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Author: Susana Ellis Page 1 of 4

Duke’s Daughter Bickers with Stepmother

November 19, 1817

Residence of the Duke of Huntingdon

Mayfair, London

“Must you always be badgering me on this matter, Wife? Alicia is barely one-and-twenty. She and Stanton will settle down one of these days. I daresay they are on the brink of setting a date even as we speak.”

The duke’s young wife crossed her arms in front of her chest.

“So you’ve told me for the last two years. Not only have they not set a date, Lucas, but they rarely even see each other! Alicia has danced more with the Prince Regent than with her own betrothed this past Season!”

The Duke of Huntingdon closed his book and laid his spectacles on top of it. “Has that old lecher been philandering with my girl? I’ll see him in hell first!”

Cheeks flushed, the young duchess clenched her fists. “No, of course not! That’s not the point, and you know it well. What I’ve been trying to tell you is that Alicia and Milton Gardiner show no signs of partiality for each other’s company, and people are beginning to question whether the marriage will ever be accomplished at all!”

Her eyes narrowed. “The Prince danced as many times with me this Season, but you’ve never said a word against him. I believe you care for her more than your own wife!” 

She pulled out a handkerchief and swiped it over her eyes.

The duke rolled his eyes. “Good God, Elise, must you always make a fuss about everything? You know very well that as an unmarried young woman, Alicia’s reputation must be spotless, or no one, not even Stanton, will marry her. She and Stanton have always been the best of friends, Neither has ever spoken a word against their childhood betrothal, and you know Alicia well enough to know that she would certainly do so if she wished to.” He snorted.

“As far as Stanton, he can hardly be expected to dance with the gel when he’s spent most of the Season in Norfolk taking over his father’s duties on the estate. It may be unfashionable for a young man to take his responsibilities seriously, but I say it speaks well of his character.”

Lady Huntingdon glared at him. “And when Blackburn dies, the wedding will be postponed a year at least. Lucas, I must insist that you speak to your daughter immediately and impress upon her the urgency of securing this marriage as soon as may be!”

**********

At the sound of her stepmother’s footsteps moving toward the door, Alicia fled down the hall into the nearest room where she posed in front of the hearth and pretended to be studying a portrait of her late mother. Too late, she thought better of the idea. Elise hated that portrait of her predecessor almost as much as she hated Alicia herself. 

The staccato clicks of her stepmother’s heels on the wooden floor paused when they passed the drawing room where Alicia had taken refuge.

“What are you doing here?” Elise demanded, her voice dripping with suspicion.

Alicia shrugged and smiled innocently. “Why, looking at my mother’s portrait, of course.”

The duchess’s brow furrowed. “Were you eavesdropping on my conversation with your father?”

Alicia’s mouth assumed a slack expression. “Were you having a conversation with my father? About me?”

Her stepmother’s nostrils flared. “You were listening! I knew it!” she snapped. “Did you learn anything interesting?”

“I-I, well…,” Alicia stammered.

“A thousand pardons, Your Grace, but you’re needed in the nursery. Master Gervase is poorly today, and Nurse wishes to call in a physician.”

One of the upstairs maids appeared in the doorway, looking worried. 

“Gervase, my darling child…ill? Oh my, I knew that Nurse should not have taken him out of doors yesterday! Oh, I must go to him immediately!”

She gave Alicia a menacing stare, lifted her skirts, and rushed toward the stairway.

The maid winked at Alicia. “More ’n likely he’s just teething.” Then she took off after her mistress.

Alicia sighed heavily and gazed up at her mother’s beautiful face. It was almost like looking in a mirror, as she had inherited Frances Howland’s dark wavy hair, tawny eyes, and high cheekbones. Her prominent nose and light brown skin that no amount of lemon juice scrubs would lighten had come from her father, who had some French ancestry in his blood.

“Oh Mama! Why did you have to go sailing that day, of all days?”

