The next few days Violet divided her time between the kitchen and the hothouses. She was excused washing dishes and scrubbing floors and Lottie was about the only member of staff who was still civil to her. The others either resented her or were jealous of her favoured position with the young master. She couldn’t escape the preparations for his forthcoming trip down south though and she spent one morning pressing his fine cotton shirts and carrying linen up to his room to be packed.
While Polly and Katie were gossiping she reached under his pillow and took out the handkerchief containing the pressed violet and placed it between two shirts in his trunk.
They had not spoken in the last day or two. In fact he had often set her a task and left her to it while he went to see the rest of the gardening staff to leave his instructions with them. She reasoned that it must be because he trusted her now and thought her capable of being left to complete his wishes without constant supervision, but that still did not make her feel better. She knew he was angry with her.
He had estimated that he would be gone for a month and as the day of his departure dawned, to Violet that seemed like forever. The staff gathered in the courtyard as his trunks were placed on the carriage and his mother ensured that he was tucked up with a smart tartan travelling rug, even though it was a perfectly warm September day. He caught sight of Violet before the carriage turned and sped off down the long tree-lined driveway. She gazed up at him and the sad smile he gave her melted her heart.
She tried to have a stern talk with herself and tell herself that it was plainly madness to have feelings for someone who would never, or could never return them. Her common sense self emphasised that she was a scullery maid with no money or connections who would never rise above servant status no matter how she strived. She looked down at her drab, threadbare clothes and remembered the bright gowns and sparkling jewels she had seen on the night of the ball. Stupid girl, she scolded herself, given the choice between that and this, she looked down at her scuffed black shoes, which would David rather have?
She should be grateful for what she had got – she told herself – and stop wishing for the moon. In fact she resolved to listen to her father’s tales of the poor dejected factory workers tomorrow when she visited, that would be guaranteed to make her feel better about her lot. Things could be a lot, lot worse.
Tomorrow, of course was Sunday and Violet realised that she was to keep her promise of walking out with Edgar after church. She tried to feel cheerful about this. If David was to be married, then maybe she would be too.
Edgar turned up on time with a posy of flowers for her. She unkindly wondered which part of the gardens he’d taken them from, and she could see her father thinking the same. He shamed them both when he told her that he’d bought them from the village with a large part of his weekly wage. He was wearing his rough corduroy trousers but had made an effort with a clean shirt and a bright red neckerchief. He had even managed to tame his unruly blond hair with the help of some water.
Violet had never been walking with a young man before and she wondered what the correct form was. He held out his arm as they set off down the lane, so she took it politely, trying not to hold on too tightly, even over the rutted tracks.
She asked him about his job, how he was enjoying it and she did tell him something of the plans that David had for the gardens. He, however, seemed anxious to forget work on this rare half day off and tried to bring the conversation round to her. She was reluctant to talk about herself and her plans for the future so she enquired about how his father was faring. This brought about rather a lull in the conversation. He was honest with her.
“He is in a bad way” he said “Especially after losing his job. My mother died some years ago and I think that was what started him with the drinking. It just got worse and worse. I have to support us all now” he fell silent for a few paces.
“That’s very commendable” Violet said encouragingly. “Do you have brothers and sisters?”
“Just my brother, Jimmy” he said “He is hoping to get a job soon. I think that Leigh’s the bakers will need a delivery boy in the near future, so I’ve heard anyway.” He looked hopeful.
“Oh yes,” said Violet “I heard that they lost their last one!”
“He thought he could get better wages in the mill, but I don’t think he realised how hard it would be.”
“I’m sure Jimmy would work hard”
“Oh he would!” said Edgar “I’d rather see him working nearby though. Keep an eye on him”
“Hmmm” said Violet absently. She was wondering what David was doing, whether he had arrived in safely.
“Sorry if I’m boring you” Edgar said noticing her faraway look.
“Oh no!” she protested “You really aren’t. I’m sorry, I was miles away”
They carried on walking along until they reached the village. The sun was shining now making the wet roofs sparkle lighting up the High Street with colour. They strolled past the shop windows looking at all the things that they couldn’t afford.
This just made Violet feel worse. It was the place that David’s sisters avoided because it wasn’t fashionable enough, but to Violet the clothes and fabrics and fine knitted garments were beyond her wildest dreams.
“Don’t you wish that you were rich?” she asked Edgar as they stood in front of the impressive display.
“I used to when I was little” he confessed “I imagined that I was presumed an orphan, taken in by my parents, then one day my real parents – Royalty - would come and rescue me and restore me to my rightful inheritance!”
“Then I grew up” he continued “and now I’m more realistic. I know what my prospects are and as long as I have a roof over my head, food on the table and clothes on my back then I have reason to be happy.”
She looked at him closely, he seemed genuine enough. He had always been cheerful whenever she had seen him.
“That is a good attitude to have, I wish I could feel that way.” she said
“Why do you fight against the way things are?” he asked her “It can only lead to unhappiness and dissatisfaction for you. You can’t change anything. It is just the way of the world.”
“Things can change and it is people who can change them, history tells us that!”
“Well, I don’t know much about history, but I know how things work round here.”
“Doesn’t it make you mad that some people have so much more than they need and others don’t have enough to keep body and soul together?”
“Of course, there are injustices everywhere. It says in the bible “the poor are always with us”
“But we should fight injustice!” she exclaimed
“Violet the revolutionary!” he teased “You are a little too dangerous for me!”
They both laughed and continued with their conversation, sticking to safer topics all the way home. He gossiped about the gardeners he worked with and their family problems. She told him a little about Agnes and the way she seemed to have a vendetta against her.
“Ah yes, her mother was the same. It was rumoured that she was a witch!”
Violet giggled despite herself.
“Does she have any other family?” she asked him
“Yes, she has a brother, Anthony. He is every bit the discontent as she is. He works at the tannery in the town, but he never stays in one job for long. He’s known as a troublemaker.”
“Like his sister then?” Violet reflected.
He took leave of her at the gate to the cottage and bowed politely. He asked if he could see her again and she thought for a moment.
“Are you sure that you want to be seen with such a dangerous woman?”
“Oh I’ll take my chances” he replied before walking back down the tracks whistling to himself.
Her mother was waiting for her as she opened the front door.
“Well, how did it go?” she asked eagerly
“It was alright”
“Only alright? I think that he has taken quite a shine to you!”
“Well, it was very pleasant, then” she smiled as her father rolled his eyes.
“I just hope that he doesn’t follow in his father’s footsteps” he commented
“Oh no!” said Violet quickly “He is a hard worker and very devoted to his family!”
She was surprised to find herself defending him.
“Well he does work hard that much is true” her father conceded. “He is proving to be a keen gardener.”
“You should ask him to stay for tea next time” her mother urged.
“What makes you think there will be a next time?” Violet laughed before busying herself setting the table for their meal.