My dear, I have just heard the most scandalous thing, but you cannot tell a soul. Do you remember me speaking of Lady Selby? A poor little dab of a woman. Wouldn’t say boo to a goose. Of course, I befriended the countess. It was an act of charity, for she was not at all up to snuff.
How she captured herself an earl is beyond me, especially a rogue like Selby.
Not that he was faithful to her, for of course he wasn’t. She told me herself that one of his mistresses had the audacity to visit her in her own home. Can you imagine! Of course, the woman claimed that Selby had tricked her with a false marriage ceremony.
“Nonsense, dear,” I told her. “You mark my words; it’ll be a scheme to inveigle money out of you.”
Well, dear, it turns out that I may have been wrong, for I met the unfortunate female just as she was about to leave the manor with her two daughters in a cart bound for who knows where.
She seems to believe that Selby played the same trick on her, and if that is true, then she is not the countess at all, but just another fallen woman!
It is such a pity, for I am known to have been a friend of the countess, insofar as she had friends. To discover that I have been so taken in! I am deeply upset, as you must imagine. I tell you, next time I see Selby, I shall be very inclined to tell him precisely what I think of him, whatever his rank in Society.
The female who thought she was Lady Selby has left the neighbourhood, thank goodness. It would have been unpleasant to give her the cut direct, for it appears to have been not her fault at all, poor creature.
I won’t add to her burdens by spreading her story about, but I just had to tell you, my dear friend. And do show my letter to your sister, for I know she will be interested.
But apart from that, don’t tell a soul.
Lord Selby’s shocking behaviour is a subplot in the historical mystery novel Revealed in Mist, by Jude Knight. The former Lady Selby and Chastity Virtue, the other false wife mentioned, will one day also have their stories told. So many stories, so little time.
“She has been rather busy,” Barney Somerville commented. As a vicar, he felt it incumbent on him to be fair, anxious though he was to know how his story turned out. “She has retired, left her old house, spent months house-hunting, moved into her new house, and is now renovating.”
Lady Ruth Winderfield was prowling impatiently along the spaces between the lines in her manuscript. “That’s easy for you to say, Reverend. You and Theo are first on her list. She has to have you done by early next month.” She bit back what she was going to say next, but the Marquis of Aldridge guessed her complaint.
“You and Val were about to enjoy your first kiss, were you not? And now it has been months. But take heart. She must finish your story before it is my turn.” His smirk turned wry at the edges. “I’ve waited years,” he murmured, almost too low to be heard. For the moment his heart was in the hazel eyes that lingered on the lady he loved. Saint Charlotte, they called her. She had rejected him several times, and how his author was going to resolve this was beyond him.
Otto had been sitting hunched over a tankard of ale, but he looked up at Aldridge’s complaint. “At least you are sure your story will be written one day,” he pointed out. “She doesn’t think she’ll have time for mine. And I read the original at school. It did not turn out well.”
Barney clapped the big dark-skinned man on one rugged shoulder. “She specialises in happy endings, my friend,” he pointed out.
Theo looked up from the game of cards she was playing with Otto’s wife, Desiree. “Why don’t we write a letter?” she suggested. “A summary of our concerns. A manifesto, if you will. We could send it through the Teatime Tattler. I know she reads that.”
Aldridge twirled his empty glass between his fingers. “Dear Jude, your characters are revolting?” he suggested.
“Set aside time to write us now, or we leave.” Otto’s blunt suggestion fell into a brief silence, which Val broke, speaking as Theo’s pen flew across the page at his dictation.
“Dear author, please remember your characters. We are yearning to get out of your head and onto our pages.”
Dear characters and readers. I have missed you all. I’m trying to carve out some time to write each day, and hope to catch up soon. Love you all.
You will have heard of the shocking acts of public disorder here in our quiet little corner of the world. Dear Mr Horner and I are horrified at the most recent event, when a large group, dressed as savages and armed with axes, invaded private property and destroyed more than nine hundred thousand pounds of goods and the chests those goods were stored in.