She pressed her face down against the cool marble surface of the mantel. Three years ago she’d received the devastating news that her mother and Lady Blackburn had drowned when the skiff they’d been sailing had run into a sudden storm and capsized in the Wash a mile off the Norfolk coast. Her life had never been the same since. Particularly not when, after a year of mourning, her father had married a young girl only a few years older than she, who’d had the nerve to bear him the son he’d always wanted fifteen months later.

Her new stepmother, the daughter of a baronet whose mother claimed to be a displaced French countess, had been scheming to get rid of Alicia from the first day she’d moved in. Alicia was a constant reminder of her mother, a notorious London beauty. Elise’s skin was the pale porcelain favored by society, but in combination with her gray eyes, small round head and pale blonde hair, she tended to fade into the woodwork. With dark hair in fashion these days, it galled her to appear in public with the stepdaughter who outshone her.

Nor did it help when all the servants showed a pronounced preference for Alicia.

“That’s not my fault,” she said lifting her head to her mother’s face as if to defend her behavior. “I never encouraged them to do that.”

But you never did anything to prevent it, did you, Daughter? You weren’t raised to prevaricate, you know. This type of behavior is beneath you.

A lump formed in Alicia’s throat. It was true. Her mother, at least, had worked very hard to keep her grounded in good Christian values and a healthy respect for others. Alicia knew her mother would have been sorely distressed to see the way she provoked her stepmother, sometimes without half-trying.

Your behavior causes your father much grief, you know. Does he not deserve a peaceful home?

Alicia paled as she recalled the conversation she’d just overheard in her father’s study. Unkind as it was to deliberately provoke her stepmother, it also had the effect of disturbing her father’s domestic life. Which she’d not hesitated to do at first when she’d been furious with her father’s decision to remarry, but now…it seemed rather childish and cruel.

He’s been a good father to you, Alicia. He was a good husband to me as well. Does he not deserve your loyalty?

“Alicia, my dear.”

Lucas Howland, the Duke of Huntingdon, strolled through the doorway toward her. At forty-nine, he was still a fine figure of a man, although his dark hair was now sprinkled with gray and his stomach was beginning to make itself known beneath his olive-green waistcoat.

He sighed as he cupped her shoulders and drew her against his chest as they both gazed up at the portrait of his first wife.

“Aye, she was a marvelous woman. I still miss her too, you know. Many times I wish I had forbidden her to take the boat out that day.”

Tears gathered in Alicia’s eyes. “But she would never have heeded you, Papa. It wasn’t your fault.”

He turned her around and hugged her to his chest. “No, she was a willful one, my Frances. So spirited and full of life…I’m sure it never occurred to her that it could all be lost so quickly and tragically.”

They stood there a moment and reflected on what the loss of the former duchess had brought to their lives. For the duke—a young second wife and the heir he’d always wanted. For Alicia—a new baby brother with whom she’d felt an instant connection, but who came with the inconvenience of an antagonistic stepmother.

“She was my best friend,” Alicia whispered. “I could tell her anything and she would never laugh at me or remonstrate with me. She always told me to forget the past and live each day to the fullest.” 

She lifted her wounded face to her father’s. “But how can I forget her? She was my life and now she’s gone! I feel…lost without her, Papa.”

Her father sighed and kissed her forehead before drawing her head to his shoulder. “I know it well, my dear. I’ve seen you drift aimlessly through two Seasons, and I know well things would have been much different had it been your mother sponsoring you and not your aunt.”

“Aunt Tabitha has been very kind, Papa, but you are correct—it’s not the same.”

Her father’s sister had not got on well with her sister-in-law and it seemed Alicia had inherited too many of her mother’s characteristics to make for an amicable connection between aunt and niece.

The duke turned and, taking her arm, led her to a settee.

“Come and sit with me, Daughter. It’s been a long time since we’ve spoken privately, and I think a chat is quite overdue. Shall I order tea?”

Tea? Alicia forced herself to relax her hands, which had tightened into fists at her father’s request. She knew where this conversation was going.

