The Spinster Society
It is important to note that most stories of a dark and suspenseful nature begin on a stormy evening, with a full moon obscured behind violet clouds in an ominous sky streaked with lightning. There might even be rain, to that effect, to add a sort of soggy factor to than entire affair, and a heavy mist, to shroud things in mystery. An old decrepit manor home would be beneficial to the general atmosphere, as would creaking stairs and a rat or two.
Although this story begins with the aforementioned factors, it hardly qualifies as a story of a ‘dark and suspenseful nature'. Indeed, if anything, it is a story of unrequited love, forbidden passion, etc. Yet, that is an exaggeration. In truth, it is a story of the mumblings and bumblings of girls in society. But, it must be admitted, unrequited love and forbidden passion do sound infinitely more sophisticated.
It begins with two young girls creeping down a lonely hallway at the midnight hour, with curling papers adorning their heads. (Suffice it to say, curling papers are not the most intimidating objects in the world, though, in most cases, they do lend the wearer a certain frightening factor in appearance.)
The weather was very fierce that evening; gusty winds and heavy rain. Save the occasional flash of lightning, Celia and Emma had very little illumination to guide them down the narrow corridor of their boarding school, Barclove Academy-conveniently a decrepit old manor home.
The very daring of their midnight escapade was enough to afford them caution, though both could hardly repress rather imaginative ideas. Both wore padded slippers, which considerably softened their footfalls, yet they still held their breath for fear of discovery and hastened towards the room of their friend, Katherine and Meris, with all the speed they could muster in curling-papers and night-robes.
Broken laughter could be distinguished through the door; Celia gave a sharp rap before being admitted by Meris, pale and bright. "You have come at last!" she exclaimed, rather loudly for comfort, "do come in and join us!"
Celia and Emma were obliged to slip in quickly, tightening their robes as they entered the large and drafty apartment. Naturally, the lineage of Meris was enough to secure her the very best of rooms at Barclove (she was the only daughter of an earl, after all). No one in their right mind would dare offending her parents, the right honorable Lord and Lady Carlisle.
It was not a particularly comfortable room; rather more formal and grand than cozy. Attempts had been made to brighten it; various watercolours adorned the walls, not particularly well done, but cheerful all the same, and the necessary abundance of ribbons and lace were strewn about. Candles had positioned haphazardly about the area, upon the ground, on the windowsill, and atop several tables and other articles of furniture. Clothing and possessions were all in various stages of being packed, and trunks were open. Altogether, it was a rather cheery abode, despite the raging weather outdoors and the pelting rain upon the window.
"We though Batty Barclove had surely got you!" announced a sly Katherine Spence, who had immersed herself in a large chair nearest the mantle-piece. "Whatever took so long for you to arrive?"
Celia shrugged. "I should not have thought you would hasten down corridors in the dead of night," she replied, with a touch of sarcasm, "and we had to practice some degree of caution, after all. Who knows that the Bat would have done had she discovered us breaking her precious rules of conduct!"
Meris laughed. "What a speech she gave today! I thought it should never end! Mother did warn me that it would be rather brusque, but can you believe how cold and harsh she was?"
"Rather like a military-general," interrupted Celia, with a grin," ushering his troops into battle. Or, in this case, the ravages of London society."
"She could hardly help it," Emma argued, in her defense, as always, determined to see the best in people. "It is difficult for some to make long and candid speeches to a large number of people."
"I should scarce call half-a-dozen girls a crowd, Emma," Celia informed her, good-naturedly. "Though I applaud your effort to take up for the old bat."
They were referring, of course, to Miss. Amelia Barclove, the proprietress and headmistress of Barclove Academy. A stout old crow (or bat, as they referred to her) of two-and-fifty, whose strict rules and overbearing nature were quite renowned. As all good stories need a villain, she will assume the role for the time being.
Without further ado, Celia fell upon the floor and brought her knees up to her chin. The other company in the room soon followed suit, after Katherine's declaration of, "Enough chatter! Let us begin!"
