HIS MAJESTY'S THEATRE
Historical Novel of Edwardian England in Four Novellas by
CHRISTINA BRITTON CONROY
Book One Not from the stars
Yorkshire England 1885.
A woman screams. A doctor pushes metal forceps inside her. Anthony Roundtree, a young landowner, forces a horrified young priest to perform a marriage ceremony. The woman dies as a baby girl is cut from her belly.
Artistic, well read, and curious about the world, beautiful seventeen-year-old Elisa Roundtree glows with youthful joy and energy. Longing for adventure and romance, she lives in a society where women are allowed neither. Anthony Roundtree is a cruel father, brutally punishing even minor offences. He betrothed her at birth to the now elderly, equally sadistic, Sir John Garingham. Elisa's only champion is her demented maiden aunt, Lillian Roundtree. Unhappy with her fate, but imagining no alternative, Elisa accepts her future marriage as an early death.
Her final, glorious months of freedom are spent at boarding school. She relishes the simple delights of acting in a school play, gossiping with friends, and flirting with boys from the neighboring school. Her handsome young art-master, Robert Dennison, paints her portrait as part of an exhibit he will be giving in London. When she tells him she must marry a man who terrifies her, he persuades her to run away and audition for His Majesty's Theatre, in London.
The night before her frightening escape, she runs into Robert's room. Believing her request for simple touching to be much more, he rapes her. Afterwards, he realizes his mistake and wants to explain. It is too late. She is gone.
Part Two But from thine eyes
London, Friday, December 18, 1903.
Elisa arrives in London, and auditions for actor-manager Jeremy O'Connell. He has leased His Majesty's Theatre while the resident company is touring America. Elisa is accepted as an unpaid apprentice. Her name is changed to Elly Fielding.
Sent to live at a theatrical boardinghouse, she revels in this world of passionate, talented, often brash, and bawdy actors. Elisa, now Elly, studies acting with the brilliant, often severe, actor-manager Jeremy O'Connell.
The theatre-going public believes Jeremy is married to his stunning leading lady Katherine Stewart, and father of her young son. In reality, Jeremy is a spirited homosexual, reveling in underground Edwardian society. When Katherine's childhood sweetheart, actor Simon Camden, returns to London, Jeremy's well ordered world is threatened.
Twenty-year-old Rory Cook fled stifling academic life at Oxford, and the dull future of a solicitor's clerk, to become an actor. He hero worships Jeremy, and falls in love with beautiful Elly. Rory's former lover, slum girl Peg McCarthy, wants Rory back and swears vengeance on Elly.
A rich theatre patron, Isabelle, Lady Richfield, takes Elly under her wing. Lady Richfield's friend, American reporter Sam Smelling: "The Man With The Nose For News," discovers that Elly is the heiress of a large estate. The money lies in escrow until she is twenty-one. If she marries before that time, the estate becomes a dowry, and property of her husband.
Robert Dennison's exhibition opens in London. They fear Elly may be recognized from her portrait, but it is Robert's very best painting. Elly puts his needs above her own and refuses to have the painting withdrawn.
On her way to rehearsal, Elly is brutally abducted and taken to Yorkshire to marry Sir John Garingham.
Part Three: Truth and Beauty
Lady Richfield's solicitors discover that Elly's real father was Charles Roundtree, Anthony Roundtree's older brother. Charles was murdered for his estate. Charles's wife, Elly's mother, was forced to marry Anthony on her deathbed, minutes before giving birth to Elly. When Elly is discovered missing, Lady Richfield calls Scotland Yard. The chase is on.
Dragged back in her Yorkshire home, Elly fights against her marriage to the sadistic Sir John Garingham. When Lord Garingham threatens to murder her, she signs the marriage license. The elderly priest called to perform the ceremony was the young priest who married Elly's mother to her uncle, moments before Elly's birth. The priest refuses to marry Elly against her will, and Anthony Roundtree shoots him dead. During the scuffle, Elly pushes Lord Garingham out a window. He is killed in the fall.
To protect Elly from prosecution, everyone involved says that Garingham's death is accidental.
Elly is returned to London, injured in mind and body. Her new legal guardians, Lord and Lady Richfield, invite Elly's Aunt Lillian to live with them. She declines, preferring to stay in the Yorkshire home she has known her entire life. Elly is happy to let Lillian become mistress of that house.
Elly now lives in luxury, rehearses at the theatre, but suffers excruciating nightmares.
Part Four: Beauty's doom
Surrounded by wealth beyond her imagination, Elly balances the worlds of mannered, hypocritical London society, and brash theatre people.
All this time, Elly's uncle Anthony Roundtree has been in a Yorkshire jail, awaiting trial for murdering the priest. When the circuit judge finally reaches Yorkshire, Elly is forced to go back as a material witness. The jury determines that the priest was shot intentionally. It was not an accident. Anthony Roundtree is hanged.
Sir John Garingham's accidental death is questioned. Elly is arrested for his murder and taken to Holloway Prison. Conditions bring her to near madness. Her defense attorney is Sir Douglas Tanner, actor Rory Cook's aging law professor from Oxford. Sir Douglas suffers a minor heart attack and they must choose between two impossibilities:
1. Postpone the trial, leave Elly in prison and risk her sanity, or,
2. Let Elly give up the right to council, publicly dismiss her barrister, and handle her own defense.
They devise a plan. Elly will defend herself, with clandestine help. Since Rory has a working knowledge of the law, but no accreditation, he will sit behind her and cue her. Sir Douglas will sit apart, within Rory's view, and signal with prearranged gestures. After a crash course, with Sir Douglas lecturing on the law, and Jeremy O'Connell scripting Elly's questions for the witnesses, Elly braves the fury of a judge who is horrified that a woman would dare to defend herself. Believing Elly is guilty, and furious he is missing a golf match, the judge wants her sent to the gallows. Unprecedented press attention and excellent witnesses win the jury over.
Elly is acquitted.