London, 7 May 1847
“Quickly, my lady.”
“Yes, Mrs. Crozier.”
“You must be at your absolute best behaviour,” the decorum matron continued while inspecting Kat’s outfit through her quizzing glass.
“I understand. I know how to amuse little children.”
“It’s not the children who matter. Miss Primrose’s first impression of you was a mud-splattered tatterdemalion – a complete and utter disgrace. We shan’t have that with her parents, or their cousins.”
“No, we shan’t,” Kat agreed, examining herself in a full length cheval mirror. This walking suit is dazzling! “I have met Lord Dalmeny and Lady Wilhelmina before, and the Earl and Countess of Rosebery.” She fingered the lace lappets dangling from her pink silk jacket.
“Don’t fidget!” Mrs. Crozier barked. “Put your gloves on. You must learn to stand still and not touch fabrics needlessly. And be conscious of this colour – avoid rubbing against anything. Isabel! The parasol with pink trim, now!”
“Has it stopped raining?” Kat stepped to the window.
“You see the sun is out. Asking idiotic questions…”
“Makes me seem an idiot.” Kat let a small sigh escape her lips and immediately regretted it, feeling quite excited about the situation and not wanting a punishment to spoil her mood. “Yes, I will only ask pertinent questions.”
“Excellent. Utilize a chamber pot.”
“What have I told you? You may not have an opportunity to relieve yourself for some time. You’re not in the country with convenient thickets everywhere.”
Kat knew not to argue. She took up a clean vessel, placed it on a footstool, then put the lid aside. It was true, hovering over a chamberpot in a corset along with the volume of additional petticoats proved a bit difficult, but had to be managed. Kat gathered up her skirt and layers of lacy flounces, a handkerchief folded and ready, and squatted. She then straightened, replaced the lid, and left the handkerchief on top.
“Sort yourself without looking in a mirror,” Mrs. Crozier said.
Kat twisted side to side, ensuring her petticoats and skirt had fallen into place. She quickly smoothed some trim, then took the parasol from Isabel. There, I managed it all, with gloves on!
“Well done,” the society tutor praised with a nod. “Now, you must be off. Isabel? Are you ready? Do you have a stockpile of clean handkerchiefs? Linen and silk?”
The trio hurried down to the front hall where Rudman stood waiting with Mr. Ewart, the butler responsible for the Beaufort’s city residence.
“Rudman, I deliver Lady Kat into your care.” Mrs. Crozier spoke officiously. “Do you know precisely where you are proceeding?”
“No, I do not.” Rudman, a defiant glint in his eye, opened the front door.
“I do,” Kat said, leading everyone out into the portico. “It’s no more than a ten minute walk – on Charles Street.”
“Just across the square? That certainly isn’t ten minutes away.”
“The other Charles Street,” Kat explained. “We’ll pass by Grosvenor Chapel and go along John Street. Perfectly safe.”
“Stay well clear of the parish workhouse,” Mrs. Crozier instructed. “If possible, return home with Lord Beaufort by carriage. This is all highly irregular, but childbirth is fraught with perils. Remember, you’re there to help, however, maintain your station and dignity.”
“Yes, yes. I’ll be good.”
“And don’t mess your hair again.”
“Je ne écheveler mes cheveux intentionnellement, Madame,” Kat said playfully. “It just happens.”
She skipped down the steps onto the pavement. Rudman and Isabel followed. Kat deployed her parasol and took a moment to appreciate the day; fresh from the rain and now bright with sunshine. She looked toward Hyde Park and spotted the watercress girl, Pixie, selling her produce on the corner. Kat waved to her, then performed a pirouette and set off to the south, glancing only a brief blurred moment at Mrs. Crozier’s disapproving countenance. Rudman strode between Kat and the street, while Isabel followed close behind. It still being early in the day, the heart of Mayfair lay quiet, and they were soon on Charles Street, then standing at the front door of Lord Dalmeny’s residence.
Rudman pulled the bell handle, then also made use of the large door knocker. A footman answered the summons.
“This is Lady Kat Beaufort,” Rudman said. “She’s expected. This is her maid, and I’m Lord Beaufort’s valley-de-sham.”
“Ah, good, Rudman,” Earl Beaufort’s voice echoed from within. “Katelyn, I’m glad you’re here.”
