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Tag: A Suitable Husband

Our Society Correspondent

The house party at Hollystone Hall has a spy: a lady correspondent for the Teatime Tattler. To find out more about the stories she discusses below, see Holly and Hopeful Hearts—release date and buy links on our project page.


Dear Mr. Clemens,

I have arrived at Hollystone Hall, and, as I suggested to you, the cream of Society is gathering for the Duchess of H.’s house party. The invitations for this event were much sought after and cherished. (Of course they are. It is always so with Her Grace’s entertainments.) Yet I wonder, too, if recipients have not felt a soupcon of trepidation?

For those of your readers not familiar with this great lady, let me explain.

She is, of course, the wife of the Duke of H., and his opposite in every way. Where he is profligate in his private life, reactionary in his politics, and rigidly committed to the existing social order, she is a lady of great probity, and staunchly reformist. Witness this particular event: the lady intends to raise money for a new charity set up to fund education for women! Her Grace will undoubtedly be looking for contributions throughout the fortnight of the house party, as well as at the charity ball at the end.

Not only that, but the duchess is well known for her belief that even marriages at the highest level of Society can be love matches, despite what are undoubtedly her personal experiences.

Can we doubt that those attending will be keeping a careful eye on both their pocketbooks and their hearts?

I shall report further. I am confident that the coming weeks will present many morsels of interest to your readers.

With grateful thanks for the opportunity to be your correspondent,

I remain,

A Lady.


Dear Mr. Clemens

We were greatly excited today when the reclusive, elusive Earl of S. arrived to join the house party, bringing with him the notorious actress, C.H., whom he introduced as his intended!

You can imagine the buzz of gossip that ensued amongst the mothers of hopeful would-be countesses, and who can blame the young ladies for their disappointment? Lord. S. proved to be an ethereally handsome young man with impeccable manners and an air of sad distance that tempts a susceptible maiden to offer a comforting shoulder, or lap.

Miss H. is widely known not to be a maiden, but is she susceptible? I have seen her eyes following the earl, and suspect that she is by no means the gold-digger she is being painted.

His lordship’s cousin, who is also at the party, says Lord S. won’t go through with the scandalous match, but the couple smell of April and May. I rather believe that the cousin’s hopes for the succession are to be frustrated.

Yours sincerely,

A Lady


Dear Mr. Clemens

We have been joined by the Dowager Countess of E. and her daughter, Lady A.W., who appears to have not one but two suitors! The Polite World has long watched with interest as Lady A. attempted to hide her regard for the Duke of B.. The scoundrel paid her no more attention than all the other delicate buds — and more mature blooms — around whose petals he buzzed.

One would assume all this would change with the duke’s recent (and somewhat scandalous) betrothal. The lady, indeed, appears to have had a change of heart, looking with favour upon the morose Earl of P., and one cannot miss that the earl’s rare smiles are saved only for this one lady.

Unaccountably, the duke seems to have forgotten his betrothed, and his eyes follow Lady A. around the room. We can only wait and see whether the fair damsel is to be a countess, a duchess, or free to explore the options in another Season.

With cheerful anticipation, I remain,

A Lady


Dear Mr. Clemens,

Her Grace can take no credit for the romance between Miss V.S. and Mr. G.D., which has been a settled thing between the couple for some time. A betrothal has not yet been announced, and some ill-natured people have suggested that Miss S. is reluctant to commit to a marriage that would make her the mother of a daughter only a few years younger than herself.

Having seen the lady with her prospective groom and his daughter, I wish to assure your public that such calumnies are unfounded. Miss S. is a charming lady, much admired in right-thinking circles for her practical work in educating orphans. Mr. D. likewise has an interest in that worthy cause, so they have much in common.

Besides, the way they look at one another makes me almost regret my own resolve to stay fancy free.

Sighing, but unreformed, I remain

A Lady.


Dear Mr. Clemens,

The duchess’s goal for her companion is no secret to those at the houseparty. Has Her Grace not, for many years, taken in one distant relation after another and seen them placed in an advantageous marriage or some other occupation that better suits them?

