by Margaret Love Sanderson, 1916
"Top o' The World" isn't in the Himalayas -- it's the name of the hilltop farm Miss Julia Allen calls home, and to which she invites six girls, daughters of her old college friends, for a month. They don't all want to come: Mollie feels she is needed at home to help take care of her five brothers and sisters, and besides, she already plans to spend part of August camping with her Camp Fire group. Agatha, your basic spoiled city girl, only comes because her (separated) parents have full schedules and are relieved to have a place to park her. Add in Olga, who is (a) foreign, (b) poor, and (c) artistically talented; Betty and Alice, sisters who appear to have little in common, or any use for each other; and Lyle, from a southern plantation; and you feel you ought to be able to write the story yourself.
Except that it doesn't quite work out that way. There's predictable friction, to which they adjust by dividing into two factions: Agatha and Alice on one side and all the others, forming a quasi-Camp Fire group, on the other. There's some minor mystery -- the tramp who came to the door and was hired by Miss Allen as an odd-job man obviously isn't what he seems. But one way and another they all settle in to enjoy the month. And then the cook and housekeeper leave in the dead of night. Barely have the girls figured out a way to work around this when Miss Allen breaks her leg (the doctor says it is a greenstick fracture, needs no cast, but "middle-aged bones take longer to heal".) Forget the friction, forget the mystery: do they want to stay or go?
They decide to stay, even Society's spoiled darlings (who are beginning to feel pretty left out of things). Olga meets the head of a prestigious museum and begins to nurse hopes for her future. Agatha turns out to be a top-notch fly fisherman. After Betty has a near-accident, the sisters are reconciled and, with her, Agatha joins the "Camp Fire" group.
Ah, but then! Agatha accidentally starts a fire in the woods and all hands turn out to defeat it. When the fire is out, Agatha collapses -- between guilt and overexertion, brain fever (that constant peril in older fiction) is feared. But she recovers, and incidentally her parents are reconciled over her sickbed.
At this point, Miss Allen makes a miraculous recovery, and apologizes to everyone. It's all (except the fire) been an experiment. She's writing a book on Modern Youth and wanted to prove that, despite media accounts, Today's Girl is competent and responsible. The servants left by arrangement, and her broken leg was a fake. What else? Oh, yes. The tramp was really her publisher, and they're getting married.
If the Little Colonel only knew . . .
© 1993 Jo Anne Fatherly
(This review first appeared in The Whispered Watchword, the newsletter of The Phantom Friends)