from Brian Kingslake, Angel Stories (Worcester, England,  Arthur James, Ltd., 1982)

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The Language of the Flowers

I was lying under a tree in a beautiful garden, by the side of a stream which tinkled down in a series of grottoes and waterfalls to the river below. The woods on the opposite hillside were in shadow, but this side of the valley was still basking in the soft rays of the evening sun.

Suddenly something went click in my ears. A gentle surge of sound seemed to envelop me - a twittering and buzzing, as of thousands of little people talking together. I sat up in astonishment, wondering what it could be. Then I realized that I was hearing for the first time, what must be going on all the time: the chattering of those little colored folk in the flower-beds. I dared not speak, for fear of breaking the spell. It was the Language of the Flowers.

My attention was first drawn to a squash sprawling in a wooden frame full of rich manure. He had a fat, satisfied voice, as well he might have! and an affected manner. "You fellars over thar!" he drawled, "Look at me! The Gardener appreciates my quality, what! Very best food. Best situation in the garden. Wooden box to keep out the draught. Comfort and luxury, that's what He gives me. Quite right too!"

None of the flowers appeared to be listening to the marrow, though several of them were eyeing him with envy and hatred. Especially a nasturtium, whose perfect yellow blossoms were making a fine show on a bank below me.

"The Gardener doesn't care for the likes of me!" it muttered. "Look at my soil - stony-broke! No goodness in it at all. I'm practically starving, I am. And there's that fat, ugly marrow, wallowing in his riches. It's all so unfair, so unjust!"

Now, I was surprised to hear this, because I knew that the Gardener was particularly fond of nasturtiums, and planted them deliberately in poor soil because it suits their nature - as it certainly appeared to have suited this particular specimen, despite its complaints.

Just then an even louder lamentation reached my ears. It was coming from a herbaceous border, which was shaded from the direct rays of the sun by a row of tall trees. This border was a wonderful profusion of delicately-tinted blossoms. Every plant there had been carefully selected by the Gardener for that shady position; but they did not seem to have come to terms with their situation. "We are so cold," they complained. "We need warmth; we want light! What harm have we done, that we should be compelled to live in this perpetual gloom? Those marigolds can well afford to laugh at us, out there in the sun. What couldn't we achieve, if we only had their advantages!"

"My dears, we are not laughing at you!" answered one of the marigolds kindly. "We are laughing with happiness because the garden is so bright and gay. Of course we are very sorry for you, having to live in the shade all your lives. We would help you if we could; but how can we? The Gardener must have placed you there for a purpose. Perhaps you grow best in the shade."

"What a thing to say!" sighed the plants in the herbaceous border.

By the edge of the stream was a clump of ferns. It was sodden with tears. "What an unhappy life this is!" it sobbed. "Misery everywhere! Weeping we came into the world, and weeping we must go to our grave."

"Oh, shut up!" interrupted a little cockney dandelion, self-sown in a "squat" between two stones at the top of the bank. "You ain't got no sense at all! This 'vale of tears' stuff gets my goat. If you don't like the wet, chum, come up 'ere where it's dry."

"But," protested the fern, "we are in the hands of Fate. We have to be where the Gardener has put us."

"Gardener and Fate be blowed! Did the Gardener plant me up 'ere? He did not. I planted myself. 'Cos why? 'Cos I liked the situation. You could do the same, if you didn't enjoy your bloomin' misery, mopin' there all day long. If you ask me, there ain't no such thing as Fate. We all get just what we take. And as for this talk of a Gardener, I don't see much evidence of a Gardener no'ow. Does anyone reely know there is a Gardener lookin' after this ruddy garden? Not likely! 'Cos there ain't!"

"Hush!" whispered the standard rose, blushing red. "Don't say such dreadful things! It's wicked!" Then she added quietly and with deep conviction, "I know there is a Gardener. I have seen Him often, and I love and worship Him. I know He loves me too, though it is all very difficult to understand." She sighed deeply, exhaling a waft of perfume. Then she added, in a lower voice: "It was He who cut off my limbs last week. He has taken away my brothers and sisters and my suckling babes; and now I am left alone. Yet I am sure I can trust Him, and that everything is for the best. I would gladly give my all, if it were His will."

The other flowers burst into mocking laughter; but their ribaldry was suddenly interrupted, for the Gardener himself came out of the greenhouse where he had been tending the tomatoes., As the door slammed behind him, my ears clicked again, and all was silent except for the tinkling of the waterfalls and the whispering of the wind in the trees.

The Gardener nodded to me and smiled. "Been asleep, sir?"

"I suppose so!" I yawned and stretched and rubbed my eyes. "It's the magic of your garden," I added, getting up.

"Ay. The garden's just a treat now, sir." He looked around with a fatherly pride in the results of his labors.

"You must love your work, tending all these plants. Isn't it a problem, providing the right conditions for each different species?"

"Ay. It needs some knowledge, sir. And experience. I've been at it, man and boy, for fifty years."

"That's a lovely rose," I remarked.

"Yes. It's a prize bloom. I've kept just that one blossom on the whole branch, and it's perfect today. Would you like to have it, sir? I'd be proud to give it you." The old man smiled; and, taking his knife, cut deeply through the stem.

I held the rose in my hand for a while. The scent came off in great waves; and the velvet petals seemed to be blushing a deeper red from the smart of the Gardener's knife. I put the blossom reverently in my buttonhole, and knew that its joy was full.

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