The Gardener's Daughter

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Chapter 58

The next day, Christmas Day itself was sunny and crisp. There was a light covering of snow over the whole landscape and the house had fires blazing in every room.

Most of the household were up early, and there were squeals of delight and much laughter as presents were exchanged and paper and ribbons were strewn around the room.

They all ate a delicious breakfast of kedgeree, crisp bacon and rotund, brown home-made sausages full of garden herbs and seasoning.

George helped himself to a plateful. He looked across the table.

“I say! Do you have any Worcester sauce for these?” he asked

David laughed as he passed him the bottle.

“The condemned man eats a hearty breakfast then?” he teased his cousin

“Well, having thought about it, a gentleman has to marry sometime – this way saves me a lot of fuss and bother.”

“Have you spoken to Caroline this morning?”

“I have indeed. I promised her that I will let her choose a ring as soon as today is over. She has very definite ideas about what she wants.” David nodded and felt the small box in his pocket.

He cheerfully sprinkled the dark, aromatic liquid liberally over his breakfast.

“She is happy about the engagement?” he asked

“Of course,” boomed George “Where else could she find a better husband?”

David laughed again, relieved that his cousin was happy, or at least making the best of the situation. Nothing kept him down for long. Maybe it would be the making of him – he was sure Caroline could keep him in line.

After breakfast everyone went to church. The carriage took the older members, but David and his sisters and cousins decided to walk the short distance to the village, boots crunching on the snow and breath visible in the morning frost.

The church was packed to the rafters and although David turned round as many times as he could, without bringing down on himself the disapproving stare of the priest, he just couldn’t see Violet or her family. He was concerned that something was wrong. He resolved to try to get to see her sometime on this special day. After all, he had something very special for her.

The sermon was mercifully short, a festive present to the congregation, desperate to get home to their special family lunches.

As they all returned to The Grange, up the front steps through the front door, a delicious aroma greeted them. There was a huge roast goose on the table, ready for the head of the household to carve.

Glasses of sherry were handed round to all, as an aperitif. Each person looked for their name on the napkin rings. Next to each place name was a small, brightly wrapped gift

Once everyone was sat in their places at the large Dining table a formal announcement of George and Caroline’s engagement was made. The only person who was missing was Alex, who refused to come out of her room. Agnes was sent up to take her some lunch and sit with her.

David felt sorry for his sister, he knew how it felt to fall in love and not be able to gain the object of your affections. He also knew that Grayson was coming over again that evening, and that he had taken an interest in Alex last time they had met. He was sure that Alex would soon get over her disappointment. After his previous discussions about married life with George, he felt a certain relief that Alex would not be facing that.

After dinner Sir Robert asked David and his father if he could speak to them in private. They took him into the study and David looked at him expectantly as Lord Dearing lit their cigars.

“I realise that you must be disappointed” Sir Robert began, as David tried to look suitably heart-broken “but you understand I cannot have a scandal. I will be putting the engagement in the papers next week and I hope the wedding will take place soon.”

Lord Dearing nodded and looked resigned to the situation. As a father of daughters he might well have done the same thing.

“However” Sir Robert brightened “I am still interested in investing in that business with the Wardian cases you were telling me about. It is the least I can do under the circumstances.”

“What business is this?” David’s father was mystified.

“That is wonderful news!” David exclaimed. “Father, you remember me telling you about Violet’s idea for the Wardian cases? Her designs are beautiful”

“You think there is a viable business to be made of this?” Lord Dearing turned to Sir Robert.

“Indeed I do!” he replied “next year’s Great Exhibition is going to generate a lot of wealth for those wise enough to grasp the opportunities available.”

David was delighted. “I am so grateful, Sir Robert. You heard about the sabotage that happened at the factory? I need to get more cases made and quickly!”

“No need for gratitude, dear boy, I am expecting a good return on my money! Now when am I going to meet this amazing businesswoman?”

“I hope she will be here later for the celebrations.” David reassured him. His father looked at him, but didn’t say anything.

“Right, well I’d better get back to my wife. She has had rather a surprise and is still in need of smelling salts.”

He left David and his father alone.

“Today has been full of surprises” Lord Dearing to him.

“I know!”

“Did you have any idea?”

“I knew that George could not be trusted around the maids, look at what happened with Violet,” his father looked suitably contrite, “but I did not think that he would have taken advantage of someone like Caroline”

His father nodded again

“I think that young man is about to be severely tamed, if I know Caroline and her family.” His father answered.

“Yes, he may have his wings clipped. I think that Emma will be relieved.”

“So,” his father hesitated.

“Yes?”

“You are still involved with this Violet?”

“I haven’t seen her father, as I promised but Yes, father, I am going to marry her.”

“You will do no such thing!” his father went red in the face.

“I will, father. She is more than my equal, in every way” he looked defiant “nothing will prevent it now. Not even if you threaten to disown me.”

“Well,” his father was flabbergasted “I have never heard the like!”

There was a tapping at the study door and Emma came in.

“Excuse me, uncle” she said quietly “May I say something?”

He looked momentarily confused, then said “Yes, my dear, come in.”

She came into the study and closed the door.

“I just wanted to thank David for being so supportive,” she said to Lord Dearing

“Whatever do you mean?” he asked

“Well, I know mama will not have said anything, but we have been having problems with George.”

“I see”

“David promised me that he would help to get him back on the straight and narrow. I think he’s done that!” She looked at David and he could have sworn that she winked at him

“Well, it seems that this could have turned out well for all of us.” David answered her.

“Has David told you his preposterous idea of marrying beneath him?” her uncle asked her

“I believe that Violet is quite the entrepreneur.” Emma smiled at him “She sounds wonderful, I can’t wait to meet her.”

Her uncle was speechless. He was not about to be impressed by someone in commerce, never mind the servant classes!

“I think that The Grange could not be in safer hands. They will make quite a team. I feel sure that David’s sisters will love her.”

Lord Dearing sat in his smoking chair, quite speechless again. David had a fleeting worry that he was about to have an apoplectic fit.

“Well,” he said at length “I think that you’d better invite Violet over here, immediately.”

David and Emma laughed as they left the room and hugged each other before David went in search of his valet.

He had an errand for him.

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