Read Samples

As this is my debut novel it seems only fair to let you read a few pages, firstly to see if you like my writing style and also to find out a bit more about the book. I’ve selected a few episodes I think will give you a fair idea of what you can expect if you go ahead and buy a copy. I hope you enjoy them.

A coach and four drives through the arch and pulls
up at the Leg O’Mutton. Tired from the long
journey from Suffolk, crammed next to a fat parson
and opposite a farmer with halitosis, Daisy can’t wait to
get out. The postern throws her bags down into the mud.

The air at the Barbican, a nexus for transport, is foetid.
Having had to share a bed at the overnight inn with a
widow who snored, Daisy wearily stands surrounded
by the noise of animals and the smell of excrement,
endeavouring to keep her boots clean. She is tall for a girl
– easily tall enough to see over the withers of a good-sized
cob – and what country folk would describe as ‘lanky’.
Even in the weak, low-elevation, morning spring light, the
sun glints copper in her auburn hair, a shining contrast to
her sombre mourning clothes.

As she looks around, lost and forlorn, a youth barges
into her, knocks her to the cobbles, seizes one of her bags
and runs off. Daisy indignantly jumps to her feet and
starts to give chase.

Much to the surprise of them both, a strikingly tall
and handsome man sticks out a long leg and trips the
would-be thief who sprawls to the ground in a heap. The
man retrieves the bag, grabs the youth by the collar from
behind, pulls him to his feet and despatches him with
a kick up the backside. He walks over to Daisy who is
catching her breath and brushing dirt from her jacket.

‘Are you all right, miss?’ he asks in a deep baritone
voice, whilst holding out her bag.

Noticing he speaks with a foreign accent, Daisy regards
him with interest. He is strong-jawed with blue eyes and
long, fair hair tied neatly with a black, silk ribbon. Despite
his clothes being travel-stained, she sees he is elegantly
dressed. She finds her tongue.

‘Actually, sir, I am quite all right – and I would most
certainly have caught him. You didn’t need to involve

The man looks at her quizzically and raises an
eyebrow. Daisy takes the bag from him and remembers
her manners.

‘But I thank you, sir. My possessions hold no great
value, but much sentiment.’

The man bows. ‘Johannes Van der Humm, pleased to
be of service.’

Daisy curtseys. ‘Miss Daisy Salter – obliged to have
received the same.’

‘I assume, Miss Salter, that this is your first time at the
Barbican? You will have observed it is not the best place
for a young woman travelling alone.’

‘I have only been through London with my father
before now, sir. And then only twice.’

Van der Humm looks at her closely and realises she is
wearing mourning clothes.

‘Would I be correct in supposing that your father can
accompany you no more?’

‘Sadly, sir, he cannot.’

‘My sincere condolences.’ Van der Humm dips his head
in respect, and Daisy nods her gratitude. ‘Well, Miss Salter,
I am for the inn and some lunch. My Dutch countrymen
tell me that this inn, being so close to Smithfield Market,
does an excellent mutton pie. Perhaps you would join me,
and together we can oversee your bags?’

‘In that case, you are a very kind Dutchman, sir, but
first I must find which coach will take me onwards to

Van der Humm smiles. ‘This is a happy coincidence.
I am bound for Bristol on a coach that departs at three
o’clock. That same coach makes a scheduled stop at
Richmond to change horses. Do you have your ticket yet?’

Daisy shakes her head. ‘Not as yet, sir; I still have to
buy one.’

The Dutchman makes an expansive gesture with his
hands. ‘Happenstance, I have a ticket to spare, my intended
travelling companion is unwell.’ He smiles. ‘Please, be my
guest – firstly for mutton pie and then the coach trip.’

‘That is very generous, sir, but I can pay – for

Van der Humm tilts his head to one side and looks
down his long and elegant nose. ‘I’m sure you can, Miss
Salter. But, on both counts, perhaps you will let a foreign
gentleman be, well, gentlemanly.’

Daisy smiles and nods her acceptance. Van der Humm
picks up her bags and ushers her into the inn.

Daisy is so intently inspecting a flower she doesn’t hear
them until Fanny gives a gentle cough. She jumps and
turns around.

‘Here are two gentlemen who would talk with you.
Mr Joseph Banks and Mr Rupert FitzGerald, who are
near neighbours of ours from Kew. Gentlemen, my sister,
Miss Daisy Salter.’

The men bow politely, Daisy curtseys. Banks points
at the plant that had captivated Daisy’s attention just
moment before.

