George Fenn.

The Rosery Folk

That be all true as gorspel, sir, said Monnick. Why, bless you, theyve built in my toolshed, in watering-pots, and even in my shred-bag.

Yes, Monnick, and now look here. I have shown what a murderer our small impostor is, and how, under his pleasant outward appearance, he has a nature that will stick at nothing for the gratification of self, even, as I must now show, at such a despicable act as theft. There are those who maintain that the robins mission is all for good, and that he is merely a destroyer of noxious insects, grubs, and worms; that he relieves the garden of myriads of blights, and eating, boring, and canker-producing pests. Granted: so he does, though it is very unpleasant for the unfortunate little insect that happens to be dubbed a pest to find itself within reach of that vicious bill and cavernous throat. But why cannot our young friend for, in spite of his wickedness, we shall always call him friend for the pleasure he affords our eyes and ears, just as we wink at the private life of a great artist who gratifies the senses in his turn but I repeat why cannot our young friend be content to cry havock amongst the insect pests, and to peek from the dogs basin, the pigs trough, and the chickens food, and not, sit on some bare spray, or under the shadows of a thorny bush, and watch with those great earnest eyes of his till the ventilators of the glass-houses are open, and then flit flutter dash headlong in for a feast of grapes?

They do, sir, theyre as bad as the wopses. Some gardeners say as robins never touch fruit, sir, but they do.

Yes, John, you are right; they do, and most unmercifully. They pick out, as if by instinct, the ripest and best bunches of the great black Hambros, hang on to the stalks, and wherever these rich pearly black grapes have been well thinned and petted that they may grow to an abnormal size, dig dig go the wicked little beaks. If they would be content with a grape or two, and begin and finish them, or even four or five or six, it would not matter; but your robin is a sybarite in his way: he treats a grape-house as visitors with tasting orders used to treat the cellars of the docks. They did not want the wine, but they would fee the cooper, who would broach a cask here and another cask there, and all of the best, till the vinous sawdust was soaked with the waste, and the fumes produced a strange intoxicating effect. Very strange that, how intoxicating those fumes would be. Unfortunately, this juice of the grape is not fermented, and the robin goes on upon his destructive quest. Still there is one redeeming feature: he will brook no companion. One visitor at a time; two means battle royal, and flying feathers.

John Monnick scratched one red ear, for the doctor was taking him out of his depth, and he looked more puzzled still as the speaker went on.

To sum up, then, the robin is a compound of all that is audacious, gluttonous, vicious, cruel, and despicable; but he can sing, and his pleasant little note, mournful though it be, as it acts as harbinger of falling leaves, is as much associated with home and our native land as the bonny English rose, and that resource from chills and fogs, our own fireside.

Never mind the superstitious penalties! Who is there among us who would kill a robin, or would take its nest? From earliest childhood till the days when Times hoar frost appears upon the hair, one greets the ruddy-breasted little rascal with a smile, and feeds him when his feathered friends and foes fall fast before the winters scythe. So loved is he, that in far-off foreign lands the nearest likeness to him is called a robin still. We can forgive him, and wink at all his sins, as he flits attendance whereer we go in country lane, and gladly greet him even in some suburban square; and even as I speak, I am fain to say as his pretty little figure there greets my eye what a nuisance it is to have to speak the truth! There, John Monnick, what do you think of that?

Its very good, sir, all as I could understand of it, but theres some as wants hearing again and diegestin like, to get it all well into a man, as you may say. Going sir?

Yes, John Monnick, Im going to your master.

Ay, do, sir, and if I might make so bold to say so, if youd talk to him like you did to me about the robins and their taking his grapes, it would interest him like, and may be do him good. Id dearly like to see Sir James himself again. Its my belief he as got something on his mind?

I would give something to be able to ease him, Monnick. Well, Ill take your advice.

Do, sir, do. Bless me, I could stand all day and hear you talk, sir, but I must be getting on. An, he added, as the doctor strolled off, its curious, very curious, but I spose its all true, but I dont kind o like to hear a man, even if he be a gentleman, upsetting all what youve been taught and cherished like.

He went on weeding for a few minutes, and then straightened himself once more.

The robin and the wren be Gods cock and hen. Well, now I come to think of it, I never see em together. Praps the doctors right.

Volume Two Chapter Eight.
Old John is Paternal, and Fanny Makes a Promise

Now do give me a rose, Mr Monnick; do, please.

Give you a rose, my dear? said John Monnick, pausing in his task of thinning out the superabundant growth amongst the swelling grapes. Well, I dont like to refuse you anything, though it do seem a shame to cut the poor things, when they look so much prettier on the trees.