The protests in March were bad enough. One must regret the loss of life when the soldiers opened fire on the crowd, but beyond a doubt, the protesters started it when they threw snowballs at a guard outside the Custom House. I think (and Mr Horner agrees with me) that the soldiers in question deserve a strong reprimand for firing on the mob, though we agree that we were not present, and cannot understand how threatening the protestors appeared to the poor soldiers.
However, the protests have escalated, with rocks thrown through windows, printed death threats sent to upright citizens who were just going about their business, and people assaulted and beaten.
Politics have invaded even our drawing rooms and breakfast tables, with social shame awaiting those who dare to continue to imbibe their favourite beverage. One of my friends went so far as to suggest that we should no longer associate, as I refuse to give up a harmless drink to support treasonous mutterings against the rightful actions of government.
Then came the activities of last night. How can any right-thinking person think that a political disagreement justifies the destruction of private property? I shudder to think of the way the perpetrators of the heinous act menaced their way to dominance of the goods by their fearsome appearance and their numbers. The poor sailors on board that ship must have been in fear of their lives.
Of course, I support the right to freedom of speech, but rioting and looting cannot be supported, surely? So Mr Horner says, and I quite agree with him.
I have asked Mr Horner if we might return to London, dearest Agatha. So many people here, however upset they are with the destruction of property, are claiming that the anger behind the act is justified that I fear they may turn to even more violence.
Mr Horner disagrees. He believes that strong action from the government will ensure that everything settles down. He points out that even Mr Washington, who is a leader of the most vocal party of radicals, has spoken strongly against the most recent action, accusing the participants of madness. After all, nobody wants a revolution.
I can only hope that Mr Horner is correct.
I will keep you informed, my dear. Pray for me and for all of those loyal to our beloved Mother Country and the King.
Ever your loving sister
(Mrs John Horner)
The Boston Tea Party was one in a series of protests against coercive acts by the government against the citizens of the American colonies. At the time, to be loyal was to want to stay British.
The tea belonged to the East India Company, not to the British government. However, the government had given the Company a monopoly on tea imports to the American colonies.
The stupid Government reaction to the protests meant that they escalated and eventually became full-scale revolution. In light of modern events, I find it intriguing that the destruction of one million dollars (in today’s terms) of private property is now regarded as a heroic act.
To the Esteemed Editor, The Teatime Tattler, London
Sir, it is with a heavy heart that I take up my pen to document the sad fall of a former ornament of our Society.
Your readers will remember Lady S. B., sister to the Earl of Hy., a lady past her first years, and with two scandals already in her past. She has been betrothed twice, and married not at all. On both occasions, the lady has emerged with her reputation intact, but after recent events, one must wonder if we have been over generous to a serpent in our midst.
Be that as it may, Lady S. has continued to enjoy the approval of Society, and has persisted in trading on that approval in pursuit of funding for one of her many causes.
Those enjoying the hospitality of the Duchess of Hfd have recently been treated to the less than edifying spectacle of the half-breed viscount pursuing the Earl of Hy.’s sisters. Or was the pursuit the other way? We thought he preferred the younger, but he was seen kissing the elder. Under the mistletoe, to be sure, but such a kiss, sir!
It takes so little to ruin a lady. One kiss, and a woman past her first years, who might be supposed to have more sense, has eloped with two rakes. Not one, sir, but two. Neither of them the man she kissed.
It is to be hoped her brother will cast her off completely for the sake of her sister, Lady F., though saving that chit’s reputation is probably already a lost cause.
Be that as it may, we can be sure that the worthy leaders of Society can loosen their grips on their pocketbooks.
Editor’s note: Our readers will be pleased to know that the lady who is the subject of this letter was safely conveyed to London, with her maid in attendance. Her wedding followed shortly after. The Teatime Tattler wishes to convey congratulations to the happy couple, now the Earl and Countess of S.
To Wed a Proper Lady
Everyone knows James needs a bride with impeccable blood lines. James needs Sophia’s love, more.