‘Are you fond of a fuchsia, Miss Salter? You were
regarding it very keenly.’

‘Fuchsia, sir? I believe it is a peony.’

Banks looks pensive. ‘I have been overseas and
perhaps forgotten.’ He points elsewhere. ‘Personally, I
am a great fan of those Alcea – foxgloves as they are

Daisy is not sure whether she is being duped. ‘Foxgloves
indeed, sir, but the correct Latin name is Digitalis.’ She
points at a different flower. ‘That is an Alcea, usually
called a hollyhock!’

Rupert chuckles. ‘Mr Banks is teasing, Miss Salter, for
he is a most expert plantsman – one in fact who has many
plants named after him.’

Daisy smiles politely, bemused.

Banks makes a deprecating gesture. ‘That’s as maybe.
The truth, Miss Salter, is that I have indeed been overseas
and just returned from the southern continents where I
collected a great number of plants for the King’s gardens at
Kew. Now I need help recording and documenting them.’

‘What Mr Banks is trying to ask,’ Rupert continues, ‘is
if you would be prepared to come to Kew and spend some
time painting the specimens for our records?’

Daisy blushes slightly. ‘Me, sir? I am but an amateur
and a woman.’

Banks looks amazed. ‘I don’t see how your gender
comes into it, Miss Salter. Amateur or not, you show great
skill in botanical representation, and Kew will be happy
to pay for such skill.’

Daisy’s eyes widen at the prospect. ‘I’m not sure I can
accept payment, sir.’

‘Why ever not? I had a painter with me for the three
years of my voyage – Sydney Parkinson. He was happily
paid; it’s not the person that is rewarded, but the skill.’

‘But he does not paint for you now, sir?’

Banks’ eyes cloud. ‘Sadly, he died of the flux off the
Cape Peninsula. We were only weeks from home.’

Later that afternoon, Daisy is putting the finishing touches
to a painting using a single-haired brush to make tiny, fine
marks. She puts her brush down and blows the paint dry.

There is a crunch on the gravel outside, and Masson’s face
appears at the window. He gestures for Daisy to turn her
work around and show him.

His face lights up. ‘Painted with the eyes of youth. An
exact likeness.’

Daisy gives a tired smile. ‘Thank you, Mr Masson. I
hope it will pass the test.’

Masson gives a reassuring nod. ‘Will it be convenient
to escort you home at half past four?’

Daisy goes to say yes, then remembers. ‘Could it be a
little later? I’m invited to tea at four o’clock.’

Masson smiles. ‘You make friends quickly, Miss Salter.’

‘We’re not friends yet. I got lost and came across a
lady of whom I asked directions. She invited me to tea
with her and Mr Banks.’

‘Was she elegant and in her thirties?’

Daisy considers for a second. ‘I would say

‘Comely – hmm. And would you say she was with

‘Mr Masson, you know her too! Are you coming to

‘Not today, Miss Salter. I can tell you, however, that
most days at four, Mr Banks takes tea with Her Majesty
Queen Charlotte in her cottage. You too, today, it seems.’

‘That was the Queen?’ Daisy looks distraught. She
paces the room, puts her face in her hands, looks at
Masson, walks away again, sits down with a thump and
regards Masson with anguish.

Masson is amused. ‘That would have been the

‘She told me to turn left by that magnificent

‘I think it would have been right?’

‘Right? Right – I mean, yes.’

‘Miss Salter, on the basis you have been summoned to
a royal tea party. I can only wait on your convenience as
regards the time at which I will escort you home. I will see
you later.’ Masson bows. Daisy sits down looking nervous.

At ten minutes to four, a liveried footman arrives to
escort Daisy to tea. He insists on carrying her portfolio.
Daisy, not used to being waited-on, follows him in
procession as they walk up to the cottage door. There, the
first footman hands the portfolio to a second who, in turn,
ushers Daisy into the Queen’s parlour where the Queen
and Banks are having tea. Banks stands.

‘Your Majesty, may I introduce Miss Daisy Salter?’
Daisy makes her very best obeisance then looks
nervously at the floor.

‘Do sit down, dear. Actually, Joseph, Daisy and I have
already met… informally, so to speak.’

Daisy perches on the edge of a sofa. ‘Your Majesty, I
apologise. I did not know who you were.’

Banks looks on, perplexed.

‘Why on earth should you? I must have looked like
any other pregnant woman pruning her roses.’ She pours
a cup of tea and passes it across. ‘Now, show us what’s in
your portfolio.’

