Long nights and short grass

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The Independent Online
There are big summer novels you take to the beach. There are little summer books telling you how to make fresh fruit jam or the ideal picnic. But now there is a summer book which combines both - a great new novel entitled:

The Blackberry Stain


"And don't forget a drop of sherry from the pepper bottle!" said Briony Hewlett. "It would hardly be a Bloody Mary without a bit of sherry steeped in chilli pepper!"

"OK, mother," muttered Heliotrope, shaking her beautiful hair behind her in an effort to wake up. That drive down from London last night had nearly finished her off, and now here she was helping with one of Mumsy's great picnic expeditions already.

"Incidentally," said Briony, "who was that young man you brought down last night and smuggled in after bedtime?"

"I came alone," said Heliotrope.

"It's very hard to believe," said her mother. "I cannot remember the last time you came without a new young man. Except at Easter. Then you brought two young men."

"For God's sake, mother!" shouted Heliotrope. "I have just come for a quiet weekend. Can't you accept that?"

The sound of their bickering floated out through the kitchen and across the lawns of Apstone House, faintly coming to the ears of Jackling, the gardener, as he inspected the grass. He smiled faintly to himself. Mother and daughter had always been bound by the bonds of jealousy, each one convinced that the other was the more attractive to men. In Jackling's eyes both of the Hewlett women were immensely desirable, with long luscious lines like luxury lawnmowers.

There had always been Hewletts at Apstone House. Actually, there had always been Jacklings at Apstone House too. The difference was that the Hewletts had always owned the place and the Jacklings had always done the gardening, out in the hot sun. Which reminded him ...

Young Jackling got out his tube of suntan cream and carefully smoothed some on his strong brown arms. In this long hot summer, with skin cancer never far away, you had to be ultra-careful.

"I'd love to put that on for you, Jackling," said a voice behind him. He knew, without looking round, that it was Heliotrope. "All over your body."

"So you haven't forgotten me then," said Jackling, smiling softly to himself. "Haven't found a nice young man in London?"

"Forgotten you?" said Heliotrope's voice, slightly hoarse. "Surrounded by all those pallid poseurs in Pimlico? No way! At night I fall asleep thinking of the way that you and I ..."

"Your voice is slightly hoarse," said Jackling, concerned. "I'll tell you a good country remedy for that. You gargle with a bit of slightly salted cowslip water, then you ..."

Out of the corner of her eye she saw her mother begin the long walk towards them.

"I've got to see you tonight, Tom!" she said urgently, then became more casual. "Be giving the lawn a trim then today, Jackling, will you?"

"I don't rightly think I should," he said, eyeing the turf expertly. "People make the mistake far too often in this dry weather of cutting the grass too short. Long grass keeps greener. Short grass grows brown. It's all to do with root activity."

"And root activity is just what I need," said Heliotrope softly, then, as her mother came near, she changed. "So, if you could get some coriander from the kitchen garden and bring it to the kitchen ..."

"Coriander?" said Briony Hewlett.

"For the salmon," said Heliotrope. "I'm trying out a wonderful new recipe for a hot salsa. What you do is, you chop the coriander fine ..."

"Yes, yes," said Briony impatiently. "Now go off and get that picnic ready - and pack at least a couple of bottles of the Montana Sauvignon. Still one of the best of the cheaper Kiwi summer wines, I find."

As Heliotrope wended her way back to the kitchen, her mother leaned towards the strong young frame of the gardener.

"Tonight, Tom?"

There was a tone of pleading in her voice that her daughter would not have recognised. Jackling frowned.

"T'aint that easy, Mrs Hewlett. I may have a date already."

More of this summer hint-packed blockbuster tomorrow, I hope!