LIFE AT DENHAM COURT

IT will be easier for the reader to imagine than for me to describe
the delight of a young London boy, removed from such a home as that
of Dick’s in Roan’s Court, to this in which he awoke the morning
after his arrival. Mrs Naylor was disposed to be pleased with her
young charge. Her husband at first thought him too young and ignorant
to have been worth transplanting from London to Denham Court. It was
“one of Sir John’s whims,” he said to his wife. However, the liberal
board that they were to receive for him was not to be despised, and
being so young was a fault which he would gradually grow out of. Then
as for his ignorance, he soon found it was not so great as he
supposed. Thanks to Walters, he could read and write very fairly; and
what astonished Naylor greatly, was finding he knew the names of
almost all the flowers in the gardens, and of some in the
greenhouses. He had supposed he would not know a bit of groundsel
from a fern, he said. But the mystery was explained when he found
that he had been so constantly in Covent Garden Market, where he had
contrived to learn the different names of shrubs and flowers as few
other boys would have done. There were a good many men employed about
the grounds, and several boys, who came from the village every
morning and returned home to their meals and to sleep at night. Dick
was looked at with curiosity at first, because Sir John had sent him
down from London and was boarding him at his head gardener’s. It was
all very new and strange to him, and he could not help feeling rather
lonely at times. Sir John and his family were gone to the sea for a
little while, and were not expected till the shooting season began.
Dick rather longed to see Sir John’s kind face again, and he felt so
grateful to him for his kindness that he thought he never could do
enough to show his gratitude.

The work that was given him in the gardens was easy enough. Clearing
the gravel walks of weeds, carrying in vegetables and fruit to the
house, or sometimes–and this he liked best–helping one of the
under gardeners to pot geraniums or other plants. One of his greatest
treats was to be allowed to go through the hothouses and greenhouses
with Mr Naylor, who began to grow fond of the intelligent lad, and to
think that after all Sir John knew what he was about when he sent him
down to learn gardening. “He’s an uncommon little chap,” he said to
his wife one day–“nothing seems to escape his observation; and if I
tell him the name of a plant or flower he remembers it. Most boys
would forget it as soon as told. Such a memory as he’s got will do
him good service some day.”

“He’s a nice, good little fellow,” remarked Mrs Naylor, “and so
obliging. He’s always ready to run errands for me of an evening, or
to play with the little boys. I thought I shouldn’t like having him
when Sir John first wrote about his coming, but I declare I’d sooner
have him here than not. And as for Ned and Tommy, they follow him
like their shadow whenever he’s in the house.”

Ned and Tommy were Mrs Naylor’s own two children. They were merry
little fellows, several years younger than Dick. To them he was a
great acquisition. When the day’s work was over, they were sure to be
watching for him at the lodge gate, to claim his services in mending
their paper kites, and to help to fly them when mended, as well as
many other similar offices, such as good-natured older boys can
execute for little ones. No wonder that Mrs Naylor’s motherly
feelings made her think she would sooner have Dick as an inmate than
not.

When the days were beginning to shorten, and the first delicate tinge
of autumn brown was stealing gently over the green foliage, it was
announced that Sir John and the family were coming home. They had
been detained at the sea longer than was at first intended, owing to
the illness of one of the young ladies. But now the day was fixed,
and preparations were being made for them both within and without the
house. Even Dick had to be busy. Not a weed must be seen on the
walks, not a dead leaf on the geranium beds. Pot plants were to be
placed in rows on either side of the broad terrace in front of the
house, and others had to be carried into the drawing-room to fill the
jardinière and baskets. Also the conservatory adjoining the
morning-room was to be adorned with choice flowers from the
greenhouses. Dick carried and fetched, carried and fetched, till his
arms ached; but they might almost have dropped off before he would
have given in, so pleased was he to have such a chance for seeing the
tasteful and artistic way in which Mr Naylor arranged the different
plants according to their colouring. When all was complete, Mr Naylor
stepped to a little distance to see that the effect was quite to his
mind, and he caught sight of Dick standing in such enrapt admiration
that he fixed his gaze on him for a moment rather than on the
flowers.

“Well, Dick,” said he, “what do you think of it?”

“Oh, sir, it is beautiful! I could look at it for ever.”

“The boy is born to be a gardener,” said Mr Naylor to himself. “He
ought to begin and learn Latin. I shall tell Sir John so.”

All honour was due to worthy, honest-hearted Mr Naylor, that not a
shade of jealousy crossed his mind about Dick, although he hoped to
bring up his two boys to his own profession. Full of taste and
intelligence himself, he quickly saw that the boy was naturally
gifted with these qualities in no common degree, and felt they ought
to be thoroughly cultivated.

The next day the family arrived. Dick was standing at the lodge, well
pleased to be allowed to throw open the gates for the carriage to
enter, and to receive a smile and nod from Sir John as he sat inside
it with his wife and daughters.

The report that Mr Naylor was able to give of his charge was very
satisfactory to the benevolent baronet, and he quite agreed with him
that it would be well to let the boy have some education. There was
an excellent village school in Denham, and a superior schoolmaster.
So it was arranged for Dick to attend school every morning, and be in
the garden in the afternoon. The schoolmaster also agreed to teach
him Latin three evenings in the week.

