Finally, the much awaited chime of the bell rang aloud and Percy rushed out of the dark-panelled classroom of Hailbury Boarding School, taking the little beetle he’d befriended that morning out of his pocket to let it roam in the luscious grass whilst he ate his lunch under the soothing September sun. Percy loved the outdoors; the fresh, English air was all he knew. He ignored that his long trousers were collecting grassy stains from the moist ground.
As Percy happily contented himself with his beetle, Freddie, thinking about Rufus and eating his cheese sandwich, Janet Parson joined him on the grass. This was most peculiar behaviour: Percy and Janet had never particularly been close, despite the strong relationship between their parents. Beyond this, a girl simply did not come to sit with a boy; Janet’s behaviour was preposterous by the school’s ordinary codes of conduct, thus Percy was rather startled by her appearance.
‘Hello, Miss Parson,’ he mumbled strangely, not quite achieving the gentlemanly etiquette he had always been taught.
‘Hello, Percy. I saw you sitting by yourself, and thought I’d join you for lunch,’ Janet replied, hesitating. ‘I hope you don’t mind.’
Percy was unsure whether or not he minded. Consequently, he found himself answering, ‘No, not at all.’
There was a lull in their conversation.
‘I heard that you have a pet beetle…’ Janet offered.
‘Oh, yes, here he is.’ Percy pointed at Freddie, trundling around in the tall grass, becoming lost amidst the sea of green.
‘Oh, he’s beautiful…’ Janet smiled. ‘You know, I don’t understand why some of the other children don’t like you. I think you’re really nice.’
Percy, flabbergasted, was unsure how to respond. It was certainly unusual behaviour for a girl to be so forward, or so he had been told by his school mistress. He coughed delicately, managing, ‘Thank you, Miss Parson. You seem very nice as well.’
Janet’s face was overcome with a faint blush and an exuberant smile. ‘Oh, do you really think so? This is wonderful!’ Without permission, she picked up his top hat from the ground and placed it on her head. Indeed, she was a peculiar girl, Percy thought. ‘Mama is always telling me about you, saying we’d make a lovely couple one day. Our parents have discussed it at length. And I must say, I agree! Wouldn’t I make a delightful wife for you, Percy?’ With innocent delight, she looked expectantly at Percy.
Percy’s eyes widened. At the mere age of 13, he had never considered marriage, and to find that his parents had betrothed him to Janet Parson? Did he not have a say in the matter? Moreover, that Janet Parson agreed to this folly? What must Percy do? He certainly could not agree to marry Janet Parson with her curly brown hair, interrupting him from his thoughts. How was he to escape such commitment?
Freddie stopped rambling in the grass and looked up, concerned, as though sympathetic towards the situation.