Quantock Hall, Somersetshire, 11 January 1847
Lady Katelyn Elizabeth Beaufort strolled slowly across the frost covered gravel, keeping her head up, but occasionally glancing down to admire her exquisite boots. Already taller than many women, and some men, the two inch heels of this white leather footwear provided a commanding height. It was the first day she had worn these boots, together with a new blue-grey wool riding habit, the jacket fashioned with fitted sleeves and neat velvet lapels, the skirt longer than the rest of her wardrobe. With the passing of another year Kat, as her friends and family knew her, wondered what changes would come with growing a year older.
“Good morning, m’ lady.”
Kat spun around to find a gardener smiling at her from where he gathered piles of wind-blown brown leaves. He removed his cap and did an awkward little bow, his bald head reflecting the sunlight.
“Good morning, Mr. Ferris.” Kat returned his smile.
Behind him, a few paces away, two under-gardeners removed their caps and stood grinning at her. Kat noticed one of the labourers, a slender blonde boy of about sixteen, had a very bright smile and cheery blue eyes. She nudged some hair away from her face, smiled and raised her eyebrows, feeling somehow special.
“A very happy birthday to you,” Ferris said, wringing his cap. “May I say, you look just like your mother did, when she first come to our village.”
“Really?” Kat had never known her mother. “Wasn’t she seventeen?” Oh, I shouldn’t be asking a gardener about my own mother.
“Yes, I believe you’re right.” Ferris pursed his lips and thought a moment. “A famous beauty, she were… such grace! It were her who planted the front garden as I keep it. She passed far too young, but it were to give you life, eh? She would have been proud of you.”
“Thank you, Mr. Ferris.”
“You’re welcome, m’ lady, you’re welcome,” he said while backing away, bowing a bit before slipping on his cap.
Kat continued her stroll, moving to the end of the gravel, where the trees closed in around the lane that wound into the village. She peered back at the house, letting the calm morning envelop her, feeling the faint warmth of sunrise, watching her breath dissipate into the air. It’ll probably be cloudy and windy later, but now it is crisp and perfect.
“Lady Kat!” An elderly man in formal attire called to her from the main front doors of the manor while a black retriever circled around him wagging her tail.
“Here, Ebony! Good girl,” Kat called to her favourite dog, happy to see her.
“I’m here, Mr. Smythe.” Recognising the butler, and knowing he could no longer see very far, Kat dashed up the drive.
“Please attend to Lord Beaufort immediately,” Smythe said as she drew near. “He is in his book room.”
Kat strode through the hall, Ebony’s nails clattering on the flagstones, and into the old portion of the building. Her rooms were high in the west half of the manor; fresh and clean, airy in the summer and warm in the winter. However, she preferred many of the ancient rooms of the east end, despite the ghost of an ancestor who prowled about. She hesitated a moment outside the door of the library and listened. Her father would probably be working through his morning correspondence. Wanting to make a dramatic entrance in her new wardrobe, she pushed open the door and stepped elegantly to the centre of the room. Doing a spin, letting waist-length wavy black hair sweep around her, she then glanced at her father for a reaction, but was disappointed to see he hadn’t looked up from his desk.
“Father?” she said gently, somewhat musically, and pirouetted once again.
“Hmm?” He continued to write.
“Don’t you have something to say?”
Finally, after what Kat felt was a very long pause, he set down his pen and gazed at her, his brow set low, his greying sideburns framing a serious countenance.
He rose and moved towards her until they stood face-to-face.
“Of course I have something to say.” He smiled. “A happy birthday!” He leaned forward and kissed her forehead. “You are in your teens today.”
“Thank you, Father,” Kat said smiling. He was toying with me. Oh, now he looks quite grim again. “Is something wrong? What do you think of my new outfit? Phoebe helped me with this at Christmastime.”
“A riding habit, and boots, very nice,” he stated flatly. “Next year you may want to have a full skirt.”
“A full skirt would be bothersome. I’ll avoid them as long as possible.”
“Hmm, as long as you’re covered well down your boots when saddled.”
“And shoes, do you ever intend to wear them?”
“These are ladies boots, made for riding or walking. I thought you would be pleased. See how dainty they are? Compared to my top-boots?”
“You could come to breakfast in a house gown, and shoes.”
“Yes, but I ride everyday, so this is easier. Why, Father? What does it matter? You wear breeches and boots most of the time.”
“Close the door and sit down, Katelyn. We need to talk for a moment, in privacy, before breakfast.”
What’s this about? She did as instructed and sat in a window seat, near the crackling fire and close to where her father stood.
“How are your legs?” he asked, staring out the window.
