REVIEW: Still Glides the Stream by D.E. Stevenson
When Will Hastie finally decides to retire from the military and return home to Scotland, he intends to settle down on his family estate and learn to become a farmer.
But back home, the death of his best friend and neighbour, Rae, during World War Two is still strongly felt. In particular, Rae’s sister, Patty, has been brooding for the past 10 years over Rae’s final letter home from France. When she decides to share the letter with Will, it sends him off to France to discover for himself the circumstances of Rae’s death.
And his discovery there changes the lives of all those left behind…
I’ve enjoyed most of the D.E. Stevenson books I’ve tried and when I’ve finished one that I do like, I want to stay in that world and among those characters. They’ve become friends and the places they live are like neighborhood places I feel I can pop round and relax in.
“Still Glides the Stream” is a book set in the world of the Scottish Ayrton family. Though the Ayrtons are only peripherally present in the story – their inclusion revolves around a pony named “Dapple” and the fact that Will Hastie and Roger Ayrton served together during the North African campaigns of WWII – it was a treat to see them and son Stephen again.
Will has finally decided to retire from the military and settle down at the family home in Scotland. As he rides around he is delighted to be home for good in a place in the world he loves. It wasn’t until he was away from it among foreign lands that he realized how much he loves it. It hasn’t changed much and Will slips back into life there like putting on a comfortable pair of slippers.
The one sad note is the neighboring estate. During his childhood, Will could usually be found there with his friends Rae and Patty. Rae was almost a brother and Patty kept up with the boys on all their haunts. But Rae died in France and though the family has had time to adjust, Will dreads seeing the place without Rae. He’s also distressed to learn that Mrs. Elliot Murray is now suffering from lapses in memory (which we’d probably call Alzheimer’s today) and can’t remember that Rae has died. But the family welcome Will back as one of them.
Patty is now engaged to the heir to Langford – a cousin who will inherit the entailed estate – but the more Will learns about Cousin Hugo, the more Will feels he will detest the man. Of course no one feels Hugo is good enough for Patty. Plus he wants to modernize Langford. It doesn’t matter to Will that he also wants to modernize his father’s estate – the thought of this being done to Langford disgusts him. But then Will acknowledges that anything about Cousin Hugo sets his teeth on edge.
Patty pulls Will aside and shows him a letter Rae sent home just before word reached the family of his death. In it, Rae sounds bursting with some news he wanted to tell the family in person but never had the chance to do. Did Will know anything about it? Will sadly knows nothing but after meeting Cousin Hugo who wears his tweed jacket ::shudders:: nipped in at the waist (“Who but an absolute cad would wear a jacket like that?”), Hugo decides to take a hiking tour of France to get away from the (he thinks) happy couple. It is there that things get turned on their heads for everyone.
The descriptions Stevenson includes show how well she knew the area and how much she loved it. Look for the sprinkling of local words and phrases too.
Spring time is the most beautiful time of the year in the Scottish Borders. It comes slowly and shyly as if it feared that Jack Frost might return and give it a mischievous nip. The tender buds unfold in the pale golden sunshine and in sheltered nooks you may find a scatter of yellow primroses or some purple violets hiding amongst their green leaves.
The story hints at the changing times that came to the area after the war with the introduction of the new farming methods and in the persons of an English family who had fled from London because of what sounded like flight paths into and out of Heathrow. They’ve built a new house with all the amenities but after the local Scottish matrons inspect the newfangled gizmos and gadgets there, they are universal in their judgement.
Then they went home and told their husbands all about it. They stirred up the logs upon the open hearth—piled up with ashes—sank into the large shabby chair with the sagging springs, and sighed. “It’s marvellous,” they declared. “It’s simply incredible—but I wouldn’t live in a house like that for a fortune. I don’t know why, really. There’s every comfort, but somehow it isn’t—comfortable.”
“It has no soul,” said Mrs. Hunter Brown.
Stevenson visits the theme of strangers in a strange land but – as Will often does – she flips the argument to view it from the other side. Will was delighted to get home to Scotland but once in France, he was a stranger again. Speaking the language and being generally amiable, he does well and enjoys himself but he can’t help but notice how the locals soak up the hot sun while he is almost wilting. Cousin Hugo might be an Elliot Murray but with his flash ways, he will never fit in as Will does at Langford or among the people of Torfoot.
The secret that Will uncovers isn’t hard to figure out but it helps tie all the plot threads up neatly. Everyone will get what he or she wants – or in one case deserves. Bonds of friendship – between neighbors and also old war buddies – are strengthened and a prediction that Rae once made comes true.
Stevenson delicately handles the idea that not everyone will thrive where they land and that this can be a good thing when it’s recognized and acted on. She also serves up a sweet, understated romance that I was cheering for almost from the beginning of the book. From its description, I’d love to visit the charming town in France with “a small but very elegant establishment with one gay nonsense of a hat displayed” but I’d probably prefer the gentle hills of Scotland during the hottest parts of the day. B