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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 - 2. Chapter 2: An Introduction & Reunion

 

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Chapter 2: An Introduction & Reunion

 

The structure of eating for family and servants was very different: ‘below-stairs’ ate three square meals, but had to work these sit-down affairs between the up-stairs’ five daily repasts.

From the perspective of the entitled, they’d rouse to a room already warmed by a fire built in the dark by silent hands. Then – per their habituated wake-up times – a valet or lady’s maid would appear with cocoa to imbibed in bed. Naturally, this was a private ‘meal.’

Next was a buffet-style breakfast for anytime they’d care to get up. Such gatherings were public.

‘Tea’ could follow at noon, and was taken in chambers either alone or with one or two intimate family members or friends. Then they would have to change and get ready.

Dinner was at 3 or 4, depending on the time of the year. As the main spread of the day, its commencement had to be flexible to ensure sufficient daylight by which to eat. It also proved to be as public a spectacle as a horse race. Not only the food was on display for every eye to consume.

The final meal of the gentry’s day was again taken in seclusion, with just a few, close persons gathered near. For at 8 or 9, supper would be sent up.

Faced with the prospects of having to eat among strangers in the Staff Dining Hall, the expatriate Frenchmen had struck upon another solution, one co-opting the lordly concept of ‘private’ repasts.

On the first full day they were there, François rose well before the crack of dawn; had risen before a tiptoeing girl sent to light the man’s fire found the maitre-d’ and chef together in Carême’s chambers.

The young man had lit a lamp and gone down to the Pastry Kitchen. As if a house maid himself, François carefully set the dry oak kindling and fuel into one of the bake ovens. Fanning it, making sure the flame caught, he mapped out the Frenchmen’s breakfast for their premier day of labour under the Pavilion’s fanciful rooves.

The beehive warming, he went about another task in this room, gathering eggs and butter, and a bowl for the flour and sugar. He washed his hands up to the naked elbows and then set about making sugared brioche – double buns – in a limited edition of six. The two men could snack upon these throughout the day.

The brioche tins greased and filled, he set the baking tray close to his heating oven, stoked the fuel some more, and then went upstairs to bathe and change. As the far-too cold water for July bit into his skin, he knew this day would be full of challenges.

Dressed in one of his ‘Democratic’ suits to proclaim he lived and died a Citizen of the French Nation, he slipped out of his room. While doing so, he saw a light under Carême’s door and knew his mentor was planning the day’s dishes; he’d be down soon.

So, François hurried on his way. He passed by the Household Kitchen, seeing it rousing itself with oatmeal and other stodgy ‘English’ fare, but the young man had decided not to jostle for cooking space, as he was an outsider, in there. Instead, he lit two of the wall sconces above the centre of the twenty-foot-long range, for he’d cook in the splendid isolation of the Great Kitchen. Picking up a curfew, he selected a few choice coals from yesterday’s roasting fire, which had been nursed overnight under the pan’s cover. These would be all he needed, so François set them in his range position, and added a new twig or two before he dashed off to pop his rolls in the oven.

Carême arrived and went to his office. Very calmly, François set a skillet atop his range coals to heat up, got a bowl, salt, pepper and six eggs. These he beat with a good slug of cream and took to the pan. A dollop of sizzling butter later, the eggs went into the skillet, and the men’s omelette was under way.

By now, the spit-jack boys were there to rekindle the roasting fires, so he asked one to go fetch his brioche buns from the oven.

By the time the lad got back with the six glistening rolls, François had plated his omelette, and washed and dried his pan.

A second boy arrived from the larder just then with what the maitre-d’ had asked him to fetch. So, the two small pots of apricot and peach preserves went on the tray with the omelette and sweet rolls.

He let himself into the office and sat down.

Carême – who had an excellent view of it from his desk – glanced at the huge kitchen clock.

François served himself and started eating, crumbs falling a bit as he enthusiastically said, “As the city market is just the other side of Castle Square from us, I’ll run over there sometime today and review the quality of the meat and seafood.”

Carême was busy with papers. “Good. Survey the selection of produce as well. The Royal Household is still on an ancien régime model, and I understand most fruit and vegetables are grown by the kitchen gardens at Kew and Kensington Palaces. I will have to speak to the Kitchen Comptroller about the details; we may need some things from the public suppliers.”

François nodded. “Yes, Chef. But we can know nothing until the day’s carte de menu is written.” And then slyly, while tearing and munching shreds of his bun, he added, “That Comptroller is an unpleasant man, no? Too much power—”

“Too much power corrupts, yes.” Carême did not want to talk of him. His paperwork was finally complete, and he placed it between the boards of a portfolio. Now he ate, and did so quickly.

However, small bites between smiles told François he’d met the master’s exacting expectations. Although it was only a petit-déjeuner,  a little validation stoked the fires of François’ self-confidence for the full day of work ahead. He was also gratified to fuel his mentor, the man . . . he—

The thought was interrupted by rough knocking. The Private Secretary said cryptically through the glass, “It’s time.”

The Frenchmen stood, making sure their attire was prim and proper.

 

 

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A few minutes later, the Regent’s personal assistant led Carême and François through a green-baize door into the chinois  opulence of the Central Corridor. Carême had his portfolio tucked under his arm, and the new-arrivals appeared much better than in their grubby travelling clothes of the day before. Comfortable, they were both consequently more confident.

François had not seen the Central Corridor before, and fought hard not to express his astonishment. The sturdy pink of the walls with their overpainting of trellises and arbour bamboo reminded him instantly of the fanciful and subtle colours Carême used on his pièces montées – or, his sugar work showstopping centrepieces. François instantly realized Carême was in his element.

As they walked below the painted glass skylight and fantastical silk lantern chandelier along the middle of this passageway, commotion caught the men’s attention. For just then, a youthful couple in stepping-out attire came from the door leading from the Blue Drawing Room. The young woman had high, coiffured hair – a tortured fight against the naturally ebullient nature of her flaxen finger curls – and wore a cream overcoat seemingly too warm for the alleged summer day; it was also too detailed for the fishing shores of Brighton. The handsome man, on the other hand, wore a far-more practical grey jacket with a cinched waist and wide lapels for changes in the weather. The pair were engaged in lively conversation, which suddenly stopped as the lithe mistress addressed her trailing lady’s maid. “If we can avoid that beastly rain from starting again, Brigitte, we shall stroll outside for at least an hour.”

