|Tea Party of Unusual Characters
A Most Unusual Tea Party, taken from Under the Shadow:
The next morning I woke up a trifle hazy; my eyes opened gradually with the soft light of early morning filling my sight. Still a bit groggy, I turned toward Chris lying silently next to me. He was awake and smiling; he stroked my cheek tenderly with his hand and pushed back a long, strand of hair.
“Good morning, Sleepy Head!” he whispered gently kissing my forehead.
“Good morning!” I replied stretching my arms.
“What were you dreaming about? he asked quizzically.
“Dreaming?” I queried surprised. “Was I dreaming?”
“Yes, dreaming!” he replied. “You were smiling and giggling in your sleep.” I thought for a few moments and then chuckled out loud. “You’re right! I was dreaming!” I said, “A most unusual dream…I guess most of them are…but this dream was…odd and funny, really funny now that I think of it.”
“What was it about?” he asked his curiosity awakened.
“Dear me, let me think for a minute, my mind is still a little fuzzy.” I sat up in bed trying to recall the details of the dream.
“It was about a tea party.” I answered invoking his interest.
“A tea party!” he exclaimed. “This should be interesting.” He fluffed up his pillows and mine so we could sit up in bed and then waited for me to explain.
“I closed my eyes again to reflect. “This tea party was VERY unusual,” I began, somewhat dramatically. “In it, I think I was about seventeen years old; I was living at home with my grandparents. Isabelle and Grandmother were helping me with the preparations for my first formal tea; I had invited all my closest friends.” Now almost fully awake, I began speaking as dramatically as possible. “The long dining room table was set with a beautiful white lace tablecloth and Grandmother had given me her permission to use her finest china. My anticipation grew throughout the day and when the doorbell rang I ran to greet my first guest who had arrived a little early. I smiled and curtsied respectfully and then showed her into the dining room.
“The table was set for eight and I gracefully escorted my friend to her appointed seat. My position as hostess of the affair was at the head of the table closest to the door. I had hand painted place cards for each of my friends and arranged them at the table according to personality and compatibility. When the doorbell rang for the second time I excused myself in order to answer it. When I returned, I was astounded to find that the seating arrangements had been changed. My first guest has moved all the place cards but before I could address the situation, or seat my second friend, the doorbell rang a third time. I turned in anger and went to greet the rest of my guests, who had all arrived simultaneously. I smiled at each and escorted them all to the dining room.
“I was quite miffed but refrained from admonishing my companion about her improper behavior and instead allowed my friends to find their place cards and take their seats. The table was laden with small tea sandwiches and the sideboard buffet was covered with platters of scones. The variety to choose from included mango ginger, maple walnut, cranberry orange, lemon poppy seed and my personal favorite, chocolate cherry. Lemon curd, clotted cream and homemade raspberry jam graced the table in crystal dishes. Grandmother and Isabelle had prepared a scrumptious feast. So, while my friends began to socialize and fill their plates, I poured tea.
“My guests were dressed quite lavishly for an afternoon affair, which surprised me. And as I walked around the table, I realized, for the first time, what an odd group of individuals they were. My simple white linen frock seemed plain in comparison to the ornate gowns my companions were wearing and I suddenly felt inadequate in comparison.
“When I returned to take my place at the table, I allowed my mind to wander into dangerous territory. I watched and listened to the conversations taking place around me thinking unkind thoughts while I did.
“I glanced at Envy first and scrutinized her quite severely. Why, her gown was a ghastly green color of inferior workmanship. Her quiet conversation was all but astounding and the words she spoke made it obvious she felt wounded by the advantages the others possessed that she desired. Maliciously she began to expose the flaws of her rivals in order to make herself look better. Her passions were disgustingly base and disgraceful.
“Envy’s attitude seemed to inflame Anger who had been silently seething in the chair to her right. Her vibrant dress consisted of layers of bright orange and red silk and it glowed as if on fire. Unfortunately, all the edges appeared burnt.
