Desert Isle Keeper
Snowdrift and Other Stories
Before you accuse me of giving an ‘A’ to Georgette Heyer and not to her work, let me hasten to assure you that each and every one of the stories in this collection is fabulous! I smiled from the first page to the last, so delighted to be enjoying my introduction to Heyer’s short stories – I had previously read nearly all of her full-length romantic novels.
While doing her research, Ms. Heyer’s biographer, Jennifer Kloester, came upon three of the author’s stories that haven’t been reprinted since their first publication in the 1930s. What a treasure trove! So Snowdrift and Other Stories contains these three new discoveries and also the eleven that were previously published in the anthology Pistols for Two.
Not all of the tales in this collection are romantic tales, though most of them are, but they are all brimming with Ms. Heyer’s characteristic wit, acute observations, sparkling dialogue, and cheerful bon mots. Many of them are road-trip yarns, where the protagonists meet on the road or at an inn, where the rules of chaperonage and social engagement can be bent a little without any loss in reputation for the participants.
The thing I liked best is how we are taken right into the action from the first sentence and the plot moves along at a spanking pace, even though the tales are not high drama by modern historical romance standards. This is their strength. The focus is on scintillating, mirthful banter, kindness and empathy through which the protagonists get to know each other and not on histrionics or great derring-do. In a few short paragraphs, Ms. Heyer, not only sketches the characters in great detail, but also conveys a good sense of their passions and motivations. Despite the condensed nature of the format, each of her stories is richly expansive with a definite arc that ends with a satisfying conclusion.
Below, I’ll discuss the three new stories and then my favorite one.
Here’s how Pursuit begins:
The curricle, which was built on sporting lines, was drawn by a team of four magnificient greys, and the ribbons were being handled by one of the most noted whips of his day: a member of the Four Horse Club, of the Bensington, the winner of above a dozen races – in short, by the Earl of Shane, as anyone but the most complete country bumpkin, catching only the most fleeting glimpse of his handsome profile, with its bar of black brown, and masterful, aquiline nose, would have known immediately.
This has all the hallmarks of a highly entertaining story set to unfold. Lord Shane and his ward’s governess, Mary Fairfax, are en route to capturing the errant eloping Lucilla and Mr. Monksley. Mary has been Lucilla’s governess for a number of years and so has had constant contact with Lord Shane, who labors under the conviction that he should wed Lucilla himself in order to satisfy the wishes of his – and her – dearly-departed parents, so he takes the elopement as a personal affront. Mary, on the other hand, is sympathetic to the young couple’s cause and approves of the marriage.
Lord Shane and Mary are interrupted while having dinner at an inn along the road by the precipitate arrival of his aunt and his cousin (who is also his heir). His aunt believes she’s in time to save her nephew from Mary’s purported gold-digging hands, and thereby preventing Lord Shane from conceiving an heir in wedlock. What follows next is high comedy and drama and romance.
Runaway Match is a highly amusing tale of mistaken identities. Miss Paradise is being jolted over the North Road in order to avoid an arranged marriage. While her childhood friend and companion, Mr. Morley, has resigned himself to behaving in this preposterous fashion, Miss Paradise has bought into the romance of the moment. They’re interrupted during their breakfast at an inn along the road by a handsome gentleman in modish dress. Thinking that her sight-unseen fiancé is at hand, Miss Paradise and Mr. Morley get on their combative high horses to convince him to allow their clandestine trip to continue. Without lying but prevaricating around admitting his true identity, Viscount Devereux of Frensham, reputed to be the finest swordsman in Europe, is enjoying himself hugely. A swordfight and romantic fustian follow before all is revealed.
Incident on the Bath Road is the story of the Earl of Reveley, wealthy, handsome, able to command whatever distraction he fancies, but bored… and he wishes that he could find something new to do, or recapture his youthful enthusiasms, his power of being pleased, his – ah, yes! His interest in life.
Just as he is pondering the inadequacies of life on the way to Bath, he spies an overturned chaise in the middle of the road. Something about the look of the anxious, disconsolate young gentleman standing next to it makes him stop and take him up in his own chaise. When Reveley introduces himself to the youth, he is astonished and greatly intrigued to know that his name means nothing to the young man, who introduces himself as Peter Brown.
Over the course of the short journey and dinner at an inn, Brown informs Reveley that he’s hieing off to rescue a young lady from the unscrupulous relatives who are forcing a match on her against her will. A couple of incidents later, it turns out that Brown is the cross-dressing young lady herself who’s escaping. Reveley by now has lost all his ennui and is thoroughly enjoying himself.
My favorite story in this collection is A Clandestine Affair, a highly amusing tale of second-chance romance between a couple well into their thirties. Thirty-four-year-old Elinor Tresilian remains unconvinced that the highly eligible young man, Mr. Rosely, who has come to make an offer for her spirited niece’s hand, would be able to stay resolute in the face of his trustee’s disapproval of the marriage. When Lord Iver visits Miss Tresilian in her home to let her know in no uncertain terms that he has set his face against the marriage, she’s unsurprised. For Miss Tresilian knows Lord Iver well. Twelve years ago, family circumstances had caused her to jilt him and forgo a loving marriage. Time has only served to embitter them both.
But the flight of her niece and Mr. Rosely to Gretna Green see Miss Tresilian accompanying Lord Iver in hot pursuit. And while they beguile many hours away in bitter quarrels, the enforced closeness also gives rise to a discussion of what happened in the past and what might have been. It takes them both back from their currently unbending proud selves to the tender romance of their youth. It was lovely to watch this couple rediscover love and reach out to grasp happiness strongly this time.
This collection in its entirety is heartwarming, engrossing, and engaging with risible conversations between the characters. This is Georgette Heyer at her finest and Snowdrift and Other Stories is a book not to be missed!