#WhatImReadingNow: These Old Shades

‘Done!’ said my lady. ‘Oh, Rupert! I lost my big emerald at play last week! I could have cried my eyes out, and Edward could only say that it must be a lesson to me!’

‘That’s Edward all over,’ nodded Rupert. ‘Don’t I know it!’

‘No, you do not, tiresome boy! He will give me another emerald.’ She blinked rapidly. ‘Indeed, he is very good to me. I wonder if he will come here? I vow I shall be miserable if he does not!’

Rupert’s eyes were on the street.

‘Well, he has come, and mighty à propos, too.’

‘What! Is it really he, Rupert? You’re not teasing me?’

‘No, it is he, right enough, and in a thundering rage, by the look of him.’

Lady Fanny sighed ecstatically.

‘Darling Edward! He will be very angry with me, I am sure.’

Marling came quickly in. He was travel-stained, and heavy-eyed from lack of sleep, and his mouth was set in an uncompromising fashion. He looked his pretty wife over in silence.

‘That’s the last of us,’ said Rupert jovially. ‘We’ve all the family now, glory be! Give you good morrow, Edward!’

Lady Fanny rose, and held out her hand.

‘Edward, I protest this is foolish of you.’

He ignored the outstretched hand.

‘You’ll return with me today, Fanny. I don’t brook your defiance.’

‘Whew!’ spoke Rupert under his breath. ‘Sa-sa – Have at you!’

Lady Fanny tittered.

‘Oh, sir, you are ungallant! Pray have you looked at yourself in the mirror? You come to me muddied and in disorder! And I who so love a man to be point de vice !’

‘We’ll leave my appearance out of it, if you please. I’ve borne enough of your whims, Fanny. You’ll return with me to England.’

‘Indeed, sir, do you think I shall?’ The light of battle was in my lady’s eyes.

‘You are my wife, madam.’

‘But not your chattel, sir. Pray take that frown from your face! It likes me not.’

‘Ay, do!’ Rupert put in. ‘How did you leave my cousin, Marling?’

‘Yes, sir, and why did you leave poor dear Harriet? It was not well done of you, Edward.’

‘Fanny, have you done? I warn you, I am in no mood for these tricks!’

‘Now, careful, Fan, careful!’ said Rupert, enjoying himself hugely. ‘He’ll disown you, so he will!’

Marling swung round to face him. ‘Your pleasantries are ill-timed, Alastair. I believe we shall do better if you leave us.’

‘How dare you, Edward? And the poor boy just out of his bed, with a wound in his shoulder that only escaped the lung by a bare inch!’

‘I am not concerned with Rupert’s hurts,’ said Marling cuttingly. ‘He will survive without my sympathy.’

‘Ay, but damme, I shall suffer a relapse if I have to look on your gloomy countenance much longer!’ retorted Rupert. ‘For God’s sake, smile, man!’

‘Oh yes, Edward, do smile!’ begged her ladyship. ‘It gives me a headache to see you frowning so.’

‘Fanny, you will give me five minutes in private.’

‘No, sir, I shall not. You are prodigious ill-natured to talk to me in this vein, and I protest I want no more of it.’

‘There’s for you, Marling!’ Rupert said. ‘Go and bespeak some breakfast. You’ll be better for it, I swear! ’Tis the emptiness of you makes you feel jaundiced: I know the feeling well. A ham, now, and some pasties, with coffee to wash it down will make a new man of you, stap me if it won’t!’

Lady Fanny giggled. Marling’s brow grew blacker, his eyes harder.

‘You’ll regret this, madam. You’ve trifled with me once too often.’

‘Oh, sir, I’m in no mood for your heroics! Pray keep them for Harriet! She has the taste for them, no doubt!’

‘Try ’em on Justin,’ suggested Rupert. ‘Here he is, with Léonie. Lord, what a happy gathering!’

‘For the last time, Fanny, – I shall not ask again – will you accord me a few minutes alone?’

‘Alone?’ echoed Rupert. ‘Ay, of course she will, as many as you like! Solitude’s the thing, so it is! Solitude, and a fat ham –’

‘My dear Marling, I hope I see you well?’ His Grace had come quietly in.

Marling picked up his hat. ‘I am in excellent health, I thank you, Avon.’

‘But his spirits!’ said Rupert. ‘Oh, lud!’