“No tea, Papa. It will be time for nuncheon soon. I suppose you want to know about how things stand between Milton and me.”

Her father patted her hand. “I don’t wish to push you out of the nest, Alicia, but people are beginning to wonder if you and Stanton mean to marry after all. You’ve had two Seasons and I’ve heard no reports of your forming any other attachments in that time.”

Because everyone knows I’ve been betrothed to Milton forever.

“I had beaux,” she said defensively. “I was never a wallflower, you know. I had any number of escorts to Vauxhall and drives through the park.”

The duke heaved a sigh. “Of course, you did. I never meant to imply otherwise. But of all of them, did none appeal to you as a better choice for husband than young Stanton?”

“No, nothing like that.” Well, there was Lord Hadley, the handsome young viscount who made all the young ladies’ hearts flutter, but he’d gone off on his Grand Tour last year and showed no sign of returning any time soon.

“As far as I know, Papa, Milton and I still plan to be married. I haven’t heard from him lately, since he’s been so busy at Blackburn, but I’m sure we’ll discuss it after our return to Huntingdon.”

Her father grimaced. “I don’t mean to pressure you, my dear, but with Blackburn’s illness, you might want to set an early date. I’m sure it would give him great pleasure to see his son wed before… well, there’s no way to avoid the fact that his days are numbered.”

“And once he’s gone, there will be a year of mourning. I do realize that, Papa. I’m sure Elise will be no end of piqued to have me on your hands for another year.”

Her father flinched. “It’s not that, Alicia. It’s just that… it’s obvious you’re not happy with us, and we think it’s time you settled down and started your own family. With Stanton, if he’s your choice. No one wishes to force you out, least of all your stepmother.”

Alicia snorted. Did her father really think she would believe that? She’d have known it to be an untruth even if she had not overheard their recent conversation.

“Of course not. I’m sure Elise is eager to become a grandmother.” 

Her father tried to hide his grin, and Alicia turned and gave him a quick kiss on the cheek.

“I’ll discuss it with Milton, Papa. He has a lot on his mind these days. When his father dies, he’ll be alone in the world. At least I still have a father left.”

Her father let out a huge breath. “Thank you, my dear.”

He stood and started to leave, then turned and looked at her with a twinkle in his eye.

“I can’t speak for Elise, of course, but I for one am looking forward to becoming a grandfather with great anticipation. And I’m sure Gervase will be in alt to have a little niece or nephew to play with.”

Alicia blushed. “Really, Papa!”

Baby Gervase an uncle? An amusing image, but it all seemed so premature. She’d been betrothed to Milton for so long, but the actual marriage had seemed far off. In all that time, she’d never actually thought much about being Milton’s wife and having his children. Now that the time seemed imminent, she felt a growing feeling of panic. Bridal nerves, of course. All brides had them. It would all turn out well in the end, she assured herself.

******

All I Want For Christmas is You is part of the Bluestocking Belles’ latest Christmas collection, Christmastide Kisses.

https://books2read.com/u/m26VG6

About Susana Ellis

Susana Ellis is a retired teacher, part-time caregiver, sewist, cook, and fashion print collector. Lifelong reading and a fascination with history led her to writing historical romances. She is one of the original Bluestocking Belles and a member of Regency Fiction Writers and the Maumee Valley Romance Authors Inc.

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Meet Blaise Arquette, formerly of Wellington’s Army

Blaise Arquette has just returned from a position at the Home Office where he had served since Waterloo. Prior to that he served nearly two decades in the War with France, lately as an exploring officer with the Duke of Wellington. Just one day prior to this scene, he had met a lovely seamstress in his brother’s haberdashery shop. The rest of Blaise and Susana’s story, A Seamstress, a Soldier, and a Secret will appear in an updated version of Desperate Daughters, which you can get for free in January 2024 if you have previously purchased the ebook version.

You can meet Susana Bigglesworth here.

