‘Mary’s Meadow’ & Other Tales of Fields & Flowers

Juliana Horatia Ewing

Mary’s Meadow

Chapter X

I TOLD no one. It was bad enough to think of by myself. I could not have talked about it. But every day I expected that the Old Squire would send a letter or a policeman, or come himself, and rage and storm, and tell Father.

He never did; and no one seemed to suspect that anything had gone wrong, except that Mother fidgeted because I looked ill, and would show me to Dr. Solomon. It is a good thing doctors tell you what they think is the matter, and don’t ask you what you think, for I could not have told him about the Squire. He said I was below par, and that it was our abominable English climate, and he sent me a bottle of tonic. And when I had taken half the bottle, and had begun to leave off watching for the policeman, I looked quite well again. So I took the rest, not to waste it, and thought myself very lucky. My only fear now was that Bessy’s aunt might ask after the hose-in-hose. But she never did.

I had one more fright, where I least expected it. It had never occurred to me that Lady Catherine would take an interest in our game, and want to know what we had done, and what we were doing, and what we were going to do, or I should have been far more afraid of her than of Bessy’s aunt. For the Weeding Woman has a good deal of delicacy, and often begs pardon for taking liberties; but if Aunt Catherine takes an interest, and waits to know, she asks one question after another, and does not think whether you like to answer or not.

She took an interest in our game after one of Christopher’s luncheons with her.

She often asks Chris to go there to luncheon, all by himself. Father is not very fond of his going, chiefly, I fancy, because he is so fond of Chris, and misses him. Sometimes, in the middle of luncheon, he looks at Christopher’s empty place, and says, “I wonder what those two are talking about over their, pudding. They are the queerest pair of friends.” If we ask Chris what they have talked about, he wags his head, and looks very well pleased with himself, and says, “Lots of things. I tell her things, and she tells me things.” And that is all we can get out of him.

A few weeks afterwards, after I lost the hose-in-hose, Chris went to have luncheon with Aunt Catherine, and he came back rather later than usual.

“You must have been telling each other a good deal to-day, Chris,” I said.

“I told her lots,” said Chris, complacently. “She didn’t tell me nothing, hardly. But I told her lots. My apple fritter got cold whilst I was telling it. She sent it away, and had two hot ones, new, on purpose for me.”

“What did you tell her?”

“I told her your story; she liked it very much. And I told her Daffodils, and about my birthday; and I told her Cowslips—all of them. Oh, I told her lots. She didn’t tell me nothing.”

A few days later, Aunt Catherine asked us to tea—all of us—me, Arthur, Adela, Harry, and Chris. And she asked us all about our game. When Harry said, “I dig up, but Mary plants—not in our garden, but in wild places, and woods, and hedges, and fields,” Lady Catherine blew her nose very loud, and said, “I should think you don’t do much digging and planting in that field your Father went to law about?” and my teeth chattered so with fright that I think Lady Catherine would have heard them if she hadn’t been blowing her nose. But, luckily for me, Arthur said, “Oh, we never go near Mary’s Meadow now, we’re so busy.” And then Aunt Catherine asked what made us think of my name, and I repeated most of the bit from Alphonse Karr, for I knew it by heart now; and Arthur repeated what John Parkinson says about the “Honisucle that groweth wilde in euery hedge,” and how he left it there, “to serue their senses that trauell by it, or haue no garden;” and then he said, “So Mary is called Traveller’s Joy, because she plants flowers in the hedges, to serve their senses that travel by them.”

“And who serves them that have no garden?” asked Aunt Catherine, sticking her gold glasses over her nose, and looking at us.

“None of us do,” said Arthur, after thinking for a minute.

“Humph!” said Aunt Catherine.

Next time Chris was asked to luncheon, I was asked too. Father laughed at me, and teased me, but I went.

I was very much amused by the airs which Chris gave himself at table. He was perfectly well behaved, but, in his quiet old-fashioned way, he certainly gave himself airs. We have only one man indoors—James; but Aunt Catherine has three—a butler, a footman, and a second footman. The second footman kept near Christopher, who sat opposite Aunt Catherine (she made me sit on one side), and seemed to watch to attend upon him; but if Christopher did want anything, he always ignored this man, and asked the butler for it, and called him by his name.

