Monday, July 28, 2008
Hard and Fast excerpt by Erastes in the anthology Speak Its Name
In this excerpt from the historical novella Hard and Fast by Erastes, Major Geoffrey Chaloner has returned, relatively unscathed, from the Napoleonic War, and England is at peace for the first time in years. Unable to set up his own establishment, he is forced to live with his irascible father who has very clear views on just about everything—including exactly whom Geoffrey will marry and why. The trouble is that Geoffrey isn't particularly keen on the idea, and even less so when he meets Adam Heyward, the enigmatic cousin of the lady his father has picked out for him... As Geoffrey says himself: "I have never been taught what I should do if I fell in love with someone of a sex that was not, as I expected it would be, opposite to my own."
Hard & Fast (novella)
Speak Its Name
Linden Bay Romance (June 2008)
In which I meet the young lady my father has meant for me and I deflect my father from spoiling his own endeavors.
There are certain things expected of a third son. That one will not put oneself forward, that one will join the army, or the church, or the bar. That one will not, in an attempt to inherit and whatever the provocation, murder one's elder brothers and that one will, if at all possible in the circumstances of being a third son, marry well.
This is particularly important if one's family is wealthy, (but not titled), and one's brothers have married ladies who have increased the financial aspects of the line, but who have disappointed one's father in being, like him, rich but ignobly born. One is taught that one does not talk of the origin of such income. One's ancestors may have their portraits on painted walls and may well have been forced by circumstances to work for their subsistence but that same shameful toil enables their grandsons and further scions to live in comfort without ever having to mention such endeavors.
One is taught, from the nursery and all through one's schooldays, that one should be a gentleman above all things. To be a good shot, to honor one's parents, to do well for the school and to be gallant to the fairer sex. One is schooled to deal kindly with staff, and otherwise with bullies and cads. One is equipped for life.
But I have never been taught what I should do if I fell in love with someone of a sex that was not, as I expected it would be, opposite to my own.
To say that I was shaken to discover this about myself, would be an understatement in the same vein as were I to airily state that the Taj Mahal was an attractive mausoleum or that Switzerland was a trifle undulating.
The sight of a curving cheek, a chestnut curl, a well turned ankle and a trim waist, these are all things that I expected to wake the first stirrings of Eros, and indeed they did; it is just that I did not think they would come from such a wholly unexpected direction.
You might, were I so injudicious to write this account down, raise an eyebrow, your quizzing glass and your voice. You might order me out of the club—blacken my name and drive me out of England and on to the continent—or you might ask me how this came to be. But would I answer you?
It was last spring, the first spring free of war—a soldier's spring—and London, though cold as h—, was still resplendent in red and white. It was, it seemed to me, as I drove through St James's with my father, as if London had draped itself in the colors of Victory, daring the Corsican to come again if he dared, to strike north and east—for London at least was ready for him should he dare. It was a glorious puff. I could not begrudge the city for its arrogance. We were all still living on borrowed glories.
We paused as a brougham pulled up beside us and my father, dressed in a jacket from an older bloodbath, raised his hat to the occupants. I followed suit.
"Colonel Chaloner." The lady within the carriage lowered her parasol and inclined her head in greeting.
"Lady Pelham. Wonderful morning, is it not? You know of my youngest, of course. Did well under Wellesley. Very proud." My father laughed at his own pun. "Geoffrey, may I introduce Lady Pelham and the Honorable Miss Emily Pelham, of whom I have spoken." His voice was fraught with inference. He paused and addressed the third occupant of the brougham. "If I knew your name, sir, I forgot it."
My eyes traveled with the introductions. The mother was a ship of the line, impressively wide in dark lavender. She seemed as if her timbers would creak in the slightest breeze. The young lady, suitably pink about the ears and cheeks, was as pretty as any of a hundred ladies out in the sunshine, all of them armed with large nets to catch whatever suitors had limped home from France. In these less selective times, a suitor who may have been sure to be rejected by many a young lady might now find himself acceptable if he came blessed with the full complement of arms, legs and facial features. I knew of Miss Pelham from my father's recommendations, although due to circumstances, I had not met her before. My father had expressed his views and I was under orders to fall in love where directed.
The dowager bent her head in response to my father and introduced the young man sitting beside her, dressed sombrely in black. "My nephew, Adam Heyward. After my brother of course." She sniffed into a black laced handkerchief. Her brother, I knew, had been gallantly crushed by his horse at Hougoumont.
The young man, given his curtain, rose and bowed, and as he did so I felt something stir within me. It seemed a little like concern—a similar lurch to the insides that I recalled feeling when my eldest brother's child rode his pony too fast. I was appreciative, I reasoned later, that perhaps that Lady Pelham's horses were restless and that by standing, the young man was in danger of being thrown out, for he did not seem at all steady on his feet. But I wondered at my approbation all the same and was only deflected in my reverie as I saw my father fairly bristling beside me. I should have been prepared for this, for as we had circled the park he had been making his usual tally of men not in uniform.
"Not all men had the opportunity..." I had said not ten minutes before, but it was as far as I had managed; my father's tirades on the slackness and abject cowardice (as he saw it) of a man who didn't offer himself up as cannon fodder was well known, particularly to me, as since my regiment had returned to the capital, I was the only son now left at home and the only audience to his lectures.
"Well they should have!" he had declaimed, far too loudly and drawing the ear of all in the vicinity. "Don't see how they have the gall to live in a country they're afraid—afraid, do you hear me?—of fightin' to protect! We've rid France of Boney. Let 'em go and live there!"
Banishing someone to the wilderness of France was, to my father, who rarely set foot further south than Canterbury, the most revolting punishment. To consider anyone happy to live in such a place was beyond his comprehension, and should anyone dare suggest that France did in fact have some qualities that he might enjoy, he would go puce in the face and appear in some danger of apoplexy. I may have served my time under fire, but I was not as brave to be positively foolhardy.
It seemed that Lady Pelham knew his views as well as I, for she looked anxiously from her nephew to my father. I spoke before my father could say anything further, gaining myself a grateful smile from that lady, a blush from Miss Pelham and a cool look from the young man in black. "I knew your brother well, Lady Pelham," I said. "A most gallant officer." In truth, Major Adam Heyward had been a drunkard and a bully, and his heroic charge into the French lines at Hougoumont had been caused by a bullet in his horse's rump. The matter had been hushed, (the bullet rumored to have come from his own brigade), and Major Heyward had posthumously received honors he could never have hoped to attain in life.
Lady Pelham was suitably touched, and in consequence invited us to their town house that evening to dine. My father was delighted, so much so that I was grateful to drop him at his club. His enthusiasm at the meeting, which I was soon to realise was hardly accidental, and his subsequent ebullience at the invitation was overwhelming, and without a word being spoken between myself and Miss Pelham, it appeared that I was already married and buying furniture for town and country.