The Wonderful Garden/Chapter 19
F. of H.D.
You will hardly be able to believe that, owing to the firmness of Uncle Charles's instructions that he was not to be disturbed on any pretence, the whole noisy affair of the two leopards passed entirely unnoticed by him. The three C.'s did not tell, because they feared that Rupert's impersonation of the leopard might not be pleasing to the Uncle. Mrs. Wilmington did not tell, because Rupert was her great favourite. She mended the places where the harp-strings had torn the leopard skin, and put it back in its place and said nothing to any one. William did not tell; he was a man who could keep a joke to himself, was William. Poad did not tell, because he never could be quite sure whether the laugh was on his side or on William's. And Rupert did not tell, for reasons that will be clearer later on. So the Uncle went on writing his book about Sympathetic Magic, in complete ignorance of anything leopardish having happened.
When all the fuss and bustle had died down, and Rupert and the children were left face to face, words of reproach rose to every lip. But Rupert, knowing what he had faced in that underground passage for the sake of the children, still had enough of the warm and comforting feeling to be able to say:
'Look here, don't! I'm awfully sorry if I did really frighten you. I didn't know. I'd no idea what it would feel like to be frightened by a leopard until I thought I was shut up with one. Don't rub it in; there's good chaps.'
A frank appeal such as this could not fail wit the three C. s, and if anything had been needed to melt the anger of the girls, being called 'good chaps' would have supplied that need.'
'Oh yes, they said, both together. 'But do let's tell each other about it,' Charlotte added. 'Let's not say anything till after dinner, and then have a grand palaver in the garden. I do want to understand just exactly what you felt when you felt the leopard, Rupert, to see if it was anything like what we felt when we saw your spots.'
'All right!' said Rupert.
And Charles said, 'It was the most dreadful thing in the world, but it will give us something to talk about.'
It did. Rupert's hidden consciousness of having done something 'rather decent,' made him quite like the self that he had seemed to be on the first night. The children spent a most enjoyable afternoon, and for the first time for many days, Rupert did not seem anxious to get rid of the others. He even invited them to come down to the river and see him dive.
'Though I'm not a patch on Mr. Penfold,' he said.
They went. And Charles had his first swimming lesson.
Charles had his first swimming lesson.
'It would be all right,' he said, sleeking his wet hair as they went home, 'if only you could remember which are your arms and which are your legs. I never can, in the water, and, anyhow, you seem to have far too many, and they all feel as though they belonged to somebody else.'
As they went over the bridge, Mr. Penfold said:
'I've done that translation., and I've had it typed. So you can tell your uncle about it and present it to him. He'll like it awfully, I know. And I daresay he'll let you have a copy of the translation. I've had one done expressly for you, with the parts that wouldn't be of any advantage to you left out. By the way, there's something written in the end about the seventh of July. That's to-morrow. So you'd better present it then.'
There was a chorus of thanks, and the presentation was arranged for the next day. The children took the old Latin book home with them. Mr. Penfold was to bring the translation; 'when I've corrected the spelling and the stops,' he said. 'I'll come, if I may, and see the presentation. There should be flowers, too, I think, symbolic flowers, suggested by your other book.'
When the children got home they spread the Latin book on the table in the window to catch the last rosy sunset light, and Charles said, with proud affection:
'Now, Rupert! We don't want any old translation when you're here.'
Rupert frowned, and the girls shrank as sensitive plants shrink when a finger touches them. They knew the sort of bitter thing about its not being worth while to do things for kids which seemed to be trembling on Rupert's lips. But quite quickly his face changed. He turned red—or was it only the deepened red of the sunset?—and said:
'You know, I'm afraid I've kidded you rather about my Latin. I'm not very good at it, as a matter of fact. I've only just begun Virgil.'
'But you do know a lot. You're always saying bits of it,' said Charles, anxiously.
'That was swank,' said Rupert, strongly—'silly swank. It was all wrong, I expect. There, now it's out!'
The children treated Rupert with added respect.
'How splendid of him to own up about the Latin,' said Caroline over the hair-brushing. And Charlotte reminded her sister that she had always thought Rupert splendid, which was not true, though she thought it was.
But this was later. At the moment, 'Never mind,' said Charlotte, 'we shall have the translation to-morrow, and we'll try a spell at once. I'm sorry the leopard that spoke was only you, Rupert. We did think you'd have to believe in spells after that.'
'There's something written at the end,' said Caroline, who was still examining the book; 'I'd forgotten about that.'
