The day was a success. As far as Gertie was concerned, it was a great success, largely because of the attendance of Zac. She was growing in her independence and had moved out of the family home into her own apartments above her business. Beth kept casting knowing glances at the couple and smiling at Robert.
Robert had engaged Mr and Mrs Shaw as manservant and housekeeper. Mrs Shaw bore the brunt of the day’s cooking, although Bessie Pallister and Gertie had, with that good lady’s prior approval, helped prepare the food, display the cold items and serve the hot.
“This is a feast,” Cosmo commented, and it was, for Robert had been unstinting in wanting to make his first Christmas back in the valley a memorable one.
The dining table groaned with dressed lamb, garnished with watercress and lemon wedges, a roast goose, a herb pudding, roast ribs of beef served with horseradish and fricassees of turnips and white mushrooms. Chickens, with boiled and peeled hogs tongues, crouched around a cauliflower on a large platter. Their presentation was set off with green spinach and pieces of toasted bacon.
There was venison, that had been hung for three weeks and marinated in red wine, oil and cloves for 48 hours. A cold wine-roasted ham, that was attractively garnished with parsley; cold broccoli, titivated with pickled nastertium buds, and tureens of potatoes.
For dessert there were apple pies and apple puffs, white wine syllabubs, solid custards, lemon mincemeat, orange peel straws in syrup and bits and bobs of culinary delights.
They ate well, exchanged gifts, played silly games and charades, sang around the piano, and danced. Ebby Burke performed a comic routine, Beth sang a sweet solo before she and her sister presented a lively comedy duet, and Cosmo surprised everyone with a humorous recitation and a ballad that he delivered in a perfectly pitched light tenor. He was so good, he was pressed into singing again.
Almost a perfect day, Robert thought. Jane now occupied a niche in memories of his childhood. In his mind, she remained the sweet young girl with whom he had once-upon-a-time been in love. In reality, he accepted she was a woman who was the wife of another man. But he had made her situation a matter of honour and his father had told him to keep his honour above all else, and he would be there if Jane ever needed help. A complication was what he felt for Beth and he didn?t know how to reconcile the past with the possibility of a new commitment.
Another aspect of honour, which had sneaked up and ensnared him when he wasn?t looking, were the expectations of all those people who had slapped his back and shaken his hand outside the church. One reason why that didn?t sit too comfortably was that he still suspected his motives for becoming a benefactor.
Because of Jane, Beth and expectations, he had made no plans about the imminent arrival of Gabriel Tyler. Cosmo kept dropping hints about the attraction of Australia but how could he abandon all he had started and run away from responsibility? Honour was the final entrapment. Honour made him unable to speak of his feelings to Beth.
Cosmo finished his song to sustained applause and Robert smiled and wondered whether his small American friend might provide an answer? It was odd that whilst he felt close to Zac for the rough and tumble boyhood reasons of the years they had grown together, that Robert should feel such warmth for Cosmo, whom he had known only a few months.
As their friendship had developed, they had discovered a similar sense of humour, compassion and honesty. It had also helped that Cosmo was educated and erudite, so that their conversations were never dull or restricted. Cosmo had a way with words almost as skilful as that of Ebby Burke at his most extravagant. If he asked either Zac or Cosmo for advice, they would probably give him the same: marry Beth and leave the valley.
But what of honour?
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