London, early June 1848
“There they are!” Kate exclaimed, shifting forward in her seat. “Stop here!”
“Where, my lady?”
“Here!” Kate insisted. She craned her neck to catch another glimpse through the traffic. “They’re on the other side of the street. Please stop and let me out!”
“I don’t see the coach,” the driver replied.
Riding in an open landau, Kate had impatiently searched the crowds along the length of Bond Street (Old and New) twice already expecting to find their coach and by extension her step-mother and her maid, Miss Pierce. She knew Jane would be shopping for lace, but also visiting other shops. Kate travelled without her maid as Isabel had taken a rare day to visit relatives in Battersea. There wasn’t a concern, as Kate simply went to a dance lesson where a footman acted as an attendant, then on to Bond Street fully expecting to meet Jane. Kate didn’t feel overly enthused about more shopping, but she did hope to persuade Jane into a lunch in a private room somewhere, perhaps The Three Pigeons.
The driver brought the landau to a halt. Kate sprang from the door and dodged through the heavy traffic.
“My lady!” someone called in her wake.
Kate didn’t look back, and concentrated on the hazards of the street while trying to spot Jane again. She did, the forms of her short plump step-mother and tall thin maid not far away among the crowds. Having navigated the carriages, Kate gave her skirting the briefest of glances, happily didn’t see any splatter, then strode along the pavement, weaving through strolling pedestrians. She drew up behind Jane and opened her mouth to announce her presence, then stopped; it wasn’t them!
Oh no! Kate executed an about-turn and hurried back down the pavement, flying past the eager street-sweepers working the intersections, expecting to catch her landau. She searched in vain to the south end of Old Bond Street, finding the Piccadilly roadway teeming with traffic. They must have turned off somewhere. Kate smoothed her gloves and took stock of her outfit. Standing on the corner, in a new pale pink silk summer suit with white lace trimmings and bright purple tassels, she abruptly grew aware of her situation and glanced apprehensively at the people passing on the pavement. Some of those men look rough… She executed another about-turn and started heading north, scanning both sides of the street for Jane, Miss Pierce, their coach, or the landau on the off chance that it wasn’t already halfway back through Mayfair.
At the corner of Grafton Street a small gaudily attired man stepped in front of Kate and swept off his shiny grey top hat with all the flourish of an actor.
“How loverly to see you agin,” he said with a smile.
Kate froze mid-step and looked the man up and down. She did not recognise him.
“I never forgets a face,” the man continued, “but your name escapes me. Miss?”
Now Kate knew this man didn’t know her at all. “It’s Lady, not Miss,” she said coldly, and waved to a nearby policeman. “Constable!” Kate called.
“No need for that, milady,” the man said with a bow, replaced his hat, and strutted south.
Within five minutes Kate had searched to the north end of New Bond Street. Drat. They must be here somewhere. Her stomach growled. I may as well walk home – ’tis but a mile. She started south again. I’ll search the length once more. It’s the coach I’ll look for, it should be easy to locate. Perhaps it’s parked on a side street.
Another person stepped in Kate’s path, an elderly man wearing fine black clothes like a lawyer or churchman.
“Muh lady,” he said with a crouching bow. “How do you do. Out unaccompanied? May I escort you to your carriage?”
Again, Kate did not recognise this man, but he certainly seemed to know her, and looked to be respectable. “How are we acquainted, Sir?” she asked cautiously.
“I’m an old friend of your parents, of course,” the man replied with a slight smile. “Are you in London for the season?”
The statement of friendship didn’t ring true, but Kate replied, “I am. You know my step-mother, or did you know my mother? How long have you known my father?”
“Hmm… you are Lady Mary, ain’t you?”
“No. Lady Kate. My father is Earl Beaufort.”
“Oh! I’m terrible sorry. I’m afeared I don’t know your parents. Please forgive me.”
“Fine,” Kate said. “You merely confused me with someone else.”
“Indeed. May I still escort you to your carriage? You shouldn’t be out alone.”
“No, thank you, Sir. My step-mother and her maid are nearby. I shall join them.”
“Very good, muh lady.” He tipped his hat. “Have a lovely day.”
