Fernie's World


Playlist of the whole Fernie's World series.

Meet Fernie, ne` Fanny FitzWilliam, living in the 1800’s. Born the daughter of a prominent botanist and professor at a university, she earns the nickname from her father on one of their field expeditions.  She discovers ferns at a time when proper young ladies did not scamper about the country side. She unknowingly begins a trend that will last 50 years and will spark a fern Renaissance across parks, gardens, art, music, and home décor.

 She is a creative, young lady whom girls from any century can relate. Follow along as she discovers a mysterious past she doesn’t know she has. Learn with her as she follows her curiosity in the natural world and writes and draws and paints. Watch as she negotiates difficult and tedious neighbors and family members. Doesn’t everyone have a “Florence” in her life? Find out.

CHAPTER 1: The Beginning

Fanny was unintentional in her pursuit of ferns. It was her nature--and curiosity of Nature, that led her into the woods with her father, a botanist, and her older brother, William. Her father was more intent on the measuring and preserving of botanical specimens with their proper Latin names, and William was more interested in the artistic rendering of the landscape. Initially it was to stay out of the way so that Papa wouldn't leave her behind with Nurse and her younger siblings. She was not to touch any of the plants with which he was working, and she was not to stand in William's view. 

On a hot, sunny day by Queen's Brook, as Papa collected and William sketched, Fanny grew weary from the heat. "Fanny," said Papa, "Fill the water flask for us, please," as he handed her his field flask. She followed the path down to the creek and filled it. At six years old, she was happy that she could be helpful in such serious, scientific endeavors, if only to bring water. She took a long drink, refilled the flask, and brought it back. "Here, Papa." 

Papa took a drink and handed it to William. She was delighted that they could forgo the social propriety of cups, and be "heathen Barbarians" as her mother called them when they were out in the Wilds of Nature. As Papa wiped his brow, he said, "What did you notice at the creek?" 

She knew he was asking a botanical question, but she was more impressed with the frogs that had jumped into the water with several "Plops!" at her approach.  "I saw several Amphibia of the Animalia kingdom," she answered. 

Papa laughed. He looked down affectionately at his daughter with her damp forehead and flushed cheeks.  "Perhaps you will find something of botanical interest in the shade by the brook," he suggested. 

As she settled on a large boulder with a mossy patch, she noticed that flowers weren't growing in this part of the landscape. In fact, it was cooler and darker and somehow greener. She brushed her hand through the lush moss and gently rested her cheek against it. She closed her eyes and took in a deep breath of the earthy fragrance about her. No flowers here with their wafting, sweet scents. 

She opened her eyes and stared intently across the creek, waiting patiently for the frogs to reappear. As she did, she took notice of the ferns; how beautiful and abundant they were!  She felt a slight breeze and watched as it rustled through the ferns to make them sway and dance.  How delightful!  

"Papa!" She called out, forgetting to be quiet for the frogs. "What is the botanical name for ferns?"

Papa smiled and called back, "Pteridophyta!"  

She sat up and ran back to her father with gleaming eyes.  "I suppose," he said, smiling and reaching into his field satchel, "You will be in want of a proper sketchbook."   

And so it began. 

CHAPTER 2: The Nemesis 

"Fernie!  Fernie!"  the girls chanted around her.   

She was now eight years old; old enough that she was disinterested with the dolls that had been discarded to younger sisters years before, unused. Old enough that she must attend proper tea with her mother. Old enough that she was to make sure not to get mud on her petticoats or to go out into the rain or in "all manner of ghastly weather," as Mama admonished. But what was ghastly weather when she could study her ferns year 'round?  

"Fernie!  Fernie!"  

The girls continued and began to circle around her. She gritted her teeth and stared defiantly at them. It was what Papa had taken to calling her on their botanical outings. It was a complement and she would not have it be otherwise. It was the ghastly weather that had given her the muddy petticoats. "You grow in the mud just like ferns!" declared Florence, the ring leader. 

Fanny was out of her depth. She did not understand what made her so offensive to the other girls. She attempted to think of a retort, but all she could muster was, "Florence, your name means flower. It's a botanical name from Nature!" 

This incident would replay itself with different variations, led by Florence and her band of lacy-ribboned friends. She was almost accustomed to it, but sometimes wished she were a boy so that she wouldn't get teased for her "scientific nature," as Papa defended in conversations with Mama that were increasing in their frequency.

By good fortune, Mrs. O'Brien was walking briskly down the lane to her shop with a basket of kitchen medicinals. "Hullo young ladies. What are we doin' here?" She gave Florence a focused stare. "Florence, did I not hear yur mother callin' for ye?  Better be runnin' on, now."

