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Standing the Test of Time Through Two World Wars


Emmaline Severn

It is 1903, beautiful and passionate Gloria Armstrong waits on the snowy steps of Durham register office, she is eighteen years old and pregnant. Knowing her domineering father will be outraged, she has eloped to marry her handsome fiancé, aspiring doctor Gerald Phelps. They return to London, and Gloria is thrust into the world of an upper-class doctor’s wife. It would appear she has it all, but haunted by a gypsy woman’s prediction that she will never find true happiness, will her hasty marriage stand the test of time?
Steering her family through two world wars, Gloria’s emotionally charged life is filled with betrayal, tragedy, love and companionship.
As the story unfolds, both tears and laughter will drive you to turn the pages and discover what happens next, always asking the burning question, will Gloria ever find the true love and contentment she desires, and if so, can she hold on to it?
Amazon 5 star - A thoroughly enjoyable and compelling read

Book Excerpt or Article

Gloria slept fitfully that night, her mother and father were in the adjoining room knowing nothing of the evening’s events, and when she finally awoke, she had tossed and turned so much the quilted eiderdown on her bed had fallen to the floor, and despite the coolness of the room, Gloria felt quite feverish. In her head, she was imploring Gerald to come to the hotel that morning, but also dreading what Mama and Papa would say if he did.
By now, it was ten o’clock, and Gloria could hear her mother and father stirring next door, she hastened to tidy her hair and make herself presentable after her restless night. Fleur and Filkes would be on their way to the French Riviera for their honeymoon by now, having caught the late-night train to Dover in time to board the morning ferry to Calais, leaving Gloria, James and Frances to return to their new flat on Gosfield Street.
Just as Gloria’s head was filling once more with thoughts of Gerald Phelps, her mother tapped on the connecting door of their room and asked if she was ready for breakfast.
‘Yes, Mama, I am almost ready, give me a moment.’ She looked at the girl in the mirror, saw the dark circles under her eyes and wondered what the morning would bring.
They made their way downstairs to the hotel reception. James walked over to the mahogany desk and asked the clerk if there were any messages for him. He was handed a note which he read and promptly returned to his wife and daughter, who were waiting impatiently.
‘I am afraid I have been summoned to the office post-haste, the price of promotion, unfortunately. You ladies have breakfast as planned, I will just have to go hungry this morning, I may be home for tea,’ James said with disappointment in his voice. The family had planned to do some sight-seeing around London that day and for James to return to work the next.
‘What a shame, dear, we had such a lovely day planned,’ Frances replied.
‘Nonetheless, I am quite sure you two will have a splendid time without me. Now hurry along and enjoy your breakfast, and this evening you can tell me all about the day’s adventures.’ James kissed his wife and daughter, and hurriedly left the hotel to hail a cab.
‘Never mind, Mama, at least we can go shopping without Papa complaining about how much money we are spending,’ Gloria teased.
‘Daughter dear, you are incorrigible,’ Frances scolded with a smile.
The breakfast room at the Regal Hotel was sunny and bright, decorated with a fresh floral wallpaper of lilac and wisteria. The two ladies were shown to a table by the window with a view of the courtyard garden.
‘I suppose Fleur and Filkes will be on the boat already, I am so happy for her but a little jealous also,’ Gloria said to her mother. ‘Maybe one day some rich and handsome doctor will sweep me off my feet and -’
Frances interrupted. ‘Now, Gloria, what have I told you about that sort of nonsense? Those sorts of things only happen in novels, and Filkes hardly swept Fleur off her feet. He asked for her hand twice before she accepted him, and that was only after I persuaded her that eligible bachelors of his standing in society do not come along very often, and she would be a fool not to marry him, love grows, I told her.’
Breakfast arrived at the table, and both tucked into bacon and fried potatoes served with hot rolls and buttered eggs, tea was poured from a silver-plated teapot, and no more was said on the subject of love and marriage.
An hour later, Gloria and Frances were waiting in the lobby for a hansom cab to take them to Madame Tussauds. They sat in a pair of wing chairs upholstered in cream damask, facing the staircase that led directly to the reception desk where the clerk was busy with a guest. Gloria was chattering about how different life would be at home without her sister for company when she suddenly stopped mid-sentence, the colour draining from her face.
‘What on earth is the matter?’ Frances asked, ‘you look like you have just seen a ghost.’
With that, a man strode towards them, bowed and said, ‘We meet again, Miss Armstrong, how are you this fine morning?’
Then speaking directly to Frances. ‘Mrs Armstrong, may I introduce myself? My name is Gerald Phelps, and I am very pleased to make your acquaintance.’
Frances raised an eyebrow and looked into his unusual eyes. ‘Good morning, sir, may I ask how you are acquainted with my daughter?’
‘Ah, it would seem that Miss Armstrong did not inform you of our dances together last night, it was a most enchanting experience.’
Frances was curious, this man was indeed a charmer, and Gloria would usually tell her everything. Why had she conveniently failed to mention dancing with this incredibly good-looking man, and moreover, how had Frances missed it?
Before she could utter another word, Gerald said, ‘I can see that you are about to depart, but may I beg that you postpone your journey and take coffee with me in the lounge, I promised Miss Armstrong I would call on her this morning, and I can see that I was very nearly too late.’
