Desert Isle Keeper
Think Georgette Heyer, and you automatically think Regency. And for the most part that’s a valid association. This remarkable storyteller penned many of the best-loved Regencies of all time, yet we often forget that she used other time periods, as well. And she did just as outstanding a job in bringing those eras to life as she did the Regency.
A stellar example of this is Beauvallet, an Elizabethan-era tale first published in 1929. Heyer grabs you from the very first sentence: “The deck was a shambles.” Dona Dominica de Rada y Silva, returning with her father from the Spanish West Indies in 1586, has the misfortune to be sailing on a ship that’s waylaid by the infamous English pirate, Nicholas Beauvallet. Surely one of the original feisty heroines of romance, Dominica’s first impulse is to stab him, but one look into his laughing blue eyes makes her reconsider. He then begins a most unorthodox courtship of her, as he fulfills his promise to deliver his unexpected guests to Spain.
Never one to dissemble, Nick makes no attempt to hide his attraction to Dominica, going so far as to ask her father for her hand. Don Manuel is tempted, but alas! not only is he El Beauvallet, the sworn enemy of Spain, but he’s also an English heretic – and so blithe about courting danger that Don Manuel suspects he must be mad. Our hero, however, is not one to be put off so easily; he vows to Dominica that he will come to Spain to seek her out, and carry her to England.
And that’s only the first 50 pages.
Of course, Nick does travel to Spain, a journey not without its dangers. There’s also the peril awaiting him in Madrid if it’s discovered that he is not the Chevalier de Guise, as his stolen papers claim he is, but El Beauvallet. His only companion is his valet, Joshua, an engaging and able henchman. They locate Dominica, just coming out of mourning her father’s death. When she sees her love, she’s shocked: she never dared to dream that her pirate would actually come for her.
There’s so much that I love about this book! The story itself is rousing, although it did lead to complications in my later reading life – no other pirate story ever measured up for me. The characterizations display the deftness for which Heyer is justly famous. With just a few well-chosen words, she introduces us to people who almost leap off the pages at us. We can see the flash in Dominica’s eyes, the sparkle in Nick’s. We can experience the magnificence of Elizabeth’s court at Westminster. We can hear Joshua scolding his master for leaving fine clothes strewn across the length and breadth of Spain.
The writing is marvelous. Heyer has such a gift for using language contemporary to the period – not dumbing down the vocabulary for her readers, but leading them into English as her characters would have used it, and being so very unapologetic for it. That may make it a little difficult to read at first, but it’s well worth the effort. Her ability to describe a scene is without equal; one smells the gunpowder, feels the horse flying along a dusty road.
And the dialogue! Here’s a sample:
“You use me monstrously,” complained Dominica.
“But you do not hate me?”
She left that unanswered. “I cannot find it in me to envy the lady you take to wife,” she said.
“Nay, how should you?”
She looked up sharply at that, blushed, and turned her face away. “I do not know how the English ladies can bear with you, senor.”
He looked merrily down at her. “Why, I have not called upon them to bear with me, senora.”
She faced him suddenly. “You will scarce have me believe you have not trifled often and often!” she said hotly. “No doubt ye deem women of small account!”
“I do not deem you of small account, child.”
She smiled disdainfully. “You are mightily apt. Do you use this manner with the English ladies, pray?”
“Nay, sweetheart, this is the manner I use,” Sir Nicholas answered, and promptly kissed her.
When I was eleven, I fell in love with two males. One was my brother’s best friend; I haven’t seen him in almost twenty years. The other was an English pirate with a ready wit, deadly skill with a foil, and a smile to melt a girl’s heart. Fortunately, I can reacquaint myself with him whenever I want to. And that’s another reason I would include Beauvallet in my desert-isle library.