Nothing could go wrong. Which meant that everything would. Prudence had carefully planned the weekend to be a disaster from start to finish, as each fresh catastrophe unfolded she planned to lay the blame squarely on the shoulders of the new Mrs Cranston, she only wished she’d thought to invite more guests to view the display. But it didn’t matter, this was just the beginning. Katy had shown no awareness of how to run a household, planning the disaster was all too easy and this was just the beginning. Katy would soon have a reputation as the worst hostess in the neighbourhood and after that the country. Henry would be forced to remove her. Perhaps abroad, thought Prudence, with a broad smile.
‘Mother, what has happened?’ said Arabella, looking around the drawing room, ‘this room looks rather untidy.’
‘Yes, I blame Katy, she’s very slovenly, she leaves everything lying about, I fear there’s little time to clear up now.’
‘No, there isn’t, my sister is here, she and Archie are coming up, I heard them when I came in.’
Moments later the footman entered.
‘Mr and Mrs Archibald Colquhoun, Madame.’
The pair entered.
‘It is good to see you my dear,’ said Prudence, ‘your grandmother will be down in a minute, she’s running a little late and as for the new mistress, I doubt you’ll see her for hours yet. She has a most unfortunate habit of lying over long in her bed, she’s an extremely indolent creature.’
‘Mother, that’s not….’ began Arabella.
‘Arabella, welcome your sister, please. Really Juliet, we must come and see you soon. I long to see young Margaret, your new arrival. How does she keep?’
‘Very well indeed,’ said Juliet, ‘and how quickly she’s growing.’
‘And the other children?’
‘Both fine,’ said Juliet, ‘I’ll bring them all here in the summer, if it’s convenient with Mrs Cranston.’
‘Of course it’ll be convenient, she won’t disagree on a matter like that and if she does we’ll know her to be a very miserable wretch indeed.’
‘And I understand there are other guests arriving today too? Neil, is that right,’ asked Juliet, glancing at her younger sister.
‘Yes, he’s arriving with his brother.’
‘Oh good,’ said Juliet, ‘I do like them. Where are my other sisters?’
‘They’re walking,’ said Arabella, ‘mother thought it a good idea.’
‘They won’t be long,’ said Prudence, ‘best to keep them out the way while we’re getting ready, Frances is apt to be overexcited and Susan is so talkative that she quite exhausts me sometimes.’
The door opened and Camilla entered.
‘Grandmother,’ said Juliet, greeting her with a kiss on the cheek.
‘Ah you’ve arrived, excuse my lateness, there seemed to be a problem with my gown, it’s quite vanished, this one will have to suffice. Extremely odd. Good day Archie, I hope you do well.’ She permitted him to kiss her hand before she continued, ‘where is everybody, and what has happened to this room? It looks a fright. This is a poor welcome for you.’
‘Indeed,’ said Prudence, beaming in amusement.
‘Sir,’ said Fred, the butler, waiting at his master’s door, ‘I don’t know if you are aware that your guests have arrived.’
‘They have?’ said Henry, ‘I thought they weren’t coming until later.’
‘Mrs Colquhoun and her husband arrived half an hour ago.’
‘Did my wife receive them?’
‘No sir, she’s out walking with your nieces.’
‘Marvellous,’ sighed Henry, ‘I’ll go down directly.’
‘Sir, a gown belonging to the senior Mrs Cranston has been found in the kitchen.’
‘And? Why is that of concern to me?’
‘There is a note with it Sir. From your wife asking if it can be mended.’
‘The gown is badly damaged, with oil and burns, it can’t be mended. The note states that if we can’t fix it she’ll lay the blame on one of us. It’s a most awkward situation, Sir.’
Henry straightened himself up, ‘indeed it is. Please assure the staff nothing will happen. As for the note, I should like to see it. I doubt my wife would have written such a note or ruined a gown in such a fashion. It seems to me somewhat perplexing.’
Henry walked to the drawing room wondering. If this was Prudence’s doing then she’d stooped lower than he’d believed possible but he couldn’t imagine Katy behaving in such a way.
‘I see you’ve arrived early,’ he said as he entered,
‘I don’t believe so,’ said Archie, checking his pocket watch, ‘we were expected this morning.’
‘No indeed,’ said Henry, ‘Prudence led me to believe you were arriving this afternoon.’
‘Did I?’ said Prudence, ‘well, perhaps you misheard me.’
