Crowcombe Court, late November 1847
The hunt party pressed north-west, arriving at the Drove Road, the ancient stone-walled and beech-lined trading route running along the Quantock Hills from the Bristol Channel to the rich farmland of the south. They followed the beaten dirt lane to the Crowcombe Road and descended into the valley, walking their horses. After passing through a portion of the Carew’s private forest, the group split, with the master, huntsman, and whipper-ins guiding the hounds to the kennel, while the hunters returned to the stable square. Robert Carew cheerily aided Kate and Lady Carew in dismounting. Grooms took their whips and tended to the horses. They strolled towards the back of the manor with much animated conversation.
“I’ve yet to meet everyone,” Kate said softly and urgently to Lady Carew.
“How delinquent of me. Let me remedy that now.”
Lady Carew quickly started calling out to the party as they walked, making somewhat informal introductions, without all the bowing and curtsying required. Kate preferred the breezy salutations, but quickly lost track of who was whom. She cursed herself for not attaching names to faces. To make matters worse, there were further revellers who hadn’t participated in the hunt. The cavalry officer, dashing in his tight dark blue uniform, about twenty years of age, took the opportunity to match Kate’s pace and chat.
“Lady Kate, I’m pleased to introduce the Right Honourable Lord Garvagh, of Garvagh, in the county of Londonderry,” Lady Carew said. “My lord, this is the Lady Katelyn Elizabeth Beaufort.”
Kate noted Lady Carew’s use of her full name in an introduction for the first time.
“I’m just Cornet Charlie Canning now, a simple soldier.” Baron Garvagh spoke with a slight accent. “May I serve as escort, ladies?” He stepped between them and offered his elbows.
Kate appreciated his unpretentious air and readily hooked his arm with a bright smile. Lady Carew hesitated, then drew up short, so they stopped.
“I’ve decided to return to the stables,” she said, waving them to continue. “I’ll be along with my husband presently.” She turned and glided away.
“So… I’ve got you to myself for a moment.” Baron Garvagh grinned at Kate as they started strolling again. “Do you mind? Walking on the arm of a mere subaltern?”
“Not at all, Lord Garvagh.” Kate felt trembly, and didn’t know why.
“Oh no, that won’t do.” He patted her hand where it rested on his arm, his large black gauntlet covering her small buff glove. “Charlie, please. And shall I address you as Katelyn?”
“I use Kate,” she said, but then reconsidered the familiarity. “May we call each other by our first names?”
“Aren’t you sweet,” he declared. “Innocence itself!” He tipped his head down by Kate’s and whispered, “We’ll do so only when no one is listening.”
Kate couldn’t suppress a smile, and glanced away, feeling a blush at the man’s playful conspiratorial mien.
They neared the back of the manor, a lovely garden but past its season. Tables sat in a line with food and drink, footmen and maids in attendance. Some of the party gathered there, in small circles, sipping from various glasses or cups depending on the beverage, eating sandwiches, biscuits, and tarts. Wide stone stairs led into a cellar from which conversation resonated.
“Would you like a refreshment, my lady?”
“I would,” Kate confirmed. I have to make water! “Please excuse me for a moment first?”
“Of course. I’ll be waiting for you.”
Kate stepped down into the cellar, a large room with pillars and arches like a castle undercroft. Long tables and chairs were set out for dining, and the trio of ladies were seated together with Mrs. Carew and another woman. Kate approached them, they stopped talking and smiled at her.
“Good afternoon, Mrs. Carew,” Kate said. “Thank you for hosting this lovely party.”
“You’re very welcome, my dear. Lady Kate, please know Miss Eleanor Curtis, of Plaistow, Essex.”
“How do you do.” Kate nodded to the young woman. “I met your parents outside.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, my lady.”
“How did the rest of the hunt go?” Mrs. Taylor asked.
“Very well,” Kate responded, still not sure if she should mention the accident. “Is there a dressing room I may use?”
“Yes.” Lady Trollope rose. “You needn’t disturb yourself, Mrs. Carew.” Now off her horse, the newly-wed’s plain features brightened. “There are rooms for us at the top of the stairs. I’ll show you.”
