In which we serialize Society Patroness 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 Sunday for another installment, or buy the book here.
CHAPTER XI: MY LORD TURNS RESCUER AND COMES NIGH ENDING HIS LIFE
If a thrill doesn’t go through you at that somewhat exposition-y title, then clearly there is something fundamentally wrong with your very soul. Turns rescuer! Comes nigh to ending his life! Oooh!
Can you guess what happens?
So, here’s Jack, farewelling the O’Haras and promising to visit again soon. (Sure, they say they’ll call…) Coming along a lonely road, what should he see but a coach pulled over and a lovely young lady struggling against a would-be abductor while an elderly woman valiantly attempts to guard her charge’s virtue. To one side there is a man silently watching – “the stage manager,” Jack believes.
Yes, friends, you have it! He has come upon the very scene we have long been expecting, the fruition of that devilish Devil, the Duke of Andover’s plans to forcibly seduce that perspicacious young beauty with whom he is infatuated, Miss Diana Beauleigh. Of course, our hero doesn’t yet know this. All he knows is that a lady is being importuned in quite the most ungentlemanly way, and since he is our hero, he cannot be having that. So he dons his highwayman guise, shoots a bad guy “through the neck” – bye, nameless evil Red Shirt! – draws his blade and discovers that his opponent is the very Tracy Belmanoir with whom he has previously had dealings.
Hastily adopting a pronounced French accent, he cunningly disguises his identity from his brother-in-law (you’re related if your siblings are married to each other, right?) and the two fight with swords! It is quite the thrilling combat, too, all things considered, lots of parrying and thrusting and something called “tierce.” Tracy, of course, is an expert swordsman from way back, but Jack was a fencing master in Paris, if you will recall, and we know that he further picked up all kinds of tricks while on his extended European gap year. He bests “M. le Duc,” but never having intended to kill him – though the reverse was not true; Tracy wanted to kill the French guy who had recognized him bad – he allows him to live via a whole bunch of Three Musketeers-esque Gallic wit and gallantry.
A gallantry Tracy totally betrays, the rat bastard! Having promised to be good, he nevertheless draws a pistol on an unarmed man (well, okay, there’s still the sword, but unless he’s Jet Li, that’s not going to do him much good against a handgun, no matter how old-fashioned), and it is only through a quick, possibly Matrix-style dodge that Jack manages to be hit merely in the shoulder and not the heart. Tracy sucks, man! But Jack manages to hold it together, having captured all of the other guns the attendees of Tracy’s little kidnapping field trip had to hand, and sends the Duke and his minions off rape victim-less, while he is the recipient of much gratitude and cosseting by a very relieved, yet concerned, Diana.
Soon passing out through, one presumes, blood loss, Jack is bundled into the coach with Diana and her aunt – who was the elder lady, of course – and we are told that they are close to the Beauleigh home. And so, with Jack proclaimed “handsome” and “brave” (Diana is immediately taken with his “aristocratic nose”; seriously, what is that?) off they go, the rescuees having neatly become the rescuers, and with one of them half in love with the chivalrous Jack already.
(Someone really should tell her he only has eyes for his mare.)
Jack shot a guy through the neck! A bad guy, sure, but a guy nonetheless; perhaps even one with a hopeful family waiting for him at home. Did Jack need to shoot him through the neck? Maybe. The dude was waving about two loaded pistols. But the fact that he did it from concealment, and without even really attempting to discover if what he thought was happening here was actually correct – hey, Diana could have been a fugitive from justice, or something – means that a very good case could be made here for first degree murder.
I’m not saying it wasn’t cool. It was damn cool. What I’m saying is… Jack may be the kind of courtly gentleman who readily plays knight in masked armor to attractive damsels in distress, but in his own way he’s as casually vicious as Tracy; which is not so much an indictment of him as of the brutal times in which he lived. And then! There is not a single mention made of what is to be done with the body of the shot-through-the-neck guy as the chapter concludes. (No one thinks about the henchmen!)
Instead, it’s all just about sending off the Duke like a naughty child, without even a “If you touch her again…” kind of threat made; this, despite the fact that he broke the fragile truce he’d just been given by attempting a little first-degree murder of his own. (Ha! He only managed the shoulder, but Jack shot a guy through the neck at a far greater distance! Tracy is just getting less and less attractive, isn’t he?) The Duke’s the one who’s all “If I ever see you again…” threatening, and Jack’s all just like, “Dude, I don’t care, just give me your filigreed and monogrammed sword. It’s not distinctive at all and I am sure will not show up later as an important plot point.”
Actually, what he said was:
“It will–not be necessary for–m’sieu to–take his sword,” said Jack. “I have a–desire to keep–it as a–souvenir. Yes.”
And all the stammering was because he just got shot in the shoulder, as anyone who was not a moron might have suspected would happen.
Now, look. I get that this world in which Jack resides – or, at least, used to reside – is one built on elaborate codes of honor and such, but how DUMB do you have to be not to check the guy you’ve just beaten in a sword fight and then magnanimously allowed to live for some other kind of weapon? At the very least, you get the old lady to pat him down. It just makes sense! Especially, one would think, if you had any past acquaintanceship with someone as oily as our villainous Black Moth. Jeez, I wouldn’t trust him to give me the correct time, and I’ve only known him for ten chapters or so.
On the other hand, Jack was pretty quick with the French accent when he discovers that he knows the chief architect of the dastardly deed he is about to thwart (which, hey, what are the odds?), and it is an awesome one – far better than Sir Miles’s Lucky Charms-and-Riverdance Oirish attempt. Indeed, Heyer’s French-accented characters, with their quaint syntax and frequent usage of their own language –alors! Mon Dieu! Doucement! Mais non! – are plentiful and ever-captivating, from Léonie in These Old Shades to Eugenie in The Talisman Ring to Phillip Jettan, when he first returns from Paris in Powder and Patch – are some of her most entertaining and enchanting, and it is here in The Black Moth that she first gave the concept a try, and evidently decided she liked it.
Which is probably why we never meet another Irishman who talks like a refugee from Far and Away in all of Heyer’s historical works, while we have a succession of delightful French emigrés and the like. For which, I say, merci!
So, will Jack’s Frenchification continue once he’s been taken solicitously to Diana’s home? Will her father like him? And isn’t it maybe just a little too early to be meeting the parents? Let us proceed to Chapter XII, where I trust we shall find out…
New chapters of Reading Heyer: The Black Moth will be posted here at Heyer Society each Sunday. Or buy it here.