Published in 1931 and taking place from June of 1928 through February of 1929, A20_The Abbey Girls on Trial is the real beginning of Rosamund Kane’s Cinderella story. Rosamund is my favorite of the Abbey heroines: she is tall, fair, pretty as an English rose, sturdy, both physically and emotionally, compassionate, well-disciplined, determined, plucky, friendly, jolly, and kind. Unlike Joan, Joy, Jen, and Maidlin, who either inherit or marry money (or both), Rosamund must earn her eventual good fortune and happy ending. She also becomes one of the strongest exemplars of the spirit of the Abbey.
You may recall that she came to the Abbey as a fifteen-year-old boarder while she attended Miss Macey’s School. There is family in the background, but we hear little of them until, when Rosamund is eighteen, her mother is taken ill and goes to Sir Rennie Brown’s sanatorium in the Alps, where she dies, presumably of T.B. Rosamund’s father remains in Ceylon and we hear nothing about nor from him.
In the last few installments, Rosamund has begun to exhibit feelings of restlessness at living at Abinger Hall with Lady Joy and Maidlin, essentially doing nothing. She is a go-getter and wants to do something meaningful, not just teaching folk dancing to the villagers. She says that she wants a “future,” not just a change. In this installment we will see her on her way. This is a fun read for older girls, with lots of details about furnishing the cottage and finding the crafts for sale. We are also seeing—more clearly than with Joy, Joan, and Jen—the younger girls modeling their growth into adulthood and—in later episodes—romance.
Rosamund and Maidlin are the two Abbey Girls who are most clearly “on trial” in this episode—they are faced with challenges and problems and even the potential of a rift in their deep friendship. But the two Abbott sisters are also on trial to make a success of their tea house and their lives, while Lady Joy continues to be challenged to reach out and have empathy for others.
Above: the cover illustration shows Audrey (weeping) and Eleanor Abbott of the Squirrel House. Audrey is weeping because the work and responsibility is too much for her. On the spine we see Rosamund entering both the tea house and their story.
Other than a mention of The Geud Man of Ballangigh, there is nothing for folk dancers in this episode—although I have some jolly links to clips at the foot of this article, so go check them out if nothing else!
Plot Summary (Contains Spoilers)
The novel opens with sisters Audrey, 29, and Elspeth, 19, Abbott, who run a tea shop in the country called the Squirrel House. The burden of running it falls on Audrey, as Elspeth is dreamy, forgetful, and shy. One day they receive a letter from their middle sister, Eleanor, 22, who has been visiting posh friends in Ceylon (present-day Sri Lanka). She announces that she has just married a 60-year-old man, a Mr. Kane. The girls are stunned and disgusted. The letter also says that Mr. Kane has a 22-year old daughter who is living in England with her friends. They are intrigued and wonder if she’ll want to be a sister to them, since Eleanor is such a gold-digging slacker—but then they remember that they are now this new girl’s aunts!
Mrs. Joan Raymond comes late that day to ask for tea for herself and Rosamund and Maidlin—Joan has come from her home where her daughter has come down with measles—measles again! the Scourge of the series!—and the two younger girls come from the Hall, where the precious Marchwood twins are four and can’t be allowed to get infected. (Lady Joy is a helicopter mother.) Lady Jen Robins Marchwood has just had her third baby, Rosemary Jane, and they want to talk the happy event over. Shy Elspeth is a little frightened of tall, commanding Rosamund, and Maidlin observes out loud that Elspeth has been crying—whereupon she flees into the woods. Maidlin goes to apologize, and we see how gentle and kind she is with girls in need; she is indeed a good Camp Fire Guardian. Neither of the younger visitors is introduced to the Abbotts.
A few days later Rosamund receives a letter from her father in Ceylon announcing his marriage to a girl her own age. She is quite crushed—she doesn’t have much affection for her father, since he has not troubled himself to see her for many years, but she had been planning to go out to keep house for him when he asked for her. She is disgusted by the thought of Beautiful Girl, as she calls Eleanor (it is how her father called her when he first met her), marrying an old man. She goes to the Abbey to seek spiritual consolation.
Rosamund tells Maidlin and Jen that this marriage changes everything—she can’t go on saying at the Hall marking time and teaching country dancing. She has some money from her mother and an allowance from her father but she needs a purpose in life. Maidlin gleefully tells Jen that what Rosamund wants is to keep a shop—with things in cardboard boxes! She wants to sell good, handmade crafts. They talk further about Beautiful Girl and the news that she has two sisters.
The two Abbott girls write to “Miss Kane,” inviting her to come meet them and make friends. Elspeth includes a sweet note illustrated with squirrels. Rosamund is overjoyed to find that “those jolly girls” at the Squirrel House are now related to her. Maidlin, introverted, immature, and dependent for so long on her beloved Rosamund, is very afraid that she will leave and go live with the “squirrel girls”—everyone else thinks that this separation would be good for Maidlin, who uses Ros as a shield against the world. With her usual lack of insight, Joy tells Rosamund that she is selfish for putting her own wishes to run a shop ahead of Joy’s, Maid’s and Jen’s wish to retain her at the Hall. Rosamund is crushed, but Mary Devine talks Joy out of her position, saying that it would be selfish of Joy to insist.