A sitting room with a servant in attendance had been prepared for the ladies. Kate removed her hat and jacket for the maid to freshen, then stepped behind a folding screen to relieve herself. She examined her reflection and was pleased to see her eye cosmetics not smudged, her shirt hadn’t been splattered, her face clean; her veils had served their purpose admirably. A pitcher of water and glasses were laid out, so she savoured a large gulp. The salve completely gone from her lips, Kate didn’t feel too concerned as she was about to dine. She put on her jacket, neatened her hair, let the maid re-tie her ribbon, then donned her hat, the veils once again hanging from the back. The maid knelt and brushed off any grass or gobs of mud which had collected on the skirt of the habit. In the time it took to do this Kate grew uncomfortably hot, so happily returned to the cool cellar, and back outside. Not certain of what to try, she drifted to a steaming punch bowl and received a cup from a footman, then selected a biscuit. Looking east, the boys and two of the men were starting to play football in a pasture. Kate wished to join in but knew it to be an impossibility.
When she turned away, Charlie stood nearby holding a tankard.
“Fine ale,” he said. “I see you found your own drink.”
“This hot cider is very nice. It has ginger and raisins.” Kate studied his uniform while sipping. The dark colour and shiny gold buttons reminded her of the outfit she wore.
“Garvagh.” Earl Beaufort approached. “Met my daughter, have you?”
“I have, my lord. And I must say, you can be proud of her equestrian skills. Why haven’t I seen her with you up in London for the season?”
“We’re there, at least for April and May every year, but she only attends family functions which include children.”
“Oh? Ahh… I see.” Charlie turned to Kate. “Will you come out next spring?”
“No. Perhaps the following year, or the next. After I complete my education.”
“You’ll have to wait some time before you find her at the grand balls,” Earl Beaufort said. “What say you, Garvagh, worth it?”
“Father, please.” You’re embarrassing me. It’s awkward, this looking an adult. I might hide at home until I’m twenty.
“Yes, indeed!” Charlie smiled. “And I suspect Lady Kate will suffer no shortage of dance partners.”
At that moment Henry Carew emerged from the cellar. He wore fresh clothes and his strides appeared stiff. Sir Walter and Lady Carew, who had joined the party, stopped to talk with him. Sir Walter laughed loudly and patted his brother on the shoulder. Henry turned a shade of red and moved to the refreshments. Kate could see a split upon his bottom lip.
“Well, well…” Sir Walter said, approaching the Beauforts and Charlie. “Everyone had a good day, except poor Henry.”
“What happened?” Lord Beaufort asked.
“Father, Mr. Carew, and his horse, took a… a terrifying tumble.”
“Indeed,” Lady Carew said quietly, stitching her eyebrows and frowning. “He was showing off and could have broken his neck.”
Earl Beaufort and Charlie snickered.
“Ha ha! A king’s death, eh?” Sir Walter exclaimed. “Ha ha! Ha ha!”
Kate didn’t glean any humour from the mishap. Who was he showing off for, me?
“So, bought a commission?” Earl Beaufort said to Charlie. “Eager for adventure?”
“Seemed as good a vocation as any,” Charlie replied with a shrug. “Serve Queen and country, protect our Empire.”
“Excellent!” Sir Walter said.
“Yes,” Earl Beaufort agreed. “High-minded of you.”
“Thank you, gentlemen.”
“Are those your tools?” Earl Beaufort indicated a table where cavalry accoutrements glinted in the sunlight.
“They are.” Charlie moved towards the array, the Beauforts and Carews following.
“Tenth, eh? They’re currently in India?”
“That’s right, my lord. I sail in the new year.”
Kate slipped around her father and inspected the items; a dark fur busby with a white plume and gold chin scales, a lavishly trimmed pelisse lined with similar fur, a sabretache of crimson leather with gold embroidery, and a sabre in a heavy silver scabbard. Earl Beaufort picked up the weapon and drew it.
“Very nice,” he judged, pointing it towards a tree, performing a few careful thrusts. “What do you think, Katelyn?” He reversed the blade and held it for her.
Kate set her cider down and took the handle, then copied his movements. She added some savage hacks and violent thrusts, sweeping her skirt aside with the attacks. “Hmm… balanced well. Not overly curved. It’s a light blade, pipe-back, which prevents a deep slash. But you kill with the point, after all.” She merely repeated what her father and his valet had taught her. Turning to face the group she went on with her own thoughts, “I prefer shagreen for the grip. The guard is a practical design and not restricting, however I…”
The entire gathering stood staring at her with various expressions of shock. From Charlie and the Carews, to the maids and footmen, and everyone in between. Only her father seemed unperturbed, holding the scabbard, a proud smile upon his face.
Oh no, I’ve made a social blunder! Kate lowered the weapon and placed it on the table, pretending to examine the sabretache. “Very nice embroidery,” she said softly, then took up her cider and sipped.
