Regency romance author, Ella Quinn, today gives us a glimpse of The Toll-Gate, one of Georgette Heyer’s more unique Regencies, in which the story centers on the hero. It is particularly appropriate that The Toll-Gate is discussed this month, as the bicentennial anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo is only days away. The hero of this story has returned to England after serving as an aide-de-camp at Waterloo. He is finding civilian life a bit dull and sets out on what becomes quite the adventure, leading him to romance as well.
What are your views on this story and its characters? Please feel free to share them in comments to this article.
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The Toll-Gate doesn’t get as much interest as some of Ms. Heyer’s other books. It takes place in the country, away from the glitter of London or grand houses. It is also as much a mystery as a romance.
Captain John Staple, known for his good-humor and his size, is bored. To the consternation of his family, he frequently goes off for a week or two. Or as his batman remarks, "Resty, very resty!" Naturally, his state or mind leads him into adventures his sister and husband bemoan. One of my favorite parts of the book is when his brother-in-law tells his wife about John’s boat being sunk and him picked up by smugglers.
"But what I say is this, Fanny!" had complained his lordship later. "If I go sailing, and run into a squall and have to swim for it, do I get picked up by a smuggling vessel? Of course I don’t! No one but John would be! What’s more, no one but John would finish the voyage with a set of cut-throat rascals, or help them land their kegs. And if it had happened to me, I shouldn’t be alive to tell the tale. . . . "I expect they liked him."
"Well you can’t help liking him!" pointed out his lordship. "He’s a very charming fellow — and I wish to God he’d settle down, and stop kicking up these larks."
Wishing to escape a, in his mind, very dull house party, he leaves his batman to escort his mother home, and takes off to a friend’s house some sixty miles distant. After deciding to go cross-country, his horse throws a shoe, and it starts to rain. He manages to find a blacksmith, but nowhere to sleep. Not long later he finds a toll-gate manned by a frighten and abandoned child. Naturally, John decides to help. The next day, he meets Nell Stornaway, a lady so tall she can almost look him in the eyes, and it’s love at first sight.
As her grandfather, Sir Peter is bedridden, Nell is acting squire as her grandfather. She is also forced to suffer the unwanted attentions of her cousin’s friend, who is definitely up to no good.
Add to the mix, a missing treasure, a highwayman, thieves, and a crafty old man who is determined to see Nell settled before he dies, and you have a wonderful story.