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Twelfth-Night Cake & the Rosings Ghost: A Sofia-Elisabete, Love Child of Colonel Fitzwilliam Tale (Part Three)

May 28, 2018 02:55PM
In Part Three, Sofia-Elisabete is punished, but that doesn’t stop our girl from her mischievous ways…

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–ooooo–


‘I believe in the benevolence of the world, I believe in benevolence of the world,’ I chanted to myself the next morning, hoping that Lady Catherine’s humour had improved. ‘Dear God, I promise to go rightly in this world. Truly, I do.’ Alas, a new misfortune awaited me in the breakfast room.

‘My lady, I’m a naughty wicked girl. I’ve prayed to God for His guidance.’ Just then, my belly erupted in a loud rumble.

Lady Catherine humphed. ‘Ill, are you?’

I gripped my painful belly.

‘It must be from the candy she supped on last night.’ Papai smirked at me.

‘Greedy girl! It serves you right.’ Her ladyship signalled to the butler. ‘A basin of gruel for the child.’

‘Gruel?’ I twisted my face in disgust. Papai cast me a look of disdain, and so I sat, but not without a pout.

‘Gruel is better than physic.’ Her ladyship raised her chin at me. ‘You shall eat bland gruel for three days until you are better.’

‘Surely I can have treacle and currants with it?’ pleaded I.

‘Absolutely not. Plain is best. Whenever my Anne is brought low, a week’s worth of watery, tasteless gruel always puts her to rights. Is that not so, Anne?’

‘Oh yes, mamma. The more tasteless, the better.’ Annie smiled behind her hand, and I wondered at her treachery.

I suffered through breakfast, spooning up the watery, tasteless gruel. Just when I thought my misery was at an end, papai steered me to the study, where he lectured me for a whole fifteen minutes on my bad habit of lying, and he told me how the army flogged thieves with the cat-o-nine tails and confined them to bread and water diet and oftentimes put them to death as punishment.

‘I once caught a soldier stealing a joint of meat…’

‘Papai,’ I interrupted him, having heard these cat-o-nine-tails stories a million times. ‘I thought we were going to read a tract by Father O?’

‘O, ho! And we shall. Down on your knees and pray, saucy girl, while I read aloud a tract, a very long tract, by Father O, the most prolific writer I know.’

I stamped my foot in protest.

‘Shall we make that two very long tracts this morning?’

I hastily dropped to my knees, mumbling to myself, ‘I believe in the benevolence of the world, I believe in the benevolence of the world.’

Papai read aloud the very long tract – something to do with selfish people who wanted to get to heaven but didn’t give a fig about the rest of mankind – and whenever I sat on my haunches from boredom and crossed my eyes, he would tap me on my seat of honour with his walking-stick and make me stand on my knees again. Soon I swayed to and fro with weariness. ‘Papai, I’m deuced tired,’ complained I, but to no purpose.

Finally, when I couldn’t bear the pain in my legs and arms any longer, I determined that a well-feigned swoon would do. I’m the champion of well-feigned swooners. One must land with a loud thud on one’s side; that’s the trick, you know, if you wish to fool people or your little pet dog. Unfortunately for me, papai prodded me with his walking-stick, tickling me underneath my armpit and making me laugh. ‘On your knees, girl,’ ordered he. It wasn’t until the hot tears formed in my eyes, and I whimpered from the pain, did papai relent and allow me to sit down, now that I felt the whole weight of my penance.

When he had done reading the tract, papai said I would accompany him to call on Mr Pennyman, one of the tenant farmers. Poor farmer Pennyman had injured his leg and was laid up in bed for a week, which meant he couldn’t provide for his family. We would deliver up a sack of coals and a sack of potatoes to them, these things being generously provided by Lady Catherine. And so we saddled up mules for the one-mile journey. It struck me as odd, though, that papai wore his hunting coat and a double-barrelled rifle-gun slung over his shoulder, and he brought with him a pole.