The footman stepped aside. Kat saw her father in the front hall, still in formal evening wear from the previous night, dark rings under his eyes. Nearby, a pleasant looking man of about forty years of age, draped in a long, colourful, richly embroidered robe and cap, slouched in a shadowed doorway.
“Lord Dalmeny.” Kat approached and curtsied to Archibald Primrose, the eldest son and heir apparent to the 4th Earl of Rosebery. “How is Lady Wilhelmina?”
“Oh… ah…” Lord Dalmeny managed a weak smile. “It goes rather hard for her.”
He retreated into the dim room. Kat thought it must be his study, and the man may have been weeping.
“Poor Lord Dalmeny,” she tactfully whispered to Lord Beaufort. “How are you, Father?”
“What would you have me do?”
“Come upstairs. Isabel, Rudman, wait here, please.”
The servants responded obediently in chorus.
“The family has a nurse and a nanny,” Earl Beaufort related quietly as they ascended the stairs, “but the nanny has her hands full with little Lady Constance, who has some kind of ague, and the nurse is assisting with the childbirth. It’s gone on for hours and hours”
“Isn’t that unusual for a third child?”
“Yes. We went through the night without a wink of sleep. If you would distract Lady Mary – take her back to our house, entertain her, whatever, until everything is settled – it would be a help.”
“Is she three now?”
“Not yet. But she’s bright, and frightfully worried about her mother.”
“Right. I’ll keep her busy.”
“Thank you, Katelyn. I don’t know Dalmeny very well. He sat in the House of Commons, but I know his father, Lord Rosebery, intimately. Regardless, since we will all be related, once Miss Primrose and I wed, it’s nice we’re here for them in this time of need.”
“Of course. You were called away from a ball?”
“We were, during the early hours this morning. Lady Wilhelmina has been in confinement, but Lord Dalmeny was out with us.” Earl Beaufort stopped at a pair of double doors, a maid waiting beside them. “We’ll visit in here for a moment before going to the nursery.” He nodded to the maid and she opened the doors.
They entered a spacious sitting room decorated tastefully in a Chinese motif. Miss Primrose sprang to her feet with a bright smile, looking fresh and lively in a splendid evening gown.
“Good morning, Lady Kat!” Miss Primrose curtsied then turned to Lord Beaufort. “You’ve been gone so long. How is Lord Dalmeny?”
Kat watched from the doorway while her father took Jane’s hands and kissed her proffered cheek. A short plump middle-aged couple, wearing complementary outfits that included much light yellow silk, stood beaming with rosy cheeks and smiling eyes.
“He’s sick with dread,” Earl Beaufort said. “I’ll sit with him again in a moment, but I must introduce Katelyn to your parents. Lord Primrose, Lady Primrose, this, I’m proud to say, is my daughter, Lady Katelyn Elizabeth.”
Bowing and curtsying followed.
“Jane told us all about you,” Vicountess Primrose said, giving Kat a hug. “I’d hoped we meet in better circumstances.”
“Isn’t this a happy time?” Kat replied. “Won’t it be wonderful to say we met on the day that another Primrose was born, Lady Primrose?”
“How delightful.” The woman twittered, looking to her husband, then at Earl Beaufort. “Can we forego the formalities? Between the children and us at least?” She turned to Kat again. “Would you like to call me Grace? I hope we can be friends.”
Miss Primrose lost her smile and glared at her mother.
“I certainly don’t mind,” Kat said. The less formal the better.
“What, Jane?” Vicountess Primrose said, seeing the expression on her daughter. “Of course Lord Beaufort retains his title, but Lady Kat is just a girl.”
“And a monstrous pretty one at that,” Vicount Primrose chimed in. “Who’d like a drink?”
Earl Beaufort inclined his head. “As you wish, Grace.”
“Thank you, I am just a simple country girl myself.”
“Very good. Now, Primrose, I’ll have a hot brandy and water.”
“Port for me, please,” Grace said.
The men moved to a cabinet where various decanters and glasses were neatly arranged. The ladies gathered together by a window.
“So…” Grace asked, “your nickname is Kat?”
“Yes.” Kat nodded. “My brother says I always land on my feet, and must have nine lives.”
Grace laughed, but Miss Primrose brooded.
