Monday, September 30, 2013

Nanny By Chance - Reprise

Distressing?  No.
Heartbreaking? Closer at times, but no. 
Angsty? No.

I was trying to come up with a word that described Araminta's situation in life.  

...and the word is...


I find so many things in Nanny By Chance to be reeking with poignancy.  

  • she has 2 living parents...and she is practically a non-entity to them.
  • she is just fine being called 'Mintie' - probably because she's just happy to be called anything.
  • her second date with Piet van Vleet wherein her small hopes and dreams are crushed.
  • she comes home to a cold house and is expected to fend for herself.
  • her ill-fated nursing career.
I could go on, but you get the idea.  All of this could have wound up being dismal and depressing, but Araminta is made of sterner stuff..."I bought the chips because I was hungry"...Life may have dumped her into a garbage skip,  but Araminta is going to pick herself up, dust herself off and try, try again.  

-Betty Debbie


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 Miss April Mevrouw Lutyns Christina and 'Mintie' (just work past it, Bettys) seem to be circling each other.  Add that to the guilt he feels over his neglect of Araminta during her off hours...He caught her eating a paper bag full of chips!  He wouldn't let his worst enemy have a lonely meal like that.  And, worse, she seemed to be enjoying herself! Her frankness made him ashamed.  'I bought the chips because I was hungry.'  Why, he must wonder, can't things just go back to the way they were before...?
During one of their many expeditions, Paul and Peter and Mintie (urp) get locked in the top room of a toy store.  Like she's in an episode of Man vs. Wild, she whips off her stockings, breaks out a window and flies a distress flag.  And that's what a mildly-panicky Professor finds when he rushes to the scene of their disappearance: Mintie's (gah) tights waving in the breeze.
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!
(But Betty Keira.  You have made a grievous error.  You have bullet-pointed that into the 'bad things' column.)  Piet is one of those rare auxiliary males in Neels-dom who neither has long hair nor wears purple velvet waistcoats nor attempts to maul heroines on deserted by-ways in an unwelcome fashion nor chats one up as a blind for their dastardly assignations with married ladies.  (Betty Keira.  You have made a grievous error...)  So what's his problem?
The Professor couldn't get it out.
Araminta is too excited at the prospect of a day out with a real XY man to find out.  The Professor could tell her.  He sees her quiet happiness with misgiving (--and annoyance. She's never looked at him that way.)  He finds out that Piet has asked for a follow-up date.  He sees Araminta's new outfit and his stomach turns over.  But he never makes/gets a chance to say what ought to have been said.  So Piet says it. Piet van Vleet is engaged to Anna in Canada.  (Toungue Twister!)
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.
Editorial Note:
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.
Editorial Note:
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...
Her: Are you going to be married?
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.
The End

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.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Bettysday in Central PA

Betty JoDee traded her sedate black felt hat for this rather more lavish creation.
Belated Happy Bettysday from central Pennsylvania!  Betty JoDee took me out to the Bell Mansion for a super tea party, with HATS PROVIDED! by the proprietor, a concert pianist who was enormously gracious to us.  The Bell Mansion invites patrons to choose their teacup and teapot from the extensive collection displayed on shelves and cupboards throughout the three Victorian-influenced rooms where they serve both tea and luncheon.  (The tea house doesn't seem to have a website -- I wish I'd taken a few more photos -- so the best I can do is direct you to their reviews on Yelp.)

Betty van den Betsy in tweed suit and family-heirloom necklace.
I am trekking (via motorized vehicle -- is that still trekking?) about the USA, and the JoDee family were gracious enough to put me up for my first night on the road.  A lovely family and a wonderfully comfortable stay.  Thank you to all Bettys for setting a marvelous standard of hospitality.  Photos of Betty Magdalen's pets, from a stay earlier in the summer, will come along shortly.

Striving for seriousness...

...but having too much fun for it to take, really.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Upcoming Reprise

Monday, September 30th
Nanny By Chance

Scholarly parents, toy store incarceration, mumps.

