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

June 12, 2018 01:51AM
In Part Seven, it’s the return of the Rosings Ghost…

*******

–ooooo–


The trouble began on St. Stephen’s Day, the day after Christmas, when the Rosings Ghost made its triumphant return. First, it attacked an innocent roll of pickled-up brawn sitting in the larder.

‘What did you say?’ Lady Catherine gaped at her eccentric French cook. ‘The brawn has been shot?’

‘Shot, ma foi!’ A dark cloud rose on Monsieur Le Claire’s brow. ‘Someone has murdered the brawn.’

‘Oh, nonsense,’ replied her ladyship.

Le Claire flapped his hand at the footman, who presented a platter of shot brawn. It surely did look shot, what with a gaping hole blasted in the centre of it.

Annie twisted the serviette in her hands. ‘It must be the Ro—’

‘Silence!’ ordered her ladyship. She dismissed Le Claire and the footman, because they, being servants, were superstitious; at least that’s what she said when they were gone. Only the trusty butler, Pierce, remained with us in the breakfast room.

‘Mamma,’ Annie half-whispered in a tremulous tone, ‘the Rosings Ghost has returned.’

‘How ridiculous. I dare say it’s a trick, and who better to play tricks than this little brown one.’ Lady Catherine glared at me. ‘Naughty girl! How dare you play ghost and murder my brawn.’

Papai scrutinised me. ‘Sofia-Elisabete, did you play us tricks?’

‘No, papai.’ I begged him to believe me with my silent eyes.

‘Madam, she says she didn’t.’

Her ladyship huffed. ‘Fitzwilliam, you would believe everything she says?’

‘I beg your pardon,’ said he, ‘but I do believe she’s telling the truth.’

Just then, I became seized with a nervous fit of hiccups. With an inward groan, I quickly covered my mouth with my hands.

‘There, now,’ cried her ladyship. ‘She is guilty. This bold outlaw must have raided the larder to give some of my brawn to the poor.’

I shook my head violently. ‘Não, não, não!’ I often reverted to Portuguese whenever I became angry or upset. Unfortunately, my foreign tongue and manners raised her estimation of my guilt even further.

‘Get you gone,’ commanded she in a cold, angry tone, her fierce eyes bulging in their sockets. Whereupon she banished me to the nursery for the remainder of the day.

Shut up in the attic again, I paced about and ranted. Ora essa! Well, I never!

At tea-time, papai tap-tapped at my door. He had pilfered a piece of plum cake for me and had brought me a cup of milky tea.

I wept at the sight of him. ‘Papai, please say you believe me.’

‘I believe you.’ He wiped away my tears.

I stamped my foot with a passion. ‘It’s the Rosings Ghost, and I’ll prove it.’

‘Indeed? How will you do that?’

I clenched my fists. ‘I’m a-going to the gallery tonight. That ghost is a regular bad ‘un, and I knows its tricks. I’ll give it a sound drubbin’ if it don’t behave.’

Papai cupped his right ear. ‘Did I hear you talk like a stable-boy?’

‘Oh, papai.’

‘Your cousin is a very bad influence.’

Papai turned serious, and he objected to my crazy plan as he called it. I mustered up my sad eyes, determined to have my own way. He reluctantly agreed then to take me to the gallery, after he had dined with Lady Catherine and Annie, because otherwise, I would get into mischief on my own.

That evening, I seized upon a brilliant idea to dress as a boy in my nankeen breeches and cambric shirt and red jacket, all of which I had sneaked into my travelling trunk before we departed Scarborough. Papai grunted his disapproval upon seeing me in my new set of boy’s clothes which mamãe had secretly made for me and which I sometimes wore when I played in the woods near her girls’ school.

‘One doesn’t wrestle with a naughty ghost wearing a silly frock and pantalettes,’ declared I. ‘Mind you, this is a very serious business. Mamãe would be most displeased if I tore my new frock.’

Papai sighed. ‘Off we go, Miss Hoyden.’

We sallied forth hand in hand to the cold and dark gallery. Of a sudden, papai’s candle went out, and we were left in the dark. A profound fear gripped me – I, the fearless girl – and I clung to papai, my heart thump-thumping.

