Emily And The Badger II

The walk back was warmer – the morning was becoming noonish, and the winter sun was higher – but, then again, it might have been the brandy.

“You brew up a wicked batch of hooch, Duchess.”

Emily chuckled.

“Is that the same stuff we had last night?”

“Basically, but that back there?  That was pretty raw.  The boys were having a laugh.  They tapped a green barrel for your benefit.”

“But …?” Dreyfus shook his head and lifted his hand in question.

Emily laughed, “Oh!  They have a nasty, cold job, and it’s night work, and … so when I’m around, I usually drop in at the end of their shift, and we have a toddy.  Just a gesture.  When they saw us — there are no secrets at Pyaridge — they thought it would be cute to make you sputter a bit.”  Emily tilted her head, “Take it as a compliment.  But,” Emily stopped and turned to Dreyfus, “Do you mind?  Please don’t call me Duchess or Lady or … I get enough of that in public life, and people mostly get it wrong.”

“Certainly,” Dreyfus bobbed his head, “Milady.” And he smiled his half snarl twinkle smile, “Sorry, I couldn’t resist one last time.”

Emily gave him a mitten slap on the shoulder, and they started walking again.

“But I do have a question.  Why are you Lady Perry-Turner and not Lady Weldon?  I looked it up when Sydney told me who you actually were, and that’s what Burke’s said you’re supposed to be.”

“Oh, that.” Emily pointed to her left.  “No, we’re going to the stables first.  I want to see the horses and talk to Billie.”

“We’re not riding?” Dreyfus was sceptical and concerned.

Emily waved her left hand, “No, you’re off the hook – for today.  Dawna and Billie will be back soon, so we’ll just wait for them and then go up to lunch.”

“Lunch?  We just had breakfast.”

Emily smiled at him.  “You’ll get the hang of country living eventually.”

“Probably not — but lead the way,” Dreyfus said, gesturing forward.  “So what’s the story?”

Emily thought about it for a moment, as they walked.  It was one thing to talk about stables and fox hunting; quite another to trot out the family laundry.  But she never really hesitated.  She had decided back in London that she wanted Sinclair on whatever terms, and if he wanted to know, she’d tell him.  Her only real concern was that he might not be interested.

“It’s difficult to know where to start.  Uh — my great-grandfather was David Turner, Sir David, actually.  He made his money in shoes.  He married my great-grandmother Vera, who was, by default, the Duchess.  That goes back too far to explain.  Let’s just say my family has Royal Letters Patent that can set aside primogeniture and allow women to inherit and hold the title suo jure – umm – that means – um,” Emily wagged her hands searching for the words, “In their own right.  (That’s me, too, by the way.)  But anyway, after the First World War, all the Perry men were dead; in fact, all the men were dead.  A whole generation of local gentry simply vanished.  So, in 1919, husbands were hard to come by, and great-grandma Vera needed one.  But that’s another long story.  Anyway, Sir David came back from the war with a wooden leg and the other foot on the social ladder.  He was a poacher who wanted to be a gamekeeper.  He also had a serious drug habit.  The story goes that he used to sprinkle cocaine in his opium pipe and smoke it in the library after breakfast.  Anyway, it was like at first sight — or, at least, not dislike — and he and Vera were married before the ink was dry on the peace treaty.  However, Sir David refused to go to the altar unless ‘Turner’ was added to the family name.  That’s how we came to be Perry-Turners.  And, because he couldn’t be a Duke or even Lord Weldon, he insisted the designation be changed so he could style himself ‘Lord Perry-Turner’ instead of just plain old ‘Sir.’  The House of Lords wouldn’t help him out on that, so he took it to Buck House.”

Dreyfus’ look was the question.

“Buckingham Palace.  And he was given a letter, signed by George V, that said he could have it any way he liked.  It’s in the library if you want to see it.  That’s why I can be called Lady Perry-Turner or Lady Weldon or Duchess or …”

“Just not by me.”

 They had arrived at another set of white stone buildings, surrounded by white plank fencing — much smaller than the stables but built in the same style.

