In which we serialize Society Patroness Rachel Hyland’s first book in her Reading Heyer series, Reading Heyer: The Black Moth. Called “delicious” by Heyer expert Jennifer Kloester, it is a reading guide, critique and loving homage all in one. But mostly, it’s just a lot of fun. We hope you enjoy. Check back every Sunday for another installment, or buy the book here.
CHAPTER XIX: THE REAPPEARANCE OF HIS GRACE OF ANDOVER
It is in this chapter that Dick’s animosity for Captain Lovelace kicks into high gear, and he gets so fed up with the fellow’s constant attentions to his wife – all perfectly above board, of course, but you know how Dicky is – that he finally snaps and orders her to have nothing more to do with the “puppy,” lest she become the talk of the town and he ship her off back to the much-dreaded Wyncham.
She’s all “how dare you, how dare you?” and he’s all “oh, I dare, lady, I’m your husband, and listen to me or else” but then later she’s all “oh, I’ll show him” and she allows Captain Lovelace and another guy into her bedchamber to watch her don her gown for the evening. (Yes… she let them watch her get dressed. It was a thing. A weird thing, but a thing nonetheless.)
Then she and her enormous powdered hairstyle get into her “gilded chair” (seriously, like what Roman emperors, or fantasy novel princesses, are carried around in) and are escorted to Devonshire House for the Duchess’s rout – no, it’s not the same Duchess that Keira Knightly played in that film, but the previous one. On the way, Dick proves himself to have at least one friend in the world, the “austere patrician” and “some years his senior” Sir John Fortescue, to whom he confesses his dislike of Captain Lovelace after Fortescue stigmatizes Harry as a “rake-hell”: for which read “inveterate gambler.” (Yeah, dude, we knew that already. Robert’s way ahead of you!)
Oh, also, Sir John rather bizarrely lays this non sequitur on us: his brother Frank apparently went to meet a friend the day before and hasn’t been seen since. Now, who could that friend be…?
Meanwhile, the ball! There we see several (non-fictional) notables of the day – Lord March, Lord Selwyn, the Gunnings sisters – and Dick makes a new acquaintance, the fascinating little widow (or “a dainty piece,” as Lord Robert calls her; yeah, it’s becoming more and more obvious why everyone hates him, isn’t it?) Isabella Fanshawe, who likes her talk straight and her men Carstares-y, which we know because she recognizes in Dick’s face one “Anthony Ferndale” she had met in Vienna. Dick, after recovering from the shock, says as how he, too, knows the gentleman and is pretty much his biggest fan, to which Mrs. Fanshawe responds simply: “I do not think ever anyone knew him and was not, sir. It was something in his manner, his personality–I cannot explain–that endeared him to one.”
(There’s a shout out for you, Jack! Don’t think we’ve forgotten for a moment that you’re the hero of this piece!)
Dick then invites himself over to Mrs. Fanshawe’s for tea and Jack-talk at some later date (doubtless also serving up some sauce for the goose as he does so), while elsewhere in the ballroom Robert is again making a nuisance of himself, this time bringing displeasure to his newly returned elder brother Tracy.
Yes, as foretold in the chapter title, His Grace, the Duke of Andover is back! (In black… and silver. His signature colors, don’t you know.) Lavinia, of course, is in raptures to see her dear Devil again, and as Tracy’s BFF Frank Fortescue makes himself scarce (Dick’s best friend is Tracy’s best friend’s brother? Weird), she excitedly gets the d/l on all that transpired when this august peer of the realm sought to – say it with me – kidnap and rape someone. (You know what? Lavinia is like one of those women who fall for serial killers and become their “brides” or whatever. Mindhunters, where are you when we need you?)
But Tracy explains how his dread purpose was thwarted by some random sword-wielding hero whom he hopes has since died of his injuries (ha! Little do you know, Devil man!), and how he thereafter left for Paris, determined to forget his love of Diana. But Paris didn’t work! It just made it worse! And now he knows he’ll see her face again… when he kidnaps her for a second time, but with a difference, because this time he intends to – gasp! – actually marry her.
And suddenly Robert isn’t looking so bad, is he?
The rest is just Richard showing some spine when it comes to Lavinia, Tracy learning of the return of Lovelace, and some profundity from the junior Fortescue on the subject of Diana: “an she is a good woman, I hope she will consent to take you, such as you are, and make of you such as she can!”
Tracy, of course, returns with “Of course she will take me” and refuses to entertain the notion that he might have to apologize to her for all his lies and tricks and attempted rape. Frank is outraged. “…if your passion is love,” he says crossly, “’tis a strange one that puts yourself first. I would not give the snap of a finger for it! You want this girl, not for her happiness, but for your own pleasure. That is not the love I once told you would save you from yourself. When it comes, you will count yourself as nought; you will realise your own insignificance, and above all, be ready to make any sacrifice for her sake. Yes, even to the point of losing her!”
Hey, how come Frank Fortescue never got himself his own novel, huh? That guy is gold!
The action packed-ness of these two past two chapters is overwhelming, but while I want to discuss Dick and Lavinia’s odd relationship, her “gilded chair” and the fact that seeing her get dressed is apparently a spectator sport, not to mention all that followed with that nice Isabella Fanshawe – of whom we shall blessedly see more – and the return of Devil Belmanoir to cause yet more trouble for our beauteous Di, I will simply address this:
Richard did not return until it was time to prepare for the rout, and on entering the house he went straight to his chamber, putting himself into the hands of his valet. He submitted to the delicate tinting of his finger-nails, the sprinkling of his linen with rosewater and the stencilling of his brows. He was arrayed in puce and gold, rings slipped on to his fingers, his legs coaxed into hose with marvellous clocks splashed on their sides, and a diamond buckle placed above the large black bow of his tie-wig. Then, powdered, painted and patched, he went slowly across to his wife’s room.
You know what’s so genius about this passage? Not only does it give us an intriguing précis of the fashionable Georgian gentleman’s elaborate toilette (who knew they were so punk rock? Throw in some heavy eyeliner, and that’s probably how Benji Madden gets ready in the morning), but also take note of the color Dick has chosen to wear.
And you know who hates puce?
Well played, Georgette Heyer. Very well played indeed.
Will we continue to get more subtexty insight into the twisted subconsciouses of these two conflicted brothers? Is Lavinia’s flirtation with Lovelace going to get her exiled to that palatial estate she hates so much? And will we soon all wish Robert would die? (If we don’t already…) Let’s embark upon Chapter XX, to find out!
New chapters of Reading Heyer: The Black Moth will be posted here at Heyer Society each Sunday. Or buy it here.