London, late March 1848
Kate tried not to rattle the strainer on the cup, but did, and spilled a couple drops off the spout of the teapot, again. She found her bodice a bit constricting, which wasn’t helping matters.
“You’re trying too hard,” Jane said, judging Kate’s efforts out of the corners of her eyes.
The ladies were seated at a little round table with a silver service and fine china. A maid had laid everything out, now Kate tried to act as hostess. Her step-mother coached, correcting errors, while also being prim and proper. She was joined by her sister, Lady Gordon, clothed in an exquisite visiting suit, having arrived by carriage. Kate wore a silk house gown, a particularly lovely weave which shimmered green to teal to blue, with flying wyverns depicted on the large buttons of the bodice. The fourth member of the party, Kate’s governess, Miss Nestor, sat very quietly awaiting instructions.
“What a lovely vase.” Jane rose and turned to the sideboard.
“Thank you, Lady Jane,” Kate said, attempting to nod at her and pour smoothly at the same time. “The colours are… enchanting, aren’t they.”
“Well done,” Lady Gordon said quietly.
“It was one of a pair,” Kate continued, “but the other was lost long ago.” I broke it, actually.
“Yes, better,” Jane agreed, taking her seat.
Kate passed the latest cup and saucer across to Miss Nestor, who in stark contrast to the ladies wore her usual plain black pinafore and white muslin shirt. She had three cups of tea, and two plates of tarts and biscuits.
“No no,” Jane said lightly. “Sugar?”
“Ah, yes.” Kate took the tea back. “Miss Nestor, do you favour sugar with your tea?”
Kate took yet another little silver spoon and scooped tea into the cup, wishing she didn’t have to wear lace gloves for this exercise.
“Gracefully,” Jane reminded. “Small movements. Use your wrist. Keep your elbow in.”
Goodness gracious! Is every little thing that important? Really? She tried again, keeping a slight smile playing upon her lips, her eyes half closed, a supposed sophisticated visage taught to her by Jane.
“What an interesting painting,” Jane said, peering over the fireplace.
“Yes, quite.” Kate didn’t look at it, knowing the art hung directly behind her and she shouldn’t turn her back on the ladies. “Lord Beaufort acquired it in Venice.”
“Well done again,” Lady Gordon whispered.
Kate let her lips part and really smiled for a moment, then slipped back into her false face.
“Speaking of Venice…” Lady Gordon went on in hushed tones, “did you hear about that cad Monmouth and his wife’s lady’s maid?”
“No! You don’t say…” Jane hissed back, “and after such a scandal with the little nurse maid?”
“Indeed.” Lady Gordon gave a firm nod.
Kate glanced back and fourth at the sisters while pouring the next cup.
“And they’re in Venice?”
“And with child?” Jane gasped.
“So it’s said. And the brother is some sort of a mercenary – a highwayman who has sworn to protect his sister’s honour.”
What?! Whose brother? A highwayman! Kate’s curiosity turned to excitement.
“Do go on,” Jane prompted.
“He has talked of vengeance and demanded satisfaction!”
“How?” Jane asked.
“He’s riding from Prague,” Lady Gordon announced.
“For a duel!” Kate burst. “Swords or pistols?” And she poured tea all over the table.
“Look what you’re doing!” Jane jumped to her feet.
“Oh my!” Kate stood as well, bumping the table and spilling the twelve or so cups she had filled thus far. “Oh no!”
“Now, now,” Lady Gordon said gently, “that’s what saucers are for.”
“Yes,” Miss Nestor agreed. “You were doing quite well.”
“Until you filled cups that aren’t there.” Jane frowned. “Lottie! Lottie! Where is that girl?” She bustled to the doorway. “Lottie! We need a clean tablecloth, quickly!”
I’ve made a mess for the washers. I must be more careful. Kate examined her skirt for splatter.
A pretty little maid hurried in and started clearing the tea service onto a sideboard.
Mrs. Farewell followed with a clean cloth. “You’ll want a fresh pot, I’ll wager?” she asked. “There’ll be no more sugar. We’ll waste a quarter loaf at this rate.” She pursed her lips and eyed Jane sternly.
Jane gazed back, then waved a hand dismissively at the maid. “It’s fine. You can leave us. Thank you.”