Kate continued south, moving slower, anxiety invading her thoughts. Perhaps I should walk home. I’m wasting time searching. This may be folly, but Jane could be close. She peered at every parked coach and all that passed on the street. At the corner of Bruton Place she was stopped again. This man looked a gentleman, about twenty-five years of age, wearing a stylish silk suit, a rose pinned to his lapel.
“My lady,” he said while removing his top hat and bowing from the neck. “What a surprise to find you here. How is your father, Lord Beaufort?”
Once again, Kate did not recognise this man. He stood about as tall as her, with broad shoulders, cheeks marred by smallpox scars but otherwise pleasant with large bright eyes.
“He’s fine, thank you,” she replied. “Where have we previously been introduced, Sir?”
“Last season, I think,” the man said with a slight shrug. He edged closer. “You’re a horsewoman, aren’t you?”
“Yes, I am,” Kate said with a nod, always willing to talk about equine pursuits.
“Ah, I think we may have met at the Epsom derby last year. Were you there, with your father?”
“No. We did attend the races on Ascot Heath.”
“That’s it!” He smiled. “We were introduced there.”
“That may be,” Kate allowed. “I met so many people at Ascot it’s all somewhat of a blur. Forgive me, you are?”
“Sir Richard Hope Castleton of St. Edmundsbury, baronet.” He bowed.
“Sir Richard.” Kate curtsied.
“Lady Kate.” He donned his top hat. “Shall I accompany you? I suspect you’re out shopping with your step-mother?”
Kate felt this baronet must know her, and chided herself for not remembering him. An escort would be reassuring and dispel some uncertainty. “Yes, I welcome your company. My step-mother should be somewhere along the street. I’m hoping to find our coach. It’s black with blue and gold fittings, and has my father’s coat of arms on the doors.”
Sir Richard stepped to the street side of the pavement and offered Kate his elbow, she hesitated, then took it and they ambled south.
“Have you attended many balls this season?” Sir Richard asked.
“No. I’m not out.”
“Never!” Sir Richard jerked his head and gave Kate a searching stare. “What are you waiting for? Aren’t you eighteen or nineteen?”
“My god,” he whispered with accented wonder, “fourteen. Sweet, sweet fourteen.”
Kate thought his reaction a bit odd, but was more concerned with locating her step-mother or their coach.
“Do you have a special beau?” Sir Richard asked. “Someone to kiss in the moonlight?”
Kate almost stopped, struck by the gall of such questions. “No,” she replied quietly.
“I don’t believe it,” Sir Richard snorted. “I’d wager the young and old lords are desperate to get their paws on you.”
“Sir Richard, please…” Kate knew her face must be turning red and hoped the brim of her sunhat offered some shield. “I do not speak on such matters. I hardly know you.”
“Right you are. I’m sorry. It’s my London ways. We’re libertines in the city. Let’s talk horseflesh. What’s in your stable?”
Relieved, Kate spoke about her hunter, and the other mounts she rode regularly. Sir Richard speculated on the value of the animals. Kate couldn’t confirm his estimates as she had no idea what her father paid for each horse. They reached the south end of Old Bond Street, Piccadilly just as busy as before.
“Shall I hail my carriage and see you home?” Sir Richard asked.
“Would you, please?”
“Of course. Anything for such a beautiful young lady. I’ll just be a moment.”
Sir Richard ventured out to the corner and started looking left and right. Kate backed towards a building and felt a foot squish something and slide sideways. She froze, immediately grasping the mishap. She lifted the boot and pulled up her skirting to find a large sticky brown mess. The pungent odour of dog excrement wafted to her nose. A filthy little boy, no more than seven or eight, appeared at her side like a jack-in-the-box.
“Clean yer boots, yer highness?” he squeaked, saluting with a worn scrub brush, a bucket of murky water dangling from his other hand. “Ha’pence t’ clean yer boots!”
Kate didn’t know what she had in the way of money. She felt the coin purse within her reticule and perceived some weight. “What’s your name?” she asked while stepping away from the excrement with her skirting held high, then presented the boot so the boy could go to work.
“Jim, yer highness.” He knelt on the pavement and started scrubbing.
Kate could only see the lower half of his body due to her skirt and petticoats. She wasn’t wearing any drawers and briefly felt embarrassed, but calmed herself by thinking that Jim would be concentrating on her boot, not peeking up. A little girl appeared, about a year older than Jim and marginally less filthy, hauling two buckets.
