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 XXVIII: IN WHICH WHAT THREATENED TO BE TRAGEDY TURNS TO COMEDY
Diana flies to Jack’s unconscious side, where she must compete with Dick for the right to furrow her brow and sigh forlornly at the head of her fallen champion. Diana demands Cognac—for her patient, one assumes; paging Dr. Diana!—and Dick pronounces Jack not dead, only sleeping. The two interested parties then make one another’s most informal acquaintance, and the one informs the other that the man lying on the floor in front of them has also been lying in a different way, as well: he’s no mere Mr. Carr, but my lord, John Carstares, Earl of Wyncham. “Good-gracious!” exclaims Diana, clearly quite overcome. Meanwhile, Tracy, our defeated, much bedeviled Duke, demands an explanation as to Andrew and Dick’s presence; the quality of Jack’s swordplay is marveled at—Andrew taking an almost devilish glee in seeing his brother nearly mortally wounded; and then just as the otherwise omniscient Tracy comes finally to realize that Jack and the object of his erstwhile affection are In Love, in saunters our old friend Miles O’Hara.
After tenderly caring for the laid-low Earl, he grills Diana about her treatment at the hands of the infamous rapist that is the Duke of Andover (or, at the least, he asks, with a significant glance, we assume: “Ye are quite safe, child?”; so delicate, Miles!), and he has only just begun glaring at Dick, long-ago card cheat that he is, when Jack finally begins to come around… and then Diana kisses him full on the lips!
Now is not the time for him to indulge in such intimacies, however; no, now is the time for him to declare himself perfectly well, take note of the other newcomers to the room since his lights went out—Lord Andrew and Miles—and Miles explains that his presence is all due to his clearly preternatural wife, who simply knew something was amiss at home and so had insisted they return from visiting friends, only to encounter Diana’s father, Mr. Beauleigh, setting out in search of his daughter.
But Molly’s supernatural abilities, impressive as they are (“She’s a witch! Burn her!”), are glossed over entirely as we move on to the most important part of the narrative. Not, of course, the arrival of the hardy constables who will take my lord Duke into custody for kidnapping and attempted rape. Not, of course, the arrival of an incensed Mr. Beauleigh, demanding honor be satisfied. (Of Mr. Beauleigh, actually, there is no sign, he being just the kind of man who would happily allow another to rescue his abducted progeny, and so has left it all in the hands of O’Hara, whom he hardly even knows. Show of hands: who kind of hates Mr. Beauleigh?) Instead, we get the revelation that it was Dick who so long ago cheated at cards and thus got his brother exiled from Polite Society pre-novel, the young jackanapes!
Now, let’s do a quick headcount of the room. Dick: already knew. Jack: already knew. Tracy: already knew. O’Hara: already knew. Diana: didn’t really know, but neither did she care. So, basically the only person to whom this would come as anything close to a surprise was Lord Andrew Belmanoir, a young man whom we have seen perhaps five times in the book and who, much like Diana, couldn’t really have cared less—especially as he has been living on Dick’s money for most of his adult life.
Wow, Dick. Way to man up.
And then wow, Tracy, way to steal the scene again! Sure, there may have been confessions made and masquerades revealed and lovers, brothers and friends reunited—as well as a duel to the death and several attempts at “forcible seduction”—made this night, but, reasons Tracy, that doesn’t mean they can’t all share a meal together. “Andrew, tell them to lay covers for five in the dining-room,” he says suavely, and delivers himself of a few choice words: he dislikes bad tragedy; he trusts no one will speak of this, in order to keep Diana’s name free of blemish—who, let us recall, is currently without a chaperone in a house full of gentlemen; how he wishes he had finished off Jack the first time they met at sword point over the contentious issue of Diana’s virtue; and the hope that after this night she will keep away from him as much as possible. (What, ’cause otherwise she would have been forever sending him friend requests?)
Then Diana takes herself off to bed, the guys all sit down to what appears to be a most convivial dinner party, and on the whole, the threatened tragedy does indeed turn out to be sparkling comedy of the very first water. (Well done again, chapter title, for being so very spot-on!)
Later that night: Dick. Jack. Alone in the night. It was a simpler time, when platonic male affection was expressed in very tender, almost romantical, ways: Dick “devoured every detail of the loved countenance and watched each movement of the slender hand”; Jack protests: “Devil take it, Dick, we’re as shy as two schoolboys!” But before long the brothers are utterly at ease, bandying back and forth, and apparently Dick is to be let off the hook for the past eight years of his brother’s exile and straitened circumstances.
And strangely, that actually feels okay. We totally like Dick now. Huh.
Next morning, Jack sets off to marry Diana with O’Hara by his side (presumably he will stop in at Littledean to tell Mr. Beauleigh, though it’s not like we even care what that Father of the Year thinks), but before he goes he tasks Dick with the onerous duty of tracking down one Mr. Chilter – remember our helpful “spider man” from way back in Chapter II? – and wrest him from the hands of that uncouth city merchant, Fudby, whom we all of us disliked from the outset.
Nice callback, that.
Damn it, Tracy. Stop being cool. You are a terrible person. Truly, Tracy “Devil” Belmanoir, Duke of Andover, is the anti-hero to whom all other attempts at such should be compared.
Or, to quote the great Miles O’Hara: “Oh, sink me an I ever came across a more amusing villain!”
New chapters of Reading Heyer: The Black Moth will be posted here at Heyer Society each Sunday. Or buy it here.