Meanwhile David was also trying to keep himself busy. During the day he was fine. He could spend most of the day outdoors, as the threatened frosts and snows had not yet arrived, and supervise closely the building of the pool and fountain. He had a mechanic on the estate now working on the machinery that would pump the water up into a very high jet.
“I want to be able to see it above those old oak trees.” David said and the man tried very hard to oblige.
It was to be housed in a brick outhouse and would reuse the water from the pool in a continuous loop. The design was ingenious and David felt that no one would have seen its like before, if they managed to pull off this feat of engineering.
His days were full of designs, buildings and tending to his most delicate plants and issuing the under-gardeners with orders to protect as many of the plants from the coming frosts as possible.
There were sheds full of old sacking and other materials that had been collected to shelter the roots and lower limbs of many of the most tender and vulnerable outdoor plants, and the rush was on to get everything in place before the harsh weather did hit home.
Old Bert had his pine cones and folklore to predict the weather, saying that this would be one of the hardest winters of recent times, but David did not really know what the winter had in store for him or his fortunes.
At night it was a different matter. He tried to amuse himself, listening to his sisters playing the piano and singing, or joining in with some of their card games. He even joined them when the dancing master was engaged over several nights to teach them new dances ready for the Christmas season, but his heart was not really in it.
He lay in his bed and thought of Violet. He had learned, from interrogating Lottie in the kitchen, that Violet had indeed started her new job as maid for the family. From all accounts she was doing well and he hoped that she was happy and comfortable with her new family. He longed to see her though. He thought of how she looked last time he saw her in the blacksmith’s workshop. Her eyes had been shining as he filled her with hope about their future together. He could not help but think of how her skin has felt as he held her close to him and stroked her arms and neck. He remembered how her heart beat against his chest when they kissed and the memory of it sent shivers down his back right now. He could not wait to see her again and knew that it would be a few weeks before that could happen.
He had some very important business to attend to before he could see her again.
He had persuaded his parents to invite Emma and George and their mother for the Christmas festivities. He stressed how difficult they would find it to cope in their huge house without the presence of their papa. He had been a very jolly, generous man who had held parties for all the neighbours and friends and had practically held an Open House for any acquaintances who wished to celebrate the holy season with them.
During the period of mourning it would be unseemly to continue this tradition just yet, but having a quiet Christmas would only emphasise their loss.
Lord and Lady Dearing concurred that the most supportive thing they could do would be to invite them to stay and if they wished to join in their more modest celebrations they would be welcome to. However, if it all became too much for them, no one would mind if they chose to stay in their rooms or decline any invitations to dance or perform.
It was agreed that this would be the best course of action and an invitation was sent to them, inviting them to RSVP.
As their only other visitors would be Caroline, her sister and her parents then there would be plenty of room for them to stay and not too much in the way of noise and merriment if they chose to be alone from time to time.
Mrs Salt was informed of the guest list and she set about getting rooms allocated and ready for each one of them, and drawing up the Christmas menu and ordering the extra-large goose they would need for Christmas luncheon.
She was happiest when she was kept busy, although she also enjoyed having a good grumble about all the work and how few staff she had to get it all done with.
“I’ve got that Katie in the family way, going green every time I ask her to stir the pudding and then I didn’t get anyone to replace Violet. I know she spent a lot of time out in the gardens over the last few weeks, but she could work hard in the scullery when I needed her!”
Mr Holmes tried to calm her and even offered Tom’s services when he wasn’t too busy seeing to master David.
“I’m sure he could stir the sixpences into the Christmas pudding for you” he teased as she went off on another rant about how much silver needed polishing and how the sheets would never be dry in time, what with the weather being so damp and cold now.
Louisa, Sophia and Alex were caught up in the excitement of preparations too. They sat in the drawing room and fashioned decorations for the fir tree that David was going to bring indoors for them to decorate. They also went to the schoolroom and got reams of coloured paper and spent many happy hours chatting and making colourful paper chains to festoon the dining room and ballroom ready for when their visitors arrived.
There was such an air of excitement and David could not help but be caught up in it. He had secretly taken a trip to the next town and visited a jeweller’s shop along the High Street there. He wanted to buy something very special before the big day. He had managed to save some of the money that his great Aunt Constance had sent him for his last birthday and he now used it to get a particular present, which he wrapped up carefully in a velvet pouch and hid in his waistcoat pocket. He felt that once he had that in his possession everything would work out exactly as he wanted it to.
He wondered who he could trust to help him with his plans. He knew that his sisters could not be trusted with a secret, they loved to gossip far too much and there was no way that one would know something about him without wanting to taunt the others with the knowledge.
Then he remembered, Emma. She would be coming to stay before their other visitors arrived. He knew that his sisters had insisted on it – and she would come on her own, leaving George and his mother to deal with their staff and the arrangements for the estate to be closed down over Christmas. The thought of her sweet character and calming presence made him smile with delight. He was sure that she would listen to him, and more importantly, she would surely understand.
He hoped that the weather would stay clement for a little while longer so that they could share some long rides out on the edges of The Grange, to have some privacy to talk.