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The Highwayman

Print version of Daring and Decorum now available

Book promo for Daring and Decorum: Racier than Jane Austen, Better Written than 50 Shades of Grey.For those of you who have been waiting with bated breath for the print version of Daring and Decorum, it’s now available for pre-order through your favorite local bookseller, Barnes and Noble, and through Amazon.uk. It’s not up on Amazon.com yet, but will be soon. (Come on, give BN or your local bookshop some love!) It will make my week if you pre-order, because this helps the book climb the sales-rankings on the day it’s released.

If you haven’t read the preview yet, you can find that here.

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Fiction The Highwayman

The Highwayman’s Quarry – Architecture

Writing fiction set in the late eighteenth century, it’s easy to imagine every building falling into the Georgian period of architecture, something like this image of the Crown and Anchor:

Crown and Anchor
London’s Crown and Anchor Tavern, haunt of many a radical and reformer.
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Fiction The Highwayman

Teaser Tuesday: An Evening at the Theatre

Apparently it’s Teaser Tuesday (also the first day of meteorological fall here in the northern hemisphere). So here are a few paragraphs from about a third of the way through Daring and Decorum: A Highwayman Novel. Elizabeth (the narrator) and her friend Rebecca are watching a performance of As You Like It at the Theatre Royal in Bath. Dora Jordan, playing Rosalind, was one of the most popular English actresses of the late 18th/early 19th centuries.


portrait of Dora Jordan
Dora Jordan as Rosalind, from the cover of Claire Tomalin’s biography

I was surprised when Mrs. Jordan received an ovation on her first entrance, for I had never before seen a star of the stage; when I turned to Rebecca, she assured me it was quite regular. But when Rosalind entered as Ganymede, “suited all points like a man” and exhibiting “a swashing and a martial outside,” the play nearly came to a halt as the audience murmured and some even gasped. She wore knee breeches that fit her legs like the fingers of a glove, and ankle-high shoes instead of boots, the better to show off the sensuous curves of her calves outlined in the snuggest of silk stockings. Her hair extended just to her collar, making her seem even more like a boy, yet there was also something feminine about her, so that we could never forget that underneath Ganymede’s dress was the woman, Rosalind.

The effect of seeing a woman arrayed in such garb, and strutting about the stage in the wide-legged stance of a man, is such as I can hardly describe. Many others in the audience must have felt the same, for the men leaned forward in their seats, and the fans of the women beat the air all the faster. I too found myself craning my neck for a better look, and felt flushed. Only Rebecca seemed unaffected, leaning back in her seat with just a hint of a smile and an appraising look in her eye. Then she turned to me. “Well? Is she everything you expected?”

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The Highwayman

The Highwayman’s Quarry – Celia’s Role in As You Like It

(One in an occasional series of posts on the background material for my novel, Daring and Decorum.)

As You Like It
Poor Celia, left forlorn when her BFF goes off with Orlando. (That’s her beneath the green arrow.) (Screenshot from HBO.)

There’s an incredible tracking shot in Kenneth Branagh’s 2006 film adaptation of As You Like It that perfectly sums up my feelings about the character of Celia and the treatment she receives from the pen of The Bard. It happens in Act III Scene ii, the one in which Celia and Rosalind (dressed as Ganymede) first encounter Orlando in the Forest of Arden.

The shot begins on a boardwalk crossing a wetland. Rosalind (Bryce Dallas Howard) has just told Celia (Romola Garai), “I will speak to him like a saucy lackey, and under that habit play the knave with him.” Rosalind and Orlando (David Oyelowo) proceed along the boardwalk, leaving Celia trailing behind as they trade quips about time and the love notes Orlando has been pinning to the trees. Celia seems to suffer from the fatigue she felt when she and Rosalind first came to the forest, or maybe she’s just appalled at her friend’s behavior. The camera loses track of her for a while as Orlando and Rosalind step onto dry land, but we soon get another glimpse of her in the background, now sitting on the boardwalk. Orlando and Ros circle around the wetland, then stop to face each other as they enter into their bargain, in which Orlando will pretend that Ganymede is Rosalind, and woo her in that guise. The pair stand far enough apart that in the far background between them we see poor Celia, now just an infinitesimal dot.

