To respect her father’s privacy, Katherine did not enquire after her mother, and so the subject was left unspoken of within the household, save for a few older servants recalling memories or such. There was something in her father’s demeanour that meant that the usually very inquisitive Katherine (sometimes intrusively so, though she would never mean to cause offence,) never once asked him indiscreet questions, and so Katherine refrained from asking them, when her father was all too free to.
“Where have you been?” Mr Benson asked monotonously, not looking up from his papers that were on his desk to look at his daughter, who had just arrived back from wherever.
“I got lost, last night.” she paused. “Oh! father, did you see the fog; it so was terrible; I could hardly see one inch. I stayed at a friend’s house, on the common… I wonder if you will recognise the name – the Lintons, father. You own the land they live on – perhaps you will have spoken to the Mrs Linton.”
“Eliza,” said he, “Yes, I have spoken to her; very over-excitable and irksome. Yet obviously you think I have no concern of your whereabouts, and think it acceptable to stay the night at a woman’s house who is, in fact, a total stranger to you and perhaps may have brought you to harm. I am astonished – I always knew you were never too cautious, but this is plain recklessness.” he said in his low, quiet voice. His tone was scolding, harsh, and cold but not angry or raised. Perhaps it was his coolness that made his words more painful to her than they would have if they were raised. At this point he had leant back in his chair to observe his daughter, who stood with her head hanging in shame, and her posture showed she was uneasy; nervous – such a very different countenance to how she was around Mr Harlow and the Lintons, and any other of her friends, for that matter.
After a pause, she said timidly: “Father, I have been meaning to ask you something.” – A question! Hurrah!
Mr Benson’s brown creased with curiosity, and he replied “Ask away,”
Katherine straightened herself up; drew herself to her fill height and said: “I would like – I think that I am old enough now to go to a ball. I am near to twenty, father; in fact I think I have been old enough for quite some time now.”
“You want to go to a ball?” he asked, and when he saw her expectant expression, said – and it was more of a statement than a question, this time: “You would like to host a ball.” – and to this she nodded fervently.
Her father paused for a moment, his lips pursed, and he seemed to be in deep thought about something; but then, he sat up, looked his daughter right in the eye and said: “Then, you may have one. You are quite right – perhaps I have restrained you long enough. You may invite whom you like, so long as I may be at liberty to invite a few colleagues of mine, too. We shall set the date for two weeks.”
“Really?” exclaimed Katherine with her eyes all a-glow, and her cheeks flushed with excitement. And when he nodded shortly she rushed over to him and clasped her arms around his neck in sheer passion and happiness, only to then withdraw, blushing, but mumble: “Oh! father, I cannot thank you enough!”
“Yes, yes, you may run along now.” He said impatiently, but smiled fondly after her, when she left the room with a notable spring in her step.
Katherine found that all that could occupy her mind from that moment onwards was this ball. It was such a burden to her thoughts that she questioned what she had ever had to think of or look forward to before – it was true, she had often entertained herself with her music: she played the piano most soulfully and fluently; and sung with quite the voice of an angel. She also adored her sketching; she would sketch anything and everything: people; the common and the wonderful grounds of Southgate Manor. She would spend countless hours with Milo, and also visit all of the numerous friends in Chorley and on the common; and also sew, garden, and above all read. Reading was the most valued pastime that Katherine had – perhaps she found it as a form of escapism. Although she told herself the Common and all of its mystery were enough for her, she secretly longed for something big to happen – like in all of her thrilling books she’d read. So, she did entertain herself with reading a considerable amount!
But even though she remembered all this, it didn’t quite seem to amount to the excitement she was experiencing in anticipation of the ball.
And, her enthusiasm seemed to spread like an infectious disease throughout Southgate Manor; somehow every servant she turned to was buzzing with excitement, even though the ball meant that they had to do more work.
“Miss Benson,” the bubbling maid Jane Whitmore called as she was skipping around the room.
“Yes, Jane?” answered Katherine; entertained by her merry boldness.
“How do you like my new bonnet?” she replied as she inspected it in the mirror of Katherine’s room. It was a fine bonnet, indeed, equivalent even to those of Katherine herself! It was of a simple straw weave, but finely made to fit Jane’s head as if tailored especially for her; and had a trim of red velvet round the edges; also a red silk ribbon, and a beautiful red lace detail on top; which bright, gay colour complemented the maid’s features wonderfully.
“Oh, I think it very fine, Jane!”
She, like Katherine, had dark hair and pale skin – but Katherine had slightly darker, curlier hair; slightly paler skin; and eyes the colour of fine fresh green grass, or emeralds; when Jane’s were of a deep chocolaty brown colour. Katherine concluded that the maid was indeed naturally very handsome, and a good worker too, and quite deserved the bonnet, and more.
“Is that the only bonnet you have?” she enquired, for the girl to look down at the floor and blush.
“Yes, miss, I am afraid so – apart from one of my mothers, which although she was dear enough to present it to me as a gift before I left home to come and work here, I am afraid I have worn it so much that it is now rather unsightly, you see.”
“I understand you. Let us avoid the same unfortunate circumstance from happening to this pretty new bonnet, shall we, and treat yourself to another, as a gift from me; this bonnet you have here is too pretty for normal days out to Chorley, and should surely be only reserved for the most special of occasions. Allow me to fund you for another for any day’s wear. Here,” she said as she handed over the money.
“Oh, but I couldn’t possibly!”
“But you must!”
“Oh, very well miss; and I must thank you dearly!”
“But consider it a thank you from me for all of your splendid efforts in order to make this ball happen. I dare say,” and here she leant forward and whispered, as if it were the most secret and confidential of affairs; “I dare say that you have been working the hardest. So of course you deserve it!” She announced, raising her voice once more.
Jane smiled, and said; “Good day to you, Miss Benson, and God bless.”
“How fortunate am I,” Jane thought as she made her way out of Katherine’s room, “To have such a wonderful mistress, who will treat me so, when it is not needed; when it is a mere part of the job! And to be paid more than any of my sisters could have imagined when they refused to become maids, when the opportunity presented itself, they turned up their noses at it! If they only knew how happy I am now! Oh, such a wonderful mistress! But it’s more than I can say for the master; oh, such a cold man indeed! Even for a man quite as rich as him I would have thought will have had some more of a kind of friendliness about him! I would not quite have said she was his daughter; she being so thoughtful and warm, and he being so cold and abrupt! I have never known two individuals more dissimilar – and they too are father and daughter!”
Yet, in relation to their character, Jane knew little. For sure, she was Katherine’s most personal and private maid, but had only been so for little more than a year now. She could not see how Katherine, quite like her father, shared the possibility of being quite as harsh and unforgiving. For, what Jane did not know, was that Henry had once been what Katherine was like now. And, Henry saw this well enough, intelligent man as he was. But, as more he knew this, as more he realised of the very real possibility that Katherine could turn out quite like him – broken-hearted, and in despair of love; hence why he, until this moment, had not allowed Katherine to go to any balls or anything as such. He did, however, allow her the freedom of going out and about in Chorley as often as she wished, and was quite happy to let her ride on Milo to her heart’s content.
But why then, did he give his consent for Katherine to have this ball, at a great expense, and risk of her falling in love? What were his motivations? Did he feel, at last, that Katherine was ready to be married? Or was it something else entirely?