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An Amiable Afternoon

London, mid May 1847

“We have a full day planned,” Miss Primrose said with a toothy grin.

“We do?” Kate asked. It’s already noon. I’ve had lessons all morning.

“That is, Lord Beaufort and I have made plans, for your benefit.”

“Ah… thank you.”

Kate didn’t like the sound of the phrase ‘for your benefit’ coming from Miss Primrose, but she certainly trusted her father. Of course Kate knew they were going out somewhere, she had been told to prepare by her tutor and governess after they received instructions from the butler. So, as the tall cabinet clock struck twelve, Kate stood ready in the front hall, clothed in a lovely green taffeta dress, a lace shawl on her shoulders and umbrella in hand. She wore a small bonnet, festooned with green and yellow silk flower decorations, her hair in seven braids and gathered loosely to her nape, then dangling down her back.

“I hope the rain stops soon,” Kate said. She had recently been taught to use banal observations of the weather whenever awkward pauses threatened conversations.

“Yes, at least it’s warm.” Miss Primrose strode to a window. “They’ve almost finished changing the horses. Such bad luck throwing a shoe on the way here. Our first stop is Grosvenor House.”

Oh, that is close. We could walk there is a thrice. I wonder why we’re visiting the Marquess of Westminster?

“I wish your father wouldn’t stand out in the rain.”

“He likes being outside,” Kate said. “So do I. Why don’t we join him?”

“Very well.”

A nearby footman, anticipating their request, opened the door wide.

“Father, could we walk to Grosvenor House and have the carriage follow?” Kate called out as they descended from the portico and met with Earl Beaufort under their umbrellas.

“I suppose that would be reasonable,” Miss Primrose said.

“What about your dresses?”

“They’re getting wet anyway.” Miss Primrose peered at her hemline, then shrugged, displaying her indifference on this occasion. “All the ladies will have wet skirts today.”

All what ladies? Now I’m getting curious. Kate eyed the adults, fathoming nothing.

“We are late…” Earl Beaufort briefly consulted his timepiece and thrust it back into his waistcoat pocket. “Reynold! Escort Lady Kate.”

“Yes, my lord.”

Earl Beaufort and Miss Primrose headed south, arm-in-arm, Kate following with Reynold at her side. She held her umbrella high, trying to afford the tall brawny footman some shelter.

“Don’t worry about me, my lady,” Reynold whispered, “I’ll be out in the rain all day. May I hold the umbrella for you?”

“No… but thank you.” Kate liked having something in her hands, so she wouldn’t fidget or touch anything needlessly; a tactic suggested by her governess, to satisfy her tutor’s soldierly discipline. Kate glanced up and sidelong at Reynold’s low brow and square chin, finding him increasingly attractive with each passing day. She imagined him as a knight, or at least a man-at-arms, mounted on a black steed and charging into battle, her silk veil tied around his waist. The romantic fantasy vanished as they passed through one of the triumphal arches of the grand colonnaded screen designating the front boundary of Grosvenor House – all Romanesque carved stone and iron gate work. They approached the similarly styled front doors. Two liveried footman stood within the magnificent portico, the pillars at least four-times larger than the ones at the Beaufort residence.

Grosvenor House, Mayfair.

Grosvenor House, Mayfair, demolished post WWI, the Grosvenor House Hotel built on the site, opened 1929.

“This way, please, my lord.”

One footman led them inside while the other collected the umbrellas with Reynold.

“Hello,” a young man greeted them as he strode across the lavish and expansive front hall.

“Ah, good day, Grosvenor,” Earl Beaufort replied. “Up from Oxford? This is the Honourable Jane Primrose, cousin of the Rosebery Primroses. And do you remember my daughter?”

Kate curtsied and noticed a brief somewhat startled expression on Earl Grosvenor’s face before he bowed.

“Lady Kate,” Miss Primrose said to him softly.

“Yes, of course. It’s been a few years, I’m sure.” He nodded and smiled at Kate. “Did we… how is your brother… Lord Shervage? Yes… yes, it’s probably been five years. You remember me as Hugh?”

“I do. Jack is well, thank you. How are your brothers and sisters?”

“They’re fine. Who was it you were playmates with? Octavia and Agnes?”

“Gilbert and Jane.”

“I’m afraid they’re both currently in Cheshire.”