Monday, September 23, 2013

A Good Wife--Reprise

Good Morning, Bettys.
We spent our Bettysday last week being inundated with a vomitous flu.  I had every intention of tiny sandwiches and sipped hot drinks and big hats but we were just able to hold body and soul together (sometimes at 1am, in the shower, with the 4-year-old) and that seemed like a very Betty Neels thing to do too.  
The Great Betty has been very good to me.  I like her.  I like her books.  I like her insistence that there is nothing that can make people happier than a good marriage.  I like her plucky heroines and her horrible villians and sketches of nursing and British village life of a certain vintage.
So, I'm raising my glass of fizzy pop to Betty.  Long may she reign!
Love and lardy cakes,
Betty Keira

Serena Lightfoot is having a pretty crummy 26th birthday. Her self-proclaimed invalid father could care less, her older brother Henry probably doesn't even remember it, likewise younger brother Matthew. Gregory, her unromantic, stingy boyfriend, doesn't even send a card. Since his stand on birthdays is that they are 'scandalously overpriced' he doesn't bother sending anything else. Time to climb a hill.

Serena had no idea that she would
meet her destiny on that hilltop.
A handsome stranger is sitting on her rock. The two strike up an instant friendship...and then Serena has to return wait on her vile father hand and foot.
The handsome stranger (Mr. Ivo van Doelen, 37) goes back to his friends home and questions them about the untidy girl with the shabby clothes...they know just who he's talking about...the daughter of the horridest old man Mrs. Bowring has ever met.
A few minutes chatting with a pleasant stranger have given Serena a little glimpse of what life could be like...and enough gumption to request a holiday.  Holiday? Yeah, a request for time off for good behavior.
Older brother Henry: What do you need a holiday for! All you have to do is wait on Father hand and foot, clean the house and cook and grocery have plenty of leisure.

Mrs. Lightfoot extracts a heavy promise from Serena. It
was really the painkillers talking.

Younger brother Matthew: What he said.
Gregory the Not Quite Fiancee: What would be the point?
Vile Father: (Sends for the family solicitor and disinherits her).
Her family and friends are the sort that give patriarchy a bad name.
Dictatorial, bullying Father demands sweetbreads in a rich sauce for lunch, then throws them against the wall and has a well-deserved stroke. Daddy isn't long for this world, there is no deathbed re-inheritance for Serena.  She's not quite penniless. Daddy has left her the obligatory five hundred pound legacy - in his will he says that she can fend for herself.  Henry agrees and Matthew, well, Matthew toes the party line here. Gregory dumps her like last week's compost.
All Heather really  needed was her very own
kitty to love.
Mr. van Doelen is able to keep tabs on Serena's situation through his friends, the Bowrings. Why would he want to? It's a case of can't get her out of his mind...yes, he's in love.
A brief interlude with Henry and his spitefully mean social climbing lovely wife, Alice. Just another episode in her roster of unpaid household slavery.
Mr. van Doelen knows of a temp job that will suit. In a charmingly forthright and not sneaky way, he sends Serena a letter letting her know of it. She spends the next six weeks or so taking care of Heather, a neglected thirteen year old girl. Mr. van Doelen knows exactly when her temp job ends, and manages to be on hand to drive her to her destination.  What destination? She has no idea where she's going, but Mr. van D. does.  He takes her to his little pied-a-terre in Chelsea.  No hanky-panky, he's just offering her a place to stay while she job hunts. He won't be there - he's got to go back to Holland, she'll be rooming with Nanny.
Serena strategically forgets to put her return address
on her letter to Nanny.
There aren't a lot of options open for a gal with no marketable skills, but she does line up a sweet gig stocking grocery store shelves. Not only that, her new boss knows where she can find a room nearby. Girlfriend moves, leaving no forwarding address. Mr. van Doelen is obsessed with finding her, his only clue? The postmark from the letter she sent to Nanny in which she neglected (on purpose) to include a return address. He searches as only a man in love can. Upon finding Serena, he immediately proposes. Editor's Note: Yes, it's another MOC, but I kind of buy this one - he is desperate not to lose her again. Plus, she likes him a lot. It's a good offer whichever way you look at it.

