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An Argument Over the Cream of Cauliflower Soup

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posted by alias raaen99 on Sunday 17th of October 2021 05:39:48 AM

Cavendish Mews is a smart set of flats in Mayfair where flapper and modern woman, the Honourable Lettice Chetwynd has set up home after coming of age and gaining her allowance. To supplement her already generous allowance, and to break away from dependence upon her family, Lettice has established herself as a society interior designer, so her flat is decorated with a mixture of elegant antique Georgian pieces and modern Art Deco furnishings, using it as a showroom for what she can offer to her well heeled clients. Today however we are at Glynes, the grand Georgian family seat of the Chetwynds in Wiltshire, and the home of Lettice’s parents, the presiding Viscount and Countess of Wrexham and the heir, their eldest son Leslie. Lettice is visiting her family home after receiving a strongly worded instruction from her father by telegram to visit without delay or procrastination. Lettice usually enjoys her trips to her childhood home, yet she has a sense of foreboding about this visit. Lettice has a strained relationship with her mother at the best of times as the two have differing views about the world and the role that women have to play in it, and whilst she is her father’s undeniable favourite, she fears that some of her more recent choices of clients might have put her out of favour with him. Thus, she heaved a sigh of relief upon her arrival at the house to find that her father and brother were elsewhere on the property on estate business and her mother was in the village attending to her charitable work. Left to her own devices until luncheon, Lettice spent the intervening time in her favourite room in the whole house, her father’s library, where she perused many of his volumes on architecture and design, drawing inspiration for her own interior designs. Now we find ourselves in the grand and imposing formal dining room of Glynes, with its elegant Georgian furniture and its hand painted Eighteenth Century wallpaper featuring birds and flowers. Old masters and family portraits look down from gilded frames upon the diners. Viscount Wrexham sits at the head of the table, with his wife, Lady Sadie, to his left and Lettice to his right, all at one end of the Chippendale dining table. Despite the roaring fire in the hearth, Lettice shivers with a chill she feels in the room as Bramley the butler serves cream of cauliflower soup to the trio from a rose painted Rosenthal tureen. “Is Leslie not joining us for luncheon, Pappa?” Lettice enquires after her eldest brother, noting the fact that the table is only set for three. “Leslie still has unfinished business with the tenants down at Meadowdale Farm, Lettice.” her father replies sternly. Lettice glances around the room, not engaging her mother’s intense gaze as she sits opposite her. She notices Lady Sadie’s hair is starting to gain streaks of silver amongst her blonde Edwardian set waves. Her mother toys brittlely with the two strands of pearls at her throat, a tell-tale sign that there is unpleasantness brewing. “What lovely delphiniums, Mamma,” Lettice remarks as her gaze falls upon the tall purple blooms in the fluted Victorian cranberry glass vase on the table. “And in autumn. I don’t know how you manage to do it.” “Yes.” She smiles thinly. “The hothouses are such a blessing as the weather turns colder and fresh flowers become scarce.” “Thank you Bramley,” the Viscount says commandingly. “You may come and collect the plates in a quarter of an hour. I shall pour the wine myself.” The butler looks startled by his master’s pronouncement as he readies himself to take his usual place by the sideboard where he has placed the tureen alongside two bottles of wine. However, he knows better than to contradict the Viscount. “Very good, My Lord.” He backs away, shooing Moira the maid who has taken to assisting wait table at luncheon on informal occasions since the war with his flapping fingers. The two disappear through the door that connects the dining room to the butler’s pantry. “Why do I have the feeling of being ambushed?” Lettice clips. “Lettice!” Lady Sadie gasps, glancing anxiously towards the door the servants have retreated behind. The trio sit in awkward silence for a minute or so, allowing the servants to hopefully be out of earshot, listening to the quiet tick of the clock on the mantle and the crackle of the fire. None pick up their silver spoons to eat the steaming soup. “Margot and Dickie’s wedding plans appear to be coming along well according to Lucie de Virre.” Lady Sadie remarks with false joviality as she picks up the jug of cold cream which she adds to her soup to temper it. “I am told that younger son of Sir Bruton has a remarkable job of making her wedding dress considering that he isn’t formally trained.” As if his wife’s words have broken some spell, Viscount Wrexham picks up his spoon and starts to eat in silence. “Well, as you know, Gerald’s mother is a very good needlewoman,” Lettice replies, picking up her own spoon and plunging it into the thick white soup. “I’m sure she taught him some tricks about embroidery.” “Perhaps you could take a leaf from his book, Lettice.” suggests Lady Sadie. “Ha!” Viscount