Earl Grosvenor had named siblings of seventeen and sixteen years of age, while Kate named those of fourteen and twelve, and she expected Hugh to remark on her age. He merely smiled. The 2nd Marquess and Marchioness of Westminster descended the stairs together, and more salutations followed. Kate gathered that her father and Miss Primrose had attended a ball at Grosvenor House the previous week, and this visit was the result of a parley held then. She studied Hugh, and took in his wiry frame and inadequate attempt at a beard, a clear and kind face, well proportioned with a long nose and round chin. As the eldest son of eleven surviving children he would be the next Marquess of Westminster and inherit a vast fortune. Kate glanced at the Marquess of Westminster and thought he hadn’t changed much since last they met, perhaps less hair, and for a man about her father’s age (a little over fifty) he seemed hale. She noted father and son were turned out in fine visiting outfits but the Marchioness of Westminster, who appeared as robust as ever, was dressed quite casually. Kate came from her reverie and focused on the conversation.

“… whilst I have other commitments,” the Marchioness of Westminster said. “And Richard doesn’t want me to know what he may be purchasing for our gallery. Besides, my bother will be there, and… we’ve had a difference of opinion, about our children…”

“Shall we go through to the gallery?” the Marquess of Westminster suggested, taking the pause to change the subject, then led the way into an adjoining wing. “My father built this portion of the house in the early eighteen twenties. This is mostly his collection. Thank the heavens he died in Eaton Hall, or I’m certain he’d haunt this room. ”

Although a somewhat morbid joke, everyone laughed. The visitors spread out to admire the artwork while the hosts accompanied them. Kate started a slow stroll along one side, and upon pausing to examine a portrait found Hugh at her elbow.

“We allow strangers, under certain regulations, to view the gallery in May and June,” he said, then added quickly, “That is, uh… not that you’re a stranger.” He blushed.

Kate smiled at his awkwardness. She stepped very slowly to the next paintings. I should say something. “You’re at Oxford?” she asked

“I’m leaving this year. I hope to take a seat in the House of Commons.”

Kate, knowing very little about the government, couldn’t think of how to comment on his ambition. “These are interesting,” she said, stopping at a sideboard and peering at some fossils and geodes, using the distraction to fashion something positive to say about entering parliament.

“Very,” Hugh agreed. “Most people don’t notice them.”

“Why?”

“Because they’re too busy looking at The Blue Boy.” He pointed to a painting opposite of them.

Kate swivelled around and saw her father, Miss Primrose, and the Westminsters, all admiring a full length life-size portrait of a youth in an old fashioned blue satin suit.

“Who is it of?” she asked.

“No one knows. Thomas Gainsborough rendered it about eighty years ago.”

“Did no one think to ask Mr. Gainsborough who modelled for it?”

“No… ha, ha. I guess they didn’t.”

“How odd.” Kate turned away and started a slow walk again. “Perhaps it’s written on the back?”

“I don’t think so.”

“My tutor tells me to never say that. To not think is unacceptable.”

“A professor of mine often expressed the same sentiment. Let me try again… I believe the entire portrait has been thoroughly inspected, and no name of the subject discovered.”

Kate grinned at his effort. “I think that sounds more like a member of parliament. Very intelligent.”

Hugh returned the grin. “Thank you.”

Kate suddenly felt warm, and inexplicitly her confidence crumbled. Oh, my… what’s wrong with me? She cast her eyes downwards and gracefully glided a few steps, but with a bit of a tremble, then pretended to study some landscapes.

“Those are by Rubens, the Flemish master,” Hugh said. “From around sixteen-hundred.”

I must think of something meaningful to say…

“Time to be on our way,” the Marquess of Westminster announced.

Thank goodness. Kate hurried after the adults.

The Grosvenors: Hugh 1855, Richard circa 1860, and Elizabeth as a young lady.

The Grosvenors: Hugh 1855, Lord Westminster circa 1860, and Lady Westminster as a young lady.

The carriages were pulled up in front of the portico, allowing them to climb in without the need of umbrellas. The men went together and Kate rode with Miss Primrose.

“So…” Miss Primrose said softly with a slight smile, “what do you think of Lord Grosvenor?”

“He’s amiable.”

“And handsome?”

Kate remained silent, considering the repercussions of answering too quickly or too positively. Not responding might be a mistake as well. She didn’t know Miss Primrose well enough to reply openly.

“You’ve been friends a long time?” Miss Primrose prompted.

“Friends? No. I have known him all my life.”

“How old was he when you last met?”

“Fifteen or sixteen.”

“Has he changed much?”

