Five O'Clock Somewhere

Welcome to Five O'Clock Somewhere, where it doesn't matter what time zone you're in; it's five o'clock somewhere. We'll look at rural life, especially as it happens in Rio Arriba County, New Mexico, cats, sailing (particularly Etchells racing yachts), and bits of grammar and Victorian poetry.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Wizards of Winds and Waves, chapter 33

A tea party

Jewelry isn’t the only thing that can have magic effects, as we see here.

Wizards of Winds and Waves
Chapter 33

The next morning, we slept late. We had both expended a lot of energy on shields after we realized Stephane was watching us. The clouds of the previous day had thickened, and now rain was pouring down outside. Pierre went downstairs to retrieve the mail; now there were dozens of invitations to social events. “We’re going to have to pick and choose from now on,” Pierre said.

“How do you tell which ones to go to?” I asked.

“First, people who are already our friends get top billing,” Pierre said. “That’s actually not too many people, since the people I’ve been in the habit of hanging out with have mostly been carefree bachelors like myself, and they don’t tend to throw parties. Then there are the parties thrown by important people – politicians, business leaders, royalty of various countries … oh, and celebrities, of course. But even those, we don’t have to attend everything. Oh, and from now on, I think we can lock the jewels up and only get them out for special occasions. You’ve made enough of a stunning first impression that memory and word of mouth will have almost the same effect – now everybody expects you to electrify the room, so you will.”

“That’s a relief. But won’t I have to have some jewelry to wear?”

“You do. Let’s go shopping.” Pierre got my raincoat out of the closet and held it up for me.

There were certainly a lot of advantages to being married to someone who had a whole lot of money to spend. We spent the rest of the morning and the early afternoon visiting various jewelry stores, trying on necklaces, bracelets, and more. We returned to the flat with a collection of fine jewelry, as well as some more casual pieces for less formal occasions. Pierre also bought me a couple of watches – somehow, the black plastic men’s all-weather sailing watch that I usually wore didn’t go with most of my new clothes.

“The tea party this afternoon’s going to be special,” Pierre said. “It’s not going to be very big, and the hostess is somebody I think you need to meet. Grace was Dora’s aunt.”

“I thought Dora was estranged from her family.”

“She was. Grace isn’t really her aunt, but Dora regarded her as an honorary aunt. They knew each other long before I met Dora, and every time we were in Paris, Dora spent a lot of time with her.”

“If she was so close to Dora, might she resent me for taking her place?”

“Not after this long. Dora’s been dead more than twenty years now. And besides, you’re so much like her, I think Grace will be pleased.” Pierre went to the dinette table, where the invitations were piled up, and pulled out the one for the tea party. “Besides, look at the note she put at the bottom of the invitation: ‘I’m looking forward to meeting your new bride.’”

“Is there anything else that I should know about Grace?”

“Well, she’s stuck by me even when I was at my worst. She seemed to think she owed it to Dora to protect me from myself. She’s actually a British expatriate, but she’s lived in Paris most of her life, which is pretty long. Oh, that reminds me,” Pierre went to the kitchen cabinet and brought out the teapot and cups. “She’s probably going to ask you to pour, since you’re likely to be the guest of honor. I’d better show you how it’s done.”

Pierre spent the next twenty minutes showing me the finer details of the British tea ceremony, until he was sure I had all the motions down. “Funny,” I said. “It reminds me a lot of the ceremonial spells of the wizards.”

“Actually, in the hands of a British wizard, tea is a powerful spell,” Pierre said. “It cements friendship and loyalty.”

Grace’s house was in a village that, when she first moved there, was probably far from the city. Now it was surrounded by housing developments, but the village itself was still charming, as was Grace’s house. Grace herself came to answer the door when we rang; she was tall, and stately, graceful in spite of needing to use a cane to walk around. She reminded me of a tall ship, magnificent in her elegance, a reminder of the grandeur of days gone by. “Pierre, dear, do come in. And this must be Sarah, so pleased to meet you, I’ve heard so much about you …” Her voice trailed off as she looked at me. “Oh, please, pardon me, I was just startled. You look so much like Dora …”

“She is like Dora,” Pierre said. “You remember when Dora died, I said I couldn’t ever marry again because there was nobody else like her.”

“Well, I’m just glad for you anyway,” Grace said. “All these years I was hoping you’d find someone else and settle down. Well, come in, both of you. Everybody else is already here.”

Grace led us through the house to the back garden, where tea was set up on a large low table in front of a wicker sofa; the other guests were seated on other wicker chairs and sofas, and there were several smaller tables. The whole ensemble was shaded by several stand umbrellas. Grace ushered Pierre and me to the sofa in front of the tea things and introduced the other guests: Estelle, Maude, Hattie, and Leticia, women of similar age but not quite as much dignity as Grace; Peter, who was somebody’s grandson, I didn’t catch whose, visiting during his college vacation; Sally, somebody’s grand-niece, also on vacation from college; and Bernie, who was apparently Maude’s much younger boyfriend – he was about Pierre’s age.

“Sarah, dear, would you please do the honors?” Grace asked, confirming Pierre’s prediction and the wisdom of his foresight in teaching me about British tea.

I looked at the tea set and was especially impressed with the teapot. It was larger than most, as fit the number of people present, and it was beautiful. It was gracefully curved, decorated with pink roses, accented with gold plating, and it, like Grace herself, seemed to proclaim the grandeur of the past. “That’s a beautiful teapot,” I said, reaching for the handle.

“Why thank you,” Grace replied. “It was a gift – ”

I touched the handle and felt an immediate shock – the teapot was magic! I jerked back.

“– from Dora … Oh, I’m sorry, did I upset you? Really, I didn’t mean to – I know you must get tired of being compared to your predecessor …”

Pierre and I exchanged glances. I could tell that he knew I had felt that jolt. “Oh, no, it’s nothing,” I said. “Please, don’t apologize. I just felt a … a bit faint for a moment. I’m all right now.”

“Sarah, dear, are you sure you’re all right?” Grace asked. “I know you’ve been traveling, and then all that night life. I don’t get out myself much any more, but I’ve been hearing the stories about you two. If you’re not up to it, you don’t have to pour.”

“Oh, no,” I said, reaching for the teapot, “I’m fine.” Using what I had learned from Pierre, I served the tea perfectly, coordinating the pouring of the tea and the milk, adding sugar according to each person’s taste, all the while sensing the nature of the teapot. Gradually, I became aware that I could tell about the teapot’s magic – it was, as appropriate to a British teapot, dedicated to friendship and loyalty. All who partook of tea together from this teapot would be inclined to such devotion, even without a wizard present. I guessed that Grace and her older friends, who had been taking tea together regularly for decades, would be inseparable, and anyone else who took tea from this pot would be strongly inclined to friendship and loyalty to whoever else was present at the time. I wondered how much the social fabric of Paris was knit together by this one teapot.

“Thank you, Sarah,” Grace said as I handed her her cup. “You do pour tea very well.”

Pierre placed an arm around my shoulders and gave me a quick squeeze and a peck on the cheek. I gave a responding peck. “I had a very good teacher,” I said.


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