Point of Honour (Sarah Tolerance)

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9780765336194: Point of Honour (Sarah Tolerance)
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On the mean streets of Regency London, a truly different adventure-with an unforgettable heroine

In a Regency London that isn't quite the one we know, young women of family whose reputations have been ruined are known as the Fallen. Young Sarah Tolerance is one such: a daughter of the nobility who ran away with her brother's fencing-master. Now that the fencing-master has died, everyone expects her to earn her living as a whore.

But Sarah is unwilling. Instead, she invents a new role for herself, and a new vocation: "investigative agent." For Sarah, with her equivocal position in society, is able to float between social layers, unearth secrets, find things that were lost, and lose things too dangerous to be kept. Her stock in trade is her wits, her discretion, and her expertise with the smallsword -- for her fencing-master taught her that as well.

She will need all her skills soon, when she is approached by an agent of the Count Verseillon, for a task that seems routine: reclaim an antique fan he once gave to "a lady with brown eyes." The fan, he tells her, is an heirloom; the lady, his first love. But as Sarah Tolerance unravels the mystery that surrounds the fan, she discovers that she--and the Count--are not the only ones seeking it, and that nothing about this task is what it seems.

"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.

About the Author:

Madeleine E. Robins lives in New York City. Her previous novel, The Stone War, was a New York Times Notable Book.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Point of Honour
OneIt is a truth universally acknowledged that a Fallen Woman of good family must, soon or late, descend to whoredom. Indeed, a maidservant or seamstress might eke out her wages with casual prostitution, but a gentlewoman of damaged virtue is often so lacking in resources that dedicated harlotry is her necessary fate. The lower classes certainly provide the greatest numbers, but it is from the ranks of the gentle and nobly born that such courtesans come as understand not only the coarse principles of pleasure, but the nicer distinctions of rank and precedent, and the proper service of tea. The brothel is the lone institution in which persons of every rank mix, and there is no doubt a particular frisson for men in consorting with women better born than they, defiling the edifice of class in the pursuit of pleasure.The extraordinary range of establishments of prostitution in London of 1810, from the meanest stew to the most elegant house of joy, only bore out the truth that in pleasure, as in all other things, class was no little consideration. Brothels of allsorts, most managed, if not owned, by women, thrived in the city; it seemed that the era would be known to history chiefly for the fashion for venery--and the endless war with Bonaparte. Perhaps a nation under the gentle hand of the Queen Regent was more disposed to look kindly upon such female enterprise--although Queen Charlotte herself would have been horrified by the idea. Still, no less personages than her sons made ample and very public use of these establishments; only the widowed Prince of Wales, nearing his ninth year of mourning, was circumspect in his pleasures. Reformers and clerics suggested that had the King kept his mind and his power, matters might have been different--but the King had been mad for over twenty years, and women of all kinds and conditions continued to take refuge in the only profession universally available to females.It was obvious to anyone familiar with the large, fine house in Manchester Square, which stood in its own garden, ringed round by a high, ivied fence and an abundance of old trees, that it was run by a woman once of very good family. The house was handsomely kept up, the merchants who supplied the establishment brought only their best, and the ladies of the house were never seen out-of-doors unless sober, respectably dressed, and with a maid in attendance. Further, the occupants of the carriages which stopped by the door were of the highest rank and character, and relied not only upon the quality of the entertainments offered, but upon the discretion which was no little part of the service rendered. To all these qualities must be added this one: that never, except at those moments most appropriate, was there anything about the establishment which smacked of vulgarity. But upon display or behind closed doors, the employees of the house were expected to