Wrexham bursts, the sound echoing about the lofty dining room. Noticing the angry look his wife casts him, he clears his throat before apologising, “I beg your pardon.” The conversation falters awkwardly after that and for a few moments the three people quietly eat their soup. “Oh!” Viscount Wrexham exclaims suddenly. “The wine!” He pushes his chair back, the feet scraping noisily against the floor. Walking to the sideboard he picks up the bottle of red. “The Saint Germaine Bordeaux,” he muses, looking down at the label. “A good choice, Bramley.” “So,” Lettice continues as her father comes back to the table and pours the wine. “Your letter said it was urgent. What did I need to come down here from London for in such a hurry that I had to cancel dinner plans at the Savoy this evening?” As though not having heard her, the Viscount places the bottle in front of him, sits and continues eating his soup without speaking. “Well tell her Cosmo!” Lady Sadie hisses, flapping her right hand at him, making the diamonds in her rings sparkle in the light. Viscount Wrexham remains silent and takes another mouthful of soup. “Very well then,” Lady Sadie mutters irritably. “If you won’t, then I will!” Lady Sadie reaches into the left pocket of the light grey cardigan she has over her powder blue day dress and withdraws a letter. Unfolding it, she runs her long fingers across the lines until she reaches the part she wants. Clearing her throat she reads, annunciating each word in an especially clipped tone as she quotes, “It has come to our attention that your daughter, Lettice,” She looks up momentarily and glares at her youngest child. “Has recently taken up decorating the home of an American woman, a Miss Wanetta Ward. Discreet enquiries have revealed to me that she is a woman of questionable background who has recently come to London where she has commenced work as an actress.” The last word Lady Sadie spits out distastefully before folding the letter back into quarters and depositing it back into her pocket. “Do you deny it, Lettice?” “Who’s been telling tales?” Lettice asks calmly, leaving her spoon in the bowl. “An actress, Lettice! Really!” Lady Sadie admonishes. “A moving picture actress, not a theatre actress, Mamma.” Lettice elaborates. “Now who’s been blabbing?” “That doesn’t make it any better, Lettice!” her mother responds in a disgusted tone. “You might just as well say you’re decorating for a…” “Sadie!” the Viscount breaks his silence, dropping his spoon with a clatter. “Who?” Lettice repeats, glaring at her mother, who shrinks in her seat under her intense glare. "Who has been telling tales?" Looking around awkwardly she finally replies, “Gwendolyn!” “The Duchess?” Lettice gasps incredulously. “But the last time I saw her she as good as told me that she was never going to speak to you again.” “Well,” Lady Sadie defends. “I managed to rebuild my bridges somewhat, no thanks to you after you and your father,” She glances at her husband with a chiding look. “Caused such a rift between her and I.” “That venomous old trout!” Lettice utters, flabbergasted at the revelation. “Lettice!” Viscount Wrexham barks angrily. “That’s no way to speak about your Mother’s cousin!” “Lettice,” her mother continues. “Did your father not have a conversation with you a few months ago about decorating for your own class, if you must insist upon embarking upon this interior design nonsense?” “He did, Mamma. However,” Lettice replies, but demurs. “I didn’t necessarily agree.” “Oh Lettice!” Lady Sadie sighs exasperatedly. “Was it not bad enough that you decorated the home of that Hatchett woman, that you must now decorate this woman’s interiors? It is most inappropriate!” “It’s true my girl,” her father adds a little more kindly, turning to her. “Just think how it makes the family look.” “Oh, stop being so soft on her Cosmo!” Lady Sadie exclaims. “You’re always too indulgent with her.” She chuckles in an ironic fashion. “And just look where it has landed us. For shame Lettice!” “Mr. Hatchett is a member of parliament now, you know Mamma.” Lettice answers back bravely. “He’s not a lord though, is he?” Lady Sadie responds hotly. “Well, you should be pleased with my next interior design commission. It’s for the Marquess of Taunton. I’ve been asked by Dickie and Margot to decorate some of the principal rooms of their house in Penance.” Lettice settles back in her seat and resumes eating her soup docilely, refusing to engage her mother’s hostile stare across the table. “Yes, Lucie de Virre told me.” Lady Sadie remains silent for a few tense moments before continuing, “However, it would please me even more, Lettice, if you simply stopped all this ridiculous interior design business folly of yours and settled down and got married!” She pulls a lace edged monogrammed handkerchief from her cardigan sleeve and blows her nose before dabbing her eyes. “Now, don’t go upsetting yourself, Sadie,” Viscount Wrexham says softly, reaching out a consoling hand and placing it on her forearm. Shying away from his touch as if being burned, his wife clings to the edge of the dining table, causing her knuckles to turn white. Thrusting her chair back forcefully, she abruptly stands up and pulls herself up to her full height in a haughty fashion. “Talk to her Cosmo!” she sniffs. “Goodness knows I can’t!” She looks over at Lettice who in turn