Wednesday, 14 April 2021

The Crispin Chronicles 1 Her Ladyship’s Garden

 

                                                                by Dawn Knox

tea (are there any scones?)

 

Mr Willetts pressed his ear to Her Ladyship’s library door–his eyes screwed up tightly as he struggled to listen to the murmur of voices coming from within. His neck had become stiff from the strange position he’d assumed but he was determined to ignore the pain and to find out what his mistress and Mr Po Lin, her Gardener, were talking about. It was an affront to Mr Willetts’ dignity that the lowly Gardener was allowed in for a discussion while he, Her Ladyship’s butler, was excluded with no idea of the topic of conversation.

Such meetings took place frequently–usually after Her Ladyship had returned from a trip, but the wooden, library door was so thick, all sounds coming from the enormous, book-lined room were muffled and indistinct. On one embarrassing occasion, he’d pushed his ear so hard against the door, the latch had given way and he’d stumbled sideways into the library and tripped over the cat. He didn’t think Her Ladyship had believed he’d come over dizzy in the passage and had keeled over. She’d merely remarked he’d made a miraculous recovery in managing to leap to his feet and aim a kick at the cat.

Nothing more had been said by Her Ladyship about his dizzy spell and the subsequent sideways ingress into the library, since then, Mr Po Lin had always bowed politely with a serene, if inscrutable smile on his face whenever the two men met.

Too obsequious by far, Mr Willetts thought and reminded himself he was the butler of the Old Priory and therefore in charge of the house. Mr Po Lin was merely a Gardener. He tried not to dwell on the fact the Garden in question was actually an entire estate.

I am his senior, Mr Willetts reminded himself.

Nevertheless, he’d have been happier if he could find out what was going on and why he wasn’t involved.

 

Her Ladyship could hear the scuffling of her butler’s feet outside the door and knew when she left the library, she would see the mark of an ear on the polished wood. It amused her greatly that Mr Willetts was so desperate to learn what business she had with the Gardener, that he was now waiting outside the study, with his ear pressed to the door. Mr Po Lin also seemed to be aware the butler was eavesdropping and both he and Her Ladyship kept their voices low and just in case the butler’s hearing was more acute than they realised, they were careful not to let slip any clues.

Finally, their business was concluded and as the Gardener was about to leave the library with the latest brown paper-wrapped parcel under his arm, Her Ladyship rang for Mr Willetts on the pretext of discussing her diary for the rest of the week but actually, to prevent him from snooping any further. Not surprisingly, it took the butler seconds to enter the door and he glared at the Gardener as he left.

Her Ladyship took an unnecessarily long time to open her diary and find the correct week, then to check and recheck dates and times. When she judged Mr Po Lin could no longer be seen from any of the windows of the Old Priory, she sent Mr Willetts to the kitchen to bring her tea and scones and crept down the stairs after him, to hear Cook explode.

 

“Scones?” Cook shrieked, “I haven’t got any scones. It’s Wednesday. Jam tart day. Monday’s scone day. You’ll have to take jam tarts up.”

Mr Willetts grumbled and insisted it was his head on the block and that Cook ought to be better organised. It was scones or nothing.

“Then it’s nothing!” There was the sound of pots being slammed down on the range.

Her Ladyship crept back upstairs to the study and sat at the desk. Shortly after, Mr Willetts knocked at the door and entered with a tray on which he’d placed an ornate teapot, matching sugar bowl, milk jug, cup and saucer. And jam tarts.

“Thank you, Willetts,” she said, pretending not to notice the lack of scones, “please tell Cook I’ll be down shortly for a kitchen inspection.”

Her Ladyship smiled.

Mr Willetts smirked.

She knew he would enjoy delivering that message because there was nothing that enraged Cook more than a kitchen inspection. It was most diverting. And Her Ladyship was often in need of distraction. For all the dates and times she’d discussed with Willetts, the truth was, she didn’t have a great deal to do. She looked longingly out of the library window at her Garden. How wonderful it would have been to walk over the lawns and admire the flowers but severe allergies meant the closest she got to her Garden was to admire it from the windows of the Old Priory and to listen to Mr Po Lin’s reports. But she remained involved in the running of the grounds by ensuring that whenever she went travelling in her ancient Morris Minor, she brought back a Garden Ornament carefully wrapped in brown paper. She never saw the final resting place of each piece because she left that to her Gardener, but it made her feel part of the process.

She tried to escape in the Morris Minor as often as possible–or as often as she could give Roger, the chauffeur, the slip. On each return, he made it perfectly clear it was his job to drive and that he didn’t approve of Her Ladyship helping herself to the car, but she didn’t take any notice. It was actually most diverting and worth stealing away in the Morris Minor just to watch Roger in the rear-view mirror waving his arms. She paid her staff twice the going rate so it seemed fair they provide her with a certain amount of entertainment periodically.

Mr Po Lin, would by now, have reached the Gazebo and would be unwrapping her latest acquisition. It was a sturdy Garden Gnome with his hands on his hips in a ‘Do as I say and do it now!’ sort of attitude, and she knew the trusted Gardener would place it in the perfect position.

 

Mr Po Lin unwrapped the tough-looking Gnome and placed it in the shafts of afternoon light, on his table. He was certainly a handsome fellow with his rosy cheeks, twinkling eyes and no-nonsense attitude. The Gardener turned the figure around and surveyed him from all angles–he had a perfect position in mind for the Gnome who, he was sure, was going to leave his mark on the Garden and its Ornaments. But what should he be called?

Mr Po Lin tilted his head to one side and rubbed his chin. Bartrum. Yes, that would be his name. Having completed one of the most important parts of the procedure, Mr Po Lin drained the last of his tea and picked up the newly-named Gnome. Bartrum would be placed in the position the Gardener had selected and then he would return to his cottage and allow the magic to begin.

