Lady Kathy Manson, daughter of the Duke of Nottingham, sat quietly at the dinner table with her parents and her brother. She was a pale faced, petite woman with gray eyes and black hair who was quite uncertain of herself.
It was another normal day at their manor house in London. It was autumn, Kathy’s most-loved season of the year. From where she sat, she watched the crimson and ochre leaves fall from their respected trees and float down onto the lawn. A squirrel dashed across, which amused her, and she chuckled. Kathy loved animals, small and large.
“Oh, we had a letter from Matthiew,” her mother said in a shrill voice, cutting into Kathy’s entertainment.
Lady Sarah Manson was a tall woman who was very particular about fashions and style. She liked to keep up with new dress designs from Paris and advised Kathy from time to time to choose dresses that matched the current fashion season.
Kathy tried her best to adhere to her mother’s instructions, but she found it quite difficult. She didn’t have the figure of a curvaceous woman that men liked in their chosen beaus. Most of the dresses she wore were plain and had no shape. Kathy tucked a loose hair strand behind her ear.
Sarah knew her daughter had no understanding of choosing the right clothes, so she chose the dresses herself, or if time was not available, a dressmaker was called to the manor. This suited Kathy fine, for she found it a chore to decide what to wear in the house and out in society.
“What does he say?” Kathy’s father asked. He tore a piece of bread in his hand and buttered it before eating it.
The Mansons had four children: Mark, John, Matthiew, and Kathy. Mark was a marquess and lived with his wife and two children in Nottinghamshire, while Matthiew lived in France with his wife. They were expecting their first child.
Lord Charles Manson was a good man, but Kathy was his favorite child, perhaps because she was the only daughter. He was a tall man, much like her mother, and his eyes were kind, just like his heart. Kathy was very fond of him, and she would not want him to be disappointed in her.
“He says Caroline is with child. How marvelous!” Sarah exclaimed. “We shall be grandparents again at long last. Isn’t it lovely, my dears?”
“Yes, Mother,” said Kathy, nodding her head in agreement.
“Stop nodding your head like a puppet, dear. It does not become you,” said Sarah drily. Kathy was hurt by her mother’s words, but she tried not to let it show on her face.
“It is about time, I believe,” said John. “They have been married long enough.”
“Kathy, what do you think?” asked Charles in a kind tone. “You are awfully quiet today.”
Kathy tried to look more alert. “I am paying attention, I promise.”
“Yes, I suppose you are the quietest of all of my children. I never thought about it. How bizarre that we miss the virtues of all our children when our minds are occupied with other things,” said Charles.
“Perhaps you miss them, and that is all right. A man should not interfere in household management and child rearing; that is what a wife and mother does.” Sarah seemed quite happy with her duties. She clearly didn’t want Charles to step over her work as a mother and the lady of the manor.
“Never mind that now. How do you feel about your sister-in-law having a child?” Charles went back to Kathy.
“I am pleased, of course. I shall be an auntie again, and that is lovely. I wonder if they are coming to England anytime soon. Mother?” Kathy asked.
“Matthiew doesn’t say in the letter. I shall write back promptly and ask him,” Sarah said. “It has been a long time since they came home.”
“And what about Mark? Have you heard from him, Mother?” John asked. He picked up a bunch of grapes from the fruit bowl and popped a few into his mouth.
“Manners, dear,” Sarah said. “We do not eat like commoners.”
“If you say so, Mother.” John grinned. “So, have you heard from him? Brother is so busy with his family that it seems he has no time for us anymore.”
“I had a letter from him a few days ago. There was nothing new in the writing, so I didn’t mention it. He, his wife, and the children are all doing fine. Work is taking up a lot of his time, and they want to visit soon,” Sarah replied.
“We should go and visit them,” said Kathy. “They will like that. It will be good to see them all. I miss the children. It was so much fun when they came to stay here in the summer.”
“Indeed it was. I do miss them very much. The manor seems to liven up when they come, don’t you think, dear?” Charles asked his wife. Sarah was reading the letter again and didn’t seem to hear him.
Charles turned to his children.
“They are fun small individuals, I must admit.” John poured himself some tea.
“Oh, I love them all and I can’t wait to see them next,” said Kathy. She finished eating now, placing her hands on her lap.
“It makes me worry about your own prospects, Kathy.” Sarah looked at her daughter directly.
“Oh?” Kathy pretended she didn’t know what her mother was going to say.
“You are now two and twenty, way past the marriageable age,” Sarah began. “It is high time we found someone for you to marry.”
“We do worry about you, dear,” said her father. “Mark and Matthiew are both married, and it is natural that we are concerned about you and John.”
“I have no intention of getting married yet, Father,” said John. “You and Mother are aware of that.”
“Yes, we are.” Sarah pursed her lips. She turned to Kathy. “As your father was saying, we are worried about you. We don’t want you to be a spinster. A life alone is not a life for a lady.”
“I do agree with you, Mother. I know most women are married at the age of one and twenty,” Kathy said meekly. John rolled his eyes, but Kathy ignored him. “I do feel guilty for putting you through this misery.”
“Aren’t you being melodramatic, Kathy?” said John. “Is it really necessary to find you a suitor so soon? Mother, why not let her roam around freely in society for a while, make new friends, and then find her own man to marry? I really don’t see what the hurry is.”
“I have friends, John,” Kathy said. “What makes you think I don’t?”
“Kathy, you hardly leave the house. You never mention a friend’s name either, and so that is my conclusion. If it will be easier, I will take you to the parties I attend and introduce you to my friends since you are so hesitant to do it yourself,” John offered.
