Once they were back inside Comerton Hall, Percival, Valerie and Millicent sat down in the drawing room, awaiting dinner. Millicent was at the pianoforte, playing a slow tune, while Valerie was sitting on a chair, watching Percival, who was standing by the window, and staring out at the unrelenting rain.
''The weather looks like it has taken a turn for the worst,'' Valerie said nonchalantly,
''Yes, I agree. If it doesn't let up, you and Millie may have to stay over tonight,'' Percival said.
''Oh, joy,'' Millicent said sarcastically as she stopped playing. Percival smiled briefly at her, then turned back to the window.
'I wonder what that object was? And the word that was on it...Nautilus? What does it mean?' Percival queried inwardly. His thoughts were dominated by the discovery that he made earlier at the bay, and he could think of nothing else.
''You should come away from there, Gray. You seem to be getting down the more you look at the rain,'' Valerie remarked. Percival turned around to face her, and looked slightly reluctant to leave.
''I do hate it when the weather puts a dampener on things,'' Percival managed an amusing comment. Valerie procured a fleeting smile before Percival came over and sat opposite her on the chaise longue.
''What seems to have taken your mind away from here, Gray? You seem awfully preoccupied after coming back from Tuckerby Bay,'' Valerie said with concern. She wondered if he was remembering the conversation they had earlier on the bay. Percival looked up at her.
''...I am? Oh, it is probably...I was wondering if Algie had gotten into any trouble because of this inclement weather,'' Percival lied.
''Oh, yes, Algie! I do hope he is all right. Gosh, if he gets sick, it would not be very good,'' Valerie responded.
''Oh, Algie,'' Millicent moaned, as she looked to the ceiling. The three of them were silent for a moment before Percival's manservant Parsons entered the room.
''Dinner is served, Master Baskergrand, Misses Horace,'' Parsons announced.
''Oh, wonderful! I was beginning to think you had forgotten about us Parsons,'' Percival lightly mused.
''Never on my watch, sir,'' Parsons replied before he bowed his head and left the room.
''Right, let's get a move on, shall we?'' Percival spoke to the girls.
''Yes, let's do,'' Millicent beamed as she sprung from her seat and ran to Percival's side. Valerie silently followed behind as they left the room and headed to the dining room. When they entered, Percival's mother and father, Victoria and Alfred Baskergrand, were already sat down next to each other on the right side of the long and broad 20-seat table, with Percival's younger brother Algernon Pryce sat opposite them on the left. They all stood when Percival, Valerie and Millicent arrived.
''Ah, welcome Valerie and Millicent! How was your trip to Tuckerby Bay?'' Victoria Baskergrand shrilled happily as Valerie and Millicent joined in sitting next to Algernon. Valerie sat on his right, and Millicent on his left. Percival sat next to his father, opposite Valerie. Victoria was wearing a burgundy and cream dress, and her fair brown hair was tightly held up in a bun. Alfred was wearing his black dinner jacket and trousers, with a white waistcoat and a brown cravat around his neck. Victoria was quite a thin and tall lady, whereas Alfred was slightly plump, but tall nonetheless, and he had a greying moustache to match his greying hair.
''It was quite lovely, thank you, Aunt Victoria,'' Valerie said once she was seated by a servant from behind. Algernon seated Millicent before he once again took his place at the table in between the girls. Percival smiled to himself when he saw Millicent blush slightly.
''It was lovely until that terrible storm trampled in. What a sudden change,'' Alfred Baskergrand remarked.
''Yes, it was very sudden. How I do loathe the weather in England,'' Percival sighed.
''Yes, well, we must not let the delicious food that has been prepared for us to get cold, otherwise the kitchen staff will be in a huff,'' Victoria said before the group began to consume. They had been served poached haddock with a brown-coloured gravy and blanched potatoes, along with broad beans and carrots. They had a red and a white wine served to them, but Millicent and Algernon had a glass of water each instead.
''Oh, this is truly delicious!'' Victoria gushed after she put a forkful of haddock in her mouth and chewed on it slowly. There was hum of agreement from the rest of the group. Valerie ate at a slower pace than the rest, and looked up intermittently at Percival.
''Mother, did you know the Bartletts are to venture to India soon?'' Algernon said to his mother.
''No, I did not. When are they leaving?'' she responded.
''I believe at the end of this month,'' Algernon answered.
''Oh, that's not too far away. We should do something before they leave,'' Alfred spoke up.
''I agree. Which brings me to what I wanted to discuss with you both now,'' Percival interjected, looking at his parents.
''What is it, Percy?'' his mother prompted before she took a sip of her red wine.
''I would like to hold a ball here next Saturday, before the Bartletts leave,'' Percival replied.
''Next Saturday? That is quite soon,'' Alfred said.
''I know, but they are leaving almost immediately after, so I couldn't have it any other time. Also, we have not had a ball since Spring, and it would be awfully welcome to have one just before Winter comes,'' Percival defended. His mother and father thought about what he said, and began to nod.
''All right, let's have it here next Saturday then,'' his father responded with a smile.
''Thank you, Father and Mother,'' Percival said before he resumed eating his meal. Valerie smiled briefly before she continued eating.
''Apart from giving the Bartletts a nice send-off, maybe you could finally meet a nice girl at the ball, Percival,'' Victoria said to Percival.
''Oh, Mother, please!'' Percival protested softly. Valerie looked across to him, her smile dropping from her face.
''Oh, Victoria, really! The boy needs time to find his feet first,'' Alfred defended Percival.
''Well he's had all the time he needs. All the girls are vying for him. He is the most eligible bachelor in the North-West of England, and he is 24 years old. He needs someone, Alfred,'' Victoria responded.
''He doesn't need to be forced, Victoria, he will find a nice young girl when and where he wants,'' Alfred said to her.
''A ball is the perfect place to find your marriage mate. Remember where we met, darling?'' Victoria retorted lightly. Alfred sighed.
''Yes, I remember very well. But that does not mean that it should be a family tradition to find your prospective spouse at a soiree,'' Alfred returned.
''Perhaps, but it is a rather easy way, don't you think, Valerie?'' Victoria turned her attention to her niece.
''Hmm? Oh-oh, yes, I do, it is very easy,'' Valerie stumbled as she came out of her reverie. Percival noticed her mind was on something else.
''Are you all right, Bene?'' Percival asked softly to her across the table, while his parents talked amongst themselves. Valerie looked up at him, and forced a smile.
''Yes, of course. I was just thinking about...'' she began before she looked to the side, and looked out of a nearby window, ''how this rain has ruined the day,'' Valerie lied when she turned back to him.
''Well, I hope it won't rain next Saturday,'' he said before he smiled at her. She smiled back at him, but her smile was masking her hurt feelings at hearing that Percival may find his future wife at the ball next week.
'Now, I believe, I hate balls,' she thought to herself bitterly while she finished her meal.