And there was. In very faint brown ink. They had to carry it quite outside the front door (which was, as you know, at the side), to get light enough to be sure that they could not read it because it was written in Latin. And when they did get enough light, they saw that it was in English, and that they could. The writing ran:
'On the seventh day of the seventh month, and at the seventh hour, let the seed be sown. Seven seeds and no more for the one sowing. In the garden of peace let them be sown, which same is the seventh garden of the world. Let him that would sow, take heed to bathe him seven times in fair water, and let him sow with his face set eastward, with silence at the lips and at the heart faith in all good things and the love of all things beautiful. After seven weeks the blossom shall appear. Then let him who sowed the seed eat of the flower. The seed of the F. of H. D.'
'What?' cried Rupert.
'That's all,' said Caroline. 'It stops short like that. There isn't any more.'
There had been more, but someone had scratched the rest out.
'With a knife or scissors,' explained Caroline. 'Oh, what a pity!'
'I say,' Rupert was beginning, but Charles interrupted.
He had stooped to look up under the page that Caroline was fingering. 'There's some more; look, turn over!'
'Until it be granted none knoweth his heart's most dear desire. But after it is granted he perceiveth that so, and not otherwise, was and must ever have been the true Desire of the Heart.
'That's true, at any rate,' said Charlotte. 'I was just wondering what my heart's desire really was. Suppose you thought it was going to be a new paint-box, but the flower knew better, and it turned out that elephants was what you really wanted?'
'No, but I say,' said Rupert, hurriedly; 'look here. You know I don't believe in magic. I'd like to, really I would. But I found something. You've got the key of the drawing-room. I believe I know where those seeds are.'
The drawing-room was almost dark when they got there. Just one last ray of dusky gold lay across the room; it struck the round mirror and was reflected with dazzling brightness on some golden object at the end of the room. 'The harp!' whispered Rupert. 'How queer! Because it was exactly there——'
It was still exactly there. And every one was quite sure that this little round box held the seeds of which the book told.
'See,' said Charlotte, holding them in the ray of yellow light, 'they're shaped like hearts, and they're pink like wishes. I know wishes are pink. They must be some colour, and why not that?'
'But ought we to take them?' was the blighting question of Caroline.
It was settled by a note, which Harriet obligingly carried to the uncle.
Dearest Uncle—There are some pinky seeds in the drawing-room. May we have seven to sow?
And the answer was:
Certainly. Seventy, if you like.—Your D.S.T.U.
So very early next morning they got up. Bathing seven times is no joke, especially when you dry thoroughly between, and this Caroline conscientiously insisted on. 'We must be quite sure we get it quite right,' she said.
The four children met, by appointment, at the top of the stairs, and crept down in silence. They went out by the French window which had once admitted Rupert. When they were outside he said, 'I bathed seven times too, because Charles did nothing but bother. But it's no good my sowing the things, even if it's all true, because I haven't faith in my heart, or my head either. I think really it's the head's fault.'
'Oh, never mind your head,' said Charlotte; 'we'll all sow one each, and the three over we'll put in all together—all of us.'
The grass was still dewy-wet, but the gardener was at work in the Wonderful Garden. The children went through the ancient formula of 'Ena dena dina dus,' to decide who should approach him, and the lot fell to Charlotte.
'Please,' she said, 'may we have a bit of garden for our own?'
'Ay,' said the gardener, pointing to a vacant plot near the arbour.
'Oh, thank you,' said Charlotte; 'but mayn't we have a bit in the garden of peace?'
'Who learned you to call it that?' the gardener asked, looking at her strangely.
'It's the right name, isn't it?' Charlotte asked with sudden anxiety.
'It's the right name, right enough,' he admitted.
'We want a bit that won't be disturbed for seven weeks,' Charlotte explained, and he looked at her more strangely than ever.
'Sure you've got the right seed to sow?'
Charlotte opened her hand, and he stooped and looked at it. Then he stood up and saluted like a soldier.
'Why——' said Charlotte, 'you—what do you mean?'
'Nothing,' he said, straightening his back; 'only I worked here all my days, and my father afore me, and his father afore him, and so on back. You can see our names on the stones in the churchyard, same as you see master's people's names on the tombs inside of the church. I'll find a corner for you, my dear, and no one shan't disturb the seed, once you've set it. You know how it's done? No chatter, and which way to look?'
'Yes, I know,' said Charlotte. 'But how do you know?'
'Old man's tales,' he said; 'old man's tales,' and he led the way to the terrace.
'Would you like to sow one of them?' said Charlotte eagerly. 'I know the others won't mind if you would. Would you?'
'Not me, my dear,' said the old man, and he sighed. 'Years agone, I don't say. But now now. I'm old, you see. I ain't got no heart's desires nowadays except what I'll get in the way of nature and in the Lord's good time. You go along and set your seeds. I'm glad I seen them though. Over yonder, between the lupins and the larkspurs. That'll be your plot, and I'll mark the place.'
