Chatsworth House, Derbyshire, mid July 1848
“Would you like to join us in quoits or skittles, Lady Kate?”
Kate spun around to face Spencer, Lord Cavendish of Keighly, a boy her age. She felt embarrassed about being caught searching for secret cupboards among the intricate oak panelling of the breakfast room. Since arriving at Chatsworth House two days previously a steady rain had fallen, so Kate spent much of her time exploring and reading, when not otherwise occupied by the niceties of the visit. The rain had finally stopped during the night.
“We’re playing on the south lawn,” Spencer said
As Kate approached a window to consider the invitation, sunshine lancing into the room, motes hanging in the light, Spencer disappeared through the French doors. She slipped on her gloves, took up her parasol, followed Spencer’s lead, and stepped out from under a balcony onto the gravel and then a perfect flat green sward.
“Come on, Beaufort!” Freddie called.
Freddie, Spencer’s younger brother by two years, possessed a sullen manner, with heavy eyelids that blinked slowly, but beneath lay a clever mind and witty sense of humour. Kate liked Freddie. She liked Spencer too, but upon seeing him this summer he seemed somewhat shy and awkward. Both boys could be rough and tumble. The third and youngest brother, Eddie, aged ten, was small, quiet, and polite. He cautiously tossed quoits at a peg beside a fountain containing seahorse statues.
Kate, clothed in a pale pink silk summer walking suit (with white lace trimmings and bright purple tassels) in anticipation of a guided tour of the estate gardens, strode confidently towards the boys and their flinty governess. A footman stood by, while another set up brightly painted wooden skittles.
“Have a go?” Freddie lobbed a ball at Kate.
Kate halted with a jump and dropped her parasol to catch the ball.
“Freddie!” Spencer yelled and dashed to Kate’s side, picking up her parasol.
“What?” Freddie replied with a shrug. “Beaufort can catch better than you.”
“Don’t call her that,” Spencer said. “I’ll tell Father you’ve been rude again.”
“Oh, yes, do tell the old governor.” Freddie made a dismissive gesture with one hand. “There’s a good lad. Off you go.”
“Boys, that is quite enough!” the governess barked.
Kate noticed Spencer turning a deep shade of red.
“I’m no longer a boy,” he insisted. “I’m fifteen next week!”
“Goodness me, playing at being a manly man for Beaufort?” Freddie drawled. “Too bad you’re so much shorter than her.”
Spencer grabbed the ball from Kate and hurled it at Freddie, missing. He thrust the parasol at Kate and charged his brother, diving into his torso, driving him to the ground. They rolled around and beat at each other viciously. Eddie ceased his quoit tossing to watch. A footman moved to stop the combatants.
“Let them fight,” the governess advised. “Neither will be satisfied until they draw blood.”
Kate looked on in shock. God’s wounds! Don’t kill each other! What should I do?
“Lady Kate!” a voice called from the distance. “Lady Kate!”
Kate turned from the fight and spied a party of adults at the east side of the house, strolling upon a broad gravel walk. One man had left the party to stride briskly onto the south lawn and approached Kate with a wave. It was William Cavendish, the Earl of Burlington, a widower of about forty years of age, and the three boys’ father.
“Lord Burlington!” Kate ran to him. “You must put a stop to this!”
“Ho, ho!” He glanced past Kate briefly but then took her arm and started towards the adults. “Boys need to battle once in a while. Prepares them for life. An appetite for the fray is healthy.”
“Ah, you were a soldier, my lord?” Kate glanced back over her shoulder and saw the boys were now apart, stretched out on the turf, gasping for breath.
“No. Politics, education, and agriculture are my interests.”
“You know the Duke of Rutland?”
“Yes. He breeds thoroughbred racehorses.”
“He has just arrived. Accompanied by one of his sons, Lord John. Have you met him?”
“I cannot recall.”
“Let me introduce you.”
