Once again, the Bluestocking Belles bring you a gift, a bit of holiday fiction, some information about the holiday, and a recipe, as we will every week until January. Today Susan Ellis presents an epilogue to Valuing Vanessa, from the Bluestocking Belles’ 2016 holiday collection, Holly and Hopeful Hearts The daughter of the house awaits a blessed event in the midst of Christmas chaos.
Don’t forget, Holly and Hopeful Hearts is 99 cents for this month only, and you might want to check the stories and gifts for the last four weeks as well.
25th December 1813
St. Albans, Hertfordshire
“Oh dear! What shall I do, Miss Louise? The goose is cooked to perfection, and all the trimmings ready to serve. ‘Twould be a shame to let it grow cold and stale, as we have all worked so hard to produce a lovely Christmas dinner.”
The cook directed a worried glance toward the stairs as she pulled nervously on her apron. No doubt she was feeling dubious about applying to an inexperienced sixteen-year-old for advice, but there was no one else available and she didn’t wish to be blamed for the ruin of a lavish feast that had been planned for weeks.
Louise almost wished she had remained upstairs with the midwife and the others. Almost. The agonizing screams of her stepmother and the ashen face of her father as he squeezed his wife’s hand and wiped her forehead periodically with a wet cloth had given her such a panic that she had fled in search of fresh air and normalcy.
Normalcy? What was that? With the housekeeper gone to nurse an ailing sister, Mrs. Sedgely, Vanessa’s mother, had moved in to help with the household management while her daughter awaited the birth of her child in mid-January. A fastidious woman with her own ideas of how to run things, Henrietta Sedgely had set the house on its ears, as well as everyone in it. Louise, herself the occasional target of Mrs. Sedgely’s censure, eagerly anticipated the housekeeper’s return in the new year.
But now, with all of the ladies of the house upstairs, the maids and footmen racing around with buckets of water and linens, the butler pacing the floor at the bottom of the stairs, and the cook looking to her for guidance, Louise would have welcomed the dictates of the vinegary old woman.
She wanted to close her eyes and wish herself far away from it all, but suddenly the church bells began to ring at the end of the service, and she remembered that it was Christmas, the day of the Christ child’s birth, and that her unborn half-sibling would likely share the same birthday. The reality of the imminent birth of her baby brother or sister struck her at last, and she straightened her spine and took a deep breath as she faced the cook.
“Then serve it, Matthews. Set all out in the dining room for the staff and entire household to share, when they are able. Today is a very special day for all of us, for all mankind, really, and especially for me, since I shall soon have a brother or sister.”
The cook’s mouth fell open. “Are you sure, miss?”
Louise wanted to laugh. Undoubtedly the woman regretted asking the daughter of the house to make such a decision.
“Indeed I am, Matthews. I assure you that at this moment, no one in this family is concerned in the least about Christmas dinner, and it would, as you have said, be a dreadful shame to waste the food you have prepared for us with such care. Let the staff enjoy it with our blessings, and no doubt we shall soon have some joyful news to impart.”
At least she hoped that would be the case. Childbirth could be hazardous and the child had not been expected for nearly three more weeks. Still, she could not believe that God would be so cruel as to allow her family to be stricken with tragedy again, only three years after the carriage accident that had taken the lives of her mother and grandmother.
And certainly not on the very day of his own Son’s miraculous birth.
“Louise,” said her father. “So this is where you got to. Vanessa and I are eager to share with you the wonderful news.”
She looked up with relief, barely noticing the presence of the others in the room. “She’s all right, then? And the baby? Is it a boy or a girl?”
Refused entrance to the birthing room as was proper for an unmarried young woman, she had taken refuge in the library, eventually succumbing to a deep sleep, not aware of the darkening of the room or the even the sounds of the maid lighting a fire in the grate.
Her father reached out and pulled her up into his arms. In spite of his disheveled appearance, his eyes sparkled with joy and she felt heat radiating from his chest. It must be a boy. Men always wanted a boy to be son and heir. He was sure to be spoiled and indulged, and Louise would be pleased to do her share of it.
