As does Tip Cat, this book begins with
a view from the nursery window and concerns a young man, Ken Wyatt, who like Tip Cat's Dick, loses an inheritance.
Like Dick, Ken will make a sacrifice of self and pride to redeem his fortune.
The first three chapters, before Lil's accident,
linger over a long description of childhood in the household of Dr. Murray. Lil injures her back and throughout
her life remains in the nursery. The other characters return to the nursery to tell her their stories. It is on such
a Christmas evening the Murray boys plus Ken are interrupted.
"Let it not be breathed at Eton, nor in the ward
of St. Barnabas' Hospital; but a grand cooking of toffee had been taking place over the nursery fire..." but the celebration
is interrupted by the arrival of the station fly from Milling bringing "from New Zealand, a girl of
who proves to be heir to the Wyatt estates and
her old nurse.
Ken accepts his disinheritance, settles down
to work on his education and for his future. Dr. Lester (the vicar who is the teacher of the children) says, "it will
make a man of him."
Lil befriends Sylvia Wyatt and the two girls
grow: the first forever confined to the nursery, the later to be introduced into society as a well-dowered lady.
"How differently time deals with different places!
Five years in one place may pass gently over, and leave no apparent change whatever, while the very same five years may turn
and twist and upset another place till it is past all recognition, may cover green meadows with rows of houses,
and alter the very look of the sky overhead, with the clouds of smoke from the tall red chimneys that have taken the
place of poplars of five years ago.
"In Shadbrook five years had made no difference
at all at first sight....There was certainly one difference to be observed... The boys were all scattered.."
Lil. Chapter 6.
Archie has gone to an uncle's cattle ranch in
Brazil (his visit prompts the comments about change that opens the middle chapter); Willie
"had done capitally at Oxford... was a
fellow and lecturer at his college... Hugh, too, had quite unexpectedly turned a feather in Dr. Lester's cap, having
gone up for the Indian Civil Service... Percy was following in Ralph's footsteps at St. Barnabas, or rather, as he liked
to put it, in his father's, as he had adopted the medical profession
entirely with the object of being some day his father's assistant.... Ken, too, had not done badly at Oxford.
He might, perhaps, have distinguished himself as Willie had done but for those years of idleness
at Eton, when the grapes were not sour, but hung sweet and fair close to his hand. He had been called to the bar, having
kept his terms at Lincoln's Inn while at Oxford, and he was not to be sneered at even now as a briefless barrister."
Sylvia is greatly admired by all the young men
who are perhaps all a bit in love with her. Archie falls hopelessly in love with her but she drops his violets to run
to meet Ken. At tea in the nursery Archie suggests to Lil that it's all been arranged within the family that Sylvia
will marry Ken.
"He would never marry her for her money."
"No, perhaps not. Well, there's plenty to marry her for without. Any one might be rich with her if she had
not a halfpenny."
Grandmother Wyatt has in fact been hoping that
the cousins will marry and Ken's fortunes be restored. Sylvia confides in Lil.
"I quite see the justice of it, but it is a little
bit hard... to feel that I have not any voice in the matter... when Ken wants to come into possession, there I shall
be, along with all the rest of the Manor and demesnes, goods and chattels, belonging to the Wyatt's estates."
Ken overhears and declares,
"I am free and would not sell my freedom for
your fortune and hundred times over... I don't care to go through life ticketed a fortune-hunter...
If I loved you which I don't... if you loved me... that fortune of yours would make an utterly impassable gulf between
"Now those words of Ken's, when he spoke them,
were literally true... but I would not undertake to say they were true five minutes after they were uttered, and still less
on the following morning. Of course, he said them over to himself nearly as often as Sylvia did, and quite believed
them; but when we require to be constantly reassuring ourselves about a feeling, it is generally a sign that the feeling
is shaky and needs bolstering up by reaffirmation."
The story plays out in the not unexpected way
with a bit of a twist. Old nurse Willett moves from the manor to the Murray household where Lil can console her in Sylvia's
absence. Willett's death bed confession to Lil reveals a switching of babies; Sylvia is not Sylvia but Daisy.
