Saturday, June 15, 2019

Fernie's World: Letters

To Mrs. Nathaniel Bagshaw Ward
Wellclose Square

Dearest Charlotte,

You may imagine my surprise at Mr. Ward’s kindness to our own Fanny with the arrival of one of his cases. Indeed, I cannot express to you the violence of her enthusiasm or that of Frederick’s!  That your husband should express such generosity was met with much discussion as to the proper placement of the case. Given the nature and size of it, and Fanny’s own nature, it was decided that it was best suited to her bedchamber where she may gaze upon it as often as she chooses. Indeed, I expect that she will be gallivanting about the countryside to-morrow in the collection of some of her ferns.

I expect we shall be anticipating your arrival in the coming weeks to revel in our country air. I do hope to provide some entertainment of a cultural nature, perhaps an opera or evening out, and you must meet Mrs. Frande when you come next. She has introduced all of Pilkington to some very exotic teas from India.  It is a pity that we cannot grow tea in one of those cases of your husband’s!

I shall write again after tea with Mrs. Frande later to-day. She has promised to show us some of her silks that Mr. Frande has brought back from his travels in India. We are all wild in anticipation, Lady Constance in particular as you may surmise.

Until then, I remain,
Yours ever,
Catherine F.

To Miss Fanny FitzWilliam

Dear Miss Fernie,

I am delighted that the box arrived satisfactorily intact and that it has been installed indoors. I expect you shall find many plants from your walks in Nature to place under the glass.

The method of proceeding is very simple. The ferns, &c., may be planted in the box; any size or shape would do, but  furnished with glazed sides and a glazed lid is the important point. The bottom of the box should be filled with nearly equal portions of bog moss, vegetable mould, and sand; and the ferns, after planting, should be most copiously watered, and the superfluous water allowed to drain off through a plughole in the bottom of the box: the plug is then to be put in tight, the glazed lid applied, and no father care is requisite than that of keeping the box in the light. In this way, many plants will grow for years, without requiring any fresh supply of water.

The success of the case is that of a tightly sealed environment; that surrounding air does not get into it and therefore it is kept independent of outside conditions. You may have noticed that the hardest of woods has been employed as to resist moisture and decay.  

I recounted to your father in detail about my discovery, but I do not recall telling you.  I was accidentally led to make some experiments on the growth of ferns, &c., in closely glazed vessels, from the following circumstance. I had buried the chrysalis of a sphinx in some moist mould in a large bottle covered with a lid. The insect attained its perfect form in about a month, when I observed one or two minute specks of vegetation upon the surface of the mould. Curious to observe the development of plants in so confined a situation, I placed the bottle outside one of my windows with a northern aspect. The plants proved to be one of Poa annua, and one of Nephodioum [Aspidium Swz.] Filix-mas. In this situation they lived for more than three years, during which time no fresh water was given to them, nor was the lid removed. The fern produced four or five new fronds every year; and the Poa flowered the second year, but did not ripen its seeds. Both plants ultimately perished, from the admission of rain water, in consequence of rusting of the lid. I have repeated this experiment with uniform success.

 I have great expectations for the applications of the case. Indeed, at the behest of my neighbor and friend Mr. Loddiges, I have two such cases on their way to Sydney, Australia with some native British ferns and grasses. They have traveled these three months past on the high seas thus far and shall arrive in another three. I dearly hope that they and the plants, arrive safely. From thence, the plants shall be transplanted and the cases put to use with some native plants from Australia. Mr. Loddiges assures me that if even half the plants arrive back safely, that will be more than what has been successful thus far. He related to me that out of twenty plants, only one survived on his last endeavor!  If we are successful, I shall share with you some seeds. Do write to me of your progress and observations.

Yours &c.,
Uncle Nathaniel

To Miss F. FitzWilliam
FitzWilliam Hall

Dear Fernie,
Shall you not come over to-day?  Mama says she has something for you and she is expecting your mother for tea. Also, Lady Constance &c., are expected to attend. With fronds like these, who needs enemies?  Write to me and apprise me of your plans. I shall not stay in-doors if you are not with me and then I could meet you at the brook, but I expect you shall be expected to attend.

