Sam, you mentioned when we met several weeks ago that if I came across something interesting there might be a guinea in it. I’m on the track of something now. I’m writing to check that the deal is still on.
I was at my club last night — that’s what you wanted me for, was it not, Sam? The fact that I’m still welcome in Society even though my pockets are to let?
As I was saying. I was at my club last night and I witnessed a confrontation between a peer and another gentleman. I don’t wish to name them just now. You understand, I’m sure. I trust your word, Sam, but my rent is due.
I can tell you that one is a very proper gentleman indeed, which is why it was odd to hear him championing a maiden who, it appeared, was at risk of losing that status. In his hand he held a page torn from the betting book! Have you ever heard of a person doing such a thing? But when he explained to the major domo of the club it included a wager on taking a lady’s virtue, his action received that eminence’s approval
The second person insisted that women of low birth have no virtue — he was in a gentlemen’s club so he must, ipso facto, be a gentlemen, yet I hesitate to ascribe the status to him, given that he was the originator of the wager and intended to be the instrument of its success.
At that, the peer, for the gallant knight was a peer, threatened to rearrange his face, and his dastardly opponent threw oil on the fire by shouting a comparison between the young lady in question and her sister. Whereupon, the gentlemen hit him, and a wisty castor it was, too.
The thing is, Sam, I know both men. The cavalier has been adamant in ignoring one of a pair of sisters, and the cad has been equally diligent in pursuing the other. And here’s the thing. Though they have been raised in a noble house, everyone knows that they are the daughters of its head, but not of his gracious wife.
There are so many ways this could develop. A ruination? A mesalliance? A duel? I’ll keep watching, Sam. Just let me know whether it is worth that guinea.
Fire smolders under the frost between them.
Can the Ice Maiden Soften the Granite Earl?
Her scandalous birth prevents Matilda Grenford from being fully acceptable to Society, even though she has been a ward of the Duchess of Haverford since she was a few weeks old. Matilda does not expect to be wooed by a worthy gentleman. The only man who has ever interested her gave her an outrageous kiss a year ago and has avoided her ever since.
Can the Granite Earl Melt the Ice Maiden?
Charles, the Earl of Hamner is honour bound to ignore his attraction to Matilda Grenford. She is an innocent and a lady, and in every way worthy of his respect—but she is base-born. His ancestors would rise screaming from their graves if he made her his countess. But he cannot forget the kiss they once shared.
Aldridge looked around the unfamiliar room of a club
patronised by the son and heir of the Duke of Sudbury. He soon spotted the
distinctive white-blonde head of hair. Glenaire was dining alone at a table set
apart from the others. Aldridge strolled over, catching up a chair on his way.
“Good evening, Glenaire. Would company go amiss?”
It was a comedy they enacted for the audience. Glenaire had offered this as a
meeting place when Aldridge asked for a private conversation.
Glenaire looked up from the pamphlet on which he focused to
the neglect of his plate. “It would be my pleasure.” He hooked a
finger at a passing footman. “A place setting for Lord Aldridge.”
As the footman hurried away, Glenaire went straight to the
point. “Forgive if I’m assuming, Aldridge, but I gather this is about your
Aldridge grimaced. “In a sense, Glenaire, though it touches on your particular interests. Let me be blunt. My ‘family matter’ as you call it is out of my hands and into those of men like your esteemed father. I shall need to trust they make the right decision, for what else can I do? Meanwhile, I am doing my best to contain the mischief my own progenitor can cause, as quietly as possible, for my mother’s sake and the sake of the duchy.”
Glenaire’s somber expression deepened. Unlike Aldridge,
Glenaire had withdrawn from affairs of the Sudbury duchy and thrown himself
into government, becoming highly influential in foreign affairs. His sharp
disagreement with the duke his father made working together impossible and,
unlike Haverford, the Duke of Sudbury remained very much in control. He
understood, however, the frustration of watching his family heritage poorly
managed while lacking power to intervene.
The footman arrived to serve a bowl of rich oyster soup.
Aldridge thanked him with a smile, and took his first sip while waiting for the
man to leave. “With your sister supporting this event my mother is
sponsoring, I take it we shall be seeing you at the auction?”
“Of course,” Glenaire agreed. “Chadbourn and I have
been working on similar issues for a few years. I will support the ladies’
efforts any way I can.”
