Hastings, Sussex, early September 1848
Kate slaved over her sketches, including small details, in a desire to convince her brother that every control of a steam-carriage should be within easy reach of the driver. She felt certain these changes to his designs were absolutely necessary to mitigate future accidents.
“Hello!” Phoebe called as she entered the workshop office. “What are you doing?”
“A drawing for your dear husband,” Kate replied. “He asked me to pilot his carriage again in two days, but I’m insisting on some alterations.”
“May I sit with you awhile?”
“Of course! Please.”
“The children are having a nap,” Phoebe said while shifting a stool and settling beside Kate with a contented sigh. She picked up a newspaper off a bench, murmured something about the folly of finding a Northwest Passage, then dropped the paper and closed her eyes. “I’m fain to have a nap too.”
“Hmm… too busy.” She opened her eyes and smiled. “That’s why I’m here – to ensure you and Jack are on time. We must soon prepare for our visit with the Waldegraves. We have only a few minutes to spare.”
“Yes,” Kate agreed enthusiastically. She knew the purpose of their visit was to discuss the Earl and Countess Waldegraves’ many philanthropic projects, but also for Kate to be introduced to the earl’s eldest son, William, Viscount Chewton, a career soldier recently stationed back from the Cape of Good Hope, having previously fought the Sikh Empire in the Punjab region of India. “I’m looking forward to asking Lord Chewton about his travels.”
“This is his first time home since his father wed Mrs. Milward, that is, Lady Waldegrave.”
“I remember the occasion. It will be two years ago in December. I thought it was nice to see an elderly widow and widower get married. They’re both older than my father. How old is Lord Chewton?”
“I should say thirty. Served in the navy as a boy. Graduated from Trinity College. Lived in Canada for some time. In the army now.”
I’m sure he cuts a very splendid and dashing figure! Kate envisioned a tall powerfully built rugged captain with intense dark eyes and carefully groomed whiskers. She altered the image into a slender form, a bit shorter, fair hair, inadequate beard, and kind face. “Could we talk about Hugh Grosvenor?”
“Indeed.” Phoebe leaned forward. “How do you truly feel about him?”
“I don’t have…” Kate chose her words carefully. “When you meet men, that is, certain gentlemen… do you feel hot? Breathless? Or… tingle inside?”
“Oh! Ah… I have, when I was younger, and that is how I feel with your brother. That’s love.”
What?! Kate couldn’t help but raise an eyebrow and cock her head.
“All right, all right…” Phoebe adjusted her seat. “I confess, the love between a wife and husband is somewhat different. There was a time when your brother–”
“Let’s not talk about Jack,” Kate interrupted, feeling her cheeks grow warm. “Tell me of men you knew before you met Jack.”
“Very well.” Phoebe took a breath. “Without naming anyone, I can tell you, a few gentlemen left me weak-kneed and speechless on occasion, but they weren’t wise choices – not respectable suitors. Your head has to rule your heart, or it will all lead to folly. A man who… makes you feel… breathless, hot… whatever, may well have the worst sort of cross-grained character under a polished veneer. Your step-mother has warned you against falling for handsome scoundrels.”
“How do you know?”
“She told me. Jane is in favour of a match with Lord Grosvenor. So is your father.”
“I know.” Kate sighed wearily. “I wish… it’s that… with Hugh… I genuinely like Hugh. Once, over a year ago, he did cause me to pause with his smile, momentarily, but it was nothing. Nothing compared to how I’ve felt…” Perhaps I shouldn’t say too much.
“Felt when you’ve been with other men?” Phoebe prompted with a slight tremble in her voice.
“I haven’t been with men,” Kate clarified firmly. “I have not been intimate with any man.”
“That’s good,” Phoebe whispered.
“The sensations wash over me… simply in their presence,” Kate continued. “Unlikely men, sometimes. In a crowded room. On a street.” By a pond. “I cannot explain it. My maid calls it arousal, and womanly inclination.”
“Oh, Kate, I think it’s simply natural attraction. No woman can explain all our passions. We are creatures of emotion. But we must control them. These sensations you’re experiencing will pass.”