Ivo and Serena have a very small ceremony - no family from either side - and it's off to Holland.
Married life is moving along just fine. Right up until Serena sees Ivo with a stunning woman and goes all green eyed monster...then realizes she's jealous because she loves him. Ivo is hers, darn it! Ivo on the other hand is jealous of Doctor Dirk (I'm snickering over his name...Dirk). Doctor Dirk is a slimeball - quite aggressive at chatting up birds - married or un, but Serena is not one to fall for his lines.
Ivo just can't help himself...every time he sees or hears of Doctor Dirk being around he flips. Serena is honest about what's going on...or rather, what's not going on.  Go ahead and be mad at me, I only danced with him to annoy you  while you were dancing with Rachel the Hottie.

Ivo goes into retreat mode, as far as their relationship goes. He's getting more distant by the day. Serena doesn't just wonder, she grabs the bull by the horns and asks Ivo for a hint as to what's wrong.
Him: Are you happy with our current arrangement?
Her: (lying through her teeth)...ummm, yes?
Him: Well I'm not....(telephone rings)...We'll have to pick up this conversation later - the hospital always comes first.
Of course it will be days and days of awkwardness and a  medical trip to Luxembourg  and a stint of Volunteer Work Gone Awry before any type of resolution is reached.

Serena is left behind after serving soup to the riff-raff. No one else notices the abandoned Bosnian toddler. Fast forward a couple of scary hours and a frantic Ivo tracks her down. True love is kissing the girl even with a grubby, wet, vomit-covered toddler is in her arms.  Professions of love on both sides, kissing on the stairs with Serena wearing only her slip and his coat. The end.

Rating: Overall this one was okay for me. It's fairly solid, but lacks some of the brilliance of earlier offerings from the canon. Here's what I liked:
  • Serena has a refreshing honesty.
  • She has no problem recognizing her lack of love for Gregory and is quite alright about being dumped by him when he finds out she has no inheritance.
  • Ivo has his moments too. I love it when he tells her that they will be happy they are walking down the aisle to get married. 
  • The slimy Doctor Dirk is kind of fun for me - Serena never falls for him - but she does use him to get back at Ivo for dancing with the beautiful and mysterious Rachel. 
Here's what didn't work so well for me:
  • I hate that Serena puts up with her horrid father and brothers for years as an unpaid servant.
  • My biggest complaint is when Ivo goes all icy when she assumes Rachel might be more than a friend - after all, he was ready to assume she was falling for Doctor Dirk. 
  • If I had one wish for this book, it would be that there was more potential for future implied conjugal relations. Only once do we get a glimpse of barely suppressed passion: 'Ivo didn't kiss her because he wasn't sure if he could trust himself to stop at a peck on her cheek.' I'm not looking for trips to Brighton, but really, that's as much passion as we get? 
I'm going to be generous and give this one a Boeuf en Croute.

No one filled out a slip like
Elizabeth Taylor
February 27, 1932 – March 23, 2011

Food: Mr. Lightwood orders Serena to serve him such delicacies as devilled kidneys on toast, roast pheasant and sweetbreads in a rich sauce. Coq au vin, Queen of Puddings, globe artichokes with truffle dressing, grilled salmon with potato straws, baked Alaska, sausage and red cabbage, jellied lobster (yuk), spinach and walnut salad, rump of lamb and an ice cream dessert 'which beggered discription'.

Fashion: A dress which Serena sends her father the bill for and then he fakes a heart attack, after that it's all old clothes like her faded blue cotton dress, wedding outfit of soft blue dress and jacket, russet jersey dress, honey-coloured silk and wool dress and jacket, pink silk and chiffon dress, patterned skirt and cashmere top, deep pink silk crepe with marabou stole, pink silk jersey dress, blue-green dress with embroidered bodice and wide taffeta skirt. Final outfit? A smelly slip and his coat.

*Editor's Note:  I was looking for a non-hoochy picture of a woman in a slip - and thought of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (which I have never actually seen - but I remembered the pictures)...anywho...I posted the final two pictures of Elizabeth Taylor before I found out that she had passed away.  I leave them here as a tribute to her awesome younger years. Admit it, no one rocked a slip like she did.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

T(ea) is for Texas

Yeehaw!  Betty von Susie and I, Betty AnoninTX, celebrated Bettysday a day early on Saturday, September 14, with a wonderful tea.  We, along with Betty von Susie's wonderful friend Rose, met at the beautiful Dallas Arboretum.  The PRT (Poor Retired Teacher as opposed to RDD) wandered around the Arboretum, taking photos of flowers and pumpkins, while we had tea.

