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HOME > Classical Novels > Norma: A Flower Scout > CHAPTER V MIGNONETTE AND CHRYSANTHEMUM.
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 Norma was out-of-doors before the others, the morning after completing the bird houses and selected suitable spots for the two large houses to be placed. The smaller ones belonged exclusively to the scouts2 and their locations would have to be decided3 upon by them.  
Sam came from the kitchen door, yawning and stretching as he came. When he found Norma already up and busy, going about the back yard, he hurried over to see if he could help in any way.
“Yes, you can, Sam. I made that lovely bird house last night but I need you to saw off that old clothes pole, square across the top, so we can nail the house on it and brace4 it firmly with a few wooden supports from underneath5. Can you cut it across squarely?”
“Sure, ’cause dat ain’t nuttin’ to do!” declared Sam, going for the hammer and saw.
Norma carried out the short ladder and placed it against the post, and when Sam came with the tools, he climbed up to the second from the top rung and began to look sideways at the top of the pole, while squinting6 scientifically to measure its diameter.
Norma watched patiently for a few moments, then she said: “Why, Sam! You don’t have to do any measuring or marking to get your right line. Just saw through that cove7 that runs around the post where the fancy acorn8 top begins. That’s true enough to guide anyone.”
“Dat’s so, Norma! I didn’t never think of dat way,” admitted Sam, grinning at his lack of judgment9.
Norma handed him the saw and Sam began to work it across the post. He had to lift his right arm even with his eyes, to saw in the groove10 made by the turning mill when the post was made, and this made the work the harder for him.
Norma stood below watching as the saw began to bite into the old wood. Sam sawed and sawed, and was halfway11 through the pole when Norma went to the other side to see how much more he had to do.
“Oh, Sam! You’re way off the groove on this side of the post!” exclaimed she anxiously.
“It look straight enough from dis side,” argued Sam.
“Get down and look for yourself! Your saw runs up more than an inch on the back of the post.”
So Sam climbed down and joined Norma at the back of the pole. He had left his saw sticking in the cleft12 so he could better judge where his mistake was being made. He found matters as Norma had said, but he couldn’t see what did it. He scratched his head for an intelligent explanation to shine forth13, but none came.
“I tell you what I got to do!” he declared, going over and taking the ladder from that side and moving it to the side where the cleft ran an inch above the groove. “I got’ta saw from dis side, now—see?”
He now began sawing the post from “this side,” as he said, and again he sawed and sawed, with might and main, until his face was streaming and his breath came in short gasps14 with the effort.
Norma waited and when he was almost halfway through from “this side” she went back to the first side to see if he was almost meeting the first cleft.
“Oh, Sam! Now you’ve gone and sawed an inch above the old line and they’ll never meet!” cried Norma anxiously.
Again Sam got down and walked around to eye his work from Norma’s position, and then he scratched his head again. This time he frowned heavily at the problem to be solved.
“Now, I don’t see how dat saw got so high when I was so careful to keep it going in the groove around the post,” said he.
“Well, I don’t see, either, especially as I asked you to saw it square across, before you started,” complained Norma.
“I know you did, but askin’ ain’t cuttin’, you see.”
“It looks so simple, Sam—just saw along that little gutter15 made in the pole! That would bring the top off and leave the post nice and flat on top. As it now is, the top won’t come off and no bird house will sit on a slant16.”
“It do look simple, Norma, I’ll tell the worl’, but it can’t be so simple as it looks, or I could do it!” declared Sam.
Mrs. James joined them by this time, and wanted to know what was wrong. Why did Sam seem so troubled so early in the day?
The problem was explained but Norma admitted that they found no solution for it. Mrs. James told Sam to get up on the ladder again and show her how he had sawed.
Sam demonstrated his recent method of sawing, and Mrs. James began laughing. Norma frowned at her uncalled-for mirth, and Sam climbed from the ladder and stood gazing at her for an explanation.
“Don’t you see what you have done to cause the saw to run uphill at the back of the post?”
“No, I don’t! I tried hard to cut in the groove.”
“Well, first place, you stood below the line you had to cut through. You had to lift your arm above your shoulder, and that in itself would tend to draw the saw downward in front, because your arm works back and forth and does not keep its same position of height. It generally falls downward as the arm works backward—watch me, and you will see.” Then Mrs. James sawed slowly and showed both Sam and Norma how easy and unconsciously the tendency was to have the arm drop from its level as it worked backward.
“Another thing is, your saw cut in the groove at the front where you faced it, but the tough chestnut17 wood turned the thin edge of the saw upward because of the slight downward tendency of your arm, as you drew the elbow back and forth. That was enough to start the saw glancing upward, and when you reached the center of the pole, you found you were fully18 an inch out of the way.
