Rockingdown Revisitedby Sally Neary
PART 5: Finale – A Week Later
"Well, I have to say," said Bill, taking a cup of tea from Lucy-Ann, "I hadn't expected that Allie and I would be up here for the week when you called last Sunday, Snubby."
"It has been an extraordinary week," said Snubby, beginning to eat a scone. "It's amazing to think that a Raphael of enormous value has been lying in the loft at Rockingdown for forty-five years."
"We are keen to hear the whole story, Bill," said Barney. "We have had bits of it during the course of the week from Snubby, but we would like to hear the whole saga."
Barney, Diana and Roger, as well as Dinah and Alastair, all looked at Bill expectantly. They had all been invited by Snubby and Lucy-Ann to join the family for Sunday afternoon tea, prior to Bill and Allie's return to Cornwall the following day.
"Well, when Snubby bought Rockingdown Hall prior to auction, someone was extremely upset – the person, of course, who knew that a long lost and very valuable Raphael portrait was hidden somewhere in the property," said Bill, sitting back and drinking his tea.
"They then learned that the property had been bought prior to auction by Peter Lynton Properties, and subsequently you were approached by their solicitors, Clutterbuck, Lownes & Co. The potential buyer wanted to keep his identity secret, of course."
"As soon as Special Branch had taken the painting and had it identified, they immediately interrogated Robin Lownes who was obliged to reveal the identity of his client – he obviously had no idea why his client was really prepared to pay so much for Rockingdown."
"Sir Edwin Naseby, Lord Rockingdown's cousin, was one of a group of activists before the war who were effectively Nazi sympathisers and wanted to prevent us going to war with Germany. As Miriam Downes told you, they were from all walks of life, members of the House of Lords, the House of Commons and senior business figures – people in positions of great power, in fact."
"Sir Edwin was very active and worked secretly with the Nazis before and during the first few years of the war – goodness knows what damage he did," said Bill quietly. "It was discovered he held secret meetings at Rockingdown, although he never lived there, and his reward was a valuable painting from the many thousands plundered by the Nazis before and during the war."
"He hid it in the loft and sealed up the ceiling, planning to collect it after the war ended," he continued. "Unfortunately for him, his activities were discovered, and he was interned in 1942. He never did return to collect it, because he died of some sort of virus just after the war ended."
"He was obviously close to a number of key people in the group of activists supporting the Nazis and it seems he shared his secret of the gift of the painting with a senior businessman, by the name of Joseph Haddingley. Joseph may have received a similar gift himself, and that is being investigated, but it seems he confided his knowledge of the hidden painting just before his death a year ago to his son, John Haddingley."
"John checked various records," Bill continued, "and realised that a Raphael of some distinction hadn't been located and therefore must still be hidden somewhere in Rockingdown Hall."
"He made enquiries about the property and then realised that it was now empty and likely to come up for sale as the original owner, Miss Townsend, was now in a nursing home and not likely to live very much longer. He kept a very close eye on developments," said Bill wryly. "When it eventually came up for sale, he viewed the property and planned to outbid anyone else at auction. Fortunately for him, he had the means to do that," said Bill.
"I upset all his plans, obviously, by buying it prior to auction," Snubby smiled at Bill.
"You certainly did – and thanks to you and Barney here, the painting has been ultimately found and will be returned to Paris next week to its rightful home. The story will break publicly probably on Tuesday," smiled Bill. "And then you can expect the press to be swarming all over Rockingdown next week and for the story to be in the nationals and on TV for several days to follow."
"I know," groaned Snubby. "I suppose I should think of it as a kind of PR opportunity for Rockingdown Hall when it eventually opens next year as a hotel. Watch this space, sort of thing," he grinned. "Has John Haddingley been arrested, Bill?"
"He is still being interrogated," said Bill, quietly. "So far, his main crime has been to break into Rockingdown just before Christmas to try and find the painting himself. We can only assume that his intention was to steal the painting, or why else would he have been prepared to pay so much for Rockingdown Hall?"
"The important thing is, the painting has been found," said Allie. "Something of such value should be in the public domain for all to enjoy, and of course returned to its rightful home in Paris."
"Miriam was right when she called Sir Edwin treacherous, wasn't she," said Diana. "The Rockingdowns were a good but tragic family, and Sir Edwin was undoubtedly the black sheep. I suppose even the best of families have them," she said thoughtfully. She now knew, of course, the reasons for Dick Martin's sudden departure to Australia.