A champagne cork popped, and Louise noticed the presence of Mr. Bromfield, Vanessa’s brother by marriage, and Mr. Sedgely, her father.
“Come and see for yourself,” insisted her father, taking her arm and pulling her toward the door. “They’re coming now, just for you to see them.”
They? Louise rubbed her temple with her free arm, still sluggish from sleep. Surely Vanessa would not be out of childbed so soon after birth?
Her eyes widened when a beaming Mrs. Sedgely made a triumphal entrance into the room carrying a small bundle, out of which appeared the red face of a newborn child.
“Oh,” she said weakly. “It’s a baby.”
She looked into the eyes of the tiny tot and smiled. Boy or girl, it didn’t matter. She had a sibling.
“Can I hold him? Or her?”
Mrs. Sedgely frowned. “Well, I don’t know…”
Louise clutched her father’s arm for support as Eugenia Bromfield, Vanessa’s sister, entered the room carrying another bundle.
“Twins,” her father announced proudly. “A boy and a girl. And all healthy and happy as can be.”
“What time is it?” Louise wheeled around and tried to make out the hands of the clock on the mantle. “Is it still Christmas?”
“It is indeed,” her father responded. “It’s half-past eleven. The boy is to be called Nicholas, but we have not decided on a name for the girl. What do you think, Louise?”
“Noelle,” said Louise. “Nicholas and Noelle.”
And Nicholas and Noelle they were. They were the most unexpected, miraculous Christmas blessings ever.
A Gift for You
Click here to download a copy of the sweet Regency Christmas novella, A Twelfth Night Tale. http://dl.bookfunnel.com/idi9rvebkk
A wounded soldier and the girl next door find peace and love amidst a backdrop of rural Christmas traditions.
Without dowries or the opportunity to meet eligible gentlemen, the five Barlow sisters stand little chance of making advantageous marriages. But when the eldest attracts the attention of a wealthy viscount, it seems as though Fate is smiling upon them. Lucy knows she owes it to her sisters to encourage Lord Bexley’s attentions, since marriage to a peer will secure their futures as well as hers. The man of her dreams was Andrew Livingston, her best friend’s brother. But he’s always treated her like a child, and now he’s betrothed to another. Perhaps the time has come to accept reality… and Lord Bexley.
Andrew returned from the Peninsular War with a lame arm and emotional scars. Surprisingly, it’s his sister’s friend, “little Lucy,” who shows him the way out of his melancholy when he notices that Lucy has grown up into a lovely young woman. But with an eligible viscount courting her, Andrew will need a little Christmas magic to win her for himself.
In England, the evolution of the main course into turkey did not take place for years, or even centuries. At first, in medieval England, a main course of boar was sometimes served. Through the 16th and 17th centuries goose or capon was commonly served, and the rich sometimes dined upon peacock and swan. The turkey appeared on Christmas tables in England in the 16th century, and popular history tells of King Henry VIII being the first English monarch to have turkey for Christmas. The 16th century farmer Thomas Tusser noted that by 1573 turkeys were commonly served at English Christmas dinners. The tradition of turkey at Christmas rapidly spread throughout England in the 17th century, and it also became common to serve goose which remained the predominant roast until the Victorian era. (it was quite common for Goose “Clubs” to be set up, allowing working-class families to save up over the year towards a goose before this). A famous Christmas dinner scene appears in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (1843), where Scrooge sends Bob Cratchitt a large turkey. The pudding course of a British Christmas dinner may often be Christmas pudding, which dates from medieval England. Trifle, mince pies, Christmas cake or a yule log are also popular.