Kate added up the adults while approaching them. Hart leads the tour, of course, it’s his house. He’s a bit older than my father. Since he never married, the man on my elbow is his heir. The Duke of Rutland is looking old. I suppose he is at least seventy. So the man with him must be John… about thirty years of age? He’s handsome… pleasant looking. He’s not the eldest son, so not heir. None have wives? No… widowers and bachelors. I’ll try to walk with my father and Jane. I don’t like this… I’m the only girl – Jane doesn’t count. And I’m the only youngster. “Perhaps Lord Spencer could join us?”
“Goodness, no, he’s merely a boy,” Lord Burlington replied.
“He’s older than me.”
“Pish. He has been trying to act adult – a bit too earnestly. You are mature. That is clear to everyone.”
“I’m not,” Kate replied weakly. My objections are useless.
After the introduction, Hart (the Duke of Devonshire) led them along the side of the mansion to a pillared structure, known as The Temple of Flora. Servants who stood waiting by the east entrance fell in behind them. Kate wished she could walk with her maid. Hart, who spoke softly but required loud tones from others due to his deafness, talked about the construction of the north wing and changes to the gardens. Kate knew something of the layout. Two days previously she had made the climb to the open-air belvedere at the very north end of the mansion and taken in the views. From the belvedere, which included the entire perimeter of the ballroom roof, she had braved the wind and rain to admire the park and, in particular, the stables which alone appeared as large as Quantock Hall. Yesterday, despite some misgivings voiced by her step-mother, Kate went riding in the mist and showers over to the village of Bakewell and back by circuitous routes with her father and his valet. When they returned, the Earl of Burlington arrived with his three sons and their entourage, so the remainder of the day was spent in stilted conversation and dining, the highlight for Kate being the delicious fruity ice creams.
“This structure should be complete this summer,” Hart said, indicating a long attached series of small wood and glass houses, where workmen were labouring. “My gardener – brilliant man – designed it with pipes in which hot water is diverted in cold weather. They house many of the fruit trees used by the kitchen.” He continued talking while they turned south and started towards a long low stone greenhouse.
Kate, who had noticed a knotted snake symbol since arriving, spied the creature again and again in the garden, carved on plinths, laid in stones. Who would want to be represented by a nasty snake? Is Hart a snake? He is supposed to have a lot of mistresses…
Jane managed to ease Kate away from the party for a moment and whisper, “What do you think of all these wealthy eligible men?”
What?! “Really, only Lord John is of a suitable age.” Kate, as always, grew angry when her step-mother made any suggestions of courtship, but did her best to display some diplomacy. “The other gentlemen are far too old.”
“Not Lord Burlington. He’s about forty. I think he likes you. He’s very nice.”
“I thought you were satisfied with the attentions I’ve been receiving from Hugh Grosvenor?”
“I am, I am… however, should one of these men be inclined to show you affection, for goodness sake, encourage him. It won’t hurt you to have a selection of suitors next spring.”
“I have no–”
Kate cut short upon realising Lord John drew near. Jane immediately minced ahead to take Earl Beaufort’s elbow, leaving Kate to receive a tipped hat from Lord John and some polite conversation.
“Those are very pretty ribbons in your hair,” he said with a grin.
“Thank you.” That was a rather weak compliment, but I know something of the sort is mandatory.
“You stayed in Matlock Bath for a few days?” he asked.
“Yes. After we visited Lady Emily…” Kate’s eyes started to sting. She blinked rapidly to quell the tears. Poor Emily! It’s not fair!
“Ah… Countess of Winchelsea?” Lord John frowned. “Yes, very sad… in the midst of life we are in death.”
Word of Lady Emily’s passing had appeared in the newspapers the day the Beauforts arrived at Chatsworth House.
