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12 January, 1996
It is indubitably true that young Penelope Windsor-Smythe is one's ward, and not one's natural daughter. One is aware that one's critics (remarkably few in number) have commented that one has fed, educated, and cared for the girl because of her status as eighty-fifth in line for the British throne. Rubbish, one says brusquely! Why, when the lass first crossed the threshold of Blandsdown at the tender age of four, it is true that she was seventy-eighth in succession. But when a number of unfortunate births
reduced her expectations to as low as ninetieth, did one cast her out? Indeed not.
The truth is that young Penelope's father (a school chum of one's) and her mother (who attended Miss Dalyrimple's Finishing College with the Lady Felicia) begged upon their deathbeds for their friends to care for their child. Lo, even though they walked through the valley of darkness after the tragic collision with a runaway delivery cart from the Tandoori Takeaway Palace, they wept, they implored, they plead with their last breaths for their daughter to have a home at Blandsdown always. How could one refuse so tender a request? And in respect to her parents, the lass was brought up with a strict knowledge of the dangers of takeaway foods.
And now, it would seem, young Penelope is perhaps to leave Blandsdown . . . one implores one's readers (many in number and exhibiting the utmost taste in their reading choice) not to weep. It would be unseemly. Oh no, 'tis a time for rejoicing indeed, for one suspects the girl has found a prospective husband to call her own.
Indeed, the careful reader will recall that young Penelope has been taking a holiday with her cousin, Lady Weeble-Able-Smythe, in Bath. This very week one received two intelligences that have led one to deduce the young lady's engagement. First, Lady Weeble-Able-Smythe wrote the Lady Felicia an overlengthy letter (one does despise a person who goes on and on about nothing) which stated that Terence Arable, Lord Feighly, displayed a definite interest in young Penelope's many virtues, accomplishments, and beauty. Why, the two even attended a violin recital together, and Lord Feighly has never before shown an interest in any woman whatsoever before young Penelope!
And from Penelope this week, one received an excited telegrammatic communication which read, in full: SUCH NEWS STOP CANNOT WAIT TO TELL YOU STOP CAN YOU GUESS STOP ARRIVING BLANDSDOWN SATURDAY STOP PREPARE EXTRA SUITE STOP TA AND LOVE TO MUMMY STOP What other conclusion can one draw?
The Lady Felicia and her mother, mutually excited at the news, have been preparing for the happy arrival. Ordinarily the crabby old termagant (one refers, of course, to one's mother in law and not one's espoused) can scarcely be aroused even by her own incontinence, but the prospect of meddling and perhaps achieving the happy goal of ruining yet another wedding has put an unfortunate spark in her eye. (One will not recount, at this time, the true tale of how she insisted upon having, at one's own betrothal, a multitude of caged white doves, which escaped into the chapel and vengefully bombarded those assembled, sending several who had survived the air raids of the great war into catatonic states) They have turned the manor inside out and back again in an attempt to provide a grand welcome to young Penelope and the Duke who, we are certain, is courting her. Oh, happy Saturday, when we see them together, and know that her future is secure!
What can one say in praise of Lord Feighly? There was that scandal at Eton, but all lads have their public school infatuations. And one dismisses those rumours of his Moroccan servants as sheer envy of Lord Feighly's fortune. Why, this scion of the proud family Arable has been the closest and intimate of friends with Prince Edward for nigh upon a decade, and shares that royal lad's passion for the arts and theatre! Those who spread their nattering gossip about ignore the man's real accomplishments, such as his influence in mounting the exhibit of Aubrey Beardsley engravings at the British Museum (one naturally did not attend, but one's nephew Chauncey informed one that the exhibit was, and I quote, 'fabulous'), and his famed collection of French petit point tapestries? A more suitable match could not be found for the lass.
One knows one's readers will be panting for a report on the particulars of the engagement in next week's belles lettres. One assures them that one will not disappoint.
For yet another week one remains,
Dear Sir Charles,
The troubles started several years ago with the raid on a house of ill repute in Kensington. Daniel, the youngest son of the family, called our father and asked for bail. Keeping the good name of the family foremost, and wishing to put an end to the irritating whispers among the help, father not only bailed out my brother but sent him off to the wilds of Canada with a reasonable (but not outlandish) remittance until such time as the pup learned the importance of maintaining the family name.
Considerable time has passed and father, now in his twilight years, has been worried that he may have made the wrong decision. Rather than letting his lordship travel with his frail health and to prevent further whispering amongst the servants and disparagement of our titled name in the House, I slipped from the estate at night in a hired car and made my way to Canada and thence to a backwoods town in the midst of British Columbia. Without going into details, the necessity of travelling incognito exposed one to many alarming incidents along the way.
On my arrival I found that my brother had indeed changed his ways but at a terrible cost. Daniel has married. He has done so without consulting father. Daniel is smitten because he considers her to be a "child of the forest". His view of her may come from the fact that this woman closely resembles the grizzlies that I beheld from my train window. The final and worst blow of all comes from the fact that Daniel has taken her faith and become a . . . Baptist.
