“Are you quite comfortable, my Lady?” asked Spratt as he settled a cup of herbal tea on the table beside the chair of Lady Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess of Grantham, where she sat in the mid-spring sunshine that shone upon her garden. “It is so very soon after you were so ill with the grippe, after all.”
Lady Violet sniffed. “They now call it the influenza, Spratt. And I assure you that I feel much, much better. Had Doctor Clarkson insisted I spend one more day in bed I am certain that I would have gone quite mad with boredom.
“Although I must admit,” she added, rather reluctantly, “that the medications he prescribed for me have left me with quite odd dreams. I am not certain that I should agree to take them again.”
“I see, my Lady. Is there anything more I can bring you?”
“Perhaps some fruit—if you will ask Cook, please? Thank you—you may go.”
The butler gave a bow and withdrew back into the house.
“You have quite nice manners—for a thief!”
“What?!” Lady Violet cried, looking about her swiftly, uncertain as to where that most rude comment had come from.
A voice that sounded unusually high but still appeared to be male sang, “Attercop! Attercop! Can’t catch me!”
Was there someone truly hiding there under the lilac bushes singing such a crude song? she wondered.
“Nasssty, sneaking thief!” she heard muttered from her left, and with a swift look she saw a slinking creature that appeared to be all but naked disappearing into the herbaceous border.
She straightened in her chair and shivered. She wondered if that madness she’d so lightly mentioned, she’d thought in jest, to Strapp was indeed coming upon her!
At that a curiously small person oddly dressed in garb that in spite of being filthy and tattered once must have been quite rich and expensive ran in front of her. She just had time to notice that his feet, in spite of being bare, appeared to have thick curly hair atop them before someone else appeared out of the forsythias and fled after the first. He, too, was comically short if still markedly taller than the one he followed, but his face in spite of the desperate fright it displayed appeared to be strong featured behind his elaborate beard. And was he wearing leather armor and chain mail? The one who followed him had what appeared to be a battle-axe in his hand and a remarkable club at his belt, while the next carried a sword that blazed blue!
Swift in pursuit came four creatures of such supreme ugliness that she started back in shock, jostling the table and causing tea to splatter over the table’s top.
“What is this?” she cried, watching after them with wide eyes.
Overhead there was a terrible roaring, reminding her of the descriptions of barrages of cannon fire the healing soldiers housed in Downton Abbey during the Great War had described, and a great shadow fell across the lawn, darkening the day.
But then a tall man with the broadest shoulders she’d ever seen in one so slender appeared, a greater bow than she’d known an archer to bend in his hands with a long, black arrow nocked to the string. He fired into the air….
Suddenly all was quiet again, and a merry breeze played amongst the branches of the lilac, the forsythia, and the tulip tree, and apple blossoms borne by it from the orchard fell across her lap and the table, some landing on the spilled tea. Her hand shook as she stretched it to take up her cup. She took a healthy swallow, and looked up to meet Spratt’s eyes as he returned with a small plate with apple slices and grapes from the conservatory upon it.
“Remind me,” she said, lowering the cup carefully to set it upon its saucer, “to tell Richard Clarkson that if he should ever prescribe such medications for me in the future I shall never call upon his services as a physician again!”