DUKE DARCY’S CASTLE, Excerpt
7 Hatfield Gardens, London
His Royal Highness the Duke of Darcy
St. Gabriel’s Mount, Cornwall
July 6, 1894
My Lord Duke,
I hope and trust that you received my wire this morning. Pray allow me to elaborate in this missive, which I am obliged to dictate. Yesterday I suffered the misfortune of being thrown from my horse, resulting in significant injuries to my person. Knowing that you wish to begin improvements to St. Gabriel’s Mount posthaste, I felt it necessary to send an associate in my place.
I wish therefore to introduce to you a member of my team, Miss Kathryn Atherton. You will find it highly unusual that I have sent a woman (and an American, at that) to do a man’s job! However, Miss Atherton completed her studies at the London School of Art and Architecture, the first woman to do so, and over the past two years has proven herself to be eminently capable of the kind of work you require.
As we discussed in our previous communications, the length of her stay will depend upon the scope of the project. I presume, however, that if she works at her usual speed, three weeks should suffice for her to ascertain your needs, take necessary measurements, undertake initial drawings, and etc., at which point she will return to London, where I will oversee the execution of the final drawings.
I pray that this arrangement meets with your approval. It is a privilege to work with you, Your Grace, on renovations to such an ancient and renowned castle as St. Gabriel’s Mount. I look forward, at what I hope will be a not too distant date, to meeting you again in person.
I have the honour to be, Sir, Your Royal Highness’s most humble and obedient servant,
Kathryn Atherton finished rereading the letter for the umpteenth time, folded it up, and shoved it into her leather satchel.
No one said this was going to be easy. In fact, nothing about her professional journey had been easy. From the first moment she’d embarked upon her quest to become an architect, she had met with an endless parade of obstacles, prejudice, and heartache.
“You are an heiress, Kathryn,” her mother had cried on too many occasions to count, “from one of the wealthiest families in New York. You will not embarrass us by working. And in a man’s profession! Whatever are you thinking?”
What Kathryn had been thinking was that she’d like to do something special and important with her life. Not just marry an Englishman with a title, as her sisters had done. Not that Lexie and Maddie had been set on marrying noblemen—that had been their mother’s wish. But they were both madly in love with their husbands, and Kathryn was happy for them.
Two countesses in the family, however, would have to satisfy their mother’s social-climbing ambitions in New York. Kathryn was determined to do as she pleased. And what pleased her was to not marry anyone at all. She had far bigger plans in mind.
As Kathryn made her way up the old, twisting road, the uneven cobblestones made for difficult walking in her high-heeled boots. Holding her long skirts in one hand and her satchel in the other, Kathryn tread carefully, her thoughts returning to the letter.
It rankled that Mr. Patterson had felt the need to call attention to her being a woman, as if women were somehow less capable than men. That might be society’s view, but it was hogwash. It was equally provoking that he’d mentioned her being “an American, at that.” As if being American were a blemish upon her character. Equally hogwash.
On the other hand, Kathryn reminded herself, even if she didn’t appreciate all the wording in the letter, she did have a lot to be grateful for. Mr. Patterson had hired her when no one else would. And he’d sent her on this prestigious assignment. To work on such a well-known castle would be a real feather in her cap.
Pausing briefly to catch her breath, Kathryn gazed up at the ancient edifice looming above her. She could hardly believe she was actually here—at St. Gabriel’s Mount, a tiny tidal island at the southern tip of Cornwall. In the shadow of its enormous, celebrated castle, which looked like it belonged more in a fairy tale than real life.
The castle was so huge and so . . . well . . . castle-y. The sun, hanging low in the sky, cast a golden glow on massive gray stone walls that stood five stories high. The uppermost level was encircled by a low wall, enclosing several other large, ancient buildings topped with towers, turrets, and crenellated battlements replete with arrow slits, indicating its former use as a fortress. The only thing missing was a moat.
Which was an impossibility, of course, since the castle was perched like a majestic, multilayered wedding cake at the crest of a high hill in the center of the island. Approachable, apparently, only via this narrow road that wound upward with a dizzying array of switchbacks.
Kathryn’s fingers itched to sketch the scene before her, but she didn’t have time for such an indulgence. When the boatman had dropped her off at the island’s diminutive harbor, he had urged her to wait until he could find a local man to deliver her to the castle via a horse-drawn cart. Kathryn had declined the kind offer, requesting that said man simply bring up her luggage instead. A brisk walk in the early-evening light had seemed like the perfect antidote to the nine hours she’d spent sitting on the train from London.
She was glad she’d made that choice, even though, after twenty minutes of steady trudging, she was still only halfway up the hill. Hopefully, the duke would forgive her for arriving a bit later than anticipated.
After three years in dirty, congested London, it was a pleasure to be surrounded by the sounds and scents of the sea. Every inhalation of the brisk, salty air was invigorating. The sharp cries of the seagulls circling overhead were a joyous chorus that made her heart sing.
How marvelous it would be, Kathryn thought, to actually live on such a unique island. She’d been told that at low tide, for a few hours twice a day, you could walk from the mainland to St. Gabriel’s Mount across a wide stretch of wet sand. At high tide, as it was now, one had to arrive by boat.
The castle grew closer with every step. Kathryn’s excitement mounted. All over England now, it was a common practice for members of the upper classes to update and renovate their manor homes to meet modern Victorian standards. A castle presented a particularly interesting challenge.
True, it was just another interior redesign. Not exactly the stuff that dreams were made of. Not her dreams, anyway. But it was the only kind of work that Mr. Patterson was willing to trust her with. So far. At least she was getting experience.
Now, if she could just get the Duke of Darcy to trust her with the job she had been sent to do . . .