There are some gems in this collection of old-fashioned stories by Frances Towers who wrote only this one book and died in 1948 before it was published. They would, I think, have been quietly old-fashioned even then. But do read them slowly, no more than a one a day; too many in one dose and they get a bit too fey and same-y. (A couple of them are quite dire and she can get horribly arch and mannered; I'm thinking of the ghost story Lucinda and the one about an encounter with Shakespeare in a wood.) But mostly they are stories about women waiting for love. Among the gems are Violet, about a dangerously perfect housemaid; the title story Tea with Mr Rochester; and Don Juan and the Lily about an office worker's glamorised life of the imagination. Frances Towers has a wonderful knack of describing a room so that you can see it ...and hear the rattle of dainy teacups in a saucer.
I read this book decades ago, having been enticed by the title, and although I thought I'd forgotten it I found that when I picked up the Persephone issue certain stories had stayed buried deep in my mind. I remembered exactly how 'Spade Man from over the Water' ends (it is definitely the best of the collection), and it haunted me to the extent that I got two friends to read it and tell me how they interpreted the ending. As a teenager, I thought that Mrs Asher had gone off with Rupert. Now, I don't think so - but we all thought that these two people had been involved with each other in the past and that Rupert is a sinister figure. It's about betrayal, that is certain. And is one of the most disturbing stories I have read.
These short stories are all very calm, the equivalent of little pools of water - but, as they say, still waters run deep. The Chosen and The Damned, for example, says more about human nature in its understated narrative than the most 'socially realistic' tale of drugs and debauchery could hope to achieve. Towers deserves comparisons to Mansfield; whilst she may not reach Katharine's talent, she writes with similar ambitions, and achieves them to a lesser degree. Superb book.