Copyright © 2021 Robert Loney
The Distracted Gardener
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The Distracted Gardener

An excerpt from Chapter 8

Meeting the Duke

Diana has spent the night recovering in the Duke's home. She is his guest at breakfast in the company of Spencer and his sister. The Duke offers to see her home and she is waiting for him....

   Finding the idleness intolerable, she got out a handkerchief and started dusting the intricate ironwork on the staircase balustrade. She had just gotten nicely absorbed in the task when she sensed someone behind her. Turning, she let out a gasp and nearly fell backward.
   'Easy,' said Spencer. 'I didn't mean to startle you.'
   Diana glared at him like a frightened deer.
   'You needn't bother with that,' he continued. 'One of the staff can do it.'
   'I am one of the staff,' said Diana, frozen.
   'Oh, well. Do what you think best. Was the Duke not going to walk you home?'
   'He was,' she replied, descending the steps. 'I'm still waiting for him.'
   'You are feeling quite recovered, are you?'
   'Well enough to be bored. I'd like to be home.'
   She started to amble toward the North Entrance Hall.
   'I should see what's holding him up,' his nephew
replied, keeping in step. 'That was a nasty cut you had. Fortunately it was entirely inside the hairline. It won't have any cosmetic effect.'
   'You're remarkably observant,' said Diana, surprised.
   'Well, I did keep a cloth on it until the bleeding stopped. I know precisely where it was.'
   'I suppose I should thank you,' she replied, a bit of sauce returning to her tone.
   'I could hardly have done otherwise. I'm sorry you fell into the hands of those fiends.'
   'They're friends of yours?'
   'Oh, no. I didn't know any of them. The hunt master was from Bakewell. Those cads were friends of his son. I'm surprised you didn't know them. It seemed half of Bakewell knew who you were when we came through.'
   'They must be from the other half.'
   'They were plenty scared at what they'd done. I don't think we should tell them you recovered.'
   'I don't want the opportunity to tell them.'
   'I hope we can have you back again sometime, when it's not an emergency.'
   'I'm often in the house.'
   'I mean as a guest. For dinner or some formal occasion.'
   Diana let out a somewhat exasperated sigh. 'It was considerate of you to let on we've never met,' she said after a pause.
   'Let on?'
   'You pretended at breakfast that this was our first meeting.'
   'I met you yesterday in the field,' he replied, his countenance all bewilderment, 'but that hardly counts. Did you think we had met before?'
   'You know we did.' She stopped walking and stared hard at him.
   'Where did you think this meeting occurred?'
   'In the garden,' she said emphatically.
   'This garden?' He made a motion of his hand toward the back of the house.
   'I've frequented no other. And then we met in the park later in the summer. You were begging me for forgiveness.'
   'Forgiveness? What terrible thing had I done?'
   'You know what happened. How can you play innocent?'
   'I regret whatever happened as it obviously disturbs you. Are you sure it was me?'
   'Of course it was you! You have me wondering which one of us got hit on the head.'
   'You did. There's no doubt of that.'
   'No,' she replied, rubbing the lump. 'My memories are quite clear though.'
   'You were unconscious for several hours, they tell me.'
   'If we haven't met, how did I know your name before we were introduced?'
   'You must have heard it somewhere. I've occasionally gotten a bump on the noggin myself. I always check my mental status afterward by trying to recall a few facts that should be common knowledge.'
   'Such as?'
   'Such as... What's the capital of Tibet?'
   'I don't know.'
   'Or, in what year was Atilla the Hun born?'
   'I've forgotten that too.'
   'Or, how many illegitimate grandchildren did George III have?'
   Diana rubbed her abused head with concern. 'Are you sure those are common knowledge?'
   'I don't mean to worry you,' replied Spencer, his voice overflowing with compassion. 'You've hardly had time to recover. And I've never had a blow to the head like that.'
   The Duke precluded further consideration of the matter by finally appearing. 'Diana, I'm sorry to keep you waiting. Primping a bit too much, I guess. I hope Spencer has kept you entertained.'
