My review contains spoilers and they're mostly my thoughts...
Miss Milton Speaks Her Mind isn’t one of Carla Kelly’s best but it wasn’t bad either. I enjoyed it more than I thought I would because the first half of the story went over my head completely. The other half, of course, made the read worthwhile.
Miss Milton Speaks Her Mind is an older release by Ms. Kelly; a traditional (clean) regency at that. The story begins with Miss Milton AKA our h, Jane and her monologues. This book is mainly based on her POVs, though not first person. She’s the poor relation to a Marquess, Lord Denby. Orphaned at a young age, Jane had to go to the workhouse; an incident that had shaped her life so far. She had to grow up early, and ever since she’s been brought back as a charity case to Lord Denby’s household when her mother died, she’s been cruelly shown her place in the world many, many times. Though Lord Denby’s son Blair was nice to her, his sister, Lady Carruthers was another thing. She’s a mean, viciously entitled woman and a bully to boots. As a result, Jane has always been left in a place of neither a lady, nor a servant. More like a governess. If Lady Carruthers could, she’d be a servant of Denby House by now. However, Jane has persisted, maintaining a semblance of dignity so far.
But things have changed drastically over the years. Blair got married young, had a child, then his wife Lucinda died in a carriage accident. It cast a pall over the household that is yet to lift. It seemed like the Denby’s bad luck began that day. Andrew, around 2 months old that time, was given into the complete care of an 18 yrs. old Jane. Blair, who was in the army, was no longer a part of the household. He’d be gone for years on end not bothering with his son, or anyone else. His visits were few and far between and he showed little interest in the child after Lucinda’s death. Rumors started, most probably by Lady Carruthers who had planned on snagging the Marquesate after Denby’s passing by making her brainless, lazy son Cecil the heir. Did I mention he was also a gambler? It was bandied about that Lucinda committed suicide out of guilt cause Andrew isn’t Blair’s son. Even Lord Denby seemed to believe it. He also never took any interest in Andrew. That poor little boy, who had no one but Jane as his champion. Jane who strongly believe that he was Blair’s.
But Jane was also quite naïve, yet kindness itself. She was way too kind I’d say, if there’s even anything like that. She had loved Andrew as her own, who calls her Miss Mitten, instead of Miss Milton. :) Sadly he’s also aware of the situation now that’s he’s turned 12, forced to grow up fast to face the cruel world. They didn’t have to go out to listen to the gossip; a visit from Lady C anytime would suffice! She made sure to tally Jane’s shortcomings and why Andrew should never be the heir, while she sat there doing nothing but eating and taking credits for everything Jane and the servants did.
Things turned bad when Blair came home severely wounded, on death’s door. He lingered on for months, and wouldn’t let anyone but Jane and Stanton, their butler, take care of him. Even the village doctor balked in taking care of him so it was all left to Jane; sitting there day and after day, with an invalid who has a life-threatening wound that could turn ghastly at any time. The description is not given in the beginning but something horrible happened that left Jane traumatized; so much so she couldn’t even sleep peacefully any longer. And she had no help, no one to talk to. Then Lady C’s blatant way of nagging and wheedling Lord Denby into establishing Cecil in any way possible was taking a toll on her. Jane wanted Andrew to have what’s his but what power did she have if Lord Denby decided to give it all over to Cecil? If he’s made the heir... Jane can’t even think of it!
Since Blair’s death, Lord Denby has taken to his bed, as if to will death to come and take him too. It was a sad state of affair, though Lady C was very happy about the whole thing. A desperate Jane begins thinking of something to ‘rejuvenate’ the cranky old man. Lord Denby was also in the army and he’d written a best-selling handbook of sorts on how any British Soldier appointed overseas should behave. When the book arrives, it was enough excuse for her to plan a get-together of Lord Denby’s old comrades. Stanton agreed to help her too. All they now have to do is convince the man in question.
