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Christmas With the Primroses

Ulverston, late December 1847

“We must be almost there?” Kate ventured to no one in particular.

Earl Beaufort shook himself out of a slumber and peered around. Kate smiled at her father, happy to see him awake.

“Ulverston cannot be much farther?” she asked.

“What time is it?” the earl asked, as he unfolded his coat and drew a gold timepiece. Turning it towards the window he nodded. “We should be coming to the town any moment.”

“Good.”

Kate leaned forward and looked out a window at the snow shrouded hills. Only the door windows of their grand coach were uncovered, the heavy glass creating somewhat of a distorted view. All the other windows were insulated by blinds and curtains to keep out the cold. During their trip the glass had often frosted, but today it proved warm enough that the heat their bodies produced kept them clear. Kate sat beside her maid Isabel, sometimes cuddling together under blankets, while Rudman occupied the space beside Earl Beaufort. Both the servants were quiet travellers.

“It will be nearing sunset by the time we reach the Primroses’ house,” Earl Beaufort said. He glanced sidelong at his manservant. “I’ll need my evening wear prepared for dinner.”

“O’ course, m’ lawd,” Rudman said without hesitation. “You’ll be turned out proper.”

A vast bay was visible and cottages started to appear in greater frequency. Soon they proceeded down a long stretch of hill, then trundled into Ulverston. It became a slow ordeal, navigating the narrow streets of town, and Kate felt ready to get out and walk. After four long days of travelling she couldn’t contain herself, and dearly wanted fresh air and exercise.

Coaches were ideal for long trips, but could prove ponderous in tight lanes. This print is on the Brighton Mail Coach, 1836.

Coaches were ideal for long trips, but could prove ponderous in tight lanes. This print is of the Brighton Mail Coach, 1836.

“Couldn’t we make our way on foot, Father?” she suggested when their coach was forced to a stop at a corner.

Earl Beaufort swivelled to face Rudman and gazed at Isabel. “What say you? Ready to get out and have a look around?”

“Very good, m’ lawd.” The valet started buttoning his coat.

“Yes, my lord.” The maid inclined her head.

Earl Beaufort tapped the front panel, then opened the door. An attendant jumped off his perch to fold down the steps. Once they were out on the cobbles, Kate taking her father’s elbow and the servants pairing up, they set off along the street. The town of low stone and brick construction was filled with snow, and icicles hung from every eave, the slate roofs glistening in the declining sun.

“This is lovely,” Kate declared, breathing in the cold fresh air. I wish we got more snow.

Earl Beaufort knew his way, leading them to a path, they followed it into a churchyard and onto another road.

“Here we are!”

He indicated a neat grey stone house, three stories, a wall and railing all around, the front door decorated with a holly wreath, and candles flickering in several windows. A footman, putting up the shutters as Rudman opened the gate, stopped to greet them.

“Yes, sir?” He approached, removing his hat. “Oh, m’ lord, welcome.” He bowed, then hurried up the walk to open the door. “Guests have arrived,” he called within.

Kate and her father swept by the footman into the front hall. A butler bowed to them, and held out his hands to accept hats, muffs, and gloves.

“I’m delighted to see you again, my lord,” the butler said. “Miss Primrose and her parents are in the parlour. I believe they are prepared to receive you, if you so desire. Or they shall gladly wait while you freshen yourselves.”

“We don’t currently have the option of fresh linen…” Earl Beaufort said stripping off his coat. “What do you say, Katelyn?”

“I’m fine, I think,” Kate replied while briefly inspecting her hair in a mirror and then checking over her travelling suit.

“Very good. We’ll say hello. Rudman, watch for the carriage.”

“Yes, m’ lawd.”

The butler passed off the outerwear to maids, then led the Beauforts down the hall a few steps and opened a broad door. Two large grey deer-hounds came out, circling the guests, wagging their tails. Kate crouched to get a look into their eyes. Nice doggies.

“Oh, my lord, you’re here!” Miss Primrose exclaimed, getting to her feet. “We didn’t see a carriage.”

“It will be along soon.” Earl Beaufort strode into the room.

The parlour presented a white, scarlet, and gold assault on the eyes, with dramatic wallpaper, carpets, curtains, striped upholstery, and festoons of bows and swags. Kate trailed with the dogs, and immediately found herself embraced by the senior Primroses. The short plump middle-aged couple, wearing splendid velvet outfits of similar bright green, hugged and guided Kate to a spot by the fire.

“Welcome, welcome! Our home is your home.”

“Thank you, Lady Primrose,” Kate said, smiling down at the woman. “May I say, it is a stately house, and very tastefully decorated.” (It was a phrase Mrs. Crozier had taught her.)

