Sunflowers And A Rushlight by Juliana Horatia Ewing

Story type: Literature



Doctor Brown is our doctor. He lives in our village, at the top of the hill.

When we were quite little, and had scarlet-fever, and measles, and those things, Dr. Brown used to be very kind to us, and dress his first finger up in his pocket-handkerchief with a knot for the turban, and rings on his thumb and middle finger, and do–“At the top of a hill lived a man named Solomon,” in a hollow voice, which frightened me rather.

And then he used to say–“Wise man, Solomon! He lived at the top of a hill,” and laugh till his face got redder than usual, and his eyes filled with laughter-tears, and twinkled in the nice way they do, and I was not frightened any more.

Dr. Brown left off being our doctor once. That was when he and Grandmamma quarrelled. But they made it up again.

It was when I was so unhappy–I tried to help it, but I really could not–about my poor dear white china-poodle (Jael broke him when she was dusting, and then she swept up his tail, though I have so begged her to keep the bits when she cleans our room, and breaks things; and now he never never can be mended, all the days of my life):–it was when I was crying about him, and Grandmamma told Dr. Brown how silly I was, to make me feel ashamed, that he said–“There are some tempers, which, if they haven’t enough people to love, will love things.”

Margery says he did not say tempers but temperaments. I know it began with temper, because it reminded me of Jael, who said “them tears is all temper, Miss Grace,” which was very hard, because she knew–she knew quite well–it was about my poodle; and though accidents will happen, she need not have swept up his tail.

Margery is sure to be right. She always is. Besides, we looked it out in Johnson’s Dictionary, which we are rather fond of, though it is very heavy to lift. We like the bits out of books, in small print; but I could not understand the bits to the word temperament, and I do not think Margery could either, though she can understand much more than I can.

There is a very odd bit to the word temperamental, and it is signed Brown; but we do not know if that means our Dr. Brown. This is the bit: “That temperamental dignotions, and conjecture of prevalent humours, may be collected from spots in our nails, we concede.”–Brown.

We could not understand it, so we lifted down the other volume (one is just as heavy as the other), and looked out “Dignotion,” and it means “distinction, distinguishing mark,” and then there is the same bit over again, but at the end, is “Brown’s Vulgar Errors.” And we did not like to ask Dr. Brown if they were his vulgar errors, for fear he should think us rude. I thought we might perhaps ask him if they were his errors, and leave out vulgar, which is rather a rude word, but Margery thought it better not, and she is sure to be right. She always is.

But we should have liked to ask Dr. Brown about it, if it had not been rude, because we think a good deal of spots on our nails. All we know about them is that you begin at your thumb, and count on to your little finger, in this way,

“A Gift, a Beau,
A Friend, a Foe,
A Journey to go.”

I like having a Beau, or a Friend; Margery likes a Gift or a Journey to go. We neither of us like having Foes.

And it shows that it does come true, because Margery had a white spot in the middle of her left little finger nail, just when our father’s old friend wrote to Grandmamma, for one of us to go and pay him a visit; and Margery went, because she was the elder of the two.

I do not know how I bore parting with her, except with hoping that she would enjoy herself, for she always had wanted so very much to have a journey to go. But if she had been at home, so that I could have taken her advice, I do not think I should have been so silly about the Sunflowers and the Rushlight.

She says–“You’d have put on your slippers, and had a blanket round you at least. But, oh, my dear Grace, you always are so rash!”

I did not know I was. I thought rash people were brave; and if I had been brave, the Rushlight would never have come out of the roof. Still Margery is sure to be right. I know I am very foolish and lonely without her.

There are only two of us. Our father, and our mother, and our brother, all died of fever, nearly five years ago. We shall never see them again till we go to Paradise, and that is one reason why we wish to try to be good and never to be naughty, so that we may be sure to see them again.

I remember them a little. I remember being frightened by sitting so high up on my father’s shoulder, and then feeling so safe when I got into my mother’s lap; and I remember Robin’s curls, and his taking my woolly ball from me. I remember our black frocks coming in the hair-trunk with brass nails to the sea-side, where Margery and I were with our nurse, and her telling the landlady that our father and mother and brother were all laid in one grave. And I remember going home, and seeing the stone flags up in the yard, and a deep dark hole near the pump, and thinking that was the grave; and how Margery found me stark with fright, and knew better, and told me that the grave was in the church-yard, and that this hole was only where workmen had been digging for drains.

And then never seeing those three, day after day, and having to do without them ever since!

But Margery remembers a good deal more (she is three years older than I am). She remembers things people said, and the funeral sermon, and the books being moved into the attic, and she remembers Grandmamma’s quarrel with Dr. Brown.