"They certainly do," said Snubby quietly, meeting Barney's eyes. "And such people have to be dealt with and controlled or they can wreak havoc."
"What are your plans for Rockingdown now, Snubby?" asked Bill.
"Now we have planning permission, work starts in earnest next week," said Snubby. "Alastair's team of architects will be working with Don Lapsley on the renovations."
"It will take a year," he said, "and I plan to open on 1st March next year. Apart from the renovations, I need to engage the right professional management for the hotel, and I want to take my time in doing that."
He sat back, his green eyes thoughtful. "I want to eradicate all the tragedy and unhappiness that the Rockingdowns suffered there and bring the place to life, restore it to its original grandeur and put the stamp of our family all over it. It will be a completely new start for Rockingdown," he added.
"It will have three suites, nine bedrooms and the old coach house will provide an annexe, having six extra bedrooms. The main suite from the old nurseries will be called the Nursery Suite and the other two the Lynton Suite and the Martin Suite," he smiled. "I will rename Rockingdown Cottage the Dower House, which was its original name, and that will be used to provide accommodation for full-time key staff."
"Anyone working for me at Rockingdown Hall will be part of a profit-sharing scheme of any profits we make there," he said quietly. "And I really want this to be a family venture."
He looked up. "Al and his team are already involved in the redesign of the house, and I am hoping that Dinah will advise me on the right kind of art to buy for it. Not of the standard of Raphael, of course," he smiled, "but nevertheless paintings that will be in keeping with a Queen Anne property."
"I would be delighted to," said Dinah, happily. "I know just the kind of thing that would look right there Snubby. I'll start looking!"
"Excellent," said Snubby. "I plan to engage a top quality chef, because that is important, and I would like to offer Suzanne a post as an assistant chef when we open. She will have graduated from college by then, and it will be a good start for her. She can have a room at the Dower House."
"It also means that she won't be too far away from Leo and Tess in Southampton, and she and Tess will be able to see each other quite regularly."
"Oh yes," said Diana. "I've been concerned that Tess may get lonely when Leo is working long hours, but I would guess Dorchester is only about an hour and a half away by train."
"It's an hour and twenty minutes, actually," said Snubby casually, "because I've checked. There is also a bus from Dorchester to Rockingdown. It will be good for them to be there for each other."
"As for Chantal," he continued, looking across at Roger, "she has a year to go on her textiles and interior design course. I would like to ask her to design the interior of Rockingdown, again in keeping with the period of the property. It will be a big project but great experience for her and could probably be used for her course-work. I know she wants to start her own interior design business eventually, and this would provide a good basis for her to launch that, within the hospitality sector."
Roger looked at Snubby. He's doing this for my girls to keep them here in the UK with me, he thought. Snubby looked back unflinchingly. "Snubby, you're a star," he said in an unexpectedly tight voice.
"Not at all," Snubby smiled. "Both your girls are very talented and I like to nurture young talent. I will be able to help Chantal start her own business if she makes a success of the design of Rockingdown. After all," he said, "she is our god-daughter."
"I don't suppose there is anything we can do is there?" asked Diana.
"There certainly is," said Snubby. "Who's the journalist of the family? I will need material written about the history of Rockingdown – the positive side that is – for its marketing material and also a proper PR campaign planned for its opening next year – by someone who can deal with the press. When you first graduated, you worked for the BBC as a researcher and journalist. I would like you to be my Head of Communications."
"Oh Snubby, I would love that," said Diana excitedly. "I will be able to work a lot from home and then meet the press in London."
"I will need photography done, of course," continued Snubby. "Jack is a professional photographer, apart from being an ornithologist, and I am hoping he will take this on as an assignment."
"I am sure he will," said Lucy-Ann. "Jack will love to be involved."
"I am thinking of having an aviary in the garden," said Snubby, "with an area for afternoon tea. I would like Jack to advise me on that as well."
"As for the gardens," he continued, "I can't imagine anyone better to design those than you, my darling." Snubby smiled across at his wife. "If you make as good a job of them as you have of the gardens at home, they will be superb."
"I would love to design them," smiled Lucy-Ann. "I have already had ideas about an Elizabethan knot garden and a rose walk through a series of pergolas."
"There you are, then, you are on your way already."
"Snubby, we'll await the opening party on 1st March next year," laughed Bill. "I have a feeling it will spectacular."
"And in the meantime we have a wedding to look forward to," said Snubby. "Amid all this excitement, let's not forget Leo and Tess will be marrying in two weeks time – the first wedding of the next generation, and a further link between our two families."