James, eldest son of the Earl of Sutton, must marry to please his grandfather, the Duke of Winshire, and to win social acceptance for himself and his father’s other foreign-born children. But only Lady Sophia Belvoir makes his heart sing, and to win her, he must invite himself to spend Christmas at the home of his father’s greatest enemy: the man who is fighting in Parliament to have his father’s marriage declared invalid and the Winderfield children made bastards.
Sophia keeps secret her tendre for James, Lord Elfingham. After all, the whole of Society knows he is pursuing the younger Belvoir sister, not the older one left on the shelf after two failed betrothals. Even when he asks for her hand in marriage, she still can’t quite believe that he loves her.
In the following excerpt, Sophia decides to follow James to London.
The duchess excused herself and left, to return after a few moments. “A messenger has come to fetch my son Jonathan. If you will excuse me, my friends, I will go and help him prepare for his trip. Please. Continue the celebrations. I will join you again as soon as I can.”
Sophia followed her into the hall in time to hear Aldridge say, “If you must go, use my yacht. It stands off Margate, but we can be there in two days, and she is faster than anything you’ll pick up in London. You will not have to wait for the Thames tide, either.”
“What you propose is not safe, my darling boy. The Grand Army is in your way. You could be shot as a spy,” the duchess said. “Why, this friend of yours cannot even give you assurance that the grand duchess will not behead you on sight. It is possible that…”
“Mama, all things are possible.” Gren was lit from within, bouncing on the balls of his feet as if his joy were too big to contain. “All things but one. I have tried living without the woman I love, Mama, and that, that is impossible. Anything else, I can do. Wait and see.”
“I have sent a message to the stables,” Aldridge said, “and another to my valet telling him to pack for us both. Mama, we shall rest overnight in London then leave at first light for Margate. If you have any messages, write them now.”
“Take me.” Sophia did not know she was going to speak until the words were from her mouth.
“Lady Sophia?” Lord Aldridge was frowning.
“You are right,” Sophia told Gren. “Only one thing is impossible, and that is living without the man I love. I should have said yes. I will say yes. Take me to London, Gren, and to James.”
Gren looked at his brother and then back at Sophia. “We shall be travelling fast,” he warned.
“All the better.”
“What will Hythe say?” the duchess asked.
“I hope he shall wish me well, but I am going, Aunt Eleanor. If Lord Aldridge will not take me, then I shall catch a mail coach.” The decision made, she would not let anything stand in her way.
Lord Aldridge spread his hands in surrender. “Say your farewells, then, Lady Sophia. We leave in thirty minutes.” He turned to his brother. “I’ll write to Baumann. You’ll need money, Gren. He’ll know who can supply it overnight at short notice at this time of year.”
Hythe was not happy. “Sophia, you cannot mean to go chasing after Elfingham. Why, he might already be wed to Lady Charlotte.”
“He is waiting for me, Hythe. He needs me at his side, and that is where I want to be.”
“I can take you to London after the New Year’s Eve ball,” he suggested. “In just a few days.”
“Aldridge and Gren can take me now, today. In a few days, the duke may be dead, and James will be in mourning.”
“The duke might be dead now, Sophia. This is a mad start, running off with two of England’s worst rakes. What of your reputation?” He frowned. “At least take your maid.”
“Theodosia gets sick in a fast coach. Besides, Felicity will need her.”
“Felicity. What of Felicity? You cannot just race off and abandon her.”
Cedrica spoke up. “Do not be silly, Lord Hythe. Her Grace will chaperone Felicity, you will protect her, her maid will take care of her, and I will make sure she behaves. Sophia, Her Grace will have a maid she can send with you to give you countenance. Let me speak to the housekeeper while you set Theodosia packing a bag for you.”
After one astonished look, Hythe subsided, and almost before she knew it, Sophia was on her way out the door. Felicity hugged her and wept a little on her shoulder. The duchess gave her an absent peck on the cheek, most of her attention on her own sons, but then had a sudden thought.
“Wait!” she said. “Saunders, fetch me paper, ink, and a quill. You will find some in the Gold Drawing Room on the library table.”
While the duchess wrote a letter in neat copperplate using her finest paper, others of the party, Cedrica among them, gave their best wishes for a safe journey, “and a happy arrival,” Cedrica whispered.
