Christmas At Pyaridge Hall – 8

Generally, Dreyfus took life as he found it, so he was annoyed with himself that the Pyaridge crew were annoying him.  They seemed like nice people, and he genuinely wanted to like them — but ever since he arrived, they’d been seriously getting on his nerves.  If fact, he’d even started mentally sniping at them, and he never liked himself when he was petty.  But he couldn’t help it.  They were everywhere — they hovered like helpful little worker bees – and the buzz was driving him crazy.  Breakfast in the kitchen had been alright, but on the edge of uncomfortable: they were all just a little too eager to answer his questions or pass him the jam.  Later, when he and Emily had finished their walk, they swarmed almost immediately: first, Ms. Miller with her omnipotent notebook; then Mrs. Tisdale’s minions with bread, soup and cheese; then the sexually active Hannah with a selection of clothes.  Then — yippee-ki-yay! — they were on the road again with a Ms. Miller wannabe (she had her own notebook) named Lillian in tow, and Billie (yes, he was the strange man with the shotgun from the day before) driving them to the village in the oldest Rolls-Royce Dreyfus had ever seen.  It was like getting beaten up by teddy bears, and he was exhausted just thinking about it.  Now, here at the Market, some hours later, it was getting dark.  The fairy lights were coming on, and he should be enjoying himself (this was just the kind of thing Dreyfus liked) but he wasn’t.  He was standing next to the Useless Trinket stall, watching Lillian at Emily’s elbow, determined to guide the Duchess through the appointed route — even if she had to drag her the last hundred metres.  They were both bright and beautiful, bundled-up shoppers from a Christmas card.  But then Emily turned and looked at him, and her eyes and smile caught the twinkling lights.

“Get over yourself!” It wasn’t actually a conscious thought, “You need to do something — even if it’s wrong.”

Dreyfus stepped forward. “I think it’s time for a cup of tea?”

Emily looked surprised, and Lillian looked as if he’d just asked for extra nails at the Crucifixion.

“You don’t drink tea.”

“I do now.  And that place looks likely,” Dreyfus pointed. “I don’t know what they have, but it smells delicious.”

“Chestnuts.”

“Chestnuts?” Dreyfus chuckled.

“Yeah, chestnuts.  You know.  Roasting on an open fire.”

“You’re joking.”

“No, you want some?”

“I’ve never had chestnuts, but it sounds good as long as we can sit down and enjoy them.”

Emily shrugged.

Surprisingly, the romantic in Lillian took the hint.

“I’ll just take our packages to the car,” she said.  And then she leaned forward to Emily’s ear and whispered, “Do you have money, ma’am?”

Emily nodded and Lillian disappeared.

At the outdoor table, with two thick white mugs of steaming tea and a cone of hot chestnuts between them, Dreyfus could see the weary in Emily’s face.  She took her mittens off, cradled the cup in both hands and half closed her eyes.  Dreyfus noticed the bandages were still crisp and white.  Her hand was healing.

“So, what’s on the agenda tonight?  Gutters?  Ditches?  More drains?”

“God, Sinclair, give the drains a rest.” Emily opened her eyes, “I’m tired.”

“Of course you’re tired.  You’ve recently suffered a limb-ending injury.”

“A limb?”

“A limb,” Dreyfus stated.

Emily rolled her eyes.

“A digit, at the very least.  You deserve to be tired.  Look, we walked forever this morning, not to mention the pagans — and you discovered a new source of asphalt.  That’s a day’s work in anybody’s book.  Even your dogs got the afternoon off.  But you’re still here, getting paraded around like the prize heifer at the Cattlemen’s Show.”

“Thanks for that image.  Now I feel much better.”

“You know what I mean.”

“This was scheduled months ago.  It’s one afternoon.  And there’s nothing on tonight.  No drains.” Emily screwed up her face.

“Great!  Let’s go to the pub.  I imagine they make a brilliant meat pie around here.  We’ll have a couple pints, and you can tell me all about James I.”

“No, I can’t.”

“Why not?  Billie’s driving.  And I’m pretty sure young Lillian could use a stiff drink.”

“No, I can’t.  There are two pubs in the village.”

“And you own them both?”

“No, I’m the landlord.  It’s different.  Let me explain a few things to you, Sinclair.  People in villages tend to be cliquish.  They have their groups, and I can’t be seen to favour one over the other – in anything.  You know, this is the first time I’ve ever even had a cup of tea here?  And it hasn’t gone unnoticed.”

That explained the look on Lillian’s face, but Dreyfus heard the sad serious in Emily’s voice and kept quiet.

“And pubs are dangerous.  Not everybody’s overjoyed about the class system in this country.  And it’s not as if people around here don’t know who I am.  So, I’m a target for anybody with a complaint and a couple of cups of courage.  Somebody makes a remark.  Then what do I do?  I can’t sit there and argue with them.” Emily slowly shook her head, “And it can’t look like I was chased out.  Either way, it becomes an event in a small place like this.  And people take sides.  They dig in.  There’s animosity.  So, no.  I stay away from inviting that kind of trouble.  I can’t go to the pub.”

“What’s it running these days — for and against?” Dreyfus asked, knowing Emily would understood.

“About 60/40, but that’s only because Janet and I have been working at it for the last five years.  My father was a wonderful man, but he didn’t understand compound interest or public relations.”

“And that’s why you have the studio in London, so you can get away from it?”

“Mmm, it’s one of the reasons.”

“So what do you do when you are here?  Rattle around in that massive house all by yourself?”

‘No, there’s always lots of work to do.  The grounds to keep, the horses, the tenants, village maintenance.  You haven’t even seen the orchards yet or the distillery.”

“You make whiskey?”

“Brandy.  From our own pears,” she said proudly.

“Plus, you’ve got all that asphalt to tear up.”

“Yeah,” Emily half-laughed. “But you’re right.  In the wintertime the nights are very long, and I do rattle sometimes.”

“Have you ever thought of fixing that problem?”

For the next few seconds, there was a world of thought in Emily’s mind — but there really weren’t any thoughts, at all.  She’d decided this a long time ago. “I don’t lock my bedroom door.” 

Later, at the house, Dreyfus paused as Emily and Lillian walked to the door.  He went around to the driver’s side, and Billie rolled down the window.

“Can you help me out?” Dreyfus asked. “I need you to do me a big favour.”

Friday – Part 9

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