That evening, Gabriel’s guests gathered in the dining room for supper. Their host was absent and they began a light babble of small talk. Jacob surprised himself by holding a ten minute long conversation with Edna Hawte about his job as an accountant. She proved herself a sharp financier. Jacob had noticed the Colonel was very flippant when it came to money, so that made sense.
When they had finished their chat Jacob wandered over to pick up a champagne glass, supplied on a tray by an elderly manservant. As he did so Ilse, who was standing alone on the other side of the table, caught his eye and beckoned him over. Taking his glass, he went and joined her.
“I think I’m making progress with Gabriel,” he said before she could speak, “he doesn’t want to tell me about America just yet, but I think that he trusts me more than he used to. I think with a little time I can make him open up.”
To his surprise Ilse nodded and smiled.
“Well done,” she said, “the sooner we can get him to tell us about it, the better.”
“You’ve changed your tune,” Jacob looked at her askance, “you were very much against my attempts to loosen Gabriel’s tongue.”
Ilse glanced around to see if anyone was watching them. Then she leaned forward conspiratorially and her face darkened.
“That was before our tennis game this morning,” she whispered, “now I’m very worried for him. He kept on talking to me about his dead father. You were absolutely right, Gabriel thinks that he saw his father’s ghost in the ballroom. He wouldn’t stop talking about it. I was almost scared of him.”
Jacob put his head to one side and frowned.
“That’s odd,” he said, “he was very lucid when I played him only a few minutes before. I think he has phases where he’s much more cogent than others. Perhaps us talking about it made him slip. I do hope not, otherwise it’s going to make things considerably more difficult.”
Before either of them could say anything more, there was a hush in the other conversations around them and they both turned to see what had caused the silence. Gabriel was standing at the head of the table, looking around at everyone with a beaming smile on his face.
“I’m glad that we’re all here,” he said, projecting his voice so that it carried around the vast room, “because there’s an important announcement that I would like to make.”
He paused and cleared his throat. Walking over, the elderly manservant offered him a glass, which he accepted with a grateful nod and murmur of thanks. The old man turned and walked away, heading for the kitchen.
“I’m afraid that we’re going to have to cut short our little holiday,” Gabriel said, “I’ve been thinking about it, and I’ve realised that it’s been quite a while since I last left the house of the gods, and that I really should be getting myself a holiday of sorts. Much as I love this dear old house, I haven’t really stepped out into the real world for quite some time. I hope you all understand.”
There were murmurs and nods of assent. Ilse looked over at Jacob, whose eyes had widened.
“Did you suggest this?” She hissed to him. He nodded.
“Only I didn’t think he’d take me up on my suggestion so quickly,” he muttered, “I thought I’d have plenty of time to talk to him about America. Damn it, this messes with everything.”
“No,” Ilse shook her head, “I think this is a good thing. A little air will do Gabriel some good. There’ll certainly be other parties here and if needed we can find out about America then. Provided Gabriel invites you back, that is.”
“Oh he must,” Jacob said, “I’ve been on my best behaviour ever since I decided to help him.”
Ilse smiled at Jacob and he found himself smiling as well. Perhaps she was right.
“Before we all say our goodbyes though,” Gabriel said suddenly, causing another quiet to descend, “there is tonight’s dinner to enjoy. That will be a little delayed on account of the size of the feast that my wonderful cook has laid on. Until then, please, talk among yourselves.”
Stepping away from the table, Gabriel headed for Jacob and Ilse. Around them, conversation resumed.
“Thank you very much Jacob,” Gabriel smiled warmly at him, “you opened my eyes somewhat.”
“My pleasure,” Jacob nodded.
“If you’ll excuse me,” Gabriel said, “I’m going to go and pack for my trip. Everything is already booked. I’m going to fly to sunny Spain and spend a week or so on the beach. That should clear my head well enough.”
He nodded and smiled to Ilse before turning to go. When he was out of earshot she turned to Jacob and punched him lightly on the arm. Champagne slopped onto the floor and Jacob glared at her.
“What was that for?” He said.
“You did it,” she replied, “didn’t you see? He was already looking much better.”
“He was indeed,” said a voice next to Jacob’s shoulder. He turned. Pilgrim was standing there with his lazy smile and glittering grey eyes.
“Ah,” Jacob nodded, “Pilgrim, hello.”
“Gabriel’s rather wedded to this place,” the big man said, “whatever it is you said to him certainly worked, though. I’m glad. A rest away from the house of the gods and the constant stress of being a host will definitely do him some good. Thank you, Jacob.”
Jacob nodded. Pilgrim faded back into the other guests as soundlessly as he had appeared. Jacob watched him go. Turning to look at Ilse he saw that she had struck up a conversation with Lily Fox.
Something in Jacob’s stomach felt heavy and leaden. So much so that when Gabriel’s manservant returned with a restocked tray of champagne, Jacob didn’t take a glass. He looked around, trying to spot Pilgrim, but the big man had vanished. Jacob felt bile rise in the back of his throat.