Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Tuesdays Tomes: The Shadow of the Rope by E.W. Hornung

Tuesdays Tomes is a weekly review of vintage books available free on-line.
(Sorry for missing the past two weeks but I just didn't have any time to read while we were away...too busy sightseeing! :)

The Shadow of the Rope by E.W. Hornung

Romance? Mystery? While its hard for me to assign this book a genre, it is easy for me for say how delightful it is.

Young Rachel, alone in the world, jumps at the opportunity to travel from Australia to England as a lady’s companion. On the long crossing, she meets Alexander Minchin. They marry as soon as the boat docks. At first, things go well but soon Mr. Minchin begins to drink heavily and to gamble more heavily. They fight. She finally determines to leave him and having packed her trunk, goes out looking for a hansom cab. On returning, she is shocked to find the police in her home. Mr. Minchin is dead-shot- and she is accused of the crime!

Acquitted of the murder by the jury but not by public opinion, Rachel finds herself penniless and alone. White-haired Mr. Steel, who sat everyday at her trial, offers his assistance. She is hesitant- why would this man, a perfect stranger, want to help her? She has heard of other women, acquitted of horrible crimes, that are later besieged by marriage offers…is this his intention?

She accepts his help because she truly has no other choice, and because he clearly states that she will have her own rooms at a respectable hotel. The next morning he does propose marriage-a completely platonic one. His explanation of why wants to marry her is one of the delights of this book.

I want a wife; or rather, my neighbors seem bent upon finding me one; and, if the worst has to come to the worst, I prefer to choose for myself. Matrimony, however, is about the very last state of life that I desire, and I take it to be the same with you. Therefore--to put the cart before the horse--you would suit me ideally. One's own life would be unaltered, but the Delverton mothers would cease from troubling, and at the head of my establishment there would be a lady of whom I should be most justly proud.

Take that, Mrs. Bennet!

What should Rachel do? Considering her last hasty marriage, you would think she would give Mr. Steel’s offer a pass but she is truly friendless. They marry and after a tour of Europe, they return to his large estate in Yorkshire. She lives in fear of anyone realizing who she is-her innocence and acquittal seem scant protection from the notoriety-and she lives filled with curiosity about Mr. Steel’s never referred to past.

The Yorkshire characters are truly wonderful. We first meet them in Chapter 9-now a favorite of mine: kindly Reverend Hugh Woodgate , his young wife Morna and the incomparable Mrs. Venables (who thought Mr. Steel barely 45 when she wanted him for one of her daughters but now thinks him 65 at the very least). Another interesting and important character is Charles Langholm, a fiction writer.

The novels of Charles Langholm were chiefly remarkable for their intricate plots, and for the hope of better things that breathed through the cheap sensation of the best of them.”

I had to wonder if the author was thinking of himself but my favorite comment is yet to come.

"What!" he cried; "you call yourself a lady, and you don't look at the end before you reach it?"

Ahh, from now on, I will not feel guilty when I peek at the end of a book.

That’s it for now…you’ll have to read this 1902 novel to find out more about Rachel and Mr. Steel. This is the second novel by E.W. Hornung (brother-in-law of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle) that I’ve read and I liked it even more than the first. (You can read that review here.)

Read by Christine DuFour, you can download this free audio-book here or the free e-book in pdf., e-pub., or Kindle format here.

Some rather cheesy yet romantic illustrations


Elaine/Muddling Through said...

Okay, Miri, you've tempted me. I'm going to listen to it. It sounds good! Thanks.

Heather said...

thanks for the recommendation. I have now downloaded several of his novels to try.

Roslyn said...

Oh Miri I am downloading this book it sounds right up m alley thx for the review!