It's oft quoted "charity begins at home." But any well-bred lady or gentleman with a truly benevolent disposition must devote some time and energy to worthy causes, especially those philanthropic endeavors which better the lot of the deserving poor.
This Season, do consider attending a ball, public assembly, or perhaps even a musicale in aid of charity. Visit our Society Advertisements section to find a comprehensive list of upcoming events.
The Beau Monde Mirror: The Society Page
Gunter's Tea Shop, Berkeley Square, Mayfair, London
April 2, 1818
Thank goodness it is raining.
At least that's what Miss Arabella Jardine told herself as she stepped over the puddles beneath the portico of Gunter's and caught the attention of a jarvey on the other side of Berkeley Square. As the hackney coach splashed its way toward the tea shop, she could pretend she was only dashing away raindrops, not tears, from beneath her spectacles as she turned back to face her three dearest friends in the entire world. Friends she'd bonded with three years ago at Mrs. Rathbone's Academy for Young Ladies of Good Character before they were all unceremoniously expelled amid a cloud of scandal for "conduct unbecoming."
Friends she'd only just been reunited with at Gunter's. As they'd taken tea and indulged in all manner of gastronomic delights, they also shared their hopes and dreams. Made plans for the future. Just as they'd done at Mrs. Rathbone's when they formed the Society for Enlightened Young Women. But now, due to circumstances beyond her control, Arabella was obliged to farewell her friends yet again.
Blast her family and their inconvenient plans to embark on a frivolous Grand Tour. Arabella endeavored to suppress a scowl as she fiddled with the buttons on her fawn kid gloves. She wanted to stay here in London with Charlie, Sophie, and dear Olivia. Being dragged across Europe to gawk at endless musty cathedrals and crumbling castle ruins was surely a waste of time and money. Money she could put to good use elsewhere given half the chance . . .
Lady Charlotte Hastings-or Charlie to her friends-pulled Arabella away from her disgruntled thoughts by enveloping her in a warm hug. "My darling Arabella, you must hold to your promise to write to us while you are gadding about the Continent." Charlie's unruly auburn curls tickled Arabella's cheek. "I don't care where you are-even if you're atop Mont Blanc or exploring the depths of the Black Forest-I will pay for the postage."
"Aye, as long as you all write back to me too." Arabella adjusted the shoulder strap of her leather satchel as Charlie released her. The hack had drawn up beside them. "I want to hear all about how your husband hunting goes this Season." Her gaze met each of her friends in turn. "Each and every one of you."
"Of course," said Sophie with a shy smile. A bright blush suffused her cheeks, and Arabella rather suspected she was thinking about Charlie's very dashing, very eligible brother, Nathaniel, Lord Malverne. He'd joined them at Gunter's for a little while, and Arabella was certain she'd detected a spark of interest in the wicked viscount's eyes as he'd conversed with Sophie. Even though Sophie's reputation was tarnished by the academy scandal-and her family was most decidedly "lower gentry"-why wouldn't he be interested? Shy yet sweet Sophie, with her glossy black hair and enormous blue eyes, was breathtakingly beautiful. Indeed, all Arabella's friends were fair of face and disposition, and accomplished in all the ways that mattered in the eyes of society.
Unlike herself. Arabella swallowed a sigh. Not only was she a Scottish orphan with dubious parentage and "unnatural bluestocking tendencies"-at least according to her aunt Flora-she possessed a gap-toothed smile and was so long-sighted, she had to wear glasses most of the time. Even if she did make a debut this Season alongside her friends, she was certain she'd never receive anything more than a passing glance from most gentlemen of the ton. It was a good thing she had other plans for her future. Secret plans. As soon as she bid her friends goodbye, she was going to put them in motion this afternoon. All going well.
Her resolve to succeed in her mission reaffirmed, Arabella pushed her spectacles firmly back into place upon the bridge of her nose; Charlie's exuberant hug had dislodged them a little. "Are you ready to leave, too, Olivia?" The jarvey was scowling at them from beneath the hood of his dripping oilskin. They really should go.
Olivia sighed heavily. "Y-y-yes," she replied, gathering up the skirts of her fashionable gown and matching pelisse so the fine fabric wouldn't trail through the muddy puddle directly in front of her. Her mouth twisted-Olivia's stammer always got worse when she was anxious-before her next words emerged in a bumpy rush. "As m-much as I hate to bid you all adieu as well, I m-must. Aunt Edith will undoubtedly be w-watching the clock."