“I’ve got fresh water,” she announced.
Jim emerged from under Kate’s petticoats and exchanged his bucket then went back to work. The girl took the soiled bucket out to the street and dumped it. Sir Richard, waving for his carriage, gave the girl an odd look that Kate couldn’t reconcile. Was that a leer or a sneer? And why? The girl managed an awkward little curtsey and returned to Kate’s side.
“Do you know him?” Kate asked the girl.
“That’s Gov’nor Dick. He runs the street gangs from here over to Seven Dials.”
“I think you’re mistaken. That’s Sir Richard Castleton.”
Jim’s muffled guffaw was followed by a splash, then he popped up like a jack-in-the-box again. “Ha’pence, yer highness!” He held out a wet hand.
Kate let her skirting fall back into place and opened her reticule.
“Are you with him?” the girl asked Kate, glancing sidelong at Sir Richard’s back.
“No. He’s simply escorting me home. He’s hailing his carriage for us.”
The little girl shook her head slightly and whispered urgently, “Don’t go anywhere with him.”
Kate, who had fished a halfpenny from her coin purse, saw fear in the girl’s eyes.
“It’s none o’ our business, Suzy,” Jim hissed. “Gov’nor Dick knows what’s what.”
Kate gave the halfpenny to Jim, thoughts cascading in her mind. What’s all this? Governor Dick? I’m getting into a carriage with a stranger. But he knows me… and Father… I think. Kate scanned the intersection. Along Piccadilly, standing in a shadowed doorway, she spied the small gaudily attired man watching her with a grin. Looking back up Old Bond Street, she saw the elderly man in black staring at her as he spoke with a collection of street boys. Her stomach tightened, her heart started to pound, her temples throbbed. Are they all together? Did they… somehow, feed each other information about me? I’m so stupid… “I must find a constable,” Kate gasped.
“Oh no!” Jim spat. “Gov’nor Dick ‘ll kill us for this!”
A carriage drew to a stop and Sir Richard opened the door. Kate took in the battered appearance of the burly driver, the covered windows, the dark interior.
“Help me get away,” Kate whispered to the children, “and I won’t call for a constable.”
Suzy dropped her buckets and took Kate’s hand. They ran a few paces up Old Bond Street and entered a coffee house. Everything passed in a blur as Kate followed the nimble girl. They dashed through several rooms, into an irregular shaped court, entered some sort of laundry, then emerged on another street. Kate, disoriented, spun around trying to determine if they were safe. For the first time she noticed that Jim was with them, clutching one empty bucket and his brush, looking miserable.
“We’re good as dead,” Jim mewled.
“It’ll be fine,” Suzy said. “We’ll tell everyone that this lady was going to call a constable, so we led her away.”
“How did the lady know she needed help? Gov’nor Dick had worked her with Flash Bob and Parson Bill. They had her neatly trussed up for Dick’s house. It was you telling her… saying who Dick is, what ruined it.”
Kate felt shocked to hear such words from Jim, the total acceptance of a predatory trap. The enormity of the scheme splashed through her insides like ice water. How many times had the gang used opportunist tactics like this to take advantage of young women on the street, and what fate waited for them?
“What would Governor Dick have done with me?” Kate asked lowly.
Neither child answered. They stood staring up at Kate with blank faces, dark shadows under their eyes. A resemblance between them became evident.
“You’re siblings.” Kate stated. “Do you have other brothers and sisters?”
“Just us,” Suzy replied.
“Where do you live?”
“Wherever. We’ve been sleeping under Adelphi Wharf.”
“We can’t go there now,” Jim whined. “Teddie’s gang was with Parson Bill. They’ll be out to kill us.”
“Why?” Kate asked, still confused.
“I’ve heard Gov’nor Dick gets a hundred pounds for a lady like you.”
“He does? That’s not very much.” My clothing is worth roughly one hundred guineas.
“Is so!” Jim said. “We could live forever on a hundred pounds!”
“Oh… right.” I suppose it is a weighty sum for the common people. Who would pay such an amount for me? What would he expect for it?
“He’d get ever so much more for her,” Suzy said to her brother. “They’d hold her for ransom. A hundred – hundred or some much.”
“Whatever…” Jim sulked. “We spoiled it. We’re dead.”
“You must go to a workhouse,” Kate advised. “To be cared for, and learn a trade.”