“Nothing is certain, but you’re a sensible girl – young lady. Your schooling is beyond what most girls would ever imagine and, I know, under the lace and flounces there’s still a tomboy. You’ll be fine, as long as you think before acting.”
Kate didn’t reply, instead taking a moment to digest everything they had discussed.
“You should know,” Phoebe said softly after a while, “the offer from Lord Grosvenor is excellent. No conditions?”
“None broached.” Kate shrugged. “Father said Hugh made no request for land or money – simply Father’s blessing and my consent. A two year engagement commencing the day I’m presented at court next spring.”
“I suspect there could be further negotiations…” Phoebe glanced around the office muttering, “they are one of the wealthiest families in Britain.” She smiled at Kate. “The engagement would allow ample time for you and Hugh to mature.”
“By the time we wed I’ll be seventeen and a half. Hugh will be twenty-five.”
“Very good. During your engagement you’ll grow together. And you will spend time with his family.”
“The Westminsters have always been kind to me.” Except when Lady Westminster gave me a dark look at Stafford House. And they both scowled upon seeing me in the company of two soldiers on South Audley Street. “I like Hugh’s brothers and sisters.”
“That is an important aspect when considering the union of families. People think–”
Phoebe froze with mouth open as a resounding crash shook the building. Kate jumped to her feet and dashed for an inner door to the workshop, Phoebe close behind.
“Jack?” Kate yelled. Please don’t be killed! “Jack!”
Inky smoke obscured their vision as they ran through the shop towards the light provided by large open doors. Jack stumbled outside ahead of them.
“Jack!” Kate and Phoebe called in chorus, then coughed as the acrid smoke assaulted their throats.
“What’s happened?” Kate asked when she reached her brother in the alley between the warehouses.
“Damn… boiler… fractured,” Jack gasped, dripping wet, his face bright red.
“Are you scalded?” Phoebe demanded, edged by anger. “Is there further danger?”
“Fire, yes,” Jack said with a puff of smoke.
Kate ran back inside, picked up two pails filled with sand, then paused upon feeling hot rain, realising that water was dripping from the ceiling. She took a moment to recognise what appeared to be a small engine on a cart, mangled metal scattered about, then a glowing firebox. Setting down one pail, Kate hurled the sand into a gap from where a portion of the boiler had torn clean away from the firebox. She then took up a rag and pulled the firebox door open and cast the other pail of sand inside. There didn’t seem to be much heat coming from the coals, so Kate threw in two pails of water resulting in steam and hisses, then ran back outside with a cough and sputter. Several labourers in rough work clothes strode into the alley.
“It’s all right,” Kate panted. “No fire… now. It’s all but out. No danger.”
“Yes, thank you,” Jack said and straightened up, stepping towards men who were peering inside the workshop. “Please return to your work.”
The labourers sauntered away with some laughter, leaving Phoebe glaring at Jack. Kate took some deep breaths of fresh air. She glanced to the end of the alley and saw her father and step-mother standing there, arm-in-arm. Earl Beaufort’s chin was raised, his mouth a straight line, eyes squinted and brow drawn. Jane pulled on the earl’s arm and hurried along the alley.
“We saw the smoke!” she called. “I prayed it wouldn’t be coming from your building!”
“Everything is fine,” Jack said quickly.
“Is it?” Earl Beaufort asked with a twisted mouth and arched eyebrow. “Those fishermen were laughing at you.”
“Hello, Father, Mother,” Kate said brightly. I must help Jack smooth over this disaster. Oh! And I’ll point out the best of his work. “Let’s go in through the office.” Kate sidled around her parents, guiding them away from the clearing smoke and filthy puddles. “This is an excellent opportunity for you to have a look at Jack’s inventions. I’ll show you his drawings, and then–”
“We haven’t time,” Earl Beaufort interrupted, producing a gold watch from a waistcoat pocket. “The Waldegraves expect us at three.” He turned, taking Jane by the elbow, and they strolled away.
Kate followed helplessly to the alley opening and watched them head for High Street, knowing they would be returning to The Swan Hotel to change into visiting dress. She looked back at her dripping red-faced brother and angry sister-in-law. I’ll change too, hurry ahead, make apologies for Jack and Phoebe, entertain all with the piano. “I’m going,” she called to them. “Arrive when you’re able. I’ll keep everyone cheerful.”
