|This cover is dreadful|
While the Marquis is enjoying the races at Newmarket, the Merriville ladies are preparing for the ball while Felix gets into trouble by taking a steamboat to Margate without permission (where he makes friends with the crew and spends the night aboard before being returned to Frederica the next day). Afterwards, Frederica asks Jessamy to keep an eye on him so for a while they spend time exploring London and having a great time. When Jessamy wonders if he has been leading Felix into bad ways, Frederica calms him down and also asks him not to encourage their neighbor, Mr. Nutley, in his infatuation with Charis.
“. . . it would not do to become intimate with that family , or with their friends. To be plain with you, Jessamy, they may be good, worthy people, but they aren’t up to the rig! Mrs. Nutley’s patronage cannot give us consequence – in fact, it would be excessively harmful! Her manners, you not, are not distinguished, and, from what Buddle tells me, Mr. Nutley is a very ungenteel person.”
“Buddle!” he ejaculated.
She smiled, “My dear, if Budddle holds up his nose you may depend upon it he is right! Papa once told me that a good butler may be trusted to smell out a commoner in the twinkling of a bedpost! Young Mr. Nutley, I own, has more polish than his parents, but he’s an April-squire, Jessamy!”Charis is looking forward to the parties and entertainments of the London season but is distressed that Frederica wants to spend money only Charis’ wardrobe instead of her own. They have gone to a modiste and a milliner recommended by Alverstoke, and name dropped Lady Buxted in order to get a discount.
“Well, wasn’t that famous?” said Frederica, her eyes sparkling with mingled triumph and mischief. “Three hats for very little more than one!”
“Frederica, they were shockingly expensive?”
“No more than we can afford. Oh, well, they were not precisely dagger-cheap, but hats are most important, you know!”Frederica tries to get Charis excited about a new ball dress but Charis is unexpectedly stubborn: she doesn’t want an expensive dress they can’t afford and she wants to make her own. She shows Frederica what she has in mind – a three-quarter dress of white sarsnet fastened down the middle with rossettes of pearls, and worn over a white satin petticoat. Despite Charis’ talent for sewing, Frederica doesn’t want her to wear a homemade dress at the ball she has contrived so hard for but their aunt, Miss Winsham, says it will turn out well and will keep Charis away from the vulgar Mr. Nutley so she gives in.
|Dinner and Walking Dresses, 1818 *|
Frederica and Charis set out on the night of the ball in anticipation of a pleasant evening. Charis is so beautiful that people are always kind to her and Frederica is always self-possessed, concerned only for her sister to be a success. Alverstoke invited them to an exclusive dinner party before the ball, consisting “with a few exceptions, of persons whom he either avoided, or never noticed at all.” Guests include his sisters, their children, his oldest friend, Mr. Darcy Moreton, Lord and Lady Jersey, and Mrs. Parracombe, a handsome brunette whose name has been linked with Alverstoke (I already detest her). Charles Trevor pointed out the numbers were uneven and Alverstoke says it is because Charles is attending the festivities to support him. Alverstoke says he will keep the peace by inviting his sister Lady Jevington to be the hostess at the dinner party, as Lady Buxted and Mrs. Dauntry will jointly receive the guests at the ball. Charles works on the seating plan and has the ball room decorated.
On the night of the ball, everyone is initially in a good mood. Lady Jevington is gracious to Charles (whom she knows because his father is the vicar at Alver); Mrs. Dauntry looks handsome in lilac spider-gauze and her 17-year-old daughter Chloe is wearing primrose muslin which suits her (“a pretty child and may well improve,” says Alverstoke). Alas, Jane Buxted is wearing an over-trimmed dress and a pink wreath of flowers, along with an artificial titter. Lady Buxted is explaining to Lady Jevington about the Merrivilles seconds before they arrive:
“My dear Augusta, I felt it to be my duty,” said Lady Buxted. “There was Vernon, quite at a stand, as you may suppose! So like Fred Merriville to have cast the whole family on his hands! If I had not come to the rescue, I don’t know what would have become of the girls, because their aunt is quite eccentric – very blue, you know!- and detests going into society.”
