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An Accidental Discovery

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posted by alias raaen99 on Sunday 16th of January 2022 05:52:54 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 have left the hustle and bustle of London, travelling southwest to a stretch of windswept coastline just a short drive the pretty Cornish town of Penzance. Here, friends of Lettice, newlyweds Margot and Dickie Channon, have been gifted a Recency country “cottage residence” called ‘Chi an Treth’ (Cornish for ‘beach house’) as a wedding gift by the groom’s father, the Marquess of Taunton. Margot, encouraged by her father Lord de Virre who will foot the bill, has commissioned Lettice to redecorate a few of the principal rooms of ‘Chi an Treth’. In the lead up to the wedding, Lord de Virre has spent a great deal of money making the Regency house habitable after many years of sitting empty and bringing it up to the Twentieth Century standards his daughter expects, paying for electrification, replumbing, and a connection to the Penzance telephone exchange. Now, with their honeymoon over, Dickie and Margot have finally taken possession of their country house gift and have invited Lettice to come and spend a Friday to Monday with them so that she might view the rooms Margot wants redecorating for herself and perhaps start formulating some ideas as to how modernise their old fashioned décor. As Lettice is unable to drive and therefore does not own a car, Margot and Dickie have extended the weekend invitation to one of their other Embassy Club coterie, Lettice’s old childhood chum, Gerald, also a member of the aristocracy who has tried to gain some independence from his family by designing gowns from a shop in Grosvenor Street. Gerald owns a Morris*, so he can motor both Lettice and himself down from London on Friday and back again on Monday. After the retirement of the housekeeper, Mrs. Trevethan, from the main house to the gatekeeper’s cottage, the quartet of Bright Young Things** find themselves alone in the sprawling double storey Regency residence of white stucco with ample time on their hands owing to a lack of distractions beyond what parlour games from the Nineteenth Century they found mouldering in the games room cupboard. Encouraged by the consumption of several bottles of French champagne before, during and after dinner, Lettice, Margot, Dickie and Gerald have embarked upon a game of sardines*** after Lettice suggested them playing it earlier in the day. An old house, new to them all, full of wonderful nooks and crannies is too much of a temptation not to play the game. So far Gerald has been found hiding behind an old oriental screen in one of the disused bedrooms and Margot inside the capacious, if slightly musty, interior of an empty wardrobe. Lettice was the last of them to find Margot, so it is her turn to hide and await the other three sardines to seek her out. Abandoning the ideas of the disused bedrooms upstairs, Lettice has returned to the ground floor of ‘Chi an Treth’ in search of a much better hiding place. Seeking out the service entrance, she quietly pushes open the green baize door studded with dull brass tacks. Like all the other doors and windows of ‘Chi an Treth’, it groans on its hinges, but gives way easily, leading Lettice into the servants’ quarters of the house with its white painted walls and bare lightbulb utilitarian décor. She is about to go into the kitchen to seek out the pantry or a dry store cupboard when her eye catches a narrow wooden door standing partially ajar at the end of a rather short corridor with no other doors off it and only a small bench for furniture. “Perfect!” she breathes with excitement, scuttling along the old, worn flagstone floor, her louis heels clicking loudly. “Shhhh!” she hisses at them in her slightly inebriated state. “You’re sure to give me away if I don’t hurry!” Unusually, the door opens outwards, and unlike the green baize door, whilst it does creak, its groaning protests are far quieter than its counterparts. Slipping inside, Lettice finds the light pull cord and with eyes closed, yanks on it, hoping that this rather out-of-the-way store cupboard has been electrified. Her wishes are granted as with a click and the almost imperceptible buzz of electricity, the room is suddenly flooded in a soft golden light from a naked bulb above. A small flurry of dust motes disturbed into the air are illuminated in the glow. “Oh bully for Lord de Virre!” Lettice exclaims, clasping her elegant hands in