Friday, May 24, 2019

Fernie's World, Chapter 7: Special Delivery

Illustration from On The Growth of Plants in Closely Glazed Cases
by Nathaniel Bagshaw Ward.

CHAPTER 7: Special Delivery

“Fernie!  Fernie!” Papa called in wild excitement. “There is a delivery for you!” Fernie came running down the hallway before she reminded herself she must not run indoors like a galloping horse—as Papa had just done. She met him in the back of the house, outdoors. “What is it, Papa?”

“See for yourself,” he replied. “It is from Mr. Ward. Can you not guess what it might be?”

Fernie could not contain her exuberance as she gazed at the large crate before her. “Oh, Papa!” she exclaimed. “Is it one of his cases?!”

Papa opened the crate to reveal that it was indeed a Wardian case; one of the first.

Mama came to see about what all the fuss was.

“Oh, Mama!” cried Fernie. “Look what Mr. Ward has sent us all the way from London!”

Mama eyed it with less enthusiasm. She knew it must be plant-related and it appeared by all accounts to be one of those giant cases that Mrs. Ward had related to her in their correspondences. Mrs. Ward did not seem to mind as much, even though these cases were taking up every square inch of the Ward household. Was the FitzWilliam house to be invaded next? Mama consoled herself with the thought that since they were in the country, perhaps there was room for it outside. Surely it would not have to be kept in the house as it would be in town?

“I think this shall fit very nicely in the drawing room,” suggested Papa.

“Oh, now MISTER  FitzWilliam, not the drawing room!”  she said emphatically. This was too much to be born. For, what would the ladies say at her next tea?!

 “Where do you propose, then?” he asked, more mildly.  He knew she was rightly vexed when she addressed him thusly with an emphasis on “Mister.”

Fernie watched this exchange doing her best not to speak out of turn, for it was a time when children did not speak so freely with their elders. She knew the case should come inside and be placed in an advantageous area--for that was its purpose. It must come in the house. It must!

“Perhaps in your library,” suggested Mama. “For then you may monitor it daily.”

“Well, that is a thought,” agreed Papa. He looked at Fernie, who was practically dancing in wild anticipation. “What say you, Fanny?”  They both knew this placated Mrs. FitzWilliam when he used her proper name.

Finally! Now it was her turn to speak!  “Could we not transport it to my bed chamber?” Fernie asked tentively.

“Yes!  YES!”  cried Mama with such a violent enthusiasm as to startle Papa. “Of course! That is the perfect place for it. For then Fanny shall have access to it as often as need be!”

Papa smiled. “My dearest Mrs. FitzWilliam, I am happy at your wise suggestion. That is a much better course of action than for it to be in your drawing room.” He turned to the footmen and requested that it be taken to Fernie’s bed chamber.

Fernie regarded her father and mother with wonderment. They were both smiling with satisfaction; Mama because she had prevented this monstrosity from being housed in her drawing room, and Papa because he had successfully brought it into the house with Mama in agreement. Fernie marveled at such a negotiation and smiled, too. Her own Wardian case!

These are later versions of the variety of Wardian cases.
Fernie's would not have looks so elegant! (Image from Wikipedia)

Friday, May 17, 2019

(Revised) Chapter 6: Meeting Mr. Ward

CHAPTER 6: Meeting Mr. Ward

Fernie stood fidgeting whilst Nellie helped her into the final part of her evening dress. “Arms up, Miss Fernie!” she directed.  Fernie stretched her arms overhead, preoccupied with thoughts of the coming introduction.

“Nellie,” she said. “What sort of man is Mr. Ward?” for she knew that Nellie knew all the goings-on in the household.  

Nellie looked down at her young charge and said with a comforting pat, “Now don’t you worry, Miss Fernie. I think you’ll find him delightful! And according to Mrs. Ward, you have met before when you were just a babe; for the families have been friends these ten years since.” 

Papa had made mention of his friend who lived in London, but she did not know him. Nellie continued, “He is very jolly. Your mother and father and Master William were very entertained by his stories of his travels.”

“Travels?  I thought he was a doctor in London,” Fernie queried.

