On Friday afternoon, I returned home after work to that most delightful of things: a package of books. A few weeks ago, I shamelessly begged Shirley at Greyladies to send me two of their Noel Streatfeild books and now here they were: It Pays to Be Good and, written under her penname of Susan Scarlett, Babbacombe’s. Lacking any willpower whatsoever (reminder to self: spend rest of today studying), I curled up last night next to the fire and read Babbacombe’s start to finish.
The story begins as Beth Carson leaves school. A well-respected and much admired Head Girl, she is now transitioning from the world of children into the world of adults. She is, proudly but also nervously, about to start work at Babbacombe’s department store, where her father, George, has worked for more than thirty years. George is delighted to share his work world with his much-beloved daughter and confident that she will do well as an assistant in the Gowns department. Her mother, Janet, is glad of the contributions Beth will be able to make to the always-strapped family finances now that she is earning. Beth’s four younger siblings are proud but also cheerfully indifferent towards their sister’s new career, more interested in their own lives (proving again that Scarlett/Streatfeild knew what she was doing when it came to writing children).
Into this happy family comes Dulcie, George’s seventeen year-old orphaned niece. George and Janet take her in out of family feeling, however, it’s not long before they realise that Dulcie is a cheap, nasty piece of work. With no interest in building a career at Babbacombe’s (why bother, she thinks, when she plans to marry young?), she takes a position as an elevator girl, enjoying the dashing uniform and the male admiration that comes with it. At work she is merely lazy; at home, she needles, complains, and takes a particular dislike for Beth. The two girls are similar in age but that is all they have in common. When Dulcie discovers that David Babbacombe, the owner’s son, has taken an interest in Beth, her animosity only grows.
Beth is, essentially, an Anthony Trollope heroine. She is, in the words of another Greyladies book featuring a Trollope-esque female (The Glenvarroch Gathering by Susan Pleydell), “very, very pretty and neat and you noticed how good her manners were, and yet she was comfortable and full of fun.” She is honest, dependable, hard-working, devoted to her family, and, from the beginning of their relationship, deeply conscious of the social gulf that exists between her and David Babbacombe. Indeed, like a true Trollope heroine Beth spends a significant amount of time halfheartedly pushing David away because she thinks he, despite his father’s humble origins, is too far above her touch. David heartily disagrees and pursues her in a gentle way (assisted by his delightful dachshund – his most trusted confidante – and a friendly and romantic dentist ). Dulcie does her best to get in the way (trying to attract David and create trouble for Beth) but generally fails: David is not divertible and Beth has confided to her parents all her romantic woes. To Dulcie’s dismay, she discovers how difficult it is to create drama when everyone else is honest and straightforward.
I loved the warmth of the Carson family, the kindness of Mr. Babbacombe, the romance between Beth and David, and, yes, the awfulness of Dulcie. It’s always so satisfying to have an odious character to loathe. This was just the right sort of cosy, light book for this weekend.
Now back to studying.