In Which We Discuss Chapters XXVIII, XXIX and the Epilogue
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 – at last! – concludes in…
CHAPTER XXVIII: IN WHICH WHAT THREATENED TO BE TRAGEDY TURNS TO COMEDY
You’ll recall—it is to be hoped; it has been a while between these posts, hasn’t it?—that at the conclusion of Chapter XXVII, our imperiled damsel’s hero (and ours), John “Jack” Carstares, Earl of Wyncham, renowned duelist and defender of virtue, had just fainted dead away in a not entirely heroic fashion. His estranged brother, the Hon. Richard, and his opponent’s brother, Lord Andrew, had burst onto a desperate, exhilarating sword-fighting scene—in which that opponent was, of course, the feared and yet oddly much-admired Duke of Andover, who had recently abducted Jack’s lady love for nefarious purposes (dude wanted to marry her. And stuff.).
Diana flies to Jack’s unconscious side, where she must compete with Dick for the right to furrow her brow and sigh forlornly at the head of her fallen champion. Diana demands Cognac—for her patient, one assumes; paging Dr. Diana!—and Dick pronounces Jack not dead, only sleeping. The two interested parties then make one another’s most informal acquaintance, and the one informs the other that the man lying on the floor in front of them has also been lying in a different way, as well: he’s no mere Mr. Carr, but my lord, John Carstares, Earl of Wyncham. “Good-gracious!”, exclaims Diana, clearly quite overcome. Meanwhile, Tracy, our defeated, much bedeviled Duke, demands an explanation as to Andrew and Dick’s presence; the quality of Jack’s swordplay is marveled at—Andrew taking an almost devilish glee in seeing his brother nearly mortally wounded; and then just as the otherwise omniscient Tracy comes finally to realize that Jack and the object of his erstwhile affection are In Love, in saunters our old friend Miles O’Hara.
After tenderly caring for the laid-low Earl, he grills Diana about her treatment at the hands of the infamous rapist that is the Duke of Andover (or, at the least, he asks, with a significant glance, we assume: “Ye are quite safe, child?”; so delicate, Miles!), and he has only just begun glaring at Dick, long-ago card cheat that he is, when Jack finally begins to come around…and then Diana kisses him full on the lips!
Now is not the time for him to indulge in such intimacies, however; no, now is the time for him to declare himself perfectly well, take note of the other newcomers to the room since his lights went out—Lord Andrew and Miles—and Miles explains that his presence is all due to his clearly preternatural wife, who simply knew something was amiss at home and so had insisted they return from visiting friends, only to encounter Diana’s father, Mr. Beauleigh, setting out in search of his daughter.
But Molly’s supernatural abilities, impressive as they are (“She’s a witch! Burn her!”), are glossed over entirely as we move on to the most important part of the narrative. Not, of course, the arrival of the hardy constables who will take my lord Duke into custody for kidnapping and attempted rape. Not, of course, the arrival of an incensed Mr. Beauleigh, demanding honor be satisfied. (Of Mr. Beauleigh, actually, there is no sign, he being just the kind of man who would happily allow another to rescue his abducted progeny, and so has left it all in the hands of O’Hara, whom he hardly even knows. Show of hands: who kind of hates Mr. Beauleigh?) Instead, we get the revelation that it was Dick who so long ago cheated at cards and thus got his brother exiled from Polite Society pre-novel, the young jackanapes!
Now, let’s do a quick headcount of the room. Dick: already knew. Jack: already knew. Tracy: already knew. O’Hara: already knew. Diana: didn’t really know, but neither did she care. So, basically the only person to whom this would come as anything close to a surprise was Lord Andrew Belmanoir, a young man whom we have seen perhaps five times in the book and who, much like Diana, couldn’t really have cared less—especially as he has been living on Dick’s money for most of his adult life.
Wow, Dick. Way to man up.