“He has,” Kate said without emotion.

“I’d wager he thinks the same of you.”

“Perhaps. Where are we going?”

“Didn’t you hear us talking earlier? The Duchess of Westminster unintentionally gave us away. You must learn to pay attention to conversations going on around you.”

“Eavesdrop?”

“Of course. Our next stop is the National Gallery. The Royal Academy exhibition opens today – over one thousand paintings, and other works. Drawings, sculptures… ”

“I’m beginning to see a theme,” Kate said.

“Yes, it’s a day of art for you. I hope you’re pleased.”

“I am. Thank you.”

The carriage soon trundled into a queue, slowly edging forward, then came to a halt and they climbed out onto Pall Mall East, in front of the National Gallery, across from Trafalgar Square, with Nelson’s Column, the statues of Charles I, George III, and George IV all within sight, dark and slick in the rain. The men escorted the ladies up the stairs, then their attending footmen took the umbrellas. A fee of one shilling was required at the door, but Marquess of Westminster had tickets for them.

“Some say the National Gallery should be moved,” he said as they entered the building, “away from the smoke and dust of London. However, if the grime forming on the paintings is from the effluvia of the visitors, it would happen wherever the gallery is located. Anyway, we’re going to view all fresh works today. Let’s stay together until we pay respects to my wife’s brother.”

Kate knew the Marquess of Westminster was talking about the Duke of Sutherland, a trustee of the National Gallery and of the British Museum. The Duke of Sutherland stood near the entrance greeting people with a couple of his children, a boy and girl. He looked a bit on the frail side, but happy, and quite possibly the most unpretentious duke in Great Britain. He waved to them and smiled. The men started to bow. Lord Sutherland shook their hands. Miss Primrose curtsied, then stepped away to talk with some other ladies.

“Hello! Hello!” the Duke of Sutherland said.

“How are you?” the Marquess of Westminster yelled.

“Fine. Look at this throng despite the weather.” He indicated the crowd.

“Is Lord Stafford present today, your grace?” the Marquess of Westminster asked, then when there was no response, added loudly, “Is your eldest son, the Marquess of Stafford, here today?”

Kate realised that the Duke of Sutherland must be partially deaf.

“Yes, he’s somewhere, with his Miss Anne Hay-Mackenzie,” the Duke of Sutherland replied with a bit of a grimace. “I’m chaperon. I’m too old to keep up with youngsters and their love making. Lady Caroline is supposed to be helping me. She’s gone off with the Marquess of Kildare. I dare say they’ll be engaged this season. I should be watching them!”

The men laughed. Kate smiled politely.

“And how is her grace, your good wife?” Earl Beaufort asked, also yelling.

“Busy with her Mistress of the Robes duties. I think she spends more time with the queen than with me.”

“You’ve never met my daughter, Katelyn.”

Kate performed a low curtsy.

“She’s styling herself Lady Kate,” Earl Beaufort continued. He turned to the boy. “Lord Frederick, Lady Kate, and…”

“Lady Constance, my lord,” Hugh interjected helpfully.

“Yes, my fifth daughter.” The Duke of Sutherland smiled at her warmly. “She informs that she turns thirteen next month. I confess, all the birthdays get muddled up in my mind.”

Kate hadn’t met Constance before, and saw in her a girl not unlike herself, but much shorter and more delicate. Constance held herself well, dressed like an adult, brunette hair neatly arranged, pale complexion, large blue eyes gazing shyly at each speaker in the conversation, but with fleeting blinks at Hugh.

“Katelyn reached thirteen in January,” Earl Beaufort said. “Where do the years go?”

“Too fast, eh? Tempus fugit.” The Duke of Sutherland looked at his children. “You’re excused. These gentlemen and I are going to talk awhile. Why don’t you select your favourite paintings or sculptures? Connie, show them your portrait. Grosvenor, can I trust you to act as keeper?”

“Of course, your grace.” Hugh inclined his head. “It’s my honour.” Then he motioned for the girls to lead the way.

Kate fell into step beside Constance, Hugh and Frederick following, but as soon as they paused to appreciate a large painting of Joan of Arc, the siblings moved together and Kate found herself at Hugh’s elbow again. Within a few steps the Duke of Beaufort, Henry Somerset, a distant relation of Kate’s, said hello to them. Although in his mid fifties, the duke looked well, something of the old cavalryman showing through, with a straight back and lean build, clad in a neat dark blue suit, gold buttons sparkling on his waistcoat.