Mrs Pennyman, with four small children clinging to her apron, greeted us at the door of their humble abode. Her toil-worn countenance pierced my heart. ‘Oh, bless m’lady,’ cried the farmer’s wife, as she thanked her ladyship for the coals and potatoes. I cringed with an inward sense of shame, because the sack of potatoes was not enough for this large, hungry family, and I wondered at Lady Catherine’s sense of generosity when we, the fortunate inmates of Rosings, feasted like kings and queens every day.

‘Me! Me! Me!’ the Pennyman children clamoured for a potato. Their mother shushed them, having only so much energy to pay them heed. I thought about my being an only child and how papai loved me first and best and how I didn’t have to fight with a brother and three sisters over scraps of love or food. When the youngest Pennyman began to cry from hunger, papai gifted him with an apple, which he shared with his sisters, they each of them taking a bite of it. I promised myself I would never complain again about my watery gruel. But like many a vow made in a moment of sincerity, I soon forgot about it when next I dined on that ghastly stuff.

Papai said to me, ‘Let us walk out to shoot hare.’ We set off then for the edge of the farm field, here and there bedecked with clumps of frost-crystals. He taught me how to look out for an island of brush-wood in the glistening field and how to beat up and down with the pole to make the hares stir. My pole duties now done for the moment, I stood very quiet and still. Once papai spotted the perfect circle of a hare’s black eye, he moved ever so slowly, and then he paused for the longest time to unnerve the hare. Quicker than a thought, the panic-stricken hare darted from the brush. Papai took aim with his rifle and…booffft! My papai is a most excellent marksman, and ere long he shot four brown hares.

‘Huzzah! Papai for ever,’ cheered I, proud of my first-rate hero.

‘That’s why they call me lucky Fitzer,’ remarked he as he tied up the hind legs of the hares.

We gave the two brace of hares to the farmer’s grateful wife. To my surprise, papai dug into the saddle-bag on his mule, removing a bunch of onions, along with bacon wrapped in paper and a pouch of spices, which the farmer’s wife could use to make a tasty pot of hare-stew for her family. And I wonder now if papai had pilfered those things from the larders at Rosings, just like Robin Hood might’ve done?

Papai turned grave as a judge. ‘Methinks those bits of candy you stole wouldn’t taste good with hare-stew, nor soothe the hungry bellies of the Pennyman children.’

I hung my head. ‘Papai, if someone isn’t kind, and they do things to make it seem as if they are so that they can go to heaven when they die, do they still get into heaven?’

My question must have surprised him, because he paused to think.

‘Everyone is preoccupied about going to heaven. I ask you, where’s the humanity in that?’ Papai drew me to his side. ‘A true manly man takes care of his family, and he strives to make them happy on earth. A wise poet wrote: “To make a happy fireside clime, To weans and wife, That’s the true pathos and sublime, Of human life.”’

That evening I began a letter to my mamãe, telling her about my thievery and how I accomplished my penance with papai’s help. I mentioned the big new words I learnt to-day, such as ‘humanity’, and how I hoped she wasn’t too concerned about going to heaven, because she was the most kind, the most benevolent being on earth and naturally so.

I sat at breakfast the next morning, my head bent over my basin of tasteless gruel, willing myself to eat this dreadful stuff. The grown-ups’ idle talk bored me, that is, until I caught the words ‘twelfth cake’. Annie declared her intent to make a twelfth cake for each of the farm tenants for Twelfth Night celebration on the eve of Epiphany, and inside the cake there would be a really grand surprise.

‘How ridiculous, Anne,’ Lady Catherine chided her. ‘A dried bean and a dried pea inside the cake will do. The man finding the bean is crowned King of the Revels for the night, and the woman finding the pea is crowned Queen, with the power to command all to do her bidding for the night.’

‘Some folks place a penny inside the cake instead. I propose a new Rosings tradition, mamma. In addition to the bean and pea, there shall be a crown hidden inside the cake, and this coin, this charm, shall symbolise luck and prosperity for the year ahead.’

Lady Catherine gasped. ‘A whole crown? Have you taken leave of your senses? This will set a dangerous precedent, indeed. A penny is quite enough for farm-folk.’