Mrs. Farewell took a moment to glare around the room, then left. Since the woman had taken on duties as housekeeper of the Beaufort’s London house, Kate had seen her only in the spring. At least staying in the city provided some opportunities to be with her old nanny.
“We’ll practise walking and talking,” Jane decided. “Kate, show us through to the solar, then down to the front hall. Remember, you must engage us as we go, and have intelligent answers for our questions.”
“Yes, Lady Jane,” Kate said in a sigh.
“Kate! Such enormous great gasps will never do,” Jane said emphatically.
“Except in bed,” Lady Gordon exclaimed, and laughed shrilly, Jane joining in.
Kate felt herself flush. Is that considered polite conversation?
“Ladies, please,” Miss Nestor said.
“Really, Miss Nestor.” Jane stopped laughing and stiffened. “You are such a Puritan. Kate, we won’t require your governess for now. She may be excused.”
“Fine… very well.” Kate looked at each woman. “Oh! Uh, thank you, Miss Nestor. I trust you enjoyed your tea? Do come and visit us again.”
“Indeed,” Miss Nestor said drily. “When you’re done this instruction, my lady, you will find me in your study.” She performed a brief curtsey and disappeared into the corridor.
Kate stepped through the doorway. At least her slippers were soft, quiet, and comfortable, and hidden by her skirt. “Won’t you follow me, ladies? We have a lovely sun room at the back of the house. It is delightful this time of the day.”
“Very good, Lady Kate,” Lady Gordon said, gliding forward. “Please take us there.”
Once in the solar the ladies sat for a few moments, reviewing who could approach whom when passing in the street. Kate should not acknowledge any man she did not know well, never even look at one who outranked her, ideally always letting them come to her and tip or remove their hats before speaking, but of course it became more complicated if she was walking with an acquaintance and they knew a man who approached, or a well known man met her with unknown friends.
“Mrs. Crozier taught me all this,” Kate said weakly, “but it sounds far more complicated when men, that is, possible suitors are added. I never worried about them before. I feel as though I shouldn’t risk taking a walk in London.”
“You needn’t fear doing so this year,” Lady Gordon said. “It’s next spring that–
“Not true!” Jane cut in. “Men are already considering Kate, I’m certain, and judging her. She must be very careful what she says, and to whom she talks.”
“At home I can go everywhere and talk to everyone without concern,” Kate said wistfully. “I wish I was there now.”
“Don’t be absurd,” Jane said. “Once you’re out you’ll be spending more time here. You’re going to meet hundreds of people and be invited to events every day and night. Saying hello to simple country folk is nothing like what’s expected in society. This is precisely why your father sent for you – so I could continue your training.”
“But the season doesn’t start for a month.”
“That has nothing to do with it. Your father is here because of the ghastly revolts on the Continent. I’m here to support him. It is only natural that you join us. This is a far more appropriate setting for your education than Quantock Hall.”
“Fine.” Kate sadly knew returning to the country wasn’t an option, and turned her mind to some of the society rules she found troubling. “When I walk outside, I have to keep my head up, but I shouldn’t look at any men coming towards me.”
“How do I manage that and still navigate the pavement, and traffic?”
“Let me explain,” Lady Gordon said, getting to her feet, gently taking Kate’s hand and guiding her to a large gilt framed mirror. “Stand beside me and look at our reflections.”
Lady Gordon (at least with her heeled boots) stood a few inches shorter than Kate and possessed a stern face, unlike the rest of the Primrose family who were rather short and jolly.
“Watch me.” Lady Gordon raised her chin and eased her shoulders down and back. Her face grew expressionless, staring beyond her reflection, then she lowered her eyelids and looked down, without moving her head. “You walk, seeing who is coming, but not looking at their eyes. As a man nears, or a lady who outranks you, lower your eyelids and look at the pavement just in front of you.”
“If you outrank someone, and want to greet them, then look at them,” Jane added. “And if they outrank you, and you’d like them to acknowledge you, glance at them a couple times.”
“Really?” Kate hadn’t been taught such a tactic before. “Mrs. Crozier said not to openly look at them in any circumstances.”
“Ah, well… I only suggest you do it with men – noble gentlemen – to whom you have been previously introduced. They will… most will want to say hello to you.”