“Oui, Madame.”

While the women were thus distracted, the separate parties of three suddenly grew large as one.

They weren’t more than a foot into circumnavigating their contrasting directions, when the overly dressed lady halted in her tracks.

“Goodness gracious, me!” the young woman cried with zeal. “You must be the celebrated Carême.”

“Oui . . . madame . . . ?”  Carême looked around for an introduction.

“Your hand-someness,” the lady assured him, “precedes you.”

Flattered, but flat, he replied, “Merci.”

At this point, the Regent’s secretary was forced to ‘do the honours,’ though he felt it was beneath him. “Princess, may I present Antonin Carême, your father's latest French chef. Monsieur Carême, Her Royal Highness, Princess Charlotte Augusta of Wales.”

Carême bowed, slightly; more than slightly amazed to find this nattering girl of nineteen or so was the English Crown’s heir-apparent. “Princesse, enchantée.”

“How very capital, to meet you here, while—”

Charlotte’s giggling reply was cut short by a curt Germanic throat-clearing aimed at the Pavilion functionary.

“Ah, yes,” the secretary added, “and Her Highness’ Royal Consort, Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg.”

At the mention of his name, François instantly stiffened with hostility. In his mind, this detestable Bosche  had been part of the militarily lucky pack of elite nabobs who brought down the far-nobler Napoléon.

Now Leopold smiled, stepping forward and shaking Carême’s hand. “We have met before – once.”

“Oh, really? And where was that, Your Highness?”

Leopold almost looked loath to mention it. “On the Fields of Vertus, the day you catered the Allies Victory Celebration in France.”

“Ay, yes. Now I recall. You were in the entourage of Grand Duke Nicholas of Russia, non?”

“Yes. Yes, I was.” He smiled. “I owe much to his brother, the Czar, for placing me under the Grand Duke’s wing.”

“Oui.” Carême let the sensual connotations of being ‘under the Duke’ drop.

“Nevertheless,” Leopold said brightly, returning to his rightful position, slightly behind his wife, “you shall find Brighton a wonderful place to explore, abounding in many natural sights within pleasant walking distance of the—”

François stepped in. “Not much time for that, Monsieur. We will be working in this town, not lazily strolling—”

Carême interjected, “My associate—”

“François Distré, maître d'hôtel, Carême’s chief assistant.” He held Leopold’s eyes, forcing the prince to accept a handshake.

He stepped to his left. “Princesse, François Distré.” He held out his hand, and after a wide-eyed moment of pause – due to the novelty of it all – Charlotte placed her fingers in it. He immediately rotated her palm and kissed her wrist, as one does with married ladies.

Not quite satisfied, he took one more step to bring himself before the pretty lady’s maid. “Brigitte, François Distré. Enchantée, Mademoiselle.”

“Oh, là, là!”  the maid exclaimed, giggling as the dashing man took and kissed the top of her unmarried hand.

François was lucky he did not see the seething annoyance flashing across his mentor’s face.

But in another instant, all else was forgotten as Charlotte slapped hands in mirth and laughed outright. “What jolly entertainment!”

And yet the fun was not contagious, for Leopold applied a firm touch on her elbow and said, “Good day, gentlemen. We are out for our morning constitutional.”

As they walked towards the Reception Hall, and the front door beyond it, Charlotte managed to call back a bright, “Working up an appetite for your first dinner, Carême! Good day, gentlemen.”

The secretary gestured to keep the Frenchmen on course, and Carême noted how hungry François’ eyes were taking their leave of Brigitte. If the maitre-d’ could have gotten away with a wink, the chef knew he would have done it.

The three men continued on to the end of the Corridor and up the North Staircase. As they went, the chef considered the attributes of the Royal Couple. Not the most handsome of girls, Carême’s mind was struck with an ancient analogy, for although Cleopatra was praised as a beauty, the portrait busts of her Ptolemaic forefathers establish she came from a long line of ugly men, and therefore, could not have been anything but a womanly version of them. So too, Charlotte with her Hanover homeliness had to compensate with attention-getting coiffures and light-coloured, youthful costume.

Her carriage was noble but occasionally faltered. At such instances, her slouching bespoke a bored disinterest in remaining the centre of everyone’s attention. Carême suspected the young woman much preferred her cloistered time alone with Leopold.

The Prince Consort, quite frankly, was facially far above Charlotte’s rank, for although ‘looks’ mostly sort themselves out so that like loveliness mates with its natural equal, there was something about Charlotte’s wealth that supplied what her family’s inheritance of unsightliness could not. For he, on the other hand, in the tight trousers of an officer’s uniform, or the be-slacked looseness of ankle-length, ‘walking about’ britches, exuded an alluring disinterest in all and sundry’s interest in him. Tall, erect, with red-brown hair of a light and untampered wave in it, he made for a striking ornament for the more wallflower frumpiness occasionally seen from Charlotte.

Was theirs a match made in Heaven? Or, perhaps it was one fomented in the belly of Whitehall, that ramshackle centre of Imperial British bureaucracy and spying capacities.

As they entered the North Chamber Gallery, François got lost in thoughts of exploration. He wanted to gain access to the hidden courts providing light to the centre of the house, and see how on earth the architect had devised skylights on two  adjacent levels. The effect was like magic – it did not seem possible.

Suddenly the Private Secretary stopped in front of the Regent’s door, blinking as if it were his first glimpse of Carême’s maître d’hôtel. “Oh, no. This  will not do. There is no mistake that His Highness is receiving only Carême in his private chambers.”

François’ high spirits took a blow, but he expected his mentor would defend—

“Villon, it’s all right. Go inspect the market, as you wanted, and later you and I will meet in my office to discuss what the Prince wants for dinner today. Oui?”

François’ spine involuntarily stiffened, taking the unexpected hit as it had, but he nodded, bowed and headed back downstairs.

Carême could see François was hurt – and perhaps he shouldn’t have used his personal term of endearment for the young man – but the circumstances were all out of the chef’s hands.

Cornelius Hook rapped on the door. An “Enter” sounded from within, and the functionary opened the portal for Carême, who went in alone.

The door closed behind him, he gripped his portfolio in anticipation and made his way through the Regent’s antechamber. Closed doors to Carême’s right led to ‘private’ space, but open double doors to his left led to light and colour.