Kate marched up Great Bourne Street, hurried by the brewery, a nutty stench of fermenting grains filling her nose and then, no longer concerned with decorum, ran along the length of Bourne Road, passing the squalid dwellings of the poor labourers and fishermen. Father would be quite upset if he knew I take this route. She entered a close alley, her skirting on both sides rubbing against buildings, navigated a couple turns, then opened a small gate and stepped into the back garden of the house Jack rented at the north end of town.
Upon entering the kitchen, Kate spotted her maid among the servants and whispered, “Isabel, I must change, quickly!”
They pattered up the stairs and into a bedroom.
“What’s wrong?” Isabel asked as she helped Kate remove her dress.
Kate briefly described the accident, the tension between her brother and father, and Phoebe’s upset with Jack’s dangerous tinkering. “I want to be first to call on the Waldegraves, to make apologies for Jack and Phoebe being late, and amuse everyone until they arrive. And to keep my father from saying anything untoward about Jack.”
“Lord Beaufort would never say a bad word about Lord Shervage,” Isabel said, lacing up the bodice of Kate’s best visiting gown, pink and purple changeable silk, three large flounces forming the skirt, a matching mantelet draping her shoulders, delicate lace at her neck and cuffs.
“Father would say the truth,” Kate clarified, “which in this circumstance is embarrassing.” She heard Jack and Phoebe enter below and glanced at the mantle clock. “I haven’t much more time.” Kate peered in the nearby cheval glass and liked what she saw, except her hair. The long heavy braids looked like black ropes, and unruly strands fell around her ears and neck. “What can we do with my hair?”
“Tie it back and pin on a lace cap?”
“Fine.” Oh pooh… I have got to learn other ways to wear my hair!
“Now a bonnet,” Isabel said, lifting down some hatboxes from atop a wardrobe.
“This sun hat,” Kate said, taking her broad-brimmed choice from off the bed.
“You need a bonnet,” Isabel protested, “to wear while visiting.”
“I’ll have my cap. It’ll do. I’m still merely a girl.”
Isabel bit her top lip and slowly shook her head.
Kate didn’t wait for her maid to voice any worries. She dashed into the hall, down the stairs and out the front door, then walked gracefully across the street towards to Waldegraves’ three story red brick house. Someone hooted at her from the yard where the medieval cross stood in front of All Saint’s Church rectory. Kate glanced briefly at a gang of tattered men lounging under the ancient trees. She saw wolfish grins and snapped her head back to the Waldegraves’ house. All right, perhaps I don’t look a mere girl. Why do they have to be so rude? Seconds later she mounted the steps to the Waldegraves’ front door and rang the bell. A footman appeared and immediately led Kate into a drawing room of dark brown leather and wood, green and yellow velvet.
Countess Waldegrave rose to give Kate a little hug by way of a greeting. Kate didn’t know the elderly woman well, having only made her acquaintance recently, but enjoyed her cheerful disposition. In her old-fashioned austere clothing, shades of brown and black, completely covered except her face, Kate felt ostentatious in comparison.
“How are you?” Countess Waldegrave asked.
“I’m fine, thank you. How are you?”
“My rheumatism pains me a bit, but otherwise fine. Ah, here’s my husband and step-son.”
Kate swivelled to where a pair of pocket doors had been drawn back, and without pause curtsied. Splendid he is not! Nor dashing! Kate took in Viscount Chewton’s slight frame, flat brown hair, and plain black and grey attire. She knew what to expect from the old robust rear-admiral, but the son was nothing like him. He must take after his late mother?
“This is Lady Kate Beaufort,” Earl Waldegrave said to his son. “Lady Kate, this is William, The Viscount Chewton.”
“But I prefer Bill,” Viscount Chewton said with a crooked smile.
“Lord Bill?” Kate asked wide-eyed, then laughed at her own jest, everyone joining in. That’s good. I’m amusing them.
“It is the agreed time for you to call,” Earl Waldegrave said, a clock chiming in the hall. “Where are the other guests?”
“I think I hear my father and step-mother arriving now,” Kate replied, “however, let me make apologies for my brother and his family. They have been detained by a few small matters and will be along presently.”
