Violetta Beauchamps may enter Bertrice Martin's life under false pretenses but quickly something more develops. Nothing brings people closer than a common goal. That goal being to oust Mrs. Martin's terrible nephew from his lodgings. And man, is this dude terrible! Just when you think he cannot get worse, he does. However his existence helps these ladies get to know each other. In today's read we're finding love in their twilight years in Mrs. Martin's Incomparable Adventure by Courtney Milan! **a hallelujah chorus of Spoilers**
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Want to listen to a certain segment? Here is our outline this week:
0:00 - 04:55: Intro/Author Facts/Tropes
4:55 - 24:32: Synopsis
24:32 - 30:07: Parlour
30:07 - 01:04:41: General Discussion
We are now including our synopses as a semi-transcription of the episode in our blog posts. You can learn more about how we compose these by reading this article. As a reminder though, our synopses are FULL of spoilers. Read ahead at your own risk :)
Mrs. Martin's Incomparable Adventure Synopsis
Miss Violetta Beauchamps has always one to go along with the natural order of things, maintain the peace, and follow the rules. But however fair she has been to others in her life, life currently has been quite unfair to her. And due to that unfairness, she now finds herself about to commit an act of desperation.
She has arrived at the house of one Mrs. Martin, and is feeling desperately guilty about her plan to swindle her out of 68 pounds. But desperate times call for desperate measures, and while the means may be slightly nefarious, she knows she deserves the money and that the very wealthy Mrs. Martin won’t even notice the difference.
However, Mrs. Martin is not at all what Violetta expected. They are of age (both about 70) but Mrs. Martin is not docile nor anything even approaching polite. She’s bold, crotchety, and brash, and puts Violetta’s plans on their arse just as they begin.
For Violetta has been fired from her job of managing boarding houses, the same job that she’s held for 47 years diligently, and has been fired mere months before her 70th birthday - whereupon her employer had promised her a pension. But now, she’s jobless and in dire need of enough money to live the rest of her life on, and she’s figured out how to get it.
The cause for her firing (other than her impending birthday and a certain promise) was in the form of a Mr. Cappish, a tenant who had not paid his rent for 27 months. When her employer had grumbled why the profits were lower, she always pointed to Mr. Cappish, but was told by no means was she to try to collect. He was a gentleman and they would see it paid eventually.
But then she had been fired for it, so here she was at his aunt’s house to collect the 68 pounds he owed for 27 months back-rent. Money that would not make it to her employer, but would be enough to secure herself for retirement with the rest she had saved away. She would take the money and then she would be off somewhere where no one would be the wiser.
However, as we said before, the meeting with Mrs. Martin does not go according to plan. Immediately, she refuses to refer to her nephew, Robert Cappish, by any other moniker than “The Terrible Nephew,” and when confronted with his lease, which names her as his guarantor, immediately scoffs at her “signature” as even her first name is spelled wrong.
But she does feel badly for Miss Beauchamps, who advertises herself as the owner of the boarding house and insists that she is unable to collect the money or evict him as he is a virile young-ish man, and appeals to Mrs. Martin to simply pay his debts. But Mrs. Martin has already proclaimed that he has seen the last penny he’ll ever get from her. So she mulls over the dilemma and comes up with a plan.
She has been in a state of melancholy since a few of her friends had passed away in succession, including her lover. Her doctor has recommended that she get out of the house and perhaps go on an adventure. So, she offers to help Miss Beauchamps evict her terrible nephew, and once that is done, she will pay Miss Beauchamps the 68 pounds 12 shillings he owes as long as she promises never to let another room to him. And Violetta, with no other options, decides to go along with the scheme. In for a penny, in for 68 pounds.
The ladies arrive in London the next day to begin their assault on the Terrible Nephew. Violetta is hoping that her former employer will be as lax as usual about actually taking an interest in his businesses and not hire someone to replace her for a few days. That will give her some time to see this plan through.
While Miss Beauchamps had no idea what this plan consisted of, quote
Bertrice had spent the remainder of the journey plotting precisely what she would say to that perambulating bag of male pretension and violence when she first had him in her sights.
Unfortunately though, he isn’t at home when they first arrive, quote rather taking the wind out of her sails to have to wait for the opportunity.