18 December 1816

Leeds, West Yorkshire

Early afternoon

Blaise knew that finding work would not be an easy task; his time at the Home Office had shown him that. Soldiers and sailors trudging London streets desperately trying to feed their families, many reduced to begging in the streets. Those who returned without limbs had even less to hope for; they would end among the parish poor, no doubt in some workhouse or another. He always felt a flutter of guilt when he came upon them; wishing there were some way to help them but at the same time perceiving that, but for the grace of God, he might even now be among them.

He at least had his brother to fall back on, although he had no intention of remaining a hanger-on. He had no clear idea of what sort of position he might find; the skills he had mastered in the Army—namely marksmanship, horsemanship, map drawing, and writing—were not transferable to any sort of trade he could think of. The government was eliminating positions right and left as the post-war economy hurtled the country toward disaster, his own with the Home Office included.

That morning he rose early, determined to do a bit of reconnaissance in the neighborhood to assess the situation. The tradesmen he chatted with were impressed with his military service, but few were taking on employees, and even fewer—none actually—were the sort of jobs suitable for Blaise. Young boys who could be apprenticed to learn a trade without pay had more choices than he, he mused grimly. Returning to France to fight for his inheritance might be his only option.

Heading back to Fanshawe & Sons, he noticed a tradesman’s carriage harnessed to a pair of black Percherons, Macclesfield Silks painted on the side. Inside, he found his brother and Louise poring over ells of colorful fabric arrayed on the counter, a stranger—presumably the silk merchant—running his hand over the wares.

“Thomas Pemberton,” he introduced himself after Benoît had presented him. “Grandson of Joseph, founder of Macclesfield Silks.”

Pemberton was middle-aged, a few streaks of gray in his dark hair, hazel eyes, and a jovial manner. He regarded Blaise with new respect when he heard of his military career.

“Served with the duke, did you? This country is in your debt, sir.” He tilted his head and regarded Blaise with furrowed brows. “So, what does a soldier with your experience do with himself after the war is over?”

Blaise grinned wryly. “I’m still looking for the answer to that, Pemberton. There doesn’t seem to be much of a use for soldiers in peacetime.”

“Thomas. Do call me Thomas.” He rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “Look, I may have something that will suit. I’m short an assistant at present, a traveling man to demonstrate our wares to shops like your brother’s.” He blew out a puff of air. “This,” he said waving at the wagon in front of the shop, “isn’t my strong suit and I’m needed at the mill. Is this something you could consider, for the present, at least? I might have something better in the future.”

Blaise’s eyes widened. “Certainly,” he said slowly, unwilling to dismiss any possibility. “But I don’t know much about silk.”

Thomas laughed and clapped a hand on his shoulder. “That can be rectified,” he asserted. “Come and see me in Macclesfield after the holiday, and I’ll show you around the mill, introduce you to the weavers, give you a bit of an apprenticeship. If it’s not to your taste, you’ll at least come away with a better acquaintance with the textile industry.”

Benoît and Louise looked at him hopefully. Blaise chuckled. “I can see you are already anticipating the discount for silk wares for the shop.”

Turning to Thomas, he held out an arm. “I’m honored to accept the offer, sir.”

Louise squealed, and Susana, needle and thread in hand, peeked out of her “office” to investigate. “Oh, the silks are here,” she exclaimed, misunderstanding the situation. “I can’t wait to see them! I shall be out as soon as I finish the hem on Miss Delphi’s dinner dress. I expect her momentarily for a final fitting.” She rushed back into her workroom.

Thomas appeared momentarily stunned by her appearance. Noticing his interest, Louise said helpfully, “That’s Susana, Miss Bigglesworth. She’s our modiste.”

Running his hands through his hair, Thomas swallowed. “I beg your pardon, but she looks familiar. Although I can’t place her. Or the name.”

“She’s from Harrogate,” Louise offered. “Comes from a family of ten sisters.”

“Ten!” Thomas’s eyes widened. But then he shook his head. “Doesn’t bring back anything. It’ll come to me, I suppose.”

