Spinster Ever After – Rebecca Connolly

“Capital idea! I wish I’d thought of it, but I am never the genesis of good ideas. Still, I will die on the battlefield for your idea, see if I don’t.” “I don’t imagine we will be facing any battlefields in this…” Charlotte Wright looked at her friend Georgiana Allen as though the girl were a simpleton, which she might actually have been. Could she really not see that, in doing this, they would be waging a war? “What do you think a ballroom is but a battlefield?” Charlotte sputtered, reaching for the fresh cup of tea that sweet Isabella Lambert had made for her. “Do we not gird ourselves with armor before we go in?” Izzy wrinkled up her nose as she handed Georgie her tea. “I’ve never considered silk or muslin to be armor myself.” Georgie snickered a laugh while Charlotte gave the best soul in the room a dark look. “No, because you are the nicest creature in any ballroom at any given time, so why would you? Everyone is good and kind and has the very best intentions. You don’t need armor, Izzy, you’re immortal.” “Impervious, too, apparently.” Charlotte ignored this comment and returned her attention to the more fallible of the two. “I can assure you that Society as a whole will rise up in arms against us. Spinsters not particularly caring that they are so? And speaking about it? It will upset the entire balance. I cannot wait to begin.” Georgie looked troubled for the first time.

“I don’t mean for us to incite a rebellion or to recruit followers…” “We are hardly Jacobins,” Charlotte retorted without shame. “Don’t look so scandalized. I only mean that it will be quite a noise we create, and it will make such a difference to the other young ladies of Society.” “That is what we hope for,” Izzy assured her, her relief evident. “After what poor Elizabeth Daniels suffered…” Charlotte waved a dismissive hand, cutting her friend off. “Elizabeth was a fool, and that is a rather common predicament. We most certainly have something to say about that, do we not?” She quirked her brows, taking a long and silent sip of her tea. “Now, what does Emma have to say about this, hmm?” Emma Asheley was Georgie’s other half, in many respects, though the same could have been said for Izzy, as her cousin, and it was generally known that Emma and Georgie were approaching the actual spinsterdom shelf. Society had written them off despite the lack of an actual discriminating age. Apparently, it was behavior more than a number with regards to their marriageable state.

Izzy, on the other hand, was the sweetest creature Charlotte had ever met, but it was clear she would follow in the same course as the other two. Already spinsters and not yet decrepit or faded, Society said. It was not fair, but it was the truth where those three ladies were concerned. They were also some of Charlotte’s oldest friends. Charlotte was, of course, of a similar age with the lot of them, but there was one particular difference that kept her from the same harsh categorization. She was an heiress. Money erased all sorts of sins. But Charlotte did not care about the money apart from what opportunities it afforded her, and the protection it gave her. She wanted a love match. All girls did, she presumed, but she was one of the rare few who could actually insist upon it.

And insist she would. “Emma is unsettled,” Georgie admitted, wrinkling her nose a little, “but she is for it. She thinks writing some articles would be useful, but she suggests we do not put our names to them.” Charlotte raised a brow at her. “Anonymous? Interesting idea. She fears being labeled?” Izzy cleared her throat softly. “She believes it could spare all of us the worst of things if we would refrain from attaching ourselves to anything.” That was certainly a thought, but it would not spare everything. “They’ll know who we are,” Charlotte warned. “Even if they don’t know who writes which article.

They’ll still know it’s us.” “But with enough blame to spread around,” Georgie said, “pointing fingers would be impossible.” A slow smile spread across Charlotte’s face, and she settled into her chair more comfortably. “Then I declare the first meeting of the Spinster Chronicles authors to be open.” “We’ll never get married after this,” Izzy warned with a laugh. “Everyone will say so, no matter what our charms. Or our fortunes,” she added, nodding to Charlotte. Charlotte barked a hard laugh. “Balderdash! I say I will marry, if and only if I can find a love that pales all other loves to persuade me out of what is sure to be a most glorious spinsterhood.” Chapter One London, 1820 Decisions should always be conscientiously made, and even more conscientiously acted upon.

There is no sense in being careless in decisions or waf ling about. More’s the pity if a careless decision is made, for one should stand by one’s decisions. All the more reason, then, to make them carefully. -The Spinster Chronicles, 24 November 1815 Marriage was not a foreign concept to Charlotte Wright. She doubted it was a foreign concept to any person of the female gender in England. It would surprise a great many people to know that she did not consider it a foreign concept, however. She could hardly blame them, considering she was a spinster, and a Spinster with a capital S, as well. Which of those sins was the greater evil, no one could say, nor did they dare. Charlotte was one of the most respected and most popular heiresses in London. She did not suffer under any delusion that people felt any less about her involvement in the Spinster Chronicles than they had with her friends.

