Monday, September 24, 2007

Poetry Train Monday - 20 - Gardener Story Excerpt

Now that I've got all of my WIP's transferred over from my creaky little turtle of an old computer, I'd like to share an excerpt from one of my historicals.

This story takes place in several locations. It starts off in 1840's England, then follows my two main characters across the sea to Van Dieman's Land (now Tasmania.) This scene takes place about a third of the way into the story.

Robbie Flynn is an under gardener on a country house estate in Cheltenham, England. He plans to serve his apprenticeship under well-respected gardeners until he can be the head gardener or even a landscape designer. His attempts to warn new laundrymaid Helen Slaunwhite about the son of their employer have fallen on deaf ears. I've modelled Robbie on Ewan McGregor.

Helen has recently escaped a harsh life of poverty in the slums. Her time as a laundrymaid feels more like a life of ease in comparison. The master's handsome son makes her feel special, and Robbie's warnings about him just make her dislike the gardener. I've modelled Helen on Kerri Russell.

We pick up the story as it takes a violent turn. Zachary, the master's son has seduced Helen in the conservatory. Robbie attempts to diffuse the situation, but it all goes horribly wrong. The two men fight.


Chase bucked to free himself. Robbie saw a flash of steel and knew he couldn’t move to deflect it. Then he heard a smash and felt Chase go limp beneath him.

Hands too strong to be Helen’s wrenched Robbie off of Chase. A stout boot clipped him in the ribs.

“Mr. Chase, sir! Good God.”

Robbie fought to catch his breath. He was wet. Why was he wet? The hallboy took hold of Helen as Morrison saw to Chase.

“Don’t you touch her!” Robbie cried.

He struggled to his knees, only to get the butler’s Indian army walking stick across the face. He crumpled on the wet marble, head spinning, chin burning.

“Mind the glass,” Morrison cautioned as it crunched underfoot. “Let’s get him upright.” The crisp instructions of the former sergeant of the 13th Regiment inspired swift obedience even from the young master. He sat with help. More moans from the wanker.

“Don’t try to speak, sir. Your face is a bloody mess.”

Robbie got back to his knees and sat on his heels. No one moved to clobber him just yet. Now he could see what made such a wreck of Chase’s once-fine features. The glass fishbowl that once sat on the table lay in shards on the floor. The goldfish lay still amid a stretch of tiny pebbles and sodden water plants.

Helen stood as still as the little fish. The hallboy held her but she gave him no trouble. She had sealed her fate and Robbie's.

The gash oozed deeply across Chase’s forehead, leading down through his right brow. Robbie and Helen would be up before the Quarter Sessions in short order. The sessions over which retired Brigadier-General Chase, their master, presided. The young master's face was such a gruesome mess it actually made Robbie shudder to see it.

Morrison and the footman settled Chase on the very sofa where that bastard had wrought Helen’s ruination only an hour ago. As foul as that face was now and would be for the remainder of Chase’s days, Robbie knew it would never pay for the tears shed by all the maids whom that pratt had used in here. At least Robbie had given Helen justice of some sort.

Now they would both have to face the wrath of the brigadier-general, whose steps could be heard closing in on the conservatory. Robbie shut his eyes, bowed his head and took a deep breath.

He could do no more for Helen now. He could only face this ordeal with all the character he could muster. Perhaps that would give Helen the courage to do the same.


Helen kept her gaze on Robbie as she heard the master approaching. Her chest flushed with cold, fear stopping the breath in her lungs. Robbie still knelt in the wet from the fish bowl. She hoped there were no shards near him that he didn’t see.

Robbie raised his head as the master entered the room. The older Mr. Chase strode over to his son, tipped the younger man’s face forward and had a look at it. Mr. Morrison stepped close and the two men spoke quietly. Then both looked over at Robbie.

The butler motioned to the hallboy holding Helen. “Ask Mrs. Kamala to send for the doctor,” he ordered. The boy let Helen go and dashed off. Helen longed to join Robbie but knew she mustn’t move.

Young Mr. Chase moaned. He seemed in shock. His cut face must feel unbearable.

Just then Mr. Morrison and the master moved towards Robbie with practised ease. They’d served together in India. Their familiarity made them seem to move as one. Before Helen could blink, the butler yanked Robbie to his feet. Old Mr. Chase stood over Robbie by several inches, staring almost calmly into the gardener’s eyes.
Robbie met that gaze defiantly.

“Your handiwork, is it, Flynn?” the master asked in a strangely off-hand manner.

