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“You know that is quite impossible.” Clara Burbank declared as she pushed her friend’s wheelchair along the path, her eyes following Harold as he chased his new puppy down one of the circular paths of the garden. In an instant boy and dog disappeared behind a copse of bushes.
“One hesitates to disagree with a friend, naturally,” Lady Lucinda Grimsby began in a tone that promised she was not overset by the delicacy of this particular social challenge. “However, I have found that it is, in some extraordinary instances, entirely possible for beautiful young heiresses of marriageable age to attend private chaperoned evening events without undue damage resulting to their persons or reputations. Assuming, of course, that all reasonable precautions have been taken.” Clara rolled her eyes at this pithy little declaration. “Generally speaking, the other attendees manage to go on and live normal lives afterwards.”
“Really, and was your analysis conducted with a large population of murderesses?” Clara challenged. That was, after all, the point.
“You are not a murderess!” Lucinda protested fiercely.
“I assure you that the mere speculation that I might be one adequately discourages any marriage-minded mamas from allowing their precious off-spring to attend a function in my company. There are vanishingly few parents who are eager to take the place of my own.” The last six years had taught Clara as much as any lady needed about the value of a good reputation, and the staggering cost of a bad one. Clara would never be welcome amongst her peers. Respectable ladies could not risk their reputation by association with hers, and Clara could not compromise the small shred of decency still attached to her name by frequenting anything less than respectable ladies. The only other lady she knew who lived on precisely that same knife edge of respectability was Lucinda.
“I do not believe that there is a single gentleman of my acquaintance who continues to obey his mother’s dictates in the matter of the company he keeps. I tend to find those that are so burdened with filial duty singularly uninteresting.” Clara’s lips twitched at eloquent dismissal. Lucinda herself had once been a very proper and obedient daughter. Her unwanted marriage, and the disastrous results, had convinced her of the wisdom of following her own council, rather than being ruled by blind obedience to parental decrees. “In any event, I merely suggested that you attend a small, intimate gathering at my home. Your aunt’s retreat to Bath could not have come at a more opportune time.”
“She intends to stay a fortnight, perhaps more this time.” Clara conceded. Aunt Augusta, their father’s much elder sister, had become guardian to Clara and her brother, Harold, when their parents had perished in a fire. It was that double tragedy that Clara was suspected of orchestrating.