The Duchess of Duke Street: A Nice Class of Premises

Previously on The Duchess of Duke Street: Louisa’s dream of being the best cook in England got derailed slightly when the Prince of Wales decided he wanted to have her for a mistress. She was duly married off to former butler Gus Trotter and decamped to a lovely house in a nice area of town, where the prince could visit her discreetly.

Louisa’s got her own cook now, and the woman’s pretty indignant when a maid brings down dinner, uneaten. Louisa herself comes down a second later, railing about the crappy, curdled mayonnaise and starts lecturing the cook on proper technique. The cook gets snippy and goes to toss the mayo, but Louisa’s a proper middle-class girl who doesn’t deal well with waste, so she separates a couple of eggs and starts rescuing the mayo while the cook and the young maid watch. After a few moments, the maid screws up her courage and asks if she and the cook (Mrs. Wellkin) could go watch the queen’s funeral procession, so I guess we now know it’s 1901, sometime between January 22 and February 2, if you want to get really exact about it. Louisa gives them leave to watch, but she won’t be amongst the gawkers because, as she says, she takes no pleasure in funerals.

The front door bell rings and the maid hurries to answer it while Louisa hands the mayo over to Mrs. Wellkin to continue saving and goes to find some lemon to liven it up.

The late visitor is the Major, who refuses Gus’s offer of a seat and a glass of port. The sitting room’s now crowded with photographs and knick knacks; this place has clearly become more of a home than the last time we saw it. Gus offers his condolences on the loss of the queen, since the Major knew her and all. Louisa joins them and greets the major warmly, calling him Johnny, so it looks like they’re pretty tight now. Trotter excuses himself and leaves them alone together. Louisa asks after the Prince, now King, and from the sound of the way she talks about him, a very warm relationship’s grown up between her and Edward as well, which is nice to see, all things considered. The Major gradually gets around to his point: now that he’s king, Edward needs to dump Louisa. She takes it stoically, but seems a little sad and refuses the offer of financial assistance in the future (Edward’s giving her the house and all the furniture). As the Major goes to leave, she says she hopes they’ll remain friends, and he says they certainly will. He takes his leave, and once he’s gone, Louisa allows herself to look properly sad.

Later that night, Louisa’s in her room, packing up the things Edward left behind. Gus comes in and confirms that the relationship’s over. He wants to talk, but she’s barely holding it together and asks if they can chat some other time. Trotter withdraws, and alone again, Louisa goes to her dressing table and picks up a framed picture of Edward.

Trotter’s sister, whom we’ve never actually met, has wasted no time coming over for a visit to find out what the Trotters will do now. Gus says it’s up to Louisa. The sister, whose voice sounds disturbingly like Louisa’s horrible mother, asks Gus what kind of settlement he and Louisa received, and when she learns they got nothing, because Louisa didn’t want anything, the sister starts haranguing him for being too soft. Trotter’s just happy to have his wife all to himself again; he’s not interested in money either. Norah Trotter snips and snipes, and finally Louisa comes in to restore order and ask Norah what she wants, because Louisa’s known her long enough to know she always wants something. Gus passes along some information on the Boer War, which is going well for their side, and Louisa’s happy to hear it, since her brother’s still down there fighting.

Norah immediately asks what the Trotters plan to live on, now Edward won’t be scattering money about anymore, but Louisa doesn’t want to discuss it. Words get sharper, and finally Louisa, wisely, leaves to see if there’s anything for lunch. I think she took M. Alex’s advice to heart, don’t you? After Louisa leaves, Norah bitchily tells her brother that he married beneath him and he needs to start putting his foot down if he wants to have a normal married life.

Down in the kitchen, Louisa’s giving some instructions to Mrs. Wellkin and complimenting the soup that’s on the stove. Mrs. Wellkin says that one of the other servants made it, because she’s keen to learn cooking. Louisa’s pleased to hear that, as she would be. After a moment, she asks Mrs. Wellkin about her own marriage. Mr. Wellkin died on the way to South Africa–he was a regular in the army.  Mrs. Wellkin gets sad as she tells the story–she clearly really did love her husband.

The conversation ends when the servant girl comes in and tells Louisa that there’s someone waiting to see her–another servant, who won’t come in. Louisa sends her out to bring the girl in anyway, and in comes young Mary, looking half frozen. Louisa sits her down next to the stove and asks what happened to her. Mary tearfully tells her she walked out of Lord Henry’s. Louisa quickly gets her something to eat and asks where she’s been sleeping. On the street, is the answer. Louisa sits next to her and gently asks why she didn’t come to her immediately. Mary says that Ivy told her Louisa was a grand lady and wouldn’t want to be reminded of the old days, when she worked in a kitchen for a living. Louisa scoffs and asks what happened to make Mary run away from Henry’s. As I predicted, things got really crappy for Mary after Louisa left, and she couldn’t handle it anymore.

