The Beekeeper's Daughter

Free The Beekeeper's Daughter by Santa Montefiore

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Authors: Santa Montefiore
Tags: Fiction, General
armchair, then take a seat on the sofa and cross his legs with a satisfied sigh. He was much too big for that small room. Beside him her father looked like a dwarf. Grace perched at the other end of the sofa as her father sank uneasily into his favourite chair opposite Lady Penselwood.
    ‘So, you’d like to look at the bees, Lord Melville?’ Arthur asked, trying to understand why he suddenly had the honour of their company.
    ‘Not exactly,’ Rufus replied slowly. He glanced at Grace and smiled apologetically. ‘Your daughter told me that bee stings cure arthritis and I happened to mention it at lunch. Grandmama suffers terribly, so I thought . . .’ He looked at his grandmother. ‘Well, she thought, to be more accurate, that she’d like to give it a go.’
    ‘But bee stings are very painful,’ Arthur explained anxiously. ‘Not to mention dangerous. I’ve known people bedridden for a week with swellings.’ Grace remembered Freddie and the fuss he had made, and felt a twinge of guilt.
    ‘It’s a trifle,’ said the Dowager Marchioness stoically. Grace and her father caught each other’s eye.
    Arthur kneaded his hands. ‘I’d hate to be responsible for your discomfort, Lady Penselwood,’ he began. ‘I’m really not sure it’s wise. You might have an allergy, for example.’
    She stared at her gardener imperiously. ‘What did you say?’ she demanded. Arthur raised his voice and repeated his sentence. ‘Nonsense!’ she trilled. ‘I’ve never heard anything so silly. I won’t hold you responsible, young man.’ Grace stifled a giggle. Her father was in his forties. ‘So, where are they, these bees?’
    Grace looked at the old woman’s hands and realized that her arthritis was nothing like the mild stiffness her father suffered. Her fingers resembled the claws of an old crow. They looked very painful, too. She felt a stab of compassion and hoped that the bees would cure her. If they did, Rufus would think very highly of her – but if they didn’t? She felt the sweat collecting in beads on her forehead. Rufus smiled at her encouragingly. ‘Well, let’s go and set the bees on Grandmama!’
    Arthur led them into the sunshine and round to the hives, which were shaded by plane trees and placed in a row along the side of a border thick with bee-loving sedum, angelica and potentilla. Rufus put his hat on and walked slowly with his grandmother leaning heavily on his arm. ‘What a charming little cottage. I’ve never been here before,’ he said. ‘You’ve done wonderful things to your garden.’
    ‘Your father knows every inch of the estate,’ interjected Lady Penselwood stridently. ‘And so should you. It’s your duty, Rufus.’ She said the word duty with emphasis, as if little else mattered in life but that.
    ‘Yes, yes, Grandmama,’ he replied, dismissing her effectively with his weary tone.
    ‘I’d be very surprised if Arthur Hamblin’s garden was anything less than marvellous,’ she continued. ‘He’s the best gardener Walbridge has ever had, and we’ve had a few.’
    ‘Thank you, m’lady,’ said Arthur humbly. ‘You’re much too kind.’
    Rufus grinned. ‘I assure you, Grandmama is not at all kind. If she says you’re a genius, you must be nothing less,’ he said, his voice low enough for his grandmother to miss it. ‘Ah, the hives. Good.’
    Lady Penselwood looked them up and down with an imperious gaze. ‘So, what do I do? Put my hand in?’ she asked.
    ‘No, no, m’lady. I place a bee on your hand and let it sting you,’ Arthur explained. ‘If you’re . . .’
    ‘Good God, young man, it’s only a sting. It’s not going to blow my hand off, is it?’ She gave an impatient snort and held out her claw. ‘Go on, then. Let the bee do its worst.’
    Grace winced as her father placed a bee on the bony joints and made it sting her by covering it with his hand. The old lady didn’t even flinch. Arthur wasn’t sure she had been stung until he looked at the red mark and

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