Neither one of us wore a jersey dress!  Please don't hold that against us.  Betty von Susie wore a lovely green, black, and white dress with a white shrug, and she had a darling black fascinator in her hair.  I found a purple crepe dress tucked away in the back of my cupboard, and I wore a black hat that felt like it was as big as the Titantic.

The tea itself was wonderful.  The first course was chicken and vegetable broth and a cheese cracker.  The tea was vanilla mint.  The photo here is the second course of tea sandwiches.  There were cream cheese, turkey with apricot butter, egg salad, cucumber, and chicken salad.  The tea was peach cinnamon hibiscus.  Just thinking about the third course makes my mouth water.  There were chocolate truffles, pecan clusters, huge chocolate covered strawberries, little lemon curd tarts, and blueberry scones with strawberry jam and clotted cream.  The tea was Earl Gray.

It was a very nice day.  It was so great to meet the wonderful Betty von Susie!  Happy Bettysday to you all.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Upcoming Reprise

Monday, September 23rd.
A Good Wife
Horrid father (who dies), fiancee who expects an inheritance (and ditches heroine when she doesn't inherit), MOC. 

Monday, September 16, 2013

The Right Kind of Girl - Reprise

First of all, I like to wish a Happy Post Bettysday to all!  We're looking forward to hearing how you observed the day.

Sir Paul gets a lot of flack for his insensitivity in The Right Kind of Girl.  I totally agree that his famous line is, without a doubt, the worst words spoken by a RBD/RDD,to his wife, in the canon. That's a given.  What I'd like to discuss is the title.

The Right Kind of Girl.


The RIGHT Kind of Girl.

I suppose the "right kind" is better than the "wrong kind"...but in this context, what does it even mean?  That her voice is posh? That she will bring Sir Paul his pipe and slippers when he gets home and regularly present pledges of affection? That she can roll with the punches?

The Right Kind of Girl is one of those books crying out for a better name.  Here are a few that I came up with -(just spit balling here):

Maisie Saves the Day
Diana, Worth a Dozen...Not!
No Jobs at the Ottery

Your turn!
-Betty Debbie


So, Harlequin is engaging in a little cover-art sleight-of-hand.  The only babies in this worth mentioning are a disagreeable little tyke named Charlie--and as I am the mother of The Demon Baby of Bethany, I know disagreeable when I see it--who gets occasional baths and cuddles from our heroine and another one that she is a temporary nanny to (and at that point, the principles are not on hand-holding terms).