Rosamund sends the car to bring the Abbotts to the Hall—they are very nervous but impressed and are all happy to be introduced to each other. The three of them drive back to the Squirrel House and the Abbotts invite Rosamund to take the other half of the cottage for her crafts shop. The second half will be called the Rose.
A few days later, however, Rosamund receives a letter from her father that cuts off her allowance, as he now has a wife to support (she is apparently more expensive that Rosamund’s mother had been; also, the un-named business has been bad for years). She talks to the Abbotts, who find a solution—Rosamund will work for them as waitress/cook; they’ll share food expenses; they can work it out. Plus, Rosamund’s half of the cottage has a lavish fruit garden—they’ll sell raspberries and jam and flowers. Audrey suggests that in winter, Rosamund should take up her father’s offer of a little more education and take a good cookery class in London to earn a certificate. Joy is upset that a girl of Rosamund’s “personality and education” should be reduced to washing cups and picking berries. Rosamund responds: “‘The first thing for a girl of my personality and education—if they really exist—to do, is to show that she can keep herself and pay her way. I’ve let Father pay for me too long. Bu I felt he was responsible for me, and so long as he could to it, it was right that he should. Now I intend to look after myself.’ (192)” Everyone bucks up and offers to help. Joy says she’ll keep Rosamund’s room ready at the Hall for whenever she wants to visit and Rosamund is very touched. Everyone goes to visit the Rose and Squirrel and Sir Ken Marchwood offers to have the cottage white-washed and a bath installed.
Some weeks pass and Maidlin goes to visit, finding Rosamund in the kitchen picking currants off the stems. She tells Maid that she went to see a young man crippled in a motor-bike accident who carves little wooden animals. “‘When I asked him if he’d let me show a few and try to sell them for him, his mother broke down and cried. I nearly wept myself at sight of his face. It’s not so much the money, though they’ll be glad of it: but he’ll feel he’s of some use to his people if he can sell his carvings. It was like new life to him.’ (210)” We saw Rosamund selflessly helping Cecily Perowne in the last installment; now we see her well-launched on caring for the village people around her.
Above: Unclear! Dark hair usually means Maidlin and long fair hair Rosamund. Perhaps they are tootling along to the Rose and Squirrel? Note the open car, the necessary furs and cloche hats and the somewhat earlier fashion of this cover from the one at the top of the post. The luggage is in the “dickey” in the back.
Maidlin asks for advice about her Camp Fire girls, but Rosamund refuses to give any—she wants Maid to stand on her own feet. Maidlin feels lost and rejected. The two drift apart as the months pass. In a most unusual fashion, Lady Joy goes to Rosamund and asks what is going on. The conversation is not a success. Jen then talks to Joy and diagnoses that Rosamund tried to shut the door a little, so that Maidlin would learn to run her own Camp Fire, but that Maidlin responded by closing the door firmly and locking it, leaving Rosamund lonely and bewildered. Maidlin has yet to resolve her Character Problems of excessive hero worship of Joy and dependency on Ros. Jen scolds Joy for scolding Rosamund. Joy wonders why she doesn’t see things as clearly as Jen, who responds that she trusts people more than Joy does. “‘I trust the good in them.’ (253)”
Jen visits Rosamund, who is packing to go make apologies to Maidlin, and counsels her. Rosamund has been a little too abrupt in trying to make Maidlin grow up. They talk about jobs and the importance of sticking to them, and the jobs that the Abbey Girls hold. Rosamund and Maidlin are reconciled.
Rosamund receives word that her father has died. Some days later, Maidlin, Joy, and Jen visit the Rose and Squirrel to find Audrey and Rosamund packing to go to Malta (which is in the Mediterranean—the ship has gone through the Suez Canal), with Elspeth going to stay with an old lady in the village as they can’t afford three tickets. En route by ship home, Mrs. Kane has given birth to young Roderick Kane, and the girls are traveling to help her bring the baby to England. Feeling certain that Beautiful Girl will spoil the baby, Rosamund wants to claim her half-brother and adopt him. She wants him to be brought up right, in England, and hints at a deeper importance of this action.
For Folk Dancers
The only mention of dancing is that Lady Joy Marchwood teaches The Geud Man of Ballangigh to her Ranger group—the older teenage Guides. Excellent choice! Compared to the challenging set dances that the girls typically engage in, Geud Man is a great dance for beginners: the pattern is easily grasped, it is easy for the pairs of dancers to help each other, and it has a jolly tune. It is a longways dance from the tenth edition of Playford (1698), and Cecil Sharp published it in the Country Dance Book VI in 1922, two years before his death.
Here is a very nice short instrumental clip played by Les Triolets
And here is Seth Tepfer & the Syncopaths playing it for a dance weekend in Atlanta, Georgia. This is a fun clip.