Oh, but I like to have one to wear, Mr Monnick, to pin in my breast.

And then, as soon as it gets a bit faded, my dear, you chucks it away.

O no; not if its a nice one, Mr Monnick. I put it in water afterwards, and let it recover.

Putting things in water, specially masters, dont always make em recover, my dear, said the old man, picking out and snapping off a few more shoots. Hah! he cried, after a good sniff at the bunch of succulent pieces, and then placing one acid tendrilled scrap in his mouth, twisting it up, and munching it like some ruminating animal smell that, my dear; theres a scent! and he held out the bunch to the pretty coquettish-looking maid.

De-licious, Mr Monnick, said the girl, taking a long sniff at the shoots. And now you will give me a nice pretty rosebud, wont you?

I allus observe, said the old man thoughtfully, going on with his work, that if you want something, Fanny, you calls me Mister Monnick; but if I ask you to do anything for me, or you have an order from Sir James or my lady, its nothing but plain John.

Oh, I dont always think to call you Mr Monnick, said the girl archly. But I must go now. Do give me a nice just opening bud.

Well, if youll be a good girl, and promise only to take one, Ill give you leave to fetch your scissors and cut a Homer.

What! one of those nasty common-looking little dirty pinky ones? cried the girl. No, thank you; I want one of those. As she spoke, she pointed to a trellis at the end of the greenhouse, over which was trailed the abundant growth of a hook-thorned climbing rose.

What, one o my Mashal Niels? cried the old gardener. I should just think not. Besides, he added with a grim smile, yaller wouldnt suit your complexion.

Now, dont talk stuff, cried the girl. Yellow does suit dark people. Do cut me one, theres a dear good man.

Yes, said the old man; and then, next time you get washing out your bits o lace and things, youll go hanging em to dry on my trained plants in the sun.

No; I wont. There, I promise you Ill never do so any more.

Till nex time. I say, Fanny, whens Mr Arthur going back to London?

I dont know, said the girl, rather sharply. How can I tell?

Oh, I thought praps he might have been telling you last night.

Telling me last night! echoed the girl. Where should he be telling me?

Why, down the field-walk, to be sure, when he was a-talking to you.

That Im sure he wasnt, cried the girl, changing colour.

Well, he was a-wagging his chin up and down and making sounds like words; and so was you, Fanny, my dear.

Oh, how can you say so!

This way, said the old man, facing her and speaking very deliberately. What was he saying to you?

I I wasnt

Stop a moment, said the old man. Mr Arthur Prayles such a religious-spoken sort o gent, that I dessay he was giving you all sorts o good advice, and Im sure he wouldnt like you to tell a lie.

Im not telling a lie; Im not. Oh, you wicked, deceitful, spying old thing! she cried, bursting into tears. How dare you come watching me!

I didnt come watching you, my dear. I was down there with a pot, picking up the big grey slugs that come out o the field into the garden; for they feeds the ducks, and saves my plants as well. Now, lookye here, my dear; youre a very pretty girl, and its very nice to be talked to by a young man, I dare say. I never cared for it myself; but young women do.

How dare you speak to me like that! cried the girl, flaming up.

Cause Im an old man, and knows the ways o the world, my dear. Mr Arthur comes down the garden to me and gives me bits o religious instruction and advice like; but if he wants to give any to you, I think he ought to do it in the house, and give it to Martha Betts and cook at the same time.

Its all a wicked story, cried Fanny angrily; and I wont stop here to be insulted!

Dont, my dear. But Im going to walk over to your brother Williams to-night, and have a bit o chat with him bout things in general, and I thought Id give him my opinion on the pynte.

Fanny had reached the door of the vinery; but these words stopped her short, and she came back with her face changing from red to white and back again. You are going to tell my brother William?

Yes, my dear, as is right and proper too. Sir James arent fit to be talked to; and its a thing as I couldnt say to her ladyship. It arent in the doctors way; and if I was to so much as hint at it to Miss Raleigh, shed snap my head off, and then send you home.

Fanny stood staring mutely with her lips apart at the old gardener, who went on deliberately snapping out the shoots, and staring up at the roof with his head amongst the vines. One moment her eyes flashed; the next they softened and the tears brimmed in them. She made a movement towards the old man where he sat perched upon his steps calmly ruminating with his mouth full of acid shoots; then, in a fit of indignation, she shrank back, but ended by going close up to him and laying her hand upon his arm.

Leave that now, she said.

