It's Christmas and Castonbury Park is hosting a party. We do hope you will drop in and raise a glass with the Montague family and perhaps slip along the chilly corridors to the servants' hall to say hello to Hannah Stratton, Lumsden, Smithens and the rest of the servants, who have been given leave to hold a party of their own.
In the drawing room, Giles insisted that Adam and Amber be invited to join the Montague celebrations,and they have come, despite Adam's initial reluctance. They are now in the drawing room and they have brought presents for everyone, dress-lengths of the finest muslin for the ladies and the best superfine for the gentlemen. Even the duke is delighted with the spotted velvet that Adam has selected for him and has instructed Smithens to have it made up into a jacket as soon as maybe
Claire bends awkwardly and kisses the Duke on the cheek, enquiring after her brother's health and smiles when he declares he's never been better, though missing her husband's cooking. At Lily's questioning look at her tummy, she nods. The baby is due in the early spring, she explains. When the men look around for the culprit, she explains he popped in to visit with the staff. Andre strolls in at that moment and is greeted by a chorus of congratulations which he accepts with good grace and a proud smile at his wife. They link arms and he escorts her to a chair at the hearth despite her laughing assurances she is perfectly fine.
Giles calls order and holds up a paper. 'I have a letter,' he announces, 'From Ross.' He proceeds to read in his rich, deep voice -
"Greetings and good wishes to all. It is with regret that Lisette and I cannot be with you at Castonbury Park to celebrate Christmas, but we will be with you in spirit. We are both happy to be back in India. I am still on leave from my regiment so we shall be spending the festive season with friends in the Malabar Hills – not quite the way it is celebrated in England but it will be our first Christmas together so it will be a special time for us. Picture to yourselves a picnic in a grove of leafy mangos and feathery palms, bright tropical flowers and cool sea breezes. Later, the gardens will be hung with lanterns for a Christmas ball, the house gay with music and laughter and a flutter of fans and the clink of dress-swords.
The New Year will see me resuming my regimental duties, when Lisette will have her first taste of what life will be like as the wife of a soldier..."
Hannah Stratton is in the Servants' Hall, where she enjoyed a glass of wine with Monsieur Andre before he went back upstairs, and now she is watching the younger members of staff preparing to dance. Earlier in the day, the children from Lady Kate’s village school gathered around Hannah to receive the gifts Kate and her husband Virgil had sent from their new home in Boston. Spinning tops and jumping ropes, skittles, some beautifully illustrated books of fairy tales, and best of all, a carved rocking horse. Joe Coyle, the footman, had to arbitrate when a fight for possession broke out between one of the children and Charlie, the boot boy which Miss Thomson, the school mistress, failed to spot, for she was busy reading Lady Kate’s letter.
‘Her ladyship says that she and her husband have established a school exactly like the one in Castonbury village,’ Miss Thomson exclaimed as the Reverend Mr Seagrove came into the kitchen with his usual beaming smile.
‘Lady Kate asks most kindly after you,’ Mrs Stratton told the vicar as she offered him a hot mince pie.
‘She asked most kindly after every one of us,’ Becca the scullery maid piped up. ‘She even remembered Charlie and me.’
‘A toast,’ said Lumsden, earning himself a round of applause as he dispensed glasses of hot punch for the adults, fruit cup for the children. ‘To Lady Kate and Mr Jackson. A very merry Christmas across the seas.’
Bram tapped Phaedra on the arm. “It’s time.” A shiver of excitement ran through her. Phaedra put down her glass of Christmas punch. Aunt Wilhelmina cast them a disapproving glance as they discreetly moved towards the drawing room door, leaving the Castonbury Christmas party. But Bram smiled and mouthed the words, ‘The foal’ and Aunt Willy’s expression softened, proving Bram could charm anyone. He’d worked miracles winning her aunt’s favor since their marriage.
In the stables, Tom Anderson was already with the mare, kneeling beside her. He looked up at their approach. “It’s good you’re here. Too much longer and you would have missed it. She’s having an easy time of it.”
Phaedra and Bram knelt beside the horse, Phaedra taking up position by the mare’s head. Within moments the new foal slid into the world, another fine colt from the Weston Stud. The little foal stood up and Phaedra gasped. “Have you ever seen anything like that? He stood up so fast!”
The mare was licking him, encouraging him to nurse. Phaedra and Bram rose from the straw and moved away, giving the mare room to adore her baby. “He’s beautiful, Bram.” Phaedra breathed, feeling Bram’s arms around her.
“Do you have name?” Bram asked quietly.
“Miracle.” It had been a year for miracles at Castonbury with Jamie returned to them, Giles married at last, and Claire expecting, and now a beautiful colt born on the night of the greatest miracle of them all.
“Perfect.” Bram kissed her cheek. “I’ll go open up a keg of ale and let the stable celebrate.”
And while all the celebrations are going on, in one of the upstairs chambers on this cold night, a lady awaits a blessed arrival for the New Year, and a bright future for Castonbury Park.
Do drop in and leave a comment - there's mulled wine and apple bobbing to enjoy!