TITLE – Ravensdale SERIES – That Scoundrel Émile Duois AUTHOR – Lucinda Elliot GENRE – Historical Romantic Comedy PUBLICATION DATE – 19 April 2014 LENGTH (Pages/# Words) – Approx 85,000 words PUBLISHER – Elliot COVER ARTIST – Streetlight Graphics
When the group of highwaymen headed by the disgraced Earl of Little Dean, Reynaud Ravensdale holds up the hoydenish Isabella Murray’s coach, she knocks one of them down and lectures them all on following Robin Hood’s example.
The rascally Reynaud Ravensdale – otherwise known as the dashing highwayman Mr Fox – is fascinated at her spirit.
He escaped abroad three years back following his supposedly shooting a friend dead after a quarrel. Rumour has it that his far more respectable cousin was involved. Now, having come back during his father’s last illness, the young Earl is seeking to clear his name of murder, even if he is living as an outlaw meanwhile.
Isabella’s ambitious parents are eager to marry her off to Reynaud Ravensdale’s cousin, the next in line to his title. The totally unromantic Isabella is even ready to elope with her outlaw admirer to escape this fate – on condition that he teaches her how to be a highwaywoman herself.
This hilarious spoof uses vivid characters and lively comedy to bring new life to a theme traditionally favoured by historical novelists – that of the wild young Earl, who, falsely accused of murder by the machinations of a conniving cousin and prejudged by his reputation, lives as an outlaw whilst seeking to clear his name.
‘Ravensdale’ is a fast paced, funny and romantic read from the writer of ‘That Scoundrel Émile Dubois’, following the adventures of that character's equally roguish cousin and set in 1792, just prior to the outbreak of the French Revolutionary Wars and two years before the story of 'That Scoundrel Émile Dubois' .
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Jumping the ditch, he vanished amongst the shrubs and bushes. Longface, following more cautiously, nearly twisted his ankle.
Suddenly, Mr Fox sprang behind a bush. Longface leapt behind a lilac tree. The strapping wench who’d floored Filthy Fred came round the side of the house, holding a pair of pistols, and made for a target fixed to one of the shrubs.
She wore a pale lemon dress with matching floppy bonnet contrasting with her dark mane of carelessly piled up waving black hair. Longface supposed that she looked quite pretty. The sight of her had an astounding effect on his companion, who reeled on his feet and ogled like a madman.
She went over to a bench, and began to load the pistols. Longface shuddered. She got into difficulty with loading the wadding in the first, and after struggling for a while, shocking Longface with her language, threw it on the bench and marched about the adjoining rose garden in her rage.
Here Mr Fox showed the full extent of his madness. He stole up to the bench, and using a stone, hammered the wadding securely into place, darting back as the girl turned.
Longface awaited detection. On seeing that the pistol had been loaded, the girl merely raised her eyebrows, smiled, and moved towards the target. Longface, behind a bush nearby, threw himself to the ground, covering his head with his arms. The shot rang out. Looking up, he saw that she had shot through the centre of the target and was smiling happily.
Longface, startled at how charming her smile was, dreaded its affect on the deranged Mr Fox, who quivered and seemed about to have a fit.
The next hour was both dull and nerve racking. The besotted outlaw dodged from bush to shrub, yearning eyes fixed on the hoyden, while she practiced her shooting, singing happily as she loaded the pistol, swearing savagely when she bungled her aim.
Longface dreaded that she must see one of them, but Mr Fox was good at concealing himself. Once he sprang behind a bush at the back of which Longface had already rolled. One of his booted feet came down on Longface’s favourite neck cloth. Longface felt at his last gasp when his tormentor finally moved, tearing it and leaving Longface panting.
At last, a maid came out to speak to the girl. In frozen horror, Longface heard the words, ‘Mr Ravensdale’. Could this be the cousin whom the rumour went had been involved in the then Viscount’s disgrace? Miss Isabella agreed to be led in, the maid fussing about her heavy dark hair tumbling down, one piece having snaked as far as her waist.
On her way into the house, Mr Fox’s goddess dropped a lace edged handkerchief. Of course, as soon as she had gone in, he darted to snatch it up, sniffing it ecstatically and fondling it as if it were the girls’ own flesh.