“They’re fine,” Kat replied, suspecting this question was to warm up to another subject. For two years she had suffered from growing pains, and ungainliness, but they seemed to have passed.
“Excellent, so your muscles are catching up to your bones. Are you aware of… ah, other changes? You must understand that the age of a girl does not necessarily reflect upon her… uh, development, physically… that is to say, blossoming into…”
Kat leaned sideways, closer to the window, so she could peer up and read her father’s face, but bumped her head on a pane and jerked back in surprise. The sudden movement caused the earl to look at her. She saw he was flushed, his usual studied manner missing. He opened his mouth to speak, but closed it again.
“What are you talking about, Father?”
“Mrs. Farewell will no longer be your nanny,” he blurted out, turning away and moving behind his desk.
“Today you become thirteen. You’re too old for a nanny.”
“She hasn’t really been my nanny for years. Couldn’t you just make her my maid? Instead of Isabel? It’s like Mrs. Farewell is my maid now anyway.”
“That would be an insult, Katelyn. Mrs. Farewell deserves to be recognised for her years of service. I have decided to give her the position of housekeeper of our London house. Mrs. Bettany will come here, and Mrs. Carter will be retired.”
“Then I’ll only see Mrs. Farewell when we’re in Town? Oh, Father, I’ll miss her horribly!” Kat felt tears welling in her eyes. “Couldn’t she just become the housekeeper here? Please, Father, I–
“Katelyn, let me finish. A housekeeper has to be a bit removed from the junior staff, so she can make hard decisions about discipline – hiring and firing. Mrs. Farewell is far too friendly with all the servants here. I understand your attachment to her. She has been like a mother to you, but she is a servant, and not of our station. I should have remarried years ago. Then you would have had a proper relationship with a lady.”
“I don’t think so. I’m very happy with how you–
“Katelyn! Do not interrupt me again.”
She perceived his stern tone. Her throat constricted. She looked down and watched the tears drop into her lap, knotting her gloves together. The dog lay at her feet with a small whine.
“You require feminine company to become an accomplished lady, and I don’t mean maids,” the earl said firmly. “Miss Nestor has been a very good governess but does not comprehend the complexities of a man and woman as husband and wife. Also, I hired her from Bristol, and even though she is very proper, she doesn’t grasp the social niceties required of you in our society. I considered sending you to a school for young ladies, but couldn’t bring myself to do it, and feel you don’t have enough… ah, previous guidance to go. You’re very good with music and languages, but you require other skills… to be accomplished. Your behaviour was adequate while you were a girl, but you’ve grown and changed so completely, especially in the last six months, that further measures are required. I’ve hired a woman, a widow, who comes with very good references. Mrs. Crozier will arrive at the end of this month, and you will follow her instructions daily. Do you understand me? You may speak now.”
Kat glanced up. I don’t know what to say. I’m still a girl. How have I changed? Accomplished? Skills? You thought about sending me away?! To where? Why? This is a most unhappy birthday.
Her father, likely on seeing the tears, quickly sat beside her and put an arm around her shoulders. “You should have a handkerchief. Take mine,” he offered softly. “I’ve managed this poorly. Listen, a gift this year, because I feel you have matured, shall be the tallest swiftest hunter available. Advise me of your selection and I will negotiate a fair price.”
For the last two years Kat continually asked for a champion; a horse she could feel confident making any jump. Last summer she had cut open a knee falling off a horse which tumbled crossing over a wall. Her heart leapt upon hearing her father’s words, the previous statements no longer so dreadful. She smiled brightly, dabbing her wet cheeks, and gave him a hug.
“All’s right, now.” He eased back, then stood with a little smile. “I have one more announcement. A momentous one.”
“This spring, Miss Jane Primrose will be coming to visit with us. Do you remember her?”
“Maybe…” Kat thought a bit. She recalled a short plump woman in her early twenties. “I met her in Town before?”
“Yes, more than once.” He nodded. “If you had proper training you would know to make note of people more closely. It’s not your fault, merely something that needs to be remedied. Katelyn, I’m entering into a courtship with Miss Primrose. Do you understand?”
“A courtship? For… marriage?!”
“Yes, indeed. If her visit is everything I hope it to be, an engagement may be announced during the London season. I want you to be accommodating to her when she visits. She may become my countess, and your mother. Now, we should have our breakfast.” He stepped briskly to the door and paused holding it open. “Coming?”
Kat got to her feet and made for the dining room feeling a little dazed. I’d rather have a sister. Maybe we could have that kind of relationship? Is Father planning to have more children? Then I might have a sister. I’ll see…
This birthday has brought a great deal of change.