‘I am resolved to help the tenants this Christmas season, mamma.’

‘I dare say this rebel idea of hiding a crown in a twelfth cake comes from your little friend Robin Hood.’ Lady Catherine glared at me. ‘You seem to value this bold outlaw’s opinion more than your own mamma’s.’

Papai cleared his throat. ‘I shall donate five crowns for your project, Anne.’

‘Hurrah!’ cheered I. ‘My papai is the best of men.’

‘Connivers!’ Lady Catherine sulked.

Papai grinned at her. ‘Come, come, dearest aunt. What say you? Will you not match my five crowns?’

‘Humph.’ Lady Catherine scowled. ‘I shall match your five crowns, nephew, but this is always your trick, to make it seem as if I cared not one whit for my tenants, as if I took pleasure in seeing them suffer.’

Annie kissed her mother, who pretended to be annoyed at her daughter’s display of affection. You see, once upon a time, Annie rebelled against her mother, who never let her do anything amusing or meaningful until, as I mentioned before, our Annie, with cunning and dare, ran away to Scarborough to stay with us on Queen Street. She eventually returned home to Rosings, when her mother promised to change, for a lonely widow her mother was. And that is why her ladyship held her tongue or simply gave up whenever Annie became intractable, because the thought of losing her only daughter broke her heart; at least that’s what I’ve come to believe.

I finished my letter to mamãe, telling her about the good luck charm that Annie planned to hide inside each of the twelfth cakes and how it would be a grand surprise for the suffering tenants this Christmas season. I ended my letter with ‘Mamãe, I believe in the benevolence of the world.’ Mamãe wrote back to me (a week later) that Annie had a charitable heart, and she was glad of it, and that I had the best of cousins there at Rosings to teach me a true Christian goodness.

On my third and final day of eating cruel gruel, which is how I dubbed it, I got it into my brain that my own suffering would no longer do. Breakfast over, and no one attending to me, I seized Annie’s cup of chocolate and, quick, quick, quick, I slurped up what remained in it. Now, most mornings after breakfast, Annie would hie to the stable to call on her beloved ponies, Sylvester and Macdougal, and she, being an eccentric, would kiss them and slobber them and talk like a stable boy to them and rub them down with fresh straw. I hear you cry, ‘Surely you are funning?’ I own that I had spied on her the other day. Having burst into a fit of giggles at her silliness and stable-boy talk, I was found out and banished from the stable.

Feeling emboldened by my chocolate caper to-day, I sneaked into the stable where I eavesdropped on Annie’s conversation with her ponies. She told them how naughty I had been. She growled like a dog at my ‘gggrruel dilemma’ – a wit she is not – and how I needed to be taught a lesson for having done a bad thing, a very bad thing by stealing Lady Catherine’s medicinal drops. ‘She be a bad ‘un. A’n’t I right, Sylvester? You knows I am.’ She fed a carrot to her pony. Well, I never! I waited until Annie quit the stable, whereupon I pilfered her prized driving-whip. One of the ponies stamped his hoof in protest. ‘Shush, Macdougal,’ warned I, shaking my finger at him.

The sun in a cloudless sky had begun to melt the thin layer of frost on the ground. I sallied forth to the garden; from there, I bounded down the sloping lawn to reach the meadow land, my very own secret meadow. I pranced about, cracking the long whip – crac crac – again and again and again. I imagined myself atop a gleaming barouche, driving four-in-hand, my team of chocolate unicorns galloping to the great beyond. ‘Gee up! Awhi! Awhi!’ shouted I, mimicking a driver. Unbeknown to me, papai had sighted me from a window at the manor-house. What a strange scene I must have presented to the servants, leaping about and crac-crac-ing my whip and taking a tumble now and then on the slippery ground. But papai was used to my peculiar ways. He strode out across the brown meadow to join me.

