The Gardener's Daughter

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Chapter 5

Before David could get the carriage to London he had one particular event to endure; his mother’s soiree. Sophia, Alex and Louisa had talked of nothing else for weeks, which went part of the way to explain why he spent so little time indoors.

They had been fitted and refitted for their dresses so many times and the next day it was the milliners turn to visit from the nearest town, with feathers, gems and fripperies for their hair.

At dinner that night he was asked for his opinion.

“Davey” implored Louisa, his youngest sister “don’t you think I should have first choice of the headpieces, since this is my first dance?”

“Of course” he agreed, provoking a crescendo of protests from Alex and Sophia. He put his hands over his ears, laughing.

“I’m wearing a dress made from the cerise shot silk you brought back for me” Sophia said pulling his hands down to his sides “and I need to find the right colour gems to match it.”

“I have the peacock blue” Alex chimed in “and only peacock feathers will suit it”

He tried to be diplomatic.

“Mrs Green will have enough to satisfy you all. I’m sure that you’ll all look beautiful on the night. Now tell me, who do you have your eye on as a future husband, Alex?”

This elicited much giggling and blushing and merriment among the sisters. As the eldest it was naturally assumed that Alexandra would be the first to get married. She did have someone in mind but felt that it would put a jinx on the proceedings if she articulated it – especially in front of her teasing sisters.

She wouldn’t be drawn but said “David could we have fresh flowers for our corsages?”

“Well, we do have gardens full of them”

“I wanted the white ones from the glasshouse – they would be perfect with my dress”

David nearly choked on his wine

“Do you realise what those are?” he exclaimed, incredulous at her ignorance

“I travelled halfway round the world for those and risked death from scurvy and pirates just to bring those here!”

“Well, I might as well make use of them, then” she replied, smiling sweetly.

He couldn’t be sure if she was trying to bait him. He made a mental note to keep an even closer eye on his glasshouses in future.

“Now David” his mother addressed him from the other end of the table “I have gone to a lot of trouble to arrange tomorrow night. I hope that you haven’t forgotten your dancing skills during your long absences.”

He tried to hide his lack of enthusiasm “Of course not, mother. I practiced with the deckhands every night!”

She didn’t look amused by this and turned to her husband in exasperation.

“Don’t worry my dear” he reassured her “David is only teasing you, he will be the perfect gentleman on the night.” He glared at David as he said it.

“It is quite a coup to have secured the presence of Sir Robert and Lady Fitzroy and their charming daughter Caroline. I want you on your best behaviour!” she looked sternly in David’s direction.

“Of course if she doesn’t take your fancy” his father winked “there is always the Earl’s daughter, Harriet”

David had met Harriet at the New Year ball in the home of their neighbours and had thought her pretty enough. Although, he remembered that he did have some difficulty thinking of a topic of conversation to interest her once they’d been introduced. He had tried to show her his plans for The Grange’s extensive gardens, but she had only stifled a yawn behind her fan. He tried again later, having taken her for a stroll in the garden, wrapped in her furs, telling her of his skirmishes with pirates on his last voyages. He’d even exaggerated a little, to make himself sound interesting and dangerous, as he’d heard from his cousin George that ladies liked that kind of thing. She’d made it plain that she didn’t believe a word of what he’d said.

She did seem rather too interested in the size of his estate and his annual allowance, however. She also asked him if he had accounts at Harrods of Knightsbridge or Fortnum and Mason’s Emporium. She’d then proceeded to demand that David kiss her, declaring, just before he did, that he would of course have to marry her once he’d done that.

He managed to make his excuses, saying he had something in his eye and steered her safely back indoors.

After that he presumed that he wasn’t really the wooing kind. Maybe he should pay more attention to his sisters’ talk to give him some ideas for tomorrow.

“I know who Alex likes” Sophia was confiding to Louisa in an exaggerated whisper while Alex looked like she would like to reach over the table and strangle her.

“Do tell!”

“It’s cousin George. She writes to him all the time!”

“Is George coming to stay, mamma?” asked Louisa

“Yes – he and Emma will stay for at least five days. That reminds me dear” she turned to her husband “I must instruct Grace to make sure their rooms are aired”

David was pleased to hear the George would be spending some time at The Grange. He needed some male company as an antidote to the houseful of women! He’d have someone to go riding with and to share his enthusiasm for the outdoors. They had attended together and he missed him. He knew that he would have plenty of tales to tell about his exploits. He sensed that since the recent death of his father he had been giving less attention to furthering his studies and more to spending his inheritance. He could understand that of course. His father had always been extremely strict with him and his mother had been the one to indulge him, although secretly most of the time. When he’d been sent to bed with no supper for some minor misdemeanour, such as forgetting his eight times tables, she would be the one who would sneak him some tasty titbits later, for his supper. Now that there were no restrictions on his behaviour. David thought he could sympathise with him running a little wild to begin with. He would of course have to come to his senses soon though, as he had a very large estate to run and a delightful sister and mother to support.

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