"You're right," said Barney, "and it will be here before we know it."
* * *
"Well, can you believe that our daughter is now married and on her way with her new husband on honeymoon," said Diana as she and Barney danced to the sounds of the band in the background. "I do hope they are having a wonderful time."
"I am sure they are!" chuckled Barney. "We certainly did."
"It's been a terrific day, and Tess looked so lovely didn't she?" murmured Diana.
"She looked beautiful, and so do you," he said gently, kissing her softly on the cheek as they danced. "I love that dark blue lace dress, and I liked the matching silk coat and hat that you wore with it earlier. You looked stunning in church this afternoon."
"Thank you, darling. It's called indigo blue, and I chose it because you always say that this is my best colour."
"It is – it suits your hair and brings out the colour of your eyes," he said.
"Neta seems to enjoying herself, doesn't she," Diana looked across to see Neta entertaining Bill, Allie and Barno to a story of some kind. "Her family seem to have blended in so well with everyone."
"They have – they're really enjoying themselves."
"Roger seems much more relaxed than I have seen him for months," she said, watching her brother chatting to Philip and Caro, Jack and Sue. "I really think things have turned a corner for him, particularly now that he knows the girls will be staying in the UK and working for Rockingdown Hall."
"He'll be fine Di. He's a great guy, and eventually the chances are that he will meet someone else. In the meantime, he has his work and the family to give support."
Dinah and Alastair suddenly danced nearby, and Alastair called over. "Since we are now related, I think I should have a dance with the mother of the bride."
Alastair took Diana's hand, and Barney took Dinah's.
"I don't think I have danced with you since my 50th birthday party," said Barney looking down at her. "Who would have thought then that in just over two years you would be married and your stepson would be marrying my daughter?"
"I certainly wouldn't," smiled Dinah.
"I remember asking you what you were planning for your 50th birthday, and you said you thought you might be on a plane somewhere chasing an art deal!" His eyes twinkled. "Will that still be the case?"
"Somehow, I think not," she laughed. "It will be in June, as you know, and I believe Al has plans to whisk me off somewhere for a surprise holiday. And not an art deal in sight!"
"I am glad to see you so happy," said Barney softly. "You deserve it."
"Thank you," she said. "I am very fortunate to have met someone like Alastair."
"And he is fortunate to have met you. You are quite a woman, Dinah."
"Thank you," she said again, feeling herself blushing slightly.
"Forgive me for asking," he said, "but after you and Jim parted, you seemed to completely immerse yourself in work and shut out everyone and everything else." He looked at her. "I may be wrong, but somehow I felt that someone had hurt you. I don't believe it was Jim, because the break-up must have been a relief in some ways. Am I right – was there someone else?"
"Let's just say that there was someone once," she said cautiously, looking past him. "Unfortunately he wasn't available, and nothing ever happened between us, but until I could get past that, there wasn't any room for anyone else in my life."
"Oh, I see," said Barney quietly. "That explains a lot."
"Life isn't always straightforward for everyone is it?" she said.
"I suppose not. I had a few adventures at drama-school, but once Diana and I really got together, that was it. We have never looked back."
"I know. Diana is very lucky."
"And so am I," he said. He looked at her. "The other guy you mentioned – have you been able to stay in touch? Are you still friends?"
"Oh yes, we're still friends." She looked up at him and smiled. "And I know we always will be."
* * *
"Barney, I think I must sit out the next dance, do you mind?"
"Of course not, let's have a rest." Barney led Diana from the dance-floor and they sat down quietly, listening to the band and watching the other dancers on the dance-floor.
"Carlotta sang superbly in church, didn't she?" said Diana, sipping her wine, "and I don't think I have ever heard Hugo play so beautifully before."
"You know why, don't you?" said Barney quietly. "He was accompanying the woman he loves, and playing at his sister's wedding. He gave it his heart and soul."
He looked across at Hugo and Carlotta dancing closely together. "I think he has found the love of his life, don't you, and we can probably expect another wedding later in the year or maybe next."
"Probably," said Diana, "and that would of course be in Spain. It's not exactly straightforward, though, is it?" she looked at him. "As well as the family connection, Carlotta is Spanish and has spent her whole life in Andalusia with her family, and they are both pursuing careers in music."
"They'll sort it out," said Barney, smiling. "But we shouldn't assume that Hugo will just expect Carlotta to come to England. Knowing him, he may decide to move to Spain."
"I obviously hope they will settle here," said Diana pensively.
