The Library | Write to Sir Charles | Cast of Characters | Credits | This Week
September 27, 1996
'Tis the time of year one fears most, when a dark blanket of secrecy veils the normally serene grounds of Blandsdown. A time when strange, muffled explosions fill the air, and noxious odours waft down the passageways. A time when the servants scamper like frightened mice at the approach of a tapping heel. Yes, it is the time when the Lady Felicia enters the kitchens to prepare her annual jams for Colonel Jambly's Annual Memoirs of the Raj Chutney Parade.
One begs--nay, implores--those of one's readers of the gentler sex (who alone are so numerous that were they all to send one, via the mails, a worn stocking, the sheer number would . . . well, let us just say that one would be a happy, happy baronet) not to faint. 'Tis not so unseemly, the Lady of the House entering her own kitchen. One believes it is done with frequency, in the middle classes. And it is not as if she deigns to touch the raw foodstuffs. Indeed not. That is left to the servants, who are also left in the front line should the pressure cookers explode. (And judging by the physician's bills for shrapnel removal . . . for the Lady Felicia wrong-headedly insists upon paying any servant's bills resulting from her experimentation . . . they often do.)
Buoyed by last year's sweep of the Sour Chutneys and Prune Preserves competition, the Lady Felicia has determined this shall be the year that the Kitchen Grandiose sweeps all the Sour Jams and Chutneys awards. To this end, she has spent endless hours concocting a number of viscous substances designed to stun the tastebuds of the adjudicators. Both the yellow parlour and the second conservatory are filled with glistening jars of jellies in a rainbow of flavours. Prune Chutney with Oxtail. Prune and Raisin Butter. Lemon-Anchovy Curd with Prune Shavings. Plum Jelly with Onion Crisps. Raspberry and Red Clay Jam. Gooseberry and Leaf Of Holly Spoon Fruit. Eel and Prune Chutney. Simmered Horsehair and Oxo Cube Curd with Prune Surprise. One admits that after an unfortunate experience with the Coriander/Prune/Mushroom Relish, one could scarcely tell the difference.
However, the tastings were not without their interesting side-effects. After ingesting two score of prune recipes, one was nearly moved to (and one's readers must excuse one for the frankness in this confession, but 'tis meant in a purely scientific sense, one assures them) evacuate one's bowels for the first time in over two score years. And the odour from the kitchens has quite eliminated the rat problem for a radius of three point five miles!
To update one's readers (and one did not mean to imply, above, that one is a prurient sensualist intent upon collecting the stockings of one's lady readers. No indeed. One merely meant that one would be overwhelmed by the show of support the receipt of several thousand stockings would imply) upon one's search for minions: One received a most polite note this week upon the matter, reproduced below.
One is most gratified at the offer, Sir Thomas, and impressed by the photoengravure enclosed in the letter. Your moustaches are most fierce, and your own minions (though one is mystified as to how a mere Knight could have minions, when this Baronet has none) seem suitably aggressive. You may take up residence in the south wing immediately.
However, one must warn Sir Thomas, and all applicants for the next week, that effective immediately, all minions will be required to sample the Lady Felicia's upcoming culinary creation: Potato Jelly with Sour Prune and Chives.
Waiting for the sensation to return in one's mouth, one remains for yet another week,
Dear Sir Charles:
As founder and editor in chief of a special-interest magazine, I suspect that our readership may find your quest for minions most intriguing. One thing:
How do you, as an employer, 'rebuke' your minions when they're 'naughty'?
Sir Charles replies:
My Dear Mr. Smaque,
Although one abhors publicity, one is never averse to 'free advertising', as it were, in the country's better-quality periodicals. One is not familiar with your Paddle Pals publication, but one would certainly welcome minions from your audience of (one presumes) amateur canoeists and lovers of water sports.
One must state firmly that as an employer, one must maintain discipline. Discipline at all costs, runs one's motto. Why, when one was a youth, if one misbehaved, one was punished. If one broke a priceless vase, one received a stern look from one's Pater. If one spoke in the presence of adults, one received an admonishment from one's Mater. If one was caught fondling the smooth fabric, redolent of lavender sachets and mothballs, of Nursie's foundation garments, why, one never complained when Nursie would yank down one's kneepants to expose one's trembling, hairless nether regions, turn one over her surprisingly comfortable lap, and bring down her hand upon one's boyish behind until one tingled and prickled and quivered with the hot, hot fire of one's justly-deserved punishment. Oh, one was occasionally a bad boy. A very very bad, bad boy indeed!