She says she was sitting behind the parlor curtains with Mrs. Trimmer’s Roman History, and Grandmamma was sitting, looking very grave in her new black dress, with a pocket handkerchief and book in her lap, and sherry and sponge biscuits on a tray on the piano, for visitors of condolence, when Dr. Brown came in, looking very grave too, and took off one of his black gloves and shook hands. Then he took off the other, and put them both into his hat, and had a glass of sherry and a sponge biscuit, so Margery knew that he was a visitor of condolence.

Then he and Grandmamma talked a long time. Margery does not know what about, for she was reading Mrs. Trimmer; but she thinks they were getting rather cross with each other. Then they got up, and Dr. Brown looked into his hat, and took out his gloves, and Grandmamma wiped her eyes with her pocket handkerchief, and said “I hope I know how to submit, but it has been a heavy judgment, Dr. Brown.”

And Margery was just beginning to cry too, when Dr. Brown said, “A very heavy judgment indeed, madam, for letting the cesspool leak into the well;” and it puzzled her so much that she stopped.

Then Grandmamma was very angry, and Dr. Brown was angry too, and then Grandmamma said, “I don’t know another respectable practitioner, Dr. Brown, who would have said what you have said this morning.”

And Dr. Brown brushed his hat the wrong way with his coat sleeve, and said, “Too true, madam! We are not a body of reformers, with all our opportunities; we’re as bigoted as most priesthoods, but we count fewer missionary martyrs. The sins, the negligences, and the ignorances of every age have gone on much the same as far as we have been concerned, though very few people keep family chaplains, and most folk have a family doctor.”

Then Grandmamma got very stiff, Margery says (she always is rather stiff), and said, “I am sorry, Dr. Brown, to hear you speak so ill of the members of an honorable profession, to which you yourself belong.”

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And Dr. Brown found out that he had brushed his hat the wrong way, and he brushed it right, and said, “Not at all, madam, not at all! I think we’re a very decent set, for men with large public responsibilities, almost entirely shielded from the wholesome light of public criticism, who handle more lives than most Commanders, and are not called upon to publish our disasters or make returns of our losses. But don’t expect too much of us! I say we are not reformers. They rise up amongst us now and again; but we don’t encourage them, we don’t encourage them. We are a privileged caste of medicine-men, whose ‘mysteries’ are protected by the faith of those to whom we minister, a faith fortified by ignorance and fear. I wish you Good morning, madam.”

Margery has often repeated this to me. We call it “Dr. Brown’s Speeches.” She is very fond of spouting speeches, much longer ones than Dr. Brown’s. She learns them by heart out of history books, and then dresses up and spouts them to me in our attic.

Margery says she did not understand at the time what they were quarrelling about; and when, afterwards, she asked Grandmamma what a cesspool was, Grandmamma was cross with her too, and said it was a very coarse and vulgar word, and that Dr. Brown was a very coarse and vulgar person. We’ve looked it out since in Johnson’s Dictionary, for we thought it might be one of Dr. Brown’s vulgar errors, but it is not there.

Margery reads a great deal of history; she likes it; she likes all the sensible books in the attic, and I like the rest, particularly poetry and fairy tales.

The books are mother’s books, they belonged to her father. She liked having them all in the parlor, “littering the whole place,” Jael says; but Grandmamma has moved them to the attic now, all but a volume of Sermons for Sunday, and the Oriental Annual, to amuse visitors if they are left alone. Only she says you never ought to leave your visitors alone.

Jael is very glad the books were taken to the attic, because “they gather dust worse than chimney ornaments;” so she says.

Margery and I are very glad too, for we are sent to play in the attic, and then we read as much as ever we like; and we move our pet books to our own corner and pretend they are our very own. We have very cosy corners; we pile up some of the big books for seats, and then make a bigger pile in front of us for tables, and there we sit.

Once Dr. Brown found us. We had got whooping cough, and he had come to see if we were better; and he is very big, and he tramped so heavily on the stairs I did really think he was a burglar; and Margery was a little frightened too, so we were very glad to see him; and when he saw us reading at our tables, he said, “So this is the Attic salt ye season life with, is it?” And then he laughed just as he always does.

There is one story in my favorite Fairy Book which Margery likes too; it is called “A Puzzling Tale.” I read it to Margery when we were sitting in our tree seat in the garden, and I put my hand over the answer to the puzzle, and she could not guess; and if Margery could not guess, I do not think any one else could.

This is the tale:–“Three women were once changed into flowers, and grew in a field: but one was permitted to go home at night. Once, when day was dawning, and she was about to return to her companions in the field and become a flower again, she said to her husband, ‘In the morning come to the field and pick me off my stalk, then I shall be released, and able to live at home for the future.’ So the husband went to the field as he was told, and picked his wife and took her home.”

