Some Georgette Heyer Regency romances have the smouldering, sullen hero, who must therefore tangle with a fiery heroine; in others the heroine and hero are childhood friends, who for some reason have never wanted to marry each other, until the hero seems to be falling for some thoroughly unsuitable dippy young female, and the heroine is attracting a very decent, good sort of suitor. That is, their model is either Pride and Prejudice or Emma. But though the latter is the kind of hero-heroine relationship there is in Charity Girl, Georgette Heyer is never merely derivative, and all her books are thoroughly enjoyable adventures.

Viscount Desford is the amiable and fashionable son of the crotchetty Earl of Wroxton, and he's now approaching thirty and still hasn't settled down to produce heirs. Desford and the kindly and helpful Henrietta Silverdale, an old maid of 25, have been best friends since childhood, and that's why they never succumbed to their parent's scheme to pair them off when they were young.

Desford being such an eligible bachelor, a scheming neighbour invites him to a party where she throws her eldest daughter Lucasta at him, beautiful and charming and sophisticated. He has an eye for the ladies, but his attention is caught by a scared schoolroom miss who's watching the ball from upstairs, through the banisters. She, Cherry Steane, is chatty and innocent and very "taking", and sadly scorned by the rest of the family, for she's a mere charity girl, a cousin from a disowned marriage.

So now we have the main characters. The day after the ball Desford takes his leave of the relatives he's staying with and sets out on the drive back to London for more gaiety and dissipation. To his surprise he passes a pathetic figure trudging along the road: it is Cherry, running away from home. Much to his groom's outrage, he has no choice but to pick her up, and as he cannot compel her to return to her unkindly family, he sets out to find her only remaining true family, a very ill-natured and eccentric grandfather. So now we have the plot.

And the first few chapters. If he could find her grandfather it would all end happily there, but the troubles start instead. Desford is honourable and good, but is also a fairly notable womaniser among the smart set; and he now has an extremely pretty, fetching, trusting chit on his hands, with no family to guard her, and no idea what to do with her. So he turns to his beloved childhood friend, Henrietta, to hide her.

Hide her from her foster family: hide her from the World, who would certainly assume the worst: hide her from his own father, who would certainly go apoplectic at such a misalliance, if he thought that was going on, for she alas is the daughter of the odious, slimy Wilfred Steane, generally believed to be dead.

Charity Girl was written in 1970 (well, published in 1970; at Georgette Heyer's rate that means written about then too). I have to say it is not among my favourites. The plot is light, but these are often very enjoyable: I don't need the brooding Darcyesque heroes to fantasise over. It's that something has gone wrong with her language. Either she was going gaga with age by this time, or she had realised she was getting on and at her present rate would not live to use all the authentic Regency slang she had collected. Her slang and cant are always impeccably accurate: she was a master of researching it. You pick it up as you keep reading, and the liveliness of it can be very amusing.

But with Charity Girl I can imagine her paging through her well-bound notebooks totting up how many more terms for a noddy or a green 'un or a Pink of the Ton or getting foxed are as yet still uncrossed-out; and as she calculates how many more she has to cram in per page, per year, she lards her writing more and more with them until they ooze out of every line. I am making this scenario up. I don't know why she wrote it like this, but the constant slang wears me out in this one. In the first couple of pages Lord Wroxton rages at his son by saying: Corinthian, skitterbrain, slibberslabber here-and-thereian, scattergood, bits of muslin, shuttlehead, carte blanche. The Viscount's affectionate reply includes: don't try to pitch the fork, trying to come comb over me, hold for a long trig, rake down, gudgeon, rattle me off, riveted, leg-shackled, ...

Pssst. Spoilers ahead. Henrietta and Desford realise in the end that they really do love each other.

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