“That is all very well, and I applaud you for your sympathies in regards to your sister,” said Sarah. “But as you are not a father and therefore do not have a daughter, you will not understand the importance of marrying a daughter who is of age, John.”
“Father, do you not agree with me?” John asked, exasperated.
“It is best to keep the peace,” said Charles. “Let’s stop here. We have finished breakfast anyway. I will be in my study for the time being.”
“And I must speak to the housekeeper. Poor Mrs. Willis is quite flustered at the moment with the staff shortage,” Sarah said. A footman came over and pulled her chair back.
“Kathy, shall we take a walk outside? It is such a lovely day, don’t you agree?” John said.
“I would love to,” Kathy replied with a smile.
The crisp air greeted the siblings as they walked down to the woodland. The smell of damp wood and dewy foliage filled the air. It made Kathy feel peaceful as she listened to the birds chirping.
“Mother wouldn’t like us being here,” said Kathy. “She absolutely detests my dresses becoming ruined in the mud.”
“Perhaps we shouldn’t have come down this path,” said John.
“It will be all right. I will have the maid take it out before Mother sees it. John, do you really think I should come with you to meet your friends? Do they even know me?”
“You may not remember them, but they came to the manor once or twice. I only see them at parties now. I suppose they are not really friends, but acquaintances. Still, I think you would enjoy their company,” John said. “And I meant what I said at the breakfast table. Getting married so early is madness. You won’t be a spinster; I can promise you that. You can enjoy some of society before you have to be a wife.”
“I think so too, but I just can’t stand to have Mother and Father worry about me. I don’t want to disappoint them.” Kathy walked through some fallen leaves.
“They will understand; don’t you worry. I will talk to them to give you six months of freedom before finding a suitor for you. I only want the best for you, dear sister.”
“I love my other brothers, but I am glad you are not married yet either. You are a great companion. Oh, dear, that makes me sound selfish.” Kathy laughed.
“Well, even if it makes you selfish, I don’t mind at all!” John said, very pleased. “Ah, here is our tree stump. Do you remember when we used to sit here for hours when we were younger?”
“I remember. You would tell me ghastly stories of ghosts and ghouls. It gave me nightmares for days afterwards. One time when Matthiew found out, he was quite mad at you. He threatened to tell Mama if you didn’t stop your stories. But that didn’t stop you, did it?”
John roared with laughter. “Indeed it didn’t. I do apologize now. I was a little mischievous then. I solemnly promise I will not tell you any more ghastly stories!”
“I shall take you up on that, then.” Kathy grinned. “ Sometimes I wonder what my life will be like in the future. I don’t believe I am as beautiful as other women. I am quite plain and boring. Still, I do want to marry and be able to please Mama and Papa.”
“And you shall, dearest. Do not fret about such things. If it makes you feel better, let me tell you something. Marriage is not always good,” John said. “Just look at the Jones. They always look so unhappy.”
“They lost their dog,” Kathy told her brother. “They loved their dog so much; he was like a child to them.”
“That dog has been dead for almost . . .” John counted in his head. “Six years.”
“You have no sympathy, do you?” Kathy sighed. “I think perhaps you should get married and have children. It would bring some compassion to you.”
“I do have compassion. I care for you, don’t I?” John pretended to be hurt.
“I suppose so.”
“Good. Let’s not squabble like children, and let us get back to the house. I am feeling quite cold now. I hope I don’t get ill.”
“You won’t get ill from a little fresh air. Come on, let’s go home.”
As they walked back to the manor, Kathy wondered again what her life would be like in the next few months. Would she find a suitor she loved or would her parents find one for her?
“And stop! Good horses!”
Robert Willow stopped the wagonette in front of his family’s cottage on the Duke’s estate. It was cold and misty at five in the morning. Steam rose from his mouth as he blew into his hands to warm them up. Robert, his mother Katherine, and his father Thomas had just arrived back from a wonderful visit to his aunt and uncle’s house in Bath.
“It is always lovely to be back home, isn’t it, dear?” Katherine said to her son and husband.
Katherine was a slim lady, now in her mid-fifties. Her kind eyes always sparkled. and her smile was contagious. Her relationship with her husband was just as loving and kind. It was clear to Robert how much they adored each other.
Thomas was a man who wanted things to be right, for the estate and for his family. He worked very hard on the farm and was dedicated and loyal to the Duke. Robert was proud of his father, but he was getting old, and he was not as strong now. Robert had made it his responsibility to take on all the hard, menial jobs for his father.
“Let us go inside and have some tea first before we unload,” Katherine suggested. “I need to warm my hands; I can hardly feel them.”
“That is a good idea, dear,” Thomas said. “Come on, boy. You can unload later.”
“Yes, I’m tired as well,” said Robert. “A good cup of tea will soon wake me up.”
Thomas set about getting the fire going, while Katherine filled a pan of water. In no time, the fire was going, and the water was boiling.
“What a wonderful few weeks we had,” Katherine said as settled down on her chair. Her hands were no longer cold, and color had returned to her cheeks.
“Aunt Margaret and Uncle Stuart had been so kind; they really enjoyed our visit.” Robert took his boots off to thaw his feet. He sighed, grateful for the heat. “It had been so long since we last visited.”
“Poor Margaret has been so unwell, so she was grateful for our help,” Thomas said. Margaret was his younger sister, whom he loved very much.
“Robert, do tell us about your pastimes,” Stuart, Margaret’s husband, said. “Your mother speaks of your sudden love of architecture and history. Is that true?”
“Mother exaggerates, I’m afraid,” said Robert. “I have always loved those two subjects. I find the events of history fascinating. And architecture is part of history. Bath is a wonderful place historically, and it is filled with splendid buildings. I could study them every hour if I had the time.”