“Now how did he know his wife’s flower from the other two, for all the three flowers were alike?”

(That is the Puzzle. This is the answer):

He knew his wife because there was no dew upon her flower.”

There is a very nice picture of the three flowers standing stiff and upright, with leaves held out like hands, and large round flower faces, all three exactly alike. I have looked at them again and again, but I never could see any difference; for you can’t see the dew on the ones who had been out all night, and so you can’t tell which was the one who was allowed to go home. But I think it was partly being so fond of those round flower faces in the Puzzling Tale, that made me get so very very fond of Sunflowers.

We have splendid Sunflowers in our garden, so tall, and with such large round faces!

The Sunflowers were in bloom when Margery went away. She bade them good bye, and kissed her hands to them as well as to me. She went away in a cab, with her things in the hair trunk with brass nails on the top. She waved her hand to me as long as ever I could see her, and she wagged one finger particularly. I knew which finger it was, and what she meant. It was the little finger with that dignotion on the nail, which showed that she had a journey to go.



The Sunflowers were in bloom when Margery went away; and the swallows were on the wing. The garden was full of them all the morning, and when she had gone, they went too. They had been restless for days past, so I dare say they had dignotions of their own, that they had a journey to go as well as Margery.

But when they were gone, and she was gone, the garden felt very lonely. The Sunflowers stretched out their round faces just as if they were looking to see if the cab was coming back; and there was a robin, which kept hopping on and off the pump and peeping about with his eyes, as if he could not imagine what had become of all the swallows.

And Margery’s black cat came and mewed to me, and rubbed itself against my pinafore, and walked up and down with me till I went in and got the “Ancient Mariner” and my little chair, and came back and read to the Sunflowers.

Sunflowers are quite as good as dolls to play with. Margery and I think them better in some ways. You can’t move them about unless you pick them; but then they will stand of themselves, which dolls will not. You can give them names just as well, and you can teach them lessons just as well. They will grow, which dolls won’t; and they really live and die, which dolls don’t. In fact, for tallness, they are rather like grown up people. Then more come out, which is nice; and you see the little Sunflowers growing into big ones, which you can’t see with dolls.

We can play a Sunday game with the Sunflowers. We do not have any of our toys on Sunday, except in winter, when we have Noah’s Ark. In the summer we may go in the garden between the services, and we always walk up and down together and play with the Sunflowers.

The Sunday Sunflower game is calling them after the black-letter saints in the Kalendar, and reading about them in a very old book–a big one with a black leather binding–in the attic, called “Lives of the Saints.” I read, and then I tell it to Margery as we walk up and down, and say–“This is S. Prisca, this is S. Fabian, this is S. Agnes, this is S. Agatha, and this is S. Valentine”–and so on.

What made us first think of having them for Saints on Sunday, was that the yellow does sometimes look so very like a glory round their faces. We choose by turns which name to give to each, but if there is a very big one with a lot of yellow flaming out, we always called him S. George of England, because there is a very old figure of S. George slaying the Dragon, in a painted window in our Church; and S. George’s hair is yellow, and standing out all round; and when the sun shines through the window, so that you can’t see his nose and his mouth at all clearly, he looks quite wonderfully like a Sunflower. Then on week days, the game I like best, is pretending that they are women changed into flowers.

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They feel so grown up with being so tall, that they are much more like grown up people turned into flowers than like children. I pretend my doll is my child when I play with her; but I don’t think I could pretend a Sunflower was my child; and sometimes if Margery leaves me alone with rather big Sunflowers, when it is getting dusk, and I look up at them, and they stare at me with their big faces in the twilight, I get so frightened for fear they should have got leave to go home at night, and be just turning, that I run indoors as hard as ever I can.

Two or three times I have got up early and gone out to see if any one of them had no dew; but they have always been drenched, every one of them. Dew, thick over their brown faces, and rolling like tears down their yellow glories. I am quite sure that I have never seen a Sunflower yet, that had had leave to go home at night, and Margery says the same. And she is certain to know.

I had a very bad night, the night after Margery went away. I was so terribly frightened with being alone in the dark. I know it was very silly, but it was most miserable. I was afraid to go and wake Jael, and I was more afraid of going to Grandmamma, and I was most of all afraid of staying where I was. It seemed to be years and years before the light began to come a little; and the noises left off creaking, and dropping, and cracking, and moving about.