When he got to the opening, an impressive sleigh bed in a velvet-draped niche stood across the room opposite him. The luxurious drapery was of a purple so deep it looked blue, and it gathered in swags below a gold dragon-shaped crown at the ceiling.

A bay window on his right steeped the bedchamber in cloudy light from the outside.

Carême stepped into this impressive room and surprisingly found the taskmaster of the British Universe propped amongst far-too many pillows on a sofa. Pulled up to him was a small table from which he’d reach for his chocolate pot to fill his diminutive cup.

This he sipped quickly, seeing the chef and gesturing to an armless seat for Carême to perch upon.

Once he had, the Frenchman was taken aback to observe one socked, Royal foot on a Chinese gout stool.

“You must be the great Carême, about whom we’ve heard so much.”

“I am Antonin Carême, yes, Your Highness.” The chef deflected the ‘great’ designation for now. Instead, he was struck by the dishevelled look of the man in front of him. George lounged in a silk dressing gown that was ridiculously embroidered with an enormous silver and red Order of the Garter cross. Whom was it meant to overawe, his manservant?

The Prince poured himself another cocoa. “How was the crossing? Travelling must have been horrendous, what with the weather being so poor.”

“I have found the conditions at Brighton much better, Your Highness.” In Carême’s mind, this seems a very meagre introduction – he’d be hard pressed to imagine any crowned heads of the Continent opening a conversation with ‘How’s the weather?’

The chef also admitted to himself that George’s appearance was a bit of a distraction, for his sandy hair was unkempt in a way suggesting it was usually covered by a wig. He showed a pudgy face with cupid-bow lips, rather long nose and slightly buggy eyes. He was handsome in a somewhat past-his-prime way, and from Talleyrand the chef knew the Prince was soon to be fifty-five years old.

But the most distracting feature of all was the Royal belly. Its barely covered protuberance informed Carême the man’s corset must lay abandoned nearby, and caused the proud Frenchman to feel sure Chef Beauvilliers was never permitted to see Bonaparte so en petite tenue  – or, in such a state of undress.

Remembering his portfolio, Carême pulled out a drawing. “I have brought illustrations from my book Le pâtissier pittoresque,  Highness.” He set before the Prince a precise architectural rendering of a Chinese-style tea house, which the bored Regent promptly splashed with hot chocolate.

“Very nice” was the extent of the Royal reply.

Carême had hoped to share with his new patron the scope of his own orientalist mind, but now—

“That’s fine, and so will anything be you wish to create at the Pavilion. You have carte blanche, Monsieur.”

Well”—Carême put his now-soiled rendering away—“we should discuss plans for my first dinner here—”

Carême’s business-like tone was cut short by a flippant grunt and sigh. “You’ll manage. There are few guests at the Pavilion today, so a small table for ten will be set up in the Red Drawing Room.”

Carême did a quick mental calculation: ten covers for a First and Second Table – plus a hot dessert – equaled thirteen total dishes. He could have cooked and served such a simplistic meal in his sleep.

But instead of talking about food, the Prince wanted to gossip. “Tell me,” he said slyly, “how is it that France has two  prime ministers?”

Carême blinked; wasn’t it obvious? “Although of the same rank, one Grand Chamberlain is tasked with leading France’s international affairs, and one Arch-Chancellor manages the country’s domestic concerns.”

“Talleyrand and Cambaérès, respectively.”

“Yes, Your Highness.”

“I know you’ve worked with both men, so what are they like?”

Since he wanted to chitchat, Carême would regale his master with some court banter. “Naturally, my insight will be along the lines of ‘table talk,’ but Cambacérès – the domestic minister – was exceedingly frugal during the height of Napoléon’s reign, only hosting State Dinners for fifty twice a week, on Tuesdays and Saturdays. While Prince Talleyrand fed at least thirty-six four times a week. Cambaérès preferred men to sit with him, never having more than three or four women at his State Tables.”

“Is that so?”

“Oui. What is more, he insisted these ladies serve as ornaments to the occasion, with highly embroidered gowns, feathers in hair and diamonds on bracelets.”

“I say.”

“Have you heard, Highness, of his famous altercation with the duchesse de La Rochefoucauld?  I ask because it is so well-known in France at the moment.”

“I don’t believe I have; please tell.”

Carême slid to the edge of his seat, sharpening the Prince’s anticipation. “At one of these functions, Cambacérès smiled but took offence at the Duchess’ tasteful attire, sailing up to her, exclaiming, ‘Ah, Madame!  Such a charming négligé you have on.’ But the woman, famous for her wit, answered on the spot, ‘Arch-Chancellor, you must forgive me, for I’ve only just now come from the side of the Empress and didn’t have time to dress up  for you.’”

The Regent laughed, and Carême could relax, thinking how one harmless anecdote had bought him much of the Prince’s good favour.

However, the Regent continued to laugh and pinged the gout of his toes. He turned a bit sour as he asked, “Is it true Cambaérès is a Mary-Anne? Which is what the diplomats say.”

Carême did not need to know this new-to-him term to comprehend its import, and the chef was taken aback afresh to think Prince George was not delicate in his approach.

Confirming, without being blunt, the chef smiled. “Let us simply say, there was a reason Bonaparte chose him  to revise the laws, and now the Code allows amour  to flourish in its entire bouquet.”

The Regent mumbled under his breath, “Aunt Yurelle, indeed.”

As the potentate had just used the Arch-Chancellor’s camp nickname, he was sure George knew more than he let on.

The Prince continued, “Ah, yes – the Napoleonic Code. The German and Italic nations are adopting it too. I suppose we should,  but here we’re saddled with the ‘Modern’ law reforms of Henry VIII. In other words, a hotch potch of privilege and tradition, written and unwritten, by the Entitled for the Entitled. And nothing will change until the governed force us to include protections for them.”

By the Regent’s cynical chuckle, Carême understood the stated time of change was to be ‘never.’

“Well, then”—Carême tried to guide this levée  back to its purpose—“for today’s dinner, I viewed the cold stores last night and saw a brace of woodcock aged perfectly and ready for a pâté, or a savoury pie, as you say.”

“Of course; of course.” The Regent was not interested. “Do what draws your chefly curiosity. We’re confident my guests will relish the flavour of my trust in you.”

