Episode 46: The Piano Lesson | Scryer's Gulch
Jedediah Bonham strolled into his son's hotel with his daughter's confiding little hand in his. The LeFay was understated for his tastes; too much white and not enough red, though the giltwork was nice and there was a great deal of gold bullion fringe on the draperies that he approved of. Someone--Miss Duniway, most likely--was running through a series of exercises on the piano several rooms away. He waved his fingers at Charles behind the front desk, and the man returned it with a respectful-enough if sour nod, followed by a genuine smile for the girl.
"Hello, Charles!" chirped Lily. "Miss Duniway's going to teach me how to play the piano!"
"So I've heard," replied the desk man. "She's in the salon. Best that piano's sounded since it got here."
"Bring a coffee tray into the salon, Charles. Something to eat as well, something ladies like, eh, my little lady?" said Jed, looking down at his daughter. Lily giggled, pleased at being called a lady.
Charles's expression said he caught Bonham's double meaning, but all that passed his lips was, "Certainly, Mr Bonham."
Jed forgot him and let Lily drag him to the salon. He opened one of the double doors and stayed in its frame as Lily ran to the piano, almost hugging Miss Duniway in her excitement. "Please, please play more, miss!" cried Lily.
"Very well," smiled Annabelle. She thumbed through the music on her stand, settled on something and began to play.
A melancholy little waltz, thought Jed. Sounded foreign. Which might be a good thing in front of company at some classy event he might throw, but not what was tuneful to the ear, at least his ear. Not what he wanted to hear in his front parlor. He knew he should like it, it being probably some high-falutin' European racket, but he didn't.
"Miss Duniway," he broke in at a brief pause, "do you know anything by Stephen Foster?"
She lifted her pretty fingers off the keys. "Yes, of course. Forgive me, when last I had the use of an instrument I was making a study of Chopin. This is my favorite little waltz of his, the number ten in B minor…" She began thumbing through her sheet music again and replaced the drab waltz on the music stand with another sheet. "Will 'The Soirée Polka' do?"
He would've preferred "Camptown Ladies" or "Old Black Joe," but he nodded. "Fine, that'd be fine." At least it wasn't some thin-blooded European plinkety-plink. He hoped she'd send Lily home with proper parlor music, not that plinkety-plink.
"You've always had a soft spot for Foster, eh, Father?" came a voice at the door. Well, he should've expected Tony to turn up eventually. It was his hotel, after all, and he'd made a great show of making the piano's use a present to the Duniway girl. "Mother always sang 'I Dream of Jeannie' so prettily, do you remember that, Lily? Will you play, Miss Duniway? I should like to take my little sister on a spin round the floor."
The cheerful, burbling polka trilled from the piano. Tony skipped Lily along in the dance, her blond curls bouncing; Miss Duniway looked up now and again from her music to smile at their capers. Jed was far from pleased. The polka finished up with a flourish of both performer and dancers.
"Can you teach me to play that?" said Lily.
"In time," answered the teacher. "In the beginning it's much more boring. Scales and exercises. But it's necessary," she added at Lily's little scowl. "You have to learn to crawl before you can walk and thence to run. And we will try to make it as fun as we can. Are we in agreement? For I will not be able to teach a student who does not wish to learn."
"Oh, but I do wish to learn!"
"Then sit down at my right hand, and we'll begin." Miss Duniway looked up at Jed and his son, standing expectantly before the piano. "Gentlemen, Lily and I are flattered that you wish to attend her lessons, but it is more efficacious to study if we are unobserved."
"That means she thinks the lesson will go better if we leave, Father," said Tony, raising a brow but keeping his face forward.
"I know what 'efficacious' means, thank you very much," snapped Jed. Sometimes he wondered whether he should have educated his sons at all, for all the good it did him. At least Tony could take care of himself, Jed admitted. How many times had he paid off his oldest boy Nathan's debts? Jed cleared the peevishness from his face if not his thoughts and smiled. "Of course, Miss Duniway. I'll fetch Lilly in an hour, then."
"Oh, I can go home on my own, Papa!"
Jed did his best to master his consternation. "I fear you might meet Amelia Prake along the way and forget the hour."
"I'll walk her home, Father," said Tony. "I'm right here, after all, and I'm sure you have pressing business concerns to attend."
In fact, Wrangle had been harassing Jed not half an hour before about some stack of Cherry's bills or other. If she kept up her ways he'd be poor as a greenhorn before he knew it. Well, not poor. Never poor. But he liked to keep his bank accounts in good trim--not trimmed. He would have to put that woman on an allowance.
A thought occurred, and he smiled a genuine smile. "That'd be most kind of you, son. That'll give her a chance to take a small rest before dinner, and it'll give me a chance to escort Miss Duniway back to the Hopewell."
"Oh, but Lily and I--" began Tony in an attempt to squeeze past his father again.
"No, no, I'm sure your stepmother will be happy to see you, son. She'll insist you sit down to tea with her." If he didn't know how little Tony thought of his stepmother Jed would be worried how much she'd insist on it.
"Tea," scoffed Tony under his breath.
"That reminds me, Mr Bonham," said Miss Duniway. Both Bonhams straightened, until it became clear she meant Bonham the Elder, and Jed's smile spread. "I am deeply interested in the Big Blavatsky Mine operations. I know so little about mining, especially as it is the main business of the town, and I am told the Big Blavatsky is the most technologically advanced of the operations here."
"That's the truth, Miss Duniway, all my operations are bang up to the mark, but the BB is the best of all of them. You'll not see a sweeter operation in these United States."
"I'm afraid I wouldn't know the difference," she smiled, "but I'd enjoy learning."
"We'll discuss the particulars when I escort you home, then," said Jed.
The two men said their farewells to Lily, who was already poring over the mystifying markings on the sheet music; she waved vaguely and the Bonham men exited. Once in the foyer, Jed took a cigar from his coat pocket, offered it to his son, and at his refusal bit the end off and expertly spit it into a waste can beside the front desk. "Don't bother, son, I'll always cut you out if I want to. And I want to," he said, summoning a little flame from his lighter. "There's not a girl in the world I can't get, no matter how much charm you pour on."
Tony turned a satisfying purple. "I doubt very much a woman like Miss Duniway would entertain the kind of suggestion you're intending."
"Oh? What kind of suggestion were you intending?" retorted Jed.
His son didn't answer. Instead he glared at the desk man. "Find Graham for me, Charles. I suddenly feel soiled."
Jed watched him stomp up the stairs. He chuckled to himself as he walked through the great cut-glass doors of the LeFay onto the street, lit his cigar and headed over to Mamzelle's. So Annabelle wanted to see the mines. He had a place to start.