THE GREAT FEAST
Lady Aspen was ‘at home’ in her London residence in Maida Vale when she received an invitation to attend her brother, the Earl of Abington’s birthday soiree. The Earl was known to enjoy the complexities of the grape and having a large personal income he could indulge his whims and fancies. He was considered to be the most eligible man in Northamptonshire yet he was a confirmed bachelor and he was known to keep several fingers in several pies, so to speak. Lady Aspen had never really felt close to her younger sibling yet she felt it her duty to attend. On Lord Aspen’s arrival the news was met with roars of approval for he well knew that her Ladyship’s parents, the Duke and Duchess of Northamptonshire were well known for laying on a ‘good spread’, and not only in that fair county, but several others to boot! And so an acceptance was swiftly dispatched.
Before their departure, his Lordship made special preparations to see that all his affairs were in order. The luggage was packed and on the night of December eighteenth, Lord and Lady Aspen took a train bound for Northampton, and then a cab to the home of the Duke and Duchess. They were received with much conviviality and after a light supper his Lord and Ladyship retired to bed.
The following day, Lord and Lady Aspen were late downstairs and it wasn’t long before the Earl arrived with his companion the archdeacon. The Earl was in good spirits for his twenty-eighth birthday and sported a fine beard for the occasion. He was attired in his best hunting tweed when he turned to greet Lady Aspen:
‘Ah, sister dearest, too long hath the hare been kept from the hound!’
‘My sentiments entirely Earl’, said Lord Aspen, ‘one should always let the dog see the rabbit!’
‘Indeed sir!’ said the archdeacon, giving a stiff bow. ‘And how is London?’
‘Frightful!’ Lord Aspen said, shaking his head and gazing upon the archdeacon as if he were some specimen in a jar; as if he were the sole representative of the English Church, come to ask forgiveness only to be trodden on as some small thing that moves on its stomach in the form of a wretched man!’
‘Lamb to the slaughter!’ Lord Aspen said under his breath.
‘Getting acquainted are we? That’s the ticket’ the Earl said, fondling his great beard.
At that moment the Duke entered, and wearing the ornate crest of the McDumplings, as the official head of that clan, sat in the armchair and played upon his tin whistle, some sad and sentimental air. The Duchess swept into the drawing room to declare that a carriage had been called for and that it would arrive shortly.
During the journey, the archdeacon took to pulling his hair out, one by one, as a distraction to his thoughts; in fact he had abstained from all forms of mental gymnastics for several weeks in preparation for the great feast of his beloved friend the bearded Earl.
The carriage halted at a distinguished hostelry known as the White Hope in Great Houghton, and the inviting warm glow inside was very much welcomed on that cold night. After drinks were arranged the party sat to table and prepared themselves for what they were about to receive. The archdeacon made a circuit around the table blessing the cutlery before slumping back into his chair, almost waking the Earl who by this time had retired into his beard.
‘I heard today dear,’ said Lady Aspen to her husband, ‘that Mister Walter shall be returning to Brighton for his wintering. You know how he detests the whole Christmas palaver!’
‘And who is this Walter?’ enquired the Duchess, who couldn’t help but overhear.
‘He’s an acquaintance we met on Brighton Pier, mother’, answered Lady Aspen.
‘How intriguing!’ said a quizzical Duchess.
‘Damned inconsiderate if you ask me!’ said Lord Aspen.
‘Indeed it is my dear. I don’t know why we don’t all just give up this Christmas thingy-lark and all go pagan, it makes more sense and seems more believable than some rotter returning from the dead!’ and Lady Aspen smiled at her husband. Lord Aspen glanced over to the archdeacon, who like the English Church, couldn’t help but try to stifle the truth, and had been coughing furiously to try to smother the conversation, but Lady Aspen just spoke louder and louder until the archdeacon coughed so much he actually choked on his own reverence! He was slapped on the back by the Duke and Lord Aspen laughed.
‘But you know,’ continued Lord Aspen, ‘it absolutely won’t do because we would all still sit there watching The Wizard of Oz and worshipping at the shoes of Dorothy!’ Lord Aspen waited for the bomb to drop as he knew full well his wife’s aversion to all things Judy Garland.
‘Never!’ shouted Lady Aspen, (bang went the bomb!) I can’t abide that bloody awful Judy Garland, never could and never will!’
