The Language of Flowers
In researching this story, I couldn't actually find one book that I wanted and so had to use several, plus the internet. "The Language of Flowers" doesn't exist and I may very well have taken some license with the seasons, but if I hadn't the story wouldn't have been nearly so mushy as it is...
It arrived the day after Renee moved into her new home. She quickly abandoned the unpacking, which had lost its novelty value about five boxes and one washing machine earlier, to open it.
Neatly packaged in a brown padded envelope, it was entitled: "The Language of Flowers, by Jane Robinson." Renee turned it over in her hands, puzzled; she hadn't ordered this. Picking up the envelope, she checked the address.
That was her new direction, though there was no name to indicate if it had really been meant for her, or, more probably the previous occupant of the cottage. The problem was that Dora Keller had died peacefully in her bed over four months ago, at the age of eighty-three. There was no return address or stamp on the outside. There were however, post office marks all over the envelope, indicating that whomever had sent the book had neglected to pay any postage. You had to commend the Royal Mail, still delivering even without payment.
Putting the envelope down, she examined the book. It was hard-backed and filled with glossy pictures and shiny, high quality paper; her grandmother would have called it a coffee-table book.
Curiosity and an inborn love of reading made her open it and turn over a few pages over at random.
Amethyst - admiration
Anemone -- forsaken
Angelica -- inspiration
Next to each was a picture of the flower so that the reader could compare with one hopefully received in a bouquet. Renee read this note at the top of the page and chuckled to herself. She had only ever received one bouquet of flowers in her life and that had been from her parents when she had passed her final exams. The only meaning that could have been attached to those was, ‘we love you, we're proud of you, well done'.
She sighed. It was an expensive book, obviously meant as a gift, even if there was no note or inscription. As much as she longed to do so, she couldn't keep it. Ignoring the various piles of her belongings strewn about the room, she found a pair of shoes and stepped out of the door.
Joseph Keller, Dora's grandson, lived at the end of the same road. He had been the one she had dealt with when she had bought the cottage and hopefully he would know what to do about the book.
"Miss Scott, this is a surprise." He smiled at her, giving Renee the definite impression that the surprise was a pleasant one. "Is there a problem with the cottage?"
"Oh, no, it's lovely," she smiled shyly at him. Seeing him always caused this reaction in her. "It's just, well..." she held out the book which she had put back inside its envelope, "this arrived and I can't think that it's for me, so I thought it must have been for your grandmother..." Renee stopped herself before she started to babble nonsense. Really, what was it about the man, he wasn't even that handsome. Except when he smiled. And he smiled a lot. He took the envelope and pulled out the book.
"I opened it," Renee explained, and then winced at the transparent remark.
"There's no name on the envelope," he said slowly, "was there a note?"
"No, nothing. I even thought to look for an inscription." He turned the book and envelope over in his hands. Large, work-hardened, capable looking hands she couldn't help noticing.
"It's the sort of book that Grandma would have liked to read. She enjoyed all that period detail. She knew how to flirt with a fan as well." He glanced up at her and Renee smiled, feeling herself relax.
"I enjoy reading about those times as well," she offered in response and then immediately felt guilty in case he thought she was asking for the book to be given to her. He compounded her embarrassment by holding it out.
"I think you should keep it."
"The address is correct, and if my grandmother did order it, she would have liked to think that someone who would appreciate the book would have it in their keeping. And," he added hastily when she opened her mouth to refuse for a second time, "if she didn't order it, we have no way of sending back."
"I suppose not." Renee eyed the book longingly. She did love reading about past times; how people lived, what they ate and wore and did. He offered it again,
"There is also the possibility that it was meant for you in the first place," he suggested. Renee shook her head,
"There's no one I know who would send such a beautiful book to me. My parents are much more likely to send me a book token and my brother never has any money, or would think about giving me a gift if it comes to that." He smiled and Renee felt her knees wobble.
"I think you should definitely keep it." This time when he held it out, Renee took it and smoothed her hand lovingly over the silky smooth finish of the cover.
"Well, if you're sure, but if you do find out who sent it, or if there is someone who might want it..." He shook his head,
"Enjoy it, Miss Scott." Renee nodded,
"Thank you, Mr. Keller." They exchanged farewells and Renee walked down the path. She managed not to look back until she reached the boundary where his garden met his neighbour's.
The second thing to arrive was a bouquet of flowers. Two days after Renee had moved into Lavender Cottage, and was still unpacking, there was a knock on the door. A young man stood uncertainly in the doorway, one hand clasping a clipboard, the other a bouquet.
"Erm, there's no name, but this is Lavender Cottage, Brock Way isn't it?"
"In that case, these are for you." He thrust the flowers at Renee and was off down the path even before she'd had a chance to word a protest. Who would be sending her flowers?
