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    AC Benus
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.

Carême in Brighton — a mystery novel - 10. Chapter 9: Wednesday, 25th December, or Tales Out of School

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Chapter 9: Wednesday, 25th December, or Tales Out of School

 

Christmas Morning broke damp and drear over Brighton. At the first peek of cloudy light upon the eastern prospect, coal fires across the city sent up polluted smudges. These got widened into inky trails by the westerly breeze, choking the already Lenten air with the sharp smell of sulphur.

None of that mattered to the residents of the Pavilion. Thick curtains before clamped windows ensured the ‘natural’ was kept at bay. And the roasting flames coming from the meat on spits for the poor formed a special little smog-bank lingering around the onion domes, tent rooves and dragon weathervane of the Water Tower ensured the Pavilion took on an especially unhealthful aspect.

But inside – under those Venetian stuccoed follies – the staff had no time to think of their health, or indeed to make themselves merry; those would have to wait until tomorrow. For now, their focus was to serve, and to serve the Regent’s Royal Guests to the best of their abilities, if on this one day and none of the rest. For like Trimalchio’s sign hard upon his dining room door, the Prince would keep 364 Christmases at his board, and on the one day a year he should by established rites entertain his staff, he’d go out to eat.

Christmas Morning also found Carême occupied by his usual levée.

As he departed George’s suite, he found Lady Morgan in the North Chamber Gallery. She pretended to read a book in one of the faux bamboo chairs she’d drawn up to the fire.

“Ah! Dear Carême.”

“Madame Morgan, enchantée.” He gifted her a slight bow once she’d risen, closed her book and approached.

“May I have the honour of walking you back to your kitchen?”

He extended his arm. “My pleasure, My Lady.”

They began descending the grand staircase. The natural light behind the elaborately painted Chinese figures seemed to dim this morning.

They reached the landing. “I trust your confabulation with the Regent went well.”

“Yes, we went through the plans for the day’s dinner at three o’clock, and the supper buffet for the ball later tonight.”

“Oh, yes, the ball.” Sydney Morgan sounded weary already. “What time will it commence, again?”

“Half-past ten.”

“Well, I will do my duty  and put on a brave face – and, a courageous frock!”

“Courageous?”

“Yes, loose in all the right places; tight in all the wrong.”

The friends shared another heart-felt laugh.

“The Prince also enquired after my special menu for the Princess.”

“I do so worry about Charlotte’s constitution, and what’s proving to be a very touchy pregnancy.”

They turned and started descending to the principal floor. The chef for one was in no hurry, having reason to anticipate with dread a potential meeting with François at the end of this walk.

Carême gestured to all of the sumptuous décor. “I sometimes wonder if Brighton and the Pavilion are simply too much stimulus for the girl. The girl the Princess still is at twenty years of age.”

“Yes, Carême, you could be entirely correct. The Pavilion is a haven of excess, as is every home the Regent pulls around him like a blanket of comfort against the ‘imposing world,’ but still, concerning Charlotte’s health, I . . . . ”

“But still, what, Madame?”

Lady Morgan smiled and shook her head. “Perhaps I’m too cagy, and it serves a body no good to tell tales out of school—”

“However?”

“However – let’s just say I have my suspicions, suspicions you yourself have raised, and I’ve enlisted the help of the good Doctor.”

Carême did not press her for details, knowing they would emerge if, and only if, her misgivings proved true. Instead, he rendered a polite laugh. “Ah! In that case, Lady Morgan, you have placed your mission in capable hands.”

They stepped through the stair hall into the Central Corridor. As the illumination through the skylight was none too great, the charming metal torchieres were lit. These rose floor to ceiling, standing away from the walls with their elaborate design of crossed weapons behind shields and a large serpent wrapped around the top; the snake craned its neck forward to support a lantern in its mouth. The authentic Chinese lights were silk octagons painted with flowers on their panels, and had long red tassels. These wall fixtures matched a central, European-made example hanging – as high as a man is tall – from the middle of the skylight.

Carême had never seen this space fully illuminated, and it charmed him.

Lady Sydney Morgan gripped the chef’s arm a little tighter. “There are such resplendent hopes for Charlotte, and I suppose for Leopold too. He is so dashing and charming—”

“But what of the régent?

“Please do not mistake me. I do not disparage the Prince Regent, but George inherited his father’s men, and as the King is not . . . departed from us . . . there is nothing the Prince can do to move the country along.”

Carême found Lady Morgan’s comments relevant to his own experiences. “We French believed we had such a One to move our nation along.”

