Alverstoke surprises everyone by turning up for what Betsy Ray’s family would call Sunday Night Lunch. He dresses down in morning dress and manages to be the most elegant man in the room without no effort. Felix is delighted to see him and thanks Alverstoke for arranging the trip to the New Mint with Mr. Trevor (although it is doubtless Charles who did the legwork). Darcy Moreton is struck first by Alverstoke’s friendly response to Felix’s greeting and then by Alverstoke’s “warmer and more intimate” smile for Frederica.
Good God! mentally ejaculated Mr. Moreton. Sits the wind in that quarter?This is just a bit awkward as Darcy was interested in Frederica himself (a pity Georgette didn’t give him his own book later; a modern author would be encouraged by her editor to do so). Frederica introduces him to the other guests, which include the older gentleman she considered for Charis, some young ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Moreton, Endymion, Chloe, Charles, and Lord Buxted. The three gentlemen fear that Alverstoke will be critical of their attendance but he merely smiles at them before ingratiating himself with Miss Winsham. After observing the group, Alverstoke concludes that Endymion is infatuated with Charis, Charles and Chloe with each other, and Lord Buxted is indeed interested in Frederica. He decides that if Charles and Chloe last, he will need to help Charles get a government position with advancement potential. He talks to Sir Mark Lyneham, the possible older suitor for Charis, but dismisses him when Lyneham talks about putting Charis in a frame to look at, and tells Frederica he won’t do at all and asks if she like him to find a likely widower. She gives a decided no and Alverstoke says she can command his services at any time and puts his hand over hers.
She would have drawn her hand away as she spoke, but he prevented her, lifting it from the bannister, and lightly kissing it. She had the oddest sensation of having suffered an electric shock; she even felt slightly dizzy; and it was several minutes after he had left her before she went back into the drawing room. It was no longer customary for gentlemen to kiss hands; and although oldfashioned persons frequently kissed the hands of married ladies, his lordship was not oldfashioned and she was not married. She wondered what he meant by it, and was obliged to give herself a mental shake. Probably he meant nothing at all, or was trying to get up a flirtation.Later in the week Jessamy hires a Pedestrian Curricle, a sort of bicycle, which he has seen people riding in the park. See Sarah Waldock's blog for more (by the way, her books look fun and I am adding them to my TBR - has anyone read them?) He takes lessons, planning to surprise his family, but has a disastrous fall when Lufra tangles with another dog. The resulting chaos unnerves him and anxious to spare Frederica worry, he blurts out that his guardian is the Marquis of Alverstoke. When he reaches Berkeley Square, he tells first Mr. Trevor and then Alverstoke his tale of woe, mostly incoherently. Despite having no experience with adolescents, Alverstoke calms him down and Band-Aids his wounds, and agrees to advance him the funds to cover any damage he caused. The most sensible line of the book is when Alverstoke tells Jessamy he will be a better parson if he develops an understanding of human frailty. Then he earns Jessamy’s devotion by commanding him to study less and (pretending it is a favor) spend time exercising Alverstoke’s horses.
Frederica is mortified that Jessamy sought help from Alverstoke instead of her. She worries that she dragged the boys to London to their detriment and is embarrassed that she is further indebted to him. She is, however, grateful that Jessamy is happier now and enjoying riding Alverstoke’s horses. Alverstoke notices a new young man pursuing Charis – he is a very eligible gentleman, Mr. Peter Navenby, who has already brought his mother to call upon the Merrivilles. He teases Frederica about Navenby’s prospects and they discuss the muttonheaded-aspects of Charis and Endymion. Those watching them in conversation while regarding Charis assume she has caught his interest. Lady Buxted, who has disliked them both since the ball, talks trash about them to her sister, but Lady Jevington said they are “[v]ery unaffected, pretty behaved girls, both of them. Charis is a beautiful ninnyhammer; but I believe Frederica to be a young woman of superior understanding.” Lady Buxted says what if the beautiful ninnyhammer becomes their sister-in-law? Lady Jevington (who sees much more than we realized) tells Louisa she is a fool.
