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Villa Georgiana — Sample

London, 1922

Claire Windsor

The Duchess of Hereford was stunningly beautiful—pale, slender, and blonde. In town, she arrived at dress fittings and dinner parties in a chauffeur-driven Rolls-Royce, and seeing the big motorcar pull up could make or break one’s London season. Debutantes nearly half her age copied her clothes, hair, and—rumor had it—even her mannerisms.

The duchess ruled society from her Curzon Street drawing room surrounded by her family and friends. She had everything, and in her narrow little world, she was everything.

As the daughter of a marquess, she’d been raised to expect the very best. As the wife of a duke, she’d got it. So far, life had not let her down. All was exactly as it should be.

Georgiana could—and did—set a clock by her carefully planned schedule: breakfast in bed served by her maid, followed by a leisurely bath, and dressing for the day. Mornings were spent organizing her social diary and running her London household. She lunched with friends, or with Hereford, if their schedules allowed. In the afternoon, she paid calls, shopped, or generally amused herself until teatime. Evenings were busy with dinners, balls, or the theatre. If she and Hereford made it to bed before dawn, that was an early night.

It never occurred to her that something was missing. It never occurred to her to want anything more.

So when her maid pulled back the bedroom curtains on a perfectly normal morning in July, Georgiana started her day the same as she always had—the same way she intended to until the day she died.

Her maid fluffed up the peach silk pillows so Georgiana could recline, and then perched the breakfast tray over her mistress’ lap.

“Good Morning, Brown.” She pulled the heavy, silver cloche away to reveal a plate of bacon, eggs, toast, and a soft-boiled egg. Plus a cup of tea, just the way she liked it. Also on the tray were the latest copies of The Lady, and The Sketch, her favorite society magazines. Everything was so precise, and so predictable, that Georgiana could’ve navigated it all with her eyes closed.

The maid bobbed. “Morning, Your Grace.” While her mistress ate breakfast and perused her papers, Brown tidied up the bedroom from the night before. She plucked a silk dressing gown from the back of an upholstered armchair near the fireplace, and carried it into the adjoining bathroom.

Georgiana heard the twist of the hot water knob, and then the shake of lavender salts into the tub. When she eventually climbed in for her morning bath, the water was heated and scented to her exact specification. Brown had laid out a fresh bar of soap on the dish by her right hand. Without looking, Georgiana picked it up, lathered a soft, springy sponge, and began to wash.

Stooping behind her, the maid shampooed her hair. “You were a vision last night in the emerald velvet, Your Grace.”

“Thank you, Brown. I had hoped to save it for the Darlington’s ball, but you were absolutely right to suggest it for the Pryce’s.” She closed her eyes as the maid gently tilted her head back to rinse the suds from her hair. After two thorough rinses, Brown patted her mistress’ forehead dry with a flannel.

Once she was clean and dry, the maid helped her into her dressing gown. While Brown went to lay tissue-wrapped underclothes on the foot of her bed, Georgiana brushed her teeth. Staring at her reflection in the mirror, she’d never noticed those faint lines around her eyes, or the way her cheeks didn’t glow in the soft morning light like they had only a year or two ago.

She frowned. To her horror, that only made more lines, so she slackened her face to her usual, blandly pleasant façade, and strolled into her bedroom where Brown stood waiting.

Wordlessly, Georgiana slipped out of her dressing gown and into her silk step-in drawers and camisole. Usually, they chatted through their morning routine—it was awkward to be sullen, silent, and naked in front of one’s maid—but that morning, Georgiana didn’t have much to say. Perhaps it was the late night, or the lingering haze of champagne that held her tongue. Or, it could be the creeping melancholy that always nipped at the heels of the Wolford siblings.

Her brother, Patrick, the Marquess of Kyre, suffered from black moods. Since the war, doctors suggested it was outright depression that plagued him. While she’d never given it the power to bring her down—or even slow her down—Georgiana couldn’t deny it often lurked in the dark corners of her mind.

She made it a point to smile at Brown as they thumbed through the selections of morning frocks, skirts, and blouses in her wardrobe. Just because she felt poorly was no excuse to take it out on her faithful maid. Truly, she didn’t know what she’d do without the woman. It was important for servants to know one cared and noticed hard work. Appreciation often meant the difference between a good servant and a simply tolerable one.