Next day I had a very bad headache. Jael does not like me when I have headaches, because I give trouble, and have to have hot water and mustard for my feet at odd times. Jael does not mind bringing up hot water at night; but she says she can’t abide folk wanting things at odd times. So she does not like me when I have headaches; and when I have headaches, I do not much like her. She treads so very heavily, it shakes the floor just as ogres in ogre-stories shake the ground when they go out kidnapping; and then the pain jumps in my head till I get frightened, and wonder what happens to people when the pain gets so bad that they cannot bear it any longer.

That morning, I thought I never should have got dressed; stooping and fastening things do make you so very bad. I was very late, and Grandmamma was beginning to scold me, but when she saw I had got a headache she didn’t–she only said I looked like a washed-out pocket handkerchief; and when I could not eat any breakfast, she said I must have a dose of rhubarb and magnesia, and as she had not got any rhubarb left, she sent Jael up to Dr. Brown’s to get some.

I did not like having to take rhubarb and magnesia; but I was very glad to get rid of Jael for a bit, though I knew she would hate me for having had to take a message at an odd time. It was her shaking the room when she brought in the urn, and knocking the tongs into the fender with her dress as she went by, that had made me not able to eat any breakfast.

Just as she was starting, Grandmamma beckoned to her to come back, and told her to call at the barber’s, and tell him to come up in the afternoon to “thin” my hair.

My hair is very thick. I brush as much out as I can; but I think it only gets thicker and thicker. Grandmamma says she believes that is what gives me so many headaches, and she says it is no use cutting it shorter, for it always is kept cut short; the only way is to thin it, that is, cutting lumps out here and there down to the roots. Thinning does make less of it; but when it grows again it is very difficult to keep tidy, which makes Jael say she “never see such a head, it’s all odds and ends,” and sometimes she adds–“inside and out.” Margery can imitate Jael exactly.

When Jael came back, she said Dr. Brown would step down and see me himself. So he came.

Then he felt my pulse and asked me what sort of a night I had had, and I was obliged to tell him, and Grandmamma was very much vexed, and made me tell the whole truth, and she said I did not deserve any pity for my headaches when I brought them on myself, which is true.

I think it was being vexed with me that made her vexed with Dr. Brown, when he said rhubarb and magnesia would not do me any good. She said she liked a regular system with the health of young people; and when she and her six sisters were girls they were physicked with perfect regularity; they were bled in the spring, and the fall of the leaf; and had their hair thinned and their teeth taken out, once a quarter, by the advice of their excellent friend and local practitioner, who afterwards removed to London, and became very distinguished, and had his portrait painted in oils for one of the learned societies. And Grandmamma said she had been spared to survive all her family, and had never had a headache in her life.

Though my head was so bad, I listened as hard as I could to hear what Dr. Brown would say. For I thought–“if he makes one of his speeches, they will quarrel, and he will leave off being our doctor again.”

But he didn’t, he only said–“Well, well, madam, I’ll send the child some medicine. Let her go and lie down at once, with a hot bottle to her feet, and as many pillows as she wants under her head; and don’t let a sound reach her for the next three or four hours. When she wakes, give her a basin of bread and milk.”

So he went away, and presently he came back himself with the medicine. It tasted very nice, and he was very kind; only he made Jael so cross with saying she had not put boiling water in the hot bottle, and sending it down again; and then making her fetch more pillows out of the spare bedroom (Jael does not like odd things any more than odd times). But I never had such a hot bottle or such a comfortable headache before, and he pulled the blind down, and I went to sleep. At first I dreamt a little of the pain, and then I forgot it, and then slept like a top, for hours and hours.

When I woke I found a basin of bread and milk, with a plate over it to keep it warm, on the rush-bottomed chair by the bed. It hadn’t kept it very warm. It made me think of the suppers of the Three Bears in their three basins, and I daresay theirs were rather cold too. Perhaps their Jael boiled their bread and milk at her own time, whether they were ready for it or not.

But I think mine must have been like the Little Bear’s supper, for I ate it all up.

My head was much better, so I went up to our attic, and got out the Fairy Book, that I might not think too much about Margery, and it opened of itself at the Puzzling Tale. I was just beginning to read it, when I heard a noise under the rafters, in one of those low sort of cupboard places that run all round the attic, where spare boxes and old things are kept, and where Margery and I sometimes play at Voyages of Discovery.

I thought Margery’s black cat must be shut up there, but when I went to look, there was another crash, and then the door burst open, and out came Jael, with her cap so crushed that I could not help laughing.

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I was glad to see her, for my head was well, so I liked her again, and did not mind her being ogre-footed, and I wanted to know what she was doing; but Jael had not got to like me again, and she spoke very crossly, and said it was more trouble of my giving, and that Dr. Brown had said that I was to have a light in my bedroom till Miss Margery came back–“if ever there was a sinful waste of candle-grease!” and that it wasn’t likely the Mistress was going to throw away money on box night-lights; and she had sent the boy to the shop for half-a-dozen farthing rushlights–if they kept them, and if not, for half-a-pound of “sixteen” dips, and had sent her to the attic to find the old Rushlight-tin.