“Anger was susceptible to her intense emotional nature, which she displayed quite frequently unless she was sulking. She had a tendency to be despotic and tyrannical and ruled others with the fear of her rage, which could be quickly ignited. She never thought about the vitriolic words that she spoke and never seemed to care about the pain they might inflict on others. It became apparent that Envy had stirred up her turbulent passions and that she was ready to vent when Ambition, seated next to her, intervened. She spoke to Anger with sophistication and wit and in no time at all she had mysteriously calmed her wrath.
“Ambition was a lovely girl and always acted the part of the kind and loving friend; she was anxious to be please everyone. My personal belief was that she tended to be a bit selfish. She was easily piqued when someone else in the room was the object of attention and cunningly worked to draw it toward herself. She wore a stunning gown of deep purple lace, a bit too old for her but absolutely breathtaking.
“Boastful, completely unaware of the tenseness at the table, began to rant about one thing and then another. Her obnoxious demeanor was pretentious at best and her attitudes rather narrow-minded. Her attire was the most shocking of all; she wore a gown of dingy gray rags tied at the waist with a filthy piece of string. Her dress was hideous but it was easy to see she thought it was beautiful.
“Contentious stood up rather abruptly and offered to pour a second round of tea while I ate my sandwiches. She approached each guest with graceful aplomb. Her face was somewhat veiled by the large collar that surrounded the neckline of her indigo blue frock. She quietly conversed with each of my guests as she poured their tea, whispering something provocative into every listening ear.
“Depression was dressed in black and sat quietly next to me, completely speechless. She refused to eat and only sipped her cup of tea exhibiting no signs of pleasure or enjoyment.
“Pride, conceitedly perched at the opposite end of the table, was insensitive of those around her. When Contentious tried to speak Pride contemptibly dismissed her. I had to admit she looked lovely today and I did sense a growing desire coming from within to be more like her. She wore a rather flamboyant costume made from long colorful feathers and it suited her dramatic nature perfectly even if she did look a little like a peacock. When I looked at Pride I realized that she had something we all liked and admired. Not one of us denied the fact that she was entitled to reasonable self-respect but too often she went over the edge and became disdainful of the rest of us, which made her unbearable.
“And then, a word unfitly spoken by Contentious to Anger caused the room to erupt in violence. In tears, saddened that I couldn’t control the reprehensible behavior of my ill-mannered friends, I grew increasingly upset, not knowing what to do to bring the chaos to a halt. Suddenly, the door swung open and Papa walked in. Thunderous silence quickly filled the room as each quest bowed in respect to his authoritative demeanor.
“‘Welcome, Papa!” I said, relieved by his presence. I dried my eyes and taking his hand we walked around the table together greeting each lady.
“‘Papa,” I whispered softly in his ear, “my guests are out of control today!” His face displayed the concern in his heart and I could tell he was already aware of my difficult dilemma.
“‘Rachel,” he replied, “our friends don’t always act appropriately…and sometimes we are taken off-guard by their behavior and we react to them inappropriately. Hopefully, my dearest as you grow and mature you will acquire the meekness and humility necessary to influence them so they behave correctly!’”
“Then, I woke up.” I said, bringing my narrative to an abrupt end.
“Is that is?” Chris asked.
“Let’s have breakfast, I’m famished.” I said, “I’ll explain it all later.”
My husband simply shook his head and smiled.
Martha was customarily up early and always could be found in the kitchen industriously preparing something delicious. Today, the heavenly fragrance of freshly baked bread greeted us at the door. Fried eggs, O’Brien potatoes, bacon and hot coffee were soon ready and served by her with love and received by us with grateful thanks and immense delight. “Martha, you’re incredible.” Chris crooned with appreciation. She smiled and blushed and then said, “Eat up!” Typical, wonderful, Martha.
Chris had a day off from his work as an actor but had a score of business calls to make and paper work to complete. He was in daily communication with Wesley, his assistant, who was kept constantly busy commuting between the small apartment we kept in the city and our home down south. Thankfully, email, fax machines and express delivery made everything relatively easy.
