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Brownsmith's Boy A Romance in a Garden   By: (1831-1909)

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Brownsmith's Boy, a Romance in a Garden, by George Manville Fenn.

This is an absolutely delightful book, which has most of its early action in a market garden, and then more in another one. The author is a great naturalist, and he has much to teach us about the way in which work should be done to raise fruit and vegetables to be taken to London daily for the market. Somehow that sounds boring but there is so much action entwined with these facts that they are made far from boring.

The action takes place about 1835. The hero lives with his mother in a house overlooking the garden. When she dies he is taken in by Old Brownsmith to be taught the skills of a market gardener. Another boy, Shock, hangs about the garden, sleeping rough and living on a primitive diet of snails, hedgehogs and rabbits and whatever he can get. There is an uneasy relationship between the boys, with Shock constantly doing unkind and strange things, and our hero, Grant Dennison, longing to get to know him better.

I particularly loved the episode where an old worker, Ike, takes the even older horse, Basket, for his regular overnight trip to the London fruit and vegetable market, taking Grant with him.

There are plenty of the usual Manville Fenn episodes of terror and near disaster, and indeed it is a lovely book. Do read it. NH




I always felt as if I should like to punch that boy's head, and then directly after I used to feel as if I shouldn't care to touch him, because he looked so dirty and ragged.

It was not dirty dirt, if you know what I mean by that, but dirt that he gathered up in his work bits of hay and straw, and dust off a shed floor; mud over his boots and on his toes, for you could see that the big boots he wore seemed to be like a kind of coarse rough shell with a great open mouth in front, and his toes used to seem as if they lived in there as hermit crabs do in whelk shells. They used to play about in there and waggle this side and that side when he was standing still looking at you; and I used to think that some day they would come a little way out and wait for prey like the different molluscs I had read about in my books.

But you should have seen his hands! I've seen them so coated with dirt that it hung on them in knobs, and at such times he used to hold them up to me with the thumbs and fingers spread out wide, and then down he would go again and continue his work, which, when he was in this state, would be pulling up the weeds from among the onions in the long beds.

I didn't want him to do it, but he used to see me at the window looking out; and I being one lonely boy in the big pond of life, and he being another lonely boy in the same big pond, and both floating about like bits of stick, he seemed as if he wanted to gravitate towards me as bits of stick do to each other, and in his uncouth way he would do all sorts of things to attract my attention.

Sometimes it seemed as if it was to frighten me, at others to show how clever he was; but of course I know now that it was all out of the superabundant energy he had in him, and the natural longing of a boy for a companion.

I'll just tell you what he'd do. After showing me his muddy fingers, and crawling along and digging them as hard as he could into the soil to tear out the weeds, all at once he would kick his heels up in the air like a donkey. Then he would go on weeding again, look to see if I was watching him, and leave his basket and run down between two onion beds on all fours like a dog, run back, and go on with his work.

Every now and then he would pull up a young onion with the weeds and pick it out, give it a rub on his sleeve, put one end in his mouth, and eat it gradually, taking it in as I've seen a cow with a long strand of rye or grass... Continue reading book >>

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