They do find him later, exiting his club, which is conveniently located next door. They even get to overhear his conversation which involves the fact that he needs to pay his debts there too…
Eager for her chance, Bertrice gets started quote
“Robby Bobkins,” she said, because she had to say something to get his attention, and she had called him that when he was a very small child and still had the appearance of sweetness.”
The Terrible Nephew is shocked to see her. But he gets suspicious when he notices Violetta with her, and does his best to minimize his aunt saying quote
Please, Aunt Bertrice. I know your memory is...not as it once was, but I prefer to be addressed as Mr. Cappish. It’s my name. Robby Bobkins is just a little infantilizing, don’t you think?
But Bertrice doesn’t back down. She keeps trying to set him down in front of his fellow club members, but eventually he gets them to return inside. He still tries to be friendly and insists they can make amends, but Bertrice isn’t at all interested. So she lets her intentions fly quote
Robby Bobkins,” she said, enunciating the name and saying it as loudly as she could, “I am here to make your life a living hell. I have revoked the surety you fraudulently signed on my behalf with regards to the rooms you are letting. You will therefore agree to vacate your living quarters. Immediately.”
But the Terrible Nephew doesn’t believe that Miss Beauchamps will have him evicted. Her reply?
“It seems,” Miss Beauchamps said, with a quiet determination, “that you don’t know Miss Beauchamps as well as you should.”
The terrible nephew starts to flounder a bit and tries to reason at first, then threaten with his position of power. Which, while he isn’t wealthy nor titled, he is a man, and he does his best to use that to his advantage. Blech.
Then he even tries an apology to his aunt, saying “See? Apologies are easy. Now you say that you’re sorry too. My mother would want you to do it. For her, don’t you think you can?”
But Bertrice absolutely, positively, cannot. For good reason, quote
“...And Sarah’s daughter, Lily. She was taking a course on shorthand while she was helping me along, and you-you utter useless cad- you came to my house and you didn’t disrespect the damn building, you unthinking pile of fetid refuse. She wanted nothing to do with you, and you tried to rape her. I didn’t want to see it. I avoided the possibility for years. I kept hoping I was wrong. But you showed your colors, and I’m glad my sister didn’t live to see what you’ve become.”
His reply simply solidifies his Terribleness, quote
“Aunt. Those words are so harsh. I’ve asked you again and again to see my side of it. I’m a gentleman. It wasn’t rape; I would have paid her afterward. You’ve been sheltered; you don’t know how these things work.”
“I know exactly how they work,” Mrs. Martin said. “I have money. You have none. I will make your life a misery. I promise I will.”
With that, they part. And Bertrice now needs to figure out where she will spend her night. Violetta doesn’t want to invite her back to her room, but feels she should do so out of politeness.
Do not, Violetta thought. Do not invite this woman to stay with you. She is rich and you have nothing. She’s pretty, and you are plain. She’s clever, and you’re nothing but a boring woman with a head for figures. You’re lying to her, and you don’t need to like her anymore.
But Bertrice is thrilled to stay with Violetta, even though it’s just a tiny room. After all, Mrs. Martin had wanted to come on an adventure! So they enjoy simple bread with toasted cheese and make do in the bed together. And while Violetta is a bit ashamed with what she has, the close proximity gives the women a chance to get to know each other better over the course of the next week while they raise hell together on the terrible nephew.
They start by leasing a terrible choir to serenade his wake up, and follow him down the street when he tries to escape. Then they have 12 geese loosed in his rooms. They pelt him with eggs and dust him with flour. They leave putrid cheese in his room and had brought goats into his quarters and convinced them to eat his undergarments.
In between tormenting the Terrible Nephew, they pair grow closer, learning more and more about each other and sharing their thoughts and feelings about life, the universe, being a woman, and getting older. They flirt carefully with each other although they have both expressed in their own ways that they are interested in women, although Mrs. Martin has expressed the interest in finding a 40-year-old for herself in their past conversations.
On one particularly lovely afternoon, picnicking under a gnarled tree, a shift happens. And I’m just going to read a bit of this scene because there’s no way to summarize and do it justice.