The Irish novelist joked, “And now you’re lucky to have a country at all!”

A column of heat rose through Carême, and he hoped the woman did not notice.

Sydney Morgan slowed her gait and drew the pair up to the great model of George’s completed marine villa. Their eyes scanned the veritable cityscape roof of colonettes.

“I apologize,” she cooed softly, “but on the other hand, your nation has had uninterrupted leadership.”

His puzzled expression played about her mercurial features.

“Talleyrand!” she exclaimed. “Prime Minister under Bonaparte, the Provisional Government, and now, under the restored Louis Bourbon. That’s  leadership.”

“I believe, Madame, we in France have another word for it, but it won’t bear repeating before a lady.”

Now both laughed.

The chef continued, “And we’ve yet to find the right element that will exterminate him.”

“Or combination of elements. But tell me, is it true Talleyrand had such a contentious relationship with his counterpart, Cambacérès? It almost strikes me as a love-hate working arrangement.”

“Arch-Chancellor Cambacérès was a uniquely gifted survivor. In that, the two men were alike.”

“Was; were. You prove my point. Cambacérès, the greatest legal mind of our age, the author of The Napoleonic Law Code, is no longer in government. The man’s presumably on a farm somewhere out in the countryside, while meanwhile, Talleyrand in Paris only continues to consolidate his power.”

Carême nodded. “I dare not refute the obvious.”

“But what I wanted to ask, is this”—Lady Morgan’s tone bent low—“is it true Talleyrand disparaged Cambacérès for – shall we say – the other’s Grecian inclination?”

She grinned, having no desire to run down anyone born under the selfsame star as Carême.

“I can assure you, Prince Talleyrand has no qualms working with anyone, even society’s lowest of the low – like Archbishops.”

The two shared a genuinely warm bout of laughter.

On the move again, Lady Morgan led the way through the door to the servant’s central passageway. They continued on at a leisurely pace towards the kitchens.

“You said,” Carême stated, somewhat hesitantly, “Leopold is admired in England, but what manner of character do you think the real man, the one under the uniform, possesses?”

“Difficult to say. Shrewd, for sure. He too is a wily survivor, riding the winds of change instead of allowing himself to be buffeted by them.”

“He was the Czar’s right-hand man.”

“True. From what I know, when Napoleon’s troops invaded his German Principality, he travelled to Paris and threw himself at Bonaparte’s feet. The Little General was so charmed to be given the role of a forgiving Alexander the Great, he made Leopold a member of his inner circle.”

“Yes,” observed the Frenchman, “but it did not last long.”

“No. Leopold embezzled a fortune, fled to the Czar and took up arms to free his homeland.”

“Very sagacious; very far-sighted, it turns out. And now, he is here, married to the most powerful second-in-line to a throne in Europe.”

“Your point being, my dear Carême?”

“My point is to wonder how much he truly loves Charlotte. I have grown quite fond of her.”

They arrived at the portal of the Great Kitchen.

“I think the question you raise will only be answered in time, Chef. But perhaps it is a moot point.”

“Ah, oui? Why so?”

“Because there is no doubt whatsoever that the Princess loves him.”

“Yes. That is true. He makes her happy, and that takes priority over all else, for now.”

The friends entered the busy beehive kitchen and stopped. Good Christmas smells enveloped them.

“It’s like a battleground in here!” she said. Adding, “Is it true Talleyrand is fond of quoting the Great Macedonian King: ‘I’m better afeared of a hundred-sheep army led by a lion than a hundred-lion army led by a sheep’?”

“Yes, Lady Morgan, but kindly remember, Talleyrand is also fond of saying: ‘God gave mankind small-talk so that we may safely disguise our true intentions’.”

They chuckled and disengaged arms.

Carême asked, “Will you be at Kitchiner’s tomorrow?”

She shook her head, becoming mysterious as she added, “He did not invite me.”

“No; no; no; Madame. It must be an oversight on the Doctor’s part.”

She blushed, befuddling him a bit.

In another moment, her gaze alighted on the large regulator clock. “It’s nearly ten. I must be off to meet my husband at the stables. We’re planning on riding down the coast and working up an appetite for your magisterial dinner today! I told him I simply must try some of everything you put on the table. I know people in the coming years will want to know what it was like.”

Her smile kindled the chef’s heart.

They parted with Lady Morgan kissing Carême’s cheeks.

“Que votre Noël joyeux et lumineux, mon ami.”

“Et votre aussi, ma chère madame Morgan.”