Louisa puts on her fur cloak and goes right over to Lord Henry’s to tell Mrs. Catchpole what’s been going on. Catchpole’s distressed to learn Ivy’s been up to her bitchy old tricks again and Louisa demands to know what Catchpole plans to do about that. Catchpole, who’s not sounding very strong or healthy, says there’s not much they can do. She’s been having trouble running the house since Louisa, Trotter, and then M. Alex left. They haven’t been able to keep a cook since.

 Catchpole changes the subject and nicely says she’s glad things worked out well for Louisa. Louisa says it’s nice having a big house and servants and all, but knowing the prince kind of sank her career, since nobody could look at her as a cook anymore. She’s clearly frustrated and doesn’t know what to do with herself. Catchpole clears her throat and mentions that Lord Henry’s going to be hosting the King of Portugal for dinner the following week. Louisa freakishly knows exactly what to serve King Carlos, and the delighted Catchpole asks her to come in to cook the dinner. As part of the bargain, Louisa gets Catchpole to agree to take Mary back. But then she backs off on that, agrees to cook the dinner, and decides to take Mary on herself, because if she’s going to go back to cooking then she’s going to need an able assistant.

Back home, Louisa’s reporting to Trotter about how much things have gone downhill since he left. Trotter grunts and tells her firmly he doesn’t want her to go back there and cook the dinner. Yeah, that’s gonna fly. Louisa scoffs, but when he puts his paternalistic foot down, Louisa gets pissed, gathers up her cloak, and tries to leave. Gus does that obnoxious “I’m still talking to you!” thing that some men who really need to get punched in the face do, and surprisingly, Louisa pauses at the door. He wants to discuss their future, but she has work to do and wants to talk later. Louisa gets into a snit and sits down, saying she knew she would get Norah’s opinion soon enough. Heh. Trotter doesn’t even try to deny it. His suggestion is that they let the spare rooms in the house to gentlemen, but Louisa’s not keen on the idea of essentially running a boarding house. She’s even less keen on the idea of firing Mrs. Wellkin and doing the cooking for a handful of lodgers herself, because she believes (probably correctly) that she’s above that. She points out that she’d earn more by cooking one fancy dinner party than they would in a month of lodgers, and Trotter points out that the lodgers would at least be steady income. Things start to devolve once he drags Norah back into it, and Louisa tells Gus Norah only cares about him having money so she can mooch off of him. He brings up his alleged mother again, and she shuts him down by snapping that he and Norah can’t even put a proper name to their supposed great connections. Trotter looks hurt by that and she backs off and apologizes and tells him she knows things are rough for him, but she can continue her profession in a way that he can’t, so they should at least give it a try. He growls that he doesn’t want her going to other people’s houses, where other men are, because he knows what goes on at these parties. Her face hardens and she says she’d never let that happen again, then she turns and hurries out of the room. When she’s gone, all he can hollowly say is, “you’re my wife.”

Later, Louisa’s getting ready for bed and almost gets scared to death when Gus appears in the doorway. He comes in and apologizes for earlier and he wants to forget the past and is prepared to forgive her. Louisa’s rightfully pissed at that, since he knew what was going to happen when he married her, so it’s pretty rich for him to come in and offer to forgive her, like he’s doing a big favor. He steps closer and almost goes to take her hands, but she keeps hers clasped together, so he backs off and sits at the foot of the bed. He sadly says he hoped they’d have a chance to really be man and wife when Edward let her go. Louisa nervously says that they get along fine and nothing’s changed, but that’s the problem–Gus wants things to change. In a slightly dangerous voice, he says that he wants her. She reminds him that they had a bargain, and she told him from the beginning that she didn’t love him. If things are going to change, they’ll have to happen gradually. He starts wailing about other men again, and she goes to comfort him, but he desperately grabs her hand and starts to kiss it, then grabs her, babbling about it being “his right” as she very firmly tells him “no.” She struggles for a little while, but then just stops and goes absolutely cold. When he turns her face toward him, she coolly says he could force her, because he’s stronger than she is, but if he does, she’ll leave and never see him again. He backs away a step or two, raises a hand as if to hit her, and then shoves her aside into the bed and goes out in the hallway, where he begins to sob like a child.

He returns to the sitting room, where he continues crying and eyes the decanter of whisky nearby.

Louisa’s dinner for King Carlos was a success, according to Catchpole, who delivers up payment along with Lord Henry’s personal thanks. She also offers Louisa the position of cook in the household, at the same pay M. Alex was making, and he’s willing to take Trotter back as his London butler as well. Louisa thanks her for the offer, but she needs to work at a lot of different houses if she’s going to be a proper, famous cook. Catchpole’s not surprised, and she tells Louisa that she’s already had some inquiries from other aristocrats as to Louisa’s availability. Louisa’s jubilant when Catchpole shows her the list of inquiries that have already been made.

