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

June 04, 2018 09:09PM
In Part Five, it’s Christmas Day, an emotional time for a little girl who misses her beloved step-mother. I guess you could say that Lady Catherine’s criticism about Sofia-Elisabete’s looks got under her skin this time.



Inside the silver locket that papai had given me for Christmas were tiny portraits: one of mamãe, she with her reddish-brown hair and sparkling green eyes, and one of papai, he with his lopsided grin and dark blue eyes. Hot tears formed in my own dark blues, and I wondered how mamãe would celebrate Christmas dinner with her girls at Bunberry school. Would she even think of me and papai? Would she save me a piece of her most excellent gingerbread? Would she remember to give my pug Tin-Key a tasty bone for Christmas dinner?

‘Tears on Christmas Day are bad luck,’ Lady Catherine reproached me. With a sigh, she handed me a small bottle of Milk of Roses. ‘No young lady can bear the burden of bad looks. “What a fright,” people will say. But with any luck, you might become almost tolerable with Milk of Roses.’

Her censure cut me to the quick. I began to sob, bewildered by the brown-ness of my skin. I was cursed – the curse of brown skin! And now I would turn into a fright. Oh, woe is me. Papai wiped my tears with his pocket-handkerchief, telling me only a silly gooseberry would cry and fret, and didn’t I know what a lovely child I was. But I didn’t believe him.

Upstairs in the nursery, I dabbed the Milk of Roses onto my face, and I scrubbed my face with it as hard as I could, the result of which turned me bright red instead of milk-white. Ay me! I sat there in a pout, staring at my reddened face in the looking-glass, wondering what to do, when I formed a brilliant idea to fix my brown-ness. I seized the bell-pull to summon the maid Betsy, and I told her to make haste and bring me a basin of gruel and to be sure to add a heap of milk in it instead of water and, oh yes, bring me a paint brush as well.

So it was that I painted my face with the milky gruel paste, and once I had made sure that none of my brown-ness showed, I fanned my work of art to make it dry nice and crusty. ‘I have done you at last, Miss Brown-ness,’ I shook my finger at my reflection in the looking-glass. Pleased with myself, I skipped merrily down the passage, and I hop-hop-hopped down two flights of stairs, eager to show myself off to those awaiting me in the drawing room.

‘Bless me!’ Annie placed a hand at her heart.

Papai gaped at me. ‘Good heavens! What have you done to your face?’

I grinned at everyone, proud that they had noticed my milk-white complexion.

‘I knew how it would be,’ Lady Catherine nodded her approval. ‘Her complexion has already improved with Milk of Roses.’

‘Oh, mamma,’ exclaimed Annie. ‘Put on your spectacles for once.’

The butler appeared just then to announce the imminent arrival of Lady Catherine’s dinner guests.

‘Guests?’ Annie’s countenance turned crimson. ‘Pray tell me you haven’t invited that blockhead Sir Wiggleby for Christmas dinner. I shan’t be trotted out for an old widower like him. I shall be ill, deathly ill, if you make me attend him, mamma.’

Her ladyship expressed shock. ‘My dear Anne, I do have an acquaintance or two whom I do not pay to attend me.’

The butler announced Lord Matlock, a most handsome elderly gentleman with white hair and lively blue eyes. They called him the White Lion, but I called him avô, for he was my grand-papa. As soon as he swept into the drawing room, the air in the room changed. I know not how to describe it, but it felt as if the air became different somehow – lighter and happier – and we, his charmed audience, stood in awe at the magic of it and his superhuman energy and glow. To be sure, I was all agog to rush into his arms. I hadn't seen my avô in many months.

‘My dear Catty, how do you do?’ Lord Matlock kissed her ladyship’s cheek.

‘Brother, you have come at last, have you?’ Lady Catherine chided him affectionately.

Lord Matlock’s travelling companions included Mr Remy, a true dandy attired in the height of fashion, and La Baronessa, a beautiful, young opera singer dressed in a profusion of rich lace and sparkling jewels. I could not help but goggle at La Baronessa, whose face brought to mind a painting I had seen of Venus in a state of nature. She, in turn, seemed highly amused with my milky face, as did Mr Remy, who eyed me with his lorgnette.

Once the proper introductions were made – which, in my mind, took for ever, because if there’s one thing grown-ups love to do, is to stand and gawk at each other and to determine who outranks who and who’s wearing what – Lord Matlock beckoned me with outstretched hands. With a squeal, I leapt towards him like the hoyden I am.

‘Meu avô! Meu avô!’ cried I with happiness.

‘A merry Christmas to you!’ He made a sour face when he kissed me on the cheek. ‘My dear girl, why do you have gruel on your face?’

‘It’s gruel mixed with Milk of Roses to turn my phiz white,’ explained I. ‘Her ladyship said Milk of Roses would improve my complexion. I don’t want to be a fright, you know, when I grow up.’

Lord Matlock humphed. ‘What colour, would you say, La Baronessa is?’

I admired the opera singer’s velvety complexion. ‘Light brown?’

‘Quite so. Is she not the loveliest lady you have ever seen?’

I nodded in reply.

‘May I?’ He held out his pocket-handkerchief, and, like magic, the butler appeared with a small silver bowl filled with soap suds.

I made a silly face while Lord Matlock wiped away my gruel mask.

‘Hold, hold, child.’ He paused with concern, his eyes fixed on my cheek. ‘There’s something very peculiar underneath the gruel crust…’

‘What is it? Meu avô, what is it?’ I trembled, worried that I had already turned into a fright.

‘Why, it’s your lovely brown skin.’ And he smiled.

