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Blushing Unseen

Scene: a rocky footpath in open country: grass alternates with limestone boulders. Summer.

RONALD enters R. He carries a faded and battered canvas satchel; walks briskly, but keeps his eyes on the vegetation to the side of the path; suddenly he stops, stoops over some plant, plucks a flowerless, leafy stem; straightens, and taking a lens from his pocket, inspects the stem in his hand.

 

RONALD: It can’t be. Rubescens! I can’t believe it. (turns the plant over, gently poking at it; suddenly excited) It can’t be. (fetching a book from his satchel with his free hand) Never. Can’t be. What says Clapham? (lays the plant and lens on a boulder and turns pages) Here we go, here we go… Opposite whorls… round-toothed leaves, underside hairy — it has, it has. (checks the plant again) It has. But… (sits down on the boulder and studies the plant in his hand, using his lens; refers to the book) H. borealis rubescens. Subspecies, once locally common. Limestone grassland… believed extinct… Extinct. (flips pages) But this is the one. Midrib keeled… Flowers white. Petals blushing pink at the base. (doubtfully) Rubescent. Blushing. (slips from his seat, crouches and studies the flowers in the turf) No… No, they’re white, dead white… (stands up, checks book again) Oh bugger. Could’ve sworn I saw pink. (stoops over flowers again, straightens up; lays book on boulder, despondent) Now I’m imagining things. Why don’t I just give up?

 

TEDDY enters L, i.e. he is walking the path in the opposite direction. Has a small flower in his buttonhole; carries a rucksack. Seeing RONALD, he stops

 

TEDDY: Why, hello, Ronald, I thought it was you. How’s it going?

 

RONALD (looking up; a moment’s pause) Teddy. Sorry. (shaking teddy’s hand) You took me by surprise there. I mean here we are —  (noticing the flower in Teddy’s buttonhole he stares, then hastily looks away)

 

TEDDY: Miles from anywhere, walking the same trail. Must be fate!

 

RONALD (a little awkward): And you’re on holiday. In the area?

 

TEDDY: Absolutely. It’s marvellous here. And this weather!

 

RONALD: Big change from last year. (again looking at Teddy’s flower; tears his gaze away once more) It’s certainly fine. So, where…

 

TEDDY: Ah, I keep on the move, me. Stanggill tonight. You?

 

RONALD: The Field Study Centre.

 

TEDDY (nods wisely): Ah. Research never sleeps. Well I’m free as a bird. At least us lowly schoolteachers get holidays worth the name.

 

RONALD (faintly embarrassed): Oh right. True. Ah… (furtively eyeing flower) How’s the Field Club?

 

TEDDY: Going strong. Well, except we don’t meet in the summer. That talk you gave was a high point, you know. We’d love to have you again.

 

RONALD: Why… thanks. I’ll check my diary… when I get back… By the way — I wonder — that flower.

 

TEDDY: This one? (squints at his buttonhole) Bit knackered. (shakes his head) Poor thing, it was gorgeous this morning. Such a pink. White and pink. Like a blush… Why (indicates book) you’ve got the Excursion Flora there. (reaching for book) Will I look it up just for fun?

 

RONALD (snatching and closing the book): In this? Clapham? Concise edition. Leaves a lot out — lot of subspecies — plants are inclined to hybridize too — it’s a minefield, identification.

 

TEDDY (unruffled): Oh, no, no, not to a professional, surely! Mind you — the Excursion Flora’s not my cup of tea. No pictures. I’ve brought the old Wild Guide myself. (producing this from a pocket) Pictures are vital for us mere mortals. (turning pages, sweetly): For as Lewis Carroll rightly remarks: What is the use of a book without pictures or conversations?

 

RONALD (distinctly embarrassed): Oh well. You’re right… but… that flower. Where —

 

TEDDY: And actually, it is in here, you know. (proffers the Wild Guide, holding it open) Hubris borealis subsp rubescens. Limestone grassland —

 

RONALD: Yes, yes — but where —

 

TEDDY (refers to his book): Once locally common. Now rare. Very rare. In fact… I think I’ll write a short paper. (brightly: ignoring Ronald, who hops slightly from foot to foot) Of course, the Field Club could have it —

 

RONALD (relieved) Proceedings of the Hornsdale and District Field Club? That’s a good —

 

TEDDY: But it should go in something a bit more prestigious. I mean it’s practically extinct, rubescens… The Upland Journal, or J Plant Ecol

 

RONALD (trying not to hop): J Plant Ecol—I’m on the review board.

 

TEDDY: Well, then you’ll be able to read all about it. I’ll put in a grid reference, don’t you worry. (glances at sky) Ah, blissful day! Well I’d better be shoving. On, on to Stanggill! You going my way? (Ronald shakes his head) No? Oh well. (striding off R. — off:) Enjoy your research! I’ll see you!

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