distinct fault line--on the one hand we have novels that contain near-total heroic silence (until the final lines of, "Despite ample literary evidence to the contrary, I've loved you all along...") in much of the early canon and a loosening of the lock on the mind-vault of the hero in the later canon (wherein he often lets the readers, his parents, his servants and our heroine's relations know in no uncertain terms that he has a romantic goal).
Do you have a preference?  Do  you sometimes wish (as I do) to type up a few helpful paragraphs to paste into parts of the early canon using the POV of Professor Baron Valentijn van der Plotz ter Brinkmaan?
Love and lardy cakes!
Betty Keira

Orphan girl works at a stately doctor falls in love, blah, blah, blah. Sounds like The Chain of Destiny, right? Nope, it's Only By Chance.

Henrietta Cowper (at least 23 years old) has got to be the orphan-iest orphan ever to grace the pages of the Canon. Her parents died in an air disaster when she was about one - which is what you get when you board a plane with a  RDD's wife who is running away with a South American playboy.  She lived with unloving grandparents until her grandmother died when Henrietta was six - grandfather then sent her to a 'Children's Home'.  She stayed until she was twenty-one and a new regime kicked her out. As the story opens, she's been living in a cold little attic bedsit for at least a couple of years.  She keeps body and soul together by working two part-time jobs and as many little side jobs as she can find.  The first post-orphanage job she landed was a plum, ripe for the picking - early morning office cleaner Editor's note: this job is eerily similar to my college days jobs - early morning cleaning the lower floor of the law library.  More recently she's picked up a second job as a part-time helper in the Occupational Therapy department.  Sure, the job is more upscale - but her supervisor, Mrs. Carter has it in for her. She has an unreasonable dislike of Henrietta - despite her being a cheerful and willing worker.
Coming out of the hospital one dark and rainy evening Henrietta finds a waterlogged kitten and steps back onto someone's foot. Best misstep ever. She has a lovely voice, he has an interesting names are exchanged, but they recognize each other instantly just days later...not when they see each other, no, when they hear each other. He's taking a tour of OT with Mrs. Carter...who is busy being her naturally vile self and tearing down Henrietta as much as possible.  The stranger with the nice voice defends Henrietta quite ably. In fact, he is so nice, he waits outside to apologize!  They exchange names...she's Henrietta Cowper, he's Mr. Ross-Pitt.
Henrietta disappears!  She misses a couple of days in OT - which doesn't surprise the abrasive Mrs.'s what she's come to expect of Young Women. She's not the least bit curious about where Henrietta might be. Mr. R-P wonders if she might be ill.
The lives of Henrietta and Mr. Ross-Pitt ever so gradually begin to intertwine.  Henrietta's landlady, Mrs. Gregg, brings Henrietta to the clinic where Mr. R-P does evening volunteer work on the QT. Her landlady is that special breed of woman who is both 'heart-of-gold' and avaricious.  Generally her heart-of-gold-iness wins out...Mrs. Gregg is willing to do all the necessary - she's happy to take care of Henrietta back at her bedsit - especially when a bit of the ready is slipped in her open hand. Mr. R-P is rather appalled at Henrietta's living conditions.  She seems so much better than that. Mr. R-P (and just about everyone else) can tell she's not living in her proper sphere -in spite of the fact that she's quite plain - it must be her beautiful eyes and posh accent she picked up in the orphanage. Maybe that's why he pops into visit her with a bunch of daffodils?  Against doctor's advice, Henrietta goes back to work at her early morning job and naturally gets sicker. Who should be driving by? Yup, it's Mr. Ross-Pitt. He sums up the situation and pops her into hospital quick as you like. There are consequences to his helpfulness.
1. Looses her job in OT.
2. Looses her job cleaning offices.
3. Looses her bedsit.
The only reason she hasn't lost her cats, is that Mr. Ross-Pitt took them to his home while she was in hospital.  What's an orphan to do?  Mr. R-P hears of a likely job at his neighbor's stately home - food and lodging included.  Sounds ideal.  Did I mention it's close to his home? Yes? Well. Well, well, well.
Lady Hensen is willing to take her on as a help with cleaning, mending and tour operating.  Henrietta is perfect for the job.  Cheerful, willing, hardworking, polite and able to turn her hand to such things as mending the curtains.  The Victorian orphanage hasn't been a total wash on the subject of job training...
