Chaos At Christmas – Episode 04

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“I wondered that myself when I started getting reports from Erik on the front desk that our guests were leaving en masse. The fact is that Fosbury Manor is now an empty hotel. However, that’s not something for us to worry about because, this time tomorrow, we will be full again.” Everyone began to listen intently. “I don’t know if any of you are familiar with the name, Lyle Cranford.”

Ferelith had heard the name before but she couldn’t quite place it. Was he an actor, maybe, or a sports star?

“Isn’t he the internet millionaire who invented FastChat?” one of the porters called out.

Lionel nodded. “Absolutely right apart from one small detail. Lyle Cranford isn’t a millionaire, he’s a billionaire. FastChat has become one of the most popular social networking services in the world.”

Erik frowned.

I believe he has the reputation of being something of an eccentric.

“It’s a reputation that’s well-earned,” Lionel retorted. “He was the person responsible for emptying our hotel today. It seems that his people contacted every single guest of ours and invited them to move immediately to one of a selection of other five-star hotels. If they did so, all their bills would be paid, not only from here but also from the other hotels. They wouldn’t have to spend a penny on Christmas.”

“That’ll cost him a fortune.”

“Indeed, it will. Luckily for him, he has a number of fortunes at his disposal.”

“But why did he want all the guests out of here?” someone asked. “Does he have a grudge against us?”

“On the contrary, he did it because he wanted Fosbury Manor for his own Christmas celebrations. Over the next week, our hotel will be filled with his family and friends.” There was a stunned silence. No one seemed quite sure what to make of it. “As you can tell, he is a man with money to spare who likes to indulge his fancies. But tomorrow morning, the Manor will start filling up with guests again. So we had better prepare ourselves to receive them.”

The staff scattered with an eager buzz of conversation. “That’s rather unexpected news, Dad,” Ferelith said to her father. “It sounds as if Christmas at the Manor is going to be a bit different this year.”

“That’s certainly true. I suppose that it might be a good opportunity for the hotel. Someone like Lyle Cranford could bring us a whole new clientele.”

“That’s great.” She noticed the look on her father’s face. “Isn’t it?”

Lionel had taken a sheet of paper from his jacket pocket. He was looking at it with a troubled expression. “Just before I called this meeting, I received an email from Franklyn Boscoby; he’s Lyle Cranford’s personal assistant. He sent a list of ‘a few small things’ which Mr Cranford wishes to have attended to. You won’t believe some of the items he’s got down here.” Lionel shook his head with a sigh. “I suspect that we are going to have to work very hard to earn our pennies this Christmas.”

It was bedlam, that was the only possible description. Normally, a grand piano in one corner of the reception hall was played for an hour or two every day. It helped create the harmonious atmosphere which so characterised Forbury Manor. However, that morning, Miss Buckley-Tone’s gentle music was drowned out completely by chatter and laughter and squeals from children running around. The new guests had arrived.

The trouble was that they had all turned up at once. Also, most of them knew each other. So instead of the normal quiet hum at reception, there was a chaotic racket going on.

Erik seemed stunned by the turmoil. “Is there anything I can do?” Ferelith asked.

It was an unprecedented situation. All eighty-six rooms at the Manor had become empty at the same time which meant a huge job of cleaning and preparation for the household staff. What’s more, the list of new guests had only arrived by email that morning so the allocation of rooms was having to be done in a rush. And, normally, things were never done in a rush at the Manor.

He gripped Ferelith’s arm with a glazed expression. “The children – please do something about the children.” There were dozens of them chasing each other around the reception area, all full of the Christmas spirit.

At that moment, two girls rushed up to the desk. “Is our room ready, Mum?” one asked eagerly.

Her mother smiled. “Not yet, darling. But I’m sure that it won’t be long.”

The other girl clambered onto the desk. Picking up the handbell there, she started singing ‘Jingle Bells’ at the top of her voice using the bell as a rhythm accompaniment. Ferelith thought that Erik might be about to spontaneously combust. The bell was a purely ceremonial item. Staff at the reception desk never needed to be summoned; they were always available.

Her mind raced. “Girls, would you like to play some games?” she said brightly.

The girl on the desk stopped singing. She and her sister looked at each other. “We might do.”

Trying not to notice Erik’s astonishment, Ferelith pulled over a chair and climbed onto the desk herself. She winked at the girl and nodded towards the handbell. “Give it some welly.”

Delight spread across the girl’s face. Grasping the bell in both hands, she began ringing it as loudly as she could. The noise reverberated round the hall and Ferelith caught a glimpse of her father gazing at her open-mouthed.

She put a hand on the girl’s arm. The ringing died away, leaving only the sound of Miss Buckley-Tone playing ‘Silent Night’ on the piano with her usual delicacy.

Everyone had turned to look at Ferelith; the guests in amusement, the staff with horror. She wondered if she had just said goodbye to her temporary post at the hotel. However, it was too late to worry about that now. “Children,” she called out cheerfully. “It’s going to take a little while for your mums and dads to find out which room you’re in. In the meantime, you’re all welcome to come with me to…” Ferelith hurriedly considered the options. “…to the sports hall where we’ll have some games while you’re waiting.” Although there was an interested murmur from the youngsters, Ferelith could see that they still needed some more persuasion. “There will, of course, be a delicious selection of refreshments available,” she added.

“Will there be banana sandwiches?” someone called out.

Ferelith stuck up a thumb. “That happens to be our chef’s speciality.” There was a noisy cheer and children began hurrying towards her. She climbed down off the desk. “Sorry about that, Erik.”

“Don’t apologise,” he retorted fervently. “If you get the children out of the way then at least we’ll be able to think. And don’t worry about the refreshments; I’ll sort them out.”

Ferelith turned to the young musician. “Are you ready to rumble?” The girl nodded and, accompanied by the deafening ringing of the handbell, Ferelith led the way out of the reception hall followed by an eager gaggle of youngsters.

To be continued…

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