Carême was disappointed. A courtly servant, such as he, always put himself in jeopardy when forced to guess what his seigneur  wanted. A moody master was the reason the recently deposed French Emperor burned through thirteen chefs in twelve years.

“And speaking of trust,” George added, “that extends to other matters, Carême. Having negotiated your way compunctiously through the households of both Talleyrand and Cambacérès,

I know your mum discretion will migrate with you here. The Pavilion is a place as complex as the home of either of France’s two  prime ministers.”

To the man’s banal grin, Carême replied, “Rest assured, Your Highness, I’m discreet in everything I do.” He refrained from smiling himself.

The Prince, indicating a gold clock on the wall, intimated the interview was over. “Enjoy your cooking, and you let us know if you are in need of anything.”

“Yes, Your Highness.”

Carême stood, bowed his head slightly. He moved away, and then returned, adding, “There is one matter of service that has arisen.”

“Oh, yes?”

“My maître d’hôtel feels your Royal dining rooms should reflect the current standards on the Continent.”

“By all means.”

“Specifically – the footmen’s uniforms.”

“What about them?”

“They shouldn’t wear any. They should provide service to you and your guests in appropriate, egalitarian attire.”

“Then by all means, let it be so. Whatever is de rigueur  in Paris, so shall it be in Brighton!” This gave the Prince a belly-laugh, which hurt his gout.

“I’ll see then to the proper outfitting of the footmen with the Kitchen Comptroller.”

Having obtained assent through a regal nod, Carême bowed once more and quietly left the chamber.

Lost in his own thoughts, the chef exited the Regent’s suite and was surprised to find a woman sitting on the bamboo couch of the Chamber Gallery. The sofa table was pulled up to her and set with breakfast.

He was delivering his “Pardon” when he suddenly realized to whom it was addressed. All his cares became instantly forgotten; and his oh-so-professional demeanour, completely set aside.

“Lady Morgan!”

For her part, if she had not known any better, the woman would have sworn the chef’s voice rang like a child’s. She’d hoped to catch her old friend off guard like this, and delightfully, he’d fallen into her innocent little trap.

“What are you doing here?” the Frenchman asked.

“Having breakfast, and I insist you sit,” said the Irish novelist. “Sit and remain with me, dear Carême.”

The chef glanced around as if a naughty schoolboy. “Well – only for a moment. There is so much to do.” He brought over one of the side chairs and pulled it in tight as he sat opposite Sydney Morgan.

Without asking, she straightaway poured him a cup of tea and made a place for him at the table.

The chef realized Lady Morgan’s actions of effortless hosting contrasted with the Regent’s never enquiring if he’d like cocoa. “Merci,”  he said, trying to hide the depths of his gratitude.

“‘So much to do’ for today’s dinner?”

“Yes. There is much to organize by testing,” replied the chef. “You will be there, non?”

She smiled. “I shall indeed. Will you be following the quaint English custom of serving one dish at a time?”

Carême’s response was to sip his tea without replying; he knew his old friend well enough to spot a joke. And she knew his art well enough to comprehend the way diners would eat at one of the chef’s meals. “And how is Lord Morgan?”

“He’s fit as a fiddle and at the stables right now, seeing about squeezing in a morning ride, if the weather holds. Sometimes I wonder if he doesn’t love his horse more than me.”

They laughed.

“Charlotte and Leopold too,” said the chef, “are out walking.”

“And how is François?”

“He is well. He’s here with me.”

“That’s wonderful, and as I would expect; ten years is a long time, longer in fact than my marriage to Lord Morgan. I admire it tremendously. And how are Agathé and Marie?”

Carême set down his cup and saucer. “They are fine; in Paris, you understand.” From the chef’s point of view, the contemplation of his common-law wife and daughter was a bit of a sore subject. “And how is your new novel doing?”

The woman demurred by sitting back on her seat and grinning. “My National Tale, O’Donnel?  Thank the stars that since it came out last year the gentlemen of the press have been favourable to it.”

“So I have read. Many are calling it your masterpiece; so intriguing in its plot—”

Lady Morgan inadvertently cut her friend off with a good-natured chuckle. “People do like mysteries, so that will not change, but please know the descriptions you might read of O’Donnel  are from my publishers, not me.”

“Descriptions?” Carême sipped his tea.

“Yes”—Sydney Morgan laughed again—“things like: ‘A man with a heavy family name, but saddled with a pocketbook light from centuries of free-spending, encounters odd happenings on the estate of a crafty Countess.’ Etcetera; etcetera.”    

“It sounds wonderful to get lost in, but I am sure you have filled it with love and pathos as well. As the fine artist you are, you can have it no other way.”

“Thank you, mon ami. Artistry or not, fortunately the sales are brisk, so I count me among the lucky.”

“Luck,” Carême said matter-of-factly, “does not need waste much time promoting the gifted, which you are, Lady Morgan.”

This warmed the woman’s heart.

“However,” the chef continued in a more conspiratorial tone, “I am surprised to find a Republican-leaning Irish novelist billeted in the ‘country cottage’ of the English ruler.”

“Well,” she replied smiling again, “the Pavilion is full of the unexpected, so be prepared to encounter all sorts. But – concerning me – I sometimes wonder myself how I came to be a welcome guest here, for far-more damning is my title of ‘lady novelist.’ That species of creative type is nowadays held as the most spuriously deserving of praise in the land of Defoe and Fielding.”

“Mais, oui. But a woman would never write Moll Flanders  or Tom Jones,  and for good reasons!”

Lady Morgan’s reaction was to scoop up Carême’s hand. “Oh, how I’ve missed you, my dear friend.”

“I too, Madame. We had such . . . adventurous times in Paris.”

“That we did. Grand times and times busy tracking down all manner of mysteries and mayhem.”

“We made an effective crime-solving pair.”

“That we did, and the Pavilion’s routine should prove boring in comparison to the gun-powder plot to blow up Napoleon’s palace!”

“I can only hope,” Carême said wryly.

“And here I find fate has stepped in to bless me once more.”

“Oui, Madame – how so?”

“I took the invitation to Brighton as my chance to work on my next book. Not a novel, but a travel monologue of France. I brought all my notes with me from our time together, and now that you are here as well, I can compare the people, places and situations of my memories against your superior knowledge.”

