Tea with the Rose of Frampton

And another excerpt post, this time from A Baron for Becky. My duchess has arrived at her nephew’s house to find her son in residence, and alone with a young woman; a rather scandalous young woman! Aldridge may be enamoured, but he will not disgrace his family. Will he?

After dinner, the ladies withdrew to the great parlour, leaving the two men to the port.

“I am travelling in the morning, so will go up to bed,” the duchess announced. “Mrs Darling, perhaps you would give me a few moments of your time?”

“Be nice, aunt,” warned Lady Chirbury, making Rose even more nervous. The duchess gave an enigmatic smile and led the way upstairs.

“Leave us, dear,” she said to the maid who was standing ready by the bed. “I shall ring when I want you.” She took a chair by the fire and waved Rose to the other.

“Do not look so nervous, Mrs Darling. I do not intend to bite you.”

Rose blushed scarlet. Aldridge had promised to bite her, and had explained exactly where. No. She must not think of that. She sat, as commanded.

“Mrs Darling, you were raised gentry, were you not?”

Rose nodded, cautiously. Where was the duchess going with this?

“The manners, the speech, the accomplishments—they can all be taught, of course. But one who has learned them from the cradle…” Her Grace waved a hand as if to flick away counterfeits.

“The usual story, I imagine? Seduction or rape? And no father to defend your honour?”

“My father…” Rose swallowed hard to remove the lump that closed her throat at the memories. “My father was a librarian. He took the part of his employer.”

“Ah.” Her Grace nodded. “And the employer was the cause of your downfall. Or his son, perhaps?”

“His son,” Rose confirmed. His sons, in fact, but she would not say that.

“And Sarah was the…?”

“No, Your Grace. Sarah… came later.”

“Mr. Darling?”

“There was no Mr. Darling,” Rose admitted.

The maid must have added a fresh log to the fire just before they arrived. The top was still uncharred, but flames licked up from the bed of hot embers. A twig that jutted from one side suddenly flared, turned black, and shrivelled. The bottom of the log began to glow red.

The duchess spoke again, startling Rose out of her flame-induced trance.

“What do you want for your daughter, Mrs Darling?”

“A better life,” Rose said immediately, suddenly fierce. “A chance to be respectable. A life that does not depend on the whims of a man.”

“The first two may be achievable,” the duchess said, dryly. “The third is highly unlikely for any woman of any station. You expect my son to help you to these goals, I take it.”

Rose was suddenly tired of polite circling. “I was saving so that I could leave this life, start again in another place under another name. But my last protector cheated me and stole from me.

“I do what I must, Your Grace. Should I have killed myself when I was disgraced? I had no skills anyone wanted to buy. I could play the piano, a little; sew, but others were faster and better; paint, but indifferently; parse a Latin sentence, but of what use was that in my circumstances? Should I have starved in the gutter where they threw me?

“Well, I was not given that choice. Those who took me from the gutter knew precisely what I had that others would pay for. As soon as I could, I began selling it for myself, and I. Will. Not. Be. Ashamed.”

Her vehemence did not ruffle the duchess’s calm. “We all do what we must, my dear. I am not judging you. Men have the power in this world, and women of the gentry are raised to depend on them for our survival. But you must know that Aldridge cannot offer marriage to a woman with your history.”

The mere thought startled a laugh out of Rose. Marriage had never crossed Aldridge’s mind. Of that she was certain. “His Lordship has offered me a two-year contract as his mistress,” she said, “with very favourable terms. If I accept, and if I save carefully, I will never need to take a protector again.”

“Two years!” The duchess arched a delicate eyebrow. “Aldridge seldom keeps a mistress beyond six months. He must be utterly besotted.”

“He has no thought of marriage,” Rose found herself reassuring the duchess. “And neither do I. I like him, but do not love him, and I think only love could make marriage tolerable.”

It was only partly true. She could easily fall in love with Aldridge… was, perhaps, beginning to do so already. That way, she knew, led to heartache, for the duchess was right. Aldridge would never offer her marriage, or even permanence.

