“Susanna,” Charlotte called as she ran up the stairs. “Susanna, where are you?”
Susanna leaned her head out from one of the other rooms. “I’m right here.”
The younger woman trembled as she held out a letter. “He wrote back. I thought your reply would have ended this, but he wrote back.”
“Calm down, Charlotte. There’s no reason to suffer a fit of hysterics.” She guided her into Charlotte’s room and took the letter. “What on earth would he have to say after the last letter?”
Dear Miss Hulmstead,
You intrigued me with your reply. How should I woo a woman? With flowers? Chocolates? Jewelry? Should I promise her the world only to be nagged into eternity when I don’t deliver it on a silver platter? Does a woman want a man who writes her flowery love sonnets, or does she want a man who will fight duels to defend her honor?
The reason I ask this is because women are such a fickle sex that I have frequently found myself frustrated by them in the past. The only thing I know for certain is that they prefer men with money.
The paper crinkled in her fists as Susanna read the letter. Of all the arrogant little snots. Charlotte deserved someone better than him. If he ever showed his face here, she personally would give him such a tongue-lashing, his pride would limp for days.
“Just ignore him, Miss Charlotte. He’s obviously not worth your time.”
She shook her head. “No, you don’t understand, Susanna. The other day, my mother wrote me saying I should continue to entertain his affections at all costs while I’m at school, and if I can’t do that, then she would bring me home so Mr. Blakely could court me in person.”
Part of her wanted to say that it wasn’t her problem, but something in Charlotte’s plea tugged at the emptiness that normally filled her chest. She glanced at the letter. “Then write him back telling him what a cad he is.”
“Please, Susanna, you could say it so much better than I ever could.”
“I’m sorry, Charlotte, but I simply don’t have time to be writing any more letters for you. I have beds to make and laundry to hang.”
“Please,” Charlotte repeated, taking Susanna’s dirty hand in both of her gloved ones. “I need your help with this. I’ll even pay you.”
The image of the half-empty coffee tin containing the money for Hank’s bar exam flashed across her mind. “How much?”
“Fifty cents a letter.”
Even at that price, it wasn’t worth it. “Charlotte, you’ll be deceiving this man,” she started, ready to explain why it was wrong, but the other woman cut her off.
“A dollar a letter, then.”
Her lungs refused to work. All she had to do was write a few letters, and she could earn enough to pay for Hank’s fee to take the bar. “Are you certain you want me to do this for you?”
“Yes.” Charlotte reached into a drawer and pulled out a small box containing her pin money. “Here’s a dollar and enough money to cover the stamp.”
The coins felt heavier than usual when they landed in Susanna’s hand, as though guilt weighed them down. “Do you want to read my reply first?”
“Heavens, no.” The worry receded from her face. “Just reply back in the same way you did before, and maybe he’ll stop writing me.”
Susanna wrapped her fingers around the coins and drew a deep breath. She could do this. She could earn enough money to get them out of this place and teach that arrogant Mr. Blakely a thing or two about women in the process. “May I take a few sheets of your stationary?”
“Of course.” Charlotte handed her a stack of the thick paper. “Take as much as you need. Just please take care of this for me.”
Susanna climbed the narrow staircase to the room in the attic she shared with Lavinia. She’d write the letter tonight after dinner. In the meantime, she was already composing her reply in her mind.
Dear Mr. Blakely,
No wonder you are without a wife. You have us women all wrong. And although I applaud your effort to learn more about us, your theories as to how to win our hearts are all wrong, too.
Flowers die too quickly, and too many chocolates will make our dresses tight.
Yes, you are right in that making promises you can’t keep would only be to your detriment. Be honest with us. Most women do not want the world—they only want the heart of the man they love. It has nothing to do with acquisitions. It is a gift that is shared and exchanged for her heart. For further reference, I suggest you read some of those sonnets you openly mock.
And please do not enter into the habit of dueling. Imagine the heartache you would cause to those who love you if your life was taken at the hand of a dueling pistol. Honor is worth defending, but if the recent war has taught us anything, it’s that violence begets violence. Too many lives have been sacrificed to Honor’s cause.
You mistakenly think that women are only interested in money, but you are wrong there, too. True, I will concede that it is nice to not have to worry about having a roof over your head, warm clothes on your back, or food in your stomach. But if the basic needs for survival are met, then the rest is pure frivolity. A marriage without love can become a gilded cage, and all the wealth in the world cannot buy happiness.
But then, you sound as though you’ve already learned that.