looks away from her and concentrates on the purple delphiniums. “Make her see sense! She isn’t getting any younger! You’re twenty-one now, Lettice. Lally was married to Charles by the time she was your age and carrying his first child.” “Oh that’s just what you’d like, wouldn’t you Mamma? You’d like to see me siring sons to some dull old peer in the country somewhere, rather than living the life that I want to lead!” “Lettice!” Viscount Wrexham’s thunderous boom stuns both women into momentary silence. “That’s no way to speak to your Mother! Apologise! At once!” Lettice drops her head before looking up again and saying earnestly, “I’m sorry Mamma.” Then she adds, “It’s just the world is changing now. It isn’t the same as it was before the war when Lally was married. And I don’t want a life like Lally has.” “Oh, I can’t abide this conversation any longer! I’m going upstairs!” Lady Sadie storms. “Cosmo, would you have Cook send the remainder of luncheon up on a tray to my room, please.” “Of course, Sadie.” he demurs. Lady Sadie marches across the room, her footsteps pounding with pent up frustration against the parquetry floor of the dining room. Opening the door, even she with all her breeding cannot help but slam it behind her as she leaves the room. The pair sit in silence again for a few minutes, neither finishing their cream of cauliflower soup, which has now gone cold in their bowls. “Was this American actress the one you came down here to research oriental antiquities for?” Viscount Wrexham breaks the silence, looking at his daughter. Lettice remains silent. “Was it?” The brooding look clouding the older man’s face scares the young girl sitting adjunct to him. Lettice shrugs. “Yes.” “You lied to me, my dear girl!” the older man gives his daughter a hurt look. “How could you lie to me, of all people? Me, who has always tried to support and defend you.” He sinks back into his seat, deflated. “How could you lie to me?” “I didn’t lie, Pappa! I told you that I had a potential new client who was an American who had been living in Shanghai. None of those things were a lie.” “Then what did you do, if you neglected to tell me that she was an actress.” “I was being selective with the facts I shared.” “Don’t be impertinent, Lettice!” Viscount Wrexham snaps back. “You didn’t tell me the whole truth, and you hurt me!” “I’m sorry, Pappa.” “So am I, Lettice. Not only have you broken my trust, but now your Mother will be in a bad mood for the rest of the day, and that bodes an ill wind for all of us.” Poking his head around the butler’s pantry door, Bramley asks tentatively, “Shall I clear the plates now, My Lord?” “Thank you Bramley.” As the butler starts to collect the bowls of unfinished soup, the Viscount adds. “And Bramley, could you have Cook take the rest of her ladyship’s luncheon up to her room on a tray. She has one of her heads.” “Certainly, My Lord.” After the butler leaves, Viscount Wrexham turns to his wayward daughter and says in a conciliatory tone, “I do know that what you say is true, Lettice. I understand that the world has changed since the war. However, you could make things just a little easier for all of us.” “By doing what, Pappa?” she asks with a defensive look. “By doing what you and Mamma want and throw my business away, settle down to a boring life with someone and have a brood of children like Lally. Aren’t three grandchildren enough for you?” “Now that isn’t fair, my girl.” he chides her. “Your Mother and I just want what’s best for you.” “Don’t you think I should be the one to decide that?” “But you’re so young.” “Mamma evidently doesn’t think so.” “You don’t know how the world works.” “I know more than you think!” “Listen Lettice, I shan’t command you to stop designing interiors, partially because I know you enjoy doing it, and I can’t bear to see you unhappy.” He pauses, a pitying look in his eyes. “But moreover, because I know you’d keep doing it just to spite me if I did.” Lettice chuckles quietly, a cheeky smile gracing her lips. She is not surprised at how well her father knows her. “That isn’t funny, Lettice.” he admonishes. “It’s a commentary on your wilfulness.” Lettice stops smiling immediately and casts her eyes down into her lap where she screws up the fine linen napkin between her fingers. “However,” Viscount Wrexham continues with a wagging finger, admonishing her laughter. “I’d be grateful if you would please heed my advice if you’d be so good as to take it from your own Father, and design for a few more reputable people. Then it wouldn’t gall your mother quite so much, and she wouldn’t be so quarrelsome with you, or me. You don’t have to decorate for all great and good of the land, but a few minor members of the gentry on your books wouldn’t go astray.” “Anything else?” Lettice asks contritely through sad eyes as she realises for the first time that perhaps her choices cause her father some level of difficulty in the relationship he has with her mother too. “Yes,” he adds. “Can you please make more of an effort at the Hunt Ball after Christmas.” “Whatever do you mean, Pappa? I always make an effort! I love the ball and put a lot of effort into my costume for it.” “I don’t mean your damnable fancy dress costume, Lettice.” he sighs. “Please don’t be obtuse. You have intelligence. It doesn’t become you to play the dunce. Even though your Mother will never