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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 - 6. Chapter 6: ab ovo, ad mala & Hope for the Future

 

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Chapter 6: ab ovo, ad mala & Hope for the Future

 

“Ah, Carême!” the good Doctor exclaimed, clasping hands. “The temperatures may be trending colder, but look at the skies!”

It was a full twenty-four-hours since the master chef had watched the sun go down with his partner, and here he was – exhausted after a twelve-hour day of work – on Kitchiner’s roof-top perch.

The western horizon burned itself in gold and crimson, but a discordant colour smothered much of it as well.

“You see the sharp orange and brown smudges in the clouds?” It seemed the Doctor’s ability to read Carême’s mind was uncanny.

“Yes. They don’t look ‘healthy’.”

“They’re not. That is the culprit for a year with corrupted light and heat; the suspended soot and ash from the Tambora explosion.” The man removed his blue spectacles for a thorough wipe with his handkerchief. “A poet might say the mountain threw itself into the air, and we’re all subject to that rocky monarch’s mighty fall.”

Carême shook his head. “I hope future generations will never look at polluted air and think this orange-brown pall is ‘pretty.’ It’s sign of a serious, worldwide disease.”

“Hear; hear, my friend. I see you are something of a poet too.”

Carême laughed. He began to truly like Kitchiner. “I am, with all sincere hope, the master poet of the saucepan.”

“Dear Chef, if I had a wine glass, I’d offer up a cheer this very moment to second the motion. You are a master, indeed.”

“And you, Doctor – you are a master lens-maker, a physician, a botanist, a food enthusiast, and . . . perhaps, a master secret agent?”

The Doctor shifted just a little. By now the glasses were back in place and looking at Carême from halfway along the ridge of his nose. “I believe the first time we met, I said I assist His Highness with . . . personal matters, and that is indeed the case.”

Nothing is more personal than an individual’s security, n'est-ce pas?”

The Doctor chuckled. “Right again, dear Carême, and by now you see some of the complexities the Regent must navigate. I assist when and where I can.”

“Well, you are a kind and loyal friend to His Highness, just as you also told me at our first meeting. You do well to advance hope for a better future.”

“At some moments, Carême, it seems a heavy burden.”

“What does, Doctor?”

“The knowledge that what we do today, even if it’s a decision we take lightly at present, can have profound consequences for the times to come.”

“I know what you mean.” Carême tried not to think of François. “The world we are making every second of the day will contribute to the success or undermine the conditions later generations will find it in. One personal triumph, or one intimate tragedy can, like Tambora, affect the possible outcomes for all.”

The Doctor nodded slowly. “To be aware, Chef – to be conscious of our power – is a gift and burden to the thinking person. I agree.”

“As I say, you do well to advance hope for a better future.”

“Sometimes I wonder if my son feels the same way about me.” The Doctor’s mood had clouded over.

Carême, for his part, was surprised. “I didn’t know you were married.”

“I’m not,” Kitchiner replied much too freely. He reeled it back. “By which, to say, I am technically but not to my son’s mother. She, the boy's parent, has her private lodgings at the rear of my London house, and the lady and I are on equitable terms. It was good for Willi to grow up with his ma-ma so close to hand.”

“Willi?”

“William Brown Kitchiner, my adopted heir.”

“And may I assume, by your careful wording, that your ‘wife’ resides elsewhere?”

“Oh, yes. Entirely on her own. My wife and I have no contact, other than her cashing of my quarterly bank draughts.

“D’accord. I see, and how old is your Willi?”

“My boy, he’s thirteen now, and he grows so fast. It gives me pause. I mean, did I too change so rapidly before my father’s eyes? How was it my pa-pa recognized me?”

What Kitchiner was revealing to the Frenchman, struck Carême very close to the bone. He debated internally whether to share with the Doctor his own, remarkably similar, domestic arrangements back in Paris, but the shrewder part of him, the Talleyrand-trained part of him, said to hold the information in reserve a little longer.

But the heart of Carême – that had been deeply touched.

The chef said, “I too, Doctor, if I had a glass of a cognac to toast you, would raise it to your good qualities, and bless the future happiness of your son.”

Now Kitchiner looked emotional, but refrained from saying anything. Instead, the two men heard the unmistakable jangle of bridles and carriage wheels turning into the driveway below. The vehicle pulled up to the Club’s door five floors down.

The Doctor stood. “I believe, dear Chef, that is our signal. Shall we join the others?”

“Certainly.” Carême stood as well.

The men descended the ladder into the penthouse studio of the good Doctor, and Kitchiner closed the roof hatch.

Inside, the room was warm with good smells and a crackling fire in the cooking hearth.

 

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Meanwhile, a mile off and something like a world away from the Club, François Distré and Thomas Daniels had most of the muscles of their upper torsos tensed. One on each side, they gingerly slid Carême’s first sugar work pièce montée into one of the Pavilion’s glass-fronted cabinets.

“Watch the clock tower,” François chided hastily.

“I’m all right. You watch the palm tree.”

And François saw the boy was correct. The exotic date-laden plant was top heavy and had some of its delicate green foliage close to the cupboard’s edge. François adjusted accordingly.

Soon, about a quarter of the edible monument’s base rested securely on the shelf, and the two could begin a slow and calculated pushing, sliding the display straight back into the cabinet. Once there, the undercook and maitre-d’ stood back to admire Carême’s work side by side.

“You know,” said the boy almost reverently, “the way the logs are constructed . . . and their colouring . . . they shure look real.”

“Yes. The sculptor’s chisel for the first, the artist’s palette for the second. Carême leaves nothing wanting in his Art.”

“Now I can see that.” Thomas grinned, showering François with it by turning his head.

When François glanced over, the Frenchman realized how close they were; close enough to kiss. This caused François’ expression to deaden into a scowl, for the undercook was undeniably handsome, especially once mirth decided to light up the welkin of his azure eyes.

