REVIEW: Bridal Array by Elizabeth Cadell
Jessica de Vrais was twenty-two, the only child of an elderly and irritable widower. Though they thought alike on almost all matters, they agreed on none; least of all did they see eye to eye on the subject of men. Jessica, pretty and popular, invited them to come and stay; Mr. de Vrais, irritable and suspicious, invited them to go away and stay away. Fortune-hunters all, he said furiously to his daughter. One and all, they were after her money—his money. One look, he shouted, and he could smell them a mile off. Hangers-on. Yahoos. Parasites.
When Jessica, at the end of June, announced that she was engaged to one of them—a young Frenchman named Hubert Ramage, whom she had known for little more than two weeks—Mr. de Vrais granted to the suitor a short interview and at the end of it announced that any further communication between the couple would be made over his dead body.
On a cool, September morning she rose rose early, left a conclusive little note for her father, carried her suitcases down to the car and drove into St. Helier to catch the boat to St. Malo. When her father read the note, it said, she would be married to Hubert. Unfortunately she took the family jewels with her, in case her marriage didn’t work out…
Note – this was originally released in the US as “I Love a Lass”
This is the story of how two Englishmen, friendship forged as adults, travel to France for what was intended to be a fast car (named Betsy) driving holiday across Europe and how they went back home, two weeks later both with fiancees. Along the way, they will meet with and be bullied about by an imperious French Comtesse with a haughty nose of authority and old clothes, be charmed by many other Frenchwomen, come to admire one Frenchman for his manners of great delicacy, try to help another Frenchman who needs a bit of backbone and starch, repeatedly chase after a young French/Jersey boy – well he’s only six and they’re active at that age, shiver in a gorgeous French château, eat delectable French meals washed down by fabulous vin de pays and vicariously take part in hoodwinking two customs officials. It’s a busy holiday.
When Joss and Sebastian (separately) arrive at St. Malo, their intention is to join up and tour across Europe driving Sebastian’s lovely car Betsy. But a train strike which quickly morphs into a general workingman’s strike strands Betsy in the ship’s hold and Sebastian and Joss with no idea of what to do next. With all local resources quickly being commandeered to handle the mass influx of angry passengers who all need to get here or go there, the two men grudgingly agree to drive an ancient French noblewoman home in a beat up (quickly bought) taxi which was stately 40 years ago but a menace on the road now.
While on the dock, Sebastian had briefly flirted with an aristocratic daughter of a Jersey overlord who had eloped to France but quickly reassessed her fiancé once she arrived. To Sebastian’s confusion, he keeps thinking he sees her driving the glorious green car her fiancé met her with but strangely the fiancé seems to have gone missing. After the taxi crew finally arrive at the impressive yet drafty chateau, Joss and Sebastian begin to piece together what might have put her on their trail so her late and exhausted arrival is no surprise. Over the course of the story, Jessica will have a change of heart and maturation of her views – just stay with her as she does.
Since Joss and Sebastian still have no transport, they agree to the Comtesse’s proposal to remain at her disposal at the cold, ancient stately pile. However soon tiring of her demands – including horning in on the food they buy and prepare – the two men seek daily refuge with a local family now also sheltering Jessica. Joss and Sebastian eventually find out what happens when they walk in the moonlight with two pretty women and add candlelight, good food and wine to the staging. Love, that’s what. The food is a lot better and the (female) view lovely. It is a tiny, typical, unspoiled corner of France.
Joss and Sebastian are two vastly different sorts. Joss is middle class, decent looking, has a job and is terribly shy around women. Sebastian is a debonair heir to a title who easily charms any woman around him – well, maybe with the exception of the French Comtesse. Soon they begin walking out with Jessica, who has also decided to stay in the area and the daughter of the house, a calm, placid young woman who allows nothing to shake her and has a resolve that can be quite firm. But what to do when the erstwhile suave fiancé shows up, oozing despair? That will involve just about everyone else in the story as they work through a complicated plot only Elizabeth Cadell can keep track of and (ta-da!) wrap neatly up so all the bow ends are even.
I was charmed (as usual so far with the Cadell’s I’ve read), I was spellbound as the intricacies of the action unfolded and I was waiting with baited breath to see who would wind up with whom. I guess wrong two or three times. As current freezing temperatures numb me I will vacation, vicariously, in this lovely French setting and dream of long meals, outdoors, in gardens with (no doubt) chic French bees buzzing lazily all afternoon. A-