Carême appeared ill-at-ease. “I am happy to assist, but . . . . ”

The novelist was quick to reassure. “But fear not, Chef. Per our agreement in Paris, and for the reasons only you and I know about, your name will not appear in my France.  As far as the public at large understands it, we barely know one another.”

“Yes, thank you. It is better not for me personally . . . but, as you know, for others.”

She squeezed his fingers. “Yes, I know.”

Lady Morgan brightened her voice, letting the land go and patting the top of it. “But you’re here for the serious job of creating your art. So far, how are you finding the Pavilion staff?”

Carême sputtered his lips. “They give me those who are married; they give me youths who think standing around and joking is ‘work’ – those têtes de linottes.

Lady Morgan laughed, translating the term to English. “Chuckleheads. But, you will guide them as you go along; of that, I am sure. And the senior staff, how are they?”

More lip-sputtering arose. “It seems already the Regent’s Private Secretary and the Kitchen Comptroller do not like me.”

Sydney Morgan hunkered down her tone to warn, “Speaking of which, mon trè cher Carême, you must be on guard. Not everything is as simple as it appears at the Pavilion. Here, like any centre of concentrated power, the balance of courtly dirt is at play.”

Carême was a bit puzzled. “Le dirt?”

“Yes. Intelligence; information. In the manner of the way each one might secure a slice of pie, everyone here dishes something on the other. It’s a finely tuned stasis maintained by possessing leverage, or so-called dirt, over superior and underlings’ heads alike.”

Now Carême understood and he thought Lady Morgan exceedingly kind to warn him, although, needlessly. One does not need to warn a shark he swims with sharks.

He was about to thank his friend, when the pair began to hear an odd ‘tink; tink’ noise. Soon, the tempo both increased and grew jagged. They looked up at the same time to realize it was hail hitting the Gallery skylight.

They chuckled darkly in unison, thinking of all those caught out in it.

 

 

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The time stood at a quarter of nine, at least via the hands of the regulator clock of the Great Kitchen.

This precision instrument hung above the double doors leading to the Larders, and Kitchen Court beyond. Now, Carême casually observed business transpire below it. For the day was done, and while many members of staff cleaned and put away, the Kitchen Comptroller enticed food-buying agents with dishes set on the counter of the enormous Welsh dresser by the doors.

The chef watched keenly, because he’d just sent François over there with his untouched woodcock pâté en croûte.

After the maitre-d’ uttered a few syllables concerning the pie’s pedigree, the agents tussled in a bidding war to get it – quite forgetting anything the Comptroller had on offer.

François pointed out which of the other dishes had Carême’s personal touch upon them, and those too sold fast and furious.

Once all the leftovers were sorted and being carried out into the night air, the moneyman and François came back to the chef’s position; the Frenchman counting coins the whole time.

Carême sprung his news upon them. “By the way, the Regent’s decision on the matter is this: Footmen shall serve dinners now in their ‘natural’ attire. The uniforms are out.”

François was overjoyed. In his mind, he knew Carême would come through for him. He always had in the past.

The kitchen bean-counter was a mass of seething rage. He skulked away with a murderous glint in his eye.

To Carême, it appeared that François wanted to kiss him, however, the younger Frenchman put a spring in his step, saying before running off, “I’ll go tell the footmen to come in their best clothes tomorrow!”

Carême smiled, turning to go to the office, collect his papers and get ready to go up to his chambers for the night.

But his way was blocked – a man who did not belong to the kitchen stood there.

“Chef Carême,” he said warmly. “Allow me to introduce myself – William Kitchiner, M.D.”

The Doctor struck an unusual figure. Tall and on the spare side, he possessed what the polite referred to as ‘a high forehead,’ if by high one meant balding up to the middle of his skull. The hair on top and on the sides was light brown, and that included a downright curly set of sideburns. He had darker eyebrows, like the painted-on C’s of a doll’s face, below which resided gold wire spectacles with pale-blue lenses. His left eye must have been partially sightless, for the thicker glass on this side magnified the appearance of his pupil to nearly twice that of the right.

“How do you do, Doctor Kitchiner? You seem to know who I am already.”

The man grinned. “Antonin Carême, the world’s most famous chef.”

Carême bowed slightly; no use denying it.

“Well, if you will excuse me, I must attend to some paperwork.”

The Doctor came close. His voice lowered. “Before you do, there is something I must show you.”

Moments later, Kitchiner led Carême through the Central Service Corridor, and then up an unfamiliar set of steps. In an upper floor hallway, Carême glanced to his right while they walked. Through the windows he could see fancifully tinted light come up through the Central Corridor skylight.

They were in the section of the servants’ quarters reserved for chamber staff. Kitchiner took them to a modest bedroom with a small window onto the same inner court.

The narrow room was supplied with two beds, which was usual for under-staff accommodations, but one bed was made and the other occupied. Small medicine bottles and a lamp stood on a bedside table.

While Kitchiner quietly closed the door behind them, Carême stepped closer and saw a teenage girl was dreaming fitfully through a fever. Without hesitation, he took the cloth soaking in a nearby basin, wrung it out, folded and placed it on the girl’s forehead.

In the meantime, the Doctor had been taking her pulse. “This is Luluh Connell, one of the chamber maids. She fell ill this morning, only it’s not an illness at all, dear Chef. She’s been poisoned.”

“Comment ça?  I mean, how?”

The Doctor held the girl’s arm and hand for Carême to inspect. “See this skin discolouration?”

Even in the low light of the room, the chef could make out blotches all over her limbs of a faint, blue colour.

Likewise, Carême noticed each fingernail had a white line across it from cuticle to cuticle.

“These,” the Doctor explained, “reveal acute arsenic poisoning.”

Glancing into the tormented girl’s face, the chef asked, “But who would want to kill her?”

“That, Monsieur,  is the question. My informants among the Pavilion staff are as dumbfounded as His Highness on the subject. And yet, she hasn’t been home – has not left the property – for months. Whoever is doing this, is in the house.”

Carême brought his attention fully to the Doctor. “And why draw me into the matter?”

“The young woman with whom Luluh shares this room was able to tell me she thinks Miss Connell is involved with someone who works in the Prince’s kitchens, but she does not know who.”

“So, you think I should—”

“Keep your eyes and ears open; make some discreet enquiries; and for certain, keep the girl’s poisoning a secret. His Highness has heard of your investigation skills, and trusts your delicacy in . . . in, remaining silent.”