Final hugs were exchanged, and once Arabella and Olivia were safely installed in the damp and dim interior of the hackney, it pulled away, barreling across the sodden square.
Olivia de Vere currently resided in a rented Grosvenor Square town house with her horribly strict guardians. Even though her home was only a relatively short distance from Berkeley Square, Arabella had made arrangements to share a hack with her friend not only to avoid a soaking in the rain but also to help Olivia escape her gilded cage for the outing to Gunter's.
A wee bit of subterfuge had been involved; Olivia's termagant of an aunt believed Arabella's aunt Flora had accompanied them on their excursion-which wasn't the case at all. Even though Gunter's was a respectable establishment, there would be hell to pay if Olivia's aunt learned her niece had visited the tea shop without a suitable chaperone.
"I really w-won't see you again before you depart for the Continent, will I?" The expression in Olivia's dark brown eyes was so forlorn, Arabella's heart cramped with sadness. She suspected Olivia was often as lonely as she was.
"I'm afraid not," she replied softly. "Bertie, my cousin's husband, has booked us all on the Dover packet, and we're due to set sail for France in three days' time."
Olivia's mouth twitched with a smile. "I'm rather tempted to stow myself away in your trunk. I won't take up much room."
Arabella laughed, pleased to see her friend's spirits returning. "Believe me, I would take you if I could. Aunt Flora and my cousin Lilias are sure to be exacting in the extreme during the journey. Your company would be most welcome."
Olivia reached out and squeezed her hand. Despite the sheeting rain and the traffic snarls, they were fast approaching Grosvenor Square. "I have a feeling you are going to have a m-marvelous time, despite your misgivings. And who knows, perhaps you might meet a charming Italian prince or handsome Swiss nobleman who'll sweep you off your feet." Olivia's eyes glowed. "Just imagine it."
Arabella very much doubted that would be the case. And unlike Olivia, Charlie, and Sophie, she didn't possess a romantic bone in her body; love matches weren't for plain, practical women like her. However, she dredged up a smile in an effort to appear lighthearted. "Well, unless his name is on the list of eligible gentlemen we just devised at Gunter's, I don't see how I can seriously consider his suit." She lowered her voice even though no one else was in earshot and rain was drumming on the roof of the hackney. "I mean, with no one of our acquaintance to vouch for him, what if he's really a dastardly rogue with a skeleton or two in the closet-literally-like a murdered first wife? Or as Charlie mentioned earlier today, what if he's afflicted with the pox?"
Olivia giggled and gave a theatrical shudder. "Perish the thought."
"At least your broodingly handsome neighbor, Lord Sleat, is on the list." Charlie had mentioned the Scottish marquess was a friend of her brother's and a highly suitable candidate for a husband. Even though he'd been terribly wounded at Waterloo and now sported an eye patch, apparently he was quite the gentleman beneath his rugged exterior. And very popular with the ladies of the ton.
"Yes." Olivia sighed and tucked a lock of dark brown hair back into the confines of her fine straw bonnet. The hackney coach had stopped before her town house, and she threw a wistful glance at the adjacent residence with its ornate pillars and shiny black double doors. "But I don't see how I shall ever cross paths with him. He very much keeps to himself." Her mouth curved into a wry smile. "I think I shall secretly dub him the mysterious marquess."
The front door to her own house cracked open, and Olivia grimaced. Gathering up her reticule, she hugged Arabella one last time. "Take care, my lovely friend. I must go before my aunt sends one of her horrid footmen out to haul me inside. Have a wonderful trip."
After waving Olivia off and issuing new instructions to the taciturn jarvey, Arabella hastily closed the hack's door against a sudden squall of icy rain that snatched at her sage green skirts and her leghorn bonnet. Settling into the battered leather seat once more, she removed her glasses to wipe off the rain spots with a lawn handkerchief, then checked her hem and brown kid boots for splashes of mud. For the most part, she wasn't fussy about her appearance, but she wanted to make a good impression at her next appointment. The matron at London's Foundling Hospital was expecting her . . . and Dr. Graham Radcliff.
She hadn't added the physician's name to the Society for Enlightened Young Women's list of eligible gentlemen. Her association with this particular man was her very own closely guarded secret, one she didn't feel ready to share with her friends quite yet.
