Black Sheep by Georgette Heyer

To me, Georgette Heyer’s novels are like the occasional luxuries you allow yourself to indulge in once in awhile. It has almost everything an Austen fangirl like myself can ask for: cravats, Hessian boots, tea, balls, coiffures, engaging heroes and quirky heroines. It’s like brain chocolate with a lot more effort put into it. Oh, so tempting and oh so fulfilling. Which is why, I tell myself, that I ended up reading Heyer’s Black Sheep when I should have been giving all my attention to the numerous assignments I was swamped under at the time.

 
In any case, it proved to be a most entertaining diversion. The story begins with Abby Wendover arriving in a carriage at her home, which she shares with her elder sister, Selina and their niece, Fanny. Abby has been away for some time at another sister’s house, and as the two catch up on missed events the readers, too, come to know how Abby and Selina have both been assigned to act as wards for their very beautiful and equally flirtatious little niece. Abby, much to her surprise, comes to learn of her niece’s engagement to a Mr. Calverleigh, a gamester and fortune-hunter. Abby, nursing the best interests for her niece at heart, and increasing suspicions of Mr. Calverleigh, hopes to break off this engagement as smoothly and as quickly as possible.

Abby who has not yet met her niece’s fiancé, is surprised to run across a disheveled, carefree, unassuming man who also goes by the name of Mr. Calverleigh. After much confusion, she is able to determine that he is in fact Mr. Miles Calverleigh, the uncle of her niece’s fiancé, Mr. Stacy Calverleigh, and she attempts to enlist his help in breaking off the two youngster’s unwise engagement. There is some difficulty in this, as Miles Calverleigh, being the black sheep of the family, and having been exiled to India for much of his boyhood, does not feel inclined to dabble in any family affairs.

I loved this romance. I loved how well the hero and heroine got on with each other. While it’s amusing to read the typical hate-at-first-sight, Mr. Darcy and Lizzy-like encounters, it’s also refreshing to see two characters who immediately take to one another, complementing each other’s best qualities and so obviously and immediately enjoying one another’s companies. Their conversations were so quirky and humorous that I couldn’t help but laugh aloud through a lot of them. It’s a friendship that blossoms into love which is probably the best kind in my humble and limited (oh, how limited!) experience, anyway.

Needless to say, Heyer possesses that knack for dialogue which so many amateur writers (including myself) aspire to; dialogue which is so simple in its realism, and manages to both move the plot as well as inject a bit of humor into the story, while continuing to develop the character’s personalities.

The characters themselves are well-drawn in a believable and uncomplicated fashion. This is not a story that requires the reader to be emotionally invested in the plot or its characters – unless it’s investment through laughter, but I fail to understand how anyone could view that as a loss. Abby, as the heroine, is both appealing and admirable, in her ever pleasant-humored disposition and her desire to manage problems with as much subtlety and reason as possible. Miles Calverleigh, too, was an entertaining and unlikely hero; he’s not Heyer’s typically well-groomed and elegant rake. He’s described as ‘loose-limbed’ and his fashion sense is limited to throwing on whatever happens to be at hand. He’s the kind of man who probably doesn’t shave very frequently, which is, of course, no great loss because this reader loves her a man with some stubble. And a man in a coat and cravat (however carelessly tied) and Hessians, with stubble? Pretty much Regency hottie heaven for moi.

Here’s an extract of the humorous meeting between Miss Abigail Wendover, and Mr. Miles Calverleigh, Snr. At this point, she is not aware that there are two Mr. Calverleighs. I’ve tried to cut out as much as possible, and though it’s still quite long, offers a tantalising, but small, glimpse of much of their easy banter:

____

“Mr Calverleigh?”

“Yes?”

If he was surprised, Abby was wholly taken aback. She had formed no very precise mental picture of him, but nothing she had been told had led her to expect to be confronted with a tall, loose-limbed man, considerably older than she was herself, with harsh features in a deeply lined face, a deplorably
sallow skin, and not the smallest air of fashion. He had been described to her as a young, handsome town-beau, and he was nothing of the sort.

“Oh, I beg your pardon! I mistook—I mean,—I mean—Are you Mr Calverleigh?”

“Well, I’ve never been given any reason to suppose that I’m not!” he replied.

“You are? But surely—?” Recollecting herself, Abby broke off, and said, with all the composure at her command: “I must tell you, sir, that I am Miss Wendover!”


She observed, with satisfaction, that this disclosure exercised a powerful effect upon him. That disturbing smile vanished, and his black brows suddenly snapped together. He ejaculated: “Miss who?”


“Miss Wendover,” she repeated, adding, for his further enlightenment : “Miss Abigail Wendover!”


“Good God!” For a moment, he appeared to be startled, and then, as his curiously light eyes scanned her, he disconcerted her by saying: “I like that! It becomes you, too.”

Roused to indignation, Abby, losing sight of the main issue, allowed herself to be lured into retorting: “Thank you! I am excessively obliged to you! It is an outdated name, commonly used to signify a maidservant! You may like it, but I do not!” She added hastily: “Nor, sir, did I make myself known to you for the purpose of discussing my name!”

“Of course not!” he said, so soothingly that she longed to hit him. “Do tell me what it is you do wish to discuss! I’ll oblige you to the best of my power, even though I don’t immediately understand why you should wish to discuss anything with me. Forgive me!—I’ve no social graces!—but have I ever met you before?”

“No,” replied Abby, her lips curling in a contemptuous smile. “You have not, sir—as well you know! But you will scarcely deny that you are acquainted with another member of my family!”

