Kathryn sat excitedly on her bed, she had just received a letter from her father this morning and was now anxious to read it. "He wants me to join him in London for the season!" She squealed. Now that she was eighteen, she was finally old enough to enjoy all that London society had to offer a young lady of quality.
"That's wonderful, honey," Mary, the longtime housekeeper said, with a smile on her face. She had been taking care of Kathryn ever since she was born. "I'll get all your things packed and ready to go as soon as possible for you. Why don't you run along now, go ride that horse of yours, this will be your last chance until you return from London."
"Thank you, Mary. I don't know what I would do without you!" She replied, as she ran out her bedroom door heading for the stables.
As the sun rose high above the hills, Kathryn waited for her mount to be saddled. Shadow, the dapple grey mare had been a gift from her father on her sixteenth birthday. Kathryn had been so happy on that occasion, tears of joy had streamed down her cheeks. For the past two years they had been almost inseparable.
John, the head groomsman shook his head and watched as Kathryn and her horse jumped the south fence. "One of these days that girl will surely break her neck!"
Since she'd not been riding for several days, Kathryn allowed Shadow her freedom and flew across the countryside. When she finally slowed their pace, she saw a lone rider approaching.
"What brings you out this early in the morning Kathryn?" Roger Chatsworth, the Earl of Somerset asked her. "For a moment there, I thought you may be in need of assistance."
"That won't be necessary, for as you can see, I have my horse completely under control and we were just out for a morning ride, milord." Kathryn replied, coldly.
"Then you won't mind if I join you?"
"That's up to you, it's your property but I was just about to head back to the Manor."
"Come now, there's no reason for you to rush back, Kathryn." Roger cooed. "Ride with me for a little while."
Kathryn shifted uneasily under the staring eyes of the Earl, unsure of what to do. "You're looking at me so strangely, is there something wrong?"
"No, no. I was just admiring your beauty, my dear. You are beautiful you know." Reaching out, he ran his finger down her cheek.
Kathryn drew back at his touch, unable to control the rising panic he had instilled in her. "I really must be going your lordship," she said, just above a whisper.
"Very well my dear, another time perhaps...."
Kathryn turned Shadow around, pushing her to the limit to get to the safety of the Manor.
The Earl sat back on his horse and watched Kathryn disappear across the meadows. How long he had waited for her to grow up so he can make her his own. "My waiting will soon be over," he murmured, running his fingers across his dark mustache.
Kathryn rode into the stable yard at a full gallop.
"What on earth...!" John shrieked, when he saw Kathryn.
"You better give Shadow a good rub down, she's pretty winded." Kathryn said, dismounting quickly.
"What's happened? You look as if you've seen the devil himself!"
"I have John, I have...."
The following morning Kathryn woke early, now anxious to be on her way to London. She had never been allowed to attend any of the lavish balls before but now she was finally old enough. She ate her breakfast that Mary had brought her as quickly as possible.
"Lordy Miss Kathryn, I sure hope you don't eat like that in London. Your father will most definitely send you home, immediately!"
"No, no. I won't eat like this, I'm just so excited and anxious to leave. That's all. But I will miss you."
"Oh, honey, you'll be far too busy to miss the likes of me." She said, knowingly. "Now if you're ready, let's get you on your way. They walked downstairs together and then out the front door to where the coach was waiting for her.
Kathryn gave Mary a big hug. "I will miss you, don't think I won't." She said, to the housekeeper. She climbed up and made herself comfortable in the coach and waved goodbye, for what she thought would be only a short season in London.
The coach finally pulled up in front of the Grey townhouse, Kathryn hesitated for a moment and took in a deep breath when George, the coachman stared at her with door in hand waiting to assist her from the coach.
"Miss Kathryn, are ya feeling ill? Do I need to fetch ya a doctor?" George asked, beginning to worry about her delay.
"No, no George. I'm quite alright, I'm just a little nervous about meeting my new step-mother for the first time. That's all."
George sighed with relief. He had known Kathryn all her life and was very fond of her despite her stubbornness at times. "Well come along then lass, let's not delay any longer." George said, before helping her down from the coach.
