A man and woman are having a conversation; but it is no ordinary conversation, for they are flirting! The opening of Chapter IV finds Our Heroine, Anne Hartley, and her train buddy, Peter Foster (a.k.a. Nice Young Man), engaging in flimsy banter about…nothing particularly interesting. Perhaps this is just the nature of flirting? Only the participants find it amusing or gratifying.
“You don’t look like the type to be ordered about.”
“I suppose now you do the ordering?” He chuckled with amusement. “I’d love to see you in school. Tell me, where is the school? Can I come and see you there one day?”
“Indeed you can’t! You’ll probably get me the sack.”
“I shall hang about for you till you come out, then.”
“Laughter played around Anne’s lips. “Not if I know it, young man!” she thought.
Someone needs to tell Peter that joking about stalking is never attractive. Of course, neither is lying about being a school teacher when one is actually a lingerie model; but he doesn’t know that yet. I wonder how long Anne will be able to keep her “secret” from her fellow house-guests? She appears in adverts. Shouldn’t someone recognize her?
After what seems like hours of chit-chat, it is finally time for dinner. Seating arrangements at country house-parties are strange, mysterious things–at least to us mere mortals. However, obvious plot devices are much easier to fathom. Our Heroine is, therefore, seated between Robin and the Nice Young Man. Because, of course she is…
Here we are finally treated to a brief and unsatisfying description of Robin, as he is seen through Anne’s eyes.
“The way his dark hair grew rather far back from his temples, the little trick of screwing up his eyes when he laughed.”
Oh, Anne. Will you ever learn? Your rich ex-boyfriend is marrying your rich cousin. I know that this was a shock to your system, girl. Rightfully so. But no good can possibly come from you mooning over him for page after page.
Is he even worth all of Anne’s heartache? It’s too early to say. We have seen nothing of his personality yet, at least not actively speaking. All we know of Robin we’ve learned through Anne or his mother, and, frankly, none of it is impressive.
And just like that, it is time for after-dinner dancing.
Where are the descriptions of the meal? I am so sad. What is the point of having your characters sit through a house-party dinner at an English country manor, if you are not going to indulge us with a delightful menu of tasty and exotic food? Why, Katherine Pent? Why?
This is a huge fail.
As for the after-dinner dancing? Eh.
Although her thoughts are elsewhere, Anne does her best to hypnotize Peter. Apparently, she succeeds.
“Fiercely she told herself that Robin was not worth a moment’s consideration. If Muriel wanted him, she was welcome to him. And perhaps because of Robin she was more than usually charming to Peter Foster. Peter was an accomplished flirt, and Anne knew how to meet him on his own ground.”
Perhaps there is hope for Anne yet! Good for her. It’s time to move on!
Not so fast.
Anne is forced, by innocent cousin Muriel, to dance with Robin. To the song that had been their song, before callous Mama Bear intervened. Sigh.
Our Heroine has a lot of anguished thoughts during the few minutes she is in physical contact with her ex-boyfriend. Although I don’t blame her, I’m not exactly entertained, either. Before the one-time lovebirds can slip away to talk, Mama Bear rears her formidable head.
At chapter’s end, Anne slips out for a solo walk.
“Hello?–Going for a stroll?” asked Peter Foster. “Can I come too?”
“And to Anne there seemed no reason why he shouldn’t.”
Her enthusiasm, it slays.
Staying at a nice house in the country sure has its perks, especially when you must work for a living. Anne’s room is nicely appointed, which immediately makes her question her life choices.
“She thought with a whimsical bitterness*, “Had I only accepted Aunt Alicia’s offer to look after me and her invitation to come and live with her, I might have met Robin in the ordinary course of events. He might have fallen in love with me instead of Muriel and received the parental blessing.””
Let’s get back to happier matters: Anne’s room.
“The bedroom, though quite small, was beautifully furnished.”
To recreate Anne’s room at Aunt Alicia’s country house, you’ll need:
- A single divan bed
- Printed chintz curtains
- Soft grey Wilton carpet
- A dressing-table with an antique mahogany mirror
- A fragile teapot
- A trim maid to wait on you
- A nearby bathroom, with: a sunken tub, bath salts, and an enormous towel
Anne decides to greet the new day with a huge dose of practical courage.
