Somersetshire, late January 1847
Kat sat at the piano, practising scales, running through them effortlessly while watching the sleet fall. The instrument stood near a large window for light, and fresh air during the warm months. Through the distorted wet panes of glass she spied a small carriage appear from the lane. Halting her exercises, Kat rose and peered out, trying to get a clear view.
“Is it the new tutor?” Miss Nestor asked from where she sat correcting German and French translations; essays in each language about ancient Greece.
“It must be,” Kat replied. She watched a tall thin woman, dressed in black, slip gracefully out of the carriage. “I should greet her.”
“Yes, you go, Kat.” Miss Nestor nodded. “I’ll wait here, unless I’m summoned. I don’t want to be in the way.”
Kat scampered into the hall and almost collided with Smythe who was also hurrying to the main doors.
“Mrs. Crozier has arrived,” he said.
“Yes. I’m going to say hello.”
They entered the front hall to see a footman and the carriage guard bringing in chests and bags while Mrs. Crozier watched. Some of the woman’s face was hidden by her large bonnet, but Kat could discern a pointed chin with a wide tight mouth. Standing ramrod straight, her travelling suit and coat draped perfectly, a reticule in one hand and a thin walking stick in the other, Mrs. Crozier’s only movement was a slight turning of her head.
Oh, no… she’s all whalebone and iron. Kat slowed, feeling suddenly intimidated, and let Smythe go well ahead. She self-consciously adjusted her jacket and, with some dread, noticed a stain upon the lace of one cuff. She slipped her hands behind her back.
“Mrs. Crozier.” Smythe stopped and bowed. “I’m butler here, Madam. Smythe by name. Allow me to welcome you to Quantock Hall. May I take your redingote? Then I’ll guide you to Lord Beaufort.”
“No you shan’t,” she said. “I will be shown to my rooms, and given a moment, unless the earl has expressly ordered otherwise.”
“Ah, yes… I mean, no…” Smythe paused. “You are proper, of course, Madam. I’ll ring for the boy to help with your baggage.”
“Very good. Thank you, Smythe.”
Kat crouched down to pet Cinders, the very old retriever who often slept by the fire in the front hall. She tried to get a good look at the society tutor. Mrs. Crozier was extraordinarily tall and thin, her head above everyone else except Reynold, the tallest footman; a servant of imposing size. The words she had spoken were pronounced precisely with a strong clear voice and did not sound unkind, just firm. Abruptly the woman strode forward, melting sleet cascading from the velvet and fur of her attire. Kat rose from the dog and retreated a few small steps.
“I am Mrs. Crozier,” she said, stopping only a couple paces from Kat and curtsying.
“Yes, I know.” Kat smiled, and curtsied in turn. She guessed the woman must be about forty, with sad eyes, wrinkles of concern all about her face.
“An improper response, my lady,” she replied.
“You guessed who I am?” What response?
“Your father showed me a miniature of you at the interview.” She drew a quizzing glass from her muff and studied Kat’s face a moment. “Do you often allow your hair to fall freely upon your shoulders?”
“The front tresses are tied away from my face with a ribbon,” Kat said, turning sideways and pointing out the silk bow. “I sometimes braid it behind my ears for riding.” She noticed the men were ready to take the baggage upstairs. “May I lead you to your rooms, Ma’am?”
“No, my lady,” the woman said quietly. “You should not be in the hall. We should have been properly introduced. You may dismiss me, as Mrs. Crozier, and we’ll discuss matters later.” She took two paces back. “May I be excused, my lady?”
“Yes.” Kat wanted to say more, but felt confused and in error. “Yes, Mrs. Crozier.”
The woman curtsied and swept away, following the men carrying her chests, trailed by Smythe. Kat watched her glide along the hall and up the stairs towards the new wing. The woman seemed to float, statuesque and elegant.
Could I move like that? Kat went back to her piano practice.
About an hour later, Kat was asked to the library. When she entered, Ebony in tow, she found her father behind his desk, Mrs. Crozier standing in the centre of the room. The woman wore a black house gown of very fine silk, with lovely swirling gold embroidery at every hem, a small lace cap, and elaborate braids in her flaxen and silver hair. She immediately curtsied, a deep smooth movement, then stood ramrod straight again.
“Close the door, Katelyn,” Earl Beaufort said with a small nod and a smile.
Kat interpreted his look as reassuring and did as instructed, then tried to step gracefully up beside Mrs. Crozier. She curtsied to her father, then shifted from foot to foot wondering what to do next.
“Mrs. Crozier has great plans for you,” her father said while rising. “We have just discussed many aspects of your training. I want you to follow her every instruction. You are to apply yourself to this in earnest.” He stopped in front of Kat and placed his hands on her shoulders. “You’re a good girl. You’ve always pleased me.” He kissed her forehead. “You’ll do as you’re told?”
“Yes, of course, Father.” This is all rather strange.
“Excellent.” He smiled. “I’ll be away for a week. I’m having a carriage crafted in Bristol and want to see to the details. There are some other matters for me to attend to as well.” He moved to the door. “While I’m away Mrs. Crozier holds highest rank amongst your servants. She will even be taking meals with you. Listen closely to her, Katelyn. The speed with which you learn these lessons reflects on your intelligence, and me as your father.” He stopped in the doorway.
“Yes, Father,” Kat curtsied, feeling odd at the formality, trying to copy Mrs. Crozier’s style, watching how low she hovered and bowed her head.
“I’ll leave you to it, then.” He bowed from the neck, then exited, closing the door behind him.
The woman looked down at Kat with sad eyes. “When we are alone, you may call me Clara.”
“Would you call me Kat?” she asked quietly, feeling intimidated again.
“Kat? Not Katelyn?”
