The stately clock in the Dunston town square tower was not beholden to any of the residents, neither the founding nobility nor the Irish immigrants who later settled there. The clock simply did its duty - tolling the hours. The residents, however, were well aware of their station, particularly at ten o’clock each morning. What signaled this particular hour was not the sound of the clock, but the appearance of the Dunston Bentley, purring up curbside to Ryan’s Irish Bakery.
At precisely ten, the uniformed driver, Charles, would alight from the silver sedan and scurry to the rear passenger door. Like a magician flourishing his cape, he would sweep the door open to reveal the contents in all her glory – Lady Catherine Dunston, the town matriarch. A gloved hand would appear, followed by lily-white legs in pumps - always matched to the dress that followed. Coiffed, preened, and polished, she would emerge – nose tipped so high, her hat would cling desperately to its precarious perch on her head.
“Good day, Lady Dunston,” curtseying ladies and hat-doffing men would murmur; yet, Catherine Dunn rarely answered, displaying her silent contempt for most of the poor Irish merchants in the square.
On this particular day, however, Lady Dunston was to have her “comeuppance”.
This day the bakery door seemed to open automatically in homage to Lady Dunston. It was actually held by Mr. Ryan as he made a sweeping bow, his bald head as polished as the noblewoman.
“Top ‘o the mornin’ to ye, Mum.”
“Mister Ryan,” the voice was strident, condescending. “Must I always remind you to use proper English when addressing me? Your people have been here long enough to learn to speak in a gentile manner. Yet, you insist on reverting to that provincial brogue. If you hadn’t the best scones in town, I would not trouble myself to patronize you.”
“Ah, Mrs. Dunston,” Ryan wiped his hands on his apron and smiled. “My greatest desire is to grace your tea table with the finest scones, be they ever a touch o’ humble Irish. You’ll not find any this side o’ heaven made as good as mine.”
“’As well as’, Mr. Ryan,” she corrected.
“Well, Begorra, thank ye for the compliment.”
“Incorrigible! Just give me six raisin, six plain and a loaf of brown bread. Pay him, Charles, I need some fresh air.”
“Need any tea to go with them, Your Ladyship? I have a special green – ‘twould make a fine cup.”
Catherine paused. She knew the two Historical Society ladies coming for tea had a taste for Irish green as did she.
“All right – six ounces - make sure it is your very best.” She pointed her finger menacingly at Ryan, then disappeared out the door.
Ryan packaged the order and handed it to Charles. “Be sure the tea is steeped at least 15 minutes for full flavor and effect. It’s an old Irish recipe that’s sure ta put a smile on the face of imbibers. Wouldn’t doubt St. Patrick himself might’ve sipped some.”
Just thinking of the ladies imbibing the tea made Ryan smile.
Later, at exactly 4:00 p.m., Charles served the tea and scones to the Dunston Historical Society ladies in the Dunston library. Charlotte Pennington daintily sipped her tea and nibbled on a raisin scone, while Elisabeth Smythe stirred a lump of sugar into the dark brew.
“Delicious, my dear, simply delicious,” chortled Charlotte.
“I’ve not tasted better myself,” Elisabeth chimed. “This tea is simply exquisite.”
“I take pride in serving only the best,” Catherine lowered her cup and flashed a broad, gloating smile. Both guests gasped, napkins a-flutter to cover their gaping mouths.
Catherine, eyes batting, continued to smile awkwardly. “Is. . . something wrong?”
Neither woman spoke. Catherine’s lips were no longer the color of Pink Rose, her favorite lip paint – they were…greenish, and her teeth . . .even greener.
Charlotte lowered her napkin, “Are you. . . feeling well?”
Puzzled, Catherine blinked from one to the other. “I’m fine.”
“I’m so glad,” Charlotte smiled nervously, baring bright, emerald teeth to her hostess, who fainted dead away.
After that fateful day it is said Lady Dunston never left home again, never ate another Irish scone nor drank another cup of tea. Ryan’s Bakery lost a regular customer, but gained a reputation for its famous green tea, embellished with food coloring, and the townspeople learned once more to rely on the clock in the square to signal ten o’clock.
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