That first night, David enjoyed the intimate dinner to welcome him back home to the bosom of his family. Afterward the dessert glasses had been cleared away his mother and three sisters, Alexandra, Louisa and Sophia retired upstairs to coo and argue over the silk and satin fabrics that he had brought back with him from the Caribbean. Lord Dearing took his only son into the drawing room and offered him a cigar. He took it but did not accept the lit match, he placed the cigar in his jacket pocket.
David and his father talked long into the evening about the plants, shrubs, trees and flowers that he had brought back with him. Some were still at the docks and would be transported on to them very soon. David wanted to make sure that the hothouses and beds were made ready for them. He was particularly enthralled with his ferns and was worried that not all of them seem to have made it over to in a healthy state.
During a lull in conversation as David gazed out at the gardens his father cleared his throat nervously. David knew what was coming. They’d had this conversation many times before he went away, about how he needed to get married and to someone rich so that the estate and his sisters would be provided for when his father was gone. He guessed that his mother had already arranged more tedious soirees with various heiresses they considered suitable for their son and heir.
His father shifted awkwardly in his favourite old brocade smoking chair, threadbare but obviously still comfortable, except maybe when there was a difficult topic to address.
“You know how your mother feels …well …and I agree, that it is time that you found a wife.”
David started to protest that the garden project wasn’t anywhere near finished and he needed to make at least one more voyage to fulfil his father’s dreams of having an estate famous for its maze of connected gardens each containing rare and colourful plants from all around the world.
“I know it’s not the most important thing on your mind right now,” his father conceded “but this huge house costs a lot of money to run, as do the gardens.”
He paused to look levelly at his son who was scowling into his brandy.
“I don’t see why it can’t wait” David replied “I d rather choose my own bride.”
“To put it bluntly, dear boy, you need a wife now and a rich one at that, if we are to continue in the manner to which we are all accustomed. Otherwise there may be no gardens to bring plants back to!”
David was fond of his father and could see that he felt extremely uncomfortable talking about anything as vulgar as money. He knew the burden fell to him and the only male heir of the family to provide for them in future, but he really wasn’t ready to settle down yet. There was so much world out there waiting for him to explore.
Lord Dearing had inherited his estate and the surrounding villages and farms from a long line of aristocratic Dearings, not all of whom had lived entirely blameless lives. Lord Dearing himself though was a kind landlord, up to a point, and mostly fair in all his dealings with his tenants and farms.
“Besides,” he continued “You are the only one of my children who can give me an heir to carry on the family name.”
“Alright, father, I will give it some thought.” David replied, hoping that would be the end of the topic, for a while at least.
“Splendid!” boomed his father “your mother has arranged one of her special parties and invited some interesting people.” He winked as he spoke
David sighed, he knew it! He was going to be subjected to yet more simpering, vacuous girls and would be expected to charm them. Could he really spend the rest of his life with any of the ladies he’d met so far? He’d rather not think about it. Nothing stirred his blood like the thought of expeditions and adventure!
However, soon talk turned back to the gardens and Davis asked about the new Head Gardener. ‘Are you sure that this one is better than the last one we had? We can’t afford another episode like that one’
‘He came highly recommended, you know the mill owner, Grindley? I’ve seen his house and gardens. They are quite fine, in the classic style.’
‘I look forward to meeting him. I think I met one of his daughters today.’ David felt a sudden warm glow as he said this, remembering the sun glinting on her unruly hair.
‘Really?’ his father yawned. ‘Shame he had no sons, be of more use to him. Anyway, I’m going up to bed now, I’ll see you in the morning.’
‘I’ll bid you goodnight then, father.’
David was relieved when he could escape the smoke-fogged room and get back into the fresh evening air.
He did a tour of the hothouses to make sure that the windows had all been closed for the night. He was surprised to find everything in order and to his liking. The new Head Gardener must be better than his dipsomaniac predecessor. Unfortunate business, but he had to be dismissed. He could not have entrusted his priceless and hard won new specimens to an old drunkard.