be as enthusiastic in their pleasures as their customers required. This tension between decorum and license served, as the owner well knew, to heighten a patron's appreciation of both qualities; the house kept by Mrs. Brereton was privily considered one of the finest in the city, and the establishment thrived.Mrs. Brereton herself was something of an example to her peers. Seduced as a girl by a half-pay lieutenant who had then gone off to die in the Americas, she had been cast off by her family and moved up the social ladder in her amours, carefully saving cash and favors until she was able to open her own establishment. Unlike most Fallen, she had defied custom by keeping her family name rather than take a nom d'amour. She was at least as hardheaded in matters of business as she was gifted in love. And as a matter of business, she treated her employees well, both the women and men who serviced custom--Mrs. Brereton was unusually broad-minded when it proved advantageous--and the servants who maintained the establishment to her rigorous standards. She required of them honesty, discretion, and imagination; she paid well, and was as thoughtful in consulting their preferences as she could be and still turn a profit. Mrs. Brereton saw to it that no stars were among her employees, no whore so famous she eclipsed her fellows and caused quarrels between the patrons. Performer's temperament was not allowed; the efforts of the house, upstairs and belowstairs, were bent upon the satisfaction of Mrs. Brereton's clientele.Only one spot in the property was free of the overwhelming preoccupation of the establishment. In the garden at the rear of the house was the only place largely untouched by Mrs. Brereton's stewardship, a small cottage tucked away in the northern corner. The cottage was closely covered with vines, and nearly disappeared among the trees and shrubs that surrounded it; only those who knew it was there would have dreamt of finding it. To reach the cottage, it was necessary to go through the house, or discover the door to the gardens which was half hidden in the grape and ivy that covered the wall facing on Spanish Place. In daylight the task challenged the unwary. Now, in dark and rain, it was very nearly impossible.Torches in doorways sheltered from the rain sizzled and spat, sending plumes of black smoke up to coil greasily under their awnings. In Manchester Square the yellow light from the windowscould not cut the powerful inkiness beyond an arm's length into the street, and in the gutters rainwater roared, sweeping all before it. Around the corner on Spanish Place, no light shone at all, and the man who scurried down it kept one hand upon the garden wall, feeling for the opening in the vines and ironwork. Clad in greatcoat from the Belgian tailor Gunnard, buckskins and top boots, and streaming water from hat to heel, he located the portal, fumbled with a key, and muttered low curses on the gods of weather. After several minutes' unavailing struggle, there was a click barely audible over the roar of rain, and the gate swung open.The sodden fellow picked his way through the garden and turned, not toward the waiting warmth of the great house, but toward the little cottage in the rear, where a single light flickered yellow in the darkness. The door was unlocked. He made bold to step through, whereupon the Gunnard coat was shed, boots and stockings unceremoniously discarded, leaving a substantial puddle on the floor, and the slouch-brimmed hat which had taken the worst of the storm was consigned to a peg by the door. The figure was revealed to be no man, but a woman: slender, rather tall, and of some eight-and-twenty years. Sarah Tolerance shook down her heavy dark hair and swore, shivering with cold.A voice rose up from the high-backed settle near the fire. "Come warm yourself, dear. I lit the fire specially for you.""And helped yourself to my tea." Miss Tolerance pulled on the dressing gown draped over the back of the bench and, under its protective cover, shed her damp breeches. "You might at least pour a cup for me.""Did I startle you?" The face peering over the back of the settle looked hopeful.Miss Tolerance shook her head. "I dislike to disappoint you, Matt, but I saw the light from the garden. Who else would visit on such a night? Have you cut any bread and butter?""Not yet. There's the buffet spread in the blue salon at the house." Matt Etan turned back to the fire to place the kettle backon the hob. "Wouldn't you rather take your dinner from there?"Miss Tolerance reached to ruffle the fair hair of her guest. He was young and open-faced, with a square jaw, broad mouth, blunt