“Sir John never does things by halves,” remarked Mrs Naylor to her
husband. “He’ll be the making of that boy, you’ll see.”

“He’ll help him to be the making of himself,” replied Naylor. “Dick
is a boy, if I mistake not, who will make good use of whatever
advantages are held out to him.”

Time went on. Dick learnt quickly, and pleased his master. He was a
favourite with most people from his good humour and readiness to
oblige. Sir John took great interest in his improvement; and his wife
and daughter often stopped and spoke to the boy who had come to
Denham Court under such peculiar circumstances.

But go where we will, happen to us what will in this world, trouble
of some sort is sure to crop up, and Dick was not without his, even
in his happy life at Denham Court. It seems strange that he could
have an enemy, but so it was. There was a boy named George Bentham,
who was employed in the gardens, and who from the first had looked
upon the London lad with jealousy and dislike. He saw that he was a
favourite with Sir John and with Mr Naylor, and being of a mean and
selfish disposition, he took an aversion to him for this reason. To
use his own expression, he liked to _spite_ him. That is to say, he
never lost an occasion of saying or doing anything that he thought
would be disagreeable to him; and it is wonderful how much petty
tyranny may be exercised by one boy over another when opportunities
are sought. For instance, he would sometimes hide his garden tools to
cause him to waste time in searching for them, and so bring on him Mr
Naylor’s displeasure. One day in autumn, when Dick had been
industriously sweeping up the fallen leaves in one of the walks, and
had gone to fetch a wheelbarrow to carry them away, he found that
some one had, during his short absence, scattered the heaps which he
had so carefully piled up at regular distances, so that his work had
almost all to be done over again. He had been told to finish it by
eleven o’clock, at which hour Lady Tralaway generally came to walk
there, as being a sunny, sheltered spot. He did his very best to try
and set it all right in time, but the leaves at the end of the walk
were in a sadly untidy state when her ladyship appeared with one of
her daughters. She remarked on the unswept state of the path, and
asked Dick to have it cleared earlier another day; and she repeated
her request to Mr Naylor a little later, when she met him in the
greenhouse. This caused Mr Naylor to reprove Dick for idleness, and
he seemed inclined to think that what he said about the leaves having
been scattered was all an excuse, especially as Dick could not say
who had done it, though in his secret heart he felt quite sure he
knew.

Another ill-natured trick that was played on Dick by an unseen,
though to him not an unknown hand, was when he one day left his slate
for a few minutes on a seat just inside the lodge gate, on which was
a difficult sum over which he had spent a long time the evening
before, and had at last mastered, though with great difficulty. He
had just started to go to school, slate and books in hand, when he
remembered he had forgotten one of them, and ran back into the lodge
to fetch it. He could not immediately find it, though he was not away
from his slate for more than five or six minutes, and it stood
precisely where he had left it when he returned. He snatched it up
and ran off, but it was not till he had got near the school-house
that he discovered the lower figures of the sum were all rubbed out
carefully as with a sponge. He was sorely distressed, but could only
tell the master of what had happened, and begged to be allowed to do
it over again that evening. The master, accustomed to boys often
making excuses at the expense of truth, reproved him for leaving his
slate so carelessly about, and said he could not understand who would
care to take the trouble to do such a thing as efface the figures
just to get him into a scrape. Dick saw he was not believed, and it
distressed him a good deal. Yet he could not tell his suspicions
about George, for he had no proof that he had done it. He only knew
that about that time he generally passed through the gate on his way
back from breakfast, and he also knew that he would be quite ready to
do him such a bit of mischief as this.

Old Walters did not forget his little friend, nor did Dick lose his
warm, affectionate love for him. They exchanged letters from time to
time, and the correspondence was very useful in keeping up in Dick’s
mind the remembrance of all Walters had taught him. Sir John kindly
sent for the old man when he was in town to give a favourable report
of the boy, and tell him that Mr Naylor was well satisfied with him,
and believed he would one day make a first-rate gardener, for that
his good taste was something quite unusual, and his general
intelligence of no ordinary stamp.

“I should like him to be a great gardener some day,” said Walters;
“and still more, I should like him to be a good man, with the fear of
God ever before him.”

“I trust he will be both, my friend,” said Sir John. “How are his
parents going on?”

“Worse than ever,” said Walters. “The mother is in such a wretched
state of health from drinking that she is not likely to be long
alive, and the father is seldom sober. I went lately to tell them I
had heard from their boy, but they seemed very indifferent to what he
was doing, and scarcely asked any questions about him. They will
probably soon both be in the Union.”

“Then it is clear it is no use bringing up their son to London to see
them,” said Sir John, “as I would have done had they been
respectable. He is better to be quite separated from them under the
circumstances.”

“Far better, Sir John. Roan’s Court is no place for him now. The
sooner he forgets the very existence of what goes on there the
better. I should like to see my lad again some day, please God, but
it’s not likely, for I’m getting nigh to seventy, and though I’m hale
and hearty as ever now, yet at my age I mustn’t expect many more
years. God bless you, Sir John, for being such a friend to him; he’s
got strangely about my heart, and I shall pray for him whilst I
live.”

You may also like