‘I confess,’ Marling said steadily, ‘my spirits are a little – bruised.’

‘Never say so!’ Rupert feigned astonishment. ‘You’ve had a bad crossing, Edward, and your liver’s upside down.’

Avon turned. ‘Your conversation is always so edifying, Rupert. Yet I believe we can dispense with it.’

Rupert collapsed promptly. My lady tossed her head. Avon went to the sidetable, and poured out a glass of burgundy, and offered it to Marling, who waved it aside.

‘I came, sir, to fetch my wife home. As she declines to accompany me there is no more to be said. I’ll take my leave of you.’

Avon put up his quizzing glass, and through it regarded my lady.

‘Yes, Justin. I do. I am coming to Paris with you.’

‘I am gratified, of course,’ said his Grace. ‘Nevertheless, my dear, you will go with your husband.’

‘I thank you!’ Marling laughed harshly. ‘I do not take her an she comes at your bidding! She must come at mine.’

‘I w-won’t go at anyone’s b-bidding!’ Lady Fanny’s face puckered like that of a child about to cry. ‘You are very unkind!’

Marling said nothing. She dabbed at her eyes. ‘You come – bullying, and – and scowling – I won’t go with you! I hate you, Edward!’

‘It needed only that,’ said Marling, and turned to the door.

There was a rustle of silks as my lady fled across the room. ‘Oh, Edward, I didn’t meant it, you know I didn’t!’

He held her away from him. ‘You will return with me?’

She hesitated, then looked up into his face. Two large tears stole down her cheeks.

Marling took her hands, and pressed them. ‘In truth,’ he said gently, ‘I cannot bear to see you weep, love. Go with Justin.’

At that she cast herself into his arms, and sobbed. ‘Oh Edward, I will come! I truly will! You must f-forgive me!’

‘My dear!’ He caught her to him.

‘I am decidedly de trop,’ remarked his Grace, and poured out another glass of burgundy.

‘I’ll come, Edward, but I do – oh, I do want to go to Paris!’

‘Then go, sweetheart. I’d not deny you your pleasure.’

‘But I c-can’t bear to leave you!’ sobbed Fanny.

‘May I be allowed to make a suggestion?’ His Grace came slowly forward. ‘There is really no occasion for these heartburnings. The matter is very simple.’ He swept Marling a magnificent leg. ‘Pray come with us to Paris, my dear Edward.’

‘Oh, I thank you, but –’

‘Yes, I know,’ said Avon languidly. ‘You would prefer not to enter the unhallowed portals of my abode.’

Marling flushed. ‘I protest –’

‘It is quite unnecessary, believe me. I would not propose such a distasteful plan were it not for the fact that I have need of Fanny.’

‘I don’t understand why you should need her, Avon.’

His Grace was incredulous. ‘My very dear Edward, I should have thought that with your strict sense of propriety the reason must positively leap to your understanding.’

‘Léonie! I had forgot.’ Marling stood irresolute. ‘Can you find no other lady to chaperon her?’

‘I could doubtless find an hundred, but I require a hostess.’

‘Then Fanny had best stay with you. I will go back to England.’

Fanny sighed. ‘Edward, if you will not come to Paris I must return with you. But I do wish that you would come!’

At that moment Léonie appeared, and clapped her hands at sight of Marling. ‘Parbleu, it is M. Marling! Bonjour, m’sieur!

He smiled and kissed her hand. ‘I hope I see you well, child? Your pretty colour answers me.’

‘My infant finds favour in the austere eyes,’ murmured his Grace.‘Infant, I am trying to prevail upon Mr Marling to honour my poor house with his presence. Pray add your entreaties to mine.’

‘Yes?’ Léonie looked from one to the other. ‘Please will you come, m’sieur? I shall ask Monseigneur to invite M. Davenant also.’

In spite of himself Avon smiled. ‘A happy thought, ma fille.’

‘Why, child, I believe I must not,’ Marling said. ‘You shall take her ladyship, and let me go home.’

‘Ah, bah!’ said Léonie. ‘It is because you do not like Monseigneur, is it not?’

‘My infant is nothing if not outspoken,’ remarked Avon. ‘That is the matter in a nutshell, child.’

‘You do not think he is enough respectable. But indeed he is very respectable now, je vous assure !’ A choking sound came from Rupert; my lady’s shoulders shook, and Marling collapsed into helpless laughter.

