Friday, March 2, 2012
Flashman at the Charge - Chapter 2
The second chapter of Flashman at the Charge may very well be one of my favourite chapters in the entire series thus far. It doesn't really have any historical impact or even a lot on the story, although one element of it does become important later on. One part is very funny and the other gives Harry himself some significant character development and highlights something that I like most about the series itself.
Once Flashman has been attached to young Willy they go about preparing for their campaign in the Crimea and Harry starts squiring his charge around London and introducing him to all the well connected society matrons, his own lovely wife included. He notes that he and Willy have something in common, they're both charmers when they need to be. He's about to find out that's not all they have in common.
One evening Willy asks Harry if the ladies they can see coming out for a night's work are prostitutes. Harry confirms this and tells young Willy that he doesn't want anything to do with them. The surprising reply comes from William of Celle that indeed he does, he has always wanted a 'whore', contact with young women has been something he's always been denied, and he has a very specific woman in mind, as he tells Flashman: "I want one, with long golden hair, and big, big round - " readers never got to discover what Willy wanted big and round on his dreamgirl as Harry cut him off, but he did finish: "And she will wear black satin boots buttoning up to her thighs."
Now if there is one thing Harry Flashman knows, it is how to procure a woman of the night for somebody. He takes his charge to a brothel where he has an understanding with the madam and produces a girl that matches Willy's specifications. After his first encounter with the girl Willy says to her: "You are a beautiful whore, I am quite delighted with you, and shall visit you frequently." According to Harry he did too.
During the preparation for the war Harry and Willy were kept busy at work and were regularly working well past midnight. One of these nights Harry doesn't want to go home to an empty house (Elspeth is staying the night at a friend's house who is throwing an 'off to war' ball), so gets himself rather drunk and then decides to surprise Elspeth by turning up at the ball. Drunk as he is he thinks it would be rather romantic to hide in the closet in Elspeth's room and jump out. He falls asleep in there and is woken by the sound of a voice, he peers out and there is his darling wife getting ready for bed and wearing only her bloomers. Harry jumps out and sees another figure in the room! Lord Cardigan, shirt held up, breeches around his knees. Elspeth is shocked by the appearance of both men and even Harry has to admit that Cardigan maintains his dignity, dropping his shirt, pulling up his pants, bidding them a good night and leaving.
For the past 14 years, ever since he returned from Afghanistan Harry has been convinced that Elspeth cheats on him. It doesn't much bother him, he cheats on her all the time, and she does hold the purse strings, but with Cardigan is almost more than he can bear. Elspeth tearily professes her innocence. Then she wonders what Harry was doing in the closet, did he have a woman in there? Harry says no, but Elspeth even makes him prove it. As they settle down to sleep Flashman reflects: I don't suppose I've cried myself to sleep since I was an infant, but it was touch and go then.
Only Elspeth could provoke that sort of emotional reaction from Harry Flashman.