About this point, the story was rather dragging with no big bang. And I had no idea who the H was. In the beginning, I thought that the doctor, Mr. Lowe, maybe a candidate cause Jane seemed to have an easy companionship with him. But they were seen together maybe once or twice before a new, whimsical character is introduced; Mr. Scipio Africanus Butterworth. :o Yeah, that’s his name believe it or not. Jane and Andrew even had fun between themselves imagining calling him “Sippy”. :P Oh my God, I laughed my a$$ off to that. He maybe many things, a Sippy Mr. Butterworth was not! :D
So who was Scipio Africanus Butterworth? Scipio, though in the whole story he goes by as Mr. Butterworth, in plain terms, is a mill owner and Lady C has always taken great pleasure in saying he stank of the shop. New money and no class. But in truth he had more class than Lady C will ever have. Mr. Butterworth has worked hard and earned money owning cotton mills. He’s got brain and he utilized it. Now he’s as rich as Croesus if not more. He bought the estate abutting Lord Denby’s and has been a thorn on his side ever since. Though there has been no serious issue between the neighbors, Lord Cranky likes to be, uh, cranky and made various excuses to rattle Scipio, which he bore with his easy grace. These days, Lord Denby is too subdued to even bother, another reason that worried Jane.
Mr. Butterwoth has been Jane’s friend for these past 10yrs. that he’s been living here. When we met him, it was quite obvious that he and Jane had a very established, and equally affectionate, companionship. Mr. Butterworth was...I don’t know, just a good, caring man. He was tall, you can call him a Gentle Giant I guess and quite goodlooking. He wore glasses and worked hard but he was also superbly witty and charming. Jane had taken an immediate liking to him, and so had Andrew once he’s been old enough to understand kindness. Even though Lady C hated this relationship, Jane tried her best to never curtail her visit to Mr. Butterworth. Even if it meant hearing Lady C scolding the daylights out of her, calling her all sorts of things. She’d do the same for Andrew and try her best to get Lady C’s nastiness off of him anyway possible so that he can also visit him.
After Mr. Butterworth came into the spotlight is when the story began rushing. I was simply glued to know how their relationship will unfold and evolve. He knew of Jane’s situation, also knew that Jane was too nice to say anything to Lady C. Maybe she felt indebted that she’s got a roof over her head and meals to go with it, which made her never to think of herself. She kept giving without receiving anything in return. At times, Jane was the maid-of-all tricks, she was always running from here to there, doing this and that. The entire Denby Hall relied on her in a way that servants noticed all too well. She was polite to them, and was rewarded for it as well. Andrew was never neglected, even if he starved for parental affection that he never got. Mr. Butterworth simply had to put his foot down and remind Jane to speak her mind. That it’s time she begins thinking of herself.
This got Jane’s mind whirring but someone who has never known anything better, it takes a lot just to imagine what life would be like where she can have her own home, do whatever she liked without having to be afraid of being caught and scolded. Without any presence of Lady C anywhere. At the moment though, she was busy with the help of Mr. Butterworth, managing that reunion, planning and writing the invitation cards that needed to be send out ASAP. Lady C didn’t want any part of it but thankfully, Lord Denby showed some sign of life and accepted this plan. It seemed the thought of seeing his old comrades started rejuvenating him already, which, in turn, made Jane’s hope soar. Maybe it’d be a while before Cecil can sink his claws on Denby fortune, and Lady C becomes the sole proprietress of Denby Hall. After all, that was her plan from the beginning. Again, a thought that makes Jane shudder with all it’s bad vibe.
Jane and Scipio’s romance was a very slow burn, almost unnoticeable at first. You will think there’s something there but both were very polite and wasn’t forthcoming. In the 10yrs. they’ve known each-other, it’s difficult to believe that neither took any step to acknowledge their budding feelings! This was one of the things that really struck me. However, when Andrew began his Latin lessons with Mr. Butterworth and Jane, slowly but surely, began speaking her mind here and there, things started changing. It wasn’t all good and smooth, but it was a start! And she began feeling comfortable about her budding feelings for the Mill Owner. Since the story is based on Jane’s POV, we get to know that she had at first thought Mr. Butterworth was too old for her. But the more they got to know each-other, she knew the 14yrs. of age difference is actually nothing. Especially when she’s pushing 30 herself. I wish we had a few chapters from Scipio’s POV as well. That would’ve been fun!
As Christmas came closer, Scipio invites Jane and Andrew to his sister’s home where he spends his Christmases with his nieces and nephews. He also has plans of expanding his business venture into that area. It wasn’t until a month spend in sheer bliss with a loving family that Jane finally realized what she was missing. Emma was married to Robert. They already had 4 lovely children, another on the way (makes her appearance right before Christmas :D). Jane needed this for herself, and definitely for Andrew. By then she knew she’d fallen in love with the Mill Owner, but what about him? Apart from his ever polite friendship, was there anything else? Jane couldn’t think of a reason why he should be interested in her beyond friendship.
