Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Back to Frederica by Georgette Heyer, Chapters 18-21

For those who wondered what had happened to the discussion of Frederica, I thought I should finish posting:
Image borrowed from
Chapter 18

After seeing Felix successfully wheedle Alverstoke and hearing that Jessamy is exercising his precious horses, Lady Elizabeth is dying of curiosity and rushes to see her elder sister, Lady Jevington, for her opinion of the Merrivilles.   Eliza reveals that Lady Jersey wrote to her, predicting Alverstoke would marry Charis and that Alverstoke painted her in the most glowing terms.  Lady Jevington says Alverstoke was hoaxing her: “But unless I am much mistaken it is the elder and not the younger sister for whom he has conceived a decided tendre.” 

More astute than Alverstoke realizes, Lady Jevington thinks he does not know his own mind but is determined to protect Frederica from gossip about his intentions.  Surprisingly, she is pro-Frederica and says idleness has been Alverstoke’s ruin so being the guardian of two boys will keep him busy (it is actually quite impressive how well Lady J has observed and analyzed her brother’s behavior).  Lady Elizabeth likes Frederica when she meets her at the Seftons’ party and thinks that she would be considered a very pretty girl were her looks not dimmed by Charis’ proximity.  “She possessed, moreover, the indefinable gift of charm which, unlike Charis’ fragile beauty, would be with her to the end.”  Lady Elizabeth says she’d like to call to meet Frederica’s aunt but Frederica reveals that Miss Winsham’s sister is about to suffer a bereavement so Miss Winsham has been spending all her time at the afflicted household.   Frederica is worried if her uncle-in-law dies they will need to go into mourning and miss out on the last weeks of the season.

Mr. Navenby has asked permission to make Charis an offer but she only cares about Endymion and is now convinced Frederica wants to separate them.  Endymion says if necessary he can sell out of the army so that Alverstoke can’t use his influence to have him sent overseas or on a secret mission (he and Charis don’t realize he does not possess the intellect for espionage).

Chapter 19

Felix arrives at Alver House early the day of the ascension and chatters away to the Marquis and Lady Elizabeth regarding everything they wanted to know about balloons but were afraid to ask.  They park the phaeton near Lord Buxted’s carriage so Lady Elizabeth can converse with Frederica.   Buxted has brushed up with the encyclopedia to playfully provide aeronautics information to Jessamy (who doesn’t care) and Felix (who has already headed off to bother the balloon technicians).   Despite Buxted, they are enjoying the afternoon until the balloon rises into the air with Felix dangling by a rope.   Charis faints and everyone watching freaks out but Felix is hauled into the basket safely.   Frederica does not overreact but says Felix is susceptible to bronchitis and may react badly to the cold.  Jessamy begs the Marquis to lend him the phaeton so he can chase the balloon, and when Frederica also asks him, Alverstoke and Jessamy set off together.

Chapter 20

Alverstoke and Jessamy (and Curry, Alverstoke’s groom) drive off in the direction of the balloon, and Alverstoke tries to calm down Jessamy who is blaming himself.   After driving for some time, they see the balloon descend and when they catch up with it, they learn when the balloon came down it got stuck in a tree.  Spectators tell them the boy (Felix) climbed out of the basket all right but then fell to the ground and was “taken up for dead” and brought to nearby Monk’s Farm.  Jessamy is freaked out again but manages to control himself until they reach the farm.
Chapter 21

The Judbrooks, a kindly farmer and his cranky sister, have taken in Felix and the other injured balloonists, and gruff but competent Dr. Elcot is already there.  He reports that Felix suffered a severe concussion, sprained wrist, broken ribs, and various bruises, and scolds Alverstoke for being “a mighty careless guardian.”   The aeronaut relates that Felix was helping them with the balloon and said he wished he could ascend with them.  They said his parents wouldn’t like it.  But when he clambered into the balloon basket with them, the first thing he said was that he didn’t have parents so they wouldn’t get in trouble!   However, it was cold in the air so Felix probably didn’t realize how numb his hands were: when the balloon got caught in a tree and the occupants had to climb down, he couldn’t hold onto the branch and fell.

Alverstoke gets a good impression of the plainspoken country doctor, who tells him it will take a day or so to determine how serious Felix’s condition is (Alverstoke explains the boy has a history of bronchitis).  Then Alverstoke tells his groom Curry to drive Jessamy back to London, update Frederica on what has happened, and explain that Curry will pick her up the next morning in the Marquis’ traveling carriage to bring her to Felix.   Alverstoke also writes a note to Charles to update him and request some cash (as he is giving all of his to Curry for the travel back to London). Alverstoke is angered by the whole situation until he sees poor Felix lying in a laudanum-induced coma and then he experiences not only pity but also a sense of responsibility.   He realizes he has to take care of Felix until Frederica arrives and also needs to reassure Jessamy who is unwilling to leave.  He flatters Jessamy a little: “You mustn’t think I don’t value Harry, but I can’t but feel that if I stood in Frederica’s shoes I should look to you for support rather than to him.”     After Jessamy and Curry leave, Alverstoke settles down in an armchair next to Felix, expecting a night of tedium, and the chapter ends as he begins to contemplate finding a political patron for Charles Trevor.
Lady Jevington understands her brother better than he realized (we eldest sisters spend a lot of time observing and know our siblings’ flaws quite well) and I suppose we should all be grateful she didn’t intervene and spoil this romance.   Is she right that marriage to Frederica will end his boredom?   Heyer is less optimistic (or is she?) that marriage will reform Damerel.

Heyer describes the balloon ascension so well – including its ignominious descent.    Several years before I read Heyer, I fell in love with the Flambards series by K.M. Peyton, in which one of the characters is an early aviator.  The aeronauts here escape lightly but that was not always the case.  Doesn’t it make you wonder how those early pioneers of the air had the courage to try to fly?

Alverstoke really comes into his own in the chapters at the Judbrooks.   He carries it off with his usual calm but in Chapter 21 he admits to feeling unfit for the responsibility.  It is the trust he sees in Jessamy’s eyes (and knowing unconscious Felix *has* to trust him) that helps Alverstoke cope with a novel and difficult situation.

How does changing horses really work?  You wouldn’t want to leave your own valuable horses in a strange stable without your groom, would you?  And if you are driving job horses and are merely changing one set for another, isn’t there some ultimate owner who wants his horses back too?  It’s not like a national rental car company where the “one-way-dropoffs” make their way back eventually, is it? 

For the previous discussions of Frederica, click here.

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