Meanwhile in Devon, David was feeling better. He had steadily regained his strength and was enjoying daily rides out on the moors or along the beaches when the weather was nicer
He has been delighted to find that George was also there as a guest for the last week of his stay as there was an annual shoot planned for all the local landed gentry and as he was in at the time, he was asked to join in too.
David had so far managed to get out of most of the shooting and hunting activities pleading tiredness and reiterating his doctor’s advice to take things easy. But he felt he must make the effort before taking his leave, and if George was to be there too then it would be a more of a pleasure.
The rest of his time had turned out to be very pleasant. He had managed to take himself off into the gardens and had met the head Gardener. The old chap had been wary of him and his questions at first, but as he realised the extent of David’s knowledge and his boundless enthusiasm had welcomed him every day as he did his rounds. They formed an easy friendship and shared their ideas constantly as they spent more time together. David felt at home here.
He felt rather less at ease in the house, especially during the evenings when the young ladies of the house and their guests would provide entertainment. He liked listening to music and even to some of the singing, as not all the performers were out of tune, but felt acutely embarrassed when asked to perform himself.
“Oh I can’t sing a note!” he told them “I leave all that up to my sisters.”
“Do you play the piano then?” Caroline asked him one evening
“I’m afraid that I do not. Mama engaged a very patient man to try to teach me in my younger days, but eventually he had to give up and declare that I am indeed, rather tragically, tone deaf.” He tried to look disappointed by this.
“Perhaps you will turn the pages for me whilst I play then?” she asked sweetly and he could not say no.
She made a brave attempt at part of a Mozart piano concerto as David struggled to follow the notes and turn the page at the right time. He did get one or two impatient looks from his pianist, plainly irritated by his incompetence and was extremely glad when he was allowed to sit down once more.
“I would hazard that David’s talents lie with his dancing then,” her mama said kindly, as she saw the relief on his face.
“I’m sure that we can put that to the test before he leaves us”
Eleanor smiled sweetly and asked
“Will you be dancing with my sister Caroline all night? Or will you mark my dance card too?”
Caroline glared at her
“I would be delighted to dance with you” he replied “though I’m sure all the young men in the room will be vying for a chance to as well.” he thought he was being diplomatic
Caroline sat with him after supper while they all played cards.
“Do you think my sister is prettier than me?” she demanded
“Of course not Caroline, although you both have your charms.”
“It seems to me that you have not taken your eyes off her all night.” she complained
David was rather unsure how to tackle this, so he tried another tack
“Show me how to play Pope Joan - I don’t seem to be able to get the hang of it”
“Well you have your fish?” David looked down at the ivory chips in his possession “You mean these?”
“Yes of course” she said a touch impatiently
“Do I put them on the board?”
“Yes, but not until it is your turn to be dealer. See how the dealer has put counters in each compartment of the board?”
He nodded as he saw that some cards such as the kings and queens of various suits and the nine of diamonds had counters on them
“Now what are the cards in your hand?”
He turned them towards her
“Right, when Uncle William starts – because we always start with the eldest - you must follow his card with the next one in that suit, if you have it.”
“How on earth does anyone start when it is an all ladies game?” he teased “If someone has to admit to being the eldest?”
Eleanor giggled from the other side of the card table but Caroline just ignored his comment and carried on
“The person who plays any of the cards on the board there, they win the contents of that compartment”
“So the object of the game is to win most counters?”
Caroline’s aunt Henrietta played a queen of hearts and David had the king, he placed it on the table in front of him.”
“You can go again now, with the lowest card in your hand” she explained “as that suit is done now.”
“If you have the nine of diamonds” she whispered “you will win all the counters left on the board, as that is the pope!”
He tried to concentrate and after a few hands he was deemed to have made enough progress to be allowed to play on his own. His teacher seemed pleased with him and smiled at him from the other table where she had resumed her game with some of her cousins. David was the object of someone else’s attentions too. Caroline’s cousin Eliza was staying with her little boy, Bart. He toddled over to him, rather unsteadily and wouldn’t leave his side.
He lifted him up onto his lap so that he could see what he was doing. He grabbed a handful of chips and almost upset the playing board.
David laughed and lifted him up out of the way and swung him around the room. The little boy squirmed and giggled and demanded “again, again!” every time he stopped.
“Shouldn’t that child be in bed?” Caroline said rather loudly. “Where is his nurse?”
Bart looked like he was going to cry, at the mention of bed.
“Come on,” David said soothingly “Show me where you are sleeping and I’ll tell you a story, once you are in bed.
They went upstairs hand in hand, the little boy smiling once more.
David smiled too and soon the little boy was safely asleep. He hoped he hadn’t given him nightmares with his story, made up on the spur of the moment, about mythical birds in the Isle of St Kitts and their magical powers.