Then the duchess handed her the sealed and folded letter. “The Archbishop of Canterbury is an old friend of mine, dear Sophia. This letter will get your James in to see him. You will need a license, my dear.” She kissed Sophia again then went to kiss Gren and weep a little onto his shoulder.
At the last moment, Hythe caught Sophia up into a fierce hug. “Tell him from me that he is to treat you well, or he will have me to deal with. And you can always come home, Sophia.”
She hugged him back and allowed Aldridge to hand her up into the carriage.
Sam, did you hear the Earl of Sutton was attacked earlier today? Footpads, they said. About twenty minutes later, a carter lost control of his horses just as his dray was passing Sutton’s children on a schoolroom outing. And you know assailants have had a go at both of Sutton’s sons in the past few days, too.
As an aside, Sutton beat his assailants to a pulp. He’s as tough as his sons, it seems. And the one still in the schoolroom whipped his schoolmates out of the way of the dray. He’ll be another formidable warrior when he grows up.
But that’s not the point, Sam.
I’ve found out who paid for all the attacks, and you’re never going to believe it. I was told in confidence, mind, and if we want the servants inside of Haverford House to keep slipping us bits of news we can’t use it. It’ll be a start to our own investigation, though.
That’s right. Haverford House, and yes, it was the Duke. The Merry Marquis is furious. He’s threatening to have his father locked up. Can he do that, Sam?
In 1812, high Society is rocked by the return of the Earl of Sutton, heir to the dying Duke of Winshire. James Winderfield, Earl of Sutton, Winshire’s third and only surviving son, has long been thought dead, but his reappearance is not nearly such a shock as those he brings with him, the children of his deceased Persian-born wife and fierce armed retainers.
This series begins with a prequel novella telling the love story of James senior and Mahzad (Paradise Regained), then leaps two decades to a series of six novels as the Winderfield offspring and their cousins search for acceptance and love.
Follow the links for more details and for buy links.
Meanwhile, here’s an excerpt about the assaults from the point of view of the Duchess of Haverford. It appears in Paradise Lost, a novella about the duchess that I’m giving away free with my next newsletter in a couple of days. It tells of how Eleanor Creydon became Eleanor, Duchess of Haverford, a lynchpin character in my Regency and Victorian stories, and also backgrounds the series.
Haverford House, London, July 1812
The Duchess of Haverford took tea in her rooms this quiet Monday afternoon. She was alone for once; even the maid who brought the tray sent off back to the servants’ hall. Her life was such a bustle, and for the most part, that was how she liked it, but just for once, it was nice to have an afternoon to herself. No meetings. No entertainments to attend or offer. Not even any family members—her current companion had gone to visit her mother for her afternoon off, Aldridge was about his own business, her youngest ward was at lessons, and the two older girls had been invited on an outing with a friend.
As to Haverford, who knew where he was? But he would not disturb her here.
The thought had barely crossed her mind when a knock sounded; not the discreet tap of a servant, but a firm rap. Not the duke. He wouldn’t knock. “Enter,” she called.
Aldridge let himself into the room. He greeted her with his usual aplomb, asked after her day, but she could tell immediately that he was agitated. “What is wrong, my son?”
“I have no easy way to say this, Mama.” He knelt before her and took her hands. “Sutton has been assaulted in the street, and his schoolroom party was also attacked. A runaway brewer’s dray that was not a runaway at all.” He squeezed her hands, pulling her back from her sudden dizziness. “Sutton gave his assailants a drubbing, and the children and their attendants are unhurt, thanks to swift action on the part of their escort.”
Eleanor let out the air she was holding. “Thank goodness! And thank you, my dear, for letting me know before gossip made it so much worse.”
Aldridge frowned slightly. “There is more. I heard of the assault on Sutton before it happened, and arrived with help just after. Mama, my secretary was asked to be the paymaster for the assailants. And guess who gave him the command.”
She knew before her son said it. Breathed the words with him. “His Grace? Surely not. After the assassin at the duel, why would he do something like this again?”
