Charis is a huge success at the ball. She is asked for every dance and, properly, won’t stand up with anyone more than twice. However, Endymion who was immediately smitten, asks for two dances and escorts her to supper. He is slightly outmaneuvered by a fellow officer, Lord Wrenthorpe, who is escorting Chloe and wants to make a party of four. Endymion loses his tête-à-tête with Charis and has to dash to find Frederica who is with Lady Jevington’s son Gregory, another “cousin”. We also learn that Mrs. Dauntry introduced Charis to Lord Wrenthorpe – she has already noticed her son’s infatuation, disapproves, and is trying to distract Charis.
Although the ball is magnificent and everyone who is anyone is there, Lady Buxted is infuriated that Alverstoke did it to launch the Merrivilles and that rival hostesses are urging her to bring them to their festivities. Lady Jersey promises vouchers for Almack’s for the Merrivilles and oh-so-sweetly includes Jane as well. Just as we saw Lady Jersey in the previous chapter complain about Louisa and Augusta snubbing her when she was their younger sister’s friend, Louisa remembers it differently:
When Lady Buxted remembered impertinent little Sally Fane, a wretched schoolroom-miss to whom she had administered a number of well deserved set-downs, the delicacies her brother’s French cook had prepared for the refreshment of his guests tasted like ashes in her mouth.
Alverstoke does not dance with his wards but does ask Frederica if she is satisfied. She tells him she is delighted by Charis’ success, and he is amused that she spares no thought for herself. Although Frederica assumes anyone being nice to her is hoping to get close to Charis, she does not realize two of the guests prefer her – Lord Buxted and Darcy Moreton, Alverstoke’s oldest friend. In fact, Mr. Moreton quizzes Alverstoke on his real motives for taking the Merrivilles under his wing and says “[t]he elder sister’s the filly for my money.” Alverstoke admits he did it to annoy Louisa.
After the ball, many of their new friends call on the Merrivilles at Upper Wimpole Street: Lord Buxted, Endymion, and even Lady Jersey makes a courtesy call, which she almost regrets. Luckily, she decides to be charmed by Miss Winsham’s eccentricity, and her approval helps establish the Merrivilles in society. Miss Winsham is made much of when she escorts the young ladies to Almack’s but she does not appreciate the attention, and afterwards is happy to delegate their chaperonage to Lady Buxted or Mrs. Dauntry. Neither of those ladies is thrilled with the Merrivilles but can’t show it because each needs Alverstoke to pay her bills. Lady Buxted is jealous of their popularity but doesn’t think her son could be seriously interested in Frederica, while Mrs. Dauntry is worried about Endymion’s infatuation with Charis, which includes escorting Chloe to spend time with her new friend. Lady Buxted spitefully tells everyone that the Merrivilles have no fortune, hoping to spoil their chances, while Mrs. Dauntry, craftier, tries to introduce Charis to any possible prospect that isn’t her son. She is so preoccupied with Charis that she does not notice Chloe and Charles Trevor becoming close. The ton ignores Lady Buxted and observes Mrs. Dauntry’s hints about the family estates in Herefordshire, so there is a growing sense that the Merrivilles are better dowered than they are.
Frederica begins to hear rumors about her and Charis’ alleged fortunes, and she is concerned about the misrepresentation and worried Alverstoke is responsible. She asks him – after he has taken Jessamy for a ride with the grays and complimented the boy on his skill – and he denies it but is amused, especially when he hears Mrs. Dauntry has been introducing Charis to some questionable prospects.
Meeting her enquiring look, he said, “Who would have thought that your adoption of me would have provided me with so much entertainment?”
“You did!” responded Frederica unhesitatingly. “I didn’t know it at the outset, but I am very sure now that you adopted us merely to infuriate Lady Buxted!”
“And can you blame me?”
An involuntary chuckle escaped her. “Well, perhaps not as much as I ought! But you did think it might amuse you!”
“True – and so it did!”
Alverstoke and Frederica confer about some of Charis’ would-be beaux and Alverstoke says he will take them driving in the park to send a quelling message to inappropriate suitors. Frederica says he doesn’t need to include her but she is grateful for the attention to Charis:
She tried, unsuccessfully, to repress a mischievous chuckle, and added, with disarming candour, “You can’t think how much against the pluck it goes with me to administer to your vanity, cousin, but I haven’t spent all these weeks in London without realizing that your consequence is enormous!”
