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 III: INTRODUCING THE HON. RICHARD CARSTARES
Ah, now has the time come for us to meet the cause of our mischievous Lord Jack’s villainy upon the High Road. His brother, Richard – or “Master Dick” to the good people of the countryside – paces impatiently, awaiting the arrival of Warburton, the family man of business whom we met in the first chapter. While he (and we) must wait, we get some background on the grand manor house in which we lay our scene (“Wyncham!,” Heyer exclaims; and it really does sound lovely), some insight into the differing personalities of the brothers Carstares, a snapshot of the county residents’ love of Jack and disdain for his “glum” younger brother, and the definite impression that Dick is punishing himself for his youthful transgression (remember: he cheated at cards, the scoundrel!) and his brother’s subsequent banishment by eating little (he’s described as “very thin”), sleeping less (he’s twenty-nine, but looks “twice his age”), and worrying a whole lot (his eyes are “haunted” and “care-worn”).
Sucks to be Dick.
Upon this wretchedness at last descends the censorious Warburton, who is full of tidings to know and share. He tells Richard that Jack is doing very well, all things considered; the “all things” basically being that his brother is a big fat lying liar who lies. Warburton, alone of almost all of Jack’s acquaintance, it would seem, never believed him capable of such reprehensible conduct as cheating at cards, and thus is Dick both abashed and forced to share the sordid tale of the night that he, in fact, did—and thus proves himself worthy of his name.
’Cause… what a dick.
It all happened at a private card party held at the home of Jack’s good friend, a Mr. Dare. Never very lucky at cards, Jack quite uncharacteristically won big at a particular table, and using a particular deck. Dick soon came to sit at the same table, with the same deck, and worrying over some outlandish gaming debts he’d already accrued—and at the same time “mad” for love of a young lady, Lavinia by name, whom he darkly suspected his brother of also coveting—he, in a fit of IOU-fuelled insanity, decided to scratch the cards slightly with his cravat pin, thereby letting him know the disposition of the Aces and Kings. Which… hm. Yes, probably would be helpful, wouldn’t it?
It is at this juncture that we meet again, via this breathless confession, our old friend from the Prologue, Hugh Tracy Clare Belmanoir, the Duke of Andover – who goes by “Tracy,” by the by. It also transpires that he is brother to that very Lavinia for whom Dick was so “mad” that he totally ho-before-bro’d, thereby precipitating this tale.
Tracy, so sharp-eyed as to be positively The Mentalist-like, noted the marked cards, was all like “J’accuse!” – but with great subtlety, of course – and Dick dickishly let his brother take the fall rather than lose his lady love. Jack, though hugely charismatic and beloved of all, was suddenly number one with a bullet on his friends’ Dead to Us board, and while Dick went on to marry his Lavinia and take unto himself as a brother-in-law the very man whom we now realize orchestrated the whole scandal (for, we must assume, inscrutable reasons of his own), his elder was cast penniless from their childhood home and left no recourse but to turn outlaw.
And you thought your siblings had done you wrong.
The rest is just Dick making excuses as to why he can’t ’fess up now (his wife, don’t you know; can’t have her “dragged through the mud”), and Warburton being a little more understanding of the circumstances surrounding his Master Jack’s exile – even as we, too, are more understanding. Although at the same time, you can almost hear him thinking: “What a dick.”
Richard: you’re kind of an asshole. The “Hon.” Richard Carstares, my eye! (As an aside, I always felt that it is unfair – and is unnecessarily confusing – that all of the daughters of an Earl get to use the honorific “Lady,” whereas only the eldest son of that self-same peer can use “Lord” before their name, if they should chance not to be styled a Viscount or Baron. And yet younger sons of Marquises and Dukes are Lord Whomevers! And daughters of lesser nobility, like Barons and Viscounts, are mere “Honourables,” and apparently not ladies at all. So, why all of an Earl’s daughters but not all of his sons? And if an Earl’s daughters, then why not every nobleman’s daughters? WHY?)
(And, as a further aside: why do so many historical novelists get it wrong?)
Meanwhile, how about that Tracy Belmanoir, huh? What a repellently Machiavellian, yet thoroughly fascinating and increasingly tantalizing, piece of work. Dude’s so observant, he’s like Sherlock Holmes, Shawn Spencer and Lord Peter Wimsey all rolled into one. What did he have against Jack, we must wonder, that he would conspire to rid Society of that worthy gentleman’s… society? Why would he knowingly allow his sister to marry a man a who would, horrors, cheat at cards? Or are we wronging him, and in fact he’s just your garden variety tattletale?
We can only move on to Chapter IV, for whatever answers it might hold…
New chapters of Reading Heyer: The Black Moth will be posted here at Heyer Society each Monday. Or buy it here.