Yes, brilliant, Mr. Branagh! The blocking highlights the problematic nature of this scene (which leaves Celia with nothing to do for 130 lines of other characters’ dialogue) and also the problematic nature of Celia and Rosalind’s relationship.

Categories
Fiction The Highwayman

The Highwayman Chapter 2

 

2

 

That Sunday week, Father discovered a pair of new parishioners in the receiving line after church, a handsome young gentleman and lady. “Ah, newcomers!” he said warmly. “We are always most gratified at any addition to our flock.”

“And we are glad to receive such a warm welcome,” said the man, who appeared to be in his late twenties, dressed in a blue tailcoat of a modern cut and new boots. “I am Thomas Nighthorn, and this is my sister, Mrs. Burgess.” The latter was a woman considerably younger than her brother, and nearly as tall as he. She wore a fine chemise dress, though not in the latest fashion; a mass of light brown curls peeked out from beneath her bonnet.

As the pair were the last through the line, we had the opportunity for further conversation. It soon came out that Mrs. Burgess was a young widow, and had moved from London for her health. “The air in town did not agree with me,” she said, though she had not the look of an invalid; rather, the smooth skin of her cheeks bore a healthy glow. “I remained only because my husband was stationed at Deptford. But, alas, we lost him in the Glorious First of June.”

“Your husband was in the Navy?” asked Mrs. Simmons.

“Yes, he was captain of HMS Eagle, which took many casualties in that great battle.”

“Oh, you poor thing,” said Mrs. Simmons, “widowed at such a young age, and all alone here, save for your brother. When will we see the end of these wars? There’s scarce a family has not been touched by them. We are missing our Jamie, Miss Elizabeth’s brother, who is in the Navy as well.”

“And what will you do now?” my father asked.

“We have taken a small house in Leighton,” Mrs. Burgess replied. “Unfortunately, Thomas’s business keeps him much occupied in London. I will attempt to make myself useful in some way. I’m sure you can recommend charities to me, Mr. Collington.”

“Indeed I can, and they will be glad to have your assistance,” Father replied. “My daughter also has a passion for aiding the poor, and never fails to make the rounds of our less fortunate neighbors.” Father hesitated only a moment before going on. “I hope the two of you will join us for dinner on Wednesday. I am sure we can arrange for half a dozen guests from the neighborhood to expand your acquaintance. Perhaps Lord Burnside and his family will consent to join us.” He turned to Anthony, who stood nearby, and gave a slight bow.

That gentleman, always careful of his manners, dipped his head in return. He was of middling height, with blond hair grown shaggy about the ears in the fashion that had become popular since the levying of the powder tax. His fine tailcoat, waistcoat, and breeches were all of muted colors, greys and whites. “As much as I regret missing any opportunity to welcome newcomers to our neighborhood, I must sadly decline, for we will be off to London for the season that very day.” His blue eyes, full of earnest regret, slid from Father to me as he finished delivering this news.

“And I must regretfully answer in the negative as well,” Mr. Nighthorn put in, “as I return to London tomorrow. But I am certain my sister would be glad of the company.”

“Indeed I would,” she said. “But you are too kind, Vicar. Please, do not put yourself out to gather a large party on my account. I will be quite content to further my acquaintance with you and your charming daughter.” And here she turned to smile at me, leaving me to wonder what I had done that she could have found so charming. We parted soon after.

The news of Anthony’s departure for London and its accompanying reflection—that he was likely to be surrounded by dozens of marriageable girls in that city—gave me only a moment’s pang of jealousy. Unlike Father and Mrs. Simmons, I had long since ceased to think it likely a match could be made between us. Anthony and I had known each other from a young age, as the Parsonage and the parish church sat on the eastern border of Holbourne, Lord Highdown’s ancestral estate. He was a good sort, always the perfect gentleman, attractive in both person and manner, and attentive to my family’s needs as a friend and neighbor whenever he was in the country. Two years older than I, he had only recently returned from a sojourn in the Inns of Court. Studying the law was quite unusual for a first son, of course, yet it was no surprise to anyone familiar with Anthony’s zeal for making himself useful to his parish and his nation. His father had only allowed him to pursue such an odd course once he was convinced Anthony had no intention of demeaning himself by actually joining the bar; perhaps Lord Highdown felt that some knowledge of the law would be helpful to his son in one day managing the family estates.

