This letter from Anthony Cranford, Lord Burnside, to Miss Elizabeth Collington was never posted, the reasons for which may become clear once the reader reaches the end.
Miss Elizabeth Collington
The Parsonage, Leighton, Devonshire
My apologies for the impropriety of corresponding with you, but my conscience will allow me to do no other, for I owe you a much greater apology after the events of last week in Bath. To have appeared before you in such a disordered, dissolute state was far from my intention, and I beg your forgiveness. The behavior of Petersly and Hartwood toward you and Mrs. Burgess was unforgivable, and I have now permanently and forcefully separated myself from their acquaintance. I can only hope you will overlook my association with such scoundrels. My only excuse can be that this is the company into which Father thrust me, their own fathers being among his closest allies in the House of Lords. I see now that I have allowed myself to be too much ruled by my father – and in more ways than this.
One question remains about that dreadful night. Did I truly see Mrs. Burgess throw Hartwood to the ground, or was that the fog of drink clouding my vision? Not that he didn’t deserve it, and of course he was as unsteady on his feet as I, but still – her actions seemed unladylike, not to mention indicative of some form of martial training. And afterward, in her behavior toward you as she chided me over Lady Mary, she seemed almost jealous, as if I were somehow a threat to her acquaintance with you. I know that female friendships are quite in vogue, but they can be carried too far – I hope you have not formed an inappropriate – I can only call her behavior strange.
As for Lady Mary, I feel compelled to tell you there is nothing between us, nor between me and the three or four other “suitable young ladies” my parents have paraded before me.
For surely you must know, you are the only woman who has ever had a claim on my heart. I knew it from my first weeks at Eton, when you were the person I missed the most. And since then my attachment has only grown, during those few – too few! – occasions between my terms at university which have allowed us to continue our acquaintance.
I know what you will say to yourself as you read this – as your looks and demeanor have told me many times before, though never in so many words – that there can be no chance for a match between an Earl’s son and a vicar’s daughter. I can only hope that this is the only impediment to your considering a match with me, and that you return my feelings in some small measure – and that no other has engaged your affections in my absence.
If heretofore you doubted my will to defy my father, on this and on many other matters, doubt it no more. From this day forward I will stand as my own man. I will have you as my wife, even if my parents disown me, destining me to become the poorest Earl in the kingdom – if only you will have me.
Tomorrow I leave town for Leighton, where I will do what I should have done the moment the highwayman accosted you in my carriage – track down the rogue and bring him to justice. That I have not done so before is perhaps my greatest shame over these past months. I mean to do it myself, but I will call on the services of Bow Street if I must. Protecting his people is a nobleman’s sacred duty, a duty my father too often overlooks, preoccupied as he is by affairs in Parliament or on his West Indian plantations – another of our disagreements. I will now take up the duties he neglects, and first among them, righting the wrong the highwayman did to you. By such means, I aim to re-establish myself in your regard and your affections.
The letter ended there, its author no doubt having realized that such sentiments would be better expressed in person, and that he could travel to Devonshire nearly as quickly as the mail coach.
About the Book
Twenty-year-old Elizabeth Collington, the proper and obedient daughter of a Devonshire clergyman, believes herself beyond girlish romances. But when a highwayman steals a kiss, along with her departed mother’s necklace, Elizabeth experiences feelings of which her father would never approve. Soon after this unsettling event, a young widow arrives in the village, catching Elizabeth by surprise as their friendship advances quickly to the deepest intimacy she has ever known. Yet the highwayman will not leave her alone, filling her mind with ideas of revolution and her body with sensations of the greatest impropriety. Amidst this swirl of conflicting feelings, Elizabeth hardly has time to consider Anthony, son of the neighboring Earl, whose halting courtship holds out her one slim chance at an establishment in life. Will Elizabeth choose the conventional path, honoring her duty to her father and safeguarding her reputation? Or will she follow the demands of her heart, pursuing a love even less proper than that for a highwayman?
