The Flowering of the Strange Orchid

This is another story by G.H.Wells. This time the hero fights with a horrible orchid.

The story has been adapted for intermediate students and it has 2,100 words.

The flowering of the Strange Orchid - graded reader

The Flowering of the Strange Orchid

H.G. Wells

When you buy an orchid, it is always a risk. You see only a dry, brown thing and you must be lucky. The plant may be ugly  or dead, or it may be just a nice one. Or you might be really lucky and you buy a new kind with new colours and shapes. Then you can become famous and name the plant after you, for example “John-smithia”!

It was perhaps the hope of some such happy discovery that made Winter Wedderburn go so often to these sales. Moreover, he had nothing else to do in the world. He was a shy and lonely man, who had enough money to make sure he didn’t have to work in his life. He could collect stamps or coins, or translate Horace, or write poems. But, he grew orchids in his little hothouse.

“I think,” he said over his coffee, “that something is going to happen to me today.” He spoke, moved and thought slowly.

“Oh, don’t say that!” his housekeeper, who was also his cousin, said.

“You don’t understand me. I mean nothing bad…though I don’t know what I want to happen to me. Today,” he continued, after a pause, “Peters’ are going to sell some plants from the Andamans and the Indies. I will go to London and see what they have. I may buy some. ”

He passed his cup for his second cupful of coffee.

“Are these the orchids which were collected by that poor young man you told me about recently?” his cousin asked, as she filled his cup.

“Yes,” he said. He started to think. “Nothing ever happens to me,” he added. “I wonder why? A lot of things happen to other people. For example Harvey. On Monday he found a pound, on Wednesday all his chickens died, on Friday his cousin returned from Australia, and on Saturday he broke his leg.”

“I think I prefer living without so much excitement,” his housekeeper said. “It can’t be good for you.”

“I suppose it’s annoying. But … you see, nothing ever happens to me. When I was a little boy I never had accidents. I never fell in love as I grew up. Never married… I wonder how it feels to have something happen to you, something really interesting.”

“That orchid-collector was only thirty-six–twenty years younger than myself–when he died. And he had been married twice and divorced once; he had had malaria four times, and once he broke his leg. He killed a Malay once, and once he was wounded by a poisoned arrow. And in the end he was killed by leeches. It must have been very interesting, you know–except, perhaps, the leeches.”

“I am sure it was not good for him,” said the lady.

“Perhaps not.” And then Wedderburn looked at his watch. “Twenty-three minutes past eight. I am going up by the quarter to twelve train, so that there is plenty of time.“

“I think you should take an umbrella if you are going to London,” she said.

When he returned from London he was excited. He had bought some flowers. It was unusual, because he usually hesitated and didn’t buy anything in the end. But this time he had bought some flowers.

“There are Vandas,” he said, “and a Dendrobe and some Palaeonophis.” He was looking at the things he had bought lovingly as he ate his soup. They were laid out on the table in front of him, and he was telling his cousin all about them as he slowly ate his dinner.

“I knew something would happen today. And I have bought all these. Some of them–some of them–I feel sure, that some of them will be exceptional. I don’t know how it is, but I feel absolutely sure as that some of them will be exceptional.

„That one “–he pointed to a small dry branch, “was not identified. It may be a new kind. And it was the last that poor Batten ever collected.”

“I don’t like the look of it,” said his housekeeper. “It’s such an ugly shape.”

“I will put it away in a pot tomorrow.”

“It looks,” said the housekeeper, “like a spider.”

Wedderburn smiled and looked the root with his head on one side. “It is certainly not a pretty stuff. But you can never judge  these things from their dry look. It may turn out to be a very beautiful orchid.Tomorrow I will be very busy! I must read tonight what to do with these things, and tomorrow I will start working.”

“They found poor Batten lying dead with one of these very orchids under his body. He had been unwell for some days and I think he fainted. Every drop of blood, they say, was taken out of him by the leeches. He might have died when he was trying to get that orchid.”

“I don’t understand why people should die in some horrible swamp just for people in England to have orchids!”

“I don’t suppose it was very nice, but some men seem to enjoy that kind of things,” said Wedderburn. “Anyhow, the natives who went with him were intelligent enough to take care of all his collection until his colleague came back to their village. It makes these plants even more interesting.”

“It makes them disgusting. I would be afraid that there is some malaria on them. And there has been a dead body lying across that ugly thing! I cannot eat any more of the dinner,” his cousin said.

“I will take them off the table if you like, and put them on the window. I can see them just as well there.”

The next few days he was busy in his little hothouse. He was trying to mix together all the things that orchids need. In the evening he talked about these new orchids to his friends.

Several of the Vandas and the Dendrobium died under his care, but the strange orchid began to grow. He was happy, and took his housekeeper to see it at once.

“That is a bud,” he said, “and soon there will be a lot of leaves there, and those little things coming out here are aerial rootlets.”

