DISCLAIMER: They belong to Joss and all those other people, not to me.
With grateful thanks to Ann, who helped me sort out some of the back story.
At first sight, the kitchen was a cluttered homely place – although a careful observer would have noted that everything in it had both a purpose and a place to be; the copper kettle sitting singing to itself on top of the stove, the row of polished pans hanging from the edge of the shelf, the line of gleaming glass jars filled with rice and dried peas and other more intriguing ingredients, the carved wooden breadbin, even the cat curled up on a cushion in a corner. Each had a role to play in the efficiency of a working kitchen, one designed for practical considerations and a little bit of necessary comfort. It was the sort of kitchen that suggested it could confidently provide whatever might be needed, whether that was a twenty course banquet or a plate of gingerbread men.
, it was providing the spread for afternoon tea, which was being laid out with careful attention on the table next to the window. There was a white tablecloth edged with swirling embroidered flowers, a hand crocheted doily on each plate, and carefully folded napkins put firmly in place beside them. There were cucumber sandwiches and rolls of hand carved ham, slices of sparsely buttered bread, a little bowl of home-grown tomatoes, boiled eggs, stalks of celery and even a little bundle of watercress, freshly washed.
“Now then,” the purveyor of the feast considered, stepping back to assess the effect. “There’s something missing. Whatever could it be?”
The young boy sitting on the stool at the end of the table looked up from his book. “Biscuits, Nana?” he suggested hopefully. His grandmother frowned.
“Biscuits?” she echoed, a little indignantly. “Whatever
gave you the idea there might be biscuits
? The very idea!” She turned and tugged open the lattice fronted cupboard door behind her. “In this
house,” she declared with confidence, “we have cake with our afternoon tea.”
She turned back and placed a magnificent looking confection onto the table; it was a chocolate cake, firmly encased in a butter-cream icing and decorated with glace cherries and crystallised angelica. The boy’s eyes lit up with delight, their hazel green depths dancing behind the heavy armor of his glasses. "Wizard!"he declared. His grandmother snorted.
“Yes, well. I’ll thank you to take that book of yours off
the table and put it away while I cut the cake, and then you can go fetch your grandfather before the tea goes cold.”
The boy’s eyes darted towards the imposing china teapot, firmly wrapped in its quilted tea cosy, and he grinned. It didn’t matter how long it stood there, or whether it was topped up with hot or cold water or not; the pot always
produced a perfect, piping hot cup of tea. With milk, and sometimes even with sugar. Lots of sugar in his case, since he had a sweet tooth and his father refused to let him indulge it at home.
This wasn’t home though, this was Nana’s
house, and his Nana was a great believer in the application of a little sugar from time to time. A spoonful or two helps the medicine go down
, she’d say, and turn a blind eye whenever he snuck sugar lumps out of the bowl and sucked on them to help his concentration.
And he needed
concentration, because he’d moved from Latin conjunctions to Greek declensions and his father would insist on testing him on them when he got home.
“Don’t dawdle there all day,” his grandmother was saying. “Off you go. Spit spot.”
He didn’t need further encouragement; he slid off the stool, dropped his book on the end of the dresser and headed for the back door as if he were leading the charge of the light brigade. The old woman watched him go with an indulgent frown. She didn’t hold with all this running full pelt at everything, but she knew that the boy rarely got a chance to express his boundless energy at home. Rarely had a chance to express anything at all, really, given his father’s insistence on firm discipline and an ordered, managed existence.
If she hadn’t known just how proud the man was
of the son he held so many hopes for, hadn’t known the depth of the love he felt and yet never showed, she’d have taken the boy away from him years ago.
She sighed and reached to pick up the abandoned book, giving a little tsk
with her tongue as she flicked though it. Boys his age should be spending their leisure time reading wild adventures, tales of knights and pirates and derring do. Not studying Greek, in
Greek, no matter how bright and promising they might be.
She glanced up at the window, catching sight of the dark-haired child as he charged down the garden path. He’d snatched up a planting cane and was wielding it like a sword, challenging the chrysanthemums and threatening the safety of her sunflowers. Her frown deepened for a moment, then melted into a knowing smile. There was nothing wrong with her grandson’s imagination, and she cherished every moment that she was allowed to indulge it. She dipped her hand into the dresser drawer and pulled out the treasure she’d stashed there earlier; a very specially illustrated copy of Lang’s ‘Arabian Nights.’
It would be a nuisance, clearing up after a visit from Sinbad and his infamous crew, but worth it for the look on Rupert’s face when she tucked him in that night.
Not to mention the twinkle it would bring to her Bert’s eye …