Kidnapped, by Robert Louis Stevenson
I bought a copy of this off the library sale shelves because it is a classic, the Puffin paperback was only $1, and it would fill a year in my Mid-Century of Books (1886). I thought I had read this before, and the opening was familiar enough. But when I started this however many years ago, I must have given up on it pretty quickly. I had a clear memory of David climbing up the stair-tower to fetch the chest of papers (in the fourth chapter, "I Run a Great Danger in the House of Shaws"). But I must have read no further, because I had no memory of the kidnapping of the title, and I know that I never met Alan Breck - I couldn't have forgotten him. This turned out to be the third book I've read this summer that involves traveling around the Hebrides and the Western Isles by boat (the other two being Alastair Dunnett's The Canoe Boys and Dorothy Dunnett's Dolly and the Singing Bird). In fact, my atlas was still open to the right pages, to track the Covenant's voyage. And I only had to turn the page to follow David and Alan Breck in their flight across the Highlands. I was a little surprised at the abrupt end of the story, which felt very unsatisfying. I was happy to find there is a sequel, Catriona, but I'm wondering if it's worth reading?
Airs Above the Ground, by Mary Stewart
I don't like circuses, or stories about circuses, so I was a little hesitant to read this book. But I liked the narrator, Vanessa, from the first page. I was a little concerned about her setting off on a trip to Vienna with her friend's son, seventeen-year-old Timothy Lacy. It didn't feel quite right - he was either too old or too young for that. But he is another of the neglected children that often end up in the heroines' care, in Mary Stewart's books. Vanessa is on her way to Vienna to look for her husband, who is supposed to be on a business trip to Stockholm, but apparently isn't. Timothy is going to see his father, and also the famous Lipizzaner stallions. They end up instead in eastern Austria, with a small traveling circus. But the story is more about the horses than the circus itself, and the recent death of their keeper in a fire. Vanessa is a vet, as it turns out, with a lot experience working with horses. I think it's a shame she had to give up working when she married, though she does keep her hand in with volunteer work. I enjoyed this book a lot, though I found the hero a bit too autocratic for my tastes. And as Hayley recently mentioned, it's nice to read a mystery without a lot of gore or a high body count.
Beggars on Horseback, E.O. Somerville & Martin Ross
This, the third of Somerville and Ross's travel accounts that I have read, is subtitled "A Ride Through Wales in 1894." I thought I had read somewhere that this, like In the Vine Country and Through Connemara in a Governess Cart, was originally published as a serial in The Ladies' Pictorial. I can't find that reference now. If not, maybe that explains why it feels so different from the other two. For one thing, the narrator isn't traveling with "my second cousin." Her companion is called Miss O'Flannigan. We never learn her first name, or the narrator's. But more importantly, the two don't seem to enjoy their trip at all. They seem to dislike Wales and the Welsh. Granted, the weather was terrible, often pouring rain, and their horses were even worse than the jennet drawing the governess cart. But there was none of the sense of discovery, the funny situations, the back-and-forth between the travelers. And there wasn't even that much about Wales itself. The edition I read is a modern reprint by The Long Riders' Guild Press (I just saw a first edition of this for sale at €395). Someone made the unfortunate editorial decision to put their website URL at the bottom of every single page, which I found distracting and then annoying. The book also includes seven pages listing the other titles they have published. Some do sound interesting, such as Lady Florence Dixie's Riding Across Patagonia:
When asked in 1879 why she wanted to travel to such an outlandish place as Patagonia, the author replied without hesitation that she was taking to the saddle in order to flee from the strict confines of polite Victorian society. This is the story of how the aristocrat successfully traded the perils of a London parlor for the wind-borne freedom of a wild Patagonian bronco.
The book I did not finish is The Rosary, by Florence L. Barclay. I looked for a copy of this after reading that it was a best-seller at its publication in 1910 (hoping to fill another year in my Mid-Century). There will be spoilers to follow. The story starts off well, with a dowager Duchess who has lost her cranky husband and discovered how happy she can be as a widow. She gives lively house-parties in her stately home, which she characterizes as "freak parties," "mere people parties," and "best parties." One of the guests at her current "best party" is her niece, the Hon. Jane Champion. A big red flag went up when I met Jane:
[She] was now in her thirtieth year. She had once been described, by one who saw below the surface, as a perfectly beautiful woman in an absolutely plain shell; and no man had as yet looked beneath the shell, and seen the woman in her perfection. She would have made earth heaven for a blind lover who, not having eyes for the plainness of her face or the massiveness of her figure, might have drawn nearer, and apprehended the wonder of her as a woman. . .But as yet, no blind man with far-seeing vision had come her way...I was seized with foreboding. I recently read a book, Ada Cambridge's Fidelis, where a man chose to fall in love with a blind woman, because she wouldn't mind his ugly exterior. I was not prepared to read another story where Love was literally blind, nor one where a physical handicap was exploited even for love. So I started skipping ahead. Gareth Dalmain, an artist and society painter, falls in love with Jane after he hears her sing, which reveals to him her subcutaneous beauty. But Jane refuses his proposal, because she is three years older than he is, but even more because he is an artist, and he shouldn't have to look at her across the table every day. She goes off to travel the world, to forget him. Three years later, she learns that he was shot in a hunting accident and is now blind. So she goes home and nurses him, under a false name. Eventually all is revealed and forgiven, and they get married. So points to the author for making Gareth love her as she is (not just plain, but older and plus-sized), and points for letting Jane finally accept that love, even if it's only because he's blind. Gareth loves Jane for who she is. Maybe it's too much to expect from a 1910 novel that she could love herself too. I feel that I got more than enough of this story skimming through it, and I'm sending it off to the library sale.