“I regret I cannot send you on a Grand Tour, Son,” Thomas said sadly. “If only we had the money.”
“Oh, Father. It doesn’t matter. You must not worry about such small things,” Robert waved his father’s concerns away. “I don’t mind at all.”
“I am certain you will travel one day, Robert,” said his aunty. “I can feel it.”
The days in Bath passed by quickly. But they all had fun and were able to stay idle if they wanted. For Robert, he preferred to walk along the river, on the bridge, and on into the small town center. He ventured to the university there too, admiring the building work from where he sat and ate his sandwich.
Coming back to the present, Robert finished his tea.
“Right, I better unload the wagonette,” he said, putting his tea on the small wooden table in front of him.
“I’ll make some breakfast while you do that,” his mother said.
“I’ll see what there is to do on the farm,” Thomas said. “Well, I can’t sit and do nothing, dear,” he said when Katherine gave him a look.
Thomas’ health wasn’t what it used to be. The doctor had advised him to rest more, but Thomas wouldn’t listen.
“Mother, before we eat, I am just going to check on the farm hand and the animals with Father,” Robert said, coming back inside. “And don’t worry. I will keep an eye on him. He won’t be allowed to touch any heavy work.”
Robert loved the farm. As soon as he was able to, he helped his father with animal rearing, feeding, and mucking out in the barns. He was also allowed to work with the horses. Working with the broad animals was his favorite time of the day. They seemed to understand him, and he understood them. He favored a horse called Spartan, a pale-grey horse with a white triangle on his nose. When the weather was good, he would take Spartan out for a ride.
He stood now with his father and the farm hand who was recruited for their time away.
“I take it everything is all right here?” Thomas asked the boy.
“It is, Mister,” the boy said. “There was no problem here. The pigs were a little grumpy yesterday, which puzzles me.” He scratched his head.
Robert, Thomas, and the boy walked over to the pen. The pigs were quiet, which was unusual for them.
“I will get the veterinarian to come and take a look at them,” Thomas said. “You have done a good job.” He took some money out of his pocket. “This is for this week’s work.”
The boy was pleased with his wage; Robert saw it in his expression. It was full of gratitude.
“Go on now,” said Thomas. The boy took off his cap and ran home. “He is a good one, he is. Hardworking and not one to complain about the hard labor.”
“Yes, boys like him are hard to find,” said Robert. “Well, everything looks to be all right. Let’s get back home and have some breakfast. I am feeling quite hungry now.”
The next day, Robert was back at the farm. He was in the pig pen, mucking out with the help of his father who insisted on doing his bit. The pigs snorted as they walked around them.
“I’m going to the stables,” Robert said when they finished. “Will you be all right while I am away?”
“You sound just like your mother, Robert. Get on with that; I will be fine,” Thomas said gruffly.
Robert grinned and was soon on his way. He opened the farm gate and walked along the dirt path to the stables, which was a ten minute walk. The stables were part of a series of outbuildings situated not far from the Duke’s house. It was placed in between the farm and the big house.
Robert could hear their neighing as he reached the stables, and it warmed his heart. As he opened the gate and ventured in, he saw Lady Kathy walking into the main stables. He gasped. She was dressed in a dusty pink dress and incredibly beautiful.
He hid behind a stone wall and watched her talk to a horse.
She seemed to be relaxed, at ease with the animal. He listened.
“You are a darling,” she said, stroking the horse’s black mane. “You listen to all my troubles, and you don’t judge. I am so happy to have you in my life.”
Kathy began to hum a tune as she continued to stroke the horse. Robert just watched her, feeling so good. Why hadn’t he noticed her before? Had he been too engrossed in his own life not to notice a beauty on the estate?
Kathy stopped humming and sighed forlornly. “I must go now, Cherry. Mother will be looking for me.” She looked at her dress, which was not as clean as it was when she had arrived. “I must change before she sees me, or I will have to listen to her anguish of a ruined dress again. Goodbye now.”
Kathy seemed to glide out of the stables, and Robert made sure she was gone before he went in himself. He started his work, but the whole time, Lady Kathy was on his mind.
Oh, such grace and mannerisms. But she is a lady and not a commoner, Robert. What did you expect?
Robert sat with his mother and father in the sitting room, the work done for the afternoon. It was a fine day but still cold. Freshly plucked chickens lay on the wooden table in the kitchen, ready to be made into a stew with potatoes and carrots. Usually, Robert couldn’t wait for dinner time, but today, he didn’t seem to care much for it.
“I have had a discussion with the Duke.” Thomas looked at his son and frowned. Robert was looking outside. “He wants us to go to the farmer’s livestock market.”
“That would be a nice day out, dear,” Katherine commented as she got up to make some tea over the fire.
“Aye, it will be,” answered Thomas. “What do you say, Robert?”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t hear what you said,” Robert said, still staring outside the window.
“What has got into you, son? You have not been present since this morning,” Thomas said.
“Oh dear, are you coming down with a cold?” Katherine left the pan and bustled over to her son, feeling his forehead.
“Mother, I am fine.” Robert took her hand off his forehead.
“Then why are you not listening?” asked Thomas.
“I’m sorry. What were you talking about?” Robert said.
“I was saying we should go to the farmer’s market to see about the new livestock the Duke is interested in. It would be a good day for us to be away from the farm for a bit,” Thomas said. “What do you think?”
“I think it is a great idea,” said Robert, smiling at his parents.
“I don’t know what has got into you, Robert. You are so absent; it’s as if you're in love,” his father said, shaking his head.
