It’s October. The shoot season is in full stride and to celebrate Lord and Lady Feversham are hosting an intimate dinner for a number of their closest circle. Every year it’s the same. Helmsley’s great and good get together at the height of the shoot season and the dinner marks the beginning of Lady Feversham’s own season of entertaining the shoot parties visiting her beautiful hideaway hotel. On the face of it, this year should be the same as every other, except for the slightest hint of friction in the air. Needless to say Lady Feversham is keen to mask the tension and will stop at nothing to make sure her night is one to remember.
From the master bedroom window in their apartment that runs the entire length of the top floor in the original wing, Lord Feversham looks down as the guests begin to arrive. As familiar faces enter the hotel lobby, he spies Doctor Alexander Abbey and his younger glamorous wife Jessica stepping out of his Jaguar just as business woman Natalie Wells pulls up in a taxi. She is followed by Ginger Reece, a journalist trying to make her name in Yorkshire. Last but by no means least, Carlton Bainbridge, the young, rich, successful art dealer, loathed and loved in equal measure makes his way up past the church to the lobby entrance.
“It’s time” he motions to his wife “ we should make our way downstairs to greet the guests, for the sooner we begin, the sooner we can draw this evening to a close.”
“Don’t be such a spoil sport George, they are our friends and the dinner will be a good opportunity to draw a line under the recent unpleasantness.”
“If you say so Katherine.”
Downstairs is a hive of activity and the guests are greeted with champagne as hotel manager, Floyd Cresswell ushers them through to the snug. While the guests gather round the glowing log fire, Lord and Lady Feversham sweep down the staircase, through the archway into the snug to welcome their guests and for the most part, their friends. Thomas Drover, one of the hotel waiters hands two champagne flutes to Lord Feversham as Lady Feversham makes a beeline for Doctor Abbey who is looking at the most recent acquisition to the hotel gallery’s art collection.
“It’s interesting Katherine, not quite what we’re used to but a talking point nonetheless.”
“I adore it Alex – Carlton suggested it and after a tussle in the auction room it was ours and it works just beautifully here. It’s a reflection of our new direction, of the hotel embracing a new era and there’s nobody who understands that better than Carlton. Speaking of the devil where is he?”
“There, with one eye on the conversation with your husband and the other on your young waitress, Kitty…surprise, surprise.”
Indeed he was, Carlton Bainbridge had had an eye for the ladies, well beautiful ladies at least, for as long as anyone could remember. Most people assumed his partner, Natalie Wells was his partner in more ways than one, but theirs was purely a professional affair, on his part anyway. He preferred to keep his love life fresh and exciting and Natalie was constant and reliable. She was great for business, but bore no attraction outside of their gallery. Kitty was his latest fancy and by far his biggest challenge as the young waitress had spurned his advances yet again earlier in the week. He couldn’t help but think that he may have gotten somewhere had Mr. Cresswell not been in the way. As his gaze followed Kitty around the room it was interrupted by that of another of his playthings, Jessica Abbey.
“You look good enough to eat this evening Jessica, I hope your efforts are entirely for me?”
“You toy with me Carlton, I saw you just now wistfully making eyes at the waitress. When will you ever learn? Am I not enough for you? What can she possibly offer you that I can’t?”
“Now, now Jessica, jealousy is an ugly trait.”
They were interrupted by Thomas the waiter offering more champagne and then by Doctor Abbey.
“Darling you remember Ginger Reece, the journalist who came to the surgery last week to interview me about the Jones inquiry.”
“Yes of course” Jessica lied. She was never good with names or faces for that matter unless they were of importance to her.
“It’s a pleasure to see you again Mrs. Abbey and you must be Mr. Bainbridge?” as Ginger held out her hand to Carlton.
“Yes Miss Reece we haven’t formally met as yet although I hear you have been causing quite the stir down at the Evening Post offices? You seem determined to tell a story even when there is none to tell.”
“Well that’s not strictly true Mr. Bainbridge. You’re right I am determined, but only determined to tell the truth.”
