How many books are there in the world which feature both twins and the opening of a tearoom? I mean, the number of books about the opening of tearooms has to be pretty minute and to then throw twins in as well? And yet, after reading The Fair Miss Fortune by D.E. Stevenson, I have now read two such books (see Christopher and Columbus by Elizabeth von Arnim) so who is to say that there aren’t more out there? (I rather hope there are.)
Published by Greyladies in 2011, The Fair Miss Fortune was written in the 1930s but was considered ‘“too old-fashioned” to appeal to the “modern” market’. It is certainly old fashioned, though hardly more so than Stevenson’s other books, and while far from her best work, it is a fun little story.
When Captain Charles Weatherby returns home to the small English village of Dingleford to visit his mother, he has no idea how his life is about to change. He is happy to be back with his beloved mother but less happy when she, an invalid, encourages him to go out and socialise with their neighbours. They are all eager to see him after his years in India and the housebound Mrs. Weatherby is eager for Charles to report back on all the latest gossip. Though a grown up man in his late twenties, Charles is rather scared of the party his mother is urging him to attend, telling him how nice it will be:
Charles was quite sure that it would not be nice, for he was shy with the shyness which besets the exile when he returns to his native place. He had been abroad for three years – no more – but he was convinced that these people would not want him; that they would have forgotten him; that they would find him awkward and gauche, his clothes old-fashioned and shabby, his manners strange. He felt that it would have been easier to meet these people one by one, casually, in the village, or on the golf course; he felt that to plunge right into the whole crowd jabbering together in an over-heated room was going to take the kind of courage he did not possess.
And the party is rather ghastly for Charles, save for two things: he is reunited with his childhood friend Harold Prestcott and he learns about Dingleford’s newest resident: Miss Jane Fortune. Miss Fortune, a pretty young lady of nineteen, has arrived with her nanny in tow to open up a tearoom in the village. Before too long, Charles – a man of action – has made friends with Miss Fortune and is well on the way to being in love with her. And the lady seems to be feeling much the same, until she is suddenly cutting him in the street, acting coldly towards him when they do meet, and generally not behaving at all like the adorable Jane.
Of course, she is not behaving as herself because she is not herself. Jane’s identical twin sister Joan arrives in Dingleford fleeing the attentions of a sinister Frenchman. Hoping to avoid discovery by said Frenchman, she decides not to announce her presence and so, with Jane’s half-hearted approval, Joan masquerades as her sister. The two girls make certain that they are never out and about at the same time but their very different characters and very different romantic inclinations make rather a mess for both Charles and Harold, who have both fallen in love with Miss Fortune – thankfully, each with a different Miss, though they have no idea. Of course, all ends well, though I have serious doubts that the tea room will ever be opened.
It is a short, undemanding little book and, to be honest, I can understand why it was not published earlier. It is far from Stevenson at her best. But, that I said, I am happy Greyladies printed it and that I had the chance to read it. I sped through it before bed on Sunday night and it was the perfect thing to end my weekend with.