He closed the cabinet door, then leaned his backside on the counter’s ledge. With folded arms and kicked out legs, François eyed the winsome teen. “How long have you been cooking, professionally?”

Thomas stiffened his spine, allowing his smirk to fade away. “Since I was thirteen, or five years now.”

“You still have much to learn.”

The lad flushed with enthusiasm. “Oh, I know! Each day I watch and learn; each day I shurly try to improve.”

There was something so open, so unguarded and free of any cunning in the boy’s attitude that even François couldn’t keep up a hostile front. “You’re hungry to improve yourself. That’s a good trait for a garçon of your age . . . . It was the same with me.”

“Carême’s methods are so modern, it’s a privilege to learn technique from him. Tell me, do any of the big kitchens in France still use the all-night roux?”

François laughed. “No! They all use Carême’s fool-proof manner of making it, instantly, when needed.”

“Yes. He taught me, but still the sauce cooks here prepare roux to cook for twelve hours, then grab a spoonful or two to mix into stocks. But, in this case, the old way is not better.”

“Tell me why.” François was cagy, knowing but wanting to see if young Master Daniels could articulate it.

“It’s simple. The old roux is hard to control. She’s sometimes too dark; sometimes not thick enough; sometimes downright bitter and the sauce could be ruined before it’s even started. Carême’s roux gets rid of everything that could go wrong. It is in a word, Genius.”

François was impressed.

Suddenly, they became distracted. A noise, like hushed voices wrapped in travelling cloaks, invited both to gaze towards the open door.

In the hallway leading from the service entrance, Prince Leopold’s Private Secretary passed, heading for one of the behind-scenes staircases. He was turned and oblivious to his audience in the Pastry Larder because he spoke quietly – but insistently – to a pair of gaudy working girls. The three of them drifted out of sight and started to go upstairs, to the Royal Couple’s bedchambers.

The passing tableau had been all too obvious, especially in light of the fact the entire Pavilion knew Princess Charlotte was out for the evening.

François motioned for the young man to come over; he wanted to ask in a low tone: “Does Leopold always . . . amuse himself . . . in such fashion?”

A mischievous sparkle appeared in the teen’s gaze. “Well, to be perfectly honest, no. Sometimes there are two boys; others, a boy and a girl. The Prince Consort is, I’ve been told, shurly diverse in his tastes.”

François tut-tutted. “I doubt the heir-apparent would be very forgiving of her dear Leopold, the lowlife Bosche, if she knew.”

“Bosche?”

“Kraut; German; pickle-eater.”

Thomas laughed. “Ah, them!”

A new closeness had arisen between the two; shared laughter will do that.

The undercook returned to the old topic. “So you were the same age when you started training?”

“A little older. Both Carême and I began at fifteen.”

“At Bailly’s pastry shop for Carême.”

Astounded, François asked, “How would you know that?”

“Oh, I’ve read Le pâtissier royal parisien. Carême says Monsewer Bailly gave him his start.”

“Yes, that’s right. Apprenticed at fifteen, to one of Paris’ best confectioners, he began teaching himself right away.”

“And you, how did you come to be working with the master?”

“I was just another eager face; one of the cooks at the Élysée Palace.” François’ tone grew rounder with recall. “Carême, by that time a free-lance caterer, would come there regularly to make desserts, entremets and pièces montées. He . . . we . . . just noticed one another, if that makes sense.”

The younger man nodded gravely. He knew exactly the type of connection François was referring to. “Personally, I feel lucky. I was no one special. Just a lad from the streets, shure, but I went around to the back door of every posh house I could find.”

“Why?”

“I’d clean my face as best I could, stand there wringing my cap in my hands, and ask if they needed a boy to help out in the kitchens.”

“And?”

“And eventually, one took me in; a fancy establishment over on the Esplanade. After a few years there, they told me there was an opening at the Pavilion, and shure enough, here I am, the luckiest street kid in Brighton. I feel honoured as well.”

François merely nodded.

“And,” Thomas added with unexpected sincerity, “as lucky as I am to have a position in the Royal Household, I admire the position you have in Carême’s heart. You’re lucky too.”

No part of François could disagree.

There was an awkward “Ahem” from the doorway. The Kitchen Comptroller fidgeted like he was loath to interrupt, although peeved to be required at all to state his wishes. “Thomas, we should”—his head jerked vaguely down the corridor, to the steps of the servants’ quarters—“be . . . going.”

“Yes.” The boy inhaled deeply. “The Comptroller has some figures to go over with me.”

François tried not to smile, knowing the only figure on the moneyman’s mind was the lad’s.

“I’ll see you in the morning, monsieur Distré.” Thomas walked to the exit; the bean-counter having disappeared into the hallway.

“Good night, Thomas Daniels.” François cheekily adding “Sweet dreams,” although he knew the boy was not going to be allowed to sleep for several hours.

Alone now, the Frenchman stood upright and moved to a position to peer into the display cabinet.

He reflected on what he’d learned from this curious little scene. He’d gained confirmation of the power-mismatched relations between boy and functionary. And he’d learned, despite the maitre-d’s jealousy, he liked Thomas and found him beddable himself. The young man appealed too in that he was similar to François: they were both ambitious boys from the streets, trying to stay away from trouble. So he could not really resent the kid; Carême’s attraction to the boy on the other hand . . . .  Maybe that he could resent.

 

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Several minutes after the figure had alighted from the carriage in front of the Club, the scene in Kitchiner’s penthouse was a cozy one.

At the end of the large kitchen table closest to the ranges, Mrs. Lister stood with a handsome young man in his mid-twenties. Aproned, and although an apparent novice at his light-duty task, he chopped parsley and laughed freely with the caterer.

Also chatting thick as thieves, Mrs. Fitzherbert and Princess Charlotte worked well together at the other end of the table. They were laying out seven place settings for their informal supper, one at the end and three on each side flanking it.