“I was somewhat surprised to see your sister at
Haverford House and joining in the committee’s activities. My impression has
been she prefers to remain in Oxfordshire.”
Glenaire shook his head. “Georgiana is much too much a
recluse. One worries. I urged her to come down for a few weeks while our
parents are not in town.” A small movement at the corner of his lips hinted at
amusement. “Your mother recruited her rather quickly. Now she has moved to
Chadbourn House. She and the earl’s sister Lady Flora are partners in this
Aldridge grinned. “Chadbourn already has a special
interest in the Society’s cause. The Chadbourn House servants are an
interesting lot.” (Chadbourn
recruited many of his servants from among disabled veterans and war widows.)
The footman finished pouring the wine to go with the soup course, and left. Aldridge leant forward and lowered his voice. “Glenaire, I’ll get straight to the point. It has come to my attention that a certain crime lord in the London slums has smuggling interests, and that the implications may touch on the security of the King’s realm. If… and I pose the question hypothetically… if a prominent Devon landowner gave safe haven to such criminals, and someone presented the government with information about the places and times of meeting, could the landowner’s name be kept out of it? The family would, of course, guarantee to deal with the matter in their own way. Indeed, steps are already being taken.”
Glenaire nodded. “Ah, but the government would have a strong interest in assisting the family in this matter. Confidentially, Aldridge we both know there are smugglers one winks at (your boyhood shows that) and ones that mean us harm. I assume these are the latter and can ensure the full force of the border enforcement—riding officers and military aid if it came to that. Unless, of course, you prefer I keep them out of it.”
Aldridge frowned. “It’s a tricky matter, Glenaire. It needs to be handled by someone with a bit of discretion. Yes, running with the smugglers in Devon is almost a rite of passage for Haverford sons. My brother and I both did it when we were schoolboys, and I still know some of the men I met then. They wouldn’t touch these London thugs with an extremely long barge pole.”
He looked down at his soup spoon, but it was clear his mind was far away. “I can’t stand by and let a man’s second childhood, and his resentment of a romantic rivalry from before I was born, put England at risk. But I don’t want — can I be blunt? — I don’t want the fool attained for treason, either.”
“Are we back to a “family” matter?”
Aldridge nodded, cautiously. “Hypothetical, again?
Imagine a man whose excesses have rotted his brain, and who has always thought
he was one step up from God. If he needed to pay a villain for an assassination
attempt, and the payment demanded was free use of smuggler sanctuaries, would
his conscience bother him, do you think?”
Glenaire leaned forward. “I think it would not bother him
one whit.” He bit his lip, choosing words cautiously. “Let’s assume,
hypothetically, a prominent individual has so taken leave of his senses as to
put his duchy, locale or indeed England at risk. Dear God! He must be stopped.”
“Agreed.” Aldridge spread his lips in a travesty of a grin, as if Glenaire had said something amusing. “At any cost, Glenaire. Any cost. But I’m selfish enough to wish to limit the cost to something I can afford to pay.”
“Care for the impact of such a thing on a mother and her wards — not to mention the wellbeing of the duchy — is not selfish. No one gains by the scandal of a trial for treason. With the cooperation of close individuals — his heir for example — the man in question might be dealt with quietly. Some sort of confinement could be arranged. Do you anticipate difficulty from his peers? A duke for example, hypothetically?”
Another nod. This one more emphatic. “Indeed. A duke
whose own heir might be very close to you.”
“Precisely. I have little influence with my father,”
Glenaire acknowledged, “but this… no, I don’t suppose you want him to know
Aldridge inclined his head. “I am grateful for your understanding. He is not the only man on the panel for the Competence Hearing, so I do not despair of an appropriate outcome. If not — I have servants loyal to me. Something will be contrived.”
“A positive outcome there would make all this easier. You
may be sure the Regent will agree with a finding in favour of the truth,”
Glenaire assured his fellow heir, then his brows shot up. “One thing, Aldridge.
You said, ‘an assassination attempt…’ but you don’t name the victim. Surely
not the Regent! A high ranking official? We’ll need to organize protection.”
Aldridge responded with a wry quirk of the eyebrows. “The man in question has his own very efficient protection. You will have heard of the footpad attack more than a year back on the town carriage of a certain duke? Five of twelve scoundrels left dead in the streets? The next two attempts have been kept quiet, but have resulted in a similar body count.”
