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Authors: Lindsay Kiernan

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BOOK: A Taste of Honey
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Mrs. Brentley looked Katherine over carefully before addressing her mother.  “I believe that she would make a fine wife for any man, no matter how blue his blood was.”

After a tight and rather forced smile Mrs. Brentley changed the subject until they had found a topic that did not cause as much disagreement.

By the end of their short interview it was clear that despite some of the fears that Mrs. Wellings and Robin had raised, Mrs. Brentley had decided to take both girls with her to London.  She warned them that they would have to be ready by early the next morning, which seemed impossible until she told them what to bring.

“We don't have time to pack all of your gowns and dresses.  Take only what you will require for our trip to London and the rest will be taken care of later.”  With a quick goodbye the three women ushered Mrs. Brentley out of the door so that they could prepare for tomorrow's journey.

Robin sauntered dreamily about the small hallway as her head filled with the ideas of lavish balls, outrageous plays, and all of the money her future husband would have.  Katherine smiled at the scene, happy to see that for once her sister had little to complain about.  She tried to ignore her mother's strange request as perhaps being only a show for Mrs. Brentley but Mrs. Wellings soon crushed most of the joy that she had been feeling.

“This could be the best thing that has happened to us in a long time.”  Mrs. Wellings said as she pulled Katherine aside.  “You'll do me proud,” she stated rather than asked.  “Once you've married well there will be nothing left to worry about.  I will always have a home to turn to, even if your father's health continues to slide away from him.”

Katherine fought the urge to laugh at her mother's exaggeration.  “There is nothing wrong with him; he has a simple head cold.  He will be fine.”

“Regardless of his condition, I have had to live seventeen years without any guarantee of my protection and your marriage into nobility will finally secure my comforts in life.”

She knew that it was her mother's own way of asking for things, to state them as if they were already fated to happen.  “What if I'm unable to find a titled husband?” Katherine asked her.  “Or worse, if I cannot find a husband at all.”  She had meant to make a joke with her remark and lighten her mother’s mood.  Instead Mrs. Wellings refused to laugh as her eyes narrowed in and her lips pursed.

“Were you to come home without a suitable husband you would be disowned.” 

Katherine's heart sank as she watched her mother's face.  There was no sign of humor to soften the fiery look in her eyes and she began to understand the seriousness of the situation.

“I have worked too hard on you to let all of my efforts come to nothing.  I cannot put my faith in your sister.  Robin is too silly for her own good.  Instead I place it in you.  I have worked for you to have this opportunity in London.”  With a last and less pleasant glance at Robin, Mrs. Wellings began to walk up the stairs towards her room for the night.  “Do not disappoint me,” she said as she walked away.

Chapter 2

 

 

After many hours of bobbing in the large carriage that Mrs. Brentley had secured for their trip to London, they at last came to a halt outside of the inn that they were to stay at for the night.  Mrs. Brentley had told them that her daughter would meet up with them there but she had not yet arrived.  Mrs. Brentley asked her footman to carry up the girl's trunks and have a dinner brought up to them at the room.

Katherine was relieved to see that they were to occupy their own set of rooms while Mrs. Brentley and her daughter would be in a different set across the hall.  Robin had spent most of the carriage ride discussing topics that she and Mrs. Brentley did not agree on.  The two had nearly fought when Robin had brought up the subject of the new money men that she had narrowed in on so intensely.  An entire night in the same room with each other might have led to an even larger argument between Robin and Mrs. Brentley, who had not yet broached the subject of fashion, something that she was sure both women would be quite opinionated about.

“She's unbearable,” Robin whined as she sat down at the small table in their room and began picking at a string that hung down from her bonnet.  “I can't stand how she gives her advice, as if it came from God and cannot be questioned!  There are different men intended for different women.  She does not accept that I have needs that someone without vast amounts of money could not satisfy.”