“Your son has wronged many, sir,” Robbie said.

The master looked back at his son. If only Mrs. Kamala would come, Helen thought. It couldn’t be good for the young master to bleed like that.

Old Mr. Chase turned back to Robbie. “Who is the judge of whom?” the master asked. He struck Robbie over and over, coldly and efficiently as Morrison held the gardener in place. Helen surged forward, then checked herself. Tears welled and words tripped over the sobs in her throat.

Finally Robbie hung in Morrison’s grasp. Yet he had barely cried out. The master turned then to look at Helen. That’s when Mrs. Kamala and Bernadette quietly entered the conservatory to see to young Mr. Chase.

How Helen would miss Bernadette. She’d been so kind. The maid stole a glance at Helen just then. Her eyes were shaded with the horror of it all.

Then the master was before Helen. She too looked up into his face as Robbie had done. What she saw was as unexpected as it was unnerving. There was shame in the master’s eyes.

“I trust you’d been warned about him,” he said plainly. Helen saw a string of faces in her mind’s eye – Bernadette, Lucy, Mrs. Tattersoll, Robbie. All had tried to warn her. She’d listened to none of them. Helen nodded, then hung her head.

“You will be out of here in the morning,” Mr. Chase said. Helen felt dizzy. But she nodded.

The master turned and Helen suddenly found her voice. “Please,sir,” she dared.

He stopped.

“What will happen to Robbie, sir?”

“He shall go to gaol to begin with. When the Quarter Sessions begin, we shall see.” Helen darted forward, grabbing at his jacket sleeve.

“Please, sir, you don’t understand!” The master shrugged her off. “It weren’t him, sir! Please, you mustn’t!”

“No Helen!” Robbie called out. Helen shook. But they must know.

“They were fightin’," she said in a rush. "And the young master pulled his pocketknife. He were goin’ to cut Robbie or - or stab him.”

“Sir, she’s just – she’s just trying to…” Robbie blurted out.

“Silence!” the master barked.

Young Mr. Chase protested Mrs. Kamala’s ministrations from the sofa. Helen couldn’t stop her tears. Old Mr. Chase strode back towards Robbie who tried to take a step back but could only press against the butler.

“Who cut my son?” the master demanded. Robbie opened his mouth but shut it again. “When my son recovers himself, he will tell me in his own words. Which of you cut him?”

Helen’s heart crushed inside her chest. Robbie meant to take the brunt of her wrongdoing on his own shoulders. Why? She’d only meant to stop the young master from hurting Robbie with that knife. Now look what she herself had wrought.

Blood mixed with water and coloured pebbles on the white marble floor. Mrs. Kamala and the maid worked swiftly to stop the bleeding, still waiting for the doctor to arrive. All because Helen wouldn’t listen. Her trembling grew worse, but she must get the words out somehow.

“It weren’t Robbie, sir,” she managed. Tears thickened her voice. The master turned. Helen’s gaze locked with Robbie’s.

He shook his head in disbelief. She thought she saw tears starting in those green eyes.

“The fishbowl – I …” she stammered, feeling the weight of it in her hands again. Feeling the water slop over the rim. She looked down and saw the wet splattered over her skirt.

The master took hold of her, dragging her across the floor to the sofa. Mrs. Kamala and Bernadette leaned out of the way, giving her a clear view of the slick red mess of Zachary Chase. Dazed blue eyes looked up at her. How she'd waited through the busy work hours for those eyes to look into hers. Now he seemed a hellish fiend.

“You have made him a monstrosity,” the master growled in her ear. Then he flung Helen to the hard floor. She slid in the wet.

The doctor entered the conservatory, followed moments later by the town constable who arrived with several other men. Helen twisted round and sought Robbie’s gaze once again. The master strode forward. As the way cleared she saw Robbie already looking at her.

His green eyes were charged with anguish. His gaze asked her ‘Why? Why?’ from across the room.

The constable closed in on Robbie. The other men reached for Helen, pulling her roughly to her feet and yanking her arms before her. Helen didn’t look away as Robbie received the same treatment as she. The constable put iron shackles on the gardener’s hands as Helen felt the weight upon her own.

Every last moment her gaze sought Robbie as if she were swept away in a torrent and his image was the last handhold between herself and oblivion.

The pull of his green-eyed gaze pierced through the tumult of their arrest. His gaze never left hers.

Too late, she knew he loved her.

Copyright 2007 Julia Smith