“They look to me like little white fingers,” said his housekeeper. “I don’t like them.”

“Why not?”

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“I don’t know. They look like fingers trying to get at you. I can’t help my likes and dislikes.”

“I don’t know for sure, but I don’t think there are any orchids that have aerial rootlets quite like that.  You see they are a little flattened at the ends.”

“I don’t like them,” said his housekeeper, and turned away. “I know it’s very silly of me, and I’m very sorry, particularly as you like the thing so much. But I can’t help thinking of that dead man.”

“But it may not be this plant. That was only my idea.”

His housekeeper shrugged her shoulders. “Anyway, I don’t like it,” she said.

Wedderburn felt a little hurt at her dislike of the plant. But that did not stop his talking to her about orchids generally, and this orchid in particular, whenever he felt like it.

A few days later he came to his cousin and he was really excited. “The leaves are beginning to unfold now. I wish you would come and see them!”

But she said that the orchid-house was so hot it gave her the headache. She had seen the plant before, and the aerial rootlets, which were now some of them more than a foot long, had reminded her of hands reaching out after something. She had even dreams about them trying to catch her. So she refused to see that plant again, and Wedderburn had to admire its leaves alone.

The leaves were green with dots of deep red. He knew of no other leaves quite like them. The plant was placed on a low bench near the thermometer. And he spent his afternoons now waiting for the flowers of this strange plant.

And at last the great thing happened. When he entered the little glass house he knew that the plant started flowering.There was a new smell in the air. It was a rich, very sweet smell.

As soon as he noticed this he hurried to the strange orchid. And he saw three flowers which smelt strongly. He stopped before them and admired them.

The flowers were white, with stripes of golden orange. He could see at once that this flower was a new kind.

The smell became suddenly too strong for him. And the place was very hot. The flowers swam before his eyes.

He wanted to have a look if the temperature was right. He made a step towards the thermometer. Suddenly everything appeared unsteady. The bricks on the floor were dancing up and down. Then the white flowers, the green leaves behind them, the whole greenhouse, seemed to dance in front of him.

* * * * *

At half-past four his cousin made the tea, as was their custom. But Wedderburn did not come in for his tea.

“He is with that horrible orchid,” she told herself, and waited ten minutes. “His watch must have stopped. I will go and call him.”

She went to the hothouse, and, opened the door and called his name. There was no reply. She noticed that the air was very heavy, and full a new perfume. Then she saw something lying on the ground.

For a minute, perhaps, she didn’t move.

He was lying, face upward, under the strange orchid. The aerial rootlets stretched and their ends were on his chin, neck and hands.

She did not understand. Then she saw that under one of the roots on his face that  there was some blood.

She screamed and ran towards him, and tried to pull him away from the orchid. She broke two of these roots, and there came out some red liquid.

Then the strong smell of the blossom began to make her feel weak. How the roots clung to him! She tore at the tough roots. She felt she was fainting, but she knew she must not. She left him and quickly opened the nearest door, and, after she was for a moment in the fresh air, she had a brilliant idea. She took a flower-pot and smashed the windows at the end of the greenhouse. Then she went back again. She pulled at Wedderburn’s body, and the strange orchid fell on the floor. But the roots still held. And then she pulled him and the orchid into the open air.

Then she took each root one by one, and in another minute he was free and she pulled him as far as she could go.

He was white and blood was coming out of the places where the roots had been.

The gardener was coming up the garden. He heard the smashing of glass, and then he saw her pulling a motionless body and her hands were bloody. For a moment he thought she had killed him.

“Bring some water!” she cried. When she poured some water on his face, Wedderburn opened his eyes. “What’s the matter?” he asked, and closed his eyes again.

“Go and tell Annie to come out here, and then go for Dr. Haddon at once,” she told the gardener. “I will tell you all about it when you come back.”

After a while Wedderburn opened his eyes again, “You fainted in the hothouse.”

“And the orchid?”

“I will take care of that,” she said.

Wedderburn had lost a lot of blood, but otherwise there was nothing wrong with him. They gave him brandy mixed with some pink extract, and carried him to his bed. His cousin told her incredible story to Dr. Haddon. “Come to the orchid-house and see,” she said.

The cold air was blowing through the open door, and the perfume was almost gone. Most of the rootlets lay among a number of dark stains upon the bricks. The orchid was broken by the fall, and the flowers were getting brown at the edges. The doctor bent towards it. Then saw that one of the aerial rootlets moved a bit.

The next morning the strange orchid still lay there. It was black now and it was dying. The cold wind was going through the Wedderburn’s orchids and they were getting dry. But Wedderburn himself was bright and happy in his room because finally a strange adventure happened to him.

Test your comprehension

Flowering Orchid quiz – quiz
 

4 thoughts on “The Flowering of the Strange Orchid

  1. Oumar KOULOHOGON

    That’s a very amazing story. I liked reading it. It taught me a lot of new words.

    Reply

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