“You’ve been brought in as reinforcements,” Grace said. “What is the latest plan of attack?”
“My father said something about taking Mary away to play. I’m not certain for how long.”
“Jane should take some time to sleep and change.” Grace patted her daughter’s shoulder. “Why don’t you collect your maid from the servant’s hall and go home?”
“I believe Papa and Lord Beaufort shall decide our schedule,” Miss Primrose said firmly.
“There you go, Kat.” Grace winked. “Jane has decided. No one is better at making up men’s minds for them.”
Kat thought a moment. “Then, if it is agreeable, Jane, I would like to care for Mary.”
“That won’t do. No no.” Miss Primrose shook her head. “I’m going to be your mother. You’ll have to call me Miss Primrose until the wedding.”
Kat glanced from Grace to Miss Primrose. Caring for Mary won’t do? Or just Jane won’t do? I can call her mother Grace, but I have to call her Miss Primrose?
“Is that really necessary, Jane?” Grace asked softly, “Kat is–”
“Yes, it is.” Miss Primrose started a slow walk around the room, orating as she went. “And another thing, this Kat has got to stop. Nicknaming is a very silly species of wit. I’ve been considering it a great deal, and Kat isn’t appropriate at all. Lady Kat? No. It’s time to grow out of childhood nicknames. It sounds like you should be catching mice in the yard.”
“You mean to say, everyone will call me Katelyn?”
“No… it can be Kate, if you like. Katelyn is perhaps too pretentious? One syllable names have a certain strength about them. Grace… Jane… Kate… yes! Lady Kate would be best. There, it’s decided.”
“I have your best interests at heart, Kate, trust me. I intend to be an ideal mother for you.”
Vicount Primrose and Earl Beaufort looked up from their steaming cups.
“Your daughter has agreed it’s time to give up her childish nickname, my lord. It’s Lady Kate from now on.”
“Indeed?” Earl Beaufort blinked. “She’ll always be Katelyn to me. It’s what her mother named her.”
“Oh, certainly,” Miss Primrose said, pausing just a beat with a toothy smile, “a special remembrance for you. Something that can be preserved between father and daughter, very nice.”
“Fine.” Earl Beaufort set down his drink. “We should see to Lady Mary.”
“I’ll show Lady Kate to the nursery,” Miss Primrose said. “You enjoy your restorative libation, my lord.”
“Very good. I’ll offer the same to Dalmeny.”
Miss Primrose led Kate up another flight of stairs. They silently moved through a darkened landing, choked sobs and murmuring coming from somewhere nearby, filling Kate with apprehension. Upon entering a nursery, light from two windows, and gaily coloured walls and toys, brightened the mood. A woman, humming sweetly, swayed in a corner holding a sleeping infant. She put one finger to her lips. On the floor, arranging wooden farm animals into rows, sat a young girl who looked up with large haunted eyes. Kate didn’t hesitate, immediately crouching down and righting a toppled cow.
“Hello, Lady Mary,” Kate whispered, and smiled. “You won’t remember me.”
And the girl stared at her without a hint of recognition.
“This is Lady Kate, Lord Beaufort’s daughter,” Miss Primrose said softly.
“Yes, that will do,” Kate whispered, still smiling. What an adorable little angel.
“It’s nice to see you again, Mary. We are going outside to play.”
“Yes. It’s a beautiful day.”
The girl got to her feet, picked up a rag doll, and approached the nanny. The woman deftly opened a wardrobe and lifted out a cornflower blue smock-frock and a broad brimmed straw sun hat without pausing in her soothing humming and swaying. Kate took the cue and helped Mary don the outerwear. After securing the hat with a ribbon beneath the girl’s ringlets, Kate guided her downstairs to the front hall.
“I’ll leave you now, Lady Kate,” Miss Primrose said. “Perhaps we’ll see each other later.”
“Perhaps,” Kate responded absently, concentrating on Mary, taking the little girl’s hand and tacitly indicating to Rudman and Isabel that they were departing.
Out of the corner of her eye, Kate noticed Miss Primrose curtsying, so perfunctorily returned the gesture before accepting her parasol from Isabel.
“Good day, Lady Kate.” Miss Primrose beamed.
“Good day, Miss Primrose.”