“What’s it like, Jael?”

“It’s like a Rushlight-tin, to be sure,” said Jael. “And it’s not been used since your Pa and Ma’s last illness. So it’s safe to be thick with dust, and a pretty job it is for me to have to do, losing the pin out of my cap, and tearing my apron on one of them old boxes, all to find a dirty old Rushlight, just because of your whims and fancies, Miss Grace!”

“Jael, I am so sorry for your cap and apron. I will go in and find the Rushlight for you. Tell me, is it painted black, with a lot of round holes in the sides, and a little door, and a place like a candlestick in the middle? If it is, I know where it is.”

I knew quite well. It was behind a very old portmanteau, and a tin box with a wig and moths in it, and the bottom part of the shower-bath, just at the corner, which Margery and I call Bass’s Straits. So I made a Voyage of Discovery, and brought it out, “thick with dust,” as Jael had said.

And Jael took it, and went away very cross and very ogre-footed, with her cap still awry; and as she stumped down the attic-stairs, and kept clattering the Rushlight against the rails, I could hear her muttering–“A sinful waste of candle-grease–whims and fancies–scandilus!”



Jael’s ogre-footsteps had hardly ceased to resound from the wooden stairs, when these shook again to the tread of Dr. Brown.

He said–“How are you??” and I said–“Very happy, thank you,” which was true. For the only nice thing about dreadful pain is that, when it is gone, you feel for a little bit as if you could cry with joy at having nothing to bear.

Then I thanked him for asking Grandmamma to let me have the Rushlight till Margery came home; and he said I ought to be very much obliged to him, for he had begged me off the barber too. So I asked him if he thought my hair gave me headaches, and he felt it, and said–“No!” which I was very glad of. He said he thought it was more what I grew inside, than what I grew outside my head that did it, and that I was not to puzzle too much over books.

I was afraid he meant the Puzzling Tale, so I told him it was very short, and the answer was given; so he said he should like to hear it–and I read it to him. He liked it very much, and he liked the picture; and I told him we thought they were Sunflowers, only that the glory-leaves were folded in so oddly, and we did not know why. And he said–“Why, because they’re asleep, to be sure. Don’t you know that flowers sleep as soundly as you do? They don’t lie awake in the dark!”

And then he shook with laughing, till he shook the red into his face, and the tears into his eyes, as he always does.

Dr. Brown must know a great deal about flowers, much more than I thought he did; I told him so, and he said, “Didn’t think I looked as like a flower sprite as yourself, eh? ‘Pon my word, I don’t think I’m unlike one of your favorites. Tall, ye know, big beaming face, eh? There are people more unlike a Sunflower than Dr. Brown! Ha! ha! ha!”

He laughed, he always does; but he told me quite delightful things about flowers: how they sleep, and breathe, and eat, and drink, and catch cold in draughts, and turn faint in the sun, and sometimes are all the better for a change (“like Miss Margery,” so he said), and sometimes are home-sick and won’t settle (“which I’ve a notion might be one of your follies, Miss Grace”), and turn pale and sickly in dark corners or stuffy rooms. But he never knew one that went home at night.

Except for being too big for our chairs and tables, and for going voyages of discovery, I do think Dr. Brown would make a very nice person to play with; he seems to believe in fancy things, and he knows so much, and is so good-natured. He asked me what flower I thought Jael was like; and when I told him Margery could imitate her exactly, he said he must see that some day. I dared not tell him Margery can do him too, making his speeches in the shovel hat we found in an old hat box near Bass’s Straits, and a pair of old black gloves of Grandmamma’s.

When he went away he patted my head, and said Margery and I must come to tea with him some day, and he would show us wonderful things in his microscope, and if we were very good, a plant that eats meat.

“But most flowers thrive by ‘eating the air,’ as the Irish say, and you’re one of ’em, Miss Grace. Do ye hear? You’re not to bury yourself in this attic in the holidays. Run out in the garden, and play with your friends the Sunflowers, and remember what I’ve told you about their going to sleep and setting you a good example. It’s as true as Gospel, and there’s many a rough old gardener besides Dr. Brown will tell you that flowers gathered in the morning last longer than those gathered in the evening, because those are fresh after a night’s nap, and these are tired and want to rest, and not to be taken into parlors, and kept awake with candles. Good bye, little Michaelmas Goose!” And away he went, clomping downstairs, but not a bit like Jael.

