Jean Jardine is only 23 but for five years she has been a mother to three orphaned boys -- her brothers and an adopted half-brother by marriage. They haven't much money but they have their father's library and a great love of books and music and they have been happy with the help of their housekeeper, Mrs M'Cosh, in a little cottage, The Rigs, in a small Scottish lowland town, the fictional Priorsford.
Then one day a wealthy old man, Peter Reid, who has been told he hasn't long to live because of a heart condition, arrives in town. He is not well dressed and he is very reserved but he comes to see the Rigs, which is where he grew up and where he plans to live until he dies.
When he visits the cottage intending to tell the tenants they must move Jean is very welcoming. Thinking he is poor she asks him to stay with them and when he asks her to write the words to a song his mother used to sing to him as a boy she gives him a rare and valuable old book with that and other songs he knows from his childhood. He has a great deal of money but no family and no freinds, so he has impulsively vowed to leave his money to the first person who is kind to him with no hope of material gain. Even the most unimaginative reader can see where that plot line is going, and it's delicious to keep it in mind as we read the book, as a love story develops, we meet modest and snobbish neighbors, and we see Jean struggling to provide the money for her oldest brother at Oxford.
One day another visitor arrives in town, Pamela Reston, who is wealthy but very bored with her London life. She has come to this little town, which she heard about years ago from a friend, in hopes of recharging her batteries so to speak. She rents a room in the cottage next to The Rigs and the women soon become friends, Pamela spending part of every day with the Jardines. Pamela is looking forward eagerly to a visit from her brother, Lord Bidborough, who is a world traveler who planned before the war (it is now 1920) to climb Mt Everest, then thought to be the tallest mountain in the world and as yet unseen by Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay.
The delightful Scottish characters from all levels of society, the interaction between the English and the Scots, the fraught relationship between Pamela (an Episcopalian!) and her rock-ribbed Presbyterian landlady Bella Bathgate, the lively doings of Jean's brothers, all make very satisfying reading.
O Douglas is a pseudonym for Anna Buchan, sister of John Buchan, who wrote The 39 Steps. Penny Plain is her third novel, and like most of her other 14 novels is set in Scotland. I heard about O Douglas from Barbara at Life Must Be Filled Up and Nan at A Hill Farm.
2012 No 120