Tea with a gossip columnist

Note from J. Swann, newspaper reporter, to H. Markham, editor: Eleanor Grenford, Duchess of Haverford, seldom consents to an interview. Though she lives, perforce, in the public eye—as wife to one of the most powerful men in England and mother to two of England’s most notable rakes—she carefully guards her private life.

She agreed to invite this columnist to tea and answer my questions only after being assured that I am from the future, not the fictional Georgian (later Victorian) world she inhabits.

Born Eleanor Creydon, eldest daughter of the Earl of Farnmouth, she is related by birth or marriage to most of the noble houses of England and many in the wider United Kingdom and Europe. She married the Duke of Haverford before she attained the 18th anniversary of her nativity, and has since become one of the ton’s leading hostesses.

  1. What are you most proud of about your life?

Aldridge

“My two sons,” says the duchess, without hesitation. “Aldridge—the Marquis of Aldridge, my elder son and Haverford’s heir—is responsible and caring. And Jonathan, too. They are, I cannot deny, a little careless. But they are not heartless, dear. I’ve always thought that being heartless is the defining feature of a true rake.

“They take responsibility for their by-blows, which is so important in a gentleman, do you not agree? And neither of them has ever turned a mistress off without providing for her, or at least not since they were very young.

Jonathan

“Sadly, the example set by His Grace their father was not positive in this respect. I flatter myself that I have been of some influence in helping them to understand that they have a duty to be kind to those less fortunate and less powerful than themselves.”

  1. What are you most ashamed of in your life?

The duchess does not answer immediately. She seems to be turning over several possibilities. “I neglected him, you know. I neglected Aldridge. When he was born, I left him to his servants. I thought that was normal, and Haverford… he was very angry when I suggested I should stay at the castle instead of going to London for the season.

“Why; even his name… Haverford insisted everyone call him by his title. But I could have called him ‘Anthony’ in private, could I not?

“Dear Aldridge had no-one but his staff. I was seldom at Margate, and when I was… His Grace thought it my duty to spend my time with him. I saw Aldridge once a day, brought to me clean and quiet of an evening before his bedtime.

“I had no idea what I had done until Jonathan was born. He timed his birth for the end of the season, and His Grace left for his usual round of house parties, so I could do as I wished. I wished to be in the nursery with my sons.

“After that, I found ways to bring them to London with me, and to spend time with them at play as often as several times a week! Even so, I did not dare go against the duke’s orders, and I call my son by his title to this day. Everyone does. Poor dear boy.”

  1. What impression do you make on people when they first meet you?

“People don’t see me, my dear. They see the Duchess of Haverford. I cannot blame them, of course. I am at pains to project the image of ‘duchess’. I have cultivated it my entire adult life. Why! If people truly saw me, they would be very surprised, I think.”

  1. Do you think you have turned out the way your parents expected?

“My parents expected me to marry well and to present my husband with heirs. Had I married beneath their expectations, I daresay I would never have seen them again. I cannot say, dear, that such an outcome would have been entirely a bad thing.”

  1. What is the worst thing that has happened in your life? What did you learn from it?

James, Duke of Winshire, once Kagan of a mountain kingdom north of Persia, and before that a suitor beloved by Eleanor and rejected by her father.

“I could say losing James, or I could say marrying Haverford, but it is all of a piece. I cannot tell you where the one ends and the other starts. I gave my heart to James, but he was a second son. My father gave my hand to Haverford.

“And by ‘hand’ I mean the rest of me, dear. Imagine a sheltered seventeen-year-old, innocent but for a stolen kiss with the man she hoped to wed. And instead of that man, I spent my wedding night in the hands of a hardened roué with no patience… He is two decades my senior, dear. Thirteen years older than James.

“I believe my sons are known for their skills. (I speak of bed sports, dear, and do not blush for it, for at our age we should scorn to be coy, and this article will be published, you have assured me, some two hundred years in my future.) If Haverford has such skills, and the rumour is not just flattery aimed at money to be made from his patronage, he did not feel inclined to waste it on a mere wife.”