“What news from your grandfather?” he asked.

Kate had to think a moment, and realized he meant her mother’s father, Sir Thomas Roberts, a man she hadn’t seen in four years. She remembered the duke and her grandfather had campaigned together during the Napoleonic Wars.

“Last we heard, still in India, your grace.”

“Ah… that’s not a surprise.” He looked at Hugh. “You make a brilliant pair.” He tipped his tall shiny top hat, and sauntered off, not waiting for a bow or curtsy.

Kate and Hugh both blushed and turned away from each other. Kate’s eyes locked on Constance, who’s face clearly showed disappointment. Kate felt horrible and quickly took her arm.

“Please show us your portrait?” she asked.

Constance guided them around the orchestra and through the crowd. “Here it is,” she said quietly, and glanced shyly at Hugh.

“How lovely.” Kate made a point of examining it closely. “Who’s the artist?”

“Richard Buckner. He studied in Rome.”

“It’s excellent,” Kate praised. “The expression is… exquisitely delicate.”

“Thank you.”

“What do you think, Hugh?” Kate stepped back.

“It is wonderful,” he said.

Kate cornered Frederick, who she towered over. “Shall we look at the sculptures?”

“Um… surely.” He stiffly offered Kate his elbow.

They strolled together through the rooms, an incongruous couple; Frederick still very much a boy at fourteen, while Kate far more mature in appearance and demeanour. It didn’t matter, she was determined that Constance and Hugh would be together for the rest of their tour.

There were paintings of fairies, landscapes, Biblical subjects, scenes from legends and Shakespeare, and an unusual painting by the great Mr. Turner depicting the Duke of Wellington riding a giraffe. Kate favoured a drawing of Highlanders and their dogs stalking deer, the prey in the distance, one down in its death throes, while over and past him bounded the startled herd. And she spent quite awhile studying the sculptures, in particular one of a girl, her head bowed in mourning, pressing a dead dove to her bosom. She picked out a miniature enamel portrait of Sir Isaac Newton, and asked that her father be given the opportunity to buy it for her brother, noting that the artist lived conveniently nearby the British Museum.

Kate spotted one of her cousins, Baron Seymour and his wife Georgiana, still a stunning beauty in her late thirties, although definitely wearing some cosmetics. Kate perceived pearl powder brightening her complexion, and a bit too much darkening of her eyelashes. Several gentlemen were gathered around them, talking animatedly.

Constance Leveson-Gower, Henry Somerset, Georgiana Seymour depicted as the Queen of Beauty, & an Edward Seymour caricature from Vanity Fair magazine.

Constance Leveson-Gower by F.X. Winterhalter 1850, Henry Somerset by H.T. Alken 1845, Georgiana Seymour depicted as the Queen of Beauty 1839, and a caricature of Edward Seymour by C. Pellegrini 1869.

After a couple hours of viewing the art, Earl Beaufort waved to Kate from a row of chairs set along one wall where he and Miss Primrose sat together. Kate excused herself from her companions, in some regards happy to get away from them, but overjoyed to see how well Hugh and Constance were getting along.

“We must move on,” Earl Beaufort said, once again consulting his timepiece.

He guided Miss Primrose to the front door with Kate following. Reynold stood outside with the other footmen, ready to convey them to their carriage. He handed out umbrellas and led them to the far side of Trafalgar Square, where thoroughly soaked horses, driver, and attendant, waited patiently.

Once underway, Earl Beaufort, Miss Primrose, and Kate started trading impressions of the exhibition. Much of the art figured in their discussion, but more so the attendees, and the cousins present.

“The Duke of Beaufort talked to me,” Kate related. “I think he thinks I’m out. I think he thinks Hugh and I are courting.”

“That’s a lot of thinking.” Earl Beaufort chuckled.

“Perfectly reasonable assumption,” Miss Primrose said. “In fact, engagements are often arranged before a girl is presented at court.”

“Did Lord Seymour say hello?” Lord Beaufort asked Kate.

“No, he didn’t notice me, or recognise me anyway.”

Earl Beaufort glanced at Miss Primrose. “We’re related to the Somersets and Seymours going back to the Plantagenet civil war. Our families supported the House of Lancaster. We trace our roots to Edward the Third, and John of Gaunt. Somerset’s dukedom is named after a castle in Champagne.”

“Lady Seymour was receiving a great deal of attention.”

“Hmm. Do you recall the Eglinton Tournament?”

