A Rare Specimen
The country was invigorating. He wondered why he had stayed cooped up in London so long, believing that his business required him to be there. Did he have to attend every Royal Society meeting, and read every treatise before the ink had dried? Having dispatched the party on various errands and finding himself alone for a brief moment, he looked around for Miss Debord. Walking back around a curve in the path, he discerned her cream-coloured muslin and green spencer. As he watched she crouched down, bending over something low-growing, and cleared a space around the plant. She was lying almost flat on the ground when he walked quietly up to her. She started at his question.
“What have you found?”
“Oh! A snowdrop, merely, but I thought it curious. It’s rather small, but see, it holds its head erect instead of bowed down.”
He crouched down next to her, taking out his eyeglass.
“Well, that is quite strange. I’ve never seen that before.”
“I have seen one other, but I could find no mention of it in any of the floras.”
“Did you consult Mr. Allenham?”
“Oh! No…” she said slowly, “That is, I saw the flower only the other day, after he had left for the seaside.”
“He will certainly be disappointed, Miss Debord. I might almost accuse you of keeping your discovery to yourself on purpose. It isn’t everyone who can say they have found a new species in their native land.”
Her eyes widened. “A new species? Are you sure?”
“Reasonable sure. We must make a sketch, and send a specimen and a description to the Royal Society. Do you draw, Miss Debord?”
“Hmm, yes, as do I. I think Miss Lincoln is a tolerable artist, however. We will see what she can do. In the meantime, let us carefully dig up our little friend here.”
He knelt on the earth near her, and together they dug around the little flower. Stealing a glance at her, he couldn’t help reflecting that had he known of the existence of such a woman, he might have spent less time in search of plants and more time in search of a wife. He wondered that so short an acquaintance could have made him feel as though he had known her for years. There seemed to exist between them such an understanding that even a look could communicate volumes. He had been irritated by her conversation with Miss Lincoln. She was right in the main, but he would have informed her that clever men would not be content with mere ignorant housekeepers, if the laughter in her eyes had not once again forestalled him. She seemed purposely to be encouraging Miss Lincoln – she supported Mrs. Lincoln in her interferences, and took every opportunity of including the girl in the conversation whenever they were together. He wanted, desperately, to know whether her efforts were due to a wish to discourage him, or due to an excessive kindness towards the girl. There could be a third possibility, of course: she might be unwilling to marry at all. She led, by all appearances, a pleasant enough life in the country. Indeed, he was almost jealous of the woods and the fresh air. Could dirty, busy London really tempt a woman away from this beautiful place? Could he?
A suspicion had also taken root in him that Miss Debord was still dissembling on the subject of Mr. Allenham, and that she herself knew more about plants than she was willing to divulge. Was it possible that she was the elusive assistant he had been searching for? If so, Mr. Allenham was a fortunate man indeed. Surely… surely the two could not be in love? he wondered in some alarm. She had talked of him as an invalid, but not necessarily as an old man. No, he thought, willing the idea away. She had talked of his illness in the most careless way imaginable. “I fear he has grown very much worse, though I would not tell him so.” Those were her words, or something very near. That did show a certain sensitivity towards him, to be sure, and she might have assumed nonchalance as a defence against gossip. No, he repeated to himself, dismissing this possibility even though he was unable to refute it. I won’t have it.
Their hands brushed as they worked, and he looked up and met her eyes. They were serious, for a change, and he wondered whether her thoughts might have been running along a similar vein. She cupped the bulb gently in her palm and pulled it out, depositing it in the basket he held open for her. He stood up and offered her his hand to rise. She was covered in leaves and not a little mud, which she brushed off absently. She had a smear across one cheek and he wondered whether he ought to apprise her of the fact.
“You have a good eye for plants,” he said.
She was about to say more when Mrs. Lincoln came bustling into their glade.
“Ah, here you are,” she cried, leading Isabella to the spot where they were standing. “We thought we had lost you.”
A sarcastic retort jumped to his lips but he restrained himself. “I have been inspecting a plant that Miss Debord found, ma’m. I believe it may be a new species.”
“A new species? Here in Banbourne?”
“Yes, unlikely as it sounds.” He glanced at Miss Debord, as Mother and Daughter inspected the snowdrop in the basket.
“What will it be called?” asked Isabella, looking up at him with all the art that she could muster. He was not unaware, nor entirely averse to her beauty, but its effect was thankfully lessened by the tendril of affection that was growing in quite another direction.
“Miss Debord must decide that,” he told her, evincing immediate protestations from that lady.
“I insist,” he said. “You discovered it, and it is your prerogative.”
She thought for a moment. “How about Galanthus burbankii?”
He laughed. “How vain everyone would think me. No, if it must be named after someone, then it must be you.”
She shook her head, laughing. “Galanthus debordae. No, no, how ill that sounds.”
“Then it must be, Galanthus beata.”
“But how did you know my name?”
He smiled. “Ah, I used the scientific method. By the by, I see Latin is another of those accomplishments that you rarely speak of.”
She chuckled. “If only the ones I have, made up for the ones I do not. Drawing, singing, playing the pianoforte…”
“Dancing,” he added, and they both laughed.