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!

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