“This used to be the woodsheds, then the coal sheds.  Then they were empty for years, so when we converted the stables, I moved the horses up here.  Some people think it’s too close to the house, but some people think we shouldn’t keep horses at all.”

(Undoubtedly the bean-counting Ms. Miller.)

“That’s a pretty impressive story.”  Dreyfus said, thinking he’d like to move Emily around the corner, out of sight of the house and kiss her.

“By all accounts, Sir David was a charming fellow — even if he was stoned most of the time.”  But Emily was distracted, looking out over the grounds.  Then she whistled.  “Here’s Billie and Dawna with the dogs.”

Thwarted and feeling it, Dreyfus’ voice was a little blunt. “What do you want Billie for?”

Emily turned her head sharply.  It was the woman from the photograph.  Dreyfus had seen her before – clear, confident on the edge of severe.  Lady Perry-Turner was not used to being questioned, and certainly not in the shadow of her own house.  For a nanosecond … and then … it was Sinclair standing there – her Sinclair.  She smiled.

“He’s going to help me shoot a badger.”

You can read more about Dreyfus and Emily’s Christmas adventure here.

Emily And The Badger

“Would you like to learn?’

“Not particularly,” Dreyfus said, wondering how the conversation had gone from — how was breakfast to him on the back of 1,000 pounds of four-legged fury.  Actually, he knew.  The Lady Perry-Turner had a vast knowledge of local history and geography and her family’s place in it; plus, she liked to talk.  The original question was “Why do you eat breakfast in that big room?”  So, as they walked along, Emily, waddling liked a padded-up tan panda (Ms. Miller insisted) and Dreyfus, carefully stepping in his too-big boots (borrowed) he got a quick peek into

Victorian architecture —

“They put the dining rooms as far away from the kitchens as possible. They didn’t like the smell.”

Fox hunting —

“Hunting season is autumn and winter, so one of my great-great-something-or-others put the Hunt Room closer to the kitchen so breakfast wouldn’t be cold.”

“We hunted here right up until Daddy got too sick to ride.  But, you know, funny thing, we never kept a kennel.  Odd!”

Horses —

“But we always had horses.  Lots of them.  The stables are huge.  You’ll see.  That’s where I put the distillery. 

And riding them —

“They were built by my great grandmother Vera.  She was a massive enthusiast.  Never missed a hunt.”  Emily paused, “And they say, when she was younger, did steeplechase and jumped fences.  Side-saddle!  When I get better,” Emily shook her mittened hand, “We can go riding.”

“I don’t know how to ride a horse.”

“Would you like to learn?’

“Not particularly,”

The stables were big.  Two long, wide, white stone buildings, side by side.  And while Emily attended to her Duchess duties, Dreyfus strayed over to the other building.  He opened the big oak door and stepped in.  It was warmer than outside, but not by much.  On the left were racks of tools, carefully arranged, and on his right, two neat rows of barrels stacked floor to ceiling, each on its own cradle, the length of the wall.  And in front of him … a group of workmen, sitting in their coats and hats at a round table.  One of them stood up.

“Good morning, sir.”

“Good morning – uh – I hope I’m not intruding?”

“Not a bit of it, sir.  What can we do for you?”

Obviously, these men knew who he was.

“Nothing really.  I was just having a look around – uh — brandy?”  Dreyfus waved his hand.

“Far as the eye can see.”

There was an awkward pause.

“Would you care for a taste, sir?  Warm dram on a cold morning?”

Dreyfus shrugged.  “I wouldn’t mind, but I don’t like to drink alone.  Would you fellows join me?”

That seemed like an excellent idea, and even though they hadn’t thought of it, there were six glasses ready.  One of the younger men took the glasses over to a wooden barrel suspended on a cross-cradle, turned a wooden spigot and filled each glass about a third full.  Healthy dram for mid-morning.  Dreyfus found a place at the table.

“Your health,” he said, raising his glass.  They all drank.  The sip was pure fire, but Dreyfus didn’t let it show.  He pursed his lips and nodded but decided to leave the glass on the table for a minute.  There was a thick, short silence.

