I suppose I must apologize, Meg, for taking so long to write. Your letter arrived at the castle a fortnight ago, and disappeared under a pile of recipes on my desk. I have only just found it.
Why recipes, you may ask? It is all part of my latest ambition, Meg. I’ve decided to become a chef. Father calls this my latest “folly.” He doesn’t understand how much I hate the thought of becoming a knight. A creative mind, such as my own, needs room to live and breathe. I do believe that wearing a helmet and stomping around with a sword would suffocate it.
But perhaps I should explain. The trouble started almost a week ago when Father called Lavinia, Cousin Rolland, and myself into the drawing-room while Mother was out inspecting the servants. He cleared his throat (in that way he has) and said, “Children, as you know, your Mother’s birthday is almost here. Now we must decide how we will celebrate it.”
“Rolland and I have chosen to sing a duet for her,” Lavinia said, glancing archly at Rolland. (Ever since the engagement she’s been trying to include him in all her favorite pastimes.)
I snickered at the mention of duets, and it was humorous watching Rolland (who thinks he’s so tough) trying to smile at Lavinia, even as his hands strayed towards his sword.
Father (who misses nothing) speared me with a glance. Then he asked me, “And what are YOU planning to do, Richard?”
“I’ve decided to make her cake this year,” I said. “I found the most wonderful recipe….”
“Absolutely not!” Father roared, aghast. “No son of mine will waste his time cracking eggs and stirring batter among the servants.”
“But I like cracking eggs,” I said.
“Nonsense,” Father replied. “You’re nineteen-years-old, Richard. It’s time you gave up on these childish fancies. Instead of menial chores, I have something better in mind. You must write a poem to read to your Mother on her birthday. You know how she admires poetry.”
“But I can’t write a poem,” I protested. “I don’t know how.”
“Then learn,” Father said, dismissing us.
For two full days I struggled to write a poem, Meg, but the words wouldn’t come. Whenever I pictured myself reciting my poem aloud in front of everyone, shyness smothered my creativity.
Finally, on the morning of Mother’s birthday, I dragged myself into the kitchen, seeking inspiration. The place was bustling with servants. Only Chef Gaston remained at peace, hunched over his mixing bowl.
“May I help?” I asked him.
Gaston grunted, nodding towards a bowl of eggs.
I began cracking them, relishing the “crunch” of the shell and the “plop” as the yoke fell into the bowl.
“Do you know anything about poems?” I asked.
“Father wants me to write one,” I complained, “but I’m having a terrible time with it. Nothing sounds right.”
Gaston kept mixing.
“Listen,” I said, and recited,
“Mother, thou art a gift indeed,
The very best of all your breed.
You do not cook or clean or sew,
The servants do the work, you know … and that’s as far as I’ve gotten.”
Gaston’s nose wrinkled, as if he smelled something burning.
“Bad?” I asked.
Frustrated, I brought my hand down too hard, splattering egg on the counter.
Gaston (ignoring my feeble attempts to clean up) pulled a golden cake out of a cupboard and began smothering it with the frosting he’d been mixing.
Suddenly, inspiration struck! “Give me that cake,” I commanded.
That evening, after the promised duet (it was awful, Meg), Father said, “And now, Richard has a presentation of his own.”
Mother turned her happy eyes to me. I said “Wait one minute,” ran out the door, and returned a moment later with her cake.
Father growled, “Richarrrd.”
“Wait,” I said, holding up a hand. “I didn’t make the cake. Gaston did. And I did write a poem. Look!”
Everyone stared at the cake, and the crooked, curly words I’d formed out of frosting.
“Today we celebrate you, Mother.
You love us more than any other.
-Roderick, Rolland, Lavinia, and R.”
“There wasn’t enough room for my whole name,” I explained.
“Richard …” Father began, when Mother said, “I love it! It’s the most wonderful birthday cake I’ve ever had.”
“It tastes good, too,” I added, cutting the first slice.
(I’ve enclosed the recipe, Meg. I’m calling it “Inspiration” cake.)
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