One of the darkest of the Regency
novels of Georgette Heyer
, published in 1968. Its heroine is 24-year-old Kate Malvern, who was raised in Spain and Portugal amid the Peninsular War
, but her parents both now dead she has been working as a governess
. She loses this post because the husband's brother makes a pass at her, and has difficulty getting another position because she is too pretty
, too much of a temptation.
She is staying with her old nurse Sarah Nidd, who secretly writes a letter to Kate's last known suitable relative, her father's half-sister, who had married ambitiously, whereas her father had cut himself off from the family with his impetuous marriage of love.
The letter is answered by the arrival of Lady Broome herself (her Aunt Minerva). This elegant lady sweeps her off to the Broome home, Staplewood, for a long visit, treating her with much kindness, showering her with gifts, and not allowing her to repay her with any duties.
The tone turns sinister now. Sarah does not answer her letters. The family is strange. The pleasant but ailing Sir Timothy largely sticks to his own apartments; and their excitable and callow son, Torquil, brooding and beautiful and poetic and melodramatic, is under the charge of Dr Delabole, or of some groom when he goes out to ride, never left alone. The servants are divided into camps, the master's and the mistress's.
Torquil's cousin Philip Broome arrives on the scene just as Torquil is playfully threatening to strangle Kate. He seems to take an instant dislike to her. Torquil is at times boyishly fond of him, and at the next moment hates him with a passion, accusing him of trying to kill him, for Cousin Philip is next in line to the title.
Figures wander in the garden late at night. She is locked into her room. She hears horrid screams from another wing. These things happen in certain well-bred families. On the plus side Philip soon realizes that she was not a designing schemer, ingratiating herself with Lady Broome, and proposes to her. This is only half way through the book.
The rest concerns the gradual worsening of the gothic situation, with madness, murder, and drowning. Not the usual comfortable Georgette Heyer romance.