The next two weeks passed happily for Violet. During the mornings she cheerfully completed her scullery and kitchen duties, much faster than usual. Then, before lunch each day she straightened her dress, put on a clean apron and brushed her hair into place, trying to tame the curls, before climbing the stairs to visit David.
He was usually sat up in bed waiting for her, a list of instructions in his head and a smile on his face. She fancied that he looked forward to these meetings as much as she did.
She would sit on the chair beside the bed and firstly she would report back on the progress that had been made so far and any questions her father or any of the gardening staff may have for him. He would answer those and then she would dutifully write down the list of jobs and queries he may have for that day.
She would also slip in a few questions of her own, trying to find out for herself what plans he had for the gardens and how he intended them to be designed. Sometimes he would take her pencil and notebook and sketch a design for part of a garden, or the shape of a wall or flowerbed. She loved to watch him concentrate and liked the way he inclined his head to one side and gazed off into the distance as if seeing them somewhere in is mind before he could draw them.
As she grew bolder she began to draw in plans of her own, in her spare time upstairs in her room, then shyly show him the next day, to see what he thought.
“I love the carp pool” she told him one day “but I would love to see more water in the gardens”
“What in particular would you like to see?”
“Well, I have drawn a little picture here of how I see it looking. I thought we could dig out the overgrown part of the Chinese garden and build a bridge near the pagoda and have a fountain.”
Those elaborate fountains don’t really excite me” he said
“She opened the notebook at the correct page and laid it on the bed.
“This isn’t an elaborate one with spitting fish, or fat cherubs or dusky nymphs!” she laughed “It is a pure and simple jet of water the goes as high as we can engineer it – in one clean simple line – like that.”
He picked up the notebook and looked at it carefully.
“That is a fantastic idea – can it be done? I need some time to speak to speak to some people. It would be spectacular although I am a little disappointed with the lack of dusky nymphs.” he teased her
She laughed and aimed a playful swipe at his arm. She immediately stopped herself and put her hands over her mouth.
“I’m sorry, sir” she said
“Don’t be ridiculous,” he said “It is just the kind of thing my sisters do to me all the time” he was smiling at her concern. Then he grew serious
“Listen, if we are to work together then we must treat each other as equals. While you are working on my garden projects then we can address each other in a familiar and easy fashion. Please don’t call me sir or worry about speaking your mind.”
She looked at him gratefully
“Do we have a bargain?”
She nodded and then smacked him on the arm to show she meant it.
“Owww” he wailed “I am an invalid don’t forget!”
They laughed together and she dared to look directly into his eyes for the first time, without blushing.
“You are quite a find, Violet” he looked directly back at her.
“By the way, you can still call me “Sir” when other people are about” he warned her “we don’t want any unnecessary trouble. Besides I have to get my quota of aristocratic gratification somehow!”
They were still laughing when Katie knocked at the door with his lunch on a tray. She placed it on the table by the window and withdrew at once. Violet could imagine what they’d be saying in the kitchen over their midday meal.
“I’d better be going” she said “I have to be back in for the afternoon’s jam making session. I am preparing and cleaning the fruit.
“Aren’t you hungry?” he asked
“Yes, I am actually” she could smell tantalising aromas coming from under his silver domed platter. “but lunch will be waiting for me below.”
“And what do you have for lunch?”
A slice of bread and maybe some dripping, or a little soup.”
“Is that all?” he looked genuinely shocked
“Don’t you know what your servants eat?” she asked him
“Well, no” he thought about it for a minute “Mama always takes care of that side of things. Won’t you stay and share some of mine? You would be doing me a favour, make Mrs Salt think I have completely regained my appetite.”
“I don’t think I should” she began to say but he lifted up the cover to reveal a plate of assorted cold meats, cheeses and some fresh warm bread next to a small dish of white butter curls.
“Help me butter this bread” he pleaded, slyly “I am still feeling quite weak.”
Violet did as she was bid and as he ate he broke off pieces of bread and cheese and gave them to her. He insisted that she try some of the roast chicken and Violet has never tasted anything so delicious in her life. By the time he lay back exhausted on his pillows the platter had been emptied completely.
She gathered up the dishes and took them back down to the kitchen. Agnes was there finishing her tea and looked up as Violet entered.
“Too good to eat with us now are you?”
“Of course not, Agnes” she answered breezily “I am just a little late for lunch as I was writing down the master’s instructions for the day.”
Agnes started to clear the remaining bread away.
“Well I’m afraid you’re too late now” she said “Mrs Salt will be here in a minute with old Bertha and we have to clear the table for the jam-making.”
“That’s fine” answered Violet, taking the wind out of her sails “I’ll wait until this evening then.”
She went out into the garden in search of her father. Agnes followed her to see what she was up to. As Violet reached the Orangery she saw where she got the key from and smiled to herself.
“That might come in handy one day” she murmured as she made her way back into the kitchen.