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The rest of the morning passed somewhat tumultuously for Kate. First there was a perusing of her wardrobe, which caused a sour look to settle upon her face for at least an hour. She resolved to ask Leopold for some new colors and designs. How she missed slacks! Late 19th century gowns were tight, unattractive, and uncomfortable. Leopold was lucky, she mused, that she loved him so, otherwise this would not be worth it. Then the rational side of her mind kicked in and reminded her that in a year or two, life as a duchess would be second nature.
A duchess. The Duchess of Albany. Her heart froze in new fear. What if she did not fit in with other women? Would they think her too free-spirited? She knew of the social mannerisms of women from history and literature, and knew that she did not possess the natural ability to follow the norms. Hell, she was from the 21st century. There were many differences in culture between her world and Leopold's.
This is your world now, she scolded herself, and if you do not come to believe it, you will never be happy in it. She drew a deep breath and glanced in the mirror. For one, she would have to grow her hair out. Kate was lucky; her tresses grew quickly. She would have to get used to baths in a brass tub, no running water. Electricity had yet to be in every home in New York, so no light bulbs, only candles and oil lamps.
Life in 1876 would certainly prove to be difficult.
A knock sounded on the door, shaking Kate from her thoughts. Turning from the mirror, she called, "Come in."
The door opened, and Leopold strode in. "Kate! I nearly forgot to inform you!"
"Inform me of what?"
"The ball will be at six o'clock." Noticing the frown on Kate's face he asked, "What is it, my love?"
"It's just that..." Kate hesitated. Leopold gestured for her to continue. "I'm afraid that it will be socially...awkward for me with all those women."
Leopold laughed heartily. "Kate, you do yourself wrong. You will fit in perfectly, I am sure."
"It's not that easy, Leopold!" Kate replied, exasperated. "I am from the 21st century. Women are very different there; you know that."
Startled by her outburst, he sat down and motioned for her to do the same. "If you are that worried, I will assist you as much as I can," he assured her, reaching out and stroking her hand. "Would that be of worth to you?"
"Oh, yes, Leopold, thank you!" Kate smiled, thoroughly relieved.
"Now, then," He adopted a business-like manner and stern tone, and Kate stifled a giggle. "We will start with tea service. The proper way for a lady to hold a tea cup is like so," and he demonstrated. This time, Kate failed to appropriately hold back a very unladylike snicker. One eyebrow rose defiantly at her. "What do you find so amusing, my lady?"
Laughing fully now, Kate managed, "All you need is one of those tight corsets and you'll be a true lady."
He frowned, but in good humor, and Kate stopped laughing and apologized. He merely smiled at her before continuing.
The afternoon passed by fairly quickly for both of them, and Kate received a crash course in 19th century etiquette. She felt ready for the evening, when she glanced at the clock and squealed in surprise. "Leopold! It is nearly five o'clock!"
"Shall I ring for your maid on the way out?" he offered.
"Thank you," Kate smiled. He kissed the back of her hand formally, and left, ringing the bell by the door on his way out.
Kate was unfamiliar with the formal manner in which their romance had suddenly taken on. She had never been in love before, but had never realized it until she fell in love with Leopold. He was exactly the man she had been looking for, without knowing it. Noble, polite, genuine, and chivalrous. His features were pleasing, too. They were the same old-fashioned traits she spent most of her young adult life denying her desire for.
However, she could not help but wish that he would dispense with formality when they were alone. She determined to mention it to him the next time she saw him, when Elizabeth came in the room.
"May I assist you, Kate?"
"Lizzy, I need some help getting ready for the ball tonight."
The young girl curtsied briefly, then walked to the wardrobe. "What do you prefer to wear?"
Kate frowned. "I don't know what the fashion is in New York. Which dress do you like?"
Lizzy looked surprised for an instant, and Kate noticed it. "I just want to know your opinion," she quickly inserted.
"Well," Lizzy began, opening the wardrobe doors and looking through the gowns. What about this one?"
She held up a light green silk dress with lace around the neckline. Kate shook her head, and Lizzy hung the dress up.
"Oh!" Lizzy exclaimed, her head buried in the back of the wardrobe.
"Look at this!" she said, backing out and bringing the finest gown Kate had ever seen.
The material was satin, perfect for the chill that had overtaken the city in the winter, with the deepest of blue midnight. The neckline hung just off the shoulders, with strands of black lace lining it. The bodice was fitted, with a midline waist, and a short train in the back.
"Wow," Kate breathed, fingering the material delicately. "I haven't seen this one before. It's perfect."
She changed into a corset, camisole, stockings, and underthings. Lizzy brought in hot curlers for her hair and pulled it back into a short twist, leaving several curled strands to frame her face, and small ringlets for her neck.
After her makeup was finished, Kate looked at her reflection and caught her breath. She almost did not recognize the woman staring back at her with wonderment in her eyes.
"Oh, Lizzy," she said softly, "You are a godsend."
The girl only giggled in reply. "I've laid out your accessories on the table. Will there be anything else?"
"No, thank you."
"Very well, Kate. Have a good evening."
"You too," Kate replied as Lizzy left.
The time until the party seemed to pass by swiftly, until Kate heard the sound of voices downstairs, and of footsteps. The guests were already arriving.
