It was Caroline’s birthday, and she had had some very pleasant presents. There was a blotting-book of blue leather (at least, it looked like leather), with pink and purple roses painted on it, from her younger sister Charlotte; and a paint-box — from her brother Charles — as good as new.
‘I’ve hardly used it at all,’ he said, ‘and it’s much nicer than anything I could have bought you with my own money, and I’ve wiped all the paints clean.’
‘It’s lovely,’ said Caroline; ‘and the beautiful brushes, too!’
‘Real fitch,’ said Charles proudly. ‘They’ve got points like needles.’
‘Just like,’ said Caroline, putting them one after the other into her mouth, and then holding them up to the light.
Besides the paint-box and the blotting-book, a tin-lined case had come from India, with a set of carved chess-men from father, and from mother some red and blue scarves, and, most glorious of imaginable gifts, a leopard-skin.
‘They will brighten the play-room a little,’ said mother in her letter. And they did.
Aunt Emmeline had given a copy of Sesame and Lilies, which is supposed to be good for girls, though a little difficult when you are only twelve; and Uncle Percival had presented a grey leather pocket-book and an olive-wood paper-knife with ‘Sorrento’ on the handle. The cook and housemaid had given needle-book and pin-cushion; and Miss Peckitt, the little dressmaker who came to the house to make the girls’ dresses, brought a small, thin book bound in red, with little hard raised spots like pin-heads all over it, and hoped Miss Caroline would be kind enough to accept.
‘The book,’ said Miss Peckitt, ‘was mine when a child, and my dear mother also, as a young girl, was partial to it. Please accept it, Miss, with my humble best wishes.’
‘Thanks most awfully,’ said Caroline, embracing her.
‘Thank you,’ said Miss Peckitt, straightening her collar after the sudden kiss. ‘Quite welcome, though unexpected; I had a bit of southernwood given to me this morning, which, you will find in the book, means a surprise.’
And it did, for the book was The Language of Flowers. And really that book was the beginning of this story, or, at least, if it wasn’t that book, it was the other book. But that comes later.
‘It’s ripping,’ said Caroline. ‘I do like it being red.’
The last present was a very large bunch of marigolds and a halfpenny birthday-card, with a gold anchor and pink clasped hands on it, from the boy who did the boots and knives.