They were all ready to listen. They had been looking forward to this particular meeting for weeks. It had, however, been difficult to manage, with Batty Barclove always about, prepared to swoop down and destroy all plans of secrecy and rebellion. Not that they were planning a revolt, however. Quite the contrary!
Though not particularly organized, they did manage to form a rather lopsided circle, and Katherine, who usually took up the post as leader, proceeded to name everyone in an elaborate fashion. This elicited some giggles, although many thought the action unnecessary. Katherine, however, was determined to be solemn and formal. "Lady Meris Howard, daughter of the Earl and Countess of Carlisle."
Meris wrinkled her nose at the title, but nonetheless answered, "Here."
"Miss. Celia Emerson, granddaughter of the Earl of Amherst."
Celia gave a stout, "Present!" all the while attempting to restrain laughter.
Katherine paused hesitantly and glanced at Emma, who had turned slightly red. The illustrious relations of Meris and Celia were magnificent, indeed. It was embarrassing enough that Emma had no the faintest idea of her own lineage. She had never known either of her parents, and had always considered them rather a sore subject.
Kat, realizing this, very hurriedly said, "Miss. Emma Bancroft."
Emma was only too grateful, and, therefore, said, "Here!" with every ounce of amiability.
"You cannot forget yourself!" cried Meris, who was rather oblivious to the embarrassment on the part of her friend.
"Alright! Alright!" By the expression upon her face, Katherine obviously considered this unnecessary.
"Miss. Katherine Spence, daughter of Mr. Henry and Mrs. Martha Spence."
Having fulfilled the request of Meris, Katherine took it upon herself to extinguish some of the candles, to lend the room a more mysterious appearance, before proceeding with her ‘speech'. "We have gathered this evening, in the company of our dearest friends, to make a solemn vow."
Celia, Meris, and Emma exchanged amused smiles, much to the chagrin of Katherine, who was determined to conduct the ceremony seriously.
"This vow-much as it seems to amuse some," she said acidly, instantly quelling the smiles, "is quite serious. In all actuality, it is a promise, a most faithful promise never to marry, or ever be convinced to enter that distasteful state known as matrimony. It is not a mere choice, my friends. When you make this pledge, you seal your father forever as a spinster!"
"Forever?" asked Emma, rather weakly. Her face had grown pale.
Katherine sighed. "Well, perhaps not forever. That is what a codicil is for, dear, but that comes later." She was obvious vexed for being interrupted at such a crucial moment in her speech, and Emma offered a short apology before allowing her to continue.
"I shall now pause to ask each one of you to contribute a reason for your determination never to marry."
Celia rolled her eyes. Meris protested. "This is not part of the plan," she whispered.
Kat smirked. "I am initiating the speech. Therefore, it is my decision."
There could be no other argument. Defeated, Meris withdrew into her own thoughts in order to procure a suitable answer.
Emma, meanwhile, had already volunteered. "I have little experience of men," she began hesitantly, in her usual gentle fashion, "but I understand them to be rather heartless creatures, and hardly suited towards faithfulness. My own aunt," she blushed unconsciously, "did not enjoy the benefit of a happy marriage, and, as a result, her husband abandoned her." Another, deeper blush. She had never told her friends of this occurrence before. "Therefore, she lived much of her life in social disgrace. And my uncle never returned to her."
Katherine, Meris, and Celia, all rather unnerved by such a terrible report, wondered how they could equal it. "That is such an excellent reason, Emma," Kat said, noticing Emma's discomfort. Seriousness forgotten, she gave her friend a quick embrace.
Celia was next. "From what I understand of London men, they are merely a bunch of dandies and rouges who have never completed an honest day's work in their lives. Furthermore, as my own grandfather has informed me, men, in general, are apt to marry for money and position. Therefore, I have come to the conclusion that love itself is merely an ideal, and is, in most cases, unattainable. I do not believe men have the power to love. And why marry yourself off to one who will only squander away your fortune and abandon you to tedious housekeeping and domestic chores whilst they go off to enjoy themselves?" Celia was rather well-known amongst her friends for her practicality, but even they were rather taken aback by her cynicism.
