Drusilla regretted that she had called Murgatroyd ‘odious and oleaginous‘.
She didn’t regret having said that he was trying to live the life of Grey
Gowrie, or Tam Dalyell, without having the accompanying political acumen.
She didn’t regret saying that because it was true.
She had sent him an Easter card to symbolise a resurrection in their
relationship and hoped to go and visit him in his pele tower at Whitsun.
When are you going to open that present from Aunt Augusta? her mother
Yes, do open it. We are both dying to know what it is, said Sonia.
Again, Dru thought that if Sonia was a competent clairvoyant, then she
should know what was inside the wrapping.
Oh, all right. Aunt Augusta said not to get too excited.
She went upstairs to fetch it.
They watched round the kitchen table as she tore off the greying
bubble wrap and gasped as a small egg almost rolled over the edge.
Careful! cautioned Sonia, catching it and thereby revealing a reflex
somewhat quicker than the others’, perhaps indicating foreknowledge.
That’s a surprise, said Diana. I thought it would be some cheap bauble,
but it looks for all the world like...
a Faberge egg, supplied Sonia. Maybe it is one of the missing ones.
…worth $20 million, scoffed Dru. I don’t think so.
No, but if you look at it closely, Sonia persisted, it has a little portrait
..which looks remarkably like Gus- if he had a beard! He did grow one
when he was younger and..
What do you think it’s made of? interrupted Dru. Alabaster?
Some kind of nephrite, perhaps, postulated Sonia.
Let’s Google missing Faberge eggs, said Diana. One never knows!
Ever the optimist, sighed Dru, picking up her tablet. She typed in
‘lost Faberge eggs.’
Oh my goodness! she screeched. Read this. She passed the tablet
over to her mother.
Where? What? What bit do I read?
Look! ‘The lost Emperor Nephrite egg with its golden base decorated
with diamonds and medallion portrait of Alexander III..’
Let me see! Let me see! Sonia pushed in.
I’m reading about Alexander III, Dru held her off. It says that he was
an amateur musician and a patron of ballet. He lacked refinement, was
gruff and had a straightforward way of expressing himself.
Sounds like your father, Diana nodded.
He had something of the muzhik about him..Dru went on. Known as
‘The Peacemaker’, he fought no wars, though he had a weighty burden of
Just like your father in that school, Diana agreed.
‘He could give a look as cold as steel’..I’ve seen him do that in a classroom
situation, continued Dru. Especially when faced with that Boothroyd-
Smythe boy. And-wait for it!- he reversed the liberalisation of his
predecessor, saying that the best means of averting war was to be
prepared for it.
Who said that? Sonia was confused.
Alexander III, Dru clarified.
Hmm, well it’s a pity that NATO is not paying heed to his wisdom, said
‘Dithering’ is le mot juste.
So, Sonia wanted to understand the situation, this was picked up by your
grandmother in a souk in Istanbul?
Not my grandmother. We just thought that she was.
Nevertheless, it was found before 1920?
Apparently. She must have given it to Augusta. It’s probably Fauxberge.
What’s the difference? asked Diana.
About $20 million! Dru was feeling cynical.
So how did it end up in a souk? Sonia looked puzzled.
It was probably stolen from a Soviet Fine Art Repository, Dru
said in exasperation. How should I know?
You’ve been watching Octopussy, Diana criticised her. There are fakes,
but there is probably on-line advice as to what to look for.
That’s what I’m searching for, replied Dru. Yes, here’s a site that
mentions A La Vieille Russie. A guy called Peter L Schaffer says some
of these finds can be like a curate’s egg- good in parts, presumably.
Who is he? asked Sonia.
A New York business specialist, read Dru. He says it shouldn’t be too
good to be true. Tatyana Faberge, the grand-daughter, authenticates
them. ‘Beware of lasers which can trace real marks onto fake pieces,’
they advise. There shouldn’t be any rough edges and the diamonds
should be single cut.. The real hot pink is unique.
So, if it is a fake, will it be destroyed like that Chagall painting that was
submitted for authentication in Paris? Diana asked.
They don’t seem to mind so much, Dru read on. Some can still be worth
Do you know who might have contacts that would help? said Diana
Murgatroyd, replied Dru.
Exactly. Maybe you should go up and see him and take it with you.
I was going to say that, lied Sonia.
Maybe at Whitsun then? suggested Dru.
Why not? Whitsun would be a good time. She already had her train ticket.
Cadbury's Creme egg, Call the Midwife, Cato, coronet, De Agri Cultura, Discovery Trail, Easter Bunny, gastropod, Gladstone bag, Istanbul, Judas, kelim, Laetare Sunday, Mary Berry, marzipan, mollusc, onesie, Paralympian, placenta, plakous, plebeian, Simnel cake, souk, Thornton's chocolate, Tortoise and Hare, Wyvern Mote
Great-Aunt Augusta was ready and waiting for them. She was
ensconced in her usual corner of Snodland Nursing Home for the
Debased Gentry and the tea trolley had been parked beside her little
Her gimlet eyes had already detected the Thornton chocolate egg that
Drusilla was bearing. The old lady smiled broadly and greeted them with
an invitation that could not be refused: Go on- have some placenta cake.
