Tea with Min

“The duchess is a charming, gracious lady, Min,” Viscount Avery assured his wife, when he dropped her to the front entrance of Haverford House. He immediately undercut his own assumption of confidence. “I can stay if you wish. Do you want me to stay?”

Minerva Avery looked around the grand entrance hall, the full height of the house, with majestic flights of stairs rising on either side and curving to meet at spacious landings, only to part again to swerve to the next level. The hall was designed to intimidate and impress, and it worked.

But she was Lady Avery, wife to Lord Randal Avery, and was here by invitation. “Her Grace asked to see me, Candle. I will be perfectly fine.”

She stood on tiptoe to kiss her tall husband, who bent to meet her part way, and turned his face so that her peck on the cheek became a loving salute to the lips. Had this august space seen other aristocrats show affection in public? Probably not, but in this she was proud to be true to her tradesman heritage. People of her class loved their spouses.

She shot a defiant glance sideways to the butler who waited to conduct her to the duchess, and surprised an indulgent smile before he wiped it from his face. “This way, my lady,” he said.

“I’ll just take the horses on a circuit around the park and will be waiting when you are finished,” Candle promised.

Min followed the butler up the first flight of stairs and along a sumptuously carpeted hall wide enough for three of her invalid chairs to race side by side, without bumping the elegant furniture and beautifully carved statues that lined both sides.

They passed room after room, until at last they came to a small sitting room, richly furnished but somehow warmly welcoming. Her Grace the Duchess of Haverford rose from a sofa by the fire.

“Lady Randal Avery,” the butler announced, and Min sank into the deep curtsey that her friend Anne, Lady Chirbury, had been schooling her in all week.

“Lady Avery, how very kind of you to call.” The duchess smiled, and took her seat again, patting the cushions beside her. “Come. Sit with me and tell me how you take your tea.”

They spoke commonplaces while Her Grace made and poured the tea, Min following the duchess’s conversational lead.

“Now,” Her Grace said, once they were both served. “you must be wondering why I asked you to visit, and I shall not keep you in suspense, Minerva. May I call you Minerva?”

Min nodded, her tongue suddenly frozen at the thought of such familiarity from so grand a lady.

“Minerva, I shall get straight to the point. I am the patroness of a hospital for servicemen, and I am in need of a large number of invalid chairs. My nephew Chirbury tells me that the one you provided for his cousin, Major Redepenning, was the best he has ever seen. Are you still in that business, my dear? For I should dearly appreciate your help.”

Min is the heroine of Candle’s Christmas Chair, a holiday novella that was my first published book. You can read all about it on my book page, at the link. I first met Min and her viscount in Farewell to Kindness (which is Rede’s, the Earl of Chirbury’s, story). Min provided the invalid chair that Rede’s cousin, Alex Redepenning, has collapse under him during a vigorous chair based rendition of a line dance. I wondered how a carriage-maker’s daughter with a business making invalid chairs came to marry a viscount, and next thing I knew, a tall skinny viscount with bright red hair turned up at her carriage-maker’s shop to order a chair as a Christmas present for his mother.

The first two chapters are linked to the book page, so please go and enjoy.