Tea in the schoolroom

Eleanor paused in the doorway of the schoolroom, where her three foster daughters were drawing under the supervision of their governess. The subject was a collection of objects: a flower in a rounded glazed bowl, a trinket box open to display a set of coral beads that trailed over the edge onto the polished surface of the table, a delicate statuette of a gun dog, with proudly pointing muzzle.

A difficult composition for such young girls, though little Frances was talented, and the older two girls competent enough. At thirteen, Frances had inhabited the Haverford nursery floor for eleven years, and by the time of her debut, in three or four years, the scandal of her existence was likely to be minimal. Especially since she, least of the three, resembled their shared father.

Matilda would face the ton first. At sixteen, she was as much a beauty as her mother had been, with the dark hair and stunning figure that had made her mother a reigning beauty of the ton, despite a less than stellar birth and lack of fashion. The combination was lethal, for the girl had died in childbirth, and the grieving furious grandmother brought the baby to Haverford House, to the man the dying mother named as father. An identification the grandmother had no hesitation is spreading.

It was just chance that Haverford was away on , and that Eleanor had just been arriving home. Or an intercession of the divine. Haverford would have turned his full ducal rage on a scion of the local gentry, and denied everything. But Eleanor took the baby in her arms and fell in love.

She smiled as she watched the three heads bent in concentration. It had taken His Grace nine months to realise that his nurseries were once again occupied, and by then Jessica, some six months younger and the daughter of an opera dancer, had joined her half-sister. No-one could doubt her parentage. She and Lord Jonathan, Eleanor’s second son, were as alike as male and female could be.

Haverford, of course, denied that he’d sired them, and ignored them completely. His solution to the unfortunate results of his careless whoring was to blame the female, a bag of coins (carefully measured to their social position) the only assistance they could expect.

Thank goodness she had been strong enough to hold out for the right to keep the children. As long as he never saw them, was not expected to acknowledge them in any way, and provided nothing extra for their support, he chose to treat her fostering as an eccentric hobby.

Eleanor loved the three girls with all her heart, loved them as fiercely as she loved the two sons she had borne her husband. And she could not regret bringing them into her home, selfish of her though it was. She had learned better, especially after the disastrous end to David Wakefield’s time under the Haverford roofs. For years now, she had been quietly settling her husband’s by-blows in less scrutinised households, carefully supervised to ensure they had the love and care she wanted for those who shared blood with her sons.

As for the three sisters, their origins and the prominence of the family meant they would face many barriers in a quest for a fulfilling life. If only they did not so strongly bear the Grenford stamp! Still, with her support and that of her sons, all would be well. She hoped. She prayed.

Time to announce her presence. “Miss Waterson, is this a good time for an interruption? I have come to take tea with the young ladies.”

This is a little bit of backstory to my historical world. The sisters are first mentioned in Revealed in Mist, and will appear in later novels. In Never Kiss a Toad, the early Victorian novel that I’m writing with Mariana Gabrielle (being published episode by episode on Wattpad) I’ve just been working on a chapter that mentions Frances’s wedding, and another that touches on the tragedy of Jessica’s death. I don’t know Matilda’s story, yet.

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