I liked being a Little Mother to the others, and almost enjoyed giving way to them. “Others first, Little Mothers afterwards,” as we used to say—till the day I made up that story for them out of the Book of Paradise.
The idea of it took our fancy completely, the others as well as mine, and though the story was constantly interrupted, and never came to any real plot or end, there were no Queens, or dwarfs, or characters of any kind in all Bechstein’s fairy tales, or even in Grimm, more popular than the Queen of the Blue Robe and her Dwarf, and the Honest Root-gatherer, and John Parkinson, King’s Apothecary and Herbarist, and the Weeding Woman of the Earthly Paradise.
When I said, “Wouldn’t it be a good new game to have an Earthly Paradise in our gardens, and to have a King’s Apothecary and Herbarist to gather things and make medicine of them, and an Honest Root-gatherer to divide the polyanthus plants and the bulbs when we take them up, and divide them fairly, and a Weeding Woman to work and make things tidy, and a Queen in a blue dress, and Saxon for the Dwarf”—the others set up such a shout of approbation that Father sent James to inquire if we imagined that he was going to allow his house to be turned into a bear-garden.
And Arthur said, “No. Tell him we’re only turning it into a Speaking Garden, and we’re going to turn our own gardens into an Earthly Paradise.”
But I said, “Oh, James! please don’t say anything of the kind. Say we’re very sorry, and we will be quite quiet.”
And James said, “Trust me, Miss. It would be a deal more than my place is worth to carry Master Arthur’s messages to his Pa.”
“I’ll be the Honestest Root-gatherer,” said Harry.
“That’s a good idea of yours, Harry,” said Arthur. “I shall be John Parkinson —”
“My name is Francis le Vean,” said Harry.
“King’s Apothecary and Herbarist,” continued Arthur, disdaining the interruption. “And I’ll bet you my Cloth of Gold Pansy to your Black Prince that Bessy’s aunt takes three bottles of my dandelion and camomile mixture for ‘the swimmings,’ bathes her eyes every morning with my elder-flower lotion to strengthen the sight, and sleeps every night on my herb pillow (if Mary ’ll make me a flannel bag) before the week’s out.”
“I could make you a flannel bag,” said Adela, “if Mary will make me a bonnet, so that I can be the Weeding Woman. You could make it of tissue paper, with stiff paper inside, like all those caps you made for us last Christmas, Mary dear, couldn’t you? And there is some lovely orange-coloured paper, I know, and pale yellow, and white. The bonnet was Marigold colour, was it not? And one string canary-coloured and one white. I couldn’t tie them, of course, being paper; but Bessy’s aunt doesn’t tie her bonnet. She wears it like a helmet, to shade her eyes. I shall wear mine so too. It will be all Marigold, won’t it, dear? Front and crown; and the white string going back over one shoulder and the canary string over the other. They might be pinned together behind, perhaps, if they were in my way. Don’t you think so?”
I said “ Yes,” because if one does not say something, Adela never stops saying whatever it is she is saying, even if she has to say it two or three times over.
But I felt so cross and so selfish, that if Mother could have known she would have despised me!
For the truth was, I had set my heart upon being the Weeding Woman. I thought Adela would want to be the Queen, because of the blue dress, and the plumed hat, and the lace ruffles. Besides, she likes picking flowers, but she never liked grubbing. She would not really like the Weeding Woman’s work; it was the bonnet that had caught her fancy, and I found it hard to smother the vexing thought that if I had gone on dressing the Weeding Woman of the Earthly Paradise like Bessy’s aunt, instead of trying to make the story more interesting by inventing a marigold bonnet with yellow and white strings for her, I might have had the part I wished to play in our new game (which certainly was of my devising), and Adela would have been better pleased to be the Queen than to be anything else.
As it was, I knew that if I asked her she would give up the Weeding Woman. Adela is very good, and she is very good-natured. And I knew, too, that it would not have cost her much. She would have given a sigh about the bonnet, and then have turned her whole attention to a blue robe, and how to manage the ruffles.