 “Oh, that he is!  But he wanted to be a sailor when he was growing up,” she said in a confidential tone.  “But his own father was a doctor and desired that his son be one as well. He put Mr. Ward on a ship and sent him off to Jamaica when he was but thirteen years old—I reckon to cure him of that idea! The ocean did not agree with him, but that is when he became interested in the plants like your father—well, plants and bugs. However, Mrs. Ward does not seem to be as jolly about the bugs.”  Nellie laughed at her own joke. “Now turn around and let me see you!”

Fernie turned. Nellie smiled at her and said, “Well, now!  What a genteel sort of young lady you are when you are not out mousin’ about the countryside!” 

Fernie laughed and hugged Nellie.  “Thank you, Nellie!”  She knew just what to say to put Fernie at ease. It was their little joke about what Mama said to her about “scurrying” after more than one muddy expedition. Papa had remarked, “Mice scurry, Fernie Girl. Botanists explore.” 

She was ready and Nellie walked with her down the stairs. On the way, Nellie said, “The ladies are in the drawing room and the gentlemen are in the library. We’ll say a quick pleased-to-meet-you to Mrs. Ward, get your cuppa tea, and then we shall go directly to the library.” 

Again, Fernie was grateful to Nellie; for she knew that Nellie would steer her in to the drawing room and back out again in a matter of time in which Mama would have no time to object. They came to the doorway and Fernie looked at Mama and Mrs. Ward seated at a table having tea. How elegant they both looked! Mama looked up and smiled at Fernie with approval. She turned to Mrs. Ward and said, “Mrs. Ward, this is our eldest daughter, Fanny.”  Nellie gave Fernie a little nudge and Fernie walked to the table and greeted them both with a curtsy. “It is a pleasure to meet you, Mrs. Ward.” 

Mrs. Ward smiled warmly at her and said, “Why how you have grown, Miss Fanny!  And what a fine young lady you are.”

Fernie blushed. Nellie had stayed at the door and cocked her ear to the side. “Excuse me, Mrs. FitzWilliam. I hear Mr. FitzWilliam calling for Miss Fanny.” 

Mama’s eyes narrowed. That Nellie had the hearing of a dog!  For she had not heard Frederick calling for Fanny at all. But she turned to Fernie and said, “I will have Nellie bring your tea to you. You may join your father and Mr. Ward, now.”

Fernie curtsied and said, “Yes, Mama,” and then turned to Mrs. Ward and said, “It was very nice meeting you,” and curtsied again before turning to go.

She smiled to herself and to Nellie who was waiting at the door for her. She knew from Mama’s proud expression that she had minded her manners properly and her appearance had been pleasing and met with Mama’s approval. As she was leaving, Mama said to Mrs. Ward, “Our Fanny is following very much in her father’s footsteps in her botanical interests!”

She headed down the hallway and could hear an unfamiliar voice coming from her father’s study which she surmised to be that of Mr. Ward’s. Then she heard her father laugh, but not her brother. She suspected that he had made his escape to his room with an excuse that would appease Papa. She knocked at the door and waited to be invited in. “Here she is!” exclaimed Mr. Ward and smiled at her. “Come in, come in!” Papa said, motioning her in to the room.
Fernie curtsied and then joined her father on the divan.  Nellie entered and did a quick delivery of tea and exited and closed the door behind her.

“Well, now,” began Mr. Ward.  “I understand you are a botanist like your father.”

Fernie smiled. Papa said, “Now Fernie, don’t let this doctor fool you into thinking he knows nothing of botany. For he spends most mornings in the study of not only plants, but also insects!”  He turned to Mr. Ward and declared proudly, “But I’ll wager no one else knows more about Pteridophyta than my Fernie Girl!”

Mr. Ward raised an eyebrow, “Indeed?”

Papa turned to Fernie, “Tell Mr. Ward of our conversation when it was snowing and you could not go out of doors.”

Fernie felt shy. She had been jesting with Papa, but now he was encouraging her to recount it. “You were saying . . . ”  he began.

“I was saying that it was a pity that we could not grow ferns indoors so that we might enjoy them in the house as well as out in Nature, especially on such days.”  She expected Mr. Ward to laugh, but he did not. He looked at Papa with a mixture of surprise and wonder. “Did you tell her of my experiments?”

