Tuesday, 14 July 2009
Etiquette and Entertaining
My great-grandmother had this book once - Etiquette and Entertaining by Lady Troubridge. Perhaps not for the reasons one might think, it was a book that kept her alive. When I was a boy and given to disbelief in all kinds of things, she told me this tale, which I tell to you. Later, I wrote to Lady Troubridge to tell her, but I doubt she believed me. I was still a boy when I wrote to her.
It seemed that my great-grandma was given the book for her twenty-first birthday by her aunt. Aunts, she used to say, are not gentlemen, they are a lot tougher than that. She did not particularly want the book, but she read it anyway to please her aunt and it was of some little use to her in its own small way. She took to carrying it around in her bag and reading bits from it as if she were an aunt. It amused the children and made her friends give her strange looks - and it amused her. She was a lively soul you see.
Now it happened that one day she was invited to tea at her sister's house over the hills and not that far away. However, nobody had told her that there was a troll newly moved in under the large stone bridge over the Glassgreen River. So great-grandma put on her coat and her boots and took her large handbag and walked out of town. She went to the bakers and bought a box of small cakes on the way and the box went into her bag. She bought a jar of peppercorns and four lamb chops for supper, for she knew her sister would have forgotten. Off she went along the lane and through the field of long grasses waving and whispering as the wind passed through them. She stopped briefly to put her scarf on over her flame red hair and continued until she came to the bridge.
The troll heard her and waited until great-grandma was in the middle of the bridge before suddenly reaching up and grabbing my great-grandma round the waist. Suddenly great-grandma found herself flying through the air and under the bridge until she was face to face with the troll.
"Well I never!" great grandma said crossly being very put out.
The troll looked at her with it's big round eyes like two dark pools. Great hairy thing it was and almost as ugly as a troll can be, so great-grandma said. She stared right back at the troll and then with a flash of inspiration she reached into her bag and as the troll bared its great horrid teeth she pulled out The Book.
"It is considered impolite to take the guest by the hand until you have been properly introduced. Etiquette and decency should be shown to guests at all times," she read.
The troll looked puzzled and gnashed its teeth.
"I realise you may not be familiar with etiquette," great-grandma said, "But there is really no excuse for rudeness."
The troll scratched its head and said in a pitiful little growl, "Sorry I'm sure. Not a lot of call for etiquette in my line of work."
"Nonetheless," great-grandma answered wagging her finger sternly, "there is no excuse for rudeness. If manners are good enough for Lady Troubridge they are good enough for the rest of us!"
The troll could find little to argue with there. It had never heard of Lady Troubridge, but it did not seem the time to explain this and it supposed that my great-grandma had a point where rudeness was concerned.
"Well then," the troll said gruffly, "I'm Crushbones the Troll, daughter of Munchgizzard and Nosetwister from Sheepmead. I'm sorry to have er taken you by the hand, but I am rather hungry and you smell delicious."
Great-grandma sighed and told Crushbones that while the introduction would suffice, Lady Troubridge's circle of friends was unlikely to approve of eating one's guests. Crushbones it seemed knew little of either etiquette or entertaining. She offered great-grandma river water in her large cupped hairy hands at which great-grandma sighed and turned to the book again.
"A good host always ensures that enough of the proper utensils are prepared for guests. A lack of wineglasses is apt to create awkwardness," she read aloud.
Crushbones let the water out of her large hands and sighed.
"I am sure I don't know what the 'proper utensils' are, never mind where to get them, miss," Crushbones answered adding, "Trolls generally snatch their food alive and then eat it raw."
Great-grandma raised her eyebrows in disapproval,
"That is not the sort of behaviour one expects from a well brought up young lady," she remarked.
Crushbones lowered her head in sadness, for she realised that her behaviour hitherto was not conducive to good social practice. She whimpered and gazing up at great-grandma with her large dark eyes begged her for the book so that she might learn. Great-grandma considered this before agreeing but telling Crushbones that she really must get on. Crushbones agreed and rubbing her wet paws upon her hairy sides, she lifted great-grandma back up onto the bridge. Great-grandma handed Crushbones the book and walked away in something of a hurry. She arrived at her sister's house with considerable paleness, which although fetching, was also something of a concern.
A little afraid of how she might return later that evening, great-grandma nonetheless, girdled her loins and put on a stiff corset. She borrowed a horse from her sister and rode at the gallop for home. She had almost reached the bridge when she heard a loud wail of despair and a loud splash. In the dark, she did not dare to stop and continued home.
However, the following morning it was reported in the newspaper that a dead troll had been found in the river with a look of pure despair and horror on her face. A book identified as great-grandma's, Etiquette and Entertaining by Lady Troubridge was found on the riverbank. It was opened at a page where the newspaper quoted, 'There is no excuse for a lady to misbehave in any way at all.'
"Well quite," great-grandma said on reading this, but her daughter who had come back from a dance that had gone on all night shook her head in sympathy.
"It's come to a fine thing if a girl can't misbehave now and then," she said.
Great-grandma shook the newspaper firmly and harrumphed, but then she was of the old school in such matters.