Kathryn took in the new furnishings of the townhouse when they entered the hall. Nothing was the same as she had remembered it, how long had it been since she was here last, two years maybe? How could everything have changed so drastically?
"Miss Kathryn!" Louise shouted, running up to her and giving her a big hug. "Lordy, you've grown into a real beauty honey that country air must really agree with you. Wait until your father see's you. Why don't you wait for him in the drawing room and I'll go inform him you've arrived.
Before Kathryn could ask the long time servant anything, she had spun on her heels and was gone. Kathryn nervously sat down on the edge of the settee and began smoothing out the non-existent wrinkles in her green and white muslin dress. I do hope my new step-mother likes me, she thought worriedly.
"Kathryn child, I'm so glad that you came so quickly." Squire Grey said when he entered the room. Let me get a good look at you, Louise said you're quite a young lady now."
"Kathryn rose and gave her father a slight kiss on the cheek as she had always done as a child.
"Let me introduce my new wife to you. Kathryn, this is Cassandra, your new mother."
Kathryn turned her head with an innocent smile but was instantly taken aback by the hostility that generated from this woman she was now to call mother. Every inch of her being told her that this woman for some unknown reason despised her on sight. What could she have possibly done to cause such hatred she saw in Cassandra's eyes? "Mother, I'm glad to..."
"I think it would be better if you called me Lady Grey my dear." Cassandra interrupted with a sneer. "Really darling, I'm not old enough to have a child your age. I was under the impression that you were still in the nursery. Robert dear, you didn't tell me your daughter was so grown up. How quaint!"
Kathryn could feel the tears wiling up in her eyes. Her chin began to quiver when she asked her father if she could retire to her room since it had been such a long journey from Glastonbury. With a nod from her father, Kathryn flew up the stairs to the safe haven of her bed chamber. Throwing herself across the bed, Kathryn gave into her emotions and cried herself to sleep.
Robert watched as his only daughter had flown up the stairs, shaking his head, he walked back over to the table and poured himself a liberal glass of brandy. Downing it in one gulp, he poured another glass. "Cassandra, why were you so malicious to Kathryn? What did she do to you to cause such offense? She is just a little girl exited to see her father and meet her new step-mother."
"She didn't do anything darling, you did. You told me your daughter was but a mere child, not a beautiful young woman who acts so sweet and innocent. I wonder just how sweet and innocent she really is living out there in the country. She'll have every London dandy pounding at our door. We'll not have a moment's peace around here with her here. Not to mention my reputation as her so called mother. I will not have it Robert! Send her back to where she came from." Cassandra demanded.
"It sounds to me like you're jealous of her beauty, and that it's you who won't be the center of attention anymore." Robert uttered, before draining his glass.
"How dare you! Me, jealous, ridiculous. I never heard of such a thing. How could I possibly be jealous of her? Just look at that height, she's like some kind of giant. Ha, and that hair, red, god, who on earth would want hair that color. I want her out of my house Robert, as soon as possible. Do you hear me?" Cassandra screamed, her eyes bulging out as she glared at Kathryn's father.
"We'll work something out tomorrow Cassandra, when you've calmed down. I guess Kathryn is more grown up than I remembered her. It has been a few years since I've seen her last. Anyway, tonight is Michele Denham's debut ball and we've all been invited, so let's all go and try to enjoy ourselves, shall we." Robert slurred, emptying the last of the brandy into his empty glass.
"You're nothing but a drunken sop, Robert! But I'm not going to let you or Kathryn ruin my time tonight at the ball." Cassandra spat before stomping out of the room mumbling something about never being ready on time.
"She just got here, how could I possibly send her back so soon?" Robert muttered dejectedly to himself and then dropped into an arm chair. "My beautiful Kathryn," was the last thought on his mind as he dosed off into a drunken stupor.