‘So you’re a pilot then, sir,” One of the younger men said. “Must be exciting.”

“No, actually – uh – insurance.  The helicopters were …”

There was a trace of disappointed but one of the older men spoke. “In the City, though, that must keep you boiling — especially these days.”  There was a nod and a “Good steady work” and a general acceptance that if you weren’t going to be a pilot, insurance was a reasonable alternative.

“What about you men?  These barrels?”  Dreyfus moved his hand towards them.

“No, no.  We’re Tree Men, sir.” There was pride in the voice.  “Out with the owls, marking the rows, checking the frost.  Night work in the autumn, ‘til pruning time.”

Dreyfus had no idea what he was talking about. “Difficult work in the dark, I imagine?”

“No, not so much if you know your trees.  But you need to keep on top of it.  It’s where it all starts, you see.  Healthy trees.  Without that, there wouldn’t be any of the rest of it.”  The man waved at the barrels.

“Well,” Dreyfus said trying to figure out a way to leave the rest of the firewater on the table.   “I won’t keep you from it.”

“No, not to worry.  It’s just one more go for us and we’re home to our beds.”

A shaft of light and there was Lady Perry-Turner.  The men stood up.

“I see Mr. Sinclair found the sample keg.”

There was a general chuckle. “We thought we’d give him a taste, ma’am.  Let him see what all the fuss is about.” 

Emily smiled, stopped and looked puzzled. “Where’s Randeep?”

“His little one has the colic, ma’am.  We shifted around him.  Just for today.  He wasn’t missed.”

Emily nodded.  “Any other problems, Carlton?”

“No, all banked up and tucked in.  We’ll be ready to measure right after Christmas.”

“Good.  So, we’ll see you all at the dinner, then.”

Oh, yes, they’d all be there!

“What about you, ma’am?  We heard …”

“On the mend, Carlton, on the mend.”  Emily said removing her right mitten.  She stepped forward to the table and reached for Dreyfus’ brandy.  “Wind at your back, gentlemen.”  Raised the glass and drained it.

“Aye, and to you ma’am.” And the men emptied their glasses.

“Alright, Sinclair! Let’s go and let these fellows do their job.”  Emily turned for the door as Dreyfus stood up.  She stopped and turned back around.

“Any sign of our badger?”

“No, ma’am.  We’re too far away.  He’s still up after Argus’ chickens.”

“Not for long,” Emily said to no one in particular and turned back to the door.   

You can read more about Dreyfus and Emily’s Christmas adventure here.

Fiction – Under The Windows

“I remember these,” Emily said, looking out over the river.  She was nervously answering a question Dreyfus hadn’t asked.  But he was busy searching through the kitchen cupboards, trying to find where Mrs. Flynn kept the serving trays.  He never used them, but for some reason, he wanted the square silver one to serve the drinks on.

Emily turned her head and gestured back at the windows. “I didn’t remember they were quite so big.  This place is huge.”

Dreyfus stopped and pointed to the loft behind him. “You spent most of your time up there.”

“I spent most of my time whacked out on painkillers.”

Dreyfus opened another cabinet door.  Pans.  No luck.  This was getting awkward.  Emily wasn’t sure what to do either.  She looked around, trying to remember things so she’d have something to talk about.  This was not the reunion either one of them had envisioned in the long goodbye at Peterborough train station.

They hadn’t seen each other for nearly a month.  Dreyfus had left Pyaridge Hall a couple of days after New Year to catch a plane for Panama.  The purpose of the trip was to explain supply and demand to a corrupt government official who was demanding a bigger bribe to supply customs clearances for Hudson and McCormick ships.  Normally, Dreyfus loved the tropics (especially in January) but when he arrived, he discovered that Senor Estasfador was arrogant and enthusiastically stupid.  Plus, despite the sun, sand and pina coladas, Dreyfus found he was oddly homesick for the chilly rain of London.  It made him irritable, and after a couple of weeks of failed negotiations, haughty dismissals and hurry up and wait, he decided to solve the problem.  He walked into El Estasfador’s office, pulled him out of his comfortable chair and threw him out the window.  The flight from the first floor and the cuts, contusions, broken wrist and shoulder convinced everyone that there had been a misunderstanding and the bribe was, indeed, satisfactory.  The papers were signed that very afternoon, and the next day Dreyfus was on his way home.