“Hush Robin, don't be quite so loud.” Katherine decided not to agree or disagree with her sister in case it caused an argument between them as well.  “The walls aren't that thick in some of these old inns, so tonight you should watch what you say,” Katherine warned.  The next few months were likely to include many occasions where Robin and Mrs. Brentley would butt heads if neither was able to cool down and make concessions on some of the subjects.  Knowing Robin, Katherine felt it was unlikely to come from her sister's end. 

“I hope her daughter isn't quite as bossy,” Robin said with a slightly lower tone.  “I don't think that I could handle two women like her.  They would be telling me what to do all of the time.”

Katherine admitted that she had considered the same possibilities but added that neither one of them had grown up to be like their mother.  “There is no reason that we should assume that Winnie is a replica of her mother, she could be lovely.”  Robin laughed grimly at the thought before starting to unpack and choosing which dress she wanted to wear when they first entered London tomorrow.

Digging through her clothes Katherine found the purple velvet hooded robe that she used for walks on cold nights like tonight.  Her favorite past time back home had been walking around their small garden and into the woods behind their house wrapped up in her warm cloak.  Right now she felt that need for some time alone to think and sort things out.  Her emotions over her mother’s new demands had sent her into a spin of uneasiness and being in a new town meant that there would be new things for her to see during her walk.  Night was her favorite time to be outside, when everything was silent and still.

A small tap at the door announced Mrs. Brentley who burst in with a maid holding a tray of tea and a few cold sandwiches purchased from the innkeeper for their dinner. 

While trying to avoid any further confrontations Katherine was able to steer their brief conversation to Mrs. Brentley's daughter and how often they would be seeing her while they stayed at the Brentley's apartments.

“Winnie is not very fond of London,” Mrs. Brentley confessed.  “She prefers our estate in the country and often stays there with her brother during most of the season.  Since she is to start attending the events next year I have encouraged her to stay longer with us this year but she has not yet made up her mind.”

Katherine was surprised that such a domineering woman as Mrs. Brentley did not seem to completely control her daughter's schedule.  Instead the girl seemed to go where ever she pleased, whenever she wanted to.  It made her more of a mystery to the girls and strengthened Katherine's hope that she would get along with Winnie, who was less than a year younger than her.

Mrs. Brentley poured the hot tea into each of the cups with their mismatched saucers while Katherine went to her bag for a small vial of honey.  Not many of the women that she had known used honey with their tea so Katherine always brought her own small jar when she traveled or visited friends.

The little vial seemed to amuse Mrs. Brentley as Katherine poured some into her tea and sampled the drink before adding a bit more of the golden colored liquid in.  “If you are that attached to honey in your tea you must remind me to have some ordered fresh while we are in London.  I doubt that I have any at the house and that tiny bottle won't last very long for the two of you.”

“Katherine is the one who likes honey in her tea,” Robin corrected Mrs. Brentley.  “I hate sweetened tea, just a little cream,” she said as she added the right amount and stirred it in until it had a rich tan color.

Mrs. Brentley added her own mixture of sugar and cream to her tea as she thought for a moment.  “Tea is such a personal thing,” she commented.  “How a woman takes her tea can tell the company with her a lot about her character.  If she takes more than three sugars she usually has a sweet tooth for other treats like chocolate.  If she adds nothing at all, she might have grown up too poor for such luxuries and now cannot stomach the sweetness.”  Picking up the small vial Mrs. Brentley smiled warmly at it, as if it confirmed some suspicion that she had already had about the two girls.  “Honey in tea is rare in most of the cities where they are less likely to have access to fresh stores of it.  Everyone who takes tea with you will know that you were once a little country girl.”

“Is there something wrong with that?”  Robin asked defensively before taking a sip from her cup.