“I am not in love, Father.”
“I’m not sure about that.” Thomas picked up the paper and ruffled it open. “Katherine, I would like some tea. Your son has got me all riled up!”
Katherine laughed. “He is a young boy; leave him be. I’ll get you that tea, dear.”
That evening, Robert took to strolling outside. The sun was setting over the moors, and the shadows were getting longer. It was a pretty picture. The setting ball turned the sky into an array of pink, blue, and orange splendor. Robert stopped at the fence and leaned on it, looking out and feeling quite happy. He began to think about Lady Kathy again.
He imagined her sitting by the fireplace with her family in their splendid drawing room either reading by candle light, or playing something beautiful on the pianoforte. She would be dressed in a simple evening dress, still very elegant at this hour.
Suddenly, he heard a cow’s low moo in the distance. He shaded his eyes to see where it was coming from and saw a cow in the middle of the field all alone.
Oh no, she must be freezing out there. What is she doing there?
He rushed back into the house. “There is a cow in the field, Father. She seems distressed.” He put on his farmer’s jacket and field boots. “I shall see to her. I’ll be back soon.”
“All right, but be careful out there, it is getting dark. Take the lamp with you,” said Thomas. “And take a tool, a cutter, in case she is stuck on some vines. It has happened before.”
Thomas followed Robert outside, standing in the doorway. Robert jumped over the fence and ran down to the field where the cow was stranded. Adrenalin ran through his veins as he ran as fast as he could. The air was much colder now, and it stung his hot face. As he got nearer to the cow, he saw she was indeed in trouble.
She lowed as he came towards her. He looked around her to see what the problem was.
“Poor girl,” he said. She was trapped in a mess of brambles. “You must be hurt badly. Don’t worry, girl. We will get you back home in the warmth.”
He got his cutters out, grateful for his father’s suggestion, and cut her out. She walked away from the brambles, completely free, but Robert saw the pain she was in. He hoped she would heal when they treated her. Tying a rope around her neck, which he has also brought, he towed her back to the barn. His father was already there with the veterinarian.
“I had a feeling she would need help. I wasn’t wrong,” said Thomas.
“How very clever of you, Father.” Robert approved of his father’s quick thinking. “Poor girl was trapped in the brambles, just like you said.”
“Aye,” said Thomas, smoking his pipe.
The veterinarian looked over the beast. “She has a few scratches. I will bandage her up, but there is not much to be done. I hope she isn’t too traumatized. See how she is in the morning, but I fear that her wounds, even though they are quite small, may lead to infection. And we all know what that will mean.”
Robert certainly did. It would mean the cow would have to be put down. As Robert went over to the cow, Thomas bid goodnight to the veterinarian.
“Let’s go home, Robert. There is nothing else we can do,” Thomas said sadly.
“Do you mind if I stay for a few hours? I will sleep here if I get too tired,” said Robert.
“Then I will stay with you. Let me get some tea from the house, and I will tell your mother. It is a sad day,” Thomas said.
“You don’t think she will make the night, do you, Father?”
“I’m afraid not. You and I have seen this happen many times before, but it doesn’t get any easier.”
The men spent the night in the barn, hardly sleeping. Katherine couldn’t sleep either, so she kept on bringing them tea to keep them warm.
When morning came and Katherine arrived at the barn, Robert and Thomas were crouched next to the cow. She had made it through the night.
“Every time you bring an animal back to health, I am delighted and proud that you are my son. Your character has become stronger these past few years, and your love of the animals is endearing,” said Katherine, with bright eyes. “Any woman who marries you will be so fortunate.”
“Oh, Mother,” Robert blushed. “Do we have to talk about this now?”
“Leave him be,” said Thomas. “You are embarrassing him.”
But Robert could see the same look in his father’s eyes.
“You both have helped me to look after her all night. I cannot take the only credit,” he said.
“Well, all right,” said his mother. “Let’s go home and get some sleep before it is bright. I believe we all deserve it.”
Robert couldn’t agree more and followed his parents back to the house.
“Oh dear, Mother won’t be pleased!”
Kathy looked up at the clouds gathering with intensity, already the color of deep purple mixed with greys and blacks. The woodland turned dark, and the animals scattered back to their small homes in the undergrowth.
“My dress will be ruined,” she sighed as large pellets of rain hit her head, slowly at first, but then becoming fiercer and stronger. Draping her shawl above her head, Kathy ran back through the woodland, careful to not trip over loose rocks or branches scattering the ground.
The rain soaked through her clothes and into her skin, sending a chill through her body. Water dripped from the top of her head to her face. She wiped her face to get the water off, but she knew she looked like a drowned rat as she rushed through the doors of the house.
Fortunately for Kathy, her lady’s maid, Charlotte, was just walking past. She stopped and looked on in horror as she saw the state of her lady.
“My lady, where have you been? Come, we must make haste and go upstairs. You need a change of clothes,” Charlotte said.
Kathy was shivering violently and was glad of the warmth of the fireplace as they entered her bedchamber. She fell to it, warming her hands and face.
“You are my angel.” Kathy’s teeth chattered as she stood up to be undressed.
Charlotte seemed to have gotten over the shock. She took Kathy’s drenched dress and put it by the fire. It was in a state and needed a thorough clean. This was one of Kathy’s favorite dresses, and now, Mother would ask questions. Kathy’s heart plummeted.
Oh, I hate to see the look of disappointment on Mother’s face.
“What dress would you like to wear instead, my lady?” asked Charlotte.
“The pale blue would do nicely,” said Kathy. “Oh, I was having so much fun in the woodland, and now my experience is ruined.”