Emma Trent, '25 going on 15', is eking out a living as a paid companion to a woman enjoying the spoils of her deceased husband's fabled pickled onion fortune.  Pickled.  Onion.  Fortune.  Ladies, we're not on the bottom of the barrel.  We're on the scummy, muddy underside. 
But Mama--brave, peptic Mama--doesn't have much of a pension since her husband died and her brother-in-law absconded with all her money without leaving a forwarding address ( set up a Ponzi scheme, I'll bet.) so Emma has to take her licks.
Until Mama's peptic ulcer perforates.
Sir Paul Wyatt ('I'm forty.  Do you find that old?') has met Emma before but the blossoming seeds of love find no purchase in the rocky ground of Mother's medical trauma.  He tears off for the hospital and performs miracles while a shocked Emma trails behind.  The ensuing days find Emma unemployed (that's what you get when you insult your boss and then double-down and do it again) and accepting rides to and from the hospital with Sir Paul--a kind, if remote, presence.  She can't really be bothered thinking about him.  Mama is going to need a lot of care and attention and money.  Ugh.  Money.  She doesn't have any--Miss Emma was educated at the'In Case of Disaster Break the Piggy Bank' School of Economics.  Searching feverishly for a short-term job (that danged otter sanctuary won't open for weeks and weeks!), she pounces on this likely-looking gem:
Sadly, it was already filled when she got there and the actual job she gets is slightly less cushy.  I suppose the description would be 'mother's help' but Doreen Hervey's 'mothering' doesn't need a crutch--it needs a transplant.   
Editorial Note:  She's a first-time mother of one unexceptional unnamed boy (yes, the charming mother hasn't got around to that) and she's made a classic rookie mistake.  Now, I feel for the woman.  Not a baby-person myself (yes, I know I have four but there was a very steep learning curve at work), my initial forays into the strange and wonderful world of nursing and bowel movements were spotty at best and, let me tell you, if there had been someone, anyone at all, to hand my baby off to, I'd have done it in a minute.  Ignorance coupled with laziness (I had those in spades.) added to opportunity (That I didn't have.) conspire to keep Doreen from becoming competent and motherly.
And, unfortunately, Doreen earns high marks in Incompetence.  Emma earns every cent she makes, enrolls Doreen in an Emma Trent Course of Housewifery ('Oh!  You mean I feed the baby and then check the nappy?') and works herself into a flinders in order to welcome Mother home in style.
Meanwhile, Sir Paul has tracked her down, swings by Doreen's house (he knows her!) and reads the situation at a glance.  So he takes Emma a meal of fish and chips because he hates to see her looking this way.
And then Mother comes home!  Is that an elderly cousin I see on my horizon, shaping up into the perfect post-nuptial companion?  Alas!  It's a pulmonary embolism. (Oh.  That was the round, cozy shape in the distance...)  Mother kicks the bucket because of a blood clot.
The death and the funeral are ghastly but they're made worse, somehow, because Sir Paul hasn't come.  He doesn't have any obligation to, of course, but Emma can't help but wait for him anyway.  The flood of tears when he does show up is inevitable.  'I've been in America.'  (Of course.)
I'm not sure when the idea struck him but it's a boffo.  'Will you marry me, Emma?'
'You won't mind me not loving you?' she finally answers.  
Editorial Note:
So, why has he proposed?  He says at the end that he loved her from the start--the evidence doesn't fully support that, for me but, neither is it obvious that he doesn't.  I rather think that he likes her because she is entirely without coyness and willing to accept what life has to offer.  He does love her, perhaps, but he doesn't know that and he doesn't know her well.  She's restful and hard-working and better than the circumstances she's landed in.  That's good enough for him.
He takes her off to live in sin in his thatched cottage in the aptly named village of Lustleigh.  ( I kid! I kid!) The couple are quietly content with one another but Sir Paul has taken to avoiding Miss Emma and don't think she hasn't noticed. I adore her when she runs him to ground in his study.  'Don't you want to marry me?  It's quite all right if you've changed your mind...'  That's Emma--dishing up what life has served her and willing to tuck in no matter what.  His blood probably runs hot and cold at that.  Doesn't that woman know what it's doing to him--having her there, day after day, wearing those cardigans, walking his dogs, sleeping in full-length cotton night gowns in the guest room?!  If she hasn't seen him it's because he's standing under a steady stream of ice-cold showers every spare minute he can.  She isn't ready to hear that.
But as she takes to the aisle in her mandatory MOC her Dawning Realization cold-cocks her.
As things settle down (I'll steal from Prince William here: They're as calm as ducks on the water--the surface looks peaceful and serene but they're both paddling madly underneath.), Sir Paul asks his Lady Wyatt (yes she is!) if she's willing to do some volunteer work for a friend of his.  Emma agrees to go to work a few mornings a week at a home for babies under the direction of Diana Pearson.  (Grab your popcorn! Here comes the good part!)
Diana was born to be in charge.  She is the Chief and she presides elegantly over her Indians--Emma and Maisie.
Maisie.  There are not a whole lot of auxiliary characters who can best Maisie for mind-blowing magnificence--she listens at key-holes (!) and, while bathing a succession of infants, fills Emma in on the set-up.  Emma likes her but feels suspicious of Diana...and jealous of the cozy relationship she seems to enjoy with Sir Paul.  Emma, bashing her egg, wish[ed] it was Diana... 

