"I've everything systematized, and it's easier for me to go on than drop the needles for a fortnight or so and then find, on coming back, that you have been knitting a mitten when I had started the frame of a sock," Maria said, laughing; "make flower hay while the crop is to be had for the gathering, my lady! Another year you may not have such free hands!"
Then my protests grew weaker and weaker, for the establishment had thriven marvellously well without my daily interference. The jam closet shows rows of everything that might be made of strawberries, cherries, currants, and raspberries, and it suddenly struck me that possibly if domestic machinery is set going on a consistent basis, whether it is not a mistake to do too much oiling and tightening of a screw here and there, unless distinct symptoms of a halt render it absolutely necessary.
"Very well," I said, with a show of spunk, "give me one single task, that I may not feel as if I had no part in the homemaking. Something as ornamental and frivolous as you choose, but that shall occupy me at least two hours a day!"
Maria paused a moment; we were then standing in front of the fireplace, where a jar of bayberry filled the place of logs between the andirons. First, casting her eyes through the doors of dining room, living room, and den, she fixed them on me with rather a mischievous twinkle, as she said, "You shall gather and arrange the flowers for the house; and always have plenty of them, but never a withered or dropsical blossom among them all. You shall also invent new ways for arranging them, new combinations, new effects, the only restriction being that you shall not put vases where the water will drip on books, or make the house look like the show window of a wholesale florist. I will give you a fresh mop, and you can have the back porch and table for your workshop, and if I'm not mistaken, you will find two hours a day little enough for the work!" she added with very much the air of some one engaging a new housemaid and presenting her with a broom!
It has never taken me two hours to gather and arrange the flowers, and though of course we are only beginning to have much of a garden, we've always had flowers in the house, - quantities of sweet peas and such things, besides wild flowers. I began to protest, an injured feeling rising in my throat, that she, Maria Maxwell, music teacher, city bound for ten years, should think to instruct me of recent outdoor experience.
"Yes, you've always had flowers, but did you pick the sweet peas or did Barney? Did you cram them haphazard into the first thing that came handy (probably that awful bowl decorated in ten discordant colours and evidently a wedding present, for such atrocities never find any other medium of circulation)? Or did you separate them nicely, and arrange the pink and salmon peas with the lavender in that plain-coloured Sevres vase that is unusually accommodating in the matter of water, then putting the gay colours in the blue-and-white Delft bowl and the duller ones in cut glass to give them life? Having plenty, did you change them every other day, or the moment the water began to look milky, or did you leave them until the flowers clung together in the first stages of mould? Meanwhile, the un-gathered flowers on the vines were seriously developing peas and shortening their stems to be better able to bear their weight. And, Mary Penrose," - here Maria positively glared at me as if I had been a primary pupil in the most undesirable school of her route who was both stone deaf and afflicted with catarrh, "did you wash out your jars and vases with a mop every time you changed the flowers, and wipe them on a towel separate from the ones used for the pantry glass? No, you never did I You tipped the water out over there at the end of the piazza by the honeysuckles, because you couldn't quite bring yourself to pouring it down the pantry sink, refilled the vases, and that was all!"
In spite of a certain sense of annoyance that I felt at the way in which Maria was giving me a lecture, and somehow when a person has taught for ten years she (particularly she) inevitably acquires a rather unpleasant way of imparting the truth that makes one wish to deny it, I stood convicted in my own eyes as well as in Maria's. It had so often happened that when either Barney had brought in the sweet peas and left them on the porch table, or Bart had gathered a particularly beautiful wild bouquet in one of his tramps, I had lingered over a book or some bit of work upstairs until almost the time for the next meal, and then, seeing the half-withered look of reproach that flowers wear when they have been long out of water, I have jammed them helter-skelter into the first receptacle at hand.
Sometimes a little rough verbal handling stirs up the blood under a too-complacent cuticle. Maria's preachment did me good, the more probably because the time was ripe for it, and therefore the past two weeks have been filled with new pleasures, for another thing that the month spent in the open has shown me is the wonderful setting the natural environment and foliage gives to a flower. At first the completeness appeals insensibly, and unless one is of the temperament that seeks the cause behind the effect, it might never be realized.
The Japanese have long since arrived at a method of arranging flowers which is quality and intrinsic value as opposed to miscellaneous quantity. The way of nature, however, it seems to me, is twofold, for there are flowers that depend for beauty, and this with nature that seems only another word for perpetuity, upon the strength of numbers, as well as those that make a more individual appeal. The composite flowers - daisies, asters, goldenrod - belong to the class that take naturally to massing, while the blue flag, meadow and wood lilies, together with the spiked orchises, are typical of the second.
By the same process of comparison I have decided that jars and vases having floral decorations themselves are wholly unsuitable for holding flowers. They should be cherished as bric-a-brac, when they are worthy specimens of the art of potter and painter, but as receptacles for flowers they have no use beyond holding sprays of beautiful foliage or silver-green masses of ferns*