We were not usually allowed to be there so often, but when we asked Father he gave us leave to amuse ourselves there at the time when Mother would have had us with her, provided that we did not bother him or hurt the books. We did not hurt the books, and in the end we were allowed to go there as much as we liked.
We have plenty of books of our own, and we have new ones very often: on birthdays and at Christmas. Sometimes they are interesting, and sometimes they are disappointing. Most of them have pretty pictures. It was because we had been rather unlucky for some time, and had had disappointing ones on our birthdays, that Arthur said to me, “Look here, Mary, I’m not going to read any books now but grown-up ones, unless it is an Adventure Book. I’m sick of books for young people, there’s so much stuff in them.”
We call it stuff when there seems to be going to be a story and it comes to nothing but talk; and we call it stuff when there is a very interesting picture, and you read to see what it is about, and the reading does not tell you, or tells you wrong.
Both Arthur and Christopher had had disappointments in their books on their birthdays.
Arthur jumped at his book at first, because there were Japanese pictures in it, and Uncle Charley had just been staying with us, and had brought beautiful Japanese pictures with him, and had told us Japanese fairy tales, and they were as good as Bechstein. So Arthur was full of Japan.
The most beautiful picture of all was of a stork, high up in a tall pine tree, and the branches of the pine tree, and the cones, and the pine needles were most beautifully drawn; and there was a nest with young storks in it, and behind the stork and the nest and the tall pine the sun was blazing with all his rays. And Uncle Charley told us the story to it, and it was called “The Nest of the Stork.”
So when Arthur saw a stork standing among pine needles in his new book he shouted with delight, though the pine needles were rather badly done, with thick strokes. But presently he said, “ It’s not nearly so good a stork as Uncle Charley’s. And where’s the stem of the pine? It looks as if the stork were on the ground and on the top of the pine tree too, and there’s no nest. And there’s no sun. And, oh! Mary, what do you think is written under it? ‘Crane and Water-reeds.’ Well, I do call that a sell!”
Christopher’s disappointment was quite as bad. Mother gave him a book with very nice pictures, particularly of beasts. The chief reason she got it for him was that there was such a very good picture of a toad, and Chris is so fond of toads. For months he made friends with one in the garden. It used to crawl away from him, and he used to creep after it, talking to it, and then it used to half begin to crawl up the garden wall, and stand on its hind legs, and let Chris rub its wrinkled back. The toad in the picture was exactly like Christopher’s toad, and he ran about the house with the book in his arms begging us to read him the story about Dear Toady.
We were all busy but Arthur, and he said, “I want to go on with my water-wheel.” But Mother said, “Don’t be selfish, Arthur.” And he said, “I forgot. All right, Chris; bring me the book.” So they went and sat in the conservatory, not to disturb any one. But very soon they came back, Chris crying, and saying, “It couldn’t be the right one, Arthur”; and Arthur frowning, and saying,
“It is the right story; but it’s stuff. I’ll tell you what that book’s good for, Chris. To paint the pictures. And you’ve got a new paint-box.” So Mother said, “What’s the matter?” And Arthur said, “Chris thinks I haven’t read him the right story to his Toad Picture. But I have, and what do you think it’s about? It’s about the silliest little girl you can imagine—a regular mawk of a girl—and a frog. Not a toad, but a F.R.O.G. frog! A regular hop, skip, jumping frog!”
Arthur hopped round the room, but Chris cried bitterly. So Arthur ran up to him and kissed him, and said, “Don’t cry, old chap. I’ll tell you what I’ll do. You get Mary to cut out a lot of the leaves of your book that have no pictures, and that will make it like a real scrap-book; and then I’ll give you a lot of my scraps and pictures to paste over what’s left of the stories, and you’ll have such a painting-book as you never had in all your life before.”
So we did. And Arthur was very good, for he gave Chris pictures that I know he prized, because Chris liked them. But the very first picture he gave him was the “Crane and Water-reeds.”
I thought it so good of Arthur to be so nice with Chris that I wished I could have helped him over his water-wheel. He had put Japan out of his head since the disappointment, and spent all his playtime in making mills and machinery. He did grind some corn into flour once, but it was not at all white. He said that was because the bran was left in. But it was not only bran in Arthur’s flour. There was a good deal of sand too, from his millstones being made of sandstone, which he thought would not matter. But it grinds off.
Down in the valley, below Mary’s Meadow, runs the Ladybrook, which turns the old water-wheel of Mary’s Mill. It is a very picturesque old mill, and Mother has made beautiful sketches of it. She caught the last cold she got before going abroad with sketching it—the day we had a most delightful picnic there, and went about in the punt. And from that afternoon Arthur made up his mind that his next mill should be a water-mill.
The reason I am no good at helping Arthur about his mills is that I am stupid about machinery; and I was so vexed not to help him, that when I saw a book in the library which I thought would do so, I did not stop to take it out, for it was in four very large volumes, but ran off at once, to tell Arthur.
He said, “What is the matter, Mary?”
I said, “Oh, Arthur! I’ve found a book that will tell you all about mills; and it is the nicest smelling book in the library.”
“The nicest smelling? What’s that got to do with mills?”
“Nothing, of course. But it’s bound in russia, and I am so fond of the smell of russia. But that’s nothing. It’s a Miller’s Dictionary, and it is in four huge volumes, ‘with plates.’ I should think you could look out all about every kind of mill there ever was a miller to.”
“If the plates give sections and diagrams —” Arthur began, but I did not hear the rest, for he started off for the library at once, and I ran after him.
But when we got Miller’s Dictionary on the floor, how he did tease me! For there was nothing about mills or millers in it. It was a Gardener’s and Botanist’s Dictionary, by Philip Miller; and the plates were plates of flowers, very truly drawn, like the pine tree in Uncle Charley’s Jap. picture. There were some sections too, but they were sections of greenhouses, not of any kinds of mills or machinery.
The odd thing was that it turned out a kind of help to Arthur after all. For we got so much interested in it that it roused us up about our garden. We are all very fond of flowers, I most of all. And at last Arthur said he thought that miniature mills were really rather humbugging things, and it would be much easier and more useful to build a cold frame to keep choice auriculas and half-hardies in.
When we took up our gardens so hotly, Harry and Adela took up theirs, and we did a great deal, for the weather was fine.
We were surprised to find that the Old Squire’s Scotch Gardener knew Miller’s Gardener’s Dictionary quite well. He said, “It’s a gran’ wurrk!” (Arthur can say it just like him.)
One day he wished he could see it, and smell the russia binding; he said he liked to feel a nice smell. Father was away, and we were by ourselves, so we invited him into the library. Saxon wanted to come in too, but the gardener was very cross with him, and sent him out; and he sat on the mat outside and dribbled with longing to get in and thudded his stiff tail whenever he saw any one through the doorway.
The Scotch Gardener enjoyed himself very much, and he explained a lot of things to Arthur, and helped us to put away the Dictionary when we had done with it.
When he took up his hat to go, he gave one long look all round the library. Then he turned to Arthur (and Saxon took advantage of this to wag his way in and join the party), and said, “It’s a rare privilege, the free entry of a book chamber like this. I’m hoping, young gentleman, that you’re not insensible of it?”
Then he caught sight of Saxon, and beat him out of the room with his hat.
But he came back himself to say, that it might just happen that he would be glad now and again to hear what was said about this or that plant (of which he would write down the botanical name) in these noble volumes.
So we told him that if he would bring Saxon to see us pretty often, we would look out anything he wanted to know about in Miller’s Gardener’s Dictionary.