Papa shook his head and said, “I did not. That is yours to tell when you are ready.”

Mr. Ward looked at Fernie.  “You may think that this idea is a silly notion or that others may not take it seriously?”

Fernie felt self-conscious and nodded. “I say,” said Mr. Ward, “If you have an idea, it can be made possible. For, as improbably as it may seem, everything you see in this world began as somebody’s idea. Why, this empty glass was somebody’s idea at one time!”  He held up his glass and handed it to Papa and they both laughed. As Papa took the glass and refilled it, he continued. “Indeed, there was a time when only a few years ago, there was no such thing as a match to light a fire or a pipe! You are too young to remember that ember tongs were used to hold a hot coal in which to light something. They are most inconvenient and impractical in some respects. There were also tapers, but these both require a fire that is already made which is convenient indoors, but confoundable when out of doors!  A flint striker is more portable, but still requires more time and effort. But then somebody,” he paused and struck a match for effect, “had the idea that it would be advantageous to be able to light a candle or a pipe without an ember tong or   flint striker and so here we have matches!”

He lit his pipe.  “We can thank Monsieur Jean Chancel for his invention!” His eyes sparkled as he leaned toward her, saying intently, “If you can have such an idea about your ferns, dear girl, you can make it possible.” 

Nellie had been right in her assessment of Mr. Ward. Fernie could perceive why he and Papa were friends and she was glad. He was jolly and she was delighted to have made his acquaintance. It would be just a bit of time before Mr. Ward was to reveal the invention of his famous case that did, indeed, grow ferns. However, it was inspired by his interest in a Sphinx moth “cocoon” and not ferns. Ferns, it would turn out, were a very happy accident that would go on to inspire the import of plants from around the world! Tea plants made their way from one region of India to Ceylon, bananas came all the way from China to the tropics, and rubber trees would make their journey to far-off places. Indeed, it is much thanks to Mr. Nathaniel Bagshaw Ward for his Wardian cases, that we have such a world that we can house tropical plants indoors; including many species of ferns.
Dr. Nathaniel Bagshaw Ward
Click here for some BEAUTIFUL Wardian case illustrations from Nik The Booksmith!

Friday, May 10, 2019

Chapter 5: A New Neighbour Brings A Time Peace

CHAPTER 5: A New Neighbour Brings A Time Peace

“Hullo!” came a voice behind Fernie, disrupting her reverie. She turned to see a boy about her age.

“Hullo,” she said.

“What are you doing?” he enquired, walking toward her. Well, skipping more than walking, with gangly arms swinging to and fro.

“I’m studying the fronds on these ferns.”

“Fronds?” he said, grinning. “That is my name!”

Fernie giggled. “Your name is Fronds?” 

“No,” he corrected himself. “I mean, Fronde is my surname. So my family is ‘The Frondes.’  But our family is originally from France and most people mispronounce our name as ‘FRAND, or sometime FRAND-EE. Then my mother started saying ‘Frande’ with the accent on the D, but then people started saying FROND-AH, but it is properly pronounced FROND,” he explained in a rat-a-tat way. “I am Edward,” he said almost as an afterthought, and made a polite bow.

“I’m Fer…” she began, but corrected herself. “I am Fanny FitzWilliam.”

“Oh!” exclaimed he. “We shall be great friends!  My father is to teach at university with your father.”

Fernie smiled shyly to herself. Could it be? Could they be friends?  But she asked, “Your surname is truly ‘Fronde?’”

“Yes,” Edward nodded in animation.

Fernie was curious, in spite of her shyness of meeting this new person. “Do you know what a real frond is?”

“I dunno,” he said, picking up a stick and tossing it into the brook.

“It’s one of these,” she said, crouching by a collection of ferns. “Did your father not teach you of fronds?”  

In the 1800's, "frond" was a term specific to ferns. It has since
evolved to mean any fern-like palmate, feather-looking leaf
structure with leaves that branch off from the main stem. A
new, unfurled frond is also called a "fiddle head." 
“Father has been away in India and we were staying with Granny but then Father came back from India and now we are all moved here.” He spoke very fast and swung his arms as he talked and then leapt over to Fernie and bounced down onto his stomach to gaze at the fronds. “Are these fronds?”