He straightened his back and offered his hand first to Benoît and then to Blaise, subsequently tipping his hat for Louisa.

“I thank you for your business, sir,” he said to Benoît, and then to Blaise: “I’ll write you soon, Mr. Arquette, er, Blaise. We’ll expect to see you in Macclesfield after the New Year.”

“I’ll look forward to hearing from you.” Blaise accompanied him out of the shop to the driver’s seat of the wagon, beginning to feel hopeful for the first time in a while.

Desperate Daughters

This story was written for the readers of the original version of Desperate Daughters who expressed concern over the absence of Susana’s story, since she played a key part in the other sisters’ stories.

Her story deserves to be told.

Susana Ellis is a retired teacher, part-time caregiver, sewist, cook, and fashion print collector. Lifelong reading and a fascination with history led her to writing historical romances.

After January 1, 2024:

To update your Kindle book version, go to Manage Your Content and Devices. Search for Desperate Daughters. If available, select Update Available, then select Update.)

LAUD’S HEIR RETURNS FROM GRAND TOUR. In search of wife, says reputable source.

15 September 1801

“LAUD’S HEIR RETURNS FROM GRAND TOUR. In search of wife, says reputable source.”

Della’s brother threw down the latest copy of The Teatime Tattler and snickered. “Poor sod’s too young for a leg-shackle. Doubtless Lady Laud’s pressing for grandchildren. Mothers!”

Their father lifted an eyebrow. “If your mother were still alive, you’d be wed by now, Thomas. I suppose I’ve been negligent on that front. You’re what, thirty now? Ought to be settled down.”

Thomas’s fork clattered when it hit his plate. “And who would I marry? Some farm girl like Della here? If I were a banker’s son I could look higher.”

Della winced and her father’s face turned red. “THOMAS! Apologize to your sister this instant!”

“Sorry,” he mumbled. But Della could tell he wasn’t sincere, even before he added, “But dammit, she should be wed by now too. But what choices does she have, as a cattle breeder’s daughter? We should all be better off if we sold out and went into banking.”

Thomas Sr. pounded the table hard enough to rattle his plate. “ENOUGH!”

Both of his children stiffened and stared at him incredulously. Their father rarely lost his temper, and never at the breakfast table. But there had been more than a few arguments recently, Della mused. 

“This farm has provided you an easy life, Thomas. You’ve been handed everything you need and want, even a chance for a superior education at Cambridge, which you squandered by neglecting your studies in favor of—er—” he swallowed as he glanced at Della  “studies of a different sort.”

Della snorted and promptly looked down at her lap when her father gave her a stern look. Well really. She was twenty years old, the same age as Thomas when he returned home from Cambridge in disgrace. Did they really believe she hadn’t heard all the stories about his misdeeds there? Rumors had been rife at the time, and although she might not have understand exactly what they meant at the age of ten, she had since apprehended them more clearly.

“I’m inclined to believe that this self-indulgent lifestyle you’ve embarked on can be attributed to the influence of the useless young lords with whom you caroused first at Eton and then at Cambridge.” He shook his head. “Your mother would be ashamed, Thomas.”

His son had the decency to drop his chin. 

And well he should, thought Della. He’d had the good fortune to have had a mother, at least. She’d never had that opportunity, her mother having died at Della’s birth.

Their father pushed back his chair and rose from table. “Thomas, your jaunts to London and York and all points in between are now cancelled. Henceforth, you will spend your time at Humberstone Farm, employed in furthering the interests of our sheep and cattle.” 

Folding his arms in front him, he glared at his son. “In case you’ve forgotten all you’ve been taught over the years, I’ll put the lad in charge to refresh your memory.”

With that, he marched out of the room.

Della giggled. The image of Thomas being bear-led around the farm by the much-younger estate manager seemed dubious at best.

He slapped the table. “It’s not funny! I don’t care a jot about sheep and cattle, and you all know it! Besides, I have a shooting party next week. It’s almost the end of the grouse season.”