The duchess nodded, decisively. “You are wise. I think you will be good for him, Mrs Darling—which is a ridiculous name. May I call you ‘Rose’?” Her Grace’s smile was a wonderful thing, another feature her son had inherited.

“Would you…” Rose had never imagined having such a conversation, but there was something about this woman. Nothing shocked her, and she listened. “Would you call me Becky? It is my real name.”

“Becky, then. Becky, as long as you remember that you will never be accepted as a fit mate for the future Duke of Haverford—which is a great shame, for you seem to be a fine young woman, but we must live in the world as it is—you and I shall be friends, and I shall support you and little Sarah to find the new life you seek when Aldridge is finished with you. He needs someone like you. He is not happy, poor boy.”

That squashed the nascent hope that the duchess’s sponsorship might mean she could avoid accepting Aldridge’s protection. Still, it was a good offer. Becky accepted the duchess’s outstretched hands. “Thank you, Your Grace. I will do my best to make him happy.”

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Oh Brave New World? Alex and Aldridge Part 5

In this final episode of the story I co-wrote with Keisha Page, our heroes talk about the benefits of the 21st century, and decide on a tour of New York. Read on to find out what happens from the perspective of the Marquis of Aldridge from my regency novel, A Baron for Becky. Go to The Word Mistress to see the same story from the point of view of Alex, Keisha’s contemporary hero from Rhythm of Love.


 

Crock and bull“I was married when my kids were conceived, but I don’t think it really matters much, as long as the kids are taken care of. Today, I wouldn’t dream of making my daughters get married because they were pregnant, but I would expect the fathers to help.

“But women today have more options. They can get a college degree, and any job they want, even if they have a child; so they are far less dependent on someone else for their financial stability. Not that divorced or single women trying to raise kids have it easy, but it’s better than it was even a generation ago.”

Alex smiled. “Birth control works better, too.”

” ‘Oh, wonder!
How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world,
That has such people in ’t!’ ” Aldridge quoted. “Your world sounds a paradise indeed.”

Alex burst into laughter. “I happen to agree with you, but I’ll tell you, not everyone would. There’s a great deal of unhappiness in my world today. Talking with you had made me realize just how great we’ve got it. But we still have war, and people are still homeless, and we still have great and horrible diseases ravaging the world. People are fighting over religion, and race, and the world is an ever-changing place and some folks just aren’t happy about that. It seems like some things may never change.”

Aldridge grinned back. “Ah. Human nature has not changed then, in 200 years. It was too much to hope that it would. And in Shakespeare’s play, Miranda’s ‘goodly creatures’ proved a venal and greedy group, on the whole. Shakespeare knew his human kind. What do you say to this tour, my friend?”

Alex signalled the serving girl, and she brought them bills written on paper.  “You take care out there, gentlemen. It’s been a right pleasure serving you this afternoon.”

Aldridge slipped a couple of gold guineas to her as he headed to the door, and held it open. As Alex passed him, Aldridge looked back to wink at the waitress. Perhaps she was fairy folk like in the tales his nanny used to tell him. If so, he could see why they were called the fair folk.

He turned to follow Alex and found himself in the inn yard, with enough light to show the countryside of Southeast England spreading around him.

Perhaps he would find his way back to the future if he went back in and exited again, keeping his mind on Alex this time. But the door handle would not budge. Aldridge stepped back, and looked at the building. Through the windows, he could see stacks of hay and a floor strewn with trash. Definitely not the inn where he’d just spent several hours with a man from the future.

From one of the ramshackle outbuildings, he heard a horse nicker. It was more of a shed than a stable, his horse the only occupant, tied in a broken down stall. It had been rubbed down, and supplied with fresh water and feed, though no one came when he called.

He searched, but the place was deserted; not just empty of human life, but seemingly abandoned for years. Finally, he tacked up the horse. The persistent drizzle that had driven him to stop at the inn had gone, and the sun would not set for at least two hours. And in London, Becky waited.

Photo Credit: The Crock and Bull inn was invented by the Bluestocking Belles as a multi-author space where ourcharacters and those of guests could meet. We now meet in the Bluestocking Bookshop. You can meet the Bluestocking Belles in the Bookshop here.

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