REVIEW: Language of the Heart (aka The Toy Sword) by Elizabeth Cadell
Edmund Forth, a handsome young man in his mid-thirties (though admittedly a bit stogy and sober for his years) is engaged to the beautiful but selfish Angela Wilde. His world seems perfect until lovely Fran Nash comes riding into his life on the back of a Portuguese donkey. Fran’s sunny personality melts Edmund’s reserve, and when she changes a few words of a telegram he had entrusted to her, Fran also alters the whole course of his settled existence.
I enjoyed this first Elizabeth Cadell book I tried, “The Corner Shop” so much that I went on a bit of a shopping spree. Keeping in mind that a lot of her fans recommend her books set in Portugal, I selected this one to try next. The American title “The Toy Sword” grabbed my attention to as I wondered why on earth it would have that title and why some blurbs promised that “she who had the toy sword won” but it wasn’t available in digital. Then I discovered that “Language of the Heart” is the original title and it is out as an ebook. Happy me.
I feel I must include some gentle warnings that there are some class issues. Our hero Edmund has a slightly paternalistic attitude towards the people who live and work on his Portuguese estate – it’s not terrible but this book, originally published in 1962, is definitely from an older time. It also has a thing to say about how society views the aging and the unwanted among them.
Edmund Forth – and I agree with Fran who says his name does make him sound as if he’s an English king – is stiff. No, not that way. Inside he’s stiff and rigid and set in his ways. It’s not that his ways are bad, necessarily, just that he lives his life in lockstep fashion and hardly ever deviates. His secretary – inherited from his father – can finish Edmund’s sentences and he can’t understand why his godfather looks at him sometimes with loving exasperation.
Fran Nash is the complete opposite. Much younger – by 13 years in case that’s an issue for people – and freer than Edmund, she’s been in charge of her younger siblings and a family retainer named Teck as well as seeing to the boarders who live in the family home now turned boarding house. From necessity Fran makes every shilling do double duty and when she sees the chance to take her brother, sister and Teck on a family vacation to Portugal, she jumps before she really looks. Since they traveled there on a tramp steamer and the rundown car she bought was worth far less than the measly £27 she paid for it, it’s not surprising Edmund comes into their lives with them looking like hobos and with the car broken down on the side of the road.
From that point on, Edmund is a goner. He doesn’t know it yet but he is. Against his inclination, he ends up offering to let them stay on his beloved estate and it’s then that Fran senses how much better he is than he thinks. As she tells him, he didn’t want to be burdened by them but he still made the effort just because deep down, he’s a nice guy. That’s also why she just can’t allow him to do something which she knows he’s better than. And wielding her imaginary toy sword, she kinda sorta does something in his name that will forever change his life, her life and the lives of a lot of other people for the better.
As with “The Corner Shop” this book has a large ensemble cast who all play a role in getting us to the HEA. In a way, it also reminds me just a little bit of the 1930s movie You Can’t Take It with You (Remastered). There’s the staid character, the free spirits, the offbeat clan and the stick in the mud people who just will get apoplectic at times. The way Fran meddles a bit in Edmund’s ordered life – for his own good, really – is very screwball-ish but when he gets mad at her for what she’s done, instead of folding and crying or apologizing, Fran zings some choice words back at Edmund about what he was going to do and why she couldn’t let him do it. She also hands him some home truths about courage and having to work for things in life – or in his case not work for things since he’s got money.
Heck I knew it would be Edmund and Fran by the end but the way they started out, I wasn’t sure how Elizabeth Cadell would manage things. Edmund fairly quickly has a believable change of heart and begins loosening up – as noted with happiness by his godfather, anger by his Ice Queen of a fiancée and apoplexy by his Uncle Robert. Then we get to meet two maiden cousins of Edmund’s and see from their POV how society looks at the older and unwanted people of the world. By this point, Edmund is in full heroic mold so we know Louisa and Freddie will be fine.
Edmund’s also found the woman for him even if Fran does a bit of a Noble Martyr for a few pages. Edmund is having none of that.
“That doesn’t change anything,” Fran said. “I’m not going to marry you, Edmund.”
“No? Why?” he asked, in a matter-of-fact tone.
“Because I love you, that’s why. From the moment you met me, things have gone wrong for you.”
“From the moment I met you, things have . . . Don’t you understand that this is the first time in my life I’ve been really, consciously, continuously happy? I wake up happy, and I go to bed happy, and in between, I’m happy thinking about you, seeing you, being near you. I imagined, before I met you, that happiness was a negative state. You’ve taught me that it isn’t.
… Any questions?”
“No. Yes. Do you really love me?”
“With all my heart. Anything else?”
She laid his hand against her cheek.“Nothing that matters,” she said.
Oh and the scene to watch for is the recounting of a hilarious three ring circus of a trial in which everyone pitches in to save Teck. It sounds as if the judge was about to have a breakdown by the time it was all done and dusted. B+