KATHARINE'S DUTY
by Kyle

Chapter 10 - The Past

Katharine awoke to the familiar, delicate clatter and tinkle of fine china and silver, accompanied by the delicious, homey smell of warm bread. Her eyes tried to adjust to the dim grayness in the room. She saw Margaret set a tray on the tea table under the large double window and quietly tie the heavy draperies back to let the day's meager light into the room. After giving the glowing embers in the fireplace a stirring to wake them, she pulled some kindling and a small log from the woodbin, and laid them on the coals. With a few quiet puffs from the bellows that leaned by the hearth, the fire came alive, and satisfied, Margaret turned to the bed to see Katharine starting to sit up.

"There, now! I had a feeling you'd wake to the smell of my coffee and biscuits," Margaret said quietly. She picked up a heavy brocade dressing gown from the bench at the foot of the bed, and held it up for Katharine. "You just come right over here and enjoy your first taste of my home cooking."

Katharine swung her legs over the side of the bed and stood, stretching. The nightgown she wore was a bit delicate for the chill of a late November morning, and Katharine was quite glad to shrug into the robe that Margaret held for her. It was large and hung to her ankles, but it felt warm and luxurious as Katharine belted it around her waist.

Katharine fingered the heavy brocade under the rounded shawl collar and lifted it close to her mouth and nose, breathing deeply of a familiar smell. She closed her eyes and let Edward's scent overtake her, bringing her back to their brief moments of intimate contact on the ship. She caressed her lips and cheek with the silky texture of the robe. In her mind, she felt the roughness of his stubbled cheek under her lips and his silken curls against her face, as she drank in the smell of Edward's musky sweat, tinged with sandalwood and citrus, that his body had left behind on the heavy fabric. Her knees weakened at the memories evoked by the intimacy they were sharing just by her putting on his garment.

"It's Edward's," Margaret volunteered. "I didn't think you'd mind. ëTis the finest one he has, and he insisted on leaving it for you this morning when he checked on you and saw how drafty this room had become."

"Edward was here, earlier?" Katharine hated to miss even a moment of Edward's company, as their time together was uncertain, but sure to be fleeting. Margaret heard the anxiety in Katharine's voice.

"Oh, yes, dear, but we'll talk of it later. Come and eat before things get cold."

"But Margaret," Katharine interjected as she was led to the tapestry chair by the table. "I certainly did not expect to be served like this, in my room. I shall just come down to join you . . ."

Margaret laughed. "There's nothing to join, dear! Breakfast has come and gone, and dinner, too for that matter! Why, it's half past two in the afternoon!"

Katharine gasped. "Half past two?! Why ever did you allow me to sleep so long? I . . . really, I never . . ."
Katharine was embarrassed at having slept the day away, well, much of it at least.

"Oh nonsense, dear, you must have needed your rest, or your body would not have insisted on it! Edward has told us that you did not really sleep well on that ship of his, what with nightmares and all." Margaret took the silver dome off of the china plate to reveal warm, soft biscuits with the sheen of melted sweet butter, a slice of ham, and fluffy eggs speckled with herbs and pepper. She poured dark, steaming coffee into a delicate china cup that matched the platter.

Katharine was taken aback. Edward knew of my nightmares and sleeplessness? But how . . .? Of course. James Hilliard.

Seeing the distracted look on Katharine's face, Margaret bit her tongue as she put the silver pot back on the tray. Honestly, Margaret, sometimes you really do talk too much! Oh well, you might as well go on now. She picked up the white linen napkin and laid it across Katharine's lap.

"Oh dear, I've said something I shouldn't have. You wished for Edward not to know of your distress, I can see that. Well, you might as well know and get used to this. My side of the family, the Hilliard side? I am afraid we are terrible busybodies, always looking to come to someone's aid, even when it is not always appreciated. But you should take heart, dear, for we only have the best interests of everyone in mind. You see, Edward said that James told him of a night when your cries during a fitful sleep caused him to enter you cabin out of concern for your safety. And that you had told him that you were used to such nightmares and often troubled by them. Really, James was only looking out . . ."

"It's alright, Margaret, I understand. James did try to convince me to share my troubles with Edward, so I should not be surprised that he did so on my behalf. I know he meant well."

"Oh, that he did, certainly. And when Edward heard your restlessness early this morning, he was worried and came in to check on you. He did not wake you right away, for he said you seemed to calm right before his eyes. He remarked, with great pleasure, mind you, that it seemed as if his very presence, silent at that, was enough to quiet your thoughts and settle your rest. He was quite tickled with that thought!" Margaret said with a smile.

