They did it.
And in less than a fortnight!
Hugh unblocked the windows in the little Tudor study and employed local builders to lay a false floor. The sheep seemed to like it.
On fine days, Hugh led them onto the terrace and they clattered down the grand steps to nibble their way into the parkland where the grass was still growing.
The donkeys moved into the dining room - which they didn't like and Stephen refused to go near them in case they bit. But when Hugh took away the panelled door and came back with a half one from the stables so they could lean over and see the Gainsborough paintings of stiff and pretty ladies, the dark and dusty Rembrandt and the marble busts wearing Hugh's old hats, the stags heads with coats hanging from their antlers and scarves round their necks, all the features of their usual lives - the older pair settled.
Rudolph and Santa seemed not to mind as much as Sam. He was very cross. He tossed his head and tested the wood with his hooves. Camellia took him for walks and brought him apples and carrots and told him it might only be for a few weeks. "Maybe until Christmas," she said. "At least, until Rosemary's been.".
A couple of times, she found herself nearly adding 'and gone'.
At night, the Jersey cow and her calf came into the hall. The donkeys watched malevolently and snorted. In the mornings, Hugh cleared away the dung and straw and took them back to stand miserably in their field. There were now frosts at night. At least they firmed the ground.
None of this was entirely satisfactory, though the sheep seemed happier now they were out and about a bit for a few hours each day. And it wouldn't be for long. After 'The Visit', the donkeys would live in the hall again and the Jerseys could have the dining room until spring. The floor there matched that in the drawing room - tough enough to support deep straw bedding until warmer weather. Then they'd be happy to go back to the fields.
The bull was another matter. Even Hugh and Camellia accepted he couldn't be quartered in the house.
"Sell him," said Camellia.
"That might be an idea," said Hugh, thoughtfully. We could buy heifers instead. South Devon Reds. I've always liked them. Or Hereford Crosses."
Stephen sighed and barrowed the latest load of straw down the front steps.
At least the drawing room was warm. They'd pulled a bush through the chimney a few times to brush out the soot and there was a fire in the grate most days now, making sparkles in the crystals in the great, grey floor slabs. Stephen and Hugh painted the walls stark white, took down the chandelier, washed it and polished it and put it back shining. Then they painted the insides of the shutters powder blue and hung pale green velvet curtains to soften the angles of the huge windows. In the evenings the room was cosy and warm. Camellia went to the Auction Rooms in Kings Hampton and came back in a lorry with chairs and sofas which she then draped with soft fabrics tacked neatly in place so they looked as if they'd been properly upholstered. If they were careful, the illusion would last until after 'The Visit'. There was no point in buying anything better. The sheep never used the chairs except to hide behind. On the other hand, the duck was in the habit of resting there. Goldilocks was nothing compared with Oscar, who hopped in through an open window and set to work with muddy feet, testing each one.
"Never mind," said Camellia. "She's made it look more used, as if we've had the room like this for years."
Hugh smiled uneasily.
Stephen looked doubtful.
“No, I mean it,” she said. “We don’t want to them to think we’ve put ourselves out too much.”
Hugh's eyes flickered up. Stephen wondered if he should withdraw.
But Camellia was cheerful.
"Come on Hugh," she said. "We've got some dignity. Let them see it - do!"
* * * * *
For the next post - Thirty
For the post before this - Twenty-Eight