Della’s hands curled up. “You should care. This farm will be yours someday! It’s in your own best interests to ensure its prosperity.”

Thomas’s lips curled. “It’s been losing money for years. By the time it comes down to me, it’ll be worth a pittance. Best to sell out now and put the capital where it can do some good.”

Tilting his head, he studied her with a gleam in his eye.

“If I’m not mistaken, you are out there with the cattle everyday. And Kit too. Now there’s a match for you—the rustic farm girl and the penniless estate manager.”

Della tossed the remainder of her sausage at him. “You are horrid, Thomas.”

“And you’re a twit,” he threw back as he exited the room.

Della heaved a sigh. It wasn’t that she didn’t like Kit. He’d been one of her best friends forever. But as for marriage, she had something else in mind. 

Reaching for the Teatime Tattler, she smoothed her fingers over the headline. Toby was looking for a wife, was he? Well, she intended that he look no further than the neighboring estate.

*******

This story will be part of a 2024 Christmas anthology for the Maumee Valley Romance Authors, Inc. (Susana’s local writers’ group). We’ll keep you posted on our Book Lovers Facebook Page, https://www.facebook.com/groups/251624704125214.

Susana Ellis loves reading, writing, and sewing, but deadlines not so much. Besides being a part-time caregiver for her elderly mother, she enjoys her retirement and her kind and considerate author friends, particularly the Bluestocking Belles and the Maumee Valley Romance Authors!

Meet Miss Susana Bigglesworth

Susana Bigglesworth is finally getting her Happy Ever After! Eventually, her story will be added to those of the other Desperate Daughters and those of you who purchased it earlier will receive the update!

17 December 1816

Leeds, West Yorkshire

“My dear Mrs. Martin, I really must insist that our gowns be completed in time for Lady Mersham’s Christmas Eve Ball. Your employee—I believe her name is Susan—quite unreasonably declines to assure me that this will be so.”

Mrs. Eddington’s outraged nostrils flared as she confronted the shop’s owner in the cramped but orderly back office.

Louise tucked a stray dark curl behind her ear and rose from her desk to face her customer.

“Her name is Susana, Mrs. Eddington—Miss Susana to you—and as you know, her superior skills are in great demand. Fanshawe & Sons has always been a haberdashery and not a modiste shop, and Miss Susana has graciously agreed to accommodate the needs of a select group of our clients. I am confident there are other establishments in town that can meet your requirements.”

“B-B-But my daughter wants her!”  Mrs. Eddington’s shoulders slumped, her bravado having deserted her.

Louise moved from behind the desk to face her would-be attacker.

“Of course she does. As do a great many other ladies. Unfortunately, she is only one person and is tightly scheduled all the way through Twelfth Night.”

Mrs. Eddington wrung her hands. “Can you not take on more help for her? Give her her own shop? Because not just anyone can dress my Esme to advantage, and others have assured me that Miss Susana can do it.”

Louise sighed. Mrs. Eddington was right: Susana did deserve to have her own shop. Her husband Benoît was eager to plunge into the project. But Louise tended to err on the side of caution. It was true that Susana’s dressmaking attracted a sizable number of customers for the haberdashery, but business tended to decline during the winter and she wasn’t sure this was the time for laying out a significant amount of their modest nest egg to set up a new shop.

“I am sorry, Mrs. Eddington,” she commiserated as she took the woman’s arm and led her out of the office. “Perhaps Miss Susana can work you in after the holidays, create a lovely dress or two for Esme’s come-out in the spring. In the meantime,” she suggested as she handed the woman over to Benoît, behind the counter, “perhaps my husband can show you some of the new lace that came in this week, or possibly some kid gloves?”

“Well,” said Mrs. Eddington, mollified. “Esme did mention that she could use some coquelicot ribbon to adorn her new hat.”

Coquelicot! Louise shuddered at the thought of the plump young woman decked out in bright colors and frills. Passing by the small storeroom that served as Susana’s workroom, she peeked around the door jamb.