Sighing nostalgically, one remains,
Lady Rebecca writes:
My dear Sir Charles,
Thank you ever so much for your extremely rapid reply to my dilemma, and do permit me to extend my sympathies upon the sudden destruction of the Bedminster Little House of Drama and the Performing Arts. How dreadful that someone would burn down this shrine to performing arts and thus deprive you and your family of the wholesome activity of attending the Geriatric Madrigal Competitions. However, are not you and the Lady Felicia and the lovely Penelope Wyndsor-Smythe still scheduled to take the waters at Bath the first weekend in April? Far be it from me to interrupt your family Bath-time!
That being said, it took me quite aback that you would be supremely qualified to judge the Lady Godiva Re-enactment Ride and subsequent Tung Princess Selection at our annual Tung Frolics here at our pictureseque village of Cheeke. I am pleased to announce, following a most intensive discussion among certain members of the Tung Frolics committee and a lengthy voting procedure (fortunately my own vote counted 50%), that you have been invited to be the official judge of the Lady Godiva Re-enactment Ride, etc.. While some members of the committee felt that we should hold out for a higher-ranking official, I assured them that your ward, Penelope Wyndsor-Smythe (still ninetieth in line for the throne, is she not?) would accompany you, as would her fiance (a Knight of the Realm, is he not?) which, along with your being a baronet, should provide the necessary rankness to satisfy everyone in Cheeke. Naturally the lovely and gracious Lady Felicia will also accompany you, will she not? (Do thank her for her latest generous gift of Prune Chutney and Calf's Foot Jam. When it was served to my guests, they choked with gratitude, so exquisite was the taste. Some were even brought to tears. What a pity they all had to eat and run, and therefore couldn't partake of seconds.)
Should you decide to forgo Bath-ing and accept our humble offer to officiate, do let me offer you accommodations here at Tung-in-Cheeke. The bone you sent Binkie did seem to win him over (though he was dreadfully upset that you addressed him as a "hound"--he is a proud and noble border collie of impressive Scottish lineage!) and I believe he will probably allow you on the premises. After he finished snarling and snapping at the butler who proffered the bone, he seemed to settle down enough while he gnawed it that I was able to explain to him that he'd have to make do with only occupying part of the second floor while you were in residence. That seemed to be acceptable to him, but he is rather a high-strung dog and one is never sure where his attentions will turn. I'm afraid, however, given the space limitations and Binkie's intense dislike of the under-classes, that Lord Harriman and I cannot possibly accommodate your minions, should they accompany you. Therefore, I have included with this post a brochure, "A Taste of Tung," published by the Cheeke Chamber of Commerce and Blatant Tourism Promotion, that describes several comfortable lodgings to be had for modest rates; The Lolling Tung Moto-Hotel, the Tung Inn, and the Nether Cheeke Inn are perhaps the best of the lot.
I do think my late husband and your old classmate, Lord Cecil, would heartily approve of your assuming his former position. In the last weeks of his life, he had almost entirely repented of his involvement in the unfortunate incident involving your toothbrush and the over-flowing W.C. at the Highpharton School for Somewhat Recalcitrant Boys which you attended briefly together, lo, these many years ago . While he still chuckled about that other incident involving your book satchel, the headmaster's wife's monogrammed under-drawers, and the school mascot Homer the hedgehog, I have no doubt he would have ultimately repented of that also had he lived long enough.
At any rate, Lord Hariman and I--and many, though not all, of the townspeople (We do have rather a lot of curmudgeons who are never satisfied)--do look forward to seeing you and your charming family the first weekend of April next. Do not worry at all about the possibility of those hooligans from Coventry sneaking over again and causing a row by insinuating that we Cheekey residents are stealing their thunder. We have pointed out to them time and again that Lady Godiva rode through our town first, and--when festivities are called for--we are rightfully entitled to the first crack.
Should the Coventy ruffians persist in disrupting our festivities, students from the Cheeke College of Cosmetology and Penmanship stand at the ready not only to wash the yolks off any limousines that may be egged by the hoodlums (creme rinse optional), but also to fire off a missive in their boldest hand denouncing the attack in very strong--but tasteful and refined--language.
