The Most Beloved Boy – Taster

In the drawing room, the private guests were seated around listening to one of the Miss Harrisons play the piano. David was sitting at her side, turning the pages. It was a very genteel scene, and immediately, Dan felt too big and brash for such refinement. He stood by the door, waiting for an opportune moment to catch David’s eye and draw his attention to the guests outside. David did not see him, but someone else in the room did. Paul was standing near the door, almost as if he had been looking out for Dan. He moved discreetly to Dan’s side. Dan automatically stood up straight, wondering what was coming.

“Can I help you?” the Squire asked, in a tone that was anything but helpful.

“I thought David would want to know that the guests are leaving,” said Dan softly. “He should come and say goodbye.”

“I think the guests in this room are more important,” said Paul. “The people will understand.”

Dan said nothing more. The music was soft and gentle and he did not want to draw attention to himself and the Squire. At the end of the piece, he clapped politely with everyone else, but then felt a firm hand on his shoulder.

“Maybe you would be better helping Mrs Talbot in the kitchen,” said Paul.

Dan gently shrugged himself free of Paul’s grip. “I don’t think I’m needed anymore,” he said.

“Then maybe you should go to bed,” said Paul.

Miss Harrison started playing another piece. Dan dropped his voice lower. “I thought I was a guest at this party,” he said lightly, still smiling politely at the music.

“Let me make one thing clear,” said Paul, his voice equally low but rigid with hostility. “You may be David’s friend and guest, but you will never be that to me.”

Dan’s smile was wiped away. “What?” he said, caught off guard by Paul’s direct hostility.

“You heard me,” said Paul, his voice a grim whisper. “As far as I am concerned, the only thing that mars this day is your presence. You have no place here.”

Dan stared, seeing that Paul meant every word. “I say, Paul,” he began, trying to think of a way he could express how much he had hoped that things could have changed in the ten years he had been away. But Paul interrupted him sharply.

“What did you call me?” he demanded furiously. Dan cringed as he realised his mistake. After years of discussing Paul by name with David, he had forgotten that he no longer had the right to use the squire’s Christian name.

“I’m sorry,” he began, but Paul was too angry to hear him.

“How dare you?” he spat. “I am still your Squire. It will do you well to remember your place.”

“How could I forget,” said Dan coldly, “when you go out of your way to let me know how welcome I am.”

“You are not welcome,” said Paul abruptly. “You may stay tonight, for David’s sake, but no longer than that.”