Authors: Jane Jackson
|The Chain Garden|
|Robert Hale (2012)|
THE CHAIN GARDEN
A novel by Jane Jackson
Published by Accent Press Ltd – 2012
Copyright © 2012 by Jane Jackson
The right of Jane Jackson to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
The story contained within this book is a work of fiction. Names and characters are the product of the author’s imagination and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be copied, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, electrostatic, magnetic tape, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the written permission of the publishers: Xcite Books, Suite 11769, 2nd Floor, 145-157 St John Street, London EC1V 4PY
Other titles by Jane Jackson
Grace flicked hopefully through the envelopes arranged on a silver tray. Glimpsing foreign stamps and her brother’s familiar scrawl her heart leapt as she seized it.
She sped up the wide staircase and along the galleried landing to her mother’s room.
Propped against lace-edged pillows fragrant with lavender Louise Damerel, lily-pale in frilled peach gauze, was sipping tea.
Grace held up the envelope. ‘At last, Mama. A letter from Bryce.’
Thrusting the cup at her daughter Louise held out a fragile hand. ‘Quick, give it to me. Dear Lord, I’ve been so worried.’
Moving a water glass and three enamelled pillboxes Grace set the cup on the bedside cabinet, then sat at the foot of the big bed and smoothed faint creases from her long skirt.
‘They did warn us about the primitive postal system,’ she reminded gently.
‘Yes, but it’s been five months.
I know they’re grown men and very busy. But they are still my sons. If you had children you would understand.’
Grace looked down at the tight cuffs of her cotton blouse pretending to re-fasten a pearl button.
If you had children.
Oh how she wished… But she was three years from thirty and didn’t even have a gentleman caller.
Zoe attracted admirers like jam attracts wasps. Seven years older and lacking her sister’s beauty and sparkling talent she did not. But resenting Zoe would have been as foolish as resenting a shooting star.
For a while she had cherished hope. Occasionally she had been sought out. Her heart opening like a flower in sunshine when her callers brought flowers and accepted with gratifying enthusiasm her shyly offered invitations to tea. The painful and mortifying realisation that she was simply a route to Zoe had eroded then demolished her self-esteem.
Granny Hester had shown neither surprise nor sympathy. ‘Look at you. Men like to see a young woman in pretty dresses that show off her figure, not plain skirts and mannish blouses. Fair hair and grey eyes are no help either, unless you
to be invisible. You should learn from your sister, make a bit of effort. Zoe knows how to flatter men and make them laugh. No wonder everyone loves her.’ Shaking her head in disgust as Grace’s lack of such basic accomplishments she had retired upstairs to her sitting room.
Patting her hand her mother had confessed relief. ‘Darling, I’m so sorry you’ve been hurt. I know it’s dreadfully selfish of me but I’d hate to lose you. I don’t know how I would manage. You take such wonderful care of me.’
After the last time three years ago, and to spare herself further pain, Grace had buried her dreams of a husband and children of her own. Instead, burdened with guilt because her difficult birth was the cause of her mother’s fragility, she channelled all her energy into running the house and taking care of her mother, helping at the school and chapel and doing charity work in the village. In this busy demanding life she had rediscovered a sense of worth.
Then Reverend Peters died. A few weeks later, after consultations between the chapel elders and the circuit superintendent, a new minister was appointed. Within days the whole village buzzed with the news that the Reverend Edwin Philpotts had left mission work in India to return to his native Cornwall.
He had been standing in the vestibule with Mrs Nancholas, the chapel organist, when Grace arrived for her turn on the cleaning rota. Tall and thin, with straight brown hair that flopped over his forehead, he had a sallow complexion and dark shadows of strain beneath his eyes. Deep creases bracketed his mouth.
‘Ah, Reverend,’ Mrs Nancholas beamed. ‘This here is Grace. Miss Damerel, I should say. I dunno what we’d do without her and that’s a fact.’
He turned. As the soft brown gaze met hers Grace’s heart leapt into her throat and she averted her eyes. But courtesy demanded she offer her hand. His grip was warm and firm and her entire body tingled.
‘It’s a pleasure to meet you, Miss Damerel.’
‘How do you do? Will you excuse me?’ Hot from her toes to the roots of her hair Grace had fled down the aisle to the back room where she leaned against the door, breathless and trembling.