After a bit, Aunt Catherine began to talk about the game again.

“Have you got any one to serve them that have no garden, yet?” she asked.

Christopher shook his head, and said “No.”

“Humph,” said Aunt Catherine; “better take me into the game.”

“Could you be of any use?” asked Christopher. “Toast and water, Chambers.”

The butler nodded, as majestically as Chris himself, to the second footman, who flew to replenish the silver mug, which had been Lady Catherine’s when she was a little girl. When Christopher had drained it (he is a very thirsty boy), he repeated the question:

“Do you think you could be of any use?”

Mr. Chambers, the butler, never seems to hear anything that people say, except when they ask for something to eat or drink; and he does not often hear that, because he watches to see what you want, and gives it of himself, or sends it by the footman. He looks just as if he was having his photograph taken, staring at a point on the wall and thinking of nothing; but when Christopher repeated his question I saw Chambers frown. I believe he thinks Christopher presumes on Lady Catherine’s kindness, and does not approve of it.

It is quite the other way with Aunt Catherine. Just when you would think she must turn angry, and scold Chris for being rude, she only begins to laugh, and shakes like a jelly (she is very stout), and encourages him. She said:

“Take care all that toast and water doesn’t get into your head, Chris.”

She said that to vex him, because, ever since he heard that he had water on the brain, Chris is very easily affronted about his head. He was affronted now, and began to eat his bread-and-butter pudding in silence, Lady Catherine still shaking and laughing. Then she wiped her eyes, and said:

“Never mind, old man, I’m going to tell you something. Put the sugar and cream on the table, Chambers, and you needn’t wait.”

The men went out very quietly, and Aunt Catherine went on:

“Where do you think I was yesterday? In the new barracks—a place I set my face against ever since they began to buikilt, and spoil one of my best peeps from the Rhododendron Walk. I went to see a young cousin of mine, who was fool enough to marry a poor officer, and have a lot of little boys and girls, no handsomer than you, Chris.”

“Are they as handsome?” said Chris, who had recovered himself, and was selecting currants from his pudding, and laying them aside for a final bonne bouche.

“Humph! Perhaps not. But they eat so much pudding, and wear out so many boots, that they are all too poor to live anywhere except in barracks.”

Christopher laid down his spoon, and looked as he always looks when he is hearing a sad story.

“Is barracks like the workhouse, Aunt Catherine?” he asked.

“A good deal like the workhouse,” said Aunt Catherine. Then she went on—“I told her Mother I could not begin calling at the barracks. There are some very low streets close by, and my coachman said he couldn’t answer for his horses with bugles, and perhaps guns, going off when you least expect them. I told her I would ask them to dinner; and I did, but they were engaged. Well, yesterday I changed my mind, and I told Harness that I meant to go to the barracks, and the horses would have to take me. So we started. When we were going along the upper road, between the high hedges, what do you think I saw?”

Chris had been going on with his pudding again, but he paused to make a guess.

“A large cannon, just going off?”

“No. If I’d seen that, you wouldn’t have seen any more of me. I saw masses of wild clematis scrambling everywhere, so that the hedge looked as if somebody had been dressing it up in tufts of feathers.”

As she said this, Lady Catherine held out her hand to me across the table very kindly. She has a fat hand, covered with rings, and I put my hand into it.

“And what do you think came into my head?” she asked.

“Toast and water,” said Chris, maliciously.

“No, you monkey. I began to think of hedge-flowers, and travellers, and Traveller’s Joy.”

Aunt Catherine shook my hand here, and dropped it.

“And you thought how nice it was for the poor travellers to have such nice flowers,” said Chris, smiling, and wagging his head up and down.

“Nothing of the kind,” said Aunt Catherine, brusquely. “I thought what lots of flowers the travellers had already, without Mary planting any more; and I thought not one traveller in a dozen paid much attention to them—begging John Parkinson’s pardon—and how much more in want of flowers people ‘that have no garden’ are; and then I thought of that poor girl in those bare barracks, whose old home was one of the prettiest places, with the loveliest garden, in all Berkshire.”

“Was it an Earthly Paradise?” asked Chris.

