The next day, at Comerton Hall, Percival came down from his room, dressed in white trousers, a brown waistcoat, a beige cravat and black jacket and black shoes, to have lunch with Garth. Parsons was at the foot of the stairs, with Percival's black coat hanging over his left arm, waiting for him.
''Good day, Master Percival. The others are already outside by the orchard,'' Parsons reported to Percival.
''Oh? We are to have lunch outside? Is the weather all right for that?'' Percival questioned as Parsons proceeded to put his coat on him.
''Yes, it is quite a nice day today. Unusual for September,'' Parsons responded.
''Well, thank you, Parsons,'' Percival said, turning back round to his servant, whilst straightening himself out.
''You're welcome, Sir,'' Parsons returned with a smile. Percival smiled back, then turned left to proceed out of the house. He came out onto gravelled ground, and turned right to venture to where the orchard was. It was located at the far end of the grand garden of Comerton Hall, and Percival took a subdued walk towards it. When he emerged from around the corner, he was greeted by the sight of a large table set out with food. However, Percival was more taken aback by seeing not only Garth, Algernon and his parents, but Hannah and Rosemary Bartlett, as well as Valerie and Millicent.
''Well, this is a pleasant surprise! I didn't know you were coming, Hannah and Rosemary!'' Percival gushed as he came up behind them. They arose and hugged him, as Valerie looked on.
''Your mother invited us along. We haven't seen you for a long time, and we thought we should see you before we go off to India,'' Rosemary spoke. She had a soft but high voice, and was the elder of her sister Hannah, being 17 years old. She had fair blonde hair, light brown eyes and she was a slender girl. She was wearing a blue dress with a white shawl and cream bonnet on her head.
''Yes, and I wanted to see Algernon and Millicent too. I'm glad we could make it. But I was surprised to see Garth Mason here,'' Hannah said, her voice sounding shrill and mischievous. She was 15, and was slightly shorter than her sister. She had the same shade of blonde hair as her sister, and was wearing a pink and white dress with a white shawl and a light pink bonnet on her head.
''Oh, yes, he surprised us all yesterday when he arrived. Leave it to Garth to astound us all with his sudden arrival,'' Percival mused. The group chuckled lightly.
''Did my mother tell you about the ball we are having next Saturday?'' Percival asked the girls.
''Oh yes, she did. I cannot wait,'' Rosemary said. Percival then went to sit beside Garth, as Millicent, Algernon, Hannah and Rosemary went to play a game of croquet.
''Has every one already eaten?'' Percival asked.
''Yes; you are the only one left,'' Garth answered.
''I'm always late, aren't I?'' Percival jested rhetorically. Garth and Valerie smiled. Percival took some sandwiches and put them on a plate before sitting back down to eat.
''So, aren't you going to regale us with your tales of America, Garth?'' Valerie asked him.
''Well, there is not much to say. You have to be there to see it for yourself,'' Garth remarked. Valerie glanced quickly at Percival, who was engrossed in eating his sandwiches.
''I would love to go. It would be nice to see how it looks now, with all the work that is being done on the rail roads and such,'' Valerie remarked.
''Yes, it is becoming very industrialized. The growth is exponential in terms of business,'' Percival mentioned.
''Speaking of business, I have a proposition for you, Percy,'' Garth turned his attention to his friend.
''And speaking of business, that is my cue to leave,'' Valerie interjected as she arose.
''You are going already?'' Percival said, looking up at her in earnest. Valerie looked away from his eyes briefly.
''You know how the laborious discourse of commerce bores me, Percy. I am going to casually perambulate around the garden,'' Valerie retorted, regaining her curt manner. The men stood up and bowed to her before she left.
''Commerce may be boring to deal with, but it is about making money nonetheless,'' Garth noted as he and Percival sat back down.
''Yes. So what did you want to propose, Garth?'' Percival asked him, devouring the last morsel of food on his plate.
''I'm not sure what you will think of it. It may be too brash and sudden,'' Garth started. Percival observed him in puzzlement.
''Brash? In what way?'' Percival pressed him. Garth looked directly at him.
''Come with me to America,'' he declared. Percival became somewhat stunned.
''Come with you to America? But...why?'' Percival asked him.
''It would be good for you to get a handle of the manner of business, old chap. I mean...yes, you have your parents' fortune to come, as well as your father's investments in London, but you could gain your own business in America. It's all very easy,'' Garth tried to persuade him. Percival's countenance was telling of apprehension.
''I'm...not sure Garth. Well, not yet anyway. I'll tell you what, I'll have a think about it, then I'll have an answer for you at the ball. Is that all right?'' Percival responded.
''Yes, that's fine. There is no rush; I'm not going back until February anyway,'' Garth said.
''So you are staying here for the winter? That's good. But I thought you would be going back sooner,'' Percival said.
''Oh, why is that?'' Garth questioned. Percival turned to him, smirked and raised one eyebrow.
''I thought there was another reason why you stayed so long in America. Apart from business I mean,'' Percival mused. Garth gave a baffled expression.
''What on earth are you talking about, Percy?'' Garth queried.
''You once said that only ''someone of the female kind could hold you hostage for long periods of time if they had an above average countenance that did not fall when they danced''. Is that still true? Did you find an above average girl in America, that held you hostage in California for fourteen months?'' Percival retorted. Garth began to smile before the pair burst into a fit of laughter.
''Oh, yes, I do remember that. No, unfortunately, there has not been a girl. But there are a few gold patches I've seen over there, old chap,'' Garth mused. Percival scoffed to himself.
''No one who is the one for you? Surprising, Garth, very surprising,'' Percival commented. Garth looked up briefly and caught a glimpse of Valerie at the far end of the orchard, observing a cluster of red roses, before she turned left, out of sight.
''No one for you, either Percy? I thought there would be someone for you already. I believed that I would return from America to hear you had been engaged,'' Garth said.
''No...not yet. And...I'm not sure when. Or to whom, either,'' Percival replied. Garth watched his friend closely.
''You had never thought about...someone close to home?'' Garth pursued. Percival looked up at him.
''No. Not really. The girls around here...I'm not sure about,'' Percival answered vaguely.
''But you have given thought to it?'' Garth asked him.
''Of course,'' Percival responded. Garth sighed.
''So...what about Valerie?'' Garth questioned. Percival's head snapped up instantaneously at Garth.
''What about her?'' Percival asked, somewhat baffled, but knowing what Garth meant. Unbeknownst to the pair, Valerie had come up on the other side of the orchard, and began to listen in to their conversation as soon as she heard her name.
''You and her...you bond so well. Even when you were younger. You have something between you,'' Garth encouraged. Valerie leaned her ear in closely to hear Percival's response.
''No...I don't think so. Valerie and I...are nothing more than cousins and friends,'' Percival brushed off. Valerie took her ear away in disappointment.
''How can you be so sure? Something could develop, you know. And there is no one that suits you better than her,'' Garth continued. Percival sighed and leaned forward, resting his elbows on his legs, and clasping his hands together.
''I don't think...I love her. It's not there for me,'' Percival admitted. Valerie's face changed, and a tear began to run down her cheek. She backed away quietly, and then turned around, sobbing silently. Garth looked at his friend and shook his head.
''What a shame,'' he said to himself.