Instead of sorting out bookshelves, I’m reading what is on other bookshelves. Dashing and arrogant heroes? Abductions? Intrepid and brave, take-no-nonsense heroines? Fabulously funny side characters? Hilarious dialogue? It can only be a Heyer.
***This Post is Lengthy But Contains a Life-Changing Answer.***
by Georgette Heyer
The Marquis of Vidal (whose father is the ‘hero’ of These Old Shades) is forced to leave England due to nearly killing someone. His morals lie in the rakish direction and so he decides to take the young Sophia Challoner with him. To France. With no marital ties involved.
How outrageous! How immoral! But fear not – Mary Challoner is to the rescue. For the message that comes to her house is for her sister but is addressed to ‘Miss Challoner’.
“It’s a letter, miss, brought by a footman. For you,” added Betty, in congratulatory tones. Betty did not think it was fair that Miss Sophy should have all the beaux, for Miss Mary was a much nicer-spoken lady, if only the gentlemen had the sense to see it.
(Too true, Betty, too true.)
Mary is no fool and has been Suspicious of the Marquis’ intentions all along. She opens the letter. She sees her sister’s fate. She thinks. She acts. She takes her sister’s place!
“… it is plain he has no thought of marriage. I have a plan to show him she is not to be had so easily.”
– from a note to her Mamma
I like her already. She pops a mask on and with a mingling of fear and brave resolution heads off to show Vidal who’s boss. All is going according to plan – he suspects nothing as he bundles her into the carriage. And then they ride. And ride. She finds a pistol and bags that pistol. They go on. And then she sees that they’ve travelled to the sea.
He was going to take her sister to France? Of all the-! The time to act is nigh. At the inn by the sea, she takes off her mask.
The smile was wiped from his face.
She pretends that her deceit was a part of a jest with her sister.
“You need not think, my lord, that you can seduce Sophia so easily. She led you on finely, did she not? But when she found you’d no thought of marriage, she determined to teach you a lesson!”
It … doesn’t go down the way she expected. Vidal sort of shrugs his shoulders and says ‘fair ’nuff – I’ll have you instead.’
Proving that – at this point, at least – he is Without Conscience (and is basically a jerk) he forces her on board the boat. And then he turns his wicked gaze to her with a threatening ‘And now, Miss Challoner …”
However, Mary has other plans. Or rather, Mary’s stomach has other plans.
“I do not care whether you go or stay, but I desire to warn you that I am about to be extremely unwell.” She pressed her handkerchief to her mouth, and said through it in muffled accents: “Immediately.”
(Trust Heyer to flavour a scene of High Peril with a bout of seasickness.)
They arrive in France. Vidal has been indulging in the cups. They are alone. Poor Mary’s virtue is at stake. She is in a strange country with a dangerous man. She has no one to help her and only her courage to rely on. Well. Her courage … and a pistol!
“My lord,” she said desperately, “indeed I am not what you think me!”
He burst into one of his wild laughs, and she realised that in this mood she could make no impression on him.
He was advancing towards her. She brought her right hand from behind her, and levelled the pistol. “Stand where you are!” she said. “If you come one step nearer I shall shoot you down.”
He stopped short. “Where did you get that thing?” he demanded.
“Out of your coach,” she answered.
“Is it loaded?”
“I don’t know,” said Miss Challoner, incurably truthful.
He began to laugh again, and walked forward. “Shoot then,” he invited, “and we shall know. For I’m coming several steps nearer, my lady.”
Miss Challoner saw that he meant it, shut her eyes and resolutely pulled the trigger. There was a deafening report and the Marquis went staggering back. He recovered in a moment. “It was loaded,” he said coolly.
With a single shot of a pistol, Miss Challoner’s honour is saved and a Rake is set on his way to Redemption and True Love (and bit of time bed-bound. After all one cannot be shot without a few trifling annoyances.)
Later on, this book contains one of my all time favourite Heyer scenes: take a misunderstanding, throw in a few swords, toss in a Marquis, add a large dose of melodrama and a dash of absurdity and it’s deliciously exciting.
“Mr Comyn would have been killed,” Miss Challoner admitted, “but I stopped it. I thought it was time.”
The gentleman surveyed her with distinct admiration, not untouched by amusement. “Of course I should have known that you stopped it,” he said. “What means did you employ this time?”
“Rather rough-and-ready ones, sir. I tried to catch the blades in a coat.”
And now, my friends, to the question of ‘how do you reform a rake?’ I put a single, simple answer: