At the dinner table that evening, Clare decided to broach the topic of her future to her family.
“You’ve been walking on eggshells around me since I was jilted, and I feel dreadful for causing you such discomfort.”
“Nonsense.” Her father’s voice was gruff. “You’ve held up remarkably well, all things considered.”
Her sister’s response was far more dramatic. “If it had been me, I would have taken to my bed for weeks.”
Lady Ladd gave Clare a sympathetic glance. “We’ve just been worried about you, dearest.”
“I know, and I love you for it. But you needn’t worry about me any longer.” Clare cleared her throat. “On Monday, I’m going away.”
“I concur.” Sir Andrew glanced up from his cucumber soup. “A holiday might be just the thing to take your mind off your troubles.”
“Yes, indeed, that’s a wonderful idea.” Lady Ladd seemed relieved. “Perhaps a few days in London will pick up your spirits?”
“If you’re going to Brighton, do take me along.” Nell’s expression was hopeful. “I’d love to go sea bathing.”
“I’m not going on holiday.” Clare paused to let a sudden rush of emotion relax its grip on her throat. “Grandmama left me her cottage just outside of Stroud and a reasonable income. I’m going there to begin a new life on my own.”
Her pronouncement was met with a long moment of shocked silence.
“No.” Her father finally erupted in protest. “Are you out of your senses? It’s not proper for you to live alone and unchaperoned.”
“Unchaperoned?” Clare’s laugh sounded bitter, even to her own ears. “Papa, we must face the fact I’m no longer a debutante whose reputation must be carefully guarded. Forgive me for speaking plainly, but I’m on the shelf. Your eldest daughter is a spinster.”
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