Kate shepherded Mary out into the sunshine and fresh air, took her hand, and started along the pavement.
“Lady Kate?” Rudman asked with an arched eyebrow and crooked mouth.
Kate nodded. “It’s been decided. No more nickname. It’s childish.”
“Ah… part of growing up, is it?”
“Whatever you say, m’ lady.”
As they walked away, Kate saw two carriages pass and draw to a halt in front of the Dalmeny residence, one with the Rosebery coat of arms painted on the door. She briefly considered returning to see if the arrival of further family members would alter plans, but decided against it. Mary needed to get away, and Kate would facilitate the escape. They strolled up John Street, as fast as Mary wanted to walk, but upon entering the old Saint George’s burial ground the girl slowed, swivelling around, peering at the piled headstones propped against the buildings. Hundreds of head and foot stones were also laid flat like pavers. Mary stopped and stared.
“For dead,” she said, pointing.
“Yes. But no one has been buried here for a long time. They gathered the stones and placed most of them flat when I was five or six years old. There’s nothing to be frightened of.”
“Mum sick… baby…”
“Your mother will be fine. And the baby.”
“Gwandpa say… baby be stwong. A boy.”
“Good. Let’s carry on.”
They emerged into the residential area beside Grosvenor Chapel, and Kate noted that servants were now stationed on the stairs of the grander homes. As they neared the Beaufort residence, the youngest footman, Wade, tall and thin, stood at attention.
“Are you hungry?” Kate asked Mary.
“No?” Hmm… not hungry… I am… “We’ll go to the park. I know something fun to do.”
Proceeding along Upper Brook Street, they crossed a busy Park Lane, scooting between the cabs and coaches, then followed the iron post and rail fence to Cumberland Gate. Kate graciously acknowledged the tipped hats of the gatekeeper and a hulking policeman, then they stopped at the little carriages drawn by goats for children.
“Look at these fine carriages!” Kate said to Mary. “You can go for a merry ride.”
“No?” Kate stooped and examined the girl suspiciously. Are you going to say ‘no’ to everything? What child doesn’t want to ride their own carriage? “It’s fun. You’re the driver.”
“See what nice goats they are,” Isabel prompted enthusiastically.
Mary shook her head with downcast eyes.
Isabel shrugged at Kate.
“Right.” She looks ready to cry. I’ve got to keep her busy. “This way.”
They entered a shady portion of Hyde Park, an avenue of trees and shrubs running parallel to The Uxbridge Road.
“Aren’t these magnificent trees?” Kate asked.
“What twee name?”
“There are old elms, and plane and oak trees, dear. And here’s a couple chestnuts. I know… we’ll make some fairy houses under one.”
“Why, yes!” Kate grinned at the girl’s sudden excitement. “Have you not built houses for fairies before?”
“Well… we begin by gathering lots of straight twigs, leaves, acorns… and other such materials. Then we’ll craft some homes. Perhaps a whole village.”
Mary ran to some brush and started collecting sticks. Kate realized her dazzling outfit, corset, and voluminous petticoats, were all going to be a hindrance when it came to elfin community construction.
“Isabel, I need a blanket.”
“Let me fetch it, m’ lady,” Rudman said. “I’ll tell that constable to keep an eye on you”
Mary, Isabel, and Kate, diligently hunted for building materials, amassing a decent selection of flora and pebbles. Kate used a stout stick to make holes in small circles, watched closely by Mary, who then erected a twig in each with pebbles, nuts, and seed pods placed throughout as furniture. Over and between the sticks they carefully suspended leaves. Rudman returned with a blanket, allowing Kate and Isabel to kneel or sit beside the growing village. The limited conversation centred around fairies, and what the magic folk might look for in a home. Mary graduated to chief builder, fashioning a crooked little church and tumbledown bakery on her own.
“This has gone well,” Kate whispered to Isabel, who gently improved some of the roofs with extra leaves.
They noted Rudman dozing under a tree and Isabel took a moment to surreptitiously adjust her black wool stockings, retying her garters. Kate recognised her maid’s wisdom, taking advantage of the opportunity, and smoothed her white silk stockings from ankles to thighs, appreciating her muscles, strong from years of running through the Quantock Hills.
“Do you ever wear drawers?” Kate asked.
“Not since I was a girl.”
