Percival William Henry Hayes, Earl of Hardford, Viscount Barclay, was hugely, massively, colossally bored. All of which descriptors were basically the same thing, of course, but really he was bored to the marrow of his bones. He was almost too bored to heave himself out of his chair in order to refill his glass at the sideboard across the room. No, he was too bored. Or perhaps just too drunk. Maybe he had even gone as far as drinking the ocean dry.
He was celebrating his thirtieth birthday, or at least he had been celebrating it. He suspected that by now it was well past midnight, which fact would mean that his birthday was over and done with, as were his careless, riotous, useless twenties.
He was lounging in his favorite soft leather chair to one side of the hearth in the library of his town house, he was pleased to observe, but he was not alone, as he really ought to be at this time of night, whatever the devil time that was. Through the fog of his inebriation he seemed to recall that there had been celebrations at White’s Club with a satisfyingly largish band of cronies, considering the fact that it was very early in February and not at all a fashionable time to be in London.
The noise level, he remembered, had escalated to the point at which several of the older members had frowned in stern disapproval—old fogies and fossils, the lot of them—and the inscrutable waiters had begun to show cracks of strain and indecision. How did one chuck out a band of drunken gentlemen, some of them of noble birth, without giving permanent offense to them and to all their family members to the third and fourth generation past and future? But how did one not do the chucking when inaction would incur the wrath of the equally nobly born fogies?
Some amicable solution must have been found, however, for here he was in his own home with a small and faithful band of comrades. The others must have taken themselves off to other revelries, or perhaps merely to their beds.
“Sid.” He turned his head on the back of the chair without taking the risk of raising it. “In your considered opinion, have I drunk the ocean dry tonight? It would be surprising if I had not. Did not someone dare me?”
The Honorable Sidney Welby was gazing into the fire—or what had been the fire before they had let it burn down without shoveling on more coal or summoning a servant to do it for them. His brow furrowed in thought before he delivered his answer. “Couldn’t be done, Perce,” he said. “Replenished consh—constantly by rivers and streams and all that. Brooks and rills. Fills up as fast as it empties out.”
“And it gets rained upon too, cuz,” Cyril Eldridge added helpfully, “just as the land does. It only feels as if you had drunk it dry. If it is dry, though, it having not rained lately, we all had a part in draining it. My head is going to feel at least three times its usual size tomorrow morning, and dash it all but I have a strong suspicion I agreed to escort m’sisters to the library or some such thing, and as you know, Percy, m’mother won’t allow them to go out with just a maid for company. They always insist upon leaving at the very crack of dawn too, lest someone else arrive before them and carry off all the books worth reading. Which is not a large number, in my considered opinion. And what are they all doing in town this early, anyway? Beth is not making her come-out until after Easter, and she cannot need that many clothes. Can she? But what does a brother know? Nothing whatsoever if you listen to m’sisters.”
Cyril was one of Percy’s many cousins. There were twelve of them on the paternal side of the family, the sons and daughters of his father’s four sisters, and twenty-three of them at last count on his mother’s side, though he seemed to remember her mentioning that Aunt Doris, her youngest sister, was in a delicate way again for about the twelfth time. Her offspring accounted for a large proportion of those twenty-three, soon to be twenty-four. All of the cousins were amiable. All of them loved him, and he loved them all, as well as all the uncles and aunts, of course. Never had there been a closer-knit, more loving family than his, on both sides. He was, Percy reflected with deep gloom, the most fortunate of mortals.
“The bet, Perce,” Arnold Biggs, Viscount Marwood, added, “was that you could drink Jonesey into a coma before midnight—no mean feat. He slid under the table at ten to twelve. It was his snoring that finally made us decide that it was time to leave White’s. It was downright distracting.”
“And so it was.” Percy yawned hugely. That was one mystery solved. He raised his glass, remembered that it was empty, and set it down with a clunk on the table beside him. “Devil take it but life has become a crashing bore.”
“You will feel better tomorrow after the shock of turning thirty today has waned,” Arnold said. “Or do I mean today and yesterday? Yes, I do. The small hand of the clock on your mantel points to three, and I believe it. The sun is not shining, however, so it must be the middle of the night. Though at this time of the year it is always the middle of the night.”
“What do you have to be bored about, Percy?” Cyril asked, sounding aggrieved. “You have everything a man could ask for. Everything.”
Percy turned his mind to a contemplation of his many blessings. Cyril was quite right. There was no denying it. In addition to the aforementioned loving extended family, he had grown up with two parents who adored him as their only son—their only child as it had turned out, though they had apparently made a valiant effort to populate the nursery with brothers and sisters for him. They had lavished everything upon him that he could possibly want or need, and they had had the means with which to do it in style.