Drawing a deep breath, she steadied herself. All the confidence that had built up during the afternoon suddenly disintegrated, leaving her feeling overwhelmed, and she began to tremble slightly.
She found the most expensive of jewelry lying on her table, along with a pair of black gloves that reached her elbows. The necklace was a fine gold chain, with a large teardrop sapphire that rested between her breasts. The earrings were similar to the necklace; thin gold strands with small sapphires suspended in midair above her shoulders. A gold bracelet adorned her right gloved wrist, and her hair was woven throughout with strands of gold.
Kate opened the door slowly, and walked the corridor with as much courage as she could muster. Descending the stairs, she was slightly overcome with renewed fear upon viewing the many guests that milled around, drinking champagne and socializing in small groups.
Suddenly, she saw Leopold, wearing white trousers, black boots, a gold waistcoat, and the midnight blue jacket with gold adornments that she had grown so familiar with. A smile shone from her face as he turned to greet her. Grasping her hand in his, he pressed a light kiss to it and grinned up at her. She took his arm, and felt her nervousness edge away almost instantaneously.
Murmurs of "Your grace" and bows followed them as they walked through the hall. Kate looked uneasily at the guests, smiling forcedly and gripping Leopold's arm harder.
He looked down at her encouragingly. "Remember," he muttered under his breath, but loud enough so she could hear, "you are the future duchess of Albany, and therefore superior to all women. Above all, you will be my wife, and I your husband. We are the happiest of all people."
She smiled at him gratefully, and even began returning greetings with a gracious nod. Passing a mad holding a silver tray, Kate quickly lifted a flute of champagne and nearly swallowed the alcohol in one mouthful. Almost at once, her head became lighter, and her thoughts cleared.
They entered the ballroom together, and Millicent waved them over where she was talking with a group of older women. Leopold squeezed her arm affectionately, before leaving her with them.
"Katherine," Millicent began, "Allow me to introduce my good friends from England, Mrs. Charlotte Brent-Charstle of the Brent-Charstles of Santibury, and her sister, Mrs. Sarah Tolsten of the Tolstens of Sussex. This is Miss Katherine McKay of the McKays of Massapequa."
The two ladies looked remarkably similar; both with graying hair and sour faces. They turned critical eyes on Kate, and one raised her head slightly and looked down a long nose at her. Kate smiled uncomfortably, and bowed her head politely.
"Miss McKay," Charlotte addressed her, "Are you of the aristocracy of America?"
"Um...no ma'am, I am not."
"Really?" Kate did not miss the astonishment the women attempted to hide. "Are you of a large fortune?"
"Charlotte!" Millicent cried. "You can hardly address Katherine in such a forthright manner. My dear," she turned to Kate. "May I present you to more age-appropriate ladies?"
Charlotte and Sarah sniffed arrogantly, but Millicent only smiled as she led Kate away.
"I must apologize for my friends," she said in a low voice as they made their way across the room. "I'm afraid they place far too much importance on fortune, and not quite enough on character."
Kate said nothing, too distracted to reply.
"Ah, Miss Tree," Millicent cried delightedly. "Surely you have not yet met Miss Katherine McKay!"
Evelyn Tree turned around, and curtsied clumsily. "Thank you, your Majesty, but Miss McKay and I have made a previous acquaintance."
Kate nearly giggled at such a formal and incorrect address to Millicent. "Miss Tree," she said warmly, extending her hand and grasping the woman's gently. "It is a pleasure to see you again."
The first hour passed by quickly, and soon the butler appeared to call everyone to dinner.
Leopold searched the crowd for Kate, and escorted her to their table. After seating her, he pulled out his chair and sat down.
Servants appeared from the kitchens, carrying large silver platters with delicate gold-trimmed soup bowls. Thick broth was ladled into bowls, and champagne offered.
Kate was flummoxed by the massive array of cutlery laid out in front of her place setting. All sorts of different forks and spoons were lined up. She touched Leopold's knee gently, and he turned to her. "Which is which?" she mouthed silently, gesturing to the silverware. He placed his hands in his lap at one foot apart then moved them inward in a shrinking motion. She understood, and smiled her thanks as she picked up her soup spoon.
"Evelyn, just who is the lady who has usurped your position?" Kate heard from just down the table. She continued eating, pretending that she didn't hear the conversation.
"Yes, she really is frightfully odd," another offered.
"I don't suppose she is of any fortune," the first one replied. "Either her family has come into money recently, or she is a former pauper. Why else would she be so lacking in poise?"
"Perhaps she is a servant-girl who has seduced our prince, and he knows no better."
"She certainly is a plain, common little thing," the first one sniffed. "Heaven knows why he selected her."
Kate froze with her spoon halfway to her mouth and placed it gently back into the bowl. It took every strength she had to keep her countenance, for her stomach churned, and an acrid taste flooded her mouth. Leopold looked at her face closely, but said nothing. She was sure he had heard the remarks, for his face tightened in disgust. Under the tablecloth, out of sight, she felt his hand on hers. He wove through her fingers with his own, and his thumb caressed her palm affectionately. She gathered herself and looked directly at him. His eyes shone with pride. "I chose you," they seemed to say. She smiled back at him and continued eating.
Throughout the courses, Kate ate little, still left with a bitter feeling in her stomach to have much of an appetite. Although lightened by Leopold's reassurance, her mind could not forget the cutting remarks made by those women.