The men had clambered down from their exterior perch, with Doctor Kitchiner’s lank frame leading the way. Once off the telescope platforms, he and Carême were just in time to greet the new arrival at the doors from the greenhouse.

“Good evening, Your Highness.” Kitchiner helped Prince George remove his indigo cape.

“Doctor, always a pleasure. And Carême, I’m glad you could slip away too.” He had said this like an inside joke, and the chef smiled in response.

Hearing his voice, the Regent’s wife and daughter came forward to greet him. They happily converged with cheek-kissing before the library steps. Kitchiner, ever a conscientious host, had arranged for a table to be waiting here with glasses and a bottle of white wine chilling on ice.

While the Prince and ladies chatted – and George set about his responsibility of opening up the wine – Kitchiner went into his curtained napping area to hang the regent’s cape with the other coats.

Carême followed and found the peculiar iron stove set up in this space was lit and pumping out a delightful amount of heat. The chef took a closer look, for there was something unique about the range section. It was round, and although only a small kettle steamed merrily on it now, there were four burners.

Kitchiner stepped near. “Ah, ha! I see you’ve spied my Rotary Galley Stove.”

“Rotary?” enquired Carême.

“Oh, yes!” The Doctor removed a handkerchief from his pocket and folded it over. Then he latched onto a crank Carême had failed to notice earlier. Kitchiner put his shoulder into it, and the round top began to move. A quarter of the way round, the kettle went off the boil. “Two burners are for cooking and two for warming. There are baking ovens around the side.” Kitchiner cranked the kettle back the other way, returning it onto the heat.

“How exceptional. How did you come to invent this?”

“Among my close acquaintances is Sir Joseph Banks. He accompanied Captain Cook on his first voyage, and Sir Joseph often regales dinner parties with tales from his adventures. However, his description of the inadequacies of British galleys, particularly their cooking arrangements, got me to thinking how I could improve life at sea. This is my solution: compact; lower consumer of fuel – and thus, efficient; convenient; and versatile. Many ships are now using them, much to my pleasure.”

“How extortionary, especially as I do not see stoves in England at all! Only smelly, cold-air producing fireplaces.”

“Ah, yes; here you hit upon a conundrum – the English lip-service to advancement and total shunning of anything practical but ‘Foreign’ in our collective consciousness.”

“I'm afraid, Doctor, I fail to follow—”

“Pardon, Chef. I meant the very concept of a fuel-efficient heating and cooking device strikes us as too damnably ‘European’ in nature, even though two Americans, Franklin and Rumford, have brought the technology to perfection. But”—Kitchiner laughed—“a Yank connection only makes the very word ‘stove’ taboo here. We’ll call it cooker; hob; hasenpfeffer; bob’s-your-uncle – anything to avoid the correct term already appropriated by them.”

“Cooking stoves are beginning to replace charcoal ranges in France.”

“And well they should. Because they vent directly to the outside, they are healthier to the cooks’ constitution.”

“Yes, that is true.”

Kitchiner began leading his guest and himself to re-join the others, concluding the conversation with a falsely chipper, “But not here, in either kitchen or parlour! We’d rather tell ourselves how ‘English’ it is to sit in the cold and damp, having all the heat from our Newcastle coals sucked through barn-door-sized voids in our walls. The alternative would be to install Franklin Stoves or Rumford Grates, and that very notion is forbiddingly alien.”

The good Doctor also conveniently omitted to inform his French friend, at least for the moment, how British coal-gluttony favoured him personally, as his family business – the one still quarterly stuffing the fortune his father amassed with fresh funds – was one of fuel brokerage.

The men joined the party around the little table. For, in the interim, George had opened and filled glasses – this time from a Portuguese vinho verde. He handed one glass each to the Chef and Doctor.

“A toast,” the Regent said, “to our most amiable host, William Kitchiner!”

A communal “Cheers!” got followed by unrestrained drinking, except by the Frenchman who only sipped.

As the Prince re-filled glasses, he commented, “Not much of a drinker, eh, Carême?”

“Oh, Pa-pa – you mention that every time.”

The ladies laughed.

By way of changing the subject, the Doctor interjected with a brightening voice, “Well, I think we will enjoy our little Autumn supper tonight. Perhaps you’ll even find it worthy of Horace’s supreme artlessness; that poet’s summary of a Complete Roman Meal as ab ovo usque ad mala – From the Eggs to the Apples!”

Everyone drank to that, wondering what it exactly entailed for the evening.

Mrs. Lister called them over to the kitchen table. “It’s ready.”

George grabbed the bottle, telling the woman, “And you, Good Lady Caterer, will eat with us. No excuses this time!”

She executed a blushing protest, but undid her apron at the same time.

Kitchiner strode up to the young man, saying, “Naturally, you too.” He then suggestively turned the fellow around and untied the apron himself. Kitchiner took him by the wrist, bringing him to the table, announcing, “For those of you yet to have the pleasure of meeting him, may I present one whom I’m proud to consider my acolyte, Philip Hardwick.”

Carême nodded at the Doctor’s protégé.

People began to settle, and the seating arrangement was informal: Kitchiner sat on one long side with the Prince to his right, and Hardwick on the other. Across from them sat Mrs. Fitzherbert, Carême, and Princess Charlotte. This left the seat at the table’s end open for Elizabeth Lister. From here she could pop up when the food preparations demanded her attention.

As George filled Hardwick’s glass, the first course arrived.

Mrs. Lister proudly placed a platter of devilled eggs on the table.

Carême examined the unusual arrangement, seeing hard-cooked egg whites split lengthwise and re-filled with a spicy looking yolk stuffing. It appeared quite pink from cayenne pepper to the chef’s eyes, even below the parsley Mr. Hardwick had just chopped for the topping.

The ladies helped themselves first, passing the plate to Carême. He took one and handed the tray to Philip with a smile.

