Lord Wastey handed his dripping overcoat to a footman, and his guests—Mr. and Mrs. Allens and Bernard and Buckley Hall, brothers and rivals—did likewise.
“A most impressive tour! Most impressive!” said Mr. Allens, and his wife nodded heartily.
She added, “It’s probably very pleasant when it isn’t raining quite so much.”
“Your gardens are a delight, Lord Wastey. Unsurpassed.” Bernard, the elder Hall, stepped in front of young Buckley as they made their way out of the ante-foyer and into the grand foyer. Buckley quickly overtook his brother and pulled up to the aging lord’s elbow.
“Lord Wastey! I don’t think I have ever seen such robust rhodedumdum—rhodemdum—rhodedrumdums—rhodrendre—“
“Rhododendrons,” finished Bernard. “Your rhododendrons, Lord Wastey, are a feast for the eyes. For the spirit, too.”
“Thank you, Bernard, you are too kind.” A bell rang somewhere deep in the manor and Lord Wastey blinked with pleasure. “Ah! That would be fourth tea!”
“Was that the fourth tea bell, Papa?” rang a voice, clear as another bell, from above.
Buckley turned in time to see a young woman in a forget-me-not blue dress come tripping lightly down the stairs. He rushed to her aid, but Bernard was already at her side when she hit the floor. She had only sprained her wrist, so lightly had she tripped. Bernard lifted her to her feet with a flourish, and she blinked happily—so like her papa!
“Ah! I don’t believe you have met my daughter, Charlotte! Charlotte, this is Master Bernard Hall, and his younger brother”
“A pleasure,” Charlotte curtsied daintily. At just eighteen, she was a blushing rose, it seemed to Buckley, who was but nineteen himself. He stepped forward.
“My name is Bu—“
“You’ve dropped your handkerchief, Bucky.” Bernard had snatched it from his brother’s pocket on the sly; his favorite trick since boyhood. Buckley snatched it back with a look of hate.
“Bucky? How delicious! Charmed, Bucky.” Charlotte blinked and curtsied again. Lord Wastey, too, blinked as the second fourth tea bell rang, and led the party out of the grand foyer.
“Th-Thank you, Miss Wastey,” Bucky stuffed his handkerchief into his breast pocket. As he trailed after the vision in blue, Bernard cut him off.
“Handkerchief,” It was on the floor again.
After fourth tea, Charlotte decided to treat the party to an impromptu piano recital.
“This,” she began, “Is the most delicious piece I know! But it’s a little like ‘Chopsticks,’” she tittered. “It’s not quite so tricky as real, Japanese chopsticks, but I will need a second player! Bucky, could you be a lamb?” Bucky, sheepish, could scarcely move, then leapt onto the bench before he could even realize he hadn’t played the piano in ten years. There she was! Beside him, just inches away! He could even smell the spring of honeysuckle tucked in her hair. She opened the sheet-music, adjusted herself on the bench, took a little breath, and–
“Oh! Oh, my wrist!” Tears filled her eyes, and she drew her useless left wrist—strained, as it was, by the fall—to her breast. “I have ruined your afternoon!” she lamented, “I promised you music and now you have none! You must all hate me now!”
“No, Charlotte! No, we don’t hate you at all,” Mr. Allens cried. “Quite the contrary!”
“It’s only disappointing,” said Mrs. Allens, soothingly, “but we weren’t expecting too much!”
Bucky would have shot Charlotte’s wrist on the spot if it had only made sense to do so. Before he could think of a more appropriate response, Bernard stepped forward.
“Miss Wastey, it would be my pleasure to play the part of your lovely, if unavailable, left hand. I only pray my talent but is half of yours, as half of your talent is indisposed!”
“That’s three quarters” muttered Bucky.
“Hm?” Charlotte looked confused.
“I mean,” Bucky tried to break eye contact with her so he could speak, “I mean–I mean, if one half your talent is in one hand, and the other half is in the other, and Bernard has half your talent altogether, and he is only using one hand—“
He bent over to pick it up, and Charlotte took another little breath. “Very well, Brothers Hall! Shall we begin?”
Bernard stuck his arm between Charlotte and his brother, still standing. Bucky did not move.
“Let me get you a seat there, Buckney!” Offered Mr. Allens.
“No, I’ll do it, don’t trouble yourself, Allens.” Lord Wastey cleared his throat. “Oh, Hemmings!” he called.
A butler glided into the room and placed an ottoman beside the piano bench. Bucky hesitated and moved to his new perch, scowling. The piano keys were now at shoulder level. He peered up at the music, and away they went!
The music was not really that difficult, but Bernard seemed to find it impossible to avoid elbowing his younger brother in the head, no matter how close he moved towards Charlotte. Before the piece could completely fall to pieces, the first fifth tea bell rang, and the members of the party left for their respective chambers to change.