“Thank you!” Grace beamed. “But remember, you needn’t use titles with me.”

“Who’d like a drink?” Viscount Primrose darted to a sideboard and started filling little fluted crystal glasses.

A raucous discussion ensued about the journey to Ulverston, then on how the railways were spreading, the Royal Geographical Society, other societies, mining and shipping. Kate, initially making some comments, remained silent and listened rather confused while sipping sherry. It seemed the Primrose’s didn’t own vast tracts of land, simply mines, and their wealth was the result of selling slate. It wasn’t something Kate had considered before; a family of the peerage without an estate. The talk of Royal Societies and a grand new museum being built in London piqued her interest. She had seen the construction site, but didn’t know what it was about, or that her father donated funds to the project. This could be something worth exploring the next time they were in the city.

The sound of baggage being hauled upstairs became evident, so their coach must have finally arrived, and the Beauforts excused themselves to prepare for dinner. An hour later they were seated around the table sipping soup. Another one of the Primrose daughters had arrived with her husband, Sir William Gordon. Suddenly Earl Beaufort rose. Viscount Primrose started to stand but was waved down by the earl.

“Tonight I’d like to make it known,” Earl Beaufort said, grinning at Miss Primrose, “Jane and I have set our wedding date.”

Everyone clapped and there were happy exclamations. Miss Primrose stood and curtsied to them all, then turned and hugged her betrothed. Kate knew the announcement was coming, but still felt all a tremble. This is exciting.

“We plan a February wedding,” Miss Primrose said, flushed and beaming. “Monday, the fourteenth, then three weeks in Bath. Lent doesn’t start until the eighth of March next year.”

“Where will you hold the ceremony, Jane?” Lady Gordon asked.

“Saint James, Taunton. We had thought of London, as part of the season, but decided not to wait, and we prefer the country.”

“Oh, very good!” Grace appeared delighted.

“Hmm?” Earl Beaufort acted puzzled and glanced at Miss Primrose. “Are we inviting your family?”

There followed much laughter and conversation. Kate found it a nice gathering, and she felt high expectations at having them all come to visit Quantock Hall. There were two other sisters with husbands and children, and a son with his family as well. The manor would be busy and full of life. Dinner proved a great success and Kate went to bed thrilled for her father, happy to be staying with the Primroses, and looking forward to the remainder of their visit.

***

After her breakfast, which had been laid out on sideboards in a hotel style, Kate perched in the parlour knitting a scarf. She preferred this pastime to needlepoint, due to the more readily apparent progress. Grace bustled in and out a few times before settling by the fire to read some letters. Kate liked this woman, and surmised Miss Primrose learned her open straight forward manner from her mother. They were the first up for their morning meal, but now cheerful conversation sounded from the dining room, so probably everyone had risen.

“What would you like to do this morning, Kate?” Grace asked, setting down her correspondence.

“What day is the market?”

Ulverston Marketplace 1860.

Ulverston’s market charter was granted for every Thursday in 1280 by Edward I, and also allowed for public houses to be open daily from 10:30 am to 11 pm. This photo depicts the market place and street, 1860.

“Not until Thursday. It will be busy – everyone making purchases for Christmastime feasts.”

“Father said we would see The Lakes. I don’t know how long that takes.”

“Oh, dear!” Grace laughed. “The mountains are beautiful in the snow. My husband spoke of showing your father the mines. The Lakes are for the summer, but we could make a trip to Keswick and back.”

Miss Primrose entered with a raised eyebrow. “Mama, did I hear something about Keswick?”

“Yes. Kate and I were just talking about a journey. So she can view the countryside.”

“It’s far too cold to go by landau,” Miss Primrose said. “Really Mama, you’re just getting over a chill. We’re having a stretch of Canadian temperatures. How much would she see from inside a coach?”

“We could make stops, every few miles?”

Viscount Primrose and Earl Beaufort entered with steaming mugs.

Miss Primrose turned to her father. “Papa, when are you taking Lord Beaufort to see your industry?”

“Uh, I–”

“Let’s see, church tomorrow,” Miss Primrose spoke with authority. “You could leave Monday, take your time, overnight in Ambleside. Tuesday night in Keswick, return here Wednesday or Thursday depending on the roads. The turnpike should be clear and well travelled. Mama and I will prepare for Christmas dinner. Kate will go with you and see the country. Of course you’ll make many stops for her. In Keswick, stay at the Park Inn, it’s lovely.”

“Ho ho!” Earl Beaufort looked at Viscount Primrose with raised eyebrows and a smile.

“You did say we would see The Lakes, Father,” Kate said, glancing from man to man.