Fernie smiled. “Yes.”

“Well,” said he.

“Well,” said she.

And then they both looked at each other and smiled.

He looked at the fronds and then at her and said, “I am still rather uncertain as to what fronds are. I do not see how they are at all different from leaves. For are they not leaves such as we have on other plants?”

Fernie nodded. “Yes, they are the leaves specific to ferns. Fern leaves are called fronds. For you see,” as she pointed to the stalk and traced outward with the feathery leaves, "The leaves extend from the stalk. And sometimes, other leaves extend from there. The structure can be very intricate." 

Fern images courtesy of Pixabay
Edward looked up at the trees and around him and thought about this. He grinned. “I gather I would not talk about the fronds of a chestnut tree, then.”

Fernie grinned back. Did he not know of ferns at all?  How was this that he had not learnt anything botanical from his own father. But then, she supposed that if Papa had been away in India, she would not have had the advantage of knowing about fronds, either. Even if it were her last name.  Then she laughed anew. That would be very humourous indeed!  Fernie Frond.

He laughed with her and said, “What is so amusing?”

Did she dare tell him?  She looked at his grinning face and said, “My own father calls me Fernie because I love ferns so much.”

Edward laughed even more. “I understand why you laughed at my name! What a fine joke for you!” and he leapt up. “And now for me! We shall have such good fun in other company. For I would suspect that no one else knows what a frond is.”

“Indeed,” Fernie affirmed.

Fernie looked at the sunlight overhead and surmised that it was close to noon. She sighed and pulled out her timepiece. It was no use. It was not noon, but she could not tell what the hour was. However, she did know that when the sun was at such an angle as it was, it was most certainly time to make her way back home.

Edward looked at her looking at the pocket watch. “Father says I mayn’t have my own timepiece until I can tell time. I am well-impressed that you can tell time!” 
Fernie blushed and looked down.

Edward looked at her face with realization and said, “You are still learning! How wonderful for you that your own father gave you a timepiece with which to practice! For how may I practice with no timepiece?" he declared in wild gesticulation.  That is what I asked Father, but he did not see my reasoning.”  Then he grinned anew.

Fernie looked at Edward. He did not seem to be bothered by his circumstances at all. And he had somehow described her own circumstances as much more advantageous than she felt them to be.

She said, “I must go home now for Mama will be asking for me. Would you like to go back with me?”

“Yes, let us make haste and. . . frond at once, Fernie!” said Edward, and he ran ahead of her down the path. Fernie laughed. He was very quick in both understanding and movement. She had a new friend. She gathered up her collections into her satchel and began down the path. Edward had stopped a little ways ahead to wait for her.

Edward Fronde. Fronde!  Of course they would be friends—or as Edward was to say later, they were great fronds.

Friday, May 3, 2019

Chapter 4: Timepiece

Read-aloud version of this chapter.   

Playlist of the whole Fernie's World series.

Fernie made her way down the back path to the Northern part of the estate. The sun was a bit higher and brighter now, but it was yet early. She would have ample time to explore and collect and draw her finds.

She often thought she would have ample time, only to discover that it felt as if there was never enough time! She could lose herself for hours and then find herself late to tea, with an admonishment from Mama. Papa had given her one of his pocket watches, but she had not yet mastered the telling of time beyond being able to tell if it were noon. As much as William had tried to explain it to her, it was a difficult task to her. She was adept at learning all manner of difficult vocabulary, but the numbers of the clock seemed to swim in front of her. She was frustrated at this lack of comprehension on her part. Papa told her that it would make sense to her eventually. “For,” he remarked, “There was a time when you didn’t know about time or even that there was such a thing as a timepiece. Is that not so, Fernie Girl?”

Fernie had nodded. “Yes, Papa.”

“When you are ready, it shall come to you. Your m” and Papa paused and cleared his throat. “Your mind works differently, and that is how it is. I would have you be no other way than as you are, my dear girl.”

“Mama says,” Fernie began.