“Then you started to saw on this side of the post, but you made the same mistake as before. Had you stood upon the top rung of the ladder, or used a higher ladder so you could saw the knob of the pole from a stand even with your waist line, you would have found it much easier to cut.”
“Well, now it’s all crooked19, what can we do?” asked Norma.
“Sam can bring out the high step-ladder that we used to rescue Natalie from the cherry tree, and stand on that. Then he can stand on a step so he will be above the groove he has to cut. He can start sawing from a third side of the pole, so the other two clefts21 will not interfere22 with his straight across cut.”
Sam went for the step-ladder and Mrs. James waited to see that he was properly started on the work this time, then she went into breakfast.
The girls were talking over the council meeting Miss Mason had invited them to attend that morning, and Frances said she would drive to Four Corners, directly after breakfast, to ask the three girls, and bring them back to go with the house scouts.
“At the same time, ask Mrs. Tompkins if she can come, too, as we want her to give us a little talk on flowers, bees and birds,” said Mrs. James.
“Oh, can I go with you, Frans?” asked Norma eagerly when she heard her friend was invited to join the meeting at camp.
“Of course, if you are ready when I am. I don’t want to wait around for nothing, while you plant a few more dry sticks in the garden,” giggled23 Frances, winking24 at the other girls.
But Norma was ready before Frances this time, and had time to direct Sam how to nail the cheese box bird house on the post. The top was squared to suit and the house had been brought from the cellar to try on top of the post and see how it looked.
“You can go with Frances, Norma, and we’ll see that the house goes up all right,” promised Mrs. James when she saw the anxiety expressed by Norma.
When they neared Four Corners, Norma said to Frances: “You can drop me at the store so I can see Mrs. Tompkins while you go for Dot Ames and Nancy Sherman. Then you can pick us up on your way back.”
It was not yet nine o’clock and Mrs. Tompkins was in her garden attending to the early duties of a systematic25 florist26, when Norma ran out and joined her. She had no difficulty in winning Mrs. Tompkins’ consent to attend a council meeting and tell the scouts some things about flowers and birds and bees. Then Norma told her about the fine bird house she had made of the cheese box and how Sam tried to square off the old clothes pole.
Mrs. Tompkins laughed at the description Norma gave and then said: “It’s too bad the houses were not up early in the spring. You’d have them full of song birds now. But they’ll be ready for next year, anyway.”
“Will the birds find enough to eat around the house and gardens, without flying too far away for food?” asked Norma anxiously.
“They will if you plant the right kind of growing things. Natalie, for instance, must plant some grain along the fence line on the meadow side. That will not interfere with any flowers you have there.”
“Mrs. James and I were planning about that ugly fence and the strip of garden, just yesterday. We have it all cleared out and manured, ready to use now.”
“What did you plan to use there?” asked Mrs. Tompkins.
“We are going to plant the vines as soon as they come up from the seeds you gave me, all along the fence line. Then I want the old-fashioned border plants all along the edge of the ground where the drive joins it, and in the center of the long bed we expected to plant geraniums. All geraniums—to make it look like something that was meant to be.”
“But you did not plan to plant them all the way from the road to the woodland, did you?” was Mrs. Tompkins’s amazed question.
“Oh, no! only from the street down to the line where the vegetable garden begins. From there on to the stream, we thought we could plant sunflowers, hollyhocks, dahlias and other tall-growing flowers.”
“Well, now listen to what I would do with that strip, if it was mine:
“I’d get Sam to work at the digging, while you girls can help with the packing of the earth about the roots, and the careful lifting and removal of the trees and shrubs27 growing in your woodland. Then watch while they are being wheeled up to the garden strip where a deep hole has been made ready to receive them—one by one.
“Start with a young mulberry tree, if possible, for that fruit is the most attractive for birds of all kinds. And bees like to hover28 about mulberry blossoms, too, and get their nectar there. In my opinion, a mulberry tree is a necessity if one wants to keep birds and bees happy.
“Besides the mulberry tree—or three or four of them, if you can find them of a size easy to remove from the woods—take the elderberry bushes, the choke-cherry, dogwood trees, wild black cherry and other kinds that not only blossom profusely29 but bear fruit that the birds like.
“All these trees and shrubs or bushes can be planted at intervals30 along that garden strip by the fence. Then, in between those high bushes and trees, you can plant the geraniums. The low border flowers can run all along without a break and the vines at the back where the old fence is, can also cover that, but your gay geraniums will look all the gayer and prettier for having the green bushes and trees break the monotonous31 streak32 of color.”
