The Duchess of Duke Street: The Bargain

Previously on The Duchess of Duke Street: Louisa and Gus buy a hotel, mostly to give Gus something to do besides drink all day and act surly. He promptly runs the place into the ground, runs up debts all over the place, and still drinks all day, so Louisa unceremoniously kicks him out.

The morning after the Trotter Bust-Up, Mary and Merriman are clearing up the trashed office as Mary gossips away about the previous night’s goings-on. Merriman keeps telling her that he heard everything—as did the people down the street, I’m sure, it’s not like Louisa was trying to keep her voice down. Mary frets that the hotel might close, and Merriman agrees that it’s a possibility. His sang froid is admirable here. Mary, like a rather bitchy dolt, says that if they were chucked out, she’d probably find a job, but he never would, because he’s so old. She keeps going on and on about it. How old is Mary supposed to be? Because she certainly looks like she should be old enough to have basic manners and a filter of some kind.

Louisa’s going over the books in the kitchens, blanching at the horrible numbers. Mary and Merriman come down and greet her, and Louisa asks if they both slept well. They both claim they did. “Both deaf as doorposts, then?” she asks. Heh. “Yes, ma’am,” Merriman instantly responds. HA! Louisa, whose voice is now hoarse, asks them both to sit down so they can have a chat. She informs them that Gus and Nora are gone for good and she’s closing the hotel. She shows them the bills and says they owe £2,819, and it only took Gus a few months to run that debt up. Holy CRAP! Do you know how much money that was? According to my (admittedly quick) research, that was the equivalent of more than £70,000 today! In just a few months! What the hell was he doing? Even Merriman’s horrified, and Mary says she didn’t even think there were so many pounds in England. Louisa, being noble, is determined to pay off every last penny. Merriman suggests she turn to one of her wealthy friends for help but Louisa won’t hear of it.

Mary at least asks a sensible question, which is, if Louisa closes the hotel, how’ll she pay off the debt? Louisa draws her attention to the prostitutes who apparently appear every night, and how she’ll sell the only commodity she has the same way they do. Merriman responds to that with a totally hilarious eye raise, and Mary practically locks her knees together and gasps that she could never! Louisa clarifies that she’s talking about cooking her way out of debt, not having sex. Which makes sense, because sex, in a way, is what got her into this mess in the first place.

Louisa hits the market, where she’s obviously a regular, judging from the easy rapport she has with some of the sellers. One of them sees her coming and cringes, knowing that Louisa drives a hard bargain. And she does indeed, getting the guy riled by saying his chickens aren’t fresh, and then offering half what he’s asking for some quail.

Next, she goes to a grocers’ shop to ask the proprietor to buy cooked quail from her. He’s indignant at the idea of having to pay her for anything, when she already owes him £28 and change, an amount she’s able to rattle off from memory. But he’s misunderstood her—she’s not expecting him to buy anything. She’ll cook up the quail and supply them to him, and he’ll knock the amount off her debt.

While they’re discussing this, a woman in the front room starts complaining to the shop assistant about them not having something in stock. The assistant comes back and exposits that she’s a lord’s housekeeper, and she’s got her nose out of joint because they’re out of veal and ham pies. Does this lord not have a cook of his own to make his pies? This seems a little odd. The owner goes out and turns on the charm, but she’s pissed and, once she learns there’s nothing they can do to make a pie appear, she snippily gathers up her other purchases. The owner comes back to tie up with Louisa, who offers to make pies as well. They bargain for a while, and settle on 10 pence halfpenny per pie. It’s going to take FOREVER to pay off a £28 debt at 10 pence halfpenny a pie, when she also has to lay out money for the ingredients.

Bentink kitchens. Louisa toils away at some lovely looking pies. Upstairs, Mary and Merriman are dragging a mattress down the stairs to put in the office, so Louisa can sleep closer to the kitchens. Mary heads back downstairs to help out with the pies, which now cover almost every surface in the kitchen. Merriman reports that Louisa’s bedroom furniture has been placed in the office, an arrangement he doesn’t seem to approve of. Louisa tells him to deal with it.