As for the flavour, the chef was pleasantly surprised. He tasted sweet herbs like summer savoury and marjoram the yolks bound with butter, and perceived the heat and a dash of lemon zest to tie all together and brighten the taste.

Kitchiner had been watching. “Although these eggs are fresh, naturally, the procedure of ‘Devilling’ is useful for left-overs.”

“Devilled ham!” Prince George interjected.

“Yes, Your Highness,” said Carême. “We have a similar method in French cooking called rillette. It is primarily done with fish, but ham or game or anything can be treated in this fashion.”

Lost in her own thoughts, Mrs. Fitzherbert asked, “Is it true, my darling you are with child?”

Charlotte Augusta shot a glance at her father.

“Yes, dear. I told Fitzy,” the Prince admitted.

“Well, then – yes, it’s true. Leopold and I are very happy.”

“Congratulations!” went round the table.

“The very best of happy circumstances,” added Carême. “If you’ll permit me, I’ll create a special menu to aid in eliminating your morning sickness.”

“Why, thank you, Chef, that would be most appreciated.” Then the Princess turned enthusiastic. “And I wanted to tell you how much I admired your sugar work centrepiece today at dinner.”

“My pièce montée?”

“Yes. It was delightful, and so capital in its originality a rustic log cabin church to entirely contrast with the ‘Oriental’ flare of the Banqueting Room.” Then she asked her father, “Don’t you agree?”

The man was non-committal; silent.

Carême felt crestfallen. After all, it was only his Royal patron and employer’s opinion that was supposed to matter to an artist, right?

Charlotte – mildly miffed – directed her attention to Fitzy. “Well, I wish you could have seen it. It was frightfully marvellous.”

In a moment, it was clear Charlotte regretted saying this.

Carême studied the suddenly pained expression of Maria Anne Fitzherbert’s face and comprehended something profound. Sad notes like an arpeggio lingered in the air, because the Prince’s beloved wife was blocked by societal prejudices from ever setting foot in her husband’s home.

It started to rain outside. Large drops pelted the roof over their heads and the panes of glass to their sides.

He realized Royals were like caged animals when it came to their public lives, and how much moments like these this private supper meant to them. This perhaps applied to Kitchiner and his shy-but-handsome London friend as well.

The Doctor caught Carême eyeing his young man. “I don’t think I mentioned it, but Master Hardwick is a promising young architect in Town. At only twenty-four, he’s already secured some important commissions.”

“How interesting.” George stood and moved off to the Welsh dresser to open another bottle of wine – a burgundy this time.

“And,” Kitchiner announced, “Hardwick, Lister and myself all reside in the same neighbourhood.”

“Where?” enquired Charlotte.

“At the north-west edge – Fitzrovia.”

“Oh, very chic,” cooed the Prince’s wife.

“We like it,” replied Kitchiner. “Our backs may be up against farm field and forest, but it’s worth it not to have too many long-nosed neighbours monitoring our comings and goings.”

“Isn’t it round the corner,” asked Mrs. Fitzherbert, “from Russell Square?”

“Yes, indeed,” replied Kitchiner. “In fact, that is where Master Hardwick resides. I’m west of there on Warren Street, closer to the Royal Hunting Preserve of Marylebone. Its southern edge at least, as it’s massive. Mrs. Lister is west of me by a few blocks.”

“London,” Philip chimed, “is growing in all directions, unchecked like a weed.”

George uncorked his selection and returned leisurely to the table to pour.

“Yes,” Mrs. Lister agreed. “Growing like a ramble of a bramble of unorganized weeds.”

“What’s required,” said Hardwick with conviction, “is a Master Plan of major boulevards, public squares, and parks with open land. If the ‘bones’ of the city are healthy, then the neighbourhoods can infill later to everyone’s benefit.”

The Prince, listening in without comment, was suddenly struck by the soundness of the idea. A central London Plan; the huge potential income to be made if the old Hunting Preserve were developed into its own residential and commercial area – and all on rent-bearing Royal land. Yes, he’d have to think how best to implement such a large-scale redesign of London’s north-west quadrant. Considered in another way, it was his chance to make his permanent mark and leave London far better than the way he’d found it.

Seeing all the egg halves gone, Doctor Kitchiner jumped to his feet. “What say you, Carême? Shall you and I fry the sole and give Mrs. Lister a chance to catch up on gossip?”

“Oh, pshaw!” Mrs. Lister sputtered, but made no effort to move from her seat.

“Oui,” said Carême, rising. “Let us cook, Doctor.”

The two men went to a pitcher and bowl to wash up. With sleeves pulled high, Kitchiner asked, “Enjoying your time away from the Pavilion?”

“Always, Doctor. As ever, you host delightful gatherings.”

They dried hands and drifted to the range.

“I’m glad, Carême. I’m getting serious too about my book. Lister and I are holding our Committee of Taste nights once a week. The ‘approved’ dishes and their procedures are piling up.”

Laid on the prep table were the things they needed. Wordlessly, Doctor Kitchiner saw to the coal, reviving their vigour with a few well-placed puffs of air. Once rekindled, he set an oblong griddle above the grate to heat up.

Carême took three sheets of parchment paper. Checking them against the size of the matching number of sole fillets, the chef folded them in half. Then, with breath-taking ease, he used a waiting chef’s knife to cut a half-heart shape. The excess paper fell away, and Carême opened up three apparent valentines of substantial size. “Butter these for me, good Doctor.”

While Kitchiner set about his task, and Carême seasoned the fish on both sides with salt and pepper, the Doctor said, “With the Autumn harvest in, meagre as it is, it’s nice to relax and cook avec la famille in this manner.”

“I’m glad,” said Carême. “You do my heart good, and, if I may be allowed, perhaps you will find chez-famille the more familiar form, Doctor.”

The man smiled. “Good to know.”