“That’s splendid advice, Mrs. Tompkins, and I only hope we can find such trees and bushes.”
“That is the easiest part of the work, Norma, because the woodland down by the stream, is full of just such berry bushes and fruit trees. That is one reason the woods, there, is so full of wild song birds. And they will move up nearer the house if they find plenty of food and good lodgings33.”
“Dear me! I wish to goodness we had been on the farm in time to do all this work before the birds came from the South!” sighed Norma.
“It will be ready for them next year, at least. Even if these bushes and trees die off, you can easily replace them with others in the late fall or early spring. To group them judiciously34 and know where they belong, is an important work that can be done now while they are in full leaf and will show how they look.”
“It seems a pity to transplant the poor things just to show us how they look, and then have them die,” remarked Norma.
“If the soil about the roots is carefully dug and packed on the outside with straw or strips of burlap to keep it from falling off, there is no reason why the bushes and trees should fade or die. The main thing to do is to keep their native soil about the roots, and to disturb the roots as little as possible. This can be done by digging a wide enough circle about the trunk, and by having a large enough hole where it is to go in. I think it is a waste of money to buy fancy shrubs and decorative35 bushes, or trees, for the lawn or garden, because one can find any kind one needs right in the woods.”
“The reason I mentioned sun flowers along the fence-line, Mrs. Tompkins, I knew the birds loved to eat their seeds, and they grow rapidly in any soil without any attention, too.”
“Yes, sun flowers are magnets for the birds, but so are bitter sweet and clematis, and you know how lovely they would look on a trellis or growing up the side porch. You can find bitter sweet along the roads in the countryside, and wild clematis, too. Then you can buy a trumpet36 vine, and honeysuckle and Virginia creepers from a florist and have them well grown by next year. If I were in Janet’s place, I’d hide the ugly old barn and sheds with rows of sun flowers and castor oil bean plants. Then I’d train all sorts of vines up the sides of the buildings until the place was a thing of beauty instead of what it is today.”
“I’ll tell Janet what you said and let her come and take a few lessons from you, as I am doing,” laughed Norma.
“If it’s birds you girls want to coax38 to live about the house, you can’t have too many fruit or seed-bearing plants around.”
“It’s a pity the geraniums have no sweet perfume because it seems a waste of space to plant them just for their looks,” said Norma, as Mrs. Tompkins went to the mirror to pin on her hat.
“You’ll find anyone who harbors envy is seldom sweet or lovable, and geraniums mean ‘envy’ in the directory of flowers.”
“Really! I never knew that flowers meant anything excepting perfume and beauty,” exclaimed Norma, deeply interested.
“Oh, yes! Every flower has a meaning and many of them have very interesting legends connected with their history.”
“Oh, if you would tell us some of those legends at the scout1 council today how we would appreciate it!”
“I will, if you wish it. I will not only give the scouts a talk on flowers, but I will add a dessert after the heavy meal, to please the guests who will sit about my table of flowers,” laughed Mrs. Tompkins. “But they must agree not to feel offended if I tell them their flower for their natal20 day and give its meaning. It may not always please, you know.”
“How did you learn all these things, Mrs. Tompkins?”
Norma’s hostess laughed. “You did not think that I could spend so many years with my flowers without finding out some of the stories that belong to them, did you? One who grows vegetables tries to discover all that can be said about them; and a bird fancier, or one who studies forestry39, or bees, or insects, learns their history first; the legends and tales that belong to almost everything on earth, are read or heard, and found interesting to the fancier.”
“If there is a flower for every natal day, tell me what mine is?” said Norma eagerly, mentioning the date of her birth.
“Yours is the mignonette and it means ‘loveliness.’ Not because of the beauty of form or coloring, but because of its character and qualities. It is a constant bloomer and its perfume is so freely and generously sent forth that all may inhale40 and enjoy.
“In the Orient where this little flower originally came from, it is called ‘resada’ because the Orientals claim that if one stoops to inhale its fragrance41 as it grows upon its lowly stem it has the power to soothe42 any pain and drive away most sorrows.
“I never judge loveliness from looks, Norma, but from qualities. I know some folks who are so homely43 that the first time I met them I was sorry for them. But I soon grew to appreciate the wonderful characteristics which made them quite lovely to me. And I also have met people quite the reverse of this desirable kind.”
“What is your natal flower, Mrs. Tompkins?” questioned Norma.
Mrs. Tompkins glanced at a large garden of healthy green plants, which as yet were merely stems and foliage44. Then she said sadly: “Before I lost my boy, I used to take the greatest pleasure and pride in my chrysanthemums45, because we worked together and produced some remarkable47 specimen48. Robert and I won several prizes in the New York Flower Show with our unusual chrysanthemums. But now, I just let them grow as I do the rest of the flowers. No one takes the joy and pleasure in my gardens since Robert was killed.”