The courtier in Carême had his hackles raised. A threat hidden in the diplomacy of a compliment is still a threat. “And you, sir?”

“I shall be trying my best to save this girl’s life.”

“Begging pardon, Doctor, but I was asking who you are to the Prince Regent . . . that he entrusts such delicate missions into your care?”

The Doctor stepped close, but a smile appeared. “I am to his Royal Highness what all of us should be: a dutiful, loyal subject.”

 

 

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Concurrently, lower in the house from the Doctor and Carême’s conference, François leaned against the wall in the walkway of the Kitchen Court. Beyond the columns, Thomas Daniels scrubbed the outside  copper of an enormous ham boiler with sand, water and a cloth.

François Distré had taken it into his head to assign this grunt work, which was far below the undercook’s station, as a pre-emptive measure. Both parties involved understood it as such, albeit, Thomas operated without knowing why. Thus seems the fate of most people as they go about their daily lives.

In any event, the darkly brooding François was there – as he’d told the boy – to make sure the work was completed correctly.

James Keenan came out dressed in his street clothes. The stogie usually ornamenting the under-brim of his cap was between his lips, already lit.

In slow deliberation, the Irish cook claimed a column to lean against with his back to François. However, after a little while, he rotated to cast a friendly inspection of the Frenchman. The glowing of his cheroot dangled loosely at the end of his left-hand fingers.

François nodded cool greetings, and James came next to him.

“Smoke?”

The maitre-d’ shrugged. “Why not?”

After Keenan pulled a fresh cigar from his inner coat pocket, François bit the tip and spat out one end. He then put it to his lips and beckoned with quick fingers for the older man to come in close. Face to face, smiling Irish blues twinkled against introspective Gallic browns in the men’s shared ember-glow.

They parted, and James pulled up a patch of stone wall for himself to lean against. He blew out smoke and gestured with his cheroot left-handed. “Punishing him? That young Master Daniels is a decent cook, and what’s more, he’s willing to learn.”

François drew in an acrid hit of smoke. Keenan had just made him dislike Thomas even more; the boy’s fault – unreckoned in the Frenchman’s conscious thinking so far – was his uncomfortable resemblance to François at that age.

“I wish my wife would hurry up,” said James. “End of day should mean heading home, not standing around and gossiping with the maids.” The undercook’s smile was a teasing one now. “That’s women, huh?”

François only shrugged and continued to smoke, but thought to himself how James was a natural-born charmer, one not afraid to exploit his physical appeal whenever he could. The man was blithe, an inch or so taller than the maître d’hôtel,  and a mirror of nature with his good looks and glossy dark hair. François imagined the rogue had left many hearts broken in his wake.

Despite his apparent ineffectualness, the Irishman persisted in his efforts to win François over. He hit upon a new topic. “I saw you’ve come into conflict with Gris Thorndyke.”

François stiffened at the Chief Footman’s name.

Don’t worry,” the undercook chuckled. “He’s a twat, what we’d call a ‘while man’ – conceited, but not so smart; probably all that gold braid went to his head. In fact”—he lowered his tone to draw in François’ confidence—“word is, Gris likes to frequent a certain house of disrepute in Brighton.”

François puzzled. “Women, you mean?”

“Not women, Monsewer, but one  woman old enough to be his mam. She ties him up; she has a pony crop; she’s a cruel taskmaster who debases the puny man’s haughty spirit.”

François smiled. James had just given him courtly leverage to use against his ‘enemy,’ if he ever needed to.

Keenan kicked away from the wall to stand upright. He laughed. “But, he hates you because you’ve humiliated him in public, and that he cannot tolerate.” The man snubbed out his cigar on the wall, tucking the cool end behind his ear. “So watch where you step. And even, what you eat.” James laughed and laughed.

François wondered if the Irishman now thought him beholden for the gift of intelligence James had shared. In any event, François would toss the smooth talker something juicy as compensation later on.

Audrey Keenan appeared in hat and thick shawl from the household door. She joined them with a grin. “What are we talking about, boys?”

“What a tosser Gris Thorndyke is,” James said.

She smacked his chest. “Keep your voice down, love. But yes, he is. We all saw the tussle you had with him over the uniforms, and I’m glad you won—”

“Over the nasty redcoats,”  her husband interjected.

“—Because the wait staff should be dressed like men, not performing monkeys—”

“Or toy soldiers.”

“So true.” François agreed with them.

Audrey shivered theatrically. “It’s the coldest July of my life, especially away from the kitchen fires.” She laced her arm through her husband’s. “What do you say, love? Should we try to get home before the rain starts again?”

“Yes, Audrey, we better saunter hence. See you in the morning, François.”

“Good night,” said the Frenchman, feeling a bit warmed to both of them.

“And say,” Audrey told him, “you should come to the pub with us one night. You’ll enjoy it! And they serve real Irish fare.”

“All right; we’ll see.” François’ reaction was charmed but cautious. The company he might enjoy, but towards the prospects of Irish food, he harboured doubts.

The couple departed.

Almost instantly after they’d exited the Court for Castle Square, the skies opened up.

François smoked, coming forward to lean on a column. He glared remorselessly at Thomas getting soaked, shivering in the downpour. The boy continued to polish.

 

 

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Many hours later, Carême stood at his chamber window looking at the Water Tower. Its clock hands said it was quarter to one in the morning, and the pompous gold leaf on the dragon weathervane got beaten by the rain.

François entered through their adjoining door. He held up a half-filled bottle. “I brought Armagnac.”

The men sat at the table with a lamp on it and sipped.

“How did you get this?” Carême enquired.

“It was left over from today’s after-dinner service. I saved it from being sold by that Donald Bland.”

They enjoyed the burn of the brandy in silence for a moment; it began to relax and unfetter the restraints of the working day.

François chortled darkly. “How amusing it was to meet Charlotte and Leopold off guard like that this morning.”

“How much you entertained with your lady’s maid act.”

François ignored that, preferring to return to the Royal couple. “What an unpromising heir-apparent the British Empire has in that air-head Charlotte. And Prince Saxe-Coburg? Leopold looks the right arrogant little fool standing behind the petticoats of power.”

“Well . . . . ” Carême attempted to gather his thoughts.

“And you saw the way Leopold gloated over the Allies Victory dinner at Épernay, the Russian Champs-de-Mars.”