“And no care for the consequences?”
“It’s said the truth hurts Mr. Bainbridge. Surely you of all people must know that?”
This wasn’t the first time Ginger and Carlton’s paths had crossed. A few weeks earlier after arriving in Yorkshire from Manchester, she had masqueraded as a broker for an acclaimed piece of art he and Natalie had shipped over from France earlier that year. The artwork was in fact a forgery, although Carlton swore blind he wasn’t aware of this seemingly trivial detail as he set about securing a record bid for the piece. However, the deal was not struck thanks to Miss Reece’s investigative journalism and her story would have seriously damaged Carlton and Natalie’s business had it not been quashed by her editor in suspicious circumstances.
Ginger was just about to continue before she was interrupted by Lord Feversham who asked if he might have a quiet word with Carlton before dinner.
As they moved through to the library Lady Feversham watched her husband quietly touching his arm and shaking her head very gently as he passed. The gesture was discreet and no one in the room would have noticed. Yet, Henry, mixing cocktails behind the bar had been watching the party or more importantly, Carlton with great intent. The two gentlemen passed by and into the library where Lord Feversham gently closed the doors behind him. However, it wasn’t long before raised voices could be heard and the slamming of a door before Carlton re-emerged, smiled smugly towards Henry and strolled outside to the terrace to smoke by the pool. While glancing back over his shoulder towards the library where Lord Feversham was looking out of the window directly at him, seemingly staring right through him, such was the intensity of his gaze, he was startled by a voice behind him in the shadows.
“Mr. Bainbridge I wouldn’t stay too long outside, it’s cold this evening and very dark, who knows who or what may be lurking in the shadows.” It was Mary Spurlock the spa manager, recently appointed to run the newly opened spa at the hotel, but a fixture in the town for many years.
“Why Mary you made me jump.”
“Perhaps you are of a nervous disposition Mr. Bainbridge? Or maybe you fear being caught unawares.”
“Caught doing what Mary? I am only having a smoke”
“Well don’t let Doctor Abbey catch you. You know how he dislikes your nasty, dirty habit and thinks you are trying to give up. Never fear though I shan’t let on I have found you out.”
There was something in her voice and in the way she looked at him that made Carlton think she knew more than she was letting on. That the dirty habit she was referring to was not the cigarettes but his affair with Jessica, which naturally would irk Alex he thought as he smiled to himself. Then it was hardly surprising if she did suspect or know as she was always to be found following Doctor Abbey around like some lovesick puppy and as Jessica frequented the spa for their illicit meetings perhaps she had seen them together. He didn’t dwell on it though as she was right, there was a chill in the air, so he took one last drag before heading back indoors where he was promptly greeted by Henry who was carrying a tray of drinks into the private dining room ahead of dinner.
“Henry good to see you, how are you? Any chance I can grab one of those now?
“Mr Bainbridge” Henry answered coldly as he moved the laden tray away from Carlton. “No they are for dinner and Lady Feversham wouldn’t want me to spoil her plans.”
“Look here Henry, you can’t speak to me like that. Just because I told you I couldn’t help doesn’t give you the right to speak to me like that.” His hand moved towards the tray again.
“But you didn’t even look at my work. If you had you’d have seen its worth, seen it was good. Miss Wells thought it had potential and could be given some space in the local gallery or even here at the hotel.”
“Miss Wells hasn’t got the eye I have Henry, she’s not responsible for that side of the business. Now give me a god damn drink and remember who you are speaking to.”
“As Henry said Mr. Bainbridge, the drinks are for the dinner may I ask you to follow me back into the snug and we’ll fix you a drink there.” There was a hint of disdain in Mr. Cresswell’s voice but he was always there in the background watching over his loyal subjects. Carlton smiled wryly before nodding and following Floyd back towards the snug where Thomas promptly fetched him a drink.
Mr. Cresswell returned to check on Henry and to see that the dining room was set and ready for dinner, which was to be called imminently.
