Once breakfast was done and everything cleared away, the household settled down to their routine tasks. Violet was dispatched to the scullery to prepare vegetables for the lunchtime and evening meals. It was the kind of job that allowed her lots of time to think. She tried not to worry, but couldn’t quite manage it. She tried to put her thoughts to practical use, racking her brains for any folklore or old wives tales she’d heard about curing fevers.
She knew that her father would know, she popped out of the scullery door several times to see if she could spot him around the kitchen garden, but to no avail. She asked old Bert if he knew where he was.
“Ay, he’s up the top fields with his men, they’re harvesting the last of the hay before the storms come in”
Violet sighed. She was not going to be able to find out anything useful until the end of the day.
After lunch she and Lottie were washing the dishes. Mrs Salt was sitting in front of the kitchen fire, her shoes off, while she drank her tea. Soon they heard a gentle snoring and Lottie stifled a giggle.
“She’s fallen asleep again” she smirked.
“Good” whispered Violet “I need to get up to the cottage as soon as I can. Will you cover for me if she wakes before I return?”
“What shall I say?”
“Anything, you’ll think of something!” said Violet as she undid her apron and walked towards the door “I won’t be long!”
She raced over the lawns and past the carp pools, until she’d found the path that led through the firs towards her parents’ cottage.
“Violet! What are you doing here?” her mother was startled
“Yeah!” said Daisy “Let’s go and play!!”
“Sorry Daisy, not right now, but you can help me find something”
“What?” asked her mother and Daisy in unison.
There’s a big old book that papa used to have, with pictures of plants. Have you seen it?”
Her mother thought for a moment.
“Was it Culpepper’s herbal?” she asked
“That’s the one!” Violet looked hopeful
“I know, I know!” said Daisy
“I can’t recall having seen it for a while. Not since we moved here I don’t think”
Violet looked downcast
“Are there any cases that were not unpacked?”
“No, none, they all went back to the Mill house”
“I know!” Insisted Daisy
“Hold on a moment” said Violet, then turned back to her mother
“Well, he didn’t sell it before we moved did he?”
“I don’t think so, who’d want an old thing like that?”
Daisy grabbed her hand and tried to pull her outside.
Violet looked down at her.
“Violet, I do know where it is!” she insisted
Violet followed her out of the door, towards the hen house.
“Take the roof off” demanded Daisy
Violet moved the makeshift roof of the henhouse and looked inside. A couple of fat brown hens squawked and fluttered sending feathers in all directions. She shooed them out. There under the roosting box, holding it up off the floor was a battered straw-covered object that could once have been a book.
Violet squawked herself as she rescued it and held it in her arms. She brushed the straw and dirt off it as best she could and laid it on the grass. She opened it carefully as the edges of the pages were fused together.
“Thanks Daisy! Now do you think you could bring me a damp cloth so that I can loosen these pages?”
“Alright” Daisy beamed, happy to help her big sister
Violet worked quickly, carefully wiping the edges of the thick pages until she could gently prise the pages open one by one.
“Hadn’t you better get back to the big house and your duties?” asked her mother, jolting Violet out of her concentration.
She hesitated “I suppose so. May I take this with me?”
“Of course, but what is this all about?”
“Haven’t got time to explain, I’ll tell you more on Sunday!”
Violet set off back at a run, carrying the precious book tightly in her arms, via the Dahlia walk and slipped back into the scullery through the back door. Lottie was there, on her knees, scrubbing the kitchen floor dipping the brush into a bucket of suds and pushing her unruly red hair out of her eyes with the back of her hand.
“Did she notice I’d gone?” asked Violet
“Of course, she wasn’t too happy. I told her that you’d gone to feed the pigs with the potato peelings.”
“Thank-you” Violet looked fondly at her friend “Here let me finish that. You sit by the fire for a few minutes, you look worn out.”
Lottie looked around her, listening for the impending return of the bulky housekeeper on the back stairs and then sat by the hearth in Mrs Salt’s chair. She sighed as she relaxed onto the soft cushion and pushed off her shoes.
She watched Violet as she took her place on the kitchen floor. She was looking flushed and agitated.
“Do you think that Master David will recover?”
“I don’t know Lottie, I hope so.”
“You are very fond of him aren’t you?”
“Well, I’ve seen your face light up when you talk of him. I’m sure you were calling his name in your sleep the other night.”
Violet blushed and kept her head down as she scrubbed.
“Any way, how are things progressing with Jack?”
“I talked to him for five whole minutes this morning,” she smiled to herself “but that’s beside the point. Stop changing the subject!”
Violet sat up on her heels and looked at her, tears filling her eyes.
“Don’t worry, the doctor has come again. He’s upstairs with him now.”
Lottie leapt from the seat as they heard footsteps on the stairs.
“Oh Polly!” she sighed “I thought you were Mrs Salt!”
“She’s on her way down, so you’d better look busy!”
“Is there any news from above stairs?” asked Violet
“Mr Holmes says the doctor is trying to get some quinine for him. It is very expensive they say and may take a good long time to get here.”