“Oh. So with them I can speak on friendly terms, as I do now, with men I–
“No no no no no! My goodness, no! You could speak to them as a girl, now you must learn to speak to them as a lady.”
“This year? Before I’m out?”
“Yes. It’s time to start honing your reputation. You must maintain a blank expression. Say little. Don’t smile for just anyone.”
“Look at yourself.” Lady Gordon ordered.
Kate dutifully studied her reflection. She adjusted her mouth and eyelids to the expression of disinterest taught to her by Jane.
“That’s good, but… suck in your cheeks, pucker your lips a bit… blink slowly, deliberately. That’s it.”
“I look so disdainful,” Kate whispered.
“Regal,” Lady Gordon rejoined. “Like a princess. Now, open your eyes fully. See the difference? Relax your mouth. Smile a little, now grin.”
“A metamorphosis!” Jane declared with a giggle. “What a bright smile! Men will be falling over each other in an attempt to make you happy.”
“You’re exaggerating,” Kate grumbled, growing tired of Jane constantly making such statements. She scowled at her reflection.
“Look at that!” Lady Gordon exclaimed.
“What?” Kate perceived only her irate expression.
“That arrogant demeanour! It’s perfect. You’ll cut most men to ribbons with that stare.”
“Indeed!” Jane agreed. “They’ll be weak-kneed and heart-struck.”
“I ought not treat everyone like I’m angry,” Kate protested. “I don’t want to be angry all the time.”
“But it works so well for you!”
Kate let out a small roar of frustration and slumped onto a sofa. She knew not to behave in such a fashion and immediately felt ashamed. For an instant she imagined a hard slap on her face and flinched. She stood up and forced a smile for the ladies. “I’m sorry. Please forgive me? It won’t happen again, I promise.”
“Certainly,” Lady Gordon said, giving Kate a somewhat puzzled expression. “You needn’t apologise so ardently.”
“No, she should,” Jane corrected her sister with a nod at Kate. “As long as no servants are within earshot. Sincere apologies are endearing. Make them rarely, Kate, but when you do, especially to a man, a few tears wouldn’t go amiss.”
“Most men will quickly forgive anything when confronted by a tearful apology, especially from a beautiful young lady.”
“True,” Lady Gordon chimed in.
“You must have learned that when dealing with your father,” Jane continued. “He refuses you nothing.”
“That’s not so!” Kate retorted with feeling. “And I would never take advantage of him! When he has seen me weep – during an apology – it’s genuine. You said, sincere apologies are endearing. Now, you’re saying… you’re accusing me of making insincere ones. You’re–
“All right, all right! Calm down!” Jane hissed and glanced at the doorway, then fixed Kate with a steely stare. “Think what you like, but the truth is, your father has been far too indulgent in some respects, and completely negligent in others. This is why a society tutor was necessary, and I am continuing your lessons. Can you deny it?”
“Well, then, we agree. Very good. I have your best interests at heart, Kate, I do. As your mamma and as a friend. Women are hearts, Kate, figuratively and bodily. I must teach you that men want nothing more than to possess these hearts. We use this to our advantage.”
“I don’t understand.”
“We bring the heart to a marriage and home – the love and nurturing. You understand that?”
“A metaphor. Yes, but–
“That is the figurative side.” Jane started a slow walk around the room, orating as she went. “Men love, of course, but deep down inside they’re hard killers. They have an ingrained capacity for cruelty. It is only the company of strong women that keeps them harnessed.”
Kate disagreed, thinking of her father, brother, churchmen, and others, but didn’t interrupt.
“Why do men work?” Jane went on. “Why do they earn a wage? Because they want to impress a girl, or to please a woman. Or because they have a woman guiding them. The British parliament would fall to pieces if it wasn’t for the wives telling their husbands what to do, because it is the wives who bring love to a marriage and keep men on a narrow path. Occasionally, unfortunately, men run amok, and we have wars. Look what’s happening in France! Who suffers? The women. Those French women need to get their men in order! Think how it’s harming us! All this seasons débutantes are having to rely on London dressmakers.” Jane, her face red, stopped by a window and violently deployed a fan. “Imagine, there won’t be any Parisian fashion this year. Goodness! The poor débutantes! The Froggies better sort things out before next winter. I plan to take you to Paris for your coming out wardrobe.”