“I suppose you heard. Dear Susana, your popularity is keeping us all on our toes. Between my having to smooth disappointed customers’ ruffled feathers and my husband’s fawning all over them to make a sale, Fanshawe & Sons is getting more than our share of attention these days.”

Susana looked up and giggled. “Coquelicot indeed! I’ve seen that girl and she’s as pale as a ghost. Bright colors would wash out her face and accentuate her unfortunate figure.”

Louise shook her head. “I suppose her mother will insist on a multitude of colored flounces that will give her the look of a wedding cake. She is a sweet girl, though. I do hope you will find the time to contrive something more appropriate for her come-out, perhaps after the holidays.”

Susana grimaced and put down her sewing. “I hope so, but, as you know, my stepmother Patience has called us all to Starbrook for some sort of family rendezvous. On Twelfth Night, oddly enough.”

“Perhaps she needs assistance in taking down the Yule decorations,” suggested Louise. “Or she intends you all to bless the trees in the orchard with cider and bread.”

Susana grinned. “We have no orchard to speak of,” she replied, “only two apple trees, which wouldn’t require the entire band of Bigglesworths, even if Patience were the type to waste resources on such a useless endeavor.” She bit her lip. “I do wonder what it’s all about, though. Her letter gave no hint. If someone were ill, surely she wouldn’t hold off until January. I haven’t heard of any potential husbands presenting themselves to my sisters, so I don’t suppose a wedding is in the offing.” She took a deep breath. “The only thing that comes to mind is an unexpected expenditure. And that could be a real problem.”

Louise entered the room and closed the door behind her. “If it comes to that, dear Susana, perhaps Benoît and I can help you. A salary advance, perhaps? We don’t have a lot ourselves, especially with Benoît’s brother coming, but what we have we are quite willing to share with you.”

Hopefully Blaise would find a position and settle somewhere on his own, she thought. He could stay in his mother’s boarding house for a while. But no—not with Susana staying there. It wouldn’t be proper, even with Marie Françoise as a chaperone.

Susana shook her head. “Oh no, that is very kind of you, but I could not.” She picked up her needle and the length of sarcenet she was working on. “I doubt that is the problem. Patience is very frugal, and she knows we are all committed to keeping the family healthy and whole.”

Louise raised her eyebrows. “Oh that’s right. You and all of your sisters contribute to the household?”

“Not all of us.” Susana chuckled. “Emma, Merri, and Jane are still children. They do help Patience with the baking—she supplies bread for the local market—but I suspect they are more of hindrance. Merri and Jane, at least,” she added. “Emma just turned twelve. Not a child anymore. It seems only yesterday we were changing her nappies.” She sighed.

“The eldest sister, Bess, is an amateur historian, which doesn’t provide any income at present, although the project she is currently working on with Mr. Young of the London Royal Society may eventually do so. My sister Barbara gives music lessons, and Doro works for a hotel in Harrogate, catering and such. Josefina studies plants and provides herbs and such to the local apothecary. She’s learned a lot about medicines. Iris and Ivy—twins—are talented artists. Drawing and painting, mostly. But I heard they have been doing some pottery of late, to sell. And I—well, you know what I do.” She paused to thread a needle. “None of us earns a great deal, but what we do contribute adds up and manages to keep everyone fed and clothed.”

Louise nodded. “I am all admiration for the Bigglesworth sisters. Not all families would be so loyal. Particularly with so many different mothers and the last one so young, younger even than some of you.”

Susana snorted. “The same age as Doro, younger than the eldest three daughters. But you know,” she added as she reached for a pair of scissors, “Patience is quite mature for her age, a mother hen for all of her assorted stepdaughters. The constant parade of stepmothers—not to mention the virtual absence of our father—had the effect of bringing us closer together. Especially when it meant losing our own mothers at such young ages.”

“That is indeed tragic. Losing a mother at any age is a blow, particularly when you subsequently lose a succession of stepmothers.”

