In Which We Discuss Chapters XXIV and XXV
Welcome back to this 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, 1921’s The Black Moth.
The story so far…
And the reread continues in…
CHAPTER XXIV: RICHARD PLAYS THE MAN
Silly Lavinia! Foolish Dicky! There they sit, both married to the love of their entitled lives, and yet both have been plunged into the depths of despair by misunderstandings and jealousies enough to fuel several seasons of any given soap opera. Lavinia contemplates her coming elopement with the smitten Captain Lovelace and sighs; Dick contemplates the same thing and is resigned but despondent. You’ll only really understand just how depressed they both are at this juncture with the news that neither could even touch their morning hot chocolate!
Yes, it’s just that serious.
Longing to see his beloved just One. Last. Time. (and we thought Lavinia to be the only master of melodrama in that family) he trumps up an excuse to visit her in her bedchamber—dude even knocks; imagine, your partner standing on such ceremony with you in your shared home—and is so overcome with her general adorableness that he suddenly realizes He. Will. Not. Have. It. He cannot let her run away from him; he can’t live without her!
“By God, you shall not!” he cries, and then she’s all “Please, please forgive me and let me stay with you!” and their reconciliation is covered over with a paragraph or two, all made well with copious amounts of tears and declarations of undying love and the occasional decorous kiss. Dick’s Jack-based fascination for Mrs. Fanshawe is thoroughly explained, as is that worthy’s determination to Do the Right Thing after all this time and clear his maligned brother’s name. Lavinia—who, you may remember, was so put out at the very suggestion that she threatened to leave him —is seemingly now reconciled to her inevitable disgrace, the luckless Lovelace jilted abruptly as he is no longer needed in the plot.
Lovelace, it turns out, is even more to be pitied, since even as this charming scene is being enacted, Lavinia’s Machiavellian brother Tracy pays a visit to “a certain Colonel Shepherd” and thereby has the fatally charming Captain reassigned to parts unknown. He brings this news to a Dick whom he finds in excellent spirits, and the Duke seems almost impressed with his despised brother-in-law’s moxie in having thwarted the sorry affair without him.
Elsewhere, the gentlemen of the town are in a flivver over Dick’s summons to Wyncham and what he could possibly want to see them all about—and really, this is quite troublesome of Dick, isn’t it? He means to Confess All and Beg Pardon for his dastardly, cheaterly actions seven years earlier and yet he has the gall to bid the interested parties to attend his declaration of guilt out in the country, foregoing any other engagements and costing his guests time and money and generally just making a pest out himself. Basically, his Big Reveal is a destination wedding, and one to which Tracy now RSVPs a big, fat “Cannot Attend” as he has less exculpatory, more kidnap-and-rapey things to be doing that day.
Soon after, Dick is visited by that worthy Mr. Warburton of whom we have seen naught since the book’s opening chapters, but who is the steward of all Wynchamish happenings and who has been scouring the country looking for Jack at Dick’s behest…but of whom he has been able to discover no sign. Dick frets over his brother even as he heads out to make a clean breast of it all, his travelling carriage containing not only himself and his guilt but Lord Andrew Belmanoir, en route to his family estates…And why should he not pay them a visit? Surely Tracy wouldn’t be about to use them for any nefarious purposes?
CHAPTER XXV: HIS GRACE OF ANDOVER CAPTURES THE QUEEN
Remember Harper, his Grace’s groom who managed to inveigle himself into the Beauleigh’s service? It is here that his purpose in doing so is at last realized, when he accompanies Diana on a ride through the countryside in search of some fictional berries and instead leads her right into the waiting arms of her would-be husband’s none-too-gentle goons.
