Henry seemed to walk twice as fast as a normal man, despite his upright and elegant steps, Katy was almost running to keep up. She could feel his discomfort at having to walk with her at all, perhaps his speed was an attempt at shaking her off or maybe he thought he was less likely to be seen if he moved swiftly.
‘Where are we going?’ she asked.
‘Somewhere we can talk,’ he said, without changing his gait or even looking at her.
It seemed pointless to ask him to elaborate. They headed into the bustle of Union Street. Katy hadn’t walked this way for ages. It was impossible with her minute amounts of freedom. Recently all her free hours had been spent walking the coastal tracks to Greyhope with George. She remembered how she loved walking here, mingling at the market, watching the fine ladies and gentleman calling at shops and offices. Was she about to become one of them? Her old coat looked shabby and pitiable next to Henry’s fine costume. If they went into a tailor’s together she wondered what they’d think, perhaps they would think her face dirty and her hair unkempt next to his scrubbed skin and perfectly trimmed hair. She would look like a tramp, eyebrows would certainly be raised. How was it to be managed?
‘Are we going in there?’ she asked.
They approached a very fine and large tailor’s window. She felt a thrill of excitement mixed with apprehension. The idea of going into a place like that and being allowed to buy whatever she wanted was beyond her wildest imaginings but she could almost breathe the mortification coming from Henry. How would he look in such a situation? How would she? Maybe he was known to the owners, how would he explain the situation? It as too complicated to consider.
‘No,’ he said, ‘we’ll go into the park, we can talk there.’
‘The park!’ said Katy, ‘that’s miles away.’
‘No, the new park, it’s just down here.’
He led her through a gate and down the steps to the terrace gardens. Kay had seen them many times before but had never been allowed in. Early spring flowers were poking through the soil in the beds and the railings looked pristine. Katy’s feelings of being scruffy and dilapidated increased in these unspoiled, fresh surroundings.
‘Let’s sit here.’
Henry gestured her to sit on a bench and he followed. She was very aware of his anxious glance around, he couldn’t make it any plainer how uncomfortable he was with the situation.
‘We may as well be direct about this,’ he said.
She felt like a schoolgirl about to receive a lecture for not performing well enough in lessons.
‘This arrangement was formed in haste, neither of us was thinking straight. We didn’t consider it properly.’
‘I know,’ she said, ‘I don’t know why you even came back. I suppose you had at least enough decency to do that. But now you want me to say that it’s all right if we just forget the whole idea.’
‘It would be simplest,’ said Henry.
Katy didn’t speak. She wished he’d taken her to a dreary grey office to tell her this, not a beautiful park where even the flowers looked happy, dancing in the light breeze.
‘Of course,’ said Henry, ‘the simplest option isn’t always the best one. I’ve been in business many years and I often find the option that seems most difficult, is the one that pays dividends in the end. I’m willing to go through with this plan but I need you to understand fully what is expected of you and moreover you must agree to comply.’
‘I do understand, you want me to kick up merry hell for your sister and your mother.’
‘Yes, but that’ll happen anyhow, my being married will be enough to infuriate them in the first instance. But none of this will work with you as you are just now. If they see you as a simple innkeeper’s daughter with no connections or breeding then they’ll… well, I think you can guess what they’ll think, not only of you but of me also.’
‘Oh,’ said Katy, with a grin forming, ‘I assure you they’ll never know, don’t you worry on that score. I spent years at a fancy school in Edinburgh learning how to be a lady. I promise you won’t be disappointed, you won’t believe it just how ladylike I can be when I want to.’
Henry looked more than sceptical. Katy tried to sound as compelling and convincing as she could, if the possibility of this escape was still on the table she must grab it, even though it felt like trying to keep water in her cupped hand. She felt confident in her own abilities but she had to persuade him and he didn’t look easy to sway in any way. He certainly wouldn’t be beguiled by feminine charm, he was the least susceptible man to such manoeuvres that she could imagine. Even as she smiled at him hopefully, she realised it. His expression didn’t change, or if it did it only became stonier.
