REVIEW: The Frenchman and the Lady: (Enter: Mrs. Belchamber ) by Elizabeth Cadell
Mrs. Belchamber was not invited but Mrs. Belchamber came to stay. The changes she introduced into Scotty’s topsy-turvy Kentish farmhouse were past belief.
But though Christopher could not help feeling some concern that he had landed on his friend a woman of character as well as three lively French children, the Belchamber influence on his own friendship with Cressida was admittedly an almost unmixed blessing.
I’m not quite sure what to say about this one. It was originally published in 1951 under the title “Enter Mrs. Belchamber” and contains a mix of Cadell standard characters. There is the slightly bewildered hero, a calm heroine, some boisterous children, a friend of the hero, a slightly shady father, some rural English, and (the piece de resistance) a domineering elderly lady. It all comes together in the end but the trip to that point is a bit convoluted and a wee bit disjointed, if I’m honest.
Mrs Belchamber doesn’t so much enter as her space is entered by said children being left in what up until then had been a railroad compartment solely in her possession. Next their guardian, our hero Christopher Heron, arrives and soon he and the Belchamber (as he comes to think of her) have crossed the first of their many swords. The score between them is fairly even up until somehow they’ve arrived in England, late in the evening, in dense fog, with a sick child and Chris finds himself bunking out to stay at a friend’s ramshackle farm along with the three children and – to his surprise – Mrs Belchamber. She’s like a barnacle he can’t get rid of who mows down all opposition.
Soon there’s a romance brewing, shenanigans next door, a case of the measles, a bull who doesn’t like his pasture crossed, and a concerted effort by various authorities to find Mrs Belchamber who refuses to be found. While she’s dodging the those trying to corral her (including The Frenchman – I forgot about him for a moment), she whips the farm into shape, helps nurse the sick child, and snaps the day lady into action scrubbing the atrocious kitchen. She also displays a feminist bent a little surprising for a woman of her age then and tells the heroine a few home truths about men. That was a refreshing scene!
All of the major characters are filled out and three dimensional but some of the subplots that do this were, I felt, distracting to the main action and went on a little. The heroine has doubts about marriage and must be persuaded with sometimes a hint of vocal pressure and a touch of “but darling honestly just go along, it will be fine, trust me.” At times I felt like saying, if she doesn’t want to despite your already voiced entreaties, then accept it and shut up. Yes, there’s an engagement at the end but it seemed fast given her reservations and past history (yes, it does play into why she wants to wait).
But Mrs Belchamber – she’s a force of nature. She would have made Margaret Thatcher reel back. She might have held off troops from her castle during the English Civil War. She could have bamboozled Elizabeth I. Yep, she’s one of those Englishwomen. By the book’s end, I could only sit back in awe of her (as did all the men in the story). B-