“This particular dress, Mr. Carson, is of the first stare,” Mugger insisted with clenched teeth. “It has a rather daring stand-up collar along the back of the bodice and is the very latest design from France. It requires her ladyship’s fitting immediately.”
“Stand-up collars are rubbish in my book, Mrs. Mugger,” Carson retorted. “I’ve got the management of an estate. Without Northam Park, you and your fripperies can go to perdition.”
Diana winced. Her estate manager had sacrificed much for Northam Park in her absence. She had yet to visit it since Vivien had married but the thought of going there to stay alone in its brooding presence was insupportable.
“Mister Carson,” Mugger replied, “you’ve been hounding my lady over that stable for nigh on six months. Surely it can wait another day.”
“It could. But you may be surprised to know that even my lord Montgomery agrees with my judgment. It ought to be pulled down.”
Diana jerked her head up. “What did you say?”
“Lord Montgomery agrees, my lady,” Carson explained eagerly. “I spoke with his lordship about the matter the other morning, before you went for your ride.”
Carson visibly quailed. “I beg your pardon, my lady, but it seemed only natural that I apply to him for an opinion on the matter, given his experience with horses and uh, estates.”
“May I remind you his experience with estates encompasses the loss of his own just this past year?”
“Yes, my lady. It was merely a trifle—only—only in passing, I assure you. My lord was kind enough to enquire—always solicitous my lord is,” Carson replied, his voice trailing off in misery.
Diana’s country estate, Northam Park, has a large stable that was the centerpiece of her family’s horse racing enterprise. The red brick Jacobean-style complex has since fallen into disuse.
Now the steeple that crowns its breeding barn has tumbled to the ground, frightening the gardeners and posing a continued hazard to Diana’s retainers who live and work on the estate. Diana is reluctant to pull down this last reminder of her earldom’s former glory, but she must do something before anyone is hurt.
Audley End stable gives a fairly good picture of what Diana’s stable looks like. It’s as fine as many lesser country houses.