“I got a trade,” Jim muttered angrily. “I’m a boot scrubber.”
“They won’t take us,” Suzy said with a slow sad shake of her head.
“They will,” Kate rejoined. “There is a workhouse near my house. I’ll take you there.”
“Really?” Jim eyed Kate suspiciously. “Why?”
“To help you. And as thanks for warning me of Governor Dick’s nefarious intentions. And to protect you from the gangs.”
“Thank you!” Suzy said. “We must go, then, Miss. There’s some of Teddie’s boys now.”
Three ragtag youths approached from a busy thoroughfare that Kate thought must be Piccadilly.
“What street are we on?” Kate asked, worried that Governor Dick or his cronies might appear.
“Can you get us to Berkeley Square while avoiding these boys?”
“Come on,” Jim said, heading north on bowed legs, a clear sign of protracted malnutrition.
They swiftly ducked into an alley, Kate high-steeping over piles of rotting waste, and entered a sprawling mews with scattered stalls of various sizes, mounds of manure, swarms of flies, men and boys hard at labour.
“So much for yer clean boots, yer highness” Jim said over his shoulder.
Kate didn’t comment, keenly aware of how she glowed in this world of brown and grey. For the first time she noticed the children were barefoot, with red sores between their toes. They emerged onto Dover Street, traversed the traffic, and headed north, then turned into another alley, crossed a courtyard, and entered a smaller mews with many carriages. A moment later they stepped out near the corner of Hay Hill and Berkeley Street.
“Oh, well done,” Kate said, descrying Berkeley Square all but fifty paces to the north.
Across the street lay Lansdowne House, and Kate thought briefly of calling upon the Fitzmaurice family but she didn’t know if they were occupying their grand residence for the season or were renting it out again. Whomever might be within would probably provide her with an escort or a carriage, or both, but Kate didn’t want to intrude with two street urchins in tow.
“We’re still being chased,” Suzy said, looking south. “There’s a couple o’ Teddie’s boys.”
“They’ll be coming along Hay Hill, too,” said Jim. “And through the stables.”
Kate spotted a pair of officers sauntering together in Berkeley Square, their red tunics clearly visible within the verdant green sward. “This way,” Kate ordered the children, now taking the lead. She jogged along the pavement. “I’ll ask those soldiers to accompany us.”
The children scampered after Kate and, as she drew near to the officers, sort of hid behind her voluminous skirt.
“Gentlemen!” Kate called. “Excuse me, gentlemen.”
The officers unlocked their elbows, turned her way, and removed their forage caps. Kate recognised their uniforms as captains in the Royal Engineers, both men quite young.
“May we be of assistance, Miss?” the shorter officer asked with a Scottish accent.
“I think so, yes, please,” Kate replied while drawing near. “I require an escort to the workhouse on Mount Street – not far from here. And then, perhaps, to my home on Upper Brook Street. I’m being followed by some street toughs who mean to do these children harm.” She made a gesture to Suzy and Jim who peeked around Kate’s hips at the soldiers. “Would you gentlemen spare me your time?”
“Delighted,” the taller officer said, grinning, twirling his swagger stick. “Captain Lewis at your service.”
“Captain Dunnett,” the shorter officer said with a small bow. “May we have the honour of your name, Miss?”
“Beaufort,” Kate replied. Let’s keep matters simple.
The captains replaced their caps and stepped to each side of Kate, taking her elbows before she could object. She stood taller than one, shorter than the other, but fit nicely between them and felt much safer.
“In London for the season, Miss Beaufort?” Captain Dunnett asked.
“There’s a review in Regent’s Park this Saturday afternoon,” Captain Lewis said. “Perhaps you will attend? Perhaps we’ll see you there?”
“Our brother officers of the Grenadier Guards are hosting a ball that evening,” Captain Dunnett added quickly. “I could request that you appear on the list of guests. Of course your parents would be welcome as chaperones. Might that interest you?”
“Does our Miss Beaufort like to dance?” Captain Lewis asked, twirling his swagger stick again.
“I do, some dances.”
“I’m certain Miss Beaufort is as graceful as a swan,” Captain Dunnett said to Captain Lewis.
“Indeed!” Captain Lewis agreed.
“Indeed!” Captain Dunnett echoed.
