"It's absolutely beyond beautiful, Meg!" gushed one of the Mornay twins. Meg couldn't tell them apart, so she merely smiled and bowed her head demurely.
Meg Randall was hosting the 'The Mississippi Bountiful Gardens Society' at her country estate. This was their first gathering since reforming, a process that occurred on a yearly basis as members always seemed to drop off after the first meeting. The current group had high hopes of avoiding that outcome.
Meg noticed a few of the young matrons wrinkling their noses earlier, as they passed through the musty hallway on the way to the dinning room and the entry to her gardens. They clearly expected little from this visit that could meet with their high, horticultural standards. In the current mood of the privileged class in 1923, those standards had evolved to include the proper accouterments of wealth and style. Meg's shabby estate would fall well-short of that bar.
When Meg threw open the French doors leading out to the patio, there was a unanimous intake of breath, as the six women stepped through.
The gardens spread out before them, shimmering like a piece of art by one of the Old Masters. Vibrant, and alive with color, this was an Eden of exotic plants and flowers, swaying like the graceful Salome, in a soft breeze. The carefully blended design of trees and shrubbery, lent a kind of balance, keeping the mystical blooms from dancing out of sight.
Some of the women spontaneously lifted their long skirts to take to the inviting stone path, leading deeper into a glorious banquet of fragrance. One woman was moved to exclaim, "It's as if we're surrounded by rainbows!"
Their new President, the starchy Mrs. Grumwalt, curbed their enthusiasm, reminding them that tea was ready to be served. As they moved back to the patio where a maid finished the preparations, one of the Mornay twins whispered behind her hand that the corpulent President, would never miss an opportunity to sit down to a meal. Meg's sharp hearing caught the remark and she saw the plump woman licking her lips in anticipation. No one noticed her own tongue dart out in a similar fashion.
Meg seemed indifferent to her role as hostess. She sat stiffly in her chair, relying on the rather elderly maid, to pour tea and offer the freshly baked scones and delicate sandwiches. She spoke to no one. No one spoke to her. She made herself inconspicuous by her presence.
Her guests all held the opinion that Meg Randall had a strangeness about her. Where did she come from? How long had she occupied Randall Hall?
They just formed their group, when Mrs Grumwalt received a musty book titled, The History of the Mississippi Bountiful Gardens Society, supposedly sent by a past Secretary. It stated Meg Randall had hosted every annual meeting since its formation. The Society was founded many years ago, according to the dates, yet Meg looked timeless.
They argued among themselves, over the veracity of the claim, and none of the previous members were around to be questioned. However, as recorded, routine visits never changed. The Society seemed compelled to come to Randall Hall yearly, like the lemmings to the sea cliffs.
They took little notice of her and no notice of the fact she ignored the sweets they all hummed over like bees gathering nectar. None seemed aware that she studied each of them from under her long lashes, while appearing to fuss with her uneaten cake.
Among the women, Randall Hall was referred to as "The Randall Mausoleum." The sprawling mansion was more cathedral, than home. With its tall, dark windows and guarding gargoyles at each corner of the roof, heavy stone-work covered with invading vines, Randall Hall was as warm as the inside of a tomb.
The women sat around the perfectly arranged table. It gleamed softly, as the mellow spring sun swept over its glazed glass top. The cups of the delicate porcelain tea set, were almost too fragile to hold. Its floral pattern was an exquisite reflection of the many varieties of flowers and plants surrounding them.
There were constant outbursts from the young women, as particularly lovely plantings were spotted further down the path leading into the heart of the garden. As they nibbled cakes and sipped at their cups, every color of the prism tantalized and dazzled them. Bright yellow tulips, shot through with royal purple or red slashes, like the sleeves of Medieval Ladies at the English Court, waved back at their hungry eyes.
A restless enthusiasm settled over the group. Some were too agitated to have more than two scones with tea. Meg noted all of this, a thin smile on her face while she watched her chattering guests. She was ignored by the others as they dove into the creamy yellow butter, to slather on their warm scones.
The women were all in their mid- to- late twenties. To Meg's mind, the perfect age of reason and life. They fell upon the treats with the appetite of the young and quickly relaxed under her penetrating gaze.
Their hostess held her fragile cup carefully, raising it to her deeply crimson lips. Meg shunned rouges and powders, her pale skin was flawless. She appeared to be as delicate as her tea service. Undeniably beautiful, the young women still found her clothes as dated as her furnishings. But she did have a presence, an unsettling vibration came off of her, not dissimilar to the chill most had when staring up at the gargoyles looking down upon them earlier.
Meg rose to her feet, smoothing the front of her dark skirt to its perfect folds around her slim figure. As if that was their cue, the women gathered themselves behind her as she stepped off the wide patio, onto the stone path.
"Time to visit my precious children, ladies. Follow me please and do keep to the path. My garden is fragile and somewhat unpredictable if it feels threatened."
Not a word was uttered as the small entourage trailed the ethereal Meg Randall. Not even a murmur went up, when the large heads of some of the flowers, turned to watch them as they passed. But then, they probably never noticed that.