“Yes,” Papa had agreed. “I am familiar with your mother’s position on such topics as these. However, you possess a great many natural skills and talents and gifts that others mayn’t ever have. If you are late to telling time,” he said, striking a match for effect, “I advise you to enjoy it!” and he lit his pipe.

“Yes, Papa.”

“I rather suspect,” Papa continued, “That there are two kinds of time in some minds: Now and not now.” He looked down at his daughter.

Fernie had never thought about it before, but that was exactly how she felt!  When she was studying a fern intently, nothing else mattered. She forgot about hunger or thirst, or if she were hot or cold. She cared not for anything else. When she was drawing or painting, she was focused only on that.

“That is the main point,” he concluded. It is why,” he said, patting his pocket, “I am so diligent in the keeping of my own timepiece!”

Fernie laughed, as he knew she would. “Truly, Papa?”

Papa nodded. “Truly. And there are others like us, even if you are not yet acquainted with them.” He winked at her and gave her an affectionate pat on the shoulder.

Fernie paused as she reached the top of the first hill. She looked down to survey her path, and took a deep breath in. How fresh it smelled! She turned and continued into the shade of woods, to find one of her favourite fern places. It was on Queens Brook, but higher up. She found a place to sit; albeit a bit cold and damp. She examined some different ferns at their beginning stages of growth, and pulled out her field notebook and her pencil.

Ferns unfurling. Photo from

She spent the morning drawing different ferns and from different angles. She was careful not to collect any this early in spring, as she wanted to make sure they would grow and thrive. Papa had told her never to take all of any plant, and if there were only a few, to find more or only take one, if need be. He had told her that if she were going to study ferns, she needed to do it properly.

She pulled out her field flask and took a drink, reflecting on Papa’s teachings. “Proper” to Mama, and “Proper” to Papa had two different meanings, ‘though they were the same word!  

Papa was concerned with procedure and following directions in a correct order. “Proper” meant following the rules of Nature; seasons and weather patterns and the natural order and conditions in which all things grew.

“Proper” to Mama meant “What would the neighbours think?” 

Papa cared not for what the neighbours thought. They already thought him a bit peculiar, ‘though he didn’t seem to mind; for he had said, “Indeed, they mayn’t say it to me directly, but botany is not a science that interests everybody. However,” he had emphasized, “Those it does interest, are my truest friends.”

Fernie thought about friends, too. She counted Cook and Mrs. O’Brien as her friends, ‘though they were adults and worked. William was her friend, ‘though he was her brother. She did not have any friends who were girls or her own age, much to Mama’s dismay. She did her best to force Fernie into layers of petticoats to go visiting with her when she attended teas. But, as she overheard Mama and Papa discussing one evening, “It is as though she were in another world entirely!  Fanny’s World where she says nothing, but I surmise she must be thinking of something amusing and then laughs at her own jokes. It is unconscionable. There we were at Lady Constance’s and Fanny refused to so much as look at dear Florence!  Conversation was out of the question. And Florence was making such an effort to engage her! Why, she even asked her about ferns. But Fanny said nothing and then found something about which to be amused because she laughed so much she snorted, which was very vexing to Lady Constance, especially.”

Papa replied with, “Lady Constance was vexed, was she? Oh, dear.”

Mama continued. “Indeed! And all I could think to say was, ‘If my eyes were closed, I would think it was Frederick sitting here with us, for father and daughter have the same laugh.’ But still Lady Constance remained vexed. We left shortly thereafter. And still Fanny said nothing on the way home, in her own world, still!”

Papa had found this whole tale very amusing. “Yes,” he agreed. “She can be in her own world for a while longer. Why disrupt it? It is a wonderful world to be in.”

Mama had not replied, but Fernie understood her silence to be that of disagreement, while at the same time one of acquiescence that there would be no use in further discussion.

After that, Papa had taken to referencing “Fernie’s World,” with Fernie. 

Mama was not pleased.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 

The "Now, not now" time distinction comes from A.D.D. and social media expert Peter Shankman, author of Faster Than Normal* and host of The Faster Than Normal podcastHere's a video:

Really great article about growing up "not normal," like Fernie.   

*Affiliate link