Kate took a breath. Control yourself. You’re not supposed to display emotions. I mustn’t smudge my eye paint. “We stayed four nights at the The Greyhound Inn in Cromford – it was lovely. We went to Matlock Bath every day, but one, due to torrential rain. The view from the Victoria Prospect Tower is tremendous. Someone is building a castle across the dale.”
“That’s Mr. John Smedley.”
“Not a member of the peerage?”
“No. He’s a miller.”
A miller? They earn enough to build castles?! Does Father know this? Perhaps we should open mills? Are millers building castles all over England?
“Who do you visit with next?” Lord John prompted after a moment of silence.
“The Earl of Shrewsbury – at Alton Castle.”
“Perhaps I can persuade your father to stay with us at Belvoir Castle for a spell.”
Kate didn’t speculate. I don’t know, and it’s not for me to say.
After another awkward silence, Lord John tried again. “Did you explore any of the Heights of Abraham disused mines during your stay in Cromford?”
“Indeed! I found them thrilling!” Kate was happy to talk on this subject. “We toured all the show caves.”
“And which did you enjoy the most?”
“The one named after your father, of course, The Great Rutland Cavern! It was wonderfully lit – they have a chandelier. An orchestra played! I thought… oh, I should pay attention to his grace.” Kate realised Hart had started speaking about the impressive cascading waterfall ahead of them. “Much of what he is saying is for my benefit. I’ve never visited here before.” She quickened her pace to reach the front of the party.
Hart didn’t explain a great deal about old features of the park, instead pointing out new aspects or altered portions. They came to a metal willow tree fountain with water spurting from every branch. Kate was delighted. Then they entered an extensive rock garden, crafted of enormous stones, with a high waterfall, and one colossal boulder that rotated on a metal shaft to open a path. Next they ambled to The Great Conservatory and, while Kate had observed it from the belvedere, she felt astounded by the size.
“This looks large enough to play football!” Kate declared as they walked through the glasshouse. She examined the varied plants and cast iron columns, and marvelled at the long sheets of glass forming a sort of herringbone pattern.
The tour continued outside, with talk of winding west and then back towards to house.
“Perhaps Lady Kate would like to see The Grotto?” Lord John suggested loudly.
“Ah, yes…” Hart smiled at Kate. “It was a favourite spot of my mother. I made some changes about twenty years ago.”
“That’s not for me,” the Duke of Rutland stated with a faint groan. “Let the young people go.”
“I’ll go,” said Jane.
“And I will accompany you,” said Lord Burlington.
“Shall we?” Lord John asked Kate.
“Please.” She craned her neck to peer back along the trail. “Isabel!”
Her maid immediately emerged from the woods with some of the other servants.
“Isabel, this way. Bring Miss Pierce.” Kate waved, and started walking with Lord John on a narrow path through the forest.
Up a rise they came to a large round pond, on the other side loomed a cavernous mouth, formed of massive stones. Entering the cave, Kate found a roughly square space, filled with strategically placed faux stalactites and genuine spiderwebs. Jane stood at the mouth of the grotto, holding the parasols, while the men stayed by the pond. Kate could hear them talking of poetry. It seemed Lord John had published a book of poems and was currently working on another.
“Would you recite something for us, Lord John?” Kate asked as she stepped from the grotto. “This mystic setting demands an appropriate rhyme!”
“Ah ha! Right you are, Lady Kate. I agree. Let me think a moment.”
Kate took her parasol and bounded down the little slope, passing where the men stood. She spun to look around at the grotto, to appreciate the setting, slipped, caught herself, took a step back for balance… but there wasn’t any ground to step on? Kate saw tree branches, sky, sun, then sploosh, it all distorted as she submerged backwards into the cloudy water of the pond!
Muffled yells. Cool water, invading every part of her body. Clothes billowed around her… What have I done? Kate thrust her head up, then stood, thigh deep in water. This is a blasted bumble! She tossed her heavy tresses of hair, creating an instantaneous little sun shower in the general vicinity, and without making eye contact with anyone she crawled onto the grassy bank.
