Charles Trevor is astonished to learn that Alverstoke wants to visit a foundry. He gets excited at the thought that Alverstoke wants to speak on the topic to the House of Lords (his ambition is politics) but it is a false hope – Alverstoke reveals that he wants the information on foundries (or pneumatic lifts!) for his young cousin Felix, and mentions that Charles was right about Charis’ beauty. Charles is torn between bemusement at the sudden interest in mechanics and slight worry for Charis’ possible susceptibility:
It did not occur to him that his lordship had yielded to the blandishments of a persistent urchin; and if such a notion had crossed his mind he would have dismissed it as an absurdity.Next, Alverstoke visits his sister Louisa, and delights her by saying he will give a ball, albeit “with conditions” and that it will take place in three weeks.
“April! But you cannot have considered! May is the month for the really tonnish parties!”
“No, is it really?” he mocked. “And does it occur to you that May is already overcrowded with balls, routs, and assemblies of every description?”
“There is that, of course,” she agreed, frowning over it. “But in only three weeks the season will barely have begun!”
“It will begin, then, at Alverstoke House,” he replied coolly. “And if you imagine, Louisa, that we shall find ourselves thin of company, let me reassure you!”Lady Buxted is infuriated by his complacency but knows he is right. However, she is not expecting his Big Reveal, which is that the ball will not be for Jane alone. Alverstoke explains that Chloe Dauntry will also make her come out at the ball, and tells Louisa that their deceased and distant cousin Fred Merriville left his five children to Alverstoke’s protection. Stunned, Lady Buxted asks why, and he uses the excuse Frederica provided:
“Well,” said his lordship, succumbing to the promptings of his particular devil, “he thought I was the best of my family.”Alverstoke makes it clear he will help subsidize the expense of Jane’s entry to the ton if Lady Buxted cooperates by introducing the Merriville young ladies at the ball and securing them vouchers for Almack’s, and when she starts to refuse he implies he will ask Cousin Lucretia to act as hostess for the ball instead, causing Lady Buxted to give in reluctantly. Two days later, Frederica has an unexpected adventure in Green Park when she takes the family dog, Lufra, for a walk. Charis is home with a cold and Frederica, having ignored the need for a chaperone, finds herself in difficulty when Lufra charges a group of cows.
Heyer observes that a lesser woman would have left the dog to his fate but Frederica is afraid the park attendants will impound Lufra or worse. As the dog’s critics gain momentum, she says in desperation, “Take care! This dog belongs to the Marquis of Alverstoke. He is extremely valuable, and if anything were to happen to him his lordship would be very angry indeed!” One of the park-keepers finds this unconvincing because he says Lufra is obviously a mongrel. In for a penny, out for a pound – Frederica follows her fib about the Marquess by stating that Lufra is pure-bred Barcelona Collie. No one believes her but when she suggests they go to Alverstoke’s home to ask him, some of her tormentors are willing to bow out. But the man in charge of the cows at Green Park (don’t ask why) and a hatchet-faced lady refuse to back down so the whole shebang of them head to Berkeley Square where there are no nightingales singing but a nervous footman admits them to Alverstoke House. He doesn’t know what to make of Frederica or those accompanying her but is luckily rescued by his lordship’s butler Wicken, who knows about the Merrivilles by special servant osmosis (you know Charles hasn’t been gossiping).
Alverstoke, who dresses with elegance but is not a dandy, is tying his neckcloth by dropping his chin into the foot-wide muslin cloth, shows mild surprise when told of Frederica’s visit. Wicken warns him about the dubious individuals who accompanied her, as well as a very large dog.
“Is there, by God! I wonder what the deuce –” he broke off. “Something tells me, Wicken, that danger awaits me in the book-room.”
“Oh, no, my lord!” said Wicken reassuringly. “It is not, I fancy, a fierce animal.”Lufra redeems his prior bad behavior by recognizing Alverstoke and bounding affectionately towards him (after a nervous second when the uninvited guests wonder if he’s about to attack). Frederica quickly tells the Marquis that she will never offer to take his dog out again. He catches the passed baton and asks for an explanation of what went down. There is general chaos as everyone tries to explain but the hatchet-faced lady is the loudest and most determined not to be ahem-cowed. The three men continue to whine about the dog not really being a Barcelona Collie but Alverstoke agrees, and explains that Frederica got it wrong – the dog is actually a Baluchistan Hound. This saves the men’s pride so they are willing to be paid off by Mr. Trevor but the hatchet-faced lady is of sterner stuff. Alverstoke won’t put up with her officiousness:
“. . . It appears to me that you have been indulging in a high piece of meddling. If I should be asked to give an account of this interview, I should feel myself bound to state that these men came, very properly, to inform me of my dog’s misdemeanor, and to request that he should be kept under restraint; but as they were accompanied, for whatever reason I know not, by an officious person, wanting in both manner and sense, who took it upon herself to usurp their authority, it was all too long before they were able to lay their complaint before me.” He glanced towards the open door, where Wicken stood, his countenance graven, and his brain seething with conjecture. “Be so good as to show this lady out!” he said. “And desire Mr. Trevor to come to me!”Wicken is even more intimidating than the Marquis so the hatchet-faced lady leaves, raging and humiliated. The park rangers and cowman slink out to receive largesse. Frederica hides her laughter in her handkerchief.
Frederica, who, you will recall, found him somewhat arrogant in their first meeting. In addition, we learn that Alverstoke’s servants have been speculating about the Merrivilles so her unexpected arrival adds grist to the mill. And, as we will see in the next chapter, this provides the perfect opportunity for Frederica to make the acquaintance of Lady Buxted solo!
- So, do you like Alverstoke better now?
- Do those who think Frederica too managing like seeing her at a loss?
- Is this one of Heyer’s best ensemble chapters?
- Should Frederica have dragged a housemaid along to chaperone? It wouldn't have helped her deal with Lufra's behavior but would have sent a message as to her quality.
- Is Lady Buxted cruising for a bruising? Does she deserve it for her spiteful and grasping behavior (and, wait, it gets worse)?
- Should a girl who looks terrible in pastels be allowed to wear pink at her come out? (and keep in mind (a) that it used to be easier to tell a young girl what to wear, and (b) her whole future might depend on the success of this event and, superficial though it may be, she will be judged on her looks and expectations)