Published in 1929, A18_The Abbey Girls at Home begins three weeks after the last installment ended in May of 1923 and runs through Valentine’s Day of the following year. It is a rather somber book with, if I have counted them correctly, five deaths, a serious accident, and even some mental health issues. While the Hamlet Club does hold a dance out of doors, there is not much in this installment for folk dancers.
Left: Maidlin is about to be run over!
Plot Synopsis (Contains spoilers)
The story begins with Betty McClean (remember her? She was the head girl of Rocklands School in A12_Jen of the Abbey School) grieving for the loss of her twin, Meg, who died the previous year of what we assume is tuberculosis at the Platz, high in the Alps. Meg was not mentioned in Jen of the Abbey School—a good example of the seamless way in which Elsie J. Oxenham was able to merge her stories together by adding characters and giving them backstories. Betty decides to visit Jen Robbins, of whom she has just heard that she has recently lost her mother and become engaged. She arrives at Abinger Hall to find not one but two Ladies Marchwood: Joy, who three weeks earlier gave birth to twin girls, and Jen, who married Ken Marchwood and had a one-week honeymoon before he went to Africa—a several week journey by ship—to settle his late brother’s affairs and his own coffee plantation.
Betty has been depressed and lacks something important to do. She is comforted by holding the babies who bear the same names as she and her sister. As the chauffeur drives her away from the hall, he must veer into a ditch to avoid hitting Rosamund and Maidlin, who, returning home from school, have fallen off their bicycles because of a crossing hen. Betty is badly injured and unconscious. Rosamund helps the chauffeur with Betty and sends Maidlin, who is not very useful in a crisis, to fetch Jen. Jen has Betty carried into the near-by Abbey and cares for her.
Grieving for her late husband, Joy is not making a good recovery, and Nurse is concerned about her. We would diagnose her today as having post-partum depression. She doesn’t want to leave her bedroom because that would mean putting on the black frocks that make her grief more real. All she wants is Jen’s company, but Jen feels deeply responsible for Betty, who for several chapters is on the brink of death, and cannot attend to Joy’s demands.
The doctors must operate! They have Betty moved to the Hall, which has better light and more room—the hospital is too far away. Terrified, Jen goes to Joy for comfort and Joy, who has very little empathy for others, rejects her. Jen runs to her room and bursts into sobs. The Nurse sends Joy to help Jen, and their friendship is restored. Joy vows never to hurt Jen again.
Left: a little unclear. Maidlin in her favorite pink making a curtsey to (perhaps) Rosamund in blue pretending to be the princess, with Joy watching. But Joy (copper hair) should be in black.
Betty makes a long, slow recovery and the story shifts to focus on the two younger girls. Shy and childish Maidlin is the current Queen, the Primrose Queen, and is finding the spotlight difficult to deal with. A princess is scheduled to come visit the school and Maidlin is terrified to know that, as Queen, she must greet the princess and talk about the spring tradition. She asks that Rosamund, the prior Rose Queen, be on the platform to assist her. Maidlin has nightmares that Jen diagnoses as relating to her fear of growing up. Jen urges Maidlin to learn to be a friend to Joy, not a daughter-figure.
A sudden telegram arrives when Joy and Jen are out: Rosamund’s mother living in Ceylon—
—Rosamund hasn’t seen her for six years. Appalling! But this is the far-flung British Empire of Oxenham’s youth, where middle-class and wealthy English parents living in places like Ceylon or India which had climates that were considered unhealthy, would send their children, even as young as four or five to relatives or boarding school in England. This happened to writers such as Rudyard Kipling and P.G. Wodehouse, the latter of whom was sent to England at the age of two. I believe that I read somewhere that from two to sixteen he spent a total of 6 months in the company of his parents, who must have had an occasional home stay.—
—has been ill and is now returning to England for treatment. Rosamund must go to her. In distress, Maidline and Rosamund turn to Betty for counsel. Maidlin is heart-broken that Rosamund, on whom she depends so much, must leave her; Rosamund is conflicted about leaving Maidlin and Joy and caring for her mother, whom she remembers loving. Betty offers good advice, and Rosamund tells Maidlin that they both have to do their duty and that they must do it without grousing: Maidlin must stay to help Joy and the babies, and Ros must go to care for her mother.
Everyone bucks up and Rosamund is finally able to articulate what she never could before, which is how much she loves Joy and Jen and the Abbey and her life there. Taking a step towards maturity, Maidlin decides that she’ll handle the princess on her own. Another telegram: Ros’ mother has been taken more seriously ill on the trip and has gone straight to Sir Rennie Brown’s sanatorium in the Alps. This rings a bell with Jen and she remembers meeting Karen Wilson, the violinist who was semi-engaged to Sir Rennie’s son, at the Cheltenham Vacation School four years earlier. (Remember Karen? The beginning of her story is told in the Abbey Connector, The Two Form Captains.) Joy arranges for a lady courier to take Rosamund and Mary-Dorothy Devine to Switzerland. Rosamund realizes that she won’t be going back to school and, as she is nearly eighteen, she puts her hair up. Joy finally realizes how much she and Maidlin have relied on Rosamund and how much she loves her.