admit to it, she knows how many young men were killed in the war. She knows that so many names will no longer appear on her list of invitations. However, not everyone came back maimed and damaged. Your Mother is planning a really dazzling Hunt Ball this year, and I don’t want it spoilt for her.” “Well?” Lettice asks. “She… err,” he clears his throat awkwardly. “She has already made some discreet enquiries about inviting some eligible young bachelors for you.” Lettice rolls her eyes. “Oh Pappa!” “No, Lettice!” he cautions as he settles back in his chair. “It will do you some good to socialise with some charming, handsome and socially suitable eligible young men of marriageable age. Think of it as atonement for not being completely honest with me.” “But Pappa…” “No, Lettice! Atonement is what it is. A lesson in humility as you bow to your old fashioned parents’ wishes. Of course, your Mother and I would prefer for you to marry an older man, after all I am a few years senior to her and in spite of some minor differences, our marriage has been a happy and successful one. However, you yourself have said that times have changed, and we must adapt to those changes, so if the men we introduce you to are more your own age, so be it.” “That’s not what I meant by changing times, Pappa.” “I know Lettice, but nevertheless consider this a concession from us, and please make an effort to dance with and charm them. It will please your Mother and I very much.” He looks earnestly at her. “Please?” “Alright Pappa,” she acquiesces. “But only to please you.” “Thank you Lettice.” Viscount Wrexham’s shoulders relax and he releases a pent up breath in relief. “And who knows, perhaps you will enjoy yourself with one, enough to marry him.” “Don’t press me too hard, Pappa.” Lettice warns. Contrary to what your eyes might tell you, this upper-class country house domestic scene is actually made up entirely of 1:12 size dollhouse miniatures, some of which come from my own childhood. Fun things to look for in this tableau include: The Chippendale dining room table and matching chairs are very special pieces. They came from the Petite Elite Miniature Museum, later rededicated as the Carol and Barry Kaye Museum of Miniatures, which ran between 1992 and 2012 on Los Angeles’ bustling Wiltshire Boulevard. One of the chairs still has a sticker under its cushion identifying which room of which dollhouse it came. The Petite Elite Miniature Museum specialised in exquisite and high end 1:12 miniatures. The furnishings are taken from a real Chippendale design. The table is set correctly for a three course Edwardian luncheon, using cutlery and glassware from Beautifully Handmade Miniatures in Kettering in the United Kingdom. Each glass is hand blown using real glass. The cutlery set is made of polished metal. The crockery is made by an unknown English company and each piece has been gilded by hand and features a rose pattern on it. There is a matching lidded soup tureen and bowls standing on the small demi-lune table in the background. This dinner set I have built up over time by buying individual or odd pieces through various online auctions. The linen napkins and napkin rings were made by Karen Ladybug Miniatures in the United Kingdom. The silver cruet set, which peeps from behind Lettice’s glasses, has been made with great attention to detail, and comes from Warwick Miniatures in Ireland, who are well known for the quality and detail applied to their pieces. The fluted cranberry glass vase on the right hand edge of the photo, was made by Beautifully Handmade Miniatures. Made of polymer clay they are moulded on wires to allow them to be shaped at will and put into individually formed floral arrangements, the very realistic looking purple delphiniums are made by a 1:12 miniature specialist in Germany. The Georgian style fireplace I have had since I was a teenager and is made from moulded plaster. On its mantlepiece stand two 1950s Limoges vases. Both are stamped with a small green Limoges mark to the bottom. These treasures I found in an overcrowded cabinet at the Mill Markets in Geelong. Also standing on the mantlepiece are two miniature diecast lead Meissen figurines: the Lady with the Canary and the Gentleman with the Butterfly, hand painted and gilded by me. There is also a dome anniversary clock in the middle of the mantlepiece which I bought the same day that I bought the fireplace. To the left of the photo stands an artisan bonheur de jour (French lady's writing desk). A gift from my Mother when I was in my twenties, she had obtained this beautiful piece from an antique auction. Made in the 1950s of brass it is very heavy. It is set with hand-painted enamel panels featuring Rococo images. Originally part of a larger set featuring a table and chairs, or maybe a settee as well, individual pieces from these hand-painted sets are highly collectable and much sought after. I never knew this until the advent of E-Bay! The Hepplewhite chair with the lemon satin upholstery in the background was made by the high-end miniature furniture maker, Bespaq. All the paintings around the Glynes dining room in their gilded frames are 1:12 artisan pieces made by Amber’s Miniatures in the United States and the wallpaper is an authentic copy of hand-painted Georgian wallpaper from the 1770s.

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