And now, some highlights:
  • Sharing a lodge with Mrs. Pettifer. It might be a small place, but it's not a bedsit, and it's not in the dodgy East End of London.
  • Her orphanage roots are showing - she confesses to the gardener that she's never seen flowers growing - just in market stalls. Really?
  • Miss Deidre Stone. She would like to become Mrs. Ross-Pitt, but it'll have to be over his dead body, because he isn't biting.
  • Sir Peter's nephew Mike is intrigued by the plain little thing who isn't intrigued by him.  He figures he'll have a laugh and get her to fall in love with him.  He attempts to kiss her, and gets kicked in the shins for his troubles.  Mr. Ross-Pitt breaks through a hedge to save the maiden, but the maiden has saved herself.
  • After not saving Henrietta, Mr. R-P gives her a kiss on the cheek, invites her to tea at his lovely home, and earns a Dawning Realization on her part.  He doesn't know yet that he's in love - but he can't get her off his mind. And now Henrietta starts to think of him as 'Adam'. Yay!
  • Deidre does not compare favorably to Henrietta.  Adam has reached the 'she would look good in a potato sack' stage as far as Henrietta is concerned.
  • While queueing up for the bus, Adam urges Henrietta to come spend the day with him at his dear old nanny's place on the Essex coast.
  • The coast? Poor little orphan Henrietta has never before seen the sea!!!! She's grown up on an island  and never seen the ocean.
  • Adam has to head back to London because he has a courtesy date with Deidre. He's just had a wonderful day with Henrietta and the last thing he wants is to go out with the appalling Deidre.  He's grumpy from the git-go, and again Deidre does not show well. 
    • her perfume reeks - unlike Henrietta
    • she's a fussy eater - never having known what it is to be hungry - unlike Henrietta
    • her voice gets shrill with temper - unlike Henrietta
  • Meanwhile, back at the stately home, Henrietta reflects that she hates Deidre.
  • The Hensens are going to the states for 2 weeks - so all the staff get a week off.  Poor orphan H. doesn't have anywhere to go...until Matty (Adam's nanny) writes to invite her down.
  • Her holiday is lovely - walking by the beach each day and chatting with Matty.  Matty is like the granny she wished she had had.
  • The vicar so happens to have an eldest son named David - who happens to be close in age to Henrietta.  They get on like a house afire - but you just know he's like the brother she never had. Adam doesn't know that...all that he knows is that he's annoyed by the thought of her with David.
The loveliest bits of this book, for me, are the last twenty or thirty pages. Adam is adorable as a man in love.  He sounds very puppy-ish. He feels great gusts of love - his heart lurches at the sight of her, he sets his mother's mind at rest concerning the troubling thought of him getting hitched to Deidre - nope, he's found someone else - someone who he thinks doesn't think of him in 'that way'...yet.
Henrietta spends part of a weekend with Matty again - David offers her a ride back.  Turns out David likes a sweet young thing - Henrietta advises him 'if you like it then you'd better put a ring on it' .  Adam takes an opportunity to give the best set-down ever to a presuming woman.
Adam and Henrietta are both lovesick - but neither has any clue about the other - there are murky waters...Adam is so hot and bothered that he walks over to the lodge and without even a by-your-leave kisses her. She completely enjoys the experience and admits it. But she can't figure out why a man who is as good as engaged to Deidre is kissing her.  All Adam can think is that Henrietta has thrown a spanner into his sane and assured judgements. It would be nice if things could be resolved - but first Adam calls Matty and gets the story of David cleared up...then a quick trip to America. What? Yeah, he has a spot of emergency surgery to attend to in Washington (pretty sure it's Washington as in D.C. not State) coincidentally, Deirdre is in The States.  Henrietta adds one plus one, divides by 50 states and comes up with Adam and Deidre together. Not altogether her fault, the kitchen knew he'd gone to the States; the milkman had it from Mrs. Patch, and he told Cook who told us....Addy overhead Mrs. Stone tell Lady Hensen that Miss Stone had flown to the States,, really, you can't blame Henrietta for coming up with the wrong couple, can you?
Adam sorts this all out immediately so they can get down to the business of kissing, more kissing and proposing. The End.

