“Reading Georgette Heyer is the next best thing to reading Jane Austen.” —Publishers Weekly
A missing twin
Something is very wrong, and the Honourable Christopher “Kit” Fancot can sense it. Kit returns to London on leave from the diplomatic service to find that his twin brother Evelyn has disappeared and his extravagant mother’s debts have mounted alarmingly.
A quick-minded heiress
The Fancot family’s fortunes are riding on Evelyn’s marriage to the self-possessed Cressy Stavely, and her formidable grandmother’s approval of the match. If Evelyn fails to meet the Dowager Lady Stavely in a few days as planned, the betrothal could be off.
A fortune in the balance
When the incorrigible Lady Fancot persuades her son to impersonate his twin (just for one night, she promises), the masquerade sets off a tangled sequence of events that engage Kit’s heart far more deeply than he’d ever anticipated with his brother’s fiancée—who might know much more about what’s going on than she cares to reveal....
“In False Colours, Georgette Heyer scores again!” —Chicago Tribune
“A writer of great wit and style.... I’ve read her books to ragged shreds.” —Kate Fenton, Daily Telegraph
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Georgette Heyer is the author of over fifty books and one of the best-known and best-loved historical novelists. She was legendary for her research, historical accuracy and extraordinary plots and characterizations.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
It was past two o'clock when the job-chaise turned into Hill Street; and, as the watchman wending his way round Berkeley Square monotonously announced, a fine night. A full moon rode in the cloudless sky, dimming the street-lamps: even, as the solitary traveller had noticed, in Pall Mall, where gas-lighting had replaced the oil-burners. Linkmen, carriages, and light streaming from an open door on the east side of Berkeley Square indicated that not all the members of the ton had left London; but at the end of June the Season was drawing to a close; and it did not surprise the traveller to find Hill Street deserted. It would not have surprised him if the knocker had been removed from the door of a certain house on the north side of the street, but when the chaise drew up a swift scrutiny reassured him: the Earl of Denville's town residence had not yet been abandoned for the summer months. The traveller, a young man, wearing a tasselled and corded Polish greatcoat, and a shallow-crowned beaver, sprang down from the chaise, dragged a bulging portmanteau from the floor of this vehicle, set it down on the flagway, and pulled out his purse. The postboys paid, he picked up the portmanteau, trod up the steps to the front-door, and gave the iron bell-pull a tug.
By the time the last echo of the clapper died away the chaise had disappeared, but no one had responded to the bell's summons. The traveller gave it a second, and more vigorous, tug. He heard it clanging somewhere in the nether regions, but was forced to conclude, after waiting for several minutes, that it had failed to rouse any of my lord's servants.
He considered the matter. It was possible, though unlikely, that the household had removed from London without taking the knocker from the door, or shuttering the windows. To verify that the windows had not been shuttered he retreated to the flagway, and scanned the house, perceiving that not only were all the windows unshuttered but that one of them, on the entrance-floor, had been left open a few inches at the top. This gave, as he knew, on to the dining-room; and to reach it presented a lithe and determined young man with no insuperable difficulty. Divesting himself of his greatcoat, and trusting that no watchman would come down the street in time to observe his clandestine entry, he proceeded to demonstrate to the uninterested moon that Colonel Dan Mackinnon, of the Coldstream Guards, was not without a rival in the art of perilous climbing.
No such thought entered the Hon. Christopher Fancot's head: he was not acquainted with Colonel Mackinnon; and he did not think the feat of reaching the desired window-sill either dangerous or difficult. Once there it was easy to thrust up the lower sash, and to swing himself into the room. A couple of minutes later he emerged into the hall, where, upon a marble-topped side-table, he found a lamp burning low, with an unlit candle in a silver holder standing beside it. Observing these objects with an intelligent eye, Mr Fancot concluded that their noble owner had told his servants not to wait up for him. The subsequent discovery that the front-door was unbolted confirmed him in this belief. As he opened the door, to retrieve his belongings from the porch, he reflected, with an inward chuckle, that when his lordship did come home at last he would find his bed occupied by a most unlooked-for visitor, and would in all probability think that he was a great deal boskier than he had supposed.
On this thought, which appeared, from the mischievous smile which played about the corners of his mouth, to afford Mr Fancot amusement, he kindled the candle at the lamp's low flame, and made his way towards the staircase.
He went softly up, the candlestick held in one hand, his portmanteau in the other, and his greatcoat flung over his shoulder. No creaking stair betrayed him, but as he rounded the bend in the second flight a door opened on the floor above, and a voice said anxiously: ‘Evelyn?'
He looked up, seeing, in the light of a bedroom-candle held aloft in a fragile hand, a feminine form enveloped in a cloud of lace, which was caught together by ribbons of the palest green satin. From under a nightcap of charming design several ringlets the colour of ripe corn had been allowed to escape. The gentleman on the stairs said appreciatively: ‘What a fetching cap, love!'