As they were buttered, Carême took the paper and laid half of the heart flat on the table. He placed the seasoned sole down the centre of this section, and moistened the edges with a brush dipped in egg-wash. Then he folded the other half over the top to join the cut edges together, which he crimped with his fingers from bottom to top.

Carême had finished encasing the second sole en papillote.

Kitchiner grew animated. “Oh, oh – Chef! I almost forgot the dressing. I’ll finish wrapping and get these on the griddle with lots of oil. In the meantime, you go to my Sauce Kitchen and find the nearly full bottle on the shelf called ‘Wow-Wow!’ We’ll have that with the fish.”

Carême, drying his hand on a towel, did as instructed. When he got to the Doctor’s concoction testing grounds, he scanned the line of prepared and carefully labelled bottles. Sure enough, one had bold red letters spelling ‘WOW-WOW.’ Carême glanced over his shoulder. The other guests, and the Doctor too, were oblivious to the chef’s activities, so he un-corked the bottle and sniffed. A faintly herbaceous note first greeted his nose. Basil, if he had to guess. Stronger, meatier elements were second, like beef stock and anchovy paste. And lastly, tangier notes from shallots and white wine vinegar.

Re-corking it, he thought it reminded him of some of the steak-sauce recipes surviving from Roman times in Apicius.

Several minutes later, all were back at the table with three steaming-hot sole packages on a platter.

Kitchiner did the honours, opening the paper parcels with a pair of forks as he served every guest a healthy portion of fish.

Carême, looking down on his own plate, enjoyed the prospects. The fish was done to a tee, and the buttered wax beans with chervil made an inspired pairing for it.

The un-corked ‘Wow-Wow’ made the rounds, and the Frenchman dutifully glugged a portion near his fish. To his surprise, he could see chunky elements were also present.

Glancing at Kitchiner, the Doctor read his mind. “Chopped pickled walnuts.”

Everybody dug in, and Kitchiner watched discreetly for Carême’s facial expression. As it soured upon first taste of his bottled preparation, the Doctor wondered if he should have served lemon wedges instead.

For the chef’s part, the ‘Wow-Wow’s flavour was not wholly unpleasant, but his senses reeled at the inordinate amount of salt present. He thought if ‘ready-made’ condiments of the future were going to be this injurious to health, they should never come to market. They needed the salty preservatives to be ‘shelf stable.’

While they ate, Kitchiner directed the focus to Mrs. Lister. “As caterer to all the Capital’s best and brightest, you must, madame Lister, regale us with one of your experiences.”

The woman’s lips sputtered. “Here, and now?”

“Do, Mrs. Lister,” encouraged the Prince’s wife.

“Well, there was one”Elizabeth Lister dabbed with her napkin“the present company may find amusing. It seems a Lord So-and-So, a top Whitehall bigwig, had a problem. A new lover with a six-thousand Pound a year income, and an ‘old’ wife of twenty-nine at home. He needed divorce testimony—”

“How jolly rotten,” exclaimed the Princess.

“—So he hired me to arrange for a dinner to which he invited his Lordly Peers, his wife’s paramour, and from which he excused himself, last-minute, for reasons of ‘urgent business’.”

“It’s getting good,” Kitchiner said, rubbing his hands together.

“So he told my staff and I to keep eyes and ears open for untoward behaviour, but had decided to take no chances and paid off the wife’s lover with both cash and threats of ruin to make scandalous overtures on the Lady in front of all, which he did. Sadly, in this society, it’s not the one acting the cad who comes in for criminal rebuke in the courts, but the woman who’s the object and victim of his obscene advances. Anyway, Milord So-and-So got his wish the entirety of his wife’s fortune in the divorce, and a pretty young thing whose fortune he’s next devising to abscond with.”

The effect on the table was bifurcated: the men – excluding Carême – gushed with laughter for the ‘charming’ anecdote they thought it was, and the women shifted uncomfortably on their seats. Theirs was an unease unable to seek relief.

It suddenly dawned on poor Elizabeth how much her company was spent in the presence of men. She had no desire to upset the ladies.

“Well,” the caterer added in a more sober vein, “I only agreed to participate for the other intelligence I could glean . . . . ” She stopped, using her napkin to deflect the fact she’d said too much.

“There are others tales to tell . . . ” Kitchiner’s chin was rubbed. “Ah, perhaps that adventure you had with the cash-poor young man—”

“The Heiress-Hunter?”

“Yes. That story’s delightful.”

Mrs. Lister chuckled. “The Doctor is referring to a case I had a few years back. There was a young blade who bet all of his dwindling family fortune on a single dinner. He did indeed invite his intended heiress, but he hedged his odds by summoning two other wealthy widows as well. I had to accommodate three tables in three differing salons, while the flushed young rake progressed from course to course – room to room – three times over.”

The Regent, giddy with anticipation and Burgundy, asked, “And did he snare his quarry?”

“Not once, but twice!” Mrs. Lister laughed. “By the time the cask of dessert wine was burst into, he had a pair of proposals from which to pick and choose.”

Everyone smiled on hearing the outcome.

Doctor Kitchiner said, “Three times over, I know the food served was the best. Mrs. Lister is a student of all the glories of Britain’s cookery past.”

“Well, if so,” the caterer demurred, “it’s because I have borrowed much from your store of knowledge.”

The Doctor was gratified. “I do try to live up to my name.”

“And what does it mean, old boy?” enquired the Prince.

“Simple, Your Highness. In the days of William the Conqueror, the official Royal taster and personal cook to the crowned head was a noble relative titled as Magnus Coquus, which, re-rendered in good old Anglo-Saxon, became Master Kitchiner.”

“Very informative,” Carême said.

“Yes, but as I’ve mentioned before, if I could have my druthers, young English cooks would receive as complete a background education in English cookery as young French chefs trained in your historical cuisine.”

“How so?” asked Mrs. Fitzherbert.

Hail began hitting the roof and glass.