Once she’d passed through the door, Carême stiffened. He sensed a pair of eyes on him, and he didn’t have to look to know to whom they belonged.

The chef de cuisine made his way to his office, leaving the door ajar.

François quietly slipped in. He closed the door behind him in reverse fashion, leaning against it slowly. As he began to speak, Carême was occupied by taking off his street jacket and putting on his chef’s whites.

“Chef Carême, there are no incidents to report in your absence. The Undercooks of Roasting are ahead of schedule, and you’ll be able to dress the cold quail soon. All the base sauces are made and being kept warm in the bains-marie for you to season and create the compound sauces at your leisure.”

François took a couple of paces into the room.

“Oui? That’s good.” Carême started strapping on his knives over an apron.

“Furthermore, the staff in the Cold Kitchen are ready to turn out the entremets for you to decorate examples they should replicate.”

“Good.” Carême was fully dressed. “Anything else to report?”

“Well, one. Thorndyke has been temporarily demoted to rank-and-file server for his antics in the dining room when we moved the pièce montée. Word came down 20 minutes ago, and needless to say, the former Chief Footman is angry.”

Flatly, Carême replied, “I see.”

“I know this slice of just deserts is your doing, even though you have rankled the Kitchen Comptroller to no end by sidestepping him.”

In the same monotone as before, the chef replied, “His Highness wants to be informed, and makes the decisions; not I.”

Carême made to leave, walking towards the door.

François stepped in front, touching the other man by the arm. “I realized something last night. I know part of my current state is due to pure homesickness. The Irish couple woke me up to this.”

“You were with them, last night?”

“Yes. They took me to an Irish pub for supper, and many people there were already celebrating Christmas.”

In his head, Carême was relieved to know François spent the night with them and not in the arms of Charlotte’s lady’s maid. He softened his stance, withdrawing his arm from his partner’s grip. “As for homesickness, I can understand. I miss so much of Paris. But, we must bear it for the higher, artistic purpose of why we are here; we must be the homeland for each other, François.”

“Yes. I know that now. Know it after seeing so many families away from home leaning on one another. In a way, it’s the first real Christmas I’ve ever experienced. It’s made me see what’s important.”

“I’m sorry you never had any joyful Noëls when a child, and then, afterwards – like me – you were too busy making other peoples’ Christmases merry to feel much joy for yourself.”

“Yes, Chef. I wanted to tell this to you . . . last night, but you locked your door. I tried it when I got back at one.”

“Oui. I needed my strength for today’s campaign.”

“But still, it was hard to go to sleep thinking I’d upset you. And . . . it was even harder to get to sleep while not next to you.”

Carême, thoroughly melted, tried to lighten the mood. “It’s your own damn fault. You and your Lyon stubbornness.”

François chuckled. “I can see that you know it’s true.”

For a moment, Carême quavered audibly, like he was debating something. In the end he went behind his desk. “I had thought I would give you this later tonight, but . . . . ” He unlocked the drawer and extracted the wrapped bundle he’d stashed there earlier. “I have this for you.”

“But—”

“No buts. Here.” He gently pressed the gift in François’ hands. “Go on. Open it.”

François merely stared at the package.

Carême continued softly, “I know you never had a proper Christmas before, so I wanted to do something personal for you – for us. Won’t you open it?”

François tried to control his emotions, remembering the glass-bowl nature of Carême’s office. He tugged on the string and unwrapped the paper, soon finding himself holding a heavy cardboard box. Although small, the top contained an embossed oval with black letters: Smith Bros., Brighton.

Prying off the lid, the man saw a silver locket on a long sturdy chain.

“Open it up,” Carême said.

When François did, he found the plain door snapped on a hinge. Opposite the lid, under a bevelled crystal, nestled a lock of Carême’s hair. The strands were secured by a tiny blue ribbon.

“Only you need know, Villon, whose hair is in that locket.”

Without Carême comprehending it – or suspecting why – François’ heart broke a little further. “I don’t know what to say. Perhaps only, thank you, and I don’t deserve it.”

“Of course you do. You said yourself you saw last night how Christmas is about having those near you consider family. And you are certainly that to me.”

François mumbled, more for himself than anyone else, “Mais, ou sont les neiges d’antan?

Carême asked softly, “What was that, mon cher?

“I was quoting my namesake: ‘But where disappear the snows of yester-year?’”

The chef grew unexpectedly emotional. He lived for François’ rare moments of vulnerability like these.

“I truly love it, Antonin. I’ll treasure it always.”

