A silence so absolute filled the drawing room that the inhabitants resembled little more than carved stones, Katy alone, looked bright and cheerful.
Despite his persistent reservations, Henry was pleased to observe the discomfited, furious looks on the face of every other female in the room.
‘How do you do?’ said Katy, beaming.
‘Ladies, this is my wife, Mrs Katherine Cranston, known as Katy, and this is my mother; my sister, Mrs Prudence Calder and my nieces, Miss Arabella, Miss Miranda, Miss Susan and Miss Frances.’
Even Frances, a mere tot at eight years old, had an expression of horrified distaste as she looked at Katy, all her mother’s prejudice’s shining through her face. Katy didn’t look like the same person that he’d met at the Inn. She was vibrant and alert, she seemed to fill the whole room with her smile.
Mrs Camilla Cranston did not look at Katy, she seemed determined to act as if no such person had just entered her living space.
‘Henry, what do you mean by this? Married? You!’
‘Indeed,’ said Prudence, standing up. She was equally as tall as Katy and her expression was fearsome, ‘explain yourself this instant, who is this young lady.’
She, unlike her mother, was looking directly at Katy, examining her appearance intent on finding a flaw.
‘You are very like your brother,’ said Katy, smiling broadly, ‘he also likes that particular expression. In answer to your question, I’m Katy, Katy Cranston, wife of Henry. There really isn’t anything else to be said.’
‘Indeed there is,’ said Camilla, still not looking at her, ‘I have a great many questions for you, young lady.’
‘Oh good,’ said Katy.
Feeling perplexed, Henry indicated that she should take a seat, he however did not. He walked to the window, hardly daring to watch the scene unfolding, his own ruin approached. He glanced at the gathering from the periphery.
‘Good?’ snapped Camilla, finally turning her eye on Katy. Indicating her utter distaste, she looked away again almost immediately.
‘Oh yes,’ said Katy, ‘I do love questions.’
‘Then you will answer me this right away, who are you? Where are from, what is your background?’
‘Mother,’ said Henry, ‘I’ll thank you not to be so rude, you are addressing my wife.’
‘Really Henry,’ said Katy, still smiling, ‘let her speak, it should be most intriguing.’
‘Intriguing,’ snapped Prudence, ‘I don’t mean to intrigue you. You must answer the questions.’
‘She must do nothing of the sort,’ said Henry, ‘indeed, you insult my judgement with such questions.’
‘Indeed I do! I don’t trust your judgment, not in the least. Now young lady, I order you to answer me.’
‘I’m sorry,’ said Katy, with a sigh, ‘I really won’t answer questions as dull as that. Such subjects are a bore and I might add considered quite bad form. It really isn’t done, not in the best drawing rooms. Such questions really are quite dull and irrelevant, I thought you were to test me on something much more entertaining. Like the capital cities of Europe per chance, that is the kind of questions I enjoy.’
‘Young lady,’ snapped Prudence, ‘what impudence, I have never heard of such a thing.’
‘Really, that is quite astonishing. For it is a common amusement in all the best houses in Edinburgh, questions are exceedingly popular, though I suppose you are somewhat out of the way here, you aren’t perhaps as well versed on the most fashionable games as I am.’
Henry almost smiled. He felt almost proud of himself at finding such a person, proud even of her. If this was just the beginning…
‘I did not mean that I hadn’t heard of the game I meant…’
‘Oh that’s a relief,’ said Katy, cutting through her, ‘I was worried for a moment, I thought I was in for a dreary time indeed if you hadn’t even heard of questions.’
‘Such games are restricted to the schoolroom, they are vulgar in a drawing room, especially at this early hour.’
‘I assure you, you’re quite mistaken, in the best drawing rooms they’re considered a welcome change from the monotony of tedious pursuits, indeed questions are not only amusing but improving for the mind, I expect your young daughters would enjoy such a game.’
‘They most certainly would not,’ snapped Prudence.
Katy smiled at the four girls, all sitting primly and looking shocked out of their wits.
‘Indeed the hour is rather early, but as there is no tea I thought perhaps you were in need of amusement. But never mind,’ she said, addressing the nieces, ‘we can play later, when your mother is having her nap.’
‘Nap! I do not take naps.’