Meanwhile, Emily had stayed on at the estate, to hurt a little and heal a lot and divide her time equally between being an unhappy puppy and a snarling bitch. Eventually, Janet Miller, estate manager and concerned friend, suggested Emily either fly to Panama and get it over with or risk being smothered in her sleep.  Two days later, Emily was on a plane to New York City.  However, unaware of the surprise, Dreyfus was already changing planes at JFK.  They passed each other somewhere over the Atlantic.

Now, maxed out on frustration, they were together again and couldn’t quite figure out what to do with each other.  The simple fact was neither one of them had ever done this kind of thing, and they didn’t actually know how to act.  The ten plus days at Pyraridge Hall had been a full-on love affair, giddy and silly and just a bit dizzy, with enough erotic content to make Aphrodite blush.  But that had been time out of time, hidden in the country — and now this was the real world.  And they were both desperately afraid that the other one had had time to think about it.  

“What are you looking for?”  Emily’s exasperation bubbled over.

“Something for the drinks,” Dreyfus said, defeated. “I’m trying to impress you.”

Emily pointed to the low liquor cabinet across the room. “Whisky?  Glasses?” 

“No, I was trying to find a tray to put things on and …” Dreyfus was embarrassed. “I just wanted everything to be nice.”

Emily turned directly to Dreyfus, who was clearly uncomfortable, and tilted her head sympathetically. “I know what you mean,” she said. “I bought a bikini.”

Dreyfus looked the question.

“At JFK, before you called.  When I was still going to Panama.  I bought a bikini.”

Dreyfus shrugged and opened his hands, palms up.

“I don’t wear bikinis, Sinclair.  Too much Emily,” Emily fluttered her hands and shivered her shoulders, “Hanging out everywhere.” 

Dreyfus, who’d seen quite a bit of Emily over the Christmas holidays, didn’t understand, and his face showed it.

“I bought it for you.”

Dreyfus recognized Emily’s tone and swallowed the adolescent joke.  He exhaled. “We’re trying too hard?”

It wasn’t a real question, and Emily didn’t answer.

“Go sit down.  I’ll pour you a drink.”  Dreyfus gestured to the sofa and went to the liquor cabinet. “There’s a remote on the table for the fireplace.”

Emily walked across the room. “I remember the fireplace,” she said, sitting down. “And the soup.  God that was the best soup.”

“Do you want some?  Mrs. Flynn usually leaves me some.  I could look?”

“Maybe we’re trying too hard?” Emily said, over her shoulder.

Dreyfus agreed to himself and poured two generous glasses.  He went over, handed Emily her glass and sat down on the floor at her feet with his arm on her leg.

 Emily touched her glass to his and said. “Let’s start again.”

There was a ting and they both drank.

“How was Panama?”

Dreyfus shook his head and chuckled. “Nothing special.  I threw a man out of a window.”

Emily nodded. “As you do,” she said solemnly.

There was a pause.

“What about you?”

“Janet threatened to kill me.”

It was Dreyfus’ turn to nod. “How is the indomitable Ms. Miller?’ There was a touch of mock sarcasm.

“Be nice.  She likes you.  Actually, I deserved it.  I’ve been an absolute horror for weeks.”

Emily reached down and pressed Dreyfus’ hand against her leg. “I missed you so much it hurt,” she said, shaking her head and looking at Dreyfus as if it were the first time.

Dreyfus looked up and it was his Emily and nothing had changed. “I missed you so much I threw a man out of a window.”

Emily laughed, bent her head down, “You win,” she said and kissed him, long and deeply.

And the late afternoon became evening and the evening became night, and they talked the hours away and didn’t go to bed until morning.

But that was alright because they didn’t leave the bedroom again for three days.

You can read the original Christmas at Pyaridge Hall here.

Or check out the further adventures of Emily and Dreyfus here.