Rating: It started a bit slow for me...not sure why. I loved, loved, loved the last 1/4 of the book - except for the very last line, wherein Henrietta makes the mistake of saying that Adam only has to tell her he loves her once. Rookie mistake.  Some of the best Hero in Love bits ever.  I liked Henrietta - even while finding her character a bit unbelievable (never seen flowers outside of market stalls? Really? Never seen the ocean? Really?).  She was pretty plucky - but a shade too unambitious for me.  Adam was the most adorably smitten man.  Boeuf en croute.
Food: Henrietta ate food of the servant quarters variety AND the retired nanny variety.  Casserole with baked apples and cream for afters, Stewed beef and dumplings with a jam roly poly for afters, treacle pudding, steak and kidney pudding, carrots from a neighbor's garden, potatoes from a local farmer, apples from the same farmer for apple pie and cream, scones and jam and a dough cake.
Fashion: Let's face it, Henrietta doesn't have much money to splash out.  When she does finally have some money she buys a navy jersey jacket and skirt, floral blouse in muted pastels and a navy and white striped blouse with a neat little bow. Her next 'spree' nets her a finely pleated somber navy blue skirt, 2 blouses, a sage-green safari dress and a simply cut uncrushable floral dress.


  1. I liked this one more than you did, I think. First, I actually believe that she could be that sheltered. Maybe the flowers are a bit of a stretch, but ... I personally did not see the ocean firsthand until I was 20 (overlooking it from a bluff above the beach in Pasadena, unless you count seeing it through tinted bus windows on a tour bus from Orlando to Kennedy Space Center when I was 16), or touch the ocean itself until I was 36. And that was just by hand because it was December in Ocean Shores, WA. And I was only on the beach for 15 minutes. Maybe now that I'm just 4 hours from Galveston Bay, I'll actually go INTO the ocean. Sometime.

    All that to say that she would have been very sheltered living in an orphanage, and not have the life experience that most of us take for granted.

    I loved her pluckiness and her obviously not belonging in her situation, even though by circumstance she truly did. I loved how Adam couldn't put her out of his mind, and eventually got to the point where he had to physically hold himself back from embracing her. Precious.

    That said, I don't really think it deserves a higher rating, and as I'm not willing to put lashes of whipped cream on boeuf en croute, we'll just let it stand. ;)

  2. This book is one of my top tenners. I LOVE this one. I have read it over and over.

    I admire how Henrietta works so hard at so many jobs just to keep a roof over her head and food in her stomach (plus feed Dickens and Ollie). Imagine how hard that was. The job at the Hensen estate must have been a godsend. When I read the part where Henrietta left the hospital and went to her room, only to find her cats and belongings missing, I always get a tear in my eye. Thank heavens Mr. Ross-Pitt saves the day and falls in love with her. :)

    Word of warning if you have a Kindle: the Only by Chance that came out in July 2011 is riddled with errors. Don't buy it. The "Best of" version is coming out in July, and hopefully all the errors will be fixed.

    Betty AnoninTX

    1. PS Also, if you are in the US/Canada and have a Kindle, please request that Fate Is Remarkable, Saturday's Child, and An Ordinary Girl (plus any others that aren't; I've lost track) are turned into Kindle books. You look up a title, then over at the side there's a link to click that says something to the effect of "I'd like to read this on Kindle." It drives me crazy that these aren't available but yet some of the titles have been released twice (ie The Doubtful Marriage).

  3. I also always loved this one.

    I love the whole part about her working at the big estate and how she handles herself.

    Is this the one where she goes for a walk on the road near his country house and gets chased by some bad guy and our Hero hears her yelps and jumps over the hedge to rescue her????


    B. Francesca

    1. Yes, but even better: Two walks, two bad guys. Bad guy # 1, the Hensens' ne'er-do-well nephew who joins Henrietta as she is setting out for a walk and later gets unpleasant and we see Mr Ross-Pitt forcing his way through the hedge to come to Henrietta's rescue. Bad guy # 2, a stranger pursuing her out in the fields when she is on her way back from visiting Mrs Tibbs, and we see Mr Ross-Pitt jumping out of the window, running to her rescue.

  4. Saturday in Saffron Walden

    She had lunch in a small café and took herself off to look at the timber-framed houses and admire the pargeting on the brick and flint houses of a slightly later date. They had worn well during the four hundred years of their existence. She visited the church of St. Mary the Virgin too, and then, still with time on her hands, explored the keep of the Norman castle. A late tea took her to well after five o'clock and she caught the evening bus back.

    More about pargeting:

    PAH-jit-ting (Brit.)
    PAHR-jit-ting (American), there is a link on the page with great pictures: SEE THE PARGETTING GALLERY HERE

    Pargeting in Saffron Walden by writer Lois Elsden

    I particularly enjoyed looking at the photo streams of St. Mary’s. The pictures of the stained glass windows are truly awsome, especially when you look at them in high resolution. BE-YOU-TEA-FUL.

  5. Pargeting, the Video:
    Pargeting by Ian Warren
    Also on:

    What a find! Love the mice.

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