The next few days at The Grange flew by in a flurry of preparations and excitement. There were constant deliveries from the butchers, bakers and the candle makers as well as more than usual amount of cooking and baking to be done in the kitchen.
Lottie was spending a lot of her time showing Mary, the new scullery maid, how to perform her tasks in a way that Mrs Salt would approve of. Mary was very nervous and quiet at first but soon began to relax and open up a little under Lottie’s friendly guidance. She was scared of the other maids yet, but she trusted Violet’s best friend.
The Christmas plum pudding had to be stirred each day and whoever took a turn at it got to make a wish. Then it was hung up and would be boiled for six hours in beef broth early on Christmas morning. It would be the highlight of Christmas dinner for the family and Lord Dearing always made a point of being the one to cover it with flaming brandy and carry it to the table.
“Last year” Lottie told Mary as they were rolling out pastry together “Lord Dearing held it aloft and set fire to some of the paper garlands over the table!” they laughed
“Mr Holmes had to throw a glass of water over them and poor Sophia got soaked. She only calmed down once she’d been to change her dress.”
There were also many pies to make and bake, mince pies, pork pies, game pies were being prepared and put into the larder ready for the many visitors that would need feeding over the festive season.
The Grange was lucky enough to have an Ice House in the grounds, where ice from the lake was cut and taken, each winter to be packed tightly with straw to last through the seasons. There was plenty in there at the moment and Lottie and Mary took the sorbets and the ice cream there for storage. There would even be some ice for cooling the champagne and wines for the family and their visitors.
This year there was to be a party for the staff too. It would take place on Christmas Day, in the afternoon, once all the preparations for the family lunch were in place. They would sit down to a goose of their own and the older servants would be allowed a ration of wine or beer.
They would also be given a half day off to visit their own families on Boxing Day, while the family and their visitors all went off on a shoot on the neighbouring estate, after distributing boxes of food to the deserving poor of the parish, at the workhouse.
It was a very special time of year and everyone, both upstairs and down below stairs, were looking forward to it.
There was a knocking at the kitchen door yet again and Lottie went to answer it, expecting some pork sausages from the butcher’s boy, on his trusty bike.
It was Edgar from the garden, however.
“Lottie,” he cried “just the person I wanted to see.”
He stood there his arms full of holly sprigs covered in crimson berries.
She smiled at his enthusiasm; he never seemed to be unhappy about anything.
“What can I do for you?” she asked, trying not to smile
“You can help me with these, I am being prickled to death!!”
She took some of the branches from him, squealing as they stuck their hard, pointed leaves into her skin too.
“While you are at it, if you are offering, how about a nice hot drink and a warm by the fire?” he did look pretty cold and the jacket he was wearing did not look thick enough to keep a mouse warm.
She looked around her, “Very well” she whispered “But if anyone comes in you’ll have to go at once.”
“Certainly, Miss Lottie” he bowed low as he entered and she couldn’t help but laugh at his serious expression
“So do you have any news from the village? She asked him as he sipped his tea.
“Yes, my Jimmy has started working for Leigh’s.”
“Oh right, he was your brother? I saw the new boy the other day when he brought us some yeast.”
“That’s him” he smiled “Not as handsome as me, obviously, but I’m sure that you could see the family resemblance”
“Now that you come to mention it,” Lottie’s eyes twinkled “he did have a rather big head!”
“Oh” Edgar looked wounded “Maybe I won’t tell you the news then.”
“I’m sorry” laughed Lottie, “Please carry on.”
“He delivered to the Dickinsons yesterday and saw Violet!”
“Oh! How is she doing?” asked Lottie eagerly
“She said she was just fine. She loves her new position and she even said something about helping Mr Dickinson with his business.”
“I’d love to see her again” she replied sadly “This place isn’t the same without her.”
“Well, she did have a message for you, she wants you to come and see her on Boxing Day”
“Really? She’ll be at the cottage?”
“Yes, I think she has some time off, her sisters are coming from the city too.”
Lottie was touched that Violet remembered that she would have nowhere to go at Christmas, as her family was too far away in to visit at this time of year.
Lottie’s spirits rose as she told him that she would be delighted to go and see the Deans.
I will let Mr Dean know” he told her “In fact I’d better show my face or he will be sending someone to find me and drag me back to the fields!”
“Thank-you” Lottie called after him as he left. He turned and winked at her, before disappearing down the kitchen garden path.
“Right” she turned back to Mary, trying not to appear flustered “We’d better get on with this ’cos we have to get the sugar plums made this afternoon!”