Indeed, Miss C.G. has not minced words. The duchess has advised her to search the house party for ‘a suitable husband’.

Although several men have taken an interest in the shy, attractive, competent young lady, she will not believe this to be the case. However, I believe that her attention has been fixed, and in a most unlikely direction.

The duchess is known for her surprisingly egalitarian views, but what will she make of her companion’s choice? Will Miss G.’s venture below the salt lead to marriage, to scandal, or to a retreat into the safety of life as a poor relation?

I will hope to report a happy outcome in time, but scarcely know what it might be.

A Lady


Dear Mr. Clemens

Were it not clearly distressing those most closely concerned, the tension between Lady de C. and Lord N.L. would be most amusing. And now I learn that Lord N. has made a fundamental and ridiculous mistake about the lady’s marital state.

He has been looking daggers at her for the past few days, and leaving the room whenever she enters it? Surely such strong feelings betoken more than a passing fancy?

On her part, the lady is offended that the gentleman will not listen to her, and who can blame her. What can possibly break the stalemate between these two proud and stubborn people?

One hopes that Her Grace has an idea.

I remain,

Your bewildered correspondent,

A Lady


Dear Mr. Clemens

We have had some unexpected late arrivals. First was Viscount E., the grandson of the Duke of W.

If any of your readers have been foolish enough to risk their blunt in the betting book at White’s on who V.E. will choose as his bride, I suggest they prepare to lose their money. His presence here is evidence enough that he will not obey his grandfather and wed his cousin, Lady C.W., who is not at the house party. Why would he risk entering the house of his father’s greatest enemy, if not for the sake of the woman he loves.

And I can assure you he is not pursuing Lady F.B., the other lady named in the impertinent bet. Far from it. His own cousin, Mr. W.W., is a guest at the house party, and is spouting nonsense, but your correspondent is not in the least taken in by the common opinion. Lord E.’s attention to a certain lady cannot be doubted. Her brother frowns, concerned about the suitor’s uncertain status while the House of Lord’s deliberates on the validity of his parent’s marriage. But the lady herself is not, I venture to hint, unmoved.

As to the identity of the fair charmer, my lips are sealed.

Later in the day, Her Grace’s sons arrived to make her Christmas complete. And certainly the presence of two rakes must make the party more entertaining for those who watch.


A Lady


Dear Mr. Clemens,

We have enjoyed the company of Miss E.B., a perfectly lovely young lady, educated in the best schools, and an invited guest of the duchess. Yes, her father is in trade, and she is of the Hebrew race and faith. But what of that? She is a fine person, and I am proud to call her friend.

On Christmas Day, the household welcomed the arrival of Mr. A.H. It was very romantic. He has been on a mission for the government, carrying some unnamed supplies to our hero in Spain, the Duke of Wellington himself, and rode through the night directly from London to be here.

When one sees him watching Miss B., one cannot doubt his reasons, though the lady herself seems resistant. Will he have the reward he deserves?

In hope, I remain,

A Lady


Dear Mr. Clemens,

The Dowager Viscountess S. is very loud in her comments on others. But will the houseparty ever find out why she arrived alone at the party, without her daughter and her step-son? Perhaps her constant barrage of criticism is a smokescreen for scandal in her own family.

Certainly, one can ignore her unpleasant hints about Mr. and Miss W. Mr. W. is a war hero, and his sister a woman of excellent character, and a confirmed spinster.

Perhaps the Viscountess’s viputeration arises from the marked interest that Mr. W. showed in Miss S. earlier in the year, but they have not been seen together for several months, and we are given to understand that he has been in the north learning his duties as his uncle’s heir.

But the house party finishes after tomorrow’s ball, so perhaps we shall never find out the truth of it.

Yours sincerely,

A Lady


What is it with cats and boxes?

box3Hollystone Hall, Buckinghamshire

November 1812

Marcel Fournier sat on the bed assigned to him in the wing set aside for upper servants at Hollystone Hall and brooded on his wrongs.

