Christmas Story Part 6 - Six Geese A-Laying
Charlotte wandered through the house, a cloud of despondency settling around her. The news that the gentlemen had to arm themselves with a gold ring before they could invite anyone to dance was serious enough, but the thought that her suitors would both need five rings was disastrous – how would they ever find so many rings? Charlotte's anxiety for her brother Jack was an ever present sorrow, but she had hoped that the Christmas Ball would allow her to forget her troubles at least for a little while.
'You are supposing the gentlemen will have to find these rings on their own,' said Lady Armstrong, when Charlotte voiced her fears. 'There is no reason why they should not have a little help.'
Charlotte felt her spirits lift. Of course, she would go to the garden and look for the rings herself – whether she gave them to Lord Winchester or Lord Waverley was still a matter of debate, but she could make that decision later.
'A little hint,' continued Lady Armstrong, 'Remember that Lady Henley considers the orchard as part of her garden.'
Having thanked Lady Armstrong, Charlotte went off to collect her wrap, a mood of optimism replacing her previous gloom. When she reached the terrace she met Miss Brady.
'Oh my dear, do not go outside without an escort,' cried the old lady, clutching at Charlotte's arm. 'Beware the French soldiers.'
'Miss Brady, there is nothing to fear,' Charlotte assured her. 'We have searched the grounds, there are no soldiers here.'
'But the French hens….' 'Not hens' said Charlotte, 'Geese. Do you not remember? Lord Henley keeps geese in his orchard. We really must get you some new spectacles. Come along, I will show you again.' Miss Kingston led her old friend to the formal garden, where several gentlemen were wandering up and down, kicking away the snow from the paths, and on through the gate to the orchard. 'There you are – six geese a-laying.'
Even as the words left her mouth Charlotte's heart did a little skip, for the geese had disturbed the snow and exposed a number of gleaming rings. Miss Brady wandered away, muttering to herself and Charlotte began to gather up the little bands of gold. Within minutes she had sufficient for both Ryder and Lord Waverley. Clutching the rings in her hand she gave a little twirl, thinking of the glittering evening to come. She at least need have no shortage of partners! She danced between the trees but came to a sudden stop, her heart beating wildly as she recognised the dishevilled figure standing by the orchard wall.