François let the empty box fall on the desk. Clutching the locket manfully, he strode up to Carême, took him by his upper arms and kissed both his cheeks like a true Frenchman. “Bon Noël, mon amour.”

“Et toi aussi, Villon.”

Then François stepped back, making sure his eyes were dry, kissed the locket once while holding Carême’s gaze, and slipped the chain around his neck.

As he lifted his collar to let the silver rest against his bare chest, he said, “Your army awaits, Général.”

The words caused Carême to unconsciously grip his knife holster.

The pair opened the door to the sights and sounds of a battlefield kitchen.

 

 

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Four and a half hours after the start of the celebratory meal, an exhausted Carême glanced at the clock: it was a quarter to eight, and the banquet was almost over.

There was still a frenzy in the Great Kitchen, but it mostly related to cleaning and putting away. However, at least the roasting fires had been dampened, which for days had fed a noxious kickback of fumes into the whole of the servants’ quarters. Now, the cool of the night from the open clerestory windows could stroke Carême’s cheek. In the chef, the weakening effect of the carbon monoxide in his system felt like a pang of hunger. It niggled at the back of his mind as well.

François, wearing his best ‘Republican Suit’ and face flushed a rosy hue, came to the chef straight from the dining room with an update.

“Chef, all the plates are cleared, and the guests are having Port while exchanging small pleasantries. They’ll break up into parties of men and women soon and head to the Drawing Rooms.”

“But,” Carême asked earnestly, “how was the dinner received?”

François stood fully upright. “All were amazed and delighted. This was surely a meal—”

They were interrupted.

“What is it, Henry?” François asked one of his suddenly-ashen footmen who’d walked up to them.

“You are wanted.”

Carême and François exchanged a silent glance, as if to say, ‘Who, me?’

Henry cleared his throat and started again, this time, unable to contain his excitement. “Monsewer Carême, the Prince is asking for you to join him in the Banqueting Room!”

“Oh.”

Still, not one of the three moved a muscle.

Suddenly, Carême began fumbling with the strap of his knife holster. “François, help me.”

The maître d’hôtel did, and in another moment, the man was also free of his apron. He started straightening his jacket and neck scarf. “Do I . . . ?”

“Yes,” a beaming François replied, “you look splendid.”

“Merci. You will come and be by my side, François.”

If the young man had something to smile about before, now – with validation from his mentor and beloved – François Distré glowed from within. Chef and maître d’hôtel began their glorious march of triumph. Those in the kitchen stopped what they were doing to watch. It was the same with table deckers and footmen in the Decking Room.

Almost in a daze, the pair entered the banqueting hall. The Regent was seated at the far end of the table. This walk afforded Carême a chance to drink in the sights and sounds of the room. The lights were blazing; the décor, charming; and never before had the chef been in a space so simultaneously grand and intimate. The glint of gold did not have to compete with the sparkle of the Royal family members chatting and admiring small gifts. At the table’s narrow end closest to the fireplace and doors to the Decking Room, Queen Charlotte was ensconced with two of her senior Duke sons on either side. Carême noticed William and Adelaide on one side with another woman and several ruddy children – all of them a Royal his, but none of them of Royal hers.

François, for his part, admired their fully chinois sugar work pièces montées on the three huge sideboards. The table itself was set with flowers and fruit on silver-gilt stands, à l’anglaise, between sparkling candelabras. He saw the happy faces, wondering how real any of their interactions were. He noticed too the signs of gift-exchange, but focused on the carton boxes, like the one he had received, from which jewelry had been extracted.

The two Frenchmen drew up to the Prince Regent’s left. It was Charlotte, seated at the right-hand of her father, who met Carême’s eyes first. George was talking with Leopold seated to Charlotte’s side.

The Princess appeared bored in her fancy gown, tortured-up hair, from which rose three enormous ostrich feathers à la Prince of Wales. More so, she was pale to the point of looking colourless. As she clutched her tea cup – for she had no wine glass, only her nursery tea pot before her – her sorrowful expression seemed to plead with the chef ‘Rescue me.’

The chef almost wanted to ask if she felt all right; however, Leopold then noticed Carême and drew the Prince Regent’s attention to the man.

“Ah, Carême!” His Highness exclaimed, “très magnifique!”

By the Prince’s slight slurring of words, Carême could tell George had overindulged already on his favourite maraschino liqueur.

“By the by, Old Sport, I don’t suppose you’ve met a fellow architect of yours – one who works in limestone and stucco instead of sugar-paste and icing.”