“Yet she knew that she’d got to stand by and listen to them. She couldn’t run away. She’d have to laugh and talk with the others, to kiss Muriel and tell she hoped she’d be very happy, and shake hands with Robin, and tell him how lucky he was to be engaged to any one as charming as Muriel.”
Good for her. This is very logical. She also has Peter for company!
“She felt thankful for Peter Foster. Outside in the garden last night his obvious attraction to her had been as balm to her soul.”
A little heavy-handed, but okay! Whatever gets you through the weekend.
She and Peter have plans for a vigorous, pre-breakfast hike across the moor. How lovely!
“This morning, she decided she’d question him about himself. Out there in the garden last night, somehow, he seemed to have told her very little. Why, she didn’t even know whether he was married!”
Uh-oh! Why didn’t
we she think of that sooner?
“He turned to her with a twinkle in his eyes.”
“Now, do I look like a married man?”
“She shook her head.”
“Not that that’s anything to go by. Looks are deceptive.”
“Quite right. Well, they are in my case.”
Ooh, all of a sudden I like this book a lot more than I did a few pages ago.
His wife’s name is Thalia and she owns a hat shop. Fancy.
Never fear, though, because Peter and Thalia have an understanding.
“She’s modern,” he said. “And easy-going. She goes her way and I go mine; but we both know how far we can go with safety.”
“I see.” Anne’s eyes danced momentarily. “And you’re, neither of you, ever tempted to go just a little farther than is quite safe?”
“His eyes met hers. Was she mistaken in thinking there was a challenge in them–a suspicion of mockery and calculation?”
“We haven’t been yet.”
Wow, Anne. Look at you, being all sophisticated and worldly.
On the way back from their walk, they run into Robin and Muriel. This is Anne’s chance to be courageous and mature. Forget that! Instead, she totally baits Robin in front of the others. This is getting tedious.
After breakfast, Anne fairly runs back to her room. Before long, Mama Bear Gunter is knocking at the door. I’ve been waiting for this showdown since the end of Chapter III. It had better be good.
“It’s about Robin–” Mrs Gunter began. “About that little affair of a year ago.”
Oh, that little old thing? The event that the whole book is based on…? You don’t say.
Before getting to her point, Mrs. Gunter decides to hedge her bets with a bit of self-preserving ass kissing.**
“I was, I admit, rather surprised to find you staying here,” Mrs. Gunter went on. “Perhaps I made a mistake in speaking to you quite so strongly as I did.”
I only regret speaking so harshly to you since finding out your extended family is wealthy! I still think you are a trashy lingerie model, but I really don’t want word of my horrible behaviour getting back to your influential aunt.
Niceties aside, it is time to get down to business.
The business of blackmail.
Yes, this is the Mama Bear we know and loathe.
It all comes down to a letter.
“It may seem a little unnecessary to you to bring the matter up again after all this time, but there was a letter that Robin wrote to you.” Mrs. Gunter spread her jewelled hands. “It is just possible he may ask you why you didn’t answer it. In that case–“
“I believe he passed on to you in the letter my suggestion that he shouldn’t see you for a year, ” Mrs. Gunter went on. “I need hardly say that I did not read it–I merely saw to it that it wasn’t posted.”
“I can easily appreciate your anxiety not to let your aunt know the true way in which you earn you living.”
At this point, it should be said that Anne does not particularly care what her aunt thinks. Yet, she acquiesces to Mama Bear’s agreement that their mutual secrets remain buried. Why?
The first, last, and only rule of Girl About Town is that Anne is indecisive. She is always changing her mind, usually right after coming up with a legitimately sound plan. If she decides that it is a good idea to do something, she almost immediately does the opposite. Granted, Our Heroine is remarkably poised for being in such a tough position but her constant flitting back and forth is starting to grate on my nerves.
To this end: As soon as Mama Bear leaves, Anne wonders if it wouldn’t be a good idea to run to Robin and tell him everything. Let him decide. What if he still loves her? To hell with Muriel!
“Muriel was rich. An heiress with every opportunity of picking and choosing a husband. She couldn’t love Robin as she, Anne, loved him.
Or could she, perhaps? What did she know of Muriel’s capacity for love? Why assume that her need of Robin was any less than her own.”
Chapter V ends with Anne literally laughing hysterically, because her life sucks.
Up Next: Chapters Six-Seven of Girl About Town
If you need to catch up with the series, go here!
*This phrase is hilarious.
**I was correct that the “social equals” nonsense from Chapter I would come in handy later. Called it.