Saturday, December 10, 2011
Flashman - Chapter 13
I didn't realise until now that the first volume of the Flashman Papers actually ends on the 13th chapter. I'm not at all certain if this was coincidental or something deliberate from George MacDonald Fraser, he may have figured out that his ultimate anti hero was so lucky that he could chance ending the book on a traditionally unlucky number and still get away with it.
Flashman talks briefly about how much he enjoyed the ship journey back home, certainly returning as a hero, rather than a nobody has it's advantages.
What he thinks about most of the trip is Elspeth. He actually decides that he is in love with her and doesn't care. With that thought in mind he hurries to his father's house when he arrives back in London. No one knows he's coming, so he thinks it will be a great surprise to everyone to see the conquering hero return. Of course it is a great surprise and he and Elspeth have a wonderful love making session, although one thing Flashman doesn't understand is why Judy is still there. His father is not known for keeping his mistresses that long and Flashman's been away for over two years.
After a talk with the family Flashman the elder explains the lay of the land to his son. Buck Flashman's never been that good with money, but he'd always had enough. However while Harry was earning his laurels in India and Afghanistan, Buck gambled on the wrong railway shares and lost the entire family fortune. Morrison bailed them out. He dotes on Elspeth, always has, and wouldn't let her be shamed by what he considers a bad marriage. Elspeth supports the family and it's lifestyle via her father's very deep pockets, she likes Judy, so Judy stays. Buck doesn't like it, but he's not about to let himself be put out on the street. When it comes to money Harry's never had much pride, he doesn't care who supports him, just as long as he is supported. Elspeth is besotted by Harry, always has been, so is happy to give him whatever he asks for as long as it isn't too much, and having a hero of the empire as a husband is something she thoroughly enjoys.
As the 'hero of Kabul and Jelallabad' Harry is feted and paraded, he's cheered in public and applauded and Elspeth is there right by his side soaking it all up. One concern is that while Harry was away his very attractive wife was courted by a number of young blades. It's quite common practice and it keeps the ladies occupied, but the manner of one; Watney, bothers Flashman, and Judy is whispering poisonously in his ear. She still holds a grudge about how Harry treated her earlier and takes any opportunity to unsettle him. Elspeth claims to barely be able to tell one of the young officers from another, and mention of Watney doesn't register on her, so Harry is put at ease by this, although the thought does stay in the back of his mind.
What drives all this from his mind is a meeting with the Duke of Wellington. The Duke tells Harry that he's going to present him to Queen Victoria later that day. Flashman knows Elspeth will be tickled by that and goes home to tell her and invite her. She's out riding in the Park according to Judy, so Harry has to go meet Her Majesty without his wife.
Queen Victoria appears in a number of the Flashman's, and I do enjoy the way George MacDonald Fraser portrays her as rather amusing and not really the dour image many have of her. The first time Flashman meets her she's quite young. Flashman describes her as a 'girl', although she is actually 3 years his senior. His initial impression is in typical Flashman style: 'but she was just a child then, rather plump and pretty enough beneath the neck.'. He also mentions how tiny she is on a number of occasions, but it must be remembered that at over 6 feet tall, Flashman was a big man for the time.
The coarse streak of the Flashman's shows through even then. When learning that Harry can speak Afghani (Albert remarks that he was brown enough to be mistaken as an 'Aff-ghan'), the royal couple ask him to say something in the language. He reels off a phrase used by the harlots which translates to 'Good day, come into our street.' Queen Victoria asks him what it means, the Duke of Wellington who also served in the sub continent, and knows a smattering of the local languages rescues him by saying it's a Hindu greeting. He also receives a rare 'Queen's Medal', only a handful were struck before, to Her Majesty's displeasure Ellenborough issued his own, at the time Harry is pretty pleased, but as an old man he muses that the collection of tin that he wears serves to disguise a cowardly scoundrel as a heroic veteran.
When Harry returns home, Elspeth scolds him for making them late for tea with the Chalmers', until he gives her his news about the Queen, and then she's all ears and affection wanting to hear everything. Later as they prepare for their engagement with the Chalmers, Harry asks her about her ride with Watney (that was who she was with), and she passes it off as very boring, because all he ever does is talk about horses. Flashman then remembers it was raining and that Elspeth would have gotten very wet, yet her riding jacket is bone dry and her boots look freshly polished, no mud, not even wet. Harry wonders, and he's wondered most of his married life if Elspeth does cheat on him, given that she supports him, he doesn't much care, just so long as she doesn't embarrass him and he's never been faithful, but it is one of those mysteries of the books as to whether Elspeth is faithful to Harry or not. Harry suspects her of having been unfaithful with everyone from his friend from Rugby; Speedicut, to the Sioux chief Spotted Tail (Flashman and the Redskins), but he's never proved anything and it is a rather amusing game that is played out in the books.
The first packet of the Flashman Papers ends with Elspeth offering to give Harry twenty guineas spending money and him saying 'better make it forty.'