Plot Summary: James Holcroft is a widower farmer trying to keep his farm going, but is losing financially. He needs a housekeeper (or so he thinks) and employs several different ladies who each in turn cheat, pry, and lie. After suffering through the oppression of Mrs. Mumpson, Holcroft is done with housekeepers and is ready to auction off his farm for good… But then he meets a woman in need of a home and his plans are radically changed within an afternoon. Will Holcroft and Alida make a successful business partnership, or will they form a different type of relationship altogether?
My Book Review: Of course the title of this novel gives the end away, but it’s the getting there that makes this novel a delightful read. I discovered this gem on LibriVox (which you can listen to for free here) and decided I wanted to read it for myself. I had never heard of the author Edward Payson Roe and truthfully I was expecting a fluffy, vintage read. I was very pleasantly surprised to find a book of substance which kept me from feeling guilty about reading a ‘romance novel’! It being originally published in 1886, I was also expecting to have to work at understanding what was being said. Instead, the narration and dialogue was a breeze to read through. I wouldn’t have guessed it was written way back then!
One of the things I loved about the story was the lovely characters and their development. There are three principle players central to the plot: Holcroft, Alida, and Jane. Reading about their past histories to understand why they were the way they were, why they reacted the ways in which they did, and the decisions they made during the course of the book did much in making the story seem organic and believable. Its funny how each of these characters think they want a certain thing and set out to obtain it, yet in the end find that their hearts need something much more important.
I loved Alida Armstrong. I could totally identify with her personality and motivations, especially her heartfelt wish for a safe and secure home. Holcroft is a man of the earth, a farmer through and through, and his desire is to be able to remain on the land where he has lived all his life. He’s just trying to keep anything more in his life from changing. But what they both find they really need is to experience genuine love.
What made this book so enjoyable was Roe’s perfect touch at story pacing. The characters and events seem to happen along naturally at just the right time. He marinates them in the cause and effect juices of the previous chapter, and then ups the suspense to keep us from getting too comfortable in a book where the title gives the end away.
Part of how he does this is through the cat-like character of Jane. I inwardly groaned when she showed up on Holcroft’s doorstep one rainy afternoon, for the same reasons in which Holcroft and Alida wished she hadn’t. The farmer and his wife are just starting to get to the point where they are discovering feelings for each other. Things are developing along quite nicely between them, and then all of a sudden there is a third party that puts a little obstacle in their way. Now things aren’t quite so cozy! But at the same time, you feel sorry for this poor little girl who has grown up feeling like she never belonged anywhere. I admire her for her sense in making a way for herself despite the foolishness of her mother. Jane makes it difficult for anyone to feel affectionate toward her. Holcroft and Alida are good people, yet human. They know Jane yearns to be acknowledged and to be secure. The addition of this ‘intruder’ in the story makes for some misunderstandings, and hence heightened suspense. But she is also the one who saves the day in the end. Jane adds an even more heartwarming element to the story.
As I was reading, I was struck by the immense understanding the author had of men and women, –their needs, values, psyches. In fact, this is much of how the story forms naturally, through all the misunderstandings, motivations, and consequences. James Holcroft has no interest in promising to love and cherish another wife and refuses to take the traditional marriage vows. Yet he does just that in his actions towards Alida. He is a good and kind man and she senses this. In turn, she does her utmost to be a wife who does her husband good and not harm, like the Proverbs 31 woman. It doesn’t take the man in Holcroft long to recognize her beautiful personality. His character becomes incredibly attractive to Alida, and before we know it, they are in love.
The only small thing I didn’t think was believable enough was how soon Alida trusted Holcroft. After her ordeal with previously marrying such a skunk as Henry Ferguson, I don’t see how Alida’s sensitive personality would have easily trusted another man. Even though she married for convenience, I don’t think she would have learned to love him so quickly in real life. Or, at least she would have struggled with trust issues. Also, I wish the ending was a tad more romantic. 🙂
There’s something for nature lovers in this book as well. I loved how the story is woven among the timeline of spring, from March to late June. The weather, flowers, buds, and birds are detailed along with the growth of the romance between the farmer and his wife.
This book has the wonderful makings of a Hallmark movie (Holcroft played by none other than Aidan Quinn, OF COURSE!). It sort of reminded me of stories like Sarah, Plain and Tall, The Magic of Ordinary Days, and Seasons of the Heart. You’ll find this to be a sweet sentimental tale that clearly goes beyond ‘fluffiness.’ Don’t pass over this gem! It may be your new favorite book!