Saturday, November 13, 2010
1864 - Suddenly left as the head of the family, Kitty McKenzie must find her inner strength to keep her family together against the odds. Evicted from their resplendent home in the fashionable part of York after her parents’ deaths, Kitty must fight the legacy of bankruptcy and homelessness to secure a home for her and her siblings. Through sheer willpower and determination she grabs opportunities with both hands from working on a clothes and rag stall in the market to creating a teashop for the wealthy. Her road to happiness is fraught with obstacles of hardship and despair, but she refuses to let her dream of a better life for her family die. She soon learns that love and loyalty brings its own reward.
Kitty caught her breath at the magnificence of Kingsley Manor. In comparison, her old home, although large, looked like a poor cousin. When they arrived, Benjamin’s parents were out visiting after Sunday morning church service. Alone, Benjamin gave her a private tour of the house. In each superbly decorated room, he stopped and kissed both her hands until it became a game and their laughter echoed throughout the house.
However, Kitty’s first impression of the beautiful Georgina Kingsley chilled her. The woman wore a frozen expression of horror on her face the moment she looked at Kitty. Distressed, Kitty lowered her gaze and fumbled with her black skirts. She wore the best clothes she owned, her black skirts and cream blouse, but her crinoline was bought from the market and her black lace gloves possessed the glassy shine of frequently washed clothing.
After introductions, Benjamin’s father, John, took Kitty’s hand and led her into the conservatory. A maid waited by a table laden with a silver tea service and silver stands filled with dainty little cakes and sandwiches.
“So, Miss McKenzie, Ben informs us you have started a business?”
“Indeed I have, Mr. Kingsley, tearooms.” Her lips thinned into a tight smile.
They were all aware of Georgina’s intake of breath.
“It is a rare thing, a young woman going into business by herself. It must have been quite a decision to make.” John Kingsley’s gaze didn’t waver as he looked at her.
“Upon my parents’ deaths we were left with vast debts that took everything we owned to pay off. For my siblings and myself to survive, I needed to acquire a living for us all.”
Georgina put down her teacup and saucer. Her cold, blue eyes narrowed. “Surely there are relatives who could have helped…your…er…situation?”
"I’m afraid we don’t have a large quantity of relatives. No one offered to help us. There was very little we could do, but sell everything.” Such intimate talk of her family unnerved her. She wished the conversation would turn to a much lighter subject.
“Did you not find that odd, your relatives turning away from you?”
“I hardly think that distant relatives, whom we rarely saw, should have to alter their lives to suit us.” Kitty hated the woman for making her defend the people who ignored her pleas for help.
“And how many are there of you, Miss McKenzie?” Georgina raised an eyebrow. She wore her disgust like a cloak.
“I’m the eldest of seven, Mrs. Kingsley.”
“My, my, so many of you. So, where do you live now?” Georgina flicked an imaginary speck of dust from her beautiful, gray, raw silk dress with its crinoline so wide they had to move the chairs to accommodate it.
"We are to live above the tearooms, Mrs. Kingsley.” She felt like a noose hung around her neck and with each look and question from Georgina Kingsley the knot tightened.
“How extraordinary. To live above one’s own shop.” Georgina didn’t hide the foul look she directed at her son.
He turned away to smile at Kitty. “Of course, it will only be temporary, until I return from the colony. Then we shall be married.”
Georgina paled and her hand shook as she reached for her teacup and saucer. Kitty wasn’t sure whether it was due to shock or anger.
John Kingsley stood and held out his arm for Kitty. “Come, Miss McKenzie, let me show you the gardens and my fine hunters. They are the best in York I assure you.”
When John and Kitty exited the conservatory, Ben stood abruptly and faced his mother. “How dare you,” he ground out through clenched teeth, his whole body rigid with anger.
Unperturbed, Georgina sat quietly drinking her tea. “How dare I?” she asked with laced sarcasm. “My dear, I don’t know what is troubling you.”
“Why must you behave in such a way? She is going to be your daughter-in-law. It wouldn’t have hurt too much for you to be kind to her and make her feel at ease. Instead of treating her like she was something a cat dragged in!” Ben’s chest heaved.
“She is not one of us, my dear. Your union would be a most drastic mistake.” Calmly, Georgina leaned over and selected a small tart from the cake stand.
“That is where you are wrong, Mother! She is one of us. Her father was a doctor, her mother a lady. They lived well and entertained many of the people you do.”
“No, my dear. They were never one of us, for we wouldn’t have let our children be thrown onto the streets upon our deaths.” Georgina contentedly nibbled her tart, secure in the knowledge of her own wisdom.
“Bankruptcy can touch anyone, Mother, even the Kingsleys.”
“Benjamin, you do realize I recall the McKenzies, especially the wife? I cannot recall her name, however.” Georgina’s wave was dismissive. “I was introduced to her some years ago at a party. And let me inform you, she was one of the most vulgar women I have yet to meet. She was loud and dreadfully flirtatious. She was attractive, I’ll acknowledge that, but she was no lady.”
“I don’t care a jot, Mother. It is Kitty, not her parents, who I shall be marrying.”
“Then you are a fool and you will be ruined because of it.” Georgina glared.
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