delight. “Thank goodness he insisted the service area of the house was electrified as well as the living areas.” Happy with her choice of hiding place, Lettice settles to await for the others to find her out and sardine with her. Figuring it will take a little while for her friends to find her and finding sitting in one spot doing nothing rather boring, Lettice decides to explore her cupboard hiding place more thoroughly. She works out quickly that it must be a storage room for things for the nearby dining room as there are stacks of neatly folded table linens on the lower shelves. There are also interesting odd pieces of various dinner sets including tureens without lids, jugs, bowls and stacks of mismatched plates. “Hhhmmm. No longer usable, but evidently too good to throw away.” she remarks as she picks up a blue and white sugar bowl without a lid bearing a pretty floral pattern. She turns it over in her hands thoughtfully. “This must be Regency era. I wonder if the old captain himself used this.” Putting it back, she continues to explore, finding incomplete canteens of cutlery, lacquered stands for vases and bowls and boxes of any amount of different cleaning agents from different eras of the house’s history. Lettice quietly wonders whether there are cupboards like this at Glynes**** and if so, what she might find in them. “Perhaps my own family’s long lost portrait,” she remarks aloud, even though there is no one to hear her. Peering curiously into a Huntley and Palmer’s***** biscuit box full of age discoloured napkins she adds, “Not that we have one that I know of.” Stepping back, she suddenly discovers that the pale blue satin front of her bodice has come away with dust from the Huntly and Palmer’s box. “Oh no!” she exclaims, batting at the sooty looking smears with her hands. “Oh, Gerald will kill me if I ruin one of his dresses!” Unwilling to pull out any of the neatly folded table linens on the lower shelves out and sully them for fear of Mrs. Trevethan’s wrath if she is in fact the regular user of them, Lettice begins to fossick for alternatives to dust down her gown and manage, if not eradicate, any marks on her bodice. Forgetting the box of old linen napkins in her panic, she searches the shelves high and low for a cloth of some kind. It is then that she spots a muslin cloth which looks quite clean dangling from a stack on an upper shelf. Lettice stretches up, but isn’t quite tall enough to reach it, even when she stands on her toes. She jumps up but misses it. She jumps again and feels the fabric teasingly caress her fingertips like a light breeze. She jumps a third time, and this time catches the fabric between her right index and middle fingers. Locking them tightly, she lands on the ground again, but doesn’t realise that by doing so she is also bringing with her the rest of the pile as well as the cloth, and down it comes, colliding crashing, making such a din that Lettice screams in fright, adding to the discordant cacophony as wood splinters, newspaper crumples and china shatters over the unforgiving flagstone floor. The little broom cupboard is plunged into a thick silence in the immediate wake of the accident. Standing with her back against a shelf, Lettice is momentarily shocked into stillness before her body starts to react to the near miss of the shower of objects that now lie smashed and broken across the ground, as opening her tightly clenched eyes she starts to tremble and then sob. “Lettice! Lettice!” Dickie cries are heard getting closer and closer to her hiding place along with the thunder of his approaching footsteps as he bursts into the cupboard. His eyes widen at the carnage of splintered porcelain, pottery and glass across the floor along with shattered pieces of wood. As he takes it in, he looks over at his friend, dusty and sobbing, but apparently unharmed. “Lettice dear girl! Are you alright?” It is like the floodgates open with his words and Lettice stumbles across the broken items into Dickie’s arms and cries, uttering great juddering sobs as she clings to him. “There, there, old girl,” Dickie soothes reassuringly, running his hands over Lettice’s blonde hair as she buries herself into his chest. “It’s alright. You’re alright. No harm done. You’ve just had a bad fright is all.” “Lettice!” Gerald’s voice calls anxiously as his running steps grow louder before finding Dickie and Lettice on the threshold of the store cupboard. “Lettice are you alright? Answer me.” “Shh. Shh.” Dickie mutters. “It’s alright old girl.” “Oh my god, Lettice!” Margot gasps, appearing at