The shrillness of her tone nearly smashed every glass object in the room.
Hardly able to suppress his mirth, Henry said ‘perhaps someone should ring for tea? We don’t want my wife dying of boredom in her first hour. ’
Katy looked at him, he smiled at her. She looked away, her expression surprised.
Prudence indicated to one of her daughters who got up and rang the bell. Henry sat down in the chair next to Katy.
Chancing a glance at him, she saw he wasn’t looking her way. Just as she made to look away, he caught her out of the corner of his eye and gave her a fleeting smile. She smiled back, not sure what to make of it.
‘Have you spoken to the servants?’ snapped Prudence, ‘about this… situation.’ She looked at Katy with utter disdain.
‘Not yet,’ said Henry, ‘I thought it only polite to introduce her to your company first, though she might have had a warmer welcome below stairs.’
‘Meaning what precisely,’ said Camilla.
‘Henry only seeks to spare my feelings,’ said Katy. She patted his knee, ‘he’s so very thoughtful that way.’
Prudence gave a disdainful sniff.
‘And have you any experience of running a house like this?’
‘As you can guess, that’s not possible,’ said Katy, ‘an unmarried lady has very little opportunity or necessity to run a house, I do have some knowledge however of how to manage a large establishment, I daresay it won’t present too much difficulty.’
Prudence narrowed her eyes continuing to glare at Katy.
Tea arrived. Katy knew it must continue to be a stiff affair. She was going to add as much life as she could however. She relished it and somehow Henry’s unprecedented support made her feel invincible. Making it her business she looked around and examined everything, though without comment. Camilla and Prudence appeared to have developed lockjaw. They sat stony faced and tight lipped, as though bracing themselves.
‘You certainly have a marvellous view,’ said Katy, cheerfully, ‘it’s very bright.’
‘Indeed, we do,’ said Henry, supplying the answer. The family seemed trapped under a vow of silence.
‘Perhaps you are unaccustomed to such beauty,’ said Prudence, ‘you are used to much lesser standards.’
‘No indeed,’ said Katy, ‘I’ve merely had little experience of the delights of the country, being as I am so used to town. I always fancied life in the countryside to be rather stuffy and dull, life in town is so busy, so diverting.’
‘Then what pray, are you doing here? If you fancy us so primitive.’
Katy beamed at her, ‘I always embrace the opportunity to discover something new, if I were a man, I fancy I’d be something of a Livingstone, I love exploring new realms even if they be only such as this. I find such a thrill in anything new, don’t you?’
A silent, glaring response met her question. She fancied she saw a small smirk cross the face of the attending footman. Turning to Henry, she saw he could hardly contain his amusement. She’d never seen him look so animated, a vigorous light in his eye, his pallid cheeks gaining some colour. The alteration suited him a great deal, he was almost attractive.
‘You do, don’t you? You enjoy the thrill of something new?’ she asked him, with a provocative smile.
‘I’m learning,’ he said, ‘I’ve certainly never been afraid of a challenge.’
‘No indeed,’ said Prudence, her tone filled with drama, ‘Henry is not afraid of anything, nothing at all, oh no, except of course, the idea of anyone else having access to his precious money, that is what terrifies him indeed.’
‘I should say you don’t know your brother at all well if you think so,’ said Katy, ‘for I know him to be most generous, indeed since we met he has positively lavished me with gifts and tokens of affection. I also understand he’s given substantial sums to your daughters to enable their early marriage, I think you’ve sorely misjudged him. Naturally, had you any idea of how hard he’s worked to build such a fortune, you wouldn’t speak so. He’s spared you that. You can rest easy knowing he has provided for you, you must be so thrilled to have such a generous brother and son… and uncle, just as I am, to have found such a perfect husband.’
Their expressions gave Katy a thrill like she had never before experienced, she knew she was talking nonsense, she was positively trying to talk nonsense. Memories of her old school flitted through her head, how the stuck-up teachers had talked down to her, treated her like she was pathetic. She’d always wanted to turn the tables on them. This was doing the trick. Putting down these overbearing women was more satisfying than anything she’d ever done. Emulating the tone of those teachers she’d hated was so easy, she felt even more like an actress performing to the gallery and she had the audience eating out of her hand. Henry.