That night, Dreyfus and Emily were alone in the big dining hall and dinner came on two covered silver trays – one each.
“Thank you, Margaret. That will be all this evening. Could you tell Reynolds to lock up, and we’ll all get an early night tonight.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Margaret left the trays and left the room.
When she was gone, Emily gestured for Dreyfus to lift the cover. On the tray was a pub pastry meat pie and a bottle of beer. Dreyfus laughed his surprise.
“We can’t go to the pub; maybe the pub can come to us.”
“You can do this?”
“Sure,” Emily shrugged. “Given enough notice, Mrs. Tisdale can do anything.”
Emily lifted the cover off her dinner.
“So, what do you want to know about James I?”
The dinner was small-talk pleasant, if a bit hollow in the big room. Dreyfus asked about the estate and things like where the dogs were. (They didn’t like the house and had their own kennel by the stables.) Emily rambled a bit, too tired to pick her questions, but it was clear she had some. Dreyfus avoided most of them.
“That was quite an entrance with the helicopters.”
“That was Sydney. He’s very keen. I just said we needed to get to Pyaridge Hall tomorrow, and he whistled up the helicopters. I’m going to have to be careful in the future.”
“Who’s Harbir Singh?” Emily asked seriously.
“I know that. But who is he? When you told the Russians he was Sydney’s father, they noticed. So who is he?”
“I told the Russians a lot of things.” Dreyfus shied away from the answer. “I was negotiating, remember.”
Emily scowled, “C’mon.”
Dreyfus considered it for a second. “He’s a heavy hitter in the City. A lot of power and a long reach.”
“So why’s Sydney driving a taxi for you?”
“Punishment, I think. Harbir Singh owns the service I use, and one morning Sydney showed up as my driver. The morning I came to your studio, actually. You’ve known him as long as I have. But it’s worked out. I like the kid. And he’s certainly enthusiastic.” Dreyfus made a rotating motion with his index finger.
“I like him, too, but I’m just as glad he’s staying in the village,” Emily slyly admitted.
“Am I going to have to go drag him out of the arms of the Weird Sisters?”
Emily laughed and the tired went out of her eyes. “No, he’ll be here for Christmas dinner.”
Dreyfus looked the question.
“We hold Christmas dinner here for the staff, tenants, people associated with the estate. Hannah will be here, and her sister, and I’m guessing Sydney also. You can negotiate his release then, if you like.”
“Well, you do have nine other fingers.”
Emily laughed again. It was good to joke.
“C’mon. I want to show you something.” Emily flipped her napkin on to the table and stood up. “I think it’s kind of cool.”
They walked out of the dining room, down the short wide passage into the entrance hall that burst into Christmas as the tree lights automatically came to life. On the other side, there were two more rooms that also lit up when they entered and then a set of double doors that were (oddly) very nearly square. Emily stopped.
“You’ll have to help me,” she said, motioning with her injured hand. “I can’t do them both.”
Dreyfus reached for the long metal handle, and they pulled both doors open. They were surprisingly light.
“Alright, now take my hand. No. Wait. Let me get on the other side.” Emily was clearly excited, “There. Now, on three, take one step forward. One, two, three!”
They stepped in unison into the room. Nothing happened.
“Shit! Okay. Just ….”
Suddenly the room ignited with light. It was so big and so bright and so empty it took a few seconds for Dreyfus’ eyes to adjust. There were three massive chandeliers, in a line high in the ten metre ceiling that shone like burning diamonds. One long wall was a row of tall casement glass windows that were dozens of dark mirrors, reflecting away from the black outside night. The other wall was a vast field of textured, dove white with an irregular track of portraits that lost themselves near the far wall. And the far wall was small – insignificant in the massive room.
“This is the ballroom. We’re going to have Christmas dinner here.” Emily smiled at Dreyfus’ approval.
“Who are you trying to feed — the Royal Marines?”
Emily laughed and stepped forward, sweeping her arm at the white wall.
“And these people are my ancestors. Back to ….” Emily shrugged, “Actually, we don’t know who this first bunch are. Uh – well, we know who they are; we just don’t know which is which. They got mixed up a couple of hundred years ago.” Emily chuckled and pointed, “But that’s the first real Duke of Weldon, there.”
Dreyfus saw an Elizabethan grandee with stiff ruffed neck and a dagger goatee.
“Then they follow each other all the way down the wall to my grandfather and daddy. Then there’s a place for me.”
“Then what?” Dreyfus thought. He also noticed that a couple of the portraits were women, but Emily’s hand caught his attention before he could ask.
“And there’s dessert.”
Over in the corner was a small round table and two tiny chairs. In the big room they looked like doll furniture. Emily put her hand on Dreyfus’ elbow and directed him forward. They sat down.
“Alright. Sliced winter pears from our trees,” Emily indicated. “Nutmeg, if you like, but I wouldn’t.” She shook her head, “Crumble cheese — not quite local but close enough to bear the name, and Tuc Originals from – uh – Tesco.”
Emily reached below the table. Dreyfus could hear ice jingle.
“And this,” Emily said, as she lifted a clear squat bottle, “Is our pear brandy. Pyaridge Hall’s Eau de Vie.” She set the bottle on the table.
“There’s a pear in there.”
“Mm-hmm” Emily smiled, pleased with herself.
“I don’t think I’ve ever had pear brandy.”
“I’ll let you have some — if you tell me what you did with the Fabergé eggs.”
Dreyfus laughed. “You’re not going to let it go, are you?”
Emily shook her head.
Tuesday – Part 10