Then he staggered over to a tree, and beating his head on it, muttered of ‘Outlaw’ ‘Cozened, by Hell and the Devil!’ ‘Brigandage’ and ‘Disgrace’. Longface’s embarrassment at this display was swept away in fear that the Young Hothead might do himself an injury. He also wondered vaguely if he was Disgraced himself. The emotional effect was the same, but as after his father’s ruin his goods amounted to half a donkey and a pound in silver, the practical effects weren’t. Meggie was lucky to have had any solvent man offer for her after it, even if her husband was a misery.
He started forward to stop Fox just as the outcast pulled away from the tree. Then he stole round the side of the house. Here great windows opened on to a long terrace. With bleeding forehead and wild eyes, he hid behind one of the rhododendrons, staring across at the windows, one being that of a drawing room. Longface feared even more for his sanity, wondering if they would ever leave.
After a while, the Disgraced Earl’s patience was rewarded. Several family members came into the room, including the hoyden, now dressed for dinner in ivory silk, her hair up again. She did look well, and the outcast groaned aloud. Longface’s fears were confirmed with the appearance of an upright, tall, vigorous young man who could almost have been the outlaw’s twin.
A woman’s voice came stridently over the lawn, repeating, ‘Mr Ravensdale’ as if she could never say it often enough. After a time, this other Ravensdale came up to the piano near the window and Miss Isabella sat down to accompany him while he sang in a fine baritone:
‘Where’er you walk, cool glades shall fan the glade; Trees, where you sit, shall crowd into a shade; Where’er you tread, the blushing flowers shall rise, And all things flourish, where you turn your eyes…’
Mr Fox writhed. Longface felt his pain. Miss Isabella laughed with his cousin as they finished the song, and so the outlaw’s torment wore on. Then Edmund Ravensdale came out onto the terrace to take a turn in the air alone.
Now the outlaw’s hand crept to this pistol, and he took aim. The only thing that stopped Longface from throwing himself on him was a strange sense, he knew not from where – that something of the sort had happened before with Reynaud Ravensdale and turned out badly. He stared frozen instead.
Then his chief put his hand on the rumpskuttle’s handkerchief and thrust his pistol back into his belt. His cousin went back in. The robber turned away hunched. On his way back towards his horse, he murmured once:
‘Ye Gods, and is there no relief from Love?... On me love’s fiercer flames forever prey, By night he scorches, as he burns by day.’
Longface, dolefully chewing on a piece of grass, muttered, ‘He’s gone fairly off his chump.”
After a few more steps, Mr Fox stopped. So did Longface, but the other, without troubling to turn round, called him.
Sheepishly, Longface approached. He was astounded that his chief had seen him when he had been hiding so skillfully. Still, Mr Fox had sharp eyes, so needed in their trade.
Fox was too distracted even to be angry. He swallowed. “Now you know.”
Longface met his eyes, and turned away. “I’m sorry,” he offered. He had once known the torments of love himself.
On their long, silent ride back to the inn, Longface tried to think of some comforting words to say, but found none. Perhaps, ‘There must be other strapping wenches with gipsyish looks and a liking for fisticuffs and shooting,’ wasn’t tactful. To suggest Kate’s cure might spark off a fit of rage. So, he kept a discreet silence, fingering his torn neck cloth.
As they drew into the inn yard, Longface’s chief spoke. “We’ve got our prize; Jack is to Town. Now is your chance to retire into respectability, Longface, as I’m going for a respectable occupation myself.” To Longface’s amazement, he grinned.
Late that night, when all was still in The Huntsman, Reynaud Ravensdale appeared downstairs, light in hand, looking for something. He searched first in the bar, then in the kitchen. At last his eyes fell on the brown bottle of the pedlar’s cure, also known as The Famed and Marvellous Elixir, which stood next to the teapot. Finding a spoon, he poured himself a generous helping, swallowing it in one gulp. Then he stood, eagerly waiting for the result.
This came speedily. His eyes widened, his face drained of colour, his breathing quickened and he swallowed and looked very ill for the next five minutes. Finally, recovering enough to speak, he swore heartily, poured the bottle down the sink, and trudged back to bed.