The house was grand enough, the house party would serve the highest in Society, and Marcel could certainly not complain about the wages he would receive for a mere month of employment. The Duchess of Haverford was also compensating him richly for the few days needed to visit the house this month so he could advise on the construction of the kitchen he would use for the three-week event.

And that was the sticking point.

Not the kitchen itself. They were building—had almost finished building—a whole new kitchen out of some unused storage rooms. He was thrilled and flattered to have final say on the selection and placement of equipment, from the modern iron range to the last pot and spoon. No. He had no complaints about the kitchen he already regarded as his own.

Even the need for a second kitchen; he could concede the sense of that. To him would fall the important task of preparing the banquets that would thrill and impress the guests each and every night, culminating in the dinner on the night of the grand ball that would end the house party. He and the servants set to assist him would have their hands full with dish after dish after dish, each one different and each magnificent.

Let the English cook have her own kitchen to make little scones and heavy cakes, to fry eggs, bacon, and sausages, for the lesser meals of the day.

But she should answer to him. He, Marcel Fournier, was the master chef. He was a former apprentice to the great Carême himself. He should be in charge of all menus, ruler of both kitchens, deciding what would be made and how the kitchen staff were to be allocated. What was this Cissie Pearce but a country cook?

“Good English cooking,” Mademoiselle Grenford had said. “Mrs. Pearce is known for her good English cooking.”

Marcel could do good English cooking! Had he not grown up here in England after his family escaped from the Terror?

In Spitalfields, until he was apprenticed to a cook in an inn on Tottenham Court Road, then in Soho where he took charge in an earl’s kitchen, and finally, after having himself smuggled into France and attracting the man’s attention by the bold trick of sneaking into his office with a box of his own pâtisseries and menus for a year’s worth of banquets, in the kitchen and under the direct supervision of the great Marie Antoine Carême, chef to Tallyrand and through him to the diplomats of Europe.

For the past six years, Marcel had been one of the most sought-after chefs in the whole South of England. Good English cooking, indeed.

She was a little dab of a thing, Mademoiselle Grenford, with her light brown hair pulled back into one of the unloveliest coiffures he had ever seen and her thick glasses concealing rather fine eyes. He had thought her a mouse and had tried to overwhelm her with his masculine authority, honed by years as undisputed master of a kitchen. “I shall be in charge, of course, mademoiselle,” he told her. “I am a trained chef and a man. Madame Pearce shall lead in her own kitchen, but both kitchens shall answer to me.”

“The two kitchens shall operate independently, Monsieur Fournier,” the little mouse replied calmly. “Each of you shall be responsible for your own kitchen, its staff, and the food it produces.”

Whatever arguments he raised, however loudly, she just repeated the same thing. When Marcel Fournier was displeased, sous-chefs made themselves inconspicuous, apprentices cried, and kitchen maids fainted, but Mademoiselle Grenford just repeated, “The two kitchens shall operate independently,” until he ran out of ire, and came to bed.

So what now? Should he tell the duchess that he would not take the commission? Did he continue to agitate to be master below stairs? Or would he cede the field and with it the lucrative rewards of the handsome fee he was being paid and the opportunity to impress potential clients for the restaurant he would one day open when his savings grew sufficiently?

Put like that, there was little choice. The English had a saying about cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face. He preferred his nose to continue in its current position. Well then. In the morning, he would concede, and he would do so with flair. Madame Pearce would be grateful for his magnanimity. Mademoiselle Grenford would be impressed at his generosity.

Since he was staying, he would inspect his kitchen again. He had some ideas for improving the layout. He would note them tonight and instruct the little mademoiselle in the morning.

Marcel found his slate and some chalk and threaded through the dark halls. His candle threw insufficient light in the cavernous space that would, in less than a month, be a bustling centre for gastronomic excellence. He retraced his steps to Mrs. Pearce’s deserted domain and retrieved a whole box of candles.

Two hours later, his slate covered with notes and his head full of plans, he went to return the box. In the morning, he would astound the little mouse with his brilliance! But he stopped at the kitchen door. There, enveloped in a shawl over her nightrail, with her hair cascading over her shoulders, was Mademoiselle Grenford herself, her elbows on the table, a cup clasped between two hands.