“Ah! Small matters! Right…” Earl Waldegrave chuckled and winked at his wife. “Any parent understands.”
Earl and Countess Beaufort entered, greetings ensued, followed by some banal chatter. Kate, fearful of her father spouting something about Jack’s accident, decided to encourage Viscount Chewton to talk.
“Father…” Kate said and paused, ensuring his attention, “Lord Chewton has been out to the Punjab.”
“Indeed, I’m aware.” Earl Beaufort drew near. “Tell us about it, Chewton.”
“Not much to tell,” Viscount Chewton said, turning a shade of red. “Saw some blood spill. Fell ill.”
“He brims with modesty,” a silky voice said from the adjoining room. A tall thin man, long-legged, in his early twenties, donning a perfectly tailored blue and pink suit entered the drawing room. “He led his men bravely against a fearsome foe. Tell them, Bill.”
“My youngest son, George,” Earl Waldegrave announced, “Beaufort, you remember George?”
Handshakes and introductions followed, ending with Kate standing uneasily between the Waldegrave young men. She discerned similarities in their facial features but there the sibling traits ceased. Bill, despite years of experience and military service, seemed shy, somewhat awkward, and stood about average height, eye-to-eye with Kate, his complexion tan, while George oozed confidence, moved smoothly, and stretched close to six feet tall, his skin milky white. This meeting with George had come as a complete surprise. Kate wanted to talk with Bill, but George controlled the conversation, even while inviting his brother to tell exciting tales. Kate felt George gently place his hand on the small of her back a few times, making her uncomfortable, and didn’t understand what the men were alluding to through several chains of conversation about trade and politics. When Countess Waldegrave and Jane sat on a sofa, Kate took the opportunity to glide across the room to the piano.
“Shall I play for you?” she asked Countess Waldegrave.
“Do, dear girl, do,” Countess Waldegrave said with a nod. “Something light and merry.”
Kate attempted to sit and found George there to help her, Bill remaining by the pocket doors. She briefly shifted through the sheets of tunes on the music rack.
“Do you require assistance?” George asked. “Someone to turn the pages?”
“No,” she replied, arranging the sheets into a couple neat piles. “I’ll play by memory.”
Kate hadn’t plinked lightly for more than a few minutes when her brother and family arrived, looking slightly dishevelled but certainly presentable. Having a toddler and infant in the drawing room dramatically altered the atmosphere. As the women took turns fussing over and holding the baby, and the men retreated somewhat to continue their conversation, Bill knelt down to roll a ball back and forth with Jack junior. Kate crouched beside her nephew to assist in his aim. She found herself grinning and repeatedly making eye contact with Bill, appreciating such good nature and playfulness from a veteran army officer. Suddenly Bill straightened up, coughed into a handkerchief, and excused himself, disappearing into the hall.
“He’s still getting over some Hindoostan ailment,” George whispered to Kate as she rose, hefting Jack junior onto her hip. The toddler hugged Kate’s torso. “I’m jealous of this little lad,” George continued with a wink and smile.
Kate didn’t return the smile. That is too bold. Have a care of your behaviour, Mr. George Waldegrave.
“I’ll take him,” Phoebe said, and did so. “Where is Lord Chewton?”
“In the hall?” Kate speculated. “Perhaps I should determine if he requires assistance.”
“Let me join you,” George said. “He has probably retired to the south parlour. This way.”
George led Kate down a hall into a bright room, windows without curtains allowing sunshine to fill the space. Bill rose from a sunbathed upholstered chair upon Kate’s entry.
“Lady Kate,” Bill said, “please don’t say you left the gathering on my concern.”
“We did, old boy,” George said before Kate could answer. “How are you?”
“I’m fine.” Bill glanced from George to Kate.
“Are you? Truly?” George asked.
“I confess…” Bill stepped to an open window, “there is, a pain… from coughing? I feel as though I’m suffocating.”
Oh my! What would be best? “Would you like to go outside?” Kate asked earnestly. “A walk? In the fresh air? By the sea? Or on the hills?” That’s enough questions! Let him answer one!
“On a hill would be better,” Bill said quietly. “The seaside is too damp.”
“Very well,” George said with a note of annoyance. “Let’s get on with it.”
