Emma arrived a full week before her brother and their mother. She seemed to David to have a worried look on her face and he was anxious to find out what was troubling her. She was very quiet during their first dinner all together and blamed a headache and fatigue from the journey for wanting to retire early that night.
The girls were naturally upset that they could not persuade their cousin to come into their rooms and talk all night, but they said they understood and left her alone to recover, promising all kinds of diversions in the days to come.
As Katie came along the corridor with a glass of warm milk to help her settle, David intercepted her and told her that he would take it in to her.
He knocked on her door and popped his head round to see if he would be welcome. Polly was in there unpacking her clothes and hanging them up for her.
“I just wanted to ask if you fancied a ride out in the morning, if the rain holds off” he asked her “There is something I’d like to talk to you about, and by the look of things, I’m sure you could do with a friendly ear” he finished gently as he looked into her stricken face.
“Yes, that would be lovely” she replied, smiling weakly “I will see you in the morning.”
He bowed politely and left her to it.
As the next day dawned bright and clear David asked the groom to saddle up two of the horses ready for a jaunt out after breakfast.
They were waiting outside the kitchen door when Emma and he emerged into the bright daylight. Emma was looking worried still, but she smiled as David helped her onto the horse and told her that a gallop would blow all her cobwebs away.
They both set off at quite a pace and soon they were laughing as their horses tried to outdo each other when they reached the paddocks. They were breathless, cheeks pink and hair whipped up, as they finally slowed their animals down to a trot so they could talk.
“I think that you have even more need to talk than I do” David began as she sat on her horse in silence as they rode side-by-side.
“Well, I really don’t know where to begin” she looked at him in confusion.
“Is there a problem with the wedding?”
“Oh no, nothing like that!” she exclaimed “William and I are still blissfully happy. That is one area of my life I don’t worry about!”
“Is it your mama? Is she not coping with her bereavement well?”
“She is coping generally well, although I do believe that she buries her head in the sand where George is concerned.”
“Ah, so it is George, then that is your worry?”
“I have noticed recently that he has changed. I hope still that it is temporary, but it seems he is acting quite out of character.” said David
“That is it. “ Emma sighed “I do not know what to do; he is quite out of control. I fear that he will ruin us.”
“You mean your family’s reputation?” asked David
“That… and ruin us financially!”
“Why do you think that?”
“He is spending more and more on his boats and his sailing friends, treating all of them to drinks and meals and the best hotels. I think he may be gambling too.” She looked at David to see how shocked he looked before continuing “Last month the servants did not get paid and they are starting to complain.”
“What does your mother say to him?”
“Well, when he is there he reassures her that it is a mistake with the banks or that everything is getting sorted out by our lawyers, but I really don’t know.”
“She believes him?”
“Yes, he can do no wrong in her eyes.” She replied blinking back tears.
“Oh David, how can I marry and leave mama with such problems? That place is so huge and George is hardly ever there?”
“Listen Emma dear, please don’t worry. I will have a word with him. He’ll be here soon and I promise I will try to get to the bottom of everything for you. There must be something that can be done.”
“You think?” she looked at him hopefully
Absolutely!” he smiled at her.
“Thank-you, cousin. You are such a tower of strength to me. I did not know who else to turn to.” She looked at him eyes full of gratitude
“Likewise” said David “I am in need of your good advice too, I’m afraid.”
“So, what is it that is bothering you?” she asked tenderly “Have you found yourself a suitable wife yet?”
“Well, yes and no” he replied, guiding his horse through a gate and onto the moors beyond The Grange. She followed him through and he closed it behind her.
“I have found the most wonderful woman and I could quite happily spend the rest of my life with her.”
Emma squealed with delight
“When are we going to meet her?” she asked “Is she coming for Christmas?”
“Ah, there is the problem, she is not, nor ever would be, approved of by my parents.”
“But why? I don’t understand.”
“What is more,” he continued “They are still insisting that I marry Lady Carline Fitzroy, in fact she is coming here next week.”
“Why can’t they accept your real choice?” she asked curious to know what the problem could be. “She isn’t already married to someone else, is she?”
“No, no, nothing like that.” He reflected for a moment before continuing.
“Emma if I tell you about this, do you promise not to breathe a word of it to another living soul?”
“I promise you, David”
“No matter how scandalous?”
“You are worrying me now” she said “Please just tell me! Who is the mysterious lady?”
“There is the problem” he replied “She is not a lady.”
Emma looked at him, stopped her mount and waited for him to continue.
“She is the most intelligent, beautiful, strong, determined and brave women I have ever met. She understands my passions for plants and she shares them. She knows more about gardens than anyone I ever met at university… ”
He smiled as he spoke
“…and she was our scullery maid until last week.”
“I see” said Emma, trying to hide her shock.
“She had been working with me on the classifications and the new plants I brought back with me last time. She is educated and funny and very clever. She is so willing to learn and she picks things up in no time. I have never seen such an intellect in a woman.”
Emma smiled fondly at her cousin
“You are certainly smitten aren’t you?” she said
“I love her, Emma” he replied “What am I to do?”
He looked so miserable that she was moved to comfort him.
“You are sure she is the one for you?” she asked
“I have never been surer of anything.”
“How about her, does she feel the same? I take it that you have told her of your feelings?”
He actually blushed as he told her that he and Violet had declared their feelings for each other, and their hopelessness at their situation just recently.
“In fact,” he continued “it was George who brought everything out into the open.”
“I caught him in the hothouse trying to take advantage of her. I’m afraid that we did not part on very good terms.”
“He didn’t say anything “Emma reflected. “But then he wouldn’t would he? Just last week one of our maids had to leave as she was in the family way.”
It was Emma’s turn to blush now.
“Mama tried to make out that she had been messing around with one of the valets, but I know that the other staff all said that it was George. Why else would mama give them money to marry and find their own house? She isn’t usually so generous with the servants.” she allowed herself a short harsh laugh.
David shook his head. “He needs someone to get him back on track” he said almost to himself “Anyway; we’d better get you back. My sisters will be wondering where I have taken you. You know that they are just longing to show you what they will be wearing over the next few days!”
They wheeled their horses round and started off back towards The Grange.
“I will give your predicament some thought” said Emma after they had ridden a little further in silence “I am a firm believer that love will win through, no matter what the circumstances.”
“I cannot tell you how glad I am to hear that.” He looked happier now “It does feel good to have someone like you to talk to, though. I could not think of anyone else who would understand.”
“I only wish I could do more to help” she said as they reached the front of the big house once more.