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I Know a Place

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Kate Sharma was fourteen when she caught the first glimpse of the life that her beloved stepmother Mary had left behind.

This glimpse came in the form of a mysterious invitation arriving at their door. Both Kate and Edwina had seen the elegant script on the envelope, and went quite wild with curiosity until Mary sat them both down after dinner.

“My old friend, Lady Danbury, has invited the three of us to her estate this summer,” Mary had explained to her restless daughters.

“Where does she live, mama?” Edwina asked, dark eyes wide with excitement.

“In the south of Hertfordshire. The country there is beautiful, and Lady Danbury’s grounds are some of the best I have ever seen.”

Hertfordshire! Kate had rarely ventured beyond their village, let alone as far afield as Hertfordshire.

And to add to the lustre of this promised adventure, Mary had continued, saying, “There will be another family there. From what I remember, the Bridgertons are very good, very well-bred people. They will be bringing their four eldest children, a couple of whom are around your age. I am sure you will get along splendidly.”

In the months leading up to the anticipated journey, Kate and Edwina spent long stretches of time imagining what beauty and splendor Lady Danbury’s estate could hold. They conjured everything possible in their fancies; Edwina wondered if there were secret gardens or hidden rooms where fairies could be found, and her older sister indulged her as far as was proper.

On Kate’s part, she harbored a secret desire to become well acquainted with the Bridgerton children. Though she adored Edwina, a sibling six years her junior sometimes left something to be desired.

“Mama,” Kate had whispered one night as they sat in the parlor. “Do you think they will like me? When we go?”

“I am sure they will,” Mary said, immediate and sure.

“But how can you know?

Mary put down her needlework. “I just do, sweetheart. And…if they cannot see that you are a wonderful girl, then they must be fools; I am not sure that I want you to be friends with fools.”

At that, Kate threw her arms around Mary and laughed, letting her anxieties fade into oblivion.


The fateful day arrived.

Somehow, the Sharmas had gone through the busyness of travel no worse for wear, and by noon they were all assembled in Lady Danbury’s sitting room, taking a light luncheon.

“The Viscount and Viscountess are visiting the Crofts in the next village, and will be back by the hour,” Lady Danbury had informed them as they sat down.

Torn between her hunger and her need to drink in every detail, Kate tried to sneak glances at their hostess while digging into the entrees. The great Lady Danbury was intimidating in her straightforwardness, but she was not unkind. In fact, the Lady was kind enough to pretend not to notice it was Kate who dropped pudding on the criminally fine tablecloth.

“Do you like riding, Miss Sharma?” Lady Danbury asked after the servant discreetly covered the stain with a napkin.

“Very much, ma’am,” said Kate, who grasped for her courage. “Mama said that you like riding too, do you not?”

A slow smile spread over Lady Danbury’s face.

“When I was younger, yes, though it is harder to ride these days,” she said, tapping her cane on the floor. “As you are guests in my house, please feel free to use the stables. Heaven knows they need the exercise. Miss Edwina may have use of the ponies, if she is inclined to.”

Both sisters were so effusive in their thanks that it was only the chatter from the hall that stopped them, and the excitement only grew.

The Bridgertons had arrived.

In the flurry of introductions and reintroductions, Daphne had made fast friends with Edwina. With a hearty goodbye, the two girls skipped away to giggle in the gardens. Likewise, the younger Bridgerton boys, Benedict and Colin, wasted no time wandering off into their own mischief as soon as it was humanly possible.

And all that was left were the eldest.

As the adults converged into their own conversations, Kate had a few moments to observe the eldest Bridgerton child. His name was Anthony; he was a jovial boy two years her elder, tall for his age, though there were traces of childhood on his face still. After a significant look and encouraging nod from his father, he gave an eager bow.

“How do you do, Miss Sharma?”

Kate couldn’t help but smile proudly at the address, and gloried in how grown-up it sounded. Taking a deep breath, she curtsied as well as she could, and tried to mimic his politeness.

“I am quite well, my Lord.”

At that, Anthony Bridgerton sprang upright.

“I am loath to correct a lady, but Lord Bridgerton is my father. I am not Lord Bridgerton,” he cried, almost indignant at the idea.

“My apologies, Mr. Bridgerton,” said Kate, her embarrassment quelled partly by her amusement at the father laughing at the son. “I will not make that mistake again.”

“I mean, there was no offence taken,” was his confused response. At a loss for words, he glanced to his father yet again, and Kate felt herself generous enough to save him.

“Do you enjoy riding, Mr. Bridgerton?”

