Vanessa’s tea with the duchess
A widowed father must be in want of a wife
The Duchess of Haverford was sitting at the far end of two rows of elegant chairs and settees facing each other, looking regal in her own chair of scarlet and gold as she waved Vanessa to the chair at her right. Vanessa swallowed nervously as she made a small curtsey before complying with her hostess’s wishes.
“On the contrary, Your Grace. It was kind of you to extend me an invitation.”
It was true. The Sedgelys’ tended to socialize on the fringes of the ton, not in its upper circles. Vanessa had met a duchess or two before, but never this particular one, who had a reputation for being both astute and compassionate at the same time. No doubt her purpose in inviting Vanessa to tea was to learn more about her work with the Foundling Hospital in order to determine if it was indeed a worthy charity to promote at her New Year’s ball.
The duchess smiled. “It was gratifying to see so many serious young ladies taking an interest in charitable endeavors at the meeting at Miss Clemens’s Book Palace last week. It’s not the usual thing for unmarried ladies, is it?”
Vanessa took a deep breath before answering what was to her a loaded question.
“I’m sure many would agree with you that unmarried ladies would be better occupied in searching for a husband, Your Grace. However, for ladies who choose not to marry, or who have not yet found a suitable match, I cannot think their concern for the less fortunate should be denied. If I am able to help even a few abandoned children live to be respectable and worthy citizens—”
“Which are you, Miss Sedgley?”
Vanessa stared at her blankly. “I beg your pardon?”
The duchess tilted her head to the side. “A lady who has chosen not to marry or one who has not yet found a suitable match.”
A flush crept across Vanessa’s cheeks. Until recently, she would have easily confessed to the former, but since meeting a certain widowed solicitor, she had begun to believe the married state might be for her after all.
At that point the tea trolley was wheeled in, and Her Grace favored Vanessa with a request to pour the tea.
Fortunately, she was able to manage that small task without trembling, and for a short time, there was silence as the two ladies sipped their tea and bit into the delicious lemon biscuits.
“I found it exceedingly interesting that Mr. Durand remained for the entire meeting, although he was the only gentleman to do so.”
Her Grace set her cup down on its saucer on the small table between them.
Vanessa’s face felt impossibly hot.
“Er, yes,” she said, taking another sip of tea.
The duchess’s eyebrows furrowed and released. “I find it commendable that he seems so determined to raise his daughter himself,” she said casually as she reached for another biscuit. “I understand he could have left her indefinitely with his sister.”
“A girl of that age needs a mother, of course.”
“I’m sure that Mr. Durand will do what is necessary for his daughter,” Vanessa defended. “Now, perhaps we might discuss the needs of the Foundling Hospital?”
Her Grace burst out laughing. “I really must stop teasing you, my dear. It’s rather a dreadful habit of mine. Along with matchmaking, of course. But what happens between you and Mr. Durand is really not my concern.” She shrugged. “Although I do think you could be of great help to that worthy gentleman.”
Vanessa gave her a weak smile, wishing the floor would open up and swallow her.
The duchess rang for the tea trolley to be removed.
“Now,” she said. “Do tell me more about your work with the foundlings. We have an orphanage at our Hollystone Hall estate. I’m sure Miss Grenford will organize a visit for us during the house party.”
Gratified at the turn of conversation, Vanessa took a deep breath to give her time to organize her thoughts. Now this was a topic she could handle. Speculating on her matrimonial prospects with George Durand was quite definitely not.
Vanessa is heroine of Susana Ellis’s Valuing Vanessa, a novella in Holly and Hopeful Hearts. For more about Holly and Hopeful Hearts, including blurbs for all eight stories and preorder links, see the website of the Bluestocking Belles.