Even from across the room Samantha was drawn to the curious figure. She could feel his mind churning while he sat in quiet silence.
In the sweltering and humid air he still wore a crisp white suit. A matching, dapper hat with a pale green band rested on the table beside him. His veined hand cupped a tall gin and tonic that was flourished with a sprig of mint. With the drink resting on his knee, he looked straight out from the patio into the descending evening.
The rest of the parlor bubbled with conversation, the swish of skirts and the clink of glasses. In the corner a young woman in lilac concentrated on the keys to the rickety piano. Notes only slightly out of tune due to warping wires underscored the pleasantries with a light harmony.
Samantha’s eyes however were constantly drawn back to the stoic figure calmly viewing the setting colors.
“Who is that man?” She gestured with a delicate finger to guide her mother’s attention.
Beneath her gray curls, Lady Horne’s eyes narrowed. Samantha pursed her lips. She should have known the figure might be too far for her mother to truly see clearly.
“I am not certain.” With a rise in her chin, Lady Horne turned and scanned the room. Her gaze landed on a pair of square shoulders nearby. “Reginald?”
The tall officer spun on a polished toe and blanketed them in a broad grin. Medals and ribbons on his lapel swayed on his chest. One palm rested on the gilded hilt of a long decorative sword while the other maneuvered his wine glass taking care not to spill a drop.
“Lady Horne.” He gave a bob of his sandy haired head. “Ms. Samantha.” He nodded prudently again.
Samantha felt her cheeks flush as his eyes failed to drop to the floor and instead lingered on her face.
“What might I do for you ladies this evening?”
“My daughter was interested in that quiet figure on the patio. Do you happen to know who he is?”
Reginald glanced towards the darkening porch. The flicker of torch light gleamed off the mysterious man’s suit and his thin layer of snowy hair.
“That would be Mr. Benet.” Reginald turned back and lowered his voice. “A quiet man I’m afraid. He tends to keep to himself and to his drink.” His toothy smile stretched. “Might either of you care for some punch? I find a cool glass makes these evening much more bearable.”
“That would be delightful,” said Lady Horne with an appreciative curve of her lace collared neck.
“It would be my pleasure.” With a click of his heels, and a bend at the red sash wrapped around his waist, Reginald headed towards the long table with it’s beaded bowl filled with a cranberry colored pool and floating orange slices.
Samantha’s eyes trailed back towards the porch and it’s sole, curious occupant. Mr. Benet she thought with rising interest. He seemed older than the rest of the officers and diplomats parading around the parlor. She followed his gaze out into the darkness, but the flicker of lanterns blotted out any details of what might have captured his attention.
“Samantha?” Her mother’s terse tone made Samantha leap in her laced boots.
Startled, she turned her back on the porch. “Yes, mother.”
“Didn’t you hear me? I said, Sir Reginald is quite a gentleman.”
Samantha’s eyes wandered away from her mother’s stern gaze and found the officer had been detoured into conversation with another man. This one had an array of tassels on his shoulders and a plump woman in dusty yellow curtsying in introduction.
“You could do much worse than an officer like him.”
Samantha blinked and looked back at her mother. The older woman was scanning the room again with an evaluating glint in her eye. Samantha felt her mouth turn dry.
“You need to be sure to make a good impression.”
Samantha’s knees began to quiver.
“I think I need a bit of fresh air.”
Lady Horne’s gaze whipped around from her usual inspection of other potential suitors. Samantha could feel her mother searching her blushing face and making note of the nervous breath coming through her pinked lips. Lady Horne’s narrow lips wrinkled with disapproval.
“Don’t be long. And don’t catch a chill. He’ll be back with punch before long.”
With a relieved exhale, Samantha headed out towards the patio and its evening breezes.
Her heels thumped upon the wooden floorboards as an array of floral scents tickled her nose. Without the lanterns, she could see down the rocky path that stretched from the set of stairs. In the distance, the wide river surged slowly by, its surface glinting in the orange and purples of dusk. Around her, shadows flickered through the dense foliage that drooped in the heavy air. The last twitters of the brightly colored birds now hidden behind branches and wide, flat leaves echoed out into the growing night. Chatter from a hungry baboon rose like a trumpet.
She breathed it all in deeply, soaking in the simplicity of the jungle. Behind her the social graces, clinks and tinny tunes drifted off into another world.
Samantha jumped at the rumbling bass exuding from the still figure in the wicker chair. As she calmed, a small smile crept onto her lips as she glanced at Mr. Benet and then back into the evening.
“Yes, it is.”
“I remember when it all looked like this.” He waved his half drunk glass towards the darkness. “Before pianos and evening tea.”
“Have you been here long then?”
“Long?” His laugh carried a warm and slightly sad note.
Samantha stepped closer, her skirts swishing as she perched upon the edge of the chair next to the hat holding table.
Mr. Benet’s wrinkle lined eyes shifted from the dense jungle. She could feel him taking in her features one by one, as if locking each away in his memory. He nodded finally, his cloudy eyes trailing back to the river.
“A very long time. Well before you were born.”
“Really? Was it so very different then?”
The smile that broadened on his thin lips lit his face. Samantha could see a shine in his eyes that sparkled like the light on the water.
“Would you like to hear about it?”
“I would.” Samantha rested her hands in her lap and leaned forward. Her attentive eyes rested on the sharp nose and sagging jowls of Mr. Benet’s profile.
He took a gentle sip of his gin and tonic. “It would be my pleasure…”