Harriet tied ribbons of the frilled-edged pinafore around her waist and frowned as she caught a glimpse of her reflection in the attic window. The outfit was prissy and much too childish for a fourteen-year-old.

Down on the land, she could see her brothers’ scythes cutting and glimmering in the sunlight, purple fronds tumbled to the ground ready for filling large baskets at the end of each row. And how she longed to work alongside them. 

She remembered her mother’s past words. “That’s not for girls.” Eliza always protested whenever Harriet asked to work outside. “I need your help pouring lavender honey into pots and sewing fragranced bags. When you’re older I’ll teach you how to make candles.”

Harriet’s heart sank to think about doing such dainty work, but knew her mother fretted about the upkeep of ‘Greenleigh’ since her father had died two years ago in the Great War. Eliza needed help with many of the lighter chores, as well as heavy tasks that the boys could manage, being older and stronger.

Lost in thought, she was suddenly aware of Abel signalling to her, his checked neckerchief blowing in the breeze. Opening the window, she felt the warmth and breathed in the fresh heady perfume as she waved back. “I’ll come down.”

Tom tucked a bundle of stems under his arm, smiled broadly just like their father, and bellowed up to her. “We’ll just pack another basket, Harri’, and then we’ll bring the last of the lavender around.”

“Harriet’s her name, not Harri’,” Eliza chided, directing an indignant stare at him as she led their horse and cart into the courtyard. She then secured purple and green brimming baskets inside it. Harriet stifled a giggle and climbed up on the front seat, kicking her petticoats out of the way as she did so.

Selecting sprigs of lavender, Eliza tucked a few in her straw bonnet, turned around and threaded the rest around Harriet’s boater.

“You’re more charming than any painting,” Abel teased, facing his sister before straightening her hat. “There that’s better,” he grinned. Harriet poked her tongue out; Abel’s sense of humour was so annoying. He knew she was most comfortable wearing plain clothes, but her pinafore and decorative hat helped sell their wares and they needed every farthing.

“Don’t forget to check the beehives whilst we’re away, lads,” Eliza reminded her sons, and Tom saluted his mother cheekily as the lavender cart rolled towards town.

Mother and daughter pulled their shawls around their shoulders as Nutmeg clip-clopped, pulling their cart over cobbles into Merryton marketplace. Harriet felt joyful hearing other traders’ friendly voices.

“Morning, Mam.” Jed tipped his cap at them as he stood behind his fruit and vegetables stall beside theirs. “You come from the village south of town, don’t you?”

“We do,” answered Eliza, tethering and then patting the horse’s nose. “There, there, Nutmeg.”

“Only – I think there’s something you should know.” He shouted across whilst buffing apples with a rag until they shone like red silk, and then hesitated; Harriet guessed something was amiss.

Eliza wiped her brow with the back of her hand. “I’ll just set up and then I’ll come over to see you. I won’t be long.”

Harriet busied herself tilting the baskets in the cart. “That’s it, Harriet. The customers will get a better view of the lavender now.”

“Don’t worry, I’ll finish setting everything up, Mama. I’ll stack the honey pots on the barrow next.”

“It’s lovely having you with me. You’re a real delight to behold in your lavender maiden pinny and hat, even more beautiful than the queen.” Eliza smoothed her daughter’s hand, and then swishing her skirt over the pavement, she walked across to Jed.

Harriet had hoped it was going to be a good day but was soon proved wrong. Eliza and Jed talked; he loved to blather but judging by her mother’s countenance it wasn’t light conversation. Her earlier sparkling eyes were now jaded and dark.


Eliza’s complexion was the colour of pale stone. She lightly flicked Nutmeg’s reins, the cart clattered along the lane and through ‘Greenleigh’s gateway into the courtyard. Usually, Harriet enjoyed the swaying motion at the end of the day, but her mother seemed bothered and even high market sales hadn’t lifted her spirits. It was a relief to be home with her brothers – maybe they could cheer their mother up.

As they halted, Harriet could see them working, they made a grand team. Abel held a fence post in place, Tom wielded a mallet above it and pounded it into the ground. She jumped down from her seat, eyes meeting theirs, and shrugged.

“I didn’t realise it was that time of day,” Tom said coming over to them, pushing his cap to the back of his head.

Abel strolled tall behind. “Judging by the empty baskets, you’ve had a successful day,” but seeing Eliza’s sadness, his forehead crinkled into worry lines. Harriet knew, being the eldest sibling, Abel felt responsible for them all, even though he was only sixteen-years-old.  “Up and away!” He hoisted the wicker containers from the cart and passed them to Tom who shifted them across packed mud to the barn.

“Here you are.” Harriet jiggled a lumpy calico bag for them all to see. With the coins chinking inside, she passed it to Eliza, who rested it in the crook of her arm and lifted a trug of cherries from the cart. “We did well today and all need a little treat. There’ll be cherry pie for dessert as a big thank you for all of your hard work.” She smiled with her lips, but not with her eyes.

