Louisa had only been woken by the sound of the street sweeper passing below her bedroom windows. Normally by this time one of the chambermaids would have woken her with a cup of tea. As she swept down the stairs, her flame orange silk housecoat streaming behind her, she could see Starr rousing himself from the Porter's chair by the main door and Fred the terrier wagging his tail and running round the entrance hall.
"Starr, what is the meaning of this? Why are the staff not awake?" roared an indignant Louisa. Starr raised an accusing eyebrow at the long-case clock, standing by the reception desk, that regulated the running of the hotel, the staff and the guests. "It's stopped ma'am. I wound it and set it last night at midnight as usual. When you woke me Fred was staring at it and it said just before five. Fred always comes and wakes me at five, he's a clever dog."
"This won't do," growled Louisa, "we have guests to feed and some have trains to catch. You go and rouse Merriman and the boot-boy. Send the boot-boy down to the bakers for four dozen fresh, crusty rolls, if they have any left. Merriman will need to lay the tables. I'll wake the breakfast cook and the maids. I'm not sure what we can present for breakfast at such short notice. Move it, man!"
It had been several years since Louisa had handed over the breakfast service to her staff. She was acknowledged as one of the best cooks in the country but these days she mainly supervised and only rolled her sleeves up for very special dinner guests. Her hotel had been established on the back of her reputation for providing fine dining to an exclusive clientele and a generous gift of money from her paramour, the then Prince of Wales. She didn't see Teddy very often these days since his marriage and coronation and of course since his latest mistress Mrs Keppel.
Louisa roused the ladies of the house and then began taking stock of the kitchen provisions. Whatever they presented needed to be hot, tasty and most importantly quick. She ripped the previous days date off the calendar in passing and noticed the date. The 4th of July, a plan formed in her mind, an American breakfast for American Independence day. Flour, eggs, milk, baking soda, cream of tartar, that would make pancakes. They had streaky bacon which could be grilled until crisp. What about syrup? Not maple, but they did have golden syrup and vanilla essence they could mix. She was sure they had some grape jam somewhere that would pass for what the Americans called jelly. With toast and rolls and fried and scrambled eggs that would do.
Merriman shambled into the kitchen. "Tables laid ma'am, any more orders." Louisa pondered for a few seconds and replied "Go and take a look in the cellars Merriman. A few years ago we had a dinner for the American Ambassador, I'm sure we still have some of their flags and bunting down there. You know the ones, with stars and stripes. Add those to the table centres and I'll write out the breakfast menu cards quickly while cook gets started."
After the initial subsided panic Louisa made her way upstairs to get dressed and then descended the stairs again in more style and less haste to take breakfast and talk to her guests. There was no reason thay should know about the near disaster that morning. Starr had covered the face of the main clock in reception with a velour throw and placed one of the drawing room mantle clocks on the desk. Once breakfast was out of the way she knew just where she needed to go to have that old clock fixed, and it would be a good excuse for a visit. ......
(With due deference to the characters created by John Hawkesworth in his TV series 'The Duchess of Duke Street')