‘I think we should invent a history for you, that’s the first thing they’ll want to know, we want this to at least appear authentic.’
Katy squirmed, playing a part was fine, she even relished the prospect but living a lie was tricky, she’d never managed to lie successfully. She remembered all the false accusations at school, the trickery. Even when she hadn’t lied she was blamed for it. She didn’t dare really do it, staying true to herself had been something to cling on to. She knew she’d be caught out by her lies, or other people’s lies, she’d forget something or compound the lies so completely that she wouldn’t remember the truth. This was going to be tricky enough without any added complications.
‘I don’t think it’ll be too difficult,’ said Henry, ‘but we have to agree on a story and stick to it.’
‘I don’t think that’ll be necessary,’ she said, ‘if they ask about my background we simply won’t tell them.’
Henry laughed his cool laugh, there was nothing cheerful about it, it seemed to pour scorn on her words.
‘You don’t know my family, they won’t rest until they drag the secret from you.’
Katy smiled widely and nodded, hoping fruitlessly to disarm him with this expression of ultra cool self-assurance. His expression grew stern, even angry.
‘Let them try,’ she said with relish, ‘I won’t give them the secret, I won’t give them anything they want, that’s my job after all, isn’t it? You uphold your part of the deal and I promise I’ll do mine.’
He didn’t speak but watched her carefully. She had the impression he was sizing her up. Wondering perhaps if this really could work? She could almost read the question in his ice blue eyes.
Her breath was held in when he finally spoke, every part of her body crossed. Hoping, praying, wishing. Had she made an impression on that impenetrable surface?
‘Very well,’ he sighed, ‘though I’m possibly making the biggest mistake of my life, as are you. There’s no guarantee you’ll find the situation any more agreeable than your current existence.’
She scoffed, ‘are you having a laugh? How can it be worse?’
He didn’t speak, merely raised his eyebrow and stared at her. She wondered what he was seeing. Maybe unimaginable struggles lay ahead but could they be worse than her squalid life at the anchor?
Eventually he took a deep breath and said, ‘we have work to do, we better start by getting you looking like a lady and we better move, we’ve been sitting here too long.’
She almost skipped up the stairs and back out onto the street. The mica enlaced buildings sparkled joyfully in the spring sun. They scattered a crowd of unsuspecting pigeons on their way across the street, their heavy wing falls echoing the frenzied thumping of her heart.
Henry pushed open the door to the large tailor’s shop and she walked inside. It felt a little cold and airy but her eyes fell upon the shelves jammed with reams of every kind of fabric imaginable. She tried not to look amazed or awed at the sight of trimmings, ribbons, buttons, feathers and beads innumerable lining the counter and filling boxes in every facet of the room. Engravings and pictures of the most spectacular gowns were pinned to the walls and every free surface was adorned with pattern magazines or pamphlets. The centre of the room was taken up by a huge cutting table behind which stood the master tailor. She wondered if she really hadn’t woken up, was it possible this was still a dream?
The sound of Henry’s voice made her realise it was true. She heard his commanding tone ordering the tailor this ‘young lady’ was to have made a complete wardrobe, suitable for summer in the country and to include everything she would need for ‘every day, garden parties, dinner, balls, tennis, riding and the seaside… and anything else he could think of.’
Katy realised she was not the only person in the shop who thought Christmas had come very early. The tailor could hardly conceal his glee when Henry added, ‘the cost is of no matter, let her have whatever she likes, the best of everything.’
Katy felt almost guilty, even ashamed. She wondered if she really deserved all this.
‘I have business I must attend to,’ continued Henry, ‘I’ll leave you here and call back for you in an hour. That should give you enough time to make up an order. Oh,’ he added, addressing the tailor, ‘and she’s to have a wedding gown, she’s to be married soon. The order needs to be made up quickly, she’s leaving town in a couple of weeks so there can be no delays.’
