M. instantly backed away from the door. But it was only Thompson. He took no notice of her, though. Through the glass, M. could see him lift a wine bottle in the air from a small table. Everyone watched as he popped the cork out of the top, and they all cheered. Wine glasses began to be filled, and the noisy chatter continued.
Gradually, they all began speaking together and not individually. It was after Alexander stood up and quieted everyone.
“Mr. and Mrs. Perkins,” he began, smiling at Lucy’s parents, “Mr. and Mrs. Terrance,” he smiled at the Terrances. “The wonderful Ms. Theodora Patient has given me permission to announce…something very important.”
M. glanced at her grandmother, who looked on with some sense of pride.
Alexander paused with his glass in the air. He looked back and took Genevieve’s hand. Genevieve looked as though she would bust with excitement.
“Tonight,” he continued. “I have the honor and the privilege to say, that Miss Genevieve Patient has accepted my proposal of marriage.”
M.’s jaw dropped. There was a wave of excited commotion that rushed through the dining room.
“And we will be married next spring!” Alexander finished over all of the excited gasps and enthusiastic remarks. “And it could not seem any farther away.” He squeezed Genevieve’s hand. M. rolled her eyes.
Mr. Terrance stood up with his wine glass. “To Alexander, and the future Mrs. Bolton!” he said.
There was a mix of “To Alexander and Genevieve!” and “The future Mrs. Bolton!” and things like that as they all clanked their wine glasses and drank. Mr. Terrance and Alexander sat down again, his hand still wrapped around Genevieve’s.
M. was outraged and utterly shocked. “Alexander Bolton!” she raged silently, “marrying Genevieve? He can’t marry her! He’s so arrogant!”
“Tell me, Alexander,” Mrs. Terrance asked, with a genial smile. “What school are you attending?”
“I am finishing my last year at Harvard,” Alexander replied.
“Really? Such a marvelous school—my brother went there,” said Mrs. Terrance.
“Did he?” Alexander asked, intrigued. “What did he study?”
“Well,” she smiled. “He had a fondness for famous composers and the classics. He greatly enjoys the music school there.”
“Fascinating!” Alexander exclaimed. M. somehow found it hard to believe that he thought it was.
“What are you studying, Alexander?” Mr. Perkins asked.
“Business,” Alexander answered, “—marketing and sales. I cannot say it is the simplest class.” Everyone laughed.
“Do you enjoy it?” Mr. Perkins asked again.
“I do,” Alexander replied. “It enthralls me, really. I—”
“I forget,” Mrs. Bolton suddenly interrupted. M. was sure that it was unintentional, since she always did things like that. Her pompous air always frustrated M. and, she was sure, her grandmother as well. “Is Harvard a segregated school?”
“Oh Mother they would never allow former slaves to attend one of the best universities in the nation,” Alexander remarked casually. “What would this world come to?” he added, smiling as if cracking a joke. Genevieve giggled. And this encouraged him to continue. “Surely they are not in great need of education. You don’t even need a degree for a servant’s job.”
Genevieve was the only one who laughed at this, aside from Mrs. Bolton. M.’s grandmother was quite grave as she dabbed her mouth with her napkin, for the salads had been previously brought out.
“One of my servant girls has attended college,” she said firmly, not looking at anyone. “Her father fought for his civil rights.”
You could literally hear a pin drop if anyone had dared to drop one. The Perkins and Terrances seemed content at this remark. Mrs. Bolton looked stunned, as did Alexander amidst his sudden embarrassment. Genevieve looked quite perturbed that her grandmother had said such a thing. Because of her fiancé, she had grown to strongly share the opinions and beliefs of the Bolton family, which often differed from M.’s grandmother.
“Ella?” Genevieve suddenly blurted out, disoriented. “Ella went to college?”
Alexander smiled, trying to make the scene less awkward. “Why, of course, I suppose some—”
“There are many former slaves who seek education, Mr. Bolton,” interrupted M.’s grandmother, her eyes narrowing. “They have every right and privilege as we do. There are some in this world who think that because of the tone of skin, we are much more above them in every aspect. Those who believe that, however, are the ones lower than the common man.”
“Grandmama…” Genevieve hissed.
“Surely not all of your staff thinks like you do?” Mrs. Bolton affirmed arrogantly.
“No,” Mrs. Patient replied gravely. “But it is a rule in this house to treat others as equals. And to me, that includes all others.”
“It’s not natural, Theodora!” Mrs. Bolton opposed.
“She’s right!” Genevieve added. “They are so different compared to us—so much lower!”
Anger was boiling up inside M.’s head.
