Leave it to Psmith – P G Wodehouse

Leave it to Psmith has one of the most convoluted plots of any Wodehouse novel I’ve read so far. I lost count of the number of impostors, jewel thieves, amazing coincidences & overturned flower pots at Blandings Castle but it was a lot of fun trying to work out who was trying to do what to whom.

Psmith (the P is silent) is a young man who wants to get out of the fish business. His uncle got him in to it & now Psmith is tired of standing up to his knees in cold, wet fish all day. So, he puts an advertisement in the papers, offering his services for any task, crime not excepted (Providing It has Nothing To Do With Fish). The Hon Freddie Threepwood, second son of the Earl of Emsworth sees the ad & decides that Psmith is the man for him. Freddie  has just had to be bailed out again because of his gambling debts & his father won;t give him any more money. He needs £1000 to get a share in a bookies business & he concoct a scheme with his uncle, millionaire Joe Keeble, to steal his aunt, Lady Constance Keeble’s, diamond necklace.

Joe wants to steal his wife’s necklace because the formidable Lady Constance won’t agree to Joe’s pleas to help his stepdaughter, Phyllis, with £3000 to help her & her husband buy a farm. Lady Constance has disowned Phyllis because she refused to marry the man of Lady Constance’s choice. Joe plans to steal the necklace, sell it so he has money to help Phyllis & then buy his wife another necklace. He’s a little dubious about Freddie as he’s not very intelligent but Freddie decides to employ Psmith to help him. Psmith, it turns out, is a great friend of Phyllis’s husband, Mike Jackson, & he agrees to help with the heist. Getting Psmith into Blandings Castle looks like being the only problem.

Lord Emsworth is sent to London by his sister, Constance, to collect Ralston McTodd, a Canadian poet who has been invited to stay. While lunching at his Club, Lord Emsworth offends McTodd by wittering on about his flower garden & the bad tempered poet storms out. When Lord Emsworth returns from a nearby florist’s to find Psmith at his table, he assumes this is McTodd & Psmith finds himself on a train to Market Blandings that same afternoon. Luckily for him, the girl he’s just fallen in love with, Eve Halliday, is also going to Blandings to catalogue the library. Unluckily for Psmith, she thinks he’s McTodd, the cad who has just married & abandoned Cynthia, her best friend from school. Eve is also a friend of Phyllis Jackson & when she tackles Joe Keeble about his refusal to help her firend, he tells her the whole story & she agrees to help Freddie (who’s in love with her & keeps proposing at every opportunity) steal the necklace.

By this time, there are at least two other impostors in the Castle, both of them after the necklace. Psmith has attempted to help Beach, the butler, with his upset stomach & Lord Emsworth’s secretary, the Efficient Baxter, has been locked out of the Castle in the middle of the night wearing lemon-coloured pyjamas & overturning flower pots. On the night of Psmith’s (as McTodd) poetry reading, the necklace is stolen & goes through the hands of nearly every jewel thief at the Castle before the story ends happily for nearly everyone except Baxter who loses his job & Freddie who loses the girl he loves.

Leave it to Psmith is a hoot. It’s the first of the Psmith books I’ve read & I hadn’t realised that Psmith is involved with the Blandings crowd. I need to find a list of all the series & how they are connected. Lord Emsworth was obsessed with his flower garden rather than his magnificent pig, the Empress of Blandings. She must come along later. He was just as vague though & Lady Constance was as bossy as ever. It was the perfect way to spend a cold afternoon.

Miss Mackenzie – Anthony Trollope

I’ve been reading a lot of new fiction lately so I was eager to read something from my favourite literary period, the 19th century. Miss Mackenzie had been mentioned a couple of years ago on a BBC radio program on neglected classics as a book that should be reprinted. It was championed by Joanna Trollope, a distant relation of the great Anthony & you can hear what she had to say about Miss Mackenzie here. This is what inspired me to buy this copy from Norilana Books. However, it’s quite heavy & I have the complete works of Trollope on my e-reader so I actually read the book that way. I do like the cover of the Norilana edition though.