Closing the door with a foot, she laid the bouquet tenderly down on the table. It was a most unusual choice of blooms. There were purple lilacs, their smell already filling the room, deep red carnations, one iris and one very open pale pink rose. As she bent closer to better appreciate the lilacs, a lemony scent mingled in, confusing her even more. Gently parting the blossoms, she found the unmistakable shape of a lemon geranium leaf.
The parting had also revealed a card and she picked this up eagerly. The back proclaimed that the flowers were sent courtesy of Tussie Mussie Blooms and on the front, the words, ‘the message is in the flowers' had been printed in a strong, sloping hand. Renee turned the card over, puzzled. The message is in the flowers. Was this some kind of joke or trick? A code, maybe?
Untying the ribbon, she unwrapped the flowers and gently separated them, searching for some sort of clue to the card's message.
The message is in the flowers. An idea tickled at the back of her mind and Renee turned to find the book she had so mysteriously received the day before. Were the two events joined? Perhaps there would be some sort of message in the meaning behind each of the blooms.
Grabbing a piece of discarded wrapping paper, she smoothed it out and jotted down the flowers' significance.
iris -- message or "my compliments"
lemon scented geranium -- unexpected meeting
purple lilac -- first emotions of love
red carnation -- "alas for my poor heart"
pale pink rose -- admiration. Fully opened, rose means, "you are beautiful"
Renee read the words again and blushed. She couldn't remember any unexpected meetings and certainly none that would have the sender proclaiming his admiration for her beauty and that they had fallen in love with her. There must have been a mistake and she should ring the flower shop; someone was probably waiting for a phone call in response to this romantic idea. Taking one last, wistful glance at the bouquet, Renee started a search for the phone book.
The lady on the other end of the phone was helpful, but could shed no light on the puzzle. Yes, the address was correct, he had been quite definite about it. No, she had requested a name, but the gentleman had refused, saying that he wanted it to stay a secret for a little while. Yes, unmistakably a man and he had been very specific in his choice of blooms, the lilacs and fully opened rose in particular had been a challenge, since the former were almost out of season and they didn't usually keep such open flowers. No, we're very sorry, but he paid by cash. Was there a problem?
"No, no problem," Renee sighed, "the flowers are beautiful." She put the phone down and returned to the living room. The lilacs were wilting slightly and after a brief rummage in the boxes, she found a vase for her bouquet.
It was a mystery, and though there was something very flattering about the thought of a secret admirer, a part of Renee couldn't help wishing that he wasn't so very cryptic. A part of her insisted on seeing the possibility that this was all a grand joke on someone's part.
And yet, he had gone to so much effort. She had looked through the book the previous evening and had been bewildered by the sheer amount of flowers listed. There appeared to be a meaning to each bloom, sometimes more than one depending on the stage of its development, it's colour and how many there were in a bouquet.
Gently touching one of the velvety petals of the rose, she decided that she would just have to wait and see what happened next.
During the following week, Renee found herself distracted from her work, waiting alternately for the post or a knock at the door. Chiding herself over her foolishness and yet at the same time unable to make herself stop, she used the time and restless energy to complete her unpacking.
Joseph Keller called twice. Once to ascertain that everything was all right with the cottage and the second time to bring the guarantee for the boiler, which he had found in his files. Renee smiled, thanked him, tried not to act too much like a giddy schoolgirl and followed his progress back down the street to his house through her bedroom window.
By the time the weekend arrived, she had almost convinced herself that the flowers had been either a mistake or a joke and that Joseph really had only called for the purpose he had stated.
The knock disturbed her in the middle of separating the wilted lilacs, iris and rose from the carnations. It was the same delivery boy as before, though this time he was grinning at her.
"'Nother mystery delivery." As before, he pushed the bouquet into her hands and trotted off down the garden path. Renee shut the door and looked the flowers over. Another lovely bouquet, though simpler this time, consisting of pink roses, some fern and sprigs of ivy. She hurried back into the living room and tugged out the card. It read the same as before, ‘the message is in the flowers'. Reaching for her book, a pen and piece of paper, she wrote down the associated meanings again:
pink rose -- grace and gentility, "you're so lovely", please believe me
fern -- sincerity
ivy sprigs (with tendrils) -- anxious to please
Was her mystery man assuring her that, contrary to her niggling doubts, this was not a jest? He wanted her to believe him, testifying to his sincerity and his desire to please. He had also complimented her again.
Renee ran the feathery fronds of fern through her fingers as she arranged the flowers and greenery to her satisfaction. She had read further into the book during the past week and had seen how some flowers had meant different things at different times. Was he using the same book? Could the flowers mean something else to what she had decided or maybe even nothing at all? She would have to go to the library and read further into the subject.