The girls scurried off as Florence called behind her, "Good day, Fernie!"

Mrs. O'Brien looked down at Fanny and smiled. "Well, now. Is that what yur  callin' yurself these days?"  Fanny looked down at the ground in shame and did not answer. She could not think what to say, so she said nothing. This was often the case when interacting with others not in her family or in the genus of  Pteridophytes. She thought, "I should look pensive and think of something clever to say," but that was as far as she got.  Mrs. O'Brien did not wait for a reply, as she was wont to do on many an occasion. She stared down at the young girl who was deep in thought. "I reckon that is an apt name for you; more so than Fanny.  I like it!" she declared. "Would you mind very much if I join yur friends and call ye Fernie?"  

"They are not my friends!" declared Fanny as she trembled with indignation and tried her very best not to cry. She had never said this before. Not to Mama and not even to Nurse when she had asked one night what troubled Fanny so that she would weep.

Mrs. O'Brien said in a soft voice, "I know they're not yur friends, lovie. They would not treat you so, if they were. That Florence is much like her mother was at yur age." She patted Fanny on the shoulder. "Come on, now. Let us go to the shop and I'll make you a cuppa tea."

As Mrs. O'Brien busied herself stoking the wood in the stove to boil the kettle, Fanny sat quietly in reflective thought, watching her from the serving table. When she was with Papa, their conversations were botanical in subject; about specimens and correct collecting and labeling. This was a world she understood and in which she felt safe. Anything unscientific was not a topic of conversation to have with Papa. As she had grown older, Mama cared even more for manners and cleanliness and said that Fanny should be more concerned with her appearance, now. She did not approve of her "scurrying about the country side."

Mrs. O'Brien had always treated her with kind regard and she was grateful for this respite. The shop cat went to Mrs. O'Brien and meowed as she was putting the milk in the tea. "Well, now, Mr. Mouser," and she poured a bit of milk in a dish for him. "He always knows when it's tea time!"  

She brought the tea tray to the table and said, "Pour yurself a cuppa, and I'll get the biscuits!"  Fanny felt very grown up being allowed to touch the tea pot. Mama did not trust her to do so with her delicate porcelain tea set from China. She carefully poured the tea into a cup and asked if Mrs. O'Brien would like her to pour for her. "Thank ye, lovie," as she sat down with some biscuits on a plate. She said, "Ye know, ye remind me of my own niece, about yur age." 

Fanny sat up. No one was like her. "Do I?"

Dip-dip went the biscuit into her tea. "Yes, Fernie-girl, you do. Her name is Flora, and that's her God-given name by my brother and his wife, may she rest in peace." Mrs. O'Brien crossed herself. "He followed his fortune to the other side of the world and is in New Zealand. That is as wild a place as ever, though I've not been to see it for meself."

Fanny dip-dipped her biscuit into her tea. Mama scolded her when she did that and told her it was uncouth. This was another thing she could appreciate about Mrs. O'Brien; she was not nervous and Mrs. O'Brien did not admonish her to stop fidgeting.  Fanny did not worry that she was doing every little thing improperly. "How are we alike?" she asked before taking a bite.

"Well, the ferns, of course!  Flora, even though she's named for flowers, as she told me when she was just a wee one; she is a fern collector such as yurself." She got up and went to her writing desk and pulled out a bundle of letters. "I'll give ye these to read in yur leisure," handing the packet to Fanny. 

"Golly, Mrs. O'Brien!" as she glanced through. There were specimens!  And ferns with which she was unfamiliar!   

Just then, the shop bell rang as Cook came in. "Well, Miss Fanny!  I dinna expect to see you here, lass!"  She looked over at Mrs. O'Brien with a raised eye-brow. "Your mother was calling for you and I said I thought you were with your father. If you hurry, you'll just catch up with him by the stiles."

Fanny jumped up, clasping the letters in her hand. "Thank you ever so much, Mrs. O'Brien!" and turned to run out. Then she remembered and turned around and curtsied. 

Mrs. O'Brien smiled and said, "Oh, go on now, Fernie-girl!  No need for any fancy-curtsying on my account!" The door clanged shut with the jingle of the bell.

Cook said with a raised eyebrow, "Fernie-girl?" 

Mrs. O'Brien smiled and walked over to the stove to make more tea. 

CHAPTER 3: In the Kitchen

It was spring. How green everything was appearing to be!  Fernie did notice the colours of flowers and trees blooming, in the early daylight. Mama’s crocuses had already pushed through the dirt, and the daffodils were now in their full glory. She knew that most people loved the pinks and the yellows and other Spring-ish colours. But her favourite was what she called “new green.”  Her beloved ferns were the best part of that.