“It was, indeed. Well, when I thought of her inside those brick walls, looking out on one of those yards they march about in, now they’ve cut down all the trees, and planted sentry-boxes, I put my best bonnet out of the window, which always spoils the feather, and told Harness to turn his horses’ heads, and drive home again.”

“What for?” said Chris, as brusquely as Lady Catherine.

“I sent for Hobbs.”

“Hobbs the Gardener?” said Chris.

“Hobbs the Gardener; and I told Chambers to give him the basket from the second peg, and then I sent him into the conservatory to fill it. Mary, my dear, I am very particular about my baskets. If ever I lend you my diamonds, and you lose them, I may forgive you—I shall know that was an accident; but if I lend you a basket, and you don’t return it, don’t look me in the face again. I always write my name on them, so there’s no excuse. And I don’t know a greater piece of impudence—and people are wonderfully impudent now-a-days—than to think that because a thing only cost fourpence, you need not be at the trouble of keeping it clean and dry, and of sending it back.”

“Some more toast and water, please,” said Chris. Aunt Catherine helped him, and continued—“Hobbs is a careful man—he had been with me ten years—he doesn’t cut flowers recklessly as a rule, but when I saw that basket I said, ‘Hobbs, you’ve been very extravagant.’ He looked ashamed of himself, but he said, ‘I understood they was for Miss Kitty, m’m. She’s been used to nice gardens, m’m.’ Hobbs lived with them in Berkshire before he came to me.”

“It was very nice of Hobbs,” said Chris, emphatically.

“Humph!” said Aunt Catherine, “the flowers were mine.”

“Did you ever get to the barracks?” asked Chris, “and what was they like when you did?”

“They were about as unlike Kitty’s old home as anything could well be. She has made her rooms pretty enough, but it was easy to see she is hard up for flowers. She’s got an old rose-coloured Sèvres bowl that was my Grandmother’s, and there it was, filled with bramble leaves and Traveller’s Joy (which she calls Old Man’s Beard; Kitty always would differ from her elders!), and a soup-plate full of forget-me-nots. She said two of the children had half-drowned themselves and lost a good straw bat in getting them for her. Just like their mother, as I told her.”

“What did she say when you brought out the basket?” asked Chris, disposing of his reserve of currants at one mouthful, and laying down his spoon.

“She said, ‘Oh! oh! oh!’ ’till I told her to say something more amusing, and then she said, ‘I could cry for joy!’ and, ‘Tell Hobbs he remembers all my favourites.’”

Christopher here bent his head over his empty plate, and said grace (Chris is very particular about his grace), and then got down from his chair and went up to Lady Catherine, and threw his arms round her as far as they would go, saying, “You are good. And I love you. I should think she thinked you was a fairy godmother.”

After they had hugged each other, Aunt Catherine said, “Will you take me into the game, if I serve them that have no garden?”

Chris and I said “Yes” with one voice.

“Then come into the drawing-room,” said Aunt Catherine, getting up and giving a hand to each of us. “And Chris shall give me a name.”

Chris pondered a long time on this subject, and seemed a good deal disturbed in his mind. Presently he said, “I won’t be selfish. You shall have it.”

“Shall have what, you oddity?”

“I’m not a oddity, and I’m going to give you the name I invented for myself. But you’ll have to wear four stockings, two up and two down.”

“Then you may keep that name to yourself,” said Aunt Catherine.

Christopher looked relieved.

“Perhaps you’d not like to be called Old Man’s Beard?”

“Certainly not!” said Aunt Catherine.

“It is more of a boy’s name,” said Chris. “You might be the Franticke or Foolish Cowslip, but it is Jack an Apes on Horseback too, and that’s a boy’s name. You shall be Daffodil, not a dwarf daffodil, but a big one, because you are big. Wait a minute—I know which you shall be. You shall be Nonsuch. It’s a very big one, and it means none like it. So you shall be Nonsuch, for there’s no one like you.”

On which Christopher and Lady Catherine hugged each other afresh.

.     .     .     .     .

“Who told most to-day? “asked Father when we got home.

“Oh, Aunt Catherine. Much most,” said Christopher.

Mary’s Meadow    |    Chapter XI

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