Your friend,

* * * * * * * *

The letter to Fernie from Mr. Ward is transcribed from his own account in his book, On The Growth of Plants in Closely Glazed Cases

Friday, June 7, 2019

Lady Constance

She stood in the doorway, blocking the light like a single black cloud that darkens the whole sky, portending an afternoon storm. Lady Constance, Florence’s mother, was a stout but tall woman, and no amount of lace could lend a sense of delicacy to her demeanor. Especially when she spoke her opinion, which was often and on all topics. “It is easy to have opinions such as these when one does not let facts or science determine them,” said Papa, dryly. Fernie had escaped a tedious tea with Mama and Lady Constance one afternoon—much thanks to Papa calling her to his study. It was her sanctuary as well as his. He had even moved her pianoforte into the room so that she might practice there. Practicing was one thing Mama encouraged, as “every young lady of society must play at least one instrument.” Even through the closed door, she could hear Lady Constance’s booming voice. She knew this was perhaps the reason Papa requested she play for him “to drown out the thunder.” She was old enough to understand that on such a sunny day, he was not speaking of the weather.

But here was another occasion in which her solace at Mrs. O’Brien’s was interrupted. Lady Constance stood there as if waiting to be announced. Indeed, she was attended by two of her servant girls, who were holding parcels and bags. Mrs. O’Brien rose from her seat with the slightest curtsy and said, “Lady Constance, to what do I owe the honour of your visit to my humble shoppe?” She already knew that Lady Constance did not trust her servants with her tea; she attended to it personally. She charged in. “I heard from Mrs. FROND-AH that you have a new sort of tea. I should be glad to try it.”

The mention of Mrs. Frande drew an involuntary snort and stifled laugh from Fernie. No matter how often she heard Edward’s surname, its meaning did not escape her, even though the rest of the village seemed unaware and disinterested. It was especially amusing as it was consistently mispronounced, no matter how Mrs. Frande tried to explain. Fernie sank down further in her chair, trying to escape notice.

As Mrs. O’Brien busied herself with the latest from India, Lady Constance stood surveying the room with a sniff. Her eyes rested on Fernie with a pointed stare.

“What are you doing here, Fanny?” Not waiting for an answer, for one seldom needed to respond before another question was fired like a musket, Lady Constance followed with, “Does your mother know you are wasting the day away in this manner?” 

Mrs. O’Brien interrupted her with a forceful shove of a package of tea into her hands.  “I requested that she help me with writing to my niece. You know, my eyesight isn’t what it used to be.”

Lady Constance answered with a harrumph. She liked to be included even in things of which she had no talent or interest.  She responded, “Perhaps I shall send my Florence to you, for she has superior handwriting to anyone.”

“Oh, your ladyship is very kind to offer,” Mrs. O’Brien responded cordially. “However, my niece shares a particular interest of a botanical nature with Fanny and can translate for me all the correct terminology.” She turned to Fernie, “Of what were we writing a moment ago?”

Adiantum capillus-veneris,” replied Fernie, for she knew Mrs. O’Brien wanted her to speak of something that sounded complicated and therefore tedious. Lady Constance responded with another “Harumph” as she turned on her heel to leave. One of her servant girls, a young nervous sort, rushed to open the door for her.

“I shall be certain to mention this at my next tea with your mother,” she called over her shoulder. And then she left as quickly as she had come; like a summer thunder storm.

“Oh, she has a way about her, does she not, Fernie-girl? This warrants another cuppa, don’t ye reckon?”

Fernie did indeed.

“There’s a kind of what do ye say, terminology, for her sort in this world,” said Mrs. O’Brien as she replenished Fernie’s cup and added a biscuit to her saucer. Fernie smiled as she said, “Pompous?”

“T’is a good one,” Mrs. O’Brien agreed. “But I was thinkin’ of another.”


“Well . . . .”
Fernie enjoyed these word games with Mrs. O’Brien because she knew she had a particular notion in mind, and it was designed to be a joke in the end. “I was thinkin’,” Mrs. O’Brien continued, “That she reminds one of a steam train; on a track and don’t be gettin’ in her way or she will knock you down and roll right over ye!”

Fernie laughed, which is all Mrs. O’Brien could want. She was glad she could offer some respite and light-heartedness to Fernie’s day. She was grateful that her visits were sanctioned by Fernie’s own father, so that they could be more often than Fernie’s mother would wish.   But she answered, “Well, I don’t expect any more trains will be rollin’ through the shoppe today!  We can have our tea in peace.”

“Indeed,” Fernie replied and her laughter melted into a smile of contentment, as she dip-dipped her biscuit into her cup.