The Moonstone

Chapter 4 -  Tea Ceremony

 

@copyright Jean G. Hontz 2010

 

Grace Whitby was comfortably ensconced in Lady Arbuthnot’s drawing room with about six other visitors the next afternoon, when the butler entered and handed his Lady a card. Lady Arbuthnot’s eyes went wide and a satisfied smile lit her face. “By all means, show Mr Vyse right in, Johnston,” she said.

Grace hid a smile. So, her intelligence had indeed been correct. But then Lady Arbuthnot was the de facto plenipotentate of the highest rungs of Bath society. She was, or thought she should be at least, the one hostess everyone begging entry into Bath’s most august society should petition first.

Grace, always a bit of a rebel, couldn’t silence her thoughts. It amused her to speculate as to whether Julian Vyse were the petitioner, or whether Lady Arbuthnot hadn’t sent a private invitation begging him to visit. She'd have to investigate.

The man who entered most definitely did not fit Grace's expectations. Not one bit. He was not tall, dark and handsome like Ian Blakesley. Nor was he ponderously self-important as was Lord Wallington sitting across from her now. Instead, he was fair, with the most unruly blond hair. His smile was absolutely devilish, and Grace did not miss the fact that he immediately identified the prudes in the room. Oh, this would be fun!

Vyse bowed low over Lady Arbuthnot’s hand, and gave her a pretty speech about how honored he was to be invited in. Grace very nearly lost all sense of propriety when he looked up from Lady Arbuthnot’s hand and met her eyes and winked at her. The devil!

Grace smiled a secret smile at him when it was her turn to be introduced. For his part, Julian Vyse raised an eyebrow and whispered for her ears only, “Ian has excellent taste. But then I knew that.”

Seating was quickly re-arranged as such things were usually done, to accommodate highly sought after guests, Vyse given the seat of honor between Lady Arbuthnot and the highest ranking person in the room, the Lady Flora Whyte-Cook, whose husband was a member of the sitting cabinet. She, alas for her, was one of the prudes in the room. Lucky for her, she was rather hard of hearing.

Grace accepted a refill of her tea cup, and sat back to enjoy the fireworks. Within only a few moments, Julian, as he insisted everyone call him, was in control of the room and the conversation. He said just enough to be slightly shocking, and implied enough that those in the know realized he was being very daring. The more straight-laced in the room however were left in the dust, several paragraphs behind his easy flow of nonsense, so that they hardly had time to realize they ought to be perturbed before he was on to yet another slightly off-color topic. The result was immensely entertaining for Grace and the other people in the room who fully appreciated such things.

Some half-hour later, another guest was announced, and Lady Arbuthnot surprisingly, showed a bit of confusion when she looked at the card Johnston handed her. Still, she wasn’t a doyen of Bath society for nothing, so she nodded to Johnston to allow the gentleman entry.

Whereas Julian Vyse’s entry into the drawing room had focused on his personality and his smile, the man entering now captured every bit the same amount of attention through ... What was it, Grace wondered? He was absolutely magical in some way or other. But the impact he had on the room was more raw male sexuality.

He was slender, not much above normal height, but very long in the leg which made the current fashion look good indeed on him. His skin was darker than the normal Englishman and made Grace wonder if he had some Moorish blood in him. His hair was the deepest black, as were his eyes.

“Zakariyya Khan, dear Lady” he murmured as he bowed over Lady Arbuthnot’s hand. “Your honored husband was my father’s dearest friend when they both served in Baghdad. I promised my father that whilst I was in England I would give you his kindest regards.”

Lord Arbuthnot had been dead 10 years now, and so Lady Arbuthnot might be allowed the moment of surprise which left her quite speechless.

The newcomer gave her a moment to recover, and looked away, his eyes seemingly accidentally settling on Julian Vyse. The two men regarded one another for several moments too long.

Grace, as she watched all this, held her breath when the newcomer and Julian Vyse’s eyes met. Something passed between them. Power shot back and forth across the room. Luckily she and they were the only magical people in the room to sense it. Otherwise...

And then Lady Arbuthnot, sighing, brought the man’s attention back to her with a sigh. Wiping a tear from her eye, a tear that several of her friends would know was quite feigned as she and her late husband had never been more than vaguely affectionate, was recovering and filling the ensuing silence with a welcome even for this very very foreign young man. He did, after all, have impeccable Victorian manners and his English was flawless with an Oxbridgian accent.

“Mr Khan,” Lady Arbuthnot breathed, affection in her voice.

He shook his head. “Please. Call me Zak. We Persians don’t really have an equivalent to English family names. Just Zak is fine.”

Lady Arbuthnot smiled. “Zak, then. Please allow me to introduce you to everyone.”

Grace was a bit disappointed when fireworks didn’t erupt when the two men were officially introduced. Not even when Zak held out his hand to Vyse and the Englishman took it with every evidence of polite interest.

When Zak bowed over her hand, however, Grace got a distinct shock. It wasn’t so much his touch, but more a mental interaction, as if he’d tested her mental shields. She wasn’t, Grace fully realized, a very powerful magician. Her strengths were far more mundane: seduction, intellect, curiosity.

Zak, after holding her hand for what felt like far too long to be polite, released it, and met her eyes again as he raised them from her hand. “Mrs Whitby. I do hope you’ll allow me to call on you one afternoon?”

She was so surprised it took her a moment to find a word or three. “Why, uhm, Zak. I’d be delighted if you would do so.”

Then he was moving on, and as he turned to walk away, Grace found herself staring into Julian Vyse’s eyes. His looked ... Guarded?

Considering his rather unorthodox entry into the drawing room, Zakariyya Khan proved a polite but retiring member of the group. He answered questions politely enough, but never elaborated beyond the basics. Mostly he listened, and Grace noticed his eyes were mostly on Julian Vyse. How very interesting.

Grace, after perhaps another 20 minutes, accepted the role of proper guest and stood to make her apologies and depart.

As she waited for her carriage to be brought round she was not surprised to hear Julian Vyse also pleading forgiveness for leaving so soon. The rest of the guests all seemed to awaken from their enchantment and began to take their leave as well, including the most exotic and intriguing Zakariyya Khan.

That gentleman suddenly appeared at her shoulder. He was taller than she realized. He looked down on her and for a moment she swore his eyes were suddenly revolving pools of silver and sapphire.

She shook her head, thinking the day had been simply too much, and when she looked again, his eyes were just as dark and foreign as ever, and were decidedly not swirling. She smiled up at him and let Johnston take her out to the carriage whilst he held an umbrella to keep the rain off of her.

Once she was safely seated in the carriage she leaned forward to look out the window. She could hardly help but notice that Julian and Zak were regarding one another over the small sea of other departing guests as if they two were the only persons standing there.

 

 

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