Episode 40: Duchess Soup | Scryer's Gulch
The little dinner party was rapidly slipping from Charity's fingers, and they hadn't even sat down to the meal yet. The cook had spoilt the soup and had to make up a new one, the greenhorn--er, butler--was clumsy, and worse, that schoolteacher was monopolizing both John Runnels and Tony.
How could it be? Duniway looked like a blue-eyed crow in that black dress, while she was resplendent in feathers and plum-colored silk that set off the green of her eyes. She'd ordered the feathers all the way from San Francisco--what luck that they matched her new dress so well, even if they were shedding a bit. It was to be expected of ostrich.
And Jedediah was late. Damn him for not even bothering to show for a dinner he forced her to throw!
The parlor door opened, and in he strolled, newly pressed and combed, his great gold and enamel fob hanging from the thick watch chain draped from his vest pocket.
Tony consulted the watch he had just taken back from the Duniway woman. "Well, Father, how kind of you to join us."
"Anthony," Charity hissed, though she was thinking the very same thing.
"I do apologize, Mother. Business to take care of, Father?"
"Oh, quite pressing business," grinned Jedediah. "Investments to look after." He'd been at Mamzelle's, then.
That demon! Charity had to convince him to make that demon kill itself, or work in the mines, or just disappear! As long as it was around, Charity's allure wasn't enough to keep him from straying. Jed could force it to take any shape he wanted: a thousand, a thousand million women for Charity to compete with, though she wasn't sure Jed had that much imagination. She could think of far more interesting things to do with a demon. Maybe it was better off as her servant and not Jed's. She wouldn't waste it next time on housework, that's for certain. She still hadn't heard the end of the ruination of the red silk dress, but she didn't care. That length of silk was supposed to have been hers. Jed said he didn't like her in red. Said she was surely too expensive to look that cheap. Hmf.
Maybe she would work on Jed, turn his mind toward making Mamzelle a gift to her. She'd need to find a ready replacement for the demon at the Palace, and then she'd need to convince him he didn't need the bother of a demon. Then again, she'd heard of strong wielders taking demons away from lesser ones. Maybe she should bone up. She was fairly good back in the day, the few times she got hold of anything magical. Then she wouldn't need father or son.
The parlor door slid open again and the greenhorn butler appeared. "Dinner is served, ma'am," he said in a nasal eastern voice that grated on her already thin nerves. They stretched still more as Jed took Duniway on his arm--yes, yes, proper and all that, she'd done her studying up on high society back when she became Charity Grant of Chicago. She still didn't have to like it. She felt better once John offered his arm, which left Tony trailing behind her. That's where he belonged, trailing behind her like a dog.
The soup course was brought out, and horror joined fury: duchess soup. The cook had replaced the opulent, succulent, expensive, hopelessly scorched turtle soup with plain duchess soup. With cheese in it. There would be words. There might even be a firing. She would have that Chinese cook from the Palace if it was the last thing she did. Everyone knew he was the best--
"Don't scowl, dear, it's bad for your frown lines," murmured Jed. Was that a note of malice she detected? No one else seemed to notice; they were all prattling away about the doings at the schoolhouse, of all things. Still, she must check her frown lines in the mirror tonight. The last thing she wanted was to end up looking like her mother.
She must contribute to the conversation, swing the men's attention back to her somehow. "Our Lily is doing well?" she ventured.
"Oh my, yes!" said the Duniway woman, "Lily is one of my best pupils. She even helps the younger children with their work--I think she's done more to get Harry Lockson reading than I have!"
"So nice you have assistance to do your job, Miss Duniway," purred Charity. "I imagine it's taxing, what with eight children in your care." She turned to her husband. "But this is what I feared, Jed. Surely she is bored, Miss Duniway?"
"No, I don't think so. I will keep her after school on Monday, perhaps," the insipid blond said. "I will ask her if we might find other courses of study she might wish to pursue in addition to her main schoolwork."
"It is as I feared," Charity sighed again. "I did tell you that she needed to go to Saint Monica Academy in New York, dearest. Scryer's Gulch is much too small for her ability, and she will never receive the refinements a young lady in her circumstances must acquire."
"Not from you and that's certain," chortled her husband.
She blanched. To be openly insulted at her own dinner table--by her own husband! In front of the Duniway woman! It was almost too much to bear, but she valiantly kept herself from a fit of the vapors with a long draught from her wine glass.
"If refinement is necessary, I do play the piano and would be happy to tutor her," bleated Duniway. "Is there an instrument in town? I confess I haven't had the leisure to inquire. The Church of Our Lady has a lovely pipe organ, but that is not my expertise." Not her expertise. Charity made some offensive guesses to herself as to where the schoolteacher's expertise might lie, besides the piano.
"The Hotel LeFay possesses one of the finest pianos west of the Mississippi, Miss Duniway--a Steinway, brought from New York--and I shall give it over to your service," said Tony. "Any time of the day or night you might wish to play it."
The capper to a wonderful meal, thought Charity.