Penelope's English Experiences by Kate Douglas Wiggin
Part First--In Town.
Chapter III. Eggs a la coque.
Is it to my credit, or to my eternal dishonour that I once made a powdered footman smile, and that, too, when he was handing a buttered muffin to an earl's daughter?
It was while we were paying a visit at Marjorimallow Hall, Sir Owen and Lady Marjorimallow's place in Surrey. This was to be our first appearance in an English country house, and we made elaborate preparations. Only our freshest toilettes were packed, and these were arranged in our trunks with the sole view of impressing the lady's-maid who should unpack them. We each purchased dressing- cases and new fittings, Francesca's being of sterling silver, Salemina's of triple plate, and mine of celluloid, as befitted our several fortunes. Salemina read up on English politics; Francesca practised a new way of dressing her hair; and I made up a portfolio of sketches. We counted, therefore, on representing American letters, beauty, and art to that portion of the great English public staying at Marjorimallow Hall. (I must interject a parenthesis here to the effect that matters did not move precisely as we expected; for at table, where most of our time was passed, Francesca had for a neighbour a scientist, who asked her plump whether the religion of the American Indian was or was not a pure theism; Salemina's partner objected to the word 'politics' in the mouth of a woman; while my attendant squire adored a good bright-coloured chromo. But this is anticipating.)
Three days before our departure, I remarked at the breakfast-table, Dawson being absent: "My dear girls, you are aware that we have ordered fried eggs, scrambled eggs, buttered eggs, and poached eggs ever since we came to Dovermarle Street, simply because we do not know how to eat boiled eggs prettily from the shell, English fashion, and cannot break them into a cup or a glass, American fashion, on account of the effect upon Dawson. Now there will certainly be boiled eggs at Marjorimallow Hall, and we cannot refuse them morning after morning; it will be cowardly (which is unpleasant), and it will be remarked (which is worse). Eating them minced in an egg-cup, in a baronial hall, with the remains of a drawbridge in the grounds, is equally impossible; if we do that, Lady Marjorimallow will be having our luggage examined, to see if we carry wigwams and war-whoops about with us. No, it is clearly necessary that we master the gentle art of eating eggs tidily and daintily from the shell. I have seen English women--very dull ones, too--do it without apparent effort; I have even seen an English infant do it, and that without soiling her apron, or, as Salemina would say, 'messing her pinafore.' I propose, therefore, that we order soft-boiled eggs daily; that we send Dawson from the room directly breakfast is served; and that then and there we have a class for opening eggs, lowest grade, object method. Any person who cuts the shell badly, or permits the egg to leak over the rim, or allows yellow dabs on the plate, or upsets the cup, or stains her fingers, shall be fined 'tuppence' and locked into her bedroom for five minutes."
The first morning we were all in the bedroom together, and, there being no blameless person to collect fines, the wildest civil disorder prevailed.
On the second day Salemina and I improved slightly, but Francesca had passed a sleepless night, and her hand trembled (the love-letter mail had come in from America). We were obliged to tell her, as we collected 'tuppence' twice on the same egg, that she must either remain at home, or take an oilcloth pinafore to Marjorimallow Hall.
But 'ease is the lovely result of forgotten toil,' and it is only a question of time and desire with Americans, we are so clever. Other nations have to be trained from birth; but as we need only an ounce of training where they need a pound, we can afford to procrastinate. Sometimes we procrastinate too long, but that is a trifle. On the third morning success crowned our efforts. Salemina smiled, and I told an anecdote, during the operation, although my egg was cracked in the boiling, and I question if the Queen's favourite maid-of- honour could have managed it prettily. Accordingly, when eggs were brought to the breakfast-table at Marjorimallow Hall, we were only slightly nervous. Francesca was at the far end of the long table, and I do not know how she fared, but from various Anglicisms that Salemina dropped, as she chatted with the Queen's Counsel on her left, I could see that her nerve was steady and circulation free. We exchanged glances (there was the mistake!), and with an embarrassed laugh she struck her egg a hasty blow.
Her egg-cup slipped and lurched; a top fraction of the egg flew in the direction of the Q.C., and the remaining portion oozed, in yellow confusion, rapidly into her plate. Alas for that past mistress of elegant dignity, Salemina! If I had been at Her Majesty's table, I should have smiled, even if I had gone to the Tower the next moment; but as it was, I became hysterical. My neighbour, a portly member of Parliament, looked amazed, Salemina grew scarlet, the situation was charged with danger; and, rapidly viewing the various exits, I chose the humorous one, and told as picturesquely as possible the whole story of our school of egg- opening in Dovermarle Street, the highly arduous and encouraging rehearsals conducted there, and the stupendous failure incident to our first public appearance. Sir Owen led the good-natured laughter and applause; lords and ladies, Q.C.'s and M.P.'s joined in with a will; poor Salemina raised her drooping head, opened and ate a second egg with the repose of a Vere de Vere--and the footman smiled!