Chaos At Christmas – Episode 03

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Recently, she had found herself being constantly distracted by thoughts of his curly brown hair which never quite stayed in place and his habit of buttoning up his waistcoat wrongly which she found so sweet. Then there were his hands which sometimes got a bit grubby from his work. She longed to moisten them with a damp sponge and rub them gently but firmly with the lemon-scented soap someone had given her the previous Christmas. Once they were perfectly clean, she would take them in her own hands and press them to…


Her attention was hauled back to the present. “Yes, Erik?” she said, feeling strangely breathless.

He indicated with his head. “The phones?”

Five lights were flashing on the panel in front of her; it was an unheard-of situation. At the Manor, guests were never kept waiting. She hurriedly pressed one of the buttons and glanced at the display showing the customer details. “Mr Leigh-Humphreys, how may I help you?”

Her phone call with Pascal earlier had been awkward in the extreme. He had gone to a great deal of trouble to rearrange his afternoon, only for her to tell him that he was no longer needed. It was fair to say that he wasn’t best pleased. She had decided to avoid the area of London around the Canadian Embassy for the next few months to minimise the risk of bumping into him.

However, seeing that she was free, Erik had immediately grabbed her. It was never possible to say that there was chaos at Fosbury Manor; it was a hotel run with supreme efficiency. However, the system had definitely begun to creak at the edges as countless guests suddenly announced that they were leaving the Manor and moving to other hotels. Reception had become a mass of people demanding attention. “Could you help answer the room calls?” he had said to Ferelith. So she had sat with two other members of the reception staff and dealt with call after call after call.

Time passed in a blur. Guests at the Manor expected an immediate response to requests for service and they were all requiring attention at the same time. It felt to Ferelith as if every member of the hotel staff had been roped in to cope with the situation. At one point, she spotted Geraint hurrying through the reception hall with a guest’s luggage. There and then, she made an early New Year’s resolution. Sometime in the next 24 hours, she would find a chance to introduce herself to him properly. The prospect was like a little beacon of light which kept her going through the endless succession of calls.

“Yes, Ms Hendron-Wyse, our chief laundress is very familiar with designer underwear. She will have the items you mentioned collected, laundered and forwarded to your new hotel straightaway…”

“Of course, sir. Caviar, sushi and an organic lamb-burger for Room 31 as a snack before the three of you leave…”

I will despatch someone to our Nordic spa immediately to look for your missing sock…

“A bottle of glacier water, Sir Gervais? Of course. Arctic or Antarctic?”

An endless time seemed to pass before Ferelith finished a call and found that none of the lights in front of her were flashing any longer. For a moment, she wondered if the panel had developed a fault. But then she realised that, miracle of miracles, it was because there were no more guests requiring attention.

She sat back in her seat with a groan. Her ear felt twice its normal size, her brain ached mightily and she thought that she would prefer not to have to deal with the demands of hotel guests ever again for as long as she lived.

“Thank you for your help, Miss Ferelith,” Erik said, seeing that she was off the phone. “We pride ourselves at the Manor on being a place where we all pull together. But I don’t think I’ve ever seen it put into practice quite like that before.”

Ferelith glanced round the reception hall. The people standing about in small groups were members of the hotel staff. The guests all seemed to have gone. “You have been magnificent,” Erik called out. “I thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

They began to clap; there were even a few cheers.

“I still don’t understand what’s been happening,” Ferelith said in puzzlement.

Erik shook his head. “I have no idea. In a matter of hours, we have become a hotel without guests.”

“They’ve all gone?”

“Not a single one left.”

“But this is our busiest time of the year.” He held out his hands in a shrug.

“Excuse me, everyone, could I have your attention?” Ferelith turned. It was her father. “Staff meeting in the main conference room now. For everyone, please. As quickly as you can.”

Ferelith considered hurrying over and asking him what on earth was going on. But something held her back; she didn’t want to take advantage of her position. The other members of staff were no doubt just as keen as she was to find out what was happening.

As everyone started making their way to the conference room, she spotted Geraint with a group of people a little way ahead of her. She realised that it was the perfect opportunity. Accelerating smoothly, she caught up with them.

Of course, they were discussing why all the guests had left. “Could there be a sickness bug going round?” someone suggested. “You do hear of cruise liners having to be cleared of passengers because of illness.”

There was a dismissive snort. “Have you noticed that Fosbury Manor isn’t sailing the high seas?”

Anyway, this isn’t a case of guests having to leave; they all chose to do so themselves.

“And they were transferring to other hotels. Why would anyone prefer somewhere else to the Manor?”

“Maybe our reputation is slipping?”

“Apparently some guests said that they were leaving because all their bills at their new hotels were going to be paid for them.”

“That’s true,” Ferelith said. “A couple told me that they were off to have a brilliant Christmas at the Saint Regis and they wouldn’t be paying a penny for it.”

Geraint turned to her with interest. “Really?”

Ferelith’s heart began to race. Her chance to speak to him had come much sooner than she had expected. She nodded eagerly. “It seems strange but…”

But there was an interruption. “Geraint, do you have a moment? I wanted a quick word about fresh flowers for the dinner tables.” It was Madame Pomfret, who was in charge of the dining room.

Geraint smiled. “Of course, Eugenia,” he said, drifting away from the group to speak to her. Ferelith’s eyes narrowed. She had always admired Madame Pomfret but it occurred to her that it was possible to go off people.

“I want to thank you all so much. This afternoon, you did a fine job in very unexpected circumstances.” Lionel gazed at the staff gathered about the reception room. “Though it’s no more than I would have expected. At Fosbury Manor, we are above all a team.” There were murmurs of agreement. “However, I’m sure that you’re wondering exactly what has been going on.

To be continued…

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