Harriet watched as her mother turned and bustled into the cottage to hide their takings behind a loose brick in the kitchen. As soon as Eliza was out of view, she considered it safe to talk. “What ails her, do you think?” She beckoned the two brothers into the barn, but before either had time to reply, Eliza was back outside and strutting towards the fields.

“It’s strange, seeing as you sold so much today. “Tom brushed purple dust from his breeches after balancing baskets against the wall.

From the window, they could see Eliza wading frantically through lavender and Harriet was worried.

Abel started layering lavender stems on planks to dry out, “I wonder what she’s doing out there? Usually, she cooks supper straight away after being out all day.”

Harriet sighed and packed unsold candles and lavender bags into a wooden crate. “Mama’s been subdued all day. Not been the same since talking to Jed at market this morning. I tried to find out what it was all about, but she said, ‘not to be a busybody.’”  Harriet’s finger fidgeted with a small tear in her skirt. Thinking about her mother’s unusually irritated tone brought a lump to her throat.

It didn’t seem that Eliza’s mood was going to lighten. The sky darkened behind her as she worked her way along the lavender clumps and knelt to trim stems. Shaking her head, she stood up and marched towards the barn, where Harriet, Abel and Tom met her on the path.

“It’s bad news. This here, is diseased,” she thrust the tainted lavender towards them. “Jed told me this morning about a lavender farmer only a mile away and his plants destroyed by Shab. The fungal spores blow in the wind and there are signs of it here.” Pointing at the stalks, she ran her finger over small black specks. “In truth, we really cannot afford to lose any of our plants.” Harriet was miserable hearing the concern in Eliza’s voice.

Abel moved closer. “Shab?” he repeated, as he took some fronds and examined them. “Both flowers and leaves seem fine, but the stems are going black,” he scratched his head.

Eventually, the leaves will wilt, and in time, the whole lot will die.” Eliza patted the boys’ shoulders in turn and put her arm around Harriet.

Wiping her eyes with a linen handkerchief, Harriet asked. “How will we get rid of this Shab?” It was a troublesome thought having their precious lavender in jeopardy.

Tom walked away shaking his head. He turned around and stared at them. “But what can we do?” he implored, wide-eyed.

“There’s only one thing,” Eliza said quietly, lips trembling. “And it’s bad, I’m afraid.”


The cockerel heralded daybreak. The family built a fire, soon it blazed and roared, its flames curling towards the sky. Chinks of virgin sunlight illuminated the ground where Harriet, Abel and Tom tore shrub after shrub spoiled by Shab from the soil and piled them in a wheelbarrow.

Eliza stood guard over the fire. “Take care,” she advised, flapping smoke away from her red-rimmed eyes, and Harriet realised, it wasn’t only the black haze making them water.

Gusts of red and orange burst forth; she could feel the heat’s intensity as plants flared. The smell was an intoxicating mixture of sweet scent and scorching woodiness, and demoralising with every batch thrown in.

“The name Harri’ really suits you,” Tom teased, coming over and pinching the knee fabric of Harriet’s breeches as she stood back and rested. “Remember when they fitted me? They are twice over hand-me-downs now” he chuckled, trying to lighten the situation.

Eliza glanced over. “If only your father could see you today, you look like an all-boy brood. Although, he would be proud of the three of you whatever you wore.” She stood up straight, shaking ash from her skirt.

Noticing the weariness etched in lines around her eyes, Harriet ran over, encircled arms around Eliza’s waist and rested her head against the cotton twill bodice, comforted by her mother’s heartbeat. “I think Papa would be proud of you as well.” And Harriet felt the pressure of Eliza’s lips on her hair.

“I pray so,” she replied, raising her eyes to heaven. Gently, she disengaged herself from Harriet. “There’s still work to be done.”

“Come on, there are another twelve rows. It would be great to finish before dark,” Abel said, chivvying them along.

Harriet knew everyone was trying to put on a brave front. “Come on Tom – Abel. I’ll give you a race,” she challenged.

“That’s not very lady-like,” Eliza appealed, but her words faded on the breeze, as the three charged off.


Harriet chalked prices on slate beside honey pots on their barrow the following market day. She could hear Jed on the next stall down. “Best pears in town!” He hollered to folk approaching the stall as he juggled fruit.

Admiring his pluck, Harriet wondered what her family could do to increase their sales. “Will the rest of our lavender be safe from Shab now?” She queried cagily and sat beside her mother on the cart’s steps. Eliza handed her a hunk of bread and cheese and responded, “I pray so, child. ‘Tis a crying shame we had to burn half of our crop. Thank goodness that small copse running betwixt the fields protected what’s left. But whatever happens, we need to tighten our purse strings more than ever. Last winter, we barely had enough money to last us through. This year will be worse. There’s a small stock-pile of candles and honey, a few lavender bags, but there’s only so much people will buy using dried produce.”

