My review contains spoilers and they're mostly my thoughts...
The Lady’s Companion by Carla Kelly is the latest in her backlist I finished a few days ago. It was amazing, to say the least. A very heartwarming traditional regency with an sweet heroine, a superb hero made grand with Ms. Kelly’s beautiful storytelling.
I decided to bring The Lady’s Companion up my TBR pile because for a reason. A few months ago, I read another book by Ms. Kelly titled Marriage of Mercy, where the reviewers criticized the book for having almost the same storyline as this one. Marriage of Mercy is a later publication (2012) whereas The Lady’s Companion was first released in 1996. The whole notion definitely intrigued me. I was expecting a pretty same storyline with different names for characters, and I agree with them to a certain extent. However, the storyline itself was very different. I mean very, if you can excuse the first 2 chapters where the h Susan’s fate spin almost exactly like that of Grace’s. I would call it plagiarism had the later not also been Ms. Kelly’s publication. I still don’t know how can anyone say both had the same stories so I decided I’m just gonna ignore it and enjoy. Which I did thank you!
Susan Hampton, daughter to Sir Rodney, should’ve had an amazing life with balls and parties and dreams of suitors, marriage and her own family. But no thanks to her spendthrift father, it’s now all just that— a dream. Since her mother passed when she was young, Susan, now 25, had been living on her father’s extravagant, and very fantastical, dreams of this and that—a grand life with loads of money he’d win of these days. Sir Rodney’s gambling habit was so extreme that everyone knew him, and avoided him as much as possible. So far, he’d sold every single thing worth selling one by one to get the money needed. Not only that, he has to live like a peer of the realm that he was, which he does even if he can’t afford it. You can only imagine Susan’s shattered dreams as well as disillusionment.
At one point, when they had to resort to living with her pinch-penny Aunt, as their own house was lost in another ‘grand scheme of thing’, is when Susan has had enough of this crap. She wasn’t going to be the maid-of-all-tricks for her Aunt and fade away as a spinster. Her father’ll never change and nothing good will ever happen unless she stepped up and did something for herself. So, against all odds and all the discouragement from her family, Susan seeks out an employment agency to find a job. She was good in many things a governess should know. The rest she could learn.
Even though the agency had nothing at hand to offer her, the proprietor, one Joel Steinman, asks if Susan would like to be the lady’s companion to an old Dragon whose DIL, the current Lady Bushnell, is at a lost and desperately in search of one. There have been many in the past few months that came and went, couldn’t even stay for a few weeks. They were all turned off by the Dowager herself. Even though she’s quite old and have been ill, she won’t take any help. Lady Bushnell, who had been a widow for a while now has decided to remarry so she wants her MIL to be in good hands.
Susan passed the initial test when Lady Bushnell hired her on spot, though quite doubtful of Susan’s chances of being employed for long. And that’s all Susan knew when she journeys towards the Bushnell country estate where the Dowager lived with her very few servants. Pretty scared and alone, all by herself, Susan knew if she’s turned away she can do nothing else but to return to her family. And she didn’t want to if she could help it! So she must make herself useful enough for the Dowager to keep her. Now to wait for the bailiff to come and get her, as Mr. Steinman had instructed.
David Wiggins comes by at the inn, in the middle of the night, to check out the newest addition to the household staff, pretty much sure she won’t last a month. Like he was utterly sure, especially when he found the little Miss (Susan was short) to be a pretty little thing and much younger than the other lady’s companions. Now, being a soldier, David hasn’t lived the life of a saint and Miss Hampton interests him on the get go. BUT, David has changed since the war ended and he’d settled down to be Lady Bushnell’s bailiff some 5/6 years ago. His life now revolves around all the estate work that he can do being the only able bodied man around, plus his own Waterloo grain seeds that he’s been experimenting with. David has no time to think of anything else.
Susan found David to be tall and quite attractive and definitely much younger than she’d thought he’d be, only 33 or thereabout. But it was also clear that he’s not English when his Welsh accent bleed through his perfect English. David has done his best to hide his origins from everyone but it wasn’t always helpful with his dark Welsh looks and accidental lapse of accent. We learn gradually that his wasn’t a blessed life as his mother was a prostitute who died leaving him young. He never knew his father. You can only imagine how he lived until he was forced to come into England, change his name (I was never sure whether he changed his complete name or just his surname) and join the Army. He tried his best to wash away his Welsh root, of which he wasn’t that proud of, by learning better English and how to read and write. He copied the lords who joined the army by buying commission and tried his best to imitate. He was good in his lesson and has done a good job in the army. He was a Sergeant Major when the war ended, now retired to become a farmer. And David Wiggins knew he had no chance with a lady like Susan Hampton, no matter that she’s now come down her high ladder. No matter what he feels for her.
But when you begin living with people in such close quarters, see them every day and begin to know them by heart, your perspective change. Susan was never as snotty as the rest of her family to begin with, seeing what a loser her father was. In contrast, David was hardworking and honest, whatever his past may have been. And he was very very caring of Lady Bushnell whom he’d met during the war. Susan saw nothing wrong with him and it stayed that way till the end.