‘Oh, avô,’ I chided him for funning me.

‘Now you are you again – our dear Sofia-Elisabete,’ he tapped my nose. ‘Someday, if you are good, you shall be as beautiful as La Baronessa.’

Soon we sat at table, eager for the Christmas feast to begin. But to my ten-fold dismay, the dreaded brawn from last night made its reappearance. Lord Matlock praised the cook, the French cook he had sent to Rosings, and he helped her ladyship twice to the brawn; for, like I said, she was a prodigious lover of meaty-jelly stuff. Oh, how I prayed that everyone would eat a slice of it so there would be no more. As if she had guessed my thoughts, her ladyship placed her guests under enchantment, encouraging them to eat brawn, whereupon Mr Remy, who sought to please his hostess, ate a second slice of brawn, and then a third. He praised her ladyship’s brawn, saying it was the best brawn he had ever tasted in good old England.

‘Lady Catherine, how mortified am I,’ cried Mr Remy, fluttering his lace handkerchief about. ‘I dare say I have eaten one more slice of your delicious brawn than you did. What must you think of me and my poor table manners? Oh, dear. Oh, dear.’

‘Mr Remy, do not trouble yourself,’ replied her ladyship. ‘We have five rolls of brawn all pickled up, sitting in the larder. We at Rosings shall be eating brawn for months.’

‘Oh, lovely,’ muttered Annie, with a grim countenance.

Armed with his two-tined guard fork and sharp knife, papai carved up the monstrous pig’s head bedecked with bays and rosemary, but I refused to eat any of the roasted pig. You see, when I was four years old, I used to cry whenever the servant brought in the platter with the pig’s head – its mouth stuffed with a red apple, sitting there between its tusks – until papai said I would never be truly English if I insisted on blubbering whenever he manfully carved up a pig’s head.

‘Daughter, do you not wish for a pig’s ear?’ With a waggish grin, papai held up something fleshy and foul on the guard fork. I replied I did not. Oh, how I wished to cover my eyes with my hands. According to my mamãe, one must look down at her plate or look the other way and not make choking noises – gak gaaak gak – while everyone feasts on pig’s head. Those are the rules, you know, of dining etiquette and sitting up for supper with grown-ups.

Lady Catherine nodded with approval at her guest. ‘Mr Remy, you have taken a grand tour on the continent. Would you not agree that we English surpass all others in the roasting of meat?’

‘Oh, certainly, your ladyship,’ returned he. ‘Tender! So tender! A roasted pig’s head – and an English one it must be – always transports me.’

With a sudden gleam in his eye, papai sat erect, ready to carve again, his guard fork raised with anticipation. ‘May I serve you more of the snout, Mr Remy?’

‘I thank you, yes, Colonel Fitzwilliam,’ said he. ‘So kind! So kind!’

Upon retiring to the drawing room, we ladies sat and chatted while we waited for the men, who had remained in the dining room doing manly things, such as drinking wicked liquor and cracking a thousand stale jokes and showing off with their sallies and mocking bad punsters and cursing now and then whenever they spoke of boring things, such as acts of parliament, corn prices and horseflesh. I know these things to be true because I used to eavesdrop on the men whenever I wasn’t allowed to sit up to supper. Once the men turned themselves into proper gentlemen and deigned to join us, tea was served up, after which Lady Catherine requested La Baronessa to honour us with a song.

The Italian soprano swept forward to the centre of the room, whilst Mr Remy sat at the pianoforte, pulling his fingers to crack his knuckles – crac crac crac – and when he had done cracking his last finger, he twirled his fingers, two of which were adorned with monstrous diamond rings. I giggled into my hand, until papai shushed me. With a grand flourish, Mr Remy began to play the instrument, his fingers flying over the keys, his head bobbing up and down with the swell of the melody.

In the midst of this showy spectacle, La Baronessa commenced to sing a song in Italian, and my attention became drawn to her, but I heard not a word she sang. Whenever she took a deep breath, the large diamond on her necklace, which hung suspended at her breast, would flash like lightning. It certainly dazzled me, as it did most everyone there except Lady Catherine, who closed her eyes in a dreamy state. ‘Mon Dieu,’ papai uttered in a low tone, his eyes fixed on La Baronessa’s blazing diamond. When La Baronessa concluded her song, Lord Matlock kissed her hand, and he led her to a settee. But instead of joining her there, he sat near her ladyship as was her due.

‘Catty, I have brought London to you since you refuse to come to London to see me.’

‘Humph. London, indeed.’ As if she felt sorry for having scorned his Christmas surprise for her, she turned to Lord Matlock in earnest, grasping his hand with tenderness. ‘Do you remember the time papa took us to the opera in London, and he introduced us to the French soprano, Sophie Arnould?’

He nodded to her, and the two of them shared a secretive smile.

‘She could have been a princess or a countess,’ declared her ladyship. ‘Her talent was so great.’

‘So they said.’ He patted her hand, whereupon he turned to me and Annie. ‘Well, now, La Baronessa and Mr Remy have entertained us in grand fashion. What say you to a winter’s tale? I’m a first-rate story-teller. Shall I tell you the one about the Rosings Ghost?’

‘Ay, do,’ urged Annie.

‘Oh, dear. Oh, dear,’ fretted Mr Remy, tugging at one of his crisp curls.

‘Hurrah! A ghost story.’ I clapped my hands. Little did I know then that this ghost story would change everything for me that Christmas-tide.

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

RobinElizabethJune 04, 2018 09:09PM

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

LorenaJune 06, 2018 02:27AM

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

RobinElizabethJune 06, 2018 03:20AM


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