  1. How do you feel about your life right now? What, if anything, would you like to change?

“I am fortunate. I live in luxury. I have my sons (or, at least, I have Aldridge close by and regular letters from Jonathan, who is on the Tour, dear). I have the little girls, too—Haverford’s by-blows, but I love them dearly. I can give them an education, respectability, a little dowry… I do these things, too, for my poorer godchildren, and I love nothing better than to present one of my goddaughters for her Season.

“I enjoy entertaining—balls, musical evenings, garden parties and picnics in London, and house parties at our other estates. My entertainments are famous. I have promised to be honest with you, so I will say ‘not without reason’.” The duchess laughs, her eyes for a moment showing glints of the self-deprecating humour that is part of her elder son’s attraction.

“And, dear, I have come to an accommodation with Haverford. He leaves me to live my own life, while he carries on with his. Between you and me, my dear, my life is pleasanter without him in it.”

  1. What have you always wanted to do but have not done? Why?

“I have always wondered what my life might have been like had I defied my father and eloped with James. He came to me, you know, after the duel; after his own father exiled him. I turned him away. And then, six months later we heard he was dead. I didn’t care what happened to me after that, so I gave in to my father’s demands and married Haverford.

“It wasn’t true, as it turned out. He arrived back in London not long ago, with a great band of wild children. I could have been their mother, had I been brave enough to go with him.

“But there. Had I married James, I would not have Aldridge and Jonathan. Perhaps all is as it should be.

“You asked what I have always wanted to do? I want to see James again; to talk to him, just the two of us. Haverford… he and James do not speak. We Grenfords do not acknowledge the Winderfields and they do not acknowledge us. If people are inviting James or his offspring to their social gathering, they do not invite us. If us, then not him. We do not meet.

“But Society is surprisingly small. One day… one day…”

Note from Jude

Her Grace appears in all my novels and many of my novellas and short stories, often smoothing the path of a romance. She is also the hostess of the house party that is at the centre of the 2016 Belle’s box set, Holly and Hopeful Hearts.

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Tea with Sophia

monday-for-tea

On this fine afternoon in September, the duchess had ordered tea served on the terrace overlooking the rose garden. “We should enjoy the sunshine while we can,” she told her goddaughter, Lady Sophia Belvoir.

Sophia had been surprised—and somewhat disconcerted—to find she was the only guest. What was Aunt Eleanor up to?

But Her Grace discussed only the weather and the roses as she poured the tea and passed the cucumber sandwiches; tiny triangles of finely sliced bread with the cool crisp vegetable melting on the tongue.

Sophia took a sip of her tea. Ah. The finest oolong with just a touch of lemon. Aunt Eleanor never forgot.

At that moment, the duchess pounced. “Tell me about Lord Elfingham, my dear.”

Sophia’s hand jerked as she returned her cup to its saucer, and it clicked loudly. She blushed. At her clumsiness, of course, not at the mention of the young viscount who had been everywhere she went for months

“You met him even before most of London, his aunt tells me,” the duchess prompted.

“Not met, exactly,” she demurred. “We were not introduced.”

Aunt Eleanor said nothing; just raised her brows in question, and after a moment Sophia added, “I was visiting the orphanage at Bentwick. A child ran out of the gate into the road, and was almost run down by racing curricles. Lord Elfingham rescued the child and returned him to the- the orphanage servants.”

Appearing from nowhere just as she emerged from the gate and saw disaster unfolding before her. Riding down on the cowering boy right under the noses of the teams that threatened to trample the child underfoot. Scooping up the runaway and leaping to safety on his magnificent stallion. Fixing her in place with a fervent gaze from his dark eyes. Haunting her in dreams ever since.

“He has been pursuing Felicity,” she told Her Grace. “Hythe will not consider it.”

