Fletchers End (cover picture from here) is the kind of book that I put down after reading with a very satisfied sigh. I’m continuing my exploration of Open Library’s holdings of Stevenson novels &, again, this is destined to be a favourite.
Bel Lamington is engaged to Ellis Brownlee, her boss at the firm where he’s a partner. Their romance is told in the novel, Bel Lamington, which I haven’t read. I seem to be making a habit of reading Stevenson’s books out of order. It doesn’t seem to matter though, as she’s very good at filling in the back story. Bel & Ellis are looking for a house in the country to live in once they’re married. Ellis’s work will keep him in London but neither want to live there. They find Fletchers End, a beautiful but neglected house near the village of Archersfield. Bel sees it first, with her friend, Louise Armstrong, & immediately falls in love with it.
The house had belonged to a Miss Lestrange, a difficult, spiky woman who enjoyed playing her relations off against one another. She left the house to her nephew, Roy, a naval officer, who had neglected the house & let it fall into a state of disrepair. The housekeeper, Mrs Warmer, lovingly cares for the house & dreads the day when someone buys it & she has to leave. So far, no one has been brave enough to take it on, with the window frames rotting & the unkempt garden. But Bel can see past the superficial problems & is in tune with the heart of the house. She loves the feel of the rooms & is enchanted by a definite though mysterious scent of violets in the drawing room. Ellis & his architect friend, Reggie Stephenson, look the place over with a more practical eye but Ellis knows that he will buy the house if Bel wants it & they soon arrive at a price with the absent owner through his lawyer, Mr Tennant.
While work proceeds on the house, Bel & Ellis are married from Louise’s home which she shares with her father, the local doctor. They decide to spend the winter in Bel’s tiny London flat as Ellis’s business is demanding & he needs to be on hand. One of the partners is ill & the junior partner, James Copping, is inexperienced & floundering more than a little. Bel agrees to go back to work as James’s secretary & she enjoys mentoring the young man & feeling that she’s earning her own money & helping Ellis at the same time. They enjoy their winter in London but by spring, the house is ready & waiting for them to really begin their married life.
Roy Lestrange turns up one day to see what has happened to his old house. He’s charming but irresponsible, dedicated to his career but with no real feeling for the house or his aunt. He’s the kind of man who takes what he wants & worries about payment much later. Louise seems to be quite smitten with him, which worries Bel, as she discovers on a visit to Oxford, just how selfish Roy is. Louise is a beautiful girl who has had many suitors, chief among them Alec Drummond, who they met on a visit to Scotland. Louise is fond of Alec but won’t marry him because she can’t respect him. He’s the heir to a respected firm selling whiskey & spirits but spends all his time fishing & hunting. Alec stays with Bel & Ellis one weekend & the true story emerges. The business is in dire straits & Alec has come to his senses & is determined to turn things around. Louise realises just how much she loves Alec but he won’t consider marrying her when he has so little to offer.
Meanwhile, Bel is delighting in Fletchers End & all it has to offer. She & Mrs Warmer share a love of the house & soon, plans are afoot to resurrect the garden. Since the renovations were done in the drawing room, the scent of violets has vanished but Bel soon forgets about this little oddity with so much else to think about. Bel buys a portrait of the original owner of the house, Mrs Violet Lestrange, & a bureau from Roy & is pleased to think that the benevolent old lady, wearing a posy of violets in the portrait, is home again. However, the discovery of a will written by Miss Lestrange, leaving the house to another member of the family, threatens to send all Bel & Ellis’s dreams crashing down.
I loved this book. I loved the descriptions of the house, the renovations, the revival of the garden, all of it. I enjoy books about old houses being rescued, especially when there’s a gentle hint of the supernatural (that scent of violets). There’s lots of description of the house & talk of the original owners, the fletchers who made arrows in the original dwellings, two houses that were combined long ago & now had only the two small staircases & the rather odd proportions to indicate that they had ever been separate dwellings.
As Bel went up to bed, she paused on the halfway landing and listened to the silence. She loved the silence of Fletchers End. Then, after a few moments, she heard the old house whispering to itself … a curious sighing sound, a gentle creak … all the little secret sounds that an old house makes at night! You could imagine that you heard the rustle of a silken gown – but you know it was really the soft night air in the leaves of the aspen tree outside the staircase window.
Bel is a lovely heroine. She’s almost incredulous at her good fortune but never forgets to be grateful. Her life before marrying Ellis had been lonely & financially precarious but she can’t quite realise that she has found safe harbour. Fletchers End is a comforting book that drew me in to an enchanted world of old houses, country life & romance.