As the patron of father’s living, Lord Highdown had always humored our friendship, though we were of differing ranks. He even went so far as to tolerate our continued use of each other’s Christian names long after it was proper, precisely because a match between us was impossible. Despite the attention he paid to the outward forms of charity and magnanimity, Lord Highdown was of an imperious nature, always conscious of rank and wealth, and confident in his ability to rule his son. The Earl clearly had grander ambitions for his son than an alliance with a vicar’s daughter. Whatever Anthony’s feelings toward me might have been, a connection with my family could offer neither money nor status; nor did I sense that spark of passion within Anthony that would compel defiance of his father’s wishes.

To all of which, Father and Mrs. Simmons had counselled patience and a willingness to put myself in the way of Anthony’s affections. My future security depended on it, they said, as few other eligible bachelors lived in the vicinity, and opportunities of meeting those beyond our neighborhood were scant. Father regretted not being able to send me to London for the season, but that was for families with better connections and greater fortunes than our own. For her part, Mrs. Simmons persisted in enumerating the qualities of my person that should have given me confidence in attracting a young man such as Lord Highdown: my long black hair, dark eyes, clear complexion, and what she insisted was a fine figure, which she constantly urged me to show off to better advantage. Whereas I felt I was not of such a height as to achieve true elegance, she held that this was all to the good, as Anthony could hardly be considered tall.

And so Father and Mrs. Simmons persisted in believing that a match with Lord Burnside was my best chance for an establishment in life, despite its slim likelihood. In every other respect, Father was a sensible man, yet on this one topic, he persisted in letting his care and ambition for me cloud his better judgment, in contradiction to all he had ever taught about governing emotion with reason. From this I concluded that the cares and demands of parenthood were enough to unbalance even the most composed of minds.

Since our mother’s death, Jamie and I had been brought up by Father to meet whatever life put in our way, all of its highs and lows, with equal reserve and composure. With a clear-eyed view of my prospects, I could readily admit how this approach to life could aid me, and I endeavored to follow it, succeeding to a great extent in outward appearances, if not in my inmost thoughts. For, as I looked around me at what life was for women of my state, I could not help but admit a certain restlessness, one which all my self-command was barely sufficient to master. In conversation with the five or six female friends my own age in the neighborhood, I always remained polite and amiable, while inside I chafed at the insipidity of the conversation, the constant talk of the latest fashions, the prospects of any new young men coming to the neighborhood, or which girls had been recently engaged. Surely there must be more to life than an endless list of ornamental acquisitions gained in hopes of finding a match with a partner of indifferent affection. There must be more, once such a match was gained, than shallow conversation and entertainments within a social sphere of six or eight neighboring families, more than endless rounds of visits and balls and good works which did little to relieve the sufferings of the poor.

Nor did an advance in rank offered by a match with Anthony promise a necessary improvement, for not even a young lady of twenty, raised in a small parish in Devonshire, could remain ignorant of the scandalous pursuits by which the higher nobility sought to relieve the tedium of life. Only in those ranks inferior to our own did I see a style of life unmediated by rigid social convention. Perhaps it was a romantic notion of mine, but I imagined that the common people we met in the village and the countryside had a freer form of life than our own.

Thus, if I attended those pursuits by which a young woman makes herself acceptable in genteel society—needlework, drawing, music, and reading—with an air of perfect concentration and enjoyment, this did not always mean that my mind was not engaged elsewhere; for I found I had a knack for making idle conversation or practicing at the pianoforte while my thoughts drifted to exotic scenes from a travelogue I had been reading, or to the moors where I delighted in taking long walks. In inclement weather, I found my composure challenged to the utmost, but on fine days I always took the opportunity to relieve my restlessness with lengthy rambles, during which I delighted in sketching my favorite flowers as the blooming season progressed. Father had encouraged me in this pastime, for he was a botanical enthusiast himself, and when I was young had liked nothing better than pointing out flowers on our walks together. In recent years he had not the energy to accompany me, but he never objected to my walking out alone, for he was always glad to see my sketches and to help identify my discoveries.