“You do?” Kate said, blinking in surprise at this announcement, and at Jane’s fury.
“Of course. But it will be impossible if the French women don’t harness their silly men!”
“And bodily?” Kate asked after a moment of silence. “You said women are actually made of hearts? That men want to possess?”
“Oh, yes. Look at yourself. The shape of your face. Your lips when you pucker for a kiss. Think on our wardrobes – how our bodices accentuate waist and bosom into large hearts. Look at your slender waist, and… ah, padded bosom. Or consider me, and Lady Gordon. We certainly possess noble bosoms, and figures of consequence.”
“I think you’ve said enough,” Lady Gordon murmured.
Kate felt her face growing hot. She inwardly cringed as Jane candidly continued.
“Your bosom will grow, Kate, and… yes. And your waist and posterior form another heart, upside down, shown when sitting, especially in a saddle. Or when the time does come to be intimate. And, indeed, even your furrow. These all look like hearts. This is what men want. Men will dream of the hearts hidden beneath your clothing. Look in the mirror the next time you bathe. You’ll see. Have I answered your questions?”
“I… I…” I cannot believe she said that. She’s given me collywobbles. Should I–
The mantle clock began to chime.
“Time I was on my way,” Lady Gordon said, stepping to the doorway.
“Let me show you to the front hall.” Kate strode into the corridor and down the stairs.
At the bottom of the stairs, Ebony waited, tail wagging. Kate removed her gloves and crouched to fondle her soft ears.
“Good girl,” she whispered. “I’ll get you out for a walk soon.”
Having Ebony with her in London was a small boon granted this year because of the death of Cinders. Ebony wasn’t allowed upstairs, yet, but Kate was already sneaking the retriever up to her bedroom late at night. Lady Gordon manoeuvred around Kate, but Jane halted on the stairs.
“You don’t pay attention to a dog when you have guests!” Jane bellowed.
Kate sprang up to attention. Ebony jumped too, and yowled playfully.
“Let’s find your coat, Lady Gordon.” Kate beckoned and hastened into the front hall, slipping her gloves on.
Reynold, the tall brawny footman, in snug fitting silk livery, stood by the front door, and upon seeing the ladies stepped into the cloakroom, emerging a moment later cradling a cape festooned with tassels and soutache trim. He remained upon the step, half hidden by a marble pillar. Reynold’s low brow, square chin, comportment, and impeccable manners always turned female heads. At least twice Kate’s age, she often felt a tremble upon seeing him, and looked for excuses to have him accompany her on excursions when appropriate. Taking her dog for a walk, and having her maid and a footman as attendants, moved up in priority on Kate’s daily task list. I must change into a walking suit.
“Thank you for visiting us today, Lady Gordon,” Kate said.
“My pleasure,” Lady Gordon replied. She gave Kate a little hug and whispered, “You’re doing very well, my dear.” She took a step back and nodded to Reynold.
Reynold helped Lady Gordon with her cape as the sisters exchanged farewells, then he opened the door and held it aside. Lady Gordon descended the stairs to her waiting carriage.
As soon as the door was shut, Kate turned tentatively to Reynold. “I require a footman to accompany me on a walk to Hyde Park,” she said, wide-eyed, blinking deliberately, cocking her head, measuring for reaction. “Would you be able to act as escort for Isabel and me?”
“Of course, my lady.” Reynold bowed, without any emotion, his face blank.
“Can’t a hallboy simply take Bonny for a run up and down the street?” Jane asked.
“She needs more exercise than that,” Kate replied, chuckling, elated by the thought of a stroll. “She loves fetching sticks out of The Serpentine.”
“Why does that dog have to swim so much?”
“She’s a retriever – that’s what they do. She has webbed toes.”
“Don’t be ridiculous.”
“There’s a packet of mail for you, my lady,” Reynold said softly to Kate.
“Oh!” Jane snatched a bundle from a sideboard. “These must have followed you from Quantock Hall.” She started riffling through the letters, inspecting the handwriting and any wax seals of note. “This one is from Phoebe, but the rest of these… man… man… man… man… I dare say these others are all from men! I know this seal… it’s the Westminster crest… this will be from Hugh Grosvenor! Kate, you must open it immediately!”