Willet gives the papers to prove it. Lil tells Ken and he responds,
"Don't you see... this revelation... does
not take away the gulf between us? It is still there, only we have changed sides. It would be easy enough
for me to cross it now from my side, but what would Sylvia say? Do you think she is less proud than I am?"
In so saying, in recognizing the woman as equal,
Ken combines the ideal of Victorian manhood and the ideal of the New Woman. And again, we have the happy ending: Ken
and Lil keep the secret and he marries Sylvia.
"And do you mean to say... that he never told
her? that in later days, when the honeymoon was over, and when little rubs and domestic jars occurred, as they
will even between husband and wife who love one another most tenderly... That he endured to go through life—as
he had put it himself—ticketed as a fortune-hunter, for the world is not kind in such matters... Yes, he
did, although I will not say that it was always very easy; but after all it is the spice of truth in the world's remarks
that gives the sting to them, and his own conscience being clear... he did not find the ticketing quite so painful."
"And did Lil keep her counsel? Can a woman
keep a secret? Yes, she can: Lil did. Most women can when the secret is a friend's. And Lil was sheltered
from the world..."
"It was an odd fancy of Ken's to call his wife
Daisy... Sylvia often laughed..."
"Sylvia always felt a little bit thoughtful after
one of her long talks to Lil about Ken. No one, she felt sure, could think more highly of him than she did... but somehow
she always felt as if Lil were looking up higher when they two were contemplating Ken's perfections, as if Sylvia's husband
were not quite such a hero as Lil's friend."
Views of Victorian life and culture:
death & dying, funeral practices
Chapter 1 contrasts old church yard cemeteries
and modern ones.
education & literacy
Chapter 1 details the educations of the Murray
children. The children, including "Lil in her turn," are sent to the Vicar, Dr. Lester. The wisdom or rather unwisdom
of educating a daughter "as one of the boys" is commented on by Nurse and by Dr. Lester.
"Lil was never the sort of invalid you read of
"Lil had a boy's taste in books, and loved Jules
Verne and Mayne Reid and Cooper"
Chapter 6 discusses Sylvia's education:
"Sylvia's education, too, had been an interest
to the old lady. It was sadly defective to begin with; but Sylvia was keenly aware of her deficiencies and mortally
ashamed of them and anxious to remedy them, and she elected Lil, whom, though a year her junior, she regarded as a prodigy
of learning, to be her instructor, and the two worked so hard together during the first
three months of Sylvia's being at Shadbrook, that by the time a school had been settled upon for the young heiress, her copy-books
were not obliged to be written with locked doors, and consigned to flame... and her other studies had
advanced in proportion.
"It was a bitter disappointment to both the girls
that Sylvia was not allowed to join the party under Dr. Lester's instruction; but it was unanimously agreed among
the elders that more accomplishments were needed to fit the young heiress for her future position in life, and a school
was found in Brighton, to which Sylvia went with every intention of being thoroughly miserable, and was very
medicine & public health
The setting for this book is the home of a village
doctor, Doctor Murray of Shadbrook. Descriptions of his work, hours, rounds, are sprinkled throughout. Ken Wyatt
has typhoid. Mrs. Wyatt is another example of the ailing Victorian mother. The Murray children suffer injuries.
At age thirteen, Lil suffers a spinal injury
and the great surgeon, Sir Milton Digby, and the "well-dressed" Dr. Jell of Milling are consulted.
Two of Lil's brothers grow up to become doctors
and make the rounds at St. Barnabas' Hospital (the site of Lassie's education) in London.
"herself declared that only Dr. Murray and some
unqualified practitioner whom she had come across in New Zealand, and who had combined blacksmith's work with surgery, had
ever understood her constitution and done her the least good."
regarding "poor old Willett, the nurse who came
with Sylvia from New Zealand:
"She had made no friends among the other servants,
nor in Shadbrook, but had taken up with the Methodists, and frequented their little red-brick Bethesda at the other end of
the village,—a course of action never heard before in any of the Manor House servants, who always attended church regularly,
sitting in the Manor House servants' pew, where it was the pride of the housekeeper to marshal in a goodly phalanx of well-behaved,
well-dressed young people. Of course no one ventured to interfere with Mrs. Willet's religious observances any more
than they did with her dress, which was a compromise between the severity of the Salvation Army and the bright, showy colors
pleasing to colonials."