Sir Charles, how shall I break this terrible news to father? Worse, how shall we face the Bishop when he comes to tea on the Tuesday after my return? And what precisely is a "Baptist"?
Knowing of your discretion in such matters, I humbly seek your sage advice.
Consternated in Calgary
Sir Charles replies:
Rightfully worried one:
Oh, 'tis a sad, sad day when one's own blood casts aside the tenets and precepts of the Church of England--the very precepts upon which civilisation itself is founded!--for a heathenish cult. One believes one had a Baptist scullery maid, once, until the other servants complained of the snakes.
The sensibilities of the aged are often weak. Yet the truth is best, is it not? The correspondent's brother has shown no respect for the family name whatsoever. Scandals! Bestial 'whoop-em-ups' with his burly bride! One is afraid that the lad has, as they say, 'gone native'.
The correspondent's father will be distressed to learn of these shortcomings, naturally. On the bright side, however, the old chap will probably disinherit the lesser son, and leave the bulk of the estate to the correspondent. If timed correctly, the correspondent might manage to have a the family solicitor present to change the will, obtain the signature of disinheritance, and to summon the physician when the old chap suffers a severe setback in health from the astonishing news. After all, that is how one managed to inherit Blandsdown.
Recommending a stiff upper lip, one remains,
Hopelessly Confused writes:
Dear Sir Charles,
You seem to know a lot about genealogies, therefore I am posing this question to you, in hope of clarification. Is a child of my cousin my second cousin, or my first cousin once removed?
Sir Charles replies:
If one has blood that is worthy of a genealogy (and here one holds oneself up as an example), the offspring of one's cousin would most properly be termed a first cousin, once removed. In time, should that offspring produce its own progeny, it would be the correspondent's first cousin, twice removed.
However, taking into account the correspondent's Canadian citizenship, one supposes it scarcely matters what she calls the child. One has heard the population spends the majority of the year wrapped in beaver skins shivering against the snow and defending themselves from the polar bears with frozen salmon, taking pause on occasion to indulge in the curious sport of 'curling.' If calling the child 'cousin' reduces the sound of teeth-chattering (so annoying during polite conversation), it is an acceptable abbreviation.
As always, one remains,
One passes the quill to the inestimably gifted Lady Felicia.
Dear Lady Felicia,
I am known as a Lady of Quality in our quaint neighborhood. My candlelit formal dinners are the talk of the town. I am lauded as a patroness of the arts, not only as an expert, but as a talented painter of flowers upon teacups as well.
You will no doubt be surprised that I have a problem. A serious problem indeed. My uncle Aloycius (my eccentric and unmarried uncle Aloycius) recently passed on to a better place. In his will he left me his unparalleled collection of Grecian urns. Naturally I was astounded--and touched--to receive such a lovely and valuable bequest. Perhaps I was slightly too touched, for in my grief I told the entire neighbourhood women's guild of the gift, and ordered the morning room cleared so I could display these stunning urns in the new rosewood cases I specially ordered for them.
Now they have arrived. Imagine my consternation when I discovered that these antiquities--each and every one!--are covered in designs that are positively indecent! It strains my every sensibility to even think of these orgiastic depictions of Ancient Lust. I simply cannot imagine inviting the ladies of the Guild to witness these unclothed men and women, ancient thought they may be, in disport.
Oh, Lady Felicia, what am I to do? My entire acquaintance is beginning to think I fibbed about the inheritance, and yet I cannot show them the proof of it!
Desperate in Derbyshire
The Lady Felicia replies:
How refreshing to communicate with another Artist. It is a little known fact, but before one was entrusted with the management of the Grandiose estates, one had also been involved with the decorative arts. However, one put on indefinite hold a promising career as an embellisher of opera glasses. One's trademark, should one's correspondent ever be fortunate enough to find one of the rare pieces, was a seed pearl, placed ever so carefully just over the right eyepiece.
As for the question: One cannot put too fine a point on the fact that there are some periods in the history of civilisation (and one uses that term in the broadest sense) which would do well to be left buried.
One speaks from experience. The Grandiose family, long known to be patrons of the arts, were bequeathed a selection of supposedly fine brass spittoons. Sir Charles, having a familial penchant for such articles, was bordering on ebullient the day the shipment arrived. Imagine our shock and horror, upon uncrating our new collection of 'Ancient Indian Brass Spittoons Depicting the 53 positions of the Kama Sutra', to discover what exactly the Kama Sutra was. One was anticipating something far more pastoral. One has never seen the Sir Charles so florid, nor has one ever witnessed him walk with such difficulty as the horror obviously worked upon his coordinatory facilities.
Suffice it to say that these vile antiques were all immediately despatched to a closet in a far wing of the house. A closet in a room one keeps locked (as any good wife would, who is concerned for the delicate nature of her husband's constitution) against the slim chance Sir Charles might accidentally enter. One keeps the only key, as well.
As a final word, one cautions one's correspondent against keeping the vulgar pieces too close at hand. Though the pieces be smooth and exciting to the touch, the actions of the indulgently moulded creatures foster wild and sensual thoughts in the mind of the innocent handler that can cause one to lose sleep.
One speaks hypothetically, of course.
Placing aside one's spectacles serenely,
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