"Father's fallen into the lion pit again," Henry said, strolling unhurriedly into the drawing room.
"How typical of the man," Mother tutted, looking up from the tapestry she was weaving. She had been working on the tapestry, which chronicled in detail the life of Herbert Asquith, adding fictional sections to fill in the gaps in her knowledge of the man (which had all been gleaned from his entry in an outdated copy of Who's Who from before he became Prime Minister), for several years now and it was approaching eight miles in length. "He knows the Archbishop of York is coming for tea this afternoon and he'll be expecting to throw some paupers to the lions. If they've already eaten your father again, they'll be fully fed and sleepy."
"That's what I told him, but he wouldn't listen," Henry said. "He was too busy screaming and pleading for help."
"I would never have married him if he hadn't drugged me," Mother said, adding a depiction of Asquith and his wife participating in a prizefighting competition in a field near Eastgate. "Believe me, Henry, if I'd had my way I would have married Prince Andrew and lived happily ever after."
"Yes, Mother," Henry said, a little annoyed by his mother's frequent announcements that she wished he had never existed. "So who is going to pick up the Archbishop from the train station? Father won't be able to do it until he's passed through the lions' digestive tracts."
"And I'm afraid of cars, you're too young to drive, being only two years old, and your older sister, whatever her name is, isn't allowed to go within six miles of the train station because of that gypsy's curse. I shall have to ask Valerie to do it."
Mother turned back to her tapestry and Henry took this as a cue to find out who Valerie was and arrange for her to collect the Archbishop. An hour's research with the electoral roll narrowed it down to three candidates, and he sent carrier pigeons to each of them, asking for the favour and enclosing crude drawings of the Archbishop naked, in case they needed further persuasion.
Two of the Valeries collected the wrong Archbishop from the station and delivered him to the wrong house, but the third brought the correct Primate of England to Henry's house, albeit to the tradesmen's entrance. He negotiated the kitchens and scullery to find his way to greet Mother, who had abandoned the tapestry and was putting the finishing touches to a sausage roll.
"Ah, sausage roll," said the Archbishop, picking it up and eating it. "Not so bad. I've had better, mind. And the weather's rotten. And why isn't the train station closer to your house? The Archbishop of Canterbury gets to visit people whose houses are right next door to the train station. And I don't like the colour of your ceilings. Change them. Right, where's your lion pit? I saw a pauper on the way here."
"Ah, um..." Mother said, nervously throwing half bricks through the windows.
"Why don't I take the Archbishop to the lion pit, Mother?" Henry said with a reassuring wink. Mother looked confused for a moment, but nodded and went to get the paint and brushes for the ceiling. Henry led the Archbishop outside, and the two of them returned five minutes later looking in the best of spirits.
"Splendid," the Archbishop said. "I've never seen hungrier lions, poorer paupers or better decorative carvings. There's no need to change the colour of your ceilings. Oh, you already have. Well, change them back. Splendid. I shall recommend you to my friends and arrange for someone to give you fifty pounds. Valerie, take me back to the train station."
He left cheerfully through the window and Mother picked up her tapestry and got to work on it again. "Mother," Henry said, somewhat put out. "This is the moment where you're supposed to ask me how I arranged for the Archbishop to feed paupers to the lions after all."
"Mm," Mother said, not looking up. "I don't really care."