An eerie voice rang out, in a low, measured tone. ‘Holes. Holes. Holes. BEWARE OF HOLES.’

The deep bass of the ghost’s voice sounded familiar to me for some reason, but I couldn’t put my finger on it.

Papai tapped my arm. ‘Say something to the ghost.’

‘Pooh! Pooh!’ my voice quavered. ‘I’m not afraid you and your deuced holes.’

‘Go on. Speak up,’ urged papai.

I summoned up my courage. ‘Let us alone or I’ll smash you to atoms, you naughty ghost!’

We stood there in the dark for another minute, but the ghost never replied.

‘Well done, Sofia-Elisabete,’ papai hugged me. ‘I do believe the ghost has quitted Rosings.’

Tucked up in bed, I spent a cursed night, sleepless at first, thinking on the ghost, which I knew still haunted Rosings. And when I finally did find a bit of sleep, it turned into a nightmare about the ghost, who bullied me and punished me and berated me for my brown-ness.

–ooooo–


Papai assured her ladyship that the Rosings Ghost would no longer pester us, now that the ghost had received a severe wigging from me last night.

Lady Catherine humphed. ‘I shall know how to act if another roll of my innocent brawn is murdered. The culprit shall be apprehended and brought to justice by the magistrate. I shall demand it.’

On this, a fair winter’s day, papai suggested an airing for her ladyship, so stroll they did in the Rosings garden, while Annie and I enjoyed a game of romps. Whenever we flew by Lady Catherine, too close for her liking, she shouted at us, ‘Cruel ruffians!’ Annie turned to me with her eyes crossed, which made me burst into a fit of giggles. This certainly didn’t please her ladyship, and she demanded to be returned within where she would spy on us from on high at the window of her sitting room.

On the ensuing days Annie and I revelled in our cousinness. We exchanged confidences. We discovered more of our similarities. We traded anecdotes of our near relations, which is how I discovered she knew many things about my papai, including his sad lot to suffer from childhood whenever his spiteful mother shunned him in favour of her eldest son and heir to Matlock. No wonder papai disliked his mother and got into trouble at school and ran riot in London. My poor, poor papai! Did Lady Matlock feed him watery, tasteless gruel and make him sleep in the nursery attic? Did she berate him for not being pretty like his older brother? I locked these secrets about him in my heart where they would remain safe.

One morning early, when I had been sneaking about in the servants’ stairs, I heard a rapid fire of French oaths in the kitchen. I bounded up to the breakfast room, curious to know what had happened. The French cook stormed into the room. He presented to her ladyship a twelfth night pie to be eaten to-day, it being one of the twelve mince pies that must be eaten every day for the twelve days of Christmas. These twelve pies had been offered by Mrs Collins to ensure good luck for the twelve months in the new year. We had eaten nearly half of them when the Rosings Ghost struck again.

‘O ciel! Someone has murdered the mince pie.’ Le Claire pointed emphatically to the centre of the mince pie with its suspicious-looking perfectly shaped hole.

‘Could a rat have done it?’ inquired Mrs Buxton, the anxious housekeeper.

‘I think not,’ replied Le Claire. ‘Mon Dieu! Quelle malchance!’

‘Oh, dear!’ Mrs Buxton wrung her hands. ‘A murdered twelfth night pie portends bad luck.’

Lady Catherine rapped her walking-stick on the floor. ‘There is nothing for it then. We must inform Mrs Collins and prevail upon her to send us another mince pie if possible.’

After the housekeeper and cook departed, Lady Catherine narrowed her eyes at me.

‘Mischievous girl!’

I shook my head. ‘The ghost did it.’

‘Mamma, surely it’s the ghost playing tricks,’ pleaded Annie.

Her ladyship scoffed at her. ‘This naughty child sneaked down the servants’ stairs early this morning and, she, being a greedy girl, ate the pie with a spoon. I know she favours those mince pies over my rolls of brawn. She is always hankering for pies but never for my pickled-up brawn.’

Papai lowered the newspaper he was reading.

‘Sofia-Elisabete, have you discovered the false door near the nursery?’ inquired he, his eyes intently fixed on me.

I bit my lip. ‘I have, papai.’

