“The rose gardens are particularly restful for her Majesty in the afternoons. For myself I would prefer her be in Balmoral but beggars can’t be choosers and the courtiers will have their way.”
“I was surprised to find her Majesty had bothered to capture Wonderland. Seems a very strange acquisition.”
What a perfectly sensible remark Miss Alice. The dear Queen had absolutely no interest in the place whatever but some idiot in Whitehall decided it would cheer her up. She has been very doleful since the demise of the Prince Albert.”
“She has been a true brave soul and a great example to us all.”
“Thank you Missie Alice, exactly as I would have said. Now here’s her Majesty herself. Would you like some scones with your tea Miss Alice, or will you just take the usual cucumber sandwiches? I like a scone myself.”
“Thank you dear Mister Brown a scone would be quite wonderful.”
The Queen was seated in a splendid wooden rocking chair that with a small movement of her ankles allowed the whole to move back and forwards in a very pleasing manner. She was crocheting rather avidly, as if doing something practical with her hands was of much import and had the most wonderfully welcoming and serene smile emblazoned on her small but round visage. Alice picked up the hems of her skirts very deliberately and curtsied fully for only the third time in her life: the previous two times being to the Archbishop of Canterbury and Madam Blavatsky.
“Please don’t be so formal child; it is tea time in a rose garden after all.”
“Alice was looking to have scones Ma’am, would you like the same?”
“Why my dear Mister Brown that would be quite delightful. Perhaps with a little of your aunt Mary’s highland jelly and a nice dollop of clotted cream?”
“Your wish is my command Ma’am.”
The queen watched Brown retire with obvious affection and unusual interest.
“He does cut such a fine figure in his kilt does he not Alice?”
“I am sure you are right Ma’am but I am really not much experienced in such matters.”
“Nor indeed am I sweet Alice. Brown and my dear departed Albert are the only two gentlemen to ever stir my thoughts so.”
Alice took a moment to study the Queen properly. She had of course seen pictures in both newspapers and illustrated pamphlets but to witness her first hand was something few had the privileged to enjoy. Her majesty was dressed largely in black, still retaining that solemnity of mourning she had slipped behind on her husband’s death. The fabrics used for her clothes were of a most heavy type, brocades more suitable for upholstery or curtains than costumes.
Even the lace snood so carefully pinned atop her head was decidedly thick and concealing. Alice noticed the strange disparity between her outward appearance and the rather obvious inner joy and vitality that stirred, as if the Queen wished to remain concealed even in her rebounded contentment with existence.
“Your majesty seems much recovered from the unfortunate melancholy of the recent past.”
The remark was probably unwise but Alice who was rapidly growing into a young woman of some emotional maturity felt the sentiments expression important. The Queen for her part smiled kindly, obviously appreciating Alices heartfelt statements.
“The last few years have been dark, but gladly the shutters on my vision have lifted somewhat.”
Mister Brown returned carrying a well laden tea tray. Centrally positioned were a large brown earthenware teapot of quite astronomic proportions and a plate covered with ready halved scones spread deliciously with salted Guernsey butter, gooseberry highland jelly and a huge spoonful of clotted cream.
“Mister Brown has out done himself as usual my dear. Will you join us for tea John?”
“Much as I would love to Mrs Brown I have some pressing matters to attend to. Your Teddy is being a bumkin again if you ken?”
“Of course my dear, would want to interrupt your educating the children.”
Brown recovered a small folding tea table from a nearby nook and having set the tea things to his fastidious satisfaction jauntily strolled back towards the kitchens his kilt hem swinging in rhythm to some unheard but strangely audible pipe tune.
“He is such a rock you know my dear. Poor Teddy went completely off the rails after his father’s death but Brown has put some stiffness into his backbone. Poor Clarence is beyond help I am afraid, head quite potty as a bat infested belfry, but Teddy still has the opportunity to make a decent man of himself. Now do let me be mother, Indian tea is all Brown will allow I am afraid, he is such an Empiric sort of fellow.”
“Thank you Ma’am, Indian is quite my favorite leaf. My father always insists on only the very finest direct from Twining’s at Wapping.”
“The Rajkumar of Darjeeling sent a chest just a month ago and I think this is the first dip beyond the tin seal. Mister Brown is very dutiful in keeping the gifts from my many dear subjects safely away from the wrong hands. I am afraid there is quite the market in pilfered goods in this day and age. Albert said it was the fault of the economy. He was terribly clever about those sort of things.”
The Queen poured Alice an appreciatively good strong brew, added a little milk and three sugar cubes. Alice took the opportunity to help herself to one of the halved scones that were sitting on the plate begging for consumption.
“I do like to see a girl with a good appetite. Was a time we woman were expected to starve in public you know. I firmly stopped all that foolishness as soon as I took the throne. We woman need all the strength we can muster to accomplish the tasks expected of our bodies.”
The scone was remarkable. A wondrous mixture of salty sugary goodness with just enough sultanas to add a soft explosion of fruitiness in each bite. The butter was of that particular salted variety that made any preserve taste all the sweeter and the clotted cream was as good as Alice had ever experienced, even on vacations in Devon or Cornwall.
“Mister Brown does make remarkably good teas, quite the equal to Rudyard Kipling’s. Mister Brown is a remarkable individual altogether. My life would be quite unbearable without him by my side. It is unfortunate that my sons, grandchildren and courtiers do so dislike him, but he represents the very essence of all that disgusts and terrifies them.
He has great loyalty and respect, but only if it is earned. He refuses to bow to those who have no power beyond that given by chance of heritage. He is a rough speaker, says what he means and means what he says, finds the glib tongued diplomats totally abhorrent and untrustworthy.
Mister Brown is a perfect example of the new men the Industrial age has produced, yet even with all their strength, forthrightness and intelligence they will be unable to survive the terrible trials to come. I have no doubt that my grandchildren will set such a plague upon this world that all the Mister Browns will be but fodder for their machinations.
Yes, the new breed will survive barely but they will be wary and tired of their sovereigns. Some royalty may survive but in generality will be swept away by the very fires they begin to stoke.”
The Queens words suddenly seemed to weigh heavily making the conversation labored and heavy and banal. Words became stiff and polite, safe and undemanding and as with all such moments humor and joy slipped silently away. Feeling her Sovereigns sadness creep like frosty air over their surroundings Alice balked at any further thought of tea and scones.
“Are we done with our tea ladies?”
Mister Brown had thankfully returned to break the strained atmosphere.
“I think we have delayed dear Alice quite long enough John and I feel it is time for my nap.”
“Indeed your Majesty. I am sure Miss Alice will be along to visit us again very soon.”
“Would you please Alice dear?”
The Queens voice was so low and so saddened Alice toiled to choke back a tear.
“At you service your Majesty, always and forever.”
Alice bent into a full formal curtsey again and when she raised her chin was able to see the Queen walk staidly towards the kitchen supported very firmly by Mister Browns brawny right arm.
“Courts about to come into session.”
The White Rabbit scampered from behind the rose bushes at some speed checking his large gold pocket watch.
“We really mustn’t be late Alice. You’re the main witness for the prosecution after all.”
“Who’s on trial Mister Rabbit?”
“The Hatter of course, goes without saying! Hurry along now we have a way to go and no time to get there.”