In the course of an hour’s ride, Kate discovered a great deal about Anthony, and he about her. She learned that his father was teaching him to hunt, and he was impressed when she mounted the horse astride. He listened to her vent about the impossibility of the flute, and she heard his despair at the study of Latin. They both of them found that though they adored their siblings, they were often wearied by them.

Eventually, the two were trading jokes and stories as close friends.

“I have often wished I had a brother,” Kate said. “I love Edwina with all my heart, but having a brother also, that would be wonderful.”

“Then you had better get an older brother,” was Anthony’s reply. “Since younger brothers often get on one’s nerves, and we as the oldest must be patient with them.”

“Not all the time.”

“Are you sure?”

And with that, Anthony recounted the Bridgerton’s near-disastrous trip to the Danbury Estate; Kate almost fell off her horse in laughter at his enthusiastic impersonation of Benedict’s despairing scream.

“And what of the rest of your family?,” he asked, after she had caught her breath. “Is your father away on business, and could not come to visit Lady Danbury?”

From the highest mirth did Kate’s mood drop and her chest tighten, as it always did when she was reminded of her father.

In a low voice Kate said, “He died. Six years ago in August.”

He looked aghast.

“I am sorry. I had no idea…”

“It is alright.”

They rode in silence for a little longer, before Anthony broke it with an impassioned, “And we were having such a nice time! I always seem to be putting my foot in it.”

Though Kate could not quite summon her earlier cheerfulness, she could not help but be moved by his artless outburst; she squared her shoulders and managed a small smile.

“As I said, it is alright. Have you any more stories of your siblings? I am still not convinced that younger brothers are worse, in the grand scheme of things.”

Anthony obliged, chattering on until they found themselves at the edge of the property. Struck by an idea, Anthony wheeled his horse around.

“I shall race you back to the house,” he said, mischief sparking in his eyes, “and the loser shall—hey!

But Kate had already left him in the dust, her clear laughter ringing through the air.


“And I win again,” Anthony was crowing as they arrived at the stables. “The score is 27 to 24. It will be near impossible to catch up before you leave, Miss Sharma, so you might as well admit defeat now.”

Disheveled and breathing heavily, Kate swung herself off the horse, suppressing the urge to shake her fist at him.

“I have not lost until the final day, Mr. Bridgerton, so perhaps you should save your gloating until you have actually won.”

Anthony laughed, running after her as she swung on her heel. “Then my celebrations are to be delayed for a few days, that is all.”

Before Kate could snark back, she heard Edwina and Daphne’s light footsteps at the hall.

“Kate! We have been looking for you. Can you come play with us? Please? You promised last night.”

All annoyance melting away, Kate agreed. “Just let me wash up, Edwina. I shall be with you in a moment.”

“What a generous big sister,” said Anthony, falling in step beside her. “But what am I to do while you are playing princesses with them?”

“We are reading a play, actually,” Kate replied, setting off for her room. “Though we really could do with one more, if you wish to join. Benedict flat-out refused, and almost left Daphne in tears as he did it.”

Heaving a sigh, Anthony stopped just short of climbing the stairs with her. “Then I suppose I shall have to step up. Although you and I both are really getting too old for this sort of thing, you know. Daphne’s governess says it shall soon be too inappropriate.”

“Inappropriate? Why?”

“She could not say. Though governesses always find reason to scold their charges.”

“Then perhaps it is just you, Anthony. You are one of those that are always in need of a good scolding.”

“You know, Miss Maria said that too," he said, not in the slightest bit repentant. "What part am I to read?”

“Oh, it is the part that shall suit you the most.”

“The prince?”

“The prince? The prince? Ha! You are the ogre, of course.”

Before she could hear his sputterings, she sprinted the rest of the way up the stairs, the sweet feeling of revenge doing wonders for her mood.


The next spring, freshly fifteen and feeling that she was finally gaining wisdom, Kate spent weeks waiting for the promised invitation from Danbury estate.

“Surely she has not forgotten,” Kate said to Mary as another week whiled away without that wished-for envelope. "She did say that she would invite us again this year."

“No, my dear. I am sure she has remembered. Lady Danbury is not one to forget.”

And arrive it did, with all the excitement of the previous year. There was more, in fact, in the anticipation of meeting Anthony again – they had agreed to write, and had upheld that agreement through the long winter and budding spring.

“There is a letter here for you, Miss Sharma,” announced Carlson as the family gathered round the breakfast table.

“Already! I only wrote Anthony two days ago.”

Mary smiled down at her porridge as Kate tore open the letter with great haste.