A comedy of manners wrapped around a Gothic tale, a mashup of Jane Austen, Alfred Noyes’ poem “The Highwayman,” Ellen Kushner’s Riverside series, and Robin Hood, Daring and Decorum makes a passionate case for the freedom to love whom one chooses. You might call it, “Racier than Jane Austen, better-written than Fifty Shades of Grey.” Or maybe, “Regency Romance, minus the hunky, shirtless lords.” (What’s left, you ask? Let Elizabeth show you! )
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In this scene at the Theatre Royal in Bath, Elizabeth and her widowed friend, Mrs. Rebecca Burgess, are watching Dora Jordan’s performance as Rosalind in “As You Like It.”
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 in surprise, 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. The company must have prepared for this disruption, having Rosalind and Celia make a show of their fatiguing trek through the forest before uttering their first lines in the scene, giving the audience ample opportunity to survey them. Mrs. Jordan 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?”
“Oh, yes!” I replied, though Mrs. Jordan had yet to utter her first line as Ganymede. When she did, her voice was changed. She had made it lower and huskier, to sound more like a man, yet losing none of the energy and affability that made her performance so appealing. Even in her moments of raillery with Orlando, or chiding Phebe, she had such a good-humored nature to her that the audience could not take her for a shrew or a scold. More, on Mrs. Jordan’s lips, the words were not like speeches at all, but always had the freshness of a new thought or feeling she had discovered only that moment.
The scene in which Ganymede first encountered Phebe was perhaps the strangest in the play, the director having chosen to play it broadly. When Ganymede asked, “Why do you look on me?”, Phebe practically threw herself at him; when Ganymede said, “I think she means to tangle my eyes too,” Phebe leaned up for a kiss, Ganymede averting his face at the last moment (sending another murmur of nervous laughter through the audience); and when Ganymede ordered Phebe “down on your knees,” Phebe knelt and threw her arms around Ganymede’s waist as if she would never let go (to uproarious jeers). I hazarded a glance at Rebecca to see that she no longer sat back in detachment, but was leaning forward, as engrossed as I. She caught my eye and gave me a wink.
When the play neared its end, and all the confusions had been sorted out through Rosalind’s “magic,” I couldn’t help feeling a bit deflated. The four marriages at the end seemed much too neat.
Rebecca must have felt the same, though she sang Mrs. Jordan’s praises and had always shown an appreciation for this above all of Shakespeare’s works. “As much as I enjoy the play,” she said as we made our way into the aisle behind the boxes, “I’m always a little heartbroken for Celia. Here she has forsworn her inheritance, denied her father’s wishes, and left her home and place in society, all because she cannot bear to be parted from her dear Rosalind. And no sooner is all this done than Rosalind throws her heart after Orlando and enlists Celia’s help to try his love for her.”
“Yet surely the love of a friend and the love of a husband are different.” I adjusted my fichu as we walked, in expectation of the colder air outside the theatre. “And what is to prevent their remaining the closest of companions?”
“I have seen it too many times, friends drift apart once they have husbands and children. And it happens so quickly! I know Celia must have been hurt, as you saw when she abused Orlando for being an unfaithful lover. She was simply jealous! This business of Celia falling instantly in love with Oliver—it’s nothing but a paltry attempt to cover her wounded feelings.”
“You sound so cynical, like Jaques the other night! Do you not believe in love at first sight?”
She turned her gaze on me. “Strangely enough, I do.”
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About Lawrence Hogue
Lawrence Hogue’s writing is all over the place and all over time. He started out in nonfiction/nature writing with a personal narrative/environmental history of the Anza-Borrego Desert called All the Wild and Lonely Places: Journeys in a Desert Landscape. After moving to Michigan, he switched to writing fiction, including contemporary stories set in the desert and fanfiction based on the videogame Skyrim. He’s a fan of folk music, and got the idea for Daring and Decorum while listening to Loreena McKennitt’s outstanding adaptation of Alfred Noyes’ poem, The Highwayman. When not speaking a word for nature or for forgotten LGBT people of history, he spends his white-knighting, gender-betraying energies on Twitter and Facebook, and sometimes on the streets of Lansing, MI, and Washington DC. He’s been called a Social Justice Warrior, but prefers Social Justice Wizard or perhaps Social Justice Lawful Neutral Rogue.