She watched her mother fumble with the envelope. Edwin Philpotts had been in the village three months one week and five days. Every time Grace saw him she was torn between hope and terror. His duties and her voluntary work brought them together often enough for her to recognise his innate kindness. So even if he guessed her feelings he would not mock or patronise. But the thought that he might pity her: that she could not bear.
Her gaze shifted to the pale walls, the subtly shaded Chinese carpet and elegant French-style furniture. This had been the Damerel family home since her great-grandfather inherited it from a distant relative who had been the last of his line. This pretty
room perfectly reflected her mother’s taste: the gathered voile that could be released from silk tassels to filter strong summer sunlight behind drapes of rose brocade; the quilted satin bedcover.
Zoe’s had the same air of femininity. On her rare visits home the frilled counterpane was swiftly hidden beneath carelessly tossed silk gowns and lace-trimmed petticoats. The walnut dressing table was strewn with combs and brushes, little pots of cream, perfume bottles and scattered jewellery.
If bedrooms reflected their occupants’ personalities hers said
neat and dull.
If she left things lying about it wouldn’t look feminine, merely untidy. Anyway, her nature craved order. Besides, except to sleep and change her clothes, she spent very little time there. It was different for her mother.
The room’s subtle fragrance reminded her of summer tasks to come: making up tiny bags of fresh lavender for the linen cupboard. Stripping pounds of the tiny flower heads from their stalks so they could be distilled with quarts of water over a slow fire to make the lavender water her mother depended on to soothe her nerves and help her sleep.
Unfolding the letter Louise scanned the contents. One delicate hand flew to her throat as joy lit her face. ‘Oh good heavens!’
‘What is it, Mama?’
‘They are on their way home. Grace, they’re coming home!’
‘Do they say when they expect to arrive?’
Louise frowned. ‘May the fourteenth.’
Grace caught her breath. ‘What? That’s today. Are you sure?’
Louise thrust the letter at her. ‘See for yourself.’
Grace scanned the bold black writing, wishing she could linger over descriptions of mountain and jungle scenery, illness made light of, plant specimens discovered and seeds so carefully collected. There it was, May 14
. Her gaze flew to the date at the top. March 5
‘Bryce wrote this nine weeks ago. He probably thought he was giving us plenty of warning.’
Louise started to push the bedclothes aside. ‘I must–’
‘You must stay exactly where you are,’ Grace said gently, pulling the covers up again. ‘You haven’t finished your tea.’
‘Where’s your father? Has he gone?’
Grace stood up. ‘I think so. He mentioned an important meeting at the mine, so I expect ...’ Her mother wasn’t listening.
‘My tea, Grace.’ She took the cup Grace offered. ‘I can’t wait to see my dear boys again. When do you think they’ll arrive?’
‘Not before late afternoon I should think. It will depend on the times of the trains from London. Then they still have to make the carriage drive from Truro station.’
‘But that only gives you a few hours–’
‘Don’t worry, Mama. We’ll manage.’ Grace mentally crossed her fingers.
‘I can’t possibly lie here when there’s so much to do,’ Louise fretted. ‘Oh, I do wish Zoe could be here. It’s so long since we were all together.’
‘Perhaps she’ll come later in the year. Once she knows the twins are home she’s sure to want to see them.’
‘You’re right. It’s just…time is passing so quickly. Sometimes I worry that–’
‘No, Mama. No more worrying,’ Grace said, quiet but firm. ‘The twins will want to hear all the news. So you just relax and try to remember everything that’s happened since you last wrote to them. While Violet runs your bath Kate can air their bedrooms.’
She hurried along the open landing and down the stairs, reaching the hall as her father was about to leave. Through the open front door Grace glimpsed Will, the groom, turning the gig on the drive while Patrick, who combined the roles of butler and valet, handed her father his bowler hat.
‘Papa, Mother’s had a letter from Bryce. They are on their way home.’ Pleasure and anticipation bubbled inside her. ‘All being well they should be here later this afternoon.’ Surely this would cheer him up? His moods these past few months had set the entire household on edge.
‘Are they now?’ His florid face had been shaved shiny except for the bushy silver-streaked moustache obscuring his upper lip. Only the top button of his dark suit was fastened, the lower ones open to reveal the gold watch chain inherited from his father looped across his waistcoat. His bull-like neck was confined in a stiff wing collar and maroon tie.
‘That will certainly please your mother. But you’ll have to watch her or she’ll get herself into a state long before they arrive.’
‘It’s all right, Papa. I’ve persuaded her to stay in bed a while longer. Kate can start on the bedrooms and if she needs help Violet will lend a hand.’