The Regent gestured to a middle-aged bald man seated to the Prince’s immediate left. To Carême’s eyes, the ‘fellow architect’ was frumpy in his attire and anything but distinguished looking. “No, mon Prince, I don’t believe I’ve had the honour.”

“Mr. John Nash,” the Regent continued, “I’d like you to meet my cook, monsieur Antonin Carême.”

The chef bowed his head. “It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

“The pleasure is mutual, Mr. Carême. Your eye for colour, design and detail is unsurpassed.”

As Carême was of the same opinion, he glanced briefly at François and nodded.

In the maitre-d’s thoughts, now that he’d finally seen the Pavilion’s architect, he examined Nash’s pug-nose, realizing a beautiful mind lived behind a not-so beautiful exterior. In a Classical sense, Carême was young and composed, while Nash was wild and Socratic in his maturity.

George chuckled. “My two wunderkinds of design – architect and pastry cook – and both are the greatest of Regency Britain.” He took a sip of wine, leaving everybody hanging, before he continued. “As a matter of fact, I think Nash has further abilities as yet untapped. We may be calling upon your urban design skills in the near future.”

The sitting man bowed his bald pate. “I’m always at your service, Your Highness.”

Without further ado, the Prince groaned as he hoisted himself, and his full belly, to an upright position. He tapped his glass with a dessert fork. “Please, dear Mother; dear worthy Royal peers of my family; join me in cheering the remarkable architect of this feast!”

Chairs slid, food-weary bodies rose – some, like the Queen, with the assistance of attendant footmen.

François himself went to assist Princess Charlotte, but as soon as he got behind her chair, a brusque Leopold was there waving him off.

François stepped back with a hostile bow.

The Regent continued, holding his glass mid-stomach. “Our valuable chef has worked for the likes of Cambacérès, Talleyrand, the Czar of Russia – and indeed, the vanquished emperor, Bonaparte – but under My family banner, he has come to full blossom. Such is evidenced by his . . . . ”

The voice of the Regent faded in Carême’s hearing, and despite a brief glance at François to confirm he was none too pleased by George’s comments, the chef’s attention was focused on Charlotte. If possible, she was even paler than when he’d first seen her. She gripped onto her Consort’s arm instead of standing fully on her own. The cook wondered if she’d eaten anything tonight other than sugar lumps and chunks of candy.

George’s words came back into range.

He raised his glass higher, saying, “ . . . And so this day will be one to remember, the first true Christmas after a generation of wars, and the first with re-born hope for the future.” His loving gaze fell on Charlotte and her belly.

She put on a brave face. It was a dutiful one for all those around the table turned to her.

The Regent’s toast crescendoed. “Here’s to Princess Charlotte Augusta of Wales, and to Antonin Carême – Chef of Kings, and King of Chefs!”

A chorus of “Hear; Hear” went around the assembled, and glasses were brought to lips.

As they drank – Leopold’s hands off of her – the tea cup tumbled out of Charlotte’s grip. It shattered noisily on her silverware and broke a vase of flowers.

In the next instant, the girl collapsed unconscious, her chin smashing ignominiously on the edge of the table.

Women screamed; men drew in air. There was panic coaeval with the impulse to suppress it.

Elements of chaos instantly arose. Female relatives voiced opinions almost as shrieks: “Lay her flat!”; “Sit her up!”; “Get the child water!” Men mumbled optimistic retorts: “She’s all right.”; “Silly, excitable girl.”; “No need to make a fuss.”

All of this contributed to a riot of indecision, one which continued as George and Leopold looked on the crumpled figure.

Then, when others began to move from the table to crowd her in, Leopold quieted them with the simple lifting of his finger. With that single, silent motion, he took command as a true, dominant leader should ever do – by example.

He told his father-in-law “Clear a path” before bending and scooping up Charlotte in his arms like a lifeless ragdoll. Leopold carried his wife from the room with a nearly preternatural calm.

The Regent touched Carême’s shoulder. “Call for Kitchiner.”

 

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Hours later, the initial hand-wringing uproar of the entire Pavilion, both upstairs and down, had settled into a staid nervousness concerning the Princess. Being an age of Faith, many hands were folded in supplicant fervour that the cup would pass from “England’s Only Hope” and Charlotte would feel better by sunup. Naturally, news of the heir-apparat’s status as under the weather was to stay under the roof of the Royal Brighton household at all costs. The nighttime onset of whatever was ailing her helped keep it under wraps for the time being.