Louisa’s happiness is short lived, though. She returns home and finds a sign above her front door that says: Rooms for Gentlemen. Oh boy.

She whirls into the sitting room with the sign to confront Gus, who’s sitting by the fire with a glass of whiskey, evidently waiting for the fireworks to begin. They have a good old fight about it, culminating in him telling her that it’s time for her to learn to be a housewife. She gets a good bit of rage on with that one, which isn’t surprising, and tells him that she can make £60 a night with her dinners, so they don’t need to let rooms, and the people who’ll be coming by to consult with her about their grand meals shouldn’t be seeing signs about rooms to let. She tears the sign up, throws it on the floor, and whirls out.

Downstairs, Louisa’s preparing for another dinner, assisted by Mrs. Wellkin and Mary. As Louisa fusses over the ingredients, Ethel the maid steps forward and eagerly offers to help. She excitedly says she’s been watching how Louisa does things and wants to learn more, and Louisa’s been saying she needs another pair of hands… Louisa agrees to start teaching her, but some other night, when she’s not doing some crazy dinner.

Upstairs, alone, Trotter drinks. A true gentleman of leisure.

Another day, Louisa comes down to the kitchen and asks the assorted servants where Gus is. The pub, apparently. Not surprising. Mary calls her attention to some inquiries for future bookings, so Louisa comes over to sift through them and decide which ones to accept. The front door bell rings, and once again it’s the Major, who’s come by for a visit. He comments that everyone in London seems to be talking about her cooking. She modestly accepts the praise. He asks after Gus and hears he’s out, but the Major already knew that. In fact, he knows already that Gus is out at the pub most mornings, noons, and nights. Turns out the Major’s not there for a casual visit–word has reached the palace that Gus has been getting pretty loose lipped over at the pub after a few drinks. Louisa blanches. Gus hasn’t said anything too damaging, but it’s really just a matter of time. The Major says he feels bad for Trotter, but Louisa has to find a way to shut him up.

Louisa’s first stop is at Lord Henry’s, where Catchpole tells her that they’re only interested in having Trotter back if Louisa comes with him. Ouch. That one’s gonna hurt. Louisa confirms that Catchpole knows what the situation is and asks for advice. Catchpole doesn’t have any, aside from Louisa finding some way for him to earn a living, without making him an employee of Louisa’s own business.

Louisa takes that to heart and heads home to troll the help wanted ads. There, she finds a listing for a hotel that’s being offered for sale upon the retirement of the present owner. She reads that it has extensive, fully equipped kitchens and is sold.

She and Trotter head over to the hotel, the Bentink, on Duke Street. She’s evidently already pleased with what she sees, but Trotter’s a little standoffish. She sells him on it by saying that he’d be the one running the place, and he seems to come around a little.

Evidently, they both liked what they saw inside, because next they’re informing Norah that they’ve bought the hotel, and they’ll be funding the purchase with their savings, the money Louisa’s earned the past few months with her cooking, and the sale of their present home. Gus is clearly excited by the prospect of running the hotel and wants Norah to come on board as housekeeper. Louisa allows it, because she’s already told Gus he’ll make all the hotel decisions while she runs the kitchens and operates her own business.

Louisa arrives at the hotel’s large though outdated kitchen and immediately scolds the portly hall porter for standing around instead of being in the front hall, where he belongs. She shows Mrs. Wellkin around and Ethel starts to get to work, but trips over an elderly man in a tuxedo slumbering next to the fire. He, apparently, is Mr. Merriman, the head waiter who came with the hotel along with the rest of the staff. He rouses himself and heads back upstairs so the ladies can get to work.

Laudable though this idea was, it doesn’t seem to be going smoothly. Soon enough, Louisa’s in Gus’s office, complaining that she went away for two days and came back to find Mrs. Wellkin pissed off and ready to leave, because Norah decided to start concerning herself with affairs in the kitchen and sent back the menus for being too extravagant. Louisa doesn’t think they should be scrimping on food, because they need to build up a reputation. Louisa warns them not to interfere in the kitchens anymore and leaves, so Norah can start sniping, as she does, that Louisa seems to forget that Gus runs the hotel. Gus calls in the porter and asks for a pricey bottle of champagne. Oh, god.

Belowstairs, things are in an uproar because guests are leaving fast and the staff is certain the place is going to be shut down. Louisa tells them in no uncertain terms that things are going to be fine, and the hotel will flourish on the strength of the food it serves. She sends them all off to finish their work, then tells Ethel she’ll be taking over preparation for the German embassy dinner and Mary will be accompanying Louisa to Hertfordshire to cook for some house party.