“His Grace.” Aldridge confirmed. He leapt to his feet and paced the room, not able to keep still for a moment, his body expressing the agitation his face refused to display. “He is getting worse, Mama. Whether it would have happened anyway, or whether the arrival of Sutton lit the flame, he lives on the point of explosion.”
“I know, my dear.” She knew better than Aldridge, in fact. Despite the long estrangement between her and her husband, they nonetheless lived in the same house, attended some of the same social gatherings, worked side-by-side for the same political causes. Aldridge kept largely to his own wing when he was under the same roof as his parents, which was increasingly rare. He managed all the vast business of the duchy, but Haverford had long since let go those reins to the extent that his only association with Aldridge tended to be through the bills and notes of hand that arrived regularly to be paid.
Aldridge thumped the mantlepiece. “This latest start… if word gets out that Haverford was behind the attack on Sutton and his family, it will be a disaster. Sutton would be well within his rights to demand Haverford’s trial for attempted murder. This family is no stranger to scandal, Mama, and there’s no doubt in my mind His Grace deserves to be hanged, silken noose or not, but…”
Eleanor’s distress was such she found herself chewing her lip. “Thank God no one was seriously hurt.”
“Thank Sutton and his sons for their warrior-craft, and my secretary for telling me in time to lead a rescue.” Aldridge heaved a deep sigh and took another fast turn around the carpet. “He intended murder, Mama, and when I confronted him with it, he laughed and said he did it for England. He has gone too far, Mama. If he is found out, he puts us all at risk. What if the Regent decides to regard a murder attempt on another peer as treason?”
Eleanor had not considered that possibility. The title could be attained, the lineage considered corrupt. Aldridge had worked for years to rebuild the wealth of the duchy after his father’s mismanagement. He could lose it all, including the title, and the Prince would be delighted to benefit.
Haverford had become more and more erratic as the year progressed. He insulted and alarmed other people at every event he attended, completely ignoring social conventions and saying whatever he thought, often using the foulest of language. Thankfully, he was showing less and less inclination to go into Polite Society. Even so, the duchess frequently needed to use all her considerable tact and diplomacy to soothe ruffled feathers and quiet the gossip that claimed the duke was going mad.
“He is going mad,” she acknowledged to her son, the one person in the world who could be trusted with the knowledge. “It is the French Disease, I am sure. It is rotting his brain.”
“We cannot bring in doctors to examine him, Mama. Who knows what would come of that; what he would say and who they would tell? He cannot be allowed to continue, however.”
Eleanor frowned. It was a conundrum. Who could prevent a duke from doing whatever he pleased?
Aldridge, apparently. “I have made arrangements. He has been persuaded to travel to Haverford Castle. When he arrives, trusted servants know to keep him there. He will be comfortable, Mama. I have arranged for him to be entertained, and have nurses on hand in case he needs them. The disease will kill him in the next year or two, probably, and he is likely to be bedridden long before the end.”
He was brave, her son. He was breaking the laws of God and man in showing such disobedience to his father and a peer of the realm. She was sure God would understand, but the Courts might not. She would not ask about the entertainment Aldridge had provided. Knowing Haverford as she did, she did not want to know details. “He must never be set free,” she concluded. Should anyone find out he was insane, the scandal would be enormous. Worse still for Aldridge.
“I understand that such spells may come and go, so we need to be prepared for him to return to sanity, at least for a time,” Aldridge cautioned. “But if that does not happen, my instructions are to keep him from understanding he is imprisoned for as long as possible. With luck, the confusion in his mind will prevent him from ever working it out. I needed you to know, Mama, for two reasons. First, we need a story for the ton. Second, if he does not recover and if anything happens to me, it will be for you to keep him confined until Jon returns to be heir in my place.”
“I hope dear Jonathan comes home soon, Aldridge. I miss my son. But do not speak of your demise, my dear. I could not bear it.”
Aldridge stopped beside her and bent to kiss her forehead. “You are the strongest woman I know, dearest. Fret not. I am careful, and I intend to live to grow old.”