the door. “Dickie! Dickie, is she injured? Oh! I’ll never forgive myself if she’s been hurt.” “It’s alright darling, it’s fine Gerald.” Dickie assures them. “Lettice just had a rather nasty fright and a near miss is all.” He sways gently, rocking Lettice slowly as she continues to cry, only with less force now as she starts to calm down. Looking over his shoulder at his wife’s face, looking even more pale than usual against her dark hair he says, “Go fetch the brandy from the drawing room would you, my love?” “Of course! Of course!” Margot replies breathlessly as she turns to leave. “And for god’s sake, don’t run Margot. Just walk.” he chides as she goes. “We don’t want you turning an ankle on the flags to top it all off.” “What happened?” Gerald asks, looking at the mess lying across the ground and the swirl of dust motes dancing in the golden light cast by the naked lightbulb above as it gently circles above. “I’d say a few boxes went for a tumble, dear boy.” Dickie observes. “But there’s been no harm done to Lettice here. Now has there?” He directs his last comment to the young lady in his arms. “Which is more than I can say for the captain’s old dinner service.” Gerald remarks, bending down and picking up a chunk of white pottery by its brightly painted handle. “What a mess you’ve made Lettuce Leaf.” Sniffing, Lettice releases herself from Dickie’s arms and wipes her eyes with the back of her now rather grubby hand, smearing kohl across her cheek. “Don’t… don’t call me that, Gerald,” she says in a breaking voice. “You know I don’t like it.” Gerald smiles gratefully firstly at her and then at Dickie. “No,” he smirks. “No harm done to Lettice.” “Here’s the brandy,” Margot calls, appearing at the door clutching the crystal decanter from the drawing room and a faceted glass tumbler. “Capital, my love.” Dickie says gratefully. Gerald takes them from Margot and pours several large slugs of brandy into the tumbler and hands it to Lettice, who takes it in both of her still slightly trembling hands and raises the glass to her quivering lips. “I say old girl,” Dickie pipes up cheerfully in an effort to break the tension. “I always took you for being an expert at playing sardines!” “Yes darling,” Gerald adds. “You know that you’re supposed to let us find you, not alert us of your hiding place by creating a ruckus.” “Or a mess,” Lettice snuffles. Looking down at the broken pieces she notices what is left of an old pendulum wall clock amongst the debris, it’s glass face covering shattered and its hands telling the incorrect time of ten past ten, no doubt never to move again. “Oh, I am sorry Dickie.” “Come, come!” Dickie replies, placing a caring arm around his friend’s shoulder. “It doesn’t matter about that. They’re just things. So long as you’re not hurt.” He smiles at her. “That’s what’s important.” “Oh but Mrs. Trevethan!” Lettice protests. “She already has so much to do, looking after us and keeping the house tidy without this!” She extends a hand to the debris at her feet. “Oh, pooh Mrs. Trevethan!” Margot replies, walking into the storeroom. “They don’t call this a broom cupboard for nothing!” She goes to a corner of the room which has remained undisturbed and pulls out a handmade birchwood broom and a metal bucket. “I’ll clean this up.” She looks over at Gerald, lolling languidly against the door frame holding the decanter of brandy. “And Gerald will help me, won’t you Gerald?” “What? Me?” Gerald’s eyes grow wide as he looks back at Margot in shock as she withdraws a dustpan and brush. “But… but I’m a guest.” “And such a helpful guest too,” Margot answers back in honeyed tones. “He designs frocks and sweeps floors.” She thrusts the dustpan and brush out to him forcefully. “What more could a hostess ask for?” “But.. but what about Dickie?” he splutters. “Dickie is playing nursemaid to Lettice,” she replies matter-of-factly. “So he’s got his hands full.” “Evidently so have I.” Gerald replies glumly as he begrudgingly accepts the dustpan and brush from Margot. Lettice giggles, but quickly smothers it with her hand as she receives a glare from her childhood friend. “That’s better!” Dickie smiles. “Now, you just come out here, and we’ll leave Margot and Gerald to this.” He ushers Lettice out of the cupboard. “There’s a little seat out here in the hallway.” The pair sit down on the small wooden bench in the hallway and watch in silence as Gerald and Margot start sorting things. “Well, I don’t think this will ever go again.” Gerald chuckles as he picks up the wall clock and leans it against a corner of