“I am pleased you had some light activity this morning,” Charlotte said as she dressed Kathy.
“Would you care to hear about it?”
“Of course, I always love to hear about your adventures,” Charlotte responded. She smiled at Kathy through the looking glass.
Delighted, Kathy began to tell of her ventures in the woodland. “It was a leisurely walk. I quite enjoy the quiet of the woods in the mornings, but today there was a lot of activity. It was amusing to see squirrels run up and down the trees, and then I saw some rabbits. And a badger too.”
“Seems like you did have a good time,” said Charlotte.
“I want you to accompany me on another fine day,” said Kathy. She looked at her lady’s maid through the looking glass. Charlotte had taken her hair down and was rubbing it dry with a towel.
“I would be delighted to,” said Charlotte.
“Charlotte, can I ask you something?” asked Kathy. “I would like to know you a little better.
“What would you like to know?” Charlotte combed through Kathy’s hair.
“Tell me about Cornwall. I have never been there.”
“Oh, Cornwall is a beautiful place. I love being near the coast. Every morning, we were fortunate to see the waves crash, the seagulls flying above us. Even when it was raining, it was a lot of fun.”
“And what about your family?”
“Mother worked as a lady’s maid for many years before she married. But after my brothers and I were born, her health was not as it was. She was failing and we all saw it. She is not working anymore. Papa is not with us anymore, which made her even more poorly. So, it is upon me and my brothers to keep the house going.”
“I’m sorry to hear that. Perhaps I can send you to see your mother for a few days,” Kathy suggested. “It has been a while since you took any time off.”
“Oh, my lady, that means a lot to me. I cannot be grateful enough,” Charlotte said with emotion.
“Then it is settled. I will speak to Mother.”
Thinking of her own situation, she wished she could be brave and open enough to speak to her mother about her own freedom. She felt trapped in this house, where she could not breathe without her parent’s approval and their expectations.
She envied Charlotte’s home. A house by the coast would be a lovely place to live. She could take in the salty sea air, and there would be just her and the sea. That was perhaps why she liked the woodland too. Nothing but the giant trees and the animals. No expectations.
“Oh, dear Lily, you are my only real friend, unless you count Charlotte,” Kathy said, brushing her mare’s long and beautiful mane. “No one else seems to understand me or what I want. Mother is strict and is worried about my marriage. Father agrees with everything she suggests, and it is frustrating. But what can I do? Should I speak with John?”
“I wish life as a lady was not so boring. I yearn to see more than this estate. I want to see new cities, and even travel over the sea. Is that possible? There has to be more to life than to playing the pianoforte, reading, and receiving guests.”
Thinking of receiving guests got her thinking about the new season that would be soon upon them. She feared everything that was to come with it, knowing her mother would be set upon finding a match for her.
“Perhaps I would meet my suitor this Season, Lily. What do you think?”
The horse neighed, making Kathy laugh. “I am pleased you are on my side, my dear.”
Just then, Kathy heard some shuffling and turned to see who it was. She was surprised to see a man there. He looked familiar, and yet she couldn’t remember who he was. He was dressed as a farmer’s boy, in a dirty white shirt and brown trousers. He smiled at her, although shyly, and he was handsome enough. The man’s black hair was short, which brought out his sky blue eyes.
“I apologize for intruding on your time, my lady,” the man said. “I just wanted to greet you.”
“Who are you?” Kathy asked.
“I am Robert Wilbow, my lady,” Robert said. He raked a hand over his hair. “I am the farmer’s boy.”
Kathy smiled. “It is lovely to meet you, Robert. I don’t recall seeing you much, but then, I don’t notice many things.” She laughed.
“I remember you as a child, my lady. You and I are perhaps the same age,” said Robert. “I helped my father on the farm as a young boy. Now I do most of it, as he is unable to.”
“Yes, I remember a boy who looked like you.” She grinned then. “I must say it is refreshing to speak to someone else who is not part of the household. Thank you for speaking to me.”
“That is all right,” Robert said. He looked at the horse. “Is she your horse? I have noticed you seem to be with her more than with the other horses.”
“Have you been watching me?” asked Kathy.
“Not quite; just observing everything as I work here.”
“Her name is Lily. She has been my companion for as long as I can remember. We know each other well.” Kathy’s eyes twinkled. “And I think she is on my side.”
Robert laughed. “If you need any help with your horse or anything else, I will aid you. But I have taken much of your time, and so I shall carry on with my work. I have the cows to attend to.”
“Please, don’t be a stranger,” Kathy said as boldly as she could. “I would like to talk to you again.”
Robert, grinning, took off his cap and walked backwards, finally turning and running off. Kathy stared at him. She was flattered for the attention she received from him, and he was so kind. In her experiences, she didn’t recall a man ever to befriend her.
At every ball she attended, she always sat alone. No potential suitors asked her for a dance. Her card was always empty. She felt quite melancholy about it. If only there were men like Robert at the balls she attended, she would perhaps be married and have had children.
Lily neighed, as if sensing her sadness. Kathy laid her head on Lily’s nose and then kissed it. “It will be all right, won’t it, Lily?”
The horse stamped her feet and neighed.
That afternoon, Robert was busy attending to the pigs. He fed them corn and oats. The bigger ones grunted while the younger ones squealed and trotted to the front of the pen, fighting to get the first mouthfuls.
“There is enough for all of you.” Robert laughed. “You mustn’t fight.”
The day was a little windy and grey. Robert wanted to finish off and go inside the house as soon as possible, but he still had quite a bit to do.
“Robert!” someone called.
Robert’s heart sank. He knew that voice from anywhere. It was Jessica.
