After several weeks of focusing on mayhem, I’m taking a gentler theme this week. Give me your tender moments. Perhaps between your hero and heroine, perhaps not. Two friends? A mother and child? Show me what you’ve got, and I’ll show you mine — this is from A Suitable Husband, one of my stories in Holly and Hopeful Hearts, and features my heroine in a vulnerable moment, being comforted by two friends. None of them know that my hero is listening at the door.
“Do not cry, Cedrica. You are doing wonderfully well, and the duchess knows it. Lady Stanton will receive no support there.”
Cedrica? That cold-hearted bitch had upset his Mademoiselle?
“I agree with Grace, Cedrica. Aunt Eleanor shall give one of her deadly little set downs, and I should dearly like to see it. Here. Dry your eyes, darling. It shall all be well, you will see.”
Then Mademoiselle’s voice, trembling with unshed tears. “You are right. I know you are. I do not know why I allowed her to upset me so. Only… I am just so tired of stupid conflict. This gentleman does not want to share a room with his wife. That one has kept every guest in his wing awake with his snoring. This lady cannot have the same breakfast as that one, and another must be served the identical tray, right down to the colour of the inlay. And as for the war between the kitchens! I swear, if I have to referee one more battle over who has first use of the lemon zester, I shall scream.”
Really? She was not enjoying their little dramas as much as the two combatants? Marcel frowned, and shot a glance both ways down the hallway to make sure he was not observed as he leant closer.
The two other ladies were making soothing noises, and offering to take up Mademoiselle’s duties while she rested.
“No, no. Aunt Eleanor would be so disappointed in me. Besides, you have your own tangles to straighten. Making sure that Lady Stanton and her cronies are not in a position to bully Miss Baumann, that Lord Trevor is dissuaded from taking out a gun, since he cannot see beyond the end of his arm and refuses to wear glasses, and that Lady Marchand can only cheat at cards with those who know her little ways.”
The three ladies laughed together, Mademoiselle’s chuckle still a little watery.
Her voice was forlorn when she said, “It was the other that hurt most, you know. Because it is true.”
More soothing noises, which she rejected.
“No. I am not a fool. I know that I have dwindled into an old maid. Well, look at me. Plain ordinary Cedrica Grenford. A useful person to have on a committee, but not one man has ever looked at me twice nor is likely to. I know Aunt Eleanor thinks dressing me up like a fashion doll and sending me in to talk to all these lords will turn me into a… a swan. But I am just a plain barnyard hen when you come down to it.”
Lady de Courtenay disagreed. “Oh but surely Lord Hythe—”
Another heart-wrenching chuckle. “See, his sister is shaking her head. And you are right, Sophia. Hythe is polite to everyone, and kind to me because I was at school with Felicity. He treats me as a lady, which is nice of him when I am, as Lady Stanton so kindly pointed out, merely hanging onto gentility by the charity of Her Grace.”
“Oh Cedrica…” That was both ladies. Marcel’s response to Lady Stanton’s cruel words would have been much more forceful.
“He does not look at me and see a woman. No one does.”
Lady Sophia spoke decisively. “You are blue-devilled, my dear. Who knows whether any of us will meet a man who can see past our elderly exteriors to the treasures we all are? And if we do not, you and I shall be old maids together.”
“Yes,” Lady de Courtenay agreed. “Perhaps we should set up house together? Certainly Sophia and I have no more wish to live forever on the sufferance of our brothers than you do on the Haverfords. Who needs men, after all? Selfish, conceited creatures, always jumping to conclusions.”
This time, Mademoiselle’s laugh was more genuine.
Lady Sophia said, “Rest for an hour. Read a book. I will order a pot of tea and some cakes, and Grace and I shall deal with anything that arises.”