But among all my improving pursuits, it was in my riding lessons that I found myself most fully engaged. Lord Highdown had been kind enough to allow me the use of a well-trained mare at any time of my pleasing, along with the expert instruction of his groomsman. I often took advantage of this generosity, relishing the freedom of the wind rushing past my cheeks as we cantered over the moors, wondering how far I might go if I chose to ride in a single direction for an entire day. My favorite were the fox hunts, to which Jamie and I had often been invited. I cared nothing for the fortune of the sportsmen—in truth, I preferred it when the poor fox got away—but I thrilled at the wild chase across fields and over hedges and streams. Of course, riding aside, I could not truly keep up with the men, but I prided myself on my ability to take small jumps. None observing me might have guessed at the joy I felt on these occasions, owing to the reserve which Father had instilled in me.

If, on this Sunday morning, Anthony’s announcement caused me little pain, it was no doubt in part due to that same self-mastery. At the same time, my thoughts were engaged elsewhere, as they often had been over the week that had passed since our encounter with the highwayman. The intervening period had given me much opportunity to ponder the loss of the necklace, as well as the feelings the experience had occasioned. It was only with difficulty, and not always with success, that I could keep my mind from wandering back to that event. I did not dwell on the fear and danger posed by the highwayman brandishing his pistol at me, nor on his effrontery in assuming I was Anthony’s possession, to be looted as easily as Anthony’s purse. Neither, as much as I sympathized with my companions, was I preoccupied with the humiliation Anthony had undergone, nor with the fear Mrs. Simmons had endured.

No, it was to those moments during which the highwayman had so lewdly assaulted my person that my thoughts continually strayed, much as I attempted to draw them back to their proper course. I could hardly admit to myself that his kissing and his roving hand had occasioned something of the same thrill I experienced while riding—that, and something more. It was unthinkable! Every consideration of sense and morality counselled that such feelings should be prompted only by one to whom I had been promised in marriage, and certainly not by a rogue with a pistol. Yet such rational considerations held little sway, for it is a truth seldom acknowledged, that those things which one should not want, are the very things one wants the most.

And so it was that I met the prospect of Anthony’s departure for London with an equanimity of which my Father should have been proud, though for a reason he could never have expected.


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Fiction The Highwayman

The Highwayman Chapter 1

And still of a winter’s night, they say, when the wind is in the trees,
When the moon is a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas,
When the road is a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor,
A highwayman comes riding—
Riding—riding—
A highwayman comes riding, up to the old inn-door.

– Alfred Noyes, “The Highwayman”

 

1

 

The first time I encountered the highwayman, his hand was upon my breast and his tongue was in my mouth. The rogue and his accomplices had stopped our carriage in a dusk-darkened wood, no doubt attracted by the lavish nature of the coach-and-four, with its elaborate gold trim and yet more elaborately bedecked footmen.

“Have no fear, ladies,” said Anthony Cranford, Lord Burnside, the son of our neighboring Earl, as he reached for the door. “I’m sure these louts want only my purse.” Anthony—I call him by his Christian name, for we were old childhood friends—had kindly offered to convey me, along with my companion, Mrs. Simmons, to Exeter on a shopping excursion. We were late in returning, as he had been detained longer than expected by his own business in town.

Before Anthony could open the door, however, it was thrown open from without, and there stood the masked villain, holding a pistol aimed upwards at Anthony’s chest. He wore the dress of a gentleman: a finely-cut coat of claret velvet, buckskin breeches, and high leather boots, a large cocked hat topping it all. With a black crêpe cloth covering most of his face, only his eyes were visible, eyes that seemed calm, almost merry, as they surveyed the interior of the carriage.

“Yes, ladies, have no fear, for I never harm those whom I rob, as long as they cooperate. If you’ll just return to your seat, my lord.” As Anthony resumed his place across from us, the highwayman’s gaze swept over Mrs. Simmons and then myself, at which point he brought up short.

