Violet had just spent the most miserable week of her life. The days had dragged without anything to look forward to. Even her afternoon off to go to the cottage on the edge of the estate to visit her mother and sweet little sister Daisy did nothing to lift her spirits. Her father had naturally heard of the fuss caused by the discovery of the book in Violet’s room and her being under threat of dismissal.
Mr Dean loved all his girls and knew that it was wrong to have favourites, but Violet and he were especially close. He had always dreamed of having a son, but nature had not been co-operative in that department. However, Violet was clever and bright and he had spent a lot of time in her company. She had proved a quick learner and was enthusiastic about the tasks he’d given her when she was younger.
Her mother had tried to get her interested and skilled in needlework and domestic duties but she had proved completely uninterested and totally uncoordinated that she gave up in despair and was happy to let he go off with her father.
He believed her when she said that she hadn’t stolen the book, of course he did. However he felt a certain responsibility for her restless dissatisfaction with her life as it was now. He remembered how she had cried for days when he’d told her that the time had come to leave the outdoor life and work in the house of the mill owner and his family, as a maid.
She hadn’t adapted easily to the life of a servant he knew that, but given the alternative in the evil smelling factories of the city he felt it was the best thing for her. He knew of families decimated by the hard work and horrendous conditions in those places, coupled with the unhealthy air and the long working hours. They ruined the health and a harsh, cold winter would all but wipe families out, already weakened by tuberculosis, pneumonia and malnourishment.
He’d been delighted to move his family to The Grange, thinking of the healthier life and the security that came with serving one of the country’s pre-eminent families. He’d explained this to Violet many times.
“I know that you don’t like it, Violet” he’d said “but it is the best we can hope for.”
She understood this but it didn’t always help. He looked at her sad face now and tried to make her feel better.
“Master David must have been impressed with you,” he smiled at her fondly “but Lord Dearing is right. You cannot work with the gardening staff.”
“But, I don’t understand! Why not?” she was exasperated
“You are a very attractive young lady, and we have to think of your reputation. It is just not done.”
“He said I could” she looked hopefully at her father, but he just shook his head.
Violet knew that like herself, Master David would have to be obedient to his father. He wasn’t in charge of The Grange yet.
She spent the rest of the Sunday afternoon reading to Daisy while her mother rested. Violet thought that she was looking a little better in her face, a little rounder with a hint of pink around her cheeks. She knew that living here was good for her.
She set off back for the house in time for her evening duties. She listened as Lottie told her of her family’s news and tried to absorb herself into her role. Maybe, she thought, if she worked hard she could progress to above stairs and given time who knows? Perhaps she could become a housekeeper herself. Her talents must be able to be of some use. She could write out rotas and organise menus, she was sure of it. She would relish telling Agnes what to do. She smiled to herself as she thought of all the worst duties she could get her to perform.
“Ah Agnes, I want you to go and empty all the chamber pots each morning, until further notice.”
“You are looking happier” said Lottie, interrupting her daydreams
“Yes, I think I am feeling happier” she replied.
Meanwhile, above stairs in his study Lord Dearing was definitely not happy.
He was not used to being contradicted and he didn’t like it.
David too was looking perplexed at this turn of events. He had returned to The Grange earlier in the day, enthused with what he had learnt. He’d rushed to see his father to tell him all about it and to pass on the news and salutations from his old acquaintances, only to find him surly and disinclined to talk. Only now that dinner was over and they were alone had he finally told him what was on his mind.
He wasn’t happy that his son had put him in this position. He would have to back down and let Violet stay and he was furious.
“What is so fascinating about this girl that you want to be alone with her?”
“But father, I have no such designs on her. I asked her because she has the knowledge I need.”
“That is ridiculous, how can a mere scullery maid be the only person to be able to help you with this? What is wrong with Robbie or Jonathan, why can’t they do it?”
“They are practically illiterate and they don’t know a fraction of what Violet knows about plants!”
“Well educate them, get them trained!”
“That could take years” he replied “and what is the point when we have someone here who already knows it?”
“I’m sorry, but it is just not done.” David opened his mouth to protest, but was silenced by a raised hand “And that is my final word on the subject.”
David was left alone with his thoughts.