Daisy passes the paintings. The Queen and Banks
regard them silently. The Queen lets out a sigh.

‘How I wish I could paint like this.’

Banks nods in appreciation.

They walk on through the garden, Rupert exchanging
nods and greetings with many of the gardeners at work.

Daisy is impressed. ‘So many people, and you seem to
know them all!’

Rupert grins. ‘Most of them.’

‘So how exactly do you come to be here, and what is
it you do?’

‘I’m a botanist. I study plants and their taxonomy
– their families and how they reproduce and grow.’ He
rootles around in the pockets of his coat and brings out
a bulb, a corm and a rhizome. ‘For example, why does
one flower grow from a corm, another grow from a bulb,
and yet another grow from a rhizome? And how do they
reproduce in comparison with flowers that set seed?’

Daisy looks awestruck. ‘What a fascinating passion.’

‘That’s why I’m so lucky to have met Mr Banks
at Cambridge where we enjoyed many captivating
conversations. When he became Director at Kew, he knew
my passion well enough to invite me to come and work
with him.’

The pair stroll on a bit further with Daisy deep in

‘So, what does Mr Masson do then?’

‘Well, he’s a gardener. His fascination is the growing of
plants and their husbandry – tending and caring for them.’

Daisy stops walking, turns to Rupert and looks at him.
‘So, you look after the seeds, Mr Masson sows them in the
ground and nurtures them, then somebody harvests the
flowers so I can paint them?’

Rupert thinks for a moment. ‘I’ve never thought of it
that way, but yes, it is exactly that.’

‘So, my paintings are the end result, the evidence that
nature works.’

‘Or more precisely, that nature worked once. Then I
take the seed of that same new plant you have painted,
give it to Mr Masson, and we try to prove that nature
works in the same way again.’

‘Then somebody harvests it, and we compare the result
with my painting to see if it has reproduced truly?’

‘And if it hasn’t, we get very excited and ask why!’

The pair grin at each other. ‘So, in a nutshell, Mr
FitzGerald, that is science!’

Rupert grabs the lapels of his coat and looks didactically
down his nose at her. ‘Technically, nuts are fruit.’

Daisy puts her hands on her hips. ‘But, sir, I have to
inform you that most nuts are also seeds.’

‘But not all seeds are nuts.’

‘And therein, sir, lies the logical, or perhaps illogical,

Back in camp, as Masson starts to write up his notes,
Rupert and Dogget set out with guns, the guide leading
the way, to forage for the pot. The guide takes them into
the undergrowth, moving silently – something Rupert, ten
yards to the rear and the side, has had to get used to.
Suddenly, both the guide and Dogget halt.

Rupert sees the guide’s eyes look up to a low-hanging
branch where an enormous snake is hanging down, just
feet from the men’s heads, its tongue flickering in and out
of its mouth, taking in the scent of the two men frozen to
the spot. The snake opens its jaws, exposing enormous,
vicious fangs, and starts moving its head to and fro, ready
to strike.

Far enough from the snake to be out of danger, Rupert
slowly and silently lifts his gun to his shoulder, whispering
sotto voce ‘on three, dive’. Dogget in turn whispers to the
guide. The snake, reacting to the sound, coils back its head.

‘One, two, three, DIVE!’ Rupert times it perfectly. As
the two men hit the dirt, the snake strikes, Rupert pulls
the trigger, the gun fires and the snake’s head is blown to
smithereens. The body slowly unwinds from the branch
and falls to the ground in a heap as its intended victims
scurry out of the way.

The guide talks excitedly to Dogget who turns to
Rupert and smiles. ‘He says there’s food enough in the
creature to get us to Cape Town.’

Rupert turns his nose up. Dogget picks up a large part
of the beast and displays it. ‘They do say what doesn’t kill
you makes you stronger!

Rupert shakes his head and reloads his gun.

The guide winds the snake’s torso round his body and
walks back towards camp. Dogget gestures for Rupert
to lead the way out of the bush. As Rupert walks past,

Dogget takes him by the arm. ‘Good shooting!’

‘With a father in the army, I grew up around guns –
although admittedly, he was in the Artillery so most of
them were cannons. Shooting is second nature to me. I have
to say, though, that’s my first snake. They’re quite quick.’

Dogget looks at him steadily with his green eyes.

‘Thank you. I owe you one.’

Rupert returns the gaze equally steadily. ‘Lucky I’m
not ophidiophobic. Let’s go and find a few sand-partridge
for dinner, shall we?’