The chef contradicted him. “Or, perhaps, the Prince Consort only mentioned it because that’s where he and I had met before.”

François understood the cognac was only deepening his personally dark mood and thereby vexing Carême. He elevated his spirits. “I stand corrected.”

“Anyway, Villon,”  said the chef, “bake some madeleines for the Princess’ breakfast-tea first thing tomorrow.”

“Yes, Chef, I will. Tell me, since you met with him this morning, what type of man is the Regent?”

“Honestly, it’s difficult to say. He seems to brook no dissension, and yet listens carefully to everything that’s said. He appears to have far-reaching plans, but disguising them as whims until the time is right to implement them. I must remind myself to be on guard around him.”

“Sounds like a complex master.”

“We will see. Oh, and Lady Morgan is at the Pavilion. We had a few moments to catch up today.”

This was indeed unexpected news to François, unwanted too, as it further irked his jealousy at not being able to keep Carême all to himself. “How . . . wonderful for you.” He drained his glass and refilled it instantly.

François’ sentiment was not lost on the chef.

“Yours was not the only unforeseen encounter today,” said François.

“Oh?”

“Yes. Tonight I had a smoke with the Irish-couple undercooks, the Keenans.”

“Don’t remind me”—he grinned—“a man and wife working in my  kitchen. Anyway, what did they say?”

“Not much, but they were testing me, so I’d advise you not to let them get too close to you. I can smell a scam stuck to them, although what, I’m not quite sure.”

“Well, I’ll deal with them as chef de cuisine;  no more. But, considering these English barely speak the language of food, today’s dinner went off rather smoothly.”

“Indeed,” agreed François. “But it was a shame no one even cut into your woodcock pâté.”

“By the way, how much did you get for it?”

“Only 2 Pounds and 6 Shillings.”

“Only! That’s a lot of money.”

“Yes, but tomorrow, the food agents will bring more cash. Your presence at the Pavilion caught them by surprise.”

Carême re-filled both their glasses. “I have to tell you, after you went to tell the footmen to dress normally for tomorrow, I had an odd encounter.”

“With who?”

“One Doctor Kitchiner. He’s an operative of the Regent’s in some capacity and took me to one of the servants’ rooms. A girl is sick – poisoned in the Pavilion.”

François sat upright. “Is it serious?”

“Yes. She may still die. And the Doctor – and Prince – have tasked me with investigating it. And I assign you to a special duty.”

“Which is what?”

“Observe everyone in the kitchens for signs of the same poisoning: spotty skin or lines across the fingernails. Do it undercover.”

François joked “Is there any other way?” before turning serious. “I will do as you say, but it might be hard to find a motive, let alone a culprit, limiting our search to the kitchen staff.”

Carême had an ‘Ah-ha!’ moment; he’d enlist the help of Lady Morgan to gather intel on the rest of the Pavilion staff.

François brought Carême out of his thoughts by touching the chef’s hand.

In a calm and stilled motion, the men rose to their feet, embraced and kissed. François relished the feel of Carême’s arms around him.

Later, naked, their movements proceeded along the same, unhurried lines. Eventually both lay in bed on their sides, Carême behind.

François’ hand went to the back of Carême’s head as they made love.

 

 

_

 

Copyright © 2022 AC Benus; All Rights Reserved.
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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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Chapter Comments

AC Benus

Posted (edited)

3 hours ago, Lyssa said:

A very interesting chapter, with lots of people being introduced. 🙂 I look forward to next week.

Thank you, @Lyssa! I trust you enjoyed meeting the Royal Couple :) We'll be seeing more of them as times goes by

Thanks again

Edited by AC Benus
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3 hours ago, chris191070 said:

A great chapter with plenty of people introduced. Loved the details about the mealtimes.

Thank you, @chris191070! It's funny, but having the main meal of the day (dinner) in the mid-afternoon was an unbroken tradition dating back to ancient Greek times (at least). It was the French Revolution that ultimately pushed it to later in the day, a custom the British elite were slow to accept in the 19th century. 

In America, we still honor the "correct" time for dinner at least once a year: on Thanksgiving. So it's nice to know the ancient tradition has at least one final, living holdout :) 

Thanks again

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AC Benus

Posted (edited)

2 hours ago, 84Mags said:

Lady Morgan said it best when she told Careme, “the Pavilion is full of the unexpected, so be prepared to encounter all sorts.” It is a bit of an understatement; the inhabitants of the Pavilion are most intriguing. Her warning about courtly dirt seems both timely and ominous considering someone poisoned a chamber maid. Weather played into the overall mood of this chapter, especially the hail storm and later poor Thomas shivering and soaked in the downpour.

Thank you, @84Mags, that is a wonderful quote and illustrates much. Incidentally, this chapter contains of my my personal favorite quotes of the book. I wonder if you, or other readers, would like to hazard a guess as to what it is? :)

 

spacer.png

By the way, this is a souvenir-sized reproduction of

the weather vane from atop the Water Tower 

Edited by AC Benus
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1 hour ago, drsawzall said:

Well, a few more ingredients have been added to the stew pot, toss in a side of snit, a gout addled corpulent regent, a bit of jealously, trousers, arsenic sans old lace, an old friend, Irish conspirators, family left behind, and another behind not left behind, and one has to wonder what could possibly go wrong/right.

Oh BTW...lest we not forget the food!!!

I dare not ask who provided the side of snit -- as it's likely to be the author! lol. But even if so, I will gladly take the proportioning of it, @drsawzall! :)

We will have to see where all of these "ingredients" are leading us -- and have some fun along the way -- never forgetting we are dealing with crafters of delicious food. And yes, the what could go right question is a good one ;)

Thanks again for your thoughts and comments  

 

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6 minutes ago, Parker Owens said:

I enjoyed meeting more of the Pavilion’s inhabitants. Careme’s observations on the Regent were important. He’s not a man to be underestimated.

Thank you, @Parker Owens. As you know, I did my research and found out George August was a Leo. One attribute unique to this sign is as a builder, and he certainly gifted London a modern, functional design before his reign was over. Who today could imagine that city without a River Walk, a Trafalgar Square, a Piccadilly Circus -- and hundreds of acres of parkland? This builder prince/king and John Nash did it all.

