The next day everyone was quiet at breakfast. The girls ate and then went back upstairs. They were going to spend the day making cards to be given to friends and neighbours after mass on Christmas morning. They also included some in the boxes they were to give out at the workhouse the day after. They did not want to venture outdoors even when David asked who would like to go out for a walk on such a crisp and sunny day. They looked out of the windows and shivered, preferring not to risk pneumonia for the sake of a bit of exercise.
Sir Robert Fitzroy, however was game and he asked David if he would show him round the estate’s grounds, as he’d never had chance to take a good look at them before.
David was happy to show him round, and talk about his favourite subject, but he was slightly uneasy at the thought of Sir Robert expecting him to ask for his daughter’s hand.
He set off with him across the front lawns and was soon relaxed in his company as the young man enthralled him with his tales from his journeys abroad and his ambitious plans for the gardens surrounding the big house. He obviously approved of this as a suitable place for his own Caroline.
David mentioned the Wardian cases that he had made in readiness for his next voyage in search of even more exotic and delicate plants. Sir Robert had heard of Nathaniel Ward and was fascinated to hear about the lecture and David’s own attempts to replicate his success on future plant-hunting trips.
“My dear boy” he said “You must show me them later, when we are indoors. I would be interested to see their construction.”
“Of course, Sir Robert, in fact…” he hesitated for a moment
“What is it?”
“I actually have an idea for a business. Well, it is not my idea, but I am involved in I the setting up and financing of it.”
“What kind of business - supplying exotic plants to the gentry?” Sir Robert chuckled
“Yes, partly” David replied “”but growing them in the Wardian cases and selling them already in situ, so to speak, only in more ornamental ones. “
“Yes, I have some drawings up in my room if you are interested.” David was getting enthusiastic now “They are very beautiful.”
“So you think that they would sell well?” Sir Robert always had a nose for a good business proposition.
“I think there would be a massive market for them. Especially as we are exhibiting at palace next year!”
Sir Robert stopped and looked at him carefully.
“You really are determined to succeed with this aren’t you?”
“I am. Sir Robert, if I can get the financial backing to get us started.”
“How about your father? Isn’t he happy to fund you?”
“Papa has rather an old-fashioned attitude to business, and besides all his capital is tied up in the estate and his financial dealings in the city.”
“I would like to know more about this venture of yours and maybe meet your partner too!”
“Well, my partner leaves all the business dealings to me. Design and manufacture are left to them.”
“Let me think about this, David, “Sir Robert pondered for a minute “I may be able to help you out.”
David thanked him and carried on to the Chinese garden where he spent a happy hour showing Sir Robert his new fountain and pool, explaining how he wanted it to look and how he hoped that it would be ready for Christmas Day as he had a little surprise planned.
“It is all very impressive” Sir Robert said looking at David expectantly. “I see you want this place to be a showpiece for generations to come.”
“Ah, would you like to see the latest orchids in the hothouses? Also I haven’t told you about my plans for a fernery!”
David fervently hoped that Sir Robert wouldn’t bring up the subject of marriage. He talked quickly, hardly allowing him to get a word in edgeways, all the way back to the house. Once inside he was greeted by George who wanted to know where the shoot would be taking place on Boxing Day and who would be expected to be there. He excused himself and took George into the Conservatory to fill him in on all the details of the next few days.
Later as David dressed for dinner he reflected on his earlier conversation. He felt sad that he could not go into partnership with Sir Robert as he had been very positive about his plans and dreams. He just had a feeling that once he realised that he had no intention of marrying his daughter he might very well lose interest. It did give him hope though that if he had felt that it was a worthwhile project with a chance of success then they must be on the right lines.
He couldn’t wait to tell Violet.
Ah Violet, he sat on his bed and thought of her. Last time he had seen her she had looked so different. She had even more confidence than ever and she looked so good. She could grace anywhere from the grandest house to the poorest hovel. She just had a natural presence and a kind and generous spirit that everyone warmed to. She would make the perfect wife. He could not even imagine any other.