Sir F. Chook, Inventor of Leopard Oil

Likeness captured upon a daguerrotype machine in Japan, July 1891

Lettres

Wherein the Author reflects upon certain topical & personal issues of the Day.

Clauses and Consequences with the Reverend Fenchtoast

Penned upon the 25th of February, 2012

Written with the kind collaboration of Madam C.

It was, of course, necessary to have the new vicar to tea. It was a bore, but it had to be done. Sir Laurence was in the city all week – he would be of no help. Lady Marjorie would have to entertain the infernal man on her own, on top of managing the new staff and looking after their daughter, home from school. It was simply farcical, the obligations one endured in this family.

The vicar, as he appeared in the front parlour, could not have been any more the typical clergyman; thin, blanched, regarding the world with a kind of shortsighted amiability. Mother and daughter rose and shook his hand, and they all took their seats.

“And how are you finding it here in Constant Tooting, Reverend Fenchtoast?”

“Most agreeable, I thank you, Lady Marjorie – most agreeable. The vicarage is a very comfortable establishment – not large, but, as they say, airy. Something of a relief after my last parish, which was entirely airless, and consequently asphyxiated curates in droves.”

Before her Ladyship could reply, her daughter interrupted. “Is your wife finding the domestic arrangements to her taste?”

“Oh, thank you for enquiring, Miss Butter-Tapenade, but alas, I am not married. The maids are most sensible girls, however, and their services are quite adequate.”

“I am glad to hear that,” she replied coquettishly, “and, please, do call me Tawdry.”

“That’s enough, Tawdry,” said her mother, without looking at her. “It is so hard to find good servants these days. We had to import our new girl from Paris. She has taken to her duties very ably, though her English is a little… unfinished.”

“Ah – is that the young lady who announced that ‘the Reviled Fenchtoast is waiting at the chamber of drawings?’ Funnily enough, I had stepped into the drawing-room to admire your etchings, but I hadn’t found my spectacles before she called me in…”

Lady Marjorie thanked providence for this circumstance, as the artworks hung in her private rooms were not intended for clerical company, and pressed on. “Yes, that’s her. She’s very efficient and thorough, but it is difficult, giving her instructions and wondering if one has been understood…”

“Just look at the hash she’s made of tea! Honestly, Mummy – she’s perfectly ridiculous.”

“That’s your own fault as much as anybody’s, Tawdry – you had to try your French on her, which is much worse than her English. We very nearly had no jam for our cream.”

“Well, how was I to know that préserves means jam and relish and stuff while préservatifs means… French letters?”

“Ah, indeed, those are letters that make up a French word,” the vicar interjected helpfully.

“No, I mean…” Tawdry leaned forward and stage-whispered, “…condoms!”

“Oh, I see! No, don’t you worry about shocking me, not for a moment – it’s the other lot that don’t approve of such items. I preach regular Low Church doctrine, I assure you.”

“In any case, I’m sure you’ve given her quite the wrong idea about this luncheon, my dear. I saw her giving me a very strange look as she was laying it out. Will you have another sandwich, Vicar?”

“Yes, please, thank you. Speaking of language, the Bishop made a most interesting observation yesterday; that English uses Latin words to describe meat, but Germanic words to describe the animals it comes from. ‘Mutton’ and ‘sheep’, for instance, or ‘beef’ and ‘cow’…”

“Or ‘infant’ and ‘child!'”

“Yes, exactly! Isn’t that curious?”

Tawdry laughed and splashed her tea. “I am so glad that you’ve come here, Reverend! You won’t believe the bores we have to deal with in this town. The last vicar literally stuffed his shirts! He used hay and slices of pickle, and the vinegar would come running out of his trouser-legs in rivers…”

“Run upstairs and fetch your glasses, Tawdry; your bedroom eyes are acting up again.” Lady Marjorie glowered and turned her attention to the platter before her. “I am quite sure that that wretched girl has gotten these jars mixed about. Will you take another scone with, er, spermicidal jelly, Vicar?”

“Oh, certainly, yes.” He politely accepted the proffered pastry. “We wouldn’t want any of them wriggling around in there, would we? By the way, I believe I met a relative of yours when I was a deacon in Farringdon Without – a printer, by the name of Harry Butter.”

“Oh, him, yes. He’s a distant cousin of some sort – dreadful man. We don’t talk about him, I’m afraid. He’s taken so many wrong turns, he’s gotten stuck up his own… want of principles.”

Miss Butter-Tapenade breezed in, now sporting her corrective lenses. “Who, Cousin Harry? He is simply a scream! Do you remember that monograph he was passing around for the Radical Dress Society? ‘Of Corsets Tight: A Cage To Bust.’ Some of those stories frightened me off underwear for weeks!”

“Oh, those ridiculous people – running about sticking up posters in railway stations and setting fire to bustles. I don’t want you paying them any heed. Don’t mind her, Vicar – she spends her time at Cambridge with socialists and these ‘luminescent youths,’ and when she comes home, she wants to have us all drinking mixed drinks and writing letters to the Cabinet. My husband has never mixed drinks in his life. He doesn’t even take his milk and his cereal in the same bowl!”

“Don’t concern yourself, my Lady – why, I was known for my cocktails in my own college days, and consider them a perfectly acceptable diversion.”

“I’m so glad you think so! Perhaps after tea you can tell me some of your cocktails, and we can make some togeth-” Tawdry’s proposal paused as the maid entered the room bearing a tray, and her mother looked up inquiringly.

“Yes, what is it, Àpropros?”

“Will madame be wishing to begin the orgy now?”

Lady Marjorie sighed, “Oh, all right,” and began unfastening her pearls. It was simply farcical, the obligations one endured in this family.


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