Charlie let go with a loud guffaw, Sir Walter joining in.
“What a fine hussar you’d make, my lady,” Charlie said between snorts. “I’d give half my lands to see you in the uniform!”
The moment passed and everyone came back to life. Earl Beaufort, perhaps understanding an error had been committed on his part, picked up the sabre and sheathed it. “Very well thought out opinion,” he averred, rather louder than necessary. “Never let it be said that my daughter is afraid to answer a question.”
“Yes, indeed,” Sir Walter said. “And provides intelligent observations.”
“Hear, hear!” Charlie raised his tankard.
Kate felt uncomfortable with the situation and didn’t know what to do.
“I’m famished,” Lady Carew said. “Lady Kate, shall we fill plates and join the ladies?”
“Yes, please.” Thank goodness, she’s rescuing me. “May I be excused, Father?”
“Of course, off you go.”
Lady Carew led, Kate close behind, taking a plate and arranging it with an assortment of edibles. A maid then carried the dishes, so the ladies could manage their skirts and drinks, and they entered the cellar. Kate felt relieved to retreat into company who hadn’t witnessed her swordplay and assessment. Robert Carew sat between Eleanor Curtis and the very old Mrs. Mary Carew, the family matriarch, engaged in pleasant conversation. Mrs. Griffith poured out tea for everyone. Joining them at their table, Kate was happy to quietly eat and sip her drink. She briefly thought of her friend, Abby, who worked in the Crowcombe Court kitchens. Could I sneak in a visit? No, that wouldn’t be appropriate.
After a few minutes, Henry Carew joined them, sitting at the empty end of the table, a bit removed from everyone but closest to Kate. She glanced at him several times. He stared fixedly out the nearest window. The conversations went on with varied subjects and little purpose. Finally, Kate couldn’t stand it any longer.
“Are you quite all right, Mr. Carew?”
“I confess, my lady,” he said quietly, “my wrist and hips are bruised, but not nearly so much as my ego.”
“I’m embarrassed by my fall.”
“You oughtn’t be,” Kate said, impressed by his honesty. “I’ve fallen many times. I wasn’t embarrassed. Doesn’t it happen to everyone? At least those who try for truly great flying leaps?”
“Yes, I dare say you’re correct. And so it is with life.”
Kate felt puzzled by his statement, but didn’t question him on it. She grinned, pleased to have him somewhat friendly. “How long are you staying in Crowcombe?”
“Only a few days. But Rattery isn’t far away. Will you come to another hunt?”
“I believe so, but I cannot say when. We’re spending Christmastime with the Primroses in Ulverston. Will Mr. Carew host another hunt soon?”
“I don’t know, and business might keep me away.”
Kate thought a bit, her mind more on horses than anything. “The jump you attempted today, have you made many like that before?”
“And at a gallop?”
“I would truly love to acquire such skill,” Kate sighed, envisioning herself flying through the air, first in a habit, then wearing a hussar uniform, sabre drawn. She focused and swivelled in her chair so she could lean closer to Henry. “How do you collect your horse, for such a jump, at a gallop?”
“The same way you do at a canter, but with a lighter hand and firmer leg.” He smiled, causing his bottom lip to split anew, blood spreading across his teeth. “It’s about trusting your mount, and getting the timing correct.”
“Would you teach me?”
“I’m afraid I cannot promise to, although it would be my pleasure.” Thick red gore emerged from a nostril.
“Mr. Carew, you’re bleeding.” Kate offered him her serviette. “Your mouth and nose.”
He put a hand to his lip and saw the blood. He rose and pulled out a handkerchief. “I’ll look forward to meeting another time. Please excuse me, my lady.” He bowed and strode quickly from the cellar.
After a moment, Kate eating and listening to the other conversations, Lady Carew moved and sat beside her.
“Are you aware of what’s going on?” Lady Carew asked under her breath.
“Yes?” Kate thought she did. We’re being social? This is what adults do?
Lady Carew took Kate by the hand and led her up to the sitting room. “Leave us a moment,” she ordered the maid. She then turned on Kate with a raised eyebrow. “You… are seducing men, left and right.”
“I am not!”
“Henry is completely smitten – that’s obvious. You’ve enchanted Lord Garvagh as well. And every man on this hunt, to some degree or another.”
“What?! I had no intention of–”
“Ha! With that costume? And hair?”
“I’ve been taught to look my best.”
“Even that gaucherie with the sword got turned around and came across as delightful. Why do you know so much about swords?”