It was early yet. Mama was still in her room, but would be drinking her morning tea and writing her letters. She was not to be disturbed during this time, which was often most of the morning. Nurse was busy with her younger siblings in the nursery and Papa was already gone to university to teach. She loved these early mornings best when she was free to do what she wanted—which was to wander amongst the freshly springing ferns.

She went down to the kitchen and asked Cook if she would make her a meal to take with her on her morning outing. “Goin’ fer a jaunt, are ya Fernie Girl?” 

Fernie smiled. She no longer felt the sting of Florence’s words in her ears. Cook’s cheerful face and tone of voice expressed her kindness and caring. She was Fernie more and more to those whom she loved, and those who loved her. What had started as an affectionate name from Papa, had stirred its way into her home life, and rested in her heart, forever protected from Florence’s unkindness. She did not yet have the courage to say that her name was Fernie, when meeting new acquaintances. Mama would not have wanted her to say she was not Fanny, as that was her proper name. But on this morning, in the warmth of the kitchen as Cook went about her tasks, she was content. 

“Where’s that field satchel o’ yours, then?”  Cook asked, spreading a slab of  butter onto a slice of bread. “I think I’ve just enough gooseberry jam left for that bread, if ya like,” as she scraped out the jar and swiped it across the butter. She put another slice of bread on top and secured it in a beeswax sack.

“Oh, yes please!” Fernie replied and placed her satchel on the table.

“Now what else?”  Cook said. “Have yer tea, here” as she set down a cup. “And a quick bowl o’ porridge.” 

Ordinarily, Fernie would be in the dining room with all the proper accoutrements of breakfast. She liked these less formal, early-morning times just with Cook and her helpers.

The kitchen door swung open with a bang. “Oh, Bessie was giving me a time, this morning!” came a voice. It was Nellie, one of Cook’s helpers, with a pail of milk. She looked at Fernie sitting at the table. “Oh, Miss Fernie!  You’re up early!”

Cook and Fernie both nodded. “We are getting her ready for her morning outin’,” said Cook. She reached over and deftly dipped a ladle into the milk and strained it into a small pitcher. “Here ya go! Fresh from the cow!” and poured it into Fernie’s tea.

As Fernie finished her breakfast, Nellie recounted her difficulties of getting Bessie into the barn for milking. Cook stood at the stove, commenting with an occasional “Oh, dear,” as she moved pots about and added more wood to the fire and checked the oven. Then she finished packing up Fernie’s food and put it in her field satchel. “That should keep you well-fed this morn,” she said as she closed the flap. “You have yerself a good outin’, now Miss Fernie!”

Fernie took a final bit of porridge and slurped her tea as she had seen Papa do with his coffee, and then she grabbed her bag. “Thank you!” she said and she was out the kitchen door, skipping through the dew of the day. 

CHAPTER 4: The Timepiece

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 Pixabay.com

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.

CHAPTER 5: A New Neighbor 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.


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

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)

CHAPTER 8: 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.

Chapter 9: 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

CHAPTER 10: The Spoon

Fernie felt the tension before she fully entered the kitchen. She stayed back and peeked around the corner. Cook was staring hard at the new girl.

“Mrs. MacMillan you must believe me! I didn’t take it, honest I didn’t!”

Cook said, “It was after Mrs. Fitzwilliam’s tea and you were the one that did the clearing.”

The girl burst into tears. “But I didn’t!  You must believe me!”

Cook looked at the scared girl and her face softened. She said more gently, “Is it possible you coulda dropped it on the way?”

The girl shook her head violently. “No, I woulda heard it. And I looked! I looked everywhere!  It is nowhere to be found!”  And she sobbed anew, burying her face into her apron.

“I believe you,” said Cook.

The girl’s sobbing turned into hiccoughs and she looked up at Cook. “You do?”  But her relief she felt was short-lived.

I do,” said Cook. “But that doesn’t matter when Mrs Fitzwilliam doesn’t and says there is no place for a thief in this house.”

“Thief?!” and in between hiccoughs she said, “But hiccough you can hiccough search my hiccough things! hiccough You hiccough will not hiccough find it!”  She had hope still that she would be exonerated.

“Believe me,” said Cook. “They already did.”

The hiccoughing returned to wailing. Was she to be sent to prison or a work camp or the poor house?!

“But where shall I go?  I’ve nowhere!  And who will take me now?!”  She dragged the “now” out in a moaning wail that bounced against the kitchen walls.

Cook raised her eyes to the ceiling and muttered, “Lord, gimme patience.”