"So he just tucked your tangled blanket around you and let you be," she concluded. Margaret pointed to Katharine's silverware and made an eating gesture. Katharine complied, savoring the first bite of the velvety eggs. Food from the gods!

Margaret puttered around the room, making up the bed, opening the drapes on the other windows, purposefully fussing over minor details. Katharine enjoyed her "breakfast" more than she had imagined she could enjoy any meal.

Margaret went over to the bench at the foot of the bed, and held up a lovely petticoat of purest cream embroidered silk, with a full robe of rosy turkey-red patterned silk to wear over. The deep neckline was trimmed with narrow cream lace that matched the bottom edge of the three-quarter length sleeves. The open edge of the robe's skirt was bordered with a busier pattern that wrapped to follow the robe's hem and back drape.

"I hope you like the color. I think it will prove rather flattering. I didn't have much notice of your arrival from Edward, and I'm afraid this is the best I could on a short take. I'm certain it doesn't measure up to the elegance you're accustomed to, but it really is rather fine, and . . ."

"Oh, Margaret, it's perfect! Absolutely lovely! But, how . . .?"

"It's one of mine, I'm afraid, but don't worry, dear, once I saw you, I knew it would be quite, well, rather stout on you, and this morning, while you slept, I pulled in some more tucks in the back of the waist here, see? It should be a fine fit now."

"I'm certain it will be fine! I never expected you to go to this trouble for me! I do have a trousseau coming from my dressmaker in London . . ."

"Oh, yes, Edward mentioned that. But your things won't be ready for another day or so, and it simply would not do to have you wear those britches and that dismal plaid shirt a moment longer! Honestly, a lady such as yourself in men's clothing! Practical and necessary, I understand, but no longer! Today, you shall remember what it is to be a woman of means, dear, and not a piece of driftwood!"

Katharine laughed at the woman's reference. "Well, It will be wonderful to once again feel silk against my skin rather than scratchy woolens, but I'm afraid that my skin has had a bit too much of salty air and wind to appreciate the difference!"

"Not to worry, dear," Margaret said with a confident waggle of her index finger. "Henry is, as we speak, heating water for fine bath. As soon as you are finished with your sustenance, you shall have the pleasure of warm water, revitalizing lavender oils, and soaps of the finest lilac and rose essences- milled right here by my own hand, they are!"

Katharine fairly swooned over the thought of such! At last, fresh water to bathe in, delicate soaps to cleanse with, and rich oils to sooth and pamper my tired skin. After months of homeward excursions and weeks aboard ship, I finally will have a proper bath. Heaven!

"Margaret, your hospitality is far more than I even imagined! I should have known how special it would be from the way Edward spoke of home."

A serious and pensive look overtook Margaret's cheery countenance.

"This place means the world to him, and we do so enjoy catering to him - and to his guests, although, there are not many. Edward keeps much to himself. Such a waste!"

"A waste? What do you mean?"

"Oh, nothing really, it's just that Edward's heart is so big and he truly has so much to give, but he is not able to open himself - until now, that is." She smiled sincerely at Katharine, and Katharine thought she noticed the glassy shimmer of tears in the woman's eyes.

"He has long been a private man, especially when he is here, which is not nearly often enough, and a solitary one. He has denied his heart for so long, and let his duty and his ship and his Navy give him all that he thought he needed. But Henry and I, we have known him for a long time, and we know he needs more."

Katharine put her fork down and dabbed at her mouth with her napkin. She thought for a moment before speaking.

"Margaret, if I may ask, how is it you came to know Edward? Surely you and Henry are not servants, but you appear to be in his employ. And he is so at his ease with you, there must be a deep and trusting friendship here."

"Well, dear, our story is the very thing I am speaking of - about Edward's heart, that is." Margaret sat in the other tapestry wing chair by the window, and folded her hands in her lap. She looked earnestly at Katharine.

"We met Edward through our son, Davey. He served with Edward on his first ship, the Aberdeen. It was a long time ago, let me see . . . more than sixteen years now. You see, we lived in Portsmouth, Henry and Davey and me, and Davey grew up watching the grand ships come and go. He dreamed of going to see, serving in the Navy. At age fifteen, he was taken on as midshipman aboard another ship, the name escapes me after all this time, and he thrived! He loved the Navy life and his letters home were filled of stories of his adventures and his shipmates. It was quite a time for him, and, as much as we missed our only son, we were so proud and happy for him."

Margaret paused, remembering that long-ago happiness. Katharine hoped she hadn't made Margaret dredge up painful memories, as she suspected the story would not have a happy ending.

"Within a few years, Davey was commissioned lieutenant and transferred to the Aberdeen and young Captain Pellew." Katharine smiled at the thought of Edward as a young man. How I would have liked to know him then, she mused.

