My father, although certain that he had written the label, and wired the root, had his misgivings about the place in which it had been deposited, and half suspected that it had slipt in amongst a basket which we had sent as a present to Ireland; I myself, judging from a similar accident which had once happened to a choice hyacinth bulb, partly thought that one or other of us might have put it for care and safety in some such very snug corner, that it would be six months or more before it turned up; John, impressed with a high notion of the money-value of the property and estimating it something as a keeper of the regalia might estimate the most precious of the crown jewels, boldly affirmed that it was stolen; and Dick, who had just had a demele with the cook, upon the score of her refusal to dress a beef-steak for a sick greyhound, asserted, between jest and earnest, that that hard-hearted official had either ignorantly or maliciously boiled the root for a Jerusalem artichoke, and that we, who stood lamenting over our regretted Phoebus, had actually eaten it, dished up with white sauce. John turned pale at the thought. The beautiful story of the Falcon, in Boccaccio, which the young knight killed to regale his mistress, or the still more tragical history of Couci, who minced his rival’s heart, and served it up to his wife, could not have affected him more deeply. We grieved over our lost dahlia, as if it had been a thing of life.
Grieving, however, would not repair our loss; and we determined, as the only chance of becoming again possessed of this beautiful flower, to visit, as soon as the dahlia season began, all the celebrated collections in the neighbourhood, especially all those from which there was any chance of our having procured the root which had so mysteriously vanished.
Early in September, I set forth on my voyage of discovery–my voyages, I ought to say; for every day I and my pony-phaeton made our way to whatever garden within our reach bore a sufficiently high character to be suspected of harbouring the good Dahlia Phoebus.
Monday we called at Lady A.’s; Tuesday at General B’s; Wednesday at Sir John C’s; Thursday at Mrs. D’s; Friday at Lord E’s; and Saturday at Mr. F.’s. We might as well have staid at home; not a Phoebus had they, or anything like one.
We then visited the nurseries, from Brown’s, at Slough, a princely establishment, worthy of its regal neighbourhood, to the pretty rural gardens at South Warnborough, not forgetting our own most intelligent and obliging nurseryman, Mr. Sutton of Reading–(Belford Regis, I mean)–whose collection of flowers of all sorts is amongst the most choice and select that I have ever known. Hundreds of magnificent blossoms did we see in our progress, but not the blossom we wanted.
There was no lack, heaven knows, of dahlias of the desired colour. Besides a score of “Orange Perfections,” bearing the names of their respective growers, we were introduced to four Princes of Orange, three Kings of Holland, two Williams the Third, and one Lord Roden.*
* The nomenclature of dahlias is a curious sign of the times. It rivals in oddity that of the Racing Calendar. Next to the peerage, Shakspeare and Homer seem to be the chief sources whence they have derived their appellations. Thus we have Hectors and Dioedes of all colours, a very black Othello, and a very fair Desdemona. One beautiful blossom, which seems like a white ground thickly rouged with carmine, is called “the Honourable Mrs. Harris;” and it is droll to observe how punctiliously the working gardeners retain the dignified prefix in speaking of the flower. I heard the other day of a serious dahlia grower who had called his seedlings after his favourite preachers, so that we shall have the Reverend Edward So-and-so, and the Reverend John Such-an-one, fraternising with the profane Ariels and Imogenes, the Giaours and Me-doras of the old catalogue. So much the better. Floriculture is amongst the most innocent and humanising of all pleasures, and everything which tends to diffuse such pursuits amongst those who have too few amusements, is a point gained for happiness and for virtue.