Tea with Cedrica

monday-for-teaCedrica stared out of the window, but she saw nothing of the scene before her: the rectory garden, bounded by a low wall, and beyond it the village lane; the gray church through a small gate to her left, and on the right another gate leading to the rectory orchard.

The view was as familiar to her as the shape of her hand—she had known both her whole life. But she sat and looked into the future, and which was unfamiliar and had no shape at all.

Whatever was she to do?

At least here, the villagers knew what to expect from Papa when he wandered off, visiting from cottage to cottage all over the district, bewildered that the parishioners of his youth were not there to greet him; that his beloved Hannah, Cedrica’s mother, was nowhere to be found.

The children and grandchildren of those parishioners would bring Papa back home, where—until today—he recognised his daughter and came back at least a little to himself.

Today, he had stared at her blankly, and become angry when she insisted that she was Cedrica. “This is a cruel joke,” he told her, with great dignity. “I must insist you leave before you upset my wife by taunting her with her childless state.”

In the end, cook had taken him upstairs and put him to bed, and Cedrica had come to the study, filled with memories of the kindest father in the world. Her long-awaited birth had killed her mother, but her Papa made sure she never wanted for affection. How many evenings had she played on this very hearth rug while he wrote his sermon? Here, he told her stories, taught her to read, helped her with her first stumbling letters. Here, as she grew older, they worked side by side, Cedrica proud to help her father with his careful little monographs on English wild flowers, and his letters to other botanists all of Europe.

Where were they now, all those friends with whom he had corresponded? She had written to them and to everyone else she could think of when she and the good people of the village could no longer hide their dear rector’s increasing confusion. Few had replied. Those who did sent only good wishes.

Good wishes would not save Papa from the bishop’s plans to put them out from the only home Cedrica had ever known. Oh, his letter was polite enough. The new rector would require the rectory. Mr Cedric Grenford would be better off in a place where people of failing minds were cared for. The bishop would be happy to write Miss Grenford a recommendation for a position. Perhaps as a companion to someone elderly?

In desperation, Cedrica had written to the last person her father would wish help from—the distant cousin whose great grandfather had banished his son, her own grandfather, for the unpardonable crime of falling in love outside of his class and station.

But the Duke of Haverford, head of the Grenford family, had not replied.

Movement on the lane caught her attention; a magnificent coach, pulled by four black horses, perfectly matched down to the one white fetlock. The equipage was slowing, stopping, one of the two footmen up behind leaping down to open the door with its ornate crest, and put down the carriage steps.

First through the door was a tall man immacutely dressed in a coat that hugged his broad shoulders and pantaloons that hugged… Cedrica schooled her eyes to turn back to the door, as the man himself did, holding out his hand to assist a lady to ascend. A very fashionable lady.

A great lady, as Cedrica would have known by her wise eyes and her kind face, even without her escort, the carriage, and the servants.

The footman opening the gate, and the gentleman gave his arm to the lady and led her towards the rectory door.

Cedrica shook herself. The door. With cook upstairs and the maid on her half day, Cedrica must answer the door, and there. That was the knocker.

Refusing to speculate; refusing to hope; Cedrica hurried into the hall and checked her appearance in the tiny mirror. Reddened eyes. Old fashioned dowdy clothes. She could smooth her hair back under her cap, and she did, but she could do nothing about the rest.

With a sigh, she answered the door.

“Please tell Miss Grenford that the Duchess of Haverford has come to call,” said the man, barely glancing away from the duchess.

“I will… That is, I am…” Cedrica trailed off. She was sure the duchess had never in her life opened her own door. Despite her embarrassment, she could not take her eyes off her illustrious visitor.

The duchess was shorter than her, and elegant in a redingote of a deep wine red that matched the silk flowers inside the brim of her straw bonnet. Yes. Cedrica had been correct. The lady’s eyes were kind, her mouth curving in a gentle smile.

“I think, Aldridge, that this is Miss Grenford. Miss Grenford, allow me to present your cousin, my son, the Marquis of Aldridge.”

Startled, Cedrica turned to look at the man that most of England called the Merry Marquis. He did not look like a dissolute rake. Although, to her knowledge, she had not before met a member of that tribe.