Arabella's stomach tumbled oddly, and she frowned at her reflection in the hack's rain-lashed window. She was nervous, and she did not want to be. Was the rising feeling of anticipation and trepidation in her heart related to the fact that she was about to tour an establishment sure to bring back certain memories she'd rather not revisit? Or was it because she was going to meet the clever and engaging Dr. Radcliff once again? He'd suggested her visit coincide with the meeting of the hospital's board today. As well as providing medical expertise to the institution, the physician was one of its directors.
She fiddled with the worn pewter buckle of her grandfather's old leather satchel. The good doctor's letter of introduction to the Foundling Hospital's matron, Helen Reid, lay safely within. It had been just over a year since she last encountered the gentleman-a former medical colleague of her dearly departed grandfather, Dr. Iain Burnett. Arabella sometimes suspected her grandfather had been not so subtly trying to play matchmaker when he first introduced her to the widowed physician at a charity musicale in London in aid of the Foundling Hospital.
A smile trembled about Arabella's lips at the bittersweet memory. That had been in the autumn before her grandfather passed away. And a year and a half after the academy scandal erupted and Arabella's name had become mud in polite society-both in London and Edinburgh, where she now lived with Aunt Flora, Lilias, and her husband Albert Arbuthnott. There was one unpalatable truth Arabella had already learned in life: the stain of scandal was not easily removed, tending to cling to one's person wherever one went.
If tonnish society-here or in Edinburgh-ever learned of the real scandal attached to her past, she'd surely be banished forevermore.
At least Dr. Radcliff didn't know anything about that.
What he did know of her-that she was a bluestocking who'd rather attend a public lecture on vaccination than an assembly or ton ball-hadn't shocked him in the slightest. Indeed, on the two occasions they'd met, Dr. Radcliff always treated her with the utmost respect. And over the past year, they'd corresponded regularly about all manner of medical and social welfare topics-from the latest recommendations in treating infant colic, to the pressing need to expand access to free medical dispensaries for the poor, to the case for improving nutrition for the inmates of charity poorhouses.
It seemed Dr. Radcliff truly understood her desire to advocate for public health programs, just as her grandfather had done. In her opinion, improving the well-being of infants and children in institutionalized care was of paramount importance. Hence her visit to the Foundling Hospital. She wanted to learn as much as she could about the famous institution's practices, because one day-if she ever had the means and social connections-she dreamed of opening a similar hospital or orphanage in Edinburgh.
An impossible dream perhaps, but Arabella was committed to making it a reality. One thing she didn't lack was determination.
The Foundling Hospital, Guilford Street, Bloomsbury, London
"I'm afraid the matron cannot see you this afternoon, Miss . . ." The plump, middle-aged housekeeper of the Foundling Hospital squinted down at Dr. Radcliff's letter. The hospital's entry hall was not only chilly and damp but also poorly lit, and it took her a moment to find Arabella's name again. "Miss Jardine, is it?"
"Aye, that's right." Beneath her disheveled blond curls, Arabella's forehead knit into a frown. This wouldn't do at all. Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed the hall porter reaching for the handle of the front door. A large-boned, heavily browed man, he looked as though he wouldn't hesitate to eject her at a moment's notice. Turning her attention back to the housekeeper, Arabella decided to argue her case. "But I have an appointment. Dr. Radcliff arranged it. He's on the hospital board, I believe."
The woman sniffed haughtily as her gaze flicked over Arabella. She clearly wasn't impressed by Arabella's person. Given her plain attire and the fact she was unchaperoned, it was obvious she wasn't well connected or from a family of means. It didn't appear to matter that she knew the physician either. "Yes, I know Dr. Radcliff," she said, handing back the letter. "Fine gentleman he is. And ordinarily Matron would be happy to show you about. But not today. Perhaps you could come back next week when we run our public tour."
A knot of frustration tightened inside Arabella's chest. "Unfortunately that won't suit as I'm leaving town the day after tomorrow for an extended period of time. Is there anyone else who might be amenable to showing me around? One of the other staff members perhaps? A nurse or teacher? Dr. Radcliff mentioned he would be attending a board meeting this afternoon. Is there somewhere I could wait for him?" It suddenly occurred to her that she was more disappointed about the prospect of not seeing Dr. Radcliff than missing out on a guided tour. And she hadn't expected that.
Excerpted from How to Catch an Errant Earl by Amy Rose Bennett. Copyright © 2020 by Amy Rose Bennett. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.b lo bn