The Gardener's Daughter

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Chapter 19

Violet went first up to her attic room; she carefully kept the jug upright and placed it on the washstand. Agnes wasn’t around and Lottie did not know where she was.

“I haven’t seen her all day” she said, adding “Thank the Lord!”

Violet quickly told Lottie what she was planning to do and swore her to secrecy. She knew that she could trust her, they told each other everything. Lottie was troubled though.

“Are you sure that this stuff is safe to drink?” she asked, frowning.

“I think so” Violet replied “We have to try something!”

“Yes, but the doctor is bringing him the cure, we just have to wait”

“But, it could be too late!” Violet was frantic

“Should you ask the doctor first, or his lordship?”

“Who is going to listen to me, Lottie? A scullery maid? What does a scullery maid know about anything?” she sat on the bed, dejected.

“Well, give it a try then. How long will you be gone?”

“I don’t know – I am just going to give Tom a break. I’ll wake him before I grow drowsy myself.”

“Right!” said Lottie “Lets doctor your bed – make it look like you are sleeping, for when Agnes returns!”

Quickly they stuffed a spare gown and her pillow under Violet’s covers, in the shape of a sleeping body.

“There that should fool her, once the candle is blown out.” smiled Lottie “Good luck!”

Violet silently opened the door and peered down the corridor. There was no sign of anyone so she took her jug of precious liquid and crept along the wooden floors trying not to give away her presence. As she made it to the stairs she heard movement below. She froze and was soon confronted by the one person she didn’t want to see, Agnes.

“Where do you think you are going?” she demanded

“I just need some fresh water” she replied holding up the jug “This has been there for days, it smells funny!”

Agnes wrinkled her nose as Violet waved it in front of her.

“You can’t go wandering around the house at night whenever you feel like it”

“You are!”

“I’ll have you know that I have been with Sophia and Alex all day, we have been appraising their wardrobes.”

Violet stifled a nasty retort to that and tried another tack.

“Oh Agnes, I am longing to hear more. Are they getting rid of any of their old dresses? I’m sure they would suit you!”

Agnes looked pleased and was about to launch into a description of the dresses she coveted.

“Just let me get rid of this.” Said Violet “and then you can tell me all.”

She suddenly remembered the lump in her bed.

“Tell you what” she whispered conspiratorially “let’s meet by the kitchen grate, we don’t want to wake Lottie with our talk, she is fast asleep already.”

“Well,” Agnes hesitated at this highly irregular suggestion, but her desire to make Violet jealous took over “all right.”

She turned and walked back downstairs and Violet followed her.

She left her in the kitchen, pledging to return in a few minutes and then made her way back up the grand staircase and headed for David’s chamber.

She presumed that eventually Agnes would tire of waiting for her return and go back to their room. Hopefully then she would see “Violet” asleep in bed and leave her be.

She stood trembling outside straining to hear whether anyone was inside. She gently turned the brass knob and slipped inside.

As soon as her eyes got used to the gloom she could see David lying restlessly in his bed and Tom slumped in a chair by the side.

She touched Tom’s arm and he woke with a jolt.

“Shhhh!” she warned “It’s only me! Are you ready for a break?”

He rubbed his eyes and yawned.

“I’ll give you a couple of hours, then come and wake you again.”

Tom looked grateful as he stretched and went out of the room. He warned her to fetch him right away if anything changed and he took a turn for the worst.

Violet was alone with David and she looked down at him. He was still sweating; there were tiny beads of perspiration on his forehead and his top lip. He was flushed, giving him an almost healthy look. As if he’d spent the day in the sunny meadows gathering flowers and examining plants. She wondered when he would ever be able to do that once more.

He seemed to be gripped by delirium and was talking incomprehensibly in his sleep. He thrashed around under his covers, as if fighting some unseen demons.

She put a hand on his brow and felt the burning for herself. She remembered when Daisy got the Scarlet Fever and they had feared for her life, but she had never felt as hot as this. His breathing seemed to be laboured; she could hear a wheezing sound as he struggled for air.

She walked over to the window and pulled the drapes back a little. She decided that some fresh air would surely help and she struggled to lift the heavy casement window. It hadn’t been opened in a long time, as the family did not believe that night air was good for the health. Eventually she managed to lift it a little and she breathed in the cool air gratefully.

There was a little breeze now over by his bed and she took the cloth, dipped it into the water in his bowl and sponged his face and neck. She went as far as the top of his chest, unbuttoning his nightshirt a little to reach as far as she dared. Lost in her reveries she was startled when he stirred a little as she worked and opened his eyes.

“Hello” she whispered

“Where am I?” was the reply

“It’s fine, you are home, do you think you could drink something?”

He opened his mouth and tried to moisten his parched lips.

She emptied the water out of his glass into the bowl and refilled it with the liquid from the jug.

She put it down as she tried to get him to sit up a little. She placed an arm under his neck and could feel the dampness of his nightshirt. She moved his pillows until he was semi-upright and able to drink.

He was weak and she held the glass to his mouth and tipped a little in.

He coughed as the liquid reached his throat and she was worried he wouldn’t be able to swallow it.

“Try to take it down and keep it down” she urged as he gagged a little at the taste.

“What is it?” he asked in his fragile voice

“It’s medicine, sweetheart, try your best to drink it” she whispered tenderly.

She tried to give him a few more sips and then let him have some water to take away the taste.

He lay back on the pillow, exhausted at the effort. He seemed to be sleeping again, but there was a faint smile on his face.

In his dreams someone had called him sweetheart.

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