Celia's speech left Katherine at something of a loss. She could not recollect whose turn it was to recite. Fortunately, Meris was punctual. "As you all know," she began, " I have read one too many novels." The girls exchanged knowing looks. "And though many of my books have very favorable opinions in regard to matrimony, I really cannot believe that I would want to confine myself to one particular man. It just seems as though one would get bored."
"Bored!" cried Emma. She looked rather disappointed. Out of all in the group, she was the most reluctant to make the vow. Though not of a romantic nature, she did not enjoy the luxuries of wealth and the society that the other girls were blessed with. Marriage had always appeared the easiest escape from her current social position; the elevation to security and comfort.
Now Katherine was the only girl left to post her complaints against men in general. Without further ado, she began. "I have grown up with seven brothers, all of them unruly, obstinate creatures who enjoy nothing more than making my life miserable. It is enough to send on to the mental infirmary!" Here, Meris was rather taken aback.
"I must protest your abuse of brothers!" she cried, "because my own brother, George, is such an excellent fellow..."
Celia sighed. "As you are constantly reminding us." It was true. Meris truly delighted in spreading the praises of her brother. He had become something of a hero amongst the girls at Barclove, his praises sung far and wide, with Meris as his general promoter.
Katherine, angry at being interrupted, gave Meris a silencing glare before continuing. "I find men to be an unreasonable and immature species, always after something and never willing to offer any useful advice or assistance. I give my eldest brother, Tom, as an example. He recently married a sweet-tempered and amiable young woman from Bath, and has been so troublesome and cruel to her, that she is almost always in tears before him. He allows her to do nothing but sit at home and await his arrival. She is quite dependent upon the scoundrel." Katherine was, naturally, exaggerating for the benefit of the moral, but, as the remainder of the group appeared quite convinced, she felt little remorse. "I, for one, shall never lose my independence to a man." This was declared quite stoutly and seemed to seal the story segment. Everyone was properly impressed.
"Shall we hear any other contributions?" inquired Katherine. No one spoke, and, accepting silence as an answer, she resumed her speech.
"Let us compare marriage to a prison. Not only do you surrender your independence to a mere man, you give him all the benefits of your position in society, wealth, etc. As many of you have stated, men are cruel and horrid. The vilest creatures that roam the world ... except, perhaps, lions..."
"And governesses!" exclaimed Celia, who felt it was rather necessary to lighten the mood.
Katherine frowned at being interrupted. It did not take her long to continue, however. "We must protect ourselves against them, by whatever means necessary, to ensure our own safety."
At this point, everyone nodded decidedly.
Katherine took a deep breath. "Thus, with such evidence before us, and with understanding and acceptance of the terms I have laid before you, I must ask you to consider this pledge solemn and binding. Are you prepared to accept?" Pausing seemed the appropriate thing to do. It added a degree of suspense and sophistication to the entire affair.
Meris, Emma, and Celia strove to appear contemplative. It would hardly do not to consider such an oath. And Katherine was so very serious and somber, the feeling could not help but pervade throughout the room. After a lapse of a few minutes, however, they had all firmly made up their minds and were clamoring to take the pledge.
"Alright, alright!" Katherine cried, attempting to maintain some degree of order. "Everyone shall have their turn." She stood, brushing out her nightdress and straightening her curlers. Despite her humorous appearance, she elicited no laughter from her friends. Young girls delight in such novel practices, and consider them as seriously as they would anything. This meeting, in particular, held a degree of charm. The delight of having their own secret society, and the security that it afforded (for, indeed, they were all somewhat frightened of what the approaching Season had to offer) provided comfort. It promoted their friendship, and made it appear as though they would never be separated. In short, the appeal of the Spinster Society was immeasurable.