“They are animals,” Mrs. Bolton continued, “—simple creatures that do not deserve the things we do. We are civilized beings with civilized culture and speech. They—” she said it in disgust—“come from the country where they do not have the riches and opportunities that we do. They are no good here. They shouldn’t be allowed to come into our schools, take our jobs, and hardly even live in our houses! They are beasts that only deserve to be at our mercy or to be sent back to their own country—”
M. had heard enough. She burst through the door, stamped her foot and shouted, “Don’t talk about Ella like that!”
No sooner had she said this, the violinist made a sudden jolt from surprise, thrusting his bow into the pianist’s forehead. Clutching his head, the music stopped as he toppled off the piano bench in front of the kitchen door. Thompson entered through the door with a cheerful smile, carrying a platter of re-filled wine glasses. Tripping over the wind-blown pianist, the wine splattered all around the room. Glass shattered. Thompson tumbled to the ground.
It had become moderately quiet when the pianist had fallen. Now, it had become completely silent. Thompson began to rise, but Britta opened the kitchen door and began to enter, carrying the large cream pie. She backed out of the kitchen, chatting with Mrs. Anntrove. As she turned around, she too fell on top of Thompson and the unfortunate pianist. They were all quite upset and bewildered.
Britta had let go of the cream pie, and it soared through the air, landing right in Alexander’s face. His face was smothered in thick whipped cream and filling when he returned the pie to the table. Globs of whipped cream also fell on Genevieve and her pretty dress. The dog, which lived a solitary life in the tall house, (that was when M. did not visit him), instantly jumped up onto the table and licked the whipped cream off of his face. The food, plates, and goblets were scattered everywhere. And no one said a word.
M. watched with wide eyes and utter shock, yet her stubborn glare did not leave her. She was still angry with the Boltons for talking about Ella the way they had. Alexander and Genevieve were a complete mess, as were the Terrances, who had most of the spilled wine all over them. Genevieve spotted M. but did not say a word, for she was staggered and fuming beyond words. With the room in complete silence, and with all eyes on her, she stamped her foot again and continued, glaring crossly at Mrs. Bolton.
“Ella is the most fantastic maid we have!” she screamed. “Don’t talk about her like that—she’s a better maid than you could ever be! She’s pretty and kind, and she does more work than any other maid we have! And she’s my friend, if anything else! She is not an animal! She is not a beast! She’s the most wonderful person in the world! You’re the one that does not deserve anything you have—you, and Alexander, and Christopher! You only think for yourselves!”
“M.!!!” Genevieve finally got out.
She seemed as if she would pounce on M. at any moment. Her eyes nearly filled with tears as she tried to think of something strict to say. But M. simply glared right back. But Genevieve’s low demand nearly chilled her as she ordered through clenched teeth, “Go upstairs.”
“I won’t!” M. shrieked. Her nosed itched and began to hurt. No, she would not cry. This was too far for Mrs. Bolton. “I won’t!” she repeated.
“Miranda,” her grandmother said. Her voice was severely grave and firm. This really did give M. chills up her spine, for she could tell her grandmother was very angry. Realizing the narrowness and horror of her eyes, M. somehow lost her stubborn glare she had been so proud of.
“Go upstairs to bed,” she said. And M. had no choice and no willingness but to obey.
She dashed away from the door before anyone could tell her twice. In the parlor, away from the dining room, her pace slowed. She reached the stairs, and a familiar small hand caught her arm, pulling her along faster. It was Ella.
“Ella!” M. cried out again. She was so relieved to see her. “You didn’t hear all those things Mrs. Bolton said, did you?”
“Now you best quit hollerin’ so much, Miss Miranda, or you’ll be gettin’ into more trouble,” Ella said softly but sternly. She held M.’s arm fast as she half dragged her up the long stairway. There was much commotion in the dining room, but M. did not want to listen to it. She felt guilty but proud at the same time.
She noticed Ella’s face. There were tears hidden in her eyes. Though her face was firm as she hurried M. up the stairs, it was sad too. M. began to panic.
“Ella she said horrible things about you! I didn’t know what to do! You’re my favorite person in the world—I wouldn’t let her say those things!”
“It doesn’t matter now,” Ella said hastily. Her voice was choked. They reached the top of the stairs. Entering into M.’s darkened bedroom, M. jumped into bed and let Ella pull the covers over her. M. attempted in a softer voice.
“Ella…” she started. “Grandmama wouldn’t have let Mrs. Bolton get away with saying all those mean things, would she?”
“Of course not, Miss Miranda,” Ella said, still quietly. “But now you know better than to go snappin’ at Mrs. Bolton like a wild child. I declare I never seen you do such a thing. Now you know your grandmutha’ ain’t gonna forget this in the mornin’.”
“I know,” M. muttered.
“Goodnight, Miss Miranda,” Ella stated.
Before she left the room, M. sat up again. “Ella?”
Ella turned, impatiently, but still good-naturedly.
“Ella…she didn’t hurt you did she?” M. asked with her eyes wide and curious.
The maid paused. She looked away. She didn’t answer.
“Goodnight now, Miss Miranda.”
M. saw a tear falling down her cheek as she closed the door.