 

Kate,

Unfortunately, Mother will be unable to travel at that point in the year, and I have told you how Father would rather not leave her alone. I told them I was able to make the trip, but they were unsure about letting me go alone, and the younger ones are still not yet grown enough to go without them worrying.

 

At this point, Kate almost gasped. The Bridgertons unable to make the trip! All the schemes and plans they had talked about fell to the dust.

 

Luckily, they have told me that old Lady Danbury will be coming to Aubrey Hall tomorrow fortnight. I think I will be able to wheedle our parents to let at least a couple of us go back with her. Benedict and Colin had the time of their lives last summer, and I know that Daphne is raring to see Edwina again, though she is already too lady-like to admit to such sensations.

Rest assured, we will be having the race when we get to Danbury’s. I know you said that you were to beat me fairly this year, but somehow I cannot believe it.

 

Regards,

 

Anthony

 

Heart light once again, Kate returned to eating breakfast with vigor. After all, Anthony could manage it, and she had no reason to doubt his words.


Their reunion took place on an unseasonably cold, indoors sort of day, so the pair lounged inside the library, playing cards.

“I cannot believe that you have another baby brother,” Kate marveled. To have seven children! It was admirable. And a little terrifying. Kate could distantly remember the sounds coming from Mary’s room as she gave birth to Edwina; that, coupled with what she had heard about childbirth in the intervening years was not a picture of bliss.   

“Do you not? I would not be surprised if I had yet another one by next summer.” There was something in his mirth that escaped her, a hidden joke in his smile. It reminded her of the jokes that she had heard the servants mutter to each other when the news of Gregory Bridgerton’s birth had been announced. Then, as now, she was unable to decipher the meaning.

“What does that mean?” Kate said, determined to not be left out of the loop.

Smirking, Anthony simply rearranged his cards. “What does what mean?”

“Why would you not be surprised?”

“My dear Miss Sharma,” he said, in that patient tone that got under her skin, “I simply mean that it is not surprising that my parents have had another child.”

“If you are being difficult, then I shall simply stop talking. You just want to tease me.”

“I am not teasing! But perhaps you should ask Mary instead. She is probably more able than me to explain something of that nature.”

And away went Kate, confident that Mary would speak to her honestly. However, by the end of a tactful but brutally clear explanation on the origin of babies, she had rather wished her mother was less honest; as the conversation went on, Kate had not known where to look. In fact, Kate was quite unable to meet her eye for the rest of the afternoon.

“Kate!” Anthony said, once he had found her again. “Where have you-"

But as soon as she raised her face to his, he wisely fell silent.

“Shall we resume our game?,” he asked instead. And wishing to see her acting as Kate again, he added, “Unless you have gotten tired of losing?”

It was ungentlemanly to goad, but it really did the trick. Kate came to and mustered her spirits admirably.

“That is a cheap shot, Mr. Bridgerton, as you well know. And untruthful to boot,” she said. Hesitating only a moment, she stuck her chin in the air. “And about what you said…I have talked to Mary about it, so that is that.”

At her statement, Anthony’s eyebrows shot up, but he simply motioned for her to lead the way, and off to the library they went.


That dreary first day was an omen of the following week, as Kate and Anthony found out to their chagrin.

“Surely you cannot spend another day indoors,” Anthony said as Kate announced her intention to go to the library.

“It is hardly good enough weather to go out,” replied Kate. “Unless you want to be sick and shivering for the rest of the week.”

“What are you talking about, it is not even drizzling!” Pointing out of the window, he gestured to the sky. It was overcast, to be sure, but he was right. There was nary a drop of rain.

Still, Kate had that…feeling in her chest. The tight, panicked ball of lead that always happened around the hint of a storm. The clouds seemed to be gathering, and that always–

“–ride out today? Kate?”

Shaking her head slightly, Kate focused on her friend again. “Pardon?”

“Shall we ride out again today?” Anthony repeated. He tilted his head. “Are you alright?”

“Yes!” The answer was too quick, too forceful. “Why would I not be?”

Anthony looked a little taken aback. “Truly, if you want to stay indoors, we can play rummy again. Or I can teach you how to play piquet.”

But Kate could see the worry in his eyes, and she hated it.

“No, you were right. We have stayed inside far too long. Let me go get ready.” Steeling herself, Kate strode away.


Of course, it was only a half hour later when she found herself cowering under a tree, eyes shut and unable to breathe as the thunder rumbled above them.

“Kate!”

“Anthony, I-I cannot…”

Her hands clenched as she wrapped her arms around her knees, her nails digging sharp points of pain into her palms.

“It is alright, Kate, you are alright,” Anthony whispered her name as he tried to soothe her, stroking her back. “I am here, and you are safe.”

