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Chapter One: The Gathering
The manor house stood resplendent as it bathed in the cool orange glow of the autumnal sunset. Major Stanley stood on the veranda admiring his gardeners' handiwork. All the effort and expense had been worthwhile, and the garden was a triumph. It was of course fitting that it should all come to completion this year the bicentenary of the founding, all had to be just as it was then. His guests would soon arrive and the six families be reunited, in a celebration of their joint successes over the past two centuries. The idea had been simple in its concept and proved effective in its execution, a secret pact of the great and the good. A simple deal that had ensured their prosperity and maintained standards for the local community, its detail was lost in the mists of time but none could doubt its effectiveness.
The founding fathers had been a dedicated group of men from the highest echelons of society representing the military, the clergy, the aristocracy, the medical profession, national politics and the arts. Such was the renown and foresight of these noble ancestors that the families had dedicated themselves to excellence in each of their specialist areas to this day, some two centuries later. The major smiled the smile of the just, turned and walked back inside. Once in his study he seated himself in the leather armchair and took up his pen. Gazing down his to do list he could see (and he already knew) that all the boxes were checked, no harm being prepared - precision was the key and nothing unexpected would spoil this event. The study door swung fully open, framing Myers in a characteristically subservient pose.
"Begging your pardon Major, but your first guest has arrived, the Reverend Holmsey is in the drawing room" Myers soft voice informed.
"Old Pongo - always one to be early, good man Myers. I'll be down in a trice" The major beamed from behind his desk.
Myers closed the door without taking his eyes from the major, walking backwards was a natural aptitude after his long years of service.
True to his word the major marched into the drawing room some two minutes later, the room was fuller than expected. Two more keen guests had arrived and were being settled in by Myers in his usual assured manner.
"Good lord, not only Pongo, but Daffy and Christian as well, we're all a little early aren't we" The major asked, a little put out.
"I'm sorry Stanners, but it's a special year - just too excited, I know you're a stickler for punctuality, but maybe just this once?" Daphnia replied cooing slightly.
"She's right you know old man, relax a little" Christian added in his best bedside manner.
"Quite, well welcome one and all" The major replied with a slightly less military air.
Any further conversation was hushed by the sound of the heavy ring of the brass doorbell. Myers scooted from the room and strode to the oak door. He opened it with a slightly regal manner, which evaporated at the sight of the guest; Marion Lescombe was as stunning as ever.
"We are a little formal this evening aren't we Myers, if not to say - stiff" Marion quipped as she walked past the blushing servant.
"They are assembled in the drawing room Ma'am" Myers coughed.
Marion didn't reply, but merely waved a limp hand as she glided towards the room. As Myers stood watching her figure flowing down the hallway, his groin tightened.
"Well aren't you going to let me in?" Asked a small impatient voice.
"Sorry Miss Dubois, I didn't see you there" replied a contrite Myers
"That Myers, is because you weren't looking here, was your mind on something else?" Ellie asked
"Not at all Ma'am, deepest apologies" Myers stumbled on his words, and his face turned a darker shade of puce.
"I just wish I could have that effect on men, Myers I really do" Ellie added shyly.
"I'm sure your day will come Miss," Myers replied with confidence "Follow me Miss"
Myers led the petite flame haired woman to the other guests, he served her fine Chablis, and with a polite nod departed the room for his duties. The major stepped forwards coughed and cleared his throat ceremoniously. The room hushed.
"Once again the six great families are assembled to honour the memory of our illustrious forebears, formalities commence," He ordered, took a measured step forward and spoke.
"Major Stanley Asquith Her Majesties Fusiliers" His foot crashed down in perfect time to the formal salute.
The reverend wandered forwards, a bemused grin on his face.
"Reverend Doctor Peter Holmsey, bless all assembled here this evening" He intoned in a dulcet voice.
Christian stayed put on the couch uttering with as little enthusiasm as he could muster.
"Doctor Christian Browning, look couldn't we just eat without all of this tripe?"
A joint stern glance from the major and reverend stilled Christians mock rebellion. Daphnia raised her glass where she stood warming herself in front of the generous hearth, sipped and announced.
"Daphnia Squires-Fortescue, oh sorry I forgot in all the excitement - Dame Daphnia Squires-Fortescue," a cut glass voice echoed softly in the room.
Marion stood from her comfortable chair and as if about to accept her next BAFTA, smiled profusely at the non-existent cameras.
"Marion Lescombe RSC, CBE for services to the Arts, but you all knew that anyway" She struggled not to add "luvvies" to the sentence and won.
Ellie stood and calmly announced.
"Eloise Dubois, Undersecretary of State for Education"
The major nodded once to the reverend, it was the only communication needed.
"We gathered here praise the memory of our ancestors, and vow to continue our service, with the help of the lord our god. Amen"
A chorus of "Amen" rang from five other pairs of lips.
"Right then, chowder time I'm sure Myers will be prepared for us by now.
Each of the gentlemen assembled took one of the ladies arms and led them to the dinning room where the feast would await them. As if by some prearranged signal the doors of the dinning room swept fully apart as the major and Daphnia approached. Stanley's grin broadened, and then froze on his face. It wasn't that the placements were wrong, or that the silver was not polished. What surprised the major was the complete lack of any food, normally the table would be brimming with delights. Myers caught the stony stare and immediately preened himself to make an announcement.
"This had better be bloody good Myers," thought the major his jaw twitching slightly.
"Good evening honored guests, in recognition of the special nature of this anniversary, dinner will proceed slightly later than normal," Myers started, "As you all know I have been in service at this house man and boy all my life. What you may not know is that I too am linked in a humble way with this evenings events" Myers surveyed the faces to gauge his audience, all looked fairly relaxed. The major was of course an exception to this - nowhere had this been in his plan for this evening.
"Get on with it Myers, hungry guests man," the major said in an effort to gloss over his surprise.
"My family was in service in this house when the founding occurred and we have served every generation since that day. I have an heirloom passed from father to son since 1803, on this anniversary I would like to present it to you all as a memento" So saying Myers reached into his waistcoat pocket and retrieved an ancient key, with due reverence he laid this on a pre-positioned red velvet cushion.
The job complete Myers stepped back to allow the guests access. Not one of them moved, confusion flickered across their faces. No one spoke, this had come out of the blue - unlike any other year there was no prepared feast.
"Don't you want to examine the key, " asked an inquisitive Myers.
"This is too much Myers, we don't want to ogle at an old key, we want service man - get the food here PDQ!" Barked the major.
"I haven't explained well enough, I apologise, this key hasn't been used since that night in 1803, when the room was sealed - by your ancestors" Smiled Myers.
"There's no sealed room in this house I'd know of it," stormed the major his considerable annoyance becoming increasingly transparent to his guests.
"The sealed room is behind that door at the far end of the dinning room," corrected Myers.
"Rubbish man that is the door to the servant quarters," exclaimed an astonished major.
"How do you know, have you ever been through it?" Myers asked his eyes sparkling with mischief.
"I'll settle this for once and for all!" So saying the major unhooked his arm from Daphnia's and stalked up to the offending door. He turned the handle and pushed. "It's locked," he said turning to face Myers.
Myers said nothing he just picked up the key and held it in his outstretched palm. The major marched up to him, snatched the key and returned double time to the door.
"This is either piffle, or your idea of a surprise Myers - I warn you if this is some lame joke you will be spending your last night under my roof!" The major regarded the butler from deep under his knotted brow.
Myers simply smiled back at him disarmingly.
"Very well, I'll open it" The major slid the key into the lock and with considerable effort turned it.
.... There is more of this story ...