"Whatever they decide to do, I think we should consider spending Granny's legacy on buying a house in Andalusia for holidays – the whole family can use it, and it means we will have a base there and be close to the family."
"I agree – that's a good idea," Diana smiled at him. "That means another holiday for us in Spain as soon as you can get leave. We will need to start looking!"
"Maybe after Easter."
"It will be our next adventure," she said. She suddenly looked sad. "Do you know, I do believe that the mystery we have just solved at Rockingdown is the last one, the last of that kind, anyway. I feel we have come full circle." She looked at him.
"We met in Rockingdown over thirty-five years ago now, and it was there we solved our first mystery. And we have now come back to solve a mystery that had been waiting to be solved for all those years. I feel a kind of finality about it somehow," she said.
He squeezed her hand. "Don't sound so sad – you may be right, but adventures come to the adventurous, and remember I promised you a life of adventure, didn't I?"
"You did, darling, and that's what we've had. And it doesn't really seem long since I fell off a toboggan with a very dear friend who suddenly took me in his arms, kissed me and told me that he had wanted to do that for years and that he loved me," she said softly.
"That is perfectly true, and here we are thirty years later," he laughed.
"And do you realise, Barney, within a couple of years from now, we could be grandparents! It makes me feel old!"
"Rubbish – we're not old," he laughed. "I am as fit as a fiddle and so are you! Being grandparents will be wonderful," he added. "It will bring a completely new dimension to our lives and be a hell of a lot of fun!"
"Yes, I expect so, but it frightens me how quickly time passes," she murmured.
"And in case you've forgotten, we will be celebrating our thirtieth wedding anniversary on 5th April next year," he said. "Thirty years since Easter Saturday 1958!"
"Of course I hadn't forgotten."
"I've been thinking about it for a while," he said, "and I think we should celebrate at Rockingdown Hall. If Snubby's plans work out as he hopes, the hotel will open at the beginning of March next year, and I can't think of anywhere better, can you?"
"What a lovely idea," she said. "Do you mean a family party?"
"Not exactly," he said, putting his arm round her shoulders. "I thought just the two of us, actually, for a long weekend. Our anniversary actually falls on Easter Tuesday next year. I thought we could take the Nursery Suite for the Easter weekend – after all, that's where it all started, when I was just a homeless circus boy and stayed there with Miranda up in the nurseries, and you cleaned it up for me." He squeezed her shoulder. "I thought we could just relax, reminisce, take a few walks, do what we like when we liked and then I could wine and dine you in the restaurant in the evenings. How would you like that?"
"I'd love it," she said softly.
Barney suddenly paused and chuckled.
"What's funny?" asked Diana.
"Listen, the band are playing 'Night and Day'. Tess must have arranged this for us. They're playing our song, sweetheart. That means one more twirl round the dance-floor. Come on!"
He led her back onto the dance-floor, and they began to move around the floor.
"By the way," he whispered, "Snubby told me earlier that he's decided to name the restaurant at Rockingdown Hall, 'Miranda's', in her memory."
"Barney! Isn't that just like Snubby?" Diana looked up at him.
"Isn't it just. He said that he plans to have a mural of a country scene painted on one wall of the restaurant, and in the bottom right hand corner he wants a figure of a blond youth with a monkey on his shoulder." Barney laughed. "He said that most people will never notice it, but if they do and ask about it, he will simply say, and thereby hangs a tale."
"Who would have believed that my idiotic pest of a cousin would turn out the way he has?"
"Well, I think I would have done, actually," said Barney thoughtfully. "For all his mad ways as a child, he was bright, streetwise, had all the right values, bags of charm and even then an instinctive judgement about people and situations which rarely let him down. And he is also the most loyal and supportive friend anyone could wish to have," he whispered. "Thanks to his intervention, dad has been saved a huge amount of distress, Uncle George's business has been saved from collapse and his agreement with Dick has effectively given Dick a new life in Australia and a chance to turn his life around. Although they will never know it, my family owes him a huge debt."
"You're right," murmured Diana. "I'm very proud of him."
"And years ago, a few months after I left drama-school and when he was still at school, he once demonstrated to me in a bar in London one evening that in some ways he was more mature than I was," said Barney.
"Really? What was that about then?" Diana looked up at him.
"Well, I think the details should stay between Snubby and me," said Barney, tantalisingly, "but maybe one day I'll tell you in years to come."
"In other words," he twirled her round, and then drew her back to him, his blue eyes twinkling, "in other words, when we are great grand-parents, and very, very old!"