MISS HOWELLS EMPLOYMENT/Synopsis
By Karl Fieldhouse
An aristocratic professors daughter and a new-money baronet struggle to overcome their pride and prejudice. Guilt over illicit love in an ancient chapel and on a moving train complicates their attempts to solve a childs disappearance and build a lasting relationship in 1881 Surrey, England.
Forced by her fathers death to seek employment, Madeline Howell comes to Mannering House to serve as companion to the owners elderly mother. Madeline longs for a home and for acceptance in spite of her unusual background and education. Considering herself unsuitable for marriage, she secretly hopes to write the definitive analysis of her fathers botanical works.
Sir Garret Mannering arrives home to discover yet another woman invading his home and peace. His annoyance increases when he finds his mothers new companion in the sanctum of his library. The granddaughter of an earl, shes a cousin of the man he holds responsible for his sisters deatha friend he introduced to her. Haunted by his twins drowning a dozen years before as she tried to elope, he remains certain any close relationship he has with a female must end in disaster.
Angela, the widow of Garrets cousin, sees Madeline as a competitor for his affection. Encumbered by her daughter Lucy, Angela envies Madelines freedom and background. When Angela notices the increasing closeness between Madeline and Garrets mother, she warns Madeline the old lady wont need a companion for long.
On a visit to the home of Garrets business associate, Madeline and Garret each arouse the interest of other guests and become aware of their mutual attraction, which they ignore because of their disputes.
During the same country weekend, Angela overhears Garrets remark about the disadvantages of putting up with children and worries her opportunity to win him will pass. She tries to get rid of Madeline by arranging an "accident" to Garrets mother so a nurse will replace Madeline. When this plan fails, Angela attempts to interest the local rector in Madeline as an ideal clerical wife. Instead, the clergyman proposes to Angela.
A Cambridge fellow surprises Madeline with a visit and offers marriage. Longing for security and unsure shell ever fit outside the university world, Madeline considers his proposal but defers commitment. Garret is torn between wanting her to leave and the fear of losing her.
During the holiday season, Madeline and Garret clash over a Boxing Day celebration on the estate grounds. When the Cambridge don returns, she refuses his offer because he wants a housekeeper and unpaid research assistant, not a wife. Garret surprises himself by openly rejoicing. On the pretense of helping Madeline pack away the altar furnishings from the holiday service, he follows her to the chapel. They make love in that sacred space.
Appalled by her actions in the chapel and the disparity between her beliefs and her feelings, Madeline offers to resign. Garret, however, regrets his own unfortunate behavior and asks her to stay. Could a woman in his life not be disastrous?
When Lucy wanders away on the grounds, Angela fires a footman who defends the toddler. Days later, Lucy disappears again, and Madeline comforts a hysterical Angela, who
insists the footman kidnapped her daughter for revenge. Though Madeline realizes things have been rearranged in the stable, she cant establish whats missing or how its related to the disappearance. Garret finds the footman and determines his innocence.
The speed with which Angela dismisses the nursemaid strikes Madeline as dubious. When she shares her speculations about Angelas involvement in the mystery, Garret reacts with shock and accuses Madeline of insensitivity and an aristocrats desire to control the household.
Incensed by his response, Madeline locates Lucys nursemaid in London. Terrified of her former mistress, the young woman gives Madeline a letter in which Angela refers to her child as an expendable commodity.
Madeline plucks up her courage and confronts Garret at his London office. She presents the new information and objects to his description of her motives. Struck by her bravery and his own lack of insight, Garret apologizes and books them a private compartment on the train back to Surrey.
Once out in the country, Garret expresses his true feelings about her. They make love on the train.
Thrilled by his declaration of love but shamed by her repeated fall into indiscretion, Madeline still cant believe she is suited for marriage. Are they drawn together because of the tragedy surrounding Lucy? Can Garret ever let her into his life? And what does he mean by love?
Madeline receives an offer to teach at a young ladies academy. Taking a snowy morning ride to straighten out her thinking, she watches children sled down a hill. She recognizes whats missing from the stable and recalls a pattern in the snow: Sled tracks ran toward the pond but not back.
Garret directs the dredging of the pond on the strength of her hunch. The men find the sled, weighed down with horseshoes, but no Lucysomeone cut the ropes that held her.
Unaware that Lucy is alive, Angela prepares for exposure. She flees with money and jewelry taken from Mannering House.
While Garret chases after Angela, Madeline locates the missing Lucy and uncovers the secret of the disappearance: The groundskeeper saw Angela shove the sled into the pond, freed her, and hid Lucy in his cottage near the estate. Fearful of more danger to Lucy and positive the authorities would believe Angelas word above his, the groundskeeper has concealed the crime and the rescue.
As the deadline to apply for the teaching position arrives, Madeline resolves to determine her future for herself rather than allow circumstances to control it. Uncertain she and Garret belong together, she pens her acceptance of the job.
When Garret returns from his unsuccessful pursuit, she presents him with the letter. He gives her a diamond ring, shows her the sleeping Lucy, who has sneaked into the library looking for them, and hands her the Royal Botanical Societys offer to publish a chapter of her book as a monograph. Though she hesitates because of their considerable differences, he insists those differences enhance their relationship, are now part of what they treasure in one another, and make her the woman who can enter his life and heal the hole in it. To the delight of the staff and Garrets mother, she agrees to marry him.