Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Castonbury Park Christmas Party

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!


Marguerite Kaye said...

It's absolutely freezing here in Scotland, so some of that mulled wine would be most welcome. I'm not so sure about the apple bobbing though, the last time I tried that I was in the Brownies and I lost a tooth!

Manda Ward said...

Cold enough here in Luton, but reading that with a mug of tea has warmed me up nicely. Thank you xxxxx

Connie said...

I would love to have some mulled wine, but not sure about the apple bobbing. If it's as cold as you say, perhaps the water might freeze. ;-)

OK. I won't tell you about the really warm weather we're are having here in southwest Florida. Whew! Do come and we'll have some CHILLED wine around the pool! See you there!

Melinda Hammond/Sarah Mallory said...

No, Connie, DON'T tell us about Florida! Never mind, we shall gather round the fire at Castonbury and enjoy ourselves. In the Servants' Hall, the staff have clubbed together to buy Hannah a present - a beautiful silver nutmeg grater to remind her of the happy times there.

Manda - I'm with you on the tea - or even hot chocolate - I don't want be arrested for being drunk in charge of a curricle on the homeward journey.

And MArguerite - if apple bobbing is that dangerous I shall give it a miss!

Ann Lethbridge said...

It is pretty chilly here in Canada too, though we now have a lovely blue sky to cheer us up. Andre spent a few hours in the kitchen earlier, bless him, with a bit of help from Jane all under Claire's watchful eye. Some nice little canapes and lobster patties are now set out on the table.

Aurian said...

It's freezing here in Holland too, though not hard. Snow is expected though, so some hot chocolate with sweet wipped cream and a pastry will see me through the evening. OF course a book is mandatory.

Thanks for the excerpt, I enjoyed reading it.

girlygirlhoosier52 said...

Getting chilly here in the Midwest of the USA... snow flurries just missed us yesterday.

Melinda Hammond/Sarah Mallory said...

Just had to pop back for one of those lobster patties - Andre is a wizard in the kitchen (such an asset in a hero, I think!)

Debby said...

I have never had mulled wine. I would love to try some.
debby236 at gmail dot com

Lexi H said...

Mulled wine...delicious. Though my personal weakness is hot chocolate made with milk, topped with whipped cream.
That would warm me up on this windy cold day!

bn100 said...

Sounds like a fun party. It's cold here.