As soon as he was alone his thoughts turned to his own home. He had spent a lot of time wondering how things were in his own gardens. He’d been planning his next big trip in his head and couldn’t wait to see how far Violet had got with his cases, so that he could estimate how many plants he would be able to bring back this time.
He thought about her again. He really wished he could be back there now to see the excitement on her face as she showed him what she had been doing while he’d been gone. He had no doubts that she and her father would have everything in order, so he wasn’t anxious to get home because of that. He just missed talking to someone who understood his passions and so completely shared them. His thoughts frequently turned to the feel of her cool hands on his over-heated forehead and her soothing, loving words during his illness. He felt the same calm again now and longed to see her again just to hear her voice.
He also was looking forward to seeing George again too and he considered asking him if he would come up to The Grange and stay for a few days when they both left the West Country. He was sure that the sailing season was almost over and he could certainly do with his company. He secretly hoped that he would somehow persuade him to come on his trip to the with him. He knew that his knowledge of sailing and the sciences of the seas would stand them in good stead for joining a voyage in the near future.
He had already written a brief letter to his parents, reassuring them that he was fully recovered and asking if he could bring a guest home with him, when he returned in just over a week.
The rest of his stay passed pleasantly enough. Once George arrived he joined in more of the country pursuits. The Hunt met down in the local village and held a long tradition of fox hunting across the moors. He was cajoled into dressing in the pinks and partaking of a drink before they set off in pursuit of the poor fox, which they insisted on calling “Charlie.”
George told him that he was attracting admiring glances from the ladies in his borrowed scarlet coat and tight breeches, but he just brushed this off with a grin and rode off into the forest after the pack of hounds.
He enjoyed the exercise and the thrill of the chase, keeping up with the other horses, jumping fences, clearing muddy puddles and trying to remember to duck under any low hanging branches. He arrived back at the Manor red-cheeked and exhausted but with his zest for life restored.
That night, just before their departure the next day, there was to be a soiree, with dancing and entertainments. He lay in a deep bath soaking away the aches and mud of the day as he contemplated the night ahead.
He was very grateful to Caroline’s family for allowing him to stay and recuperate here and he had really enjoyed much of his holiday with them. He did not know exactly what was expected of him, on this his last evening with them. So far he had not made any promises to Caroline or mentioned anything about marriage to her father.
He tried to get straight in his own mind how he felt about her. Truthfully, he felt that she was just like his sisters, pretty, fun and easy to like, but he was not sure about love. He remembered what Emma had told him all those weeks ago. He still did not feel any nearer to loving Caroline, than he had before.
There was a knock at his door and in strode George.
“Get a wriggle on, old chap” he said, handing him a towel, “the festivities are due to begin.”
He sprawled on the bed and waited for David to get dressed.
“Who are you going to marry?”
“Goodness knows, someone rich I suppose!”
“You don’t have anyone in mind?”
“Not right now, why all these questions?”
“Well you know that my parents are anxious for me to marry?”
“I did get that impression last time I was there!”
“They seem to think that Caroline will be ideal”
“Well, you could do worse. She will be very well-endowed on her marriage, her parents are very well connected with royalty, you know. If you don’t want her I might marry her myself!” George laughed
“But, what if I can’t love her?” he asked his cousin
“Well you only have to provide heirs and then you can get your love from other places, if you know what I mean!”
David was rather shocked by George’s attitude, but tried hard not to show it.
“Marriage is meant to be a sacred, a union of bodies and minds”
“I agree” said George “in a perfect world. But men such as you and I are not free to marry anyone we take a fancy to. We have a duty to our families to make a good match and provide children to pass our worldly goods down to and perpetuate our names.”
“Yes, I know that..” he conceded
“So your choice is limited, you need a respectable, rich girl from a good family. If you cannot find one you love, at least find one you can tolerate, then take a mistress.
David opened his mouth to protest
“Don’t tell me you are unaware that many of our peers have mistresses?”
“Well, you do hear talk of it. Not father though – he would never…”
“Well, I know my father did, the old rascal, found some references to the “lovely Anna” when I went through his papers. Made sure I kept it from mama though.”
“So are you going to ask for the fair Caroline’s hand, before someone else snaps her up?”
“Is that what you would do in my position?”
“I think I need more time to decide.” David said
George sighed and shook his head.
“I’ll see you downstairs, then” he said “Don’t be long!”
David walked over to the bed where a shirt had been laid out ready for him by the resident valet who had been assigned to him during his stay. He carefully unfolded it and something fell out onto the floor. He bent down to pick it up and was surprised to discover his handkerchief which held the pressed sprig of violets from his bed. He knew who must have put it there.
He closed his eyes and inhaled its scent, which was still surprisingly strong. He thought of her, as he lay there on his bed. He knew that he just could not ask Caroline to marry him. Not tonight.