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 XV: O’HARA’S MIND IS MADE UP
Oh, is it now? Do tell, chapter. Tell us all about it.
But first, no, okay, dwell on Jim packing up Jack’s extensive and beauteous wardrobe for a bit. Then let’s have a bunch of the owner of said clothing being a complete asshole and taking out all of his frustration over having to leave his newly-beloved Diana on his poor, defenseless helpmeet. (If the measure of a man is in how they treat their inferiors, then Jack is really not measuring very high right now.)
But it turns out that Jim? Not so helpless, after all. Because when Jack is roused to anger over his impudence at daring to suggest that a man only newly out of his sickbed and with a bullet wound in his shoulder might possibly not be in the best condition to ride a horse, and subsequently demands that Jim will travel in the coach with the luggage and not on horseback, as a quite cryptic punishment, Jim refuses. “No, sir,” he says mildly, to which Jack is all “You forget yourself, Salter” and Jim is all “Aw, come on, I’ll be your best-friend” and after some more asshole-ishness, Jack finally relents.
It is at this point that O’Hara enters the scene. Having just returned from London and having somehow immediately heard that Jack is “afther” leaving the neighborhood (ah, that wacky Irish brogue of his) via some kind of antediluvian instant message service, he has come hither to demand that Jack come for a visit. Jack had intended to return to Europe, and had even asked Jim if he’d leave behind his girlfriend (oooh! Jim has a girlfriend!) to accompany him – to which Jim unsurprisingly replied as how “Women ain’t everything, sir” – but the kybosh is quickly placed on that scheme; O’Hara’s mind is indeed made up here, and Jack, it seems, is not to be permitted to make up his mind about anything anymore, ever.
Oh, he’s still determined not to drag Diana down to his bottom-feeding level by marrying her, even though Miles points out, quite sensibly, that a) she would be fine with that and b) Jack’s a freaking Earl. Then when all his martyred friend can do is bemoan his life choices (card cheat, fencing master, highwayman),
and then tells of how he confessed his criminal conduct to Mr. Beauleigh, Miles demands: “Ye never told him ye were a highwayman?…God help us all! are ye daft, man? Do ye intend to tell every other person ye meet what ye are? Bedad, ’tis mad ye are entirely!”
Bedad, indeed, Miles! Bedad, indeed.
And so. A tortured farewell with the bereft Mistress Di (turned cold, to hide her shame at having been so unmaidenly a chapter earlier, the poor dear), and then it’s to Miles’s place, where we see Jack become reacquainted with Lady O’Hara – during which Miles “… saw with content that his capricious little wife was really attracted to my lord.” Hmm. With content? Odd. Later that night, drinking wine in the manly fashion that was how guys bonded before there were videogames, Miles tells Jack that his old/new nemesis, the Duke of Andover, has been seen in Paris; that Tracy and his younger brother Andrew are constantly having Dick pay their debts; that Lavinia was brought home from school as a young miss specifically to inveigle one of the Carstares brothers into marrying her; and then he finally loses it but good, telling Jack that he has known all along it was Dick who did the card cheating, and then laying into the younger Carstares brother so satisfyingly that, if you weren’t already a little bit in love with Sir Miles O’Hara, then this would surely make you reevaluate your standards in a beta hero.
Jack pleads for understanding of Dick’s motives, but he might as well be advocating sympathy for the devil for all that Miles will have of it. The chapter ends with Jack gobsmacked that his extravagant brother is now a model of rectitude who barely even gambles anymore (“Dick not play! What then does he do?”), and then with our hero’s announcement that no longer will he be donning the mask and rough accent of a highwayman, though as for what he will be doing, he cannot say. “Fate will decide–not I,” he says.
Yes, because Heaven forbid he should come to any kind of decision for himself.
Oh, Jim! Such a faithful servant. See, we have just learned that he has a “little girl at Fittering” with whom he has been keeping company for an as yet unspecified time. But when Jack fixes to go abroad, and asks:
“Can you leave her to come with me?”
Jim replies, without missing a beat:
“I couldn’t leave ye to stay with her, sir.”
And he then goes on to say:
“I’m mighty fond o’ Mary, but she knows I must go with you.”
I mean, how weird is that? Sure, we’ve all had occasions on which we’ve had to choose between our lovers and our careers, but how irksome must it have been, in a time before telephones or cheap flights or Skype, to have your personal life dictated by the whims of an employer to whom you actually don’t owe anything, but to whom you are institutionally expected to cleave beyond all else?
You know those past-life enthusiasts, who always claim to have been Cleopatra, or Elizabeth I, or Marie Antoinette at some point in their soul’s endless journey? Had I been born in the eighteenth century, I feel fairly certain I would have been, not a personage of great importance, but a humble peasant, forced to work to earn my keep in some kind of menial capacity. If I was very good at it (which, on current evidence, I doubt would be the case), I might possibly have even been in the employ of someone like Diana, or Molly, or – God help me – Lavinia. I would have been the chamber maid or something, barely worthy of a passing mention in a novel such as this one (and certainly not worthy of a last name). And I would have therefore been just as subject to my lady’s vagaries as Jim is to Jack’s, because back then company loyalty meant something, in a way that it just doesn’t anymore. (Well, except maybe for the people who work at Pixar, Hershey, or the iWorkplace. Those people are slightly unhinged.) We’ve all read about generations of the same family working on the same great estate across the decades and centuries. Centuries. Jeez, the last thing I would ever have contemplated is doing the same job as either of my parents, and I think that is true of a lot of us. And the hell with leaving my significant other behind for who knows how long, and without any ready means of communication, just because my boss had been thwarted in love!
Or maybe Jim was just an early adherent to the “bros before hos” philosophy?
What further signs of his undying love will this devoted manservant bestow on his master? Will we ever get to meet the unfortunate Mary? And just how “attracted” to Jack is Molly? Perhaps we’ll discover all, in Chapter XVI!
New chapters of Reading Heyer: The Black Moth will be posted here at Heyer Society each Sunday. Or buy it here.