Somewhere in a lock-up unit in Spain, in a box surrounded by other boxes filled with books, is my copy of The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge.
It’s a simple, moral story of love and truth, where faith and magic work together to set the world to rights; It’s also one of the books I turn to when I’m in need of comfort. (At least it was before I had to leave it in storage and it will be again, I am sure.)
I’ve remembered it this weekend, not because I’m in particular need of comfort, but because I stopped to photograph a salmon-pink geranium; and salmon-pink geraniums play an important role in the story of one of the couples in the book.
At one point, when the young heroine first visits the home of Marmaduke Scarlet, the man-servant and cook at Moonacre, she finds the long narrow room a blaze of colours:
The table was covered with a checked red-and-white tablecloth that matched the counterpane, and upon it was set a blue dish full of apples, a yellow jug of milk, a purple plate upon which were piled buttered scones, two green plates and two mugs to match. But what made Maria give a cry of astonishment was neither the deliciousness of the food nor the variety in colour of the china, but the appearance of the long north and south walls, for all along their length from floor to ceiling ran wooden shelves, and standing upon the shelves were pots and pots of salmon-pink geraniums.
As a child, pink was never one of my favourite colours, but I was struck by Marmaduke’s practical attitude:
“so you love pink too?” said Maria, sitting down.
“Can’t abide it,” said Marmaduke, seating himself opposite her and pouring milk into the two mugs. “But neither can I abide waste. […]”
Just before the visit, Maria, who herself doesn’t like pink, has been looking at the plants in the window box and musing:
[S]he found herself rejoicing in their beauty. After all, though pink was not her favourite colour, it was a colour and, as Sir Benjamin had said, all colour is of the sun, and good. And pink is the colour of dawn and sunset, the link between day and night. Sun and moon alike ought both to love pink, because when one is rising and the other setting they so often greet each other across an expanse of rosy sky.
It is, as I said, a moral book: all the characters, human and animal, have different strengths and flaws; they make bad choices, but mostly they learn to recognise and work on their weaknesses, to respect the opinions of others, and to appreciate that differences don’t always need to trigger conflict.
I must have read The Little White Horse dozens of times, so now even the sight of a pink geranium is enough to remind me of the important lessons in humility, tolerance and justice that the book teaches. (Today I cheated and found an online source, as I wanted to quote those passages exactly, but I already knew what I was looking for.)
Last week I bought geraniums in the market; they are all in bud, but so far I have no idea what colours the flowers will be. Much as I love scarlet geraniums for their brash confidence, I am hoping at least one will be salmon-pink to remind me of those lessons and to provide solace while my books are still in storage.
Among the animals in the book is Maria’s pony, Periwinkle – joy-of-the-ground. So let’s finish with another photograph.