‘You heathen!’ screeched Lord Aspen.
‘She’s the reason priests become paedophiles you know!’ laughed Lady Aspen.
‘Nonsense! It’s madness! I’ll go further, it’s complete madness!’ said a bewildered Lord Aspen.
‘It’s absolute madness!’ intoned Lady Aspen.
‘It’s utter madness!’ said a wide-eyed Lordship.
‘It’s utter utter madness! Said her Ladyship, and they both laughed. Lord Aspen gazed at his wife for some time throughout the evening at intervals and thought what a splendid, wonderful and beautiful woman she is and how lucky he is to have found her. She is his everything; his world!
‘May I take your orders?’ said a young serving girl.
‘Yes’, said Lord Aspen, ‘I have a yearning for the taste of swan flesh’, and he snapped his fingers. ‘I’m sorry, I can’t do that sir’, the serving girl said shyly.
‘Nonsense!’ said his Lordship, ‘the Duke’s paying… he’s good for it! He has pots and pots you know!’
‘I’m sorry sir but it’s illegal to consume swan and not be the Queen, they are…’
‘Young lady’, interrupted Lord Aspen, ‘I care not for the law!’ and he snapped his fingers once more. Just then the Duchess spoke:
‘What! No boar! What sort of establishment is this?’
‘There is no boar madam’, exclaimed the serving girl.
‘No boar!’ said the Duchess in her best Lady Bracknell. ‘I’ve never heard of such a thing… Oh this definitely won’t do! Sir Roger, let us find a more enlightened venue for our dining. Don’t serve boar indeed! The very idea!’
‘We’re here now’ said the Duke, ‘let’s make the best of it. I could eat a horse!’
‘You may have to! The Duchess declared, her eyes fixed on the serving girl like a cobra.
‘Steak! Rare!’ shouted the Earl, already on his sixth pint of very strong ale, before snoozing back into his beard.
‘Hoorah!’ roared the Duke, throwing a fistful of pound coins at the serving girl. ‘That! To your butcher madam!’
‘Such breeding! I am truly amongst the elite! Sighed the archdeacon.
‘I find my palette has been sullied with your swan obstacles’, said Lord Aspen to the serving girl. ‘What meats have you on the menu?’
‘We have steak, pork and gammon, chicken, lamb…’
‘Yes, yes that will do’ said a tired Lord Aspen, snapping his fingers.
‘Which one sir?’ inquired the serving girl.
‘All, my good man! All!’ laughed Lord Aspen, ‘oh and throw some sausages with that, and an egg or two, some peas, mushrooms and er oh yes, some chips!’
And so a hearty feast indeed was produced and consumed in these joyous surroundings. The Earl (whom Lord Aspen affectionately referred to as ‘the beast of Bodmin Moor’) was slumped within his own beard, having that very day partaken of a magical root, and thus, not a morsal more could he prize between his lips. The great beard seemed uneasy, and knew not its North from its South, or indeed its East from its West, and so seemed to run in all directions as if looking for the ‘way out’.
Just then a great stink arose from beneath the table, and thinking something had half escaped its inevitable end in the kitchen, a quick search ensued. In no time at all, the perpetrator was found to be the Earl’s feet. Just then the Duke in great surprise shouted:
‘Fiddlesticks! ‘tis only the pong of aristocracy sir!’ addressing the archdeacon, who by this time was on his fourth glass of sweet sherry.
‘Mind not the feet of the Earl’, said the Duchess, ‘it’s just that every once and a while his Royal appendages get the distinct urge to roam, and make haste ‘twixt sock and shoe leather, but to no avail…’tis but a folly!’
Just then, the archdeacon, dispensing with the formalities, stood up and took his manhood outside his trouser and proceeded to fondle his organ saying ‘I make no bones about it sir!’ There quickly gathered a crowd around the archdeacon, gasping and gawping in wonder and disgust.
‘Poor boy!’ shouted the Duke, ‘I fear the beef was too rich for his delicate palette!’ and the archdeacon was quickly dragged into a small room to recover himself. Lord Aspen yawned; he was used to the English Church making an arse of its self.
‘Tally Ho!’ shouted the Duke, as he spat a rotten tooth into the silver tray where he had left a pound coin tip for the serving girl. ‘Make no mistake about it sirs, I pull them out myself! I won’t feed those bastard dentists!’