“Viper!” said his lordship appreciatively. “I will endure the company of your beautiful but bird-witted sister, but on the condition that the tedium of these sessions will be relieved occasionally by your astringent quality."
Alverstoke reveals he has heard the rumors about Endymion’s passion for Charis, and Frederica reveals that Lord Buxted prefers her. Alverstoke says this improves his opinion of Buxted. Felix bursts in on their conversation to beg Alverstoke to take him to the New Mint. Alverstoke says Charles Trevor deserve this treat and it is revealed that Mr. Trevor has been coming to the Merrivilles’ informal Sunday night suppers. Puzzled, Alverstoke asks Frederica if Charles is pursuing Charis too; she says no and is too discreet to reveal the truth, but Alverstoke guesses that Charles is interested in Chloe Dauntry.
Alverstoke demonstrates his active support of the Merrivilles by taking Charis driving in Hyde Park where they can be seen by the ton. Unfortunately, although Charis has lovely manners and impresses him by her lack of coquetry to the admirers they encounter, she is not a great conversationalist and he is bored. He politely asks her to drive out again and she surprises him by asking if he would take the whole family to visit my favorite place in England, Hampton Court! Everyone enjoys this expedition, especially the boys and Charis who get lost in the maze, while Alverstoke (who somehow in pre-internet 19th century acquires the key to the maze) guides himself and her out of it. She teases him about not taking his own nephews and nieces on such excursions and he says that would have bored him.
“But why didn’t you send [Charles Trevor] to escort us today?” she asked, in an innocent tone at variance with the mischief in her eyes. “You cannot have supposed that such an expedition as this wouldn’t bore you quite as much as the Mint!”
He glanced down at her, half smiling, but with an oddly arrested expression in his face.
She was puzzled by it, but after a minute, she said quizzically: “Are you wondering if you can bamboozle me into believing you won’t entrust your team to Mr. Trevor?”
“No,” he replied slowly, “though it would be true! I was thinking how well that bonnet becomes you.”
They continue to joke until he asks her gently if she thinks Charis really wants the future Frederica seeks for her. This distresses Frederica. She explains that she doesn’t want a brilliant match for Charis, just an eligible husband who can provide the “elegancies of life.” Alverstoke points out that Charis prefers the country to town which surprises and worries her sister. She says she only wants Charis to be happy but the girl is so persuadable and falls in love so often she did not want Charis to throw herself away on someone in the country without ever having seen a wider range of suitors. Frederica admits she doesn’t always understand her sister because she has never fallen in love herself, which astounds Alverstoke. She tells him she is four-and-twenty and happy to be on the shelf, taking care of the family. She says his reputation doesn’t reflect his kindness to her family, and asks what he thinks about an older gentleman in his 40s for Charis but Alverstoke says the man sounds too dull and wonders why she is so well disposed towards him.
“I was beginning to think you had a tendre for this paragon yourself, and that would never do: you wouldn’t suit, believe me.”
“Readily!” she said, laughing. “So perhaps I won’t, after all, try to cut Charis out! As if I could!”
“I can think of more unlikely contingencies,” he said.
"Can you indeed? Then either you must be all about in your head, or a bigger humbug than I am!” she said roundly.
Is this conversation between Alverstoke and Frederica what is sometimes called a recognition scene – on his part, at least? Certainly, Alverstoke enjoys Frederica’s easy conversation and lack of awe around him (no one else teases him). I don’t think he is in love with her yet but he does recognize something special about her.
These chapters are also important because they show the way the ton embraces the Merrivilles (whatever their finances) but Alverstoke realizes before Frederica that Charis enjoys parties but doesn’t really like being the center of attention. Charis tells him the country is nicer because people don’t stare. For those down on Frederica, let me point out that she is distressed at his suggestion the season for Charis was not what her sister wanted. She just wants Charis not to have to pinch and scrape if she marries someone of modest means and hitherto, it is implied, Charis fell in and out of love readily.
Should Frederica have been spurred to have a serious talk with Charis after she has this conversation with Alverstoke?