Baroness Heskett-Elderberry is at table and the most esteemed of her acquaintances, indeed of her society, with her. The dining table is festooned with glistening silver and glimmering crystal, with bowls of fragrant rose petals and Ivy intertwined with fresh picked Lilies and festooned with bunches of grapes. It is a gathering many a gossip-monger and scandal-sheet-writer would wish to attend, for the Baroness does not sit alone. Close by her bare, wrinkled shoulder, sits the Baronness’s most intimate confidant, Auley McFadden the Head Ostler. They say she means to marry him? But who can tell? That a servant, a Scottish Ostler, should be seated high up table, comfortably ensconsed amongst the aristocracy of this sceptred isle is scandal enough. But Auley McFadden is not phased, he has sat at table amongst the great and the good of the land many a time. He did not blanche with fear the first time his lady insisted upon his presence, and he does not do so now, the Baroness amuses him and for the sake of her company he will gladly endure a legion of fools.
“She means to marry the blaggart!” mutters Lord Elderberry, he has passed on several delicately fragranced platefuls of of rabbit, duck and boiled ham (the Baronesse’s favourite dish) and now plunging his knife into the porcelain dish before him,he aggressively slices and dices his steamed turbot into tiny inedible pieces. His furrowed brow is darkened by a steadily building cloud of thunderous rage, such as to make the ragged children at his elbow tremble and shake and edge subtly away from him. Benjamin Disraeli, seated directly opposite him at table, raises one carefully delineated eyebrow, but Elderberry does not see him, intent as he is upon her ladyship’s prodigious fortune falling into the hands of one of the great unwashed again.
“Does she mean to marry the man?” enquires Doctor Livingstone who is somewhat bemused to find himself seated alongside a sooty faced child happily tucking into Salmon poached in a Gooseberry sauce. “M’Lady is patron of London’s ragged schools and the Temperance Society, I think not” opines M’Lord Palmerston,”Pass the Raspberry Fool!” Towards the top of the dining table M’Lady smiles and nods, her sharp. shrewd, eyes fastened all the while on the ragged school children positioned most conventionally toward the lower end of the dining room table. Near burned to death in the Tooley Street fire they were discretely deposited on her doorstep at the tradesmen’s entrance in the dead of night; because,quite simply, she is their patron and in her eyes the next best thing to a mother they have. Her behaviour is most scandalous in a society as hierachical in it’s moral character as hers is. Nonetheless here the children sit enjoying her ladyship’s largesse and here they are tolerated, for her ladyship is worth two million pounds at least, and she may do as she pleases.
“Is not this truly touching?” Lord Stanley smiles gently at the child who has impulsively seated himself upon his knee taking up his dessert spoon and plunging it into the plum pudding a servant has only just placed before his lordship. Indeed there are several children perched on various aristocratic laps and munching everything from roasted apples to slivers of pheasant. “Their school has been burnt down and since they must eat and sleep somewhere her ladyship has determined it should be here” whispers the Butler as he quietly uncorks a bottle of champagne, “Here? At Osbourne House?” placing the champagne at table alongside his Lordship the Butler discretely nods. Glancing up table Lord Stanley meets the needle sharp gaze of his favourite aunt and chuckles as she salutes her most favourite nephew with a glass of gooseberry juice.
“Is that not Lord Stanley?” asks the Marchioness of Frangebere gazing closely at the handsome young man four guests up, “It is” replies her husband frowning at his wife’s prodigious bosom (she has taken up her pince-nez and is peering through it intensely). “What’s he doing here? I see the musical presence is attendant also” the Earl of Frangebere pauses mid-bite, turning to coldly examine the haughty profile of his wife,”The musical presence as you call it,formerly Miss Woodbine, is now Lady Stanley”
“I hear that alliance cost him a packet! Ten thousand pounds!” the Marquesse Frangere smiles sweetly across table toward Lord Stanley and just as sweetly inclines her head, the Earl of Frangere rolls his eyes, extraordinary! How on earth does she do it? “The Baroness has awarded him a considerable allowance…not that he needs it! Pass the Plum Pudding” the Marquesse flinches and thinks longingly of that most esteemed murderess (in her eyes) Mrs Manning.
“A toast! A toast!” exclaims the Scottish Ostler his brandy glass held aloft for the upteenth time, ” A toast to that generous purveyor of horse flesh! To the Baroness!”
“To the Baroness!” exclaims Doctor Livingstone, Mrs Livingstone, Benjamin Disraeli and fellow philanthropists, “To ‘er ladyship!” roar the servants and shriek the ragged children. Lord Stanley gets to his feet like everyone else but instead of raising his glass he sidles up the dining table toward the Ostler. For he senses from experience,that the toast is a mere precursor to some social embarassment and indeed he is not wrong for the drunken Ostler disappears speedily beneath the dining room table. The Head Footman is there first (along with the Butler) and as they swiftly ferry him from the celebrations Lord Stanley just as quickly takes his place. The Baroness appears not to note the disappearance of her old friend, everybody else pretends not to, after all she is worth two million pounds and she may do as she pleases.