nose, and good-natured brown eyes, dressed in buckskin breeches and a finely made linen shirt. His shoes and stockings, Miss Tolerance saw now, were drying before the fire."Go out into that for a plate of ham and peas? Bread and butter will do me well enough. But why aren't you taking your dinner in the house?"Matt stretched and made a face. "It's my evening off, and Holyfield is there. He will not take no for an answer, and I haven't the energy to defend myself from him tonight.""Defend? I thought Holyfield was one of your favored patrons." Miss Tolerance took bread and cheese from the cupboard and cut a healthy slice of each."One of the wealthiest, and he's not a bad fellow." Matt shrugged. "Money is money, but before God, Sarah, as we don't rest even upon the Sabbath day, I've a right to an evening of rest"--he descended into the dense accents of the Eastside stews--"and I ain't spending mine on the likes of milord Holyhell." His normal voice, and the genteel accents Mrs. Brereton required of her workers, returned. "But the marquess has no interest in you, so why not delight your aunt and join her for supper?""I'd hardly do her credit, looking like a drowned rat. And I'd rather not encounter any of my aunt's clientele this evening.""For cause?""I'm sick of the lot of them. I finished a bit of business early this morning, made my report tonight, and it has given me a roaring distaste for men of a certain class. Is that the paper? Be quiet for a few minutes and let me read."Miss Tolerance took the cup of tea which Matt handed her and sat in an armchair convenient to the fire so that she could prop her feet up on the fender. Then she took up the week's issue of the Gazette. Passing lightly over the society notes, sheskipped the foreign news entirely and turned to the Dueling Notices for the previous month:By the sword, fatally: Peter, Lord Henly By shot, fatally: Mr. David Pankin By shot, wounded: Sir Vandam Godalming By shot, fatally: Mr. Wallace Strachey ...Below each listing was a brief descriptive paragraph of the meeting, and in some cases, its putative cause."Henly's got himself killed, Matt," Miss Tolerance observed coolly. "The Gazette is not specific upon the point, but I suspect it was a quarrel with Jennaroe over Harriet Delamour."Matt tsked and bit into an apple. "Little Carrie will be desolated by the news.""Was he one of hers?" Miss Tolerance asked.Matt nodded. "I ought not to say; you know how Mrs. B dislikes us to gossip. Any other notables on the list?""Peters winged Godalming and their seconds considered the matter concluded. Lazenby cried off the meeting, pleading a stomach disorder--that won't gain him much with Fitch--""Lord Fitch?" Matt scoffed. "Whatever could Dennis Fitch find to quarrel with Frederick Lazenby about?"Miss Tolerance raised one eyebrow quizzingly. "What do gentlemen with more money than sense generally quarrel about? Women, horses, money, cards--the list is endless. Perhaps they fought about you, for all I know. I'm only surprised that Lazenby allowed himself to be cozened into a meeting with a man who is a renowned shot." She returned her attention to the paper, noting the names of two more former clients among the deceased. "Damn, what a plague of killing. Matt, toss me my counts-book, it's just there by your lazy head."Matt reached around behind him, rummaging blindly among the pile of books and papers on the shelf above the settle. "Is this it, Sarey?" In response to Miss Tolerance's nod, he tossed the book to her, pages fluttering. She caught it deftly, one-handed."What's the matter? Checking to see if one of the dear departed had settled his shot?" He grinned."It's all well for you to laugh, parasite. So long as there's a market for your talents, you'll never go hungry. Some of us must needs make a living elsewise," Miss Tolerance said without rancor. "Well, Millward paid his account. In gold, too.""Such a handsome way to meet one's obligations. Who's the other corpse?" Matt pitched his apple core past Miss Tolerance's knee and into the fire."Sir Evan Trecan; wrote a draft on his bank, which the bank has so far declined to honor. Damn, damn, damn."Matt rolled over onto his stomach and set his chin on his fists. "How does a lowly woman of business dun a member of Parliament--a dead member of Parliament?"Miss Tolerance sighed gustily. "I shall write a note to his estate. Although if Sir Evan's pockets were as deeply to let as I believe them to have been, his agents will likely laugh at it. At least someone will derive some amusement from the matter. Damn, there's paper and ink spent, probably to no account."For several minutes, as