"If Davey was happy in the Navy before, his life was fulfilled when he joined that ship. The Aberdeen was a fine vessel, made even finer by its attentive and disciplined captain, who kept her and her crew in peak condition. Even at that young age, you see, Edward was a captain who inspired confidence and loyalty. Then, as now, he was tough, but always fair, and his crew benefited from his example. Davey's letters spoke so highly of his captain - and so often - 'Captain Pellew did this, and Captain Pellew said that, and according to Captain Pellew . . .' - he would just go on an on!" Margaret laughed at the memory.

"Before long, Davey's letters sounded less like hero worship, and more like mutual respect. He would write of how his Captain had entrusted him with this mission or this task, ask his opinion on a matter of importance, and Davey was so proud! He felt he could learn so much from this captain, and often spoke of how he longed for us to be able to meet him. Henry and I could not have been more proud of our son."

Katharine finished nibbling on the last of her biscuits, and looking down at the clean plate, she was surprised that she devoured every bit of food there. She expected a comment from Margaret about her hearty appetite, but Margaret seemed lost in her memories. Katharine sipped her coffee and waited for Margaret to continue.

"It was Edward's trust in Davey that caused him to temporarily assign him to another ship, the Falkland, when it was left damaged and short-handed by action off of Brest. The ship was supposed to simply sail home to Portsmouth for repairs and to treat the wounded, but her despicable captain, a reckless man named Foster, risked his ship and his crew to engage a French privateer, no doubt for his personal profit and glory."

Margaret practically spat out the last of that, particularly the name of the captain, and Katharine had little doubt as to the outcome of this story.

"The attack on the privateer was futile, and there was tremendous loss of life. The ship was crippled. Davey was seriously wounded in the action. Edward and the Aberdeen happened upon them, and they rescued the men, but Davey's injuries were too severe. He took a fever and died three days later. We learned afterward that Edward sat with Davey the whole time, trying to bring the fever down, talking to him, anything to will him back from the brink of death. But it was not to be."

"Edward felt responsible for Davey's death." Seeing Katharine start to protest, she continued. "Oh, I know, he truly was not to blame, but he took it much to heart because, you see, he had heard that Foster was a bad egg, reckless and uncaring about his men. He chose Davey to lead the crew from the Aberdeen over there to act as a buffer between Foster and the seamen, but there was no protecting them from the actions of a careless man."

"Edward wrote us of Davey's death, and we were touched by the personal sentiments of the letter. It seemed more than what a captain would write in that situation. He seemed truly concerned that we know the exact circumstances of his death, and just what kind of sailor - and man - Davey had become."

"It was Edward himself who later delivered the remnants of Davey's belongings when the ship returned home. We were so surprised that he undertook that task himself, and recalled Davey's hope that we would one day meet the man that Davey held in such high regard. Edward made sure we knew how often Davey spoke of us and of his home life to him, and to his shipmates, and also assured us that Davey was at peace when he passed on. He said that Davey's dying words were of Henry and me, and he made Edward promise to let us know how much he loved us. And Edward did. He took that promise as seriously as any naval order."

Katharine felt a tear roll down her cheek, and she stopped it with her napkin, hoping to catch it before Margaret saw. She hated that she brought up a subject that would cause this woman such pain. But Margaret was quick to reassure her.

"It's alright, dear. I cried my tears long ago over our loss. I have no more. I take comfort from the fact that Davey's life was not in vain, that he died nobly, and that it brought Edward to us."

A thought came to Katharine, and she had to ask. "Margaret, that painting over the mantelpiece. Is it . . .?"

"The Aberdeen? Why, yes it is. That was a gift from Edward to Henry and me. He had it commissioned shortly after Davey's death, for he knew it would always remind us of the happiest time in Davey's life. Edward insisted in giving it the place of honor over the fireplace."

Katharine was touched by the gesture, as Davey's parents had been. "So you stayed in touch with him, and then what happened?"

"Well, Edward did his darndest to bring Foster up on charges, but the Admiralty Board saw not enough distinct wrong-doing to warrant a court-martial. Foster moved on to another ship and another unfortunate crew. Edward learned to forgive himself for Davey's death, but he never forgave Foster. They have a polite relationship, as their duty requires, but it remains contentious."

"Anyway, Edward visited us much that time in port, perhaps out of guilt at first, but we like to think that eventually he came to enjoy us and our home as a refuge from his responsibilities - a sort of home away from home away from ship, if you will. He would stop in whenever his ship was in Portsmouth, and we looked forward to his visits. Sadly, Henry and I came upon hard times after Davey's death, and were in danger of losing our home. An inheritance matter, you see, failed to go our way, and well, no matter. Edward insisted on helping us, but we could not take such charity from him."