Charlotte, very much impressed, beckoned the others. In silence they sowed the seed. The gardener watched them, and when they had planted the seeds and covered them over, he took a pencil and a painted slip-label from his pocket, wrote on it, and stuck it in the ground. The children stooped to read what he had written.
'F. of H. D.,' it said.
'Well!' said Caroline.
'Least said, soonest mended,' said the gardener. 'I shouldn't wonder if seed-leaves was to break ground in seven days. It was allus a wonderful garden, this was,' he said, and turned to his work.
'Well!' said Charlotte again, and they went back through the dewy park.
After breakfast the Language of Flowers was earnestly consulted.
'It's no use going on thinking and talking about the F. of H.D.,' said Caroline, when they had talked of nothing else for an hour and a half. 'What we've got to do now, is to find the right flowers for the presentation.'
An hour's earnest study of Miss Peckitt's invaluable present yielded an interesting list. 'Learning' had apparently no floral emblem, so blue salvia, which means 'Wisdom,' was chosen to represent it. It was felt that on an occasion of this sort it was impossible to have too much of a good thing, so twelve flowers were chosen, and all but one, an outsider called circæa, which means a spell, of which the gardener had never heard, were found in the Wonderful Garden.
Rupert prevailed on Mrs. Wilmington to open the drawing-room on the ground that the clergyman was coming to tea, and she even agreed to allow the floral tributes to be arranged on a large table in that hallowed sanctuary, only insisting that a linen drugget should be laid down before so much as a blade of grass was carried in.
The drugget, white with many a washing, only seemed to add to the festival air which the drawing-room soon began to put on.
'Talk of magic,' said Charlotte; 'what is it if it's not that with Mrs. Wilmington? Rupert can drive her with a rein of darning cotton.'
Mrs. Wilmington had indeed consented to 'do' the vases on the mantelpiece and cabinets, 'rather than have you children smashing everything to atoms,' she said, and even, at Rupert s request, had agreed to put only the flowers he handed to her. 'Though a shabbier lot,' she said, 'it was never my lot to beheuld. more like a passel of weeds, I should say.'
The selected flowers were certainly none too showy. And the drawing-room decorations might perhaps have, in the end, looked what Mrs. Wilmington called 'mingy,' if Charlotte had not suddenly remembered that the rose, as the flower of secrecy, was entitled to be present, in, as she said, 'the richest profusion.'
The large table was covered with loose pink rose leaves. That was Caroline's idea. 'Yes,' she said, 'I know what it will remind them of. But reminding doesn't matter when all's forgotten and forgiven, and look how soft and fluffy they look, like pink fur.'
This also reminded one of things. But no one said anything, though every one tried so hard not to look at the leopard skin that they might just as well have been staring at it.
'How pretty the flowers look, reflected in the looking-glasses,' said Caroline tactfully; and Charlotte, with less tact but equal goodwill, moved an embroidered stool between Rupert and the leopard's spotted hide.
Tea was a meal of masked excitement, of gigglings scarcely suppressed by the children, and of a careful air of there being nothing particular in the wind on the part of Uncle Charles and Mr. Penfold. When the last cup had been emptied, the last piece of cake reduced to crumbs and memory, Charles was at last allowed to say the words which had been arranged for him to say, and which, all through the meal, he had been bursting to repeat.
'Please, uncle, there is a meeting of the Society of the Secret Rose in the drawing-room, and the Rosicurians have got a present for you'—'a presentation,' corrected Charlotte—'a presentation, and will you please come and be presented.'
'It's all wrong,' said Charlotte, who had composed the speech for him and had the natural vanity of an author. But every one was getting out of their chairs, and in the noise they made, nobody heard her.
The drawing-room certainly looked, as Harriet had said when she peeped into it before tea, 'a fair treat'—with its white-spread door; its vases and jugs and jars of roses; its rose-leaf-covered table, edged with the twelve symbolic flowers in jam-pots, white and elegantly small; and all the splendour of afternoon sunshine real and reflected. The Uncle looked at the room over his glasses, just as though he had never seen it before.
'Beautiful, he said; 'very beautiful.'
Charlotte took him by the hand and said:
'Dear uncle, this time we make you a presentation, and it's not to get anything out of you. But just to show what we think of you Caroline will read you what we've written, like addresses to mayors, you know. We hadn't time to illuminate it to-day, but we will afterwards, if you like. And when she has read it, we will give you the real presentation. It is under the basin in the middle. But you mustn't look at it till we say——'
She stopped. The others looked at her meaningly.
