The Gardener's Daughter

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Chapter 54

Christmas Eve arrived at last and David and his father were in the wine cellar, choosing the drinks for the next day’s lunch.

“How about this English wine?” David asked “It is from Painshill”

“That would go well with the meat course. We need something lighter for the fish course and how about a sweeter one for the pudding.”

“Shall we bring up the sherry for starters?”

“Of course, and some port and brandy for the gentlemen afterwards.”

Mr Holmes and Tom were taking notes as they went along the shelves in the cellar.

“The champagne has already been taken to the ice house, Milord” said Mr Holmes

“You think we have enough bottles?” Lord Dearing asked

“I took the liberty of taking two dozen down there.”

“Very well” he replied “I think we are done here, you may go.”

Once he was alone with his son he said

“I think that we should open some of the rare , for when we have the announcement” he winked at him conspiratorially

David did not say anything

“You have you spoken to Sir Robert?”

“I have indeed.” Replied David truthfully “I have shown him the gardens and told him of my ideas for a new business.”

“You know what I mean!” his father was getting irritable “Don’t tell me that you’re still pining for that scullery maid!”

“If you mean Violet, then she is no longer just a maid” David began

“Even so, she is still an inferior class. It all comes down to breeding. Their morals are different. You would not find a lady of good breeding behave the way some of these girls do. Did you know we’d had to dismiss Katie?”

David felt his anger rising. He did not want to challenge his father right now, but he hoped fervently that he would be made to eat those words one day soon. He turn the conversation back to Caroline.

“I have plans to speak to Caroline and her father this evening and then we can have a big announcement on Christmas Day at lunch. I think that would be most effective.”

David’s father look a little more relaxed.

“Come on” he said “Let’s crack open a bottle of this claret and just make sure it has aged nicely. We don’t want to insult our guests.”

David smiled to himself, took a bottle from the shelves and he went back up into the Dining Room to find the corkscrew, followed by his father.

The rest of the day passed in a flurry of preparations, seeing that the guests were comfortable and happy and making sure that everything was in place for the next day’s festivities. The staff were on edge too, rushing here and there, responding to requests and demands from the family and their visitors, whilst trying to get everything prepared for Christmas.

They wanted to spend their time getting everything ready, so that they could relax a little themselves on the day and enjoy it, without being too exhausted. But they had also to see to the needs of everyone for that day too. The bells were constantly ringing, summoning one or other of them to a bed chamber or to the morning room to see to some need, real or imaginary.

George rang down and asked Mr Holmes the butler if Katie could come up with his hot shaving water. Katie glanced at Mrs Salt, who saw right away how nervous the girl was. That’s fine, Mr Holmes, we’ll get it brought up presently. Katie got the hot water and jug but as she headed out of the kitchen Mrs Salt said “Agnes – would you take this up for Master George?” Agnes looked up, annoyed to be interrupted from her sewing. “You the best one to be seen upstairs” Mrs Salt cajoled, and Agnes went off smiling to herself.

“That should cool his ardour for a bit!” Mrs Salt whispered at Katie, who giggled. “Now get on with that pastry!”

Mrs Salt was getting quite cross as a maid would disappear as they were meant to be preparing Brussels sprouts and chestnuts, to cook for Christmas dinner. She was in sole charge of making the stuffing for the goose, with the thyme that came from the herb garden, minced pork meat and stale breadcrumbs.

The goose had been hanging up in the outhouse for several days, having been plucked by her a little earlier. It should be matured to perfection by the next day. The huge oven would be its final resting place as it roasted gently, lovingly basted by its own juices over several hours.

The goose fat would be used to roast potatoes. Lottie and Mary had peeled pounds and pounds of them, cut each into quarters and left them to stay fresh in pans of cold water in the scullery.

They would all have to be up and out of bed much earlier than normal as the pudding had to be boiled for over six hours. It had now been wrapped tightly in a muslin cloth and would be lowered into a weak concoction of beef broth and boiled until it was cooked and moist and succulent with fruit. It was so huge that there would be enough to go around everyone, family and staff alike. It would be served with a brandy sauce, made with thick cream, sugar, eggs and of course generous dashes of brandy, which Mr Holmes was in charge of bringing down to the kitchen for that purpose.

Everything was going well so far, so all of the household were happy and the excitement was growing.

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