The Priory

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Another gem from Whipple. Despite the name, nothing religious in this one, except the fact that the ancient manor had some ruins from medieval times when pilgrims used to swing through on their way from Canterbury. She does a marvelous job with characters and descriptions, sucking you in from the beginning with a view of the individuals in the darkened manor, waiting for their father/brother to get home and turn on the lights because money was scarce. The two sisters, Christine and Penelope, are grown adults but linger in their nursery since they take pleasure in each other’s company more than that of their father and his sister, the formidable Aunt Victoria.

Their father, the Major, decides to remarry, someone needs to take the house in hand and help him ignore the bills that stack up in his desk drawer. The only thing he takes pleasure in is cricket, and he spends exorbitant sums fielding a match at his estate each summer. He marries Anthea, a neighboring old maid who he thinks will give him little trouble, which she does until unexpectedly getting pregnant and giving birth to twins. She welcomes Nurse Pye into the fold, a soon to be bosom friend who seems to be the only one to help her with the babies. Christine marries the handsome Nicholas and quickly has a baby before she discovers one of his infidelities after the woman mails her a copy of the hotel bill. Penelope marries a man that she met at her father’s wedding, a rich fat man who adores her and frees her from life at Saunby. Aunt Victoria is packed off to the village inn once she’s asked by Anthea to contribute money to the household expenses; she continues to paint on the grounds of the estate and is quite happy.

Christine leaves Nicholas and his rich father, takes Angela, the baby, to Saunby, only to find that Anthea asks her to leave soon. Nicholas and his father arrive to demand that she return to him, and she refuses, saying it would be like being forced to eat something that had just made her sick. She gets rescued by Penelope and installed in their house, but finds that she must get a job and she’s uneducated and unqualified for work. She gets a job in a salon in London as a receptionist and lives in a boarding house during the week while Angela is coo’ed over by Penelope, who shocks Christine by saying she wants to adopt her. Furious, Christine refuses, but then must let Angela go for a month vacation to Cornwall while she works for £2 a week in London, not enough to cover her expenses plus train fare for the weekend trips to see her daughter (so she pawns things). Coming back from the Cornwall trip, Angela gets pneumonia and nearly dies, shaking Christine to her senses and enabling her to reach out to Nicolas’s parents for help. Nicholas, too, has left, trying to find a job and make something of himself. He returns as the country is on the threshold of war, and his father comes up with a plan to save Saunby (it’s for sale) by buying it, installing tenants who will help work the land and create industry, keeping Christine’s father in one part, plus Christine/Nicholas/Angela, plus the father and mother.

Happily ever after and all that. From penniless gentry chaos, weddings, learning to earn your own living (lots of emphasis on how her daughter would be educated and learn to make her way in the world), to saving the old manor.