Christmas At Pyaridge Hall – 10

Dreyfus hesitated.  He didn’t want to talk shop.  He wanted her, but he wanted her on her terms.  That’s why he telephoned; that’s why he accepted her invitation; that’s why he was there.  He wanted – needed — to know.  And now they were sitting at a table together alone in a huge room bright as golden glass.  And she had brought them there.  To the hopeless romantic in Dreyfus, it seemed as though all he had to do was take Emily’s hand and the two of them would glide away across the floor like elegant dancers.  But those weren’t real thoughts: they were just shades, textures, the vague perfume of what he felt looking across the table at her.

For Emily, it wasn’t that complicated.  For her, it had been lust at first sight, and even though she’d learned long ago to be selective about her lovers, she hadn’t thought about that.  In fact, she hadn’t thought about anything.  She’d invited Dreyfus to Pyaridge Hall because she desperately wanted him to be here – close to her.  Close enough to touch.  That was the only thing that would satisfy her disrupted dreams.  And now – here — there was nothing – no barrier — between them.

Emily turned the bottle on the table, struggling with the cork and her bandaged hand.  Instinctively, Dreyfus reached over to help her.  He twisted out the cork and set it on the table.

She poured both glasses, set the bottle down and lifted her glass.

“Merry Christmas, Sinclair.”

“Merry Christmas.”

Dreyfus flexed his fingers. “How’s it feel?”

“I stopped the painkillers last night, so it’s a little tender.” Emily raised her glass, “But this should help.”

“It’s very nice, but true confession: I don’t have a very sophisticated palate.  I usually just take what I’m given.”

“You’re hardly ever disappointed then?”

“Depends on how you look at it.” Dreyfus drank and reached for the bottle.

Emily put her hand on his.  The touch between them was soft with feeling.

“We had a deal,” Emily said, lifting her hand.

“I’ll make you another deal,” Dreyfus replied and refilled both glasses.

“Do you negotiate everything?”

“I’ll tell you about the eggs if you let it go and we get on to more important things.”

Emily considered it.  “Alright, as long as you’re not just fobbing me off with some bullshit fairy tale.”

Dreyfus nodded and smiled.  “How come your accent goes in and out like that?”

“Don’t skirt the question, Sinclair,” Emily said and put a bit of cheese on a cracker and ate it.

“Okay,” Dreyfus laughed, “I gave the eggs to my boss, and I have no idea what he did with them, but ….”

Emily scowled at him.

“But,” Dreyfus held up his index finger, “I’m pretty sure they’ll go back to being lost and Hudson and McCormick will get a healthy storage fee to make sure they stay that way.”

“But they’re not lost.  I saw them.  I have photographs.”

“I’d lose those photographs if I were you.”

Dreyfus sipped his brandy and reached for a piece of cheese.

“Look, Emily, nobody wants those eggs found.  Nobody.  And you should forget about them.”

Emily raised her bandaged hand.  Dreyfus slowly shook his head.  He was seriously worried.

“They’re trouble.  More trouble than you need.  More trouble than they’re worth.”

Emily knew just how much four “lost” Fabergé Eggs were worth in the art world.

“That’s right,” Dreyfus said hearing her thoughts, “But there’s a lot more trouble than that out in the real world, believe me.  Your friend Anton was killed because of those eggs, and you barely escaped with your pretty little head.  So just forget about them.  Seriously.”

“You think I’m pretty?” Emily smiled and flirted, but then she was serious again. “Is this what you do?”

Dreyfus slightly lifted one shoulder and gave her a pained look.

“I don’t care.  Really.  I don’t.  I just need to know.  If I’m going to worry, I’d like to know why and for how long.  That’s not too much to ask.”

“I don’t know how to answer you.  Hudson and McCormick insures things that are,” Dreyfus gave a small grimace and sucked air through his teeth, “under the radar.”

“Like ‘lost’ Fabergé Eggs?” Emily ate a slice of pear.

“Yeah.  And when things go wrong, they send me out to fix them.  That’s it.  That’s what I do.  Mostly, it’s just like any other job, but every once in a while, you run into people like the Russians,” Dreyfus shook his head again, “Who won’t take no for an answer.”

Emily thought about it.  “Alright, I think I can live with that.”

Dreyfus spread his arms with an opened palmed question.

Emily looked directly into Dreyfus’ eyes.

“Take me to bed,” she said.

Dreyfus picked the cork up off the table, held it for a second and then pushed it back into the bottle with his thumb.  He lifted his eyes and looked at Emily.

“I’ve got a better idea,” he said.

Friday – Part 11

Christmas At Pyaridge Hall – 9

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.

“Sydney’s dad.”

“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.

“Wow!”

“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

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