Alone in his room, Carême barely noticed the clock’s advance. Now at 2 in the morning, he still sat at his desk, still recording the day’s culinary triumphs and setbacks in his cooking journal, the notes that one day he’d use to write his culinary magnus opus. Perhaps unknowingly he did it as a form of his own secular prayer – waiting anxiously for news of the Princess but not impotently focusing on it in his thoughts.

In the sputtering light from the candle lamp, he wrote:

 

Cette journée a marqué une avancée dans la nouvelle esthétique de la grande cuisine classique, je crois. Car, pour la première fois, j'ai osé servir un plat de poisson composé entièrement garni d'autres préparations de poissons. Fini les tranches de jambon . . .

 

I believe today marked an advancement in the new aesthetic of la grande cuisine classique. For, for the first time, I dared to serve a composed fish dish entirely garnished with other fish preparations. Gone were the slices of ham, the poached cockscombs, the quail legs all the silly luxuries of the ancient methods replaced by practical and taste-appropriate accompaniments.

Today’s dish was some excellent-tasting local pike, the flesh tender, white and flavourful, so I poached some dumplings of sole, and some dumplings of crawfish, and decorated the rim of the tray in a pretty white-and-pink alternation.

In honour of the occasion, I believe I shall call the dish brochet à la Régence – or, Pike à la Regency. The recipe begins with one entire, five-pound fish, as fresh as possible. Clean— 

 

Carême’s thoughts were interrupted.

He listened closely for a repeat of the sound he’d just heard. There it was again – a light rapping on his door. He stood, realizing how dark the room was. The chef grabbed a candle and walked it to the interconnecting door to François’ room. Just as he placed his hand on the knob, the knocking appeared for a third time – on the door from the corridor.

“I say there, Carême”—Kitchiner’s voice sounded from the other side—“have you gone to bed?”

“No; no – I’m awake.” He let the Doctor in, who was carrying his medical bag.

As Carême went and lit more lights, growing astounded at how late it had become, Kitchiner dropped his kit and collapsed in the chef’s armchair, his lank frame almost sixty degrees in exhaustion against it.

Carême closed the door.

The Doctor’s spectacles glinted in the fresh lamplight as he relayed, “I’ve just been with the Queen. Poor woman; a thoroughly decent sort, she’s had to live with upset for years. Her husband’s madness, sons’ – in the plural – moral recalcitrance, and now this.”

“And how is the Princess?”

“She’s fine! A lot of to-do over a fainting spell. And that’s what I told the Queen; and that’s what I told Prince George. She’s fine. Merely tired from all the festivities and”—the Doctor winked—“the fine food.”

A whinge of comprehension contorted Carême’s face for a moment. “And what is the Princess’, eh . . . level of awareness?”

‘Her conscious level?”

“Oui.”

“Embarrassed! She wishes to get out of bed, but I advised Leopold to keep her there at least until breakfast tomorrow.”

“Sound advice, no doubt, but I . . . ah, wonder if . . . she’s—”

“Wonder what, dear Chef?”

Carême replied awkwardly. “Oh, never mind; it was a mere stray of a thought.”

Carême’s worst suspicions were just at that moment confirmed. The door burst open, and François and Brigitte rushed in, panicked and panting.

The lady’s maid gasped for air. “Come quick, Doctor. She’s . . . she’s—”

“Échoua,” François said.

Kitchiner got to his feet. He removed his glasses to see less better. “She’s what?”

“The baby, sir,” said Brigitte. “A boy, stillborn, just now.”

Kitchiner fumbled for his medical bag and rushed away with Princess Charlotte’s companion maid.

The two Frenchmen were alone.

“What happened, François?”

“Everything seemed fine. I was with Brigitte in her chambers, when suddenly there was screaming from Charlotte’s room next door. We rushed in, found blood, and Leopold already there, holding his crying wife. Oh, Carême—”

Suddenly François’ naturally engaged human emotions of pity got shut out by a hard smile of the kind Carême had often seen during the reign of Terror.

“I’m sorry for the Princess,” François continued, “but it’s just deserts for Leopold; that abuser of France’s rights.”

Carême paused his thoughts to shake his head. Politics, at a time like this? It slightly sickened his stomach, but a message would have to go out to Talleyrand right away.

“Villon, it’s horrible news, but if you will excuse me.” He gestured vaguely to his desk, lying, “I want to finish my recipe for brochet à la Régence while it’s still fresh in my head.”

François appeared stunned. Then he started to cry. “All right. ‘It’s horrible news,’ but don’t worry – I won’t be bothering you later tonight either. In fact, I’ll go lend a shoulder for Brigitte to cry on; to comfort her. It’s what normal humans do – lend comfort where and when they can!”