When bedtime came I was a good deal tired; but after I got into bed I kept my candle alight for a time, hoping Jael would bring the Rushlight and put it on the floor near Margery’s bed, as I had asked her to do. But after a while I had to put out my candle, for Grandmamma is rather particular about it, and then I was so sleepy I fell asleep. I was awakened by a noise and a sort of a flashing, and I thought it was thunder and lightning, but it was only Jael; she had come stumping in, and was flashing the Rushlight about before my eyes to see if I was asleep, and when she saw I was, she wanted to take it away again, but I begged and prayed, and then I said Grandmamma had promised, and she always keeps her promises, and I should go and ask her. So at last Jael set it down by Margery’s bed, and went away more ogre-footed than ever; grumbling and growling about the waste of candle-grease. But I had got the Rushlight, so I didn’t mind; I only hugged my knees, and laughed, and lay down again. And when I heard Jael go stumping upstairs, I knew that she had waited till her own bedtime to bring the Rushlight, and that was why it was late. And I thought to-morrow I would tell Grandmamma, for she promised, and she always performs. She does not spoil us, we know, but she is always fair. Jael isn’t, always.

A Rushlight is a very queer thing. It looked so grim as it stood by Margery’s bed, in a little round of light; rather like a ruined castle in the middle of a lake in the moonshine. A castle with one big door, and a lot of round windows with the light coming through. They made big spots and patches of light all about the room. I could not shut my eyes for watching them, for they were not all the same shape, and they kept changing and moving; at last they got so faint, I was afraid the Rushlight was going out, so I jumped up and went to see, and I found there was a very big thief in the candle, so I got the snuffers out of my candlestick, and snuffed it, and got into bed again; and now there were beautiful big moons of light all over Margery’s bed-valance.

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Thinking of the thief in the Rushlight made me think of a thief in a castle, and then of thieves getting into our house, and that if one got in at my window I could do nothing except scream for help, because Grandmamma keeps the Watchman’s Rattle under her own pillow, and locks her bedroom door. And then I looked at my window, and saw a bit of light, and it made me quite cold, for I thought it was a burglar’s lantern, till I saw it was the moon.

Then I knew how silly I was, and I determined that I would not be such a coward. I determined I would not think of burglars, nor ghosts, nor even Margery.

Margery and I are quite sure that we can think of things, and prevent ourselves thinking of things, by trying very hard. But it is rather difficult.

I tried, and I did. I thought I would think of flowers, and of Dr. Brown, for he is very cheerful to think of. So I thought of Sunflowers, and how they eat the air, and go to sleep at night, and perhaps look like the three women in the Fairy Tale. And I thought I would always pick flowers in the morning now, and never at night, when they want to go to sleep and not to be woke up in a parlor with candles.

And then I wondered: Would they wake with candles if they had begun to go to sleep? Would they wake with a jump, as I did, if Jael flashed the Rushlight in their faces? Would the moon wake them? Were they awake then, that very minute, like me, or asleep, as I was before Jael came in? Did they look like the picture in the Fairy Book, with their glory leaves folded over their faces? If I took a candle now, and held it before S. George of England, looking like that, would he wake with a start, and spread his glory leaves out all round, and stare at me, broad–wide awake?

Then I thought how often I had gone out early, and wet my petticoats, to see if any of them had no dew on their faces, and that I had never gone out at night to see if they looked like the women in the Fairy Tale; and I wondered why I never had, and I supposed it was because I was silly, and perhaps afraid of going out in the dark.

Then I remembered that it wasn’t dark. There was a moon: besides my having a Rushlight.

Then I wondered if I was very very silly, and why Dr. Brown had called me a Michaelmas Goose. But I remembered that it must be because to-morrow was the 29th of September.

Then the stairs clock struck eleven.

I counted all the strokes, and then I saw that the Rushlight was getting dim again, so I got up and snuffed it, and all the moons came out as bright as ever; but I did not feel in the least sleepy.

I did not feel frightened any more. I only wished I knew for certain what Sunflowers look like when they are asleep, and whether you can wake them up with candles. And I went on wondering, and watching the moons.

Then the stairs clock struck a quarter-past eleven, and I thought–“Oh, Grace! if you were not such a coward, if you had jumped up when the clock struck eleven, and slipped down the back stairs, with the Rushlight in your hands, and unlocked the side door, you might have run down the grass walk without hurting your feet, and flashed it in the faces of the Sunflowers, and had a good look, and got back to bed again before the clock struck a quarter-past; and then it would have been done, and couldn’t be undone, and you would have known whether they look like the picture, and if they wake up with candles, and you never could have unknown. But now, you’ll go on putting off, and being frightened about it, and perhaps to-morrow Jael will tell Grandmamma you were asleep, and she won’t let you have a Rushlight any more, not even when you are a grown-up young lady; and even when you get married and go away, you may marry a man who won’t let you have one; and so you may never know what you want to know, all because you’re a Michaelmas Goose.”