Later, or another day, it’s hard to tell, Merriman comes down to the kitchens to tell Louisa that her parents have come for a visit. Great timing, Leytons. Louisa kind of rolls her eyes but sets down the pot she was carrying and asks Mary to put the kettle on for tea.

In the office, Louisa’s dreadful mother is telling her daughter that Gus was such a good husband. Lady, he was willingly complicit in Louisa’s whoring out, nearly raped her, and then racked up a £3,000 debt in a few months entertaining a bunch of losers. He was a terrible husband! Louisa says none of this, which surprises me. It seems Gus went whining to the Leytons after Louisa threw him out (probably at the instigation of Nora). Mrs. Leyton tells Louisa she can’t possibly pay off the whole debt on her own and asks if the king couldn’t help her out. Louisa admits he’s reached out a couple of times (is he still actively keeping tabs on her, then? Because otherwise how would he have heard about the situation she’s in?) but of course Louisa turned him down. Her parents are shocked to hear it, but she repeats that she doesn’t want anybody’s help. She also tells her father not to dream of trying to give her any cash. Mommie Dearest says they just wanted to drop by and check on her, it being Christmas Eve and all, and they not having heard from her in a while. The look on Louisa’s face suggests she didn’t even realize what day it was. Mommie Dearest actually guilts Louisa for not having written, and even after Louisa apologizes and explains she’s been working all the time, MD keeps going on about it. Even her henpecked husband finally gives her a look and shakes his head, and she does that awful “what, what did I say?” thing that people utterly lacking in self-awareness tend to pull. God, what a tiresome bitch. Oh, and it gets better, because it eventually comes out that what MD really misses is the money that used to come in the letters Louisa would send. Yes, that’s right, she’s now laying a guilt trip on her deeply in debt daughter for not sending her lazy ass money. Christ.

Louisa interrupts by offering her father another cup of tea. After she pours it, she goes to her desk, pulls out some money, and gives it to her parents as a Christmas gift, despite their (very mild) protests. So, she can’t take money from them, but they’ll still take money from her? Jesus, what a pair. You know, I used to like the dad, but the fact he actually took the money just made him go down quite a few notches in my estimation.

Mary busts in to tell Louisa that something on the stove needs her attention, so her parents clear out. MD doesn’t even give her a hug or a kiss or anything, although her father does.

In the kitchen, Louisa reads out the menu for a dinner to an increasingly exhausted sounding Mary. Merriman comes down with three more orders, which Louisa accepts. At the thought of having to do three more big dinners, Mary bursts into tears from strain. Louisa sweetly comforts her and sends her off to bed. Mary feels bad, sets herself to rights, and gets back to work. In one of the weirder moments on this show, Louisa goes to pick up a pan or something, then goes all wide-eyed and shaky, like she’s receiving a transmission from the Big Giant Head, and just drops to the floor.

She’s promptly put to bed and the doctor’s called. He tells Mary that Louisa’s exhausted and underfed. He orders Mary to keep her in bed and fed for at least two days. Has he ever met Louisa? I really don’t think Mary’s up for this at all.

Louisa comes around and starts giving Mary orders regarding the dinner they’re doing, but Mary puts her foot down and firmly tells Louisa she’s to rest. Guess I was wrong about her—well done, Mary!

The next day, Mary’s fussing over whether or not she should take Louisa her morning tea, and then talks to Merriman about whether or not this is really the end, because with Louisa out of commission, there’ll be no money coming in.

She ultimately takes the tea up, only to find Louisa’s bed empty. Mary wastefully drops the tray and goes running for Merriman. What’s he going to do?

It’s very early morning, by the look of things. In a lovely square in, probably, Mayfair or Belgravia, a street sweeper’s cleaning up horse poo before the wealthy residents get up. Talk about service! Out of the front door of one house comes Charlie (remember Charlie?), wearing evening clothes, ready to do the walk of shame. He blows a kiss to an upper floor window and bids the sweeper good morning as he walks past.