‘I’m sure I did not, however, you will forgive me for not receiving you properly. And I must also apologise on behalf of my wife, in fact, I shall go and seek her this instance and we can put this right.’
As he left he heard Prudence saying.
‘It’s so like her, she’s the most unpunctual woman I’ve ever met.’
He decided to ignore the comment. He wasn’t obsessed with protocol but he resented what Prudence was doing, every minute she was alone with them she was lowering Katy in their eyes. He wished it didn’t bother him this much, but Archie and Juliet were well-liked in many places in the city and Juliet was an incurable gossip. Katy’s reputation should be upheld. The best way to do that was to let her loose on them herself, Henry couldn’t defend her half as convincingly as she could defend herself, that was her great strength.
He walked swiftly but soon realised it was pointless, where was she to be located? She may even now be heading back to the house, they could have passed one and other on the many winding paths. He wondered as he walked what arrangements had been made for lunch. If no one expected the guests to arrive for lunch except Prudence… Henry began to understand her plan. He spun round and began to walk quickly towards the house. As he did he saw the figures of two men riding near the house. The other guests were about to arrive, Prudence could cause as much havoc as she wanted, there was no one to stop her. He sped up.
The two men would reach the house first, but no matter, he wouldn’t be far behind. As he neared the path to the fountain, he heard laughter and chattering voices. Katy and his nieces appeared from the tree lined grove behind the path.
‘Katy,’ he shouted.
‘Henry? What is it? What’s going on?’
She stood and stared, she, looked momentarily afraid.
‘Girls, go back to the house,’ said Henry, ‘your sister has arrived, go and see her.’
‘She’s arrived,’ said Katy.
Henry grabbed her by the hand and stopped her from going after the girls.
‘Let them go and distract everybody, this is Prudence’s doing, all the guests have arrived, she planned it like this, to make you look bad.’
‘Then we should go.’
‘Yes, have you arranged lunch?’
‘No, Prudence did it, I’m not supposed to know remember.’
Henry sighed, ‘all right, let’s go and sort that first. We’ll see what cook can do at short notice, then we can go in.’
They entered through the back door and headed for the kitchen.
‘Sir, madam’ said Rose, her face red and flustered, ‘I didn’t expect…’
‘What have you got for lunch today?’ demanded Katy, ‘is there enough to feed four extra guests?’
‘Yes Madam there is.’
‘There is,’ said Katy and Henry together.
‘Yes,’ said Rose, looking from one to another.
‘How did you…’ began Katy.
‘I just had an inkling,’ she said, ‘that the guests might come early.’
‘You are truly a marvel,’ said Katy, ‘truly and a fantastic cook.’
‘Thank you madam,’ said Rose, but her expression was cold.
‘Come on Henry,’ she said, ‘what’s up with her? She seemed a bit irritable.’
‘The dress,’ said Henry.
Henry explained what Fred had told him about the ruin of his mother’s gown.
They were interrupted by a door opening and the sound of crying.
Tony the footman approached, he looked angry.
‘What’s happened,’ asked Katy. The sound of sobbing was coming from within.
‘If you must know Madam, it’s Paulina, Mrs Cranston’s maid. She’s rather upset at your accusations.’
‘My accusations?’ what are you talking about?’
‘She thinks she’ll be blamed for the ruin of that gown, as she’s the one in Mrs Cranston’s room. She thinks your note was meant for her.’
‘I didn’t even write that…’
Henry held up his hand to stop her finishing.
‘Bring that note to me this instant and refrain from speaking to your mistress like that, or you pack bags right now.’
‘Yes Sir,’ he said stiffly, ‘sorry madam. I can’t bring the note. Paulina burnt it in her rage.’
‘This is intolerable,’ said Henry, ‘I’ll deal with this later. We have business to attend to.’
Katy took his hand and pulled him up the backstairs, the same way he’d dragged her into the dragon’s den on her initial arrival in that house.
‘What is going on? I can’t believe even Prudence would stoop that low,’ she said, ‘she hates me that much.’
‘Apparently so,’ said Henry, ‘listen, you have to forget about that just now. let’s go and entertain the guests.’
‘Don’t trouble yourself,’ smiled Katy, as they reached the door that opened to the main corridor, ‘I’ll sink that woman once and for all this time.’
She reached up and took his face in her hands and kissed it, wrapping his arms round her back he joined her.
‘We are invincible,’ she said as they broke apart, ‘let’s crush her. I’ll play as dirty as her.’
They reached the drawing room door. Henry pushed it open and they stepped inside.