She had no doubt she was reviled behind closed doors in some circles and hailed behind others. She was not married. By definition, spinster was an entirely appropriate description and category. Most particularly because Charlotte had been given ample opportunities to marry. To date, she had received fourteen offers of marriage from ten different men, none of which had been revoked despite her refusals. Kind, respectful, but adamant refusals. Somehow, she was less of a spinster for being wealthy and refusing proposals. Her mother wanted her to accept a proposal. Her father wanted her to accept a proposal. Her brother wanted her to accept a proposal.

She had no doubt all of Society wanted her to accept a proposal. But Charlotte had not wanted to accept any of those proposals, and so she had not. Her family had not pressed her, and for that she was grateful. She was well aware of her good fortune in that regard, as several other ladies, including some of her friends, were very much pressured by family into marriages. Even forced into some. It was not that she hated marriage, or despaired of it, or found great satisfaction in her life as a spinster. Not even putting a capital S on the thing could take away the sting of such a label. Yet she had not despaired of being a spinster, either. She had found the greatest friends in being so and meaning in her life beyond being a pretty fixture at Society events with a sizeable fortune behind her name. All anybody talked about in Society was the marriage status of various members.

It was the most social topic by far, and there was no use in denying it. Charlotte had known this from before her very first Season, and nothing about the conversation, or the marriage state, had particularly surprised or interested her. No, marriage was not a foreign concept by any means. It had simply never been an avenue of interest. Until now. How did one go about marrying? She knew the conventional process, of course; she had dallied with the thing for ages. But she had grown so accustomed to engaging in attention from eligible men while politely refusing their offers of marriage that she wasn’t entirely sure how to adjust things appropriately. And she still clung to the one thing she had always said would be her reason for marriage: she would only marry for love. Sweeping, dizzying, fall to one’s knees for the pain of it love. Nothing more and nothing less.

No marriage of convenience, for nothing about marriage would be convenient for her. No marriage of comfort, for what comfort could be greater than she already knew? No marriage in name, for what in the world would be the point of that? It would be a love match or nothing at all for Charlotte Wright. It had always been that way, but now… Well, now she felt rather abandoned. The last five glorious years had been spent reveling in her unmarried state, embracing it publicly just as she had done privately. And she had not done so alone. The Spinster Chronicles had exceeded anybody’s expectations, becoming one of the most popular news sheets around town, if one could call it a news sheet. It was really more of a Society commentary, but the fervor might as well have been newsworthy. Izzy’s cousin Frank, their benevolent publisher, had never been more pleased in his life, they had been told, and there was some question of increasing the output of the page. Considering they already published at least once a week, if not more, that could hardly be accomplished. And then there was the matter of the Spinsters with a capital S no longer containing many spinsters of the lower-case S variety.

Of the original members, only Charlotte remained unmarried. She did not mind being unmarried; she only minded that nobody else was. Perhaps she was not so very independent after all. Sitting here in her personal parlor, Charlotte glumly stared out of the window, the downpour outside matching all too perfectly the dismal nature of her mood. What else could she be but dismal at a time like this? Every single one of her friends had cried off on gathering today, leaving her to sit here alone with no one to talk to, no ideas on what to write for the Chronicles, and no one to confide her terrifying plan to. Unless she brought in her brother. Charlotte shuddered at the thought. Charles would never behave in the way that Charlotte would need him to, whatever that was, and the plan would not stay secret for longer than it took him to exit the room and find a body to talk to, be they servant, corpse, or monarch. There were no secrets in the Wright family. Neither was there creativity or originality, as evidenced by the names chosen for the children, but that was neither here nor there.

Lottie wasn’t Charlotte’s favorite pet name, but it did lessen the confusion in the household, and her brother adamantly refused to be called Brutus. That did not stop Charlotte from referring to him as such, but she was the younger sister. It was expected of her. Either way, she would not bring the man into her confidence in this matter. She was not so desperate as that. After all, she had only come to her decision a few weeks ago, and only out of boredom with no one but Lieutenant Henshaw for company. Their mutual wager on each other’s marital status was made in good humor, but there was a thread of pressure running through it. The first to wed would win a hundred pounds from the other, as well as have their name bestowed on the other’s firstborn child. It had been a silly idea born from boredom, though that did not change the stakes. Henshaw would win, there was no doubt about that.

Unless one were blind as well as obtuse, it was impossible not to know precisely where his affections lay. The only challenge he would face would be the lady herself, as she was shy, modest, and perfectly unreadable as to her emotions. Without guile and in every way ideal. There was no way for the poor man, or anyone else, to have complete confidence in her own affections or her answer. Charlotte knew, of course, as she always knew everything. She also knew that if Hensh would be a little less insecure and a little more romantic, he would have an easy time of it. He’d be best suited to a proper and dedicated courting of the lass. There was nothing like pointed attention to bring the heart aflutter. A quiet, sweet courtship that Society barely noticed. That’s what they needed.

