Aug 01, 2021 10:06 PM
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"Hello, Mr. Hammond," Bella says with her best fake grin.

She'll lie to him if she has to, but "pleased to meet you" is purely optional.
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"Junior assures me they're not dating," Mrs. Hammond adds brightly.

"Junior has a tendency to lie like a rug, in case you haven't noticed," says Mr. Hammond. (Alice assumes a generally contrite expression.) "Well, girl? Doth the delinquent protest too much?"
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"We aren't dating," Bella confirms. "As a general habit I don't date at all, in fact."

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"Respectable," Mr. Hammond says grudgingly. "All right, boy, you can keep her. But we're going to have a talk tonight about respectable behaviour in this house."

"Yessir," says Alice.
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Bella cocks her head and looks politely, inquisitively, and above all with an innocent bemusedness, at Mr. Hammond.

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"Can't have you two disappearing off together," he explains shortly. "Who knows what he'd take it into his head to do with you."

Alice looks very slightly pained, but doesn't protest this assessment of his behaviour patterns.
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Bella doesn't really know what to say here. So many possible replies are off-limits.

She settles on just retaining her careful facial expression.

Perhaps Mr. Hammond will think she's slightly dim.
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"...Never mind," he says at last, and turns his attention to Alice. "Don't you make any trouble," he says warningly.

"Nossir."

Mr. Hammond snorts disbelievingly. "Keep an eye on them, Judith," he instructs, and turns to walk out of the room.
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Bella turns a bright smile on Mrs. Hammond. "Does this mean you'll be finishing up the tour of the house for me?" she asks.

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"I'd love to," says Mrs. Hammond with an answering smile. "Have you finished with the ground floor?"

"Yep," Alice puts in.

"Then why don't I take you upstairs?"
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"Makes sense to me," agrees Bella.

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"Perfect. Come along," she says, and leads the way to the stairs. Alice falls in behind her, duckling-fashion.

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Bella too channels a duckling. She may as well carry on playing "slightly dim"; Alice will not be fooled, and it's possible that Mrs. Hammond is less oblivious than she appears and talks to her husband about things.

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Probably a good plan.

Contrary to Alice, who tends to let the pretty things speak for themselves, his mother has a story for everything from the carpets to the chandeliers. (Well, there's only one chandelier, hanging from the ceiling at the top of the stairs and spraying fragments of light onto the walls. She has a story for it, nevertheless, regarding its purchase back in New York and brief sojourn in the room downstairs before she decided that the pillars were prohibitive in a good ballroom and had it moved up here.)

Alice mostly just lets her talk. He seems much more relaxed with her than he was when his father was present.
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Bella listens attentively. There's nothing else to do, and useful information can crop up pretty much anywhere. She even asks questions about the more interesting objects, and the less complete stories.

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Apparently the peculiar shape of the wall in one of the spacious upstairs guest rooms is because it conceals the chimney of a recently demolished fireplace— "it just wasn't modern enough," Mrs. Hammond flutters, and goes on to describe the origin of the wallpaper. Alice seems more amused than the situation really warrants.

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Bella begins to wonder just how many rooms this place has. And why she thought exploring it would be fun.

Probably she thought exploring it would be fun because she didn't expect to turn off her personality for much of the excursion.
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Alice observes Bella's boredom after a little while; they have moved on from that guest room to its slightly more well-appointed neighbour, and Mrs. Hammond is extolling the virtues of down pillows.

"Hey, Mom," he interrupts, to no obvious censure. "When's dinner?"

"That is an excellent question," says Mrs. Hammond. "Why don't you go find out?"

He blinks, considers, then shrugs. "Okay, I guess. Back in a bit. Don't get lost."

Mrs. Hammond laughs.
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"Make sure they didn't swap the lobster for snails," says Bella with a faint smile.

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"You got it," he says, and salutes her on his way out.

Mrs. Hammond sits down on the edge of the bed, smoothing out her skirts.

"...Are you sure you aren't dating him?" she asks, somewhere between plaintive and wistful.
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"I'm not dating him," Bella says. "If you think he likes me, perhaps you're right, but I really don't generally date, and he hasn't asked me on anything more datelike than this visit." She tilts her head. "Why?"

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Mrs. Hammond sighs. "I just think it would really do him some good to get out of this house once in a while." Wryly, "And somehow I just don't see him going to a friend's house to study."

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"Maybe not to study," Bella shrugs. "I could have him over just to hang out."

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"I would be very grateful," says Mrs. Hammond. She looks... forlorn. Forlorn is a good word. "I had such hopes for him, once upon a time."

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"Oh?" Bella asks softly.

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