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

Juliana Horatia Ewing

Sunflowers and a Rushlight

Chapter I

DOCTOR BROWN is our doctor. He lives in our village, at the top of the hill.

When we were quite little, and had scarlet-fever, and measles, and those things, Dr. Brown used to be very kind to us, and dress his first finger up in his pocket-handkerchief with a knot for the turban, and rings on his thumb and middle finger, and do—“At the top of a hill lived a man named Solomon,” in a hollow voice, which frightened me rather.

And then he used to say—“Wise man, Solomon! He lived at the top of a hill,” and laugh till his face got redder than usual, and his eyes filled with laughter-tears, and twinkled in the nice way they do, and I was not frightened any more.

Dr. Brown left off being our doctor once. That was when he and Grandmamma quarrelled. But they made it up again.

It was when I was so unhappy—I tried to help it, but I really could not—about my poor dear white china poodle (Jael broke him when she was dusting, and then she swept up his tail, though I have so begged her to keep the bits when she cleans our room, and breaks things; and now he never never can be mended, all the days of my life): it was when I was crying about him, and Grand-mamma told Dr. Brown how silly I was, to make me feel ashamed, that he said—“There are some tempers which, if they haven’t enough people to love, will love things.”

Margery says he did not say tempers but temperaments. I know it began with temper, because it reminded me of Jael, who said “them tears is all temper, Miss Grace,” which was very hard, because she knew—she knew quite well—it was about my poodle; and though accidents will happen, she need not have swept up his tail.

Margery is sure to be right. She always is. Besides, we looked it out in Johnson’s Dictionary, which we are rather fond of, though it is very heavy to lift. We like the bits out of books, in small print; but I could not understand the bits to the word temperament, and I do not think Margery could either, though she can understand much more than I can.

There is a very odd bit to the word temperamental, and it is signed Brown; but we do not know if that means our Dr. Brown. This is the bit: “That temperamental dignotions, and conjecture of prevalent humours, may be collected from spots in our nails, we concede.”—Brown.

We could not understand it, so we lifted down the other volume (one is just as heavy as the other), and looked out “Dignotion,” and it means “distinction, distinguishing mark,” and then there is the same bit over again, but at the end is “Brown’s Vulgar Errors.” And we did not like to ask Dr. Brown if they were his vulgar errors, for fear he should think us rude. I thought we might perhaps ask him if they were his errors, and leave out vulgar, which is rather a rude word, but Margery thought it better not, and she is sure to be right. She always is.

But we should have liked to ask Dr. Brown about it, if it had not been rude, because we think a good deal of spots on our nails. All we know about them is that you begin at your thumb, and count on to your little finger, in this way,

“A Gift, a Beau,
A Friend, a Foe,
A Journey to go.”

I like having a Beau, or a Friend; Margery likes a Gift, or a Journey to go. We neither of us like having Foes.

And it shows that it does come true, because Margery had a white spot in the middle of her left little finger-nail, just when our father’s old friend wrote to Grandmamma, for one of us to go and pay him a visit; and Margery went, because she was the elder of the two.

I do not know how I bore parting with her, except with hoping that she would enjoy herself, for she always had wanted so very much to have a journey to go. But if she had been at home, so that I could have taken her advice, I do not think I should have been so silly about the Sunflowers and the Rushlight.

She says—“You’d have put on your slippers, and had a blanket round you at least. But, oh, my dear Grace, you always are so rash!”

I did not know I was. I thought rash people were brave; and if I had been brave, the Rushlight would never have come out of the roof. Still Margery is sure to be right. I know I am very foolish and lonely without her.

There are only two of us. Our father, and our mother, and our brother, all died of fever, nearly five years ago. We shall never see them again till we go to Paradise, and that is one reason why we wish to try to be good and never to be naughty, so that we may be sure to see them again.

I remember them a little. I remember being frightened by sitting so high up on my father’s shoulder, and then feeling so safe when I got into my mother’s lap; and I remember Robin’s curls, and his taking my woolly ball from me. I remember our black frocks coming in the hair-trunk with brass nails to the seaside, where Margery and I were with our nurse, and her telling the landlady that our father and mother and brother were all laid in one grave. And I remember going home, and seeing the stone flags up in the yard, and a deep dark hole near the pump, and thinking that was the grave; and how Margery found me stark with fright, and knew better, and told me that the grave was in the churchyard, and that this hole was only where workmen had been digging for drains.

And then never seeing those three, day after day, and having to do without them ever since!

But Margery remembers a good deal more (she is three years older than I am). She remembers things people said, and the funeral sermon, and the books being moved into the attic, and she remembers Grandmamma’s quarrel with Dr. Brown.

She says she was sitting behind the parlour curtains with Mrs. Trimmer’s Roman History, and Grandmamma was sitting, looking very grave in her new black dress, with a pocket-handkerchief and book in her lap, and sherry and sponge biscuits on a tray on the piano, for visitors of condolence, when Dr. Brown came in, looking very grave too, and took off one of his black gloves and shook hands. Then he took off the other, and put them both into his hat, and had a glass of sherry and a sponge biscuit, so Margery knew that he was a visitor of condolence.

