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BILLARDIERA SCANDENS.-CLIMBING BILLARDIERA.
Class V. PENTANDRIA. ORDER V. PENTAGYNIA.
NATURAL Order, PITTOSPOREÆ.
1. Calyx. 2. One of the Petals. 3 The five Stamens. 4. The woolly Ovarium, terminated by the smooth Style and simple Stigma.
A SMALL slightly climbing evergreen shrub; branches slender, tinged with red, and thickly clothed with villous spreading hairs; leaves alternate, variable, oblong, lanceolate or oblongly linear, acute, very much undulate at the edges, hairy on both sides ; petioles short, hairy, more or less reddish. Flowers solitary or sometimes in pairs, terminal, pendulous, straw-coloured; pedicles short, hairy ; bractes narrowly linear, taper-pointed, hairy, deciduous; calyx of five sepals, that are lanceolate, taper-pointed, erect, thickly clothed with villous hairs; petals five, oblong, acute, reflexed at the points ; stamens five, distinct, inserted on the receptacle and alternate with the petals; anthers blue or purple ; ovarium densely clothed with soft woolly down, terminated by a smooth simple style ; berry about the size of a hazel-nut, obtuse at both ends, densely tomentose, full of fleshy pulp, and containing numerous seeds in four series.
The present plant forms a small climbing shrub, well adapted for a conservatory or greenhouse where it is not wanted to attain a great height; it is one of the very few eatable fruits that are native of New Holland, and is of itself not very agreeable to the palate. It succeeds well in a mixture of light sandy loam and peat; and young cuttings, planted in sand under bell-glasses, strike root readily; it may also be raised from seeds, which are produced in great abundance.
The genus was named by Sir J. E. Smith, the late President of the Linnean Society, in honour of J. J. Labillardiere, the celebrated French Naturalist, who accompanied the expedition in search of La Peyrouse.*
It sometimes happens that without any particular cause for anxiety or depression, the mind is unaccountably perplexed and weighed down; and at such seasons even a dream of the night may produce a painful effect, while our sad memories or futile regrets cannot altogether be dispelled even by the strongest exertion of our reasoning powers. I had arisen one morning to fulfil the daily round of appointed duties, but in a spiritless, discontented, and repining mood. Feelings of the kind usually hold their sway in the silent and secret recesses of the heart ; for we know that it is weak and wrong to indulge in them, and we are ashamed to seek for sympathy, which indeed can be but sparingly accorded in such cases. Towards the afternoon I sallied forth to try the effect of a solitary ramble, knowing this to prove frequently the best restorative for a nervous or morbid temperament. In a secluded spot, from whence a gentle pastoral valley was visible, between the spreading branches of old linden-trees, overshading the pathway, which led onward amid a collection of mossy hillocks, on whose broken surface scanty heather tufts and delicate wild flowers were scattered, an object attracted my attention. It moved slowly and with apparent difficulty, now disappearing behind the hillocks, then emerging and stooping down, and altogether presenting a very peculiar appearance. I saw presently that it was a human figure, which I supposed at first to be some poor misshapen child seeking for flowers. But although correct as to the employment, I found on nearer approach, that the gatherer was no child, but an unsightly and deformed cripple of mature years.
She supported herself on crutches, and besides the hideousness of the most unnatural distortion it is possible to imagine, added to a dwarf-like stature, her wan but placid face was rendered yet more ghastly by heavy linen bandages bound around it, and across her forehead. Her well-patched coarse garments were scrupulously clean, while her long thin white fingers were eagerly stretched forth to pluck the flowers, which she added to her store with childish delight.
I volunteered my assistance, and soon not one more flower was to be found. She thanked me in a sweet low voice, and quietly set herself down on a bank of moss, and began to arrange her humble nosegay: at first I had fancied that she was imbecile, but that thought was quickly dispelled on hearing her speak, and meeting the earnest intelligent gaze of her deeply-sunken but bright black eyes.