Margaret Mackenzie is a spinster in her mid 30s. She has spent the best years of her life caring for her parents &, more recently, her invalid brother, Walter. Margaret’s two brothers, Walter & Thomas, had inherited money from another relative who hadn’t thought it worthwhile to leave anything to a girl. When Walter dies, he leaves everything to Margaret & she suddenly finds herself an heiress. She’s not very rich but she has enough to live on & to spread her wings a little. Thomas had used his inheritance to go into trade & is now a partner in a business selling oilcloth. The business isn’t very prosperous & Thomas resents the fact that Walter left all his money to Margaret.

Margaret is immediately approached by her first suitor, Harry Handcock. She had been in love with Harry years before & they had planned to marry but Walter feared losing his nurse & Harry faded away. His reappearance now that Margaret has money doesn’t recommend him to her & she refuses him. She decides to leave London & move to Littlebath (Trollope’s name for Bath), taking Thomas’s daughter, Susanna, with her as a companion. Margaret will send Susanna to school & plans to leave her money in her will as a way of helping Thomas’s family.

Littlebath society is full of traps for the unwary & a single woman who has lived a retired life must tread carefully. Margaret becomes involved with the circle of an Evangelical preacher, Mr Stumfold, a pompous man with a terrifying wife & an admiring group of ladies to follow him wherever he goes. She becomes friends with Miss Baker &, although she would also like to be friends with Miss Todd, who lives in the same street, she discovers that this isn’t possible. Miss Todd is bold & outspoken & therefore not approved of by Mr Stumfold. Mr Stumfold also has a curate, Jeremiah Maguire, a handsome man with the terrible handicap of a squint which is very offputting. Mr Maguire has ambitions that can only be realised if he marries well & he pursues Margaret.

Thomas’s business partner, Samuel Rubb, arrives in Littlebath to ask Margaret if she would give the business a loan. Mr Rubb is pleasant, amusing but not a gentleman. He seems to admire Margaret but is she the attraction or is it her money? Then, Margaret is invited to stay at The Cedars, the country house of her relations the Balls. Her cousin, John Ball, is a widower with a large family & his mother plans to make a match between John & Margaret. The Balls & the Mackenzies have been estranged for many years because it was John Ball’s uncle who left his money to the Mackenzie brothers rather than to the Balls. John’s father, Sir John, has little money & John lives at the Cedars with his parents & his children. Lady Ball despises Margaret but is graciously willing to overlook her dislike if it means getting the Ball money back into her own family.

At this stage, I was genuinely unsure which of her suitors Margaret would favour. She is a quiet, kind, sensible woman but she’s no pushover. Her brother’s contempt & her sister-in-law’s open dislike & resentment don’t intimidate her. Her formidable aunt, Lady Ball, can’t bully her into marrying John. She’s no snob & doesn’t see being Lady Ball as a reason to marry a man she isn’t sure she can love. She pities his situation & would like to help his children but is that enough? Margaret has a hard time disentangling the motives of her suitors & working out her true feelings. Matters come to a head when her lawyers discover that the money she inherited may not belong to her at all. It may really belong to her cousin, John Ball.

Margaret had refused John’s marriage proposal when he was poor & she was rich. Now that she may have no money at all, he realises that he truly loves her & proposes again. This time she accepts him as she does love him. This infuriates Lady Ball who was only prepared to tolerate the marriage if Margaret had money. Then, Mr Maguire, the curate with the squint, arrives to claim Margaret as his bride (he doesn’t yet know that she may lose her money). He falsely represents their relationship to Lady Ball who is only too happy to believe him. Mr Maguire’s interference threatens to ruin Margaret’s happiness, & there are many anxious hours before the truth is told & Margaret can see her way clear to happiness.

Miss Mackenzie is a lovely book with an absorbing plot & wonderful characters. Trollope is always good at clergymen & Mr Stumfold & the truly awful Mr Maguire are among his best clergymen. It’s also interesting & unusual, in a book published in the 1860s, to have a heroine who is in her 30s. As Joanna Trollope said in her radio piece, at 36, Margaret is so far back on the shelf as to be completely invisible. But, she’s no fool & the three men who come fortune hunting will all find that she’s not an easy target. Lady Ball is a tyrannical matriarch & another of Margaret’s relatives, Clara Mackenzie, who comes to Margaret’s rescue when her money is gone, is kind & loving. Clara is determined that Margaret’s highmindedness won’t prevent her from achieving the happy ending that she so desires.