Norma felt the moisture coming into her eyes for this sad mother, for she had heard from Hester, how her only brother had met his death in France during the first year of America’s war with Germany. So she could say nothing, but she waited patiently.
“I was born in October, the month of the chrysanthemum46. And I was named Chrystine, too. I always admired the lovely large Oriental flowers, even before I knew they were my birth flowers. Then, when I succeeded with so many other flowers, I began to try to succeed with the imperial flowers of China. You know, do you not, that the chrysanthemum is a native of China, and not of Japan, as so many people believe?”
“No, I did not know. I, too, thought it was a Japanese native flower,” answered Norma.
“In the year 246 B. C. China was ruled by a very cruel Emperor who feared nothing but death. But he was in such constant dread49 of the spectre that he ordered his physicians to spare no cost and time or lives to search for the elixir50 of life which he had been told was kept in a secret place.
“A clever young physician, who bore the Emperor no love, perfected a scheme, and then called at the palace. He told the Emperor that a rare flower grew on an island far out at sea, but no one had ever been able to gather it, as it faded instantly and died, if any hand polluted by any form of sin, touched it or its plant.
“Then the young man said he would suggest that a number of pure young men and as many virgins51 be found and ordered to accompany him in a boat to sail for this island. There the purest of them all would be made to gather this flower and bring it to the Emperor who would then live forever.
“The physician was fitted out with a vessel52 and everything needed for a long voyage and the maidens53 and young men were found to go with him. Then the foolish Emperor sighed and waited eagerly for the flower of life. But nothing was heard of the party for a long time, then when the Emperor was dead, the news reached China that the voyagers reached Japan safely and colonized54 a state with their pure and healthy young people. This is why the Japanese claim they come of finer stock and more intelligent natures than other ancient races of the world.”
“How interesting it is,” ventured Norma, in a whisper so as not to distract the speaker. “And was that flower the chrysanthemum?”
“Yes, but that is not the legend I meant to tell you when I began. The pink chrysanthemum means ‘Love’; the white one means ‘Truth’; and the yellow one means ‘Life’—and all three of them, Love, Truth and Life, mean Robert to me now, because they stand for the second coming of Christ, and at that resurrection all who have died in the Lord shall live in Him again, also. But to understand why this is so, I must tell you the story of the flower.
“You probably know that the twenty-fifth of December is not really the birthday of Jesus, but that the real date is some time in the latter part of October. The December date was set apart by the Romans at the revision of our present Calendar. So the chrysanthemum was the natal flower of our Lord.
“When the Wise Men sought for the young child, they saw a great golden star shining in the sky, and this they followed until they came to Bethlehem of Judea. It had led them over rugged55 hills and through shadowy vales, and finally descended56 before their eyes to rest upon the lintel of the stable where the Babe was born.
“As the Wise Men stooped to enter the door, the starry57 flower fell into the hand of the first one to pass within. When the wondering man saw that the blossom was of pure gold and gave forth such a marvelous perfume, he knew it to be from heaven. So he gave it into the tiny hand of the Prince of Peace.
“The Child held the beautiful blossom aloft as if it was a sceptre, then slowly the petals58 unfolded and the heavenly star bowed low before the King of Kings. And to this day you will see the petals of the golden chrysanthemum curl meekly59, as they bowed that night before the Saviour60.
“But a sigh from the Virgin37 suddenly wafted61 the petals away and they found their places in the midnight sky again. There they radiated brightness and glory upon all the world and all who would could follow the pointing of the petals and seek and find the Christ. And so to this day the shining golden petals in the night sky point the way to their Lord and King, Christ Jesus.”
“Oh, what a beautiful story, Mrs. Tompkins! I wish you would tell that legend to the scouts.”
“I couldn’t my dear child. I will tell them others, but not this one, as I feel a reverence62 for all that belongs to Christ, since Robert rose from our sight. I told you because I feel there is the same affinity63 between you and me as there was between Robert and me, linked together because of our mutual64 love for flowers.”
At this moment, the merry shouts of the girls in the car, interrupted further conversation and Mrs. Tompkins started for the door. But Norma caught her hand and whispered: “I’ll not call you Mrs. Tompkins, hereafter—you shall be chrysanthemum to me, because you truly are a shining light in the firmament65.”
The woman with the thin refined face, and grey hair held both soft girlish hands in her hardened ones and smiled sadly: “And you shall be Mignon for me, hereafter, for truly you soothe away the pain and will heal my sorrow.”

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