the shelves atop a stack of flour bags, its springs and cogs protesting metallically with its movement. “If it even was going before, Gerald.” Margot replies. “I think our Mrs. Trevethan is a little bit of a hoarder, with so much space to store things and the run of the house her own until now.” She considers and assesses the mess on the floor with her left hand resting on her hip as she clutches the broom, looking a peculiar sight dressed in an elegant deep blue satin evening frock and high heels whilst holding it. “Now, any broken bits of wood can go into here.” She puts down a metal bucket. “And we’ll use it for firewood. And any broken glass and porcelain can go here.” She places a second bucket next to the first. “And I’ll get Mrs. Trevethan to deal with it in the morning.” “I say,” Gerald remarks as he leans over a cracked square of wood and some discoloured tissue paper. “What’s this?” “What’s what?” Margot asks as she starts sweeping broken pieces of pottery and shards of glass into a pile. “This.” Gerald replies as he starts to move the splintered piece of wood. “Gerald now isn’t a time for playing,” Margot says exasperatedly as she leans on the broom handle. “We’ll never get this cleaned up by breakfast time if you insist on fiddling with everything. Let’s just tidy this up. It won’t take long!” “No!” protests Gerald, transfixed by what he has found. “I’m serious.” “So am I, Gerald.” grumbles Margot. Not hearing her querulous remark, he ignores her, and he moves closer to the pile of wood. “It looks like an old frame.” He shifts the wood aside. “A gilded frame.” “Houses like this are full of old frames, Gerald,” Dickie calls from his seat on the bench next to Lettice where he cradles her with one arm, and the decanter of brandy in his other hand. “You know that. We English never like to throw away anything that might be of service at a later date.” “No, this is different. It’s a beautiful frame. It must have been boxed up as it’s in splendid condition.” Outside the store cupboard, Lettice and Dickie hear Margot’s broom cease its gentle swishing as the pair in the storeroom cease speaking. “Margot? Gerald?” Dickie calls. “Are you alright?” When no answer is forthcoming, both he and Lettice pick themselves up off the bench and walk to the door of the storeroom. “I say you two,” Dickie continues. “What is going on here?” He looks at his wife and friend who are standing in the middle of the space, staring at the gilded frame as it gleams in the light, nestled comfortably amid a bed of crumpled tissue paper. His eyes widen. “What is it, Gerald?” Lettice asks. Gerald turns around and stares at Lettice, a look of amazement on his face. “See for yourself, darling.” he breathes. Lettice looks at the painting inside the frame. Looking out from behind a thin layer of protective glass, a young lady with dark curls shaped into a stylish fashion by a host of red ribbons gazes over the bare shoulder. Two ropes of pearls hang about her elongated neck. However, it is her face, beautiful and radiant, with a knowing smile and soulful brown eyes that follow you about that catches her own eyes. She gasps. “Lettice, dear girl,” breathes Dickie softly. “I think you may have inadvertently discovered the long lost Winterhatler****** of ‘Chi an Treth’.” *Morris Motors Limited was a privately owned British motor vehicle manufacturing company established in 1919. With a reputation for producing high-quality cars and a policy of cutting prices, Morris's business continued to grow and increase its share of the British market. By 1926 its production represented forty-two per cent of British car manufacturing. Amongst their more popular range was the Morris Cowley which included a four-seat tourer which was first released in 1920. **The Bright Young Things, or Bright Young People, was a nickname given by the tabloid press to a group of Bohemian young aristocrats and socialites in 1920s London. ***Sardines is an active game that is played like hide and go seek — only in reverse! One person hides, and everyone else searches for the hidden person. Whenever a person finds the hidden person, they quietly join them in their hiding spot. There is no winner of the game. The last person to join the sardines will be the hider in the next round. Sardines was a very popular game in the 1920s and 1930s played by houseguests in rambling old country houses where there were unusual, unknown and creative places to hide. ****Glynes is 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. *****Huntley and Palmers is a British firm of