He stormed out, leaving the door wide open.

As Carême went to close and latch it, he thought how sorry he was to inadvertently make François feel unwanted again, but the chef acknowledged to himself he had larger obligations.

 

 

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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
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1 hour ago, 84Mags said:

Oh, Charlotte! I am convinced she was purposely poisoned, most likely with an additive to her tea. I wonder if her diet of sweets and sugars is actually a reaction to a poison changing her palate’s ability to detect taste. Charlotte and Leopold have lost a son and heir. What interests me is the reaction of Francois. Who else believes as he does, that the significant loss is what Leopold deserves? And, why was Francois with Brigitte in her chambers? Did the gift of the locket upset him enough to turn, yet again, to Brigitte? If so, his parting conversation with Careme sent him right back to her arms. 

Well, the only thing here I'd hasten to add is that François was not upset by his partner's gift, but deeply moved by it.

On the other hand, could the chef have acted as he did at the end because, consciously or not, he was displeased to hear where François was that night? I don't know... 

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Francois is acting like a 15 year old.  How can he possibly be justified in throwing a temper tantrum when he just admitted he was with Brigitte????  I agree with @84Magsthat Charlotte was poisoned with her tea.  But who did it?  Leopold needs her alive and well to get more power, but did he want the child to be born?  Why wouldn't he?  I could see other family members, who might move up in line for the throne, be on the suspect list.

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AC Benus

Posted (edited)

21 hours ago, Parker Owens said:

Charlotte lost her child. The Regent will despair, let alone the nation. Careme’s reaction must surely mystify Francois - gone is the tenderness of earlier in the day. You’re so good at letting us share the emotions with these characters, experiencing events through their eyes and hearts. 

Thank you, Parker. In terms of writing, I personally have always rebelled against the commonly held idea of "a backstory." Why think in terms of this for characters when flesh and blood people do not have "backstories," but actual, lived lives?  

My point is, people like François and Carême have messy past experiences shaping their actions / reactions in the present tense. I think that is like all of us, and to what degree we are aware of our own motivations or not makes situations complex or straightforward. 

I'm glad you see things in this chapter through the younger man's eyes. I sympathize with him too

Edited by AC Benus
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19 hours ago, drsawzall said:

I think that Princess Charlotte is ill served by her husband and surrounding staff. While medical science back then left much to be desired, someone should have paid more attention to her diet. One has to wonder if she is being poisoned...

Thank you, drsawzall. Your comments have me thinking about the way both Charlotte and Victoria were treated as girls and young women. Many commented -- in private -- that Charlotte seemed remarkably under-educated on the state of world affairs. She was, just like her young niece years later, sheltered from almost everything while growing up. They both seem symbol of and prisoner to ideals relating to purity when the world was a quagmire all around them. What kind of queen Charlotte would have made will remain a matter of speculation; but Victoria was the kind awash in vague sentimentality and priggish haughtiness. (She's the one who, on the eve of the French revolution to overthrow the reinstated Bourbons, filled her dairy with gushing details concerning the interior renovations of the Tuileries -- which the mob was soon to burn to the ground.)       

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14 hours ago, 84Mags said:

Intriguing. 🧐 I understood Francois was very touched by the gift and its significance, but the line about his heart breaking and later quoting his namesake made me think he was also upset. He can never tell anyone who the lock of hair belongs to. Careme and Francois have a complex relationship. Much goes unsaid. 

Thanks, 84Mags. You are right, in my opinion, to see Leopold's broader scope in the intrigues via the information the chef and Lady Morgan discuss in this chapter -- and what Thomas Daniels and François witnessed for themselves concerning the Prince's up-stairs dalliances in an earlier one. The prince is an interesting person to me in history, and one to truly make me wonder how comfortable he was behind the "petticoats of power." Also, he was the founder of the Saxe-Coburg 'school of how to marry one's relatives into the royal households of Europe' -- first with himself, then wedging another Saxe-Coburg prince into the Portuguese consort role, and then "arranging things" so Albert moved the family back into English royal circles. That must have taken some balls knack all on its own :yes:

 

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Posted (edited)

15 hours ago, CincyKris said:

Francois is acting like a 15 year old.  How can he possibly be justified in throwing a temper tantrum when he just admitted he was with Brigitte????  I agree with @84Magsthat Charlotte was poisoned with her tea.  But who did it?  Leopold needs her alive and well to get more power, but did he want the child to be born?  Why wouldn't he?  I could see other family members, who might move up in line for the throne, be on the suspect list.

