The Captain of A Lady’s Heart – Alice Kirks

‘But father…’ ‘Answer the question Katherine. Are you or are you not a Lady?’ Katie sighed heavily, a despondency shrouding her attempts to dispute her father’s wishes. She knew his reproof was of a more serious nature when he called her by her full name. ‘Yes.’ ‘Yes indeed!’ He barked. ‘Lady Katherine Ennis, daughter of Lord Easton E Ennis,’ he continued, talking proudly of himself in the third person as he paced the large study. ‘And you will do as I ask.’ ‘What you are asking is not fair.’ ‘Fair?’ He spun to face her as he spoke. The loose jowls wobbled and the rising crimson on his cheeks betrayed the appearance of calm. ‘What is this fairness that you speak of? Are you not settled in a grand palatial home, does your wardrobe not burst with the most exquisite gowns?’ He gesticulated grandly in the general direction of their surroundings. ‘You want for nothing, and I will not see you a spinster. No indeed. Lord Sutton is a good match.’ But he was not a good match, not to Katherine.

Though, at the grand age of 21 years, she understood her father’s concerns of spinsterhood, even if she did not agree with his way of solving them. He and her mother were desperate to have her married off. If Katie had her own way, she would spend the next twenty years travelling the globe. But, it would appear, she would not be getting her own way. Not if her father had anything to do with it. ‘Perhaps,’ she began, tentatively, ‘if I would be permitted to travel to London for the season, I would be able to secure myself a suitable husband. You know father, how much I would love to travel, and perhaps,’ she continued, ‘I would have found a suitor already if I had been permitted to travel on previous seasons.’ If only he would concede. London had been a place she had yearned to visit since she was a child of 11 years. Hearing people gossip excitedly about the fine time they had in town had piqued her interest.

It sounded such an exciting place full of exciting people. A far cry from her country home. Unlike other ladies, the vivacious talk of gentlemen and of meeting future companions, had never held her interest. That would not be her main desire, however; the visit would kill two birds. First and foremost, it would satiate her need for adventure—of exploring and seeking all those places of which she had read as a young girl and so desperately wanted to see with her own eyes. The fire of freedom burned deep within her belly even now, as she battled against societal norms. Marriage was, of course, inevitable. Her father was determined to see to that, but did it really have to be so soon? Had she not yet time to venture and see some of the world before being tied to such duties as would be expected from a wife? ‘A suitable husband?!’ Her father’s indignant tone cut through her rambling thoughts. ‘And how many suitable men are to pass through these doors before you acquiesce to any?’ His words stilled her for he was not wrong. There had been a few, but none of them fitting for her.

She was not as strikingly beautiful as some of her friends and other young women within her mother’s circle, but nor was she plain. Maintaining her slender figure with plenty or gambols through the country and exercise, she was acceptably handsome. Unlike the parade of men who had made their propositions. Aesthetics would not so much have bothered her, if the advances had been from any man who challenged her intellectually, and could move her forward in her search for expansion of the mind and meaningful existence. Or brought with them, the promise of adventure and exploration. ‘Oh papa, you cannot imagine any of them really appropriate. Captain Carlton was a naval officer on his way to war, would you have me widowed before I could provide him a child? Mr Bennett, the clergyman, was utterly boring. You yourself struggled to maintain countenance in his presence.’ Her father inclined his head in slight agreement. ‘And Mr Hennessy had three wives.

Three. Would you have me matched with such a man? And, I would not be speaking falsely if I were to state, that the widowed Lord Stapleton, who was nearly twice my age, was only looking for a mother to raise his three young children. He required a governess more than a wife.’ Her father, now staring out of the window onto the sprawling gardens that surrounded Spencer Manor, remained silent for several minutes. The soft skin of his balding crown, reflected the sunlight that entered the room and with his large hands clasped firmly behind his back, he stood tall and proud. Doubting she would move him, Katie had to try one last time. ‘Papa, please. I know your feelings toward Lord Sutton, he is a good and kindly gentleman, and a dear family friend. But Papa, I would much prefer to marry for love.’ She stiffened as he turned swiftly to glare at her.

‘Love! What fanciful drivel you speak of Katherine. Do you think I married your mother out of love? Surely you cannot be that naïve? I know very well, you are not. You are well versed in how matchings are made, and love has little to do with it. Lord William Sutton is a good neighbour and a good match and you will learn to understand that you have to make the best of things.’ ‘But Papa…’ ‘I will not hear another word of protest from you child. I have already made up my mind. I will announce the engagement in the coming week and you will commence arrangements for the wedding.’ He turned abruptly once again to the window, coldly facing his back to her. The discussion was over. Katie could do little else but mutter a small agreement and leave his study with a heart as heavy as a millstone.