“I think it’s time you return home,” Chris said matter-of-factly while finishing the last bite of his warm bread smothered with strawberry jam. I looked into his eyes; I had sensed this coming. He wanted me to go back to the Castle, my ancestral home that we had made our common residence. Located on the central coast of California, situated high above the Pacific Ocean, the Castle was like an impregnable refuge. The architecture was a mixture of Romanesque Revival and Queen Anne styles and the front towers that faced the coastline made it look like the formidable fortress that is was.
Grandfather designed the palatial estate; it had been my mother’s home and then mine. Multitudes of tall trees encompassed the land and we owned acres of orchards behind and around us. Most of our neighbors, and long-time friends, were ranchers. Grandfather maintained horses in the stables that were situated below the mansion near the old Victorian where their trainer and his family had lived. Moving back to the estate when my marriage fell apart gave me a new life, new purpose, new dreams. I was blessed with a new beginning.
“Chris, we decided when you began this project that I would travel with you so we could spend more time together.” I said resisting his suggestion.
“That’s true, Rachel, and while I don’t want to alarm you, it should be more than obvious that we have a problematic situation in hand. I am concerned for your safety; someone is either inordinately enamored with you, or just plain perverse. We don’t know who is sending the roses, if it’s a practical joke or something more deviant. Until we can figure things out, I think you should be in a more secure environment. It’s possible someone is stalking you, and we need to find out who.”
I remained silent for some time, thinking before answering. I could feel Chris’ frustration and feelings of impotence. Finally, I said, “You know I’ll go home if that’s what you think is best. I wish I knew who was sending the flowers…and why…but I honestly don’t have a clue. I go everywhere with two body guards; I’ve lost a great deal of personal freedom, and I don’t want to allow my emotions to get the better of me.”
Christopher held onto my hands tightly.
“I told you this morning about my odd dream but I didn’t explain it. Actually, I can only guess at its meaning…actually, I think my subconscious mind is trying to remind me of something I learned a long time ago.
“Fear gripped me when my parents died…I was filled with guilt…I couldn’t understand why they and Riley were gone and I had been left behind. Papa and Grandmother and Isabelle were so wonderful…so understanding and patient. It was so difficult; my life had been spared but I didn’t feel safe.
“My grandfather guided me through the confusing thoughts I struggled with every day. I learned how to walk in faith and manage difficult emotions that could be like unruly friends when they got out of control.
“Papa was a strong man with tremendous self-control. He always acted appropriately; his anger was always righteous; he never stooped to gossip and stopped many quarrels and contentions that arose among his friends or employees. He saw himself accurately and never wore the filthy rags of self-righteous because he was a humble man.
“He understood peer pressure and the inner desire we all have to be loved and appreciated. Our longing for approval can drive us to be mean or cruel and sometimes it makes us overly compliant. Papa wasn’t afraid to express his feelings and I saw him cry many times. He said tears were designed by God to help cleanse and restore our souls. He said we needed to learn how to reign over our emotions and not to give them undue influence in our lives
“Your grandfather was an extremely insightful man. It’s easy to see his wisdom and strength within you. ” Chris said meditatively. “I know he would want you to be happy and safe, which is what I want as well.”
“People today would call him ‘old-fashioned’ because of his beliefs. He was always somewhat mystical; his teachings I’m sure were enigmatical to strangers but not to those who knew him. His friends knew he was a profoundly wise man.” I looked at my husband intently studying his face. It was filled with so much love and concern that it made me want to cry for joy.
“I know we need to use wisdom, Chris. I understand we need to be cautious. I just don’t want to feel like I’m running home to hide.”
Chris squeezed my hand gently and then kissed me. “Okay, we’ll stay together for a while longer. You’ll be protected from a distance…but you’ll need to stay in the shadows a bit. Agreed?”
His words were puzzling but I didn’t ask him to explain. Chris could be mystifying too like Papa. He was also insightful and therefore I knew I would never be able to convince him to do something he didn’t believe was right.
“Agreed!” I replied happy that for awhile, at least, I would remain with him in Larkspur.