‘Has your grandmother been told?’
Grace shook her head. ‘Not yet.’ Her fingers tightened on the polished banister rail. ‘It won’t be easy for her. She’s grown used to there being only four of us.’
‘Well, she’ll just have to make the best of it.’ He was curt. ‘Don’t let her upset your mother.’
Grace bit her lip. That was more easily said than done. ‘Mary Prideaux is coming over after lunch. Mama always enjoys her company.’
Henry Damerel set the bowler hat on his close-cropped silver head. ‘You’ll see to everything?’
Don’t I always?
The words remained unspoken. ‘Of course.’ She smiled hopefully. ‘Might you get home before they arrive?’
Her father’s heavy features darkened. ‘For God’s sake, Grace, what does it matter? Why should they care? Most sons would have wanted to follow in their father’s footsteps and build their future on the successes of the past. But mine preferred to be gardeners.’
‘Oh, hardly, Papa.’
‘What else would you call it then?’ Thrusting his chin forward he fingered his tie. ‘I daresay I’ll see them at dinner. I must go. Some of us have work to do.’
After three years he was still angry.
But beneath the anger Grace recognised his deep hurt at the twins’ rejection of everything he held dear.
The news that Master Bryce and Master Richard were coming home spread swiftly through the servants’ quarters to the gardens and stables.
Despite Grace’s reassurance, the short notice caused uproar. Yet she could not regret the letter’s delay. Had it arrived a week ago her mother would be prostrate with nervous exhaustion by now.
As shutters were unlocked and windows opened, Grace gave thanks for the glorious weather. It had rained almost every day from November until mid-April. During those long wet months the view from the house had been one of bare boughs and sepia tones. But at long last the clouds had parted, the sun’s warmth worked its magic, and in the space of a few brief weeks spring had painted the Cornish countryside with vibrant colour.
Fetching sheets from the linen cupboard, and lifting from the chest blankest faintly perfumed with the cedar balls that kept moths away, Grace paused to look out of Richard’s bedroom window.
Beside the front lawn emerald with new growth, a flowering cherry was heavy with dense clusters of pale pink blossom. What beauty to welcome the twins home. She loved spring even though it made her heart ache. Everything was so bright and new and full of promise.
While Kate swept, dusted and polished, Grace walked down the lower drive beneath the pale green shade of tall beech trees to consult head gardener, Jack Hooper.
Tall double doors painted dark green were set in the high brick wall between the boiler house and the open-fronted pot shed where the apprentice stood at a trough washing pots and stacking them on the shelves in rows according to size.
‘Good morning, Billy.’
‘Morning, Miss.’ The boy raised a dripping hand, wrinkling his freckled nose as water splashed his face. Like all the garden staff he wore thick trousers, a waistcoat over his shirt and tie, and heavy boots. But instead of the flat cap worn by Jack, Ben and Arthur, Billy had a shapeless brown felt hat with a narrow, drooping and very grubby brim.
Grace walked through the open doorway into the fertile warmth and colour of the kitchen garden. The south-facing border between wall and path was sown with early dwarf peas and beans, beetroot, endive, chicory and radishes. Behind them, trained against the warm red brick, were apple and peach trees and a bushy tomato plant.
On the lower side of the path stood the glass-house. Ahead of her ran a gravel walkway wide enough for a horse and cart, spanned at each end by iron arches. The nearest supported a riot of purple clematis and winter jasmine. At the far end the other arch was hidden beneath pale pink clematis entwined with a blood red rambling rose.
A small lavender hedge separated bushes of red and white currants and gooseberries from the rows of vegetable crops. Beyond the vegetables was a six-foot-wide border of flowers. Behind patches of red and white double-daisies, yellow pansies and cushions of anthemis nestling in silvery green foliage were banks of scarlet, cream and yellow tulips and stands of purple bearded irises that would fill vases in the dining and drawing rooms.
There was, Grace knew, an even wider selection of colours and blooms in the chain garden at the back of the house. But the chain garden was her mother’s domain and she guarded it jealously, refusing to relinquish a single flower. Jack and Ben had quickly learned that, despite their mistress’s sweet smile and gentle voice, on this matter she was adamant.
Hearing the clop of hooves and the crunch of wooden wheels on the gravel she glanced round. Ben, Jack’s twenty-six-year-old son, came through the arch leading a brown cob hauling a cartload of manure.