I feel quite inspired to read more Trollope now that I’m back in the 19th century. Catherine Pope, on her lovely blog, Victorian Geek, has completed her own Trollope Challenge. She’s read all 47 novels & come up with her lists of the ten best & ten terrible Trollopes. Miss Mackenzie doesn’t make either list. Of the best, I’ve read Can You Forgive Her? Barchester Towers & The Way We Live Now. I fancy setting myself the challenge of reading my way through the other seven. Harry Heathcote of Gangoil has an Australian setting & I’m very tempted to start there.

I mentioned above that I have Trollope’s complete works on my e-reader. I know I could have got them for free from ManyBooks or Gutenburg but I paid the princely sum of $5AU for them from Delphi Classics. It was much easier to do one download rather than 47 & they’re well-formatted & it’s easy to get to the book I want. The Delphi editions also often include contemporary biographies of the author as well as all the novels, short stories, poetry (Hardy), non-fiction & plays. I also have the Delphi complete editions of Edith Wharton, Thomas Hardy & Elizabeth Gaskell.

Sunday Poetry – Abby

I’ve abandoned my usual anthology of love poetry for today because I wanted to share a couple of poems about cats in memory of Abby who died one year ago yesterday. I still think of her a lot & often find myself calling Phoebe Abby as I think they look alike.

The first poem is by William Cowper.

A poet’s cat, sedate and grave,
as poet would wish to have,
was much addicted to enquire,
for nooks to which she might retire,
and where, secure as mouse in chink,
she might repose, or sit and think.
I know not where she caught her trick,
nature perhaps herself had cast her,
in such a mold philosophique,
or else she learn’d it of her master.
Sometimes ascending, debonair,
an apple tree or lofty pear,
lodg’d with convenience in the fork,
she watched the gard’ner at his work;
sometimes her ease and solace sought,
in an old empty wat’ring pot,
there wanting nothing, save a fan,
to seem some nymph in her sedan,
apparell’d in exactest sort,
and ready to be borne in court.

This is Puss by Walter de la Mare. Just change the pronouns from he to her & June to January & it describes many winter afternoons Abby & I spent together.

Puss loves man’s winter fire
Now that the sun so soon
Leaves the hours cold it warmed
In burning June.
She purrs full length before
The heaped-up hissing blaze,
Drowsy in slumber down
Her head she lays.
While he with whom she dwells
Sits snug in his inglenook,
Stretches his legs to the flame

And reads his book.

Ninepins – Rosy Thornton

Rosy Thornton’s new book is a departure in tone from her earlier books. Ninepins reads like a sophisticated thriller but a thriller that’s firmly based in the everyday lives of Laura & her daughter, Beth.

Laura & Beth live in a remote tollhouse in the fens. Laura rents out the former pumphouse to students to help make ends meet but her new tenant isn’t a student. Willow has been in care for the last few years & now, at 17, she’s ready to try independent living. She has had a troubled past with a neglectful mother & a history of attempted arson (which Laura only gradually discovers). Willow had seen the photo of the pumphouse & wanted to live there rather than in a bedsit in Cambridge. So, she arrives to have a look at the place with her social worker, Vince.

Laura is cautious about renting the pumphouse to Willow but is convinced by Vince & the fact that it’s too late in the year to find another student tenant. Willow seems a little remote but Beth takes to her & Laura tries to forget her reservations. Laura is also preoccupied by Beth, who’s at an awkward age between childhood & the teenage years. Beth seems to be unhappy at school & Laura doesn’t like some of the new friends she’s made. Beth suffers from asthma & Laura tries not to be overprotective. She also has an awkward relationship with Beth’s father, now remarried & with a new young family. The atmosphere at Ninepins becomes tense as winter approaches & the beautiful landscape of the fens becomes more threatening. And then the reappearance of Willow’s mother brings the tension to a new level.

Ninepins is an absorbing book. I love books set in remote, wintry landscapes & the atmosphere of the fens & the river is beautifully evoked. The house itself is a character in the plot, a brooding presence in the landscape. The heart of the book, though, is the relationship between Laura & Beth. Mother-daughter relationships can be strained, especially at the beginning of the teenage years when everything a mother says can be misunderstood as interference. For Laura, her feelings of inadequacy are increased by her broken marriage & her worries about Beth’s health & friendships. Her own growing relationship with Vince also puts some stress on her relationship with Beth. We also see events from Willow’s point of view which only adds to the sense of dread. The events at the end of the book will either clear the atmosphere or destroy Laura’s world forever.

