He had not forgotten about afternoon tea, so earlier that morning, had placed a table on the West Wing Terrace. He had then retreated for a while to a sheltered observation point. This allowed him to indulge in his favourite past-time, posh-people watching. Standing in this secluded spot with his tool in hand, he watched as the ladies walked out onto the terrace.
He remembered Cordelia well from the last gathering, but again, he would not be wearing a shirt today. Too hot for that. She would be displeased, but she was not his employer. He didn’t think he would ever be able to like that woman.
Next came quiet, shy Sarah. Wife of the local vicar. A marriage yet to be consummated, if he was a betting man. Still she was sweet and charming in her own way. He imagined she would be quite a handsome woman if she was to make more of an effort, but as a vicar’s wife, he assumed, the plain look came with the position.
Then Lady Carstairs appeared, a woman in her prime. Confident, handsome and looking far younger than her forty four years. She had outlived two titled husbands. Rumour in the village was that it was her voracious appetite in the bedroom that had widowed her. ‘Chance would be a fine thing’ he thought.
He made his way to some trees that needed pruning, directly in their line of sight.
The ladies were quick to arrange themselves with a view of the garden, leaving Lady Chatterbox seated with her back to it. With her back to him!
Lady Carstairs was the first to speak, as usual. “Certainly a big improvement on the last time darling. Your gardener has an extraordinary talent for it.” She had not taken her eyes off him since entering the garden.
“Yes, there is still much to be done, but he’s out here everyday…” “And topless again I see!” Cordelia exclaimed. “It’s quite unsightly.”
“You do talk nonsense” retorted Lady Carstairs. “It must be almost ninety degrees. You can’t expect a man to do hard labour in this heat, wearing a shirt and tie.”
“A gentleman would” and with that Cordelia took an eclair and bit into it savagely. As she chewed, she glanced at him again. The thoughts that filled her head were what really offended her. How she longed for him.
“I think a man should be comfortable in his work” were the words softly spoken by Sarah. “Well said darling”, said Lady Carstairs, louder than she should have. Sarah’s breathing became a little erratic, she quickly took her eyes off the rugged gardener, hoping no-one had seen her.
As they sat eating cakes and drinking tea, Lady Carstairs watched him as he pruned a tree. A strong boy that one. Handsome too, very much so. The things she would like to do with him. She lent forward, then without really thinking, she spoke, “I want your gardener!”
Lady Chatterbox almost choked on a mouthful of tea, but managed to restrain herself “I’m sorry Cordelia?” Lady Carstairs continued, “One day a week. Say ….. Thursday? My garden could do with a little attention before the party season starts. Not too much, just a some light pruning. It would only be for a few weeks or so” Lady Chatterbox wasn’t sure how to respond. She didn’t own him, but then again, she was his employer. Lady Carstairs continued, “I’ll happily pay you darling, he is your man, after all.”
She hated being placed on the spot, “I’m sure Thursday’s will be fine, if it’s not too many”. Lady Carstairs smiled, nodded in an agreeing way, then continued to sip her tea. Sarah and Cordelia feigned shock, but secretly maintained envy. “He will need to bring his tool, unless he can prune a bush with his teeth” They all smiled and that seemed to break the tension.
Only a few yards away, he had heard that statement quite clearly. Smiling to himself, he continued to prune.