And then wow, Tracy, way to steal the scene again! Sure, there may have been confessions made and masquerades revealed and lovers, brothers and friends reunited—as well as a duel to the death and several attempts at “forcible seduction”—made this night, but, reasons Tracy, that doesn’t mean they can’t all share a meal together. “Andrew, tell them to lay covers for five in the dining-room,” he says suavely, and delivers himself of a few choice words: he dislikes bad tragedy; he trusts no one will speak of this, in order to keep Diana’s name free of blemish—who, let us recall, is currently without a chaperone in a house full of gentlemen; how he wishes he had finished off Jack the first time they met at sword point over the contentious issue of Diana’s virtue; and the hope that after this night she will keep away from him as much as possible. (What, ’cause otherwise she would have been forever sending him winks on eHarmony?)
Then Diana takes herself off to bed, the guys all sit down to what appears to be a most convivial dinner party, and on the whole, the threatened tragedy does indeed turn out to be sparkling comedy of the very first water. (Well done again, chapter title, for being so very spot-on!)
Later that night: Dick. Jack. Alone in the night. It’s all a bit HoYay: Dick “devoured every detail of the loved countenance and watched each movement of the slender hand”; Jack protests: “Devil take it, Dick, we’re as shy as two schoolboys!” But before long the brothers are utterly at ease, bandying back and forth, and apparently Dick is to be let off the hook for the past eight years of his brother’s exile and straitened circumstances.
And strangely, that actually feels okay. We totally like Dick now. Huh.
Next morning, Jack sets off to marry Diana with O’Hara by his side (presumably he will stop in at Littledean to ask Mr. Beauleigh’s permission, though it’s not like we even care what that Father of the Year thinks), but before he goes he tasks Dick with the onerous duty of tracking down one Mr. Chilter – remember our helpful “spider man”, from way back in Chapter II? – and wrest him from the hands of that uncouth city merchant, Fudby, whom we all of us disliked from the outset.
Nice callback, that.
CHAPTER XXIX: LADY O’HARA IS TRIUMPHANT
We kick off with the chapter-eponymous Lady O’Hara, who has spent a fretful night wondering what has become of Diana, Jack and her husband, Miles. Also fretful is Jack’s faithful servant, Jim Salter, who is convinced that ill has befallen his beloved master and companions. Molly looks to him for comfort in this time of need, but all Jim can say, ominously, when she talks herself out of her doldrums and begins to think it has probably all come off alright—especially as Jack is such a famous swordsman—is: “Your ladyship forgets his wound.” Heh.
It is perhaps lucky for him that a carriage bearing Jack and Miles arrives just then, and into Molly’s ecstatic ears is poured the tale of Jack’s daring rescue of, and then engagement to, Diana. Apparently, Mr. Beauleigh’s permission was sought on the occasion, and it turns out that he was way more accommodating of Lord Wyncham’s desire to wed his daughter than he was of Mr. Carr’s similar one, even though they are both the same person and both are former highwaymen. What are the odds? Molly, of course, is giddy with relief and delight at this totally unexpected turn of events—what? Diana didn’t get defiled? Huzzah!—and claims all the credit for it, because if she hadn’t passive-aggressively insisted that Jack stay with the O’Haras after departing Littledean, then hey, who knows what might have happened?
(If we’re using that logic, of course, then Jack and Diana’s Happily Ever After is, in fact, due to Dick and his card cheatiness. Or even to Tracy, who manipulated Jack into taking the fall for it. Ha! Talk about hoist on your own petard.)
Then all is left is for Jack and the faithful Jim to have a chat—yes, Jack’s a lord; yes, he still wants Jim to work for him; yes, Jim can still call him “sir…Jack’s egalitarian like that—and then for the latter to dress the former in what sounds like a stunning outfit of rose with silver lacing, and a “cream–very pale cream waistcoat, broidered in with rose.”
Who says real men don’t wear pink?
