Published in 1941 and set in June of 1932, Abbey Time, A29_Jandy Mac Comes Back is simultaneously an important book and, I’m sorry to say, one of the two or three weakest in the EJO canon: almost as bad as A Camp Mystery (published in 1932, set circa 1924 and part of the Camp Keema series; this installment features international Bad Guys as well as Maribel Ritchie, Rosalind Firth, and Cecily Perowne (remember them?)) or A Princess in Tatters (1908; a stand-alone that featured a neglected child and an attempt to illegitimize her). Frankly, Oxenham didn’t know how to write either roles or plots for Bad Men as opposed to benign brothers, fathers, and lovers, and Jandy Mac features a car crash, a sensationalistic kidnapping attempt by sneering thugs, and a ventre à terre gallop to the rescue. Awkward though it is, however, it is important to read in the sequence as it introduces a key character and establishes the context for what are known as the Second Generation novels. And, while it does not feature any dancing set pieces, it does bring up an intriguing dance point, one which reinforces Elsie J. Oxenham’s reliability as a reporter about the folk-dance scene in England at the time.
The only extenuating thing I can say about the kidnapping plot is that 1932 was a busy year in Abbey Time, under the rule of May Queen Mirry Honor (“Forget-me-not”). Jandy Mac is set in June of 1932, and the famous kidnapping and murder of the baby of American aviators Charles Lindbergh and Anne Morrow Lindbergh had occurred in March of that same year. Could EJO have drafted this book or at least outlined the plot as early as 1932, real time?
However, to reiterate, A28_Jandy Mac Comes Back was not published until 1941, and there is nothing in that book (or, really, almost any other) to tie it to a particular year. Since no list of EJO’s complete works, in reading, publication, or any other order, was published in her lifetime, the average reader picking up this work would have had no way of knowing when the actions were to have occurred. It is only after several re-reads and puzzlings over the plot and perusing Ruth Allen’s invaluable timeline that I made the timing connection and, again, this would not have been possible to contemporary readers unless they had been making their own private timelines.
Before moving on, I want to stress this point about the listing. Back in the 1960s when I was reading and acquiring those shiny-covered Nancy Drew and Cherry Ames series books, I could turn to the back of any of them to see the complete listing of all the titles, since they were all published by the same publisher. I distinctly remember going down such lists and thinking that I hadn’t read this or that one—and this frame of mind was for books that had no long story arc! But Oxenham’s books were published by many publishers, some of whom only published one title, and no such helpful list—at least in its entirety—was accessible. And, remember, the first in the Abbey Girl world was published in 1914 and the last in 1959—you would have had to have been an avid reader with an extensive collection to put all the pieces together!
Back to Jandy Mac. This is where it gets a little confusing. If we are the Reader who is buying or being given the books as they are published, we met her in 1938, real time, in the title numbered A04_Schooldays at the Abbey that appeared in the same year as A27_Rosamund’s Castle. Schooldays is a good read, and Jandy Mac is, as Waring and Ray observe, a true Abbey heroine. In that first story we heard about the ring with seven sapphires that the lay-brother Ambrose made for his love, Lady Jehane. Jandy Mac, who was eighteen in that installment, was adopted as an honorary cousin by Joan and Joy Shirley, and ended that book sailing off to be married to Alec Fraser and to live in Samoa.
The brilliance of this move, as Waring and Ray note, was that EJO had simultaneously opened up a fruitful line of novels featuring young Jen, Joan, and Joy having adventures at the Abbey, and created a character who, marrying at eighteen or nineteen, can now plausibly have a thirteen-and-a-half year old daughter, older than Joan’s or Joy’s girls, who can enter fully in the life of Miss Macey’s School. Up to this point EJO has given us peripheral younger girls—Gail Alwyn, Benedicta Bennett, Belinda Bellanne—but they are either on other career or marriage trajectories or they are too old for school and cannot take on the mantle of May Queen.