It’s that time of year.
Snod sat down in one of the institutional high-backed chairs. What did
you just say, Aunt Augusta? I need to have my ears syringed.
Placenta cake. One always has it from Laetare Sunday onwards.
Oh, I see. You are drawing an analogy with that plakous cake so beloved
of the Greeks? But I thought that was made with dough, cheese, honey and
was flavoured with bay leaves. Wasn’t there a recipe for it in Cato’s De Agri
Possibly, replied Aunt Augusta, but people have linked it to our Simnel cake
and Matron has allowed us to have one for afternoon tea. So, you be
mother, she directed Drusilla.
Dru looked relieved that she was not going to be faced with something
slithery from Call the Midwife. It looked fairly innocuous, but shop-bought.
It’s to a recipe from that youngster Mary Berry, Augusta informed them.
Ah, simila, meaning ‘fine flour’, Snod pontificated. It was going to be a
And you know all about the balls? Augusta interrogated Dru, distracting
her while she was pouring, so that she slopped some tea into the saucers.
Balls? Coronets had them and now simnel cakes. They were ubiquitous.
Balls? Dru repeated gormlessly.
Gus looked a little red-faced.
They represent the Apostles. Minus Judas. But when I baked mine, I
always used to add him in. After all, he did repent.
Hmm, mused Dru. I’ve been thinking about that during Lent. I would like to
be inclusive in my attitude too.
You see, Augusta said. I knew we think alike. So, assuming that you don’t
have one of those dreadful tramp stamps, I can now give you an Easter
present. Fair exchange, as I see you have brought me a Thornton’s
chocolate treat. Just something mother picked up in a souk in Istanbul,
or somewhere. Don’t get too excited.
Dru looked puzzled as Aunt Augusta opened a kind of Gladstone made
from a Turkish saddle-bag. Or maybe it was Anatolian. Dru wasn’t an
This is for you. Don’t open it here. I’ve been hiding it ever since I came in
here, in case one of the inmates took a fancy to it. I was going to give it to
your father, but he has had the proceeds from quite a few of Mother’s kelims
in the past, so now it is your turn.
She picked off a marzipan ball and popped it into her mouth.
Like a hole in one, Snod thought. Not much evidence of a significant
Dru thanked her and together they managed to wrap her up and wheel
her out for the afternoon. Of course, they went to Wyvern Mote, where,
I am afraid to relate, Aunt Augusta whirled her wheelchair around a
children’s Discovery Trail, as if she was a Paralympian, and bagged
all the Cadbury’s Creme Eggs which had just been secreted by a giant
Easter Bunny in a ridiculous Onesie.
Sugar is very bad for you, she justified herself. I heard it on the news.
It doesn’t matter at my age, but I am saving the little ones from future
And she stuffed a whole one into her mouth, much as she had done with
the marzipan ball, leaving a trail of slivers of silver paper behind her, like
an orienteering trail, or the shiny slime from a sweet-loving snail.
(I was going to write ‘toothed’ instead of ‘loving‘, but the metaphor didn’t work
for gastropods and molluscs.) Tant pis, as the escargot race are wont to say.
Once she had been delivered safely and they had driven off, Dru raised a
subject that she had been saving for a private moment.
I had a letter from someone whom I haven’t heard from for quite some time,
she said to Snod, after they had reached a straight section of road.
Oh, who was that? Gus asked, only mildly interested. Get out of the way,
you plebeian! It’s 30mph, or can’t you read? It’s the hare and the tortoise
all over again!
Someone had cut him up and it wasn’t a policeman. He reserved the
right to use the term, as a long-standing Classics scholar.
Mum doesn’t know, but it was from Murgatroyd. He wants me to go up and
stay for a couple of days. To see what he’s achieved in the restoration of his
house in the Borders. Allegedly.
Indeed, remarked Snod. This was a useful word which he employed to
good effect in difficult parental interviews. Why do you say ‘allegedly’?
Because I think he misses me. He was in loco parentis for my first
And I wasn’t, I suppose. The latter was not expressed with any hint of
There was silence for a few minutes. Then Snod responded.
In the light of our conversation on Judas, I can only say that we might as
well think of Murgatroyd as an extra ball. He may not be the icing on the
familial cake, but he probably needs to be included.
Father, that’s generous of you. It makes no difference to how I feel about
What about your mother? Do you want me to keep the lid on this for the
moment? She’s moving house and perhaps that is enough stress for her
I will think about how to tell her, but for now, it’s what I feel I have to do.
Snod dropped her off at Royalist House in High Street. She was
Here! You forgot your present! shouted Snod, handing her the parcel out
through the driver’s window. It was quite heavy for its size.
He wasn’t going to come in. He had some work to do for the new term
and he was so behind. Would he change his name, or leave things
as they were? Decisions, decisions..