“What a marvelous, beautiful tree this is!” It was a marvelous tree, shaped by time and gardeners into twisted, labyrinthine splendor. And yet, that one remark stole the air from Violetta’s lungs. She’d felt as if she were punched in the gut, as if all those years of grasping and holding everything in place were suddenly too much. “Why?” Violetta heard herself ask, her tone just a touch querulous. Bertrice turned to her. “You don’t agree?” Violetta didn’t know what to think. “I just want to know why you think it.” “Well.” Bertrice looked at the tree, frowning. “There’s the bark, to start. Don’t you think bark on old trees is picturesque? It’s got - oh, I don’t know the proper terms. But it’s split. It’s got ravines, you know. Proper texture. None of that smooth, boring stuff that young trees boast.” Something dark and sharp took form in Violetta’s breast. “Go on.” It came out like a hiss. Bertrice looked bewildered. “Well...then...the shape. Look at that branch there, the way it dips and rises. Or there, where two branches have been rubbed together. Or there-there’s a story about the left half of this tree, don’t you think? I can almost imagine the gale that stripped away all but the heaviest branches, and they’re only now growing back, a thicket of little twigs on a giant oak such as this.” Violetta looked at the branches overhead, her teeth gritted, trying not to let her eyes water. Trying not to feel, just as she’d spent decades not letting herself respond to every last insult that she had been supposed to take as her due. “All nature is like that, really,” Bertrice had continued. “A boring straight stream is nothing compared to a rivulet that has carved its path deep into the forecast, rock work away, banks covered in moss. The human eye is drawn to difference.” The tight knot of hurt that Violetta had been nursing all her life flared. It flared into anger and self-pity and dismay. Then-like a wildfire set on a dry meadow-it raced past those simpler emotions directly into confounding rage.
“No doubt,” she snapped. “Trees and streams and valleys and beaches alike. All of them grow more beautiful with age. Even men in their own way receive more respect. But it’s not all of nature. It’s all of nature except human women.” Bertrice turned to her, eyes wide. “It’s not me,” Violetta snapped. “Nobody praises the texture of my skin, now that I’m no longer smooth as a sapling. Over the years, I’ve grown rounder and more lumpy but when it’s a human being with cares and feelings instead of a tree, I’m considered disgusting.”
“But it’s not just age. I’ve never been beautiful. My eyes cross, no matter how hard I try. My hands are so ugly that store clerks wince when I count change. Why is it that everyone can find a bloody tree more beautiful than a human woman who shares the same properties?” She shut her eyes and felt her anger mingle with shame. She reached out, trying to catch hold of her unruly emotions. “I apologize for shouting. It’s not your fault. It’s been like this forever, and every time I think I’m at the bottom of humanity’s care, I descend one rung further and discover how wrong I was. There’s always another rung.” “There shouldn’t be a bottom.” Bertrice’s hand was still stretched out, not quite reaching Violetta. “There shouldn’t be a ladder.” The ladies sit for a while and digest this all and more. Finally, Bertrice finishes with quote “You know what I see when I look at this oak?” Violetta shook her head. “Centuries have passed, and it’s still here.”
So their ruse and cohabitation continues. Violetta pulls away from Bertrice’s gentle advances because she wrestles with feeling like a liar and also wanting more. More time passes than Violetta expected her former employer to have let pass without a replacement, and all their pranks practically force all the other tenants to move out, so now Violetta is in even deeper with the plan and can’t back out.
Things escalate one day when they attempt to plaster over Terrible Nephew’s door but are interrupted by said Terrible Nephew who uses his Man Status to get the contractors to stop and leave. Then the threatening begins. He threatens to have Mrs. Martin declared incompetent if she doesn’t stop. But of course, Bertrice doesn’t back down, replying quote
“Every threat you issue,” she said, “will result in further retaliation from me. I have gone along nicely my entire life. I am done.” “You?” He scoffed. “Gone along? Nicely?” “Nice-ish,” she amended.
He took a step forward. “Listen to me, and listen well. I will have you declared incompetent unless you write a cheque upon your bank for ten thousand pounds. Right now.” “If you need money, obtain employment.”
