Celebration

The war was over. Really over this time.

Bridget had arrived in the dining room to break her morning fast and this is what greeted her when she entered the room, empty except for the two servants there. That was the word throughout the house.

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Bridget’s father, the Earl, had gotten the morning papers from London. He had glanced at them cursorily as he always did, then stopped and picked them up. Sam, the butler who was in the dining room tending the breakfast buffet, said. Her father did not read his papers at the dining table in regard for Bridget’s mother. The Countess was not one to allow such to occur at her table. Not at all.

Bridget had lost one brother to the war, but there were two others. It did not lessen the hurt for she missed Francis. There were various cousins about that had been in service, as well as neighbors and friends. Francis’ death though had been the closest loss that the family had encountered over the entire war. More than twenty years it seemed they had been fighting the tyrant, in one way or another. Father had a brother who had fought in the Colonial War, but that was a long time ago.

Father’s brother had come home and died a few years after that war ended. Long before Bridget was born. She had never met the uncle, whom her youngest brother was named after. Her father told her that Uncle Michael had her same chestnut hair. Brown with traces of red in it that caused her face to glow. Bridget’s cream complexion and high cheekbones she had inherited from her mother. Bridget felt the combination of hair and complexion were the reason that made her glow.

Her older brother John was in the army, but he lived in Town. He was safe as heir, and had no thought of being posted to where there was fighting. He would wear his uniform and spend his time at his clubs. John had an aversion to all that was not comfortable and would place him at his ease. The Earl thought his son was a fool.

Bridget prepared a plate of food and knew much of her father’s reflection had to do with Francis dying while serving in Spain, while John was never in jeopardy. It was a subject that she and her sisters never mentioned. Anne and Mary were both married, which only left she and Michael at home with their parents. This however was the last year that she was to be at home in the schoolroom. Her season was the very next one. She would go to London and all the eligible men would finally return from France, or Flanders.

The breakfast parlor that was used to dine was different than the dining room when they entertained, though if just the family were at home for dinner, they would use this same room. The table was a mahogany wood that had been sanded and polished and stained and lacquered until its dark brown richness gleamed in the morning sunlight that streamed in through the three full length windows on the east wall. The entire room was painted in cream and the latest in papers bedecked the walls, for the Countess had changed them only last October, so they were not quite a year old.

Aside from the table and Chippendale chairs, the darkest things in the room were the two butlers, for they were in their dark gray livery. Sam and Henry. Henry having been in service just two years deferred to Sam and kept quiet, while Sam had been with the Halifax-Stokes almost all of Bridget’s life, and they were quite good friends. The sideboard was not a piece by Chippendale the Countess always said, but one that had been inherited from some previous Earl of Scardale several generations ago. The wood was an alder, or other very light wood, and the carpenter had never been able to darken it to match the dining table. It was therefore covered in a very broad piece of cloth which also helped to keep spills and stains off the wood.

The cook had not provided a feast, as only four of the family were at Scardale Park that morning. Their favorites were displayed including some fruit, and Bridget took the sliced apples, some eggs, and bacon from the farm. The Earl of Scardale was particularly fond of his pigs and how well they not only showed, but produced. Bridget knew of her father’s pride and so was well acquainted with the management of livestock. At the last census they had more than three thousand pigs on the estate.

When she asked, the servants said that the Duke of Wellington had won a victory in Flanders. She would find out more when her father came from his office where he read the papers. Sam said he had picked up her father’s plate shortly after the Earl had left and cleared it off, giving some to the dogs. The Earl had left only two eggs, just slightly touched, once he had seen the headlines. Her father had only eaten his bacon. Henry had carried the Earl’s coffee to the office and then returned. When he decided he was hungry again, the Earl would fix a new plate, she had no doubt.

While she ate, Bridget remembered she had vexed Mrs. Larson, her governess who saw to her schooling. Mrs. Larson thought it wrong for a young lady to know so much about battles and war and such. But that was where all the good men were, Bridget would counter.

“No, there are plenty of good men here in England.” The Countess would say, and Mrs. Larson would take pleasure in the support that the countess afforded her. Bridget knew exactly what the Countess meant by good men in England. Friends of John, her elder brother, a Major in the Life Guards now. Men who looked good in their uniforms and were destined to inherit great titles and great estates. Peacocks all.

“But Mama,” Bridget had her own rejoinder for that, “They may be good but you always say Francis and those like him were the best England had to offer. Why should I not want the best for a husband?”

The Countess, was always flustered by that. “The sons of Dukes and Marquess are the best that England has. You, young lady, are acting too big for your bonnet. I would expect a little respect from my own daughter!” The Earl would then laugh and Mrs. Larson would do her best to keep a straight face.

“I am just repeating what you have said.” Bridget was very good at keeping her face modest with her eyes cast towards her mother’s ankles when she was deliberately being vexatious. Her father had slipped her hard candies when she was a child as a particular reward for doing so on some few occasions, but then the Earl thought better of it. ‘Can’t be encouraging this sort of thing, now can I?’ Bridget knew her father still was proud of her at such moments.

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