The Gentleman Botanist

The Gentleman Botanist arrived in town with his cartons and cases, bottles and beakers, samples and sketchbooks, and set about studying and collecting the local flora. The children approached him first with their natural curiosity and innate lack of fear. He quickly engaged them to lead him to new areas to investigate — the first time for a penny, each time after that for promises of more.

Within a day the men would confront him — the mayor or constable, property owners, or whatever leading businessmen felt it was their duty to represent the town’s interests. He spoke to them of the importance of scientific investigation and the necessity that he be given free reign to go and do as he pleased regardless of property lines. He spoke to them as inferiors, as indeed he believed them to be. And without exception they acquiesced.

He stretched a tarpaulin between two trees and slept on a cot under the makeshift shelter. That brought the women out, tut-tutting what a deplorable situation it was to leave a gentleman out in the cold and soon he had offers of a room that would be placed at his disposal. “No,” they would say, “of course it is no trouble at all.” Not that any of them really had any room to spare, but what was a little inconvenience to the family in the service of science and Christian charity?

He weighed his options carefully and gratefully accepted one in particular. The woman was solicitous and pious. The man was solid and slow-witted. And the daughter, of course they had a daughter, was young and fair. Her name was… let’s say it was Virginia.

He set about the business of collecting botanical samples during the day and cataloging them by the fire each night. And one night he suggested, if it wasn’t any trouble and only if she was interested, perhaps Virginia would like to write some of the notes as he studied the samples and dictated. She would? Oh, that was splendid. And within a day or two it became clear she had quite an aptitude for the work and perhaps she could accompany him during the day and help collect the samples too. Besides, she had local knowledge that would supplant that of the children who had grown tired of waiting for the next supply of pennies.

Each day they ranged further afield, trudging over the steepest terrain and inspecting the remotest dales and hollows. It had not been so many years since she had been a girl whose daily activities included climbing rocks and trees. She never complained about the rigors and he began to compliment her frequently. And when they chanced upon a wildflower that she said was the most beautiful thing she had ever seen, he declared that it held but a fraction of the beauty of dear Virginia. He kissed her hand and she blushed, but didn’t draw away. So he embraced her and kissed her face and still she didn’t draw away. Soon he was exploring dales and hollows of a carnal nature.

Thereafter they would set out each morning and collect just enough samples so that they had something to catalog that night and then enjoy intimacies each afternoon until it was time to go home. Then one morning he announced that he would be leaving the next day. No, Virginia could not accompany him. But he could send for her when his expedition was done and he had settled back in his family home. And it would be best that her parents remain ignorant of their liaison for the time being. Of course, when he published his research he would name a species just for her. Perhaps it would be that wildflower she had admired so much? That, he said, was as much up to the scientific community as it was to him. Wait and see. They still had one glorious afternoon to spend together. No tears now. That just won’t do.

The next morning after Virginia’s father had left for work, he packed up and left. Virginia took to her bed and cried. Her mother recognized the tears of an abandoned woman and prayed that he would be far away when father got home, lest he strike out after him with murderous intent. The Gentleman Botanist, it must be plain, was a “gentleman” by virtue of his birth in high society and not by virtue of, well, any virtue he might have possessed.

And when his work was published it was just as well that no copies made their way into any of a dozen or so small towns, each with a Virginia who had been scandalized. And each of those Virginias would have been mortified to learn that he remembered them well, but not for any wildflower. They were immortalized in print as Fissidens adianthoides. Maidenhair moss.


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  1. This was so compelling, definitely story telling at its best. I read it allowed to myself, visualising everything you described. Such a cad in disguise, yet one couldn’t help like him.

  2. I love when you write in period style have a flair for it.. I was reminded of French stories like Tartuffe or Return of Martin Guerre.. I could just see a young Gerard Depardieu playing the botanist. Great stuff.. I must return, I must!!

    • Thanks, Tom. I hadn’t thought of it, but I believe you’re right that a young Gerard Depardieu would fit the role nicely. ~Tim

  3. I was rather hoping he’d get a comeuppance. Virginia’s mother seems to have taken it all in stride, which kind of surprised me.

    The story was nicely done, it drew me gently along like the botanist drew Virginia. Although your intent was more virtuous, I’d say. 😉

    • Thanks, Larry. I think this could use more detail about the aftermath for Virginia and her family, but I still expect the mother would handle it better than the father. As for the botanist getting a comeuppance, I’m afraid we’ll have to leave that to Karma. ~Tim

    • Thanks, Sonia. It is rather a sad story. And you can bet I never want to be on Lime’s bad side. ~Tim

  4. Y’know, in hindsight it makes perfect sense for a botanist to be good at spreading seed.

    Well done!

  5. I like how you stepped us through the seduction: “He kissed her hand and she blushed, but didn’t draw away. So he embraced her and kissed her face and still she didn’t draw away.”

    Great story!

    • Thanks, Matt. I think he was well-practiced at how far he could go with each victim and knew how to test the limits. ~Tim

  6. Best damn thing I’ve read in a while. Find a journal or contest that allows “previously published” materials and submit this RIGHT NOW!

    • Thanks, Michael. You know I mentioned to someone just the other day that I haven’t submitted anything for publication in a while and I’m starting to feel the need to do that again. I think this could use a little more work on the immediate aftermath for Virginia and her family [see Larry Kollar’s comment and my reply], but then perhaps this is a good candidate. Thanks again. ~Tim

  7. A nice gentle, and amusing story Tim.

    One can only hope that somewhere down the line this “Charming” gentleman meets a “Virginia” who turns out to be a real Bunny boiler, A-la-fatal attraction. 🙂

    • Thanks, Steve. Hah! I like the term bunny boiler, but maybe she could spare an innocent rabbit and make a nice soup from all his botanical samples instead. ~Tim

  8. I really enjoyed this little piece, well written and a joy to read as well. Even more so as you know he has done the same thing dozens of times before.

  9. My favorite story I’ve read here. Had me from the first and never let go. You have a heck of a range to your abilities, Tim. Comparing this story to the humor piece you wrote recently when a man complained about daylight savings, such different stories and both very enjoyable.

    • Thanks, Richard. I enjoy stretching my creative wings and writing in a variety of styles and genres. ~Tim

    • Thanks, Craig. He does seem to be something of a silver-tongued devil. Thanks for the link to Bragi. ~Tim

  10. I think the lack of dialogue really strengthens this piece, it makes it sound like something you might overhear, or be told “in confidence”.

  11. interesting choice of words. when you described the parents, and then the daughter, I kind of knew where the story was going. nicely done. though I like to think that the botanist will get some sort of punishment for his deeds but I suppose not all stories have a happy ending.

    thanks for your visit. I hope you have a sweet day.

    • Thanks, Lissa. I hope he gets some appropriate punishment too, but I’m not sure that’s necessarily a happy ending for anyone. ~Tim

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