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To Catch a Husband…

By:Sarah Mallory

To Catch a Husband…
Sarah Mallory

       Chapter One

'I am off to London, to seek my fortune!'

Kitty Wythenshawe glanced up hopefully at the young farmhand driving the  gig. He did not look overly impressed with her announcement, but  perhaps that was because he had known her for years and had always  thought of her as the seamstress's daughter-which, of course, she  was-but now she was off to stay with her godmother. And her godmother  was A Lady! Lady Leaconham, to be exact.

'Well, Joshua?' she demanded. 'Are you not pleased for me?'

The lad moved the straw he was chewing from one side of his mouth to the other.

'Nowt to do wi' me.'

Kitty sighed but did not allow her companion's indifference to damp her  spirits. The overnight rain had given way to a beautiful spring morning,  the sun had driven off the early mist from the moors and she could see  the lapwings circling lazily over a distant field. It was as if Nature  itself was smiling upon her adventure. Kitty glanced down at her  olive-green walking dress with the yellow leaf motif embroidered down  the front and around the hem. Mama and Aunt Jane had worked so hard for  this occasion. She had never before had so many new clothes at one time.

'Dunno what tha wants wi' goin' t' Lunnon,' remarked Joshua, suddenly becoming loquacious.

'I have to find a husband,' said Kitty, clasping her hands together in a  sudden moment of anxiety. If only she could marry well then she could  provide for Aunt Jane and Mama. They were both widows, eking out their  meagre savings with a little dressmaking. Their home was a little  cramped, to be sure, but Kitty had grown used to that. However, she was  painfully aware that Mama and Aunt Jane were growing older and the cold,  damp cottage was not so comfortable in winter, when the water would  seep up through the earth floor and Mama's joints would become stiff and  painful, and Aunt Jane's cough always became much worse. They were the  daughters of a gentleman and this was not what they had been born to.  Kitty knew it was her duty to improve their fortunes and if she had to  sacrifice herself at the Matrimonial Altar then she would do it-not that  it seemed to Kitty much of a sacrifice to marry a rich man: it was all  very well to read novels where the heroine gave up everything to follow  her heart, but Mama had married for love and Kitty did not think that  she was particularly happy, living in such straitened circumstances.  Indeed, had she and Aunt Jane not scrimped and saved every spare penny  to give Kitty this one chance to go to London expressly for the purpose  of achieving a good marriage?

Letitia Leaconham had been a close childhood friend of Mama's and had  gone on to make a brilliant marriage, while Mama had defied her family  and married Walter Wythenshawe for love. He had been in possession of a  moderate income, but he had not prospered, and as Mama was wont to point  out at times of stress, strict principles and enlightened views were  all very well but they do not pay the bills. Upon Papa's death there had  been any number of accounts to be settled and so it had come to pass  that Kitty and her mama had moved into the tiny cottage in Fallridge  with Aunt Jane, the widow of an impecunious curate. Since then Mama had  spent every penny she could spare upon Kitty's education in the belief  that if only she could be launched into Society she would make a good  marriage. After all, her birth was impeccable, even if she had no dowry.  As Aunt Jane said, Kitty was their Last Hope; if she could only find a  rich husband then they could all be comfortable.

'I'd marry thee.'

This utterance put an end to Kitty's ponderings.

'I beg your pardon?'

'I said I'd marry thee,' repeated Joshua. 'If tha needs a man.'

'Oh, Joshua, that is very kind of you!' Kitty put a hand on his rough  sleeve. 'Indeed it is very generous, but you see, if I am to support  Mama and Aunt Jane, that they may live out their years comfortably and  without more suffering, I need to marry someone … someone … '

'A lord,' said Joshua, spitting out his straw. 'Some 'un richer nor me.  Aye, well, me mam's set her heart on my marrying Lizzie Greenwood, since  she will inherit the farm from her faither, so I suppose it wouldn't do  fer me to be marryin' a lass with nowt to 'er name.'