My edition is a 1959 Collins imprint with the modern cover, and I do not know to what extent it was abridged from the original. The cover of this (above) depicts Littlejan with her mother, who wears a jaunty neckerchief, with the Abbey behind them. Farther down this post we’ll see what was probably the original 1941 cover showing Jandy Mac in rather Aussie-looking garb on her horse with the castle in the background. EJO often had little or no control over illustrations of her works. The publisher probably included the horse because of the craze for riding that was sweeping over English girls in the Thirties, but, other than Jandy’s ride and some later references to Littlejan’s pony, EJO did not participate in this craze: riding remained for her an upper-class activity. Remember that even Jane Austen’s Dashwood family cannot afford a horse: they would need a stable, a groom, a second horse for the groom (since no girl or woman rode unaccompanied, even in the 1930s), feed, etc. EJO’s heroines much more plausibly, by middle-class standards, learn to drive cars!
Plot Synopsis (Contains Spoilers)
Mrs. Janice Fraser is arriving by car to a big house with her thirteen-year old daughter, named Joan after Joan Shirley Raymond.
—The young Joan has been called “Littlejan” by her father since she is the spitting image of her mother. However, she wishes to leave this baby name behind and be known in England as Joan. After she meets up with her namesake Joan Shirley Raymond, however, it becomes quickly apparent to all that this isn’t going to work, so the little girl is, for this book at least, called “Joan-Two” or sometimes “Joan-Too.” However, she will end up being called Littlejan in the rest of the books and for the sake of our sanity that is how we will refer to her throughout.—
The pair are visiting England and Scotland from their home on Samoa in the South Pacific. Jandy Mac explains to Joan that they are going to visit Mrs. Raymond, with whom she has somewhat lost touch—it will be a surprise. Jandy Mac inquires at the door and finds out that Joan has just had a baby boy that morning and is not receiving. They then go to a phone booth in the village and -call up Abinger Hall and ask for Lady Quellyn (the former Joy Shirley). Maidlin answers and tells her that Lady Quellyn is in New York City with her husband and baby boy. A young woman in riding kit, who has been sitting on the ground while her groom waits to make a telephone call, hears Jandy Mac’s side of the conversation and asks who she is, and why she is referring to the Ladies Marchwood and Lady Quellyn as Jen and Joy. All is revealed. The young woman is Rosamund Kane, Countess of Kentisbury. Rosamund had been out riding, but the ride was too much for her, so the groom has phoned for the castle car. In the true spirit of the Abbey, she invites the Frasers to come and stay with her, since Jandy Mac is an old friend of Joan, Joy, and Jen. The Frasers stay for one night and then go with Rosamund to see Jen, who greets Jandy Mac joyfully.
As she so often does, EJO uses Littlejan’s unfamiliarity with the Abbey world to give us a family news update, including ages. Let’s pause for a minute and have a baby recap. Deep breath.
Jandy Mac Fraser is around 33. She has Joan, thirteen, and two boys not named or aged in this story.
Joan Shirley Raymond, who was 16 when Jandy Mac was 18, has Janice (named after Jandy Mac), who is ten-and-a-half and goes by the name of “Jansy”—she also is the image of her mother, with dark, copper-red hair, and much will be made of the fact that Joan and her cousin Joy and their three girls all look alike—John, who is eight, Jennifer, who is two, and the newborn, Jim, named after Joan’s father. (It is rather unfortunate that EJO was so fond of alliteration!)
Jen Robins, now Lady Marchwood, married at twenty and has Andrew, Anthony (who goes by Tony), Rosemary, who is five and delicate, Michael, who is two, and Kathleen Jane, who is six months. Kathleen Jane is named after the eighteenth-century Kitty Marchwood, whose story was told in A06_Stowaways at the Abbey, published in 1940.
Countess Rosamund, who is 26, is bringing up her half-brother, Roderick-Geoffrey (Roddy), who is three. Rosamund’s son, Geoffrey-Hugh, little Lord Verriton, is two months old.