Given into Tracy’s iron-willed company, Diana learns that he is not the mere Mr. Everard she had thought him at Bath but the Duke of Andover, though if he hoped for her to be overcome by this news and fall at his feet—or coronet—then he can only have been disappointed. She, we know, loves Jack to distraction and yet has no idea of his true peer-of-the-realm status, and so obviously she is not the kind of girl to be swayed by such worldly considerations as potentially becoming a Duchess. The two exchange the kind of barbs that surely cannot have Tracy feeling particularly sanguine about their happy future together, and yet he persists in his admiration of her and continues to terrify his lady love with threats of their impending, inevitable union. She is defiant, all “I’ll never say yes!,” and good on her, but Tracy makes with the coldness and drawls things like “Wait. I think you will be glad to marry me–in the end,” which are enough to send shivers of dread down her (and our) spines, and really make one admire the poise with which she tackles this most uncomfortable situation.
Tracy, for all his suavity and cunning wit, really is a villain and a cur, and at no point has he been more hateful than he is right now.
I will brush over our tortured beta couple’s marital bliss with only a passing comment on this passage, coming after Lavinia has discovered that Mrs. Fanshawe holds no fascination for her husband:
“My poor love! Why, ’tis the kindest lady imaginable, but as to loving her—!”
He kissed her hand lingeringly. “I love–and have always loved–a far different being: a naughty, wilful, captivating little person, who—”
Lady Lavinia clasped her arms about his neck.
“You make me feel so very, very dreadful! I have indeed been naughty–I—”
“And you’ll be so many times again,” he told her, laughing.
“No, no! I–will–try to be good!”
“I do not want you good!” Richard assured her. “I want you to be your own dear self!”
On the surface, this is quite simply a funny thing for Dick to say. As backhanded compliments go, it’s pretty awesome; the “I don’t want a pretty girl, I want you” kind of thing. But on a deeper level, this is just so accepting of Dick; he loves his petulant, high maintenance wife just as she is, and even after more than half a decade of marriage he finds all her foibles and flaws endearing—which may be helped by the fact that she is, by all accounts, superhot, but is nevertheless really very sweet.
Let us move on, then, to Tracy and his contrasting utter lack of sweetness, this coming after he has abducted Diana:
He was enjoying her as he had rarely enjoyed a woman before. Others had sobbed and implored, railed and raved; he had never till now met one who returned him word for word, using his own weapons against him.
This passage disturbs me no end. “Others had sobbed and implored, railed and raved…” Okay, we knew that he was certainly no saint, and it has been borne in upon us more than once that he had often been known to run off with some serving wench or farmer’s daughter and have his wicked way with her, but somehow implicit in all of that—for me, at least, and I realize now that it was merely wishful thinking—was the idea that these girls had consented. Like, maybe he had lied to them and promised them marriage when all he was after was a bit on the side, Willoughby-style. That, of course, was bad enough to make Tracy questionable even as an anti-hero; throw in the sobbing and imploring, the railing and raving, and clearly, for all that I have been wanting to give him as much benefit of the doubt as I could, the Duke is indeed the serial rapist I had feared him, the likes of which someone like Patrick Jane or Seely Booth would earnestly hunt down and bring to justice. Hey, for all we know, he’s a serial killer, too. I mean, what happened to all of those dishonored, deflowered girls, huh? Does no one even care?
No wonder he’s known as “Devil.”
At least Diana got a few good shots in past his reserved superiority, including this one, which is perhaps quite my favorite of all the things she has said in this novel:
“My name is Tracy,” he remarked.
She considered it with her head tilted to one side.
“I do not like your name, sir,” she answered.
“’There was no thought of pleasing you when I was christened.’” he quoted lazily.
“Hardly, sir,” she said. “You might be my father.”
Nice one, Di! Or, as the Duke says: “Merci du compliment, mademoiselle! I admire your wit.” Aw, isn’t that lovely. He admires her wit! No wonder he wants to rape her.
But surely the Duke will not succeed in his dark design? Jack will come to Diana’s rescue, right? And, hey, how is Jack? We’re getting close to the thrilling conclusion now… come on back and thrill with me in Chapter XXVI!
Rachel Hyland is Editor in Chief of Geek Speak Magazine.