Rosy Thornton kindly sent me a copy of Ninepins for review. You can read more about Rosy & her other books at her website here.

The Greatcoat – Helen Dunmore

Helen Dunmore’s new novel is an atmospheric ghost story. Set in Yorkshire in 1952, it’s the story of Isabel Carey & her growing obsession with the ghost of a young airman killed during WWII. Isabel & her husband Philip haven’t been married long. Philip is a GP & they’ve moved to Yorkshire so he can join a local practice. He’s out on call all the time & Isabel is slow to make friends. Their landlady, Mrs Atkinson, paces the floor in her flat upstairs night after night. The weather is freezing so when Isabel finds an old RAF greatcoat in a cupboard, she’s grateful for its warmth. That’s when Alec first appears.

Alec was a pilot, shot down on one of his last missions before he went on leave. On the first night that Isabel wears the greatcoat, there’s a tapping on the window & a man, a pilot is there when Isabel opens the curtains. She’s frightened & draws the curtains but the next time it happens, she convinces herself that the man is lost & needs help. Gradually, Alec appears whenever Isabel wears the coat. He obviously thinks she’s someone else as he assumes that she knows about his life. When Isabel is with him, she seems to be able to visit the past, Alec’s past. They visit the abandoned airfield near the village & it’s full of life, just as it would have been during the war. He sits on her bed, smoking one cigarette after another, jittery about another mission or trying to come down from the high of a mission completed.

The whole weight of the house seemed to press down on her. She was afraid again. Alec’s words echoed in her head, but now they were more than a promise: I’ll knock on your window. Swear you won’t go to sleep. She saw his eyes on her. Her heart clenched at the remembered expression on his face. He was outside in the dark and the wind, staring in at the warm, lit world. Whatever happened, she knew that Alec would come for her, and she would slip into that other life again, her mind clouded with memories that weren’t hers, her body moving to rhythms it had learned elsewhere. Nothing on earth could stop him from coming, or her from becoming that other woman, once he was there. There was no one strong enough to hold her back.

Isabel becomes obsessed with Alec as he visits her just before or just after a mission. Her loneliness & sense of isolation have made her vulnerable. She realises that if she stopped wearing the greatcoat, Alec would stop coming but she doesn’t want him to stop. Isabel gradually begins to discover why Alec is visiting her house & what part her mysterious landlady played in Alec’s story & the tragedy at its heart.
The Greatcoat is an absorbing story that beautifully evokes that grey period of austerity after WWII. The biting cold, Isabel’s growing estrangement from Philip & her isolation in the village are very real. Isabel’s life has been one of loss & loneliness from her childhood. She lacks confidence when shopping or making conversation & she’s intimidated by Mrs Atkinson. Philip is so absorbed in his new job, trying to save enough money for a home of their own, trying to prove himself as the new, young doctor, that he doesn’t have time to realize how desperately unhappy Isabel is. Isabel takes long walks in the country, visits the spookily abandoned airfield & feels an almost instant connection to Alec. The reader is with Isabel on her journey & I found it easy to believe what she believed. Alec hovers in that space between reality & the afterlife. Isabel has to find out what happened on the night Alec died so that she can set him free.

The Greatcoat reminded me of Susan Hill’s ghost stories. I loved the simplicity of the storytelling, the effortless way that Dunmore created that atmosphere of unhappiness that left Isabel open to Alec’s presence. The final chapters resolve some of the story but set up other troubles to come, after the end of the story, far into the future.

Sunday Poetry – Lord Byron

This is Byron (picture from here) in true Byronic mode. Tombs, graves, noxious nightshade, fond breast heaving a parting sigh & death. Written in 1818 & published after the poet’s death, it’s Romantic & romantic if a bit over the top.

If I forsake thee, early be my tomb,
My bed untended, and unwept my doom;
Around my grave let no fresh verdure spring,
No plaintive bird within its precincts sing;
Let no fair flower adorn my turfy bed,
No violets spring, no roses life their head;
But there let weeds, and noxious nightshade thrive;
There only what to life is fatal, live:
So shall mankind avoid the hated place,
Shunned and detested by the brutal race;
All bu the shrieking owl, and bat obscene,
Shall fly the relics of a thing so mean.