Nay, nay, my lass; Ive no time to spare. Heres all these shoots running away with the jushe and strength as ought to go into the grapes; and the master never touches them now. It all falls upon my shoulders since hes ill.

Yes, yes; you work very hard; but I want to talk to you a minute.

Well; there then, he said. Now, what is it? and he left off his task to select a nice fresh tendril to munch.

You you wont tell Brother William.

Ay, but I shall, lass. Why, what do it matter to you, if it was all a lie and you warnt there?

But William will think it was me, Mr Monnick; and he is so particular; and There, Ill confess it, was me.

Thankye, said the old man, with a grim smile; but my eyes are not had enough to make a mistake.

But you wont tell William?

It arent pleasant for you, my dear; but youll thank me for it some day.

But it would make such trouble. William would come over and see Mr Prayle; and you know how violent my brother can be. Theres plenty of trouble in the house without that.

I dont know as William Cressy would be violent, my dear. Hes a very fine young fellow, and as good a judge o gardening as he be of his farm. He be very proud of his sister: and he said to me one day

William said to you?

Yes, my dear, to me, over a quiet pipe, as he had along o me one evening in my tool-house. John Monnick, he says, our Fannys as pretty a little lass as ever stepped, and some day shell be having a chap.

Having a chip! said Fanny, with her lip curling in disgust.

And thats all right and proper, if hes a good sort; but Im not going to have her take up with anybody, and Im not going to have her fooled.

I wish William would mind his own business, cried Fanny, stamping her foot. Hes got a deal to talk about; coming and staring at a stupid housemaid.

Martha Betts arent stupid, my dear, and a housemaids is a very honourable situation. The first woman as ever lived in a house must have been a housemaid, just the same as the first man was a gardener. Dont you sneer at lowly occupations. Everything as is honest is good.

Oh, yes, of course. But you wont tell William?

I feel, my dear, as if I must, said the old man, taking the girls hand, and patting it softly. Youre a very pretty little lass, and its quite right that you should have a sweetheart.

Sweetheart, indeed! cried Fanny in disgust,

But that there Mr Arthur arent the right sort.

How do you know? cried the girl defiantly.

Cause Im an old man as has seen a deal of the world, my dear, and Ive got a granddaughter just like you. I shouldnt have thought it of Mr Arthur, and I dont know as I shant speak to him about it myself.

Oh no, no! cried the girl excitedly. Pray, dont do that.

The old man loosed her hand to sit gazing thoughtfully before him, while the girl once more grasped his arm.

Theres ony one thing as would make me say I wouldnt speak to William Cressy and Mr Arthur.

And whats that? cried the girl.

You a-giving of me your solemn promise as you wont let Mr Arthur talk to you again.

Ill promise, cried the girl. Yes, said the old man; its easy enough to promise; but will you keep it?

Yes, yes, that I will.

You see hes a gentleman, and youre only a farmers daughter, my dear; and he wouldnt think no more of you, after once hed gone away from here; and then youd be frettin your pretty little heart out.

Then you wont tell Brother William?

Well, I wont.

Nor yet speak to Mr Arthur?

Not this time, my dear; but if I see any more of it, I shall go straight over to William Cressy, and then hell do what seems best in his own eyes.

I think it would be far more creditable of you, gardener, if you were attending to your vines, instead of wasting your time gossiping with the maids, said a stern sharp voice. And as for you, Fanny, I think you have enough to do indoors.

If you please, maam, you are not my mistress, said the girl pertly.

No, Fanny, and never shall be; but your mistress is too much taken up with her cares to note your negligence, therefore I speak. Now go!

A sharp answer was upon Fannys lips; but she checked it, and flounced out of the vinery, leaving Aunt Sophia with the gardener.

I am surprised at you, John Monnick, continued the old lady. Your master is helpless now, and you take advantage of it.

No, maam, no, said the old fellow, who would not bring the question of Fannys delinquency into his defence. Im working as steadily as I can.

Humph! ejaculated Aunt Sophia. I never saw these vines so wild before.

Well, they are behind, maam; but you see this is all extry. Sir James always done the vines himself, besides nearly all the other glass-work; and the things do run away from me a bit.

Yes, if you encourage the maid-servants to come and talk.

Yes, maam; shant occur again, said the old fellow grimly; and he went on busily snapping out the shoots, while Aunt Sophia stalked out into the garden to meet Arthur Prayle, who was walking thoughtfully up and down one of the green walks, with his hands behind him, one holding a memorandum book, the other a pencil, with which he made a note from time to time.