Rosamund telephones from London before the train leaves for the Channel and Maidlin—who has clearly never spoken on the telephone before, let alone long-distance!—bravely speaks to her. Maidlin decides that she needs to start swotting at school (she has always relied on Rosamund to make her do her homework), and at Jen’s urging, she goes to ask if Betty will tutor her in French. Betty offers to tell her about the Platz, so that she can better imagine Rosamund there.
Upon her return from Europe, Mary tells Jen that she had been able to give some comfort to Rosamund in the middle of the train journey: she reminded her that “’. . . sooner or later we all find ourselves alone, needing something not in this world at all to hold on to; and that I believe it happened just so that we should reach out beyond the things we can see and find greater help, help that will last for ever, no matter if everything else vanishes. . . . [that is] the only real thing in life. . . ‘” Mary has traveled far on her own personal journey of self-discovery and faith.
Above left: Joy, correctly wearing black, playing for Maidlin, the Primrose Queen. On the right–two random girls. The artist possibly did not read the book but took the left-hand image and modernized it. Sigh.
To give musical Betty something to listen to during her recovery, Joy has returned to playing and writing music. She now wants to start a music school in the village for poor girls who are keen on music. She asks Betty to take charge of it, and Betty is thrilled, saying: “‘I’d give up my whole life to helping to train your neglected little geniuses. It’s an idea that would have appealed to Meg, I know.’” Joy says that it would have appealed to her late husband as well: “‘I told him how I once felt, all fermenting with the music inside me, and quite unable to do anything with it; making no progress, and all going to pieces because I wasn’t using my gift.’” Andrew told her that if they found other girls like her they would help. Joy asks Maidlin to teach country dancing, and says that she herself may never dance again.
Betty continues to recover and is now able to talk about her dead sister. At Maidlin’s dance party neither Jen nor Mary dance much: Jen because she Isn’t Dancing Much Now and Mary because she was enjoying watching Maidlin grow up and be a Queenly hostess. Both of them say that perhaps they don’t care as much for dancing as they used to.
—Yikes! And we’re not quite halfway through the series!—
Mary, who has become a thoughtful counselor says that they have all faced up to some difficult things in the past few months.
“I mean that [dancing] is no longer the biggest or the most real thing in life. And it ought not to be,” Mary said soberly. “It’s beautiful, and it’s good, and it’s useful; but other things are bigger. I’d rather spend an evening in writing that in country-dancing. . . . Joy will be happier writing songs than in merely dancing. . . . Joy’s up against real things; I feel fairly certain dancing will never mean more to her again than a pleasant way of amusing herself with pleasant people. It is that; but it isn’t the thing to give first place in life to, Jenny-Wren.”
Joy’s cousin, Joan Shirley Raymond, is returning to England as her husband has left the army. Maidlin is at first concerned that Joy will no longer want her, and bravely faces up to this, but Jen reminds her that Joan will be living 30 miles away, and that Joy will need Maidie on a daily basis.
Time passes. Ken comes home in the late fall. Mrs. Shirley dies in her sleep. The Dowager Lady Marchwood dies. A telegram: Rosamund’s mother has died and she is coming “home” to Joy. And now the explanation for why Jen Hasn’t Been Dancing Much—she gives birth to a baby boy on Valentine’s Day: little Andrew Marchwood.
For Folk Dancers
Very little. The babies are described as already doing morris kick-jumps and one does “perfect Headington circles” with her arms. Neither of these movements is described further. Instead of the colorful and stirring descriptions that we have been accustomed to in earlier books (and to which we will return soon, I promise), we are basically presented with a list of dance and tune titles.
From The Country Dance Book, published in 1909, the girls dance Nancy’s Fancy, The Triumph, and We Won’t Go Home ‘Till Morning. These are “village” dances, collected from living tradition by Cecil Sharp. The girls refer to them as “old.” They are typically longways dances and many of them incorporate a polka step, meaning that they are not all that old, or have evolved since the introduction of the polka in 1844. Every American reader should be able to remember this date for future games of Jeopardy because 1844 was also the year of the successful presidential campaign of Mr. James Polk, whose supporters all wore polka-dotted cravats or dresses.
From The Country Dance Book, part II, published in 1911, we have the dances that Sharp reconstructed from various editions of The Dancing Master, first published in 1651: Jenny Pluck Pears and Goddesses. From Part III, published in 1912, we have If All the World were Paper and Chelsea Reach, and from Part IV, published in 1916, we have Christchurch Bells and Sellenger’s Round. All of these latter, except for Christchurch Bells which is a longways for as many as will, are relatively complicated set dances with figures and choruses. The morris dances Laudnum Bunches, the Tideswell Processional from Darbyshire, and I’ll go and Enlist for a Sailor are mentioned but not described.