The duchess’s brows rose again. “Your sister Felicity? Are you certain? It is you his eyes follow when you are at the same entertainments, Sophia.”

For a moment, Sophia’s heart leapt, but Aunt Eleanor was wrong. She was too old for the marriage mart, and had not been as beautiful as Felicity even when she was a fresh young debutante. Besides, her brother the Earl of Hythe would not countenance the connection, whichever sister was being courted.

She shook her head, not trusting her voice. “May we speak of something else?” Which was rude, but Aunt Eleanor graciously allowed it.

“Very well. Let us discuss next week’s meeting to set up the fund for the education of girls. You will take the chair, my dear?”

******

Sophia is the heroine of The Bluestocking and the Barbarian in the Belle’s box set Holly and Hopeful Hearts, now on sale.

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Unequally yoked? Love across the boundaries on WIP Wednesday

brakespearew-youngloversDo you have a pair of star-crossed lovers? If so, what makes their union impossible? Different classes? Different races? Different faiths? Feuding families? Warring countries?

Today on Work-in-progress Wednesday, I’m looking for excerpts in which characters show the chasm they must bridge before they can be with their loved one. My piece is from my story in the Belles 2016 holiday box set.

Ah. Here was his goddess, approaching across a generous entrance hall that appeared at first glance to be full of people, though in truth he counted eight, not including the pair blocking his way inside.

“Felicity, you put me to the blush.” She turned from her sister to address the girl in spectacles. “Allow me to present Lord Elfingham, Miss Ellison.” Then she regarded him with wary eyes. “Have you come for the house party, Lord Elfingham?”

James gathered the wits that had scattered at Lady Sophia’s approach and told his tale of a lame horse and the need for shelter until he could diagnose and fix the problem. The other ladies and gentlemen stopped their work of hanging ribbons, garlands, and wreaths from every available vantage point, and gathered around to be introduced to the scandalous barbarian suddenly in their midst.

James smiled, nodded, and exchanged pleasantries, moving farther into the hall, his back prickling as he found himself surrounded by these polite strangers.

“There is a horse in the forecourt, and it will not move. Odd looking beast. Small head and too long in the back. And one blue eye! Whoever heard of a horse with blue eyes?”

James turned toward the voice at the door, and met the eyes of Nathan Belvoir, Earl of Hythe.

For all his youth—Hythe was three years Sophia’s junior and seven years younger than James—he was head of the Belvoir family, and James would prefer to have his blessing to court the man’s sister. From the hostility in young earl’s blue eyes, it would not be forthcoming.

“My horse,” James explained mildly. “Seistan.”

“The horse is lame, Hythe,” Lady Felicity told her brother, “so Lord Elfingham cannot travel on tonight.” She turned to the young woman in spectacles who had entered behind Hythe. “Will you inform the duchess, Cedrica?” The girl nodded and went back outside.

“He cannot stay here, either,” Hythe declared, his brows almost meeting as he frowned. “You should have stopped in the village, Winderfield, or whatever your name should be. The duchess will not want your sort mixing with her guests.”

James schooled his face to show no reaction. At least two insults in as many sentences: the denial of his title and his legitimacy, and the “your sort” comment. Sophia would doubtless be displeased if he challenged Hythe, or simply punched him.

Or punched Wesley Winderfield, who was grinning like a loon at Hythe’s elbow. Weasel Winderfield was some sort of a distant cousin and had been heir presumptive to the Duke of Winshire after the untimely deaths of the duke’s three sons one after the other, and then of his eldest son’s heir, his only known grandson. Weasel was most disappointed when Winshire’s third son proved to be not nearly as dead as reported, the inconvenience of his return compounded by the tribe of offspring he presented to his father when he arrived in England.

Weasel’s presence here was unfortunate but not unexpected. He was an acolyte of the man most determined to prove James a bastard: the man who owned this house, the Duke of Haverford.

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