Louisa, looking like death itself, is rolling a cart laden with produce and meat through the very same square, keeping herself conscious by counting her steps. Charlie spots her and comes over, stopping her and peering into her face. It takes him a minute, but then he recognizes her, even though she doesn’t seem to know who the hell he is. She pretends not to, at least, and Charlie calls her on it. Oh, she remembers him, all right, calling him a rogue, rake, and seducer of innocent young kitchen maids. Yep, that’s him. He asks her how she’s doing, although one look at her should have answered that question. She gamely says she’s well, so he asks after her husband. She sharply says that he isn’t her husband anymore. I wonder if she’s just saying that, or if they really did get officially divorced, because if so, that must have been a trial. Divorces were hard to come by back then, even if both sides consented, and I’m willing to bet Gus wouldn’t consent.

Charlie, showing a certain keenness of mind, guesses she’s not well, but Louisa tells him to buzz off and continues pushing her cart along. Charlie strolls along with her, asking where he can call on her, and she tells him she lives at the Bentink, but there aren’t any guests anymore. She continues trying to give him the brush-off, and he asks her, a little more forcefully than he has until now, if she’s really all right. She says she is, but then collapses in the road. Charlie looks around desperately, but the square’s empty, so he dumps the produce out of the cart, loads Louisa in, and takes her away. The residents of that square are going to be really confused about the mess of game birds, cabbages, and Louisa’s hat just lying there in the street. And the street sweeper’s probably going to be pissed.

Charlie takes Louisa to a hospital, and apparently gets word to the Bentink, because soon enough Mary’s arrived for a visit. Mary babbles a bit about having brought Louisa some quail in aspic, then sits next to Louisa’s bed and says that Charlie said the whole thing was horrible. He’s been calling at the hotel daily to give everyone updates on Louisa’s condition. That’s rather sweet, actually. Louisa, still looking terrible, seems surprised to hear that Charlie’s involved at all. Mary informs her that Merriman took the liberty of canceling all the dinners, and that all the clients wish Louisa well. Mary’s crying by this time, and Louisa tiredly comforts her. She also tells Mary that she’s throwing in the towel, even though it means the loss of the hotel. Mary says that they tried, which is supposed to be the most important thing. Louisa’s getting teary too, starting to get scared at the idea of being impoverished, which is reasonable.

Mary gets up and flees, running into Charlie at the door. He asks her how Louisa is, and Mary tearfully tells him that she’s never seen Louisa like this. Charlie goes to Louisa’s bed, and she greets him cheerfully. He sweetly gives her a bouquet of flowers, then takes a seat beside the bed. He tells her he admires her for taking on the debts and trying to pay them off, and she snorts that he’s the only one who does. He slowly gets around to his point: he’s tired of hopping from one friend’s house to another while living in London, so he offers to buy the lease on the Bentink Hotel so he’ll have a London base (interestingly, the lease on the hotel is £1,500, which means Gus’s debts are almost twice what the hotel is worth. Seriously, what was he buying?) Louisa thinks this is just another form of charity, so she says no, because apparently she’d rather die poor and proud on the street. He points out that this is not charity but an investment, and that starts to bring her around. She grumbles about it being a strange hotel, with only one guest and one suite of rooms, and she claims the whole idea’s impossible. Charlie smiles like he knows better.

And indeed he does, because next we’re catching up with him and Louisa at an auction, where Louisa’s asking Charlie if she should bid for a large hall chair. He encourages her to do so, and she gets it and hugs him in her excitement. Seems they’re re-kitting out the hotel. I guess a lot of the furniture was sold off to pay the debts, although that was never actually stated. Just as they start to leave, bidding begins on a lovely piano, and Charlie decides he has to have it, even though he doesn’t play. Yet.

At the Bentink, walls are being painted and furniture’s being moved in and the place is looking much better. Louisa observes that the place looks like a “tart’s bedroom” and Charlie doesn’t think so. “Well, you should know,” she cracks. Heh.

Much later, the place is done, and Louisa walks through the hall, wondering aloud how many quail and pork pies each piece of furniture would have been worth.