But even whilst I was thinking about it, Arthur said: “Of course, Mary must be the Queen, unless we could think of something else—very good—for her. If we could have thought of something, Mary, I was thinking how jolly it would be, when Mother comes home, to have had her for the Queen, with Chris for her Dwarf, and to give her flowers out of our Earthly Paradise.”
“She would look just like a Queen,” said Harry.
“In her navy blue nun’s cloth and Russian lace,” said Adela.
That settled the question. Nothing could be so nice as to have Mother in the game, and the plan provided for Christopher also. I had no wish to be Queen, as far as that went. Dressing up, and walking about the garden would be no fun for me. I really had looked forward to clearing away big baskets full of weeds and rubbish, and keeping our five gardens and the paths between them so tidy as they had never been kept before. And I knew the weeds would have a fine time of it with Adela, as Weeding Woman, in a tissue-paper bonnet!
But one thing was more important than tidy gardens—not to be selfish.
I had been left as Little Mother to the others, and I had been lucky enough to think of a game that pleased them. If I turned selfish now, it would spoil everything.
So I said that Arthur’s idea was excellent; that I had no wish to be Queen, that I thought I might, perhaps, devise another character for myself by and by; and that if the others would leave me alone, I would think about it whilst I was making Adela’s bonnet.
The others were quite satisfied. Father says people always are satisfied with things in general, when they’ve got what they want for themselves, and I think that is true.
I got the tissue-paper and the gum; resisted Adela’s extreme desire to be with me and talk about the bonnet, and shut myself up in the library.
I got out the Book of Paradise too, and propped it up in an arm-chair, and sat on a footstool in front of it, so that I could read in between whiles of making the bonnet. There is an index, so that you can look out the flowers you want to read about. It was no use our looking out flowers, except common ones, such as Harry would be allowed to get bits of out of the big garden to plant in our little gardens, when he became our Honest Root-gatherer.
I looked at the Cowslips again. I am very fond of them, and so, they say, are nightingales; which is, perhaps, why that nightingale we know lives in Mary’s Meadow, for it is full of cowslips.
The Queen had a great many kinds, and there are pictures of most of them. She had the Common Field Cowslip, the Primrose Cowslip, the Single Green Cowslip, Curled Cowslips, or Galligaskins, Double Cowslips, or Hose-in-Hose, and the Franticke or Foolish Cowslip, or Jackanapes on Horsebacke.
I did not know one of them except the Common Cowslip, but I remembered that Bessy’s aunt once told me that she had a double cowslip. It was the day I was planting common ones in my garden, when our gardener despised them. Bessy’s aunt despised them too, and she said the double ones were only fit for a cottage garden. I laughed so much that I tore the canary-coloured string as I was gumming it on to the bonnet, to think how I could tell her now that cowslips are Queen’s flowers, the common ones as well as the Hose-in-Hose.
Then I looked out the Honeysuckle, it was page 404, and there were no pictures. I began at the beginning of the chapter; this was it, and it was as funnily spelt as the preface, but I could read it.
“Chap. cv. Periclymemum. Honeysuckles.
“The Honisucle that groweth wilde in euery hedge, although it be very sweete, yet doe I not bring it into my garden, but let it rest in his owne place, to serue their senses that trauell by it, or haue no garden.”
I had got so far when James came in. He said—“Letters, Miss.”
Mother’s letters are always delightful; and, like things she says, they often seem to come in answer to something you have been thinking about, and which you would never imagine she could know, unless she was a witch. This was the knowing bit in that letter:—
|“Your dear father’s note this morning did me more good than bottles of tonic. It is due to you, my trustworthy little daughter, to tell you of the bit that pleased me most. He says—‘The children seem to me to be behaving unusually well, and I must say, I believe the credit belongs to Mary. She seems to have a genius for keeping them amused, which luckily means keeping them out of mischief.’ Now, good Little Mother, I wonder how you yourself are being entertained? I hope the others are not presuming on your unselfishness? Anyhow, I send you a book for your own amusement when they leave you a bit of peace and quiet. I have long been fond of it in French, and I have found an English translation with nice little pictures, and send it to you. I know you will enjoy it, because you are so fond of flowers.”|
Oh, how glad I was that I had let Adela be the Weeding Woman with a good grace, and could open my book parcel with a clear conscience!
