"As the earth revolves on its axis exhibiting its
ephemeral revolutions, so families revolve round the
world's wicked wheel, at one time close to its nave, at
another climbing down its spokes, and lastly becoming
imbedded in its iniquitous axle crushing out their existence forever, thus leaving their offspring to mourn beaten
to a shadow like me with the mallet of sorrow and remorse, then death ends the hunt. Such--is--life."
- From Helen Huddleson
Helen Huddleson was Amanda's last novel, written near the end of her life and in fact never completed by her. It was her biographer Jack Loudan who located the manuscript, edited it, supplied a final chapter and got it published in 1969, thirty years after Amanda's death.
By the time Helen was written, Mrs. Ros was suffering from rheumatism and a general weariness of spirit. Despite Loudan's ministrations, it still bears the marks of a mind even more confused than previously, with a plot that meanders and leaps erratically and characters that come and go like a mad puppet show. Still, the stylistic innovations that we look for in her work are plentifully present, so there is still much simple pleasure to be had.
The story opens with a young girl, Helen Potter, on her way to Ballynahinch market. On her way she meets Billy Doherty, who in the course of their conversation makes a reference to Helen Huddleson, a great beauty who disappeared mysteriously some years earlier. Parting from him she enters a lonely cemetery where she muses on her own unhappy history:-
For although only a decade and a half years, sorrow had succeeded so far in sowing its seeds within her that she felt joy, such as her feathered friends revelled in, could never be hers again.
Not long previous she had lost her mother, father and brother: she had three brothers, Harry, Harpy and Hugo. On a Ballynahinch fair day such as this, her father had gone to the market accompanied by Harry and Harpy.
In their absence Hugo took down his father's gun, a double-barrelled one to shoot rats that infested the stable. It was kept resting on two hooks that ran across the centre of the kitchen ceiling.
Her mother was busy engaged making cakes for tea while Helen sat looking on trying to learn the art of cake making when suddenly a loud report was heard.
Her mother exclaimed, "God, my father", and fell against Helen moaning loudly and in a few moments expired. Hugo didn't know that one barrel was charged: he had pulled the trigger and the fatal deed was done.
Lizzie Byrne, an old and faithful servant who had lived with the Potters for years, came rushing and screaming.
Raising the lifeless form now dead, she carried it to a couch and placed it thereon. Then mounting an old steed, she rode with all haste for Dr. Cromie - father of the author of the novel, 'The Crack of Doom' - who arrived shortly only to verify all effort on his part was useless.
Returning earlier than usual from Ballynahinch fair, Reginald Potter when apprised of the dreadful news got berthed in the boat of insanity. Three months after he joined his wife in the region of glory, while Hugo was found strangled in the stable within the same hour as his mother's demise, so that Helen's sorrow was threefold.
It would seem that the fates of the two Helens are to be entwined in some way, as in the same cemetery where she sits nursing her grief she comes upon the tomb of Lord Rasberry which bears a somewhat unusual inscription, in which the dead occupant promises all his worldly possessions to anyone who first finds his lost beloved Helen Huddleson, and then upon her death arranges her burial in this same tomb.
Within the space of a few paragraphs, Helen encounters the sorrowful Maurice Munro, who was the fiancé of Helen Huddleson. He had been living in Australia where she had been due to join him, but never came. Apparently Lord Rasberry was responsible in some way for her disappearance. Munro cuts a pathetic figure, to the extent that Helen Potter begins to think him effeminate. Also he has a thing about lawyers, quoting at length from the author 'Agra Raymond' who is similarly obsessed:-
"Barney [Bloater, K.C] was a heavy-boned bloater full of oil, for it was always bubbling and leaking out of him somewhere: his skin was smoked a bit and he sometimes smelled as if sucking scandal. His eyes were framed with fraud, dewy with distrust and rolled to and fro like a madman's, his brows always unbobbed and brushy, his forehead frayed with feline furrows, his nose wide, cocked and warty, his jaws beggar-plaited and boraxed with flaxen, fluffy hair-fringes crimped towards the south, his mouth an oleo of colour and Portland 'pegs' ditched round with a wall of red brick, his tongue a living tooth-brush, his chin a baggy sauce-boat. "
In the first five chapters, Helen Potter is the central character. Now with Chapter Six she is dropped from our view and it is Helen Huddleson who occupies it. We are taken back in time to when Helen Huddleson is preparing for her journey to Australia and reunion with Maurice Munro. The treacherous and debauched Lord Rasberry is determined to possess her, and he abducts her and holds her captive at Snowdrop Lodge, his country seat. There he tries to persuade her to become his wife, with no success until he threatens her with a gun. On receiving her promise he marries her on the spot, clergyman and witnesses entering from the next room.