Mrs. Brentley shook her head and placed the bottle back in Katherine's waiting hand.  “Of course not Robin.  You should not be ashamed of where you came from, you should be proud that you got to live in such a lovely quiet area of England.  What I'm trying to tell you both is that from now on people will be watching you very closely, and you should be watching for little things like this as well.  You and your future husband may not have much time to spend together before you have to say yes or no to his proposal.  Take in as much detail as you can of the men you meet.  How does he take his tea, or does he prefer brandy after dinner?  Does he ever mention his home and his hobbies
?
  Are they hobbies that you enjoy?  Never go out of your way to ask such questions, especially if you've just met him, but try to glean the answers from what you do know about them.  It can help you decide if the two of you are suitable for each other.”

“Like calloused hands might mean that he is poorer and has to work harder,” Robin commented as she watched Mrs. Brentley closely, trying to reopen their previous conversation during the carriage ride.  Much to Katherine's embarrassment it seemed that Robin was determined to make an enemy out of their sponsor.

Luckily Mrs. Brentley quickly dodged the subject, keeping with the one that she had already started.  “It depends on the types of calluses Robin.  Sometimes they can be from horseback riding or other hobbies.  The point is to not get caught up in what they are saying at the time, try to read more into them than what they are telling you.  Some of the men I've known act very differently at home than they do at public events like the ones that we will attend.  It is best if you understand what they like to do in private as well.”

Katherine had been so worried about finding a husband that her mother would approve of that she hadn't given any thought to the idea that someone might not be totally truthful about their true positions.  She had heard about men who gambled and drank their riches away without ever telling their wives until all of their money was lost through frivolity.  That was one reason that the new money men had been able to rise up in society.  Despite everyone's talk about blue blood, money would still hold more sway than a pauper with no home who only had a lovely title. 

It was the first bit of advice that made both girls realize that this was not their local neighborhood where if someone lied everyone knew about it and they were quickly punished by their neighbors.  London was an entirely different world and far more dangerous and strange than any they had experienced.  In a city that large, people could vanish, and did vanish on an almost daily basis.  People couldn't always trust who their neighbors were.  It reminded Katherine of the book that she had read with her father, where a commoner had pretended to be a Comte to exact his revenge for past wrongs.

Mrs. Brentley cleaned up the plates from their small dinner and left shortly afterwards, warning them to get some sleep.  They would have to be up late tomorrow night for their first ball.

While Robin sifted through her clothes to ready herself for bed Katherine went to the corner and threw on the dark velvet cloak.  Her mind was firmly made up.  She needed  some time away from her sister to sort things out in her mind.  “Don't tell Mrs. Brentley I'm gone,” Katherine cautioned as she tucked her hair into the large hood.  Somehow she knew that their new sponsor would not take well to one of her charges wandering the streets by herself so late at night in a strange town, but staying cooped up in the small bedroom would drive her mad.

“I should go with you,” Robin offered.

“No, I won't be out for very long,” Katherine insisted.  “Just stay here and make sure that Mrs. Brentley doesn't know I'm gone.  I'll be back soon.”  Looking out at the setting sun Katherine hurried out the door.

 

Katherine had wanted to get out of the small cramped room and away from her sister and Mrs. Brentley.  She had wanted to do something on her own without the thoughts of others cluttering her mind.  But she had not taken into account that their quaint little inn was not located in her quiet home town where she knew everyone and everyone knew her.  Even the streets were different from the ones that she was used to and she quickly found out, so were the people.

There were st
r
ange
sounds
that she couldn't identitfy that echoed down darkened pathways.  The smoke from a nearby factory clouded the air so that the riseing moon and glittering stars were out of sight.

When the sun had been setting slowly with splashes of bright color, the streets had been littered with a few couples, even one or two other women out on walks without a companion.  But after the darkness set in, Katherine realized that she had ended up in an area that could not afford the services of nightly lamp lighters.  Without the gas lamps the streets darkened, with only the light from a few windows illuminating her way as she walked quietly along the street.  Shadows crossed her path and the few people she did pass did not appear to be the kind of gentlemen who would ask to help escort her home unscathed.

BOOK: A Taste of Honey
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