Regency Turns 80 — The Toll-Gate

Silhouettes of a man and woman in Regency dress against a background of the number 80

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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A couple riding together in Regency riding habits, the man on a chestnut horse, the woman on a grey.

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."

"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.

Find Ella Quinn online at:
Twitter:   @ellaquinnauthor

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  1. I love this book. I have all her books and this is one of my favourites. Her hero usually has a sense of humour and I really enjoy her books. I particularly enjoyed the wedding and the shopping trip.

    1. I agree, Glynis! I meant to mention the amount of work he had keeping his clothing and boots clean. One good reason to never leave one’s valet behind.

  2. I do like John Staples. I’ve developed a real fondness for Heyer’s large heroes like The Unknown Ajax and Sir Anthony in The Masqueraders.

    1. He was cute, Lillian. I have to say that I would have preferred that Nell and John had taken him in.

  3. Thank you for reminding me of this fun story. And yes I too liked the change of pace from London Society in this story. I especially like the details of life among the ordinary folk, and of the goings on at the toll gate itself. The attempts to cheat were delightful. There are several tollgate houses still to be seen on country roads around Britain. I fell in love with a hexagonal one in Somerset, or was it Dorset? The roads dip in and out of counties at regular intervals and I have forgotten.

  4. But if young Ben had gone off with the Staples, would he have enjoyed it? He did like Chirk and Molly. Ms. Heyer is very true to the period in her depiction of social rank and the constraints it imposed on every level. Ben could not have been adopted; he would never have been “Quality”. To take him away from his community, where he is known and where he knows people and has at least one child friend could have been cruel. Having had a violent father and a no less violent brother–i.e. a battered child physically and emotionally–to stay with two people who love him and in familiar surroundings would be helpful to his further development.

    Well, that is serious comment indeed for a delightful mystery/romance. I remember well reading it for the first time, after some of Ms. Heyer’s more frothy, frivolous stories. The cave scene of the fight was frightening and having been in a cave when the guide turned off the lights I could picture how spooky it would be and how worried one would be in finding one’s way out. Nell is a courageous, warm-hearted woman and given her height, even with a good settlement, would have had difficulties finding a mate on the London scene–or any fashionable spa town. John is a perfect match! Good for both of them!

  5. Okay. This Heyer retrospective is costing me a LOT of money! So many books I hadn’t read! I’m going off on vacation and loading up the Kindle–looks like another trip to Amazon. The Toll Gate, is it?

    1. LOL, Beppie! 🙂 The consolation for learning of so many great books you need to buy is knowing that they’ll all be keepers. (I ended up trying to get every Heyer in both hardback and paper, I love them so much!)

  6. Isn’t this a fun book, Ella?

    One thing I love about Heyer is how she could use local dialect or slang, adding great color and life to her scenes, without ever confusing the reader or slowing the pace. From chapter 3 of The Toll-Gate, with the hero conversing with a local boy:

    “The Squire, eh? Is he Miss Nell’s father?”
    Squire? No! He’s her granfer. He’s an old gager. No one ain’t set eyes on him since I dunno when.”

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