Dinner at The Grange that night was a noisy affair, as everyone gathered to eat, anticipate the next day and share their hopes and fears for the coming year. George and Emma had spent most of the day riding and David had been overseeing the final touches to his new pool in the , and had taken delivery of some mysterious packages, which had been stored well away from the big house, near the ice house.
The rest of the girls had been practising their dancing in the Ball Room. This ensured lots of giggling and only one or two arguments, over the course of the afternoon.
.The adults had spent a civilised few hours in the Drawing Room, reading and discussing current affairs and politics. The changes brought by the Victorian era had seen an expanded and more pride for its people and a wider market for its industries. It also brought greater opportunities for its colonies and their peoples. There was a general consensus that Queen Victoria would do even greater things, even though they were still unsure of her husband, a German cousin of hers, Albert. They had heard of his custom of bringing a tree into the house at Christmas and decorating it – and they were excited about the planned Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations that he was overseeing which would open in May.
“I know Sir Henry Cole, he’s organising it with His Majesty.
” said Sir Robert “ he’s a very industrious chap, crazy about inventing stuff he won an award for the teapot he got Mintons to produce!”
“Oh mama, papa, can we go?” asked Alex – and her sisters chorused “Can we go?” with her.
“Think of the crowds!” said Lady Dearing “it would be too hot, too dangerous... I don’t know…”
“Don’t worry” Sir Robert smiled at the girls “I’ll get you special preview tickets, you can see the wonders of the world before everyone else!”
The older adults continued their talk over dinner and at the bottom end of the table the younger ones were wondering what to do after dinner to amuse themselves.
Alex was sat next to George and Caroline was sat by David.
“George, would you like to hear me play after dinner? I have been learning some Christmas music, specially.” Alex asked him hopefully.
“Of course, I would be delighted to, Alex” he replied
“Then you can stay and hear me singing” Caroline said, giving George a coquettish look. “David has heard me sing, haven’t you David?” She turned to him “Tell George what delights he can expect.”
David tried to think of a polite way to describe her voice.
“Ah yes, Caroline’s voice could charm the birds from the trees.” He said sweetly.
“More effectively than a shotgun” whispered Sophia on the other side of him. He tried very hard to keep his face straight, whilst trying to kick her under the table.
Caroline looked satisfied however and continued with her favourite topic.
“My piano tutor says that he has never heard such playing in all his life!”
She smiled as she surveyed her audience’s delighted faces.
“Something for us all to look forward to then, after dessert.” Said George with a wink at David.
Later over brandy and cigars David once more got to talking with Sir Robert about his ideas for the gardens. He felt uneasy that he was only interested in his plans as he presumed his daughter would be living in the finest gardens of all England. It would be the only way to get the funding to do everything he had dreamed of.
George feigned tiredness, downed his after-dinner drink in one and left them early. The ladies were starting to play and sing in the Drawing Room. The familiar sounds of Silent Night were drifting through the smoke haze in the study.
Lord Dearing chipped in and started telling Sir Robert how the cases for the next plant-hunting expedition were ready and waiting in the Conservatory.
“Ah yes, David promised to show them to me.”
“Of course, Sir Robert, come this way.” David got up out of his seat “I did also promise to show Lady Thomas, shall we collect her on the way?”
“Good idea – if we can drag her away from the angelic singing!” They both smiled.
They walked through the drawing room and quietly asked George’s mother if she would like to accompany them to the Conservatory. She was only too glad to take her leave of the music, in fact Alex overheard them and also took the chance to escape and came along too.
David paused in front of the glazed doors that led from the ballroom into the conservatory. He wanted to build some tension, for what they were about to see.
“Ladies and Gentlemen” he said theatrically “I present to you, one of the the wonders of our age!”
He flung open the doors, they all went inside and then there was a moment of stunned silence.
“George!” wailed Alex first “How could you?” she fled from the room in tears.
There before them was indeed George and in his arms was Caroline, her dress looking somewhat dishevelled and her face very flushed. They sprung apart as everyone stared at them in shock.
“Caroline, get up to your room at once!” her father ordered quietly.
She pulled the front of her dress up a little higher and walked past them all, with flaming cheeks. They all looked at George, then Lord Dearing turned and closed the doors so that no one else could enter the room.
“I’m afraid” he said, turning to Sir Robert, “that there can no longer be any question of my son proposing to Caroline now.”
Lady Thomas turned to her wayward son
“What have you got to say for yourself?”
“I was only…”
“I think what George is trying to say” interrupted Sir Robert “Is that he has already proposed to my daughter and I have given my consent for them to marry.”
George looked astonished
“Isn’t that so?” Sir Robert demanded, brooking no dissent from the startled young man.
“Yes, sir” he mumbled, barely audible.
Lady Thomas looked relieved that there was going to be no scandal. Sir Robert was making sure of that.
Lord Dearing caught David’s eye, motioning him to stay quiet.
“I see. I had no idea. Well, obviously David will be disappointed, but I do hope that they will be very happy.”
George looked as if he was going to be sick.
“I wish you every happiness, cousin” David said to George “I see I was far too tardy in my plans to propose, I think the best man won though.” he smiled a secret smile of relief.
“Well, this calls for a toast” said Lady Thomas “George couldn’t be marrying into a better family!”
“Let me go and speak to my daughter first, and my wife, of course.” Sir Robert said stiffly.
He left the room and Lady Thomas followed.
“Did you know about this, David” asked his father as soon as the door was safely closed again.
Not at all father” he replied, then turning to George “When did this engagement happen?”
“Right then in front of your nose” said George “I am still trying to get used to the idea”
He looked at David a worried look in his eyes. “I am sorry..” he began
“Oh, no hard feelings.” David replied, a little too quickly. “I think that you will be very well suited. I did fear the maybe Caroline was a little too…” he thought carefully about his choice of words
“…spirited for me. I am sure that you will be very happy together.”
“Any of that brandy left?” asked George