29 year old Charmain Vivian, daughter of Sir Piers and Lady Vivian, is Director General of the Midland Supply Depot where she "always puts work before everything" and is held in awe and reverence by her adoring staff of voluntary female workers.
A new secretary arrives, Grace Jones, daughter of a Dean, who is unfailingly honest and therefore not bedazzled by Char's spell. It becomes clear that her 'selfless heroic exertions' have a darker side, and that, in the coruscating words of an old family doctor, she is "making patriotism the excuse for bullying a lot of women who work themselves to death for you because you are of a better class, and have more personality than themselves, and pretending to yourself that it's the work you're after, when it's just because you want to get somewhere where you'll be in the limelight all the time".
Lady Vivian has been steadfastly refusing to mention the War, because
Sir Piers is increasingly ill and upset by it.
"But is it necessary?" inquired Sir Piers piteously.
His wife shrugged her shoulders.
"if she'd been a boy she would be in the trenches now. I suppose we must let her do what she can, even though she's a girl. Other parents have had to make greater sacrifices than ours, Piers."
Sir Piers eventually has a stroke which necessitates Char staying with him. Grace comes out daily to deal with correspondence, and it is clear that the Depot will not fall down just because Char is not there. Lady Vivian takes a great fancy to Grace, but Char resents this.
Eventually Sir Piers dies and Lady Vivian decides to turn their great house into a convalescent home, but not under Char's control. Grace comes to work with her, and becomes informally engaged to Lady Vivian's cousin, the brave, loyal and a bit stupid Captain Trevellyian (MC). (shades of Robert).
Lady Vivian had once hoped that Char and John Trevellyan might marry: but Char's easy contempt for her cousin's Philistinism was only equalled by his unconcealed regret that so much prettiness should be allied to such alarming quick-wittedness. In the end he becomes engaged to Grace.
The volunteer women are nicely drawn and there is a comic creation in Lesbia Willoughby who had known Lady Vivian before she had married.
"My dear Joanna! After all
these years... how too too delightful to see you so absolutely and utterly
unchanged! Dear old days! And now we meet in the midst of all these
The exaggeration of the look she cast around seemed to include the drawing-room and its occupants alike in the pleasing category.
"I'm sorry you dont like my Louis XV" said Lady Vivian flippantly.
After Sir Piers Vivian has died Lesbia has to make a visit of condolence.
enfolded the resigned Joanna in a prolonged embrace.
"My poor, poor dear! Words can never tell you how I've felt for you - how much I've longed to be with you!"
But despite the inadequacy of words, Mrs. Willoughby had a shrill torrent of them at her command, with which she deluged Lady Vivian for some time.
"Poor Lesbia!" Lady Vivian remarked afterwards to Grace; "she enjoyed herself so much that I really couldn't grudge it to her!"
Of course EMD had been working
in a voluntary aid detachment in Exeter, under the formidable command
of Georgina Buller, so it may well have been drawn from life, despite the disavowal.
There are also shades of the Provincial Lady in Wartime.
"Where have you been" Muriel inquired.
"On to the top terrace," said Zella glibly; "and I saw a big white horse, trampling on all the flowers."
"Where, where" shrieked MurielÖ
"Itís gone now," said Zella. "papa shot it."
"Shot it dead?" said Muriel, awestruck.
"I donít believe it" said James, and resumed his digging.
Zella felt a wave of fury pass over her at this insult. It made her so angry that she completely lost sight of the entire justification for Jamesí attitude.
"I don't believe it," remarked James, and resumed digging. Zella felt a wave of fury pass over her at this insult.
It made her so angry to be disbelieved that she completely lost sight of the entire justification for James' attitude.
"It is true," she cried passienately; I did see it , and across tier mental vision there passed a very distinct picture of a mammoth white horse destroying the geraniaums with plunging hooves, and then suddenly stilled for ever by a gun-shot.
Muriel, who hated quarrels, said: "Don't he angy Zella. Let's go on digging."
And the governess, who had followed the conversation with what attention she could spare from a novel, looked up and remarked, "James, you are not to tease your cousin," while inwardly thanking Providence that she was not responsihle for the upbringing of that untruthful little half-foreign child, Zella de Kervoyou.
But Zella, who was hurt by a suspicion of her truthfulness as by nothing else, rushed away to sob and cry behind the laurel hedge, and wish that she was dead.
"Was it really an untruth?" Muriel asked with a horrified face as her cousin fled in tears.
I am afraid so, dear," replied Miss Vincent with asperity, thinking it worth while to improve the occasion. Your little cousin is very young; when she grows up she will see how very naughty it is to tell stories."
"I don't believe Zella tells stories," muttered James, in a tone inaudible to the governess.
"But you said she did, just now."
"No, I didn't. I said I didn't believe about the horse, that's all."
Muriel looked bewildered.
"But, then, it was an untruth," she reiterated helplessly
"It's an untruth when you or me say what isn't true, but not Zella," said James, with psychological insight beyond his powers of grammatical expression.
"Because she's different, that's all. Let's go on digging."
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Last Updated 2 April 1999