On sitting down to rest beside her, and inquiring if she was fond of flowers, as she took such pains to collect them, “Oh yes, ma’am !” she answered, “I love them dearly; they do me so much good with their happy looks and sweet scents. I take them home with me, for they ease my pain when I have them near me to speak to. I am but a silly one, though I often remember Him who made both me and the flowers.” I asked where she suffered the most pain. “In my head, ma’am; it has been so ever since I can remember
* Flora Australasica.
—sometimes better, sometimes worse: but I will sing you a song if you please, for helping me to gather this pretty nosegay.”
It was useless my requesting her to desist from the exertion, she began without heeding my remonstrance, and as if it were the return she habitually made for kindness, warbling the words of a bygone and very beautiful ballad. An attempt at sentimental description, when speaking of this poor creature, would be ludicrous and unfeeling; yet her voice was so low and touching, and so full of gentle pathos, that as I listened to the plaintive strain and the old sad words, many painful but treasured memories were called up, and I could not restrain my tears.
Unfortunately I had no money about me, nor could I succeed in prevailing on the songstress to call at my home, which I found she must pass on returning to her temporary lodging. “She disliked entering any house, unless obliged;' but she promised to be there again to-morrow, where the blue-bells grew, and when the lengthening shadows of the pale autumnal afternoon would mark the time for her.
Her story, as she told it to me, was a short and simple one, and yet not commonplace; nor could I doubt its truth for a moment, for the eye never deceives.'
She had been an orphan since the age of sixteen. Her father, who was a woodman, had been killed by an accident before her birth when engaged in felling trees in the New Forest. The widow supported herself and her child by singing about the country, and working in the fields when she could get work to do; for as the daughter of a wandering Welsh harpist, the gift of song and the love of roving were in her hereditary. The unhappy circumstances, however, attending the birth of her infant had fallen heavily on the little innocent, occasioning, it was supposed, some organic derangement of the complex vessels of the head, and owing to the ignorant treatment of quacks, to whom her mother resorted, and a fall received in early infancy, making her, in her own sad words, “ What you see, ma'am.”
When her mother died, a benevolent physician to whom her case became known, had given her a recommendation to a London hospital, defraying her expenses thither; naturally concluding that clever and multiplied advice, together with care and judicious management, might do much towards effecting a cure, or at any rate ameliorating her condition. “But after a long time,” she added, “all the doctors agreed that my case was an incurable one, and that fresh air and perfect freedom were the only things they could recommend as likely to ease my pain.”
She told me the name of the worthy practitioner who had originally befriended her, and who had continued to allow her a small suni weekly, sufficient for her maintenance, until two years previous to this period, when death had deprived the orphan cripple of her benefactor.
Since then, walking all over England and Wales, she had supported herself by singing, when able to do so, and by the gifts of the charitable. The open air was as necessary and nutritious to her as daily food, while her childish delight in gathering wild flowers formed the sole recreation and solace of her lonely existence—lonely as that of the lepers of old.
The outcast added in a gentle deprecatory tone, but far removed from the whine of the common mendicant, and putting her hand involuntarily on her bandaged brow, “ God is very good to me, for I have never wanted; and though He sees fit to send me pain, yet with the pain there is healing, for I often forget all when I look upon the beautiful things of His making. Indeed I am very happy; for if such fair flowers are to be found on earth, where the birds sing and the waters are so clear, and the trees are so grand, how much more beautiful our home in heaven will be !"
“But are we so sure of seeing heaven ?" I hesitatingly said, wishing to hear the answer. Her answer was a silent smile, but a serious and solemn one, only faintly lighting up her pallid suffering countenance; and when I parted with her, it was in the earnest and full conviction that this destitute cripple was indeed, as she affirmed, very happy; and passing rich also in the possession of the priceless graces of patient cheerfulness, resignation, and faith.
This little adventure had given me a lesson and administered a reproof, which all discontented and repining individuals may not have the good fortune to encounter so opportunely. For my own part, the light of that poor cripple's smile is to this day upon my heart; and in the midst of all the sorrows and anxieties of life, whether real or imaginary, my harassed thoughts often flit away to employ themselves happily and beneficially in-gathering flowers.