George strode briskly from the room. Kate noticed his boots were crafted with rather high riding heels, revealing the secret of his long legs. Bill followed slowly. Kate walked with Bill. By the time they reached the front hall, a footman stood waiting with their headdresses and gloves, George already standing beyond the open door, wearing a tall shiny grey top hat with a light blue band.
“I’ve told Father what we’re doing,” George bellowed. “Let’s go so we’re back in time for tea.”
Bill donned his black top hat, Kate tied on her sun hat, then they joined George outside. They strolled around the house to a trail that led up West Hill, George striding ahead, while Kate sauntered beside Bill.
“How will you manage the climb?” Kate asked.
“Not to worry,” Bill replied, gasping, “I’m stronger than I appear to be.”
Kate didn’t say anything further, fearful of putting Bill out of breath. George would plough ahead, wait, and plough ahead again after some bland words of encouragement. Atop West Hill they walked together, passing through forest and then open fields.
“We’ll go over to the ruins and back?” George suggested, obviously referring to the remains of Hastings Castle.
Bill nodded his assent. Kate nodded too, content with any destination. They crossed a broad sward of green, grazed by sheep, and headed for a high point where the remains of Hastings Castle dominated the hill. After scaling some exposed rock and ascending flights of stairs, George paid a paltry entrance fee and they stood among the ruins; sections of stone wall and buildings, patched with mortar. The areas of the castle were laid out in groomed lawns with flower borders. From the edge of the cliff they gazed out at the sea, the blue-grey sky blending into a haze, pale green water, then light brown stone-strewn beach.
Bill took some deep breaths, then settled. He pointed down at the roofs of a large church and terraced houses curving away from it on either side, facing the sea. “There were more ruins here before. Much of the cliff was demolished when Mr. Pelham built Saint-Mary-in-the-Castle and his grand crescent.”
“What other ruins?” Kate asked.
“There was an outline of a large building, piles of stone, more walls.”
“I think I was eight or nine when they pulled them down. There were several years my father didn’t sail, and we visited the south coast every summer. The workmen unearthed many artefacts during the demolition. At that time Lord Chicester commissioned the work to preserve the remaining portions of the castle.”
“I know the Chicesters,” Kate said. “Their family seat is Stanmer Park – near Brighton. Lady Harriet came out last year. I think Lady Susan will be coming out next year.”
“I suppose all these ruins will eventually be gone,” George said.
“Perhaps not,” Bill said. “People have a growing interest in our past.”
“Cannot halt progress, don’t you know.” George shrugged. “If a builder wants this space, and has the capital, I say, let him build!”
“Seems a shame,” Kate murmured, looking back at the towers, walls, and archway. “Not everything should be for sale.”
“We should go,” George said. “Must be on time for tea.”
They didn’t return exactly as they had come, instead heading for a different trail that would take them to Croft Road, and were soon near Saint Clement’s Caves, an ancient subterranean system that had served as smugglers’ hideaways, a military hospital during the Napoleonic Wars, and was now run as an attraction.
“Have you ever explored the caves, Lady Kate?” George asked.
“I have. Several times.”
“They belonged to our step-mother’s husband. Our lawyers are currently determining how much rent–”
“George!” Bill interrupted. “That’s not to be spoken of until the issue has been resolved.”
“Yes, yes…” George rolled his eyes. “There’s a good soldier. Follow orders.”
“Will you pursue a military career?” Kate pointedly asked George, growing weary of his attitude.
“I have turned my mind to public service,” he replied grandiosely, “but as a parliamentarian. I plan to run for office. Perhaps one day I will be in the House of Commons, and Bill will take a seat in the House of Lords.”
The mention of government reminded Kate of Hugh. “I know the Member for Chester,” she said. “It’s Lord Grosvenor. Do you know him?”
“The Duke of Westminster’s eldest son?” George asked. “Hugh, is it?”
“Yes.” Kate nodded and smiled. “That’s right.”
“Methinks I detect a note of affection?” George sang the query tunelessly, his meaning clear.
“He is very dear to me,” Kate said firmly, surprising herself. That was practically a declaration of our attachment! I must make a decision and visit Hugh soon! I will speak with Father after tea and see what can be arranged…