He sounded like a benevolent uncle, addressing her as ‘though she was just another niece. She watched him leaving the shop, she saw his relief at getting away from her as he reclaimed the street. He passed the window of the shop without looking back. She knew his embarrassment was paramount, he couldn’t stand the sight of her anymore. Maybe this was what he meant about her finding life no more agreeable than it was at present. How could she enjoy it, living with a cold fish who hated everything about her? Surely it would be worth it. She tried to convince herself.
‘A couple of weeks eh,’ said the tailor, retrieving his measuring tape and refocusing her on the job in hand, ‘well, the sooner we get going the better then. I’ve got some good fast girls working for me, they’ll get it made up nice and quickly, though it’ll cost you.’
‘It won’t cost me,’ said Katy.
‘Ah yes, the gentleman then. Who’d he then?’
She could hear the curiosity in his voice, she knew what this looked like. He thought she was his concubine getting tarted up for a summer of disrepute. If only he knew Henry, he’d know nothing was so far from the truth.
‘He’s my, my guardian,’ she said. She didn’t dare use a word like fiancé, betrothed or intended because it didn’t seem real. He’d just ordered her a wedding gown as though she was about to marry some unknown man, not actually him. If he couldn’t admit the fact even to himself he wouldn’t appreciate her doing so to the tailor, she suspected that’s what had affected his speedy disappearance. His honourable insistence at staying true to his word was already giving him unspoken pain and grief. She had the ability to release him but she couldn’t, not now. The measuring tape was wending its way around her, sizing her up for the role of Mrs Cranston. The pictures and magazines were in her hands. Choosing from this vast array of gowns was impossible. The shapes and colours moved her eyes from one to another with astonishing rapidity.
‘I like this one but…’ she began, over and over, each time seeing something else that she preferred.
Eventually she had decided on every possible outfit, her head was awash with visions of stripes and spots, jackets, basques, bustles and underskirts and swimming with images of bows and ribbons, buttons and laces, collars and cuffs.
‘You’ll be wanting hats next,’ said the tailor, happily scrawling down the details of the order in his large leather bound journal, ‘two doors down is a very good milliner and if you’re wanting boots, I suggest Bain’s, on the other side of the street, not far down.’
‘Right,’ said Katy, feeling exhausted at the very idea. She wondered if Henry had considered all that, she supposed he had. He, after all, was the one so intent on her at least looking the lady, despite his blatant disbelief that she’d succeed in the fooling of his family.
He returned to the shop with alarming punctuality. Signing his name to the accounts, he deflected the tailors attempted questions, refusing even to look at pictures of the proposed wardrobe. Muttering that whatever had been decided upon was fine by him.
Katy wasn’t surprised, his interest was only in managing the business not actually being involved in it, he delegated that duty to them.
True to form, she was ushered next to the milliner and then to the shoemaker. Each time Henry pronounced what he wanted for her then retired into the background. He entered into no dialogue on any subject, Katy could feel the burn of curiosity in every shop, the raised eyebrows and the whispering as they left. She knew Henry was not oblivious to it as he appeared but he made no comment on it.
‘When these garments etc. are ready, I’ll have them sent to you. Keep them well, you may wear them as you choose but for heaven’s sake don’t ruin them.’
‘Have some faith,’ said Katy, ‘I’m not that stupid.’
He walked her back to the Inn, their conversation at an all time low. If his family were as bad as him then she’d have no trouble in disliking them.
‘I’ll call again soon, with arrangements for the wedding. I won’t be inviting anyone, perhaps just an acquaintance to be witness, if you want your father there, that’s fine but I think we should keep this quiet and private.’
‘I doubt he’ll want to anyway,’ said Katy, ‘I’ll see.’
‘After the wedding we will leave straightaway, you can come back here and change, say your final farewells and we’ll head to Tharstaine in the afternoon. It takes a couple of hours, we’ll be there for dinner.’
‘As you like,’ said Katy admiring the way he had the plan so clearly laid out. He seemed satisfied.
On entering the Inn, her father started yelling at her so loudly that she couldn’t make out a single word. She hurried past him up the stairs, remembering why she was going to marry Henry and follow all his plans and schemes. No matter what he said it couldn’t be worse than this. It just couldn’t. Saying her final farewells could not come soon enough.