Until the end, there were a few things that were bugging me in the story. For one, Jane understood very quickly that Mr. Butterworth is the happiest living with Emma’s family. He really could move there easily. So questions arose in her mind as to WHY was he living a lonely existence so far away? Emma and Robert both were vague about it, though they did confirm that Scipio wrote a lot about Jane (and definitely Andrew). I thought, obviously it has to be Jane! And because of Jane’s relationship with Andrew, he’s taken an interest in him as well. But my thoughts changed when, at one point, Mr. Butterworth subtly yet strongly thank Jane for taking such good care of Andrew. That point of the story, to me, felt like some kinda revelation. I was thinking... could it be? OMG! :o His interest in Andrew, at first, seemed random enough. But after I read that bit, I didn’t think it was just because of Jane he was living near Denby Hall!
After Jane and Andrew return from their Christmas sojourn, one day a handsome stranger drops by at Denby Hall, taking it quite by storm. Jane mistook him for the handyman that Mr. Butterworth promised. He even got directly down to work without questioning anything; not that Jane gave him any chance. But things were about to be unraveled where Lord Denby was concerned, and a long kept secret he’d been hiding all these years.
But I was more interested in Mr. Butterworth’s interest in Andrew. As big revelations were taking place, my suspicions were confirmed. Andrew, indeed, was Scipio’s son. Though initially I was rather disgusted, thinking Lucinda cheated on Blair, that proved to be wrong (thank God!). Lucinda and Scipio knew each-other before she ever met Blair. Even with that age difference, things got too deep too soon. Scipio thought he was in love and wanted to marry her, most especially when he found out she’s with child, but Lucinda had other plans. She had no interest in marrying someone so common as him. She snared Blair and got married ASAP to save her face. After her death, Scipio moved near Denby Hall to be closer to his son, and be a part of his life in any way possible. Blair likely already knew, which is the reason why he stayed away from home. We will never know for sure, which is rather sad. In the end though, it seemed like Andrew will inherit regardless of his parentage since Blair had already acknowledged him as his own.
The reason why I revealed this part is because, after the revelation, if felt like even the good-hearted Mr. Butterworth was after something. He also had a reason to charm Jane. This poor girl had nothing in her life and she was dreaming of being something in his! She never felt genuinely needed by anyone, except for Andrew who was growing fast and would’ve gone away to find his own place in the world soon. It seemed no one really wanted Jane just for herself, and I can’t explain how sad I felt knowing that. Even she understood that after Andrew’s parentage was revealed. And it broke my heart because she was so, so hurt. No, she wasn’t angry on anyone (even if I was on her behalf), Jane was too forgiving for that, but still hurt that she wasn’t the reason why Mr. Butterworth chose to be close to Denby Hall. Worse still, it seemed like he still harbored some kind of affection for Lucinda!
But the short ending was really beautiful where Scipio acknowledges that he’d been in love with Jane ever since their first meeting. That he got over Lucinda fast when her rejection opened his eyes. Even though Andrew was a big part of it, he’d come to realize long ago that Jane was the most important part of his and his son’s life. They can’t imagine their life without her in it. Only he didn’t think anything could be come of it. Jane may have been a poor relation to a Lord, Scipio thought her a lady and wasn’t about to be ditched by another one and get his heart trampled on all over again. So he’d decided to admire her from afar. All that confusion, if only they’d talk they could’ve been together way before now. *sigh* Anyway, it was easy for me to forgive him when his proclamation of love made Jane the happiest person alive. Oh Scipio already knew of her feelings, and not exactly from her own mouth... but I’ll leave you to find out exactly how.
Another thing was, I wanted to know more about Scipio’s, uh, not to common name. I wanted to know the whole backstory for this has to be one of the oddest hero names I’ve ever read. :| I even thought the author would explore it a bit, and give us some background but there was nothing. But Jane did let him know what she and Andrew secretly called him. heehee :P There were also some hints about Scipio having a past but nothing was ever said or revealed about that, another thing that made this story incomplete IMO.
Finally, I felt a story for Dale would’ve been so so good! Who is Dale? Read and find out. But trust me when I tell you that he is a character you’d want to know better. Too bad he didn’t have many pages in this story, and there never was a book for him. :(
I did enjoy Miss Milton Speaks Her Mind but I wasn’t quite in love with this story for reasons I stated above. 3.5 stars.