Sir Gareth Ludlow is considering marriage. This is due to his brother’s death, as without Sir Gareth having children the Ludlow family name will die out. Sir Gareth suffered heartbreak 7 years ago when the lady to whom he was betrothed died. The headstrong Miss Clarissa Lincombe stole his horses after he told her not to drive them, and ended up with a broken neck. Sir Gareth hasn’t fallen in love again and doesn’t believe that he can. So instead he has decided to offer marriage to 29 year old Lady Hester Theale, a lady who he has been friends with for a long time. He feels Lady Hester is amiable, well-bred, and won’t object to a loveless marriage, unlike the romantic young ladies that his sister keeps introducing to him.
Lady Hester’s father, when the marriage was first discussed with him, obviously jumped at the chance of arranging a brilliant marriage for Hester, and he invites Sir Gareth to the family home without first discerning Lady Hester’s feelings on the matter. The news is completely unexpected:
“He is coming, Hester, to make you an offer!”When Lady Hester realises the type of proposal Sir Gareth has in mind she flatly refuses to marry him. Her home situation isn’t good, as she is generally unappreciated, her brother and sister in law, with whom she lives aren’t congenial companions to her, and she is used by her married sisters as a drudge when she goes to visit them. On the other hand she knows that Sir Gareth is a true gentleman and would treat her well. Why then, does she react to news of the impending proposal like this?
“Oh, is he?” she said vaguely, adding after a thoughtful moment: “Does he want me to sell him one of Juno’s pups?”
‘The Lady Hester, once her maid was dismissed, the candles blown out, and the curtains drawn round the bed, buried her face in the pillow and cried herself quietly to sleep.’Not knowing he faces a refusal, Sir Gareth travels to Lady Hester’s home. En route he meets a very beautiful young lady in difficulties. The lady is clearly running away from home. Sir Gareth’s conscience won’t allow him to abandon her, and she won’t tell him her real name, so he has no other option than to trick Miss Amanda ‘Smith’ into accompanying him to visit Hester. He believes Hester will believe the truth, as obviously turning up to make a marriage proposal with a beautiful young girl in tow wouldn’t bode well for his prospects. But Amanda is determined not to be caught, and she leads Sir Gareth on an adventure which includes telling many lies and having to save Amanda from an aging roué, besotted farmer and a young knight in shining armour and even ends up involving Lady Hester in the ensuing tangle.
Georgette Heyer is known as the queen of Regency romances and rightly so, unlike many authors in the genre there is nothing in her writing that jumps out at the average reader as being erroneous or too modern. There is usually a lot of humour and sparkling dialogue in Heyer’s books, and this one is no exception. Sir Gareth is a lovely hero, he is such a gentleman. Some people like their rakes but I prefer a proper gentleman any day of the week! Amanda is a very spirited character, which can sometimes be tiresome, but I liked her, and wished her success in the aim of her ‘campaign’, though she was so naive that I couldn’t help but wish Sir Gareth well in keeping her under control, she had no idea of the danger her behaviour put her in. Lady Hester was such a sweet lady, I felt quite bad for her situation. I really enjoyed this book but I can see why my teenage self wasn’t taken with it; the romance is such a small part of it. It’s very much in the background and hinted at rather than plainly in sight, but I’d still recommend reading it.