In the meantime, 21-year-old Harry Merriville has been sent down from Oxford for some undergraduate horseplay so has naturally headed to London (as someone mentioned, the rented house on Upper Wimpole Street must be surprisingly spacious). He tells his sisters it was practically his duty to be rusticated so he could check on his family. Harry has heard Alverstoke is a rake and tells his sisters that it isn’t appropriate for Alverstoke to act like their guardian. This upsets Frederica because it is both unfair to Alverstoke and critical of her decision making. Jessamy reassures Harry that Alverstoke is all that is proper, and describes all their new relatives. Harry goes to call on the Marquis himself, but expecting a dandy he is impressed by Alverstoke’s athletic form. Alverstoke exerts his charm with Harry, refuses to tell him what he expended on Jessamy’s Pedestrian Curricle incident, and says if Harry gets into trouble to call Alverstoke to bail him out instead of Frederica. He ends by giving Harry an introduction to Gentleman Jackson’s boxing school (who better than my former author, Candice Hern, to provide some background). Harry is excited about this, although is unsure whether he likes Alverstoke or not. The Marquis had no such doubts. Within ten minutes of making Harry’s acquaintance, he had recognized in him not only his father’s merits, but also his failings. A pleasing boy, with frank, well-bred manners, whom it was impossible not to like; but one who lacked strength of character, and would always be amiably ready to let another shoulder his responsibilities.
And why the devil should I shoulder them? The Marquis demanded of himself. I must have windmills in my head.Chapter 16
Harry and Endymion find they are soulmates due to being sports-mad, which unfortunately means he doesn’t fully share Frederica’s disapproval of Endymion and Charis’ relationship. Charis tells Harry she is afraid Frederica will ask Alverstoke to separate them and asks for his help. He tries to talk Endymion up to Frederica but it is uphill work, and Frederica is indignant when Harry says Endymion’s prospects are good because Alverstoke is too old to get married.
Frederica herself has received two offers of marriage: one from Lord Buxted and one from Darcy Moreton, both of which she fails to take seriously and declines. Lord Buxted offers to mentor her brothers – which Frederica knows they would dislike intensely – and Mr. Moreton is dismayed at the very idea. Frederica knows Alverstoke is the only person her brothers accept as a mentor:
“he had behaved as though he really were their guardian, so that she had come, insensibly, to regard him as one to whom she could turn in any difficulty. This vexed her, for she had not previously looked for support or advice; and she had a shrewd notion that if she were to maintain her own strength, she must not allow herself to fall into the habit of depending on him. . . . Had she been told she was rapidly becoming an obsession with him, she would have been incredulous.
Alverstoke is being careful not to start any rumors about his partiality for Frederica, and even sets up a new flirt as a decoy. He never thought seriously about a wife and did not want to be bored by a long term relationship, but now Frederica has cast “him into a state of unwelcome doubt.” He even admits he’s become fond of Felix and Jessamy. He can’t figure out exactly why Frederica has captivated him:
A frown gathered on his brow as he thought this over. The devil of it was that the more he saw of her the stronger grew the feeling he had for her, which was not love (an emotion which belonged to one’s salad days), nor yet mere liking Call it affection! It caused him to think about her far too much for his peace of mind; and (really, he must be growing senile!) to be constantly aware of a wish to list the burdens from her shoulders.Alverstoke has noticed the sisters are wearing dresses that have been refurbished over the season but wrongly assumes it is Frederica sewing long hours by candlelight. He is unaware of Charis’ skill with a needle. He anticipates that Harry will lose money gambling on horses, so keeps an eye on him, and when he sees Frederica is worried, he arranges an expedition to the opera so he can find out why. He is able to reassure her that Harry is a normal young man who may get into minor scrapes but is unlikely to follow in his father’s footsteps. Frederica is reassured and grateful for his opinion; she wonders why he has interested himself so deeply in their affairs. Alverstoke is at a crossroads: he does not want to make a declaration to Frederica and it is also the first time in his life he has been interested in a woman who seems to think of him only as a friend.
Does Alverstoke’s handling of the Pedestrian Curricle incident show (whether he likes it or not) that he is ready to be in loco parentis to Frederica’s brothers?
Admittedly, Harry is only 21 but he has less sense of responsibility than Jessamy. Perhaps Frederica over-sheltered him during the years of their father’s illness? Should he do more to either support Frederica or to persuade her of Charis’ lasting passion?
What is really going on in Alverstoke’s head and how should he proceed?
Alverstoke doesn’t even seem to like the best member of his family, Lady Elizabeth! What do her and Harry’s arrivals add to the story?