God’s wounds! Kate had gone from happy, to annoyed, to embarrassed, to enraged, in mere seconds. Her heart pounded and her body burned. She rotated away from Reynold, hiding her face as much as possible, only to spot her flushed image reflected in a large mirror. Grr! Damn and drat!
“I cannot open anything if I don’t have it,” Kate snarled from the back of her throat. “May I have my letters, please, Mother.”
The words were delivered as a command, not a request. Jane’s smile vanished and she raised her eyebrows while peering up at Kate, who towered menacingly close with a hand held ready. Ebony edged between them and let out a small whine.
“So sensitive,” Jane murmured as she surrendered the letters and retreated a few steps. “May I ask who they are from, or shall I fetch your father? I’d wager he would like to know which men are writing to his daughter.”
Kate, having cooled a fraction, quickly recognised some of the handwriting, and decided to be diplomatic. “As you observed, this is from Earl Grosvenor. He’s the Chester member of parliament now. He wrote to me about it last fall.”
“You’ve had other correspondence from him?”
“That’s excellent!” She grinned.
“Hmm…” Kate took some calming breaths and glanced over her shoulder at Reynold, then started a slow promenade to the stairs. “This one is from Mr. Wansbrough.”
“Who?” Jane followed close behind.
“You met him in Bath. The tall thin young gentleman. He took me riding one afternoon.”
“Ah, yes. The merchant’s son? Quite handsome.”
“Why would he be writing? You didn’t encourage him, did you?”
“No. Yes? I don’t know. I… he…” I cannot let her know what he said to me…
“What?!” Jane looked aghast. “You haven’t… you didn’t…”
“There are no feelings or understandings between us of any kind,” Kate said firmly. “At least, no feelings on my part. I did tell him he could call on father at Quantock Hall.”
“Oh, I see.” Jane chortled. “A conquest. Very good. There will be hundreds of those. Go on.”
“Hmm…” Kate let the hundreds of conquests comment go, bit her top lip, and studied the seal on the next letter. “This is from Baron Garvagh.”
“Garvagh? Isn’t he an Irish peer?”
“Yes. I met him in November. Our neighbours, the Carew’s, hosted a hunt. He’s a subaltern in the Tenth Hussars, sailing for India soon. I don’t know why he’s writing to me.”
“He wants to see you before he sails,” Jane stated confidently. “Perhaps he is visiting the Carews and thought you would be at Quantock Hall. He’ll probably be in London before he sails. If you were to encourage him, he would write to your father and ask to call.”
“Perhaps. But he knows I’m not out.”
“That doesn’t matter. He may ask you to wait for him. Many girls are promised before they’re out. You should dismiss requests from him. You can do much better than an Irish baron.”
“Hmm…” Kate looked at the last letter while drifting to the next flight of stairs. This one wasn’t addressed to Quantock Hall, but to Beaufort House, Mayfair, so it had to be someone who knew Kate was already in the city. The seal was distorted, the scrawled handwriting unfamiliar. She wanted privacy, but knew Jane wouldn’t leave her alone until her curiosity was satisfied. Kate broke the seal and unfolded the letter. Oh! “This isn’t from a man, it’s from Ada, The Countess of Lovelace.”
“She probably wants you to visit her daughter,” Jane ventured.
“She’s warning me… to have an evening gown ready… for a dinner.”
“She intends to invite Father and you to dinner, and wants me to attend, and dine with the adults. She spoke of this last April or May, but it didn’t happen. There wasn’t any mention of it when I saw her during the summer.”
“Well? Why aren’t you excited? What’s wrong?”
“I’m not ready for such an event.”
“Nonsense. It will be good training for you. It’s merely a dinner party. Which gown will you wear?”
“Hmm…” Again, Kate bit her top lip, dread weighing heavy in her stomach, as she scanned the letter. “The pale green? With the ruched and lace bertha? I’ve never worn it.”
“A fine choice,” Jane said with a small nod and smile. “You’ll look lovely. Everyone will appreciate your manners. You’ll be fine. I’ll always be close by, and so will your father. Perhaps, after dinner, there will be some dancing!”
“I hope not.”
“There, there. No need to worry. Your dance instruction commences next week. The master will soon have you gliding gracefully around the floor. You certainly have the strength to dance for hours. The men, at least the tall men, will all desire at least one turn with you.”
“Hmm…” The dread in Kate’s gut started to burn…