A bell rang above the din of the crowd in the drawing room, announcing the arrival of a new guest to the party. The ladies in the corner by the piano stole glances at the door while snacking delicately from a tray of hors d’oeuvres held by a servant.
“Is that Mr. Underhill with his new wife?” asked Lady Brackem, choosing a square of cheese.
“I heard she was a foreigner,” said Mrs. Canteby.
“I wonder if she’s American?” asked Miss Bumble. All the ladies gave her sympathetic glances, for it was well known that Miss Bumble had been in love with Mr. Underhill ever since his family had come to town after King George III’s coronation. There had been some speculations about a match, even though Miss Bumble’s father had nearly run the family penniless with his gambling debts.
“If she’s American, we’ll know by her dress. They’re always several months behind on the fashions,” said Lady Brackem, touching Miss Bumble’s arm lightly. “But some men find them exotic, I suppose.”
Miss Bumble smiled, though there was a hint of a tear in her eyes. “I heard that their courtship was short indeed. He was only in France for a few weeks.”
The women all tsk-tsked about the impropriety, then set about smoothing their dresses as it became clear that the newcomers were heading their way through the crowd.
“Look at the ruffles on her dress, I’ve never seen the like,” Lady Brackem said softly. “I wonder if it’s French?”
The tight circle broke to include the newcomers and the ladies all curtsied to Mr. Underhill. “Mrs. Canteby, Lady Brackem, and Miss Bumble,” he began, bowing to each of them. His eyes lingered the longest on Miss Bumble. “I’d like you to meet my new wife, Mrs. Yowagoth Underhill.”
Mrs. Underhill took off her ribboned hat and curtsied. Lady Brackem gasped, Mrs. Canteby lifted both hands to her face, and Miss Bumble paled. Mr. Underhill’s new bride was indeed foreign: although her hair was coiled in the latest fashion, numerous tentacles hung down from her upper lip, tied together with a satin ribbon just under her chin. Her skin had a slight greenish cast to it.
“Pleeezed to meet yous,” said Mrs. Underhill.
“Charmed,” replied Lady Brackem, attempting to recover herself. “Is that a French accent I detect?”
Mr. Underhill answered for his wife. “She was educated in Paris, though her father is a foreigner. He’s in the plutonium and radium trade, so he tells me, and owns a manufacturing plant for a new invention called a quantum starship drive.”
“Progress moves so quickly these days, doesn’t it?” said Mrs. Canteby. The ladies nodded assent, staring wide-eyed at Mrs. Underhill. “I assume that her father is doing quite well with this pluto… plutonerium and radion?”
“Oh yes,” replied Mr. Underhill. “Plutonium and radium, he says. We’ll be making many improvements to the manor.” He patted his wife’s hand, which was looped under his arm.
Miss Bumble’s mouth drew into a tight line and she barely blinked back tears at the mention of his wife’s wealth.
Lady Brackem noticed Miss Bumble’s distress and quickly changed the subject. “Does the new Mrs. Underhill have many talents? Painting? Dancing? She must be quite accomplished.”
Mr. Underhill smiled uncertainly. “Of course, she went to the best school in Paris.”
They all stared at her for a few moments, but she only looked at the floor demurely, a rosy blush starting at the corners of her greenish cheeks.
Lady Brackem was not to be deterred. “Will you sing for us, Mrs. Underhill?”
The green head shook no.
Mrs. Canteby spoke up. “Do you play the violin?”
Miss Bumble cleared her throat and asked quietly, “The piano?”
The head nodded enthusiastically.
“Oh, splendid!” cried Lady Brackem. “Miss Bumble, you must have Mrs. Underhill accompany you on the piano. You sing so sweetly.”
Miss Bumble tried to protest, but eventually acquiesced. “Do you know ‘The Swan Floats on the Pond’ in E-flat, Mrs. Underhill?”
After a brisk nod, Mrs. Underhill reached up and untied the bow on her silk ribbon, letting the tentacles hang free. Exclamations came from around the room as others caught sight of her unfortunate appearance.
Mrs. Underhill swept her fine skirts over to the piano bench and sat down. Then she placed her fingers widely spaced apart on the white keys, and the tentacles lowered to the black keys in between. Another gasp from those watching in the crowd.
Lady Brackem turned to the room and announced, “Miss Bumble and Mrs. Underhill will be performing.” The other conversations around the room quieted.
Miss Bumble sang a quick warm-up scale and then nodded for Mrs. Underhill to begin.
Mrs. Underhill’s fingers and tentacles flew over the keys in a prelude. The music was so moving and expertly played that Miss Bumble missed her cue to begin singing and the music went on without her. The popular tune morphed and took on a variation that none had heard before, and they all became lost in the music. When the final note died, there were several seconds of silence. Then, Miss Bumble began clapping and there was a joyous uproar, with many cries of “Bravo! Encore!” from the men.
The blush from Mrs. Underhill’s cheeks moved down her tentacles. She tied them up again in the silk ribbon before rising from the piano bench.
“That was lovely!” exclaimed Mrs. Canteby.
“Delightful!” said Lady Brackem.
Miss Bumble stepped forward and took Mrs. Underhill’s hand. “Mr. Underhill is truly lucky to have such a talented wife. Will you join me for tea later this week?”
“I wouldz be delighted,” said Mrs. Underhill. “I have ze brother who I will bringz. He iz taking over my father’s business, and iz very, very handsome.”
Miss Bumble blushed. “Please do, I would be delighted to welcome your brother to Dribblyfordshire.”
Holliann R. Kim lives in Bethesda, Maryland (a suburb of Washington, D.C.), which is rumored to have the most restaurants per square mile in the country. When not eating, she is working on her first novel or doing yoga to combat the restaurants. Her fiction has been published in the Lovecraft eZine and Bards and Sages Quarterly.
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