***

The schedule followed Miss Primrose’s outline. The coach benches were filled with the addition of Viscount Primrose and his servant, a very polite boy of fifteen called Nobby, who looked about ten and came across as a bit dim. He seemed absolutely entranced by Kate and Isabel, and sat stealing glances at them throughout the ride. Whenever they stopped to walk a bit and look at the country, he watched them closely and constantly offered to be of assistance. Isabel said several times he was sweet and amusing, and promised him a kiss for Christmas.

Kate found The Lakes a beautiful area, and suggested to her father they should visit again during the summer. The road followed valley bottoms and mountain passes, so the peaks were all viewed from a distance and often hidden by low cloud. Kate wondered if wolves roamed the highlands and perhaps they might see some.

Kaye's winter travelling suits would have been something like the outfits shown in these fashion prints from 1847 and 48.

Kate’s winter travelling suits would have been something like the outfits shown in these fashion prints from 1847 and 48.

Viscount Primrose gave them a tour of a vast quarry where slate was mined, split, cut and shipped. Labourers of all ages toiled away in the cold. They seemed quite happy in their work, singing and whistling, and appeared well dressed. Anyone who drew close doffed their caps or curtsied, and wished them a good day. Kate thought it was heavy work for children. Earl Beaufort talked at length about labour laws and how times were changing. Viscount Primrose agreed, and stated he was already ahead of any reforms that had been proposed, and he felt a happy worker equalled a productive worker.

When they rolled into Keswick on the second day, about four o’clock and dark, the Park Inn was welcome indeed. Tea and sweets, then rest and change, ending the day with a late supper. Kate ate a great deal, and drank too much wine, so was happy to curl up in bed. They set out before sunrise the next morning, visiting a stone circle just as daylight reflected off the mountain sides, frost sparkling in the air. It seemed a magical place to Kate, and she imagined ancient people meeting there to hold rituals or cast spells. Reluctantly, climbing into the coach, it turned south and they were on their way back to Ulverston.

***

Dinner on Christmas Day was planned for one o’clock, a couple hours after church, and would carry on all afternoon. Isabel helped Kate braid her hair similarly to the day of the fox hunt, and applied the same bit of cosmetics.

“It’s good to see your bruises have all healed,” Isabel said softly.

“Hmm? Oh, yes…” Kate looked down at her thighs and slipped on a fresh sheer chemise. “I tried to keep them hidden from you.” I guess I’m not as clever as I thought.

“I know. Did Jeremy Connor do that? In his lust?”

“What?! No!” Kate felt stunned. “I thought it was clear nothing happened between Jeremy and me! What have you been thinking? I–”

“All right, all right. Keep your voice down, my lady,” Isabel hissed urgently.

“Would a boy do that to a girl? Bruise her so badly?” I thought love making was tender. She recalled the young couple passionately entwined at the pond, and that it appeared to get a bit rough, then of how Mrs. Crozier spoke of a husband who might beat her. Would he beat me and bed me at the same time?

“Now, I never got a clear look at them,” Isabel said quickly, blushing. “They were hidden by the water when you bathed, and you stayed covered up. It was obvious you were trying to hide something. This is the first time I’ve seen you in just hose since that night. Yes, a man sometimes… loves with such ardour, well, there is bruising, caused by his grip. And Jeremy is very strong. It made me wonder…”

Kate started to picture Jeremy hurting her in such a fashion. She shuddered and pushed it from her mind. “My goodness gracious. Isabel? I’m… I must be a virgin bride.”

“Yes, of course. I’m sorry.”

They stood considering each other for a moment. Kate could tell her maid wasn’t satisfied.

“The bruises… Mrs. Crozier thrashed me, with her walking stick.” There, it’s out.

“She did?” Isabel’s eyes flashed from shock to anger. “Does your father know of this?”

“No, unless Mrs. Crozier told him.”

“Why didn’t you?”

“Because I deserved it – for the trouble and worry I caused. It was thoughtless of me, and made a great deal of work for all the servants. It happens every few months, because of my temper, and thoughtlessness.”

“She’s done it before?” Isabel burned bright red. “I’ll speak to your father. I’ll see her sent packing. As soon as–”

“No, Isabel, no.” Kate shook her head slowly. “I’ve learned so much from her. She’s brilliant – a genius. Perhaps overly strict because of her moral code, but I must continue with her tutelage. I deserved every beating.” As much as I hate them, I know the punishments are just.

“I won’t let her do it again,” Isabel said firmly.

“Yes, you will. But I’m glad we had this talk. Perhaps I can ask you questions? From time to time? About men? Lady Phoebe told me I could write to her, but it’s awkward knowing she… she’s intimate with my brother.” Kate shuddered again. I should be a spinster, no matter what anyone says.