Then the Rushlight began to get dim again, so I got up and snuffed it, and it shone out bright, and I thought “If it was Margery she would do it straight off. I won’t be a Michaelmas Goose; I’ll go while I’m up, and be back before the stairs clock strikes again, and then it will be done and can’t be undone, and I shall know, and can’t unknow.”

So I took up the Rushlight and went as fast as I could.

I met a black beetle on the back stairs, which was horrid, but I went on. The side door key is very rusty and very stiff; I had to put down the Rushlight and use both my hands, and just then the clock struck the half-hour, which was rather a good thing, for it drowned the noise of the lock. It did not take me two minutes to run down the grass path, and there were the Sunflowers.

I did it and it can’t be undone, but I don’t know what I wanted to know after all, for the moon was shining in their faces, so they may not have been really sound asleep. They are so tall, the Rushlight was too heavy for me to lift right up, so I opened the door and took out the candle, and flashed it in their faces. But they did not take as much notice as I expected. Their glory leaves looked rather narrow and tight, but they were not quite like the flower-women in the picture.

Sunflowers are alive, I know; they look so different when they are dead. And I am sure they go to sleep, and wake up with candles, or Dr. Brown would not have said so. But it is rather a quiet kind of being alive and awake, I think. Something like Grandmamma, when she is very stiff on Sunday afternoon, and goes to sleep upright in a chair, and wakes up a little when her book drops. But not alive and awake like Margery’s black cat, which must have heard me open the side door, and followed me without my seeing it. It did frighten me, with jumping out of the bushes, and looking at me with yellow eyes!

Then I saw another eye. The eye of a moth, who was on one of the leaves. A most beautiful fellow! His colored wings were rather tight, like the Sunflower’s glory leaves, but he was wide awake–watching the candle.

I should have got back to bed quicker if it had not been for Margery’s black cat and the night-moths. I wanted to get the cat into the house again, but she would not follow me, and the moths would; and I had such hard work to keep them out of the Rushlight.

There was nothing to drown the noise the key made when I locked the side-door again, and when I got to the bottom of the back stairs, I saw a light at the top, and there was Grandmamma in the most awful night cap you can imagine, with a candle in one hand, and the watchman’s rattle in the other.



The worst of it was, I caught such a very bad cold, I gave more trouble than ever; besides Grandmamma having rheumatism in her back with the draught up the back stairs, and nothing on but her night things and the watchman’s rattle. I knew I deserved to be punished, but I did not think my punishment would have been such a terrible one.

I hoped it might have been lessons, or even, perhaps, not having the Rushlight again, but I did not think Grandmamma would think of hurting the Sunflowers.

She waited till I was well enough to go out, and I really began to think she was going to be kind enough to forgive me, with a free forgiveness. But that day she called me to her, and spoke very seriously, and said, that to punish me for my misconduct, and to try and cure me of the babyish nonsense I gave way to about things, she had decided to have all the Sunflowers destroyed at once, and not to have any seed sown for new ones, any more. The gardener was to do it next morning, and I was to be there to see. She hoped it would make me remember the occasion, and teach me better sense for the future.

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I should have begged and prayed, but it is no use begging and praying to Grandmamma; Jael attends more to that. There was no comfort anywhere, except in thinking that Margery would be at home in two days, and that I could pour out all my sorrow to her.

As I went crying down the passage I met Jael.

“What’s the matter now?” said she.

“Grandmamma’s going to have all the Sunflowers killed,” I sobbed. “Oh, I wish I’d never gone to look at them with the Rushlight!”

“That’s how it is,” said Jael sagely, “folks always wishes they’d done different when it’s too late. But don’t sob your heart out that fashion, Miss Grace. Come into the pantry and I’ll give you a bit of cake.”

“Thank you, dear Jael, you’re very kind, but I don’t think I could eat cake. Oh Jael, dear Jael! Do you think she would spare one, just one?”