“Indeed!” Jim squeaked from behind them.
Kate laughed and the officers joined in. She felt her heart rate slowing, her muscles relaxing. During this calming stroll Kate realized how frightened she had been while escaping from Governor Dick and the gang. The captains peppered Kate with questions and careful compliments; she answered with short elusive answers and gracious acceptance. In a few minutes they arrived at the large soot-blackened brick workhouse on Mount Street. An elderly little doorman raised an eyebrow and removed his cap as Kate and her odd entourage stopped at the gate.
“Good day,” Kate said to the man. “I’d like to see the master, or warden, or whomever is in command, please.”
The man stared at her with his toothless mouth hanging open.
“I say, there’s a good fellow,” Captain Lewis said, tapping the doorman on the shoulder with his swagger stick. “Run along and fetch the headman, or show the lady through to his office.”
“Yesh, Shir, yesh.” lisped the doorman. He replaced his cap and motioned for them to follow him. “Thish way.” He led them through the gateway into a small yard, where two archways revealed larger yards and a grand set of double-doors lay before them. “Wait here, pleashe.” He shuffled into one of the yards and out of sight.
Captain Lewis marched to an archway, made a great show of surveying the yard with head held high, then marched to the other archway and repeated the process. Suzy and Jim remained close to Kate and exchanged a few whispers.
“So this will be your new home?” Captain Dunnett asked the children.
Before they could answer a loud clank resonated from within and one of the doors opened, the doorman peeked out, then a portly man clothed in grey and black emerged onto the threshold. A grizzled neck beard sprouted from his collar, and he cradled a large ledger under one arm.
“Good afternoon,” he said, in an unwelcoming tone. “I’m Mr. Churler. How may I be of service?”
“This is Miss Beaufort,” Captain Lewis said. “She’s brought you a couple new wards.”
“This establishment is for the deserving poor,” Mr. Churler snapped. “We can’t accept everyone that comes along – there isn’t room.”
“In what circumstances are children not deserving?” Kate asked.
“Are they of this parish? Who are their people?”
Kate turned and crouched to peer at Suzy and Jim. “What did your mother and father do?”
The children didn’t reply.
“Did you know them?” Mr. Churler demanded, aiming a wet bulging eye at the children. “What were there names?”
“He don’t want us,” Suzy whispered to Kate, tears welling in her eyes.
Jim wore an angry scowl, hugging his bucket.
“Listen here,” Captain Dunnett said. “If the lad and lass have no parents, they haven’t their guilt, and come with a clean slate.”
“That won’t do,” Mr. Churler replied firmly.
“Do you have room for them?” Kate asked.
“We do, but that’s not the point.”
“What if I were to vouch for them?”
“Oh. You know them, then?” Mr. Churler’s voice dripped with sarcasm. “You can tell me all about them? Their kin?”
“I don’t like your tone,” Captain Lewis said, edging close to Mr. Churler.
“I’ll not be bullied,” Mr. Churler spouted, his round face flushing. “You know nothing of this business. Our Mayday fund raiser brought in much less than expected this year. And we–
“What if I sponsored the children,” Kate interjected, thinking fast, pulling her coin purse out and holding up two gold sovereigns.
“That could make a difference,” Mr. Churler said in a softer tone.
“And I could help next Mayday, to raise funds.”
“I might… make a speech? Here in the yard. About the good work you do? And encourage the listeners to give to this establishment.”
“Who would attend this speech?”
“Ah… I…” Now I’ve done it. “My father could invite… friends, and certain families, who have an interest in me.”
“What sort of interest?”
“Next spring, I’ll be a debutante.” There, I’ve said it. I’m committed. Kate glanced briefly at the captains; their faces dropped. “There are suitors, and families of suitors, who would attend a speech given by me.”
“And… who are these suitors?” Mr. Churler asked, squinting at Kate.
“I shan’t say. But my father is Earl Beaufort, and I am Lady Kate, his only daughter.”
The captains retreated a few steps, casting shocked eyes from Kate to each other. She abruptly felt alone and exposed.
“Earl Beaufort?” Mr. Churler sputtered. “He gives here annually!”
“He does?” Kate asked. “Well, does that change your… attitude, in regards to these children?”