He reached out to gently grab her hand. “Kate, look at me.”

“I cannot!”

“I am here, Kate, and you are safe,” he said once more, and Kate forced herself to open her eyes. All she could see through her tears was Anthony, and she threw arms around him. He took it in his stride, continuing to rub her back as she tried to pull through.

They stayed like that, the two of them, until the storm passed – as the storm always passes, she reminded herself. Anthony insisted that she ride pillion on the way back; Kate felt his breathing, calming her with each passing minute.

Brushing off the concern of the stablehands with a noncommittal grunt, Anthony helped her down.

“Kate!”

Mary and Edwina rushed out, identical in their concern.

“I am sorry, Mary, Edwina,” Kate said, quiet. “We rode out, and the storm happened before we could get back.”

“But you are covered in mud! Did you fall?” said Mary, checking Kate’s face for injuries.

“Only as we were getting to shelter,” Kate said, a twinge of guilt at her lie. As she met Anthony’s eyes, she willed him to understand. “As soon as I bathe and rest, I will be alright.”

Please go along with this. The last thing I want is for them to worry.

Anthony seemed to understand, but he said nothing, could only look on uneasily, as Kate was bundled into the house and out of his sight.


“Thank you,” she said when she found him later. Mary had delayed her, making sure that she was uninjured, thoroughly dry, and warm before letting her down to dinner. Anthony still looked apprehensive, so she continued, “For calming me down, and for not telling Mary and Edwina about what happened. They would worry too much.”

“I see,” he said, slow and grave.

“And I would…rather not talk about it.”

Anthony only nodded, and though Kate knew her secret was safe with him, it troubled her, in a way she could not quite express.


At sixteen, Kate had her first brush with true selfishness.

It had happened at the ebb of winter, with a rare visit from her father’s brother. Mary’s quick dismissal of her daughters after lunch aroused suspicion in Kate, who quietly crept up to the closed study door.

“The interest from George’s trust only yields half of what it used to these days,” Mary had said. “And I need to be able to retain as much of my dowry for Kate and Edwina. I would not ask if we needed it, but is it possible–“

“I think we both can agree that I have been more than generous to you and your daughters,” Uncle John interrupted. “However, I am only one man. How am I to maintain my own household, and yours? Unless you have reconsidered my earlier offer.”

“John…”

“It has been above seven years, Mary. You cannot be in mourning forever.”

“John! Please. You know my answer, and it is unchanged.”

For several agonizing moments, Kate could only hear silence.

“Then I shall take my leave. I wish you luck with the future.”

As the footsteps approached the door, Kate darted back to her room, heart hammering all the while.

When Mary had reemerged, she looked as serene and composed as ever, and Kate, unwilling to  reveal her eavesdropping, said nothing. And as it seemed that Mary was unwilling to speak, Kate endeavored to put it out of her mind.

It took several months, but Kate could begin to discern the purse strings tightening. First, the carriage was to be let go, then dinners became less varied. The repurposing of dresses, which had been encouraged before, was now a necessity. Still, Mary remained cheerful, and continued to encourage her and Edwina in their previous pursuits.

As summer approached, Kate became more nervous that Lady Danbury’s most recent invitation would be declined. Unlike the previous years, Mary had not sent her acceptance within the week. They had no carriage, and Kate knew that travel required money – how could they make the journey?

 

Anthony,

 

I am afraid I still cannot tell you when we are to arrive at Lady Danbury’s. A lot of things have changed here, and I am still unsure I do not  I will let you know as soon as possible, when Mary has made the arrangements. You need not work yourself up to desperation – as excellent as your father is, stealing the carriage and taking it all the way to Somerset would be hard to justify.

 

 And how on earth would you be able to drive it?

 

I shall see you and your family soon.

 

Your friend,

 

Kate

 

Kate had nothing to fear, however, as another, rather written-through envelope from Danbury’s estate soon arrived.

After reading the letter, Mary could barely hold back her laugh.

“Well, girls, it seems that we are to go to Lady Danbury’s this summer after all.”


Though she was desperate to go to that place that had for two summers made her incalculably happy, she found that more confusion awaited.

For it was the year Anthony was to go to Oxford at last – he was on the cusp of adulthood, and Kate could feel it keenly. There had been something, something that had shifted in their relationship that year – something unsettled, something thrilling. And this always led to immediate shame; this was Anthony, one of her dear friends, one who was almost a brother to her, who thought of her as a sister.

She desperately pushed back against such thoughts, cursing her treacherous imagination. Kate had begun to pride herself on her ability to see the world as it was, and to be perturbed like this was a sore point.

