It is a very old book, and very queer. It has a brown leather back—not Russia—and stiff little gold flowers and ornaments all the way down, where Miller’s Dictionary has gold swans in crowns, and ornaments.
There are a good many old books in the library, but they are not generally very interesting—at least not to us. So when I found that though this one had a Latin name on the title-page, it was written in English, and that though it seemed to be about Paradise, it was really about a garden, and quite common flowers, I was delighted, for I always have cared more for gardening and flowers than for any other amusement, long before we found Miller’s Gardener’s Dictionary. And the Book of Paradise is much smaller than the Dictionary, and easier to hold. And I like old, queer things, and it is very old and queer.
The Latin name is Paradisi in sole Paradisus terrestris, which we do not any of us understand, though we are all learning Latin; so we call it the Book of Paradise. But the English name is—“Or a Garden of all sorts of pleasant flowers which our English ayre will permitt to be noursed up;” and on the top of every page is written “The Garden of Pleasant Flowers,” and it says—“Collected by John Parkinson Apothecary of London, (and the King’s Herbarist), 1629.”
I had to think a minute to remember who was the king then, and it was King Charles I; so then I knew that it was Queen Henrietta to whom the book was dedicated. This was the dedication—
“To THE QUEEN’S MOST EXCELLENT MAJESTY.
“MADAME,—Knowing your Majesty so much delighted with all the fair flowers of a Garden, and furnished with them as far beyond others, as you are eminent before them; this my Work of a Garden, long before this intended to be published, and but now only finished, seemed as it were destined, to be first offered into your Highnesse hands, as of right challenging the propriety of Patronage from all others. Accept, I beseech your Majesty, this speaking Garden, that may inform you in all the particulars of your store, as well as wants, when you cannot see any of them fresh upon the ground: and it shall further encourage him to accomplish the remainder; who in praying that your Highnesse may enjoy the heavenly Paradise, after the many years’ fruition of this earthly, submitteth to be your Majesties,
“in all humble devotion,
We like queer old things like this, they are so funny! I liked the Dedication, and I wondered if the Queen’s Garden really was an Earthly Paradise, and whether she did enjoy reading John Parkinson’s book about flowers in the winter time, when her own flowers were no longer “fresh upon the ground.” And then I wondered what flowers she had, and I looked out a great many of our chief favourites, and she had several kinds of them.
We are particularly fond of Daffodils, and she had several kinds of Daffodils, from the “Primrose Peerlesse,” [a] “of a sweet but stuffing scent,” to “the least Daffodil of all,” [b] which the book says “was brought to us by a Frenchman called Francis le Vean, the honestest root-gatherer that ever came over to us.”
The Queen had Cowslips too, though our Gardener despised them when he saw them in my garden. I dug mine up in Mary’s Meadow before Father and the Old Squire went to law; but they were only common Cowslips, with one Oxlip, by good luck. In the Earthly Paradise there were “double Cowslips, one within another.” And they were called Hose-in-Hose. I wished I had Hose-in-Hose.
Arthur was quite as much delighted with the Book of Paradise as I. He said, “Isn’t it funny to think of Queen Henrietta Maria gardening! I wonder if she went trailing up and down the walks looking like that picture of her we saw when you and I were in London with Mother about our teeth, and went to see the Loan Collection of Old Masters. I wonder if the Dwarf picked the flowers for her. I do wonder what Apothecary John Parkinson looked like when he offered his Speaking Garden into her Highness’s hands. And what beautiful hands she had! Do you remember the picture, Mary? It was by Vandyck.”
I remembered it quite well.
That afternoon the others could not amuse themselves, and wanted me to tell them a story. They do not like old stories too often, and it is rather difficult to invent new ones. Sometimes we do it by turns. We sit in a circle and one of us begins, and the next must add something, and so we go on. But that way does not make a good plot. My head was so full of the Book of Paradise that afternoon that I could not think of a story, but I said I would begin one. So I began—
“Once upon a time there was a Queen —”
“How was she dressed? “asked Adela, who thinks a good deal about dress.
“She had a beautiful dark-blue satin robe.”
“Princesse shape?” inquired Adela.
“No; Queen’s shape,” said Arthur. “Drive on, Mary.”
“And lace ruffles falling back from her Highness’s hands —”
“Sweet!” murmured Adela.
“And a high hat, with plumes, on her head, and —”
“A very low dwarf at her heels,” added Arthur.
“Was there really a dwarf, Mary? “asked Harry.
“There was,” said I.
“Had he a hump, or was he only a plain dwarf?”
“He was a very plain dwarf,” said Arthur.
“Does Arthur know the story, Mary?”
“No, Harry, he doesn’t; and he oughtn’t to interfere till I come to a stop.”
“Beg pardon, Mary. Drive on.”
“The Queen was very much delighted with all fair flowers, and she had a garden so full of them that it was called the Earthly Paradise.”
There was a long-drawn and general “Oh!” of admiration.
“But though she was a Queen, she couldn’t have flowers in the winter, not even in an Earthly Paradise.”
“Don’t you suppose she had a greenhouse, by the bye, Mary?” said Arthur.
“Oh, Arthur,” cried Harry, “I do wish you’d be quiet: when you know it’s a fairy story, and that Queens of that sort never had greenhouses or anything like we have now.”
“And so the King’s Apothecary and Herbarist, whose name was John Parkinson —”
“I shouldn’t have thought he would have had a common name like that,” said Harry.
“Bessy’s name is Parkinson,” said Adela.
“Well, I can’t help it; his name was John Parkinson.”
“Drive on, Mary!” said Arthur.
“And he made her a book, called the Book of Paradise, in which there were pictures and written accounts of her flowers, so that when she could not see any of them fresh upon the ground, she could read about them, and think about them, and count up how many she had.”
“Ah, but she couldn’t tell. Some of them might have died in the winter,” said Adela.
“Ah, but some of the others might have got little ones at their roots,” said Harry. “So that would make up.”
I said nothing. I was glad of the diversion, for I could not think how to go on with the story. Before I quite gave in, Harry luckily asked, “Was there a Weeding Woman in the Earthly Paradise?”
“There was,” said I.
“How was she dressed?” asked Adela.
“She had a dress the colour of common earth.”
“Princesse shape?” inquired Arthur.
“No; Weeding Woman shape. Arthur, I wish you wouldn’t —”
“All right, Mary. Drive on.”
“And a little shawl, that had partly the colour of grass, and partly the colour of hay.”
“Hay, dear!” interpolated Arthur, exactly imitating a well-known sigh peculiar to Bessy’s aunt.
“Was her bonnet like our Weeding Woman’s bonnet?” asked Adela, in a disappointed tone.
“Much larger,” said I, “and the colour of a Marigold.”
Adela looked happier. “Strings the same?” she asked.
“No. One string canary-colour, and the other white.”
“And a basket?” asked Harry.
“Yes, a basket, of course. Well, the Queen had all sorts of flowers in her garden. Some of them were natives of the country, and some of them were brought to her from countries far away, by men called Root-gatherers. There were very beautiful Daffodils in the Earthly Paradise, but the smallest of all the Daffodils —”
“A Dwarf, like the Hunchback?” said Harry.
“The Dwarf Daffodil of all was brought to her by a man called Francis le Vean.”
“That was a much nicer name than John Parkinson,” said Harry.
“And he was the honestest Root-gatherer that ever brought foreign flowers into the Earthly Paradise.”
“Then I love him!” said Harry.
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