The only really out of place vehicle was Peter’s lorry but he walked as if he owned the place which made it seem alright somehow. “What are we doing here?” Timonthy asked confused.
“I booked us in for dinner,” Peter said. “It’s alright here. I came here once with my wife. We had a nice time so I thought it would do to give us a break. They’ve got enough rooms for us for the night if we want to stop here too, so we can talk about that over dinner. Will didn’t look worried by the delay in getting back to his family so Timonthy deduced their discussions in the lorry could not have made this a likely outcome. They made their way into the imposing entrance hall where the reception desk was a fine-looking desk with a large display of flowers and a pleasant young woman. Peter went to talk to her while the others hovered in the room. Lizzie and Paris stood together by a front facing window admiring the view. Will stood by a fireplace staring at the carvings around its edge. Gerard edged closer to Timonthy. He looked apprehensive.
“What’s up?” Timonthy whispered. “Nothing. It’s just I’ve never been anywhere like this before,” Gerard murmured.
“I assume we’ll just have some food and carry on,” Timonthy shrugged. “Nothing to worry about.”
“I feel out of place here,” Gerard confessed. Timothy looked at him with some degree of sympathy. He was completely out of place but no harm was likely to come to him here unless he counted being the butt of sneers and comments as harm. Even these insults were likely to be unobtrusive, difficult to notice unless he was being extra sensitive to everything around him.
On the other hand Timonthy felt almost as if he was at home. All the furniture in this room was beautiful and old. His business could have provided it without a sneer though he was certain it hadn’t. The garden outside was well kept and in just the right proportion for the house. The view only was outlandish to his eyes, full of brooding purples and storm-laden greens but beautiful in its own right.
Peter came back to them with the news. They had ten minutes to amuse themselves, to walk in the garden or have tea in the lounge and then their private room would be available for dinner. Timonthy appreciated this touch. In a private room they could be themselves without trying to fit in and not scare the other customers of this hotel.
He could relax now and not worry about the casualness of his appearance which he would have attempted to fix if it hadn’t been for the comparison with his companions. He visited the toilets and felt his legs stretch as he wandered around the grounds. It was starting to get cold but not dark yet. He saw Peter emerge from the front door portico and look around as if to see someone he knew. Timonthy waited for him as he walked in his direction.
“How have you found the journey so far?” Peter asked.
“It’s been okay,” Timonthy said. “We’ve been lucky with the traffic so far.” Peter laughed, “I’m not used to driving. I must admit I thought that the traffic was terrible.”
“I really can’t believe you send people from your place all that way so often,” Timonthy shook his head. “It’s just a bit of an adventure for them,” Peter said. “We usually fly down to Bournemouth, unless we’ve got a delivery to pick up. It’s just a long day out then. Are you ready to head into dinner?”
They made their way back into the hotel to find Paris and Lizzie already seated, and Will and Gerard followed them in still talking animatedly. Peter sat next to Paris not hastily, just naturally as if it were the most convenient seat and Timonthy sat next to him as if determined to keep an ear on any conversation that might pass between them. Although it was early days yet, there was no sign of the charm that Miss Gregg had warned them about in his dealings with Paris at any rate. Timonthy suspected that he and Lizzie had been subjected to some of it which explained why they were contentedly sitting here now in this hotel being waited on instead of hastening towards wherever Stolid was.
They ordered drinks. This time Timonthy determined that he would share whatever wine Lizzie ordered to limit any damage although he was reasonably sure that she would have learnt from yesterday. When asked, Gerard next to him ordered a pint of ale. Peter didn’t even blink although Will looked shocked. After they had established, with help, which ale it was he preferred, Peter asked calmly, “Do you want the same, Will?”
Will nodded. “And I will have a still water with ice, no lemon,” Peter said. “I suppose from your faces,” he added after the waiter had left the room, “that Will has told you about the foolish thing I did once and how I punish everyone on my estate with the consequences. That doesn’t mean that I object to people drinking generally though. I just don’t want the source of temptation constantly near me. I suppose that is a selfish attitude but I consider the potential consequences important enough to outweigh that.”
There was a slight silence following this pronouncement but Lizzie bounced back to say, “He didn’t tell us what the foolish thing was though,”
“No, he couldn’t because he doesn’t know. I haven’t shared the story with another living human, not even my wife.”
“Why not?” Paris asked slightly abashed.
“I’m afraid I am too ashamed,” Peter said with a face that half-showed he meant it. “When I am prepared to tell the story I will probably be a better man, but until then you will have to carry on thinking of me as a tyrant and a coward.”
The waiter came back with a tray of drinks. Will and Gerard who knew Peter well enough to judge how serious he was, Timonthy assumed, weren’t put off by his pronouncement to clink their glasses together and taste their ale. “That isn’t quite as good as the one last night,” Gerard said with a noise of satisfaction. “But not bad.” This seemed to lighten the atmosphere. They gave their orders for starters and main courses.
“You’ve been treating these two already?” Peter said. He didn’t sound displeased.
“We all went out to dinner last night,” Timonthy explained. He had this idea with Peter’s grey eyes looking at him, not quite focusing on the outside form of him, that Peter could see all the thoughts that raced in his brain: their attempt to extract information by getting the men drunk, his quick but raw disappointment at being cast aside by Stolid, his more than adequate compensation. He tried not to think it, in case the grey eyes suddenly focused in shock.