I put the old book away and buried myself in the new one.
I never had a nicer. It was called A Tour Round my Garden, and some of the little stories in it—like the Tulip Rebecca, and the Discomfited Florists—were very amusing indeed; and some were sad and pretty, like the Yellow Roses; and there were delicious bits, like the Enriched Woodman and the Connoisseur Deceived; but there was no “stuff” in it at all.
Some chapters were duller than others, and at last I got into a very dull one, about the vine, and it had a good deal of Greek in it, and we have not begun Greek.
But after the Greek, and the part about Bacchus and Anacreon (I did not care about them; they were not in the least like the Discomfited Florists, or the Enriched Woodman!) there came this, and I liked it the best of all—
“At the extremity of my garden the vine extends in long porticoes, through the arcades of which may be seen trees of all sorts, and foliage of all colours. Here is an azerolier (a small medlar) which is covered in autumn with little scarlet apples, producing the richest effect. I have given away several grafts of this; far from deriving pleasure from the privation of others, I do my utmost to spread and render common and vulgar all the trees and plants that I prefer; it is as if I multiplied the pleasure and the chances of beholding them of all who, like me, really love flowers for their splendour, their grace, and their perfume. Those who, on the contrary, are jealous of their plants, and only esteem them in proportion with their conviction that no one else possesses them, do not love flowers; and be assured that it is either chance or poverty which has made them collectors of flowers, instead of being collectors of pictures, cameos, medals, or any other thing that might serve as an excuse for indulging in all the joys of possession, seasoned with the idea that others do not possess.
“I have even carried the vulgarization of beautiful flowers farther than this.
“I ramble about the country near my dwelling, and seek the wildest and least-frequented spots. In these, after clearing and preparing a few inches of ground, I scatter the seeds of my most favourite plants, which re-sow themselves, perpetuate themselves, and multiply themselves. At this moment, whilst the fields display nothing but the common red poppy, strollers find with surprise in certain wild nooks of our country, the most beautiful double poppies, with their white, red, pink, carnation, and variegated blossoms.
“At the foot of an isolated tree, instead of the little bindweed with its white flower, may sometimes be found the beautifully climbing convolvulus major, of all the lovely colours that can be imagined.
“Sweet peas fasten their tendrils to the bushes, and cover them with the deliciously-scented white, rose-colour, or white and violet butterffies.
“It affords me immense pleasure to fix upon a wild-rose in a hedge, and graft upon it red and white cultivated roses, sometimes single roses of a magnificent golden yellow, then large Provence roses, or others variegated with red and white.
“The rivulets in our neighbourhood do not produce on their banks these forget-me-nots, with their blue flowers, with which the rivulet of my garden is adorned; I mean to save the seed, and scatter it in my walks.
“I have observed two young wild quince trees in the nearest wood; next spring I will graft upon them two of the best kinds of pears.
“And then, how I enjoy beforehand and in imagination, the pleasure and surprise which the solitary stroller will experience when he meets in his rambles with those beautiful flowers and these delicious fruits!
“This fancy of mine may, one day or another, cause some learned botanist who is herbarizing in these parts a hundred years hence, to print a stupid and startling system. All these beautiful flowers will have become common in the country, and will give it an aspect peculiar to itself; and, perhaps, chance or the wind will cast a few of the seeds or some of them amidst the grass which shall cover my forgotten grave!”
This was the end of the chapter, and then there was a vignette, a very pretty one, of a cross-marked, grass-bound grave.
Some books, generally grown-up ones, put things into your head with a sort of rush, and now it suddenly rushed into mine—“That’s what I’ll be! I can think of a name hereafter—but that’s what I’ll do. I’ll take seeds and cuttings, and off-shoots from our garden, and set them in waste places, and hedges, and fields, and I’ll make an Earthly Paradise of Mary’s Meadow.”