The vision thus addressed heaved a sigh of relief, but said, with a gurgle of laughter: ‘You absurd boy! Oh, Evelyn, I'm so thankful you've come, but what in the world has detained you? I've been sick with apprehension!'
There was a quizzical gleam in the gentleman's eyes, but he said in accents of deep reproach: ‘Come, come, Mama !'
‘It may be very well for you to say Come, come, Mama,' she retorted, ‘but when you faithfully promised to return not a day later than ' She broke off, staring down at him in sudden doubt.
Abandoning the portmanteau, the gentleman shrugged the greatcoat from his shoulder, pulled off his hat, and mounted the remaining stairs two at a time, saying still more reproachfully: ‘No, really, Mama! How can you be so unnatural a parent?'
‘Kit!' uttered his unnatural parent, in a smothered shriek. ‘Oh, my darling, my dearest son!'
Mr Fancot, receiving his widowed mama on his bosom, caught her in a comprehensive hug, but said, on a note of laughter: ‘Oh, what a rapper! I'm not your dearest son!'
Standing on tiptoe to kiss his lean cheek, and dropping wax from her tilted candle down the sleeve of his coat, Lady Denville replied with dignity that she had never felt the smallest preference for either of her twin sons.
‘Of course not! How should you, when you can't tell us apart?' said Mr Fancot, prudently removing the candlestick from her grasp.
‘I can tell you apart!' she declared. ‘If I had expected to see you I should have recognized you instantly! The thing was, I thought you were in Vienna.'
‘No, I'm here,' said Mr Fancot, smiling lovingly down at her. ‘Stewart gave me leave of absence: are you pleased?'
‘Oh, no, not a bit!' she said, tucking her hand in his arm, and drawing him into her bedchamber. ‘Let me look at you, wicked one! Oh, I can't see you properly! Light all the candles, dearest, and then we may be comfortable. The money that is spent on candles in this house! I shouldn't have thought it possible if Dinting hadn't shown me the chandler's bill which, I must say, I wish she had not, for what, I ask you, Kit, is the use of knowing the cost of candles? One must have them, after all, and even your father never desired me to purchase tallow ones.'
‘I suppose one might burn fewer,' remarked Kit, applying a taper to some half-dozen which stood in two chandeliers on the dressing-table.
‘No, no, nothing more dismal than an ill-lit room! Light the ones on the mantelpiece, dearest! Yes, that is much better! Now come and tell me all about yourself!'
She had drifted over to an elegant day-bed, and patted it invitingly, but Kit did not immediately obey the summons. He stood looking about him at the scene he had illumined, exclaiming: ‘Why, how is this, Mama? You were used to live in a rose-garden, and now one would think oneself at the bottom of the sea!'
As this was the impression she had hoped to create when, at stupendous cost, she had had the room redecorated in varying shades of green, she was pleased, and said approvingly: ‘Exactly so! I can't think how I endured those commonplace roses for so long particularly when poor Mr Brummell told me years ago that I was one of the few females whom green becomes better than any other colour.'
‘It does,' he agreed. His eyes alighted on the bed, and crinkled at the corners as he saw that the billowing curtains were of gauze. ‘Very dashing! Improper, too.'
An enchanting ripple of laughter broke from her. ‘Fudge! Do you think the room pretty?'
He came to sit beside her, raising her hands to his lips, and planting a kiss in its palm. ‘Yes, like yourself: pretty and absurd!'
‘And like you!' she retorted.
He dropped her hand, not unnaturally revolted. ‘Good God ! No, Mama!'
‘Well, absurd, at all events,' she amended, thinking, however, that it would have been impossible to have found two more handsome men than her twin sons.
The Polite World, to which they belonged, would have said, more temperately, that the Fancot twins were a good-looking pair, but by no means as handsome as had been their father. Neither had inherited the classical regularity of his features: they favoured their mother; and although she was an accredited Beauty dispassionate persons were agreed that her loveliness lay not so much in any perfection of countenance as in her vivacious charm. This, asserted her more elderly admirers, was comparable to the charm of the Fifth Duke of Devonshire's first wife. There were other points of resemblance between her and the Duchess: she adored her children, and she was recklessly extravagant.