Now, Lady Bushnell was one of those characters who stay with you for a while. She was one of those wives who accompanied their husbands in every battlefield. Her daughter Elizabeth also accompanied them until, on one fateful day, both father and daughter were killed together. She’s an old Dragon in the sense that she maybe old but still mentally very strong. She pretty much rode with the Army and saw everything they saw in a battlefield. She brought back the bodies of her loved ones and buried them. A few years later, when her other family, her only son Charles died in another battle she had no one to call her own. None of her children had issues of their own so she knew her family line dies here. Even with all the tragedies she’d seen, all the heartache she’d experienced (hers was a love match with the Colonel), Lady Bushnell hated becoming old and surrendering her independence to that dratted thing. She hated it so much that she’d rather be alone than have people pamper and smother her, which her DIL means to do. She knew that her DIL means well, but that’s not a life Lady Bushnell wanted. And so went the lady’s companions one by one, until Susan joined and tried her best to change that scenario.
No, Susan’s first day under the scrutiny of her new employer didn’t start smoothly. In fact, she was sure the Dowager would turn her off soon enough. Even David Wiggins’s impromptu, and very surprising, marriage proposal couldn’t help her. After all, she didn’t know him well no matter how attracted she was to him, or he to her. :) When Susan was feeling the most helpless, Lady Bushnell calms her down by saying she’d decided to give her a trial period, which was all she was asking for. A little time to prove herself. I knew there was something in that first meeting. Lady Bushnell knew of Susan’s background, and she may have, just may have felt a little sympathy, and maybe a little tenderness that she wouldn’t show at all. A girl from a peer’s family wouldn’t ever resort to some type service unless her situation was quite dire indeed.
This begins a new chapter in Susan’s life that she found she was very much enjoying. Even though her employer was rather distant, and can be cold at times, Susan couldn’t dislike her. The mother and daughter duo in the kitchen become her best friends in no time. She liked everything about the estate too, including that Waterloo seeds that the bailiff dreamt of farming one day. Then, there was the bailiff himself who made Susan feel weak in her knees with both his wit and charm.
The more she begins learning of Lady Bushnell’s background—her courageous efforts that now made her a national treasure, and the tragedies that befell her— the more Susan begins falling in love with her employer. She had always missed her mother’s love, and Lady Bushnell, in a way, reminded her of her mother. The individuals may not have been the same in any way, but the void that they both had after losing each of their loved ones, came into play here as I had hoped it would. At one point, Susan knew her job was quite safe. And she wouldn’t leave here for anything else in the world. If not Lady Bushnell, then David Wiggins makes it impossible for her to think of leaving here and going somewhere else.
David and Susan’s chemistry wasn’t subtle or slow burn, even if it wasn’t that intense in the beginning. It was there, quite palpable and I wished it wasn’t a clean romance many-a-times. *sigh* I needed to see them together cause I really liked what I read. How Susan accepted David as he was, trying to make him forget his supposed ‘shortcomings, his not-so-savory past. And how David adored Susan despite her ridiculous family. Regardless of everything, they all were united in one quest; to keep Lady Bushnell safe and happy here as long as possible because she hated the thought of being moved and treated like a invalid.
But things won’t go so picturesquely for them as old age was taking its toll, and Lady Bushnell, no matter how much she wanted to be left alone, couldn’t be by herself any longer. Despite her disgust about the notion, she knew she needed help. By then Susan was a true companion; I’d say their relationship went quite deep, that of a mother-daughter. She was entrusted with the old letters from Lord Bushnell that Lady Bushnell treasured beyond anything. Susan would read those to her then cry in secret, more often than not on the Bailiff’s quite strong and capable shoulder, after knowing the pain she’d suffered. How lonely she must’ve been all these years! The Dowager was now easy enough with her to ask for help when she needed it and Susan considered it a victory on its own. Yet both David and Susan knew they needed to inform the current Lady Bushnell, soon to be Mrs. March, about the latest developments. After all, they were mere employees who were under order to inform any deterioration in the Dowager’s health.
The ending is rather melancholy, yet full of joy and happiness too. David and Susan are rather forced to marry ASAP so that they can keep the Dowager at the country estate until the end, which they all knew were fast approaching by how downhill her health have gone in the past few months. But personally, their marriage was anything but forced. They were already attracted to each-other, wanted each-other and have come to love each-other quite unknowingly while working together for the Dowager. This was a very happy thing for them both, though not so much for Susan’s family. They were a sad lot and behaved abominably with Susan and David when learn of the news. Her aunt was the worst! Though Susan felt humiliated, David was there to soothe her telling her it doesn’t matter. All they wanted was to inform them so they can’t later accuse them of any wrongdoing.
There is no descriptive sex scenes for those who wish to know but you get enough to know that Susan and David were very, uh, ‘compatible in bed’. The subtle mentions were quite fun to read, which is where again, I wished it was not a clean romance. :P By the time the Dowager leaves this earth, both David and Susan knew they’d found a home together. When the story ended, the only thing that bugged me was the fact that David’s real name was never mentioned anywhere. Not even once. I wish I knew it, can’t explain why but I just felt that way. Other than that, The Lady’s Companion was truly lovely. 4 stars and recommended.