"Celia Emerson, approach the table." Katherine was referring to the rather makeshift piece of furniture positioned haphazardly near the window. Upon it, several candles were perched, as well as a variety of ribbons and various creams and lotions. Celia, following orders, somberly marched towards Katherine and stood before her.
"Celia Emerson, do you faithfully promise to uphold the various terms we have reviewed?"
Celia managed a firm, "I do."
"Do you promise to refuse all addresses of matrimony and all efforts of courtship?"
"Do you promise never to marry, nor allow yourself to be convinced, persuaded, or otherwise forced into the matrimonial state?
"Shall you promise to remain faithful to the Spinster Society, and protect the interests of its members? To defend their unmarried state, and advise them have they ever need? And never refuse assistance should assistance ever be required?"
"And should you ever consider marriage, do you promise to immediately consult with the Society, so that they may keep you from such a state?"
Katherine smiled. "In conclusion, and most importantly: Do you promise, Celia Emerson, to remain a spinster? To refuse all offers of matrimony, and encourage no affection?"
Without hesitation, Celia gave a very decided, "I do."
"Then I most happily induct you into the Spinster Society." Katherine appeared quite merry, even managing a slight smile. Celia stood rather awkwardly, as though awaiting dismissal. There was very little else that could be done. Knighting was out of the question, and Kat had no medallions or any other such trinkets to distribute. With a slight nod, Katherine had dismissed Celia and summoned Meris. The vows continued in much the same fashion. Emma proceeded afterwards, and, though rather hesitant, accepted them with decision. The problem of inducting Katherine arose, but Celia was happy to do the honors. Therefore, within a short amount of time, the newly inducted members of the Spinster Society assembled about their circle, holding hands.
"You mentioned, Katherine, earlier something about a codicil," Emma put in, after a few moments spent in silence.
Kat nodded. "So I did." Much of the solemnity had disappeared about her air, and her voice held a note of blithe brightness. She was apparently in good spirits.
Celia and Meris were quick to agree. To their own minds, the possibly of remaining spinsters forever seemed rather severe. It was not that they were not determined to remain unmarried, it was just more practical to imagine the state existing more in the matter of a few years. After all, they were only seventeen.
"Unanimous, we vow that if all shall agree, we may release a sister from her oath," said Katherine, after some consideration. They all repeated it, and a silver knife was brought out. It had twining jade leaves inlaid in the handle, and in the blade a moonstone flower was embedded, gleaming out of the darkness. Admittedly, it was a silly knife, dull and used only for opening letters- a present to Meris, on her thirteenth birthday from none other than her adored older brother. However, no one dared to complain.
"Now, by our blood we swear it." Carefully, they pricked their fingers. A needle would have been preferable, but Meris claimed that it was not a proper tool for a ceremony.
A slightly muddled look slowly grew upon their faces after a little silence, as they pondered what to do next. It seemed anticlimactic to eat, though they had decided that was the next thing ... then Celia's stomach growled, the mood was broken, and a rather battered hatbox was brought out. It contained some lemonade and raspberry tarts, which Katherine had stolen from Cook that morning. They had been reduced to crumbs, but none of the girls were very particular and so devoured them ravenously. The meal completed, there was very little else to do, save bid each other farewell.
They would depart for London the following morning, Meris and Katherine to stay with the Carlisle household, and Celia and Emma due to Brunswick Square, home of Celia's grandfather, the Earl of Amherst. They were not particularly tearful good-byes; indeed, the girls were certain of seeing each other much throughout the upcoming months. The London Season afforded a wealth of balls and parties, where their paths were sure to cross. There, the general agreement was they would confer and engage in their meetings. Dancing, surely, could be postponed in favor of secret trysts behind potted plants. After all, what were potted plants for? Promising to correspond through any means necessary, the young women of the Spinster Society knew that nothing so trivial as separation would truly be able to effect their friendship.
Thus, as the storm subsided and the first rays of dawn began to creep into the room, the final adieus were said, the final promises made, and the members of the Spinster Society dispersed, heads full of their extraordinary new society.
©2007 Copyright held by the author.