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“I have made a decision about Daisy’s future,” Thomas Bowman announced to his wife and daughter. “Although Bowmans never like to admit defeat, we cannot ignore reality.”
“What reality is that, Father?” Daisy asked.
“You are not meant for the British peerage.” Frowning, Bowman added, “Or perhaps the peerage isn’t meant for you. I have received a poor rate of return on my investment in your husband-seeking. Do you know what that means, Daisy?”
“I’m an underperforming stock?” she guessed.
One would never guess Daisy was a grown woman of twenty-two at this moment. Small, slim, and dark-haired, she still had the agility and exuberance of a child when other women her age had already become sober young matrons. As she sat with her knees drawn up, she looked like an abandoned china doll in the corner of the settee. It annoyed Bowman to see his daughter holding a book in her lap with a finger stuck between its pages to mark her place. Obviously she could hardly wait for him to finish so she could resume reading.
“Put that down,” he said.
“Yes, Father.” Covertly Daisy opened the book to check the page number and set it aside. The small gesture rankled Bowman. Books, books…the mere sight of one had come to represent his daughter’s embarrassing failure on the marriage market.
Puffing on a massive cigar, Bowman sat in an overstuffed chair in the parlor of the hotel suite they had occupied for more than two years. His wife Mercedes perched on a spindly cane-backed chair nearby. Bowman was a stout, barrel-shaped man, as bullish in his physical dimensions as he was in disposition. Although he was bald on top, he possessed a thick broom of a mustache, as if all the energy required for growing the hair on his head had been diverted to his upper lip.
Mercedes had begun marriage as an uncommonly slender girl and had become even thinner through the years, like a cake of soap that had gradually worn to a sliver. Her slick black hair was always severely restrained, her sleeves tightly fitted to wrists so diminutive that Bowman could have snapped them like birch twigs. Even when she sat perfectly still, as she was doing now, Mercedes gave the impression of nervous energy.
Bowman had never regretted choosing Mercedes as a wife—her steely ambition corresponded perfectly with his own. She was a relentless woman, all sharp angles, always pushing to make a place for the Bowmans in society. It was Mercedes who had insisted that since they could not break into the Knickerbocker set in New York, they would bring the girls to England. “We shall simply go over their heads,” she had said with determination. And by God, they had succeeded with his older daughter Lillian.
Lillian had somehow managed to catch the greatest prize of all, Lord Westcliff, whose pedigree was pure gold. The earl had been a handsome acquisition for the family. But now Bowman was impatient to return to America. If Daisy were going to land a titled husband she would have done so by now. Time to cut their losses.
Reflecting on his five children, Bowman wondered how it was that they should have so little of him in them. He and Mercedes were both driven, and yet they had produced three sons who were so placid, so accepting of things as they were, so certain that everything they wanted would simply drop into their hands like ripe fruit from a tree. Lillian was the only one who seemed to have inherited a little of Bowman’s aggressive spirit…but she was a woman and therefore it was a complete waste.
And then there was Daisy. Of all their children, Daisy had always been the one Bowman had understood the least. Even as a child Daisy had never drawn the right conclusions from the stories he told, only asked questions that never seemed relevant to the point he had been trying to make. When he had explained why investors who wanted low risk and moderate returns should put their capital into national debt shares, Daisy had interrupted him by asking, “Father, wouldn’t it be wonderful if hummingbirds had tea parties and we were small enough to be invited?”
Throughout the years Bowman’s efforts to change Daisy had been met with valiant resistance. She liked herself the way she was and therefore trying to do anything with her was like attempting to herd a swarm of butterflies. Or nailing jelly to a tree.
Since Bowman had been driven half-mad by his daughter’s unpredictable nature, he was not at all surprised by the lack of men willing to take her on for a lifetime. What kind of mother would she be, prattling about fairies sliding down rainbows instead of drilling sensible rules into her children’s heads.
Mercedes jumped into the conversation, her voice taut with consternation. “Dear Mr. Bowman, the season is far from over. I am of the opinion that Daisy has made excellent progress so far. Lord Westcliff has introduced her to several promising gentlemen, all of whom are exceedingly interested in the prospect of gaining the earl as a brother-in-law.”
“I find it telling,” Bowman said darkly, “that the lure for these ‘promising gentlemen’ is to gain Westcliff as a brother-in-law rather than to gain Daisy as a wife.” He pinned Daisy with a hard stare. “Are any of these men likely to offer for you?”
“She has no way of knowing—” Mercedes argued.
“Women always know such things. Answer, Daisy—is there a possibility of bringing any of these gentlemen up to scratch?”
His daughter hesitated, a troubled expression appearing in her tip-tilted dark eyes. “No, Father,” she finally admitted frankly.
“As I thought.” Lacing his thick fingers together over his midriff, Bowman regarded the two quiet women authoritatively. “Your lack of success has become inconvenient, daughter. I mind the unnecessary expense of gowns and fripperies…I mind the tedium of carting you from unproductive ball to another. More than that, I mind that this venture has kept me in England when I am needed in New York. Therefore I have decided to choose a husband for you.”