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

Juliana Horatia Ewing

Sunflowers and a Rushlight

Chapter IV

THE worst of it was, I caught such a very bad cold, I gave more trouble than ever; besides Grandmamma having rheumatism in her back with the draught up the back-stairs, and nothing on but her night things and the watchman’s rattle. I knew I deserved to be punished, but I did not think my punishment would have been such a terrible one.

I hoped it might have been lessons, or even, perhaps, not having the Rushlight again, but I did not think Grandmamma would think of hurting the Sunflowers.

She waited till I was well enough to go out, and I really began to think she was going to be kind enough to forgive me, with a free forgiveness. But that day she called me to her, and spoke very seriously, and said, that to punish me for my misconduct, and to try and cure me of the babyish nonsense I gave way to about things, she had decided to have all the Sunflowers destroyed at once, and not to have any seed sown for new ones, any more. The gardener was to do it next morning, and I was to be there to see. She hoped it would make me remember the occasion, and teach me better sense for the future.

I should have begged and prayed, but it is no use begging and praying to Grandmamma; Jael attends more to that. There was no comfort anywhere, except in thinking that Margery would be at home in two days, and that I could pour out all my sorrow to her.

As I went crying down the passage I met Jael.

“What’s the matter now?” said she.

“Grandmamma’s going to have all the Sunflowers killed,” I sobbed. “Oh, I wish I’d never gone to look at them with the Rushlight!”

“That’s how it is,” said Jael sagely, “folks always wishes they’d done different when it’s too late. But don’t sob your heart out that fashion, Miss Grace. Come into the pantry and I’ll give you a bit of cake.”

“Thank you, dear Jael, you’re very kind, but I don’t think I could eat cake. Oh, Jael, dear Jael! Do you think she would spare one, just one?”

“That she wouldn’t, Miss Grace, so you needn’t trouble your head about it. When your grandmamma’s made up her mind, there’s no one ever I saw can move her, unless it be Dr. Brown. Besides, the missus has never much mattered those Sunflowers. They were your mamma’s fancy, and she’d as many whims as you have, and put your grandmamma about a good deal. She was always at your papa to be doing this and that to the place, ‘Wasting good money,’ as your grandmamma said. Your poor papa was a very easy gentleman. He wanted to please his wife, and he wanted to please his mother. Deary me! I remember his coming to me in this very pantry—I don’t know if it would be more than three months afore they were both taken—and, standing there, as it might be you, Miss Grace, and saying—‘Jael,’ he says, ‘this window looks out on the yard,’ he says; ‘do you ever smell anything, Jael? You are here a good deal.’ ‘Master John,’ I says, ’I thank my Maker, my nose never troubles me; but if it did,’ I says, ‘I hope I know better than to set myself up to smell more than my neighbours.’—‘To be sure, to be sure,’ he says, looking round in a foolish kind of a way at the sink. Then he says, ‘Jael, do you ever taste anything in the water? My wife thinks there’s something wrong with the well.’ ‘Master John,’ I says, ‘with all respect to your good lady, she disturbs her mind a deal too much with books. An ounce of experience, I says, is worth a pound of book learning; and I’ll tell you what my father said to them parties that goes round stirring up stinks, when they were for meddling with his farm-yard. “Let wells alone,” he says, “and muck-heaps likewise.” And my father passed three-score years and ten, Master John, and died where he was born.’ Well-a-day! I see your poor Pa now. He stood and looked as puzzled as a bee in a bottle. Then he says—‘Well, Jael, my wife says Sunflowers are good against fevers; and there’s no harm in sowing some.’ Which he did that very afternoon, she standing by him, with her hand on his shoulder; but, bless ye, my dear! they were took long before the seeds was up. Your mother was a pretty woman, I’ll say that for her. You’d never have thought it, to look at her, that she was so fond of poking in dirty places.”

“Jael!” I said, “Mamma was right about the smells in the back-yard. Margery and I hold our noses “—“You’d a deal better hold your tongues,” interrupted Jael.

“We do, Jael, we do, because I don’t like mustard-plasters on my throat, and when the back-yard smells a good deal, my throat is always sore. But oh, Jael! If Sunflowers are good for smells, don’t you think we might tell Grandmamma, and she would let us have them for that?”

“She’ll not, Miss Grace,” said Jael, “so don’t worry on. They’re ragged things at the best and all they’re good for is to fatten fowls; and I shall tell Gardener he may cut their heads off and throw ’em to the poultry, before he roots up the rest.”

I could not bear to hear her, so I went out to bid the Sunflowers good-bye.

I held their dear rough stems, rough with nice little white hairs, and I knew how easily their poor heads would cut off, there is so much pith inside the stems.

I kissed all their dear faces one after another. They are very nice to kiss, especially in the sun, for then they smell honey-sweet, like blue Scabious, and lots of flowers that have not much scent, but only smell as if bees would like them. I kissed them once round for myself, and then once for Margery, for I knew how sorry she would be.

And it was whilst I was holding St. George of England’s face in my two hands, kissing him for Margery, that I saw the Dignotion on my middle finger-nail.

A Gift, a Beau, A Friend!—And then it flashed into my mind, all in a moment—” There can be no friend to me and the Sunflowers, except Dr. Brown, for Jael says he is the only person who ever changes Grandmamma’s mind.”

I dawdled that night when I could not make up my mind about going out with the Rushlight, but I did not wait one minute now. I climbed over the garden wall into the road, and ran as hard as I could run up to the top of the hill, where lived a man—I mean where Dr. Brown lived.

Now, I know that he is the kindest person that ever could be. I told him everything, and he asked particularly about my throat and the smells. Then he looked graver than I ever saw him, and said, “Listen, little woman; you must look out for spots on your little finger-nails. You’re going away for a bit, till I’ve doctored these smells. Don’t turn your eyes into saucers. Margery shall go with you; I wish I could turn ye both into flowers and plant ye out in a field for three months but you are not to give me any trouble by turning home-sick, do you hear? I shall have trouble enough with Grandmamma, though I am joint guardian with her (your dear mother’s doing, that!), and have some voice in the disposal of your fates. Now, if I save the Sunflowers, will you promise me not to cry to come home again till I send for you?”

“Shall you be able to change her mind,, to let us have Sunflowers sown for next year, too?”


“Then I promise.”

I could have danced for joy. The only thing that made me feel uncomfortable was having to tell Dr. Brown about the spot on my middle finger-nail. He would ask all about it, and so I let out about Johnson’s Dictionary and the Dignotions, and Brown’s Vulgar Errors, and I was afraid Margery would say I had been very silly, and let a cat out of a bag.

I hope he was not vexed about his vulgar errors. He only laughed till he nearly tumbled off his chair.

I never did have a spot on my journey-to-go nail, but we went away all the same; so I suppose Dignotions do not always tell true.

When Grandmamma forgave me, and told me she would spare the Sunflowers this time, as Dr. Brown had begged them off, she said—“And Dr. Brown assures me, Grace, that when you are stronger you will have more sense. I am sure I hope he is right.”

I hope so, too!

Mary’s Meadow

Back    |    Words Home    |    J.H. Ewing Home    |    Site Info