“Patience, at least, should be with us a good long time,” Susana said with authority. “Well, I’d best be getting on with Miss Delph’s morning gown. The wedding is in a week, and she’ll be needing her trousseau.”

Louise sighed. “I beg your pardon for taking so much of your time, Susana. I must get back to my inventory as well. Numbers must be counted and orders put in for the new year.”

She turned in the doorway. “Shall you come up for luncheon or would you prefer Molly to bring you down a tray?”

“A tray please, if Molly doesn’t mind the extra work. Our bride is coming for a fitting early tomorrow morning and I have a great deal to do before it gets dark.”

“As you wish.”

Louise closed the door and left Susana to her sewing.

Susana Ellis loves reading, writing, and sewing, but deadlines not so much. Besides being a part-time caregiver for her elderly mother, she enjoys her retirement and her kind and considerate author friends, particularly the Bluestocking Belles!

Frederick & Fiona: Frederick

by Susana Ellis

Frederick Hofbauer almost did not go to church that morning.

 

The party at Mellowwood Manor had lasted until the wee hours and he and his brothers Fritz and Franz, as footmen, were kept busy for more than two hours after that assisting the tired and tipsy guests with their outerwear and ensuring they managed to alight their coaches without injuring themselves. He barely had time to remove his livery before falling into bed next to his brothers, who were already snoring softly.

Dawn came much too quickly, and Frederick would have quite happily snored on past breakfast except for the sound of a light tapping on the door of the servant quarters.

“Frederick? Are you awake?” He recognized the soft voice as Daniel, the steward’s son, and sighed. Fitzwilliams had passed out again at the local inn and poor Daniel had to cart him home before word got out to his employer. Frederick would be tempted to leave the drunken lout where he was and suffer the consequences were it not for the frightened lad, barely six years old. He certainly did not deserve to be thrown in the streets.

Rising reluctantly from his bed, he opened the door and whispered to the boy to wait for him in the stable as he quickly donned his ordinary clothes and departed with him and Fitzwilliams’s old nag to the Dawdling Duck. By the time they had him settled in his bed at Hull Cottage, it was full daylight and Frederick was not inclined to return to his own bed. Instead he strolled around the estate, admiring the newly planted fields watching the milkmaids lead the cows into the milking shed. This was his favorite morning amusement during his free time, at least when he managed to retire before midnight.

Upon his return to the house, he found the cook ready to leave for church, about a mile down the lane. She clucked when she saw him.

“Up with t’ roosters again, lad? After all last night’s mayhem? I slept like a log until Mary brought me coffee.”

“Fitzwilliams,” he said simply. She rolled her eyes. “I should ha’ known. ‘Bout every Saturday night now. Yer too good to ‘im. Wretch deserves ta be sacked. Sad ‘bout the boy though.”

Frederick nodded.

She tilted her head to one side as she studied his face. “Come ta church wit’ me? I’ll wait for ye ta wash up.”

Frederick rubbed a hand through his hair. Well, it wasn’t as though he had anything else to do. The house was silent as a grave and it appeared as though its occupants were dead to the world after their evening of merriment.

“Very well,” he said with a smile. “I shall be only an instant, Mrs. Brown.”

Much later on, Frederick reflected that it was surely Fate that impelled him to accompany Cook to church that morning. Because that’s when he met Fiona and the scheme for his entire life was altered forever.

Meet Fiona here!

Frederick Hofbauer is the oldest (by two minutes) of triplets, his brothers being Fritz and Franz, who serve tea every Wednesday at 5:00 p.m. EST in the Tea Room, hosted by Cerise DeLand and Susana Ellis and their weekly guest authors, who come to discuss themselves and their books. If you are interested in discovering new authors and books, recipes, historical fashion, and lively conversation, please join them.

https://www.facebook.com/groups/265460994261469

The Tea Room recently celebrated its FIVE YEAR ANNIVERSARY, and would love to welcome you to the festivities.

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