"M'lady, Mr Richard Jones is here. He wishes to see you," Harry, the butler announced quietly in the drawing room. My father, mother whom I fondly call 'mamma', uncle Dainty, his friend Patrick Sawyer and my eldest sister, Lady Laura all turned to look at me. I could not help the blush that crept up my neck to my chubby cheeks.
"Did you know he would pay you a visit today?" Father asked me.
I shook my head. "No, I did not."
"Well, it seems Mr Jones likes surprises and our dear Kathy's company. He simply cannot stay away," Laura said with a wink. I was sure my cheeks reddened some more. Being my eldest, she was a darling but teases so much it gets out of hand, sometimes.
Who would have thought any man would come calling at the Sussex estate to see me? My parents, Earl and Countess of Sussex, were blessed with three children —two girls and one boy, the heir apparent to everything my father owned. It was up to us ladies to make a good match and marry into a wealthy home so we could maintain our status in the society upper class.
Lady Laura was engaged to the Earl of Knightsbridge, Luke and their wedding was fixed to take place in three month's time. So her status and future was settled. Mine was unascertained and Mamma worried no man would look my way because I was a little fleshy and of average height.
Then I met Richard Jones on one of my visits to the bookshop to purchase some books for my father's library and we talked a little. He promised to call at the house but I dismissed it so as not to get my hopes up. And now he was here.
"Father?" I whispered gently. He smiled graciously and addressed Harry, "Show the gentleman in here."
Richard had a good time with my family and promised to call again with my father's permission, of course.
As I prepared for bed, I hummed a song while brushing my golden locks when Laura knocked and walked into my bedroom without my permission. I rolled my eyes. Very typical of her.
"Laura, what is it now? You should be in your bedroom, not mine."
"Don't be a brat. Shut up and listen. Why would you let Richard visit you again? He's got nothing good going on for himself."
"What? How could you say that?"
"I dare to say so because I am your sister and looking out for you," Laura replied with a serious look, her hands on my shoulder. I shook my head, a stray of my blond locks fell into my eye. She brushed it aside. I almost wept at the gesture but I doubted Laura's intentions were genuine.
"He says he's in charge of Durbam estate and oversees it. He's not the heir. He's the help! Can't you see, Kathy? You need a better match." Laura almost shrilled.
I removed myself from Laura's hands and sighed. "Don't be mean, Laura. Richard does a decent job and earns well. And no promises have passed between us yet."
"Well, do you have to wait for his promises? Let him go now…"
"No." I held my ground. I may not be as pretty and popular as Laura but I intended to make my own match. Laura paled a little at my insistence. "Please leave. I'd like to go to bed now."
Laura left quietly. I was unhappy and went to bed sad.
In the next few weeks, Richard Jones called and on two occasions took me out to dinner and to the opera. I got to know him more and really liked him but I noticed father was a little uncomfortable whenever Harry, our butler, announced his visit at the estate.
A month later, the unexpected happened. The Duke of Durbam estate passed away in his sleep. I did not see Richard for a week and admittedly, I missed him but couldn't tell this to anyone in my house.
"M'lady, there's a telegram for you." Harry lowered the silver tray containing the letter in front of me in the drawing room where I sat with mother, father and Laura.
"Oh. Who could it be?" Mother asked. I looked at the telegram and my heart skipped a beat.
"It's from Richard." I replied.
"Oh dear. He writes now? Is he tired of coming down here?" Laura mocked. I ignored her and opened the letter.
"Don't keep us in suspense, child. What does it say?" Father asked. I breathe fast because I was nervous and could not believe what I just read.
"He - Richard has inherited the Durbam estate. He's the sole heir and the Duke of Durham now!" I shrieked as I spilled out the content of the letter in summary form. Everyone stared at me with widened eyes.
"Good God!" Father whispered loudly. "Let me see that." He stretched out his hand and took the letter from me to read.
"She's right. The late Duke had no son, so Richard is now the Duke of Durham. And he promised to visit Kathy next Monday at supper time to formally ask me for my permission to marry her." Father read out loud and stared at me disbelievingly.
I cupped my warm cheeks in my palms and stared at my family. Mamma sat on the sofa beside me and embraced me. Father threw back his head and laughed out loud. "Who would have thought you, Kathy, would outrank us all? I am delighted to have the Duke of Durham as my son-in-law and my daughter, a duchess."
Mamma and I chuckled at father's proud words while Laura excused herself and left for her room quietly. I did not know whether she was happy for me but I was exhilarated. I could not wait to start a new life with my Richard Jones.
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