Helen refuses to submit to his desires, gun or no gun, and the next few chapters are a series of escapes and recaptures that threatens to become monotonous. At one point she takes refuge with the shadowy Madam Pear, a brothel keeper who secretly plans to make the virgin Helen a star attraction of her house of ill-repute:-
She knew all the forms of vice to which the human flesh and mind are heir and to continue a career of evil she bought 'Modesty Manor', adopting the nom-de-guerre of Pear. It was soon visited by all the swanks of seekdom within comfortable range of her rifling rooms of ruse and robbery, degradation and dodgery.
She had a swell staff of sweet-faced helpers swathed in stratagem, whose members and garments glowed with the lust of the loose, sparkled with the tears of the tortured, shone with the sunlight of bribery, dangled with the diamonds of distrust, slashed with sapphires of scandal and rubies wrested from the dainty persons of the pure.
Always on the alert for attractive magnets whose characters had still to be moulded by artful manouvres, she found the rosy little rural ruby, Helen Huddleson, would add considerably in advocating her accursed object. With this thought haunting her she had succeeded so far by intriguing Helen to her house of dissipation, damnation, disorder and distrust.
Lord Rasberry recaptures her with the aid of a dissolute priest, but at the last she escapes his clutches with the aid of an unexpected cousin and goes to live in Canada. There Mrs Ros left her tale. Loudan supplies a tidy last chapter in which Helen is reunited with Munro, Helen Potter serving as maid-of-honour.
There are a number of interesting peculiarities of this novel. One is the appearance at regular intervals of references to the "Reverend John Davis, D.D., of the Third Presbyterian Church of Ballynahinch", who is always spoken of in the most glowing of terms. Another is the curious invention of hitherto unknown chips off the very old block, such as the musician "Michael Mozart", and the writer(!) "Richard Roland Rubens". At one point also she develops the habit of interjecting foreign words and phrases into her text, such as "capriole!" and "coup-de-main".
Perhaps the oddest aspect is the way in which she names some of her characters. As well as the aforementioned Madam Pear and Lord Rasberry there are also Lord Rasberry's sister Cherry, the Duke of Greengage, Sir Christopher Currant and a servant Lily Lentil.
As a final treat, here is Lord Rasberry at dinner the night before he will kidnap the unsuspecting Helen Huddleson:-
In Helen Huddleson he had seen a trunk of truism branching forth into womanhood. He was convinced that through time his desires would be directed towards every element of chastity pure and unadulterated it had not been his province yet to master.
As he sat meditating on the digestion of a female fowl, pebble-dashed with meagre crumbs and damped with that delicious coat of delicacy for which an empty stomach and a dry tongue craves, the room seemed to whirl round him while a silvery mist blurred his vision enveloping him in a cloak of cobwebbed frailty.
On his finger rested an historic ring centred with a gem of tradition that he boldly asserted was instrumental in creating evil in all its fulsome phases within the minds of its numerous possessors. Shaped like a spear in a cloud of dull white edged with delicate blue, in which could be seen a traitor's star resembling that of Rasputin when on his pinnacle of monkdom, meeting out his prayers of mockery to the duped goddess of Russia.
To view this gem with its ever undulating astute eye. the wearer is continually floundering in doubt and dread. This signet of disaster was handed to Lord Rasberry generation after generation from the fatal finger of Kitty Howard, whom one of God's supposed divines wearing the trademark of an Episcopate betrayed to her bloodthirsty bundle of royal ugliness, lust and murder, thereby leading to her dreadful fate on a pillow kingly power hitherto smeared beyond redemption by repulsive orders of regardless tyrants of lewdness, jealousy and revenge diluted with a buttermilk bigotry, so abhorrent to every Christian travelling on the narrow way to everlasting happiness.