In Which We Discuss Chapters II and III
Last week, we embarked on a reread of the manifold and magnificent works of that unparalleled doyenne of historical romantic fiction, Georgette Heyer. As we are covering her works in chronological order of publication, we’ve kicked things off with her debut Georgian adventure:
The Black Moth (the first chapter is covered in Georgette Heyer Reread: The Black Moth)
Setting: Rural England, plus Bath and London
Timeline: In the Year of Our Lord, circa 1750
John “Jack” Anthony St. Ervine Delaney Carstares, Earl of Wyncham – martyred hero
Jim Salter – Jack’s devoted servant
The Hon. Richard “Dick” Carstares – Jack’s brother
Lady Lavinia Carstares (née Belmanoir) – Richard’s wife
Hugh Tracy Clare Belmanoir, Duke of Andover – Lavinia’s Machiavellian brother
Lord Andrew Belmanoir – Lavinia’s scapegrace brother
Mistress Diana Beauleigh – object of much affection
Sir Miles O’Hara – Jack’s best friend
Lady Molly O’Hara – Sir Miles’s wife
Sir Horace Lovelace – troublemaker
Jack Carstares, wrongly accused but selflessly confessing to a social solecism of the highest order, retreats from Society and sets himself up as a prosperous Baronet… and highwayman! He holds up a coach containing the abducted beauty Diana Beauleigh, and saves her from an uncertain fate at the hands of the dastardly Duke of Andover, getting himself injured in the process. Cared for at the lady’s home, the two soon find love… but the Duke is in no way resigned to the loss of his coveted prize. Meanwhile, painful truths out of the past are revealed, relationships are tested, witticisms are dispensed and buckles are swashed in this very first of Georgette Heyer’s historical romances, published when she was merely—and astonishingly!—nineteen years of age.
CHAPTER II: MY LORD AT THE WHITE HART
Well, Highwayman Jack has made it to Lewes, as was portended in the last chapter, and is putting up at the hostelry designated in this chapter’s title. He makes a clean breast of the day’s events to his man, the faithful Jim, detailing the successful theft of quite two hundred guineas belonging to a most objectionable and portly city merchant. (To say that Jack found the man objectionable due to his girth would be unfair, but one surmises that this certainly didn’t help matters.) We are given to understand that these ill-gotten gains were then turned over to “the poor”—establishing my lord as less of a ruffian, of course—and we begin conceive a liking for the thin and harried clerk accompanying the fat merchant, of whom Jack speaks most fondly.
Then who should then arrive at the White Hart but this very, apparently likeable, gent (later bestowed with the sobriquet of “spider man”—and this before Stan Lee was even born), alongside his disagreeable employer, prompting Jack to state that he will be making a longer stay in Lewes than he had originally intended, to “allay suspicion.” One also gets the impression he’d quite like to mess with not only the fat man, but also the authorities to which his crime will no doubt be reported. After making sure Jim is clued in to the cover story—Sir Anthony Ferndale, lately returned from France, making his way to London by easy stages—we adjourn to the coffee-room to witness Jack in fine fettle, convincing the city officials that he in fact just two hours earlier purchased the highwayman’s very recognizable horse (his beloved Jenny) from the rogue himself; and also corroborating the false description of the criminal given by the spider (one Chilter, by name) as monstrously tall, fat, coarsely-spoken and possessed of a scar running down his chin.
And then, having convinced everyone that he is in sooth a very august and praiseworthy gentleman, surely above suspicion for so base a crime as highway robbery, he goes and spoils it all by confessing his felony to Mr. Chilter!
Luckily for him, the reason the spider man had been at pains to mislead the authorities was because he “liked” his attacker rather more than he liked his boss. (This fat man is universally unpopular, actually: “There was that about Mr. Fudby that did not endear him to his fellow-men...”) In gratitude for this silence, Jack hands over an emerald ring he swears was honestly come by, and the two part as friends—though Jim is understandably overwrought to hear of his master’s indiscretion.
Oh, and also? Our new Lord Wyncham—in case we were in any doubt after his donning of an apricot-and-cream ensemble in the last chapter—is very particular about his attire. And waistcoats of bilious yellow decorated with pea-green do not meet with his approval in the slightest. Nor, indeed, should they.
CHAPTER III: INTRODUCING THE HON. RICHARD CARSTARES
Ah, now has the time come for us to meet the cause of our mischievous Lord Jack’s villainy upon the High Road. His brother, Richard—or “Master Dick,” to the good people of the countryside—paces impatiently, awaiting the arrival of Warburton, the family man of business whom we met in the first chapter. While he (and we) must wait, we get some background on the grand manor house in which we lay our scene (“Wyncham!” Heyer exclaims; and it really does sound lovely), some insight into the differing personalities of the brothers Carstares, a snapshot of the county residents’ love of Jack and disdain for his “glum” younger brother, and the definite impression that Dick is punishing himself for his youthful transgression (remember: he cheated at cards, the scoundrel!) and his brother’s subsequent banishment by eating little (he’s described as “very thin”), sleeping less (he’s twenty-nine, but looks “twice his age”), and worrying a whole lot (his eyes are “haunted” and “care-worn”).
Sucks to be Dick.
