''I'm-I'm quite all right, old chap,'' Percival struggled to say, still taken aback after seeing his childhood friend Garth Mason turn up at Comerton Hall suddenly. He had been away for a while in America.
''That's good. Well, we have much to catch up on. Are we going to be standing out here all day?'' Garth responded.
''Oh, no-no, of course not! Come in, come in!'' Percival ushered him in excitedly. He went to close the door, his facing conveying a fleeting expression of concern.
''You are the only one in, I suppose?'' Garth asked Percival as he turned to face him.
''Ah-yes, yes. Mother and Father have gone to town. Algie has gone to my Uncle Evelyn's in Oxford,'' Percival answered.
''Oh, all right. And I see you were on your way out too. I apologise if my arrival has spoiled your plans,'' Garth said. Percival strode over to him.
''Oh, no, don't be silly. I just wanted some fresh air, that is all. It wasn't important. It can wait,'' he said as he walked with Garth towards the drawing room. Parsons came through to the hallway and intercepted the pair.
''Ah, Master Mason! You are back from America! I didn't know you had arrived. I heard a man speaking; I thought Master Percival had forgotten something and came back,'' Parsons said when he saw Garth.
''Hello Parsons. Yes, I am back, and I did it quietly so I could surprise Percival,'' Garth said.
''Well, I was well and truly surprised for sure,'' Percival commented.
''Would you like me to take you coat, Master Mason? And would you like something to drink perhaps?'' Parsons asked him.
''Ah, of course, yes please, a tea would be lovely, thank you Parsons,'' Garth replied as he took off his coat and handed it to the servant.
''Very well, sir,'' Parsons responded before he bowed and left the pair alone.
''Let's go inside and talk,'' Percival said to his friend, putting his arm on his back and guiding him into the drawing room.
* * *
As evening fell, Victoria and Alfred Baskergrand arrived back at Comerton Hall.
''Oh, thank goodness we have arrived back home!'' Victoria gushed as she entered the hallway.
''Yes, it is a miracle we managed to get back in time at all after how much time you spent at Manning's buying God knows how many dresses,'' Alfred complained, coming in after her.
''Oh, stop moaning Alfred, otherwise you will start to lose your hair,'' Victoria reprimanded, removing her coat and bonnet and handing it to a maidservant.
''Your the reason my hair turned grey in the first place,'' Alfred remarked sarcastically, also removing his coat and handing it to another servant. Victoria gave him a cutting look before they were both met by Parsons.
''How was your outing, Lord and Lady Baskergrand?'' he greeted them.
''It was very well, thank you, Parsons. Is everyone already in the dining hall?'' Victoria responded while she and Alfred walked towards the dining room.
''Yes, my lady, and there is also a surprise guest waiting inside,'' Parsons replied. Victoria and Alfred stopped in their tracks.
''A surprise guest? And you won't tell us?'' Victoria pressed him.
''It wouldn't be a surprise if I told you, my lady,'' Parsons said with a somewhat light-hearted sarcastic tone.
''All right, then. I will see for myself. I wonder if it's a Bartlett,'' Victoria said as she and Alfred continued walking up to the door. Parsons moved in front of them and proceeded to open the door and then moved to the right, allowing the Baskergrands to enter. Victoria gasped upon seeing who the surprise guest was.
''Garth Mason! You've come back to England!'' she gushed as she waltzed towards him and embraced him. Percival and Algernon were standing opposite Garth, with the long dining table separating them. Garth was on the left side of the table, whereas Percival and Algernon were on the right.
''Lord and Lady Baskergrand, it is nice to see you after so long. How have you been?'' Garth responded with warmth.
''Oh, we have been quite all right. How are you? Is your cousin Bertram doing well?'' Victoria asked him as the group of them all took their seats around the dining table.
''Bertram is doing well, and so is the business in America,'' Garth replied. While they were in conversation, servants came in with food prepared for them to eat.
''Oh, that is nice! Please, share with us all the tales you have of America,'' Victoria spoke eagerly.
''Wait a moment, Victoria. Let him catch his breath. When did you arrive in England?'' Alfred spoke to his wife first then to Garth. The servants came around and served the food to them. They were given slices of roast beef with potatoes and peas, carrots and cabbage, served with a beef gravy.
''I came the day before yesterday. It was quite a long journey, but I managed to arrive safely,'' Garth replied.
''That's good. You had been staying there for...how long was it?'' Alfred asked for clarification.
''Fourteen months,'' Garth said before he picked up his fork and began eating his food.
''Oh, what a long time! It must be hard to adjust over there. Which part of America were you in?'' Victoria questioned.
''California,'' Garth answered.
''Oh, I heard that they found some large deposits of gold over there. Is it true?'' Alfred asked.
''Yes, you are right. California is flourishing at the moment. Very many are flocking to it to try and make money,'' Garth responded.
''I wouldn't blame them. I think gold is the way forward. Is that what you and Bertram are investing in?'' Alfred continued. Garth looked up at Percival, who seemed to be in a mind of his own.
''No...Bertram is in the trading business. Importing of...products,'' Garth answered.
''What type of products?'' Algernon asked. Garth looked at him and smiled briefly.
''Valuable products that I'm afraid I cannot discuss,'' he replied apologetically.
''Well, good, because that's enough talk of business. When did you arrive at Comerton?'' Victoria interjected.
''I arrived in the afternoon, while you were still out. I just caught Percival before he headed out,'' Garth said.
''Oh? You came earlier? Percival, you haven't mentioned anything about Garth's arrival,'' Victoria spoke. Percival met his mother's gaze, and produced a small smile before quietly continuing to eat his food.
''You are very quiet, Percival. Is everything all right?'' Alfred asked his son with concern.
''Ah-ah, yes, I'm fine. It's just...I forgot to tell you, Garth,'' Percival replied.
''Forgot to tell me what?'' Garth asked.
''About a ball I'm having next Saturday, here, at Comerton,'' Percival answered.
''Oh, a ball? Oh, that sounds good,'' Garth responded.
''Percival, you neglected to tell him? Garth, it's for the Bartletts. Did you hear they are departing for India soon?'' Victoria interposed.
''Ah, they are leaving? Gosh, and India as well! They are adventurous, are they not?'' Garth spoke.
''Yes, they are. Well, we are having the ball next Saturday, and you are more than welcome to come. Please do tell your mother and father, it would be nice to have them come. We have not seen them since June,'' Victoria said to Garth.
''I will do,'' Garth replied. As he resumed eating, he noticed Percival still looking preoccupied.
''Will Valerie be coming to the ball?'' Garth queried across to Percival.
''Hmm? Oh, yes she will,'' Percival replied to Garth. Garth surmised that Percival was thinking about her, and left off conversing with Percival upon the matter.
'He must be in a quandary about how he should express his fondness for her,' Garth thought. However, the fact of the matter was that Percival was dwelling deeply on the mysterious object he had spotted at Tuckerby Bay the day before.
'I hope it is still there so that I can investigate it. I hope no one else has discovered it and taken it away,' he worried to himself. Percival was eager to find out more, and worried it might be too late if he left it until tomorrow to go to Tuckerby Bay.
'Right, I shall journey there after dinner. I will not tell anyone where I am going, and it will not take me long to get there, so I should be back before I turn in for the night,' Percival silently planned.