She was to be bound, caged like a tiger pacing up and down in a confinement of societal expectations. Trapped, with no power to change her circumstances. Conform to tradition that held little regard for what she may desire, what her heart truly yearned for. The powerlessness of her situation was almost overwhelming.[MJ1][pm2] Leaving the house and entering the terrace outside, she moved into the gardens with a thousand thoughts craning for her attention. It was not a good match at all. Not that Lord Sutton was a man of a terrible disposition, in fact; he was quite the opposite. Softly spoken and gentle of countenance, he was a pleasurable and agreeable person. But unlike herself, there was to be found no fire in him. In fact, she thought, he would be more suited to her dear, genteel younger sister than to herself.

Worrisome as it was, Katie recalled her dear friend, Emma, whose recent marriage of only last year had taken her far south so as they could only converse by letter. Emma, with a spirit much like her own, had also been mismatched and Katie could not but notice in her writing, how her adventurous yearning appeared to be depleting by the month. Conforming to the sedate and placid expectations of her husband and his family, of whom she was now surrounded, it would seem her life was being bled from her very being. The thought sent a physical shiver through Katie’s body. That that may be her fate for the future, was truly terrifying. But what was she to do? Her father was a proud and determined man. He loved her dearly but his strictness had only inspired her to defy him. In this regard though, she would have no choice. Her father’s patience was waning thin and if she refused, he may disown her completely, and then where would she be? No, she would have to marry Lord Sutton and suffer her lot. Of course, she would have no ally in her mother.

She, like her father, was just as eager to marry her off, even if her happiness were lost with the arrangement. Perhaps she would learn to love him. Perhaps her heart would warm to the arrangement after time as sometimes happened in these situations. It was the only glimmer of hope she could find. Attempting to console herself, Katie turned to find her sister approaching. Melinda, being of only 18 years, was a sweet and obedient child, but unlike Katie, her younger sister was timid and shy. Qualities that had attracted several suitors to her, but, for her own reasons, Melinda had not been tempted by them. Like her sister, her dark curls framed her delicate pale face, and her thin muslin gown pulled against her slender frame. ‘Oh Katie, why are you so disposed to sadness?’ Consumed in her own thoughts, Katie had not realised how her face betrayed the dire straits of her situation, but in her sister, she had always found a solid confidante and sympathiser. They were and had always been close, with so few years between them.

Sharing their thoughts and desires over the years had tied their sibling knot tight. ‘My dear Mel, what am I to do.’ Katie sighed forlornly. Her heart felt so heavy, it was an effort even to take steps forward as they commenced to walk in the garden. Linking her arm into her sister’s, Mel encouraged Katie to confide her worries. ‘I am to marry.’ ‘Surely then, this is a time for happy giddiness. Why are you so depressed and do tell me, who is the lucky suitor?’ ‘Lord Sutton.’ Mel stopped dead, jolting Katie to a stop beside her. Katie glanced down at her, for she was a couple of inches taller, and frowned.

‘Lord Sutton? Our neighbour?’ Mel looked perturbed which only confused Katie. ‘Yes. Do you know of any other?’ Her dry reply was meant for light relief, but Mel did not acknowledge it. ‘But,’ Mel began uncertainly, ‘you do not love him, do you?’ ‘Of course not. And that is the reason for my state. It would appear,’ Katie went on, ‘that father does not care for my wants and needs, only that I am to be married off and got rid of.’ ‘Oh Katie, he does not.’ ‘I tried to talk him out of it only an hour earlier. I even suggested going to London to find someone more suitable, but he would not concede. He went on and on about the propositions that I have already turned down, and I tried to tell him that there were valid reasons.

It made little difference. He has made up his mind. And we both know what that means.’ Mel nodded but said nothing. ‘He will announce the engagement imminently and I am to commence arrangements for the wedding. Oh Mel, what am I to do?’ ‘When is the wedding?’ ‘That, I do not know. I have not yet spoken to Lord Sutton or received his proposal, but I would imagine father would want it before Christmas.’ ‘But it is only November.’ ‘I know.’ Katie’s sigh nearly overwhelmed her.