“Oh, my, what a pretty—bauble.” His eyes swept from my face to my throat, and lower, then back again. “Your necklace, I mean,” he said, giving me half a wink. I caught my breath at the frankly appraising manner with which he had surveyed my person and at the knowing look he now gave me, for I was unaccustomed to being treated with such lewd impertinence.

He held his free hand out to me. “Now, if you’ll just hand that necklace over, I’ll proceed to his lordship.”

My hand went to my throat, almost of its own accord. “This is my last memento of my departed mother. I will not part with it.”

The highwayman only laughed, then spoke in a voice that attempted gruffness more than achieving it, like a boy straining for the tones of manhood: “Then I’ll have it, with interest.” His boot leather creaked as he stepped up onto the runner of the carriage and leaned in through the doorway. I felt my color rising as he placed a gloved hand on my cheek, his eyes gazing into my own with that merry, knowing glint, as if he knew just what feelings his bold manner was provoking.

Mrs. Simmons, seated next to me, took me by the arm and tried to pull me from the rogue’s clutches, to no avail. Nor could Anthony restrain himself. He rapped on the floor with his walking stick. “Look here! Take our valuables if you must, but leave the young lady in peace.”

The highwayman levelled his pistol at Anthony. “Oh, I will have your jewels and your coin, Lord Burnside, but I’ll hazard the young lady is the most valuable treasure in this carriage. Now if you’ll just toss that stick out the window—we must avoid violence where we can.”

Anthony hesitated a moment, then did as commanded, leaving the highwayman free to return his attentions to me.

I don’t know how he managed it, what with leaning through the carriage door and keeping the pistol aimed at Anthony. With his free hand, he lifted his crêpe mask and placed his lips on my own, just as I gave a gasp of surprise. His tongue entered my open mouth and began exploring within in a most lascivious manner. I couldn’t help noticing he was remarkably clean-shaven, with none of that scratchy, three-days’ growth of beard one associates with a ruffian. Too, he must have been fastidious in his toilette, as I caught a scent of rosewater. While his tongue was busy in its explorations, his free hand was having its pleasure at my breast. At first I felt only shock at such astonishing behavior, but then such a feeling came over me as I can hardly describe: a warmth flooding through my limbs as my heart beat faster—if that were possible—and my breath coming rapidly.

Leaving off with his kissing and groping, his hand went to the back of my neck and deftly undid the clasp of the necklace. While he performed this operation, his eyes remained fixed on my own; even in the dim light, they were alive with a merry glint, as though robbing carriages and molesting their occupants were the most exalting occupation in the world. And something more: those eyes saw deep into me, as if they knew with a certainty the feelings those lips and that roving hand had caused.

For my part, where I should rightly have felt fear, I felt something else entirely. Before I could check myself, I slapped him hard across the face, the blow softened by the cloth of his mask.

“Lizzie!” exclaimed Mrs. Simmons. “Do not provoke him!”

Yet the highwayman seemed to smile all the more, judging by the deeper crinkles around his laughing eyes. “What a remarkable young woman!” he said as he pocketed the necklace. “It’s been a pleasure doing business with you, my lady.”

He dipped his head to me, then turned his attention to Mrs. Simmons. “And you must be the young lady’s governess, if I’m not mistaken.”

Mrs. Simmons, trembling slightly, replied, “Yes, or a lady’s companion, if you will, as Miss Elizabeth is done with her tutoring.” I placed a hand on her arm to calm her, as her fright had evidently made her chatty, but she kept her hands clutched tight together in her lap.

“Very well,” the highwayman said with an air of gallantry, “then I’ll have nothing from you, and that wedding band you’re so assiduously hiding may stay in its place. Now, Viscount Burnside, what baubles do you have about you today? Ah, yes, you must have a valuable watch in your pocket, judging by the gold chain adorning your waistcoat. It will do nicely, I’m sure, and please spare us the stories of its importance as a family heirloom.”

Anthony looked over at me as he reached for the watch. “Elizabeth, I promise I will do whatever I can to apprehend this rogue. I won’t rest until I have gained satisfaction for this insult to your honor.”

