Alverstoke’s night at the farm minding Felix is very stressful. At least grumpy Miss Judbrook feeds him quite adequately but Felix tosses and turns all night, feverishly moaning or calling out for Frederica. My favorite bit is when he wakes up and asks where he is, and Alverstoke replies, “You are with me, Felix,” which he knows is silly when he utters it, but Felix is comforted. Alverstoke is so perturbed by Felix’s condition he sends for the doctor early in the morning. The doctor is impressed by how well Alverstoke deals with the wretched boy and asks if he has children. “Not to my knowledge,” he replies. He reassures his new best pal, Dr. Elcot, that Frederica is a very competent nurse.
The next morning Frederica arrives in Alverstoke’s traveling carriage with many of the things an invalid needs (such as lemons for lemonade). She is very tactful, except sometimes with her own siblings, and admires Miss Judbrook’s new parlor carpet, which wins over that disgruntled lady. Frederica tells Alverstoke her mother suffered from rheumatic fever (bronchitis) and Felix has inherited his deceased mother’s weak chest. Frederica reveals that her uncle-in-law died but Miss Winsham, instead of helping the Upper Wimpole Street household, is supporting her newly widowed sister. Frederica is also concerned about Charis’ spending too much time with Endymion back in London but has enough sense to realize that is out of her control. She is surprised when Alverstoke says he is not returning to London but is moving to an inn at Hemel Hempstead; she does not realize he is staying to support her and the inn is to protect her reputation.
Alverstoke returns to the farm at 6 pm, refreshed, and immediately notices how much more comfortable Frederica has made the sick room. However, Felix seems very feverish. Together, they make him swallow his medicine, then Alverstoke makes Frederica go to bed. He says he will drive back to the inn at midnight after she is rested. She is grateful for his help, not questioning why. Alverstoke admits to himself that although fond of Felix, he is there because he has “fallen deeply and reluctantly in love with” Frederica and wants to help her. The bored leader of ton is finally thinking of someone else before himself.
He and Frederica get into a routine. He seems to have most of the daytime shift with Felix while Frederica catches up on sleep, then she wakes up and he returns to the Inn. On the second day, Jessamy arrives with a valise full of books, the Waverley novels to read aloud to Felix, plus books for him to study. Feverish though Felix is, he recognizes Jessamy and is pleased to see him, although Jessamy is shocked by his appearance. Jessamy also tells Alverstoke that Harry and Miss Winsham quarreled, and Miss Winsham packed her trunk and moved in with her widowed sister, leaving Charis unchaperoned. Frederica admits to Alverstoke that this concerns her and he decides he will intervene with Endymion, if necessary, to save her worry. Alverstoke admits to himself he will sacrifice anyone to reduce her stress, except Felix or Jessamy: “he had become fond of the infernal brats – though he was damned if he knew why.” At the end of the chapter, Frederica shares with him that Felix’s fever has broken and we know (if we had doubted) that the boy will recover.
As Felix continues to improve, life at Monk’s Farm becomes almost normal. Alverstoke’s very proper valet Knapp feels out of the action over at the Sun so offers to help tend to Felix. This frees Frederica to spend a little time away from the sickroom so Alverstoke takes her on short rides in his phaeton or go on walks with him. They chat about everything but he realizes she shows no sign of recognizing his feelings or reciprocating them but Alverstoke is now sure how he feels:
His own doubts were at an end. The more he saw of her the more he loved her, and as he had never loved any woman before. Not the most beautiful of his mistresses had inspired him with a desire to shield her from every adverse wind; he had never pictured the most amusing of his well-born flirts presiding over his several establishments; and far less had he contemplated a permanent relationship with any of these ladies. But after knowing her for little more than two months Frederica had so seriously disturbed the pattern of his life that he had been cast into a state of indecision: a novel experience which had not been at all agreeable. When he was pitchforked into her little brother’s fantastic adventure he had still been in a state of uncertainty; since then he had spent more than a week in close companionship with her, and under conditions as unromantic as they were uncomfortable, and all his doubts were resolved: he wished to spend the rest of his life with her, because she was the perfect woman he had never expected to encounter.
His lordship, in fact, had fallen deeply in love. He was also undergoing yet another new experience: Frederica showed no sign of returning his regard. He knew that she liked him; once or twice he had dared to hope that the feeling she had for him was more than fondness, but he could never be sure of this, or forget that on the only occasion when he had given her the faintest reason to suspect him of gallantry she had instantly set him at a distance.(We suspect she is not indifferent because of the way she reacted in Chapter 16 when Harry said the Marquis was old and Frederica said he was in the prime of life)
When Alverstoke decides to test the waters, it is nearly disastrous because Frederica is obsessed with Felix’s recovery and is thinking about Dr. Ratcliffes’s Restorative Pork Jelly! Well, pork jelly, such as Dr. Ratcliffe’s (or Ratteliff’s) Restorative Pork Jelly, was highly recommended for loss of appetite or any sort of consumptive complaint, per author Lauren Gilbert. Still, maybe not worth missing a proposal for a mere jelly! Alverstoke laughs at the situation and prudently decides to bide his time.
Next, Harry posts down to visit, which is a mixed blessing. It is good to see him supporting Frederica but he overreacts to Felix’s appearance, demands a specialist, and when Frederica says he could help by finding them lodgings where Felix can recover outside London, he doesn’t feel up to it. Harry also tries to get Alverstoke to tell him exactly how much has been expended on Felix’s behalf. It is amusing that Alverstoke at the beginning of the book was determined not to pay a grouse towards any of the Merrivilles but now feels very differently. Still, he is respectful of Harry’s pride and promises to give him a Dutch reckoning later on.
“Do you mean that it’s no concern of mine? It isn’t, of course, but I like them both so much – and one can’t but care for what becomes of persons one holds in affection, and try to help them.”
As Alverstoke thinks about this, he supposes he must care about very few people, primarily Frederica, but then he realizes he cares about Felix and Jessamy as well, independent of their sister.Next to sally forth to Monk’s Farm is Lord Buxted, with the best of intentions but arousing no enthusiasm from those in attendance on Felix. He is not allowed to see Felix or bring him a puzzle, and Alverstoke has to muzzle Jessamy to prevent him from being disrespectful. Buxted is amazed Alverstoke is on the scene (both because it seems against his frivolous/detached nature and because of the implied intimacy he observes. Alverstoke makes a big deal of the fact that he is staying at the nearby inn and implies he is just waiting for his valet to be spared from Felix’s bedside. Then, Alverstoke ensures Buxted has special alone time with Frederica; Buxted proposes again, and she declines again. Later, she scolds Alverstoke for setting her up like that and says how inconsiderate it was for Buxted to propose at a time like that when she is so concerned about Felix. Alverstoke has a twisted smile as he knows he came very close to making the same mistake.
To read previous installments of this group read, click here.