Thank you, CincyKris. I can't disagree with you concerning François' behavior. It remains rather mysterious how he and the chef both reacted to the news of Charlotte's miscarriage. It seems there's more than a little stress being passed around the Pavilion.

As for the Prince Consort...? Well, at least he acted with calm decisiveness at the dinner table; the other Royals appeared to be at a total loss. But in the end, the miscarriage was both a national, and very, very private tragedy.

In doing research for this book, I found out the exact record of Charlotte's physical well being has yet to be written. In fact, there is a lot of obfuscation in the official records (or, dare I be a mystery writer and call it "covering up"...?) concerning her reproductive health. But then again, such things must have been treated by the government as state secrets. And they've done well in expunging all trace of what she actually went through, which is sad for history, I believe   

 

Edited by AC Benus
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Posted (edited)

On 6/9/2022 at 3:54 PM, CincyKris said:

If not for having to go to work, I would have done some googling on young Charlotte (as I have already done with a few other characters)!  I know more about Regency England than ever before.  I appreciate books that are both well researched and make me want to research.  Thank you!

Thanks, CincyKris! Personally I've found that books making me want to dig a little deeper are the best kind. So, you pay me a high compliment, and I'm grateful :)

Edited by AC Benus
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3 hours ago, Freemantleman said:

The depth, knowledge & insight into the period you bring is staggering. The locations true to life in every respect!

The smog from the ill burning fires around the city must have been able to have been smelt from miles around & the sheer opulence of the Pavilion, both stark & stunning at the same time & the interiors more beautiful in many rooms than many other much older royal residences! 

So the next chapter will be ready to read tomorrow!?!? Lol (I wish)

I used to walk past the pavilion 4-5 times a week when I lived a mile or so down the road just off Palmera Square in Hove (actually! Lol). A in joke to locals to differentiate between living in Brighton & Hove.

"Oh so you live in Brighton??"

"Oh no I live in Hove actually "

Its impossible to say you live there without  saying Actually after Hove. I tried & failed many a time!! Lol

Brilliant comments, Freemantleman! I hadn't quite framed it in my mind in that way, but you are absolutely right. Before George IV, royal residents were along the Palladian lines of stone-colors outside, and grand-but-not-opulent interiors. Carlton House changed all that, which was followed up by the Pavilion. Once he was king, then he transformed Windsor into a palace, and Buckingham House into one too.  

I envy the idea of being able to walk past the Pavilion and see it though the changing seasons. The pictures of it in snow are enchanting, and when I was there, it was June. Anyway, thanks for your support and I'm delighted you are enjoying the book! More thrills and spills await 

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Well, something was bound to happen to Charlotte with all the foreshadowing we had in the previous chapters, and there we have it! Of course, the question is whether she was poisoned and by whom? 

Like I said before, Francois is often carried away by emotions, but Careme can be accused of being at the opposite end of the spectrum - too closed off and cold at times, like at the end of this chapter. Does that justify Francois immediately jumping into the arms of Brigitte? I don't know, but their relationship is definitely messy. 

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Posted (edited)

On 6/22/2022 at 4:12 AM, ObicanDecko said:

Well, something was bound to happen to Charlotte with all the foreshadowing we had in the previous chapters, and there we have it! Of course, the question is whether she was poisoned and by whom? 

Like I said before, Francois is often carried away by emotions, but Careme can be accused of being at the opposite end of the spectrum - too closed off and cold at times, like at the end of this chapter. Does that justify Francois immediately jumping into the arms of Brigitte? I don't know, but their relationship is definitely messy. 

Thank you, ObicanDecko! Messy is a good way to put it, but in my opinion, oftentimes relationships are like that, where each "us" carries a complicated past. You are right though in what you say: both men acted in not the most ideal way to the current situation. We will see what happens because of it . . . but I predict a make-up session can't be too far in the offing. That's true to life as well, I think.

Thanks once again for an awesome set of comments!

Edited by AC Benus
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Interesting chapter, especially the change in date and location.

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13 hours ago, raven1 said:

Interesting chapter, especially the change in date and location.

The change in date and location . . . Perhaps you are referring to Charlotte's miscarriage. The truth is, no accurate record survives of her complete reproductive health. The farther one goes back looking for clues, the clearer it seems the young woman was "secretly" pregnant at least once before her final attempt at childbearing. However, the letters and diaries from folks in the court at the time suggest she had a second loss as well. I suppose we'll never know for sure 

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