“Only Father calls me Katelyn. Except when I’m addressed for something formal.”
“Very well, Kat. Come. We’ll sit on the upholstery and I will explain to you everything you’ve done wrong thus far.”
“You are a lady in title. You do not know how to be a lady. A lady stands still. A lady should always say precisely what she means. A lady does not respond to activities that servants are assigned to tend after. A lady does not pay compliments to servants or commoners. I am a commoner. You should not have curtsied to me.”
“When you start to be a lady then you will have the privilege of interrupting me. Until then I will hold priority in our conversations. You will have to learn there is a deference that exists in polite discourse. It is best to never interrupt anyone, as it reveals you are respectful and courteous, but if necessary be certain you out rank them.”
Kat stayed still and quiet a moment. I see where I’ve gone wrong. This doesn’t seem too hard. She studied her new instructor, and shifted her body to take a similar seat, perching forward on the sofa with a straight back and clasped hands held in her lap.
“Very good,” Mrs. Crozier smiled, just slightly, tight lipped. “When we are in privacy I will speak plainly to you. It is the best way for you to learn. Stand up. Sit down. No, not like that.”
The woman rose. Kat stood again.
“This will be your first lesson,” Mrs. Crozier announced. “When a lady sits, she does so as though the surface might fall away beneath her. You must step into position, then carefully lower yourself, bending slowly at the knees, keeping your back straight.” She demonstrated. “Finally, you allow your weight to shift from your feet to your posterior.”
Kat copied her movements.
“Now cross your legs, at your ankles, point your toes. Well done. I expect you to sit delicately. When you rise, it is done slowly, elegantly. If you do otherwise, punishment will follow. Never sit if someone of higher rank is in attendance, unless you’re given permission. You have excellent posture. Fortunate. Often tall girls are inclined to slouch.”
“You’re magnificently tall, Clara. Do you reach six feet?”
“Thank you. Yes, I am such a measure. It is most inconvenient. For men it is an advantage, the same cannot be said for women. In truth, I hope you are done growing in height, and can now find yourself spreading out. A lady is most popular who is pleasing in proportions. Excellent posture and gracefulness applies no matter what body configuration.”
“Father taught me to always keep a straight back, for riding.”
“How often do you ride?”
“Do you intend to do so as you approach womanhood?”
“I thought so.” Kat considered the question a bit. “A lady isn’t expected not to ride, is she?”
“Then your answer should be: Yes, I will ride everyday. You may hone your equine skills, but there must exist some caveats.”
“Why are you wearing hunt boots now? Those look rather like men’s footwear.”
“Ah, yes. Father and I do use the same cordwainer. These are actually an old pair of my brother’s that a cobbler added buckles and straps for me. I do have ladies boots from Town.”
“Yes, and shoes.”
“Your father mentioned your dislike of shoes. You must turn your tastes towards them, Kat. This is an absolute necessity – to move gracefully, to accompany proper dress, to present an elegant image, and for dancing.”
“I know that’s true. It’s not a dislike, more a cannot be bothered. I’ve always danced in slippers. That will only do in the country, and while I’m young.”
“And you are not young. In years thirteen, but in height and appearance you could be eighteen. A very thin eighteen, but in a year that will change. You must be aware of the changes in your body. Are you corseted?”
“Uh…” Kat felt awkward, glancing down at her small bosom. “I wear stays. My riding jackets offer support, and of course I never ride at a trot, otherwise it doesn’t seem to matter.”
“That will depend on how voluptuous you become. Do not blush. Your womanhood is to be proud of. It reveals your fecundity, and will draw suitors. Have you entered into monthly bleeding?”
“No.” My goodness, this woman does speak plainly!
“In time, then. Now, you must secure your own shoe and boot maker. Have footwear fashioned to your tastes. Shoes you will look forward to wearing. I will help you in this.” She rose and moved to the bell pull, giving it a strong tug.
“Yes, the sooner the better. I shall inspect your wardrobe before we go.”
“You already travelled from Taunton this morning. Aren’t you weary?”
“That is not your concern, but thank you for asking. Ensuring your servants are properly cared for is the responsibility of every master and mistress, however, you must not coddle them. I discussed this excursion with your father.”
“Oh. There are several shops in Taunton. Perhaps one is particular about women’s shoes?”
“Indeed. I made note of the establishments while staying at the hotel last night.”
There was a tap at the door. Mrs. Crozier drew it open, a houseboy stood in the hall.
“Instruct the grooms to have a carriage readied in haste for Taunton. Lady Kat will be proceeding on an excursion, to return this evening. Make the household aware of her intentions. Have a basket luncheon prepared.”
The boy knuckled his brow and ran off, the dog chasing him.
“Sweet child,” Mrs. Crozier said softly, and briefly smiled.
Kat noticed for the first time terribly decayed teeth. Oh, poor woman. No wonder she is so tight lipped. I wonder if they’re painful?
“We shall change into walking suits,” Mrs. Crozier said firmly. “I expect you to wear the ladies boots you spoke of.”
“Change? Couldn’t I wear this?”
“Do not contradict me. You shall dress in proper attire for various activities. Whatever I tell you to wear you shall don quickly without question. When I observe you turning out appropriately before being told, then I will know we have made great progress. Now, to your dressing room. I will make a quick inventory of your wardrobe, then hasten to my rooms. I expect you in the front hall by eleven o’clock.”
“The front hall? Usually I just go to the carriage house.”
“Let me make this very plain, my lady,” Mrs. Crozier said in a firm tone. “From this day forward, there is no occasion for you to enter a carriage house, or a stable, or any place where men toil. You do not belong anywhere near labourers. Servants will bring whatever you require. You use the front entrances of the manor only. I shall not tolerate any deviation in this regard.”
“Yes, Mrs. Crozier.”