“Never mind. How do you think Eleanor feels? She’s here hoping for a match with Henry or Robert, then you appear and turn every head. You must be aware of your charms.”
“I’m only a girl. Why would the men even consider me in such a way?”
“That’s how men consider all girls.”
“They do? I spoke with Mr. Carew thinking of him as a teacher. He must be over thirty years old.”
“Almost forty, but it isn’t his age. He’s not a good match for you, his station is far too low. Lord Garvagh on the other hand… well, he might be fine, but not ideal. He was definitely wooing you. I shouldn’t have left you two alone. He may perish in India – so many do. Beware of loving a soldier, Kate, it can lead to great heartache.”
“I’m not in love with anyone,” Kate said, feeling tired, removing her hat. She placed it down and massaged her forehead. Ever so fleetingly, young bucks and mature gentlemen flashed through her mind. “I’m not interested in suitors. I’m trying to do what I’ve been taught – to be pleasant and have polite conversations. What have I done wrong?”
“You have to remain cold and distant with men. If a man offers his elbow, accept it cautiously, or refuse.”
“Yes…” Kate said under her breath in thought, “my tutor has taught me so.” She would beat me, if she knew what I’ve done.
“And you smile too much. Be polite, but don’t encourage men. You could be accused of seducing Henry and Lord Garvagh today.”
“That wasn’t my intention!” I’m not allowed to smile? I definitely should hide at home until I’m twenty.
“I suspected as much, that’s why we’re having this conversation. Wait until you’re out, then judge who you have to pick from.”
“I thought my father would select for me.”
“I’m certain he loves you too much for that. He may suggest a few gentlemen, but knowing how he indulges you, I believe your wishes will come first.”
Kate thought a moment. “Thank you, for telling me this. I do… I’m trying my best, to please my father. I didn’t–”
“Very good. Have a care. When you act a woman, you receive the attentions of a woman. Now, shall we go back to the party?”
The last streaks of day were disappearing as the Beauforts rode home, little birds flitting through the bare branches, the air cold. They only cantered for short stretches, ensuring their mounts wouldn’t overheat then catch a chill. Questions plagued Kate, but she felt uncertain how to broach them. She decided on an indirect route, the same way her father would.
“Father, why was Lord Garvagh’s scabbard so heavy?”
“If you lose your sabre, or it breaks, the scabbard becomes a lethal club. Also, if you’re unhorsed, you can use it as a shield. In a battle it becomes quite chaotic.”
“I can imagine. Perhaps you could show me how to manage that? Use a sabre and defend myself with a scabbard?”
“Perhaps. Rudman would be the man for that.”
“Ah, yes. He has the extensive cavalry training.” Kate thought a moment, then continued, “I noticed some of the men played ball with the boys.”
“Yes.” Earl Beaufort smirked. “I’ll wager you wanted to join in?”
“One of the boys was about my age.”
“Katelyn, it’s not the years. Girls age faster than boys, and have to start behaving like women.”
“But men continue to behave like boys. It’s not fair. Why can’t women play like girls?”
“They can. The truth is you want to play like a boy.”
“Oh… I hadn’t thought of it that way,” she conceded quietly.
They rode in silence for a while.
Kate tried another subject, the matter truly bothering her. “Father, I’m a trifle confused by some of the gentlemen’s conduct today.”
“Lady Carew said I… beguiled them. She said Mr. Henry Carew attempted that jump to impress me, and Lord Garvagh was trying to woo me.”
“I don’t believe it. You’re merely a girl. I noticed how Garvagh paid you some attention, but…” He shrugged. “I don’t know about Carew. I didn’t see any of that. I think it was just a fall. Lady Carew is probably imagining more than is really there.”
That makes me feel much better. “Are you certain?”
“I think so. Some women uselessly search for drama. They need it to bring excitement into their otherwise mundane lives. No man is going to be serious about you for a couple years.”
“And when that time comes, will you allow me to choose my suitors?”
“If there are any.” He winked at her and smiled.
“Maybe Mrs. Crozier knows best. Maybe I’m not ready for this sort of outing.” She will be happy to learn I didn’t lose my hat.
“I thought you behaved well. You maintained the conventions of society.”
“All these rules are vexing.” Kate sighed. “I wish I could amend them to a simpler version, like the commoners have.”
“You won’t ever change society, Katelyn. Play along or become a misfit. That doesn’t mean following every rule, just letting people think you do.”
Oh, I like that way of looking at it! I wonder what Mrs. Crozier would say about such an attitude. I’ll heed to her instructions, but keep Father’s advice in mind.