“For example, Richard Cury, Master Kitchiner to King Richard II in the 1300s, and Robert May, cook to Charles II’s men in the 1600s, both left invaluable cookbooks behind. Cury’s contains the world’s oldest surviving instructions to make ravioli; and May’s, the first brawn – that staple of British breakfasts now. And these two momentous figures in our National cuisine are unknown to the young student-cooks of these lands. How entirely different it is with our neighbours across the Channel. There, a healthy appreciation of the past is what young French chefs have that ours don’t. One does not need to invent the wheel afresh with every guffawing generation.”

The Regent chuckled darkly. “Sometimes I wish my Foreign Ministers would re-invent the diplomatic wheel. If so, we may not have to cycle in and out of constant crises, the only solution for which they propose is another state of endless war.”

The Prince may have laughed at them, but the prospects of ‘the next war’ being only around the corner upset the remainder of the guests. It was particularly disturbing to Charlotte, as she’d eventually have the ponderous burdens of Empire crowned on her head.

Mrs. Lister suddenly exclaimed, glancing at the wall clock, “Oh, I nearly forgot!”

She bounded to her feet and called for Philip’s assistance. The young man removed the wooden cover from the top beehive oven, and Lister used a peel to pull out a gallon-sized iron mould.

All gathered around to see how the contents would ‘turn out’ as the caterer lifted the shallow, careful-fitting lid. Good smells greeted them, and the woman placed a flat plate over the top and inverted dessert and plate together. She set the serving dish on the table and slowly lifted the mould. A golden-brown Apple Charlotte awaited.

Everyone’s seat was re-taken; everyone’s glass was re-filled; and everyone tried to tune out the violence of the storm raging outside.

The dessert – with a sauceboat of crème anglaise by its side – was before them. But before he did the honours of cutting into it, Kitchiner lifted his glass for a toast.

The Doctor gestured to Charlotte and her unborn baby. “From these dark days, we send our hope out for the brightest possible future. Here’s to Her Royal Highness, Princess Charlotte Augusta of Wales – a very long life to thee!”

“Hear; hear” went round the table as everyone but she drank to her health.

 

+ + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + +

 

Carême wore the weight of the day’s heavy obligation on his shoulders. These slumped now, late at night, as he sat at his desk by the window, writing a coded report to Talleyrand.

The lit lamp seemed to be his only companion, and he found himself pausing, simply staring into the sputtering flame.

He considered how an hour ago, one of the Club’s discreet black carriages had dropped Carême off at the ‘back door’ of the Pavilion, just to the side of the south-end gate.

He considered how dark the rest of the chamber was outside the pool of lamplight. He was tired, for in retrospect, the day had been a parade of one long hour of him being on display followed by another. Here, at this time of night, he could gather his thoughts and be alone with his own company; but he could not enjoy it.

Instead, he was being forced to scrutinize everything he might potentially relay to the Grand Chamberlain.

He set his pen down, rubbing his eyes.

How much of George’s private life – of the Regent’s and Kitchiner’s trust of him – should he betray.

The chef leapt to his feet, having decided to destroy this ‘evidence.’ He took the lower corner of the missive, lifted it off the desk and held it to the flame. Once it caught, the chef carefully walked the burning parchment over to his fireplace.

Bending down and resting on his haunches, he tossed the letter in, eyes now aglow with the relieving sight of its destruction. Assuring himself it would be totally consumed, comfort came to Carême as he knew he’d have to start anew.

While down here, he grabbed a stick of waiting kindling from a tin holder attached to the fireplace surround and caught it alight in the flames.

He stood and lit the candles on the mantle, suddenly not wanting his environment to be as dark as before.

Carême’s timing was significant, for just at that moment, tapping sounded gently upon their interconnecting door, and François let himself in. He closed the door with the utmost care and walked over to the chef.

The men kissed briefly, François holding the other’s eyes as he said, “At least it’s stopped raining.”

“Yes”—Carême’s tone was still absorbed in thoughts of being guarded—“for the moment, it has.”

“This time last year was worse. Damp and the earliest frost ever – half the Autumn harvest lost.” The maitre-d’ became lost in forced memory-recall. “And worst – our hero had been captured again.” A bit of his angry nationalism slipped out. “And now times are so uncertain because of it. Things regress instead of moving onward like they should.”

Internally, Carême again lamented his partner was such a child of the Terror. The young man tended, as did his whole generation, to see things as black and white. “At best, François, Napoléon was a flawed leader. He was not ‘all good,’ just as Louis XVI had not been ‘all bad.’ I blame the Revolution, for where the greatest potential is released, so too is the chance for the greatest chaos.”

François remained moody and silent, glancing towards the window.

Carême tried to lift François’ burdens – give him something to look forward to – brighten his spirits. “Cheer up, for soon we’ll start our preparations for Christmas, and we won’t have any time to brood on the past.”

François attempted to be less dour for his mate, but the mention of Christmas was fraught with its own unanticipated reactions. These complex sentiments too were coloured by the dark times in which the young man had matured. “I’ve never felt close to la fête de Noël. You have to remember, for part of my upbringing, it was still outlawed in France. Anyone caught – or ratted out by neighbours – celebrating it were arrested and tortured to name co-conspirators for their ‘crime’.”

“I’m sorry, François. You are right to remind me of this.”

“Anyway, my point is, that now as an adult with pressing responsibilities, I’m not sure how I feel about honouring it. As holidays go, these days, Christmas seems to be only for those who can afford it.”

Carême was caught between an impulse to tut-tut the notion, and a more carefully considered repetition of ‘I’m sorry.’ Instead, he said softly, “One gets out of Christmas what one puts into it.”

The chef’s words were sufficiently open to interpretation for François to let the topic drop. “And how was your evening; your supper with the strange doctor at his club?”

François had tried not to sound confrontational, but Carême sighed anyway.