Then he and Grandmamma talked a long time. Margery does not know what about, for she was reading Mrs. Trimmer; but she thinks they were getting rather cross with each other. Then they got up, and Dr. Brown looked into his hat, and took out his gloves, and Grandmamma wiped her eyes with her pocket-handkerchief, and said, “I hope I know how to submit, but it has been a heavy judgment, Dr. Brown.”

And Margery was just beginning to cry too, when Dr. Brown said, “A very heavy judgment indeed, Madam, for letting the cesspool leak into the well;” and it puzzled her so much that she stopped.

Then Grandmamma was very angry, and Dr. Brown was angry too, and then Grandmamma said, “I don’t know another respectable practitioner, Dr. Brown, who would have said what you have said this morning.”

And Dr. Brown brushed his hat the wrong way with his coat-sleeve, and said, “Too true, madam! We are not a body of reformers, with all our opportunities; we’re as bigoted as most priesthoods, but we count fewer missionary martyrs. The sins, the negligences, and the ignorances of every age have gone on much the same as far as we have been concerned, though very few people keep family chaplains, and most folk have a family doctor.”

Then Grandmamma got very stiff, Margery says (she always is rather stiff), and said, “I am sorry, Dr. Brown, to hear you speak so ill of the members of an honourable profession, to which you yourself belong.”

And Dr. Brown found out that he had brushed his hat the wrong way, and he brushed it right, and said, “Not at all, Madam, not at all ! I think we’re a very decent set, for men with large public responsibilities, almost entirely shielded from the wholesome light of public criticism, who handle more lives than most Commanders, and are not called upon to publish our disasters or make returns of our losses. But don’t expect too much of us! I say we are not reformers. They rise up amongst us now and again; but we don’t encourage them, we don’t encourage them. We are a privileged caste of medicine-men, whose ‘mysteries’ are protected by the faith of those to whom we minister, a faith fortified by ignorance and fear. I wish you good-morning, Madam.”

Margery has often repeated this to me. We call it “Dr. Brown’s Speeches.” She is very fond of spouting speeches, much longer ones than Dr. Brown’s. She learns them by heart out of history books, and then dresses up and spouts them to me in our attic.

Margery says she did not understand at the time what they were quarrelling about; and when, afterwards, she asked Grandmamma what a cesspool was, Grandmamma was cross with her too, and said it was a very coarse and vulgar word, and that Dr. Brown was a very coarse and vulgar person. We’ve looked it out since in Johnson’s Dictionary, for we thought it might be one of Dr. Brown’s vulgar errors, but it is not there.

Margery reads a great deal of history; she likes it; she likes all the sensible books in the attic, and I like the rest, particularly poetry and fairy tales.

The books are Mother’s books, they belonged to her father. She liked having them all in the parlour, “littering the whole place,” Jael says; but Grand-mamma has moved them to the attic now, all but a volume of Sermons for Sunday, and the Oriental Annual, to amuse visitors if they are left alone. Only she says you never ought to leave your visitors alone.

Jael is very glad the books were taken to the attic, because “they gather dust worse than chimney ornaments;” so she says.

Margery and I are very glad too, for we are sent to play in the attic, and then we read as much as ever we like; and we move out pet books to our own corner and pretend they are our very own. We have very cosy corners; we pile up some of the big books for seats, and then make a bigger pile in front of us for tables, and there we sit.

Once Dr. Brown found us. We had got whooping cough, and he had come to see if we were better; and he is very big, and he tramped so heavily on the stairs I did really think he was a burglar; and Margery was a little frightened too, so we were very glad to see him; and when he saw us reading at our tables, he said, “So this is the Attic salt ye season life with, is it?” And then he laughed just as he always does.

There is one story in my favourite Fairy Book which Margery likes too; it is called “A Puzzling Tale.” I read it to Margery when we were sitting in our tree seat in the garden, and I put my hand over the answer to the puzzle, and she could not guess; and if Margery could not guess, I do not think any one else could.

This is the tale: “Three women were once changed into flowers, and grew in a field; but one was permitted to go home at night. Once, when day was dawning, and she was about to return to her companions in the field and become a flower again, she said to her husband, ‘In the morning come to the field and pick me off my stalk, then I shall be released, and able to live at home for the future.’ So the husband went to the field as he was told, and picked his wife and took her home.

“Now how did he know his wife’s flower from the other two, for all the three flowers were alike?

(That is the puzzle. This is the answer:)

“He knew his wife because there was no dew upon her flower.”

There is a very nice picture of the three flowers standing stiff and upright, with leaves held out like hands, and large round flower faces, all three exactly alike. I have looked at them again and again, but I never could see any difference; for you can’t see the dew on the ones who had been out all night, and so you can’t tell which was the one who was allowed to go home. But I think it was partly being so fond of those round flower faces in the Puzzling Tale, that made me get so very very fond of Sunflowers.

We have splendid Sunflowers in our garden, so tall, and with such large round faces!

The Sunflowers were in bloom when Margery went away. She bade them good-bye, and kissed her hands to them as well as to me. She went away in a cab, with her things in the hair trunk with brass nails on the top. She waved her hand to me as long as ever I could see her, and she wagged one finger particularly. I knew which finger it was, and what she meant. It was the little finger with that dignotion on the nail, which showed that she had a journey to go.

Mary’s Meadow    |    Sunflowers and a Rushlight Chapter II

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