Sprig Muslin. Georgette Heyer. 1956/2009. Harlequin. 288 pages.
Mrs. Wetherby was delighted to receive a morning call from her only surviving brother, but for the first half hour of his visit she was granted no opportunity to do more than exchange a few commonplaces with him over the heads of her vociferous offspring.
Sprig Muslin is an enjoyable Georgette Heyer novel. It's easily accessible, which isn't always the case, and it's a quick action-packed read. What kind of action? Well, more comedy than drama. And by action, I don't mean explosions.
The hero of Sprig Muslin is Sir Gareth Ludlow. Gareth is the brother who is visiting his sister, Mrs. Wetherby. He's there to say that he's going to propose marriage to a woman, Lady Hester. It's all planned out. He's gotten the father's permission, etc. But his sister is shocked. Her brother could have anybody, anybody. Why would he seek out a spinster (she's in her late twenties) who's so boring? (From his sister's position that is. Gareth doesn't find her boring at all. He finds her smart.) His sister thinks the match is unfair. Unfair to him. She knows that her brother has never quite recovered from the death of his fiancee seven years (is it seven?) before. But he's convinced that the time is right, that the girl is right.
However, somewhere along the way--on his way to visit the girls' family on their estate in the country--he happens to "rescue" a young damsel in distress, Amanda. Amanda "Smith." Her stories and tall tales outnumber the hairs on her head. He knows she's under seventeen. He knows that she is running away from home. But he doesn't know who she belongs to...(her name, her home, her situation, etc.) or what to do with her. She's determined to find employment--a chambermaid, a maid, a dairy maid, a governess, etc. All this in an attempt to prove she's "mature" and ready to get married to her soldier-love, Neil.
So he takes her with him. He brings this strange girl with a mind all her own with him on his journey to propose to Lady Hester. Her family is more than a little confused and unsettled about the affair. They think it is an affair--that he's brought his mistress along with him. A Mr. Fabian Theale is Hester's uncle, I believe. It is his notion that the young miss is Ludlow's mistress. That she is that sort sort of "lady." That she is his for the taking if he can steal her right out from under Gareth.
Amanda doesn't know much about Theale except that he's old and a bit fat. But she does see him as serving her immediate needs. She needs transportation and a way to sneak out of this new situation. And Theale is more than willing to oblige. Of course, he hasn't any idea that she's good at manipulating and bamboozling those around her. A girl fond of novels. A girl with a vivid imagination. A silly, very gullible, unthinking girl.
He does propose. And she does listen to him calmly. But she knows that he is not in love with her. And while for many spinsters of that age, the thought of marrying anyone, of having a chance to have a home of their own and children of their own, might tempt them to marry for convenience or companionship...she's not ready to settle for that yet. She doesn't want to be a convenient companion. She knows he likes her. As a friend. As a listener. As a sympathetic, angelic companion. But he doesn't love her. Doesn't want her. Doesn't need her as a soul mate, as a lover.
The morning after the proposal, Sir Gareth wakes up to find that Amanda has given him the slip. That she is off with Theale. And he knows that Theale is not a proper companion for a young girl. That he's a very improper one. So off he goes to give them chase. He must "rescue" Amanda.
Amanda doesn't need rescuing so much from others as from herself. She's prone to getting in and out and in and out and in and out of trouble and messes galore. And no one is EVER going to boss her around.
This is a funny, fast-paced, never-ending chase to the altar. But just who will end up saying I do....
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