Hot milk, perhaps? He could have made her hot milk, with a touch of nutmeg and perhaps a hint of honey to sweeten. Perhaps he should offer.

No. He would not disturb her.

Marcel took the image of her back to his room. She was a sweet little mouse, was Mademoiselle. Out of his orbit, of course. He hinted to clients of his elevated family, brought low by the revolution. The claims were fantasy. He had been born in a noble household, as he claimed, but his father was a valet, and his mother a dairy maid.  La Grenford really was a lady of the nobility, and from a ducal family at that.

But he could ease her way in this coming house party, and he would.

As he prepared for bed, he imagined her expressions of delight as guest after guest complimented her on the fine cuisine and the smooth running of the dinner service. The large, comfortable bed would do very well for the month he would be in residence. Yes. The decision to stay was an excellent one.

He reached over to douse the candle but stopped. What was that noise? There it was again. A squeak? Had he conjured mice with his thoughts of the little mouse lady? But no, it was not a mouse squeak. More of a…

In seconds, he was out of bed and zeroing in on his travelling trunk, from which the sounds came, and what he saw there sent him running to the kitchen.

“Mademoiselle, you must come. You must come immediately. It is an outrage.”

She looked up and blushed scarlet. “Monsieur! Your…” She turned her head away.

He looked down. He wore his shirt to bed, and nothing more, except a night cap against the cold. Coloring himself, he backed out the door. ”I will dress, Mademoiselle. But quickly, and then you must come. A minute. No more.”

Soon, with the cap shoved under a pillow and his shirt tucked into hastily donned pantaloons and covered by a banyan, he stood beside the lady looking down into the trunk, where a scrawny white cat fed a litter of newborn kittens. Inside his luggage. On his chef’s caps and aprons.

“It is an outrage,” he repeated a little helplessly. The cat was watching them through eyes slitted with the joys of motherhood and purring loudly enough to wake the household.

“This is Cristal, the housekeeper’s cat,” the mademoiselle said. “Mrs Stanley will be pleased that you found her, Monsieur Fournier. She was worried.”

“Found her? Worried? But she…” Running out of words, he scratched the cat behind one ear, and she purred more loudly.

“You keep an eye on her,” the mouse commanded, “and I shall find a box in which to move her. Do not worry, monsieur. I will see to it that your garments are laundered in the morning, and they shall be good as new.”

And she whisked out of the room, leaving him guardian of the feline and her young and in possession of the memory of an exceedingly trim pair of ankles.

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The excerpt above is from A Suitable Husband, the linking story in our box set for this holiday season.

Lucky kittens! By the time the duchess’s house party begins, they’ll be old enough to venture into the house, and all seven will find a home in one of our Holly and Hopeful Hearts stories. And each Saturday from next week, one of the Bluestocking Belles will be looking for a home for one of Cristal’s kittens. Find the post, read the story excerpt, and enter the rafflecopter for your own soft toy representation of these wee treasures.

Holly and Hopeful Hearts

Your proprietor, as is well known, is proof against the arrows of the mischievous son of Aphrodite, but sympathetic to those who fall subject to the god’s shafts. Especially when their love seems doomed to disappointment, for who does not like a happy ending against the odds? Today, on behalf of the proprietors, The Teatime Tattler is publishing a special edition to announce a new book from the Bluestocking Belles; one in which no fewer than eight couples are surprised by Cupid’s attentions.

Without further ado, allow your humble servant, Mr. Samuel Clemens, Editor, to present:


When the Duchess of Haverford sends out invitations to a Yuletide house party and a New Year’s Eve ball at her country estate, Hollystone Hall, those who respond know that Her Grace intends to raise money for her favorite cause and promote whatever marriages she can. Eight assorted heroes and heroines set out with their pocketbooks firmly clutched and hearts in protective custody. Or are they?

Read about all eight novellas, and find pre-order links, on the Bluestocking Belles Holly & Hopeful Hearts page.