“Lady Kate?!” “My word!” “Are you all right?!”
Kate ignored the adults gathering around her. She sat, and glanced across the pond at Isabel and Miss Pierce, who stood frozen, wide-eyed, both with hands to their mouths. Then Kate spotted her parasol, floating placidly, slowly spinning, the handle like a compass needle searching for north. I must get that. She started back into the pond.
“Kate! No!” Jane ordered. “Pierce! You get the parasol.”
Kate almost laughed when she saw the expression of shock and mortification cross Miss Pierce’s face. It didn’t matter, Kate had already waded out, retrieved her parasol, and returned to the bank with a few strong strides. I must make the best of this. Although burning with embarrassment, the situation didn’t seem too bad. Not so mature now, am I.
“Lady Kate?” “Are you cold?” “My goodness gracious!” “What can I do for you?”
While the adults repeated questions of concern, Kate briskly wrung out her skirt and petticoats.
Her step-mother, who momentarily looked apoplectic, recovered and started making pleasant observations. “Uh… well done, Kate. Ha ha. Yes, you managed all that with only mud on your boots. Yes. Well done. That suit should be fine. Ha ha.”
Kate gathered all her skirting and knotted it on one hip. “I must return to the house and see to my toilette. Gentlemen, would you please escort Lady Jane?” Without waiting for a reply, Kate spun on her heels and marched around the pond, water squishing under foot.
The maids watched her approach with their mouths hanging open. Kate went by them without a word. Isabel ran in her wake to keep up.
“My lady, wait,” Isabel called. “You have long grasses in your hair.”
Kate glanced back and saw Lord John in pursuit. She continued determinedly, out of the forest, around the conservatory, then straight for the south lawn of the house. Lord John, jogging, caught up to Kate as she spotted the rest of the adults, who were strolling slowly on the broad gravel walk beside an extraordinarily tall fountain in a long rectangular pond to the south of the house.
“Katelyn?” Earl Beaufort veered in her direction. “Are you…?”
“I’m fine, Father.” Kate kept up her rapid pace. “Simply went for a little swim. Lord John, please join the rest of the party. I insist.”
Now, only pursued by Isabel, Kate did slow a fraction. She heard the men remarking on her appearance.
“All wet and still winsome.” “Comports herself well.” “She reminds me of her mother, God rest her soul.” “Taller, I should say.” “You can be proud, Beaufort.”
Drat! They’re not supposed to think I look good. Then she heard:
“What happened, John?” “She fell in a pond.” “Foolish girl.” “How could she be so careless.”
Oh, that stings a bit.
Kate marched faster than before, onto the south lawn, the ongoing comments left behind, and headed for the breakfast room entrance of the house. Spencer and Freddie stepped away from their game of skittles to watch Kate pass. Spencer showed the red swelling of what would be a black-eye, while Freddie wore blood stains on his collar, probably from a nosebleed.
“I say, Beaufort, you’ve got reeds in your hair,” Freddie drawled. “Oh… you’re sopping.”
“I’m aware,” Kate responded. She pulled a long thin shiny green blade from her shoulder and tossed it aside. “Mind your own business.”
When Kate reached the shadow of the balcony, she briefly looked around to see Isabel hurrying for the east entrance, probably to fetch Kate hot water, and the brothers conferring. Abruptly, Freddie pushed Spencer away and started running towards Kate, then Spencer followed.
Eek! They’re coming to tease me! Kate sprang under the balcony, ran through the French doors and breakfast room, turned in a main corridor that looked into the courtyard, sprinted to the end, through two rooms and onto a hidden spiral staircase. She listened, and heard the boys run to The Great Hall to take The Grand Stairs. Kate scurried up the spiral stairs, two floors, and stepped out via a secret door into the bedroom her step-mother had been occupying during their visit. She dashed through a dressing room, then the bedroom in which her father was quartered, another dressing room, and into her assigned bedroom. There were entrances to both dressing rooms from the corridor, but Kate felt confident the boys wouldn’t dare to enter. They would wonder why they hadn’t caught her on The Grand Stairs, and give up their hunt. Kate could disrobe, and wait for Isabel to search her out, to provide a bath.
