by D. E. Stevenson
“It must be lonely!” she exclaimed. “Loneliness is inside a person,” replied Sutherland. “It is possible to be lonely in a big city. If a person is contented and has enough work to do he will not feel lonely amongst the hills.
I enjoyed this equally as well as the two preceding novels in the trilogy. There was a lot more suspense and drama than in many of the D.E. Stevensons I have read. In between the evocative descriptions of both people and the land, the thoughtful reflections, and entertaining relationships and conversations, there was actually some action-packed adventure and a little bit dark mystery! Of course, of the bucolic gentle Scottish countryside variety. No crime involved. I loved continuing my acquaintance with Mamie and Jock, and James and Rhoda, and meeting the also interesting characters of Flockie, Rhoda’s housekeeper (can I have a Flockie?), and Dr. Henry Ogylvie Smith. The puzzling Lizzie and her son Duggie have important roles in this. Daughter Greta was regrettably left by the wayside, after a promising introduction in Music in the Hills. The odious Sir Andrew and Nestor Heddle each continue to display their deliciously repellent ways in a scene or two, and both get a measure of justice served to them only if just a bit in one case. Still, it was satisfying, even though with one of them, we are just told about what happened after the fact.
After Rhoda gives up her silly notion that she cannot be both an artist and a wife and starts painting again, she discovers Lizzie’s neglected son, Duggie. She uncovers his artistic talent, intelligence, and spirit and begins to mentor him. Her studio, lovingly wrought by lovely James, becomes his second home. He catches the interest of Dr. Henry Ogylvie Smith who is sitting for his portrait as a gift to his charming parents. We also become reacquainted with his friends, Dr. Adam Forrester and his sister Nan.
The main drama of the book is how these two likable siblings achieve future domestic happiness. Dr. Adam is attracted to a woman who would make him miserable. Of course in D.E.Stevenson’s world, if a man and a woman like, or just get along with each other and they are both single and of a certain age, marriage is expected at least by one of them. Even if they spend very little time together. It is very odd. Thank goodness the object of Adam’s desire tells him that any marriage between them is completely off the table. So in Adam’s case, it is more disaster averted than love found. Nan has been suffering from the rejection of a man she is still in love with. It turns out that nice Dr. Henry, Adam’s former boss who paved the way for Adam to practice in Drumberly is the wicked cad. He and Nan seemed to be well on the way to love and marriage until he mysteriously broke it off. When the truth comes out, it is sad and surprising.
This was not a 5-star read for me. I am really frustrated and even confused by how D.E. Stevenson ends many of her books. Sometimes it seems like it is practically in mid-sentence. This one was the worse yet. Genuinely interesting and greatly anticipated doings of characters we have come to be fond of are never gotten to before the book ends. Oh yes, we have every reason to believe everything will work out happily for all, but we are deprived of seeing how exactly they will tackle and be affected by the “rough weather” ahead. We are robbed of the potentially gripping confrontations, joyful revelations, and other hullabaloo that the characters will have to go through in order for happiness and stability to be achieved.
One of the big keys to the story is a certain connection between two previously unrelated characters. When Dr. Henry tells his story, I just didn’t buy it. **spoiler** It was just totally outlandish that the attractive, well-off, brilliant, and good man could have ever even looked twice at common, dull, stupid (“mental age of 10”), and not even particularly attractive Lizzie. Her only redeeming quality is that she is a good worker. She is not even interested in her own children. Neither could I believe her lack of agency and action in keeping the truth secret. There was no reason for it and it really detracted from the book’s credibility. **end spoiler**
Once the truth is known we see a way forward for Henry and Nan to find happiness at last. Maybe. If everything goes according to plan. But the book is cut off before that is achieved. And unfortunately, this is the last of the trilogy. So no hope of getting a bit of closure in the next book. Because there isn’t one. Would have loved to know more about a certain engagement revealed near the end, as well. Not to mention…but enough.
Up to the ending, or lack thereof, it was shaping up to be my favorite so far. In Vittoria Cottage, Robert Shepperton ponders leaving his tragic past behind him to find love and happiness again in the here and now.
We don’t stand still, thought Robert. We are travellers upon the path of life. No traveller can bathe twice in the same stream. He bathes and goes on his way and, if the road is dusty and hot, he may look back longingly and think of the clear cool water with regret … but presently he may come upon another stream, different of course, but equally delightful to bathe in.”
The author lets the reader experience the cool clear stream and the hot dusty road with her characters. But she leaves us behind too soon when they go on their way and hopefully come to another stream to bathe in. I wish she’d give as much attention to her endings as she so beautifully does to everything that precedes them.