After breakfast, Eliza bunched posies and Harriet trimmed lengths of twine for tying them together. “It’s lucky we’ve had a sunny summer,” Harriet said pensively, and passed cut strands to Eliza.

A shadow fell across the flowers. “Oh hello. Sorry, Jed, I didn’t see you there,” Eliza greeted him warmly.

“Only just got ‘ere,” he replied, picking up a small lavender spray. “I’ll have one of these, it’s my missus’s birthday today. She’ll be over the moon, and it’ll help keep the moths away.”

Eliza wrapped the lavender spears in brown paper, tied them with a sky-blue ribbon and handed them over. “I hope she likes them, and how are you today?”

“So, so. You know how it is. What about you two?” He turned around and softly tweaked Harriet’s nose between the knuckles of his index and middle finger. “Stole your nose,” he joked, showing his thumb pressed up in between them.

“Oh Jed, I’m too old for that carry on.” She smiled sweetly and side-stepped out of his way.

“All’s well thanks” Eliza said, flipping her handkerchief at a fly.

“Why don’t I believe you?” He cocked his head to one side and raised an eyebrow. “Come on, you can tell your dear Uncle Jed. I’ve been watching your sad faces all morning.”

“‘Tis that lavender disease that you told me about last week. It struck our smallholding and we had to burn hundreds of sick shrubs.” Eliza counted change into his hand.

“Sorry to hear that,” he said looking thoughtful as he straightened his waistcoat and dropped coins into its pocket. “By my reckonin’, you need more income from the plants you ‘ave left. Is that right?”

“I suppose so,” Eliza answered with a bewildered expression. “But how’s that going to happen?”

“Leave it to me. I might know someone who can help, but you’ll have to take charge of my stall. I won’t be long,” he called over his shoulder as he strode across the street and disappeared amongst a rowdy crowd in the ‘Green Man Inn’, where songs and laughter rang out.

Eliza and Harriet peered at each other dubiously, but true to his word, Jed returned, even if it was two hours later. Red-cheeked, beaming, much louder, and with a monk trailing behind him.

From folds in his long brown robes, the monk proffered a hand and took Eliza’s between his two when she came forward. “Brother Gregory.” He introduced himself, as Jed manned his stall again. “So, your lavender has been ruined by Shab.”

Eliza’s eyes glistened; she bobbed her head in agreement. “We only have one field left this summer and need to replant cuttings for future years.”

“I notice you sell honey and candles here.” Brother Gregory reeled a beeswax taper back and forth. “All from your own bees?”

“My sons and I take turns to mind our hives. And Harriet here, helps me.” Eliza nodded towards her.

Harriet wondered where Brother Gregory’s conversation was leading, but trying not to appear nosey, she stacked farthings into columns on the barrow top. He walked around to stocked baskets in the cart behind and squeezed below some petals, then smelt his fingertips as he tilted his chin positively. “It’s an essence with depth,” he said knowledgeably.

Harriet tried to make out what her Mother and Brother Gregory decided, but their last words were drowned out by Jed’s din, fuelled by ale supped earlier. “Spuds – come on – buy the last of ‘em. All ‘arf-price.”

Harriet could hear Jed’s sales patter and nothing else, as Brother Gregory ended the meeting with her mother, shook her hand and inclined his head in farewell.


The lamp’s flame flickered across the room. Rosy-cheeked, Eliza ladled steaming broth into bowls, as the two boys came in late after helping on a neighbour’s farm.  

“What’s up with you, Harri’? You’re acting fair ‘Mad as Hops.’” Sitting down, Tom’s voice boomed across the table, where Harriet fidgeted on her chair and was excited for her mother to relay their news.

Eliza laid down the ladle and passed them a full bowl each. Then she told them about Brother Gregory and his monastery’s plans for ‘Greenleigh’s’ lavender. “Hence, we make deliveries to the monastery after harvesting. The monks will prepare and extract oil from the lavender, then it’ll be mixed with beeswax and other ingredients.”

Abel cut chunks of rye bread and piled it on a platter. “But why have they given us such a generous price?”

“It seems the oil from our lavender is really rich compared to what they’ve used in the past. It’s stronger and will go further.” Eliza straightened her blouse and squared her shoulders.

Harriet couldn’t keep quiet any longer. “They use lavender oil and beeswax to make ointment that cleans and heals wounds in their hospitals. Can you believe it?” she said incredulously.

“But what about the Shab problem?” Tom enquired. “What if it hasn’t gone. I mean, we think we are rid of it…” His voice ebbed away.

“The monks are educated. So long as the unhealthy shrubs were burnt, Brother Gregory’s sure that our remaining plants will be safe.” Eliza sat down and joined her family eating contentedly for the first time in months.

Downing the last mouthful, Harriet clattered her spoon down on the table. “I’m so happy,” she exclaimed, pulling her pinafore off with a flourish and dangled it on a wall hook ready for next market day.