Volume Two Chapter Nine.
The Consequence of Killing Slugs

Poor James Scarletts garden was in fair condition, but far from being at its best. It was well attended to, but the guiding spirit was to some extent absent; and as Jack Scales walked down it one soft moist morning, feeling in anything but good spirits at the ill success that had attended his efforts, he began to think a good deal about quaint, acid-voiced Aunt Sophia, with her sharp manner, disposition to snub, and general harshness to those around.

Poor old girl! he said. She has settled herself down here, where I believe she does not want to stay; and I know it is to play propriety, and for the benefit of her nephew. It was too bad to speak to her as I did, but I was out of temper with her fidgeting about me. Let me see; what did I call her? a vexatious, meddling old maid. Poor old girl! How it does seem to sting a woman of that kind. Old maid. Too bad. I suppose the woman never existed yet who did not in her early days wish to wed. They all swear they never did, and that if the opportunity had come, they would have refused it with scorn; but human natures human nature, especially female human nature; and its womans vocation in life to marry, be a mother, and bring up her young to replenish the earth. If it is not, Ive never studied humanity in sickness and in health. Oh, its plain enough, he went on; there are all the natural yearnings in her youth for one to love; and the tender affection, patience, and intense passion for her young, for whom she will work and starve and die, are all in her, like so many seeds waiting to shoot and bring forth flowers beautiful flowers. But, as it too often happens, those flowers never blossom, for the seeds have no chance to grow; and the consequence of this unnatural life is that, a woman grows up soured disappointed withered as it were. Often enough she is ignorant of the unnatural state of her life, but it is unnatural all the same. Then we have the acid ways, the sharp disappointed looks, the effects, in short, of the withering up of all their beautiful God-given yearnings for that most sublime of natures gifts motherhood; and we thoughtless fools sneer at unmarried women, and call them old maids. Hah! he ejaculated; its too bad. Ill beg the old ladys pardon the first time we meet.

Jack Scaless meeting with Aunt Sophia came sooner than he expected, for, turning down one of the walks, he heard a rustling noise before him, and directly after a grim smile crossed his face as he saw, a short distance in front, the figure of Aunt Sophia, while at her feet were a pair of gardening gloves, and a basket filled with the weeds and dead leaves that she had been gathering.

Why, what the dickens is she about? said the doctor. Why ha-ha-ha! But it isnt a bad dodge after all. For as he watched, he could see that Aunt Sophia was busy at work with an implement evidently of her own invention. She had a handkerchief tied over her head and beneath her chin, to keep her cap from blowing off or falling forward when she stooped, and in her hands a pair of the light lancewood wands used in playing the game of Les Graces; but they were firmly bound to a large pair of old scissors, turning them as it were into very long-handled shears. With these she poked and rustled about among the plants till she routed out some good fat slug, which she instantly scissored in three pieces, and then closing the shears, used their point to rake a little hole in the ground near the foot of the plant and bury the slug therein.

Thats not a bad plan, Miss Raleigh, said the doctor as the lady looked up sharply. The slug has fattened himself upon the tender leaves of the plant and grown to his present size; now you offer him up as a sacrifice, and bury him where he will fertilise the plant in return.

Of course, said Aunt Sophia shortly. You would not leave the nasty slimy thing on the top, would you?

Certainly not, said the doctor. And besides, you give the plant back, about those wonderful imbibers its roots the concentrated essence of all that it has lost, in the shape of slug.

Is this meant for a joke, Doctor Scales?

Not in the least, my dear madam. By the way, though, our friend Mr Arthur Prayle would give us a lecture on cruelty, if he saw us rejoicing over the death of our molluscous enemies here.

Mr Arthur Prayle had better mind his accounts, said the lady shortly; he knows nothing about gardening.

No; I do not think he does, said the doctor, as the old lady routed out another slug, cut it in three, and buried it viciously just as if she were operating on Arthur Prayle.

It seems to amuse you, said Aunt Sophia.

Amuse me? Well, it does look rather droll, replied the doctor; but it cant be pleasant for the slugs.

Then the slugs had better emigrate, said Aunt Sophia sharply. I dont want to see my poor nephews garden go to rack and ruin.

Doctor Scales went off as Aunt Sophia resumed her task, and, as was often his habit, began to work out a discourse upon what he had seen. Starting with the text, Is it cruel to kill slugs, and it was somewhat after this fashion that he mused: Is it cruel to kill slugs? Just stand with upraised foot before one of those slimy, moist, elongated bags of concentrated cabbage, cauliflower, choice plant, and tender cucumber, and answer that question if you can.

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