Thursday, May 1, 2014
Mrs Tim Gets a Job - D E Stevenson
Mrs Tim Gets a Job (cover picture from here) is the story of Hester's adventures at Tocher House, working for eccentric Erica Clutterbuck & coping with everything from a miserable housemaid to the love affairs of the guests. Hester's adventures begin even before she arrives when she meets Roger Elden on the train. Roger had served with Colonel Christie & recognizes Mrs Tim from her photo on his wall. He's been demobbed & is hoping to marry a young woman, Margaret, with whom he's been corresponding for some time. Margaret has been caring for an elderly aunt & seems reluctant to marry now that the aunt has died & Roger is home. The reader isn't at all surprised to discover that Roger Eldin's Margaret, Miss McQueen, turns out to be staying at Tocher House. It takes Hester quite a bit longer to work this out.
Hester's first few days at Tocher House are dispiriting. She's afraid of Miss Clutterbuck who is brusque in the extreme & barks out orders without giving Hester any idea of how she's to complete them. I love this description of Erica when she meets Hester at the station,
She stands near the bookstall, a solid figure in a Lovat tweed coat which is somewhat shabby but very well cut. She stands with her feet well apart and her hands in her coat pockets, a cigarette in a cherry-wood cigarette holder is stuck in the corner of her mouth. She is short-necked; she is hatless, her grey wavy hair is slightly tousled with the evening breeze. For some strange reason Miss Clutterbuck reminds me of Mr Churchill, Mr Churchill in one of his belligerent moods.
Housemaid Clara Hope is resentful & gloomy, waking Hester with a bang of a teacup every morning as she flings open the curtains. Hester feels out of her depth & wishes she'd imposed herself on a willing friend or relation instead. However, she soon begins to find her way. Erica Clutterbuck has a heart of gold &, although she is rude to her guests & has some impossible rules (bring your own towels & compulsory attendance at the monthly sewing bee for charity) the hotel is comfortable & the food excellent. When Erica discovers Hester turning out the linen cupboard in the middle of the night, the only time when she can spread everything out on the landing, the two women are soon on first name terms.
The hotel guests are Hester's main responsibility. Erica refuses to talk to them as she resents having to have paying guests at all. She assuages her conscience by ploughing all her profits back into the house which is her family home. Hester soon gets to know the guests. Mr Stannard, who has come to Scotland for the salmon fishing with his wife & their recently demobbed son. Margaret McQueen, who is so exhausted & depressed by her long period of nursing that she can't see her way out of her misery. Mrs Ovens, whose husband is in the services but who seems to be carrying on an affair with another guest. The two Mrs Potting, sisters-in-law, who take a fancy to Hester & want her to return to America with them at three times her current salary. Mrs Wilbur Potting wants to study Hester for her lecture series on The Spirit of English Womanhood. Hester's children, Bryan & Betty, arrive for their holidays & Tony Morley, now a Brigadier, also appears.
As always, D E Stevenson's descriptions of the Scottish countryside are highlights of the narrative. Hester walks out to a nearby hillside one morning& sees the hares racing about madly, dashing after each other & having playful boxing matches. On a walk with Roger Eldin, she discovers the ruins of the old Border chief's castle,
We push through brambles and nettles and discover a high archway of stone and, stepping over the tumbled masonry with which it is partially blocked, find ourselves in a large, oblong courtyard. There is no roof and on two sides the enormously thick walls have disintegrated into piles of rubble masked with trailing ivy, but the third and fourth walls are still standing and tower above us, windowless except for narrow, slanting slits. At one time this great hall - or courtyard - has been paved with flags but these have been cracked with frost or raised from their bed by the roots of trees; grass grows in the crevices and wild willow herb (not yet in flower of course) and there are primroses in the sheltered corners. At one end of the ruin is the remains of a tower, a thick square building with a narrow doorway through which can be seen a flight of stone steps.
Mrs Tim Gets a Job is a delightful book & I enjoyed reading it very much. I've read the first two Mrs Tim books which were reprinted a few years ago by Bloomsbury as Mrs Tim of the Regiment. I read this one thanks to Open Library & I've reserved Mrs Tim Flies Home which is the final book in the series.