“That she wouldn’t, Miss Grace, so you needn’t trouble your head about it. When your Grandmamma’s made up her mind, there’s no one ever I saw can move her, unless it be Dr. Brown. Besides, the missus has never much mattered those Sunflowers. They were your mamma’s fancy, and she’d as many whims as you have, and put your Grandmamma about a good deal. She was always at your papa to be doing this and that to the place ‘Wasting good money’ as your Grandmamma said. Your papa was a very easy gentleman. He wanted to please his wife, and he wanted to please his mother. Deary me! I remember his coming to me in this very pantry–I don’t know if it would be more than three months afore they were both taken–and, standing there, as it might be you, Miss Grace, and saying–‘Jael,’ he says, ‘this window looks out on the yard,’ he says; ‘do you ever smell anything, Jael? You are here a good deal.’ ‘Master John,’ I says, ‘I thank my Maker, my nose never troubles me; but if it did’ I says, ‘I hope I know better than to set myself up to smell more than my neighbors.’–‘To be sure, to be sure,’ he says, looking round in a foolish kind of a way at the sink. Then he says, ‘Jael, do you ever taste anything in the water? My wife thinks there’s something wrong with the well.’ ‘Master John,’ I says, ‘with all respect to your good lady, she disturbs her mind a deal too much with books. An ounce of ex-perience, I say, is worth a pound of book learning; and I’ll tell you what my father said to them parties that goes round stirring up stinks, when they were for meddling with his farm yard. “Let wells alone,” he says, “and muck heaps likewise.” And my father passed three-score years and ten, Master John, and died where he was born.’ Well-a-day! I see your poor Pa now. He stood and looked as puzzled as a bee in a bottle. Then he says–‘Well, Jael, my wife says Sunflowers are good against fevers; and there’s no harm in sowing some.’ Which he did that very afternoon, she standing by him, with her hand on his shoulder; but, bless ye, my dear! they were took long before the seeds was up. Your mother was a pretty woman, I’ll say that for her. You’d never have thought it, to look at her, that she was so fond of poking in dirty places.”

“Jael!” I said, “Mamma was right about the smells in the back yard. Margery and I hold our noses”–“you’d a deal better hold your tongues,” interrupted Jael.

“We do, Jael, we do, because I don’t like mustard plasters on my throat, and when the back yard smells a good deal, my throat is always sore. But oh, Jael! If Sunflowers are good for smells, don’t you think we might tell Grandmamma, and she would let us have them for that?”

“She’ll not, Miss Grace,” said Jael, “so don’t worry on. They’re ragged things at the best, and all they’re good for is to fatten fowls; and I shall tell Gardener he may cut their heads off and throw ’em to the poultry, before he roots up the rest.”

I could not bear to hear her, so I went out to bid the Sunflowers good bye.

I held their dear rough stems, rough with nice little white hairs, and I knew how easily their poor heads would cut off, there is so much pith inside the stems.

I kissed all their dear faces one after another. They are very nice to kiss, especially in the sun, for then they smell honey-sweet, like blue Scabious, and lots of flowers that have not much scent, but only smell as if bees would like them. I kissed them once round for myself, and then once for Margery, for I knew how sorry she would be.

And it was whilst I was holding S. George of England’s face in my two hands, kissing him for Margery, that I saw the Dignotion on my middle finger nail.

A Gift, a Beau, A Friend!

And then it flashed into my mind, all in a moment–“There can be no friend to me and the Sunflowers, except Dr. Brown, for Jael says he is the only person who ever changes Grandmamma’s mind.”

I dawdled that night when I could not make up my mind about going out with the Rushlight, but I did not wait one minute now. I climbed over the garden wall into the road, and ran as hard as I could run up to the top of the hill, where lived a man–I mean where Dr. Brown lived.

Now, I know that he is the kindest person that ever could be. I told him everything, and he asked particularly about my throat and the smells. Then he looked graver than I ever saw him, and said, “Listen, little woman; you must look out for spots on your little finger-nails. You’re going away for a bit, till I’ve doctored these smells. Don’t turn your eyes into saucers. Margery shall go with you; I wish I could turn ye both into flowers and plant ye out in a field for three months! but you are not to give me any trouble by turning home-sick, do you hear? I shall have trouble enough with Grandmamma, though I am joint guardian with her (your dear mother’s doing, that!), and have some voice in the disposal of your fates. Now, if I save the Sunflowers, will you promise me not to cry to come home again till I send for you?”

“Shall you be able to change her mind, to let us have Sunflowers sown for next year, too?


“Then I promise.”

I could have danced for joy. The only thing that made me feel uncomfortable was having to tell Dr. Brown about the spot on my middle finger-nail. He would ask all about it, and so I let out about Johnson’s Dictionary and the Dignotions, and Brown’s Vulgar Errors, and I was afraid Margery would say I had been very silly, and let a cat out of a bag.

I hope he was not vexed about his vulgar errors. He only laughed till he nearly tumbled off his chair.

I never did have a spot on my journey-to-go nail, but we went away all the same; so I suppose Dignotions do not always tell true.

When Grandmamma forgave me, and told me she would spare the Sunflowers this time, as Dr. Brown had begged them off, she said–“And Dr. Brown assures me, Grace, that when you are stronger you will have more sense. I am sure I hope he is right.”

I hope so, too!

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