The Gardener's Daughter

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Chapter 27

The weeks flew by and soon David managed to get out of bed and spend some time in the garden himself. Violet was pleased that he was doing so well and he did look the picture of health. She also dreaded being relegated back into the scullery and deprived of his company. The thought of being back in the kitchen and never allowed out into the fresh air and delights of the gardens depressed her beyond all reasoning.

They were stood side by side in the large hothouse one afternoon, carefully writing out labels for some of the most recent additions, when she sighed deeply.

“What is it Violet?” David asked “You are not yourself today. I have hardly had a word out of you – or a smile.”

“I am just thinking, now that you are back in charge I will no longer be needed.” She said in a small voice

“That’s nonsense!” he replied as she suddenly brightened at his attitude.

“Really?”

“Of course! You are the one who knows my mind on all these matters. Besides I am going away for a few weeks so I need you to keep things going to plan in my absence.”

Her happiness at being allowed to carry on this role she so loved was tempered with regret that he would not be there with her, to discuss it with each day.

“I am depending on you Violet, you may need to make decisions while I am gone and I shall inform my staff that you are to be trusted in all matters regarding design when I am not here.”

“But my father..” she protested

“Don’t worry, I can be quite diplomatic” he laughed. “I’ll make sure that he knows that he is in charge of all practical and technical matters and of course supervising the staff.”

“Mainly I want you to supervise the construction of the Wardian cases ready for my next journey, if I can persuade my father that I must set sail again soon. I have a pamphlet here that has some pictures and also I have drawn up plans with the dimensions and proportions that I need. I wasn’t completely lazy while I was laid up there in bed” he grinned at her as she looked over the plans in amazement.

They laughed together and he had begun to talk to her more and more of other matters, not just the gardens.

She’d begged him to tell her about conditions on board ship when he’d gone to the . He tried to be honest and not romanticise it at all, so she would be put off her dreams of accompanying him one day. He told her about how hard it was to sleep in a hammock for a start but she’d only howled with laughter as he’d described how many times he’d fallen out of his and onto the rather grumpy old sailor below him. In the end he’d had one rigged up for him in a far corner so that he did not disturb anyone else.

She asked him what he ate and drank. He tried to describe the mundanely boring diet of hard ship’s biscuits, salted beef and pickled pork (until they ran out usually before they had got half-way) and dried beans and peas. She sounded quite enthusiastic about the staple drinks menu of beer, wine or cider, declaring that she had never had any intoxicating liquor in her life!

“Oh I think you would hate it” he tried to dissuade her laughing.

“Well I won’t know until I try!” she declared gamely.

“Very well, young lady” he replied “I will bring you a little wine tomorrow night.”

The next evening they met again in the Orangery. He had brought half a bottle of rather fine claret and a couple of crystal glasses. He carefully poured them each a measure.

He watched her closely as she rather gingerly sniffed it and then put the glass to her lips and tasted a little. She blinked for a moment or two, letting the dark ruby liquid sit in her mouth for a few seconds before swallowing it down.

“What do you think?” he asked

She took another mouthful, put her head on one side and giggled.

“This is very nice!” she said.

“Take it slowly!” he had urged her “It could make you a little light-headed!”

He drank from his glass too and told her how after a few drinks the sailors would go up on deck in the clear moonlight, get out their old instruments and play and sing into the early hours.

“What kind of songs?” she asked him “Can you remember any?”

He looked up at the moon shining into the Orangery through the frosted glass above them, trying to recall the one that had tugged at his heartstrings.

“They are all too sad.” he told her “They got very maudlin when they were tipsy and far away from home”

“Just one?” she’d implored

He took another swig of his wine and summoned his courage. He was not used to singing for anyone.

She was sitting there, sipping from her glass so delicately her hair shaking loose from its bands and her face prettily flushed. He could not say no to her. He started quietly but grew in confidence as he felt the same longings and saw that she was not laughing at him, but paying rapt attention.

Farewell to you, my own true love,
I am going far, far away
I am bound for California,
And I know that I’ll return someday

So fare thee well, my own true love,
For when I return, united we will be
It’s not the leaving of Liverpool that grieves me,
But my darling when I think of thee

I have shipped on a Yankee sailing ship,
Davy Crockett is her name,
And her Captain’s name was Burgess,
And they say that she’s a floating hell

So fare thee well, my own true love,
For when I return, united we will be
It’s not the leaving of Liverpool that grieves me,
But my darling when I think of thee

Oh the sun is on the harbour, love,
And I wish that I could remain,
For I know that it will be a long, long time,
Before I see you again

So fare thee well, my own true love,
For when I return, united we will be
It’s not the leaving of Liverpool that grieves me,
But my darling when I think of thee

When he had finished he saw that she had tears in her eyes.