Kate didn’t, and cocked her head in thought.

“We visited Scotland,” Earl Beaufort went on, “the summer you were five, and attended a medieval fair. Lady Seymour was the Queen of Beauty for the tournament.”

“Oh! That! Yes, I remember.” Kate smiled upon the recalled images. “The rain and mud! We were completely drenched. But the costumes, armour, and horses… astounding!”

“And you put mud through your hair and clothes and prowled through the tents like a troll.”

“What?!” Miss Primrose let out a peal of merry laughter. “Imagine that!”

“And she stole the jester’s sceptre!”

“Father!” Kate shrank with embarrassment.

“And ran around hitting people and casting spells!”

“Father, please!” she protested, but laughed too. “Funny, I was thinking about knights in armour earlier today. I wish there were such events now. Fancy dress balls are similar. I would want a suit of armour and a gown.”

“Armour?” Miss Primrose asked with shock accenting the word.

“Yes, why not?” I could be Joan of Arc.

“How would you dance? Balls are all about dancing for young ladies.”

“Oh, right.” I’ll need lessons before I come out. “I am looking forward to fancy dress balls. It’s worth it just to have the outfits. Perhaps I’ll have some sort of knight-errant costume made.”

“Ho ho!” Earl Beaufort laughed and shook his head. “The troll has grown chivalrous. Now, speaking of costumes, next stop, Portman Square.”

“As in… the Baker Street Bazaar? Madame Tussaud’s?!”

“Ha haa! Indeed. Quite a different art, but art all the same.”

“It’s the best. The other waxworks are rubbish compared to Madame Tussaud’s.”

Kate meandered through Madame Tussaud’s taking in the details and artistry of the displays. She wasn’t interested in the kings and queens, and spent her time examining the great naval and military heroes, and the most distinguished authors and stage performers, then turned her full attention to the wretchedly depraved and blood-stained murders. She read the histories and wondered at what twist of nature could produce such vile characters. The lifelike appearance of the subjects sent shivers down her spine.

Kate was sorry to leave, but after so many hours out, glad to return home. Mrs. Crozier stood waiting in the front hall.

“A satisfactory afternoon?” she asked.

“Yes, thank you. I must change for dinner.”

“You may take a moment to step down to the kitchen.”

“I may? Why? Does Mrs. Farewell need to see me? Shouldn’t she come up–”

“Too many queries,” Mrs. Crozier said sharply. “You know to ask one question, then wait for a response. Do you have an intelligent question?”

Kate decided not to speak, to merely enjoy a visit downstairs, an area of the house she used to run about frequently until this year. She descended the stairs by the dining room, stepped past the butler and housekeeper offices, and entered the kitchen. Mrs. Farewell was standing with the cook, going over entries in a ledger. Two kitchen maids chopped vegetables. Mrs. Farewell pointed at a little scullery maid diligently scrubbing pots. Kate peered at the girl, sidled along a table to get a better angle, and stared, not believing her eyes.

“Pixie!” Kate declared like a cheer of joy. Hurrah! I’m so happy!

The watercress girl jumped and looked around wide-eyed.

“Yes, Miss,” she said, still scrubbing. “Hello, Miss.”

“It’s my lady,” Mrs. Farewell corrected. “This is Lady Kate, and you address her as my lady.”

“Yes, Mrs. Farewell. I understand.” Pixie glanced at Kate. “My lady.” She turned back to the piles of pots and crockery.

Mrs. Farewell took Kate by the elbow and guided her into the corridor.

“When did she arrive?” Kate asked, grinning so broadly she felt silly but didn’t care.

“Early afternoon. I’d seen her out selling her wares on the street and around the square as usual this morning. A beggarly woman brought her to the back door.”

“That would have been Mrs. Chapman, her cousin.”

“Nobody knew they were coming, but I remembered you saying something. Lord Beaufort said she could have a spot in the kitchen?”

“Yes, he did. About a month ago. It must have taken this long to decide.”

“Hmm… well, she’s on trial with Cook.”

“And?”

“So far she’s fine.”

“I’m certain she’ll do well. Please care for her, Nanny. She may be frightened, leaving her family, entering a grand home for the first time.”

“No doubt. Not to worry. You’d best get upstairs where you belong.”

“Yes. Thank you.”

Kate ascended the stairs as though walking on a cloud, the bliss carrying her up and up, everything in her world sunny, bright, and as it should be.

 

 

 

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