When the group of highwaymen headed by the disgraced Earl of Little Dean, Reynaud Ravensdale hold 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 by 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.
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 his equally roguish cousin and set in 1792, just prior to the French Revolution, two years before That Scoundrel Émile Dubois.
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When the muffled figure on horseback came up the field outside the churchyard wall and suddenly whipped off his hat, a murmur ran through the mourners: ‘It’s Reynaud Ravensdale.’ The more outspoken said, ‘It’s the Outlaw.’ An aged Colonel’s voice came loud in the sudden hush, ‘That’s the villain who shot the Captain!” The Vicar went on with the burial service.
The younger men stirred. The younger women fluttered and looked at the rider with the sympathy they had been turning on his cousin, Edmund Ravensdale, who stood in silence at the head of the late Earl’s grave. He glanced over once as the whispers started up, and then kept his eyes fixed on the Vicar.
The outlaw, who was swathed in a greatcoat with the collars turned up, had a classically handsome head and face like his cousin’s and wavy mid coloured hair. Whether he had taken off his hat out of bravado or as a gesture of respect for his father, he kept it off, ignoring the stares of the crowd.
The youngest Murray girl squealed. Isabella Murray and her brother eyed the horse. Sir Wilfred said, “Foolish gesture, if it is.” Lady Murray clicked her tongue as he went on, “Everyone said a couple of years since he would succeed in clearing himself. I had a bet at the club with that fellow in sugar five to one against. Well, it’s an ill wind as far as that cousin’s concerned. A fine fellow, this nephew of the late Earl. D’you think even our Isabella would turn up her nose at Edmund Ravensdale, eh?”
Lady Murray said nothing. She was annoyed at his lack of decorum and his making light of her secret plans. Isabella’s turning down her earlier suitors was a relief since they had come into riches. Now, with Sir Wilfred knighted, many things were possible.
The churchyard was crowded. Most of the late Earl’s tenants had come and all sorts of people from far away. Already, the dead man’s outrages were forgotten. Last week, he had been a bitter, drunken, aging roué, the terror of the neighbourhood. Now he had been a Noble of the Old School, even if he had chased the villagers with his riding crop. His nephew was said to be in favour of the enclosures* ruinous to so many of the tenants. Suddenly the old ways of the late Earl seemed better, for all his drunken rampages and lechery with the local girls.
As the Vicar finished his prayer, another rider came at breakneck speed up the steep hill, waving his hat and shouting wildly. The first man crammed back on his own hat, whipped out a pistol, turned his horse and galloped away, clearing the newly planted hedge. Mounted soldiers appeared: a volley of gunfire, shouts and curses broke out.
“They’re after him,” Sir Wilfred said unnecessarily.
There were cries and shrieks from the crowd. One man fell flat on his face and a woman swooned. Lady Murray squealed, but Sir Wilfred said, “Bear up, Ma’am; we shan’t be hit,” and so she covered her youngest daughter’s ears. Isabella listened avidly to the cursing. She was always eager to learn more words women weren’t supposed to know.
A distant whistle sounded, followed by more gunfire and cries from the crowd. A stout dowager collapsed on a tombstone. Then the sounds of the pursuit died away into the distance.
“I do hope he got away!” Lady Murray’s younger daughter Selina fought free of her hands. “How awful for him to be fired on when he had come to mourn his father’s passing!”
“More awful for him to miss out on enjoying the estate,” said her brother, Dicky. “He’s got a good horse for escape, though. What’d you say, Sir? I’d say that was an Arab cross.” He narrowed his eyes, as if to pierce the copse at the bottom of the field blocking their view of the chase.
“I’m not sure, because of the height,” Isabella patted her sister’s hand. “Never fear, dear, the average soldier’s a dismal shot and he had a fine mount. If he had your pony there might be some excuse for his being caught.”
Rumour had it that the disgraced heir was also chief of a group of Gentleman of the Road who had been robbing highway travellers for some time past, sometimes about the shires, sometimes as far away as the Great Western Road leading out of London.
He had a reputation for dash and gallantry to the ladies. He also seemed to hate legal figures. As with so many highwaymen, stories went round about his liking for the odd prank on lawyers. He was said to have robbed a judge, sending him on his way, legs tied and sitting backwards on a donkey. There was also a story that he had run into a local Assize Judge in a house of ill repute.
His second in command was also said to be dashing and gallant, though not an aristocrat. It was also said that a third member of the band lacked both dash and teeth, but then women never saw him as being the one to hand them down, half-fainting from their carriage.
The Murrays youngest daughter insisted that the disgraced heir must have been misjudged.
When they had first heard the story, back in the old house in town, long before Sir Wilfred had been knighted, Isabella had snorted with laughter.
“For goodness sake, how real life does follow the clichés of romance! The Wild Young Buck and Heir, the Sweet Young Maiden, the Ill Considered Duel, the Fatal Shot; the Wild Young Buck, Judged by his Former Wildness, now Turns Outlaw. We have already a Conniving Relative who Stands to Gain by the rightful heir’s disgrace, and surely a Conniving Cousin is near as good as a Wicked Uncle or a Jealous Step-Brother for the Villain of the Piece. We only need The Exposure of the Wicked Plot in the final chapter, the Reinstatement of the True Heir, Chastened (though still Mischievous enough to stir the ladies’ pulses); then comes his Wedding and Happy Ever After with the Sweet Young Maiden who Always Believed Him Misjudged. There! We have the novel in full.”
Selina was outraged: “That’s so unfeeling, Isa! These are real people, and maybe there truly is a wicked, conniving relative…Don’t they say that this cousin was involved in the quarrel, along with his fiancée they fought over?”
Her brother had laughed. “If Ravensdale does have his name cleared – which I doubt – he can’t marry the Sweet Young Maiden, as she hitched up soon after with the son of a wealthy sugar merchant. He’ll have to find another who believes in him somewhere else. Maybe that won’t be so hard, as you ladies do love a figure of romance, even one who has been accused of prematurely shooting the man he was to duel with.”
Selina looked disapproving. “That was unfeeling of the fiancée.”
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About the Author
Lucinda Elliot loves writing Gothic style stories, which isn’t surprising because she was brought up in a series of big old isolated houses which her parents were refurbishing (it wasn’t so fashionable back then). After that, she lived, studied and worked in London for many years and now lives in Mid Wales with her family.
She loves writing about strong women to complement gung ho males.
Her interests do include weight training and body shaping,and she was once a champion Sports fighter, but apart from that her interests are quite geeky. Reading classic novels, conservation, gardening, and even names and their meanings (bring on the carrot juice). She loves a laugh above anything.