He bowed, a graceful gesture at odds with his dancing hazel eyes.

“Miss Grenford, your humble servant.”

Servant. What must two such aristocrats think of her opening her own door? Cedrica blurted, “It is the maid’s day off, and cook is sitting with Papa.” She could feel her own blush, heating her all the way from the roots of her hair to her- her chest.

“Aldridge, find the kitchen, dear, and put on the kettle,” Her Grace ordered. “Miss Grenford—or may I call you Cedrica? Cedrica, come and sit down, my dear, and you and I shall have a cup of tea and discuss the safest place for your Papa, and the best place for you. You have family, Cedrica, and we will not let you down.”

Cedrica, following her new sponsor blindly into the shabby parlour, could not stop the tears, and in moments she was in the duchess’s arms, crying on her shoulder.

“There, there, Cedrica. You have been very brave, but you are not alone any more,” the duchess assured her.

It was a great deal to take in, but the situation was too strange not to be believed. A duchess was sitting in her parlour, the shoulder of her gown damp with Cedrica’s tears. And in her kitchen, a marquis was making the tea. Cedrica’s sobs stopped on a shaky laugh.

“I beg your pardon, Your Grace.”

“Call me Aunt Eleanor, Cedrica. For we shall become very close, you and I. I have what I think you need, my dear. And you are just the person that I need.”

EDITED TO ADD THE FOLLOWING

Cedrica Grenford is the heroine of A Suitable Husband, a novella in the Bluestocking Belles’ holiday box set, Holly and Hopeful Hearts. The vignette above is a prequel to the novella. Cedrica also appears in the other novellas in the set, as does Her Grace. That rogue Aldridge wanders in and out of the pages, too. Find out more on the Bluestocking Belles book page.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail
rss

Tender moments on WIP Wednesday

After several weeks of focusing on mayhem, I’m taking a gentler theme this week. Give me your tender moments. Perhaps between your hero and heroine, perhaps not. Two friends? A mother and child? Show me what you’ve got, and I’ll show you mine — this is from A Suitable Husband, one of my stories in Holly and Hopeful Hearts, and features my heroine in a vulnerable moment, being comforted by two friends. None of them know that my hero is listening at the door.

a-suitable-husband-fb

“Do not cry, Cedrica. You are doing wonderfully well, and the duchess knows it. Lady Stanton will receive no support there.”

Cedrica? That cold-hearted bitch had upset his Mademoiselle?

“I agree with Grace, Cedrica. Aunt Eleanor shall give one of her deadly little set downs, and I should dearly like to see it. Here. Dry your eyes, darling. It shall all be well, you will see.”

consolationThen Mademoiselle’s voice, trembling with unshed tears. “You are right. I know you are. I do not know why I allowed her to upset me so. Only… I am just so tired of stupid conflict. This gentleman does not want to share a room with his wife. That one has kept every guest in his wing awake with his snoring. This lady cannot have the same breakfast as that one, and another must be served the identical tray, right down to the colour of the inlay. And as for the war between the kitchens! I swear, if I have to referee one more battle over who has first use of the lemon zester, I shall scream.”

Really? She was not enjoying their little dramas as much as the two combatants? Marcel frowned, and shot a glance both ways down the hallway to make sure he was not observed as he leant closer.

The two other ladies were making soothing noises, and offering to take up Mademoiselle’s duties while she rested.

“No, no. Aunt Eleanor would be so disappointed in me. Besides, you have your own tangles to straighten. Making sure that Lady Stanton and her cronies are not in a position to bully Miss Baumann, that Lord Trevor is dissuaded from taking out a gun, since he cannot see beyond the end of his arm and refuses to wear glasses, and that Lady Marchand can only cheat at cards with those who know her little ways.”

The three ladies laughed together, Mademoiselle’s chuckle still a little watery.

Her voice was forlorn when she said, “It was the other that hurt most, you know. Because it is true.”

More soothing noises, which she rejected.

“No. I am not a fool. I know that I have dwindled into an old maid. Well, look at me. Plain ordinary Cedrica Grenford. A useful person to have on a committee, but not one man has ever looked at me twice nor is likely to. I know Aunt Eleanor thinks dressing me up like a fashion doll and sending me in to talk to all these lords will turn me into a… a swan. But I am just a plain barnyard hen when you come down to it.”

