HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MY DEAR MISS AUSTEN!!!!
Introduction / In the Rose Garden / Tea with George / The Ladies at Longbourn / Finding Hunsford / Somewhere Over Surrey / An Awkward Business
Too much cannot be said of Mrs. Hodge at such a moment. Though the cares of
a shifting reality lay just as heavily on her shoulders as on those belonging
to the assembled company in Donwell's best drawing room, the latter did not
need to concern themselves with how to procure sustenance for such a crush,
including no less than two baronets, when the butcher has disappeared.
"But Miss Woodhouse, how many must be fed?"
"I think we are about twenty now, but there may be more," she said
reflectively. "I am sure we will make do very well," and she left Mrs.
Hodges to the more stark realities of their circumstances.
The dairy and poultry yard were still existent, a great relief to all at
Donwell concerned with the making and procurement of food, and the men were
able to shoot a few birds, but as the evening drew nearer, and the world had
still not returned to normal, Mrs. Hodge became desperate. The numbers of
hungry ladies and gentleman continued to swell upstairs until near sixty were
assembled, and while the dining room at Donwell could accommodate so many, it
had not been called on to do so in the past forty years. As footmen began
calling, bearing bandboxes and portmanteaus containing evening dress for their
masters and mistresses, it was becoming increasingly clear to the harried
housekeeper that a disaster of epic proportions was close at hand. Unwilling
to completely empty her storeroom, not knowing how she would feed the household
tomorrow if she did, every extra hand available was employed in quickly assembling as extensive a meal as the circumstances allowed, while the rest of
the staff, idle workmen included, struggled to prepare quarters to serve as
dressing rooms for the guests.
Finding herself expected to reply, Mrs. Hodges managed to murmur an ascent.
doing my best to ease any difficulties until we can sort the whole fiasco out. You must
let me know your needs, and I will see to them as best I can. I was fairly
certain that Donwell was unlikely to be prepared for such a crowd as you are
entertaining tonight, as I imagine Mr. Knightly usually entertains but seldom,
and so went to the supermarket on your behalf. I know the plastic is strange
to your eyes, but I assure oyu it is perfectly safe. Here are several roasts, all trimmed and ready for cooking. These
are chicken breasts. As I was just explain to "Cook", as I understand she is called, that the bones have already been removed. Really rather inexcusable of Austen, is it not Mrs. Hodge, to have paid so little to head to the serving classes? You should be thankful for your name. That is a turkey. You will be unable to prepare it, I am afraid, for several days, for it is frozen. I do hope the rest it is enough to feed your guests. I know they will
be expecting a great deal of protein. Had I though tofu might suffice, I would have brought you pounds of the stuff."
"It's a bean curd product. Very nutritious, but no substitute for English mutton," she laughed.
Mrs. Hodge tried to join in, but her failed smile was little more than awkward. Fortunately, the lady did not seem to mind.
"I think I can get a bushel of crabs tomorrow. No packaging, so they will appear just like you epect. Would that be satisfactory Cook?"
"Yes, ma'am. The master likes a buttered crab very well."
"Good. How I'm to sustain the grocery bill, I have no idea, but we'll cross that bridge when we come to it."
Mrs. Hodge, in spite of her troubles, was too thankful to anyone, no matter how strange, who was so willing to assist in overcoming the seemingly insurmountable obstacle of food preparation when there was no food to be found, without expressing her sincere gratitude. No matter if it came wrapped in strange film, compensation must be addressed, but the lady dismissed it, insisting that she would
return later that evening to speak with the company upstairs, and instructing
Mrs. Hodge to let Mr. Knightley know to expect her. It was only then that Mrs.
Hodge thought to ask for her card. Again, she laughed inexplicably, exclaiming that she did not have one, but assuring the
housekeeper that Mr. Knigtley would be happy to receive her, and causally informing the housekeeper of her name, just as if such a form of introduction was perfectly unexceptional, and departed.
"I'm grateful to the lady, no doubt of it, Mrs. Hodge," said the
cook, after the door had closed behind her, "but I don't know why anyone
would kill so many chickens and only cook the breasts. It makes one think the
rest of 'em must still be running about somewhere."
Mrs. Hodge had no time to dwell on the implication of mutilated chickens. Seeing
everyone go back to their work, she sought Mr. Knightley, only recently
returned, and shared with him her tale of unexpected bounty.