   'I wish I could have done better,' said his nephew, radiating congeniality.
   'Will you join us, Cav?' asked the Duke, pulling on his gloves. 'I think it may take two of us to match charms with our honoured guest.' Diana looked troubled at the suggestion.
   'I think I'll decline. I hope she'll condescend to visit us again though - without being carried here unconscious.'
   'It's a sure way of getting me here,' Diana replied.
   'Well, let's make the most of getting you home conscious,' said the Duke. 'Shall we go?'
   Diana and the Duke stepped outside into a three-sided courtyard, the centrepiece of which was a large weeping ash tree. Fraxinus excelsior 'Pendula', by the way. Fraxinus excelsior is the species name for the European ash. 'Pendula' denotes the weeping cultivar.
   'What was that you called your nephew?' Diana asked. 'Something besides Spencer.'
   'Oh, Cav. It's a nickname. I don't know who started it. It's taken from his last name.'
   'What's his last name?'
   'Oh, of course. I might have guessed that.'
   The Duke smiled. He paused at the ash. 'I guess this tree's going to make it. I've been worried about it. We went to so much trouble getting it here all the way from Derby. It's filling out nicely.'
   'It was put there before I was born, sir.'
   'It was?! Can it be that long?'
   'Mm-hm. It's been around as long as I have. My father told me about moving it.'
   'Dear me. I'm giving away my antiquity. I guess it should be well established.'
   'At least, I remember it always being there. I'm not inclined to trust my memory just now though.'
   'Oh? I'd trust it ahead of mine.'
   'Do you know what the capital of Tibet is?'
   'Lhasa,' replied the Duke promptly. Then he laughed. 'It's the seat of the Dalai Lama.'
   'Why do you ask?'
   'I was just wondering.
   They began to stroll along an avenue lined with tulip trees (Liriodendron tulipifera). Interesting to see the tulip tree this far north in England. It was one of the earliest trees introduced from North America, arriving from Virginia in 1650. A member of the Magnolia family, it will grow to 190 feet in its native range. It has never done so well in England where you can expect it to reach only about 80 feet. Even so, the orange flowers often occur too high to be observed without field glasses. They have solved the problem at Chatsworth by pruning the trees hard every other year and keeping them down to a height where you can easily see the 'tulips'.
   'Could I ask you something else?' said Diana.
   'If your questions are no tougher than that, you can ask me whatever you like.'
   'Your last name is Cavendish.'
   'True. Although I could almost forget it; I'm generally known as Devonshire.'
   'And isn't it true that you have no brothers, just sisters?'
   'Correct again.'
   'If you're Spencer's great-uncle, then he must be descended from one of your sisters.'
   'He is.'
   'Then how does he come by your name?'
   'Although I have no brothers, I have male first cousins named Cavendish. One of them had a son who is Spencer's father.'
   'That makes Spencer your first cousin twice removed.'
   'Through his father. But one of my sisters had a daughter who married Spencer's father, her own second cousin. So I'm great-uncle to Spencer through his mother.'
   'Oh-h-h,' replied Diana, enlightened. 'You're the 6th Duke of Devonshire,' she continued pensively. 'Who will be the 7th?'
   'Spencer's father. You look troubled, Diana.'
   'I'm just thinking.... Does Spencer have brothers?'
   'He has two younger. Spencer is the oldest in the family.'
   'So he'll eventually be Duke.'
   'Eventually. That should be a long way off.'
   'But this entire estate will belong to him.'
   'Yes. And so will Hardwick Hall, and Bolton Abbey in Yorkshire, Holker Hall in Lancashire, and Lismore Castle in Ireland. And there are properties in London - Devonshire House, Chiswick House. Some two hundred thousand acres altogether. Spencer's quite a competent young fellow. It's satisfying to know everything will be in good hands.'
   The Duke might have added that those properties generated an annual income in excess of one hundred thousand pounds.


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