If I Only Had a Duke

By: Lenora Bell


County Cork, Ireland, 1818

Dear Duke of Osborne,

I hope you will forgive my impertinence in writing to you without a formal introduction, as I am temporarily your neighbor. My aunt’s Ballybrack Cottage overlooks the park of your Balfry House. Yesterday your housekeeper kindly offered me a tour.

Such a rare collection of old masters you possess! I haven’t seen their equal since I toured the museums of Italy. As a student of art I recognized works from the hands of Caravaggio, Raphael, and Titian.

Your housekeeper tells me you haven’t visited Ireland in over a decade. I wonder if you can be aware of the significance of your ancestral collection?

In curiosity,

Lady Dorothea Beaumont


Dear Lady Dorothea Beaumont,

Can there be two Lady Dorothea Beaumonts? I find it difficult to believe the lady I’m thinking of would write to me, given her involvement in the strange and scandalous circumstances surrounding my friend the Duke of Harland’s marriage last autumn.

In puzzlement,

The Duke of Osborne

County Cork, Ireland

Dear Duke of Osborne,

I fear there is only one me.

The events to which you allude are the reason I’m hidden away here in the Irish countryside like your ancient masterpieces.

I confess that I continued my tour of Balfry only to discover an attic room filled floor to ceiling with mysterious painting-sized parcels. How I longed to unwrap them. Perhaps you would benefit from a catalogue of your collection?

My services would be gladly rendered.

Lady Dorothea Beaumont


Dear Lady Dorothea Beaumont,

His Grace forwarded us your petition concerning the collection of stored artworks at Balfry House. Please be aware that the matter has been assigned a number and will hereafter be known as MCCCXXVIII.

While His Grace makes every attempt to answer such queries swiftly, delay is often unavoidable and usually prolonged.

Your humble servants,

Stallwell and Bafflemore, Solicitors

County Cork, Ireland

Dear Messrs. Stallwell and Bafflemore,

Please inform His Grace that I’m not so easily dissuaded.

I may have unwrapped a portion of one painting and found it to be an important lost work by Artemisia Gentileschi, a female Italian Renaissance artist whose work greatly interests me.

Her Sleeping Venus reposes on turquoise velvet while Cupid fans her with peacock feathers. While she may be a little old for the duke’s taste (nearly two hundred) she’s a diamond of the first water and deserves to be admired by an adoring public.

I implore His Grace to allow more unveiling.

Lady Dorothea Beaumont


Dear Scheherazade,

There will be no unveiling.

My late father was the art collector; not I. Dusty old paintings leave me cold. I’m strictly a connoisseur of the warm and living variety of Venus.

Allow me to assure you that Balfry House, and all its contents, is closed for good reason, and will remain so.


The Duke of Osborne

County Cork, Ireland

Dear Duke,

You cannot be so flint-hearted as to forbid the uncovering of what is quite possibly the finest assemblage of paintings by a female Renaissance artist in the world (yes, there are more lost works by Artemisia in your late father’s collection!).

You deny the public, and the student of art, great edification and pleasure.

If you would only come and see the paintings for yourself, your heart could not remain unaffected.

The undeterred,

Lady Dorothea

London, Autumn 1818

Dear Determined Lady,

You seem to be spending quite a lot of time at my house. Should I be charging you rent? I trust you have other pursuits? Cow pastures in which to gambol . . . country squires to enthrall.

If you will forgive me, important and urgent business calls.

The flint-hearted,

Duke of Osborne

County Cork, Ireland, Autumn 1818

Dear Duke,

If by important and urgent business you refer to leaping from the balcony of Mrs. Renwick only to be spied scaling the rose trellis of Mrs. Beckham-Cross the very same evening (I read such a thrilling account in a broadsheet) one wonders if all this leaping about can be good for a gentleman’s health?

Allow me to prescribe a peaceful rest in the Irish countryside and a quiet contemplation of seventeenth-century artworks.

The rusticating,

Lady Dorothea


Dear Rusticating Lady,

Please don’t trouble yourself. I’m in the prime of vigor, virility, and health. Just ask Mrs. Renwick.

A beast of Town,

The Duke of Osborne

And just how was she supposed to respond to that?

Thea dipped her quill into ink.

Dear Duke, she began. But he really wasn’t a dear. He was an arrogant rake who ignored a lady’s sincere petition.

Thea scrunched the sheet of foolscap into a ball and placed a fresh sheet on her sloped writing desk.

Dear Beastly Duke.

Satisfying, but probably ill advised.

A gentleman thrives upon flattery. There was her mother’s voice again. Even after a year of exile in Ireland, Thea hadn’t been successful in banishing that imperious internal monologue and its constant instructions.

Find something to praise. Anything. Compliment the sheen of his boots. Commend the bloodlines of his stables. Then ask him a question about himself. Gentlemen never tire of the subject.

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