Lady de Courtenay disagreed. “Oh but surely Lord Hythe—”

Another heart-wrenching chuckle. “See, his sister is shaking her head. And you are right, Sophia. Hythe is polite to everyone, and kind to me because I was at school with Felicity. He treats me as a lady, which is nice of him when I am, as Lady Stanton so kindly pointed out, merely hanging onto gentility by the charity of Her Grace.”

“Oh Cedrica…” That was both ladies. Marcel’s response to Lady Stanton’s cruel words would have been much more forceful.

“He does not look at me and see a woman. No one does.”

Lady Sophia spoke decisively. “You are blue-devilled, my dear. Who knows whether any of us will meet a man who can see past our elderly exteriors to the treasures we all are? And if we do not, you and I shall be old maids together.”

“Yes,” Lady de Courtenay agreed. “Perhaps we should set up house together? Certainly Sophia and I have no more wish to live forever on the sufferance of our brothers than you do on the Haverfords. Who needs men, after all? Selfish, conceited creatures, always jumping to conclusions.”

This time, Mademoiselle’s laugh was more genuine.

Lady Sophia said, “Rest for an hour. Read a book. I will order a pot of tea and some cakes, and Grace and I shall deal with anything that arises.”

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail
rss

The king of chefs and the chef of kings

careme-06Just down the road from where I live is the village of Martinborough, centre of a wine and olive growing industry that has become a major tourist destination for foodies. And one of the attractions is named after the man who was arguably one of the founders of France’s grand cuisine, whose life story I borrowed from for the hero of my novellette A Suitable Husband, written for the box set Holly and Hopeful Hearts.

cuisiniers2Carême is a cooking programme at the Palliser Estate, and it is named after Marie-Antoine (Antonin) Carême, cook to statesmen and kings in early 19th century France and England.

He had a rough start: born in Paris and abandoned by his parents at the age of 10 at the height of the French Revolution. A job as a kitchen boy, in return for food and board, led to him being apprenticed at a pâtisserie in a high-profile, fashionable neighbourhood. He soon became known for his centrepieces, which his employer displayed in the shop window. Sometimes several feet high and moulded from sugar, marzipan and other foodstuffs, they were architectural shapes such as temples and ruins.

Carême freelanced in private kitchens, and learned to create whole meals, and when the diplomat Talleyrand was given a chateau at which to entertain and impress those Napoleon wanted to influence, Carême convinced Talleyrand to take him, too. The test Talleyrand set was a year of menus, with no repetitions using only seasonal produce. Carême passed. He had just turned 20.

He went (after the Napoleonic wars) to London, where he was chef to the Prince Regent for a time, then back in Paris he worked for the banker Rothschild. He laid the foundations for the system that became French cuisine, and was a prolific writer. He is credited with being the first cook-book writer to say: ‘You can try this for yourself at home.’

a-suitable-husband-fbMy character Marcel Fournier is also a talented and ambitious chef, a few years younger than Carême. In this short excerpt, he is indignant that he is not to be in charge of both kitchens at Hollystone Hall.

caremeMarcel could do good English cooking! Had he not grown up here in England after his family escaped from the Terror?

In Spitalfields, until he was apprenticed to a cook in an inn on Tottenham Court Road, then in Soho where he took charge in an earl’s kitchen, and finally, after having himself smuggled into France and attracting the man’s attention by the bold trick of sneaking into his office with a box of his own pâtisseries and menus for a year’s worth of banquets, in the kitchen and under the direct supervision of the great Marie Antoine Carême, chef to Tallyrand and through him to the diplomats of Europe.

For the past two years, Marcel had been one of the most sought-after chefs in the whole South of England. Good English cooking, indeed.

diplomacy-through-cuisine

For more information, see:

Marie-Antoine Carême, First Celebrity Chef

Eater: A name you should know

Regency Era “Hell’s Kitchen”: Marie-Antoine Carême, the First Celebrity Chef and One Time Head Chef for the Prince Regent

Cooking for kings

 

 

 

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail
rss