In which we serialize Heyer Society editor Rachel Hyland’s first book in her Reading Heyer series, Reading Heyer: The Black Moth. Called “delicious” by Heyer expert Jennifer Kloester, it is a reading guide, critique and loving homage all in one. But mostly, it’s just a lot of fun. We hope you enjoy. Check back every Monday for another installment, or buy the book here.
CHAPTER II: MY LORD AT THE WHITE HART
Well, Highwayman Jack has made it to Lewes, as was portended in the last chapter, and is putting up at the hostelry designated in this chapter’s title. He makes a clean breast of the day’s events to his man, the faithful Jim, detailing the successful theft of quite two hundred guineas belonging to a most objectionable and portly city merchant. (To say that Jack found the man objectionable due to his girth would be unfair, but one surmises that this certainly didn’t help matters.) We are given to understand that these ill-gotten gains were then turned over to “the poor” – establishing my lord as less of a ruffian, of course – and we begin conceive a liking for the thin and harried clerk accompanying the fat merchant, of whom Jack speaks most fondly.
Then who should then arrive at the White Hart but this very, apparently likeable, gent (later bestowed with the sobriquet of “spider man”—and this before Stan Lee was even born), alongside his disagreeable employer, prompting Jack to state that he will be making a longer stay in Lewes than he had originally intended, to “allay suspicion.” One also gets the impression he’d quite like to mess with not only the fat man, but also the authorities to which his crime will no doubt be reported. After making sure Jim is clued in to the cover story – Sir Anthony Ferndale, lately returned from France, making his way to London by easy stages – we adjourn to the coffee-room to witness Jack in fine fettle, convincing the city officials that he in fact just two hours earlier purchased the highwayman’s very recognizable horse (his beloved Jenny) from the rogue himself; and also corroborating the false description of the criminal given by the spider (one Chilter, by name) as monstrously tall, fat, coarsely-spoken and possessed of a scar running down his chin.
And then, having convinced everyone that he is in sooth a very august and praiseworthy gentleman, surely above suspicion for so base a crime as highway robbery, he goes and spoils it all by confessing his felony to Mr. Chilter!
Luckily for him, the reason the spider man had been at pains to mislead the authorities was because he “liked” his attacker rather more than he liked his boss. (This fat man is universally unpopular, actually: “There was that about Mr. Fudby that did not endear him to his fellow-men…”) In gratitude for this silence, Jack hands over an emerald ring he swears was honestly come by, and the two part as friends—though Jim is understandably overwrought to hear of his master’s indiscretion.
Oh, and also? Our new Lord Wyncham – in case we were in any doubt after his donning of an apricot-and-cream ensemble in the last chapter – is very particular about his attire. And waistcoats of bilious yellow decorated with pea-green do not meet with his approval in the slightest. Nor, indeed, should they.
Chapter II certainly continues to foster that good opinion of Jack we had already developed, when it turns out that hey, he’s Robin Hood! In fact, he even claims it for himself:
“If ye give away all ye get, sir, why do ye rob at all?” [Jim] asked bluntly.
His whimsical little smile played about my lord’s mouth.
“‘Tis an object for my life, Jim: a noble object. And I believe it amuses me to play Robin Hood–take from the rich to give to the poor…”
Gee, thanks for the clarification there, Jack. Although, in fairness to Heyer, this piece of over-explanation may not have been quite so condescending before the Errol Flynn, Kevin Costner, Disney and even Russell Crowe versions of this tale, among multiple others. Funny, how pop culture is always in flux, and how a centuries-old legend could easily have gone unremarked in an earlier, pre-mass media era.
We are also gifted in this chapter a little backstory on the steadfast Jim, which also makes our Hero out to be something of a paragon. Having been discovered abandoned by his original employer, we are clearly supposed to think he totally lucked out in having been enticed into Jack’s service. Of course, this also made him an accomplice to multiple felonies, Jack being a masked criminal and all, so whether this was such good fortune for him is, one supposes, between him and his God.
On the topic of the chapter’s title: assorted inns by the name of the White Hart would go on show up in numerous other Georgette Heyer books, from Friday’s Child to Black Sheep. They’re almost as prevalent as all the Green Mans. (Men?) And until very recently, there actually was a White Hart in Lewes, and it was a 16th-century carriage house—but it had been restyled The White Hart Hotel and Leisure Complex. Doesn’t that just make history come alive?
New chapters of Reading Heyer: The Black Moth will be posted here at Heyer Society each Monday. Or buy it here.