But if, as Heaven is witness, such shall be,
Death only can divorce my heart from thee;
If this fond breast shall heave its parting sigh,
Loth only, as ’tis leaving thee, to die;
The let affliction drop the pious tear,
The tribute sacred to the heart sincere:
Let no the gaudy pomps of seeming woe,
The paltry debt that pride to pride may owe – 
Let, while surviving summers still are thine,
Let all thy thoughts, thy tenderest thoughts, be mine;
And when thy peaceful course fulfilled in this,
The fate shall call thee to the world of bliss,
In one sepulchral mansion let us rest,
By the same simple grassy tomb compressed;
Let mingling urns our mutual loves requite,
And death which parted once, once more unite.

I’ve stopped buying books – really!

It may not look like it but I’ve stopped buying books for a while. The shock of putting my tbr shelves on Library Thing & realizing how many books I owned that I hadn’t read was enough to encourage me to retire the credit card for a little while. However, these are all pre-orders so they don’t count!

An Academic Question by Barbara Pym. I have read this but it was years ago & I don’t own a copy so I had to snap up this lovely new Virago edition.
Arcturus has a new imprint specializing in classic crime. Margery Allingham is one of my favourite Golden Age writers & these are her short stories, My Friend Mr Campion & Other Mysteries. They’ve also reprinted the first book in Martin Edwards’s Harry Devlin series, All the Lonely People. I enjoyed Waterloo Sunset when I read it some time ago & I love the Lake District mysteries so I look forward to Harry’s first case.

Chocolate Shoes and Wedding Blues is the new romance by Trisha Ashley. I always enjoy her books which always include a lot of cooking as well as English village life & a fine romance to wallow in.
Illyrian Spring by Ann Bridge is probably the book I’m most excited about. I’ve been reading enthusiastic reviews of this book on blogs for ages & Daunt Books have just reprinted it. It’s bound to be a great success as copies of the out of print Virago edition are expensive. Dani at A Work in Progress has also rushed out to buy a copy. I’ve been enjoying the Julia Probyn series since Bloomsbury Reader released the e-book editions & I enjoyed Peking Picnic as well.

Mrs Robinson’s Disgrace is the new book by Kate Summerscale, about a Victorian woman whose passion for a younger man leads to scandal & the divorce courts. I loved The Suspicions of Mr Whicher so I’m really looking forward to this.
A Nurse at the Front is the WWI diaries of Sister Edith Appleton. I love WWI letters & diaries & Edith nursed in France & Belgium throughout the war. This is part of a series of diaries published in association with the Imperial War Museum.

I’m not sure what I’ll read first. I’ve just finished Helen Dunmore’s The Greatcoat & I’m part way through Miss Mackenzie by Anthony Trollope & Queen Anne by Anne Somerset. Maybe one of these will be next?

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen – Paul Torday

If you would just like to read my review, feel free to skip this paragraph of technological explanation.

As I’m reviewing this book, which I was halfway through when my e-reader had a glitch, you can assume that the problem is fixed. Well, you’d be half right. One of the problems is fixed & I have no idea how we fixed it. I find that’s often the way with me & technology. It’s a fluke if something electrical starts working again & I can never work out how I fixed it. My friend P came over to hold my hand & we updated the firmware (which was already up to date ) & attempted to update the Reader software but the updates wouldn’t work. However, I accidentally tapped on a purchased e-book that I hadn’t been able to access & I was able to get in to it. By that stage I wasn’t looking for reasons I was just pleased to be able to read a book I’d paid for. I still can’t sync with the Reader software though. We uninstalled & reinstalled the software & I tried a couple of other clever ideas of P’s but no luck. Trying to contact Sony Support by phone or email is a nightmare so I may just have to take it back to the Sony Centre as I’ve only had the reader 4 months…

Anyway, enough of my technological woes. Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is a book about a project that, on the face of it, seems to be impossible. A very rich Yemeni landowner, Sheikh Muhammad, wants to introduce salmon fishing into his country. He instructs his estate managers to investigate the possibilities & Harriet Chetwode-Talbot, the project manager, contacts Dr Fred Jones of the National Centre for Fisheries Excellence. Fred’s initial reaction is that the idea is ridiculous but he is pressured by the head of his department to meet with Harriet.

