Cherringham - Episode 7 - 9
Cherringham - Episode 7 - 9
1. Gracious Hosts
Sarah turned off the main road and pulled up at the pillared gatehouse to Repton Hall. She looked up at the stone columns: on each stood a bronze stag. The tall wrought-iron gates that stood between them and protected the Estate were closed but as she prepared to get out and...
... do what? Ring a bell? Do places like this even have doorbells?
... they magically opened.
She glanced up at the stuccoed entrance walls. Nestled discreetly beneath one of the stags she spotted a camera. Somewhere within the Estate, she realised, a security guard was watching her on a monitor.
Clearly her tatty old Rav-4 had passed the test - and now she understood why Simon Repton's secretary had asked for her registration number.
As she drove through the gates, past the tasteful steel sign - 'Repton Hall: Country House and Conference Centre' - she remembered how, only a couple of years ago, there had been rumours that the Repton family, house and all, were heading for bankruptcy.
This was quite the turnaround.
From the looks of it, the long driveway had recently been re-laid, and as she travelled along it towards the imposing Queen Anne mansion which glowed in the afternoon sunshine, she could see they'd also spent a fortune on the gardens.
The trees were shaped and pruned; the rolling meadows trim; fences freshly painted - and to one side of the house the famous ornamental lake sparkled.
Last time she'd been here - to a rather sad agricultural show two summers ago - the lake had been stagnant and green. But now its waters were clear and on the little island at its centre, the Georgian folly - a classical temple - stood proud again.
Sarah smiled to herself. In part she and Jack must have been responsible for this miraculous turn-around. Some time ago they'd solved the mystery of a missing Roman artefact on Repton land - the successful case had benefited the redoubtable Lady Repton to the tune of half a million, so the rumours went.
But now as she drove past the side of the house towards the 'conference car park' she guessed that the Reptons must have picked up at least another million elsewhere to complete this transformation.
For, behind the graceful mansion, a low brick-and-timber extension had been added, with cool clear lines that suggested the work of an expensive architect.
This was the conference centre - where in a couple of hours she was going to deliver her little performance...
The car park was nearly full but she found a space, grabbed her MacAir, locked up, and headed to the side entrance.
"Hey, nice timing," said a voice behind her.
She turned to see Simon Repton himself walking round the side of the house. Lean, tanned, in a charcoal hand-made suit, Simon exuded money, confidence, charm, and success.
At least that's what he thinks , thought Sarah.
Slimy Simey - that's what her assistant Grace had called him, and Sarah had to work hard not to say the name to his face.
"Simon," she said. "How lovely to see you again."
Simon approached and gave her a kiss on each cheek, lingering just a little longer than was quite necessary.
"We're still at the champers stage, so you've got plenty of time to set up."
"Everything going okay?"
" Absolument parfait! " he said with a faux-Gallic shrug, his boyish fringe swinging across his eyes. "Our guests are having a tres bonne temps !"
"How wonderful that you speak French," said Sarah, guessing that she should acknowledge the performance.
"One of the benefits of an awfully expensive education, Sarah," he said. "Though to be honest, I do believe the esteemed delegation representing St. Martin sur Mer has a better grasp of English than most of our staff."
"That's good, because the presentation's going to be entirely in English - some of it