But how much trouble can she cause? Well, since Paul is in 'Boston, USA' he's inadvertently opened a portal to another realm (Brussels has one as well), amplifying little barbs and evils into seismic events.   But then suddenly, Diana is all kinds of helpful.  See, there's a group of 'travelers' on the moor with some sick babies and would Emma care to...?  Crafty Diana.  She knows the words 'sick babies' act as a super-sonic dog whistle that only Aramintas can hear.  Emma tears off with haste and sensible sobriety, offering help and ambulances and every needful thing.  Lives are rescued (no thanks to Diana) and she ought to be a heroine...
Her face, when she turns it to Paul upon his arrival home, is a mixture of surprised delight.  Her delight is met with...cold rage.  Paul, a hitherto mellow hero, falsely primed by Diana into believing that Emma endangered her life to be some glory-hound and genuinely terrified to think about the danger she weathered, begins to feel his oats and forgets himself:
Diana is worth a dozen of you.
Unforgivable...that's what you are.
For some readers this is going to be a deal-breaker.  Lovers of the Harry Potter series know the threeUnforgivable Curses:
  • Crucio--excruciating pain
  •  Imperio--surrender of free will
  • Avada Kedavra--instant death
To which I might add:
  • Diana is worth a dozen of you--turns the hearer into a gob-smacked icicle
There's no real way to explain that away.  Yes, he's been worried about her.  Yes, he doesn't know her as well as he ought to.  Yes, Diana's disclosures made him flaming mad.  But he's crossed a line (albeit an invisible one) and Emma is right to freeze him out for a time.  For his part, I think he wishes he'd been able to clap his hands over his mouth and take back those words once they are out.  Emma, his sweet, darling Emma, who was supposed to, even when he fell in love with her, be plain-ish and nice has morphed into a babe with real, not imagined, grievances.  Sir Paul, a man of moral and physical courage, quailed under her stony glance and frosty goodnight...
La Neels attempts to counterbalance Paul's wrongness by getting Emma to believe Diana's poison about him  (Which leads to a flaming row) but the fact remains that he broke some unwritten laws.
Diana is finally vanquished (with the help of Ear-to-the-door-Maisie) and Paul has his hands full to catch Emma before she walks out on him.
Misunderstandings are untangled in the nicest of ways.
The End

Rating:  I'm not kidding around here when I say I haven't the faintest clue what to rate this.  Will I read this again?  Heck yes.  Is it awesome?  Not quite.  Am I considering taking a light eraser to a certain Unforgivable Curse?  Possibly.
The beginning kind of muddied about for a while and didn't grab me very much--his attraction is by no means certain and the Venerable Neels picks up and drops characters like they're face cards in a competitive bridge competition.  It began to pick up when Emma goes to work for the tragically underused Doreen Hervey--a woman doomed to lose her husband and his wealth in an untimely accident and be a beautiful mill stone around her son's neck.  The wedding, Paul's tentative courtship, some mourning that feels real and her dawning realization...all nice bits.
...but dropped on the floor.
And then KABLAMO!  'Diana is worth a dozen of you.'  There's no getting around the fact that he says something so utterly indefensible--but when reading it this time, I allowed that there was an enormous amount of poignancy that arose when Maisie props Emma up with the yin to Paul's yang: 'You're worth a dozen of 'er.'  But I still didn't like it.
So, I think the angstiness was great and all and I adore how confused and off-kilter our hero is throughout the end (Where did his sweet Emma go?) but...(It's always that 'but'.)  I think that, if Paul has a fatal flaw, it's that he married Emma too soon.  He put her in a little box (marked sweet, nice, plain) and all this slanging will be good for the marriage in the long run.
So, if pressed, I'd give this a Mince Pie That Has Been Dropped on the Ground.  (Even though large parts of it make me consider applying the Five-second rule.)

Food: Casserole and dumplings, steak and kidney pudding  with a drop of stoat in the gravy, toad-in-the-hole, home made mince tarts, Cook makes her a pasty to take home after mother's illness, he enjoys Petit Beurre biscuits, he brings her fish and chips (the darling) as the first hint that he loves her, lobster bisque, boeuf en croute and she enjoys one pitiful little meal of two sausages and a bit of yoghurt.

Fashion: Emma wears a pleated gray skirt and cardigan--'that essentially British garment'.  Paul looks dashing in clerical gray and spotless linen.  When she splashes out, Emma buys a dress in garnet-red and another in turquoise (Emma, girlfriend, I approve.), trades her plain felt hat for a velvet trifle and wears a woolen dress in winter white for her wedding.  She also buys a silver-gray (How gray was my childhood in Lustleigh...) dress with long sleeves and a modest neckline and dons a plain jersey dress suitable for a parish council meeting.