Mary and Duncan were the eldest of their generation and, while they were cousins, they spent quite a bit of time together at the big family house on the farm, Maori, when they were children. This was particularly the case during the holidays, when Duncan was back from boarding school in Buenos Aires.
Mary was the only daughter of a widowed mother, Amy, and as such was quite indulged by dedicated motherly affection. However, she seemed to bear this well enough to still be well behaved and diligent in doing her lessons and practicing on the piano in anticipation of the weekly visits from her teacher.
Mary and her mother lived with Amy’s father, the head of the family, and while he was an imposing and determined man to all who knew him, he had a dedicated soft spot for his granddaughter.
Duncan was also an only child and his family also lived at Maori. However, being the oldest son, Duncan’s father, Archie, was the manager of the farm and thus lived in the manager’s house, which had been built specially across the garden and behind the grove. This didn’t stop Duncan from spending most of his time at home in the big house, as he vastly enjoyed Mary’s company and, at their age, doing things in pairs was much more interesting than doing them alone.
Being both of a rather serious disposition, they didn’t tend to get into too much mischief, but, then again, seeing as children will always be children first, they were bound to stumble into some mishaps from time to time.
On an occasion where they were together, they decided that as all the adults were away for the day at a fete for raising funds for the war effort, that they would have their own little tea party. They asked the cook, Berta, for some tea, scones, and jam, which they knew there was ample supply of in case ‘el patrón’ came back early and requested them.
When their little tray had been brought out and Berta had gone back to the business of preparing supper, Duncan and Mary went over to the china cabinet to extract the fancy teacups which the adults used. When they opened the cabinet, they found the cups hanging neatly in a row, as if suspended in mid-air. The children looked at each other nervously as if to see whether the other would come to their senses first and stop the mischief they were about to partake in.
Neither stopped the proceedings, so on they went, very carefully picking out the teacup (Mary picked the one that had a chip on the handle as it was probably the least valuable), saucer, and little plate for each and balancing their loot on the way back to their tea spot in the children’s dining area. They didn’t quite dare to add to what they were doing and step into the adult dining room to take their tea.
They made it back to their table and felt immensely proper as they sipper their team from their special teacups and spoke about the farm and people the family knew in Buenos Aires in the same manner they had heard their parents do from time to time.
“Oh, have you heard about the Campbells?” Mary pretended to gossip. “Their daughter married a Harrison and now it looks like they’re headed to England to look after horses.” She didn’t know who the families in question were, really, but she had heard her mother speak about this particular pairing.
Duncan nodded gravely in response.
“Yes, yes. I hear the Harrisons have lots of horses,” he stated. “More tea?”
They went along charmingly, and were having the most wonderful time until they had finished their tea and realized that they couldn’t send their tray back in this state without being caught in their mischief.
They would somehow have to wash the items they had apprehended and get them back to the cabinet without being seen. With this goal in mind, they crept into the bathroom and very carefully rinsed and wiped dry each item with a bath sheet until they passed the inspection of both parties. Then they each tiptoed the fifty or so steps (Duncan was so nervous he was counting) back to the cabinet to put everything back. Everything had gone well until, as Mary was hanging up the second teacup, they were both startled by Berta’s footsteps coming down the hall towards them. Mary jumped and sent the teacup crashing on the floor. Both she and Duncan stared at the floor, apprehension and mortification growing within them.
The noise of the crash brought Berta into the room and, upon seeing the mess she sent them both out of the room yelling about hopeless children and wondering what she was going to tell ‘el patrón’!
Mary ran up to her room and Duncan scampered back to to his own house, somewhat relieved that he had not been the one to break the teacup, but also very aware that he would still hear about this from his father at some point.
Mary was terrified. She had never done something this awful before and she hated to think how angry her grandfather might be. After pacing up and down the length of her room for a while, she threw herself onto her bed and cried herself to sleep, not daring to go downstairs again that evening.
When she did go down for breakfast, her grandfather was already at the table, having arrived on the train the evening before.
Mary was uncertain of whether he had been told anything, but recalling Berta’s outburst, she had to believe he knew. So she sat, quite demurely, taking small bites of her food, acutely aware of her grandfather’s rule that children must finish what is on their plate and not wanting to add to her crimes in his esteem.
Her breakfast companion was unusually quiet that morning, but he was observing her with great amusement to see what she would do knowing full well what she had done. All of a sudden he spoke, making a passing remark that made her stop chewing her piece of toast.
“Do you know, Mary, I think I’ve been given the wrong teacup today. I usually get the one with the little chip on the handle so that on one else gets it. But this one seems perfect. I wonder how Berta could have made that mistake after all these years! Or do you think that teacup has miraculously healed?”
Mary sat frozen, unable to respond, and her cheeks went a shade of cherry red.
“Do you know anything about this, Mary?” He asked, trying to sound as stern as he could considering how amused he was at the whole thing.
Mary raised her eyes towards him and nodded almost imperceptibly.
“Oh you do, do you? Do you want to tell me about it?”
She shook her head in the negative.
“Well, you must anyway. Out with it girl.”
She sighed and tried to hold back her tears of shame. She knew how much he hated when children cried.
“I’m so sorry, Grandpa. It was me! Duncan and I just wanted tea like the adults and we pulled out the nice tea things and we washed them ever so carefully and went to put them back but then I got a fright and dropped mine, which was yours, but I didn’t know it” she blurted out all in one breath.
Her dear old grandpa started laughing, which did not ease her nerves one bit. “Now, Mary, slow down. What’s done is done. It’s just a teacup after all. You’ll just have to explain it to Aunt Gwennie when she gets served tea in a children’s mug!”
At this, Mary looked mortified. She couldn’t say that to Aunt Gwennie!
“Don’t worry child, I’m only teasing,” he replied to her paling expression. “However, Mary, you do need to learn that there are rules for a reason. We can’t have you children gallivanting about and doing as you please, otherwise the whole place would be a shambles! So, for today, you will go without tea. Before you protest, Duncan will suffer the same punishment. And you will both have to stay inside today. No riding, and no running in the garden. You will both sit where someone can see you and read a book of my choosing. Understood?” He looked at her sternly.
“All right, then. Now, finish your breakfast and go and fetch Duncan when you’re done.”
Mary gobbled up what was left on her plate and ran across the garden to fetch her accomplice, relieved only in the fact that at least she would have someone to share in her punishment. It really was better doing things in pairs than alone.