Precisely one minute later, as though the dinner was a rehearsed theatrical event, Richards appeared in the doorway, saying:
“Master Benjamin and Mrs. Aimee Costello.”
Richards then indicated the two empty places between Peter and Mrs. Costello, and exited the room with a grand sweep of his uniform (spinning the coat-tails perfectly) that no-one but Peter appreciated.
Benjamin (the second eldest child) and his wife steadily took their places, arm in arm, and, at once, Aimee went off talking to her mother-in-law, about the two children, the latest fashions, and other ‘women-talk’ that Phillip could not abide, and would not listen to.
The girls were lost in their own world anyway. Mrs. Costello loved her daughters-in-law, because she herself had never had any daughters to talk with. Having Aimee around was just like having a long-lost family member return, and it was a great breath of fresh air for the only female living in the mansion.
Benjamin cast his eyes over his wife as he poured her a drink. She noticed and affectionately gave his cheek a little peck. It made Phillip feel sick with loneliness.
Before the conversation started to rise, Richards once again entered, followed by the eldest son, Stuart, whom he announced to the room.
“Boy, that butler sure does get around this house quickly,” Phillip heard Peter remark to no-one in particular. Phillip swore that there were a few scowls that were directed at his brother.
Stuart took his place beside Phillip.
“Lucy sends her apologies,” he announced to the table, “She’s not been very well lately and so she decided not to risk it by coming today. She’s got a bit of a flu bug or something.”
He smiled at his brother, but the latter just stared into space, until he was poked by Ryan. Phillip suddenly realised that the table’s company had stood.
“Come on, Phillip. Look sharp,” Ryan sneered.
“Well said, Second Lieutenant. Stuart, you should keep your eyes peeled; soon Ryan will have been promoted and your status as ‘highest ranking officer’ will be under jeopardy.”
Stuart laughed a little nervously, “Don’t be so sure, father, I am the eldest and I can bite just as hard as little brother.”
“I’m not so ‘little’, remember,” Ryan laughed.
Although he didn’t like to admit it, he admired, Lieutenant Stuart greatly…but admiration easily led to jealousy and ambition.
“My sons…my wife…my friends…” Dr. Costello lifted his glass, as the others prepared for a speech.
“We’re well met here, and lucky to have prospered over the last couple of years. How the bombing passed right over our heads and out of our life, I’ll never know, but still I am very lucky for the six brave sons that life has given me…”
Phillip remained standing with the rest of them, but ‘tuned out’ of his father’s words, bitter. How could the old man say that they had escaped the effects of the bombing? How could he lie that the family was still the same as before the war? Phillip knew it wasn’t so, and there was a hole in his soul, and shrapnel jammed in his leg, to prove that nothing definitely hadn’t happened.
Phillip’s mind slipped into a state of being glum.
“…We’re gathered here to celebrate all this, and to celebrate the end- what we hope will be the final end- of that age-old war.”
“Oh, come off it, father. War isn’t that bad,” Ryan roared, his glass in hand too. Ryan was almost a spitting image of his father.
“Of course, of course. Once again, Ryan, your logic is indisputable.”
He paused and rang the bell that was attached to the wall beside his chair.
“And now, I have rung for the servants and, from what I have heard, we have a great meal for all to enjoy.”
Richards entered with the second wine bottle, a lovely dark red, and began to offer a top-up for anyone who needed it. As Phillip sluggishly sat down, he caught Richards’ eye, but the butler turned away and would not look back at Phillip. There was some tone of sourness about his eyes.
“Phillip,” Stuart clapped the man on the back as he sat down with a jump, “I heard about the bomb incident. Tough luck about the leg, mate.”
But no mention of apology for the fallen comrade.
“I’m also wondering about your choice of outfit for this evening-”
“I was busy.”
“Care to elaborate, perhaps?” Stuart persisted.
“Not really.” Phillip grunted.
Stuart opened his mouth to respond, decided against it with a shrug, and turned back to the conversation of the rest of the room.
Aimee let out a loud giggle, listening closely to her husband and her mother-in-law.
“He’s lovely, really. And Elise bears the brunt of it so well; she’s used to being the youngest child. Although…”
And then there was that gleam in her eyes; Aimee’s face became animated and she gazed lovingly at Benjamin. Phillip knew what was coming.
“I’m going to have another baby!” She grinned.
As the room gave their notes of congratulations, Phillip sulked; if he had not gone to war it might have been Aidelle saying those words and him being patted on the back by his brothers. Nevertheless, Phillip was happy for his brother.