Successful banker, Archibald Floyd, owner of Floyd, Floyd, and Floyd, surprises everyone when after decades of bachelorhood, he marries a mediocre actress by the name of Eliza Prodder. They have a happy year together until she up and dies, leaving Archibald to raise their only child, Aurora, alone.
Aurora, with “black eyes and blue-black hair,” is doted upon by her father, he lets her live a wild country life with horses and dogs as companions.
She said what she pleased; thought, spoke, acted as she pleased; learned what she pleased; and she grew into a bright, impetuous being, affectionate and generous-hearted as her mother, but with some touch of native fire blended in her mould that stamped her as original.
Aurora sounds like a bad ass girl I’d like to hang out with, actually!
But all good things must end and Aurora “disappears” from her home for fourteen months after which she reappears, serious and grave. Her father asks, “Is he dead?’ “Yes,” she replies. Oh, a mystery!
Aurora may have changed but she still has obligations, including attending balls with her rosy-cheeked cousin Lucy. At Aurora’s birthday ball, she catches the attention of Captain Talbot Bulstrode, a dude with attitude. He will not be snared by some calculating female out to get his title. As the son of a baronet, he thinks he should have a high quality wife. He’d look down on the Virgin Mary if she was in the room. Aurora has no interest in this guy other than to ask him, “Do you know if Thunderbolt won the Leger?"
He is appalled! Disgusted! How dare a woman be interested in racing? How vulgar! Of course, he falls madly in love with her but he has a rival in the good-hearted Yorkshireman John Mellish. Talbot gets there first and asks her to marry him and it’s all good until he hears a rumour about that mysterious fourteen months. He confronts her and she tells him that she can’t reveal her secret and he must trust her. Imagining that she must have been dancing naked at the Moulin Rouge, he dumps her.
A much better man marries Aurora. John Mellish doesn’t care that she has secrets. He loves her the way she is. He and Aurora are blissfully happy together, breeding horses and dogs (not to each other), until a stranger appears. Dun-dun-dun!
This was the soapy-est! Secrets! Blackmail! Murder! I actually thought Aurora’s secret would be way more scandalous than it turned out to be. Oh well. These were also the richest of rich people who at times behave badly. They pretty much just go to horse races and play Master of the Manor, which they literally are. It was like Dallas without the oil.
I’m happy to report that Not All Men in this Mary Elizabeth Braddon novel are terrible for a change. Archibald is the best of dads, even Talbot turns it around at the end. John Mellish is slavishly devoted to Aurora, although some of the things he says are a teeny bit creepy.
"I would rather see your coffin laid in the empty niche beside my mother's in the vault yonder"—he pointed in the direction of the parish church, which was close to the gates of the Park—"than I would part with you thus. I would rather know you to be dead and happy than I would endure any doubt about your fate. Oh, my darling, why do you speak of these things? I couldn't part with you—I couldn't. I would rather take you in my arms and plunge with you into the pond in the wood; I would rather send a bullet into your heart, and see you lying murdered at my feet."
Er…simmer down now, Heathcliff. A murder-suicide is not the answer. There is a lot of allusions to Othello by Braddon too and with her penchant for foreshadowing I thought there’d be trouble in this area. Aurora seems to know that this is all just talk. She forgets Talbot fairly quickly once she marries Mellish. For once a Braddon heroine marries the right man. Two people could not be better suited. They’re both a little wacky.
Somebody gets murdered but whodunit isn’t hard to figure out. The Scooby-Doo gang could have it solved without even leaving the van. I suspect there will be some issues for the modern reader around who did the deed. Also, there’s not a lot of sympathy for the corpse, who was not a nice person, but someone died, people.
Anyway, it’s no Lady Audley but it ain’t bad. The surprise relative was the best!
About the Audio: This was another Librivox recording. It was a compilation of many readers. Some were very good and some were…. not at all. Maybe read this one with your eyes.