"Edward had recently bought Rosecliff Cottage, for he wanted , no needed, a home to call his own. After Davey, I think he felt the need for stability and eventually, family. How he loved this property and this house! But he knew that his duty would not allow him to be here enough to care for it properly, so he asked Henry and I to live here and take care of the place for him. We have always thought that it was just Edward's way around our proud refusal to take his charity, but Edward has always assured us that the situation was far more to his advantage than it was to ours."

Margaret smiled at Katharine. "I think we all knew the arrangement was more than just convenience, but we chose to believe that Edward so desperately needed us. At any rate, it works. We love this home and we love Edward. And I think this place, and to some degree, Henry and I, bring a balance to his life that he sorely needed."

Margaret stood, a signal that that was enough of bittersweet memories, and said to Katharine, " And you, my dear, bring something else to him that has been desperately needed!"

Katharine felt her cheeks warm as she imagined where Margaret's thoughts were heading.

"Oh, and don't you go blushing at the thought! He has lost his heart to you, certain sure, and your heart belongs to him as well. That much is quite plain."

The older woman took Katharine by the hand and pulled her to stand. "Now, my dear, before we waste any more of this day, you shall bathe and become presentable before Edward returns."

"Returns? Where has he gone?"

"Oh, I sent him out walking. He was so anxious to awaken you, but I insisted that you needed your rest. He was beginning to pace a rut in the keeping room floor, so I sent him to the village with Henry on an errand. When they returned and you were still sleeping, I suggested that a brisk walk on the ocean hills would relax him, and I came up here to see how you were. As much as he loves to walk those hills, he won't stay out there long knowing what awaits him in here! And I promised the two of you that I would have you looking and feeling every bit the lady today, so, *Your Grace, no more dawdling, down to the tub for you now!"

Katharine laughed and saluted "Aye, aye, Admiral!" A moment of understanding passed between the women. Katharine opened her arms and stepped to Margaret, embracing her. Margaret returned the embrace warmly.

"Oh Margaret! How lucky Edward is to have you! And how fortunate I am to be welcomed here so. Now I understand Edward's wistful talk of this place and the people who mean so much to him."

"Keep in mind dear, that your presence here will make this home even more special to Edward - far beyond what Henry and I can do. Whatever troubles you, dear, whatever gives you such restless nights, please do not let it come between you and Edward. Open yourself to him, trust him. A woman's heart is a deep well of secrets, and it is not a fault to keep many of them. But what you keep from the man you love because you fear his reaction, will come between you for as long as it remains secret. Edward will understand, for he loves you. I see that. Trust that love."

Katharine felt the tears in her eyes again. How is it this woman knows so much of my heart? She decided to ask the question she had wondered about since her talk with James Hilliard on the ship.

"Margaret, has Edward loved before? I know so little about him, about his past, and I . . ."

"There will be time to know him, I am certain. But I will tell you this, for I believe it will help you see your place in Edward's heart. Yes, Edward was in love once. In fact, he was married. Did he not tell you?"

"Married!" Katharine was stunned. She had not considered the possibility that Edward had been married. "No, he never . . . that is, we have not spoken . . ."

"No, of course you haven't, and I really should not speak of it myself, but I shall, for you. It was before we knew him, and he was quite young. He told us of it not long after we came to Rosecliff. Her name was Evelyn, and they were married for just a short time. I have no doubt that Edward loved her, as a young man loves, and perhaps she loved him for a time. But the long separations and his devotion to his duty and his career left her alone more than she could bear. She was . . . well, she was not faithful to him, having the need to seek fulfillment outside of her marriage to a man so little home. Edward wrote to her regularly and she rarely responded to his letters. He returned home to find her gone and her family protecting her privacy. Can you imagine? Protecting her privacy from her own husband! Hmmph!"

Margaret stopped, seeing the clouded look on Katharine's face, and thought better about sharing any more of Edward's personal life with Katharine.

Katharine's heart ached for the man she loved. He had abandoned love for his duty after that duty had brought tragic consequences to his marriage. He has walled his heart away from further hurt. How much it must take for him to open his heart to me. Am I worthy of this?

There now, I've gone and said too much. It is not my place to speak of such things. It was a very long time ago, and Edward should speak of it to you. After all, I am asking you to trust him with your heart. He must trust you with his."

She gathered up Katharine's clothing and the serving tray and shooed Katharine toward the door.

"Now, not another word, young lady," she said, her cheery, no-nonsense tone returning, "or I shall have failed in my promise to have you looking ravishing for your captain by the time he returns! Your bath awaits!"