It was assuredly the best way for them to proceed. Now that she had determined how to get Hensh married, surely her own efforts would come easily enough. But alas, matchmaking for one’s self was never so simple. Hensh would never ask Charlotte’s opinion on how to proceed in romantic affairs. He knew as well as anybody that, for all her collection of would-be suitors, Charlotte had no real experience in the thing. She had never, ever been courted. How in the world any man truly expected Charlotte to accept his hand in marriage without proper courtship was beyond her. Some poor lads were convinced that merely spending time in her company amounted to such a thing, and they were sadly disappointed. Now, looking back on it all, it was Charlotte who was most disappointed of all. How could she not have gained a single worthy admirer in all the years she had been out? For heaven’s sake, she was an heiress! A beautiful one at that, and she had several sources to testify to the fact! How could every one of her professed lovers be lacking? What in the world had she been doing all these years? Of course, she knew the answer.

She had been enjoying the life of a spinster, in which there was no harm or sin, but now she had nothing but the fortune and beauty she had been born with to show for it. She had her friends, of course, but her friends were not here. Which brought her back to the situation at hand. Charlotte groaned and turned away from the window, glowering at the empty parlor. This was how her thoughts had been of late; always going round and round until they came right back to the same problem, the same defenses, the same process of consideration. She had not gotten anywhere, and her lack of intelligence in this area was more maddening than the situation itself. Surely there was someone who could give her some insight. Georgie was tending her son, who had managed to come down with a cold. Prue was in her confinement. Izzy was unwell, which likely meant she, too, would have a blessed announcement shortly.

Grace was taking tea with her mother, which undoubtedly could have been pushed off. Edith was in Scotland with her new husband, most assuredly reveling in bliss. And Elinor… Charlotte shuddered, rubbing at her brow. Elinor was spending time with her husband, she had said. That was undoubtedly the worst possible excuse of them all, considering the identity of the aforementioned husband. Idiotic girl. She could have invited Kitty Morton, she supposed, but Kitty, bless her, was not much for company on her own. Where was Michael when she needed him? She pursed her lips, calculating quickly. He ought to be back in London by now; if she sent for him, it may prove fruitful. He had been gone far too long, leaving her to resort to keeping more company with Hensh.

It was not good for a lady to spend much time in the company of a single man she has no intention of marrying. Or so she had been told. Hensh was like a brother to her, and Michael was, too. More so, even, for Michael had been her friend since they were children. And he scolded her like a brother, as if there needed to be more discipline in her life. Not that her own brother had scolded her, for Charles was far too obtuse and obsessed with his own entertainment to care about her antics. Unless they interfered with his wishes, and then they would have a perfectly frightful row until he gave in and stormed off. They were due for another soon. But yes, she could send for Michael. If nothing else, she could regale him with tales of all that he missed while he was away.

He wasn’t as dedicated to Society as she was, but he was just as informed. His opinions on the recent actions they had taken for Edith, for example, would be most interesting to hear. He had been away for their attempts to show her off in Society, for their escape to Lord Radcliffe’s country estate, and for the dramatic manner in which Edith had finally been freed from her lascivious cousin by marriage. It seemed impossible that he could have missed so much, or that he could have stayed away so long, and yet… Settling it in her mind, Charlotte rose and moved to the door of her parlor. “Annie! Annie, are you still out there?” “Yes, Miss Wright!” came the distant reply. Footsteps soon echoed in the corridor. “No, don’t come to me,” Charlotte called back. “Will you see that Mr. Sandford is sent for, please?” “Yes, Miss Wright!” “Charlotte, must you bellow?” her mother moaned from somewhere nearby in the house. Charlotte grinned, eyeing the massive ancestral portraits hanging on the walls above her as though her mother were among them.

“You bellowed too, Mama!” “Lottie, leave Mother alone,” her father’s voice echoed, his amusement evident. “Sorry, Papa!” Charlotte snorted a laugh, covering her mouth. “You are all mad!” Charles hollered, no humor to be heard in his voice. Rolling her eyes, Charlotte ducked back into her parlor and flopped onto a divan. There were not as many benefits to having a fine house if they all stayed in rooms close enough to hear each other. It was trouble enough to manage privacy with their ingrained level of curiosity, but to be cloistered in such proximity? She adored London, but one must surely go to the country to find any space to breathe. Her eyes widened. She must truly be bored beyond reason if she was wishing herself at Brancombe Park. The place was expansive, sprawling even, but it was also in the middle of Oxfordshire with nothing at all to amuse anybody for ten miles around it. Unless one enjoyed quaint villages, busybodies, and hordes of local children that seemed to increase in number at an exponential rate.

Her annual visits with the family had long given Charlotte the opinion that the village of Cambryn was in desperate need of a gamekeeper to control the number of locals. And perhaps to stock some strapping men of a certain attractiveness to work at the blacksmith’s or stride out in regimentals or farm the lands.

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