Sinclair. All other conversation had now ceased, and the eyes of the rest of the company were fixed on the speaker. "Ladies and gentlemen," she went on, "you have heard my suggestion, and you have heard Mrs. Fothergill's most kind and opportune offer of her country house as the seat of our school of cookery. Such an opportunity is one in ten thousand. Surely all of us---even the Marchesa--must see that it is one not to be neglected."
"I approve thoroughly," said Mrs. Gradinger; "the acquisition of knowledge, even in so material a field as that of cookery, is always a clear gain."
"It will give Gradinger a chance to put in a couple of days at Ascot," whispered Van der Roet.
"Where Mrs. Gradinger leads, all must follow," said Miss Macdonnell. "Take the sense of the meeting, Mrs. Sinclair, before the Marchesa has time to enter a protest."
"And is the proposed instructress to have no voice in the matter?" said the Marchesa, laughing.
"None at all, except to consent," said Mrs. Sinclair; "you are going to be absolute mistress over us for the next fortnight, so you surely might obey just this once."
"You have been denouncing one of our cherished institutions, Marchesa," said Lady Considine, "so I consider you are bound to help us to replace the British cook by something better."
"If Mrs. Sinclair has set her heart on this interesting experiment. You may as well consent at once, Marchesa," said the Colonel, "and teach us how to cook, and--what may be a harder task--to teach us to eat what other aspirants may have cooked."
"If this scheme really comes off," said Sir John, "I would suggest that the Marchesa should always be provided with a plate of her own up her sleeve--if I may use such an expression--so that any void in the menu, caused by failure on the part of the under-skilled or over-ambitious amateur, may be filled by what will certainly be a chef-d'oeuvre."
"I shall back up Mrs. Sinclair's proposition with all my power," said Mrs. Wilding. "The Canon will be in residence at Martlebridge for the next month, and I would much rather be learning cookery under the Marchesa than staying with my brother-in-law at Ealing."
"You'll have to do it, Marchesa," said Van der Roet; "when a new idea catches on like this, there's no resisting it."
"Well, I consent on one condition--that my rule shall be absolute," said the Marchesa, "and I begin my career as an autocrat by giving Mrs. Fothergill a list of the educational machinery I shall want, and commanding her to have them all ready by Tuesday morning, the day on which I declare the school open."
A chorus of applause went up as soon as the Marchesa ceased speaking.
"Everything shall be ready," said Mrs. Fothergill, radiant with delight that her offer had been accepted, "and I will put in a full staff of servants selected from our three other establishments."
"Would it not be as well to send the cook home for a holiday?" said the Colonel. "It might be safer, and lead to less broth being spoilt."
"It seems," said Sir John, "that we shall be ten in number, and I would therefore propose that, after an illustrious precedent, we limit our operations to ten days. Then if we each produce one culinary poem a day we shall, at the end of our time, have provided the world with a hundred new reasons for enjoying life, supposing, of course, that we have no failures. I propose, therefore, that our society be called the 'New Decameron.'"
"Most appropriate," said Miss Macdonnell, "especially as it owes its origin to an outbreak of plague--the plague in the kitchen."
The First Day
On the Tuesday morning the Marchesa travelled down to the "Laurestinas," where she found that Mrs. Fothergill had been as good as her word. Everything was in perfect order. The Marchesa had notified to her pupils that they must report themselves that same evening at dinner, and she took down with her her maid, one of those marvellous Italian servants who combine fidelity with efficiency in a degree strange to the denizens of more progressive lands.