Upstairs, Trotter greets some cronies we’ve never seen before and sends the porter for brandy. Later, in the kitchen, Louisa’s putting the finishing touches on the embassy dinner when Merriman comes down and says Gus wants dinner for himself and five friends in his room. Louisa’s busy and says it’ll have to wait. Meanwhile, Norah’s returning to the hotel with a bunch of packages, swanning through the front door like the grand lady she isn’t, while Gus and his friends laugh uproariously in his office, disturbing some of the guests trying to relax in the front hall. Their drunken revelry can be heard all the way down in the kitchen, where Louisa’s at work while Mary and Ethel practice setting a proper table. Merriman comes down and gives them some tips, then, with some prodding, tells Louisa that Gus has asked for the keys to the wine cellar, which affronts Merriman because he’s always been responsible for them. It’s worth noting that he mentions there are some very rare and expensive bottles down there. Louisa says that Merriman has to hand the keys over, since Gus is the manager, so Merriman leaves to do so.

In his office, Trotter’s freely pouring the brandy and telling some lame story from his butlering days to his cronies, who laugh like it’s the greatest thing they ever heard. Merriman enters and hands over the keys. Trotter meanly observes that Merriman certainly took his time, and the guy’s, like, 90, Gus, give him a break! Merriman just leaves without a word. I think I love him a little. Trotter tosses the keys into the air and says they lead to a fortune in liquor. This idiot’s going to drink them all into the street.

Louisa’s still working downstairs, and Merriman comes down and sweetly brings her a cup of tea and says she’ll wear herself out. Louisa says she has to do it, so she can afford to update the kitchen, which badly needs it. She wants the hotel to have the best kitchen in England.

The next day, or some days later, Trotter shoves some papers (I’m guessing bills he doesn’t want to deal with) into a desk drawer and pours himself a glass of brandy. In comes Louisa to bid him farewell–she’s off to cook for a bunch of house parties in the country for the next three weeks. She’s also asked for all the checks to be sent directly to Gus. Oh. My. God. Is she going to regret that or what?

We next see Gus screaming at a guest for having the audacity to leave. Gus yells that it’s a privilege to be able to stay at the hotel and tells the man to clear out. He does, with his family, as Merriman watches. Norah comes hurrying down the stairs and sends Merriman on his way.

In the kitchen, Mrs. Wellkin is sitting beside a pot of tea, looking glum when Louisa comes in, trailed by Mary, returned a full day early. Merriman comes down the stairs and greets her and Louisa says hello, then asks where everyone is and scolds Mrs. Wellkin for getting some crappy chicken instead of the best, as she’s always demanded. Mrs. Wellkin defensively says they were the best they could get, since they can’t shop at their usual butcher anymore. They’ve overextended their credit and the bills haven’t been paid for months. Louisa’s shocked to hear that, and even more shocked to hear from Merriman that there are only two guests left in the hotel, and the rest of the staff has walked out because they haven’t been paid. Norah told Ethel she’d have to go back to being a maid, which didn’t sit well with Ethel, so she got kicked out too. Louisa demands to know where Norah and Trotter are and learns the first is lying down, and the second is at the Café Royal, where he spends most evenings. She gets good and mad and tells Mary to follow her upstairs.

Louisa marches upstairs to Trotter’s office, but the porter steps in and tells her nobody’s allowed in there. “You just try and stop me!” she dares him, and throws open the doors.

The place is a wreck. Plates of half eaten food and empty bottles are strewn all over. Louisa’s completely shocked and appalled by what she sees. She takes a moment to take it in and then tells Mary to try and find the cash box while Louisa starts pawing through the desk. She finds the ledger and looks at the figures. “Impossible,” she murmurs, over and over again. Mary finds the cashbox and reports there’s only £7 6 shillings and fourpence left. Swallowing hard, Louisa tells her that’s all they have left in the world, so she’s to take it downstairs and hide it in one of the ovens, making sure first that the oven’s not lit. Good plan.

Trotter comes home as Mary flees downstairs, and he’s immediately met by Norah, who’s been fetched by the porter.  Trotter’s unsteady on his feet, but he goes into the office nonetheless and tries to make nice with Louisa, explaining the mess away by saying he had a few friends over. Louisa doesn’t care about the mess, she cares about the fact that he’s been handing out free food and drink like he’s a foreign aid worker. She rants and raves about how every cent she’s made has been spent on losers, while not a single bill’s been paid. Norah tries to step in, but Louisa shuts her up. Gus whines and complains and everyone starts to yell, and ultimately Louisa kicks them both right the hell out of the hotel, slamming the doors behind them. Louisa rules.

Once they’re gone, though, she’s spent, and she rubs her face, heads back into the wrecked office, and sits at the desk, wondering just what she’s going to do now. After a moment, she shuts the ledger, starts pulling out bills, and begins to get organized.

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