Margery Sharp’s The Rescuers Series (1959-1979): Part Three

In Miss Bianca and the Bridesmaid (1972), the action shifts closer to home, when a young girl disappears the day before a family wedding is to take place. The girl is the niece of the Ambassadress, who is ever-grateful for the assistance and companionship Miss Bianca provides to the Ambassadress’ son. But the woman has no idea of Miss Bianca’s true skill. She does, however, trust her implicitly and requests that Miss Bianca and Bernard guard the birthday cake.

What a temptation, with its crystallized flowers and laurel leaves as decorations. But in time the two mice abandon their post to search the cellars and tunnels beneath the home to search for the missing girl, who is believed to have sleepwalked.

Despite its domestic setting, however, the rescue mission is every bit as demanding as the overseas adventures: “Miss Bianca was exhausted indeed. Only how remote from the scene of action her own dear Porcelain Pagoda! – for so, aching as she was in every limb, she couldn’t help thinking of it – and even more affectionately of her thistledown pillows!”

Although even an injury has a silver lining when the fine Miss Bianca is near. “Dear Bernard, is it paining you very much?” Miss Bianca paused to ask, sympathetically stroking the afflicted area – which had absolutely the effect of penicillin after a tooth out. – That is, Bernard suddenly felt no pain at all, in fact he felt absolutely A.1, and only concerned lest Miss Bianca should in any way get damaged herself.”

Miss Bianca is an example to all. “Miss Bianca had never become hardened. ‘Twas always almost past belief to her that anyone could be really bad.”

But Bernard, at last, has a volume all to himself in the next: Bernard the Brave (1976). Of course Nicodemus originally requested Miss Bianca’s assistance, but as she is out of the country, travelling with her boy for three weeks, Bernard steps in.

In pursuit of Miss Tomasina, a seventeen-year-old heiress kidnapped by her evil guardian, there are wolves and bandits and a variety of environmental challenges (but also some bacon rinds and other treats) and Bernard has an unexpected ally along the way, Algernon.

“‘Never,’ said Bernard solemnly, “Have I met with a stouter hearted fellow adventurer. Not even Nils, with whom I adventured to the Black Castle, was stouter hearted! Your name shall be inscribed in the M.P.A.S. Records Book as soon as we get back.”

But it’s not only Miss Bianca who is missed, but the Ambassadress too, and all are relieved when the household reassembles. The Ambassador makes a rare appearance (in the form of a letter) to demonstrate the desperation many others are feeling as well: “My dearest love…I can’t tell you how I miss you, and where are my thick pyjamas?”

As if to underscore the reality of Miss Bianca’s retirement, however, the final volume in the series also showcases Bernard: Bernard into Battle (1979).

Readers might anticipate this rallying cry to be associated with something military in nature – “Twill be something to remember all your lives,” promised the mothers – but, no, the adulation of Miss Bianca continues: “that you heard the famous Miss Bianca speak!”

Miss Bianca’s public appearances are rare now, but she takes to the platform at the general meeting because it’s a grave occasion, when the mice have learned of the rats plans to wage war.

“To the clapping and cheering now succeeded an uneasy silence. All mice fear and detest rats, as all respectable citizens fear and detest outlaws of any kind. Mice live in neat holes – villa-residences, as it were – whereas rats sleep out rough, and their well-known spreading of dirt and disease was a natural consequence. At Bernard’s word a wave of apprehension swept through the entire assembly.”

This traditional characterization of the rat kingdom disappointed me. I do not want to choose between Mrs Frisby’s team and Despereaux, between Remy (star of “Ratatouille”) and Stuart Little. And Miss Bianca is in the background of this story, although even the rats have heard tell of the community’s adoration of her, which leads them to target her in their conflict.

For a time, it appears as though Miss Bianca will be tricked into submission, but she proves too smart for her foes. She is also wise enough to remove herself from danger in another instance (although praying for victory, having tossed off her negligee, is not necessarily the way I picture Miss Bianca either).

“She herself at the sound of the alarm bell immediately jumped out of bed and threw on a swansdown negligee; then remembering her promise to Bernard threw it off and got back between her pink silk sheets, where all she could do was pray for a mouse victory!”

I explain this by imagining that Miss Bianca had had a little too much cordial, overwhelmed by the idea of being a prisoner when she had always been the rescuer in the past. For while I do not begrudge loyal Bernard his moment at the fore of the action, and while I do agree that sometimes the best course of action is to remain on the sidelines, I wanted Miss Bianca to be just where she has been consistently, at the heart of the plot.

As standalone novels, the last two in the series, Bernard the Brave and Bernard into Battle, might be more satisfying. For my mouse-loving (but also rat-loving) taste, I’ll stick with the adventures which feature both Bernard and Miss Bianca, in handkerchief and silver chain, dressed for success.

2018-07-26T15:44:19+00:00

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