2 Comfortable Conversation

    Sir Blackwell rested comfortably, and Kateri observed him for a moment. He seemed very tall, his feet hung out to the other side of the little table where they were propped. His hair was dark brown, and slightly curling, and his eyes and mouth had faint smile lines. Though she thought his thick brows made him look a little fierce. She couldn't guess his age, though she thought perhaps less than thirty, but not young.

    She suddenly felt moved to ask, "Is there a Lady Blackwell?"

    He gave her another amused glance. "There is." She felt a little disappointed, but then he added, "My mother is somewhere in Spain according to her last letter. She declares it's safer to stay over there than to try to travel back." Some relief must have appeared on her face, for he chuckled and teased, "Barely come to town, and already evaluating every man you meet as a potential husband?"

    She flushed, embarrassed on several counts. "Is it so very obvious?" She asked ruefully, smoothing her wheat colored walking dress, and sitting very straight.

    He looked at her thoughtfully for a moment. "You came in a walking dress that's a little behind in fashion, and you said you are visiting us as an uninvited guest, when surely my sister would have included you had she known. You are in traveling clothes," nodding toward the bonnet and heavy pelisse she had laid aside earlier, "and your manner is... unusually direct." She blushed again, and he added, "I'm guessing now from your speech, that you are older than you appear, which is perhaps 14?" A quick grin.

    She replied, shocked, "I am already 18." And added a little sadly, "And it is too bad, since I patterned this dress off the one our neighbor had made in London just last year, I was hoping it would be suitable for town this year, and not need replacing."

    He looked at her with surprise, "You made your dress?"

    "Yes," she replied shyly.

    "It's very well done, I took it for professional work," he complimented her.

    "Thank you," she said, "sewing is one of my few accomplishments."

    "Oh?" He grinned and asked, "What are the others?"

    "Riding perhaps?" She replied hesitatingly, "And uncle Andrew said my French and Latin are not bad."

    "How old is the neighbor whose dress you copied?" he asked curiously.

    "I'm not sure exactly, in her forties perhaps?" replied Kateri.

    "Hmm, then it would probably be quite appropriate for her, but on someone as young, and as tiny," he said with another grin, "as you are, it looks a bit too reserved and a touch old fashioned. It is not bad though."

    Kateri gave him a small smile and returned to his other point, "And as for evaluating men I meet, I suppose I am, and shall continue to do so. As I shouldn't like to remain a burden to Richard for the rest of my life, when he has been so very kind, taking custody of me when Amelia asked, and everything. It is, after all, what young ladies get sent to London to do?"

    Filbert delivered a couple of plates of food, and two cups of warm mulled wine, to the pair still cozily ensconced on the couch.

    "Well," Sir Blackwell told her straightforwardly after they had taken up the plates and begun eating, "it's no use evaluating me as a husband unless you have a significant dowry, I'm afraid."

    "Oh," she said, eyes wide, "do you have many debts?"

    "None," he responded cheerfully, "but while I was left the house and grounds, and enough for a bachelor to live comfortably, there isn't enough to support a wife and children. Thankfully my mother has her own income. But I'm afraid my future wife will have to come with her own support, and preferably enough to leave the future children more than was left to me," he added the last more pensively. "This is partly why I've delayed in taking a wife, much to my sister's dismay. She pesters me frequently. And, since we are so boldly speaking of such matters, have you any dowry?"

    "I have a moderate dowry," she replied, "but Richard is having to pay for everything else."

    And she explained how, when her parents had died on their way to Europe during a lull in the fighting, she'd been left with her elder sister and new brother in law for the summer. The new Viscount had been assigned as her guardian at first, but her sister had begged her new husband to apply for custody. Richard hadn't resisted, as he was fond of his new wife's tiny sister. The new Viscount, their father's cousin, hadn't opposed the custody transfer, but neither had he offered any provision for her living. She had only a dowry that her father had set up when she was born, in accordance with his marriage agreement with her mother's father.

    Sir Blackwell encouraged her to tell him of her days living in the countryside, and she confessed that she had very literally come straight from the nursery, where she helped care for her adorable nephew and two nieces, though her sister had only been married for six years now! He laughed told her of his own sister's eight children, though his sister had only been married for 12 years.

    "So your sister is the elder?" Kateri had asked.

    "By five years," had been his reply. He was, it turned out, currently 27 and living somewhat conservatively, by his own account.

    She begged him to tell her of life in London, and was it true, the things she'd heard of scandalous fashions, with transparent gowns? Had the regency affected day to day affairs? For when she'd last been to London as a child, the old King had still been well. And did ladies really start the morning at noon with cups of chocolate? Did gentleman read the papers every morning, and not just on Sundays?

    He answered much of it, sometimes teasingly, sometimes serious.

    She explained how she had been sent to town, all in a rush after everyone forgot her birthday, because the children had all come down with the pox and the entire household was upset for weeks. "Even I forgot, until cook brought out a cake for us at dinner," she confessed.

    And then Amelia had panicked, upon realizing that this was already her eighteenth birthday. And though nebulous future plans had been made for her entrance to society, to stay with her grandmother in London, and her uncle had been wheedled over Christmas into promising to act as her escort when needed when she finally did come to town, nothing firm had been done. Amelia wasn't willing to leave the children so soon after they had finally recovered, and Richard was furiously busy with fall harvests on his estate, and thus Amelia had written to her grandmama, and a week later Richard had loaded Kateri onto the Royal mail coach.

    Unnoticed by the pair settled in cozy conversation on the couch in front of the fire, Lady Sefton took an opportunity, between hands, to quiz Lady Norwen. "I swear, Everard seems quite taken with your granddaughter!" she declared quietly. "I've never seen him talk with a girl in such an animated fashion before. Does she have any dowry?"

    Lady Norwen replied, "Her father left her a moderate sum?" She eyed the pair disapprovingly. For she hadn't noticed Sir Blackwell's entrance, and such unattended closeness was rather improper.

    Lady Sefton noticed Lady Norwen's disapproval and reluctantly asked if she ought to go interfere. But just then Sir Blackwell laughed at something Miss Norwen said, and he reached out and patted her on the head.

    Lady Norwen raised an eyebrow at Lady Sefton, and suggested, "Perhaps he is acting more comfortably than usual because he has taken her for a small child?"

    Lady Sefton, slightly disappointed, concurred. "I suppose it can't be helped as she is so small, and looks so very young."

    On the couch, Sir Blackwell removed his hand hastily from Miss Norwen's head. The softness of her hair against his fingers had startled him when he made the unthinking gesture. "I beg your pardon, I didn't mean to treat you as a child," he told her a little ruefully.

    "It's alright," she pardoned him, "I'm much younger than you, and have been asking many childish questions." Then she added a little wistfully, "Though I would prefer if you did not regard me as a child."

    He ran his eyes over her, and she flushed a little under his appraisal. "Apart from being so small and your youthful face, your figure is far from childish. I don't think anyone would take you for a child beyond the first impression," he told her frankly. Though he conveniently forgot that he had initially assumed her very young and treated her so.

    She didn't know how to respond to this, and so hurriedly directed the conversation back to London and the current sights and activities available. They were discussing the ancient bloody history of Rome and Greece, and it's current popularity in fashion and fiction, when the party finally came to a close. Her grandmother collected her, farewells were bidden, and the pair of Norwen women departed Blackwell house.
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