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Rated: 13+ · Short Story · Drama · #2321276
Her Grace attacks the finances.
A pair of dirty old gardening gloves.

Her Grace has an Idea

The Duchess of Moretonshire, Her Grace Jane de Saville Burnley Compton-Arden, was worried. Not that a shadow of it marred her usual set expression of determined good humour, but John Baines, the groundsman, detected lately a certain edge to their discussions of the finances of the estate. There was a new desperation evident in her quest to increase the income from their agricultural efforts, as limited as they were by the absence of hands to assist. She pressed him often for his thoughts on profitable new crops that she could handle on her own.

It was the common difficulty facing all the grand old estates, this shortage of money to hire workers to expand farming activities to greater output and prosperity. Her Grace’s singlehanded efforts, assisted by John where and when he could, to produce enough to support the family home and those few servants left to the household, were but a doomed rearguard action against the mounting debts and dues owed by the estate. Bankruptcy loomed.

The irony lay in the fact that John was already aware of a crop that could save them all and could be handled easily by her Grace without outside assistance. The problem was that it was, at least for the moment, illegal. Yes, it seemed that the mood of the country was moving toward legalisation, but it was going to be too late to save them. John fretted away many sleepless nights as he sought another solution, one that did not threaten Her Grace with arrest and humiliation.

Things came to a head on a bright morning in spring during their daily conference by the shed in the vegetable garden. The groundsman thought Her Grace particularly burdened that day and wavered in his resolve not to mention the forbidden possibility.

“There has to be a solution, John,” Her Grace was saying. “It’s not just the estate but everyone on it, the villagers in Ambly, the creditors like Barnsley the butcher and Warburton’s Bakery, all of those hanging on with us in hope. We have to find the crop that we can grow in quantity and gain a decent income.”

“I know, Your Grace. I’m thinking on it daily, all the time.”

There was silence for a time and then Her Grace began, “I think I might have thought of it, John.” She looked at him earnestly, as though she was unsure of how he would respond to her suggestion.

The groundsman regarded her with a look he thought encouraging but could easily have been disapproval. “I’m all ears, Your Grace.”

She pouted like a little girl. “You won’t like it,” she said.

It was time to get it out in the open. “Oh, I wouldn’t say that, Your Grace. It sounds to me as if I already know what you’re thinking of.” He turned away to look at the sunlight bright on the horizon of the gathering dawn. “Been wondering myself how to put it to you, it being, well, frowned upon and all.”

“Oh, John, really? And I’ve been so worried that you’d refuse to be involved. I know I can’t do it on my own. Didn’t even dare to say its name.”

“Ah well, no need to do that, Your Grace. I knew a young lady once and she knew all about it. Her name was Mary Jane, as I recall.”

Her Grace laughed, relief quite evident in her relaxed pose and lack of self consciousness. “That’s wonderful, John. I think we have an understanding.”

John allowed himself the faintest of smiles. “Indeed we do, Your Grace.”

“We’ll have to clear out the greenhouses,” she said, suddenly all business and eagerness to set to. “I’d be grateful if you could clean the glass - the moss is beginning to cover some of the panes and I don’t think I can reach some of the higher ones, even on a ladder.”

“Will do, Your Grace.”

“And the marketing. I don’t know anyone in the business, I’m afraid.”

John scratched his chin in thought. “There’s one or two I know that should be able to help in that way,” he said.

Her Grace was thinking aloud now in her excitement. “The trestle tables will do and then there’s lots of old pots and containers we can use for starters. I’d like to get the sprinkler system going again if I can and I think there’s some bags of potting soil in the shed. We might need to buy a few things but I’m sure we’ve enough to get started. Plenty of tools and, oh…” She stopped in mid flow.

“Seeds, John. Where are we going to get seeds?”

“I’ll handle that, Your Grace.”

“Thank you. You’re a lifesaver.” She seemed about to go and then took a step closer to the groundsman.

“Just one more thing, John. Don’t say a word about this to the Old Duke, please. You know the way he is, a bit set in his ways and stuffy with it. Something like this could give him a heart attack.

“Oh, and no sense mentioning it to the staff either. You know how tongues can wag, especially down in the village and in the Red Lion.”

John passed a finger across his lips in a zipping motion. “My lips are sealed.” He winked conspiratorially.

House Martel

Raven Task # 3 (x5)

Word count: 883
For "Game of Thrones The North Remembers, What’s Her Story Prompt 31
Prompt: Write a story that includes the line “my lips are sealed.”
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