“Jessica, what a surprise!” he said as she came over to him. “I didn’t know you were coming today.”
“Ma and Pa and I decided to come by unexpectedly. We heard you were back from Bath. Was it a nice holiday?”
Jessica’s family had been friends with the Wilbows for many years. Jessica and Robert had been inseparable during childhood, but when they came into their youths, Robert distanced himself from her. He decided she was too wild for him, and also too talkative. He felt unfortunate that Jessica had fallen in love with him at the age of six and ten, which he didn’t want at all!
Jessica was a pretty woman; there was no doubt of that. With her long, blonde hair and her striking grey eyes, she was a beauty to behold. Robert was certain she would find many suitors without her trying to flirt and woo them, but she was infatuated only with Robert.
“We had a lovely time. Bath is a beautiful place,” he said.
“I wish I could have come with you,” Jessica said. “My employers wouldn’t give me the time off.” Jessica worked as a maid at one of the big houses over the hill.
“Did Mother invite you?” Robert frowned. He didn’t invite her; he remembered that much.
“Yes, didn’t they say?”
“No, they didn’t.” Robert’s forehead creased with annoyance. Why wouldn’t his mother stop interfering? She knew he wasn’t interested in Jessica.
“Would you have liked me to come, Robert?” Jessica leaned on the fence. She wrinkled her nose at the noisy pigs. “I don’t understand how you like being a farmer. I hate the mud and the smell of the animals and their muck. And they are so noisy.”
Robert laughed. “And they are demanding. Farming is my livelihood, just as being a maid is yours,” he pointed out.
“I suppose so,” Jessica mumbled.
“Have you got the day off today?” Robert asked.
“That’s why I am here.” She looked up at him and gave him a big smile. “It’s been so long since we have spent time together. I do miss those days.”
“We had to grow up someday,” said Robert. He finished feeding the pigs and moved away to the chicken coop. It was not surprising when Jessica followed him.
“Why don’t you go inside? It is quite cold out here, and you are not even wearing something suitable,” Robert suggested.
Jessica wore a simple cotton dress with a light shawl.
“I don’t mind the cold when I am with you,” she said. “Oh, I almost forgot to give you some news.”
“What news?” Robert threw some seeds into the chicken coop.
“Brother has fallen in love with a lady! Can you imagine it?” She laughed. “I told him there wouldn’t be a chance of him marrying her. She would not look at him twice because she is a lady, and he is a mere merchant, but he won’t listen.”
“It’s not a bad thing, is it, to love a woman of the higher caste?” Robert thought of Lady Kathy and how beautiful she was.
“Oh, I am certain being in love with a woman of that status is not a bad thing, but he must not fall in love with her too deeply. He will get hurt.”
Robert carried on working, his mind still on Lady Kathy. He didn’t respond to Jessica, afraid he may give away that he also liked a lady of nobility. A sharp wind now blew in their direction, and he noticed Jessica shiver.
“Better go inside,” he advised. “I will be there in a moment.”
“Yes, it is becoming too cold out here,” she agreed. “Come back to the house as quickly as you can. I have brought you your favorite shepherd’s pie.”
Robert grinned. He did love her shepherd’s pie; he could not deny it. He loved all of Jessica’s dishes; she was a good cook.
“You never forget. Thank you,” he said.
“All right, don’t go all soft on me.”
Robert relaxed his tense shoulders as she left, but the day was not over yet, and he rightly assumed they would be staying for dinner. However, he looked forward to the shepherd’s pie.
It was the day of the annual village fair. The village people were excited as they should be, and the sun shone that day, making it even better. Every trader was there, from livestock sellers to homeware and clothes sellers. Games were set up for children and adults alike.
Some women had set up vegetable and fruit stalls, some even sold hair combs, hair pieces, and other accessories.
“Oh, I am pleased I brought enough money today. I think I will visit the hair accessory stall first,” Katherine said, leaving Robert and Thomas to go to the livestock pens.
“Don’t go spending too much, my dear.” Thomas chuckled. Robert laughed too; his mother loved bargains when she saw them.
Robert and his father arrived where the animals were sold. Pigs and their piglets trotted in a small pen as if they were on parade, the sheep bleared huddled together, a bull was alone in his enclosure—no one wanted fatalities—and finally, there were some chickens on sale too.
“Remember, we are here for the piglets,” Thomas said. “Let’s have a look at them.”
“Father, can we have some chickens?” a small boy asked his father.
“Will you look after them, feed them, and collect the eggs every morning?” The boy’s father ruffled his son’s hair. “It is a job for a really responsible man.”
“Do you think I am a responsible man, Father?”
“Well, little George,” Thomas said as went up to him. “I believe you will be a wonderful and responsible little man. You will look after the chickens, feed them, and collect the eggs every morning.”
George was his friend Charlie’s son.
George beamed. “So, can we have some chickens, Father?”
“If Mr. Wilbow thinks so, then I have no problem. Thank you, Thomas.”
“It’s no problem at all, Charlie,” Thomas said. “George has grown so quickly, and he is interested in farm animals. That is good. In the years to come, he will make a good farmer if he wants to be.”
“Indeed he will.” Charlie smiled and crouched to his son. “Let’s buy those chickens, shall we?”
George jumped up in joy.
“And we shall go and buy our piglets,” Thomas replied.
“That was a nice thing you did there, Father,” Robert said.
“Well, George reminded me of you when you were that old.” Thomas picked up a piglet to examine it. It wriggled in his arms. “This one looks healthy.” He looked at Robert. “It is never a bad idea to encourage young boys, including you.”
“You are right,” said Robert. He pointed to another piglet. “What about that one?”
