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

Juliana Horatia Ewing

Sunflowers and a Rushlight

Chapter II


THE SUNFLOWERS were in bloom when Margery went away; and the swallows were on the wing. The garden was full of them all the morning, and when she had gone, they went too. They had been restless for days past, so I dare say they had dignotions of their own, that they had a journey to go as well as Margery.

But when they were gone, and she was gone, the garden felt very lonely. The Sunflowers stretched out their round faces just as if they were looking to see if the cab was coming back; and there was a robin, which kept hopping on and off the pump and peeping about with his eyes, as if he could not imagine what had become of all the swallows.

And Margery’s black cat came and mewed to me, and rubbed itself against my pinafore, and walked up and down with me till I went in and got the “Ancient Mariner” and my little chair, and came back and read to the Sunflowers.

Sunflowers are quite as good as dolls to play with. Margery and I think them better in some ways. You can’t move them about unless you pick them; but then they will stand of themselves, which dolls will not. You can give them names just as well, and you can teach them lessons just as well. They will grow, which dolls won’t; and they really live and die, which dolls don’t. In fact, for tallness, they are rather like grown-up people. Then more come out, which is nice; and you see the little Sunflowers growing into big ones, which you can’t see with dolls.

We can play a Sunday game with the Sunflowers. We do not have any of our toys on Sunday, except in winter, when we have Noah’s Ark. In the summer we may go in the garden between the services, and we always walk up and down together and play with the Sunflowers.

The Sunday Sunflower game is calling them after the black-letter saints in the Kalendar, and reading about them in a very old book—a big one with a black leather binding—in the attic, called Lives of the Saints. I read, and then I tell it to Margery as we walk up and down, and say—“This is St. Prisca, this is St. Fabian, this is St. Agnes, this is St. Agatha, and this is St. Valentine ”—and so on.

What made us first think of having them for Saints on Sunday, was that the yellow does sometimes look so very like a glory round their faces. We choose by turns which name to give to each, but if there is a very big one with a lot of yellow flaming out, we always called him St. George of England, because there is a very old figure of St. George slaying the Dragon, in a painted window in our Church; and St. George’s hair is yellow, and standing out all round; and when the sun shines through the window, so that you can’t see his nose and his mouth at all clearly, he looks quite wonderfully like a Sunflower. Then on week-days, the game I like best is pretending that they are women changed into flowers.

They feel so grown up with being so tall, that they are much more like grown-up people turned into flowers than like children. I pretend my doll is my child when I play with her; but I don’t think I could pretend a Sunflower was my child; and sometimes if Margery leaves me alone with rather big Sunflowers, when it is getting dusk, and I look up at them, and they stare at me with their big faces in the twilight, I get so frightened for fear they should have got leave to go home at night, and be just turning, that I run indoors as hard as ever I can.

Two or three times I have got up early and gone out to see if any one of them had no dew; but they have always been drenched, every one of them. Dew, thick over their brown faces, and rolling like tears down their yellow glories. I am quite sure that I have never seen a Sunflower yet that had had leave to go home at night, and Margery says the same. And she is certain to know.

I had a very bad night, the night after Margery went away. I was so terribly frightened with being alone in the dark. I know it was very silly, but it was most miserable. I was afraid to go and wake Jael, and I was more afraid of going to Grandmamma, and I was most of all afraid of staying where I was. It seemed to be years and years before the light began to come a little, and the noises left off creaking, and dropping, and cracking, and moving about.

Next day I had a very bad headache. Jael does not like me when I have headaches, because I give trouble, and have to have hot water and mustard for my feet at odd times. Jael does not mind bringing up hot water at night; but she says she can’t abide folk wanting things at odd times. So she does not like me when I have headaches; and when I have headaches, I do not much like her. She treads so very heavily, it shakes the floor just as ogres in ogre stories shake the ground when they go out kidnapping; and then the pain jumps in my head till I get frightened, and wonder what happens to people when the pain gets so bad that they cannot bear it any longer.

That morning, I thought I never should have got dressed; stooping and fastening things do make you so very bad. I was very late, and Grandmamma was beginning to scold me, but when she saw I had got a headache she didn’t—she only said I looked like a washed-out pocket-handkerchief; and when I could not eat any breakfast, she said I must have a dose of rhubarb and magnesia, and as she had not got any rhubarb left, she sent Jael up to Dr. Brown’s to get some.

I did not like having to take rhubarb and magnesia; but I was very glad to get rid of Jael for a bit, though I knew she would hate me for having had to take a message at an odd time. It was her shaking the room when she brought in the urn, and knocking the tongs into the fender with her dress as she went by, that had made me not able to eat any breakfast.

Just as she was starting, Grandmamma beckoned to her to come back, and told her to call at the barber’s, and tell him to come up in the afternoon to “thin” my hair.