“Does it work?”
“So they say. It saved King Charles and King Louis of France - so history has it” she informed them “but it comes all the way from Peru. Dr Lee says they make it from the bark of some tree there.”
“So, we have to keep him alive until it comes” Violet was thinking aloud.
“I’ve come for some hot poultices, is there hot water on the fire?”
“I thought he was already burning up!” exclaimed Violet
“He’s got the shivers now,” said Polly “they can’t still his violent tremors.”
“Is that a good sign?”
Polly just shook her head as she laid clean tea cloths in the hot water and placed them in a pan, with wooden tongues, ready to take them upstairs.
“Stop gossiping girls and do get on!”
Mrs Salt had reappeared and the maids all separated and scurried off back to their tasks.
Violet couldn’t wait until tea time when she would have a few minutes to herself. She claimed that she wasn’t hungry, leaving her bread and tea on the table she went up to her room. She had dragged the book up with her and sat by the window to cast light on the fading pages.
Polly’s talk of tree bark had triggered something in her memory. She was sure there was some cure for fever connected to trees. She looked through the pages in desperation. She found a page on the Tamarisk Tree. The virtues of the tree were listed: good for toothache, pains in the ears, watering of the eyes, leprosy, scabs or ulcers and heals blisters caused by burning or scolding.
That wasn’t helpful.
The Service-Tree virtues: stays bleeding from the mouth and nose, will stay fluxes and scouring.
The Quince Tree, virtues: strengthens the stomach, cools the hot breasts of women and brings hair to the bald
The Poplar Tree, virtues: cures the falling sickness, helps the gout, those troubled by sciatica and warts.
Violet exhaled heavily, as she continued to turn the pages.
The Mulberry Tree, virtues: a remedy against the bite of snakes, will purge the belly, and kill the broad worm in the body.
Gooseberry Bush, virtues: will stir up a fainting appetite, good for stomach and liver and will expel stones from the kidneys and bladder.
The Alder Tree, virtues: placed on the feet of weary travellers will sooth the soreness, placed in a room troubled by fleas it will rid it of them
Violet flicked the pages back to the end of the book.
The Willow Tree, virtues: “a fine cool tree” for one sick of a fever.
Violet read on: a distillation of the bark boiled and mixed in wine will be effective.
She tried to visualise the estate to remember where she had seen willow trees. “Of course” she thought, “hanging over the carp pool and others in the Chinese garden by the pagoda and bridge.”
She placed the book under her bed and tried not to run down the stairs.
Re-entering the kitchen she saw that the dishes still lay on the table. She started to clear them away and pile them up by the sink for washing later. After they have done the finer dishes from the Dining Room they could clean their own crockery.
As it was quiet, she put her head round the kitchen door to see if there was anyone about out in the herb garden. There was a dark shape bent over the onion patch and Violet called out
He straightened up and looked around him, then he caught sight of her framed in the door, by the lamplight of the kitchen.
“You talking to me, miss?”
“Yes” she hissed
He walked over slowly and smiled at her. He was tall, now that he was upright and his blond hair was windblown and tousled.
“What can I do for such a fair maid?” he had a cheeky glint in his eye.
Violet frowned, preoccupied with her worries about the young master.
“I need you to fetch me something”
“Oh yes?” he looked at the quizzically “and you are the housekeeper, are you?”
“Well, no, obviously not!” she was irritated now “but your boss is my father!”
“Ah!” he nodded sagely “Another of Lord Dearing’s daughters eh?”
“Not the master! Listen this is important” she scolded, then seeing that she was making no headway she continued “please help me.”
“What is it you need?” he relented seeing the worry on her face “some potatoes, carrots, maybe a turnip?”
“No, I need some willow bark, and quickly!”
“You know that stripping bark off a tree can kill it?” he inquired
“Not always, as long as you do not take it off all the way round then it is fine.”
He looked impressed
“My father is Mr Dean.”
“Ah I see!” he said “So how much do you need?”
She hadn’t worked this out yet.” Enough to boil up to make a powerful infusion” she replied
“So, you are brewing up a love potion are you?” he winked at her” Who’s the lucky man?”
She was becoming exasperated now and turned her back to check that no-one had come back into the kitchen
“I haven’t got much time; it is for someone who is sick with the fever.”
“All right then, I’ll fetch you some.” Violet smiled at him for the first time
“On one condition”
Her smile faded
“You have to promise that you will walk out with me on Sunday next!”
“Impertinent boy” she glared at him, but his smile just grew broader
“Well, I’ll just get back to the onion sets then” he made as if to move.
“No!” Violet cried “Very well, I will agree to your terms, but just the once though”
“That will be fine with me” he was grinning broadly now. “Wait here and I will bring some to the door for you. Just one thing before I go.”
“What’s your name?”
She looked at him coolly, then realising that he wasn’t going to move until she had told him she said
“I’m Edgar, pleased to meet you” Then with a bow he was gone.