Maidlin di Ravarati, the singer, is 25 and had her romance in March through May of Abbey Time 1932, though she is not yet married. She is off-stage in this installment.
Joy Shirley Marchwood, now Lady Quellyn, has her nine-year-old twins Elizabeth and Margaret Marchwood, and a two-month-old son David with her conductor husband, Sir Ivor Quellyn.
After tea, the phone rings with bad news—Sir Kenneth Marchwood, who had taken Andrew, Tony, Jansy, and John to the moors for a holiday, has had a terrible car accident. The children weren’t with him, fortunately. A village child ran out into the road and to avoid her he swerved into a ditch. Everyone rallies: Jen, baby, and Nurse race to Yorkshire in Lady Kentisbury’s big car and Jandy Mac, Littlejan, and little Rosemary and Michael are whisked away to the Castle. Before Jen departs, a second message comes saying that Ken has regained consciousness, so our anxiety is somewhat allayed.
While at the castle, Littlejan is allowed to explore and discovers a wonderful playroom filled with toys for older children. She asks the Countess who says to wait until tomorrow when all will be explained. The next day, fifteen-year-old Tansy Lillico arrives to keep Littlejan company. Tansy shows Littlejan the grounds, include a camping sight outside the castle walls by the river. She also explains about the playroom and the children who played there, which we heard about in A27_Rosamund’s Castle. Rosemary and Jandy Mac join them briefly, mounted on beautiful horses. Littlejan had not previously known that Jandy Mac could ride—go, mom!
Since the castle’s regular head-chauffeur is up in Yorkshire with Jen, Jackson, formerly the head, returns. Tansy doesn’t like or trust him. Young Bob, the under-chauffeur whom everyone likes, also has problems with Jackson. Bob overhears Jackson’s side of a mysterious phone conversation and tells Tansy about it. The two girls think that perhaps Jackson is going to try to steal My Lady’s jewels.
The Earl and Countess have to go to a function. Jackson suggests that he drive the children for a picnic to honor little Rosemary’s birthday. The girls suspect something and make sure they attend. Against orders, Jackson drives them outside the property, to the campground. Bad Men are there—they want to kidnap Lord Verriton, but they don’t know which of the three boys—Roddy, Michael, or the baby—he is. Tansy tackles Jackson, who could have told them, and he hits his head and falls unconscious. Even though a bad man is twisting her arm, Littlejan refuses to tell which child is the heir, and he throws her, unconscious, to the ground. The men take Tansy, Nurse Agatha, and all three boys (Rosemary actually stayed at home as she was starting a cold), onto a fast launch.
On horseback, Jandy Mac has seen the scene unfold and her daughter lying dead or unconscious. She must put duty before motherly instinct, though—Lord Verriton must be saved at all cost! —and gallops the horse to the police station. Tansy knows that she must protect Roddy, who, if Lord Verriton dies and there are no further sons, will be the next Earl. The men abandon her and the little boys on an island, and she struggles to get them back to the castle.
—And here one has to say that, though this is a parent’s nightmare, little Lord Verriton is not, after all, a royal prince! It is not as if the kingdom will fail and fall if he dies. But the Lindberghs’ prominent position in society and the notoriety of the case—the biggest story since the Resurrection, according to newspaper writer H.L. Mencken—might have made the situation particularly resonant for EJO. Finally, she needed a strong reason to tie Jandy Mac and her daughter even closer to the charmed circle of the Abbey. Littlejan is a prominent character in the next ten episodes and a worthy Daughter of the Abbey.—
Well, as you can imagine, everything turns out all right. The men are apprehended; Jandy Mac, Littlejan (who is fine), and Tansy are all heroines (Agatha, too). To reward them, Lord Kentisbury gives the girls a beautiful horse each—Chestnut and Black Boy; these are very common and obvious names based on their colors—and Rosemary gives Jandy Mac seven sapphires for a ring like Ambrose’s that she gave up in A04_Schooldays, and which will tie Jandy Mac to the Abbey and its circle. Littlejan will stay in England and attend Miss Macey’s school with Jansy.
