I do not wish to give away the story by revealing much (including names), but let me just assure you that this is a must-read Heyer romance. It reminds me very much of These Old Shades (read my review here), not in the least because of the similarity in time period. We have certainly departed from her more commonly used Regency era, but please do not let that deter you. As a demonstration of the joy this book brings I'd like to resort to a tactic I often use when reviewing Heyer novels and provide a long swath of text to tempt you, but to do so would expose those identities I am taking such pains to protect. Instead, I am just going to transcribe a few, priceless lines that issue from the mouth of our patriarch, "the old gentleman" himself, who forever now stands in my mind as one of the most memorable father figures in literature.
"Henry," said my lord. "You are fortunate. You serve a master of infinite resource."
"Yes, sir," said Henry stolidly.
My lord looked at him, but it is doubtful whether he saw him. His gaze seemed to go beyond. "I am a great man," he said. "Oh, but I am a great man!"
"That I expect," said his lordship loftily. "To see my daughter is to become her slave. I exact such homage on her behalf. She is incomparably lovely. But I - I am different. My children are very well. They have beauty, and wit - a little. But in me there is a subtlety such as you don't dream of, sir." He pondered it sadly. "I have never met the man who had the vision large enough to appreciate my genius," he said simply. "Perhaps it was not to be expected."
"And why not?" my lord demanded. "I had an alibi for her - I should have intervened in a manner quiet, and convincing. All the dignity of my proceeding has been upset; my son is forced to escape at night, and in secrecy; a hue and cry for the Marriots must of course arise, and I - I must set all straight again! If I were not a man of infinite resource, and of resolution the most astounding, I might well cast up my hands, and abandon all. If I had not the patience of a saint I might be tempted to censure the whole of this affair as it deserves. But I say nothing. I bear all meekly."
The old gentleman shut his gold snuff-box with a snap. "My dear March," he said haughtily, "there is nothing I have not been!" He looked again at Mr Markham. "Are you quite sure I did not give you a lesson in fencing? Let me think a moment! Yes, I had an establishment in Rome once, and - yes, yes, another in Turin!"
"It's quite possible, no doubt," sneered Mr Markham. "I don't trouble to remember all my fencing instructors."
"Then of a certainly you are not a pupil of mine," said my lord. "Me you could never forget. For those whom I taught are masters of fence. It goes without saying. I am incomparable. I have no equal in the art!"
"Do not doubt it," answered his lordship. "I have made up my mind that my son must inherit an Earldom at least. I shall once more contrive. do not doubt that I shall contrive! I am a great man, Therese: I realize it at last. I am a very great man."
And so he is!