Thomas looked at it. “It seems to be in good health too,” he said.
“Then I believe we have our two piglets,” said Robert. As he said that, his attention involuntarily went across the square where there was a crowd of men. They looked to be miners. And then he saw Lady Kathy.
She smiled and waved at him across the square, and he waved back.
“Father, I won’t be long. I am just going to see someone.”
“All right, son,” said Thomas.
Robert walked over there and stood behind the men. Lady Kathy seemed small on the stage. He wondered what she was doing there.
“Robert, what are you doing here?” Jessica suddenly appeared at his side.
“Oh, Jessica. I wasn’t aware you were going to be here,” Robert said. He wished she wasn’t. Ignoring her, he focused his attention on Lady Kathy.
“Who is she? Do you know her?” Jessica asked.
“She is the Duke’s daughter,” said Robert. “We spoke briefly perhaps two days ago.”
“You seem to like her,” Jessica observed. “Why are you staring at her like that?”
“What do you mean?”
“Robert, you haven’t taken your eyes off her since I arrived,” Jessica stated.
“Hush now, Lady Kathy is saying something,” said Robert.
“I have been given the privilege to present all of you with a hamper, given by the Duke, my father, for all your hard work and dedication to the estate.”
The miners clapped as well as Robert. Jessica crossed her arms with a frown on her face.
Lady Kathy smiled widely, her eyes twinkling in Robert’s direction. He beamed back. Kathy began to take hampers from the lady beside her, and she handed them to all the miners.
A small crowd of women and men gathered at the ceremony, and Robert concluded they were the families of the men.
“Perhaps we should go,” said Jessica. “Why don’t we have a go at the games? That will be fun, won’t it?”
Lady Kathy walked off the stage. Robert wished he could talk to her, but he knew it wouldn’t be wise in front of so many people.
“Robert, are you listening to me?” Jessica sounded frustrated.
“Yes, I’m sorry.” He smiled at her, trying to look convincing.
As he followed Jessica, his eyes roamed to find Lady Kathy, but she was lost to the crowd. He hoped to see her again soon.
The day was fine and warm as Kathy rode with Robert along the moors. She glanced at him with a happy smile as they rode in the path of the light wind. Kathy was grateful to have bumped into him at the stables that morning.
It had been another night of no sleep although she did try. She tossed and turned in her four-poster bed but sleep eluded her. Instead, she lay in bed, waiting for dawn. She just wanted to ride her horse, to feel the freedom of rushing ground under the horses’ gallop and the wind blowing through her hair.
So, as the sun crept up over the horizon, Kathy stole outside into the crisp and misty morning and headed towards the stables, where she found Robert. She asked him shyly if he would like to go riding with her, and to her surprise, he agreed.
“How did you like the fair yesterday?” Kathy asked as they climbed the small hill, navigating their way through some small boulders.
“I enjoyed it,” replied Robert. “I don’t usually like to go to fairs, but my father said we must. We bought two piglets.” He smiled. “I have to say I was surprised to see you there.”
“A member of my family attends the fair every year to give out gifts to the mine workers,” Kathy explained. “They do a very dangerous job, and we believe they should be rewarded. This year, I was given the honor of presenting the men with food hampers.”
“I could see you enjoyed it,” said Robert.
“I like to give to people who are more unfortunate than us,” Kathy said with a dull ache in her heart. She felt for the poor individuals who had to work hard to live while she and her family lived in luxury without a worry.
“Shall we rest here for a moment?” she said. She stopped and climbed down from her horse.
They were standing in the open, high on the hill. They could see far and wide, over the rolling hills, and down to the stream. There were few trees but more boulders. Kathy and Robert sat on one each.
“I have to admit I did not notice you when we were children,” Kathy said. “You used to come up to the house with your father often, am I correct? I only knew you as the farmer’s son when Father would discuss problems with Mother about the farm.”
“Were you allowed to listen to these conversations?” Robert smirked.
“Not quite. I used to sneak away from the governess with John. It was so much fun.” Kathy giggled.
“I loved coming to the house. It was so big then. It still is. I am amazed at how the people of nobility live. Your life must be grand, with rich food and drink, attending parties, and with staff.”
“Oh, it may sound like a good way to live, but it has its own troubles,” said Kathy. “The expectations for an unmarried lady can be a burden. We have to sit and dress properly in front of the ton and behave too.”
“I sense you don’t want that?” Robert asked.
“You are correct. It is not what I wish for. I want to be free, to think for my own mind and not be dictated to. But that is wishful thinking for a lady.” Kathy stared ahead for a moment, thinking about the urgency of her marriage. But she cast that thought away; she didn’t want to think about it now. “Tell me about your house. What is it like?”
“It is . . . small and basic, but very cozy. The estate has given us a job and a home, and it allows us to live respectfully. We have enough food, we are never hungry, and we are never cold. So, you see, I cannot complain. We are very comfortable in our cottage.”
“I am very glad to have met you properly,” Kathy said. She pulled a thin blade of long grass and began to play with it. “I do not know anyone as good and humble as you. Most men I meet like to boast about their credentials as noble men, of their achievements in life. It does bore me.”
“What about your brothers? Do you talk to them much?” Robert asked. He stretched out his legs.
“My two older brothers don’t live with us. You must know they are married. One lives in France and one in another region of England. Both are happy and occupied with their families. My older brother is expecting a child now,” said Kathy. “I write to my brothers often, and the replies come, but quite a few months apart. It is John whom I converse with a lot.”
“I have no siblings; it is only me. So, I enjoy spending time with John. He is my friend and my companion,” Robert offered an explanation.