She put her hands on the girl’s shoulders firmly. “Calm yourself!” she said rather forcefully, which Fernie reflected later, was not at all calming!

“All is not lost.  You are right in assuming that there will be no recommendation from the House. However, since they’ve not found it amongst your belongings, you are free to go. Others would not be so lenient.”

Nellie had only just recounted the story of how one of Lady Constance’s servants had recently been sent off for just such an occurrence! While it was indeed unfortunate to lose her means of paltry income and housing, it was not so unfair as to be unjustly accused and punished for a crime she didn’t commit. But still, she was to pack her things and leave immediately. Where would she go?  She had only just traveled here a few months ago. She knew no one outside the House. But at least she was free.

Cook sat down and wrote a hasty note. “When you go, take this to Mrs. O’Brien. Perhaps she can be of help to you.”

The girl took the note that she could not read, and said, “Thank you.”

Cook said to her, “God be with you, my dear.” 

The girl was dismissed to pack her meager belongings and Fernie knew that this was the recommendation Cook said the girl could not have.

Fernie entered the kitchen after the girl had gone up the back stairs. Cook must think well of her to send her to Mrs. O’Brien, she thought. She had her field satchel and carried it in with her.

“Well now, Fernie Girl!” Cook said brightly. “Off for a jaunt?  Lemme just get some tea and biscuits for your outing.”

Fernie smiled. “Thank you, Cook.” 

She sat down at the table and watched as Cook busied herself clanging pots and moving things about. Cook sighed. She felt sorry for the girl, but knew that her friend would help her. In the meantime, she was happy that this little incident was behind her and she could go back to her work.

“Here’s your tea, Miss Fernie,” she said.

All would be well.

CHAPTER 11: Seaside Stroll in Reculver

To Mrs. Frederick FitzWilliam
FitzWilliam Hall

10 July,
Reculver, Kent*

Dearest Catherine,

Thank you for your kind introduction to Mrs. Frande. It was a delightful afternoon in which to sample such tea and delicacies, in addition to entertaining company!  I have written a letter of appreciation to Mrs. Frande and hope I may join you on our returning visit en route back to London. We arrived safely to Kent and have traveled to Reculver, of all places!  You might wonder as to what would bring us to such a place, but Mr. Ward has a friend, Mr. Bosworth, with an extreme interest in archeology. He is residing in a little cottage for the summer, whilst we stayed comfortably at the local inn.

Doubtless I need apprise you of wind or water of the place! Our journey was largely uneventful, and I did gaze upon the beauty of the Twin Sisters of St. Mary’s (Reculver Church) on the cliff, as we made our way upward toward our final destination. The church still stands after the demolition, which now appears rather imprudent. The expectation that those gentlemen had of it falling to the sea has not been met. I suspect they were rather hasty in their use of gunpowder. Indeed, I remarked to Mr. Ward, “Could the gunpowder have not been put to better use with something else?” He only laughed and said he could not explain why it held such fascination with certain members of his sex.
Demolition of Reculver Church, 1809

Mr. Bosworth has been a most gracious host!  There is no Mrs. Bosworth, and I have been happy for the invitation in accompanying the gentlemen on their explorations of Roman ruins. Mr. Bosworth has a growing collection of coins and pots and all manner of Roman things—which he calls artifacts, because they are historic in nature. At the next opportunity, I shall remember to call some article of Mr. Ward’s clothing that has outlived its usefulness an “artifact.”

To-morrow Mr. Bosworth has business on the Isle of Sheppey for the day. I suggested to Mr. Ward that we venture down to the seaside for a leisurely walk and perhaps we shall take some refreshments.  The prospects from the church are beautiful indeed, but I am eager to gaze upon the sea from its shore, as well.  So I shall leave you here and write again soon,

Yours &c,


To: Mr. Frederick FitzWilliam
FitzWilliam Hall

11 July,
Reculver, Kent

My Dear Sir,

My sincere thanks for your generous hospitality.  I spoke to you of the possibility of meeting George Bosworth and indeed, here we are!  Charlotte has been ever cheerful and joined the party on many expeditions and made a fine joke to me about the gunpowder used to employ the demolition of Reculver Church. Is there a manner of explanation to the fairer sex about its usefulness and importance that could entice her to believe that they are either?  I think not.

