Ben clutched the bottle of Sarah’s damson jam and made his way along the path.
“It’s no good your slouching around the place like this,” Sarah had said, her apron stained purple. “Take one of these along to the big house and ask Cook if you can give it to Jenny, as a present from me.”
Ben had been desperate to see Jenny again, and he looked into Sarah’s eyes like a grateful puppy. He owed his life to Sarah and Joe -particularly Sarah, who had concocted the plan of his living with the Callows. She was always buffering any problems between him and her husband, and he’d never in his life eaten such wonderful food.
“Go quickly while Joe’s in the wash house. I’ll keep some supper hot for you.”
Now Ben hurried along beside the high stone wall. The garden door was standing open, and it seemed to beckon to him. He stepped inside.
Before him, a patchwork of bright flowers and vegetables spread out like a perfectly designed quilt. Along the south side, arched branches of fruit trees fanned against the stone wall, a collection of cold frames lining the east side. Rising up like a cathedral overlooking it all, a glasshouse glittered in the last of the day’s sunlight.
Ben breathed in the sweet scents, so different from the fields. After the squalor of the city, working in the fresh air with Joe had felt miraculous. But this was another world altogether. He gazed at the abundant beds where flowers and vegetables grew in perfect harmony, and it enveloped him in a peace so complete he felt weightless.
He stooped to touch the petals of a chrysanthemum. When he was a little boy, his mother had brought home a flower in a pot. She’d let Ben water it, and he remembered loving the job and watching the buds blossoming. He and Mum had stood together, her face close to his as they marvelled at the splash of colour in the dismal room.
Then his father had smashed it to the floor in one of his drunken rages . . .
“You, there! What do you think you’re doing!” An angry voice behind him made Ben leap up, whirling round to meet the craggy face of Mr Mott.
“I’m not doing anything,” Ben stammered.
The gardener stared, his glare softening.
“Tommy . . . !” he whispered. His hands began to tremble but he squared his shoulders. “This is private property, boy. What do you want?”
“I’m here to deliver something.” Ben stopped as his eye caught a shaft of sun on the glasshouse. Branches dripping with blossom reached to the roof and he felt his throat catch with the wonder of it.
“To the big house? You’d best get on, then,” Mr Mott said.
Ben tore his gaze from the glasshouse and stumbled as he turned toward the garden door. The bottle slipped from his hand, fell on to the soft earth and rolled toward Mr Mott, who stooped to pick it up.