Our Cheekey peasantry are already busy refinishing furniture to sell to the flocks of tourists who come for the reenactment. Step-stools seem to be the biggest sellers, particularly along the ride's route. We always have flocks of photo-journalists from the colonies--a Mr. Heffner who publishes what I believe is a religious magazine for young men ("Pray, Boy," I believe, is its name) always sends a large contingent, as does a Mr. Flynt, whom I believe publishes an architectural & literary journal (perhaps you're familiar with it--"Penned House"?).
Supervising the peasantry as they slather tung oil on their
creations, I remain
Sir Charles replies:
My dear, dear, dear Lady Martingale-Bridoon,
How surprised one is at your letter. Oneself, the judge of these frolics that so delightfully depict the ride of Lady Godiva through the streets of Tung-in-Cheeke? Dame Modesty subtly prompts one to respond that after so many years of marriage, one could hardly be classified as an expert on the female form. Indeed, after so many years of marriage, one can scarcely recall what it looks like.
But a friend in need, as they say, my dear Lady, is a friend in greed. No, that is not quite right. A friend in need, my dear Lady, is a friend in knead. Ah, no. Will spread his seed. No, that is not it at all. in one's excitement one has quite forgotten the quaint saying. At any rate, though one is tempted modestly to decline with a laugh, one will accept your jolly proposition and do one's bit. (It's in writing now, and you can't change your mind, according to one's solicitors. One wants to make that quite clear.)
One is afraid that the Lady Felicia and young Penelope Windsor-Smythe (she is indeed ninetieth in line for the throne, and what a clever little filly you are to remember, for one scarcely ever mentions it to one's friends) did have their hearts set on taking the waters at Bath that very week. Indeed, one has not even told them of this little fete for fear that they should neglect their health in order to attend out of Duty. Between you and oneself, Lady Martingale-Bridoon, they have been looking peakish lately. In fact, one was thinking of insisting that the ladies spend that entire week abroad, at the restorative spas of La Pollo Del Mar.
One wonders if, until next spring, the Lady Rebecca might entrust one with past editions of these Pray, Boy and Penned House publications? One wishes to start practicing one's judging, and that most charitable institution, St. Agnetha's Home for Wayward Women and Genteel Gentleladies Forced Into a Life of Degradation by Unfortunate Circumstances, has already refused one volunteers.
With humble regards, one remains,
Dear Lady Felicia,
I'm honoured that you even read my letter.
I'm the lucky owner of one of your embellished pairs of opera glasses. It was a gift to me from a suitor. . . . I'm afraid it is too long a story to relate here, but the swain is no longer interested in me after I marked his face with a slap after an untoward advance. (I'd forgotten I was wearing the famed Heinickers diamond ring at the time.)
Unfortunately, several of the pearls fell off the glasses during a performance of Lucretia. And when I accidentally stepped on one with my slippers, it crumbled into dust. A moistened finger, dipped into the powder and then gently licked (I did not allow my tongue to show!), revealed that the 'pearls' were really carved peppermints!
Lady Felicia, I would not be so crass as to suggest that you hoodwinked people into buying your exquisite creations by masquerading boiled sweets as semi-precious jewels. Though to be truthful, several in the box at Lucretia were not so high minded. Why can I blame? My former swain? My maid?
The Lady Felicia replies:
My dear dear girl,
One must admit that one was completely stymied (and had one not been the spouse of a Peer of the Realm, one might have harboured a modicum of mortification), upon reading your missive, until one's housemaid reminded one of the events of two Christmastides past. One will now relate the story, albeit in a truncated version.
For the Grandiose Twelfth Night Masquerade Ball and Fruitcake Toss, one was asked, nay, begged, to provide, as party favours within the oversized crackers, edible versions of one's famed Jeweled Opera Glasses. As one reads over one's scrupulously maintained diaries from that time, one discovers that there were fourty-two invited guests, not counting one's family and household staff. Most guests, upon receiving the favours from their crackers, after the festivities of the Pudding Drop and Fruitcake Toss were completed, spent the remainder of the evening nibbling at the confections affixed to the dime-store glasses. One had no idea that one of these edible trifles would someday be masqueraded as the genuine article by a conniving mountebank.
Of course, one should also at this point issue a stern warning that one's correspondent, if she had been truly prudent, would have had the glasses appraised for insurance purposes the moment she received them. Then this whole sorry affair would never have put your character in jeopardy, would it, now?
Serenely, one remains, Lady Felicia Grandiose
The Library | Write to Sir Charles | Cast of Characters | Credits | This Week