½ cup margarine or butter
1 oz. unsweetened chocolate, chopped
1 cup flour
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla
¾ cup chopped nuts
1 8-oz. pkg. cream cheese, softened, reserving 2 oz. for frosting
¼ cup margarine or butter, softened
½ cup sugar
2 tablespoons flour
½ teaspoon vanilla
¼ cup chopped nuts
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
2 cups marshmallows
¼ cup margarine or butter
¼ cup milk
1 oz. unsweetened chocolate, cut up
reserved cream cheese
3 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
- Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour 13×9-inch pan. In large saucepan, melt ½ cup margarine and 1 oz. unsweetened chocolate over low heat, stirring until smooth. Remove from heat. Lightly spoon flour into measuring cup; level off. Stir in 1 cup flour and all remaining bae ingredients; mix well. Spread in greased and floured pan.
- In small bowl, combine 6 oz. of the cream cheese, ¼ cup margarine, ½ cup sugar, 2 tablespoons flour, ½ teaspoon vanilla and 1 egg; beat 1 minute at medium speed until smooth and fluffy. Stir in ¼ cup nuts. Spread over chocolate mixture, sprinkle evenly with chocolate chips.
- Bake at 350 degrees F. for 25-35 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Remove from oven; immediately sprinkle with marshmallows. Return to oven, bake an additional 2 minutes.
- While marshmallows are baking, in large saucepan, combine ¼ cup margarine, milk, 1 oz. unsweetened chocolate and reserved 2 oz. cream cheese. Cook over low heat, stirring until well blended. Remove from heat; stir in powdered sugar and 1 teaspoon vanilla until smooth. Immediately pour frosting over puffed marshmallows and lightly swirl with knife to marble. Refrigerate 1 hour or until firm. Cut into bars. Store in refrigerator.
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?
25% of proceeds will go the The Malala Fund for girls’ education, a cause dear to the Duchess of Haverford’s Heart. At 570+ pages it includes eight all-new novellas, diverse characters, and something for everyone’s taste.
DECEMBER SPECIAL REDUCED TO .99 THIS MONTH ONLY.
Buy Links for Holly and Hopeful Hearts
Amazon US: http://ow.ly/INwa3049Ey3
Amazon UK: http://ow.ly/ZMuH3049ELM
Amazon Australia: http://ow.ly/TczG3049EQ2
Amazon Canada: http://ow.ly/IERm3049EYM
Barnes & Noble: http://ow.ly/LqCI304jGuS
About the Stories
A Suitable Husband, by Jude Knight
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. Surely she can find a suitable husband amongst the gentlemen gathered for the duchess’s house party. Above stairs or possibly below.
Valuing Vanessa, by Susana Ellis
Facing a dim future as a spinster under her mother’s thumb, Vanessa Sedgely makes a practical decision to attach an amiable gentleman who will not try to rule her life.
A Kiss for Charity, by Sherry Ewing
Young widow Grace, Lady de Courtenay, has no idea how a close encounter with a rake at a masquerade ball would make her yearn for love again. Can she learn to forgive Lord Nicholas Lacey and set aside their differences to let love into her heart?
Artemis, by Jessica Cale
Actress Charlotte Halfpenny is in trouble. Pregnant, abandoned by her lover, and out of a job, Charlotte faces eviction two weeks before Christmas. When the reclusive Earl of Somerton makes her an outrageous offer, she has no choice but to accept. Could he be the man of her dreams, or is the nightmare just beginning?
The Bluestocking and the Barbarian, by Jude Knight
James must marry to please his grandfather, the duke, 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.
Christmas Kisses, by Nicole Zoltack
Louisa Wycliff, Dowager Countess of Exeter wants only for her darling daughter, Anna, to find a man she can love and marry. Appallingly, Anna has her sights on a scoundrel of a duke who chases after every skirt he sees. Anna truly thinks the dashing duke cares for her, but her mother has her doubts.
An Open Heart, by Caroline Warfield
Esther Baumann longs for a loving husband who will help her create a home where they will teach their children to value the traditions of their people, but she wants a man who is also open to new ideas and happy to make friends outside their narrow circle. Is it so unreasonable to ask for toe curling passion as well?