She heads up to Charlie’s room, where he’s mucking about with the piano. His rooms are still kind of a mess, with nothing unpacked yet, even though Louisa’s gotten the whole rest of the hotel set up (with some help, I’m guessing). Louisa’s pretty antsy, nervous about the hotel reopening. Charlie tells her to relax, but this is Louisa we’re talking about, she doesn’t relax. She’s terrified it might fail, but Charlie nicely reassures her it won’t, and this what she’s always wanted—a nice hotel and independence. He flirtily asks if she’s ever wanted a lover to go with it, and she firmly says no. She asks him what he wants out of life, to be a great pianist? He says he’ll surprise her by learning to play, and that there’s plenty of time to do so. She gets serious and tells him there’s never time for the things that really matter. She breaks the solemn mood by telling him what she’s making him for dinner and sweeps out.

In the kitchen, Mary’s scrubbing down a table and telling Merriman that she hopes Louisa knows what she’s doing. He’s reading the paper, so he ignores her, so she just starts yelling at him, obnoxiously. He agrees with her, and then Mary starts gossiping, telling Merriman that Charlie’s not a gentleman, because he was always seducing the young maids. Merriman says that pretty much is the definition of a gentleman. Heh.

Upstairs, Merriman greets a man in a blue suit with an adorable terrier. Blue Suit introduces himself as Starr and the dog as Fred, and Merriman goes to tell Louisa he’s there. Starr’s there to apply for the hall porter position. Louisa has him take a seat in her office and goes to start the interview. She’s shaky, not being accustomed to interviewing people, so Starr helps her get the ball rolling. He reassures her that he has experience, having worked “here and there” at “this and that.” Heh. She observes that he seems like the military type and asks if he fought in the Boer War. He says he might have. Uh, ok. Seems like something a person would know, but whatever. I’m surprised that his cagey behavior isn’t putting Louisa off, considering how fierce she usually is.

Starr proceeds to take over the interview, now asking the questions, including: how many guests are at the hotel? Is Fred welcome? Because, you see, where he goes, Fred goes.

As the interview proceeds, two ladies of the night wander into the lobby and are immediately approached by Merriman, who asks if he can help them. They make a crude joke at his expense and tell him that they’re looking to drum up some business amongst the gentlemen staying there. You know, Duke Street’s in a pretty nice part of London—I doubt these sorts of ladies would be a) just walking up and down the street looking to drum up business, as Louisa mentioned earlier, or b) wandering into high-class hotels like this. They had police on the streets to chase off people like this.

Mary comes charging out and tells both women, in no uncertain terms, to clear off. The noise calls out Louisa, who asks what’s going on and hears the story. Louisa introduces Mary and Merriman to Starr, who will be joining the staff, along with Fred.  She bids Starr a good evening; he’ll be reporting for work the following day. After he leaves, Louisa tells Mary to chuck the prostitutes out more gently in the future, because they’re just trying to earn a living, same as Louisa and Mary, and Louisa doesn’t want Mary to be a snob. But you also don’t want your hotel to be known as a haunt for streetwalkers, right Louisa? I’m on Mary’s side, here. Be forceful and word’ll get around pretty quick that that sort of thing isn’t tolerated at the Bentink.

The next day, both Louisa and Mary are dressed up for the hotel opening, and Louisa’s fussing around nervously in the kitchen. Before they go up, Louisa thanks Mary for all her help and kisses her affectionately on the cheek.

Up they go, and Mary, Starr, and Merriman line up, ready to greet guests. As Louisa goes to open the door, Charlie comes trotting down the stairs with a magnum of champagne in his hand. Louisa invites everyone into her office for a drink. Before they can party, however, a man comes blustering in and, without even looking at him, starts rudely ordering Starr around. Starr prepares to do the man’s bidding, but Louisa’s on the case, and she gets her knickers in a right old twist when the guy then starts flinging his attitude her way, treating her like a skivvy and telling her to call him “sir.” After learning he’s the owner of a coal mine, she stiffly tells him they have no rooms available. Starr whispers to her that they do, actually, but she whispers back that they don’t have any for jumped up jerks like this one. What was that about not being a snob, Louisa? She kicks the guy out and waves everyone into the office. Mary asks what the deal is, and Louisa informs her that they’re starting as she means to go on: the Bentink is going to be an exclusive hotel, only catering to the best people.


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