But Terrible Nephew is a gentleman and doesn’t believe he should have to work. So he threatens them more, insisting that neither of them are invulnerable and he’s been nice until now. And he will put them both away.
Violetta is distressed. Bertrice is fired up. So she visits her solicitors and as she says, finally quote “goes on the offensive.”
They pay a prostitute who, was already denying him, not to sleep with him, and they amend his nickname to “Clappy” in front of the ladies. And before her final act, Bertrice decides they need fortifications in the form of chocolates.
While eating their chocolates, Bertrice tells Violetta of her plan. It starts with a contract to buy the boarding house from Violetta for two thousand pounds. This is, in part to make sure that Violetta is safe and has money if, by chance, The Terrible Nephew succeeds instead of Bertrice.
But Violetta can’t accept that - because of course, she doesn’t own the boarding house. And she’s grown too fond of Bertrice to swindle her out of two thousand pounds. And finally she bursts out quote
“I can’t sell you the building! I’m not capable of doing so, because I do not own it. I have lied to you for weeks, and if the true owner ever realizes what we have done to his tenants, we shall both go to prison!”
However, Bertrice’s only response is to hand Violetta another chocolate. Because, truth be told, she had known that Violetta hadn’t owned the building. And in fact, she had bought it on their second day in town together once she had discovered more quote
“I asked my solicitors to look into it; they brought me the whole story. You labored for Mr. Toggert for almost fifty years and he sacked you to avoid paying you a pension. Typical story. Of course a man was at fault.”
Violetta’s head is spinning with these new developments, but she still feels terrible for the lying. But Bertrice is insistent that it isn’t a big deal, and that she understood Violetta’s predicament.
And with all this out in the open, the ladies can grow closer, and this leads that evening to encounter number one, which is a very raw, nurturing, healing encounter that empowers both our heroines.
Afterwards, Bertrice tries to get Violetta to sign the contract for the two thousand pounds, but she simply cant, because if her nephew tries to declare her incompetent, purchasing a property she already owns for 2k pounds will certainly add to his credibility. So instead she forms her own back up plan.
The next day they agree to meet at the building at 3 pm, each of them with errands to attend to beforehand. When Violetta arrives she is aghast to see a fire brigade at the ready. For Bertrice has decided to set fire to both the apartment and the Terrible Nephew’s Gentleman’s club next door, which she has also bought. Of course, when Terrible Nephew shows up, he grabs a constable and proceeds to explain that he’s in the process of having her declared unstable, so will he please release his aunt to his custody? ...but Violetta has plan B ready in hand.
“You cannot release Mrs. Martin into this man’s custody, because he will not be able to take her. He has owed a great many businesses in the area for years. In order to facilitate their collection, I have purchased one hundred and seventy pounds of his credit.” His creditors had been delighted to get anything at all; she’d received a discount on his notes. “This morning, I visited a magistrate and obtained a warrant for the arrest of Mr. Robert Cappish. He is to be conducted to the Queen’s Prison as a debtor.
Although Bertrice had tried this in the past, she had been dismissed as she was a relation. However, quote Violetta was no relation, and she’d take great pleasure in holding him to account.”
And so, the next morning at the hearing for Mrs. Martin’s incompetence, the prosecution is unable to show up as he is firmly ensconced in Debtors prison. And the judge is actually a good sort and dismisses the case with prejudice, meaning that the Terrible Nephew can’t bring it against her again, even if he tried.
That evening, Bertrice realizes that there’s still a loose end. Perhaps, one day when her Terrible Nephew manages to get out, she will pass and he will find a way to her money. So she decides that she needs to spend it, and offers the prostitute they saw earlier a job for 300 pounds a year to spend 30,000 pounds helping women. The smart lady takes the offer.
And later, the ladies retire to Violetta’s house after some more honest conversations and declarations of love that lead them to decide that they’d like to continue in each other’s company from here on out.
And then we have an epilogue!
A year and a half later the ladies are living in Boston and enjoying life. Terrible Nephew has been released from Debtors prison to his own demise; he had gone to her former bank and tried to forge a cheque but was caught in the act and immediately sent back to prison for another ten years. Isn’t that gloriously appropriate?
But our ladies are joyous, healthy, and together, and living quite happily ever after.