Wednesday, December 6, 2023

In the Shadow of Her Majesty, Chapter Six

Chapter Six: The Ladies Aid Society

“Well. That was simply lovely, my dear. Thank you.”

It was the Duchess Fairfax who rose with grace to initiate the applause at the completion of my modest performance, which had fulfilled its purpose at the appropriate time during the morning meeting of the Ladies Aid Society, Old Colony, Eastern Seaboard Chapter.

Proceedings of the meeting to that point had been as they must needs be, according to the bylaws of the Society: Conclave, to begin precisely on the hour; a brief word of devotion, delivered passionately that day by The Very Reverend N’gongo, Bishop of Fairfax; determination of a quorum; certification of said quorum by affirmation; a full review of the minutes from the previous quarterly meeting, approval of said minutes by a simple majority, either as submitted or amended; and then a short reading, poem, or musical selection to be provided by a member in good standing of the society prior to our engagement with the pressing business of the day.

It was precisely the sort of event that would drive Suzanna mad.

My selection, as I had previously mentioned, was Chopin, the Etude Opus Twenty Five, Number Five. I had thought that I might instead play his Nocturne in E Flat Major, which is lovely, but my heart was troubled at Stewart’s early departure and the unseen dangers that seemed to cloud about Father’s journey to the Royal Seat, and determined that the willful dissonances of that most sublime Etude spoke more to the disturbance of my soul and the challenges of this season. As Debussy once so wonderfully declaimed, “Chopin est le plus grand de tous, car rien qu'avec le piano, il a tout découvert.”

From around me, discreet affirmation rose from the esteemed members of the Society, whose elegantly begloved hands canted out a muffled percussion of appreciation; it was as if the room had filled with an eruption of soft-winged moths, which then settled again in their laps, as all heads turned as one to attend to the words of the Lady of the House.

Duchess Fairfax was always quite worthy of one’s attention, as her striking bearing and presence part of a natural giftedness, her imposing stature and fine, leonine features a blessing from her lineage as the Emebet Hoy of the Amharas. As the Grande Dame of the Society, a position to which she was re-elected annually by unanimous acclamation, she more than any other gentlewoman or Lady of the Peerage was responsible for the continuance of the manifold charitable works of Her Majesty. Now, it was for her to begin the proceedings.

“Thank you, dear Lady Montgomery, for giving us that sublime moment of musical reflection, and for setting us in a frame of mind to consider the serious business at hand. Now, ladies, I will ask you to turn to the first item upon today’s agenda, which can be found under tab one of your folio.”

There was a rustling of paper, as the two dozen leather-bound folios were opened gently by two dozen pairs of begloved hands.

“All should now be considering item one, tab one, the page headed Agricultural Yields of the Crown’s Mid Atlantic Fields-Beneficent in the second and third quarter. Are we all viewing the same information?” Two dozen elegantly and distinctly coiffed heads nodded in unison.

“Excellent. Then let us turn to the Dowager Lady Lancaster, Vice Chairwoman of the Committee for the Prevention of Common Hunger in the Old Colonies, for her report on the rousing success of the Society’s most recent harvest, and how it might meet the most pressing needs amongst the common people this winter. Lady Lancaster, I cede the floor to you.”

Lady Lancaster rose slowly, her silver hair shining, and in her wavering contralto, began to deliver her report as she peered down through her spectacles at her own folio. “Esteemed colleagues and Ladies of the Society, I am pleased to hereby report to you that the crop yields in the Fields-Beneficent this year were both bountiful and of most excellent quality. As you can see in row one of the alphabetically arranged table before you, this success began with the alfalfa crop, which had the following yields by county, again sorted by alphabetical precedence…”

At this point, dear reader, I shall show mercy and spare you a full reportage of the proceedings of our meeting, although I am sure you would find it entirely agreeable should you be currently afflicted with a bout of insomnia.

What is of more significance for your edification is the central role the Ladies Aid Society plays in the furtherance of the aims of the Crown. I realise this has been amply discussed in other literatures, and is routinely presented in digest to all avid readers of The Weekly Post, but I feel it would be remiss of me not to present at least a summary description of the Society and my role within it at this juncture in my tale.

