Thank you, Jane, for introducing me to Regencies back in our bright college days. 🙂 This is not really about food, but it is about a food superstition.
Thirteen At Table
by Marian Allen
Constance sat in the drawing room, glaring at her grandfather’s portrait and brooding. She wasn’t resentful that she had eaten dinner alone in the small breakfast room in a fraction of the time it was taking the company at the dining table. Indeed, she had been quite relieved at her cousin’s apologetic announcement.
“Constance, my dear, I’m sorry, but His Grace has become engaged to be married, and wishes to bring his intended to dinner tonight. That would make thirteen at table, and that won’t do.”
“Of course not, Letitia.”
“So, unless one of the other guests declines at the last moment, I’m afraid there’s nothing for it but to ask you to give up your place.”
“Naturally, I shall.”
“I’ll say you have the headache, but that you’ll join us in the drawing room.”
“Very well, Letitia.”
She truly hadn’t minded, for Letitia and Edmund’s friends were among the dullest sticks Constance had ever endured. As a poor relation serving as Cousin Letitia’s companion, she had no choice but to endure anything asked of her.
And this was the reason for her fierce expression, matching that on the face of her grandfather in his portrait. He had disapproved of Constance’s father hiring tutors for her rather than governesses and dancing masters, and had expressed his disapproval by cutting his eldest son out of his will. Constance’s father had responded by taking a job, which shocked the family all the more. Then he had had the grace to die and leave his daughter penniless and over-educated. It had been kind of Letitia to give her house room and a form of employment.
Hastings, the first footman, interrupted her with a discreet knock and, upon entrance, the information that a gentleman was downstairs wanting to talk to any member of the family. Since the rest of the family was at dinner, Hastings wondered if he should send the gentleman away until tomorrow or….
“Show him up,” said Constance. No doubt it was someone from one of London’s many charitable organizations, hoping for a donation. Constance was well enough acquainted with Edmund’s parsimonious ways to give the gentleman his answer, and to do it more graciously than Edmund would.
Hastings re-entered, announced, “Mr. Frank Pauley, Miss.”
Constance was halfway across the room, hand extended, before she realized she didn’t recognize the man with the familiar name.
“I beg your pardon,” she said, brilliant smile fading to one of mere politeness. “I thought – ”
“Connie, do you not know me?”
“It is you!”
The man touched the scar that puckered the outer edge of his left eye. “I’m very much changed, am I not? A souvenir from my time in the army.”
Constance shook her head. “It was the beard and mustache that fooled me. And you’ve tamed your curls!”
“Curly locks are all very well for a young tutor,” said Frank, “but they ill become a staid man of business.”
“I write and publish textbooks and instructional materials for tutors, governesses, and schoolmasters.”
“If you’ve come hoping Edmund will patronize your project, I’m afraid you’re doomed to disappointment.”
Frank laughed. “I should hope I know better than that! I remember him of old! No, my business is doing quite well without a wealthy patron. I came hoping someone could give me your direction, as a matter of fact.”
“If this were a romance, I would want to take you away from all this and make you my wife. As it is, I was hoping you would write some of the materials for us. For pay, if you need it, or in exchange for a donation to your chosen charity, if you don’t.”
“Could I make enough to live on?”
“If one lived frugally.”
“Then – contingent upon further information and deliberation – I accept!”
“Excellent! I could bring the company history and prospectus and accounts around to the back door tomorrow for your inspection.”
They shook hands and he showed himself out.
When the others came in, Letitia asked her what their caller had wanted, having been informed of the visitor by Hastings.
“He was a former tutor of mine,” Constance said. “He was hoping to get my direction.”
“Expecting you to be an heiress, no doubt.”
“As Mr. Pauley is both literate and a resident of England,” Constance said, mildly, “he was aware of my absence from the society news. He merely wished to renew our acquaintance and to tell me of the business he’s established.”
Letitia shuddered. “A tradesman! In our drawing room! I hope you didn’t make him feel welcome.”
“In future, he’ll ask for me at the servants’ entrance.”
“Quite proper. It wouldn’t do for people to think we entertain tradesmen.”
Tradesmen like my father.
Constance sincerely hoped – and, as it turned out, discovered – that Frank Pauley’s business was sound and profitable, and that she could, indeed, live frugally on what she earned. The family was mortified by her working for her living, which made it even better.
In years to come, Constance often thought: How amazing! Who would have thought a higher education would be practical for a woman? Who would have thought thirteen at table would be such good luck?
A WRITING PROMPT FOR YOU: Write a scene between two old friends who meet after a long absence.