[New Year’s Day party at the Rectory, in a small village at the end of 1940]
The heat and noise were now terrific. All the guests were out-shouting each other and telling each other what they intended to do in the spring provided nothing happened. Mrs Villars, standing back from the party for a moment, thought how peculiar it was, judging by almost forgotten pre-war standards, that what people called “nothing happening” meant going on in darkness, discomfort [and] anticipation of danger…. The great thing was to trust a good deal and see that all the guests at one’s party had enough to drink and someone to talk to…
At that moment the noise, insistent and roaring though it was, was partly drowned, partly heightened by the voice of Mrs Spender, who in a three-piece costume with a halo hat, came triumphantly in, carrying in her train her husband, who looked thinner and more sensitive than ever.
“Here I am, quite unexpected-like, said she brightly,” were Mrs Spender’s opening words. “It is quite like coming home to be in the dear old Rectory again.”
“I am so glad you could come,” said Mrs Villars, trying to sound truthful.
observations: This book gave us a Christmas party last week, and now the village worthies and the officers billeted at the Rectory are knocking back sherry and mulled claret (the servants and NCOs all had a whale of a time the day before, trying out the recipe and getting sloshed together) as they look forward to 1941 – the year the book was published, so neither they nor their author knew what the future held.
Mrs Spender, the wife of one of the Majors, turns up twice in the book, and is shown as a figure of fun with her incredibly annoying verbal tics. The example above is nicely described by Thirkell thus:
[They] found Mrs Spender’s habit of speaking with a kind of stage directions about herself, prefaced by the words ‘Said she’, rather perplexing.Mrs S just about manages not to be as tiresome as she would be in real life, and during her short visit to this party is a fine deus ex machina telling a few surprising home truths – ‘I’m funny that way, you know, I always see at once…’ She would certainly be played by Victoria Wood in a film version.
The picture is exactly the right style, I think, though the colour should really be blue. It comes from the NY Public Library collection.
A Happy New Year to all readers. To mark the moment, here's some New Year bell-ringing, as used in the past to illustrate Lord Peter and friends:
Out over the flat, white wastes of fen, over the spear-straight, steel-dark dykes and the wind-bent, groaning poplar trees, bursting from the snow-choked louvres of the belfry, whirled away southward and westward in gusty blasts of clamour to the sleeping counties went the music of the bells. - Dorothy L Sayers, The Nine Tailors