biscuit makers originally based in Reading, Berkshire. The company created one of the world’s first global brands and ran what was once the world’s largest biscuit factory. Over the years, the company was also known as J. Huntley and Son and Huntley and Palmer. Huntley and Palmer were renown for their ‘superior reading biscuits’ which they promoted in different varieties for different occasions, including at breakfast time. ******Franz Xaver Winterhalter (1805 – 1873) was a German painter and lithographer, known for his flattering portraits of royalty and upper-class society in the mid-19th century. His name has become associated with fashionable court portraiture. Among his best known works are Empress Eugénie Surrounded by her Ladies in Waiting (1855) and the portraits he made of Empress Elisabeth of Austria (1865). This cluttered storage space full of interesting remnants of times past may not be all that it first appears, for this scene is made up of items from my miniatures collection, including pieces that I have had since I was a child. Fun things to look for in this tableau include: The lost Winterhalter painting of ‘Chi an Treth’ in its gilded frame is a 1:12 artisan piece made by V.H. Miniatures in the United Kingdom. The pendulum wall clock behind the frame I have had since I was a young child. It was either a Christmas or a birthday gift, but I cannot remember which. The tin buckets, mop and birchwood broom are all artisan made miniatures that I have acquired in more recent years. The feather duster on the top shelf I made myself using fledgling feathers (very spring) which I picked up off the lawn one day thinking they would come in handy in my miniatures collection sometime. I bound them with thread to the handle which is made from a fancy ended toothpick! The table linens on the bottom right-hand shelves are all 1:12 size miniatures with beautiful tint stitching to finish each piece off. They were acquired from Michelle’s Miniatures in Sydney. The porcelain jugs, bowls, tureens, plates and cups all come from different eBay online sellers. The Huntly and Palmers’ box to the top right of the photograph comes from Jonesy’s Miniatures in the United Kingdom. Huntley and Palmers is a British firm of biscuit makers originally based in Reading, Berkshire. The company created one of the world’s first global brands and ran what was once the world’s largest biscuit factory. Over the years, the company was also known as J. Huntley and Son and Huntley and Palmer. Huntley and Palmer were renown for their ‘superior reading biscuits’ which they promoted in different varieties for different occasions, including at breakfast time. In front bottom right hand corner of the photo is a can of Vim with stylised Art Deco packaging. It was made by Beautifully Handmade Miniatures in Kettering, as was the box of Sunlight soap in the small tin bucked to the right of the photograph. Vim was a common cleaning agent, used in any Edwardian household. Vim scouring powder was created by William Hesketh Lever (1st Viscount Leverhulme) and introduced to the market in 1904. It was produced at Port Sunlight in Wirrel, Merseyside, a model village built by Lever Brothers for the workers of their factories which produced the popular soap brands Lux, Lifebuoy and Sunlight. Kleeneze is a homeware company started in Hanham, Bristol. The company's founder, Harry Crook, had emigrated to the United States with his family several years earlier, and whilst there joined Fuller Brush as a sales representative. He returned to Bristol several years later, and started a business making brushes and floor polish which were sold door-to-door by salesmen. Technically Kleeneze didn’t start until 1923, which is two years after this story is set. I couldn’t resist including it, as I doubt I will ever be able to photograph it as a main part of any other tableaux. Thus, I hope you will forgive me for this indulgence. On the shelf to the left of the photograph is some Zebo grate polish made by Beautifully Handmade Miniatures in the United Kingdom. Zebo (or originally Zebra) Grate Polish was a substance launched in 1890 by Reckitts to polish the grate to a gleam using a mixture that consisted of pure black graphite finely ground, carbon black, a binding agent and a solvent to keep it fluid for application with a cloth or more commonly newspaper. The tin buckets, wooden apple box, basket, mop, brush, pan and birchwood broom are all artisan made miniatures that I have acquired in more recent years.

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