The Duke of Sale for all of his twenty-four years has been pampered, indulged, cosseted, and dictated to. A sickly youngster,
“he was the Most Noble Adolphus Gillespie Vernon Ware, Duke of Sale and Marquis of Ormesby; Earl of Sale; Baron Ware of Thame; Baron Ware of Stoven; and Baron Ware of Rufford… all of these high-sounding titles had been his from the moment of his birth, for he was the only surviving offspring of the sixth Duke..”
Thus begins the story of “Gilly”, the Duke of Sale. Gilly will soon be twenty-five and come into his inheritance; that is, if his attendants will let him. From the beginning it seems that Gilly is destined to be full of surprises:
“…he had not only survived, but had grown into a perfectly healthy young man, who, if not as stout as could have been wished, or of such fine physique as his uncles and cousins, was yet robust enough to cause his physicians very little anxiety. The chief of these had more than once asserted his belief that the little Duke had a stronger constitution than was supposed, since his hold on life had throughout been so tenacious, but this was an opinion not shared by the anxious relatives, tutors, and attendants who had the Duke in their charge.”
Lord Lionel Ware, Gilly’s uncle and guardian, certainly does not think Gilly either capable nor sufficiently knowlegeable to direct his many household affairs under his own steam. Even the choice of a bride has been removed from him. So, one day, Gilly rebels.
“I think,” added the Duke, “that I might now and then – just now and then, you know, Padbury! – clean my guns for myself.’
Even the footman looked shocked at this, but, being only an underling, could only exchange glances with the fellow footman who had accompanied him to the side entrance. The butler, the steward, and the keeper all directed looks of deep reproach at the Duke, and the middle-aged man in the neat garb that proclaimed the valet exclaimed: ‘Clean your guns for yourself, your Grace! I should think not indeed!”
Telling no one where he is going or why, the Duke of Sale suddenly disappears. The reader can only imagine the consternation of his relatives, household staff, and guardians. Where can he be? has he been kidnapped for ransom? met with an accident? what fearful event has caught Gilly unprepared and unequipped to meet it with aplomb?
The reader however is not caught by surprise. Heyer has cleverly let the reader in on Gilly’s misadventures (and indeed he has met with danger and even kidnapping). All is not lost however; Gilly finds the inner resources that he (and in fact, no one else either) never knew he had. Coming across a foundling orphan in need of a wise head and direction, Gilly rescues a poor maiden in distress. But he also saves himself from (almost) certain death, aids a young runaway (Tom), who will continue to need the Duke’s assistance in one scrape after another, and somehow manages to fall in love. When all is said and done the Duke of Sale meets every challenge successfully, surprising not only himself but also his entire household.
This coming-of-age Regency novel was full of surprises, twists and turns, and a fast read! Just when Gilly extricates himself from one scrape, another immediately rises to meet him. The reader is kept entertained and in suspense all the way through, and for once, romance takes a back seat (although not for long), in much of “The Foundling”.
Another great Heyer read, I found myself pulling for Gilly all the way! His character is so likable and the reader cannot but hope that he will come out on top.