My personal engagement with the Ladies Aid Society is somewhat irregular, as it is constituted primarily of gentlewomen of a more advanced age. These venerable doyennes and dowagers have shown their loyalty to Her Majesty over a lifetime of devoted service, and distinguished themselves by their wisdom, insight, and charitable intention.

I find myself among their august company for three reasons: Reason the First, that I am of such a temperament that my person is amenable to those who have experienced more of the joys and hardships of this life, or as Suzanna rather indelicately puts it, I can at times seem as wizened as a crone; Reason the Second, that it is an unspoken rule in every chapter of the Society to engage the adjunct, non-voting participation of at least one personage of fresher countenance and fewer years, a purpose that ensures the continuance of the Society, and; Reason the Third, that the Society has in years still painfully recent been of direct and invaluable support to the House Montgomery, Father, and myself.

For it was the Society that swept in with gentle words and support most material upon the tragic circumstance of Mother’s untimely death. I was still barely more than a girl, Suzanna but a child, and Father…though he would recover…was reduced to weeping and inconsolable ruin.

Death in childbirth is still lamentably commonplace outside of the peerage, but among our number it is exceedingly rare. The capacities of our medical science are exceptional, and the Royal Hospital performs marvels that would in prior times…even in that peculiar age just before the collapse…have been considered little less than miraculous.

Yet for all of our technical prowess, and the peerless competence and tireless ministrations of the Royal Hospital’s surgeons both human and mechanical, Mother died, as did the doomed male heir of Wexton-Hughes within her.

The deep duty and compassion shown by the estimable ladies of the Society at that shattering, sorrowful juncture left me forever in their debt, and with the greatest appreciation for their contributions to the wellbeing of all of Her Majesty’s servants.

Yet it was only upon my invitation to join the Society’s number that I was fully apprised of the extent and value of our efforts. For those of more limited vision, there can arise the most inaccurate assumption of the power of the Society, as if it is simply an idle pastime. It is most certainly not. Each of the Ministries of the Crown all serve their purposes ably, defending and organising, exploring and use of the fruits of said exploration. In a similar way, so also does the Royal Society, as it advances our scientific understanding in a way that preserves the integrity of Her Majesty’s Reign. The Ladies Aid Society is of no lesser stature, and in many ways should be considered even more vital to Her Majesty and Her Glorious Empire.

For it is through the diligent effort of the Ladies Aid Society that the Crown accomplishes the following necessaries: The Royal Charitable Hospitals, which extend The Royal Touch to commoners afflicted with all manner of ailments and injuries; The Royal Pantries Bountiful, which provide for commoners from the fruit of the great groaning table of the Fields-Beneficent, and are often their only ward against the Black Horseman of Famine; The Rescue Aid Society, which gives succour to the needs of commoners afflicted by storm, earthquake, fire, and the manifold other Acts of God to which they in their frailty are much vulnerable; and the Royal Geographic and Oceanographic Restoration Society, which, as a sister to the Royal Society, determines and implements the most efficacious application of our brethren’s latest advancements towards the replenishment of our blighted world and barren seas.

We are not the righteous fist of Her Majesty’s Wrath, nor the incisive searching of Her Eye, but the womanly hand of Her Patient Care and Gracious Charity. For it is with patience, grace, and charity that the goodwill of all might be won; and concomitantly, it is from the well-tilled field of that goodwill that the ranks of the common folk offer up those whose quality and dignity of person proves them worthy of Her Majesty’s acceptance into the circle of Her peers.

No man could serve Her towards that noble end as we do, for how could they, not being as She is, and being unable to understand Her Sublime Femininity?

Such is the great purpose of the Ladies Aid Society, although I will freely acknowledge that where Patience, Grace, and Charity are our cardinal virtues, it is patience that is of most necessity in enduring a quarterly meeting, particularly during the Dowager Lady Lancaster’s report.