The next morning David was up early and out in his gardens. He did not want to bump into George at breakfast; he could not bear to speak to him right now.
He was, however anxious to bump into Violet. For a start he wanted to apologise for the behaviour of his cousin the night before. He walked through the Chinese garden and saw Mr Dean, her father. He was surveying the ground where David had decided they should have a fountain. It had been Violet’s idea, of course, but he was anxious to get it completed. He knew that she had loved the idea of a huge fountain, taller than the buildings around it.
“Good morning Mr Dean” he called.
“Ah, good morning, sir!” he replied “Nice to see you back.”
Thank-you” David replied cheerfully “It is nice to be back. How are the plans for the water spout coming along?”
“I have the lads measuring out the ground, today.” He replied “I think we can begin to dig out some trenches for the brick work.”
“Splendid” David beamed. “Tell me, do you think we should have a larger pool?”
“I am not sure sir,” he said “If you want to have fish or pond plants in there, it may need to be bigger.”
“Yes, that is a good idea. I was thinking of maybe getting some of the rarer lilies and trying them here, as it will be a sheltered spot.”
Mr Dean looked sadly at him “Violet would like that” he said quietly “Her sister was called Lily.”
“You have another daughter?”
“Did have, sir. She died when she was only three. Violet doted on her. She was the one who cared for her as her mother became ill after the birth. She took her everywhere with her. My poor wife has never been the same since.”
“I’m sorry, I had no idea. What happened to her?” he asked gently
“It was diphtheria; nothing could be done for her. She had been playing with some of the children in the Mill House and they all got it. Only Lily did not survive though.”
David looked at him sadly and then seeing his distress, thanked him for his work so far and resolved to go back to his plans and revise them to include a bigger pool. He had decided exactly how he wanted it now.
He went round his hothouses systematically, looking for Violet but he could not find her anywhere, not even in her favourite Orangery. Not that he could blame her for avoiding that now after the horrible incident the night before.
He assumed that she was still up at the house completing her kitchen duties before being allowed time for her work on the gardens. He was trying to think of a way that he could persuade his father that he needed her on his garden team full-time. He was not sure if it was a good time to ask his father anything, as he did not seem to be particularly pleased with his only son right now.
He knew what it was that would make him happy. He thought that maybe he should marry Caroline, keep his family happy and then he would have the money and time to peruse his interests close to his heart, with Violet at his side. Perhaps that would be the best solution all round.
As he rounded the corner of the smallest of the hothouses he saw someone in the distance sitting in the pagoda. He set off at a pace across the lawns and got there before Violet had chance to escape him.
“Violet!” he said as she turned towards him in alarm. He looked at her closely. “Have you been crying?”
“No” she lied, turning her back on him.
“Come and sit down again” he urged “I have something I need to say.”
She let herself be led, as he took her arm and sat down beside her on the bench.
“I need to say how sorry I am for the awful behaviour of my cousin. I was mortified when I saw what he was doing.”
Violet looked embarrassed and could not meet his eyes.
“What he did was unforgivable; I really do not know what came over him.”
She looked at him defiantly “Why is he not apologising, himself?” she asked
“He really has not been himself these last few months.” He confided to her “Since his father’s death he has been acting very out of character.”
“So that excuses him?” she asked
“No, no, of course not! I will be having a word with him later. If he is to remain a guest here he must treat everyone with respect.”
Violet smiled at him.
“Not everyone has the same attitude as you, especially towards servants and the lower classes.”
He smiled too. “I know. The world is not a very fair place, sometimes.”
“So why are you so different to others of your class?” she asked him
He laughed “I don’t really know.” He gave it some thought “I see people as people, there are good ones and bad ones, whatever class you mix with.”
“That’s true” she replied “and no one is all bad or all good. There is good and bad in all of us.”
“Anyway, I could ask you the same question.” he looked at her “why are you so different?”
“Just because I am a servant and poor does not mean to say I do not have a brain. I know I haven’t had the advantages of your education, but I have always learnt all I can in any way. My father has been my inspiration.”
He nodded as she spoke. She continued:
“and now I am lucky enough to be learning from you.”
He flushed with pleasure as she smiled at him again.
“Violet,” he said “I will not let anyone show you such disrespect again!”
They gazed at each other for a while until she broke the tension “So tell me, how was your trip?”
“Oh, it was fine.” She looked at him as he spoke trying to see if she could tell if he was withholding any particular news from her
“I became very well acquainted with their head gardener and I have had another idea for The Grange.”
She laughed as he obviously had found this part of his vacation the most exciting
“Tell me all about it” she said with shining eyes.
He did not need any more encouragement as he launched into a long story about how the Head gardener at the Fitzroy’s had previously worked for a Glaswegian merchant where he had been commissioned to build an ornate Fernery in their grounds.
“It was a most amazing structure! Do you know how they devised a method to keep it cool?”
“I can’t imagine” she humoured him, smiling.
“It was built underground!” he waited for her reaction.
“Ah I see,” she replied “I take it the glass part of the construction was above ground?”
“Exactly!” he enthused “I see you can surmise how it works. They built the brick construction in a deep trench and the glass and wrought iron rose into the sky directly from the ground level. He showed me a drawing of it!”
“Well, I see how a building like that would be able to house huge tree ferns, if you build it tall enough. On your next voyages you could bring larger specimens back!”
“I see you are of the same mind as me” he beamed at her. Then he reflected for a moment before declaring “I have missed you, Violet.”
