To me, summer is clogs, mosquitoes, ice-cream and lying on my back staring up at the sky through the foliage of a birch tree.
“Hmph!” Matthew Graham says from somewhere inside my head. “Shows you’ve never been a farmer.”
I glance at him, this 17th century hero of mine. A farmer? Yes, I suppose he is, a tall strong man who has spent endless weeks in back-breaking labour just to clear the fields he now has planted. The maples and sycamores, the huge American chestnuts – all gone, as Matthew Graham single-handedly turns American wilderness into fields and pastures to feed his family.
But today, I’ve decided to treat him to a picnic, a recreation of a perfect childhood day (mine, not his. His would involve a lot of work, seeing as he was his Da’s main helper on their little Scottish manor)
“A picnic?” He gives me a doubtful look. “The hay needs to be brought in, and I’ve got fences to mend, and…”
I hold up my hand. “Even an imaginary character needs a break now and then.”
“Imaginary?” He throws his head back and laughs. “If I don’t exist, why are you talking to me?”
Good question, actually. “Oh, you know,” I mutter. “I like spending time with you. And Alex,” I hasten to add, because here comes Matthew’s wife, and the way her dark blue eyes bore into me indicate we will be three on the picnic.
Once we’ve explained what a picnic is, Matthew reluctantly agrees to come along, his eyes lighting up at the sound of “cake”. Men, no matter at what age or in what time period, are easy like that: tempt them with something edible and they’ll gladly go along with your plans.
So we spread a blanket on the grass, I produce cardamom buns and elderflower cordial, and we lie back in the rustling shade of the huge white oak that graces Graham Garden’s front yard. Except that in reality it is a birch, and I am all alone on my blanket, with Alex and Matthew making noises in my head. But the buns are real, as is the cordial.
“This is nice.” Matthew has taken off shoes and stockings and extends his long legs, bare from the knee down in front of him. He is wearing his everyday breeches, worn shiny over the thighs after years of use. A linen shirt that hangs slightly open at the neck, a hat which he throws to the side, revealing his dark hair, falling in waves to just above his shoulders.
“Mmm.” Alex pillows her head on his lap. “Just love the lupines.” She yawns, one hand smoothing at her long cotton skirts. There are stains on her apron, her bodice has been repaired multiple times and has faded to a most becoming shade of light green.
“Didn’t have those back home,” Matthew says, sighing softly. His face acquires that faraway look which indicates he’s thinking of his Scottish home. Alex frowns, a slight pucker appearing between her brows. She hates it that he still calls back there home – even now after so many years here, in the Colony of Maryland. The eternal conundrum of the reluctant emigrant – Matthew Graham was obliged to leave his home, the equivalent of a modern day refugee, because of his Presbyterian faith.
He gives her a crooked smile and brushes a finger over her cheek. “I know,” he says softly. “This is home – here with you and our bairns. But sometimes…”
Alex just nods.
“I miss it the most during summer,” he continues. “Days like these, in early June, when the light lingers well into the night.”
“Like in Sweden.” Now she sounds yearning too. “Long, long evenings, running down to swim naked in the sea and dry on the sun-warmed cliffs well after ten o’clock.”
“Naked?” He tries to sound censorious, but his mouth twitches.
“I was eight,” she tells him. She turns to me. “Besides, Swedish people like skinny-dipping, don’t they?”
To judge from the twinkle in her eyes, she knows exactly how I start my summer mornings, walking barefoot through the dewy grass to our jetty before slipping naked into the still waters of the lake. One of the more wonderful sensations in life, IMO.
“We do,” I reply, pouring myself some more cordial. “But preferably without an audience.”
I lie back in the dappled shade. From somewhere comes the sound of a blackbird, out over the lake an osprey is floating, recognisable only by how the tips of its wings dip. Matthew murmurs an endearment to Alex, shifting her so that they lie side by side instead, noses almost touching, knees knocking against each other.
“Love you,” she says, picking at his hair.
His long mouth curves. “I adore you.”
Time for me to leave them, this my time-travelling lady and her 17th century man. So I pour myself some more cordial while considering if I should go for a swim now or later. Later. Summer is short, the wind whispers a lullaby as it soughs through the trees. I’m good on my blanket, staring up at the blue, blue skies beyond and wondering – as I always do – if somewhere there is a planet just like ours, a world in which someone is lying under a tree just like mine and wondering what may lie beyond the blue expanse.
80 elderflowers (the full corymbs)
2 kilos of sugar (4.4 pounds)
2 litres of water
50 gr of tartaric acid
Put the flowers in a large bucket (or a very large cooking pot) NOTE! Lid required.
Scrub the lemons, divide them, press out the juice over the flowers & put the wrung out halves on top of the flowers
Set the water to boil, stir in the sugar until it dissolves. Add the tartaric acid, stir, and pour it all over the flowers. Put on the lid and set somewhere cool and dark for five days, but stir once per day. After five days, filter and pour into clean, boiled bottles. Hubby always adds some more preservatives, just in case.
The resulting cordial is mixed with water (1:4)
Anna Belfrage is the author of the acclaimed time-slip series The Graham Saga, winner of multiple awards, including the HNS Indie Award 2015 and eight BRAG medallions. Her new series, The King’s Greatest Enemy, is set in the 1320s and features Adam de Guirande, his wife Kit, and their adventures during Roger Mortimer’s rise to power. The first book, In the Shadow of the Storm, was published in 2015 and is also the recipient of a BRAG medallion. The next book, Days of Sun and Shadow, will be out in July 2015.