“Indeed!” said Lady Jevington, receiving this explanation with obvious skepticism. “How grateful Alverstoke must be! And what are they like? No doubt very beautiful!”
“Oh, dear me, no! I have only met the elder: quite a good-looking girl, but I shouldn’t describe her as a beauty. I believe the younger is the prettier of the two. Vernon, did you not tell me that Miss Charis Merriville is pretty?”
“Very likely,” he responded. “I think her so, at all events. You must tell me how she strikes you, dear Louisa!”
At that moment, Wicken announced Miss Merriville, and Miss Charis Merriville, and there was no need for Lady Buxted to tell her brother how Charis struck her, for the answer was plainly written in her face.Frederica creates an impression of elegance but Charis’ beauty absolutely strikes the assembly dumb (although she is also wearing a wreath of flowers which I suppose she carries off better than poor Jane) – “No man could be blamed for thinking that he beheld a celestial vision.” Alverstoke acts fatherly to the Merrivilles and Frederica hides a twinkle before politely introducing her sister to Lady Buxted. Lady Buxted has to hide her fury but she knows that Lady Jevington realizes Alverstoke hoaxed her. Lady Buxted thinks Mrs. Dauntry will be equally infuriated at her daughter being cast in the shade but Mrs. Dauntry is to clever to show it, and admires Charis and Chloe together, calling them the prettiest girls in the room, which insults both Jane and Lady Jevington’s daughter Anna. The last guest to arrive is Alverstoke’s block-headed heir Endymion. He starts to apologize for his lateness but then sees Charis and falls into a trance.
Lady Jersey is a high stickler but refrains from annoyance with Endymion because he is a good-looking and amiable young man and because she grew up with the Dauntrys (Lady Jersey is four years younger than Alverstoke so is in her early 30s, if anyone is wondering). She also wonders if Charis is his latest flirt but quickly guesses he sponsored the Merrivilles just to annoy Louisa. Mrs. Parracombe, about to be dumped, is sure he is interested in Charis and makes a snide comment to Alverstoke about cradle-robbing (that is not the way to keep a flame). At dinner, Endymion stares adoringly at Charis; she, well brought up, talks properly to those on her immediate left and right; Frederica listens to Lord Buxted bore on about estate management; and Lady Jersey tells Alverstoke the girls have good manners and she will get them vouchers to Almack’s, partly to oblige Alverstoke and partly to annoy Louisa (it’s a trend). Lady Jersey recalls how condescending Louisa and Augusta were to her when she was a scrubby schoolgirl, hanging out with Alverstoke’s youngest sister Eliza.
She sent another glance down the table. “The Beauty will become the rage, of course. The elder has more countenance, but – What’s their fortune, Alverstoke?”
She wrinkled her nose. “Ah, that’s a pity. However, one never knows. With that face the younger at least need not despair of achieving an eligible alliance. We shall see!”That is the end of the chapter so we won’t see what happens at the ball immediately. In a different type of book, Alverstoke would get murdered by Louisa, Lucretia, Endymion or Mr. Parracombe in a secluded corner (think The Convenient Marriage).
Does anyone feel sorry for Jane? She is being upstaged at her own ball (well, I know it’s also Chloe’s, Charis’ and Frederica’s ball, but that’s not how Louisa and Jane see it).
Heyer always approves of good manners (Frederica, Charis) and disapproves of bad manners (Tiffany Wield, Jack Westruther) and even those who are way of the Merrivilles approve of the way they carry themselves. And Lady Jersey decides to give them vouchers!
It is not until one is typing in one’s favorite quotes that one realizes how very many exclamation points our Georgette likes to use! Not that I object, although if I had to give up some punctuation I personally would keep the comma and give up the exclamation point. What do you think? Is it as noticeable when reading? Is it excessive or just part of the fun?
I think I mentioned previously that Elizabeth Gunning’s third son, who became the Duke of Argyll, married Caroline Villiers, sister-in-law of our Lady Jersey; but you already knew everyone in the ton is connected.
Does anyone else love looking at hats? One of my guilty pleasures is the website https://whatkatewore.com/ and I enjoy the Duchess of Cambridge’s outfits and especially her hats!
* For image, see https://calisphere.org/item/6992b5cd896b0733b0dc63353773cf51/