For it was surely in her imagination, those sidelong glances from Anthony as they walked side-by-side. It seemed as if his eyes would dart away just as she looked at him, but Kate could never be sure.

What was not in her imagination, however, was the omnipresent chaperone that always remained in the background; Mrs. Bowery, a ladies maid who was almost intimidating as the mistress she served. Lady Danbury had stated that they were now of an age where it was simply improper to wander as they had used to.

“Think of it as practice for London society,” the Lady had said, holding up her hand when both had protested. “Both of your parents’ have agreed that this is necessary, and this is my estate. And know that I will not be pleased if I catch wind of any schemes to circumvent this situation.”

Neither dared to oppose their hostess, and so the chaperone went wherever they went, always watching.

“Let us go boating,” Anthony said, one bright morning. As Mrs Bowery made a disapproving noise, he amended his suggestion. “Alright then, let us go fishing.”

No more disapproving noises followed, though Mrs Bowery’s expression clearly announced what she thought of young men who brought their lady friends to an activity such as fishing. Fortunately for the matron’s sense of propriety, fishing bored Kate out of her mind.

“Let us ride down to the village,” said Kate. “Surely the mud will be gone by now, and we can take our time, go the long way around.”

An idea entered Anthony’s head. “That is a good idea. And, I have also brought my shotgun from home–“

“Absolutely not,” was Mrs. Bowery’s firm reply.

“Fine!” Anthony burst out, exasperated. “We shall go riding and visit the village, then come back and have dinner as proper members of society.”

“Really, Anthony, you are getting as dramatic as Benedict and Colin combined these days. And you are always smug about being above that sort of thing.”

Unreasonably amused by his resulting outrage, Kate went to fetch her riding gloves.


“I am sorry that you have to go so soon,” Kate said to Anthony as the Bridgertons took their leave, a fortnight earlier than usual. “And I know that Oxford leaves precious little time to write, but I will be waiting for your letters anyway.”

“I would expect nothing less from you, Kate,” Anthony said, about to pull her into a hug. At the last minute, he settled for a gallant kiss on the hand instead. “Take care, Miss Sharma. And you too, Miss Edwina, Lady Mary.”


It was not a week later that Kate received his fateful letter.

 

Kate,


I cannot believe that I am writing this, I still cannot believe – my father.

 

Kate read with a growing horror. The Viscount, who had that past month been the pillar of health, had died. Had not only died in a senseless, horrible incident, but in his son’s arms, who could only watch, helpless and terrified. Every sentence, every word, rang with a loss and fury that she could understand too well.

She mourned for him, for his grief and the grief of his family. What could she possibly say in a mere letter? And she was unable to go to him directly, to comfort him as he needed.

It was all Kate could do to pen her condolences, to write exclamations of sorrow, of distress, and of promises to be a supportive listener, and to help however she can.

Oh Anthony, she thought as she wept. How I wish I could do more.

The response that she received, a week later, was appreciative, but there was a numbness in it that made her ache.

Only you, out of my friends, understand what we are going through right now. Thank you, Kate. You have no idea what a great comfort you have been to me.  

As the Sharmas returned home, Kate was determined to continue the correspondence, to support her friend that had so recently had his world collapse. But real life, which had been so long lurking under the surface, could not be kept at bay.

“Kate.” Her mother's voice was odd, too hoarse. “Come here, I need to talk to you.”

Obediently, Kate stepped inside the study.“Yes, mama?”

“Close the door, Kate.”

Uneasiness growing in her stomach, Kate did as she was told.

“Mama, what is the matter?”

“It is the house, Kate. We shall have to leave.”

Her uncle, the interest, their dowries. A million thoughts flashed through Kate’s mind, that winter afternoon – the interrupted plea, the insinutations, the choice that Mary had faced alone. Kate was bursting with questions, but as she saw her mother’s face, she knew that this was not the time to crumble.

Instead, she took a deep breath.

“Alright. What do we have to do?”


Kate grew up, that autumn. She was no longer the carefree girl from merely a twelvemonth prior, but one that had to learned to shoulder the burdens that her mother would have otherwise had to carry alone.

And as the months ticked on, as Kate and Anthony’s responsibilities had ground themselves into comfortable grooves within their lives, disappointments became routine. The promise to meet at Danbury's the next summer came to naught, as did the promises to wait on each other in Somerset or Kent. Eventually the letters became more and more scarce, until they ceased altogether.

It happened quietly, but surely. The friendship of Miss Sharma and the Viscount Bridgerton was no more.