If she could find a way out of this, she would, if she could run away, she would, but then, how could she possibly support herself? Having no skills to speak of, she would be destitute; and knowing her father’s stubborn and strict disposition, she feared he would cut her off without a second thought. There appeared no other choice. Marriage was imminent. Marriage to a man she did not love, nor whom loved her. She was to be miserable for the rest of her life and powerless to stop it. Chapter 2 Captain Robert Barkley, laughing heartily at one of his men as he relayed a joke, was suddenly distracted. Sitting around a table at an inn where they were lodging, the men enjoyed the tankards before them, now relieved to be home. A messenger had entered the room, glanced around and asked for him by name. ‘I am Captain Barkley.’ He replied, motioning the messenger over.

‘A missive for you sir.’ The Captain paid the messenger and stood, moving away from the group of men, who continued loudly, to entertain themselves. The militia were now settled in York having returned from battle in America, exhausted and war torn. They had fought long and hard, and whilst some of their comrades did not return in the condition in which they had left, some injured, some no longer living; the remainder of the regiment were grateful to be back in their homeland. Noticing the seal was from his family home, he tore at it and at the same time, retreated upstairs to his room. Lowering himself to a chair near the window, he read the letter intently. My dear Robert, I hope this letter finds you well, for I can barely think of you injured. My hand is shaking and my heart so very heavy as I write. I send terrible news and beg that you return home to Kent immediately for I am frightened and do not know what to do. Our darling brother, George, is dead.

The Duke fell from his horse and, according to the physician, his neck was broken on impact. Oh Robert, what are we to do? There is but more abysmal news. Whilst you have been absent in war, George entangled himself into terrible debt at the gambling tables and I am now ashamed to say, mortgaged the house. We are to be homeless. If we cannot pay of the debt in three months, Winfield Manor will be auctioned. We will lose everything. Please come home my dear Robert and swiftly, for I cannot deal with this alone and am lost as to how we can prevent this. I leave you, your loving sister, Alison. Robert, quite motionless, glared at the letter, stunned and reeling as a torrent of emotions attacked him simultaneously. First and foremost, an immediate disbelief, followed swiftly by a rational balance.

He was captain of a regiment and not prone to whimsical thought, after all. And yet, his stomach clenched and a bile rose in his throat. Whilst he and his older brother were not particularly close, there being a large gap in years, his death was still a shock and it pained him; but he hardly had time to think about his grief but for the immediacy of the situation regarding Winfield Manor. His army commission barely paid for his horse, his room and board. What was to become of his sister and himself if the house were to be auctioned? And last, and at this moment, least important, he was next in line for the Dukedom. A title he had not thought would be bestowed on him for many years, if at all had George produced a son. Placing the letter on the stand beside him, he straightened himself and took a deep breath. Poor George, the thought of him dying alone speared him. No matter what the physician had stated, who knew how long he had lain there, still living. It may be supposed, being at war, that one grows accustomed to death, but that had never been Robert’s experience.

A critical thinker by nature, he would first find a way to save their home. All other concerns would need to be curbed for the interim. Having no idea on how he would go about it, he refused to let mania overtake him. He would now need to take charge of the situation; Alison would be depending on it. It was all very well, being heroic and gallant on the battlefield, but if he could not be there for his own family, of what use was it? I must leave immediately. Glancing back at the letter, he suddenly wondered how his poor sister must be managing at this moment. At 16 years old, she would not have the sense of what was to be done, and, he imagined, would be quite beside herself both in grief and overwhelm for their future. He must obtain leave from his commander to return to Kent. Under the circumstances, he knew the request would be more a formality, and he had no doubt that leave would be granted. ‘Captain Barkley Sir, it is so good to have you home.

’ Kitty gushed as she gathered his top coat and hat in the large hallway of Winfield Manor. Kitty was their housemaid; a gentle woman of fifty or so, who had taken good care of him and the family for many years. More so him after the tragic death of his parents. ‘But I am so sorry for your loss, Sir. I cannot even begin to imagine…’ ‘Thank you, Kitty. Yes, I would have preferred my return to be on much pleasanter terms. Are you well?’ ‘As well as expected Sir,’ she nodded solemnly, ‘Duchess Maria Stanhope-Barkley is waiting for you in the drawing room.’ ‘Oh.’ His surprise was not lost on Kitty as she eyed him with sympathy. ‘Yes Sir, she arrived yesterday.

’ ‘I will go to her directly.’ ‘I will bring some tea, Sir.’ ‘Thank you, Kitty.’ On entering the drawing room, Robert noted the stout, proud woman stood looking out onto the terrace, dressed entirely in black. The typical mourning dress for her nephew as she was a woman of great scruples. His aunt turned abruptly as he entered the room, the tip of her cane clacking the wooden flooring as she took a step forward. Robert moved towards her, and bowed perfunctorily, before kissing her on both cheeks. ‘Are you well Your Grace?’

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