Miss Tolerance scratched earnestly at her paper, there was no other sound but that of the fire. At last she looked up and cocked an eyebrow. "How does my aunt's business tonight?""Brisk, my dear, brisk. Something about a thunderstorm seems to bring out the rake in any number of our notable citizens.""I don't suppose Horace Maugham has come by this evening?""That bore? He rarely comes to us--I think he prefers a lower class of pleasure, and I'm not what he fancies," Matt said airily."I didn't expect it, merely wondered. I finished Mrs. Maugham's business this morning and gave her the damning evidence tonight as she was dressing for Almack's." She smiled mirthlessly. "It will doubtless be all over town tomorrow, for it's as Mrs. Maugham suspected, only less savory. Her husband keeps a pair of girls--little more than children--in a cottage near Riversend, on his wife's money.""Lower class and younger, then." Matt nodded."Sisters, not above thirteen. And Mrs. Maugham's thoughts will be all for punishing her husband--she'll bring him to heel, and the children will be cast aside.""Enough to give you a jaundiced view of marriage," Matt said. "How lucky we are to have avoided it."Miss Tolerance frowned for a moment, then went back to the paper, turning the page from the Dueling Notices to the city news. "The Queen Regent and her doctors report that the King's health remains good, despite his infirmity--is madness an infirmity, then, like gout?""I've heard the Queen will not be left alone with her husband for fear that he will ravish her. At her age?" Matt sounded delighted by the thought. "Marriage is overrated."Miss Tolerance did not rise to the bait. "The Queen Regent has canceled Thursday's Drawing Room owing to a slight indisposition," she read. "Lady Julia Geddes has moved the venue for her ball to Versellion House, owing to a recent infestation of ladybugs in her own establishment. And hear this! Fevier is running in the by-election for a seat in the House, with Versellion's support. Montroy means to oppose him, and in that I suspect the delicate hand of Lord Balobridge. What great boards these kingmakers play upon! And the vote in the House regarding the question of support for Viscount Wellington's Spanish campaign was tabled for more debate--again. By the time the House votes support for Wellington, the war will be five years over, and Bonaparte long in his grave. The price of corn has risen again. And--dear me: a Mr. James Mondulac was beaten last night as he left his club--Tarsio's, as it happens--and sustained considerable injury. What was that about, I wonder? I believe I shall take my lunch at Tarsio's tomorrow, and nose about to satisfy my vulgar curiosity. If anyone wishes to discuss business, they are more likely to search for me there than here.""A very respectable ambience that is, Sarey." Matt shook his head."Unlike the refined precincts of my aunt's brothel?""The membership of Tarsio's is ... variable. At your aunt's,you know the quality of the help"--Matt sketched a bow--"and you know the clientele is impeccable.""Where...

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Book Description St Martin's Press, United States, 2011. Paperback. Condition: New. Language: English. Brand new Book. On the mean streets of Regency London, a truly different adventure-with an unforgettable heroineIn a Regency London that isn't quite the one we know, young women of family whose reputations have been ruined are known as the Fallen. Young Sarah Tolerance is one such: a daughter of the nobility who ran away with her brother's fencing-master. Now that the fencing-master has died, everyone expects her to earn her living as a whore.But Sarah is unwilling. Instead, she invents a new role for herself, and a new vocation: "investigative agent." For Sarah, with her equivocal position in society, is able to float between social layers, unearth secrets, find things that were lost, and lose things too dangerous to be kept. Her stock in trade is her wits, her discretion, and her expertise with the smallsword -- for her fencing-master taught her that as well.She will need all her skills soon, when she is approached by an agent of the Count Verseillon, for a task that seems routine: reclaim an antique fan he once gave to "a lady with brown eyes." The fan, he tells her, is an heirloom; the lady, his first love. But as Sarah Tolerance unravels the mystery that surrounds the fan, she discovers that she--and the Count--are not the only ones seeking it, and that nothing about this task is what it seems. Seller Inventory # BZE9780765336194

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