We have visited a few Roman sites and have found several artifacts of coins and pottery, which I shall show you on our return visit. The weather has been pleasant enough and we have enjoyed our stay heretofore. To-day, however, held an unwelcome--although in retrospect, not wholly unexpected, discovery. We have thus far limited our excursions to the village and surrounds, high above the shore, but as George was traveling to the Isle of Sheppey on a manner of business, we decided to make our way down to the sea. Charlotte in particular, was eager for a walk. Mr. Bosworth had noted that this was where we might discover some fossils, and I was interested in perhaps finding something of Nature instead of something of Roman in nature. Indeed, I found all manner of fossils strewn loose about the shore, my first being a Striatolamia [sand tiger shark tooth]. Charlotte found a collection of Arctica bivalve shells not three minutes into our walk. She has a particularly keen awareness and the eye of a falcon when it comes to spotting small objects of interest. We walked along the shore and made our way in the direction of Reculver Church. It was not directly in our path, and we were not in any particular hurry to go in that direction with any want of a preconceived destination. We stopped to catalogue our finds and store them safely. By and by we had a pleasant meal accompanied by some libations and soon continued down the shore. I had noted the various striations of earth that make up the cliff. As I was pointing out the difference in the London Clay and Harwich Formation, there looked to be part of a coffin exposed. I was earnest in my attempt to shield Charlotte from the knowledge of the particulars, but she is too quick-witted and surmised immediately upon what we were gazing.

“Oh, my dear!” she exclaimed. “Is that?  Could it be? Oh, but it is!  Oh, dear!” 

She said it all in one breath and stood staring and stupefied as she was then struck speechless. I could not deny or attempt to avert her eyes in a different direction. I remained calm, as a gentleman must in these sort of situations and I said, “Yes, the forces of Nature give not one whit for us mortals.”  Apparently this was not the correct thing to say for she was able to recover her manner of speech and said, “Oh, Mister Ward! We mustn’t make a joke at the expense of the departed!  For this was someone’s . . . mother, or father, or-or-or someone!”

I did not induce her to feel comfort as I said, “I should think that given the age of it, there would not be any family alive to see this particular . . . person, whomever it is.”  She looked upon me as only that intimate partner can upon her own husband and I felt the nature of my further faux pas immediately.

“My dear, my deepest apologies,” I hastened to reply. “Let us take no more time in this place but return toward the inn, that we may come away from such unpleasantness.”

She took my arm, and thus we began to make our way back toward the main road. She was deep in thought, and averted her eyes toward the ground, which I thought most prudent. We were able to pass thither by yet another coffin that was exposed and had gone unnoticed beforehand. It was indeed fortunate because this particular coffin had a hole in it and I could see some bones of an exposed skeleton within!

As I was thinking thusly of this good fortune that she was looking down and not up, she stopped and said, “Nathanial!  I can’t bare this! It is too much to be borne!”  And there I looked down where she pointed to some bones on the ground. It was at this moment that I saw that the skeleton for which I had believed to be completely intact overhead, had some part of it fallen down below. Indeed, it was then that we both began to see many bones everywhere. Gone were the fossils, replaced by these remains.

It was a rather gruesome day and I think it shall be a long time before we take another walk along any foreshore below a cliff!  Enclosed find a drawing of one of Mr. Bosworth’s Paleolithic findings and you shall inspect the Roman artifact in person when next we meet. Until then,

I remain yours &c.


To: Mrs. Frederick FitzWilliam
FitzWilliam Hall

13 July,

Dear Catherine,
To-day is raining and I relayed to Mr. Ward that I shall remain indoors whilst he and Mr. Bosworth go on another expedition. I confess that I am happy for the respite given yesterday’s unfortunate event. I doubt very much that we will take a second trip down to the foreshore given a rather gruesome discovery. It is true, the accounts of finding not only fossils but the remains of other things . . . .

Yours &c.

-         - - - - - - - -

Papa and Mama sat in their respective chairs in the drawing room reading their letters after their evening meal. Papa finished his letter first and lit his pipe, glancing over at his wife. He made note of her furrowed brow and reasoned that she was reading Mrs. Ward’s recounting of her seaside stroll. She let out a sigh and folded the letter, placing it back on a tray. 

Papa said, “I take it you read about—“

“Yes,” came Mama’s swift reply.

What news! What horror!  But then she smiled slightly and looked at Papa. “I am very grateful that I am not obliged to accompany you on your excursions.”

Papa smiled in return. “Indeed, my dear. You are far too delicate to tolerate the coarseness of such events. I would not wish you to be other than you are.” He reached over and gave her familiar pat on her hand.

Mama blushed at such a compliment. “Oh, Mister FitzWilliam,” she said, and rose to retire for the evening. He took a final puff of his pipe, extinguished it, and rose to follow.

*To see more of the history of Reculver, click HERE.


  1. Looking forward to more of the story!!!

  2. THANK YOU SO MUCH!!! I am vexingly behind in the updates, but endeavor (as ever!) to get caught up. :-)