"We have been invited to Lady Eleanor Greenwood's house party at Greenwood Hall in Norfolk, Dotty!"
"Why would I want to go to a stupid house party in the middle of nowhere when I'm about to have my debut in London?" Dorothy asked.
"It would be an excellent opportunity for you to meet some of the other young ladies who will be making their debuts alongside you," Caroline spoke up. "And I can assure you that my aunt's guests will be of the highest quality."
"Your aunt?" Dorothy swung around to stare at Caroline, making her acutely aware of her plain dress and severe hairstyle. "With all due respect if she can't afford to keep you from having to earn your own living, I doubt she has any standing in society."
"Don't be rude, Dot. Perhaps Caroline prefers it that way," Mrs. Frogerton intervened. "Not everyone wants to be beholden to family."
"My aunt did offer me a home, Miss Frogerton, but I refused." Caroline kept her voice steady as she replied. "I decided to make my own way in the world."
"Then you are stupid," Dorothy said flatly. "Women are not designed to care for themselves. They need a man to do that for them."
"What balderdash!" Mrs. Frogerton snorted. "Who do you think ran your grandfather's business, young lady? Who stayed behind late every night to make sure every order was perfect? Who managed the books? I can tell you that it wasn't my father. He was worse than useless, the drunken old sot."
Caroline still wasn't used to the loud and frank exchange of opinions the Frogertons favored and often wished she could hide under a chair until each storm had blown over. "Don't talk about the business, Mother!" Dorothy scolded. "You will ruin my chances of finding a good match if people think my money comes from trade."
"But it does, my love. I'm not ashamed of that, and neither should you be."
For once Caroline had to agree with Dorothy. Even though the young Miss Frogerton was beautiful and very well dowered, she was only one generation removed from the stink of new money, and that would influence the young gentleman who decided to consider her as a potential bride.
Brendan, the young Irish footman, appeared in the doorway with the drinks tray and hesitated as the mother and daughter faced each other like two prizefighters in a ring.
"You can set the tray down here," Caroline murmured to him. "Thank you."
"Thank you, miss."
Brendan departed with some alacrity, and for a moment Caroline wished she could join him. Surely neither of the Frogertons would notice if she went to check on the timing of dinner? Sometimes in this new and uncertain world she now inhabited she felt as if the ground were crazed ice beneath her feet.
Just as she turned toward the door, Dorothy marched over to her. "Mother said I must apologize for calling you stupid."
"Thank you," Caroline said.
"I still think you're foolish though." Dorothy curled one of her golden ringlets around her finger and pouted. She was a remarkably pretty girl with a large fortune who should take well with the 'ton', as long as she kept her origins and opinions to herself. "But I suppose at your age, the chances of capturing a husband are fairly slim anyway."
"True," Caroline acknowledged. She had no intention of reminiscing with Dorothy about her very successful first Season when she had attracted the attention of not only a viscount, but the son of an earl. That life was behind her now and she refused to continue to miss it.
"Although you are remarkably elegant looking with your dark hair and blue eyes." Dorothy was still talking. "Mother said I would do well to learn from you about how to comport myself properly."
"I believe that is one of the reasons she hired me," Caroline agreed, although in the last six months, Dorothy hadn't listened to a single word of advice from her. "I have lived in high society since I was born and understand the way of it."
She also knew how quickly such a society would offer you the cut direct if they deemed you or your family unacceptable. Her father's suicide and financial ruin had brought that home to her all too forcibly.