“I remember seeing you with him, now that I remember it. How delightful to have such company,” Kathy said. She stared at him when he looked away, admiring how kind and gentle he was.
“Let’s tie our horses to that tree; they can eat the grass there. I would like to take a short walk, if that is all right with you? Or if you prefer, we may go back home. But I would like you to come with me.” Robert smiled.
“I would be happy to,” Kathy said quickly. She didn’t want to go home at all.
“Very well,” said Robert.
They got back onto their horses and rode over to the tree, where they tied their horses as planned. They proceeded down a path. The breeze strengthened, but it didn’t bother Kathy. She liked walking with Robert.
Kathy could see they were not too far from town, where black smoke came out of the buildings. She could imagine the poor souls who worked in those awful workhouses, desperate people who needed money to survive. She felt melancholy about it. She mentioned it to Robert.
“I know some families who were forced into those damned places,” he said darkly. “I wish we could change it.”
He glanced at her now. “I like working for your father, Lady Kathy. And I also hope for a promotion one day.”
“What kind of promotion?” asked Kathy.
“I want to go into business. I don’t know what business yet, but I want to give my parents a better life. It is hard to watch my father work so hard on the farm. He is getting old, and he is not as quick or strong as he used to be. I want to take over and be the son he can rely on.”
“That is a very noble and unselfish thing to do. I do admire you for it.” Kathy smiled.
Kathy was surprised to find such a good character in Robert; it was hard to find men like him. Her parents always told her that commoners were not intelligent enough to pay attention to. But today, Kathy could say they were wrong.
Here was someone sitting opposite her who was a commoner, yet he was intelligent in his heart and the things he wanted to achieve. She respected all of that.
All this time, she was taught to believe that tradesmen, farmers, and all the working class were not people they should entertain. Now, she understood that they were people themselves, who had dreams of their own, much like she did.
She had found a friend in Robert, and she would like to keep it that way.
The horses neighed.
“I believe they want to go home now.” Kathy laughed.
Robert stood up. “Let’s go home then.” He smiled at her.
Kathy and Robert rode back the way they came, but not many words were exchanged. They traveled through the long grass, past the boulders, and began their descent to the bottom of the hill slowly and carefully.
Shadows of clouds flitted around them, and the day was becoming dull. Perhaps it would rain. Robert called his horse to go faster, with Kathy following his lead.
A drop of water splashed on Kathy’s face, which she enjoyed. It gave her a sense of freedom. She sighed happily. Robert had made her feel happy again, and she couldn’t be more grateful.
That night, as everyone prepared to sleep, so did Kathy. It was warm, and that was the way she liked it. She stared at herself in the looking glass now, noticing her pale, shallow cheeks, her wide eyes, and her plain hair.
She knew she was no beauty, so she was surprised Robert liked her enough to talk to her.
She sat quietly on her dressing chair, lost in her thoughts as her lady’s maid combed her hair out, leaving it free and long. It felt lovely.
She wondered about Robert and what his night routine would be like. Of course, he would have no one to attend to him. He would have to do everything himself.
Kathy was intrigued by his simple life, which she felt was rewarding to him. But she also liked having a lady’s maid, because then she felt she had a friend and a companion. She had no real friends in the social circles among the ton. She didn’t regret it, as she was used to it, but she liked Charlotte. She was a good listener, and she didn’t judge.
Kathy grew up with her brothers, and while they had their lady friends, she felt like a misfit. She longed to leave their company, for she felt she was not good enough to be in their friend circle.
It all began when she was a child, unable to be a friend to other children. She was afraid and anxious around them, which was carried through her childhood into adulthood.
But now, even though she may not regret it, she wondered how her life would be if she did have a friend to spend her time with. Would her character still be timid?
“Charlotte, what do you think about social classes?” she asked suddenly.
Charlotte looked at Kathy through the looking glass. “I don’t understand what you mean.”
“I am wondering if someone’s status really can prove their true identity as a person. They say that someone who is a worker is not good enough for the people of nobility, but could that be true? What are your thoughts on this?”
“Well, my lady, I come from a working class family,” said Charlotte. “I hope you can see I am a good person.” She smiled.
“Of course I think you are a good person. More than good actually.” Kathy smiled back.
“I am glad for it,” said Charlotte. “Well, I think it is difficult to see if any individual is a good person or a disagreeable one. I don’t agree that anyone should be judged before you know them a bit better.”
“But do you think a noble lady can fall in love with a tradesman or a serviceman?” Kathy pushed for an answer.
Charlotte stopped brushing Kathy’s hair. “It doesn’t matter if they are noble or not. What matters is that they are good and kind.”
Kathy wondered about her own status as a lady and Robert’s status as a farmer. They were two very different people, but she found him very kind and thoughtful.
Of course, I only want friendship, but would Mother and Father agree to such a friendship?
Her thoughts led her to the morning ride with Robert again, and she felt a warm glow in the pit of her stomach.
Do I have feelings for the man? If I do, should I stop them from developing further? But I do feel free with him around me . . .
She sighed. “You can go now, Charlotte. I will see myself to bed now,” she said, still quite distracted from her thoughts.
“My lady, are you quite all right? Are you feeling ill?” Charlotte asked, looking worried.
“I have just had a long day.” Kathy stood up and walked towards the bed. “Have a good night, Charlotte.”
“You too, my lady.” Charlotte closed the door behind her softly.
Kathy fell onto her bed, her arms stretched out. She couldn’t stop thinking of Robert.
“Well, I must try and sleep,” she said to herself. “I do feel fatigued now . . . perhaps I will see Robert again soon.”
With that amiable thought, she smiled as she got under her duvet.
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