“The white blouse, I think,” Georgiana said. “And the blue wool skirt.”

Brown helped her into the delicate whitework blouse, and buttoned the pearl buttons at the back. Georgiana stepped into the skirt, allowing the maid to hook the closures at her hip. Then, she sat at the polished dressing table between the windows looking out onto Curzon Street. Brown brushed her long, soft hair the appropriate number of times before twisting it up into an elaborate—yet effortless looking—coiffure, and pinned it into place with a tortoise comb. After a splash of Guerlain perfume and a dab of rouge on her cheeks, Georgiana pinned a delicate strand of pearls around her neck, and clamped two matching studs into her ears.

Pressed, dressed, and turned out in her daily finery, she looked like the perfect duchess. As she made her way down the winding marble staircase of her elegant London mansion, she would be the perfect duchess. It was all laid out in her social diary; her life carefully planned for the next two months.

 

***

 

She spent the rest of the morning sorting through stacks of correspondence with her personal secretary. She penned letters, answered invitations, and tossed bills into the stack marked for Hereford’s man of business.

Although Georgiana had more money than she could spend in a dozen lifetimes, she had little practical knowledge of how it worked. She’d never used public transportation, paid for her own dinner, or even paid for her own clothes—no place she shopped dared to insult her by asking for ready money.

From girlhood, she’d been brought up to believe that money was vulgar and dirty, and that no proper lady ever had a reason to handle it. Her brother or husband protected her from the need to interact with tradespeople, and if she were ever away from home and needed some small item, her driver or lady’s maid always had a few coins she could filch.

Georgiana had never found that odd. All her friends felt the same about handling money, about what was, and was not proper. Even after her brother married a sweet girl who traveled the world, rode the Tube, occasionally wore trousers, and treated servants as equals, Georgiana believed Linley was the strange one, not herself! Now, however, the world was moving very quickly, and the more Lady Kyre seemed to fit in, the more Georgiana felt left behind.

Take that morning, for example—while she filled her time weighing the merits and repercussions of attending one society ball over another, Linley and Patrick were signing autographs at an archaeology lecture. Her sister-in-law’s adventure memoirs were London’s latest craze. Photographers who had always lurked in the rosebushes to catch Georgiana’s latest Lanvin gown now brushed past her to ask Linley for a pose. Every day, her sister-in-law’s stack of invitations grew higher and higher, until they were in danger of outnumbering her own.

She loved Linley and was happy for her success, even though it went against everything Georgiana had been taught about proper behavior.

Across the drawing room, her secretary cleared her throat, repeating herself. “I beg your pardon, Your Grace, but will that be all?”

Georgiana snapped out of her trance. She hadn’t meant to ignore the woman, but her mind had simply run away from her—and so had the time. She glanced at the clock on the mantel. It chimed noon, which was well past the hour allotted for her secretary’s morning duties.

“I’m sorry, Mrs. Arbuthnot,” she said, smiling. “Of course, that will be all for today.”

The secretary stood. “Thank you. Good afternoon, Your Grace.”

With her morning safely ‘in the books’, Georgiana ate luncheon alone. Usually, either Linley, Patrick, or Hereford were around to keep her company, but lately they all seemed to be pulled in different directions. England was still reeling from the war, and it had taken a few years to get back into the schedule of the season, and re-accustomed to frivolous parties, races, and tea dances. The only reminders of those four ghastly years were gentlemen with their dinner clothes pinned over their missing limbs, or the rows of young debutantes who so outnumbered the men that they often spent entire balls crying in a corner.

She felt sorry for those girls. It wasn’t their fault they’d never marry. With hundreds of thousands of good men fallen dead in the trenches, there simply weren’t enough husbands left to go around. In her mind, becoming a lonely spinster would be a living nightmare. Yet, with Linley writing memoirs and lecturing girls to look for more than husbands and families, Georgiana’s beliefs were becoming rather outdated. Women already served in Parliament, flew aeroplanes, and had successful careers. Perhaps Georgiana, who had no exemplary qualities or personal ambitions of her own, was the one deserving to be pitied.


VILLA GEORGIANA is available at the following retailers:

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