“It was, you know, tiring. Exhausting mentally English concerns; English food; English thoughts; English manners and conversation.” The thirty-two-year-old lifted his arms and drew François into an embrace. “I feel the loneliest when removed from, and deprived of, the genie’s spark of our native language.”

François held the man’s eyes. “You have me to talk to.”

“Yes, Villon. This is what I mean. It’s such a relief to be back in your arms, both physically and via the warmth of our shared tongue.”

François smiled at Carême’s – admittedly – coarse joke.

The two men kissed, exploring the connection just alluded to.

As his partner was still smiling once they’d separated, the chef ill-advisedly tried to continue the joking. He caressed the hair near François’ ear, teasing, “And how was your evening of skirt-chasing. Bag yourself any?”

François stiffened and backed out of Carême’s embrace.

The man said nothing, but the column of blushing overtaking François’ neck enflamed the chef’s passions. He strode up manfully and started kissing the reddening area, causing François to let his eyes half-close towards the ceiling and moan in desire. With the young man’s neck craning back like that, Carême turned his boy’s head and continued on the other side.

As his partner’s lips shifted to pet his throat and upper chest, François’  hands moved helplessly to stroke Carême’s arms. He mumbled through the fog of pleasure, “You know my dalliances with women are just that – dalliances.” He took Carême by the cheeks to hold his man’s gaze. “It’s you I love, you who keeps me safe in a hostile world”—the young man was near tears—“you who give me hope for the future—”

François could say no more, for Carême had stopped up his words with a passionate kiss.

They groaned in one another’s mouths and intensified their lovemaking.

“And I protect you as well,” François forced through his ever-increasing breaths.

Carême, apparently not hearing, walked the boy backwards, lifting off François’ nightshirt and caressing the freshly exposed flesh underneath.

He lay him face down on the bed.

Far from helpless, François extended his hands from where he was set and undid Carême’s trouser buttons. The chef lifted off his own shirt.

In another moment, the chef had kicked off his lower garments and smiled to feel François’ fingers drawing him back in close. They gripped and released – teased and cajoled – Carême’s upper thighs and backside, pulling him ever nearer to the young man’s lips.

He took him in his mouth, and now it was Carême’s turn to moan in pleasure and look to the sky. François was expert at loving him in this way, and the chef’s stiffness only grew more resolute; more insistent.

Glancing down, he placed his fingers within François’ hair and guided the boy to take him ever deeper. As he did, the chef’s only reaction was to pulsate with spasms of extra hardness down his partner’s throat. The lover was earning the sweet reward deposited there each time his calling went above and beyond.

“Oh, Villon . . . . Oh—”

The boy substituted his fingers for his tongue, stroking Carême’s member with maddening gentleness as he changed positions.

Seeing his partner on his back – his moistened lips mumbling “Please” – increased Carême’s enjoyment as he knelt on the bed and lifted François’ legs.

Gathering spit from his mouth, Carême applied it to François’ waiting portal, which was already trembling with intermittent waves of excitement, and gently worked it in.

François moaned, gripping his lover’s lower arms; his eyes letting Carême know it was all right.

Another dab of moisture applied to the end of Carême’s member, and the chef expertly positioned it by feel against François’ passage. He applied a little pressure, quite literally putting his back into it, and waited for François’ response.

The boy tightened his hold on his partner’s lower arms, but his threshold helplessly relaxed to his belovèd’s assault and let him in.

Carême didn’t relent once admitted and sank all the way, thrilling all the more to watch François’ eyes grow wide; his jaw slacken to an open-mouthed muffle of exhilaration.

He loved François. Loved him immensely.

As the younger man’s hands slid down and took up positions behind Carême’s thighs again, Carême pulled partially out and established a rhythm. At the same time, he took hold of François’ erection and joined the pair of motions as one.

This lovemaking was not destined to last long, as both men entered it with heightened emotions – and as Carême drew closer and closer to release, François took over the management of his own need.

This freed up Carême to use both hands, and he leaned over, casting the boy’s legs over his shoulders, going deeper and longer.

“Villon . . . Villon—”

“I’m . . . I’m . . . too.”

In rapturous agony, François shot ropes of liquid snow upon his belly, upon his abdomen, upon his upper chest and throat.

“Oh, Villon!”

The chef did not withdraw, as neither man wanted that, and he orgasmed deep where he belonged, collapsing on his lover and feeling his boy’s fingertips glide atop the layer of perspiration covering his back.

Several minutes later, and after their clean-up, their post-climax glow and conversation upon the top of the bed led to François’ inevitable sleepiness. As his partner drifted asleep in his arms, Carême finally let the import of François’ final statement before their lovemaking settle in.

Once the younger man was heavy with total sleep, Carême kissed his forehead and gently maneuvered out of bed.

The chef had to get back to his intelligence report, but did so guiltily and wondering if his work would ever be done.

The man sat, pulled close a piece of paper, even bothering to pick up a pen. However, all he did was stare out the window, up to the illuminated clock on top of the Pavilion’s water tower.

 

 

_

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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AC Benus

Posted (edited)

21 hours ago, Parker Owens said:

Such a convivial meal at the club: how important to the Regent it must have been to let his hair down and relax. It is, as Careme reflects, as if the royals can be released from (or at least be unaware of) their cages. Francois and Careme are most wonderfully matched. Your end-of-chapter scene was excellent. 

Thank you, @Parker Owens. There was a small, sequential build-up to this fully fleshed scene of intimacy. It does not appear until page 95 of the book, but I think it's just right: we now know the men; we can now feel the love between them. (In contrast, this type of scene comes at the end of chapter 2 in Mojo. I was never really happy with it there, although it serves its function to develop the basic natures of Gordon and Kohl, but as the book centers on the main character's "loss of prowess," it had to come early. In this way, when they make love again in the final chapter of the novel, it's more special than it would have been :) ) 

Thanks again for reading and commenting!  

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AC Benus

Posted (edited)

19 hours ago, drsawzall said:

What a fantastic chapter, rich in so many details, nuances, and observations. Much to ponder over as we get much deeper into the story...