Upon this wretchedness at last descends the censorious Warburton, who is full of tidings to know and share. He tells Richard that Jack is doing very well, all things considered; the “all things” basically being that his brother is a big fat lying liar who lies. Warburton, alone of almost all of Jack’s acquaintance, it would seem, never believed him capable of such reprehensible conduct as cheating at cards, and thus is Dick both abashed and forced to share the sordid tale of the night that he, in fact, did—and thus proves himself worthy of his name.
’Cause…what a dick.
It all happened at a private card party held at the home of Jack’s good friend, a Mr. Dare. Never very lucky at cards, Jack quite uncharacteristically won big at a particular table, and using a particular deck. Dick soon came to sit at the same table, with the same deck, and worrying over some outlandish gaming debts he’d already accrued—and at the same time “mad” for love of a young lady, Lavinia by name, whom he darkly suspected his brother of also coveting—he, in a fit of IOU-fuelled insanity, decided to scratch the cards slightly with his cravat pin, thereby letting him know the disposition of the Aces and Kings. Which… hm. Yes, probably would be helpful, wouldn’t it?
It is at this juncture that we meet again, via this breathless confession, our old friend from the Prologue, Hugh Tracy Clare Belmanoir, the Duke of Andover-–who goes by “Tracy,” by the by. It also transpires that he is brother to that very Lavinia for whom Dick was so “mad” the he totally ho-before-bro’d, thereby precipitating this tale.
Tracy, so sharp-eyed as to be positively The Mentalist-like, noted the marked cards, was all like “J’accuse!”—but with great subtlety, of course—and Dick dickishly let his brother take the fall rather than lose his lady love. Jack, though hugely charismatic and beloved of all, was suddenly number one with a bullet on his friends’ Dead to Us board, and while Dick went on to marry his Lavinia and take unto himself as a brother-in-law the very man whom we now realize orchestrated the whole scandal (for, we must assume, inscrutable reasons of his own), his elder was cast penniless from their childhood home and left no recourse but to turn outlaw.
And you thought your siblings had done you wrong.
The rest is just Dick making excuses as to why he can’t ‘fess up now (his wife, don’t you know; can’t have her “dragged through the mud”), and Warburton being a little more understanding of the circumstances surrounding his Master Jack’s exile— even as we, too, are more understanding. Although at the same time, you can almost hear him thinking: “What a dick.”
Well, Chapter II certainly continues to foster that good opinion of Jack we had already developed, when it turns out that hey, he’s Robin Hood! In fact, he even claims it for himself:
“If ye give away all ye get, sir, why do ye rob at all?” [Jim] asked bluntly.
His whimsical little smile played about my lord’s mouth.
“’Tis an object for my life, Jim: a noble object. And I believe it amuses me to play Robin Hood–take from the rich to give to the poor…”
Gee, thanks for the clarification there, Jack. Although, in fairness to Heyer, this piece of over-explanation may not have been quite so condescending before the Errol Flynn, Kevin Costner, Disney, and even Russell Crowe versions of this tale, among muliple others. Funny, how pop culture is always in flux, and how a centuries-old legend could easily have gone unremarked in an earlier, pre-mass media era.
We are also gifted in this chapter a little backstory on the steadfast Jim, which also makes our Hero out to be something of a paragon. Having been discovered abandoned by his original employer, we are clearly supposed to think he totally lucked out in having been enticed into Jack’s service. Of course, this also made him an accomplice to multiple felonies, Jack being a masked criminal and all, so whether this was such good fortune for him is, one supposes, between him and his God.
On the topic of the chapter’s title: assorted inns by the name of the White Hart would go on show up in numerous other Georgette Heyer books, from Friday’s Child to Black Sheep. They’re almost as prevalent as all the Green Mans. (Men?) And until very recently, there actually was a White Hart in Lewes, and it was a 16th-century carriage house—but it had been restyled The White Hart Hotel and Leisure Complex. Doesn’t that just make history come alive?
Moving on to Chapter III... Richard, you’re kind of an asshole. The “Hon.” Richard Carstares, my eye! (As an aside, I always felt that it is unfair—and is unnecessarily confusing—that all of the daughters of an Earl get to use the honorific “Lady,” whereas only the eldest son of that selfsame peer can use “Lord” before their name, if they should chance not to be styled a Viscount or Baron. And yet younger sons of Marquises and Dukes are Lord Whomevers! And daughters of lesser nobility, like Barons and Viscounts, are mere “Honourables,” and apparently not ladies at all. So, why all of an Earl’s daughters but not all of his sons? And if an Earl’s daughters, then why not every nobleman’s daughters? WHY?)
(And, as a further aside: why do so many historical novelists get it wrong?)
Meanwhile, how about that Tracy Belmanoir, huh? What a repellently Machiavellian, yet thoroughly fascinating and increasingly tantalizing piece of work. Dude’s so observant, he’s like Patrick Jane, Shawn Spencer and Lord Peter Wimsey rolled into one. What did he have against Jack, we must wonder, that he would conspire to rid Society of Jack’s...society? Why would he knowingly allow his sister to marry a man a who would, horrors, cheat at cards? Or are we wronging him, and in fact he’s just your garden variety tattletale?
We can only await Chapter IV, for whatever answers it might hold...
Rachel Hyland is the Editor in Chief of Geek Speak Magazine.