To Catch a Husband…

By: 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.’

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