I thought the following helped to set the tone for this chapter..

“I know what you mean.” Carême tried not to think of François. “The world we are making every second of the day will contribute to the success or undermine the conditions later generations will find it in. One personal triumph, or one intimate tragedy can, like Tambora, affect the possible outcomes for all.”

The Doctor nodded slowly. “To be aware, Chef – to be conscious of our power – is a gift and burden to the thinking person. I agree.”

Thank you, @drsawzall! The section you quote is something I feel strongly about. Perhaps the world would be -- somehow I know it would be -- a better place if people thought of their actions' impact on future times. Right now, because of Russia's warring in Ukraine, we're drilling and burning more fossilized fuels than ever, with apparently little to no discussion on the last 50 years of wasted time in implementing their replacements. In fact it's been exactly 42 years since Ronald Reagan torn down the White House's solar panels . . . No wonder youth today feel such despair.

Sorry for the ramble, and thanks again!

Edited by AC Benus
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19 hours ago, 84Mags said:

Once again, the multi-sensory use of weather intensified each corresponding scene. At the Club with the large drops of pelting rain turning to hail hitting the roof and glass, conversations swirled with no thought to anyone being in attendance who might betray trust. Later, after Careme made the very important decision to destroy and re-write his intelligence report, Francois brought news of the rain ending. The resulting, beautifully captured, lovemaking scene felt like a respite from a storm. 

 

Thank you, @84Mags, for a beautiful set of comments. Storms do seem to rage around us most of the time, but how much do we ever really pay attention to them -- unless we are actually caught out in them. As for the central couple of the novel, like most male or female couples in history, they have focused on building an interior world all their own. They have to be there for each other, no matter what.

Thanks again for reading and sharing your thoughts!

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18 hours ago, Lyssa said:

Great chapter. I loved the scene between Thomas and François. There seems to be a connection established.

Oh, yes, @Lyssa, the boys have been through a lot together. Tens years of a relationship will do that, and they have basically only each other in the strange world of Brighton they find themselves in. Thanks for reading and commenting!   

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19 hours ago, frosenblum said:

What an enjoyable story you are telling. It's more intriguing with each chapter. I wonder what the "mystery" will be.

Thank you, @frosenblum! Perhaps this is as good a place as any to mention the structure of the book. It's seasonal, and Part 1 was Summer 1816 with four chapters. This is Part 2, Autumn, with only two chapters.

What's coming up next is a return to four chapters, this time centered on Christmas of '16. Some unusual things are afoot for this usually most jolly time of the year. Please stay tuned ;)

Thanks again!

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16 hours ago, Theo Wahls said:

Careme seems to carry the weight of his world with him all the time. Between Tallyrand's threats and Francois' insecurities exhaustion could set in. There does seem to hope with the talk about cookbooks and restaurants. 

Love your Storie.😘

Thank you, @Theo Wahls! Our master chef could very well become exhausted, and unfortunately, end of autumn means the household staff must begin laying in stores for the upcoming Royal Family Christmas at the Pavilion. Everyone will be there! And who knows what could happen . . . ;)

Thanks again!  

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10 hours ago, chris191070 said:

Awesome chapter.

Thank you, @chris191070! You are always the first one to read these chapters -- in fact, anything I post -- and I want to acknowledge how much I appreciate it. A million hearts to you! 

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Another really interesting chapter, we learn so much about all the characters, especially young Thomas, Doctor Kitchiner and, of course, our main couple.

The dinners at the Club seem to be useful and maybe even fun for Careme, but he also tells Francois how they exhaust him since they're all about English food/language/tradition... Both of them must be already itching to return to their homeland, but Careme has a duty to fulfil. 

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36 minutes ago, ObicanDecko said:

Another really interesting chapter, we learn so much about all the characters, especially young Thomas, Doctor Kitchiner and, of course, our main couple.

The dinners at the Club seem to be useful and maybe even fun for Careme, but he also tells Francois how they exhaust him since they're all about English food/language/tradition... Both of them must be already itching to return to their homeland, but Careme has a duty to fulfil. 

Thank you, ObicanDecko, for another set of great comments. There is a certain fatigue that can set in for an expatriot living abroad, even if they know the language. I wanted to incorporate that in this book, and while it seems Kitchiner offers a place where the chef can let his hair down, how much can Carême really do that? Often he is still sitting at the table with his royal patron, so he must stay in control of himself. 

Thanks once more for your tremendous support. New chapter posts tomorrow!

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A beautifully written chapter.  The discussions and interactions of the characters feel natural.  Françios and Thomas are discovering many things they have in common.  Kitchiner introduces yet another person of influence in Philip Hardwick a renowned architect from a family of architects who changed the look of London.  The toast to Princess Charlotte was ironic considering how she died.  Finally, it seems as though Carême is having second thoughts about his mission.  He now feels the need to protect his English friends.   

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20 hours ago, raven1 said:

A beautifully written chapter.  The discussions and interactions of the characters feel natural.  Françios and Thomas are discovering many things they have in common.  Kitchiner introduces yet another person of influence in Philip Hardwick a renowned architect from a family of architects who changed the look of London.  The toast to Princess Charlotte was ironic considering how she died.  Finally, it seems as though Carême is having second thoughts about his mission.  He now feels the need to protect his English friends.   

Thank you, raven1. Yes, the offering up of cheer at the end of this chapter is ironic. But I like to wonder how around us at this time equally unsettling moments are unfolding, only no one knows it yet. For example, few in January of this year, 2022, really believed Putin was going to unleash death-sentences on tens of thousands of innocent civilians -- and for what? Where were the moments when these people in January raised a glass to hope, only not knowing there was none to be granted to them. 

In this element, I feel I should acknowledge somewhere in writing my obligation to and love of the writings of Thomas Mann. He has informed much of what I've chosen to write about  

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