“The old farmers," he went on, "the ones in the really old days, they wanted the kitchen at the front - so their wives could keep an eye on things. And there wouldn't be too much trampsing through the house when the workers came in for meals or maids took out scraps for the chickens. Almost everything went on went on in the yard. Of course, the house was much smaller then. Even in Tudor times it was smaller ; though bigger than when it started. Possibly. We don't really know. They may have knocked bits down to put their own bits in. As I say, everyone's had a go at it sometime or another.
"But when the terrace was built they left the kitchen where it was because, as I say, they wanted to look . . . idle; preferring style over industry. And since the front was now the back . . . . . um, if you see what I mean, the kitchen, by staying where it was, had moved to the back." He paused, and thought, and raised an eyebrow to check Stephen was following. Just about, he was. So Hugh carried on.
"But old Grandfather Harry couldn’t have his friends sniffing cabbage could he? Which is what would happen now because he'd got everyone coming down the ravine and landing up in the kitchen instead of here. So he turned the kitchen into the drawing room and put a new kitchen at the back of the house, here, where the front was when they were all pretending to be Jane Austin. Is there any more coffee Camellia?” He handed her his cup. “Vandal”.
Camellia drained the flask and offered Stephen another biscuit.
"But he was worried people might still come to the wrong door. After all, this was the side they were used to coming to . . . and it was much easier to bring a carriage here than down the slope at the back . . . front . . . so he had the front door blocked up on this side and covered over - to make the point, and to make sure! Not that this was completely unfortunate. It meant people like us could come and sit out here without looking as if we're waiting for company, or like guests outside a hotel."
“If only the kitchen weren’t so dark,” said Camellia wistfully. “I suppose they thought it was alright for servants but it’s not alright for us, not when we spend so much time in it.”
“Couldn’t you have the door here opened up again?” asked Stephen "put the kitchen back where it was; or make bigger windows?" Instantly, he regretted it. To him, everything spelt poverty; the mess, the lack of proper fencing, the broken drives, the tumbled-down outbuildings, the state of the livestock and the way they were struggling with the remains of a farm that would once have employed hundreds of workers - cowmen and shepherds and field labourers, in a house that was once alive with maids and butlers and cooks and nannies.
“Oh, we’ve thought of it often,” Camellia said. “We’ve thought how nice it would be to have part of the terrace glassed in. We could grow palms and vines. Just imagine it, a real orangery. And proper windows so we could look out from the kitchen. (I wouldn’t want to change the house all round again.) But the balance of the building would be restored if we had a new back door in this wall and were to make it look like a front door. All shiny paint and Victorian. Or Georgian. The upper floors haven’t been messed with. It could all be rather beautiful.”
“But the upset of it all,” said Hugh. “It would be too much.”
“We could go away for a bit,” said Camellia. "While it was done."
They'd had this discussion many times. It was one of their rituals.
“Yes," said Hugh. "But we’ve no-where to go.” He said it firmly and stood up. "You have more coffee with Camellia," he said to Stephen. "Keep her quiet while I check on the sheep."
“Did you say your grand-daughters are coming?” Stephen asked politely, glossing over the emptiness of the flask and to change the subject. But he was also wondering why Hugh and Camellia couldn't stay with a son or a daughter while the work was done, money aside. There was no reason for him to expect any particular change in mood. But there was one. And, what was worse, harmony was broken. Camellia seemed to brighten at the mention of her grand-daughters but Hugh gave her a look that looked almost like a warning.
“What does it matter?” he said, after a pause. “You tell him. Bit of family drama." Already he was walking away. "Enjoy your coffee.”
“Don’t start back on the carpet without me!” Camellia called after him.
“As if I would!”
To continue - Twenty
For the post before this - Eighteen