Leos are also family signs, so much of what he did is STILL benefiting the royal family to this day (think income ;) ). Without this George, the royal family would be very, very income poor today. 

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16 minutes ago, 84Mags said:

The weather vane is more beautiful than I imagined it.  And the souvenir one isn’t getting beaten to death by the rain in your story! 
Ok…I’ll try for the quote.  My guess for your favorite quote is James saying, “So watch where you step. And even, what you eat.” 
But if I am wrong, I still enjoyed the whole conversation between James and Francois! I mean, he called Gris a tosser and a twat! 😂

That quote is sound advice for all of us! But I had a different one in mind.

As for James, he's a real charmer ;) lol

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13 hours ago, AC Benus said:

That quote is sound advice for all of us! But I had a different one in mind.

As for James, he's a real charmer ;) lol

…I am curious. What’s your favorite quote? I have one other that’s a possibility but would love to know. 

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2 hours ago, Theo Wahls said:

So many characters to get to know. 

Why a chambermaid? Did she eat something destined for someone else? Is this a below stairs affair? Does it stretch upward and involve the entitled?

What a great Wednesday. Thanks for writing and looking forward to more.😗

Thank you, @Theo Wahls! It's nice to think I can brighten someone's Wednesday and give them something to look forward to.

Thanks again

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24 minutes ago, AC Benus said:

After Lady Morgan's warning, Careme thinks: "One does not need to warn a shark he swims with sharks." ;)

Oh! Interesting. That wasn’t in my top three picks but makes the most sense. It tells us a lot about Careme. 

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So one should "watch what they eat" around Gris.  Hmmmm, has he poisoned anyone before?  Did the chambermaid find out about his extracurricular activities?  The mystery is on!!!

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43 minutes ago, CincyKris said:

So one should "watch what they eat" around Gris.  Hmmmm, has he poisoned anyone before?  Did the chambermaid find out about his extracurricular activities?  The mystery is on!!!

Thanks, @CincyKris, it's great to hear your thoughts and get a taste of your enthusiasm! New chapters post on Wednesday. Thanks again!

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What an interesting chapter, it's giving me Hercules Poirot vibes, with all the intriguing characters gathered in one place, a murder attempt and lots of suspects. I assume the chamber maid was not the intended victim, unless she overheard something and had to be silenced. 

Lady Morgan seems like she could be a valuable ally. The Regent seems crude, but possibly quite cunning. Either way, he's very powerful, which makes him dangerous. 

"Not only the food was on display for every eye to consume." - oh if only we could be sated simply by looking at food :)

Thanks for another great chapter! On to the next one! 

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On 6/10/2022 at 3:58 AM, ObicanDecko said:

What an interesting chapter, it's giving me Hercules Poirot vibes, with all the intriguing characters gathered in one place, a murder attempt and lots of suspects. I assume the chamber maid was not the intended victim, unless she overheard something and had to be silenced. 

Lady Morgan seems like she could be a valuable ally. The Regent seems crude, but possibly quite cunning. Either way, he's very powerful, which makes him dangerous. 

"Not only the food was on display for every eye to consume." - oh if only we could be sated simply by looking at food :)

Thanks for another great chapter! On to the next one! 

Thank you, ObicanDecko! I like and value your assessment of everything that's going on in this chapter. As I mentioned in some comment or other, figuring out the prince was the most challenging assignment of character creation for me. He is more often than not lampooned today -- Blackadder, anyone...? lol -- but what sort of person was he really. This is something I had to commit to discovering for myself before I proceeded to write a single word.

I'm still not sure I've come to the heart of the man, but then again, for a Pisces person like me, trying to head-examine a Leo (like George) is a real task and a half!

 

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A period "who dunnit". Wonderful. I'm interested to see how the various networks are going to relate to and engage with each other. Our Careme will have to be careful. It is not all as it seems, I suspect. 

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3 hours ago, Doha said:

A period "who dunnit". Wonderful. I'm interested to see how the various networks are going to relate to and engage with each other. Our Careme will have to be careful. It is not all as it seems, I suspect. 

Thanks, Doha! Welcome aboard, and I hope you like the ride. Be sure to buckle up ;) Thanks again 

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raven1

Posted (edited)

The plot is beginning to build with the poisoning of the chambermaid.  Doctor Kitchiner seems to be a lot more than just the doctor for the Pavillion. He is definitely a close confident to Prince George, and privilege to hear and act upon information on behalf of the prince.  

Lady Morgan is an interesting addition to the mix, and provided both information as well as a warning. James is a charming fellow who hinted to watch what they eat.  I wonder what he and his wife might know.  

Françios is Carême's lover, but also is probably bisexual based on his actions and Carême's reaction to his flirting with Brigitte.  Françios is also jealous of Carême's attention and feels threatened by Thomas because Thomas is very much like Françios was at that age.

These new characters and relationships have added much to the tension and mood of the story.  I like the build up of the background of the people and their relationships.

Edited by raven1
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8 hours ago, raven1 said:

The plot is beginning to build with the poisoning of the chambermaid.  Doctor Kitchiner seems to be a lot more than just the doctor for the Pavillion. He is definitely a close confident to Prince George, and privilege to hear and act upon information on behalf of the prince.  

Lady Morgan is an interesting addition to the mix, and provided both information as well as a warning. James is a charming fellow who hinted to watch what they eat.  I wonder what he and his wife might know.  

Françios is Carême's lover, but also is probably bisexual based on his actions and Carême's reaction to his flirting with Brigitte.  Françios is also jealous of Carême's attention and feels threatened by Thomas because Thomas is very much like Françios was at that age.

These new characters and relationships have added much to the tension and mood of the story.  I like the build up of the background of the people and their relationships.

Thank you again, raven1! As I believed I mentioned in these Carême comments, I personally do not feel writers should think and act like their characters have "back stories." The concept is unnatural and far too limiting. You and I, as real people, do not have "back stories"; we have lives that we have lived, lives in which we've suffered, and triumphed, and felt love and loneliness. And all "people" in literature deserve this richness too if the reader is ever to feel they truly reflect flesh and blood individuals.

That's my personal approach. So in this chapter we get to be like a fly on the wall as two good friends (Lady Morgan and Carême) talk about old times and their crazy adventures in Paris. We as outsiders to what they've been through should find this intriguing in the least, and downright fascinating at best. 

Your comments and feedback are very much appreciated!    

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