“Oh, no! I won’t deny that!” he assured her. “Won’t you sit down?”

“I, sir,” said Abby, ignoring this invitation, “am Fanny’s aunt!”

“No, are you indeed? You don’t look old enough to be anyone’s aunt,” he remarked. This piece of audacity was uttered in the most casual way, as though it had been a commonplace instead of an impertinence. He was obviously fencing with her, and the sooner he was made to realize that such tactics would not answer the better it would be.
So she said coldly: “You must know very well that I am Fanny’s aunt.”

“Yes, you’ve just told me so,” he agreed.

“You knew it as soon as I made made myself known to you!” She checked herself, determined not to lose her temper, and said, as pleasantly as she could: “Come, Mr Calverleigh! let us be frank! I imagine you also know why I did make myself known to you. You certainly contrived to ingratiate yourself with my sister, but you can hardly have supposed that you would find all Fanny’s relations so complaisant!”

He was watching her rather intently, but with an expression of enjoyment which she found infuriating. He said: “No, I couldn’t, could I? Still, if your sister likes me—!”

“My sister, Mr Calverleigh, was not aware, until I enlightened her, that you are not, as she had supposed, a man of character, but one of—of an unsavoury reputation!” she snapped.

“Well, what an unhandsome thing to have done!” he said reproachfully. “Doesn’t she like me any more?”

Abby now made the discovery that it was possible, at one and the same time, to be furiously angry, and to have the greatest difficulty in suppressing an almost irresistible desire to burst out laughing. After a severe struggle, she managed to say: “This— this is useless, sir! Let me assure you that you have no hope whatever of gaining the consent of Fanny’s guardian to your proposal; and let me also tell you that she will not come into possession of her inheritance until she is five-and-twenty! That, I collect, is something you were not aware of!”

“No,” he admitted. “I wasn’t!”

“Until that date,” Abby continued, “her fortune is under the sole control of her guardian, and he, I must tell you, will not, under any circumstances, relinquish that control into the hands of her husband one moment before her twentyfifth birthday, if she marries without his consent and approval. I think it doubtful, even, that he would continue to allow her to receive any part of the income accruing from her fortune. Not a very good bargain, sir, do you think?”

“It seems to be a very bad one. Who, by the way, is Fanny’s guardian?”

“Her uncle, of course! Surely she must have told you so?” replied Abby impatiently.

“Well, no!” he said, still more apologetically. “She really had no opportunity to do so!”

“Had no—Mr Calverleigh, are you asking me to believe that you—you embarked on this attempt to recover your own fortune without first discovering what were the exact terms of her father’s will? That is coming it very much too strong!”

“Who was her father?” he interrupted, regarding her from under suddenly frowning brows. “You talk of her inheritance—You don’t mean to tell me she’s Rowland Wendover’s daughter?”

“Yes—if it should be necessary for me to do so—which I strongly doubt!” said Abby, eyeing him with hostility. “She is an orphan, and the ward of my brother James.”

“Poor girl!” He studied her appraisingly. “So you are a sister of Rowland Wendover! You know, I find that very hard to believe.”

“Indeed! It is nevertheless true—though in what way it concerns the point at issue—”

“Oh, it doesn’t!” he said, smiling disarmingly at her. “Now I come to think of it,


he had several sisters, hadn’t he? I expect you must be the youngest of them. He was older than I was, and you are a mere child. By the by, when did he die?”

This question, put to her in a tone of casual interest, seemed to her to be so inapposite that the suspicion that he was drunk occurred to her. Watching him closely, she said: “My brother died twelve years ago. I am his youngest sister, but you are mistaken in thinking me a mere child. I daresay you wish I were!”

“No, I don’t. Why should I?” he asked, mildly surprised.

“Because you might find it easier to flummery me!”

” But I don’t want to flummery you!”

“Just as well!” she retorted. “You wouldn’t succeed! I am more than eight-andtwenty, Mr Calverleigh!”

“Well, that seems like a child to me. How much more?”

She was by now extremely angry, but for the second time she was obliged to choke back an involuntary giggle. She said unsteadily: “Talking to you is like—like talking to an eel!’

“No, is it? I’ve never tried to talk to an eel. Isn’t it a waste of time?


She choked. ”Not such a waste of time as talking to you!”

“You’re surely not going to tell me that eels find you more entertaining than I do?” he said incredulously.

That was rather too much for her: she did giggle, and was furious with herself for having done so. “That’s better!” he said approvingly.


She recovered herself. “Let me ask you one question, sir! If I seem like a child to you, in what light do you regard a girl of seventeen?”

“Oh, as a member of the infantry!”

This careless reply made her gasp. Her eyes flashed; she demanded: “How old do you think my niece is, pray?”


“Never having met your niece, I haven’t a notion!”

“Never having—But—Good God, then you cannot be Mr Calverleigh! But when I asked you, you said you were!”

“Of course I did! Tell me, is there a nephew of mine at large in Bath?”

“Nephew? A—a Mr Stacy Calverleigh!”


“Yes, that’s it. I’m his Uncle Miles.”

___

I was pretty much chuckling aloud through most of this amusing little exchange. Not only is Abby’s confusion amusing (it’s almost farcical in a Shakespearean style with the confused identity), but so is Miles’ maddening way of answering her questions without actually answering them. If anyone’s in search of a light and entertaining read, with much opportunities for chuckling to yourself, then this is definitely worth a read.

A good 4 out of 5 stars.

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