“Henry are you quite alright? Don’t let him anger you, he is an obnoxious and unkind man, but one we must no less suffer”
“I am thank you Mr. Cresswell and thank you for stepping in like that.”
“You are welcome, too long has he swanned around our hotel believing himself to be above reproach and I shan’t tolerate him belittling or bothering my staff not when we have a reputation to uphold. Now then, hurry back along to the bar and check on the wine I have just brought up from the cellar.”
As Henry left, Floyd took a deep breath and straightened his jacket before checking the table one last time. Had he spoken too abruptly to Carlton he wondered? No, he had struck just the right tone. He loved this hotel and had great admiration for Lady Feversham and he was not prepared to standby and have an upstart like Carlton Bainbridge unsettle his carefully chosen team or to use the hotel for his unsavoury antics. At that he opened the doors to the dining room wide, moved towards the gong and struck it sharply three times.
In the snug the guests heard the gong and slowly began moving towards the archway to head along the corridor to the dining room. As they were leaving Lady Feversham gently took hold of her husband’s arm before leading their party to the private dining room away from the main wing of the hotel.
“I heard raised voices George. I’m not sure anyone else did but I did nonetheless. I asked you not to bring it up again, it’s done and we should move on.”
“Katherine it is hard to let it lie especially when he is always here and it no longer is. And, to add insult to injury he shows no remorse whatsoever.”
“We’ve been over this countless times my dear. I am sure Carlton was not aware of the portrait’s true value until it went to auction so come now, let’s put it from our minds and enjoy dinner. Brockley may have outdone himself with tonight’s menu and I do love partridge.”
She smiled warmly at her husband as she squeezed his arm but behind her smile she was secretly seething.
She knew all too well that her husband, her quiet, caring and mild mannered husband was right. Carlton had conned them and swindled them out of a vast amount of money. His true stupidity lay in his ill judged belief that they would not realise this. They had only parted with the beloved family portrait to raise the capital for the new spa, which she had pushed and pushed her husband for, as she knew it would become the cornerstone of her beloved hotel over the coming years. To think it raised four times its value at auction after they had sold it to Carlton made her quite furious and she could understand her husband’s anger. Yet what good could come of it? The painting was gone but they had their spa. Deep down she was more concerned about Carlton’s frequent appearance at the hotel, which just so happened to coincide with visits from Jessica as she used the spa. She knew it was them using the yet to be opened new spa suites and she was not happy. She had made this hotel into what it was today and she was not going to let Carlton Bainbridge and his sordid affairs bring its reputation crashing back down around her. Not after the struggle she had endured, she couldn’t go back there.
Yet George knew all of this too and he was sorry he had caused Katherine stress ahead of the dinner, which he knew was important to her. But he would not stand back and let Carlton continue to treat people and he and his wife in particular, this way. He had had enough and was tired of sitting quiet and dutifully in the background. He would find a way to put Carlton firmly in his place and defend his wife’s honour and that of the hotel.
As the guests began to take their seats, Natalie pulled Carlton back away from the group on their way into dinner. As her hand touched his arm she smiled at him longingly before he pulled his arm away.
“What is it Natalie?”
“I just wanted to talk to you about Henry’s work before we become entrenched in dinner. It really is very good Carlton and I am sure we have a few clients who would be interested in his pieces, they are very 'of the moment'.”
“We’ve had this conversation, there isn’t enough margin in it for us. It would be a waste of our time.”
“Not everything is about our margin Carlton. It would be exciting to think that we had uncovered a raw talent, found the next big thing, don’t you think? We’d have such fun travelling to showcase his work.”
“Not really Natalie, I can think of far more exciting ways to amuse myself.” At this Kitty walked past carrying the hors d’oeuvres and Carlton brushed his arm down her lower back as he reached to open the door for her. She flinched and looked towards the floor, clearly uncomfortable by the attention and his actions.
“Yes I can see that.” Natalie sighed as she made her way into take her seat, once again cast aside when it suited Carlton.