In between the seven main stories in the box set, one chapter at a time, we tell the story of the duchess’s companion, and her search for a meaningful future. Can it be possible for a poor relation to find a suitable husband?


As the Duchess of Haverford’s companion, Cedrica Grenford is not treated as a poor relation and is encouraged to mingle with Her Grace’s guests. Perhaps among the gentlemen gathered for the duchess’s house party, she will find a suitable husband?

Marcel Fournier has only one ambition: to save enough from his fees serving in as chef in the houses of the ton to become the proprietor of his own fine restaurant. An affair with the duchess’s dependent would be dangerous. Anything else is impossible. Isn’t it?

An extract from A Suitable Husband

Marcel had disguised himself in a costume found in the attics

Marcel had disguised himself in a costume found in the attics

Mademoiselle Grenford looked up as he approached, tipping her head a little to one side as she waited for him to speak.

“May I have the honor of this dance, fair shepherdess?” he asked.

She furrowed her brows for the briefest of seconds. “I do not dance, sir, but I will find you a partner—”

“Not dance? When your costume is made to swirl on the dance floor, and the music begs—nay, demand—for you to pay homage?” A slip there. He had pronounced homage in the French way.

Her eyes widened, but she said nothing, merely—oh joy—placed her gloved hand in his and allowed herself to be conducted through the doors to join the waltz.

They began slowly, his hands resting tentatively just above her waist, and hers placed lightly on his shoulders. He honoured the respectable distance due to a maiden, but as they began to circle one another in the dance, his legs shifted past hers and could not avoid repeated touching.

Turn, turn, and turn again. The candles of the chandeliers seemed to whirl above them, the other dancers disappeared, and he and Mademoiselle Grenford were alone in the ballroom. She swayed and dipped and twirled with him, light as a feather but far more substantial, a delight to his hands, his arms, and his legs.

Her eyes fixed on his, her face flushed, she murmured, “Monsieur Fournier, what are you doing here?”

It was a dose of cold water, jerking him back to reality. Would she rebuke him? Tell the duchess?

Only Marcel saw beyond the spectacles and the tightly controlled hair.

Only Marcel saw beyond the spectacles and the tightly controlled hair.

“One dance,” he managed, almost begged. “I promised not to importune you, mademoiselle, but I thought… In costume, no one would know if I stole one dance.”

Somehow, his feet kept moving, they kept dancing, round and round and round, their legs shifting past each other’s again and again, their eyes still locked.

She smiled, a benison beyond his deserving. “This dance is not a theft, monsieur, when I give it willingly.”


He was in heaven. He was no longer dancing; he was floating several inches about the ballroom floor. She knows me even in my disguise. She dances with me willingly.

His heart was too full for speech, and she said nothing more as they continued around the floor, oblivious to everything except the music and one another.

Marcel stepped back when the music ended, dropping his hands from her waist to her hands, unable to resist touching her for a moment more. “Thank you, mademoiselle. Thank you more than I can say. I will leave now, but you have given me food for many happy dreams.”

“No.” Mademoiselle Grenford folded her fingers around his and tugged him to follow her. By chance, they had stopped at the most poorly lit end of the ballroom, close to the corner where a door let on to a servant’s passage, and it was to this she marched determinedly, with Marcel bobbing after in her wake.

No. Not that door. She was opening a door onto the terrace, and in moments, they were outside.

“I do not want it to end,” she said. “Will you not consent to sit and talk with me for a little?”

Consent? Did she not know he would consent to the guillotine for her sake?

He would return to his kitchen to dream of that one perfect dance.

He would return to his kitchen to dream of that one perfect dance.

For more of our stories, see our individual blogs:

Valuing Vanessa, by Susana Ellis

A Kiss for Charity, by Sherry Ewing

Artemis, by Jessica Cale

The Bluestocking and the Barbarian, by Jude Knight

Christmas Kisses, by Nicole Zoltack

An Open Heart, by Caroline Warfield

Dashing Through the Snow, by Amy Rose Bennett


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