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Tuesday, August 20, 2013

A Christmas Picture and a Sneak Preview to the Story Behind It!

 If he could suspend belief for just a moment, Corporal Matthew Hennessy could almost believe that he was back at home, walking along the road that connected his farm with the main street leading into town. The trees looked the same. The cows looked the same and even the sharp wind that assailed him felt the same. Had he not been keenly, and somewhat painfully, aware of the fact that he was thousands of miles away from the beloved place, he could have felt a moment's joy.

As it was, Matthew was feeling just short of despondent. He'd arrived only a few days before and within hours had been transferred to another unit. His commanding officer had told him how lucky he was as his new outfit was on leave through the Christmas holiday. Unfortunately, nearly everyone in his group had found this out the day before and had left the base. He was virtually alone for the next five days. To be alone and far from home at Christmas seemed to be an awful punishment to the young man.

Deciding that it was time to return to his base he noticed that the light was starting to fade. Corporal Hennessy heard the sound of an approaching car and turning around saw a long black Daimler limousine moving toward him. As it pulled alongside, the car stopped and the rear window was slowly lowered.

“Good afternoon young man. Could we offer you a lift?”
The cultured but kindly voice belonged to a very upright old woman wearing a rather tall and imposing hat. Her eyes were friendly but there was a sort of regal quality about her.

“Thank you all the same, ma'am, but I was just about to turn around and head back for my base.”

“Well, never mind that. Why don't you join me for tea and then we'll see to it that you get back to your base. It's awfully cold and it's getting rather dark.”

“Thank you, ma'am. That's very nice of you.”

Corporal Hennessy climbed into the back seat of the car and sat next to the elderly woman. She looked vaguely familiar but Matthew couldn't place her. If anything, he was reminded of his English grandmother back home. Never in his life had he seen her slouch, let alone touch the back of the seat in which she sat.

“You are from America, are you not?” This was more of a statement than a question.

“That's right, ma'am.”
“Where in America do you live?”

“I doubt that you've heard of it, ma'am. It's an awfully small town.”

The old lady's eyebrow arched. “You might be surprised, young man, I've heard of a great many places.”

“It's a place called Corvallis. It's in...” The woman interrupted him.

“Oregon, I believe. Not terribly far from the coast.”

“That's right! How did you know?”

The lady laughed merrily. “It's really quite simple. My cousin stopped at Corvallis once and was entertained by some red Indians. She was on her way to San Francisco after visiting a museum in the State of Washington. She wrote quite a description of the proceedings and it all sounded rather romantic and exciting. I've remembered the name ever since.”

“I can honestly say that I've never thought of Corvallis as either romantic or exciting, but I've also never seen a red Indian.”

“Well, such things seem to be trotted out for our benefit wherever we go.” The woman laughed again although Corporal Hennessy didn't quite understand what she meant.

Just as Matthew was about to ask a few of his own questions, he noticed that they were pulling through a rather ornate gate and heading toward a large and very grand house.

“Is this where your niece lives?? Corporal Hennessy was rather surprised at the grandeur of the place.

“Yes. It belongs to her husband's family. I'll warn you, it's rather close quarters just now.”

The car pulled silently to the entrance and an elderly servant in livery opened the door. As the lady alighted and Matthew noticed that the old man gave a stiff, correct neck bow. He was always impressed by formality of the English but didn't give it much thought.

A rather imposing man stood at door and he, too, bowed quickly. As she passed the woman said, “Small, we'll have tea in the drawing room. Corporal... I don't think I ever asked your name.”

“Hennessy. Matthew Hennessy.”

“Yes, Corporal Hennessy will be joining me. Is the Duchess in as well?”

“No, Your Majesty. Her Grace will not be back in time for tea bust asked me to tell you that she will be at dinner.”

“Ah, good. We have rather a lot to do to prepare for Christmas Day. Thank you, Small.”
Matthew's mind was reeling. “Your Majesty”?! And then, quite suddenly it dawned on him. Of course this lady looked familiar. It was Queen Mary! The mother of the Kind of England! His grandmother had a mug and a biscuit tin from the coronation of King George V and Queen Mary sitting on a special shelf in her bedroom. She'd often talked of seeing the King and Queen pass by in their golden coach on the way to the ceremony. And here he was, Matthew Hennessy, about to have tea with the Queen herself and he hadn't even recognized her.

Entering the drawing room, Queen Mary directed Matthew to a comfortable chair covered in blue silk just opposite the fireplace. An enormous Christmas tree decorated with red wax candles and shiny silver balls stood nearby. A fire roared in the fireplace. It was the warmest Matthew had been in weeks. The room was lined with richly carved wood panelling, old books and large paintings of long dead ancestors. The Queen sat opposite him and gave him a warm smile.

“Your Majesty, I must apologize. I really should have known who you were but I never would have thought in a million years that...”

Queen Mary giggled a surprisingly girlish giggle. “Please, don't give it a thought. You've know idea how nice it can be not to be recognized and to be spoken to as if one were an entirely anonymous person. It's one of the things that I think I like most about the Americans. They treat one with such an open and friendly manner. My cousin – the one who was at Corvallis – often spoke of this.”

“May I ask who your cousin was, ma'am?”

“Oh, yes, of course. It was Queen Marie of Rumania. She was in the United States to open a museum that a rather flamboyant man named Sam Hill had built. I think it was in an oddly remote place in the State of Washington, but Missy was very fond of him and, of course, he'd invested rather a lot of money in Rumania. Missy was quite remarkable, you know. Quite a character!”

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