An Excerpt from
“Can any of you honestly say she hasn’t thought about it?”
Silence reigned; teacups hovered between saucer and mouth. Eyes flitted away with guilt—or secret shame, unwilling to admit that it had indeed crossed their minds.
“You’re not being fair,” one chided softly.
“But who genuinely wants this for the rest of their lives?”
“There’s nothing wrong with being a governess,” another chimed in.
“Of course not. Not if one disregards the fact that for women of our station it signifies a lowering of one’s situation. We were not born to be in service.”
“It’s not quite service, per se . . .”
“How is it anything else? We are being paid to render a service. Our lives are theirs to dictate. I cannot even count the number of times I have been called upon to even out the numbers at a dinner party. And they think they are bestowing some great honor upon me when they know full well I have attended more illustrious tables than theirs.”
“Now you’re just being aggressive.”
“And I dislike being termed ‘one whom another pays for a service,’” said another. “It makes me feel dirty, like a . . .”
“Say it, dear. A whore. We are being paid for a service, which in essence is exactly what a whore is paid for.”
“I believe my half day is nearly up. It is a long walk back, and the children will be expecting me back for their evening meal. I have no wish to be caught in the rain.” A small redhead pulled on her gloves and left the room.
“Louisa, what is the matter with you? You know very well your logic is flawed. The whole of the working class are paid for services; it is only a minority who have a negative stigma attached to them, and that is based on the service they render, not simply the fact that they are getting paid.”
Louisa sighed and sipped her tea. “I didn’t mean to offend anyone.”
Claire patted her arm. “We know. And Sara knows that, I’m sure.”
Bonnie spoke up. “What caused this rant, Louisa? You are not usually so ferocious in your opinions.”
Staring into her tea, Louisa said, “The Waldrons had a house party last week. One of my brother’s friends was a guest.”
“When he first saw me, he seemed genuinely delighted. And he was. I welcomed his compliments and platitudes because it reminded me of how my life had been before . . . well, before. But when his attentions became more marked and aggressive, I knew the truth. All he said was . . . he said . . . that surely I must expect this as part of my duties.”
“Did you—I mean did he—”
“One thing I can thank my brother for is teaching me how to defend myself against unwanted male attention.” A small smile accompanied Louisa’s words. Twin sighs of relief escaped her two friends, and she raised her eyes to theirs, beseeching their understanding. “There must be more to life for us than this. We were raised to expect better.”
“But how?” asked Bonnie. “None of us earn enough money to live independently for the duration of our lives, and our marriage prospects have dwindled more quickly than our social statuses.”
“It’s not like we have regular exposure to the kind of gentlemen who would elevate us back up anyway, even if they could,” Claire joined in. “The gentlemen we work for are already married, and their friends see us as nothing more than sport, if they see us at all. We can no longer trust gentlemen of the titled class.”
“But who says we need a man or marriage to escape our positions? And who says that independent means isolated?” Louisa asked.
“I don’t think I quite follow,” Bonnie said.
Louisa turned to Claire. “Have you made any progress on Ridgestone?”
Claire blinked. “No, but my father’s—my solicitor remains optimistic.”
“And each of us has been saving our wages, correct? Even Sara, I’m sure.” At the confirming nods, Louisa became more adamant. “We could do it.”
“We could pool our resources and live independently, yet not isolated, and without marriage. Say we continue saving our money for three more years, five at most. That would give Claire ample time to see if regaining Ridgestone is possible and for us to save nest eggs capable of supporting us, albeit not in the style we were raised, but still comfortably. If Ridgestone is a possibility, then we already have a place to live. If not, then with all four of us contributing, we could afford a place large enough for the four of us.”