It was such a little book – just 109 pages – and it opens in my own home town, so of course I had to bring it home. And I am glad that I did – it offers a fine, traditional entertainment.
The year is 1807 and young Archelaus Hosken has been incarcerated in Penzance police station for two days, after being caught picking pockets at the town’s Corpus Christi fair. He expects to be taken up-county to the jail at Bodmin and face either hanging or transportation. But something totally unexpected happens. He is released into the custody of a young lady and her steward.
Why? Well, I’ll let that young lady explain:
“Listen to me, Hosken, and listen well. To keep the roof over my head and these lands within my control, I have to take a husband before my twenty-fifth birthday. From a young age, I have been used to having control over my life, and as I do not wish to surrender that control to any man, I have chosen a wastrel such as yourself to marry. Should you wish to refuse my offer, speak now! Trenear will welcome you back, no doubt, and Bodmin jail will be quite prepared to house the likes of you! It will probably be for quite a short stay; you’ll either sail or swing, but either experience will be worse than the life you could lead here I can assure you! You would be a fool to refuse this chance and I think your pride would not let you be thought of as the man who turned down Patience Polmennor!”
So what do we have? A young criminal, with a good heart, but an eye for the main chance too. A bright young woman, used to having her own way and maybe not as worldly-wise as she likes to think. And a great set-up!
It’s beautifully balanced, and the evolving relationship of Archelaus and Patience, set against a backdrop of family intrigue, provides a wonderful mixture of comedy, pathos, and maybe even a little romance.
There’s much to enjoy: a most unusual wedding, a very perceptive dog, intrigue at a country show, an unexpected inheritance, strange bidding at the farmers market, an unlikely cupid…
It all comes together to make a lovely story. And it works so well. The tale is told with great wit and verve, the details ring true, the dialogue sings, and, maybe best of all, a wonderful cast of characters springs to life from the page.
I missed them when the story ended, but I have to say that the ending was just right.
And Penzance still has a Corpus Christi fair, though I daresay it has changed a bit since Archelaus visited …