First Page: Gemma and the Earl
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The conversation began the same way it always did, generally over a pleasant meal that would not remain so for long. The Earl of Southfield was a force to be reckoned with when his mind was settled. For the last year and a half this was how it started:
“Gemma my dear, will you look at your sister? The poor girl hasn’t touched a morsel on her plate. She’ll waste away to nothing like that”, my father dramatically gestured.
They sat in the breakfast room at the table while her sister picked at her food on the settee. Gemma glanced at her knowing full well that her sudden reluctance to eat was all for her father’s benefit.
“You know she’s thinking of Frances and Claire off to London next week. If only her selfish older sister would get married so she could join them”.
“Dear Father, I would remind you that she is only eighteen and just recently of an age to participate in the London season. I was nineteen before I came out”, she gently reminded him.
“Aye, but that was because you were in mourning for your dear mum, Gem. Anna is old enough now and by Jove I need to get you girls married and settled before I am too old to enjoy my grand-children”.
Her father was a hale man of fifty-two but acted as if he had one foot in the grave when he discussed his daughters’ matrimonial futures.
The Earl signaled the end of the conversation by returning to his study of the morning newspaper.
Gemma frowned to herself upon reflection of her father’s words. However much she sympathized with her younger sister’s unhappiness, she simply could not face the marriage mart for the third year in a row. In fact, she would readily trade places with Anna if she could. The thought of staying in the comfort and safety of the countryside with their father was immensely appealing.
Her reluctance to attend the London season was not unfounded. If she failed to attract a husband yet again, she would be considered well and truly on the shelf. The situation had become tiresome and rather depressing.
Gemma knew that she was no great beauty but thought her features to be pleasing enough. The unfortunate truth was that it was her outspoken disposition that was the cause of her lack of proposals. The marriageable men of the ton were looking for a certain kind of wife; one with a polite, reserved temperament that they could manage as they managed their estates. After a few moments in Gemma’s company or a turn around the dance floor, it was apparent to them that she was not quite marriage material.
She longed to fall in love and be romanced like the heroines in the novels she read but was not capable of the artifice required to carry it off. It simply wasn’t in the cards for her she feared.
Anna abruptly rose from her seat, “I shall be in my rooms the rest of the day I fear. I have a dreadful headache”. She left the room as the Earl glared at Gemma over his bifocals as if it was entirely her fault for every ailment her sister now possessed.
“What are your afternoon plans my dear eldest daughter?” he inquired.
“I am planning a hike over to the Caldwell’s property line. It has been far too long since I explored that section of our land”, Gemma replied. She was known to take prodigiously long walks through their extensive acreage with their dog Max by her side. It was what she missed the most when they were in London. At the thought of returning to London, she fell into a somber mood that only a vigorous constitutional through the countryside would cure.