Léonie looked at the convulsed trio in disgust, and turned to the Duke. ‘What is the matter with them, Monseigneur? Why do they laugh?’

‘I have no idea, infant,’ replied Avon gravely.

‘They are silly, I think. Very silly.’

But the laughter cleared the air. Marling looked at the Duke, and said unsteadily: ‘I confess – it’s your lack of – of respectability that sticks – somewhat in my gullet!’

‘I am sure it must,’ said his Grace. ‘But you shall have Davenant to support you. He will be delighted to join you in mourning over my departed morals.’

‘The prospect is most alluring,’ Marling said. He glanced uncertainly at his wife. ‘But I do not think I fit well in this mad venture.’

‘My dear Edward, do I fit well in it?’ asked his Grace, pained. ‘I count upon you to aid me in lending a note of sobriety to the party.’

Marling regarded his Grace’s coat of dull crimson velvet quizzically. ‘I might lend sobriety, but you, Avon? You supply the magnificence, I think.’

‘You flatter me,’ Avon bowed. ‘I am to understand that you will join us?’

‘Yes, Edward, yes! Oh please!’

Voyons, it will be fort amusant, m’sieur. You must come.’

Rupert ventured to uplift his voice. ‘Ay, join us, Marling. The more the merrier.’

‘In face of such kind entreaties what can I say?’ Marling took his wife’s hand. ‘I thank you, Avon. I will come.’

‘Gaston, then, had best return to London for your baggage,’ said his Grace.

Léonie chuckled. ‘He will die, Monseigneur. I know it.’

‘As you observe,’ remarked his Grace to Marling, ‘death and disaster are a source of never-failing amusement to my infant.’

—Georgette Heyer, These Old Shades, 1926

Some thoughts on this book:

  • The cast of characters in this scene: Siblings Justin Alastair, 40; Fanny Alastair Marling, 30something; and Rupert Alastair, 20. Léonie, 20, a young woman of noble birth Justin has rescued. Also Edward Marling, age unknown, Fanny’s husband. The highest-ranking here is Justin, who is also the Duke of Avon. He has lots of money and power, and a reputation of getting what he wants, no matter the cost.
  • I know, I know—this is a scene from a time when only noblewomen had any autonomy at all, and they had but a modicum of it. There are also some silly assumptions about humanity, such as the lowborn imposter, who is raised as a nobleman but still wishes he could be a farmer (the class he was born into). Nature or nurture? Hm. You may let things like this bother you, or you can say a) but it’s Georgette Heyer! and b) it’s historical! and just enjoy it for what it is: a very funny scene. It is classic Heyer.
  • Heyer is a hoot. She’s witty, her vocabulary is brilliant, and her details are well researched. I fell in love with her romances in high school and have never, ever fallen out. I read and reread her novels, particularly during times of stress.
  • Regency Romance: Wikipedia says, “Heyer essentially established the historical romance genre and its subgenre Regency romance. Her Regencies were inspired by Jane Austen, but unlike Austen, who wrote about and for the times in which she lived, Heyer was forced to include copious information about the period so that her readers would understand the setting.” Here’s a little bit about the Regency period, which lasted from 1795–1837 or 1780–1830, depending on who’s writing the history. All that said, These Old Shades is set during the Georgian period and takes place around 1755–56.
  • Blurb: “Set in the Georgian period, about twenty years before the Regency, These Old Shades is considered to be the book that launched Heyer’s career. It features two of Heyer’s most memorable characters: Justin Alastair, the Duke of Avon, and Léonie, whom he rescues from a life of ignomy and comes to love and marry. The Duke is known for his coldness of manner, his remarkable omniscience, and his debauched lifestyle. Late one evening, he is accosted by a young person dressed in ragged boy’s clothing running away from a brutal rustic guardian. The Duke buys “Léon” and makes the child his page. “Léon” is in fact Léonie, and she serves the Duke with deep devotion. When he uncovers the true story of her birth, he wreaks an unforgettable revenge on her sinister father in a chilling scene of public humiliation.”
  • Although many, if not most, of Heyer’s books are stand-alone stories, These Old Shades has a sequel, Devil’s Cub, and I indulged myself in it as soon as I finished. :)

Tweet: Some enchanted evening, indeed! These Old Shades is classic Heyer.
Tweet: Heyer is witty, her vocabulary is brilliant, and her details are well researched.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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