Harriet & Fred meet Sheikh Muhammad at his estate in the Scottish Highlands & Fred begins to see that the Sheikh is not just a rich dilettante but a serious fisherman & a man with a real vision for the future of his country. Unfortunately not everyone in the Yemen feels the same way & the Sheikh is in danger from religious & political extremists who see the project as yet another imposition of the West & the Sheikh as a traitor. Fred’s scepticism diminishes as he becomes interested in the project from a scientific & logistical point of view. He also becomes more involved with Harriet although she is engaged to a soldier serving in the Middle East. Fred’s marriage to Mary, a financial advisor, is tepid to say the least & his experiences with the Sheikh & Harriet expand his horizons & lead him to reassess his life.

The project is hijacked by political considerations in the UK as well. The PM’s communications advisor, Peter Maxwell, sees it as the perfect good news story from the Middle East in contrast to the usual stories of death & destruction. As the problems of transporting fish to the Yemen, creating a suitable environment for them & eventually creating a new industry to being prosperity to the Yemen are being overcome, Maxwell’s main priority is the chance for a photo opportunity for the PM at the opening.

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is in the form of emails, diary entries, extracts from Peter Maxwell’s memoirs & the interviews at the enquiry that takes place after the events at the opening ceremony. The reader isn’t aware of what has happened until the end of the book & the ending is quite different from that of the recent movie. I enjoyed the movie, it’s what prompted me to read the book, but it didn’t have the satirical edge of the novel. The ending of the book is quite sombre as Fred reflects on the project & the way it changed his life.

Peter Maxwell is the typical political manipulator, ready to dump the project when the fishermen of Britain object to the salmon being taken from their rivers to stock the Sheikh’s wadi but happy to jump back on the bandwagon when he realises that all those fishermen vote & would love to see the PM in waders with a salmon caught in the Yemen.

The Sheikh is an interesting character. A man so rich he doesn’t have to count the cost of anything. He drinks whisky in Scotland but only water at home in deference to his Islamic heritage. He’s a man of faith who inspires practical, unemotional Fred to embrace a seemingly laughable idea & eventually believe in his vision. There’s a lot of detail about salmon breeding, salmon fishing & salmon culture. I probably know more than I needed to know but I enjoyed reading about it. It certainly didn’t feel as though the author crammed in every bit of his research because Fred was obsessed with his work & his single-mindedness was an important part of the story.

I enjoyed reading Salmon Fishing in the Yemen. It’s drily funny, romantic & full of obscure information about salmon that I probably won’t be able to forget.

Letters of a Woman Homesteader – Elinore Pruitt Stewart

This book is another excellent choice made by the conveners of my 19th century bookgroup. Letters of a Woman Homesteader (photo from here) is the story of Elinore Pruitt told in letters to her former employer, Mrs Coney. Elinore was a widow with a two year old daughter, Jerrine, when she decided to leave Denver where she had worked as a laundress, & go out to Burnt Fork, Wyoming as housekeeper to homesteader Clyde Stewart. Elinore longed for the great outdoors & felt stifled in town. Another incentive for the move was the fact that she could file a claim on land to build herself a home when she could afford it.

The overwhelming flavour of these letters is good humour. One of the bookgroup commented that Elinore was the kind of person who never met a stranger. I can’t put it any better than that. Elinore was a kind, helpful, practical woman who saw the good in everyone she met. She had replied to an ad placed by Mr Stewart &, when you think about it, that was taking a leap in the dark. To set out on a long journey into unknown territory with a stranger & a young child was quite a leap of faith. Elinore was very practical. She doesn’t confess this to Mrs Coney for some time but she & Mr Stewart were married only six weeks after arriving in Wyoming & she had been prepared to take this step from the beginning. The marriage may have begun as a practical proposition but it seems to have been happy. Elinore was a hard worker & not above bamboozling her husband to get her own way but she is genuinely fond of him & Jerrine (who also writes a letter to Mrs Coney) calls him “Our Clyde”.

Elinore’s appreciation of nature & the landscape of her new home is one of the beauties of the letters. On a trip to Green River, “I had more fun to the square inch than Mark Twain or Samantha Allen ever provoked.” They camped out on the week-long trip & only saw one house.

After driving all day over what seemed a level desert of sand, we came about sundown to a beautiful cañon, down which we had to drive for a couple of miles before we could cross. In the cañon the shadows had already fallen, but when we looked up we could see the last shafts of sunlight on the tops of the great bare buttes. … The violet shadows were creeping up between the hills, while away back of us the snow-capped peaks were catching the sun’s last rays. On every side of us stretched the poor, hopeless desert, the sage, grim and determined to live in spite of starvation, and the great, bare, desolate buttes… Then we stopped to camp, and such a scurrying around to gather brush for the fire and to get supper!… It was too beautiful a night to sleep, so I put my head out to look and to think. I saw the moon come up and hang for a while over the mountain as if it were discouraged with the prospect, and the big white stars flirted shamelessly with the hills.

On her journeys, Elinore makes friends. On a camping trip she took with her daughter Jerrine, they are at risk of being lost when she comes across the lonely homestead of Zebulon Pike, a southerner who had lived alone with his animals for many years. He takes them in & next day helps them find their way. Elinore is troubled to think that Zeb has had no contact with his family for years (he’d left home after an unhappy love affair), so she writes to his sisters & tells him about his life. The result is that he makes a trip home to see his family & Elinore & her husband even arrange for someone to stay at Zeb’s farm & care for his animals. This is the pattern of Elinore’s life. She soon meets all her neighbours & becomes involved in the life of the community.

Elinore’s voice is comfortable & chatty. She begins one of her letters,

Dear Mrs Coney,
I feel just like visiting to-night, so I am going to “play like” you have come. It is so good to have you to chat with. Please be seated in this low rocker; it is a present to me from the Pattersons and I am very proud of it. I am just back from the Patterson ranch, and they have a dear little boy who came the 20th of November and they call him Robert Lane.

Elinore’s life is not without its sadnesses & challenges. Her first baby with Mr Stewart dies & she writes movingly of Jamie’s death & the fact that she read the service herself as there was no minister,

For a long time my heart was crushed. He was such a sweet, beautiful boy. I wanted him so much. He died of erysipelas. I held him in my arms until the last agony was over. Then I dressed the beautiful little body for the grave. Clyde is a carpenter; so I wanted him to make the little coffin. He did it every bit, and I lined and padded it, trimmed and covered it… it was a sad pleasure to do everything for our little first born ourselves. As there had been no physician to help, so there was no minister to comfort, and I could not bear to let our baby leave the world without leaving any message to a community that sadly needed it. His little message to us had been love, so I selected a chapter from John and we had a funeral service, at which all our neighbours for thirty miles around were present. So you see, our union is sealed by love and welded by a great sorrow.

Elinore had no formal education as she spent her childhood looking after younger siblings after the death of her parents when she was 14. She was a great reader & her letters are full of allusions to her favourite books. The letters span the years from 1909-1914. Elinore’s homestead still exists & her family are raising money for its restoration. There are photos of it here. I loved reading about Elinore’s hard but happy life. I downloaded my copy of Letters of a Woman Homesteader for free from ManyBooks. It’s also available from Girlebooks.

How many beds does one cat need?

I’ve finally decided that Lucky & Phoebe have enough places to sleep. They probably had enough places to sleep before I started buying beds, futons & igloos.

Lucky is happy with her blanket, my lap, the futon on the back porch in warmer weather & my bed at night. Of course, I thought I knew better.

I saw a tartan cat igloo with lambswool interior in the Snooza catalogue & thought Lucky would love it. She’s always loved burrowing under her blanket & I put some of her blanket inside the igloo to give it her scent. You might notice though that that’s not Lucky in the igloo! Even with Lucky’s smell all over it, Phoebe has decided that the igloo is her newest sleeping place. She usually moves in there after she warmed herself in front of the heater by sitting along the top of my armchair.

Lucky never showed the slightest interest in the igloo so, don’t worry, I’m not contemplating another trip to the Snooza website. I took this photo of Lucky yesterday morning. It was a very cold, wet morning & the rain had just stopped so I put the girls’ day beds out on the porch. Phoebe settled straight down (that’s the photo at the top of the post) on her bed & went back to sleep & Lucky sat down on the top step, ignoring her futon entirely. Typical, really.