Vivien climbed the great Adams staircase at Northam House. She had scarcely reached the top step when she met Diana, preparing to descend. She was pulling on her York tan gloves with something like irritation, her bonnet jammed onto her curls as if it were to blame for some upset. Margaret was behind her, trying to coax her mistress into putting on a pelisse.
Diana obliged, hunching down to accept her dresser’s assistance. The shoulders and armholes of the garment had been carefully tailored by her modiste to fit the countess closely. The modish pelisse was difficult to put on but the end result was worth it—the sleeves clung to Diana’s slim arms with no wrinkling, the back setting off her elegant shoulders to perfection.
“Surely you’re not thinking of going out,” Vivien remonstrated.
“I’m off to Cornhill,” Diana said, nodding her thanks to the maid. Her green eyes dared Vivien to gainsay her. “To get a Twelfth Night cake. Birch’s makes the best in London, I’m told.”
Vivien quirked an eyebrow. “You hate Twelfth Night cakes. You never eat them at other people’s parties and you give your servants a week’s wages instead of their customary slice so you don’t have to bring one in the house.”
“Quite. I despise the nasty things they put in them.” Diana passed her, going down the stairs rapidly. “But it’s not for me,” she called over her shoulder. “It’s for Griffin.”
Vivien followed, her slippered feet making what sounded like a silly patter on the stone steps, hastening after the sound of Diana’s leather half boots. She tried to keep her voice even although it echoed in the stairwell chasm topped by a decorative dome high above.
“You amaze me,” she said to Diana’s back that was by now far below. “I’m his cousin and have never known him to have a penchant for it.”
The sound of male laughter rose from the foyer at the bottom of the stairway and filled its monumental space. Vivien could see that Diana had stopped at the landing where she was confronted by her uncle and Griffin. As she came to stand beside her friend, Vivien noted the exceptionally large box they had, bearing the stamp of Birch & Birch, Confectioners.
“Go ahead, my dear,” Russell said to Diana, winking at Vivien. “See what Griffin has brought you.”
Diana opened the box and even Ingle, the housekeeper, was moved to express her astonishment. Inside was a confection exquisitely decorated with delicate icing that was sculpted into swags and bunches of fruit. In the center, there was no coat of arms nor earl’s coronet as one might expect would crown an offering for a countess.
The Twelfth Night cake was topped, very simply, with the name DIANA.
Griffin cleared his throat in the awkward silence. “I don’t care for Twelfth Night cakes myself, but I was persuaded you might like this one.”
Vivien, not knowing whether he would receive thanks or a face full of iced confection, stepped into the breach. “How very thoughtful of you, Griffin.”
She should have known Russell had no such compunction.
“Well, Niece,” he teased, “will you despise this Twelfth Night cake as you have all the others I’ve tried to bring home?”
“I think not.” Diana replied, looking directly at Griffin. “Thank you for the cake, Sir.”
Vivien wondered at the undefined warmth filling the cold foyer.
The Chambers’ Book of Days of 1869 reports that Birch’s is one of London’s most celebrated confectioners–the shop being quite old by the the time its proprieter, Samuel Birch, served as Lord Mayor in 1815, the year of Griffin’s gift to Diana. The shop was in Cornhill, a part of London’s City Center that crowns one of that metropolis’ three hills, the others being Tower Hill and Ludgate Hill.
The picture of another “Diana” cake seemed appropriate. A slice given by the Queen Mother to her servant sold recently for almost two thousand pounds sterling. Quite a bit more than a week’s wages, I’ll warrant.