‘And have you ever used the servants’ stairs from the attic to the kitchen?’

‘Yes, papai.’ I hung my head. I had promised papai not to use the servants’ stairs to sneak about the house.

‘I believe you shall stay in the nursery to-day,’ declared he, with an officer-like coolness.

‘But papai, Annie and I want to call on…’

Papai cleared his throat, and, looking upon his newspaper, he resumed his reading of it. There is nothing worse than when your own papai doesn’t believe you and doesn’t seem to care about you. I trudged up the stairs, for a miserable and sad attic-dweller I had become.

With mingled feelings of hurt and indignation, I determined to write a letter to mamãe. She must come to save me. She must! To persuade her, I used a good deal of vivid language since the truth can be hum-da-dum-drum without it. And being the prodigious fabulist that I am, I wrote the best, the most convincing, the most chilling tale I could think of, while the imp in me shocked her with many a misspelled word. It went something like this:

‘My dear Mamãe, I’m in a heap of trubble! Papai turned traitor. Can you believe? Woe is me. The grumpy lumpy rector beat me with the berch rod. Such monstriss pain! He will convirt me before Twelfth Night, says he. He makes me pray on my knees. So red red red they are. I was seezed with a fainting fit. Lady C. locks me in the nurserry. She feeds me moaldy bread & watery grooel. I have no coal fire & I will surely die frum fever. Please come before I die a thoussand deaths. I remain your ever loving child, Sofia-Elisabete. P.S. I hope you saved me a hugiss peece of gingerbread. I’m monstrissly hungry.’

–ooooo–


By and by, Le Claire prepared the pastry-room to make the first batch of twelfth cakes for the tenants. Annie and I went nearly wild with excitement. Lady Catherine admonished us for bothering her French cook. ‘A kitchen is no place for ladies,’ she called out. Annie marched back to the sitting room, and so did I.

‘Mamma, I need your five crowns. Sofia-Elisabete has got her coins.’

I held out my hands to show her ladyship the five crowns papai had given me.

‘What folly!’ Her ladyship shook her head. ‘A crown is too much for farm-folk.’

‘But you promised, mamma.’

As she often did, her ladyship looked on me with a sour countenance.

Below stairs in the pastry-room, we observed Le Claire at his labours, making a well of flour in the centre of a bowl and adding to it the yeast with warm milk. As soon as the yeast became frothy, he mixed the flour with butter, sugar, currants, spices and candied oranges, using a bit of warm milk. An hour or so later, when the sponge had risen, he poured the batter into a papered and buttered hoop, thrusting the pea on the left side, the bean on the right side, and the coin in the centre.

Thereafter, he baked the cakes. Once the cakes became cold, he iced them with a goodly amount of sugary white paste. With utmost care, he placed two crown ornaments atop each cake. ‘C’est magnifique! Magnifique!’ boasted he. Le Claire said that if the cakes were kept in a cool, dry place, they could last for a very long time. Methinks the poor tenants would gobble up the lovely cakes within a day or two. How could they not when these white cakes looked like magic clouds baked by the angels in heaven?

Annie strutted some turns about the sitting room, showing off a noble twelfth cake.

‘A’n’t it the greatest thing?’ bragged she, heedless of her ladyship’s displeasure.

Lady Catherine huffed. ‘Renegade daughter!’

Her ladyship’s ferocious frown didn’t escape me. I wonder now if Annie took a childish delight in goading her own mamma to madness, as if her mamma were a baited bear, for theirs was a strange relationship.

Just when I thought all would be right in our world again, the plaguy ghost played us tricks on New Year’s Day. The night before, Annie and I had celebrated New Year’s Eve at the parsonage, we being the special guests of Mrs Collins, while Lady Catherine had stayed home quiet, in the company of papai, who read from the Bible to her.

Le Claire pitched his cap to the floor. ‘Quelle horreur!’

Annie gasped. ‘There’s a hole in this twelfth cake.’

Mrs Buxton examined the size of the hole at the top of the cake. ‘Your ladyship, it appears that someone stuck the cake with his thumb. Fortunately, the crown inside was not stolen.’

Lady Catherine sighed impatiently. ‘There is nothing for it then but to fill the hole with icing. Away! Away with you now.’