My hair is very thick. I brush as much out as I can; but I think it only gets thicker and thicker. Grandmamma says she believes that is what gives me so many headaches, and she says it is no use cutting it shorter, for it always is kept cut short; the only way is to thin it, that is, cutting lumps out here and there down to the roots. Thinning does make less of it; but when it grows again it is very difficult to keep tidy, which makes Jael say she “never see such a head, it’s all odds and ends,” and sometimes she adds—“inside and out.” Margery can imitate Jael exactly.

When Jael came back, she said Dr. Brown would step down and see me himself. So he came.

Then he felt my pulse and asked me what sort of a night I had had, and I was obliged to tell him, and Grandmamma was very much vexed, and made me tell the whole truth, and she said I did not deserve any pity for my headaches when I brought them on myself, which is true.

I think it was being vexed with me that made her vexed with Dr. Brown, when he said rhubarb and magnesia would not do me any good. She said she liked a regular system with the health of young people; and when she and her six sisters were girls they were physicked with perfect regularity; they were bled in the spring, and the fall of the leaf; and had their hair thinned and their teeth taken out, once a quarter, by the advice of their excellent friend and local practitioner, who afterwards removed to London, and became very distinguished, and had his portrait painted in oils for one of the learned societies. And Grandmamma said she had been spared to survive all her family, and had never had a headache in her life.

Though my head was so bad, I listened as hard as I could to hear what Dr. Brown would say. For I thought—“if he makes one of his speeches, they will quarrel, and he will leave off being our doctor again.”

But he didn’t, he only said—“Well, well, madam, I’ll send the child some medicine. Let her go and lie down at once, with a hot bottle to her feet, and as many pillows as she wants under her head; and don’t let a sound reach her for the next three or four hours. When she wakes, give her a basin of bread-and-milk.”

So he went away, and presently he came back himself with the medicine. It tasted very nice, and he was very kind; only he made Jael so cross with saying she had not put boiling water in the hot bottle, and sending it down again; and then making her fetch more pillows out of the spare bedroom (Jael does not like odd things any more than odd times). But I never had such a hot bottle or such a comfortable headache before, and he pulled the blind down, and I went to sleep. At first I dreamt a little of the pain, and then I forgot it, and then slept like a top, for hours and hours.

When I awoke I found a basin of bread-and-milk, with a plate over it to keep it warm, on the rush-bottomed chair by the bed. It hadn’t kept it very warm. It made me think of the suppers of the Three Bears in their three basins, and I dare say theirs were rather cold too. Perhaps their Jael boiled their bread-and-milk at her own time, whether they were ready for it or not.

But I think mine must have been like the Little Bear’s supper, for I ate it all up.

My head was much better, so I went up to our attic, and got out the Fairy Book, that I might not think too much about Margery, and it opened of itself at the Puzzling Tale. I was just beginning to read it, when I heard a noise under the rafters, in one of those low sort of cupboard places that run all round the attic, where spare boxes and old things are kept, and where Margery and I sometimes play at Voyages of Discovery.

I thought Margery’s black cat must be shut up there, but when I went to look, there was another crash, and then the door burst open, and out came Jael, with her cap so crushed that I could not help laughing.

I was glad to see her, for my head was well, so I liked her again, and did not mind her being ogre-footed, and I wanted to know what she was doing; but Jael had not got to like me again, and she spoke very crossly, and said it was more trouble of my giving, and that Dr. Brown had said that I was to have a light in my bedroom till Miss Margery came back— “if ever there was a sinful waste of candle-grease!” and that it wasn’t likely the Mistress was going to throw away money on box night-lights; and she had sent the boy to the shop for half-a-dozen farthing rushlights—if they kept them, and if not, for half-a-pound of “sixteen” dips, and had sent her to the attic to find the old Rushlight-tin.

“What’s it like, Jael?”

“It’s like a Rushlight-tin, to be sure,” said Jael. “And it’s not been used since your Pa and Ma’s last illness. So it’s safe to be thick with dust, and a pretty job it is for me to have to do, losing the pin out of my cap, and tearing my apron on one of them old boxes, all to find a dirty old Rushlight, just because of your whims and fancies, Miss Grace!”

“Jael, I am so sorry for your cap and apron. I will go in and find the Rushlight for you. Tell me, is it painted black, with a lot of round holes in the sides, and a little door, and a place like a candlestick in the middle? If it is, I know where it is.”

I knew quite well. It was behind a very old portmanteau, and a tin box with a wig and moths in it, and the bottom part of the shower-bath, just at the corner, which Margery and I call Bass’s Straits. So I made a Voyage of Discovery, and brought it out, “thick with dust,” as Jael had said.

And Jael took it, and went away very cross and very ogre-footed, with her cap still awry; and as she stumped down the attic-stairs, and kept clattering the Rushlight against the rails, I could hear her muttering—“A sinful waste of candle-grease—whims and fancies— scandilus!”

Mary’s Meadow    |    Sunflowers and a Rushlight Chapter 3

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