“An insult!” the highwayman exclaimed in mock umbrage. “I believe she rather enjoyed it, my lord. It seems she’s never been properly kissed ere now—surprising, considering the two of you appear to be on a first-name basis.” As he looked at me, I felt my cheeks flush an even deeper red. He turned back to Anthony. “You don’t mean to tell me you haven’t sampled the wares before completing the purchase?”

Anthony had the watch out and was ready to hand it over, but now he clenched it in his fist, ready to strike out at the rogue. “You will not speak of Miss Collington in such a—”

“We are old friends, nothing more,” I interrupted, hoping to calm the situation as much as to correct the highwayman’s mistake. For, contrary to the style the highwayman had given me, I was not of the nobility. My father was Vicar of Leighton Parish, of which Anthony’s father, Earl Highdown, was the patron. As I was neither wealthy nor of ancient, noble lineage, there could be no question of our marrying, Anthony’s increasing affections and Father’s and Mrs. Simmons’ hopes notwithstanding.

My statement had rather the opposite effect to what I had intended, spurring Anthony to yet more gallantry. “If you are any kind of gentleman, you will settle this now, with pistols at twenty paces.” That such a challenge to an inferior violated the nobleman’s code of honor—and that Anthony seemed to have forgotten it—could only be explained by his anger on my behalf.

The highwayman regarded Anthony wryly for a moment, then gave a snort. “Of all the countless noblemen I have robbed, you are the first to challenge me to a duel. I suppose I should feel honored that you would treat me as your equal.” Here he ironically tipped his hat. “But who will be your second? And where are your pistols?” When Anthony merely shrugged, he laughed out loud. “And do you propose that I loan you the weapon with which you would send me to the undertaker?”

Anthony raised his chin, managing to look superior to the rogue. “Very well then, name the time and place and I will meet you to have satisfaction. You have my word not to warn the Constable of our meeting.”

“Anthony, let him take your watch and be gone,” I said.

“Miss Collington is right. We highwaymen leave the dueling to our betters. Now, the watch, if you please.”

“I should have known a rogue would have no honor.”

“Honor, is it?” For the first time, the humor went out of the highwayman’s gaze and his voice took on an edge as hard as the single diamond he wore in his cravat. “And do you lords call it honor when you enclose the commons and hoard your grain, driving the price of bread beyond the reach of the common laborer? No, that is theft, as surely as this. Now hand over that watch before I forget that I never harm my marks.”

“Anthony—” I wanted to reach out to him, but the highwayman was between us. The moment stretched on as Anthony glared at the rogue.

“Very well,” he said at last, handing the watch over.

“That’s right, my lord. And now your purse. I imagine it’s considerably lighter after your excursion to Exeter.”

Anthony brought the purse forward. “I’ll see you hanged for this!”

The highwayman gave an exaggerated sigh, his humor returning. “A sentiment one hears all too often in this trade, I’m afraid. Fortunately for me, it has yet to be acted upon with any effect. Now, ma’am, those packages beneath your seat.”

Tossing the items to his waiting associates—yards of good muslin and a new set of silver spoons, for Father and Mrs. Simmons hoped to entertain Lord Highdown and his son in grander fashion than we had done in the past—the rogue made his farewell: “Ladies, gentleman, we thank you for your kind patronage, and may you have a safe journey home.” A moment later, the thunder of hooves carried the outlaws away.

Instantly Mrs. Simmons turned to me, clutching my arm. “Miss Elizabeth, are you well? Did he harm you in any way?”

“It was quite a shock,” I said, my hand to my breast, as if to calm my fear, “but no, I cannot say that he harmed me.”

The coachman returned Anthony’s walking stick and checked to see if we were well. “To the vicarage, Shaw,” Anthony ordered. “We should get Miss Collington home as quick as may be so she can rest.”

I accepted Anthony’s and Mrs. Simmons’ unnecessary attentions as gracefully as I could. When their talk turned to the state of the roads and the advisability of better arms for the footmen, I let my thoughts wander over the strange events, not at all sure that rest was what I most needed at the moment.

 


 

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