Two men jumped down from the helicopter, reached back and grabbed garment bags and suitcases. The squatted with their heads down until the big machine roared and rose straight up over their heads, as if it was being pulled on a string. Then they straightened up, adjusted themselves, picked up their luggage and started walking to the house.
“This stunt is going to be all over the parish by midday,” Janet thought, and looked over at the main doors. They were still closed. That was good. All the gossip mill needed now was the Duchess of Weldon running across the front lawn like a meadow fox in heat.
Janet knew Emily wasn’t some lovestruck schoolgirl, but she also knew that smart was no guarantee against getting tangled up with the wrong person. And love may not always be blind, but even on its best day it was definitely near-sighted.
Janet went back to the table, stuck her pen in her book, pushed her chair into place and went out through the open door. Time to meet what all the fuss is about.
In the entrance hall, there was utter chaos. There were open boxes of decorations; a couple of ladders; a thick, half-strung garland stretched out on the floor; several wreaths spilling off a table; holly, candles and a bundle of giant barbershop candy canes on the floor. The staff who’d been enlisted to help with the tree were casually mingling with the other staff – who just happened to be there for reasons completely unrelated to the gigantic helicopter that had recently landed on the front lawn. Janet was halfway into the hall and about to take charge when Reynolds opened the double doors. The low morning sun suddenly burst through the room, and the silhouettes standing on the threshold were surrounded by a crisp, winter light that made them look like two fallen angels still bright with heaven. But before anyone could do anything or say anything, Lady Perry-Turner, Duchess of Weldon, skipped forward and flung her arms around the neck of the man on the left. Instinctively, Janet turned her head and shot a fire and brimstone stare at the staff who collectively twitched and immediately found things to do. Then she turned her head back, stepped forward to the other man and reached out her hand.
“Good morning! I’m Janet Miller, the estate manager. You must be Sydney?”
The man smiled – half smiled – it might have been a snarl without the mischief that crinkled in his eyes. “Pleased to meet you, but actually, I’m Dreyfus Sinclair.” He barely raised an index finger, “The young gentleman over there, being strangled, is Sydney.”
“Oh, I’m terribly sorry. I assumed …”
“No, no; not to worry. It happens all the time.” Dreyfus set down his garment bag and extended his hand.
Emily let go of Sydney and stepped back.
“Sydney, Sydney! It’s so good to see you.” Emily almost clapped her hands but thought better of it.
“Yes, ma’am. It’s good to see you, too.” Sydney was more than slightly embarrassed.
They all stood there for a couple of seconds in an awkward English silence. Then Emily swiveled on one heel.
Dreyfus reached out and delicately took Emily’s bandaged hand. She didn’t move. He held it like you would fragile glass and looked into her face. “How does it feel?”
Emily looked up at Dreyfus. “It hurts,” she said like a whimper and then caught herself. “And the itch is driving me mad.”
Dreyfus smiled and gently lowered her hand.
Over their heads and through the open doors, Janet could see the school bus pulling up. Oh, my God! They didn’t need to add thirty hyper children into the mix.
“Your Grace,” she said.
Emily, confused by the formality (Janet didn’t speak like that) just stood there. Then, slightly shaking her head in recognition, “Oh, we haven’t ….”
“Actually,” Dreyfus turned back to Janet, “We have. Just now. And this,” Dreyfus opened his palm, “is Sydney. Sydney, this is Janet Miller. She’s the estate manager.”
Janet and Sydney leaned forward between Emily and Dreyfus in a clumsy handshake. The murmuring conversations behind them were getting louder. There was a clatter and exclamations as something fell on the stairs, and outside, Janet could see the bus had stopped. She straightened back up.
“Your Grace. The children?”
For a second, Emily’s face was empty, her eyes still on Dreyfus. Then she looked at Janet and realized what she was saying.
“Of course.” She nodded and turned back to Dreyfus.
“You’ll have to excuse me for the moment: we’re on a very tight schedule this morning. Reynolds will see to the luggage. Reynolds? Would you like to freshen up, or perhaps a coffee?”
“Coffee would be grand.”
“Janet, could you? In the sitting room. I’ll join you in a few minutes.”
Emily turned back to the staff.
“Lillian, would you meet the teachers outside, please? Give everyone a minute to clear up the confusion; then the tree is all yours. And the rest of you are all here to assist with the tree?” It wasn’t a question, and people started moving.
“Hannah, could you help me upstairs, please?”
Emily turned back to Dreyfus. “Thanks for coming, Sinclair. I’ll be down in a bit.”
And she turned and walked away.
As Dreyfus watched her go, Sydney moved over towards him and whispered, “I think I’ll atay with the luggage, sir, and get the rooms sorted.”
“They’re not going to steal anything, Sydney.”
Sydney didn’t look convinced. “I don’t know about that. It feels like we’ve stepped into an episode of Midsomer Murders.”
“Whatever you think, Sydney.” Dreyfus said laughing, and went over to where Janet was waiting.
“You must have a very busy job: the estate is quite impressive from the air.”
“Actually, Pyaridge is one of the smaller Midland estates. We’re a bit of a backwater here.”
Dreyfus half laughed, “That’s why Sydney couldn’t find a train.”
“No, the trains don’t stop. We haven’t had a station for over eighty years.”
“Mm-hmm. Just go through, Mr. Sinclair. I’ll organize some coffee,” Janet said, stepping aside.
Tuesday — Part 6