When the housekeeper and the grumbling cook were gone, Lady Catherine cast a severe look at me.

‘While you gadders celebrated New Year’s Eve at the parsonage, it appears that your accomplice attacked the cake. Was it Betsy?’

‘No, your ladyship.’ I gulped. ‘Please don’t dismiss Betsy.’

‘Humph. I shall send an urgent message for Mr Collins to come and talk with…’

‘I shan’t speak to him.’ I crossed my arms to make my point.

‘Impudent girl! You shall hold your tongue.’

I tossed my head. ‘I shan’t hold my tongue. I shan’t!’

‘Enough,’ cried papai. ‘We shall visit the parsonage after breakfast.’

I gasped at his treachery. I saw how it was. My own papai had, indeed, turned against me. I determined then to run for it, but papai caught me by the arm, as if he had sensed my wicked plan. So it was that I sat at table in ill-humour. Tea and toast never tasted so bitter to me.

Breakfast now done, we departed for the parsonage. With a clouded brow, papai steered me with one hand atop my head as he led me in a forced march down the gravelled path. And every time I tried to turn my head left or right, he would tighten his grip on me. Being the imp that I am, though, I did what papai calls my saucy step, raising my chin, swinging my arms and lifting my knees high. ‘Halt!’ ordered he. We came to an abrupt stop at the entrance of Rosings Park, where I awaited my court-martial.

‘You have greatly disappointed me,’ papai paced to and fro. ‘You, who promised to be polite and respectful, no matter what Lady Catherine said to you.’

‘But papai…’

‘You have made a bad job of it,’ said he in a sharp tone.

His reprimand stung me to the quick, but then my courage rose.

‘Papai, I didn’t stick the cake with my thumb.’

‘Well, of course you didn’t; your thumb is too small. But that’s not the point.’

‘It isn’t?’ I scratched my head. ‘What’s the point then?’

Papai growled out, ‘The point is you’ve been rude and disrespectful to our hostess. Do not you understand?’

‘Yes, papai,’ replied I, although I couldn’t help but feel that our conversation was going round in circles, and I would never really get the point of it, me being a mere child of eight years with a wee brain. How could I not defend myself when wrongly accused of something so naughty?

‘Excellent,’ replied he, tugging at his cravat.

Just then, I seized upon a clever plan. ‘Papai, I’m determined to catch the ghost tonight. I’m hiding in the pastry-room, where I’ll wait for that rascal. I’ll pounce on it mighty like.’

‘Silly gooseberry, you shall do no such thing, sneaking about alone in the middle of the night and pouncing on ghosts.’

‘But papai…’

‘I being the manly man shall come with you and do the pouncing.’ Papai glanced at his pocket-watch. ‘Now it so happens that if we make haste, we can call on Mrs Collins while the rector works on his sermon. He never quits his study in the morning when he’s thinking those great thoughts of his. Come – let’s get on.’

The parsonage had become a sort of refuge house for me and papai, and I was glad for it. Mrs Collins made the best gingerbread – almost as tasty as my mamãe’s – and her jolly baby chirped and gurgled and cooed at us, and never did he shed a tear. My papai, being the best of papais, has an affectionate affinity for babies, whom he calls little goosegogs, and if there’s one thing he dearly loves to do, is to play with these little goosegogs and cuddle them and tease them, which always amuses the ladies since he’s a manly colonel.

That night I eagerly awaited papai to come and fetch me. Dressed in my breeches and jacket, I practised pouncing on the pillow of my bed. ‘You rascally ghost!’ cried I, walloping the ghost pillow. Unfortunately, papai caught me thumping my pillow like the pugilist I am, and this raised his ire; for, he would never forget the time I battled with a rude little French boy and got a black eye. Papai chided me, telling me I could never mingle in polite society if I acted like a hoyden. He made me promise again that I would let him do the pouncing and pummelling; otherwise, he would lock me inside the nursery. ‘Agora sim,’ said I. My response of ‘to be sure’ appeased him for the moment. We would catch the ghost this time and put a stop to its tricks.
SubjectAuthorPosted

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

RobinElizabethJune 12, 2018 01:51AM

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

LorenaJune 13, 2018 03:07PM



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