As for Kit Fancot, at four-and-twenty he was a well-built young man, slightly above the average height, with good shoulders, and an excellent leg for the prevailing fashion of skin-tight pantaloons. He was darker than his mother, his glossy locks showing more chestnut than gold; and there was a firmness about his mouth which hers lacked. But his eyes were very like hers: lively, their colour between blue and gray, and laughter rarely far from them. He had her endearing smile as well; and this, with his easy unaffected manners, made him a general favourite. He was as like his brother as fourpence to a groat, only those most intimately acquainted with them being able to tell them apart. What difference there was did not lie perceptibly in feature or in stature, unless they were stood side by side, when it could be seen that Kit was a shade taller than Evelyn, and that Evelyn's hair showed a trifle more burnished gold than Kit's. Only the very discerning could detect the real difference between them, for it was subtle, and one of expression: Kit's eyes were the kinder, Evelyn's the more brilliant; each was more ready to laugh than to frown, but Kit could look grave for no reason that Evelyn could discover; and Evelyn could plummet from gaiety to despair in a manner foreign to one of Kit's more even temper. As children they had squabbled amicably, and turned as one to annihilate any intruder into their factions; during boyhood it had been Evelyn who inaugurated their more outrageous exploits, and Kit who extricated them from the consequences. When they grew to manhood circumstances separated them for long stretches of time, but neither physical separation nor mental divergence weakened the link between them. They were not in the least unhappy when apart, for each had his own interests, but when they met after many months it was as though they had been parted for no more than a week.
Since they had come down from Oxford they had seen little of one another. It was the custom of their house for a younger son to embrace a political career, and Kit entered the diplomatic service, under the patronage of his uncle, Henry Fancot, who had just been rewarded for his labours in the ambassadorial field with a barony. He was sent first to Constantinople; but as his appointment as a junior secretary coincided with a period of calm in Turkey's history he soon began to wish that he had persuaded his father to buy him a pair of colours; and even to wonder, with the optimism of one who had not yet attained his majority, whether it might not be possible to convince his lordship that he had mistaken his vocation. Stirring events were taking place in Europe; and it seemed intolerable to a spirited youth already dedicated to the service of his country to be thrust into a backwater. Fortunately, since the late Earl was quite the most unyielding of parents, he was transferred to St Petersburg before the monotony of his first appointment had goaded him into revolt. If he had owed his start in diplomatic life to his uncle, it was his father who was responsible for his second step: Lord Denville might be inflexible, but he was sincerely attached to Kit, and not altogether unsympathetic. His health was uncertain, and for several years he had taken little part in politics, but he had some good friends in the administration. Kit was sent, at the end of 1813, to join General Lord Cathcart's staff, and thereafter had neither the time nor the inclination to complain of boredom. Cathcart was not only ambassador to the Tsar, but also the British Military Commissioner attached to his armies, and in his train Kit saw much of the successful campaign of 1814. For his part, Cathcart accepted Kit unenthusiastically, and would have paid no more heed to him than to any of his other secretaries if his son had not struck up an instant friendship with him. George Cathcart, a very youthful lieutenant in the 6th Dragoon Guards, was acting as his father's military aide-de-camp. Much of his time was spent in carrying dispatches to the several English officers attached to the Russian armies, but whenever he returned to what he insisted on calling headquarters he naturally sought out his only contemporary on the ambassadorial staff. Inevitably, Kit came under his lordship's eye, and soon found favour. Cathcart thought him a likeable boy, with a good understanding, and easy manners: exactly the sort of well-bred lad who was invaluable to an overworked and elderly diplomat obliged to entertain on the grand scale. He had tact and address, and, for all his engaging lightheartedness, an instinctive discretion. When his lordship journeyed to Vienna to attend the Congress there, he took Kit with him. And there Kit had remained. Lord Castlereagh, noticing him with aloof kindness for his uncle's sake, introduced him to the newly-appointed ambassador, who happened to be his own half-brother, and Lord Stewart took a fancy to him. What Kit thought of Stewart, whom the irreverent at the Congress dubbed Lord Pumpernickel, he kept to himself; and if he was sorry to leave Cathcart he was glad not to be sent back to St Petersburg when the war was over. By then he had not only recovered from envy of George Cathcart's rare good fortune in having been appointed to Wellington's staff in time to have been present at Waterloo, but had become so much interested in the tangled policies of the Peace that St Petersburg would have seemed to him almost as remote from the hub of international affairs as Constantinople.
He had met Evelyn abroad twice in the past two years, but he had only once visited England, to attend his father's funeral.
Lord Denville had died, quite suddenly, in the early spring of 1816; and since that date, some fifteen months previously, Lady Denville had not set eyes on her younger son. She thought at first that he had not altered at all, and said so. Then she corrected herself, and said: ‘No, that's silly! You look older of course you do! I am remembering how you were used to look, or trying to. The thing is, you see, that Evelyn is older too, so I've grown accustomed. You are still exactly like him, you know. Dearest, I wish you will tell me how it comes about that you're here so suddenly! Have you brought home a dispatch? Do you carry dispatches, like officers?'
‘No, I'm afraid not,' he answered gravely. ‘King's Messengers are employed on that business. I'm here to attend to to urgent private affairs.'
‘Good gracious, Kit, I never knew you had any!' she exclaimed. ‘Oh, you're trying to hoax me! Now, why?'
‘But I have got urgent private affairs!' he protested. ‘You must know I have, Mama! I've become a man of substance, in fact: what you might call a well-breeched swell!'
‘I shouldn't call you anything so vulgar! Besides, it isn't tru...
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