Having heard papai’s approach, I spun round to face him, my countenance flushed with exercise. ‘Papai, I’m driving a barouche and four with chocolate unicorns.’ He slowed his step, serving me with a quizzical stare. ‘Come here, silly gooseberry,’ ordered he with an outstretched hand. But I sensed a trace of trouble on his face. Would he lecture me about my hoydenish ways? I stepped back. With mingled feelings of childish panic and impish glee, I darted off like a hare, zig-zagging through the meadow. ‘Ha! Ha!’ I, the prey, taunted the hunter. But I was no match for a keen sportsman like my papai, who seized me by the back of my unlucky scarlet cloak and thereafter confiscated the driving-whip, scolding me that it wasn’t a toy and that I could hurt myself or someone or something.

‘Egads!’ he drew back. ‘What’s that big brown stain on the front of your pinafore?’

‘Methinks it’s mud.’ I felt my soiled pinafore.

Papai sniffed. ‘It smells chocolate-y. I wonder how it got there?’

‘I do believe…’ I puzzled my wits together for inspiration, ‘the chocolate unicorn nudged me with his magical horn.’

Papai cast a sceptical look at me. ‘I dare say you’re lying. Did you sneak about and drink chocolate at breakfast?’

It has long been a maxim with imps like me that one must always answer a question with another question to get oneself out of a scrape. And if one is very lucky, the all-knowing grown-up will have forgotten his question by then.

‘Papai, am I as brown as chocolate?’ I peered up at him with the saddest eyes I could muster.

He started at my question. ‘Nay. Your skin is a…lovely, light brown colour – very milky, with a bit of chocolate in it.’

‘Like your milky tea?’

‘Ye-e-e-s,’ faltered he.

‘But you hate milky tea.’

Papai gave a slight grimace, his eyelids crinkling. ‘True. That’s why I sweeten it with sugar.’

‘Am I your sweet little girl?’

‘Quite so.’ Papai tugged at his cravat. ‘You’re my sweet little girl, the colour of very milky tea.’

I sensed his relief, he having summoned up a grin for me. I wondered why my milky tea-ness caused him to fidget. Did my brown-ness vex people for some reason? I thought about people colours – the milky-white young ladies, the scarlet-faced old men, the nut-brown farmers. My wee brain couldn’t make sense of why that sort of thing mattered.

Papai strode through the meadow, his hands clasped behind his back, thinking many a deep thought, for a prodigious thinker he is. I ran alongside him, trying to keep pace with his manly stride. I clasped my hands behind my back likewise to summon up some deep thoughts of my own, as mine were always coming and going whenever they pleased. ‘Papai, I feel a deep thought coming round finally,’ said I with pride. And he laughed at me, wearing those sad, crinkling eyes of his.
SubjectAuthorPosted

Twelfth-Night Cake & the Rosings Ghost: A Sofia-Elisabete, Love Child of Colonel Fitzwilliam Tale (Part Three)

RobinElizabethMay 28, 2018 02:55PM

Re: Twelfth-Night Cake & the Rosings Ghost: A Sofia-Elisabete, Love Child of Colonel Fitzwilliam Tale (Part Three)

LorenaMay 30, 2018 08:57PM

Re: Twelfth-Night Cake & the Rosings Ghost: A Sofia-Elisabete, Love Child of Colonel Fitzwilliam Tale (Part Three)

RobinElizabethMay 31, 2018 08:25PM

Re: Twelfth-Night Cake & the Rosings Ghost: A Sofia-Elisabete, Love Child of Colonel Fitzwilliam Tale (Part Three)

LorenaJune 06, 2018 01:00AM

Re: Twelfth-Night Cake & the Rosings Ghost: A Sofia-Elisabete, Love Child of Colonel Fitzwilliam Tale (Part Three)

RobinElizabethJune 06, 2018 02:00AM

Re: Twelfth-Night Cake & the Rosings Ghost: A Sofia-Elisabete, Love Child of Colonel Fitzwilliam Tale (Part Three)

ShannaGJune 01, 2018 02:16AM

Re: Twelfth-Night Cake & the Rosings Ghost: A Sofia-Elisabete, Love Child of Colonel Fitzwilliam Tale (Part Three)

RobinElizabethJune 01, 2018 12:45PM



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