 

The following day, the Wooden Robin opened one wooden eye and peered at his clock. How, you may ask, does a wooden eyelid open and more interestingly, how does a wooden eye see? Well, obviously, it has something to do with the wooden eye being connected to a wooden brain–assuming the Wooden Robin has a brain, of course. Or it may possibly be because the Wooden Robin lives in Her Ladyship’s Garden where the unbelievable is the norm.

The Wooden Robin doesn’t lose sleep over complicated questions such as how he can see with wooden eyes, walk on wooden legs nor why his socks always slide down and gather around his wooden ankles. He always sleeps like a log and he usually dreams of soaring amongst the clouds on wooden wings. From high in the sky he looks down on Her Ladyship’s mansion, surrounded by acres of Garden and he often spots Mr Po Lin, the Gardener, mowing the lawn. After a few aerobatic manoeuvres, he swoops downwards and skims over the top of the woods catching sight of his reflection in the lake. Spiralling ever closer to earth, he makes out the Gnomes, Elves, Animals and other assorted Ornaments who live together in the Garden. He calls out and they look up at him and wave because–by and large, they’re a cheery bunch–and they’re all his friends.

This is one of the Wooden Robin’s recurring dreams. However, this particular dream will never come true because he can’t fly–and that’s probably a good thing because he also has a fear of heights.

The clattering of the alarm broke into his reverie and brought him back to earth with a bump. Today was the day he’d volunteered to deliver the post for Deano, the Post Kangaroo, who wanted the day off to visit relatives. Clambering out of bed, the Wooden Robin selected a bib from his drawer which he tied around his neck, then checked the front doorstep for the postbag Deano said he’d leave there.

Over breakfast, the Wooden Robin looked through the letters he had to deliver. One of them puzzled him. It was addressed to someone called Bartrum. He didn’t know a Garden Ornament with such a name but he wasn’t perturbed–after all, new Ornaments appeared all the time and before long, it was as if they’d always been there.

 

Not far away, Bartrum awoke, yawned and stretched. He had the sense of having done the same thing before in this bed, yet the memory only seemed half-formed. With a start, he realised there was someone else in the bed with him and then immediately, he knew it was Mrs Bartrum, his wife. It was strange he had no recollection of being married, nor, indeed, anything beyond the previous evening; nonetheless, he seemed to have a history.

“Good morning, dear,” said Mrs Bartrum, “whose turn is it to make tea?”

“Mine, I think,” Bartrum said although he couldn’t remember ever having shared a pot of tea with her before.

Bartrum was amazed he knew the way to the kitchen and where everything was. He paused to consider while the water boiled, recalling the previous evening when realisation that not only was he in the grounds of a beautiful country estate but also that he was actually alive, had come instantly, as if someone had switched on a light. After that, he had made his way to the home he didn’t know he owned and had gone to bed. He had no recollection of where he had originally come from, and was only aware that in the Garden he had an identity that was more of a blank canvas than an oil painting and instinctively, Bartrum knew it was up to him to paint something really quickly.

If the past seemed rather indistinct to Bartrum, the future and its possibilities appeared to be very clear. He was destined to be in charge. And no one would stand in his way. He stood with hands on hips as he watched the steam puff out of the kettle.

 

With a slice of toast between in his beak and Deano’s postbag slung around his body the Wooden Robin hurried out of his house, stopping at the gate to pull up his socks. Without hesitation, he turned left towards the Bartrum residence. He couldn’t quite remember who Bartrum and his wife, Mrs Bartrum, were, nor did he remember having been to their house before, but for some reason he had the idea they were important and he would deliver a letter to them first. When the Wooden Robin knocked on the door, a large, robust Gnome opened it and looked at him, echoing the surprise that he felt. If there were such a thing as déjà vu in reverse, this was it. Not that the Wooden Robin had ever heard of ‘déjà vu’, he simply had the feeling that although initially, he had no recollection of Bartrum or his house, the more he thought about it, the more his memories came into being and appeared to have been there all along. How else could he have known that this was Bartrum and that he was important, nor where he lived?

 

Bartrum, too, was perplexed, this Wooden Robin with a green bib around its neck held out a letter to him and enquired about his wife and son.

Son?

So, he had a son?

Well, yes of course he did! Now he thought about it, memories of young Wilmslow flooded back and having been reminded of yet another aspect of his life, everything became much clearer.

And suddenly he realised he must also be acquainted with the Wooden Robin with his drooping socks and green bib. Instantly, he knew, as if he’d always known, that the Wooden Robin was a delightful, if rather simple, colour-blind bird who had once bought a job-lot of bibs, believing they were all red. Sadly, they weren’t and occasionally he put the wrong one on. Bartrum remarked upon it and the Wooden Robin winced, realising he’d made an error, then with the last yank at his socks, he waved cheerio and set off to deliver the rest of the post.

How strange, thought Bartrum, the more he rummaged through the emptiness of his memory, the more crowded it seemed to become. He carried the letter into the kitchen and after he’d shared a pot of tea with his wife, he realised the canvas of his life had a few splodges on it and pictures were beginning to take shape. Bartrum knew it wouldn’t be long before it was a beautiful painting. He would see to that.

About the author 

Dawn’s two previous books in the ‘Chronicles Chronicles’ series are ‘The Basilwade Chronicles’ and ‘The Macaroon Chronicles’ both published by Chapeltown Publishing.

You can follow her here on https://dawnknox.com
on Twitter: https://twitter.com/SunriseCalls
Amazon Author: http://mybook.to/DawnKnox

 

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