How can I possibly go, I don't have a ball gown to wear," she thought dejectedly. "For that matter, I've never even been to a ball before." She walked over to her coffer to go through the meager clothes she had brought with her. She spied a dress hanging at one end by itself. Not recognizing it as one of her own, she pulled it out to inspect it more closely. It was a dusty rose color ball gown made of the finest silk, with puffy brocade short sleeves and a fully flared skirt. The bodice was covered with Queen Anne's lace and trimmed with dozens of tiny white pearls giving it a simple but elegant look. "What a beautiful gown, but where did it come from, and who did it belong to?" Kathryn wondered before she laid it across the bed to admire it a little longer. "I know, I'll ask Louise, she should know how it got into my coffer." As Kathryn opened her door, she ran directly into Louise, causing her to almost drop the full try of food she had prepared for Kathryn's dinner.
"Oh Louise, I'm so sorry," she said, helping the housekeeper steady the burden she was carrying.
"Lordy Miss Kathryn, where were you going in such a hurry?" Louise scolded, when she put the tray down on the table.
"I was going to look for you!"
Louise spied the dress laying on the bed and smiled up at Kathryn.
"Do you know how this dress got into my coffer? I've never seen it before." Kathryn asked.
"Of course I do, I put it there for you to wear to the ball this evening."
Kathryn stared at her in disbelief. "Where did it come from?" Kathryn stammered. Louise took both of Kathryn's hands in hers. "Your mother had it made many years ago but she died before she ever wore it. I have kept it ready for you to wear to your first ball. I know your mother would have wanted it that way."
Kathryn's eyes became misty as the realization of Louise's words sunk in. "Mother would have looked beautiful in this gown," she reflected.
"And so shall you honey, but you're going to be late if we don't start getting you ready right away."
Kathryn picked at the tray of meats and cheeses while Louise brushed out her hair and piled her tresses up high into a stylish coiffure. She then intertwined dusty rose color ribbon and a row of colorful flowers to encompass the crown of her head. With her toiletries complete, Louise brought out the full ruffled white petticoat that was made especially for this gown. "Come on child, there's no time to dally as she helped Kathryn step into the petticoat. "Now the dress." Kathryn tried to remain still as Louise pulled the gown over the massive petticoat and slid her arms into the puffy sleeves, she placed them over her shoulders while Louise laced up the back of the bodice.
"Now for the final touch, a pair of matching slippers and long white silk gloves. Louise stepped back and was quite satisfied with her handiwork as Kathryn stared at the image in the mirror, not believing it was her own.
Robert waited impatiently in the foyer looking at his time piece, seven-fifteen," he murmured. "We're late, what is taking them so long. They've had all day to get ready. Hum!" He walked into the drawing room deciding to have a brandy while he waited, but before he could pour one, he heard Cassandra behind him.
"Having more brandy Robert? I thought you had consumed the last of it this afternoon."
Cassandra sneered, seeing his intention.
Disregarding her remark, Robert tried to lighten her mood. "You look exceptionally beautiful this evening my dear," he said, wondering how much this gown would set him back.
Pleased by his remark, Cassandra sauntered over to the full length gilded mirror that was in the foyer to admire herself again. The blue hue of her gown was the exact color of her almond shape eyes and the perfect color to accent her stylish blonde hair. The bodice barely covered her voluptuous white breasts and was outlined with a row of finely cut diamonds. Her sleeves were tight fitting and made of the same fine satin as the fully gathered skirt. She wore a diamond pendant around her neck and matching diamond earrings and bracelet. So pleased with herself she didn't see the beginning signs of age marring her petulant features.
Kathryn descended the stairs with all the grace and poise of a proper young lady. When Robert saw his daughter, he couldn't believe his eyes. She was the splitting image of her mother. He remembered the day his dearly departed wife had ordered that gown.
"Father, are you disappointed with me? You look so sad." Kathryn said, worriedly.
"No, no, absolutely not, on the contrary, you look stunning my dear. I never realized just how much you look like your mother until tonight." Robert took her by the hand and escorted her the rest of the way down the stairs. "If you ladies are ready to go, the coach is waiting outside." As Robert assisted them on with their cloaks, Cassandra and Kathryn glared at each other with open hostility until they tore their eyes away from each other and rode to the Denham ball in total silence.