The visit put to rest her suspicions that she had read the wrong message in the blooms. There were different meanings attached to some of the flowers, but even these were linked in some way to what she had already decided upon. There was also only one book solely based on the subject she was investigating and she already owned a copy of it, courtesy of her mystery man. Renee sighed, it was all very puzzling. She supposed though, that with no other options or ideas open to her, she would just have to wait for what came next.
She had to wait for another week for what came next. When she opened the door after the knock, she found both Joseph Keller and the delivery boy, holding a basket arrangement this time, standing on the step. She blushed and wasn't at all sure why. The delivery boy spoke first.
"Your mystery man again, miss." Renee could happily have strangled him with some of the red ribbon that decorated the basket he was holding. She couldn't look at Joseph and accepted the arrangement as it was thrust into her hands.
"An interesting choice of blooms, Miss Scott." Renee looked at the flowers,
"Yes," she replied faintly.
"Pretty colours, all yellows, oranges and reds. The green of the leaves really brings it out."
"Very pretty," Renee managed.
"I wonder if there's any meaning to the choice?" She looked up then and caught the oddest expression in his eyes before he smiled at her. "I've come to check on that window. That putty that I ordered has finally come in and I did promise to take a look at it before you moved in."
"Oh, yes of course, please come in." She trailed after him into the living room.
"You've made it lovely," he was smiling at her again, causing the strangest reactions to her insides, "I like the colour scheme."
"Thank you." She saw his gaze fall on the roses, just starting to wilt a little in their vase.
"I'll just take a look then, shall I?" He held up the putty and gestured at the window. Renee shook herself out of the reverie she had fallen into at seeing him in her home and nodded.
"Yes, sorry. May I offer you a drink?" Renee escaped to the sanctuary of the kitchen, fervently wishing that she didn't look as much of a twit as she felt when with him. The more she saw him, the worse she became. She was even dreaming about the man now, and oddly, he always seemed to carry flowers in those fantasies. Renee stared at the basket arrangement and then shook her head firmly.
She grabbed the book the moment that he left:
sweet william -- "Will you smile?" or gallantry, finesse
gladiolus -- "I am really sincere"
oak geranium leaves -- lady, deign to smile or melancholy mind
red columbine -- anxious and trembling
coreopsis -- love at first sight
She spent some time looking through the book trying to identify this last flower, a yellowy orange daisy, and when she finally did her heart beat very oddly in her chest. She wasn't entirely sure what message to read into the geranium leaves, though perhaps both meanings were applicable. Once again the mystery man was assuring her of his sincerity and was anxious about her reaction as he tried to be gallant. Will you smile? Did that mean he was watching her? Someone she knew?
Oh dear. Her dreams that night were a confusing muddle of pleasure of worry.
Her secret admirer didn't wait another week to send her the next bouquet. It was delivered on Monday evening, much to the glee of the delivery boy. A bunch of red chrysanthemums and tulips.
The book was on the table, her pen and paper with the list of meanings of the previous bouquets resting on top.
red chrysanthemum -- I love, "my heart aches for you"
red tulips -- declaration of love
Trembling, Renee put the pen down and stared at the paper. A knock on the door for the second time that evening caused her to overturn her chair she was so startled at the sound. Taking the time for three deep breaths, she put on what she hoped was a calm expression and went to open the front door.
Joseph Keller was standing on the doorstep holding one red rose and looking extremely nervous. At the sight of him her own fragile sense of composure deserted her.
"Miss Scott?" Renee just stared at what he was holding. She didn't need the book to know the meaning of that flower.
"Miss Scott? I... I didn't..." Renee barely heard him.
"It was you? It was you all along? The book, the flowers, the messages?" He cleared his throat awkwardly.
"Not the book," he began, "but the rest, yes. The book really was a strange delivery, it just gave me the idea how to approach you. I... you see..." He let out a breath between pursed lips, "I couldn't think of any other way." He held the rose out. It shook; his hand was trembling. More than anything else, this tiny detail helped Renee to reply normally.
"The flowers were very beautiful," she said, lifting her eyes up to meet his.
"I didn't want to frighten you. I had it all planned out, all the flowers, but last time I called you had the strangest expression on your face and I suddenly realised how it might seem. So I... hurried things along a little."
"You must have spent a fortune," she murmured, unable to look away from the intensity of his gaze.
"That isn't important. What matters, is that I meant it all, everything the flowers said, I wanted to say."
"I'm glad." He smiled at her and held out the rose. She took it, shy colour washing her cheeks.
2 red roses taped together -- symbol of engagement and future marriage
Being a romantic at heart, Joseph used a ring to tie the flowers together. And the reply to his proposal?
carnation, one colour -- "yes"
They never discovered who it was who sent the book, but Renee kept in mind that a dark pink rose meant, ‘thank you'.
© 2000 Copyright held by the author.
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