“Ah,” Glenaire said knowingly. “A man with a private army
A small smile. “No noble is permitted a private army, Glenaire. This personage has only the number of retainers permitted by law. That they are unusually skilled, men and women alike, is to their advantage in this case. I am not concerned for their safety and wellbeing. Though for all their prowess, if this Devil’s Acre fellow is allowed to continue, he might get lucky.”
Aldridge opened his jacket and pulled a slim package from an
inside pocket. “A report from David Wakefield, the investigator. Use it as
you need to, Glenaire.”
Glenaire accepted it and put it away in his own jacket. “Thank you for the warning. I’ll send the support the hypothetical heir needs, alert certain influential individuals. Ah yes, and speak to you again at the ladies’ auction. Our sisters will insist on it.”
Aldridge laughed. “I expect it to cost me a
pretty penny, one way and another. My mother tells me it is my duty to purchase
the baskets of any lady who may be left behind. I trust I can content myself
with driving up the bids of others.”
Glenaire allowed himself a slightly broader smile. “I fear I
lack your patience for the latter but I’ll try to do my duty by the first.”
“One must have patience to be a success with the ladies, Glenaire.” Aldridge smiled warmly at the footman who replaced his soup bowl with a plate of roasted beef and finely cooked vegetables. “Thank you. Will you see the doorman and fetch the bottle I left with him? Glenaire? May I treat you to a fine Italian red?”
The event the Duchess of Haverford is organising, and some of the other matters touched on in this discussion between Jude’s Marquis of Aldridge and Caroline’s Marquess of Glenaire, are featured in Fire & Frost, due for publication on 4 February. Click on the link to find out more about five wonderful stories, set in the winter of 1813-14, when the weather was so cold the Thames froze over, and all five stories converge at the Frost Fair. And come back to check out the tour around the Belles’ blogs on release day your own personal guided tour of five Frost Fair booths, with a large helping of scandal and five micro stories written just for the blog tour. (The link will be added when the tour opens.)
The Teatime Tattler Special Edition: coming to you from the frozen Thames River 2 February 1814
The third full day of the Frost Fair dawned cold and still this morning. Your humble servant was out on the ice at the earliest possible minute, mixing with the crowds of common, gentle, and even noble folk, listening for any snippets of news that might delight your eyes and ears, Gentle Reader.
Tomorrow is the social event that everyone has been talking about. The charity subscription ball Her Grace of Haverford holds every year will this year be supplemented by a Venetian Breakfast ON THE ICE.
You read that correctly, Gentle Reader. Her Grace and her group of Society ladies have requisitioned a section of the ice, where all–or at least a goodly number–of the great folk of the nation will gather tomorrow for this breakfast.
But, before they can eat, we are to be treated to a basket auction. For those who have not heard of this quaint country custom, the ladies intend to auction the food for the breakfast one basket at a time–and not just the basket, but the company of the fair cook.
We are assured that the sale of a lady’s time is not scandalous when it is for charity, and promoted by the leading ladies of Society. Gentle reader, you may draw your own conclusions, as have we.
Meanwhile, we have heard some other interesting tidbits of gossip that we must share.
The Granite Earl was seen escorting the Ice Princess and her two sisters in a Haverford troika. Will we see a chip in his facade; a thaw in her cold heart? Their conveyance hints that the courtship, if such it is, has her family’s approval, but who can believe that this highly proper gentleman intends an honourable offer to a female of such murky birth?
The shocking Miss C., though shunned by many, has a champion in the Earl of T. Yet, after the confrontation between her and her cousin at the theatre, which your reporter was fortunate enough to witness, many are rethinking their stand. Is the lady innocent? Will she remain innocent, or does the Earl of T. have other plans?
Is the Duchess of S. aware that her eldest daughter has come out of seclusion to write pamphlets for the good ladies led by the Duchess of H.? Should you wish to read one of them, Lady G. is herself giving them away at a Frost Fair booth. Just look for the banner with the ridiculously long name on it. That pretty debutante, Lady F., is keeping Lady G. company. Are their brothers too busy with affairs of state to keep the ladies out of mischief?
A certain Lieutenant who capitalised on his planned engagement to a wealthy young lady is out in the cold, it seems. Lady C. is once more being escorted by Lord O., and she shows the gentleman a marked preference. Given that he assisted to put up the aforementioned banner, we believe the inclination is returned. Will the military gentleman take his dismissal with grace?