Tracy receives a letter. It is from his sister Lavinia, and filled with news from home (Tracy is abroad, you see). Jack and Diana are married, and while Lavinia’s vanity is threatened by the new bride’s loveliness, she seems resigned to the competition her new sister-in-law poses for the admiration of London’s gentlemen. She and Dick are, embarrassingly, very much in love, as are Jack and Diana—she hopes to “sett Fashion”—and also people hardly even care that it was Dick who cheated at cards all those years ago, and not Jack at all. So much angst over it, and for nothing! Isn’t that always the way?
Tracy passes the letter to his friend, Frank Fortescue (remember Frank Fortescue? We love Frank Fortescue!), and puts on a brave face, saying that when he returns to London he hopes to greet the Countess of Wyncham with every sign of indifference. Frank is concerned: Tracy’s not planning on, like, abducting her again, is he? But no, Tracy would never do such a thing! He loves her too well, you see. (Unlike the other two times he kidnapped her.)
Frank is positively Molly-like in his told you so-ing, reminding Tracy of how: “I once told you, when love came you would count yourself as nought, and her happiness as everything.” Which is a lovely sentiment, but it is Tracy, of course, who gets the last word, passing off this deep piece of wisdom with a quip and leaving us with a smile on our faces as our story comes to a close, despite all of his wrongdoing in the preceding chapters. He really is the anti-hero to whom all other attempts at such should be compared; or, to quote the great Miles O’Hara: “Oh, sink me an I ever came across a more amusing villain!”
It is with a bittersweet sense of satisfaction that I come to the end of this quite mammoth reread—but then, that is not an unusual emotion for me, when concluding the reading of a Georgette Heyer novel. Because on the one hand, each Happily Ever After has been lovingly crafted and is usually well-deserved by our often clueless protagonists, and we all want to get to it, but on the other hand, who would ever want a Georgette Heyer novel to come to an end? (Well, okay…maybe Cousin Kate.) They are simply too much fun.
And this one, her first, was still as enjoyable for me on the—I estimate – twentieth reread as it was the very first time I pulled it down from my mother’s bookshelves. Perhaps even more so, because I got to share that reread here, and with my fellow Heyerites, who know as well as I the genius of our author, and know that while I may occasionally have pointed a little fun throughout these past fifteen installments, it is all coming out of a place of very deep love.
The closing chapters of The Black Moth, from the excitement of Jack’s daring rescue of his lady to the farce of him then sharing a jovial dinner with her dastardly kidnapper, epitomize all that Heyer would later become known for; they are exciting, well-plotted, romantic and with a deep devotion to historical detail. (Well, okay…again, maybe not Cousin Kate). Above all, they are witty, her dialogue singing to us, even in the most archaic of the dialects that she so skillfully employs.
And as our Jack and Diana at last find themselves free to marry (two Georgian kids becomin’ the Earl and Countess of Wyncham… sorry, I know, I said I’d lay off the Mellencamp references, but let’s just call this one for the road), as the ever-foolish Dick and Lavinia feel once again the lovelight shine in their long-wed eyes, as even Jim Salter is set to get hitched, by permission of his lordship (“Marry that nice girl at Fittering, and she shall maid my lady,” abjured Jack to his faithful valet; it is to be assumed the nice girl at Fittering will have no objections to this plan), and as the villainous Tracy comes to at last realize that perhaps kidnap and rape are not the way to go about attaining lasting happiness, all that is left for us to do is marvel at the wonder that is this remarkable debut novel by its then teenaged author, and eagerly ask ourselves: What’s next?
Because, sure, The Black Moth has now been well covered here, but the works of Georgette Heyer are legion, and each of them deserves its own post (or, as in the case of this one, several). Next up in the reread—watch this space!—is a whistle stop tour of one of her legendary Lost Novels, The Great Roxhythe, followed by a more in depth analysis of that quintessential Georgian tale of how to win the heart of the girl next door by getting a makeover, Powder and Patch.
Thanks for seeing this one through with me; see you anon!
Rachel Hyland is Editor in Chief of Geek Speak Magazine.