Piece Of Cake

Entry by: sybilla.anne

25th September 2015
Piece of Cake

The Director of the Auction House thrust his hands into a pair of white gloves and took a deep breath. He steadied himself, and then, very delicately pulled undone a once-white ribbon tied in a scrambled knot on top of a small box.
"The ribbon," he said, "isn't, of course, contemporary. It's simply a convenience to secure the box-lid. It's probably been replaced several times. I expect this one dates from the fifties."
The assembled company held its collective breath as the Director began, with elaborate care and gentleness, to remove the lid. You could have heard a pin drop ...

Something over a hundred and fifty years before, there had been a baby prince waiting to be baptised. He lay in the middle of his royal Mama's silk-swathed bed on a thick cream-coloured rug, woven in Wales, to protect her precious brocaded bedcover from baby-damage. He looked around him with interest, a little puzzled that every time he turned his head the lace-edged rim of his slippery satin bonnet obscured his view. He was dressed in a pin-tucked, embroidered, appliqued, and gathered ancestral christening robe whose skirts, longer than twice the length of his whole body, were heavy enough to restrict the joyous kicking of his fat little legs to the barest minimum. He sighed, examined his thumb and slid it into his mouth.

Several floors below, his elder sister the Princess Eliza, watched anxiously by her attendant nursery maid, tugged at the skirts of Mrs Bellman, the Palace pastrycook.
"Belly, Belly, please can I help? Can I stir it? Just one little stir?"
Mrs Bellman swatted the child's hand away.
"Give over, your highness, I'm that busy, I haven't time for your shenanigans ... oh, go on then - here, I'll lift you onto the stool."
She wrapped a glass-cloth around the child's middle and let her stir the stiff white icing. She only had a couple more roses to make and apply to the lowest tier of the christening cake, and then she was finished.
"Oh Belly, look! Such lovely flowers! Oh, you are clever! Can I make one? Just a little one? Oh please ....."
Mrs Bellman knew the quickest way to get rid of this untimely interruption was to let the princess do as she wanted. She showed the child how the roses were made, and helped her make one. It was a bit crooked and lopsided, but the child was satisfied. She watched while the cook made another and put in onto the cake, and then she stuck hers on beside it. Mrs Bellman didn't mind; she meant to whip it off and replace it when the child had gone skipping back to the nursery; but just then a scullery maid dropped a handful of newly washed spoons, and by the time she got back to the cake the lopsided rose had set firmly into place.
Mrs Bellman shrugged. What did one little rose matter on a cake five tiers high and designed to feed hundreds?

The baptism ceremony was splendid, and afterwards there was a party on the Palace lawns. The top tier of the christening cake had been one tier of the Queen's wedding cake; it was sliced and distributed to the most significant of the visiting guests, the closest of the ducal uncles, aunts and cousins, and related European royalty. The bottom tier was cut into narrow chunks to be wrapped in crested paper table-napkins and given to the lowest members of the royal household both indoors and out, and their families. The middle tiers were cut into slightly larger chunks and nestled into boxes decorated with the royal coat-of-arms, to be distributed to everyone else.

By chance, the piece decorated with Princess Eliza's icing flower was given to the scullery maid who had dropped the spoons; and because she had seen Princess Eliza making it, she decided not to eat it, but to keep it. Mrs Bellman gave her one of the coat-of-arms boxes to store it in; carefully she wrapped it in its table-napkin and tied the lid on with blue ribbon unthreaded from her nightdress. She rose in the Palace kitchen hierarchy to the post of assistant parlourmaid; but then she was noticed by the young man who delivered the Prince Consort's cigars. They married. Her husband was going places. The family had a long established tobacconist's in the City; when his father died he took over the shop and expanded into the West End; and he made sure their only child, a son named George, was as well-educated as was possible.

The little box of cake from the baby prince's christening became a family heirloom. George wrote out its history and folded it into the box. Several generations passed. Along the way the cigar business was abandoned and sold, and George's great-great-grandson, another George, became a prosperous stock broker. He married a daughter of minor aristocracy, bought a six-bedroomed old rectory in the Home Counties, and sired four children, three girls and finally, a tail-end Charlie, the longed-for boy.

By the time Charlie was seven, he was spoiled rotten. His father was pleased as punch to have a boy and referred to him as 'my son and heir'; his mother adored him and called him her 'little man'; and his sisters had treated him since babyhood as their living dolly. He was delightful to look at with curly blond hair, enormous blue eyes, a wicked grin, and the charm of the devil. But one day he discovered that his father, determined to give him the best that money could buy, was planning to send him away to the foremost boarding preparatory school in the country.

Charlie was not impressed. He liked his life at home. It suited him. There was no way he was going to give it up. He liked the village school, and he liked playing with his father's dog Fancy who was a deaf old yellow retriever with maternal instincts, and he particularly liked his best friend Luke whose father was known to be the local poacher although officially he was gamekeeper at the manor. He spent a lot of time with Luke, catching rabbits on the common with Luke's Dad's ferrets, learning how to pluck pheasants, and once he was allowed to aim Luke's Dad's air rifle at a crow. He missed.

Charlie decided he would play fair and talk to his father, man to man, before taking action to avoid being sent away to school.
"Daddeee ...!" he cried, swinging from his father's arm as he struggled to remove his coat having just that minute returned home from a long day in the City.
"Gedoff you infernal imp!" was the fond response.
Charlie was unmoved. His feet left the ground, and his father almost toppled over as he dumped his son onto his bottom on the floor and finally succeeded in freeing himself from his coat sleeves. He bent over his son and tickled him relentlessly. Charlie squirmed and giggled, and eventually managed to say, "Daddy, I need to talk very importantly to you."
"Do you my boy? Very well, let's go and have a drink together, shall we?"
Charlie's father poured himself a tumbler of whisky and water, and blackcurrant juice for Charlie. They took their drinks into the study and settled into armchairs.
"Daddy, I need to stay at school here 'cos of Fancy and Luke, and not go away to that other school where you have to sleep and wear funny clothes and ..."
"Charlie!" His father sounded unusually firm. "Stop! I've arranged for you to go that school because I think you will love every minute of it, and because going there will enable you to attend an even better school when you are older. There is absolutely no chance of you staying at school in the village. None at all." (And a good thing too, he thought privately to himself, Luke is not a suitable friend for him ...)
Charlie was outraged.
"But Daddy!" he cried, "I don't want to go ..."
"Enough Charlie!" said his father sternly. "The subject is closed, Understood?"

In his heart Charlie knew his fate was sealed. But he wouldn't go without protest. His busy little mind thought long and hard. What was the worst he could do, to show how much he minded being sent away? He didn't have to think for long. What did his father regard as most precious, most special, most important?

Some decades later the Director of the Auction House paused in his lifting of the lid on the little box. The gold of the royal coat-of-arms was faded now, but still discernible.
"If this really is a piece of christening cake from the baptism of one of the old Queen's children, intact and identifiable, it will be enormously valuable, not only for its historical and antique value, but to scientists. How has it kept for so long? Might it still be edible? Whatever its state, the auction price will be huge."
Under the lid was a piece of paper covered in spidery writing.
"Ah yes - this must be the provenance. Yes, I thought so. Very satisfactory."
He set is aside and began to undo the rather untidily folded table-napkin with its golden crest in the corner. The tiny parcel seemed curiously light; he had expected it to be heavier. He spread the napkin flat; inside were some tarry-looking crumbs and another folded sheet of paper. With a sinking heart he unfolded it. On it was written in large badly-formed capitals:
'Ha ha har, its eeten up, Fancy et it, it wos disgustin.'