Lady T., sister to the Duke of E., was heard to comment to a friend that her reclusive brother, scars and all, will come to the auction tomorrow, and perhaps even to the ball. He will not be able to resist, she claims, for Lady H. R. has invoked The Umbrella. Are wedding bells on the horizon for the reclusive peer, and if so, will his bride survive the occasion?
The paragraphs above are about events and characters in five of the novellas in coming Bluestocking Belles box set, Fire & Frost. Preorder now, and watch for more news as the Belles share gossip and snippets from their stories.
As those who regularly read The Teatime Tattler know, the relationship between the Duchess of S. and the Duchess of H. mirrors that between their husbands: to whit, it has always been, at best, frosty.
Since the wards of the Duchess of H. made their courtesy to the Queen last year, even after the Duchess of S. tried to have them barred on account of their irregular origins, any possibility of rapprochement has become encased in ice.
Today, in Hyde Park, half the beau monde and a considerable number of the lesser sort witnessed the further cooling of the connection.
Her Grace of H. was taking the air with Captain and Mrs J. R. and the children they have claimed as their own. Society has cautiously opened its doors and its hearts to this unlikely family, in part because of the affection many have for the gentleman’s father, and in part through the offices of his powerful allies, not least the duchess herself.
Society, I say, but not the high sticklers among them, and the leader of those most determined to hold the moral line against all possible sources of corruption is, of course, the Duchess of S.
Today, dear readers, when her carriage passed that of the Duchess of H., Her Grace of S. was staring at the trees on the opposite side of the carriage. Was it the cut direct? Not quite, for she showed no awareness of her fellow duchess before turning her shoulder.
Even so, those close enough to the carriage heard her say to her companion, “One wishes to be kind, of course, but some people take kindness to the point of gullibility. Mrs R. has adopted her husband’s natural children as her patroness also did. However, I am reliably informed, these are Hottentots, or as near as makes no difference. It is an outrage, and the Duke and I will not tolerate it.”
Quite what the Duchess of S. plans to do, she did not say.
Readers may wish to note that, as The Teatime Tattler has been informed, the three children in question are not Hottentots, but are quarter-breeds, as their maternal grandmother was Batavian.
The three wards of the Duchess of Haverford are half-sisters, all the daughters of the Duke of Haverford. Melting Matilda, in the Bluestocking Belles’ Fire & Frost box set which is on preorder for February 4, stars Matilda Grenford, the eldest of the sisters.
The Duchess of Sudbury and the Duchess of Haverford are leaders of two rival groups of Society’s ladies. The Duchess of Sudbury and her family, notably her rebel daughter Georgiana and her commanding son, the Marquess of Glenaire, appear in Caroline Warfield’s Dangerous series. (Georgie and Richard have a book each.) Her Grace is not present in the new box set, Fire & Frost, but her disapproving attitude is.
The Duchess of Haverford and her son, the Marquis of Aldridge, are connecting characters in Jude Knight’s regency novels, and particularly the forthcoming Children of the Mountain King series, to which Melting Matilda belongs as a novella. (It fits between To Wed a Proper Lady and To Heal the Broken-Hearted. Last year’s Paradise Regained is a prequel to the Mountain King series.)
Captain and Mrs J. R. are Jules and Mia Redepenning. Unkept Promises, published last month, tells how Mia came to adopt his three children.
“… oaths and anchors equally will drag: naught else abides on fickle earth but unkept promises of joy.” Herman Melville
Naval captain Jules Redepenning has spent his adult life
away from England, and at war. He rarely thinks of the bride he married for her
own protection, and if he does, he remembers the child he left after their
wedding seven years ago. He doesn’t expect to find her in his Cape Town home, a
woman grown and a lovely one, too.
Mia Redepenning sails to Cape Town to nurse her husband’s
dying mistress and adopt his children. She hopes to negotiate a comfortable married
life with the man while she’s there. Falling in love is not on her to-do list.
Before they can do more than glimpse a possible future
together, their duties force them apart. At home in England, Mia must fight for
the safety of Jules’s children. Imprisoned in France, Jules must battle for his
self-respect and his life.
Only by vanquishing their foes can they start to make their
dreams come true.