I was invited to afternoon tea by the Pentacle family. The King and Queen of Pentacles run a well-regarded catering and hospitality school at Pentacle Manor and the family live in a large house in the grounds of the manor but shielded from it by a well-kept beech hedge.
I found my way to the entrance to the Pentacles’ house. The lawn was perfectly mown, the shrubs had all been pruned to within an inch of their lives, the floral planting scheme could almost have come from the Chelsea flower show. It was all a delight to look at (and not a single weed!) but I felt a bit as if I was making the place untidy just by being there.
The door opened before I could knock. “Do come in,” said the Queen. She led me into a pleasingly set out sitting room with a view over a garden planted with roses and vines. “Do sit down. Young Pentacle will bring the tea in shortly.” We each perched on a sofa, facing each other.
After a little silence I asked, “Did you make these?” pointing to some exquisitely embroidered tapestry cushions.
“Well, I did some of them, and that one, and that one, were done by two of the students.”
“They are beautiful, and such subtly blended colours.”
“Yes, well we encourage people to pay attention to their colour schemes, whether it’s cushion covers or the food on the plate,” said the Queen. There was another little silence and I wondered whether to comment on the pictures, which I actually found not very interesting, though they were, of course, very pretty, and all the right colours to complement the rest of the furnishing.
The Page of Pentacles came in with the tea: tea things on a tray with a pentacle stamped on it, and then he brought in a tiered cake stand which he placed on a low table nearby. The food was delightful, tiny savoury-filled finger rolls, miniature scones with jam and cream and delicious little pentacle-shaped cakes. Everything was served on good rose-patterned china and I wondered if it was dishwasher-proof.
“What are you doing now?” I asked the Page.
“Oh, I am studying to be a vet,” he said. “I think I will specialise in small animals, though, I can’t really see myself heaving cows and pigs around.”
“Where are you studying?” I asked, and he replied with the name of a well-known veterinary college.
“Is your brother around?” asked the Queen. “Tell him the lady from TABI is here and he should come and meet her.”
The Knight duly appeared. He was frowning as he shook my hand and then helped himself to tea. He didn’t say much for a while. “You know, mother,” he said eventually, “I was thinking about that field at the back. I don’t think we are putting it to very good use. I think we ought to …..”
“Yes, dear,” said the Queen, “but I don’t think that field is very interesting for our guest.”
“Well, it is to me,” said the Knight, “I have been thinking about that field for months. We are losing money on it, not doing anything with it.”
“Well, perhaps you should discuss it with your father, empty fields are not really sitting-room conversation, unless you are with a lot of other people with empty fields.” The conversation lapsed again and Knight stumped out of the room with his head down and his hands in his pockets.
I struggled for something to fill the silence. “Perhaps we could take a turn in the garden,” said the Queen. We went through a very pleasant kitchen and outside. “I apologise for my older son,” she said. “He tends to get notions in his head and won’t let go. It can be awfully boring at times.” As she led the way into the garden the Queen became more animated. She showed me plants she had grown from seed, and told me how she had designed the garden and the vegetable patch. She had also grown her own herbs (the manor did too but those were for the catering school) and she explained their properties and how they would help. She even made her own ointments and promised me something to take home for my dry skin.
“Ah,” said a voice behind us, “there you are!” and the King came into the garden to greet me. “I am sorry I was not here earlier, I was discussing the possibility of setting up a catering school for people who live in – (and he named a part of town which was rather rough) – they wouldn’t feel so comfortable here, and I thought something they could see on their own doorstep, so to speak, would encourage them.”
“How did it go?” I asked.
“Quite well, I think. The local authority can’t help much financially, but one of the other charities I work with is interested, and there are other people I can persuade to help in one way or another.”
“Thank you,” I said to the Queen, accepting a small pot of “Q of P’s Skin Ointment” as I left, as well as some roses she had cut for me (“I can see you are a rose lady” she had said). “That tea was much nicer than… Oh,” I put my hand over my mouth.
“Than the Queen of Swords’ lunch I think you were going to say. I have tried to persuade her to accept a little help, but she seems to think creature comforts like edible food are unnecessary. You’ll be visiting the Cups and the Wands, I expect,” she added. “Give them my love.”