'I can't help it,' she said, flushing. 'I've forgotten the words. Uncle saying "Beautiful" put it out of my head. But it means the same as the words I settled to say, and Charles didn't remember his either.'
'Your address was exactly what all addresses should be,' said the Uncle—'short and to the point. I pledge my honour to respect the secret of the basin until I am permitted to approach it.'
The basin was a great bowl of blue and white china that, reversed, occupied the middle of the table. On it lay a full-blown rose and two buds.
Caroline unfolded a large sheet of paper of the size called demy and the kind which is used to bake cakes on, line boxes with, and drain fried fish on. Caroline had begged it from the cook, and there was a good deal of violet ink on it.
'Hem!' said Caroline, turning the large pages. 'Oh yes, it begins here.'
'To the noblest of known Uncles, Charlotte, Charles, and Caroline present their compliments and thanks. We have culled in your wonderful garden the blossoms we think express all the things we want to say. These dainty floral pets' (can you tell which part of this address came out of the Language of Flowers, and which was Caroline's own invention?)—'these dainty floral pets represent the most delicate and appropriate sentiments, and, offered to the beloved object, cannot fail to convey the deepest secrets of the enamoured heart. All our hearts are yours, dear uncle, because you are such a brick. The flowers are'—she pointed to the first pot on the left—'branch of currants. It means "you please us all." Because you do. Next pot—yellow acacia. We only got leaves, because it flowers a different time, but it means "secret love." Our uncle is in a secret society with us and we love him being in it.
'"Clematis indicates that beauty of the mind without which the fairest bodily endowments are but fleeting shows." Uncle is clever, so we got clematis. And white pinks mean "talent," so we got them. Sorrel we got, partly because it means affection, and partly because it is pretty and there is lots of it. And plane-tree looks dull, but in reality "it indicates to the discerning recipient that the giver considers himself privileged to offer the tribute of its agreeable foliage to the hands of Genius." That means the Uncle, because he writes books. Pythagoras says a lot about plane-trees. "Laurel needs no words to inform the reader of its meaning. It is too well known as the ornament of the foreheads of the great. It also signifies success," and we hope your book will be a great success. Red clover means industry, because uncle works so hard every day and not to be disturbed on any pretence. And "nightshade whose dark leaves and mysterious purple blossoms denote witchcraft and magic." We have mixed roses with that, because they mean love, and uncle loves witchcraft. So do we. And so we have put the double daisy. "This innocent little flower in its double state has, humble as it is, a deep meaning to the student of the language of our floral darlings. It signifies 'I share your sentiments,'" so we put it last, because we share uncle's about magic and things, and we hope he will share ours about the presentation when he sees it. That's all,' said Caroline, very much out of breath.
"Hear, hear!' said Mr. Penfold; and the Uncle said:
"Thank you; thank you very much. The most learned and delightful address I have ever listened to. And the flowers are beautiful in themselves as well as in their symbolism.'
'We're so glad you like it,' said Charles, 'but wait till you see the presentation. He may look now, mayn't he, Caro?'
'Lift up the basin,' said Charlotte; 'be careful not to drop it, uncle, it's awfully heavy.'
Uncle Charles raised the great bowl in his hands and set it down among the rose leaves. Under it was a white cloth covering something and on the cloth another red rose, full blown, and two buds.
'This is the real inside heart of the presentation, said Caroline. 'Don't look for a minute. We found them inside Pope's Iliad and Thessalonians. And we are almost sure they are. And we hope you'll be pleased.'
'I can hardly believe that I could be more pleased than I am already,' said the grateful uncle, and with that he lifted the white cloth (one of Caroline's best handkerchiefs) and laid bare the books.
There was a breathless silence. The Uncle lifted the books and looked at them.
'You know,' he said presently in almost a broken voice, 'I believe they are. I am almost sure they are.' Then he said nothing for a minute and then, 'Thank you,' he said; 'thank you,' and opened the book again. 'It'll make all the difference,' he said to Mr. Penfold; absolutely all the difference.'
We found them,' Charles was beginning, when Mr. Penfold made him a sign to be silent, and made another sign towards the door. Then he led the way from the room. The children followed, and when they were all out he closed the door softly.
'When people are very happy or very unhappy, they like to be left alone. I think that just now your uncle is very happy.'
'How glorious!' said Caroline.
'So am I,' said Mr. Penfold. 'An angel in human form, called Mr. James Hodgkinson, has sent me five pounds towards restoring the church. I have blued the lot on tiles for the roof of the porch. If you like to come down you can help put them on. Like to?'
'Rather!' was the enthusiastic answer of the three C.'s.
Rupert did not answer. And when they looked round to see why he did not answer, they saw that it was because he was not there.