Oh my goodness!
I have been on a wonderful adventure with a remarkable young women, in the USA at the very beginning of the twentieth century.
Nance Olden had grown up in an orphanage where she had been treated harshly, and then thrown out into the word to fend for herself. She was bright, vivacious, agile, quick witted … and she had fallen into the arms – or maybe the clutches – of Tom Dorgan. She loved him, understandably because he was handsome and charming, but he was unscrupulous and it seemed that he loved Nance for what she could do for him and not for what she was.
The story opened in a crowded station. Tom stole a pocket watch, passed it to Nance, and then drew attention to himself while she took cover in the ladies’ waiting room. Nance played her part so well that when she looked at a rich red cloak and hood the attendant handed it to her, and she walked out wearing them.
But then she was spotted, and so she jumped into a waiting carriage to take cover. It was the bishop’s carriage, and he arrived almost as soon as she had settled and away they went. What to do? Nance played her part beautifully, charming the bishop and his household before she made her getaway.
And that was just the first chapter!
It was a wonderful introduction to a story that would move forward at break-neck pace. Nance seized her chances, and she began to rise in the world. She made friends along the way, but her reputation, and people from her past she would rather have avoided, followed her too.
Along the way Nance found a new profession that suited her beautifully. She went on the stage!
I don’t want to say much about the plot, but it’s very cleverly constructed and wonderfully entertaining. There was drama, there was romance, there was humour …. everything you could possibly want.
The story is populated by wonderful characters: the bishop, who was charmed by Nance, and had such faith in her; a wealthy invalid, who realised what Nance was, but still helped her to get away; and a wonderful theatrical producer, who was there at the very end.
But it was Nance – Miss Nancy Olden to her public – who was the star. An absolute star!
Yes, she was a thief, but she let things go as easily as she took them. She was drawn to lovely things, and the security they offered, and she wanted to give the same thing to others. And as the story progressed she learned, she grew, and she fulfilled every bit of potential that she had. And she did it by herself: others may have given her chances, but it was Nance who seized them. She was her own woman from start to finish.
It was Nance’s voice that made the story sing. She told her story with such verve and in such a distinctive style, addressing first her beloved Tom and then, when he was booted out of the story, her old friend Mag. It was a joy to watch her thinking, talking and acting so quickly – early on the story it occurred to me that Miss Nancy Olden and Mr Jack Dawkins would have made a wonderful couple …
But Nance was destined for finer things, and I couldn’t have been happier for her.
The end of the story was exactly right.
The Bishop’s Carriage was a successful book, and a successful film – with Mary Pickford playing Nance. The film has been lost, but fortunately the book was found – by Project Gutenberg – and I am so very glad that I found it there.