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Hope

 
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Clare Grey
Young Wyrm
Young Wyrm


Joined: 17 May 2017
Posts: 24
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Can Be Found: Arden, in Warwickshire
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PostPosted: Fri May 19, 2017 6:06 am    Post subject: Hope Reply with quote

March 1887: Chatham


King House in Chatham was a hive of activity. While Mr. Alfred King, owner of King's Shipping, was nowhere to be seen, his wife, Edith, was in her glory, directing servants to and fro with orders and directives as they bore packed trunks and unopened boxes to their intended places. Her excitement was infectious, putting smiles on the faces of her staff, but in a quiet bedroom high in the house, that excitement had not yet penetrated. This room was a refuge, sanctuary from the high hopes and strong ambitions that would soon become a daily menace for the elder of the King daughters.

Clare sat in the window, watching the ships moored in the harbor, her pensive mind playing over what was to come. This was to be her third Season - she had come out in society two years previously, and though she had made many friends among the elite of London society, she had not done the one thing her parents wished for most ardently; namely, the catching of a titled husband to raise their social standing. If she did not find one this Season, she would likely be deemed a failure, a spinster at 20 years old, and all her parents' hopes and ambitions would fall heavily onto the shoulders of her younger sister. Louisa was as yet only just sixteen - her debut would be next year, and Clare was desperately concerned that she would find herself in the same position as her elder sister had these past years.

It was not that Clare did not have charms about her. She was not too tall, nor too short, standing at 5'3" in her stockinged feet; her figure was slender where it was expected, and full where it counted; her complexion pale and porcelain, her skin smooth. Her manners and societal skills were the best money had been able to buy, and she had been a diligent student both at her finishing school and on the Grand Tour her governess had insisted upon before her first Season in London. The only thing about her that was perhaps startling was the flame-red of her hair, inherited from her father, the only part of herself she refused to have altered to fit fashion. Where other redheads in society bleached their hair to blonde, or darkened it to brunette, Clare was proud of her unruly curls and saw no reason to pretend she had been born without them just as they were.

Sadly, Clare's charms were not enough to cushion her potential suitors against her father's ambition, nor his over-weaning methods of attempting to fulfill that ambition. Her first Season, she had been courted by several young men of good family, only to have their attentions fall away abruptly after her father had joined the family in London. It was only through the gentle gossip of her friends that she had discovered why - Alfred King had taken the list of names his wife had supplied to him, and invited each young man to visit with him individually, whereupon he had informed them of his intention to bestow upon her an obscene dowry in return for their title in his bloodline. Young men being what they are, it became the talk of the clubs, and Clare was relegated to the sidelines, to become a beautiful wallflower, a young lady whose family was considered too vulgar to risk courting.

She knew she was lucky in her friends, in the young women of noble birth and the upper classes who had brazened out their families' disapproval to cultivate her friendship despite it all. After all, she was no threat to their matrimonial ambitions, and she knew well enough that a spinster needed friends disposed kindly toward her. But, oh, how she hoped that those ugly rumors would not resurface this year until her father chose to come to London. To have the opportunity to meet a gentleman she liked, to warn him ahead of time what her father would do the moment he thought there might be a chance ... it seemed to be her only hope. She did not wish Louisa to go through all this. If she, Clare, could make the match their parents' hoped for, Alfred King would not feel the need to interfere so very much in the younger daughter's courting experiences.

As though just thinking of her brought her into life, the door burst open to admit Miss Louisa King in nothing but her camisole and drawers, still gangling enough to pass for a child, her new corset hanging from her hand.

"Cee, this awful thing is dreadful," her younger sister declared, throwing both the corset and herself onto Clare's bed with a thump. "How can you possibly stand it?"

Drawn out of her thoughts, Clare laughed at the disheveled sight of her little sister. "If Mama sees you flouncing around in your drawers, she'll stripe your backside, Lu," she warned in amusement, twisting in her seat to face the bed. "And why the complaints? You begged to be allowed a corset this year."

Louisa scowled. "You never told me how uncomfortable it is to be all squished in," she pointed out grumpily.

"Then you were laced too tight," Clare told her with a fond smile. "A corset is not an uncomfortable thing, Lu, unless you are not wearing it properly."

"Or Mama bought one too small," Louisa objected, pushing herself to sit up. "Would you help me, Cee? I want to show it off in my new dress, but Emma laced it and I couldn't breathe!"

Rising to her feet with a warm chuckle, Clare took the corset from her sister's hand. "Stand up, then," she said gently. "We can't deprive you of the opportunity to show off your womanly figure in your first Worth gown."

There followed a flailing of limbs as Louisa allowed her sister to settle the corset about her waist, practiced fingers pulling the laces into place before beginning to draw them closed.

"I wish I could come to London with you," Louisa sighed as she held tight to the post of the bed - not that it was necessary, in Clare's opinion, but Louisa had a flare for the dramatic. "It's going to be so boring without you."

"The Season is not for the faint of heart, Lu," her older sister told her with wry amusement. "But perhaps, if I am successful early, Father could be prevailed upon to bring you to town for a while. You would not be able to attend the balls or salons, but you and I could walk in Hyde Park together and make calls. I am sure my friends would be only too happy to include you in invitations to private dinner parties and the theater."

"If you are successful early," Louisa sighed, standing straighter almost without thinking as Clare gently drew her laces tight. "I will try to make Father stay here for longer, Cee, but you know I cannot promise much."

"We have done everything we can," Clare agreed mildly. A new wardrobe from Maison Worth in Paris; narrowing down the list of those who might be pleasantly inclined toward her; even prevailing upon certain of her friends to talk her up to those they knew - they had done everything possible to make her attractive to the gentlemen and unmarried lords of London. It all depended now upon how great an impression she could make in person before her father made his move. "Just think, Lu ... if I am married by this time next year, I might be able to present you to the Queen."

"Oh, wouldn't that be lovely?" Louisa sighed happily, barely noticing the corset as her sister tied up the laces and tucked them neatly into the lining. "Not having to put up with dusty Great-Aunt Octavia and her modes of formal address for a young woman of consequence."

Clare laughed, leaning forward to kiss her sister's cheek. "Octavia adores you," she pointed out cheerfully. "You're too much like she was. And if she has her way, you'll make a far better marriage than I will, Lu."

"I don't want to be better than you," the younger complained, turning to embrace her sister fondly. "Is it all laced up?"

"Yes, you are laced properly," Clare promised her, laughing once again as Louisa began to bend and twist, testing the limits of her first corset in a hail of grunts and gasps. "You're not intending to perform gymnastics this evening, are you?"

Louisa stuck her tongue out at her sister, laughing herself. "One never knows," she teased, embracing Clare. "I had better dress before Mama catches me in my drawers."

"Yes, you had," Clare chuckled, waving her sister away.

As the door closed, she sighed, her smile fading as her pensive mood returned. She had to make a good match this Season, if only for Louisa's sake. She did not want to be a burden on her sunny, golden-haired sister, nor an embarrassment to her mother, who was already embarrassed enough for the fact of her own birth. They needed her to be bright and vivacious, to be brave enough to dare boldness should the opportunity arise without compromising her reputation. They needed her to be wed to a title, regardless of her own wishes. Perhaps, if she was very lucky, she would find an aged widower who liked her manners. A quiet life with an elderly husband who would not make too many demands upon her beyond the smooth running of his household ... yes. That would suit them all just fine.
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