“I guess I don’t miss pantalettes.” Kate watched Mary run about in her lacy leggings. “I’m having wash-leather drawers made for riding. Otherwise, a chemise and petticoats seem more than adequate day-to-day.” She stretched in the sun. Her stomach growled. She sat bolt upright in embarrassment. “We should have something to eat. I’m ravenous.”
“There may be news, too,” Isabel said.
“Oh! Indeed. Mary, we must have some lunch.”
“What ’bout fair-wee house?”
“We leave them. If the fairies like the village, they’ll take it away in the night, to their magic land. You’ve done fantastic work.”
The little girl smiled, jigged about, and clapped her hands. Rudman awoke with a start and sprang to his feet. He gathered the blanket and abandoned rag doll, then followed Kate and Isabel, Mary holding hands between them. When they reached the Beaufort residence, Wade opened the door and waited to be useful.
“Any word come from the Primrose’s yet?” Rudman asked.
“No, sergeant-major,” Wade replied, standing at attention.
“All right. Back on the steps with ya.”
“Here you are.” Mrs. Crozier swept into the front hall with long strides, gliding directly to Mary.
Kate felt surprised by the woman’s behaviour, but remembered to make a proper introduction. “Lady Mary, may I present Mrs. Crozier, my society tutor.”
“Ha-woe,” Mary said.
“What a charming child,” Mrs. Crozier said with a small smile. “We have food and drink upstairs.” She took Mary’s hand, having to crouch over to do so, and led her away. “And there are toys for you to play with.”
Kate followed with some disbelief and glanced at Isabel, who stood wide-eyed with raised eyebrows. Upon quick reflection while ascending the stairs, Kate recalled many times when Mrs. Crozier had shown affection for children, so perhaps her demeanour wasn’t so odd. They entered the drawing room, where Miss Nestor waited to pour tea, platters of meat, cheese, biscuits, and tarts ready for consumption. After satisfying their hunger, Kate sat at the piano with Mary on her lap, and they played some simple pieces, Miss Nestor helping.
As Mary banged out a tune, Miss Primrose and Earl Beaufort entered, Ewart waiting at the doors.
“It’s a boy!” Miss Primrose announced. “Lady Mary, you have a baby brother!”
Mary climbed off Kate’s lap and ran around in circles exclaiming, “A boy! Gwandpa knew! Gwandpa knew!”
“Lady Kate will accompany you home,” Miss Primrose continued, trying to get the girl’s attention. “Would you, my lady?”
“Certainly.” Kate took up their headdresses from a couch. “How is Lady Wilhelmina, Father?”
“The doctor said she’s strong, and should be fine.”
“And how are you?”
“Tired. I have the carriage waiting to take Jane home. Would you like the landau brought around?”
“We’ll walk. It’s so close, there’s no need to trouble the grooms.” She tied her bonnet. “And Mary won’t want to wait, will you, dear?”
“No.” Mary shook her head emphatically. “We go now.”
“All right.” Kate knelt to secure Mary’s hat. “Mr. Ewart, please inquire as to Mr. Rudman’s availability to escort us to the Primrose residence again?”
“Yes, my lady.”
“I simply must get out of this evening dress,” Miss Primrose said. “Good day, Lady Kate.” She curtsied.
“Good day, Miss Primrose.” Once again, Kate returned the gesture.
Earl Beaufort led Miss Primrose downstairs, Mary on their heels, then Kate. Miss Nestor stopped her at the top of the stairs, Mrs. Crozier towering behind.
“Lady Kate?” she asked.
“Indeed.” Kate glanced at both ladies. “I’m not using a childish nickname any longer.”
“There are adults who go by Kat and Kitty,” Miss Nestor said, “but whatever you say, my lady.”
“It’s probably for the best,” Mrs. Crozier said, then whispered, “You have some unruly hair falling around your face, and you honoured servants with unnecessary titles again.”
Kate knew about her hair, but couldn’t remember her verbal errors, and thought she must have slipped up in the excitement.
“However, I believe you’ve done well,” Mrs. Crozier continued. “I look forward to our lessons this afternoon.”
“And me,” Miss Nestor said with a smile.
“Thank you,” Kate said, feeling good about herself.
She hurried down the stairs, happy with the day’s events.