A LITTLE schoolboy, named Walter, once had a shilling given to him—a whole shilling to spend, or give away, or, in fact, do just what he liked with.
Now many of the little boys at his school had plants in pots that they were frequently talking about; and Walter was sorry sometimes, when he heard his schoolmates asking after each other’s flowers, that he had none to be asked after. But this shilling was the very thing.
He had a half-holiday, and as he was walking along in the bright, pleasant sunshine, he passed a cottage-window with two flower-pots on the sill. One contained some fresh mignonette, and the other a brilliant peony.
“Oh! what a gorgeous flower!” thought Walter. The cottage-woman was hanging some clothes up in the garden, and Walter called out to her:
“Are those flowers to sell, ma’am?”
“Yes, if you like.”
“How much are they, if you please?”
“Well, I shouldn’t like to sell them for less than a shilling each, because, you see, I’ve had all the trouble of bringing them up, as you may say.”
“Very well,” answered Walter. “May I come inside and look at them?”
“Yes, go and make up your mind while I finish hanging out these things.”
Walter was at the window by this time, absorbed in perplexity, divided between the sweet-smelling mignonette and the gaudy peony. Much to his astonishment, while he was standing in doubt, the peony seemed to say, in quite a loud whisper—
“You have me, little boy. Think what a fine show I shall make in your mamma’s drawing-room! and I am so tired of this place, you can’t think. It’s really perfectly horrid on a dry day sometimes. You have no idea how the dust flies in my eyes, and, in fact, all over me; and then I lose all patience, and droop, till the old woman comes and washes it off. The other day a most provoking circumstance occurred. I saw a lot of geraniums riding down the road. They were carriage people, and live in one of those glass-houses you see over there. Well, of course, I wanted to look my best, and held myself up beautifully; but just as they were passing an eddy of dust blew up and nearly choked me; and I heard one pelargonium giggle distinctly. You must think how annoying that was. Now, in your drawing-room I should have glass between me and the road, and I could make observations and bow to my acquaintance without annoyance.”
The peony held himself up, and looked his best as he said these words.
Walter looked towards the mignonette, as if expecting her to speak too; but she said nothing; only a whiff of most delicious odour came towards Walter, and he thought how nice it was.
“You have no scent,” he said, turning to the peony.
“Oh no! oh no!” said the peony, as if it were rather a matter for rejoicing. “Do you know, I once heard a very beautiful lady say she didn’t like scent. Now, there’s my little friend here ” —and he gave a jerk towards the mignonette— “she hasn’t a word to say for herself. I try to get up a conversation sometimes, because it’s so awfully dull; but she never answers, but sends up that dreadfully strong smell to me, which is quite as bad, or worse, than the dust to bear, I can assure you.”
And the peony lopped over on the other side, quite overpowered.
Walter looked at the mignonette again, but she never spoke; and just then the woman appeared at the window.
“Well, little boy,” she said, “have you made up your mind yet? You ve been rather a long time about it.”
“Yes, ma’am, I have. I think I ‘ll take the peony.”
“You might do worse,” said the woman.
And Walter gave her his bright shilling, rather regretfully, and marched off with his prize.
The mignonette breathed a sigh as he passed, and a most delicious sigh it was—sweet and fresh, as the smell of the air early on a May morning; but then the little flower was not bright-coloured, and did not make much of a show.
Walter placed his purchase carefully on the tiny table in the centre drawing-room window, and waited for his mamma to come in, to notice its effect upon her. Presently in she came, and Walter pointed out the gaudy flower with triumph.
“Oh Wallie!” said his mamma, ” why did you not buy some sweet-smelling flower? There is no scent to this.”
“Oh! but see how gay and bright it looks; it’s beautiful!”
“All flowers are more or less beautiful, Wallie. But I am afraid your pet will die in this hot room; it wants more air than it can possibly have here. You must put it out in the back-garden, I think.”
“Oh dear!” said Wallie; and he thought, “I wonder what the peony will say to that.”
When his mamma had left the room, the loud whispering peony began again:—
” Little boy, you leave me here—I shall be all right. The back-garden indeed! why I should die of loneliness out there—it would be ten times worse than the cottage window; I should never get a chance of looking at that carriage family of geraniums again! Oh dear! little boy, you must leave me here.”
So Walter gave him a little -water, and left him in the drawing-room.
He went to school next day, and told his companions what he had bought.
“Oh!” said one, “why did you not buy that pot of mignonette that smells so sweetly? You foolish fellow!”
“Yes; or you might have had a little rose-tree for the same money, and see how nice that would have been!” said another.
“A rubbishing old peony!” said the third; “well, I am astonished at you, Walter!” (Schoolboys will talk in an exaggerated manner, I am sorry to say.)
So poor Walter got no praise for his choice, and he was half-sorry that he had not bought the mignonette; but he must put the best face possible on the mistake he had made. So he said to the boys:
“Well, it’s a most beautiful flower, I can tell you, and a much brighter colour than any of your roses and geraniums.”
He went home rather sorrowful, and found the peony drooping its head.
“Oh! little boy,” it gasped out, in the feeblest of whispers, “open the window, please; it’s frightfully hot here.”
“This window is never opened,” said Walter, “and you can’t come to the others, you won’t be able to see the road; and, besides, I mustn’t disturb mamma’s statuettes.”
“Give me some water, then, please, little boy.”
Walter got some water, and that appeared to refresh the ridiculous creature a little. But he was quite limp and languid again when Walter came home from school the next day, and his mamma said:
“Wallie, you must give that poor flower of yours more air.”
Walter looked at it, and then said, sadly, to it, “I am afraid I must put you in the back-garden; this is the only window I can give you here, and it won’t open. I must not remove the statuettes from the other windows, and you will die for want of air. You see you are not a hothouse plant.”
“Oh dear, dear!” sighed the peony, “Why did I ask you to buy me? Why wasn’t I contented with my place in the cottage-window? The dust wasn’t so bad after all, and it did wash off.”
But there was no help for it; the peony was taken into the small garden, surrounded with four high walls. He did nothing but grieve and grumble; and one morning Walter found him quite dead. He had died of disappointment, no doubt. What a pity that he was not contented; he might have lived till now in the cottage window. And what a far greater pity that Walter did not make a better choice; the pot of mignonette, if he had wisely chosen it, might have refreshed him by its sweet scent for many and many, day.
BY EDITH WALFORD