“Most certainly, my lady!” Mr. Churler’s expression and posture shifted from bumptious to fawning. “But I’ll hold you to your promise, my lady. A speech, next Mayday, with your guests, and your father’s, in attendance.”
“Very well.” What have I got myself into? She crouched to face the children again. “Did you hear? You’re allowed to stay.”
“Thank you, Miss!” Suzy said, and she elbowed her brother in the ribs.
“Ta, yer highness,” Jim muttered.
“I’ll visit in a few days,” Kate said to the children, but glanced at Mr. Churler. “I’ll expect to find you in clean clothes, with socks and boots.”
“So you will, my lady, I promise.” Mr. Churler nodded his head vigorously. “And they’ll start learning a trade, my lady. Will you sign them in?” He opened his ledger and offered a pencil.
“Susan and James?” Kate asked the children.
“Yes, Miss,” Suzy replied.
“A family name?” Mr. Churler asked.
The children stood mute.
“How about Bond?” Kate suggested. “We met on Bond Street.”
“Or Berkeley,” Captain Lewis said, having found his voice again. “Where we all made a merry acquaintance.”
“Which would you rather?” Kate asked the children. “Bond or Berkeley?”
“Berkeley,” said Suzy.
“Bond,” said Jim.
Suzy elbowed him in the ribs again.
“Berkeley,” Jim murmured with a sour little grimace.
“A fine choice,” Kate said while writing in the ledger. “An old and noble name.”
With much bowing and scraping Mr. Churler wished Kate good day and ushered the children inside. The doorman conveyed Kate and the officers back to the gate. On the pavement of Mount Street an awkward silence ensued. No members of the gang were visible, but they could have been watching from hiding spots.
“Gentlemen,” Kate said, “please forgive my deception. I’m younger than you thought, and of a higher rank than I led on.”
“You are, me lady,” Captain Dunnett said plainly.
“Shall we still escort you home, my lady?” Captain Lewis asked.
“Would you, please?”
“Of course, my lady.”
The officers stepped to each side of Kate again, but they didn’t take her elbows. They walked carefully and sort of half bowed whenever responding to her banal observations about the sights and weather. Their previous friendly banter didn’t return, making Kate a trifle wistful, but her joy in securing a safe residence for the children outweighed any melancholy. The trio hiked to South Audley Street and headed north, passed by Grosvenor Square, and turned onto Upper Brook Street. Kate realized people were stopping to stare at her and the young officers. She cautiously waved to a few neighbours, and saw the Marquess and Marchioness of Westminster roll by in a carriage. I’m going to be the subject of gossip. Here I am, turning up on the doorstep with a pair of captains. Do I ever do anything by convention? What were my options? I wonder if I’ve been missed.
“This is my house,” Kate said when they arrived at the front stairs.
Wade, the youngest footman, stood within the portico. He saw Kate and darted inside.
“We’d best part ways,” Kate said to the officers. “Thank you gentlemen, for your gallant assistance today.”
The officers removed their forage caps, and bowed. Kate favoured them with a long slow curtsy, then climbed the stairs. Jane bustled out onto the portico with Wade at her heels.
“Where have you been?” Jane demanded.
“I walked from Bond Street,” Kate replied evasively. “Why weren’t you there?”
“Never mind about me! You shouldn’t have gone into the street alone. Thank goodness your father is out and doesn’t know – he would have called for the Household Cavalry to search. As it is, half the servants are scouring the shops on Bond Street.”
“Oh… I’m sorry.” Kate grew hot. “Wade, please run over there and ask everyone to return home.”
“Yes, my lady.” Wade bounded down the stairs and dashed off.
“Sorry about the servants?” Jane asked. “What about me?”
Kate sidestepped around Jane and entered the front hall.
“Who were those soldiers?” Jane cried.
“Calm yourself,” Kate said in a hush, removing her sunhat. She briefly explained to Jane what had occurred.
“And you…” Jane said, a small smile appearing, “told this Mr. Churler, that you’ll make a speech? As part of your debutante season?”
“I did,” Kate confirmed. “Shall I ring for luncheon?”
“Next Mayday?” Jane asked.
“Yes,” Kate replied with a sigh.
“You’re coming out, next year.”
“Yes. Enough, Mother.”
“Very good!” Jane clapped and performed a gleeful pirouette.
“Arrgh!” Kate groaned and stormed down to the kitchen.