They sat in silence for a while and Violet suddenly became aware that his leg was resting lightly against hers as they shared the bench seat. She felt hot and her heart was beating faster and faster. She convinced herself that it was purely accidental as he waved his arms about, busy describing the lofty ferns he intended to bring back with him. She discreetly edged along the bench a little to give her heart rate time to recover. He equally discreetly moved along closer to her until they were touching again. She could feel the warmth of his thigh through the thin material of her worn woollen skirt. Her breath was coming in short pants now and she gazed at him as he continued his tale, as if oblivious to the effect he was having on her.
“He told me that this rich merchant had a fern in there that was over eight hundred years old.”
“Where did it come from?” she asked in amazement, trying to hide her growing confusion.
“The colony of ” he replied “I think I will have to plan a voyage there in the future. Once we have our Fernery built.
She felt happy that he said “our Fernery”
“I have not been idle while you have been away.” She informed him proudly.
“Of course, I have neglected to ask you about the cases!”
“Did your father not tell you over dinner?”
“Oh no! he was more concerned with the surprise visit of George, I think they were all expecting someone else.”
“I heard that ,” she replied “Anyway, I have overseen the completion of six of your cases. They are waiting for you in the Conservatory.”
He stood up suddenly “I had no idea! Let’s go and look at them now.” he urged
“Are you sure I am allowed in the Conservatory?”
“Of course” he replied “You are responsible for them!”
They walked happily over the grass chatting in the late sunshine as they headed for the house.
“I have had some ideas concerning Wardian cases” she told him shyly
“Really? Do tell me”
“If they were made smaller with more intricate designs they would make wonderful indoor plant holders, for people to keep exotic plants indoors. I think that they could be made from wrought iron and glass, a lighter construction if they are not required to withstand rough passages across seas. I have been drawing some designs for you to see.”
He looked at her in admiration. She was always thinking and planning, just like him.
“I would love to see them.” He said “But first, show me your cases!”
They went up the front steps of the house and met George coming down in his riding attire.
“Good morning, David!” he greeted him cheerfully, pointedly ignoring Violet.
“Good morning George” David replied “Violet is going to show me the cases that we’ve had made for my next expedition. Do you want to come and see them?”
“Maybe later, old boy!” he carried on walking “I am going to clear the cobwebs away with a hard ride across your pastures!”
David looked angry but Violet was relieved. She did not want anyone there to spoil her moment when she showed David the wonderful cases.
They walked down the hall, through the ballroom and into the Conservatory. There was no one else around.
“Oh my goodness!” he exclaimed as he saw them for the first time.
He looked at Violet “They are beautiful!” She flushed with pleasure.
He circled round each one taking in all the details, from every angle. She followed him, pointing out tiny details and explaining how they were constructed and what small modifications had to be made as they took shape.
He nodded with each point and finally said “You have done a fantastic job”
He couldn’t help himself, he was so happy with them and with her that he put his arm on hers and whispered “Thank-you”
She put her hand over his and as they smiled at each other “It was a pleasure” she replied
A voice behind them made them jump. He looked round to see his father coming over to them. He let go of Violet as he reached them.
“Hello father, you didn’t tell me about these!” he pointed at the cases.
“Violet,” Lord Dearing said “Would you go back to the kitchen? I wish to speak to my son.”
Violet bowed and turned to go out of the door. David watched her as she went, stricken that she could not continue to look over his prize possessions.
When she was gone Lord Dearing turned to his son.
“What was going on in here, just then?” he demanded
“Violet was showing me how the cases had been made. She has done a wonderful job.”
“Well, I don’t think she made them herself.” he dismissed David’s admiration with the tone of his voice.
“Why were you touching her as I came in?”
David was flustered as he tried to explain that he was just thanking her for what she had done while he was away.
This obsession with a scullery maid is unseemly” he said sternly “she is blinding you to your proper place in society and your duties!”
David sighed, he knew what was coming.
“She is not worthy of coming between you and your cousin. George told me what happened last night. He cannot believe the way you spoke to him.”
“He was making advances to her!” David leapt to her defence “He has no right to interfere with my staff.”
“My staff, David” his father reminded him “I am not dead yet!”
David looked contrite as he looked at his father’s tired face.
“I am sorry father, but I won’t have your staff treated like that. We have always been fair with our employees.”
“You cannot continue spending all you time in the company of a maid though” his father insisted “It is not appropriate and I have only been tolerant so far because she had a hand in saving your life.”
David tried to protest
“No David! You have gone too far. You need to decide what direction your life is to take now to ensure the future of your family and The Grange. George told me that he advised you to marry Caroline, but I understand that you did not even broach the subject while you were in ? Maybe if we got rid of Violet it might help you concentrate. She has you bewitched!”
“You can’t get rid of her!”
“I can and I will if this continues!” his father was raising his voice now. “There is a family over in the next market town that is looking for a maid. They would take her. She could still see her family on Sundays.”
David sat down, his head in his hands.
“Very well” he said after a few minutes “I will do as you wish. I will ask Caroline to marry me.”
His father looked relieved “but you have to let me keep Violet. She is an integral part of my future plans for the estate.”
“Well,” his father reflected “if that is all right with your new wife when she gets here, then we can keep her.”
David could see that it was the best he was going to get out of his father right now.
“We will invite her to come to stay, with her parents, so we can formally announce the engagement while they are here. How about Christmas? That would be ideal”
David nodded, he couldn’t bring himself to speak.
“Great, I will go and tell your mother.”
He left David alone with his thoughts. He could only manage one thought. The way Violet’s hand had felt on his.