For a few moments Kitty's sunny mood clouded: it was very lowering to  think even Joshua considered her a poor prospect for marriage. Her  spirits soon recovered, however. She was a gentlewoman by birth, and as  Papa had always told her, it was a person's actions that were important.  So Kitty pulled herself up and said graciously, 'No, but thank you for  the offer. And it is very good of you to drive me to Halifax, and so  kind of your father to let us use the gig. I am to meet with Mr and Mrs  Midgley at the Crown. You may not know them; Mr Midgley is a cloth  merchant, which is how Mama became acquainted with the family, for she  often buys cloth from him. They are taking their samples to London, you  see, and have agreed to take me with them, which was very fortunate,  because otherwise Mama would have been obliged to send me on the stage  and hire a maid to go with me. So you see everything has worked out very  well.'                       
       
           



       

She ended on a cheerful note with a sunny smile for Joshua but he was not attending. He was staring ahead of him and frowning.

'Well?' said Kitty. 'What is it?'

Joshua scratched his head.

'I ain't right sure which road we wants.'

Kitty followed his stare. They were dropping down from the hills and she  could see the junction in the distance, a large, open space where  several highways converged.

'The road to Halifax will be the main route,' suggested Kitty, but even  as she said it she realised that this did not help. All the roads  leading away from them were in good order and wide enough for two carts  to pass.

'Da said to keep goin' downhill 'til we get to Halifax.'

'That is all very well,' retorted Kitty, beginning to lose patience,  'but there are at least three of those roads leading downhill. Think,  Joshua. Can you not remember which one you take?'

'Ah, well, I've never bin this road afore,' he confessed. 'Uncle Jed allus makes this run.'

Kitty closed her lips to prevent herself making a hasty exclamation. It  would help no one and might upset her companion, who, after all, was  going to considerable trouble for her. As they descended to the  crossroads she spotted a large black horse standing at the side of the  lane. At first she thought the animal unattended, but as they approached  a man stepped into view. His serviceable buckskins and brown riding  jacket were liberally spattered with mud and he was hatless, his black  hair unconfined and hanging wild and disordered to his shoulders. He did  not look around as they approached, but was concentrating upon securing  the straps of his saddle.

'That fellow might know which is the correct road,' said Kitty. 'You should ask him.'

Joshua looked at the bedraggled stranger and pulled a face. 'Nay. No need for that.'

'To be sure he looks very rough, but he might know the way.'

'Tha can't be certain o' that.'

'Well, it would do no harm to ask,' said Kitty, trying to hide her impatience.

Joshua ignored her. When she realised that he had no intention of asking  for directions she decided she would have to act. As they drew abreast  of the man she leaned over the side of the gig and called out to him.

'I say, my man-yes, you: which one of these roads leads to Halifax?'

She was not used to accosting strangers, and a mixture of nerves and  irritation at her companion's stubbornness made her tone much sharper  than usual. The man turned slowly and looked up at her from beneath  heavy dark brows. Kitty found herself facing the blackest, fiercest  stare she had ever encountered.

It was as much as Kitty could do not to recoil from the stranger's angry  glare. With some alarm she realised that Joshua no longer intended to  drive past. He brought the gig to a halt and the man walked over to  stand before them, looking very much as if he would drag her from the  gig at any moment. Swallowing hard, she sat up straight, determined not  to show fear. She said haughtily, 'Did you understand me, fellow?'

Those piercing black eyes held hers for a moment, then they swept over  her, from the crown of her bergère bonnet down to the nankeen half-boots  peeping out from under the hem of her walking dress. Kitty had the  unsettling feeling that he could see right through her clothing to the  flesh beneath. She felt thoroughly exposed and her cheeks flamed. She  snapped her head up and stared straight ahead.

'Drive on, Joshua.'

The stranger's long arm shot out and one big hand caught the pony's bridle.

'Nay,' he said in a slow, deep drawl. 'First tha needs to know t'road.'

Kitty shot a furious look at him.

'Then perhaps you would be good enough to tell us!'

'I'll tell thee nowt afore I hears a civil word from yer ladyship.'

Joshua shifted uncomfortably beside her. Kitty wondered that he did not  stand up to the stranger, but a moment's consideration told her that her  companion, a stocky youth of sixteen, was no match for the tall,  broad-shouldered stranger some ten years his senior. The man stood at  their pony's head, one hand gripping the leather cheek-piece while the  other stroked the animal's neck with slow, reassuring movements. The  pony, traitor that he was, turned his head and rubbed against the  stranger's arm.

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