As Kate struggled with wet corset strings, Isabel tapped at the narrow servants entrance, then entered with a steaming pitcher and basin. A maid followed with a full tea tray, which she set down on a table by a window.
“Give this to a laundress, quick now,” Isabel told the maid, taking up Kate’s exquisite walking suit. “Soak, wash gently, and press. I think it might be saved.”
The maid raced from the room with the wet clothes.
Isabel immediately started helping Kate with her undergarments. “How are you?” she asked.
“I’m fine. Are you having a bath prepared?”
I not actually dirty. I bathed yesterday. I want to get out of this house… “Cancel the bath. I’ll wash with a cloth.”
“Yes. Please take the rest of these wet clothes down to the laundry.”
By the time Isabel returned from her task, Kate had adequately washed, brushed her hair, and donned fresh undergarments.
“Lay out my habit, please,” Kate said while starting a braid off one temple. “I’m going for a ride.”
“Alone?” Isabel stepped beside Kate and took over the hair dressing.
“I’m certain there are grooms aplenty who are available.”
“Hmm… what do I tell your father? Or step-mother?”
“That I’ve gone for a ride. That’s all. I’ll be back in good time to dress for dinner. Now please make haste. I’d like to be away without seeing anyone.”
“Ah. Hide for a while and everything will settle aright?”
“That is my hope.”
Kate dressed then left Isabel tending to the removal of towels and tea tray, exited her room through the servants entrance, and descended one floor on another set of hidden spiral stairs. When she eased out into a small library room she heard masculine voices coming from The Great Library. Kate stole along a set of shelves, darted into an anteroom, ducking behind pillars, then slipped into the long dining hall. The voices fading, and perceiving none ahead, Kate tiptoed on, passing through a vestibule and entered The Sculpture Gallery. Here she tarried, listening for footsteps or voices, and once again appreciating the artwork, in particular a recently acquired rendering of a kneeling veiled girl and a pair of recumbent lions. Kate cautiously sneaked through The Orangery (a sort of greenhouse garden room) and exited the house by the east doors. She then strode boldly to the stables, passing The Temple of Flora, never glancing back to see if anyone might have seen her from the east yard.
As Kate approached the main doors on the stables, a short man limped from the shadows, leading two fine black thoroughbreds. It was Earl Beaufort’s valet, Rudman. The old cavalryman smiled crookedly at Kate.
“Are you waiting for me?” Kate asked.
Kate saw one horse had been equipped with a side-saddle. “You knew I’d come here?”
Rudman nodded again. “Your father said as much, too.”
“Oh…” They know me better than I know myself.
“Here, I’ll give you a leg up, m’lady.”
Once they were both in the saddle, they cantered north, leaving Chatsworth Park, riding onto rocky high country. The broad fells reminded Kate of the Quantock Hills.
“It will be good to get home,” she sighed when they stopped to take in a sweeping view of the Derwent Valley, a vast fertile land of greens stretched out in the summer sunlight.
“It always is,” Rudman agreed softly.
“Was my father ashamed of me? For falling in the pond?”
“No. He made a joke of it. Said you’re a mermaid at heart.”
“He did?” That makes me feel better.
“Don’t fret. Everything is fine.”
“If splashing about in a pond is your only mishap… as part of… during this… becoming a lady training, you’ll have done well. Better to show some spirit, than sit doing needlepoint all the time.”
Good! I can face everyone later, and laugh about my bumbling. I needn’t care what those silly boys say.
Kate smiled at Rudman, he winked.
“Thank you, Sergeant-Major.”
“You’re welcome, m’lady.”