“Of course,” Isabel gave her a hug. “I thought we already had an understanding. As a lady’s-maid I’m trained to never repeat anything you tell me. I’ll keep your every confidence, even if you dismiss me.”

“Oh… good.”

“I thought you’d been with Jeremy, but I didn’t say anything to anyone.”

“Yes, right. I’m glad that’s all cleared up. Help me finish dressing.”

Kate’s gown for Christmas dinner was of very pale pink watered silk, faux holly sewn around the wide off-shoulder collar, a laced boned bodice with voluminous skirt, and short puffed sleeves. In truth an evening dress, but this event was being treated as such. A new gown, as were all the clothes in her travelling wardrobe, this outfit in particular made her look adult, especially with padding on the bosom, and elegant pink lace mittens which covered from her palms to her upper arms. Isabel put fresh sprigs of holly in Kate’s hair, then seven strings of pearls around her neck. This decoration had been her mother’s; the shortest strand acting as a choker, the other strands of varying longer lengths. Kate had never counted the pearls, but felt there were at least four hundred, all white and grey.

When Kate glided into the hall to proceed downstairs, Nobby stood at the window with his mouth hanging open.

“You look like a princess, my lady,” he gasped, and bowed.

“Thank you.” Kate couldn’t help but smile. She did her lowest curtsey for him, putting her head down and holding the pose for a few seconds before rising again.

Nobby grinned and blushed. Kate, a head taller than him, acted as though she was walking away, but then stopped on the first step and turned back to the young valet. He could now look down at her a tiny fraction. She offered her hand, he took it like a courtier, bowed again and kissed it, then blushed some more.

“I believe my maid has a present for you,” Kate whispered. She then minced down the stairs for the party, knowing Isabel would deliver the promised kiss. Love should always be so innocent and sweet. She pushed all previous visions from her mind and entered the parlour to genuine applause from everyone.

A typical mid 1800s Christmas Dinner, a footman and two maids attending to the family and guests.

A typical mid 1800s Christmas Dinner, a footman and two maids attending to the family and guests.

Dinner seemed a never ending delight to the palate. Kate kept her portions small, moved slowly and gracefully, and said little. It was, after all, adult conversation, and she was bewildered by many of the subjects. She knew nothing of parliament or current events, and couldn’t grasp how the queen would have anything to do with Whigs and Tories and dissolving the government, or what that meant. Eager not to upset the adults, she ate and drank, concentrating on not spilling anything. Somehow she mixed up her forks and ended up with one in each hand for two bites, and shook the table when adjusting her seat once, but otherwise seemed to meet all the requirements of polite dining. In between one of the courses the men asked to be excused and went outside for some air. After a moment of silence, Miss Primrose turned on Kate.

“It’s clear to see you will be the most beautiful woman in the wedding party.”

Kate didn’t know how to respond. She thought Miss Primrose might be angry with her. “I don’t want to be,” she said weakly. “I’m not a woman.”

“This is exactly as I planned!” Miss Primrose clapped her hands and chortled, ignoring Kate’s response. “Oh, I can see it. Pink is your colour, but with the brightest silk flowers all along your bosom. And you’ll carry flowers, too, and in your hair. You’ll be stunning, absolutely stunning. When word spreads, well, you might have to come out at fourteen!”

“Now, Jane…” Grace wrinkled her forehead and peered at Kate. “She’s not ready.”

“Pardon?” Miss Primrose popped from her reverie. “Mama, every month that passes will see change in this young lady. What a difference since September!”

“You certainly impress,” Lady Gordon observed.

“I’m not trying to…” Kate sighed. But it is nice to be applauded and complimented, and I do love all these clothes. When did I start liking fancy dresses?

“Poor lamb,” Grace said with a little frown. “Childhood passes so quickly. And we’re adults for such a long time.”

“Indeed,” Miss Primrose agreed, “but no one can go against nature. Kate, you must know you’re on the cusp of womanhood?”

“Yes, and Mrs. Crozier has taught me a great deal. I’m… preparing. Learning lessons daily.” No matter how hard, and not all from my tutor.

“The woman’s doing wonderful work,” Miss Primrose said. “But I’ll teach you to act a lady, suitable for court and all the elite gatherings.”

“You’re going to be fine,” Grace said with a reassuring smile. “Coming out has nothing to do with when you wed. Some girls court for years. Don’t take it too seriously.”

“Court for years?!” Kate exclaimed. “Truly?!”

“Yes, certainly.”

Kate liked that thought and smiled at the ladies. Court for years? Perfect!

 

 

 

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