For Folk Dancers
While Lord Kentisbury gave the already-named horses to the girls, it is his wife Rosamund who observes that they are named after country dances. This is the only reference to dance and one that is easy to skim right over.
Chestnut is the name of a three-couple dance interpreted by Cecil Sharp in The Country Dance Book II published in 1911. The full title is “Chestnut, or, Dove’s Figary.” It was originally published by John Playford in 1651 and continued in his and his son’s collections until 1690, by which time dance tastes had changed. It is a pretty minor tune. Today in the U.S. the tune is more commonly used for a longways dance called All Saint’s Day written by David Ashworth in 1991.
Black Boy has a more interesting story behind it. While it is in the Barnes “Blue” book of English country dance tunes, meaning the one that contains most of the dances done when May Gadd was alive—i.e., it is heavily oriented to the Sharp repertoire—it is not frequently danced today, if at all! I have only danced it once, at a dance camp back in the seventies. It’s a shame, because it is interesting: it is a 64-bar tune with 32 bars of reel time (4/4) in A major followed by 32 bars in jig time (6/8) in D major. Fun for musicians!
“The Black Boy” was published only once in the eighteenth century, by John Johnson in 1753 in his “A Choice Collection of 200 Favourite Country Dances, vol. 8.” The version that Rosemary was undoubtedly thinking of comes from a booklet of dances reinterpreted by the Sheffield branch of the English Folk Dance Society which published in 1927 a booklet titled Five Country Dances together with their Tunes circa A.D. 1764 as recorded by David Wall, Ashover, Derbyshire. but more commonly just called “The Ashover Book.” (Sheffield is fifteen miles from the village of Ashover.)
David Wall was a bassoonist and apparently a popular local figure in Ashover. There is a memorial plaque to him in All Saints Church there that reads:
To the memory of David Wall
Whose superior performance on the bassoon endeared him
To an extensive musical acquaintance.
His social life closed on the 4 of December 1796 in his 57 year.
Mr. Wall made a hand-written manuscript of sixteen dance tunes, some with figures set to them. Wall’s dance instructions are below the tunes; another hand wrote their interpretation above them. See the manuscript here.
The dances included in the Ashover booklet are:
The Russian Dance
The Duchess of Hamilton’s Rant
The Black Boy
Dance leader, choreographer, composer, and dance re-constructor Colin Hume notes that in the introduction to the pamphlet the booklet’s creators acknowledge the assistance that the re-constructors derived from the country dance books of Cecil Sharp, who had died in 1924. He adds wryly that he is not sure that Sharp “would have appreciated this acknowledgement, as some of the interpretations are fanciful in the extreme.” He notes that the most blatant example of this is in The Black Boy, where in the “C” music (that is, the first strain of the jig time), the first corners (first man and second woman) change places, “right foot and right shoulder leading (step close up 4 times), left hand on hip and right hand up, a wrist wave with right hand for each step. Colin adds that “By the time I learnt the dance, a snap of the fingers had been added to the wrist wave” —
—Yes, Sharp would not have approved of this fancy!
—and notes that the original was just “Rights and Lefts.” He provides his very workable alternative, so now the dance caller can choose between two interpretations of this dance: one nearly 100 years old and the other more modern. Read Colin Hume’s anaysis of the Sheffield branch’s interpretation of The Black Boy and the other dances from the manuscript, as well as his own reconstruction.
And here’s one more fascinating tidbit which is part of why I consider Oxenham to be a reliable observer: the Ashover book was published in 1927 and Jandy Mac Comes Back is set, in Abbey Time, in June of 1932. It is therefore entirely feasible in the Abbey world that the older girls could have danced The Black Boy. (Littlejan is not yet a dancer, and Tansy doesn’t dance.)
Hear Pete Castle (concertina) and Derek Hale (guitar) play The Black Boy and see some beautiful Derbyshire scenery