Dashing Through the Snow, by Amy Rose Bennett
Headstrong bluestocking, Miss Kate Woodville, never thought her Christmas would be spent racing across England with a viscount hell-bent on vengeance. She certainly never expected to find love…
An excerpt from Valuing Vanessa
Louise had been helping Vanessa with her classes, mostly reading to the children, for something over a week, when one day Vanessa took her aside and told her she had something to show her. Guiding her to one of the back rooms, she opened a cabinet and pulled out a large box.
“Each time a child was left here, a token was collected from its mother, to be used to identify the child should it be reclaimed. The tokens were wrapped in a billet, a number and date written on the outside, and then stamped and sealed until the child is claimed. As you can see,” she said, showing the vast number of bundles in the box, “there were many children never claimed. This box is from 1756, and there are many more of them.”
“Do you know what is in them?”
“Many of them are coins and medals, some with holes punched in them to make them unique. There are crosses, thimbles, hairpins, rings, playing cards, and bits of cloth. Anything the mother could find to help identify her child should her circumstances change and she find herself in a position to care for it herself.”
“Were some of the children returned?”
Vanessa nodded. “A few. Would you like me tell you about them?”
“Oh yes! Please!” begged Louise.
“There is a coin with five holes that was left with a child called Ann Williams. Her mother was a spinster of Holland Street in Soho. She was admitted in 1756, renamed Lucy Draper, and sent to nurse in Kent. Her mother returned for her two years later, was able to identify her by the unique token, and she was given her child back.”
Louise smiled briefly, then sighed. “But so many of them never saw their children again. How hard that must have been!”
“Indeed. Or they returned too late. Many children do die in infancy, you know, and those at the Hospital were no exception.
“In 1759, one mother brought her two-week-old son, along with a gold shirt buckle. A year later, she petitioned to get him back. After paying a deposit of eight guineas against his care, she was told that he had died just ten weeks before.”
Louise’s eyes filled with tears. “They made her pay and then told her the babe was dead? How dreadful!”
Vanessa squeezed her shoulder. “They did indeed, but fortunately, that is no longer the case.”
Louise grimaced. “Yes. But the cruelest of all is for a mother to be obliged to give up her child. I could never do that, Miss Sedgely. I should fight to keep it, no matter what the cost.”
Vanessa sighed deeply and gave her a thoughtful look. “I’m sure you would, my dear. But has it occurred to you that a situation might arise where it just might not be possible?”
Louise gasped. “To me? Certainly not! My father would never allow it!”
Vanessa swallowed. “It is commonly assumed that these children are the products of illicit liaisons—that their mothers were rather free with their favors—and this in some way taints the children themselves—no, it’s not at all fair, but it is what it is. You must know, Louise, that some of these women were virtuous, but were ruined by unscrupulous men who refused to take responsibility for the resulting children. And the world is full of such men, Louise. What would a parent do if his daughter fell into such a situation? What would your father do, Louise?”
Louise’s head snapped back. “Me? Nothing of the sort shall ever happen to me, Miss Sedgely! How dare you suggest it?”
Vanessa’s jaw set. “It is a hypothetical question, Louise. On at least two occasions, you have placed yourself outside of your father’s protection, and at any time during either of these, you could have been assaulted by some scoundrel on the prowl for a victim. You were fortunate to have escaped unharmed. But unprotected young women are attacked every day. What if—the next time you decide to attempt such a prank—it happens to you? How would you deal with the consequences, should there be any? How would it affect the course of your life—and your father’s? Each time you see one of these sweet children, imagine how it must feel to know it was abandoned by its mother, and how its mother must be heartbroken to know there is a child of hers in the world that she will never see again.”
Louise was crying quietly into her handkerchief. While she was angry at Vanessa’s daring to say such things to her, in her heart she knew it to be truth. She’d already come to terms with her father about her scandalous conduct, but it wasn’t until now that she could really understand how her foolishness could result in great harm to an innocent human being.
Susana Ellis has always had stories in her head waiting to come out, especially when she learned to read and her imagination began to soar.
A former teacher, Susana lives in Toledo, Ohio in the summer and Florida in the winter. She is a member of the Central Florida Romance Writers and the Beau Monde chapters of RWA and Maumee Valley Romance Inc.