Gloria was in an absolute turmoil, she looked at her mother, trying to gauge her feelings, and her mother returned the look to her daughter with the same intent.
It felt like time had stopped until Gloria heard her mother reply, ‘Well, Mr Phelps, our engagements today have already been altered once, I am sure we can accommodate another, we would be delighted to accept your invitation.’
Frances gave Gloria a look as if to say she would find out herself about this young man if her daughter were not going to tell her, and she politely took Gerald’s outstretched arm as he escorted the ladies to the lounge.
Gloria’s mind was racing, what had she done? She had been foolhardy for certain, what was her mother going to say? What was Gerald going to say? She wished that the ground would open up and swallow her to save her from hearing any of the conversations that were about to take place.
‘So, Mr Phelps, I do not recall your name on the guestlist at Fleur’s wedding, so how was it that you came to dance with my youngest daughter?’ Frances questioned Gerald.
Glancing over at Gloria with a mischievous look in his eye, he said, ‘Perhaps Miss Armstrong did not remember the moment so well, it must have slipped her mind for her not to tell you.’
‘Mama, it was only one or two dances, and I danced with a lot of gentlemen yesterday,’ Gloria replied, trying her best to stay calm. Inside, she was melting, Gerald’s eyes were fixed on hers, and she wished so much that her mother was elsewhere.
In a daze, she heard Gerald explain that he had been at the hospital that afternoon, and the physician on duty required some advice regarding a patient, and even though he was aware it was Filkes’s wedding day, he was the only doctor who could supply the information required. He had come to the reception to speak to him, only to be captivated by a young lady doing a fine job of a polka with a not so nimble partner. He only had time to dance for a short while before having to return to the patient for whom he required Filkes’s advice. Gerald went on to inform Frances of his studies at Durham University and his ambition of becoming a consultant like his father. Before long, Frances was quite captivated by this handsome, intelligent and charming young man.
Gloria had hardly said a word during the conversation, she sipped her coffee in awe of the man talking to her mother, desperately hoping he would not disappear again without wishing to see her once more. Holding this thought in her head, it was suddenly broken by the sound of her mother’s voice.
‘Gloria, Gloria, what is the matter with you? Mr Phelps is asking us a question.’
Startled, she flushed and apologised, Gerald repeated his request, Gloria then could not believe the words she was hearing.
‘Miss Armstrong, I have tickets for the Saturday evening performance of Merrie England at the Savoy, I hear it is particularly amusing, would you care to join me, with your mother as chaperone, of course?’
She glanced at her mother, who nodded her head slightly, showing her approval, therefore, with a racing heart, Gloria replied, ‘Thank you, Mr Phelps, I would be delighted to accept your invitation.’
‘Shall we say seven o’clock?’ he said, ‘I will call on you at your home, and we can take a hansom to the theatre.’
He took a calling card from Frances, then stood up and said his farewell. As she watched him walk away and pass through the revolving doorway of the hotel entrance, Gloria could scarcely believe the events of the last half an hour. The man of her dreams had just asked her to the theatre, and Mama had granted her permission, what more could seventeen-year-old Gloria Armstrong require? Ah, yes, a new dress for the occasion and her sister to hurry home so she could tell her everything. Once more, her mother’s voice broke Gloria’s thoughts.
‘Well, my dear, you are a dark horse, I must say, what a charming and forward young man Mr Phelps appears to be. How on earth did you manage to attract his attentions, may I ask?’ Gloria remained silent, trying to decide whether or not to tell her mother the whole story about meeting him at the theatre last Christmas. ‘Well, come on, girl, speak up.’
‘I am not sure whether you will believe me or not,’ Gloria said.
Of course, that made her mother even more suspicious, and so Gloria felt obliged to relate the whole account from their collision outside the powder room. Frances made a very similar sort of “humph” sound as her sister at the rather unconventional meeting of a couple. She was also acutely aware that Gloria’s wayward ways had not attracted any other suitable suitors to date, and Mr Phelps would be a good catch in a couple of years once he qualified. Better not let this one slip away if indeed he was genuinely interested in her daughter.
‘Well, come on, dear, let us not waste the day, I would still like to see the latest creations at Madame Tussauds and do a little shopping. We must also make a plan as to how I am going to inform your father of the morning’s events and soothe him into agreeing for you to see Mr Phelps. Let me do the talking, dear, you will only say something to inflame your father, and then he will never allow you out.’

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After hanging up my dancing shoes and leaving music and song for another day, I became an avid family historian and have researched the branches of my own family tree extensively. Like most family trees, there are illegitimate children, numerous hasty marriages, and even money in one branch during the Georgian period, all spent and forgotten now. Some mysteries have yet to be solved, and others have been substantiated with evidence.
Not knowing our distant ancestors, yet discovering snippets of information about their lives in records, newspapers and dusty archives, I love using my imagination to write about what might have happened. Gloria was inspired by a family history I researched, and I am looking forward to sharing more stories with you over time.

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