“That was beautiful” she whispered and he’d had the sudden urge to gather her up in his arms and hold her tight. She turned away from him, embarrassed by her tears and he put his hand on her shoulder briefly, before recollecting himself and letting her be.

He turned again to discussion the designs for the new Wardian cases and Violet suggested some variations, if the right glass panels could not be made to fit or the metal did not allow such flexibility. He was impressed that she had thought about all this already.

“What are you thinking?” she questioned him after a period of silence between them. She could tell that he was brooding on something.

“I was just trying to decide…” he said, trying to lighten the sombre mood that had grown between them “which flower is my absolute favourite.”

“Out of all flowers in the world - or just these gardens?” she asked

“My absolute favourite in the whole world” he replied, smiling now.

“It must be something rare”

“Oh yes and very precious” he finished

“Is it the bougainvillaea?” she inquired

“Well that is very beautiful. Especially the magenta species. But no.”

“The magnificent magnolia!” she declared “I love that more than anything!”

“I can see why” he replied “It is an amazing example of purity and simplicity of form. It is such a shame that the flowers last such a short time. The first breeze or shower of rain and the petals fall. So, it’s not that.”

“How about an orchid, it must be some kind of orchid”

“Orchids are very unique and some are very rare, but the one I am thinking of – well, there is only one in the world.”

She looked at him puzzled.

“That would be impossible, how would it have grown?” she was trying to work it out.

“I don’t know” he replied “It must be a miracle!”

She looked at him disbelievingly. He seemed deep in serious thought.

“It is a Violet” he said at length

She laughed “But violets are so common!” She exclaimed

“Not this one “ he replied gazing at her.

She suddenly realised what he was trying to say and felt her cheeks burning. He looked desperately unhappy now and she could not help herself, she had to know.

“So, where are you going?” she asked at last.

“Hopefully back to the , once I have the cases constructed I will be able to bring back so much more!”

“No, I meant next week” she said, impatiently.

“Well it seems my prospective in-laws have invited me to spend a few weeks with them on their West Country estate. I’ll be recuperating in the good sea air and no doubt I will be expected to join in with the hunting, shooting and fishing.” He said.

“I’d rather be exploring the natural flora and spending time in their gardens in the company of their Head gardener” he confided “All those country pursuits are not really for me.”

Violet had never heard him mention marriage before, she hadn’t even thought of the possibility.

“You are engaged?” she asked slowly, dreading to hear the answer

“Well not yet.” he replied thinking to himself, if I had my way I never would be.

“Then why?” Violet asked

David was startled by her sharp tone

“Why go ahead with it?” he said “You know as the sole heir of my father’s estate I have a duty to marry and produce heirs too.”

“So who you are to marry?” she was bewildered

“My parents, and hers, think that it would be a good match if I married Caroline Fitzroy. You may have seen her when she came to the ball a little while back”

“No ” she replied “but I remember you coming down to the scullery to get some water for her dog. I also remember cleaning up the mess on the dining room rug after it had left” she wrinkled up her nose at the memory.

David recalled the incident in question. He was going to have to make quite an effort to get to know her better. After this visit, no doubt, he would find her perfectly pleasant and charming.

“Could you marry someone, even if you didn’t love them?” Violet would not let it go. He looked uncomfortable. Before meeting Violet, all he was concerned with was remaining a bachelor and spending all his time and money on plants and on the means to get hold of the most exotic and the best. He had to be realistic now, this estate would not support itself and a good match could be the only way to ensure he could continue his work and his passion.

“Ah, so you will marry for money, then?” Violet asked rather sharply, taking his silence as an admission.

He did not like the tone of her voice but he still felt unable to defend himself. She did not understand how the world worked, he really had no choice. David started to get angry.

“Violet, it is none of your concern whom I do or do not marry! Now continue preparing pots for these azaleas.”

“Very well…sir!” she spat back “I will remember my place in future.”

With that David stalked off, his face dark and eyes flashing with anger.

Violet was left alone to ponder this predicament. Of course she had no right to question him, the heir to a Lord of the realm, about his actions. What did she know of his world? Or even the world outside this house?

She sighed as she thought about her future. She felt trapped by her station and by her sex and could not see a way out. She’d been given a glimpse of a better life these last few weeks, but knew it could only ever be temporary. No matter what her fantasies of an ideal life were, they were destined to be only fantasy. Soon she’d be back in the scullery, despised even more by the people who shared her position in life. “Violet,” she said to herself “You’ve really messed it up this time!”

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